All this time O'Halloran did not appear to have recognized Jack at all. On the drive out this might have been accounted for, but, in the Hotel de France, O'Halloran had a full and perfect inspection of him. If he did recognize him, it certainly did not appear in his manner. He exchanged words with Jack in a tone of hilarious cordiality, which did not seem as though he considered Jack an enemy; and Jack, who never failed to respond when greeted in such a way, met him more than halfway. It was evident that O'Halloran had not the smallest idea that Jack was that identical British officer whom he had expelled from his house.
Of all the party the doctor seemed to have suffered most; and, on the journey back, he kept up one prolonged growl at me. I was fated, he said, to bring him bad luck, and I would be the death of him. Once before he had ridden all night in the storm for me; and now here was another fool's errand. He seemed inclined to consider it as a personal insult, and actually felt aggrieved because O'Halloran's bullet had not shattered my arm, or penetrated my brain. Thus he alternated between shivering and swearing all the way back.
"I tell you what it is, Macrorie," he growled, "if you ever come to ask my help again on any occasion whatever, I'll take it as a personal insult. I wouldn't have come this time, but I thought it was to be an affair of honor. An affair of honor! Rot and nonsense! Dragging a fellow over the country all day to see a couple of pistols fired in the air! What sort of a thing do you call that? And here am I—in for it —yes—damn it, man!—I say again—in for it—to any extent—rheumatism, neuralgia, gout, inflammation, and fifty other things! If I thought you'd have any of them, I'd feel satisfied. But no—you're all right, and can afford to sit there grinning at the sufferings of a better man than yourself."
From which it will appear that the doctor was savage, and I was not.
On reaching Quebec, O'Halloran gave us all a comprehensive invitation to dinner.
But the doctor could not accept it. He had taken cold, and would have to go home. Jack could not accept it. He had a very pressing engagement. Mr. McGinty could not accept it, for he had some important business. So O'Halloran pressed me. I alone was disengaged. I had no rheumatism, no pressing engagement, no important business. O'Halloran was urgent in his invitation. Our duel seemed only to have heightened and broadened his cordiality. I was dying to see Marion—or to find out how she was—so what did I do? Why, I leaped at the invitation, as a matter of course.
So once more I was ushered into that comfortable and hospitable back-parlor. Since I had been there last, what events had occurred! O'Halloran left me for a time, and I was alone. I sat down, and thought of that night when I had wandered forth. I thought of all the wild fancies that had filled my brain, as I wandered about amid the storm, listening to the howl of the wind, and the deep, sullen moan of the river. I recalled that strange, weird superstition, which had drawn me back once more to the house—and the deep longing and craving which had filled my heart for one glimpse, however faint, of my Lady of the Ice. I thought of my return—of my earnest gaze around, of the deep toll of the midnight bell, and of the sudden revelation of that dim, shadowy figure of a veiled lady, that stood in faint outline by the house, which advanced to meet me as I hurried over to her.
It was quite dark. There were no lamps lighted, but the coal-fire flickered and threw a ruddy glow about the apartment; at times leaping up into brightness, and again dying down into dimness and obscurity. O'Halloran had gone up-stairs, leaving me thus alone, and I sat in the deep arm-chair with my mind full of these all-absorbing fancies; and, in the midst of these fancies, even while I was thinking of that veiled figure which I had seen under the shadow of the house—even thus—I became aware of a light footfall, and a rustling dress beside me.
I turned my head with a quick movement of surprise.
There was the figure of a lady—graceful, slender, formed in a mould of perfect elegance and loveliness, the dark drapery of her dress descending till it died away among the shadows on the floor. I stared for a moment in surprise. Then the light of the fire, which had subsided for a moment, leaped up, and flashed out upon the exquisite features, and the dark, lustrous, solemn eyes of Marion.
I sprang to my feet, with my heart beating so fast that it seemed impossible to breathe. The surprise was overwhelming. I had thought of her as raving in brain-fever, descending deep down into the abyss of delirium, and now—here she was—here—by my side!—my Lady of the Ice!—Marion!
"I heard that you were here," she said, in a low, tremulous voice, "and I could not help coming down to tell you how I—how I bless you for —for that night."
She stopped—and held out her hand in silence.
I seized it in both of mine. For a few moments I could not speak. At last I burst forth:
"Oh, my God! What bliss it is for me to see you!—I've been thinking about it ever since—I've been afraid that you were ill—that you would never get over it."
And still holding her hand in mine, I raised it with tremulous eagerness, and pressed it to my lips.
She gently withdrew it, but without any appearance of anger.
"No," said she, "I was not ill. A wakeful night, a very feverish excitement—that was all."
"I listened long after you left," said I, in a low voice; "and all was still."
"Yes," she said, in the same low voice. "No one heard me. I reached my room without any one knowing it. But I had much to sustain me. For oh, sir, I felt deeply, deeply grateful to find myself back again, and to know that my folly had ended so. To be again in my dear home—with my dear papa—after the anguish that I had known!"
She stopped.—It was a subject that she could not speak of without an emotion that was visible in every tone. Her voice was sad, and low, and solemn, and all its intonations thrilled to the very core of my being. And for me—I had nothing to say—I thrilled, my heart bounded at the sight of her face, and at the tones of her voice; while within me there was a great and unspeakable joy. If I had dared to say to her all that I felt at that moment! But how dare I? She had come in the fulness of her warm gratitude to thank me for what I had done. She did not seem to think that, but for me, she would not have left her home at all. She only remembered that I had brought her back. It was thus that her generous nature revealed itself.
Now, while she thus expressed such deep and fervent gratitude, and evinced such joy at being again in her home, and at finding such an ending to her folly, there came to me a great and unequalled exultation. For by this I understood that her folly was cured—that her infatuation was over—that the glamour had been dissipated—that her eyes had been opened—and the once—adored Jack was now an object of indifference.
"Have you told any one about it?" I asked.
"No," said she, "not a soul."
"He is my most intimate friend," said I, "but I have kept this secret from him. He knows nothing about it."
"Of course he does not," said she, "how was it possible for you to tell him? This is our secret."
I cannot tell the soft, sweet, and soothing consolation which penetrated my inmost soul at these words. Though few, they had a world of meaning. I noticed with delight the cool indifference with which she spoke of him. Had she expressed contempt, I should not have been so well pleased. Perfect indifference was what I wanted, and what I found. Then, again, she acknowledged me as the only partner in her secret, thus associating me with herself in one memorable and impressive way. Nor yet did she ask any questions as to whom I meant. Her indifference to him was so great that it did not even excite curiosity as to how I had found out who he was. She was content to take my own statement without any questions or observations.
And there, as the flickering light of the coal-fire sprang up and died out; as it threw from time to time the ruddy glow of its uprising flames upon her, she stood before me—a vision of perfect loveliness —like a goddess to the devotee, which appears for an instant amid the glow of some mysterious light, only to fade out of sight a moment after. The rare and perfect grace of her slender figure, with its dark drapery, fading into the gloom below—the fair outline of her face—her sad, earnest, and melancholy expression; the intense and solemn earnestness of her dark, lustrous eyes—all these conspired to form a vision such as impressed itself upon my memory forever. This was the full realization of my eager fancy—this was what I had so longed to see. I had formed my own ideal of my Lady of the Ice—in private life —in the parlor—meeting me in the world of society. And here before me that ideal stood.
Now, it gives a very singular sensation to a fellow to stand face to face with the woman whom he worships and adores, and to whom he dares not make known the feelings that swell within him; and still more singular is this sensation, when this woman, whom he adores, happens to be one whom he has carried in his arms for an indefinite time; and more singular yet is it, when she happens to be one whom he has saved once, and once again, from the most cruel fate; by whose side he has stood in, what may have seemed the supreme moment of mortal life; whom he has sustained and cheered and strengthened in a dread conflict with Death himself; singular enough is the sensation that arises under such circumstances as these, my boy—singular, and overwhelming, and intolerable; a sensation which paralyzes the tongue and makes one mute, yet still brings on a resistless and invincible desire to speak and make all known; and should such a scene be too long continued, the probability is that the desire and the longing thus to speak will eventually burst through all restraint, and pour forth in a volume of fierce, passionate eloquence, that will rush onward, careless of consequences. Now, such was my situation, and such was my sensation, and such, no doubt, would have been the end of it all, had not the scene been brought to an end by the arrival of O'Halloran and his wife, preceded by a servant with lights, who soon put the room in a state of illumination.
Nora, as I must still call her, was somewhat embarrassed at first meeting me—for she could not forget our last interview; but she gradually got over it, and, as the evening wore on, she became her old, lively, laughing, original self. O'Halloran, too, was in his best and moat genial mood, and, as I caught at times the solemn glance of the dark eye's of Marion, I found not a cloud upon the sky that overhung our festivities. Marion, too, had more to say than usual. She was no longer so self-absorbed, and so abstracted, as she once was. She was not playful and lively like Nora; but she was, at least, not sad; she showed an interest in all that was going on, and no longer dwelt apart like a star.
