Copyright, 1885, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
ON THIS SIDE.
Among the inhabitants of the United States there are none that stand so firmly on the national legs as the Virginians,—though it would be more correct to contract this statement somewhat, substituting "State" for "national," since it has never been the habit of Virginians to make themselves more than very incidentally responsible for thirty-eight States and ten Territories occupied by persons of mixed race, numerous religions, objectionable politics, and no safe views about so much as the proper way to make mint-juleps. When Sir Robert presented himself one day at the door of a fine old house belonging to the golden age of ante-bellum prosperity in Caroline County, he was received by two of the most English Englishmen to be found on this planet, in the persons of Mr. Edmund and Mr. Gregory Aglonby, brothers, bachelors, and joint-heirs of the property he had come to look at. These gentlemen received him with a dignity and antique courtesy irresistibly suggestive of bag-wigs, short swords, and aristocratic institutions generally, a courtesy largely mingled with restrained severity and unspoken suspicion until his identity had been fully established by the letters of introduction he had brought, his position defined, and his mission in Caroline clearly set forth. An Englishman out of England was a fact to be accounted for, not imprudently accepted without due inquiry; but, this done, the law and traditions of hospitality began to alleviate the situation and temper justice with mercy. The lady of the house was sent for, and proved to be a wonderfully pretty old lady, who might have just got out of a sedan-chair, whose manner was even finer and statelier than that of her brothers (diminutive as she was in point of mere inches), and who executed a tremendous courtesy when Sir Robert was presented. "An English gentleman travelling in this country for pleasure, and desirous of seeing 'Heart's Content,' Anne Buller," explained the elder brother. Miss Aglonby's face, which had worn a look of mild interest during the first part of this speech, clouded perceptibly at its close. She murmured some mechanical speech of welcome in an almost inaudible voice, and sat down in a rigid and uncompromising fashion, while her heart contracted painfully. A gentleman to look at the place: there had been several such in the last year, who had come, and seen, and objected to the price, and ridden away again; but perhaps this one might not ride away, and the uneasy thought tormented her throughout the conversation that followed. The brothers, meanwhile, had quite accepted Sir Robert, and had insisted, with a calm, authoritative air, on sending for his "travelling impedimenta," which had been deposited at the hotel in a neighboring town, and had expressed a lofty hope that he would do them the honor to consider himself their guest.
"The res angusta domi will not permit us to entertain you in a manner befitting your rank and in consonance with our wishes," said Mr. Edmund Aglonby, in his representative capacity as head of the family, "but, that consideration waived, I need not say that we shall esteem it an honor and a pleasure to have you domesticated beneath this roof as long as you find any satisfaction in remaining."
"It was not my idea, certainly, to intrude upon you here, but rather to treat with your solicitor in this matter; but if you find it more agreeable to set him aside, which between gentlemen is usually altogether more satisfactory, and will, in addition, allow me to become your guest for a few days, I can only say that I shall be delighted to accept your kind hospitality," replied Sir Robert.
"Brother Gregory, will you see that our guest's effects are at once transferred to his room here?" said Mr. Aglonby, half turning in his chair and giving a graceful wave with one of his long, shapely hands toward the door, after which he bowed with dignified grace to Sir Robert, and said, "Your decision gives us great satisfaction, sir." Mr. Gregory Aglonby confirmed this statement in Johnsonian periods before he left, and tiny Miss Aglonby expressed herself as became a lady who had been receiving guests in that very room for fifty years with stiff but genuine courtesy. The atmosphere was so familiar to Sir Robert that he could scarcely believe himself to be in an American household. Could this be the American type of his dreams? Was there ever a country in which the scenes shifted so completely with a few hours or days of travel? "If this goes on, America will mean everything, anything, to me," he thought. "When I hear of a Frenchman, or German, or Italian, I have some idea of what I shall find; but it is not so here at all. This Mr. Aglonby is quite evidently a gentleman, and a high-bred one; but so was Porter in Boston, and Colonel De Witt, and those Baltimore fellows; yet how different they all are! These men remind me more of my grandfather and my great-uncles than any Englishman of the present day. Perhaps they are English. I'll ask. Who would ever suppose them to be countrymen of Ketchum's?"
After dinner,—and you may be sure the dinner was a good one, for Miss Aglonby was one of a generation of women whose knowledge of housewifely arts was such that, shut up in a lighthouse or wrecked on a desert island, they would have made shift to get a nice meal somehow, even if they could not have served it, as she did, off old china and graced it with old silver,—after dinner, then, a long and pleasant evening set in, with no thought or talk of business-matters. Sir Robert was charmed with his new acquaintances, and not less by the matter than by the manner of their conversation. Did they talk of travels, Mr. Aglonby "liked to read books of adventure," but had never been out of the State of Virginia, and had no wish to go anywhere. He deplored his fate in being compelled at his age to leave it permanently and take up his residence in Florida, where his physician was sending him. He talked of "Mr. Pope" and "Mr. Addison," quoted Milton and the Latin classics, and had chanced upon "a modern work lately, by a writer named Thackeray," "Henry Esmond," which had pleased him extremely. On hearing this, Sir Robert took occasion to ask him whether he liked any of the writings of this and that New-England author of the day, about whom he had been hearing a great deal since his arrival in the country, and Mr. Aglonby replied, with perfect truth, that he had "never heard of them," though he added that Irving and Cooper, the latest additions to his library, were, in his opinion, "writers of merit." In politics Mr. Aglonby declared himself the champion of a defunct party,—the "old-line Whigs,"—and explained "the levelling, agrarian tendencies of Tom Jefferson" and the result of his policy, which had been "to eliminate the gentleman from politics." Mr. Gregory Aglonby spoke with regretful emotion of that period of the history of Virginia in which her local magistrates had managed county affairs in such a way as to secure her "safety, honor, and welfare," when universal suffrage had not "cursed the country with ignorance and incompetence, legally established at present, indeed, but sure to be supplemented by a property or educational test eventually." In religion they were what "the Aglonbys had always been,—attached adherents of the Episcopal Church in this country, as of the Establishment in England." Quite early in the evening Sir Robert had propounded his question as to their nationality. "Are you an American?" he had asked the elder of the two gentlemen, and both had replied, "We are Virginians," in accents that were eloquent of love and pride.
"Upon my word, if I were asked what your nationality was, I should say that you were English," remarked Sir Robert, feeling that he was making what they must see was a handsome concession. But he was not talking to a Sam Bates now. Mr. Edmund Aglonby regarded him with a reserved air, as if he had said something rather flippant.
Mr. Gregory said gravely, "You doubtless mean it kindly, but we would prefer to be thought what we are,—Virginians. Not that we are ashamed of our parent stock, but Anne Buller here is the seventh of the name born in this country, and it is only natural that we should be completely identified with it. Unworthy as we are to represent it, we are Virginians." That anybody could be more than a Virginian had never crossed Mr. Aglonby's mind; but it should be said, in defence of what many regard as an exaggerated State pride, that to such, men to be less than a Virginian (that is, an embodiment of the virtues represented to them by the title) is equally impossible.
Whist was now proposed, and played by the light of two candles in old-fashioned candlesticks, that towered high enough to allow mild yellow rays to illuminate a vast expanse of bald head belonging to Mr. Gregory, and made the dark sheen of the polished mahogany table dimly visible beneath. An oil-lamp on the high mantel-shelf enabled Sir Robert to get a ghostly impression of the large, bare room in which they were sitting,—the high ceilings, the black-looking floors fading away into grewsome corners, the spindle-legged furniture that had no idea of accommodating itself to a lolling, mannerless generation, and loomed up in some occasional piece in a threatening sort of way,—solid, massive, dignified furniture, conscious of its obligations to society and ready to fulfil them to the very end, however little a frivolous and degenerate world might be worthy of such accessories. More than once in the pauses of the game Sir Robert's eyes wandered to the pictures, of which there were a number, all portraits, two being half discernible,—a young matron in ruby velvet and pearls, with hair dressed in a pyramid, a coach-and-six in court-plaster stuck on a snowy forehead, and eyes that would have laughed anybody into a good humor; and, opposite, a gentleman of the pursiest, puffiest, most prosperous description, the husband of the young matron, and so evidently high-tempered, dull, and obstinate, that he must have brought many a tear into the laughing eyes.
"A handsome woman, that," he said, after one of these moments of inattention, "and a good picture."
"It is an ancestress of ours on the distaff side,—Lady Philippa Vane,—and is accounted a Lely.—Brother Gregory, if you will have the kindness to cut the cards we can proceed with our game.—The other is her husband and cousin, a man of rank and large property but incurably vicious propensities, to whom we are rather fond of attributing certain follies and weaknesses in his descendants, and who we could wish had laid to heart the maxim, 'Nobilitatis virtus non stemma character.' They were of the Vanes of Huddlesford," said Mr. Aglonby.
"Ah," said Sir Robert, "you suppose yourself to have some connection with the Huddlesford Vanes?"
Mr. Aglonby's white tufted brows arched themselves in surprise above his dark eyes at the question, and there was a little more dignified reserve than before in his voice and manner as he said, "Descent and alliance are not matters of supposition in Virginia, but of record.—Anne Buller, I beg your forgiveness for having inadvertently revoked. My memory is really growing too treacherous to permit of my long enjoying this diversion, however great the horrors of an old age without cards may be."
