A Comedy of Terrors
THE two sat thus for some time staring at one another in silence. At length Maud’s head fell forward, and burying her face in her hands she burst into a flood of tears. For the bitterness of this heart-breaking disappointment, and the abhorrence which she felt at finding Carrol exchanged for Grimes, and the despair which filled her as she now thought that Carrol after all must still be in the hands of his enemy,— all this was not equal to that anguish of shame that she felt as she thought of all the wealth of sweet and tender sentiment which she had lavished upon this hateful associate. The proud and sensitive soul of Maud experienced now the keenest sense of outraged dignity and wounded selfrespect ; nor could she forgive herself for the mistake which she had made so innocently.
Maud’s outburst of passionate tears served to rouse Grimes from his stupor. He drew a very long breath ; stared hard at her, as she sat with her head buried in her hands, and quivering with convulsive sobbings ; drew another long breath ; and then, without saying a word, he rose to his feet, and leaned over the side of the car, with his face turned away from her. Beneath him was the sea, above him was the sky, and nothing else was visible save in one part of the horizon where the clouds were gathered in giant masses, and white specks in the distance that looked like the sails of ships. But Grimes, who had a short time before been so keen to scrutinize the face of nature, and so vigilant in his watchfulness, was now blind to all these things that were spread out before his view. His eyes dwelt upon them, but he saw them not, for the thoughts that filled his mind shut out all perception of external nature.
For a long time each preserved this attitude and this silence. Maud sat sobbing. Grimes glared forth over the side of the car. Meanwhile the balloon drove onward, but Grimes paid no attention to this. He did not try to see, by watching his course over the waves, in what direction he might be borne; he did not notice whether he was descending again or not ; to all this he remained indifferent, being absorbed in his own thoughts.
At length he turned around and surveyed Maud in silence. By this time he seemed to have overcome the emotions that he had felt. His bewilderment and intellectual stupor, born from that first moment of amazement, had now departed; he had quelled the tumult of his soul. Grimes was himself again ; somewhat sad, it is true, almost despairing in fact, but still calm, self-contained, courageous, and capable of sympathizing now to any extent with the one who had so strangely become his companion in this flight.
Grimes turned thus, and stood regarding Maud for some time in silence. She, on her part, sat as before, but she too seemed calmer. Her convulsive sobs had ceased. She sat motionless and in silence.
Grimes cleared his throat, partly by way of preparing to speak, and partly also to rouse her attention.
“ What I wish to remark,” said Grimes, and he spoke in a very gentle voice, a voice which was full of kindliness and friendliness,— “what I wish to remark is this, that our peculiar position here requires the attention of both of us. I think you do not know that we are over the sea, and it strikes me that you’d best know it now. I ’ll agree of course to stand by you to the last, and save you if I die for it, just the same, and all the more p’r'aps, since I brought you here.”
“ My sister, my sister,” said Maud, in a broken voice, and without raising her face.
“ What of her ? ” asked Grimes, with an effort.
“ Did you not say that she was safe ? ”
“ When I said that she was safe, I thought I was speakin’ to her of you. I meant that you were safe. I saw the cab come with Carrol and you, as I thought, to take the balloon. It must have been Carrol and her.
“ O,” said Maud with a low moan, “ God grant that it may be so ! ”
“ What do you mean ? ” said Grimes, startled by her tone of voice and her exclamation.
“You cannot possibly know it,” said Maud, looking up at him with her pale face and sorrowful eyes; “you could not have known it, or you could never have made the mistake you did.” She spoke calmly now, but it was the calm tone of utter hopelessness. “ Du Potiron arrested her and Mr. Carrol.”
“ Du Potiron ! ” said Grimes, with something like a gasp. This was the first time he had heard of Mrs. Lovell’s arrest.
“ When I say Du Potiron, I don’t mean that he came in person. He informed against her, and sent some soldiers. I suppose of course that he must have done it ; no other one could have had any motive for doing it.”
“ Du Potiron ! ” cried Grimes again, quite unable to believe this.
Upon this Maud told him the whole story of the arrest, and of her fainting in her grief and terror.
All this was news to Grimes of course, and this story communicated to him a shock almost as severe as the one which he had but lately received. Once more he was reduced to silence. Thoughts bitter, dark, and furious came to his mind. He could only blame himself. He had acted too hastily and blindly. He had done the very thing that he ought not to have done. He had fled from Paris at the very time when his presence was a thing of vital importance to Mrs. Lovell. Now she was in the power of a miscreant whose thirst for vengeance would be increased tenfold by the recent injuries received from him. And he had fled from her ! Worse too, he had carried off her sister, this despairing girl, perhaps to destruction.
Maud now questioned him about the cab. This was her last hope. They might possibly have got away ; and in that case they would naturally enough hurry to the rendezvous. But when she heard all that Grimes had to tell about the cab, she saw at once what faint grounds there were for believing that Carrol and her sister were in it; and once more she sank into despondency.
