Susan Warner, 1819-1885 & Anna Warner 1824-1915, Wych Hazel (1876), Putnam's edition 1888
Wych Hazel seen by The Atlantic monthly, Volume 38, Issue 227, September 1876, pp. 368-369
"It may well be questioned whether the authors of the Wide, Wide World have added to their fame by this new novel. In the first place, the story it tells is one of no marked merit or originality, and the way in which it is told is in the highest degree crabbed and unintelligible. There is such an air of pertness about every one of the speakers, and the story is told almost entirely by means of conversations, that the reader gets the impression that all the characters are referring to jests known only to themselves, as if he were overhearing private conversations. As may be imagined, this scrappy way of writing soon becomes very tiresome from the difficulty the reader has in detecting the hidden meaning of these curt sentences. The book tells the love of Rollo for Wych Hazel, and indulges in gentle satire against parties, round dances, etc. The love-story is made obscure, Rollo's manners are called Spanish, and he is in many ways a peculiar young man. We seem to be dealing much more with notes for a novel than with the completed product."
SUSAN AND ANNA WARNER.
WYCH HAZEL. Large 12mo, cloth extra $1 75
"If more books of this order were produced, it would elevate the tastes and increase the desire for obtaining a higher order of literature." —The Critic.
"We can promise every lover of fine fiction a wholesome feast in the book." —Boston Traveller.
THE GOLD OF CHICKAREE. Large 12mo, cloth extra $1 75
"It would be impossible for these two sisters to write anything the public would not care to read." —Boston Transcript.
"The plot is fresh, and the dialogue delightfully vivacious." —Detroit Free Press.
DIANA. 12mo, cloth $1 75
"For charming landscape pictures, and the varied influences of nature, for analysis of character, and motives of action, we have of late seen nothing like it." —The Christian Register.
" 'Diana' will be eagerly read by the author's large circle of admirers, who will rise from its perusal with the feeling that it is in every prospect worthy of her reputation." —Boston Traveller.
SUSAN AND ANNA WARNER
AUTHORS OF "WIDE, WIDE WORLD," "DIANA," "THE GOLD OF CHICKAREE," ETC.
NEW YORK & LONDON
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
The Knickerbocker Press
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
CHAPTER I. MR. FALKIRK
CHAPTER II. BEGINNING A FAIRY TALE
CHAPTER III. CORNER OF A STAGE-COACH
CHAPTER IV. FELLOW-TRAVELLERS
CHAPTER V. IN THE FOG
CHAPTER VI. THE RED SQUIRREL
CHAPTER VII. SMOKE
CHAPTER VIII. THE MILL FLOOR
CHAPTER IX. CATS
CHAPTER X. CHICKAREE
CHAPTER XI. VIXEN
CHAPTER XII. AT DR. MARYLAND'S
CHAPTER XIII. THE GREY COB
CHAPTER XIV. HOLDING COURT
CHAPTER XV. TO MOSCHELOO
CHAPTER XVI. FISHING
CHAPTER XVII. ENCHANTED GROUND
CHAPTER XVIII. COURT IN THE WOODS
CHAPTER XIX. SELF-CONTROL
CHAPTER XX. BOUQUETS
CHAPTER XXI. MOONSHINE
CHAPTER XXII. A REPORT
CHAPTER XXIII. KITTY FISHER
CHAPTER XXIV. THE LOSS OF ALL THINGS
CHAPTER XXV. IN THE GERMAN
CHAPTER XXVI. IN THE ROCKAWAY
CHAPTER XXVII. THE GERMAN AT OAK HILL
CHAPTER XXVIII. BREAKFAST FOR THREE
CHAPTER XXIX. JEANNIE DEANS
CHAPTER XXX. THE WILL
CHAPTER XXXI. WHOSE WILL?
CHAPTER XXXII. CAPTAIN LANCASTER'S TEAM
CHAPTER XXXIII. HITS AT CROQUET
CHAPTER XXXIV. FRIENDLY TONGUES
CHAPTER XXXV. FIGURES AND FAVOURS
CHAPTER XXXVI. THE RUNAWAY
CHAPTER XXXVII. IN A FOG
CHAPTER XXXVIII. DODGING
CHAPTER XXXIX. A COTTON MILL
CHAPTER XL. SOMETHING NEW
CHAPTER XLI. A LESSON
CHAPTER XLII. STUDY
"We may shut our eyes, but we cannot help knowing That skies are clear and grass is growing."
When one has in charge a treasure which one values greatly, and which, if once made known one is pretty sure to lose, I suppose the impulse of most men would be towards a hiding- place. So, at any rate, felt one of the men in this history. Schools had done their secluding work for a time; tutors and governors had come and gone under an almost Carthusian vow of silence, except as to their lessons; and now with seventeen years of inexperience on his hands, Mr. Falkirk's sensations were those of the man out West, who wanted to move off whenever another man came within twenty miles of him.
Thus, in the forlorn hope of a retreat which yet he knew must prove useless, Mr. Falkirk let the first March winds blow him out of town; and at this present time was snugly hid away in a remote village which nobody ever heard of, and where nobody ever came.
So far so good: Mr. Falkirk rested and took breath. Nevertheless the spring came, even there; and following close in her train, the irrepressible conflict. Whoever succeeded in running away from his duties—or his difficulties? There was a flutter of young life within doors as without, and Mr. Falkirk knew it: there were a hundred rills of music, a thousand nameless flowers to which he could not close his senses. There was a soft, indefinable stir and sweetness, that told of the breaking of Winter bonds and the coming of Summer glories; and he could not stay the progress of things in the one case more than in the other.
Mr. Falkirk had always taken care of this girl—the few years before his guardianship were too dim to look back to much. From the day when she, a suddenly orphaned child, stood frightened and alone among strangers, and he came in and took her on his knee, and bade her "be a woman, and be brave." That was his ideal of womanhood,—to that combination of strength and weakness he had tried to bring Wych Hazel.
Yet though she had grown up in Mr. Falkirk's company, she never thoroughly understood him: nature and circumstances had made him a reserved man,—and her eyes were young. Of a piece with his reserve was the peculiar fence of separation which he built up between all his own concerns and those of his ward. He was poor—she had a more than ample fortune; yet no persuading would make him live with her. Had he been rich, perhaps she might have lived with him; but as it was, unless when lodgings were the rule, they lived in separate houses; only his was always close at hand. Even when his ward was a little child, living at Chickaree with her nurses and housekeeper, Mr. Falkirk never spent a night in the house. He formally bought and paid for a tiny cottage on the premises, and there he lived: nothing done without his knowledge, nothing undone without his notice. Not a creature came or went unperceived by Mr. Falkirk. And yet this supervision was generally pleasant. As he wrought, nothing had the air of espionage—merely of care; and so I think, Wych Hazel liked it, and felt all the more free for all sorts of undertakings, secured against consequences. Sometimes, indeed, his quick insight was so astonishing to the young mischief-maker, that she was ready to cry out treachery!—and the suspected person in this case was always Gotham. Yet when she charged upon Gotham some untimely frost which had nipped her budding plans, Gotham always replied—
'No, Miss 'Azel. I trust my 'onor is sufficient in his respect.'
She and Gotham had a singular sort of league,—defensive of Mr. Falkirk, offensive towards each other. She teased him, and Gotham bore it mastiff-wise; shaking his head, and wincing, and when he could bear it no longer going off. Wych Hazel?— yes, she was that.
And how did she win her name? Well, in the first place, "the nut-browne mayd" and she were near of kin. But whether her parents, as they looked into the baby's clear dark eyes, saw there anything weird or elfish,—or whether the name 'grew,'—of that there remains no record. She had been a pretty quiet witch hitherto; but now—
"Once git a scent o' musk into a drawer, And it clings hold, like precerdents in law!"
—not Mr. Falkirk could get it out.
BEGINNING A FAIRY TALE.
'Mr. Falkirk, I must go and seek my fortune!'
Wych Hazel made this little remark, sitting on a low seat by the fire, her arms crossed over her lap.
'Wherefore?' said her guardian.
'Because I want to, sir. I have no other than a woman's reason.'
'The most potent of reasons!' said Mr. Falkirk. 'The rather, because while professing to have no root, it hath yet a dozen. How long ago did Jack show his lantern, my dear?'
'Lantern!' said the girl, rather piqued,—adding, under her breath, 'I'm going to follow—Jack or no Jack! Why, Mr. Falkirk, I never got interested a bit in a fairy tale, till I came to—"And so they set out to seek their fortune." It's my belief that I belong in a fairy tale somewhere.'
'Like enough,' said her guardian shortly.
'So you see it all fits,' said Wych Hazel, studying her future fortunes in the fire.
'My going to seek what I am sure to find.'
'That will ensure your missing what is coming to find you.'
'People in fairy tales never wait to see what will come, sir.'
'But, my dear, there is a difficulty in this case. Your fortune is made already.'
'Provokingly true, sir. But after all, Mr. Falkirk, I was not thinking of money.'
'A settlement, eh?' said Mr. Falkirk. 'My dear, when the prince is ready, the fairy will bring him.'
