THE AMERICAN BARON.
JAMES DE MILLE,
Author of "The Dodge Club," "The Cryptogram," "Cord and Creese," &c.
NEW YORK: HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE. 1872.
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By PROF. JAMES DE MILLE.
THE DODGE CLUB; or, Italy in 1859. Illustrated. 8vo, Paper, 75 cents; Cloth, $1.25.
CORD AND CREESE. A Novel. Illustrated. 8vo, Paper, 75 cents; Cloth, $1.25.
THE CRYPTOGRAM. A Novel. Illustrated. 8vo, Paper, $1.50; Cloth, $2.00.
THE AMERICAN BARON. A Novel. Illustrated. 8vo, Paper.
Published by HARPER & BROTHERS, New York.
Sent by mail, postage prepaid, to any part of the United States, on receipt of the price.
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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by HARPER & BROTHERS, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
THE AMERICAN BARON.
Somewhat less than a hundred years ago a party of travelers might have been seen crossing over the Simplon Road, en route for Italy. They had been detained at Brieg by reports that the road was impassable; and, as it was the month of March, the prospect of snow and storms and avalanches was sufficient to make them hesitate. At length the road had been reopened, and they were informed that the journey might be made on sleds.
Unwilling to wait at Brieg, and equally unwilling to make a detour so as to take the railroad, the party decided to go on. They were informed that they could go on wheels as far as the line of snow, but that afterward their accommodations would not be so comfortable as they might desire. The road had been cleared for only a few feet; the snow was deep; the sleds were rude; and progress would be slow. These statements, however, did not shake the resolution of the party; and the end of it was that they determined to go on, and cross the mountain if it were possible.
On leaving Brieg the road began to ascend with a very slight incline, winding around in an intricate sort of way, sometimes crossing deep gullies, at other times piercing the hillside in long dark tunnels; but amidst all these windings ever ascending, so that every step took them higher and higher above the little valley where Brieg lay. The party saw also that every step brought them steadily nearer to the line of snow; and at length they found the road covered with a thin white layer. Over this they rolled, and though the snow became deeper with every furlong of their progress, yet they encountered but little actual difficulty until they approached the first station where the horses were to be changed. Here they came to a deep drift. Through this a pathway had been cleared, so that there was no difficulty about going through; but the sight of this served to show them what might be expected further on, and to fill them all with grave doubts as to the practicability of a journey which was thus interrupted so early.
On reaching the station these doubts were confirmed. They were informed that the road had been cleared for sleds on the preceding day, but that on the previous night fresh snow had fallen, and in such quantities that the road would have to be cleared afresh. The worst of it was that there was every probability of new snow-storms, which would cover the road still deeper, and once more obliterate the track. This led to a fresh debate about the journey; but they were all unwilling to turn back. Only a few miles separated them from Domo d'Ossola, and they were assured that, if no fresh snow should fall, they would be able to start on the following morning. This last assurance once more confirmed their wavering resolution, and they concluded to wait at the station.
For the remainder of that day they waited at the little way-side inn, amusing themselves with looking out upon their surroundings. They were environed by a scene of universal white. Above them towered vast Alpine summits, where the wild wind blew, sweeping the snow-wreaths into the air. In front was a deep ravine, at the bottom of which there ran a torrent that foamed and tossed over rocks and boulders. It was not possible to take a walk to any distance. Their boots were made for lighter purposes than plunging through snow-drifts; and so they were forced to remain indoors, and pass the time as best they could.
On the following morning they found every thing in readiness for a start. In front of the inn they saw five sleds of that kind which is universally used in the northern part of America. Each sled was of the rudest possible construction, and was drawn by one horse; straw was spread over the sled, upon which fur robes and blankets were flung. The party was distributed among these sleds, so that each one should have as light a load as possible, while one of the rude vehicles carried the luggage.
Thus arranged, they all started off. And now, since they are all fairly under way, I propose to introduce them, individually and collectively, to my very good friend the reader.
First of all I must mention the fact that the party consisted chiefly of ladies and their attendants.
Of these the most prominent was a slim, tall, elderly lady, with large, dark, soft eyes, that spoke of a vanished youth and beauty from her heavily wrinkled face. She was the Dowager Lady Dalrymple, and acted toward the rest of the party in the multifarious capacity of chaperon, general, courier, guide, philosopher, friend, and Mentor.
Next came Mrs. Willoughby, a widow of great beauty and fascination, a brunette, good-natured, clever, and shrewd. I might here pause, and go into no end of raptures on the various qualities of this lady's character; but, on the whole, I think I'd better not, as they will be sufficiently apparent before the end of this story is reached.
Then there was Miss Minnie Fay, sister to Mrs. Willoughby, and utterly unlike her in every respect. Minnie was a blonde, with blue eyes, golden hair cut short and clustering about her little head, little bit of a mouth, with very red, plump lips, and very white teeth. Minnie was very small, and very elegant in shape, in gesture, in dress, in every attitude and every movement. The most striking thing about her, however, was the expression of her eyes and her face. There was about her brow the glory of perfect innocence. Her eyes had a glance of unfathomable melancholy, mingled with childlike trust in the particular person upon whom her gaze was fastened. Minnie was considered by all her friends as a child—was treated as a child—humored, petted, coaxed, indulged, and talked to as a child. Minnie, on her part, thought, spoke, lived, moved, and acted as a child. She fretted, she teased, she pouted, she cried, she did every thing as a child does; and thus carried up to the age of eighteen the bloom and charm of eight.
The two sisters were nieces of the Dowager Lady Dalrymple. Another niece also accompanied them, who was a cousin of the two sisters. This was Miss Ethel Orne, a young lady who had flourished through a London season, and had refused any number of brilliant offers. She was a brunette, with most wonderful dark eyes, figure of perfect grace, and an expression of grave self-poise that awed the butterflies of fashion, but offered an irresistible attraction to people of sense, intellect, intelligence, esprit, and all that sort of thing—like you and me, my boy.
I am taking up too much time and anticipating somewhat, I fear, by these descriptions; so let us drop Miss Ethel.
These ladies being thus all related formed a family party, and had made the journey thus far on the best of terms, without any other escort than that which was afforded by their chaperon, general, courier, guide, philosopher, friend, and Mentor—the Dowager Lady Dalrymple.
The party was enlarged by the presence of four maids and a foreign gentleman. This last-mentioned personage was small in stature, with a very handsome face and very brilliant eyes. His frame, though slight, was sinewy and well knit, and he looked like an Italian. He had come on alone, and had passed the night at the station-house.
A track about six feet wide had been cut out through the snow, and over this they passed. The snow was soft, and the horses sank deep, so that progress was slow. Nor was the journey without the excitement of apparent danger. At times before them and behind them there would come a low, rumbling sound, and they would see a mass of snow and ice rushing down some neighboring slope. Some of these fell on the road, and more than once they had to quit their sleds and wait for the drivers to get them over the heaps that had been formed across their path. Fortunately, however, none of these came near them; and Minnie Fay, who at first had screamed at intervals of about five minutes, gradually gained confidence, and at length changed her mood so completely that she laughed and clapped her little hands whenever she saw the rush of snow and ice. Thus slowly, yet in safety, they pushed onward, and at length reached the little village of Simplon. Here they waited an hour to warm themselves, lunch, and change horses. At the end of that time they set out afresh, and once more they were on their winding way.
They had now the gratification of finding that they were descending the slope, and of knowing that this descent took them every minute further from the regions of snow, and nearer to the sunny plains of Italy. Minnie in particular gave utterance to her delight: and now, having lost every particle of fear, she begged to be allowed to drive in the foremost sled. Ethel had been in it thus far, but she willingly changed places with Minnie, and thus the descent was made.
The sleds and their occupants were now arranged in the following order:
First, Minnie Fay alone with the driver.
Second, Mrs. Willoughby and Ethel.
Third, the Dowager and her maid.
Fourth, the three other maids.
Fifth, the luggage.
After these five sleds, containing our party, came another with the foreign gentleman.
Each of these sleds had a driver to itself.
In this order the party went, until at length they came to the Gorge of Gondo. This is a narrow valley, the sides of which rise up very abruptly, and in some places precipitously, to a great height. At the bottom flows a furious torrent, which boils and foams and roars as it forces its impetuous way onward over fallen masses of rock and trees and boulders, at one time gathering into still pools, at other times roaring into cataracts. Their road had been cut out on the side of the mountain, and the path had been cleared away here many feet above the buried road; and as they wound along the slope they could look up at the stupendous heights above them, and down at the abyss beneath them, whose white snow-covering was marked at the bottom by the black line of the roaring torrent. The smooth slope of snow ran down as far as the eye could reach at a steep angle, filling up all crevices, with here and there a projecting rock or a dark clump of trees to break its surface.
The road was far beneath them. The drivers had informed them that it was forty feet deep at the top of the pass, and that its depth here was over thirty. Long poles which were inserted in the snow projected above its surface, and served to mark where the road ran.
Here, then, they drove along, feeling wearied with the length of the way, impatient at the slowness of their progress, and eager to reach their journey's end. But little was said. All had talked till all were tired out. Even Minnie Fay, who at first had evinced great enthusiasm on finding herself leading the way, and had kept turning back constantly to address remarks to her friends, had at length subsided, and had rolled herself up more closely in her furs, and heaped the straw higher about her little feet.
Suddenly, before them, and above them, and behind them, and all around them, there arose a deep, low, dull, rushing sound, which seemed as if all the snow on the slope was moving. Their ears had by this time become sufficiently well acquainted with the peculiar sound of the rushing snow-masses to know that this was the noise that heralded their progress, and to feel sure that this was an avalanche of no common size. Yes, this was an avalanche, and every one heard it; but no one could tell where it was moving, or whether it was near or far, or whether it was before or behind. They only knew that it was somewhere along the slope which they were traversing.
