A Chance Acquaintance.
BY W. D. HOWELLS.
BOSTON: JAMES R. OSGOOD AND COMPANY
Late Ticknor & Fields, and Fields, Osgood, & Co.
University Press: Welch, Bigelow, & Co., Cambridge.
A CHANCE ACQUAINTANCE.
UP THE SAGUENAY.
On the forward promenade of the Saguenay boat which had been advertised to leave Quebec at seven o'clock on Tuesday morning, Miss Kitty Ellison sat tranquilly expectant of the joys which its departure should bring, and tolerantly patient of its delay; for if all the Saguenay had not been in promise, she would have thought it the greatest happiness just to have that prospect of the St. Lawrence and Quebec. The sun shone with a warm yellow light on the Upper Town, with its girdle of gray wall, and on the red flag that drowsed above the citadel, and was a friendly lustre on the tinned roofs of the Lower Town; while away off to the south and east and west wandered the purple hills and the farmlit plains in such dewy shadow and effulgence as would have been enough to make the heaviest heart glad. Near at hand the river was busy with every kind of craft, and in the distance was mysterious with silvery vapors; little breaths of haze, like an ethereal colorless flame, exhaled from its surface, and it all glowed with a lovely inner radiance. In the middle distance a black ship was heaving anchor and setting sail, and the voice of the seamen came soft and sad and yet wildly hopeful to the dreamy ear of the young girl, whose soul at once went round the world before the ship, and then made haste back again to the promenade of the Saguenay boat. She sat leaning forward a little with her hands fallen into her lap, letting her unmastered thoughts play as they would in memories and hopes around the consciousness that she was the happiest girl in the world, and blest beyond desire or desert. To have left home as she had done, equipped for a single day at Niagara, and then to have come adventurously on, by grace of her cousin's wardrobe, as it were, to Montreal and Quebec; to be now going up the Saguenay, and finally to be destined to return home by way of Boston and New York;—this was more than any one human being had a right to; and, as she had written home to the girls, she felt that her privileges ought to be divided up among all the people of Eriecreek. She was very grateful to Colonel Ellison and Fanny for affording her these advantages; but they being now out of sight in pursuit of state-rooms, she was not thinking of them in relation to her pleasure in the morning scene, but was rather regretting the absence of a lady with whom they had travelled from Niagara, and to whom she imagined she would that moment like to say something in praise of the prospect. This lady was a Mrs. Basil March of Boston; and though it was her wedding journey and her husband's presence ought to have absorbed her, she and Miss Kitty had sworn a sisterhood, and were pledged to see each other before long at Mrs. March's home in Boston. In her absence, now, Kitty thought what a very charming person she was, and wondered if all Boston people were really like her, so easy and friendly and hearty. In her letter she had told the girls to tell her Uncle Jack that he had not rated Boston people a bit too high, if she were to judge from Mr. and Mrs. March, and that she was sure they would help her as far as they could to carry out his instructions when she got to Boston.
These instructions were such as might seem preposterous if no more particular statement in regard to her Uncle Jack were made, but will be imaginable enough, I hope, when he is a little described. The Ellisons were a West Virginia family who had wandered up into a corner of Northwestern New York, because Dr. Ellison (unceremoniously known to Kitty as Uncle Jack) was too much an abolitionist to live in a slaveholding State with safety to himself or comfort to his neighbors. Here his family of three boys and two girls had grown up, and hither in time had come Kitty, the only child of his youngest brother, who had gone first to Illinois and thence, from the pretty constant adversity of a country editor, to Kansas, where he joined the Free State party and fell in one of the border feuds. Her mother had died soon after, find Dr. Ellison's heart bowed itself tenderly over the orphan. She was something not only dear, but sacred to him as the child of a martyr to the highest cause on earth; and the love of the whole family encompassed her. One of the boys had brought her from Kansas when she was yet very little, and she had grown up among them as their youngest sister; but the doctor, from a tender scruple against seeming to usurp the place of his brother in her childish thought, would not let her call him father, and in obedience to the rule which she soon began to give their love, they all turned and called him Uncle Jack with her. Yet the Ellisons, though they loved their little cousin, did not spoil her,—neither the doctor, nor his great grown-up sons whom she knew as the boys, nor his daughters whom she called the girls, though they were wellnigh women when she came to them. She was her uncle's pet and most intimate friend, riding with him on his professional visits till she became as familiar a feature of his equipage as the doctor's horse itself; and he educated her in those extreme ideas, tempered by humor, which formed the character of himself and his family. They loved Kitty, and played with her, and laughed at her when she needed ridiculing; they made a jest of their father on the one subject on which he never jested, and even the antislavery cause had its droll points turned to the light. They had seen danger and trouble enough at different times in its service, but no enemy ever got more amusement out of it. Their house was a principal entrepot of the underground railroad, and they were always helping anxious travellers over the line; but the boys seldom came back from an excursion to Canada without adventures to keep the family laughing for a week; and they made it a serious business to study the comic points of their beneficiaries, who severally lived in the family records by some grotesque mental or physical trait. They had an irreverent name among themselves for each of the humorless abolition lecturers who unfailingly abode with them on their rounds; and these brethren and sisters, as they called them, paid with whatever was laughable in them for the substantial favors they received.
Miss Kitty, having the same natural bent, began even as a child to share in these harmless reprisals, and to look at life with the same wholesomely fantastic vision. But she remembered one abolition visitor of whom none of them made fun, but treated with a serious distinction and regard,—an old man with a high, narrow forehead, and thereon a thick upright growth of gray hair; who looked at her from under bushy brows with eyes as of blue flame, and took her on his knee one night and sang to her "Blow ye the trumpet, blow!" He and her uncle had been talking of some indefinite, far-off place that they called Boston, in terms that commended it to her childish apprehension as very little less holy than Jerusalem, and as the home of all the good and great people outside of Palestine.
In fact, Boston had always been Dr. Ellison's foible. In the beginning of the great antislavery agitation, he had exchanged letters (corresponded, he used to say) with John Quincy Adams on the subject of Lovejoy's murder; and he had met several Boston men at the Free Soil Convention in Buffalo in 1848. "A little formal perhaps, a little reserved," he would say, "but excellent men; polished, and certainly of sterling principle": which would make his boys and girls laugh, as they grew older, and sometimes provoke them to highly colored dramatizations of the formality of these Bostonians in meeting their father. The years passed and the boys went West, and when the war came, they took service in Iowa and Wisconsin regiments. By and by the President's Proclamation of freedom to the slaves reached Eriecreek while Dick and Bob happened both to be home on leave. After they had allowed their sire his rapture, "Well, this is a great blow for father," said Bob; "what are you going to do now, father? Fugitive slavery and all its charms blotted out forever, at one fell swoop. Pretty rough on you, isn't it? No more men and brothers, no more soulless oligarchy. Dull lookout, father."
"O no," insinuated one of the girls, "there's Boston."
"Why, yes," cried Dick, "to be sure there is. The President hasn't abolished Boston. Live for Boston."
And the doctor did live for an ideal Boston, thereafter, so far at least as concerned a never-relinquished, never-fulfilled purpose of some day making a journey to Boston. But in the mean time there were other things; and at present, since the Proclamation had given him a country worth living in, he was ready to honor her by studying her antiquities. In his youth, before his mind had been turned so strenuously to the consideration of slavery, he had a pretty taste for the mystery of the Mound Builders, and each of his boys now returned to camp with instructions to note any phenomena that would throw light upon this interesting subject. They would have abundant leisure for research, since the Proclamation, Dr. Ellison insisted, practically ended the war.
The Mound Builders were only a starting-point for the doctor. He advanced from them to historical times in due course, and it happened that when Colonel Ellison and his wife stopped off at Eriecreek on their way East, in 1870, they found him deep in the history of the Old French War. As yet the colonel had not intended to take the Canadian route eastward, and he escaped without the charges which he must otherwise have received to look up the points of interest at Montreal and Quebec connected with that ancient struggle. He and his wife carried Kitty with them to see Niagara (which she had never seen because it was so near); but no sooner had Dr. Ellison got the despatch announcing that they would take Kitty on with them down the St. Lawrence to Quebec, and bring her home by way of Boston, than he sat down and wrote her a letter of the most comprehensive character. As far as concerned Canada his mind was purely historical; but when it came to Boston it was strangely re-abolitionized, and amidst an ardor for the antiquities of the place, his old love for its humanitarian pre-eminence blazed up. He would have her visit Faneuil Hall because of its Revolutionary memories, but not less because Wendell Phillips had there made his first antislavery speech. She was to see the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and if possible certain points of ancient colonial interest which he named; but at any rate she was somehow to catch sight of the author of the "Biglow Papers," of Senator Sumner, of Mr. Whittier, of Dr. Howe, of Colonel Higginson, and of Mr. Garrison. These people were all Bostonians to the idealizing remoteness of Dr. Ellison, and he could not well conceive of them asunder. He perhaps imagined that Kitty was more likely to see them together than separately; and perhaps indeed they were less actual persons, to his admiration, than so many figures of a grand historical composition. Finally, "I want you to remember, my dear child," he wrote, "that in Boston you are not only in the birthplace of American liberty, but the yet holier scene of its resurrection. There everything that is noble and grand and liberal and enlightened in the national life has originated, and I cannot doubt that you will find the character of its people marked by every attribute of a magnanimous democracy. If I could envy you anything, my dear girl, I should envy you this privilege of seeing a city where man is valued simply and solely for what he is in himself, and where color, wealth, family, occupation, and other vulgar and meretricious distinctions are wholly lost sight of in the consideration of individual excellence."