'Now, Mr. Falkirk,' said the girl, with her cheeks aglow, 'you know perfectly well I was not thinking of that.'
'Will you please to specify of what you were thinking, Miss Hazel?'
Miss Hazel leaned her head on her hand and reflected.
'I don't believe I can, sir. It was a kind of indefinite fortune,—a whole windfall of queer adventures and people and things.'
Mr. Falkirk at this turned round from his papers and looked at the girl. It was a pretty vision that he saw, and he regarded it somewhat steadily; with a little break of the line of the lips that yet was not merriment.
'My dear,' he said gravely, 'such birds seldom fly alone in a high wind.'
'Well, sir, never mind. Could you be ready by Thursday, Mr. Falkirk?'
'For what, Miss Hazel?'
'Dear me!' said the girl with a soft breath of impatience. 'To set out, sir. I think I shall go then, and I wanted to know if I am to have the pleasure of your company.'
'Do I look like a fairy tale?' said Mr. Falkirk.
He certainly did not! A keen eye for practical realities, a sober good sense that never lost its foothold of common ground, were further unaccompanied by the graces and charms wherewith fairy tales delight to deck their favourites. Besides which, Mr. Falkirk probably knew what his fortune was already, for the grey was abundantly mingled with the brown in his eyebrows and hair. However, to do Miss Hazel's guardian justice, if his face was not gracious, it was at least in some respects fine. A man always to be respected, easily to be loved, sat there at the table, at his papers.
As for the little 'nut-browne mayd' who studied destiny in the fire, she merely glanced up at him in answer to this appeal; and with a shake of the head as if fairy tales and he were indeed hopelessly disconnected, returned to her musings. Then suddenly burst forth—
'I am so puzzled about the colour of my new travelling dress! "Contrasts," and "harmonies," and all that stuff, belong to the pink and white people. But pink and brown—Mr. Falkirk, do you suppose I can find anything browner than myself, that will set me off, and do?—I can't travel in gold colour.'
'You want to have as much as possible the effect of a picture in a frame?'
'Not at all, sir. That is just what I want to avoid. The dress should be a part of the picture.'
'I don't doubt it will be!' said Mr. Falkirk sighing. 'Before you set out, my dear, had you not better invest your property? so that you could live upon the gathered interest if the capital should fail.'
'I thought it was invested?' said the girl, looking up.
'Only a part of it,' replied Mr. Falkirk. 'Nothing but your money.'
'Nothing but!' said Wych Hazel. 'Why what more have I, Mr. Falkirk?'
'A young life,' said her guardian,—'a young and warm heart,— good looks, an excellent constitution, a head and hands that might do much. To which I might add,—an imagination.'
'My dear Mr. Falkirk,' said the girl laughing, 'I shall want them all to pay my travelling expenses. All but the last—and that is invested already, to judge by the interest.'
He smiled, a shaded smile, such as he often wore when she danced away from his grave suggestions. He never pursued her. But when she added,
'After all, sir, investments are your affair,'—
'My dear,' he said, 'a woman's jewels are in her own keeping— unless indeed God keep them. Yet let her remember that they are not hers to have and to hold, but to have and to use; a mere life interest—nor always that.'
And then for a while silence fell.
'Will you think me very extravagant if I get a new travelling dress, sir?' the girl began again.
'I have not usually been the guardian of your wardrobe, Miss Hazel.'
'No, sir, of course; but I wanted your opinion. You gave one about my jewels. And by the way, Mr. Falkirk, won't you just tell me the list over again?'
Mr. Falkirk turned round and bent his brows upon Wych Hazel now, but without speaking.
'Well, sir?' she repeated, looking up at him, 'what are they, if you please?'
'Two brilliants of the first water,' replied Mr. Falkirk looking down into her eyes. 'To which some people add, two fine bits of sardius.'
'And which some people say are set in bronze,'—said the young lady, but with a pretty little laugh and flush.
'Where do you propose the search should begin?' said the gentleman, disregarding this display.
'At Chickaree, sir. I should go down there at once, and so start from home in proper style.'
'And your plan of operations?' pursued Mr. Falkirk.
'Perfectly simple, sir. Of two roads I should always take the most difficult, and so on—ad infinitum.'
'Perfectly simple, indeed,' said Mr. Falkirk. 'Yet it might lead to a complication. I'm afraid it would prove a Western line of travel, my dear—end in a squirrel track, and run up a tree.'
'What a lookout we shall have!' said Wych Hazel. 'But about the dress, Mr. Falkirk—you know my last one is quite new—and I do so want another!'
'Then get it,' he said with a smile. 'Though I am afraid, my dear, it is hardly in keeping. Quickear began the search in rags, and Cincerella in ashes, and the "Fair one with the golden locks" had, I think, no other adornment. Puss in boots was indeed new rigged—but Puss was only a deputy. What do you say to sending me forth in boots, to seek a fortune for you?'
An irrepressible laugh rippled forth—sweet and sound, and, oh, so heartwhole!
'Let me see,' she said; 'To-day is Monday. To-morrow I will get the dress and distract my dressmaker. And next Monday we will set out, and take Chickaree for our first stage. My dear Mr. Falkirk—most potent, grave, and reverend sir,—if you sally forth as Puss in boots, of course I shall at once turn into the Marquis of Carrabas, which would not suit your notions at all—confess!' she added, locking both hands round his arm, and flashing the brilliants before his eyes.
'Next Monday we will take the first stage for Chickaree,' said Mr. Falkirk in an unmoved manner. 'How many servants in your train, Miss Hazel?'
'None, sir. Mrs. Bywank is there already, and Mrs. Saddler can "forward" me "with care." I'll pick up a new maid by the way.'
'Will you pick up a page too? or does Dingee keep his place?'
'If he can be said to have one. O, Dingee, of course.'
'Wych Hazel,' said Mr. Falkirk from under his brows, 'what is your plan?—if you are capable of such a thing.'
'My plan is to unfold my capabilities, sir,—for your express benefit, Mr. Falkirk. We will beat the bush in every direction, and run down any game that offers.'
Mr. Falkirk turned his chair half away, and looked into the fire. Then slowly, but with every effect of expression, he repeated,—
'A creature bounced from the bush, Which made them all to laugh, "My lord," he cried, "A hare! a hare!" But it proved an Essex calf.'
'Yes,' said Wych Hazel with excellent coolness,—'men do make such little mistakes, occasionally. But this time I shall be along. Good night, sir.'
CORNER OF A STAGE COACH
'Miss Hazel!—Dear Miss Hazel!—Dear me, Miss Hazel!—here's the morning, ma'am,—and Gotham, and Mr. Falkirk!'
So far the young eyes unclosed as to see that they could see nothing—unless the flame of a wind-tossed candle,—then with a disapproving frown they closed again.
'But Miss Hazel?' remonstrated Mrs. Saddler.
'Well?' said Wych Hazel with closed eyes.
'Mr. Falkirk's dressed, ma'am.'
'What is it to me if Mr. Falkirk chooses to get up over night?'
'But the stage, ma'am!'
'The stage can wait.'
'The stage won't, Miss Hazel,' said Mrs. Saddler, earnestly. 'And Gotham says it's only a question of time whether we can catch it now.'
Something in these last words had an arousing power, for the girl laughed out.
'Mrs. Saddler, how can one wake up, with the certainty of seeing a tallow candle?'
'Dear me,' said Mrs. Saddler hurrying to light two tall sperms, 'if that's all, Miss Hazel—'
'That's not all. What's the matter with Mr. Falkirk this morning?'
'Why nothing, ma'am. Only he said you wanted to take the first stage to Chickaree.'
'Which I didn't, and don't.'
'And Gotham says,' pursued Mrs. Saddler, 'that if it is the first, ma'am, we'll save a day to get to Chickaree on Thursday.'
Whereupon, Wych Hazel sprung at once into a state of physical and mental action which nearly blew Mrs. Saddler away.
'Look,' she said, tossing the curls over her comb,—'there's my new travelling dress on the chair.'
'Another new travelling dress!' said Mrs. Saddler with upraised hands.
'And the hat ribbands match,' said Wych Hazel, 'and the gloves. And the veil is a shade lighter. Everything matches everything, and everything matches me. You never saw my match before, did you Mrs. Saddler?'
'Dear me! Miss Hazel,' said the good woman again. 'You do talk so wonderful!'
It was splendid to see her look of dismay, and amusement, and admiration, all in one, and to catch a glimpse of the other face—fun and mischief and beauty, all in one too! To put on the new dress, to fit on the new gloves,—Wych Hazel went down to Mr. Falkirk in admirable spirits.
Mr. Falkirk looked gloomy. As indeed anything might, in that hall; with the front door standing open, and one lamp burning till day should come; and the chill air streaming in. Mr. Falkirk paced up and down with the air of a man prepared for the worst. He shook Wych Hazel grimly by the hand, and she laughed out,
'How charming it is, sir? But where's breakfast?'
'Breakfast, Miss Hazel,' said her guardian solemnly, 'is never, so far as I can learn, taken by people setting out to seek their fortune. It is generally supposed that such people rarely have breakfast at all.'
