It was a wild journey.
The storm was still raging; the road was abominable, and was all one glare of frozen sleet, which had covered it with a slippery surface, except where there rose disintegrated ice-hummocks and heaps of slush—the debris of giant drifts. Moreover, it was as dark as Egypt. My progress, therefore, was slow. A boy went with me as far as the main road, and, after seeing me under way, he left me to my own devices. The horse was very aged, and, I fear, a little rheumatic. Besides, I have reason to believe that he was blind. That did not make any particular difference, though; for the darkness was so intense, that eyes were as useless as they would be to the eyeless fishes of the Mammoth Cave. I don't intend to prolong my description of this midnight ride. Suffice it to say that the horse walked all the way, and, although it was midnight when I started, it was near morning when I reached my quarters.
I hurried at once to the doctor, and, to his intense disgust, roused him and implored his services. I made it a personal matter, and put it in such an affecting light, that he consented to go; but he assured me that it was the greatest sacrifice to friendship that he had ever made in his life. I gave him the most explicit directions, and did not leave him till I saw him on horseback, and trotting, half asleep, down the street.
Then I went to my room, completely used up after such unparalleled exertions. I got a roaring fire made, established myself on my sofa immediately in front of it, and sought to restore my exhausted frame by hot potations. My intention was to rest for a while, till I felt thoroughly warmed, and then start for Montmorency to see about the lady. With this in my mind, and a pipe in my mouth, and a tumbler of toddy at my elbow, I reclined on my deep, soft, old-fashioned, and luxurious sofa; and, thus situated, I fell off before I knew it into an exceedingly profound sleep.
When I awoke, it was broad day. I started up, looked at my watch, and, to my horror, found that it was half-past twelve. In a short time, I had flung off my habitant clothes, dressed myself, got my own horse, and galloped off as fast as possible.
I was deeply vexed at myself for sleeping so long; but I found comfort in the thought that the doctor had gone on before. The storm had gone down, and the sky was clear. The sun was shining brightly. The roads were abominable, but not so bad as they had been, and my progress was rapid. So I went on at a rattling pace, not sparing my horse, and occupying my mind with thoughts of the lady whom I had saved, when suddenly, about three miles from Quebec, I saw a familiar figure advancing toward me.
It was the doctor!
He moved along slowly, and, as I drew nearer, I saw that he looked very much worn out, very peevish, and very discontented.
"Well, old man," said I, "how did you find her?"
"Find her?" growled the doctor—"I didn't find her at all. If this is a hoax," he continued, "all I can say, Macrorie, is this, that it's a devilish stupid one."
"A hoax? What—didn't find her?" I gasped.
"Find her? Of course not. There's no such a person. Why, I could not even find the house."
"What—do you mean? I—I don't understand—" I faltered.
"Why," said the doctor, who saw my deep distress and disappointment, "I mean simply this: I've been riding about this infernal country all day, been to Montmorency, called at fifty houses, and couldn't find anybody that knew any thing at all about any lady whatever."
At this, my consternation was so great that I couldn't say one single word. This news almost took my breath away. The doctor looked sternly at me for some time, and then was about to more on.
This roused me.
"What!" I cried; "you're not thinking of going back?"
"Back? Of course, I am. That's the very thing I'm going to do."
"For God's sake, doctor," I cried, earnestly, "don't go just yet! I tell you, the lady is there, and her condition is a most perilous one. I told you before how I saved her, I left there at midnight, last night, in spite of my fatigue, and travelled all night to get you. I promised her that you would be there early this morning. It's now nearly two in the afternoon. Good Heavens! doctor, you won't leave a fellow in such a fix?"
"Macrorie," said the doctor, "I'm half dead with fatigue. I did it for your sake, and I wouldn't have done it for another soul—no, not even for Jack Randolph. So be considerate, my boy."
"Doctor," I cried, earnestly, "it's a case of life and death!"
A long altercation now followed; but the end of it was that the doctor yielded, and, in spite of his fatigue, turned back, grumbling and growling.
So we rode back together—the doctor, groaning and making peevish remarks; I, oblivious of all this, and careless of my friend's discomfort. My mind was full of visions of the lady—the fair unknown. I was exceeding anxious and troubled at the thought that all this time she had been alone, without any medical assistance. I pictured her to myself as sinking rapidly into fever and delirium. Stimulated by all these thoughts, I hurried on, while the doctor with difficulty followed. At length, we arrived within half a mile of the Falls; but I could not see any signs of the house which I wished to find, or of the road that led to it. I looked into all the roads that led to the river; but none seemed like that one which I had traversed.
The doctor grew every moment more vexed.
"Look here now, Macrorie," said he, at last—"I'll go no farther—no, not a step. I'm used up. I'll go into the nearest house, and wait."
Saying this, he turned abruptly, and went to a house that was close by I then dismounted, went to the upper bank of the Montmorency, where it joins the St. Lawrence below the Falls, and looked down.
The ice was all out. The place which yesterday had been the scene of my struggle for life was now one vast sheet of dark-blue water. As I looked at it, an involuntary shudder passed through me; for now I saw the full peril of my situation.
Looking along the river, I saw the place where I must have landed, and on the top of the steep bank I saw a house which seemed to be the one where I had found refuge. Upon this, I went back, and, getting the doctor, we went across the fields to this house. I knocked eagerly at the door. It was opened, and in the person of the habitant before me I recognized my host of the evening before.
"How is madame?" I asked, hurriedly and anxiously.
"Tea, madame—the lady, you know."
"Madame? She is not here."
"Not here!" I cried.
"Not here? What! Not here?" I cried again. "But she must be here. Didn't I bring her here last night?"
"Certainly, monsieur; but she's gone home."
At this, there burst from the doctor a peal of laughter—so loud, so long, so savage, and so brutal, that I forgot in a moment all that he had been doing for my sake, and felt an almost irresistible inclination to punch his head. Only I didn't; and, perhaps, it was just as well. The sudden inclination passed, and there remained nothing but an overwhelming sense of disappointment, by which I was crushed for a few minutes, while still the doctor's mocking laughter sounded in my ears.
"How was it?" I asked, at length—"how did she get off? When I left, she was in a fever, and wanted a doctor."
"After you left, monsieur, she slept, and awoke, toward morning, very much better. She dressed, and then wanted us to get a conveyance to take her to Quebec. We told her that you had gone for a doctor, and that she had better wait. But this, she said, was impossible. She would not think of it. She had to go to Quebec as soon as possible, and entreated us to find some conveyance. So we found a wagon at a neighbor's, threw some straw in it and some skins over it, and she went away."
"She went!" I repeated, in an imbecile way.
"And didn't she leave any word?"
"Didn't she leave any message for—for me?"
"Not a word?" I asked, mournfully and despairingly.
The reply of the habitant was a crushing one:
"Pas un mot, monsieur!"
The doctor burst into a shriek of sardonic laughter.
BY ONE'S OWN FIRESIDE.—THE COMFORTS OF A BACHELOR.—CHEWING THE CUD OF SWEET AND BITTER FANCY.—A DISCOVERY FULL OF MORTIFICATION AND EMBARRASSMENT.—JACK RANDOLPH AGAIN.—NEWS FROM THE SEAT OF WAR.
By six o'clock in the evening I was back in my room again. The doctor had chaffed me so villanously all the way back that my disappointment and mortification had vanished, and had given place to a feeling of resentment. I felt that I had been ill-treated. After saving a girl's life, to be dropped so quietly and so completely, was more than flesh and blood could stand. And then there was that confounded doctor. He fairly revelled in my situation, and forgot all about his fatigue. However, before I left him, I extorted from him a promise to say nothing about it, swearing if he didn't I'd sell out and quit the service. This promise he gave, with the remark that he would reserve the subject for his own special use.
Once within my own room, I made myself comfortable in my own quiet way, viz.:
1. A roaring, red-hot fire. 2. Curtains close drawn. 3. Sofa pulled up beside said fire. 4. Table beside sofa. 5. Hot water. 6. Whiskey. 7. Tobacco. 8. Pipes. 9. Fragrant aromatic steam. 10. Sugar. 11. Tumblers. 12. Various other things not necessary to mention, all of which contributed to throw over my perturbed spirit a certain divine calm.
Under such circumstances, while every moment brought forward some new sense of rest and tranquillity, my mind wandered back in a kind of lazy reverie over the events of the past two days.
Once more I wandered over the crumbling ice; once more I floundered through the deep pools of water; once more I halted in front of that perilous ice-ridge, with my back to the driving storm and my eyes searching anxiously for a way of progress. The frowning cliff, with its flag floating out stiff in the tempest, the dim shore opposite, the dark horizon, the low moan of the river as it struggled against its icy burden, all these came back again. Then, through all this, I rushed forward, scrambling over the ice-ridge, reaching the opposite plain to hurry forward to the shore. Then came the rushing sleigh, the recoiling horse, the swift retreat, the mad race along the brink of the icy edge, the terrible plunge into the deep, dark water. Then came the wild, half-human shriek of the drowning horse, and the sleigh with its despairing freight drifting down toward me. Through all this there broke forth amid the clouds of that reverie, the vision of that pale, agonized face, with its white lips and imploring eyes—the face of her whom I had saved.
