MARIA THOMPSON DAVIESS
Author of "The Melting of Molly," "Miss Selina Lue," "Over Paradise Ridge, etc."
Frontispiece from Painting by E. Sophonisba Hergesheimer
To Jessie Morson Grahame Who expects "the best" of me
I SPARKLING WAVES OVER HIGH EXPLOSIVES
II VIVE LA FRANCE!
III THAT MR. G. SLADE OF DETROIT
IV THE IMPOSSIBLE UNCLE ROBERT
V "HERE'S MY BOY, GOVERNOR"
VI "WE BOTH NEED YOU"
VII THE GIRL BUNCH
VIII IN THE DRESS OF MAGNIFICENCE
IX "O'ER THE LAND OF THE FREE—"
X VITRIOL AND THE HOODOO
XI BUSINESS AND PIE
XII THE BEAUTIFUL MADAM WHITWORTH
XIII BROTHERS BY BLOODSHED
XIV TO BEAR MEN AND TO SAVE THEM
XV "BEHOLD, I AM A SPY!"
XVI "IMMEDIATELY I COME TO YOU!"
XVII THE TALL TIMBERS OF OLD HARPETH
XVIII THE CAMP HEAVEN
XIX ALL IS LOST
XX "YOU ARE—MYSELF!"
SPARKLING WAVES OVER HIGH EXPLOSIVES
Was there ever a woman who did not very greatly desire for herself, at long moments, the doublet and hose of a man, perhaps also his sword, as well as his attitude in the viewing of life? I think not. To a very small number of those ladies of great curiosity it has been granted that they climb to those ramparts of the life of a man; but it was needful that they be stout of limb and sturdy of heart to sustain themselves upon that eminence and not be dashed below upon the rocks of a strange land. I, Roberta, Marquise de Grez and Bye, have obtained glimpses into a far country and this is what I bring on returning, not as a spy, but, shall I say, laden with spices and forbidden fruit?
And for me it has been a very fine dash into the wilds of a land of strangeness, and I do not know that I have yet found myself completely returned unto my estate of a woman.
I first began to realize that I was set out upon a great journey when I stood at the rail of the very large ship and watched it plow its way through the waves which they told us with their splendor hid cruel mines. I felt the future might be like unto those great waves, and it might be that it would break in sparkling crests over high explosives. I found them!
I had seen a fear of those explosives of life come in my dying father's eyes, and here I stood at his command out on the ocean in quest of a woman's fate in a strange country.
"Get back to America, Bob, and go straight to your Uncle Robert at Hayesville in the Harpeth Valley. He cut me loose because he didn't understand, when I married your mother out of the French opera in Paris. When I named you Roberta for him he returned the letter I sent but with a notice of a thousand dollars in Monroe and Company for you. I didn't tell him when your mother died. God, I've been bitter! But these German bullets have cut the life out of me and I see more plainly. Get the money and take Nannette and the kiddie on the first boat. There's starvation and—maybe worse in Paris for you. Take—the money—and—get—to—brother Robert. God of America—take—them and—guide—"
And that was all. I held him in my arms for a long time, while old Nannette and small Pierre wept beside me, and then I laid him upon his pillow and straightened the little tricolor that the good Sister of the old gray convent in which he lay had given me to place in his hand when he had begged for it. My mother's country had meant my mother to him and he had given his life for her and France in the trenches of the Vosges. And thus at his bidding I was on the very high seas of adventure. From this thought of him I was very suddenly recalled by old Nannette who came upon the deck from below.
"Le bon Dieu," she sighed, as she settled herself in her steamer chair and took out the lace knitting. "Is it not of a goodness that I have tied in my stocking the necessary francs that we may land in that America, where all is of such a good fortune? And also by my skill we have one hundred and fifty francs above that need which must be almost an hundred of their huge and wasteful dollars. All is well with us." And as she spoke she pulled up the collar of Pierre's soft blue serge blouse around his pale thin face and eased the cushion behind his crooked small back.
"Is—is that all which remains of the fifteen hundred dollars we found to be in that bank, Nannette?" I asked of her with a great uncertainty. My mother's fortune, descended from her father, the Marquis de Grez and Bye, and the income of my father from his government post, had made life easy to live in that old house by the Quay, where so many from the Faubourg St. Germaine came to hear her sing after her fortune and children took her from the Opera—and to go for the summers in the gray old Chateau de Grez—but of the investment of francs or dollars and cents I had no knowledge, in spite of my claims to be an American girl of much progress. My mother had laughed and very greatly adored my assumption of an extreme American manner, copied as nearly as possible after that of my father, and had failed to teach to me even that thrift which is a part of the dot of every French girl from the Faubourg St. Germaine to the Boulevard St. Michel. But even in my ignorance the information of Nannette as to the smallness of our fortune gave to me an alarm.
"What will you, Mademoiselle? It was necessary that I purchase the raiment needful to the young Marquis de Grez according to his state, and for the Marquise his sister also. It was not to be contemplated that we should travel except in apartments of the very best in the ship. Is not gold enough in America even for sending in great sums for relief of suffering? Have I not seen it given in the streets of Paris? Is it not there for us? Do you make me reproaches?" And Nannette began to weep into the fine lawn of her nurse's handkerchief.
"No, no, Nannette; I know it was of a necessity to us to have the clothes, and of course we had to travel in the first class. Do not have distress. If we need more money in America I will obtain it." I made that answer with a gesture of soothing upon her old shoulders which I could never remember as not bent in an attitude of hovering over Pierre or me.
"Eh bien!" she answered with a perfect satisfaction at my assumption of all the responsibilities of our three existences.
And as I leaned against the deck rail and looked out into a future as limitless as that water ahead of us into which the great ship was plowing, I made a remark to myself that had in it all the wisdom of those who are ignorant.
"The best of life is not to know what will happen next."
"Ah, that was so extraordinary coming from a woman that you must pardon me for listening and making exclamation," came an answer in a nice voice near at my elbow. The words were spoken in as perfect English as I had learned from my father, but in them I observed to be an intonation that my French ear detected as Parisian. "Also, Mademoiselle, are you young women of the new era to be without that very delightful but often danger-creating quality of curiosity?" As I turned I looked with startled eyes into the grave face of a man less than forty years, whose sad eyes were for the moment lighting with a great tenderness which I did not understand.
"I believe the quality which will be most required of the women of the era which is mine, is—is courage and then more courage, Monsieur," I made answer to him as if I had been discussing some question with him in my father's smoking room at the Chateau de Grez, as I often came in to do with my father and his friends after the death of my mother when the evenings seemed too long alone. They had liked that I so came at times, and the old Count de Breaux once had remarked that feminine sympathy was the flux with which men made solid their minds into a unanimous purpose. He had been speaking of that war a few weeks after Louvaine and I had risen and had stood very tall and very haughty before him and my father.
"The women of France are to come after this carnage to mold a nation from what remains to them, Monsieur," I had said to him as I looked straight into his face. "Is not the courage of women a war supply upon which to rely?"
"God! what are the young women—such women as she—going to do in the years that come after the deluge, Henri of America?" he had made a muttering question to my father as his old eyes smouldered over me in the fire-light.
From the memory of the smoking room at the Chateau de Grez my mind suddenly returned to the rail of the ship and the Frenchman beside me, who was looking into my face with the same kindly question as to my future that had been in the eyes of my old godfather and which had stirred my father's heart to its American depths and made him send me back to his own country.
"Ah, yes, that courage is a good weapon with which to adventure in this America of the Grizzled Bear, Mademoiselle," I found the strange man saying to me with a nice amusement as well as interest.
"My father had shot seven grizzlies before his twenty-first birthday. We have the skins, four of them, in the great hall of the Chateau de Grez—or—or we did have them before—before—" My voice faltered and I could not continue speaking for the tears that rose in my throat and eyes.
Quickly the man at my side turned his broad shoulders so that he should shield me from the laughing and exclaiming groups of people upon the deck near us.
"Before Ypres, Mademoiselle?" he asked with tears also in the depths of his voice.
"Yes," I answered. "And I am now going into the great America with my crippled brother and his nurse—alone. It is the land of my father and I have his courage—I must have also that of a French woman. I have it, Monsieur," and as I spoke I drew myself to my full, broad-shouldered height, which was almost equal to that of the man beside me.
"Mademoiselle, I salute the courage born of an American who fought before the guns of the Marne and of a French woman who sent him there!" And as he spoke thus he removed from his head his silk deck cap and held it at his shoulder in a way that I knew was a salute from a French officer to the memory of a brother. "And also may I be permitted to present myself, as it is a sad necessity that you travel without one from whom I might request the introduction?" he asked of me with a beautiful reverence.