It was evident that Nora knew nothing at all about the duel. That was a secret between O'Halloran and me. It was also evident that she knew nothing about Marion's adventure—that was a secret between Marion and me. There was another secret, also, which puzzled me, and of which O'Halloran must, of course, have known as little as I did, and this was that strange act of Nora's in pretending to be the Lady of the Ice. Why had she done it? For what possible reason? Why had Marion allowed her to do it? All this was a mystery. I also wondered much whether she thought that I still believed in that pretence of hers. I thought she did, and attributed to this that embarrassment which she showed when she first greeted me. On this, as on the former occasion, her embarrassment had, no doubt, arisen from the fact that she was playing a part, and the consciousness that such a part was altogether out of her power to maintain. Yet, why had she done it?
That evening I had a better opportunity to compare these two most beautiful women; for beautiful each most certainly was, though in a different way from the other. I had already felt on a former occasion the bewitching effect of Nora's manner, and I had also felt to a peculiar and memorable extent that spell which had been cast upon me by Marion's glance. Now I could understand the difference between them and my own feelings. For in witchery, in liveliness, in musical laughter, in never-failing merriment, Nora far surpassed all with whom I had ever met; and for all these reasons she had in her a rare power of fascination. But Marion was solemn, earnest, intense; and there was that on her face which sent my blood surging back to my heart, as I caught her glance. Nora was a woman to laugh and chat with; Nora was kind and gracious, and gentle too; Nora was amiable as well as witty; charming in manner, piquant in expression, inimitable at an anecdote, with never-failing resources, a first-rate lady-conversationist, if I may use so formidable a word—in fact, a thoroughly fascinating woman; but Marion!—Marion was one, not to laugh with, but to die for; Marion had a face that haunted you; a glance that made your heart leap, and your nerves tingle; a voice whose deep intonations vibrated through all your being with a certain mystic meaning, to follow you after you had left her, and come up again in your thoughts by day, and your dreams by night—Marion! why Nora could be surveyed calmly, and all her fascinating power analyzed; but Marion was a power in herself, who bewildered you and defied analysis.
During that time when Nora had been confounded in my mind with the Lady of the Ice, she had indeed risen to the chief place in my thoughts, though my mind still failed to identify her thoroughly. I had thought that I loved her, but I had not. It was the Lady of the Ice whom I loved; and, when Marion had revealed herself, then all was plain. After that revelation Nora sank into nothingness, and Marion was all in all.
Oh, that evening, in that pleasant parlor! Shall I ever forget it!
Our talk was on all things. Of course, I made no allusion to my journey over the ice, and Nora soon saw that she was free from any such unpleasant and embarrassing remarks. Freed from this fear, she became herself again. Never was she more vivacious, more sparkling, or more charming. O'Halloran joined the conversation in a manner that showed the rarest resources of wit, of fun, and of genial humor. Marion, as I said before, did not hold aloof, but took a part which was subordinate, it is true, yet, to me, far more effective; indeed, incomparably more so than that of the others. Indeed, I remember now nothing else but Marion.
So the evening passed, and at length the ladies retired. Nora bade me adieu—with her usual cordiality, and her kindly and bewitching glance; while Marion's eyes threw upon me their lustrous glow, in which there was revealed a certain deep and solemn earnestness, that only intensified, if such a thing were possible, the spell which she had thrown over my soul.
And then it was "somethin' warrum." Under the effects of this, my host passed through several distinct and well-defined moods or phases.
First of all, he was excessively friendly and affectionate. He alluded to our late adventure, and expressed himself delighted with the result.
Then he became confidential, and explained how it was that he, an old man, happened to have a young wife.
Fifteen years ago, he said, Nora had been left under his care by her father. She had lived in England all her life, where she had been educated. Shortly after he had become her guardian he had been compelled to fly to America, on account of his connection with the Young-Ireland party, of which he was a prominent member. He had been one of the most vigorous writers in one of the Dublin papers, which was most hostile to British rule, and was therefore a marked man. As he did not care about imprisonment or a voyage to Botany Bay, he had come to America, bringing with him his ward Nora, and his little daughter Marion, then a child of not more than three or four. By this act he had saved himself and his property, which was amply sufficient for his support. A few years passed away, and he found his feelings toward Nora somewhat different from those of a parent—and he also observed that Nora looked upon him with tenderer feelings than those of gratitude.
"There's a great difference intoirely," said he, "between us now. I've lost my youth, but she's kept hers. But thin, at that toime, me boy, Phaylim O'Halloran was a moightily different man from the one you see before you. I was not much over forty—in me proime—feeling as young as any of thim, an' it wasn't an onnatural thing that I should win the love of ayven a young gyerrul, so it wasn't. An' so she became me woife—my Nora—me darlin'—the loight of me loife. And she's accompanied me iver since on all my wandherin's and phelandherin's, and has made the home of the poor ixoile a paradoise, so she has."
All this was very confidential, and such a confidence would probably never have been given, had it not been for the effects of "somethin' warrum;" but it showed me several things in the plainest manner. The first was, that Nora must be over thirty, at any rate, and was therefore very much older than I had taken her to be. Again, her English accent and style could be accounted for; and finally the equally English accent and style of Marion could be understood and accounted for on the grounds of Nora's influence. For a child always catches the accent of its mother rather than of its father, and Nora must, for nearly fifteen years, have been a sort of mother, more or less, to Marion.
And now, why the mischief did Nora pretend to be my Lady of the Ice, and in the very presence of Marion try to maintain a part which she could not carry out? And why, if she were such a loving and faithful wife, did she deliberately deceive the confiding O'Halloran, and make him believe that she was the one whom I had saved? It was certainly not from any want of love for him. It must have been some scheme of hers which she had formed in connection with Marion. But what in the world could such a scheme have been, and why in the world had she formed it?
This was the puzzling question that arose afresh, as O'Halloran detailed to me very confidentially the history of this romantic experience in his life.
But this was only one of his moods, and this mood passed away. The romantic and the confidential was succeeded by the literary and the scholastic, with a dash of the humorous.
A trivial remark of mine, in the course of some literary criticisms of his, turned his thoughts to the subject of puns. He at once plunged into the history of puns. He quoted Aristophanes, Plautus, Terence, Cicero. He brought forward illustrations from Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Milton, Puritan, writers, Congreve, Cowper, and others, until he concluded with Hood, who he declared had first unfolded to the human mind the possibility of the pun.
From this he passed off lightly and easily into other things, and finally glided into the subject of mediaeval Latin. This, he asserted, was born and nourished under peculiar circumstances, so different from classical Latin, as to be almost a new language, yet fully equal to it in all the best characteristics of a language. He defied me to find any thing in classical poetry that would compare with the "Dies Irae," the "Stabat Mater," or the "Rhythm of Bernard de Morlaix." As I was and am rather rusty in Latin, I did not accept the challenge. Then he asserted that mediaeval Latin was so comprehensive in its scope that it was equally good for the convivial and for the solemn, and could speak equally well the sentiments of fun, love, and religion. He proved this by quotations from the immortal Walter Mapes. He overwhelmed me, in fact, with quotations. I caved in. I was suppressed. I became extinct. Finally he offered to show me an original song of his own, which he asserted was "iminintly shooted to the prisint occasion."
As I had no other way of showing my opinion of it, I begged the paper from him, and give here a true copy of it, verbatim et literatim, notes and all:
PHELIMII HALLORANII CARMEN.
Omnibus Hibernicis Semper est ex more Vino curas pellere Aut montano rore;* Is qui nescit bibere, Aut est cito satur, Ille, Pol! me judice Parvus est potator.*
Omnibus Americis Semper est in ore Tuba, frondes habens ex Nicotino flore; Densis fumi nubibus Et vivunt et movent, Hoc est summum gaudium Sic Te Bacche! foyent.*
Omnis tune Hibernicus Migret sine mora, Veniat Americam Vivat hac in ora, Nostram Baccam capiat,* Et montanum rorem, Erit Pol! Americus* In saecula saeculorum. Amen.
*Montano rore—cf., id. Hib., mountain-dew; item, id. Scot., Hib., et Amer., whiskey.
*Parvus potator—cf., id. Amer., small potater.
*Te Bacce—cf., id. Amer., Tebaccy, i.e., Tobacco.
*Baccam—in America vulgo dici solet, Backy.
*Americus—cf., id. Amer., a merry cuss.]
FROM APRIL TO JUNE.—TEMPORA MUTANTUR, ET NOS MUTAMUR IN ILLIS. —STARTLING CHANGE IN MARION!—AND WHY?—JACK AND HIS WOES.—THE VENGEANCE OF MISS PHILLIPS.—LADIES WHO REFUSE TO ALLOW THEIR HEARTS TO BE BROKEN.—NOBLE ATTITUDE OF THE WIDOW.—CONSOLATIONS OF LOUIE.
Time passed on, and week succeeded to week, without any occurrence of a decisive nature. April died out, May passed, and June came. Then all the trees burst into leaf, and the fields arrayed themselves in green, and all Nature gave one grand leap from winter into summer.
During all this time I was a constant and a favored guest at O'Halloran's. I really don't think I ever went anywhere else. I cut off all visits to others—that is, in the evening—and went there only. O'Halloran always received me with the same cordiality, and the ladies always met me with the same smile.