Kitty got her uncle's letter the night before starting up the Saguenay, and quite too late for compliance with his directions concerning Quebec; but she resolved that as to Boston his wishes should be fulfilled to the utmost limit of possibility. She knew that nice Mr. March must be acquainted with some of those very people. Kitty had her uncle's letter in her pocket, and she was just going to take it out and read it again, when something else attracted her notice.
The boat had been advertised to leave at seven o'clock, and it was now half past. A party of English people were pacing somewhat impatiently up and down before Kitty, for it had been made known among the passengers (by that subtle process through which matters of public interest transpire in such places) that breakfast would not be served till the boat started, and these English people had the appetites which go before the admirable digestions of their nation. But they had also the good temper which does not so certainly accompany the insular good appetite. The man in his dashing Glengarry cap and his somewhat shabby gray suit took on one arm the plain, jolly woman who seemed to be his wife, and on the other, the amiable, handsome young girl who looked enough like him to be his sister, and strode rapidly back and forth, saying that they must get up an appetite for breakfast. This made the women laugh, and so he said it again, which made them laugh so much that the elder lost her balance, and in regaining it twisted off her high shoe-heel, which she briskly tossed into the river. But she sat down after that, and the three were presently intent upon the Liverpool steamer which was just arrived and was now gliding up to her dock, with her population of passengers thronging her quarter-deck.
"She's from England!" said the husband, expressively.
"Only fancy!" answered the wife. "Give me the glass, Jenny." Then, after a long survey of the steamer, she added, "Fancy her being from England!" They all looked and said nothing for two or three minutes, when the wife's mind turned to the delay of their own boat and of breakfast. "This thing," she said, with that air of uttering a novelty which the English cast about their commonplaces,—"this this thing doesn't start at seven, you know."
"No," replied the younger woman, "she waits for the Montreal boat."
"Fancy her being from England!" said the other, whose eyes and thoughts had both wandered back to the Liverpool steamer.
"There's the Montreal boat now, comin' round the point," cried the husband. "Don't you see the steam?" He pointed with his glass, and then studied the white cloud in the distance. "No, by Jove! it's a saw-mill on the shore."
"O Harry!" sighed both the women, reproachfully.
"Why, deuce take it, you know," he retorted, "I didn't turn it into a saw-mill. It's been a saw-mill all along, I fancy."
Half an hour later, when the Montreal boat came in sight, the women would have her a saw-mill till she stood in full view in mid-channel. Their own vessel paddled out into the stream as she drew near, and the two bumped and rubbed together till a gangway plank could he passed from one to the other. A very well dressed young man stood ready to get upon the Saguenay boat, with a porter beside him bearing his substantial valise. No one else apparently was coming aboard.
The English people looked upon him for an instant with wrathful eyes, as they hung over the rail of the promenade. "Upon my word," said the elder of the women, "have we been waitin' all this time for one man?"
"Hush, Edith," answered the younger, "it's an Englishman." And they all three mutely recognized the right of the Englishman to stop, not only the boat, but the whole solar system, if his ticket entitled him to a passage on any particular planet, while Mr. Miles Arbuton of Boston, Massachusetts, passed at his ease from one vessel to the other. He had often been mistaken for an Englishman, and the error of those spectators, if he had known it, would not have surprised him. Perhaps it might have softened his judgment of them as he sat facing them at breakfast; but he did not know it, and he thought them three very common English people with something professional, as of public singing or acting, about them. The young girl wore, instead of a travelling-suit, a vivid light blue dress; and over her sky-blue eyes and fresh cheeks a glory of corn-colored hair lay in great braids and masses. It was magnificent, but it wanted distance; so near, it was almost harsh. Mr. Arbuton's eyes fell from the face to the vivid blue dress, which was not quite fresh and not quite new, and a glimmer of cold dismissal came into them, as he gave himself entirely to the slender merits of the steamboat breakfast.
He was himself, meantime, an object of interest to a young lady who sat next to the English party, and who glanced at him from time to time, out of tender gray eyes, with a furtive play of feeling upon a sensitive face. To her he was that divine possibility which every young man is to every young maiden; and, besides, he was invested with a halo of romance as the gentleman with the blond mustache, whom she had seen at Niagara the week before, on the Goat Island Bridge. To the pretty matron at her side, he was exceedingly handsome, as a young man may frankly be to a young matron, but not otherwise comparable to her husband, the full-personed good-humored looking gentleman who had just added sausage to the ham and eggs on his plate. He was handsome, too, but his full beard was reddish, whereas Mr. Arbuton's mustache was flaxen; and his dress was not worn with that scrupulosity with which the Bostonian bore his clothes; there was a touch of slovenliness in him that scarcely consorted with the alert, ex-military air of some of his movements. "Good-looking young John Bull," he thought concerning Mr. Arbuton, and then thought no more about him, being no more self-judged before the supposed Englishman than he would have been before so much Frenchman or Spaniard. Mr. Arbuton, on the other hand, if he had met an Englishman so well dressed as himself, must at once have arraigned himself, and had himself tacitly tried for his personal and national difference. He looked in his turn at these people, and thought he should have nothing to do with them, in spite of the long-lashed gray eyes.
It was not that they had made the faintest advance towards acquaintance, or that the choice of knowing them or not was with Mr. Arbuton; but he had the habit of thus protecting himself from the chances of life, and a conscience against encouraging people whom he might have to drop for reasons of society. This was sometimes a sacrifice, for he was not past the age when people take a lively interest in most other human beings. When breakfast was over, and he had made the tour of the boat, and seen all his fellow-passengers, he perceived that he could have little in common with any of them, and that probably the journey would require the full exercise of that tolerant spirit in which he had undertaken a branch of summer travel in his native land.
The rush of air against the steamer was very raw and chill, and the forward promenade was left almost entirely to the English professional people, who walked rapidly up and down, with jokes and laughter of their kind, while the wind blew the girl's hair in loose gold about her fresh face, and twisted her blue drapery tight about her comely shape. When they got out of breath they sat down beside a large American lady, with a great deal of gold filling in her front teeth, and presently rose again and ran races to and from the bow. Mr. Arbuton turned away in displeasure. At the stern he found a much larger company, most of whom had furnished themselves with novels and magazines from the stock on board and were drowsing over them. One gentleman was reading aloud to three ladies the newspaper account of a dreadful shipwreck; other ladies and gentlemen were coming and going forever from their state-rooms, as the wont of some is; others yet sat with closed eyes, as if having come to see the Saguenay they were resolved to see nothing of the St. Lawrence on the way thither, but would keep their vision sacred to the wonders of the former river.
Yet the St. Lawrence was worthy to be seen, as even Mr. Arbuton owned, whose way was to slight American scenery, in distinction from his countrymen who boast it the finest in the world. As you leave Quebec, with its mural-crowned and castled rock, and drop down the stately river, presently the snowy fall of Montmorenci, far back in its purple hollow, leaps perpetual avalanche into the abyss, and then you are abreast of the beautiful Isle of Orleans, whose low shores, with their expanses of farmland, and their groves of pine and oak, are still as lovely as when the wild grape festooned the primitive forests and won from the easy rapture of old Cartier the name of Isle of Bacchus. For two hours farther down the river either shore is bright and populous with the continuous villages of the habitans, each clustering about its slim-spired church, in its shallow vale by the water's edge, or lifted in more eminent picturesqueness upon some gentle height. The banks, nowhere lofty or abrupt, are such as in a southern land some majestic river might flow between, wide, slumbrous, open to all the heaven and the long day till the very set of sun. But no starry palm glasses its crest in the clear cold green from these low brinks; the pale birch, slender and delicately fair, mirrors here the wintry whiteness of its boughs; and this is the sad great river of the awful North.