So I had saved her, had I? Yes, there was no doubt of that. Never would I lose the memory of that unparalleled journey to Montmorency Fall, as I toiled on, dragging with me that frail, fainting, despairing companion. I had sustained her; I had cheered her; I had stimulated her; and, finally, at that supreme moment, when, she fell down in sight of the goal, I had put forth the last vestige of my own strength in bearing her to a place of safety.
And so she had left me.
Left me—without a word—without a hint—without the remotest sign of any thing like recognition, not to speak of gratitude!
Pas un mot!
Should I ever see her again?
This question, which was very natural under the circumstances, caused me to make an effort to recall the features of my late companion. Strange to say, my effort was not particularly successful. A white, agonized face was all that I remembered, and afterward a white, senseless face, belonging to a prostrate figure, which I was trying to raise. This was all. What that face might look like in repose, I found it impossible to conjecture.
And now here was a ridiculous and mortifying fact. I found myself haunted by this white face and these despairing eyes, yet for the life of me I could not reduce that face to a natural expression so as to learn what it might look like in common life. Should I know her again if I met her? I could not say. Would she know me? I could not answer that. Should I ever be able to find her? How could I tell?
Baffled and utterly at a loss what to do toward getting the identity of the subject of my thoughts, I wandered off into various moods. First I became cynical, but, as I was altogether too comfortable to be morose, my cynicism was of a good-natured character. Then I made merry over my own mishaps and misadventures. Then I reflected, in a lofty, philosophic frame of mind, upon the faithlessness of woman, and, passing from this into metaphysics, I soon boozed off into a gentle, a peaceful, and a very consoling doze. When I awoke, it was morning, and I concluded to go to bed.
On the morrow, at no matter what o'clock, I had just finished breakfast, when I heard a well-known footstep, and Jack Randolph burst in upon me in his usual style.
"Well, old chap," he cried, "where the mischief have you been for the last two days, and what have you been doing with yourself? I heard that you got back from Point Levi—though how the deuce you did it I can't imagine—and that you'd gone off on horseback nobody knew where. I've been here fifty times since I saw you last. Tell you what, Macrorie, it wasn't fair to me to give me the slip this way, when you knew my delicate position, and all that. I can't spare you for a single day. I need your advice. Look here, old fellow, I've got a letter."
And saying this, Jack drew a letter from his pocket, with a grave face, and opened it.
So taken up was Jack with his own affairs, that he did not think of inquiring into the reasons of my prolonged absence. For my part, I listened to him in a dreamy way, and, when he drew out the letter, it was only with a strong effort that I was able to conjecture what it might be. So much had passed since I had seen him, that our last conversation had become very dim and indistinct in my memory.
"Oh," said I, at last, as I began to recall the past, "the letter— h'm—ah—the—the widow. Oh, yes, I understand."
Jack looked at me in surprise.
"The widow?" said he. "Pooh, man! what are you talking about? Are you crazy? This is from her—from Miss—that is—from the other one, you know."
"Oh, yes," said I, confusedly. "True—I remember. Oh, yes—Miss Phillips."
"Miss Phillips!" cried Jack. "Hang it, man, what's the matter with you to-day? Haven't I told you all about it? Didn't I tell you what I wouldn't breathe to another soul—that is, excepting two or three?—and now, when I come to you at the crisis of my fate, you forget all about it."
"Nonsense!" said I, "The fact is, I went to bed very late, and am scarcely awake yet. Go on, old boy, I'm all right. Well, what does she say?"
"I'll be hanged if you know what you're talking about," said Jack, pettishly.
"Nonsense! I'm all right now; go on."
"You don't know who this letter is from."
"Yes, I do."
"Who is it?" said Jack, watching me with jealous scrutiny.
"Why," said I, "it's that other one—the—hang it! I don't know her name, so I'll call her Number Three, or Number Four, whichever you like."
"You're a cool hand, any way," said Jack, sulkily. "Is this the way you take a matter of life and death?"
"Life and death?" I repeated.
"Life and death!" said Jack. "Yes, life and death. Why, see here, Macrorie, I'll be hanged if I don't believe that you've forgotten every word I told you about my scrape. If that's the case, all I can say is, that I'm not the man to force my confidences where they are so very unimportant." And Jack made a move toward the door.
"Stop, Jack," said I. "The fact is, I've been queer for a couple of days. I had a beastly time on the river. Talk about life and death! Why, man, it was the narrowest scratch with me you ever saw. I didn't go to Point Levi at all."
"The deuce you didn't!"
"No; I pulled up at Montmorency."
"The deuce you did! How's that?"
"Oh, never mind; I'll tell you some other time. At any rate, if I seem dazed or confused, don't notice it. I'm coming round. I'll only say this, that I've lost a little of my memory, and am glad I didn't lose my life. But go on. I'm up to it now, Jack. You wrote to Number Three, proposing to elope, and were staking your existence on her answer. You wished me to order a head-stone for you at Anderson's, Four feet by eighteen inches, with nothing on it but the name and date, and not a word about the virtues, et cetera. There, you see, my memory is all right at last. And now, old boy, what does she say? When did you get it?"
"I got it this morning," said Jack. "It was a long delay. She is always prompt. Something must have happened to delay her. I was getting quite wild, and would have put an end to myself if it hadn't been for Louie. And then, you know, the widow's getting to be a bit of a bore. Look here—what do you think of my selling out, buying a farm in Minnesota, and taking little Louie there?"
"What!" I cried. "Look here, Jack, whatever you do, don't, for Heaven's sake, get poor little Louie entangled in your affairs."
"Oh, don't you fret," said Jack, dolefully. "No fear about her. She's all right, so far.—But, see here, there's the letter."
And saying this, he tossed over to me the letter from "Number Three," and, filling a pipe, began smoking vigorously.
The letter was a singular one. It was highly romantic, and full of devotion. The writer, however, declined to accept of Jack's proposition. She pleaded her father; she couldn't leave him. She implored Jack to wait, and finally subscribed herself his till death. But the name which she signed was "Stella," and nothing more; and this being evidently a pet name or a nom de plume, threw no light whatever upon her real personality.
"Well," said Jack, after I had read it over about nine times, "what do you think of that?"
"It gives you some reprieve, at any rate," said I.
"Reprieve?" said Jack. "I don't think it's the sort of letter that a girl should write to a man who told her that he was going to blow his brains out on her doorstep. It doesn't seem to be altogether the right sort of thing under the circumstances."
"Why, confound it, man, isn't this the very letter that you wanted to get? You didn't really want to run away with her? You said so yourself."
"Oh, that's all right; but a fellow likes to be appreciated."
"So, after all, you wanted her to elope with you?"
"Well, not that, exactly. At the same time, I didn't want a point-blank refusal."
"You ought to be glad she showed so much sense. It's all the better for you. It is an additional help to you in your difficulties."
"I don't see how it helps me," said Jack, in a kind of growl. "I don't see why she refused to run off with a fellow."
Now such was the perversity of Jack that he actually felt ill-natured about this letter, although it was the very thing that he knew was best for him. He was certainly relieved from one of his many difficulties, but at the same time he was vexed and mortified at this rejection of his proposal. And he dwelt upon his disappointment until at length he brought himself to believe that "Number Three's" letter was something like a personal slight, if not an insult.
He dropped in again toward evening.
"Macrorie," said he, "there's one place where I always find sympathy. What do you say, old fellow, to going this evening to—
"BERTON'S?—BEST PLACE IN THE TOWN.—GIRLS ALWAYS GLAD TO SEE A FELLOW.—PLENTY OF CHAT, AND LOTS OF FUN.—NO END OF LARKS, YOU KNOW, AND ALL THAT SORT OF THING."
In order to get rid of my vexation, mortification, humiliation, and general aggravation, I allowed Jack to persuade me to go that evening to Colonel Berton's. Not that it needed much persuasion. On the contrary, it was a favorite resort of mine. Both of us were greatly addicted to dropping in upon that hospitable and fascinating household. The girls were among the most lively and genial good fellows that girls could ever be. Old Berton had retired from the army with enough fortune of his own to live in good style, and his girls had it all their own way. They were essentially of the military order. They had all been brought up, so to speak, in the army, and their world did not extend beyond it. There were three of them—Laura, the eldest, beautiful, intelligent, and accomplished, with a strong leaning toward Ritualism; Juna, innocent, childish, and kitten-like; and Louie, the universal favorite, absurd, whimsical, fantastic, a desperate tease, and as pretty and graceful as it is possible for any girl to be. An aunt did the maternal for them, kept house, chaperoned, duennaed, and generally overlooked them. The colonel himself was a fine specimen of the vieux militaire. He loved to talk of the life which he had left behind, and fight his battles over again, and all his thoughts were in the army. But the girls were, of course, the one attraction in his hospitable house. The best of it was, they were all so accustomed to homage, that even the most desperate attentions left them heart-whole, in maiden mediation, fancy free. No danger of overflown sentiment with them. No danger of blighted affections or broken hearts. No nonsense there, my boy. All fair, and pleasant, and open, and above-board, you know. Clear, honest eyes, that looked frankly into yours; fresh, youthful faces; lithe, elastic figures; merry laughs; sweet smiles; soft, kindly voices, and all that sort of thing. In short, three as kind, gentle, honest, sound, pure, and healthy hearts as ever beat.
