A Chance Acquaintance
MRS. ELLTSON’S LITTLE MANŒUVRE.
THE next morning our tourists found themselves at rest in Ha-Ha Bay, at the head of navigation for the larger steamers. The long line of sullen hills had fallen away, and the morning sun shone warm on what in a friendlier climate would have been a very lovely landscape. The bay was an irregular oval, with shores that rose in bold but not lofty heights on one side, while on the other lay a narrow plain with two villages clinging about the road that followed the crescent beach, and lifting each the slender tin-clad spire of its church to sparkle in the sun.
At the head of the bay was a mountainous top, and along its waters were masses of rocks, gayly painted with lichens and stained with metallic tints of orange and scarlet. The unchanging growth of stunted pines was the only forest in sight, though Ha-Ha Bay is a famous lumbering port, and some schooners now lay there receiving cargoes of odorous pine plank. The steamboat-wharf was all astir with the liveliest toil and leisure. The boat was taking on wood, which was brought in wheelbarrows to the top of the steep, smooth gangway-planking, where the habitant in charge planted his broad feet for the downward slide, and was hurled aboard more or less en masse by the fierce velocity of his heavy-laden wheelbarrow. Amidst the confusion and hazard of this feat a procession of other habitans marched aboard, each one bearing under his arm a coffinshaped wooden box. The rising fear ot Colonel Ellison, that these boxes represented the loss of the whole infant population of Ha-Ha Bay, was checked by the reflection that the region could not have produced so many children, and calmed altogether by the purser, who said that they were full of huckleberries, and that Colonel Ellison could have as many as he liked for fifteen cents a bushel. This gave him a keen sense of the poverty of the land, and he bought of the boys who came aboard such abundance of wild red raspberries in all manner of birch-bark canoes and goblets and cornucopias, that he was obliged to make presents of them to the very dealers whose stock he had exhausted, and he was in treaty with the local half-wit — very fine, with a massive wen on one side of his head and a hunchback — to take charity in the wild fruits of his native province, when the crowd about him was gently opened by a person who advanced with a flourishing bow and a sprightly “ Good morning, good morning, sir ! ” “ How do you do ? ” asked Colonel Ellison ; but the other, intent on business, answered, “ I am the only person at Ha Ha Bay who speaks English, and I have come to ask if you would not like to make a promenade in my horse and buggy upon the mountain before breakfast. You shall be gone as long as you will for one shilling and sixpence. I will show you all that there is to be seen about the place, and the beautiful view of the bay from the top of the mountain. But it is elegant, you know, I can assure you.”
The speaker was so fluent of his English, he had such an audacious, wide-branching mustache, such a twinkle in his left eye, —which wore its lid in a careless, slouching fashion, — that the heart of man naturally clove to him ; and Colonel Ellison agreed on the spot to make the proposed promenade, for himself and both his ladies, of whom he went joyfully in search. He found them at the stern of the boat, admiring the wild scenery, and looking
He was not a close observer, and of his wife’s wardrobe he had the ignorance of a good husband, who, as soon as the pang of spending is past, forgets whatever she has ; but he could not help seeing that some gayeties of costume which he had dimly associated with his wife now enhanced the charms of his cousin’s nice little face and figure. A scarf of lively hue carelessly tied about the throat to keep off the morning chill, a prettier ribbon, a more stylish jacket than Miss Ellison owned, — what do I know ? — an air of preparation for battle, caught the colonel’s eye, and a conscious red stole responsive into Kilty’s cheek.
“Kitty,” said he, “don’t you let yourself be made a goose of.”
“ I hope she won’t — by you!” retorted his wife, “and I ’ll thank you, Colonel Ellison, not to be a Betty, whatever you are. I don’t think it’s manly to be always noticing ladies’ clothes.”
“ Who said anything about clothes ? ” demanded the colonel, taking his stand upon the letter.
“ Well, don’t you, at any rate. Yes, I’d like to ride, of all things ; and we ’ve time enough, for breakfast is n’t ready till half past eight. Where’s the carriage ? ”
The only English scholar at Ha-Ha Bay had taken the light wraps of the ladies and was moving off with them. “ This way, this way,”he said, waving his hand towards a larger number of vehicles on the shore than could have been reasonably attributed to Ha-Ha Bay. “ I hope you won’t object to having another passenger with you ? There’s plenty of room for all. He seems a very nice, gentlemanly person,” said he, with a queer, patronizing graciousness which he had no doubt caught from his English patrons.
“ The more the merrier,” answered Colonel Ellison, and “ Not in the least ! ” said his wife, not meaning the proverb. Her eye had swept the whole array of vehicles and had found them all empty, save one, in which she detected the blamelessly coated back of Mr. Arbuton. But I ought perhaps to explain Mrs. Ellison’s motives better than they can be made to appear in her conduct. She cared nothing for Mr. Arbuton ; and she had no logical wish to see Kitty in love with him. But here were two young people thrown somewhat romantically together ; Mrs. Ellison was a born match-maker, and to have refrained from promoting their better acquaintance in the interest of abstract matrimony was what never could have entered into her thought or desire. Her whole being closed for the time about this purpose ; her heart, always warm towards Kitty, — whom she admired with a sort of generous frenzy, — expanded with all kinds of lovely designs ; in a word, every dress she had she would instantly have bestowed upon that worshipful creature who was capable of adding another marriage to the world. I hope the reader finds nothing vulgar or unbecoming in this, for I do not; it was an enthusiasm, pure and simple, a beautiful and unselfish abandon ; and I am sure men ought to be sorry that they are not worthier to be favored by it. Ladies have often to lament in the midst of their finesse that, after all, no man is deserving the fate they devote themselves to prepare for him, or, in other words, that women cannot marry women.
