They had not planned to go anywhere that day; but after church they found themselves with the loveliest afternoon of their stay at Quebec to be passed somehow, and it was a pity to pass it indoors, the colonel said at their early dinner. They canvassed the attractions of the different drives out of town, and they decided upon that to Lorette. The Ellisons had already been there, but Mr. Arbuton had not, and it was from a dim motive of politeness towards him that Mrs. Ellison chose the excursion; though this did not prevent her from wondering aloud afterward, from time to time, why she had chosen it. He was restless and absent, and answered at random when points of the debate were referred to him, but he eagerly assented to the conclusion, and was in haste to set out.
The road to Lorette is through St. John's Gate, down into the outlying meadows and rye-fields, where, crossing and recrossing the swift St. Charles, it finally rises at Lorette above the level of the citadel. It is a lonelier road than that to Montmorenci, and the scattering cottages upon it have not the well-to-do prettiness, the operatic repair, of stone-built Beauport. But they are charming, nevertheless, and the people seem to be remoter from modern influences. Peasant-girls, in purple gowns and broad straw hats, and not the fashions of the year before last, now and then appeared to our acquaintance; near one ancient cottage an old man, in the true habitant's red woollen cap with a long fall, leaned over the bars of his gate and smoked a short pipe.
By and by they came to Jeune-Lorette, an almost ideally pretty hamlet, bordering the road on either hand with galleried and balconied little houses, from which the people bowed to them as they passed, and piously enclosing in its midst the village church and churchyard. They soon after reached Lorette itself, which they might easily have known for an Indian town by its unkempt air, and the irregular attitudes in which the shabby cabins lounged along the lanes that wandered through it, even if the Ellisons had not known it already, or if they had not been welcomed by a pomp of Indian boys and girls of all shades of darkness. The girls had bead-wrought moccasins and work-bags to sell, and the boys bore bows and arrows and burst into loud cries of "Shoot! shoot! grand shoot! Put-up-pennies! shoot-the-pennies! Grand shoot!" When they recognized the colonel, as they did after the party had dismounted in front of the church, they renewed these cries with greater vehemence.
"Now, Richard," implored his wife, "you're not going to let those little pests go through all that shooting performance again?"
"I must. It is expected of me whenever I come to Lorette; and I would never be the man to neglect an ancient observance of this kind." The colonel stuck a copper into the hard sand as he spoke, and a small storm of arrows hurtled around it. Presently it flew into the air, and a fair-faced, blue-eyed boy picked it up: he won most of the succeeding coins.
"There's an aborigine of pure blood," remarked the colonel; "his ancestors came from Normandy two hundred years ago. That's the reason he uses the bow so much better than these coffee-colored impostors."
They went into the chapel, which stands on the site of the ancient church burnt not long ago. It is small, and it is bare and rude inside, with only the commonest ornamentation about the altar, on one side of which was the painted wooden statue of a nun, on the other that of a priest,—slight enough commemoration of those who had suffered so much for the hopeless race that lingers and wastes at Lorette in incurable squalor and wildness. They are Christians after their fashion, this poor remnant of the mighty Huron nation converted by the Jesuits and crushed by the Iroquois in the far-western wilderness; but whatever they are at heart, they are still savage in countenance, and these boys had faces of wolves and foxes. They followed their visitors into the church, where there was only an old woman praying to a picture, beneath which hung a votive hand and foot, and a few young Huron suppliants with very sleek hair, whose wandering devotions seemed directed now at the strangers, and now at the wooden effigy of the House of St. Ann borne by two gilt angels above the high-altar. There was no service, and the visitors soon quitted the chapel amid the clamors of the boys outside. Some young girls, in the dress of our period, were promenading up and down the road with their arms about each other and their eyes alert for the effect upon spectators.
From one of the village lanes came swaggering towards the visitors a figure of aggressive fashion,—a very buckish young fellow, with a heavy black mustache and black eyes, who wore a jaunty round hat, blue checked trousers, a white vest, and a morning-coat of blue diagonals, buttoned across his breast; in his hand he swung a light cane.
"That is the son of the chief, Paul Picot," whispered the driver.
