Quebec lay shining in the tender oblique light of the northern sun when they passed next morning through the Upper Town market-place and took their way towards Hope Gate, where they were to be met by the colonel a little later. It is easy for the alert tourist to lose his course in Quebec, and they, who were neither hurried nor heedful, went easily astray. But the street into which they had wandered, if it did not lead straight to Hope Gate, had many merits, and was very characteristic of the city. Most of the houses on either hand were low structures of one story, built heavily of stone or stuccoed brick, with two dormer-windows, full of house-plants, in each roof; the doors were each painted of a livelier color than the rest of the house, and each glistened with a polished brass knob, a large brass knocker, or an intricate bell-pull of the same resplendent metal, and a plate bearing the owner's name and his professional title, which if not avocat was sure to be notaire, so well is Quebec supplied with those ministers of the law. At the side of each house was a porte-cochère, and in this a smaller door. The thresholds and doorsteps were covered with the neatest and brightest oil-cloth; the wooden sidewalk was very clean, like the steep, roughly paved street itself; and at the foot of the hill down which it sloped was a breadth of the city wall, pierced for musketry, and, past the corner of one of the houses, the half-length of cannon showing. It had the charm of those ancient streets, dear to Old-World travel, in which the past and the present, decay and repair, peace and war, have made friends in an effect that not only wins the eye, but, however illogically, touches the heart; and over the top of the wall it had a stretch of such landscape as I know not what Old-World street can command: the St. Lawrence, blue and wide; a bit of the white village of Beauport on its bank; then a vast breadth of pale-green, upward-sloping meadows; then the purple heights; and the hazy heaven over them. Half-way down this happy street sat the artist whom they had seen before in the court of the Hôtel Dieu; he was sketching something, and evoking the curious life of the neighborhood. Two schoolboys in the uniform of the Seminary paused to look at him as they loitered down the pavement; a group of children encircled him; a little girl with her hair in blue ribbons talked at a window about him to some one within; a young lady opened her casement and gazed furtively at him; a door was set quietly ajar, and an old grandam peeped out, shading her eyes with her hand; a woman in deep mourning gave his sketch a glance as she passed; a calash with a fat Quebecker in it ran into a cart driven by a broad-hatted peasant-woman, so eager were both to know what he was drawing; a man lingered even at the head of the street, as if it were any use to stop there.
As Kitty and Mr. Arbuton passed him, the artist glanced at her with the smile of a man who believes he knows how the case stands, and she followed his eye in its withdrawal towards the bit he was sketching: an old roof, and on top of this a balcony, shut in with green blinds; yet higher, a weather-worn, wood-colored gallery, pent-roofed and balustered, with a geranium showing through the balusters; a dormer-window with hook and tackle, beside an Oriental-shaped pavilion with a shining tin dome,—a picturesque confusion of forms which had been, apparently, added from time to time without design, and yet were full of harmony. The unreasonable succession of roofs had lifted the top far above the level of the surrounding houses, into the heart of the morning light, and some white doves circled about the pavilion, or nestled cooing upon the window-sill, where a young girl sat and sewed.
"Why, it's Hilda in her tower," said Kitty, "of course! And this is just the kind of street for such a girl to look down into. It doesn't seem like a street in real life, does it? The people all look as if they had stepped out of stories, and might step back any moment; and these queer little houses: they're the very places for things to happen in!"
Mr. Arbuton smiled forbearingly, as she thought, at this burst, but she did not care, and she turned, at the bottom of the street, and lingered a few moments for another look at the whole charming picture; and then he praised it, and said that the artist was making a very good sketch. "I wonder Quebec isn't infested by artists the whole summer long," he added. "They go about hungrily picking up bits of the picturesque, along our shores and country roads, when they might exchange their famine for a feast by coming here."
"I suppose there's a pleasure in finding out the small graces and beauties of the poverty-stricken subjects, that they wouldn't have in better ones, isn't there?" asked Kitty. "At any rate, if I were to write a story, I should want to take the slightest sort of plot, and lay the scene in the dullest kind of place, and then bring out all their possibilities. I'll tell you a book after my own heart: 'Details,'—just the history of a week in the life of some young people who happen together in an old New England country-house; nothing extraordinary, little, every-day things told so exquisitely, and all fading naturally away without any particular result, only the full meaning of everything brought out."
