THE PINES OF LORY
J. A. MITCHELL
Author of "Amos Judd," "That First Affair," "Gloria Victis," etc.
Decorations by Albert D. Blashfield
New York Life Publishing Company 1901
Copyright, 1901 By J. A. Mitchell New York City
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London
Printed in the United States
All rights reserved
ALL LOVERS OF LOVERS
AND LOVERS OF OUT-OF-DOOR THINGS
AND MILDER FORMS OF
A RELIC FROM AFRICA
The Maid of the North was ready for sea.
Only the touch of the engineer was wanting to send her, once again, on a homeward voyage to the St. Lawrence. Meanwhile, in solemn undertones, she was breathing forth her superabundant steam.
Behind the wharf lay the city of Boston.
A score of passengers, together with friends who had come aboard to see them off, were scattered about the little steamer. Among them, on the after deck, indifferent to the hot June sun, moved a gentleman of aristocratic mien. His raiment was above reproach. He gave the impression of being a distinguished person. But this impression was delusive, his distinction being merely social. He was too well provided for, too easily clever and in too many ways, to achieve renown in any field requiring serious labor.
He inhaled the salt air as it came in from the sea, took out his watch, scanned the wharf, picked a thread from his sleeve, and twirled, somewhat carefully, the ends of a yellow moustache. His glance moved indifferently over various passengers and things about him until it rested on a man, not far away. The man was leaning against the railing of the deck watching the scene upon the wharf below.
The extreme attenuation of this person had already rendered him an object of interest to several passengers. His clothing hung loosely from his shoulders. Both coat and vest were far too roomy for the body beneath, while the trousers bore no relation to his legs. But the emaciated face, deeply browned by exposure, told a story of hardship and starvation rather than of ordinary sickness. Two thin, dark hands that rested on the ship's rail seemed almost transparent.
The aristocratic gentleman regarded this person with increasing interest. He approached the railing himself and furtively studied the stranger's profile. Then, with an expression in his face less blase than heretofore, he approached the man and stood behind him. Laying a hand on one of the shoulders to prevent his victim turning, he said:
"I beg your pardon, sir, but could you tell me the name of this town?"
There was a short silence. Then the stranger answered, in a serious tone, and with no effort to see his questioner:
"This is Boston, the city of respectability—and other delights."
"It is also the home of a man who doesn't seem to have matured with the passing years."
"Well, who is that man?"
"A fellow that might have been a famous tenor if he had a voice—and some idea of music."
The other man laughed, removed his hand, and his friend turned about. Then followed a greeting as between old intimates, long separated. And such was the mutual pleasure that a neighboring spectator, many years embittered by dyspepsia, so far forgot himself as to allow a smile of sympathy to occupy his face.
The countenance of the attenuated person was unusual; not from any peculiarity of feature, but from its invincible cheerfulness. This cheerfulness was constitutional, and contagious. His face seemed nearly ten years younger than it was; for the unquenchable good-humor having settled there in infancy had thwarted the hand of time. No signs of discouragement, of weariness or worry had gained a footing. There were no visible traces of unwelcome experience. While distinctly a thoughtful face, good-humor and a tranquil spirit were the two things most clearly written. His eyes were gray—frank, honest, mirthful, with little wrinkles at the corners when he smiled.
After many questions had been asked and answered, the more pretentious gentleman laid a hand affectionately on the other's arm, and said:
"But what has happened to you, Pats? How thin you are! You look like a ghost—a mahogany ghost."
"Fever. A splendid case of South African fever."
"Too bad! Are you well over it?"
"Yes, over the fever; but still tottery. My strength has not come home yet. And the lead was a set back."
"You mean bullets?"
"Yes. I caught two, but they are both out. I am getting along all right now."
"And you have just reached America?"
"Landed in New York yesterday; got here this morning at half-past seven, found my family were up on the St. Lawrence, and here I am. But what are you doing on this boat?"
"Oh, I just came down to see somebody off."
An excess of indifference in the manner of this reply did not escape the friend from Africa. With a sidelong glance at his companion, he said, "A man, of course."
"How clever you are, Pats!"
"No need of being clever, Billy, when you advertise your secret by blushing like a girl of fifteen."
"Blush! I, blush! How old do you think I am? Ten?"
"Yes all of that. But if you didn't actually blush, old man, you did look foolish. And this explains a state-room full of flowers that I noticed. Is that her bower?"
"I think so."
"Well, who is she, Billy? You might as well tell me, for I shall be sure to discover if she goes on this boat."
"Elinor Marshall? Why, that name is familiar. Where have I heard it?"
"She is a friend of your sisters."
"And she is going to your place now, on a visit."
"Good! I'll cut you out. Is she fond of bones?"
Mr. William Townsend did not answer, but he looked at his watch. "She ought to be here now. The boat sails at ten-thirty, doesn't it?"
"It's ten, now. I shall trot you up as soon as she arrives."
"Thanks. You will excuse my asking a cruel question, old man, but you certainly did not send all the flowers in that cabin?"
"Then there are other—appreciators?"
Mr. Patrick Boyd, with a slight gesture toward two carefully attired gentlemen who were pacing the wharf, raised his eyebrows interrogatively.
His companion smiled. "Yes. She can also have either of them, and without the asking."
The attenuated man regarded the two gentlemen with interest. "That chap has a familiar face."
"Which? The one with the bouquet?"
"No; the one with the nose."
"That's Hamilton Goddard."
"To be sure! And I should know his friend was a lover. His anxious glances up the wharf, and those flowers give him away. Such roses are for no aunt or sister."
"Better for him if they were!"
"Why? No chance?"
"Well, that is not for me to say. But he is one of those fearfully earnest chaps, with a tragic soul, and a rebuff would be a dangerous thing for him."
And the man of cheerful countenance slowly wagged his head, as he added, in a sympathetic voice, "This being in love seems a painful pleasure."
Mr. William Townsend regarded his friend with half-shut eyes, and asked, "Are you still the superior person who defies the—the malady?"
"You never had it?"
"How old are you?"
"Then it's a lie."
"It's the truth. Of course I have known very fine girls who caused the usual thrills, whose conservatory kisses I should never undervalue. But when it comes to the fatuous delirium—the celestial idiocy that queers the brain and impairs the vision—why, I have been unlucky, that's all."
"You are a liar, Pats. Just a liar."
"Mumps have been mine, and measles; and I have fooled with grape juice, but that other drunkenness has been denied me."
His companion's grunt of incredulity was followed by the exclamation:
"There she comes!"
The two men below had halted, wheeled about, and were watching an approaching carriage. Down the wharf with this equipage came an atmosphere of solidity and opulence, of luxury and perfect taste. On the box, in quiet livery, sat a driver and a footman. The driver, from his bearing and appearance, could easily have passed for the president of a college. As the carriage halted before the gang plank, the gentleman with the nose stepped forward and opened the door, while he of the roses stood by with a radiant visage, his hat in one hand, his offering in the other.
First, emerged an elderly gentleman, tall, slender, and acutely respectable. After him, a girl descended, also tall and slender. She was followed by a maid, and a Catholic priest. As the young lady stood for a moment conversing with the two admirers, her glance, in running over the little steamer, encountered Mr. Townsend, and she nodded pleasantly.
"Lovely! Enchanting!" murmured the man from Africa.
"Of course she is! Come down, and I'll present you."
"But, first, tell me something about her. What are the interesting facts?"
"Why, there's nothing to tell—that I can think of."
"Of course there is! There must be! Women like that don't bloom in every garden. What a patrician type! And all that black hair! She is unusual."
"Well, she is unusual, Pats. She is a splendid girl,—an orphan; and she is giving her fortune all away."
"The devil! And to whom?"
"To philanthropy; to societies for the advancement of woman; to hospitals and other bottomless pits. But above all to the Catholic Church."
"Too bad! She doesn't look so unintelligent."
"No: and she is not. Her mother and sister, all that remained of her family, were both drowned in the same accident, and the shock upset her for a time."
"And it was then the Church got in its work? That explains the Holy Roman Cherub who seems to be along."
"Yes; that's Father Burke. He is a part of the comedy."
"Comedy! It's a blood-curdling drama! Hasn't she a brother or some relative to reach out a hand and save her?"
"She doesn't care to be saved. She is one of those women with a conscience. A big one: the sort that becomes a disease unless taken in time."
"I know. She feels guilty if she's happy. But she doesn't look all that. She seems a trifle earnest, perhaps, but very human, and with real blood in her veins."
Mr. Townsend sighed—a long, deep sigh that seemed to come from below his waist. "Yes, she was mighty good company and rather jolly before the vultures closed in on her."
"Is she really in the coils of the anaconda?"
"I am afraid so. She won't talk about it herself,—at least, not with Protestants,—but some of her friends say she thinks of going into a convent."
"Well," said Patrick Boyd, with a sudden warmth, as they turned to go below, "all I can say is, that the institution, sacred or secular, that tries to lure such a girl into a convent ought to be hustled into space."
"Amen to that!"
FROTH OF THE SEA
An hour later, as the Maid of the North was steaming for the open sea, the man from Africa and his new acquaintance formed a group on the after deck.