'Very well, sir,—I am ready,'—and in another minute they were on their way, passing through the street of the little village, and then out on the open road, until after a half- hour's drive they entered another small settlement and drew up before its chief inn. Bustle enough here,—lamps in the hall and on the steps; lamps in the parlours; lamps running up and down the yards and road and dimly disclosing the outlines of a thorough bred stage coach and four horses, with the various figures pertaining thereto. Steadily the dawn came creeping up; the morning air—raw and damp—floated off the horses' tails, and flickered the lights, and even handled Wych Hazel's new veil. I think nothing but the new travelling dress kept her from shivering, as they went up the inn steps. People seeking their fortunes may at least want their breakfast.
But Mr. Falkirk was perverse. As they entered the hall, a waiter threw open the door into the long breakfast room— delicious with its fire and lights and coffee—(neither did the voices sound ill), but Mr. Falkirk stopped short.
'Is that the only fire you've got? I want breakfast in a private room.'
Now Mr. Falkirk's tone was sometimes one that nobody would think of answering in words,—of course, the waiter could do nothing but wheel about and open another door next to the first.
'Ah!' Mr. Falkirk said with immense satisfaction, as they stepped in.
'Ah!'—repeated his ward rather mockingly. 'Mr. Falkirk, this room is cold.'
Mr. Falkirk took the poker and gave the fire such a punch that it must have blazed uninterruptedly for half a day after.
'Cold, my dear?' he said beamingly—'no one can be cold long before such a fire as that. And breakfast will be here in a moment. If it comes before I get back, don't wait for me. How well your dress looks!'
'And I?—Mr. Falkirk,' said Wych Hazel.
'Why that's a matter of taste, my dear, of course. Some people you know are partial to black eyes—which yours are not. Others again—Ah, here is breakfast,—Now my dear, eat as much as you can,—you know we may not have any breakfast to-morrow. On a search after fortune, you never can tell.'
And helping her to an extraordinary quantity of everything on the tray, Mr. Falkirk at once went off and left her to dispose of it all alone. And of course he went straight into the next room. Didn't she know he would?—and didn't she hear the duo that greeted him?—'What, Mr. Falkirk!'—'Sir, your most obedient!'—and her guardian's double reply—'Back again, eh?'— and 'Your most obedient, Mr. Kingsland.' Wych Hazel felt provoked enough not to eat another mouthful. Then up came the stage, rumbling along to the front door; and as it came, in rushed Mr. Falkirk, poured out a cup of scalding coffee and swallowed it without a moment's hesitation.
'Coach, sir!' said the waiter opening the door.
'Coach, my dear?' repeated her guardian, taking her arm and whisking her down the hall and into the stage, before the passengers in the long room could have laid down their knives.
'What is the use of being in such a hurry, Mr. Falkirk?' she said at last; much tried at being tossed gently into the stage like a brown parcel—(which to be sure she was, but that made no difference).
'My dear,' said Mr. Falkirk, solemnly, "there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.' "
And with that he drew off his glove, leaned back, and passed his hand over his brow with the air of a man who had in some shape achieved success.
By this time the stream of passengers began to pour forth; and the coach creaked and swung to and fro, as trunk after trunk and man after man found their way up to the roof. Then the door was flung open, and other passengers tumbled in, the lantern flashing dimly upon their faces and coats. Three and three more,—and another, but his progress was stayed.
'Not in here, sir,' said Mr. Falkirk politely, 'I have paid for three seats.'
'There ain't another seat,' says the driver,—'and he ain't a big man, sir—guess maybe you'll let him have a corner—we'll make it all right, sir.' He had a corner,—and so did our heroine! The new dress! Never mind; the sooner this went the sooner she would get another. And they rolled off, sweetly and silently, upon the country road. The morning was lovely. Light scarfs of fog floated about the mountain tops, light veils of cloud just mystified the sky; the tree-tops glittered with dew, the birds flew in and out; and through an open corner of her leathern curtain Wych Hazel peered out, gazing at the new world wherein she was going to seek her fortune.
'Spend the Summer at Chickaree, Mr. Falkirk?' said a voice from the further end of the coach. Wych Hazel drew in her head and her attention, and sat back to listen.
'I did not say I was going there,' said her guardian dryly.
'Two and two make four, my good sir. There's not even a sign of a place of entertainment between Stone Bridge and Crocus, and Stone Bridge you have confessed to.'
'You consider places of entertainment among the essentials then?'
'Why, in some cases,' said the gentleman, with a suspicious glance at Wych Hazel's brown veil.
'How long is it since you were there, Mr. Falkirk?' inquired Mr. Kingsland's next neighbour.
The speaker was a younger man than Mr. Kingsland, and whereas that gentleman was a dandy, this one's dress was just one remove from that, and therefore faultless. About his face, so far off as the other end of the stage, there seemed nothing remarkable; it was grave, rather concise in its indications; but the voice prepared you for what a smile declared,—a nature joyous and unembittered; a spirit pure and honest and keen. Even Wych Hazel's guardian softened at his look.
'Pray, Mr. Falkirk?' said the other stranger, 'what is supposed to be the origin of the word "veil"?'
'I never heard,' said Mr. Falkirk dryly. 'Lost in the early records of civilization.'
'My dear sir!—of Barbarism!'
'Civilization has never entirely got rid of barbarism, I believe,' said Mr. Falkirk between his teeth; then out, 'By what road are you going, Rollo?'
'I should be happy to act as guide, sir. I leave the direct route.'
'Mr. Falkirk,' said Wych Hazel, 'just put your head a little this way, and see the veil of mist thrown over the top of that hill.'
Mr. Falkirk looked hastily, and resumed: 'You have lately returned, I hear, from your long foreign stay?'
'It was time.'
'Mr. Falkirk,' said his ward, 'do you consider that a remnant of the dark ages?'
'It keeps its place too gracefully for that,' said her guardian dropping his voice, as he looked across Wych Hazel out of the coach window.
'Mr. Falkirk' (sotto voce), 'you are charming!—Between ourselves, this is a hard place to keep gracefully. Please take out your watch, sir.'
Which Mr. Falkirk did, and silently showed it. Forth to meet his came a little gold hunting watch from behind the brown veil.
'You are a minute slow, sir—as usual.' Then very softly,—'Mr. Falkirk, what with being pressed and repressed, I am dying by quarter inches! Just introduce me for your grandmother, will you, and I will matronize the party.'
A request Mr. Falkirk complied with by entering forthwith into a long business discussion with another occupant of the stage coach, also known to him; in which stocks, commercial regulations, political enterprises, and the relative bearings of the same, precluded all reference to anything else whatever. Nobody's grandmother could have had less (visible) attention than Miss Hazel, up to the time when the coach rolled up to the door of a wayside inn, and the party got out to a luncheon or early dinner, as some of them would have called it. Then indeed she had enough. Mr. Falkirk handed her out and handed her in; straight to the gay carpeted "Ladies' room;" shut the door carefully, and asked her what she would have. No other lady was there to dispute possession.
'Only a broiled chicken, sir—and a souffle—and potatoes a la creme au gratin,' said Miss Hazel, throwing off her bonnet and curling herself down on the arm of the sofa. 'Mr. Falkirk, all my previous acquaintance with cushions was superficial!—And could you just open the window, sir, and throw back the blinds? last November is in this room, apples and all.'
Mr. Falkirk obeyed directions, remarking that people who travel in search of their fortune must expect to meet with November in unexpected places; and then went off into the general eating-room, and by and by, from there or some other insalubrious region came a servant, with half of an imperfectly broiled fowl and muddy dish of coffee, flanked by a watery pickled cucumbers. Mr. Falkirk himself presently returned.
'How does it go?' he said.
'What, Mr. Falkirk?' the young lady was curled down in one corner of the sofa, much like a kitten; a small specimen of which animal purred complacently on her shoulder.
'Could you eat, Miss Hazel?'
'Truly, sir, I could. Mr. Falkirk—what a lovely kitten! Do you remark her length of tail?'
Mr. Falkirk thought he had heard of "puss in boots" before, but never had the full realization thereof till now.
'You have tasted nothing,' he said. 'What shall I get you? We shall be off in a few minutes, and you will not have another chance till we reach Hadyn's Dam.'
'Thank you, sir. A few minutes of undisturbed repose—with the removal of those cucumbers—and the restoration of that chicken to its other and I hope better half, is all that I require.'
'You will have rest at Hadyn's Dam,' said Mr. Falkirk with a face more expressive than his words.—'The bridge there is broken.'
'Queer place to rest, sir! Mr. Falkirk—there is Mr. Kingsland wondering why you keep me here.'
'He's eating his dinner.'
'Is he? I am afraid there will be crumbs in the piazza,' said Wych Hazel, closing her eyes. 'He says he don't wonder you are kept.'
'What shall I get you, Wych? You cannot go from here to the next stopping place without anything,' Mr. Falkirk said kindly.
