IT is impossible to begin a story which must of necessity tax the powers of belief of readers unacquainted with the class of facts to which its central point of interest belongs without some words in the nature of introduction. Readers of Charles Lamb remember that Sarah Battle insisted on a clean-swept hearth before sitting down to her favorite game of whist.
The narrator wishes to sweep the hearth, as it were, in these opening pages before sitting down to tell his story. He does not intend to frighten the reader away by prolix explanation, but he does mean to warn him against hasty judgments when facts are related which are not within the range of every-day experience. Did he ever see the Siamese twins, or any pair like them ? Probably not, yet he feels sure that Chang and Eng really existed; and if he has taken ;the trouble to inquire, he has satisfied himself that similar cases have been recorded by credible witnesses, though at long intervals and in countries far apart from each other.
This is the first sweep of the brush, to clear the hearth of the skepticism and incredulity which must be got out of the way before we can begin to tell and to listen in peace with ourselves and each other.
One more stroke of the brush is needed before the stage will be ready for the chief characters and the leading circumstances to which the reader’s attention is invited. If the principal personages made their entrance at once, the reader would have to create for himself the whole scenery of their surrounding conditions. In point of fact, no matter how a story is begun, many of its readers have already shaped its chief actors out of any hint the author may have dropped, and provided from their own resources a locality and a set of outward conditions to environ these imagined personalities. These are all to he brushed away, and the actual surroundings of the sulrject of the narrative represented as they were, at the risk of detaining the reader a little while from the events most likely to interest him. The choicest egg that ever was laid was not so big as the nest that held it. If a story were so interesting that a maiden would rather hear it than listen to the praise of her own beauty, or a poet would rather read it than recite his own verses, still it would have to he wrapped in some tissue of circumstance, or it would lose half its effectiveness.
It may not be easy to find the exact locality referred to in this narrative by looking into the first gazetteer that is at hand. Recent experiences have shown that it is unsafe to be too exact in designating places and the people who live in them. There are, it may be added, so many advertisements disguised under the form of stories and other literary productions that one naturally desires to avoid the suspicion of being employed by the enterprising proprietors of this or that celebrated resort to use his gifts for their especial benefit. There are no doubt many persons who remember the old sign and the old tavern and its four chief personages presently to be mentioned. It is to be hoped that they will not furnish the public with a key to this narrative, and perhaps bring trouble to the writer of it, as has happened to other authors. If the real names are a little altered, it need not interfere with the important facts relating to those who bear them. It might not be safe to tell a damaging story about John or James Smythe ; but if the slight change is made of spelling the name Smith, the Smythes would never think of bringing an action, as if the allusion related to any of them. The same gulf of family distinction separates the Thomsons from the Thompsons with a p.
There are few pleasanter places in the Northern States for a summer residence than that known from the first period of its settlement by the name of Arrowhead Village. The Indians had found it out, as the relics they left behind them abundantly testified. The commonest of these were those chipped stones which are the medals of barbarism, and from which the place took its name, — the heads of arrows, of various sizes, material, and patterns : some small enough for killing fish and little birds, some large enough for such game as the moose and the bear, to say nothing of the hostile Indian and the white settler; some of flint, now and then one of white quartz, and others of variously colored jasper. The Indians must have lived here for many generations, and it must have been a kind of factory village of the stone age, —which lasted up to near the present time, if we may judge from the fact that many of these relics are met with close to the surface of the ground. No wonder they found this a pleasant residence, for it is to-day one of the most attractive of all summer resorts ; so inviting, indeed, that those who know it do not like to say too much about it, lest the swarms of tourists should make it unendurable to those who love it for itself, and not as a centre of fashionable display and extra-mural cockneyism.
There is the lake, in the first place, — Cedar Lake, — about five miles long, and from half a mile to a mile and a half wide, stretching from north to south. Near the northern extremity are the buildings of Stoughton University, a flourishing young college with an ambitious name, but well equipped and promising, the grounds of which reach the water. At the southern end of the lake are the edifices of the Corinna Institute, a favorite school for young ladies, where large numbers of the daughters of America are fitted, so far as education can do it, for all stations in life, from camping out with a husband at the mines in Nevada to acting the part of chief lady of the land at the White House in Washington.