After a search in his pocket for a few seconds he at last discovered a case of leather and presented to me a card. As he handed it to me his color rose up under his black eyes and grave trouble looked from between their long black lashes. I glanced down at the card and read:
Capitaine, le Count Armond de Lasselles, Paris, France. 44th Chasseurs de le Republique Francaise.
"Monsieur le Count, I know, I know why it is that you go to America!" I made exclamation as I clasped to my breast my hands and my eyes shone with excitement. "I have read it in Le Matin just the day before yesterday. You go to buy grain against the winter of starvation in the Republique. No man is so great a financier as you and so brave a soldier, with your wound not healed from the trenches in the Vosges. Monsieur, I salute you!" and I bent my head and held out my hand to him.
"We're to expect nimble wits as well as courage of you young—shall I say American women?" he laughed as he bent over my hand. "Now shall I not be led for introduction to the small brother and the old nurse?" he asked with much friendly interest in his kind eyes.
It was a very wonderful thing to observe the wee Pierre listen to the narration of Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles, concerning the actions of a small boy who had run out of a night of shot and shell into the heart of his regiment and who had now lived five months in the trenches with them. Pierre's small face is all of France and in his heart under his bent chest burns a soul all of France. It is as if in her death, at his birth, my beautiful mother had stamped her race upon him with the greater emphasis.
"Is it that the small Gaston is a daredevil like is my Bob?" he questioned as we all made a laughter at the story of the Count de Lasselles concerning the sortie of the small idol from the trenches in the dead of one peaceful night to return with a very wide thick flannel shirt of one of the Boches, which he had caught hanging upon a temporary laundry line back of the German trenches.
At that English "daredevil" word I was in my mind again back in the old Chateau de Grez and into my own childhood.
"You young daredevil, you, hold tight to that vine until I get a grip on your wrist, or you'll dash us both on the rocks below," was the exact sentence with which my father bestowed my title upon me as he hung by his heels out of a window of the old vine-covered Chateau de Grez.
"It is one large mistake that my jeune fille is born what you call a boy in heart. Helas!" sobbed my beautiful young French mother as she regarded us from the garden below.
"If you were a boy I'd thrash you within an inch of your life, but as you are a girl I suppose it is permissible for me to admire your pluck, Mademoiselle Roberta," said my father as he landed me in the music room by his side while an exchange of excited sentences went on between my mother and old Nannette in the garden below. "What were you doing out on that ledge, anyway? It is more than a hundred feet to the ground and the rocks."
"I was making the hunt through Yellowstone Park that you have related to me, father, and I prefer that you give me a boy's punishment. If I have a boy's what you call 'pluck,' I should have a boy's what you call 'thrashing.' Monsieur, I make that demand. I am the Marquise de Grez and Bye, and it may be that as you are an American you do not understand fully the honor of the house of Grez." I can remember that as I spoke I drew my ten-year old body up to its full height, which must have been over that of twelve years, and looked my father straight in the face with a glance of extreme hauteur as near as was possible to that of the portrait of the old Marquis de Grez, who died fighting on the field of Flanders.
"Eh, la la, what is it I have produced for you, Henri of America? It is not a proper jeune fille, nor do I know what punishment to impose upon her; but with you I must laugh," with which my beautiful mother from the doorway threw herself into the arms of her young American husband and her laughter of silver mingled with his deep laugh of a great joy.
"Don't worry, Celeste; Bob is just a clear throw-back to her great-grandmother, Nancy Donaldson, who shot two Indians and a bear in defense of her kiddies one afternoon while my maternal grandsire was in the stockades presiding over the council in which was laid down the first broad draft for the formation of the Commonwealth of Harpeth. I'm sorry, dear, that she is so vigorously American that she has to climb the Rocky Mountains even here in the garden spot of France. Just now she is French enough to be dealing with me in the terms of that jolly old boy of Flanders fame in the hall downstairs; but cheer up, sweetheart, she's a wild, daredevil American and I'm going to send her back to the plains as soon as she speaks her native tongue with less French accent. Then the rest of us can be happily French forever after."
"I will speak as you do, my father, from this moment forth," I answered him with something that was wild and fierce and free rising in my child's heart. "I will not be a grande dame of France. I am a woman of America. I speak only United States." And I clung to my father's arm as he drew me to him and embraced both my laughing mother and me, before I was delivered to old Nannette who, with affectionate French grumblings, led me away to the nursery for repairs.
The scene had become fixed in my memory, for from it had sprung a friendship of a great closeness with my wonderful American father whom love had chained in France. When he rode the great hunter that had come across to him from a friend in Kentucky I demanded to cling behind him or to sit the saddle in front of him, even at times running at his side as long as my breath held out, to rise on his stirrup, like the great terrifying Scotchmen do in battles, and cling as Kentuck made flight over wall or fence. My very slim and strong hands could not be kept from the steering wheel of his long blue racing car, and I could bring down a hare out of the field with any gun he possessed as unerringly as could he. I lived his life with him hour by hour, learned to think as he thought, to speak his easy transatlantic speech, and did equal trencher duty with him at all times, so that muscle and brawn were packed on my tall, broad woman's body with the same compactness as it was packed upon his, by the time I had reached my twenty-first birthday. By that time he and I had been alone together for eight long years, for my mother had left us with tiny, misshapen Pierre as a heart burden but with only each other to be companions.
The efforts of some of my mother's distant relatives and friends to make me into the traditional young French Marquise had resulted in giving to me a very beautiful grande dame manner to use when I stood in need of it, which I took a care was not too often. Because I had been born to a woman's estate I considered I must manage well beautiful skirts and lacy fans, but no oftener than was necessary, I decided. I went for the most of my days habited in English knickerbockers under short corduroy skirts, worn with a many-pocketed hunting blouse. On the night of my presentation at the salon of my distant relative, the old Countess de Rochampierre, I had to apologize to a young Russian attache for searching with desperation for the bit of lace called a handkerchief, among the laces and ruffles of my evening gown in the regions where I had been accustomed to find sensible pockets.
"And is it possible that Mademoiselle Americaine hunts as well as she makes the dance?" was his delighted answer to my explanation, which led into a half-hour description of a raw morning in the field just three days before in England, where my father and I had gone over for a week's hunting with Lord Gordon Leigh at Leigholm.
"And then some," I returned answer with delight at his sympathy in my narration of the sport. I liked very well the American slang that my father's friends were always glad to teach to me, and that gave to him both amusement and delight when I used it in his presence.
Also I liked well that young Russian and he came many times to the Chateau de Grez and Bye before he left to join his regiment of Russian Cossacks in the Carpathians.
And this time it was from the Carpathians that I returned to the ship deck to find wee Pierre laughing again over the very small dog that brought into the French trenches a very large and stupid sheep from the flock back of the German trenches.
"And your medal of honor, Monsieur le Capitaine; is it permitted that I lay for a little moment just one finger upon it?" Pierre asked of him as the great soldier stood tall above the steamer chair and gave to the little Frenchman the salute of an officer.
Nannette sobbed into her lace and I turned my head away as the tall man bent and laid the frail little hand against his decoration which he wore almost entirely hidden under the pocket of his tweed Norfolk of English manufacture. Only French eyes like wee Pierre's could have seen it pinned there hidden over his heart. I think he wore it to give him a large courage for his mission that meant bread or starvation to so many of his people.
"Ah, Monsieur le Capitaine," I said to him with a softness of tears in my throat, "I would that there was some little thing that I might do to serve France. I do so long to go into those awful trenches with that red cross on my arm, as it is not permitted to me to carry a gun, which I can use much better than many men now handling them with bullets against the enemy; but it is necessary that I obey the commands of my soldier father and take to a safety the small Pierre." And as we spoke he walked beside me to the prow of the large ship so that to us was a view of the heavens of blue beyond which lay our America.
"My child, there is a great service which you can render France," he answered me as we stopped to watch the great white waves flung aside from the ship. "France needs friends in America, great powerful friends who will help her in contracting for food and all other munitions. A beautiful woman can do much in winning those friends. You go to your uncle, who is one of those in power in a State in that fruitful valley of the Mississippi from which I hope that my lieutenant, Count de Bourdon, whom I sent on that mission, will get many mules to carry food to the hungry boys in the trenches when mud is too deep for gasoline. Make of him and everyone your friend and through you the friend of our struggling country. Tell them of France, laugh with them for the joy to come when France, all France, with Alsace and beautiful Lorraine, is free; and make them weep with you for her struggles. Who knows but that through you may come some wonderful strength added to your old country from the new, whose blood runs in your veins as well?"
"All of that I will do, mon Capitaine. I so enlist myself." And as I spoke I drew myself up unto the greatest height possible to me. "I will be of the army that feeds, rather than of that which kills."
"Mon Dieu, child, what is possible to you to do has no limit. Also, I say to you, watch and be on your guard for aught that may harm France. In America are spies. I have been warned. Also there are those who practice deceptions in contracts. It is for the purpose to so guard that I come to America."