'If you could find me, sir, a basket that would just hold this kitten'—
Mr. Falkirk wasted no more words, but went off, and came back with a glass of milk and a plate of doubtful 'chunks' of cake. The room was empty. Bonnet and veil were gone, and even the kitten had disappeared. Meanwhile the stage coach rattled and swung up to the piazza steps, where were presently gathered the various travellers, one by one. 'Mr. Falkirk,' said Mr. Kingsland, as that gentleman came out rather hastily to see if his charge might be there, too, 'you are not surely—agoing on alone?'
Back went Mr. Falkirk into the house again to look for his missing ward, who had plainly been foraging. On the table was a paper of crackers; two blue-eyed and blue-aproned youngsters stood watching every motion as she swallowed the glass of milk, and in her hand was a suspicious looking basket. Wych Hazel set down her empty tumbler.
'My dear Mr. Falkirk, I was beginning to be concerned about you!'
'What are you going to do with that basket, Miss Hazel?'
'Take it along, sir.'
'On your lap, I suppose!'
'Mr. Falkirk, the accuracy of your judgment is unparalleled. Is that our coach at the door?'
'My dear, you will find plenty of cats at Chickaree,' said her guardian, looking annoyed.
'Yes, sir—' said the young lady meekly, dropping her veil and fitting on her gloves.
'All right, sir,' said the landlord appearing at the door. 'Roughish road, Mr. Falkirk—and t'other gents not enough patience to divide among 'em and go half round—'
How much patience Mr. Falkirk carried to the general stock does not appear. But presently, lifting one corner of her basket lid, Wych Hazel drew forth a radiant spray of roses, and laid them penitently upon the averted line of her guardian's coatsleeve.
'Where did you get that?' he said. 'You had better put it in the basket, my dear; it will stand a better chance to keep fresh.'
'Do you prefer pinks, sir?—or here are bachelor's buttons—'
'They seem rather common things to me,' said Mr. Falkirk slowly, yet with a somewhat pacified brow. There was no kitten in the basket!
'I hadn't the heart to bring puss, as we are going to Catskill,' whispered Miss Hazel.
'We!' ejaculated Mr. Falkirk.
'Nominative case, first person plural, sir.'
'And what's the definition of an adverb?'
'Something which qualifies your suffering—n'est-ce pas, Mr. Falkirk?'
'Certainly, by its primary action upon your doing, Miss Hazel. We are going to Chickaree.'
To which statement Miss Hazel for the present made no reply. She retreated to the depths of her own corner and the brown veil; fingering her roses now and then, and (apparently) making endless mental 'studies' of the wayside. The coach jogged lumberingly on: there was no relief to the tiresomeness of the way. It was a long morning. Dusty and weary, the coach- load was set down at last at another country inn; by the side of a little river which had well filled its banks. The travellers were not, it must be noted, upon any of the great highways of passage, but had taken a cut across country, over some of the spurs of the Catskill; where a railroad was not. Mr. Falkirk brought his charge into the 'Ladies' parlour,' and spoke in a tone of irritated business.
'This is Hadyn's Dam. You can have rest and dinner now.'
'Dinner—and the rest of it,' translated Miss Hazel. 'Will it be needful to make a grand toilette, sir? or shall I go to the table as I am? If one may judge of the selectness of the company by their conversation'—
'You'll see no more of the company,' said Mr. Falkirk; 'they are going another way, and we have to wait here. The bridge will be repaired to-morrow, I suppose.'
'Yes, sir. We don't dine upon the bridge, I presume?'
Mr. Falkirk went off, making sure that the door latched behind him. In a quarter of an hour he came back, with an attendant bearing a tray.
'At present fortune gives us nothing more remarkable than fried ham,' he said,—'and that not of the most eatable, I fear. She is a jade. But we'll get away to-morrow. I hope so.'
'My dear sir,' said Wych Hazel with a radiant face, 'we will get away to-night. I find that the bridge is not on our road, after all. So I said it was not worth while to get a room ready for me,—and the baggage might be just transferred.'
'To the other stage, sir. Or indeed I believe it is some sort of a baggage wagon—as the roads are heavy—not to speak of the passengers. It has gone on up the mountain.'
'What has?' exclaimed Mr. Falkirk, whose face was a study.
'The wagon,' said Miss Hazel, seating herself by the table. 'More particularly, your one trunk and my six, sir.'
'Where has it gone?'
'Up the mountain, sir. They were afraid of making the stage top heavy—the weight of intellect inside being small.'
'Do you mean, to Catskill?'
'Yes, sir. Poor little puss!—Does the vegetation hereabouts support nothing but pigs?' said Miss Hazel, with a despairing glance from the dish of ham to a yellow haired lassie in a blue gown, who just then brought in a pitcher of water. Mr. Falkirk waited till the damsel had withdrawn, and went to the window and came back again before he spoke.
'You should have consulted me, Miss Hazel. You are bewildered. It is not a good time to go up the mountain now.'
'Bewildered? I!' was Miss Hazel's only answer.
'Yes, you don't know what is good for you. I shall send for those trunks, Wych.'
'Quite useless, sir. There is nothing else going up to the Mountain House till we go ourselves. We will go for them—there is nothing like doing your own business.'
'You will find that out one day,' muttered her guardian.
'Seeking my fortune, and wait for the mending of a bridge!' Hazel went on. 'And then I said I was going to Catskill,—and then you're the best guardian in the world, Mr. Falkirk, so it's no use looking as if you were somebody else.'
'I shall be somebody else directly,' said Mr. Falkirk in a cynical manner. 'But eat your dinner, Miss Hazel; you will not have much time.'
A meal for which he did not seem to care himself, for there was no perceivable time when he took it.
The stage coach into which the party presently stowed themselves, held now but those four—Mr. Falkirk and his ward, and two gentlemen who had declared themselves on the way to the mountain. The former established themselves somewhat taciturnly in the several corners of the back seat, and so made the journey; that is to say, as much as possible, for Mr. Falkirk being known to the other could not avoid now and then being drawn into communication with them. One, indeed, Mr. Kingsland, made many and divers overtures to that effect. His elegance of person and costume was advantageously displayed in an opposite corner, from whence he distributed civilities as occasion offered. His book and his magazine were placed at the brown veil's disposal; he stopped the coach to buy cherries from a wayside farm, which cherries were in like manner laid at Wych Hazel's feet; and his observations on the topics that were available, demonstrated all his stores of wit and wisdom equally at hand and ready for use. But brown veil would none of them all. The daintiest of hands took two cherries and signed away the rest; the sweetest of girl voices declined the magazine or gave it over to Mr. Falkirk. If the eyes burned brown lights (instead of blue) in their seclusion, if the voice just didn't break with fun, perhaps only Mr. Falkirk found it out, and he by virtue of previous knowledge. But in fact, Miss Hazel gave the keenest attention to everybody and everything.
A contrast to Mr. Kingsland was their other fellow-traveller. Mr. Rollo occupying the place in front of Mr. Falkirk, made himself as much as possible at ease on the middle seat, with his back upon the persons who engaged Mr. Kingsland's attention; but he did not thereby escape theirs. When a society is so small, the members of it almost of necessity take note of one another. The little brown-veiled figure could not help noticing what a master he was in the art of making himself comfortable; how skilfully shawls were disposed; how easily hand and foot, back and head, took the best position for jolting up the hill. It amused her as something new; for Mr. Falkirk belonged to that type of manhood which rather delights in being uncomfortable whenever circumstances permit; and other men she had seen few. Mr. Rollo had a book too, which he did not offer to lend; and he gave his lazy attention to nothing else—unless when a bright glance of eye went over to Mr. Kingsland. He was as patient as any of the party; as truly he had good reason, being by several degrees the most comfortable. But Mr. Falkirk moved now and then unrestingly, and the back seat was hot and cramped,—and Wych found the jolts and heavings of the coach springs a thing to be borne. And that swinging and swaying middle seat, with its one occupant came so close upon her premises, that she dared not adventure the least thing, even to Mr. Falkirk. If the momentary relief of turning that grey travelling shawl into a pincushion, occurred to her, nothing came of it; the thick folds were untouched by one of her little fingers. She put her face as nearly out of the coach as she could, and perhaps enjoyed the scenery, if anyone did. Mr. Falkirk gave no sign of enjoyment, mental or physical, and Mr. Kingsland would certainly have been asleep, but for losing sight of the brown veil—and of possible something it might do. Yet now and then there were fine reaches for the eye, beautiful knolly indications of a change of surface, which gave picturesque lights and shades on their soft green. Or a lonely valley, with smooth fields and labourers at work, tufty clumps of vegetation, and a line of soft willows by a watercourse, varied the picture. Then the ascent began in good earnest, and trees shut it in, and there was everywhere the wild leafy smell of the woods. Night began to shut it in too, for the sun was early hidden from the travellers; the gloom, or the fatigue of the way, gathered inside the coach as well, on all except the occupant of the middle seat. Some time before this his ease-seeking had displayed itself in a new way; and letting himself out of the coach door he had kept up a progress of his own by the side of the vehicle, which quite distanced its slow and toilsome method of advance. For Rollo was not only getting on with a light step up the road, but making acquaintance with every foot of it; gathering flowers, pocketing stones, and finding time to fling others, which rebounded with a racketty hop, skip and jump, down the side of the deep ravine on the edge of which the way was coasting. Then making up for his delay by a mode of locomotion which seemed to speak him kindred to the squirrels, he swung himself over difficult places by the help of hanging branches of trees, and bounded from rock to rock, till he was again far ahead of the horses, and of the road too, lost out of sight in another direction. Now and then a few rich notes of a German air came down, or up, to the coach tantalizingly. Certainly Mr. Rollo was enjoying himself; and it was made more indubitably certain to the poor plodders along inside the coach, by the faint fumes of an excellent cigar which 'whiles' made themselves perceptible.