The deferential courtesy paid to Miss Aglonby by her brothers was the most remarkable feature of the game to Sir Robert, and, when it was over, the first thought of both was to place a chair for her in the corner she generally occupied. They were not in haste,—it was impossible to associate the idea of hurry or flurry with either of them,—but somehow there was a little collision between them in doing this, followed by formal bows and elaborate mutual apologies, which were broken in upon by Miss Aglonby's low voice, saying, "Brother Edmund, I feared that you had slipped again.—He sustained a grave injury in that way last winter" (this to Sir Robert), "and I am always afraid that the disastrous experience may be repeated.—Brother Gregory, I thank you. I am entirely comfortable, and I beg that you will be seated now. Perhaps our guest will do us the favor to resume the very instructive and entertaining discourse with which he was beguiling us earlier in the evening."
Thus adjured, Sir Robert proceeded to instruct and entertain, with such success that all three of his companions were charmed, though they gave no frivolous evidences of it, such as laughing heartily, interrupting him to interject phrases or opinions into the "discourse," or replying in an animated strain. They listened with intelligent seriousness to what he had to say, weighed it apparently, replied to it with gravity, responded to some jest with a smile; but, although they were not people to approve of crackling thorns under a pot, or any form of folly, they were, in their way, appreciative of the culture, humor, and insight he showed. Mr. Aglonby begged to be favored with his "observations" on America, and added that "the dispassionate reflections of an intelligent foreigner should be esteemed of the utmost value by all judicious patriots and enlightened political economists, calling attention, as they often did, to evils and dangers whose existence had not been previously suspected." Mr. Gregory Aglonby wished to hear more of his travels among "that God-forsaken people the French." Miss Aglonby was eager to know more of the England of "Bracebridge Hall."
When bedtime came at last ("the proper season for repose," dear old Anne Buller called it, when she rose to "retire"), another courtesy was executed in front of Sir Robert by the chatelaine of "Heart's Content," who said, "How truly it has been remarked that we owe some of our keenest pleasures in life to strangers! You must permit me to thank you again for your improving and pleasing conversation, which I shall often recall, and always with lively satisfaction. May your slumbers be refreshing and your awakening devoid of all pain! I wish you a very good night, sir." With this Miss Aglonby took up one of the top-heavy candlesticks, and glided, like the shade she was and ghost of a past period, up the stairs.
While Mr. Gregory was looking to bolts and bars, Sir Robert strayed about the room with his hands behind him, looking at the pictures, followed by Mr. Aglonby, who made no extensive comment on them, but gave a word of explanation occasionally when his guest halted longer than usual before a canvas, such as, "The First Edmund, who came here in 1654;" "Edmund the Second;" "Edmund the Third, in his Oxford cap and gown;" "Gregory Aglonby, a colonel in the Revolutionary forces;" "Red-haired Edmund, as we call him, because the others are all dark;" "Colonel Everard Buller Aglonby, who represented this county in the House of Burgesses for thirty years, and his wife, who was a Calvert,—a great-aunt, a woman of extraordinary piety, who reduced herself from a condition of affluence to comparative poverty by the manumission of her three hundred slaves."
When he had shaken hands with his host at the door of his bedroom (which was emphatically the room of a bed, a huge, be-stepped, pillared, testered contrivance that waited at one end of the large apartment to murder sleep), Sir Robert fell to winding his watch with what looked like interest, but all his thoughts were with the Aglonbys.
"English gentlefolks of the eighteenth century preserved in Virginian amber. What a curious survival! 'Gentlemen of a period of manners, morals.' Remarkably interesting! Delightful types of a society as extinct as the dodo," he was saying to himself. "There is but one mould for the gentleman; but nature changes its shape with every century, I suppose,—though I sometimes think she has gone out of the business altogether in utter disgust. We have got a lot of plutocrats that are tailors' blocks, and nobles that talk like stable-boys and act like blackguards, and both fancy themselves gentlemen; but when I contrast them with the men of my father's day even—And this dainty, charming old bit of Chelsea-ware, Anne Buller! Her brothers treat her as though she were a reigning princess. I wonder what she would say if she could see, as I did the other day, a group of Nuneham girls calling each other by their last names and smoking cigarettes with a half-dozen Cambridge men, who chaffed them and treated them exactly as though they were so many boys in petticoats. Well, well, the world moves, I know, and I am an old fogy; but I shall not make myself hoarse shouting 'Huzza' until I find out whether we are going to the devil or not. I hope I am not getting as cynical as old Caradoc, who declares that he can always tell a countess from an actress nowadays by the superior modesty and refinement of—the actress."
In the next few days Sir Robert carefully inspected the rambling, substantial old house, which, to Miss Aglonby's chagrin, he pronounced "quite modern;" though he smiled when she informed him that "Heart's Content" had been "refurnished quite recently,—in '48." He also went over the land, only about four hundred acres, put the most searching questions as to its practical value and uses, filled a tin box with the earth, meaning to have it analyzed by "a respectable chemist," and went into details generally with much energy. Nor had he anything to complain of in the way of unfair dealing in Mr. Gregory Aglonby, who accompanied him and gave him the fullest and frankest particulars about the property, which he pointed out was going to rack and ruin, or rather had gone there. Every broken gate and stony field was dear to his heart, and it was a melancholy pilgrimage to him; but had not Mr. Aglonby said to him that morning, "Brother Gregory, the place must go,—there is no help for it,—and this gentleman seems likely to become a purchaser. Will you see that the disadvantages of the property are set before him clearly, especially such as a stranger would certainly overlook? I cannot entertain a proposition of any kind looking to its ultimate purchase until I know that this has been done, anxious as I am to have this matter definitely concluded. I had thought to die here. But it has been otherwise ordered by an overruling and all-wise Providence."
It did not escape Sir Robert that he was not likely to be overreached in his bargain, however much he might repent of it; and when Mr. Gregory pointed across the road and said, "The 'Little England' farm lies over there, but produces less and less every year. The land is exhausted," Sir Robert thought, "The fellow is either quixotic or doesn't wish to sell. I rather think the first: there has certainly been no shuffling and pretending." Aloud he said, "The soil can't be exhausted. It is virgin still compared to that of England, and all that it needs is careful cultivation. It seems to me that what Virginia needs is immigration."
Mr. Gregory looked displeased. It was as though Sir Robert had criticised Anne Buller's dress. "On the contrary, we wish to keep Virginia for Virginians," he said slowly. "We have no desire to see it overrun by a horde of Irish and Dutch, and heaven knows what besides. The proper place for that kind of people is the West and Northwest. If we could get the right class of English emigrants, that would be another matter. But it is scarcely likely that they will come here in any considerable number, now that the poor old commonwealth offers so little remunerative return to the most honorable enterprise."
When Sir Robert had quite made up his mind that he would like to possess the place, he telegraphed imperatively for Mr. Heathcote, who joined him most reluctantly. Together they walked all over the county, saw a great many people, and, having bought two hundred acres that marched with, and, indeed, had formerly been a part of, the Aglonby estate, Sir Robert made a liberal offer for Heart's Content, expressed his thanks for the kind and honorable treatment he had received there, and, his terms being accepted, paid the purchase-money, and begged that the family would suit their own convenience entirely in giving it up. This settled, he went his way to the Natural Bridge, which he considered should rank second only to Niagara in this country in point of interest, and then went on to Lexington, to visit General Lee's tomb, and from there to see Stonewall Jackson's grave, which, to his intense astonishment and indignation, he found half covered with visiting-cards,—the exquisite tribute of the sentimental tourist to the stern soldier. He could do nothing until he had cleared the last bit of pasteboard (with "Miss Mollie Bangs, Jonesville," printed on it) away from the mound. This he did energetically with his umbrella, after which he sat down quietly to think of his favorite hero, who seemed to be "resting under the shade of the trees over the river" rather than there, and fell to repeating "Stonewall Jackson's Way,"—a very favorite lyric, which he knew by heart. "'Appealing from his native sod In forma pauperis to God,' ought to be his epitaph. I think he would like that," he said. "I am glad England can claim such a son, however indirectly. Fancy 'Miss Mollie Bangs' leaving a card—and such a card—on old Blue-Light! A decent one might do for Beau Brummel's grave, but Jackson's—!"
Mr. Heathcote was with him, and, after one careless glance, had strolled up and down, absorbed in his own thoughts, which were not of war or death. He only half listened to his uncle's praise of the great soldier, and presently said, a propos of nothing that had happened that day, "Uncle, what would you say if I should ask you to let me live at 'Heart's Content'?"
"Eh? What's that?" asked Sir Robert, forgetting in his surprise to blow out the lighted match he had just applied to the offending cards. "You live in America? What idea have you got in your head, my boy?"