Gradually, as the day wore on, the hills which had shrunk almost out of sight on one hand, and on the other were dark purple in the distance, drew near the shore, and at one point on the northern side rose almost from the water's edge. The river expanded into a lake before them, and in their lap some cottages, and half-way up the hillside, among the stunted pines, a much-galleried hotel, proclaimed a resort of fashion in the heart of what seemed otherwise a wilderness. Indian huts sheathed in birch-bark nestled at the foot of the rocks, which were rich in orange and scarlet stains; out of the tops of the huts curled the blue smoke, and at the door of one stood a squaw in a flame-red petticoat; others in bright shawls squatted about on the rocks, each with a circle of dogs and papooses. But all this warmth of color only served, like a winter sunset, to heighten the chilly and desolate sentiment of the scene. The light dresses of the ladies on the veranda struck cold upon the eye; in the faces of the sojourners who lounged idly to the steamer's landing-place, the passenger could fancy a sad resolution to repress their tears when the boat should go away and leave them. She put off two or three old peasant-women who were greeted by other such on the pier, as if returned from a long journey; and then the crew discharged the vessel of a prodigious freight of onions which formed the sole luggage these old women had brought from Quebec. Bale after bale of the pungent bulbs were borne ashore in the careful arms of the deck-hands, and counted by the owners; at last order was given to draw in the plank, when a passionate cry burst from one of the old women, who extended both hands with an imploring gesture towards the boat. A bale of onions had been left aboard; a deck-hand seized it and ran quickly ashore with it, and then back again, followed by the benedictions of the tranquillized and comforted beldam. The gay sojourners at Murray Bay controlled their grief, and as Mr. Arbuton turned from them, the boat, pushing out, left them to their fashionable desolation. She struck across to the southern shore, to land passengers for Cacouna, a watering-place greater than Murray Bay. The tide, which rises fifteen feet at Quebec, is the impulse, not the savor of the sea; but at Cacouna the water is salt, and the sea-bathing lacks nothing but the surf; and hither resort in great numbers the Canadians who fly their cities during the fierce, brief fever of the northern summer. The watering-place village and hotel is not in sight from the landing, but, as at Murray Bay, the sojourners thronged the pier, as if the arrival of the steamboat were the great event of their day. That afternoon they were in unusual force, having come on foot and by omnibus and calash; and presently there passed down through their ranks a strange procession with a band of music leading the way to the steamer.
"It's an Indian wedding," Mr. Arbuton heard one of the boat's officers saying to the gentleman with the ex-military air, who stood next him beside the rail; and now, the band having drawn aside, he saw the bride and groom,—the latter a common, stolid-faced savage, and the former pretty and almost white, with a certain modesty and sweetness of mien. Before them went a young American, with a jaunty Scotch cap and a visage of supernatural gravity, as the master of ceremonies which he had probably planned; arm in arm with him walked a portly chieftain in black broadcloth, preposterously adorned on the breast with broad flat disks of silver in two rows. Behind the bridal couple came the whole village in pairs, men and women, and children of all ages, even to brown babies in arms, gay in dress and indescribably serious in demeanor. They were mated in some sort according to years and size; and the last couple were young fellows paired in an equal tipsiness. These reeled and wavered along the pier; and when the other wedding guests crowned the day's festivity by going aboard the steamer, they followed dizzily down the gangway. Midway they lurched heavily; the spectators gave a cry; but they had happily lurched in opposite directions; their grip upon each other's arms held, and a forward stagger launched them victoriously aboard in a heap. They had scarcely disappeared from sight, when, having as it were instantly satisfied their curiosity concerning the boat, the other guests began to go ashore in due order. Mr. Arbuton waited in a slight anxiety to see whether the tipsy couple could repeat their maneuver successfully on an upward incline; and they had just appeared on the gangway, when he felt a hand passed carelessly and as if unconsciously through his arm, and at the same moment a voice said, "Those are a pair of disappointed lovers, I suppose."
He looked round and perceived the young lady of the party he had made up his mind to have nothing to do with resting one hand on the rail, and sustaining herself with the other passed through his arm, while she was altogether intent upon the scene below. The ex-military gentleman, the head of the party, and apparently her kinsman, had stepped aside without her knowing, and she had unwittingly taken Mr. Arbuton's arm. So much was clear to him, but what he was to do was not so plain. It did not seem quite his place to tell her of her mistake, and yet it seemed a piece of unfairness not to do so. To leave the matter alone, however, was the simplest, safest, and pleasantest; for the pressure of the pretty figure lightly thrown upon his arm had something agreeably confiding and appealing in it. So he waited till the young lady, turning to him for some response, discovered her error, and disengaged herself with a face of mingled horror and amusement. Even then he had no inspiration. To speak of the mistake in tones of compliment would have been grossly out of place; an explanation was needless; and to her murmured excuses, he could only bow silently. She flitted into the cabin, and he walked away, leaving the Indians to stagger ashore as they might. His arm seemed still to sustain that elastic weight, and a voice haunted his ear with the words, "A pair of disappointed lovers, I suppose"; and still more awkward and stupid he felt his own part in the affair to be; though at the same time he was not without some obscure resentment of the young girl's mistake as an intrusion upon him.
It was late twilight when the boat reached Tadoussac, and ran into a sheltered cove under the shadow of uplands on which a quaint village perched and dispersed itself on a country road in summer cottages; above these in turn rose loftier heights of barren sand or rock, with here and there a rank of sickly pines dying along their sterility. It had been harsh and cold all day when the boat moved, for it was running full in the face of the northeast; the river had widened almost to a sea, growing more and more desolate, with a few lonely islands breaking its expanse, and the shores sinking lower and lower till, near Tadoussac, they rose a little in flat-topped bluffs thickly overgrown with stunted evergreens. Here, into the vast low-walled breadth of the St. Lawrence, a dark stream, narrowly bordered by rounded heights of rock, steals down from the north out of regions of gloomy and ever-during solitude. This is the Saguenay; and in the cold evening light under which the traveller approaches its mouth, no landscape could look more forlorn than that of Tadoussac, where early in the sixteenth century the French traders fixed their first post, and where still the oldest church north of Florida is standing.
The steamer lies here five hours, and supper was no sooner over than the passengers went ashore in the gathering dusk. Mr. Arbuton, guarding his distance as usual, went too, with a feeling of surprise at his own concession to the popular impulse. He was not without a desire to see the old church, wondering in a half-compassionate way what such a bit of American antiquity would look like; and he had perceived since the little embarrassment at Cacouna that he was a discomfort to the young lady involved by it. He had caught no glimpse of her till supper, and then she had briefly supped with an air of such studied unconsciousness of his presence that it was plain she was thinking of her mistake every moment. "Well, I'll leave her the freedom of the boat while we stay," thought Mr. Arbuton as he went ashore. He had not the least notion whither the road led, but like the rest he followed it up through the village, and on among the cottages which seemed for the most part empty, and so down a gloomy ravine, in the bottom of which, far beneath the tremulous rustic bridge, he heard the mysterious crash and fall of an unseen torrent. Before him towered the shadowy hills up into the starless night; he thrilled with a sense of the loneliness and remoteness, and he had a formless wish that some one qualified by the proper associations and traditions were there to share the satisfaction he felt in the whole effect. At the same instant he was once more aware of that delicate pressure, that weight so lightly, sweetly borne upon his arm. It startled him, and again he followed the road, which with a sudden turn brought him in sight of a hotel and in sound of a bowling-alley, and therein young ladies' cackle and laughter, and he wondered a little scornfully who could be spending the summer there. A bay of the river loftily shut in by rugged hills lay before him, and on the shore, just above high-tide, stood what a wandering shadow told him was the ancient church of Tadoussac. The windows were faintly tinged with red as from a single taper burning within, and but that the elements were a little too bare and simple for one so used to the rich effects of the Old World, Mr. Arbuton might have been touched by the vigil which this poor chapel was still keeping after three hundred years in the heart of that gloomy place. While he stood at least tolerating its appeal, he heard voices of people talking in the obscurity near the church door, which they seemed to have been vainly trying for entrance.
"Pity we can't see the inside, isn't it?"
"Yes; but I am so glad to see any of it. Just think of its having been built in the seventeenth century!"
"Uncle Jack would enjoy it, wouldn't he?"
"O yes, poor Uncle Jack! I feel somehow as if I were cheating him out of it. He ought to be here in my place. But I do like it; and, Dick, I don't know what I can ever say or do to you and Fanny for bringing me."
"Well, Kitty, postpone the subject till you can think of the right thing. We're in no hurry."
Mr. Arbuton heard a shaking of the door, as of a final attempt upon it, before retreat, and then the voices faded into inarticulate sounds in the darkness. They were the voices, he easily recognized, of the young lady who had taken his arm, and of that kinsman of hers, as she seemed to be. He blamed himself for having not only overheard them, but for desiring to hear more of their talk, and he resolved to follow them back to the boat at a discreet distance. But they loitered so at every point, or he unwittingly made such haste, that he had overtaken them as they entered the lane between the outlying cottages, and he could not help being privy to their talk again.