The very atmosphere of this delightful house was soothing, and the presence of these congenial spirits brought a balm to each of us, which healed our wounded hearts. In five minutes Jack was far away out of sight of all his troubles—and in five minutes more I had forgotten all about my late adventure, and the sorrows that had resulted from it.
After a time, Jack gravitated toward Louie, leaving me with Laura, talking mediaevalism. Louie was evidently taking Jack to task, and very energetically too. Fragments of their conversation reached my ears from time to time. She had heard something about Mrs. Finnimore, but what it was, and whether she believed it or not, could not be perceived from what she said. Jack fought her off skilfully, and, at last, she made an attack from another quarter. "Oh, Captain Randolph," said she, "what a delightful addition we're going to have to our Quebec society!"
"Ah!" said Jack, "what is that?"
"How very innocent! Just as if you are not the one who is most concerned."
"Of course. You. Next to me."
"I don't understand."
"Come, now, Captain Randolph, how very ridiculous to pretend to be so ignorant!"
"Ignorant?" said Jack; "ignorant is not the word. I am in Egyptian darkness, I assure you."
"Egyptian darkness—Egyptian nonsense! Will it help you any if I tell you her name?"
"Her name! Whose name? What 'her'?"
Louie laughed long and merrily.
"Well," said she, at length, "for pure, perfect, utter, childlike innocence, commend me to Captain Randolph! And now, sir," she resumed, "will you answer me one question?"
"Certainly—or one hundred thousand."
"Well, what do you think of Miss Phillips?"
"I think she is a very delightful person," said Jack fluently—"the most delightful I have ever met with, present company excepted."
"That is to be understood, of course; but what do you think of her coming to live here?"
"Coming to live here!"
"Yes, coming to live here," repeated Louie, playfully imitating the tone of evident consternation with which Jack spoke.
"What? Miss Phillips?"
"Yes, Miss Phillips."
"Not here in Quebec?"
"Yes, here in Quebec—but I must say that you have missed your calling in life. Why do you not go to New York and make your fortune as an actor? You must take part in our private theatricals the next time we have any."
"I assure you," said Jack, "I never was so astonished in my life."
"How well you counterfeit!" said Louie; "never mind. Allow me to congratulate you. We'll overlook the little piece of acting, and regard rather the delightful fact. Joined once more—ne'er to part—hand to hand—heart to heart—memories sweet—ne'er to fade—all my own— fairest maid! And then your delicious remembrances of Sissiboo."
"Sissiboo?" gasped Jack.
"Sissiboo," repeated Louie, with admirable gravity. "Her birth-place, and hence a sacred spot. She used to be called 'the maid of Sissiboo'. But, in choosing a place to live in, let me warn you against Sissiboo. Take some other place. You've been all over New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Take Petitcodiac, or Washe Aemoak, or Shubenacadie, or Memramcook, or Rechebucto, or Chiputnecticook, or the Kennebecasis Valley. At the same time, I have my preferences for Piserinco, or Quaco."
At all this, Jack seemed for a time completely overwhelmed, and sat listening to Louie with a sort of imbecile smile. Her allusion to Miss Phillips evidently troubled him, and, as to her coming to Quebec, he did not know what to say. Louie twitted him for some time longer, but at length he got her away into a corner, where he began a conversation in a low but very earnest tone, which, however, was sufficiently audible to make his remarks understood by all in the room.
And what was he saying?
He was disclaiming all intentions with regard to Miss Phillips.
And Louie was listening quietly!
Perhaps believing him!!
And now I noticed that Jack's unhappy tendency to—well, to conciliate ladies—was in full swing.
Didn't I see him, then and there, slyly try to take poor little Louie's hand, utterly forgetful of the disastrous result of a former attempt on what he believed to be that same hand? Didn't I see Louie civilly draw it away, and move her chair farther off from his? Didn't I see him flush up and begin to utter apologies? Didn't I hear Louie begin to talk of operas, and things in general; and soon after, didn't I see her rise and come over to Laura, and Nina, and me, as we were playing dummy? Methinks I did. Oh, Louie! Oh, Jack! Is she destined to be Number Four! or, good Heavens! Number Forty? Why, the man's mad! He engages himself to every girl he sees!
Jack was full of Louie.
"Such fun! such life! Did you ever see any thing like her?"
"But the widow, Jack?"
"Hang the widow!"
"Bother Miss Phillips!"
"And Number Three?"
Jack's face grew sombre, and he was silent for a time. At length a sudden thought seized him.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I got a letter to-day, which I haven't opened. Excuse me a moment, old chap."
So saying, he pulled a letter from his pocket, opened it, and read it.
He told me the contents.
It was from Miss Phillips, and she told her dearest Jack that her father was about moving to Quebec to live.
"MACRORIE, MY BOY, HAVE YOU BEEN TO ANDERSON'S YET?"—"NO."—"WELL, THEN, I WANT YOU ATTEND TO THAT BUSINESS OF THE STONE TO-MORROW. DON'T FORGET THE SIZE—FOUR FEET BY EIGHTEEN INCHES; AND NOTHING BUT THE NAME AND DATE. THE TIME'S COME AT LAST. THERE'S NO PLACE FOR ME BUT THE COLD GRAVE, WHERE THE PENSIVE PASSER-BY MAY DROP A TEAR OVER THE MOURNFUL FATE OF JACK RANDOLPH. AMEN. R. I. P."
Such was the remarkable manner in which Jack Randolph accosted me, as he entered my room on the following day at about midnight. His face was more rueful than ever, and, what was more striking, his clothes and hair seemed neglected. This convinced me more than any thing that he had received some new blow, and that it had struck home.
"You seem hard hit, old man," said I. "Where is it? Who is it?"
"Has Miss Phillips come?"
"Is it the widow?"
Jack shook his head.
"Then I give up."
"It's Louie," said Jack, with an expression of face that was as near an approximation to what is called sheepishness as any thing I ever saw.
"Louie?" I repeated.
"What of her? What has she been doing? How is it possible? Good Heavens! you haven't—" I stopped at the fearful suspicion that came to me.
"Yes, I have!" said Jack, sulkily. "I know what you mean. I've proposed to her."
I started up from the sofa on which I was lounging—my pipe dropped to the ground—a tumbler followed. I struck my clinched fist on the table.
"Randolph!" said I, "this is too much. Confound it, man! Are you mad, or are you a villain? What the devil do you mean by trifling with the affections of that little girl? By Heavens! Jack Randolph, if you carry on this game with her, there's not a man in the regiment that won't join to crush you."
"Pitch in," said Jack quietly, looking at me at the same time with something like approval. "That's the right sort of thing. That's just what I've been saying to myself. I've been swearing like a trooper at myself all the way here. If there's any one on earth that every fellow ought to stand up for, it's little Louie. And now you see the reason why I want you to attend to that little affair of the gravestone."
At Jack's quiet tone, my excitement subsided. I picked up my pipe again, and thought it over.
"The fact is, Jack," said I, after about ten minutes of profound smoking, "I think you'll have to carry out that little plan of yours. Sell out as soon as you can, and take Louie with you to a farm in Minnesota."
"Easier said than done," said Jack, sententiously.
"Done? why, man, it's easy enough. You can drop the other three, and retire from the scene. That'll save Louie from coming to grief."
"Yes; but it won't make her come to Minnesota."
"Why not? She's just the girl to go anywhere with a fellow."
"But not with Jack Randolph."
"What humbug are you up to now? I don't understand you."
"So I see," said Jack, dryly. "You take it for granted that because I proposed, Louie accepted. Whereas, that didn't happen to be the case. I proposed, but Louie disposed of me pretty effectually."
"Mittened?" cried I.
"Mittened!" said Jack, solemnly. "Hence the gravestone."
"But how, in the name of wonder, did that happen?"
"Easily enough. Louie happens to have brains. That's the shortest way to account for her refusal of my very valuable devotions. But I'll tell you all about it, and, after that, we'll decide about the headstone.
