THE TWO VANREVELS
By Booth Tarkington
Table of Contents
A Cat Can Do More than Look at A King Surviving Evils of the Reign of Terror The Rogue's Gallery of a Father Should be Exhibited to a Daughter with Particular Care "But Spare Your Country's Flag" Nero not the Last Violinist of his Kind The Ever Unpractical Feminine The Comedian A Tale of a Political Difference The Rule of the Regent Echoes of a Serenade A Voice in a Garden The Room in the Cupola The Tocsin The Firm of Gray and Vanrevel When June Came "Those Endearing Young Charms" The Price of Silence The Uniform The Flag Goes Marching By "Good-by"
CHAPTER I. A Cat Can Do More than Look at a King
It was long ago in the days when men sighed when they fell in love; when people danced by candle and lamp, and did dance, too, instead of solemnly gliding about; in that mellow time so long ago, when the young were romantic and summer was roses and wine, old Carewe brought his lovely daughter home from the convent to wreck the hearts of the youth of Rouen.
That was not a far journey; only an afternoon's drive through the woods and by the river, in an April, long ago; Miss Betty's harp carefully strapped behind the great lumbering carriage, her guitar on the front seat, half-buried under a mound of bouquets and oddly shaped little bundles, farewell gifts of her comrades and the good Sisters. In her left hand she clutched a small lace handkerchief, with which she now and then touched her eyes, brimmed with the parting from Sister Cecilia, Sister Mary Bazilede, the old stone steps and all the girls: but for every time that she lifted the dainty kerchief to brush away the edge of a tear, she took a deep breath of the Western woodland air and smiled at least twice; for the years of strict inclosure within St. Mary's walls and still gardens were finished and done with, and at last the many-colored world flashed and danced in a mystery before her. This mystery was brilliant to the convent-girl because it contained men; she was eager to behold it.
They rumbled into town after sunset, in the fair twilight, the dogs barking before them, and everyone would have been surprised to know that Tom Vanrevel, instead of Mr. Crailey Gray, was the first to see her. By the merest accident, Tom was strolling near the Carewe place at the time; and when the carriage swung into the gates, with rattle and clink and clouds of dust at the finish, it was not too soon lost behind the shrubbery and trees for Tom to catch something more than a glimpse of a gray skirt behind a mound of flowers, and of a charming face with parted lips and dark eyes beneath the scuttle of an enormous bonnet. It happened—perhaps it is more accurate to say that Tom thought it happened—that she was just clearing away her veil when he turned to look. She blushed suddenly, so much was not to be mistaken; and the eyes that met his were remarkable for other reasons than the sheer loveliness of them, in that, even in the one flash of them he caught, they meant so many things at one time. They were sparkling, yet mournful; and they were wistful, although undeniably lively with the gayest comprehension of the recipient of their glance, seeming to say, "Oh, it's you, young man, is it!" And they were shy and mysterious with youth, full of that wonder at the world which has the appearance, sometimes, of wisdom gathered in the unknown out of which we came. But, above all, these eyes were fully conscious of Tom Vanrevel.
Without realizing what he did, Mr. Vanrevel stopped short. He had been swinging a walkingstick, which, describing a brief arc, remained poised half-way in its descent. There was only that one glance between them; and the carriage disappeared, leaving a scent of spring flowers in the air.
The young man was left standing on the wooden pavement in the midst of a great loneliness, yet enveloped in the afterglow, his soul roseate, his being quavering, his expression, like his cane, instantaneously arrested. With such promptitude and finish was he disposed of, that, had Miss Carewe been aware of his name and the condition wrought in him by the single stroke, she could have sought only the terse Richard of England for a like executive ability, "Off with his head! So much for Vanrevel!"
She had lifted a slender hand to the fluttering veil, a hand in a white glove with a small lace gauntlet at the wrist. This gesture was the final divinity of the radiant vision which remained with the dazed young man as he went down the street; and it may have been three-quarters of an hour later when the background of the picture became vivid to him: a carefully dressed gentleman with heavy brows and a handsome high nose, who sat stiffly upright beside the girl, his very bright eyes quite as conscious of the stricken pedestrian as were hers, vastly different, however, in this: that they glittered, nay, almost bristled, with hostility; while every polished button of his blue coat seemed to reflect their malignancy, and to dart little echoing shafts of venom at Mr. Vanrevel.
Tom was dismayed by the acuteness of his perception that a man who does not speak to you has no right to have a daughter like the lady in the carriage; and, the moment of this realization occurring as he sat making a poor pretence to eat his evening meal at the "Rouen House," he dropped his fork rattling upon his plate and leaned back, staring at nothing, a proceeding of which his table-mate, Mr. William Cummings, the editor of the Rouen Journal, was too busy over his river bass to take note.
"Have you heard what's new in town?" asked Cummings presently, looking up.
"No," said Tom truthfully, for he had seen what was new, but not heard it.
"Old Carewe's brought his daughter home. Fanchon Bareaud was with her at St. Mary's until last year and Fanchon says she's not only a great beauty but a great dear."
"Ah!" rejoined the other with masterly indifference. "Dare say—dare say."
"No wonder you're not interested," said Cummings cheerfully, returning to the discussion of his bass. "The old villain will take precious good care you don't come near her."
Mr. Vanrevel already possessed a profound conviction to the same effect. Robert Meilhac Carewe was known not only as the wealthiest citizen of Rouen, but also as its heartiest and most steadfast hater: and, although there were only five or six thousand inhabitants, neither was a small distinction. For Rouen was ranked, in those easy days, as a wealthy town; even as it was called an old town; proud of its age and its riches, and bitter in its politics, of course. The French had built a fort there, soon after LaSalle's last voyage, and, as Crailey Gray said, had settled the place, and had then been settled themselves by the pioneer militia. After the Revolution, Carolinians and Virginians had come, by way of Tennessee and Kentucky; while the adventurous countrymen from Connecticut, travelling thither to sell, remained to buy—and then sell—when the country was in its teens. In course of time the little trading-post of the Northwest Territory had grown to be the leading centre of elegance and culture in the Ohio Valley—at least they said so in Rouen; only a few people in the country, such as Mr. Irving of Tarrytown, for instance, questioning whether a centre could lead.
The pivotal figure, though perhaps not the heart, of this centre, was unquestionably Mr. Carewe, and about him the neat and tight aristocracy of the place revolved; the old French remnant, having liberally intermarried, forming the nucleus, together with descendants of the Cavaliers (and those who said they were) and the industrious Yankees, by virtue (if not by the virtues) of all whom, the town grew and prospered. Robert Carewe was Rouen's magnate, commercially and socially, and, until an upstart young lawyer named Vanrevel struck into his power with a broad-axe, politically. The wharves were Carewe's; the warehouses that stood by the river, and the line of packets which plied upon it, were his; half the town was his, and in Rouen this meant that he was possessed of the Middle Justice, the High and the Low. His mother was a Frenchwoman, and, in those days, when to go abroad was a ponderous and venturesome undertaking, the fact that he had spent most of his youth in the French capital wrought a certain glamour about him; for to the American, Paris was Europe, and it lay shimmering on the far horizon of every imagination, a golden city. Scarce a drawing-room in Rouen lacked its fearsome engraving entitled "Grand Ball at the Tuileries," nor was Godey's Magazine ever more popular than when it contained articles elaborate of similar scenes of festal light, where brilliant uniforms mingled with shining jewels, fair locks, and the white shoulders of magnificently dressed duchesses, countesses, and ladies. Credit for this description should be given entirely to the above-mentioned periodical. Furthermore, a sojourn in Paris was held to confer a "certain nameless and indescribable polish" upon the manners of the visitor; also, there was something called "an air of foreign travel."
They talked a great deal about polish in those days; and some examples still extant do not deny their justification; but in the case of Mr. Carewe, there existed a citizen of Rouen, one already quoted, who had the temerity to declare the polish to be in truth quite nameless and indescribable for the reason that one cannot paint a vacuum. However, subscription to this opinion should not be over-hasty, since Mr. Crailey Gray had been notoriously a rival of Carewe's with every pretty woman in town, both having the same eye in such matters, and also because the slandered gentleman could assume a manner when he chose to, whether or not he possessed it. At his own table he exhaled a hospitable graciousness which, from a man of known evil temper, carried the winsomeness of surprise. When he wooed, it was with an air of stately devotion, combined with that knowingness which sometimes offsets for a widower the tendency a girl has to giggle at him; and the combination had been, once or twice, too much for even the alluring Crailey.
Mr. Carewe lived in an old-fashioned house on the broad, quiet, shady street which bore his name. There was a wide lawn in front, shadowy under elm and locust trees, and bounded by thick shrubberies. A long garden, fair with roses and hollyhocks, lay outside the library windows, an old-time garden, with fine gravel paths and green arbors; drowsed over in summer-time by the bees, while overhead the locust rasped his rusty cadences the livelong day; and a faraway sounding love-note from the high branches brought to mind the line, like an old refrain:
"The voice of the turtle was heard in the land."
Between the garden and the carriage gates there was a fountain where a bronze boy with the dropsy (but not minding it) lived in a perpetual bath from a green goblet held over his head. Nearby, a stone sun-dial gleamed against a clump of lilac bushes; and it was upon this spot that the white kitten introduced Thomas Vanrevel to Miss Carewe.
Upon the morning after her arrival, having finished her piano-forte practice, touched her harp twice, and arpeggioed the Spanish Fandango on her guitar, Miss Betty read two paragraphs of "Gilbert" (for she was profoundly determined to pursue her tasks with diligence), but the open windows disclosing a world all sunshine and green leaves, she threw the book aside with a good conscience, and danced out to the garden. There, coming upon a fuzzy, white ball rolling into itself spirally on a lazy pathway, she pounced at it, whereupon the thing uncurled with lightning swiftness, and fled, more like a streak than a kitten, down the drive, through the open gates and into the street, Miss Betty in full cry.