"Well, it may be old, Kitty, but I don't think it's lively."
"It isn't exactly a whirl of excitement, I must confess."
"It's the deadliest place I ever saw. Is that a swing in front of that cottage? No, it's a gibbet. Why, they've all got 'em! I suppose they're for the summer tenants at the close of the season. What a rush there would be for them if the boat should happen to go off and leave her passengers!"
Mr. Arbuton thought this rather a coarse kind of drolling, and strengthened himself anew in his resolution to avoid those people.
They now came in sight of the steamer, where in the cove she lay illumined with all her lamps, and through every window and door and crevice was bursting with the ruddy light. Her brilliancy contrasted vividly with the obscurity and loneliness of the shore where a few lights glimmered in the village houses, and under the porch of the village store some desolate idlers—habitans and half-breeds—had clubbed their miserable leisure. Beyond the steamer yawned the wide vacancy of the greater river, and out of this gloomed the course of the Saguenay.
"O, I hate to go on board!" said the young lady. "Do you think he's got back yet? It's perfect misery to meet him."
"Never mind, Kitty. He probably thinks you didn't mean anything by it. I don't believe you would have taken his arm if you hadn't supposed it was mine, any way."
She made no answer to this, as if too much overcome by the true state of the case to be troubled by its perversion. Mr. Arbuton, following them on board, felt himself in the unpleasant character of persecutor, some one to be shunned and escaped by every maneuver possible to self-respect. He was to be the means, it appeared, of spoiling the enjoyment of the voyage for one who, he inferred, had not often the opportunity of such enjoyment. He had a willingness that she should think well and not ill of him; and then at the bottom of all was a sentiment of superiority, which, if he had given it shape, would have been noblesse oblige. Some action was due to himself as a gentleman.
The young lady went to seek the matron of the party, and left her companion at the door of the saloon, wistfully fingering a cigar in one hand, and feeling for a match with the other. Presently he gave himself a clap on the waistcoat which he had found empty, and was turning away, when Mr. Arbuton said, offering his own lighted cigar, "May I be of use to you?"
The other took it with a hearty, "O yes, thank you!" and, with many inarticulate murmurs of satisfaction, lighted his cigar, and returned Mr. Arbuton's with a brisk, half-military bow.
Mr. Arbuton looked at him narrowly a moment. "I'm afraid," he said abruptly, "that I've most unluckily been the cause of annoyance to one of the ladies of your party. It isn't a thing to apologize for, and I hardly know how to say that I hope, if she's not already forgotten the matter, she'll do so." Saying this, Mr. Arbuton, by an impulse which he would have been at a loss to explain, offered his card.
His action had the effect of frankness, and the other took it for cordiality. He drew near a lamp, and looked at the name and street address on the card, and then said, "Ah, of Boston! My name is Ellison; I'm of Milwaukee, Wisconsin." And he laughed a free, trustful laugh of good companionship. "Why yes, my cousin's been tormenting herself about her mistake the whole afternoon; but of course it's all right, you know. Bless my heart! it was the most natural thing in the world. Have you been ashore? There's a good deal of repose about Tadoussac, now; but it must be a lively place in winter! Such a cheerful lookout from these cottages, or that hotel over yonder! We went over to see if we could get into the little old church; the purser told me there are some lead tablets there, left by Jacques Cartier's men, you know, and dug up in the neighborhood. I don't think it's likely, and I'm bearing up very well under the disappointment of not getting in. I've done my duty by the antiquities of the place; and now I don't care how soon we are off."
Colonel Ellison was talking in the kindness of his heart to change the subject which the younger gentleman had introduced, in the belief, which would scarcely have pleased the other, that he was much embarrassed. His good-nature went still further; and when his cousin returned presently, with Mrs. Ellison, he presented Mr. Arbuton to the ladies, and then thoughtfully made Mrs. Ellison walk up and down the deck with him for the exercise she would not take ashore, that the others might be left to deal with their vexation alone.
"I am very sorry, Miss Ellison," said Mr. Arbuton, "to have been the means of a mistake to you to-day."
"And I was dreadfully ashamed to make you the victim of my blunder," answered Miss Ellison penitently; and a little silence ensued. Then as if she had suddenly been able to alienate the case, and see it apart from herself in its unmanageable absurdity, she broke into a confiding laugh, very like her cousin's, and said, "Why, it's one of the most hopeless things I ever heard of. I don't see what in the world can be done about it."
"It is rather a difficult matter, and I'm not prepared to say myself. Before I make up my mind I should like it to happen again."
Mr. Arbuton had no sooner made this speech, which he thought neat, than he was vexed with himself for having made it, since nothing was further from his purpose than a flirtation. But the dark, vicinity, the young girl's prettiness, the apparent freshness and reliance on his sympathy from which her frankness came, were too much: he tried to congeal again, and ended in some feebleness about the scenery, which was indeed very lonely and wild, after the boat started up the Saguenay, leaving the few lights of Tadoussac to blink and fail behind her. He had an absurd sense of being alone in the world there with the young lady; and he suffered himself to enjoy the situation, which was as perfectly safe as anything could be. He and Miss Ellison had both come on from Niagara, it seemed, and they talked of that place, she consciously withholding the fact that she had noticed Mr. Arbuton there; they had both come down the Rapids of the St. Lawrence, and they had both stopped a day in Montreal. These common experiences gave them a surprising interest for each other, which was enhanced by the discovery that their experiences differed thereafter, and that whereas she had passed three days at Quebec, he, as we know, had come on directly from Montreal.
"Did you enjoy Quebec very much, Miss Ellison?"
"O yes, indeed! It's a beautiful old town, with everything in it that I had always read about and never expected to see. You know it's a walled city."
"Yes. But I confess I had forgotten it till this morning. Did you find it all that you expected a walled city to be?"
"More, if possible. There were some Boston people with us there, and they said it was exactly like Europe. They fairly sighed over it, and it seemed to remind them of pretty nearly everything they had seen abroad. They were just married."
"Did that make Quebec look like Europe?"
"No, but I suppose it made them willing to see it in the pleasantest light. Mrs. March—that was their name—wouldn't allow me to say that I enjoyed Quebec, because if I hadn't seen Europe, I couldn't properly enjoy it. 'You may think you enjoy it,' she was always saying, 'but that's merely fancy.' Still I cling to my delusion. But I don't know whether I cared more for Quebec, or the beautiful little villages in the country all about it. The whole landscape looks just like a dream of 'Evangeline.'"
"Indeed! I must certainly stop at Quebec. I should like to see an American landscape that put one in mind of anything. What can your imagination do for the present scenery?"
"I don't think it needs any help from me," replied the young girl, as if the tone of her companion had patronized and piqued her. She turned as she spoke and looked up the sad, lonely river. The moon was making its veiled face seen through the gray heaven, and touching the black stream with hints of melancholy light. On either hand the uninhabitable shore rose in desolate grandeur, friendless heights of rock with a thin covering of pines seen in dim outline along their tops and deepening into the solid dark of hollows and ravines upon their sides. The cry of some wild bird struck through the silence of which the noise of the steamer had grown to be a part, and echoed away to nothing. Then from the saloon there came on a sudden the notes of a song; and Miss Ellison led the way within, where most of the other passengers were grouped about the piano. The English girl with the corn-colored hair sat, in ravishing picture, at the instrument, and the commonish man and his very plain wife were singing with heavenly sweetness together.
"Isn't it beautiful!" said Miss Ellison. "How nice it must be to be able to do such things!"
"Yes? do you think so? It's rather public," answered her companion.
When the English people had ended, a grave, elderly Canadian gentleman sat down to give what he believed a comic song, and sent everybody disconsolate to bed.
"Well, Kitty?" cried Mrs. Ellison, shutting herself inside the young lady's state-room a moment.
"Isn't he handsome?"
"He is, indeed."
"Is he nice?"
"I don't know."
"Ice-cream," said Kitty, and placidly let herself be kissed an enthusiastic good-night. Before Mrs. Ellison slept she wished to ask her husband one question.
"What is it?"
"Should you want Kitty to marry a Bostonian? They say Bostonians are so cold."
"What Bostonian has been asking Kitty to marry him?"
"O, how spiteful you are! I didn't say any had. But if there should?"
"Then it'll be time to think about it. You've married Kitty right and left to everybody who's looked at her since we left Niagara, and I've worried myself to death investigating the character of her husbands. Now I'm not going to do it any longer,—till she has an offer."
