"Why, we're not obliged to make anything of it, Fanny, there's that comfort," replied Kitty; and then there was a silence, while she brooded over the whole affair of her acquaintance with Mr. Arbuton, which this talk had failed to set in a more pleasant or hopeful light. It had begun like a romance; she had pleased her fancy, if not her heart, with the poetry of it; but at last she felt exiled and strange in his presence. She had no right to a different result, even through any deep feeling in the matter; but while she owned, with her half-sad, half-comical consciousness, that she had been tacitly claiming and expecting too much, she softly pitied herself, with a kind of impersonal compassion, as if it wore some other girl whose pretty dream had been broken. Its ruin involved the loss of another ideal; for she was aware that there had been gradually rising in her mind an image of Boston, different alike from the holy place of her childhood, the sacred city of the antislavery heroes and martyrs, and from the jesting, easy, sympathetic Boston of Mr. and Mrs. March. This new Boston with which Mr. Arbuton inspired her was a Boston of mysterious prejudices and lofty reservations; a Boston of high and difficult tastes, that found its social ideal in the Old World, and that shrank from contact with the reality of this; a Boston as alien as Europe to her simple experiences, and that seemed to be proud only of the things that were unlike other American things; a Boston that would rather perish by fire and sword than be suspected of vulgarity; a critical, fastidious, and reluctant Boston, dissatisfied with the rest of the hemisphere, and gelidly self-satisfied in so far as it was not in the least the Boston of her fond preconceptions. It was, doubtless, no more the real Boston we know and love, than either of the others: and it perplexed her more than it need, even if it had not been mere phantasm. It made her suspicious of Mr. Arbuton's behavior towards her, and observant of little things that might very well have otherwise escaped her. The bantering humor, the light-hearted trust and self-reliance with which she had once met him deserted her, and only returned fitfully when some accident called her out of herself, and made her forget the differences that she now too plainly saw in their ways of thinking and feeling. It was a greater and greater effort to place herself in sympathy with him; she relaxed into a languid self-contempt, as if she had been playing a part, when she succeeded. "Sometimes, Fanny," she said, now, after a long pause, speaking in behalf of that other girl she had been thinking of, "it seems to me as if Mr. Arbuton were all gloves and slim umbrella,—the mere husk of well dressed culture and good manners. His looks do promise everything; but O dear me! I should be sorry for any one that was in love with him. Just imagine some girl meeting with such a man, and taking a fancy to him! I suppose she never would quite believe but that he must somehow be what she first thought him, and she would go down to her grave believing that she had failed to understand him. What a curious story it would make!"
"Then, why don't you write it, Kitty?" asked Mrs. Ellison. "No one could do it better."
Kitty flushed quickly; then she smiled: "O, I don't think I could do it at all. It wouldn't be a very easy story to work out. Perhaps he might never do anything positively disagreeable enough to make anybody condemn him. The only way you could show his character would be to have her do and say hateful things to him, when she couldn't help it, and then repent of it, while he was impassively perfect through everything. And perhaps, after all, he might be regarded by some stupid people as the injured one. Well, Mr. Arbuton has been very polite to us, I'm sure, Fanny," she said after another pause, as she rose from her chair, "and maybe I'm unjust to him. I beg his pardon of you; and I wish," she added with a dull disappointment quite her own, and a pang of surprise at words that seemed to utter themselves, "that he would go away."
"Why, Kitty, I'm shocked," said Mrs. Ellison, rising from her cushions.
"Yes; so am I, Fanny."
"Are you really tired of him, then?"
Kitty did not answer, but turned away her face a little, where she stood beside the chair in which she had been sitting.
Mrs. Ellison put out her hand towards her. "Kitty, come here," she said with imperious tenderness.
"No, I won't, Fanny," answered the young girl, in a trembling voice. She raised the glove that she had been nervously swinging back and forth, and bit hard upon the button of it. "I don't know whether I'm tired of him,—though he isn't a person to rest one a great deal,—but I'm tired of it. I'm perplexed and troubled the whole time, and I don't see any end to it. Yes, I wish he would go away! Yes, he is tiresome. What is he staying here for? If he thinks himself so much better than all of us, I wonder he troubles himself with our company. It's quite time for him to go. No, Fanny, no," cried Kitty with a little broken laugh, still rejecting the outstretched hand, "I'll be flat in private, if you please." And dashing her hand across her eyes, she flitted out of the room. At the door she turned and said,
"You needn't think it's what you think it is, Fanny."
"No indeed, dear; you're just overwrought."
"For I really wish he'd go."
But it was on this very day that Mr. Arbuton found it harder than ever to renew his resolution of quitting Quebec, and cutting short at once his acquaintance with these people. He had been pledging himself to this in some form every day, and every morrow had melted his resolution away. Whatever was his opinion of Colonel and Mrs. Ellison, it is certain that, if he considered Kitty merely in relation to the present, he could not have said how, by being different, she could have been better than she was. He perceived a charm, that would be recognized anywhere, in her manner, though it was not of his world; her fresh pleasure in all she saw, though he did not know how to respond to it, was very winning; he respected what he thought the good sense running through her transports; he wondered at the culture she had somewhere, somehow got; and he was so good as to find that her literary enthusiasms had nothing offensive, but were as pretty and naive as a girl's love of flowers. Moreover, he approved of some personal attributes of hers: a low, gentle voice, tender long-lashed eyes; a trick of drooping shoulders, and of idle hands fallen into the lap, one in the other's palm; a serene repose of face; a light and eager laugh. There was nothing so novel in those traits, and in different combination he had seen them a thousand times; yet in her they strangely wrought upon his fancy. She had that soft, kittenish way with her which invites a caressing patronage, but, as he learned, she had also the kittenish equipment for resenting over-condescension; and she never took him half so much as when she showed the high spirit that was in her, and defied him most.
For here and now, it was all well enough; but he had a future to which he owed much, and a conscience that would not leave him at rest. The fascination of meeting her so familiarly under the same roof, the sorcery of the constant sight of her, were becoming too much; it would not do on any account; for his own sake he must put an end to it. But from hour to hour he lingered upon his unenforced resolve. The passing days, that brought him doubts in which he shuddered at the great difference between himself and her and her people, brought him also moments of blissful forgetfulness in which his misgivings were lost in the sweetness of her looks, or the young grace of her motions. Passing, the days rebuked his delay in vain; a week and two weeks slipped from under his feet, and still he had waited for fate to part him and his folly. But now at last he would go and in the evening, after his cigar on Durham Terrace, he knocked at Mrs. Ellison's door to say that on the day after to-morrow he should push on to the White Mountains.
He found the Ellisons talking over an expedition for the next morning, in which he was also to take part. Mrs. Ellison had already borne her full share in the preparation; for, being always at hand there in her room, and having nothing to do, she had been almost a willing victim to the colonel's passion for information at second-hand, and had probably come to know more than any other American woman of Arnold's expedition against Quebec in 1775. She know why the attack was planned, and with what prodigious hazard and heroical toil and endurance it was carried out; how the dauntless little army of riflemen cut their way through the untrodden forests of Maine and Canada, and beleaguered the gray old fortress on her rock till the red autumn faded into winter, and, on the last bitter night of the year, flung themselves against her defences, and fell back, leaving half their number captive, Montgomery dead, and Arnold wounded, but haplessly destined to survive.
"Yes," said the colonel, "considering the age in which they lived, and their total lack of modern improvements, mental, moral, and physical, we must acknowledge that they did pretty well. It wasn't on a very large scale; but I don't see how they could have been braver, if every man had been multiplied by ten thousand. In fact, as it's going to be all the same thing a hundred years from now, I don't know but I'd as soon be one of the men that tried to take Quebec as one of the men that did take Atlanta. Of course, for the present, and on account of my afflicted family, Mr. Arbuton, I'm willing to be what and where I am; but just see what those fellows did." And the colonel drew from his glowing memory of Mrs. Ellison's facts a brave historical picture of Arnold's expedition. "And now we're going to-morrow morning to look up the scene of the attack on the 31st of December. Kitty, sing something."
At another time Kitty might have hesitated; but that evening she was so at rest about Mr. Arbuton, so sure she cared nothing for his liking or disliking anything she did, that she sat down at the piano, and sang a number of songs, which I suppose were as unworthy the cultivated ear as any he had heard. But though they were given with an untrained voice and a touch as little skilled as might be, they pleased, or else the singer pleased. The simple-hearted courage of the performance would alone have made it charming; and Mr. Arbuton had no reason to ask himself how he should like it in Boston, if he were married, and should hear it from his wife there. Yet when a young man looks at a young girl or listens to her, a thousand vagaries possess his mind,—formless imaginations, lawless fancies. The question that presented itself remotely, like pain in a dream, dissolved in the ripple of the singer's voice, and left his revery the more luxuriously untroubled for having been.
He remembered, after saying good-night, that he had forgotten something: it was to tell them he was going away.