Now the silence was renewed, and once more they took refuge in their own thoughts. Grimes sat down, put his elbows on his knees, and, staring fixedly at the bottom of the car, gave himself up to all the bitter thoughts that were naturally roused by the recollection of his mad and blind folly.
Maud had thus far remained in the one position. At length the stupor of grief and abhorrence into which she had at first been flung by the discovery of her mistake began to be mitigated, and was succeeded by thoughts that were perhaps less painful, but more lasting. These referred to the possible fate of Carrol and Mrs. Lovell. Over this she wearied herself in the endeavor to make some favorable conjecture, until at length the thoughts became intolerable, and she tried to distract her mind by something else. That distraction lay there above her and all around her, — in the open heavens wherein she was flying, in the sky, and the sea, and the clouds. Overhead the sky was deeply blue ; and the rays of the sun threw a yellow lustre on the vast orb overhead. She looked up to this, and then, half in fear, half in curiosity, she arose, with the intention of looking forth. She did not go close to the side, but stood about in the middle of the car and looked over in that position. She saw the blue sky, and she saw the distant horizon. The sides of the car hid the rest from sight. She moved a little nearer, anxious to see more. As she moved the sea unfolded itself,—a wide waste of dark heaving waters, not bounding into billows or foaming in fierce, tempestuous surges, but undulating rather in irregular yet smooth masses like the upheaval of the sea that is caused by a distant storm. Maud ventured nearer to the edge, till she was able to look down and form some estimate of her position. But the sight made her giddy. It was too terrible. It filled her with fear. She shrank back, and her eyes rested upon the horizon and the overhanging sky.
Now she looked around the horizon, turning as she did so, in order to take in its whole circuit. She had surveyed about one half of that scene, when suddenly, as her glance swept on, it was arrested, and an involuntary cry escaped her, so abrupt, and so peculiar, that Grimes was roused from his profound abstraction.
He had been sitting motionless in the attitude already described, involved in his bitter thoughts and useless regrets, when Maud’s sudden cry aroused him. He looked up. He saw her staring at something beyond the balloon. In a moment he started to his feet and looked also in the same direction.
In spite of the misery that filled the soul of Grimes he felt a strange and singular exultation at the sight that now met his eyes. It was land that he saw, a long coast lying directly before them. This, he thought, might have been that cloud or haze which he had seen on the horizon at early dawn. It was land then. The prospect filled him with new life, and all the energies of his nature were once more aroused. For an active and courageous man such as he was could not avoid feeling roused at the prospect that now lay before him.
The land was close by. They had been driving steadily toward it, while they had been giving themselves up to their feelings, and thus they had not observed it. It was only a few miles away. The shores arose very gradually ; and the land seemed to be largely overspread with forests. In the distance arose lofty heights crowned with snow.
A short survey showed Grimes all this, and then a sudden fear came to him lest in the terrific speed of their career they might be dashed to pieces. His next thought was about what he ought to do, — should he let the balloon descend into the water near the shore and thus check its progress, or should he ascend still higher so as to choose his own place for making a descent on the land.
He sprang to the side of the car and looked down. His last look over the side had shown him the sea several thousand feet beneath. To his surprise he now beheld that sea not more than a hundred feet beneath. Another thing also increased his surprise. As he looked at the water he saw that the motion of the balloon, instead of being one of terrific speed, was in reality so slow that it did not seem faster that an ordinary walk. The wind then must have died away to the gentlest breeze. To land under such circumstances would be easy enough for the merest novice. There was nothing at all for him to do. He had only to let the balloon drift on, and make use of the first convenient place of descent that might present itself.
All this added to the excitement of Grimes, and filled him with hope. This hope, in its first rush, was as boundless as his despair had lately been.
“ Cheer up, miss,” said he, in his old original voice, — a voice full of heartiness and generous enthusiasm, — “cheer up, miss. We’re all right; we ’ll come out right side up after all. We ’ll land there as easy as gettin’ out of a wagon. Cheer up, miss. We’ll go back to Paris yet, and be there in time to save them. Only look over the side now, — see how gradual and gentle we move on. It’s like a walk. Why, a child might be here now and land there out of this balloon unassisted ! ”
In spite of Maud’s deep dejection, the words of Grimes produced a very cheering effect. She could not be otherwise than excited and cheered at this sudden prospect of escape from a terrific fate. Encouraged by what Grimes had said, she ventured to look over the side, and what she saw was so entirely different from what she had imagined, that she had no fear at all, and not a particle of giddiness. They were so near the surface of the sea, that the distance down was nothing. She had imagined miles to lie between her and the earth, and she saw only a space that can be compared to the height of any common church steeple.
“Now don’t you be a bit afraid,” continued Grimes. “ I ’ll engage that you put your foot on that ground, and not harm a hair of your head. You only keep cool, and don’t let yourself be excited, and we ’ll be all right.”
But little more was said. Each stood watching the land. They drew slowly and gradually nearer. As they drew nearer, they saw here and there openings in the forest, and farm-houses, and finally behind a hill they saw a church with a tower. The houses were all of humble structure, and the church was small. What land it might be they could not tell. The church showed them one thing, and that was that it was a Christian land at any rate. Could it be any part of the British coast? Could it be France ? Grimes had even a wild idea of America, for this forest country with its clearings had certainly a strong suggestiveness of the New World.
