The LADY OF THE ICE
by JAMES DE MILLE, AUTHOR OF "THE DODGE CLUB ABROAD," "CORD AND CREESE," ETC
NEW YORK: D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 90, 92, & 94 GRAND STREET 1870
I. Consisting merely of Introductory Matter.
II. My Quarters, where you will become acquainted with Old Jack Randolph, my most Intimate Friend, and one who divides with me the Honor of being the Hero of my Story.
III. "Macrorie—old Chap—I'm—going—to—be—married!!!"
IV. "It's—the—the Widow! It's Mrs.—Finnimore!!!"
V. "Fact, my Boy—it is as I say.—There's another Lady in the Case, and this last is the Worst Scrape of all!"
VI. "I implored her to run away with me, and have a Private Marriage, leaving the rest to Fate. And I Solemnly assured her that, if she refused, I would blow my Brains out on her Door-steps.—There, now! what do you think of that?"
VII. Crossing the St. Lawrence.—The Storm and the Break-up.—A Wonderful Adventure.—A Struggle for Life.—Who is she?—The Ice-ridge.—Fly for your Life!
VIII. I fly back, and send the Doctor to the Rescue.—Return to the Spot. —Flight of the Bird.—Perplexity, Astonishment, Wonder, and Despair. —"Pas un Mot, Monsieur!"
IX. By one's own Fireside.—The Comforts of a Bachelor.—Chewing the Cud of Sweet and Bitter Fancy.—A Discovery full of Mortification and Embarrassment.—Jack Randolph again.—News from the Seat of War.
X. "Berton's?—Best Place in the Town.—Girls always glad to see a Fellow.—Plenty of Chat, and Lots of Fun.—No End of Larks, you know, and all that Sort of Thing."
XI. "Macrorie, my Boy, have you been to Anderson's yet?"—"No."—"Well, then, I want you to attend to that Business of the Stone to-morrow. Don't forget the Size—Four Feet by Eighteen Inches; and nothing but the Name and Date. The Time's come at last. There's no Place for me but the Cold Grave, where the Pensive Passer-by may drop a Tear over the Mournful Fate of Jack Randolph. Amen. R. I. P."
XII. My Adventures Rehearsed to Jack Randolph.—"My dear Fellow, you don't say so!"—"'Pon my Life, yes."—"By Jove! Old Chap, how close you've been! You just have no End of Secrets. And what's become of the Lady? Who is She?"
XIV. A Concert.—A Singular Character.—"God Save the Queen."—A Fenian.—A General Row.—Macrorie to the Rescue!—Macrorie's Maiden Speech, and its effectiveness.—O'Halloran.—A Strange Companion.—Invited to partake of Hospitality.
XV. The O'Halloran Ladies.—Their Appearance.—Their Ages.—Their Dress.— Their Demeanor.—Their Culture, Polish, Education, Rank, Style, Attainments, and all about them.
XVI. The Daily Paper.
XVII. "Somethin' Warrum."
XVIII. The Following Morning.—Appearance of Jack Randolph.—A New Complication.—The Three Oranges.—Desperate Efforts of the Juggler. —How to make full, ample, complete, and most satisfactory Explanations.—Miss Phillips!—The Widow!!—Number Three!!!—Louie rapidly rising into greater prominence on the Mental and Sentimental horizon of Jack Randolph.
XIX. O'Halloran's again.—A Startling Revelation.—The Lady of the Ice. —Found at Last.—Confusion, Embarrassment, Reticence, and Shyness, succeeded by Wit, Fascination, Laughter, and Witching Smiles.
XX. "Our Symposium," as O'Halloran called it.—High and mighty Discourse. —General inspection of Antiquity by a Learned Eye.—A Discourse upon the "Oioneesoizin" of the English language.—Homeric Translations. —O'Halloran And Burns.—A new Epoch for the Brogue.—The Dinner of Achilles and the Palace of Antinous.
XXI. Jack once more.—The Woes of a Lover.—Not Wisely but too Many.—While Jack is telling his Little Story, the ones whom he thus entertains have a Separate Meeting.—The Bursting of the Storm.—The Letter of "Number Three."—The Widow and Miss Phillips.—Jack has to avail himself of the aid of a Chaplain of Her Majesty's Forces.—Jack an Injured Man.
XXII. I Reveal my Secret.—Tremendous effects of the Revelation.—Mutual Explanations, which are by no means Satisfactory. Jack Stands Up for what he calls His Rights.—Remonstrances and Reasonings, ending in a General Row.—Jack makes a Declaration of War, and takes his Departure in a state of Unparalleled Huffiness.
XXIII. A Friend becomes an Enemy.—Meditations on the Ancient and Venerable Fable of the Dog in the Manger.—The Corruption of the Human Heart. —Consideration of the Whole Situation.—Attempts to Countermine Jack, and Final Resolve.
XXIV. Tremendous Excitement.—The Hour Approaches, and with it the Man. —The Lady of the Ice.—A Tumultuous Meeting.—Outpouring of Tender Emotions.—Agitation of the Lady.—A Sudden Interruption.—An Injured Man, an Awful, Fearful, Direful, and Utterly-crushing Revelation.—Who is the Lady of the Ice?
XXV. Recovery from the last Great Shock.—Geniality of mine Host.—Off again among Antiquities.—The Fenians.—A Startling Revelation by one of the Inner Circle.—Politics, Poetry, and Pathos.—Far-reaching Plans and Deep-seated Purposes.
XXVI. A few Parting Words with O'Halloran.—His touching Parental Tenderness, High Chivalric Sentiment, and lofty sense of Honor.—Pistols for Two.—Pleasant and Harmonious Arrangement.—"Me Boy, Ye're and Honor to Yer Sex!"
XXVII. Sensational!—Terrific!—Tremendous!—I leave the house in Strange Whirl.—A Storm.—The Driving Sleet.—I Wander About.—The voices of the Storm, and of the River.—The clangor of the Bells.—The Shadow in the Doorway.—The Mysterious Companion.—A Terrible Walk.—Familiar Voices.—Sinking into Senselessness.—The Lady of the Ice is Revealed At Last amid the Storm!
XXVIII. My Lady of the Ice.—Snow and Sleet.—Reawakening.—A Desperate Situation.—Saved a Second Time.—Snatched from a Worse Fate.—Borne in My Arms Once More.—The Open Door.
XXIX. Puzzling Questions which cannot be Answered as yet.—A Step toward Reconcilation.—Reunion of a Broken Friendship.—Pieces all Collected and Joined.—Joy of Jack.—Solemn Debates over the Great Puzzle of the period.—Friendly Conferences and Confidences.—An Important Communication.
XXX. A Letter!—Strange Hesitation.—Gloomy Forebodings.—Jack down deep in the Dumps.—Fresh Confessions.—Why he Missed the Tryst.—Remorse and Revenge.—Jack's Vows of Vengeance.—A very Singular and Unaccountable Character.—Jack's Gloomy Menaces.
XXXI. A Friendly Call.—Preliminaries of the Duel Neatly Arranged.—A Damp Journey, and Depressed Spirits.—A Secluded Spot.—Difficulties which attend a Duel in a Canadian Spring.—A Masterly Decision. —Debates about the niceties of the Code of Honor.—Who shall have the First Shot, Struggle for Precedence.—A very Singular and Obstinate Dispute.—I save O'Halloran from Death by Rheumatism.
XXXII. Home again.—The Growls of a Confirmed Growler.—Hospitality.—The well-known Room.—Vision of a Lady.—Alone with Marion.—Interchange of Thought and Sentiment.—Two Beautiful Women.—An Evening to be Remembered.—The Conviviality of O'Halloran.—The Humors of O'Halloran, and his Bacchic Joy.
XXXIII. From April to June.—Tempora Mutantur, et nos Mutamur in Illis. —Startling Change in Marion!—And Why?—Jack and his Woes.—The Vengeance of Miss Phillips.—Ladies who refuse to allow their Hearts to be Broken.—Noble Attitude of the Widow.—Consolations of Louie.
XXXIV. Jack's Tribulations.—They Rise Up in the very face of the Most Astonishing Good Fortunes.—For, what is like a Legacy?—And this comes to Jack!—Seven Thousand Pounds Sterling per Annum!—But what's the use of it all?—Jack comes to Grief!—Woe! Sorrow! Despair! All the Widow! —Infatuation.—A mad proposal.—A Madman, a Lunatic, an Idiot, a March Hare, and a Hatter, all rolled into one, an that one the Lucky yet Unfortunate Jack.
XXXV. "Louis!"—Platonic Friendship.—Its results.—Advice may be given too Freely, and Consolation may be sought for too Eagerly.—Two Inflammable Hearts should not be allowed to Come Together.—The Old, Old Story.—A Breakdown, and the results all around.—The Condemned Criminal.—The slow yet sure approach of the Hour of Execution.
XXXVI. A Friend's Apology for a Friend.—Jack down at the bottom of Deep Abyss of Woe.—His Despair.—The Hour and the Man!—Where is the Woman!—A Sacred Spot.—Old Fletcher.—The Toll of the Bell.—Meditations on each Successive Stroke.—A wild search.—The Pretty Servant-maid, and her Pretty Story.—Throwing Gold About.