I am not going to be so rash as try to depict Mrs. Ellison’s arts, for then, indeed, I should make her appear the clumsy conspirator she was not, and should merely convict myself of ignorance of such matters. Whether Mr. Arbuton was ever aware of them, I am not sure : as a man he was, of course, obtuse and blind; but then, on the other hand, he had seen far more of the world than Mrs. Ellison, and she may have been clear as day to him. Probably, though, he did not detect any design ; he could not have conceived of such a thing in a person with whom he had been so irregularly made acquainted, and to whom he felt himself so hopelessly superior. A film of ice such as in autumn you find casing the still pools early in the frosty mornings, had gathered upon his manner over night, but it thawed under the greetings of the others, and he jumped actively out ot the vehicle to offer the ladies their choice of seats. When all was arranged he found himself at Mrs. Ellison’s side, for Kitty had somewhat eagerly climbed to the front seat with the colonel. In these circumstances it was pure zeal that sustained Mrs. Ellison in the flattering constancy with which she babbled on to Mr. Arbuton and refrained from openly resenting Kitty’s contumacy.
As the wagon began to ascend the hill, the road was so rough that the springs smote together with pitiless jolts, and the ladies uttered some irrepressible moans. “Never mind, my dear,” said the colonel, turning about to his wife, “ we’ve got all the English there is at Ha-Ha Bay, any way.” Whereupon the driver gave him a wink of sudden liking and good-fellowship. At the same time his tongue was loosed,and he began to talk of himself. “ You see my dog, how he leaps all the time at the horse’s nose ? He is a moose-dog, and keeps himself in practice of catching the moose by the nose. You ought to come in the hunting season. I could furnish you with Indians and everything you need to hunt with. I am a dealer in wild beasts, you know, and I must keep prepared to trap them.”
“ Wild beasts ? ”
“Yes, for Barnum and the other showmen. I deal in deer, wolf, bear, beaver, moose, cariboo, wildcat, link — ”
“Link — link! You say deer for deers, and link for lynx, don’t you ? ”
“ Certainly,” answered the unblushing colonel. “ Are there many link about here ? ”
“ Not many, and they are a very expensive animal. I have been shamefully treated in a link that I have sold to a Boston showman. It was a difficult beast to take; bit my Indian awfully ; and Mr. Doolittle would not give the price he promised.”
“ What an outrage ! ”
“ Yes, but it was not so bad as it might have been. He wanted the money back afterwards ; the link died in about two weeks,” said the dealer in wild animals, with a smile that curled Ids mustache into his ears, and a glance at Colonel Ellison. “ He may have been bruised, I suppose. He may have been homesick. Perhaps he was never a very strong link. The link is a curious animal, miss,” he said to Kitty, in conclusion.
They had been slowly climbing the mountain road, from which, on either hand, the pasture-lands fell away in long, irregular knolls and hollows. The tops were quite barren, but in the little vales, despite the stones, a short grass grew very thick and tenderly green, and groups of kine tinkled their soft bells in a sweet, desultory assonance as they cropped the herbage. Below, the bay filled the oval of the hills with its sunny expanse, and the white steamer,where she lay beside the busy wharf, and the black lumber-ships, gave their variety to the pretty scene, which was completed by the picturesque villages on the shore. It was a very simple sight, but somehow very touching, as if the soft spectacle were but a respite from desolation and solitude ; as indeed it was.
Mr. Arbuton must have been talking of travel elsewhere, for now he said to Mrs. Ellison, “ This looks like a bit of Norway: the bay yonder might very well be a fjord of the Northern sea.”
Mrs. Ellison murmured her sense of obligation to the bay, the fjord, and Mr. Arbuton, for their complaisance, and Kitty, who remembered that he had somewhat snubbed her the night before for attributing any suggestive grace to the native scenery, leaned back toward him, and said with a smile : “ I suppose we ought to congratulate the first American landscape that’s ever reminded you of anything.”
The colonel looked at her with eyes of humorous question ; Mrs. Ellison looked blank; and Mr. Arbuton, having quite forgotten what he had said to provoke this comment now, looked puzzled and answered nothing : for he had this trait also in common with the sort of Englishman for whom he was taken, that he never helped out your conversational venture, but if he failed to respond inwardly, left you with your unaccepted remark upon your hands, as it were. In his silence, Kitty fell a prey to very evil thoughts. It made her harmless sally look like a blundering attack upon him, and she detested him therefore, with the bitter hatred of a young girl for a handsome young man. But just then the driver came to her rescue ; he said, “ Gentlemen and ladies, this is the end of the mountain promenade.” and, turning his horse’s head, drove rapidly back to the village.
At the foot of the hill they came again to the church, and his passengers wanted to get out and look into it. “ O certainly,” said he, “ it is n’t finished yet, but you can say as many prayers as you like in it.”
The church was decent and clean, like all Canadian churches, and at this early hour there was a good number of the villagers at their devotions. The lithographic pictures of the stations to Calvary were, of course, on its walls, and there was the ordinary tawdriness of paint and carving about the high altar.
“ I don’t like to see these things,” said Mrs. Ellison. “ It really seems to savor of idolatry. Don't you think so, Mr. Arbuton ?”
“ Well, I don’t know. I doubt if they’re the sort of people to be hurt by it.”
“They need a good stout faith in cold climates, I can tell you,” said the colonel. “ It helps to keep them warm. The broad church would be too full of draughts up here. They want something snug and tight. Just imagine one of these poor devils listening to a liberal sermon about birds and fruits and flowers and beautiful sentiments, and then driving home over the hills with the mercury thirty degrees below zero ! He couldn’t stand it.”
“ Yes, yes, certainly,” said Mr. Arbuton, and looked about him with an eye of cold, uncompassionate inspection, as if he were trying it by a standard of taste, and, on the whole, finding the poor little church vulgar.
When they mounted to their places again, the talk fell entirely to the colonel, who, as his wont was,got what information he could out of the driver. It appeared, in spite of his theory, that they were not all good Catholics at Ha-Ha Bay. “ This chap, for example,”said the Frenchman, touching himself on the breast and using the slang he must have picked up from American travellers, “ is no Catholic, — not much ! He has made too many studies to care for religion. There’s a large French party, sir, in Canada, that’s opposed to the priests and in favor of annexation.”
Voluble in any direction, he satisfied the colonel’s utmost curiosity, discoursing, as he drove by the poor logbuilt cottages which were now and then sheathed in birch-bark, upon the local affairs, and the character and history of such of his fellow-villagers as they met. He knew the pretty girls upon the street and saluted them by name, interrupting himself with these courtesies in the lecture he was giving the colonel on life at Ha-Ha Bay. There was only one brick house (which he had built himself, but had been obliged to sell in a season unfavorable for wild beasts), and the other edifices dropped through the social scale to some picturesque barns thatched with straw. These he excused to his Americans, but added that the ungainly thatch was sometimes useful in saving the lives of the cattle toward the end of an unusually long, hard winter.