Nearer they came and still nearer. They watched with intense anxiety the land to which they were going. They saw that the shore before them was all covered with forests, and that the cleared lands were on one side and out of their course. Still they were not so distant but that they could easily reach them if they once descended.
The balloon moved on. The shore before them was a gradual declivity, covered with forest trees, and ascended steadily as it receded, until far away it rose into high hills, beyond which were those snow-covered mountains which they had seen when they first caught sight of the land.
Nearer and nearer.
They watched and waited.
And now Grimes laid his hand upon one of the grappling-irons so as to be ready to throw it out when he reached the proper place. At length the shore was reached, and slowly and majestically the aerial car conveyed them away from the limits of that terrible sea that they had traversed, into the domain of the friendly land. Over this they passed. Beneath them were the tops of the forest trees. Grimes thought of pulling the valve-rope, but restrained his hand and waited. Before them the land rose higher, and the tree-tops were on a level with the car. In the distance they rose far above that level.
The moment had come.
There was a rustling and a scraping sound, and then the car tilted slightly. The progress of the balloon was checked a little, but it still moved. “ Catch hold of the car,” said Grimes ; “hold on tight.” Maud did so. Grimes then threw out the grappling-iron and pulled at the valve-rope. The balloon stopped, and the vast orb lay along the tops of the forest trees, while the car sank down till it was stopped by the branches beneath. In a few minutes a peculiar smell arose, pungent, distressing, choking.
The car was now lying half on its side, resting upon some tree branches. The trees were lofty and were the kindred of those Miltonic
Hewn on Norwegian hills to be the mast
Of some tall ammiral.”
“You must go down first,” said Grimes, “and quick, too, or we’ll be suffocated with this gas.”
With these words he threw the shawl around her, passing it under Maud’s arms, and over this he passed one end of a coil of rope which was in the car, then he helped her out upon the branch of the tree beneath, and Maud began to make the descent. It was not difficult, especially with the assistance of the rope, and in a short time she was on the solid ground. Grimes then hastily followed, and reached the ground nearly suffocated with the fumes of the gas. And he brought along with him the tin box.
They now walked back through the forest toward the shore, after which they turned off in the direction where the houses were. These they reached without difficulty. The people had seen the balloon, and were in a state of wild excitement. The men had gone into the woods toward the place where it seemed likely to fall, and only the women and children were left behind.
They regarded the balloonists with kindly and sympathetic faces, and Grimes at once began asking them questions in French.
They shook their heads and answered in a language which he had never heard before.
He tried English.
They shook their heads and spoke as before. Grimes’s only idea at first was to know where they were, but this was the very thing that he could not know. He then made signs for something to eat. This met at once with a response, and he and Maud were taken to the best house in the settlement. He afterwards found out that it was the pastor’s house. Here he was shown into a comfortable room, and was made to understand by signs that he should have something soon. Maud was conducted elsewhere by the kindly and sympathetic women. While waiting here, Grimes saw a box of matches on the mantel-piece. He noticed a label upon it. A bright idea seized him. He took it up and read the label. To his amazement he read the name “ Christiania,” and Christiania he knew was in Norway, so that this land must be Norway.
The good people soon furnished a bounteous repast, at which the fugitives, in spite of their anxieties, were able to satisfy the cravings of hunger. By the time their meal was finished the pastor returned. He had been off with the rest after the balloon, which had been brought back in safety. The pastor spoke English ; and at once Grimes was able to find out the facts of the case. It was true that he was in Norway. Thus in that dread voyage he had traversed the wide seas, and landed here. A slight variation of the wind might have carried them to the Polar Sea. It was nine o’clock when they descended, and about eight when they left, so that the whole journey of nearly nine hundred miles had been made in thirteen hours.
OUT OF PRISON.
AFTER his recent danger Carrol did not feel safe, nor was he inclined to allow himself to become the helpless victim of Du Potiron and his friends. Under these circumstances he endeavored to find security for himself and Mrs. Lovell. There was no possibility of doing this, however, in any regular way, for all things were now in an irregular condition, and lawlessness prevailed to a greater or less extent. One only hope presented itself ; and that was to hide himself under the ample wing of the American eagle, or, in other words, to put himself under the protection of the American minister, who alone of all the diplomatic corps remained in Paris. There was absolutely no other to whom he could look for help, and so he went to the American embassy. The great rush was at last over ; most of the friendless and the unprotected had been cared for as far as possible ; and Carrol found a queue of not more than seventy-two people. After waiting patiently, his turn came, and he obtained an interview. At that interview he not only gained what he wished, but far more than he even had hoped. For he learned that the American minister, after long and arduous effort, had at length obtained from the Prussians permission for the departure of those Americans in Paris who might wish to go. Now Carrol was not a citizen of the United States, nor was Mrs. Lovell a citizeness ; but both were Americans, the one by birth, the other by residence. The little difficulty was generously overlooked by the American embassy, and these applicants were accepted as coming under the Prussian permit, in letter, if not in spirit. Notice was given Carrol of the time appointed for the departure of the favored ones, and of the place at which they were to assemble ; and thus that flight upon which Grimes had ventured at such terrible risk, Carrol was able to undertake with the prospect of perfect safety.