Mr. Heathcote could not tell his uncle that Edith had said that she would never marry an Englishman, never! but that if she ever did, she should insist upon his living in America, for to go away from mamma and papa and the boys and everybody she cared for was a thing she could not and would not do, not if she adored the man that demanded such a sacrifice of her. What he did say was that he was tired of his aimless life in London, and liked his uncle too well to look forward with any pleasure to succeeding him, and that he should like to have a small property to manage without aid of bailiff, steward, agent, or factotum of any kind. "I could go over whenever I liked, or you needed me, and you could come to me to see that I wasn't making ducks and drakes of the property," he said. "And it is an experiment, I grant; but you have always been awfully generous and kind to me, and I have something laid by that would cover the possible losses my inexperience might cause, for the first year at least. I am sure I can learn the trade, and am willing to pay for my apprenticeship, if you will only let me try my hand at farming."
"The boy is thinking of marrying," was Sir Robert's mental comment; but he only said that he had bought the place with a very different idea, but that he would think the matter over.
"You must remember that it will not be child's play," he said. "And if you should grow attached to it and wish to stay, you will be practically giving up your own country, you know. But America is hardly a foreign country. It is the representative institutions, moral ideas, social atmosphere, and mental habits that make a people, not the mere physical features of the country, and in character the Americans are, as Mr. Aglonby would say, 'Englishmen once removed'—across the Atlantic. You might be quite happy and content among them. Just so."
"Oh, yes, I am sure I shall. You are quite in the right in what you say of them," Mr. Heathcote eagerly replied.
And Sir Robert, who had purposely laid this trap for him, thought to himself, "The boy is certainly in love. I must find out all about it, unless he has the grace to tell me himself."
Much as she liked Niagara, Miss Noel was not sorry, after long delay, to get a letter from Sir Robert, asking her to join him in Chicago, and telling her of a delightful visit he had made to Richmond, where he had been received "with particular kindness" and had met a great number of agreeable people, most of them Virginians of the modern type and scarcely so interesting, in a way, as the Aglonby family, who, as he saw from other individuals, were survivals of a generation rapidly disappearing, to be found only occasionally here and there now,—"a class of aristocrats long a curious anomaly in a republican state, hardly to be matched in Europe to-day outside of Austria, and never to be reproduced."
It did not take Parsons long to do the necessary packing; but Miss Noel consumed a whole day in putting up her carefully-labelled "specimens of the flora of New York;" and Ethel had to settle with Mr. Bates, who would doubtless rather have been rejected by an English-woman than accepted by any American, and was not denied that luxury.
From Chicago the reunited forces went off almost immediately to Salt Lake City, having only three days to give to a little hurried sight-seeing in the "marvellous Sphinx city," as they called it in their letters home.
At Salt Lake Mrs. Sykes was awaiting their arrival, and betrayed a radiant satisfaction at the first glance.
"You can't think how busy I have been and what a lot I have accomplished," she related exultantly. "I have found a whole village of Thompsons with a p, and went and boarded there, and have got up a book that Bentley will give me a hundred pounds for. And I have done a lot of sketches to illustrate it, and, so far from being out of pocket, shall have made by my American tour. It has been the greatest fun imaginable, poking about in their houses and dishing them up afterward. And, only fency, I've got a lock of Brigham Young's hair, well authenticated. I palmed myself off on a person that I met as being a very great admirer of his, and she gave me it. When I get home I'm going to have a ring made of it, like the one Lady Bottsford has got made of King John of Abyssinia's wool, which has been so talked of. People have taken to noticing my rings very much ever since I had that tooth of darling Bobo's polished and mounted in brilliants; and this will be unique,—there will not be another like it in all England. I told the person of whom I got it what I meant to do with it, and she said that I must revere him deeply; and, do you know, I quite forgot my part that I was playing, and said that I didn't care a fig for the old sinner, but that it was a great curiosity. And she was so engry, quite fiawrious, and wanted it back; but of course she didn't get it. When do we leave this?"
They left as soon as Sir Robert had satisfied himself on certain points, and Miss Noel bad been sufficiently shocked by a service in the Tabernacle, and Mr. Heathcote had indulged in a bath in the lake, which he persisted in taking, and in the course of which he went through any number of antics in addition to his usual feats, in themselves remarkable, for he was a vigorous and powerful swimmer. The ex-Devonshire Elder (whom Mrs. Sykes had seen more than once slinking about the streets, she said, but who had not come near her) was pleased to be very polite to Sir Robert, or would have been if he had been allowed; but, not wishing to conduct a Salt Lake campaign a la Sykes, Sir Robert was content to see the place in his own way, got a phial of water from the lake, which Miss Noel said reminded her of Sodom and Gomorrah and was "very suited to the odious place," looked at and into such things as could be seen in a short stay, and made temperate, careful records of the same in his note-book.
The next point of interest to the party was "'Frisco and the Yosemite," toward which they pushed as fast as steam could take them, Sir Robert and Miss Noel being vividly interested in many things en route, Ethel and Mr. Heathcote pleased by a few, Mrs. Sykes grumbling ceaselessly about the length, monotony, bareness, aridity, stupidity, and general hideousness of the journey. The only thing that really amused her was a quarrel that she got up with a lady who sat near her. The acquaintance promised to be friendly enough for a while, for the lady was an amiable soul,—the wife of "a dry-goods merchant in Topeka," she told Mrs. Sykes. The latter was pleased to ask her a great many questions and to patronize her quite extensively in default of other amusement, so that all went well at first. But the second stage of Mrs. Sykes's friendship was not apt to be so pleasant as the first, and accordingly she much astonished her neighbor one morning by saying to her curtly, "Why don't you speak English?"
"Why, I do. I talk it all the time, don't I?" replied the lady.
"No, you don't. Just look here. I have made a list of the things you say. They are not English at all. I don't know what you mean, often."
"Do you mean to say that you never heard anybody talk like me?" asked the lady indignantly, as she fumbled in her bag for her glasses.
"Oh, I didn't say that. I've heard some of the words among our lodging-house-keepers; but you have invented others, and your pronunciation is abominable. You should really mend it, if you can," replied Mrs. Sykes, with decision.
The list which had been so civilly put in the Topekan lady's hands was a long one, and ran as follows: "Chawcolate, pawk, hawrid, cawd, squrl, stoopid, winder, lemmy, gimmy, years (for ears), 'cute, edgercation, conchienchous," etc., etc.
The fingers that held it trembled with rage long before it was finished, for the Topekan lady had wealth and social aspiration, if not "edgercation;" and when Mrs. Sykes broke in with, "Well, what do you say to that?" she had a good deal to say, and said it very forcibly, in such English as she could command, after which she swelled in speechless anger opposite for the remainder of their journey.
"There it is again. If I say the least thing to these Americans they fly out like that," complained Mrs. Sykes to Miss Noel.
But for sheer ill humor nothing could have surpassed her conduct when they had "done" San Francisco, which she declared to be "a dull, dirty, windy place, with a harbor of which entirely too much is made,—ridiculously over-praised, in fact," and got under way for the Yosemite. The roads, the rough vehicle, the country, could not be sufficiently abused. However, when the spot was reached, she relented, as she had done at Niagara, and, looking up at the giant trees, graciously conceded that they also were "quite up to the mark."
It was a pleasant spectacle to see Sir Roberts enthusiasm. Such gazing and neck-craning and measuring and speculating! Such critical inspection of bark, leaves, soil, lichens! Such questioning of the guides! Such keen delight, wonder, remeasuring, recraning, theories, calculations, endless contemplation! The enjoyment of the others was as nothing, compared to his,—for if there was a thing that he loved it was a fine tree, and had he not some of the best timber in England, which he knew as some generals have known their soldiers and some shepherds their sheep? "Stupendous! Prodigious! Wonderful!" burst from his lips as he walked slowly around them and rode between them as in a dream, perfectly entranced. He could scarcely be dragged away, and at last was only moved by the thought that there was so much that he "must positively see" in the surrounding country which was waiting to be considered volcanically, botanically, geologically, and otherwise. It was one of his vexations that nature, art, science, history, commerce, were so long, and time and a voraciously intelligent but mortal and limited baronet so fleeting. He would have liked to spend several months on the Pacific coast, looking into a thousand things with unflagging zeal and interest. It was really afflicting to turn his back upon the early Spanish settlers, the Jesuit missions, the grape and olive production, mining interests, earthquake statistics, the Chinese problem, annual rainfall on the great plateau, study of the Sierra Nevada range, and last, most alluring of all, that of the Santa Barbara Islands, described by a companion of Drake as densely populated by a white race with light hair and ruddy cheeks. When Sir Robert thought of that people and of all the bliss of investigation, he almost decided to make a winter of it in California and solve that mystery or perish. But he had still much to accomplish, and he had fixed the day for sailing before leaving England. So back the party came to St. Louis, where they found a mountain of mail-matter from the four quarters of the globe. There were five voluminous epistles from Mrs. Vane to Miss Noel, and others from that household; a simple domestic chronicle from Mabel, describing her daily round and stating her fears and anxieties about "Boy," who was getting "sadly wilful and unruly," and, like a youthful Ajax, had lately "defied husband;" and one of Mr. Ketchum's characteristic epistles:
"I send you a letter of introduction to my friend Fry in New Orleans (to whom my double-and-twisted), since you will go there. He will put you through all right. But I warn you that you will be nobody and won't be able to hold up your head there at all. No one can after an epidemic, unless he has lost half of his relations and had the other half given up by the doctors and prepared for burial. This reminds me that Brown's scapegrace of a brother has turned up here with a handsome Mexican wife and a million, and has deodorized his reputation by giving large sums to the yellow-fever sufferers, while I am thinking of colonizing all the mothers-in-law of these United there before another season opens, unless business improves. Fairfield has a Benedicts' Club now, and I chose the motto for it, 'Here the women cease from troubling and the wicked are at rest:' so when you want a little peace and comfort you will know where to come. My wife will have nothing less than her love sent you; but I am all the same your friend, J. K."