“ And the people,” asked the colonel, “ what do they do in the winter to pass the time ? ”
“ Draw the wood, smoke the pipe, court the ladies.— But wouldn’t you like to see the inside of one of our poor cottages ? I shall be very proud to have you look at mine, and to have you drink a glass of milk from my cows. I am sorry that I cannot offer you brandy, but there’s none to be bought in the place.”
“Don’t speak of it! For an eyeopener there is nothing like a glass of milk,” gayly answered the colonel.
They entered the best room of the house, —wide, low-ceiled, dimly lit by two small windows, and fortified against the winter by a huge Canada stove of cast-iron. It was rude but neat, and had an air of decent comfort. Through the window appeared a very little vegetable garden with a border of the hardiest flowers. “ The large beans there,” explained the host, “ are for soup and coffee. My corn,” he said, pointing out some rows of dwarfish maize, “ has escaped the early August frosts, and so I expect to have some roasting-ears yet this summer.”
“ Well, it is n't exactly what you’d call an inviting climate, is it ? ” asked the colonel.
The Canadian was a hard little man, but he answered now with a kind of pathos, “ It’s cruel ! I came here when it was all bush. Twenty years I have lived here, and it has not been worth while. If it was to do over again, I should rather not live anywhere. I was born in Quebec,” he said, as if to explain that he was used to mild climates, and began to tell of some events of his life at Ha-Ha Bay. Finally, “ I Visit you were going to stay here awhile with me. You would n’t find it so bad in the summer-time, I can assure you. There are bears in the bush, sir,” he said to the colonel, “and you might easily kill one.”
“ But then I should be helping to spoil your trade in wild beasts,” replied the colonel, laughing.
Mr. Arbuton looked like one who might be very tired of this. He made no sign of interest either in the early glooms and privations or the summer bears of Ha-Ha Bay. He sat in the quaint parlor, with his hat on his knee, in the decorous and patient attitude of a gentleman making a call.
He had no feeling, Kitty said to herself; but that is a matter about which we can easily be wrong. It was rather to be said of Mr. Arbuton that he had always shrunk from knowledge of things outside of a very narrow world, and that he had not a ready imagination. Moreover, he had a personal dislike, as I may call it, of poverty ; and he did not enjoy this poverty as she did, because it was strange and suggestive, though doubtless he would have done as much to relieve distress.
“ Rather too much of his autobiography,” he said to Kitty, as he waited outside the door with her, while the Canadian quieted his dog, which was again keeping himself in practice of catching the moose by making vicious leaps at the horse’s nose. " The egotism of that kind of people is always so aggressive. But I suppose he ’s in the habit of throwing himself upon the sympathy of summer visitors in this way. You can’t offer a man shilling and sixpence who’s taken you into his confidence. Did you find enough that was novel in his place to justify him in bringing us here, Miss Ellison?” he asked with an air he had of taking you of course to be of his mind, and which equally offended you whether you were so or not.
To Kitty every face that they had seen in their drive had told its pathetic story ; into every cottage that they passed she had entered in thought, and dreamed out its humble drama. What their host had said gave breath and color to all she had fancied of the struggle of life there, and she was startled and shocked when this cold doubt was breathed upon the sympathetic tints of her picture. She did not know what to say at first ; she looked at him with a sudden glance of embarrassment and trouble; then she answered, “ I was very much interested. I don’t agree with you, I believe”; which, when she heard it, seemed a resentful little speech, and made her willing for some occasion to soften its effect. But nothing occurred to her during the brief drive back to the boat, save the fact that the morning air was delicious.
“ Yes, but rather cool,” said Mr. Arbuton, whose feelings apparently had not needed any balm; and the talk fell again to the others.
On the pier he helped her down from the wagon, for the colonel was intent on something the driver was saying, and then offered his hand to Mrs. Eliison.
She sprang from her place, but stumbled slightly, and when she touched the ground, “ I believe I turned my foot a little,” she said with a laugh. “ It ’s nothing, of course,” and fainted in his arms.
Kitty gave a cry of alarm, and the next instant the colonel had relieved Mr. Arbuton. It was a scene, and nothing could have annoyed him more than this tumult which poor Mrs. Ellison’s misfortune occasioned among the bystanding habitans and deckhands, and the passengers eagerly craning forward over the bulwarks, and running ashore to see what the matter was. Few men know just how to offer those little offices of helpfulness which such emergencies demand, and Mr. Arbuton could do nothing after he was rid of his burden ; he hovered anxiously and uselessly about, while Mrs. Ellison was carried to an airy position on the bow of the boat, where in a few minutes he had the great satisfaction of seeing her open her eyes. It was not the moment for him to speak, and he walked somewhat guiltily away with the dispersing crowd.
Mrs. Ellison addressed her first words to pale Kitty at her side. “ You can have all my things, now,” she said, as if it were a clause in her will, and perhaps it had been her last thought before unconsciousness.
“Why, Fanny,” cried Kitty, with an hysterical laugh, “ you ’re not going to die ! A sprained ankle is n’t fatal! ”
“ No ; but I ’ve heard that a person with a sprained ankle can’t put their foot to the ground for weeks ; and I shall only want a dressing-gown, you know, to lie on the sofa in.” With that, Mrs. Ellison placed her hand tenderly on Kitty’s head, like a mother wondering what will become of a helpless child during her disability ; in fact site was mentally weighing the advantages of her wardrobe, which Kitty would now fully enjoy, against the loss of the friendly strategy which she would now lack. Helpless to decide the matter, she heaved a sigh.
“ But, Fanny, you won’t expect to travel in a dressing-gown.”