Quebec lay shining in the tender oblique light of the northern sun when they passed next morning through the Upper Town market-place and took their way towards Hope Gate, where they were to be met by the colonel a little later. It is easy for the alert tourist to lose his course in Quebec, and they, who were neither hurried nor heedful, went easily astray. But the street into which they had wandered, if it did not lead straight to Hope Gate, had many merits, and was very characteristic of the city. Most of the houses on either hand were low structures of one story, built heavily of stone or stuccoed brick, with two dormer-windows, full of house-plants, in each roof; the doors were each painted of a livelier color than the rest of the house, and each glistened with a polished brass knob, a large brass knocker, or an intricate bell-pull of the same resplendent metal, and a plate bearing the owner's name and his professional title, which if not avocat was sure to be notaire, so well is Quebec supplied with those ministers of the law. At the side of each house was a porte-cochere, and in this a smaller door. The thresholds and doorsteps were covered with the neatest and brightest oil-cloth; the wooden sidewalk was very clean, like the steep, roughly paved street itself; and at the foot of the hill down which it sloped was a breadth of the city wall, pierced for musketry, and, past the corner of one of the houses, the half-length of cannon showing. It had the charm of those ancient streets, dear to Old-World travel, in which the past and the present, decay and repair, peace and war, have made friends in an effect that not only wins the eye, but, however illogically, touches the heart; and over the top of the wall it had a stretch of such landscape as I know not what Old-World street can command: the St. Lawrence, blue and wide; a bit of the white village of Beauport on its bank; then a vast breadth of pale-green, upward-sloping meadows; then the purple heights; and the hazy heaven over them. Half-way down this happy street sat the artist whom they had seen before in the court of the Hotel Dieu; he was sketching something, and evoking the curious life of the neighborhood. Two schoolboys in the uniform of the Seminary paused to look at him as they loitered down the pavement; a group of children encircled him; a little girl with her hair in blue ribbons talked at a window about him to some one within; a young lady opened her casement and gazed furtively at him; a door was set quietly ajar, and an old grandam peeped out, shading her eyes with her hand; a woman in deep mourning gave his sketch a glance as she passed; a calash with a fat Quebecker in it ran into a cart driven by a broad-hatted peasant-woman, so eager were both to know what he was drawing; a man lingered even at the head of the street, as if it were any use to stop there.
As Kitty and Mr. Arbuton passed him, the artist glanced at her with the smile of a man who believes he knows how the case stands, and she followed his eye in its withdrawal towards the bit he was sketching: an old roof, and on top of this a balcony, shut in with green blinds; yet higher, a weather-worn, wood-colored gallery, pent-roofed and balustered, with a geranium showing through the balusters; a dormer-window with hook and tackle, beside an Oriental-shaped pavilion with a shining tin dome,—a picturesque confusion of forms which had been, apparently, added from time to time without design, and yet were full of harmony. The unreasonable succession of roofs had lifted the top far above the level of the surrounding houses, into the heart of the morning light, and some white doves circled about the pavilion, or nestled cooing upon the window-sill, where a young girl sat and sewed.
"Why, it's Hilda in her tower," said Kitty, "of course! And this is just the kind of street for such a girl to look down into. It doesn't seem like a street in real life, does it? The people all look as if they had stepped out of stories, and might step back any moment; and these queer little houses: they're the very places for things to happen in!"
Mr. Arbuton smiled forbearingly, as she thought, at this burst, but she did not care, and she turned, at the bottom of the street, and lingered a few moments for another look at the whole charming picture; and then he praised it, and said that the artist was making a very good sketch. "I wonder Quebec isn't infested by artists the whole summer long," he added. "They go about hungrily picking up bits of the picturesque, along our shores and country roads, when they might exchange their famine for a feast by coming here."
"I suppose there's a pleasure in finding out the small graces and beauties of the poverty-stricken subjects, that they wouldn't have in better ones, isn't there?" asked Kitty. "At any rate, if I were to write a story, I should want to take the slightest sort of plot, and lay the scene in the dullest kind of place, and then bring out all their possibilities. I'll tell you a book after my own heart: 'Details,'—just the history of a week in the life of some young people who happen together in an old New England country-house; nothing extraordinary, little, every-day things told so exquisitely, and all fading naturally away without any particular result, only the full meaning of everything brought out."
"And don't you think it's rather a sad ending for all to fade away without any particular result?" asked the young man, stricken he hardly knew how or where. "Besides, I always thought that the author of that book found too much meaning in everything. He did for men, I'm sure; but I believe women are different, and see much more than we do in a little space."
"'Why has not man a microscopic eye? For this plain reason, man is not a fly,'
nor a woman," mocked Kitty. "Have you read his other books?"
"Aren't they delightful?"
"They're very well; and I always wondered he could write them. He doesn't look it."
"O, have you ever seen him?"
"He lives in Boston, you know."
"Yes, yes; but—" Kitty could not go on and say that she had not supposed authors consorted with creatures of common clay; and Mr. Arbuton, who was the constant guest of people who would have thought most authors sufficiently honored in being received among them to meet such men as he, was very far from guessing what was in her mind.
He waited a moment for her, and then said, "He's a very ordinary sort of man,—not what one would exactly call a gentleman, you know, in his belongings,—and yet his books have nothing of the shop, nothing professionally literary, about them. It seems as if almost any of us might have written them."
Kitty glanced quickly at him to see if he were jesting; but Mr. Arbuton was not easily given to irony, and he was now very much in earnest about drawing on his light overcoat, which he had hitherto carried on his arm with that scrupulous consideration for it which was not dandyism, but part of his self-respect; apparently, as an overcoat, ho cared nothing for it; as the overcoat of a man of his condition he cared everything; and now, though the sun was so bright on the open spaces, in these narrow streets the garment was comfortable.
At another time, Kitty would have enjoyed the care with which he smoothed it about his person, but this profanation of her dearest ideals made the moment serious. Her pulse quickened, and she said, "I'm afraid I can't enter into your feelings. I wasn't taught to respect the idea of a gentleman very much. I've often heard my uncle say that, at the best, it was a poor excuse for not being just honest and just brave and just kind, and a false pretence of being something more. I believe, if I were a man, I shouldn't want to be a gentleman. At any rate, I'd rather be the author of those books, which any gentleman might have written, than all the gentlemen who didn't, put together."
In the career of her indignation she had unconsciously hurried her companion forward so swiftly that they had reached Hope Gate as she spoke, and interrupted the revery in which Colonel Ellison, loafing up against the masonry, was contemplating the sentry in his box.
"You'd better not overheat yourself so early in the day, Kitty," said her cousin, serenely, with a glance at her flushed face; "this expedition is not going to be any joke."
Now that Prescott Gate, by which so many thousands of Americans have entered Quebec since Arnold's excursionists failed to do so, is demolished, there is nothing left so picturesque and characteristic as Hope Gate, and I doubt if anywhere in Europe there is a more mediaeval-looking bit of military architecture. The heavy stone gateway is black with age, and the gate, which has probably never been closed in our century, is of massive frame set thick with mighty bolts and spikes. The wall here sweeps along the brow of the crag on which the city is built, and a steep street drops down, by stone-parapeted curves and angles, from the Upper to the Lower Town, where, in 1775, nothing but a narrow lane bordered the St. Lawrence. A considerable breadth of land has since been won from the river, and several streets and many piers now stretch between this alley and the water; but the old Sault au Matelot still crouches and creeps along under the shelter of the city wall and the overhanging rock, which is thickly bearded with weeds and grass, and trickles with abundant moisture. It must be an ice-pit in winter, and I should think it the last spot on the continent for the summer to find; but when the summer has at last found it, the old Sault au Matelot puts on a vagabond air of Southern leisure and abandon, not to be matched anywhere out of Italy. Looking from that jutting rock near Hope Gate, behind which the defeated Americans took refuge from the fire of their enemies, the vista is almost unique for a certain scenic squalor and gypsy luxury of color: sag-roofed barns and stables, and weak-backed, sunken-chested workshops of every sort lounge along in tumble-down succession, and lean up against the cliff in every imaginable posture of worthlessness and decrepitude; light wooden galleries cross to them from the second stories of the houses which back upon the alley; and over these galleries flutters, from a labyrinth of clothes-lines, a variety of bright-colored garments of all ages, sexes, and conditions; while the footway underneath abounds in gossiping women, smoking men, idle poultry, cats, children, and large, indolent Newfoundland dogs.
"It was through this lane that Arnold's party advanced almost to the foot of Mountain Street, where they were to be joined by Montgomery's force in an attempt to surprise Prescott Gate," said the colonel, with his unerring second-hand history.
"'You that will follow me to this attempt,'
'Wait till you see the whites of their eyes, and then fire low,' and so forth. By the way, do you suppose anybody did that at Bunker Hill, Mr. Arbuton? Come, you're a Boston man. My experience is that recruits chivalrously fire into the air without waiting to see the enemy at all, let alone the whites of their eyes. Why! aren't you coming?" he asked, seeing no movement to follow in Kitty or Mr. Arbuton.
"It doesn't look very pleasant under foot, Dick," suggested Kitty.
"Well, upon my word! Is this your uncle's niece? I shall never dare to report this panic at Eriecreek."
"I can see the whole length of the alley, and there's nothing in it but chickens and domestic animals."
"Very well, as Fanny says; when Uncle Jack—he's your uncle—asks you about every inch of the ground that Arnold's men were demoralized over, I hope you'll know what to say."
Kitty laughed and said she should try a little invention, if her Uncle Jack came down to inches.
"All right, Kitty; you can go along St. Paul Street, there, and Mr. Arbuton and I will explore the Sault au Matelot, and come out upon you, covered with glory, at the other end."
"I hope it'll be glory," said Kitty, with a glance at the lane, "but I think it's more likely to be feathers and chopped straw.—Good by, Mr. Arbuton."
"Not in the least," answered the young man; "I'm going with you."
The colonel feigned indignant surprise, and marched briskly down the Sault au Matelot alone, while the others took their way through St. Paul Street in the same direction, amidst the bustle and business of the port, past the banks and great commercial houses, with the encounter of throngs of seafaring faces of many nations, and, at the corner of St. Peter Street, a glimpse of the national flag thrown out from the American Consulate, which intensified for untravelled Kitty her sense of remoteness from her native land. At length they turned into the street now called Sault au Matelot, into which opens the lane once bearing that name, and strolled idly along in the cool shadow, silence, and solitude of the street. She was strangely released from the constraint which Mr. Arbuton usually put upon her. A certain defiant ease filled her heart; she felt and thought whatever she liked, for the first time in many days; while he went puzzling himself with the problem of a young lady who despised gentlemen, and yet remained charming to him.