So many evenings in that comfortable parlor, so many chats with the ladies, so many interviews with my host, could not fail to bring us nearer together. Such was, indeed, the case with O'Halloran and Nora; but with Marion it was different. There was, indeed, between us the consciousness of a common secret, and she could not fail to see in my manner something warmer than common—something more tender than friendship, for instance—something, in fact, which, without being at all spooney, was still expressive of very delicate regard. Yet there came over her something which excited my fears, and filled me with gloomy forebodings. She seemed to lose that cordiality which she evinced on that first evening when I talked with her alone. She never threw at me those deep glances which then had made my nerves tingle. She seemed constrained and reserved. Only in speaking to me, there was always in her voice an indefinable sweetness and gentleness, which made her tones ring in my memory afterward like soft music. That showed me that there was no coldness on her part; and so, too, when I did catch at times the glance of her dark eyes, there was something in them so timid, so soft, and so shy, that I could not think of her as wearying of me. Yet this Marion, timid, tender, and shy; this Marion, holding aloof under evident constraint, keeping apart, giving me no opportunity; this Marion, who had now exchanged the intensity and the solemnity of former days for something so very different—became a puzzle to me.
Why had she changed? Was it her returning regard for Jack? Impossible. His name had several times been mentioned without causing any emotion in her. His approaching marriage with Mrs. Finnimore had once been mentioned by Nora, who spoke of it as an interesting item of news. Marion heard it with indifference. Or was she trying to withdraw from any further intimacy with me? Was she suspicious of my intentions, and desirous of giving me no hope? Was she trying to repel me at the outset? It seemed so. And so a great fear gradually arose in my heart.
So went the time away, and toward the latter part of May and the beginning of June I used to take the ladies out driving, hoping that these new circumstances might elicit some show of cordiality in Marion. But this proved a complete failure; for, the closer we were thrown together, the greater seemed her shy reticence, her timid reserve, and her soft and gentle yet persistent manner of keeping me at a distance.
And so, here was I. I had found my Lady of the Ice; yet no sooner had I found her than she withdrew herself to an inaccessible height, and seemed now as far out of my reach as on that eventful morning when I sought her at the hut at Montmorency, and found that she had fled.
Spending so much time as I did at O'Halloran's, I did not see so much of Jack as before; yet he used to drop in from time to time in the morning, and pour forth the sorrows of his soul.
Marion's name he never mentioned. Either he had forgotten all about her, which was not improbable; or the subject was too painful a one for him to touch upon, which also was not improbable; or, finally, her affair became overshadowed by other and weightier matters, which was in the highest degree natural.
His first great trouble arose from the action of Miss Phillips.
He had gone there a second time to call, and had again been told that she was not at home. He turned away vowing vengeance, but in the following morning found that vengeance was out of the question; for he received a parcel, containing all the letters which he had ever written to Miss Phillips, and all the presents that he had ever given her, with a polite note, requesting the return of her letters. This was a blow that he was not prepared for. It struck home. However, there was no help for it—so he returned her letters, and then came to me with all kinds of vague threats.
Such threats, however, could not be carried out; and as for Miss Phillips, she was quite beyond the reach of them. She accepted the situation wonderfully well. She did more—she triumphed over it. In a short time she had others at her feet, prominent among whom was Colonel Blount—a dashing officer, a Victoria Cross, and a noble fellow in every respect. Thus Miss Phillips revenged herself on Jack. She tossed him aside coolly and contemptuously, and replaced him with a man whom Jack himself felt to be his superior. And all this was gall and wormwood to Jack. And, what was more, he was devoured with jealousy.
The worst thing about it all, however, was the crushing blow which it gave to his self-love. I am inclined to think that he was very much taken down, on one occasion, when I informed him incidentally that Marion was in excellent spirits, and was said to be in better health than she had known for years. Miss Phillips's policy, however, was a severer blow. For it had all along been his firm belief that his tangled love-affairs could not end without a broken heart, or melancholy madness, or life-long sorrow, or even death, to one or more of his victims. To save them from such a fate, he talked of suicide. All this was highly romantic, fearfully melodramatic, and even mysteriously tragic. But, unfortunately for Jack's self-conceit, the event did not coincide with these highly-colored views. The ladies refused to break their hearts. Those organs, however susceptible and tender they may have been, beat bravely on. Number Three viewed him with indifference. Miss Phillips coolly and contemptuously cast him off, and at once found new consolation in the devotion of another. Broken hearts! Melancholy madness! Life-long sorrow! Not they, indeed. They didn't think of him. They didn't confide their wrongs to any avenger. No brother or other male relative sent Jack a challenge. He was simply dropped. He was forgotten. Now any one may see the chagrin which such humiliation must have caused to one of Jack's temper.
And how did the widow treat Jack all this time? The widow! She was sublime; for she showed at once the fostering care of a mother, and the forgiveness of a saint. Forgiveness? That's not the word. I am wrong. She showed nothing of the kind. On the contrary, she evinced no consciousness whatever that any offence had been committed. If Jack had deceived her as to Miss Phillips, she showed no knowledge of such deceit; if he had formed other entanglements of which he had never told her, she never let him know whether she had found out or not; if Jack went every evening to console himself with Louie, any discovery which the widow may have made of so very interesting yet transparent a fact was never alluded to by her. Such was the lofty ground which the widow took in reference to Jack and his affairs, and such was the manner with which she viewed him and them—a manner elevated, serene, calm, untroubled—a manner always the same. For she seemed above all care for such things. Too high-minded, you know. Too lofty in soul, my boy, and all that sort of thing. Like some tall cliff that rears its awful form, swells from the vale, and midway cleaves the storm, and all the rest of it. Such was the demeanor of the widow Finnimore.
She was so kind and cordial that Jack had not a word to say. After a few days of absence, during which he had not dared to call on her, he had ventured back, and was greeted with the gentlest of reproaches for his neglect, and was treated with an elaboration of kindness that was positively crushing. So he had to go, and to keep going. She would not suffer a single cloud to arise between them. An unvarying sweetness diffused itself evermore over her very pretty face, and through all the tones of her very musical voice. And so Jack was held fast, bound by invisible yet infrangible bonds, and his soul was kept in complete subjection by the superior ascendency of the widow.
So he went to see her every day. About six, generally dined there. Always left at eight, or just as dinner was over. Not much time for tenderness, of course. Jack didn't feel particularly inclined for that sort of thing. The widow, on the other hand, did not lay any stress on that, nor did she allow herself to suspect that Jack was altogether too cold for a lover. Not she. Beaming, my boy. All smiles, you know. Always the same. Glad to see him when he came—a pleasant smile of adieu at parting. In fact, altogether a model fiancee, such as is not often met with in this vale of tears.
Now always, after leaving this good, kind, smiling, cordial, pretty, clever, fascinating, serene, accomplished, hospitable, and altogether unparalleled widow, Jack would calmly, quietly, and deliberately go over to the Bertons', and stay there as long as he could. What for? Was he not merely heaping up sorrow for himself in continuing so ardently this Platonic attachment? For Louie there was no danger. According to Jack, she still kept up her teasing, quizzing, and laughing mood. Jack's break-up with Miss Phillips was a joke, he had confided to her that he had also broken off with Number Three; and, though she could not find out the cause, this became another joke. Finally, his present attitude with regard to the widow was viewed by her as the best joke of all. She assured him that the widow was to be his fate, and that she had driven the others from the field, so as to have him exclusively to herself.
And thus Jack alternated and vibrated between the widow and Louie, and all his entanglements were now reduced to these two.
Such is a full, frank, fair, free, ample, lucid, and luminous explanation of the progress of affairs, which explanation was necessary in order to make the reader fully understand the full meaning of what follows.
JACK'S TRIBULATIONS.—THEY RISE UP IN THE VERY FACE OF THE MOST ASTONISHING GOOD FORTUNES.—FOR, WHAT IS LIKE A LEGACY?—AND THIS COMES TO JACK!—SEVEN THOUSAND POUNDS STERLING PER ANNUM!—BUT WHAT'S THE USE OF IT ALL?—JACK COMES TO GRIEF!—WOE! SORROW! DESPAIR! ALL THE WIDOW! —INFATUATION.—A MAD PROPOSAL.—A MADMAN, A LUNATIC, AN IDIOT, A MARCH HARE, AND A HATTER, ALL ROLLED INTO ONE, AND THAT ONE THE LUCKY YET UNFORTUNATE JACK.
Jack had been falling off more and more. I was taken up with the O'Hallorans; he, with those two points between which he oscillated like a pendulum; and our intercourse diminished, until at length days would intervene without a meeting between us.
It was in the middle of June.
I had not seen Jack for more than a week.
Suddenly, I was reminded of him by a startling rumor that reached my ears after every soul in the garrison and in the city had heard it. It referred to Jack. It was nothing about the widow, nothing about Louie, nothing about Marion, nothing about Miss Phillips.
It did not refer to duns.
He had not been nabbed by the sheriff.
He had not put an end to himself.
In short, the news was, that an uncle of his had died, and left him a fortune of unknown proportions. Omne iguotum pro mirifico, of course; and so up went Jack's fortune to twenty thousand a year. Jack had told me about that uncle, and I had reason to know that it was at least six or seven thousand; and, let me tell you, six or seven thousand pounds per annum isn't to be laughed at.
