"A snug little property wouldn't a ben bad, I reckon," said Flint.
"Well, she had it, old skin-flint, though I didn't know or care about it then. What a jolly row she'd make if she knew I was tellin' the ladder part of the story! She always does when I get to it, and makes believe cry, with her head in my breast-pocket, or any such handy place, till I take it out and swear I'll never do so ag'in. Poor little Kit, I wonder what she's doin' now. Thinkin' of me, I'll bet."
Dick paused, pulled his cap lower over his eyes, and smoked a minute with more energy than enjoyment, for his cigar was out and he did not perceive it.
"That's not all, is it?" asked Thorn, taking a fatherly interest in the younger man's love passages.
"Not quite. 'Fore long, Joe whistled, and as I always take short cuts everywhar, I put in at the back-door, jest as Kitty come trottin' out of the pantry with a big berry-pie in her hand. I startled her, she tripped over the sill and down she come; the dish flew one way, the pie flopped into her lap, the juice spatterin' my boots and her clean gown. I thought she'd cry, scold, have hysterics, or some confounded thing or other; but she jest sat still a minute, then looked up at me with a great blue splash on her face, and went off into the good-naturedest gale of laughin' you ever heard in your life. That finished me. 'Gay,' thinks I; 'go in and win.' So I did; made love hand over hand, while I stayed with Joe; pupposed a fortnight after, married her in three months, and there she is, a tiptop little woman, with a pair of stunnin' boys in her arms!"
Out came a well-worn case, and Dick proudly displayed the likeness of a stout, much bejewelled young woman with two staring infants on her knee. In his sight, the poor picture was a more perfect work of art than any of Sir Joshua's baby-beauties, or Raphael's Madonnas, and the little story needed no better sequel than the young father's praises of his twins, the covert kiss he gave their mother when he turned as if to get a clearer light upon the face. Ashamed to show the tenderness that filled his honest heart, he hummed "Kingdom Coming," relit his cigar, and presently began to talk again.
"Now, then, Flint, it's your turn to keep guard, and Thorn's to tell his romance. Come, don't try to shirk; it does a man good to talk of such things, and we're all mates here."
"In some cases it don't do any good to talk of such things; better let 'em alone," muttered Thorn, as he reluctantly sat down, while Flint as reluctantly departed.
With a glance and gesture of real affection, Phil laid his hand upon his comrade's knee, saying in his persuasive voice, "Old fellow, it will do you good, because I know you often long to speak of something that weighs upon you. You've kept us steady many a time, and done us no end of kindnesses; why be too proud to let us give our sympathy in return, if nothing more?"
Thorn's big hand closed over the slender one upon his knee, and the mild expression, so rarely seen upon his face, passed over it as he replied,—
"I think I could tell you almost anything if you asked me that way, my boy. It isn't that I am too proud,—and you're right about my sometimes wanting to free my mind,—but it's because a man of forty don't just like to open out to young fellows, if there is any danger of their laughing at him, though he may deserve it. I guess there isn't now, and I'll tell you how I found my wife."
Dick sat up, and Phil drew nearer, for the earnestness that was in the man dignified his plain speech, and inspired an interest in his history, even before it was begun. Looking gravely at the river and never at his hearers, as if still a little shy of confidants, yet grateful for the relief of words, Thorn began abruptly:—
"I never hear the number eighty-four without clapping my hand to my left breast and missing my badge. You know I was on the police in New York, before the war, and that's about all you do know yet. One bitter cold night I was going my rounds for the last time, when, as I turned a corner, I saw there was a trifle of work to be done. It was a bad part of the city, full of dirt and deviltry; one of the streets led to a ferry, and at the corner an old woman had an apple-stall. The poor soul had dropped asleep, worn out with the cold, and there were her goods left with no one to watch 'em. Somebody was watching 'em. however; a girl, with a ragged shawl over her head, stood at the mouth of an alley close by, waiting for a chance to grab something. I'd seen her there when I went by before, and mistrusted she was up to some mischief; as I turned the corner, she put out her hand and cribbed an apple. She saw me the minute she did it, but neither dropped it nor ran, only stood stock still with the apple in her hand till I came up.
"'This won't do, my girl,' said I. I never could be harsh with 'em, poor things! She laid it back and looked up at me with a miserable sort of a smile, that made me put my hand in my pocket to fish for a ninepence before she spoke.
"'I know it won't,' she says. 'I didn't want to do it, it's so mean, but I'm awful hungry, sir.'
"'Better run home and get your supper, then.'
"'I've got no home.'
"'Where do you live?'
"'In the street.'
"'Where do you sleep?'
"'Anywhere; last night in the lock-up, and I thought I'd get in there again, if I did that when you saw me. I like to go there, it's warm and safe.'
"'If I don't take you there, what will you do?'
"'Don't know. I could go over there and dance again as I used to, but being sick has made me ugly, so they won't have me, and no one else will take me because I have been there once.'
"I looked where she pointed, and thanked the Lord that they wouldn't take her. It was one of those low theatres that do so much damage to the like of her; there was a gambling place one side of it, an eating saloon the other. I was new to the work then, but though I'd heard about hunger and homelessness often enough, I'd never had this sort of thing, nor seen that look on a girl's face. A white, pinched face hers was, with frightened, tired-looking eyes, but so innocent! She wasn't more than sixteen, had been pretty once, I saw, looked sick and starved now, and seemed just the most helpless, hopeless little thing that ever was.
"'You 'd better come to the Station for to-night, and we'll see to you to-morrow,' says I.
"'Thank you, sir,' says she, looking as grateful as if I'd asked her home. I suppose I did speak kind of fatherly. I ain't ashamed to say I felt so, seeing what a child she was; nor to own that when she put her little hand in mine, it hurt me to feel how thin and cold it was. We passed the eating-house where the red lights made her face as rosy as it ought to have been; there was meat and pies in the window, and the poor thing stopped to look. It was too much for her; off came her shawl, and she said in that coaxing way of hers,—
"'I wish you'd let me stop at the place close by and sell this; they'll give a little for it, and I'll get some supper. I've had nothing since yesterday morning, and maybe cold is easier to bear than hunger.'
"'Have you nothing better than that to sell?' I says, not quite sure that she wasn't all a humbug, like so many of 'em. She seemed to see that, and looked up at me again with such innocent eyes, I couldn't doubt her when she said, shivering with something beside the cold,—
"'Nothing but myself.' Then the tears came, and she laid her head clown on my arm, sobbing,—'Keep me! oh, do keep me safe somewhere!'"
Thorn choked here, steadied his voice with a resolute hem! but could only add one sentence more,—
"That's how I found my wife."
"Come, don't stop thar. I told the whole o' mine, you do the same. Whar did you take her? how'd it all come round?"
"Please tell us, Thorn."
The gentler request was answered presently, very steadily, very quietly.
"I was always a soft-hearted fellow, though you wouldn't think it now, and when that little girl asked me to keep her safe, I just did it. I took her to a good woman whom I knew, for I hadn't any women folks belonging to me, nor any place but that to put her in. She stayed there till spring working for her keep, growing brighter, prettier, every day, and fonder of me, I thought. If I believed in witchcraft, I shouldn't think myself such a fool as I do now, but I don't believe in it, and to this day I can't understand how I came to do it. To be sure I was a lonely man, without kith or kin, had never had a sweetheart in my life, or been much with women since my mother died. Maybe that's why I was so bewitched with Mary, for she had little ways with her that took your fancy and made you love her whether you would or no. I found her father was an honest fellow enough, a fiddler in some theatre; that he'd taken good care of Mary till he died, leaving precious little but advice for her to live on. She'd tried to get work, failed, spent all she had, got sick, and was going to the bad, as the poor souls can hardly help doing with so many ready to give them a shove. It's no use trying to make a bad job better; so the long and short of it was, I thought she loved me; God knows I loved her! and I married her before the year was out."
"Show us her picture; I know you've got one; all the fellows have, though half of 'em won't own up."
"I've only got part of one. I once saved my little girl, and her picture once saved me."
From an inner pocket Thorn produced a woman's housewife, carefully untied it, though all its implements were missing but a little thimble, and from one of its compartments took a flattened bullet and the remnants of a picture.
"I gave her that the first Christmas after I found her. She wasn't as tidy about her clothes as I liked to see, and I thought if I gave her a handy thing like this, she'd be willing to sew. But she only made one shirt for me, and then got tired, so I keep it like an old fool, as I am. Yes, that's the bit of lead that would have done for me, if Mary's likeness hadn't been just where it was."
"You'll like to show her this when you go home, won't you?" said Dick, as he took up the bullet, while Phil examined the marred picture, and Thorn poised the little thimble on his big finger, with a sigh.
"How can I, when I don't know where she is, and camp is all the home I've got!"
The words broke from him like a sudden groan, when some old wound is rudely touched. Both of the young men started, both laid back the relics they had taken up, and turned their eyes from Thorn's face, across which swept a look of shame and sorrow, too significant to be misunderstood. Their silence assured him of their sympathy, and, as if that touch of friendliness unlocked his heavy heart, he eased it by a full confession. When he spoke again, it was with the calmness of repressed emotion, a calmness more touching to his mates than the most passionate outbreak, the most pathetic lamentation; for the coarse camp-phrases seemed to drop from his vocabulary; more than once his softened voice grew tremulous, and to the words "my little girl," there went a tenderness that proved how dear a place she still retained in that deep heart of his.
"Boys, I've gone so far; I may as well finish; and you'll see I'm not without some cause for my stern looks and ways; you'll pity me, and from you I'll take the comfort of it. It's only the old story,—I married her, worked for her, lived for her, and kept my little girl like a lady. I should have known that I was too old and sober for a young thing like that, for the life she led before the pinch came just suited her. She liked to be admired, to dress and dance and make herself pretty for all the world to see; not to keep house for a quiet man like me. Idleness wasn't good for her, it bred discontent; then some of her old friends, who'd left her in her trouble, found her out when better times came round, and tried to get her back again. I was away all day, I didn't know how things were going, and she wasn't open with me, afraid she said; I was so grave, and hated theatres so. She got courage finally to tell me that she wasn't happy; that she wanted to dance again, and asked me if she mightn't. I'd rather have had her ask me to put her in a fire, for I did hate theatres, and was bred to; others think they're no harm. I do; and knew it was a bad life for a girl like mine. It pampers vanity, and vanity is the Devil's help with such; so I said No, kindly at first, sharp and stern when she kept on teasing. That roused her spirit. 'I will go!' she said, one day. 'Not while you are my wife,' I answered back; and neither said any more, but she gave me a look I didn't think she could, and I resolved to take her away from temptation before worse came of it.