"I also will so guard," I made answer to my Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles, as we again came in our walk to the side of wee Pierre and old Nannette.
VIVE LA FRANCE
And after that first day there were many hours that the Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles, spent with little Pierre and the good Nannette, as she sat knitting always with the sun on the water reddening her round cheeks, while I had much pleasure with many friends who came to me upon the ship.
A very fine young man who was named William Raines, from the State of Saint Louis, instructed me in several beautiful dances, but I do not think he was held in the esteem which he deserved by another of his American brothers by the name of Peter Scudder, whose home was in the town of Philadelphia.
"Dancing with Scudder must be like going to your grandmother's funeral over the old State Road in a rockaway," was the comment that Mr. William Raines made upon his friend Mr.
Peter Scudder, and what Mr. Scudder said of him was of the same unkindness.
"Raines' dancing is extremely like Saint Louis: delightfully rapid but crude," was his comment.
I should have been regretful of the unkindness between those two very nice Americans but for a beautiful good to France that was brought about by the desire of each to please me more than the other.
The many ladies upon the ship had been of exceeding kindness to me because of the loveliness of small Pierre's dark face and the pity of his crooked back. Old Nannette was of a very great popularity with all of those ladies and she spent many hours in recounting the glories of the old Chateau de Grez and Bye and the family which had inhabited it since the fourteenth century. So it came about that many friends were made for France among them.
Now that Mr. William Raines had a very nice idea to invite in my honor all of the ladies who were friends to me, and many distinguished gentlemen of politics and of universities and other large affairs, who were returning from business in Europe to more business in America, to be present while a young boy of France, who was among those in the steerage going to the freedom of America with his mother who had been widowed at Ypres, sang in a very lovely voice many French folk songs and songs of war to all present. And at that singing many tears flowed and so much money was put into the hands of the boy that a future for the very sad little French family was assured in America. And I also wept. I was taken into the embrace of all of those kind American women and assured of so much care and affection in that land of my father, that I felt of a very great richness in spite of the small sum of money in the heel of Nannette's rough stocking. And as I received all of these beautiful attentions I perceived the eyes of my Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles, fixed upon me with a deep gratitude and pride. It was all of a great pleasure to me except that I did not like very well to be so distinguished by a young man, which made the French grande dame in me to shrink.
"Mais, vive la France," I murmured to myself and was happy again.
But, alas! At the joy of all this entertainment there was one sadness. It was of my dear friend, Mr. Peter Scudder. There was no pleasure, but great seriousness, in his face during the whole afternoon.
"Don't mind him; poor Pete's chewing a grouch," was what his good friend Mr. William Raines answered to my lament over his sadness. And that sadness lasted for three days, up unto the day before we came to a sight of the Lady of Liberty of America. Then his face found a great radiance and I perceived that he was full of much business. I found him with a notebook, in deep consultation with my Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles, and then in earnest consultation with many of the other gentlemen. I had much wonder; but at the dinner that night, which was the last before we made the landing to America, I discovered all of his good actions. While we were at the last of the coffee, Mr. Peter Scudder arose and made a bow to the capitaine of the ship, beside whom I sat, which salutation did not in any way include me, and then turned to the direction of my Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles.
"Sir," he said in that very nice voice which it is said is of Philadelphia, "I have the honor to ask you if you will take charge of a fund of five thousand dollars, which has been given by the passengers of this boat, to be sent immediately to a field hospital of France, preferably the nearest in need to the battlefield of the Marne." And with no more of a speech than that he seated himself and did not so much as make a glance in my direction when he mentioned the battlefield on which my father had died. I think that Mr. Peter Scudder is a very great gentleman and I sat very still and white, with my head held high and tears rising from the depths of France in my heart.
"My honored friends," answered my Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles, as he rose from his place at the foot of the table and stood tall and slim in the manner of a great soldier, "it is impossible that I say to you my gratitude for this expression of your friendship for my country. So many dollars will bring life and an end of suffering to many hundreds of my brave boys, but the good will and sympathy it represents from America to France will do still more. The fund shall go to the place you request and I now beg to offer to you a toast that will be of an understanding to you." And at that moment he raised his glass of champagne and said:
"To the destiny of those born of American and French blood commingled!"
All those present arose to their feet and drank that toast with loving looking at me, and I did not know what I should do until that good old gray boat capitaine patted me upon the shoulder and said across his empty glass:
"God bless and keep you, child!"
"I thank everybody," I answered as I went into the embrace of my very large lady friend from the State of Cincinnati, and then into the embrace of the other ladies.
"I've been knitting all day for two months but I'm going to begin to sit up at night," sobbed the lady from a queer Keokuk name as I took her into my embrace on account of her extreme smallness.
It was at a very late hour, just before retiring, that I ascended to the deck with my Capitaine to view the effect of a very young moon on the waves of the ocean.
"Is it that you think now your soldier of France has done your command well, mon Capitaine?" I asked of him.
"Most extremely well, and entirely in the mode of a woman. Those two young men have made of themselves very noble competitors for your favor, but remember that it is of a truth that only a 'daredevil' would bring together such high explosives. I salute you!" he made answer to me with a laugh which ended in a sigh. "Child, little child," he continued as he bent over my hand to kiss it as he did each night before he conducted me to the head of the stairs leading down into my cabin, "above all take unto yourself all that is possible of joy in the present, for we do not know what the supply will be for the future. Perhaps it will be like the harvests of France—burned up in a world-conflagration."
"Ah, but, mon Capitaine, will you not dance with me once to-night for a joy. It will be our last on the ship before we land to-morrow. You have never danced with me and to-morrow you are lost from me into the wilds of that English Canada." And as I spoke I held out my arms to him and began to hum the music of that remarkable Chin-Chin fox dance that I had been dancing below with Mr. William Raines and which the band had just begun to play again. Of course, I knew that I must be very lovely in that young moonlight in one of the frocks that Nannette had purchased from her very talented cousin, the couturiere on Rue Leopold, and I could see no reason why I should not make a happiness for the great gentleman of France as well as the young boy from Philadelphia and also the one from Saint Louis.
"You are a daredevil, Mademoiselle, to propose the dance to powder-stained Armond Lasselles, but the joy of you is of a greatness and I feel from it a healing in the night of my soul."
And he reached out in the moonlight and took me into his arms and danced me along that deck with a grace that it would not be possible for either the one from Philadelphia or the one from Saint Louis to imitate. That nice but very ponderous lady from the State of Cincinnati who regarded us from her steamer chair, enjoyed it as much as did I, and she clapped her large hands as Monsieur le Capitaine swung me around into the quietness beyond one of the tall chimneys for smoke from the engine.
"This is good-bye, mon enfant, for I leave the ship at dawn with the tug, so that I do avoid those reporters from newspapers and the contract conspirators. I have advised Nannette that you go to the Ritz-Carlton to await your Uncle if he be not upon the dock. I go to the grain fields of Canada and then to the West of America.... I would that it could be au revoir. Upon a day that shall come, beautiful lady, perhaps it will be permitted to me to... Non, vive la France! A lies vite, cherie ... go while I—I—Vive la France!"
And tears came across my eyes as I did his bidding and left him—to France. In my heart was a desire to cling to him in a great fear at being alone to care for the good Nannette and the small Pierre, but I knew he must travel fast and far on his quest and that for France I must let him go without—a backward look. Would I find in the great land of America such another gallant gentleman to care for the fate of the small Pierre and Nannette and me? What did I know of this cruel Uncle? Nothing but his hardness of heart. I dreaded the sight of him that I should find upon the arrival of the ship at the dock, which would be an answer to the letter I had sent to him to inform him of my coming, and I spent my long night in hate of him.
With the arrival of the morning came more mines that exploded for me under the waves of my life that had danced with so little concern through the days upon the ship. A rain was falling and my friend of France was gone from me at the beginning of day in a boat that is called tug. Upon Nannette had fallen a rheumatism and the small Pierre was in the midst of shivering chills when we at last were permitted by the very unpleasant officer of America to go from the ship.
"Helas, it was all of the gold that he took from me for an entry into this savage land where one piece of money is as five of that of France. There remains but a few sous and a gold piece," sobbed Nannette as she came from her interview with the immigration officer while I stood beside Pierre, deposited by a deck steward on a pile of our steamer blankets.
"Did it take all—all of the money to land, Nannette? Not all!" I cried as I stretched out my hand to her. I did not know as I now do, that the money would have been returned to Nannette had she waited with patience and not made a hurry of returning to her nurslings.
"All, Mademoiselle," were the words with which she answered me, and for some very long moments I stood dazed and struggled in the waves of that adventure I had thought to be life.