Having seen a certificate that New Orleans was entirely free from fever, "signed by all the medical men of eminence in the city," Sir Robert was determined not to be frightened out of his visit there altogether. But it was only November, and he did not wish to run any foolish risks, and the ladies were very nervous on this score. He was still undecided what course to take, when he one day picked up a paper and read an account of the Indian Territory that interested him beyond measure. In an hour he had got out his maps and time-tables and arranged to "put in a week" at Tahlequah, the Falls of St. Anthony, and the Mammoth Cave. As none of the party cared for the first except himself, he went there alone, and felt fully repaid for the effort. Great was his joy at finding "a purely Indian legislative body" and assisting at their deliberations, his lorgnon glued now to one chief and now to another. And then to talk to them, to get their "views," to sketch them, to have a copy of their constitution and laws and a newspaper in their own tongue and characters in which an affinity to the Egyptian, Arabic, Chinese, or any other might perhaps be traced! And then how full his letters to his friends in England were of his "visit to a Choctaw gentleman's plantation,—a most deeply interesting, well-educated man;" "the first-fruits of the new civilization;" "the opinion of a Seminole person on the Indian policy of the American government;" "the beauty of a young Chickasaw female" whom he had seen at one of the schools, and "the extraordinary progress made by some of the other scholars, showing that there is absolutely no limit to the intellectual development of the once-despised savage;" "the crystal clearness of the beautiful rivers, the lovely, fertile plains, framed by the Mozark Mountains, the balmy, delightful climate, and the brutality and wicked greed of an American of the lower class," who had told him that "the country was a million times too good for redskins, who ought all to be exterminated, as 'Indians was p'ison wherever found.'" And then, while the glow of this interest still flushed his mind, he took up the Mississippi River, which was a career in itself and beckoned him on to fresh conquests. He went up to the Falls of St. Anthony, which, after Niagara and the Yosemite, was accounted "tame and overrated" by Mrs. Sykes, but over which he pondered deeply. Before he left there the river had got a strong hold on his imagination that grew ever greater and greater. He spent all his time on the boat studying it. He talked to the pilot about it,—or rather made the pilot talk, and listened with all his ears; he took up the methods now practised for preventing the banks from caving in and forcing the Great Father to lie in the bed he has made, instead of driving honest folk out of theirs by scurvy turns and bends that break up thousands of homes. He drew diagrams of the pile-driving and wattling and willow mattrasses in the diary, with the improvements he thought advisable, and some very scientific suggestions by which the river could be made to checkmate itself, like an automaton chess-player. He hung over the guards continually, observing all that was to be observed, and recorded the same under separate headings, such as "currents," "velocity," "flood-rises," with statistics without end showing that the carrying-trade of the great water highway would amount in 1950 to something so colossal that there is no room for it here, while a future for the cities that stud its banks was predicted that would satisfy their most ambitious citizens.
His heart was not in Louisville nor in the Mammoth Cave, though he went over the first religiously and examined the latter carefully, collected specimens, and even thrilled faintly over an eyeless fish, which aroused considerable enthusiasm in Mr. Heathcote. He was not really himself until he was again on the river, doing a little dredging and sounding on his own account. At Cairo he expanded almost as much as his subject, and for a long while afterward was never weary of tracing the blue and yellow currents that fuse so reluctantly and imperfectly that out in the Gulf of Mexico, it is said, one comes upon patches of the Missouri of the most jaundiced, angry hue.
The sombre majesty of the stream was quite lost upon Mrs. Sykes, who saw in it only "an ugly, wicked-looking river, with a lot of dirty-white villages along its mud banks." Her attention was given to the passengers and the clerk,—especially the latter. "A clerk that talks to the ladies in the cabin about literature and the dramar! Only fency!" she said to Miss Noel. "And such comical blackies, that the ladies call 'aunty,' and that call me 'honey' and 'child.' As like as not you'll see a snag coming up through the bottom of the boat presently, and you had better try one of the life-preservers on and see how it works; though, after all, we may be blown up instead. Of course we are racing. I am sure of it."
"Dear, dear! How very dreadful! How did you discover that? It should really be made known. I shall speak to the captain. I really can't consent to being raced with," replied Miss Noel, who did not make sufficient allowance for Mrs. Sykes's love of the sensational. "Robert must call a meeting and protest, or something."
She went to look for Sir Robert, whom she found walking about on deck. He had been reading all the afternoon, and his mind was full of La Salle, and De Soto, and poor Evangeline, so cruelly near to Gabriel and happiness once, only to drift away from both forever. So large was his grasp of any subject that the imaginative phases of a situation appealed to him as powerfully as the practical, and he was not the man to take the Mississippi without its associations, any more than he would have done the Hudson or the Sierras without Irving and Bret Harte. So now he was pacing backward and forward under the stars, thinking of these things, and in no mood for bearding the captain in his cabin; and, having calmed Miss Noel's fears, he stayed on deck until very late, enjoying his cigar and surroundings.
When they got low enough down to come upon levees and see that the river was actually higher than the land, the questions of inundation, protection, blue-clay banks, dikes, sluices, crevasses, water-gates, sediment, currents, swept in upon Sir Robert, and he was still working at them when they reached New Orleans. Fresh interests and employments now awaited him, in which he was soon absorbed, head over ears. Like olives, New Orleans has a flavor of its own, so decided that it is impossible to be indifferent to it: one must either be very fond of it or dislike it heartily. It was soon evident that Sir Robert belonged to the first class and Mrs. Sykes to the second. Its brilliant blue skies, and sunshine, and warmth, the lovely flowers, the good opera and better restaurants, the infectious gayety of the people, as light about the heart as the heels, with enough Gallic quicksilver in their veins to give them a genius for being and looking happy, and, lastly, the warmth of his reception, and a hospitality as refined as limitless, delighted this most amiable of baronets. He had brought good letters, and was admitted to that inner Creole circle which few strangers see, and in which he found among the elders, as he said to Miss Noel, "the atmosphere of the Faubourg Saint-Germain,—a dignity like that of the period to which the Aglonbys belonged, with more grace and savoir-faire. And such wonderfully pretty girls, my dear Augusta, with eyes like sloes and skins like the petals of their own magnolia-blossoms. And I observe a sort of patriarchal tribal state of affairs among them,—grandparents, children, grandchildren, all living together in great numbers and perfect amity, apparently." Among the Americans of the city Sir Robert found much to interest him, and he went to visit their "sugar-estates," took down in black and white the astounding number of oranges that one tree is capable of producing, held conversations with many gentlemen about the emancipated slaves, and with many emancipated slaves about their late masters and present condition. And then was there not cotton, the machinery employed on rice-, sugar-, and cotton-plantations to "go, into"? to say nothing of the swamp-flora, the possible introduction of olives into Louisiana, and Voodooism to trace back to the Vaudois sorcerers of the fourteenth century and connect with the serpent-worship of some parts of Italy, where he had himself seen the peasants make their yearly procession with snakes wrapped about their necks, waists, and wrists? And was there not, too, serious business to be done? How could he secure and forward to England a few things that he must have, such as a gar alligator, a pair of mocking-birds, a Floridian flamingo, a ruby humming-bird, "a Texan horned frog, with a distinctly-developed tail, crustaceous, probably antediluvian, and credibly reported to live upon air," not to mention other treasures, and collections previously made, which must be shipped before he left? All this he finally accomplished, and was so pleased by his success that not even a letter from his Kalsing "solicitor," saying that his suit against the "Eagle" had been brought to trial and he had been awarded fifty cents damages, could greatly cloud the content he felt.
Mrs. Sykes, meanwhile, was looking at everything through her own bit of yellow glass or London fog, and seeing only what her prepossessions would let her see through a medium that distorted and magnified every object. As the spittoons at the Capitol had seemed to her far bigger and more striking than the dome, so now the gutters of New Orleans made an immense impression upon her and affected her most painfully, although the Mississippi failed to impress her at all. The climate she found odious, the people spoke neither pure French nor good English, and many a fault besides she found, chiefly with what she politely termed "the Creowls," whom she was never tired of ridiculing as lazy, ignorant, effeminate, and morbidly conceited. She was not an ideal companion when they made an expedition into the lovely pastoral Teche country, the Acadia of exiled Acadians and Eden of Louisiana, but her lack of enthusiasm did not damp the ardor of Sir Robert. Miss Noel thought it a beautiful country, but added that it looked "sadly damp, and as if it might be malarious," and insisted on "dear Ethel's" taking ten grains of quinine daily during their stay and wearing a potato in her pocket,—precautionary measures adopted by herself, and known to have nipped jungle-fever in the bud repeatedly in India, so she said. It seemed to Sir Robert's heated fancy that even Ethel praised this ideal spot but tepidly, and when she had started out of a revery three times with an "I beg pardon" while he was reading "Evangeline" to her under the shade of one of those noble oaks "from whose branches garlands of Spanish moss floated," fit monuments of the sorrowful maiden of ever-green memory, he put down the book impatiently, saying, "It is only the old that are young nowadays; I am boring you,"—a speech that made her blush guiltily, since she did not care to explain where her thoughts had wandered. He was not bored. The bayous were a fascinating novelty to him, the trees and fields and glades were eloquent to him, the simple French peasants who belong to the seventeenth century and by some miracle lead its idyllic life in the nineteenth interested him, and he could see Basil, Gabriel, and Father Felicien at every step.