Such good news as this roused Mrs. Lovell from her distress, and restored something like her usual life and spirit. Her situation in Paris was full of danger ; and the flight of Maud made her all the more eager to depart. Besides, out of the promptings of her jealousy there had arisen an intense desire to find out what had actually become of the fugitives.
Her intention was to go to England. Her dear papa lived there, a few miles away from Southampton. There was no other place to which she could go, and her old home now seemed like a haven of rest ; there was the only place in which there was any hope of recovering from the distresses, anxieties, and afflictions of her lot ; there, too, she would learn the fate of Maud, and if any calamity had occurred, she would at least be able to offer some consolation to her dear papa, and receive comfort and condolence from him.
It is not necessary to narrate the events connected with the departure of the Americans from Paris. It was quiet, and without any greater excitement than was naturally connected with the joy of escape from prison. As for Carrol and Mrs. Lovell, they made the journey in safety, and at length reached Southampton.
The country seat of Mr. Heathcote was not on the line of rail. To get there it was necessary to go about twenty miles, and then, leaving the rail, to take a carriage for the rest of the way, which was some ten or twelve miles. It was about noon when they reached Southampton, and late in the day when they left. After they left the train, they found themselves in a very beautiful little village, the most conspicuous objects in which were a fine old country church and an equally fine old inn. To this they directed their steps.
Mrs. Lovell was excessively fatigued, and at once was shown to a bedroom, where she intended to lie down and rest until it was time to go on. Carrol at once made inquiries about procuring a carriage.
To his great disgust, he learned that he could not procure one that evening, for the only one they had was already engaged by a gentleman who had arrived there that same day. The carriage had been away all day, and the gentleman was to have it the moment it returned.
Carrol was now at a loss what to do ; so he sauntered up and down the village street, hoping that something might turn up to help him. But the more he thought, the more certain it seemed that they would have to remain there for the night.
In a restless and impatient state of mind he returned to the inn, and sauntered slowly into the parlor.
A fire was burning there which threw a cheerful glow about the apartment. A sofa was drawn up on one side of this, and on this sofa a lady was seated. Her elbow was resting on one arm of the sofa, and her hand supported her head. Her eyes were downcast, and so absorbed was she in her own thoughts that she took not the slightest notice of Carrol.
Carrol noticed her with a vague idea of the grace of this figure and the sadness of the beautiful face ; but the next instant there came to his mind the shock of an astounding and overwhelming recognition. He uttered an involuntary cry, and stopped, unable to advance another step.
At the sound of this cry of amazement the lady started and looked up. As she saw Carrol, she too could not repress an exclamation. The next moment she sprang to her feet. Carrol rushed toward her and caught her in his arms.
“Maud! Maud! O my darling! ”
“ Paul! O Paul ! ”
For about five minutes there was nothing but a torrent of exclamations, expressive of every emotion of love, of tenderness, of joy, of wonder, and of rapture. After this there was a variation ; and an equally profuse torrent of eager questions was poured forth, to which no answers were given by either, for each was too intent to ask about the other to satisfy the curiosity of that other.
But in the midst of this, another thought came to Maud.
“ My sister. O my sister ! O, where is she? Is she safe? O, is she safe ? ”
“ Yes,” said Carrol, “ safe and perfectly well.”
“ O, thank God ! ” cried Maud. “ But where is she? Is she here? O, tell me, is she here ? O, I must see her, my darling, darling Georgie ! ”
And Maud started off, she had no idea where, with the vague hope of finding her sister outside.
But Carrol restrained her. He saw her movement with dismay. If Maud should once see Mrs. Lovell, he would certainly not see her again that night. So he tried to detain her a little longer.
“ Wait,” he said, — “ wait, I implore you. Listen now, be patient. You see, Mrs. Lovell has n’t slept any for three or four nights.”
“ O my poor, sweet darling ! ” sighed Maud.
“ Well, you know, the moment she arrived here, she had to be taken at once to her room, so as to get a little sleep, you know ; and it’s very important that she should, and you’d better not burst suddenly upon her, you know, on account of the shock, and all that sort of thing, you know ; for she’s exceedingly nervous just now, — but, that is, you know, of course you won’t have to wait long. Just let her have an hour’s sleep, and she ’ll be all right; so, don’t you think you can restrain your impatience?”
“ O, I must, of course, if poor Georgie is so, poor darling ! but I ’m awfully impatient, and only to think of her being in the house, why, it fairly drives me wild ; but if she is trying to sleep, and so much depends on it, why, I suppose I can wait one hour, but O, may n’t I just steal up, and take one little peep at the darling, just one peep ? She sha’ n’t see me.”