Across the way there chanced to be strolling a young lady in blue, accompanied by a gentleman whose leisurely gait gave no indication of the maneuvering he had done to hasten their walk into its present direction. He was apparently thirty or thirty-one, tall, very straight, dark, smooth-shaven, his eyes keen, deep-set, and thoughtful, and his high white hat, white satin cravat, and careful collar, were evidence of an elaboration of toilet somewhat unusual in Rouen for the morning; also, he was carrying a pair of white gloves in his hand and dangled a slender ebony cane from his wrist. The flying kitten headed toward the couple, when, with a celerity only to be accounted for on the theory that his eye had been fixed on the Carewe gateway for some time previous to this sudden apparition, the gentleman leaped in front of the fugitive.
The kitten attempted a dodge to pass; the gentleman was there before it. The kitten feinted; the gentleman was altogether too much on the spot. Immediately—and just as Miss Carewe, flushed and glowing, ran into the street—the small animal doubled, evaded Miss Betty's frantic clutch, re-entered the gateway, and attempted a disappearance into the lilac bushes, instead of going round them, only to find itself, for a fatal two seconds, in difficulties with the close-set thicket of stems.
In regard to the extraordinary agility of which the pursuing gentleman as capable, it is enough to say that he caught the cat. He emerged from the lilacs holding it in one hand, his gloves and white hat in the other, and presented himself before Miss Betty with a breathlessness not entirely attributable to his exertions.
For a moment, as she came running toward him and he met her flashing look, bright with laughter and recognition and haste, he stammered. A thrill nothing less than delirious sent the blood up behind his brown cheeks, for he saw that she, too, knew that this was the second time their eyes had met. Naturally, at that time he could not know how many other gentlemen were to feel that same thrill (in their cases, also, delirious, no less) with the same, accompanying, mysterious feeling, which came just before Miss Betty's lashes fell, that one had found, at last, a precious thing, lost long since in childhood, or left, perhaps, upon some other planet in a life ten thousand years ago.
He could not speak at once, but when he could, "Permit me, madam," he said solemnly, offering the captive, "to restore your kitten."
An agitated kitten should not be detained by clasping its waist, and already the conqueror was paying for his victory. There ensued a final, outrageous squirm of despair; two frantic claws, extended, drew one long red mark across the stranger's wrist and another down the back of his hand to the knuckles. They were good, hearty scratches, and the blood followed the artist's lines rapidly; but of this the young man took no note, for he knew that he was about to hear Miss Carewe's voice for the first time.
"They say the best way to hold them," he observed, "is by the scruff of the neck."
Beholding his wounds, suffered in her cause, she gave a pitying cry that made his heart leap with the richness and sweetness of it. Catching the kitten from him, she dropped it to the ground in such wise as to prove nature's foresight most kind in cushioning the feet of cats.
"Ah! I didn't want it that much!"
"A cat in the hand is worth two nightingales in the bush," he said boldly, and laughed. "I would shed more blood than that!"
Miss Betty blushed like a southern dawn, and started back from him. From the convent but yesterday—and she had taken a man's hand in both of hers!
It was to this tableau that the lady in blue entered, following the hunt through the gates, where she stopped with a discomposed countenance. At once, however, she advanced, and with a cry of greeting, enveloped Miss Betty in a brief embrace, to the relief of the latter's confusion. It was Fanchon Bareaud, now two years emancipated from St. Mary's, and far gone in taffeta. With her lustreful light hair, absent blue eyes, and her gentle voice, as small and pretty as her face and figure, it was not too difficult to justify Crailey Gray's characterization of her as one of those winsome baggages who had made an air of feminine helplessness the fashion of the day.
It is a wicked thing that some women should kiss when a man is by; in the present instance the gentleman became somewhat faint.
"I'm so glad—glad!" exclaimed Betty. "You were just coming to see me, weren't you? My father is in the library. Let me—"
Miss Bareaud drew back. "No, no!" she interrupted hastily and with evident perturbation. "I—we must be on our way immediately." She threw a glance at the gentleman, which let him know that she now comprehended his gloves, and why their stroll had trended toward Carewe Street. "Come at once!" she commanded him quickly, in an undertone.
"But now that you're here," said Miss Betty, wondering very much why he was not presented to her, "won't you wait and let me gather a nosegay for you? Our pansies and violets—"
"I could help," the gentleman suggested, with the look of a lame dog at Miss Bareaud. "I have been considered useful about a garden."
"Fool!" Betty did not hear the word that came from Miss Bareaud's closed teeth, though she was mightily surprised at the visible agitation of her schoolmate, for the latter's face was pale and excited. And Miss Carewe's amazement was complete when Fanchon, without more words, cavalierly seized the gentleman's arm and moved toward the street with him as rapidly as his perceptible reluctance to leave permitted. But at the gate Miss Bareaud turned and called back over her shoulder, as if remembering the necessity of offering an excuse for so remarkable a proceeding: "I shall come again very soon. Just now we are upon an errand of great importance. Good-day!"
Miss Betty waved her hand, staring after them, her eyes large with wonder. She compressed her lips tightly: "Errand!" This was the friend of childhood's happy hour, and they had not met in two years!
"Errand!" She ran to the hedge, along the top of which a high white hat was now seen perambulating; she pressed down a loose branch, and called in a tender voice to the stranger whom Fanchon had chosen should remain nameless:
"Be sure to put some salve on your hand!"
He made a bow which just missed being too low, but did miss it.
"It is there—already," he said; and, losing his courage after the bow, made his speech with so palpable a gasp before the last word that the dullest person in the world could have seen that he meant it.
Miss Betty disappeared.
There was a rigidity of expression about the gentle mouth of Fanchon Bareaud, which her companion did not enjoy, as they went on their way, each preserving an uneasy silence, until at her own door, she turned sharply upon him. "Tom Vanrevel, I thought you were the steadiest—and now you've proved yourself the craziest—soul in Rouen!" she burst out. "And I couldn't say worse!"
"Why didn't you present me to her?" asked Vanrevel.
"Because I thought a man of your gallantry might prefer not to face a shotgun in the presence of ladies!"
"Pooh!" mimicked Miss Bareaud. "You can 'pooh' as much as you like, but if he had seen us from the window—" She covered her face with her hands for a moment, then dropped them and smiled upon him. "I understand perfectly to what I owe the pleasure of a stroll with you this morning, and your casual insistence on the shadiness of Carewe Street!" He laughed nervously, but her smile vanished, and she continued, "Keep away, Tom. She is beautiful, and at St. Mary's I always thought she had spirit and wit, too. I only hope Crailey won't see her before the wedding! But it isn't safe for you. Go along, now, and ask Crailey please to come at three this afternoon."
This message from Mr. Gray's betrothed was not all the ill-starred Tom conveyed to his friend. Mr. Vanrevel was ordinarily esteemed a person of great reserve and discretion; nevertheless there was one man to whom he told everything, and from whom he had no secrets. He spent the noon hour in feeble attempts to describe to Crailey Gray the outward appearance of Miss Elizabeth Carewe; how she ran like a young Diana; what one felt upon hearing her voice; and he presented in himself an example exhibiting something of the cost of looking in her eyes. His conversation was more or less incoherent, but the effect of it was complete.
Chapter II. Surviving Evils of the Reign of Terror
Does there exist an incredulous, or jealous, denizen of another portion of our country who, knowing that the room in the wooden cupola over Mr. Carewe's library was commonly alluded to by Rouen as the "Tower Chamber," will prove himself so sectionally prejudiced as to deny that the town was a veritable hotbed of literary interest, or that Sir 'Walter Scott was ill-appreciated there? Some of the men looked sly, and others grinned, at mention of this apartment; but the romantic were not lacking who spoke of it in whispers: how the lights sometimes shone there all night long, and the gentlemen drove away, whitefaced, in the dawn. The cupola, rising above the library, overlooked the garden; and the house, save for that, was of a single story, with a low veranda running the length of its front. The windows of the library and of a row of bedrooms—-one of which was Miss Betty's—lined the veranda, "steamboat fashion;" the inner doors of these rooms all opening upon a long hail which bisected the house, the stairway leading to the room in the cupola rose the library itself, while the bisecting hail afforded be only access to the library; hence, the gossips, 'eli acquainted with the geography of the place, conferred seriously together upon what effect Miss Betty's homecoming would have in this connection:
Dr anyone going to the stairway must needs pass her door; and, what was more to the point, a party C gentlemen descending late from the mysterious garret might be not so quiet as they intended, and the young lady sufficiently disturbed to inquire of her father what entertainment he provided that should keep his guests until four in the morning.
But at present it was with the opposite end of the house that the town was occupied, for there, workmen were hammering and sawing and painting day long, finishing the addition Mr. Carewe was building for his daughter's debut. This hammering disturbed Miss Betty, who had become almost as busy with the French Revolution as with her mantua-maker. For she had found in her father's library many books not for convent-shelves; and she had become a Girondin. She found memoirs, histories, and tales of that delectable period, then not so dim with time but that the figures of it were more than tragic shadows; and for a week there was no meal in that house to which she sat down earlier than half an hour Jate. She had a rightful property-interest in the Revolution, her own great-uncle having been one of those who "suffered;" not, however, under the guillotine; for to Georges Meilhac appertained the rare distinction of death by accident on the day when the business-like young Bonaparte played upon the mob with his cannon.
There were some yellow letters of this great uncle's in a box which had belonged to her grandmother, a rich discovery for Miss Betty, who read and re-read them with eager and excited eyes, living more in Paris with Georges and his friends than in Rouen with her father. Indeed, she had little else to do. Mr. Carewe was no comrade for her, by far the reverse. She seldom saw him, except at the table, when he sat with averted eyes, and talked to her very little; and, while making elaborate preparation for her introduction to his friends (such was his phrase) he treated her with a perfunctory civility which made her wonder if her advent was altogether welcome to him; bat when she noticed that his hair looked darker than usual about every fourth day, she began to understand Why he appeared ungrateful to her for growing up. He went out a great deal, though no visitors came to the house; for it was known that Mr. Carewe desired to present his daughter to no one until he presented her to all. Fanchon Bareaud, indeed, made one hurried and embarrassed call, evading Miss Betty's reference to the chevalier of the kitten with a dexterity too nimble to be thought unintentional. Miss Carewe was forbidden to return her friend's visit until after her debut; and Mr. Carewe explained that there was always some worthless Young men hanging about the Bareaud's, where (he did not add) they interfered with a worthy oh one who desired to honor Fanchon's older sister, Virginia, with his attentions.