"I didn't tell her my plan; but I resigned my place, spent a week or more finding and fixing a little home for her out in the wholesome country, where she'd be safe from theatres and disreputable friends, and maybe learn to love me better when she saw how much she was to me. It was coming summer, and I made things look as home-like and as pretty as I could. She liked flowers, and I fixed a garden for her; she was fond of pets, and I got her a bird, a kitten, and a dog to play with her; she fancied gay colors and tasty little matters, so I filled her rooms with all the handsome things I could afford, and when it was done, I was as pleased as any boy, thinking what happy times we'd have together and how pleased she'd be. Boys, when I went to tell her and to take her to her little home, she was gone."
"With those cursed friends of her; a party of them left the city just then; she was wild to go; she had money now, and all her good looks back again. They teased and tempted her; I wasn't there to keep her, and she went, leaving a line behind to tell me that she loved the old life more than the new; that my house was a prison, and she hoped I'd let her go in peace. That almost killed me; but I managed to bear it, for I knew most of the fault was mine; but it was awful bitter to think I hadn't saved her, after all."
"Oh, Thorn! what did you do?"
"Went straight after her; found her dancing in Philadelphia, with paint on her cheeks, trinkets on her neck and arms, looking prettier than ever; but the innocent eyes were gone, and I couldn't see my little girl in the bold, handsome woman twirling there before the footlights. She saw me, looked scared at first, then smiled, and danced on with her eyes upon me, as if she said,—
"'See! I'm happy now; go away and let me be.'
"I couldn't stand that, and got out somehow. People thought me mad, or drunk; I didn't care, I only wanted to see her once in quiet and try to get her home. I couldn't do it then nor afterwards by fair means, and I wouldn't try force. I wrote to her, promised to forgive her, begged her to come back, or let me keep her honestly somewhere away from me. But she never answered, never came, and I have never tried again."
"She wasn't worthy of you, Thorn; you jest forgit her."
"I wish I could! I wish I could!" In his voice quivered an almost passionate regret, and a great sob heaved his chest, as he turned his face away to hide the love and longing, still so tender and so strong.
"Don't say that, Dick; such fidelity should make us charitable for its own sake. There is always time for penitence, always certainty of pardon. Take heart, Thorn, you may not wait in vain, and she may yet return to you."
"I know she will! I've dreamed of it, I've prayed for it; every battle I come out of safe makes me surer that I was kept for that, and when I've borne enough to atone for my part of the fault, I'll be repaid for all my patience, all my pain, by finding her again. She knows how well I love her still, and if there comes a time when she is sick and poor and all alone again, then she'll remember her old John, then she'll come home and let me take her in."
Hope shone in Thorn's melancholy eyes, and long-suffering, all-forgiving love beautified the rough, brown face, as he folded his arms and bent his gray head on his breast, as if the wanderer were already come.
The emotion which Dick scorned to show on his own account was freely manifested for another, as he sniffed audibly, and, boy-like, drew his sleeve across his eyes. But Phil, with the delicate perception of a finer nature, felt that the truest kindness he could show his friend was to distract his thoughts from himself, to spare him any comments, and lessen the embarrassment which would surely follow such unwonted confidence.
"Now I'll relieve Flint, and he will give you a laugh. Come on, Hiram, and tell us about your Beulah."
The gentleman addressed had performed his duty by sitting on a fence and "righting up" his pockets, to beguile the tedium of his exile. Before his multitudinous possessions could be restored to their native sphere, Thorn was himself again, and on his feet.
"Stay where you are, Phil; I like to tramp, it seems like old times, and I know you're tired. Just forget all this I've been saying, and go on as before. Thank you, boys! thank you," and with a grasp of the two hands extended to him, he strode away along the path already worn by his own restless feet.
"It's done him good, and I'm glad of that; but I'd like to see the little baggage that bewitched the poor old boy, wouldn't you, Phil?"
"Hush! here's Flint."
"What's up naow? want me tew address the meetin', hey? I'm willin', only the laugh's ruther ag'inst me, ef I tell that story; expect you'll like it all the better fer that." Flint coiled up his long limbs, put his hands in his pockets, chewed meditatively for a moment, and then began, with his slowest drawl:—
"Waal, sir, it's pretty nigh ten year ago, I was damster daown tew Oldtaown, clos't to Banggore. My folks lived tew Bethel; there was only the old man, and Aunt Siloam, keepin' house fer him, seein' as I was the only chick he hed. I hedn't heared from 'em fer a long spell, when there come a letter sayin' the old man was breakin' up. He'd said it every spring fer a number er years, and I didn't mind it no more'n the breakin' up er the river; not so much, jest then; fer the gret spring drive was comin' on, and my hands was tew full to quit work all tew oncet. I sent word I'd be 'long 'fore a gret while, and byme-by I went. I ought tew hev gone at fust; but they'd sung aout 'Wolf!' so often I warn't scared; an' sure 'nuff the wolf did come at last. Father hed been dead and berried a week when I got there, and aunt was so mad she wouldn't write, nor scurcely speak tew me for a consider'ble spell. I didn't blame her a mite, and felt jest the wust kind; so I give in every way, and fetched her raound. Yeou see I bed a cousin who'd kind er took my place tew hum while I was off, an' the old man hed left him a good slice er his money, an' me the farm, hopin' to keep me there. He'd never liked the lumberin' bizness, an' hankered arfter me a sight, I faound. Waal, seem' haow 'twas, I tried tew please him, late as it was; but ef there was ennything I did spleen ag'inst it was farmin', 'specially arfter the smart times I'd ben hevin', up Oldtaown way. Yeou don't know nothin' abaout it; but ef yeou want tew see high dewin's, jest hitch onto a timber-drive an' go it daown along them lakes and rivers, say from Kaumchenungamooth tew Punnobscot Bay. Guess yeou'd see a thing or tew, an' find livin' on a log come as handy as ef you was born a turtle.
"Waal, I stood it one summer; but it was the longest kind of a job. Come fall I turned contry, darned the farm, and vaowed I'd go back tew loggin'. Aunt hed got fond er me by that time, and felt dreadful bad abaout my leavin' on her. Cousin Siah, as we called Josiah, didn't cotton tew the old woman, though he did tew her cash; but we hitched along fust-rate. She was 'tached tew the place, hated tew hev it let or sold, thought I'd go to everlastin' rewin ef I took tew lumberin' ag'in, an' hevin' a tidy little sum er money all her own, she took a notion tew buy me off. 'Hiram,' sez she, 'ef yeou'll stay to hum, merry some smart girl, an' kerry on the farm, I'll leave yeou the hull er my fortin. Ef yeou don't, I'll leave every cent on't tew Siah, though he ain't done as waal by me as yeou hev. Come,' sez she, 'I'm breakin' up like brother; I shan't wurry any one a gret while, and 'fore spring I dessay you'll hev cause tew rejice that yeou done as Aunt Si counselled yeou.'
"Now, that idee kinder took me, seem' I hedn't no overpaourin' love fer cousin; but I brewdid over it a spell 'fore I 'greed. Fin'lly, I said I'd dew it, as it warn't a hard nor a bad trade; and begun to look raound fer Mis Flint, Jr. Aunt was dreadf'l pleased; but 'mazin' pertickler as tew who was goin' tew stan' in her shoes, when she was fetched up ag'inst the etarnal boom. There was a sight er likely womenfolks raound taown; but aunt she set her foot daown that Mis Flint must be smart, pious, an' good-natered; harnsome she didn't say nothin' abaout, bein' the humliest woman in the State er Maine. I hed my own calk'lations on that p'int, an' went sparkin' two or three er the pootiest gals, all that winter. I warn't in no hurry, fer merryin' is an awful resky bizness; an' I wan't goan to be took in by nobuddy. Some haouw I couldn't make up my mind which I'd hev, and kept dodgin', all ready to slew raound, an' hitch on tew ary one that seemed likeliest. 'Long in March, aunt, she ketched cold, took tew her bed, got wuss, an' told me tew hurry up, fer nary cent should I hev, ef I warn't safely merried 'fore she stepped out. I thought that was ruther craoudin' a feller; but I see she was goan sure, an' I'd got inter a way er considerin' the cash mine, so that it come hard to hear abaout givin' on 't up. Off I went that evenin' an' asked Almiry Nash ef she'd hev me. No, she wouldn't; I'd shilly-shallyed so long, she'd got tired er waitin' and took tew keepin' company with a doctor daown ter Banggore, where she'd ben visitin' a spell. I didn't find that as hard a nub to swaller, as I'd a thought I would, though Almiry was the richest, pootiest, and good-naterest of the lot. Aunt larfed waal, an' told me tew try ag'in; so a couple er nights arfter, I spruced up, an' went over to Car'line Miles's; she was as smart as old cheese, an' waal off in tew the barg'in. I was just as sure she'd hev me, as I be that I'm gittin' the rewmatiz a settin' in this ma'sh. But that minx, Almiry, hed ben and let on abaout her own sarsy way er servin' on me, an' Car'line jest up an' said she warn't goan to hev annybuddy's leavin's; so daown I come ag'in.