"Excuse me," said the colonel, instantly; and the young gentleman nodded. "Can you tell me if we could see the chief to-day?"
"O yes!" answered the notary in English, "my father is chief. You can see him"; and passed on with a somewhat supercilious air.
The colonel, in his first hours at Quebec, had bought at a bazaar of Indian wares the photograph of an Indian warrior in a splendor of factitious savage panoply. It was called "The Last of the Hurons," and the colonel now avenged himself for the curtness of M. Picot by styling him "The Next to the Last of the Hurons."
"Well," said Fanny, who had a wife's willingness to see her husband occasionally snubbed, "I don't know why you asked him. I'm sure nobody wants to see that old chief and his wretched bead trumpery again."
"My dear," answered the colonel, "wherever Americans go, they like to be presented at court. Mr. Arbuton, here, I've no doubt has been introduced to the crowned heads of the Old World, and longs to pay his respects to the sovereign of Lorette. Besides, I always call upon the reigning prince when I come to Lorette. The coldness of the heir-apparent shall not repel me."
The colonel led the way up the principal lane of the village. Some of the cabins were ineffectually whitewashed, but none of them were so uncleanly within as the outside prophesied. At the doors and windows sat women and young girls working moccasins; here and there stood a well-fed mother of a family with an infant Huron in her arms. They all showed the traces of white blood, as did the little ones who trooped after the strangers and demanded charity as clamorously as so many Italians; only a few faces were of a clear dark, as if stained by walnut-juice, and it was plain that the Hurons were fading, if not dying out. They responded with a queer mixture of French liveliness and savage stolidity to the colonel's jocose advances. Great lean dogs lounged about the thresholds; they and the women and children were alone visible; there were no men. None of the houses were fenced, save the chief's; this stood behind a neat grass plot, across which, at the moment our travellers came up, two youngish women were trailing in long morning-gowns and eye-glasses. The chief's house was a handsome cottage, papered and carpeted, with a huge stove in the parlor, where also stood a table exposing the bead trumpery of Mrs. Ellison's scorn. A full-bodied elderly man with quick, black eyes and a tranquil, dark face stood near it; he wore a half-military coat with brass buttons, and was the chief Picot. At sight of the colonel he smiled slightly and gave his hand in welcome. Then he sold such of his wares as the colonel wanted, rather discouraging than inviting purchase. He talked, upon some urgency, of his people, who, he said, numbered three hundred, and were a few of them farmers, but were mostly hunters, and, in the service of the officers of the garrison, spent the winter in the chase. He spoke fair English, but reluctantly, and he seemed glad to have his guests go, who were indeed willing enough to leave him.
Mr. Arbuton especially was willing, for he had been longing to find himself alone with Kitty, of which he saw no hope while the idling about the village lasted.
The colonel bought an insane watch-pocket for une dolleur from a pretty little girl as they returned through the village; but he forbade the boys any more archery at his expense, with "Pas de grand shoot, now, mes enfans!—Friends," he added to his own party, "we have the Falls of Lorette and the better part of the afternoon still before us; how shall we employ them?"
Mrs. Ellison and Kitty did not know, and Mr. Arbuton did not know, as they sauntered down past the chapel, to the stone mill that feeds its industry from the beauty of the fall. The cascade, with two or three successive leaps above the road, plunges headlong down a steep crescent-shaped slope, and hides its foamy whiteness in the dark-foliaged ravine below. It is a wonder of graceful motion, of iridescent lights and delicious shadows; a shape of loveliness that seems instinct with a conscious life. Its beauty, like that of all natural marvels on our continent, is on a generous scale; and now the spectators, after viewing it from the mill, passed for a different prospect of it to the other shore, and there the colonel and Fanny wandered a little farther down the glen, leaving Kitty with Mr. Arbuton. The affair between them was in such a puzzling phase, that there was as much reason for as against this: nobody could do anything, not even openly recognize it. Besides, it was somehow very interesting to Kitty to be there alone with him, and she thought that if all were well, and he and she were really engaged, the sense of recent betrothal could be nowhere else half so sweet as in that wild and lovely place. She began to imagine a bliss so divine, that it would have been strange if she had not begun to desire it, and it was with a half reluctant, half-acquiescent thrill that she suffered him to touch upon what was first in both their minds.