"Very well. You can depreciate your own cousin, if you like. But I know what I shall do. I shall let her wear all my best things. How fortunate it is, Richard, that we're exactly of a size! O, I am so glad we brought Kitty along! If she should marry and settle down in Boston—no, I hope she could get her husband to live in New York—"
"Go on, go on, my dear!" cried Colonel Ellison, with a groan of despair. "Kitty has talked twenty-five minutes with this young man about the hotels and steamboats, and of course he'll be round to-morrow morning asking my consent to marry her as soon as we can get to a justice of the peace. My hair is gradually turning gray, and I shall be bald before my time; but I don't mind that if you find any pleasure in these little hallucinations of yours. Go on!"
MRS. ELLISON'S LITTLE MANEUVRE.
The next morning our tourists found themselves at rest in Ha-Ha Bay, at the head of navigation for the larger steamers. The long line of sullen hills had fallen away, and the morning sun shone warm on what in a friendlier climate would have been a very lovely landscape. The bay was an irregular oval, with shores that rose in bold but not lofty heights on one side, while on the other lay a narrow plain with two villages clinging about the road that followed the crescent beach, and lifting each the slender tin-clad spire of its church to sparkle in the sun.
At the head of the bay was a mountainous top, and along its waters were masses of rocks, gayly painted with lichens and stained with metallic tints of orange and scarlet. The unchanging growth of stunted pines was the only forest in sight, though Ha-Ha Bay is a famous lumbering port, and some schooners now lay there receiving cargoes of odorous pine plank. The steamboat-wharf was all astir with the liveliest toil and leisure. The boat was taking on wood, which was brought in wheelbarrows to the top of the steep, smooth gangway-planking, where the habitant in charge planted his broad feet for the downward slide, and was hurled aboard more or less en masse by the fierce velocity of his heavy-laden wheelbarrow. Amidst the confusion and hazard of this feat a procession of other habitans marched aboard, each one bearing under his arm a coffin-shaped wooden box. The rising fear of Colonel Ellison, that these boxes represented the loss of the whole infant population of Ha-Ha Bay, was checked by the reflection that the region could not have produced so many children, and calmed altogether by the purser, who said that they were full of huckleberries, and that Colonel Ellison could have as many as he liked for fifteen cents a bushel. This gave him a keen sense of the poverty of the land, and he bought of the boys who came aboard such abundance of wild red raspberries, in all manner of birch-bark canoes and goblets and cornucopias, that he was obliged to make presents of them to the very dealers whose stock he had exhausted, and he was in treaty with the local half-wit—very fine, with a hunchback, and a massive wen on one side of his head—to take charity in the wild fruits of his native province, when the crowd about him was gently opened by a person who advanced with a flourishing bow and a sprightly "Good morning, good morning, sir!" "How do you do?" asked Colonel Ellison; but the other, intent on business, answered, "I am the only person at Ha-Ha Bay who speaks English, and I have come to ask if you would not like to make a promenade in my horse and buggy upon the mountain before breakfast. You shall be gone as long as you will for one shilling and sixpence. I will show you all that there is to be seen about the place, and the beautiful view of the bay from the top of the mountain. But it is elegant, you know, I can assure you."
The speaker was so fluent of his English, he had such an audacious, wide-branching mustache, such a twinkle in his left eye,—which wore its lid in a careless, slouching fashion,—that the heart of man naturally clove to him; and Colonel Ellison agreed on the spot to make the proposed promenade, for himself and both his ladies, of whom he went joyfully in search. He found them at the stern of the boat, admiring the wild scenery, and looking
"Fresh as the morn and as the season fair."
He was not a close observer, and of his wife's wardrobe he had the ignorance of a good husband, who, as soon as the pang of paying for her dresses is past, forgets whatever she has; but he could not help seeing that some gayeties of costume which he had dimly associated with his wife now enhanced the charms of his cousin's nice little face and figure. A scarf of lively hue carelessly tied about the throat to keep off the morning chill, a prettier ribbon, a more stylish jacket than Miss Ellison owned,—what do I know?—an air of preparation for battle, caught the colonel's eye, and a conscious red stole responsive into Kitty's cheek.
"Kitty," said he, "don't you let yourself be made a goose of."
"I hope she won't—by you!" retorted his wife, "and I'll thank you, Colonel Ellison, not to be a Betty, whatever you are. I don't think it's manly to be always noticing ladies' clothes."
"Who said anything about clothes?" demanded the colonel, taking his stand upon the letter.
"Well, don't you, at any rate. Yes, I'd like to ride, of all things; and we've time enough, for breakfast isn't ready till half past eight. Where's the carriage?"
The only English scholar at Ha-Ha Bay had taken the light wraps of the ladies and was moving off with them. "This way, this way," he said, waving his hand towards a larger number of vehicles on the shore than could have been reasonably attributed to Ha-Ha Bay. "I hope you won't object to having another passenger with you? There's plenty of room for all. He seems a very nice, gentlemanly person," said he, with a queer, patronizing graciousness which he had no doubt caught from his English patrons.
"The more the merrier," answered Colonel Ellison, and "Not in the least!" said his wife, not meaning the proverb. Her eye had swept the whole array of vehicles and had found them all empty, save one, in which she detected the blamelessly coated back of Mr. Arbuton. But I ought perhaps to explain Mrs. Ellison's motives better than they can be made to appear in her conduct. She cared nothing for Mr. Arbuton; and she had no logical wish to see Kitty in love with him. But here were two young people thrown somewhat romantically together; Mrs. Ellison was a born match-maker, and to have refrained from promoting their better acquaintance in the interest of abstract matrimony was what never could have entered into her thought or desire. Her whole being closed for the time about this purpose; her heart, always warm towards Kitty,—whom she admired with a sort of generous frenzy,—expanded with all kinds of lovely designs; in a word, every dress she had she would instantly have bestowed upon that worshipful creature who was capable of adding another marriage to the world. I hope the reader finds nothing vulgar or unbecoming in this, for I do not; it was an enthusiasm, pure and simple, a beautiful and unselfish abandon; and I am sure men ought to be sorry that they are not worthier to be favored by it. Ladies have often to lament in the midst of their finesse that, really, no man is deserving the fate they devote themselves to prepare for him, or, in other words, that women cannot marry women.
I am not going to be so rash as try to depict Mrs. Ellison's arts, for then, indeed, I should make her appear the clumsy conspirator she was not, and should merely convict myself of ignorance of such matters. Whether Mr. Arbuton was ever aware of them, I am not sure: as a man he was, of course, obtuse and blind; but then, on the other hand, he had seen far more of the world than Mrs. Ellison, and she may have been clear as day to him. Probably, though, he did not detect any design; he could not have conceived of such a thing in a person with whom he had been so irregularly made acquainted, and to whom he felt himself so hopelessly superior. A film of ice such as in autumn you find casing the still pools early in the frosty mornings had gathered upon his manner over night; but it thawed under the greetings of the others, and he jumped actively out of the vehicle to offer the ladies their choice of seats. When all was arranged he found himself at Mrs. Ellison's side, for Kitty had somewhat eagerly climbed to the front seat with the colonel. In these circumstances it was pure zeal that sustained Mrs. Ellison in the flattering constancy with which she babbled on to Mr. Arbuton and refrained from openly resenting Kitty's contumacy.
As the wagon began to ascend the hill, the road was so rough that the springs smote together with pitiless jolts, and the ladies uttered some irrepressible moans. "Never mind, my dear," said the colonel, turning about to his wife, "we've got all the English there is at Ha-Ha Bay, any way." Whereupon the driver gave him a wink of sudden liking and good-fellowship. At the same time his tongue was loosed, and he began to talk of himself. "You see my dog, how he leaps at the horse's nose? He is a moose-dog, and keeps himself in practice of catching the moose by the nose. You ought to come in the hunting season. I could furnish you with Indians and everything you need to hunt with. I am a dealer in wild beasts, you know, and I must keep prepared to take them."
"Yes, for Barnum and the other showmen. I deal in deer, wolf, bear, beaver, moose, cariboo, wild-cat, link—"
"Link—link! You say deer for deers, and link for lynx, don't you?"
"Certainly," answered the unblushing colonel. "Are there many link about here?"
"Not many, and they are a very expensive animal. I have been shamefully treated in a link that I have sold to a Boston showman. It was a difficult beast to take; bit my Indian awfully; and Mr. Doolittle would not give the price he promised."
"What an outrage!"
"Yes, but it was not so bad as it might have been. He wanted the money back afterwards; the link died in about two weeks," said the dealer in wild animals, with a smile that curled his mustache into his ears, and a glance at Colonel Ellison. "He may have been bruised, I suppose. He may have been homesick. Perhaps he was never a very strong link. The link is a curious animal, miss," he said to Kitty, in conclusion.