"I beg your pardon, Marquise, but here is a letter the dock steward failed to find you to deliver," came in the pleasant voice of that Mr. William Raines as he raised a very fine hat that made him much better to look upon than the cap of the steamer, and handed me a large letter. I took it and came with my head out from under the wave which had dashed over me.
"Is there anything I can do to help you through the customs?" then came the nice voice of that Mr. Peter Scudder of Philadelphia from the other side of me.
"No, with much gratitude to you both; I must wait the arrival of my Uncle," I made answer to them with my head held very high.
"Then we'll see you at the Ritz for tea at five as per promise," said Mr. William Raines as he walked away and left Mr. Peter Scudder, who was assisting the lady from Cincinnati to transport her very lovely dog to a handsome car which awaited her. She also had I promised to visit from that great Ritz-Carlton hotel and she smiled in sweet friendliness to me as I stood with the letter in my hand and watched all of the friends I had found upon that ship, depart and leave me with not a place to go. I stood for many minutes motionless and then my eyes perceived the letter in my hand. Surely it must be opened and read. It was from the wicked Uncle, I knew, but it might be that it was not of the cruelty that I had expected. It would excuse him no doubt from arrival in person for the expected greeting to his relatives, Pierre and myself.
"Go to it, Bob," I advised myself in the language I had heard Mr. Saint Louis use when he was forced to ask a nice lady, who danced with disagreeable heaviness, to trot the fox with him because of a friendship with his mother.
And this is the letter that my eyes read with astonishment, while both the good Nannette and small shivering Pierre sat with their eyes fixed upon my countenance:
"My dear nephew Robert:
"Your arrival in America at this time suits me exactly. I need you immediately in my business. If you had been the girl, instead of the little one, I would have had to dispose of you some way—even murder. I have no use for women. Leave the little crippled girl and her nurse, who I feel sure is an old fool, with my good friend Dr. Mason Burns, of 222 South 32nd St. He has cured more children of hip joint disease than any man in the world, and he will straighten her out for us and we can give her away to somebody. I've written him instructions. Leave her immediately and come down here to me on the first train. The deal is held up without you. Enclosed is a check for a thousand dollars. If you are like Henry you'll need it, but keep away from Broadway and the women. Come on, I say, by next train. Your uncle, Robert Carruthers. Hayesville, Harpeth."
"The Uncle of America has come to a confusion of the sex between Pierre and me from a careless memory and the writing of my hand, which is of a great boldness, but not to be easily read," I explained as I read the letter aloud to Pierre and Nannette.
It took me just one hour by the clock, sitting there on the pile of steamer wraps with the small Pierre in the hollow of my arm, to explain and translate the sense of that letter to old Nannette, and I feel sure she would have been sitting upon that spot yet immovable rather than let me depart from her if I had not put all of my time and force upon the picturing to her of a Pierre who could come down with her later to me in a condition to run through the gardens of Twin Oaks, which was the home of his American ancestors. With that vision constantly before her she let the porter and me insert her into a taxicab and extract her at the door of the small private hospital of the good Dr. Burns who was to perform the miracle for the back and hip of small and radiant Pierre.
"But what is it that I do to permit the jeune fille of my beloved mistress to depart into this city of wicked savages not attended by me? I cannot. Do not demand it!" were the words with which I left her arguing with that very sympathetic and sensible doctor of America. He had not noticed a confusion of sex was between Pierre and me and he had sent out the check of my wicked Uncle and procured the American money for me. Also he had given me a few directions that he appeared to think of a great sufficiency and had ordered a taxi to be in readiness for me.
"Nonsense, Nurse," he said to Nannette bruskly but not with unkindness when I had translated to him Nannette's weeping protests. "A great strapping girl like that can get down to the Harpeth Valley all right by herself. Nobody's going to eat her up, and from the size of the biceps I detect under that chiffon I think she could give a good account of herself if anybody tried. How like you are to what Henry was at your age, child, God bless you! I'd go to the station with you but I've a patient all prepared for an operation. Shall I send a nurse with you?"
"No, please, good Doctor, and good-bye," I said, with a great haste as I hurriedly embraced both Nannette and the small Pierre and departed down the broad steps into the taxi with the open door.
"Pennsylvania Station! Your train may not leave for hours, but you can get your baggage together. Good-bye," said that good Doctor as he shut the door and returned to his pursuit of making human beings either whole or dead.
"And now, Roberta Carruthers, no longer Marquise of Grez and Bye, you are in your America, and let's see you do some hustling," as remarked that Mr. Saint Louis to Mr. Peter Scudder at cards.
And while that very swift taxi conveyed me to the large station that is as beautiful as a cathedral I did some what I name "tall thinking." What would be the result of my womanly arrival in that State of Harpeth of my wicked Uncle? Would he be forced to murder me as his letter had said? And if in his anger over the mistake he had made from my letter, written in that very bold and difficult handwriting, he should turn from me, and the good Nannette and Pierre as well, what would I then do? All must be enacted that a cure for Pierre be obtained. With great energy I had been thinking, but I did not know what it was that I should do to prevent his anger when I arrived to him as a woman until suddenly the good Doctor Burns' kindness in marking the resemblance of me to my father in his extreme youth made an entry into my brain and was received with the greatest welcome by the daredevil who there resides.
"Very well, Robert Carruthers, who is no longer the beautiful Marquise of Grez and Bye, you will be that husky nephew to your wicked Uncle in the State of Harpeth whom he 'needs in his business.' What is it that you lack of a man's estate save the clothes, which you have money in your pockets to obtain after you have purchased the ticket upon the railway train?"
A decision had been made and action upon it had begun in less than a half hour after the purchase of the ticket for the State of Harpeth had been accomplished.
As my father had taught me observation in hunting, I had remarked a large shop for the clothing of men upon the Sixth Avenue near to the station. I made my way into it and by a very nice fiction of an invalid brother whom I was taking to the South of America I was able to buy for a few dollars less than was in my pocket two most interesting bags of apparel for a handsome young man of fashion. The man who assisted me to buy was very large, with a head only ornamented with a drapery of gray hair around the edges, and he spoke much of what his son deemed suitable to make appearance in the prevailing mode.
"He's at tea at the Ritz-Carlton with a lady friend this afternoon, and I wish you could have saw him when he left the store to meet her," he said as he laid the last of the silk scarfs and hose into one of the large flat bags I had purchased and which he had packed as I selected. "He had on the match to these gray tweeds and was fitted out in lavender from the skin out. Now what are you going to do about shoes, Miss?"
"That I do not know, kind sir," I made answer with a great perplexity. "I think that the feet of my relative are about the size of those I possess."
"Most women would wear shoes near the size of their brothers' if they didn't prefer to waddle and limp along with their feet scrouged. Go over to the shoe department and the clerk will fit you out with what you need in about two sizes larger than you wear. If they are not right you can tell just about what will be, and exchange 'em by special messenger. I'll pack all this shipshape before you come back." With which direction I left the kind man and made my way to another of equal kindness.
"I have had upon my feet the shoes of my brother when in accidents while at hunting and fishing, and I think I can ascertain a good fitting," I made a falsification to the very polite young man who stood with attention and sympathy to wait upon me.
"We'll make a selection and then try one pair on," he advised me.
And as I gave to him a fine description of the clothing I had purchased he brought forth in accord many wonderful boots and shoes for the riding and a walking and also for the dance. I had never observed that the shoes of men were of such an ugliness; but when one was upon my foot, in place of the shoe of much beauty which I discarded, both I and the young man had a fine laugh.
"Mais, they are of a great comfort," I further remarked. "And they feel about as did those of my brother, who is of a small frame."
"Well, if they are not right, send 'em back and I'll change 'em," he answered with great interest.
After the exchange of much money between us, the young man went with me to the other kind old man of the white hair, and together they made places in the two bags for the shoes.
"Just seven hundred dollars all told, and the like of that outfit couldn't be bought any other place of style in New York for less than a thousand, Miss," remarked to me the elderly clerk as he closed and made fast with keys the two bags. "Shall I send 'em special?"
"I'll thank you that you call a taxi for me, Monsieur," I answered, and as he had mentioned that Ritz-Carlton Hotel, in conversation earlier, that very wicked daredevil that resides within me awoke at attention with the large ears of great mischief. I felt in my pocket that there was still much gold, and the man from whom I had purchased the ticket to the State of Harpeth had assured me that the train did not depart until the hour of six in the evening.
"To the Hotel of the Ritz-Carlton," I commanded the man of the taxi as he made fast the door.
It then transpired that one hour from the time that the young Mademoiselle Grez, who had registered at that large hotel with all of her luggage from the steamer while by lies her father was represented as still engaged with the customs, entered her room, there emerged young Mr. Robert Carruthers, who, after paying his bill in his room had a hall boy send his bags on ahead of him to the Pennsylvania Station while he sauntered into the tea room. I have never again met with the wonderful dresses I left in that hotel room. I hope the poor and beautiful domestic, who assisted me in cutting my hair into a football shortness after the mode of a very beautiful woman dancer which she said girls of much foolishness in America have affected, was rewarded with them.