This was no great hardship for Miss Betty, as, since plunging into the Revolution with her great-uncle, she had lost some curiosity concerning the men of to-day, doubting that they would show forth as heroic, as debonnair, gay and tragic as he. He was the legendary hero of her childhood; she remembered her mother's stories of him perhaps more clearly than she remembered her mother; and one of the older Sisters had known him in Paris and had talked of him at length, giving the flavor of his dandyism and his beauty at first hand to his young relative. He had been one of those hardy young men wearing unbelievable garments, who began to appear in the garden of the Tuileries with knives in their sleeves and cudgels in their hands, about April, 1794, and whose dash and recklessness in many matters were the first intimations that the Citizen Tallien was about to cause the Citizen Robespierre to shoot himself through the jaw.
In the library hung a small, full-length drawing of Georges, done in color by Miss Betty's grandmother; and this she carried to her own room an& studied long and ardently, until sometimes the man himself seemed to stand before her, in spite of the fact that Mile. Meithac had not a distinguished talent and M. Meilhac's features might have been anybody's. It was to be seen, however, that he was smiling.
Miss Betty had an impression that her grandmother's art of portraiture would have been more-successful with the profile than the "full-face." Nevertheless, nothing could be more clearly indicated than that the hair of M. Melihac was very yellow, and his short, huge-lapelled waistcoat white, striped with scarlet. An enormous cravat covered his chin; the heavy collar of his yellow coat rose behind his ears, while its tails fell to his ankles; and the tight trousers of white and yellow stripes were tied with white ribbons about the middle of the calf; he wore white stockings and gold-buckled yellow shoes, and on the back of his head a jauntily cocked black hat. Miss Betty innocently wondered why his letters did not speak of Petion, of Vergniaud, or of Dumoriez, since in the historical novels which she read, the hero's lot was inevitably linked with that of everyone of importance in his generation; yet Georges appeared to have been unacquainted with these personages, Robespierre being the only name of consequence mentioned in his letters; and then it appeared in much the same fashion practised by her father in alluding to the Governor of the State, who had the misfortune to be unpopular with Mr. Carewe. But this did not dim her great-uncle's lustre in Miss Betty's eyes, nor lessen for her the pathetic romance of the smile he wore.
Beholding this smile, one remembered the end to which his light footsteps bad led him; and it was unavoidable to picture him left lying in the empty street behind the heels of the flying crowd, carefully forming that same smile on his lips, and taking much pride in passing with some small, cynical speech, murmured to himself, concerning the futility of a gentleman's getting shot by his friends for merely being present to applaud them. So, fancying him thus, with his yellow hair, his scarlet-striped waistcoat, and his tragedy, the young girl felt a share of family greatness, or, at least, of picturesqueness, descend to her. And she smiled sadly back upon the smile in the picture, and dreamed about its original night after night.
Whether or no another figure, that of a dark young man in a white hat, with a white kitten etching his wrist in red, found any place in her dreams at this period,—it is impossible to determine. She did not see him again. It is quite another thing, hazardous to venture, to state that he did not see her. At all events, it is certain that many people who bad never beheld her were talking of her; that Rouen was full of contention concerning her beauty and her gift of music, for a song can be heard through an open window. And how did it happen that Crailey Gray knew that it was Miss Carewe's habit to stroll in her garden for half an hour or so, each evening before retiring, and that she went to mass every morning soon after sunrise? Crailey Gray never rose at, or near, sunrise in his life, though he sometimes beheld it, from another point of view, as the end of the evening. It appears that someone must have told him.
One night when the moon lay white on the trees and housetops, Miss Betty paused in her evening promenade and seated herself upon a bench on the borders of the garden, "touched," as the books of the time would have put it, "by the sweet tranquillity of the scene," and wrought upon by the tender incentive to sighs and melancholy which youth in loneliness finds in a loveliness of the earth. The breeze bore the smells of the old-fashioned garden, of violets and cherry blossoms, and a sound of distant violins came on the air playing the new song from the new opera.
"But I also dreamt, which pleased me most, That you loved me just the same—"
they sang; and with the lilt of them and the keen beauty of the night, the inherited pain of the ages rose from the depths of the young girl's heart, so that she thought it must break; for what reason she could not have told, since she was without care or sorrow that she knew, except the French Revolution, yet tears shone upon the long lashes. She shook them off and looked up with a sudden odd consciousness. The next second she sprang to her feet with a gasp and a choked outcry, her bands pressed to her breast.
Ten paces in front of her, a gap in the shrubbery where tall trees rose left a small radiant area of illumination like that of a lime-light in a theatre, its brilliancy intensified by the dark foliage behind. It was open to view only from the bench by which she stood, and appeared, indeed, like the stage of a little theatre a stage occupied by a bizarre figure. For, in the centre of this shining patch, with the light strong on his face, was standing a fair-haired young man, dressed in a yellow coat, a scarlet and white striped waistcoat, wearing a jauntily cocked black hat on his bead. And even to the last detail, the ribbon laces above the ankle and the gold-buckled shoes, he was the sketch of Georges Meilhac sprung into life.
About this slender figure there hung a wan sweetness like a fine mist, almost an ethereality in that light; yet in the pale face lurked something reckless, something of the actor, too; and though his smile was gentle and wistful, there was a twinkle behind it, not seen at first, something amused and impish; a small surprise underneath, like a flea in a rose-jar.
Fixed to the spot by this apparition, Miss Betty stood wildly staring, her straining eyelids showing the white above and below the large brown iris. Her breath came faster and deeper, until, between her parted lips it became vocal in a quick sound like a sob. At that he spoke.
"Forgive me!" The voice was low, vibrant, and so exceedingly musical that he might have been accused of coolly selecting his best tone; and it became only sweeter when, even more softly, in a semi-whisper of almost crucial pleading, he said, "Ah—don't go away!"
In truth, she could not go; she had been too vitally stirred; she began to tremble excessively, and sank back upon the bench, motioning him away with vague gestures of her shaking hands.
This was more than the Incroyable had counted upon, and far from his desires. He started forward with an exclamation.
"Don't come near me!" she gasped. "Who are you? Go away!"
"Give me one second to explain," he began; but with the instant reassurance of this beginning she cut him off short, her fears dispelled by his commonplace. Nay, indignation displaced them so quickly that she fairly flashed up before him to her full height.
"You did not come in by the gate!" she cried. "What do you mean by coming here in that dress What right have you in my garden?"
"Just one word," he begged quickly, but very gently. "You'd allow a street-beggar that much!"
She stood before him, panting, and, as he thought, glorious, in her flush of youth and anger. Tom Vanrevel had painted her incoherently, but richly, in spite of that, his whole heart being in the portrait; and—Crailey Gray had smiled at what he deemed the exaggeration of an ordinarily unimpressionable man who had fallen in love "at first sight;" yet, in the presence of the reality, the Incroyable decided that Tom's colors had been gray and humble. It was not that she was merely lovely, that her nose was straight, and her chin dexterously wrought between square and oval; that her dark hair lay soft as a shadow on her white brow; not that the trembling hand she held against her breast sprang from a taper wrist and tapered again to the tips of the long fingers; nor that she was of that slenderness as strong as it is delicate; not all the exquisite regularity of line and mould, nor simplicity of color, gave her that significance which made the Incroyable declare to himself that he stood for the first time in the presence of Beauty, and that now he knew the women he had been wont to call beautiful were but pretty. And yet her beauty, he told himself, was the least of her loveliness, for there was a glamour about her. It was not only the richness of her youth; but there was an ineffable exhalation which seemed to be made partly of light, partly of the very spirit of her, and, oddly enough, partly of the scent of the little fan that hung by a ribbon from her waist. This was a woman like a wine, he felt, there was a bouquet.
In regard to the bouquet of the young man himself, if he possessed one, it is pertinent to relate that at this very instant the thought skipped across his mind (like the hop of a flea in a rose-jar) that some day he might find the moment when he could tell her the truth about herself—with a half-laugh—and say: "The angels sent their haloes in a sandal-wood box to be made into a woman—and it was you!"
"If you have anything to say for yourself, say it quickly!" said Miss Betty.
"You were singing a while ago," he answered, somewhat huskily, "and I stopped on the street to listen; then I came here to be nearer. The spell of your voice—" He broke off abruptly to change the word. "The spell of the song came over me—it is my dearest favorite—so that I stood afterward in a sort of trance, only hearing again, in the silence, 'The stolen heart, like the gathered rose, will bloom but for a day!' I did not see you until you came to the bench. You must believe me: I would not have frightened you for anything in the world."
"Why are you wearing that dress?"
He laughed, and pointed to where, behind him on the ground, lay a long gray cloak, upon which had been tossed a white mask. "I'm on my way to the masquerade;" he answered, with an airy gesture in the direction of the violins. "I'm an Incroyable, you see; and I had the costume made from my recollection of a sketch of your great-uncle. I saw it a long time ago in your library."
Miss Carewe's accustomed poise was quite recovered; indeed, she was astonished to discover a distinct trace of disappointment that the brilliant apparition must offer so tame an explanation. What he said was palpably the truth; there was a masquerade that night, she knew, at the Madrillon's, a little way up Carewe Street, and her father had gone, an hour earlier, a blue domino over his arm.
The Incroyable was a person of almost magical perceptiveness; he felt the let-down immediately and feared a failure. This would not do; the attitude of tension between them must be renewed at once. "You'll forgive me?" he began, in a quickly impassioned tone. "It was only after you sang, a dream possessed me, and—"
"I cannot stay to talk with you," Miss Betty interrupted, and added, with a straightforwardness which made him afraid she would prove lamentably direct: "I do not know you."
Perhaps she remembered that already one young man had been presented to her by no better sponsor than a white cat, and had no desire to carry her unconventionality farther than that. In the present instance there was not even a kitten.