The day was a rare one, even for early June. Across the surface of the water—now a sparkling, joyful blue—the air came free and full of life. This air was exhilarating. It inspired Father Burke to tell a funny anecdote, and he did it well. For not only did Father Burke possess a sense of humor, but his heavy, benevolent face, white hair, and deep voice gave unusual impressiveness to whatever he chose to utter. Even Mr. Appleton Marshall, a victim of acute Bostonia, eluded for a time his own self-consciousness. He soon went below, however, to revel, undisturbed, in a conservative local paper. Mr. Patrick Boyd,—or Pats, as we may as well call him,—being always of a buoyant spirit, added liberally to the general cheer.
The young lady regarded this addition to her party with a peculiar interest. She knew that the mention of his name in his own family was for years a thing forbidden. Just how bad he was, or how innocent, she had never learned. And now, as she studied, furtively, this exile of uncertain reputation, and as she recognized the open nature, the fortitude, the tranquil spirit, all unmistakably written in his emaciated, sunburnt face, her curiosity was quickened. She knew that Sally, his elder sister,—her own intimate friend,—had persisted in a correspondence with her brother against her father's wishes. And that, perhaps, was in his favor. At least, he had a good mouth and honest eyes. His neck, his hands, and his legs were preternaturally thin, and she wondered if the gap between his collar and his throat told a truthful story of South African fever. If so, the change had been appalling. However, neither bullets nor fever had reduced his spirits.
The conversation touched on many things. When she happened to say that this was her first visit to the Boyds' Canadian house, he replied:
"And mine too."
"Have you never seen it?" she asked in surprise.
"Never. My father bought this place about ten years ago, and I have been away over thirteen years."
"I had forgotten you had been away so long."
With a smile and a slight inclination of his head, he replied:
"That you should know of my existence is a flattering surprise. Any mention of my name, I understand, was a state's prison offence until my father died."
"Not quite so bad as that."
"A man's fame is not apt to flourish when corked up in a bottle and laid away in a closet, with 'Poison' on the label."
Here was a chance to gratify a natural curiosity, and he seemed willing to throw light on the mystery. She was about to offer the necessary encouragement, when Father Burke took the conversation into less personal fields. It may have been the contagion of this young man's cheerfulness, or the reaction on the lady's part from an acute religious tension, but the priest had noticed Miss Marshall was awakening to a livelier enjoyment of her surroundings. The spontaneity and freedom of her laughter, on one or two occasions, had caused him a certain uneasiness. Not that Father Burke was averse to merriment. Too much of it, however, for this particular maiden and at this critical period, might cause a divergence from the Holy Roman path along which he now was escorting her. So he gave some interesting facts concerning this summer residence of the Boyds, winding up with the information that the hunting and fishing, all about there, were unusual.
"But we women cannot hunt and fish all day!"
"Perhaps it's like Heaven," said Pats, "where there's nothing to do except to realize what a good time you are having."
"I hope that is not your idea of a woman's ambition."
"What better business on a summer's day?"
"Many things," replied the priest, "if she has a soul to expand and a mind to cultivate."
"But I was speaking of the natural, unvarnished woman we all enjoy and are not afraid of."
Miss Marshall, in a politely contemptuous manner, inquired, "Then, personally, you find the intelligent woman of high ideals less congenial than—the other kind?"
"I find the superior woman with a gift of language is a thing that makes brave men tremble. I think wisdom should be tempered with mercy."
After a pause, and with a touch of sarcasm, she replied:
"That is quite interesting. A fresh point of view always broadens the horizon."
Ignoring her tone, he answered in an off-hand, amiable way:
"Of course there is no reason why a woman should not enter politics or anything else, if she wishes. And there is no reason why a rose should not aspire to be a useful potato. But potatoes will always be cheaper than roses."
She smiled wearily and leaned back. As their eyes met he detected a look of disappointment—perhaps at her discovery of yet one more man like all the others, earthy and superficial. But she merely said, and in a gentle tone:
"You forget that while all men are wise, all women are not beautiful."
With a deep sigh he replied, "The profundity of your contempt I can only guess at. Whatever it is, I share it. We are a poor lot.
"'At thirty, man suspects himself a fool; Knows it at forty, and reforms his plan.'
Which is all true except the last line."
She smiled. "You are too severe. I consider man the highest form of animal life—after the dog and the elephant."
"Then where does woman come in?"
"Oh—as man's satellite she is hard to place. Her proper position might be anywhere between the peacock and the parrot."
Pats shook his head, slowly and sadly. "That's an awful utterance!"
"But it enables you to realize her vanity in aspiring to the wisdom of man."
Father Burke laughed. "Fighting the Boer, Captain Boyd, is a different thing from skirmishing with the American girl."
"Indeed it is! For on the battle-field there is always one chance of victory. But I have not been fighting the Boers. I was trying to help the Boers against the English."
"Ah, good!" said the priest. "You were on the right side."
But the lady shook her head. "I don't know about that. I should have joined the English and fought against the Boers."
"But, my dear child," exclaimed Father Burke, "the cause of the Boers is so manifestly the cause of right and justice! They were fighting for their freedom,—the very existence of their country."
"Possibly, but the English officers are very handsome, and so stylish! And the Boers are common creatures—mostly farmers."
Pats regarded her in surprise. "That doesn't affect the principle of the thing. Even a farmer has rights."
"Principles are so tiresome!" and she looked away, as if the subject wearied her.
"Does it make no difference with your sympathies," he asked with some earnestness, "whether a man is in the right or in the wrong? Would you have had no sympathy for the Greeks at Marathon?"
She raised her eyebrows, and with a faint shrug replied, "I am sure I don't know. Was that an important battle?"
"In South Africa?"
Pats thought, at first, this question was in jest. She looked him serenely in the face, however, and he saw nothing in her eyes but the expectation of a serious answer to a simple question. Before he was ready with a reply, she inquired:
"Were you at that battle?"
He was so bewildered by this question, and from such a woman, that for a moment he could not respond. Father Burke, however, in his calm, paternal voice, gave the required facts.
"The battle of Marathon was fought about twenty miles from Athens between the Greeks and invading Persians nearly five hundred years before Christ."
"Ah, yes, to be sure!" she murmured, indifferently, her eyes looking over the sea.
Pats, who was sitting in front of his two companions, regarded her in surprise. As she finished speaking, he turned away his head, but still watching her from the corners of his eyes. Her own glance, with an amused expression, went at once to his face, as he anticipated. He laughed aloud in a frank, boyish way as their eyes met. "I knew you had some sinister motive in that speech. You almost fooled me."
And she smiled as she retorted, "I was merely trying to please you. You say you are averse to intelligence in a woman."
"Well, I take it all back. I am averse to nothing in a woman, except absence."
Father Burke took all this in, and he disapproved. Captain Boyd was by no means the sort of man he would have selected for companion to this maiden. The young man's appreciation of the lady herself was too honest and too evident. It bore, to the observant priest, suspicious resemblance to a tender passion unskilfully concealed. Perilous food for a yearning spirit! Of course she was heavenly minded, and spiritual to the last degree, at present; but she was mortal. And the soul of a girl like Elinor Marshall was too precious an object to be thrown away on a single individual—above all, on a Protestant. Was it not already the property of The Church? And then, there was little consolation in the knowledge that she was to be in constant intercourse with this man for a week, and during that time beyond all priestly influence.
* * * * *
The Maid of the North, until she passed Deer Island, bore a cheerful band of passengers. Then, in the open sea, she turned her nose a little more to the north, and while riding the waves as merrily as ever, she did it with a greater variety of motion. And this variety of motion, a complex, unhallowed shifting of the deck, first sidewise down, then lengthwise up, then all together and further down—with a nauseating quiver—was emphasized by zephyrs from the engine-room and kitchen—zephyrs redolent with oil and cooking and bilge water. All these, in time, began to trifle with the interiors of certain passengers, and to paralyze their mirth.
Among early victims was Mr. Appleton Marshall. After storing his mind with the financial news and social gossip of the morning paper, he had rejoined his friends. Sitting beside his niece, he participated, at intervals, in the conversation, his manner becoming more and more distant until, at last, it vanished altogether. To all who cared to see, it was plain that this stately and usually complacent gentleman was losing interest in external matters.
He seemed annoyed when a steward, about one o'clock, appeared on deck and rang a bell, announcing dinner. At this summons Patrick Boyd took out his watch and was obviously astonished at the flight of time.
"I had forgotten my friend," he exclaimed, and he hurried below.
At the dinner-table Elinor Marshall sat between her confessor and her uncle, the latter clinging bravely to his post through the soup and fish. Then, after watching for a moment the various viands as they rose and fell with the heaving of the ship, accompanied, as it seemed to him, by a similar rising and sinking of his own digestive apparatus, he remarked, with some severity, that he felt no hunger. And he left the table with dignity, yet with a certain expedition. As the uncle disappeared, Patrick Boyd came in and took a seat opposite the lady and the priest.
"How did you find your friend?" Father Burke inquired.
"Poor fellow! Nothing serious, I hope."
"No. But he doesn't quite understand this starting right off again on another voyage."
"Is he—er—is his mind affected?"
This question appeared to surprise Captain Boyd. "No. But they have fastened him to a windlass, near the engine-room, and he resents it."