And as I stood in the center of the great room of conversation and lights and flowers and music I again became the frightened girl upon the dock of America and I felt as if I must flee, but at that exact moment I beheld my Mr. William Raines of Saint Louis and my Mr. Peter Scudder of Philadelphia seated at a table in a very choice corner and there was a vacant chair between them. Upon each other they were glaring and before I had a thought I started towards them to prevent the carnage that had threatened on the boat.
THAT MR. G. SLADE OF DETROIT
A number of moments in the rapid passing of the next few months I have wondered what would have resulted if I had taken that vacant chair between very agreeable Mr. William Raines and very proper Mr. Peter Scudder so evidently reserved for the young, beautiful and charming Marquise of Grez and Bye. I have decided that in about the half of one hour young Mr. Robert Carruthers would have been extinct and the desired and beloved Marquise in her place between them sipping her tea while making false excuses for forgiveness. I did not take that seat but I accepted one which a garcon offered me next to them and did regard them with both fear and wistfulness, also with an intense attention so that I might acquire as much as possible from them of an American gentleman's manner.
"I suppose the dame's fussing up for us to the limit, Peter," observed that Mr. Saint Louis while he emptied a glass of amber liquid and removed a cherry from its depths with his fingers and devoured it with the greatest relish. "Gee, but the genuine American cocktail is one great drink! Have another, Peter. You're so solemn that I am beginning to believe that belle Marquise did put a dent in your old Quaker heart after all."
"There was something in that girl's eyes as they followed us, William, that no cocktail ever shaken could get out of my mind," made answer the very grave Mr. Peter Scudder of Philadelphia. "Do you suppose her Uncle got there or that anything happened? I wish I had waited with her."
"Well, either Uncle did arrive or we'll see her in the Passing Follies week after next, third from the left, in as little as Comstock allows. When I've had a good look at bare arms my judgment connects mighty easily with bare—"
By that moment I had poised in my hand a very fragile cup of nicely steaming tea and it was a very natural thing that I should hurl its contents in the face of that Mr. William Raines of the country of Saint Louis.
Voila! What happened? Did I stay to fight the duel with that, what I know now to call a cad, and thus be put back into the person of the Marquise de Grez and Bye for a wicked Uncle to murder. I did not. I placed upon the table two large pieces of money and I lost myself in the crowd of persons who had risen and gathered to sympathize with poor Mr. Saint Louis. No one had remarked my escape, I felt sure, as I had been very agile, but as I sauntered out into the entresol of the Hotel of Ritz-Carlton, to which I had given so great a shock in its stately tea room, a finger was laid upon my arm in its gray tweed coat. I turned and discovered a very fine and handsome woman standing beside me and in her hand she had a book of white paper with also a pencil.
"I was sitting just back of Willie Raines and I heard what he was saying about some woman, whom he and Peter Scudder had met on the boat over, not keeping her appointment with them. Peter is of the Philadelphia elect and nobody knows why he consorts with the gay Willie. I saw them come off the boat together this morning and I knew that the whole Scudder Meeting House would be in a glum over their being together. Would you mind telling me just why you soused your tea into his face? It would make a corking story for my morning edition. Did you know them or did you know the lady or did you do it to be launcelotting?"
"I think it must have been for the third of those reasons, Madam, but I am not sure that I know the word you use," I answered with much caution.
"Launcelot, you know, the boy that was always fussing around over injured women, in Tennyson or somewhere, just for a love of 'em that was always perfectly proper. Nice of him but not progressive. Say, do you mind sitting down in a quiet corner of the tea room and telling me all about it? Are you French or Russian or Brazilian, and do you believe in women, or is it just because you like 'em that you threw the tea? I've got a suffrage article to do and I believe you'd make a good headline, with your militant tea throwing. Want to tell me all about it?"
"I have just one hour before going to the State of Harpeth, many miles from here, Madam," I made answer with a great politeness. "I thank you but I must make my regrets."
"Oh, I can find out all I want to know about you in five minutes. Just come sit down with me and be a good boy. Do you want to give me your name? I wish you really were somebody that had given Willie that tea fight." And while making protestations and remonstrances I was led again into that tea room and seated at a great distance from the table which had been occupied by that Mr. William Raines and Mr. Peter Scudder, who had now departed. "If you really were some big gun it would kill Willie dead."
"Then, Madam, permit me to present myself to you as Robert Carruthers, Marquis de Grez and Bye, from Paris on my way to visit my Uncle, General Robert Carruthers, of the State of Harpeth. I would very willingly by information or a sword kill that Mr. William Raines of Saint Louis and I regret that—that—" At the beginning of my sentence I had drawn myself up into the attitude of the old Marquis of Flanders in the hall of the ruined Chateau de Grez, but when I had got to the point—of, shall I say, my own sword?—I was forced to collapse and I could feel my knees under the tea table begin to shake together and huddle for their accustomed and now missing skirts.
"That's fine and dandy," answered the nice woman as she began to write rapidly upon the blank paper. "If you'd drawn fifty swords on Willie and he had knocked you down with the butt end of his teaspoon I'd have put Willie on the run in my write-up. Willie has handed me several little blows below the belt that I don't like. Pretends not to have met me, when Peter Scudder's own sister, whom I knew at the settlement, introduced him to me; and what he did to Mabel Wright, our cub on weddings—Oh, well, Mabel is another story. Now—that copy is ready to turn in when I pad it. I wonder if I will get a favor from the manager or be turned out of the tea room permanently for reporting a fight as aristocratic as this in the sacred halls of the Ritz-Carlton. I'd bet my shoe lacings that fifty people come here every afternoon for a week hoping it will happen again."
"I do like this America, whose movement is so rapid," I made remark as I set down my second cup of tea for the afternoon, this one emptied into my depths instead of the face of Mr. Saint Louis.
"That's good, too," returned my new-found friend with a laugh as she again wrote a word or two on the nice white paper. Then she placed her elbow upon the table, leaned her very firm cheek on her hand, and regarded me with fine and honest and sympathetic eyes. "I wonder what America is going to do to a beautiful boy like you. I'm glad that you are going to beat it to the tall timbers of the Harpeth Valley. There are women in New York who would eat you up alive. There's La Frigeda, alias Maggie Sullivan from Milwaukee, over there devouring you with her eyes at this moment, and that pretty little Stuyvesant Blaine debutante hasn't taken her eyes off of you long enough to eat her spiced ice. I know 'em both and could land something from either one if I introduced you in your title and very beautiful clothes."
"Oh, I beg a pardon of you that I have not the time to have an introduction to your friends," I exclaimed with a very true regret, because I did like that very nice woman and would have liked much to have brought advantage to her. "In less than an hour I must 'beat' to those 'tall timbers of Harpeth' you mention."
"Speaking of the State of Harpeth, I don't know as you'll be so safe after all, young friend, if that is any sample of the variety of women that flower in that classic land of the cotton and the magnolia which I met at Mrs. Creed Payne's war baby tea the other afternoon," mused my fine friend as I paid the garcon for the very good tea. "She is in high-up political circles down there in Old Harpeth and from the bunch of women she was with I make a guess she is taking an interest in war contracts. She was with that Mrs. Benton, who pulled off that spectacular deal for desiccated soups for Greece the other day. My stomach is too delicate to feed soldiers dried dog and rotten cabbage melted down into glue in a can, but they may like the idea if not the soup. Anyway, the woman was a beauty, so don't you let her get you."
"I do not entirely understand you, my dear Madam, and I wish that I might have many days to talk with you about these American customs," I said as I put into my pocket the exchange money handed to me by the garcon.
"Well, it is not exactly an American custom I have been putting you next to, and I guess I'm patriotically glad that you don't entirely understand. Now, I'm going to put you on the train for Old Harpeth and kiss you good-bye for your mother. I'm not trusting Frigeda, and she's lingering. Come on if your train leaves at six o'clock."
And while she spoke, my interesting and fine woman rose and allowed me to assist her into her gray coat of tweed that was very like to mine.
It was with regret that I parted from that lady at the door of the taxicab that had been called for her, and I bent over and kissed her hand, the first woman that Mr. Robert Carruthers had ever so saluted.
"Good-bye, boy! Remember, the tall timbers of Harpeth are best. Run right down and get a Southern belle and beauty to settle down and have a dozen babies for you, just like 'befo' the war.' Good-bye! I'll send you down a paper to-morrow. I don't suppose the New York journals ever penetrate the Harpeth Valley. Good-bye again." And then my friend was gone, leaving me once more alone in New York and very shy of those tweed trousers, which I immediately put with me into another taxicab which was directed to the Pennsylvania Station.