She turned toward the house, whereupon he gave a little pathetic exclamation of pleading in a voice that was masterly, being as sincere as it was musical, and he took a few leaning steps toward her, both hands outstretched.
"One moment more!" he cried, as she turned again to him. "It may be the one chance of my life to speak with you; don't deny me this.—All the rest will meet you when the happy evening comes, will dance with you, talk with you, see you when they like, listen to you sing. I, alone, must hover about the gates, or steal like a thief into your garden to hear you from a distance. Listen to me—just this once—for a moment?"
"I cannot listen," she said firmly; and stood quite still. She was now in deep shadow.
"I will not believe you merciless! You would not condemn the meanest criminal unheard!" Remembering that she was so lately from the convent, he ventured this speech in a deep, thrilling voice, only to receive a distinct shock for his pains, for she greeted it with an irrepressible, most unexpected peal of contralto laughter, and his lips parted slightly with the surprise of it.
They parted much farther in the next instant—in good truth, it may be stated of the gentleman that he was left with his mouth open—for, suddenly leaning toward him out of the shadow into the light, her face shining as a cast of tragedy, she cried in a hoarse whisper:
"Are you a murderer?"
And with that and a whisk of her skirts, and a footfall on the gravel path, she was gone. He stood dumbfounded, poor comedian, having come to play the chief role, but to find the scene taken out of his hands. Then catching the flutter of her wrap, as she disappeared into the darkness of the veranda, he cried in a loud, manly voice:
"You are a dear!"
As he came out into the street through a gap in the hedge, he paused, drawing his cloak about him, and lifted his face to the eastern moon. It was a strange face: the modelling most like what is called "Greek," save for the nose, which was a trifle too short for that, and the features showed a happy purity of outline almost childlike; the blue eyes, clear, fleckless, serenely irresponsible, with more the look of refusing responsibility than being unconscious of it; eyes without care, without prudence, and without evil. A stranger might have said he was about twenty-five and had never a thought in his life. There were some blossoms on the hedge, and he touched one lightly, as though he chucked it under the chin; he smiled upon it then, but not as he had smiled upon Miss Betty, for this was his own, the smile that came when he was alone; and, when it came, the face was no longer joyous as it had been in repose; there was an infinite patience and worn tolerance-possibly for himself. This incongruous and melancholy smile was astonishing: one looked for the laughter of a boy and found, instead, a gentle, worldly, old prelate.
Standing there, all alone in the moonlight, by the hedge, he lifted both hands high and waved them toward the house, as children wave to each other across lawns at twilight. After that he made a fantastic bow to his corrugated shadow on the board sidewalk.
"Again, you rogue!" he exclaimed aloud. Then, as he faced about and began to walk in the direction of the beckoning violins: "I wonder if Tom's kitten was better, after all!"
CHAPTER III. The Rogue's Gallery of a Father Should be Exhibited to a Daughter with Particular Care
Those angels appointed to be guardians of the merry people of Rouen, poising one night, between earth and stars, discovered a single brilliant and resonant spot, set in the midst of the dark, quiet town like a jewelled music-box on a black cloth. Sounds of revelry and the dance from the luminous spot came up through the summer stillness to the weary guardians all night long, until, at last, when a red glow stole into the east, and the dance still continued, nay, grew faster than ever, the celestial watchers found the work too heavy for their strength, and forthwith departed, leaving the dancers to their own devices; for, as everyone knows, when a dance lasts till daylight, guardian angels flee.
All night long the fiddles had been swinging away at their best; all night long the candles had shone in thin rows of bright orange through the slits of the window-blinds; but now, as the day broke over the maples, the shutters were flung open by laughing young men, and the drivers of the carriages, waiting in the dusty street, pressed up closer to the hedge, or came within and stretched themselves upon the lawn, to see the people waltzing in the daylight. The horses, having no such desires, stood with loosened check-reins, slightly twitching their upper lips, wistful of the tall grass which bordered the wooden sidewalk, though now and then one would lift his head high, sniffing the morning air and bending an earnest gaze not upon the dancers but upon the florid east.
Over the unwearied plaint of French-horn, violin, and bassoon, rose a silvery confusion of voices and laughter and the sound of a hundred footfalls in unison, while, from the open windows there issued a warm breath, heavily laden with the smell of scented fans, of rich fabrics, of dying roses, to mingle with the spicy perfume of a wild crab-tree in fullest blossom, which stood near enough to peer into the ball-room, and, like a brocaded belle herself, challenge the richest to show raiment as fine, the loveliest to look as fair and joyful in the dawn..
"Believe me, of all those endearing young charms, Which I gaze on so fondly to-day, Were to fade by to-morrow and fleet from my arms, Like fairy gifts fading away—"
So ran the violins in waltz time, so bassoon and horn to those dulcet measures; and then, with one accord, a hundred voices joined them in the old, sweet melody:
"Thou wouldst still be adored as this moment thou art, Let thy loveliness fade as it will; And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart Would entwine itself verdantly still."
And the jealous crab-tree found but one to overmatch itself in beauty: a lady who was the focus of the singing; for, by the time the shutters were flung open, there was not a young man in the room, lacked he never so greatly in music or in voice, who did not heartily desire to sing to Miss Betty Carewe, and who did not now (craning neck over partner's shoulder) seek to fix her with his glittering eye, while he sang "Oh, believe me" most directly and conspicuously at her. For that night was the beginning of Miss Betty's famous career as the belle of Rouen, and was the date from which strangers were to hear of her as "the beautiful Miss Carewe," until "beautiful" was left off, visitors to the town being supposed to have heard at least that much before they came.
There had been much discussion of her, though only one or two had caught glimpses of her; but most of the gallants appeared to agree with Crailey Gray, who aired his opinion—in an exceedingly casual way—at the little club on Main Street. Mr. Gray held that when the daughter of a man as rich as Bob Carewe was heralded as a beauty the chances were that she would prove disappointing, and, for his part, he was not even interested enough to attend and investigate. So he was going down the river in a canoe and preferred the shyness of bass to that of a girl of eighteen just from the convent, he said. Tom Vanrevel was not present on the occasion of these remarks; and the general concurrence with Crailey may be suspected as a purely verbal one, since, when the evening came, two of the most enthusiastic dancers and love-makers of the town, the handsome Tappingham Marsh and that doughty ex-dragoon and Indian fighter, stout old General Trumble, were upon the field before the enemy appeared; that is to say, they were in the new ball-room before their host; indeed, the musicians had not arrived, and Nelson, an aged negro servitor, was engaged in lighting the house.
The crafty pair had planned this early descent with a view to monopoly by right of priority, in case the game proved worth the candle, and they were leaning effectively against the little railing about the musicians' platform when Mr. Carewe entered the room with his daughter on his arm.
She was in white, touched with countless small lavender flowers; there were rows and rows of wonderful silk and lace flounces on her skirt, and her fan hung from a rope of great pearls. Ah, hideous, blue, rough cloth of the convent, unforgotten, but laid aside forever, what a chrysalis you were!
Tappingham twitched his companion's sleeve, but the General was already posing; and neither heard the words of presentation, because Miss Betty gave each of them a quick look, then smiled upon them as they bowed; the slayers were prostrated before their prey. Never were lady-killers more instantaneously tamed and subjugated by the power of the feminine eye. Will Cummings came in soon, and, almost upon his heels, Eugene Madrillon and young Frank Chenoweth. No others appeared for half an hour, and the five gentlemen looked at one another aside, each divining his own diplomacy in his fellow's eye, and each laboriously explaining to the others his own mistake in regard to the hour designated upon Mr. Carewe's cards of invitation. This small embarrassment, however, did not prevent General Trumble and young Mr. Chenoweth from coming to high words over Miss Carewe's little, gilt-filigree "programme" of dances.
It may be not untimely to remark, also, of these five redoubtable beaux, that, during the evening, it occurred to every one of them to be glad that Crailey Gray was betrothed to Fanchon Bareaud, and that he was down on the Rouen River with a canoe, a rod and a tent. Nay, without more words, to declare the truth in regard to Crailey, they felt greater security in his absence from the field than in his betrothal. As Mr. Chenoweth, a youth as open as out-of-doors, both in countenance and mind, observed plaintively to Tappingham Marsh in a corner, while they watched Miss Betty's lavender flowers miraculously swirling through a quadrille: "Crailey, you know, well, Crailey's been engaged before!" It was not Mr. Chenoweth's habit to disguise his apprehensions, and Crailey Gray would not fish for bass forever.
The same Chenoweth was he, who, maddened by the General's triumphantly familiar way of toying with Miss Betty's fan between two dances, attempted to propose to her during the sunrise waltz. Having sung "Oh, believe me" in her ear as loudly as he could, he expressed the wish—quite as loudly—"That this waltz might last for always!"
That was the seventh time it had been said to Betty during the night, and though Mr. Chenoweth's predecessors had revealed their desires in a guise lacking this prodigious artlessness, she already possessed no novel acquaintance with the exclamation. But she made no comment; her partner's style was not a stimulant to repartee. "It would be heaven," he amplified earnestly, "it would be heaven to dance with you forever—on a desert isle where the others couldn't come!" he finished with sudden acerbity as his eye caught the General's.
He proceeded, and only the cessation of the music aided Miss Carewe in stopping the declaration before it was altogether out; and at that point Frank's own father came to her rescue, though in a fashion little saving of her confusion. The elder Chenoweth was one of the gallant and kindly Southern colony that made it natural for Rouen always to speak of Miss Carewe as "Miss Betty". He was a handsome old fellow, whose hair, long moustache and imperial were as white as he was proud of them, a Virginian with the admirable Southern fearlessness of being thought sentimental. Mounting a chair with complete dignity, he lifted a glass of wine high in the air, and, when all the other glasses had been filled, proposed the health of his young hostess. He made a speech of some length, pronouncing himself quite as hopelessly in love with his old friend's daughter as all could see his own son was; and wishing her long life and prosperity, with many allusions to fragrant bowers and the Muses.