A warning cry came from the foremost driver. He looked back, and his face was as pale as death. He waved his hands above him, and then shouting for the others to follow, he whipped up his horse furiously. The animal plunged into the snow, and tossed and floundered and made a rush onward.
But the other drivers held back, and, instead of following, shouted to the first driver to stop, and cried to the passengers to hold on. Not a cry of fear escaped from any one of the ladies. All did as they were directed, and grasped the stakes of their sleds, looking up at the slope with white lips, and expectation of horror in their eyes, watching for the avalanche.
And down it came, a vast mass of snow and ice—down it came, irresistibly, tremendously, with a force that nothing could withstand. All eyes watched its progress in the silence of utter and helpless terror. It came. It struck. All the sleds in the rear escaped, but Minnie's sled lay in the course of the falling mass. The driver had madly rushed into the very midst of the danger which he sought to avoid. A scream from Minnie and a cry of despair from the driver burst upon the ears of the horrified listeners, and the sled that bore them, buried in the snow, went over the edge of the slope, and downward to the abyss.
THE PERILOUS DESCENT.
The shriek of Minnie and the driver's cry of despair were both stopped abruptly by the rush of snow, and were smothered in the heap under which they were buried. The whole party stood paralyzed, gazing stupidly downward where the avalanche was hurrying on to the abyss, bearing with it the ill-fated Minnie. The descent was a slope of smooth snow, which went down at an angle of forty-five degrees for at least a thousand feet. At that point there seemed to be a precipice. As their aching eyes watched the falling mass they saw it approach this place, and then as it came near the whole avalanche seemed to divide as though it had been severed by some projecting rock. It divided thus, and went to ruin; while in the midst of the ruin they saw the sled, looking like a helpless boat in the midst of foaming breakers. So, like such a helpless boat, it was dashed forward, and shot out of sight over the precipice.
Whither had it gone? Into what abyss had it fallen? What lay beneath that point over which it had been thrown? Was it the fierce torrent that rolled there, or were there black rocks and sharp crags lying at the foot of the awful precipice? Such were the questions which flashed through every mind, and deepened the universal horror into universal despair.
In the midst of this general dismay Ethel was the first to speak and to act. She started to her feet, and looking back, called in a loud voice:
"Go down after her! A thousand pounds to the man who saves her! Quick!"
At this the drivers came forward. None of them could understand English, and so had not comprehended her offer; but they saw by her gestures what she wanted. They, however, did not seem inclined to act. They pointed down, and pointed up, and shook their heads, and jabbered some strange, unintelligible patois.
"Cowards!" cried Ethel, "to leave a young girl to die. I will go down myself."
And then, just as she was, she stepped from the sled, and paused for a moment, looking down the slope as though selecting a place. Lady Dalrymple and Mrs. Willoughby screamed to her to come back, and the drivers surrounded her with wild gesticulations. To all this she paid no attention whatever, and would certainly have gone down in another moment had not a hand been laid on her arm, and a voice close by her said, with a strong foreign accent,
She turned at once.
It was the foreign gentleman who had been driving behind the party. He had come up and had just reached the place. He now stood before her with his hat in one hand and the other hand on his heart.
"Pardon, mees," he said, with a bow. "Eet is too periloss. I sall go down eef you 'low me to mak ze attemp."
"Oh, monsieur," cried Ethel, "save her if you can!"
"Do not fear. Be calm. I sall go down. Nevare mine."
The stranger now turned to the drivers, and spoke to them in their own language. They all obeyed at once. He was giving them explicit directions in a way that showed a perfect command of the situation. It now appeared that each sled had a coil of rope, which was evidently supplied from an apprehension of some such accident as this. Hastily yet dextrously the foreign gentleman took one of these coils, and then binding a blanket around his waist, he passed the rope around this, so that it would press against the blanket without cutting him. Having secured this tightly, he gave some further directions to the drivers, and then prepared to go down.
Hitherto the drivers had acted in sullen submission rather than with ready acquiescence. They were evidently afraid of another avalanche; and the frequent glances which they threw at the slope above them plainly showed that they expected this snow to follow the example of the other. In spite of themselves an expression of this fear escaped them, and came to the ears of the foreign gentleman. He turned at once on the brink of the descent, and burst into a torrent of invective against them. The ladies could not understand him, but they could perceive that he was uttering threats, and that the men quailed before him. He did not waste any time, however. After reducing the men to a state of sulky submission, he turned once more and began the descent.
As he went down the rope was held by the men, who allowed it to pass through their hands so as to steady his descent. The task before the adventurer was one of no common difficulty. The snow was soft, and at every step he sank in at least to his knees. Frequently he came to treacherous places, where he sank down above his waist, and was only able to scramble out with difficulty. But the rope sustained him; and as his progress was downward, he succeeded in moving with some rapidity toward his destination. The ladies on the height above sat in perfect silence, watching the progress of the man who was thus descending with his life in his hand to seek and to save their lost companion, and in the intensity of their anxiety forgot utterly about any danger to themselves, though from time to time there arose the well-known sound of sliding masses, not so far away but that under other circumstances of less anxiety it might have filled them with alarm. But now there was no alarm for themselves.
And now the stranger was far down, and the coil of rope was well-nigh exhausted. But this had been prepared for, and the drivers fastened this rope to another coil, and after a time began to let out that one also.
Farther and farther down the descent went on. They saw the stranger pursuing his way still with unfaltering resolution; and they sent after him all their hearts and all their prayers. At last he plunged down almost out of sight, but the next moment he emerged, and then, after a few leaps, they saw that he had gained the place where lay the ruins of the shattered avalanche. Over this he walked, sometimes sinking, at other times running and leaping, until at length he came to the precipice over which the sled had been flung.
And now the suspense of the ladies became terrible. This was the critical moment. Already his eyes could look down upon the mystery that lay beneath that precipice. And what lay revealed there? Did his eyes encounter a spectacle of horror? Did they gaze down into the inaccessible depths of some hideous abyss? Did they see those jagged rocks, those sharp crags, those giant boulders, those roaring billows, which, in their imaginations, had drawn down their lost companion to destruction? Such conjectures were too terrible. Their breath failed them, and their hearts for a time almost ceased to beat as they sat there, overcome by such dread thoughts as these.
Suddenly a cry of delight escaped Ethel. She was kneeling down beside Lady Dalrymple and Mrs. Willoughby, with her eyes staring from her pallid face, when she saw the stranger turn and look up. He took off his hat, and waved it two or three times. Then he beckoned to the drivers. Then he sat down and prepared to let himself over the precipice. This incident inspired hope. It did more. It gave a moment's confidence, and the certainty that all was not lost. They looked at each other, and wept tears of joy. But soon that momentary hope vanished, and uncertainty returned. After all, what did the stranger's gesture mean? He might have seen her—but how? He might reach her, but would she be safe from harm? Could such a thing be hoped for? Would she not, rather, be all marred and mutilated? Dared they hope for any thing better? They dared not. And now they sat once more, as sad as before, and their short-lived gleam of hope faded away.
They saw the stranger go over the precipice.
Then he disappeared.
The rope was let out for a little distance, and then stopped. Then more went out. Then it stopped again.
The rope now lay quite loose. There was no tension.
What was the meaning of this? Was he clinging to the side of the precipice? Impossible. It looked rather as though he had reached some place where he was free to move, and had no further need of descent. And it seemed as though the precipice might not be so deep or so fearful as they had supposed.
In a short time their eyes were greeted by the appearance of the stranger above the precipice. He waved his hat again. Then he made some gestures, and detached the rope from his person. The drivers understood him as if this had been preconcerted. Two of them instantly unharnessed the horse from one of the sleds, while the others pulled up the rope which the stranger had cast off. Then the latter disappeared once more behind the precipice. The ladies watched now in deep suspense; inclining to hope, yet dreading the worst. They saw the drivers fasten the rope to the sled, and let it down the slope. It was light, and the runners were wide. It did not sink much, but slid down quite rapidly. Once or twice it stuck, but by jerking it back it was detached, and went on as before. At last it reached the precipice at a point not more than a hundred feet from where the stranger had last appeared.
And now as they sat there, reduced once more to the uttermost extremity of suspense, they saw a sight which sent a thrill of rapture through their aching hearts. They saw the stranger come slowly above the precipice, and then stop, and stoop, and look back. Then they saw—oh, Heavens! who was that? Was not that her red hood—and that figure who thus slowly emerged from behind the edge of the precipice which had so long concealed her—that figure! Was it possible? Not dead—not mangled, but living, moving, and, yes—wonder of wonders—scaling a precipice! Could it be! Oh joy! Oh bliss! Oh revulsion from despair! The ladies trembled and shivered, and laughed and sobbed convulsively, and wept in one another's arms by turns.
As far as they could see through the tears that dimmed their eyes, Minnie could not be much injured. She moved quite lightly over the snow, as the stranger led her toward the sled; only sinking once or twice, and then extricating herself even more readily than her companion. At last she reached the sled, and the stranger, taking off the blanket that he had worn under the rope, threw it over her shoulders.
Then he signaled to the men above, and they began to pull up the sled. The stranger climbed up after it through the deep snow, walking behind it for some distance. At last he made a despairing gesture to the men, and sank down.
The men looked bewildered, and stopped pulling.
The stranger started up, and waved his hands impatiently, pointing to Minnie.
The drivers began to pull once more at the sled, and the stranger once more sank exhausted in the snow.
At this Ethel started up.