A mighty marine smell of oakum and salt-fish was in the air, and "O," sighed Kitty, "doesn't it make you long for distant seas? Shouldn't you like to be shipwrecked for half a day or so, Mr. Arbuton?"
"Yes; yes, certainly," he replied absently, and wondered what she laughed at. The silence of the place was broken only by the noise of coopering which seemed to be going on in every other house; the solitude relieved only by the Newfoundland dogs that stretched themselves upon the thresholds of the cooper-shops. The monotony of these shops and dogs took Kitty's humor, and as they went slowly by she made a jest of them, as she used to do with things she saw.
"But here's a door without a dog!" she said, presently. "This can't be a genuine cooper-shop, of course, without a dog. O, that accounts for it, perhaps!" she added, pausing before the threshold, and glancing up at a sign—"Academie commerciale et litteraire"—set under an upper window. "What a curious place for a seat of learning! What do you suppose is the connection between cooper-shops and an academical education, Mr. Arbuton?"
She stood looking up at the sign that moved her mirth, and swinging her shut parasol idly to and fro, while a light of laughter played over her face.
Suddenly a shadow seemed to dart betwixt her and the open doorway, Mr. Arbuton was hurled violently against her, and, as she struggled to keep her footing under the shock, she saw him bent over a furious dog, that hung from the breast of his overcoat, while he clutched its throat with both his hands.
He met the terror of her face with a quick glance. "I beg your pardon; don't call out please," he said. But from within the shop came loud cries and maledictions, "O nom de Dieu c'est le boule-dogue du capitaine anglais!" with appalling screams for help; and a wild, uncouth little figure of a man, bareheaded, horror-eyed came flying out of the open door. He wore a cooper's apron, and he bore in one hand a red-hot iron, which, with continuous clamor, he dashed against the muzzle of the hideous brute. Without a sound the dog loosed his grip, and, dropping to the ground, fled into the obscurity of the shop as silently as he had launched himself out of it, while Kitty yet stood spell-bound, and before the crowd that the appeal of Mr. Arbuton's rescuer had summoned could see what had happened.
Mr. Arbuton lifted himself, and looked angrily round upon the gaping spectators, who began, one by one, to take in their heads from their windows and to slink back to their thresholds as if they had been guilty of something much worse than a desire to succor a human being in peril.
"Good heavens!" said Mr. Arbuton, "what an abominable scene!" His face was deadly pale, as he turned from these insolent intruders to his deliverer, whom he saluted, with a "Merci bien!" spoken in a cold, steady voice. Then he drew off his overcoat, which had been torn by the dog's teeth and irreparably dishonored in the encounter. He looked at it shuddering, with a countenance of intense disgust, and made a motion as if to hurl it into the street. But his eye again fell upon the cooper's squalid little figure, as he stood twisting his hands into his apron, and with voluble eagerness protesting that it was not his dog, but that of the English ship-captain, who had left it with him, and whom he had many a time besought to have the beast killed. Mr. Arbuton, who seemed not to hear what he was saying, or to be so absorbed in something else as not to consider whether he was to blame or not, broke in upon him in French: "You've done me the greatest service. I cannot repay you, but you must take this," he said, as he thrust a bank-note into the little man's grimy hand.
"O, but it is too much! But it is like a monsieur so brave, so—"
"Hush! It was nothing," interrupted Mr. Arbuton again. Then he threw his overcoat upon the man's shoulder. "If you will do me the pleasure to receive this also? Perhaps you can make use of it."
"Monsieur heaps me with benefits;—monsieur—" began the bewildered cooper; but Mr. Arbuton turned abruptly away from him toward Kitty, who trembled at having shared the guilt of the other spectators, and seizing her hand, he placed it on his arm, where he held it close as he strode away, leaving his deliverer planted in the middle of the sidewalk and staring after him. She scarcely dared ask him if he were hurt, as she found herself doing now with a faltering voice.
"No, I believe not," he said with a glance at the frock-coat, which was buttoned across his chest and was quite intact; and still he strode on, with a quick glance at every threshold which did not openly declare a Newfoundland dog.
It had all happened so suddenly, and in so brief a time, that she might well have failed to understand it, even if she had seen it all. It was barely intelligible to Mr. Arbuton himself, who, as Kitty had loitered mocking and laughing before the door of the shop, chanced to see the dog crouched within, and had only time to leap forward and receive the cruel brute on his breast as it flung itself at her.
He had not thought of the danger to himself in what he had done. He knew that he was unhurt, but he did not care for that; he cared only that she was safe; and as he pressed her hand tight against his heart, there passed through it a thrill of inexpressible tenderness, a quick, passionate sense of possession, a rapture as of having won her and made her his own forever, by saving her from that horrible risk. The maze in which he had but now dwelt concerning her seemed an obsolete frivolity of an alien past; all the cold doubts and hindering scruples which he had felt from the first were gone; gone all his care for his world. His world? In that supreme moment, there was no world but in the tender eyes at which he looked down with a glance which she knew not how to interpret.
She thought that his pride was deeply wounded at the ignominy of his adventure,—for she was sure he would care more for that than for the danger,—and that if she spoke of it she might add to the angry pain he felt. As they hurried along she waited for him to speak, but he did not; though always, as he looked down at her with that strange look, he seemed about to speak.
Presently she stopped, and, withdrawing her hand from his arm, she cried, "Why, we've forgotten my cousin!"
"O—yes!" said Mr. Arbuton with a vacant smile.
Looking back they saw the colonel standing on the pavement near the end of the old Sault au Matelot, with his hands in his pockets, and steadfastly staring at them. He did not relax the severity of his gaze when they returned to join him, and appeared to find little consolation in Kitty's "O Dick, I forgot all about you," given with a sudden, inexplicable laugh, interrupted and renewed as some ludicrous image seemed to come and go in her mind.
"Well, this may be very flattering, Kitty, but it isn't altogether comprehensible," said he, with a keen glance at both their faces. "I don't know what you'll say to Uncle Jack. It's not forgetting me alone: it's forgetting the whole American expedition against Quebec."
The colonel waited for some reply; but Kitty dared not attempt an explanation, and Mr. Arbuton was not the man to seem to boast of his share of the adventure by telling what had happened, even if he had cared at that moment to do so. Her very ignorance of what he had dared for her only confirmed his new sense of possession; and, if he could, he would not have marred the pleasure he felt by making her grateful yet, sweet as that might be in its time. Now he liked to keep his knowledge, to have had her unwitting compassion, to hear her pour out her unwitting relief in this laugh, while he superiorly permitted it.
"I don't understand this thing," said the colonel, through whose dense, masculine intelligence some suspicions of love-making were beginning to pierce. But he dismissed them as absurd, and added, "However, I'm willing to forgive, and you've done the forgetting; and all that I ask now is the pleasure of your company on the spot where Montgomery fell. Fanny'll never believe I've found it unless you go with me," he appealed, finally.
"O, we'll go, by all means," said Mr. Arbuton, unconsciously speaking, as by authority, for both.
They came into busier streets of the Port again, and then passed through the square of the Lower Town Market, with the market-house in the midst, the shops and warehouses on either side, the long row of tented booths with every kind of peasant-wares to sell, and the wide stairway dropping to the river which brought the abundance of the neighboring country to the mart. The whole place was alive with country-folk in carts and citizens on foot. At one point a gayly painted wagon was drawn up in the midst of a group of people to whom a quackish-faced Yankee was hawking, in his own personal French, an American patent-medicine, and making his audience giggle. Because Kitty was amused at this, Mr. Arbuton found it the drollest thing imaginable, but saw something yet droller when she made the colonel look at a peasant, standing in one corner beside a basket of fowls, which a woman, coming up to buy, examined as if the provision were some natural curiosity, while a crowd at once gathered round.
"It requires a considerable population to make a bargain, up here," remarked the colonel. "I suppose they turn out the garrison when they sell a beef." For both buyer and seller seemed to take advice of the bystanders, who discussed and inspected the different fowls as if nothing so novel as poultry had yet fallen in their way.
At last the peasant himself took up the fowls and carefully scrutinized them.
"Those chickens, it seems, never happened to catch his eye before," interpreted Kitty; and Mr. Arbuton, who was usually very restive during such banter, smiled as if it were the most admirable fooling, or the most precious wisdom, in the world. He made them wait to see the bargain out, and could, apparently, have lingered there forever.
But the colonel had a conscience about Montgomery, and he hurried them away, on past the Queen's Wharf, and down the Cove Road to that point where the scarped and rugged breast of the cliff bears the sign, "Here fell Montgomery," though he really fell, not half-way up the height, but at the foot of it, where stood the battery that forbade his juncture with Arnold at Prescott Gate.
A certain wildness yet possesses the spot: the front of the crag, topped by the high citadel-wall, is so grim, and the few tough evergreens that cling to its clefts are torn and twisted by the winter blasts, and the houses are decrepit with age, showing here and there the scars of the frequent fires that sweep the Lower Town.
It was quite useless: neither the memories of the place nor their setting were sufficient to engage the wayward thoughts of these curiously assorted pilgrims; and the colonel, after some attempts to bring the matter home to himself and the others, was obliged to abandon Mr. Arbuton to his tender reveries of Kitty, and Kitty to her puzzling over the change in Mr. Arbuton. His complaisance made her uncomfortable and shy of him, it was so strange; it gave her a little shiver, as if he were behaving undignifiedly.
"Well, Kitty," said the colonel, "I reckon Uncle Jack would have made more out of this than we've done. He'd have had their geology out of these rocks, any way."
MR. ARBUTON'S INFATUATION.
Kitty went as usual to Mrs. Ellison's room after her walk, but she lapsed into a deep abstraction as she sat down beside the sofa.
