IN the good old times before the Flood, in the times which our retired silver-gray politicians allude to when they say, “ There were giants in those days,” the new, commodious, and elegant steamship Mersey set out on her first voyage across the continent.
The Mersey was one of a line of steamers which had lately been started between England and the United States of America. On the side of England this 'line sailed from Liverpool, one of the mightiest of the commercial queens, or perhaps we should say deities, of the world, — a deity whose stormwinged and steam-winged angels fly to all lands, and whose temples of trade resound with all tongues. On the side of the United States it sailed from a city less known to the human race at large, but which we Americans shall recognize when we come to it.
This city thought the strongest kind of beer of itself. It held that in intellects, morals, and manners it stood head and shoulders above any other American municipality. It believed, to use a French phrase, that it marched at the head of civilization, at least so far as concerned the Western continent. There was, also, a general faith in this city that nothing had prevented it from being the commercial metropolis of the Republic but a lack of sufficient commerce. A sufficient commerce it had, therefore, decided to have ; and, as the first step towards this end, the first step towards heading off the mercantile rivalry of New York, the first step towards monopolizing the export and import business of a vast back country, it had established this line of steamers ; the next step being a sort of informal proclamation, running from mouth to mouth, to the effect that every citizen of the city, and of the State attached to it, must go in said line, and send his goods by it, however slow and costly it might be.
Well, the Mersey, built in England, owned mainly by Englishmen, and manned by an English crew, but commanded by a home-made captain, had started on her first voyage. Started at night, come to light next day in a foaming tempest ; sailed sixty hours on her lee bulwark, or precious near it ; not a passenger able to keep his legs, and only two able to eat ; steward and stewardess flying wildly from state-room to stateroom ; in short, a howling, rolling, disgusting, miserable sixty hours of it. It is such kind of weather which has decided what peoples shall rule the seas and do the great colonizings. It is such kind of weather which has shown what poles can knock the persimmons of commerce.
At last the wind folds its hands, and the sea doffs its battle plumes ; the waves are fine enough to be admired and not too fine for comfortable travelling ; passengers resurrect, break away from that undertaker, the steward, and come on deck, much occupied in mutual staring, never having seen each other before. The two who have not been sick are of course out, and are smoking their cigars with an heroic air, as much as to say, “ Old sea-dogs ! ” They seem to be old acquaintance, and familiar ones, for they hit each other in the ribs and address each othwith, “ I say, Duffy,” and, “ I say, Bill Wilkins.” Just now there is some bantering going on between them as to a young lady who is looking out of the companion door, as if she wanted to come upon the quarter-deck, but did not like to venture alone.
“ Wilkins, go and offer your arm,” says Duffy. “ Family trades at your shop.”
“ O, get out,” returns Wilkins, with an air of despising Duffy as being a man who does not know when to joke. “ I know where I ought to put myself, if you don’t.”
“ I say, Wilkins, you don’t like that,” chuckles Duffy, his flat, expressionless face puckering with a simper which he, mistaken man, supposes to be sly.
“ Don't like what ? ” demands Wilkins, rather too scornfully for mere pleasantry.
“Calling your bran-new store a shop,” grins Duffy, clearly one of the smallest of wits.
“ That’s just like you, Duffy. I never knew you make a joke, but what you had to explain it.”
Duffy, considerably cut up, keeps on smiling like a wax doll, and tries to think of something severe.
“ By Jehu, somebody ought to offer her an arm,” resumes Wilkins, his dusky, twinkling, good-humored, and yet keen eyes glancing sideways at the young lady. She really wants to get out here. If it was any of the Beaumonts that I know, I 'd venture.”
“ Bill Wilkins, I never saw you modest before,” says Duffy, at last laying hands on a bit of satire. “ Must be somebody’s threatened to give you a licking.”
And O, how Duffy enjoyed his hit, and how eagerly he looked out of the corner of his eye at Wilkins, as if expecting to see him too enjoy it.
Scorning to reply, Wilkins, an intelligent-looking, civil-mannered man, though evidently not aristocratic, was about stepping out in the direction of the young lady, when he saw something which checked him.
“ Go in, Bill,” whispered Duffy, giving his friend a dig under the ribs. “ Bet my money on you.”
“ No. She’s got some one. Jehu ! what a tall fellow ! By Jehu ! that man could wade ashore. Shut up now, Duffy. They ’re coming this way. Don’t make a fool of yourself all the time. I can stand it. but other folks can’t.”
Duffy shut up, and both men drew aside respectfully as the young lady passed them, her gloved fingers just touching the arm of the tall gentleman who escorted her.
The young lady’s face was hand' some, and, what is more, it was interesting. It was as different from the commonplace handsome face as a cultivated voice is different from the cackle or twang of the ordinary untutored windpipe. Quite young, not more than eighteen apparently ; maidenly purity there, of course. But this purity was so remarkable, it amounted to something so like a superior intelligence, that it almost imposed upon the beholder, at the same time that it attracted him. In short, this was one of those rare countenances in which girlish innocence rises to the nobleness of matronly dignity and manly power, without losing its own youthful, fascinating, appealing grace. As she passed our two prattlers on the quarter-deck, even the stolidly jocose Duffy became bumble in remembrance of the way he had jabbered about her, feeling much as a man might feel who should discover that he had been saying sly things of Santa Cecilia or the Mater Amabilis. O, potent influence of mere speechless, unobtrusive, carefully veiled and yet splendidly visible womanly purity ! It has done, bow much we cannot fully discover or declare, towards civilizing and sanctifying the other sex.
This young lady lifted her face a little shyly and yet with perfect self-possession toward the man whose arm supported her. It was obvious enough that she did not know him, and that she had only accepted his assistance because she needed it, and not with the slightest thought towards flirting.
“ Do you wish to get on deck ? ” he had ventured to ask as he passed her in the breezy house on deck which enclosed the companion-way. “I judged so by your looking out. May I offer you my arm and give you a seat ? ”
“ I was waiting for my aunt,” she replied. “ But she does not seem to come.”
Then, finding it very uncomfortable there, with the wind sucking through the door in a gale, she passed her hand over his sleeve, saying, “If you will take me to a seat, I will be much obliged to you.”
“ We have had a horrible time of it,” he was remarking as they passed the respectful Duffy and Wilkins. “The weather has treated us like enemies and criminals.”
“ I am so glad to get on deck once more ! ” she said, her face lighting and coloring, like an eastern sky under the rising of the sun. “ O,” here was the enthusiasm of young life, “ how beautiful the ocean is ! ”
He looked down upon her with pleasure because of her admiration. Who at twenty-four does not look upon eighteen as childhood, and rejoice in exhibiting marvels to it, and sympathize with its wonder! The next moment, remembering what had been asked of him, he halted and placed a chair for her.
“ Thank you,” she said. “ Don’t let me trouble you further. I see that my aunt is coming. You are very good.”
Thus liberated, or rather perhaps graciously dismissed from his charge, the tall young man quietly touched his brimless cloth cap, turned on his heel with the dignity natural to giants, walked to the other side of the quarter-deck, leaned a yard or so over the bulwark, and watched the swift whirls of white and blue water, as they boiled out from under the paddle-box and raced along the ship’s side.
The aunt, a stoutish lady, inviolably veiled, — not disposed clearly to be blown to pieces before fellow-passengers, — was in charge of afar stouter man, the captain of the Mersey. The captain got the aunt a chair, slapped it down in a jolly way alongside the niece, and then planted himself bolt upright in front of the two, babbling and boasting louder than the weather, as if he were all speaking-trumpet.
“ Yes, a fine ship, noble ship. Never commanded a better. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen knots. Make the passage before you could dress a salad. It’s the beginning, ladies, of a great enterprise. At last our State will stand on its own feet, do its own business, put its money in its own pocket. Independent of New York ? Of course we will be. It’s high time. Don’t you think so ? I agree with you.”
Captain Brien talked loud and bragged much, partly because he was of Celtic blood and born in Ireland (only a baby at the time ; raised in the American marine), and partly because he had found that passengers, and especially women, were cheered and humbugged by that sort of thing. After a certain amount of his hurrah-boys talk, he felt that he had done his duty by the ladies, and he prepared to leave them. It was time ; he was running out of conversation ; when he had shouted and huzzaed a little, he had done; such was Captain Brien as a member of society. So he glared at the helmsman ; then he threw a glance aloft, as if he were still in a sailingvessel and carried top-gallants ; then, with a sudden lurch and a sharp shuffle, he was away. Next he was looking over the side, not far from the tall young gentleman, guessing at the ship’s speed by the flight of the water. As he was about to move off— the uneasy, restless, hyena-like creature — the giant lassoed him with a question.
“ Well, Captain Brien,” he said, with the air of one who may have money to invest, “how is the new line to succeed ? ”
“ Succeed ? Prodigious ! ” promptly shouted the skipper, in his loud, cracking voice, — a voice full of cheerful and almost frolicsome brag and bluster, a voice which had an undertone of humbug. “ Sure to pay. Pay right off. Keep paying. First great step in the right direction. Change the channels of trade in our country.”