"That noble soul!" she cried; "that generous heart! See! he is saving Minnie, and sitting down to die in the snow!"
She sprang toward the men, and endeavored to make them do something. By her gestures she tried to get two of the men to pull at the sled, and the third man to let the fourth man down with a rope to the stranger. The men refused; but at the offer of her purse, which was well filled with gold, they consented. Two of them then pulled at the sled, and number four bound the rope about him, and went down, while number three held the rope. He went down without difficulty, and reached the stranger. By this time Minnie had been drawn to the top, and was clasped in the arms of her friends.
But now the strength and the sense which had been so wonderfully maintained gave way utterly; and no sooner did she find herself safe than she fell down unconscious.
They drew her to a sled, and tenderly laid her on the straw, and lovingly and gently they tried to restore her, and call her back to consciousness. But for a long time their efforts were of no avail.
She lay there a picture of perfect loveliness, as beautiful as a dream—like some child-angel. Her hair, frosted with snow dust, clustered in golden curls over her fair white brow; her little hands were folded meekly over her breast; her sweet lips were parted, and disclosed the pearly teeth; the gentle eyes no longer looked forth with their piteous expression of mute appeal; and her hearing was deaf to the words of love and pity that were lavished upon her.
THE CHILD-ANGEL AND HER WOES.
Mrs. Willoughby was in her room at the hotel in Milan, when the door opened, and Minnie came in. She looked around the room, drew a long breath, then locked the door, and flinging herself upon a sofa, she reclined there in silence for some time, looking hard at the ceiling. Mrs. Willoughby looked a little surprised at first; but after waiting a few moments for Minnie to say something, resumed her reading, which had been interrupted.
"Kitty," said Minnie at last.
"What?" said her sister, looking up.
"I think you're horrid."
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Why, because when you see and know that I'm dying to speak to you, you go on reading that wretched book."
"Why, Minnie darling," said Mrs. Willoughby, "how in the world was I to know that you wanted to speak to me?"
"You might have known," said Minnie, with a pout—"you saw me look all round, and lock the door; and you saw how worried I looked, and I think it a shame, and I've a great mind not to tell you any thing about it."
"About it—what it?" and Mrs. Willoughby put down her book, and regarded her sister with some curiosity.
"I've a great mind not to tell you, but I can't help it. Besides, I'm dying to ask your advice. I don't know what to do; and I wish I was dead—there!"
"My poor Minnie! what is the matter? You're so incoherent."
"Well, Kitty, it's all my accident."
"Yes; on the Alps, you know."
"What! You haven't received any serious injury, have you?" asked Mrs. Willoughby, with some alarm.
"Oh! I don't mean that, but I'll tell you what I mean;" and here Minnie got up from her reclining position, and allowed her little feet to touch the carpet, while she fastened her great, fond, pleading, piteous eyes upon her sister.
"It's the Count, you know," said she.
"The Count!" repeated Mrs. Willoughby, somewhat dryly. "Well?"
"Well—don't you know what I mean? Oh, how stupid you are!"
"I really can not imagine."
"Well—he—he—he pro—proposed, you know."
"Proposed!" cried the other, in a voice of dismay.
"Now, Kitty, if you speak in that horrid way I won't say another word. I'm worried too much already, and I don't want you to scold me. And I won't have it."
"Minnie darling, I wish you would tell me something. I'm not scolding. I merely wish to know what you mean. Do you really mean that the Count has proposed to you?"
"Of course that's what I mean."
"What puzzles me is, how he could have got the chance. It's more than a week since he saved you, and we all felt deeply grateful to him. But saving a girl's life doesn't give a man any claim over her; and we don't altogether like him; and so we all have tried, in a quiet way, without hurting his feelings, you know, to prevent him from having any acquaintance with you."
"Oh, I know, I know," said Minnie, briskly. "He told me all that. He understands that; but he doesn't care, he says, if I only consent. He will forgive you, he says."
Minnie's volubility was suddenly checked by catching her sister's eye fixed on her in new amazement.
"Now you're beginning to be horrid," she cried. "Don't, don't—"
"Will you have the kindness to tell me," said Mrs. Willoughby, very quietly, "how in the world the Count contrived to tell you all this?"
"Tell me where?"
"Why, once at the amphitheatre. You were walking ahead, and I sat down to rest, and he came and joined me. He left before you came back."
"He must have been following us, then."
"Yes. And another time in the picture-gallery; and yesterday in a shop; and this morning at the Cathedral."
"Yes, Kitty. You know we all went, and Lady Dalrymple would not go up. So Ethel and I went up. And when we got up to the top I walked about, and Ethel sat down to admire the view. And, you know, I found myself off at a little distance, when suddenly I saw Count Girasole. And then, you know, he—he—proposed."
Mrs. Willoughby sat silent for some time.
"And what did you say to him?" she asked at length.
"Why, what else could I say?"
"What else than what?"
"I don't see why you should act so like a grand inquisitor, Kitty. You really make me feel quite nervous," said Minnie, who put her little rosy-tipped fingers to one of her eyes, and attempted a sob, which turned out a failure.
"Oh, I only asked you what you told him, you know."
"Well," said Minnie, gravely, "I told him, you know, that I was awfully grateful to him, and that I'd give any thing if I could to express my gratitude. And then, you know—oh, he speaks such darling broken English—he called me his 'mees,' and tried to make a pretty speech, which was so mixed with Italian that I didn't understand one single word. By-the-way, Kitty, isn't it odd how every body here speaks Italian, even the children?"
"Yes, very odd; but, Minnie dear, I want to know what you told him."
"Why, I told him that I didn't know, you know."
"And then he took my hand. Now, Kitty, you're unkind. I really can not tell you all this."
"Yes, but I only ask so as to advise you. I want to know how the case stands."
"Well, you know, he was so urgent—"
"And so handsome—"
"And then, you know, he saved my life—didn't he, now? You must acknowledge that much, mustn't you?"
"So what could I say?"
Mrs. Willoughby looked troubled.
"Kitty, I wish you wouldn't look at me with that dreadful expression. You really make me feel quite frightened."
"Minnie," said the other, in a serious voice, "do you really love this man?"
"Love this man! why no, not particularly; but I like him; that is, I think I do, or rather I thought I did; but really I'm so worried about all my troubles that I wish he had never come down after me. I don't see why he did, either. I didn't ask him to. I remember, now, I really felt quite embarrassed when I saw him. I knew there would be trouble about it. And I wish you would take me back home. I hate Italy. Do, Kitty darling. But then—"
Minnie paused again.
"Well, Minnie dear, we certainly must contrive some plan to shake him off without hurting his feelings. It can't be thought of. There are a hundred objections. If the worst comes to the worst we can go back, as you say, to England."
"I know; but then," said Minnie, "that's the very thing that I can't do—"
"Can't do what?"
"Go back to England."
"Back to England! Why not? I don't know what you mean."
"Well, you see, Kitty, that's the very thing I came to see you about. This dreadful man—the Count, you know—has some wonderful way of finding out where I go; and he keeps all the time appearing and disappearing in the very strangest manner; and when I saw him on the roof of the Cathedral it really made me feel quite giddy. He is so determined to win me that I'm afraid to look round. He takes the commonest civility as encouragement. And then, you know—there it is—I really can't go back to England."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Why there's—a—a dreadful person there," said Minnie, with an awful look in her eyes.
"A—person," said Minnie.
Minnie nodded. "Oh yes—of course. Really when one thinks of one's troubles it's enough to drive one distracted. This person is a man. I don't know why it is that I should be so worried and so distracted by men. I do not like them, and I wish there were no such persons."
"Another man!" said Mrs. Willoughby, in some surprise. "Well, Minnie, you certainly—"
"Now don't, don't—not a word; I know all you're going to say, and I won't stand it;" and Minnie ran over to her sister and held her hand over her mouth.
"I won't say a word," said Mrs. Willoughby, as soon as she had removed Minnie's hand; "so begin."
Minnie resumed her place on the sofa, and gave a long sigh.
"Well, you know, Kitty darling, it happened at Brighton last September. You were in Scotland then. I was with old Lady Shrewsbury, who is as blind as a bat—and where's the use of having a person to look after you when they're blind! You see, my horse ran away, and I think he must have gone ever so many miles, over railroad bridges and hedges and stone walls. I'm certain he jumped over a small cottage. Well, you know, when all seemed lost, suddenly there was a strong hand laid on the reins, and my horse was stopped. I tumbled into some strange gentleman's arms, and was carried into a house, where I was resuscitated. I returned home in the gentleman's carriage.
"Now the worst of it is," said Minnie, with a piteous look, "that the person who stopped the horse called to inquire after me the next day. Lady Shrewsbury, like an old goose, was awfully civil to him; and so there I was! His name is Captain Kirby, and I wish there were no captains in the world. The life he led me! He used to call, and I had to go out riding with him, and old Lady Shrewsbury utterly neglected me; and so, you know, Kitty darling, he at last, you know, of course, proposed. That's what they all do, you know, when they save your life. Always! It's awful!"
Minnie heaved a sigh, and sat apparently meditating on the enormous baseness of the man who saved a lady's life and then proposed; and it was not until Mrs. Willoughby had spoken twice that she was recalled to herself.
"What did you tell him?" was her sister's question.
"Why, what could I tell him?"
"What!" cried Mrs. Willoughby; "you don't—"
"Now, Kitty, I think it's very unkind in you, when I want all your sympathy, to be so horrid."
"Well, tell it your own way, Minnie dearest."
Minnie sat for a time regarding vacancy with a soft, sad, and piteous expression in her large blue eyes; with her head also a little on one side, and her delicate hands gently clasped in front of her.
