HotFreeBooks.com
The Lady of the Ice - A Novel
by James De Mille
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse

It was with an inexpressible feeling of exultation that I drove off with her. At last we were alone together, and would be so for hours. The frigidity which had grown up within her during the last two months might possibly be relaxed now under the influence of this closer association. My heart beat fast. I talked rapidly about every thing. In my excitement I also drove rapidly at first, but finally I had sufficient sense to see that there was no need to shorten so precious an interview by hurrying it through, and so I slackened our speed.

As for Marion, she seemed as calm as I was agitated. Her demeanor was a singular one. She was not exactly frigid or repellent. She was rather shy and reserved. It was rather the constraint of timidity than of dislike. Dislike? No. Not a bit of it. Whatever her feelings might be, she had no reason for dislike. Still she was cold—and her coldness began gradually to affect me in spite of my exultation, and to change my joy to a feeling of depression.

After a few miles this depression had increased sufficiently to sober me down completely. I no longer rattled. I became grave. A feeling of despondency came over me. My spirits sank. There seemed no sympathy between us—no reciprocity of feeling. She had no cordiality of manner —no word, or look, or gesture, to give encouragement.

After a time my mood changed so under the influence of Marion's depressing manner, that I fell into long fits of very ungallant silence—silence, too, which she never attempted to break. Amid these fits of silence I tried to conjecture the cause of her very great coolness, and finally came to the very decision which I had often reached before. "Yes," I thought, "she has discovered how I love her, and she does not care for me. She has gratitude, but she cannot feel love. So she wishes to repel me. She didn't want to come with me, and only came because Nora urged her. She did not like to refuse, for fear of seeming unkind to me. At the same time, now that she is with me, she is trying to act in such a way as will effectually quell any unpleasant demonstrations of mine." Thoughts like these reduced me to such a state of gloom that I found myself indulging in fits of silence that grew longer and longer.

At last I roused myself. This sort of thing would never do. If nothing else could influence me, I felt that I ought to obey the ordinary instincts of a gentleman. I had invited her for a drive, and, because she was constrained, that was no reason why I should be rude. So I rallied my failing faculties, and endeavored now not to secure enjoyment for myself, but rather to make the drive agreeable to my companion.

This better mood lasted all the rest of the way, and the few miles of feverish excitement, which were followed by the few miles of sullenness, were finally succeeded by the ordinary cheerfulness of a travelling companion. The change was very much for the better. My feverish excitement had served to increase the constraint of Marion; and now, since it had passed away, she seemed more inclined to be agreeable. There were many things to attract and interest those who travelled merely for the pleasure of the thing, without any ulterior motives. The long French villages, the huge chapels, the frequent crosses by the way-side, the smooth, level road, the cultivated fields, the overshadowing trees, the rich luxuriance of the vegetation, the radiant beauty of the scene all around, which was now clothed in the richest verdure of June, the habitants along the road—all these and a thousand other things sufficed to excite attention and elicit remarks. While I was impassioned, or eager, or vehement, Marion had held aloof; but now, while I was merely commonplace and conventional, she showed herself sufficiently companionable. And so our drive went on, and at last we reached our destination.

If I were inclined to bore the reader, I might go into raptures over this scene—where the river, winding on amid wooded banks, and over rocky ledges, finally tumbles over a lofty precipice, and flings itself in foam into the St. Lawrence; where the dark cliffs rise, where the eddies twirl and twist, where the spray floats upward through the span of its rainbow arch. But at that moment this scene, glorious though it was, sank, into insignificance in my estimation in comparison with Marion. I will take it for granted that the reader, like me, finds more interest in Marion than in Montmorency, and therefore will not inflict upon him any description of the scene. I refer him to Byron's lines about Velino. They apply with equal force to Montmorency.

Well. To resume.

We wandered about Montmorency for an hour or more. We walked over the broad, flat ledges. We descended deep slopes. We climbed lofty rocks. I helped her over every impediment. I helped her down. I helped her up. She had to take my hand a hundred times in the course of that scramble.

There was an informal and an unconventional character about such proceedings as these which did much toward thawing the crust of Marion's reserve. She evidently enjoyed the situation—she enjoyed the falls—she enjoyed the rocky ledges—she enjoyed the scramble—she even went so far on one occasion as to show something like enthusiasm. Nor did I, in the delight of that time, which I experienced to the most vivid degree, ever so far forget myself as to do the impassioned in any shape or way. Whatever was to be the final result, I had determined that this day should be a happy one, and, since Marion objected so strongly to the intense style, she should see nothing but what was simply friendly and companionable.