"What are you smiling at?" asked Mrs. Ellison, after briefly supporting her abstraction.
"Was I smiling?" asked Kitty, beginning to laugh. "I didn't know it."
"What has happened so very funny?"
"Why, I don't know whether it's so very funny or not. I believe it isn't funny at all."
"Then what makes you laugh?"
"I don't know. Was I—"
"Now don't ask me if you were laughing, Kitty. It's a little too much. You can talk or not, as you choose; but I don't like to be turned into ridicule."
"O Fanny, how can you? I was thinking about something very different. But I don't see how I can tell you, without putting Mr. Arbuton in a ludicrous light, and it isn't quite fair."
"You're very careful of him, all at once," said Mrs. Ellison. "You didn't seem disposed to spare him yesterday so much. I don't understand this sudden conversion."
Kitty responded with a fit of outrageous laughter. "Now I see I must tell you," she said, and rapidly recounted Mr. Arbuton's adventure.
"Why, I never knew anything so cool and brave, Fanny, and I admired him more than ever I did; but then I couldn't help seeing the other side of it, you know."
"What other side? I don't know."
"Well, you'd have had to laugh yourself, if you'd seen the lordly way he dismissed the poor people who had come running out of their houses to help him, and his stateliness in rewarding that little cooper, and his heroic parting from his cherished overcoat,—which of course he can't replace in Quebec,—and his absent-minded politeness in taking my hand under his arm, and marching off with me so magnificently. But the worst thing, Fanny,"—and she bowed herself under a tempest of long-pent mirth,—"the worst thing was, that the iron, you know, was the cooper's branding-iron, and I had a vision of the dog carrying about on his nose, as long as he lived, the monogram that marks the cooper's casks as holding a certain number of gallons—"
"Kitty, don't be—sacrilegious!" cried Mrs. Ellison.
"No, I'm not," she retorted, gasping and panting. "I never respected Mr. Arbuton so much, and you say yourself I haven't shown myself so careful of him before. But I never was so glad to see Dick in my life, and to have some excuse for laughing. I didn't dare to speak to Mr. Arbuton about it, for he couldn't, if he had tried, have let me laugh it out and be done with it. I trudged demurely along by his side, and neither of us mentioned the matter to Dick," she concluded breathlessly. Then, "I don't know why I should tell you now; it seems wicked and cruel," she said penitently, almost pensively.
Mrs. Ellison had not been amused. She said, "Well, Kitty, in some girls I should say it was quite heartless to do as you've done."
"It's heartless in me, Fanny; and you needn't say such a thing. I'm sure I didn't utter a syllable to wound him, and just before that he'd been very disagreeable, and I forgave him because I thought he was mortified. And you needn't say that I've no feeling"; and thereupon she rose, and, putting her hands into her cousin's, "Fanny," she cried, vehemently, "I have been heartless. I'm afraid I haven't shown any sympathy or consideration. I'm afraid I must have seemed dreadfully callous and hard. I oughtn't to have thought of anything but the danger to him; and it seems to me now I scarcely thought of that at all. O, how rude it was of me to see anything funny in it! What can I do?"
"Don't go crazy, at any rate, Kitty. He doesn't know that you've been laughing about him. You needn't do anything."
"O yes, I need. He doesn't know that I've been laughing about him to you; but, don't you see, I laughed when we met Dick; and what can he think of that?"
"He just thinks you were nervous, I suppose."
"O, do you suppose he does, Fanny? O, I wish I could believe that! O, I'm so horribly ashamed of myself! And here yesterday I was criticising him for being unfeeling, and now I've been a thousand times worse than he has ever been, or ever could be! O dear, dear, dear!"
"Kitty! hush!" exclaimed Mrs. Ellison; "you run on like a wild thing, and you're driving me distracted, by not being like yourself."
"O, it's very well for you to be so calm; but if you didn't know what to do, you wouldn't."
"Yes, I would; I don't, and I am."
"But what shall I do?" And Kitty plucked away the hands which Fanny had been holding and wrung them. "I'll tell you what I can do," she suddenly added, while a gleam of relief dawned upon her face: "I can bear all his disagreeable ways after this, as long as he stays, and not say anything back. Yes, I'll put up with everything. I'll be as meek! He may patronize me and snub me and put me in the wrong as much as he pleases. And then he won't be approaching my behavior. O Fanny!"
Upon this, Mrs. Ellison said that she was going to give her a good scolding for her nonsense, and pulled her down and kissed her, and said that she had not done anything, and was, nevertheless, consoled at her resolve to expiate her offence by respecting thenceforward Mr. Arbuton's foibles and prejudices.
It is not certain how far Kitty would have succeeded in her good purposes: these things, so easily conceived, are not of such facile execution; she passed a sleepless night of good resolutions and schemes of reparation; but, fortunately for her, Mr. Arbuton's foibles and prejudices seemed to have fallen into a strange abeyance. The change that had come upon him that day remained; he was still Mr. Arbuton, but with a difference. He could not undo his whole inherited and educated being, and perhaps no chance could deeply affect it without destroying the man. He continued hopelessly superior to Colonel and Mrs. Ellison; but it is not easy to love a woman and not seek, at least before marriage, to please those dear to her. Mr. Arbuton had contested his passion at every advance; he had firmly set his face against the fancy that, at the beginning, invested this girl with a charm; he had only done the things afterwards that mere civilization required; he had suffered torments of doubt concerning her fitness for himself and his place in society; he was not sure yet that her unknown relations were not horribly vulgar people; even yet, he was almost wholly ignorant of the circumstances and conditions of her life. But how he saw her only in the enrapturing light of his daring for her sake, of a self-devotion that had seemed to make her his own; and he behaved toward her with a lover's self-forgetfulness,—or something like it: say a perfect tolerance, a tender patience, in which it would have been hard to detect the lurking shadow of condescension.
He was fairly domesticated with the family. Mrs. Ellison's hurt, in spite of her many imprudences, was decidedly better, and sometimes she made a ceremony of being helped down from her room to dinner; but she always had tea beside her sofa, and he with the others drank it there. Few hours of the day passed in which they did not meet in that easy relation which establishes itself among people sojourning in summer idleness under the same roof. In the morning he saw the young girl fresh and glad as any flower of the garden beneath her window, while the sweet abstraction of her maiden dreams yet hovered in her eyes. At night he sat with her beside the lamp whose light, illuming a little world within, shut out the great world outside, and seemed to be the soft effulgence of her presence, as she sewed, or knit, or read,—a heavenly spirit of home. Sometimes he heard her talking with her cousin, or lightly laughing after he had said good night; once, when he woke, she seemed to be looking out of her window across the moonlight in the Ursulines' Garden while she sang a fragment of song. To meet her on the stairs or in the narrow entries; or to encounter her at the doors, and make way for her to pass with a jest and blush and flutter; to sit down at table with her three times a day,—was a potent witchery. There was a rapture in her shawl flung over the back of a chair; her gloves, lying light as fallen leaves on the table, and keeping the shape of her hands, were full of winning character; and all the more unaccountably they touched his heart because they had a certain careless, sweet shabbiness about the finger-tips.
He found himself hanging upon her desultory talk with Fanny about the set of things and the agreement of colors. There was always more or less of this talk going on, whatever the main topic was, for continual question arose in the minds of one or other lady concerning those adaptations of Mrs. Ellison's finery to the exigencies of Kitty's daily life. They pleased their innocent hearts with the secrecy of the affair, which, in the concealments it required, the sudden difficulties it presented, and the guiltless equivocations it inspired, had the excitement of intrigue. Nothing could have been more to the mind of Mrs. Ellison than to deck Kitty for this perpetual masquerade; and, since the things were very pretty, and Kitty was a girl in every motion of her being, I do not see how anything could have delighted her more than to wear them. Their talk effervesced with the delicious consciousness that he could not dream of what was going on, and babbled over with mysterious jests and laughter, which sometimes he feared to be at his expense, and so joined in, and made them laugh the more at his misconception. He went and came among them at will; he had but to tap at Mrs. Ellison's door, and some voice of unaffected cordiality welcomed him in; he had but to ask, and Kitty was frankly ready for any of those strolls about Quebec in which most of their waking hours were dreamed away.
The gray Lady of the North cast her spell about them,—the freshness of her mornings, the still heat of her middays, the slant, pensive radiance of her afternoons, and the pale splendor of her auroral nights. Never was city so faithfully explored; never did city so abound in objects of interest; for Kitty's love of the place was boundless, and his love for her was inevitable friendship with this adoptive patriotism.
"I didn't suppose you Western people cared for these things," he once said; "I thought your minds were set on things new and square."
"But how could you think so?" replied Kitty, tolerantly. "It's because we have so many new and square things that we like the old crooked ones. I do believe I should enjoy Europe even better than you. There's a forsaken farm-house near Eriecreek, dropping to pieces amongst its wild-grown sweetbriers and quince-bushes, that I used to think a wonder of antiquity because it was built in 1815. Can't you imagine how I must feel in a city like this, that was founded nearly three centuries ago, and has suffered so many sieges and captures, and looks like pictures of those beautiful old towns I can never see?"
"O, perhaps you will see them some day!" he said, touched by her fervor.
"I don't ask it at present: Quebec's enough. I'm in love with the place. I wish I never had to leave it. There isn't a crook, or a turn, or a tin-roof, or a dormer-window, or a gray stone in it that isn't precious."
Mr. Arbuton laughed. "Well, you shall be sovereign lady of Quebec for me. Shall we have the English garrison turned out?"
"No; not unless you can bring back Montcalm's men to take their places."