"I thought you had agreed not to talk of that again for the present," she feebly protested.
"No; I was not forbidden to tell you I loved you: I only consented to wait for my answer; but now I shall break my promise. I cannot wait. I think the conditions you make dishonor me," said Mr. Arbuton, with an impetuosity that fascinated her.
"O, how can you say such a thing as that?" she asked, liking him for his resentment of conditions that he found humiliating, while her heart leaped remorseful to her lips for having imposed them. "You know very well why I wanted to delay; and you know that—that—if—I had done anything to wound you, I never could forgive myself."
"But you doubted me, all the same," he rejoined.
"Did I? I thought it was myself that I doubted." She was stricken with sudden misgiving as to what had seemed so well; her words tended rapidly she could not tell whither.
"But why do you doubt yourself?"
"I—I don't know."
"No," he said bitterly, "for it's really me that you doubt. I can't understand what you have seen in me that makes you believe anything could change me towards you," he added with a kind of humbleness that touched her. "I could have borne to think that I was not worthy of you."
"Not worthy of me! I never dreamed of such a thing."
"But to have you suspect me of such meanness—"
"O Mr. Arbuton!"
—"As you hinted yesterday, is a disgrace that I ought not to bear. I have thought of it all night; and I must have my answer now, whatever it is."
She did not speak; for every word that she had uttered had only served to close escape behind her. She did not know what to do; she looked up at him for help. He said with an accent of meekness pathetic from him, "Why must you still doubt me?"
"I don't," she scarcely more than breathed.
"Then you are mine, now, without waiting, and forever," he cried; and caught her to him in a swift embrace.
She only said, "Oh!" in a tone of gentle reproach, yet clung to him a helpless moment as for rescue from himself. She looked at him in blank pallor, striving to realize the tender violence in which his pulses wildly exulted; then a burning flush dyed her face, and tears came into her eyes. "O, I hope you'll never be sorry," she said; and then, "Do let us go," for she had no distinct desire save for movement, for escape from that place.
Her heart had been surprised, she hardly knew how; but at his kiss a novel tenderness had leaped to life in it. She suffered him to put her hand upon his arm, and then she began to feel a strange pride in his being tall and handsome, and hers. But she kept thinking as they walked, "I hope he'll never he sorry," and she said it again, half in jest. He pressed her hand against his heart, and met her look with one of protest and reassurance, that presently melted into something sweeter yet. He said, "What beautiful eyes you have! I noticed the long lashes when I saw you on the Saguenay boat, and I couldn't get away from them."
"O please, don't speak of that dreadful time!" cried Kitty.
"No? Why not?"
"O because! I think it was such a bold kind of accident my taking your arm by mistake; and the whole next day has always been a perfect horror to me."
He looked at her in questioning amaze.
"I think I was very pert with you all day,—and I don't think I'm pert naturally,—taking you up about the landscape, and twitting you about the Saguenay scenery and legends, you know. But I thought you were trying to put me down,—you are rather down-putting at times,—and I admired you, and I couldn't bear it."
"Oh!" said Mr. Arbuton. He dimly recollected, as if it had been in some former state of existence, that there were things he had not approved in Kitty that day, but now he met her penitence with a smile and another pressure of the hand. "Well, then," he said, "if you don't like to recall that time, let's go back of it to the day I met you on Goat Island Bridge at Niagara."
"O, did you see me there? I thought you didn't; but I saw you. You had on a blue cravat," she answered; and he returned with as much the air of coherency as if really continuing the same train of thought, "You won't think it necessary to visit Boston, now, I suppose," and he smiled triumphantly upon her. "I fancy that I have now a better right to introduce you there than your South End friends."
Kitty smiled, too. "I'm willing to wait. But don't you think you ought to see Eriecreek before you promise too solemnly? I can't allow that there's anything serious, till you've seen me at home."