Captain Brien was very short and very thick ; what our Southern mountaineers would call a chunk of a man ; not protuberant nor even corpulent, yet every ounce of a two - hundredpounder. His face was flat, broad, nearly four square, ponderous in jowl, with cheeks as plump and solid as a pig’s. His complexion was a dark, rich, and curiously mottled mixture of suntanning and whiskey tanning. So long as you merely looked at him, you thought him a bluff, frank, honest sailor ; but the moment you heard him talk, you suspected him of being a humbug, admitting, however, that he might be a good-hearted one, as well as a jolly one.
“It is not easy to change the channels of trade,”observed the tall young gentleman. “ It frequently takes centuries to do that. New York has an immense start.”
A serious-minded person he seemed to be ; one of those persons who love to speak veracities and to hear veracities uttered, who, perhaps, takes some offence when you offer them a mess of undisguisable claptrap.
Captain Brien looked up quickly at hearing his enthusiastic prophecies questioned. He did not frankly turn his face of bronze and mahogany ; he merely slewed his gray and piggish, yet furtive and quick-glancing eyes. In an instant he had warned himself: “ This man is not to be fooled with, at least not at times ; and this is one of the times.”
“ You are right, sir,” he said, dropping his trumpet bluster to a confidential, honest undertone. “ New York has an immense start.”
“ Only two vessels in the line, I believe,” continued the passenger.
“ Only two,” answered the captain, briefly, not caring to continue the conversation, since he could not splash and spout and play the whale in it.
“ And the other is not yet built ? ”
“ Not yet built,” softly admitted the captain. He began to look around him for duty : leaking at this rate was not agreeable nor wise.
The passenger saw that the subject was no longer a welcome one, and he dropped it. There was a silence of a few seconds, during which the captain glanced two or three times at the young man, as if trying in vain to call him to mind, or as if struck with his appearance. An imposing young fellow, really ; height something quite extraordinary ; could hardly have measured less than six feet four. His face, too, notwithstanding its fine pink and white complexion, and notwithstanding the softness of his curling blond hair and long blond whiskers, was not such a face as one prefers to shake a fist at. Although the features were, in general, pleasing, the cheekbones were broad and the jaws were strong, showing a character full of pluck and perseverance. In other respects a charming expression ; there was a wealth of both dignity and benignity in it ; it reminded one somewhat of the portraits of Washington.
“ We have had rough weather,” he said presently. “ This is my first morning on my legs. Who are my fellow-passengers, may I ask ? ”
“ All of the right sort, sir,” shouted the captain. Surely this was a subject that he might brag upon, without giving offence, — “ all of the right sort, and; from the right spot,” he blustered ahead. “ Such people as I like to carry. A most elegant lady, sitting over there just now, a perfect lady, sir. Her niece is one of the most charming, innocent, modest, — bless you, just the kind that we raise and brag of — just our own best kind, sir. Her brother Tom, too —” the captain stopped here and looked at his helmsman, headstays, bobstays, etc. It seemed as if he had not so very much to say in favor of the brother Tom.
“ What is the name ?” inquired the tall gentleman, who doubtless had his reasons for wanting to know.
“ The name is Chester ; no, beg pardon, the aunt’s name is Chester, — Mrs. Chester. The young lady’s name is Beaumont. The Beaumonts of Hartland ! ” repeated the captain, proudly-
The tall young gentleman did not start ; he merely looked as if he had heard before of the Beaumonts of Hartland ; he also looked as if he were not pleased at meeting them.
“ Ever been in Hartland ? ” inquired the captain. “Lovely village, — town, I should say.”
“ I have been there,” was the brief and dry answer.
“ Perhaps you have known the Beaumonts, then ? I dare say they would be pleased to — ”
“ I never knew them,” interrupted the youngster, more drily than before.
In a little company like this—” continued Captain Brien.
“ I dare say I may make their acquaintance, at a proper time.”
His intentions towards an immediate introduction being thus bluffed, the captain fell silent, and looked once more at his helmsman, bobstays, jackstays, etc.
“ How many days more of it ? ” inquired the passenger, after some seconds of grave meditation, his face meanwhile turned from the Beaumont group, as if he might wish to avoid recognition.
“ How many days ? Why that depends, you know. The weather comes in there. So does the newness of the engine. I shouldn’t like to prophesy, Mr. McMaster.”
The young man gave the captain a singular glance, had the air of being about to speak, and then checked himself. Could it be that his name was not McMaster, and that he had reasons for letting the error go uncorrected ? After another meditation, he swung slowly away from the captain, his back still toward Mrs. Chester and Miss Beaumont, strode forward to the waist of the vessel, lighted a cigar, and smoked in deep thought.
Meanwhile Wilkins and Duffy, the latter with his narrow gray eyes constantly fixed on the tall passenger, were conversing about their own affairs.
“ Duffy, how much do you suppose we. ’ve made by going to England ? ” queried Wilkins, puckering the corners of his mouth into satirical wrinkles.
“ Made ? How should I know ? Foot it up at the end of the season. What do you think we’ve made, yourself ? ”
“ Made damn fools of ourselves.”
“ O, you’d better jump overboard, and done with it. You ’re always looking at the black side of things. How do you figure that out ? ”
“ Well, figure it yourself; you can cipher, can’t you ? Expenses going and coming just four times what they would be to New York, taking in board at the St. Nicholas, a course through the theatres, and a blow out generally. It cuts down all my profits and eats into the capital. I think, by Jehu, we’d better let importing alone. It may do from a seaport; but hang me if I ever try importing into an inland village again. If we hadn’t been as green as swamp meadows, we would n’t have been got out of our little twopenny shops on any such business. And I believe the whole line will turn out a flam. O, it’s all very well as a spree. That’s it, a big spree. But we can’t make fortunes on spreeing it.”
At this moment the tall passenger passed them on his way forward to the waist. Duffy followed him with his eyes, then hurried to the companionway and took a long, sly look, then came back, staring inquiringly at his chum.
“ I say, Bill Wilkins, how about that fellow ? ” he demanded.
Big chap,” returned Wilkins, turning his face upward and surveying every point of the horizon.
“ Yes, but who is he ? ” persisted Duffy.
“ How should I know ? ” returned Wilkins, trying to look indifferent, but unable to conceal annoyance.
“ Don’t know him, eh ? ” continued Duffy, smiling and triumphant. “ Ever live in Hartland ? ”
“ Yes, of course I’ve lived in Hartland, twenty years or thereabouts. But he’s no Hartland man.”
“ He may have been a Hartland boy, though.”
Wilkins squared his back on Duffy, and walked aft ; but Duffy would not be got rid of in this fashion ; he followed, and continued his subject.
“ Don’t know him, hey ? You know those people opposite, don’t you ? ”
“ What, Mrs. Chester and Miss Beaumont? Yes, I know who they are.”
“ And where they live ? ”
“ Yes, and where they live.”
“ Well, you know the people on the other hill ? ”
“ What other hill ? ”
“ O, now make believe you can’t understand anything,” said the indignant Duffy. “ Why, the other hill. Other side of the town. Straight back of your store. Two miles back.”
Wilkins would not answer, and persisted in staring at every nook and corner of the weather, as if he did n’t hear his gabbling comrade.
“ That’s one of the — ” began Duffy.
“ Shut up ! ” broke in Wilkins.
“ The youngest one,” went on Duffy. Been abroad eight years, studying and travelling. Changed wonderfully. I ciphered him out, though. I tell you, it’s Frank — ”
“ Shut up, for God’s sake,” implored Wilkins.
“Yes, and you knew it all the while and would n’t tell me of it,” said the aggrieved Duffy.
“ Yes, I did know it all the while,” admitted Wilkins. “ I recognized him the evening we came aboard. And I did n’t tell you of it; and do you know why ? ”
Without answering or apparently noticing this question, Duffy pursued : “ Yes, by jiminy, that’s him. Sold him peanuts and candy many a time. I ’ll go and shake hands with him.”
He started to go forward. Wilkins caught him by the skirt of his black swallow-tailed coat and hauled him back.
“ Don’t be a damn fool ! ”
“ Why not ? ” demands the innocent Duffy.
“ Because it’s ridiculous to be a damn fool all the while, and because it makes mischief. Do you want to get up a muss on board ? There are those Beaumonts, — that young devil of a Tom Beaumont; don’t you remember all the trouble between the two families ? ”
“ O, exactly,” returns the abashed Duffy.
“ O, exactly ! ” scornfully repeats Williams. “ Well, you see it now, don’t you ? They don’t know him. He passes for Mr. McMaster on board. I heard the captain call him so, and he answered to it. He’s quite right. It ain’t best they should know him.”
“ If they should, there might be a devil of a row,” observes the at last enlightened Duffy.
“ I should guess so, by Jehu,” mutters Wilkins, wrathful at Duffy for not having seen it all before.
IF Mr. McMaster, as we will call him for the present, expected to keep at a distance from the Beaumonts during this voyage, he was disappointed.
