MR. ARBUTON SPEAKS.
MRS. ELLISON was almost well; she had already been shopping twice in the Rue Fabrique, and her recovery was now chiefly retarded by the dress - maker’s delays in making up a silk too precious to be risked in the piece with the customs officers, at the frontier. Moreover, although the colonel was beginning to chafe, she was not loath to linger yet a few days for the sake of an affair to which her suffering had been a willing sacrifice. In return for her indefatigable self-devotion, Kitty had lately done very little. She ungratefully shrunk more and more from those confidences to which her cousin’s speeches covertly invited ; she openly resisted open attempts upon her knowledge of facts. If she was not prepared to confess everything to Fanny, it was perhaps because it was all so very little, or because a young girl has not, or ought not to have, a mind in certain matters, or else knows it not, till it is asked her by the one first authorized to learn it. The dream in which she lived was flattering and fair ; and it wholly contented her imagination while it lulled her consciousness. It moved from phase to phase without the harshness of reality, and was apparently allied neither to the future nor to the past. She herself seemed to have no more fixity or responsibility in it than the heroine of a romance.
As their last week in Quebec drew to its close, only two or three things remained for them to do, as tourists ; and chief among the few unvisited shrines of sentiment was the site of the old Jesuit mission at Sillery.
“ It won’t do not to see that, Kitty,” said Mrs. Ellison, who, as usual, had arranged the details of the excursion, and now announced them. “ It’s one of the principal things here, and your Uncle Jack would never be satisfied if you missed it. In fact, it’s a shame to have left it so long. I can’t go with you, for I’m saving up all my strength for our picnic at Château-Bigot to-morrow ; and I want you, Kitty, to see that the colonel sees everything. I ’ve had trouble enough, goodness knows, getting the facts together for him.” This was as Kitty and Mr. Arbuton sat waiting in Mrs. Ellison’s parlor for the delinquent colonel, who had just stepped round to the Hotel St. Louis and was to be back presently. But the moment of his return passed ; a quarter-hour of grace ; a half-hour of grim magnanimity, —and still no colonel. Mrs. Ellison began by saying that it was perfectly abominable, and left herself, in a greater extremity, with nothing more forcible to add than that it was too provoking. “ It’s getting so late now,” she said at last, “ that it’s no use waiting any longer, if you mean to go at all, to-day; and to-day’s the only day you can go. There, you’d better drive on without him. I can’t bear to have you miss it.” And, thus adjured, the younger people rose and went.
When the high-born Noël Brulart de Sillery, Knight of Malta and courtier of Marie de Medicis, turned from the vanities of this world and became a priest, Canada was the fashionable mission of the day, and the noble neophyte signalized his self-renunciation by giving of his great wealth for the conversion of the Indian heathen. He supplied the Jesuits with money to maintain a religious establishment near Quebec; and the settlement of red Christians took his musical name, which the region still keeps. It became famous at once as the first residence of the Jesuits and the nuns of the Hôtel Dieu, who wrought and suffered for religion there amidst the terrors of pestilence, Iroquois, and winter. It was the scene of miracles and martyrdoms, and marvels of many kinds, and the centre of the missionary efforts among the Indians. Indeed, few events of the picturesque early history of Quebec left it untouched ; and it is worthy to be seen, no less for the wild beauty of the spot than for its heroical memories. About a league from the city, where the irregular wall of rock on which Quebec is built recedes from the river, and a grassy space stretches between the tide and the foot of the woody steep, the old mission and the Indian village once stood ; and to this day there yet stands the stalwart frame of the first Jesuit Residence, modernized, of course, and turned to secular uses, but firm as of old, and good for a century to come. All round is a world of lumber, and rafts of vast extent cover the face of the waters in the ample cove,— one of many that indent the shore of the St. Lawrence. A careless village straggles along the roadside and the river’s margin ; huge lumber-ships are loading for Europe in the stream ; a town shines out of the woods on the opposite shore ; nothing but a friendly climate is needed to make this one of the most charming scenes the heart could imagine.
Kitty and Mr. Arbuton drove out towards Sillery by the St. Louis Road, and already the jealous foliage that hides the pretty villas and stately places of that aristocratic suburb was tinged in here and there a bough with autumnal crimson or yellow ; in the meadows here and there a vine ran red along the grass ; the loath choke-cherries were ripening in the fence corners ; the air was full of the pensive jargoning of the crickets and grasshoppers, and all the subtle sentiment of the fading summer. Their hearts were open to every dreamy influence of the time ; their driver understood hardly any English, and their talk might safely be made up of those harmless egotisms which young people exchange, — those strains of psychological autobiography which mark advancing intimacy and in which they appear to each other the most uncommon persons that ever lived, and their experiences and emotions and ideas are all the more surprisingly unique because exactly alike.
It seemed a very short league to Sillery when they left the St. Louis Road, and the driver turned his horses’ heads towards the river, down the winding sylvan way that descended to the shore ; and they had not so much desire, after all, to explore the site of the old mission. Nevertheless, they got out and visited the little space once occupied by the Jesuit chapel, where its foundations may yet be traced in the grass, and they read the inscription on the monument lately raised by the parish to the memory of the first Jesuit missionary to Canada, who died at Sillery. Then there seemed nothing more to do but admire the mighty rafts and piles of lumber ; but their show of interest in the local celebrity had stirred the pride of Sillery, and a little French boy entered the chapel-yard, and gave Kitty a pamphlet history of the place, for which he would not suffer himself to be paid; and a sweet-faced young Englishwoman came out of the house across the way, and hesitatingly asked if they would not like to see the Jesuit Residence. She led them indoors, and showed them how the ancient edifice had been encased by the modern house, and bade them note, from the deep shelving windowseats, that the stone walls were three feet thick. The rooms were low-ceiled and quaintly shaped, but they borrowed a certain grandeur from this massiveness ; and it was easy to figure the priests in black and the nuns in gray in those dim chambers, which now a life so different inhabited. Behind the house was a plot of grass, and thence the wooded hill rose steep.
“ But come up stairs,” said the ardent little hostess to Kitty, when her husband came in, and had civilly welcomed the strangers, “ and I ’ll show you my own room, that’s as old as any.”