XXXVII. My own affairs.—A Drive and how it came off.—Varying Moods.—The Excited, the Gloomy, and the Gentlemanly.—Straying about Montmorency.—Revisiting a memorable Scene.—Effect of said Scene.—A Mute Appeal and an Appeal in Words.—Result of the Appeals.—"Will You Turn Away?"—Grand Result.—Climax.—Finale.—A General Understanding all round, and a Universal Explanation of Numerous Puzzles.
XXXVIII. Grand Conclusion.—Wedding-rings and Ball-rings.—St. Malachi's. —Old Fletcher in his glory.—No Humbug this time.—Messages sent everywhere.—All the town Agog.—Quebec on the Rampage.—St. Malachi's Crammed.—Galleries Crowded.—White Favors Everywhere.—The Widow happy with the Chaplain.—The Double Wedding.—First couple—JACK AND LOUIE! —Second ditto—MACRORIE AND MARION!—Colonel Berton and O'Halloran giving away the brides.—Strange Association of the British Officer and the Fenian.—Jack and Macrorie, Louie and Marion.—Brides and Bridegrooms.—Epithalamicm.—Wedding in high life.—Six Officiating Clergymen.—All the elite of Quebec take part.—All the Clergy, all the Military, and Everybody who amounts to any thing.—The Band of the Bobtails Discourse Sweet Music, and all that sort of thing, You Know.
THE LADY OF THE ICE.
CONSISTING MERELY OF INTRODUCTORY MATTER.
This is a story of Quebec. Quebec is a wonderful city.
I am given to understand that the ridge on which the city is built is Laurentian; and the river that flows past it is the same. On this (not the river, you know) are strata of schist, shale, old red sand-stone, trap, granite, clay, and mud. The upper stratum is ligneous, and is found to be very convenient for pavements.
It must not be supposed from this introduction that I am a geologist. I am not. I am a lieutenant in her Majesty's 129th Bobtails. The Bobtails are a gay and gallant set, and I have reason to know that we are well remembered in every place we have been quartered.
Into the vortex of Quebeccian society I threw myself with all the generous ardor of youth, and was keenly alive to those charms which the Canadian ladies possess and use so fatally. It is a singular fact, for which I will not attempt to account, that in Quebeccian society one comes in contact with ladies only. Where the male element is I never could imagine. I never saw a civilian. There are no young men in Quebec; if there are any, we officers are not aware of it. I've often been anxious to see one, but never could make it out. Now, of these Canadian ladies I cannot trust myself to speak with calmness. An allusion to them will of itself be eloquent to every brother officer. I will simply remark that, at a time when the tendencies of the Canadians generally are a subject of interest both in England and America, and when it is a matter of doubt whether they lean to annexation or British connection, their fair young daughters show an unmistakable tendency not to one, but to both, and make two apparently incompatible principles really inseparable.
You must understand that this is my roundabout way of hinting that the unmarried British officer who goes to Canada generally finds his destiny tenderly folding itself around a Canadian bride. It is the common lot. Some of these take their wives with them around the world, but many more retire from the service, buy farms, and practise love in a cottage. Thus the fair and loyal Canadiennes are responsible for the loss of many and many a gallant officer to her majesty's service. Throughout these colonial stations there has been, and there will be, a fearful depletion, among the numbers of these brave but too impressible men. I make this statement solemnly, as a mournful fact. I have nothing to say against it; and it is not for one who has had an experience like mine to hint at a remedy. But to my story:
Every one who was in Quebec during the winter of 18—, if he went into society at all, must have been struck by the appearance of a young Bobtail officer, who was a joyous and a welcome guest at every house where it was desirable to be. Tall, straight as an arrow, and singularly well-proportioned, the picturesque costume of the 129th Bobtails could add but little to the effect already produced by so martial a figure. His face was whiskerless; his eyes gray; his cheek-bones a little higher than the average; his hair auburn; his nose not Grecian—or Roman—but still impressive: his air one of quiet dignity, mingled with youthful joyance and mirthfulness. Try—O reader!—to bring before you such a figure. Well—that's me.
Such was my exterior; what was my character? A few words will suffice to explain:—bold, yet cautious; brave, yet tender; constant, yet highly impressible; tenacious of affection, yet quick to kindle into admiration at every new form of beauty; many times smitten, yet surviving the wound; vanquished, yet rescued by that very impressibility of temper—such was the man over whose singular adventures you will shortly be called to smile or to weep.
Here is my card:
Lieut. Alexander Macrorie 129th Bobtails.
And now, my friend, having introduced you to myself, having shown you my photograph, having explained my character, and handed you my card, allow me to lead you to
MY QUARTERS, WHERE YOU WILL BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH OLD JACK RANDOLPH, MY MOST INTIMATE FRIEND, AND ONE WHO DIVIDES WITH ME THE HONOR OF BEING THE HERO OF MY STORY.
I'll never forget the time. It was a day in April.
But an April day in Canada is a very different thing from an April day in England. In England all Nature is robed in vivid green, the air is balmy; and all those beauties abound which usually set poets rhapsodizing, and young men sentimentalizing, and young girls tantalizing. Now, in Canada there is nothing of the kind. No Canadian poet, for instance, would ever affirm that in the spring a livelier iris blooms upon the burnished dove; in the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. No. For that sort of thing—the thoughts of love I mean—winter is the time of day in Canada. The fact is, the Canadians haven't any spring. The months which Englishmen include under that pleasant name are here partly taken up with prolonging the winter, and partly with the formation of a new and nondescript season. In that period Nature, instead of being darkly, deeply, beautifully green, has rather the shade of a dingy, dirty, melancholy gray. Snow covers the ground—not by any means the glistening white robe of Winter—but a rugged substitute, damp, and discolored. It is snow, but snow far gone into decay and decrepitude— snow that seems ashamed of itself for lingering so long after wearing out its welcome, and presenting itself in so revolting a dress—snow, in fact, which is like a man sinking into irremediable ruin and changing its former glorious state for that condition which is expressed by the unpleasant word "slush." There is no an object, not a circumstance, in visible Nature which does not heighten the contrast. In England there is the luxuriant foliage, the fragrant blossom, the gay flower; in Canada, black twigs—bare, scraggy, and altogether wretched—thrust their repulsive forms forth into the bleak air—there, the soft rain-shower falls; here, the fierce snow-squall, or maddening sleet!—there, the field is traversed by the cheerful plough; here, it is covered with ice-heaps or thawing snow; there, the rivers run babbling onward under the green trees; here, they groan and chafe under heaps of dingy and slowly-disintegrating ice-hummocks; there, one's only weapon against the rigor of the season is the peaceful umbrella; here, one must defend one's self with caps and coats of fur and india-rubber, with clumsy leggings, ponderous boots, steel-creepers, gauntlets of skin, iron-pointed alpenstocks, and forty or fifty other articles which the exigencies of space and time will not permit me to mention. On one of the darkest and most dismal of these April days, I was trying to kill time in my quarters, when Jack Randolph burst in upon my meditations. Jack Randolph was one of Ours—an intimate friend of mine, and of everybody else who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Jack was in every respect a remarkable man—physically, intellectually, and morally. Present company excepted, he was certainly by all odds the finest-looking fellow in a regiment notoriously filled with handsome men; and to this rare advantage he added all the accomplishments of life, and the most genial nature in the world. It was difficult to say whether he was a greater favorite with men or with women. He was noisy, rattling, reckless, good-hearted, generous, mirthful, witty, jovial, daring, open-handed, irrepressible, enthusiastic, and confoundedly clever. He was good at every thing, from tracking a moose or caribou, on through all the gamut of rinking, skating, ice-boating, and tobogganing, up to the lightest accomplishments of the drawing-room. He was one of those lucky dogs who are able to break horses or hearts with equal buoyancy of soul. And it was this twofold capacity which made him equally dear to either sex.
A lucky dog? Yea, verily, that is what he was. He was welcomed at every mess, and he had the entree of every house in Quebec. He could drink harder than any man in the regiment, and dance down a whole regiment of drawing-room knights. He could sing better than any amateur I ever heard; and was the best judge of a meerschaum-pipe I ever saw. Lucky? Yes, he was—and especially so, and more than all else—on account of the joyousness of his soul. There was a contagious and a godlike hilarity in his broad, open brow, his frank, laughing eyes, and his mobile lips. He seemed to carry about with him a bracing moral atmosphere. The sight of him had the same effect on the dull man of ordinary life that the Himalayan air has on an Indian invalid; and yet Jack was head-over-heels in debt. Not a tradesman would trust him. Shoals of little bills were sent him every day. Duns without number plagued him from morning to night. The Quebec attorneys were sharpening their bills, and preparing, like birds of prey, to swoop down upon him. In fact, taking it altogether, Jack had full before him the sure and certain prospect of some dismal explosion.
On this occasion, Jack—for the first time in our acquaintance—seemed to have not a vestige of his ordinary flow of spirits. He entered without a word, took up a pipe, crammed some tobacco into the bowl, flung himself into an easy-chair, and began—with fixed eyes and set lips—to pour forth enormous volumes of smoke.