It made Miss Betty happy, but it was rather trying, too, for she could only stand with downcast eyes before them all, trembling a little, and receiving a mixed impression of Mr. Chenoweth's remarks, catching fragments here and there: "And may the blush upon that gentle cheek, lovelier than the radiant clouds at set of sun," and "Yet the sands of the hour-glass must fall, and in the calm and beauteous old age some day to be her lot, when fond mem'ry leads her back to view again the brilliant scene about her now, where stand 'fair women and brave men,' winecup in hand to do her honor, oh, may she wipe the silent tear", and the like. As the old gentleman finished, and before the toast was drunk, Fanchon Bareaud, kissing her hand to Betty, took up the song again; and they all joined in, lifting their glasses to the blushing and happy girl clinging to her father's arm:
"Thou wouldst still be adored as this moment thou art, Let thy loveliness fade as it will; And around the dear ruin, each wish of my heart, Would entwine itself verdantly still."
They were happy people who had not learned to be self-conscious enough to fear doing a pretty thing openly without mocking themselves for it; and it was a brave circle they made about Betty Carewe, the charming faces of the women and their fine furbelows, handsome men and tall, all so gay, so cheerily smiling, and yet so earnest in their welcome to her. No one was afraid to "let out" his voice; their song went full and strong over the waking town, and when it was finished the ball was over, too.
The veranda and the path to the gate became like tropic gardens, the fair colors of the women's dresses, ballooning in the early breeze, making the place seem strewn with giant blossoms. They all went away at the same time, those in carriages calling farewells to each other and to the little processions departing on foot in different directions to homes near by. The sound of the voices and laughter drew away, slowly died out altogether, and the silence of the street was strange and unfamiliar to Betty. She went to the hedge and watched the musicians, who were the last to go, until they passed from sight: little black toilsome figures, carrying grotesque black boxes. While she could still see them, it seemed to her that her ball was not quite over, and she wished to hold the least speck of it as long as she could; but when they had disappeared, she faced the truth with a deep sigh: the long, glorious night was finished indeed.
What she needed now was another girl: the two would have gone to Betty's room and danced it all over again until noon; but she had only her father. She found him smoking a Principe cigar upon the veranda, so she seated herself timidly, nevertheless with a hopeful glance at him, on the steps at his feet; and, as she did so, he looked down upon her with something more akin to geniality than anything she had ever seen in his eye before. It was not geniality itself, but might be third cousin to it. Indeed, in his way, he was almost proud of her, though he had no wish to show it. Since one was compelled to display the fact that one possessed a grown daughter, it was well that she be like this one.
They did not know each other very well, and she often doubted that they would ever become intimate. There was no sense of companionship for either in the other; she had been unable to break through his perfunctory, almost formal, manner with her; therefore, because he encouraged no af-fection in her, she felt none, and wondered why, since he was her father. She was more curious about him than interested, and, though she did not know it, she was prepared to judge him—should occasion arise—precisely as she would judge any other mere acquaintance. This morning, for the first time, she was conscious of a sense of warmth and gratitude toward him: the elaborate fashion in which he had introduced her to his friends made it appear possible that he liked her; for he had forgotten nothing, and to remember everything in this case was to be lavish, which has often the appearance of generosity.
And yet there had been a lack: some small thing she had missed, though she was not entirely sure that she identified it; but the lack had not been in her father or in anything he had done. Then, too, there was something so unexpectedly human and pleasant in his not going to bed at once, but remaining to smoke on the veranda at this hour, that she gave him credit for a little of her own excitement, innocently fancying that he, also, might feel the need of a companion with whom to talk over the brilliant passages of the night. And a moment ensued when she debated taking his hand. She was too soon glad that her intuition forbade the demonstration.
"It was all so beautiful, papa," she said, timidly. "I have no way to tell you how I thank you."
"You may do that," he replied, evenly, with no unkindness, with no kindness, either, in the level of his tone, "by never dancing again more than twice with one man in one evening."
"I think I should much prefer not, myself," she returned, lifting her head to face him gravely. "I believe if I cared to dance more than once with one, I should like to dance all of them with him."
Mr. Carewe frowned. "I trust that you discovered none last night whom you wished to honor with your entire programme?"
"No," she laughed, "not last night."
Her father tossed away his cigar abruptly "Is it too much to hope," he inquired, "that when you discover a gentleman with whom you desire to waltz all night, you will omit to mention the fact to him?"
There was a brief flash of her eye as she recalled her impulse to take his hand, but she immediately looked at him with such complete seriousness that he feared his irony had been thrown away.
"I'll remember not to mention it," she answered. "I'll tell him you told me not too."
"I think you may retire now," said Mr. Carewe, sharply.
She rose from the steps, went to the door, then turned at the threshold. "Were all your friends here, papa?"
"Do you think that every ninny who gabbled in my house last night was my friend?" he said, angrily. "There was one friend of mine, Mrs. Tanberry, who wasn't here, because she is out of town; but I do not imagine that you are inquiring about women. You mean: Was every unmarried male idiot who could afford a swallow-tailed coat and a clean pair of gloves cavorting about the place? Yes, miss, they were all here except two, and one of those is a fool, the other a knave."
"Can't I know the fool?" she asked, eagerly.
"I rejoice to find them so rare in your experience!" he retorted. "This one is out of town, though I have no doubt you will see him sufficiently often when he returns. His name is Crailey Gray, and he is to marry Fanchon Bareaud—if he remembers!"
"And the knave?"
"Is one!" Carewe shut his teeth with a venomous snap, and his whole face reddened suddenly. "I'll mention this fellow once—now," he said, speaking each word with emphasis. "His name is Vanrevel. You see that gate; you see the line of my property there: the man himself, as well as every other person in the town, remembers well that the last time I spoke to him, it was to tell him that if he ever set foot on ground of mine I'd shoot him down, and he knows, and they all know, I shall keep my word! Elsewhere, I told him that for the sake of public peace, I should ignore him. I do. You will see him everywhere; but it will not be difficult; no one will have the hardihood to present him to my daughter. The quarrel between us—" Mr. Carewe broke off for a moment, his hands clinching the arms of his chair, while he swallowed with difficulty, as though he choked upon some acrid bolus, and he was so strongly agitated by his own mention of his enemy that he controlled himself by a painful effort of his will. "The quarrel between us is political—and personal. You will remember."
"I shall remember," she answered in a rather frightened voice.
... It was long before she fell asleep. "I alone must hover about the gates or steal into your garden like a thief," the Incroyable had said. "The last time I spoke to him it was to tell him that if he ever set foot on ground of mine, I'd shoot him down!" had been her father's declaration. And Mr. Carewe had spoken with the most undeniable air of meaning what he said. Yet she knew that the Incroyable would come again.
Also, with hot cheeks pressed into her pillow, Miss Betty had identified the young man in the white hat, that dark person whose hand she had far too impetuously seized in both of hers. Aha! It was this gentleman who looked into people's eyes and stammered so sincerely over a pretty speech that you almost believed him, it was he who was to marry Fanchon Bareaud—"if he remembers!" No wonder Fanchon had been in such a hurry to get him away.... "If he remembers!" Such was that young man's character, was it? Miss Carewe laughed aloud to her pillow: for, was one to guess the reason, also, of his not having come to her ball? Had the poor man been commanded to be "out of town?"
Then, remembering the piquant and generous face of Fanchon, Betty clinched her fingers tightly and crushed the imp who had suggested the unworthy thought, crushed him to a wretched pulp and threw him out of the open window. He immediately sneaked in by the back way, for, in spite of her victory, she still felt a little sorry for poor Fanchon.
CHAPTER IV. "But Spare Your Country's Flag"
If it be true that love is the great incentive to the useless arts, the number of gentlemen who became poets for the sake of Miss Betty Carewe need not be considered extraordinary. Of all that was written of her dancing, Tom Vanrevel's lines, "I Danced with Her beneath the Lights" (which he certainly had not done when he wrote them) were, perhaps, next to Crailey Gray's in merit, though Tom burned his rhymes after reading them to Crailey. Other troubadours were not so modest, and the Rouen Journal found no lack of tuneful offering, that spring, generously print-ing all of it, even at the period when it became epidemic. The public had little difficulty in recognizing the work of Mr. Francis Chenoweth in an anonymous "Sonnet" (of twenty-three lines) which appeared in the issue following Miss Carewe's debut. Mr. Chenoweth wrote that while dancing the mazourka with a Lovely Being, the sweetest feelings of his soul, in a celestial stream, bore him away beyond control, in a seraphic dream; and he untruthfully stated that at the same time he saw her wipe the silent tear, omitting, however, to venture any explanation of the cause of her emotion. Old General Trumble boldly signed his poem in full. It was called "An Ode upon Miss C—'s Waltzing," and it began:
"When Bettina found fair Rouen's shore, And her aged father to us bore Her from the cloister neat, She waltzed upon the ball-room floor, And lightly twirled upon her feet."
Mr. Carewe was rightfully indignant, and refused to acknowledge the General's salutation at their next meeting: Trumble was fifteen years older than he.
As Crailey Gray never danced with Miss Carewe, it is somewhat singular that she should have been the inspiration of his swinging verses in waltz measure, "Heart-strings on a Violin," the sense of which was that when a violin had played for her dancing, the instrument should be shattered as wine-glasses are after a great toast. However, no one, except the author himself, knew that Betty was the subject; for Crailey certainly did not mention it to Miss Bareaud, nor to his best friend, Vanrevel.
It was to some degree a strange comradeship between these two young men; their tastes led them so often in opposite directions. They had rooms to-gether over their offices in the "Madrillon Block" on Main Street, and the lights shone late from their windows every night in the year. Sometimes that would mean only that the two friends were talking, for they never reached a silent intimacy, but, even after several years of companionship, were rarely seen together when not in interested, often eager, conversation, so that people wondered what in the world they still found to say to each other. But many a night the late-shining lamp meant that Tom sat alone, with a brief or a book, or wooed the long hours with his magical guitar. For he never went to bed until the other came home.