This reply merely intensified the curiosity of the questioner.
"Did you say they have fastened him?"
"Yes. It seems to be a rule of the boat."
The young lady also opened her eyes. After a pause, she inquired, in a low voice, "Is he dangerous?"
"No, indeed! Not at all!"
"Then why tie him?"
"It is a rule of the boat, as I said."
"A rule of the boat to tie passengers?"
At this question Pats smiled, for a light broke in upon him. "My friend is a dog. I thought I told you."
"A dog!" and she seemed to find diversion in the seriousness with which Father Burke accepted the explanation. "I love dogs. Why shouldn't I go down and see him?"
"The honor would be appreciated."
"I will go after dinner. What sort of a dog is he?"
"And what is his name?"
Pats hesitated. "Do you really wish to know?"
"Well, his full name is Jan Bartholomeus Van Vlotens Couwenhorn Van der Helst Poffenburgh."
"Then he is Dutch."
"Yes. He was the property of four officers, and each owner bestowed a portion of his name."
"What do you call him for short?"
"At first we called him Jan, but the other three sponsors objected. They said it was favoritism. So we all agreed on Solomon for every day use."
"And he never resented it?"
"No. He understood it as a tribute to his extraordinary wisdom."
She seemed amused. "Is he so very remarkable?"
"Well," said Pats, laying down his knife and fork, and giving his whole attention to the subject, "as to general intelligence, foresight, logic, and a knowledge of human nature, he is a wonder, even for a dog. And when it comes to dignity and tact, ease of manner and freedom from personal vanity, why—the other Solomon was a beginner."
She nodded and smiled approval. "I know something of dogs and men, and I can easily believe it. Certain men exist, however, who are mentally superior to dogs. But it's the moral gulf between the two species that is so disheartening."
"All owing to the fatal power of speech."
"I am sure of it. If dogs could talk, they would abuse the power, as humans do, and soon descend to the human level. They would lose the dignity that silence alone bestows, and become bores—like the rest of us." With a deferential movement of his head toward the priest, he added, "Except as they apply to myself, these remarks are in no way personal."
As Father Burke, with a perfunctory smile, bowed acknowledgment, the girl at his side inquired, with a serious face, "Well, what can be done?"
Pats, with equal seriousness, replied, "How would it do to establish an institute for the propagation of silence?"
"The millennium would be in sight!" she exclaimed.
"And instead of rhetoric and declamation teach economy in words; show the pupils by illustration and example how much better they look when their mouths are not open."
"A very sensible idea! And award medals to those who attain the highest flights of silence."
"The very thought is restful," said Pats. "And would you mind if I offered Solomon a professorship?"
"Not at all! It would look rather well in the catalogue, 'Solomon Boyd, Instructor in Moral Philosophy and Deportment.'"
With a glance at the mirthless face of the reverend gentleman beside her, she added, "And on the dome of the college shall be a colossal statue of Father Burke, in solid gold. He has not uttered a word in half an hour."
The priest answered pleasantly, but the tone of the conversation had given him little pleasure. Folly was in the air, and Elinor Marshall, to his surprise, seemed in harmony with it. Heretofore he had known her as a thoughtful, serious-minded woman, with a leaning to melancholy; and this unexpected and evidently enjoyable flight—or plunge—into pure nonsense, caused him a distinct uneasiness. The girl was brightening up, even becoming merry; a state of mind that never leads to a nunnery.
In this conversation, which ran on with rare intervals of seriousness until the meal was ended, Father Burke took no part. And when the younger people had gone below for their interview with Solomon, he decided, after long reflection, that considering the gravity of the case his obvious duty was to drop a word in the lady's ear concerning this new acquaintance. The rest of the Boyds—the two sisters—were good Catholics, and from them there was nothing to fear. But if he, Father Burke, could counteract the influence of this interesting heretic, it would be a pious work. He must find his opportunity for an earnest conversation, and before she landed.
The more he meditated, the more anxious he became. But Fate, the practical joker,—the fickle, the ruthless, the forever mocking,—was only waiting to lay his enemy at his feet.
A FOOL AT THIRTY
Toward the end of that day it became evident, in the west, that preparations were going on for an American sunset. Preliminary colors, chiefly gold and crimson, crept swiftly across the sky. These colors, more dazzling as the sun approached the water, were caught and tossed about upon the surface of the sea until all the universe seemed ablaze.
Of this gorgeous spectacle Elinor Marshall, in a sheltered corner of the deck, was an appreciative witness.
Pats, in his mercy, had decided to allow the lady a respite from his society, at least during a portion of the afternoon. The lady, however, was so much more interesting than anything else aboard that he finally ignored his better judgment. And now, leaning against the rail in front of her, he found the sunset duller, more monotonous and commonplace than the human combination in the steamer-chair. She, however, her head thrown back, with half-closed eyes, seemed fascinated by the glories in the west, and almost unconscious of his presence. As too much staring might cause annoyance, he did most of it on the sly. And the opportunity was good. As a mystery, she proved an absorbing study: an irresistible blending of contradictions, of sympathy and reserve, of sadness—and of wit—of a character and temperament not half-divulged. Whenever their eyes met, he felt a mild commotion, a curious, unfamiliar excitement,—something that made him less at ease. For it invariably brought the keenest anxiety as to her good opinion. He also experienced a consciousness of guilt; why, he knew not, unless from the expression of her eyes. They seemed to be reading his thoughts, and to be a trifle saddened by the result. That, in itself, was disconcerting.
He began to see why those other fellows were in love with her. Although fireproof himself, he understood, now that he knew her better, the nature of the conflagration that devoured the men in Boston.
In her sensitive face, in her reserve, and in her sometimes melancholy air, he saw traces of inward struggles between a passionate, impulsive, pleasure-loving nature and standards of virtue unattainably high. And when he remembered that she was doomed to the seclusion of a convent, that this life, with every promise of being exceptionally rich and full, was to be crushed, deadened and forever lost to the outer human world, his resentment became difficult to suppress. He wondered, in a hot, disjointed way, if there was no possibility of a rescue.
Awakening from a revery, she caught him in the act, regarding her with earnest eyes, and with a frown. He also came back to earth—or to the boat—suddenly, and he observed a slight movement of her eyebrows as in surprise or disapproval. With a guilty air, he looked away, and she wondered if the warmer color in his mahogany cheeks came entirely from the sunset. After an awkward silence, he said.
"I beg your pardon for staring at you. You are so very contradictory, and in so many ways, that I took the liberty of guessing at your real character; whether after all you are unpleasantly perfect, or whether it is merely your luck to possess an awe-inspiring exterior."
She was unable to repress a laugh. "And what have you decided?"
"I have not decided; that is, not finally. I keep arriving at new conclusions. My first impression was that you were a person of frigid altitudes,—severe, exacting, and abnormally superior. Then, later, I have thought you warm-hearted—even impulsive: that your indifference is not always real. But of that, I am not sure. Still, I believe you possess a lower and a better nature."
"You seem to have made wonderful discoveries in a very few hours."
"I have been working hard."
"I hope the verdict is favorable."
"Well, yes—in a way."
"So bad as that!"
"No, not bad at all. It is merely that you have bullied your natural character. You have made it toe the mark and behave itself. Never given it any vacations, perhaps."
She regarded him intently, as if in doubt as to his meaning.
"But you don't know the cause," he added.
She made no reply.
"The cause," he said, "is the expression of your face."
"Yes. It is impossible for any being of earthly origin to possess the celestial qualities promised in your countenance. It is out of harmony with terrestrial things. Why, when those three men put out their hands this morning for you to touch, I held my breath at their presumption. I looked for three bolts from heaven to wither the extended arms."
"And your own face, Mr. Boyd, gives no indication of the subtleness of your irony: unkind, perhaps, but extremely clever."
"Irony! Never! I had no such thought! I am merely announcing the discovery that with a different exterior you would have been less perfect; but more comfortable."
"If this is not irony, it is something still more offensive. I gave you credit for a finer touch."
"I may be clumsy, but not malicious."
"Well, you see, having a tender conscience, you have felt a sense of fraud whenever confronted by your own reflection. Being human, you have had, presumably, ambitions, envies, appetites, prejudices, vanities, and other human ills of which the face before you gave no indication. And so, feeling the preternatural excellence of that face a lie, you have tried to live up to it; that is, to avoid being a humbug. In short, your life has been a strenuous endeavor to be unnecessarily wise and impossibly good."
As their side of the steamer rose high above the sea, after an unusual plunge, he added: "And I am afraid you have succeeded."
She remained silent, lost apparently in another revery, watching the changes in the west.
The light was fading. On sea and sky a more melancholy tone had come,—dull, slaty grays crowding in from every quarter. And over the darkening waters there seemed a tragic note, half-threatening, intensified by every plunge of the steamer and by the swish of waters very near the deck. There was a touch of melancholy, also, in the steady thumping of the engines.
She said at last, pleasantly, but in a serious tone:
"I have been reflecting on your discourse. If ironical, it was unkind. If sincere, it was—not impertinent perhaps, but certainly not justified by our short acquaintance."
"True: and I beg your pardon. But was it correct?"
"I hope not."