This might be as they sauntered out of one of the city gates, and strayed through the Lower Town till they should chance upon some poor, bare-interiored church, with a few humble worshippers adoring their Saint, with his lamps alight before his picture; or as they passed some high convent-wall, and caught the strange, metallic clang of the nuns' voices singing their hymns within. Sometimes they whiled away the hours on the Esplanade, breathing its pensive sentiment of neglect and incipient decay, and pacing up and down over the turf athwart the slim shadows of the poplars; or, with comfortable indifference to the local observances, sat in talk on the carriage of one of the burly, uncared-for guns, while the spider wove his web across the mortar's mouth, and the grass nodded above the tumbled pyramids of shot, and the children raced up and down, and the nursery-maids were wooed of the dapper sergeants, and the red-coated sentry loitered lazily to and fro before his box. On the days of the music, they listened to the band in the Governor's Garden, and watched the fine world of the old capital in flirtation with the blond-whiskered officers; and on pleasant nights they mingled with the citizen throng that filled the Durham Terrace, while the river shaped itself in the lights of its shipping, and the Lower Town, with its lamps, lay, like a nether firmament, two hundred feet below them, and Point Levis glittered and sparkled on the thither shore, and in the northern sky the aurora throbbed in swift pulsations of violet and crimson. They liked to climb the Break-Neck Steps at Prescott Gate, dropping from the Upper to the Lower Town, which reminded Mr. Arbuton of Naples and Trieste, and took Kitty with the unassociated picturesqueness of their odd shops and taverns, and their lofty windows green with house-plants. They would stop and look up at the geraniums and fuchsias, and fall a thinking of far different things, and the friendly, unbusy people would come to their doors and look up with them. They recognized the handsome, blond young man, and the pretty, gray-eyed girl; for people in Quebec have time to note strangers who linger there, and Kitty and Mr. Arbuton had come to be well-known figures, different from the fleeting tourists on their rounds; and, indeed, as sojourners they themselves perceived their poetic distinction from mere birds of passage.
Indoors they resorted much to the little entry-window looking out on the Ursulines' Garden. Two chairs stood confronted there, and it was hard for either of the young people to pass them without sinking a moment into one of them, and this appeared always to charm another presence into the opposite chair. There they often lingered in the soft forenoons, talking in desultory phrase of things far and near, or watching, in long silences, the nuns pacing up and down in the garden below, and waiting for the pensive, slender nun, and the stout, jolly nun whom Kitty had adopted, and whom she had gayly interpreted to him as an allegory of Life in their quaint inseparableness; and they played that the influence of one or other nun was in the ascendant, according as their own talk was gay or sad. In their relation, people are not so different from children; they like the same thing over and over again; they like it the better the less it is in itself.
At times Kitty would come with a book in her hand (one finger shut in to keep the place),—some latest novel, or a pirated edition of Longfellow, recreantly purchased at a Quebec bookstore; and then Mr. Arbuton must ask to see it; and he read romance or poetry to her by the hour. He showed to as much advantage as most men do in the serious follies of wooing; and an influence which he could not defy, or would not, shaped him to all the sweet, absurd demands of the affair. From time to time, recollecting himself, and trying to look consequences in the face, he gently turned the talk upon Eriecreek, and endeavored to possess himself of some intelligible image of the place, and of Kitty's home and friends. Even then, the present was so fair and full of content, that his thoughts, when they reverted to the future, no longer met the obstacles that had made him recoil from it before. Whatever her past had been, he could find some way to weaken the ties that bound her to it; a year or two of Europe would leave no trace of Eriecreek; without effort of his, her life would adapt itself to his own, and cease to be a part of the lives of those people there; again and again his amiable imaginations—they were scarcely intents—accomplished themselves in many a swift, fugitive revery, while the days went by, and the shadow of the ivy in the window at which they sat fell, in moonlight and sunlight, upon Kitty's cheeks, and the fuchsia kissed her hair with its purple and crimson blossom.
MR. ARBUTON SPEAKS.
Mrs. Ellison was almost well; she had already been shopping twice in the Rue Fabrique, and her recovery was now chiefly retarded by the dress-maker's delays in making up a silk too precious to be risked in the piece with the customs officers, at the frontier. Moreover, although the colonel was beginning to chafe, she was not loath to linger yet a few days for the sake of an affair to which her suffering had been a willing sacrifice. In return for her indefatigable self-devotion, Kitty had lately done very little. She ungratefully shrunk more and more from those confidences to which her cousin's speeches covertly invited; she openly resisted open attempts upon her knowledge of facts. If she was not prepared to confess everything to Fanny, it was perhaps because it was all so very little, or because a young girl has not, or ought not to have, a mind in certain matters, or else knows it not, till it is asked her by the one first authorized to learn it. The dream in which she lived was flattering and fair; and it wholly contented her imagination while it lulled her consciousness. It moved from phase to phase without the harshness of reality, and was apparently allied neither to the future nor to the past. She herself seemed to have no more fixity or responsibility in it than the heroine of a romance.
As their last week in Quebec drew to its close, only two or three things remained for them to do, as tourists; and chief among the few unvisited shrines of sentiment was the site of the old Jesuit mission at Sillery.
"It won't do not to see that, Kitty," said Mrs. Ellison, who, as usual, had arranged the details of the excursion, and now announced them. "It's one of the principal things here, and your Uncle Jack would never be satisfied if you missed it. In fact, it's a shame to have left it so long. I can't go with you, for I'm saving up my strength for our picnic at Chateau-Bigot to-morrow; and I want you, Kitty, to see that the colonel sees everything. I've had trouble enough, goodness knows, getting the facts together for him." This was as Kitty and Mr. Arbuton sat waiting in Mrs. Ellison's parlor for the delinquent colonel, who had just stepped round to the Hotel St. Louis and was to be back presently. But the moment of his return passed; a quarter-hour of grace; a half-hour of grim magnanimity,—and still no colonel. Mrs. Ellison began by saying that it was perfectly abominable, and left herself, in a greater extremity, with nothing more forcible to add than that it was too provoking. "It's getting so late now," she said at last, "that it's no use waiting any longer, if you mean to go at all, to-day; and to-day's the only day you can go. There, you'd better drive on without him. I can't bear to have you miss it." And, thus adjured, the younger people rose and went.
When the high-born Noel Brulart de Sillery, Knight of Malta and courtier of Marie de Medicis, turned from the vanities of this world and became a priest, Canada was the fashionable mission of the day, and the noble neophyte signalized his self-renunciation by giving of his great wealth for the conversion of the Indian heathen. He supplied the Jesuits with money to maintain a religious establishment near Quebec; and the settlement of red Christians took his musical name, which the region still keeps. It became famous at once as the first residence of the Jesuits and the nuns of the Hotel Dieu, who wrought and suffered for religion there amidst the terrors of pestilence, Iroquois, and winter. It was the scene of miracles and martyrdoms, and marvels of many kinds, and the centre of the missionary efforts among the Indians. Indeed, few events of the picturesque early history of Quebec left it untouched; and it is worthy to be seen, no less for the wild beauty of the spot than for its heroical memories. About a league from the city, where the irregular wall of rock on which Quebec is built recedes from the river, and a grassy space stretches between the tide and the foot of the woody steep, the old mission and the Indian village once stood; and to this day there yet stands the stalwart frame of the first Jesuit Residence, modernized, of course, and turned to secular uses, but firm as of old, and good for a century to come. All round is a world of lumber, and rafts of vast extent cover the face of the waters in the ample cove,—one of many that indent the shore of the St. Lawrence. A careless village straggles along the roadside and the river's margin; huge lumber-ships are loading for Europe in the stream; a town shines out of the woods on the opposite shore; nothing but a friendly climate is needed to make this one of the most charming scenes the heart could imagine.
Kitty and Mr. Arbuton drove out towards Sillery by the St. Louis Road, and already the jealous foliage that hides the pretty villas and stately places of that aristocratic suburb was tinged in here and there a bough with autumnal crimson or yellow; in the meadows here and there a vine ran red along the grass; the loath choke-cherries were ripening in the fence corners; the air was full of the pensive jargoning of the crickets and grasshoppers, and all the subtle sentiment of the fading summer. Their hearts were open to every dreamy influence of the time; their driver understood hardly any English, and their talk might safely be made up of those harmless egotisms which young people exchange,—those strains of psychological autobiography which mark advancing intimacy and in which they appear to each other the most uncommon persons that ever lived, and their experiences and emotions and ideas are the more surprisingly unique because exactly alike.
It seemed a very short league to Sillery when they left the St. Louis Road, and the driver turned his horses' heads towards the river, down the winding sylvan way that descended to the shore; and they had not so much desire, after all, to explore the site of the old mission. Nevertheless, they got out and visited the little space once occupied by the Jesuit chapel, where its foundations may yet be traced in the grass, and they read the inscription on the monument lately raised by the parish to the memory of the first Jesuit missionary to Canada, who died at Sillery. Then there seemed nothing more to do but admire the mighty rafts and piles of lumber; but their show of interest in the local celebrity had stirred the pride of Sillery, and a little French boy entered the chapel-yard, and gave Kitty a pamphlet history of the place, for which he would not suffer himself to be paid; and a sweet-faced young Englishwoman came out of the house across the way, and hesitatingly asked if they would not like to see the Jesuit Residence. She led them indoors, and showed them how the ancient edifice had been encased by the modern house, and bade them note, from the deep shelving window-seats, that the stone walls were three feet thick. The rooms were low-ceiled and quaintly shaped, but they borrowed a certain grandeur from this massiveness; and it was easy to figure the priests in black and the nuns in gray in those dim chambers, which now a life so different inhabited. Behind the house was a plot of grass, and thence the wooded hill rose steep.
"But come up stairs," said the ardent little hostess to Kitty, when her husband came in, and had civilly welcomed the strangers, "and I'll show you my own room, that's as old as any."