My own pipe was very well under way, and I sat opposite, watching him in wonder. I studied his face, and marked there what I had never before seen upon it—a preoccupied and troubled expression. Now, Jack's features, by long indulgence in the gayer emotions, had immovably moulded themselves into an expression of joyousness and hilarity. Unnatural was it for the merry twinkle to be extinguished in his eyes; for the corners of the mouth, which usually curled upward, to settle downward; for the general shape of feature, cut-line of muscle, set of lips, to undertake to become the exponents of feelings to which they were totally unaccustomed. On this occasion, therefore, Jack's face did not appear so much mournful as dismal; and, where another face might have elicited sympathy, Jack's face had such a grewsomeness, such an utter incongruity between feature and expression, that it seemed only droll.
I bore this inexplicable conduct as long as I could, but at length I could stand it no longer.
"My dear Jack," said I, "would it be too much to ask, in the mildest manner in the world, and with all possible regard for your feelings, what, in the name of the Old Boy, happens to be up just now?"
Jack took the pipe from his mouth, sent a long cloud of smoke forward in a straight line, then looked at me, then heaved a deep sigh, and then—replaced the pipe, and began smoking once more.
Under such circumstances I did not know what to do next, so I took up again the study of his face.
"Heard no bad news, I hope," I said at length, making another venture between the puffs of my pipe.
A shake of the head.
Another shake, together with a contemptuous smile.
"Then I give it up," said I, and betook myself once more to my pipe.
After a time, Jack gave a long sigh, and regarded me fixedly for some minutes, with a very doleful face. Then he slowly ejaculated:
"It's a woman!"
"A woman? Well. What's that? Why need that make any particular difference to you, my boy?"
He sighed again, more dolefully than before.
"I'm in for it, old chap," said he.
"It's all over."
"What do you mean?"
"Done up, sir—dead and gone!"
"I'll be hanged if I understand you."
"Hic jacet Johannes Randolph."
"You're taking to Latin by way of making yourself more intelligible, I suppose."
"Macrorie, my boy—"
"Will you be going anywhere near Anderson's to-day—the stone-cutter, I mean?"
"If you should, let me ask you to do a particular favor for me. Will you?"
"Why, of course. What is it?"
"Well—it's only to order a tombstone for me—plain, neat—four feet by sixteen inches—with nothing on it but my name and date. The sale of my effects will bring enough to pay for it. Don't you fellows go and put up a tablet about me. I tell you plainly, I don't want it, and, what's more, I won't stand it."
"By Jove!" I cried; "my dear fellow, one would think you were raving. Are you thinking of shuffling off the mortal coil? Are you going to blow your precious brains out for a woman? Is it because some fair one is cruel that you are thinking of your latter end? Will you, wasting with despair, die because a woman's fair?"
"No, old chap. I'm going to do something worse."
"Something worse than suicide! What's that? A clean breast, my boy."
"A species of moral suicide."
"What's that? Your style of expression to-day is a kind of secret cipher. I haven't the key. Please explain."
Jack resumed his pipe, and bent down his head; then he rubbed his broad brow with his unoccupied hand; then he raised himself up, and looked at me for a few moments in solemn silence; then he said, in a low voice, speaking each, word separately and with thrilling emphasis:
At that astounding piece of intelligence, I sat dumb and stared fixedly at Jack for the space of half an hour, he regarded me with a mournful smile. At last my feelings found expression in a long, solemn, thoughtful, anxious, troubled, and perplexed whistle.
I could think of only one thing. It was a circumstance which Jack had confided to me as his bosom-friend. Although he had confided the same thing to at least a hundred other bosom-friends, and I knew it, yet, at the same time, the knowledge of this did not make the secret any the less a confidential one; and I had accordingly guarded it like my heart's blood, and all that sort of thing, you know. Nor would I even now divulge that secret, were it not for the fact that the cause for secrecy is removed. The circumstance was this: About a year before, we had been stationed at Fredericton, in the Province of New Brunswick. Jack had met there a young lady from St. Andrews, named Miss Phillips, to whom he had devoted himself with his usual ardor. During a sentimental sleigh-ride he had confessed his love, and had engaged himself to her; and, since his arrival at Quebec, he had corresponded with her very faithfully. He considered himself as destined by Fate to become the husband of Miss Phillips at some time in the dim future, and the only marriage before him that I could think of was this. Still I could not understand why it had come upon him so suddenly, or why, if it did come, he should so collapse under the pressure of his doom.
"Well," said I, after I had rallied somewhat, "I didn't think it was to come off so soon. Some luck has turned up, I suppose."
"Luck!" repeated Jack, with an indescribable accent.
"I assure you, though I've never had the pleasure of seeing Miss Phillips, yet, from your description, I admire her quite fervently, and congratulate you from the bottom of my heart."
"Miss Phillips!" repeated Jack, with a groan.
"What's the matter, old chap?"
"It isn't—her!" faltered Jack.
"She'll have to wear the willow."
"You haven't broken with her—have you?" I asked.
"She'll have to forgive and forget, and all that sort of thing. If it was Miss Phillips, I wouldn't be so confoundedly cut up about it."
"Why—what is it? who is it? and what do you mean?"
Jack looked at me. Then he looked down, and frowned. Then he looked at me again; and then he said, slowly, and with powerful effort:
"IT'S—THE—THE WIDOW! IT'S MRS.—FINNIMORE!!!"
Had a bombshell burst—but I forbear. That comparison is, I believe, somewhat hackneyed. The reader will therefore be good enough to appropriate the point of it, and understand that the shock of this intelligence was so overpowering, that I was again rendered speechless.
"You see," said Jack, after a long and painful silence, "it all originated out of an infernal mistake. Not that I ought to be sorry for it, though. Mrs. Finnimore, of course, is a deuced fine woman. I've been round there ever so long, and seen ever so much of her; and all that sort of thing, you know. Oh, yes," he added, dismally; "I ought to be glad, and, of course, I'm a deuced lucky fellow, and all that; but—"
He paused, and an expressive silence followed that "but."
"Well, how about the mistake?" I asked.
"Why, I'll tell you. It was that confounded party at Doane's. You know what a favorite of mine little Louie Berton is—the best little thing that ever breathed, the prettiest, the—full of fun, too. Well, we're awfully thick, you know; and she chaffed me all the evening about my engagement with Miss Phillips. She had heard all about it, and is crazy to find out whether it's going on yet or not. We had great fun—she chaffing and questioning, and I trying to fight her off. Well; the dancing was going on, and I'd been separated from her for some time, and was trying to find her again, and I saw some one standing in a recess of one of the windows, with a dress that was exactly like Louie's. Her back was turned to me, and the curtains half concealed her. I felt sure that it was Louie. So I sauntered up, and stood for a moment or two behind her. She was looking out of the window; one hand was on the ledge, and the other was by her side, half behind her. I don't know what got into me; but I seized her hand, and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"Well, you know, I expected that it would be snatched away at once. I felt immediately an awful horror at my indiscretion, and would have given the world not to have done it. I expected to see Louie's flashing eyes hurling indignant fire at me, and all that. But the hand didn't move from mine at all!"
Jack uttered this last sentence with the doleful accents of a deeply-injured man—such an accent as one would employ in telling of a shameful trick practised upon his innocence. "It lay in mine," he continued. "There it was; I had seized it; I had it; I held it; I had squeezed it; and—good Lord!—Macrorie, what was I to do? I'll tell you what I did—I squeezed it again. I thought that now it would go; but it wouldn't. Well, I tried it again. No go. Once more—and once again. On my soul, Macrorie, it still lay in mine. I cannot tell you what thoughts I had. It seemed like indelicacy. It was a bitter thing to associate indelicacy with one like little Louie; but—hang it!—there was the awful fact. Suddenly, the thought struck me that the hand was larger than Louie's. At that thought, a ghastly sensation came over me; and, just at that moment, the lady herself turned her face, blushing, arch, with a mischievous smile. To my consternation, and to my—well, yes—to my horror, I saw Mrs. Finnimore!"
"Good Lord!" I exclaimed.
"A stronger expression would fail to do justice to the occasion," said Jack, helping himself to a glass of beer. "For my part, the thrill of unspeakable horror that was imparted by that shock is still strong within me. There, my boy, you have my story. I leave the rest to your imagination."
"The rest? Why, do you mean to say that this is all?"
"All!" cried Jack, with a wild laugh. "All? My dear boy, it is only the faint beginning; but it implies all the rest."
"What did she say?" I asked, meekly.
"Say—say? What! After—well, never mind. Hang it! Don't drive me into particulars. Don't you see? Why, there I was. I had made an assault, broken through the enemy's lines, thought I was carrying every thing before me, when suddenly I found myself confronted, not by an inferior force, but by an overwhelming superiority of numbers—horse, foot, and artillery, marines, and masked batteries—yes, and baggage-wagons—all assaulting me in front, in flank, and in the rear. Pooh!"
"Don't talk shop, Jack."