Now to say the truth, it was all tantalizing to Wych Hazel. In the first place she was, as she had said, 'cramped to death,' physically and mentally,—both parts of her composition just spoiling for a fight; and whereas she had hitherto kept her face well out of the window, now she drew it resolutely within, for with somebody to look at, it did not suit Miss Hazel's ideas to be looking. She could not tease Mr. Falkirk, who had gone to sleep; Mr. Kingsland was absolutely beyond reach, except of rather thorny wishes; and when at length the dilettante cigar perfumes began to assert themselves, Wych Hazel flung the rest of her patience straight out of the window, and looked after it. The coach was stopping just then by another wayside inn, to exchange mail-bags and water the horses, and favoured by the gathering dusk, a sharp business transaction at once went into effect between the young lady within and some one without; wherof nothing at first transpired. Mr. Kingsland knew only that on one side the tones might rival a mountain brook for their soft impetuosity. There was 'a show of hands' too, and then the coach jolted on and Mr. Falkirk woke up; but not till the tired horses had gone down one pitch and up another, did he hear a faint 'mew' which raised its voice at his elbow.
'What have you got there?' he said hastily.
'A pair of whiskers, sir.'
'Where did you get that thing?' was the next demand, made with considerable disgust.
'Really, sir—whiskers not being contraband—'
Mr. Falkirk was a patient man; at least Wych Hazel generally found him so; and at present he merely fell back into his corner, without making his thoughts any further apparent than the gesture made them. He offered no remark, not even when the dismayed condition of the whiskers aforesaid suggested sundry earnest and energetic efforts at escape, with demonstrations that called up Miss Hazel from the quietude of her corner to be earnest and active in her turn. Frightened, not sure of the kind attentions of the little hands that kept such firm hold,— the kitten struggled and growled, and at last sent forth its feelings in a series of mews, sostenuto and alto to an alarming degree. Mr. Kingsland smiled—then coughed,—and Wych Hazel's laugh broke forth in a low but very defined 'Ha! ha!'
'Mr. Falkirk,' she said, 'please open your heart and give me a biscuit.'
'Mr. Falkirk,' cried a cheerful voice, rather low, from the other side of the road, 'what have you got on board?'
If Mr. Falkirk's inward reply had been spoken aloud and in a past age, it might have cost poor Miss Hazel her life; as it was, he only said, 'Can you cut a broom-stick, Rollo?' The answer perhaps went into action, for the young man disappeared.
Turning its wee head from side to side, as it munched the biscuit, soothed by the soft touch of soft hands, the kitten so far forgot herself as to break now and then into a loud irregular purr; but her little mistress was absolutely silent and still, though the light fingers never ceased their caressing, until puss had finished the biscuit and purred herself to sleep. By this time the coach jogged along in absolute darkness, except for what help the stars gave. The plashing of a stream over its rough bed far down below, gave token sometimes that the wheels of the coach were near an abyss; the flutter of leaves told that the forest was all around them always. The irregular traveller had re-entered the coach and sat among his shawls as still as the rest of the party; who perhaps were all slumbering as well as the kitten. It appeared so; for when that small individual started to consciousness and consequent alarm again, and was making an excursion among the feet of the gentlemen on the coach floor, its aroused mistress was only aroused in time to hear a consolatory whisper from one of her companions—'Poor little Kathleen Mavourneen, by what misfortune did you get in here? There—be still and go to sleep.' And as no more was heard, on either side, it seemed probable the advice had been followed. At any rate no more was seen of the kitten, not even when the stage coach swept round the level on which the house stands, and drew up at the door, where the light of lamps gave opportunity for observation. Wych Hazel only saw that her neighbour flung a shawl demurely enough over one shoulder and arm, where the cat might have been, and letting himself out, proceeded to do the same office with full dexterity though with one hand for the little cat's mistress.
Ensconcing herself even closer than ever in mantle and veil, Wych Hazel passed on through the gay groups to the foot of the stairs, there paused.
'Mr. Falkirk,' she said softly, 'I want my tea up stairs, please,'—and passed on after the maid.
'So,' said one of the loiterers in the hall approaching Mr. Falkirk, 'so my dear sir, you've brought Miss Kennedy! At last!—Now for candidates. If the face match the hand and foot, the supply will be heavy.'
IN THE FOG.
There was mist everywhere. On the winding bed of the river, lying piled like a gray eider-down coverlet; folding itself over the forest trees; floating up to the Mountain House, and hanging about the rocks. But overhead the sky looked bright, and Sirius waved his torch which the vapour had filled with coloured lights. As yet sunrise was not.
In front of the house, where a grey rock started from the very edge of the bank, spreading a platform above the precipice, sat Wych Hazel; her feet so nearly over the rock that they seemed resting on the mist itself; her white scarf falling back from her head like a wreath of lighted coloured vapour. Perhaps there were no other strangers to the Mountain House within its walls; perhaps the morning was too chill; perhaps all of the 'candidates' were on the other side; for she sat alone. Until the flaming torch of Sirius paled, until the dawn began to shimmer and gleam among the fleeces of mist,—until they parted here and there before the arrows of light, showing spires and houses and a bit of the river in the far distance. So fair, unfeatured, misty and sparkling at once, lay life before the young gazer. Mr. Falkirk might have moralized thus, standing close behind her as he was, still and silent; but it is not likely he did; useless moralizing was never in Mr. Falkirk's way.
'How do you like your fortune, Miss Hazel, as you find it at present?' he said.
'Very undefined, sir. Good morning, Mr. Falkirk—what made you get up?'
'My knowledge of your character.'
'So attractive, sir?' She glanced up at him, then looked away over the mist, with her arms crossed over her bosom and a grave look of thought settling down upon her young face; as if womanhood were dawning upon her, with its mysterious opalescent light.
'Evangeline saw her way all clear when she reached the mountain-top,' she said musingly; 'but mine looks misty enough. Mr. Falkirk, will this fog clear away before sunset?'
'Or settle down into rain.'
But while he spoke, the sun mounting higher, shot through the very heart of the mist; and the broken clouds began to roll away in golden vapour, or were furled and drawn up with bands of light. And now came voices from the piazza.
'You knew it last night, Mr. Kingsland? and never told me!' said an oldish lady. 'And there is the sweet creature this minute, on the rock!'
Wych Hazel sprang to her feet. 'Mr. Falkirk,' she said, 'you are inquired for;'—and darting past him she vanished round the house. Mr. Falkirk, as in duty bound, followed, but when a needful point of view was attained, his charge was nowhere within sight, and he returned to the house to be in readiness to meet her when the bell should ring for breakfast.
But a couple of hours later, when the bell rang, Miss Hazel was not forthcoming. The guests gathered to the breakfast- room. Mr. Falkirk remained in the empty hall, pacing up and down from door to door, then went to see if Wych Hazel were by chance in her room. Mrs. Saddler was in consternation, having heard nothing of her. Mr. Falkirk returned to his walk in the hall, chaffing a little now with something that was not patience. Presently Rollo came down the stairs.
'Exercise before breakfast?—Or after?'
'Not after,' said Mr. Falkirk; 'but you are late as it is.'
'Better late, if you can't be early. You have a better chance. I will wait with you, if you are waiting.'
'Don't wait for me,' said Mr. Falkirk, shortly. 'I have no idea when I shall be ready.'
'I had no idea, a little while ago, when I should. By the way, I hope Miss Kennedy is well, this morning?'
'I hope so.'
'She is not down yet?'
'She has been down, and I have not heard of her going up again.'
'In the breakfast-room, perhaps,' said the young man. And passing on, he made his way thither, while Mr. Falkirk stood at the hall door. No, Miss Kennedy was not in the breakfast- room; and instead of sitting down Mr. Rollo went out by another way, picking up a roll from the table as he passed, and wrapping it in a napkin. He took a straight course to the woods, over the grass, where no uninstructed eye could see that the dew had been brushed away by a lighter foot than his. But if lighter, hardly so swift as the springy stride and leap which carried him over yards of the rough way at a bound, and cleared obstacles that would have hindered, at least slightly, most other people. The mountain was quickly won in this style, and Rollo gained a high ledge where the ground lay more level. He went deliberately here, and used a pair of eyes as quick as might match the feet, though not to notice how the dew sparkled on the moss or how the colours changed in the valley. He was far above the Mountain House, on the wild hillside. The sun had scattered the fog from the lower country, which lay a wide dreamland to tempt the eye, and nearer by the lesser charms of rock and tree, moss and lichen, light and shadow, played with each other in wildering combinations. But Rollo did not look at valley of hill; his eyes were seeking a gleam of colour which they had seen that morning once before; and seeking it with the spy of an eagle. No grass here gave sign of a footstep. Soft lichen and unbending ferns kept the secret, if they had one; the evergreens were noisy with birds, but otherwise mute; the fog still settled down in the ravines and hid whatever they held.