Something in her manner invited a discontinuance of that particular topic. He drew an attenuated hand across his mouth, changed his position, as if on the point of saying more; but he held his peace.
Some minutes later, when Miss Marshall's maid approached this silent couple, her progress, owing to the movement of the deck, consisted of rapid little runs followed by sudden pauses, during which she hung with one hand to the rail and with the other clutched her hat. She had come up to ask if her mistress needed anything. Was she warm enough? Would she have another wrap? Miss Marshall needed nothing herself, but asked for news of Mr. Appleton Marshall, and if Father Burke was feeling better. Louise had seen nothing of Mr. Marshall since dinner, but she had left Father Burke reclining in the main saloon, not very sick, nor very well, but lower in his mind. As her maid departed, the lady expressed sympathy for the suffering uncle. "And poor Father Burke! He is terribly uncomfortable, I am sure."
"Yes," said Pats. "I saw in his face a look of uncertainty: the wavering faith that comes from meals with an upward tendency."
Pats thought this want of sympathy was resented.
"He is a most lovable man," she said, "of fine character, and with a splendid mind. You would like him if you knew him better."
Here was his opportunity; his chance for a rescue. He would snatch her from the clutches of the Romish Brute. A few stabs in the monster's vitals might accomplish wonders. So he answered, sadly, in a tone of brotherly affection:
"I like him now. That is why I regret that he should devote himself to such a questionable enterprise."
With a forced calmness she replied, "This is the only time I ever heard the first religion of Christendom called a 'questionable enterprise.'"
"Leo X. spoke of it as a 'profitable fable.' Perhaps that was better."
"Did Leo X. say that of the Catholic Church?"
"I don't believe it."
"Because you have too high an opinion of Leo?"
"No; but he was a Pope of Rome, and I simply cannot believe it."
"Some popes of Rome have been awful examples for the young."
"So have men in all positions."
He smiled and shook his head. "Yes, but when they set up as Christ's apostles, they really should not indulge too freely in assassination and torture: at least, not out of business hours."
Then in a reflective, somewhat sorrowful manner, he continued, "But the Roman Enterprise has two enemies that are thorns in the flesh, the bath-tub and the printing-press. Wherever they march in, she marches out. The three can't live together."
Of this statement there was no recognition, except a straightening up in the steamer-chair.
He continued pleasantly, "In England, Germany, and America, for instance, where these adversaries are in vogue, Catholicism quits. As the devil shrinks from the sign of the Cross, so does the Holy Enterprise gather up its bloody skirts and decamp."
"Perhaps you forget that in the United States alone there are more than seven million Catholics."
"But they are not victims of the bath-tub habit."
"That is not true! There are thousands of exceptions!"
He laughed—an amiable, jolly, yet triumphant laugh—as he retorted, "You admit the truth of it when you call them exceptions."
In the dim light which had gathered over everything, he could see the delicate eyebrows drawing together in a frown. But he went on, cheerfully, as if giving offence had not occurred to him, "Now Spain is enthusiastically Catholic. And for ignorance,—solid, comprehensive, reliable ignorance,—there is nothing like it in the solar system. You can't hurt it with a hammer. It defies competition. If a Spaniard were to meet a bath-tub on a lonely highway, he would cross himself and run."
"Their ignorance is their own fault. Education and progress have always been encouraged by the Catholic Church."
"You mean by the stake and boiling lead?"
"I do not."
"When, for example, she notified Galileo that she would roast him alive, as she had already roasted Bruno, if he persisted in his heresy that the earth was round instead of flat?"
"If you are happy in that belief, I will not destroy it."
"It is a historic fact, but I am no happier for believing it. However, too much education is a nuisance, and very likely Mamma Church was wise in toasting an astronomer now and then."
"Your conclusions are rather entertaining. I am a Catholic myself, and my own reading has brought opinions that are quite different."
She spoke calmly, but he detected a less friendly tone. In a joking, incredulous manner he replied, "Well, then, I am a Catholic, too."
"I am serious. My faith to me is a sacred thing. It has brought me a more tranquil spirit, a deeper knowledge, and a fuller conception of what I owe to others—and to myself."
She was very much in earnest.
"Then I beg your pardon," he said, "for speaking as I did."
She tried to smile. "It is more my fault than yours. Religious discussions never do any good."
Then she arose from her chair, and he knew from the exceeding dignity of her manner that his offence was serious. But this dignity met with cruel reverses. As she stood up, their side of the steamer was just starting on a downward lurch,—one of those long, deep, quivering plunges, apparently for the bottom of the sea, slow at first, but gaining in rapidity. And Elinor Marshall, instead of turning away with frigid ceremony, as she intended, first stood irresolute, as if taken unawares,—yet suspecting danger,—then tiptoed forward and rushed impetuously into the gentleman's arms. These arms were forced to encircle the sudden arrival, otherwise both man and woman would have tumbled to the deck. Then, she pushed him hard against the rail. But even that was not the end. For there she held him, to her shame, pressing against him with the whole weight of her body. And this lasted, it seemed to her, an hour—a year—a lifetime of mortification and of helpless rage; the wind all the time screaming louder and louder with a brutish glee.
Her choking exclamations of chagrin were close to his ears, and he felt her hair against his face. But he was powerless to aid in her struggles to regain the lost equilibrium. However good his wishes, he could do nothing but stand as a cushion—poorly upholstered at that—between herself and the rail.
Finally, at the end of time, when the deck came up again, she backed away with flaming cheeks. Pats apologized; so did she. He wished to assist her to the cabin stairs, but the offer was ignored, and she left him.
Not since her change of faith—never in fact—had Elinor Marshall listened to such open abuse of a sacred institution. And the memory of it kept her wide awake during a portion of the night.
Although she had decided to ignore that argument of the printing-press and bath-tub, it wormed itself into the inner chambers of her brain; and it refused to make way for better thoughts. As the possessor of a depositic conscience she suffered the miseries of guilt. For despite all reasoning of her own, she began to feel that unless those arguments were refuted, her faith might suffer: and, with her, an untarnished faith was vital.
The motion of her berth, the rhythmic pounding of the engines, the muffled sound, at intervals, of feet upon the deck, all were soothing; but the remembrance of that discussion, with its mortifying climax, made sleep impossible. This childish sensitiveness she fully realized,—and despised,—but nerves achieved an easy victory over reason.
She was glad when daylight came. Long before the breakfast hour she left her state-room and sought the deck for fresh air, and for Father Burke. He, also an early riser, was discovered in the lee of the upper cabins, his little prayer-book in his hand. Sitting close beside him she gave, in detail, the story of her conversation with Mr. Boyd. It was in the nature of a confession, but delivered in the hope and in the faith of the enemy's discomfiture. She felt, of course, that the statements concerning the press and tub were false and foolish, and she knew that Father Burke could tell her why.
Her confidence was not misplaced. This was not the first time Father Burke had been called upon to stiffen the faith of wavering converts. Considerable experience and a perfect familiarity with the subject rendered the task an easy one. The tones of Father Burke's voice were, in themselves, almost sufficient for the purpose. Deep, calm, mellow, ravishingly sympathetic, they played like celestial zephyrs upon the chords of the maiden's heart. They filled the inmost recesses of her soul with security and peace. His arguments were the old, familiar things, considerably damaged by Protestants and other heretics; but he knew his audience. And when the spell had worked, when the wings beside him ceased to flutter, he drove the final bolt.
"You know, my child, that the value of a statement depends largely upon the character of him who utters it. I have no desire to injure this young man, nor to prejudice you in any way against him. But it is clearly my duty to warn you that he is not a person with whom it would be safe for you to permit a very close acquaintance."
"You need have no anxiety on that point."
"I am very glad to hear it."
"But tell me what you know about him, Father Burke. His family never mentions his name, and I supposed there was something to conceal. Was it anything very bad?"
"Yes, bad enough. He is a wilful man, of a perverse and violent temper. His utterances of yesterday are in perfect accord with the spirit he displayed in youth. He broke his father's heart."
"From his face one would never suspect that part of it—the violent temper. He appears to be a person of unusual cheerfulness and serenity,—most offensively serene at times."
"Very possible, my child. One of the hardest things to learn, and we seldom achieve it in youth, is that outward appearances often bear no relation to the inner man,—that the most inviting face can hide a vicious nature."
"Do you really think him a bad man? I mean thoroughly unprincipled and wicked? I don't like him, but somehow it doesn't seem as if he could be utterly bad, with such a face."
"Ah, my daughter, be on your guard against those very things! Heed the voice of experience. Remember his career."
"But what especial thing did he do? What drove him away from home?"
"In a fit of temper he tried to kill his father."
"As an old friend of the family, I knew the circumstances."
"Awful! How did it happen?"
"They were in the garden in an arbor, engaged in a controversy. In his anger he struck the old gentleman and knocked him down, and would have killed him had not others interfered."
A silence followed, not broken by Father Burke. He desired his listener to realize the iniquity of the deed.
At last she inquired half timidly:
"And there was no provocation?"
After another pause she said, reflectively:
"The father had a temper too, I fancy, from what I know of him."
Toward the face beside him the priest cast a sidelong look, which was detected.
"I am not defending the son," she said hastily. "Heaven forbid! I almost hate him. But you must admit that the father was not an especially lovable character, nor very gentle in his ways."