At that Pennsylvania Station I remembered to send to my wicked Uncle an announcement by telegram of my arrival to him and then I got upon the train just in time for its departure.
I have remarked that life is like high waves of fate that break in sparkling white crests over buried mines, and I am now led to believe that many of those mines are but the habitation of mermaids of much mischief. Are all ripples on life due to women at the bottom of the matter? I do not know, but it would seem true from the things that immediately began to befall me. And was it not I, a woman who was called daredevil, who began it all?
These Pullman cars of America in which to travel great distances, are very remarkable for their many strange adventures, and I was very much interested but also perturbed when the black garcon placed my bag and overcoat upon the floor at the feet of a very prim lady and left me to stand uncomfortably in the aisle before her.
"Your seat, sir, upper five," he said, and departed with my fifty centimes, which is called a dime in America.
In the little division which I could see was marked five were two nice seats that were to each other face to face, but it appeared that neither of them was vacant for Mr. Robert Carruthers. On one the lady sat with very stiff black silk skirts projecting from her sides, as did her thin elbows also in the stiffness of white linen. Beside her, occupying the rest of her seat, was a hat with large black bows of equal stiffness with the rest of the lady's apparel and disposition not to be friendly. On the seat opposite, which from the nature of my ticket and the case I should have supposed belonged to me, were piled two large bundles, a shiny black bag, a black silk coat, also stiff like the lady, an umbrella, two magazines and a basket of fruit. No place was apparent for me or my bags or my overcoat. It seemed as if it would be best for me to stand in the middle of the car all the way to the State of Harpeth so that the lady's stiffness be not disarranged. I did not know what I should do, and my knees began again to feel weak in that gray tweed and to be cold for their accustomed skirts, but the lady looked out of the window and said not a single word. I did not have any convenient cup of tea in my hand to throw in that lady's face in a manner that would not be permitted a gentleman, but if I had had the very lovely lorgnette that has descended to me from my Great Grandmamma, the wife of the old Flanders grandsire, I would have settled the matter with very little trouble in an entirely ladylike manner. As it was, I did not know what to do but stand and then stand longer. Just at the moment when I began to feel that I would either be forced to forget that I was a gentleman or to faint as a lady, a very nice man touched me on the elbow and said:
"Just drop your bag on her feet and come into the smoker. She's got your game beat," and he passed on down the aisle of that car. I acted upon that very kind advice and I am glad that from the weight of the bag I got at least a small action from the stiff lady if only a groan and a glare. Also I should have been grateful that she had so discourteously treated me so that I was fortunate to receive the attention of Mr. George Slade of Detroit as my first experience in American manhood.
That Mr. Slade of Detroit is a man of remarkable adventures, and he related to me many of them as he sat with me in the place reserved for the smoking of gentlemen. They were all about ladies who resided in the different towns to which he traveled in the pursuit of selling cigars, and he called them all by the name of "skirts."
"I tell you, Mr. Dago, there is a skirt in Louisville, Kentucky, that is such a peach that you'd call for the cream jug on sight. It would pay you to stop off and see her. She's on the level all right, but any friend that took a line from me would be nuts to her. See?" And he bestowed upon me a pleasant wink from his eye. To that I made no response. I could make none.
"Now, Mr. Robert Carruthers," I had said to myself at the beginning of the first story of "skirts," "you will find yourself obliged to be in the presence of men as one of their kind and not throw scalding tea in their faces when they speak of ladies. You are of a great ignorance about the brute that is known as man and you must learn to know him as you do the wild hog in hunting." But even for the sake of a larger education I could not remain, and I fled from that Mr. Slade of Detroit in one half hour back to the arms of the stiff lady. But when I arrived there I found she had had me removed from her as far as possible to the other end of the car, where I found my bags deposited beside one marked "G. Slade, Detroit."
"Took the liberty of transferring you here above the other gentleman, sir. The lady is nervous," said the conductor of the car as he handed me another ticket.
"Right, old top," said that Mr. G. Slade as he stood beside us, having followed. "If you don't enjoy sleeping rock-a-bye-baby we can put our togs up and you can bunk in with me. I'm not nervous." And with a glance at the very stiff black silk back in the front of the car he made a laugh that I could not prevent myself from sharing. It is then that the delicacy of a woman is so easily corrupted?
"I beg your pardon, conductor, but upper nine is engaged for my son who is to get on at Philadelphia. I must have him just opposite my daughter and me. We are nervous." And as the large and pathetic lady across the aisle from number nine spoke in a most timid voice, that Mr. G. Slade gave one glance at the daughter of whom she spoke, who also must have weighed a great many litre, or what you call in America, pounds, and fled back to the smoking apartment.
It was a very funny sight to behold that small conductor stand with my large bags and overcoat and look around at that car full of ladies for a place in which to deposit me and them, which was not previously occupied by some female of great nervousness.
"Madam, I will have to use the upper of this section," he finally turned and said to the occupant of the number of seven with a very fine determination.
"Certainly, conductor; let me remove my hat and coat," came back the answer in a voice of very great sweetness as the conductor deposited me and my bags down in front of the most beautiful lady in all America, I am sure.
"Thank you for much graciousness, Madam," I said, keeping those gray tweed knees straight out in front of me and very still to prevent trembling.
"Not at all, sir; I only bought the lower half of this section. I am not at all nervous," and I could see her mouth that was curled like the petals of an opening rose tremble from a mischief as she regarded the stiff black silk back in the front of the car and the two huge females on our right whose son and brother was to arrive in Philadelphia for their protection.
An equally gay mischief rose in my eyes and responded to that in hers as I responded also by word:
"For which also let us be in gratitude."
Many times in the months that followed have I thought of the lure of the laughing mischief in those eyes that were like beautiful blue flowers set in crystal, and how they were to lead me on into the strange land of men in search of those forbidden fruits. They were the first to offer me affection, excepting perhaps my fine reporter woman with the paper and pencil.
And from that moment on I did very much enjoy myself in conversation with that Madam Mischief, while we together did watch the retirement of all of the persons in the train. She had many funny remarks to make and made me merry with them so that the hour of eleven o'clock had arrived before we had summoned the very black male chamber-maid to turn our seats into beds. All others were in sleep that was a confusion of sound from everywhere and we must stand in the aisle while the beds were being abstracted.
"Shall I take your bag into the dressing room, sah?" said the black male chamber-maid as if to intimate that I should leave the aisle free for his operations.
"Many thanks, yes," I answered him. "Good night, Madam, and to you again much gratitude for the happiness of an evening," and with all sincerity I directed Mr. Robert Carruthers to bend over her very white hand and kiss it with much fervor that was resulted from the loneliness of the poor Marquise of Grez and Bye, who was but a girl in a strange and large land, although habited in trousers and coat.
"You are a dear boy," she made answer to me with an equal affection as she disappeared into the curtains of her small room. Then I departed to that room reserved for the disrobing of gentlemen. It was without occupation and I opened my large bag and procured the very beautiful silk night robing that the kind man had sold to me that afternoon. It was in two pieces that very much resembled the costume in which gentlemen play tennis, only more ornamented by silk embroidery and braid and buttons. I was regarding them with joy when into the small room came that Mr. G. Slade of Detroit. He was appareled in garments of the same cut only of a very wide red stripe, his hair was very much in confusion and he had a bottle in his hand in which was a liquid the color of cognac.
"I've only been awake for two hours listening to that peach of a skirt trying to make you fuss her a bit, and I thought I would bring you a nip to pick you up after your fight. Gee, it is as I suspected. You are off on a wedding tango and that makes you cold to all wiles! My son, for a wedding garment that thing you have in your hand is a winner. I can't sleep in silk myself because it makes me feel like a wet dog, but you'll be so beautiful in them that the bride will be jealous of you and say that even if you are so pretty now you will fade early or that you buy your complexion at the corner emporium. Go on, put 'em on, or was you just looking at 'em for pleasure and going to save 'em by sleeping 'as is'? Me, I always undress to the skin, but some don't."
"I—I was just looking at them with pleasure," I made haste to answer that Mr. G. Slade of Detroit. "When upon travels I always fear to disrobe myself. I think that I will now retire," and with a haste that made my hands tremble I replaced the sleeping garments in the large bag and prepared to flee down the aisle to the sleeping apartment in which was the protection of another woman's presence.
"Not even a nip before you go?" he asked me as he held the large bottle to his lips and threw back his head for a gurgling down his throat.
"No, with much gratitude, and good night," I answered as I rapidly departed with my cheeks in a flame of scarlet and a fear in my heart. In my flight I passed by that number of seven and came very near opening the curtains of the number of five and precipitating myself upon the bayonets of black taffeta that stood firm from a hat so placed as to bar my intrusion. From that accident I turned and sought the kind black male chamber-maid with a request that he show me how to insert myself into the right place for sleeping.