"And don't you think it's rather a sad ending for all to fade away without any particular result?" asked the young man, stricken he hardly knew how or where. "Besides, I always thought that the author of that book found too much meaning in everything. He did for men, I'm sure; but I believe women are different, and see much more than we do in a little space."
"'Why has not man a microscopic eye?
For this plain reason, man is not a fly,'
nor a woman," mocked Kitty. "Have you read his other books?"
"Aren't they delightful?"
"They're very well; and I always wondered he could write them. He doesn't look it."
"O, have you ever seen him?"
"He lives in Boston, you know."
"Yes, yes; but—" Kitty could not go on and say that she had not supposed authors consorted with creatures of common clay; and Mr. Arbuton, who was the constant guest of people who would have thought most authors sufficiently honored in being received among them to meet such men as he, was very far from guessing what was in her mind.
He waited a moment for her, and then said, "He's a very ordinary sort of man,—not what one would exactly call a gentleman, you know, in his belongings,—and yet his books have nothing of the shop, nothing professionally literary, about them. It seems as if almost any of us might have written them."
Kitty glanced quickly at him to see if he were jesting; but Mr. Arbuton was not easily given to irony, and he was now very much in earnest about drawing on his light overcoat, which he had hitherto carried on his arm with that scrupulous consideration for it which was not dandyism, but part of his self-respect; apparently, as an overcoat, ho cared nothing for it; as the overcoat of a man of his condition he cared everything; and now, though the sun was so bright on the open spaces, in these narrow streets the garment was comfortable.
At another time, Kitty would have enjoyed the care with which he smoothed it about his person, but this profanation of her dearest ideals made the moment serious. Her pulse quickened, and she said, "I'm afraid I can't enter into your feelings. I wasn't taught to respect the idea of a gentleman very much. I've often heard my uncle say that, at the best, it was a poor excuse for not being just honest and just brave and just kind, and a false pretence of being something more. I believe, if I were a man, I shouldn't want to be a gentleman. At any rate, I'd rather be the author of those books, which any gentleman might have written, than all the gentlemen who didn't, put together."
In the career of her indignation she had unconsciously hurried her companion forward so swiftly that they had reached Hope Gate as she spoke, and interrupted the revery in which Colonel Ellison, loafing up against the masonry, was contemplating the sentry in his box.
"You'd better not overheat yourself so early in the day, Kitty," said her cousin, serenely, with a glance at her flushed face; "this expedition is not going to be any joke."
Now that Prescott Gate, by which so many thousands of Americans have entered Quebec since Arnold's excursionists failed to do so, is demolished, there is nothing left so picturesque and characteristic as Hope Gate, and I doubt if anywhere in Europe there is a more mediæval-looking bit of military architecture. The heavy stone gateway is black with age, and the gate, which has probably never been closed in our century, is of massive frame set thick with mighty bolts and spikes. The wall here sweeps along the brow of the crag on which the city is built, and a steep street drops down, by stone-parapeted curves and angles, from the Upper to the Lower Town, where, in 1775, nothing but a narrow lane bordered the St. Lawrence. A considerable breadth of land has since been won from the river, and several streets and many piers now stretch between this alley and the water; but the old Sault au Matelot still crouches and creeps along under the shelter of the city wall and the overhanging rock, which is thickly bearded with weeds and grass, and trickles with abundant moisture. It must be an ice-pit in winter, and I should think it the last spot on the continent for the summer to find; but when the summer has at last found it, the old Sault au Matelot puts on a vagabond air of Southern leisure and abandon, not to be matched anywhere out of Italy. Looking from that jutting rock near Hope Gate, behind which the defeated Americans took refuge from the fire of their enemies, the vista is almost unique for a certain scenic squalor and gypsy luxury of color: sag-roofed barns and stables, and weak-backed, sunken-chested workshops of every sort lounge along in tumble-down succession, and lean up against the cliff in every imaginable posture of worthlessness and decrepitude; light wooden galleries cross to them from the second stories of the houses which back upon the alley; and over these galleries flutters, from a labyrinth of clothes-lines, a variety of bright-colored garments of all ages, sexes, and conditions; while the footway underneath abounds in gossiping women, smoking men, idle poultry, cats, children, and large, indolent Newfoundland dogs.
"It was through this lane that Arnold's party advanced almost to the foot of Mountain Street, where they were to be joined by Montgomery's force in an attempt to surprise Prescott Gate," said the colonel, with his unerring second-hand history.
"'You that will follow me to this attempt,'
'Wait till you see the whites of their eyes, and then fire low,' and so forth. By the way, do you suppose anybody did that at Bunker Hill, Mr. Arbuton? Come, you're a Boston man. My experience is that recruits chivalrously fire into the air without waiting to see the enemy at all, let alone the whites of their eyes. Why! aren't you coming?" he asked, seeing no movement to follow in Kitty or Mr. Arbuton.
"It doesn't look very pleasant under foot, Dick," suggested Kitty.
"Well, upon my word! Is this your uncle's niece? I shall never dare to report this panic at Eriecreek."
"I can see the whole length of the alley, and there's nothing in it but chickens and domestic animals."
"Very well, as Fanny says; when Uncle Jack—he's your uncle—asks you about every inch of the ground that Arnold's men were demoralized over, I hope you'll know what to say."
Kitty laughed and said she should try a little invention, if her Uncle Jack came down to inches.
"All right, Kitty; you can go along St. Paul Street, there, and Mr. Arbuton and I will explore the Sault au Matelot, and come out upon you, covered with glory, at the other end."
"I hope it'll be glory," said Kitty, with a glance at the lane, "but I think it's more likely to be feathers and chopped straw.—Good by, Mr. Arbuton."
"Not in the least," answered the young man; "I'm going with you."
The colonel feigned indignant surprise, and marched briskly down the Sault au Matelot alone, while the others took their way through St. Paul Street in the same direction, amidst the bustle and business of the port, past the banks and great commercial houses, with the encounter of throngs of seafaring faces of many nations, and, at the corner of St. Peter Street, a glimpse of the national flag thrown out from the American Consulate, which intensified for untravelled Kitty her sense of remoteness from her native land. At length they turned into the street now called Sault au Matelot, into which opens the lane once bearing that name, and strolled idly along in the cool shadow, silence, and solitude of the street. She was strangely released from the constraint which Mr. Arbuton usually put upon her. A certain defiant ease filled her heart; she felt and thought whatever she liked, for the first time in many days; while he went puzzling himself with the problem of a young lady who despised gentlemen, and yet remained charming to him.
A mighty marine smell of oakum and salt-fish was in the air, and "O," sighed Kitty, "doesn't it make you long for distant seas? Shouldn't you like to be shipwrecked for half a day or so, Mr. Arbuton?"
"Yes; yes, certainly," he replied absently, and wondered what she laughed at. The silence of the place was broken only by the noise of coopering which seemed to be going on in every other house; the solitude relieved only by the Newfoundland dogs that stretched themselves upon the thresholds of the cooper-shops. The monotony of these shops and dogs took Kitty's humor, and as they went slowly by she made a jest of them, as she used to do with things she saw.
"But here's a door without a dog!" she said, presently. "This can't be a genuine cooper-shop, of course, without a dog. O, that accounts for it, perhaps!" she added, pausing before the threshold, and glancing up at a sign—"Académie commerciale et littéraire"—set under an upper window. "What a curious place for a seat of learning! What do you suppose is the connection between cooper-shops and an academical education, Mr. Arbuton?"
She stood looking up at the sign that moved her mirth, and swinging her shut parasol idly to and fro, while a light of laughter played over her face.
Suddenly a shadow seemed to dart betwixt her and the open doorway, Mr. Arbuton was hurled violently against her, and, as she struggled to keep her footing under the shock, she saw him bent over a furious dog, that hung from the breast of his overcoat, while he clutched its throat with both his hands.
He met the terror of her face with a quick glance. "I beg your pardon; don't call out please," he said. But from within the shop came loud cries and maledictions, "O nom de Dieu c'est le boule-dogue du capitaine anglais!" with appalling screams for help; and a wild, uncouth little figure of a man, bareheaded, horror-eyed came flying out of the open door. He wore a cooper's apron, and he bore in one hand a red-hot iron, which, with continuous clamor, he dashed against the muzzle of the hideous brute. Without a sound the dog loosed his grip, and, dropping to the ground, fled into the obscurity of the shop as silently as he had launched himself out of it, while Kitty yet stood spell-bound, and before the crowd that the appeal of Mr. Arbuton's rescuer had summoned could see what had happened.
Mr. Arbuton lifted himself, and looked angrily round upon the gaping spectators, who began, one by one, to take in their heads from their windows and to slink back to their thresholds as if they had been guilty of something much worse than a desire to succor a human being in peril.
"Good heavens!" said Mr. Arbuton, "what an abominable scene!" His face was deadly pale, as he turned from these insolent intruders to his deliverer, whom he saluted, with a "Merci bien!" spoken in a cold, steady voice. Then he drew off his overcoat, which had been torn by the dog's teeth and irreparably dishonored in the encounter. He looked at it shuddering, with a countenance of intense disgust, and made a motion as if to hurl it into the street. But his eye again fell upon the cooper's squalid little figure, as he stood twisting his hands into his apron, and with voluble eagerness protesting that it was not his dog, but that of the English ship-captain, who had left it with him, and whom he had many a time besought to have the beast killed. Mr. Arbuton, who seemed not to hear what he was saying, or to be so absorbed in something else as not to consider whether he was to blame or not, broke in upon him in French: "You've done me the greatest service. I cannot repay you, but you must take this," he said, as he thrust a bank-note into the little man's grimy hand.
"O, but it is too much! But it is like a monsieur so brave, so—"
"Hush! It was nothing," interrupted Mr. Arbuton again. Then he threw his overcoat upon the man's shoulder. "If you will do me the pleasure to receive this also? Perhaps you can make use of it."
"Monsieur heaps me with benefits;—monsieur—" began the bewildered cooper; but Mr. Arbuton turned abruptly away from him toward Kitty, who trembled at having shared the guilt of the other spectators, and seizing her hand, he placed it on his arm, where he held it close as he strode away, leaving his deliverer planted in the middle of the sidewalk and staring after him. She scarcely dared ask him if he were hurt, as she found herself doing now with a faltering voice.
"No, I believe not," he said with a glance at the frock-coat, which was buttoned across his chest and was quite intact; and still he strode on, with a quick glance at every threshold which did not openly declare a Newfoundland dog.
It had all happened so suddenly, and in so brief a time, that she might well have failed to understand it, even if she had seen it all. It was barely intelligible to Mr. Arbuton himself, who, as Kitty had loitered mocking and laughing before the door of the shop, chanced to see the dog crouched within, and had only time to leap forward and receive the cruel brute on his breast as it flung itself at her.
He had not thought of the danger to himself in what he had done. He knew that he was unhurt, but he did not care for that; he cared only that she was safe; and as he pressed her hand tight against his heart, there passed through it a thrill of inexpressible tenderness, a quick, passionate sense of possession, a rapture as of having won her and made her his own forever, by saving her from that horrible risk. The maze in which he had but now dwelt concerning her seemed an obsolete frivolity of an alien past; all the cold doubts and hindering scruples which he had felt from the first were gone; gone all his care for his world. His world? In that supreme moment, there was no world but in the tender eyes at which he looked down with a glance which she knew not how to interpret.
She thought that his pride was deeply wounded at the ignominy of his adventure,—for she was sure he would care more for that than for the danger,—and that if she spoke of it she might add to the angry pain he felt. As they hurried along she waited for him to speak, but he did not; though always, as he looked down at her with that strange look, he seemed about to speak.
Presently she stopped, and, withdrawing her hand from his arm, she cried, "Why, we've forgotten my cousin!"
"O—yes!" said Mr. Arbuton with a vacant smile.