“ Indeed, I wish I knew whether I could travel in anything or not. But the next twenty-four hours will show. If it swells up, I shall have to rest awhile at Quebec; and it it does n’t, there may be something internal. I’ve read of accidents when the person thought they were perfectly well and comfortable, and the first thing they knew they were in a very dangerous state. That’s the worst of these internal injuries : you never can tell. Not that I think there’s anything of that kind the matter with me. But a few days’ rest won’t do any harm, whatever happens ; the stores in Quebec are quite as good and a little cheaper than in Montreal; and I could go about in a carriage, you know, and put in the time as well in one place as the other. I’m sure we could get on very pleasantly there ; and the colonel need n't be home for a month yet. I suppose that I could hobble into the stores on a crutch.”
Whilst Mrs. Ellison’s monologue ran on with scarcely a break from Kitty, her husband was gone to fetch her a cup of tea and such other light refreshment as a lady may take after a swoon. She had a good enough appetite, and sent him again for more tea and toast. When he returned she bethought herself of Mr. Arbuton, who, having once come back to see if all was going well, had vanished again.
“ Why, our friend Boston is bearing up under his share of the morning’s work like a hero —or a lady with a sprained ankle,” said the colonel as he arranged the relay of provision. “ To see the havoc he ’s making in the ham and eggs and chiccory is to be convinced that there is no appetizer like regret for the sufferings of others.”
“ Why, and here’s poor Kitty not had a bite yet ! ” cried Mrs. Ellison. “ Kitty, go off at once and get your breakfast. Put on my — ”
“ O, don't, Fanny, or I can’t go ; and I ’m really very hungry.”
“ Well, I won’t then,” said Mrs. Ellison, seeing the rainy cloud in Kitty’s eyes. “ Go just as you are, and don’t mind me.” And so Kitty went, gathering courage at every pace, and sitting down opposite Mr. Arbuton with a vivid color to be sure, but otherwise lion-bold. He had been upbraiding tlie stars that had thrust him further and further at every step into the intimacy of these people, as he called them to himself. It was just twentyfour hours, he reflected, since he had met them, and resolved to have nothing to do with them, and in that time the young lady had brought him under the necessity of apologizing for a blunder of her own ; he had played the eavesdropper to her talk ; he had sentimentalized the midnight hour with her ; they had all taken a morning ride together; and he had ended by causing Mrs. Ellison to sprain her ankle and faint in his arms. It was outrageous ; and what made it worse was that decency obliged him to take henceforth a regretful, deprecatory attitude towards Mrs. Ellison, whom he liked least among these people. So he sat vindictively eating an enormous breakfast, in a sort of angry abstraction, from which Kilty’s coming roused him to say that he hoped Mrs. Ellison was better.
“ O, very much ! It’s just a sprain.”
“ A sprain may be a very annoying thing,” said Mr. Arbuton dismally. “ Miss Ellison,” he cried, “ I ’ve been nothing but an affliction to your party since I came on board this boat! ”
“ Do you think evil genius of our party would be too harsh a term ? ” suggested Kitty.
“Not in the least; it would be a mere euphemism, — base flattery, in fact. Call me something worse.”
“ I can't think of anything. I must leave you to your own conscience. It was a pity to end our ride in that way ; it would have been such a pleasant ride !” And Kitty took heart from his apparent mood to speak of some facts of the morning that had moved her fancy. “ What a strange little nest it is up here among these half-thawed hills ! And imagine the winter, the fifteen or twenty months of it, they must have every year. I could almost have shed tears — could n’t you ?— over that patch of corn that had escaped the early August frosts. I suppose this is a sort of Indian summer that we are enjoying now, and that the cold weather will set in after a week or two. My cousin and I thought that Tadoussac was somewhat retired and composed last night, but I ’m sure that I shall see it in its true light, as a metropolis, going back. I’m afraid that the turmoil and bustle of Eriecreek, when I get home — ”
“ Eriecreek ? — when you get home ? — I thought you lived at Milwaukee.”
“O no! It’s my cousins who live at Milwaukee. 1 live at Eriecreek, New York State.”
“Oh!” Mr. Arbuton, looked blank and not altogether pleased. Milwaukee was bad enough, though he understood that it was largely peopled from New England, and had a great German element, which might account for the fact that these people were not quite barbaric. But this Eriecreek, New York State ! “ I don’t think I’ve heard of it,” he said.
“ It’s a small place,” observed Kitty, “ and I believe it is n’t noted for anything in particular; it’s not even on any railroad. It’s in the northwest part of the State.”
“ Is n’t it in the oil-regions ? ” groped Mr. Arbuton.
“Why, the oil-regions are rather migratory, you know. It used to be in the oil-regions ; but the oil was pumped out, and then the oil-regions gracefully withdrew and left the cheeseregions and grape-regions to come back and take possession of the old derricks and the rusty boilers. You might suppose from the appearance of the meadows, that all the boilers that ever blew up had come down in the neighborhood of Eriecreek. And every field has its derrick standing just as the last dollar or the last drop of oil left it.”
Mr. Arbuton brought his fancy to bear upon Eriecreek, and wholly failed to conceive of it. He did not like the notion of its being thrust within the range of his knowledge ; and he resented its being the home of Miss Ellison, whom he was beginning to accept as a not quite comprehensible yet certainly agreeable fact, though with still a disposition to cast her off as something incredible. He asked no further about Eriecreek, and presently she rose and went to join her relatives, and he went to smoke his cigar, and to ponder upon the problem presented to him in this young girl from whose locality and conjecturable experiences he was at a loss how to infer her as he found her here.
She had a gentle repose, a delicate self-reliance mingling with an innocent trust of others which Mrs. Isabel March had described to her husband as a charm potent to make everybody sympathetic and good-natured, but which it would not be easy to account for to Mr. Arbuton. In part it was a natural gift, and partly it came from mere ignorance of the world ; it was the unsnubbed fearlessness of a heart which could not suspect injustice it had never felt, or imagine itself misprized for anything but a fault. For this false conception of her relations to society, Kitty’s Uncle Jack was chiefly to blame. In the fierce democracy of his revolt from his Virginian traditions he had taught his family that a belief in any save intellectual and moral distinctions was a mean and cruel superstition ; he had contrived to fix this idea so deeply in the education of his children, that it gave a coloring to their lives, and Kitty, when her turn came, had the effect of it in the character of those about her. In fact she accepted his extreme theories of equality to a degree that delighted her uncle, who, having held them many years, was growing perhaps a little languid in their tenure and was glad to have his grasp strengthened by her faith. Socially as well as politically Eriecreek was almost a perfect democracy, and there was nothing in Kitty’s circumstances to contradict the doctor’s teachings. His house being headquarters for so many emancipated spirits, what she learned of the world outside confirmed her belief in their practicability if not their actual operation ; the brief visits which she had made to Buffalo and Erie, and, since the colonel’s marriage, to Milwaukee, had not sufficed to undeceive her ; she had never suffered slight save from the ignorant and uncouth ; she believed that in people of culture she should always find community of feeling and ideas ; and so, not knowing the world, she had the ease that perfect knowledge of it gives.