But to this Carrol demurred, and he portrayed Mrs. Lovell’s excessive nervousness and her need of sleep, and the dangers of a sudden shock, in such alarming colors that Maud was fairly frightened into waiting for a little while at least.
“ Come,” said Carrol, “ do you think you feel strong enough for a little stroll? Come and let us get away from this public place, for I’m crazy to hear how you got here. Will you come ? And when we come back, you will be able to see your sister.”
Maud demurred somewhat at this, but Carrol begged so hard, that at length she consented, on the understanding that they should not go out of sight of the inn, so that if anything happened she might return.
It was a lovely evening. They strolled along through the little village. All around was scenery of the most attractive description, where was presented all that could please the eye and delight the taste. Just outside the village the road was overhung by lofty trees ; by its side a little streamlet ran, on the borders of which there was a rustic seat. Here Carrol persuaded Maud to sit down. Before them the brook babbled ; in the distance were wooded hills ; and, beyond these, the splendors of a sunset sky. In this situation Maud’s stipulation about not going out of sight of the inn was not regarded very particularly ; but they were at any rate not very far away, and they were on the edge of the little village.
Here Maud told Carrol the events of her astonishing journey, and that part of her story which referred to their adventures after landing in Norway may be briefly explained. The peasants had packed up the balloon, and the pastor had secured a conveyance for them to Christiania. Here they had found the steamer about to leave for London, and embarked in it. Their adventures had created a great sensation in that town ; and Grimes had made the sensation permanent by presenting his balloon to the Museum. They had arrived at London the day before, and, after a night’s rest, had come as far as this place, which they had reached at about two o’clock. Grimes had tried to get a carriage, but without success, as the only available one was off on a journey. He had waited for some hours in a desperate state of impatience ; and about an hour ago he had told her that he was going to walk up the road in the direction in which the carriage was expected. So he was on that road now, either returning triumphantly in the carriage, or else toiling along impatiently on foot.
Carrol’s story then followed, and thus all was explained. It may be as well to state that these narratives were not full and frank on either side ; for each found certain reservations necessary ; and therefore made no allusion to certain incidents, the remembrance of which was very strong in the minds of both, and could not be thought of without the consciousness on their parts that they had been in false, humiliating, and excessively silly positions.
Meanwhile Mrs. Lovell had been seeking for rest without finding it. The bedroom was chilly, and, after a vain effort to go to sleep, she determined to go in search of some more comfortable place. So she descended the stairs and entered the inn parlor. Here the comfortable air of the room and the cheerful glow of the fire formed an irresistible attraction. The room was low and large and cosey; the sofa was drawn up by the side of the fire, and seemed to be the very place that was best suited for her, — a place where she could obtain rest and warmth at once.
She took her position in the very place where Maud had recently been sitting, and the warmth and comfort of the room soon began to act most agreeably upon her. It was very quiet also. No noise was heard outside ; no stamping footsteps arose inside to irritate her delicate nerves. She thought, to herself that this was the first moment of real comfort that she had known for several days. She thought too, with regret, that she must soon quit this pleasant place ; for Carrol was seeking a conveyance, and it would soon be ready. Indeed, in anticipation of this she had come down with her wraps on, and she sat there by the fire all ready to start for her home at a moment’s warning.
The fire was flickering in a dull way, and the darkness had increased to some extent, so that objects in the room were not very distinctly visible. Mrs. Lovell was sitting in such a way that her head was a little in the shadow, and not directly illuminated by the firelight. She was lost in thought, and at that moment those painful emotions which had been agitating her ever since the flight of Grimes were once more beginning to disturb her. In the midst of this the roll of carriagewheels was heard outside. She thought at once that this was Carrol, and felt half vexed at the necessity that there now was of leaving this cheerful room for the toilsome road. She sat, however, in the same position. Soon a footstep was heard in the room advancing toward her. Thinking it was Carrol, she did not look up, but sat looking down, lost in thought, and waiting for him to speak.
The new-comer now began to speak, and he did speak to some purpose.
“ Wagon’s ready at last, miss,” said this voice. “ They Ve changed horses.
I stuck by them till they did it, and made them look sharp ; and now, miss, all you’ve got to do is just to jump in. I see you Ve got your things on, and I’m glad you ’re so prepared. Come along then. I ’ll see you, as I said, safe home, after which I ’ll be in a position to bid you good by.”
At the first sound of this voice, Mrs. Lovell started as though she had been shot, and looked up with as much amazement as that which Maud had felt at the sudden sight of Carrol. She looked up as he went on talking. He was not looking at her or anything else in particular, but was merely giving her this information. Besides, her face was in the shadow, so that it was not very particularly discernible. Mrs. Lovell looked up then and beheld the manly, the stalwart, and the familiar figure of Grimes. It was the face of Grimes that beamed before her, illuminated by the glow of the firelight. It was the voice of Grimes that addressed her and asked her to go with him.
But this was not all.