"Things was gettin' desper't by that time; fer aunt was failin' rapid, an' the story hed leaked aout some way, so the hull taown was gigglin' over it. I thought I'd better quit them parts; but aunt she showed me her will all done complete, 'sceptin the fust name er the legatee. 'There,' sez she, 'it all depends on yeou, whether that place is took by Hiram or Josiah. It's easy done, an' so it's goan tew stan till the last minit.' That riled me consid'able, an' I streaked off tew May Jane Simlin's. She wan't very waal off, nor extra harnsome, but she was pious the worst kind, an' dreadf'l clever to them she fancied. But I was daown on my luck ag'in; fer at the fust word I spoke of merryin', she showed me the door, an' give me to understan' that she couldn't think er hevin' a man that warn't a church-member, that hadn't experienced religion, or even ben struck with conviction, an' all the rest on't. Ef anny one hed a wanted tew hev seen a walkin' hornet's nest, they could hev done it cheap that night, as I went hum. I jest bounced intew the kitchen, chucked my hat intew one corner, my coat intew 'nother, kicked the cat, cussed the fire, drawed up a chair, and set scaoulin' like sixty, bein' tew mad fer talkin'. The young woman that was nussin' aunt,—Bewlah Blish, by name,—was a cooking grewel on the coals, and 'peared tew understan' the mess I was in; but she didn't say nothin', only blowed up the fire, fetched me a mug er cider, an' went raound so kinder quiet, and sympathizing that I found the wrinkles in my temper gettin' smoothed aout 'mazin' quick; an' fore long I made a clean breast er the hull thing. Bewlah larfed, but I didn't mind her doin' on't, for she sez, sez she, real sort o' cunnin',—
"'Poor Hiram! they didn't use yeou waal. Yeou ought to hev tried some er the poor an' humly girls; they'd a been glad an' grateful fer such a sweetheart as yeou be.'
"I was good-natered ag'in by that time, an' I sez, larfin' along with her, 'Waal, I've got three mittens, but I guess I might's waal hev 'nother, and that will make two pair complete. Say, Bewlah, will yeou hev me?'
"'Yes, I will.' sez she.
"'Reelly?' sez I.
"'Solemn trew,' sez she.
"Ef she'd up an' slapped me in the face, I shouldn't hev ben more throwed aback, fer I never mistrusted she cared two chips for me. I jest set an' gawped; fer she was 'solemn trew,' I see that with half an eye, an' it kinder took my breath away. Bewlah drawed the grewel off the fire, wiped her hands, an' stood lookin' at me a minnet, then she sez, slow an' quiet, but tremblin' a little, as women hev a way er doin', when they've consid'able steam aboard,—
"'Hiram, other folks think lumberin' has spilt yeou; I don't; they call you rough an' rewd; I know you've got a real kind heart fer them as knows haow tew find it. Them girls give yeou up so easy, 'cause they never loved yeou, an' yeou give them up 'cause you only thought abaout their looks an' money. I'm humly, an' I'm poor; but I've loved yeou ever sence we went a-nuttin' years ago, an' yeou shook daown fer me, kerried my bag, and kissed me tew the gate, when all the others shunned me, 'cause my father drank an' I was shabby dressed, ugly, an' shy. Yeou asked me in sport, I answered in airnest; but I don't expect nothin' unless yeou mean as I mean. Like me, Hiram, or leave me, it won't make no odds in my lovin' of yeou, nor helpin' of yeou, ef I kin.'
"'Tain't easy tew say haouw I felt, while she was goin' on that way, but my idees was tumblin' raound inside er me, as ef half a dozen dams was broke loose all tew oncet. One think was ruther stiddier 'n the rest, an' that was that I liked Bewlah more 'n I knew. I begun tew see what kep' me loafin' tew hum so much, sence aunt was took daown; why I wan't in no hurry tew git them other gals, an' haow I come tew pocket my mittens so easy arfter the fust rile was over. Bewlah was humly, poor in flesh, dreadful freckled, hed red hair, black eyes, an' a gret mold side of her nose. But I'd got wonted tew her; she knowed my ways, was a fust rate housekeeper, real good-tempered, and pious without flingin' on't in yer face. She was a lonely creeter,—her folks bein' all dead but one sister, who didn't use her waal, an' somehow I kinder yearned over her, as they say in Scripter. For all I set an' gawped, I was coming raound fast, though I felt as I used tew, when I was goin' to shoot the rapids, kinder breathless an' oncertin, whether I'd come aout right side up or not. Queer, warn't it?"
"Love, Flint; that was a sure symptom of it."
"Waal, guess 'twas; anyway I jumped up all of a sudden, ketched Bewlah raound the neck, give her a hearty kiss, and sung aout, 'I'll dew it sure's my name's Hi Flint!' The words was scarcely out of my maouth, 'fore daown come Dr. Parr. He' d ben up tew see aunt, an' said she wouldn't last the night threw, prob'ly. That give me a scare er the wust kind; an' when I told doctor haow things was, he sez, kinder jokin',—
"'Better git merried right away, then. Parson Dill is tew come an' see the old lady, an' he'll dew both jobs tew oncet.'
"'Will yeou, Bewlah?' sez I.
"'Yes, Hiram, to 'blige yeou,' sez she.
"With that, I put it fer the license; got it, an' was back in less 'n half an haour, most tuckered aout with the flurry of the hull concern. Quick as I'd been, Bewlah hed faound time tew whip on her best gaoun, fix up her hair, and put a couple er white chrissanthymums intew her hand'chif pin. Fer the fust time in her life, she looked harnsome,—leastways I thought so,—with a pretty color in her cheeks, somethin' brighter'n a larf shinin' in her eyes, and her lips smilin' an' tremblin', as she come to me an' whispered so's't none er the rest could hear,—
"'Hiram, don't yeou dew it, ef yeou'd ruther not. I've stood it a gret while alone, an' I guess I can ag'in.'
"Never yeou mind what I said or done abaout that; but we was merried ten minutes arfter, 'fore the kitchen fire, with Dr. Parr an' aour hired man, fer witnesses; an' then we all went up tew aunt. She was goan fast, but she understood what I told her, hed strength tew fill up the hole in the will, an' to say, a-kissin' Bewlah, 'Yeou'll be a good wife, an' naow yeou ain't a poor one.'
"I couldn't help givin' a peek tew the will, and there I see not Hiram Flint nor Josiah Flint, but Bewlah Flint, wrote every which way, but as plain as the nose on yer face. 'It won't make no odds, dear,' whispered my wife, peekin' over my shoulder. 'Guess it won't!' sez I, aout laoud; 'I'm glad on't, and it ain't a cent more'n yeou derserve.'
"That pleased aunt. 'Riz me, Hiram,' sez she; an' when I'd got her easy, she put her old arms raound my neck, an' tried to say, 'God bless you, dear—,' but died a doin' of it; an' I ain't ashamed tew say I boohooed real hearty, when I laid her daown, fer she was dreadf'l good tew me, an' I don't forgit her in a hurry."
"How's Bewlah?" asked Dick, after the little tribute of respect all paid to Aunt Siloam's memory, by a momentary silence.
"Fust-rate! that harum-scarum venter er mine was the best I ever made. She's done waal by me, hes Bewlah; ben a grand good housekeeper, kin kerry on the farm better 'n me, any time, an' is as dutif'l an' lovin' a wife as,—waal, as annything that is extra dutif'l and lovin'."
"Got any boys to brag of?"
"We don't think much o' boys daown aour way; they're 'mazin' resky stock to fetch up,—alluz breakin' baounds, gittin' intew the paound, and wurryin' your life aout somehaow 'nother. Gals naow doos waal; I've got six o' the likeliest the is goin', every one on 'em is the very moral of Bewlah,—red hair, black eyes, quiet ways, an' a mold 'side the nose. Baby's ain't growed yet; but I expect tew see it in a consid'able state o' forrardness, when I git hum, an' wouldn't miss it fer the world."
The droll expression of Flint's face, and the satisfied twang of his last words, were irresistible. Dick and Phil went off into a shout of laughter; and even Thorn's grave lips relapsed into a smile at the vision of six little Flints with their six little moles. As if the act were an established ceremony, the "paternal head" produced his pocket-book, selected a worn black-and-white paper, which he spread in his broad palm, and displayed with the air of a connoisseur.
"There, thet's Bewlah! we call it a cuttin'; but the proper name's a silly-hoot, I b'leeve. I've got a harnsome big degarrytype tew hum, but the heft on't makes it bad tew kerry raound, so I took this. I don't tote it abaout inside my shirt, as some dew,—it ain't my way; but I keep it in my wallet long with my other valleu'bles, and guess I set as much store by it as ef it was all painted up, and done off to kill."
The "silly-hoot" was examined with interest, and carefully stowed away again in the old brown wallet, which was settled in its place with a satisfied slap; then Flint said briskly,—
"Naouw, Phil, yeou close this interestin' and instructive meeting; and be spry, fer time's most up."
"I haven't much to tell, but must begin with a confession which I have often longed but never dared to make before, because I am a coward."
"Sho! who's goan to b'leeve that o' a man who fit like a wild-cat, wuz offered permotion on the field, and reported tew headquarters arfter his fust scrimmage. Try ag'in, Phil."
"Physical courage is as plentiful as brass buttons, nowadays, but moral courage is a rarer virtue; and I'm lacking in it, as I'll prove. You think me a Virginian; I'm an Alabamian by birth, and was a Rebel three months ago."
This confession startled his hearers, as he knew it would, for he had kept his secret well. Thorn laid his hand involuntarily upon his rifle, Dick drew off a little, and Flint illustrated one of his own expressions, for he "gawped." Phil laughed that musical laugh of his, and looked up at them with his dark face waking into sudden life, as he went on:—
"There's no treason in the camp, for I'm as fierce a Federalist as any of you now, and you may thank a woman for it. When Lee made his raid into Pennsylvania, I was a lieutenant in the—well, never mind what regiment, it hasn't signalized itself since, and I'd rather not hit my old neighbors when they are down. In one of the skirmishes during our retreat, I got a wound and was left for dead. A kind old Quaker found and took me home; but though I was too weak to talk, I had my senses by that time, and knew what went on about me. Everything was in confusion, even in that well-ordered place: no surgeon could be got at first, and a flock of frightened women thee'd and thou'd one another over me, but hadn't wit enough to see that I was bleeding to death. Among the faces that danced before my dizzy eyes was one that seemed familiar, probably because no cap surrounded it. I was glad to have it bending over me, to hear a steady voice say, 'Give me a bandage, quick!' and when none was instantly forthcoming to me, the young lady stripped up a little white apron she wore, and stanched the wound in my shoulder. I was not as badly hurt as I supposed, but so worn-out, and faint from loss of blood, they believed me to be dying, and so did I, when the old man took off his hat and said,—
"Friend, if thee has anything to say, thee had better say it, for thee probably has not long to live.'