In the secluded life which she led perforce at Eriecreek there was an abundance of leisure, which she bestowed upon books at an age when most girls are sent to school. The doctor had a good taste of an oldfashioned kind in literature, and he had a library pretty well stocked with the more elderly English authors, poets, and essayists and novelists, and here and there an historian, and these Kitty read childlike, enjoying them at the time in a certain way, and storing up in her mind things that she did not for the present understand, but of which the beauty and value dawned upon her from time to time, as she grew older. But of far more use and pleasure to her than these now somewhat mouldy classics were the more modern books of her cousin Charles, — that pride and hope of his father’s heart, who had died the year before she came to Eriecreek. He was named after her own father, and it was as if her Uncle Jack found both his son and his brother in her again. When her taste for reading began to show itself in force, the old man one day unlocked a certain bookcase in a little upper room, and gave her the key, saying, with a broken pride and that queer Virginia pomp which still clung to him, “ This was my son’s, who would one day have been a great writer ; now it is yours.” After that the doctor would pick up the books out of this collection which Kitty was reading and had left lying about the rooms, and look into them a little way. Sometimes he fell asleep over them ; sometimes when he opened on a page pencilled with marginal notes, he would put the volume gently down and go very quickly out of the room.
“ Kitty, I reckon you 'd better not leave poor Charley’s books around where Uncle Jack can get at them,” one of the girls, Virginia or Rachel, would say ; “ I don’t believe he cares much for those writers, and the sight of the books just tries him.” And so it came about that Kitty kept the books, and herself for the most part with them, in the upper chamber which had been Charles Ellison’s room, and where, amongst the witnesses of the dead boy’s ambitious dreams, she grew dreamer herself and seemed to inherit with his earthly place his own fine and gentle spirit.
The doctor, as his daughter suggested, did not care much for the modern authors in whom his son had delighted. Like many another simple and pure-hearted man, he thought that since Pope there had been no great poet but Byron, and he could make nothing out of Tennyson and Browning, or the other contemporary English poets. Amongst the Americans he had a great respect for Whittier, but he preferred Lowell to the rest because he had written the “ Biglow Papers,”and he never would allow that the last series was half so good as the first. These and the other principal poets of our nation and language Kitty inherited from her cousin, as well as a full stock of the contemporary novelists and romancers, whom she liked better than the poets on the whole. She had also the advantage of the magazines and reviews which used to come to him, and the house overflowed with newspapers of every kind, from the Eriecreek Courier to the New York Tribune. What with the coming and going of the eccentric visitors, and this continual reading, and her rides about the country with her Uncle Jack, Kitty’s education, such as it was, went on very actively and with the effect, at least, to give her a great liveliness of mind and several decided opinions. Where it might have warped her out of natural simplicity, and made her conceited, the keen and wholesome airs which breathed continually in the Ellison household came in to restore her. There was such tenderness in this discipline, that she never could remember when it wounded her; it was part of the gayety of those times when she would sit down with the girls, and they took up some work together, and rattled on in a free, wild, racy talk, with an edge of satire for whoever came near, a fantastic excess in its drollery, and just a touch of native melancholy tingeing it. The last queer guest, some neighborhood gossip, some youthful folly or pretentiousness of Kitty’s, some trait of their own, some absurdity of the boys if they happened to be at home, and came lounging in, were the themes out of which they contrived such jollity as never was, save when in Uncle Jack’s presence they fell upon some characteristic or performance or theory of his and turned it into endless ridicule.
But of such people, of such life, Mr. Arbuton could have made nothing if he had known them. In many things he was an excellent person, and greatly to be respected for certain qualities. He was very sincere ; his mind had a singular purity and rectitude; he was a scrupulously just person so far as he knew. He had traits that would have fitted him very well for the career he had once contemplated, and he had even made some preliminary studies for the ministry. But the very generosity of his creed perplexed him, his mislikers said ; contending that he could never have sympathized with the mob of the redeemed. “ Arbuton,” said a fat young fellow, the supposed wit of the class, “thinks there are persons from the lower orders in heaven ; but he does n’t like the idea.” And Mr. Arbuton did not like the speaker very well, either, nor any of his poorer fellow-students, whose gloveless and unfashionable poverty, and meagre board and lodgings, and general hungry dependence upon pious bequests and neighborhood kindnesses, offended his instincts. “ So he ’s given it up, has he?” moralized the same wit, upon his retirement. “If Arbuton could have been a divinely commissioned apostle to the best society, and been obliged to save none but well-connected, oldestablished, and cultivated souls, he might have gone into the ministry.” This was a coarse construction of the truth, but it was not altogether a perversion. It was long ago that he had abandoned the thought of the ministry, and he had since travelled, and read law, and become a man of society and of clubs; but he still kept the traits that had seemed to make his vocation clear. On the other hand he kept the prejudices that were imagined to have disqualified him. He was an exclusive by training and by instinct. It is possible that if he had known more kinds of men, he would have recognized merits and excellences which did not now exist for him ; but I do not think he would have liked them. He gave ordinary humanity credit for a certain measure of sensibility, but it was hard for him to believe in refinement other than that which came from the circumstances and influences of his own life, or from like circumstances and influences in Europe, or perhaps I ought to say England, for he thought the Continent at its best rather underbred. His doubt, therefore, of these Western people was the most natural, if not the most justifiable thing in the world, and as for Kitty, if he could have known all about her, I do not see how he could have believed in her at all. As it was, he went in search of her party when he had smoked his cigar, and found them on the forward promenade. She had left him in quite a lenient mood, although, as she perceived with amusement, he had done nothing to merit it, except give her cousin a sprained ankle. At the moment of his reappearance, Mrs. Ellison had been telling Kitty that she thought it was beginning to swell a little, and so it could not be anything internal ; and Kitty had understood that she meant her ankle as well as if she had said so, and had sorrowed and rejoiced over her, and the colonel had been inculpated for the whole affair. This made Mr. Arbuton’s excuses rather needless, though they were most graciously received.