They had been going, for no reason that they knew, back to the country inn near which you purchase admittance to a certain view of the falls, and now they sat down on the piazza, somewhat apart from other people who were there, as Mr. Arbuton said, "O, I shall visit Eriecreek soon enough. But I shall not come to put myself or you to the proof. I don't ask to see you at home before claiming you forever."
Kitty murmured, "Ah! you are more generous than I was."
"I doubt it."
"O yes, you are. But I wonder if you'll be able to find Eriecreek."
"Is it on the map?"
"It's on the county map; and so is Uncle Jack's lot on it, and a picture of his house, for that matter. They'll all be standing on the piazza—something like this one—when you come up. You'll know Uncle Jack by his big gray beard, and his bushy eyebrows, and his boots, which he won't have blacked, and his Leghorn hat, which we can't get him to change. The girls will be there with him,—Virginia all red and heated with having got supper for you, and Rachel with the family mending in her hand,—and they'll both come running down the walk to welcome you. How will you like it?"
Mr. Arbuton suspected the gross caricature of this picture, and smiled securely at it. "I shall like it well enough," he said, "if you run down with them. Where shall you be?"
"I forgot. I shall be up stairs in my room, peeping through the window-blinds, to see how you take it. Then I shall come down, and receive you with dignity in the parlor, but after supper you'll have to excuse me while I help with the dishes. Uncle Jack will talk to you. He'll talk to you about Boston. He's much fonder of Boston than you are, even." And here Kitty broke off with a laugh, thinking what a very different Boston her Uncle Jack's was from Mr. Arbuton's, and maliciously diverted with what she conceived of their mutual bewilderment in trying to get some common stand-point. He had risen from his chair, and was now standing a few paces from her, looking toward the fall, as if by looking he might delay the coming of the colonel and Fanny.
She checked her merriment a moment to take note of two ladies who were coming up the path towards the porch where she was sitting. Mr. Arbuton did not see them. The ladies mounted the steps, and turned slowly and languidly to survey the company. But at sight of Mr. Arbuton, one of them advanced directly toward him, with exclamations of surprise and pleasure, and he with a stupefied face and a mechanical movement turned to meet her.
She was a lady of more than middle age, dressed with certain personal audacities of color and shape, rather than overdressed, and she thrust forward, in expression of her amazement, a very small hand, wonderfully well gloved; her manner was full of the anxiety of a woman who had fought hard for a high place in society, and yet suggested a latent hatred of people who, in yielding to her, had made success bitter and humiliating.
Her companion was a young and very handsome girl, exquisitely dressed, and just so far within the fashion as to show her already a mistress of style. But it was not the vivid New York stylishness. A peculiar restraint of line, an effect of lady-like concession to the ruling mode, a temperance of ornament, marked the whole array, and stamped it with the unmistakable character of Boston. Her clear tints of lip and cheek and eye were incomparable; her blond hair gave weight to the poise of her delicate head by its rich and decent masses. She had a look of independent innocence, an angelic expression of extremely nice young fellow blending with a subtle maidenly charm. She indicated her surprise at seeing Mr. Arbuton by pressing the point of her sun-umbrella somewhat nervously upon the floor, and blushing a very little. Then she gave him her hand with friendly frankness, and smiled dazzlingly upon him, while the elder hailed him with effusive assertion of familiar acquaintance, heaping him with greetings and flatteries and cries of pleasure.
"O dear!" sighed Kitty, "these are old friends of his; and will I have to know them? Perhaps it's best to begin at once, though," she thought.
But he made no movement toward her where she sat. The ladies began to walk up and down, and he with them. As they passed her, he did not seem to see her.
The ladies said they were waiting for their carriage, which they had left at a certain point when they went to look at the fall, and had ordered to take them up at the inn. They talked about people and things that Kitty had never heard of.
"Have you seen the Trailings since you left Newport?" asked the elder woman.
"No," said Mr. Arbuton.
"Perhaps you'll be surprised then—or perhaps you won't—to hear that we parted with them on the top of Mount Washington, Thursday. And the Mayflowers are at the Glen House. The mountains are horribly full. But what are you to do! Now the Continent"—she spoke as if the English Channel divided it from us—"is so common, you can't run over there any more."