"Shop? Will you be kind enough to suggest some ordinary figure of speech that will give an idea of my situation? Plain language is quite useless. At least, I find it so."
"But, at any rate, what did she say?"
"Why," answered Jack, in a more dismal voice than ever, "she said, 'Ah, Jack!'—she called me Jack!—'Ah, Jack! I saw you looking for me. I knew you would come after me.'"
"Good Heavens!" I cried; "and what did you say?"
"Say? Heavens and earth, man! what could I say? Wasn't I a gentleman? Wasn't she a lady? Hadn't I forced her to commit herself? Didn't I have to assume the responsibility and pocket the consequences? Say! Oh, Macrorie! what is the use of imagination, if a man will not exercise it?"
"And so you're in for it?" said I, after a pause.
"To the depth of several miles," said Jack, relighting his pipe, which in the energy of his narrative had gone out.
"And you don't think of trying to back out?"
"I don't see my way. Then, again, you must know that I've been trying to see if it wouldn't be the wisest thing for me to make the best of my situation."
"Certainly it would, if you cannot possibly get out of it."
"But, you see, for a fellow like me it may be best not to get out of it. You see, after all, I like her very well. She's an awfully fine woman—splendid action. I've been round there ever so much; we've always been deuced thick; and she's got a kind of way with her that a fellow like me can't resist. And, then, it's time for me to begin to think of settling down. I'm getting awfully old. I'll be twenty-three next August. And then, you know, I'm so deuced hard up. I've got to the end of my rope, and you are aware that the sheriff is beginning to be familiar with my name. Yes, I think for the credit of the regiment I'd better take the widow. She's got thirty thousand pounds, at least."
"And a very nice face and figure along with it," said I, encouragingly.
"That's a fact, or else I could never have mistaken her for poor little Louie, and this wouldn't have happened. But, if it had only been little Louie—well, well; I suppose it must be, and perhaps it's the best thing."
"If it had been Louie," said I, with new efforts at encouragement, "it wouldn't have been any better for you."
"No; that's a fact. You see, I was never so much bothered in my life. I don't mind an ordinary scrape; but I can't exactly see my way out of this."
"You'll have to break the news to Miss Phillips."
"And that's not the worst," said Jack, with a sigh that was like a groan.
"Not the worst? What can be worse than that?"
"My dear boy, you have not begun to see even the outside of the peculiarly complicated nature of my present situation. There are other circumstances to which all these may be playfully represented as a joke."
"Well, that is certainly a strong way of putting it."
"Couldn't draw it mild—such a situation can only be painted in strong colors. I'll tell you in general terms what it is. I can't go into particulars. You know all about my engagement to Miss Phillips. I'm awfully fond of her—give my right hand to win hers, and all that sort of thing, you know. Well, this is going to be hard on her, of course, poor thing! especially as my last letters have been more tender than common. But, old chap, that's all nothing. There's another lady in the case!"
"What!" I cried, more astonished than ever.
Jack looked at me earnestly, and said, slowly and solemnly:
"FACT, MY BOY—IT IS AS I SAY.—THERE'S ANOTHER LADY IN THE CASE, AND THIS LAST IS THE WORST SCRAPE OF ALL!"
"Another lady?" I faltered.
"Another lady!" said Jack.
"Oh!" said I.
"Yes," said he.
"An engagement, too!"
"An engagement? I should think so—and a double-barrelled one, too. An engagement—why, my dear fellow, an engagement's nothing at all compared with this. This is something infinitely worse than the affair with Louie, or Miss Phillips, or even the widow. It's a bad case—yes— an infernally bad case—and I don't see but that I'll have to throw up the widow after all."
"It must be a bad case, if it's infinitely worse than an engagement, as you say it is. Why, man, it must be nothing less than actual marriage. Is that what you're driving at? It must be. So you're a married man, are you?"
"No, not just that, not quite—as yet—but the very next thing to it?"
"Well, Jack, I'm sorry for you, and all that I can say is, that it is a pity that this isn't Utah. Being Canada, however, and a civilized country, I can't see for the life of me how you'll ever manage to pull through."
Jack sighed dolefully.
"To tell the truth," said he, "it's this last one that gives me my only trouble. I'd marry the widow, settle up some way with Miss Phillips, smother my shame, and pass the remainder of my life in peaceful obscurity, if it were not for her."
"You mean by her, the lady whose name you don't mention."
"Whose name I don't mention, nor intend to," said Jack, gravely. "Her case is so peculiar that it cannot be classed with the others. I never breathed a word about it to anybody, though it's been going on for six or eight months."
Jack spoke with such earnestness, that I perceived the subject to be too grave a one in his estimation to be trifled with. A frown came over his face, and he once more eased his mind by sending forth heavy clouds of smoke, as though he would thus throw off the clouds of melancholy that had gathered deep and dark over his soul.
"I'll make a clean breast of it, old chap," said he, at length, with a very heavy sigh. "It's a bad business from beginning to end."
"You see," said he, after a long pause, in which he seemed to be collecting his thoughts—"it began last year—the time I went to New York, you know. She went on at the same time. She had nobody with her but a deaf old party, and got into some row at the station about her luggage. I helped her out of it, and sat by her side all the way. At New York I kept up the acquaintance. I came back with them, that is to say, with her, and the deaf old party, you know, and by the time we reached Quebec again we understood one another.
"I couldn't help it—I'll be hanged if I could! You see, Macrorie, it wasn't an ordinary case. She was the loveliest little girl I ever saw, and I found myself awfully fond of her in no time. I soon saw that she was fond of me too. All my other affairs were a joke to this. I wanted to marry her in New York, but the thought of my debts frightened me out of that, and so I put it off. I half wish now I hadn't been so confoundedly prudent. Perhaps it is best, though. Still I don't know. Better be the wife of a poor devil, than have one's heart broken by a mean devil. Heigho!"
H E I G H O are the letters which are usually employed to represent a sigh. I use them in accordance with the customs of the literary world.
"Well," resumed Jack, "after my return I called on her, and repeated my call several times. She was all that could be desired, but her father was different. I found him rather chilly, and not at all inclined to receive me with that joyous hospitality which my various merits deserved. The young lady herself seemed sad. I found out, at last, that the old gentleman amused himself with badgering her about me; and finally she told me, with tears, that her father requested me to visit that house no more. Well, at that I was somewhat taken aback; but, nevertheless, I determined to wait till the old gentleman himself should speak. You know my peculiar coolness, old chap, that which you and the rest call my happy audacity; and you may believe that it was all needed under such circumstances as these. I went to the house twice after that. Each time my little girl was half laughing with joy, half crying with fear at seeing me; and each time she urged me to keep away. She said we could write to one another. But letter-writing wasn't in my line. So after trying in vain to obey her, I went once more in desperation to explain matters.
"Instead of seeing her, I found the old fellow himself. He was simply white, hot with rage—not at all noisy, or declamatory, or vulgar—but cool, cutting, and altogether terrific. He alluded to my gentlemanly conduct in forcing myself where I had been ordered off; and informed me that if I came again he would be under the unpleasant necessity of using a horsewhip. That, of course, made me savage. I pitched into him pretty well, and gave it to him hot and heavy, but, hang it! I'm no match for fellows of that sort; he kept so cool, you know, while I was furious—and the long and the short of it is, that I had to retire in disorder, rowing on him some mysterious vengeance or other, which I have never been able to carry out.
"The next day I got a letter from her. It was awfully sad, blotted with tears, and all that. She implored me to write her, told me she couldn't see me, spoke about her father's cruelty and persecution—and ever so many other things not necessary to mention. Well, I wrote back, and she answered my letter, and so we got into the way of a correspondence which we kept up at a perfectly furious rate. It came hard on me, of course, for I'm not much at a pen; my letters were short, as you may suppose, but then they were full of point, and what matters quantity so long as you have quality, you know? Her letters, however, poor little darling, were long and eloquent, and full of a kind of mixture of love, hope, and despair. At first I thought that I should grow reconciled to my situation in the course of time, but, instead of that, it grew worse every day. I tried to forget all about her, but without success. The fact is, I chafed under the restraint that was on me, and perhaps it was that which was the worst of all. I dare say now if I'd only been in some other place—in Montreal, for instance—I wouldn't have had such a tough time of it, and might gradually have forgotten about her; but the mischief of it was, I was here—in Quebec—close by her, you may say, and yet I was forbidden the house. I had been insulted and threatened. This, of course, only made matters worse, and the end of it was, I thought of nothing else. My very efforts to get rid of the bother only made it a dozen times worse. I flung myself into ladies' society with my usual ardor, only worse; committed myself right and left, and seemed to be a model of a gay Lothario. Little did they suspect that under a smiling face I concealed a heart of ashes—yes, old boy—ashes! as I'm a living sinner. You see, all the time, I was maddened at that miserable old scoundrel who wouldn't let me visit his daughter—me, Jack Randolph, an officer, and a gentleman, and, what is more, a Bobtail! Why, my very uniform should have been a guarantee for my honorable conduct. Then, again, in addition to this, I hankered after her, you know, most awfully. At last I couldn't stand it any longer, so I wrote her a letter. It was only yesterday. And now, old chap, what do you think I wrote?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," said I, mistily; "a declaration of love, perhaps—"
"A declaration of love? pooh!" said Jack; "as if I had ever written any thing else than that. Why, all my letters were nothing else. No, my boy—this letter was very different. In the first place, I told her that I was desperate—then I assured her that I couldn't live this way any longer, and I concluded with a proposal as desperate as my situation. And what do you think my proposal was?"