"I thought of my little sister, far away in Alabama, fancied she came to me, and muttered, 'Amy, kiss me good-by.' The women sobbed at that; but the girl bent her sweet compassionate face to mine, and kissed me on the forehead. That was my wife."
"So you seceded from Secession right away, to pay for that lip-service, hey?"
"No, Thorn, not right away,—to my shame be it spoken. I'll tell you how it came about. Margaret was not old Bent's daughter, but a Massachusetts girl on a visit, and a long one it proved, for she couldn't go till things were quieter. While she waited, she helped take care of me; for the good souls petted me like a baby when they found that a Rebel could be a gentleman. I held my tongue, and behaved my best to prove my gratitude, you know. Of course, I loved Margaret very soon. How could I help it? She was the sweetest woman I had ever seen, tender, frank, and spirited; all I had ever dreamed of and longed for. I did not speak of this, nor hope for a return, because I knew she was a hearty Unionist, and thought she only tended me from pity. But suddenly she decided to go home, and when I ventured to wish she would stay longer, she would not listen, and said, 'I must not stay; I should have gone before.'
"The words were nothing, but as she uttered them the color came up beautifully over all her face, and her eyes filled as they looked away from mine. Then I knew that she loved me, and my secret broke out against my will. Margaret was forced to listen, for I would not let her go, but she seemed to harden herself against me, growing colder, stiller, statelier, as I went on, and when I said in my desperate way,—
"'You should love me, for we are bid to love our enemies,' she flashed an indignant look at me and said,—
"'I will not love what I cannot respect! Come to me a loyal man, and see what answer I shall give you.'
"Then she went away. It was the wisest thing she could have done, for absence did more to change me than an ocean of tears, a year of exhortations. Lying there, I missed her every hour of the day, recalled every gentle act, kind word, and fair example she had given me. I contrasted my own belief with hers, and found a new significance in the words honesty and honor, and, remembering her fidelity to principle, was ashamed of my own treason to God and to herself. Education, prejudice, and interest, are difficult things to overcome, and that was the hottest fight I ever passed through, for as I tell you, I was a coward. But love and loyalty won the day, and, asking no quarter, the Rebel surrendered."
"Phil Beaufort, you're a brick!" cried Dick, with a sounding slap on his comrade's shoulder.
"A brand snatched from the burnin'. Hallelujah!" chanted Flint, seesawing with excitement.
"Then you went to find your wife? How? Where?" asked Thorn, forgetting vigilance in interest.
"Friend Bent hated war so heartily that he would have nothing to do with paroles, exchanges, or any martial process whatever, but bade me go when and where I liked, remembering to do by others as I had been done by. Before I was well enough to go, however, I managed, by means of Copperhead influence and returned prisoners, to send a letter to my father and receive an answer. You can imagine what both contained; and so I found myself penniless, but not poor, an outcast, but not alone. Old Bent treated me like a prodigal son, and put money in my purse; his pretty daughters loved me for Margaret's sake, and gave me a patriotic salute all round when I left them, the humblest, happiest man in Pennsylvania. Margaret once said to me that this was the time for deeds, not words; that no man should stand idle, but serve the good cause with head, heart, and hand, no matter in what rank; for in her eyes a private fighting for liberty was nobler than a dozen generals defending slavery. I remembered that, and, not having influential friends to get me a commission, enlisted in one of her own Massachusetts regiments, knowing that no act of mine would prove my sincerity like that. You should have seen her face when I walked in upon her, as she sat alone, busied with the army work, as I'd so often seen her sitting by my bed; it showed me all she had been suffering in silence, all I should have lost had I chosen darkness instead of light. She hoped and feared so much she could not speak, neither could I, but dropped my cloak, and showed her that, through love of her, I had become a soldier of the Union. How I love the coarse blue uniform! for when she saw it, she came to me without a word and kept her promise in a month."
"Thunder! what a harnsome woman!" exclaimed Flint, as Phil, opening the golden case that held his talisman, showed them the beautiful, beloved face of which he spoke.
"Yes! and a right noble woman too. I don't deserve her, but I will. We parted on our wedding-day, for orders to be off came suddenly, and she would not let me go until I had given her my name to keep. We were married in the morning, and at noon I had to go. Other women wept as we marched through the city, but my brave Margaret kept her tears till we were gone, smiling and waving her hand to me,—the hand that wore the wedding-ring,—till I was out of sight. That image of her is before me day and night, and day and night her last words are ringing in my ears,—
"'I give you freely, do your best. Better a true man's widow than a traitor's wife.'
"Boys, I've only stood on the right side for a month; I've only fought one battle, earned one honor; but I believe these poor achievements are an earnest of the long atonement I desire to make for five-and-twenty years of blind transgression. You say I fight well. Have I not cause to dare much?—for in owning many slaves, I too became a slave; in helping to make many freemen, I liberate myself. You wonder why I refused promotion. Have I any right to it yet? Are there not men who never sinned as I have done, and beside whose sacrifices mine look pitifully small? You tell me I have no ambition. I have the highest, for I desire to become God's noblest work,—an honest man,—living, to make Margaret happy in a love that every hour grows worthier of her own,—dying to make death proud to take me."
Phil had risen while he spoke, as if the enthusiasm of his mood lifted him into the truer manhood he aspired to attain. Straight and strong he stood up in the moonlight, his voice deepened by unwonted energy, his eye clear and steadfast, his whole face ennobled by the regenerating power of this late loyalty to country, wife, and self, and bright against the dark blue of his jacket shone the pictured face, the only medal he was proud to wear.
Ah, brave, brief moment, cancelling years of wrong! Ah, fair and fatal decoration, serving as a mark for a hidden foe! The sharp crack of a rifle broke the stillness of the night, and with those hopeful words upon his lips, the young man sealed his purpose with his life.
THE BARON'S GLOVES;
"All is fair in love and war."
HOW THEY WERE FOUND
"What a long sigh! Are you tired, Amy?"
"Yes, and disappointed as well. I never would have undertaken this journey if I had not thought it would be full of novelty, romance, and charming adventures."
"Well, we have had several adventures."
"Bah! losing one's hat in the Rhine, getting left at a dirty little inn, and having our pockets picked, are not what I call adventures. I wish there were brigands in Germany—it needs something of that sort to enliven its stupidity."
"How can you call Germany stupid when you have a scene like this before you?" said Helen, with a sigh of pleasure, as she looked from the balcony which overhangs the Rhine at the hotel of the "Three Kings" at Coblentz. Ehrenbreitstein towered opposite, the broad river glittered below, and a midsummer moon lent its enchantment to the landscape.
As she spoke, her companion half rose from the low chair where she lounged, and showed the pretty, piquant face of a young girl. She seemed in a half melancholy, half petulant mood; and traces of recent illness were visible in the languor of her movements and the pallor of her cheeks.
"Yes, it is lovely; but I want adventures and romance of some sort to make it quite perfect. I don't care what, if something would only happen."
"My dear, you are out of spirits and weary now, to-morrow you'll be yourself again. Do not be ungrateful to uncle or unjust to yourself. Something pleasant will happen, I've no doubt. In fact, something has happened that you may make a little romance out of, perhaps, for lack of a more thrilling adventure."
"What do you mean?" and Amy's listless face brightened.
"Speak low; there are balconies all about us, and we may be overheard," said Helen, drawing nearer after an upward glance.
"What is the beginning of a romance?" whispered Amy, eagerly.
"A pair of gloves. Just now, as I stood here, and you lay with your eyes shut, these dropped from the balcony overhead. Now amuse yourself by weaving a romance out of them and their owner."
Amy seized them, and stepping inside the window, examined them by the candle.
"A gentleman's gloves, scented with violets! Here's a little hole fretted by a ring on the third finger. Bless me! here are the initials, 'S.P.,' stamped on the inside, with a coat of arms below. What a fop to get up his gloves in this style! They are exquisite, though. Such a delicate color, so little soiled, and so prettily ornamented! Handsome hands wore these. I'd like to see the man."
Helen laughed at the girl's interest, and was satisfied if any trifle amused her ennui.
"I will send them back by the kellner, and in that way we may discover their owner," she said.
But Amy arrested her on the way to the door.
"I've a better plan; these waiters are so stupid you'll get nothing out of them. Here's the hotel book sent up for our names; let us look among the day's arrivals and see who 'S.P.' is. He came to-day, I'm sure, for the man said the rooms above were just taken, so we could not have them."
Opening the big book, Amy was soon intently poring over the long list of names, written in many hands and many languages.
"I've got it! Here he is—oh, Nell, he's a baron! Isn't that charming? 'Sigismund von Palsdorf, Dresden.' We must see him, for I know he's handsome, if he wears such distracting gloves."
"You'd better take them up yourself, then."
"You know I can't do that; but I shall ask the man a few questions, just to get an idea what sort of person the baron is. Then I shall change my mind and go down to dinner; shall look well about me, and if the baron is agreeable I shall make uncle return the gloves. He will thank us, and I can say I've known a real baron. That will be so nice when we go home. Now, don't be duennaish and say I'm silly, but let me do as I like, and come and dress."
Helen submitted, and when the gong pealed through the house, Major Erskine marched into the great salle a manger, with a comely niece on each arm. The long tables were crowded, and they had to run the gauntlet of many eyes as they made their way to the head of the upper table. Before she touched her soup, Amy glanced down the line of faces opposite, and finding none that answered the slight description elicited from the waiter, she leaned a little forward to examine those on her own side of the table. Some way down sat several gentlemen, and as she bent to observe them, one did the same, and she received an admiring glance from a pair of fine black eyes. Somewhat abashed, she busied herself with her soup: but the fancy had taken possession of her, and presently she whispered to Helen,—
"Do you see any signs of the baron?"
"On my left; look at the hands."
Amy looked and saw a white, shapely hand with an antique ring on the third finger. Its owner's face was averted, but as he conversed with animation, the hand was in full play, now emphasizing an opinion, now lifting a glass, or more frequently pulling at a blond beard which adorned the face of the unknown. Amy shook her head decidedly.
"I hate light men, and don't think that is the baron, for the gloves are a size too small for those hands. Lean back and look some four or five seats lower down on the right. See what sort of person the dark man with the fine eyes is."
Helen obeyed, but almost instantly bent to her plate again, smiling in spite of herself.