So here was Jack—raised up in a moment—far above the dull level of debt, and duns, and despair; raised to an upper and, I trust, a better world, where swarms of duns can never arise, and bailiffs never come; raised, my boy, to a region of serene delight, where, like the gods of Epicurus, he might survey from his cloudless calm the darkness and the gloom of the lower world. A fortune, by Jove! Seven thousand pounds sterling a year! Hard cash! Why, the thing fairly took my breath away. I sat down to grapple with the stupendous thought. Aha! where would the duns be now? What would those miserable devils say now, that had been badgering him with lawyers' letters? Wouldn't they all haul off? Methought they would. Methought! why, meknew they would—mefancied how they would fawn, and cringe, and apologize, and explain, and lick the dust, and offer to polish his noble boots, and present themselves for the honor of being kicked by him. Nothing is more degrading to our common humanity than the attitude of a creditor toward a poor debtor —except the attitude of that same creditor, when he learns that his debtor has suddenly become rich.
Having finally succeeded in mastering this great idea, I hurried off to Jack to congratulate him.
I found him in his room. He was lying down, looking very blue, very dismal, and utterly used up. At first, I did not notice this, but burst forth in a torrent of congratulations, shaking his hand most violently. He raised himself slightly from the sofa on which he was reclining, and his languid hand did not return my warm grasp, nor did his face exhibit the slightest interest in what I said. Seeing this, I stopped short suddenly.
"Hallo, old boy!" I cried. "What's the matter? Any thing happened? Isn't it true, then?"
"Oh, yes," said Jack, dolefully, leaning forward, with his elbows on his knees, and looking at the floor.
"Well, you don't seem very jubilant about it. Any thing the matter? Why, man, if you were dying, I would think you'd rise up at the idea of seven thousand a year."
Jack said nothing.
At such a check as this to my enthusiastic sympathy, I sat in silence for a time, and looked at him. His elbows were on his knees, his face was pale, his hair in disorder, and his eyes were fixed on the wall opposite with a vacant and abstracted stare. There was a haggard look about his handsome face, and a careworn expression on his broad brow, which excited within me the deepest sympathy and sadness. Something had happened—something of no common kind. This was a something which was far, very far, more serious than those old troubles which had oppressed him. This was something far different from those old perplexities—the entanglements with three engagements. Amid all those he was nothing but a big, blundering baby; but now he seemed like a sorrow-stricken man. Where was the light of his eyes, the glory of his brow, the music of his voice? Where was that glow that once used to pervade his fresh, open, sunny face? Where! It was Jack—but not the Jack of old. It was Jack—but
"Alas! how changed from him That life of pleasure, and that soul of whim!"
Or, as another poet has it—
'"Twas Jack—but living Jack no more!"
"Jack," said I, after a long and solemn silence, in which I had tried in vain to conjecture what might possibly be the cause of this—"Jack, dear boy, you and I have had confidences together, a little out of the ordinary line. I came here to congratulate you about your fortune; but I find you utterly cut up about something. Will you let me ask you what it is? I don't ask out of idle curiosity, but out of sympathy. At the same time, if it's any thing of a private nature, I beg pardon for asking you to tell it."
Jack looked up, and a faint flicker of a smile passed over his face.
"Oh, all right, old boy!" he said. "I'm hit hard—all up—and that sort of thing—hit hard—yes, damned hard—serves me right, too, you know, for being such an infernal fool."
He frowned, and drew a long breath.
"Wait a minute, old chap," said he, rising from the sofa; "I'll get something to sustain nature, and then I'll answer your question. I'm glad you've come. I don't know but that it'll do me good to tell it all to somebody. It's hard to stay here in my den, fretting my heart out —damned hard!—but wait a minute, and I'll explain."
Saying this, he walked over to the sideboard.
"Will you take any thing?"
"Thanks, no," said I; "a pipe is all I want." And I proceeded to fill and light one.
Thereupon Jack poured out a tumbler of raw brandy, which he swallowed.
Then he came back to the sofa. A flush came to his face, and his eyes looked brighter; but he had still the same haggard aspect.
"I'm in for it, Macrorie," said he at last, gloomily.
"In for it?"
"Yes—an infernal scrape."
"The widow—damn her!" and he struck his clinched fist against the head of the sofa.
"In for it? The widow?" I repeated. "What do you mean?"
Jack drew a long breath, and regarded me with a fixed stare. "I mean," said Jack, fixing his eyes upon me with an awful look, "I mean this —that I have to marry that woman."
"Yes," he exclaimed, dashing his fist upon the table savagely, "marry her! There you have it. I'm in for it. No escape. Escape—ha! ha! Nabbed, sir. All up! Married and done for—yes, eternally done for!"
He jerked these words out in a fierce, feverish way; and then, flinging himself back, he clasped his knees with his hands, and sat regarding me with stern eyes and frowning brow.
This mood of Jack's was a singular one. He was evidently undergoing great distress of mind. Under such circumstances as these, no levity could be thought of. Had he not been so desperate, I might have ventured upon a jest about the widow driving the others from the field and coming forth victorious; but, as it was, there was no room for jest. So I simply sat in silence, and returned his gaze.
"Well?" said he at last, impatiently.
"Well?" said I.
"Haven't you got any thing to say about that?"
"I don't know what to say. Your manner of telling this takes me more by surprise than the thing itself. After all, you must have looked forward to this."
"Looked forward? I'll be hanged if I did, except in a very general way. Damn it, man! I thought she'd have a little pity on a fellow, and allow me some liberty. I didn't look forward to being shut up at once."
"At once? You speak as though the event were near."
"Near? I should think it was. What do you say to next week? Is that near or not? Near? I should rather think so."
"Next week? Good Lord! Jack, do you really mean it? Nonsense!"
"Next week—yes—and worse—on Tuesday—not the end, but the beginning, of the week—Tuesday, the 20th of June."
"Tuesday, the 20th of June!" I repeated, in amazement.
"Yes, Tuesday, the 20th of June," said Jack.
"Heavens, man! what have you been up to? How did it happen? Why did you do it? Couldn't you have postponed it? It takes two to make an agreement. What do you mean by lamenting over it now? Why didn't you get up excuses? Haven't you to go home to see about your estates? Why, in Heaven's name, did you let it be all arranged in this way, if you didn't want it to be?"
Jack looked at me for a few moments very earnestly. "Why didn't I?" said he, at length; "simply because I happen to be an unmitigated, uncontrollable, incorrigible, illimitable, and inconceivable ASS! That's the reason why, if you must know."
Jack's very forcible way of putting this statement afforded me no chance whatever of denying it or combating it. His determination to be an ass was so vehement, that remonstrance was out of the question. I therefore accepted it as a probable truth.
For some time I remained silent, looking at Jack, and puffing solemnly at my pipe. In a situation of this kind, or in fact in any situation where one is expected to say something, but doesn't happen to have any thing in particular to say, there's nothing in the world like a pipe. For the human face, when it is graced by a pipe, and when the pipe is being puffed, assumes, somehow, a rare and wonderful expression of profound and solemn thought. Besides, the presence of the pipe in the mouth is a check to any overhasty remark. Vain and empty words are thus repressed, and thought, divine thought, reigns supreme. And so as I sat in silence before Jack, if I didn't have any profound thoughts in my mind, I at least had the appearance of it, which after all served my purpose quite as well.
"I don't mind telling you all about it, old chap," said Jack, at last, who had by this time passed into a better frame of mind, and looked more like his old self. "You've known all about the row, all along, and you'll have to be in at the death, so I'll tell you now. You'll have to help me through—you'll be my best man, and all that sort of thing, you know—and this is the best tune for making a clean breast of it, you know: so here goes."
Upon this Jack drew a long breath, and then began:
"I've told you already," he said, "how abominably kind she was. You know when I called on her after the row with Miss Phillips, how sweet she was, and all that, and how I settled down on the old terms. I hadn't the heart to get up a row with her, and hadn't even the idea of such a thing. When a lady is civil, and kind, and all that, what can a fellow do? So you see I went there as regular as clock-work, and dined, and then left. Sometimes I went at six, and stayed till eight; sometimes at five, and stayed till nine. But that was very seldom. Sometimes, you know, she'd get me talking, and somehow the time would fly, and it would be ever so late before I could get away. I'm always an ass, and so I felt tickled, no end, at her unfailing kindness to me, and took it all as so much incense, and all that—I was her deity, you know—snuffing up incense—receiving her devotion—feeling half sorry that I couldn't quite reciprocate, and making an infernal fool of myself generally.
"Now you know I'm such a confounded ass that her very reticence about my other affairs, and her quiet way of taking them, rather piqued me; and several times I threw out hints about them, to see what she would say. At such times she would smile in a knowing way, but say nothing. At last there was one evening—it was a little over a week ago—I went there, and found her more cordial than ever, more amusing, more fascinating—kinder, you know, and all that. There was no end to her little attentions. Of course all that sort of thing had on me the effect which it always has, and I rapidly began to make an ass of myself. I began to hint about those other affairs—and at last I told her I didn't believe she'd forgiven me."
Here Jack made an awful pause, and looked at me in deep solemnity.
I said nothing, but puffed away in my usual thoughtful manner.
"The moment that I said that," continued Jack, "she turned and gave me the strangest look. 'Forgiven you,' said she; 'after all that has passed, can you say that?'
"'Well,' I said, 'you don't seem altogether what you used to be—'
"'I!' she exclaimed. 'I not what I used to be?—and you can look me in the face and say that.'