"Proposal? Why, marriage, of course; there is only one kind of proposal possible under such circumstances. But still that's not much more than an engagement, dear boy, for an engagement means only the same thing, namely, marriage."
"Oh, but this was far stronger—it was different, I can tell you, from any mere proposal of marriage. What do you think it was? Guess."
"Can't. Haven't an idea."
"Well," said Jack—
"I IMPLORED HER TO RUN AWAY WITH ME, AND HAVE A PRIVATE MARRIAGE, LEAVING THE REST TO FATE. AND I SOLEMNLY ASSURED HER THAT, IF SHE REFUSED, I WOULD BLOW MY BRAINS OUT ON HER DOOR-STEPS.—THERE, NOW! WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?"
Saying the above words, Jack leaned back, and surveyed me with the stern complacency of despair. After staring at me for some time, and evidently taking some sort of grim comfort out of the speechlessness to which he had reduced me by his unparalleled narrative, he continued his confessions:
"Last night, I made that infernal blunder with the widow—confound her!—that is, I mean of course, bless her! It's all the same, you know. To-day you behold the miserable state to which I am reduced. To-morrow I will get a reply from her. Of course, she will consent to fly. I know very well how it will be. She will hint at some feasible mode, and some convenient time. She will, of course, expect me to settle it all up, from her timid little hints; and I must settle it up, and not break my faith with her. And now, Macrorie, I ask you, not merely as an officer and a gentleman, but as a man, a fellow-Christian, and a sympathizing friend, what under Heaven am I to do?"
He stopped, leaned back in his chair, lighted once more his extinguished pipe, and I could see through the dense volumes of smoke which he blew forth, his eyes fixed earnestly upon me, gleaming like two stars from behind gloomy storm-clouds.
I sat in silence, and thought long and painfully over the situation. I could come to no conclusion, but I had to say something, and I said it.
"Put it off," said I at last, in a general state of daze.
"Put what off?"
"What? Why, the widow—no, the—the elopement, of course. Yes," I continued, firmly, "put off the elopement."
"Put off the elopement!" ejaculated Jack. "What! after proposing it so desperately—after threatening to blow my brains out in front of her door?"
"That certainly is a consideration," said I, thoughtfully; "but can't you have—well, brain-fever—yes, that's it, and can't you get some friend to send word to her?"
"That's all very well; but, you see, I'd have to keep my room. If I went out, she'd hear of it. She's got a wonderful way of hearing about my movements. She'll find out about the widow before the week's over. Oh, no! that's not to be done."
"Well, then," said I, desperately, "let her find it out. The blow would then fall a little more gently."
"You seem to me," said Jack, rather huffily, "to propose that I should quietly proceed to break her heart. No! Hang it, man, if it comes to that I'll do it openly, and make a clean breast of it, without shamming or keeping her in suspense."
"Well, then," I responded, "why not break off with the widow?"
"Break off with the widow!" cried Jack, with the wondering accent of a man who has heard some impossible proposal.
"Certainly; why not?"
"Will you be kind enough to inform me what thing short of death could ever deliver me out of her hands?" asked Jack, mildly.
"Elope, as you proposed."
"That's the very thing I thought of; but the trouble is, in that case she would devote the rest of her life to vengeance. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman wronged,' you know. She'd move heaven and earth, and never end, till I was drummed out of the regiment. No, my boy. To do that would be to walk with open eyes to disgrace, and shame, and infamy, with a whole community, a whole regiment, and the Horse-Guards at the back of them, all banded together to crush me. Such a fate as this would hardly be the proper thing to give to a wife that a fellow loves."
"Can't you manage to make the widow disgusted with you?"
"No, I can't," said Jack, peevishly. "What do you mean?"
"Why, make it appear as though you only wanted to marry her for her money."
"Oh, hang it, man! how could I do that? I can't play a part, under any circumstances, and that particular part would be so infernally mean, that it would be impossible. I'm such an ass that, if she were even to hint at that, I'd resent it furiously.
"Can't you make her afraid about your numerous gallantries?"
"Afraid? why she glories in them. So many feathers in her cap, and all that, you know."
"Can't you frighten her about your debts and general extravagance—hint that you're a gambler, and so on?"
"And then she'd inform me, very affectionately, that she intends to be my guardian angel, and save me from evil for all the rest of my life."
"Can't you tell her all about your solemn engagement to Miss Phillips?"
"My engagement to Miss Phillips? Why, man alive, she knows that as well as you do."
"Knows it! How did she find it out?"
"How? Why I told her myself."
"The deuce you did!"
Jack was silent.
"Well, then," said I, after some further thought, "why not tell her every thing?"
"Tell her every thing?"
"Yes—exactly what you've been telling me. Make a clean breast of it."
Jack looked at me for some time with a curious expression.
"My dear boy," said he, at length, "do you mean to say that you are really in earnest in making that proposition?"
"Most solemnly in earnest," said I.
"Well," said Jack, "it shows how mistaken I was in leaving any thing to your imagination. You do not seem to understand," he continued, dolefully, "or you will not understand that, when a fellow has committed himself to a lady as I did, and squeezed her hand with such peculiar ardor, in his efforts to save himself and do what's right, he often overdoes it. You don't seem to suspect that I might have overdone it with the widow. Now, unfortunately, that is the very thing that I did. I did happen to overdo it most confoundedly. And so the melancholy fact remains that, if I were to repeat to her, verbatim, all that I've been telling you, she would find an extraordinary discrepancy between such statements and those abominably tender confessions in which I indulged on that other occasion. Nothing would ever convince her that I was not sincere at that time; and how can I go to her now and confess that I am a humbug and an idiot? I don't see it. Come, now, old fellow, what do you think of that? Don't you call it rather a tough situation? Do you think a man can see his way out of it? Own up, now. Don't you think it's about the worst scrape you ever heard of? Come, now, no humbug."
The fellow seemed actually to begin to feel a dismal kind of pride in the very hopelessness of his situation, and looked at me with a gloomy enjoyment of my discomfiture.
For my part, I said nothing, and for the best of reasons: I had nothing to say. So I took refuge in shaking my head.
"You see," Jack persisted, "there's no help for it. Nobody can do any thing. There's only one thing, and that you haven't suggested."
"What's that?" I asked, feebly.
Jack put the tip of his forefinger to his forehead, and snapped his thumb against his third.
"I haven't much, brains to speak of," said he, "but if I did happen to blow out what little I may have, it would be the easiest settlement of the difficulty. It would be cutting the knot, instead of attempting the impossible task of untying it. Nobody would blame me. Everybody would mourn for me, and, above all, four tender female hearts would feel a pang of sorrow for my untimely fate. By all four I should be not cursed, but canonized. Only one class would suffer, and those would be welcome to their agonies. I allude, of course, to my friends the Duns."
To this eccentric proposal, I made no reply whatever.
"Well," said Jack, thoughtfully, "it isn't a bad idea. Not a bad idea," he repeated, rising from his chair and putting down his pipe, which had again gone out owing to his persistent loquacity. "I'll think it over," he continued, seriously. "You bear in mind my little directions about the head-stone, Macrorie, four feet by eighteen inches, old fellow, very plain, and, mark me, only the name and date. Not a word about the virtues of the deceased, etc. I can stand a great deal, but that I will not stand. And now, old chap, I must be off; you can't do me any good, I see."
"At any rate, you'll wait till to-morrow," said I, carelessly.
"Oh, there's no hurry," said he. "Of course, I must wait till then. I'll let you know if any thing new turns up."
And saying this, he took his departure.
CROSSING THE ST. LAWRENCE.—THE STORM AND THE BREAK-UP.—A WONDERFUL ADVENTURE.—A STRUGGLE FOR LIFE.—WHO IS SHE?—THE ICE-RIDGE.—FLY FOR YOUR LIFE!
On the following day I found myself compelled to go on some routine duty cross the river to Point Levy. The weather was the most abominable of that abominable season. It was winter, and yet not Winter's self. The old gentleman had lost all that bright and hilarious nature; all that sparkling and exciting stimulus which he owns and holds here so joyously in January, February, and even March. He was decrepit, yet spiteful; a hoary, old, tottering, palsied villain, hurling curses at all who ventured into his evil presence. One look outside showed me the full nature of all that was before me, and revealed the old tyrant in the full power of his malignancy. The air was raw and chill. There blew a fierce, blighting wind, which brought with it showers of stinging sleet. The wooden pavements were overspread with a thin layer of ice, so glassy that walking could only be attempted at extreme hazard; the houses were incrusted with the same cheerful coating; and, of all the beastly weather that I had ever seen, there had never been any equal to this. However, there was no escape from it; and so, wrapping myself up as well as I could, I took a stout stick with a sharp iron ferrule, and plunged forth into the storm.