They left the two men below, and mounted to a large room carpeted and furnished in modern taste. "We had to take down the old staircase," she continued, "to get our bedstead up,"—a magnificent structure which she plainly thought well worth the sacrifice; and then she pointed out divers remnants of the ancient building. "It's a queer place to live in; but we're only here for the summer"; and she went on to explain, with a pretty naivete, how her husband's business brought him to Sillery from Quebec in that season. They were descending the stairs, Kitty foremost, as she added, "This is my first housekeeping, you know, and of course it would be strange anywhere; but you can't think how funny it is here. I suppose," she said, shyly, but as if her confidences merited some return, while Kitty stepped from the stairway face to face with Mr. Arbuton, who was about to follow them, with the lady's husband,—"I suppose this is your wedding-journey."
A quick alarm flamed through the young girl, and burned out of her glowing cheeks. This pleasant masquerade of hers must look to others like the most intentional love-making between her and Mr. Arbuton,—no dreams either of them, nor figures in a play, nor characters in a romance; nay, on one spectator, at least, it had shed the soft lustre of a honeymoon. How could it be otherwise? Here on this fatal line of wedding-travel,—so common that she remembered Mrs. March half apologized for making it her first tour after marriage,—how could it happen but that two young people together as they were should be taken for bride and bridegroom? Moreover, and worst of all, he must have heard that fatal speech!
He was pale, if she was flushed, and looked grave, as she fancied; but he passed on up the stairs, and she sat down to wait for his return.
"I used to notice so many couples from the States when we lived in the city," continued the hospitable mistress of the house, "but I don't think they often came out to Sillery. In fact, you're the only pair that's come this summer; and so, when you seemed interested about the mission, I thought you wouldn't mind if I spoke to you, and asked you in to see the house. Most of the Americans stay long enough to visit the citadel, and the Plains of Abraham, and the Falls at Montmorenci, and then they go away. I should think they'd be tired always doing the same things. To be sure, they're always different people."
It was unfair to let her entertainer go on talking for quantity in this way; and Kitty said how glad she was to see the old Residence, and that she should always be grateful to her for asking them in. She did not disabuse her of her error; it cost less to leave it alone; and when Mr. Arbuton reappeared, she took leave of those kind people with a sort of remote enjoyment of the wife's mistakenness concerning herself. Yet, as the young matron and her husband stood beside the carriage repeating their adieux, she would fain have prolonged the parting forever, so much she dreaded to be left alone with Mr. Arbuton. But, left alone with him, her spirits violently rose; and as they drove along under the shadow of the cliff, she descanted in her liveliest strain upon the various interests of the way; she dwelt on the beauty of the wide, still river, with the ships at anchor in it; she praised the lovely sunset-light on the other shore; she commented lightly on the village, through which they passed, with the open doors and the suppers frying on the great stoves set into the partition-walls of each cleanly home; she made him look at the two great stairways that climb the cliff from the lumber-yards to the Plains of Abraham, and the army of laborers, each with his empty dinner-pail in hand, scaling the once difficult heights on their way home to the suburb of St. Roch; she did whatever she could to keep the talk to herself and yet away from herself. Part of the way the village was French and neat and pleasant, then it grovelled with Irish people, and ceased to be a tolerable theme for discourse; and so at last the silence against which she had battled fell upon them and deepened like a spell that she could not break.
It would have been better for Mr. Arbuton's success just then if he had not broken it. But failure was not within his reckoning; for he had so long regarded this young girl de haut en bas, to say it brutally, that he could not imagine she should feel any doubt in accepting him. Moreover, a magnanimous sense of obligation mingled with his confident love, for she must have known that he had overheard that speech at the Residence. Perhaps he let this feeling color his manner, however faintly. He lacked the last fine instinct; he could not forbear; and he spoke while all her nerves and fluttering pulses cried him mercy.
It was dimmest twilight when Kitty entered Mrs. Ellison's room and sank down on the first chair in silence.
"The colonel met a friend at the St. Louis, and forgot about the expedition, Kitty," said Fanny, "and he only came in half an hour ago. But it's just as well; I know you've had a splendid time. Where's Mr. Arbuton?"
Kitty burst into tears.
"Why, has anything happened to him?" cried Mrs. Ellison, springing towards her.
"To him? No! What should happen to him?" Kitty demanded with an indignant accent.
"Well, then, has anything happened to you?"
"I don't know if you can call it happening. But I suppose you'll be satisfied now, Fanny. He's offered himself to me." Kitty uttered the last words with a sort of violence, as if since the fact must be stated, she wished it to appear in the sharpest relief.
"O dear!" said Mrs. Ellison, not so well satisfied as the successful match-maker ought to be. So long as it was a marriage in the abstract, she had never ceased to desire it; but as the actual union of Kitty and this Mr. Arbuton, of whom, really, they knew so little, and of whom, if she searched her heart, she had as little liking as knowledge, it was another affair. Mrs. Ellison trembled at her triumph, and began to think that failure would have been easier to bear. Were they in the least suited to each other? Would she like to see poor Kitty chained for life to that impassive egotist, whose very merits were repellent, and whose modesty even seemed to convict and snub you? Mrs. Ellison was not able to put the matter to herself with moderation, either way; doubtless she did Mr. Arbuton injustice now. "Did you accept him?" she whispered, feebly.
"Accept him?" repeated Kitty. "No!"
"O dear!" again sighed Mrs. Ellison, feeling that this was scarcely better, and not daring to ask further.
"I'm dreadfully perplexed, Fanny," said Kitty, after waiting for the questions which did not come, "and I wish you'd help me think."
"I will, darling. But I don't know that I'll be of much use. I begin to think I'm not very good at thinking."
Kitty, who longed chiefly to get the situation more distinctly before herself, gave no heed to this confession, but went on to rehearse the whole affair. The twilight lent her its veil; and in the kindly obscurity she gathered courage to face all the facts, and even to find what was droll in them.
"It was very solemn, of course, and I was frightened; but I tried to keep my wits about me, and not to say yes, simply because that was the easiest thing. I told him that I didn't know,—and I don't; and that I must have time to think,—and I must. He was very ungenerous, and said he had hoped I had already had time to think; and he couldn't seem to understand, or else I couldn't very well explain, how it had been with me all along."
"He might certainly say you had encouraged him," Mrs. Ellison remarked, thoughtfully.
"Encouraged him, Fanny? How can you accuse me of such indelicacy?"
"Encouraging isn't indelicacy. The gentlemen have to be encouraged, or of course they'd never have any courage. They're so timid, naturally."
"I don't think Mr. Arbuton is very timid. He seemed to think that he had only to ask as a matter of form, and I had no business to say anything. What has he ever done for me? And hasn't he often been intensely disagreeable? He oughtn't to have spoken just after overhearing what he did. It was horrid to do so. He was very obtuse, too, not to see that girls can't always be so certain of themselves as men, or, if they are, don't know they are as soon as they're asked."
"Yes," interrupted Mrs. Ellison, "that's the way with girls. I do believe that most of them—when they're young like you, Kitty—never think of marriage as the end of their flirtations. They'd just like the attentions and the romance to go on forever, and never turn into anything more serious; and they're not to blame for that, though they do get blamed for it."
"Certainly," assented Kitty, eagerly, "that's it; that's just what I was saying; that's the very reason why girls must have time to make up their minds. You had, I suppose."
"Yes, two minutes. Poor Dick was going back to his regiment, and stood with his watch in his hand. I said no, and called after him to correct myself. But, Kitty, if the romance had happened to stop without his saying anything, you wouldn't have liked that either, would you?"
"No," faltered Kitty, "I suppose not."
"Well, then, don't you see? That's a great point in his favor. How much time did you want, or did he give you?"
"I said I should answer before we left Quebec," answered Kitty, with a heavy sigh.
"Don't you know what to say now?"
"I can't tell. That's what I want you to help me think out."
Mrs. Ellison was silent for a moment before she said, "Well, then, I suppose we shall have to go back to the very beginning."
"Yes," assented Kitty, faintly.
"You did have a sort of fancy for him the first time you saw him, didn't you?" asked Mrs. Ellison, coaxingly, while forcing herself to be systematic and coherent, by a mental strain of which no idea can be given.
"Yes," said Kitty, yet more faintly, adding, "but I can't tell just what sort of a fancy it was. I suppose I admired him for being handsome and stylish, and for having such exquisite manners."
"Go on," said Mrs. Ellison. "And after you got acquainted with him?"
"Why, you know we've talked that over once already, Fanny."
"Yes, but we oughtn't to skip anything now," replied Mrs. Ellison, in a tone of judicial accuracy which made Kitty smile.
But she quickly became serious again, and said, "Afterwards I couldn't tell whether to like him or not, or whether he wanted me to. I think he acted very strangely for a person in—love. I used to feel so troubled and oppressed when I was with him. He seemed always to be making himself agreeable under protest."
"Perhaps that was just your imagination, Kitty."
"Perhaps it was; but it troubled me just the same."
"Well, and then?"
"Well, and then after that day of the Montgomery expedition, he seemed to change altogether, and to try always to be pleasant, and to do everything he could to make me like him. I don't know how to account for it. Ever since then he's been extremely careful of me, and behaved—of course without knowing it—as if I belonged to him already. Or maybe I've imagined that too. It's very hard to tell what has really happened the last two weeks."
Kitty was silent, and Mrs. Ellison did not speak at once. Presently she asked, "Was his acting as if you belonged to him disagreeable?"
"I can't tell. I think it was rather presuming. I don't know why he did it."
"Do you respect him?" demanded Mrs. Ellison.
"Why, Fanny, I've always told you that I did respect some things in him."
Mrs. Ellison had the facts before her, and it rested upon her to sum them up, and do something with them. She rose to a sitting posture, and confronted her task.