"And now, Macrorie, listen to what an ass can do.
"You see, her language, her tone, and her look, all piqued me. But at the same time I didn't know what to say. I didn't love her—confound her!—and I knew that I didn't—but I wanted to assert myself, or some ether damned thing or other—so what did I do but take her hand."
I puffed on.
"She leaned back in her chair. 'Ah, Jack,' she sighed, 'I don't believe you care any thing for poor me.'"
Jack paused for a while, and sat looking at the floor.
"Which was quite true," he continued, at last. "Only under the circumstances, being thus challenged, you know, by a very pretty widow, and being an ass, and being conceited, and being dazzled by the surroundings, what did I do but begin to swear that I loved her better than ever?
"'And me alone!' she sighed.
"'Yes, you alone!' I cried, and then went on in the usual strain in which impassioned lovers go under such circumstances, but with this very material difference, that I didn't happen to be an impassioned lover, or any other kind of a lover of hers at all, and I knew it all the time, and all the time felt a secret horror at what I was saying.
"But the fact of the business is, Macrorie, that woman is—oh—she is awfully clever, and she managed to lead me on, I don't know how. She pretended not to believe me—she hinted at my indifference, she spoke about my joy at getting away from her so as to go elsewhere, and said a thousand other things, all of which had the effect of making me more of an ass than ever, and so I rushed headlong to destruction."
Here Jack paused, and looked at me despairingly.
"Well?" said I.
"Well?" said he.
"Go on," said I. "Make an end of it. Out with it! What next?"
Jack gave a groan.
"Well—you see—somehow—I went on and before I knew it there I was offering to marry her on the spot—and—heavens and earth! Macrorie —wasn't it a sort of judgment on me—don't you think?—I'd got used to that sort of thing, you know offering to marry people off hand, you know, and all that—and so it came natural on this occasion; and I suppose that was how it happened, that before I knew what I was doing I had pumped out a violent and vehement entreaty for her to be mine at once.—Yes, at once—any time—that evening—the next day—the day after—no matter when. I'll be hanged if I can say now whether at that moment I was really sincere or not. I'm such a perfect and finished ass, that I really believe I meant what I said, and at that time I really wanted her to marry me. If that confounded chaplain that goes humbugging about there all the time had happened to be in the room, I'd have asked him to tie the knot on the spot. Yes, I'll be hanged if I wouldn't! His not being there is the only reason, I believe, why the knot wasn't tied. In that case I'd now be Mr. Finnimore—no, by Jove —what rot!—I mean I'd now be her husband, and she'd be Mrs. Randolph —confound her!"
Jack again relapsed into silence. His confession was a difficult task for him, and it came hard. It was given piecemeal, like the confession of a murderer on the day before his execution, when his desire to confess struggles with his unwillingness to recall the particulars of an abhorrent deed, and when after giving one fact he delays and falters, and lapses into long silence before he is willing or able to give another.
"Well, after that," he resumed, at last, "I was fairly in for it—no hope, no going back—no escapes—trapped, my boy—nabbed—gone in forever—head over heels, and all the rest of it. The widow was affected by my vehemence, as a matter of course—she stammered—she hesitated, and of course, being an ass, I was only made more vehement by all that sort of thing, you know. So I urged her, and pressed her, and then, before I knew what I was about, I found her coyly granting my insane request to name the day."
"Oh, Jack! Jack! Jack!" I exclaimed.
"Go on," said he. "Haven't you something more to say? Pitch in. Give it to me hot and heavy. You don't seem to be altogether equal to the occasion, Macrorie. Why don't you hit hard?"
"Can't do it," said I. "I'm knocked down myself. Wait, and I'll come to time. But don't be too hard on a fellow. Be reasonable. I want to take breath."
"Name the day! name the day! name the day!" continued Jack, ringing the changes on the words; "name the day! By Jove! See here, Macrorie—can't you get a doctor's certificate for me and have me quietly put in the lunatic asylum before that day comes?"
"That's not a bad idea," said I. "It might be managed. It's worth thinking about, at any rate."
"Wild!" said Jack, "mad as a March hare, or a hatter, or any other thing of that sort—ungovernable—unmanageable, devoid of all sense and reason—what more do you want? If I am not a lunatic, who is? That's what I want to know."
"There's a great deal of reason in that," said I, gravely.
"No there isn't," said Jack, pettishly. "It's all nonsense. I tell you I'm a madman, a lunatic, an idiot, any thing else. I don't quite need a strait-jacket as yet, but I tell you I do need the seclusion of a comfortable lunatic asylum. I only stipulate for an occasional drop of beer, and a whiff or two at odd times. Don't you think I can manage it?"
"It might be worth trying," said I. "But trot on, old fellow."
Jack, thus recalled to himself, gave another very heavy sigh.
"Where was I?" said he. "Oh, about naming the day. Well, I'll be hanged if she didn't do it. She did name the day. And what day do you think it was that she named? What day! Good Heavens, Macrorie! Only think of it. What do you happen to have to say, now, for instance, to the 20th of June? Hey? What do you say to next Tuesday? Tuesday, the 20th of June! Next Tuesday! Only think of it. Mad! I should rather think so."
I had nothing to say, and so I said nothing.
At this stage of the proceedings Jack filled a pipe, and began smoking savagely, throwing out the puffs of smoke fast and furious. Both of us sat in silence, involved in deep and anxious thought—I for him, he for himself.
At last he spoke.
"That's all very well," said he, putting down the pipe, "but I haven't yet told you the worst."
"Yes; there's something more to be told—something which has brought me to this. I'm not the fellow I was. It isn't the widow; it's something else. It's—
"LOUIS!"—PLATONIC FRIENDSHIP.—ITS RESULTS.—ADVICE MAY BE GIVEN TOO FREELY, AND CONSOLATION MAY BE SOUGHT FOR TOO EAGERLY.—TWO INFLAMMABLE HEARTS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO COME TOGETHER.—THE OLD, OLD STORY.—A BREAKDOWN, AND THE RESULTS ALL AROUND.—THE CONDEMNED CRIMINAL.—THE SLOW YET SURE APPROACH OF THE HOUR OF EXECUTION.
"It's Louie!" said Jack again, after a pause. "That's the 'hine illae lachrymae' of it, as the Latin grammar has it."
"Louie?" I repeated.
"Yes, Louie," said Jack, sadly and solemnly.
I said nothing. I saw that something more was coming, which would afford the true key to Jack's despair. So I waited in silence till it should come.
"As for the widow herself," said Jack, meditatively, "she isn't a bad lot, and, if it hadn't been for Louie, I should have taken all this as an indication of Providence that my life was to be lived out under her guidance; but then the mischief of it is, there happens to be a Louie, and that Louie happens to be the very Louie that I can't manage to live without. You see there's no nonsense about this, old boy. You may remind me of Miss Phillips and Number Three, but I swear to you solemnly they were both nothing compared with Louie. Louie is the only one that ever has fairly taken me out of myself, and fastened herself to all my thoughts, and hopes, and desires. Louie is the only one that has ever chained me to her in such a way that I never wished to leave her for anybody else. Louie! why, ever since I've known her, all the rest of the world and of womankind has been nothing, and, beside her, it all sank into insignificance. There you have it! That's the way I feel about Louie. These other scrapes of mine—what are they? Bosh and nonsense, the absurdities of a silly boy! But Louie! why, Macrorie, I swear to you that she has twined herself around me so that the thought of her has changed me from a calf of a boy into a man. Now I know it all. Now I understand why I followed her up so close. Now, now, and now, when I know it all, it is all too late! By Jove, I tell you what it is, I've talked like a fool about suicide, but I swear I've been so near it this last week that it's not a thing to laugh at."
And Jack looked at me with, such a wild face and such fierce eyes that I began to think of the long-talked-of head-stone of Anderson's as a possibility which was not so very remote, after all.
"I'll tell you all about it," said he. "It's a relief. I feel a good deal better already after what I have said.
"You see," said he, after a pause, in which his frown grew darker, and his eyes were fixed on vacancy—"you see, that evening I stayed a little later than usual with the widow. At last I hurried off. The deed was done, and the thought of this made every nerve tingle within me. I hurried off to see Louie. What the mischief did I want of Louie? you may ask. My only answer is: I wanted her because I wanted her. No day was complete without her. I've been living on the sight of her face and the sound of her voice for the past two months and more, and never fairly knew it until this last week, when it has all become plain to me. So I hurried off to Louie, because I had to do so—because every day had to be completed by the sight of her.
"I reached the house somewhat later than usual. People were there. I must have looked different from usual. I know I was very silent, and I must have acted queer, you know. But they were all talking, and playing, and laughing, and none of them took any particular notice. And so at last I drifted off toward Louie, as usual. She was expecting me. I knew that. She always expects me. But this time I saw she was looking at me with a very queer expression. She saw something unusual in my face. Naturally enough. I felt as though I had committed a murder. And so I had. I had murdered my hope—my love—my darling—my only life and joy. I'm not humbugging, Macrorie—don't chaff, for Heaven's sake!"
I wasn't chaffing, and had no idea of such a thing. I was simply listening, with a very painful sympathy with Jack's evident emotion.