Whenever they walked towards Kitty, this woman, whose quick eye had detected Mr. Arbuton at her side as she came up to the inn, bent upon the young girl's face a stare of insolent curiosity, yet with a front of such impassive coldness that to another she might not have seemed aware of her presence. Kitty shuddered at the thought of being made acquainted with her; then she remembered, "Why, how stupid I am! Of course a gentleman can't introduce ladies; and the only thing for him to do is to excuse himself to them as soon as he can without rudeness, and come back to me." But none the less she felt helpless and deserted. Though ordinarily so brave, she was so beaten down by that look, that for a glance of not unkindly interest that the young lady gave her she was abjectly grateful. She admired her, and fancied that she could easily be friends with such a girl as that, if they met fairly. She wondered that she should be there with that other, not knowing that society cannot really make distinctions between fine and coarse, and could not have given her a reason for their association.
Still the three walked up and down before Kitty, and still she made his peace with herself, thinking, "He is embarrassed; he can't come to me at once; but he will, of course."
The elder of his companions talked on in her loud voice of this thing and that, of her summer, and of the people she had met, and of their places and yachts and horses, and all the splendors of their keeping,—talk which Kitty's aching sense sometimes caught by fragments, and sometimes in full. The lady used a slang of deprecation and apology for having come to such a queer resort as Quebec, and raised her brows when Mr. Arbuton reluctantly owned how long he had been there.
"Ah, ah!" she said briskly, bringing the group to a stand-still while she spoke, "one doesn't stay in a slow Canadian city a whole month for love of the place. Come, Mr. Arbuton, is she English or French?"
Kitty's heart beat thickly, and she whispered to herself, "O, now!—now surely he must do something."
"Or perhaps," continued his tormentor, "she's some fair fellow-wanderer in these Canadian wilds,—some pretty companion of voyage."
Mr. Arbuton gave a kind of start at this, like one thrilled for an instant with a sublime impulse. He cast a quick, stealthy look at Kitty, and then as suddenly withdrew his glance. What had happened to her who was usually dressed so prettily? Alas! true to her resolution, Kitty had again refused Fanny's dresses that morning, and had faithfully put on her own travelling-suit,—the suit which Rachel had made her, and which had seemed so very well at Eriecreek that they had called Uncle Jack in to admire it when it was tried on. Now she knew that it looked countrified, and its unstylishness struck in upon her, and made her feel countrified in soul. "Yes," she owned, as she met Mr. Arbuton's glance, "I'm nothing but an awkward milkmaid beside that young lady." This was unjust to herself; but truly it was never in her present figure that he had intended to show her to his world, which he had been sincere enough in contemning for her sake while away from it. Confronted with good society in these ladies, its delegates, he doubtless felt, as never before, the vastness of his self-sacrifice, the difficulty of his enterprise, and it would not have been so strange if just then she should have appeared to him through the hard cold vision of the best people instead of that which love had illumined. She saw whatever purpose toward herself was in his eyes, flicker and die out as they fell from hers. Then she sat alone while they three walked up and down, up and down, and the skirts of the ladies brushed her garments in passing.
"O, where can Dick and Fanny be?" she silently bemoaned herself, "and why don't they come and save me from these dreadful people?"
She sat in a stony quiet while they talked on, she thought, forever. Their voices sounded in her ears like voices heard in a dream, their laughter had a nightmare cruelty. Yet she was resolved to be just to Mr. Arbuton, she was determined not meanly to condemn him; she confessed to herself, with a glimmer of her wonted humor, that her dress must be an ordeal of peculiar anguish to him, and she half blamed herself for her conscientiousness in wearing it. If she had conceived of any such chance as this, she would perhaps, she thought, have worn Fanny's grenadine.
She glanced again at the group which was now receding from her. "Ah!" the elder of the ladies said, again halting the others midway of the piazza's length, "there's the carriage at last! But what is that stupid animal stopping for? O, I suppose he didn't understand, and expects to take us up at the bridge! Provoking! But it's no use; we may as well go to him at once; it's plain he isn't coming to us. Mr. Arbuton, will you see us on board?"
"Who—I? Yes, certainly," he answered absently, and for the second time he cast a furtive look at Kitty, who had half started to her feet in expectation of his coming to her before he went,—a look of appeal, or deprecation, or reassurance, as she chose to interpret it, but after all a look only.
She sank back in blank rejection of his look, and so remained motionless as he led the way from the porch with a quick and anxious step. Since those people came he had not openly recognized her presence, and now he had left her without a word. She could not believe what she could not but divine, and she was powerless to stir as the three moved down the road towards the carriage. Then she felt the tears spring to her eyes: she flung down her veil, and, swept on by a storm of grief and pride and pain, she hurried, ran towards the grounds about the falls. She thrust aside the boy who took money at the gate. "I have no money," she said fiercely; "I'm going to look for my friends: they're in here."
But Dick and Fanny were not to be seen. Instead, as she fluttered wildly about in search of them, she beheld Mr. Arbuton, who had missed her on his return to the inn, coming with a frightened face to look for her. She had hoped, somehow never to see him again in the world; but since it was to be, she stood still and waited his approach in a strange composure; while he drew nearer, thinking how yesterday he had silenced her prophetic doubt of him: "I have one answer to all this; I love you." Her faltering words, verified so fatally soon, recalled themselves to him with intolerable accusation. And what should he say now? If possibly,—if by some miracle,—she might not have seen what he feared she must! One glance that he dared give her taught him better; and while she waited for him to speak, he could not lure any of the phrases, of which the air seemed full, to serve him.
"I wonder you came back to me," she said after an eternal moment.
"Came back?" he echoed, vacantly.
"You seemed to have forgotten my existence!"
Of course the whole wrong, if any wrong had been done to her, was tacit, and much might be said to prove that she felt needlessly aggrieved, and that he could not have acted otherwise than as he did; she herself had owned that it must be an embarrassing position to him.
"Why, what have I done," he began, "what makes you think... For heaven's sake listen to me!" he cried; and then, while she turned a mute attentive face to him, he stood silent as before, like one who has lost his thought, and strives to recall what he was going to say. "What sense,—what use," he resumed at last, as if continuing the course of some previous argument, "would there have been in making a display of our acquaintance before them? I did not suppose at first that they saw us together."... But here he broke off, and, indeed, his explanation had but a mean effect when put into words. "I did not expect them to stay. I thought they would go away every moment; and then at last it was too late to manage the affair without seeming to force it." This was better; and he paused again, for some sign of acquiescence from Kitty, and caught her eye fixed on his face in what seemed contemptuous wonder. His own eyes fell, and ran uneasily over her dress before he lifted them and began once more, as if freshly inspired: "I could have wished you to be known to my friends with every advantage on your side," and this had such a magnanimous sound that he took courage; "and you ought to have had faith enough in me to believe that I never could have meant you a slight. If you had known more of the world,—if your social experience had been greater you would have seen.... Oh!" he cried, desperately, "is there nothing you have to say to me?"
"No," said Kitty, simply, but with a languid quiet, and shrinking from speech as from an added pang. "You have been telling me that you were ashamed of me in this dress before those people. But I knew that already. What do you want me to do?"
"If you give me time, I can make everything clear to you."
"But now you don't deny it."
"Deny what? I—"
But here the whole fabric of Mr. Arbuton's defence toppled to the ground. He was a man of scrupulous truth, not accustomed to deceive himself or others. He had been ashamed of her, he could not deny it, not to keep the love that was now dearer to him than life. He saw it with paralyzing clearness; and, as an inexorable fact that confounded quite as much as it dismayed him, he perceived that throughout that ignoble scene she had been the gentle person and he the vulgar one. How could it have happened with a man like him! As he looked back upon it, he seemed to have been only the helpless sport of a sinister chance.
But now he must act; it could not go so, it was too horrible a thing to let stand confessed. A hundred protests thronged to his lips, but he refused utterance to them all as worse even than silence; and so, still meaning to speak, he could not speak. He could only stand and wait while it wrung his heart to see her trembling, grieving lips.