After he was seated at the dinnertable the three members present of that family, the aunt, the niece, and the nephew, followed each other into the eating-saloon and took places opposite him, the young lady acknowledging by a slight inclination of the head her remembrance of his service in the morning. This was what he had not expected ; in fact, this was just what he supposed he had guarded against ; but the steward, being slightly beery that morning, had misunderstood him, and thought he wanted to be close to the belle of the steamer. So there was nothing for Mr. McMaster to do but to return the girl’s zephyr-like salutation, to glance rapidly at the faces of aunt and nephew, and then quietly fall to eating.
Meantime Duffy and Bill Wilkins, paired away much farther down the table, looked on breathlessly out of the corners of their eyes. They expected, it is not best now to say precisely what, but clearly it was something remarkable. Duffy whispered, “ That’s curious, hey, Wilkins ?” Wilkins responded with a grunt which signified as plainly as possible, “ Shut up ! ” And when Duffy failed to understand, and so stated in an audible whisper, Wilkins hissed back between his teeth, “By Jehu ! if you don’t shut up, I change my seat.” Whereupon Duffy, turning very red under the reproof, looked around fiercely at the listening waiter and called for a bottle of champagne, being a man who under such snubbings needed spirituous encouragement.
Presently Mrs. Chester began a conversation with the mysterious giant. Mrs. Chester was aristocratic ; in fact, she was in a general way disagreeably haughty ; not at all the sort of lady who habitually seeks intercourse with strangers. But the giant was — barring his too great height — decidedly handsome ; and, what is more fascinating still to a woman, he had an air of distinction. “ Then why not be pleasant ? ” she thought; “ such a little party as we have on board ; awkward not to speak to one’s vis-a-vis : moreover, he has been civil to my niece.”
So Mrs. Chester astonished Duffy and Wilkins by saying to the tall gentleman, with that sweet smile which haughty and self-conscious people often have, drawing it out of the depths of their condescension, “ The sea is still a little troublesome, sir. It is safer on deck for a gentleman than for a lady.”
The captain, seated in his Olympus at the head of the table, immediately thundered his introduction : “ Mr. McMaster, let me present you to Mrs. Chester, Miss Beaumont ; Mr. Beaumont, Mr. McMaster ; we are all friends of the line, I believe ; travelling comrades. Let’s be jolly while we are at sea. Time enough to be solemn on shore.”
No notice taken of Duffy and Wilkins, nor of several other persons around the foot of the table, all of whom Captain Brien knew by instinct to be of a different breed from the Beaumonts of Hartland.
The tall passenger made three slight bows, and each of the Beaumonts made one. Even while he was bowing, the former was querying to himself whether he ought not to deny the name of McMaster, and make public the one which belonged to him. But he decided against it; and evidently it was an important decision ; one could see that by the wink which Duffy threw at Wilkins, a wink which the cautious Wilkins totally ignored.
“ I think, madam, that we shall now have a quiet time, at least for a few days,” said the so-called Mr. McMaster, in a full, round tone, and with a cultivated accent, very pleasant to hear. “The barometer seems to promise as much.”
“ O, does it ?” smiled the lady. “ I am so glad anything can prophesy in these days. Well, we ought to be patient, even with a long voyage. It is homeward. It is towards our dear native country. I shall be so delighted to see its shores again ! If you have been absent as long as we, you must be able to sympathize with me.”
“ I have been in Europe eight years, Mrs. Chester.”
Spasmodic winking here from Duffy, who thought the secret was coming out and the muss at hand.
“ Eight years ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Chester. “ And I was gone only one year. How can an American stay abroad eight years ? ”
“ I have been engaged in a course of studies which made the time pass very rapidly.”
“ O, I understand. My niece has been three years at school in England and France. We ran over after her, and took a year on the Continent. Europe is the best place, I suppose, for a thorough education. But eight years ! Dear me ! how glad you must be to return ! ”
“I can't quite say that. I leave great things behind me. Compared with America, Europe is a completed and perfect social edifice.
“ Excuse me ! ” objected Mrs. Chester, quite sincerely and warmly, “ I don’t consider them our equals. Look at their hordes of brutal peasants. And even their aristocrats, I don’t consider them equal to our gentlemen and ladies, our untitled nobility. Where will you find anything in. Europe to compare with our best families ? ”
Duffy whispered to Wilkins, “That’s so,” and Wilkins, in reply, muttered, “ Confound her ! ”
The tall gentleman waived the comparison of manners; he alluded, he said civilly, to art, literature, and science.
“ But look at our list of noble names,” urged Mrs. Chester, pushing on from victory to victory. “ The authors of the Federalist,— Legare, Cooper, Irving, Bancroft, — Washington Irving.”
The lady’s lore, it will be perceived, was of early days ; she had read “ the books which no gentleman’s library should be without.”
The tall young man seemed to hesitate about contradicting a woman ; then he seemed to find a reason for speaking plainly, even at the risk of giving offence.
“ I admit those and a few others,” he said. “ But how few they all are ! And we are a nation of thirty millions. We have been a civilized people a hundred years and more. I can’t account for the sparseness of our crop of great intellects. I sometimes fear that our long backwoods life has dwarfed the national brain, or that our climate is not fitted to develop the human, plant in perfection. Our painting can 't get into European exhibitions. Our sculpture has only done two or three things which have attracted European attention. Our scientific men, with three or four exceptions, confine themselves to rehearsing European discoveries. Our histories are good secondclass ; so are our poems, the best of them. Even in novels, — one would think we might do something there, we have a wealth of strong incidents and curious characters,— but what is the result ? The American novelist either can’t draw a character, or he can’t make a plot. In general he is as dry and dull as a school geography. I don’t understand it. There is only one poor comfort. It is not given to every nation to produce a literature. There have been hundreds of nations, and there have been only six or eight literatures.”
Evidently this Mr. McMaster, or whatever his name might be, was a frank and resolute fellow, if not a downright wilful one. At the same time his manner was perfectly courteous, and his cultivated voice was even insinuating, though raised in contradiction. In spite of annoyance at hearing her native land criticised and her own importance thereby considerably depreciated, Mrs. Chester was confirmed in her opinion that he was a young fellow of good blood.
“ How can an American attack his own country?” was her only remonstrance, and that sweetened by a smile.
“ I beg your pardon ; I don’t call It attacking. If I should discover a leak in our vessel here, I should feel it my duty to tell the captain of it. How can we mend our imperfections so long as we persuade each other that we are already perfect ? ”
“By Jove, you’re right there, sir,” put in Tom Beaumont, a genteel but devil-may-care looking youth, perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two years old. “If I see a fellow going wrong, especially if he’s a friend of mine, I say to him right off, ‘ Look here, old chap, allow me to tell you, by Jove, that that sort of thing won’t do.’ Yes, sir,” continued Tom, who had taken a straight cocktail before dinner and was now drinking liberally of champagne, “your doctrine suits my ideas exactly. As to America, I hurrah for it, of course. We can whip the world, if we could get at it. But when it comes to palaces and picture-galleries and that sort of thing, by Jove, we ’re in the swamps ; we ’re just nowhere. We have n’t anything to show. What can you take a man round to when he travels amongst us ? The only thing we can offer to pass the time is just a drink. Show him up to a bar ; that’s what we have to come to. And that’s the reason, by Jove, that we ’re always nipping.”
It seemed as if Mr. McMaster thought that Tom had nipped too much that morning to allow of his conversation being profitable. He turned to the sister. He had, by the way, no business to turn to her. Even Mr. Huffy, though not very bright, was aware of that ; he showed it by hitting his knee against the knee of his friend Wilkins ; for Duffy could not endure to have an idea without letting some one know it. Nevertheless, a brief and rather shy conversation took place between Mr. McMaster and Miss Kate Beaumont.
Yes, she agreed with him, at least in part ; she had been long enough abroad to like people abroad ; the English she liked very much ; the French not so well. The English were so frank and straightforward and honest ! You could depend on them. It was strange that it should be so ; but it seemed to her that life was more simple with them than with other people ; they had less guile and pretence than other people. Perhaps, she admitted, she had seen the best side.
He looked pleased ; seemed to think it much to her credit that she should see the best side ; probably thought that only good people can fully discover goodness.
“Women are fortunate in being so situated as to see mainly the best side,” he added. “ I have sometimes thought it would be an angelic existence to see all the good there is in the world and none of the evil.”
Whether Miss Kate felt that there was a compliment in this, or whether she perceived that the young gentleman looked at her very steadily, she colored a little. He noticed it, and immediately stopped talking to her ; he was astonished and indignant at his own folly ; what right had he to be paying her compliments ? The girl’s face and air and manner had actually made him forget who she was. No wonder ; if not a perfectly beautiful face, it was a perfectly charming one ; one of the faces that make both man and woman long to offer kindness. An oval contour, features faintly aquiline, abundant chestnut hair, soft hazel eyes, a complexion neither dark nor light, a constant delicate color in the cheeks, were not enough to explain the whole of the fascination. It was the expression that did the beholder’s business ; it was the sweetness, the purity, the unmeant dignity ; it was the indescribable.