They had been slowly climbing the mountain road, from which, on either hand, the pasturelands fell away in long, irregular knolls and hollows. The tops were quite barren, but in the little vales, despite the stones, a short grass grew very thick and tenderly green, and groups of kine tinkled their soft bells in a sweet, desultory assonance as they cropped the herbage. Below, the bay filled the oval of the hills with its sunny expanse, and the white steamer, where she lay beside the busy wharf, and the black lumber-ships, gave their variety to the pretty scene, which was completed by the picturesque villages on the shore. It was a very simple sight, but somehow very touching, as if the soft spectacle were but a respite from desolation and solitude; as indeed it was.
Mr. Arbuton must have been talking of travel elsewhere, for now he said to Mrs. Ellison, "This looks like a bit of Norway; the bay yonder might very well be a fjord of the Northern sea."
Mrs. Ellison murmured her sense of obligation to the bay, the fjord, and Mr. Arbuton, for their complaisance, and Kitty remembered that he had somewhat snubbed her the night before for attributing any suggestive grace to the native scenery. "Then you've really found something in an American landscape. I suppose we ought to congratulate it," she said, in smiling enjoyment of her triumph.
The colonel looked at her with eyes of humorous question; Mrs. Ellison looked blank; and Mr. Arbuton, having quite forgotten what he had said to provoke this comment now, looked puzzled and answered nothing: for he had this trait also in common with the sort of Englishman for whom he was taken, that he never helped out your conversational venture, but if he failed to respond inwardly, left you with your unaccepted remark upon your hands, as it were. In his silence, Kitty fell a prey to very evil thoughts of him, for it made her harmless sally look like a blundering attack upon him. But just then the driver came to her rescue; he said, "Gentlemen and ladies, this is the end of the mountain promenade," and, turning his horse's head, drove rapidly back to the village.
At the foot of the hill they came again to the church, and his passengers wanted to get out and look into it. "O certainly," said he, "it isn't finished yet, but you can say as many prayers as you like in it."
The church was decent and clean, like most Canadian churches, and at this early hour there was a good number of the villagers at their devotions. The lithographic pictures of the stations to Calvary were, of course, on its walls, and there was the ordinary tawdriness of paint and carving about the high altar.
"I don't like to see these things," said Mrs. Ellison. "It really seems to savor of idolatry. Don't you think so, Mr. Arbuton?"
"Well, I don't know. I doubt if they're the sort of people to be hurt by it."
"They need a good stout faith in cold climates, I can tell you," said the colonel. "It helps to keep them warm. The broad church would be too full of draughts up here. They want something snug and tight. Just imagine one of these poor devils listening to a liberal sermon about birds and fruits and flowers and beautiful sentiments, and then driving home over the hills with the mercury thirty degrees below zero! He couldn't stand it."
"Yes, yes, certainly," said Mr. Arbuton, and looked about him with an eye of cold, uncompassionate inspection, as if he were trying it by a standard of taste, and, on the whole, finding the poor little church vulgar.
When they mounted to their places again, the talk fell entirely to the colonel, who, as his wont was, got what information he could out of the driver. It appeared, in spite of his theory, that they were not all good Catholics at Ha-Ha Bay. "This chap, for example," said the Frenchman, touching himself on the breast and using the slang he must have picked up from American travellers, "is no Catholic,—not much! He has made too many studies to care for religion. There's a large French party, sir, in Canada, that's opposed to the priests and in favor of annexation."
He satisfied the colonel's utmost curiosity, discoursing, as he drove by the log-built cottages which were now and then sheathed in birch-bark, upon the local affairs, and the character and history of such of his fellow-villagers as they met. He knew the pretty girls upon the street and saluted them by name, interrupting himself with these courtesies in the lecture he was giving the colonel on life at Ha-Ha Bay. There was only one brick house (which he had built himself, but had been obliged to sell in a season unfavorable for wild beasts), and the other edifices dropped through the social scale to some picturesque barns thatched with straw. These he excused to his Americans, but added that the ungainly thatch was sometimes useful in saving the lives of the cattle toward the end of an unusually long, hard winter.
"And the people," asked the colonel, "what do they do in the winter to pass the time?"
"Draw the wood, smoke the pipe, court the ladies.—But wouldn't you like to see the inside of one of our poor cottages? I shall be very proud to have you look at mine, and to have you drink a glass of milk from my cows. I am sorry that I cannot offer you brandy, but there's none to be bought in the place."
"Don't speak of it! For an eye-opener there is nothing like a glass of milk," gayly answered the colonel.
They entered the best room of the house,—wide, low-ceiled, dimly lit by two small windows, and fortified against the winter by a huge Canada stove of cast-iron. It was rude but neat, and had an air of decent comfort. Through the window appeared a very little vegetable garden with a border of the hardiest flowers. "The large beans there," explained the host, "are for soup and coffee. My corn," he said, pointing out some rows of dwarfish maize, "has escaped the early August frosts, and so I expect to have some roasting-ears yet this summer."
"Well, it isn't exactly what you'd call an inviting climate, is it?" asked the colonel.
The Canadian seemed a hard little man, but he answered now with a kind of pathos, "It's cruel! I came here when it was all bush. Twenty years I have lived here, and it has not been worth while. If it was to do over again, I should rather not live anywhere. I was born in Quebec," he said, as if to explain that he was used to mild climates, and began to tell of some events of his life at Ha-Ha Bay. "I wish you were going to stay here awhile with me. You wouldn't find it so bad in the summer-time, I can assure you. There are bears in the bush, sir," he said to the colonel, "and you might easily kill one."
"But then I should be helping to spoil your trade in wild beasts," replied the colonel, laughing.
Mr. Arbuton looked like one who might be very tired of this. He made no sign of interest either in the early glooms and privations or the summer bears of Ha-Ha Bay. He sat in the quaint parlor, with his hat on his knee, in the decorous and patient attitude of a gentleman making a call.
He had no feeling, Kitty said to herself; but that is a matter about which we can easily be wrong. It was rather to be said of Mr. Arbuton that he had always shrunk from knowledge of things outside of a very narrow world, and that he had not a ready imagination. Moreover, he had a personal dislike, as I may call it, of poverty; and he did not enjoy this poverty as she did, because it was strange and suggestive, though doubtless he would have done as much to relieve distress.
"Rather too much of his autobiography," he said to Kitty, as he waited outside the door with her, while the Canadian quieted his dog, which was again keeping himself in practice of catching the moose by making vicious leaps at the horse's nose. "The egotism of that kind of people is always so aggressive. But I suppose he's in the habit of throwing himself upon the sympathy of summer visitors in this way. You can't offer a man so little as shilling and sixpence who's taken you into his confidence. Did you find enough that was novel in his place to justify him in bringing us here, Miss Ellison?" he asked with an air he had of taking you of course to be of his mind, and which equally offended you whether you were so or not.
Every face that they had seen in their drive had told its pathetic story to Kitty; every cottage that they passed she had entered in thought, and dreamed out its humble drama. What their host had said gave breath and color to her fancies of the struggle of life there, and she was startled and shocked when this cold doubt was cast upon the sympathetic tints of her picture. She did not know what to say at first; she looked at Mr. Arbuton with a sudden glance of embarrassment and trouble; then she answered, "I was very much interested. I don't agree with you, I believe"; which, when she heard it, seemed a resentful little speech, and made her willing for some occasion to soften its effect. But nothing occurred to her during the brief drive back to the boat, save the fact that the morning air was delicious.
"Yes, but rather cool," said Mr. Arbuton, whose feelings apparently had not needed any balm; and the talk fell again to the others.
On the pier he helped her down from the wagon, for the colonel was intent on something the driver was saying, and then offered his hand to Mrs. Ellison.
She sprang from her place, but stumbled slightly, and when she touched the ground, "I believe I turned my foot a little," she said with a laugh. "It's nothing, of course," and fainted in his arms.
Kitty gave a cry of alarm, and the next instant the colonel had relieved Mr. Arbuton. It was a scene, and nothing could have annoyed him more than this tumult which poor Mrs. Ellison's misfortune occasioned among the bystanding habitans and deck-hands, and the passengers eagerly craning forward over the bulwarks, and running ashore to see what the matter was. Few men know just how to offer those little offices of helpfulness which such emergencies demand, and Mr. Arbuton could do nothing after he was rid of his burden; he hovered anxiously and uselessly about, while Mrs. Ellison was carried to an airy position on the bow of the boat, where in a few minutes he had the great satisfaction of seeing her open her eyes. It was not the moment for him to speak, and he walked somewhat guiltily away with the dispersing crowd.
Mrs. Ellison addressed her first words to pale Kitty at her side. "You can have all my things, now," she said, as if it were a clause in her will, and perhaps it had been her last thought before unconsciousness.
"Why, Fanny," cried Kitty, with an hysterical laugh, "you're not going to die! A sprained ankle isn't fatal!"