"He had his faults, like the rest of us; but he was a rare man,—a religious man of deep convictions, and the soul of honor."
"Yes, I suppose so, but I was always afraid of him."
Father Burke laid his hand on her arm and said, very gently but with unusual seriousness:
"I should regret exceedingly, my child, to have you listen to the flippant sacrilege of this young man, or be subjected to his influence in any way."
"There is no cause for alarm. I shall have as little to do with him as possible."
"An excellent resolve. And now, will you grant me a request?"
"I have no right to exact a promise. I only suggest that while on this boat you avoid, as far as possible, his companionship."
They both arose. His voice and manner were always impressive, even in ordinary conversation. But now a moisture gathered in the maiden's eyes as he gazed benignly into her face, and murmured in tones tremulous with feeling:
"May Heaven bless you, my daughter, for your noble spirit, and for your unswerving devotion to a holy cause."
Then they went below to breakfast.
The girl was hungry; Father Burke was not. The undulations of the boat so tempered his appetite that food had lost its charm. A cup of tea and a bite of toast were the limits of his endeavor. Even these descended under protest and threatened to return. When the heretic—the victim of the plot—appeared soon after and took his seat at the table, he noticed that the greetings he received, while friendly and all that etiquette required, were less cordial than on the day before.
And this was emphasized later, when he joined Miss Marshall on the deck. After a moment's conversation, she spoke of letters to be written, and went below.
And once again, to make sure that this disgrace was no fancy of his own, he approached her as she sat reading, or at least, with a book in her hand. In his best and most easy manner, he inquired:
"Did you ever hear of the Magdalen Islands, Miss Marshall?"
She looked up, and nodded pleasantly.
"Well, we are passing them now."
"They are off there to the westward, between twenty and thirty miles away, but out of sight, of course."
Amiably she inclined her head in recognition of the news, but made no reply.
It began to be awkward for Pats. But he resolved to suppress any outward manifestations of that state. This task was all the harder, as his legs embarrassed him. He knew them to be thin,—of a thinness that was startling and unprecedented,—and now, as he confronted the northeast wind, their shrunken and ridiculous outlines were cruelly exposed. He was sensitive about these members, and he thought she had glanced furtively in their direction. However, with his usual buoyancy he continued:
"And now we leave land behind us until we reach the northern shore of the Gulf."
Although she gazed pensively over the water, and with conspicuous amiability, something seemed to suggest that the present conversation had reached a natural end. So the skeleton moved away.
With Pats a hint was enough. During the remainder of the voyage, at meals, and the few occasions on which he met the lady, he also was genial and outwardly undisturbed; but he took every care that she should be subjected to no annoyance from his companionship. This outward calmness, however, bore no resemblance to his inward tribulation. Such was his desire for her good opinion that this sudden plunge from favor to disgrace—or at least, to a frigid toleration—brought a keen distress. Moreover, he was mortified at having allowed himself, under any pretext, to jeer at her religion.
"Ass, ass! Impossible ass!" he muttered a dozen times that day.
Meanwhile, the Maid of the North was driving steadily along, always to the north and east. On the morning of the second day her passengers had caught glimpses, to the larboard, of the shores of Nova Scotia. Later they rounded Cape Breton, and then, against a howling wind and a choppy sea, headed north into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Maid of the North was a sturdy boat, and though she pitched and tossed in a way that disarranged the mechanism of her passengers, she did nothing to destroy their confidence.
It was the evening of this last day of the voyage, when Pats, feeling the need of companionship in his misery, descended for a final interview with Solomon. Through a dismal part of the steamer he groped his way, until his eyes became accustomed to the gloom. Solomon heard his step and knew him from afar. He whined, pulled hard at his chain, and stood up on his hind legs, waving his front ones in excited welcome.
"There is somebody glad to see me, anyway," thought Pats, as he sat on an anchor bar with the dog's head between his knees. There had always been more or less conversation between these two: not that Solomon understood the exact meaning of all the words, but he did thoroughly understand that trust and affection formed the bulk of the sentiments expressed. And these things being the basis of Solomon's character rendered him a sympathetic and grateful listener. The monologue, address, oration, confidence—or whatever—was delivered in a low tone, accompanied by strokings of the listener's head, taps, friendly pinches, and wandering of fingers about the ears.
"Bad place for a dog, old chap. Lots of motion here, and smells, but 'twill soon be over. So cheer up. Any way, you are lots better off than I am. In a single interview I have secured the contempt of an exceptionally fine woman. Yes, your Pats has done well."
He smiled in the darkness, a melancholy smile.
"She probably told everything to the priest, and he has explained to her satisfaction wherein I am a fool,—a malicious, blaspheming, dangerous villain, and a stupendous ass. And he is right. Perhaps, in time,—a long time,—I may learn that insulting people's religion isn't the shortest road to popularity."
In his abstraction the hand, for an instant, was withdrawn. Solomon protested, and the attentions were resumed. "Keep still, old man, I am not going. And don't get that chain around your legs. But she is a fine girl, Sol: too fine, perhaps. Just a little, wee bit too everlastingly high-minded and superior for ordinary dogs like us."
While administering these pearls of wisdom the speaker had become interested in two approaching figures, dimly visible in the obscurity. As they came nearer, he saw that one, the older of the two, a man with gray chin whiskers and a blue jersey, was drunk. This man stopped, and holding the other by the arm exclaimed:
"It's so, damn it! It's so, I tell yer! What's he doin' this minute? He's blind drunk in his cabin. Why, the jag on him would sink a man-o'-war. Oh, he's a daisy cap'n, he is! He's the champion navigator."
"He'll be all right in the mornin'."
"All right in the mornin'! It'll be a week! And where'll we be to-morrer mornin'? Where are we—hic—now? God knows, and he ain't tellin'."
With a maudlin gesture and a reverberating hiccup, the speaker, following the motion of the boat, pushed his friend against the wall and held him there. "I'll tell yer where we are; we are more'n fifty miles east of where we think we are. We ain't sighted Anticosti yet. And we ain't goin' to."
The other man laughed, "Oh, shut up, Bart. You are gettin' a jag on yerself."
"Yes, sir! We are fifty miles too far to easterd now, and by to-morrer mornin' it'll be a hundred miles."
They passed on, the older man still holding forth. "I've been this cruise a dozen times, but, by God! this is the first time I ever tried to get there by—hic—headin' for Labrador."
They disappeared in the darkness, in the direction of the forecastle, the sound of their footsteps dying away among the other noises of the boat.
Here was food for thought. But, then, the man was exceeding drunk. And his companion, who probably knew him well, paid no attention to his words. However, Pats took a look about the boat when he got on deck. The pilot and second officer were in the wheelhouse, both silent, serious, and attending to their duty. The watches were all at their posts and the Maid of the North was ploughing bravely through the night as if she, at least, had no misgivings. By the time Pats went to bed, an hour later, the drunken sailor was forgotten.
It was a long time before he slept; and the sleep, when it came, was fitful. Perhaps he had brooded too much over his fall from grace. As the night wore on he was not sure, half the time, whether he was dreaming or awake. And so eventful were his slumbers, and so real the events therein, that his dreams and his waking moments became painfully intermingled. As, for instance, when he entered the cathedral. For a moment he stood still, overcome by its vastness and by the size of the congregation. Truly an imposing assemblage! And the great edifice was ablaze with light. A wedding, apparently, for there, before the altar, stood the bride, awaiting the groom.
As Pats sauntered up the nave she turned about and smiled. And, lo! it was Miss Marshall, more beautiful than ever, more stately and more patrician, if possible, than in her travelling dress. For now she was all in white with a long veil—and orange blossoms. She smiled at him and beckoned.
Yes! He was to be the groom! It was for him they waited!
He strove to get ahead. His feet refused to budge. The harder he tried, the tighter he stuck. He opened his mouth to explain, but no sound came forth. Again and again he tried. Again and again he failed. The huge congregation began to murmur and he could hear them whispering, "What a fool!"
Then, from behind him came three men: Billy Townsend, the man with the nose, and the other fellow with the flowers. They walked by him, easily, all in wedding array, and they lined up by the bride. Pats tried to raise his voice and stop it, but in vain. The Pope stepped forward and performed the ceremony, uniting them all in marriage. The four bowed their heads and received a blessing.
And when the happy grooms with their bride came down the main aisle, they gave Pats a look,—a look so triumphant and so contemptuous, that it set his soul afire. He boiled with fury and humiliation. But stir he could not, nor speak. The bride's contempt, and she showed it, was beyond endurance. Gasping with passion, he tried to rush forward and smite the grooms—to scream—to do anything. But he could only stand—immovable.
Suddenly the music changed. From a stately march it galloped into the air of a comic song that he had always hated. The Pope, as he marched by, stopped in front of him and cursed him for a Protestant. And now, beneath the jewelled tiara, Pats recognized the drunken old sailor with the chin beard.
But in the midst of these curses came tremendous blows against the outer walls, resounding through the whole interior of the Cathedral; then an awful voice, as from The Almighty, reverberated down the aisle:
"Time to get up! We are there!"
The martyr, in the violence of his struggle, banged his head against the berth above, and shouted:
"At Boyd's Island, sir, where you get off."