Mrs. Chester once more grasped the reins of the conversation ; and was allowed to have them, so far as her niece and the stranger were concerned ; the genial Tom alone making an occasional grab at them. It was noticeable that while this lady talked with Mr. McMaster, she was mellifluous and smiling ; but from the moment her own family joined in the discussion, she acquired a sub-acid flavor. “ One of those women who have a temper of their own by their own firesides,” judged her new acquaintance. When the meal was over, however, all parties rose from the table on seemingly excellent terms with each other.
Once on deck, Mr. Duffy drew his friend Wilkins aside by the elbow and muttered in profound amazement, “Ever see anything like that, Bill Wilkins ? ”
The prudent Wilkins, looking as non-committal as a mummy, responded by an incomprehensible grunt.
“What would old Beaumont have said, if he 'd happened in ? ” pursued Duft'y.
Wilkins looked cautiously about him : “ Don’t speak so loud, man. You ’ll split with it yet.”
“ I hain’t mentioned the other name,” declared Duffy.
“Yes, but by Jehu, you want to. I know you, Duffy. By Jehu, I’d rather trust my grandmother with a secret than you. I wish to Heaven you’d shut up on the whole subject till we get ashore. If you don’t, there ’ll be a fuss aboard.”
“ O, you be hanged, Bill Wilkins ! ” retorted Duffy, walking away in great offence, and would not speak to his friend again for half an hour.
Meantime the Beaumonts, clustered in a little group on deck, were discussing this Mr. McMaster.
“ Seen him before, by Jove ! ” muttered Tom, bringing his list down on the arm of his chair. " by Jove, Aunt Marian, I’ve seen him before. Where was it ? ”
“Tom, I wish you wouldn’t by Jove it quite so constantly in my presence,” replies Mrs. Chester. “You seem to take me for one of your own fellows as you call them.”
“By_— I beg your pardon; there it pops again,” says Tom. “ I was going to say it would n’t do at all among the fellows. Takes something stronger than that to make them look around.”
“ I care very little how you address them,” retorts Mrs. Chester with peppery dignity. “ What I do care for is how you address me.”
“Well, all right. Beg pardon, as I said before. Catch another hold. Who is this tall chap ? ”
“ He looks like so many young Englishmen,” suggests Kate. “ Only he is taller.”
“So he does,” nods Tom. “ Perhaps that ’s it. Dare say I saw him in England and took him for a John Bull. Though, by — never mind, aunt did n’t let it out — try another barrel — what was I going to say ? Oh ! I can 't for the life of me remember where I did see him. Was it in Scotland ? Give it up.”
“ At all events, he is a gentleman, decides Mrs. Chester. “ I did n’t hear him by Joving it at us.”
“ Come, Aunt Marian ! ” said the young man, speaking with sudden seriousness and even dignity. “ Allow me to suggest that that is going a great ways. Do you notice that you insinuated that I am not a gentleman ? ”
Mrs. Chester appeared to be struck by the protest ; she looked up at her nephew with surprise and gravity.
“ Tom, you are quite right,” she said. “ I trust you will always repel that insinuation, from whomsoever it comes. I did not mean it.
“ All right,” returned the youngster, dropping back into the easy, good-natured way which was habitual with him. “ Now, if you don’t mind it, I ’ll light up.”
During this short tiff, Kate Beaumont glanced gravely and thoughtfully from one to the other of the pair. It is evident that she has been long enough away from her relations to forget their characters a little, and that she is studying them with an interest almost amounting to anxiety.
“So you like the English, Kate?” recommences Tom, with a bantering smile, — the smile of a good-hearted tease. “Honest, steady-going chaps are they ? I wonder how you will like us. Seen any Americans yet that you fancy ? What do you say to me ? ”
“ You are my brother, Tom.”
“O, that’s all, is it. What if I wasn’t ? I almost wish I wasn’tWhat a fancy I would take to you ! You’d have an offer this trip. Perhaps you will, as it is. This Mr. McMaster is looking a good deal your way.”
“ Nonsense, Tom ! ” And Kate colored as innocent girls do under such remarks.
“So I say,” put in Mrs. Chester. “ Tom, you talk like a school-girl. They babble about matches in that style.”
“ Do they ! ” wonders Tom. “ News to me. Thought I’d suggested a new train of thought to KateBut this Mr. McMaster — ”
In short, there was much talk among the Beaumonts concerning this Mr. McMaster. For various reasons, and especially perhaps because of the mystery attaching to him, he was a favorite. On board ship any subject of curiosity is a delight, and any tolerably fine fellow may get the name of a Crichton. Even the fact that the young man did not seek the Beaumonts was rather a recommendation to people who were so sure of their own position. He was not a pushing fellow ; consequently he was a gentleman. Mrs. Chester sent for him to join in ,whist parties, and Tom clapped him on the shoulder with proffers of drinks and cigars.
As for him, he wished heartily that they would let him alone, until there came a time when he could not wish it, at least not heartily. In his first interview with them he had contradicted Mrs. Chester’s glorification of America, not altogether because he did not agree with her and because it was his nature to be sincere and outspoken, but partly also to leave a bad impression of himself upon her mind, and so evade an awkward intimacy. It was awkward in more ways than one. His time was valuable to him ; he had in his stateroom thick German volumes of mineralogy and metallurgy which he wanted to master ; and he had proposed to make this voyage an uninterrupted course of study. In the second place, there was between this family and his family a disagreement too inveterate and serious to be rubbed out by a chance acquaintance.
At times he regretted that he had not at first announced his name and individuality. He had not done it, from good motives ; he despised and detested the old family quarrel; he did not want to be dragged into it personally ; did not want a voyage of pouting and perhaps of open hostility. A momentary impulse, an impulse strengthened by the surprise of finding himself face to face with Beaumonts, had induced him to accept the false name which somehow had fallen upon him. Now that he had time to think over the matter coolly, was the impulse to be regretted ? On the whole, no ; notwithstanding that he hated to sail under false colors, no ; notwithstanding that he was in a ridiculous position, no. As McMaster he could go through the voyage peaceably; and after it was over, he should never meet the Beaumonts again ; although they lived within a few miles of each other, there was no chance of a meeting.
But if he voyaged with these people under a false name, he must not become intimate with them. On this, for the first two or three days, he was resolved ; and on this, after two or three days, he was not so resolved. The temptation which led him into this change of feeling, the strongest temptation to which a man can be subjected, was a woman. If the youngster needs excuse, let us remember that for the last four years he had been studying with a will, and had had scarcely an idea or a sentiment outside of chemistry, mineralogy, and metallurgy. He had rarely spoken to a woman, except his elderly, hard-working landlady, and the fat, plain daughter of his landlady. If there had been any pretty girls in the little town of Gottingen, he had failed to see them. For four years he had not been in love, nor thought of being in love. And, all of a sudden, here he was face to face with a young lady who was handsome enough and sweet enough to make a sensation in any society, and who, in the desert of the Mersey, with only Mrs. Chester and the stewardess for rivals, seemed of course the loveliest of women.
She was a mighty temptation. He could not help looking at her and studying her. If she needed helping from a dish within reach of his long arm, he must perforce anticipate the waiter. If she wanted to walk the deck, and her fly-away, devil - maycare brother was larking below among the beer-bottles and punch - glasses, he could not help saying, “Allow me.”If she asked questions about life in Germany or about the studies in a German university, he did not know how to evade telling her many things, and so making an interesting conversation. Each link in this intercourse seemed in itself so unimportant ! And yet the whole made such a chain !
Of course, this intimacy, so singular to those who knew all its circumstances, could not fail to draw the sidelong wonder of Messrs. Wilkins and Duffy. As the tall young man and the graceful young woman pace the quarter-deck in company, Duffy, clothing his flat face with puckers of deep meaning, pokes a spasmodic elbow into his friend’s ribs and mumbles : “ I say, Bill Wilkins, that ’s the queerest start out. That may be a love affair before we get home. What then ? ”
“ Humph ! ” grunts Wilkins, — a grunt of contemptuous unbelief, — that fool of a Duffy !
“ If it should,” pursues Duffy, dimpling and simpering, “might collapse the whole fight ; put a complete stopper on it.”
Wilkins utters another incredulous, scornful grunt and turns away ; that Duffy is too much of a ninny to be listened to with any patience.
“ I did n’t say it would,,” explains Duffy. “ I said it might. Old Beaumont himself wouldn’t — ”
“Shut up ! ” mutters Wilkins, grinding his teeth through his cigar, but looking innocently, diplomatically, at the foam in the steamer’s wake. If that secret was to be divulged on board, it should not be the fault of the tongue, or face, or eye of Bill Wilkins.
A LONG voyage. There was time in it for quite a little romance. And the time was not misimproved ; for, if we should narrate minutely all that happened on board the Mersey, we should have a volume. That, however, would by no means do ; we must simply indicate how things went.