"You see, I went up there this evening, and the other girls were off somewhere, and so Louie and I were alone. The aunt was in the room, but she soon dozed off. Well, we had great larks, no end of fun—she chaffing and twitting me about no end of things, and especially the widow; so, do you know, I told her I had a great mind to tell her how it happened; and excited her curiosity by saying it all originated in a mistake. This, of course, made her wild to know all about it, and so I at last told her the whole thing—the mistake, you know, about the hand, and all that—and my horror. Well, hang me, if I didn't think she'd go into fits. I never saw her laugh so much before. As soon as she could speak, she began to remind me of the approaching advent of Miss Phillips, and asked me what I was going to do. She didn't appear to be at all struck by the fact that lay at the bottom of my disclosures; that it was her own hand that had caused the mischief, but went on at a wild rate about my approaching 'sentimental seesaw,' as she called it, when my whole time would have to be divided between my two fiancees. She remarked that the old proverb called man a pendulum between a smile and a tear, but that I was the first true case of a human pendulum which she had ever seen.
"Now the little scamp was so perfectly fascinating while she was teasing me, that I felt myself overcome with a desperate fondness for her; so, seeing that the old aunt was sound asleep, I blurted out all my feelings. I swore that she was the only—"
"Oh, omit all that. I know—but what bosh to say to a sensible girl!"
"Well, you know, Louie held her handkerchief to her face, while I was speaking, and I—ass, dolt, and idiot that I was—felt convinced that she was crying. Her frame shook with convulsive shivers, that I took for repressed sobs. I saw the little hand that held the little white handkerchief to her face—the same slender little hand that was the cause of my scrape with Mrs. Finnimore—and, still continuing the confession of my love, I thought I would soothe her grief. I couldn't help it. I was fairly carried away. I reached forward my hand, and tried to take hers, all the time saying no end of spooney things.
"But the moment I touched her baud, she rolled her chair back, and snatched it away—
"And then she threw back her head—
"And then there came such a peal of musical laughter, that I swear it's ringing in my ears yet.
"What made it worse was, not merely what she considered the fun of my proposal, but the additional thought that suddenly flashed upon her, that I had just now so absurdly mistaken her emotion. For, confound it all! as I reached out my hand, I said a lot of rubbish, and, among other things, implored her to let me wipe her tears. This was altogether too much. Wipe her tears! And, Heavens and earth, she was shaking to pieces all the time with nothing but laughter. Wipe her tears! Oh, Macrorie! Did you ever hear of such an ass?
"Well, you know she couldn't get over it for ever so long, but laughed no end, while I sat utterly amazed at the extent to which I had made an ass of myself. However, she got over it at last.
"'Well,' said I, 'I hope you feel better.'
"'Thanks, yea; but don't get into a temper. Will you promise to answer me one question?'
"'Certainly; most happy. If you think it worth while to do any thing else but laugh at me, I ought to feel flattered.'
"'Now, that's what I call temper, and you must be above such a thing. After all, I'm only a simple little girl, and you—that is, it was so awfully absurd.'
"And here she seemed about to burst forth afresh. But she didn't.
"'What I was going to ask,' she began, in a very grave way, 'what I was going to ask is this, If it is a fair question, how many of these little entanglements do you happen to have just now?'
"'Oh, Louie!' I began, in mournful and reproachful tones.
"'Oh don't, don't,' she cried, covering her face, 'don't begin; I can't stand it. If you only knew how absurd you look when you are sentimental. You are always so funny, you know; and, when you try to be solemn, it looks so awfully ridiculous! Now, don't—I really cannot stand it. Please-ple-e-e-e-e-ease don't, like a good Captain Randolph.'
"At this she clasped her hands and looked at me with such a grotesque expression of mock entreaty, that I knocked under, and burst out laughing.
"She at once settled herself comfortably in her easy-chair.
"'Now that's what I call,' said she, placidly, 'a nice, good, sensible, old-fashioned Captain Randolph, that everybody loves, and in whose affairs all his innumerable friends take a deep interest. And now let me ask my question again: How many?'
"'How many what?' said I.
"'Oh, you know very well.'
"'How can I know, when you won't say what you mean?'
"'How many entanglements?'
"'Yes. Engagements, if you wish me to be so very explicit.'
"'What nonsense! Why you know all about it, and the cause—'
"'Ah, now, that is not frank; it isn't friendly or honest,' said the little witch. 'Come, now. Are there as many as—as—fifty?'
"'Of course not.'
"'Why, haven't I told you all?'
"'Four,' she persisted.
"'It isn't fair,' said I,' to press a fellow this way.'
"'Three?' she repeated.
"I was silent. I'm not very quick, and was trying, in a dazed way, to turn it off.
"'Three!' she cried. 'Three! I knew it. Oh, tell me all about it. Oh, do tell me! Oh, do—please tell me all. Oh, do, ple-e-e-ease tell me.'
"And then she began, and she teased and she coaxed, and coaxed and teased, until at last—"
"Well," said I.
"Well," said he.
"You didn't really tell her," said I.
"Yes, but I did," said he.
"You didn't—you couldn't."
"I'll be hanged if I didn't!"
"Not about Number Three?"
"Yes, Number Three," said Jack, looking at me with a fixed and slightly stony stare.
Words were useless, and I sought expression for my feelings in the more emphatic whistle, which now was largely protracted.
"And how did she take it?" I asked, at length, as soon as I found voice to speak.
"As usual. Teased me, no end. Alluded to my recent proposal. Asked me if I had intended her to be Number Four, and declared her belief that I had thirty rather than three. Finally, the aunt waked up, and wanted to know what we were laughing at. Whereupon Louie said that she was laughing at a ridiculous story of mine, about an Indian juggler who could jeep three oranges in the air at the same time.
"'Captain Randolph,' said she 'you know all about Frederick the Great, of course?'
"'Of course," I said, 'and Alexander the Great also, and Julius Caesar, and Nebuchadnezzar, as the poet says.'
'"Perhaps you remember,' said Louie, in a grave tone, for her aunt was wide awake now, 'that the peculiar excellence of the genius of that great monarch consisted in his successful efforts to encounter the coalition raised against him. Though subject to the attacks of the three united powers of France, Austria, and Russia, he was still able to repel them, and finally rescued himself from destruction. Three assailants could not overpower him, and surely others may take courage from his example.'
"And after that little speech I came away, and here I am."
For some time we sat in silence. Jack did not seem to expect any remarks from me, but appeared to be rapt in his own thoughts. For my part, I had nothing whatever to say, and soon became equally rapt in my meditations.
And what were they about?
What? Why, the usual subject which had filled my mind for the past few days—my adventure on the river, and my mysterious companion. Mysterious though she was, she was evidently a lady, and, though I could not be sure about her face, I yet could feel sure that she was beautiful. So very romantic an adventure had an unusual charm, and this charm was heightened to a wonderful degree by the mystery of her sudden and utter disappearance.
And now, since Jack had been so very confidential with me, I determined to return that confidence, and impart my secret to him. Perhaps he could help me. At any rate, he was the only person to whom I could think of telling it. So you see—
MY ADVENTURES REHEARSED TO JACK RANDOLPH.—"MY DEAR FELLOW, YOU DON'T SAY SO!"—"'PON MY LIFE, YES."—"BY JOVE! OLD CHAP, HOW CLOSE YOU'VE BEEN! YOU JUST HAVE NO END OF SECRETS. AND WHAT'S BECOME OF THE LADY? WHO IS SHE?"
Who is she? Ay. Who, indeed? Hadn't I been torturing my brain for seventy-nine hours, sleeping as well as waking, with that one unanswered and apparently unanswerable question?
"Who is she?" repeated Jack.
"Well," said I, "that's the very thing that I wish to find out, and I want you to help me in it. I told you that she didn't leave any message—"
"But, didn't you find out her name?"
"By Jove! You're a queer lot. Why, I'd have found out her name the first thing."
"But I didn't—and now I want your help to find out not only her name, but herself."
At this Jack rose, loaded his pipe solemnly, and, with the air of one who is making preparations for a work of no common kind, lighted it, flung himself back in the easy-chair, and sent forth vast volumes of smoke, which might have been considered as admirably symbolical of the state of our minds.
"Well, Macrorie," said he, at last, "I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd go round to all the hotels, and examine the lists."
"Well, then, take the directory and hunt up all the names."
"Because I don't know her name. Didn't I impress that upon your mind?"
"By Jove!" cried Jack Randolph, after which he again relapsed into silence.
"See here, Macrorie," said he, at length.
"I have it."
"Go round next Sunday to all the churches."
"What's the use of that?"
"Go round to the churches," repeated Jack, "scan every bonnet—and then, if you don't see her, why then, why—go to the photographic saloons. You'll be sure to find her picture there. By Jove! Why, Macrorie, the game's all in your own hands. These photographic saloons are better than a whole force of detective police. There's your chance, old man. You'll find her. Do that, and you're all right. Oh, yes—you'll find her, as sure as my name's Jack Randolph."
"No go, Jack," said I. "You see I couldn't recognize her even if I were to see her."
"Couldn't recognize her."
"You surely would know her if you saw her."
"I don't think I should."