"No; but I've heard that a person with a sprained ankle can't put their foot to the ground for weeks; and I shall only want a dressing-gown, you know, to lie on the sofa in." With that, Mrs. Ellison placed her hand tenderly on Kitty's head, like a mother wondering what will become of a helpless child during her disability; in fact she was mentally weighing the advantages of her wardrobe, which Kitty would now fully enjoy, against the loss of the friendly strategy which she would now lack. Helpless to decide the matter, she heaved a sigh.
"But, Fanny, you won't expect to travel in a dressing-gown."
"Indeed, I wish I knew whether I could travel in anything or not. But the next twenty-four hours will show. If it swells up, I shall have to rest awhile at Quebec; and if it doesn't, there may be something internal. I've read of accidents when the person thought they were perfectly well and comfortable, and the first thing they knew they were in a very dangerous state. That's the worst of these internal injuries: you never can tell. Not that I think there's anything of that kind the matter with me. But a few days' rest won't do any harm, whatever happens; the stores in Quebec are quite as good and a little cheaper than in Montreal; and I could go about in a carriage, you know, and put in the time as well in one place as the other. I'm sure we could get on very pleasantly there; and the colonel needn't be home for a month yet. I suppose that I could hobble into the stores on a crutch."
Whilst Mrs. Ellison's monologue ran on with scarcely a break from Kitty, her husband was gone to fetch her a cup of tea and such other light refreshment as a lady may take after a swoon. When he returned she bethought herself of Mr. Arbuton, who, having once come back to see if all was going well, had vanished again.
"Why, our friend Boston is bearing up under his share of the morning's work like a hero—or a lady with a sprained ankle," said the colonel as he arranged the provision. "To see the havoc he's making in the ham and eggs and chiccory is to be convinced that there is no appetizer like regret for the sufferings of others."
"Why, and here's poor Kitty not had a bite yet!" cried Mrs. Ellison. "Kitty, go off at once and get your breakfast. Put on my—"
"O, don't, Fanny, or I can't go; and I'm really very hungry."
"Well, I won't then," said Mrs. Ellison, seeing the rainy cloud in Kitty's eyes. "Go just as you are, and don't mind me." And so Kitty went, gathering courage at every pace, and sitting down opposite Mr. Arbuton with a vivid color to be sure, but otherwise lion-bold. He had been upbraiding the stars that had thrust him further and further at every step into the intimacy of these people, as he called them to himself. It was just twenty-four hours, he reflected, since he had met them, and resolved to have nothing to do with them, and in that time the young lady had brought him under the necessity of apologizing for a blunder of her own; he had played the eavesdropper to her talk; he had sentimentalized the midnight hour with her; they had all taken a morning ride together; and he had ended by having Mrs. Ellison sprain her ankle and faint in his arms. It was outrageous; and what made it worse was that decency obliged him to take henceforth a regretful, deprecatory attitude towards Mrs. Ellison, whom he liked least among these people. So he sat vindictively eating an enormous breakfast, in a sort of angry abstraction, from which Kitty's coming roused him to say that he hoped Mrs. Ellison was better.
"O, very much! It's just a sprain."
"A sprain may be a very annoying thing," said Mr. Arbuton dismally. "Miss Ellison," he cried, "I've been nothing but an affliction to your party since I came on board this boat!"
"Do you think evil genius of our party would be too harsh a term?" suggested Kitty.
"Not in the least; it would be a mere euphemism,—base flattery, in fact. Call me something worse."
"I can't think of anything. I must leave you to your own conscience. It was a pity to end our ride in that way; it would have been such a pleasant ride!" And Kitty took heart from his apparent mood to speak of some facts of the morning that had moved her fancy. "What a strange little nest it is up here among these half-thawed hills! and imagine the winter, the fifteen or twenty months of it, they must have every year. I could almost have shed tears over that patch of corn that had escaped the early August frosts. I suppose this is a sort of Indian summer that we are enjoying now, and that the cold weather will set in after a week or two. My cousin and I thought that Tadoussac was somewhat retired and composed last night, but I'm sure that I shall see it in its true light, as a metropolis, going back. I'm afraid that the turmoil and bustle of Eriecreek, when I get home—"
"Eriecreek?—when you got home?—I thought you lived at Milwaukee."
"O no! It's my cousins who live at Milwaukee. I live at Eriecreek, New York State."
"Oh!" Mr. Arbuton looked blank and not altogether pleased. Milwaukee was bad enough, though he understood that it was largely peopled from New England, and had a great German element, which might account for the fact that these people were not quite barbaric. But this Eriecreek, New York State! "I don't think I've heard of it," he said.
"It's a small place," observed Kitty, "and I believe it isn't noted for anything in particular; it's not even on any railroad. It's in the north-west part of the State."
"Isn't it in the oil-regions?" groped Mr. Arbuton.
"Why, the oil-regions are rather migratory, you know. It used to be in the oil-regions; but the oil was pumped out, and then the oil-regions gracefully withdrew and left the cheese-regions and grape-regions to come back and take possession of the old derricks and the rusty boilers. You might suppose from the appearance of the meadows, that all the boilers that ever blew up had come down in the neighborhood of Eriecreek. And every field has its derrick standing just as the last dollar or the last drop of oil left it."
Mr. Arbuton brought his fancy to bear upon Eriecreek, and wholly failed to conceive of it. He did not like the notion of its being thrust within the range of his knowledge; and he resented its being the home of Miss Ellison, whom he was beginning to accept as a not quite comprehensible yet certainly agreeable fact, though he still had a disposition to cast her off as something incredible. He asked no further about Eriecreek, and presently she rose and went to join her relatives, and he went to smoke his cigar, and to ponder upon the problem presented to him in this young girl from whose locality and conjecturable experiences he was at loss how to infer her as he found her here.
She had a certain self-reliance mingling with an innocent trust of others which Mrs. Isabel March had described to her husband as a charm potent to make everybody sympathetic and good-natured, but which it would not be easy to account for to Mr. Arbuton. In part it was a natural gift, and partly it came from mere ignorance of the world; it was the unsnubbed fearlessness of a heart which did not suspect a sense of social difference in others, or imagine itself misprized for anything but a fault. For such a false conception of her relations to polite society, Kitty's Uncle Jack was chiefly to blame. In the fierce democracy of his revolt from his Virginian traditions he had taught his family that a belief in any save intellectual and moral distinctions was a mean and cruel superstition; he had contrived to fix this idea so deeply in the education of his children, that it gave a coloring to their lives, and Kitty, when her turn came, had the effect of it in the character of those about her. In fact she accepted his extreme theories of equality to a degree that delighted her uncle, who, having held them many years, was growing perhaps a little languid in their tenure and was glad to have his grasp strengthened by her faith. Socially as well as politically Eriecreek was almost a perfect democracy, and there was little in Kitty's circumstances to contradict the doctor's teachings. The brief visits which she had made to Buffalo and Erie, and, since the colonel's marriage, to Milwaukee, had not sufficed to undeceive her; she had never suffered slight save from the ignorant and uncouth; she innocently expected that in people of culture she should always find community of feeling and ideas; and she had met Mr. Arbuton all the more trustfully because as a Bostonian he must be cultivated.
In the secluded life which she led perforce at Eriecreek there was an abundance of leisure, which she bestowed upon books at an age when most girls are sent to school. The doctor had a good taste of an old-fashioned kind in literature, and he had a library pretty well stocked with the elderly English authors, poets and essayists and novelists, and here and there an historian, and these Kitty read childlike, liking them at the time in a certain way, and storing up in her mind things that she did not understand for the present, but whose beauty and value dawned upon her from time to time, as she grew older. But of far more use and pleasure to her than these now somewhat mouldy classics were the more modern books of her cousin Charles,—that pride and hope of his father's heart, who had died the year before she came to Eriecreek. He was named after her own father, and it was as if her Uncle Jack found both his son and his brother in her again. When her taste for reading began to show itself in force, the old man one day unlocked a certain bookcase in a little upper room, and gave her the key, saying, with a broken pride and that queer Virginian pomp which still clung to him, "This was my son's, who would one day have been a great writer; now it is yours." After that the doctor would pick up the books out of this collection which Kitty was reading and had left lying about the rooms, and look into them a little way. Sometimes he fell asleep over them; sometimes when he opened on a page pencilled with marginal notes, he would put the volume gently down and go very quickly out of the room.
"Kitty, I reckon you'd better not leave poor Charley's books around where Uncle Jack can get at them," one of the girls, Virginia or Rachel, would say; "I don't believe he cares much for those writers, and the sight of the books just tries him." So Kitty kept the books, and herself for the most part with them, in the upper chamber which had been Charles Ellison's room, and where, amongst the witnesses of the dead boy's ambitious dreams, she grew dreamer herself and seemed to inherit with his earthly place his own fine and gentle spirit.