But it was a hard struggle. To see her beautiful, animated face—her light, agile form—to feel her little hand—to hear the musical cadence of her unequalled voice, and yet to repress all undue emotion. By Jove! I tell you what it is, it isn't every fellow who could have held out as long as I did.

At last we had exhausted the falls, and we went back to the little inn where the horses were left. We had still over an hour, and I proposed a walk to the river-bank. To this Marion assented.

We set out, and I led the way toward that very cottage where I had taken her on that memorable occasion when I first met her. I had no purpose in this, more than an irresistible desire to stand on that bank by her side, and, in company with her, to look over that river, and have the eyes of both of us simultaneously looking over the track of our perilous journey. And still, even with such a purpose as this, I resolved to discard all sentiment, and maintain only the friendly attitude.

The cottage was not far away, and, in a short tune, we entered the gate of the farm, and found ourselves approaching it.

As we went on, a sudden change came over Marion.

Up to the time of our entering the gate she had still maintained the geniality of manner and the lightness of tone which had sprung up during our wanderings about the falls. But here, as we came within sight of the cottage, I saw her give a sudden start. Then she stopped and looked all around. Then she gave a sudden look at me—a deep, solemn, earnest look, in which her dark, lustrous eyes fastened themselves on mine for a moment, as though, they would read my very soul.

And at that look every particle of my commonplace tone, and every particle of my resolution, vanished and passed away utterly.

The next instant her eyes fell. We had both stopped, and now stood facing one another.

"Pardon me," said I, in deep agitation. "I thought it might interest you. But, if you wish it, we may go back. Shall we go back, or shall we go on?"

"As you please," said she, in a low voice.

We went on.

We did not stop at the cottage. We passed by it, walking in silence onward toward the river-bank. We reached it at last, and stood there side by side, looking out upon the river.

We were at the top of a bank which descended steeply for a great distance. It was almost a cliff, only it was not rock, but sandy soil, dotted here and there with patches of grass and clumps of trees. Far below us was the river, whose broad bosom lay spread out for miles, dotted with the white sails of passing vessels. The place where we stood was a slight promontory, and commanded a larger and more extended view than common. On the left and below us was the Ile d'Orleans, while far away up the river Cape Diamond jutted forth, crowned by its citadel, and, clustering around it, we saw the glistening tin roofs and tapering spires of Quebec. But at that moment it was neither the beauty nor the grandeur of this wonderful scene that attracted my gaze, but rather the river itself. My eyes fastened themselves on that broad expanse of deep and dark-blue water, and wandering from the beach beneath, up the river, to the shore opposite Quebec—many a mile away—in that moment all the events of our memorable journey came back before me, distinctly and vividly. I stood silent, Marion, too, was silent, as though she also had the same thoughts as those which filled me. Thus we both stood in silence, and for a long time our eyes rested upon the mighty river which now rolled its vast flood beneath us, no longer ice-bound, but full and free, the pathway for mighty navies, and the thoroughfare of nations.

Now I was able to grasp the full and complete reality of our fearful adventure. We had wandered from the opposite shore far up near Point Levi, toiling over treacherous ice, which, even as we walked, had moved onward toward the sea, and had thus borne us down for miles till we attained the shore at this place. Looking at the river, I could trace the pathway which we had taken, and could fix the locality of every one of those events which had marked that terrible journey—where the horse ran—where the sleigh floated—where I had drawn it to the ice—where the ice-ridge rose—where we had clambered over—where Marion fell —till finally beside this shore I could see the place where that open channel ran, near which she had fallen for the last time, when I had raised her in my arms and borne her back to life. And there, too, below us, was the steep bank up which I had borne her—how I knew not, but in some way or other most certainly—till I found refuge for her in the hospitable cottage. At this last I looked with the strongest emotion. What strength must have been mine! what a frenzied, frantic effort I must have put forth! what a madness of resolve must have nerved my limbs to have carried her up such a place as that! In comparison with this last supreme effort all the rest of that journey seemed weak and commonplace.

Rousing myself at last from the profound abstraction into which I had fallen, I turned and looked at my companion.