In the first place, there was Mrs. Chester’s flirtation. She was nearly fifty years old, and yet she was not too old for coquetry, or at least she did not think so. More elderly people are thus minded than the young imagine ; many a man well stricken in years has thoughts of captivating some chit of a girl ; he not only wants to win her hand, but he trusts that he may win her heart; actually hopes, the deluded senior, to inspire her with love. Same with some women ; can’t believe they have passed the age of fascinating ; make eyes at young dandies who don’t understand it at all ; would beggar themselves for a husband of twentytwo.
Mrs. Chester was well preserved; complexion brunette, but tolerably clear, — from a distance ; dark hazel eyes, still remarkably bright, — also from a distance ; hair very black, to be sure, but honestly her own, even to the color ; a long face, but not lean, and with high and rather fine features; on the whole, a distinguished countenance. Her form had not kept quite so well, being obviously a little too exuberant, notwithstanding the cunning of dress-makers. What was repellant about her, at least to an attentive and sensitive observer, was her smile. It was over-sweet ; its cajolery was too visible ; it did not fascinate ; it put you on your guard. Even her eyes, with all their fine color and sparkle, were not entirely pleasing, being too watchful and cunning and at times too combative. On the whole, it was the face of a woman who had long been a flirt, who had long been a leader of fashion, who had seen trouble without getting any good out of it, who had ended by becoming something of a tartar, and all without ceasing to be a flirt.
Mrs. Chester was a widow. A country belle in her youth, a city lady during middle life, she had lost her husband within the last six years, found herself without a fortune, and retired upon a wealthy brother. Disappointed woman ; thought she had not had her fair share of life’s sweetness ; still uneasily seeking after worldly joys. Old enough to be Mr. McMaster’s mother, old enough to matronize him wisely in society, she was unable to give herself the good advice to keep from flirting with him. She had courted his acquaintance at the table of the Mersey for his own sake. It was not because he had been civil to her niece ; it was because she wanted him to be sweet upon herself. Couldn’t help it ; old habits too strong for her sense ; old habits and a born tendency.
Of course, he did not understand her. No man of twenty-four can have the least suspicion that an elderly woman wants him to flirt with her. Mr. McMaster (not his real name, please to remember) helped Mrs. Chester around the vessel in the innocence of ignorance. Did not want her company, but could not help getting it. “ Mr. Me Master, will you oblige me with your arm up these stairs ? ” And then he was in for a long, prattling promenade on deck. “ Mr. McMaster, will you please take me into the cabin ? ” And then he found himself caught in a maelstrom of whist. He had meant to keep away from the Beaumonts ; but he could not manage it because of Mrs. Chester. The result was — the terribly pregnant result — that he saw a great deal of Miss Kate.
Pretty soon, say in about a week, there was a muddle. While he was talking to Mrs. Chester, and while Mrs. Chester supposed that she was his point of interest, he was really talking for the sake of Miss BeaumontThe aunt, as innocent of any such gentle purpose as a bald eagle, gathered these two chickens under her chaperonic wings and brooded in them thoughts of each other. Had she known what she was doing, she would have snapped at Kate, insulted Mr. McMaster, shut herself up in her stateroom, and had a fit of the sulks.
Results were hastened by rough weather. Mrs. Chester, losing her sealegs once more, became to a certain extent bedridden, or lay about the decks inert. By this time our tall young friend was under a spell which promised pleasures and would not let him see dangers.
Miss Beaumont, you need some one to assist you”; “Miss Beaumont, shall I annoy you if I walk with you ? " He can 't help saying these things ; sees the folly of them, no doubt, but still says them ; resolves that he will do nothing of the sort, and breaks his resolution; very clear-headed youth, but getting ungovernable about the heart. Of course one likes him the better for this weakness, and would hardly have a man of twenty-four behave differently. But the result ? Long walks and long talks ; getting more interested every day; cannot learn too much about Miss Beaumont; finds her school-girl reminiscences more delightful than chemistry. The young lady. handsome by daylight, seems to him a goddess by moonlight. He experiences a pure, exquisite, almost unearthly pleasure in looking clown at her bright, innocent face, and seeing it look up at him. He does a great deal of reading (not in chemistry) in the cabin. Miss Beaumont being always one listener, if not the only one. What a change has come over him, and bow rapidly it has come ! If this thing is to go on as it has begun, he will soon be indisputably in love. And then ?
“ Wonder if he ain't getting himself into a scrape ? thinks the diplomatic Wilkins, Careful, however, not to utter the query aloud, lest babbling Duffyshould repeat it and make mischief. “ Well,” he continues, still speaking in strict confidence to himself. “ that ’s the way with all youngsters, pretty much. Women will get the better of them. They 've tripped me pretty often.” (Mr. Wilkins, now nigh on to forty, has not been badlytripped as yet, being still unmarried.) “ That girl might upset me now, well as I know her breed. Pretty girl, devilish pretty girl, and looks like a good one, too, in spite of her breed.”
There are moments when our tall fellow wonders at himself as much as Wilkins wonders at him. He is one of the wisest of youngsters ; at least he has that reputation among his acquaintance ; he has even had it with himself. Though of an impulsive race, and partly because he is aware that he is of such a race, he has proposed to himself to be practical, has set up practical-mindedness as his nirvana, and has stubbornly, self-repressively striven after it. For years he has not meant to do anything which was not worth while, nor even to do anything which was not the best thing to do. Many of his younger associates have considered him disagreeably well-balanced ; have felt reproved, cramped, and chilled by his rational conversation and sound example ; would have liked him better if he had had more emotions, enthusiasms, and whims.
And this sagacious youth has allowed his heart to draw him into a scrape ; as the philosophical Wilkins puts the case, a woman has got the better of him. At the breakfast-table, no matter what may have been his resolves during the night, he can’t keep his eyes from bidding Kate Beaumont something kinder than good morning. If he sees her in need of a chair, he can’t help bringing her one. If he finds her pacing the unsteady deck alone (her aunt rolled in shawls, and her brother talking horse below to boozing companions), he must offer her his arm, or jump overboard. When Mrs. Chester, anxious in her least sickish hours to have him near her, proposes an evening family party of whist, he takes the cards. And, subsequent on the game, when the elder lady leans back in a comer, does her dizzy best to be agreeable, and, despite herself, falls into a series of dozings, how can he quit Miss Beaumont, or how be dull with her ? One little weakness after another makes a whole day of unwisdom and wrong-doing.
Excuse him ? Of course we can, and do it joyfully. We do not forget that pregnant saying, “A woman in the same house has so many devilish chances at a fellow ; and we remember that in a ship she has even more chances than in a house. Miss Kate had no rival young lady on board the Mersey. She had not even a rival, at least not for a long time past, in the emotional memory of Mr. McMaster. He was like Adam alone when he first beheld Eve the unknown. The oversoul of his sex, the great necessity of loving some one of the other sex, the universal instinct which is too strong for any individuality, had begun to take complete possession of him, and to upset his boasted common sense, selfcommand, and so forth. A man may be upright and sensible ; but a man’s a man for a’ that.
It was simple folly. He knew perfectly well who were the Beaumonts ; he was informed, at least in a general way, of the long feud between them and his own family ; he could not show for his conduct a ray of the excuse called ignorance. Before his mind’s eye rose the two houses : the roof of the one visible from the roof of the other, separated by only four miles of God’s blooming, joyous earth, yet never an act or message of friendship between them, rather a ceaseless interchange of wrongs and hate. It is one of the rare cases of a spite which has outlasted two generations, and which is so violent in its deeds and so outspoken in its words that all men know of it. It is a stand-point, a fixed fact; no one expects it to pass away. And yet, knowing all this bitter history, he has become surreptitiously intimate with Beaumonts, and has dared even to pay surreptitious courtship to a Beaumont girl.
Of course he reproved and bullied himself for it with distressing plainness. “What do I mean ?” he said ; and meanwhile he meant nothing. He no more proposed to tall in love than a man proposes to get drunk who takes glass after glass of a liquor which is too pleasant to be refused. And still less did he intend to make this charming and innocent young lady fall in love with himself. That, he thought, would be dishonorable : for there could be no good end to it. It was, humanly speaking, impossible that a Miss Beaumont should marry one of his family ; and if it should happen, it would almost certainly divide her from her own blood, and so make her more or less wretched for life. So, marriage being out of the question, all love-making was futility, and was even wickedness. He did not purpose it ; resolved over and over that he would have none of it ; and all the while, led by the great race instinct of loving, went on with it. Terrible downfall for a man of solid sense and strong principles, born into high ideas of gentlemanliness, bred for years among philosophers, accustomed to do analyses and other accurate things, able to analyze even himself, and so thoroughly a responsible being.
On the twelfth day of the voyage. some time in the still, cloudy, sombre evening, this young man received a shock. The irrepressible Duffy, blind as a bat from coming out of the bright cabin on to the murky deck, halts a few feet from Mr. McMaster without seeing him, plants his back against the weather bulwark, rests his lazy elbows upon it, puffs gently at his cigar, and mumbles to the invisibly deprecating Wilkins, “ Seems to me that tall chap is getting himself either into a marriage or a muss.”