"That is an Englishman; he stares rudely, says 'By Jove!' and wears no jewelry or beard."
"Now, I'm disappointed. Well, keep on the watch, and tell me if you make any discoveries, for I will find the baron."
Being hungry, Amy devoted herself to her dinner, till dessert was on the table. She was languidly eating grapes, while Helen talked with the major, when the word "baron" caught her ear. The speakers sat at a table behind her, so that she could not see them without turning quite round, which was impossible; but she listened eagerly to the following scrap of chat:—
"Is the baron going on to-morrow?" asked a gay voice in French.
"Yes, he is bound for Baden-Baden. The season is at its height, and he must make his game while the ball is rolling, or it is all up with the open-handed Sigismund," answered a rough voice.
"Won't his father pardon the last escapade?" asked a third, with a laugh.
"No, and he is right. The duel was a bad affair, for the man almost died, and the baron barely managed to get out of the scrape through court influence. When is the wedding to be?"
"Never, Palsdorf says. There is everything but love in the bargain, and he swears he'll not agree to it. I like that."
"There is much nobleness in him, spite of his vagaries. He will sow his wild oats and make a grand man in time. By the by, if we are going to the fortress, we must be off. Give Sigismund the word; he is dining at the other table with Power," said the gay voice.
"Take a look at the pretty English girl as you go by; it will do your eyes good, after the fat Frauleins we have seen of late," added the rough one.
Three gentlemen rose, and as they passed Amy stole a glance at them; but seeing several pairs of eyes fixed on herself, she turned away blushing, with the not unpleasant consciousness that "the pretty English girl" was herself. Longing to see which Sigismund was, she ventured to look after the young men, who paused behind the man with the blond beard, and also touched the dark-eyed gentleman on the shoulder. All five went down the hall and stood talking near the door.
"Uncle, I wish to go," said Amy, whose will was law to the amiable major. Up he rose, and Amy added, as she took his arm, "I'm seized with a longing to go to Baden-Baden and see a little gambling. You are not a wild young man, so you can be trusted there."
"I hope so. Now you are a sensible little woman, and we'll do our best to have a gay time. Wait an instant till I get my hat."
While the major searched for the missing article the girls went on, and coming to the door, Amy tried to open it. The unwieldy foreign lock resisted her efforts, and she was just giving it an impatient little shake, when a voice said behind her,—
"Permit me, mademoiselle;" at the same moment a handsome hand turned the latch, the flash of a diamond shone before her, and the door opened.
"Merci, monsieur," she murmured, turning as she went out; but Helen was close behind her, and no one else to be seen except the massive major in the rear.
"Did you see the baron?" she whispered eagerly, as they went up-stairs.
"No; where was he?"
"He opened the door for me. I knew him by his hand and ring. He was close to you."
"I did not observe him, being busy gathering up my dress. I thought the person was a waiter, and never looked at him," said Helen, with provoking indifference.
"How unfortunate! Uncle, you are going to see the fortress; we don't care for it; but I want you to take these gloves and inquire for Baron Sigismund Palsdorf. He will be there with a party of gentlemen. You can easily manage it, men are so free and easy. Mind what he is like, and come home in time to tell me all about it."
Away went the major, and the cousins sat on the balcony enjoying the lovely night, admiring the picturesque scene, and indulging in the flights of fancy all girls love, for Helen, in spite of her three-and-twenty years, was as romantic as Amy at eighteen. It was past eleven when the major came, and the only greeting he received was the breathless question,—
"Did you find him?"
"I found something much better than any baron, a courier. I've wanted one ever since we started; for two young ladies and their baggage are more than one man can do his duty by, Karl Hoffman had such excellent testimonials from persons I know, that I did not hesitate to engage him, and he comes to-morrow; so henceforth I've nothing to do but devote myself to you."
"How very provoking! Did you bring the gloves back?" asked Amy, still absorbed in the baron.
The major tossed them to her, and indulged in a hearty laugh at her girlish regrets; then bade them good-night, and went away to give orders for an early start next morning.
Tired of talking, the girls lay down in the two little white beds always found in German hotels, and Amy was soon continuing in sleep the romance she had begun awake. She dreamed that the baron proved to be the owner of the fine eyes; that he wooed and won her, and they were floating down the river to the chime of wedding-bells.
At this rapturous climax she woke to find the air full of music, and to see Helen standing tall and white in the moonlight that streamed in at the open window.
"Hush, hide behind the curtains and listen; it's a serenade," whispered Helen, as Amy stole to her side.
Shrouded in the drapery, they leaned and listened till the song ended, then Amy peeped; a dark group stood below; all were bareheaded, and now seemed whispering together. Presently a single voice rose, singing an exquisite little French canzonet, the refrain of which was a passionate repetition of the word "Amie." She thought she recognized the voice, and the sound of her own name uttered in such ardent tones made her heart beat and her color rise, for it seemed to signify that the serenade was for them. As the last melodious murmur ceased, there came a stifled laugh from below, and something fell into the balcony. Neither dared stir till the sound of departing feet reassured them; then creeping forward Amy drew in a lovely bouquet of myrtle, roses, and great German forget-me-nots, tied with a white ribbon and addressed in a dashing hand to La belle Helene.
"Upon my life, the romance has begun in earnest," laughed Helen, as she examined the flowers. "You are serenaded by some unknown nightingale, and I have flowers tossed up to me in the charming old style. Of course it is the baron, Amy."
"I hope so; but whoever it is, they are regular troubadours, and I'm delighted. I know the gloves will bring us fun of some kind. Do you take one and I'll take the other, and see who will find the baron first. Isn't it odd that they knew our names?"
"Amy, the writing on this card is very like that in the big book. I may be bewitched by this mid-summer moonlight, but it really is very like it. Come and see."
The two charming heads bent over the card, looking all the more charming for the dishevelled curls and braids that hung about them as the girls laughed and whispered together in the softly brilliant light that filled the room.
"You are right; it is the same. The men who stared so at dinner are gay students perhaps, and ready for any prank. Don't tell uncle, but let us see what will come of it. I begin to enjoy myself heartily now—don't you?" said Amy, laying her glove carefully away.
"I enjoyed myself before, but I think 'La belle Helene' gives an added relish to life, Amie," laughed Nell, putting her flowers in water; and then both went back to their pillows, to dream delightfully till morning.
KARL, THE COURIER
"Three days, at least, before we reach Baden. How tiresome it is that uncle won't go faster!" said Amy, as she tied on her hat next morning, wondering as she did so if the baron would take the same boat.
"As adventures have begun, I feel assured that they will continue to cheer the way; so resign yourself and be ready for anything," replied Helen, carefully arranging her bouquet in her travelling-basket.
A tap at the door, which stood half open, made both look up. A tall, brown, gentlemanly man, in a gray suit, with a leathern bag slung over his shoulder, stood there, hat in hand, and meeting Helen's eyes, bowed respectfully, saying in good English, but with a strong German accent,—
"Ladies, the major desired me to tell you the carriage waits."
"Why, who—" began Amy, staring with her blue eyes full of wonder at the stranger.
He bowed again, and said, simply,—
"Karl Hoffman, at your service, mademoiselle."
"The courier—oh, yes! I forgot all about it. Please take these things."
Amy began to hand him her miscellaneous collection of bags, books, shawls and cushions.
"I'd no idea couriers were such decent creatures," whispered Amy, as they followed him along the hall.
"Don't you remember the raptures Mrs. Mortimer used to have over their Italian courier, and her funny description of him? 'Beautiful to behold, with a night of hair, eyes full of an infinite tenderness, and a sumptuous cheek.'"
Both girls laughed, and Amy averred that Karl's eyes danced with merriment as he glanced over his shoulder, as the silvery peal sounded behind him.
"Hush! he understands English; we must be careful," said Helen, and neither spoke again till they reached the carriage.
Everything was ready, and as they drove away, the major, leaning luxuriously back, exclaimed,—
"Now I begin to enjoy travelling, for I'm no longer worried by the thought of luggage, time-tables, trains, and the everlasting perplexity of thalers, kreutzers, and pfenniges. This man is a treasure; everything is done in the best manner, and his knowledge of matters is really amazing."
"He's a very gentlemanly-looking person," said Amy, eying a decidedly aristocratic foot through the front window of the carriage, for Karl sat up beside the driver.
"He is a gentleman, my dear. Many of these couriers are well born and educated, but, being poor, prefer this business to any other, as it gives them variety, and often pleasant society. I've had a long talk with Hoffman, and find him an excellent and accomplished fellow. He has lost his fortune, it seems, through no fault of his own, so being fond of a roving life, turned courier for a time, and we are fortunate to have secured him."
"But one doesn't know how to treat him," said Helen. "I don't like to address him as a servant, and yet it's not pleasant to order a gentleman about."
"Oh, it will be easy enough as we go on together. Just call him Hoffman, and behave as if you knew nothing about his past. He begged me not to mention it, but I thought you'd like the romance of the thing. Only don't either of you run away with him, as Ponsonby's daughter did with her courier, who wasn't a gentleman, by the way."
"Not handsome enough," said Amy. "I don't like blue eyes and black hair. His manners are nice, but he looks like a gipsy, with his brown face and black beard: doesn't he, Nell?"
"Not at all. Gipsies haven't that style of face; they are thin, sharp, and cunning in feature as in nature. Hoffman has large, well-moulded features, and a mild, manly expression, which gives one confidence in him."
"He has a keen, wicked look in his blue eyes, as you will see, Nell. I mean mischievously, not malignantly wicked. He likes fun, I'm sure, for he laughed about the 'sumptuous cheek' till his own were red, though he dared not show it, and was as grave as an owl when we met uncle," said Amy, smiling at the recollection.
"We shall go by boat to Biebrich, and then by rail to Heidelberg. We shall get in late to-morrow night, but can rest a day, and then on to Baden. Here we are; now make yourselves easy, as I do, and let Karl take care of everything."
And putting his hands in his pockets, the major strolled about the boat, while the courier made matters comfortable for the day. So easily and well did he do his duty, that both girls enjoyed watching him after he had established them on the shady side of the boat, with camp-stools for their feet, cushions to lean on, books and bags laid commodiously at hand.
As they sailed up the lovely Rhine they grew more and more enthusiastic in their admiration and curiosity, and finding the meagre description of the guide-books very unsatisfactory, Amy begged her uncle to tell her all the legends of picturesque ruin, rock and river, as they passed.
"Bless me, child, I know nothing; but here's Hoffman, a German born, who will tell you everything, I dare say. Karl, what's that old castle up there? The young ladies want to know about it."
Leaning on the railing, Hoffman told the story so well that he was kept explaining and describing for an hour, and when he went away to order lunch, Amy declared it was as pleasant as reading fairy tales to listen to his dramatic histories and legends.
At lunch the major was charmed to find his favorite wines and dishes without any need of consulting dictionary or phrase-book beforehand, or losing his temper in vain attempts to make himself understood.
On reaching Biebrich, tired and hungry, at nightfall, everything was ready for them, and all went to bed praising Karl, the courier, though Amy, with unusual prudence, added,—
"He is a new broom now; let us wait a little before we judge."
All went well next day till nightfall, when a most untoward accident occurred, and Helen's adventures began in earnest. The three occupied a coupe, and being weary with long sitting, Helen got out at one of the stations where the train paused for ten minutes. A rosy sunset tempted her to the end of the platform, and there she found, what nearly all foreign railway stations possess, a charming little garden.
Amy was very tired, rather cross, and passionately fond of flowers, so when an old woman offered to pull a nosegay for "the gracious lady," Helen gladly waited for it, hoping to please the invalid. Twice the whistle warned her, and at last she ran back, but only in time to see the train move away, with her uncle gesticulating wildly to the guard, who shook his stupid German head, and refused to see the dismayed young lady imploring him to wait for her.
Just as the train was vanishing from the station, a man leaped from a second-class carriage at the risk of his neck, and hurried back to find Helen looking pale and bewildered, as well she might, left alone and moneyless at night in a strange town.
"Mademoiselle, it is I; rest easy; we can soon go on; a train passes in two hours, and we can telegraph to Heidelberg that they may not fear for you."
"Oh, Hoffman, how kind of you to stop for me! What should I have done without you, for uncle takes care of all the money, and I have only my watch."
Helen's usual self-possession rather failed her in the flurry of the moment, and she caught Karl's arm with a feminine little gesture of confidence very pleasant to see. Leading her to the waiting-room, he ordered supper, and put her into the care of the woman of the place, while he went to make inquiries and dispatch the telegram. In half an hour he returned, finding Helen refreshed and cheerful, though a trace of anxiety was still visible in her watchful eyes.
"All goes excellently, mademoiselle. I have sent word to several posts along the road that we are coming by the night train, so that Monsieur le Major will rest tranquil till we meet. It is best that I give you some money, lest such a mishap should again occur; it is not likely so soon; nevertheless, here is both gold and silver. With this, one can make one's way everywhere. Now, if mademoiselle will permit me to advise, she will rest for an hour, as we must travel till dawn. I will keep guard without and watch for the train."
He left her, and having made herself comfortable on one of the sofas, she lay watching the tall shadow pass and repass door and window, as Karl marched up and down the platform, with the tireless tramp of a sentinel on duty. A pleasant sense of security stole over her, and with a smile at Amy's enjoyment of the adventure when it was over, Helen fell asleep.
A far-off shriek half woke her, and starting up, she turned to meet the courier coming in to wake her. Up thundered the train, every carriage apparently full of sleepy passengers, and the guard in a state of sullen wrath at some delay, the consequences of which would fall heaviest on him.
From carriage to carriage hurried Karl and his charge, to be met with everywhere by the cry, "All full," in many languages, and with every aspect of inhospitality. One carriage only showed two places; the other seats were occupied by six students, who gallantly invited the lady to enter. But Helen shrunk back, saying,—
"Is there no other place?"
"None, mademoiselle; this, or remain till morning," said Karl.
"Where will you go if I take this place?"
"Among the luggage,—anywhere; it is nothing. But we must decide at once."
"Come with me; I'm afraid to be locked in here alone," said Helen, desperately.
"Mademoiselle forgets I am her courier."
"I do not forget that you are a gentleman. Pray come in; my uncle will thank you."
"I will," and with a sudden brightening of the eyes, a grateful glance, and an air of redoubled respect, Hoffman followed her into the carriage.
They were off at once, and the thing was done before Helen had time to feel anything but the relief which the protection of his presence afforded her.
The young gentlemen stared at the veiled lady and her grim escort, joked under their breath, and looked wistfully at the suppressed cigars, but behaved with exemplary politeness till sleep overpowered them, and one after the other dropped off asleep to dream of their respective Gretchens.
Helen could not sleep, and for hours sat studying the unconscious faces before her, the dim landscape flying past the windows, or forgot herself in reveries.
Hoffman remained motionless and silent, except when she addressed him, wakeful also, and assiduous in making the long night as easy as possible.
It was past midnight, and Helen's heavy eyelids were beginning to droop, when suddenly there came an awful crash, a pang of mortal fear, then utter oblivion.
As her senses returned she found herself lying in a painful position under what had been the roof of the car; something heavy weighed down her lower limbs, and her dizzy brain rung with a wild uproar of shrieks and groans, eager voices, the crash of wood and iron, and the shrill whistle of the engine, as it rushed away for help.
Through the darkness she heard the pant as of some one struggling desperately, then a cry close by her, followed by a strong voice exclaiming, in an agony of suspense,—
"My God, will no one come!"
"Hoffman, are you there?" cried Helen, groping in the gloom, with a thrill of joy at the sound of a familiar voice.
"Thank heaven, you are safe. Lie still. I will save you. Help is coming. Have no fear!" panted the voice, with an undertone of fervent gratitude in its breathless accents.
"What has happened? Where are the rest?"
"We have been thrown down an embankment. The lads are gone for help. God only knows what harm is done."
Karl's voice died in a stifled groan, and Helen cried out in alarm,—
"Where are you? You are hurt?"
"Not much. I keep the ruins from falling in to crush us. Be quiet, they are coming."
A shout answered the faint halloo he gave as if to guide them to the spot, and a moment after, five of the students were swarming about the wreck, intent on saving the three whose lives were still in danger.
A lamp torn from some demolished carriage was held through an opening, and Helen saw a sight that made her blood chill in her veins. Across her feet, crushed and bleeding, lay the youngest of the students, and kneeling close beside him was Hoffman, supporting by main strength a mass of timber, which otherwise would fall and crush them all. His face was ghastly pale, his eyes haggard with pain and suspense, and great drops stood upon his forehead. But as she looked, he smiled with a cheery.—
"Bear up, dear lady, we shall soon be out of danger. Now, lads, work with a will; my strength is going fast."
They did work like heroes, and even in her pain and peril, Helen admired the skill, energy, and courage of the young men, who, an hour ago, had seemed to have no ideas above pipes and beer. Soon Hoffman was free, the poor senseless youth lifted out, and then, as tenderly as if she were a child, they raised and set her down, faint but unhurt, in a wide meadow, already strewn with sad tokens of the wreck.
Karl was taken possession of as well as herself, forced to rest a moment, drink a cordial draught from some one's flask, and be praised, embraced, and enthusiastically blessed by the impetuous youths.
"Where is the boy who was hurt? Bring him to me. I am strong now. I want to help. I have salts in my pocket, and I can bind up his wounds," said Helen, soon herself again.
Karl and Helen soon brought back life and sense to the boy, and never had human face looked so lovely as did Helen's to the anxious comrades when she looked up in the moonlight with a joyful smile, and softly whispered,—
"He is alive."
For an hour terrible confusion reigned, then the panic subsided a little, and such of the carriages as were whole were made ready to carry away as many as possible; the rest must wait till a return train could be sent for them.
A struggle of course ensued, for every one wished to go on, and fear made many selfish. The wounded, the women and children, were taken, as far as possible, and the laden train moved away, leaving many anxious watchers behind.
Helen had refused to go, and had given her place to poor Conrad, thereby overwhelming his brother and comrades with gratitude. Two went on with the wounded lad; the rest remained, and chivalrously devoted themselves to Helen as a body-guard.
The moon shone clearly, the wide field was miles from any hamlet, and a desolate silence succeeded to the late uproar, as the band of waiters roamed about, longing for help and dawn.
"Mademoiselle, you shiver; the dew falls, and it is damp here; we must have a fire;" and Karl was away to a neighboring hedge, intent on warming his delicate charge if he felled a forest to do it.
The students rushed after him, and soon returned in triumph to build a glorious fire, which drew all forlorn wanderers to its hospitable circle. A motley assemblage; but mutual danger and discomfort produced mutual sympathy and good will, and a general atmosphere of friendship pervaded the party.
"Where is the brave Hoffman?" asked Wilhelm, the blond student, who, being in the Werther period of youth, was already madly in love with Helen, and sat at her feet catching cold in the most romantic manner.
"Behold me! The little ones cry for hunger, so I ransack the ruins and bring away my spoils. Eat, Kinder, eat and be patient."
As he spoke Karl appeared with an odd collection of baskets, bags, and bottles, and with a fatherly air that won all the mothers, he gave the children whatever first appeared, making them laugh in spite of weariness and hunger by the merry speeches which accompanied his gifts.
"You too need something. Here is your own basket with the lunch I ordered you. In a sad state of confusion, but still eatable. See, it is not bad," and he deftly spread on a napkin before Helen cold chicken, sandwiches, and fruit.
His care for the little ones as well as for herself touched her and her eyes filled, as she remembered that she owed her life to him, and recalled the sight of his face in the overturned car.
Her voice trembled a little as she thanked him, and the moonlight betrayed her wet eyes. He fancied she was worn out with excitement and fatigue, and anxious to cheer her spirits, he whispered to Wilhelm and his mates,—
"Sing, then, comrades, and while away this tedious night. It is hard for all to wait so long, and the babies need a lullaby."
The young men laughed and sang as only German students can sing, making the night musical with blithe drinking songs, tender love-lays, battle-hymns, and Volkslieder sweeter than any songs across the water.
Every heart was cheered and warmed by the magic of the music, the babies fell asleep, strangers grew friendly, fear changed to courage, and the most forlorn felt the romance of that bivouac under the summer sky.
Dawn was reddening the east when a welcome whistle broke up the camp. Every one hurried to the railway, but Helen paused to gather a handful of blue forget-me-nots, saying to Hoffman, who waited with her wraps on his arm,—
"It has been a happy night, in spite of the danger and discomfort. I shall not soon forget it; and take these as a souvenir."
He smiled, standing bare-headed in the chilly wind, for his hat was lost, his coat torn, hair dishevelled, and one hand carelessly bound up in his handkerchief. Helen saw these marks of the night's labors and perils for the first time, and as soon as they were seated desired to see his hand.
"It is nothing,—a scratch, a mere scratch, I give you my word, mademoiselle," he began, but Wilhelm unceremoniously removed the handkerchief, showing a torn and bleeding hand which must have been exquisitely painful.
Helen turned pale, and with a reproachful glance skilfully bound it up again, saying, as she handed a silken scarf to Wilhelm,—
"Make of that a sling, please, and put the poor hand in it. Care must be taken, or harm will come of it."
Hoffman submitted in bashful silence, as if surprised and touched by the young lady's interest. She saw that, and added gratefully,—
"I do not forget that you saved my life, though you seem to have done so. My uncle will thank you better than I can."
"I already have my reward, mademoiselle," he returned, with a respectful inclination and a look she could neither understand nor forget.
The excitement and suspense of the major and Amy can be imagined when news of the accident reached them. Their gratitude and relief were intense when Helen appeared next morning, with the faithful Hoffman still at his post, though no longer able to disguise the fact that he was suffering from his wound.
When the story had been told, Karl was put under the surgeon's care, and all remained at Heidelberg for several days to rest and recover.
On the afternoon of the last day the major and young ladies drove off to the castle for a farewell view. Helen began to sketch the great stone lion's head above the grand terrace, the major smoked and chatted with a party of English artists whom he had met, and Amy, with a little lad for a guide, explored the old castle to her heart's content.
The sun set, and twilight began to fall when Helen put up her pencils, and the major set off to find Amy, who had been appearing and disappearing in every nook and cranny of the half-ruined castle.
Nowhere could he find her, and no voice answered when he called. The other visitors were gone, and the place seemed deserted, except by themselves and the old man who showed the ruins.
Becoming alarmed lest the girl had fallen somewhere, or lost her way among the vaults where the famous Tun lies, the major called out old Hans with his lantern, and searched high and low.
Amy's hat, full of flowers and ferns, was found in the Lady's Walk, as the little terrace is called, but no other trace appeared, and Helen hurried to and fro in great distress, fearing all manner of dangers.
Meanwhile Amy, having explored every other part of the castle, went to take another look at the Tun, the dwarf, and the vaults.
Now little Anderl, her guide, had a great fear of ghosts, and legions were said to haunt the ruins after nightfall, so when Amy rambled on deeper and deeper into the gloom the boy's courage ebbed away with every step; yet he was ashamed to own his fear, seeing that she had none.
Amy wanted to see a certain cell, where a nun was said to have pined to death because she would not listen to the Margraf's love. The legend pleased the romantic girl, and forgetful of waning daylight, gathering damps, and Anderl's reluctant service, she ran on, up steps and down, delighted with little arched doors, rusty chains on the walls, glimpses of sky through shattered roofs, and all manner of mysterious nooks and corners. Coming at last to a narrow cell, with a stone table, and heavy bolts on the old door, she felt sure this was poor Elfrida's prison, and called Anderl to come on with his candle, for the boy had lighted one, for his own comfort rather than hers. Her call was unanswered, and glancing back, she saw the candle placed on the ground, but no Anderl.
"Little coward, he has run away," she said, laughing; and having satisfied her curiosity, turned to retrace her steps,—no easy task to one ignorant of the way, for vault after vault opened on both sides, and no path was discernible. In vain she tried to recall some landmark, the gloom had deepened and nothing was clear. On she hurried, but found no opening, and really frightened, stopped at last, calling the boy in a voice that woke a hundred echoes. But Anderl had fled home, thinking the lady would find her way back, and preferring to lose his kreutzers to seeing a ghost.
Poor Amy's bewilderment and alarm increased with every moment's delay, and hoping to come out somewhere, she ran on till a misstep jostled the candle from her hand and extinguished it.
Left in the dark, her courage deserted her, and she screamed desperately, like a lost child, and was fast getting into a state of frantic terror, when the sound of an approaching step reassured her.
Holding her breath, she heard a quick tread drawing nearer, as if guided by her cries, and, straining her eyes, she caught the outline of a man's figure in the gloom.
A sensation of intense joy rushed over her, and she was about to spring forward, when she remembered that as she could speak no German how could she explain her plight to the stranger, if he understood neither French nor English?
Fear took possession of her at the thought of meeting some rough peasant, or some rollicking student, to whom she could make no intelligible appeal or explanation.
Crouching close against the wall, she stood mute till the figure was very near. She was in the shadow of an angle, and the man paused, as if looking for the person who called for help.
"Who is lost here?" said a clear voice, in German.
Amy shrunk closer to the wall, fearing to speak, for the voice was that of a young man, and a low laugh followed the words, as if the speaker found the situation amusing.
"Mortal, ghost or devil, I'll find it," exclaimed the voice, and stepping forward, a hand groped for and found her.
"Lottchen, is it thou? Little rogue, thou shalt pay dearly for leading me such a chase."
As he spoke he drew the girl toward him, but with a faint cry, a vain effort to escape, Amy's terror reached its climax, and spent with fatigue and excitement, she lost consciousness.
"Who the deuce is it, then? Lottchen never faints on a frolic. Some poor little girl lost in earnest. I must get her out of this gloomy place at once, and find her party afterward."
Lifting the slight figure in his arms, the young man hurried on, and soon came out through a shattered gateway into the shrubbery which surrounds the base of the castle.
Laying her on the grass, he gently chafed her hands, eying the pale, pretty face meantime with the utmost solicitude.
At his first glimpse of it he had started, smiled and made a gesture of pleasure and surprise, then gave himself entirely to the task of recovering the poor girl whom he had frightened out of her senses.
Very soon she looked up with dizzy eyes, and clasping her hands imploringly, cried, in English, like a bewildered child,—
"I am lost! Oh, take me to my uncle."
"I will, the moment you can walk. Upon my soul, I meant to help you when I followed; but as you did not answer, I fancied it was Lottchen, the keeper's little girl. Pardon the fright I've caused you, and let me take you to your friends."
The true English accent of the words, and the hearty tone of sincerity in the apology, reassured Amy at once, and, rising, she said, with a faint smile and a petulant tone,—
"I was very silly, but my guide ran away, my candle went out, I lost the path, and can speak no German; so I was afraid to answer you at first; and then I lost my wits altogether, for it's rather startling to be clutched in the dark, sir."
"Indeed it is. I was very thoughtless, but now let me atone for it. Where is your uncle, Miss Erskine?" asked the stranger, with respectful earnestness.
"You know my name?" cried Amy in her impulsive way.
"I have that happiness," was the answer, with a smile.
"But I don't know you, sir;" and she peered at him, trying to see his face in the darkness, for the copse was thick, and twilight had come on rapidly.
"Not yet; I live in hope. Shall we go? Your uncle will be uneasy."
"Where are we?" asked Amy, glad to move on, for the interview was becoming too personal even for her, and the stranger's manner fluttered her, though she enjoyed the romance of the adventure immensely.
"We are in the park which surrounds the castle. You were near the entrance to it from the vaults when you fainted."
"I wish I had kept on a little longer, and not disgraced myself by such a panic."
"Nay, that is a cruel wish, for then I should have lost the happiness of helping you."
They had been walking side by side, but were forced to pause on reaching a broken flight of steps, for Amy could not see the way before her.
"Let me lead you; it is steep and dark, but better than going a long way round through the dew," he said, offering his hand.
"Must we return by these dreadful vaults?" faltered Amy, shrinking back.
"It is the shortest and safest route, I assure you."
"Are you sure you know the way?"
"Quite sure. I have lived here by the week together. Do you fear to trust me?"
"No; but it is so dark, and everything is so strange to me. Can we get down safely? I see nothing but a black pit."
And Amy still hesitated, with an odd mixture of fear and coquetry.
"I brought you up in safety; shall I take you down again?" asked the stranger, with a smile flickering over his face.
Amy felt rather than saw it, and assuming an air of dignified displeasure, motioned him to proceed, which he did for three steps; then Amy slipped, and gladly caught at the arm extended to save her.
Without a word he took her hand and led her back through the labyrinth she had threaded in her bewilderment. A dim light filled the place, but with unerring steps her guide went on till they emerged into the courtyard.
Major Erskine's voice was audible, giving directions to the keeper, and Helen's figure visible as she groped among the shadows of the ruined chapel for her cousin.
"There are my friends. Now I am safe. Come and let them thank you," cried Amy, in her frank, childlike warmth of manner.
"I want no thanks—forgive me—adieu," and hastily kissing the little hand that had lain so confidingly in his, the stranger was gone.
Amy rushed at once to Helen, and when the lost lamb had been welcomed, chidden, and exulted over, they drove home, listening to the very brief account which Amy gave of her adventure.
"Naughty little gad-about, how could you go and terrify me so, wandering in vaults with mysterious strangers, like the Countess of Rudolstadt. You are as wet and dirty as if you had been digging a well, yet you look as if you liked it," said Helen, as she led Amy into their room at the hotel.
"I do," was the decided answer, as the girl pulled a handkerchief off her head, and began to examine the corners of it. Suddenly she uttered a cry and flew to the light, exclaiming,—
"Nell, Nell, look here! The same letters, 'S.P.,' the same coat of arms, the same perfume—it was the baron!"
"What? who? are you out of your mind?" said Helen, examining the large, fine cambric handkerchief, with its delicately stamped initials under the stag's head, and three stars on a heart-shaped shield. "Where did you get it?" she added, as she inhaled the soft odor of violets shaken from its folds.
Amy blushed and answered shyly, "I didn't tell you all that happened before uncle, but now I will. My hat was left behind, and when I recovered my wits after my fright, I found this tied over my head. Oh, Nell, it was very charming there in that romantic old park, and going through the vaults with him, and having my hand kissed at parting. No one ever did that before, and I like it."