"You see, Kitty darling, he took me out riding, and—he took me to the place where I had met him, and then he proposed. Well, you know, I didn't know what to say. He was so earnest, and so despairing. And then, you know, Kitty dearest, he had saved my life, and so—"
"Well, I told him I didn't know, and was shockingly confused, and then we got up quite a scene. He swore that he would go to Mexico, though why I can't imagine; and I really wish he had; but I was frightened at the time, and I cried; and then he got worse, and I told him not to; whereupon he went into raptures, and began to call me no end of names—spooney names, you know; and I—oh, I did so want him to stop!—I think I must have promised him all that he wanted; and when I got home I was frightened out of my poor little wits, and cried all night."
"Poor dear child!" exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, with tender sympathy. "What a wretch!"
"No, he wasn't a wretch at all; he was awfully handsome, only, you know, he—was—so—awfully persevering, and kept so at my heels; but I hurried home from Brighton, and thought I had got rid of him."
"And hadn't you?"
"Oh dear, no," said Minnie, mournfully. "On the day after my arrival there came a letter; and, you know, I had to answer it; and then another; and so it went on—"
"Oh, Minnie! why didn't you tell me before?"
"How could I when you were off in that horrid Scotland? I always hated Scotland."
"You might have told papa."
"I couldn't. I think papa's cruel too. He doesn't care for me at all. Why didn't he find out our correspondence and intercept it, the way papas always do in novels? If I were his papa I'd not let him be so worried."
"And did he never call on you?"
"Yes; he got leave of absence once, and I had a dreadful time with him. He was in a desperate state of mind. He was ordered off to Gibraltar. But I managed to comfort him; and, oh dear, Kitty dear, did you ever try to comfort a man, and the man a total stranger?"
At this innocent question Mrs. Willoughby's gravity gave way a little.
Minnie frowned, and then sighed.
"Well, you needn't be so unkind," said she; and then her little hand tried to wipe away a tear, but failed.
"Did he go to Gibraltar?" asked Mrs. Willoughby at length.
"Yes, he did," said Minnie, with a little asperity.
"Did he write?"
"Of course he wrote," in the same tone.
"Well, how did it end?"
"End! It didn't end at all. And it never will end. It'll go on getting worse and worse every day. You see he wrote, and said a lot of rubbish about his getting leave of absence and coming to see me. And then I determined to run away; and you know I begged you to take me to Italy, and this is the first time I've told you the real reason."
"So that was the real reason?"
"Well, Minnie, my poor child," said Mrs. Willoughby, after a pause, "you're safe from your officer, at any rate; and as to Count Girasole, we must save you from him. Don't give way."
"But you can't save me. They'll come after me, I know. Captain Kirby, the moment he finds out that I am here, will come flying after me; and then, oh dear! the other one will come, and the American, too, of course."
"The what? who?" cried Mrs. Willoughby, starting up with new excitement. "Who's that? What did you say, Minnie? The American? What American?"
Minnie threw a look of reproach at her sister, and her eyes fell.
"You can't possibly mean that there are any more—"
"There—is—one—more," said Minnie, in a low, faint voice, stealing a glance at her sister, and looking a little frightened.
"One more!" repeated her sister, breathless.
"Well, I didn't come here to be scolded," said Minnie, rising, "and I'll go. But I hoped that you'd help me; and I think you're very unkind; and I wouldn't treat you so."
"No, no, Minnie," said Mrs. Willoughby, rising, and putting her arm round her sister, and drawing her back. "I had no idea of scolding. I never scolded any one in my life, and wouldn't speak a cross word to you for the world. Sit down now, Minnie darling, and tell me all. What about the American? I won't express any more astonishment, no matter what I may feel."
"But you mustn't feel any astonishment," insisted Minnie.
"Well, darling, I won't," said her sister.
Minnie gave a sigh.
"It was last year, you know, in the spring. Papa and I were going out to Montreal, to bring you home. You remember?"
Mrs. Willoughby nodded, while a sad expression came over her face.
"And, you remember, the steamer was wrecked."
"But I never told you how my life was saved."
"Why, yes, you did. Didn't papa tell all about the heroic sailor who swam ashore with you? how he was frantic about you, having been swept away by a wave from you? and how he fainted away with joy when you were brought to him? How can you suppose I would forget that? And then how papa tried to find the noble sailor to reward him."
"Oh yes," said Minnie, in a despondent tone. "That's all very true; but he wasn't a noble sailor at all."
"You see, he wasn't going to have a scene with papa, and so he kept out of his way. Oh dear, how I wish he'd been as considerate with me! But that's the way always; yes, always."
"Well, who was he?"
"Why, he was an American gentleman, returning home from a tour in Europe. He saved me, as you have heard. I really don't remember much about it, only there was a terrible rush of water, and a strong arm seized me, and I thought it was papa all the time. And I found myself carried, I don't know how, through the waves, and then I fainted; and I really don't know any thing about it except papa's story."
Mrs. Willoughby looked at Minnie in silence, but said nothing.
"And then, you know, he traveled with us, and papa thought he was one of the passengers, and was civil; and so he used to talk to me, and at last, at Montreal, he used to call on me."
"At your house, dearest."
"Why, how was that?"
"You could not leave your room, darling, so I used to go down."
"And he proposed to me there."
"Where? in my parlor?"
"Yes; in your parlor, dearest."
"I suppose it's not necessary for me to ask what you said."
"I suppose not," said Minnie, in a sweet voice. "He was so grand and so strong, and he never made any allusions to the wreck; and it was—the—the—very first time that any body ever—proposed; and so, you know, I didn't know how to take it, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings, and I couldn't deny that he had saved my life; and I don't know when I ever was so confused. It's awful, Kitty darling.
"And then, you know, darling," continued Minnie, "he went away, and used to write regularly every month. He came to see me once, and I was frightened to death almost. He is going to marry me next year. He used an awful expression, dearest. He told me he was a struggling man. Isn't that horrid? What is it, Kitty? Isn't it something very, very dreadful?"
"He writes still, I suppose?"
"Oh dear, yes."
Mrs. Willoughby was silent for some time.
"Oh, Minnie," said she at last, "what a trouble all this is! How I wish you had been with me all this time!"
"Well, what made you go and get married?" said Minnie.
"Hush," said Mrs. Willoughby, sadly, "never mind. I've made up my mind to one thing, and that is, I will never leave you alone with a gentleman, unless—"
"Well, I'm sure I don't want the horrid creatures," said Minnie. "And you needn't be so unkind. I'm sure I don't see why people will come always and save my life wherever I go. I don't want them to. I don't want to have my life saved any more. I think it's dreadful to have men chasing me all over the world. I'm afraid to stop in Italy, and I'm afraid to go back to England. Then I'm always afraid of that dreadful American. I suppose it's no use for me to go to the Holy Land, or Egypt, or Australia; for then my life would be saved by an Arab, or a New Zealander. And oh, Kitty, wouldn't it be dreadful to have some Arab proposing to me, or a Hindu! Oh, what am I to do?"
"Trust to me, darling. I'll get rid of Girasole. We will go to Naples. He has to stop at Rome; I know that. We will thus pass quietly away from him, without giving him any pain, and he'll soon forget all about it. As for the others, I'll stop this correspondence first, and then deal with them as they come."
"You'll never do it, never!" cried Minnie; "I know you won't. You don't know them."
IN THE CRATER OF VESUVIUS.
Lord Harry Hawbury had been wandering for three months on the Continent, and had finally found himself in Naples. It was always a favorite place of his, and he had established himself in comfortable quarters on the Strada Nuova, from the windows of which there was a magnificent view of the whole bay, with Vesuvius, Capri, Baiae, and all the regions round about. Here an old friend had unexpectedly turned up in the person of Scone Dacres. Their friendship had been formed some five or six years before in South America, where they had made a hazardous journey in company across the continent, and had thus acquired a familiarity with one another which years of ordinary association would have failed to give. Scone Dacres was several years older than Lord Hawbury.
One evening Lord Hawbury had just finished his dinner, and was dawdling about in a listless way, when Dacres entered, quite unceremoniously, and flung himself into a chair by one of the windows.
"Any Bass, Hawbury?" was his only greeting, as he bent his head down, and ran his hand through his bushy hair.
"Lachryma Christi?" asked Hawbury, in an interrogative tone.
"No, thanks. That wine is a humbug. I'm beastly thirsty, and as dry as a cinder."
Hawbury ordered the Bass, and Dacres soon was refreshing himself with copious draughts.
The two friends presented a singular contrast. Lord Hawbury was tall and slim, with straight flaxen hair and flaxen whiskers, whose long, pendent points hung down to his shoulders. His thin face, somewhat pale, had an air of high refinement; and an ineradicable habit of lounging, together with a drawling intonation, gave him the appearance of being the laziest mortal alive. Dacres, on the other hand, was the very opposite of all this. He was as tall as Lord Hawbury, but was broad-shouldered and massive. He had a big head, a big mustache, and a thick beard. His hair was dark, and covered his head in dense, bushy curls. His voice was loud, his manner abrupt, and he always sat bolt upright.
"Any thing up, Sconey?" asked Lord Hawbury, after a pause, during which he had been languidly gazing at his friend.
"Well, no, nothing, except that I've been up Vesuvius."
Lord Hawbury gave a long whistle.
"And how did you find the mountain?" he asked; "lively?"
"Rather so. In fact, infernally so," added Dacres, thoughtfully. "Look here, Hawbury, do you detect any smell of sulphur about me?"
"Sulphur! What in the name of—sulphur! Why, now that you mention it, I do notice something of a brimstone smell. Sulphur! Why, man, you're as strong as a lighted match. What have you been doing with yourself? Down inside, eh?"