"Well, of all the confounded fixes that ever I met with, this is the greatest!"
"That's the peculiarity of my present situation."
Jack relapsed into smoky silence.
"The fact is," said Jack, after a brief pause, "we've got to go to work systematically. Now, first of all, I want to know what she looks like."
"Well, that's the very thing I don't know."
"Nonsense! You must know something about it. Is she a blonde or a brunette? You can answer that, at least."
"I'm not sure that I can."
"What! don't you know even the color of her complexion?"
"When I saw her, she was as white as a sheet. Even her lips were bloodless. You see, she was frightened out of her wits."
"Well, then, her hair—her hair, man! Was that dark or light?"
"I didn't see it."
"Didn't see it?"
"No. You see it was covered by her hood. Think of that driving sleet. She had to cover herself up as much as she could from the terrible pelting of the storm."
"Well, then, I'll ask only one question more," said Jack, dryly. "I hope you'll be able to answer it. A great deal depends upon it. In fact, upon a true answer to this question the whole thing rests. Gather up all your faculties now, old chap, and try to answer me correctly. No shirking now—no humbug, for I won't stand it. On your life, Macrorie, and, by all your future hopes, answer me this—was your friend—a woman or a man?"
At the beginning of this solemn question, I had roused myself and sat upright, but at its close I flung myself down in disgust.
"Well," said Jack, "why don't you answer?"
"Jack," said I, severely, "I'm not in the humor for chaff."
"Chaff! my dear fellow, I only want to get a basis of action—a base of operations. Are you sure your friend was a woman? I'm in earnest—really."
"That's all rubbish—of course she was a woman—a lady—young— beautiful—but the anguish which she felt made her face seem like that of Niobe, or—or—well like some marble statue representing woe or despair, and all that sort of thing. What's the use of humbugging a fellow? Why not talk sense, or at least hold your tongue?"
"Don't row, old boy. You were so utterly in the dark about your friend that I wanted to see how far your knowledge extended. I consider now that a great point is settled, and we have something to start from. Very well. She was really a woman!"
"A lady," said I.
"And a lady," repeated Jack.
"And beautiful as an angel," I interposed, enthusiastically.
"And beautiful as an angel," chimed in Jack. "By-the-by, Macrorie, do you think you would know her by her voice?"
"Well, n—no, I don't think I would. You see, she didn't say much, and what she did say was wrung out of her by terror or despair. The tones of that voice might be very different if she were talking about—well, the weather, for instance. The voice of a woman in a storm, and in the face of death, is not exactly the same in tone or modulation as it is when she is quietly speaking the commonplaces of the drawing-room."
"There's an immense amount of truth in that," said Jack, "and I begin to understand and appreciate your position."
"Never, while I live," said I, earnestly, "will I forget the face of that woman as I held her fainting form in my arms, and cheered her, and dragged her back to life; never will I forget the thrilling tones of her voice, as she implored me to leave her and save myself; but yet, as I live, I don't think that I could recognize her face or her voice if I were to encounter her now, under ordinary circumstances, in any drawing-room. Do you understand?"
"Dimly," said Jack; "yes, in fact, I may say thoroughly. You have an uncommonly forcible way of putting it too. I say, Macrorie, you talk just like our chaplain."
"Oh, bother the chaplain!"
"That's the very thing I intend to do before long."
"Well, it'll be the best thing for you. Married and done for, you know."
"Nonsense! I don't mean that. It's something else—the opposite of matrimony."
"What is it?"
"Oh, never mind, I'll let you know when the time comes. It's a little idea of my own to countermine the widow. But come—don't let's wander off. Your business is the thing to be considered now—not mine. Now listen to me."
"Let's put your case in a plain, simple, matter-of-fact way. You want to find a person whose name you don't know, whose face you can't recognize, and whose voice even is equally unknown. You can't give any clew to her at all. You don't know whether she lives in Quebec or in New York. You only know she is a woman?"
"A lady," said I.
"Oh, of course—a lady."
"And an English lady," I added. "I could tell that by the tone of her voice."
"She may have been Canadian."
"Yes. Many of the Canadian ladies have the English tone."
"Well, that may be all very true," said Jack, after some moments' thought; "but at the same time it isn't any guide at all. Macrorie, my boy, it's evident that in this instance all the ordinary modes of investigation are no good. Streets, churches, drawing-rooms, photographic saloons, hotel registers, directories, and all that sort of thing are utterly useless. We must try some other plan."
"That's a fact," said I, "but what other plan can be thought of?"
Jack said nothing for some time.
He sat blowing and puffing, and puffing and blowing, apparently bringing all the resources of his intellect to bear upon this great problem. At last he seemed to hit upon an idea.
"I have it!" he exclaimed. "I have it. It's the only thing left."
"Macrorie, my boy," said Jack, with an indescribable solemnity, "I'll tell you what we must do. Let's try—
"A D V E R T I S I N G!!!"
"Advertising?" said I, dubiously.
"Yes, advertising," repeated Jack. "Try it. Put a notice in all the papers. Begin with the Quebec papers, and then send to Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Kingston, London, and all the other towns. After that, send notices to the leading papers of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, St. Louis, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Portland, Chicago, Boston, and all the other towns of the United States."
"And while I'm about it," I added, "I may as well insert them in the English, Irish, Scotch, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, and Indian journals."
"Oh, bosh!" said Jack, "I'm in earnest. What's the use of nonsense? Really, my dear fellow, why not advertise in the Quebec papers? She'll be sure to see it."
"Well," said I, after some thought, "on the whole it isn't a bad idea. It can't do any harm at any rate."
"Harm? Why, my dear boy, it's your only chance."
"All right, then; let's try advertising."
And saying this, I brought out my entire writing-apparatus and displayed it on the table.
"Will you try your fist at it, Jack?" I asked.
"I? nonsense! I'm no good at writing. It's as much as I can do to write an 'I. O. U.,' though I've had no end of practice. And then, as to my letters—you ought to see them! No, go ahead, old boy. You write, and I'll be critic. That's about the style of thing, I fancy."
At this I sat down and commenced the laborious task of composing an advertisement. In a short time I had written out the following:
"A gentleman who accompanied a lady across the ice on the 3d of April, was separated from her, and since then has been anxious to find out what became of her. Any information will console a distracted breast. The gentleman implores the lady to communicate with him. Address Box 3,333."
I wrote this out, and was so very well satisfied with it, that I read it to Jack. To my surprise end disgust, he burst out into roars of laughter.
"Why, man alive!" he cried, "that will never do. You must never put out that sort of thing, you know. You'll have the whole city in a state of frantic excitement. It's too rubbishy sentimental. No go. Try again, old man, but don't write any more of that sort of thing."
I said nothing. I felt wounded; but I had a dim idea that Jack's criticism was just. It was rather sentimental. So I tried again, and this time I wrote out something very different.
With the following result:
"If the party who crossed the ice on the 3d of April with A. Z. will give her address, she will confer an unspeakable favor. Write to Box No. 3,333."
"Oh, that'll never do at all!" cried Jack, as I read it to him. "In the first place, your 'A. Z.' is too mysterious; and, in the second place, you are still too sentimental with your 'unspeakable favor.' Try again."
I tried again, and wrote the following:
"A gentleman is anxious to learn the address of a party who accompanied him over the ice on the 3d of April. Address Box No. 3,333."
"Oh, that'll never do!" said Jack.
"Why, man, it's too cold and formal."
"Hang it all! What will suit you? One is too warm; another is too cold."
Saying this, I tried once more, and wrote the following:
"A. B. has been trying in vain to find the address of the party who accompanied him over the ice on the 3d of April. Will she have the kindness to communicate with him to Box No. 3,333?"
"No go," said Jack.
"Well, you see, you call her a 'party,' and then announce that this 'party' is a woman. It won't do. I wouldn't like to call any lady a 'party.' You'll have to drop that word, old boy."
At this I flung down the pen in despair.
"Well, hang it!" said I. "What will do? You try it, Jack."
"Nonsense!" said he. "I can't write; I can only criticise. Both faculties are very good in their way. You'll have to start from another direction. I'll tell you what to do—try a roundabout way."
"A roundabout way?" I repeated, doubtfully.
"Why, advertise for—let me see—oh, yes—advertise for the French driver. He was drowned—wasn't he?"
"Well, if you advertise for him, she will respond, and thus you will come into contact with her without making a fool of yourself."
"By Jove, Jack," said I, "that's not a bad idea! I think I get your meaning. Of course, if she has any soul, she'll sympathize with the lost driver. But what name shall I put?"
"Was he a common driver? I gathered this from your story."
"Oh, yes. It was a sleigh from the country-hired, you know, not a private sleigh."
"She couldn't have known his name, then?"
"I suppose not. It looked like a sleigh picked up hap-hazard to take her across."
"Well, risk it, and put in an assumed name. Make up something. Any name will do. The lady, I dare say, hasn't the smallest idea of the driver's name. Trot out something—Napoleon Bonaparte Gris, or any thing else you like."