They left the two men below, and mounted to a large room carpeted and furnished in modern taste. “ We had to take down the old staircase,” she continued, “to get our bedstead up,” — a magnificent structure which she plainly thought well worth the sacrifice ; and then she pointed out divers remnants of the ancient building. “ It’s a queer place to live in ; but we ’re only here for the summer” ; and she went on to explain, with a pretty naïveté, how her husband’s business brought him to Sillery from Quebec in that season. They were descending the stairs, Kitty foremost, as she added, “ This is my first housekeeping, you know, and of course it would be strange anywhere ; but you can’t think how funny it is here. I suppose,” she said, shyly, but as it all her confidences merited some return, while Kitty stepped from the stairway face to face with Mr. Arbuton, who was about to follow them, with the lady’s husband, — “I suppose this is your wedding-journey.”
A quick alarm flamed through the young girl, and burned out of her glowing cheeks. This pleasant masquerade of hers must look to others like the most intentional love-making between her and Mr. Arbuton, — no dreams either of them, nor figures in a play, nor characters in a romance ; nay, on one spectator, at least, it had shed the soft lustre of a honeymoon. How could it be otherwise ? Here on this fatal line of wedding-travel, —so common that she remembered Mrs. March half apologized for making it her first tour after marriage,— how could it happen but that two young people together as they were should be taken for bride and bridegroom? Moreover, and worst of all, he must have heard that fatal speech !
He was pale, if she was flushed, and looked grave, as she fancied ; but he passed on up the stairs, and she sat down to wait for his return.
“ I used to notice so many couples from the States when we lived in the city,” continued the hospitable mistress of the house, “ but I don’t think they often came out to Sillery. In fact, you ’re the only pair that’s come this summer ; and so, when you seemed interested about the mission, I thought you would n’t mind if I spoke to you, and asked you in to see the house. Most of the Americans stay long enough to visit the citadel, and the Plains of Abraham, and the Falls at Montmorenci, and then they go away. I should think they’d be tired always doing the same things. To be sure, they’re always different people.”
It was unfair to let her entertainer go on talking for quantity in this way ; and Kitty said how glad she was to see the old Residence, and that she should always be grateful to her for asking them in. She did not disabuse her of her error ; it cost less to leave it alone; and when Mr. Arbuton reappeared, she took leave of those kind people with a sort of remote enjoyment of the wife’s mistakenness concerning herself. Yet, as the young matron and her husband stood beside the carriage repeating their adieux, she wculd fain have prolonged the parting forever, so much she dreaded to be left alone with Mr. Arbuton. But, left alone with him, her spirits violently rose ; and as they drove along under the shadow of the cliff, she descanted in her liveliest strain upon all the interests of the way ; she dwelt on the beauty of the wide, still river, with the ships at anchor in it ; she praised the lovely sunset-light on the other shore ; she commented lightly on the village, through which they passed, with the open doors and the suppers frying on the great stoves set into the partition-walls of each cleanly home ; she made him look at the two great stairways that climb the cliff from the lumber-yards to the Plains of Abraham, and the army of laborers, each with his empty dinner-pail in hand, scaling the once difficult heights on their way home to the suburb of St. Roch ; she did all that she could to keep the talk to herself and yet away from herself. Part of the way the village was French and neat and pleasant, then it grovelled with Irish people, and ceased to be a tolerable theme for discourse ; and so at last the silence against which she had battled fell upon them and deepened like a spell that she could not break.
It would have been better for Mr. Arbuton’s success just then if he had not broken it. But failure was not within his reckoning ; for, complete as was his surrender to this fancy of his, he had not conceived that she could feel any doubt in accepting him. He had so long regarded this young girl de haut en bas, to say it brutally, that he could not but believe his preference must irresistibly flatter her. Moreover, a magnanimous sense of obligation mingled with his confident love. She must have known that he had overheard that speech at the Residence, and it was due to himself to speak now. Perhaps he let this feeling color his manner, however faintly. He lacked the last fine instinct ; he could not forbear ; and he spoke while all her nerves and fluttering pulses cried him mercy.
IT was dimmest twilight when Kitty entered Mrs. Ellison’s room and sat rigidly down on the chair before her sofa.
“The colonel met a friend at the St. Louis, and forgot all about the expedition, Kitty,” said Fanny, “and he only came in half an hour ago. But it’s just as well ; I know you’ve had a splendid time. Where’s Mr. Arbuton ? ”
Kitty burst into tears.
“Why, has anything happened to him?” cried Mrs. Ellison, springing towards her.
“ To him ? No ! What should happen to him ?” Kitty demanded with an indignant accent.
“ Well, then, has anything happened to you ?”
“ I don’t know if you can call it happening. But I suppose you’ll be satisfied now, Fanny. He’s offered himself to me.” Kitty uttered the last words with a sort of violence, as if since the fact must be stated, she wished it to appear in the sharpest relief.
“ O dear ! ” said Mrs. Ellison, not so well satisfied as the successful match-maker ought to be. So long as it was a marriage in the abstract, she had never ceased to desire it; but as the actual union of Kitty and this Mr. Arbuton, of whom, after all, they knew so little, and of whom, if she searched her heart, she had as little liking as knowledge, it was another affair. Mrs. Ellison trembled at her triumph, and began to think that failure would have been easier to bear. Were they in the least suited to each other ? Would she like to see poor Kitty chained for life to that impassive egotist, whose very merits were repellent, and whose modesty even seemed to convict and snub you ? Mrs. Ellison was not able to put the matter to herself with moderation, either way; doubtless she did Mr. Arbuton injustice. “ Did you accept him ? ” she whispered, feebly.
“ Accept him ? ” repeated Kitty. “ No ! ”
“ O dear ! ” again sighed Mrs. Ellison, feeling that this was scarcely better, and not daring to ask further.
“ I’m dreadfully perplexed, Fanny,” said Kitty, after waiting for the questions which did not come, “and I wish you’d help me think.”
“ I will, darling. But I don’t know that I ’ll be of much use. I begin to think I ’m not very good at thinking.”
Kitty, who longed chiefly to get the situation more distinctly before herself gave no heed to this confession, but went on to rehearse the whole affair. The twilight lent her its veil ; and in the kindly obscurity she gathered courage to face all the facts, and even to find what was droll in them.
“ It was very solemn, of course, and I was frightened ; but I tried to keep my wits about me, and not to say yes, simply because that was the easiest thing. I told him that I didn’t know, — and I don’t; and that I must have time to think, — and I must. He was very ungenerous, and said he had hoped I had already had time to think ; and he could n’t seem to understand, or else I could n’t very well explain, how it had been with me all along.”
“ He might certainly say you had encouraged him,” Mrs. Ellison remarked, thoughtfully.
“Encouraged him, Fanny? How can you accuse me of such indelicacy ? ”
“ Encouraging is n’t indelicacy. The gentlemen have to be encouraged, or of course they’d never have any courage. They ’re so timid, naturally.”
“ I don’t think Mr. Arbuton is very timid. He seemed to think that he had only to ask as a matter of form, and I had no business to say anything. What has he ever done for me ? And has n’t he often been intensely disagreeable ? He ought n’t to have spoken just after overhearing what he did. He ought to have had some confidence in my confidence in him. He was very obtuse, too, not to see that girls can’t always be so certain of themselves as men, or, if they are, don’t know they are as soon as they’re asked.”
“ Yes,” interrupted Mrs. Ellison, “that’s the way with girls. I do believe that most of them — when they ’re young like you, Kitty — never think of marriage as the end of their flirtations. They’d just like the attentions and the romance to go on forever, and never turn into anything more serious ; and they ’re not to blame for that, though they do get blamed for it.”
“ Certainly,” assented Kitty, eagerly, “that’s it; that’s just what I was saying ; that’s the very reason why girls must have time to make up their minds. You had, I suppose.”
“Yes, two minutes. Poor Dick was going back to his regiment, and stood with his watch in his hand. I said no, and called after him to correct myself. But, Kitty, if the romance had happened to stop without his saying anything, you would n't have liked that either, would you ? ”
“ No,” faltered Kitty, “ I suppose not.”
“ Well, then, don’t you see ? That’s a great point in his favor. How much time did you want, or did he give you ? ”
“ I said I should answer before we left Quebec,” answered Kitty, with a heavy sigh.
“ Don’t you know, what to say now ? ’’
“ I can’t tell. That’s what I want you to help me think out.”
Mrs. Ellison was silent for a moment before she said, “Well, then, I suppose we shall have to go back to the very beginning.”
“ Yes,” assented Kitty, faintly.
“You did have a sort of fancy for him the first time you saw him, did n’t you ? ” asked Mrs. Ellison, coaxingly, while forcing herself to be systematic and coherent, by a mental strain of which no idea can be given.
“Yes,” said Kitty, yet more faintly, adding, “ but I can’t tell just what sort of a fancy it was. I suppose I admired him for being handsome and stylish, and for having such exquisite manners.”
“ Go on,” said Mrs. Ellison. “And after you got acquainted with him ? ”
“ Why, you know we ’ve talked that over once already, Fanny.”
“ Yes, but we ought n’t to skip anything now,” replied Mrs. Ellison, in a tone of judicial accuracy which made Kitty smile.
But she quickly became serious again, and said, “ Afterwards I could n’t tell whether to like him or not, or whether he wanted me to. I think he acted very strangely for a person in — love. I used to feel so troubled and oppressed when I was with him. He seemed always to be making himself agreeable under protest.”
“ Perhaps that was just your imagination, Kitty.”
“Perhaps it was; but it troubled me all the same.”
“Well, and then ? ”
“ Well, and then after that day of the Montgomery expedition, he seemed to change altogether, and to try always to be pleasant, and to do everything he could to make me like him. I don’t know how to account for it. Ever since then he ’s been extremely careful of me, and behaved —of course without knowing it—as if I belonged to him already. Or maybe I’ve imagined that too. It’s very hard to tell what has really happened the last two weeks.”
Kitty was silent, and Mrs. Ellison did not speak at once. Presently she asked, “Was his acting as if you belonged to him disagreeable ? ”
“ I can’t tell. I think it was rather presuming. I don’t know why he did it.”
“Do you respect him?” demanded Mrs. Ellison.
“ Why, Fanny, I've always told you that I did respect some things in him.”
Mrs. Ellison had the facts before her, and it rested upon her to sum them up, and do something with them. She rose to a sitting posture, and confronted her task.
“Well, Kitty, I’ll tell you : I don’t really know what to think. But I can say this : if you liked him at first, and then did n’t like him, and afterwards he made himself more agreeable, and you didn’t mind his behaving as if you belonged to him, and you respected him, but after all didn’t think him fascinating —”
“He is fascinating—in a kind of way. He was, from the beginning. In a story his cold, snubbing, puttingdown ways would have been perfectly fascinating.”
“ Then why did n’t you take him ? ”
“ Because,” answered Kitty, between laughing and crying, “it isn’t a story, and I don’t know whether I like him.”
“ But do you think you might get to like him ? ”
“ I don’t know. His asking brings back all the doubts I ever had of him, and that I have been forgetting the past two weeks. I can’t tell whether I like him or not. If I did, shouldn’t I trust him more ? ”
“ Well, whether you are in love or not, I’ll tell you what you are, Kitty,” cried Mrs. Ellison, provoked with her indecision, and yet relieved that the worst, whatever it was, was postponed thereby for a day or two.
“ What ? ”
But at this important juncture the colonel came lounging in, and Kitty ran out of the room.
“ Richard,” said Mrs. Ellison, seriously, and in a tone implying that it was all the colonel’s fault, as usual, “ you know what has happened, I suppose.”
“No, my dear, I don’t; but no matter: I will presently, I dare say.”
“ O, I wish for once you would n’t be so flippant. Mr. Arbuton has offered himself to Kitty.”
Colonel Ellison gave a quick, sharp whistle of amazement, but trusted himself to nothing more articulate.
“Yes,” said his wife, responding to the whistle, “and it makes me perfectly wretched.”
“ Why, I thought you liked him.”
“ I didn’t like him ; but I thought it would be an excellent thing for Kitty.”
“ And won’t it ? ”
“ She does n’t know.”
“ Does n’t know ? ”
The colonel was silent, while Mrs. Ellison stated the case in full, and its pending uncertainty. Then he exclaimed vehemently, as if his amazement had been growing upon him, “ This is the most astonishing thing in the world ! Who would ever have dreamt of that young iceberg being in love ? ”
“ Have n’t I told you all along he was ? ”
“ O yes, certainly ; but that might be taken either way, you know. You could discover the tender passion in the eye of a potato.”
“Colonel Ellison,” said Fanny with sternness, “ why do you suppose he’s been hanging about us for the last four weeks ? Why should he have stayed in Quebec? Do you think he pitied me, or found you so very agreeable ?”
“ Well, I thought he found us just tolerable, and was interested in the place.”
Mrs. Ellison made no reply to this at once, but looked a scorn which, happily for the colonel, the darkness hid. Presently she said that bats did not express the blindness of men, for any bat could have seen what was going on.
“ Why,” remarked the colonel, “ I did have a momentary suspicion that day of the Montgomery business ; they both looked very confused, when I saw them at the end of that street, and neither of them had anything to say ; but that was accounted for by what you told me afterwards about his adventure. At the time I did n’t pay much attention to the matter. The idea of his being in love seemed too ridiculous.”
“ Was it ridiculous for you to be in love with me ? ”
“ No ; and yet I can’t praise my condition for its wisdom, Fanny.”
“ Yes ! that’s like men. As soon as one of them is safely married, he thinks all the love-making in the world has been done forever, and he can’t conceive of two young people taking a fancy to each other.”
“That’s something so, Fanny. But granting —for the sake of argument merely — that Boston has been asking Kitty to marry him, and she does n’t know whether she wants him, what are we to do about it ? I don’t like him well enough to plead his cause ; do you ? When does Kitty think she ’ll be able to make up her mind ? ”
“ She’s to let him know before we leave.”
The colonel laughed. “ And so he ’s to hang about here on uncertainties for two whole days ! That is rather rough on him. Fanny, what made you so eager for this business ? ”
“ Eager ? I was n't eager.”
“Well, then, — reluctantly acquiescent ? ”
“ Why, she’s so literary and that.”
“ And what ? ”
“ How insulting ! — Intellectual, and so on ; and I thought she would be just fit to live in a place where everybody is literary and intellectual. That is, I thought that, if I thought anything.”
“ Well,” said the colonel, “you may have been right on the whole, but I don’t think Kitty is showing any particular force of mind, just now, that would fit her to live in Boston. My opinion is, that it’s ridiculous for her to keep him in suspense. She might as well answer him first as last. She’s putting herself under a kind of obligation by her delay. I ’ll talk to her — ”
“ If you do, you ’ll kill her. You don’t know how she’s wrought up about it.”
“ O well, I ’ll be careful of her sensibilities. It’s my duty to speak with her. I’m here in the place of a parent. Besides, don’t I know Kitty ? I ’ve almost brought her up.”
“ Maybe you ’re right. You ’re all so queer that perhaps you ’re right. Only, do be careful, Richard. You must approach the matter very delicately,— indirectly, you know. Girls are different, remember, from young men, and you must n’t be blunt. Do manoeuvre a little, for once in your life.”
“All right, Fanny; you needn’t be afraid of my doing anything awkward or sudden. I ’ll go to her room pretty soon, after she’s quieted down, and have a good, calm old fatherly conversation with her.”
The colonel was spared this errand ; for Kitty had left some of her things on Fanny’s table, and now came back for them with a lamp in her hand. Her averted face showed the marks of weeping ; the corners of her firm-set lips were downward bent, as if some resolu tion which she had taken were very painful. This the anxious Fanny saw ; and she made a gesture to the colonel which any woman would have understood to enjoin silence, or, at least, the utmost caution and tenderness of speech. The colonel summoned his finesse and said, cheerily, “Well, Kitty, what’s Boston been saying to you ? ”
Mrs. Ellison fell back upon her sofa as if shot, and placed her hand over her face.
Kitty seemed not to hear her cousin. Having gathered up her things, she bent an unmoved face and an unseeing gaze full upon him, and glided from the room without a word.
“ Well, upon my soul,” cried the colonel, “ this is a pleasant, nightmarish, sleep-walking, Lady-Macbethish little transaction. Confound it, Fanny! this comes of your wanting me to manoeuvre. If you’d let me come straight at the subject, — like a man — ”
“ Please, Richard, don’t say anything more now,” pleaded Mrs. Ellison in a broken voice. “ You can’t help it, I know; and I must do the best I can, under the circumstances. Do go away for a little while, darling ! O dear! ”
As for Kitty, when she had got out of the room in that phantasmal fashion, she dimly recalled, through the mists of her own trouble, the colonel’s dismay at her so glooming upon him, and began to think that she had used poor Dick more tragically than she need, and so began to laugh softly to herself; but while she stood there at the entry window a moment, laughing in the moonlight, that made her lamp-flame thin, and painted her face with its pale lustre, Mr. Arbuton came down the attic stairway. He was not a man of quick fancies ; but to one of even slower imagination and of calmer mood, she might very well have seemed unreal, the creature of a dream, fantastic, intangible, insensible, arch, not wholly without some touch of the malign. In his heart he groaned over her beauty as if she were lost to him forever in this elfish transfiguration.
“ Miss Ellison ! ” he scarcely more than whispered.
“ You ought not to speak to me now,” she answered, gravely.
“ I know it ; but I could not help it. For heaven’s sake, do not let it tell against me. I wished to ask it I should not see you to-morrow ; to beg that all might go on as had been planned, and as if nothing had been said to-day.”
“It’ll be very strange,” said Kitty. “ My cousins know everything now. How can we meet before them ? ”
“ I’m not going away without my answer, and we can’t remain here without meeting. It will be less strange if we let everything take its course.”
He looked strangely humbled, but even more bewildered than humbled.
She listened while he descended the steps, unbolted the street door, and closed it behind him. Then she passed out of the moonlight into her own room, whose close-curtained space the lamp filled with its ruddy glow, and revealed her again, no malicious sprite, but a very puzzled, conscientious, anxious young girl.
Of one thing, at least, she was clear. It had all come about through misunderstanding, through his taking her to be something that she was not; for she was resolute that Mr. Arbuton was of too worldly a spirit to choose, if he had known clearly, a girl of such an origin and lot as she was only too proud to own. The deception must have begun with dress ; and she determined that her first stroke for truth and sincerity should be most sublimely made in the return of Fanny’s things, and a rigid fidelity to her own dresses. “ Besides,” she could not help reflecting, “ my travelling-suit will be just the thing for a picnic.” And here, if the cynical reader of another sex is disposed to sneer at the method of her self-devotion, I am sure that women, at least, will allow it was most natural and highly proper that in this great moment she should first think of dress, upon which so great consequences hang in matters of the heart. Who —to be honest for once, O vain and conceited men !— can deny that the cut, the color, the texture, the stylish set of dresses has not had everything to do with the rapture of love’s young dream ? Are not certain bits of lace and knots of ribbon as much a part of it as any smile or sidelong glance of them all ? And hath not the long experience of the fair taught them that artful dress is half the virtue of their spells ? Full well they know it ; and when Kitty‘resolved to profit no longer by Fanny’s wardrobe, she had won the hardest part of the battle in behalf of perfect truth towards Mr. Arbuton. She did not, indeed, stop with this, but lay awake, devising schemes by which she should disabuse him of his errors about her, and persuade him that she was no wife for him.
THE PICNIC AT CHÂTEAU-BIGOT.
“ WELL,” said Mrs. Ellison, who had slipped into Kitty’s room, in the morning, to do her back hair with some advantages of light which her own chamber lacked, “it’ll be no crazier than the rest of the performance ; and if you and he can stand it, I ’m sure that we'vc no reason to complain.”
“ Why, I don’t see how it’s to be helped, Fanny. He’s asked it; and I’m rather glad he has, for I should have hated to have the conventional head-ache that keeps young ladies from being seen ; and at any rate I don’t understand how the day could be passed more sensibly than just as we originally planned to spend it. I can make up my mind a great deal better with him than away from him. But I think there never was a more ridiculous situation : now that the high tragedy has faded out of it, and the serious part is coming, it makes me laugh. Poor Mr. Arbuton will feel all day that he is under my mercilessly critical eye, and that he must n't do this and he must n’t say that, for fear of me ; and he can’t run away, for he’s promised to wait patiently for my decision. It’s a most inglorious position for him, but I don’t think of anything to do about it. I could say no at once, but he 'd rather not.”
“What have you got that dress on for?” asked Mrs. Ellison, abruptly.
“ Because I’m not going to wear your things any more, Fanny. It’s a case of conscience. I feel like a guilty creature, being courted in another’s clothes; and I don’t know but it’s for a kind of punishment of my deceit that I can’t realize this affair as I ought, or my part in it. I keep feeling, the whole time, as if it were somebody else, and I have an absurd kind of other person’s interest in it.”
Mrs. Ellison essayed some reply, but was met by Kitty’s steadfast resolution, and in the end did not prevail in so much as a ribbon for her hair.
It was not till well into the forenoon that the preparations for the picnic were complete and they all set off together in one carriage. In the strong need that was on each of them to make the best of the affair, the colonel’s unconsciousness might have been a little overdone, but Mrs. Ellison’s demeanor was sublimely successful. The situation gave full play to her peculiar genius, and you could not have said that any act of hers failed to contribute to the perfection of her design, that any tone or speech was too highly colored. Mr. Arbuton, of whom she took possession, and who knew that she knew all, felt that he had never done justice to her, and seconded her efforts with something like cordial admiration ; while Kitty, with certain grateful looks and aversions of the face, paid an ardent homage to her strokes of tact, and after a few miserable moments, in which her nightlong trouble gnawed at her heart, began, in spite of herself, to enjoy the humor of the situation.
It is a lovely road out to ChâteauBigot. First you drive through the ancient suburbs of the Lower Town, and then you mount the smooth, hard high way,between pretty country-houses, toward the village of Charlesbourg, while Quebec shows, to your casual backward - glance, like a wondrous painted scene, with the spires and lofty roofs of the Upper Town, and the long, irregular wall wandering on the verge of the cliff; then the thronging gables and chimneys of St. Roch, and again many spires and convent walls ; lastly the shipping in the St. Charles, which, in one direction, runs, a narrowing gleam, up into its valley, and in the other widens into the broad light of the St. Lawrence. Quiet, elmy spaces of meadow land stretch between the last suburban mansions and the village of Charlesbourg, where the driver reassured himself as to his route from the group of idlers on the platform before the church. Then he struck off on a country road, and presently turned from this again into a lane that grew rougher and rougher, till at last it lapsed to a mere cart-track among the woods, where the rich, strong odors of the pine, and ofthe wild herbs bruised under the wheels, filled the air. A peasant and his black-eyed, open-mouthed boy were cutting withes to bind hay at the side of the track, and the latter consented to show the strangers to the château from a point beyond which they could not go with the carriage. There the small habitant and the driver took up the picnic - baskets, and led the way through pathless growths of underbrush to a stream, so swift that it is said never to freeze, so deeply sprung that the summer never drinks it dry. A screen of water-growths bordered it ; and when this was passed a wide, open space revealed itself, with the ruin of the château in the midst.
The pathos of long neglect lay upon the scene ; for here were evidences of gardens and bowery aisles in other times, and now, for many a year, desolation and the slow return of the wilderness. The mountain rising behind the château grounds showed the dying flush of the deciduous leaves among the dark green of the pines that clothed it to the crest ; a cry of innumerable crickets filled the ear of the dreaming noon.
The ruin itself is not of impressive size, and it is a chateau by grace of the popular fancy rather than through any right of its own ; for it was, in truth, never more than the hunting-lodge of the king’s Intendant, Bigot, a man whose sins claim for him a lordly consideration in the history of Quebec. He was the last Intendant before the British conquest, and in that time of general distress lie grew rich by oppression of the citizens, and by peculation from the soldiers. He built this pleasure-house here in the woods, and hither he rode out from Quebec to enjoy himself in the chase and the carouses that succeed the chase. Here, too, it is said, dwelt in secret the Huron girl who loved him, and who survives in the memory of the peasants as the murdered sauvagesse; and, indeed, there is as much proof that she was murdered as that she ever lived. When the wicked Bigot was arrested and sent to France, where he was tried with great result of documentary record, his château fell into other hands ; at last a party of Arnold’s men wintered there in 1775, and it is to our own countrymen that we owe the conflagration and the ruin of Château-Bigot. It stands, as I said, in the middle of that open place, with the two gable walls and the stone partition-wall still almost entire, and that day showing very effectively against the tender northern sky. On the most weatherward gable the iron in the stone had shed a dark red stain under the lash of many winter storms, and some tough lichens had encrusted patches of the surface ; but, for the rest, the walls rose in the univied nakedness of all ruins in our climate, which has no clinging evergreens wherewith to pity and soften the forlornness of decay. Out of the rubbish at the foot of the walls there sprang a wilding growth of syringas and lilacs ; and the interior was choked with flourishing weeds, and with the briers of the raspberry, on which a few berries hung. The heavy beams, left where they fell a hundred years ago, proclaimed the honest solidity with which the château had been built; and there was proof in the cut stone of the hearths and chimneyplaces that it had once had at least the ambition of luxury.
While its visitors stood amidst the ruin, a harmless garden-snake slipped out of one crevice into another ; from her nest in some hidden corner overhead a silent bird flew away. For the moment, — so slight is the capacity of any mood, so deeply is the heart responsive to a little impulse, — the palace of the Cæsars could not have imparted a keener sense of loss and desolation. They eagerly sought such particulars of the ruin as agreed with the descriptions they had read of it. and were as well contented with a bit of cellar-way outside as if they really had found the secret passage to the subterranean chamber of the château, or the hoard of silver which the little habitant said was buried under it. Then they dispersed about the grounds to trace out the borders of the garden, and Mr. Arbuton won the common praise by discovering the foundations of the stable of the château.
Then there was no more to do but to prepare for the picnic. They chose a grassy plot in the shadow of a half-dismantled bark-lodge,—a relic of the Indians, who resort to the place every summer. In the ashes of that sylvan hearth they kindled their fire, Mr. Arbuton gathering the sticks, and the colonel showing a peculiar genius in adapting the savage flames to the limitations of the civilized coffee-pot borrowed of Mrs. Gray. Mrs. Ellison laid the cloth, much meditating the arrangement of the viands, and reversing again and again the relative positions of the sliced tongue and the sardines that flanked the cold roast chicken, and doubting dreadfully whether to put down the cake and the canned peaches at once, or reserve them for a second course ; the stuffed olives drove her to despair, being in a bottle, and refusing to be balanced by anything less monumental in shape. Some wild asters and red leaves and green and yellowing sprays of fern which Kitty arranged in a tumbler were hailed with rapture, but presently flung far away with fierce disdain because they had ants on them. Kitty witnessed this outburst with her usual complacency, and then went on making the coffee. With such blissful pain as none but lovers know, Mr. Arbuton saw her break the egg upon the edge of the coffee-pot, and let it drop therein, and then, with a charming frenzy, stir it round and round. It was a picture of domestic suggestion, a subtle insinuation of home, the unconscious appeal of inherent housewifery to inherent husbandhood. At the crash of the egg-shell he trembled ; the swift agitation of the coffee and the egg within the pot made him dizzy.
“ Sha’ n’t I stir that for you, Miss Ellison ? ” he said, awkwardly.
“ O dear, no ! ” she answered in surprise at a man’s presuming to stir coffee ; ‘‘but you may go get me some water at the creek, if you please.”
She gave him a pitcher, and he went off to the brook which was but a minute’s distance away. This minute, however, left her alone, for the first time that day, with both Dick and Fanny, and a silence fell upon all three at once. They could not help looking at one another; and then the colonel, to show that he was not thinking of anything, began to whistle, and Mrs. Ellison rebuked him for whistling.
“ Why not ? ” he asked. “ It is n’t a funeral, is it ? ”
“ Of course it is n’t,” said Mrs. Ellison ; and Kitty, who had been blushing to the verge of tears, laughed instead, and then was consumed with vexation when Mr. Arbuton came up, feeling that he must suspect himself the motive of her ill-timed mirth. “ The champagne ought to be cooled, I suppose,” observed Mrs. Ellison, when the coffee had been finally stirred and set to boil on the coals.
“ I’m best acquainted with the brook,” said Mr. Arbuton, “ and I know just the eddy in it where the champagne will cool soonest.”
“ Then you shall take it there,” answered the governess of the feast; and Mr. Arbuton duteously set off with the bottle in his hand.
The pitcher of water which he had already brought stood in the grass ; by a sudden movement of the skirt, Kitty knocked it over. The colonel made a start forward ; Mrs. Ellison arrested him with a touch, while she bent a look of ineffable admiration upon Kitty.
“ Now, I must be taught,” said Kitty, “ that I can’t be so clumsy with impunity. I ’ll go and fill that pitcher again myself.” She hurried after Mr. Arbuton ; they scarcely spoke going or coming ; but the constraint that Kitty felt was nothing to that she had dreaded in seeking to escape from the tacit raillery of the colonel and the championship of Fanny. Yet she trembled to realize that already her life had become so far entangled with this stranger’s, that she found refuge with him from her own kindred. They could do nothing to help her in this ; the trouble was solely hers and his, and they two must get out of it one way or other themselves ; the case scarcely admitted even of sympathy, and if it had not been hers, it would have been one to amuse her rather than appeal to her compassion. Even as it was, she sometimes caught herself smiling at the predicament of a young girl who had passed a month in every appearance of love-making, and who, being asked her heart, was holding her lover in suspense whilst she searched it, and meantime was picnicking with him upon the terms of casual flirtation. Of all the heroines in her books, she knew none in such a strait as this.
But her perplexities did not impair the appetite which she brought to the sylvan feast. In her whole simple life she had never tasted champagne before, and she said innocently, as she put the frisking fluid from her lips after the first taste, “ Why, I thought you had to learn to like champagne.”
“No,” remarked the colonel, “it’s like reading and writing : it comes by nature. I suppose that even one of the lower animals would like champagne. The refined instinct of young ladies makes them recognize its merits instantly. Some of the Confederate cellars,” added the colonel, thoughtfully, “had very good champagne in them. Green seal was the favorite of our erring brethren. It was n’t one of their errors. I prefer it myself to our own native cider, whether made of apples or grapes. Yes, it’s better even than the water from the old chainpump in the back yard at Eriecreek, though it has n’t so fine a flavor of lubricating oil in it.”
The faint chill that touched Mr. Arbuton at the mention of Eriecreek and its petrolic associations was transient. He was very light of heart, since the advance that Kitty seemed to have made him ; and in his temporary abandon he talked well, and promoted the pleasure of the time without critical reserves. When the colonel, with the reluctance of our soldiers to speak of their warlike experiences before civilians, had suffered himself to tell a story that his wife begged of him about his last battle, Mr. Arbuton listened with a deference that flattered poor Mrs. Ellison, and made her marvel at Kitty’s doubt concerning him ; and then he spoke entertainingly of some travel experiences of his own, which he politely excused as quite unworthy to come after the colonel’s story. He excused them a little too much, and just gave the modest soldier a faint, uneasy fear of having boasted. But no one else felt this result of his delicacy, and the feast was merry enough. When it was ended, Mrs. Ellison, being still a little infirm of foot, remained in the shadow of the bark-lodge, and the colonel lit his cigar, and loyally stretched himself upon the grass before her.
There was nothing else for Kitty and Mr. Arbuton but to stroll off together, and she preferred to do this.
They sauntered up to the château in silence, and peered somewhat languidly about the ruin. On a bit of smooth surface in a sheltered place many names of former visitors were written, and Mr. Arbuton said he supposed they might as well add those of their own party.
“ O yes,” answered Kitty, with a halfsigh, seating herself upon a fallen stone, and letting her hands fall into each other in her lap as her wont was, “you write them.” A curious pensiveness passed from one to the other and possessed them both.
Mr. Arbuton began to write. Suddenly, “ Miss Ellison,” said he, with a smile, “ I’ve blundered in your name ; I neglected to put the Miss before it; and now there is n’t room on the plastering.”
“O, never mind,” replied Kitty, “I dare say it won't be missed ! ”
Mr. Arbuton neither perceived nor heeded the pun. He was looking in a sort of rapture at the name which his own hand had written now for the first time, and he felt an indecorous desire to kiss it.
“ If I could speak it as I’ve written it — ”
“ I don’t see what harm there would be in that,” said the owner of the name, “ or what object,” she added more discreetly.
— “ I should feel that I had made a great gain.”
“ I never told you,” answered Kitty, evasively, “ how much I admire your first name, Mr. Arbuton.”
“ How did you know it ? ”
“It was on the card you gave my cousin,” said Kitty, thinking he now must know she had been keeping his card.
“It’s an old family name, — a sort of heirloom from the first of us who came to the country; and in every generation since, some Arbuton has had to wear it,”
“ It’s superb ! ” cried Kitty. “ Miles ! ‘ Miles Standish, the Puritan captain,’ ‘ Miles Standish, the Captain of Plymouth.’ I should be very proud of such a name.”
“ You have only to take it,” he said, gravely.
“ O, I did n’t mean that,” she said with a blush, and then added, “ Yours is a very old family, then, is n’t it ? ”
“Yes, it’s pretty well,” answered Mr. Arbuton, “but it’s not such a rare thing in the East, you know.”
“ I suppose not. The Ellisons are not an old family. If we went back of my uncle, we should only come to backwoodsmen and Indian hunters. Perhaps that’s the reason we don’t care much for old families. You think a great deal of them in Boston, don’t you ? ”
“ We do, and we don’t. It’s a long story, and I’m afraid I couldn’t make you understand, unless you had seen something of Boston society.”
“ Mr. Arbuton,” said Kitty, abruptly plunging to the bottom of the subject on which they had been hovering, “ I’m dreadfully afraid that what you said to me, — what you asked of me, yesterday, —was all through a misunderstanding. I ’m afraid that you’ve somehow mistaken me and my circumstances, and that somehow I’ve innocently helped on your mistake.”
“ There is no mistake,” he answered, eagerly, “about my loving you ! ”
Kitty did not look up, nor answer this outburst, which flattered while it pained her. She said, “ I’ve been so much mistaken myself, and I’ve been so long finding it out, that I should feel anxious to have you know just what kind of girl you’d asked to be your wife, before I — ”
“ What ? ”
“ Nothing. But I should want you to know that in many things my life has been very, very different from yours. The first thing I can remember — you’ll think I’m more autobiographical than our driver at Ha-Ha Bay even, but I must tell you all this — is about Kansas, where we had moved from Illinois, and of our having hardly enough to eat or wear, and of my mother grieving over our privations. At last, when my father was killed,” she said, dropping her voice, “ in front of our own door — ”
Mr. Arbuton gave a start. “Killed?”
“Yes; didn’t you know? Or no: how could you ? He was shot by the Missourians.”
Whether it was not hopelessly out of taste to have a father-in-law who had been shot by the Missourians ? Whether he could persuade Kitty to suppress that part of her history? That she looked very pretty, sitting there, with her earnest eyes lifted toward his. These things flashed wilfully through Mr. Arbuton’s mind.
“ My father was a Free-State man,” continued Kitty, in a tone of pride. “ He was n’t when he first went to Kansas,” she added simply ; while Mr. Arbuton groped among his recollections of that forgotten struggle for some association with these names, keenly feeling the squalor of it all, and thinking still how very pretty she was. “ He went out there to publish a proslavery paper. But when he found what the Border Ruffians really were, he turned against them. He used to be very bitter about my uncle’s having become an Abolitionist ; they had had a quarrel about it; but father wrote to him from Kansas, and they made it up ; and before father died he was able to tell mother that we were to go to uncle’s. But mother was sick then, and she only lived a month after father ; and when my cousin came out to get us, just before she died, there was scarcely a crust of cornbread in our cabin. It seemed like heaven to get to Eriecreek ; but even at Eriecreek we live in a way that I am afraid you would n’t respect. My uncle has just enough, and we are very plain people indeed. I suppose,” continued the young girl meekly, “ that I have n’t had at all what you’d call an education. Uncle told me what to read, at first, and after that I helped myself. It seemed to come naturally ; but don’t you see that it was n’t an education ? ”
“ I beg pardon,” said Mr. Arbuton, with a blush ; for he had just then lost the sense of what she said in the music of her voice, as it hesitated over these particulars of her history.
“I mean,” explained Kitty, “that I ’m afraid I must be very one-sided. I’m dreadfully ignorant of a great many things. I have n’t any accomplishments, only the little bit of singing and playing that you’ve heard ; I could n’t tell a good picture from a bad one: I’ve never been to the opera; I don’t know anything about society. Now just imagine,” cried Kitty, with sublime impartiality, “ such a girl as that in Boston ! ”
Even Mr. Arbuton could not help smiling at this comic earnestness, while she resumed : “ At home my cousins and I do all kinds of things that the ladies whom you know have done for them. We do all our own work, for one thing,” she continued, with a sudden treacherous misgiving that what she was saying might be silly and not heroic, but bravely stifling her doubt. “ My cousin Virginia is housekeeper, and Rachel does the sewing, and I’m a kind of maid-of-all-work.”