Dacres made no answer for some time, but sat stroking his beard with his left hand, while his right held a cigar which he had just taken out of a box at his elbow. His eyes were fixed upon a point in the sky exactly half-way between Capri and Baiae, and about ten degrees above the horizon.
"Hawbury," said he, solemnly, after about two minutes of portentous silence.
"Well, old man?"
"I've had an adventure."
"An adventure! Well, don't be bashful. Breathe forth the tale in this confiding ear."
"You see," said Dacres, "I started off this morning for a ride, and had no more intention of going to Vesuvius than to Jericho."
"I should hope not. What business has a fellow like you with Vesuvius—a fellow that has scaled Cotopaxi, and all that sort of thing? Not you."
Dacres put the cigar thoughtfully in his mouth, struck a light, and tried to light it, but couldn't. Then he bit the end off, which he had forgotten to do before. Then he gave three long, solemn, and portentous puffs. Then he took the cigar between his first and second fingers, and stretched his hand out toward Hawbury.
"Hawbury, my boy," said he again.
"You remember the time when I got that bullet in Uruguay?"
"Well, I had a shot to-day."
"A shot! The deuce you had. Cool, too. Any of those confounded bandits about? I thought that was all rot."
"It wasn't a real shot; only figurative."
"Yes; it was a—a girl."
"By Jove!" cried Hawbury, starting up from an easy posture which he had secured for himself after fifteen minutes shifting and changing. "A girl! You, Dacres, spooney! A fellow like you, and a girl! By Jove!"
Hawbury fell back again, and appeared to be vainly trying to grapple with the thought. Dacres put his cigar between his lips again, and gave one or two puffs at it, but it had gone out. He pitched it out of the window, and struck his hand heavily on the arm of his chair.
"Yes, Hawbury, a girl; and spooney, too—as spooney as blazes; but I'll swear there isn't such another girl upon the whole face of the earth; and when you bear in mind the fact that my observation, with extended view, has surveyed mankind from China to Peru, you'll be able to appreciate the value of my statement."
"All right, old man; and now for the adventure."
"The adventure? Well, you see, I started for a ride. Had a misty idea of going to Sorrento, and was jogging along among a million pigs or so at Portici, when I overtook a carriage that was going slowly along. There were three ladies in it. The backs of two of them were turned toward me, and I afterward saw that one was old—no doubt the chaperon—and the other was young. But the third lady, Hawbury—Well, it's enough to say that I, who have seen all women in all lands, have never seen any thing like her. She was on the front seat, with her face turned toward me. She was small, a perfect blonde; hair short and curling; a round, girlish face; dimpled cheeks, and little mouth. Her eyes were large and blue; and, as she looked at me, I saw such a bewitching innocence, such plaintive entreaty, such pathetic trust, such helpless, childlike—I'll be hanged if I can find words to express what I want to say. The English language doesn't contain them."
"Do it in Latin, then, or else skip the whole description. All the same. I know the whole story by heart. Love's young dream, and all that sort of thing, you know."
"Well," continued Dacres, "there was something so confoundedly bewitching in the little girl's face that I found myself keeping on at a slow pace in the rear of the carriage, and feasting on her looks. Of course I wasn't rude about it or demonstrative."
"Oh, of course. No demonstration. It's nothing to ride behind a carriage for several hours, and 'feast' one's self on a pretty girl's looks! But go on, old man."
"Oh, I managed it without giving offense. You see, there was such a beastly lot of pigs, peasants, cows, dirty children, lazaroni, and all that sort of thing, that it was simply impossible to go any faster; so you see I was compelled to ride behind. Sometimes, indeed, I fell a good distance back."
"And then caught up again to resume the 'feast?'"
"But I don't see what this has to do with your going to Vesuvius."
"It has every thing to do. You see, I started without any fixed purpose, and after I saw this carriage, I kept on insensibly after it."
"Oh, I see—yes. By Jove!"
"And they drove up as far as they could."
"And I followed. You see, I had nothing else to do—and that little girl! Besides, it was the most natural thing in the world for me to be going up; and the fact that I was bent on the same errand as themselves was sufficient to account for my being near the carriage, and would prevent them from supposing that I was following them. So, you see, I followed, and at length they stopped at the Hermitage. I left my horse there, and strolled forward, without going very far away; my only idea was to keep the girl in sight. I had no idea that they would go any further. To ascend the cone seemed quite out of the question. I thought they would rest at the Hermitage, drink some Lachryma Christi, and go back. But to my surprise, as I was walking about, I saw the two young ladies come out and go toward the cone.
"I kept out of the way, as you may suppose, and watched them, wondering what idea they had. As they passed I heard the younger one—the child-angel, you know, my girl—teasing the other to make the ascent of the cone, and the other seemed to be quite ready to agree to the proposal.
"Now, as far as the mere ascent is concerned, of course you know that is not much. The guides were there with straps and chairs, and that sort of thing, all ready, so that there was no difficulty about that. The real difficulty was in these girls going off unattended; and I could only account for it by supposing that the chaperon knew nothing whatever about their proposal. No doubt the old lady was tired, and the young ones went out, as she supposed, for a stroll; and now, as they proposed, this stroll meant nothing less than an ascent of the cone. After all, there is nothing surprising in the fact that a couple of active and spirited girls should attempt this. From the Hermitage it does not seem to be at all difficult, and they had no idea of the actual nature of the task.
"What made it worse, however, was the state of the mountain at this particular time. I don't know whether you have taken the trouble to raise your eyes so high as the top of Vesuvius—"
Hawbury languidly shook his head.
"Well, I supposed not; but if you had taken the trouble, you would have noticed an ugly cloud which is generally regarded here as ominous. This morning, you know, there was an unusually large canopy of very dirty smoke overhead. I knew by the look of things that it was not a very pleasant place to go to. But of course they could not be supposed to know any thing of the kind, and their very ignorance made them rash.
"Well, I walked along after them, not knowing what might turn up, but determined to keep them in sight. Those beggars with chairs were not to be trusted, and the ladies had gold enough about them to tempt violence. What a reckless old devil of a chaperon she was, to let those young girls go! So I walked on, cursing all the time the conventionalities of civilization that prevented me from giving them warning. They were rushing straight on into danger, and I had to keep silent.
"On reaching the foot of the cone a lot of fellows came up to them, with chairs and straps, and that sort of thing. They employed some of them, and, mounting the chairs, they were carried up, while I walked up by myself at a distance from which I could observe all that was going on. The girls were quite merry, appeared to be enchanted with their ride up the cone, enjoyed the novelty of the sensation, and I heard their lively chatter and their loud peals of ringing laughter, and longed more than ever to be able to speak to them.
"Now the little girl that I had first seen—the child-angel, you know—seemed, to my amazement, to be more adventurous than the other. By her face you would suppose her to be as timid as a dove, and yet on this occasion she was the one who proposed the ascent, urged on her companion, and answered all her objections. Of course she could not have really been so plucky as she seemed. For my part, I believe the other one had more real pluck of the two, but it was the child-angel's ignorance that made her so bold. She went up the cone as she would have gone up stairs, and looked at the smoke as she would have looked at a rolling cloud.
"At length the bearers stopped, and signified to the girls that they could not go any further. The girls could not speak Italian, or any other language apparently than English, and therefore could not very well make out what the bearers were trying to say, but by their gestures they might have known that they were warning them against going any further. One might have supposed that no warning would have been needed, and that one look upward would have been enough. The top of the cone rose for upward of a hundred feet above them, its soil composed of lava blocks and ashes intermingled with sulphur. In this soil there were a million cracks and crevices, from which sulphurous smoke was issuing; and the smoke, which was but faint and thin near where they stood, grew denser farther up, till it intermingled with the larger volumes that rolled up from the crater.
"Now, as I stood there, I suddenly heard a wild proposal from the child-angel.
"'Oh, Ethel,' she said, 'I've a great mind to go up—'"
Here Hawbury interrupted his friend:
"What's that? Was that her friend's name?" he asked, with some animation. "Ethel?—odd, too. Ethel? H'm. Ethel? Brunette, was she?"
"Odd, too; infernally odd. But, pooh! what rot! Just as though there weren't a thousand Ethels!"
"What's that you're saying about Ethel?" asked Dacres.
"Oh, nothing, old man. Excuse my interrupting you. Go ahead. How did it end?"
"Well, the child-angel said, 'Ethel, I've a great mind to go up.'
"This proposal Ethel scouted in horror and consternation.
"'You must not—you shall not!' she cried.
"'Oh, it's nothing, it's nothing,' said the child-angel. 'I'm dying to take a peep into the crater. It must be awfully funny. Do come; do, do come, Ethel darling.'
"'Oh, Minnie, don't,' cried the other, in great alarm. And I now learned that the child-angel's name was Minnie. 'Minnie,' she cried, clinging to the child-angel, 'you must not go. I would not have come up if I had thought you would be so unreasonable.'
"'Ethel,' said the other, 'you are really getting to be quite a scold. How ridiculous it is in you to set yourself up in this place as a duenna! How can I help going up? and only one peep. And I never saw a crater in my life, and I'm dying to know what it looks like. I know it's awfully funny; and it's horrid in you to be so unkind about it. And I really must go. Won't you come? Do, do, dear—dearest darling, do—do—do!'
"Ethel was firm, however, and tried to dissuade the other, but to no purpose; for at length, with a laugh, the child-angel burst away, and skipped lightly up the slope toward the crater.
"'Just one peep,' she said. 'Come, Ethel, I must, I really must, you know.'