ON THE WAY BACK TO QUEBEC.
By this time the boat was moving down the river, and every one was alive to the scenery. The procession of the pine-clad, rounded heights on either shore began shortly after Ha-Ha Bay had disappeared behind a curve, and it hardly ceased, save at one point, before the boat re-entered the St. Lawrence. The shores of the stream are almost uninhabited. The hills rise from the water’s edge, and if ever a narrow vale divides them, it is but to open drearier solitudes to the eye. In such a valley would stand a saw-mill, and huddled about it a few poor huts, while a friendless road, scarce discernible from the boat, wound up from the river through the valley, and led to wildernesses all the forlorner for the devastation of their forests. Now and then an island, rugged ns the shores, broke the long reaches of the grim river with its mass of rock and dark evergreen, and seemed in the distance to forbid escape from those dreary waters, over which no bird flew, and in which it was incredible any fish swam.
Mrs. Ellison, with her foot comfortably and not ungracefully supported on a stool, was in so little pain as to be looking from time to time at one of the guide-books which the colonel had lavished upon his party, and which she was disposed to hold to very strict account for any excesses of description.
“ It says here that the water of the Saguenay is as black as ink. Do you think it is, Richard ? ”
“ It looks so.”
“ Well, but if you took some up in your hand ? ”
“ Perhaps it would n’t be as black as the best Maynard and Noyes, but it would be black enough for all practical purposes.”
“Maybe,” suggested Kitty, “the guide-book means the kind that is light blue at first, but ‘becomes a deep black on exposure to the air,’ as the label says.”
“ What do you think, Mr. Arbuton ? ” asked Mrs. Ellison with unabated anxiety.
“ Well, really, I don’t know,” said Mr. Arbuton, who thought it a very trivial kind of talk, “I can’t say, indeed. I haven’t taken any of it up in my hand.”
“That’s true,” said Mrs. Ellison gravely, with an accent of reproval for the others who had not thought of so simple a solution of the problem, “ very true.”
The colonel looked into her face with an air of well-feigned alarm. “ You don’t think the sprain has gone to your head, Fanny?” he asked, and walked away, leaving Mr. Arbuton to the ladies. Mrs. Ellison did not care for this or any other gibe, if she but served her own purposes; and now, having made everybody laugh and given the conversation a lively turn, she was as perfectly content as if she had not been herself an offering to the cause of cheerfulness, She was, indeed, equal to any sacrifice in the enterprise she had undertaken, and would not only have given Kitty all her worldly goods, but would have quite effaced herself to further her own designs upon Mr. Arbuton. She turned again to her guidebook, and left the young people to continue the talk in unbroken gayety. They at once became serious, as most people do after a hearty laugh, which, if you think, seems always to have something strange and sad in it. But besides, Kitty was oppressed by the coldness that seemed perpetually to hover in Mr. Arbuton’s atmosphere, while she was interested by his fastidious good looks and his blameless manners and his air of a world different from any she had hitherto known. He was one of those men whose perfection makes you feel guilty of misdemeanor whenever they meet you, and whose greeting turns your honest good-day coarse and common ; even Kitty’s fearless ignorance was not proof against him. She had found it easy to talk with Mrs. March as she did with her cousin at home ; she liked to be frank and gay in her parley, to jest and to laugh and to make harmless fun, and to sentimentalize in a halfearnest way ; she liked to be with Mr. Arbuton, but now she did not see how she could take her natural tone with him, though it had to come to that as soon as the talk began. She wondered at her daring lightness with him at the breakfast table ; she waited for him to say something, and he said, with a glance at the gray heaven that always overhangs the Saguenay, that it was beginning to rain, and unfurled the slender silk umbrella which harmonized so perfectly with the London effect of his dress, and held it over her. Mrs. Ellison sat within the shelter of the projecting roof, and diligently perused her book with her eyes, and listened to their talk.
“ The great drawback to this sort of thing in America,” continued Mr. Arbuton, “ is that there is no human interest about the scenery, fine as it is.”
“ Why, I don’t know,” said Kitty, “there was that little settlement round the saw-mill. Can’t you imagine any human interest in the lives of the people there? It seems to me that one might make almost anything out of them. I’ve been at work on them ever since we passed the place, and I’ve found that nearly everything has happened there. Could n’t you suppose, for example, that the owner of that mill was a disappointed man who had come here to bury the wreck of his life in — sawdust ? ”
“ O, yes, yes! That sort of thing; certainly. But I did n’t mean that, I meant something historical. There is no past, no atmosphere, no traditions, you know.”
“ O, but the Saguenay has a tradition,” said Kitty. “ You know that a party of the first explorers left their comrades at Tadoussac, and came up the Saguenay three hundred years ago, and never were seen or heard of again. I don’t believe any river has a better tradition than that. And besides, it’s so in keeping with the looks of the river. The Saguenay would never tell a secret.”
“Um!” uttered Mr, Arbuton, as if he were not quite sure that it was the Saguenay’s place to have a legend of this sort, and disposed to snub the legend because the Saguenay had it. After a little silence, he began to speak of famous rivers abroad.
“I suppose,” Kitty said, “you ’ve no fault to find with the Rhine scenery. That has traditions enough, has n't it? ”
“Yes,” he answered, “but I think the Rhine rather overdoes it. You can’t help feeling, you know, that it’s somewhat melodramatic and — common. Have you ever seen the Rhine ?”
“ O my, no ! This is about the first I’ve seen of anything, and I ’m glad of every inch. Perhaps,” she added, demurely, yet with a tremor at finding herself about to make light of Mr. Arbuton, “ if I had had too much of tradition on the Rhine I should want more of it on the Saguenay. That appears to be one of the advantages of foreign travel.”