"We were apart from the others," he continued, in a tremulous voice. "She looked at me, and I looked at her. I saw trouble in her face, and she saw trouble in mine. So we sat. We were silent for some time. No nonsense now. No laughter. No more teasing and coaxing. Poor little Louie! How distressed she looked! Where was her sweet smile now? Where was her laughing voice? Where was her bright, animated face—her sparkling eyes—her fun—her merriment—her chaff? Poor little Louie!"
And Jack's voice died away into a moan of grief.
But he rallied again, and went on:
"She asked me what was the matter. I told her—nothing. But she was sure that something had happened, and begged me to tell her. So I told her all. And her face, as I told her, turned as white as marble. She seemed to grow rigid where she sat. And, as I ended, she bent down her head—and she pressed her hand to her forehead—and then she gave me an awful look—a look which will haunt me to my dying day—and then—and then—then—she—she burst into tears—and, oh, Macrorie—oh, how she cried!"
And Jack, having stammered out this gave way completely, and, burying his face in his hands, he sobbed aloud.
Then followed a long, long silence.
At last Jack roused himself.
"You see, Macrorie," he continued, "I had been acting like the devil to her. All her chaff, and nonsense, and laughter, had been a mask. Oh, Louie! She had grown fond of me—poor miserable devil that I am—and this is the end of it all!
"She got away," said Jack, after another long silence—"she got away somehow; and, after she had gone, I sat for a while, feeling like a man who has died and got into another world. Paralyzed, bewildered—take any word you like, and it will not express what I was. I got off somehow—I don't know how—and here I am. I haven't seen her since.
"I got away," he continued, throwing back his head, and looking vacantly at the ceiling—"I got away, and came here, and the next day I got a letter about my uncle's death and my legacy. I had no sorrow for my poor dear old uncle, and no joy over my fortune. I had no thought for any thing but Louie. Seven thousand a year, or ten thousand, or a hundred thousand, whatever it might be, it amounts to nothing. What I have gained is nothing to what I have lost. I'd give it all for Louie, I'd give it all to undo what has been done. I'd give it all, by Heaven, for one more sight of her! But that sight of her I can never have. I dare not go near the house. I am afraid to hear about her. My legacy! I wish it were at the bottom of the Atlantic. What is it all to me, if I have to give up Louie forever? And that's what it is!"
There was no exaggeration in all this. That was evident Jack's misery was real, and was manifest in his pale face and general change of manner. This accounted for it all. This was the blow that had struck him down. All his other troubles had been laughable compared with this. But from this he could not rally. Nor, for my part, did I know of any consolation that could be offered. Now, for the first time, I saw the true nature of his sentiments toward Louie, and learned from him the sentiments of that poor little thing toward him. It was the old story. They had been altogether too much with one another. They had been great friends, and all that sort of thing. Louie had teased and given good advice. Jack had sought consolation for all his troubles. And now—lo and behold!—in one moment each had made the awful discovery that their supposed friendship was something far more tender and far-reaching.
"I'll never see her again!" sighed Jack.
"Who?" said I. "The widow?"
"The widow!" exclaimed Jack, contemptuously; "no—poor little Louie!"
"But you'll see the widow?"
"Oh, yes," said Jack, dryly. "I'll have to be there."
"Why not kick it all up, and go home on leave of absence?"
Jack shook his head despairingly.
"No chance," he muttered—"not a ghost of a one. My sentence is pronounced; I must go to execution. It's my own doing, too. I've given my own word."
"Oh, it will be at church, then?"
"Who's the parson?"
"Oh, old Fletcher."
"At what time?"
"Twelve; and see here, Macrorie, you'll stand by a fellow—of course —won't you? see me off—you know—adjust the noose, watch the drop fall—and see poor Jack Randolph launched into—matrimony!"
"Oh, of course."
Silence followed, and soon I took my departure, leaving Jack to his meditations and his despair.
A FRIEND'S APOLOGY FOR A FRIEND.—JACK DOWN AT THE BOTTOM OF DEEP ABYSS OF WOE.—HIS DESPAIR.—THE HOUR AND THE MAN!—WHERE IS THE WOMAN!—A SACRED SPOT.—OLD FLETCHER.—THE TOLL OF THE BELL.—MEDITATIONS ON EACH SUCCESSIVE STROKE.—A WILD SEARCH.—THE PRETTY SERVANT-MAID, AND HER PRETTY STORY.—THROWING GOLD ABOUT.
Jack's strange revelation excited my deepest sympathy, but I did not see how it was possible for him to get rid of his difficulty. One way was certainly possible. He could easily get leave of absence and go home, for the sake of attending to his estates. Once in England, he could sell out, and retire from the army altogether, or exchange into another regiment. This was certainly possible physically; but to Jack it was morally impossible.
Now, Jack has appeared in this story in very awkward circumstances, engaging himself right and left to every young lady that he fancied, with a fatal thoughtlessness, that cannot be too strongly reprehended. Such very diffusive affection might argue a lack of principle. Yet, after all, Jack was a man with a high sense of honor. The only difficulty was this, that he was too susceptible. All susceptible men can easily understand such a character. I'm an awfully susceptible man myself, as I have already had the honor of announcing, and am, moreover, a man of honor—consequently I feel strongly for Jack, and always did feel strongly for him.
Given, then, a man of very great susceptibility, and a very high sense of honor, and what would he do?
Why, in the first place, as a matter of course, his too susceptible heart would involve him in many tendernesses; and, if he was as reckless and thoughtless as Jack, he would be drawn into inconvenient entanglements; and, perhaps, like Jack, before he knew what he was about, he might find himself engaged to three different ladies, and in love with a fourth.
In the second place, his high sense of honor would make him eager to do his duty by them all. Of course, this would be impossible. Yet Jack had done his best. He had offered immediate marriage to Miss Phillips, and had proposed an elopement to Number Three. This shows that his impulses led him to blind acts which tended in a vague way to do justice to the particular lady who happened for the time being to be in his mind.
And so Jack had gone blundering on until at last he found himself at the mercy of the widow. The others had given him up in scorn. She would not give him up. He was bound fast. He felt the bond. In the midst of this his susceptibility drove him on further, and, instead of trying to get out of his difficulties, he had madly thrust himself further into them.
And there he was—doomed—looking forward to the fateful Tuesday.
He felt the full terror of his doom, but did not think of trying to evade it. He was bound. His word was given. He considered it irrevocable. Flight? He thought no more of that than he thought of committing a murder. He would actually have given all that he had, and more too, for the sake of getting rid of the widow; but he would not be what he considered a sneak, even for that.
There was, therefore, no help for it. He was doomed. Tuesday! June 20th! St. Malachi's! Old Fletcher! Launched into matrimony! Hence his despair.
During the intervening days I did not see him. I did not visit him, and he did not come near me. Much as I sympathized with him in his woes, I knew that I could do nothing and say nothing. Besides, I had my own troubles. Every time I went to O'Halloran's, Marion's shyness, and reserve, and timidity, grew more marked. Every time that I came home, I kept bothering myself as to the possible cause of all this, and tormented myself as to the reason of such a change in her.
One day I called at the Bertons'. I didn't see Louie. I asked after her, and they told me she was not well. I hoped it was nothing serious, and felt relieved at learning that it was nothing but a "slight cold." I understood that. Poor Louie! Poor Jack! Would that "slight cold" grow worse, or would she get over it in time? She did not seem to be of a morbid, moping nature. There was every reason to hope that such a one as she was would surmount it. And yet it was hard to say. It is often these very natures—buoyant, robust, healthy, straightforward—which feel the most. They are not impressible. They are not touched by every new emotion. And so it sometimes happens that, when they do feel, the feeling lasts forever.
Tuesday, at last, came—the 20th—the fated day!
At about eleven o'clock I entered Jack's room, prepared to act my part and stand by his side in that supreme moment of fate.
Jack was lying on the sofa, as I came in. He rose and pressed my hand in silence. I said nothing, but took my seat in an easy-chair. Jack was arrayed for the ceremony in all respects, except his coat, instead of which garment he wore a dressing-gown. He was smoking vigorously. His face was very pale, and, from time to time, a heavy sigh escaped him.
I was very forcibly struck by the strong resemblance which there was between Jack, on the present occasion, and a condemned prisoner before his execution. So strong was this, that, somehow, as I sat there in silence, a vague idea came into my head that Jack was actually going to be hanged; and, before I knew where my thoughts were leading me, I began to think, in a misty way, of the propriety of calling in a clergyman to administer ghostly consolation to the poor condemned in his last moments. It was only with an effort that I was able to get rid of this idea, and come back from this foolish, yet not unnatural fancy, to the reality of the present situation. There was every reason, indeed, for such a momentary misconception. The sadness, the silence, the gloom, all suggested some prison cell; and Jack, prostrate, stricken, miserable, mute, and despairing, could not fail to suggest the doomed victim.
After a time Jack rose, and, going to the sideboard, offered me something to drink. I declined. Whereupon he poured out a tumblerful of raw brandy and hastily swallowed it. As he had done that very same thing before, I began to think that he was going a little too far.
"See here, old boy," said I, "arn't you a little reckless? That sort of thing isn't exactly the best kind of preparation for the event—is it?"
"What?—this?" said Jack, holding up the empty tumbler, with a gloomy glance toward me; "oh, its nothing. I've been drenching myself with brandy this last week. It's the only thing I can do. The worst of it is, it don't have much effect now. I have to drink too much of it before I can bring myself into a proper state of calm."