"She turned for an instant as she said this, and I saw the glory of her child-face as it was irradiated by a smile of exquisite sweetness. The play of feature, the light of her eyes, and the expression of innocence and ignorance unconscious of danger, filled me with profound sadness. And there was I, standing alone, seeing that sweet child flinging herself to ruin, and yet unable to prevent her, simply because I was bound hand and foot by the infernal restrictions of a miserable and a senseless conventionality. Dash it, I say!"
As Dacres growled out this Hawbury elevated his eyebrows, and stroked his long, pendent whiskers lazily with his left hand, while with his right he drummed on the table near him.
"Well," resumed Dacres, "the child-angel ran up for some distance, leaving Ethel behind. Ethel called after her for some time, and then began to follow her up. Meanwhile the guides, who had thus far stood apart, suddenly caught sight of the child-angel's figure, and, with a loud warning cry, they ran after her. They seemed to me, however, to be a lazy lot, for they scarce got up as far as the place where Ethel was. Now, you know, all this time I was doomed to inaction. But at this juncture I strolled carelessly along, pretending not to see any thing in particular; and so, taking up an easy attitude, I waited for the denouement. It was a terrible position too. That child-angel! I would have laid down my life for her, but I had to stand idle, and see her rush to fling her life away. And all because I had not happened to have the mere formality of an introduction."
"Well, you know, I stood there waiting for the denouement. Now it happened that, as the child-angel went up, a brisk breeze had started, which blew away all the smoke, so that she went along for some distance without any apparent inconvenience. I saw her reach the top; I saw her turn and wave her hand in triumph. Then I saw her rush forward quickly and nimbly straight toward the crater. She seemed to go down into it. And then the wind changed or died away, or both, for there came a vast cloud of rolling smoke, black, cruel, suffocating; and the mountain crest and the child-angel were snatched from my sight.
"I was roused by a shriek from Ethel. I saw her rush up the slope, and struggle in a vain endeavor to save her friend. But before she had taken a dozen steps down came the rolling smoke, black, wrathful, and sulphurous; and I saw her crouch down and stagger back, and finally emerge pale as death, and gasping for breath. She saw me as I stood there; in fact, I had moved a little nearer.
"'Oh, Sir,' she cried, 'save her! Oh, my God, she's lost!'
"This was very informal, you know, and all that sort of thing; but she had broken the ice, and had accosted me; so I waived all ceremony, and considered the introduction sufficient. I took off my hat, and told her to calm herself.
"But she only wrung her hands, and implored me to save her friend.
"And now, my boy, lucky was it for me that my experience at Cotopaxi and Popocatepetl had been so thorough and so peculiar. My knowledge came into play at this time. I took my felt hat and put it over my mouth, and then tied it around my neck so that the felt rim came over my cheeks and throat. Thus I secured a plentiful supply of air, and the felt acted as a kind of ventilator to prevent the access to my lungs of too much of the sulphurous vapor. Of course such a contrivance would not be good for more than five minutes; but then, you know, five minutes were all that I wanted.
"So up I rushed, and, as the slope was only about a hundred feet, I soon reached the top. Here I could see nothing whatever. The tremendous smoke-clouds rolled all about on every side, enveloping me in their dense folds, and shutting every thing from view. I heard the cry of the asses of guides, who were howling where I left them below, and were crying to me to come back—the infernal idiots! The smoke was impenetrable; so I got down on my hands and knees and groped about. I was on her track, and knew she could not be far away. I could not spend more than five minutes there, for my felt hat would not assist me any longer. About two minutes had already passed. Another minute was taken up in creeping about on my hands and knees. A half minute more followed. I was in despair. The child-angel I saw must have run in much further than I had supposed, and perhaps I could not find her at all. A sickening fear came to me that she had grown dizzy, or had slid down over the loose sand into the terrific abyss of the crater itself. So another half minute passed; and now only one minute was left."
"I don't see how you managed to be so confoundedly accurate in your reckoning. How was it? You didn't carry your watch in one hand, and feel about with the other, I suppose?"
"No; but I looked at my watch at intervals. But never mind that. Four minutes, as I said, were up, and only one minute remained, and that was not enough to take me back. I was at the last gasp already, and on the verge of despair, when suddenly, as I crawled on, there lay the child-angel full before me, within my reach.
"Yes," continued Dacres, after a pause, "there she lay, just in my grasp, just at my own last gasp. One second more and it must have been all up. She was senseless, of course. I caught her up; I rose and ran back as quick as I could, bearing my precious burden. She was as light as a feather—no weight at all. I carried her as tenderly as if she was a little baby. As I emerged from the smoke Ethel rushed up to me and set up a cry, but I told her to keep quiet and it would be all right. Then I directed the guides to carry her down, and I myself then carried down the child-angel.
"You see I wasn't going to give her up. I had had hard work enough getting her. Besides, the atmosphere up there was horrible. It was necessary, first of all, to get her down to the foot of the cone, where she could have pure air, and then resuscitate her. Therefore I directed the guides to take down Ethel in a chair, while I carried down the child-angel. They had to carry her down over the lava blocks, but I went to a part of the cone where it was all loose sand, and went down flying. I was at the bottom a full half hour before the others.
"Then I laid her upon the loose sand; and I swear to you, Hawbury, never in all my life have I seen such a sight. She lay there before my eyes a picture of loveliness beyond imagination—as beautiful as a dream—more like a child-angel than ever. Her hair clustered in golden curls over her white brow, her little hands were folded meekly over her breast, her lips were parted into a sweet smile, the gentle eyes no longer looked at me with the piteous, pleading, trustful, innocent expression which I had noticed in them before, and her hearing was deaf to the words of love and tenderness that I lavished upon her."
"Good!" muttered Hawbury; "you talk like a novel. Drive on, old man. I'm really beginning to feel excited."
"'The fact is," said Dacres, "I have a certain set of expressions about the child-angel that will come whenever I begin to describe her."
"It strikes me, though, that you are getting on pretty well. You were speaking of 'love and tenderness.' Well?"
"Well, she lay there senseless, you know, and I gently unclasped her hands and began to rub them. I think the motion of carrying her, and the fresh air, had both produced a favorable effect; for I had not rubbed her hands ten minutes when she gave a low sigh. Then I rubbed on, and her lips moved. I bent down close so as to listen, and I heard her say, in a low voice,
"'Am I at home?'
"'Yes,' said I, gently, for I thought it was best to humor her delirious fancy.
"Then she spoke again:
"'Is that you, papa dear?'
"'Yes, darling,' said I, in a low voice; and I kissed her in a kind of paternal way, so as to reassure her, and comfort her, and soothe her, and all that sort of thing, you know."
At this Hawbury burst into a shout of laughter.
"What the mischief are you making that beastly row about?" growled Dacres.
"Excuse me, old boy. I couldn't help it. It was at the idea of your doing the father so gravely."
"Well, am I not old enough to be her father? What else could I do? She had such a pleading, piteous way. By Jove! Besides, how did she know any thing about it? It wasn't as if she was in her senses. She really thought I was her father, you know. And I'm sure I almost felt as if I was, too."
"All right, old man, don't get huffy. Drive on."
"Well, you know, she kept her eyes closed, and didn't say another word till she heard the voice of Ethel at a distance. Then she opened her eyes, and got up on her feet. Then there was no end of a row—kissing, crying, congratulating, reproaching, and all that sort of thing. I withdrew to a respectful distance and waited. After a time they both came to me, and the child-angel gave me a look that made me long to be a father to her again. She held out her little hand, and I took it and pressed it, with my heart beating awfully. I was horribly embarrassed.
"'I'm awfully grateful to you,' she said; 'I'm sure I'd do any thing in the world to repay you. I'm sure I don't know what would have become of me if it hadn't been for you. And I hope you'll excuse me for putting you to so much trouble. And, oh!' she concluded, half to herself, 'what will Kitty say now?'"
"Kitty! Who's Kitty?"
"I don't know."
"All right. Never mind. Drive on, old chap."
"Well, I mumbled something or other, and then offered to go and get their carriage. But they would not hear of it. The child-angel said she could walk. This I strongly dissuaded her from doing, and Ethel insisted that the men should carry her. This was done, and in a short time we got back to the Hermitage, where the old lady was in no end of a worry. In the midst of the row I slipped away, and waited till the carriage drove off. Then I followed at a sufficient distance not to be observed, and saw where their house was."
THE BEGINNING OF BLUNDERS.
Dacres paused now, and lighting a fresh cigar, smoked away at it in silence, with long and solemn and regular puffs. Hawbury watched him for some time, with a look of dreamy curiosity and lazy interest. Then he rose, and dawdled about the room for a few minutes. Then he lighted a cigar, and finally, resuming his seat, he said:
Dacres puffed on.
"I'm beginning to think," said Hawbury, "that your first statement is correct. You are shot, my boy—hit hard—and all that; and now I should like to ask you one question."
"What are you going to do about it? Do you intend to pursue the acquaintance?"
"Of course. Why not?"
"What do you intend to do next?"
"Next? Why, call on her, and inquire after her health."
"Well, have you any thing to say against that?"
"Certainly not. Only it surprises me a little."
"Because I never thought of Scone Dacres as a marrying man, and can't altogether grapple with the idea."
"I don't see why a fellow shouldn't marry if he wants to," said Dacres. "What's the matter with me that I shouldn't get married as well as lots of fellows?"
"No reason in the world, my dear boy. Marry as many wives as you choose. My remark referred merely to my own idea of you, and not to any thing actually innate in your character. So don't get huffy at a fellow."
Some further conversation followed, and Dacres finally took his departure, full of thoughts about his new acquaintance, and racking his brains to devise some way of securing access to her.