On reaching the river, the view was any thing but satisfactory. The wind here was tremendous, and the sleet blew down in long, horizontal lines, every separate particle giving its separate sting, while the accumulated stings amounted to perfect torment. I paused for a while to get a little shelter, and take breath before venturing across.
There were other reasons for pausing. The season was well advanced, and the ice was not considered particularly safe. Many things conspired to give indications of a break-up. The ice on the surface was soft, honey-combed, and crumbling. Near the shore was a channel of open water. Farther out, where the current ran strongest, the ice was heaped up in hillocks and mounds, while in different directions appeared crevices of greater or less width. Looking over that broad surface as well as I could through the driving storm, where not long before I had seen crowds passing and repassing, not a soul was now visible.
This might have been owing to the insecurity of the ice; but it might also have been owing to the severity of the weather. Black enough, at any rate, the scene appeared; and I looked forth upon it from my temporary shelter with the certainty that this river before me was a particularly hard road to travel.
"Ye'll no be gangin' ower the day, sew-erly?" said a voice near me.
I turned and saw a brawny figure in a reefing-jacket and "sou'-wester." He might have been a sailor, or a scowman, or a hibernating raftsman.
"Why?" said I.
He said nothing, but shook his head with solemn emphasis.
I looked for a few moments longer, and hesitated. Yet there was no remedy for it, bad as it looked. After being ordered forward, I did not like to turn back with an excuse about the weather. Besides, the ice thus far had lasted well. Only the day before, sleds had crossed. There was no reason why I should not cross now. Why should I in particular be doomed to a catastrophe more than any other man? And, finally, was not McGoggin there? Was he not always ready with his warmest welcome? On a stormy day, did he not always keep his water up to the boiling-point, and did not the very best whiskey in Quebec diffuse about his chamber its aromatic odor?
I moved forward. The die was cast.
The channel near the shore was from six to twelve feet in width, filled with floating fragments. Over this I scrambled in safety. As I advanced, I could see that in one day a great change had taken place. The surface-ice was soft and disintegrated, crushing readily under the feet. All around me extended wide pools of water. From beneath these arose occasional groaning sounds—dull, heavy crunches, which seemed to indicate a speedy break-up. The progress of the season, with its thaws and rains, had been gradually weakening the ice; along the shore its hold had in some places at least been relaxed; and the gale of wind that was now blowing was precisely of that description which most frequently sweeps away resistlessly the icy fetters of the river, and sets all the imprisoned waters free. At every step new signs of this approaching break-up became visible. From time to time I encountered gaps in the ice, of a foot or two in width, which did not of themselves amount to much, but which nevertheless served to show plainly the state of things.
My progress was excessively difficult. The walking was laborious on account of the ice itself and the pools through which I had to wade. Then there were frequent gaps, which sometimes could only be traversed by a long detour. Above all, there was the furious sleet, which drove down the river, borne on by the tempest, with a fury and unrelaxing pertinacity that I never saw equalled. However, I managed to toil onward, and at length reached the centre of the river. Here I found a new and more serious obstacle. At this point the ice had divided; and in the channel thus formed there was a vast accumulation of ice-cakes, heaped up one above the other in a long ridge, which extended as far as the eye could reach. There were great gaps in it, however, and to cross it needed so much caution, and so much effort, that I paused for a while, and, setting my back to the wind, looked around to examine the situation.
Wild enough that scene appeared. On one side was my destination, but dimly visible through the storm; on the other rose the dark cliff of Cape Diamond, frowning gloomily over the river, crowned with the citadel, where the flag of Old England was streaming straight out at the impulse of the blast, with a stiffness that made it seem as though it had been frozen in the air rigid in that situation. Up the river all was black and gloomy; and the storm which burst from that quarter obscured the view; down the river the prospect was as gloomy, but one thing was plainly visible—a wide, black surface, terminating the gray of the ice, and showing that there at least the break-up had begun, and the river had resumed its sway.
A brief survey showed me all this, and for a moment created a strong desire to go back. Another moment, however, showed that to go forward was quite as wise and as safe. I did not care to traverse again what I had gone over, and the natural reluctance to turn back from the half-way house, joined to the hope of better things for the rest of the way, decided me to go forward.
After some examination, I found a place on which to cross the central channel. It was a point where the heaps of ice seemed at once more easy to the foot, and more secure. At extreme risk, and by violent efforts, I succeeded in crossing, and, on reaching the other side, I found the ice more promising. Then, hoping that the chief danger had been successfully encountered, I gathered up my energies, and stepped out briskly toward the opposite shore.
It was not without the greatest difficulty and the utmost discomfort that I had come thus far. My clothes were coated with frozen sleet; my hair was a mass of ice; and my boots were filled with water. Wretched as all this was, there was no remedy for it, so I footed it as best I could, trying to console myself by thinking over the peaceful pleasures which were awaiting me at the end of my journey in the chambers of the hospitable McGoggin.
Suddenly, as I walked along, peering with half-closed eyes through the stormy sleet before me, I saw at some distance a dark object approaching. After a time, the object drew nearer, and resolved itself into a sleigh. It came onward toward the centre of the river, which it reached at about a hundred yards below the point where I had crossed. There were two occupants in the sleigh, one crouching low and muffled in wraps; the other the driver, who looked like one of the common habitans. Knowing the nature of the river there, and wondering what might bring a sleigh out at such a time, I stopped, and watched them with a vague idea of shouting to them to go back. Their progress thus far from the opposite shore, so far at least as I could judge, made me conclude that the ice on this side must be comparatively good, while my own journey had proved that on the Quebec side it was utterly impossible for a horse to go.
As they reached the channel where the crumbled ice-blocks lay floating, heaped up as I have described, the sleigh stopped, and the driver looked anxiously around. At that very instant there came one of those low, dull, grinding sounds I have already mentioned, but very much louder than any that I had hitherto heard. Deep, angry thuds followed, and crunching sounds, while beneath all there arose a solemn murmur like the "voice of many waters." I felt the ice heave under my feet, and sway in long, slow undulations, and one thought, quick as lightning, flashed horribly into my mind. Instinctively I leaped forward toward my destination, while the ice rolled and heaved beneath me, and the dread sounds grew louder at every step.
Scarcely had I gone a dozen paces when a piercing scream arrested me. I stopped and looked back. For a few moments only had I turned away, yet in that short interval a fearful change had taken place. The long ridge of ice which had been heaped up in the mid-channel had increased to thrice its former height, and the crunching and grinding of the vast masses arose above the roaring of the storm. Far up the river there came a deeper and fuller sound of the same kind, which, brought down by the wind, burst with increasing terrors upon the ear. The ridge of ice was in constant motion, being pressed and heaped up in ever-increasing masses, and, as it heaped itself up, toppling over and falling with a noise like thunder. There could be but one cause for all this, and the fear which had already flashed through my brain was now confirmed to my sight. The ice on which I stood was breaking up!
As all this burst upon my sight, I saw the sleigh. The horse had stopped in front of the ridge of ice in the mid-channel, and was rearing and plunging violently. The driver was lashing furiously and trying to turn the animal, which, frenzied by terror, and maddened by the stinging sleet, refused to obey, and would only rear and kick. Suddenly the ice under the sleigh sank down, and a flood of water rolled over it, followed by an avalanche of ice-blocks which had tumbled from the ridge. With a wild snort of terror, the horse turned, whirling round the sleigh, and with the speed of the wind dashed back toward the shore. As the sleigh came near, I saw the driver upright and trying to regain his command of the horse, and at that instant the other passenger started erect. The cloak fell back. I saw a face pale, overhung with dishevelled hair, and filled with an anguish of fear. But the pallor and the fear could not conceal the exquisite loveliness of that woman-face, which was thus so suddenly revealed in the midst of the storm and in the presence of death; and which now, beautiful beyond all that I had ever dreamed of, arose before my astonished eyes. It was from her that the cry had come but a few moments before. As she passed she saw me, and another cry escaped her. In another moment she was far ahead.
And now I forgot all about the dangers around me, and the lessening chances of an interview with McGoggin. I hurried on, less to secure my own safety than to assist the lady. And thus as I rushed onward I became aware of a new danger which arose darkly between me and the shore. It was a long, black channel, gradually opening itself up, and showing in its gloomy surface a dividing line between me and life. To go back seemed now impossible—to go forward was to meet these black waters.
Toward this gulf the frightened horse ran at headlong speed. Soon he reached the margin of the ice. The water was before him and headed him off. Terrified again at this, he swerved aside, and bounded up the river. The driver pulled frantically at the reins. The lady, who had fallen back again in her seat, was motionless. On went the horse, and, at every successive leap in his mad career, the sleigh swung wildly first to one side and then to the other. At last there occurred a curve in the line of ice, and reaching this the horse turned once more to avoid it. In doing so, the sleigh was swung toward the water. The shafts broke. The harness was torn asunder. The off-runner of the sleigh slid from the ice—it tilted over; the driver jerked at the reins and made a wild leap. In vain. His feet were entangled in the fur robes which dragged him back. A shriek, louder, wilder, and far more fearful than before, rang out through the storm; and the next instant down went the sleigh, with its occupants into the water, the driver falling out, while the horse, though free from the sleigh, was yet jerked aside by the reins, and before he could recover himself fell with the rest into the icy stream.