Mr. Arbuton listened respectfully, vainly striving for some likeness of Miss Ellison in the figure of the different second-girls who, during life, had taken his card, or shown him into drawing-rooms, or waited on him at table ; failing in this, he tried her in the character of daughter of that kind of farmhouse where they take summer boarders and do their own work ; but evidently the Ellisons were not of that sort either; and he gave it up and was silent, not knowing what to say, while Kitty, a little piqued by his silence, went on : “ We ’re not ashamed, you understand, of our ways ; there’s such a thing as being proud of not being proud ; and that’s what we are, or what I am ; for the rest are not mean enough ever to think about it, and once I was n’t, either. But that’s the kind of life I’m used to; and though I’ve read of other kinds of life a great deal, I’ve not been brought up to anything different, don’t you understand ? And maybe — I don’t know — I mightn’t like or respect your kind of people any more than they did me. My uncle taught us ideas that are quite different from yours; and what if I should n’t be able to give them up ? ”
“ There is only one thing I know or see : I love you !” he said, passionately, and drew nearer by a step ; but she put out her hand and repelled him with a gesture.
“ Sometimes you might be ashamed of me before those you knew to be my inferiors, — really common and coarseminded people, but regularly educated, and used to money and fashion. I should cower before them, and I never could forgive you.”
“ I’ve one answer to all this : I love you ! ”
Kitty flushed in generous admiration of his magnanimity, and said, with more of tenderness than she had yet felt towards him, “ I ’m sorry that I can’t answer you now, as you wish, Mr. Arbuton.”
“But you will, to-morrow.”
She shook her head. “ I don’t know ; O, I don’t know ! I ’ve been thinking of something. That Mrs. March asked me to visit her in Boston ; but we had given up doing so, because of the long delay here. If I asked my cousins, they’d still go home that way. It’s too bad to put you off again ; but you must see me in Boston, if only for a day or two, and after you’ve got back into your old associations there, before I answer you. I’m in great trouble. You must wait, or I must say no.”
“ I ’ll wait,” said Mr. Arbuton.
“ O, thank you,” sighed Kitty, grateful for this patience, and not for the chance of still winning him ; “you are very forbearing, I ’m sure.”
She again put forth her hand, but not now to repel him. He clasped it and kept it in his, then impulsively pressed it against his lips.
Colonel and Mrs. Ellison had been watching the whole pantomime, forgotten.
“ Well,” said the colonel, “ I suppose that’s the end of the play, is n’t it ? I don’t like it, Fanny; I don’t like it.”
“ Hush ! ” whispered Mrs. Ellison.
They were both puzzled when Kitty and Mr. Arbuton came towards them with anxious faces. Kitty was painfully revolving in her mind what she had just said, and thinking she had said not so much as she meant and yet so much more, and tormenting herself with the fear that she had been at once too bold and too meek in her demand for longer delay. Did it not give him further claim upon her? Must it not have seemed a very audacious thing? What right had she to make it, and how could she now finally say no ? Then the matter of her explanation to him : was it at all what she meant to say ? Must it not give him an idea of intellectual and spiritual poverty in her life which she knew had not been in it ? Would he not believe, in spite of her boasts, that she was humiliated before him by a feeling of essential inferiority ? O, had she boasted ? What she meant to do was just to make him understand clearly what she was ; but, had she ? Could he be made to understand this with what seemed his narrow conception of things outside of his own experience ? Was it worth while to try ? Did she care enough for him to make the effort desirable ? Had she made it for his sake, or in the interest of truth, merely, or in self-defence ?
These and a thousand other like questions beset her all the way home to Quebec, amid the frequent pauses of the talk, and underneath whatever she was saying. Half the time she answered yes or no to them, and not to what Dick, or Fanny, or Mr. Arbuton had asked her ; she was distraught with their recurrence, as they teased about her like angry bees, and one now and then settled, and stung and stung. Through the whole night, too, they pursued her in dreams with pitiless iteration and fantastic change; and at dawn she was awakened by voices calling up to her from the Ursulines’ Garden, — the slim, pale nun crying out, in a lamentable accent, that all men were false and there was no shelter save the convent or the grave, and the comfortable sister bemoaning herself that on meagre days Madame de la Peltrie ate nothing but chokecherries from Chateau-Bigot.
Kitty rose and dressed herself, and sat at the window, and watched the morning come into the garden below: first, a tremulous flush of the heavens ; then a rosy light on the silvery roofs and gables ; then little golden aisles among the lilacs and hollyhocks. The tiny flower-beds just under her window were left, with their snapdragons and larkspurs, in dew and shadow; the small dog stood on the threshold, and barked uneasily when the bell rang in the Ursulines’ Chapel, where the nuns were at matins.
It was Sunday, and a soft tranquillity blest the cool air in which the young girl bathed her troubled spirit. A faint anticipative homesickness mingled now with her nightlong anxiety, — a pity for herself that on the morrow she must leave these pretty sights, which had become so dear to her that she could not but feel herself native among them. She must go back to Eriecreek, which was not a walled city, and had not a stone building, much less a cathedral or convent, within its borders ; and though she dearly loved those under her uncle’s roof there, yet she had to own that, beyond that shelter, there was little in Eriecreek to touch the heart or take the fancy ; that the village was ugly, and the village people mortally dull, narrow, and uncongenial. Why was not her lot cast somewhere else ? Why should she not see more of the world that she had found so fair, and which all her aspirations had fitted her to enjoy ? Quebec had been to her a rapture of beautiful antiquity; but Europe, but London, Venice, Rome, those infinitely older and more storied cities of which she had lately talked so much with Mr. Arbuton, — why should she not see them ?
Here, for the guilty space of a heatlightning flash, Kitty wickedly entertained the thought of marrying Mr. Arbuton for the sake of a bridal trip to Europe, and bade love and the fitness of things and the incompatibility of Boston and Eriecreek traditions take care of themselves. But then she blushed for her meanness, and tried to atone for it as she could by meditating the praise of Mr. Arbuton. She felt remorse for having, as he had proved yesterday, undervalued and misunderstood him ; and she was willing now to think him even more magnanimous than his generous words and conduct showed him. It would be a base return for his patience to accept him from a worldly ambition ; a man of his noble spirit merited all that love could give. But she respected him ; at last she respected him fully and entirely, and she could tell him that at any rate.
The words in which he had yesterday protested his love for her repeated themselves constantly in her revery. If he should speak them again after he had seen her in Boston, in the light by which she was anxious to be tested, — she did not know what she should say.
W. D. Howells.