The subject of the observation immediately stole away to meditate. This outside comment, this voice of the world at large, more potent than any of his own reflections, startled him into a terrible sense of his situation. What brought the comment more forcibly home to him was a suspicion, amounting almost to a certainty, that the speaker knew him. Duffy he had long since recognized, and Wilkins also ; but he had believed until now that they did not remember him. Absent eight years ; a boy when he left home ; grown twelve inches or more since then; broad shoulders, side whiskers, mustache, and all that ; — he must surely be changed beyond recognition. Now he believed that these two had found him out ; and consequently he felt as if he were standing on a mine. Any day the Beaumonts might be informed who he was ; and then what judgment would they pass upon him to his face ? “You a gentleman ! ’ they would sneer, or perhaps storm. “ Sneak among us and listen to our talk under a false name ! Even if you were an indifferent person, such conduct would be shabby. As things are between our families, it is scoundrelly.”
And then would arise the old, stupid, hateful quarrel, more violent perhaps than ever, and to some extent rational in its violence, because justified by his folly.
A young man has a vast power of repentance. When he sees that he has committed an error, he sees it in awful proportions. Our giant lay awake over his sin nearly all that night, and writhed in spirit over it all the following dayA gentleman, sensitively a gentleman, — what one might call chivalrous, what one might even call quixotic, yes, chivalrous in spite of his assumed name, quixotic in spite of his long struggle to be practical, — he was tormented by remorse. How could a man of honor, who had caught himself falling by surprise into a dishonorable action, how could he do sufficient penance ? Moreover, his blunder might lead to disastrous consequences ; what chivalrous feat could he perform to prevent them ? After a severe storm of emotions, after suffering spiritually more in one day than a nation of savages could suffer in a month, he hit upon one of the most irrational and yet perhaps one of the most natural plans that could be imagined. Only a young man could have devised it, or at least have decided upon it. The young are so wise and so foolish ! They are such inspired idiots ! Sometimes uninspired ones !
It was a moonlit autumn evening, strangely summer-like for the season, when he led Miss Beaumont on deck alone, ostensibly to take a walk with her, but really to carry out his plan.
We can imagine the hesitation and futility of his first steps toward a confession. There were two persons in him ; the one intent upon being straightforward and prompt, the other shying and balking. It was like a man trying to ride an Indian pony up to a band of music. All the young fellow’s introductions seemed to lead in a circle and bring him back to where he had started. So hard is it to avow an error which is both intellectual and moral, when one is anxious to preserve the respect of the listener, not to mention a tip-end of self-respect. It seems at the moment as if confession were a new crime, instead of a justifying virtue.
At last, out of patience with himself, Mr. McMaster (we will soon give his true name) made a direct plunge at his subject.
“ Miss Beaumont, I beg your serious attention for a moment to a very serious matter.”
No start from this most innocent of young ladies. A girl more experienced in society, or in novels, or in reveries, would have sniffed an offer of marriage. This one was ingenuous enough to be merely puzzled, to turn up her handsome face in the moonlight with calm wonder, to say with perfect simplicity as he hesitated, “What is it?”
“ My name is not McMaster,” he proceeded ; then, after scowling a moment, “It is McAlister.
“ I beg you will hear me out,” he hurried on, anticipating that she would leave him, perhaps before he could begin his apology.
But Kate was as yet simply puzzled. Four years of absence from home, of far-away ideas and of hard study, had rendered some of the notions and feelings of her childhood vague to her, so that the word “ McAlister ” did not at first rouse an association.
“ I don’t know how the captain got the idea that my name was McMaster,” pursued the penitent. “ Perhaps my illegible handwriting ; I engaged my passage by letter. Never mind. He introduced me by that name. I thought — it was a great mistake, it looks like unhandsome conduct, but I honestly thought — it best to let it pass.”
“It was odd,” hesitated Kate, feeling that she ought to say something, and not knowing what to say.
“You cannot blame me more severely than I blame myself,” he added.
“ I did not mean to blame you,” Kate puzzled on. “ If it was a joke ?—« Well, I don’t know what I ought to tell you, Mr. Me — ”
The moment she began to pronounce the name McAlister, she remembered the quarrel which it represented. She stopped; her hand fell out of his arm ; she stood away from him and stared at him.
“ I beg of you ! ” he implored. “ Will you not do me the favor to hear my reasons ? I appeal to you as a woman, who cannot sympathize with these old bitternesses, and who must wish for — at least not enmity. You had a brother on board. I did not want to resume the ancient quarrel with him. I hate the whole affair. It is a point of family honor, I know ; it seems to be held a duty to keep up the feud. But I have learned other ideas. The quarrel appears to me — I beg you will excuse my frankness — simply barbarous. I have no more sympathy with it than I have with a scalp-hunt. Well, you can guess what I had in view. I wanted a peaceful voyage. I wanted not to be known to you or your relatives in any manner whatever. I assure you, on the word of a gentleman, that those were my motives for letting my name go unrevealed. Can you blame me for them ? ”
Kate, in spite of her astonishment and a certain measure of alarm, felt that she was called upon to be a woman, and she was capable of being one. After drawing a long breath to make sure of her voice, she said quietly, and with a really dignified firmness, “ No, Mr. McAlister, I cannot blame you.”
“ I thank you sincerely,” he replied, so greatly relieved that he was almost joyous. “ I did not expect so much kindness. I only hoped it.”
“ I have lived away from home, like yourself,” she went on. “ I suppose I have lost some of the home ideas. But,” she added, after a moment of reflection, “ I am going home.”
“Yes, I know what you mean,” he said. “ You cannot control your circumstances. I must give you up as an acquaintance.”
Kate, looking frankly up at him, her handsome face spiritualized by the moonlight, nodded her head with a rather sad gravity.
“There is one thing more,” he proceeded. “ I am going to Hartland. I shall perhaps be seen there and recognized by some of your family. Then this deceit, this unhappy deceit of mine, will be discovered. And then the old quarrel may blaze up hotter than before.”
“ I hope not,” murmured Kate, fearing however that so it would be.
“ It is for that that I have told you what I have,’’ he explained. " I have made my confession to you. I have begged your pardon. If you should say thus much to your father and brothers, they might perhaps be persuaded that I meant no insult. It would pain me horribly,” he declared, stamping his foot slightly, and scowling at himself, “if I should find that I had rekindled the old spite.”
Kate’s head had drooped ; it seemed to her that a heavy load was being laid upon her ; she could not tell what to decide and to promise.
McAlister (we give him his true name at last) was also perplexed, and for a time silent. The weightiest part of his plan was still unfinished, and he was in great doubt whether he ought to carry it out.
“ No ; even that is insufficient,” he broke out, shaking his head. “There is still room to claim an impertinence, an insult. I am justified in telling you all that is upon my mind. Let me offer you one more reparation, Miss Beaumont. It is myself. I lay all that I am at your feet. I suppose you will refuse me. Never mind, I am sincere. I shall not change. You need make no reply now. But whenever you choose to speak, your answer shall be binding. Do not go. One single word. You can tell your family this ; I wish you to tell them. All the consequences that may attach to this step I am prepared, to take. I shall live and die by it.”
Kate was stupefied. Wonderful as the interview had been thus far, she had not expected any such ending as this. While he (no flirt, be it understood) had supposed for days back that he was paying her unmistakable attentions, she was so little of a flirt that she had not guessed his meaning. The time had passed pleasantly ; she had begun to respect and admire and even like tins tall young gentleman ; but that was all that had come into her heart or head. And now, bang ! bang ! one shot after another ; here was a mask thrown off and a lover falling at her feet. She was not angry ; she had no recollection just then of the family feud ; she was simply amazed, and in a certain sense shocked. It was as if he had taken a liberty ; as if, for instance, he had tried to kiss her ; and he almost a stranger, a nine days’ acquaintance !
The first words that she found to say were, “Mr. McAlister, I cannot talk to you. I think I ought to go.”
And in her confusion and alarm she was about to leave him and traverse the staggering deck alone.
“ Let me help you,” he begged, offering his arm so gently and with such dignity that she took it. “ Please allow me one word more. How may I address you during the rest of the voyage ? As an acquaintance, I hope.”
It was terrible to Kate, young as she was and inexperienced in the gravities of life, to be called on to decide such questions. She would consult her aunt; no, that would not answer at all; that might lead to great mischief. Her native sense — a wisdom which one might almost say was not of this world — enabled her to regain her self-possession and make a judicious answer.
“ We will speak to each other,” she murmured. “ But I must not walk with you alone any more. I will still call you Mr. McMaster.”
At the top of the cabin stairway she lett him, obviously in great trembling of body and agitation of spirit ; so that, as he turned away, he was full of remorse at having given her such a shock.
Some minutes later he remembered that she had not answered his offer of marriage, and. walking hastily up and down the darkling deck, he fell to querying whether she ever would answer it.
WHEN Kate Beaumont came to breakfast on the morning after that unexpected and astonishing offer of marriage, our friend McAlister saw, by the pallor of her face and the bluish circles around her eyes, that she had not slept. A smaller-souled man might have been, proud of accomplishing at least thus much ravage in a woman ’s spirit, especially after she had not deigned to accept that offer which is the greatest of all man’s offers, and had not even deigned to notice it. But this young fellow, we must understand once for all, had nothing petty about his soul any more than about his physique. A gentleman, a kind-hearted gentleman, full of respect for the girl whom he had terrified, and even to a certain extent loving her, he looked with humiliation and remorse upon his work.
“ No sleep ?” he gasped in his heart “ Was it I who kept her awake ? I might have known it; shame on me for not having foreseen it! — a man who has looked into medicine, as well as other science ! But have I not done for the best, in the end ? Was it not incumbent upon me that I should say all that I did say ? After insulting her — under the circumstances it was an insult — by forcing my forbidden company upon her incognito, could I do less than place my whole sell at her feet, to be spurned if she chose ? Certainly not ; I must be right there ; every gentleman would say so.”
So he saw it ; looked at it, you observe, through the most chivalrous of spectacles, through spectacles, too, which, unawares to him, were colored by more or less of love’s glamour. A young man who has been a little smitten is not to be trusted with reasoning about the lady who has moved him. He has fallen among the most amiable delusions, and is plundered of his wits without being aware of it. He is as much at the mercy of this one subject as a country greenhorn Is at the mercy of a professional gambler. But we will not now judge the wisdom of Mr. McAlister’s plan ; we shall see in the course of time how it turned out.
No more walks and talks alone with Kate Beaumont. In lieu of her, Mrs. Chester ; ocean being quiet again, that Venus rises from the depths ; and finds plenty of chances to attract McAlister, or rather to grab him. It was, “ Steward, please say to Mr. McMaster that we are making up a party of whist " ; or, Captain Brien, if you are going on deck, have the kindness to tell Mr McMaster that we ladies are quite alone in the cabin” ; or, “Tom, you walk so unsteadily that I should really be obliged if you would get Mr. McMaster to relieve you.”
Velvet glove, though hand of iron, you see ; a domineering soul, but gracious language. Indeed, it must not be guessed from any light-minded remarks of ours that Mrs. Chester was either vulgar or stupid. On the contrary, she was a woman whom most of us, if we should meet her in society, would treat with profound respect. What with some force of character, considerable experience in the ways of the world, and a high and mighty family position, she was a figure of no little dignity. Only men of a seared character laughed at her, and they only when by themselves. The laughter was mainly about her fancy for young fellows. It was almost a mania with her ; it had grown upon her during her married life with a husband twenty years her senior ; and now that she was a somewhat elderly widow, she was fairly possessed by it. Always a youngster dangling at her apron-strings, held there by Heaven knows what mature female magic, and making both himself and her more ridiculous than should be.
But our friend Mr. McAlister did not love to dangle. Not of the dangling sort ; modestly but intelligently conscious of his own value ; tolerably well aware, too, that he could not dangle gracefully ; for one thing, much too tall for it. Moreover, although his liking for Kate Beaumont was sufficient to make him try to like every one who belonged to her, he could not fancy Mrs. Chester. He discovered in the lady, as he thought, a certain amount of hardness and falseness ; and, gentle, sincere, frank almost to bluntness, he could not yearn after such a person. Besides, he was sore-hearted, anxious about the result of his late great step, fearful lest his incognito might yet work mischief, so that he was not in spirits to bear the first woman who chose to take his arm. Accordingly he went heavily laden with Mrs. Chester, and, quite unintentionally, he gave her cause to suspect it. There was a slowness about joining her ; there was a troubled absent-mindedness while convoying her ; at times he excused himself from the whist parties on very slight grounds ; at other times he was so busy with his books (scientific stuff) that he did not look up when she passed.
The annoyed Mrs. Chester, just like a conceited old flirt, suspected a rival. She watched the gentleman, noted his expression when his eyes fell upon her niece, and guessed the cause of his indifference to herself. Then followed some sly pumping of Kate : “ A very handsome man, this Mr. Me Mas ter.”
“ Do you think so, aunt ? ” replies the girl, who really had not fixed opinions as to the man’s beauty, so little was her heart touched. “ He is so very tall ! Too tall.”
Mrs. Chester, a veteran trickster, could not see through one thing, and that was feminine sincerity. She inferred at once that, because Kate had questioned the gentleman’s handsomeness, therefore she did think him handsome. A good deal afraid of such a fresh rival, and also remembering her chaperonic duty towards her niece, she immediately uttered the warning cluck, “ I wish we knew better who he is.”
Kate, who did know who he was, and who had been thinking about the offer of marriage and the family feud, was by this time coloring sumptuously. New alarm on the part of Mrs. Chester; the girl already in love with this stranger, it may be ; there must be an avalanche of chaperonic discouragement.
“We haven’t the least knowledge of him,” she broke out, almost spitefully, for her temper was quick and not easily held in rein. “ He is the most singularly uncommunicative and even evasive person ! I am half suspicious at times that we have done wrong in encouraging his advances.” (Poor McAlister ! he had made none.) “ We may find that we have a — what do you call it in English ? — a commis voyageur on our hands. Of course travelling companions can be got rid of. That is why I have allowed him to play whist with us, and so on. Put even in travelling companions one wants a little less mystery.”
“ I thought you liked the mystery, aunt,” remonstrated Kate, who, for some reason, perhaps only an emotion, had not been quite pleased to hear Mr. McAlister called a bagman.
“ O, I have been interested by it a little,” admitted Mrs. Chester, who had indeed been greatly interested by it, having gone so far as to suspect the youngster of being a German baron, and all because he read High Dutch scientific books. “Yes, the mystery has been amusing. Anything to pass the time at sea. But we must be careful about him.”
After a moment’s meditation, she added with sincere eagerness : “ I really wish we knew something. Tom gets nothing out of him ; does n’t try, I suppose. Has he never dropped a word to you, Kate, by which you could guess him out.”
Mrs. Chester’s eyes suddenly became very sharp, and under them Kate colored again. The girl was grievously burdened with her secret ; not accustomed to have an idea of such magnitude about her; acquiring womanliness under the pressure, but acquiring it painfully.
Why should he tell me anything ? ” she asked, fairly driven into a hateful equivocation by her relative’s reconnoissance.
Mrs. Chester was more or less informed and infuriated. Evidently, as she decided, this man had told Kate something about himself. If he had done that, if he had felt free or felt obliged to open his history to the girl, it was because he was in a state to open his heart to her. Engaged in love-skirmishes since her earliest teens. Mrs. Chester was always on the alert for love - skirmishes. Although she kept her self-possession under her discovery, she in the depths of her soul bounded with excitement. No more words on the matter ; frankness was almost impossible with the woman, except in overpowering anger ; but she resolved to keep a constant eye on Kate, and to ferret out this Mr. McMaster.
An hour later, sitting on deck alone (a spider prefers to watch in solitude), she observed Messrs. Duffy and Wilkins engaged in muttered conversation, and discovered by Duffy’s nods and jerks of the elbow that the talk referred to her man of mystery. That blathering Duffy ! just the person to pump successfully ! She knew him well by sight as a “store-keeper” in Hartland ; why had she been so awkwardly haughty as not to recognize him heretofore ? With the detective instinct of woman, she fixed at once upon Duffy as a subject for her catechism, rather than upon the diplomatic-faced Wilkins.
After a while her predestined victim dropped away from his comrade, and sauntered up and down the deck alone, hands in pocket, fingering his small change, and head thoughtfully drooped, calculating his profits. The second time that he passed her, Mrs. Chester leaned suddenly forward in her chair, as if she had that instant remembered him, and called, “ Mr. Duffy ! ”
He halted, his flat, doughy face coloring up to the eyes, and all his veins thrilling with excitement, under the honor of being addressed by Mrs. Chester.
“ I am right, am I not ? ” asked the lady. “It is Mr. Duffy of Hartland ? ”
“Why, Mrs. Chester !” stammered the simple, modest man. “ Just so. Mr. Duffy of Hartland. Had the pleasure of selling you goods now and then, ma’am,” he added, not being above his business and wishing to show an agreeable humility. “ How have you enjoyed your voyage, Mrs. Chester ? ”
Before continuing the conversation, the lady signed to him to take a chair beside her, sweetening and enforcing the invitation with a smile. Lifting his hat and feeling as if he ought to remove the shoes from off his feet, Duffy seated himself.
“ The voyage has been fairly pleasant,” resumed Mrs. Chester. “A little lonely, I must say, — such a small company ! I should have claimed your acquaintance before, Mr. Duffy, if I bad recognized you. Why did n’t you speak to me ? Hartland people ought not to be strangers, especially when they meet away from home.”