Amy glanced at her hand as she spoke, and stood staring as if struck dumb, for there on her forefinger shone a ring she had never seen before.
"Look! look! mine is gone, and this in its place! Oh, Nell, what shall I do?" she said, looking half frightened, half pleased.
Helen examined the ring and shook her head, for it was far more valuable than the little pearl one which it replaced. Two tiny hands of finest gold were linked together about a diamond of great brilliancy; and on the inside appeared again the initials, "S.P."
"How did it happen?" she asked, rather sternly.
"Upon my word, I don't know, unless he put it on while I was stupidly fainting. Rude man, to take advantage of me so. But, Nell, it is splendid, and what shall I do about it?"
"Tell uncle, find out the man and send back his things. It really is absurd, the manner in which German boys behave;" and Helen frowned, though she was strongly tempted to laugh at the whole thing.
"He was neither a German nor a boy, but an English gentleman, I'm sure," began Amy, rather offended.
"But 'S.P.' is a baron, you know, unless there are two Richmonds in the field," broke in Helen.
"I forgot that; never mind, it deepens the mystery; and after this performance, I'm prepared for any enormity. It's my fate; I submit." said Amy, tragically, as she waved her hand to and fro, pleased with the flash of the ring.
"Amy, I think on the whole I won't speak to uncle. He is quick to take offence, especially where we are concerned. He doesn't understand foreign ways, and may get into trouble. We will manage it quietly ourselves."
"Karl is discreet; we will merely say we found these things and wish to discover the owner. He may know this 'S.P.' and, having learned his address, we can send them back. The man will understand; and as we leave to-morrow, we shall be out of the way before he can play any new prank."
"Have in Karl at once, for if I wear this lovely thing long I shall not be able to let it go at all. How dared the creature take such a liberty!" and Amy pulled off the ring with an expression of great scorn.
"Come into the salon and see what Karl says to the matter. Let me speak, or you will say too much. One must be prudent before—"
She was going to say "servants," but checked herself, and substituted "strangers," remembering gratefully how much she owed this man.
Hoffman came, looking pale, and with his hand in a sling, but was as gravely devoted as ever, and listened to Helen's brief story with serious attention.
"I will inquire, mademoiselle, and let you know at once. It is easy to find persons if one has a clue. May I see the handkerchief?"
Helen showed it. He glanced at the initials, and laid it down with a slight smile.
"The coat-of-arms is English, mademoiselle."
"Are you sure?"
"Quite so; I understand heraldry."
"But the initials stand for Sigismund Palsdorf, and we know he is a German baron," broke in Amy, forgetting prudence in eagerness.
"If mademoiselle knows the name and title of this gentleman it will not be hard to find him."
"We only fancy it is the same because of the initials. I dare say it is a mistake, and the man is English. Inquire quietly, Hoffman, if you please, as this ring is of value, and I wish to restore it to its owner," said Helen, rather sharply.
"I shall do so, mademoiselle," and with his gentlemanly bow, the courier left the room.
"Bless me, what's that?" cried Amy, a moment afterward, as a ringing laugh echoed through the corridor,—a laugh so full of hearty and infectious merriment that both girls smiled involuntarily, and Amy peeped out to see who the blithe personage might be.
An old gentleman was entering his room near by, and Karl was just about to descend the stairs. Both looked back at the girlish face peeping at them, but both were quite grave, and the peal of laughter remained a mystery, like all the rest of it.
Late in the evening Hoffman returned to report that a party of young Englishmen had visited the castle that afternoon, and had left by the evening train. One of them had been named Samuel Peters, and he, doubtless, was the owner of the ring.
A humorous expression lurked in the couriers eye as he made his report, and heard Amy exclaim, in a tone of disgust and comical despair,—
"Samuel Peters! That spoils all the romance and dims the beauty of the diamond. To think that a Peters should be the hero to whom I owe my safety, and a Samuel should leave me this token of regard!"
"Hush, Amy," whispered Helen. "Thanks, Hoffman; we must wait now for chance to help us."
A POLISH EXILE
"Room for one here, sir," said the guard, as the train stopped at Carlsruhe next day, on its way from Heidelberg to Baden.
The major put down his guide-book, Amy opened her eyes, and Helen removed her shawl from the opposite seat, as a young man, wrapped in a cloak, with a green shade over his eyes, and a general air of feebleness, got in and sank back with a sigh of weariness or pain. Evidently an invalid, for his face was thin and pale, his dark hair cropped short, and the ungloved hand attenuated and delicate as a woman's. A sidelong glance from under the deep shade seemed to satisfy him regarding his neighbors, and drawing his cloak about him with a slight shiver, he leaned into the corner and seemed to forget that he was not alone.
Helen and Amy exchanged glances of compassionate interest, for women always pity invalids, especially if young, comely and of the opposite sex. The major took one look, shrugged his shoulders, and returned to his book. Presently a hollow cough gave Helen a pretext for discovering the nationality of the newcomer.
"Do the open windows inconvenience you, sir?" she asked, in English.
No answer; the question evidently unintelligible.
She repeated it in French, lightly touching his cloak to arrest his attention.
Instantly a smile broke over the handsome mouth, and in the purest French he assured her that the fresh air was most agreeable, and begged pardon for annoying them with his troublesome cough.
"Not an invalid, I hope, sir?" said the major, in his bluff yet kindly voice.
"They tell me I can have no other fate; that my malady is fatal; but I still hope and fight for my life; it is all I have to give my country now."
A stifled sigh and a sad emphasis on the last word roused the sympathy of the girls, the interest of the major.
He took another survey, and said, with a tone of satisfaction, as he marked the martial carriage of the young man, and caught a fiery glance of the half-hidden eyes,—
"You are a soldier, sir?"
"I was; I am nothing now but an exile, for Poland is in chains."
The words "Poland" and "exile" brought up all the pathetic stories of that unhappy country which the three listeners had ever heard, and won their interest at once.
"You were in the late revolution, perhaps?" asked the major, giving the unhappy outbreak the most respectful name he could use.
"From beginning to end."
"Oh, tell us about it; we felt much sympathy for you, and longed to have you win," cried Amy, with such genuine interest and pity in her tone, it was impossible to resist.
Pressing both hands upon his breast, the young man bent low, with a flush of feeling on his pale cheek, and answered eagerly,—
"Ah, you are kind; it is balm to my sore heart to hear words like these. I thank you, and tell you what you will. It is but little that I do, yet I give my life, and die a long death, instead of a quick, brave one with my comrades."
"You are young to have borne a part in a revolution, sir," said the major, who pricked up his ears like an old war-horse at the sound of battle.
"My friends and myself left the University at Varsovie, as volunteers; we did our part, and now all lie in their graves but three."
"You were wounded, it seems?"
"Many times. Exposure, privation, and sorrow will finish what the Russian bullets began. But it is well. I have no wish to see my country enslaved, and I can no longer help her."
"Let us hope that a happier future waits for you both. Poland loves liberty too well, and has suffered too much for it, to be kept long in captivity."
Helen spoke warmly, and the young man listened with a brightening face.
"It is a kind prophecy; I accept it, and take courage. God knows I need it," he added, low to himself.
"Are you bound for Italy?" said the major, in a most un-English fit of curiosity.
"For Geneva first, Italy later, unless Montreaux is mild enough for me to winter in. I go to satisfy my friends, but doubt if it avails."
"Where is Montreaux?" asked Amy.
"Near Clarens, where Rousseau wrote his Heloise, and Vevay, where so many English go to enjoy Chillon. The climate is divine for unfortunates like myself, and life more cheap there than in Italy."
Here the train stopped again, and Hoffman came to ask if the ladies desired anything.
At the sound of his voice the young Pole started, looked up, and exclaimed, with the vivacity of a foreigner, in German,—
"By my life, it is Karl! Behold me, old friend, and satisfy me that it is thyself by a handshake."
"Casimer! What wind blows thee hither, my boy, in such sad plight?" replied Hoffman, grasping the slender hand outstretched to him.
"I fly from an enemy for the first time in my life, and, like all cowards, shall be conquered in the end. I wrote thee I was better, but the wound in the breast reopened, and nothing but a miracle will save me. I go to Switzerland; and thou?"
"Where my master commands. I serve this gentleman, now."
"Hard changes for both, but with health thou art king of circumstances, while I?—Ah well, the good God knows best. Karl, go thou and buy me two of those pretty baskets of grapes; I will please myself by giving them to these pitying angels. Speak they German?"
"One, the elder; but they understand not this rattle of ours."
Karl disappeared, and Helen, who had understood the rapid dialogue, tried to seem as unconscious as Amy.
"Say a friendly word to me at times; I am so homesick and faint-hearted, my Hoffman. Thanks; they are almost worthy the lips that shall taste them."
Taking the two little osier baskets, laden with yellow and purple clusters, Casimer offered them, with a charming mixture of timidity and grace, to the girls, saying, like a grateful boy,—
"You give me kind words and good hopes; permit that I thank you in this poor way."
"I drink success to Poland." cried Helen, lifting a great, juicy grape to her lips, like a little purple goblet, hoping to hide her confusion under a playful air.
The grapes went round, and healths were drunk with much merriment, for in travelling on the Continent it is impossible for the gruffest, primmest person to long resist the frank courtesy and vivacious chat of foreigners.
The major was unusually social and inquisitive, and while the soldiers fought their battles over again the girls listened and took notes, with feminine wits on the alert to catch any personal revelations which might fall from the interesting stranger. The wrongs and sufferings of Poland were discussed so eloquently that both young ladies were moved to declare the most undying hatred of Russia, Prussia, and Austria, the most intense sympathy for "poor Pologne." All day they travelled together, and as Baden-Baden approached, they naturally fell to talking of the gay place.
"Uncle, I must try my fortune once. I've set my heart upon it, and so has Nell. We want to know how gamblers feel, and to taste the fascination of the game which draws people here from all parts of Europe," said Amy, in her half-pleading, half-imperious way.
"You may risk one napoleon each, as I foolishly promised you should, when I little thought you would ever have an opportunity to remind me of my promise. It's not an amusement for respectable Englishwomen, or men either. You will agree with me there, monsieur?" and the major glanced at the Pole, who replied, with his peculiar smile:—