When Pats, in the early morning light, stepped out upon the deck, he found, enveloping all things, a thick, yellow fog. Miss Marshall, her maid, and Father Burke stood peering over the starboard rail at an approaching life-boat. This boat had been ashore with baggage, and was now returning for the passengers.
The fog lifted at intervals, allowing fugitive glimpses of a wooded promontory not a quarter of a mile away.
Pats was struck afresh this morning by Miss Marshall's appearance. She wore a light gray dress and a hat with an impressive bunch of black, and he saw, with sorrowing eyes, that she and all that pertained to her had become more distantly patrician, more generally exalted and unattainable, if possible, than heretofore. He knew little of women's dress, but in the style and cut of this particular gown there existed an indefinable something that warned him off. No mortal woman in such attire could fail to realize her own perfection. He also knew that the apparent simplicity of the hat and gown were delusive.
And this woman was so accustomed to the adoration of men that it only annoyed her! Verily, if there was a gulf between them yesterday, to-day it had become a shoreless ocean!
Moreover, he thought he detected in Father Burke's face, as they shook hands at parting, a look of triumph imperfectly suppressed. While causing a mild chagrin, it brought no surprise, as the lady's manner this morning, although civil, was of a temperature to put the chill of death upon presumptuous hope.
After a formal good-by to the uncle, Pats climbed into the little boat and assisted the lady to a seat in the stern. Then he turned about and held forth his hands toward the maid. She stepped back and shook her head.
"Don't be afraid," he said. "There is no danger."
"But I am not going ashore, sir."
He looked toward Miss Marshall, who explained: "Louise is not coming with us. She goes on to Quebec, where I am to meet her in a fortnight."
So they pushed away and rowed off into the fog, waving adieus to the little group that watched them from the Maid of the North. Both kept their eyes upon the steamer until a veil of gauze, ethereal but opaque, closed in between them. The sun, still near the horizon, lit up the mist with a golden light, and Pats with the haughty lady seemed floating away into enchanted space.
Nearing the shore they made out more clearly the coast ahead. This fragment of primeval forest, its rocky sides rising fifty feet or thereabouts above the water, was crowned with gigantic pines, their tops, above the mist, all glowing in the morning light. The two passengers regarded this scene in silence, impressed by its savage beauty. The little pier at which they landed, neglected and unsubstantial, seemed barely strong enough to bear their weight.
"Is this the only landing-place?" Pats demanded of the boatswain.
"No, sir. There's another one farther in, but the tide isn't right for it."
Just off the pier stood their trunks, and beside them two boxes and a barrel. Of the three passengers, the gladdest to get ashore, if one could judge by outward manifestations, was Solomon. He ran and barked and wheeled about, jumping against his master as if to impart some of his own enthusiasm. His joy, while less contagious than he himself desired, produced one good result in causing the lady to unbend a little. At first she merely watched him with amusement, then talked and played with him, but not freely and with abandon, only so far as was proper with a dog whose master had become a suspicious character. As the life-boat disappeared toward the invisible steamer, Pats turned to his companion.
"Welcome to this island, Miss Marshall. I am now the host—and your humble and obedient vassal. Shall I hurry on ahead and send down for the baggage? Or shall we go on together and surprise the family?"
Her lips parted to say: "Let us go on together," but she remembered Father Burke and his warning. So she answered, with a glance at the trunks, "Perhaps you should go first. The sooner the baggage is removed the better."
With a little bow of acquiescence Pats turned and climbed the rocky path. She followed, but at a distance, and slowly, that there might be no confusion in his mind as to her desire to walk alone. To make doubly sure she paused about half-way up and listened for a moment to the tumbling of the waves upon the little beach below.
Reaching the top of this path she found herself at the edge of a forest. It was more like a grove,—a vast grove of primeval pines. Into the shadow of this wood she entered, then stopped, and gazed about. Such trees she had never seen,—an endless vista of gigantic trunks, like the columns of a mighty cathedral, all towering to a vault of green, far above her head. And this effect of an interior—of some boundless temple—was augmented by the smooth, brown floor,—a carpet of pine-needles. With upturned face and half-closed eyes the girl drew a long deep breath. The fragrance of the pines, the sighing of the wind through the canopy above, all were soothing to the senses; and yet, in a dreamy way, they stirred the imagination. This was fairy land—the enchanted forest—the land of poetry and peace—of calm content, far away from common things. And that unending lullaby from above! What music could be sweeter?
From this revery—of longer duration than she realized—she was awakened by a distant voice of a person shouting. She could see Pats off at the end of the point waving his handkerchief and trying to attract the attention of somebody on the water. Perhaps the gardener, or some fisherman.
Walking farther on, into the wood, she became more and more impressed by the solemn beauty of this paradise. And the carpet of pine-needles seemed placed there with kind intent as if to insure a deeper silence. She resolved to spend much of her time in these woods, and, even now, she found herself almost regretting the proximity of her friends.
In the distance, between the trunks of the trees, came glimpses, first of Solomon, then of his master, moving hastily about as if on urgent business. She smiled, a superior, tolerant smile at the inconsistency—and the sacrilege—of haste or of any kind of business in the sacred twilight of this grove, this realm of peace. And so, she strolled about, resting at intervals, inhaling the odors of the pines, and dreaming dreams.
In these reveries came no thoughts of time until she saw the enemy—Pats—approaching. His silent footsteps on the smooth, brown carpet made him seem but a spirit of the wood,—some unsubstantial denizen of this enchanted region. But in his face and manner there was something that dispelled all dreams. He stopped before her, out of breath. "There is no house here!"
With a frown of dismay she took a backward step. Indicating by a gesture the cottage out upon the point, she said:
"The house we saw from the boat; what is that?"
"I cannot imagine. But it is no gardener's cottage."
"Then what is it?"
"Heaven knows," he answered with a joyless smile. "It looks like a room in a museum, or a bric-a-brac shop."
"But how do you know there is no other house?"
"I have been over the whole point. I climbed that cliff, behind there, and got a view of the country all about. There is not a house in sight."
"Nor a settlement of any kind."
"Surely, somebody can give us information."
"So it would seem, but I have hunted in vain for a human being."
"The people you were calling to from the cliff, couldn't they tell you something?"
"There were no people there. I was trying to stop the steamer."
She regarded him in fresh alarm. "Do you mean they have landed us out of our way?—at the wrong place?"
He hesitated. "I am not sure. But we can always get the people of this cottage to take us along in their boat. It is still early; only nine o'clock."
As they walked toward the cottage she noticed that he was short of breath and that he seemed tired. But his manner was cheerful, even inspiriting, and while she took care to remember that he was still in disgrace, she felt her own courage reviving under the influence of his livelier spirits. Besides, as they stepped out of the woods into the open space at the southern end of the point,—a space about two acres in extent and covered with grass,—and saw the blue sea on three sides, she found new life in the air that came against her face. In deep breaths she inhaled this air. Turning her eyes to her left she beheld for the first time the front of the building they had sighted from the steamer. This building, one story high, of rough stone, was nearly sixty feet long by about thirty feet in width.
"What a fascinating cottage!" she exclaimed. "It is almost covered with ivy!"
"Yes, it is picturesque, and I am curious to see the sort of family that lives in such a place."
"Is no one there now?"
"Nor anywhere near?"
"No. I have looked in every direction—and shouted in every direction. They are probably off in their boat."
As Pats and Elinor approached the building and stood for a moment before the door, a squad of hens and chickens, most of them white, began to gather about. They seemed very trusting and not at all afraid. The guiding spirit of the party—a tall, self-conscious rooster, attired, apparently, in a scarlet cap, a light gray suit with voluminous knickerbockers, and yellow stockings—studied the new-comers, with his head to one side, expressing himself in sarcastic gutturals.
"That fellow," said Pats, "seems to be making side remarks about us, and they are not complimentary."
His companion paid no attention to this speech. She had regretted her enthusiasm over the cottage. Enthusiasm might foster a belief that she was enjoying his society. So she remarked, in a colder tone, "I think you had better knock."
He knocked. They listened in silence. He knocked again. Still no answer. Then he opened the door and entered, she following cautiously. After one swift, comprehensive survey, she turned to him in amazement. He was watching her, expecting this effect.
The interior of the building was practically a single room. From the objects contained it might be the hall of a palace, or of an old chateau—or of a gallery in some great museum. On the walls hung splendid tapestries and rare old paintings. Beneath them stood Italian cabinets of superb design, a marriage chest, a Louis XV. sofa in gilt, upholstered with Beauvais tapestry, chairs and bergere to match. Scattered about were vases in old Sevres, clocks in ormolu, miniatures, and the innumerable objects of ancestral and artistic value pertaining to a noble house. Over all lay the mellowness of age, those harmonies of color that bewitch the antiquary.
Dumfounding it certainly was, the sudden transition from primeval nature without to this sumptuous interior. Conspicuous in the sombre richness of these treasures were two marble busts, standing on either side of the great tapestry fronting the door. They were splendid works of art, larger than life, and represented a lofty individual who might have been a marshal of France with the Grand Conde, and an equally exalted personage, presumably his wife. These impressive ancestors rested on pedestals of Sienna marble.