All this seemed to have taken place in an instant. I hurried on, with all my thoughts on this lady who was thus doomed to so sudden and so terrible a fate. I could see the sleigh floating for a time, and the head of the horse, that was swimming. I sprang to a place which seemed to give a chance of assisting them, and looked eagerly to see what had become of the lady. The sleigh drifted steadily along, one of that box-shaped kind called pungs, which are sometimes made so tight that they can resist the action of water, and float either in crossing a swollen stream, or in case of breaking through the ice. Such boat-like sleighs are not uncommon; and this one was quite buoyant. I nothing of the driver. He had probably sunk at once, or had been drawn under the ice. The horse, entangled in the shafts, had regained the ice, and had raised one foreleg to its surface, with which he was making furious struggles to emerge from the water, while snorts of terror escaped him. But where was the lady? I hurried farther up, and, as I approached, I could see something crouched in a heap at the bottom of the floating sleigh. Was it she—or was it only the heap of buffalo-robes? I could not tell.
The sleigh drifted on, and soon. I came near enough to see that the bundle had life. I came close to where it floated. It was not more that six yards off, and was drifting steadily nearer, I walked on by the edge of the ice, and shouted. There was no answer. At length I saw a white hand clutching the side of the sleigh. A thrill of exultant hope passed through me. I shouted again and again, but my voice was lost in the roar of the crashing ice and the howling gale. Yet, though my voice had not been heard, I was free from suspense, for I saw that the lady thus far was safe, and I could wait a little longer for the chance of affording her assistance. I walked on, then, in silence, watching the sleigh which continued to float. We travelled thus a long distance—I, and the woman who had thus been so strangely wrecked in so strange a bark. Looking back, I could no longer see any signs of the horse. All this time the sleigh was gradually drifted nearer the edge of the ice on which I walked, until at last it came so near that I reached out my stick, and, catching it with the crooked handle, drew it toward me. The shock, as the sleigh struck against the ice, roused its occupant. She started up, stood upright, stared for a moment at me, and then, at the scene around. Then she sprang out, and, clasping her hands, fell upon her knees, and seemed to mutter words of prayer. Then she rose to her feet, and looked around with a face of horror. There was such an anguish of fear in her face, that I tried to comfort her. But my efforts were useless.
"Oh! there a no hope! The river is breaking up!" she moaned. "They told me it would. How mad I was to try to cross!"
Finding that I could do nothing to quell her fears, I began to think what was best to be done. First of all, I determined to secure the sleigh. It might be the means of saving us, or, if not, it would at any rate do for a place of rest. It was better than the wet ice for the lady. So I proceeded to pull it on the ice. The lady tried to help me, and, after a desperate effort, the heavy pung was dragged from the water upon the frozen surface. I then made her sit in it, and wrapped the furs around her as well as I could.
She submitted without a word. Her white face was turned toward mine; and once or twice she threw upon me, from her dark, expressive eyes, a look of speechless gratitude. I tried to promise safety, and encouraged her as well as I could, and she seemed to make an effort to regain her self-control.
In spite of my efforts at consolation, her despair affected me. I looked all around to see what the chances of escape might be. As I took that survey, I perceived that those chances were indeed small. The first thing that struck me was, that Cape Diamond was far behind the point where I at present stood. While the sleigh had drifted, and I had walked beside it, our progress had been down the river; and since then the ice, which itself had all this time been drifting, had borne us on without ceasing. We were still drifting at the very moment that I looked around. We had also moved farther away from the shore which I wished to reach, and nearer to the Quebec side. When the sleigh had first gone over, there had not been more than twenty yards between the ice and the shore; but now that shore was full two hundred yards away. All this tune the fury of the wind, and the torment of the blinding, stinging sleet, had not in the least abated; the grinding and roaring of the ice had increased; the long ridge had heaped itself up to a greater height, and opposite us it towered up in formidable masses.
I thought at one time of intrusting myself with my companion to the sleigh, in the hope of using it as a boat to gain the shore. But I could not believe that it would float with both of us, and, if it would, there were no means of moving or guiding it. Better to remain on the ice than to attempt that. Such a refuge would only do as a last resort. After giving up this idea, I watched to see if there was any chance of drifting back to the shore, but soon saw that there was none. Every moment drew us farther off. Then I thought of a score of desperate undertakings, but all of them were given up almost as soon as they suggested themselves.
All this time the lady had sat in silence—deathly pale, looking around with that same anguish of fear which I had noticed from the first, like one who awaits an inevitable doom. The storm beat about her pitilessly; occasional shudders passed through her; and the dread scene around affected me far less than those eyes of agony, that pallid face, and those tremulous white lips that seemed to murmur prayers. She saw, as well as I, the widening sheet of water between us and the shore on the one side, and on the other the ever-increasing masses of crumbling ice.
At last I suddenly offered to go to Quebec, and bring back help for her. So wild a proposal was in the highest degree impracticable; but I thought that it might lead her to suggest something. As soon as she heard it, she evinced fresh terror.
"Oh, sir!" she moaned, "if you have a human heart, do not leave me! For God's sake, stay a little longer."
"Leave you!" I cried; "never while I have breath. I will stay with you to the last."
But this, instead of reassuring her, merely had the effect of changing her feelings. She grew calmer.
"No," said she, "you must not. I was mad with fear. No—go. You at least can save yourself. Go—fly—leave me!"
"Never!" I repeated. "I only made that proposal—not thinking to save you, but merely supposing that you would feel better at the simple suggestion of something."
"I implore you," she reiterated. "Go—there is yet time. You only risk your life by delay. Don't waste your time on me."
"I could not go if I would," I said, "and I swear I would not go if I could," I cried, impetuously. "I hope you do not take me for any thing else than a gentleman."
"Oh, sir, pardon me. Can you think that?—But you have already risked your life once by waiting to save mine—and, oh, do not risk it by waiting again."
"Madame," said I, "you must not only not say such a thing, but you must not even think it. I am here with you, and, being a gentleman, I am here by your side either for life or death. But come—rouse yourself. Don't give up. I'll save you, or die with you. At the same time, let me assure you that I haven't the remotest idea of dying."
She threw at me, from her eloquent eyes, a look of unutterable gratitude, and said not a word.
I looked at my watch. It was three o'clock. There was no time to lose. The day was passing swiftly, and at this rate evening would come on before one might be aware. The thought of standing idle any longer, while the precious hours were passing, was intolerable. Once more I made a hasty survey, and now, pressed and stimulated by the dire exigencies of the hour, I determined to make an effort toward the Quebec side. On that side, it seemed as though the ice which drifted from the other shore was being packed in an unbroken mass. If so, a way over it might be found to a resolute spirit.
I hastily told my companion my plan. She listened with a faint smile.
"I will do all that I can," said she, and I saw with delight that the mere prospect of doing something had aroused her.
My first act was to push the sleigh with its occupant toward the ice-ridge in the centre of the river. The lady strongly objected, and insisted on getting out and helping me. This I positively forbade. I assured her that my strength was quite sufficient for the undertaking, but that hers was not; and if she would save herself, and me, too, she must husband all her resources and obey implicitly. She submitted under protest, and, as I pushed her along, she murmured the most touching expressions of sympathy and of gratitude. But pushing a sleigh over the smooth ice is no very difficult work, and the load that it contained did not increase the labor in my estimation. Thus we soon approached that long ice-ridge which I have so frequently mentioned. Here I stopped, and began to seek a place which might afford a chance for crossing to the ice-field on the opposite side.
The huge ice-blocks gathered here, where the fields on either side were forced against one another, grinding and breaking up. Each piece was forced up, and, as the grinding process continued, the heap rose higher. At times, the loftiest parts of the ridge toppled over with a tremendous crash, while many other piles seemed about to do the same. To attempt to pass that ridge would be to encounter the greatest peril. In the first place, it would be to invite an avalanche; and then, again, wherever the piles fell, the force of that fall broke the field-ice below, and the water rushed up, making a passage through it quite as hazardous as the former. For a long time I examined without seeing any place which was at all practicable. There was no time, however, to be discouraged; an effort had to be made, and that without delay; so I determined to try for myself, and test one or more places. One place appeared less dangerous than others—a place where a pile of uncommon size had recently fallen. The blocks were of unusual size, and were raised up but a little above the level of the ice on which I stood. These blocks, though swaying slowly up and down, seemed yet to be strong enough for my purpose. I sprang toward the place, and found it practicable. Then I returned to the lady. She was eager to go. Here we had to give up the sleigh, since to transport that also was not to be thought of.
"Now," said I, "is the time for you to exert all your strength."
"I am ready," said she.