"How would Lavoisier do?"
"Well, Noir, then."
"I don't altogether like that."
"Literary associations," objected Jack.
"Well, then, Le Verrier," said I, after a moment's thought.
"Le Verrier—" repeated Jack. "Well, leave out the article, and make it plain Verrier. That'll do. It sounds natural."
"Verrier," said I. "And for the Christian name what?"
"Paul," suggested Jack.
"Paul—very well. Paul Verrier—a very good name for a Canadian. All right. I'll insert an advertisement from his distracted parent."
And I wrote out this:
Paul Verrier, of Chaudiere, left his home on the 3d of April last, to convey a lady to Quebec across the ice. He has not since been heard of. As the river broke up on that day, his friends are anxious to know his fate. Any one who can give any information about those who crossed on that date will confer a great favor on his afflicted father. Address Pierre Verrier, Box 3,333.
"That's about the thing," said Jack, after I had read it to him. "That'll fetch her down. Of course, she don't know the name of the habitant that drove her; and, of course, she'll think that this is a notice published by the afflicted father. What then? Why, down she comes to the rescue. Afflicted father suddenly reveals himself in the person of the gallant Macrorie. Grand excitement—mutual explanations— tableau—and the curtain falls to the sound of light and joyous music."
"Bravo, Jack! But I don't like to settle my affairs this way, and leave yours in disorder."
"Oh, I'm all right," said Jack. "There's no immediate danger. I'm settling down into a state of stolid despair, you know. If it wasn't for that last business with Louie, I could be quite calm. That's the only thing that bothers me now."
"I should think the widow would bother you more."
"Well, to tell the truth, she's getting to be a bit of a bore. She's too affectionate and exigeante, and all that, you know. But, then, I always leave early. I dine with her at seven, and get away before nine. Then I go to Louie's—or, at least, that's the way I intend to do."
"You're going to Louie's again, then?"
"Going to Louie's again? Why, man alive, what do you take me for? Going again? I should think I was. Why, Louie's the only comfort I have left on earth."
"But Number Three?"
"Poor little thing!" said he. "She seems to be rather down just now. I think she's regretting that she didn't take my offer. But I wrote her a note to-day, telling her to cheer up, and all that."
"But Miss Phillips? What'll you do when she comes? When will she be here?"
"She's expected daily."
"That will rather complicate matters—won't it?"
"Sufficient for the day," said Jack.
"I tell you what it is, my boy. I feel very much struck by Louie's idea about the three oranges. You'll find it precious hard to keep your three affairs in motion. You must drop one or two."
"Come, now, Macrorie—no croaking. You've got me into a placid state of mind by telling me of your little affair. It gave me something to think of besides my own scrapes. So don't you go to work and destroy the good effect that you've produced. For that matter, I won't let you. I'm off, old chap. It's fifteen minutes to three. You'd better seek your balmy couch. No—don't stop me. You'll croak me into despair again. Good-night, old man!"
A CONCERT.—A SINGULAR CHARACTER.—"GOD SAVE THE QUEEN."—A FENIAN.—A GENERAL ROW.—MACRORIE TO THE RESCUE!—MACRORIE'S MAIDEN SPEECH, AND ITS EFFECTIVENESS.—O'HALLORAN.—A STRANGE COMPANION.—INVITED TO PARTAKE OF HOSPITALITY.
On the following day I sent my notice to the papers.
On the evening of that day there was to be a concert. Everybody was going. It was under the patronage of the military, and of course everybody had to go. For you must know that, in a garrison-town like Quebec, we of the military order have it all our own way. If we smile on an undertaking, it succeeds. If we don't, it languishes. If we frown, the only result is ruin. But, as we are generally a good-natured lot, we smile approvingly on almost every thing. It gets to be an awful bore; but what can we do? Societies wish our countenance at their public gatherings, and we have to give it. Benevolent associations ask our subscriptions; joint-stock companies wish our names; missionaries and musicians, lawyers and lecturers, printers and preachers, tailors and teachers, operas and oratorios, balls and Bible-meetings, funerals and festivities, churches and concerts—in short, every thing that lives and moves and has its being awaits the military smile. And the smile is smiled. And so, I tell you what it is, my dear fellow, it amounts to this, that the life of an officer isn't by any means the butterfly existence that you imagine it to be. What with patronizing Tom, Dick, and Harry, inspecting militia, spouting at volunteers, subscribing to charities, buying at bazaars, assisting at concerts, presiding at public dinners, and all that sort of thing no end, it gets to be a pretty difficult matter to keep body and soul together.
The concert under consideration happened to be a popular one. The best of the regimental bands had been kindly lent to assist, and there were songs by amateurs who belonged to the first circles in Quebec, both civil and military. It was quite a medley, and the proceeds were intended for some charitable purpose or other. The house was crowded, and I could not get a seat without extreme difficulty.
The concert went on. They sang "Annie Laurie," of course. Then followed "La ci darem;" then "D'un Pescator Ignobile;" then "Come gentil;" then "Auld Lang-syne;" then "Ah, mon Fils!" then "Roy's Wife of Aldivalloch;" then "The Last Rose of Summer;" then "Allister MacAllister;" then "The Harp that once through Tara's Halls."
As this last song was being sung, I became aware of an old gentleman near me who seemed to be profoundly affected. "The Last Rose of Summer" had evidently touched him, but Tara had an overpowering effect on him. It was sung confoundedly well, too. The band came in with a wild, trailing strain, that was positively heart-breaking. The party just mentioned was, as I said, old, and a gentleman, but he was tall, robust, broad-shouldered, with eagle-like beak, and keen gray eyes that were fitting accompaniments to so distinguished a feature. His dress was rather careless, but his air and the expression of his face evinced a mixture of eccentricity and a sense of superiority. At least, it had evinced this until the singing of Tara. Then he broke down. First he bowed his head down, resting his forehead upon his hands, which were supported by his cane, and several deep-drawn sighs escaped him. Then he raised his head again, and looked up at the ceiling with an evident effort to assume a careless expression. Then he again hid his face. But the song went on, and the melancholy frail of the accompaniment continued, and at last the old gentleman ceased to struggle, and gave himself up to the influence of that wonderful music. He sat erect and rigid; his hands in front of him clasped tightly round his stick; and his eyes fixed on vacancy; and as I looked at him I saw big tears slowly coursing down his cheeks.
At length the song ceased, and he impatiently dashed his tears away, and looked furtively and suspiciously around, as though trying to see if any one had detected his weakness. I, of course, looked away, so that he had not the smallest reason for supposing that I had seen him.
After this the concert went on through a varied collection of pieces, and all the time I wondered who the old gentleman with the eagle face and tender sensibilities might be. And in this state of wonder I continued until the close.
At last came the usual concluding piece—"God save the Queen."
Of course, as everybody knows, when the national anthem is sung, it is the fashion all over the British empire for the whole audience to rise, and any one who remains seated is guilty of a deliberate insult to the majesty of that empire. On this occasion, as a matter of course, everybody got up, but I was surprised to see that the old gentleman remained seated, with his hands clinched tightly about his cane.
I was not the only one who bad noticed this.
The fact is, I had got into a part of the hall which was not altogether congenial to my taste. I had got my ticket at the door, and found that all the reserved seats were taken up. Consequently I had to take my chance among the general public. Now this general public happened to be an awfully loyal public, and the moment they found that a man was among them who deliberately kept his seat while the national anthem was being sung, they began to get into a furious state of excitement.
Let me say also that there was very sufficient reason for this excitement. All Canada was agog about the Fenians. Blood had been shed. An invasion had taken place. There was no joke about it. The Fenians were net an imaginary danger, but a real one. All the newspapers were full of the subject. By the Fenians every Canadian understood an indefinite number of the disbanded veteran soldiers of the late American war, who, having their hand in, were not willing to go back to the monotony of a peaceful life, but preferred rather a career of excitement. Whether this suspicion were well founded or not doesn't make the slightest difference. The effect on the Canadian mind was the same as if it were true. Now, since the Canadian mind was thus roused up to this pitch of universal excitement, there existed a very general watch for Fenian emissaries, and any of that brotherhood who showed himself too openly in certain quarters ran a very serious risk. It was not at all safe to defy popular opinion. And popular opinion ran strongly toward the sentiment of loyalty. And anybody who defied that sentiment of loyalty did it at his peril. A serious peril, too, mind you. A mob won't stand nonsense. It won't listen to reason. It has a weakness for summary vengeance and broken bones.
Now, some such sort of a mob as this began to gather quickly and menacingly round my elderly friend, who had thus so rashly shocked their common sentiment. In a few moments a wild uproar began.
"Put him out!"
"Knock him down!"
"He's a Fenian!"
"Down with him!"
"Punch his head!"
"Hold him up, and make him stand up!"
"Stand up, you fool!"
"Up with him! Let's pass him out over our heads!"