Elinor Marshall found no words to express her amazement. She stood in silence, her eyes, in a sort of bewilderment, moving rapidly about the room. At last in a low, awe-struck voice she said:
"Have you no idea what it all means?"
"None whatever. But I am sure of one thing, that it has nothing to do with Boyd's Island. If such a house as this were anywhere within reach of my sisters, they surely would have mentioned it."
"It being off here in the wilderness is what takes one's breath away."
"I can't understand it—or even quite believe it yet." Then forgetting herself for an instant, she added, impulsively: "Why, just now I closed my eyes and was surprised, when I opened them again, to find it still here."
"Yes; I expect an old woman with a hook nose to wave a stick and have the whole thing vanish."
As their eyes met she almost smiled. For this lapse of duty to her church and to herself, however, she atoned at once by a sudden frigidity. Turning away she studied a huge tapestry that hung on their left as they entered. This tapestry extended almost across the room, forming a screen to a chamber behind.
"That is a bedroom," said Pats. "I looked in," and he drew aside the tapestry that she might enter. She shook her head and stepped back. But in spite of her respect for the owner's privacy, and before she could avert her eyes, she caught a hasty glimpse of a monumental bed with hangings of faded silk between its massive columns; of two portraits on the walls and an ivory crucifix. This glance at the bedroom served to increase her uneasiness. Moving toward a table that stood near the centre of the room she turned, and regarding Pats with the lofty, far-away air which never failed to congeal his courage, she asked:
"Where do you think we are? How far from your house?"
"I have not the remotest idea. It is hard to guess. But I have a suspicion—"
He hesitated. "Suppose I go out and make another effort to find these people." And he started for the door.
"What is your suspicion?"
He stopped in obvious uncertainty as to his reply. Looking away through the open door, he said: "Oh, nothing—except that we are not where we want to be."
"Well, what else?"
Pats met her glance and saw that she was becoming distrustful. Standing with one hand upon the ancient table, with the tapestries and busts behind her, she was a striking figure, and in perfect harmony with the surrounding magnificence. She reminded him of some picture of an angry queen at bay—confronting her enemies. In her eyes and in her manner he clearly read that she had resolved to know the truth. Moreover, she gave at this moment a distinct impression of being a person of considerable spirit. So, to allay her suspicions, which he could only guess at, he related, after the briefest hesitation, all he had heard the night before between the two sailors, repeating, as nearly as possible, what the drunken man had said. When he had finished she replied, calmly, but evidently repressing her indignation:
"Why did you not tell me this earlier?—on the boat, before it was too late?"
"I did not suppose you would care to know. I attached very little importance to it."
"Importance! I think I might have had some choice as to being landed in the wilderness with you alone, or going on to your sisters."
Pats regarded her in a mild surprise. Her sudden anger was very real. He answered, gently: "The man was so drunk he hardly knew what he was saying. His companion, who probably knew him well, paid no attention to his words."
"But I should have paid attention to his words. And so would my uncle, or any friend of mine, if he could have heard him."
Pats, taken aback at the new light in which he stood, retorted, with some feeling:
"I hope you don't mean to say that I did this intentionally?"
"Then why did you keep such information so carefully to yourself?"
"Because when I woke up I found we were here—that is, as I supposed—at Boyd's Island. Both the steward and the first officer told me so. My only doubt when I went to bed was about our getting here. And this morning here we were. It had come out all right, so far as I knew."
With a curl of her lip that expressed a world of incredulity, she dropped into one of the chairs behind the table, and rested her chin upon her hand.
In a lower tone, he continued:
"I have never been here before, and had no idea how it looked. Why didn't Father Burke tell you this was not the place? He knows our island."
"It was foggy. Nobody could see it; and he knew nothing of the warning you were keeping to yourself."
Beneath this avalanche of contempt, Pats's feeble knees almost let him to the floor.
"Miss Marshall, at least do me the justice to believe—"
"Would you mind leaving me for a time?"
Into his hollow cheeks came a darker color, and he closed his eyes. Then, with a glance of resentment, he took a step or two in her direction as if to speak. But instead of speaking, he turned toward the open door and walked slowly out.
For a long time she remained in the same position, boiling with resentment, yet keeping back her tears. She knew this coast was wild, almost uninhabited, neither to the east nor west a sign of life: behind them, northward, the unending forest. And the owner of this mysterious habitation,—what manner of man was he? Perhaps there were several. And she, a woman, alone with these men! From such bitter reflections she was recalled, slowly, by the realization that her eyes were resting upon a little portrait about twice the size of an ordinary miniature—a woman's face—confronting her from across the table. It hung against the back of the opposite chair, on a level with her own eyes, and was suspended by a narrow black ribbon,—an odd place for a portrait, but in glancing at the table in front of her she thought she guessed the reason. Before the place in which she had thrown herself she noticed for the first time a plate, a pewter mug, a napkin, and a knife and fork. Evidently the host expected to eat alone, for there were no other dishes on the table. And the portrait, of course, must be his wife, or his mother, perhaps, or daughter. It proved a pleasant face as it, in turn, regarded her from the little oval frame,—rather plump and youthful, with a curious little mouth and large dark eyes, with a peculiar droop at the outer corners. The hair was drawn up, away from the forehead; the shoulders were bare, and a string of pearls encircled the neck. She was dark, with good features, not strictly beautiful, but gentle and somewhat melancholy, in spite of the mirthful eyes.
So this was the romance of their mysterious host! She of the miniature, whatever her title—wife, mother, daughter, or sweetheart,—was ever present at his table, looking into his eyes across the board.
The American girl felt a quickening interest in this host. Was it love that drove him to the wilderness? And why did he bring into it such a wealth of household goods?
As she leaned back in the old-fashioned chair, her eyes wandering over the various objects in this unaccountable abode, her imagination began to play, giving a life and history to the people in the tapestries and portraits. The outside world was almost forgotten when she was recalled to herself by the chimes of an enormous clock behind the door. This triumph of a previous century, after tolling twelve, rambled off with a music-box accompaniment into the quaint old minuet attributed to Louis XIII. Before it had finished, two other clocks began their midday strike.
Elinor looked about in alarm, under a vague impression that the various objects in the room were coming to life. Then, with the reaction, she smiled and thought:
"Our friend is methodical with his clocks."
But still, in this atmosphere, she was not at ease; there was an excess of mystery, too much that needed explanation. And now that it was midday, the host might return at any moment and find her there, alone. So she went out; and to avoid any appearance of pursuing Mr. Boyd, she followed a little path behind the house that led among the pines. Hardly had she entered the wood, however, when she saw, off to her right and not many yards away, the man she was trying to escape. He was lying at full length along the ground, one arm for a pillow, his face against the pine-needles. In this prostrate figure every line bore witness to a measureless despair.
In her one glance she had seen that Solomon, as he sat by his master's head, was following her with his eyes. And these eyes seemed to say: "We stand or fall together, he and I. So go about your business."
She also saw that a warning from the watcher had aroused the downcast figure; for it raised its head and looked about. Mortified and angry with herself, and still angrier with him, she averted her eyes and passed coldly on; but with the consolation of having witnessed some indication of his own misery and repentance. However, it was an empty joy. Of what avail his remorse? The evil was done; her good name was forever compromised.
Preoccupied with these thoughts, she halted suddenly, and with a shock. At her feet, across the little path she had unconsciously followed, stretched an open grave. It was not a fresh excavation, for on the bottom lay a covering of pine-needles. And the rough pile of earth alongside was also covered with them. Projecting into the grave were several roots, feeders sent out by the great trees above; and from the stumps of other and larger roots it was evident that he who dug the grave had been driven to use the axe as well as the shovel. Close beside this grave was a mound with a wooden cross at the head.
"There," she thought, "rests the lady of the miniature—perhaps." This mound was also covered with pine-needles, as if Nature were helping some one to forget.
The silence of this spot, the murmuring of the wind among the branches high above, all tended to a somewhat mournful revery; and she wondered how this empty grave had been cheated of its tenant. With reverence she gazed upon the primitive wooden cross, evidently put together by inexperienced hands. Then she looked upward, as if to question the voices in the boughs above. But of the empty grave and its companion the whispering pines told nothing.
Approaching footsteps gave no sound in this forest, and she was startled by a cough behind her. It was only Pats, not wishing to startle her by a sudden presence. His face seemed flushed, and even thinner than before; and about his mouth had come a drawn and sensitive look. But her eyes rested coldly upon him as they would rest upon any repugnant object that she despised, but did not fear.
Smiling with an effort, he said: "Excuse my following you, but it is nearly one o'clock and time for food. I am sure we can find something in that cottage."
"I am not hungry."
"Did you have breakfast on the boat?"
"Then you must be hungry."
"I do not care to eat." And she turned away.
"Excuse me, Miss Marshall," and he spoke more seriously, "pardon my giving you advice, but you have had a hard morning and you will feel better, later on, for a little food. As for me, I have had nothing since yesterday, and shall collapse without it. Suppose I go to the house and scrape up some sort of a lunch. Won't you come there in a few minutes?"
Her eyes travelled frigidly from his face to his feet. But before she could reply, he added:
"Besides, the owner may come back, now, at any minute, and if he finds us together it will save time in our getting off."