Thither Mr. Rollo at last took his way, after a moment's observation: down the woody, craggy sides of a wild dell; the thick vapour into which he plunged sufficiently bewildering even to his practised eyes. Partridges whirred away from before him, squirrels chattered over his head, but his particular quarry Mr. Rollo could nowhere find. Through that ravine and up the next ledge, with the sun rising hotter and hotter, and breakfast long over at the Mountain House.
He found her at last so suddenly that he stopped short. She was tired probably, for she had dropped herself down on the moss, her cheek on her hands, and had dropped her eyelids too, in something very like slumber; the clear brown cheek bearing it usual pink tinges but faintly. The figure curled down upon the moss was rather tall, of a slight build; the features were not just regular; the hair of invisible brown lay in very wayward silky curls; and the eyes, as soon could be seen, were to match, both as to colour and waywardness. The mouth was a very woman's mouth, though the girlish arch lines had hardly yet learned their own powers whether of feeling or persuasion. Very womanish, too, was the sweep of the arm outline, and the hand and foot were dainty in the extreme. Neither hand or foot stirred for other feet approaching, the pretty gypsy having probably tired herself into something like unconsciousness; and the first sound of which she was thoroughly sensible was her own name. The speaker was standing near her when she looked up, with his hat in his hand, and an air of grave deference. He expressed a fear that she was fatigued.
She had half-dreamily opened her eyes and looked up at first, but there was nothing 'fatigued' in the way the eyes went down again, nor in the quick skill with which the scarf was caught up and flung round her, fold after fold, until she was muffled and turbaned like an Egyptian. Then she rose demurely to her feet.
'I thank you, sir, for arousing me. Is Mr. Falkirk here?'
'No—I am alone. But you are at a distance from home. Can you go back without some refreshment?' The words and the speaker were quiet enough, but Wych Hazel's colour stirred uneasily.
'Yes. Don't let me detain you, sir,' she said, putting herself in quick motion across the moss. He met her on the other side of a big boulder and stayed her, though with the quietest manner of interference.
'I beg your pardon—but if you wish to go home—'
'Yes,' she answered, with a half laugh, glancing up at the sun; 'I know. I am only going round this way.'
He stayed her still. 'I can guide you this way,' he said; 'but—it is not the way to the House.'
Another glance at the sun. 'Which is the way?'
'I will show it to you. Do you care most for speed or smooth going? You are tired?'
Wych Hazel knit her brows into the most abortive attempt at a frown. What right had he to suppose that she was tired!
'If you will just show me the way, sir—the shortest; I mean, point out the direction.'
He was standing and waiting her pleasure with contented gravity. 'The direction is not to be followed in a straight line,' said he. 'I can only show you by going before. Is that your meaning?'
'I should like to get home the shortest way,' said she hesitating.
He went on without more words, and maintaining the polished gravity of his first address; but Wych Hazel had reason to remember her walk of that morning. It was a shorter way than he had come, that by which her conductor took her, and in parts easy enough; but in other parts requiring his skill as well as hers to get her over them. He said not a word further; he served her in silence: the vexatious thing was, that he was able to serve her so much. Many a time she had to accept his hand to get past a rude place; often both hands were needed to swing her over a watercourse or leap her down from a rock. She was agile and light of foot; she did what woman could; it was only by sheer necessity that she yielded the mortifying tacit confession to man's superior strength, and gave so often opportunity to a pair of good eyes to see what she was like near at hand. Wych Hazel's own eyes made few discoveries. She could feel every now and then that her conductor's hand and foot were as firm and reliable as the mountain itself. This course of travelling brought them, however, soon to the level of the Mountain House and to plain going. There Mr. Rollo fell behind, allowing the young lady to take her own pace in crossing the lawn and the hall, only attending her like her shadow to the foot of the stairs. With the first reaching of level ground, he had had a full look and gesture of acknowledgment; what became of him afterwards Miss Hazel seemed not to know. He knew that she ran up the first flight of stairs, and that once out of sight her steps drooped instantly.
'So!' said Mr. Kingsland, advancing. 'Really! Rollo my dear fellow, how are we to understand this?'
'Give us an introduction after lunch, will you?' said another.
'But, Mr. Rollo, how extraordinary!' said one of the dowagers.
'Madame!' said Mr. Rollo, waiting upon the last speaker, hat in hand.
'Let him alone, my dear lady!' said Mr. Kingsland; 'he's got to prepare for coffee and pistols with Mr. Falkirk. And coffee I fancy he's ready for—eh, Dane? Go get your breakfast, and I'll break matters gently to the guardian.'
'Will you do that, my dear fellow?'
'Can you doubt me?'
'I wish you would, for I am hungry,' said Dane, drawing his hand over his face. 'Mr. Falkirk is going off toward the cataract—just run after him and tell him that his ward is come home;—has he had breakfast?'
'Run, I guess I—won't' said Mr. Kingsland. 'But to be the first bearer of welcome news'—And Mr. Falkirk roaming among trees and rocks was presently accosted by two gentlemen.
'Allow me, my dear sir, to congratulate you,' said the foremost. 'Miss Kennedy is safe. Our friend Rollo has with his usual sagacity gone straight to the mark, and without a moment's thought of his own breakfast or strength has found the young lady and followed her home.'
'She is at home, then?' said Mr. Falkirk.
'She is at home, sir; the Mountain House is made radiant by her presence. And now, permit me—Dr. Maryland,—son of your friend at Chickaree. Only your neighbour upon Christian principles here, sir, but bona fide neighbour at Chickaree, and most anxious to be acquainted with the fair owner thereof.'
Too honest-hearted to feel the inuendo of Mr. Kingsland's last words, their undeniable truth flushed Dr. Maryland somewhat as he shook hands with Mr. Falkirk. He was a well looking young man, with a clear blue eye which said the world's sophistications would find no Parley the porter to admit them; and Mr. Falkirk would certainly have begun to like his young neighbour on the spot, if he had not been on a sudden summoned to the house.
Miss Hazel, speeding up-stairs in the manner before related, reached her room safely; but there proceeding to answer or evade Mrs. Saddler's questions, also to indulge herself in sundry musings, did not indeed forget to despatch a peremptory order for breakfast; but as that refreshment was somewhat delayed, the young lady in an impatient fit of time-saving began to change her dress, and fainted away charmingly during the process. At which moment the maid and breakfast entered the room, and the former promptly set down her tray, and ran off to summon the only doctor then at the Mountain House.
Little did Dr. Maryland guess the meaning of those mysterious words—'a lady wants you!' Still less, what lady. And as by the time he reached the room, Miss Hazel opened her eyes for his express benefit, the doctor stopped short in the middle of the room, his ideas more unsettled than ever. But Mr. Falkirk, who had accompanied the doctor, though not expecting to find their paths all the way identical, pressed forward with a face of great concern.
'Miss Hazel!—is it you? What is the matter?'
'Do I look like somebody else, sir?'
Like nobody else! thought Dr. Maryland; while, learning the whole of Mrs. Saddler's explanations from the first five words, he went on to apply such remedies as were strongest and nearest at hand. In a medical point of view it was not perhaps needful that he should hold the coffee-cup himself all the time, but if this were not really his 'first case,' it bid fair to be so marked in his memory. Perhaps he forgot the coffee-cup, till Mr. Falkirk gently relieved him of it with a word of dismission, and the doctor modestly withdrew; then sending Mrs. Saddler for some bottled ale, Mr. Falkirk went on, 'Wych, where have you been?'
'Following the steps of my great predecessor, King Alfred, sir.'
'In what line?'
'Retiring from the enemy, sir, and being obliged to meet the Dane'—said Miss Hazel, innocently closing her eyes.
'Where?' said Mr. Falkirk, shortly.
'I don't know, sir. In some of the wild places favoured by such outlaws. Don't you know, he has just come over the sea?'
There was a pause of some seconds.
'Wych,' said her guardian kindly, 'do you know it is not nice for little girls to make themselves so conspicuous as your morning walk has made you to-day?'
Some feeling of her own brought the blood to her cheek and brow, vividly.
'I don't know what you call conspicuous, sir; only one person found me. And if you think I lost myself in the fog on purpose, Mr. Falkirk, you think me a much smaller girl than I am!'
Mr. Falkirk smiled—a little, passing his hand very lightly over the brow which did look certainly as if it had belonged to a little girl not very long ago; but he said no more, except to advise the young lady to eat a good breakfast.