"Well, Kitty, I'll tell you: I don't really know what to think. But I can say this: if you liked him at first, and then didn't like him, and afterwards he made himself more agreeable, and you didn't mind his behaving as if you belonged to him, and you respected him, but after all didn't think him fascinating—"
"He is fascinating—in a kind of way. He was, from the beginning. In a story his cold, snubbing, putting-down ways would have been perfectly fascinating."
"Then why didn't you take him?"
"Because," answered Kitty, between laughing and crying, "it isn't a story, and I don't know whether I like him."
"But do you think you might get to like him?"
"I don't know. His asking brings back all the doubts I ever had of him, and that I've been forgetting the past two weeks. I can't tell whether I like him or not. If I did, shouldn't I trust him more?"
"Well, whether you are in love or not, I'll tell you what you are, Kitty," cried Mrs. Ellison, provoked with her indecision, and yet relieved that the worst, whatever it was, was postponed thereby for a day or two.
But at this important juncture the colonel came lounging in, and Kitty glided out of the room.
"Richard," said Mrs. Ellison, seriously, and in a tone implying that it was the colonel's fault, as usual, "you know what has happened, I suppose."
"No, my dear, I don't; but no matter: I will presently, I dare say."
"O, I wish for once you wouldn't be so flippant. Mr. Arbuton has offered himself to Kitty."
Colonel Ellison gave a quick, sharp whistle of amazement, but trusted himself to nothing more articulate.
"Yes," said his wife, responding to the whistle, "and it makes me perfectly wretched."
"Why, I thought you liked him."
"I didn't like him; but I thought it would be an excellent thing for Kitty."
"And won't it?"
"She doesn't know."
The colonel was silent, while Mrs. Ellison stated the case in full, and its pending uncertainty. Then he exclaimed vehemently, as if his amazement had been growing upon him, "This is the most astonishing thing in the world! Who would ever have dreamt of that young iceberg being in love?"
"Haven't I told you all along he was?"
"O yes, certainly; but that might be taken either way, you know. You would discover the tender passion in the eye of a potato."
"Colonel Ellison," said Fanny with sternness, "why do you suppose he's been hanging about us for the last four weeks? Why should he have stayed in Quebec? Do you think he pitied me, or found you so very agreeable?"
"Well, I thought he found us just tolerable, and was interested in the place."
Mrs. Ellison made no direct reply to this pitiable speech, but looked a scorn which, happily for the colonel, the darkness hid. Presently she said that bats did not express the blindness of men, for any bat could have seen what was going on.
"Why," remarked the colonel, "I did have a momentary suspicion that day of the Montgomery business; they both looked very confused, when I saw them at the end of that street, and neither of them had anything to say; but that was accounted for by what you told me afterwards about his adventure. At the time I didn't pay much attention to the matter. The idea of his being in love seemed too ridiculous."
"Was it ridiculous for you to be in love with me?"
"No; and yet I can't praise my condition for its wisdom, Fanny."
"Yes! that's like men. As soon as one of them is safely married, he thinks all the love-making in the world has been done forever, and he can't conceive of two young people taking a fancy to each other."
"That's something so, Fanny. But granting—for the sake of argument merely—that Boston has been asking Kitty to marry him, and she doesn't know whether she wants him, what are we to do about it? I don't like him well enough to plead his cause; do you? When does Kitty think she'll be able to make up her mind?"
"She's to let him know before we leave."
The colonel laughed. "And so he's to hang about here on uncertainties for two whole days! That is rather rough on him. Fanny, what made you so eager for this business?"
"Eager? I wasn't eager."
"Well, then,—reluctantly acquiescent?"
"Why, she's so literary and that."
"How insulting!—Intellectual, and so on; and I thought she would be just fit to live in a place where everybody is literary and intellectual. That is, I thought that, if I thought anything."
"Well," said the colonel, "you may have been right on the whole, but I don't think Kitty is showing any particular force of mind, just now, that would fit her to live in Boston. My opinion is, that it's ridiculous for her to keep him in suspense. She might as well answer him first as last. She's putting herself under a kind of obligation by her delay. I'll talk to her—"
"If you do, you'll kill her. You don't know how she's wrought up about it."
"O well, I'll be careful of her sensibilities. It's my duty to speak with her. I'm here in the place of a parent. Besides, don't I know Kitty? I've almost brought her up."
"Maybe you're right. You're all so queer that perhaps you're right. Only, do be careful, Richard. You must approach the matter very delicately,—indirectly, you know. Girls are different, remember, from young men, and you mustn't be blunt. Do maneuver a little, for once in your life."
"All right, Fanny; you needn't be afraid of my doing anything awkward or sudden. I'll go to her room pretty soon, after she is quieted down, and have a good, calm old fatherly conversation with her."
The colonel was spared this errand; for Kitty had left some of her things on Fanny's table, and now came back for them with a lamp in her hand. Her averted face showed the marks of weeping; the corners of her firm-set lips were downward bent, as if some resolution which she had taken were very painful. This the anxious Fanny saw; and she made a gesture to the colonel which any woman would have understood to enjoin silence, or, at least, the utmost caution and tenderness of speech. The colonel summoned his finesse and said, cheerily, "Well, Kitty, what's Boston been saying to you?"
Mrs. Ellison fell back upon her sofa as if shot, and placed her hand over her face.
Kitty seemed not to hear her cousin. Having gathered up her things, she bent an unmoved face and an unseeing gaze full upon him, and glided from the room without a word.
"Well, upon my soul," cried the colonel, "this is a pleasant, nightmarish, sleep-walking, Lady-Macbethish little transaction. Confound it, Fanny this comes of your wanting me to maneuver. If you'd let me come straight at the subject,—like a man—"
"Please, Richard, don't say anything more now," pleaded Mrs. Ellison in a broken voice. "You can't help it, I know; and I must do the best I can, under the circumstances. Do go away for a little while, darling! O dear!"
As for Kitty, when she had got out of the room in that phantasmal fashion, she dimly recalled, through the mists of her own trouble, the colonel's dismay at her so glooming upon him, and began to think that she had used poor Dick more tragically than she need, and so began to laugh softly to herself; but while she stood there at the entry window a moment, laughing in the moonlight, that made her lamp-flame thin, and painted her face with its pale lustre, Mr. Arbuton came down the attic stairway. He was not a man of quick fancies; but to one of even slower imagination and of calmer mood, she might very well have seemed unreal, the creature of a dream, fantastic, intangible, insensible, arch, not wholly without some touch of the malign. In his heart he groaned over her beauty as if she were lost to him forever in this elfish transfiguration.
"Miss Ellison!" he scarcely more than whispered.
"You ought not to speak to me now," she answered, gravely.
"I know it; but I could not help it. For heaven's sake, do not let it tell against me. I wished to ask if I should not see you to-morrow; to beg that all might go on as had been planned, and as if nothing had been said to-day."
"It'll be very strange," said Kitty. "My cousins know everything now. How can we meet before them!"
"I'm not going away without an answer, and we can't remain here without meeting. It will be less strange if we let everything take its course."
He looked strangely humbled, but even more bewildered than humbled.
She listened while he descended the steps, unbolted the street door, and closed it behind him. Then she passed out of the moonlight into her own room, whose close-curtained space the lamp filled with its ruddy glow, and revealed her again, no malicious sprite, but a very puzzled, conscientious, anxious young girl.
Of one thing, at least, she was clear. It had all come about through misunderstanding, through his taking her to be something that she was not; for she was certain that Mr. Arbuton was of too worldly a spirit to choose, if he had known, a girl of such origin and lot as she was only too proud to own. The deception must have begun with dress; and she determined that her first stroke for truth and sincerity should be most sublimely made in the return of Fanny's things, and a rigid fidelity to her own dresses. "Besides," she could not help reflecting, "my travelling-suit will be just the thing for a picnic." And here, if the cynical reader of another sex is disposed to sneer at the method of her self-devotion, I am sure that women, at least, will allow it was most natural and highly proper that in this great moment she should first think of dress, upon which so great consequences hang in matters of the heart Who—to be honest for once, O vain and conceited men!—can deny that the cut, the color, the texture, the stylish set of dresses, has not had everything to do with the rapture of love's young dream? Are not certain bits of lace and knots of ribbon as much a part of it as any smile or sidelong glance of them all? And hath not the long experience of the fair taught them that artful dress is half the virtue of their spells? Full well they know it; and when Kitty resolved to profit no longer by Fanny's wardrobe, she had won the hardest part of the battle in behalf of perfect truth towards Mr. Arbuton. She did not, indeed, stop with this, but lay awake, devising schemes by which she should disabuse him of his errors about her, and persuade him that she was no wife for him.
THE PICNIC AT CHATEAU-BIGOT.
"Well," said Mrs. Ellison, who had slipped into Kitty's room, in the morning, to do her back hair with some advantages of light which her own chamber lacked, "it'll be no crazier than the rest of the performance; and if you and he can stand it, I'm sure that we've no reason to complain."
"Why, I don't see how it's to be helped, Fanny. He's asked it; and I'm rather glad he has, for I should have hated to have the conventional headache that keeps young ladies from being seen; and at any rate I don't understand how the day could be passed more sensibly than just as we originally planned to spend it. I can make up my mind a great deal better with him than away from him. But I think there never was a more ridiculous situation: now that the high tragedy has faded out of it, and the serious part is coming, it makes me laugh. Poor Mr. Arbuton will feel all day that he is under my mercilessly critical eye, and that he mustn't do this and he mustn't say that, for fear of me; and he can't run away, for he's promised to wait patiently for my decision. It's a most inglorious position for him, but I don't think of anything to do about it. I could say no at once, but he'd rather not."
"What have you got that dress on for?" asked Mrs. Ellison, abruptly.
"Because I'm not going to wear your things any more, Fanny. It's a case of conscience. I feel like a guilty creature, being courted in another's clothes; and I don't know but it's for a kind of punishment of my deceit that I can't realize this affair as I ought, or my part in it. I keep feeling, the whole time, as if it were somebody else, and I have an absurd kind of other person's interest in it."