“ Beg pardon,” smirked Duffy, quite abashed at his error. “ Did n’t feel exactly sure you would recall me. You see, Mrs. Chester, I never had the pleasure of speaking to you except across the counter, and that ain’t always a claim.”
“ Ah, yes ! we live so far from the town ! ” said the lady, in sidelong apology for not having invited the shopkeeper to the Beaumont mansion. But Duffy needed no such apology ; had never expected to be asked into that “ old-time ” society ; felt himselt more than well treated in being spoken to once a year by Mrs. Chester. Still, he was so far encouraged by this graciousness, that he ventured to cross his legs and thus put himself more at ease on the small of his back.
“ Been on the Continent, Mrs. Chester,” he proceeded, slightly rubbing his hands.
“ Ah, indeed ? And how did you like the Continent ? ”
“No. I haven’t been there. Beg your pardon. I meant your party .”
“ O yes. A delightful tour. And have you only seen England ? Really, Mr. Duffy, you should have given a month or two to the Continent.”
“ Could n’t, Mrs. Chester. That’s the way with a business man ; he has to go where he has to ; always on his muscle — I mean business. I went over to look into importing, and it took up every snip of time that I could spare from home.”
“ I am so sorry. However, I ought not to regret it, except for your sake. Your business is of the greatest consequence to Hartland. You men of enterprise are our — our main-stay. I hope, Mr. Duffy, that you met others of our townsmen abroad, engaged in profiting by the new line.”
“ None that I know of. O, yes; Mr. Wilkins here ; but we went together. '
“ And how few Hartland people we have on the steamer,” added Mrs. Chester, by way of closing this preliminary prattle and gliding on to the subject of her man of mystery. “ Only you two gentlemen and my party.”
“N-no, — y-yes,” stammered Duffy, glancing uneasily at McAlister, just then pacing the midships, his lofty blond head plainly visible. Mrs. Chester had also seen the young man there, and she now noted the merchant’s singular glance towards him.
“ Do you know that gentleman ? ” she asked, as quick as lightning and with telling directness.
“N-no. Ah, yes. That is. Let me see. What is his name ? ” was the blundering response of the entangled Duffy.
Mrs, Chester would not help him ; she might have suggested that the name was McMaster, but she was too sly to do it; she had guessed that Duffy knew something about the youngster, and she was resolved to make him tell it : if he would not, he must do his own lying, without assistance from her.
“ I see,” she added. " To tell the truth, I have had my suspicions all along. Can’t you put me out of doubt ? It would be quite a favor.”
Duffy was scarlet; he looked about for Wilkins ; didn’t see him and drew a long breath.
That, Mrs. Chester,” he began, leaning forward and speaking in a whisper. Well, I 've been wondering all the while you did n’t recognize him. Thought perhaps you did. Couldn’t tell what to make of it. Why, it’s Frank, the youngest. Been in Europe eight years. Changed as much as ever I saw a feller.”
“ Oh ! ” responded Mrs. Chester, who was still quite in the dark, not knowing much of the McAlisters. “ So it’s the youngest ? Frank ?”
“ Yes. And they do say he’s the best of the lot.” continued the pacificatory Duffy, anxious to prevent a “ muss.” “ I do suppose, if there’s a decent fellow on that hill, a fellow who don’t want to make trouble for nobody, it’s this same Frank McAlister.”
At the word “ McAlister ” Mrs. Chester came very near bursting out with an amazed and excited “ Oh !” It cost her all her strength as a social gymnast to enable her to catch her breath, bend her eyes to the deck with an expression of remembrance, and say in a quiet tone, “ So it is Frank McAlister. He has been called, I understand, Mr. McMaster,” she presently added.
“ Well, yes — McMaster — McAlister — some mistake perhaps,” suggested the gentle-minded Duffy. “ May be, too, that he let it go so, not wishing to be unpleasant to you. Beg pardon. You know the old difficulty. Excuse me for mentioning it. I forgot myself, Mrs. Chester.”
“ No offence, Mr. Duffy,” replied the lady, proud of the feud as of a family heirloom, unmistakably aristocratic. “ The thing is a matter of public notoriety, I believe.”
She changed the conversation ; there was some talk about the fine sights of London ; presently Duffy perceived that he had stayed long enough and went.
“ I 'll bet you one thing,” whispered the scoffing Wilkins when they were alone together. “ You’ve been letting out everything to Mrs. Chester.”
“No, sir,” weakly replied the conscience - stricken and abashed Duffy. “ Damn me, if I tell her anything of that” he tried to bluster. Then, under pretence of wanting a cigar, he went below in great bitterness of spirit to get a drink, mentally cursing himself, Wilkins, Mrs. Chester, and women generally. “ Bla - ast the women ! ” groaned the humble telltale. “ They always will bore it out of a feller.”
But Duffy is of no account, and we must lay him aside like a sucked orange, just observing that the secret was worth nothing in his bosom, while now it is where it may hear fruit. It makes a difference with a coal of fire whether it is in a potato-bin or a powder-magazine.
The nature and history of the quarrel between the Beaumonts and the McAlisters will be told in due season. Just here it is only necessary to say that Mrs. Chester, notwithstanding her twenty years of marriage, was what she called “ Beaumont all through,” keeping up family prejudices and grudges with the family loyalty of a woman, and, for instance, abominating the McAlisters as her father had abominated them before her. A sly and spiteful breed she thought them ; people whose strength it was to strike when you were not looking ; people always ready to take a mean advantage of the noble Beaumonts. What could such a woman think when she learned that Frank McAlister, son of that old fox (as she called him) Donald McAlister, had been palming himself upon her as a stranger, accepting her pettings under a feigned name, allowing her to pinch his arm (if she did pinch it), and — well, and so on ? A trick, she decided ; a mean and dastardly trick ; perhaps a piece of espionage ; perhaps a studied insult One or the other ; it was some one of these things ; and whichever it was, it was an outrage.
I ’ll teach him ! ” she muttered, as she remembered pretty phrases which she had murmured to the young man, and suspected him of having laughed at them in his sleeve. “ Playing his jokes on a lady !” gurgled this vain, excitable, easily angered, and not so easily pacified woman. “An insult to our whole family ! ” was another stinging reflection, envenomed by a family pride as strong as corrosive sublimate. People of average unsuspiciousness and mild temper will find it hard to imagine how entirely this old baby looked at the offensive side of the discovered deceit, and how suddenly furious she had become over it, Not a supposition crossed her mind that McAlister had meant no harm, or had meant only good. She instantaneously imputed hostility to him, and in return she was instantaneously hostile.
Well, what to do about it ? Cut the man, of course ; but that was not enough for good old Beaumont hate, inflamed by a new wrong ; he must be visited with a more efficacious punishment. Revenge, however, was easier to wish for than to devise, even with spiteful Marian Beaumont Chester, the cause heretofore of more than one quarrel between man and man. To be sure, if she should tell her harum-scarum nephew what had happened, he was just the youngster to take a pint of whiskey aboard, break out copiously in profane language, make a scandal at all events, and pick a fight, perhaps. But Tom, adroit and audacious as he was in squabbles, did not seem to her a match for this cool - headed giant. Furthermore, Mrs. Chester felt that all the responsibility of an immediate disagreement would rest upon her, and did not find herself quite willing to shoulder it alone. Had the whole family been here, had there been some weighty soul at hand to set her on, or even to hold her back, how promptly and loudly would her voice have been raised for war ! As it was, responsibility, man’s special burden, how should she shoulder it ?
Not a word to her niece, nor a thought of consulting her. So simply and single-mindedly angry was she, that she had actually forgotten her suspicion that Kate knew or guessed who this man was, as well as her other suspicion that there was some small matter of heart intelligence between the two. She merely remembered the girl as a child, quite incapable of feeling or deciding properly concerning such a grave situation as this, and no more to be consulted as to the family honor than if she were still a denizen of cradles and trundle-beds. It is generally difficult for old heads to conceive that young heads have lost their pulpiness, until the junior craniums knock it into the senior ones by dint of well-directed and vigorous butting.
Late in the evening (no whist after tea that day) Mrs. Chester’s load of wrath became so intolerable that she manfully resolved to bear it alone no longer. She sent for Tom to her stateroom, saying to herself that here was business for masculine muscle, and that it was high time for her nephew to show himself a chip of the old Beaumont timber.
But the McAlister firebrand, notwithstanding that it had dropped into Mrs, Chester’s powder-magazine of a temper, was prevented from producing an immediate explosion by a deluge of still more tremendous intelligence.
When the nephew presented himself, he looked surprisingly sober for the time of day, and evidently had something very serious on his mind.
“Tom, come in and shut the door,” began Mrs. Chester. “ I have something very important to tell you.”
“ Yes, and, by Jove, and I ’ve got something to tell you, and, by Jove, I may as well tell it,” responded the youngster.
“ What is it ? ” asked the lady, suspecting that her secret was out, and half disappointed at not being the first to publish it.
“ The ship is on fire,” said Tom. “ Yes, by Jove, on fire, as sure as you ’re born. Yes, it is.”
J. W. DeForest.