“Why, you must allow there’s a golden mean in everything, Miss Ellison,” said her companion with a laugh, not feeling it disagreeable to be made light of by her.
“ Yes : and I’m afraid we 're going to find Cape Trinity and Cape Eternity altogether too big when we come to them. Don’t you think eighteen hundred feet excessively high for a feature of river scenery ? ”
Mr. Arbuton really did have an objection to the exaggerations of nature on this continent, and secretly thought them in bad taste, but he had never formulated his feeling. He was not sure but it was ridiculous, now that it was suggested, and yet the possibility was too novel to be entertained without suspicion. How could anything that was his be absurd ? Was it not more probably the perfection of taste because it was the tone of the order of things to which he belonged ?
However, when after a while the rumor of their approach to the great objects of the Saguenay journey had spread among the passengers, and they began to assemble at points favorable for the enjoyment of the spectacle, he was glad to have secured the place he held with Miss Ellison, and a sympathetic thrill of excitement passed through his loath superiority. The rain ceased as they drew nearer, and the gray clouds that had hung so low upon the hills sullenly lifted from them and let their growing height be seen. The captain bade them look at the vast Roman profile that showed itself upon the rock, and then he pointed out the wonderful Gothic arch, the reputed doorway of an unexplored cavern, under which an upright shaft of stone had stood for ages statue-like, till not many winters ago the frost heaved it from its base, and it plunged headlong down through the ice into the unfathomed depths below. The unvarying gloom of the pines was lit now by the pensive glimmer of birch-trees, and this gray tone gave an indescribable sentiment of pathos and of age to the scenery. Suddenly the boat rounded the corner of the three steps, each five hundred feet high, in which Cape Eternity climbs from the river, and crept in under the naked side of the awful cliff. It is sheer rock, springing from the black water, and stretching upward with a weary, effort-like aspect, in long impulses of stone marked by deep seams from space to space, till fifteen hundred feet in air, its vast brow beetles forward, and frowns with a scattering fringe of pines. There are stains of weather and of oozing springs upon the front of the cliff, but it is height alone that seems to seize the eye, and one remembers afterwards these details, which are indeed so few as not properly to enter into the effect. The rock fully justifies its attributive height to the eye, which follows the upward rush of the mighty acclivity, steep after steep, till it wins the cloudcapt summit, when the measureless mass seems to swing and sway overhead, and the nerves tremble with the same terror that besets him who looks downward from the verge of a lofty precipice. It is wholly grim and stern; no touch of beauty relieves the austere majesty of that presence. At the foot of Cape Eternity the water is of unknown depth, and it spreads, a black expanse, in the rounding hollow of shores of unimaginable wildness and desolation, and issues again in its river’s course around the base of Cape Trinity. This is yet loftier than the sister cliff, but it slopes gently backward from the stream, and from foot to crest it is heavily clothed with a forest of pines. The woods that hitherto have shagged the hills with a stunted and meagre growth, showing long stretches scarred by fire, now assume a stately size, and assemble themselves compactly upon the side of the mountain, setting their serried stems one rank above another, till the summit is crowned with the mass of their dark green plumes, dense and soft and beautiful ; so that the spirit perturbed by the spectacle of the other cliff is calmed and assuaged by the serene grandeur of this.
There have been, to be sure, some human agencies at work even under the shadow of Cape Eternity to restore the spirit to self-possession, and perhaps none turns from it wholly dismayed. Kitty, at any rate, found herself wonderfully revived by some works of art which the cliff wall displayed near the water’s edge. One of these was a lively fresco portrait of Lieutenant-General Sherman, with the insignia of his rank, and the other was an even more striking effigy of General O’Neil, of the Armies of the Irish Republic, wearing a threatening aspect, and designed in a bold conceit of his presence there as conqueror of Canada in the year 1875. Mr. Arbuton was inclined to resent these intrusions upon the sublimity of nature, and he could not conceive, without disadvantage to them, how Miss Ellison and the colonel should accept them so cheerfully as part of the pleasure of the whole. As he listened blankly to their exchange of jests he found himself awfully beset by a temptation which one of the boat’s crew placed in their midst. This was a bucket full of pebbles of inviting size ; and the man said, “ Now, see which can hit the cliff. It’s farther than any of you can throw, though it looks so near.”
The passengers cast themselves upon this store of missiles, Colonel Ellison most actively among them. None struck the cliff, and suddenly Mr. Arbuton felt a blind, stupid, irresistible longing to try his chance. The spirit of his college days, of his boating and ball-playing youth, came upon him. He picked up a pebble, while Kitty opened her eyes in a stare of dumb surprise. Then he wheeled and threw it, and as it struck against the cliff with a shock that seemed to have broken all the windows on the Back Bay, he exulted in a sense of freedom the havoc caused him. It was as if for an instant he had rent away the ties of custom, thrown off the bonds of social allegiance, broken down and trampled upon the conventions which his whole life long he had held so dear and respectable. In that moment of frenzy he feared himself capable of shaking hands with the shabby Englishman in the Glengarry cap, or of asking the whole admiring company of passengers down to the bar. A cry of applause had broken from them at his achievement, and he had for the first time tasted the sweets of popular favor. Of course a revulsion must come, and it must be of a corresponding violence ; and the next moment Mr. Arbuton hated them all, and most of all Colonel Ellison, who had been loudest in his praise. Him he thought for that moment everything that was aggressively and intrusively vulgar. But he could not utter these friendly impressions, nor is it so easy to withdraw from any concession, and he found it impossible to repair his broken defences. Destiny had been against him from the beginning, and now why should he not strike hands with it for the brief half-day that he was to continue in these people’s society? In the morning he would part from them forever, and in the mean time why should he not try to please and be pleased ? There might, to be sure, have been many reasons why he should not do this ; but however the balance stood he now yielded himself passively to his fate. He was polite to Mrs. Ellison, he was attentive to Kitty, and as far as he could he entered into the fantastic spirit of her talk with the colonel. He was not a dull man ; he had quite an apt wit of his own, and a neat way of saying things ; but humor always seemed to him something not perfectly well bred ; of course he helped to praise it in some old-established diner-out, or some woman of good fashion, whose mots it was customary to repeat, and he even tolerated it in books ; but he was at a loss with these people, who looked at life in so bizarre a temper, yet without airiness or pretension, nay, with a whimsical readiness to acknowledge kindred in every droll or laughable thing.