"Calm!" said I, "calm! I tell you what it is, old chap, you'll find it'll be any thing but calm. You'll have delirium tremens before the week's out, at this rate."
"Delirium tremens?" said Jack, with a faint, cynical laugh. "No go, my boy—too late. Not time now. If it had only come yesterday, I might have had a reprieve. But it didn't come. And so I have only a tremendous headache. I've less than an hour, and can't get it up in that time. Let me have my swing, old man. I'd do as much for you."
And, saying this, he drank off a half tumbler more.
"There," said he, going back to the sofa. "That's better. I feel more able to go through with it. It takes a good lot now, though, to get a fellow's courage up."
After this, Jack again relapsed into silence, which I ventured to interrupt with a few questions as to the nature of the coming ceremony. Jack's answers were short, reluctant, and dragged from him piecemeal. It was a thing which he had to face in a very short time, and any other subject was preferable as a theme for conversation.
"Will there be much of a crowd?"
"You didn't invite any."
"Me? invite any? Good Lord! I should think not!"
"Perhaps she has?"
"Oh, no; she said she wouldn't."
"Well, I dare say the town, by this time, has got wind of it, and the church'll be full."
"No, I think not," said Jack, with a sigh.
"Oh, I don't know; it's not a common affair."
"Well, she told me she had kept it a secret—and you and Louie are the only ones I've told it to—so, unless you have told about it, no one knows."
"I haven't told a soul."
"Then I don't see how anybody can know, unless old Fletcher has proclaimed it."
"Not he; he wouldn't take the trouble."
"I don't care," said Jack, morosely, "how many are there, or how few. Crowd or no crowd, it makes small difference to me, by Jove!"
"Look here, old fellow," said I, suddenly, after some further conversation, "if you're going, you'd better start. It's a quarter to twelve now."
Jack gave a groan and rose from his sofa. He went into his dressing-room and soon returned, in his festive array, with a face of despair that was singularly at variance with his costume. Before starting, in spite of my remonstrances, he swallowed another draught of brandy. I began to doubt whether he would be able to stand up at the ceremony.
St. Malachi's was not far away, and a few minutes' drive brought us there.
The church was quite empty. A few stragglers, unknown to us, had taken seats in the front pews. Old Fletcher was in the chancel. We walked up and shook hands with him. He greeted Jack with an affectionate earnestness of congratulation, which, I was sorry to see, was not properly responded to.
After a few words, we all sat down in the choir.
It wanted about five minutes of the time.
The widow was expected every moment.
Old Fletcher now subsided into dignified silence. I fidgeted about, and looked at my watch every half-minute. As for Jack, he buried his face in his hands and sat motionless.
Thus four minutes passed.
No signs of the widow.
One minute still remained.
The time was very long.
I took out my watch a half-dozen times, to hasten its progress. I shook it impatiently to make it go faster. The great empty church looked cold and lonely. The little group of spectators only added to the loneliness of the scene. An occasional cough resounded harshly amid the universal stillness. The sibilant sounds of whispers struck sharply and unpleasantly upon the ear.
At last the minute passed.
I began to think my watch was wrong; but no—for suddenly, from the great bell above, in the church-tower, there tolled out the first stroke of the hour. And between each stroke there seemed o long, long interval, in which the mind had leisure to turn over and over all the peculiarities of this situation.
ONE! I counted.
[No widow. What's up? Did any one ever hear of a bride missing the hour, or delaying in this way?]
[What a humbug of a woman! She has cultivated procrastination all her life, and this is the result]
[Not yet. Perhaps she wants to make a sensation. She anticipates a crowded church, and will make an entrance in state.]
[But no; she did not invite anybody, and had no reason to suppose that any one would be here.]
[No, it could not be vanity; but, if not, what can be the possible cause?]
[Can it be timidity, bashfulness, and all that sort of thing? Bosh! The widow Finnimore is not a blushing, timid maiden.]
[Perhaps her watch is out of the way. But, then, on one's marriage-day, would not one see, first of all, that one's watch was right?]
[Perhaps something is the matter with her bridal array. The dress might not have arrived in time. She may be waiting for her feathers.]
[Not yet! Perhaps she is expecting Jack to go to her house and accompany her here. It is very natural Jack may have agreed to do so, and then forgotten all about it]
[Perhaps there has been some misunderstanding about the hour, and the widow is not expecting to come till two.]
[Perhaps she is ill. Sudden attack of vertigo, acute rheumatism, and brain-fever, consequent upon the excitement of the occasion. The widow prostrated! Jack saved!]
The last toll of the bell rolled out slowly and solemnly, and its deep tones came along the lofty church, and died away in long reverberations down the aisles and along the galleries. Twelve! The hour had come, and with the hour the man; but where was the woman?
Thus far Jack had been holding his face in his hands; but, as the last tones of the bell died away, he raised himself and looked around with some wildness in his face.
"By Jove!" said he.
"She's not here," said I.
"By Jove! Only think of it. A widow, and too late! By Jove! I can't grapple with the idea, you know."
After this we relapsed into silence, and waited.
The people in the pews whispered more vigorously, and every little while looked anxiously around to see if the bridal party was approaching. Old Fletcher closed his eyes, folded his arms, and appeared either buried in thought or in sleep—probably a little of both. Jack sat stolidly with his legs crossed, and his hands hugging his knee, looking straight before him at the opposite side of the chancel, and apparently reading most diligently the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, which were on the wall there. I was in a general state of mild but ever-increasing surprise, and endeavored to find some conceivable reason for such very curious procrastination.
So the time passed, and none of us said any thing, and the little company of spectators grew fidgety, and Jack still stared, and I still wondered.
At last old Fletcher turned to Jack.
"You said twelve, I think, sir," said he, mildly and benevolently.
"Twelve—did I? Well—of course; why not? Twelve, of course."
"The lady is rather behind the time, I think—isn't she?" said the reverend gentleman, with mild suggestiveness.
"Behind the time?" said Jack, fumbling at his watch; "why, so she is; why, it's twenty minutes to one. By Jove!"
"Perhaps you mistook the hour," hinted the clergyman.
"Mistook it? Not a bit of it," cried Jack, who looked puzzled and bewildered. "The hour? I'm as confident it was twelve as I'm confident of my existence. Not a bit of doubt about that."
"Perhaps something's happened," said I; "hadn't I better drive round to the house, Jack?"
"Yes; not a bad idea," said Jack. "I'll go too. I can't stand it any longer. I've read the ten commandments through seventy-nine times, and was trying to work up to a hundred, when, you interrupted me. Do you know, old chap—I feel out of sorts; that brandy's got to my head—I'd like a little fresh air. Besides, I can't stand this waiting any longer. If it's got to be—why, the sooner the better. Have it out—and be done with it, I say. A fellow don't want to stand all day on the scaffold waiting for the confounded hangman—does he?"
Jack spoke wildly, cynically, and desperately. Old Fletcher listened to these words with a face so full of astonishment and horror, that it has haunted me ever since. And so we turned away, and we left that stricken old man looking after us in amazement and horror too deep for words.
Jack's spirits had flushed up for a moment into a fitful light; but the next moment they sank again into gloom. We walked slowly down the aisle, and, as we passed down, the spectators, seeing us go out, rose from their seats with the evident conviction that the affair was postponed, and the determination to follow. Jack's carriage was at the door, and we drove off.
"Macrorie, my boy," said Jack.
"You didn't bring your flask, I suppose," said Jack, gloomily.
"No," said I; "and it's well I didn't, for I think you've done enough of that sort of thing to-day."
"To-day? This is the day of all days when I ought. How else can I keep up? I must stupefy myself, that's all. You don't know, old boy, how near I am to doing something desperate."
"Come, Jack, don't knock under that way. Confound it, I thought you had more spirit."
"Why the deuce does she drive me mad with her delay?" cried Jack, a few minutes after. "Why doesn't she come and be done with it? Am I to spend the whole day waiting for her? By Jove, I've a great mind to go home, and, if she wants me, she may come for me."
"Do," said I, eagerly. "She's missed the appointment; why should you care?"
"Pooh! a fellow can't act in that sort of way. No. Have it out. I've acted badly enough, in a general way, but I won't go deliberately and do a mean thing. I dare say this sort of thing will wear off in the long run. We'll go to England next week. We'll start for New York to-night, and never come back. I intend to try to get into the 178th regiment. It's out in Bombay, I believe. Yes. I've made up my mind to that. It's the only thing to be done. Yes—it's the best thing—far the best for both of us."
"Both of you!"
"Both, yes; of course."
"What, you and the widow?"
"The widow? Confound the widow! Who's talking of her?"
"I thought you were talking of her. You said you were going to take her to England."
"The widow? No," cried Jack, peevishly; "I meant Louie, of course. Who else could I mean? Louie. I said it would be far better for me and Louie if I went to Bombay."
And with these words he flung himself impatiently back in the carriage and scowled at vacancy.