Turning away to resume her walk she answered, indifferently: "Very well, I will be there soon."
THE SECRET OF THE PINES
At one o'clock the lunch was served.
Pats had placed before the lady a portion of a ham, a plate of crackers, some marmalade, and a bottle of claret.
"There are provisions in the cellar," he said, "to last a year: sacks of flour, dried apples, preserved fruits, potatoes, all sorts of canned things, and claret by the dozen."
As he spoke, he laid his hand upon the back of the chair that held the miniature,—the seat opposite her own.
"Don't sit there!" she exclaimed. "We must respect the customs of the house."
"Of course!" and he drew up another seat.
Food and a little wine tended to freshen the spirits of both travellers. Pats especially acquired new life and strength. The arrival of a glass or two of claret in his yearning stomach revived his hopes and loosened his tongue. Noticing that her eyes were constantly returning to the little portrait that faced her, he said, at last:
"By the way, there is something in the cellar that may throw some light on this lady, or on that empty grave back there." And he nodded toward the pines.
"What is that?"
He smiled at her surprise and horror. In a low voice, she murmured:
"It is empty, of course!"
"Yes, I raised the lid."
"What can it mean?"
"I have no idea, unless some one disappointed somebody else by remaining alive, when he—or she—ought to be dead. That sometimes happens."
"It is very mysterious," and she looked into the eyes of the miniature as if for enlightenment.
"Very, indeed; but on the other hand, certain things are pretty evident. Such as the character of our host, and various points in his career."
"You mean that he is a hermit with a history?"
"Yes, and more specific than that!" Then, turning about in his chair and surveying the room: "He is an aristocrat, to begin with. These works of art are ancestral. They are no amateur's collection. Moreover, he left France because he had to. A man of his position does not bring his treasures into the wilderness for the fun of it. And when he settled here he had no intention of being hunted up by his friends—or by his enemies."
Elinor, with averted eyes, listened politely, but with no encouraging display of interest.
"But let us be sure he is not within hearing," Pats added, and he stepped to the door and looked about. "Not a sail in sight."
At this point Solomon renewed his efforts to get his master to follow him, but in vain.
"Why don't you go with him?" said Elinor. "He may have made an important discovery, like the graves, perhaps."
"More likely a woodchuck's hole, or a squirrel track. Besides," he added, with a smile, as he dropped into his chair again, "these broomsticks of mine have collapsed once to-day, and I am becoming cautious. It has been a lively morning—for a convalescent."
With a look that was almost, but not quite, sympathetic, she replied: "You have done too much. Stay here and rest. I will go with him, just for curiosity."
She went out, preceded by the bounding Solomon. Through the open door Pats watched them, and into his face came a graver look as he followed, with his eyes, the graceful figure in the gray dress until it disappeared from the sunlight among the shadows of the forest.
That he and she were stranded at a point far away from his own home he had little doubt. No such extraordinary house as this could have existed within fifty miles of Boyd's Island without his hearing of it. Moreover, he keenly regretted on her account his own physical condition. Since rising from his bed of fever he had carefully avoided all fatigue, according to his doctor's injunction. But now, after this morning's efforts, his legs were weak and his head was flighty. Things showed a tendency to dance before his eyes in a way that he had not experienced heretofore. When he lay upon the ground an hour ago he did it, among other reasons, to avoid tumbling from dizziness and exhaustion.
The lady's situation was bad enough already. To have a collapsible man upon her hands was a supreme and final calamity that he wished to spare her. He leaned back in his chair and rested his feet on the heavy carving beneath the table. How good it was, this relaxation of all one's muscles!
The pompous rooster, with a few favorites of his seraglio, came and stood about the open door, eying him in disapproval, and always muttering.
In looking idly about Pats found himself becoming interested in the huge tapestry extending across the room at his right,—the one that served as a screen to the bed-chamber. While no expert in no such matters, he recognized in this tapestry a splendid work of art, both from its color and wealth of detail, and from the quality of its material. The more he studied it, the deeper became his interest—and his amusement. The scene, a formal Italian garden of the sixteenth century, of vast dimensions, showed fountains and statues without limit, and trees trimmed in fantastic shapes, with a chateau in the background. But the central group of figures brought a smile to his face. For, while the gardens were filled with lords and ladies of the court of Henri III., those in the foreground being nearly the size of life,—all clad in their richest attire, feathers in their hats, high ruffs about the neck, and resplendent with jewels, the ladies in stiff bodices and voluminous skirts,—there were two figures in the centre in startling contrast with their overdressed companions. These two, a man and a woman, wore nothing except a garland of leaves about the hips.
Pats smiled and even forgot his fatigue, as he realized that he was gazing upon a serious conception of the Garden of Eden. And the bride and groom showed no embarrassment. The groom was pointing, in an easy manner, to anything, anywhere, while the bride, in a graceful but self-conscious pose, ignored his remarks.
And all the lords and ladies round about accepted, as a matter of course, the nakedness of this unconventional pair. While still fascinated by the brazen indifference of this famous couple, and pleasantly shocked by their disregard for all the rules of propriety, he was aroused by the sudden appearance in the doorway of Elinor Marshall. She had evidently been hurrying. There was excitement in her voice, as she exclaimed:
"He is here! He has come back!"
"Yes, he is taking a nap on a bench, on the other side of the point."
In another moment Pats was beside her, both walking rapidly through the wood. Approaching the western edge of the point, they saw, between the trees, a figure sitting upon a bench, overlooking the water, his back toward them. With one elbow upon an arm of the rustic seat, his cheek resting on his hand and his knees crossed, he seemed in full enjoyment of a nap.
Pats took a position in front of the sleeper, at a respectful distance, then said, in a voice not too loud:
"I beg your pardon, sir."
There was no responsive movement. When it became clear that he had not been heard, Pats stepped a very little nearer and repeated, in a louder tone:
"I beg your pardon, sir."
Still the sleeper slept.
Pats glanced at Elinor Marshall, who smiled, involuntarily. Pats also smiled, as he realized that this ceremonious and somewhat labored greeting had a distinctly comic side, especially when so completely thrown away. However, he was about to repeat the salutation and in a louder voice, when he was struck by the color of the hand against the cheek. He went nearer and, stooping down, looked up into the sleeper's face. A glance was enough.
Slowly he straightened up, then reverently removed his hat.
Elinor, with a look of awe, came nearer and whispered:
"Dead! Is it possible!"
For a moment both stood in silence, looking down upon the seated figure. It was that of an elderly man, short, and slight of frame, with thick gray hair, and a beard cut roughly to a point. The face, brown, thin, and bony, was unduly emphasized by a Roman nose, too large for the other features. But the face, as a whole, impressed the two people now regarding it as almost handsome. He was clad in a dark gray suit, and a soft felt hat lay upon the seat beside him.
"How long has he been here, do you think?" asked Elinor, in a low voice.
"A day or two, I should say. His clothes are a little damp, and there are pine-needles on his shoulders and on his head."
"But how dreadfully sudden it must have come! Not a change in his position, or in his expression, even."
"An ideal death," said Pats. "I have helped bury a good many men this year, both friends and enemies, but very few went off as comfortably as this."
He took out his watch, seemed to hesitate a moment, then said, reluctantly:
"This is bad for us, you know, finding him dead this way."
"It means there is no boat to get away with."
A look of alarm came into her face.
"We may as well face the situation," he continued, looking off over the water. "This man lived here alone, as we know from what we have seen in his house. And he evidently selected this place, not wishing to be disturbed. We are at the end of a bay at least ten miles deep, with no settlement in sight. There is nothing whatever to bring a visitor in here. The traffic of the gulf is away out there, perhaps thirty miles from here."
She made no reply. Venturing to glance at her face, he saw there were no signs of anger, only a look of anxiety.
"I will tell you just what I think, Miss Marshall, and you can act accordingly. I shall, of course, do whatever you wish. But, as nearly as I can judge, we are prisoners until we can get away by tramping through the wilderness."
He indicated, with a gesture, the broad current at their feet, washing the western edge of the point. "That river we can never cross without a boat, or a raft; and in that direction—I don't know how many miles away—is Boyd's Island. In the other direction, to the east, there is nothing but wilderness for an indefinite distance. That is, I think so. Now, if you prefer, I will go up this bank of the river at once, tie some logs together and try for a passage; then push on as fast as possible for our place, or the nearest settlement, and come back for you. Or, I will stay until we can go on together. Whatever you decide shall be done."
He had spoken rapidly, and was ill at ease, watching her earnestly all the while.
As for her, she was dismayed by his words. She had been listening with a growing terror. Now, she turned away to conceal a tendency to tears. But this was repressed. With no resentment, but with obvious emotion, she inquired:
"Can you get across the river?"
"If you fail, or if anything happens to you, what becomes of me?"
"You would be here alone, and in a very bad plight. For that reason I think I would better stay until we can start together."
A slight gesture of resignation was her only reply. There was a pause; uncomfortable for Pats from his consciousness of her low opinion of him. However, he continued, in a somewhat perfunctory way, turning to the silent occupant of the bench.
"Now, as we take possession of this place, the least we can do is to give the owner a decent burial. Fortunately for us a grave is dug and a coffin ready."