"Right here, Boss. Climb up on these little steps and then hand me down your shoes. Soft now; I think the lady am asleep."
"Good night, and I'm not nervous," I heard a laugh of mischief come from behind a second and short green curtain, that veils the lower of the sleeping shelves, just as I fell onto my shelf above and lay with a panting of relief.
THE IMPOSSIBLE UNCLE ROBERT
"Robert," I made remark to myself after I had with difficulty removed the tweed coat and the tweed trousers and neatly folded them against ugly wrinkles of to-morrow, "you must become a sport and not climb down there and tell that other woman the truth of your lady's estate and ask her to comfort you with affection. You were born a daredevil and you must remember those two Indians and a bear that the Grandmamma Madam Donaldson murdered for safety for herself and her children. That Mr. G. Slade is just one bear and he's not as dangerous to you as if you wore 'skirts' anyway. And, also, if you are brave and propitiate the wicked Uncle, in just a few months you can travel to where the lovely lady with the blue flower eyes resides, of whom in the morning you must get the address of home, and can then make confession to her and know the joy of having her sisterly embraces that seem of so much sweetness to you now.
"But suppose it is that she arises in the night and leaves the train for her home!" I said to myself as I suddenly sat up in the dark and precipitated my head against the roof of the sleeping shelf.
"I will call down to her and ask the one simple question," I made answer to myself. Then I reached down my head over the edge of my shelf and called very softly:
"Yes?" came a soft question in answer and I felt that she arose and brought her beautiful head which had the odor of violets in the waves so heavy and black, up very near to mine. I could feel a comfort from her breath on my cheek.
"I am in fear, Madam, that you should leave the train before I am awake," I said in a voice under my breath. "I do not want that I lose you into this great America."
"Oh, I'm not easily lost."
"I am desolated with loneliness and I must know where it is that you leave the train, immediately, so that I may sleep."
"At Hayesville, Harpeth, you ridiculous boy. Now don't disturb me again. Go to sleep."
As I sank back on my pillow, happy with a great relief, I thought I heard two laughs in the darkness, one in a tone of silver from beneath me and one of the sound of a choke from opposite me where was reposed that Mr. G. Slade of Detroit.
"It is a good chance for you, Robert, that you go to sleep your first night in America with the sound of a nice laugh from two persons of kindness towards you, one of whom is to be with you for a friend in the same—what was it the gray lady with the pencil and paper called it?—'tall timbers of Old Harpeth' where all is of such strangeness to you." And with this remark to myself I fell asleep, "as is," I think it was that Mr. G. Slade of Detroit called my state of not being disrobed further than trousers and coat.
After many months in which came to me cruel pain and a long hard fight for the honor of my beloved, I cannot but remember that feeling of gratitude that came over me as I went into sleep on that narrow shelf under which lay the beauty of that Madam Patricia Whitworth.
In the eight years that I had become all of life to my father we had made many travels into distant lands and had seen all of beauty that the Old World had to offer seekers after it, but nowhere had I seen the majestic wonder of this, his own land, that I beheld pass by like a series of great pictures wrought by a master. All of the morning I could but sit and gaze with eyes that sometimes dimmed with tears for him as faster and faster I was carried down into his own land of the Valley of Harpeth, which he had given up for love of my Mother and from the cruelness of my wicked Uncle who would not welcome her to his home. When the great Harpeth hills, in their spring flush from the rosiness of what I afterwards learned was their honeysuckle and laurel, shot with the iridescent fire of the pale yellow and green and purple of redbud and dogwood and maple leaf, all veiled in a creamy mist over their radiance, came into view, as we arrived nearer and nearer to Hayesville my hand went forth and grasped closely the hand of Madam Whitworth. That Mr. G. Slade had left the train before my awakening and I felt relief from the absence of his eyes and could express to the beautiful lady the joy that was in my heart.
"And the small homes in the valley, Madam, with the sheep and cattle and grain and children surrounded, they need never fear the fire of shell and the roar of the cruel guns. This valley is a fold in the garment across the breast of the good God Himself and it has His cherishing. Is it that there will be a home for me in its peace and for the small Pierre and the old and faithful Nannette?"
"A home and—and other things, boy—when you ask for them," she answered me with a very beautiful look of affection that while it pleased me greatly also made for me an unreasonable embarrassment.
"Is it that you think I will obtain the affection of my Uncle, the General Robert Carruthers, Madam Whitworth?" I asked of her with a great wistfulness, for I had told her of his summons to me and she knew already the story of his hardness of heart against my mother.
"The General is a very difficult person," she made answer to me, and I saw that softness of her beautiful mouth become as steel as she spoke of him. "To a woman he is impossible, as I have found to my cost, but all men adore him and follow him madly, so I suppose his attitude towards them is different from his attitude towards women. My husband and I disagree utterly about the General. In fact, the old gentleman and I are at daggers' points just now and I am afraid—afraid that he will make it difficult for you to be—be friends with me as I—I want you to be."
"Neither the General Carruthers nor any man, Madam, dictates in matters of the heart to the Marquise de—that is, to Robert Carruthers of Grez and Bye, if that is the way I must so name myself now," I answered in the manner of the old Marquis of Flanders, tinged with the grande dame manner of the beautiful young Marquise of Grez and Bye whom I had murdered and left in that room of the great hotel of Ritz-Carlton in New York.
"It will be delicious to watch his face as you and I alight from this train together, boy. It will be worth the trouble of this hurried trip to New York to be introduced to a person who disappeared suddenly in a tug boat in the open ocean when he should have landed at the docks with the propriety that would have been expected of him." And as she spoke I could see that something had happened in New York which had brought much irritation to the beautiful Madam Whitworth.
"It would seem that it is one of the customs of these great ships to send out passengers from them in those very funny small tug boats," I remarked as I leaned forward to catch a last fleeting glimpse of a lovely girl standing in the doorway of an ancient farmhouse, giving food to chickens so near the course of the railroad train that it would seem we should disperse them with fright. "I wept when I must see my good friend, Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles, depart from our ship in one of those tug boats. It was a pain in my breast that he must leave me to go into the wildness of Canada."
"Oh, then he went to Canada first?" exclaimed that Madam Whitworth as she leaned back on her seat as if relieved from some form of a great anxiety about the departure of that Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles.
"Is it that you are also a friend of my Capitaine?" I demanded with a great eagerness of pleasure if it should be so.
"Oh, no, no, indeed!" exclaimed the beautiful Madam Whitworth. "I was speaking of my own friend who might have taken a Canadian line instead of the American. She is so careless about instructions. Now look; we are beginning to wind down into the very heart of the Harpeth Valley, and by the time you make very tidy that mop of hair you have on your head and I powder my nose, we will be in Hayesville to face the General in all of his glory. Mind you kiss my hand so he can see you! I want to give him that sensation in payment of a debt I owe him. Now do go and smooth the mop if it takes a pint of water to do it. That New York tailor has turned you out wonderfully, but even those very square English tweeds do not entirely disguise the French cavalier. You're a beautiful boy and the girls in Hayesville will eat you up—if the General ever lets them get a sight of you—which he probably won't. Now go to the mop!"
For many years, since the lonely day just after the death of my mother, when my father took me into the furthest depths of his sad heart and told me of his exile from the place in which he had been born, and about the elder brother who had hated my beautiful mother, who hated all women, I had spent much time erecting in my mind a statue that would be the semblance of that wicked and cruel Uncle. I had taken every disagreeable feature of face and body that I had beheld in another human, or in a picture, or had read of in the tales of that remarkable Mr. Dickens, who could so paint in words a monstrous person to come when the lights are out to haunt the darkness, and had carefully patched them one upon another so as to make them into an ideal of an old Uncle of great wickedness. On that very ship itself I had beheld a man, who came upon the lower deck from the engine, who had but one eye and a great scar where that other eye should have been placed. Immediately my image of the General Robert Carruthers lost one of the wicked eyes I had given him from out the head of the stepfather who did so cruelly stare at the poor young David Copperfield, and became a man with only one eye which still held the malevolence that was hurled at that small David. And with this squat, crooked, evil image of the General Robert Carruthers in my heart I alighted from the train into the City of Hayesville, which is the capital of the great American State of Harpeth. The black man had swung himself off with my bags and that of the beautiful Madam Whitworth, who with me was the last of the passengers to descend from the steps of the car.
"My dear Jeff!" exclaimed my so lovely new friend as she raised her veil for a very seemly kiss from a tall and quite broad gentleman with a very wide hat and long mustachios that dropped far down with want of wax that it is the custom to use for their elevation in France, as I well know from my father's wrathy remarks to his valet if he made a too great use of it upon his. "And this is General Carruthers' nephew who came down on the train with me. My husband, Mr. Carruthers of Grez and Bye!" with which introduction she confronted me with the gentleman.