The boat stopped at Tadoussac on her return, and among the people who came down to her landing was a certain very pretty, conscious - looking, silly, bridal-faced young woman,— imaginably the belle of the season at that forlorn watering-place, — who before coming on board stood awhile attended by a following of those elderly imperial and colonial British who heavily flutter round the fair at such resorts. She
had an air of utterly satisfied vanity, in which there was no harm in the world, and when she saw that she had fixed the eyes of the shoreward-gazing passengers, it appeared as if she fell into a happy trepidation too blissful to be passively borne ; she moistened her pretty red lips with her tongue, she twitched her mantle, she settled the bow at her lovely throat, she bridled and tossed her graceful head.
“ What should you do next, Kitty ? ” asked the colonel, who had been sympathetically intent upon all this.
“ O, I think I should pat my foot,” answered Kitty ; and in fact the charming simpleton on shore, having perfected her attitude, was tapping the ground nervously with the toe of her adorable slipper.
After the boat started, a Canadian lady of ripe age, yet of a vivacity not to be reconciled with the notion of the married state, capered briskly about among her somewhat stolid and indifferent friends, saying, “ They ’re going to fire it as soon as we round the point”; and presently a dull boom, as of a small piece of ordnance discharged in the neighborhood of the hotel, struck through the gathering fog, and this elderly sylph clapped her hands and exulted : “ They’ve fired it, they’ve fired it! and now the captain will blow the whistle in answer.” But the captain did nothing of the kind, and the lady, after some more girlish effervescence, upbraided him for an old owl and an old muff, and so sank into such a flat and spiritless calm that she was sorrowful to see.
“ Too bad, Mr. Arbuton, is n’t it ? ” said the colonel ; and Mr. Arbuton listened in vague doubt while Kitty built up with her cousin a touching romance for the poor lady, supposed to have spent the one brilliant and successful summer of her life at Tadoussac, where her admirers had agreed to bemoan her loss in this explosion of gunpowder. They asked him if he did not wish the captain had whistled ; and “Oh!” shuddered Kitty, “ does n’t it all make you feel just as if you had been doing it yourself? ” — a question which he hardly knew how to answer, never having, to his knowledge, done a ridiculous thing in his life, much less, been guilty of such behavior as that of the disappointed lady.
At Cacouna, where the boat stopped to take on the horses and carriages of some home-returning sojourners, the pier was a labyrinth of equipages of many sorts and sizes, and a herd of bright-hooded, gayly blanketed horses gave variety to the human crowd that soaked and steamed in the fine, slowly falling rain. A draught-horse was every three minutes driven into their midst with tedious iteration as he slowly drew baskets of coal up from the sloop unloading at the wharf, and each time they closed solidly upon his retreat as if they never expected to see that horse again while the world stood. They were idle ladies and gentlemen under umbrellas, Indians and habitans taking the rain stolidly erect or with shrugged shoulders, and two or three clergymen of the curate type, who might have stepped as they were out of any dull English novel. These were talking in low voices and putting their hands to their ears to catch the replies of the lady-passengers who hung upon the rail, and twaddled back as dryly as if there were no moisture in life. All the while the safety-valves hissed with the escaping steam, and the boat’s crew silently toiled with the grooms of the different horses to get the equipages on board. With the carriages it was an affair of mere muscle, but the horses required to be managed with brain. No sooner had one of them placed his fore feet on the gangway plank than he protested by backing up over a mass of patient Canadians, carrying with him half a dozen grooms and deck-hands. Then his hood was drawn over his eyes, and he was blindly walked up and down the pier, and back to the gangway, which he knew as soon as he touched it. He pulled, he pranced, he shied, he did all that a bad and stubborn horse can do, till at last a groom mounted his back, a clump of deck-hands tugged at his bridle, and other grooms, tenderly embracing him at different points, pushed, and he was thus conveyed on board with mingled affection and ignominy. None of the Canadians seemed amused by this ; they regarded it with serious composure as a fitting decorum, and Mr. Arbuton had no comment to make upon it. But at the first embrace bestowed upon the horse by the grooms the colonel said absently, “Ah! longlost brother,” and Kitty laughed; and as the scruples of each brute were successively overcome, she helped to give some grotesque interpretation to the various scenes of the melodrama, while Mr. Arbuton stood beside her, and sheltered her with his umbrella ; and a spice of malice in her heart told her that he viewed this drolling, and especially her part in it, with grave misgiving. This gave the zest of transgression to her harmless excess, mixed with dismay; for the tricksy spirit in her was not a domineering spirit, but was easily abashed by the moods of others. She ought not to have laughed at Dick’s speeches, she soon told herself, much less helped him on. She dreadfully feared that she had done something indecorous, and she was pensive and silent over it as she moved listlessly about after supper ; and she sat at last thinking in a dreary sort of perplexity on what had passed during the day, which seemed a long one.
The shabby Englishman with his wife and sister were walking up and down the cabin. By and by they stopped, and sat down at the table facing Kitty; the elder woman, with a civil freedom, addressed her some commonplace, and the four were presently in lively talk ; for Kitty had beamed upon the woman in return, having already longed to know something of them. The world was so fresh to her, that she could find delight in those poor singing or acting folk, though she had to own to herself that their talk was not very witty nor very wise, and that the best thing about them was their good-nature. The colonel sat at the end of the table with a newspaper ; Mrs. Ellison had gone to bed; and Kitty was beginning to tire of her new acquaintance, and to wonder how she could get away from them, when she saw rescue in the eye of Mr. Arbuton as he came down the cabin. She knew he was looking for her; she saw him check himself with a start of recognition ; then he walked rapidly by the group, without glancing at them.
“ Brrrr ! ” said the blond girl, drawing her blue knit shawl about her shoulders, “ is n’t it cold ? ” and she and her friends laughed.
“ O dear ! ” thought Kitty, “ I did n’t suppose they were so rude. I 'm afraid I must say good night,” she added aloud, after a little, and stole off to her state-room, the most consciencestricken creature on that boat. She heard those people laugh again after she left them.
W. D. Howells.