Her eyes, as they wandered over the face and form of Grimes, rested at last upon something which he was carrying in his left hand. This was a tin box, round in shape, that is to say cylindrical, lacquered, and bearing his name in large gilt letters. What was this box ? What did it mean ? What did it contain ? Ah ! did not her heart bound within her as it gave the answer to those questions ? Had she not heard from Carrol about that tin box ? How Grimes had deposited it in the balloon in Paris, as the only thing which he intended to take in the shape of luggage ? And now that he appeared with it here, did it not show how, during all his mysterious flight, he must have clung to this ? Was he not now clinging to it ? Did she not hear him call her miss, thus evidently mistaking her for Maud, and speaking of good by? Maud then was nothing. Her jealousy had been baseless and absurd. By that which he grasped in his strong hand she knew that his heart was true, and in clinging to this she saw that he was clinging to that which in his estimation was the best representative of herself. What was that which he thus bore about with him and clung to with such tenacity? Her chignon. But that chignon now ceased to be a chignon. It became a sacred thing, hallowed by the deathless devotion of a true and constant heart. It became a glorious thing, since it had been glorified by its flight with him through the trackless realms of ether ; it became a thing of beauty, a joy forever; in fact, it was the apotheosis of the chignon.
Mrs. Lovell saw exactly’ how things were. Grimes and Maud had made their journey in safety. By an amazing coincidence they had come to this place at the same time that she and Carrol had come. Maud must even now be here, for Grimes had evidently mistaken her for Maud. He had been procuring a carriage. It was all ready, and he was going to take her home.
And what then ?
A wild idea arose in her mind, which had an irresistible attraction for one who was so whimsical. It was to take him at his word. He had mistaken her for Maud. Very good. She would be Maud. She would go with him. She would allow him to drive her home.
And Maud, — did no yearning thought about her arise in her heart ? Did she not feel any longing to embrace that lost sister so tenderly loved, so lamented, who had been so wondrously preserved on such au unparalleled voyage ? Not at all. In fact, there were various circumstances which made her feel quite at her ease about Maud. In the first place, she understood that Maud was well. In the second place, she had not yet got over her resentment, baseless though it was, against Maud, for her usurpation of her place in the balloon ; in the third place, Maud was too near home to be in any danger whatever ; in the fourth place, Carrol was here, and would inevitably find her out; and in the fifth place, the temptation of going with Grimes in an assumed character, and watching his conduct and demeanor under the circumstances, was irresistible.
She decided at once.
She was dressed, as has been said, for the drive which she had expected to take with Carrol. She dropped her veil, and rose in silence. Grimes took no further notice of her, but walked toward the door. She followed him outside. A brougham was drawn up in front of the house. Grimes opened the door for her. She got in and sat down. Grimes then followed and sat by her side ; and she noticed that he placed his precious tin box, with tender and reverential care, on his knees ; and leaned his arms upon it, as though he would preserve it from every conceivable danger. Thus they sat there, side by side, and the driver cracked his whip, and the horses started off, and soon they were rolling along the road.
Outside the village they met a gentleman and a lady walking back. It was dusk now, and their faces could not be seen. Neither Grimes nor Mrs. Lovell noticed them. But the gentleman and the lady stopped as the brougham drove by, and the gentleman said to the lady, “ There goes that fellow that has appropriated the only carriage in the place.”
And the lady answered cheerfully, “ O, well, you know it really does n’t matter. It will be such perfect delight to see Georgie, that I ’m sure I don’t care whether I get home to-night or not at all.”
And the brougham passed out of sight.
IN A BROUGHAM.
THE brougham drove off with Mrs. Lovell and Grimes inside. Grimes sat in the attitude already described, leaning forward slightly, with the tin box on his knees, and his elbows on the tin box, rigid and silent. For some time nothing was said, and Mrs. Lovell waited patiently for her companion to begin the conversation. But her companion had no idea of doing anything of the kind. In the first place, he of course thought that Maud was with him. Now Maud had only been known to him as silent, sad, and reticent; never volunteering any remark, only answering in monosyllables when addressed, and incapable of carrying on a a conversation. But again he had thoughts of his own which occupied his mind thoroughly. These thoughts occupied his mind now. They referred solely and exclusively to Mrs. Lovell, whose fate was a matter of never-ending anxiety to him. His mind was not now in this place. It was in Paris. It was inspecting all the city prisons, and conjecturing with deep anguish the place where Mrs. Lovell might be.
Mrs. Lovell waited and grew impatient. This silence was not what she wanted. From one point of view it was not disagreeable, since it showed what must have been the attitude of Grimes toward Maud. She saw that he must have been indifferent and inattentive, if his present demeanor afforded any clew to the past. At the same time it was disagreeable, for, as a matter of course, she was particularly anxious to converse with him. So, as he did not begin, she volunteered herself.
“ It’s really very pleasant this evening, is it not, Mr. Grimes ?” said she, in a friendly way.
Now it may be supposed that Grimes would have at once detected her by her voice, but as a matter of fact Grimes did nothing of the kind. For as she and Maud were sisters, their voices had a certain family resemblance, and though there certainly was a difference, yet it was not very glaring. Besides, Grimes was too much occupied with other things to be easily aroused.