Not to be conspicuous, however, from this day was beyond little Miss Hazel's power, to whatever degree it might have been within her wish. The house was at this time not yet filled; but of all its indwellers, old and young, male and female, higher and lower in the scale of society, every eye and tongue was at her service; so far as being occupied with her made it so. Every hand was at her service more literally. Did not the very serving-men at table watch her eye? Was not he the best fellow who could recommend the hottest omelet and bring the freshest cakes to her hand? The young heiress, the young mistress of fabulous acres, and 'such a beautiful old place;' the new beauty, who bid fair to bewitch all the world with hand and foot and gypsy eyes,—nay, the current all set one way. Even old dowagers looked to praise, and even their daughters to admire; while of the men, all were at her feet. Attentions, civil, kind, and recommendatory, showered on Miss Hazel from all sides. Would that little head stand it, with its wayward curls and some slight indication of waywardness within? How would it keep its position over such a crowd of servants self-made in her honour? Some of them were very devoted servants indeed, and seemed willing to proclaim their devotion. Among these was Mr. Kingsland, who constituted himself her right-hand man in general; but Dr. Maryland was not far off, if less presuming. Miss Hazel could not walk or ride or come into a room without some sort of homage from one or all of these.
'Dear little thing! pretty little thing!' exclaimed a lady, an old acquaintance of Mr. Falkirk's, one evening. 'Charming little creature! How will she bear it?'
Mr. Falkirk was standing near by.
'She wants a better guardian,' the lady went on whispering.
'I wish she had a mother,' he said.
'Or a husband!'
Mr. Falkirk was silent; then he said, 'It is too soon for that.'
'Yes—too soon,' said the lady meditatively as she looked at Wych Hazel's curls,—'but what will she do? Somebody will deceive her into thinking he is the right man, while it is too soon.'
'Nobody shall deceive her,' said Mr. Falkirk between his teeth.
It must be mentioned that an exception, in some sort, to all this adulation, was furnished by the friend of Miss Hazel's morning walk. Mr. Rollo, if the truth must be told, seemed to live more for his own pleasure than anybody else's. Why he had taken that morning's scramble unless on motives of unwonted benevolence, remained known only to himself. Since then he had not exerted himself in her or anybody's service. Pleasant and gay he was when anybody saw him; but nobody's servant. By day Mr. Rollo roamed the woods, for he was said to be a great hunter—or he lay on the grass in the shade with a book—or he found out for himself some delectable place or pleasure unknown previously to others, though as soon as known sure to be approved and adopted; and at evening the rich scents of his cigar floated in the air where the moonlight lay brightest or shadows played daintiest. But he did not seem to share the universal attraction towards the daintiest thing of all at the Mountain. He saw her, certainly; he was sometimes seen looking at her; but then he would leave the place where her presence held everybody, and the perfume of his cigar would come as aforesaid; or the distant notes of a song said that Mr. Rollo and the rocks were congenial society. If he met the little Queen of the company indeed anywhere, he would lift his hat and stand by to let her pass with the most courtier-like deference; he would lift his hat to her shadow; but he never testified any inclination to follow it. The more notable this was, because Rollo was a pet of the world himself; one of those whom every society welcomes, and who for that very reason perhaps are a little nonchalant towards society.
It was a proof now gayly and sweetly she took the popular vote, that she bore so easily his defalcation. Vanity was not one of her pet follies; and besides, that morning's work had brought on Miss Hazel an unwonted fit of grave propriety; she was a little inclined to keep herself in the background. Amuse her the admiration did, however. It was funny to see Mr. Kingsland forsake billiards and come to quote Tennyson to her; Dr. Maryland's shy, distant homage was more comical yet; and the tender little mouth began to find out its lines and dimples and power of concealment. But the young heart had a good share of timidity, and that stirred very often; making the colour flit to and fro 'like the rosy light upon the sky'— Mr. Kingsland originally observed; while Dr. Maryland looked at the evening star and was silent. Compliments!—how they rained down upon her; how gayly she shook them off. And as to Mr. Rollo, if there was anything Miss Hazel disliked it was to submit to guidance; and she had been obliged to follow him out of the woods: and if he had presumed to admire her in the same style in which he had guided her, she felt quite sure there would have been a sparring match. Besides—but 'besides' is a feminine postscript; it would be a breach of confidence to translate it.
THE RED SQUIRREL
One brilliant night, Mr. Falkirk pacing up and down the piazza, Wych Hazel came and joined him; clasping both hands on his arm.
'Mr. Falkirk,' she said softly, 'when are we going to Chickaree?'
'I have no information, Miss Hazel.'
'Then I can tell you, sir. We take the "owl" stage day after to-morrow morning,—and we tell nobody of our intention.' And Wych Hazel's finger made an impressive little dent in Mr. Falkirk's arm.
'Why that precaution?' he inquired.
'Pity to break up the party, sir,—they seem to be enjoying themselves,'—And a soft laugh of mischief and fun rang out into the moonlight.
'Is this arrangement expected to be carried into effect?'
'Certainly, sir. If my guardian approves,' said Miss Hazel, submissively.
'What's become of her other guardian?' said an old lady, possessing herself of Mr. Falkirk's left arm.
'My other guardian!' said the young lady, expressively.
'She has no other,' said Mr. Falkirk, very distinctly.
'Have you broken the will?'
'No madam,' said Mr. Falkirk. 'As it often happens in this world, something has reached your ears in a mistaken form.'
'What something was it?' said Wych Hazel.
'A false report, my dear,' Mr. Falkirk says. Which did not quite satisfy the questioner at the time, but was soon forgotten in the rush of other things.
The next day was devoted to a musical pic-nic at the Falls. It was musical, in as much as a band had been fetched up to play on the rocks, while the company filled the house and balcony, and an occasional song or duet, which ladies asked for 'just to see how they would sound there,' kept up the delusion. By what rule it was a pic-nic it might be difficult to discover, except that it had been so styled. Eatables and drinkables were, to be sure, a prominent portion of the entertainment, and they were discussed with more informality and a good deal less convenience than if in their regular place. But, however, the rocks and the wildness lent them a charm, perhaps of novelty, and the whole affair seemed to be voted a success.
Success fell so largely to Miss Hazel's share, that she by times was a little weary of it, or of its consequences; and this day finding herself in a most inevitable crowd, do what she could, she fairly ran away for a breath of air with no musk in it. Making one or two the honoured confidants of her intention, that she might secure their staying where they were and keeping others, and promising to return soon, she slipped away down the stairs by the Fall. All the party had been there that morning, as in duty bound, and had gone where it was the rule to go. Now Wych Hazel sprang along by herself, to take the wildness and the beauty in silence and at her own pleasure. At the upper basin of the Fall she turned off, and coasted the narrow path under the rock, around the basin. At the other side, where the company had been contented to turn about, Wych Hazel passed on; till she found herself a seat on a projecting rock, from which a wild, wooded ravine of the hills stretched out before her eyes. The sides were so bold, the sweep of them so extended, the woods so luxuriantly rich, the scene so desolate in its loneliness and wildness, that she sat down to dream in a trance of enjoyment. Not a sound now but the plash of the water, the scream of a wild bird, and the rustle of leaves. Not a human creature in sight, or the trace of one. Wych might imagine the times when red Indians roved among those hillsides—the place looked like them; but rare were the white hunters that broke their solitudes. It was delicious. The very air that fanned her face had come straight from a wilderness, a wilderness where it blew only over sweet things. It refreshed her, after those people up on the balcony. She had promised to be back soon: but now a rosy flower, or spike of flowers, of tempting elegance, caught her eye. It was down below her, a little way, not far; a very rough and steep way, but no matter, she must have the flower, and deftly and daintily she clambered down: the flower looked lovelier the nearer she got to it, and very rare and exquisite she found it to be, as soon as she had it in her hands. It was not till she had examined and rejoiced over it, that addressing herself to go back, Wych Hazel found her retreat cut off. Not by any sudden avalanche or obstacle, animate or inanimate; as peacefully as before the wind waved the ferns on the great stepping stones of cliff and boulder by which she had come; but—the agility by which with help of vines and twigs she had let herself down these declivities, was not the strength that would mount them again. It was impossible. Wych Hazel saw that it was impossible, and certainly she would never have yielded the conviction but to dire necessity. She stood considering one particular jump down which she had made,—nothing but desperation could have taken her back again.
Desperate, however, Wych Hazel did not feel. There was nothing to do at present but to wait till her friends should find her; for to go further down would but add to her trouble and lessen her chance of being soon set free, and indeed, from her present position even to go down (voluntarily) was no trifle. So Wych Hazel sat down to wait, amusing herself with thoughts of the sensation on the cliff, and wondering what sort of scaling ladders could be improvised in a hurry. They would be sure to come after her presently. Some one would find her. And it was a lovely place to wait.
How it happened must remain like other mysteries, unexplained till the mystery is over, that the person who did find her again happened to be Mr. Rollo. Yet she had hardly seen him all day before that. Wych Hazel had half forgotten her situation in enjoying its beauties and musing in accordance with them; and then suddenly looking up to the great piece of rock nearest her, she saw him standing there, looking down at her with the calm face and handsome gray eyes which she had noticed before. The girl had been singing half to herself a wild little Scottish ballad, chiming it in with water and wind and bird music, taking first one part and then another; looping together a long chain of pine needles the while,—then throwing back her sleeve, and laying the frail work across her arm, above the tiny hair chain, the broad band of gems and the string of acorns, which banded it; in short, disporting herself generally. But not the "lullaby, baby, and all," of the old rhyme, ever had a more sudden and complete downfall. The first line of
"O wha wad buy a silken goun Wi' a puir broken heart?"
was left as a mere abstract proposition; and Wych Hazel would assuredly have 'slipped from her moorings,' but for the certain fear of tearing her dress, or spraining her ankle, or doing some other bad thing which should call for immediate assistance. So she sat still and gazed at the prospect.