And if daylight came without Crailey, Vanrevel would go out, yawning mightily, to look for him; and when there was no finding him, Tom would come back, sleepless, to the day's work. Crailey was called "peculiar" and he explained, with a kind of jovial helplessness, that he was always prepared for the unexpected in himself, nor did such a view detract from his picturesqueness to his own perusal of himself; though it was not only to himself that he was interesting. To the vision of the lookers-on in Rouen, quiet souls who hovered along the walls at merry-makings and cheerfully counted themselves spectators at the play, Crailey Gray held the centre of the stage and was the chief comedian of the place. Wit, poet, and scapegrace, the small society sometimes seemed the mere background set for his performances, spectacles which he, also, enjoyed, and from the best seat in the house; for he was not content as the actor, but must be the Prince in the box as well.
His friendship for Tom Vanrevel was, in a measure, that of the vine for the oak. He was full of levities at Tom's expense, which the other bore with a grin of sympathetic comprehension, or, at long intervals, returned upon Crailey with devastating effect. Vanrevel was the one steadying thing in his life, and, at the same time, the only one of the young men upon whom he did not have an almost mesmeric influence. In good truth, Crailey was the ringleader in all the devilries of the town. Many a youth swore to avoid the roisterer's company for all time, and, within two hours of the vow, found himself, flagon in hand, engaged in a bout that would last the night, with Mr. Gray out-bumpering the hardiest, at the head of the table. And, the next morning, the fevered, scarlet-eyed perjurer might creep shaking to his wretched tasks, only to behold the cause of his folly and headache tripping merrily along the street, smiling, clean-shaven, and fresh as a dew-born primrose, with, perchance, two or three of the prettiest girls in town at his elbow to greet his sallies with approving laughter.
Crailey had been so long in the habit of following every impulse, no matter how mad, that he enjoyed an almost perfect immunity from condemnation, and, whatever his deeds, Rouen had learned to say, with a chuckle, that it was "only Crailey Gray again." But his followers were not so privileged. Thus, when Mr. Gray, who in his libations sometimes developed the humor of an urchin, went to the Pound at three in the morning of New Year's Day, hung sleigh-bells about the necks of the cattle and drove them up and down the streets, himself hideously blowing a bass horn from the back of a big brown steer, those roused from slumber ceased to rage, and accepted the exploit as a rare joke, on learning that it was "only Crailey Gray;" but the unfortunate young Chenoweth was heavily frowned upon and properly upbraided because he had followed in the wake of the bovine procession, mildly attempting to play upon a flageolet.
Crailey never denied a folly nor defended an escapade. The latter was always done for him, because he talked of his "graceless misdoings" (so he was wont, smilingly, to call them) over cups of tea in the afternoons with old ladies, lamenting, in his musical voice, the lack of female relatives to guide him. He was charmingly attentive to the elderly women, not from policy, but because his manner was uncontrollably chivalrous; and, ever a gallant listener, were the speaker young, old, great or humble, he never forgot to catch the last words of a sentence, and seldom suffered for a reply, even when he had drowsed through a question. Moreover, no one ever heard him speak a sullen word, nor saw him wear a brow of depression. The single creed to which he was constant was that of good cheer; he was the very apostle of gayety, preaching it in parlor and bar; and made merry friends with battered tramps and homeless dogs in the streets at night.
Now and then he would spend several days in the offices of Gray & Vanrevel, Attorneys and Counsellors-at-Law, wearing an air of unassailable virtue; though he did not far overstate the case when he said, "Tom does all the work and gives me all the money not to bother him when he's getting up a case."
The working member of the firm got up cases to notable effect, and few lawyers in the State enjoyed having Tom Vanrevel on the other side. There was nothing about him of the floridity prevalent at that time; he withered "oratory" before the court; he was the foe of jury pathos; and, despising noise and the habitual voice-dip at the end of a sentence, was, nevertheless, at times an almost fearfully effective orator. So, by degrees the firm of Gray & Vanrevel, young as it was, and in spite of the idle apprentice, had grown to be the most prosperous in the district. For this eminence Crailey was never accused of assuming the credit. Nor did he ever miss an opportunity of making known how much he owed to his partner. What he owed, in brief, was everything. How well Vanrevel worked was demonstrated every day, but how hard he worked, only Crailey knew. The latter had grown to depend upon him for even his political beliefs, and lightly followed his partner into Abolitionism; though that was to risk unpopularity, bitter hatred, and worse. Fortunately, on certain occasions, Vanrevel had made himself (if not his creed) respected, at least so far that there was no longer danger of mob-violence for an Abolitionist in Rouen. He was a cool-headed young man ordinarily, and possessed of an elusive forcefulness not to be trifled with, though he was a quiet man, and had what they called a "fine manner." And, not in the latter, but in his dress, there was an echo of the Beau, which afforded Mr. Gray a point of attack for sallies of wit; there was a touch of the dandy about Vanrevel; he had a large and versatile wardrobe, and his clothes always fit him not only in line but in color; even women saw how nobly they were fashioned.
These two young men were members of a cheerful band, who feasted, laughed, wrangled over politics, danced, made love, and sang terrible chords on summer evenings, together, as young men will. Will Cummings, editor of the Rouen Journal, was one of these; a tall, sallow man, very thin, very awkward and very gentle. Mr. Cummings proved himself always ready with a loud and friendly laugh for the poorest joke in the world, his countenance shining with such kindness that no one ever had the heart to reproach him with the evils of his journalistic performances, or for the things he broke when he danced. Another was Tappingham Marsh, an exceedingly handsome person, somewhat languid in appearance, dainty in manner with women, offhand with men; almost as reckless as Crailey, and often the latter's companion and assistant in dissipation. Young Francis Chenoweth never failed to follow both into whatever they planned; he was short and pink, and the uptilt of his nose was coherent with the appealing earnest-ness which was habitual with him. Eugene Madrillon was the sixth of these intimates; a dark man, whose Latin eyes and color advertised his French ancestry as plainly as his emotionless mouth and lack of gesture betrayed the mingling of another strain.
All these, and others of the town, were wont to "talk politics" a great deal at the little club on Main Street and all were apt to fall foul of Tom Vanrevel or Crailey Gray before the end of any discussion. For those were the days when they twisted the Lion's tail in vehement and bitter earnest; when the eagle screamed in mixed figures; when few men knew how to talk, and many orated; when party strife was savagely personal; when intolerance was called the "pure fire of patriotism;" when criticism of the existing order of things surely incurred fiery anathema and black invective; and brave was he, indeed, who dared to hint that his country, as a whole and politically, did lack some two or three particular virtues, and that the first step toward obtaining them would be to help it to realize their absence.
This latter point-of-view was that of the firm of Gray & Vanrevel, which was a unit in such matters. Crailey did most of the talking—quite beautifully, too—and both had to stand against odds in many a sour argument, for they were not only Abolitionists, but opposed the attitude of their country in its difficulty with Mexico; and, in common with other men of the time who took their stand, they had to grow accustomed to being called Disloyal Traitors, Foreign Toadies, Malignants, and Traducers of the Flag. Tom had long been used to epithets of this sort, suffering their sting in quiet, and was glad when he could keep Crailey out of worse employment than standing firm for an unpopular belief.
There was one place to which Vanrevel, seeking his friend and partner, when the latter did not come home at night, could not go; this was the Tower Chamber, and it was in that mysterious apartment of the Carewe cupola that Crailey was apt to be deeply occupied when he remained away until daylight. Strange as it appears, Mr. Gray maintained peculiar relations of intimacy with Robert Carewe, in spite of the feud between Carewe and his own best friend. This intimacy, which did not necessarily imply any mutual fondness (though Crailey seemed to dislike nobody), was betokened by a furtive understanding, of a sort, between them. They held brief, earnest conversations on the street, or in corners when they met at other people's houses, always speaking in voices too low to be overheard; and they exercised a mysterious symbolism, somewhat in the manner of fellow members of a secret society: they had been observed to communicate across crowded rooms, by lifted eyebrow, nod of head, or a surreptitious turn of the wrist: so that those who observed them knew that a question had been asked and answered.
It was noticed, also, that there were five other initiates to this masonry: Eugene Madrillon, the elder Chenoweth, General Trumble, Tappingham Marsh, and Jefferson Bareaud. Thus, on the afternoon following Miss Betty's introduction to Rouen's favorite sons and daughters, Mr. Carewe, driving down Main Street, held up one forefinger to Madrillon as he saw the young man turning in at the club. Eugene nodded gravely, and, as he went in, discovering Marsh, the General, and others, listening to Mr. Gray's explanation of his return from the river with no fish, stealthily held up one finger in his turn. Trumble replied with a wink, Tappingham nodded, but Crailey slightly shook his head. Marsh and the General started with surprise, and stared incredulously. That Crailey should shake his head! If the signal had been for a church-meeting they might have understood.
Mr. Gray's conduct was surprising two other people at about the same time: Tom Vanrevel and Fanchon Bareaud; the former by his sudden devotion to the law; the latter by her sudden devotion to herself. In a breath, he became almost a domestic character. No more did he spend his afternoons between the club and the Rouen House bar, nor was his bay mare so often seen stamping down the ground about Mrs. McDougal's hitching-post while McDougal was out on the prairie with his engineering squad. The idle apprentice was at his desk, and in the daytime he displayed an aversion for the streets, which was more than his partner did, for the industrious Tom, undergoing quite as remarkable an alteration of habit, became, all at once, little better than a corner-loafer. His favorite lounging-place was a small drug-store where Carewe Street debouched upon Main; nevertheless, so adhesive is a reputation once fastened, his air of being there upon business deceived everyone except Mr. Gray.
Miss Bareaud was even happier than she was astonished (and she was mightily astonished) to find her betrothed developing a taste for her society alone. Formerly, she had counted upon the gayeties of her home to keep Crailey near her; now, however, he told her tenderly he wished to have her all to himself. This was not like him, but Fanchon did not question; and it was very sweet to her that he began to make it his custom to come in by a side gate and meet her under an apple-tree in the dusk, where they would sit quietly together through the evening, listening to the noise and laughter from the lighted house.