"We'll show him he's in bad company!" "He's a spy!"
"A Fenian spy!"
"Up with him!" "Down with him!" "Pitch into him!" "Out with him!" "Toss him!" "Hustle him!" "Punch his head!" "Throttle him!" "Level him!" "Give it to him!" "Turn him inside out!" "Hold up his boots!" "Walk him off!"
All these, and about fifty thousand more shouts of a similar character, burst forth from the maddened mob around. All mobs are alike. Any one who has ever seen a mob in a row can understand the action of this particular one. They gathered thick and fast around him. They yelled. They howled. The music of the national anthem was drowned in that wild uproar. They pressed close to him, and the savage eyes that glared on him menaced him with something little less than death itself.
And what did he do?
Why he bore himself splendidly.
As the row began, he rose slowly, holding his stick, which I now saw to be a knotted staff of formidable proportions, and at length reared his figure to its full height. It was a tall and majestic figure which he revealed—thin, yet sinewy, and towering over the heads of the roaring mob around him.
He confronted them all with a dark frown on his brow, and blazing eyes.
"Ye beggars!" he cried. "Come on—the whole pack of ye! A Fenian, ye say? That's thrue for you. Ye've got one, an' ye'll find him a tough customer! Come on—the whole thousand of ye!"
And saying this, he swung his big, formidable knotted stick about his head.
Those nearest him started back, but the crowd behind rushed forward. The row increased. The people in the reserved seats in front looked around with anxious eyes, not knowing what was going on.
The crowd yelled and hooted. It surged nearer. A moment more and the tall figure would go down.
Now, I'm a loyal man. None more so. I'm an officer and a gentleman. I'm ready at any moment to lay down my life for the queen and the rest of the royal family. I'm ready to pitch into the Fenians on any proper occasion, and all that.
But somehow this didn't seem to me to be the proper occasion. It was not a Fenian that I saw. It was an elderly gentleman; so sensitive, that but a few minutes before he had been struggling with his tears; so lion-hearted, that now he drew himself up and faced a roaring, howling mob of enemies—calmly, unflinchingly—hurling desperate defiance at them. And was that the sort of thing that I could stand? What! to see one man attacked by hundreds—a man like that, too—an old man, alone, with nothing to sustain him but his own invincible pluck? Pooh! what's the use of talking? I am an officer and a gentleman, and as such it would have been a foul disgrace to me if I had been capable of standing there quietly and looking at the old man at the mercies of the mob.
But, as it happened, I did nothing of the kind.
On the contrary, I sprang forward and stood by the side of the old man.
"Now, look here—you fellows!" I roared—"this is all very fine, and very loyal, but, damn it! don't it strike you that it's an infernally cowardly thing to pitch into an old man in this style? He may be a Fenian, and he may be Old Nick himself, but he's never done you fellows any harm. What the devil do you mean by kicking up such a row as this? You touch him, if you dare, that's all! You see my uniform, and you know what I am. I'm a Bobtail. This man is my friend. He's going out with me, and I'd like to see the fellow that will stop us."
That's the first speech I ever made in my life, and all that I can say is, that it was wonderfully successful. Demosthenes, and Cicero, and the Earl of Chatham, and Burke, and Mirabeau, all rolled into one, couldn't have been more successful. The mob rolled back. They looked ashamed. It was a word of sense spoken in a forcible manner. And that I take it is the essence of true oratory.
The mob rolled back. I gave my new friend my arm. He took it. The door was not far away. We started to go out. The people fell back, and made way for us. After all, they were a good enough lot, and had only yielded to a kind of panic. All mobs, I suppose, are insane. The very fact of a mob involves a kind of temporary insanity. But these fellows had come to their senses, and so I had no difficulty in making my way through them along with my companion. We got out into the street without any difficulty. My new friend held my arm, and involuntarily made a turn to the right on leaving the door of the hall. Thus we walked along, and for some time we walked in silence.
At length the silence was broken by my companion.
"Well—well—well!" he ejaculated—"to think of me, walking with a British officer-arrum-in-arrum!"
"Why not?" said I.
"Why not?" said he, "why there's ivlry reason in loife. I'm a Fenian."
"Pooh!" said I, "what's the use of bothering about politics? You're a man, and a confoundedly plucky fellow too. Do you think that I could stand there and see those asses pitching into you? Don't bother about politics."
"An' I won't," said he. "But at any reet, I feeced them. An Oirishman niver sirrinders to an inimy. I feeced them, I did—an' I expressed meself in shootable sintimints."
The rich Leinster accent of my companion showed his nationality more plainly than even his own explicit statement. But this did not at all lessen the interest that I took in him. His sensitiveness which had been so conspicuous, his courage which had shone so brightly, and his impressive features, all combined to create a feeling of mingled regard and respect for my new acquaintance.
"By Jove!" I cried, "I never saw a pluckier fellow in my life. There you were, alone, with a mad mob howling at you."
"It's meself," said he, "that'll nivir be intimidected. Don't I know what a mob is? An' if I didn't, wouldn't I feece thim all the seeme? An' afther all I don't moind tellin' you that it wasn't disrispict. It was only a kind of abstraction, an' I wasn't conscious that it was the national anthim, so I wasn't. I'd have stood up, if I'd knowed it. But whin those divils began reelin' at me, I had to trait thim with scarrun and contimpt. An' for me—I haven't much toime to live, but what I have ye've seeved for me."
"Oh, nonsense, don't talk about that," said I, modestly.
"Sorr," said he, "I'm very well aware that I'm under deep obleegeetions, an' I owe ye a debt of grateechood. Consequintly, I insist on bein' greetful. I hold iviry British officer as me personal inimy; but, in you, sorr, I'm sinsible of a ginirous frind. Te've seeved me loife, so ye have, an' there's no doubt about it. We'll weeve politics. I won't spake of the Finians. Phaylim O'Halloran isn't the man that'll mintion onsaisonable politics, or dwell upon uncongainal thames, so he isn't."
"Well," said I, "Mr. O'Halloran, since you've introduced yourself, I must give you my humble address. I'm Lieutenant Macrorie."
"Macrorie?" said he.
"Macrorie," said I, "of the Bobtails, and I assure you I'm very happy to make your acquaintance."
We walked along arm-in-arm in the most friendly manner, chatting about things in general. I found my companion to be very intelligent and very well informed. He had travelled much. He expressed himself fluently on every subject, and though his brogue was conspicuous, he was evidently a gentleman, and very well educated too. I gathered from his conversation that he had studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and that he had been leading a desultory sort of life in the United States for twenty years or so. Ho had been in Canada for something less than a year, and was anxious to get back to a more southern clime.
Chatting thus, and arm-in-arm, we walked along. I had nothing to do, and so I went with my new-found friend, with a vague idea of seeing him safe home. Of course such an idea was preposterous, for he could have got home just as well without me, but I had taken a fancy to my new acquaintance, and found a strange charm in his conversation. He talked incessantly and on many subjects. He discoursed on theology, literature, science, the weather, the army, the navy, music, painting, sculpture, photography, engraving, geology, chemistry, and on a thousand other arts and sciences, in all of which he showed himself deeply versed, and far beyond my depth. He had a brogue, and I had none, but as for intellectual attainments I was only a child in comparison with him.
At length we reached a house where he stopped.
"I'm infeenetely obloiged to ye," said he. "And now, won't ye koindly condiscind to step in and parteek of me hospitalitee? It'll give me shuprame deloight."
After such an invitation what could I say? I had nothing to do. Accordingly, I accepted it in a proper spirit, and, thanking him for his kind invitation, I went in along with him.
O'Halloran led the way in. It was a comfortable house. The parlor which we entered was large, and a huge grate filled with blazing coals diffused a cheerful glow. Magazines and periodicals lay on the table. Pictures illustrative of classical scenes hung round the walls, done in the old-fashioned style of line engraving, and representing such subjects as Mutius Scaevola before Porsenna; Belisarius begging for an obolus; Aeneas carrying his father from Troy; Leonidas at Thermopylae; Coriolanus quitting Rome; Hamilcar making the boy Hannibal swear his oath of hate against Home; and others of a similar character.
O'Halloran made me sit in a "sleepy-hollow" easy-chair by the fire. Beside me were two huge book-shelves crammed with books. A glance at them showed me that they were largely of a classical order. Longinus, Aeschylus, Demosthenes, Dindorf, Plato, Stallbaum—such were the names that I saw in gilt letters on the backs of the volumes.
About the room there was that air of mingled comfort and refinement that is always suggestive of the presence of ladies. A work-basket stood beside the table. And on a little Chinese table in a corner lay some crochet-work. I took in all these things at a glance and while my host was talking to me. After a time he excused himself and said that he would call the "leedies." He retired, leaving me alone, and striving to picture to myself—
THE O'HALLORAN LADIES.—THEIR APPEARANCE.—THEIR AGES.—THEIR DRESS.— THEIR DEMEANOR.—THEIR CULTURE, POLISH, EDUCATION, RANK, STYLE, ATTAINMENTS, AND ALL ABOUT THEM.