Her discoverer presently dropped down by her side and stood there uncovered, as usual, but this time he did not withdraw his eyes from her face. And when he spoke it was in a new tone, very pleasant, though laying aside a certain distance and form with which he had hitherto addressed her.
'Do you know,' he said, 'I begin to think I have known you in a former state of existence?'
'What sort of a person were you in a former state, Mr. Rollo?'
'I see the knowledge was not mutual. I am sorry.—This is a pleasant place!'
'This identical grey rock?'
'Don't you think so?'—in a tone which assumed the proposition.
'Very,' said Wych Hazel with a demure face;—'I do not know which abound most—the pleasures of Hope, Memory, or Imagination. But I thought perhaps you meant the mountain.'
'The pleasures of the Present, then, you do not perceive?' said Mr. Rollo, peering about very busily among the trees and rocks in his vicinity.
'Poor Hope and Imagination!' said Miss Hazel,—'must they be banished to the "former state?" Memory does hold a sort of middle ground.'
'There isn't much of that sort of ground here,' said Mr. Rollo; 'we are on a pretty steep pitch of the hill. Don't you like this wilderness? You want a gun though—or a pencil—to give you the sense that you have something to do in the wilderness.'
'Yes!' said Miss Hazel—'so Englishmen say: "What a nice day it is!—let's go out and kill something." '
There was a good deal of amusement and keenness in his sideway glance, as he demurely asked her 'if she didn't know how to shoot?' But Wych Hazel, with a slight gesture of her silky curls, merely remarked that she had pencils in her pocket—if he wanted one.
'Thank you—have you paper too?'
'That I may not seem intolerably rude,' said he, extending his hand for the paper,—'will you make one sketch while I make another? We will limit the time, as they did at the London Sketch Club.'
'O, I shall not think it even tolerably rude. But all my paper is in this book.'
'To secure the conditions, I must tear a leaf out.—How will that do?'
'Very well,' she said with a wee flitting of colour,—'if you will secure my conditions too.'
'What are they?' As he spoke he tore the leaf out and proceeded to accommodate himself with a pamphlet for a drawing board.
'You had no right to the leaf till you heard them!' she cried jumping up. 'I shall take care how I bargain with you again, Mr. Rollo.'
'Not safe?' said he smiling. 'But you are, this time, for I accepted the conditions, you know. And besides—you have the pencils yet.' There was a certain gay simplicity about his manner that was disarming.
'Did you?' said Hazel looking down at him. 'Then you are injudicious to accept them unheard. One of them is very hard. The first is easy—you are to restore the leaf when the sketch is done.'
'It is the decree of the strongest! And the other?'
'You are to confess my sketch to be the best. Now what is the subject to be?'
'Stop a bit!' said he, turning over the book which Wych Hazel had given him wrong side first—'I should like to see what I am to swear to, before we begin.' And the bits of her drawing which were found there received a short but keen consideration. 'The subject?—is this grey rock where we are— with what is on and around it.'
'You are lawless. And your subject is—unmanageable!'
'Do you think so?'
'You want what is "around" this grey rock,' she said with a light twirl on the tips of her toes. 'If your views on most subjects are as comprehensive!'—
'They can be met, nevertheless,' said he, laughing, 'if you take one part of the subject and I the other—and if you'll give me a pencil! We must be done in a quarter of an hour.'
'There it is,' said Wych Hazel,—'then you can take half of the rock'—and she walked away to a position as far behind Mr. Rollo as sweetbriars and sumach would permit. That gentleman turned about and faced her gravely; also withdrew a step, looked at his match, and throwing on his hat which had lain till now on the moss, went to work. It was work in earnest, for minutes were limited.
'Mr. Rollo?' said Wych Hazel, 'I cannot draw a thing if you sit there watching me. Just take your first position, please.'
'I should lose my point of view—you would not ask me to do that? Besides, you are safe—I am wholly occupied with myself.'
'No doubt! But if you presume to put me in your sketch I'll turn you into a red squirrel'—with which fierce threat Miss Hazel drooped her head till her 'point of view' must have been at least merged in the brim of her flat hat, and went at her drawing. That she had merged herself as well in the interest of the game, was soon plain,—shyness and everything else went to the winds: only when (according to habit) some scrap of a song broke from her lips, then did she rebuke herself with an impatient gesture or exclamation, while the hat drooped lower than ever. It was pretty to see and to hear her,—those very outbreaks were so free and girlish and wayward, and at the same time so sweet. Several minutes of the prescribed time slipped away.
'How soon do you go to Chickaree?' said the gentleman, in a pre-engaged tone, very busy with his pencil.
'How soon?' repeated the lady, surveying her own sketch—'why— not too soon for anybody that wants me away, I suppose. Ask Mr. Falkirk.'
'Is it long since you have seen the place?'
'I can hardly be said to have "seen" it at all. I think my landscape eyes were not open at that remote period of which you speak.'
'I was a red squirrel then, in the "former state" to which I referred a while ago. So you see your late threat has no terrors for me. Is it in process of execution?'
'O were you?' said Miss Hazel, absorbed in her drawing. 'Yes— but the expression is very difficult!—Did you think you knew me as a field mouse?'
He laughed a little.
'Then, I suppose you have not the pleasure of knowing your neighbours, the Marylands?—except the specimen lately on hand?'
'No, I have heard an account of them,' said Miss Kennedy. 'For shame, Mr. Rollo, Dr. Maryland isn't a "specimen." He's good. I like him.'
The gentleman made no remark upon this, but confined his attention to his work for a few minutes; then looked at his watch.
'Is that sketch ready to show?—Time's up.'
'And the squirrel is down. But not much else.'
Not much!—the squirrel sat contemplatively gazing into Mr. Rollo's hat, which lay on the rock before him, quite undisturbed by a remarkable looking witch who rose up at the other end. The gentleman surveyed them attentively.
'Do you consider these true portraits?'
'I do not think the hat would be a tight fit,' said she, smothering a laugh.
'Well!' said he comically, 'it is said that no man knows himself—how it may be with women I can't say!' And he made over the sketch in his hand and went to his former work; which had been cutting a stick.
There was more in this second sketch. The handling was effective as it had been swift. Considering that fifteen minutes and a lead pencil were all, there had been a great deal done, in a style that proved use and cultivation as well as talent. The rocks, upper and lower, were truly given; the artist had chosen a different state of light from the actual hour of the day, and had thus thrown a great mass into fine relief. Round it the ferns and mosses and creepers with a light hand were beautifully indicated. But in the nook where Wych Hazel had stationed herself, there was no pretty little figure with her book on her lap; in its place, sharply and accurately given, was a scraggy, irregular shaped bush, with a few large leaves and knobby excrescences which looked like acorns, but an oak it was not, still less a tree. The topmost branch was crowned with Miss Kennedy's nodding hat, and upon another branch lay her open drawing book. Miss Kennedy shook her head.
'I cannot deny the relationship!—Your style of handling is perhaps a trifle dry. That is not what you call an "ideal woman," is it, Mr. Rollo?'
'I might fairly retort upon that. What do you say to our moving from this ground, before the band up there gets into Minor?'
Retaking of a sudden her demureness, slipping away to her first position on the rock, with hands busy about the pink flowers, Wych Hazel answered, as once before—
'Do not let me detain you—do not wait for me, Mr. Rollo.'
'Shall I consider myself dismissed? and send some more fortunate friend to help you out of your difficulty?'
'I am not in any difficulty, thank you.'
'Only you don't know your way,' he said, with perhaps a little amusement, though it hardly appeared. 'Is it true that you will not give me the honour of guiding you?'
'In the first place,' said Miss Hazel, wreathing her pink flowers with quick fingers, 'I know the way by which I came, perfectly. In the second place, I never submit voluntarily to anybody's guidance.'
'Will you excuse me for correcting myself. I meant, in "not knowing your way," merely the way in which you are to go.'
'Do you know it?'
'If you suffer my guidance—undoubtedly.'
'Ah!—if. In that case so do I. But I "suffered" so much on the last occasion—and Dr. Maryland has left the Mountain.'
'I would not for the world be importunate! Perhaps you will direct me if I shall inform any one of your hiding place—or do you desire to have it remain such?'
'Thank you,' said Miss Hazel, framing the landscape in her pink wreath and gazing at it intently, 'I suppose there is not much danger. But if you see Mr. Falkirk you may reveal to him my distressed condition. He needs stimulus occasionally.'
Rollo lifted his hat with his usual Spanish courtesy; then disappeared, but not indeed by the way he had come. He threw himself upon an outstanding oak branch, from which, lightly and lithely, as if he had been the red squirrel himself, he dropped to some place out of sight. One or two bounds, rustling amid leaves and branches, and he had gone from hearing as well as from view.