The next week found them on a steamer bound for Havana and New York, followed by friendly faces and good claret to the last, leaving three baskets of champagne and about a ton of flowers out of account. For an account of Havana, Matanzas, Spanish atrocities, Cuban exports, coolie slavery, and the like topics, the reader is respectfully referred to the book since published by Sir Robert,—"Eight Months in the United States, Cuba, and Canada,"—a work pronounced in critical quarters "the best book of travels in America ever published in England" (high praise, surely), though it attracted less general attention than a very spicy, entertaining volume by Mrs. Arundel Sykes, called "A Britisher among the Yankees," (to quote from another English journal) said to contain "a not very flattering picture of the life, society, and institutions of the Great Republic, which must be a true one, since it is so universally resented by the American press. People will cry out when they are hit, as every one knows."
On arriving in New York our party went at once to Mr. Brown's, that gentleman being established there for the winter and having urged them to stay with him. Their idea was to sail for home almost immediately, as soon as Sir Robert had seen his friend General Bludyer, with whom he had some business and who was bringing out his two sons to establish them in America. But an unexpected delay occurred. On the day after their arrival, Mr. Heathcote ran up to his aunt's room to bid her good-by before taking himself off to Baltimore,—he had made a full confession to Sir Robert, and received much advice and counsel, together with a qualified approval of his plans and hopes,—and he found Miss Noel still in bed, although it was mid-day and she not the least punctual and energetic of her sex. In reply to his playful reproaches she replied that she was "feeling very, very queer," and he cheerfully assured her that she "had best stop in bed a day or two and all would be well," after which he told her that he was not going back to England with the party, and, with a further remark to the effect that she "was looking awfully seedy," discovered that he was late for his train, was again pleasantly sure that she would "be all right soon," and hurried off to the station, well pleased to think that he should see Edith in a few hours. It is not always possible, however, for a woman to fulfil the optimistic predictions of her careless male relatives, and in a few hours Miss Noel was feeling really ill. "Who is your doctor, my dear?" she asked of Bijou, who had herself arranged and carried up a little tray of delicacies with which to tempt her. "How very sweet of you to trouble! Why did you not let Parsons do that? Do you know I am making myself quite wretched lest I should be sickening with something,—something serious? I must have a doctor at once. Would you kindly send for one, or, rather, tell Parsons where to go? I can't rest until I get the opinion of a medical man."
"Now, don't you worry about that," said Bijou, bestowing an embrace upon her and then perching herself on the foot of the bed. "You are not going to be ill; and if you are, why, you are with friends who will take the best sort of care of you, that's all. I'll nurse you; and popper says I am just a natural-born nurse, if there ever was one. You can see the doctor if you want to, but most likely you will be a great deal better to-morrow."
"But, my dear, suppose I should be worse? It would be too dreadful! I can't be ill in your house, you know," said Miss Noel disconsolately.
"Why, why not?" queried Bijou, in surprise.
"Why not? Can you ask why? Think of all the trouble I should be putting you to, the house upset, and the servants giving warning very likely, and all that. Oh, no! I hope and trust it is nothing; but if it should be serious I could not dream of putting you out like that," replied Miss Noel, with emphasis.
"Why, do you mean to say that anybody would care for that, or think of the trouble, with a friend lying sick in their house? I never heard of such a thing," exclaimed Bijou, expressing the liveliest emotions of astonishment and contempt in face and voice. "Of course we don't want you to get sick, for your own sake; but if you do we'll do everything in this world to make you comfortable and cure you. And the house won't be upset at all; and we don't care a snap what the servants think. You must put that perfectly ridiculous idea right out of your head, and turn over and try to go to sleep."
When the doctor came he looked grave even for a doctor, and felt it his duty to tell Miss Noel that she might have yellow fever. It was always to be had for the catching in Cuba, and her symptoms were suspicious, though he could not, of course, be positive. Here was a sensation. It was curious to see the effect this declaration had on the different members of the household. Sir Robert, after turning pale and saying "God bless my soul! you don't mean it," to the doctor, rallied from the shock as soon as he had left the house, and refused to believe anything of the kind, talked about "the art conjectural," and did all he could to impress this view on Miss Noel, who promptly gave herself up as lost, told him that she had made her will "before leaving town for the North" the year before, asked that her body might be "taken back to dear old England," if this could be done without risk to others, and begged that she might be "sent straight away to the hospital" and no one allowed to come in contact with her meanwhile. Bijou, Ethel, and Parsons stoutly refused to be hustled out of her room, declaring that they had already been exposed to the danger, if danger there was, and protested that they were ready to nurse her through anything. Mr. Brown, coming home to dinner, was horrified as by some impiety to hear it proposed that Miss Noel should go to a hospital. "Admitting, for the sake of argument," said this ever-judicial host, "that the doctor is right, what follows? Why, that Miss Noel will require great care, and, humanly speaking, will incur additional risk in leaving my house. I cannot dream of allowing it. My married daughter has taken her children to see their grandmother; there are only Bijou and myself to be considered, and neither of us has any fear of the disease, or, indeed, any great belief in the reality of the danger. I cannot think of letting a guest, and that guest a stranger here, go to a public place of the kind and commit herself to hired nurses. Oh, no! That is out of the question."
"I never heard of such a thing,—never. It would be perfectly shameful!" protested Bijou afresh. And so Sir Robert was overruled, and, much touched by this view of the matter, tried to express thanks on behalf of Miss Noel, bungled out a few short phrases, very different from his usually fluent utterances, shook Mr. Brown's hand heartily, sat down with a very red face, and then started up and dismissed the carriage, which, pending this decision, had been waiting at the door.
It chanced that Mrs. Sykes had been out for some hours that day, and had then come back and gone into the library, where she spent some time in writing to the friends who had entertained her in Central New York. She had just finished putting up the morning paper for them containing a full and carefully-marked account of the defalcation and disappearance of a bank-president in Delaware in whom she recognized the brother of her former hostess, when Ethel looked in at the door and said, "Oh, you are here," and, coming forward, gave her the dreadful news. It was well that this final mark of her gratitude and graceful interest was complete down to the very postage-stamp, for after this Mrs. Sykes had no time for delicate attentions.
"Stand off! good heavens! Don't come near me. Get away!" she shrieked, and for once every particle of color left her face. The next moment she rushed up-stairs to her room, put on her bonnet and cloak in a flash, and, without farewells of any kind, or thought of so much as her darling Bobo, left the house immediately. She went first, and that as fast as her feet could carry her, to the nearest druggist's, where she invested lavishly in disinfectants and hung innumerable camphor-bags about her person. From there she went to the nearest hotel, from which she wrote to the Browns, giving instructions about her luggage, which she said must be packed by Parsons and sent over to England, to be unpacked at Liverpool, for fear of infection, by "a person" whom she would engage. She then took the first steamer leaving New York, and when she got on board gave vent to a perfectly sincere and devout exclamation, "Thank heaven, I have done with America!" From Liverpool she wrote back a lively account of the passage, and expressed the deepest interest in "dear Miss Noel," about whom she had been "quite wretched," but who she "hoped was doing nicely by this time and would make a good recovery." She also hoped, and even more earnestly, that "dearest Bobo was not being neglected in the general hubbub, and given his biscuits without their being properly soaked first, and his chicken in great pieces, not carefully minced," and begged that every care should be taken of him, imploring that everybody would remember that "hot milk invariably made the poor dear ill." She also sent Bijou a small and particularly hideous pin-cushion, which she said had been made for the Ashantee Bazaar by the Grand Duchess of Aufstadt.
The defection of Mrs. Sykes was not greatly deplored by anybody, but it was deeply resented by Parsons, who it is to be feared was not as devoted to Bobo as his mistress expected.
"I'm not one to run away,—not if it was lions and tigers,—like some," she remarked; "but if hever I get back to the hold country I'll go down on my bended knees, if it's in the very cab at Liverpool, and thank 'eaven I'm at 'ome again; which I 'ope I may live to see it."
Happily, Miss Noel did not have yellow fever. Unhappily, she had a fever, if not the dreaded one, and was ill for several weeks,—so ill that it seemed at one time as though she had done with travelling-days. Anxious weeks these for Ethel and Sir Robert and Mr. Heathcote, trying ones for Bijou, who had at last found "a rational occupation." For it was she who, with Parsons's help, nursed Miss Noel faithfully, tenderly, efficiently, Ethel being a most willing coadjutress, but sadly out of place in a sick-room. The skill, the self-reliance, and the unselfishness that Bijou showed surprised even those who knew her best, and quite endeared her to Sir Robert.