“ Yes,” said he, shortly.
Mrs. Lovell waited for something more, but nothing more was forthcoming. She felt that the subject of the weather afforded not quite enough excitement to rouse her companion, and so she resorted to something else.
“ Do you think that the driver knows his way, Mr. Grimes ? ” she asked, with apparent anxiety.
“ O yes,” said Grimes, in the same tone as before. After which he changed his position a little. “ I’m afraid,” he continued, “ that I’m crowdin’ you. I did intend to ride outside, but unfortunately there’s only room for one, so I had to squeeze in here. Any way the ride won’t be very long.”
This was also flattering, since it gave an additional proof of the indifference of Grimes to Maud. At the same time, however, it was rather disappointing, since it showed a persistent determination to hold aloof from all friendly conversation. So again Mrs. Lovell relapsed into silence.
After a time she tried once more.
“ I wonder,” said she, mournfully, " what can have become of poor dear Georgie. Do you know, I feel awfully anxious about her, Mr. Grimes ?”
This Mrs. Lovell said with an intention of maintaining the character of Maud. Upon Grimes this remark produced an effect which was the very opposite of what she had intended. Instead of rousing him to converse upon some congenial subject, it only served as a fresh reminder of his despair. He heaved a sigh so heavy that it ended in a groan ; after which he relapsed into his former silence, and not a word escaped him.
Mrs. Lovell was certainly disappointed at the failure of this attempt, and began to feel a despair about her ability to arouse him. But she was not one who could give up easily, and so she tried once more.
“ I wonder what in the world you’ve got in that absurd box,” said she. “ You’ve really brought it all the way from Paris you know, Mr. Grimes.”
At this Grimes started. For there was in these words and in the tone of voice a decided flavor of Mrs. Lovell, and nothing at all of Maud. A wild thought flashed through his mind, but it was at once suppressed.
“What an infernal fool I must be,” he thought, “ but what a likeness there was to — to her. I’m afraid I’m gettin’ delirium tremens. I’ve taken altogether too much whiskey. I’ve got to stop my grog, or it ’ll go hard with me.” These thoughts passed through his mind, but he made no reply. This was really rude in him, and so Mrs. Lovell thought, but this rudeness awakened no resentment whatever in her mind. She bore it with exemplary meekness, and patiently returned to the task of rousing him into saying something.
“ You really are awfully reticent, you know, and it’s horrid; now isn’t it, Mr. Grimes?” said she, quite forgetting the rôle of Maud which she had intended to maintain, and speaking more than ever in her own style and manner.
Grimes noticed the tone of voice again, and the style and manner of the words. How like they were to the well-known and fondly remembered idioms and expressions of Mrs. Lovell ! Grimes thought of this, and heaved another of those sighs which were peculiar to him now, — a sigh deep, massive, long-drawn, and ending in a kind of groan.
“It’s somethin’, miss,” said he, in words that seemed wrung out of him, — “it’s somethin’, miss, that is very precious. It’s my most precious treasure.”
“ O dear, Mr. Grimes, what a very, very funny way that is for one to be carrying money, you know ! But do you really think it’s safe, and do you not feel just a little bit afraid of robbers and all that sort of thing, Mr. Grimes ? ”
This struck Grimes as being more like Mrs. Lovell than ever. He could not account for it. For the solemn and mournful Maud to rattle on in this style was to him unaccountable. And how had she acquired that marvellous resemblance to her sister in tone and in expression ? He had never noticed any such resemblance before. There was also a certain flippancy in the remark and in the tone of voice which jarred upon him. He was still puzzled, but finally concluded in a vague way that Maud’s joy in at last approaching her home was so excessive that it had quite changed her.
“I wonder why you didn’t leave it at the inn,” she continued, as she saw that he said nothing ; " it would be really far safer there and far less troublesome, you know, Mr. Grimes, and you could get it again. I'm sure, I can’t imagine why one should carry all one’s property with one wherever one goes, Mr. Grimes.”
“ It is n’t money,” said Grimes, “it’s something far more precious.”
“Is it really? How very funny ! Only fancy; why really, Mr. Grimes, do you know, you are speaking positively in riddles.”
“ There are things,” said Grimes, solemnly, “in comparison with which jewels are gaudy toys and gold is sordid dust. And this is one of them.”
“Well, I must say,” remarked Mrs. Lovell, “ I never heard any one express himself in such an awfully mysterious way. And so you brought it all the way from Paris. How very funny ! Well, really, Mr. Grimes, I can only say that travelling in a balloon must be a very trivial thing, since you have been able to keep that with you all the time and produce it now ; and really, you know, it’s so awfully absurd, when one comes to think of it, — now is n’t it, Mr. Grimes ? ”
This was not Maud at all. Mrs. Lovell knew it, yet for the life of her she could not help speaking as she did. Grimes knew it too. He knew that there was no delirium, and that Maud Heathcote would never have uttered those words to him. That mixture of teasing absurdity and inconsequential badinage, with evident knowledge of the secret contents of the tin box, could not possibly be expressed by any person except one. Yet what possibility was there that this one should be here by his side calmly driving home ? The thought was so bewildering that his brain reeled.