"Glad to know you, young man; glad to know you," he answered as he took my hand and gave it an embrace of such vigor that I almost made outcry. "There's the General over there looking for you. Come to see us sometime. Come on, Patsy!"
"Good-bye, Mr. Carruthers. I'll see you soon," said the beautiful Madam Whitworth as she held out her hand to me. "Do it now; there comes the General! Quick, kiss my hand!"
I bent and did as she bade me and as I had promised her to do, and as I raised myself she slipped away quickly after her husband with a salutation of great coolness to a person over my shoulder and a "How do you do, General Carruthers" remark as she went.
Instantly I turned and faced the materialization of the ogre it had taken me years to build up into my wicked Uncle. And what did I see?
My eyes looked straight into eyes of the greatest kindness and wisdom I had ever before beheld, and it was with difficulty I restrained myself from flinging myself and my suit of English tweed straight into the strong arms and burying my head on the broad deep chest that confronted me as the huge old gentleman, with as perfect a mop of white hair as is mine of black, rioting over his large head, towered over me.
"You gallivanting young idiot, where did you pick up that dimity?" he demanded of me as he laid a large hand with long strong fingers on my shoulders and gave me a slight shake. "Don't tell me it was over Pat Whitworth you had that ruckus at the Ritz-Carlton day before yesterday!"
"No, Monsieur, it was not," I answered, looking him straight in the eyes and feeling as if I was looking into kind eyes that I had seen close to me forever in the old convent in France, and as I spoke I could not help it that I raised my arm in its covering of a man's tweed and let my woman's fingers grasp one of the long fingers on my shoulder and cling to it as I had done other long fingers just like them that had guided my first footsteps down the sunny garden paths of the old Chateau de Grez.
"I'm your Uncle Robert, sonny, and don't you ever forget that, sir," he answered as he gave me another shake and I could see a longing for the embrace, which I so desired, in his keen eyes that had softened with a veil of mist in the last second. "Lord, I'm glad you're not a woman! And from now on just stop knowing the creatures exist—Pat Whitworth and her kind. None of that tea-throwing in Hayesville, sir! We've got work to do to put out a fire—fire of dishonor and devastation. No time for tea-fighting here. Come on to my car over there; we've no time to waste."
"What is it that you say about that throwing of tea which occurred only the day before yesterday in the City of New York many hundreds of miles from here? How did that knowledge arrive here, my Uncle Robert?" I questioned.
"Associated Press, sir. The greatest power in this America. Associated Press! Full account, you and me, titles and all, printed in this afternoon's paper. Any money left of that thousand?"
"No, my Uncle Robert," I faltered. "It was necessary that I spend—"
"Don't tell me about it. I sent it to you so you could get as much as possible out of your system. The hussies! I've got work for you to do here. Forget 'em! Hop in!" And he motioned me into a very large blue touring car that stood beside the station platform.
"Drive to the Governor's Mansion and don't sprout grass under your wheels," he commanded the black chauffeur. "The Governor's Mansion, private door on Sixth Street."
"HERE'S MY BOY, GOVERNOR"
And it was en route to the mansion of the Gouverneur of the State of Harpeth that my Uncle, the General Robert, did enlighten me as to the urgent need of me in his affairs of business.
"It is a question of mules, sir, and of a dishonor to the State that I'm going to prevent if my hot old head is laid low in doing it, as it probably will be if I get into the ruckus with Jefferson Whitworth that now threatens. They have insinuated themselves into the confidence of Governor Faulkner until they have made it well-nigh impossible for him to see the matter except as they put it. They will get his signature to the rental grant of the lands, make a get-away with the money and let the State crash down upon his head when it finds out that he has been led into bringing it and himself into dishonor. Why, damn it, sir, I'd like to have every one of them, especially Jeff Whitworth, at the end of a halter and feed him a raw mule, hoof and ears. I'm probably going to be done to death all alone before the pack of wolves, but I'm going to die hard—for Bill Faulkner, who holds in his hand the honor of his State and my State, I'll die hard!" And he spoke the words with such a fierceness that his white mustache, which was waxed with the propriety of the world, divided like crossed silver swords beneath his straight nose with its thin and trembling nostrils.
"It will be that I can help you protect this honor of the Gouverneur Faulkner and the State of Harpeth, will it not, my Uncle Robert?" I asked with a great anxiety. "If you must fall on the field of honor it will be the glory of Robert Carruthers of Grez and Bye to fall beside you, sir. I am a very good sport, my father has said."
"God bless my soul, how like Henry you are, boy!" exclaimed my Uncle, the General Robert, and he did lay one of his long and very strong arms across my shoulder and give to me the embrace for which I had so longed; but for not enough time for me to yield myself to it. "Henry always wanted to tag 'Brother Bob,' and he too—would—have died—fighting for me—at my side. I've been hard—and when I heard of his death—I wanted you, boy, I wanted you more—Now what do you mean, sir, by making me forget for one moment the fix Bill Faulkner and I are in?" And my Uncle, the General Robert, gave to me a good shake as he extracted his very large white handkerchief and blew upon his nose with such power that the black chauffeur looked around at us and made the car to jump even as he and I had done.
"And those mules that it would be your wish to feed to that Mr. Jeff Whitworth, my Uncle Robert, will you not tell me further about them? In Paris it is said that they are a very good food when made fat after being old or wounded in the army. I have—"
"That will do, sir. If you've had to eat mule in Paris don't tell me about it. My constitution wouldn't stand that, though during our war, just before Vicksburg, I ate—but we won't go into that either. Now this is the situation, as much as a lad from the wilds of Paris could understand it. The French Government wants five thousand mules by the fall of the year, and there are no such mules in the world as this State produces. They are sending a man over here to try to make a deal with the State of Harpeth to purchase the mules from private breeders, graze them on the government lands and deliver them in a lot for shipment the first of August at Savannah. There is no authority on the statute book for the State to make such a deal, but Jeff Whitworth has fixed up a sort of contract, that wouldn't hold water in the courts, by which the Governor of the State, Williamson Faulkner, grants the grazing rights on the State's lands to a private company of which he is to be a member, which, in a way, guarantees the deal. They've made him believe it to be a good financial thing for the State and he can't see that they are going to buy cheap stock, fatten it on a low rate from the State and hand it over to the French Government at a fancy rake-off—and then leave him with the bag to hold when the time for settlement and complaint comes. There is a strong Republican party in this State and they're keeping quiet, but year after next, when Bill Faulkner comes up for re-election, downright illegality will be alleged, and he will be defeated in dishonor and with dishonor to the State. I am his Secretary of State and I'm going to save him if I can. And you are going to help me, sir!" And as he spoke my Uncle, the General Robert, gave to me a distinguished shake of the hand that made my pride to rise in my throat, which gave to my speaking a great huskiness.
"I will help in the rescue of the honor of that Gouverneur Bill Faulkner, my Uncle Robert, with the last breath in my body, and I will also assist to feed mule to that Mr. Jefferson Whitworth, though not to his beautiful wife whom I do so much admire."
"That's just it; she'll have to eat mule the first one. She's at the Governor day and night with her wiles, and in my mind it's her dimity influence that is making him see things with this slant. They say she put her brand on him in early youth. He's the soul of honor but what chance has a man's soul-honor got when a woman wants to cash it in for a fortune with which to lead a gay life? None! None, sir!" And the countenance of my Uncle, the General Robert, became so fierce that it was difficult to find words to answer.
"Oh, my Uncle Robert, is it that a woman would make a cheat in giving the mule animal of not sufficient strength to carry food to poor boys of France in the trenches when there is too much mud for gasoline!" I exclaimed with a great horror from knowledge given me by my Capitaine, the Count de Lasselles.
"Just exactly what she is trying to do, boy. Let those poor chaps with guns in their hands to defend her civilization as well as theirs, die for want of a supply train hauled by reliable mules when unreliable gasoline fails. That's what women are like." And as he spoke I perceived the depth of dislike that was in the heart of my Uncle, the General Robert, for all of womankind.
"There are some women who would not so comport themselves, my Uncle Robert. I give you my word as one—" Then as I hesitated in terror at the revelation of my woman's estate I had been about to make, my Uncle, the General Robert, made this remark to me:
"Women are like crows, all black; and the exceptional white one only makes the rest look blacker. The only way to stop them in their depredations is to trap them, since the law forbids shooting them." And as he made this judgment of women I forgot for a moment that we discussed that Madam Whitworth, whom it was causing me great pain to discover to be the enemy of France, and I thought of my beautiful mother, whom he had judged without ever having encountered, and a great longing rose in my heart so to comport myself that his heart should learn to trust in me as a man and then discover the honor of woman through me at some future time. I took a resolve that such should be the case and to that end I asked of him: