With the two young people whose days now lapsed away together, it could not be said that Monday varied much from Tuesday, or ten o'clock from half past three; they were not always certain what day of the week it was, and sometimes they fancied that a thing which happened in the morning had taken place yesterday afternoon.
But whatever it was, and however uncertain in time and character their slight adventure was to themselves, Mrs. Ellison secured all possible knowledge of it from Kitty. Since it was her misfortune that promoted it, she considered herself a martyr to Kitty's acquaintance with Mr. Arbuton, and believed that she had the best claim to any gossip that could come of it. She lounged upon her sofa, and listened with a patience superior to the maiden caprice with which her inquisition was sometimes met; for if that delayed her satisfaction it also employed her arts, and the final triumph of getting everything out of Kitty afforded her a delicate self-flattery. But commonly the young girl was ready enough to speak, for she was glad to have the light of a worldlier mind and a greater experience than her own on Mr. Arbuton's character: if Mrs. Ellison was not the wisest head, still talking him over was at least a relief from thinking him over; and then, at the end of the ends, when were ever two women averse to talk of a man?
She commonly sought Fanny's sofa when she returned from her rambles through the city, and gave a sufficiently strict account of what had happened. This was done light-heartedly and with touches of burlesque and extravagance at first; but the reports grew presently to have a more serious tone, and latterly Kitty had been so absent at times that she would fall into a puzzled silence in the midst of her narration; or else she would meet a long procession of skilfully marshalled questions with a flippancy that no one but a martyr could have suffered. But Mrs. Ellison bore all and would have borne much more in that cause. Battled at one point, she turned to another, and the sum of her researches was often a clearer perception of Kitty's state of mind than the young girl herself possessed. For her, indeed, the whole affair was full of mystery and misgiving.
"Our acquaintance has the charm of novelty every time we meet," she said once, when pressed hard by Mrs. Ellison. "We are growing better strangers, Mr. Arbuton and I. By and by, some morning, we shall not know each other by sight. I can barely recognize him now, though I thought I knew him pretty well once. I want you to understand that I speak as an unbiassed spectator, Fanny."
"O Kitty! how can you accuse me of trying to pry into your affairs!" cries injured Mrs. Ellison, and settles herself in a more comfortable posture for listening.
"I don't accuse you of anything. I'm sure you've a right to know everything about me. Only, I want you really to know."
"Yes, dear," says the matron, with hypocritical meekness.
"Well," resumes Kitty, "there are things that puzzle me more and more about him,—things that used to amuse me at first, because I didn't actually believe that they could be, and that I felt like defying afterwards. But now I can't bear up against them. They frighten me, and seem to deny me the right to be what I believe I am."
"I don't understand you, Kitty."
"Why, you've seen how it is with us at home, and how Uncle Jack has brought us up. We never had a rule for anything except to do what was right, and to be careful of the rights of others."
"Well, Mr. Arbuton seems to have lived in a world where everything is regulated by some rigid law that it would be death to break. Then, you know, at home we are always talking about people, and discussing them; but we always talk of each person for what he is in himself, and I always thought a person could refine himself if he tried, and was sincere, and not conceited. But he seems to judge people according to their origin and locality and calling, and to believe that all refinement must come from just such training and circumstances as his own. Without exactly saying so, he puts everything else quite out of the question. He doesn't appear to dream that there can be any different opinion. He tramples upon all that I have been taught to believe; and though I cling the closer to my idols, I can't help, now and then, trying myself by his criterions; and then I find myself wanting in every civilized trait, and my whole life coarse and poor, and all my associations hopelessly degraded. I think his ideas are hard and narrow, and I believe that even my little experience would prove them false; but then, they are his, and I can't reconcile them with what I see is good in him."
Kitty spoke with half-averted face where she sat beside one of the front windows, looking absently out on the distant line of violet hills beyond Charlesbourg, and now and then lifting her glove from her lap and letting it drop again.
"Kitty," said Mrs. Ellison in reply to her difficulties, "you oughtn't to sit against a light like that. It makes your profile quite black to any one back in the room."
"O well, Fanny, I'm not black in reality."
"Yes, but a young lady ought always to think how she is looking. Suppose some one was to come in."
"Dick's the only one likely to come in just now, and he wouldn't mind it. But if you like it better, I'll come and sit by you," said Kitty, and took her place beside the sofa.
Her hat was in her hand, her sack on her arm; the fatigue of a recent walk gave her a soft pallor, and languor of face and attitude. Mrs. Ellison admired her pretty looks with a generous regret that they should be wasted on herself, and then asked, "Where were you this afternoon?"
"O, we went to the Hôtel Dieu, for one thing, and afterwards we looked into the court-yard of the convent; and there another of his pleasant little traits came out,—a way he has of always putting you in the wrong even when it's a matter of no consequence any way, and there needn't be any right or wrong about it. I remembered the place because Mrs. March, you know, showed us a rose that one of the nuns in the hospital gave her, and I tried to tell Mr. Arbuton about it, and he graciously took it as if poor Mrs. March had made an advance towards his acquaintance. I do wish you could see what a lovely place that court-yard is, Fanny. It's so strange that such a thing should be right there, in the heart of this crowded city; but there it was, with its peasant cottage on one side, and its long, low barns on the other, and those wide-horned Canadian cows munching at the racks of hay outside, and pigeons and chickens all about among their feet—"
"Yes, yes; never mind all that, Kitty. You know I hate nature. Go on about Mr. Arbuton," said Mrs. Ellison, who did not mean a sarcasm.
"It looked like a farmyard in a picture, far out in the country somewhere," resumed Kitty; "and Mr. Arbuton did it the honor to say it was just like Normandy."
"He did, indeed, Fanny; and the cows didn't go down on their knees out of gratitude, either. Well, off on the right were the hospital buildings climbing up, you know, with their stone walls and steep roofs, and windows dropped about over them, like our convent here; and there was an artist there, sketching it all; he had such a brown, pleasant face, with a little black mustache and imperial, and such gay black eyes that nobody could help falling in love with him; and he was talking in such a free-and-easy way with the lazy workmen and women overlooking him. He jotted down a little image of the Virgin in a niche on the wall, and one of the people called out,—Mr. Arbuton was translating,—'Look there! with one touch he's made our Blessed Lady.' 'O,' says the painter, 'that's nothing; with three touches I can make the entire Holy Family.' And they all laughed; and that little joke, you know, won my heart,—I don't hear many jokes from Mr. Arbuton;—and so I said what a blessed life a painter's must be, for it would give you a right to be a vagrant, and you could wander through the world, seeing everything that was lovely and funny, and nobody could blame you; and I wondered everybody who had the chance didn't learn to sketch. Mr. Arbuton took it seriously, and said people had to have something more than the chance to learn before they could sketch, and that most of them were an affliction with their sketchbooks, and he had seen too much of the sad effects of drawing from casts. And he put me in the wrong, as he always does. Don't you see? I didn't want to learn drawing; I wanted to be a painter, and go about sketching beautiful old convents, and sit on camp-stools on pleasant afternoons, and joke with people. Of course, he couldn't understand that. But I know the artist could. O Fanny, if it had only been the painter whose arm I took that first day on the boat, instead of Mr. Arbuton! But the worst of it is, he is making a hypocrite of me, and a cowardly, unnatural girl. I wanted to go nearer and look at the painter's sketch; but I was ashamed to say I'd never seen a real artist's sketch before, and I'm getting to be ashamed, or to seem ashamed, of a great many innocent things. He has a way of not seeming to think it possible that any one he associates with can differ from him. And I do differ from him. I differ from him as much as my whole past life differs from his; I know I'm just the kind of production that he disapproves of, and that I'm altogether irregular and unauthorized and unjustifiable; and though it's funny to have him talking to me as if I must have the sympathy of a rich girl with his ideas, it's provoking, too, and it's very bad for me. Up to the present moment, Fanny, if you want to know, that's the principal effect of Mr. Arbuton on me. I'm being gradually snubbed and scared into treasons, stratagems, and spoils."
Mrs. Ellison did not find all this so very grievous, for she was one of those women who like a snub from the superior sex, if it does not involve a slight to their beauty or their power of pleasing. But she thought it best not to enter into the question, and merely said, "But surely, Kitty, there are a great many things in Mr. Arbuton that you must respect."
"Respect? O, yes, indeed! But respect isn't just the thing for one who seems to consider himself sacred. Say revere, Fanny; say revere!"
Kitty had risen from her chair, but Mrs. Ellison waved her again to her seat with an imploring gesture. "Don't go, Kitty; I'm not half done with you yet. You must tell me something more. You've stirred me up so, now. I know you don't always have such disagreeable times. You've often come home quite happy. What do you generally find to talk about? Do tell me some particulars for once."
"Why, little topics come up, you know. But sometimes we don't talk at all, because I don't like to say what I think or feel, for fear I should be thinking or feeling something vulgar. Mr. Arbuton is rather a blight upon conversation in that way. He makes you doubtful whether there isn't something a little common in breathing and the circulation of the blood, and whether it wouldn't be true refinement to stop them."
"Stuff, Kitty! He's very cultivated, isn't he? Don't you talk about books? He's read everything, I suppose."
"O yes, he's read enough."
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing. Only sometimes it seems to me as if he hadn't read because he loved it, but because he thought it due to himself. But maybe I'm mistaken. I could imagine a delicate poem shutting up half its sweetness from his cold, cold scrutiny,—if you will excuse the floweriness of the idea."
"Why, Kitty! don't you think he's refined? I'm sure, I think he's a very refined person."
"He's a very elaborated person. But I don't think it would make much difference to him what our opinion of him was. His own good opinion would be quite enough."
"Is he—is he—always agreeable?"
"I thought we were discussing his mind, Fanny. I don't know that I feel like enlarging upon his manners," said Kitty, slyly.
"But surely, Kitty," said the matron, with an air of argument, "there's some connection between his mind and his manners."
"Yes, I suppose so. I don't think there's much between his heart and his manners. They seem to have been put on him instead of having come out of him. He's very well trained, and nine times out of ten he's so exquisitely polite that it's wonderful; but the tenth time he may say something so rude that you can't believe it."
"Then you like him nine times out of ten."
"I didn't say that. But for the tenth time, it's certain, his training doesn't hold out, and he seems to have nothing natural to fall back upon. But you can believe that, if he knew he'd been disagreeable, he'd be sorry for it."
"Why, then, Kitty, how can you say that there's no connection between his heart and manners? This very thing proves that they come from his heart. Don't be illogical, Kitty," said Mrs. Ellison, and her nerves added, sotto voce, "if you are so abominably provoking!"
"O," responded the young girl, with the kind of laugh that meant it was, after all, not such a laughing matter, "I didn't say he'd be sorry for you! Perhaps he would; but he'd be certain to be sorry for himself. It's with his politeness as it is with his reading; he seems to consider it something that's due to himself as a gentleman to treat people well; and it isn't in the least as if he cared for them. He wouldn't like to fail in such a point."
"But, Kitty, isn't that to his credit?"
"Maybe. I don't say. If I knew more about the world, perhaps I should admire it. But now, you see,"—and here Kitty's laugh grew more natural, and she gave a subtle caricature of Mr. Arbuton's air and tone as she spoke,—"I can't help feeling that it's a little—vulgar."
Mrs. Ellison could not quite make out how much Kitty really meant of what she had said. She gasped once or twice for argument; then she sat up, and beat the sofa-pillows vengefully in composing herself anew, and finally, "Well, Kitty, I'm sure I don't know what to make of it all," she said with a sigh.
"Why, we're not obliged to make anything of it, Fanny, there's that comfort," replied Kitty; and then there was a silence, while she brooded over the whole affair of her acquaintance with Mr. Arbuton, which this talk had failed to set in a more pleasant or hopeful light. It had begun like a romance; she had pleased her fancy, if not her heart, with the poetry of it; but at last she felt exiled and strange in his presence. She had no right to a different result, even through any deep feeling in the matter; but while she owned, with her half-sad, half-comical consciousness, that she had been tacitly claiming and expecting too much, she softly pitied herself, with a kind of impersonal compassion, as if it wore some other girl whose pretty dream had been broken. Its ruin involved the loss of another ideal; for she was aware that there had been gradually rising in her mind an image of Boston, different alike from the holy place of her childhood, the sacred city of the antislavery heroes and martyrs, and from the jesting, easy, sympathetic Boston of Mr. and Mrs. March. This new Boston with which Mr. Arbuton inspired her was a Boston of mysterious prejudices and lofty reservations; a Boston of high and difficult tastes, that found its social ideal in the Old World, and that shrank from contact with the reality of this; a Boston as alien as Europe to her simple experiences, and that seemed to be proud only of the things that were unlike other American things; a Boston that would rather perish by fire and sword than be suspected of vulgarity; a critical, fastidious, and reluctant Boston, dissatisfied with the rest of the hemisphere, and gelidly self-satisfied in so far as it was not in the least the Boston of her fond preconceptions. It was, doubtless, no more the real Boston we know and love, than either of the others: and it perplexed her more than it need, even if it had not been mere phantasm. It made her suspicious of Mr. Arbuton's behavior towards her, and observant of little things that might very well have otherwise escaped her. The bantering humor, the light-hearted trust and self-reliance with which she had once met him deserted her, and only returned fitfully when some accident called her out of herself, and made her forget the differences that she now too plainly saw in their ways of thinking and feeling. It was a greater and greater effort to place herself in sympathy with him; she relaxed into a languid self-contempt, as if she had been playing a part, when she succeeded. "Sometimes, Fanny," she said, now, after a long pause, speaking in behalf of that other girl she had been thinking of, "it seems to me as if Mr. Arbuton were all gloves and slim umbrella,—the mere husk of well dressed culture and good manners. His looks do promise everything; but O dear me! I should be sorry for any one that was in love with him. Just imagine some girl meeting with such a man, and taking a fancy to him! I suppose she never would quite believe but that he must somehow be what she first thought him, and she would go down to her grave believing that she had failed to understand him. What a curious story it would make!"
"Then, why don't you write it, Kitty?" asked Mrs. Ellison. "No one could do it better."
Kitty flushed quickly; then she smiled: "O, I don't think I could do it at all. It wouldn't be a very easy story to work out. Perhaps he might never do anything positively disagreeable enough to make anybody condemn him. The only way you could show his character would be to have her do and say hateful things to him, when she couldn't help it, and then repent of it, while he was impassively perfect through everything. And perhaps, after all, he might be regarded by some stupid people as the injured one. Well, Mr. Arbuton has been very polite to us, I'm sure, Fanny," she said after another pause, as she rose from her chair, "and maybe I'm unjust to him. I beg his pardon of you; and I wish," she added with a dull disappointment quite her own, and a pang of surprise at words that seemed to utter themselves, "that he would go away."
"Why, Kitty, I'm shocked," said Mrs. Ellison, rising from her cushions.
"Yes; so am I, Fanny."
"Are you really tired of him, then?"
Kitty did not answer, but turned away her face a little, where she stood beside the chair in which she had been sitting.
Mrs. Ellison put out her hand towards her. "Kitty, come here," she said with imperious tenderness.
"No, I won't, Fanny," answered the young girl, in a trembling voice. She raised the glove that she had been nervously swinging back and forth, and bit hard upon the button of it. "I don't know whether I'm tired of him,—though he isn't a person to rest one a great deal,—but I'm tired of it. I'm perplexed and troubled the whole time, and I don't see any end to it. Yes, I wish he would go away! Yes, he is tiresome. What is he staying here for? If he thinks himself so much better than all of us, I wonder he troubles himself with our company. It's quite time for him to go. No, Fanny, no," cried Kitty with a little broken laugh, still rejecting the outstretched hand, "I'll be flat in private, if you please." And dashing her hand across her eyes, she flitted out of the room. At the door she turned and said,
"You needn't think it's what you think it is, Fanny."
"No indeed, dear; you're just overwrought."
"For I really wish he'd go."
But it was on this very day that Mr. Arbuton found it harder than ever to renew his resolution of quitting Quebec, and cutting short at once his acquaintance with these people. He had been pledging himself to this in some form every day, and every morrow had melted his resolution away. Whatever was his opinion of Colonel and Mrs. Ellison, it is certain that, if he considered Kitty merely in relation to the present, he could not have said how, by being different, she could have been better than she was. He perceived a charm, that would be recognized anywhere, in her manner, though it was not of his world; her fresh pleasure in all she saw, though he did not know how to respond to it, was very winning; he respected what he thought the good sense running through her transports; he wondered at the culture she had somewhere, somehow got; and he was so good as to find that her literary enthusiasms had nothing offensive, but were as pretty and naive as a girl's love of flowers. Moreover, he approved of some personal attributes of hers: a low, gentle voice, tender long-lashed eyes; a trick of drooping shoulders, and of idle hands fallen into the lap, one in the other's palm; a serene repose of face; a light and eager laugh. There was nothing so novel in those traits, and in different combination he had seen them a thousand times; yet in her they strangely wrought upon his fancy. She had that soft, kittenish way with her which invites a caressing patronage, but, as he learned, she had also the kittenish equipment for resenting over-condescension; and she never took him half so much as when she showed the high spirit that was in her, and defied him most.
For here and now, it was all well enough; but he had a future to which he owed much, and a conscience that would not leave him at rest. The fascination of meeting her so familiarly under the same roof, the sorcery of the constant sight of her, were becoming too much; it would not do on any account; for his own sake he must put an end to it. But from hour to hour he lingered upon his unenforced resolve. The passing days, that brought him doubts in which he shuddered at the great difference between himself and her and her people, brought him also moments of blissful forgetfulness in which his misgivings were lost in the sweetness of her looks, or the young grace of her motions. Passing, the days rebuked his delay in vain; a week and two weeks slipped from under his feet, and still he had waited for fate to part him and his folly. But now at last he would go and in the evening, after his cigar on Durham Terrace, he knocked at Mrs. Ellison's door to say that on the day after to-morrow he should push on to the White Mountains.
He found the Ellisons talking over an expedition for the next morning, in which he was also to take part. Mrs. Ellison had already borne her full share in the preparation; for, being always at hand there in her room, and having nothing to do, she had been almost a willing victim to the colonel's passion for information at second-hand, and had probably come to know more than any other American woman of Arnold's expedition against Quebec in 1775. She know why the attack was planned, and with what prodigious hazard and heroical toil and endurance it was carried out; how the dauntless little army of riflemen cut their way through the untrodden forests of Maine and Canada, and beleaguered the gray old fortress on her rock till the red autumn faded into winter, and, on the last bitter night of the year, flung themselves against her defences, and fell back, leaving half their number captive, Montgomery dead, and Arnold wounded, but haplessly destined to survive.
"Yes," said the colonel, "considering the age in which they lived, and their total lack of modern improvements, mental, moral, and physical, we must acknowledge that they did pretty well. It wasn't on a very large scale; but I don't see how they could have been braver, if every man had been multiplied by ten thousand. In fact, as it's going to be all the same thing a hundred years from now, I don't know but I'd as soon be one of the men that tried to take Quebec as one of the men that did take Atlanta. Of course, for the present, and on account of my afflicted family, Mr. Arbuton, I'm willing to be what and where I am; but just see what those fellows did." And the colonel drew from his glowing memory of Mrs. Ellison's facts a brave historical picture of Arnold's expedition. "And now we're going to-morrow morning to look up the scene of the attack on the 31st of December. Kitty, sing something."
At another time Kitty might have hesitated; but that evening she was so at rest about Mr. Arbuton, so sure she cared nothing for his liking or disliking anything she did, that she sat down at the piano, and sang a number of songs, which I suppose were as unworthy the cultivated ear as any he had heard. But though they were given with an untrained voice and a touch as little skilled as might be, they pleased, or else the singer pleased. The simple-hearted courage of the performance would alone have made it charming; and Mr. Arbuton had no reason to ask himself how he should like it in Boston, if he were married, and should hear it from his wife there. Yet when a young man looks at a young girl or listens to her, a thousand vagaries possess his mind,—formless imaginations, lawless fancies. The question that presented itself remotely, like pain in a dream, dissolved in the ripple of the singer's voice, and left his revery the more luxuriously untroubled for having been.
He remembered, after saying good-night, that he had forgotten something: it was to tell them he was going away.