In an instant all his gloom and abstraction vanished. His heart beat fast. A wild idea, a wilder hope, filled mind and heart. Yet in the midst of this excitement one thought was prominent. He remembered his past mistakes. He was aware that they had arisen from a too credulous yielding to his own belief or fancy. He was now resolved to accept nothing from credulity, or hope, or fancy, or even belief; but to see with his own eyes the actual fact. Who was this person who was here with him ? That was what he wanted to know.
He was intensely excited, yet he was resolved to undergo no more deceptions. He determined to see for himself. It was now quite dark, and, though he peered through the gloom, yet nothing satisfactory was revealed. He certainly saw the outline of a lady’s figure, — but what lady? Was it Miss Heathcote, or was it — could it be, — might it be, — dare he hope, — was it possible ?
He could endure his suspense no longer.
With trembling fingers he fumbled in his waistcoat-pocket ! He found a match ! — a thing he always carried there ! He drew it forth ! He struck it wildly against the side of the brougham ! ! !
The light flashed forth ! He held up the blazing match, and with eager gaze looked at the face of his companion.
Astounded at this unexpected incident of the match, and confounded by this abrupt discovery, Mrs. Lovell, though not unwilling to be discovered, shrank back and made a faint effort to drop her veil, which had been raised since she had entered the brougham. But Grimes arrested her hand.
And there, illuminated by the blaze, close beside him, just before him, he saw unmistakably the face of Mrs. Lovell. Her eyes were downcast, there was a flush of confusion and timid embarrassment upon her face, yet that face was the face of the one being on earth who was worth far more to him than all the earth and all that it contained; yea, verily, and even more than life itself.
The sensation was tremendous. How came she here ? It was unaccountable. It was miraculous. A thousand emotions of wonder rushed through him, but all at length found utterance in one exclamation.
“ Wal ! I ’ll be darned ! ”
The burning match dropped from his hands, and be caught her in his arms. Mrs. Lovell uttered a little deprecatory shriek.
“ I’ve got you now at last,” murmured old Grimes, in a dislocated sort of way, doddering, in fact maundering, and all that sort of thing, — “ I ’ve got you now, and I ain’t goin’ to let you go. I don’t know how ’n thunder you got here, and I don’t want to. I only know it’s you, and that ’s enough. Don’t explain, I beg ; let me only have the rapture of knowin’ that this is really my darling and no other — ”
“ O dear ! I 'm sure I don’t know what in the world I am ever to do,” sighed Mrs. Lovell.
On the return of Carrol and Maud to the inn, the latter had at once gone to find her sister. On seeing no signs of her she had become terribly alarmed ; and Carrol was utterly bewildered. They had questioned everybody, and at last found out that the gentleman who had engaged the carriage had returned with it, and had gone ofF with some lady. Several of the people of the inn had seen the lady enter the carriage, and the gentleman go in after her. After this they had driven away.
At first both Carrol and Maud were utterly stupefied ; but at length, as the facts of the case suggested themselves, their stupefaction faded away, and there came in its place a calm, rational, and intelligent apprehension of the event, a sweet and exquisite appreciation of the situation. Whether it had been a blunder or a distinct understanding between the two, they could not tell. They preferred, however, to think that Grimes in the dusk had taken Mrs. Lovell for Maud, and that Mrs. Lovell had in the same way taken Grimes for Carrol. The idea of this possible blunder afforded delicious enjoyment to both ; and they both lost themselves in conjectures as to the mode in which these two might finally discover the truth.
On the following day a carriage came from Heathcote Hall, and Maud and Carrol drove there. On their arrival they found Mrs. Lovell and Grimes, who had reached the place of their destination in safety. Maud’s papa was there to welcome her, and to welcome them all in fact; for he turned out to be a fine, warm-hearted, and truly hospitable old boy, who doted on his daughters, and had been quite wild with anxiety about them when they were in Paris. Grimes and Carrol were received by him with all the honors and all the welcomes that he could offer them as the saviors and deliverers of his daughters from a cruel and terrible fate.
Frail human nature might exult to pause here for the sake of gloating over the raptures of these lovers on their final reunion after such tremendous adventures ; but duty forbids ; and I, as a conscientious novelist, must hasten to a close.
I beg to remark then, that, as a matter of course, these lovers were all united in holy matrimony at the earliest possible time. The event took place on the 27th of November, 1870, as may be seen by referring to any old number of the local paper. It was a deeply interesting occasion.
The happy pairs then scattered. Two or three days after the event Mrs. Lovell wrote a rapturous letter to Maud.
“ Dear Seth,” she wrote, “ is all that my fondest fancy wished, and far more. Do you know, Maudie darling, he has not yet spoken one cruel word to me, — not one.”
Maud’s reply to this consisted of glittering generalities.