Looking back they saw the colonel standing on the pavement near the end of the old Sault au Matelot, with his hands in his pockets, and steadfastly staring at them. He did not relax the severity of his gaze when they returned to join him, and appeared to find little consolation in Kitty's "O Dick, I forgot all about you," given with a sudden, inexplicable laugh, interrupted and renewed as some ludicrous image seemed to come and go in her mind.
"Well, this may be very flattering, Kitty, but it isn't altogether comprehensible," said he, with a keen glance at both their faces. "I don't know what you'll say to Uncle Jack. It's not forgetting me alone: it's forgetting the whole American expedition against Quebec."
The colonel waited for some reply; but Kitty dared not attempt an explanation, and Mr. Arbuton was not the man to seem to boast of his share of the adventure by telling what had happened, even if he had cared at that moment to do so. Her very ignorance of what he had dared for her only confirmed his new sense of possession; and, if he could, he would not have marred the pleasure he felt by making her grateful yet, sweet as that might be in its time. Now he liked to keep his knowledge, to have had her unwitting compassion, to hear her pour out her unwitting relief in this laugh, while he superiorly permitted it.
"I don't understand this thing," said the colonel, through whose dense, masculine intelligence some suspicions of love-making were beginning to pierce. But he dismissed them as absurd, and added, "However, I'm willing to forgive, and you've done the forgetting; and all that I ask now is the pleasure of your company on the spot where Montgomery fell. Fanny'll never believe I've found it unless you go with me," he appealed, finally.
"O, we'll go, by all means," said Mr. Arbuton, unconsciously speaking, as by authority, for both.
They came into busier streets of the Port again, and then passed through the square of the Lower Town Market, with the market-house in the midst, the shops and warehouses on either side, the long row of tented booths with every kind of peasant-wares to sell, and the wide stairway dropping to the river which brought the abundance of the neighboring country to the mart. The whole place was alive with country-folk in carts and citizens on foot. At one point a gayly painted wagon was drawn up in the midst of a group of people to whom a quackish-faced Yankee was hawking, in his own personal French, an American patent-medicine, and making his audience giggle. Because Kitty was amused at this, Mr. Arbuton found it the drollest thing imaginable, but saw something yet droller when she made the colonel look at a peasant, standing in one corner beside a basket of fowls, which a woman, coming up to buy, examined as if the provision were some natural curiosity, while a crowd at once gathered round.
"It requires a considerable population to make a bargain, up here," remarked the colonel. "I suppose they turn out the garrison when they sell a beef." For both buyer and seller seemed to take advice of the bystanders, who discussed and inspected the different fowls as if nothing so novel as poultry had yet fallen in their way.
At last the peasant himself took up the fowls and carefully scrutinized them.
"Those chickens, it seems, never happened to catch his eye before," interpreted Kitty; and Mr. Arbuton, who was usually very restive during such banter, smiled as if it were the most admirable fooling, or the most precious wisdom, in the world. He made them wait to see the bargain out, and could, apparently, have lingered there forever.
But the colonel had a conscience about Montgomery, and he hurried them away, on past the Queen's Wharf, and down the Cove Road to that point where the scarped and rugged breast of the cliff bears the sign, "Here fell Montgomery," though he really fell, not half-way up the height, but at the foot of it, where stood the battery that forbade his juncture with Arnold at Prescott Gate.
A certain wildness yet possesses the spot: the front of the crag, topped by the high citadel-wall, is so grim, and the few tough evergreens that cling to its clefts are torn and twisted by the winter blasts, and the houses are decrepit with age, showing here and there the scars of the frequent fires that sweep the Lower Town.
It was quite useless: neither the memories of the place nor their setting were sufficient to engage the wayward thoughts of these curiously assorted pilgrims; and the colonel, after some attempts to bring the matter home to himself and the others, was obliged to abandon Mr. Arbuton to his tender reveries of Kitty, and Kitty to her puzzling over the change in Mr. Arbuton. His complaisance made her uncomfortable and shy of him, it was so strange; it gave her a little shiver, as if he were behaving undignifiedly.
"Well, Kitty," said the colonel, "I reckon Uncle Jack would have made more out of this than we've done. He'd have had their geology out of these rocks, any way."