"That girl is one in a thousand," he said to Ethel more than once; "and I was such a wiseacre that I thought her a useless, spoiled creature who would never be anything but a domestic fetich. I shall ask her pardon, when I get the chance, for having so shamefully underrated and misjudged her. Could there be a kinder family? If Augusta had been a near and dear relative they could scarcely have shown more solicitude. Every luxury, every kindness that the most thoughtful affection could have suggested has been lavished on her. Everything has been subordinated to the one object,—her recovery,—and all their ordinary pursuits, amusements, occupations, cheerfully laid aside, apparently as a mere matter of course. At least, they disclaim the idea of sacrifice; and in all that they have done there has been nothing perfunctory. If they have merely been performing what they considered a duty, I must say that they have had the grace and innate good breeding to make it appear that it was a pleasure. Just so."
Miss Noel had been down-stairs on the sofa for three days, having been officially pronounced convalescent, when who should walk in upon her but the Ketchums,—Mabel serene and smiling, and Job in a state of evident satisfaction and radiant good humor.
"Well, now, this is something like. Up and dressed, and looking first-rate for an invalid," he called out from the door, and then, advancing, took one of her thin hands with much gentleness, and said, "Getting well, ain't you? That's right. I am so glad. Creepin' through mercy, eh? as Father Root used to say."
Mabel slipped into a seat near Miss Noel, and, after some inquiries about Sir Robert, Ethel, and the Browns, told her what concern they had felt about her illness. "Husband telegraphed constantly to know how you were going on; but the replies were often most unsatisfactory; and it is so very nice to see you up again. You will soon be about, and the sea-voyage will set you up wonderfully. That puts me in mind of—Tell her, husband; show her."
Thus stimulated, Mr. Ketchum drew out an enormous pocket-book, stuffed full of papers, and attacked it rather than looked through it, drew out a handful of letters, bills, memorandums, tore up several, crushed others back into his case, walked swiftly into the hall, and came back triumphantly with his over-coat on his arm and a sheet of foolscap in his hand.
"Dear, dear, husband, you should not mess about like this," said Mabel, "littering up the carpet."
She would have picked up the bits of paper, but he interfered. "Here! I'll do that, Daisy; sit down. Daisy's occupation in the next world, Miss Noel, is going to be sweeping all the dirty clouds out of the sky, and polishing up the harps and crowns, and telling the small angels not to leave the ivory gates ajar, for fear of draughts, and to be sure and put their buckets and spades away tidily when they have done digging in the golden sands, and not to get over-heated and fall ill, because they can't die and have got nowhere to go. Now, look at this" (getting up from his knees and holding up the foolscap, which was covered with drawings of some mechanical contrivance): "I got thinking about you one day and your illness, and that you ought to stay on deck all you could, and to have the right kind of chair, and suddenly this idea hit me right on the head, and I got out my pencil and started in on it. And here it is. This is only the rough draught, you understand."
With growing enthusiasm he explained all the details, while Mabel looked intently and respectfully at the paper he held, and interjected admiring comments: "Isn't it a most wonderful thing? and wasn't it clever of husband to think of it?—but, then, he is always thinking of things. Husband has got such a surprising talent for invention, and grasps an idea at once."
"Oh, no, I haven't. I think I could have found out the way to my mouth as soon as any other baby, that's all. But this is a lucky hit. I am going to have it patented. It's a first-rate thing. This is the way you lash it to the mast when you want to; and when you want to move about you let down the rollers and fasten them with this hook, and go where you please. Twenty-seven changes of position. Why, you can read, eat, sleep, ride, get married, run for Congress, die, and be buried in that chair, if you want to!" he said, by way of final recommendation.
"Thank you, but I don't wish to die. I would rather live," said Miss Noel, laughing cheerfully for the first time since her illness. "And did you really design it for me? How very kind! I must really try to get it worked out, if you think it will answer, as of course you do."
"Oh, don't you bother your head about that," he replied. "I worked it all out one night, and set a smart carpenter at it the next morning before breakfast. And it's a perfect success. And I've got it down at the hotel, ready for you. I'm coming up here to put you in it and take you down to the steamer myself."
Sir Robert and Mr. Heathcote now came in (the latter having returned from Baltimore an affianced man), and Ethel and Bijou followed, and everybody was delighted to see everybody else; and they had so much to talk about that Sir Robert almost forgot that he was engaged to preside over a children's dinner-party at the house of an intimate friend of the De Witts. He hurried off, though; and never had he "looked into" ten more charming little faces than brightened on his arrival. The way in which he radiated good humor, intelligence, benevolence, told stories and jokes that kept the little company shouting with laughter, and finally rose and got off an impromptu piece of doggerel with exactly ten verses, and each child's name and some peculiarity brought out in a way to convulse even mammas and the maids, was as indescribable as delightful. I am not sure that he did not enjoy it more than any of the grand entertainments that he had been asked to; and as for the children, they remember it to this day, although they are on the verge of young-ladyhood and at college now and have very serious demands made on their memories.
After a pleasant little interval of reunion and various diversions, the day came at last for our English people to leave the country. What they felt about this necessity was well expressed for them by Sir Robert in the last letter that he wrote before going on the steamer.
"I am glad to turn my face toward the old land, which must always seem to me the best of all lands," he said; "but I take with me the pleasantest memories of the new. It has been a constant surprise and pleasure to me to find how like they are to each other in all essentials, greatly as they often seem to differ on the surface. I have had a most interesting and delightful tour. Such opportunities of observation as have come in my way, and such authentic information as I have been able to lay hold of, I have tried to make the most of; but in so short a time I could not do more than glean in a field that offers a rich harvest to more fortunate travellers. From the moment of landing until now I have been made the recipient of a hospitality too generous and too flattering to be appropriated to myself in my individual capacity. I must either set it down to the good will which Americans feel toward England when not irritated and repelled by the insolent and overbearing among us,—who have done more to make a breach between the two peoples than you would fancy, and inflicted wounds that all the ambassadors and public-dinner fine speeches cannot heal,—or to that true politeness which Americans observe in the most casual relations, and the immense, apparently inexhaustible kindness which it is their habit to show to strangers. I find in them a certain spontaneity and affectionateness that has quite won my heart."
To the credit of Mr. Ketchum be it said that if Miss Noel had been made of cobwebs she could have been safely transported in his invention to the steamer. This feat was comfortably achieved, at all events, and Mr. Ketchum, having superintended it, left Miss Noel in the chair on deck; and there were kisses and embraces between the ladies, a hurried rush to the wharf, and the steamer moved out, with Miss Noel crying softly, and saying, "Dear, dear Bijou! Dear America! How good they have been to me!" and Ethel and Sir Robert hanging over the side; and ashore the Browns, the doctor, Mr. Heathcote, the De Witts, and Mr. Ketchum and Mabel looking earnestly at them and waving their adieux.
"You'll find a couple of barrels of pecans at your place. I forgot to tell you. Good-by! good-by! Call again!" shouted Mr. Ketchum. And then, turning to his wife, he said, "Don't you wish you were going home, too?"
Mabel stopped to straighten little Jared Ponsonby's hat and settle his curls, somewhat disordered by the wind from the river. Then she turned a face full of sweet content toward her husband; her simple and serious look met his twinkling, bantering one for a moment. "No, dearest," she said, as she took his arm and walked away. "You know that I don't. You are my home."
* * * * *
The Ketchums went back to Fairfield, and spent the two years that followed very happily and quite uneventfully in that simple round of duties and pleasures which the foolish find so dull and the wise would not exchange for any other. And not the least agreeable feature of this life was what was known as "the English letters," although this really included books, music, photographs, sketches, and a great variety of things, from the J. pens that came for Mrs. Vane and the larding-needles that housewifely Mabel had coveted that she might "set a proper fowl before husband," up to packages of a disgraceful size and bulk addressed to Mr. Ketchum in Sir Robert's hand. Sir Robert was a regular and delightful correspondent; Miss Noel and Ethel were equally kind about writing; Mrs. Sykes sent a very characteristic epistle or two to the family after her return, and then let "silence like a poultice" come to heal the blows she had inflicted.
"What do you hear from that idiotic young Ramsay?" "How is Ramsay opening the American oyster?" "What of poor Mr. Ramsay?" "Is Mr. Ramsay coming back to England?" were questions often asked by these correspondents; and Mr. Ketchum was able to give some account of that fascinating fortune-seeker.