His own aspect was so lamentable, that she half pitied him, half respected him for his truth's sake. "You were right; I think it won't be necessary for me to go to Boston," she said with a dim smile. "Good by. It's all been a dreadful, dreadful mistake."
It was like him, even in that humiliation, not to have thought of losing her, not to have dreamed but that he could somehow repair his error, and she would yet willingly be his. "O no, no, no," he cried, starting forward, "don't say that! It can't be, it mustn't be! You are angry now, but I know you'll see it differently. Don't be so quick with me, with yourself. I will do anything, say anything, you like."
The tears stood in her eyes; but they were cruel drops. "You can't say anything that wouldn't make it worse. You can't undo what's been done, and that's only a little part of what couldn't be undone. The best way is for us to part; it's the only way."
"No, there are all the ways in the world besides! Wait—think!—I implore you not to be so—precipitate."
The unfortunate word incensed her the more; it intimated that she was ignorantly throwing too much away. "I am not rash now, but I was very rash half an hour ago. I shall not change my mind again. O," she cried, giving way, "it isn't what you've done, but what you are and what I am, that's the great trouble! I could easily forgive what's happened,—if you asked it; but I couldn't alter both our whole lives, or make myself over again, and you couldn't change yourself. Perhaps you would try, and I know that I would, but it would be a wretched failure and disappointment as long as we lived. I've learnt a great deal since I first saw those people." And in truth he felt as if the young girl whom he had been meaning to lift to a higher level than her own at his side had somehow suddenly grown beyond him; and his heart sank. "It's foolish to try to argue such a thing, but it's true; and you must let me go."
"I can't let you go," he said in such a way, that she longed at least to part kindly with him.
"You can make it hard for me," she answered, "but the end will be the same."
"I won't make it hard for you, then," he returned, after a pause, in which he grew paler and she stood with a wan face plucking the red leaves from a low bough that stretched itself towards her.
He turned and walked away some steps; then he came suddenly back. "I wish to express my regret," he began formally, and with his old air of doing what was required of him as a gentleman, "that I should have unintentionally done anything to wound—"
"O, better not speak of that," interrupted Kitty with bitterness, "it's all over now." And the final tinge of superiority in his manner made her give him a little stab of dismissal. "Good by. I see my cousins coming."
She stood and watched him walk away, the sunlight playing on his figure through the mantling leaves, till he passed out of the grove.
The cataract roared with a seven-fold tumult in her ears, and danced before her eyes. All things swam together, as in her blurred sight her cousins came wavering towards her.
"Where is Mr. Arbuton?" asked Mrs. Ellison.
Kitty threw her arms about the neck of that foolish woman, whoso loving heart she could not doubt, and clung sobbing to her. "Gone," she said; and Mrs. Ellison, wise for once, asked no more.
She had the whole story that evening, without asking; and whilst she raged, she approved of Kitty, and covered her with praises and condolences.
"Why, of course, Fanny, I didn't care for knowing those people. What should I want to know them for? But what hurt me was that he should so postpone me to them, and ignore me before them, and leave me without a word, then, when I ought to have been everything in the world to him and first of all. I believe things came to me while I sat there, as they do to drowning people, all at once, and I saw the whole affair more distinctly than ever I did. We were too far apart in what we had been and what we believed in and respected, ever to grow really together. And if he gave me the highest position in the world, I should have only that. He never could like the people who had been good to me, and whom I loved so dearly, and he only could like me as far as he could estrange me from them. If he could coolly put me aside now, how would it be afterwards with the rest, and with me too? That's what flashed through me, and I don't believe that getting splendidly married is as good as being true to the love that came long before, and honestly living your own life out, without fear or trembling, whatever it is. So perhaps," said Kitty, with a fresh burst of tears, "you needn't condole with me so much, Fanny. Perhaps if you had seen him, you would have thought he was the one to be pitied. I pitied him, though he was so cruel. When he first turned to meet them, you'd have thought he was a man sentenced to death, or under some dreadful spell or other; and while he was walking up and down listening to that horrible comical old woman,—the young lady didn't talk much,—and trying to make straight answers to her, and to look as if I didn't exist, it was the most ridiculous thing in the world."