That house was the most hospitable in Rouen. Always cheerfully "full of company," as they said, it was the sort of house where a carpet-dance could be arranged in half an hour; a house with a sideboard like the widow's cruse; the young men always found more. Mrs. Bareaud, a Southerner, loving to persuade the visitor that her home was his, not hers, lived only for her art, which was that of the table. Evil cooks, taking service with her, became virtuous, dealt with nectar and ambrosia, and grew fit to pander to Olympus, learning of their mistress secrets to make the ill-disposed as genial gods ere they departed. Mr. Bareaud at fifty had lived so well that he gave up walking, which did not trouble him; but at sixty he gave up dancing, which did trouble him. His only hope, he declared, was in Crailey Gray's promise to invent for him: a concave partner.
There was a thin, quizzing shank of a son, Jefferson, who lived upon quinine, ague and deviltry; and there were the two daughters, Fanchon and Virginia. The latter was three years older than Fanchon, as dark as Fanchon was fair, though not nearly so pretty: a small, good-natured, romping sprite of a girl, who had handed down the heart and hand of Crailey Gray to her sister with the best grace in the world. For she had been the heroine of one of Mr. Gray's half-dozen or so most serious affairs, and, after a furious rivalry with Mr. Carewe, the victory was generally conceded to Crailey. His triumph had been of about a fort-night's duration when Fanchon returned from St. Mary's; and, with the advent of the younger sister, the elder, who had decided that Crailey was the incomparable she had dreamed of since infancy, was generously allowed to discover that he was not that vision—that she had fallen in love with her own idea of him; whereas Fanchon cared only that he be Crailey Gray, whatever kind of vision that was. And Fanchon discovered that it was a great many kinds.
The transfer was made comfortably, with nice judgment of a respectable interregnum, and to the greater happiness of each of the three young people; no objection ensuing from the easy-going parents, who were devotedly fond of Crailey, while the town laughed and said it was only that absurd Crailey Gray again. He and Virginia were the best of friends, and accepted their new relation with a preposterous lack of embarrassment.
To be in love with Crailey became Fanchon's vocation; she spent all her time at it, and produced a blurred effect upon strangers. The only man with whom she seemed quite alive was Vanrevel: a little because Tom talked of Crailey, and a great deal because she could talk of Crailey to Tom; could tell him freely, as she could tell no one else, how wonderful Crailey was, and explain to him her lover's vagaries on the ground that it was a necessity of geniuses to be unlike the less gifted. Nor was she alone in suspecting Mr. Gray of genius: in the first place, he was so odd; in the second, his poems were "already attracting more than local attention," as the Journal remarked, generously, for Crailey had ceased to present his rhymes to that valuable paper. Ay! Boston, no less, was his mart.
He was rather radical in his literary preferences, and hurt the elder Chenoweth's feelings by laughing heartily at some poems of the late Lord Byron; offended many people by disliking the style of Sir Edward Bulwer, and even refused to admit that James Fenimore Cooper was the greatest novelist that ever lived. But these things were as nothing compared with his unpatriotic defence of Charles Dickens. Many Americans had fallen into a great rage over the vivacious assault upon the United States in "Martin Chuzzlewit;" nevertheless, Crailey still boldly hailed him (as everyone had heretofore agreed) the most dexterous writer of his day and the most notable humorist of any day. Of course the Englishman had not visited and thoroughly studied such a city as Rouen, Crailey confessed, twinklingly; but, after all, wasn't there some truth in "Martin Chuzzlewit?" Mr. Dickens might have been far from a clear understanding of our people; but didn't it argue a pretty ticklish vanity in ourselves that we were so fiercely resentful of satire; and was not this very heat over "Martin Chuzzlewit" a confirmation of one of the points the book had presented against us? General Trumble replied to this suggestion with a personal one to the effect that a man capable of saying a good word for so monstrous a slander, that a man, sir, capable of declaring his native country to be vain or sensitive ought to be horsewhipped, and at this Crailey laughed consumedly.
Trumble retorted with the names of Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr. "And if it comes to a war with these Greasers," he spluttered apoplectically, "and it is coming, mighty soon, we'll find Mr. Gray down in Mexico, throwing mud on the Stars and Stripes and cheering for that one-legged horse-thief, Santa Anna! Anything to seek out something foolish amongst your own people!"
"Don't have to seek far, sometimes, General," murmured Crailey, from the depths of the best chair in the club, whereupon Trumble, not trusting himself to answer, went out to the street.
And yet, before that same evening was over, the General had shed honest tears of admiration and pity for Crailey Gray; and Miss Betty saw her Incroyable again, for that night (the second after the Carewe dance) Rouen beheld the great warehouse tire.
CHAPTER V. Nero not the Last Violinist of his Kind
Miss Carewe was at her desk, writing to Sister Cecilia, whom she most loved of all the world, when the bells startled her with their sudden clangor. The quill dropped from her hand; she started to her feet, wide-eyed, not understanding; while the whole town, drowsing peacefully a moment ago, resounded immediately with a loud confusion. She ran to the front door and looked out, her heart beating wildly.
The western sky was touched with a soft rose-color, which quickly became a warm glow, fluctuated, and, in the instant, shot up like the coming of a full Aurora. Then through the broken foliage of the treetops could be seen the orange curls of flames, three-quarters of a mile away though they were.
People, calling loudly that "it was Carewe's warehouses," were running down the street. From the stable, old Nelson, on her father's best horse, came galloping, and seeing the white figure in the doorway, cried out in a quavering voice, without checking his steed.
"I goin' tell yo' pa, Miss Betty, he in de kentry on lan' bus'ness. Go back in de house, Missy!"
The other servants, like ragged sketches in the night, flitted by, with excited ejaculations, to join the runners, and Miss Betty followed them across the dew-strewn turf in her night slippers, but at the gate she stopped.
From up the street came the sound of a bell smaller than those of the churches and courthouse, yet one that outdid all others in the madness of its appeal to clear the way. It was borne along by what seemed at first an indefinite black mass, but which—as the Aurora grew keener, producing even here a faint, yellow twilight—resolved itself into a mob of hoarsely-shouting men and boys, who were running and tugging at ropes, which drew along three extraordinary vehicles. They came rapidly down the street and passed Miss Betty with a hubbub and din beyond all understanding; one line of men, most of them in red shirts and oil-cloth helmets, at a dead run with the hose-cart; a second line with the hand-engine; the third dragging the ladder-wagon. One man was riding, a tall, straight gentleman in evening clothes and without a hat, who stood precariously in the hose-cart, calling in an annoyed tone through a brazen trumpet. Miss Betty recognized him at once; it was he who caught her kitten; and she thought that if she had been Fanchon Bareaud she must have screamed a warning, for his balance appeared a thing of mere luck, and, if he fell, he would be trampled under foot and probably run over by the engine. But, happily (she remembered), she was not Fanchon Bareaud!
Before, behind, and beside the Department, raced a throng of boys, wild with the joy experienced by their species when property is being handsomely destroyed; after them came panting women, holding their sides and gasping with the effort to keep up with the flying procession.
Miss Betty trembled, for she had never seen the like in her life; she stood close to the hedge and let them go by; then she turned in after them and ran like a fleet young deer. She was going to the fire.
Over all the uproar could be heard the angry voice through the trumpet, calling the turns of the streets to the men in the van, upbraiding them and those of the other two companies impartially; and few of his hearers denied the chief his right to express some chagrin; since the Department (organized a half-year, hard-drilled, and this its first fire worth the name) was late on account of the refusal of the members to move until they had donned their new uniforms; for the uniforms had arrived from Philadelphia two months ago, and tonight offered the first opportunity to display them in public.
"Hail Vanrevel!" panted Tappingham Marsh to Eugene Madrillon, as the two, running in the van of the "Hose Company," splattered through a mud-puddle. "You'd think he was Carewe's only son and heir instead of his worst enemy. Hark to the man!"
"I'd let it burn, if I were he," returned the other.
"It was all Crailey's fault," said Tappingham, swinging an arm free to wipe the spattered mud from his face. "He swore he wouldn't budge without his uniform, and the rest only backed him up; that was all. Crailey said Carewe could better afford to lose his shanties than the overworked Department its first chance to look beautiful and earnest. Tom asked him why he didn't send for a fiddle," Marsh finished with a chuckle.
"Carewe might afford to lose a little, even a warehouse or two, if only out of what he's taken from Crailey and the rest of us, these three years!"
"Taken from Vanrevel, you mean. Who doesn't know where Crailey's—Here's Main Street; look out for the turn!"
They swung out of the thick shadows of Carewe Street into full view of the fire, and their faces were illuminated as by sunrise.
The warehouses stood on the river-bank, at the foot of the street, just south of the new "covered bridge." There were four of them, huge, bare-sided buildings; the two nearer the bridge of brick, the others of wood, and all of them rich with stores of every kind of river-merchandise and costly freight: furniture that had voyaged from New England down the long coast, across the Mexican Gulf, through the flat Delta, and had made the winding journey up the great river a thousand miles, and almost a thousand more, following the greater and lesser tributaries; cloth from Connecticut that had been sold in Philadelphia, then carried over mountains and through forests by steam, by canal, by stage, and six-mule freight-wagons, to Pittsburg, down the Ohio, and thence up to Rouen on the packet; Tennessee cotton, on its way to Massachusetts and Rhode Island spindles, lay there beside huge mounds of raw wool from Illinois, ready to be fed to the Rouen mill; dates and nuts from the Caribbean Sea; lemons from groves of the faraway tropics; cigars from the Antilles; tobacco from Virginia and Kentucky; most precious of all, the great granary of the farmers' wheat from the level fields at home; and all the rich stores and the houses that held them, as well as the wharves upon which they had been landed, and the steamers that brought them up the Rouen River, belonged to Robert Carewe.