Mr. Ramsay wrote to him occasionally, which was the more flattering because he repeatedly said in these productions that he "hated doing a letter most tremendously," and very truly remarked that "the worst of it is that you've got to be thinking what to say, which is an awful bore, and ten to one the pen is bad, and spelling takes a lot out of you if you are not used to looking up the words." Whether, "not being a literary chap," he would have written to Mr. Ketchum at all had not the Ketchum and Brown properties marched and the two families been good friends is one of those nice questions which it is hard to decide. His letters were headed "Out in the Bush" at first, and were full of the adventures and amusements that his novel surroundings afforded him. Then came more sober epistles from "The Ranch," with a good deal in them about "these dirty brutes of Mexicans and ignorant cowboys," the long, dull days, the doubts that had begun to agitate him as to the possibility of getting the millions that had seemed almost within his grasp in London out of "old Brown's farm." Finally, after a long silence, Job got a letter one day, written in pencil, that betrayed the deepest depression and most utter disgust. He had "come an awful cropper from a mustang," and been laid up for three months; his money was all gone; he could get nothing to do. "I tried to get a clerkship in a 'country store' before I got my fall," he explained, "though if I have got to that I had better go back to England, where those fellows get a half-holiday on Saturdays and lots of bank holidays, and are in civilization at least. Perhaps if the governor saw me with a quill behind my ear, or riding down to the city on top of a 'bus, smoking a pipe, he'd do something for me for the honor of the family. But he's in a beastly humor now, and wouldn't send me a fiver to save my life. He says that I'm not worth my salt anywhere, and that he washes his hands of me. And Bill has taken to patronizing me so tremendously that I'd starve rather than ask his help. So I must just stick it out here, I suppose, unless you meant what you said when we parted, and will help me to get back home, where I have friends, a brother-in-law especially, an awfully good sort of fellow, that would stick to a fellow through thick and thin, no matter what other fellows said of him. There's a lot of 'fellows' in this last sentence, but I never was a clever fellow—I had better stop. I am getting worse mixed up than ever."
Mr. Ketchum's reply to this was a short, cordial, hearty note, enclosing a check for five hundred dollars, telling Mr. Ramsay to draw upon him for more if he needed it, bidding him keep "a stiff upper lip," and advising him to stop at Fairfield en route to England and see if there wasn't some better way out of his difficulties. About two weeks after this Mr. Ramsay walked into Mr. Ketchum's office and almost wrung his hand off, "Awfully kind of you," "awfully glad to see you," "awfully good news to tell you," was poured out as in one breath by the bronzed, thin, but still beautiful Englishman, whose illness had given a last and quite irresistible charm of spirituality to his handsome face.
"Sit down, man, and tell us all about it," said Mr. Ketchum, when he had given him an embrace half real, half theatrical. "Delighted to see you, if it comes to that."
"Here's that check you sent me," said Mr. Ramsay, going straight to his point, as usual. "I never got it cashed, because I got by the very same post good news from England. My great-aunt Maxwell is dead at Bath and has left me all her money, twenty thousand pounds. Isn't it the luckiest fluke that ever was? But all the same it is a kindness that I shan't forget. You are an awfully good sort to have done it. Most fellows would have seen me in Halifax first, you know. And if ever you want a friend you'll know where to find him, that's all. Only fancy all this money falling in when I hadn't a penny and was in perfect despair! Such luck! And such a fluke, as I have said. You see, it was all to have been Bill's. He has always been my aunt's favorite, though at first it was to have been divided between us; only when I was a little chap I blew off the tail of her parrot with a bunch of fire-crackers. Haw! haw! haw! I was never allowed there afterward, and she hated the very name of me. She and Bill have hit it off together so well that he never had the least fear of me stepping in. But on last Valentine's Day it seems that she got an awfully cocky, cheeky valentine of an old maid putting on a wig and painting her face, and it had the Stoke-Pogis post-mark, and she took it into her head that Bill had sent it, flew into a most awful rage, and sent for her solicitor and changed her will. And then, most fortunate thing, she died that night, and couldn't make another."
"Well, you are a doting nephew, upon my word," said Job.
"It is no use of me being a hypocrite and going about looking cut up and pretending that I am sorry when I am not," replied Mr. Ramsay. "I haven't seen her for years, and she was nasty to me even when I was a child, and she was a regular old cat, and no good to herself or anybody else. I don't see why I should pull a long face and turn crocodile because she made me her heir to spite Bill, though it comes in most beautifully for me. I don't mean to keep it all, though I could swell it considerably if I did. It would be a dirty thing to do, for Bill has been brought up to expect it and didn't send the valentine at all. I shall go halves with him; that seems fair all round." Mr. Ketchum agreed with him, and Mr. Ramsay went on to make further confidences, in which it appeared that he still cared for Miss Brown, and had "thought an awful lot about her," and now rejoiced to find himself in a position to address her if she was still free. Tom Price, coming in, could scarcely announce that the buggy was at the door for goggling at Mr. Ramsay. The two men drove rapidly out to Fairfield, talking all the way, and Mr. Ramsay stared very hard at the Brown mansion and grounds, and got a pretty welcome from Mabel that warmed his heart not a little. What he said to Bijou in an interview that evening of four hours is no business of ours.
It began after quite formal greetings with, "Do you know that you are looking most awfully well, Miss Brown?" on his part.
"You didn't dream that I cared for you, did you?" said Bijou toward its close, anxious to reassure herself upon a point that had made the last two years a bitterness to her.
"Oh, yes, I did. I twigged that long ago," replied he. "That is why I cut my stick so suddenly. I couldn't support a wife then, and I wasn't goin' to be thought a fortune-hunter, you know." It must have been that he was forgiven the sentimental blunder that is worse than a crime,—a want of frankness,—or how else could they have been married in six weeks and sailed for England? Mr. Alfred Brown, being in California, did not witness this ceremony, but Mr. Ketchum did, and "a large and fashionable company of the elite of Kalsing" (vide the local paper). And did not Mr. Ketchum give the groom a pair of trotting-horses that afterward attracted much attention in Hyde Park? and did not Mr. Brown present the bride with a considerable fortune on her wedding-day, which her husband insisted should be set apart for her exclusive use and control?
"Haven't you got any other name than Bijou?" he said to her. "That is a most absurd name. Bijou Ramsay. What will my people say?"
"I was baptized Ellen," said she, "but I have never been called that."
"Ellen? A nice, sensible name. I shall call you that," he replied, and kept his word.
And so the immigrant, who thought he had left England forever, went home in a little while and is living there now in inglorious ease and somewhat enervating luxury, while Mr. Heathcote, who thought that he was coming out for a short visit and couldn't possibly live out of England, is already more than half an American, a successful, practical farmer, and, it may be added, a happy man. "Heart's Content" has been renaissanced, papered, tiled, portiered, utterly transformed, and is thought quite a show-place now and much admired; but there are some persons who liked it better when it was only an old-fashioned Virginian home, before their mahogany majesties the old furniture, and those courtly commoners Anne Buller and her brothers, had been swept away with all the other cumbering antiquities.
Sir Robert is now looking into the military, monastic, and baronial architecture of the mediaeval period on the Continent, and goes next year to Japan to begin the exhaustive researches which are to culminate in his next book, the "Lives of the Mikados."
F. C. BAYLOR.
THE TRUTH ABOUT DOGS.
I am about to do a very unpopular thing,—namely, to write realistically about the dog and to protest mildly against the extravagant and sentimental way of writing about him which has become so fashionable and which threatens to make him a veritable fetich. The intolerance of his worshippers has already attained a height of dogmatism (the pun is hardly a conscious one) which is truly theologic. I have been made aware, when expressing dissent or a low measure of faith, of an ill-concealed scorn, such as curls the lip of a Boston liberal or lights the eye of a "Hard-Shell" or a Covenanter when any one ventures to differ from him.
The theory is gravely advanced of a dog heaven,—not confined to the poor Indian, whose paradise consists of happy hunting-grounds, where, of course, he will need his faithful hound to keep him company. The main argument of white men is generally found to be the superiority of canine virtue over the human. Whether the word "cynic" originates from a similar source I will not undertake to say; but I have more than half a suspicion that such talk proceeds rather from a prejudice against men than a genuine enthusiasm for dogs. This was doubtless the feeling of the Frenchman who said, "Plus je connais l'homme, plus je prefere le chien." As to any argument drawn from the need of compensation elsewhere for privation endured on earth, however it might hold concerning the ancient dog, there is no foundation for the claim now; for verily the modern dog hath his portion in this life,—and a double one, too.
I am impelled by no fanatical zeal, and have no creed or cult of my own to vindicate. I am influenced only by a noble love of truth and a sublime sense of duty in arraying myself with the despised minority,—perhaps I may say by a sense of fair play for the "under dog." I do not ask the kynolatrist to "call off his dogs" altogether: I merely ask him to allow those who do not share his enthusiasm to pass by on the other side without his setting the dogs upon them. I would recall to the sentimentalist who goes on repeating his stock phrases and, perhaps, like Mr. Winkle, pretending an enthusiasm which he does not feel, the wholesome advice of Dr. Johnson, "Sir, free your mind of cant." Canon Farrar tells of a gentleman who was seated in the smoking-room of an English hotel when a dog entered. He became violently agitated, so that a waiter had to bend over and whisper to him, "It's a real dog." The poor fellow was subject to a form of delirium tremens which caused him to see imaginary dogs. I fear the disease is epidemic and is on the increase. I would kindly recall the public mind to the real dog. At least, I would suggest that the other side be heard; for those who have had most to say on the subject seem to me to exhibit a one-sided habit of mind, analogous to the manner of running observable in their favorites.