Midway between the two extremities, on the eastern shore of the lake, is a valley between two hills, which come down to the very edge of the lake, leaving only room enough for a road between their base and the water. This valley, half a mile in width, has been long settled, and here for a century or more has stood the old Anchor Tavern. A famous place it was so long as its sign swung at the side of the road: famous for its landlord, portly, paternal, whose welcome to a guest that looked worthy of the attention was like that of a parent to a returning prodigal, and whose parting words were almost as good as a marriage benediction ; famous for its landlady, ample in person, motherly, seeing to the whole household with her own eyes, mistress of all culinary secrets that Northern kitchens are most proud of; famous also for its ancient servant, as city people would call her, — help, as she was called in the tavern and would have called herself, — the unchanging, seemingly immortal Miranda, who cared for the guests as if she were their nursing mother, and pressed the specially favorite delicacies on their attention as a connoisseur calls the wandering eyes of an amateur to the beauties of a picture. Who that has ever been at the old Anchor Tavern forgets Miranda’s
“ Some of these cakes ? You will find them vdr-y
Nor would it be just to memory to forget that other notable and noted member of the household, — the unsleeping, unresting, omnipresent Pushee, ready for everybody and everything, everywhere within the limits of the establishment at all hours of the day and night. He fed, nobody could say accurately when or where. There were rumors of a “ bunk,” in which he lay down with his clothes on, but he seemed to be always wide awake, and at the service of as many guests at once as if there had been half a dozen of him.
So much for old reminiscences.
The landlord of the Anchor Tavern had taken down his sign. lie had had the house thoroughly renovated and furnished it anew, and kept it open in summer for a few boarders. It happened more than once that the summer boarders were so much pleased with the place that they stayed on through the autumn, and some of them through the winter. The attractions of the village were really remarkable. Boating in summer, and skating in winter; ice-boats, too, which the wild ducks could hardly keep up with; fishing, for which the lake was renowned; varied and beautiful walks through the valley and up the hillsides; houses sheltered from the north and northeasterly winds, and refreshed in the hot summer days by the breeze which came over the water, — all this made the frame for a pleasing picture of rest and happiness. But there was a great deal more than this. There was a fine library in the little village, presented and richly endowed by a wealthy native of the place. There was a small permanent population of a superior character to that of an every-day country town ; there was a pretty little Episcopal church, with a good-hearted rector, broad enough for the Bishop of the diocese to be a little afraid of, and hospitable to all outsiders, of whom, in the summer season, there were always some who wanted a place of worship to keep their religion from dying out during the heathen months, while the shepherds of the flocks to which they belonged were away from their empty folds.
What most helped to keep the place alive all through the year was the frequent coming together of the members of a certain literary association. Some time before the tavern took down its sign the landlord had built a ball, where many a ball bad been held, to which the young folks of all the country round had resorted. It was still sometimes used for similar occasions, but it was especially notable as being the place of meeting of the famous PANSOPHIAN SOCIETY.
This association, the name of which might be invidiously interpreted as signifying that its members knew everything, had no such pretensions, but, as its Constitution said very plainly and modestly, held itself open to accept knowledge on any and all subjects from such as had knowledge to impart. Its President was the rector of the little chapel, a man who, in spite of the ThirtyNine Articles, could stand fire from the widest-mouthed heretical blunderbuss without flinching or losing his temper. The hall of the old Anchor Tavern was a convenient place of meeting for the students and instructors of the University and the Institute. Sometimes in boat-loads, sometimes in carriage-loads, sometimes in processions of skaters, they came to the meetings in Pansopbian Hall, as it was now commonly called.
These meetings had grown to be occasions of great interest. It was customary to have papers written by members of the Society, for the most part, but now and then by friends of the members, sometimes by the students of the College or the Institute, and in rarer instances by anonymous personages, whose papers, having been looked over and discussed by the Committee appointed for that purpose, were thought worth listening to. The variety of topics considered was very great. The young ladies of the village and the Institute had thenfavorite subjects, the young gentlemen a different set of topics, and the occasional outside contributors their own ; so that one who happened to be admitted to a meeting never knew whether he was going to hear an account of recent arctic discoveries, or an essay on the freedom of the will, or a psychological experience, or a story, or even a poem.
Of late there had been a tendency to discuss the questions relating to the true status and the legitimate social functions of woman. The most conflicting views were held on the subject. Many of the young ladies and some of the University
students were strong in defence of all the “ woman’s rights ” doctrines. Some of these young people, were extreme in their views. They had read about Semiramis and Boadieea and Queen Elizabeth, until they were ready, if they could get the chance, to vote for a woman as President of the United States or as General of the United States Army. They were even disposed to assert the physical equality of woman to man, on the strength of the rather questionable history of the Amazons, and especially of the story, believed to be authentic, of the female body-guard of the King of Dahomey, — females frightful enough to need no other weapon than their looks to scare off an army of Cossacks. Miss Lurida Vincent, gold medallist of her year at the Corinna Institute, was the leader of these advocates of virile womanhood. It was rather singular that she should have elected to be the apostle of this extreme doctrine, for she was herself far better equipped with brain than muscles. In fact, she was a large-headed, large-eyed, long-eyelashed, slender-necked, slightly developed young woman ; looking almost like a child at an age when many of the girls had reached their full stature and proportious. In her studies she was so far in advance of her different classes that there was always a wide gap between her and the second scholar. So fatal to all rivalry had she proved herself that she passed under the school name of The Terror. She learned so easily that she undervalued her own extraordinary gifts, and felt the deepest admiration for those of her friends endowed with faculties of an entirely different and almost opposite nature. After sitting at her desk until her head was hot and her feet were like ice, she would go and look at the blooming young girls exercising in the gymnasium of the school, and feel as if she would give all her knowledge, all her mathematics and strange tongues and history, all those accomplishments that made her the encyclopaedia of every class she belonged to, if she could go through the series of difficult and graceful exercises which she saw her schoolmates delighting in.
One among them, especially, was the object of her admiration, as she was of all who knew her exceptional powers in the line for which nature had specially organized her. All the physical perfections which Miss Lurida had missed had been united in Miss Euthymia Tower, whose school name was The Wonder. Though of full womanly stature, there were several taller girls of her age. While all her contours and all her movements betrayed a fine muscular development, there was no lack of proportion, and her finely shaped hands and feet showed that her organization was one of those carefully finished masterpieces of nature which sculptors arc always in search of, and find it hard to detect among the imperfect products of the living laboratory.
This girl of eighteen was more famous than she cared to be for her performances in the gymnasium. She commonly contented herself with the same exercises that her companions were accustomed to. Only her dumb-bells, with which she exercised easily and gracefully, were too heavy for most of the girls to do more with than lift them from the floor. She was fond of daring feats on the trapeze, and had to be checked in her indulgence in them. The Professor of gymnastics at the University came over to the Institute now and then, and it was a source of great excitement to watch some of the athletic exercises in which the young lady showed her remarkable muscular strength and skill in managing herself in the accomplishment of feats which looked impossible at lirst sight. How often The Terror had thought to herself that she would gladly give up all her knowledge of Greek and the differential and integral calculus if she could only perform the least of those feats which were mere play to The Wonder ! Miss Euthymia was not behind the rest in her attainments in classical or mathematical knowledge, but she was one of the very best students in the out-door brauches — botauy, mineralogy, sketching from nature — to be found among the scholars of the Institute.
There was an eight-oared boat rowed by a crew of the young ladies, of which Miss Euthymia was the captain and pulled the bow oar. Poor little Lurida could not pull an oar, but on great occasions, when there were many boats out, she was wanted as coxswain, being a mere feather-weight, and quick-witted enough to serve well in the important office where brains are more needed than muscle.
There was also an eight-oared boat belonging to the University, and rowed by a picked crew of stalwart young fellows. The bow oar and captain of the University crew was a powerful young man, who, like the captain of the girls’ boat, was a noted gymnast. He had had one or two quiet trials with Miss Euthymia, in which, according to the ultras of the woman’s rights party, he had not vindicated the superiority of his sex in the way which might have been expected. Indeed, it was claimed that he let a cannon-ball drop when he ought to have caught it, aud it was not disputed that he had been ingloriously knocked over by a sand-bag projected by the strong arms of the young maiden. This was of course a story that was widely told and laughingly listened to, and the captain of the University crew had become a little sensitive on the subject. M hen there was a talk, therefore, about a race between the champion boats of the two institutions there was immense excitement in both of them, as well as among the members of the Pansophian Society and all the good people of the village. There were many objections to be overcome. Some thought it unladylike for the young maidens to take part in a competition which must attract many lookers-on, and which it seemed to them very hoydenish to venture upon. Some said it was a shame to let a crew of girls try their strength against an equal number of powerful young men. These objections were offset by the advocates of the race by the following arguments. They maintained that it was no more hoydenish to row a boat than it was to take a part in the calisthenic exercises, and that the girls had nothing to do with the young men’s boat, except to keep as much ahead of it as possible. As to strength, the woman’s righters believed that, weight for weight, their crew was as strong as the other, and of course due allowance would be made for the difference of weight and all other accidental hindrances. It was time to test the boasted superiority of masculine muscle. Here was a chance. If the girls beat, the whole country would know it, and after that female suffrage would be only a question of time. Such was the conclusion, from rather insufficient premises, it must be confessed; but if nature does nothing per saltum, — by jumps, — as the old adage has it, youth is very apt to take long leaps from a fact to a possible sequel or consequence. So it had come about that a contest between the two boat crews was looked forward to with an interest almost equal to that with which the combat between the Horatii and Curiatii was regarded.
The terms had been at last arranged between the two crews, after cautious protocols and many diplomatic discussions. It was so novel in its character that it naturally took a good deal of time to adjust it so as to be fair to both parties. The course must not be too long for the lighter and weaker crew, for the staying power of the young persons who made it up could not be safely reckoned upon. A certain advantage must be allowed them at the start, and this was a delicate matter to settle. The weather was another important consideratiou. June would he early enough, in all probability, and if the lake should be tolerably smooth the grand affair might come off some time in that month. Any roughness of the water would be unfavorable to the weaker crew. The rowing-course was on the eastern side of the lake, the starting-point being opposite the Anchor Tavern; from that three quarters of a mile to the south, where the turning-stake was fixed, so that the whole course of one mile and a half would bring the boats back to their starting-point.
The race was to be between the Algonquin, eight-oared boat with oulriggers, rowed by young men, students of Stoughton University, and the Atalunta, also eight-oared and outrigger boat, by young ladies from the Corinna Institute. Their boat was three inches wider than the other, for various sufficient reasons, one of which was to make it a little less likely to go over and throw its crew into the water, which was a sound precaution, though all the girls could swim, and one at least, the bow oar, was a famous swimmer, who had pulled a drowning man out of the water after a hard struggle to keep him from carrying her down with him.
Though the coming trial had not been advertised in the papers, so as to draw together a rabble of betting men and illconditioned lookers-on, there was a con. siderable gathering, made up chiefly of the villagers and the students of the two institutions. Among them were a few who were disposed to add to their interest in the trial by small wagers. The bets were rather in favor of the “ Quins,” as the University boat was commonly called, except where the natural sympathy of the young ladies or the gallantry of some of the young men led them to risk their gloves or cigars, or whatever it might be, on the Atalantas. The elements of judgment were these-, average weight of the Algonquins 157 pounds ; average weight of the Atalantas 143 pounds ; skill in practice about equal ; advantage of the narrow boat equal to three lengths; whole distance allowed the Atalantas eight lengths, — a long stretch to be made up in a mile and a half.
And so both crews began practising for the grand trial.
The 10th of June was a delicious summer day, — rather warm, but still and bright. The water was smooth, and the crews were in the best possible condition. All was expectation, and for some time nothing but expectation. No boat-race or regatta ever began at the time appointed for the start. Somebody breaks an oar, or somebody fails to appear in season, or something is the matter with a seat or an outrigger ; or if there is no such excuse, the crew of one or both or all the boats to take part in the race must paddle about to get themselves ready for work, to the infinite weariness of all the spectators, who naturally ask why all this getting ready is not attended to beforehand. The Algonquins wore plain gray flannel suits and white caps. The young ladies were all in dark blue dresses, touched up with a red ribbon here and there, and wore light straw hats. The little coxswain of the Atalanta was the last to step on board. As she took her place she carefully deposited at her feet a white handkerchief wrapped about something or other, — perhaps a sponge, in case the boat should take in water.
At last the Algonquin shot out from the little nook where she lay, — long, narrow, shining, swift as a pickerel when he darts from the reedy shore. It was a beautiful sight to see the eight young fellows in their close-fitting suits, their brown muscular arms bare, bending their backs for the stroke and recovering, as if they were parts of a single machine, “ The gals can’t Stan’ it agin them fellers,” said the old blacksmith from the village.
“ You wait till the gals get a-goin’,” said the carpenter, who had often worked in the gymnasium of the Corinna Institute, and knew something of their muscular accomplishments. “ Y"’ ought to see ’em climb ropes, and swing dumbbells, and pull in them rowin’-machines. Ask Jake there whether they can’t row a mild in double-quick time, —he knows all abaout it.”
Jake was by profession a fisherman, and a fresh-water fisherman in a country village is inspector-general of all that goes on out-of-doors, being a lazy, wandering sort of fellow, whose study of the habits and habitats of fishes gives him a kind of shrewdness of observation, just as dealing in horses is an education of certain faculties, and breeds a race of men peculiarly cunning, suspicious, wary, and wide awake, with a rhetoric of appreciation and depreciation all its own. Jake made his usual preliminary signal, and delivered himself to the following effect: —
“ Wahl, I don’ know jest what to say. I’ve seed ’em both often enough when they was practisin’, an’ I tell ye the’ wa’n’t no slouch abaout neither on ’em. But them boats is allfired long, ‘n’ eight on ’em stretched in a straight line eendways makes a consid’able piece aout ’f a mile ’n’ a haaf. I’d bate on them gals if it wa’n’t that them fellers is naterally longer winded, as the gals ’ll find aout by the time they git raound the stake ‘n’ over agin the big ellum. I’ll go ye a quarter on the pahnts agin the petticoats.”
The fresh-water fisherman bad expressed the prevailing belief that the young ladies were overmatched. Still there were not wanting those who thought the advantage allowed the “ Lantas,” as they called the Corinna boatcrew, was too great, and that it would be impossible for the “ Quins ” to make it up and go by them.
The Algonquins rowed up and down a few times before the spectators. They appeared in perfect training, neither too fat nor too fine, mettlesome as colts, steady as draught-horses, deep-breathed as oxen, disciplined to work together as symmetrically as a single sculler pulls his pair of oars. The fisherman offered to make his quarter fifty cents. No takers.
Five minutes passed, and all eyes were strained to the south, looking for the Atalanta. A clump of trees hid the edge of the lake along which the Corinna’s boat was stealing towards the starting-point. Presently the long shell swept into view, with its blooming rowers, who, with their ample dresses, seemed to fill it almost as full as Raphael fills his skiff on the edge of the Lake of Galilee. But how steadily the Atalanta came on ! — no rocking, no splashing, no apparent strain ; the bow oar turning to look ahead every now and then, and directing her course, which seemed to be straight as an arrow, the beat of the strokes as true and regular as the pulse of the healthiest rower among them all. And if the sight of the other boat and its crew was beautiful, bow lovely was the look of this ! Eight young girls, — young ladies, for those who prefer that more dignified and less attractive expression, — all in the flush of youth, all in vigorous health; every muscle taught its duty; each rower alert, not to be a tenth of a second out of time, or let her oar dally with the water so as to lose an ounce of its propelling virtue ; every eye kindling with the hope of victory. Each of the boats was cheered as it came in sight, and again as it crossed the starting-line before coming into position ; but the cheers for the Atalanta were naturally the loudest, as the gallantry of one sex and the clear, high voices of the other gave it life and vigor.
“ Take your places ! ” shouted the umpire, five minutes before the half hour. The two boats felt their way slowly and cautiously to their positions, which had been determined by careful measurement. After a little backing and filling they got in line, at the proper distance from each other, and sat motionless, their bodies bent forward, their arms outstretched, their oars in the water, waiting for the word.
“ Go ! ” shouted the umpire.
Away sprang the Atalanta, and far behind her leaped the Algonquin, her oars bending like so many long Indian hows as their blades flashed through the water.
“ A stern chase is a long chase,” especially when one craft is a great distance behind the other. It looked as if it would be impossible for the rear boat to overcome the odds against it. Of course the Algonquin kept gaining, but could it possibly gain enough? That was the question. As the boats got farther and farther away, it became more and more difficult to determine what change there was in the interval between them. Rut when they came to rounding the stake it was easier to guess at the amount of space which had been gained. It was clear that something like half the distance, four lengths, as nearly as could be estimated, had been made up in rowing the first three; quarters of a mile. Could the Algonquins do a little better than this in the second half of the race-course, they would be sure of winning.
The boats had turned the stake, and were coming in rapidly. Every minute the University boat was getting nearer the other.
“ Go it, Quins! ” shouted the students.
“ Pull away, Lantas ! ” screamed the girls, who were crowding down to the edge of the water.
Nearer, — nearer,— the rear boat is pressing the other more and more closely, — a few more strokes, and they will be even, for there is but one length between them, and thirty rods will carry them to the line. It looks desperate for the Atalantas. The bow oar of the Algonquin turns his head. He sees the little coxswain leaning forward at every stroke, as if her trivial weight were of such mighty consequence, — but a few ounces might turn the scale of victory. As he turned he caught a glimpse of the stroke oar of the Atalanta. What a flash of loveliness it was ! Her face was like the reddest of June roses, with the beat and the strain and the passion of expected triumph. The upper button of her close-fitting flannel suit had strangled her as her bosom heaved with exertion, and it had given way before the fierce clutch she made at it. The bow oar was a staunch and steady rower, but he was human. The blade of his oar lingered in the water; a little more and he would have caught a crab, and perhaps lost the race by his momentary bewilderment.
The boat, which seemed as if it had all the life and nervousness of a Derby three-year-old, felt the slight check, and all her men bent more vigorously to their oars. The Atalantas saw the movement, and made a spurt to keep their lead and gain upon it if they could. It was of no use. The strong arms of the young men were too much for the young maidens ; only a few lengths remained to be rowed, and they would certainly pass the Atalanta before she could reach the line.
The little coxswain saw that it was all up with the girls’ crew if she could not save them by some strategic device.
“ Dolus an virtus quis in lioste requirat ? ” she whispered to herself, — for The terror remembered her Virgil as she did everything else she ever studied. As she stooped, she lifted the handkerchief at her feet, and took from it a flaming bouquet. “Look!” she cried, and flung it just forward of the track of the Algonquin. The captain of the University boat turned his head, and there was the lovely vision which had a moment before bewitched him. The owner of all that loveliness must, he thought, have flung the bouquet. It was a challenge : how could he be such a coward as to decline accepting it! He was sure he could win the race now, and he would sweep past the line in triumph with the great bunch of flowers at the stem of his boat, proud as Van Tromp in the British channel with the broom at his mast-head.
He turned the boat’s head a little by backing water. He came up with the floating flowers, and near enough to reach them. He stooped and snatched them up, with the loss perhaps of a second in all, —no more. He felt sure of his victory.
How can one tell the story of the finish in cold-blooded preterites? Are we not there ourselves? Are not our muscles straining with those of these sixteen young creatures, full of hot, fresh blood, nerves all tingling like so many tight - strained harp - strings, all their life concentrating itself in this passionate moment of supreme effort ? No! We are seeing, not telling about what somebody else once saw !
— The how of the Algonquin passes the stern of the Atalanta !
— The how of the Algonquin is on a level with the middle of the Atalanta !
— Three more lengths’ rowing and the college crew will pass the girls !
— “ Hurrah for the Quins ! ” The Algonquin ranges up alongside of the Atalanta!
“ Through with her ! ” shouts the captain of the Algonquin.
“ Now, girls ! ” shrieks the captain of the Atalanta.
They near the line, every rower straining desperately, almost madly.
— Crack goes the oar of the Atalanta’s captain, and up flash its splintered fragments, as the stem of her boat springs past the line, eighteen inches at least ahead of the Algonquin.
Hooraw for the Lantas ! Hooraw for the Girls! Hooraw for the Institoot! shout a hundred voices.
“ Hurrah for woman’s rights and female suffrage!” pipes the small voice of The Terror, and there is loud laughing and cheering all round.
She had not studied her classical dictionary and her mythology for nothing. " I have paid off one old score,” she said. “ Set down my damask roses against the golden apples of Hippomenes ! ”
It was that one second lost in snatching up the bouquet which gave the race to the Atalantas.
THE WHITE CANOE.
While the two boats were racing, other boats with lookers-on in them were rowing or sailing in the neighborhood of the race-course. The scene on the water was a gay one, for the young people in the boats were, many of them, acquainted with each other. There was a good deal of lively talk until the race became too exciting. Then many fell silent and some turned pale, until, as the boats neared the line, and still more as they crossed it, the shouts burst forth which showed how a cramp of attention finds its natural relief in a fit of convulsive exclamation.
But far away, on the other side of the lake, a birch-bark canoe was to be seen, in which sat a young man, who paddled it skilfully and swiftly. It was evident enough that he was watching the race intently, but the spectators could see little more than that. One of them, however, who sat upon the stand, had a powerful spy-glass, and could distinguish his motions very minutely aud exactly. It was seen by tills curious observer that the young man had an opera-glass with him, which he used a good deal at intervals. The spectator thought he kept it directed to the girls’ boat, chiefly, if not exclusively. He thought also that the opera-glass was more particularly pointed towards the bow of the boat, and came to the natural conclusion that the bow oar, Miss Euthymia Tower, captain of the Atalantas, “ The Wonder ” of the Corinna Institute, was the attraction which determined the direction of the instrument.
“ Who is that in the canoe over there ? ” asked the owner of the spyglass.
“ That’s just what we should like to know,” answered the old landlord’s wife. “He and his man hoarded with us when they first came, but we could never find out anything about, him only just his name and his ways of living, His name is Kirkwood, —Maurice Kirkwood, Esq., it used to come on his letters. As for his ways of living, he was the solitariest human being that I ever came across. His man earned his meals UP to him. He used to stay in his room pretty much all day, but at night he would be off. walking, or riding on horseback, or paddling about in the lake, sometimes till nigh morning. There’s something very strange about that Mr. Kirkwood. But there don’t seem to be any harm in him. Only nobody can guess what his business is. They got up a story about him at one time. What do you think ? They said he was a counterfeiter ! And so they went one night to his room, when he w’as out, and that man of his was away too, and they carried keys, and opened pretty much everything; and they found— well, they found just nothing at all except writings and letters, — letters from places in America and in England, and some with Italian postmarks : that was all. Since that time the sheriff and his folks have let him alone and minded their own business. He was a gentleman,—any, body ought to have known that; aud anybody that knew about his nice ways of living and behaving, and knew the kind of wear he had for his underclothing, might have known it. I could have told those officers that they had better not bother him. I know the ways of real gentlemen and real ladies, and 1 know those fellows in store clothes that look a little too fine, — outside. Wait till washing-day comes ! ”
The good lady had her own standards for testing humanity, and they were not wholly unworthy of consideration ; they were quite as much to be relied on as the judgments of the travelling phrenologist, who sent his accomplice on before him to study out the principal personages in the village, and in the light of these revelations interpreted the bumps, with very little regard to Gall and Spurzheim, or any other authorities. Even with the small amount of information obtained by the search among his papers and effects the gossips of the village had constructed several distinct histories for the mysterious stranger. He was an agent of a great publishing house; a leading contributor to several important periodicals ; the author of that anonymously published novel which had made so much talk ; the poet of a large clothing establishment; a spy of the Italian, some said the Russian, some said the British, Government; a proscribed refugee from some country where he had been plotting; a schoolmaster without a school, a minister without a pulpit, an actor without an engagement ; in short, there was no end to the perfectly senseless stories that were told about him, from that which made him out an escaped convict to the whispered suggestion that he was the eccentric heir to a great English title and estate.
The one unquestionable fact was that of his extraordinary seclusion. Nobody in the village, no student in the University, knew his history. No young lady in the Corinna Institute had ever had a word from him. Sometimes, as the boats of the University or the Institute were returning at dusk, their rowers would see the canoe stealing into the shadows as they drew near it. Sometimes on a moonlight night, when a party of the young ladies were out upon the lake, they would see the white canoe gliding ghost-like in the distance. And it had happened more than once that when a boat s crew had been out with singers among them, while they were in the midst of a song, the white canoe would suddenly appear and rest upon the water, — not very near them, but within hearing distance,—and so remain until the singing was over, when it would steal away and be lost sight of in some inlet or behind some jutting rock.
Naturally enough, there was intense curiosity about this young man. The landlady had told her story, which explained nothing. There was nobody to be questioned about him except his servant, an Italian, whose name was Paolo, but who to the village was known as Mr. Paul.
Mr. Paul would have seemed the easiest person in the world to worm a secret out of. He was good-natured, child-like as a Heathen Chinee, talked freely with everybody in such English as he had at command, knew all the little people of the village, and was followed round by them partly from his personal attraction for them, and partly because he was apt to have a stick of candy or a handful of peanuts or other desirable luxury in his pocket for any of his little friends he met with. He had that wholesome, happy look, so uncommon in our arid countrymen, — a look hardly to be found except where ligs and oranges ripen in the open air. A kindly climate to grow up in, a religion which takes your money and gives you a stamped ticket good at Saint Peter’s box office, a roomy chest and a good pair of lungs in it, an honest digestive apparatus, a lively temperament, a cheerful acceptance of the place in life assigned to one by nature and circumstance, — these are conditions under which life may be quite comfortable to endure, and certainly is very pleasant to contemplate. All these conditions were united in Paolo. He was the easiest, pleasantest creature to talk with that one could ask for a companion. His southern vivacity, his amusing English, his simplicity and openness, made him friends everywhere.
It seemed as if it would be a very simple matter to get the history of his master out of this guileless and unsophisticated being. He had been tried by all the village experts. The rector had put a number of well-studied careless questions, which failed of their purpose. The old librarian of the town library had taken note of all the books he carried to his master, and asked about his studies and pursuits. Paolo found it hard to understand his English, apparently, and answered in the most irrelevant way. The leading gossip of the village tried her skill in pumping him for information. It was all in vain.
His master’s way of life was peculiar, — in fact, eccentric. He had hired rooms in an old-fashioned three-story house. He had two rooms in the second and third stories of this old wooden building : his study in the second, his sleepingroom in the one above it. Paolo lived in the basement, where he had all the conveniences for cooking, and played the part of chef for his master and himself. This was only a part of his duty, for he was a man-of-all-work, purveyor, steward, chambermaid, —as universal in his services for one man as Pushee at the Anchor Tavern used to be for everybody.
It so happened that Paolo took a severe cold one winter’s day, and had such threatening symptoms that he asked the baker, when he called, to send the village physician to see him. In the course of his visit the doctor naturally inquired about the health of Paolo’s master.
“ Signor Kirkwood well, — molto bene,” said Paolo.
“ Why does he keep out of sight as he does ? ” asked the doctor.
“ He always so,” replied Paolo. “ Una antipntiu.”
Whether Paolo was off his guard with the doctor, whether he revealed it to him as to a father coufessor, or whether he thought it time that the reason of his master’s seclusion should be known, the doctor did not feel sure. At any rate, Paolo was not disposed to make any further revelations. Una antipatia, — an antipathy, — that was all the doctor learned. He thought the matter over, and the more he reflected the more he was puzzled. What could an antipathy be that made a young man a recluse ! Was it a dread of blue sky and open air, of the smell of flowers, or some electrical impression to which he was unnaturally sensitive ?
Dr. Butts carried these questions home with him. His wife was a sensible, discreet woman, whom he could trust with many professional secrets, lie told of Paolo’s revelation, and talked it over with her in the light of his experience and her own ; for she had known some curious cases of constitutional likes and aversions.
Mrs. Butts buried the information in the grave of her memory, where it lay for nearly a week. At the end of that time it emerged in a confidential whisper to her favorite sister-in-law, a perfectly safe person. Twenty-four hours later the story was all over the village that Maurice Kirkwood was the subject of a strange, mysterious, unheard-of antipathy to something, — nobody knew what; and the whole neighborhood naturally resolved itself into an unorganized committee of investigation.
Oliver Wendell Holmes.