And this was Jack. This was my broad-browed, frank-faced, golden-haired, bright, smiling, incoherent, inconsistent, inconsequential, light-hearted, hilarious Jack—the Jack who was once the joy of every company, rollicking, reckless, and without a care. To this complexion had he come at last. Oh, what a moral ruin was here, my countrymen! Where now were his jests and gibes—his wit, that was wont to set the table in a roar? Alas! poor Yorick! Amour! amour! quand tu nous tiens, who can tell what the mischief will become of us! Once it was "not wisely but too many"—now it was "not wisely but too well" —and this was the end of it. O Louie! O Jack! Is there no such thing as true Platonic love on earth?
But there was not much time for Jack to scowl or for me to meditate. The widow did not live very far away, and a quarter of an hour was enough to bring us there.
It was a handsome house. I knew it well. Jack knew it better. But it looked dark now, and rather gloomy. The shutters were closed, and there was no sign of life whatever.
Jack stared at the house for a moment, and then jumped out. I followed. We hurried up the steps, and Jack gave a fierce pull at the bell, followed by a second and a third.
At the third pull the door opened and disclosed a maid-servant.
"Mrs. Finnimore?" said Jack, as he stepped into the hall—and then stopped.
The servant seemed surprised.
"Mrs. Finnimore?" said she.
"Yes," said Jack. "Is she here?"
"Why, sir—she's gone—"
"Gone!" cried Jack. "Gone! Impossible! Why we drove straight here from St. Malachi's, and didn't meet her. Which street did she go?"
"Which street, sir? St. Malachi's, sir?" repeated the servant, in bewilderment.
"Yes—which way did she go?"
"Why, sir—she went to Montreal," said the servant—"to Montreal, you know, sir," she repeated, in a mincing tone, bridling and blushing at the same time.
"To—where? what?" cried Jack, thunderstruck—"Montreal! Montreal! What the devil is the meaning of all that?" And Jack fairly gasped, and looked at me in utter bewilderment. And I looked back at him with emotions equal to his own. And we both stood, to use an expressive but not by any means classical word—dumfounded.
[Had a thunder-bolt burst—and all that sort of thing, you know, my boy.]
Jack was quite unable to utter another word. So I came to his help.
"I think you said your mistress went to Montreal?" said I, mildly and encouragingly, for the servant began to look frightened.
"Will you be kind enough to tell me what she went there for? I wouldn't ask you, but it's a matter of some importance."
"What for, sir?" said the servant—and a very pretty blush came over her rather pretty face. "What for, sir? Why, sir—you know, sir—she went off, sir—on her—her—wedding-tower, sir."
"Her WHAT!!!" cried Jack, wildly.
"Her wedding-tower, sir," repeated the servant, in a faint voice.
"Her wedding-tour!" cried Jack. "Her wedding-tour! Do you mean what you say? Is this a joke? What do you mean?"
At this, which was spoken most vehemently by Jack, who was now in a state of frightful excitement, the servant turned pale and started back in fear—so I interposed.
"Don't be at all alarmed," I said, kindly. "We merely want to know, you know, what you mean by saying it was a wedding-tour. What wedding? We want to know, you know."
"Wedding, sir? Lor', sir! Yes, sir. This morning, sir. She was married, you know, sir."
"MARRIED!" cried Jack, in a strange, wild voice.
"This morning!" I exclaimed.
"Lor', sir! Yes, sir," continued the maid, who was still a little frightened at the presence of such excited visitors. "This morning, sir. Early, sir. Six o'clock, sir. And they took the seven o'clock train, sir—for Montreal, you know, sir—and they talked of New York, sir."
"They talked? They? Who? Married! Who married her? The widow! Mrs. Finnimore! Married! Nonsense! And gone! What do you mean? Who was it?"
The maid started back in fresh fear at Jack's terrible agitation. Terrible? I should rather think so. Imagine a criminal with the noose about his neck hearing a whisper going about that a pardon had arrived. Agitation? I should say that there was occasion for it Still, I didn't like to see that pretty servant-maid frightened out of her wits. So I interposed once more.
"We merely want to know," said I, mildly, "who the gentleman was to whom your mistress was married this morning, and with whom she went to Montreal?"
"Who, sir? Why, sir—it was the chaplain, sir—of the Bobtails, sir —the Rev. Mr. Trenaman."
"THE CHAPLAIN!!!" cried Jack, with a strange voice that was somewhere between a shout and a sob. He turned to me. There was ecstasy on his face. His eyes were all aglow, and yet I could see in them the moisture of tears. He caught my hand in both of his.
"Oh, Macrorie!" he faltered, "see here, old boy—it's too much—Louie —all right—at last—too much, you know."
And the long and the short of it is, he nearly wrung my hand off.
Then he turned to the servant-maid, and fumbling in his pockets drew out a handful of sovereigns—
"See here!" he said, "you glorious little thing! you princess of servant-maids! here's something for a new bonnet, you know, or any thing else yon fancy."
And he forced the sovereigns into her hand.
Then he wrung my hand again.
Then he rushed wildly out.
He flung some more sovereigns at the astonished coachman.
Then he sprang into the carriage, and I followed.
"Where shall I drive to, sir?" said the coachman.
"To Colonel Berton's!" roared Jack.
"Nonsense, Jack!" said I; "it's too early."
"Early—the devil! No it isn't.—Drive on."
And away went the carriage.
I prevailed on Jack to drop me at the corner of one of the streets, and, getting out, I went to my den, meditating on the astonishing events of the day.
The conclusions which I then came to about Mrs. Finnimore, now Mrs. Trenaman, were verified fully by discoveries made afterward.
She had been quick-sighted enough to see that Jack did not care for her, and had given him up. The chaplain was far more to her taste. As Jack came again to her, she could cot resist the desire to pay him up. This was the reason why she led him on to an offer of matrimony, and named the day and place. Miss Phillips had paid him up in one way; the widow chose another method, which was more in accordance with her own genius. All this time she had come to a full understanding with the chaplain, and the day which she had named to Jack was the very one on which her real marriage was to come off. I never could find out whether the chaplain knew about it or not. I rather think he did not. If he had known, he would have dropped a hint to Jack. He was such a confoundedly good-hearted sort of a fellow, that he would have interposed to prevent the success of the plan. As it was, it was carried out perfectly.
After all, she wasn't a bad little thing. She knew about Jack's devotion to Louie, and thought that her little plot, while it gratified her own feelings, would not in any way interfere with Jack's happiness. And it didn't. For, ever since then, Jack has never ceased to declare that the widow, as he still called her, was—a brick—a trump—a glorious lot—and every other name that has ever been invented to express whatever is noble, excellent, or admirable in human nature.
The next morning Jack came bursting into my room. One look at him was enough. Jack was himself again. He poured forth a long, a vehement, and a very incoherent account of his proceedings. I can only give the general facts.
He had driven at once to Colonel Berton's. He had dashed into the house and asked for Louie. After a while Louie came down. He didn't say a word to her, but caught her in his arms. She didn't resist. Perhaps she had seen in his face, at one glance, that he was free. It was a long time before the absurd fellow could tell her what had happened. At length he managed to got it all out. He must have acted like a madman, but, as all lovers are more or less mad, his behavior may not have seemed very unnatural to Louie. The poor little girl bad been moping ever since her last interview with Jack; every day had made it worse for her; and Jack assured me that, if he hadn't turned up at that particular hour on that particular day, she would have taken to her bed, and never risen from it again. But as it was Jack's inveterate habit to doom to death all the ladies who had cherished a tender passion in his behalf, the assertion may not be absolutely true. Louie might possibly have rallied from the blow, and regained the joy and buoyancy of her old life; yet, however that may be, it was certainly best for her that things should have turned out just as they did.
But I must now leave Jack, and get on to—
MY OWN AFFAIRS.—A DRIVE AND HOW IT CAME OFF.—VARYING MOODS.—THE EXCITED, THE GLOOMY, AND THE GENTLEMANLY.—STRAYING ABOUT MONTMORENCY.—REVISITING A MEMORABLE SCENE.—EFFECT OF SAID SCENE.—A MUTE APPEAL AND AN APPEAL IN WORDS.—RESULT OF THE APPEALS.—"WILL YOU TURN AWAY?"—GRAND RESULT.—CLIMAX.—FINALE.—A GENERAL UNDERSTANDING ALL ROUND, AND A UNIVERSAL EXPLANATION OF NUMEROUS PUZZLES.
All this was very well. Of course. To a generous nature like mine, the happiness of a friend could not fail to extend itself. For I'm awfully sympathetic, you know. I don't remember whether I've made that remark before or not, but in either case the fact remains. Yet, sympathetic or not, every fellow has his own affairs, you know, and, as a matter of course, these engage his chief attention. Now all my affairs circled around one centre, and that centre was—Marion!
I had seen her on the previous evening. I had made an engagement with her and Nora to go out with me for a drive on the following day, and we had arranged all about it. We were to drive to Montmorency Falls, a place which is the chief attraction among the environs of Quebec. I had not been there since that memorable day when I rode there with the doctor to find my bird flown.
Accordingly on the next day, at the appointed hour, I drew up in front of O'Halloran's and went in. The ladies were there, but Nora was half-reclining on a couch, and seemed rather miserable. She complained of a severe attack of neuralgia, and lamented that she could not go. Up on this I expressed my deepest regrets, and I hoped that Miss O'Halloran would come. But Marion demurred, and said she wouldn't leave Nora. Whereupon Nora urged her to go, and finally, after evident reluctance, Marion allowed herself to be persuaded.