That it was her father's property which was imperilled attested to the justification of Miss Betty in running to a fire; and, as she followed the crowd into Main Street, she felt a not unpleasant proprietary interest in the spectacle. Very opposite sensations animated the breast of the man with the trumpet, who was more acutely conscious than any other that these were Robert Carewe's possessions which were burning so handsomely. Nor was he the only one among the firemen who ground his teeth over the folly of the uniforms; for now they could plainly see the ruin being wrought, the devastation threatened. The two upper stories of the southernmost warehouse had swathed themselves in one great flame; the building next on the north, also of frame, was smoking heavily; and there was a wind from the southwest, which, continuing with the fire unchecked, threatened the town itself. There was work for the Volunteer Brigade that night.
They came down Main Street with a rush, the figure of their chief swaying over them on his high perch, while their shouting was drowned in the louder roar of greeting from the crowd, into which they plunged as a diver into the water, swirls and eddies of people marking the wake. A moment later a section of the roof of the burning warehouse fell in, with a sonorous and reverberating crash.
The "Engine Company" ran the force-pump out to the end of one of the lower wharves; two lines of pipe were attached; two rows of men mounted the planks for the pumpers, and, at the word of command, began the up-and-down of the hand-machine with admirable vim. Nothing happened; the water did not come; something appeared to be wrong with the mechanism. As everyone felt the crucial need of haste, nothing could have been more natural than that all the members of the "Engine Company" should simultaneously endeavor to repair the defect; therefore ensued upon the spot a species of riot which put the engine out of its sphere of usefulness.
In the meantime, fifty or sixty men and boys who ran with the machines, but who had no place in their operation, being the Bucket Brigade, had formed a line and were throwing large pails of water in the general direction of the southernmost warehouse, which it was now impossible to save; while the gentlemen of the "Hook-and-Ladder Company," abandoning their wagons, and armed with axes, heroically assaulted the big door of the granary, the second building, whence they were driven by the exasperated chief, who informed them that the only way to save the wheat was to save the building. Crailey Gray, one of the berated axemen, remained by the shattered door after the others had gone, and, struck by a sudden thought, set his hand upon the iron latch and opened the door by this simple process. It was not locked. Crailey leaned against the casement and laughed with his whole soul and body.
Meanwhile, by dint of shouting in men's ears when near them, through the trumpet when distant, tearing axes from their hands, imperiously gesticulating to subordinate commanders, and lingering in no one spot for more than a second, Mr. Vanrevel reduced his forces to a semblance of order in a remarkably short time, considering the confusion into which they had fallen.
The space between the burning warehouse and that next it was not more than fifty feet in width, but fifty feet so hot no one took thought of entering there; an area as discomfiting in appearance as it was beautiful with the thick rain of sparks and firebrands that fell upon it. But the chief had decided that this space must be occupied, and more: must be held, since it was the only point of defence for the second warehouse. The roof of this building would burn, which would mean the destruction of the warehouse, unless it could be mounted, because the streams of water could not play upon it from the ground, nor, from the ladders, do much more than wet the projecting eaves. It was a gable roof, the eaves twenty feet lower on the south side than on the north, where the ladders could not hope to reach them. Vanrevel swung his line of bucketeers round to throw water, not upon the flames, but upon the ladder-men.
Miss Carewe stood in the crowd upon the opposite side of the broad street. Even there her cheeks were uncomfortably hot, and sometimes she had to brush a spark from her shoulder, though she was too much excited to mind this. She was watching the beautiful fiery furnace between the north wall of the burning warehouse and the south wall of its neighbor, the fifty feet brilliant and misty with vaporous rose-color, dotted with the myriad red stars, her eyes shining with the reflection of their fierce beauty. She saw how the vapors moved there, like men walking in fire, and she was vaguely recalling Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, when, over the silhouetted heads of the crowd before her, a long black ladder rose, wobbled, tilted crazily, then lamely advanced and ranged itself against the south wall of the second warehouse, its top rung striking ten feet short of the eaves. She hoped that no one had any notion of mounting that ladder.
A figure appeared upon it immediately, that of a gentleman, bareheaded and in evening dress, with a brass trumpet swinging from a cord about his shoulders; the noise grew less; the shouting died away, and the crowd became almost silent, as the figure, climbing slowly drew up above their heads. Two or three rungs beneath, came a second—a man in helmet and uniform. The clothes of both men, drenched by the bucketeers, clung to them, steaming. As the second figure mounted, a third appeared; but this was the last, for the ladder was frail, and sagged toward the smoking wall with the weight of the three.
The chief, three-fourths of the way to the top, shouted down a stifled command, and a short grappling-ladder, fitted at one end with a pair of spiked iron hooks, was passed to him. Then he toiled upward until his feet rested on the third rung from the top; here he turned, setting his back to the wall, lifted the grappling-ladder high over his head so that it rested against the eaves above him, and brought it down sharply, fastening the spiked hooks in the roof. As the eaves projected fully three feet, this left the grappling-ladder hanging that distance out from the wall, its lowest rung a little above the level of the chief's shoulders.
Miss Betty drew in her breath with a little choked cry. There was a small terraced hill of piled-up packing-boxes near her, possession of which had been taken by a company of raggamuffinish boys, and she found herself standing on the highest box and sharing the summit with these questionable youths, almost without noting her action in mounting thither, so strained was the concentration of her attention upon the figure high up in the rose-glow against the warehouse wall. The man, surely, surely, was not going to trust himself to that bit of wooden web hanging from the roof! Where was Miss Bareaud that she permitted it? Ah, if Betty had been Fanchon and madwoman enough to have accepted this madman, she would have compelled him to come down at once, and thereafter would lock him up in the house whenever the bells rang!
But the roof was to be mounted or Robert Carewe's property lost. Already little flames were dancing up from the shingles, where firebrands had fallen, their number increasing with each second. So Vanrevel raised his arms, took a hard grip upon the lowest rung of the grappling-ladder and tried it with his weight; the iron hooks bit deeper into the roof; they held. He swung himself out into the air with nothing beneath him, caught the rung under his knee, and for a moment hung there while the crowd withheld from breathing; then a cloud of smoke, swirling that way, made him the mere ghostly nucleus of himself, blotted him out altogether, and, as it rose slowly upward, showed the ladder free and empty, so that at first there was an instant when they thought that he had fallen. But, as the smoke cleared, there was the tall figure on the roof.
It was an agile and daring thing to do, and the man who did it was mightily applauded. The cheering bothered him, however, for he was trying to make them understand, below, what would happen to the "Engine Company" in case the water was not sent through the lines directly; and what he said should be done to the engineers included things that would have blanched the cheek of the most inventive Spanish Inquisitor that ever lived.
Miss Betty made a gesture as if to a person within whispering distance. "Your coat is on fire," she said in an ordinary conversational tone, without knowing she had spoken aloud, and Mr. Vanrevel, more than one hundred feet away, seemed particularly conscious of the pertinence of her remark. He removed the garment with alacrity, and, for the lack of the tardy water, began to use it as a flail upon the firebrands and little flames about him; the sheer desperate best of a man in a rage, doing what he could when others failed him. Showers of sparks fell upon him; the smoke was rising everywhere from the roof and the walls below; and, growing denser and denser, shrouded him in heavy veils, so that, as he ran hither and thither, now visible, now unseen, stamping and beating and sweeping away the brands that fell, he seemed but the red and ghostly caricature of a Xerxes, ineffectually lashing the sea. They were calling to him imploringly to come down, in heaven's name to come down!
The second man had followed to the top of the ladder against the wall, and there he paused, waiting to pass up the line of hose when the word should come that the force-pump had been repaired; but the people thought that he waited because he was afraid to trust himself to the grappling-ladder. He was afraid, exceedingly afraid; though that was not why he waited; and he was still chuckling over the assault of the axes.
His situation had not much the advantage of that of the chief: his red shirt might have been set with orange jewels, so studded it was with the flying sparks; and, a large brand dropping upon his helmet, he threw up his hand to dislodge it and lost the helmet. The great light fell upon his fair hair and smiling face, and it was then that Miss Betty recognized the Incroyable of her garden.
CHAPTER VI. The Ever Unpractical Feminine
It was an investigating negro child of tender years, who, possessed of a petty sense of cause and effect, brought an illuminative simplicity to bear upon the problem of the force-pump; and a multitudinous agitation greeted his discovery that the engineers had forgotten to connect their pipes with the river.
This naive omission was fatal to the second warehouse; the wall burst into flame below Crailey Gray, who clung to the top of the ladder, choking, stifled, and dizzily fighting the sparks that covered him, yet still clutching the nozzle of the hose-line they had passed to him. When the stream at last leaped forth, making the nozzle fight in his grasp, he sent it straight up into the air and let the cataract fall back upon himself and upon the two men beneath him on the ladder.
There came a moment of blessed relief; and he looked out over the broad rosy blur of faces in the street, where no one wondered more than he how the water was to reach the roof. Suddenly he started, wiped his eyes with his wet sleeve, and peered intently down from under the shading arm. His roving glance crossed the smoke and flame to rest upon a tall, white figure that stood, full-length above the heads of the people, upon a pedestal wrought with the grotesque images of boys: a girl's figure, still as noon, enrapt, like the statue of some young goddess for whom were made these sacrificial pyres. Mr. Gray recognized his opportunity.
A blackened and unrecognizable face peered down from the eaves, and the voice belonging to it said, angrily: "Why didn't they send up that line before they put the water through it?"
"Never mind, Tom," answered Crailey cheerfully, "I'll bring it up." "You can't; I'll come down for it. Don't be every kind of a fool!"
"You want a monopoly, do you?" And Crailey, calling to Tappingham Marsh, next below him, to come higher, left the writhing nozzle in the latter's possession, swung himself out upon the grappling-ladder, imitating the chief's gymnastics, and immediately, one hand grasping the second rung, one knee crooked over the lowest, leaned head down and took the nozzle from Marsh. It was a heavy weight, and though Marsh supported the line beneath it, the great stream hurtling forth made it a difficult thing to manage, for it wriggled, recoiled and struggled as if it had been alive. Crailey made three attempts to draw himself up; but the strain was too much for his grip, and on the third attempt his fingers melted from the rung, and he swung down fearfully, hanging by his knee, but still clinging to the nozzle.