"How queer you are, Kitty!"
"Yes; but you needn't think I didn't feel it. I seemed to be like two persons sitting there, one in agony, and one just coolly watching it. But O," she broke out again while Fanny held her closer in her arms, "how could he have done it, how could he have acted so towards me; and just after I had begun to think him so generous and noble! It seems too dreadful to be true." And with this Kitty kissed her cousin and they had a little cry together over the trust so done to death; and Kitty dried her eyes, and bade Fanny a brave good-night, and went off to weep again, upon her pillow.
But before that, she called Fanny to her door, and with a smile breaking through the trouble of her face, she asked, "How do you suppose he got back? I never thought of it before."
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Ellison with profound disgust, "I hope he had to walk back. But I'm afraid there were only too many chances for him to ride. I dare say he could get a calash at the hotel there."
Kitty had not spoken a word of reproach to Fanny for her part in promoting this hapless affair; and when the latter, returning to her own room, found the colonel there, she told him the story and then began to discern that she was not without credit for Kitty's fortunate escape, as she called it.
"Yes," said the colonel, "under exactly similar circumstances she'll know just what to expect another time, if that's any comfort."
"It's a great comfort," retorted Mrs. Ellison; "you can't find out what the world is, too soon, I can tell you; and if I hadn't maneuvered a little to bring them together, Kitty might have gone off with some lingering fancy for him; and think what a misfortune that would have been!"
"And now, she'll not have a single regret for him."
"I should think not," said the colonel; and he spoke in a tone of such dejection, that it went to his wife's heart more than any reproach of Kitty's could have done. "You're all right, and nobody blames you, Fanny; but if you think it's well for such a girl as Kitty to find out that a man who has had the best that the world can give, and has really some fine qualities of his own, can be such a poor devil, after all, then I don't. She may be the wiser for it, but you know she won't be the happier."
"O don't, Dick, don't speak seriously! It's so dreadful from you. If you feel so about it, why don't you do something."
"O yes, there's a fine opening. We know, because we know ever so much more, how the case really is; but the way it seems to stand is, that Kitty couldn't bear to have him show civility to his friends, and ran away, and then wouldn't give him a chance to explain. Besides, what could I do under any circumstances?"
"Well, Dick, of course you're right, and I wish I could see things as clearly as you do. But I really believe Kitty's glad to be out of it."
"What?" thundered the colonel.
"I think Kitty's secretly relieved to have it all over. But you needn't stun me."
"You do?" The colonel paused as if to gain force enough for a reply. But after waiting, nothing whatever came to him, and he wound up his watch.
"To be sure," added Mrs. Ellison thoughtfully, after a pause, "she's giving up a great deal; and she'll probably never have such another chance as long as she lives."
"I hope she won't," said the colonel.
"O, you needn't pretend that a high position and the social advantages he could have given her are to be despised."
"No, you heartless worldling; and neither are peace of mind, and self-respect, and whole feelings, and your little joke."
"O, you—you sickly sentimentalist!"
"That's what they used to call us in the good old abolition days," laughed the colonel; and the two being quite alone, they made their peace with a kiss, and were as happy for the moment as if they had thereby assuaged Kitty's grief and mortification.
"Besides, Fanny," continued the colonel, "though I'm not much on religion, I believe these things are ordered."
"Don't be blasphemous, Colonel Ellison!" cried his wife, who represented the church if not religion in her family. "As if Providence had anything to do with love-affairs!"
"Well, I won't; but I will say that if Kitty turned her back on Mr. Arbuton and the social advantages he could offer her, it's a sign she wasn't fit for them. And, poor thing, if she doesn't know how much she's lost, why she has the less to grieve over. If she thinks she couldn't be happy with a husband who would keep her snubbed and frightened after he lifted her from her lowly sphere, and would tremble whenever she met any of his own sort, of course it may be a sad mistake, but it can't be helped. She must go back to Eriecreek, and try to worry along without him. Perhaps she'll work out her destiny some other way."