"Leedies," said O'Halloran, "allow me to inthrojuice to ye Captain Macrorie, an officer on' a gintlemin, an' when I steet that he seeved me life about a half an hour ago, ye'll see what sintimints of grateechood are his jew."
With these words O'Halloran entered the room, followed by two ladies whom he thus introduced, giving my name to them, but in the abstraction of the moment not mentioning their names to me.
The ladies greeted me with smiles, which at once threw a new charm over this very comfortable room, and seated themselves opposite on the other side of the fire, so that I had the best view of them possible.
And now the very first glance that I obtained of these ladies showed me that I had hit upon a wonderful piece of good luck when I went to that concert and met my new friend O'Halloran. For in beauty of face, grace of figure, refinement of manner; in every thing that affects an impressible man—and what man is not impressible?—these ladies were so far beyond all others in Quebec, that no comparison could be made. The Burton girls were nowhere.
The elder of the two might have been—no matter—not over twenty-three or four at any rate; while the younger was certainly not over eighteen or nineteen. There was a good deal of similarity in their styles; both were brunettes; both had abundance of dark, lustrous hair; both had those dark, hazel eyes which can send such a thrill to the soul of the impressible. For my part I thrilled, I glowed, I exulted, I rejoiced and triumphed in the adventure which had led to such a discovery as this. Were there any other women in Canada, in America, or in the world, equal to them? I did not believe there were. And then their voices—low—sweet—musical—voices which spoke of the exquisite refinement of perfect breeding; those voices would have been enough to make a man do or dare any thing.
Between them, however, there were some differences. The elder had an expression of good-natured content, and there was in her a vein of fun which was manifest, while the younger seemed to have a nature which was more intense and more earnest, and there was around her a certain indefinable reserve and hauteur.
Which did I admire most?
I declare it's simply impossible to say. I was overwhelmed. I was crushed with equal admiration. My whole soul became instinct with the immortal sentiment—How happy could I be with either! while the cordiality of my reception, which made me at once a friend of this jewel of a family, caused my situation to assume so delicious an aspect that it was positively bewildering.
O'Halloran hadn't mentioned their names, but the names soon came out. They were evidently his daughters. The name of the eldest I found was Nora, and the name of the younger was Marion. The old gentleman was lively, and gave a highly-dramatic account of the affair at the concert, in which he represented my conduct in the most glowing light. The ladies listened to all this with undisguised agitation, interrupting him frequently with anxious questions, and regarding my humble self as a sort of a hero. All this was in the highest degree encouraging to a susceptible mind; and I soon found myself sliding off into an easy, a frank, an eloquent, and a very delightful conversation. Of the two ladies, the elder Miss O'Halloran took the chief share in that lively yet intellectual intercourse. Marion only put in a word occasionally; and, though very amiable, still did not show so much cordiality as her sister. But Miss O'Halloran! what wit! what sparkle! what mirth! what fun! what repartee! what culture! what refinement! what an acquaintance with the world! what a knowledge of men and things! what a faultless accent! what indescribable grace of manner! what a generous and yet ladylike humor! what a merry, musical laugh! what quickness of apprehension! what acuteness of perception! what— words fail. Imagine every thing that is delightful in a first-rate conversationalist, and every thing that is fascinating in a lady, and even then you will fail to have a correct idea of Miss O'Halloran. To have such an idea it would be necessary to see her.
Marion on the other hand was quiet, as I have said. Perhaps this arose from a reticence of disposition; or perhaps it was merely the result of her position as a younger sister. Her beautiful face, with its calm, self-poised expression, was turned toward us, and she listened to all that was said, and at times a smile like a sunbeam would flash over her lovely features; but it was only at times, when a direct appeal was made to her, that she would speak, and then her words were few, though quite to the point. I had not, therefore, a fair chance of comparing her with Miss O'Halloran.
In their accent there was not the slightest sign of that rich Leinster brogue which was so apparent in their father. This, however, may have arisen from an English mother, or an English education. Suffice it to say that in no respect could they be distinguished from English ladies, except in a certain vivacity of manner, which in the latter is not common. O'Halloran was evidently a gentleman, and his house showed that he was at least in comfortable circumstances. What his business now might be I could not tell. What his past had been was equally uncertain. Was he an exiled Young Irelander? Had he been driven from his home, or had he left it voluntarily? Whatever he was, his surroundings and his belongings showed unmistakable signs of culture and refinement; and as to his daughters, why, hang it! a peer of the realm couldn't have shown more glorious specimens of perfect womanhood than these which smiled on me in that pleasant parlor.
Meanwhile, as I flung myself headlong into a lively conversation with Miss O'Halloran, the old gentleman listened for a time and made occasional remarks, but at length relapsed into himself, and after some minutes of thought he reached out his hand and drew from among the periodicals lying on the table—
THE DAILY PAPER.
"By the powers!" suddenly interrupted the deep voice of O'Halloran, breaking in upon our lively and delightful conversation.
At which we all started as though we had been shot.
"By the pipers!" continued O'Halloran, after some hesitation. "To think of anybody thryin' to cross the river on the 3d! Why, that was the dee of the breek-up."
At these words I started in new astonishment, and for a moment didn't know what in the world to make of it all. As for the ladies, they didn't say a word. I didn't notice them, in fact; I had turned and was looking at O'Halloran.
"See here," said he. "Did you ever hear the loikes of this? 'Paul Verrier of Chaudiere lift his homne on the 3d of Eepril last, to convee a leedy to Quebec across the oice;'" and he read straight through the very advertisement which I had written and inserted in that very paper.
What my emotions were at that moment it is difficult to describe. At first I felt surprise, then I experienced a sense of triumph at this striking proof of the success which my advertisement had met with, but finally I had occasion to feel emotions which were very different from either of these. I had turned as O'Halloran began to read those familiar words, and after he had finished I mechanically settled myself into my former position, partly because of the comfort of the thing, and partly to see how perfectly impartial hearers like these ladies would listen to this composition of mine. My chief feeling was precisely the same as animates the artist who stands incognito beside his picture, to listen to the remarks of spectators; or the author who hunts through papers to read the criticism on his first book. This, it is true, was neither a picture nor a book, nor was I either an artist or an author, yet, after all, this advertisement was a literary effort of mine, and, what is more, it was the first one that had appeared in print. Was it any wonder, then, that for those reasons I felt curious to see the effect of that advertisement?
Now, as I turned, I was in expectation of some sign of feeling on the part of the ladies—call it surprise; call it sympathy; call it what you will—but I certainly was not prepared for that very peculiar and very marked effect which my humble effort at composition produced on them.
For there they sat—Marion erect and rigid, with her eyes fixed on her sister, and her hand raised in attitude of warning; and Miss O'Halloran, in the same fixed attitude, looked eagerly at Marion, her eyes wide open, her lips parted, and one of her hands also half raised in the involuntary expression of amazement, or the mechanical suggestion of secrecy, Miss O'Halloran's emotion was not so strong as that of Marion, but then her nature was more placid, and the attitude of each was in full accordance with their respective characters. They sat there in that attitude, altogether unconscious of me and of my gaze, with deep emotion visible on their faces, and unmistakable, yet why that emotion should be caused by that advertisement I could not for the life of me imagine.
"Well," said O'Halloran, "what do ye think of that now? Isn't that a spicimin of thrue Canajin grade? The man threw his loife away for a few pince."
As O'Halloran spoke, the ladies recovered their presence of mind. They started. Hiss O'Halloran saw my eyes fixed on her, flushed up a little, and looked away. As for Marion, she too saw my look, but, instead of turning her eyes away, she fixed them on me for an instant with a strange and most intense gaze, which seemed to spring from her dark, solemn, lustrous eyes, and pierce me through and through. But it was only for an instant. Then her eyes fell, and there remained not a trace of their past excitement in either of them.
I confess I was utterly confounded at this. These two ladies perceived in that advertisement of mine a certain meaning which showed that they must have some idea of the cause of the fate of the imaginary Verrier. And what was this that they knew; and how much did they know? Was it possible that they could know the lady herself? It seemed probable.
The idea filled me with intense excitement, and made me determine here on the spot, and at once, to pursue my search after the unknown lady. But how? One way alone seemed possible, and that was by telling a simple, unvarnished tale of my own actual adventure.
This decision I reached in little more than a minute, and, before either of the ladies had made a reply to O'Halloran's last remark, I answered him in as easy a tone as I could assume.
"Oh," I said, "I can tell you all about that."
"You!" cried O'Halloran.
"You!" cried Miss O'Halloran.
"You!" cried Marion, and she and her sister fixed their eyes upon me with unmistakable excitement, and seemed to anticipate all that I might be going to say.
This, of course, was all the more favorable to my design, and, seeing such immediate success, I went on headlong.