Mrs. Ellison essayed some reply, but was met by Kitty's steadfast resolution, and in the end did not prevail in so much as a ribbon for her hair.
It was not till well into the forenoon that the preparations for the picnic were complete and the four set off together in one carriage. In the strong need that was on each of them to make the best of the affair, the colonel's unconsciousness might have been a little overdone, but Mrs. Ellison's demeanor was sublimely successful. The situation gave full play to her peculiar genius, and you could not have said that any act of hers failed to contribute to the perfection of her design, that any tone or speech was too highly colored. Mr. Arbuton, of whom she took possession, and who knew that she knew all, felt that he had never done justice to her, and seconded her efforts with something like cordial admiration; while Kitty, with certain grateful looks and aversions of the face, paid an ardent homage to her strokes of tact, and after a few miserable moments, in which her nightlong trouble gnawed at her heart, began, in spite of herself, to enjoy the humor of the situation.
It is a lovely road out to Chateau-Bigot. First you drive through the ancient suburbs of the Lower Town, and then you mount the smooth, hard highway, between pretty country-houses, toward the village of Charlesbourg, while Quebec shows, to your casual backward-glance, like a wondrous painted scene, with the spires and lofty roofs of the Upper Town, and the long, irregular wall wandering on the verge of the cliff; then the thronging gables and chimneys of St. Roch, and again many spires and convent walls; lastly the shipping in the St. Charles, which, in one direction, runs, a narrowing gleam, up into its valley, and in the other widens into the broad light of the St. Lawrence. Quiet, elmy spaces of meadow land stretch between the suburban mansions and the village of Charlesbourg, where the driver reassured himself as to his route from the group of idlers on the platform before the church. Then he struck off on a country road, and presently turned from this again into a lane that grew rougher and rougher, till at last it lapsed to a mere cart-track among the woods, where the rich, strong odors of the pine, and of the wild herbs bruised under the wheels, filled the air. A peasant and his black-eyed, open-mouthed boy were cutting withes to bind hay at the side of the track, and the latter consented to show the strangers to the chateau from a point beyond which they could not go with the carriage. There the small habitant and the driver took up the picnic-baskets, and led the way through pathless growths of underbrush to a stream, so swift that it is said never to freeze, so deeply sprung that the summer never drinks it dry. A screen of water-growths bordered it; and when this was passed, a wide open space revealed itself, with the ruin of the chateau in the midst.
The pathos of long neglect lay upon the scene; for here were evidences of gardens and bowery aisles in other times, and now, for many a year, desolation and the slow return of the wilderness. The mountain rising behind the chateau grounds showed the dying flush of the deciduous leaves among the dark green of the pines that clothed it to the crest; a cry of innumerable crickets filled the ear of the dreaming noon.
The ruin itself is not of impressive size, and it is a chateau by grace of the popular fancy rather than through any right of its own; for it was, in truth, never more than the hunting-lodge of the king's Intendant, Bigot, a man whose sins claim for him a lordly consideration in the history of Quebec, He was the last Intendant before the British conquest, and in that time of general distress he grew rich by oppression of the citizens, and by peculation from the soldiers. He built this pleasure-house here in the woods, and hither he rode out from Quebec to enjoy himself in the chase and the carouses that succeed the chase. Here, too, it is said, dwelt in secret the Huron girl who loved him, and who survives in the memory of the peasants as the murdered sauragesse; and, indeed, there is as much proof that she was murdered as that she ever lived. When the wicked Bigot was arrested and sent to France, where he was tried with great result of documentary record, his chateau fell into other hands; at last a party of Arnold's men wintered there in 1775, and it is to our own countrymen that we owe the conflagration and the ruin of Chateau-Bigot. It stands, as I said, in the middle of that open place, with the two gable walls and the stone partition-wall still almost entire, and that day showing very effectively against the tender northern sky. On the most weatherward gable the iron in the stone had shed a dark red stain under the lash of many winter storms, and some tough lichens had incrusted patches of the surface; but, for the rest, the walls rose in the univied nakedness of all ruins in our climate, which has no clinging evergreens wherewith to pity and soften the forlornness of decay. Out of the rubbish at the foot of the walls there sprang a wilding growth of syringas and lilacs; and the interior was choked with flourishing weeds, and with the briers of the raspberry, on which a few berries hung. The heavy beams, left where they fell a hundred years ago, proclaimed the honest solidity with which the chateau had been built, and there was proof in the cut stone of the hearths and chimney-places that it had once had at least the ambition of luxury.
While its visitors stood amidst the ruin, a harmless garden-snake slipped out of one crevice into another; from her nest in some hidden corner overhead a silent bird flew away. For the moment,—so slight is the capacity of any mood, so deeply is the heart responsive to a little impulse,—the palace of the Caesars could not have imparted a keener sense of loss and desolation. They eagerly sought such particulars of the ruin as agreed with the descriptions they had read of it, and were as well contented with a bit of cellar-way outside as if they had really found the secret passage to the subterranean chamber of the chateau, or the hoard of silver which the little habitant said was buried under it. Then they dispersed about the grounds to trace out the borders of the garden, and Mr. Arbuton won the common praise by discovering the foundations of the stable of the chateau.
Then there was no more to do but to prepare for the picnic. They chose a grassy plot in the shadow of a half-dismantled bark-lodge,—a relic of the Indians, who resort to the place every summer. In the ashes of that sylvan hearth they kindled their fire, Mr. Arbuton gathering the sticks, and the colonel showing a peculiar genius in adapting the savage flames to the limitations of the civilized coffee-pot borrowed of Mrs. Gray. Mrs. Ellison laid the cloth, much meditating the arrangement of the viands, and reversing again and again the relative positions of the sliced tongue and the sardines that flanked the cold roast chicken, and doubting dreadfully whether to put down the cake and the canned peaches at once, or reserve them for a second course; the stuffed olives drove her to despair, being in a bottle, and refusing to be balanced by anything less monumental in shape. Some wild asters and red leaves and green and yellowing sprays of fern which Kitty arranged in a tumbler were hailed with rapture, but presently flung far away with fierce disdain because they had ants on them. Kitty witnessed this outburst with her usual complacency, and then went on making the coffee. With such blissful pain as none but lovers know, Mr. Arbuton saw her break the egg upon the edge of the coffee-pot, and let it drop therein, and then, with a charming frenzy, stir it round and round. It was a picture of domestic suggestion, a subtle insinuation of home, the unconscious appeal of inherent housewifery to inherent husbandhood. At the crash of the eggshell he trembled; the swift agitation of the coffee and the egg within the pot made him dizzy.
"Sha'n't I stir that for you, Miss Ellison?" he said, awkwardly.
"O dear, no!" she answered in surprise at a man's presuming to stir coffee; "but you may go get me some water at the creek, if you please."
She gave him a pitcher, and he went off to the brook, which was but a minute's distance away. This minute, however, left her alone, for the first time that day, with both Dick and Fanny, and a silence fell upon all three at once. They could not help looking at one another; and then the colonel, to show that he was not thinking of anything, began to whistle, and Mrs. Ellison rebuked him for whistling.
"Why not?" he asked. "It isn't a funeral, is it?"
"Of course it isn't," said Mrs. Ellison; and Kitty, who had been blushing to the verge of tears, laughed instead, and then was consumed with vexation when Mr. Arbuton came up, feeling that he must suspect himself the motive of her ill-timed mirth. "The champagne ought to be cooled, I suppose," observed Mrs. Ellison, when the coffee had been finally stirred and set to boil on the coals.
"I'm best acquainted with the brook," said Mr. Arbuton, "and I know just the eddy in it where the champagne will cool soonest."
"Then you shall take it there," answered the governess of the feast; and Mr. Arbuton duteously set off with the bottle in his hand.
The pitcher of water which he had already brought stood in the grass; by a sudden movement of the skirt, Kitty knocked it over. The colonel made a start forward; Mrs. Ellison arrested him with a touch, while she bent a look of ineffable admiration upon Kitty.
"Now, I'll teach myself," said Kitty, "that I can't be so clumsy with impunity. I'll go and fill that pitcher again myself." She hurried after Mr. Arbuton; they scarcely spoke going or coming; but the constraint that Kitty felt was nothing to that she had dreaded in seeking to escape from the tacit raillery of the colonel and the championship of Fanny. Yet she trembled to realize that already her life had become so far entangled with this stranger's, that she found refuge with him from her own kindred. They could do nothing to help her in this; the trouble was solely hers and his, and they two must get out of it one way or other themselves; the case scarcely admitted even of sympathy, and if it had not been hers, it would have been one to amuse her rather than appeal to her compassion. Even as it was, she sometimes caught herself smiling at the predicament of a young girl who had passed a month in every appearance of love-making, and who, being asked her heart, was holding her lover in suspense whilst she searched it, and meantime was picnicking with him upon the terms of casual flirtation. Of all the heroines in her books, she knew none in such a strait as this.
But her perplexities did not impair the appetite which she brought to the sylvan feast. In her whole simple life she had never tasted champagne before, and she said innocently, as she put the frisking fluid from her lips after the first taste, "Why, I thought you had to learn to like champagne."
"No," remarked the colonel, "it's like reading and writing: it comes by nature. I suppose that even one of the lower animals would like champagne. The refined instinct of young ladies makes them recognize its merits instantly. Some of the Confederate cellars," added the colonel, thoughtfully, "had very good champagne in them. Green seal was the favorite of our erring brethren. It wasn't one of their errors. I prefer it myself to our own native cider, whether made of apples or grapes. Yes, it's better even than the water from the old chain-pump in the back yard at Eriecreek, though it hasn't so fine a flavor of lubricating oil in it."