On the following evening he made his appearance once more at Hawbury's rooms.
"Well, old man, what's up? Any thing more about the child-angel?"
"Well, a little. I've found out her name."
"Ah! What is it?"
"Fay. Her name is Minnie Fay."
"Minnie Fay. I never heard of the name before. Who are her people?"
"She is traveling with Lady Dalrymple."
"The Dowager, I suppose?"
"Who are the other ladies?"
"Well, I don't exactly remember."
"Didn't you find out?"
"Yes; I heard all their names, but I've forgotten. I know one of them is the child-angel's sister, and the other is her cousin. The one I saw with her was probably the sister."
"What, the one named Ethel?"
"Ethel—Ethel Fay. H'm," said Hawbury, in a tone of disappointment. "I knew it would be so. There are so many Ethels about."
"Oh, nothing. I once knew a girl named Ethel, and—Well, I had a faint idea that it would be odd if this should be the one. But there's no such chance."
"Oh, the name Ethel is common enough."
"Well, and didn't you find out any thing about her people?"
"Your child-angel's people."
"No. What do I care about her people? They might be Jews or Patagonians for all I care."
"Still I should think your interest in her would make you ask."
"Oh no; my interest refers to herself, not to her relatives. Her sister Ethel is certainly a deuced pretty girl, though."
"Sconey, my boy, I'm afraid you're getting demoralized. Why, I remember the time when you regarded the whole female race with a lofty scorn and a profound indifference that was a perpetual rebuke to more inflammable natures. But now what a change! Here you are, with a finely developed eye for female beauty, actually reveling in dreams of child-angels and their sisters. By Jove!"
"Nonsense," said Dacres.
"Well, drive on, and tell all about it. You've seen her, of course?"
"Did you call?"
"Yes; she was not at home. I went away with a snubbed and subdued feeling, and rode along near the Villa Reale, when suddenly I met the carriage with Lady Dalrymple and the child-angel. She knew me at once, and gave a little start. Then she looked awfully embarrassed. Then she turned to Lady Dalrymple; and by the time I had got up the carriage had stopped, and the ladies both looked at me and bowed. I went up, and they both held out their hands. Lady Dalrymple then made some remarks expressive of gratitude, while the child-angel sat and fastened her wonderful eyes on me, and threw at me such a pleading, touching, entreating, piteous, grateful, beseeching look, that I fairly collapsed.
"When Lady Dalrymple stopped, she turned to her and said:
"'And oh, aunty darling, did you ever hear of any thing like it? It was so brave. Wasn't it an awfully plucky thing to do, now? And I was really inside the crater! I'm sure I never could have done such a thing—no, not even for my own papa! Oh, how I do wish I could do something to show how awfully grateful I am! And, aunty darling, I do wish you'd tell me what to do.'
"All this quite turned my head, and I couldn't say any thing; but sat on my saddle, devouring the little thing with my eyes, and drinking in the wonderful look which she threw at me. At last the carriage started, and the ladies, with a pleasant smile, drove on. I think I stood still there for about five minutes, until I was nearly run down by one of those beastly Neapolitan caleches loaded with twenty or thirty natives."
"See here, old man, what a confoundedly good memory you have! You remember no end of a lot of things, and give all her speeches verbatim. What a capital newspaper reporter you'd make!"
"Oh, it's only her words, you know. She quickens my memory, and makes a different man of me."
"Yes, old chap, a different man altogether."
"So I say, by Jove! Head turned, eyes distorted, heart generally upset, circulation brought up to fever point, peace of mind gone, and a general mania in the place of the old self-reliance and content."
"Not content, old boy; I never had much of that."
"Well, we won't argue, will we? But as to the child-angel—what next? You'll call again?"
"Strike while the iron is hot, hey? Well, old man, I'll stand by you. Still I wish you could find out who her people are, just to satisfy a legitimate curiosity."
"Well, I don't know the Fays, but Lady Dalrymple is her aunt; and I know, too, that she is a niece of Sir Gilbert Biggs."
"What!" cried Hawbury, starting. "Who? Sir what?"
"Sir Gilbert Biggs."
"Sir Gilbert Biggs?"
"Sir Gilbert Biggs! By Jove! Are you sure you are right? Come, now. Isn't there some mistake?"
"Not a bit of a mistake; she's a niece of Sir Gilbert. I remember that, because the name is a familiar one."
"Familiar!" repeated Hawbury; "I should think so. By Jove!"
Hawbury here relapsed into silence, and sat with a frown on his face, and a puzzled expression. At times he would mutter such words as, "Deuced odd!" "Confounded queer!" "What a lot!" "By Jove!" while Dacres looked at him in some surprise.
"Look here, old fellow!" said he at last. "Will you have the kindness to inform me what there is in the little fact I just mentioned to upset a man of your size, age, fighting weight, and general coolness of blood?"
"Well, there is a deuced odd coincidence about it, that's all."
"Coincidence with what?"
"Well, I'll tell some other time. It's a sore subject, old fellow. Another time, my boy. I'll only mention now that it's the cause of my present absence from England. There's a bother that I don't care to encounter, and Sir Gilbert Biggs's nieces are at the bottom of it."
"You don't mean this one, I hope?" cried Dacres, in some alarm.
"Heaven forbid! By Jove! No. I hope not."
"No, I hope not, by Jove!" echoed the other.
"Well, old man," said Hawbury, after a fit of silence, "I suppose you'll push matters on now, hard and fast, and launch yourself into matrimony?"
"Well—I—suppose—so," said Dacres, hesitatingly.
"You suppose so. Of course you will. Don't I know you, old chap? Impetuous, tenacious of purpose, iron will, one idea, and all that sort of thing. Of course you will; and you'll be married in a month."
"Well," said Dacres, in the same hesitating way, "not so soon as that, I'm afraid."
"Why, I have to get the lady first."
"The lady; oh, she seems to be willing enough, judging from your description. Her pleading look at you. Why, man, there was love at first sight. Then tumbling down the crater of a volcano, and getting fished out. Why, man, what woman could resist a claim like that, especially when it is enforced by a man like Scone Dacres? And, by Jove! Sconey, allow me to inform you that I've always considered you a most infernally handsome man; and what's more, my opinion is worth something, by Jove!"
Hereupon Hawbury stretched his head and shoulders back, and pulled away with each hand at his long yellow pendent whiskers. Then he yawned. And then he slowly ejaculated,
"Well," said Dacres, thoughtfully, "there is something in what you say; and, to tell the truth, I think there's not a bad chance for me, so far as the lady herself is concerned; but the difficulty is not in that quarter."
"Not in that quarter! Why, where the mischief else could there be any difficulty, man?"
Dacres was silent.
"You're eager enough?"
Dacres nodded his head sadly.
"Eager! why, eager isn't the word. You're mad, man—mad as a March hare! So go in and win."
Dacres said nothing.
"You're rich, not over old, handsome, well born, well bred, and have saved the lady's life by extricating her from the crater of a volcano. She seems too young and childlike to have had any other affairs. She's probably just out of school; not been into society; not come out; just the girl. Confound these girls, I say, that have gone through engagements with other fellows!"
"Oh, as to that," said Dacres, "this little thing is just like a child, and in her very simplicity does not know what love is. Engagement! By Jove, I don't believe she knows the meaning of the word! She's perfectly fresh, artless, simple, and guileless. I don't believe she ever heard a word of sentiment or tenderness from any man in her life."
"Very likely; so where's the difficulty?"
"Well, to tell the truth, the difficulty is in my own affairs."
"Your affairs! Odd, too. What's up? I didn't know any thing had happened. That's too infernal bad, too."
"Oh, it's nothing of that sort; money's all right; no swindle. It's an affair of another character altogether."
"And one, too, that makes me think that—"
"That I'd better start for Australia."
"What's the meaning of that?"
"Why," said Dacres, gloomily, "it means giving up the child-angel, and trying to forget her—if I ever can."
"Forget her! What's the meaning of all this? Why, man, five minutes ago you were all on fire about her, and now you talk quietly about giving her up! I'm all adrift."
"Well, it's a mixed up matter."
"Your affair; something that has happened?"
"Yes. It's a sore matter, and I don't care to speak about it just now."
"And it's the real cause why I don't go back to England."
"The mischief it is! Why, Dacres, I'll be hanged if you're not using the very words I myself used a few minutes ago."
"Am I?" said Dacres, gloomily.
"You certainly are; and that makes me think that our affairs are in a similar complication."
"Oh no; mine is very peculiar."
"Well, there's one thing I should like to ask, and you needn't answer unless you like."
"Doesn't your difficulty arise from some confounded woman or other?"
"By Jove, I knew it! And, old fellow, I'm in the same situation."
"Oh ho! So you're driven away from England by a woman?"
Dacres sighed heavily.
"Yours can't be as bad as mine," said he, with a dismal look. "Mine is the worst scrape that ever you heard of. And look at me now, with the child-angel all ready to take me, and me not able to be taken. Confound the abominable complications of an accursed civilization, I say!"
"And I say, Amen!" said Hawbury.
THE FIERY TRIAL.
"See here, old chap," said Hawbury, "I'm going to make a clean breast of it."
"Of my affair."
"That's right," said Dacres, dolefully. "I should like of all things to hear it."
"You see I wouldn't tell you, only you yourself turn out to be in a similar situation, and so what I have to say may prove of use to you. At any rate, you may give me some useful suggestion.
"Very well, then," continued Hawbury—"to begin. You may remember that I told you when we met here where I had been passing the time since I saw you last."
Dacres nodded assent.