She was standing close beside me; her hands hung in front of her, closed over one another; her head was slightly bent forward; her eyes were opened wide, and fixed steadfastly upon the river at the line which we might have traversed; and there was in her face such rapt attention, such deep and all-absorbed meditation, that I saw her interest in this scene was equal to mine. But there was more than interest There was that in her face which showed that the incidents of that journey were now passing before her mind; her face even now assumed that old expression which it had borne when first I saw her—it was white, horror-stricken, and full of fear—the face that had fixed itself on my memory after that day of days—the face of my Lady of the Ice.

She did not know that I was looking at her, and devouring her with my gaze. Her eyes wandered over the water and toward the shore. I heard her quick breathing, and saw a sudden shudder pass through her, and her hands clutch one another more tightly in a nervous clasp, as she came to that place where she had fallen last. She looked at that spot on the dark water for a long tame, and in visible agitation. What had taken place after she had fallen she well knew, for I had told it all on my first visit to her house, but it was only from my account that she knew it. Yet here were the visible illustrations of my story—the dark river, the high, precipitous bank. In all these, as in all around, she could see what I had done for her.

Suddenly, with a start, she raised her head, and, turning, looked full upon me. It was a wild, eager, wistful, questioning look—her large, lustrous eyes thrilled me through with their old power; I saw in her face something that set my heart throbbing with feverish madness. It was a mute appeal—a face turned toward me as though to find out by that one eager, piercing, penetrating glance, something that she longed to know. At the same time there was visible in her face the sign of another feeling contending with this—that same constraint, and shy apprehension, and timidity, which had so long marked her manner toward me.

And now, in that moment, as her face thus revealed itself, and as this glance thrilled through me, there flashed upon my mind in a moment the meaning of it all. There was but an instant in which she thus looked at me—the next instant a flush passed over her face, and her eyes fell, but that very instant I snatched her hand in both of mine and held it.

She did not withdraw it She raised her eyes again, and again their strange questioning thrilled through me.

"Marion," said I, and I drew her toward me. Her head fell forward. I felt her hand tremble in mine.

"Marion," said I—lingering fondly on the name by which I now called her for the first time—"if I ask you to be mine—will you turn away?"

She did not turn away.

She raised her face again for a moment, and again for a moment the thrilling glance flashed from her deep, dark eyes, and a faint smile of heavenly sweetness beamed across the glory of her solemn face.

There!

I let the curtain drop.

I'm not good at describing love-scenes, and all that sort of thing, you know.

What's more, I don't want to be either good or great at that.

For, if a fellow feels like a fool, you know, when he's talking spooney, how much more like a fool must he feel when he sits down and deliberately writes spooney! You musn't expect that sort of thing from me at any rate—not from Macrorie. I can feel as much as any fellow, but that's no reason why I should write it all out.

Another point.

I'm very well aware that, in the story of my love, I've gone full and fair against the practice of the novelist. For instance, now, no novelist would take a hero and make him fall in love with a girl, no matter how deucedly pretty she might be, who had been in love with another fellow, and tried to run off with him. Of course not. Very well. Now, you see, my dear fellow, all I've got to say is this, that I'm not a novelist. I'm an historian, an autobiographer, or any thing else you choose. I've no imagination whatever. I rely on facts. I can't distort them. And, what's more, if I could do so, I wouldn't, no matter what the taste or fashion of the day might be.

There's a lot of miserable, carping sneaks about, whose business it is to find fault with every thing, and it just occurs to me that some of this lot may take it into their heads—notwithstanding the fads, mind you—may take it into their heads, I say, to make the objection that it is unnatural, when a girl has already been so madly in love, for another fellow to win her affections in so short a time. Such fellows are beneath notice, of course; but, for the benefit of the world at large, and humanity in general, I beg leave to suggest a few important points which serve to account for the above-mentioned change of affection, and all that sort of thing:

I. The mutability of humanity.

II. The crushing effects of outrage and neglect on the strongest lore.

III. My own overwhelming claims.

IV. The daily spectacle of my love and devotion.

V. My personal beauty.

VI. The uniform of the Bobtails.

The above, I think, will suffice.

The drive back was very different from the drive down. On the way I heard from Marion's own lips a full explanation of many of those things which had been puzzling me for the last two months. She explained all about the crossing of the river, though not without some hesitation, for it was connected with her infatuation about Jack. Still, she had got over that utterly, and, as I knew all about it, and as she had nothing but indifference toward him, I was able to get an explanation from her without much difficulty.