It is difficult to trace the origin of this new theology, the apotheosis of the Dog. It is certainly altogether un-Biblical. The whole tenor of Scripture is decidedly uncomplimentary to the species. It is even proclaimed as a new commandment, "Beware of dogs." They are everywhere presented as the symbol of all that is unclean, noisy, greedy, and dangerous. The nearest to a compliment I can find is the saying that "a living dog is better than a dead lion." The only good deed recorded of them is that of licking the wounds of poor Lazarus. When Hazael would express in the strongest terms his incapability of the most shocking conduct, he asks, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" Job seems to have felt that he could say nothing more scathing of certain persons who derided him than that "their fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock." Instead of a dog heaven, we are told that one of the bright distinctions and blessed securities of the New Jerusalem will be that "without are dogs."
Nor would it seem to be a religion of nature. I find little, if any, more respect shown to the species in mythology,—the nearest to an apotheosis being the assignment of the janitorship of hell to a dog with three heads. Egyptian mythology found it convenient to have a dog-headed man—Anubis—as the attendant of Isis and Osiris. The cynocephali whom the Egyptians venerated were more properly baboons: so that their dog heaven, one might say, was only such on its face.
Language is the amber which preserves the thought of man. We need not dig far into the etymological strata to be impressed by the unenviable place which the dog has made for himself in the tradition and experience of our race. The name itself, and still more its variations, such as cur, hound, puppy, and whelp, are anything but complimentary when applied to mankind; and its derivatives, such as "dogged" and "doggerel," are not of dignified suggestion. And, mark you, these associations with the names do not seem to "let go," any more than the dog itself from his bone.
The dog slipped into literature at a very early date after the Fall, but slunk about with his tail between his legs, as it were, and was kicked and cursed with entire unanimity. It is difficult to say just when his dogship began to stand up on his hind legs in literature. He has little or no classical standing. The dog of Ulysses is, I believe, a solitary instance. Shakespeare's "view" comes out in Lear's climacteric execration of his "dog-hearted daughters." Sir Henry Holland once lost a bet of a guinea owing to his failure to find a dog kindly spoken of by Shakespeare. Milton for the most part sublimely passes them by, except to embellish his "portress at hell's gate" with a canine appendix. Goethe's aversion to them is well known. Old Dr. Watts is an authority on moral traits, and the best word he has for them is that "dogs delight to bark and bite, for 'tis their nature to."
Let it not be supposed that I altogether endorse this apparent conspiracy of the ages to give the dog a bad name,—always supposing that he did not himself furnish the bad name to literature. I am not impervious to advanced thought, and I like to see fair play. When a dog is down, and everybody is down on him, he ought to be let up. It is no wonder that a reaction set in, as will always be the case in extremes, and, as usual, to the opposite extreme. English literature experienced about the beginning of this century an invasion of shepherd kings, such as Walter Scott, Christopher North, the Ettrick Shepherd, and the like, who brought with them a great gust of outdoor air, and with it a renaissance of the dog. But the great apostle of the new movement was the late Dr. John Brown, of Edinburgh, whose famous "Rab and his Friends" has inoculated the reading public with something which might be called a species of rabies. This charming writer reminds me of certain gentle inhabitants of the asylum, who have so identified themselves in imagination with dogs that they greet you with a bark.
We owe a debt of gratitude to these amiable enthusiasts for their demurrers to the one-sided verdict of history and for their discoveries of exceptional dogs and of exceptional traits in the canine character. For are we not bidden, "if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise," to "think on these things"?
We do think of them, and we are grateful. We do not, to be sure, find ourselves starting off incontinently to the dog-fancier's in order to present our wife with a poodle or to transform our quiet premises into a howling wilderness, but we think better of the world as a place to live in, and we have a higher sense of the charity and patience of human nature. Nevertheless, while yielding to none in my tender feeling for dear Dr. Brown and his gentle fellow-kynophilists, I am not prepared to obey the new commandment which this new canine gospel inculcates, "Love me, love my dog."
Probably my personal acquaintance with the species has been unfortunate, but I have not happened to meet with these superhuman creatures. I once tried, in my extreme childhood, to make a pet of a Newfoundland pup of high degree; but the little brute sickened and killed himself one day by eating a mess of the foulest refuse. In the village where I lived there was a crabbed little hump-backed tailor, whose house and shop were on a corner, and with him lived a vicious yellow bull-dog. It was a question which was the most unpopular and the most obnoxious bete noire with the villagers. We boys took a fearful delight in stealthily approaching the little tailor's back door in the evening, and then, with a sudden shout, taking to our heels around the corner, whereat the yellow fiend would burst out after us, with "Bunky" close behind.
The only other dog in our village of which I have any recollection was a great animal, facetiously known as a watch-dog, whose mission it was to lie in wait behind the house of the man he owned, and, as soon as he heard a step upon the gravel walk or the tinkle of the door-bell, to dart out upon the intruder with a howl and a spring. The result was that one day my father, the most quiet and respectable of men, in attempting to pay a friendly visit, was set upon, knocked down, throttled, and, but for timely rescue, would probably have fallen a victim to the habits of this hospitable mansion. And from that day he left his friends to their preference of companions. My own experiences of the premises were such that I followed for once the paternal example, in giving them a wide berth.
My social footsteps have always been guided by a knowledge of the kennel, as well as of the house. Even as the pastor of a human flock, I confess that I have many a time stood at men's gates balancing the question of duty or safety before I girded up a martyr spirit and resolved to enter. Not that I loved the sheep and lambs less, but that I hated their growling, leaping, four-footed favorites more.
It is not a mere question of wisdom or of taste, this prevalence and idolatry of dogs. If it were only an amiable weakness, and a matter affecting the person indulging it, some such form of image-worship as the rage for bric-a-brac and old china, I should not take the trouble to enter my protest. But hath not a dog teeth? Hath not a dog great, dirty paws, a venomous and fiery tongue, and a throat which is the organ of all discords? Hath he not feet which can carry his unpleasantnesses into other people's presence, perhaps deposit them on your lap, or cause you to stumble and be offended and made weak by standing in your way? An ideal dog, a china dog, a dog behind a picture-frame, the dog of literature, are not without their aesthetic side,—are certainly things to be let alone. But the realistic, vigorously vital, intrusively affectionate, or faithfully suspicious dog can no more be "let alone" than could Mr. Jefferson Davis and his rebellious States once upon a time, for the simple reason that he will not let us alone. It is as curious an exhibition of human nature to note the surprise which always seizes the owner when one of these "faithful" creatures bites any of his friends and neighbors as is the proverbial incapacity of the householder to admit the existence of malaria on his premises. A little friend of mine who can hardly toddle, while visiting with his parents, was recently sprung upon by a great house-dog and bitten seriously in the cheek. And the philosophical explanation, which ought to have been highly satisfactory, was, "The dog dislikes children, but has never been known to hurt grown people"!
I have alluded to the testimony of Scripture concerning dogs. Herein, at least, Science is in accord with Revelation. It tells us that there is nothing in the osteology of this family (Canidae) to distinguish the domestic dog from the wolf or fox or jackal. His "brain-cavity is small," his strong point being "his powerful muscles of mastication." His "sense of taste is dull and coarse." He is "not as cleanly in his habits as the cat." He is "not courageous in proportion to his strength." Let me illustrate this last point by what I saw this afternoon. A dog about as large and strong as a young lion was barking vigorously behind a low fence at a cat, who sat serenely on the other side, meeting his Bombastes Furioso plunges at the intervening pickets with a contemptuous hiss and an occasional buffet with her claw upon his muzzle. I have yet to see a dog that dares attack my goat of a year old, except when he is harnessed to his wagon. They are not, however, afraid of sheep. And they are much more clear in their minds about attacking children than strong men with clubs. A man is safe before them in proportion as he is not in fear. They know a coward at once, with all a coward's instinct.
Another little peculiarity of this family in all its branches is the hydrophobia, an accomplishment which they are very generous in imparting, and which is to be taken into account in estimating their usefulness.
Cuvier, however, puts forward the ingenious claim—worthy of the Buckle and Taine type of scientific speculators, who are never so happy as when they think they have accounted for the world without the hypothesis of a God, and who naturally catch at an opportunity of reading that name backward (or the name Dog backward, whichever you like)—that "the dog was necessary to the establishment of human society." This startling dogma of the new kynolatry is a good illustration of the way in which this class of theorists persist in putting the cart before the horse. The truth is that man was necessary to the establishment of canine society. Except as human skill and patience subdued, trained, and developed the dog, the latter was incapable of rising, and was one of man's most dangerous foes,—the fox robbing his hen-roosts and grape-vines, the wolf eating him and his children, and the jackal and hyena picking his bones and rifling his grave. The same ridiculous claim of being the corner-stone of human society has been made by some wiseacre in behalf of the goat. The plain truth is that only one animal can justly lay claim to such a distinction. At the threshold of human society and civilization lies the slimy figure of the snake, who persuaded man to purchase knowledge at the cost of innocence, a lesson which has been learned by heart and been worked out in all the "history of civilization," for verily "the trail of the serpent is over it still."