The doctor, as his daughter suggested, did not care much for the modern authors in whom his son had delighted. Like many another simple and pure-hearted man, he thought that since Pope there had been no great poet but Byron, and he could make nothing out of Tennyson and Browning, or the other contemporary English poets. Amongst the Americans he had a great respect for Whittier, but he preferred Lowell to the rest because he had written The Biglow Papers, and he never would allow that the last series was half so good as the first. These and the other principal poets of our nation and language Kitty inherited from her cousin, as well as a full stock of the contemporary novelists and romancers, whom she liked better than the poets on the whole. She had also the advantage of the magazines and reviews which used to come to him, and the house over-flowed with newspapers of every kind, from the Eriecreek Courier to the New York Tribune. What with the coming and going of the eccentric visitors, and this continual reading, and her rides about the country with her Uncle Jack, Kitty's education, such as it was, went on very actively and with the effect, at least, to give her a great liveliness of mind and several decided opinions. Where it might have warped her out of natural simplicity, and made her conceited, the keen and wholesome airs which breathed continually in the Ellison household came in to restore her. There was such kindness in this discipline, that she never could remember when it wounded her; it was part of the gayety of those times when she would sit down with the girls, and they took up some work together, and rattled on in a free, wild, racy talk, with an edge of satire for whoever came near, a fantastic excess in its drollery, and just a touch of native melancholy tingeing it. The last queer guest, some neighborhood gossip, some youthful folly or pretentiousness of Kitty's, some trait of their own, some absurdity of the boys if they happened to be at home, and came lounging in, were the themes out of which they contrived such jollity as never was, save when in Uncle Jack's presence they fell upon some characteristic action or theory of his and turned it into endless ridicule.
But of such people, of such life, Mr. Arbuton could have made nothing if he had known them. In many things he was an excellent person, and greatly to be respected for certain qualities. He was very sincere; his mind had a singular purity and rectitude; he was a scrupulously just person so far as he knew. He had traits that would have fitted him very well for the career he had once contemplated, and he had even made some preliminary studies for the ministry. But the very generosity of his creed perplexed him, his mislikers said; contending that he could never have got on with the mob of the redeemed. "Arbuton," said a fat young fellow, the supposed wit of the class, "thinks there are persons of low extraction in heaven; but he doesn't like the idea." And Mr. Arbuton did not like the speaker very well, either, nor any of his poorer fellow-students, whose gloveless and unfashionable poverty, and meagre board and lodgings, and general hungry dependence upon pious bequests and neighborhood kindnesses, offended his instincts. "So he's given it up, has he?" moralized the same wit, upon his retirement. "If Arbuton could have been a divinely commissioned apostle to the best society, and been obliged to save none but well-connected, old-established, and cultivated souls, he might have gone into the ministry." This was a coarse construction of the truth, but it was not altogether a perversion. It was long ago that he had abandoned the thought of the ministry, and he had since travelled, and read law, and become a man of society and of clubs; but he still kept the traits that had seemed to make his vocation clear. On the other hand he kept the prejudices that were imagined to have disqualified him. He was an exclusive by training and by instinct. He gave ordinary humanity credit for a certain measure of sensibility, and it is possible that if he had known more kinds of men, he would have recognized merits and excellences which did not now exist for him; but I do not think he would have liked them. His doubt of these Western people was the most natural, if not the most justifiable thing in the world, and for Kitty, if he could have known all about her, I do not see how he could have believed in her at all. As it was, he went in search of her party, when he had smoked his cigar, and found them on the forward promenade. She had left him in quite a lenient mood, although, as she perceived with amusement, he had done nothing to merit it, except give her cousin a sprained ankle. At the moment of his reappearance, Mrs. Ellison had been telling Kitty that she thought it was beginning to swell a little, and so it could not be anything internal; and Kitty had understood that she meant her ankle as well as if she had said so, and had sorrowed and rejoiced over her, and the colonel had been inculpated for the whole affair. This made Mr. Arbuton's excuses rather needless, though they were most graciously received.
ON THE WAY BACK TO QUEBEC.
By this time the boat was moving down the river, and every one was alive to the scenery. The procession of the pine-clad, rounded heights on either shore began shortly after Ha-Ha Bay had disappeared behind a curve, and it hardly ceased, save at one point, before the boat re-entered the St. Lawrence. The shores of the stream are almost uninhabited. The hills rise from the water's edge, and if ever a narrow vale divides them, it is but to open drearier solitudes to the eye. In such a valley would stand a saw-mill, and huddled about it a few poor huts, while a friendless road, scarce discernible from the boat, wound up from the river through the valley, and led to wildernesses all the forlorner for the devastation of their forests. Now and then an island, rugged as the shores, broke the long reaches of the grim river with its massive rock and dark evergreen, and seemed in the distance to forbid escape from those dreary waters, over which no bird flew, and in which it was incredible any fish swam.
Mrs. Ellison, with her foot comfortably and not ungracefully supported on a stool, was in so little pain as to be looking from time to time at one of the guide-books which the colonel had lavished upon his party, and which she was disposed to hold to very strict account for any excesses of description.
"It says here that the water of the Saguenay is as black as ink. Do you think it is, Richard?"
"It looks so."
"Well, but if you took some up in your hand?"
"Perhaps it wouldn't be as black as the best Maynard and Noyes, but it would be black enough for all practical purposes."
"Maybe," suggested Kitty, "the guide-book means the kind that is light blue at first, but 'becomes a deep black on exposure to the air,' as the label says."
"What do you think, Mr. Arbuton?" asked Mrs. Ellison with unabated anxiety.
"Well, really, I don't know," said Mr. Arbuton, who thought it a very trivial kind of talk, "I can't say, indeed. I haven't taken any of it up in my hand."
"That's true," said Mrs. Ellison gravely, with an accent of reproval for the others who had not thought of so simple a solution of the problem, "very true."
The colonel looked into her face with an air of well-feigned alarm. "You don't think the sprain has gone to your head, Fanny?" he asked, and walked away, leaving Mr. Arbuton to the ladies. Mrs. Ellison did not care for this or any other gibe, if she but served her own purposes; and now, having made everybody laugh and given the conversation a lively turn, she was as perfectly content as if she had not been herself an offering to the cause of cheerfulness. She was, indeed, equal to any sacrifice in the enterprise she had undertaken, and would not only have given Kitty all her worldly goods, but would have quite effaced herself to further her own designs upon Mr. Arbuton. She turned again to her guide-book, and left the young people to continue the talk in unbroken gayety. They at once became serious, as most people do after a hearty laugh, which, if you think, seems always to have something strange and sad in it. But besides, Kitty was oppressed by the coldness that seemed perpetually to hover in Mr. Arbuton's atmosphere, while she was interested by his fastidious good looks and his blameless manners and his air of a world different from any she had hitherto known. He was one of those men whose perfection makes you feel guilty of misdemeanor whenever they meet you, and whose greeting turns your honest good-day coarse and common; even Kitty's fearless ignorance and more than Western disregard of dignities were not proof against him. She had found it easy to talk with Mrs. March as she did with her cousin at home: she liked to be frank and gay in her parley, to jest and to laugh and to make harmless fun, and to sentimentalize in a half-earnest way; she liked to be with Mr. Arbuton, but now she did not see how she could take her natural tone with him. She wondered at her daring lightness at the breakfast-table; she waited for him to say something, and he said, with a glance at the gray heaven that always overhangs the Saguenay, that it was beginning to rain, and unfurled the slender silk umbrella which harmonized so perfectly with the London effect of his dress, and held it over her. Mrs. Ellison sat within the shelter of the projecting roof, and diligently perused her book with her eyes, and listened to their talk.
"The great drawback to this sort of thing in America," continued Mr. Arbuton, "is that there is no human interest about the scenery, fine as it is."
"Why, I don't know," said Kitty, "there was that little settlement round the saw-mill. Can't you imagine any human interest in the lives of the people there? It seems to me that one might make almost anything out of them. Suppose, for example, that the owner of that mill was a disappointed man who had come here to bury the wreck of his life in—sawdust?"
"O, yes! That sort of thing; certainly. But I didn't mean that, I meant something historical. There is no past, no atmosphere, no traditions, you know."
"O, but the Saguenay has a tradition," said Kitty. "You know that a party of the first explorers left their comrades at Tadoussac, and came up the Saguenay three hundred years ago, and never were seen or heard of again. I think it's so in keeping with the looks of the river. The Saguenay would never tell a secret."
"Um!" uttered Mr. Arbuton, as if he were not quite sure that it was the Saguenay's place to have a legend of this sort, and disposed to snub the legend because the Saguenay had it. After a little silence, he began to speak of famous rivers abroad.