At that moment there burst a thunder-shock. A huge pile farther down had fallen, and bore down the surface-ice. The water rushed boiling and seething upward, and spread far over. There was not a moment to lose. It was now or never; so, snatching her hand, I rushed forward. The water was up to my knees, and sweeping past and whirling back with a furious impetuosity. Through that flood I dragged her, and she followed bravely and quickly. I pulled her up to the first block, then onward to another. Leaping over a third, I had to relinquish her hand for a moment, and then, extending mine once more, I caught hers, and she sprang after me. All these blocks were firm, and our weight did not move their massive forms. One huge piece formed the last stage in our hazardous path. It overlapped the ice on the opposite side. I sprang down, and the next instant the lady was by my side. Thank Heaven! we were over.
Onward then we hurried for our lives, seeking to get as far as possible from that dangerous channel of ice-avalanches and seething waters; and it was not till a safe distance intervened, that I dared to slacken my pace so as to allow my companion to take breath. All this time she had not spoken a word, and had shown a calmness and an energy which contrasted strongly with her previous lethargy and terror.
I saw that the ice in this place was rougher than it had been on the other side. Lumps were upheaved in many places. This was a good sign, for it indicated a close packing in this direction, and less danger of open water, which was the only thing now to be feared. The hope of reaching the shore was now strong within me. That shore, I could perceive, must be some distance below Quebec; but how far I could not tell. I could see the dark outline of the land, but Quebec was now no longer perceptible through the thick storm of sleet.
For a long time, my companion held out nobly, and sustained the rapid progress which I was trying to keep up; but, at length, she began to show evident signs of exhaustion. I saw this with pain, for I was fearful every moment of some new circumstance which might call for fresh exertion from both of us. I would have given any thing to have had the sleigh—which we were forced to relinquish. I feared that her strength would fail at the trying moment. The distance before us was yet so great that we seemed to have traversed but little. I insisted on her taking my arm and leaning on me for support, and tried to cheer her by making her look back and see how far we had gone. She tried to smile; but the smile was a failure. In her weakness, she began to feel more sensibly the storm from which she had been sheltered to some extent before she left the sleigh. She cowered under the fierce pelt of the pitiless sleet, and clung to me, trembling and shivering with cold.
On and on we walked. The distance seemed interminable. The lady kept up well, considering her increasing exhaustion, saying nothing whatever; but her quick, short breathing was audible, as she panted with fatigue. I felt every shudder that ran through her delicate frame. And yet I did not dare to stop and give her rest; for, aside from the imminent danger of losing our hope of reaching land, a delay, even to take breath, would only expose her the more surely to the effect of the cold. At last, I stopped for a moment, and drew off my overcoat. This, in spite of her protestations, I forced her to put on. She threatened, at one time, to sit down on the ice and die, rather than do it.
"Very well, madame," said I. "Then, out of a punctilio, you will destroy, not only yourself, but me. Do I deserve this?"
At this, tears started to her eyes. She submitted.
"Oh, sir," she murmured, "what can I say? It's for your sake that I refuse. I will submit. God bless you—who sent you to my help! God forever bless you!"
I said nothing.
On and on!
Then her steps grew feebler—then her weight rested on me more heavily.
On and on!
She staggered, and low moans succeeded to her heavy panting. At last, with a cry of despair, she fell forward.
I caught her in my arms, and held her up.
"Leave me!" she said, in a faint voice. "I cannot walk any farther."
"No; I will wait for a while."
"Oh, leave me! Save yourself! Or go ashore, and bring help!"
"No; I will go ashore with you, or not at all."
She sighed, and clung to me.
After a time, she revived a little, and insisted on going onward. This time she walked for some distance. She did this with a stolid, heavy step, and mechanically, like an automaton moved by machinery. Then she stopped again.
"I am dizzy," said she, faintly.
I made her sit down on the ice, and put myself between her and the wind. That rest did much for her. But I was afraid to let her sit more than five minutes. Her feet were saturated, and, in spite of my overcoat, she was still shivering.
"Come," said I; "if we stay any longer, you will die."
She staggered up. She clung to me, and I dragged her on. Then, again, she stopped.
I now tried a last resort, and gave her some brandy from my flask. I had thought of it often, but did not wish to give this until other things were exhausted; for, though the stimulus is an immediate remedy for weakness, yet on the ice and in the snow the reaction is dangerous to the last degree. The draught revived her wonderfully.
Starting once more, with new life, she was able to traverse a very great distance; and at length, to my delight, the shore began to appear very near. But now the reaction from the stimulant appeared. She sank down without a word; and another draught, and yet another, was needed to infuse some false strength into her. At length, the shore seemed close by us. Here she gave out utterly.
"I can go no farther," she moaned, as she fell straight down heavily and suddenly on the ice.
"Only one more effort," I said, imploringly. "Take some more brandy."
"It is of no use. Leave me! Get help!"
"See—the shore is near. It is not more than a few rods away."
I supported her in my arms, for she was leaning on her hand, and slowly sinking downward. Once more I pressed the brandy upon her lips, as her head lay on my shoulder. Her eyes were closed. Down on her marble face the wild storm beat savagely; her lips were bloodless, and her teeth were fixed convulsively. It was only by an effort that I could force the brandy into her mouth. Once more, and for the last time, the fiery liquid gave her a momentary strength. She roused herself from the stupor into which she was sinking, and, springing to her feet with a wild, spasmodic effort, she ran with outstretched hands toward the shore. For about twenty or thirty paces she ran, and, before I could overtake her, she fell once more.
I raised her up, and again supported her. She could move no farther. I sat by her side for a little while, and looked toward the shore. It was close by us now; but, as I looked, I saw a sight which made any further delay impossible.
Directly in front, and only a few feet away, was a dark chasm lying between us and that shore for which we had been striving so earnestly. It was a fathom wide; and there flowed the dark waters of the river, gloomily, warningly, menacingly! To me, that chasm was nothing; but how could she cross it? Besides, there was no doubt that it was widening every moment.
I started up.
"Wait here for a moment," said I, hurriedly.
I left her half reclining on the ice, and ran hastily up and down the chasm. I could see that my fears were true. The whole body of ice was beginning to break away, and drift from this shore also, as it had done from the other. I saw a place not more than five feet wide. Back I rushed to my companion. I seized her, and, lifting her in my arms, without a word, I carried her to that place where the channel was narrowest; and then, without stopping to consider, but impelled by the one fierce desire for safety, I leaped forward, and my feet touched the opposite side.
With a horrible crash, the ice broke beneath me, and I went down. That sound, and the awful sensation of sinking, I shall never forget. But the cake of ice which had given way beneath my feet, though it went down under me, still prevented my sinking rapidly. I flung myself forward, and held up my almost senseless burden as I best could with one arm, while with the other I dug my sharp-pointed stick into the ice and held on for a moment. Then, summoning up my strength, I passed my left arm under my companion, and raised her out of the water upon the ice. My feet seemed sucked by the water underneath the shelf of ice against which I rested; but the iron-pointed stick never slipped, and I succeeded. Then, with a spring, I raised myself up from the water, and clambered out.
My companion had struggled up to her knees, and grasped me feebly, as though to assist me. Then she started to her feet The horror of sudden death had done this, and had given her a convulsive energy of recoil from a hideous fate. Thus she sprang forward, and ran for some distance. I hastened after her, and, seizing her arm, drew it in mine. But at that moment her short-lived strength failed her, and she sank once more. I looked all around—the shore was only a few yards off. A short distance away was a high, cone-shaped mass of ice, whose white sheen was distinct amid the gloom. I recognized it at once.
"Courage, courage!" I cried. "We are at Montmorency. There is a house not far away. Only one more effort."
She raised her head feebly.
"Do you see it? Montmorency! the ice-cone of the Falls!" I cried, eagerly.
Her head sank back again.
"Look! look! We are saved! we are near houses!"
The only answer was a moan. She sank down lower. I grasped her so as to sustain her, and she lay senseless in my arms.
There was now no more hope of any further exertion from her. Strength and sense had deserted her. There was only one thing to be done.
I took her in my arms, and carried her toward the shore. How I clambered up that steep bank, I do not remember. At any rate, I succeeded in reaching the top, and sank exhausted there, holding my burden under the dark, sighing evergreens.
Rising once mere. I raised her up, and made my way to a house. The inmates were kind, and full of sympathy. I committed the lady to their care, and fell exhausted on a settee in front of the huge fireplace.
I FLY BACK, AND SEND THE DOCTOR TO THE RESCUE.—RETURN TO THE SPOT. —FLIGHT OF THE BIRD.—PERPLEXITY, ASTONISHMENT, WONDER, AND DESPAIR. —"PAS UN MOT, MONSIEUR!"
A long time passed, and I waited in great anxiety. Meanwhile, I had changed my clothes, and sat by the fire robed in the picturesque costume of a French habitant, while my own saturated garments were drying elsewhere. I tried to find out if there was a doctor anywhere in the neighborhood, but learned that there was cone nearer than Quebec. The people were such dolts, that I determined to set out myself for the city, and either send a doctor or fetch one. After immense trouble, I succeeded in getting a horse; and, just before starting, I was encouraged by hearing that the lady had recovered from her swoon, and was much better, though somewhat feverish.