"Well, about two years ago I was in Canada. I went there for sport, and plunged at once into the wilderness. And let me tell you it's a very pretty country for hunting. Lots of game—fish, flesh, and fowl—from the cariboo down to the smallest trout that you would care to hook. Glorious country; magnificent forests waiting for the lumberman; air that acts on you like wine, or even better; rivers and lakes in all directions; no end of sport and all that sort of thing, you know. Have you ever been in Canada?"
"Only traveled through."
"Well, the next time you feel inclined for high art sport we'll go together, and have no end of fun—that is, if you're not married and done for, which, of course, you will be. No matter. I was saying that I was in a fine country. I spent a couple of months there with two or three Indians, and at length started for Ottawa on my way home. The Indians put me on the right path, after which I dismissed them, and set out alone with my gun and fishing-rod.
"The first day was all very well, and I slept well enough the first night; but on the morning of the second day I found the air full of smoke. However, I did not give much thought to that, for there had been a smoky look about the sky for a week, and the woods are always burning there, I believe, in one place or another. I kept on, and shot enough for food, and thus the second day passed. That evening the air was quite suffocating, and it was as hot as an oven. I struggled through the night, I don't know how; and then on the third day made another start. This third day was abominable. The atmosphere was beastly hot; the sky was a dull yellow, and the birds seemed to have all disappeared. As I went on it grew worse, but I found it was not because the fires were in front of me. On the contrary, they were behind me, and were driving on so that they were gradually approaching nearer. I could do my thirty miles a day even in that rough country, but the fires could do more. At last I came into a track that was a little wider than the first one. As I went on I met cattle which appeared stupefied. Showers of dust were in the air; the atmosphere was worse than ever, and I never had such difficulty in my life in walking along. I had to throw away my rifle and fishing-rod, and was just thinking of pitching my clothes after them, when suddenly I turned a bend in the path, and met a young girl full in the face.
"By Jove! I swear I never was so astounded in my life. I hurried up to her, and just began to ask where I was, when she interrupted me with a question of the same kind. By-the-way, I forgot to say that she was on horseback. The poor devil of a horse seemed to have had a deuced hard time of it too, for he was trembling from head to foot, though whether that arose from fatigue or fright I don't know. Perhaps it was both.
"Well, the girl was evidently very much alarmed. She was awfully pale; she was a monstrous pretty girl too—the prettiest by all odds I ever saw, and that's saying a good deal. By Jove! Well, it turned out that she had been stopping in the back country for a month, at a house somewhere up the river, with her father. Her father had gone down to Ottawa a week before, and was expected back on this day. She had come out to meet him, and had lost her way. She had been out for hours, and was completely bewildered. She was also frightened at the fires, which now seemed to be all around us. This she told me in a few words, and asked if I knew where the river was.
"Of course I knew no more than she did, and it needed only a few words from me to show her that I was as much in the dark as she was. I began to question her, however, as to this river, for it struck me that in the present state of affairs a river would not be a bad thing to have near one. In answer to my question she said that she had come upon this road from the woods on the left, and therefore it was evident that the river lay in that direction.
"I assured her that I would do whatever lay in my power; and with that I walked on in the direction in which I had been going, while she rode by my side. Some further questions as to the situation of the house where she had been staying showed me that it was on the banks of the river about fifty miles above Ottawa. By my own calculations I was about that distance away. It seemed to me, then, that she had got lost in the woods, and had wandered thus over some trail to the path where she had met me. Every thing served to show me that the river lay to the left, and so I resolved to turn in at the first path which I reached.
"At length, after about two miles, we came to a path which went into the woods. My companion was sure that this was the very one by which she had come out, and this confirmed the impression which the sight of it had given me. I thought it certainly must lead toward the river. So we turned into this path. I went first, and she followed, and so we went for about a couple of miles further.
"All this time the heat had been getting worse and worse. The air was more smoky than ever; my mouth was parched and dry. I breathed with difficulty, and could scarcely drag one leg after another. The lady was almost as much exhausted as I was, and suffered acutely, as I could easily see, though she uttered not a word of complaint. Her horse also suffered terribly, and did not seem able to bear her weight much longer. The poor brute trembled and staggered, and once or twice stopped, so that it was difficult to start him again. The road had gone in a winding way, but was not so crooked as I expected. I afterward found that she had gone by other paths until she had found herself in thick woods, and then on trying to retrace her way she had strayed into this path. If she had turned to the left on first reaching it, instead of to the right, the fate of each of us would have been different. Our meeting was no doubt the salvation of both.
"There was a wooded eminence in front, which we had been steadily approaching for some time. At last we reached the top, and here a scene burst upon us which was rather startling. The hill was high enough to command an extensive view, and the first thing that we saw was a vast extent of woods and water and smoke. By-and-by we were able to distinguish each. The water was the river, which could be seen for miles. Up the river toward the left the smoke arose in great volumes, covering every thing; while in front of us, and immediately between us and the river, there was a line of smoke which showed that the fires had penetrated there and had intercepted us.
"We stood still in bewilderment. I looked all around. To go back was as bad as to go forward, for there, also, a line of smoke arose which showed the progress of the flames. To the right there was less smoke; but in that direction there was only a wilderness, through which we could not hope to pass for any distance. The only hope was the river. If we could traverse the flames in that direction, so as to reach the water, we would be safe. In a few words I communicated my decision to my companion. She said nothing, but bowed her head in acquiescence.
"Without delaying any longer we resumed our walk. After about a mile we found ourselves compelled once more to halt. The view here was worse than ever. The path was now as wide as an ordinary road, and grew wider still as it went on. It was evidently used to haul logs down to the river, and as it approached the bank it grew steadily wider; but between us and the river the woods were all burning. The first rush of the fire was over, and now we looked forward and saw a vast array of columns—the trunks of burned trees—some blackened and charred, others glowing red. The ground below was also glowing red, with blackened spaces here and there.
"Still the burned tract was but a strip, and there lay our hope. The fire, by some strange means, had passed on a track not wider than a hundred yards, and this was what had to be traversed by us. The question was, whether we could pass through that or not. The same question came to both of us, and neither of us said a word. But before I could ask the lady about it, her horse became frightened at the flames. I advised her to dismount, for I knew that the poor brute could never be forced through those fires. She did so, and the horse, with a horrible snort, turned and galloped wildly away.
"I now looked around once more, and saw that there was no escape except in front. The flames were encircling us, and a vast cloud of smoke surrounded us every where, rising far up and rolling overhead. Cinders fell in immense showers, and the fine ashes, with which the air was filled, choked us and got into our eyes.
"'There is only one chance,' said I; 'and that is to make a dash for the river. Can you do it?'
"'I'll try,' she said.
"'We'll have to go through the fires.'
"'Well, then,' I said, 'do as I say. Take off your sacque and wrap it around your head and shoulders.'
"She took off her sacque at this. It was a loose robe of merino or alpaca, or something of that sort, and very well suited for what I wanted. I wrapped it round her so as to protect her face, head, and shoulders; and taking off my coat I did the same.
"'Now,' said I, 'hold your breath as well as you can. You may keep your eyes shut. Give me your hand—I'll lead you.'
"Taking her hand I led her forward at a rapid pace. Once she fell, but she quickly recovered herself, and soon we reached the edge of the flames.
"I tell you what it is, my boy, the heat was terrific, and the sight was more so. The river was not more than a hundred yards away, but between us and it there lay what seemed as bad as the burning fiery furnace of Messrs. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. If I were now standing there, I don't think I could face it. But then I was with the girl; I had to save her. Fire was behind us, racing after us; water lay in front. Once there and we were safe. It was not a time to dawdle or hesitate, I can assure you.
"'Now,' said I, 'run for your life!'
"Grasping her hand more firmly, I started off with her at the full run. The place was terrible, and grew worse at every step. The road here was about fifty feet wide. On each side was the burning forest, with a row of burned trees like fiery columns, and the moss and underbrush still glowing beneath. To pass through that was a thing that it don't do to look back upon. The air was intolerable. I wrapped my coat tighter over my head; my arms were thus exposed, and I felt the heat on my hands. But that was nothing to the torments that I endured from trying to breathe. Besides this, the enormous effort of keeping up a run made breathing all the more difficult. A feeling of despair came over me. Already we had gone half the distance, but at that moment the space seemed lengthened out interminably, and I looked in horror at the rest of the way, with a feeling of the utter impossibility of traversing it.
"Suddenly the lady fell headlong. I stopped and raised her up. My coat fell off; I felt the fiery air all round my face and head. I called and screamed to the lady as I tried to raise her up; but she said nothing. She was as lifeless as a stone.
"Well, my boy, I thought it was all up with me; but I, at least, could stand, though I did not think that I could take another breath. As for the lady, there was no help for it; so I grasped her with all my strength, still keeping her head covered as well as I could, and slung her over my shoulders. Then away I ran. I don't remember much after that. I must have lost my senses then, and, what is more, I must have accomplished the rest of the journey in that semi-unconscious state.
"What I do remember is this—a wild plunge into the water; and the delicious coolness that I felt all around restored me, and I at once comprehended all. The lady was by my side; the shock and the cool water had restored her also. She was standing up to her shoulders just where she had fallen, and was panting and sobbing. I spoke a few words of good cheer, and then looked around for some place of refuge. Just where we stood there was nothing but fire and desolation, and it was necessary to go further away. Well, some distance out, about half-way across the river, I saw a little island, with rocky sides, and trees on the top. It looked safe and cool and inviting. I determined to try to get there. Some deals were in the water by the bank, which had probably floated down from some saw-mill. I took half a dozen of these, flung two or three more on top of them, and then told the lady my plan. It was to float out to the island by means of this raft. I offered to put her on it and let her float; but she refused, preferring to be in the water.