It seems, then, that O'Halloran had forbidden Marion to see Jack, but she was infatuated about him, and anxious to see him. She had met him several times at the house of a friend at Point Levi, and a few days before that eventful journey O'Halloran had gone to Montreal. At the same time Jack had written her, telling her that he would be over there. So she took advantage of her father's absence to go over on a visit, hoping also to meet with Jack. But Jack was not there. She stayed as long as she dared, and finally had to return so as to be home before her father got back. This was the day of the storm. She had much difficulty in finding a driver, but at length succeeded by means of a heavy bribe. Then followed her momentous meeting with me. Her departure from the cottage so abruptly was owing to her intense desire to get home before her father should arrive. This she succeeded in doing. She felt deeply grateful to me, but did not dare to take any steps to show gratitude, for fear her father would hear of her journey to Point Levi. Nora knew about it, and kept her secret from O'Halloran most faithfully. Then came my arrival upon the scene. She recognized me at once, and as soon as I told my story Nora recognized me, too, as Marion's mysterious deliverer.

They held counsel together after leaving the room, and, seeing O'Halloran's fancy for me, they thought I might often come again. They saw, too, that I had noticed their agitation, but had not recognized Marion. They judged that I would suspect them, and so Nora volunteered to personate the lady so as to save Marion from that outburst of indignation which was sure to fall on her if her father knew of her disobedience. This, then, was the cause of Nora's assumption of a false part. She had told some plausible story to O'Halloran which satisfied him and saved Marion; but her peculiar frank and open nature made her incapable of maintaining her part, and also led to my absurd proposal to her, and its consequences.

Meanwhile Marion had her troubles. She had not seen Jack, but on her return got his frantic letter, proposing an elopement, and threatening to blow his brains out. She answered this as we have seen. After this, she heard all about Jack's love-affairs, and wrote to him on the subject. He answered by another proposal to elope, and reproached her with being the cause of his ruin. This reproach stung her, and filled her with remorse. It was not so much love as the desperation of self-reproach which had led to her foolish consent. So at the appointed time she was at the place; but instead of Jack—there was quite another person.

Of course, I did not get all the above from her at that time. Some of it she told; but the rest came out long afterward. Long afterward I learned from her own dear lips how her feelings changed toward me, especially on that night when I saved her and brought her home. Jack became first an object of contempt, then of indifference. Then she feared that I would despise her, and tried to hold aloof. Despise her! ——!!!!

All this, and a thousand other things, came out afterward, in the days of our closer association, when all was explained, and Marion had no more secrets to keep from me, and I had none from her.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

GRAND CONCLUSION.—WEDDING-RINGS AND BALL-RINGS.—ST. MALACHI'S.—OLD FLETCHER IN HIS GLORY.—NO HUMBUG THIS TIME.—MESSAGES SENT EVERYWHERE.—ALL THE TOWN AGOG.—QUEBEC ON THE RAMPAGE.—ST. MALACHI'S CRAMMED.—GALLERIES CROWDED.—WHITE FAVORS EVERYWHERE.—THE WIDOW HAPPY WITH THE CHAPLAIN.—THE DOUBLE WEDDING.—FIRST COUPLE—JACK AND LOUIE! —SECOND DITTO—MACRORIE AND MARION!—COLONEL BERTON AND O'HALLORAN GIVING AWAY THE BRIDES.—STRANGE ASSOCIATION OF THE BRITISH OFFICER AND THE FENIAN.—JACK AND MACRORIE, LOUIE AND MARION.—BRIDES AND BRIDEGROOMS.—EPITHALAMICM.—WEDDING IN HIGH LIFE.—SIX OFFICIATING CLERGYMEN.—ALL THE ELITE OF QUEBEC TAKE PART.—ALL THE CLERGY, ALL THE MILITARY, AND EVERYBODY WHO AMOUNTS TO ANY THING.—THE BAND OF THE BOBTAILS DISCOURSING SWEET MUSIC, AND ALL THAT SORT OF THING, YOU KNOW.

On reading over the above heading, I find it so very comprehensive that it leaves nothing more for me to say. I will therefore make my bow, and retire from the scene, with my warmest congratulations to the reader at reaching

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse