Stories by American Authors,
X, by Various
PANCHA By T. A. JANVIER
THE ABLEST MAN IN THE WORLD By E. P. MITCHELL
YOUNG MOLL’S PEEVY By C. A. STEPHENS
MANMAT’HA By CHARLES DE KAY
A DARING FICTION By H. H. BOYESEN
THE STORY OF TWO LIVES By JULIA SCHAYER
CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
Copyright, 1884, by
CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
PANCHA: A STORY OF MONTEREY.
By T. A. Janvier.
⁂ Century Magazine, September, 1884.
When the Conde de Monterey, being then Viceroy of this gracious realm
of New Spain, sent his viceregal commissioners, attended by holy
priests, up into the northern country to choose a site for an outpost
city, there was found no spot more beautiful, none more worthy to be
crowned, than this where the city of Monterey stands to-day. And so
the commissioners halted beside the noble spring, the ojo de agua,
that gushes out from its tangle of white pebbles in what now is the
very heart of the town; and the priests set up the sacred cross and
sang a sweet song of praise and thankfulness to the good God who had
so well guided them to where they would be; and the colonists entered
in and possessed the land.
This all happened upon a fair day now close upon three hundred years
gone by. From century to century the city has grown, yet always in
accord with the lines established by its founders. The houses
a-building now are as the houses built three hundred years ago; and,
going yet farther into the past, as the houses which were built by the
Moors when they came into the Gothic peninsula, bringing with them the
life and customs of a land that even then was old. So it has come to
pass that the traveler who sojourns here—having happily left behind
him on the farther side of the Rio Grande the bustle and confusion and
hurtful toil of this overpowering nineteenth century—very well can
believe himself transported back to that blessed time and country in
which the picturesque was ranked above the practical, and in which not
the least of human virtues was the virtue of repose.
Very beautiful is the site of Monterey: its noble flanking mountains,
the Silla and the Mitras, are east and west of it; its grand rampart,
the Sierra Madre, sweeps majestically from flank to flank to the
southward, and its outlying breastwork, a range of far-away blue
peaks, is seen mistily off in the north. And the city is in keeping
with its setting. The quaint, mysterious houses, inclosing sunny
gardens and tree-planted court-yards; the great cathedral where, in
the dusk of evening, at vespers, one may see each night new wonders,
Rembrandt-like, beautiful, in light and shade; the church of St.
Francis, and the old ruined church beside it—built, first of all, in
honor of the saint who had guided the Viceroy’s commissioners so well; the bowery plaza, with the great dolphin-fountain in its
centre, and the plazuelas, also with fountains and tree-clad; the
narrow streets; the old-time market-place, alive with groups of buyers
and sellers fit to make glad a painter’s heart—all these picturesque
glories, together with many more, unite to make the perfect
picturesqueness of Monterey.
Yet Pancha, who had been born in Monterey, and who never had been but
a league away from it in the whole seventeen years of her life-time,
did not know that the city in which she lived was picturesque at all.
She did know, though, that she loved it very dearly. Quite the saddest
time that she had ever passed through was the week that she had spent
once at the Villa de Guadalupe—a league away to the eastward, at the
Silla’s foot—with her Aunt Antonia. It was not that tia Antonia was
not good to her, nor that life at the Villa de Guadalupe—as well
conducted a little town, be it said, with as quaint a little church,
as you will find in the whole State of Nuevo Leon—was not pleasant in
its way; but it was that she longed for her own home. And when, coming
back at last to the city, perched on the forward portion of tio
Tadeo’s burro, she peeped over the burro’s long ears—at the place
where the road turns suddenly just before it dips to cross the
valley—and caught sight once more of the dome of the cathedral, and
the clock-tower of the market-house, and the old Bishop’s palace on
its hill in the far background, with the Mitras rising beyond, and a
flame of red and gold above the Sierra left when the sun went
down,—when Pancha’s longing eyes rested once more on all these dear
sights of home, she buried her little face in tio Tadeo’s pudgy
shoulder and fairly sobbed for joy.
Many a person, though, coming a stranger and with a stranger’s
prejudices into this gentle, lovely Mexican land, would have thought
Pancha’s love of home quite incomprehensible; for her home, the house
in which she dwelt, was not lovely to eyes brought up with a rigorous
faith in right angles and the monotonous regularity of American city
walls. In point of fact, persons of this sort might have held—and,
after their light, with some show of justice—that Pancha’s home was
not a house at all.
Crossing the city of Monterey from west to east is a little valley,
the arroyo of Santa Lucia, into which, midway in its passage, comes
through another arroyo of a few hundred yards in length the water
from the ojo de agua—the great spring whereat the Conde’s
commissioners paused content, and beside which the holy fathers sang
songs of praise. Along both banks of these two little valleys grow
trees, and canebrakes, and banana groves, and all manner of bushes and
most pleasant grass; and in among the bushes and trees, here and
there, are little huts of wattled golden cane overlaid with a thatch
of brown. And it was in one of these jacals, standing a stone’s
throw below the causeway that crosses the arroyo of the ojo de
agua, upon the point of land that juts out between the two valleys
before they become one, that Pancha was born, and where most
contentedly she lived. Over the jacal towered a great pecan tree;
and a banana grew graciously beside it, and back of it was a huddle of
feathery, waving canes. Truly it was not a grand home, but Pancha
loved it; nor would she have exchanged it even for one of the fine
houses whose stone walls you could see above and beyond it, showing
grayly through the green of the trees.
For nearly all the years of her little life the love of the beautiful
city of Monterey, of her poor little home that yet was so dear to her,
of the good father and mother who had cared for her so well since she
came to them from the kind God who sends beautiful children into the
world, for her little brother and sister, the twins Antonio and
Antonia, who gave a world of trouble,—for they were sad pickles,—but
who repaid her by a world of childish lovingness for her care: for
nearly all her life long these loves had sufficed to fill and to
satisfy Pancha’s heart. But within a year now a new love, a love that
was stronger and deeper than all of these put together, had come to
her and had grown to be a part of her life. And Pancha knew, down in
the depths of her heart, that this love had begun on the very first
day that her eyes had rested upon Pepe’s gallant figure and handsome
face—the day when Pepe, having been made captain of a brave company
of contrabandistas, had come up to Monterey to partake of the Holy
Sacrament at Easter, and to be blessed by his old father, and to
receive the congratulations of his friends.
Pancha’s father, Christóbal, a worthy cargador who never in the
whole twenty years that he had discharged the responsible duties of
his calling had lost or injured a single article confided to his care,
and old Manuel, who held the honorable position of sereno—a member
of the night-watch—in the city of Monterey, had known each other from
a time long before Pancha was born; and from a full understanding of
each other’s good qualities, and from certain affinities and common
tastes, the two old fellows had come in the course of years to be the
closest friends. Christóbal the cargador—better known, being a
little bandy-legged man, as Tobalito—was scarcely less delighted than
was Manuel himself when Pepe—a motherless lad who had grown to
manhood in the care of a good aunt—came up from his home in
Tamaulipas that Easter-tide to tell of his good fortune. The boy was a
gallant boy, they both agreed,—as they drank his health more times
than was quite good for them in Paras brandy of the best, on which
never a tlaco of duty had been paid,—and before him had opened now
a magnificent future. Being a captain of contrabandistas at
twenty-two, what might he not be at thirty? His fortune was assured!
And old Catalina shared in this joy of her husband’s and of her
husband’s friend, and drank also, relishingly, a little mug of brandy
to Pepe’s good fortune—present and to come. Even the twins, Antonio
and Antonia, entered into the spirit of the festive occasion, and
manifested their appreciation of it by refraining from signal mischief
for the space of a whole hour: at the end of which period Pancha,
perceiving that they were engaged in imitating the process of washing
clothes in the stream, and judging rightly that the earnestness of
their operations boded no good, was just in time to rescue the yellow
cat from a watery grave.
And it was on this happy day, as Pancha knew afterward, that her love
for Pepe first began.
This was a year past, now; and for many months Pancha had been
gladdened by the knowledge that her love was returned—though, as yet,
this sweet certainty had not come to her in words. Indeed, during the
past twelvemonth Pepe had been but little in Monterey. As became a
young captain of contrabandistas who longed to prove that he
deserved to wear his spurs, his time had been passed for the most part
in making handsome dashes from the Zona Libre into the interior.
Already the fame of his brilliant exploits was great along the
frontier; already to the luckless officers of the contraresguardo
his name was a mocking and a reproach. What with his knowledge of the
mountain paths and hiding-places, his boldness and his prudence, his
information—coming it might be treason to say from where, but always
exact and trustworthy—of where the revenue people would be at any
hour of any day or night, the contraresguardo seemed to have no
more chance of catching him than they had of catching the wind of
heaven or the moon itself.
Once, indeed, Pepe had a narrow escape. At the outskirts of Lampazos
word came to him that the customs guard was at his very heels. There
was no hiding-place near; to run for it with a train of heavily laden
burros was of no earthly use at all; to run for it without the
burros would have been a disgrace. And Pepe did not attempt to run.
As fast as they could be driven he drove the burros into the town,
and halted them in squads of three and four at friendly houses; spoke
a word or two at each door, and then galloped off with his men into
the outer wilderness of chaparral. And when, ten minutes later, the
men of the contraresguardo came flourishing into Lampazos, certain
of victory at last, not a vestige of the contrabando could they
find! True, in the patios of a dozen houses were certain
weary-looking burros whose backs were warm, and near them were
pack-saddles which were warm also; but what had been upon those
pack-saddles no man could surely say. The explanation vouchsafed that
the lading had been firewood was not, all things considered, wholly
satisfactory; but it could not be disproved. And as the possession of
warm pack-saddles and warm-backed burros is not an indictable
offense even in Mexico, the contraresguardo could do nothing better
in the premises than swear with much heartiness and ride sullenly
away. And to the honor of Lampazos be it said that when, in due course
of time, Pepe returned and withdrew his burro-train from the town,
not a single package of the contrabando had been stolen or lost!
So Pepe, by his genius and his good luck, proved his right to wear his
spurs. And the merchants of the interior held him in high esteem; and
people generally looked upon him as a rising young man; and Pancha,
who read aright the story told by his bold yet tender brown eyes,
suffered herself to love this gallant captain of contrabandistas
with all her heart.
Yet while this was the first time that Pancha had loved, it was not
the first time that love had been given her. A dozen young fellows, as
everybody knew, and as even she, though quite to herself, demurely
acknowledged, were in love with her to their very ears. One or two of
them had gone so far, indeed, as to open communications, through
proper representatives, for the rare favor of her hand. The most
earnest, though the least demonstrative of these, was a certain
captain in the contraresguardo, by name Pedro; a good fellow in his
way, but quite shut out beyond the pale of reputable society, of
course, by his unfortunate calling.
Naturally Pancha never was likely to think very seriously of loving
Pedro; yet pity for him, acting on her gentle heart, had made her in
some sort his friend. It was not altogether his fault that he was an
officer of the contraresguardo, and other people besides Pancha
believed that but for this blight upon him a good career might have
been his. But luck had been against Pedro from the very day of his
birth; for when he was born his mother died, and a little later his
father died also. Being thus left lonely in the world, he fell into
the keeping of his uncle, Padre Juan, a grim priest who, having lost
all happiness in life himself, saw little reason why he should seek to
make the lives of others glad. Dismally the boy grew up in this
narrow, cheerless home. The Padre fain would have made of him a priest
also; but against this fate Pedro rebelled, and accepted, while yet a
boy, the alternative means of livelihood that his uncle offered him in
the service of the contraresguardo.
As his rebellion against his proposed induction into the priesthood
showed, the boy had strong stuff in him. He had a mighty will of his
own. And there was this in common between him and his grim uncle: a
stern resolve, when duty was clear, to do duty and nothing else.
Therefore it came to pass that Pedro, being entered into the hateful
service of the customs preventive force, presently was recognized by
his superiors as one of the very few men of the corps who, in all
ways, were trustworthy; and as trustworthiness is the rarest of
virtues in the contraresguardo,—a service so hated that usually
only men of poor spirit will enter it at all,—his constant loyalty
brought him quick promotion as its just reward. Yet Pedro had no
happiness in his advancement. Each step upward, as he very well knew,
was earned at the cost of greater hatred and contempt. Those who would
have been his friends, had the lines of his life fallen differently,
were his enemies. Nowhere could he hope to find kindliness and love.
Therefore he grew yet more stern and silent, and yet more earnestly
gave himself to the full discharge of the duty that was sacred to him
because it was his duty, but that in his heart he abhorred. Nor did he
ever waver in his faithfulness until, coming to know Pancha, his
chilled heart was warmed by her sweet looks of friendliness, the first
that ever he had known; and, as fate decreed, the force of duty found
arrayed against it the force of love.
Pancha had a tender, gentle nature, in which was great kindliness; and
before she knew Pepe there was some little chance, perhaps, that in
sheer pity of his forlornness she might have given Pedro her love.
This, of course, showed how weak and how thoughtless Pancha was; how
ignorant of the feelings of society; how careless of the good opinion
of the world. To be sure, the possibility of her loving Pedro never
passed beyond a possibility; but that it went so far counted for a
great deal to him, to whom, in all his life, no single gleam nor even
faintest hope of love had ever come. The gentle glance or two which
she had cast him in her compassionate sorrow for his friendlessness
sank down into the depths of Pedro’s heart, and bred there for her
that great love—tender, yet almost stern in its fierce intensity—to
which only a passionate, repressed nature can give birth. And through
the year that passed after Pepe had gained his captaincy, and at the
same time Pancha’s favor, Pedro’s love had grown yet stronger and
deeper,—growing the more, perhaps, because it was so hopeless and so
deeply hid; but Pancha, whose very life was wrapped in Pepe’s now, had
almost ceased to remember that such a person as this rueful captain of
the contraresguardo lived.
Still another life-thread was interwoven with the life-threads of
these three. Dearest of Pancha’s girl-friends was Chona,—for so was
shortened and softened her stately name, Ascencion,—daughter of a
leñador whose jacal was near by, and with whom her father had long
been on friendly terms.
A grand creature was this Chona, daughter of the leñador. The simple
folk among whom she lived called her “La Reina,” and her majestic
beauty made her look indeed a queen. Yet was she not loved by those
among whom she lived. Her nature was as imperious as her beauty was
imperial, and, save only Pancha, there was none who called her friend.
Because of their very unlikeness, these two were drawn together.
Pancha had for Chona an enthusiastic devotion; and Chona graciously
accepted the homage rendered as her queenly right. In the past year,
though, since Pepe’s triumphal visit to Monterey, a change had come
over Chona that was beyond the understanding of Pancha’s simple,
loving heart. She no longer responded—even in the fitful fashion that
had been her wont—to Pancha’s lovingness. She was moody; at times she
was even harsh. More than once Pancha, chancing to turn upon her
suddenly, had surprised in her eyes a look that seemed born of hate
itself. This change was grievous and strange to Pancha; but it
troubled her less than it would have done a year before. For now her
whole heart was bright with gladness in her love of Pepe, and with the
glad hope that his love was given her in return.
So, for Pancha at least, the time passed blithely on. Her mood of
compassion for Pedro was forgotten, and her loss of Chona’s
friendship—if ever she had possessed it—caused her no great sorrow;
and all because her love for Pepe filled to overflowing her loving
This was the way that matters stood the next Easter, when Pepe again
came up to Monterey to take part in the blessed services of the
church, to see again his old father, and again to receive graciously
the congratulations of his friends.
And this time Pepe told his love to Pancha in words. In the warm
twilight of the spring evening—being followed, as custom in Mexico
prescribes, by the discreet tia Antonia, also come into Monterey for
the Easter festival—they walked slowly among the bushes and trees
lining the bank of the ojo de agua, passed beneath the arch of the
causeway, and stood beside the broad, clear pool where the water of
the great spring pauses a little before it flows outward to the
stream. It was on this very spot, say the legends of the town, that
the good Franciscan fathers, three hundred years ago, set up the holy
cross and sang their song of thankfulness and praise.
And here it was—while the discreet tia Antonia manifested her
discretion by standing where she could watch closely, yet could not
hear—that to Pancha were whispered the sweetest words that ever she
had heard, that ever she was to hear. In her memory dwelt for a little
while joyously the picture of the dark water at her feet that, a
little beyond, grew duskily green with aquatic plants; the massive
stone causeway that cast a shadow upon them in the waning light
reflected from the red sky beyond the Mitras crest; the trees beside
the spring swaying a little in the gentle evening wind; the hush over
all of the departing day. Very dear to Pancha was the memory of this
picture—until, in the same setting, came another picture, ghastly,
terrible, that made the place more horrible to her than the crazing
horror of a dream. But the future was closed to her, happily, and in
her heart that Easter evening was only a perfect happiness and a
Later, when they went back to the jacal of wattled cane, there was
great rejoicing among the older folk that Pepe’s suit had sped so
well. It was not, of course, a surprise to anybody, this suit of his.
In point of fact, it all had been duly settled beforehand between the
two old men,—as a well-conducted love affair in Mexico properly must
be,—and this dramatic climax to it was a mere nominal concession to
Pepe’s foreign tastes, acquired through much association with
Americanos upon the frontier. So, the result being satisfactory, the
Paras brandy was brought forth again, and toasts were drunk to Pepe’s
and Pancha’s long happiness. And these were followed by toasts to the
success—though that was assured in advance, of course—of a great
venture in which Pepe was about to engage; a venture that infallibly
was to make him a rich man.
The scheme that Pepe had devised was worthy of himself. Its basis was
an arrangement—made who shall say how?—that all the forces of the
contraresguardo and rurales should be sent on a wild-goose chase
into the mountains, and sent far enough to make sure that they should
stay in the mountains for a whole night and a whole day. And, the
coast being thus cleared, it was the purpose of this daring captain of
contrabandistas to come up from the Zona Libre with not one, but
with three great trains of burros laden with contrabando, and to
bring these trains, in sections and under cover of darkness, actually
into the city of Monterey! Further, to make quite sure that in the
city he should meet with no hindrance to the execution of his plans,
he had arranged that at the hour his trains were to enter from the
east, a jacal should be set on fire over in the western suburb.
Fires occur but rarely in Monterey, and when one does occur all the
town flocks to see it: it is better than a fiesta. It was a stroke
of genius on Pepe’s part to think of this diversion; and the man who
owned the doomed jacal—one of Pepe’s band who himself had a share
in the venture—was eager to put so brilliant a plan into execution.
Indeed, to insure success a dozen jacals might have been profitably
consumed, for the contrabando was to be exceptionally rich in
quality as well as great in quantity, and the profit upon it would be
something that to such simple-minded folk as Manuel and Tobalito and
Catalina seemed almost fabulous.
The very risk of the venture, as Pepe pointed out, constituted its
safety. In the mountains there was a chance at any time of a fight,
but in the city streets there was literally nobody to fear—“unless
the serenos should turn contraresguardo!” he suggested; whereat
there was much cheerful laughter, that of the honest sereno Manuel
being loudest of all.
The leñador, Tobalito’s trusted friend, hearing the sounds of
festivity and snuffing the Paras brandy from afar off, came in to join
them; and being informed of the happy issue of Pepe’s love affair, and
of Pepe’s noble project, he gladly joined in drinking the double toast
and in adding his good wishes to theirs. So they made merry over their
hopeful prospects; and even when the twins, Antonio and Antonia,
succeeded in an unwatched moment in possessing themselves of the
precious bottle of Paras brandy, and thereafter, to their great joy,
emptied a considerable portion of it over the unfortunate yellow cat,
a mere desultory spanking was deemed to be a meet atonement for the
So Pepe rode lightly out from Monterey, and behind him rode not black
care, but brightest joy, and after him went good wishes and great
love. When he came again he would be rich, and—dearer than all other
riches—Pancha would be his. Truly, a young fellow of three and
twenty, who had carved his own way to so brave a fortune, might well
rejoice within himself; and Pepe did rejoice with all his heart. As he
rode down the valley—the valley that is scarred by the railroad
now—his thoughts ran back pleasantly over the past few years of hard
work in his profession; over his many successes tarnished by not a
single serious failure; and still more pleasantly his thoughts ran
forward into the future, when all his toil was to receive, over and
above a liberal compensation, a most sweet reward. One more deal in
the game that he knew so well how to play, and all the stakes would be
his. No wonder that Pepe’s heart was glad within him; that his soul
was filled with joy.
Yet Pancha, left behind in Monterey to wait while Pepe worked, was
sorrowful. As sometimes happens to us when we are confronted by the
certainty of great happiness, she was possessed by a gloomy sadness
that came of dark forebodings in her mind. The very greatness and
sureness of this happiness awed her into doubt. She knew that to take
her good fortune in this faint-hearted way was not wise in itself,
and was not what Pepe would approve; and that she might please Pepe
she berated herself roundly and tried to laugh away her fears—though
they scarcely amounted to fears, being but shadowy doubts and unshaped
thoughts in which always was a tinge of nameless dread. But scolding
herself and laughing at herself were equally unavailing; therefore she
betook herself to that refuge which is dear to women the world over,
but which especially is dear to women in Roman Catholic lands—the
refuge of prayer.
A placid, holy place is the church of San Francisco in Monterey. It
stands upon a quiet street, the Calle de San Francisco, where little
travel or noise of traffic ever comes, and about it always is an
atmosphere of sacred rest. On one side of it is the ruin of the old,
old church where, near three hundred years ago, the colonists sent
northward by the Conde de Monterey first met within church walls to
offer up to God their sacrifice of praise and prayer for the grace
shown to them in bringing them within so fair a land. On the other
side is the old convent, where long the good Franciscans dwelt, and
whence they went forth to save poor heathen souls. The convent is
deserted now, but holy memories live on in it, and sanctify its
silent, sunny cloister and its still, shady cells. And close beside
the convent grows a single stately palm, larger and more beautiful
than any other palm in all the country round. The old church is
shadowy within, and a faint smell of incense hangs always in the
dusky air. The floor is laid in panels of heavy wood, worn smooth by
the knees of the five generations which have worshiped there, and
beneath each panel is a grave. Reverently do the Mexicans believe that
thrice blessed is the rest in death of him who sleeps within the earth
made consecrate by bearing on its breast the house of God.
So it was to this old church, the church of her patron saint, whose
name she bore, that Pancha came to pray that Pepe might prosper in his
gallant adventure, and that the happiness in store for both of them
might not be wrecked by evil chance. To pass from the heat and glare
of the April sunshine into the cool, dark church was in itself a
refreshment and a rest. Save an old woman or two, slowly and wearily
moving from station to station and slowly and wearily at each station
repeating her form of prayer, the church was deserted; and in the
quiet corner near the chancel rail where Pancha knelt, far away from
the mumbling old women, there was a perfect quiet, a holy peace. Her
prayer was a little simple prayer: only that the good Saint Francis
would keep Pepe safe from all harm, and that the contrabando might
not be captured, and that she and Pepe might be married as they had
planned to be, and might live on in happiness together to a good old
age. When she had made her prayer she knelt on for a long while,
dreamily thinking of the Saint’s goodness and of his mighty power to
guard and save. And, as she knelt there, gradually faith and hope
came back again into her heart, and the conviction grew strong within
her that the blessed saint had heard her prayer and had sent to her
this comforting for assurance that it should be granted to the full.
So at last, heartened and quieted, she came out once more into the
April sunshine. Yet, even as she left the church there passed before
the sun a cloud. Pancha, whose mind was full of happy thoughts, did
not perceive this cloud.
That day in Monterey one other heart was troubled, but to it came not
peace nor rest. Much to her surprise, Pancha—standing near the
causeway over which Pepe gallantly had ridden forth upon his brave
adventure, her heart full of love and hope and fear—had felt an arm
about her neck, and turning had found Chona by her side. In her tender
mood this mark of affection from the friend whom she had deemed lost
had moved her greatly, and with little urging she told to Chona the
sweet happiness that at last certainly was hers; and wondered to see
the look of hate—there could be no mistaking it now—that came
flashing into Chona’s eyes.
“And he loves a pitiful thing like you! Loves you, when he
might—go! you are no friend of mine!”
In Chona’s voice there was a ring of bitter contempt that lost itself,
with the abrupt change, in yet more bitter rage. With an angry push
that almost threw Pancha into the water, she turned, sprang up the
bank, and disappeared among the trees. So was Pancha made yet more
sorrowful, and yet more gladly turned to the holy church for rest and
comfort in prayer.
For Chona there was no comfort. Her brain was in a whirl, and in her
heart was only wretchedness. The fate had come to her that for months
past she had known must be hers; yet now that it actually had
overtaken her, she resented it as though it were a sudden and
unexpected blow. Against hope she had hoped to win Pepe’s love—and
now all hope was dead, and she knew that her chance of having him for
her very own was lost forever. Still worse was it that the love which
she longed for so hungrily should go to another. This was more than
she could bear. Pepe’s death, she felt, would have caused her a pain
far less poignant—for she herself easily could have died, too. But
Pepe lost to her arms, and won to the arms of such a poor, spiritless
creature as this Pancha, was an insult that made greater the injury
done her a thousand-fold. Her fierce love was turned in a moment to
fiercer hate; and from hate is but a single step to revenge.
That night, when the leñador came home,—and in good spirits, for he
had sold his wood well,—he told Chona gleefully of the grand project
that Pepe had on foot; of the clever scheme by which the customs
people were to be tricked; of the fine fortune that surely was coming
to the captain of contrabandistas now as a fitting culmination of
his gallant career.
After her father, with a prodigious yawn, had ended his narration and
had betaken himself to sleep, for a long while Chona sat there in the
open space before the jacal alone with her own thoughts. In the
darkness and stillness—for only the low, soft rippling of the water
broke in upon the peacefulness of night—the longing for revenge that
possessed her slowly took form in her mind. The hours passed swiftly
as she brooded upon her wrong and upon the means that she had chosen
to compass vengeance. When at last she arose and went into the
jacal, the morning star shone bright above the twin peaks of the
Silla, and the whole mountain stood out sharply, a huge black mass,
against the clear, pale light of the eastern sky.
Yet the morning still was young when Chona—her father meanwhile
having started with the burro for the mountains—went down to the
barracks of the contraresguardo and asked of the sentinel on duty
permission to see the capitan, Pedro. The sentinel smiled as he
dispatched a messenger with her request, and thought what a lucky
fellow the capitan Pedro was, to be sure.
“Come to me quickly in the Alameda,” said Chona, when Pedro had joined
her. “I can tell you of a great plan that the smugglers have on
foot—and also of a matter very near to your own heart.” Without
waiting for an answer, she turned sharply and walked rapidly away.
Perceiving that she was much excited, Pedro did not doubt that Chona
had information of importance to give him; and his experience had
taught him that the treachery of a jealous woman was not a thing that
the customs preventive service could afford to despise. To the
personal part of her address he did not give a second thought. Without
returning to the barracks, he set off at once for the Alameda. The
sentinel, lazily watching the two retreating figures, smiled again,
and said to himself, “Aha! my little captain is a lucky man to-day!”
It is a good mile from the barracks to the Alameda. Chona covered the
distance rapidly. As she entered the ragged pleasure-ground, she
turned to make sure that Pedro was following her, and then crossed it
quickly and disappeared through a gap in a hedge beyond. When Pedro
passed through the gap he found her seated on the ground between the
bushy screen and the cane-field that it inclosed. They were remote
from all houses, from all curious ears; for the Alameda, being but a
forlorn place, has few visitors.
She motioned him to a seat beside her, and said, hurriedly:
“The capitan Pepe will bring three great trains of contrabando on
Friday night into Monterey.”
“Yes. He is your lover?”
She flashed her glittering black eyes on him savagely. “It is no
affair of yours who my lover may be. But I will tell you this: Pepe is
the lover of Tobalito’s Pancha—the girl whom you love.”
She marked with satisfaction how he winced under her words, the gleam
of anger that came into his eyes. But, without giving him time to
speak, she went on rapidly to tell of Pepe’s plan, and with a
clearness and precision that left no room for doubting that she told
the truth. Her excitement increased as she spoke. Her black eyes grew
blacker as the pupils dilated; her breath came short as her bosom rose
and fell tremblingly; twice or thrice she pressed her hand upon her
heart. As she ended she sprang to her feet and held erect her superb
form. Her eyes gleamed with the anger of hate, her hands were
clinched, her guardedly low voice quivered with a passionate energy.
“I have betrayed him into your hands, even as he has betrayed my
offered love. Take him! Kill him! He has only my hate. And remember,
it is he who has won from you Pancha’s love. He must die!” In an
instant she had plunged into the thicket of canes. For a few moments
the rustling of the leaves sounded hissingly as she fleetly pushed her
way between them; the sound grew fainter; presently it faded out of
hearing, and all was still.
Pedro stood for awhile motionless, vacantly staring at the place in
the cane-thicket, still marked by the swaying leaves, where she had
disappeared. Then slowly he passed through the gap in the hedge, and
slowly walked across the Alameda. When he came to the circle of stone
benches he sat down wearily. He did not in the least particular doubt
the truth of what Chona had told him; and because he knew so surely
that it was all true a great sorrow weighed upon him, a cruel conflict
arose in his heart. Chona had told him too much. Had she told him only
of Pepe’s plans, her purpose would have been easily gained; for in a
strictly professional and matter-of-course way he would have crushed
the smugglers’ scheme effectually, and probably the smugglers with it.
Chona, judging his nature by her own, had overshot her mark. The very
fact that Pepe was Pancha’s lover, that his ruin would be her misery,
that his death might also be her death, made Pedro—for the first and
last time in his life—regard his duty falteringly. For his love for
Pancha was so loyal, so utterly unselfish, that even this very love he
was ready to sacrifice for her; ready, for her happiness’ sake, to
yield her to another’s arms. The question that now confronted him was
whether or not he could sacrifice for Pancha his honor.
What made this cruel strait in which Pedro found himself crueler still
was the certainty that should he save his honor no one at all (yet it
was only Pancha of whom he thought) would believe that in capturing
Pepe he had been prompted by any higher motive than revenge. Should
Pepe be harmed, Pancha would hate him; should Pepe be killed,—and the
chances favored this issue, for Pepe was a man who far rather would
die than surrender,—Pancha would turn from him in horror, as a
loathsome creature too base even to die. These thoughts went
whirlingly through Pedro’s mind, and there came to him no safe issue
from his perplexity. Toward whichever of the two paths before him he
turned, he saw standing a figure with a drawn sword: Love barred the
way of Honor; Honor barred the way of Love.
At last, the conflict still continuing in his breast, he slowly arose
from his seat on the stone bench, and slowly walked back into the
town; but he took the streets by the hospital and the market-place,
thus leaving the arroyo of the ojo de agua far out of his path. As
he entered the barracks the sentinel looked at him curiously. “Oho!
there has been a quarrel,” he thought. “To quarrel with ‘La Reina,’ my
little captain must be a very great fool!”
The noise and confusion, the loud talking and coarse laughter of the
barracks jarred on Pedro, and presently he went out again. Walking
without purpose, he retraced unconsciously his steps toward the
Alameda. Then, finding of a sudden an object, he walked on rapidly
until the shady lanes beyond the Alameda were traversed and he stood
at the gate of the Campo Santo. Reverently he entered between the
stone pillars of the gate-way and stood in the presence of the holy
In a shady corner of the old grave-yard he seated himself upon a stone
that had fallen from the wall, and took up again resolutely the
problem that he had to solve. There in the perfect peace and
stillness, with only the dead about him for witnesses, the great
battle of his life was fought and won. His own faith in his manhood
came back to him and gave him strength; the doubt and trouble were
cast out of his soul; a steadfast light shone clearly upon the way
that he must go. And the silent counselors around him confirmed his
choice. By the very utterness of their silence, as it seemed to him,
they were as strong voices declaring that Love is but the dying
daughter of Time, while Honor is the deathless son of Eternity.
When he stood up, the fight ended, he was very pale, and sweat stood
in great drops upon his forehead; but in every line of his figure was
firmness. Erect and steadily—with something of the feeling, as he
bethought him, that had upheld him once when leading his men upon a
most desperate charge—he marched between the graves and out again
through the gate-way. His resolute step was in keeping with his
resolute purpose. Love lowered her sword and fell back, conquered. The
path of Honor was clear.
Being cheered by her prayer and by the good saint’s promise that it
should be granted, Pancha went home blithely and with a heart at rest.
And further cheer came to her from her mother, the excellent Catalina.
By profession, this good Catalina was a lavandera. Hers was a
vicarious virtue, for while her washing was endless, its visible
results rarely had any perceptible connection with herself. Indeed, it
is a fact that the washer-women of Mexico are upheld by so lofty a
sense of their duty to their employers that only by the operation of
some extraordinary law of chance is it that their own garments ever
get washed at all.
Down by the edge of the clear stream, in company with many other
washer-women, Catalina practised her honorable vocation, squatted upon
the ground and having in front of her a broad, flat stone. On this
stone she soaped and rubbed and squeezed each separate garment until
her fine knowledge of her art told her that cleanliness had been
achieved, and that for the perfecting of her work was needed only
copious rinsing in the running stream. Close beside her, always, was a
little fire, whereon rested a little boiler; and thence smoke and
steam curled up together amidst the branches of the overhanging trees.
On the low bushes near by were spread the drying clothes; in the
middle distance stood out the straw-thatched hut; and beyond, for
background, were trees and bushes and huts and half-hidden stone
walls. And as near her as their perverse spirits would permit them to
come were the twins, Antonio and Antonia, scantily clad or not clad at
all, usually engaged in some small evil, or else basking like two
little brown lizards in the sun. Some day an artist will come to
Monterey who will paint Catalina at her work with all her picturesque
surroundings; and if he paints the picture well, he will thereafter
awake to find himself famous.
Pancha, joining this group, and perfecting it by standing erect
beside the bubbling boiler, was further cheered by Catalina’s
confident talk concerning the certainty of Pepe’s success. Manuel had
stopped at the jacal on his way homeward—coming sleepily back from
his vigilant duties on the city watch—to leave the good news that a
detachment of the contraresguardo really had been sent away early
that morning toward Garcia—quite in the opposite direction from that
whence Pepe would come. There could be no doubt about this assuring
fact, for one of his fellow serenos, being on duty near the
barracks, actually had seen the force depart. So it was clear that the
most important part of the promise made to Pepe by his employers had
been fulfilled. The other part, the massing of the rurales in the
wrong place at the critical moment, might now confidently be counted
upon—and this made sure that Pepe would accomplish safely his
unostentatious yet triumphal entry into Monterey. As became the
prospective mother-in-law of the hero of this noble adventure,
Catalina greatly rejoiced; and Pancha, listening to such heartening
news, was still more firmly convinced that the good Saint Francis had
heard her prayer.
But even while these comforting thoughts upheld the hopes of the
watchers in Monterey, Chona’s treachery was doing its work. In the
early morning of the third day after Pepe’s departure there had been a
tough fight south of Lampazos—and the end of it was the capture by
the contraresguardo of one of Pepe’s three trains. Broken by a
sudden charge, the guard of smugglers was overcome; one or two were
killed, half a dozen were captured, and the rest saved themselves by
the speed of their horses and their knowledge of the mountain paths.
The men of the contraresguardo were jubilant. But there was no joy
in the heart of their captain. He had but the cold satisfaction of
knowing that he had done his duty—and bitter he had found that duty
When the scattered burros had been driven together, and their packs
made fast again, the convoy set off southward; for the capture had
been made in the State of Nuevo Leon, and the contrabando would be
turned into the custom-house at Monterey. Under the hot sun the train
moved slowly along the valley; so slowly that Pedro’s horse,
out-walking the short-stepping burros, carried him far in advance of
his command. He was too deeply buried in his own thoughts to perceive
his loneliness, and it was only when he reached the town of Salinas
that he roused himself and found that his convoy was almost out of
sight down the dusty, winding road. On the bluff above the Salinas
River he tethered his horse to a tree, and sat down in the shade of
the ferry-man’s hut to wait for his men to overtake him. The
barquero speedily slunk away; but Pedro, heavy with his own heavy
thoughts, took slight notice of his movements, save that he was glad
to be left alone.
A quarter of a mile from where he sat the road dipped into a recess
behind a shoulder of the mountain, and for a little space was lost to
view. He watched the train until it entered this recess, and then,
while waiting for it to reappear, he bowed his head upon his hand. His
heart was very full of bitterness. There was but little comfort for
him in the fact that the train that he had captured had not been
commanded by Pepe in person; for he knew that the precautions taken
made the capture, either in the mountains or in Monterey, of the other
two trains certain; and not less certain was the capture or the
killing of Pepe himself. Certainly Pepe’s fortune, probably his life,
already was as good as forfeited; and with this forfeiture Pancha’s
hope of happiness was gone! And the cruel part of it all was that
Pancha ever must believe that he, willfully, revengefully, because she
had kept back from him her love, had brought upon her this great
misery. In the darkness that beset him he saw no way of hopeful light.
He had saved his honor, but he had wrecked his heart.
A rattle of rifle-shots snapped short his dismal revery. As he sprang
to his feet he saw a squad of his own people, a dozen or so, galloping
up the road, and a moment later four times as many men came out from
behind the shoulder of the mountain in sharp pursuit. The pursued were
bent low over the necks of their horses; from the crowd of pursuers
there came each instant a puff of smoke followed by the sharp crack
of the report; and each instant a horse fell, or ran wildly with empty
saddle, as the balls went home.
Pedro loosened his revolver in his belt and sprang to his horse. The
barquero had become visible again, and was standing beside him; on
his face was a malicious, yet not wholly unkindly grin. “Quick!” he
said. “Get into the boat. You yet have time.” As an officer of the
contraresguardo he hated Pedro cordially; but he had no especial
wish to see him shot down, now that the smugglers had recaptured the
contrabando and the fight was won. But Pedro already was mounted,
and his horse was headed not toward the river, but toward his men. The
barquero saw his purpose, and seized his bridle with a strong hand.
“God! Señor Captain, would you ride straight to your death?”
“Let loose, or I shoot!”
Like a flash Pedro’s revolver was drawn and cocked and within an inch
of the barquero’s head.
“You are a fool, a madman! Go!” And the man staggered aside as the
horse, bounding forward, sharp stricken with the spurs, brushed
against him, and nearly threw him to the ground.
“Es mi deber!” “’Tis my duty!” came ringing back through the rush of
air as Pedro rode furiously onward; and it seemed to the
barquero—yet this was so strange a thing that he could not trust
his ears—that there was gladness, nay, even triumph, in Pedro’s tone.
Whether spoken in sorrow or in hope, certain it is that these were the
last words which the capitan Pedro spoke on earth.
In Monterey there was no knowledge of the loss and of the gaining back
again from the contraresguardo of a part of Pepe’s treasure; no
knowledge that treachery had come in to defeat Pepe’s well-laid plans.
Therefore when at last the momentous day arrived, there was with
Pepe’s friends a glad expectancy and happy hope. Under all, of course,
was somewhat of fear that even in the moment of its success failure
might come and dash the gallant plan. And because of such dismal
doubt, Tobalito’s face at times was bereft of its accustomed
cheeriness, and for minutes together he would sit silent, the while
mechanically polishing the brass number that, as a cargador, he wore
upon his breast, as was his wont on the rare occasions when his mind
was beset by troublous thoughts. But these fears, in which, also, the
others shared, had no endurance; for all had steady faith in the
all-powerfulness of Pepe’s lucky star. So, slowly, the day wore on,
and at last was lost in night.
Excepting the twins, Antonio and Antonia, no one that night slept in
the jacal. Tobalito sat before his door and smoked incessantly his
corn-husk cigarritos. Beside him, smoking not less vigorously, sat
Catalina. A little apart from these was Pancha, holding in her arms
the yellow cat. And each of these three minds was so busy with its
own thoughts that all of the three tongues were still. Only the yellow
cat, having but little mind, and that being soothed into a calm
content by Pancha’s gentle strokings of her sleek fur, expressed her
perfect happiness, and so made talk for the whole party, in a rumbling
From where they sat—although they could not hope to see even the
reflected light of the burning jacal that was to clear the way for
the entry of the contrabando—they could see, a hundred yards away,
the stone causeway standing out in the light of the young moon against
the darkness beyond. Pancha’s mind was full of sweet remembrance of
the words which Pepe had spoken to her over beyond the causeway,
beside the pool, but five little days before, and of the glad future
that was bound up in the fulfilment of his hopes. Tobalito and
Catalina, being somewhat beyond the age of romance, were thinking not
less gladly of the good fortune that was in store for them through the
rich son-in-law who had come to lighten the burdens of their old age.
No more would the cargador bear heavy ladings of other people’s
goods; no more would the lavandera wear her life out in washing
other people’s clothes. And so all three waited and watched eagerly,
straining their ears for the rattle of horses’ feet upon the
stone-paved streets; straining their eyes to catch the first glimpse
of the burro-train stealing in from the Zona Libre with its rich
load. For close beside them, across the causeway, the train that Pepe
himself headed was to pass. Now and again they caught sight of a
little point of flame passing and repassing near the farther end of
the causeway; and they knew that it was the lantern of the sereno,
and that Manuel also watched and waited hopefully to see his son,
bearing his rich sheaves with him, come gallantly home. All four of
these fond hearts were brimming full of love and hope and joy.
Slowly the young moon set, when suddenly Pancha was aroused by a
strange confusion: pistol-shots—screams—a rush of horses’
feet—oaths—the clash of steel—and on the causeway, dimly seen in
the faint light, a confused mass of men and horses and laden burros
were hurrying away before an orderly mass of horsemen riding in upon
them from the east. And, before the full meaning of all this was clear
to Pancha’s mind, came another rush of horsemen charging down along
the causeway from the west. Right under Pancha’s eyes Pepe, surrounded
by his foes, was fighting for his life; and Pancha knew that the fight
was hopeless, and that Pepe’s life was lost! Up at the end of the
causeway she saw quivering for an instant the light of the sereno’s
lantern; and a vast sorrow for the old man standing there, full of
years, yet henceforth to be childless, for the moment overcame the
bitter agony in her own heart. But only for a moment. Then, with a cry
keen and woful, that echoed along the arroyo, and even for an
instant made the men pause in their deadly fight, with every drop of
her sluggish but fierce Indian blood aroused and burning in her veins,
she sprang to her feet, and but for Tobalito’s strong, restraining
grasp, she would have gone to Pepe’s aid and died wildly striking by
Pepe’s side—as the Aztec women, her brave ancestors, fought and died
on the causeways of Anahuac when the cruel Spaniards first came into
the land. But Tobalito held her fast—and then a merciful
unconsciousness came to give her breaking heart relief.
When life came back to Pancha, she was alone in the jacal, save that
in one corner lay the twins, Antonio and Antonia, still asleep; and
beside them, having fled thither for refuge during the noise and
confusion of the fight, was huddled the yellow cat. Within the jacal
a little candle feebly burned, casting a faint gleam of light through
the open doorway out upon the broad, smooth leaves of the banana-tree.
There was no sound to break the serene stillness of the night, and,
for a little, Pancha half fancied, and tried hard to make herself
believe, that she was but awaking from a woful dream. But the
searching agony that wrenched her heart was too bitterly real to give
a chance for this fond fancy to have play. And then, slowly but
strongly, the thought came into her mind that she must go to Pepe;
that, if living, she must bear to him words of comfort and of hope;
that, if dead, she must cast one last loving look upon his face.
So she passed out into the darkness—for only a faint, hazy light
beyond the Mitras showed where the young moon had sunk away behind the
mountains—and walked along the path that she and Pepe had trod
together but five days before. This time she did not pass beneath the
arch of the causeway. Where the path forked she turned to the right
and climbed the bank of the arroyo and so came out upon the causeway
itself. In the darkness she tripped and nearly fell, and, looking
closely, she saw at her feet the body of a man. Resolutely, yet
shudderingly, she stooped still closer to see by the faint starlight
the dead face, and knew it for the face of one of Pepe’s companions.
Beside the dead contrabandista lay another dead body, clad in the
uniform of the contraresguardo; and the two lay facing each other as
they had fallen in the fight. Beyond were yet others, and a dead horse
or two, and a dead burro—from which the lading of precious stuffs
had been hastily removed—and carbines, and swords and pistols were
lying as they fell from dead hands; for, in the joy of their victory
and capture, the contraresguardo had wasted no time in bearing away
their fallen comrades or in clearing off the field. And Pancha,
wofully seeking for Pepe, passed back and forth among the dead.
While she searched thus, she saw slowly coming from the far end of the
causeway a little point of light, and presently the old sereno
wrapped in his long cloak, stood beside her. In a broken sentence or
two he told her that, with Tobalito and Catalina, he had followed the
contraresguardo to the barracks, and that Pepe was not among the
prisoners, and so he had come back to look for him here. Pancha made
him no answer in words, but she took his hand and kissed it; and,
still holding it, they searched together for the dead one who had been
all in all to them in the world. Along the whole length of the
causeway they searched, but found him not.
“Yet he is here,” said Manuel. “My boy is not a prisoner, and if not a
prisoner, he surely was struck down in the fight.”
And Pancha knew that Manuel spoke truth: Pepe could not be safe and
free from harm while his men were captured or slain.
While they paused midway upon the causeway, standing upon the arch
that spans the stream, a low, faint moan sounded through the still
night air. The sound came up from the darkness below—from the space
beside the pool. Bending together over the edge of the unguarded
footway, Manuel held down his lantern so that its light fell into the
depth beside the wall and was reflected back in broken rays from the
rippling water. Then he moved the lantern slowly, until the light
rested upon the bank and shone on Pepe’s body stretched upon the
ground—on Pepe’s face upturned toward them piteously! And Pepe knew
them. Up through the darkness came faintly the words, “Pancha! Padre!”
When, going very quickly, they passed to the end of the causeway, and
so down the bank of the arroyo to where he lay, he clasped feebly
their hands as they knelt beside him: the lantern throwing a weird,
uncertain light upon the three, upon the dark stone wall, upon the
dark water of the pool.
“It was a trap, my father; we were betrayed,” he said brokenly. “But
we made a brave fight, and I can die without shame.”
He felt the quiver that passed through Pancha’s body as he spoke.
“Yes, I must die, my Pancha. It is very near. All is ended that we
planned—that we planned on this very spot, not yet a little week ago.
It is hard, my little one—but—it—must—be.” Then he was silent, and
clenched his teeth—this brave Pepe—that his face might not show to
Pancha his mortal agony.
Manuel held Pepe’s hand and wept: the silent, forlorn weeping of an
utterly desolate old man. Pancha could not weep. She clutched Pepe’s
hand in both of hers, as though forcibly she would hold him back to
life. Pepe understood her thought.
“It may not be, my Pancha, my Panchita. It is very, very near now.
Give me one little kiss, my heart,”—it was almost in a whisper that
Pepe spoke,—“one little kiss to tell me of your love before I go.”
And so, for the first and the last time in her life, Pancha kissed
Pepe upon the lips: a kiss in which was all the passionate love that
would have been his in the long years to come; a kiss that was worth
dying for, if only by dying it could be gained; a kiss that for a
moment thrilled Pepe with the fullest, gladdest life that he had ever
known—and that, being ended, left him dead.
Then Pancha, kneeling where the holy fathers, far back in the
centuries, had sung their Te Deum laudamus, kneeling where but five
little days before her life had been filled with a love so perfect as
to be beyond all power of thankfulness in words of praise, looked down
upon her dead lover and felt her heart break within her in the
utterness of her despair.
Standing amidst the dead upon the causeway above, a dim shadow against
the star-lit sky, was another figure—unperceived by, yet completing,
the group below. The arms were raised, half threateningly, half
imploringly, and the lithe, vigorous form swayed in unison with the
wild throbbings of a heart in which sated hate did mortal battle with
outraged love. Chona had conquered; but even in the first flush of her
triumph she knew that love and hope and happiness, that everything
which makes life worth holding to, had been lost.
THE ABLEST MAN IN THE WORLD.
By E. P. Mitchell.
⁂ The Sun, New York, May, 1879.
It may or may not be remembered that in 1878 General Ignatieff spent
several weeks of July at the Badischer Hof in Baden. The public
journals gave out that he visited the watering-place for the benefit
of his health, said to be much broken by protracted anxiety and
responsibility in the service of the Czar. But everybody knew that
Ignatieff was just then out of favor at St. Petersburg, and that his
absence from the centres of active statecraft at a time when the peace
of Europe fluttered like a shuttlecock in the air, between Salisbury
and Shouvaloff, was nothing more or less than politely disguised
I am indebted for the following facts to my friend Fisher, of New
York, who arrived at Baden on the day after Ignatieff, and was duly
announced in the official list of strangers as “Herr Doctor Professor
Fischer, mit Frau Gattin und Bed. Nordamerika.”
The scarcity of titles among the travelling aristocracy of North
America is a standing grievance with the ingenious person who compiles
the official list. Professional pride and the instincts of hospitality
alike impel him to supply the lack whenever he can. He distributes
Governor, Major-General, and Doctor Professor with tolerable
impartiality, according as the arriving Americans wear a
distinguished, a martial, or a studious air. Fisher owed his title to
It was still early in the season. The theatre had not yet opened. The
hotels were hardly half full, the concerts in the kiosk at the
Conversationshaus were heard by scattering audiences, and the
shop-keepers of the Bazaar had no better business than to spend their
time in bewailing the degeneracy of Baden Baden since an end was put
to the play. Few excursionists disturbed the meditations of the
shrivelled old custodian of the tower on the Mercuriusberg. Fisher
found the place very stupid—as stupid as Saratoga in June or Long
Branch in September. He was impatient to get to Switzerland, but his
wife had contracted a table d’hôte intimacy with a Polish countess,
and she positively refused to take any step that would sever so
advantageous a connection.
One afternoon Fisher was standing on one of the little bridges that
span the gutterwide Oosbach, idly gazing into the water and wondering
whether a good sized Rangely trout could swim the stream without
personal inconvenience, when the porter of the Badischer Hof came to
him on the run.
“Herr Doctor Professor!” cried the porter, touching his cap. “I pray
you pardon, but the highborn the Baron Savitch out of Moscow, of the
General Ignatieff’s suite, suffers himself in a terrible fit, and
appears to die.”
In vain Fisher assured the porter that it was a mistake to consider
him a medical expert; that he professed no science save that of draw
poker; that if a false impression prevailed in the hotel it was
through a blunder for which he was in no way responsible; and that,
much as he regretted the unfortunate condition of the highborn the
Baron out of Moscow, he did not feel that his presence in the chamber
of sickness would be of the slightest benefit. It was impossible to
eradicate the idea that possessed the porter’s mind. Finding himself
fairly dragged toward the hotel, Fisher at length concluded to make a
virtue of necessity and to render his explanations to the Baron’s
The Russian’s apartments were upon the second floor, not far from
those occupied by Fisher. A French valet, almost beside himself with
terror, came hurrying out of the room to meet the porter and the
Doctor Professor. Fisher again attempted to explain, but to no
purpose. The valet also had explanations to make, and the superior
fluency of his French enabled him to monopolize the conversation. No,
there was nobody there—nobody but himself, the faithful Auguste of
the Baron. His Excellency, the General Ignatieff, his Highness, the
Prince Koloff, Dr. Rapperschwyll, all the suite, all the world, had
driven out that morning to Gernsbach. The Baron, meanwhile, had been
seized by an effraying malady, and he, Auguste, was desolate with
apprehension. He entreated Monsieur to lose no time in parley, but to
hasten to the bedside of the Baron, who was already in the agonies of
Fisher followed Auguste into the inner room. The Baron, in his boots,
lay upon the bed, his body bent almost double by the unrelenting gripe
of a distressful pain. His teeth were tightly clenched, and the rigid
muscles around the mouth distorted the natural expression of his face.
Every few seconds a prolonged groan escaped him. His fine eyes rolled
piteously. Anon, he would press both hands upon his abdomen and shiver
in every limb in the intensity of his suffering.
Fisher forgot his explanations. Had he been a Doctor Professor in
fact, he could not have watched the symptoms of the Baron’s malady
with greater interest.
“Can Monsieur preserve him?” whispered the terrified Auguste.
“Perhaps,” said Monsieur, dryly.
Fisher scribbled a note to his wife on the back of a card and
dispatched it in the care of the hotel porter. That functionary
returned with great promptness, bringing a black bottle and a glass.
The bottle had come in Fisher’s trunk to Baden all the way from
Liverpool, had crossed the sea to Liverpool from New York, and had
journeyed to New York direct from Bourbon County, Kentucky. Fisher
seized it eagerly but reverently, and held it up against the light.
There were still three inches or three inches and a half in the
bottom. He uttered a grunt of pleasure.
“There is some hope of saving the Baron,” he remarked to Auguste.
Fully one-half of the precious liquid was poured into the glass and
administered without delay to the groaning, writhing patient. In a few
minutes Fisher had the satisfaction of seeing the Baron sit up in bed.
The muscles around his mouth relaxed, and the agonized expression was
superseded by a look of placid contentment.
Fisher now had an opportunity to observe the personal characteristics
of the Russian Baron. He was a young man of about thirty-five, with
exceedingly handsome and clear-cut features, but a peculiar head. The
peculiarity of his head was that it seemed to be perfectly round on
top—that is, its diameter from ear to ear appeared quite equal to its
anterior and posterior diameter. The curious effect of this unusual
conformation was rendered more striking by the absence of all hair.
There was nothing on the Baron’s head but a tightly fitting skull cap
of black silk. A very deceptive wig hung upon one of the bed posts.
Being sufficiently recovered to recognize the presence of a stranger,
Savitch made a courteous bow.
“How do you find yourself now?” inquired Fisher, in bad French.
“Very much better, thanks to Monsieur,” replied the Baron, in
excellent English, spoken in a charming voice. “Very much better,
though I feel a certain dizziness here.” And he pressed his hand to
The valet withdrew at a sign from his master, and was followed by the
porter. Fisher advanced to the bedside and took the Baron’s wrist.
Even his unpractised touch told him that the pulse was alarmingly
high. He was much puzzled, and not a little uneasy at the turn which
the affair had taken. “Have I got myself and the Russian into an
infernal scrape?” he thought. “But no—he’s well out of his teens, and
half a tumbler of such whiskey as that ought not to go to a baby’s
Nevertheless, the new symptoms developed themselves with a rapidity
and poignancy that made Fisher feel uncommonly anxious. Savitch’s face
became as white as marble—its paleness rendered startling by the
sharp contrast of the black skull cap. His form reeled as he sat on
the bed, and he clasped his head convulsively with both hands, as if
in terror lest it burst.
“I had better call your valet,” said Fisher, nervously.
“No, no!” gasped the Baron. “You are a medical man, and I shall have
to trust you. There is something—wrong—here.” With a spasmodic
gesture he vaguely indicated the top of his head.
“But I am not—” stammered Fisher.
“No words!” exclaimed the Russian, imperiously. “Act at once—there
must be no delay. Unscrew the top of my head!”
Savitch tore off his skull cap and flung it aside. Fisher has no words
to describe the bewilderment with which he beheld the actual fabric of
the Baron’s cranium. The skull cap had concealed the fact that the
entire top of Savitch’s head was a dome of polished silver.
“Unscrew it!” said Savitch again.
Fisher reluctantly placed both hands upon the silver skull and exerted
a gentle pressure toward the left. The top yielded, turning easily and
truly in its threads.
“Faster!” said the Baron, faintly. “I tell you no time must be lost.”
Then he swooned.
At this instant there was a sound of voices in the outer room, and the
door leading into the Baron’s bed-chamber was violently flung open and
as violently closed. The new-comer was a short, spare man of middle
age, with a keen visage and piercing, deep-set little gray eyes. He
stood for a few seconds scrutinizing Fisher with a sharp, almost
fiercely jealous regard.
The Baron recovered his consciousness and opened his eyes.
“Dr. Rapperschwyll!” he exclaimed.
Dr. Rapperschwyll, with a few rapid strides, approached the bed and
confronted Fisher and Fisher’s patient. “What is all this?” he angrily
Without waiting for a reply he laid his hand rudely upon Fisher’s arm
and pulled him away from the Baron. Fisher, more and more astonished,
made no resistance, but suffered himself to be led, or pushed, toward
the door. Dr. Rapperschwyll opened the door wide enough to give the
American exit, and then closed it with a vicious slam. A quick click
informed Fisher that the key had been turned in the lock.
The next morning Fisher met Savitch coming from the Trinkhalle. The
Baron bowed with cold politeness and passed on. Later in the day a
valet de place handed to Fisher a small parcel, with the message: “Dr.
Rapperschwyll supposes that this will be sufficient.” The parcel
contained two gold pieces of twenty marks.
Fisher gritted his teeth. “He shall have back his forty marks,” he
muttered to himself, “but I will have his confounded secret in
Then Fisher discovered that even a Polish countess has her uses in the
Mrs. Fisher’s table d’hôte friend was amiability itself, when
approached by Fisher (through Fisher’s wife) on the subject of the
Baron Savitch of Moscow. Know anything about the Baron Savitch? Of
course she did, and about everybody else worth knowing in Europe.
Would she kindly communicate her knowledge? Of course she would, and
be enchanted to gratify in the slightest degree the charming curiosity
of her Americaine. It was quite refreshing for a blasée old woman,
who had long since ceased to feel much interest in contemporary men,
women, things and events, to encounter one so recently from the
boundless prairies of the new world as to cherish a piquant
inquisitiveness about the affairs of the grand monde. Ah! yes, she
would very willingly communicate the history of the Baron Savitch of
Moscow, if that would amuse her dear Americaine.
The Polish countess abundantly redeemed her promise, throwing in for
good measure many choice bits of gossip and scandalous anecdotes about
the Russian nobility, which are not relevant to the present narrative.
Her story, as summarized by Fisher, was this:
The Baron Savitch was not of an old creation. There was a mystery
about his origin that had never been satisfactorily solved in St.
Petersburg or in Moscow. It was said by some that he was a foundling
from the Vospitatelnoi Dom. Others believed him to be the
unacknowledged son of a certain illustrious personage nearly related
to the House of Romanoff. The latter theory was the more probable,
since it accounted in a measure for the unexampled success of his
career from the day that he was graduated at the University of Dorpat.
Rapid and brilliant beyond precedent this career had been. He entered
the diplomatic service of the Czar, and for several years was attached
to the legations at Vienna, London, and Paris. Created a Baron before
his twenty-fifth birthday for the wonderful ability displayed in the
conduct of negotiations of supreme importance and delicacy with the
House of Hapsburg, he became a pet of Gortchakoff’s, and was given
every opportunity for the exercise of his genius in diplomacy. It was
even said in well-informed circles at St. Petersburg that the guiding
mind which directed Russia’s course throughout the entire Eastern
complication, which planned the campaign on the Danube, effected the
combinations that gave victory to the Czar’s soldiers, and which
meanwhile held Austria aloof, neutralized the immense power of
Germany, and exasperated England only to the point where wrath expends
itself in harmless threats, was the brain of the young Baron Savitch.
It was certain that he had been with Ignatieff at Constantinople when
the trouble was first fomented, with Shouvaloff in England at the time
of the secret conference agreement, with the Grand Duke Nicholas at
Adrianople when the protocol of an armistice was signed, and would
soon be in Berlin behind the scenes of the Congress, where it was
expected that he would outwit the statesmen of all Europe, and play
with Bismarck and Disraeli as a strong man plays with two kicking
But the countess had concerned herself very little with this handsome
young man’s achievements in politics. She had been more particularly
interested in his social career. His success in that field had been
not less remarkable. Although no one knew with positive certainty his
father’s name, he had conquered an absolute supremacy in the most
exclusive circles surrounding the imperial court. His influence with
the Czar himself was supposed to be unbounded. Birth apart, he was
considered the best parti in Russia. From poverty and by the sheer
force of intellect he had won for himself a colossal fortune. Report
gave him forty million roubles, and doubtless report did not exceed
the fact. Every speculative enterprise which he undertook, and they
were many and various, was carried to sure success by the same
qualities of cool, unerring judgment, far-reaching sagacity, and
apparently superhuman power of organizing, combining, and controlling,
which had made him in politics the phenomenon of the age.
About Dr. Rapperschwyll? Yes, the countess knew him by reputation and
by sight. He was the medical man in constant attendance upon the Baron
Savitch, whose high-strung mental organization rendered him
susceptible to sudden and alarming attacks of illness. Dr.
Rapperschwyll was a Swiss—had originally been a watchmaker or
artisan of some kind, she had heard. For the rest, he was a
commonplace little old man, devoted to his profession and to the
Baron, and evidently devoid of ambition, since he wholly neglected to
turn the opportunities of his position and connections to the
advancement of his personal fortunes.
Fortified with this information, Fisher felt better prepared to
grapple with Rapperschwyll for the possession of the secret. For five
days he lay in wait for the Swiss physician. On the sixth day the
desired opportunity unexpectedly presented itself.
Half way up the Mercuriusberg, late in the afternoon, he encountered
the custodian of the ruined tower, coming down. “No, the tower was not
closed. A gentleman was up there, making observations of the country,
and he, the custodian, would be back in an hour or two.” So Fisher
kept on his way.
The upper part of this tower is in a dilapidated condition. The lack
of a stairway to the summit is supplied by a temporary wooden ladder.
Fisher’s head and shoulders were hardly through the trap that opens to
the platform, before he discovered that the man already there was the
man whom he sought. Dr. Rapperschwyll was studying the topography of
the Black Forest through a pair of field glasses.
Fisher announced his arrival by an opportune stumble and a noisy
effort to recover himself, at the same instant aiming a stealthy kick
at the topmost round of the ladder, and scrambling ostentatiously
over the edge of the trap. The ladder went down thirty or forty feet
with a racket, clattering and banging against the walls of the tower.
Dr. Rapperschwyll at once appreciated the situation. He turned sharply
around, and remarked with a sneer, “Monsieur is unaccountably
awkward.” Then he scowled and showed his teeth, for he recognized
“It is rather unfortunate,” said the New Yorker, with imperturbable
coolness. “We shall be imprisoned here a couple of hours at the
shortest. Let us congratulate ourselves that we each have intelligent
company, besides a charming landscape to contemplate.”
The Swiss coldly bowed, and resumed his topographical studies. Fisher
lighted a cigar.
“I also desire,” continued Fisher, puffing clouds of smoke in the
direction of the Teufelmühle, “to avail myself of this opportunity to
return forty marks of yours, which reached me, I presume, by a
“If Monsieur the American physician was not satisfied with his fee,”
rejoined Rapperschwyll, venomously, “he can without doubt have the
affair adjusted by applying to the Baron’s valet.”
Fisher paid no attention to this thrust, but calmly laid the gold
pieces upon the parapet, directly under the nose of the Swiss.
“I could not think of accepting any fee,” he said, with deliberate
emphasis. “I was abundantly rewarded for my trifling services by the
novelty and interest of the case.”
The Swiss scanned the American’s countenance long and steadily with
his sharp little gray eyes. At length he said, carelessly:
“Monsieur is a man of science?”
“Yes,” replied Fisher, with a mental reservation in favor of all
sciences save that which illuminates and dignifies our national game.
“Then,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “Monsieur will perhaps
acknowledge that a more beautiful or more extensive case of trephining
has rarely come under his observation.”
Fisher slightly raised his eyebrows.
“And Monsieur will also understand, being a physician,” continued Dr.
Rapperschwyll, “the sensitiveness of the Baron himself, and of his
friends upon the subject. He will therefore pardon my seeming rudeness
at the time of his discovery.”
“He is smarter than I supposed,” thought Fisher. “He holds all the
cards, while I have nothing—nothing, except a tolerably strong nerve
when it comes to a game of bluff.”
“I deeply regret that sensitiveness,” he continued, aloud, “for it had
occurred to me that an accurate account of what I saw, published in
one of the scientific journals of England or America, would excite
wide attention, and no doubt be received with interest on the
“What you saw?” cried the Swiss, sharply. “It is false. You saw
nothing—when I entered you had not even removed the——”
Here he stopped short and muttered to himself, as if cursing his own
impetuosity. Fisher celebrated his advantage by tossing away his
half-burned cigar and lighting a fresh one.
“Since you compel me to be frank,” Dr. Rapperschwyll went on, with
visibly increasing nervousness, “I will inform you that the Baron has
assured me that you saw nothing. I interrupted you in the act of
removing the silver cap.”
“I will be equally frank,” replied Fisher, stiffening his face for a
final effort. “On that point, the Baron is not a competent witness. He
was in a state of unconsciousness for some time before you entered.
Perhaps I was removing the silver cap when you interrupted me——”
Dr. Rapperschwyll turned pale.
“And, perhaps,” said Fisher, coolly, “I was replacing it.”
The suggestion of this possibility seemed to strike Rapperschwyll like
a sudden thunderbolt from the clouds. His knees parted, and he almost
sank to the floor. He put his hands before his eyes, and wept like a
child, or, rather, like a broken old man.
“He will publish it! He will publish it to the court and to the
world!” he cried, hysterically. “And at this crisis——”
Then, by a desperate effort, the Swiss appeared to recover to some
extent his self control. He paced the diameter of the platform for
several minutes, with his head bent and his arms folded across the
breast. Turning again to his companion, he said:
“If any sum you may name will——”
Fisher cut the proposition short with a laugh.
“Then,” said Rapperschwyll, “if—if I throw myself on your
“Well?” demanded Fisher.
“And ask a promise, on your honor, of absolute silence concerning what
you have seen?”
“Silence until such time as the Baron Savitch shall have ceased to
“That will suffice,” said Rapperschwyll. “For when he ceases to exist
I die. And your conditions?”
“The whole story, here and now, and without reservation.”
“It is a terrible price to ask me,” said Rapperschwyll, “but larger
interests than my pride are at stake. You shall hear the story.
“I was bred a watchmaker,” he continued, after a long pause, “in the
Canton of Zurich. It is not a matter of vanity when I say that I
achieved a marvellous degree of skill in the craft. I developed a
faculty of invention that led me into a series of experiments
regarding the capabilities of purely mechanical combinations. I
studied and improved upon the best automata ever constructed by human
ingenuity. Babbage’s calculating machine especially interested me. I
saw in Babbage’s idea the germ of something infinitely more important
to the world.
“Then I threw up my business and went to Paris to study physiology. I
spent three years at the Sorbonne and perfected myself in that branch
of knowledge. Meanwhile, my pursuits had extended far beyond the
purely physical sciences. Psychology engaged me for a time; and then I
ascended into the domain of sociology, which, when adequately
understood, is the summary and final application of all knowledge.
“It was after years of preparation, and as the outcome of all my
studies, that the great idea of my life, which had vaguely haunted me
ever since the Zurich days, assumed at last a well-defined and perfect
The manner of Dr. Rapperschwyll had changed from distrustful
reluctance to frank enthusiasm. The man himself seemed transformed.
Fisher listened attentively and without interrupting the relation. He
could not help fancying that the necessity of yielding the secret, so
long and so jealously guarded by the physician, was not entirely
distasteful to the enthusiast.
“Now, attend, Monsieur,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “to several
separate propositions which may seem at first to have no direct
bearing on each other.
“My endeavors in mechanism had resulted in a machine which went far
beyond Babbage’s in its powers of calculation. Given the data, there was no limit to the possibilities in this direction. Babbage’s
cogwheels and pinions calculated logarithms, calculated an eclipse. It
was fed with figures, and produced results in figures. Now, the
relations of cause and effect are as fixed and unalterable as the laws
of arithmetic. Logic is, or should be, as exact a science as
mathematics. My new machine was fed with facts, and produced
conclusions. In short, it reasoned; and the results of its reasoning
were always true, while the results of human reasoning are often, if
not always, false. The source of error in human logic is what the
philosophers call the ‘personal equation.’ My machine eliminated the
personal equation; it proceeded from cause to effect, from premise to
conclusion, with steady precision. The human intellect is fallible; my
machine was, and is, infallible in its processes.
“Again, physiology and anatomy had taught me the fallacy of the
medical superstition which holds the gray matter of the brain and the
vital principle to be inseparable. I had seen men living with pistol
balls imbedded in the medulla oblongata. I had seen the hemispheres
and the cerebellum removed from the crania of birds and small animals,
and yet they did not die. I believed that, though the brain were to be
removed from a human skull, the subject would not die, although he
would certainly be divested of the intelligence which governed all
save the purely involuntary actions of his body.
“Once more: a profound study of history from the sociological point of
view, and a not inconsiderable practical experience of human nature,
had convinced me that the greatest geniuses that ever existed were on
a plane not so very far removed above the level of average intellect.
The grandest peaks in my native country, those which all the world
knows by name, tower only a few hundred feet above the countless
unnamed peaks that surround them. Napoleon Bonaparte towered only a
little over the ablest men around him. Yet that little was everything,
and he overran Europe. A man who surpassed Napoleon, as Napoleon
surpassed Murat, in the mental qualities which transmute thought into
fact, would have made himself master of the whole world.
“Now, to fuse these three propositions in to one: suppose that I take
a man, and, by removing the brain that enshrines all the errors and
failures of his ancestors away back to the origin of the race, remove
all sources of weakness in his future career. Suppose, that in place
of the fallible intellect which I have removed, I endow him with an
artificial intellect that operates with the certainty of universal
laws. Suppose that I launch this superior being, who reasons truly,
into the hurly burly of his inferiors, who reason falsely, and await
the inevitable result with the tranquillity of a philosopher.
“Monsieur, you have my secret. That is precisely what I have done. In
Moscow, where my friend Dr. Duchat had charge of the new institution of St. Vasili for hopeless idiots, I found a boy of eleven whom they
called Stépan Borovitch. Since he was born, he had not seen, heard,
spoken or thought. Nature had granted him, it was believed, a fraction
of the sense of smell, and perhaps a fraction of the sense of taste,
but of even this there was no positive ascertainment. Nature had
walled in his soul most effectually. Occasional inarticulate
murmurings, and an incessant knitting and kneading of the fingers were
his only manifestations of energy. On bright days they would place him
in a little rocking-chair, in some spot where the sun fell warm, and
he would rock to and fro for hours, working his slender fingers and
mumbling forth his satisfaction at the warmth in the plaintive and
unvarying refrain of idiocy. The boy was thus situated when I first
“I begged Stépan Borovitch of my good friend Dr. Duchat. If that
excellent man had not long since died he should have shared in my
triumph. I took Stépan to my home and plied the saw and the knife. I
could operate on that poor, worthless, useless, hopeless travesty of
humanity as fearlessly and as recklessly as upon a dog bought or
caught for vivisection. That was a little more than twenty years ago.
To-day Stépan Borovitch wields more power than any other man on the
face of the earth. In ten years he will be the autocrat of Europe, the
master of the world. He never errs; for the machine that reasons
beneath his silver skull never makes a mistake.”
Fisher pointed downward at the old custodian of the tower, who was
seen toiling up the hill.
“Dreamers,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “have speculated on the
possibility of finding among the ruins of the older civilizations some
brief inscription which shall change the foundations of human
knowledge. Wiser men deride the dream, and laugh at the idea of
scientific kabbala. The wiser men are fools. Suppose that Aristotle
had discovered on a cuneiform-covered tablet at Nineveh the few words,
‘Survival of the Fittest.’ Philosophy would have gained twenty-two
hundred years. I will give you, in almost as few words, a truth
equally pregnant. The ultimate evolution of the creature is into the
creator. Perhaps it will be twenty-two hundred years before the truth
finds general acceptance, yet it is not the less a truth. The Baron
Savitch is my creature, and I am his creator—creator of the ablest
man in Europe, the ablest man in the world.
“Here is our ladder, Monsieur. I have fulfilled my part of the
agreement. Remember yours.”
After a two months’ tour of Switzerland and the Italian lakes, the
Fishers found themselves at the Hotel Splendide in Paris, surrounded
by people from the States. It was a relief to Fisher, after his
somewhat bewildering experience at Baden, followed by a surfeit of
stupendous and ghostly snow peaks, to be once more among those who
discriminated between a straight flush and a crooked straight, and
whose bosoms thrilled responsive to his own at the sight of the
star-spangled banner. It was particularly agreeable for him to find at
the Hotel Splendide, in a party of Easterners who had come over to see
the Exposition, Miss Bella Ward, of Portland, a pretty and bright
girl, affianced to his best friend in New York.
With much less pleasure, Fisher learned that the Baron Savitch was in
Paris, fresh from the Berlin Congress, and that he was the lion of the
hour with the select few who read between the written lines of
politics and knew the dummies of diplomacy from the real players in
the tremendous game. Dr. Rapperschwyll was not with the Baron. He was
detained in Switzerland, at the deathbed of his aged mother.
This last piece of information was welcome to Fisher. The more he
reflected upon the interview on the Mercuriusberg, the more strongly
he felt it to be his intellectual duty to persuade himself that the
whole affair was an illusion, not a reality. He would have been glad,
even at the sacrifice of his confidence in his own astuteness, to
believe that the Swiss doctor had been amusing himself at the expense
of his credulity. But the remembrance of the scene in the Baron’s
bedroom at the Badischer Hof was too vivid to leave the slightest
ground for this theory. He was obliged to be content with the thought
that he should soon place the broad Atlantic between himself and a
creature so unnatural, so dangerous, so monstrously impossible as the
Hardly a week had passed before he was thrown again into the society
of that impossible person.
The ladies of the American party met the Russian Baron at a ball in
the New Continental Hotel. They were charmed with his handsome face,
his refinement of manner, his intelligence and wit. They met him again
at the American Minister’s, and, to Fisher’s unspeakable
consternation, the acquaintance thus established began to make rapid
progress in the direction of intimacy. Baron Savitch became a frequent
visitor at the Hotel Splendide.
Fisher does not like to dwell upon this period. For a month his peace
of mind was rent alternately by apprehension and disgust. He is
compelled to admit that the Baron’s demeanor toward himself was most
friendly, although no allusion was made on either side to the incident
at Baden. But the knowledge that no good could come to his friends
from this association with a being in whom the moral principle had no
doubt been supplanted by a system of cog-gear, kept him continually in
a state of distraction. He would gladly have explained to his American
friends the true character of the Russian, that he was not a man of
healthy mental organization, but merely a marvel of mechanical
ingenuity, constructed upon a principle subversive of all society as
at present constituted—in short, a monster whose very existence must
ever be revolting to right-minded persons with brains of honest gray
and white. But the solemn promise to Dr. Rapperschwyll sealed his
A trifling incident suddenly opened his eyes to the alarming character
of the situation, and filled his heart with a new horror.
One evening, a few days before the date designated for the departure
of the American party from Havre for home, Fisher happened to enter
the private parlor which was, by common consent, the headquarters of
his set. At first he thought that the room was unoccupied. Soon he
perceived, in the recess of a window, and partly obscured by the
drapery of the curtain, the forms of the Baron Savitch and Miss Ward
of Portland. They did not observe his entrance. Miss Ward’s hand was
in the Baron’s hand, and she was looking up into his handsome face
with an expression which Fisher could not misinterpret.
Fisher coughed, and going to another window, pretended to be
interested in affairs on the Boulevard. The couple emerged from the
recess. Miss Ward’s face was ruddy with confusion, and she immediately
withdrew. Not a sign of embarrassment was visible on the Baron’s
countenance. He greeted Fisher with perfect self-possession, and began
to talk of the great balloon in the Place du Carrousel.
Fisher pitied but could not blame the young lady. He believed her
still loyal at heart to her New York engagement. He knew that her
loyalty could not be shaken by the blandishments of any man on earth.
He recognized the fact that she was under the spell of a power more
than human. Yet what would be the outcome? He could not tell her all;
his promise bound him. It would be useless to appeal to the generosity
of the Baron; no human sentiments governed his exorable purposes. Must
the affair drift on while he stood tied and helpless? Must this
charming and innocent girl be sacrificed to the transient whim of an
automaton? Allowing that the Baron’s intentions were of the most
honorable character, was the situation any less horrible? Marry a
Machine! His own loyalty to his friend in New York, his regard for
Miss Ward, alike loudly called on him to act with promptness.
And, apart from all private interest, did he not owe a plain duty to
society, to the liberties of the world? Was Savitch to be permitted to
proceed in the career laid out for him by his creator, Dr.
Rapperschwyll? He (Fisher) was the only man in the world in a position
to thwart the ambitious programme. Was there ever greater need of a
Between doubts and fears, the last days of Fisher’s stay in Paris were
wretched beyond description. On the morning of the steamer day he had
almost made up his mind to act.
The train for Havre departed at noon, and at eleven o’clock the Baron
Savitch made his appearance at the Hotel Splendide to bid farewell to
his American friends. Fisher watched Miss Ward closely. There was a
constraint in her manner which fortified his resolution. The Baron
incidentally remarked that he should make it his duty and pleasure to
visit America within a very few months, and that he hoped then to
renew the acquaintances now interrupted. As Savitch spoke, Fisher
observed that his eyes met Miss Ward’s, while the slightest possible
blush colored her cheeks. Fisher knew that the case was desperate, and
demanded a desperate remedy.
He now joined the ladies of the party in urging the Baron to join them
in the hasty lunch that was to precede the drive to the station.
Savitch gladly accepted the cordial invitation. Wine he politely but
firmly declined, pleading the absolute prohibition of his physician.
Fisher left the room for an instant, and returned with the black
bottle which had figured in the Baden episode.
“The Baron,” he said, “has already expressed his approval of the
noblest of our American products, and he knows that this beverage has
good medical endorsement.” So saying, he poured the remaining contents
of the Kentucky bottle into a glass, and presented it to the Russian.
Savitch hesitated. His previous experience with the nectar was at the
same time a temptation and a warning, yet he did not wish to seem
discourteous. A chance remark from Miss Ward decided him.
“The Baron,” she said, with a smile, “will certainly not refuse to
wish us bon voyage in the American fashion.”
Savitch drained the glass and the conversation turned to other
matters. The carriages were already below. The parting compliments
were being made, when Savitch suddenly pressed his hands to his
forehead and clutched at the back of a chair. The ladies gathered
around him in alarm.
“It is nothing,” he said faintly; “a temporary dizziness.”
“There is no time to be lost,” said Fisher, pressing forward. “The
train leaves in twenty minutes. Get ready at once, and I will
meanwhile attend to our friend.”
Fisher hurriedly led the Baron to his own bedroom. Savitch fell back
upon the bed. The Baden symptoms repeated themselves. In two minutes
the Russian was unconscious.
Fisher looked at his watch. He had three minutes to spare. He turned
the key in the lock of the door and touched the knob of the electric
Then, gaining the mastery of his nerves by one supreme effort for
self-control, Fisher pulled the deceptive wig and the black skull-cap
from the Baron’s head. “Heaven forgive me if I am making a fearful
mistake!” he thought. “But I believe it to be best for ourselves and
for the world.” Rapidly, but with a steady hand, he unscrewed the
silver dome. The Mechanism lay exposed before his eyes. The Baron
groaned. Ruthlessly Fisher tore out the wondrous machine. He had no
time and no inclination to examine it. He caught up a newspaper and
hastily enfolded it. He thrust the bundle into his open
travelling-bag. Then he screwed the silver top firmly upon the Baron’s
head, and replaced the skull-cap and the wig.
All this was done before the servant answered the bell. “The Baron
Savitch is ill,” said Fisher to the attendant, when he came. “There is
no cause for alarm. Send at once to the Hotel de l’Athénée for his
valet, Auguste.” In twenty seconds Fisher was in a cab, whirling
toward the Station St. Lazare.
When the steamship Pereire was well out at sea, with Ushant five
hundred miles in her wake, and countless fathoms of water beneath her
keel, Fisher took a newspaper parcel from his travelling-bag. His
teeth were firm set and his lips rigid. He carried the heavy parcel to
the side of the ship and dropped it into the Atlantic. It made a
little eddy in the smooth water, and sank out of sight. Fisher fancied
that he heard a wild, despairing cry, and put his hands to his ears to
shut out the sound. A gull came circling over the steamer—the cry may
have been the gull’s.
Fisher felt a light touch upon his arm. He turned quickly around. Miss
Ward was standing at his side, close to the rail.
“Bless me, how white you are!” she said. “What in the world have you
“I have been preserving the liberties of two continents,” slowly
replied Fisher, “and perhaps saving your own peace of mind.”
“Indeed!” said she; “and how have you done that?”
“I have done it,” was Fisher’s grave answer, “by throwing overboard
the Baron Savitch.”
Miss Ward burst into a ringing laugh. “You are sometimes too droll,
Mr. Fisher,” she said.
YOUNG MOLL’S PEEVY.
By C. A. Stephens.
⁂ Scribner’s Monthly, April, 1875.
Villate’s “drive” of logs had jammed at the foot of Red Rapids in the
very throat of the main “pitch,” where the Aux Lièvres falls over the
ledges into the “glut-hole” fifty feet below. Named “glut-hole” by the
river-men; for lumber falling in here will sometimes circle a month,
unless poled out. The waters whirl and are drawn down with a peculiar
sinuous motion. Bodies going over are long engulfed, and sometimes
never reappear, for the basin is of great depth and there are caverns
under water beneath the shelving ledges, such as the drivers call
cachots d’enfer, and have invested with a superstitious character,
as the abode of evil spirits of the flood—a thing not greatly to be
wondered at; for a wilder locality could hardly be cited, its rugged
cliffs of red sandstone, hung with enormous lichens, like sides of
leather, and overhung from high above with shaggy black spruces.
There were seven and a-half million feet of lumber in Villate’s drive
that spring. Every stick of it went into the great jam above the
glut-hole. The rough fortunes of youth made me an eye-witness of the
scene. A wilder spectacle I never saw throughout the lumbering region
during a space of eight years. The gates of the dams at the foot of
all the lakes were up; the volume of water was immense. Rocks, which
in summer stand twenty feet out of the rapids, were now under water.
The torrent came pouring down the long incline, black and swift as an
arrow, and went over into the pool at one thunderous plunge, throwing
up a vast column of mist. Two ledges only, situated in the very throat
of the “pitch,” showed above water. These rocks the lumbering company
had designed to blast out the previous autumn, but had been prevented
by heavy rains. They then stood twenty-seven feet out of water. Now
their crests are barely exposed, and the flood washes over them in its
mighty rhythm-motion. In the rapids the whole stream is compressed to
a width of a little more than seventy yards.
A light jam had formed that morning at a place the drivers called a
tournant d’eau, about a mile above. This was broken by getting a
haul on it from the shore with a dog-warp. Thereby several thousand
logs were liberated at once, and went down together into the rapids.
The older drivers exclaimed that it would make mischief when it
started; but nothing could be done; it broke and went out with a rush.
We, who were ahead, ran on down the ledges to see it go through the
falls, and we had to run fast to keep up. The instant the logs entered
the rapids they left us behind. We could see them going down, however,
end over end, and hear them “boom” against the sunken rocks. Turtlotte
and a Welshman named Finfrock were ahead. I heard Turtlotte call out
in French that the logs were jamming, and saw the butt ends of great
sticks fly up, glittering, out of the water. The logs had struck and
hung on one of the centre rocks, and on the shelving ledges upon the
east side. The ends of three large sticks, three or four feet across,
stood out fifteen feet or more. We ran on, clambering from crag to
crag, till we came to a point looking down on the glut, sixty feet
beneath; and that was about near enough, for the ends of the logs flew
up almost on a level with our eyes, as they went over, and the spray
drenched our faces. The ledges under our feet trembled as if an
earthquake were shaking them, and not a word could be heard, even when
shouted in the ear. The combined noises were louder than thunder,
heavier, deeper. It was a warm forenoon, and the sun shone into the
rock dazzlingly bright, making a vivid rainbow. It was the hottest,
maddest chasm that can well be imagined; and to see that brilliant
rainbow hanging there so still and motionless amidst all that uproar,
gave one a queer sensation.
Old man Villate himself, with his red cap over his ears, came puffing
down, shouting at the top of his lungs. We could see his lips fly. The
hitch was betwixt the shelving ledges on the east side and one of the
mid-channel rocks. It was not one log that had caught, else the weight
of the water would have broken it out. It appeared that two large
sticks had come down with the ends lying across each other, and a
third log, perhaps several logs, overlying these. When the current
sucked them through the rapid, between the centre rock and the shore
ledges, the outward ends of the crossed logs struck on both sides.
Instantly the current and the momentum of the overlying logs thrust
the submerged ends of the cross among the rocks on the bottom of the
channel, and the momentarily increasing weight of logs held them
there—this at least was the theory at the time. When first we got
down there, however, there were more than a thousand logs in the glut;
and the ends stood up like a porcupine’s quills, at every conceivable
angle. The obstructing logs in the throat of the fall bore the
pressure rather lengthwise than across the fibre. These sticks were of
yellow spruce, fifty feet long, and fully three feet through. Such
logs, when green, will bear an enormous strain. From the way the
exposed ends sprang we knew they were buckling like steel rods, yet
they held pertinaciously.
The river above was covered with logs. Scores came shooting down every
minute, striking into the jam like arrows. The most of these stuck in
it. Some few went clean over it, or through it, for the first ten
minutes, into the hole below. Logs would glance from the slippery
black rocks and go a hundred feet clear of the water, such was the
strength of the rapid. I saw sticks of free pine—where they struck
the rocks one half on—go in halves from end to end like
split-beans—logs forty and fifty feet long; yet the owners never
cease to wonder how the lumber gets so badly “broomed up;” for the
ends of the logs resemble nothing so much as a paint-brush.
The warps were brought, and Villate called for volunteers to go down,
or rather be let down, the ledges and prize off the shore ends of the
jammed logs with “peevies.” There were plenty of bold fellows; but
every man hesitated. Murmurs of “certaine mort,” “sur mort,”
“porte du tombeau,” “porte d’enfer,” arose and were repeated.
“It’s a hard world, but I wants to tarry in it a spell longer, boss!”
said one grizzled old Yankee from the Maine rivers, with a sage shake
of his long head. We all knew that when the jam started it would go
through like an avalanche. Whoever was down there would have to go
with it—into the glut-hole.
In an hour the jam had grown enormously. For a hundred rods up the
rapid the channel was full of lumber, “churning” and battering itself.
The mass had swayed off to the west bank and was piling up against the
ledges on the opposite side. The mighty pressure of the torrent kept
rolling the logs, one over the other, till the top of the pile was in
places thirty or forty feet out of the water. The bottom logs were
wedged into the bed of the stream. The flood, thus dammed and held
back, rose higher and higher, rushing through and among the mass with
a strange hollow roar which changed the note of the fall. Where it
hung in the throat of the pitch, the mass kept rising and falling with
the peculiar rhythmic motion of the water. We expected each moment to
see it break out and go down; but the tough spruce logs held.
By noon, all the crew had come up. The jam filled the whole river for
a third of a mile back from the fall, so completely that during the
afternoon the west bank gangs crossed on it to the east side. We
lighted our fires on the ledges; and as the evening advanced it was a
picturesque sight—a hundred and fifty red-shirted drivers camping
there and sitting in messes about their coarse fare.
All the next day we worked with the warps. Nooses were dropped over
the upright ends of the logs at the foot of the jam, and the whole
gang was set to pull on them. Later in the day, a heavy capstan was
rigged. The hawsers broke like twine. It was impossible to start a
log, so tremendous was the weight of water and lumber combined.
Next day, the jam was mined with powder placed in water-tight
molasses-casks and connected with fire at the top of the ledges by
means of tarred fuses. The blasts blew out splinters freely, but
failed to break or dislodge the large sticks. Villate fumed and
sweated. Unless the drive went down to market, not a dollar would be
paid to one of us; so he declared. “If you want your pay, break the
jam,” was his constant exhortation, enforced by vigorous curses; and,
indeed, we had been hired on these terms; wages to be paid when the
drive reached Montreal—not before. This is a common rule, or used to
be; the men have thus a strong interest in the driving.
A plan was mooted among the messes that following night, to cut out
the front logs. The same scheme has been often put in execution. It
was argued that by stretching a warping-line across the rapids, from
cliff to cliff, directly over the foot of the jam, a man might be
lowered on it, with his axe, and cut away the logs. A large
“basket”—so it was talked—might be swung on the cable. By slackening
the line the axe-man could be lowered to the logs; and the instant the
sticks cracked under the strokes, he could leap to the “basket” and be
pulled out of harm’s way, and let the jam go through under him. The
idea gained favor. The following morning the end of one of the seven
hundred foot lines was taken across on the jam to the ledges on the
west bank. Fifty men went over with it, to handle it. With a hundred
men there was no difficulty in lowering and raising it at will. When
drawn taut, it hung sixty feet above the foot of the jam. One of the
Indian drivers, named Lahmunt, had been at work weaving a “basket” of
ash strip; and as soon as this novel carriage was finished and slung
on the cable, the project was ready for trial. While the project was
being talked over, several of the drivers had declared themselves
willing to undertake the feat; but now that the basket was slung, and
after seeing it drawn out over the abyss, they were less disposed to
proffer their services. It needed strong nerves and a stout heart to
gaze into that foaming gulf and not turn dizzy.
There was among us a youngster whom the old drivers called “Young
Moll’s Peevy.” Young Moll was a half-breed (French and Indian) girl,
or rather woman at this time, of thirty or thirty-three, and the
mother of this boy. Some of the drivers said that his rightful
patronymic was Skelly; but this was a rather obscure matter.
She lived at one of those little half-savage villages such as are only
to be found in the backwoods of Canada; and her name was a far too
commonly spoken one with the drivers, though not more so than many
another. Society in these parts had not taken high orders. Nature had
her own way pretty much; they deemed it little sin. Even the
omnipresent Romish priest has somehow failed to get much control over
the average river-driver, always too much a nomad to feel the
continued influence of local sanctuaries.
The young woman realized the prevailing ideal of beauty; not a very
refined one, perhaps; but the drivers deemed her fair.
“The Peevy,” as he was half-humorously christened, must have been
nearly or quite nineteen. The name was said to have come to him one
day in boyhood, when a “peevy” was dropped off a glut into ten or a
dozen feet of water. Several of the drivers were trying to hook it up,
but kept missing it. The boy, then eleven or twelve years old, had
come along unobserved. Presently, and without saying a word, he
dropped off the logs, brought up the peevy, and ran away, dripping.
The men laughed, and not knowing his name, called him “the peevy-boy.”
Afterward, when they had found out his mother, they named the urchin
“Young Moll’s Peevy.” This sobriquet clung to him even after he had
reached manhood and worked with the gang, particularly among the older
men who remembered the circumstance. But his mother called him Lotte.
A stranger would not easily have believed him the child of the fresh
young person who had cared for him; for he was unusually stalwart and
bronzed by exposure. Seen together, they rather resembled lad and
lass. I thought so, at least, when first I saw her, coming to fetch
him dry feeting and a clean shirt. She had walked twenty miles to
bring them, through the woods, following our trail. And the way she
kissed the young man, aside, was, or looked to be, rather lover-like
than maternal. Afterward, on several similar occasions, I was much
struck by the genre picture they made; the youth had the great black
eyes and black curling hair of his mother. The drivers used to chaff
the fellow unceasingly about Young Moll and the care she took of him,
all of which he bore silently, with a troubled, resentful eye; though,
otherwise, a great, noble-hearted boy, generous, and inclined to
jollity. Really, the rough fellows thought the more of the young woman
for this motherly affection and wealth of care for her boy. It was in
their uncultured faces, all the while their tongues belied them.
The “basket” was slung and ready. The gang on the other side were
gesticulating, with random tugs at the line. There was something
whimsical in the way the proposers of the project shrank the one
behind the other, with assumed bravado and covert glances at each
“I shall have to go myself!” Villate exclaimed, with his
characteristic French oath, “I will go myself, fat as I am!” when,
rather bashfully, as if afraid of giving offense, young Lotte said he
would go “if no better man wanted the job.” There were at first
muttered “non, nons” of dissuasion in the crowd, but nobody claimed
the “job,” and Villate was but too glad to get a man to go. In a
moment the young man had stripped to his shirt and red drawers, taken
his axe and stepped to the basket, but it was found to be insecurely
attached; and afterward several better modes of handling the line were
suggested, in all causing a delay of an hour or two.
And now, as if the birds of spring, just flitting past, had carried
the word, or some presentiment of evil had found its way to the
Peevy’s mother, she inopportunely made her appearance. Rad Cates
privately touched my elbow and nodded back, up the bank. I then saw
young Moll standing partly in the cover of a shrub fir, a hundred
yards off, intently watching the gang and the extended warp.
Several of the men saw her, but did not look or notice her after the
first glance. “Parbleu! a pity she’s here!” one said, and they closed
in about Lotte to prevent his seeing her. But the woman soon came
nearer, going partly around the crowd, keeping aloof. She had a new
plaid shawl, gayly colored, pinned closely about her neck, and her
long, black, Indian-like curls showed beneath a beaded scarlet hood.
There was an intently anxious look in her eyes; she appeared worn and
“The Peevy” was much too tall a man to be shut up in the crowd.
Presently he espied her, and his eye fell. After a time he casually,
as it were, made his way back to her. None of us heard what was said.
The most instinctively kept their eyes to themselves. The gang on the
other side was staring across the chasm. Villate ripped out an oath,
and I saw Lotte push the girl aside so roughly that she caught at a
shrub to save herself. He walked straight to the brink of the cliff.
“Je suis ici,” said he. I never saw him look so manly. We knew his eye
was quick and his hand sure. I had little doubt that he would cut the
front logs and come up safe. We did not know what the danger was till
afterward. He stood upright in the “basket,” with one hand on the
hawser, to steady himself, and his axe in the other.
At a signal the gang on the west side straightened the line. We paid
it out slowly. They drew him out from the brink of the ledge, till the
basket was directly over the centre rock. Then gradually we slackened
it, and let him down foot by foot, down under the rainbow, where the
hot, mad mist flew up in fierce gusts, bearing the strong odor of
crushed spruce fibre. He seemed to bear the deafening roar without
confusion, and glanced about him quite coolly, as it looked.
Our attention was given closely to his signals and to our task, yet I
saw Young Moll coming forward, step by step, as the “basket” went
deeper and deeper into the gorge, her eyes riveted on it. She was very
pale, and her hands were tightly clenched. The drivers cast ominous
glances at her.
“I don’t half like the looks of the jade!” I heard muttered, and I
think the sight of her filled every one with a sense of foreboding.
As soon as the basket was down to the logs we saw him step out upon
them, and thence to the rock. From moment to moment the mist hid him,
and transient jets of water, from betwixt the logs, squirted high over
his head. Guardedly he planted one boot, shod with the sharp corks,
upon one of the large front logs—the one he judged it best to cut
away first; the other foot rested on the rock. The “basket” he had
placed at his back. We were holding it steady from both banks, ready
to pull it up when signaled. Before and beneath him raged the
cataract. We saw him raise his axe and strike it into the log. The
bright steel flashed in the narrow chasm. At the fourth stroke the
great log cracked. He threw the axe and clutched the basket. A mighty
crash rang up. The jam had started—was moving—going down—madly
splintering—thundering into the glut-hole! The wet splinters all
along the rapids went up a hundred feet in air. On both sides the
gangs were running backward, hoisting the “basket.” It rose twenty
feet a second! A hundred and fifty strong men pulled with might and
main! As he rose he waved his hand to us.
Ah, God! we were too slow! It was all done in a trice. One great
stick, ending over like a fagot, barely missed the basket. Another
longer log, whirling up, struck the warp farther out, and hurled him
down with it! The cable was torn from our hands! Gone like a flash,
into the gulf below! From the one great rough human heart on either
bank a groan of pity blended with the roar. “Too d——n bad!” they
cried out, in all sincerity, and stood staring.
Then all eyes turned toward the poor fellow’s mother. She had thrown
up her hands when the timber swept him down, as if to shut out the
sight, then dropped them on a sudden, with a moan.
“Catch her!” someone shouted. Half-a-dozen standing nearest sprang
forward—for she was standing on the very verge of the rocks. Her eyes
had fallen on old man Villate. They were like the eyes of one in some
mortal agony. The blotched and bloated old rum-butt turned his face
aside and downward, and thrust out his hands as if to fight off flame.
For their lives the men durst not lay hold of her. She seemed to waver
in soul betwixt grief and fury.
A moment after, the men gave a loud shout! She was gone from where she
had stood, and the echo of a smothered shriek—tribute of a woman’s
heart to death—came to our ears. We sprang to look over. There was a
glimpse of the bright shawl whirled amid the foam.
“Did she fall?” some one cried out.
“Throwed herself down!” said those who saw it.
We never found trace of either of them. But the jam went out, to the
last log. Two hours later the gangs were following the drive down the
stream—on to Montreal! But the men had turned sullen. Scarce a laugh
or a cheery shout was heard for three days.
By Charles de Kay.
⁂ Atlantic Monthly, February, 1876.
One day the breeze was talking of grand and simple things in the pines
that look across the lower bay at Sandy Hook. The great water spaces
were a delicious blue, dotted with the white tops of crushed waves; to
the left, Coney Island lay mapped out in bleached surfaces, while
beyond and seaward, from the purple sleeve formed by the hills of the
Navesink, the Hook ran a brown finger eastward. A hawk which nests
among the steep inclines of Todt Hill shot out from a neighboring
ravine and hung motionless, but never quiet, in the middle distance.
Birds and beasts will make closer approach to a person clothed in
dun-colored garments; therefore it was not odd that the hawk should
not notice my presence on the pine needles near the crest of the
hill. After steering without visible rustle of a feather through the
lake of air before me, he stooped all at once, grasped a hedge-sparrow
that had been shaking the top of a bush far down the slope, and,
rising, bore it to the low branch of a pine not far from my
The sun had fallen in a Titanic tragedy of color beyond Prince’s Bay.
The fierce bird, leisurely occupied in tearing to pieces the little
twitterer, was a suitable accompaniment to the bloody drama in the
clouds. Watching keenly, I gradually began to picture to myself the
sensation of walking unseen to the murderous fowl and suddenly
clasping his smooth back with both hands. How startled he would be!
But in truth the thought was only a continuation of another that had
been floating through my mind while the hawk was wheeling.
Unconsciously I had been mumbling to myself from the Nibelungen,—
“About the tameless dwarf-kin I have heard it said,
They dwell in hollow mountains; for safety are arrayed
In what is termed a tarn-kap, of wondrous quality;
Who hath it on his body preserved is said to be
From cuttings and from thrustings; of him is none aware
When he therein is clothed. Both see can he, and hear
According as he wishes, yet no one him perceives.”
The magic cloak, the tarn-kap, I reasoned, with my eyes on the cruel
bird, was only a symbol after all, something physical to make real
that invisibility which we cannot readily conceive. But
suddenly—could my wish have been felt?—the hawk gave a hoarse croak
of fright, dropped his prey, and, springing heavily into the air, was
He had not looked at me, he had not seen or heard me, nor could I see,
far or near, the slightest cause for his terror. But—I heard!
Sh-sh-sh—I was aware of a light step in the needles under the tree he
had left. Straining my eyes to watch the ground, surely, surely, in a
line passing close to my couch, the needles and thin grass were
pressed down, as if by a weight applied at even distances! I had
remained motionless as a figure of stone, but when a tuft of hepatica,
blooming late where the shade was deepest, fell crushed near my hand,
I reached out. As luck would have it I was too conscious, too much
ashamed at my own folly to act decisively. I did not grasp, I reached
out—and touched a living thing.
On such occasions there comes at first the exuberance of joy; then
doubt. I had long debated the possibility of invisibles. As far back
as I can remember, elfin tales produced an awful wonderment upon my
imagination. On long May nights have I not often stolen from the house
to watch for elves? A moon after a rain was to my thinking the best
for such mysterious beings, when everything was hazy with an
imperceptible mist, when the dogwoods had flooded the landscape with
sheets of reflected white, and somebody was drawing one veil after
another slowly past a golden shield in the sky. On such nights, more
than once, a boy might have been seen creeping on tiptoe through the
open woods, over the great clearing, to the hill-top, where, if
anywhere, brownies must play. But none did he espy, nor did the
chance-flung cap ever fall upon his eager, outstretched hands. And if
in later years the subject still fascinated me, it made me feel what
the grown man realizes always more clearly, that fables and fairy
tales rest on a solid groundwork of fact. Why, when so many other
legends have been verified, should this universal tradition of
vanishers and invisibles prove entirely false?
It occurs to one very soon that animal life does exist of so
transparent a texture that to all intents and purposes it is
invisible. The spawn of frogs, the larvæ of certain fresh-water
insects, many marine animals, are of so clear a tissue that they are
seen with difficulty. In the tropics a particular inhabitant of smooth
seas is as invisible as a piece of glass, and can be detected only in
the love season by the color which then mingles in its eyes. On
reflection a thousand instances arise of assimilation of animal life
to their surroundings, of mimicry of nature with a view to safety.
Why, then, by survival of the most transparent, should not some
invisible life of a high grade hold a secure position on the earth?
Pondering thus, I had been startled not a little by coming now and
again on facts that seemed to bear this out. Strange tracks through
untrodden grass suggested footsteps of the unseen. Flattened spaces
of peculiar shape in the standing rye, where human beings could not
have intruded, looked marvellously like human visitation. Or I lay
concealed and watched the crows in a road-side field. What was it
caused them to look up suddenly and flap away on sooty-fringed wings?
No bird, beast, or man came. Then the rats, scampering about under a
dock like so many gaunt Virginia swine: all at once came a flurry of
whisking tails, and they were off! Yet I had not stirred, nor did
anything move on the dock above. Nevertheless all seemed to realize a
common danger, a noise of some kind,—perhaps a step? Again, you sit
like a block while a snake basks unconscious in the sun, and may watch
many hours without event; but sometimes it happens that he raises his
head, quivers for an instant his double tongue, and slides off the
stump into a bush. At such times put your ear to the earth. Do you not
distinguish—or is it all imagination—a sound, a brushing?
It availed me little, then, that I should have considered the subject,
or have even gone the length of debating how a man might attain
invisibility. Now that I had a tangible proof of the existence of such
beings, I was crushed by misgivings. Like many a man before the
supposed impossible, I questioned my own sanity. As to the impression,
however, the object I had touched or fancied I had touched was at once
hard and soft, smooth and rough; I recalled it as each of these in
turn, for it was moving, and at the moment of contact bounded away as
if at the shock of a galvanic current. To my excited mind the dusky
woods were becoming oppressive, and so, like the hawk, but slowly and
pondering, I betook myself home.
Who that has walked or run through autumn woods at night has not
sometimes looked curiously over his shoulder at the sound of following
steps? It always proves to be dry leaves whirled after you in your
rapid course; but this evening my gait was slow, and the leaves of
last year were hard to find; nor could I account, except on the ground
of nervous illusion, for the pattering that followed in my rear. Yet
there it was, albeit so gentle that had I not stretched every sense to
the utmost I am confident no sound would have penetrated to my
consciousness. And it was evident that I was thoroughly imposed upon
by it, for when the small, irregular pond was reached, which, with a
cypress-scattered hillock, occupies the highest point of the main hill
to the westward, I halted a moment and considered. How, thought I,
will this unseen attendant cross a piece of water? Throwing off my
shoes I waded over a shallow arm of the pond, and sat down to watch.
Presently in the twilight two wedges of ruffled water were discerned
advancing swiftly across the surface,—just such tracks as serpents
make in swimming,—a light touch was heard on the bank, and all was
still. But then a sudden disgust, unreasoning and childish, mastered
me completely; a wave of doubt greater than before filled me with
disdain of my own imbecility, and I hastened through the orchard to my
home, and flung myself into an arm-chair near the window.
The place I had selected long ago as a quiet refuge was a low veranda
farm-house, hidden away from north winds under the crest of a hill,
and crept over by many rods of honey-suckle. Events had so affected me
that I considered nothing left in life but an alternation of hard work
and of utter retreat from humanity, and had disposed me favorably
toward the ancient apple orchard, and the meagre vegetable and flower
garden, which alone remained of a former farm. The barns, the plowed
lands, and the fences had disappeared. Only a heavy stone wall with
flagged top, which protected the garden from the road, reminded one of
a former powerful owner. From the veranda no house was visible; the
eye had to travel many miles across the flat lower country to the bay
before the distant ships recalled a busy world.
Here, beside myself, lived no one save Rachel, a woman whose Indian
origin made it impossible to guess her age. Although she claimed for
herself the purest descent from an Indian tribe of a headland a
hundred miles to the eastward, and although her features were not
without strong marks of her claim, yet in strict truth she was so much
mixed with African blood that with most persons she would pass for a
negress. Rachel had a talent for cooking breakfasts and suppers from
little apparent supply; she was taciturn to speechlessness, hence our
intercourse was never marred by discord; and while her box was kept
supplied with strong tobacco, a slender meal of some kind was never
wanting; and it was served in silence.
For two years Rachel and I had lived in this silent, limited
partnership. My home was cool and soundless as the grave, a place in
which the mind could stretch its shriveled wings, where everything
could be done mechanically and without fear of a sudden jar into
disagreeable reality. When of an afternoon I stepped from the hurrying
world into the first quiet woods on the way to my home, a great door
swung to behind me and another life began, in which Rachel’s figure
and swarthy, heavy-featured face had long ceased to interfere with my
This night, however, before the meal was served, the kitchen door
opened and my housekeeper’s inscrutable dull eyes rolled around the
walls of the room; then it closed. What had happened? Why on this
night had Rachel noticed my arrival? At supper I broke our unspoken
compact and addressed her.
“Rachel, what made you look in just now? Has anything happened?”
The woman made no reply, yet there was evidence in her manner that she
was groping for an answer. Presently to a second demand she made a
reply that startled me:—
“Heard two of you.”
So, another ear had detected the steps as well as my own! Then the
being, whatever it was, must be in the room, possibly at my elbow; or,
seated perchance on that chair before me, was regarding me
steadfastly! Except for the excitement bred of a new sensation, it was
not a pleasant thought; nevertheless, I pulled a second chair to the
table and filled a second plate with food; then, with my eyes fixed on
the plate, continued the meal. It was all in vain. Nothing further was
seen or heard.
This was my first definite encounter with that unseen which I would
have called a spirit had I been a spiritualist. But I could not force
myself to the gross materialism of calling this invisible existence a
spirit, for tangibility was a quality I could not associate with pure
spirit, and I had touched it.
Having once followed me, it seemed thenceforth to take up quarters in
my house, at least for the evening and morning hours of the day, and
strange as it was, I soon learned to regard the presence of a third
person as an established fact; indeed, I came to believe that in some
instances a faint breathing might be detected. Nevertheless I would
not leave anything to the possibilities of imagination, but was always
experimenting, with a view to prove still more clearly that there was
no illusion possible. To this end a brass and steel rod, fitted
between the floor and a projection from the wall, was connected with
an indicator which moved in a large arc when the slightest touch shook
the floor. By this means my ears were reinforced by sight.
I also began systematically to conceal from the unknown guest the
fact that I suspected its presence; but at last the point was reached
where, to protect my own reason, it must be settled whether it was all
a series of illusions or a sober truth.
For by dint of thought a scheme had been perfected, and on a Sunday
morning, when as usual Rachel had disappeared, no man has ever known
whither; when, according to its custom, the strange visitant had also,
to all appearance, withdrawn,—on a Sunday morning I hastened to put
my plan in action. On the main floor in the rear of the house was a
chamber, into which the sounds had sometimes intruded, which was
small, bare, and lighted by one deep window looking directly out on
the orchard. This window I had grated strongly with heavy wire on the
outside, where the orchard hill rose steeply from the house; and over
against the window, in the wall between chamber and dining-room, was a
high closet, in which I had stored a strong net, such as fishermen use
for their seines. Fastening stout wires to the ceiling from one end of
the room to the other, to be used for slides, and rigging several
small blocks above the window and near the floor, I stretched the
necessary ropes from closet to blocks and back again, laid everything
ready for instant use, cleared the room of furniture, and awaited
There was no fear of interruption from Rachel, for during the years we
had lived together I had never seen her on a Sabbath. Every Monday she
was at her post, although laboring under some excitement, which
showed itself in mutterings and a certain wild gesture that I had
learned to attach no importance to. There was no fear that I should
not have the invisible to myself.
Evening came to close a sultry day with growls of distant thunder and
sudden flares of light behind Navesink Hills; the bushes drooped
languidly; only the tree-toads were clamorous, and their jubilee was a
mournful one on every side. I was sitting by the west window with my
head on my breast, and, now that the crisis had come, almost apathetic
to the presence itself, when its approach took place. It seemed to
stop near my chair, as if it regarded me closely. I had been before in
singular predicaments, but it seemed to me this was the most trying. I
felt that I must look very pale, but with an affectation of
indifference I arose, walked across the room and entered the
bed-chamber. In a moment I understood that the unseen had likewise
passed the sill and had entered the room; then I slammed the door,
locked it, and put the key in my pocket.
Everything had been made ready to cope with a material and not a
supernatural being; still it was purely a venture, and at no previous
time had there seemed so little hope of success. Nevertheless not a
moment was lost in hauling out the net and placing it in position
across the room so that it hung straight, filling the space between
wall and wall, and ceiling and floor. Then I began to draw it down the
room by means of the ropes, and on the axis of the chamber, so that
its edges passed smoothly along ceiling, walls, and floor. The
anxious moment was at hand.
All the running gear had to be worked evenly; at the same time every
nerve was strained in order to detect the slightest bulge in the
upright net, should it come in contact with a tangible body.
Until three quarters of the room had been sifted nothing occurred.
Then I saw the edge against the left-hand wall carefully drawn aside;
to spring forward and close the opening was the instinctive work of a
second. Terror combining with a fierce delight lent me an
extraordinary force; I drew with convulsive power on the ropes. Every
moment an invisible hand seemed to lift the net at some point, but
each attempt was luckily frustrated. At last the movements ceased, and
I drew the net flat against the farther wall. With feverish haste my
hand travelled over its entire surface; the net was scanned in profile
for the impression of a body, but there was none. The game had either
escaped or withdrawn into the deep window-seat.
Now came a moment for breath, and for reflection. Again the cynical
cloud of doubt folded me in. Dupe of my own morbid imagination, I
should stand convicted of monomania in the eyes of any reasonable
being who should see my actions. Then it was best, was it not? to tear
the net away; or should I deliberately pursue to the utmost a plan
begun? Never before had I so clearly felt a dual existence urging to
opposite courses of action, as if the body’s instinct commanded an
advance, while the mind, assailing the whole proceeding with
ridicule, was for giving up the game. But for all that it was a good
sign that I began to feel a slight awe at the near possibility of a
discovery. For I retreated to the door, unlocked it, and stood
irresolute; then returned again to the window, without strength to
come to a decision.
But while I pondered, a low, chuckling noise startled me, and Rachel
stood by my side, erect and with features full of energy, her dull
eyes blazing, and her short straight hair tossed about; in her hand
she brandished with exultation a carved rod hung with bright claws and
shells, with lappets of fur and hair; and at her and it I gazed with
speechless amazement. Had she too gone mad? She took a few steps, as
if in a rude dance, and shook the stick, and while her eyes glared
into mine she nodded her head to the time.
“Bad spirit!” she muttered. “I have known, I have heard. But this is
As she shook the talisman, which clinked and rattled like the toy of a
devil, I snatched the medicine stick from her hand and motioned her to
the door. Thither she retreated, muttering words of an unknown tongue,
and when it closed upon her I flung the stick angrily on the floor.
But hope had come, and decision as well, although from a despised
quarter; I was resolved to finish the undertaking at all hazards.
The wild flames of the distant storm still lighted everything at
intervals with an intensity now greater and now less. When the sheet
lightning flashed strong, the square cage formed by the wire outside
the window-seat and the fish-net within stood out clear against the
northern sky. With dilated pupils I began to examine the inclosed cube
of air. During one particularly long and vivid flash,—there, in that
corner, was there not a heap, a translucent shape, indistinguishable
in quality or form? It was enough. Swiftly as wild beasts when they
spring, I raised the net, leaped into the window, and grasped toward
the corner where I thought I saw the mass.
A thrill runs through the nerves of an entomologist when he puts his
hand on a specimen unknown, undescribed. The hunter trembles when he
espies in the thicket the royal hart whose existence has been called a
fable. My emotion was all of this, intensified; nearer, perhaps, to
the feeling of the elected mortal who has discovered a new continent.
For I had discovered a new world.
Had I not cause for exultation? I sat on the window-seat in the
alternate light and darkness, with one hand clenched, the other arm
curved in the air; my left held fast a slender wrist, while my right
was cast about a pair of delicate shoulders; the invisible but
tangible figure was crouched away into the smallest space in the
corner of the window.
With awe I now realized that my capture was a woman. The delicate
moulding of the shoulders and hand was proof enough, but I also felt
on my arm a light flood of the silkiest hair. This was a shock to one
who had lived apart from women for several years, and had good cause
to expect nothing but disaster from their influence. For a moment the
impulse was strong to release the captive; luckily reason prevailed,
and I tightened my grip on the frail prize, whose frame was shaken
with sobs and whose bearing denoted the most abject despair. I gave
many timid reassurances by word and hand before the sobs came slower
and fear began to loose its hold. As she raised her head I took
occasion to pass my right hand lightly over her face. Rendered
sensitive by strong excitement, my palm read her features as the blind
read the raised print of their books, and of this at least I was sure:
the features were human, straight, the eyes large; a full chin and a
mouth of unspeakable fineness were divined rather than felt by my
flying touch; but I found no trace of tears.
After this I do not know how long we sat. It seemed peaceful and
homelike, so that I wondered how it was possible so quickly to forget
wonder. A protective warmth toward the creature whose soft breathing
came and went slower and slower near my face took a quiet hold on all
my senses. At last the gentle head drooped like a tired child’s, the
delicate shoulders heaved in a long, peaceful sigh, and to my
amazement the strange captive fell asleep in my arms.
So while she slept I sat motionless and thinking, thinking. Who was
she? whence and of what order of beings? What was her language; how
and how long did she live. Was she really alive in our sense of the
word, that is, human with the exception of her transparency? and was
her shape like that of ordinary mortals, or did she end in some
monstrosity like a mermaid? Such were the questions agitating me when
interruption came with a knock at the door. My captive awoke and
instinctively started away, at the same time giving a low, articulate
cry; but I held her firmly, and called to Rachel to bring me a certain
relic of slavery which had been brought from the South. I had profited
by the discovery my prisoner’s awakening furnished: the invisible, I
argued, could articulate, then why should she not understand and speak
the language of the people among whom she was found? Accordingly a few
rapid questions were put to her, which were unanswered. Then I
bethought me of a proof that at any rate she understood my words.
“My dear child, it is mere perverseness in you to refuse an answer. I
am sure you understand. You are in my power for good or evil, and if
you refuse to speak I must consider you worthy of the following
treatment: you shall be made an example to the crowd of the reality of
Under cruel treatment of this kind, conjecture became certainty; I
felt her shudder at the idea, and she laid her hand appealingly on
mine. This was all I wanted; speech was now a mere affair of time.
Rachel entered with the rusty handcuffs and handed them to me as if
she were conscious and acquiescent in what I did. Not a feature moved,
only her eyes shone with inner excitement, in a way I had seen before,
while I clasped one link about the unseen wrist.
“Pardon,” I whispered, “I do not know you yet. I cannot trust you.”
My daily work ceased. To the few inquiries from the great city Rachel
had evasive answers ready; they were soon over, and I was left to
experience the fascination of a beautiful woman whom I had never seen
nor could hope ever to see. To be sure, in certain lights and under
certain angles of reflection an indistinct outline of a not large,
slender girl, which told of pure contours, could be made out, but this
was like following the glassy bells that pulsate far down in the waves
of northern seas, or the endeavor to catch the real surface of a
mirror. Moreover, the slim captive herself resented any attempt to
gain acquaintance with her through the eyes. But by degrees the
reserve which had taken the place of her terror melted away before
gentle and respectful management, and from her own lips I learned much
concerning her marvelous race, before the love which presently
overwhelmed us put an end to the cooler interests of reason. Thus she
astonished me by speaking of her race as widely spread through almost
every inhabited land. They never work or educate their children; their
food, which is chiefly in liquid form, is taken from the stores laid
up by human beings, and such education as they get is picked up by
continual contact with mortals. While their passions would seem to be
calm, their only laws relate to the observance of secrecy as to their
presence on the earth. To secure this end they meet at stated periods
and renew their solemn vows, keep a watch upon each other, and
disperse again to a settled or wandering life, but one always
dependent on the labors of other beings. This alone would explain the
paramount importance attaching to secrecy. And as it is impossible to
keep always all hint of their existence from human beings, the
penalties for disclosure in the latest days have increased to far
greater severity than was used in simpler ages; Manmat’ha could not be
brought to tell me the fate which awaited her should it be discovered
that she had revealed the great secret of her nation, and the very
quiet with which she gave me to understand how vast was the danger
impressed me more than the most violent words.
It must have been the pain that the thought of any harm befalling her
produced in me, which opened my eyes to the strength of my passion.
The time for questions had passed, and the days were long only that we
might love. One day glided after another unheeded, while we strolled
about the neighboring woody hills to catch a broad glimpse of the sea
from this point, or to examine in that swampy valley the minute
wonders of life in plants and insects. At an early stage of our
intimacy I had begged to free her wrist from the handcuffs, but she
had implored me to continue at least the appearance of slavery, to
serve, in case of need, as a partial excuse for violation of her vows.
This did not prevent her daily disappearance during the middle hours
when the sun was strongest; but these absences only served to give a
time for reflection on her beauties and to involve me deeper in the
love which now mastered all my thoughts. There was one subject which
was long in broaching, but when the necessary courage was summoned,
found in Manmat’ha neither objection nor response. She did not
comprehend its force. The subject was our marriage.
I had resolved on legal marriage, even if it were necessary to be
content with only one witness to the ceremony; that witness could be
no one except Rachel. My housekeeper had regarded my preparations and
subsequent conduct with a consistent interest and without the least
shadow of surprise, and once I remarked that she had caught sight in
the twilight of a cup raised without hands; yet no hint fell from her
lips to make me feel she was intruding on my affairs. The old blur was
in her eyes; the only change in manner was her treatment of me: she
regarded me with a kind of awe. And after it had proved abortive to
tell her something and not all, because the pleasure of unbosoming myself of so much love was too great to restrain, I found Rachel not
only full of faith, but even surpassing me. She looked upon Manmat’ha
as a supernatural being, and plainly invested me with reflected
holiness. Some sort of worship she thought due to Manmat’ha, whilst I,
as high priest and mortal consort, was entitled to a share; and indeed
it was with some difficulty that I persuaded her not to show her faith
by uncouth rites. It was as if her life had been a preparation for
some such affair as this, and found her enthusiastic, but not
Our favorite resort was the couch of pine needles looking south from
the hillside where we first met. The same hawk, to me the most blessed
of birds, would often sail as before in the middle distance, or
night-hawks would cut their strange curves in the evening sky. Far out
beyond, sea-gulls, mere specks of white, would wheel and plunge into
the bay, and at our backs the woodcock, shy enough in any other
presence, would whir fantastically through the woods. All nature was
the same, but I was no longer its solitary admirer, for I held in my
arms a gentle framework of delight such as no other man before or
since has known. She was finer than the finest silk, smoother than the
smoothest glass, as if the rays of light, falling on the amazing
texture of her skin, found no inequalities from which to reflect.
One evening we had been drawing in long breaths of that delight of
which the woods and the great bowl of landscape before us were so
full, and I had been trying to convince Manmat’ha of the importance
of the marriage ceremony. “What,” I asked with some trouble in my
heart, “what will they do to you in case members of your nation
discover your position? I do not mean to ask you what you would not
tell me before, but what would be their first step?”
“They would imprison me somewhere under a guard,” said Manmat’ha. “It
would be many months before a tribunal could be collected together,
and still longer before I should be judged. What my fate would be
then, it is not well to say.”
Had I desired, there is little doubt that I could have compelled
Manmat’ha to tell me all she knew, for I had found that my will was
much the stronger. But what was curiosity compared with the delight of
warming her into responsive love? When I now covered her delicious
lips with kisses, she returned the pressure, instead of merely
suffering me, as at first, with a mild surprise.
“My first love and my last!” I whispered. “They shall not get you from
me while I am alive, if they will only give us warning; but if they
rob me of you, I shall follow your trace and rescue you, if it be to
the bottom of the sea!”
Manmat’ha laughed a pleased laugh. We both started at an echo, a
moment after, which seemed to come from the lower hill, below where we
sat. There was no echo possible in that direction.
“Manmat’ha!” I whispered, “tell me quickly! Is some one coming?”
She sat apparently unable to speak, but trembling and cold to the
touch. I had enough presence of mind to take her up and place her on
the other side of the pine, on the ground, and throw my coat
carelessly over her. As once before I heard passing steps, but now my
more practiced ear caught them distinctly. They came lightly up the
steep hill and stopped a moment at a little distance from the tree.
With eyes fixed on the ocean I waited in an agony of suspense,
assuming the most unconscious air of which I was capable. The steps
hesitated only a moment; then they passed lower and lower into the
upper wood. For half an hour neither of us moved; at last, taking
heart, we stole home.
The event set me thinking. If at any moment we were liable to be
discovered and separated, the marriage must take place at once. A
consumptive hastens his wedding, a wounded tree is quick to bear, and
the fright we had experienced taught me how slight was the thread on
which my happiness hung; but Manmat’ha was calm with a maidenly
content with little, which in my hasty resentment at even a suspicion
of opposition to my plan, I was ready to call indifference.
When we entered I could tell by the unfailing sign of Rachel’s eye
that she was agitated. Later in the evening I heard her chanting in a
discordant undertone an ancient formula of her savage ancestors, and
therefore it was with some misgivings that I called and informed her
that to-night she was to be the sole witness, by touch, if not by
sight, of the lawful ceremony of wedlock between Manmat’ha and me.
She listened in an awestruck silence, and left the room abruptly. As
no calling was of any avail, we were compelled to wait her pleasure,
which I did with great impatience; and when at last she did return, it
was in a shape grotesque almost beyond recognition. Her face and arms
were painted white and red in broad bands of coarse pigments; an old
embroidered robe fastened over one shoulder, with a close-fitting
skirt of buckskin, formed her whole attire. She had put feathers in
her hair, and with flaming eyes shook her favorite talisman, the
medicine-stick. At one bound she had returned to her ancient state of
Finding Manmat’ha regarding her with interest, I did not oppose the
further proceedings. It struck me that it was not displeasing to my
invisible love to receive divine honors even in this wild rite, so I
held my peace. She seemed to receive them as her due.
The moon had risen, and gave light to the room through window and open
door; flooded by its rays, Rachel moved slowly across the room,
uttering in guttural tones a broken chant whose meaning I might have
once interpreted, but could not now. On a different occasion I might
not have been an entirely unsympathetic observer of the singular
sight, but here passion had overcome curiosity. I was an impatient
lover. With my arm about Manmat’ha, and filled with earnest emotions,
I could not help a feeling of disgust at the monotonous discord and
frantic gestures of the last of a superstitious race.
“This must end, Manmat’ha,” I groaned. “I can wait no longer.”
As I spoke, the Indian woman grew ungovernable in wild excitement.
“They are on you! They are here!” she screamed.
I felt Manmat’ha stiffen in my arms with deadly terror. Resistless
hands dragged us apart and held me absolutely motionless in spite of
the deadly agony which filled me, while Manmat’ha’s stifled shriek
arose from midway across the room.
“Rachel!” I cried. “For God’s sake, Rachel, bar the door!”
My cry roused the woman from a stupor; she sprang to the door. I heard
the noise of many light feet, the sound of a blow, a heavy fall; then
a deep silence came.
Bounding from the spot to which unseen hands up to that moment had
pressed me, I sprang from the room and followed into the night. The
earth reeled past me in my swift flight, until I suddenly stopped
myself to ask where I was going. Where indeed? As well follow the
wind. Wild as was the hope that moved me to return, I hurried back
again to the house. Rachel alone, clad in her poor Indian finery, the
medicine-stick broken by her side, lay stretched out dead in the
A DARING FICTION.
By H. H. Boyesen.
⁂ N. Y. Commercial Advertiser, November, 1884.
Leipsic is a grim old town with no sentimental associations. Schiller,
to be sure, once lived there, but he had a bad time of it, in spite of
the slippers and things with which Dora and Minna Stock tried to
mollify his existence. The smoke which hangs over the Leipsic
chimney-tops is dense, prosaic smoke, which refuses to fashion itself
into fairy forms or airy castles in obedience to romantic fancy. Mr.
Leonard Grover actually swore (in Latin, of course, for he was too
well-mannered to swear in English), that it was the most irritating
and pestiferous smoke he had ever encountered since he left his native
town of Pittsburg, where a man, by the way, has a fine chance of
studying the effects of smoke both upon linen and temperament. Mr.
Grover was, however, cheerful by nature and refused to be permanently
depressed. He was in Leipsic for a practical purpose, and could not
afford to indulge in sentimental moods. And yet, in spite of his
determination to stick to his science and his laboratory practice, he
had unaccountable fits of loneliness, when from sheer despair he went
to call upon Professor Bornholm, to whom he had had a letter of
introduction and whose family had received him with much cordiality.
He would have liked to call upon somebody else occasionally, but the
fact was, during the six months he had been at the University he had
made no acquaintance outside of his student circle, except the
Bornholms. They seemed to like him so much that they refused to share
him with anybody else; they even refrained from introducing him to the
friends who might happen to call during his visits. Minchen, who was
the artistic daughter and made wax-flowers, usually found some way of
disposing of him when inconvenient callers of the gentler sex made
their appearance. She usually brought a fictitious message from the
Professor, who, having entrapped the young man into his study,
proceeded to bore him to death with oxalates and chlorides and
Röschen, the poetic daughter, whose slippers were a little down at the
heel, displaying to advantage the holes in her stockings, was wont to
employ her mother as an accomplice and, on some pretext or other,
lured the American into her garden, where there was the most
delightful privacy for sentimental confidences. Gretchen, the youngest
daughter, who was obliged to devote herself to domesticity, on account
of the inconvenient talents of her sisters, was even at less pains to
disguise her designs upon him, but told him frankly that Minchen and
Röschen were—well, not at all as nice as they might be.
In one of these bursts of frankness Gretchen also confided to him that
Röschen had written to a lady friend in America—a former pupil at the
Conservatory who had boarded in the family—and had received from her
a complete biography of his humble self, besides a computation of his
income and economic prospects. It then required very little ingenuity,
on his part, to conjecture why the sisters, in spite of their somewhat
ostentatious amiability, frequently appeared to have been at
loggerheads just as he entered. He had often heard the word Phœnix
pass mysteriously between them, and much as his modesty rebelled, he
was forced to the conclusion that he was, himself, the brilliant bird
Phœnix, for the possession of which these fair enchantresses were
privately contending. He had never before had the audacity to regard
himself as a brilliant parti, and he had even had a grudge of long
standing against Fate for having equipped him so poorly. Measured by
the German standard, however, his modest patrimony suggested princely
opulence; and its possessor became conscious of a certain agreeable
expansion, peculiar to capitalists. Smile as he might at the smallness
of the social conditions which allowed him to play the rôle of a
Crœsus in the fancy of love-sick maids, he could not deny that he
found it a pleasant thing to be the object of such tender rivalry. It
seemed to add a cubit to his height and two to his self-esteem. He
revelled in the sense of his desirability and watched with amusement
the innocent manœuvres by which his fair entertainers checkmated
each other, and in their zeal occasionally forgot that he, too, was a
rational being, endowed with the faculty of criticism. There was
another, however, who made this reflection for them; and that was
their mamma—the Frau Professorin. She was becoming alarmed at the
discord which prevailed in the family; for, being behind the scenes,
as it were, she knew a good deal which Grover could not know, and
which perhaps it would not have been well for him to know. Thus she
found one day in Minchen’s room a drawing in which the American, in
the character of Paris, was holding above his head an apple, with the
inscription “$5,000 a year;” while three lovely goddesses in scanty
attire were stretching out their hands and jumping frantically to
reach it. The likenesses were unmistakable and the situation
sufficiently pointed to need no commentary. The Frau Professorin was
much impressed by it, and her interest, it is needless to say, was
enlisted in behalf of the goddesses. She resented the reserved
attitude of the shepherd, and was yet anxious to assist him in
arriving at a decision. Minchen, now, with her charming talent for
making counterfeit cucumbers in wax and sections of hard-boiled eggs,
would be just the wife for a practical man like him. She would invest
his home with an artistic flavor which he himself would be capable of
appreciating, though powerless to supply. And yet Röschen, with her
beautiful verses, her nonchalant toilets and her poetic sympathy for
improprieties which, in practice, she was careful to shun, might be
even more fitted than her sister to lift and ennoble a sordid American
soul. It only remained to be considered whether Gretchen, who could
grow enthusiastic over the decline of one cent in the price of butter,
might not, after all, be a more kindred nature, and therefore suit him
best of all.
The Frau Professorin was deeply engaged in these meditations when the
maid handed her a small card, upon which was engraved the name,
Leonard Grover. To conceal her agitation she threw a glance into the
mirror and gave a few decorative touches to her person, before
admitting the visitor. Then she put on her company smile and seated
herself in a defensive attitude in the large, leather-covered
easy-chair. She gave her hand graciously, without rising, to Grover as
“I hope your buffalo herds are prospering,” she said, after the
exchange of a few preliminary civilities.
“My buffalo herds!” exclaimed the young man, laughing. Then, as it
suddenly struck him that it might be a joke, he continued with zest:
“Oh, yes, indeed, thank you; they are doing famously. They made quite
a sensation as they were driven through the streets of New York, the
other day, on their way from Chicago to the Kansas plains.”
“Indeed,” replied Mrs. Bornholm effusively; “allow me to congratulate
“Thank you,” he stammered helplessly.
She had been serious after all.
A minute or two elapsed, during which he did not muster courage to
make any further remarks.
“Are the young ladies at home?” he finally essayed, just as the pause
was threatening to become awkward.
“The young ladies,” repeated the Frau Professorin, beaming with
maternal benevolence; “permit me to ask to which of them do you refer
“To all three of them,” replied the American cheerfully.
“That is very kind of you,” she retorted, without, however, the
faintest tinge of sarcasm. “I know, even though it is their own mother
who says it, that my daughters all deserve the admiration which you so
impartially bestow upon them. But the fact is, Mr. Grover—why should
I not be perfectly frank and open with you?—the fact is—no man can
marry three girls,” she finished rather lamely. She evidently lacked
courage to make the revelation which she at first contemplated.
“I am well aware of that, Frau Professorin,” was Grover’s somewhat
aimless response; “and I assure you,” he went on heartily, “that I
wouldn’t think of such a thing; no, not for all the world.”
He had an uncomfortable sensation about his ears, after having made
this laudable announcement, and he began to cast about for a pretext
for taking his leave. His hostess was, however, not disposed to let
him escape so easily.
“The Professor and I,” she remarked, blandly, “have observed with much
satisfaction your devotion to our daughters. We know you to be a man
of character, and we know that it would be far from your intentions to
trifle with the feelings of the dear, innocent and unsophisticated
creatures. But our German custom, as you may not be aware, is to
confine one’s courtship to one, and not to scatter one’s devotion
among too many. In other countries that may be different, but as you
have come here to learn German manners, I thought I would call your
attention to this, and ask you to tell me, in strict confidence, of
course, to which one of my daughters you are paying your addresses.”
If the ceiling had tumbled down over his head, Grover could not have
been more astonished. It was a fact, he had been almost a daily
visitor in the Professor’s house; he had very likely, in unguarded
moments, in order to practice his imperfect German, made complimentary
speeches to the three young ladies, individually and collectively;
and in all probability he had, from a German point of view, given the
Frau Professorin the right to talk to him as she did. And yet, to
submit readily to the consequences of his rash conduct did not for a
moment occur to him. His instinct bade him rather resort to a
stratagem, which, as he concluded, the dire necessity would justify.
“Frau Professorin,” he began solemnly, “I need scarcely assure you
that I feel greatly honored by what you have told me. But the fact is,
I am not free. I am engaged.”
“Engaged!” cried the Frau Professorin, starting forward in her chair.
“Why, then, did you not tell me that?”
“It is a secret engagement.”
“A secret engagement! And do your parents know of it?”
“They do not.”
“And the lady’s name?”
Grover had no genius for mendacity and he was already beginning to
repent of his daring fiction. But Mrs. Bornholm, suddenly possessed
with some luminous idea, proceeded mercilessly in her
cross-examination, feeling that her position, as the wronged party,
gave her a right to trample upon conventionalities.
“Is this Miss Jones musical?” she queried eagerly.
“Yes,” he replied vaguely; “that is, I believe so.”
“You will excuse me,” she went on; “but I am naturally much interested
in this unknown person, because of my interest in you. Would you mind
telling me if she is dark or a blonde?”
“She is dark.”
“One thing more; have you written to her recently?”
“No; not very recently.”
“And has she ever said anything to you about coming here?”
“Not a word.”
The Professorin arose with a triumphant nod and began to pace the
“Miss Jones is a brunette, musical and rich—I suppose she is rich?”
she repeated, with an interrogative glance at Grover.
“She is not poor,” he responded feebly.
“Good,” said his tormentor fiercely, and nodding again with great
emphasis, “very good.”
Grover began to feel apprehensive that she had taken leave of her
senses. The disappointment, the shock to her cherished hopes, had
perhaps been too much for her. He arose a little tremblingly and
offered her his hand.
“I am your most obedient servant, Frau Professorin,” he remarked,
bowing deeply, and backing toward the door.
“We shall no doubt have the pleasure of seeing you soon again, Mr.
Grover,” she observed, eyeing him with curious significance.
“You are very kind,” he murmured, and made haste to vanish.
It was only three days later that Grover received an invitation to
dine at Professor Bornholm’s. He had spent the intervening period in
meditation concerning Mrs. Bornholm’s curious behavior. That she had
something on her mind was obvious, and he had no doubt that he would
to-day discover what it was. He felt confident that she had been
plotting against him and had some dramatic surprise in store for him.
As he rang the door-bell he had need of all his sang froid to quiet
his turbulent heart. He was admitted to the inner sanctuary and was
greeted with studious cordiality by the three goddesses. They seemed
all agitated and expectant, though they were striving to appear
unconcerned. They lounged and chatted as people do in the introductory
scene of a play, with hidden reference to some plot which has yet to
be disclosed. To all appearances the plot had some connection with the
door to the Professor’s study, which, contrary to custom, was closed.
Minchen repeatedly threw furtive glances at it, and Röschen made her
determination not to look at it equally conspicuous; only Gretchen was
frankly curious and made no effort to disguise it. A strange sense of
the unreality of the whole scene, himself included, crept over the
young man; he felt like a man in a play who can murder or make love
with equal irresponsibility. He was about to indulge in the latter
diversion, when suddenly the mysterious door opened, and the Frau
Professorin entered with much dramatic éclat, leading a lovely
dark-eyed young girl by the hand. The eyes of the three goddesses grew
as big as saucers, and Röschen pressed her hand to her heart and
nearly fainted from excitement.
“Mr. Grover,” said the Frau Professorin, making a most elaborate bow,
“allow me to present—Miss Jones.”
Under ordinary circumstances the introduction to Miss Jones would have
been an agreeable incident in Mr. Grover’s career, and nothing
further. He had met, he did not know how many hundred charming young
ladies, several of whom had borne the name of Jones, and he had never
been in the least disconcerted. In the present instance, however, he
showed but imperfect control of his emotions. A guilty blush sprang to
his cheeks, and he groped vainly in his embarrassment for the proper
phrase wherewith to express his pleasure at making the lady’s
acquaintance. Miss Jones, too, somehow, seemed ill at ease, and gazed
at him with flaming cheeks and a puzzled, half-anxious look in her
eyes. The Frau Professorin, who had probably expected a different
denouement, looked disappointed, and the goddesses whispered to each
other and tittered.
“You will excuse me for a few moments,” said the Frau Professorin;
“the house needs my attention.”
Having learned all that she wished to know, she could afford to be
generous. It was plain that the goddesses had displaced Miss Jones in
her lover’s heart. Hence his annoyance and embarrassment. She could
well appreciate his position and in her heart she began to relent
toward him. Miss Jones had evidently, under the pretence of studying
music, come to Leipsic, to look after her recreant adorer, whose
silence had begun to alarm her. The goddesses, too, who had been
initiated into the secret, arrived at similar conclusions, and
proceeded to dislike the innocent Miss Jones with much vehemence. It
was but with reluctance that they heeded their mother’s significant
scowl and withdrew in her wake.
“Perhaps,” said Miss Jones, drawing a breath of relief as the last of
the trains vanished in the doorway, “perhaps you would now have the
kindness to tell me what this comedy means.”
Grover lifted his eyes and gazed at her; she was surpassingly lovely.
A pair of frank, dark American eyes, half humorously challenging, put
at once his embarrassment to flight, and made him feel a delicious
nearness and kinship to their fair possessor.
“Miss Jones,” he said, answering promptly the humorous gleam in her
eyes, “I shall have to make you a regular confession. I didn’t have
the remotest idea of your existence.”
“Nor I of yours,” she responded quickly; “but what has that got to do
with the comedy?”
“Everything. You know, I invented you.”
“You invented me?”
“Yes, in my dire need, in order to escape from matrimonial
persecutions, I invented a fiancée in America named Miss Jones. But
to be frank, I did not expect you to take me at my word, and turn up
over here, in order to regulate my conduct.”
“Oh, I see it all,” cried Miss Jones, merrily. “You are in the
position of a novelist whose heroine suddenly steps out of the book
and takes him to task for his fictions.”
“But I hope you won’t prove a hard task-master,” he retorted, gayly.
“In consideration of my generosity in making you beautiful and rich,
you ought not to betray me.”
“Do you mean that I ought to remain your fiancée?” she asked,
laughing. “I think that is to ask too much of my indulgence.”
“You are at liberty to break with me whenever you choose; but until
further notice allow the family to suppose that they are right in
their conjecture. You need simply say nothing about it. You know our
engagement is secret, and we are not expected to show how fond we are
of each other.”
“That is very fortunate. However,” she continued, lightly, as if
pleased with the absurdity of the thought, “my fondness for you will
probably never demand any very extravagant expression.”
“No, but mine may,” was his daring reply; “therefore, perhaps, as a
measure of self-defence, you ought to break with me at once. Make a
scene of some sort, revile me; do anything you choose, only so that
the eavesdroppers, who are sure to misunderstand everything except
vehemence, get a notion that we have been engaged, but are so no
Miss Jones, who had seated herself in the sofa-corner, leaned her head
in her hand and meditated.
“Do you know,” she said, raising the same pretty head abruptly, “your
proposition is a very original one? I wonder if a girl was ever before
requested to break with a man to whom she had never been engaged.
However, Mr. Grover, I am not quite as accommodating as you think. On
the whole it suits my purpose very well to be engaged. I have come
here for study and have no desire to be courted by students or
musicians, of whom there is said to be quite a colony here.”
It was now Grover’s turn to be amazed. He stared at the sweetly demure
and sensible little face in bewilderment.
“Then you mean to—you mean to say——” he stammered.
“Yes, I mean to say,” she finished, suppressing the little mischievous
gleam in her eye, “that I prefer not to break with you. We will remain
The young man’s countenance fell. He began to look unhappy; perhaps
Miss Jones was an unscrupulous adventuress who would turn the joke
into earnest and sue him for breach of promise after they got home.
To be sure, she looked as innocent as an angel, but it is a notorious
fact that women are just the most dangerous in that guise. In escaping
Scylla he had plunged headlong into Charybdis. He got up with a
painful sense of indecision, walked toward the window, and concluded,
after a moment’s thought, that he could not, as a man of honor,
withdraw from a bargain which he had himself proposed. It would be
wiser to abide by it, and to trust to his own ingenuity to extricate
him at the proper moment.
“Miss Jones,” he said, rather ceremoniously, “I thank you for your
“Not at all,” she retorted, carelessly; “it is an arrangement for
mutual convenience. But remember,” she added, lifting her index finger
in playful threat, “that we are extremely well-bred and
The goddesses found it a harder task than they had anticipated to hate
Miss Jones. Scarcely twenty-four hours had passed before Gretchen was
at her feet, and vowed that she was the German equivalent for a
“perfect darling.” In return Miss Jones taught her how to make quince
jelly, flavored with the kernels in the stones. Two days sufficed to
conciliate Röschen; and when she discovered that Miss Jones did not
positively and unequivocally condemn the homicidal eccentricities of
Lucrezia Borgia, she declared with noble enthusiasm that Miss Jones
was “a grand soul.” As for Minchen, she held out heroically against
Miss Jones’s blandishments; but at the end of a week she too
succumbed. Miss Jones had complimented her in imperfect German, but
with the sweetest of accents, on her wax flowers, and had drawn new
designs for her, full of animation and dash. Presently they said
“thou” to each other, and Miss Jones, who had been Lulu at home, was
metamorphosed into Luischen. Even the Frau Professorin, who at first
had put her down as an artful little minx, began to forget her grudge
against her. The Professor found it a positive hardship that he was
not at liberty to kiss her. But the most amusing thing of the whole
affair was that they all became her partisans against her recreant
lover, Grover, who had trifled so wantonly with her feelings. They
made cautious overtures to condole with her, but, in spite of the
tenderest sympathy, found her singularly uncommunicative on this
subject. Now the goddesses, who in external charm did not profess to
compete with her, had in the first flush of their enthusiasm been
quite disposed to sacrifice themselves upon the altar of their
devotion; but, although they could have forgiven any other form of
maltreatment, Lulu’s apparent distrust of them wounded them deeply.
They had looked forward to delicious nocturnal confidences, when, half
disrobed, each should visit the other’s boudoir and discuss the
fascinating topic from all possible and impossible points of view.
That Lulu had proved impervious to all hints of this nature was a
slight which could not be pardoned, at least not without due penance
on her part. Moreover, to add to their mortification, there seemed
daily to be less occasion for sympathy. Lulu was winning Mr. Grover
back to his allegiance slowly but surely. He called, now, almost every
afternoon, took long walks with her through the Rosenthal, and barring
a certain Anglo-Saxon reserve (which in Germany is thought perfectly
incomprehensible) behaved in every way as an engaged man should. It
was scarcely to be wondered at that the goddesses found such an
exhibition of devotion a little bit irritating, and voted Lulu, the
happy and victorious, as odious as Lulu, the abandoned, the
secretly-grieving, had been lovely and interesting. It was especially
Röschen, the admirer of daring unconventionally, who took it into her
head that she had been wronged and deceived by the false and heartless
Lulu, and she swore—that is to say, she vowed solemnly—that she
should yet get even with that sly and demure little arch-fiend. The
coveted opportunity did not, however, present itself as soon as her
impatience demanded, and while the winter dragged along slowly,
alternating delightfully between frozen mud and liquid mud, Grover’s
devotion went on steadily deepening, until Miss Jones even interfered
with his laboratory practice, mixed herself up in his chemicals, and
on one occasion precipitated an explosion which singed his whiskers
and damaged his complexion for a month to come. From this experience
he drew the wise deduction that love and chemistry are antagonistic
forces, and therefore irreconcilable; but as he could not persuade
himself to give up either, it occurred to him to effect a compromise.
He would, as far as possible, devote the forenoons to chemistry and
the afternoons to love—that is to say, he would devote himself to
Miss Jones, and try gently to lure her on to the forbidden topic.
I believe I have said before that demonstrations of affection were
strictly prohibited; but I have not remarked that in the by-laws
subsequently drafted by Miss Jones for the regulation of their
abnormal relation, oral references to the same interesting topic were
likewise forbidden. When Miss Jones had her own way, she usually
talked music, and talked intelligently and well. She seemed to find a
kind of humorous satisfaction in confining her adorer strictly to
practical topics and in ignoring sentimental allusions. If he rebelled
against this sort of maltreatment, and became silent and moody, she
aggravated the offence by not appearing to notice it. She would then
find employment in separating little boys who fought in the street, or
in eliciting confidences from old apple-women. There was something
almost fiercely virginal about her, something bordering upon
enthusiasm in the way she repelled an attempted incursion upon the
forbidden ground. And withal she was so tender and sympathetic toward
all mankind, that her wilful obtuseness on the subject of love bore to
him the appearance of wanton cruelty. It did not occur to him that she
might be acting in self-defence, fearing to give the slightest rein to
a feeling which might, on very slight provocation, run away with her.
She was the kind of girl which one does not readily think of in
connection with the tender passion; and whose love, perhaps, for this
very reason, seems so ineffably precious to him who is trying to win
“Did it ever occur to you,” he said to her one day, as they were
walking together under the leafless arches of the Rosenthal, “that
when God saw all that He had made, and ‘behold it was very good,’ He
left woman out?”
“No, I didn’t know it,” she said, with a gleam of amusement.
“Nevertheless, it is so,” he went on. “When He said it was all very
good, woman was not yet created. After she was made, God said nothing
“That was because she was so nice that she needed no commendation,”
rejoined Miss Jones promptly.
“For all that, history shows that she has made a deal of mischief in
the world,” said Grover lugubriously; he was feeling piqued and
abused at her want of responsiveness to his undisguised admiration.
“History was written by men,” was Miss Jones’s response.
“But made by women,” ejaculated Grover, eager to hold his own in the
“As you like. I don’t think the man was far wrong who said that there
was a woman at the bottom of every important event.”
“You talk like a book.”
“I only wish I had the wit to make one. I would make you men stare if
I published my version of the world’s history.”
“You can do that better without the wit,” he retorted recklessly;
then, seeing a little cloud, as of pained surprise, pass over her
countenance, he made a motion to seize her hand, but succeeded,
instead, in knocking her parasol into the middle of the road. The
necessity of recovering it cooled for the moment the passion which had
threatened to overmaster him.
“Pardon me,” he murmured penitently, as he was again at her side. “I
did not mean to hurt your feelings; but the fact is, I am on such a
constant strain to keep my sentiment below the boiling point that I
lose my self-control and say things the effect of which I only see
after I have said them.”
“Don’t apologize, please,” she said, hurrying on so rapidly that he
could only with difficulty keep pace with her; then as a perfect
godsend, there crossed her line of vision two small boys who were
pulling each other’s hair and pummelling each other lustily.
“You naughty boy,” she ejaculated with much animation, seizing the
bigger one by the arm and forcing him to face her, “why do you strike
that poor little fellow?”
“He mixes himself up in my affairs,” responded the culprit, defiantly;
then discovering a considerable tuft of his antagonist’s hair in his
hand, he turned about shame-faced and tried to dispose of it,
unperceived. Miss Jones, however (though she was not without sympathy
for any one whose affairs were becoming mixed), dexterously caught the
descending tuft on the point of her parasol and held it up as proof of
his guilt. “What a dreadful little boy you are,” she said,
“But I will pummel Anton again,” retorted the dreadful little boy, “if
he plays ‘engaged’ with Tilly Heitmann.”
“Plays ‘engaged!’ Ah, then I beg your pardon,” said Miss Jones,
airily, with a sly little glance at her companion. “Little boys who
play engaged deserve to be pummelled.”
If Prince Bismarck or his big dog had come to town, there could not
have been more excitement in the Bornholm family. The three young
ladies sat upon a bed, with their hair done up in curl papers, and
looked intense. They had hatched a plot of revenge which was worthy of
three blonde heads done up in curl-paper. It had been ascertained that
Mr. Grover had invited Miss Jones to the artists’ carnival, and that
Miss Jones had accepted the invitation. He had, moreover, asked the
Frau Professorin to chaperone Miss Jones for the occasion, and the
Frau Professorin, who was as fond of excitement as a girl, did not
have the strength of mind to show him that she resented the slight he
had put upon her daughters. She tried to make the daughters believe,
of course, that she had; and they would undoubtedly have taken her
word for it, if they hadn’t been listening at the key-hole. When taken
to task, the Frau Professorin was in such an indulgent mood that she
would readily have consented to anything; and when Röschen proposed
that she, too, should go to the masquerade and in exactly the same
costume as Miss Jones, her mother only interposed a vague demurrer
which was easily overridden. The interesting complications which might
arise, if Grover should mistake one Daughter of the Rhine for the
other, stimulated her romantic fancy and made her eager as a girl to
have the plot carried into effect. What was to be accomplished by it,
she did not trouble herself to define; it only gave her a kind of
confused satisfaction to think that she was mystifying somebody who
had for a long time been mystifying her. Röschen was exactly of Miss
Jones’s height and their figures closely resembled each other. So when
they were masked a microscope would be required to tell them apart.
Röschen, who was full of blissful anticipations, went about during the
day embracing people promiscuously from sheer excess of happiness. She
could almost have embraced Grover, foe though he was, for having
afforded her such a glorious opportunity for playing a trick on him.
Her adventurous spirit had long yearned for some monumental
enterprise, and this had somehow a mysterious atmosphere about it
which made it doubly attractive to the admirer of Lucrezia Borgia. As
for Miss Jones, she was unsuspicious as a new-born babe, which
circumstance heightened the joy of the conspirators, thrilling them
with sensations of deep and delightful villainy.
The week before Lent came at last and the reign of Prince Carnival was
proclaimed through the streets by medieval heralds in gorgeous attire.
The procession was watched from windows and balconies, and at last
came the evening with its alluring festivities, including the bal
masque. The Frau Professorin, as she flitted from Miss Jones’s
boudoir to that of her daughter, taking notes of the former’s costume
for the benefit of the latter, felt like an arch conspirator upon
whose coolness and address the fate of empires hung. Miss Jones had
had her costumes designed by an expert costumer, and the difficulty
was to make Röschen’s home-made finery as trim and dazzling as the
products of professional skill. This feat was, however, happily
accomplished, thanks to Minchen’s artistic taste and Gretchen’s nimble
fingers. The Frau Professorin then slipped with a sigh of relief into
her black domino and took her seat at Miss Jones’s side in the
carriage. Grover, in the guise of King Gunther in the Nibelungen Lay,
sat opposite, arrayed in a splendid helmet and scarlet cloak,
endeavoring to make his legs as unobtrusive as possible. The drive to
the Schützenhaus was not long, and Miss Jones, muffled up to her very
eyes, hopped out of the carriage as lightly as Cinderella from her
metamorphosed cucumber. The Frau Professorin, likewise muffled,
allowed Grover to assist her up the stairs, and was conducted by him
to the door of the dressing-room, where there stood a female Cerberus
whose business it was to keep away male intruders. When King Gunther,
after doing sentinel duty for half an hour, again caught sight of the
swan-maiden, the daughter of Father Rhine, she was so surpassingly
lovely that he forgot to inquire for her chaperone. The chaperone,
therefore, without difficulty, effected a clandestine retreat, found
her way to a carriage and drove home as fast as the spavined droschke
horse would convey her. Twenty minutes later she slipped into the
dressing-room at the Schützenhaus, accompanied by a second daughter of
Father Rhine, whom that worthy parent himself could scarcely have told
from her lately-arrived sister.
The three floors of the enormous house represented the upper, the
middle, and the lower world.
The first floor was submarine and subterranean; cool,
dimly-illuminated grottoes, some in basaltic, columnar rock, some in
emerald-glowing stalactite, invited all the fantastic creatures of the
sea, both fabled and real, who were promenading about on the floor of
the deep, to a sweet, life-long siesta in their softly-gleaming
recesses. On the second floor luxuriant equatorial palm-groves grew in
startling proximity to the snow-laden pines of the North, and a
heterogeneous assembly of all nations and ages poured through the
resplendent avenues, chatting and playing pranks on each other with
Teutonic good humor.
“Let us go to Olympus,” said King Gunther, who was drifting with his
snow-maiden through the motley throng. “I may never have another
chance of getting there,” he added jocosely.
“I am afraid I should not feel at home there,” answered the daughter
of the Rhine; “you know I belong properly to the lower regions.”
“Then let us go to the lower regions,” retorted the king, gayly. “You
needn’t go in search of the Elysian Fields; you carry them with you
wherever you go.”
“Beware, your Majesty,” murmured the water-nymph, threateningly. “You
are defying Fate. Creatures of my kind are dangerous to trifle with.”
“It is you who are trifling, not I,” he burst forth; “with me the joke
has long ago become serious.”
He felt her arm trembling where it touched his; under the black fringe
of her mask he saw her lips quiver, and her eyes shone with a strange,
moist radiance. The crowd of gay maskers surged about them and the
music whirled away over their heads unheeded, and broke in showers of
“Listen to me,” he whispered boldly, stooping to her level—but in the
same moment a heavy hand was laid upon his neck and a burly,
gray-bearded Jupiter stood before him with a great train of Olympian
“I love the daughters of this green earth,” said the king of the gods;
“or I should say the green daughters of this black earth,” he
corrected himself, touching with a caressing hand the green sea-weeds
of the swan maiden’s drapery.
“Excuse me, Father Jupiter,” Grover began, knowing well, in spite of
his chagrin, that pranks of this kind were perfectly legitimate; “you
mix up the mythologies. This is not a classic nymph, but a Northern
“By my Olympian beard,” cried Jupiter, “that shows your barbaric
taste, if you do not pronounce her classic.”
“I must insist,” Grover replied, “that to your pagan majesty a
creature of Northern fable has no existence.”
“Then by my Ambrosian locks we will give her existence,” quoth the
father of gods and men. “Mercury, my son,” he cried, pointing with his
sceptre to a graceful youth with winged heels and cap, “change me
quickly this maiden into something classic, but don’t change her too
much or you will spoil a divine masterpiece.”
Mercury, with winged speed, came forward, waved his wand over the
swan-maiden’s head, when behold! she vanished.
“Why, your magic is too potent, you rascal,” ejaculated Jupiter. “I
didn’t tell you to make her invisible.”
He flourished his pasteboard sceptre in mock wrath above his head,
dealt Mercury a resounding blow on the head, then marched on, followed
by his immortal family and a jovial throng of leaf-crowned Bacchantes.
Grover remained standing in the middle of the floor, hoping that, as
the crowd dispersed, Miss Jones would naturally again seek him. But
Miss Jones had apparently no such intention. She persistently remained
invisible. At last, thinking that she had meant her allusion to the
lower regions as a hint, he made his way to the head of the stairs and
descended, not without difficulty, to the first floor. The dancing had
commenced above and the multitude of scaly monsters who had haunted
the deep, were lured by the airs of Strauss up into the abodes of the
daylight. The submarine world was almost deserted (except by a huge
lobster and a shark, who were drinking lemonade) when Grover entered
upon his quest for the vanished water-nymph. He investigated two or
three grottoes, with no result except to tear his cloak on an exposed
nail and knock a hole in his helmet. He was just about to resort to a
classical imprecation, when the necessity for it was suddenly
dissipated. There stood the daughter of Rhine, wonderful to behold, in
sweet converse with her chaperone, the black domino. The young man
lost no time in making the ladies aware of his presence.
“I hope you are enjoying yourself, Frau Professorin,” he said, as he
offered his arm, as a matter of course, to the swan-maiden.
“Oh, yes, I thank you. It takes very little to amuse an old woman like
me,” she answered, pleasantly. “The music is good and the masks are
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he queried politely, hoping from
the bottom of his heart that she would say no.
“Don’t you bother about me,” was her amiable reply; “I will take care
of myself. I only came to see you young people enjoy yourselves.”
He had evidently been unjust to the Frau Professorin, he reflected.
She was a very charming old lady. He conceived a sudden affection for
her. In a very blissful mood he strolled away under the great
festoons of depending sea-weeds, giving now and then a little casual
pat to the hand which lightly rested on his arm. By some chance they
found themselves in a deserted stalactite cave, where the gas-jets
gleamed softly from within emerald cones of glass and spread a strange
magic glamour under the pendent arches.
“Let us sit down,” said Grover; and the swan-maiden, whose agitation
probably forbade her to speak, silently accepted the invitation. “What
a transformation love works in a woman,” he reflected ecstatically;
“who would recognize in this sweet, docile creature the rebellious and
headstrong girl of three months ago? I have long wished to tell you,”
he continued aloud, seizing her hand and drawing her close up to him,
“that my life would be barren as a desert without you. You have taught
me by your sweet reserve, and your self-respecting coolness, first to
esteem you highly, then to admire and at last to love you. Do not
think even now that I take your consent for granted. I only hope that
love, as strong and deep as mine, cannot fail to find some response.
It is imperious, all-conquering; it fears no more resistance.”
There was obviously no occasion for such impassioned rhetoric. The
swan-maiden had not the faintest idea of offering resistance. She
slipped with a soft and charming suppleness into his embrace and
received his ecstatic kisses without a murmur of protest. It was not
until he made a movement to tear off her mask (whose depending fringe
was a great inconvenience) that she suddenly recovered her senses:
with a startled cry she stayed his hand, cast a shy glance about her,
jumped up and ran as fast as her feet could carry her. If she had been
a real fairy, she could not have made a more rapid and unexpected
exit. Grover was utterly dumbfounded. He thought of the old legends
about knights who had been loved by mermaids whose kiss was death and
their embrace eternal damnation. An uncanny feeling crept over him.
But a cheerful second thought soon came to comfort him. He had heard
from the best authorities that women were enigmatical and incalculable
creatures who were most apt to do what was least expected of them.
They had a perfect encyclopedia of eccentricities, if the novelists
were to be trusted, and it was not to be expected that his brief
acquaintance with the sex should have sufficed to master it. This was
a profitable train of thought and one well worth pursuing. Therefore,
instead of pursuing his nymph, he leaned back against the wall and
The nymph, in the meanwhile, after a hurried search below, ran to the
dressing-room, where she flung herself weeping into the arms of the
“What in Heaven’s name is the matter, child?” inquired the latter.
“Was he rude to you?”
“Not at all,” sobbed the nymph; “no-o-ot a-a-at all. Quite the
“What then are you crying for?” asked the domino sympathetically.
“He kissed me, mother; he kissed me,” answered the nymph, weeping.
“You ought not to have allowed him to do that,” said the Frau
Professorin, with mild reproach.
“How could I help it, mother? He talked so beautifully to me. He
proposed to me. And I forgot that I was Miss Jones. I was only
A second flood of tears made the rest unintelligible.
“Are you sure he proposed to you, child?” queried the mother, after a
“Quite sure, mother.”
“But then he must have known you. For why should he propose to Miss
Jones, to whom he is already engaged?”
“That is what makes me so unhappy, mother, for now I shall never know
whether I am engaged to him or not.”
“Leave that to me, child. I’ll find out.”
The next day Grover had an accident, which cost him upward of $200. He
mixed something or other, which made a terrific racket and smashed no
end of retorts and bottles. When he entered the laboratory again
after having trimmed off the scorched fringe of his whiskers, he found
a big card nailed over his place, with the following inscription:
“Smoking and being in love in this laboratory is strictly forbidden.”
The prohibition in regard to smoking was in print; the rest was
interpolated with a paint-brush. Grover looked around wrathfully upon
the twenty or thirty backs which reared themselves against shelves of
many-colored bottles; they bore all an expression of unconscious
The hour was approaching when he might without impropriety call upon
his fiancée. His toilet, however, needed some attention, after his
recent experiment with explosives; and he hastened to his rooms to
make himself presentable. On the table he found a letter, addressed in
the usual high-shouldered characters of American girls. It read as
My Dear Mr. Grover:
Our engagement for mutual convenience
being no longer convenient, I grant your request and hereby
break it. I would have done so when you first asked me, only
I enjoyed your embarrassment, and had, moreover, a desire to
punish you for the liberty you took with a lady whom you had
not seen until that moment. I trust we shall remain good
friends. If you desire a scene of some sort, in order to
advertise our changed relations to the household, you may
call upon me this afternoon at three. You will understand
that I do this only to save explanations. A quarrel, you
know, ends everything; is so intelligible and satisfactory;
precludes questions and discourages curiosity. Accordingly,
my dear sir, I will quarrel with you at 3:15 P.M., promptly,
Sincerely your friend,
Leipsic, March 12, 187-.
Grover read this enigmatical epistle eleven times without deriving the
slightest clue to its meaning. He read it aloud and he read it in
silence, he analyzed, scrutinized and apostrophized it, but without
avail. That feminine caprice could reach such alarming dimensions he
had never dreamed. That she should want to break with him the morning
after she had become really engaged to him could be accounted for by a
variety of reasons. But that she should write him a cool and
semi-humorous letter, showing no more agitation than one of Bret
Harte’s heroes who is about to be hanged—that certainly capped the
climax of eccentric behavior. And that, after her passionate protests!
But hold on! What did she say yesterday that was so passionate?
Curiously enough, he could not remember a word of what she had said.
It began slowly to dawn upon him that, during the memorable scene, he
had himself done all the talking. She had not uttered a syllable. It
was odd, but probably not without precedent. Well, if she wanted her
quarrel, she should have it promptly on the hour, and with éclat.
At 3:15 o’clock he rang the Professor’s door-bell, and was ushered
into the drawing-room, where Miss Jones stood smiling sweetly upon
“I hope you didn’t misunderstand my note,” she said, seeing the
troubled look in his eyes.
“Misunderstand it!” he ejaculated, with ill-suppressed indignation;
“if I had arrived as far as misunderstanding it, I should have had
respect for my intellect. I doubt if the seven sages could have
“It wasn’t necessary that they should,” said Miss Jones imperturbably.
“But suppose they had made love to you?” he began, argumentatively.
“The seven sages never made love to me,” remarked Miss Jones,
“But suppose you had kissed them?”
“I never kissed them!”
Miss Jones repelled this insinuation with indignant emphasis.
“It is utterly useless to argue with you,” he said, pacing the floor
“Then I would not try.”
“You are cruel, vain, and heartless.”
“If those qualities were contagious, I should know where I got them.”
“You mean yesterday, when you kissed me!”
“I must decline to listen to such language. You will have the kindness
to remember Mr. Grover, that from this moment our acquaintance is at
Miss Jones arose with flaming cheeks and eyes in which the unseen
tears trembled; she made Mr. Grover a sweeping courtesy and moved with
a good deal of superfluous stateliness toward the door. He returned
her salute, though with much less dignity; then rushed forward to hold
her back, but with an impatient gesture she shook off his grasp and
“We met to quarrel in jest, and we did it in earnest,” he reflected
grimly, as he picked up his hat and opened the door. There was a
sudden, agitated rustle of skirts in the hall, and he was just in time
to see Röschen’s back hair vanish into the dining-room.
Being engaged is said to be a very delightful thing. You fulfill a
pleasant duty to society and one no less pleasant to yourself. In
Germany particularly, the engaged state is one of great honor. You
advertise the important event in the newspapers, above the marriages
and births; you walk abroad with your fiancée arm-in-arm (which is
an inestimable privilege); you introduce her with much ceremony to
your uncles and cousins and aunts; you receive congratulations—in
short, you become a sort of public character, until some one else goes
and follows your illustrious example. Then you become an old story and
lapse into insignificance.
It was this ravishing vision of the engaged state, with its attendant
festivities, which had excited Röschen’s imagination. She had seen
herself a hundred times on Grover’s arm, making the round of her whole
circle of acquaintance, and introducing him triumphantly to her pet
enemies. He would, of course, at a hint from her, be gracious to those
who had been kind to her, and politely snub those who had been
disagreeable to her. There was a day of reckoning coming for those who
had made sport of Röschen’s verses, a day of glorious revenge. But the
trouble now was, that, although Röschen looked upon herself as
engaged, and respected herself accordingly, she did not have the
courage to claim her fiancé. She was, as it were, anonymously
engaged. The uncertainty of the thing tortured her. She was more than
once tempted to sit down and write to Mr. Grover, telling him that it
was she to whom he was engaged; but the thought that he might, in that
case, divine her plot always deterred her. That he had quarrelled with
Miss Jones hardly simplified the matter; for a lover’s quarrel of that
sort is never such a serious affair as the parties involved are apt to
think. If only Miss Jones would have the inspiration to go to Berlin
or to Stuttgart, or to Halifax, the road to Grover’s affections would
be comparatively plain sailing. But Miss Jones, in spite of the most
pointed hints regarding the superior musical advantages of other
cities, persisted in remaining where she was. She practiced with an
odious regularity and indefatigable zeal, which knew neither weariness
nor discouragement. She did not grow perceptibly thinner, nor did her
complexion show the ravages of sorrow. It was unanimously resolved by
the ladies of the household that she was a cold and heartless monster.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that she paid forty dollars a month
(which was put aside for dowries), she would have been told to pack
This phase of feeling lasted about three weeks. Then the unfailing
charm of Miss Jones’s affability began once more to assert itself.
Röschen was seized with a sudden desire to kiss her; for she looked so
irresistibly cool and lovely as she sat at the breakfast-table sipping
her coffee, and propounding her neat little German sentences, which
were always correct, though with a faint flavor of “Otto.” Röschen
felt positive that those calm, intelligent eyes of Miss Jones’s read
them all like a book; and instead of being indignant at such
presumption, Röschen grew repentant. She yearned to fling herself at
Miss Jones’s feet and confess all her wickedness. She would wear
white, with a single red rose in her bosom like La Sonnambula. When
she thought of all the heroines of history and romance who had
renounced the men they loved, she too felt that she could rise to a
like heroism in renouncing the man she didn’t love; for she did not,
for one moment, deceive herself in regard to her sentiment for Grover.
It was the engaged state she had been in love with; and he was merely
a lay figure, convenient for the occasion—a puppet with whom she
enacted the scenes appropriate to the engaged condition.
She was yet pondering the problem, but had not yet nerved herself for
action, when one day she was startled at the sound of Grover’s voice
in the hall. He handed his card to the girl and inquired for the Frau
Professorin. There was a council of war on the spot, and the Frau
Professorin sent word that she was “not at home.” Grover then asked
permission to see “the young ladies.” It was a very disappointing
message; the plural number was especially disheartening. The sisters,
however, were equal to the occasion. Minchen and Gretchen nobly
declared that they were “out.” Accordingly there was nothing to do,
except for Röschen to receive the visitor. She donned her white
muslin, stuck a Jacqueminot rose in her bosom, and entered the
drawing-room with a quaking heart. The young man shook hands with her
without the faintest trace of embarrassment, and begged her to have
the kindness to present his “adieux” to the family, as he had
concluded to continue his studies in Berlin.
“And you are going to leave Leipsic!” she exclaimed, in astonishment.
“Naturally,” he replied: “I leave to-night.”
Röschen’s heart thumped as if it meant to work its way out through her
“Now or never!” it said, with an unmistakable plainness; “now or
The Jacqueminot rose fell to the ground; Grover stooped to pick it
up. Had he only said: “May I keep this as a souvenir of our
friendship,” or something of that sort, she would at once have
summoned courage to make her confession. But, instead of that, he
gravely handed her back the rose and remarked that he was under great
obligation to her father and mother for their kindness to him during
his stay in the city. She knew of no appropriate reply to this
observation until his silence forced her to invent one. “You have
given us no opportunity of late to be either kind or unkind to you,”
she said, with a blush, which made her feel hot all over.
“The circumstances are at fault, not I,” he answered, and got up to
take his leave.
“Pardon me,” she said, grasping his hand with a desperate clutch; “I
think I heard mother come in. I’ll be back in one moment.”
Several minutes elapsed, however, but neither Röschen nor the Frau
Professorin appeared. Then a sudden sound of sobs was heard in the
next room, and Grover, fearing that some one was in distress, hastily
opened the door. There stood Miss Jones, grave and benign, stooping
over the weeping Röschen, who was dramatically embracing her knees.
“Oh, it was I—it was I who made trouble between you,” sobbed the
girl, flinging back her head and gazing imploringly up into Miss
Jones’s face. “You are so good and noble, Louise, can you ever forgive
me? Oh, I wish you would kill me, so that I never could do you any
“That won’t be necessary, my dear,” said Miss Jones, soothingly,
stroking the penitent’s hair and kissing her forehead; then, catching
sight of Grover, she instantly recovered her dignity and disengaged
herself from Röschen’s embrace. The latter, with a wildly despairing
glance at the young man, sprang up and rushed out of the room.
Miss Jones and Grover stood face to face. The reverberation of
Röschen’s excitement seemed to linger in the room, and they waited for
it to pass away before speaking.
“I came to bid you good-bye,” he said at last; it did not occur to him
that he had not come for that purpose.
“I am happy to have a chance to—to—beg your pardon,” replied Miss
Jones, with a heroic determination to crucify her pride. “I was harsh
and unjust to you. Röschen has told me all.”
“I wish she would tell me all. I am as much in the dark as ever.”
“The girl to—to—whom you proposed in the grotto—was—was—not I,”
she faltered, grasping the door-knob for support, and gazing into the
mirror with a vain hope to hide her blushes.
He drew a long sigh of relief. That intelligence simplified existence
enormously. He had had a hopeless feeling, of late, that life was too
complex an affair for him to grapple with. Now, as by a flash, order
was restored in his chaotic universe. He stood gazing in rapture at
Miss Jones’s blushing face, which seemed angelic in its purity and its
dignified maidenhood. That there dwelt a sweet young soul behind
those blameless features he felt blissfully convinced.
“Miss Jones,” he began, “if Miss Röschen has confessed to you, you
know what I would have liked to say to you—that night in the grotto.
Now, what would you have answered me?”
A little ray of mirth stole over the girl’s face, and vanished again.
“I should have said—no,” she remarked smilingly.
The orderly universe again tumbled into chaos. She was the veritable
Sphinx, and he not the Œdipus to read her riddle.
“Then I will bid you good-bye,” he managed to stammer, extending an
unwilling hand and again withdrawing it.
“Good-bye, Mr. Grover,” she said with heartless cheerfulness; “I hope
it is not forever.”
“I am afraid it is,” he murmured sadly.
He took two steps toward the door, and laid his hand on the knob.
“Oh, by the way,” ejaculated the girl, with a sudden alarm in her
voice; “that question you would have asked me in the grotto—why don’t
you ask it now?”
“You said you would say no.”
He had turned about in unutterable astonishment.
“I didn’t say that,” she retorted gravely.
“What did you say then?”
“That I should have said No in the grotto.”
The scene which followed was of a strictly private and confidential
character; I fear Miss Jones would take me to task if I divulged it.
THE STORY OF TWO LIVES.
By Julia Schayer.
⁂ Swinton’s Story-Teller, October 31, 1883.
The early darkness of a moonless winter night had fallen, nowhere more
darkly and coldly than upon a certain small western town, whose houses
were huddled together in the valley as if for mutual protection
against the fierce winds sweeping through the trackless forests which
surrounded it. Here and there the cheerful glow of lamp or fire shone
from some uncurtained window, most brightly from the windows of the
stores and saloons that occupied the centre of the town, whence issued
also fitful sounds of talk and laughter. Otherwise the darkness was
On the outskirts of the town, just at the foot of a steep hill, stood
a cottage somewhat more pretentiously built than the others, and
surrounded by something of a lawn, laid out with flower-beds and
shrubbery, now almost buried in deep drifts of snow. From one window
of this cottage, too, a most heartsome glow streamed out over the snow
from a lamp placed, as could be seen, with loving intent upon the
window-ledge, and out of the darkness there presently emerged the
figure of a man, making his way up the foot-path toward the house, his
feet ringing sharply against the hard-trodden snow.
Along one side of the house—planted without doubt to break the force
of the northern gales—extended a grove of pines and firs, looking
now, in the darkness, like the advance guard of a mighty host with
banners slowly waving, and strange instruments giving forth weird,
unearthly harmonies. As the man passed this spot he slackened his
steps once or twice, and seemed to listen for some sound that had
caught his ear, and again, when his foot was already on the lower step
of the flight leading to the door, he stopped suddenly, his face
turned toward the sombre wall of trees.
The light of the lamp illumined their slender trunks and lower boughs,
leaving their tops wrapped in utter darkness. It also threw into
strong relief the powerful figure of the man, and projected his
shadow, huge, wavering and grotesque, across the intervening space.
For an instant another shadow seemed to start forward from the
mysterious recesses of the pines as if to meet this one, only to fall
back and be gathered into the blackness beyond.
The man shrugged his broad shoulders, and, turning, entered the
house. A fair, slender woman rose from her seat by the open fire, and
went to him.
“Oh! Jamie,” she said, “here you are, at last! I’m so glad! I was so
afraid something had happened?”
The man threw off his heavy coat with a good-humored laugh.
“Were you afraid I might blow away?” he asked, straightening his large
figure. “Why are you always imagining vain things, like a foolish
little wifie? I’m big enough to take care of myself, eh, lassie?”
The little wife answered with a smile of loving admiration.
“Come,” she said, “supper has been ready a long time, and Bab asleep
She took the lamp from the window and set it on the table, where it
shone full on her husband’s face. It was a fine, thoroughly English
face, with high forehead, brilliant blue eyes, and thick curling hair
and beard of a bright golden-brown. A handsome face, and a strong one,
but for a womanish fulness of the ruddy lips, and a slight lack of
firmness about the chin, which was concealed, however, by the
luxuriant beard. It was a face which could, and habitually did,
radiate amiability, good cheer, and intelligence, but which had a way
of settling at times into stern and melancholy lines, curiously
belying his assured carriage, and the sonorous ring of his ready
Very good to look at was James Dixon, and, as his townsmen unanimously
admitted, in spite of his English birth, a good citizen, a shrewd
politician, a generous neighbor, and, though at times a little
reticent and abstracted, a companionable fellow altogether.
Even now, as he sat at his own table, one might have detected a kind
of alertness in his eyes, as of a man ever on his guard, and what
seemed almost a studied avoidance of his wife’s soft, persistent gaze,
as she sat opposite him.
“Sh! What was that?” she suddenly exclaimed. There had been a faint
sound outside the window. It had ceased now.
“It was nothing, Bab!” said her husband. “How nervous you are!”
Even as he spoke the sound was repeated, and he himself started now.
“I’m catching your nervousness, Bab,” he said, with a short laugh.
“The wind is the very deuce to-night.”
At that moment a little girl in her nightgown ran out from the
adjoining room, and with a gleeful cry sprang into his arms, her long
yellow hair spreading itself over his shoulder.
“You see, dear old papa, Bab wasn’t asleep!” she cried, covering his
face with kisses.
“And why isn’t Bab asleep?” her father said, with an assumption of
“Because she can’t sleep. The wind makes such a noise in the pines,
and the icicles keep falling off the eaves, and make such a pretty
tinkling on the snow. Do you hear it? Hark!”
“The wind increases fearfully,” said the wife, going to the window and
drawing the shade. “It is a bitter night.”
“Bad enough for anybody to be out in,” said Dixon, with the
comfortable air of one safely housed. He moved his chair to the fire,
and began fondling and playing with the pretty child on his knee. Her
little face, however, had grown suddenly grave.
“What is it, pussy?” asked her father; “it looks so serious all at
“I was thinking,” said the child, slowly; “I was wondering where the
poor old man I saw up on the hill to-day would sleep to-night. Such a
poor, poor man, so old and sick and ragged.”
“Bless the chick! What is she talking about now?”
“Some man she saw to-day when she was on the hill coasting with the
others,” the mother said. “Some tramp, I suppose.”
“I have not heard of any in town,” said Dixon, with sudden
thoughtfulness. “It isn’t the season for tramps. Oh!” he added,
carelessly, as the child continued to look in his face, “some
worthless old vagabond, I suppose, dearie. Don’t fret your little
heart about him. He’ll find a warm nest in somebody’s hay-mow, no
doubt.” But little Bab shook her head.
“I don’t think he was bad,” she said, softly, “only very sick and
sorry. He asked me my name, and when I told him he laughed out so
queer! And then I showed him our house, and told him maybe you’d give
him some money, and then he laughed again, and then I—I got scared
because the other girls had all run away, and I ran away, too.”
Her father had listened with strange intentness. His playfulness was
extinguished, and his face looked all at once careworn and troubled.
“You’re a silly little lass,” he said, after a moment’s silence, “and
you must not talk to strange men who ask questions. They might carry
you off, you know.”
He held the child silently a little while longer, and then carried her
back to her bed; after which he returned to his seat near the fire.
His wife had already seated herself in her low chair, her face bent
above the knitting in her hands. Outside the wind howled and roared,
but in the room where these two sat all was, to the eye, calm, and
sweet, and cosey. The fire glowed, and emitted cheerful little snaps
and sparks, the clock ticked, and the knitting-needles clicked, and
through the open door the child’s soft, regular breathing was
distinctly audible. Suddenly the woman stirred and looked up, to find
her husband’s eyes fixed upon her. Strangely enough they faltered, and
turned away, but presently came back to hers again.
“You are very silent to-night, lassie,” he said, putting out his hand
to stroke her fair girlish head. “Are you ill, or over-tired?”
She shook her head, and dropping the knitting from her hands, clasped
them over her husband’s knee, and laid her cheek upon them.
“No,” she said, softly, “not ill, nor tired. Only somehow I have been
thinking all day of old times and—of him!”
She dropped her voice to a whisper as she spoke the last words, and
her husband felt the hands on his knee tremble. He said nothing,
though his face grew dark, and his teeth shut over his lip tightly. “I
have been wondering,” she went on, “what became of him, Jamie!—if he
is still alive, and—” with a break in the soft voice—“if he has
forgiven me my part in his suffering. Oh, Jamie!” she broke out
passionately, throwing her arms about her husband, and raising her
lovely, tearful face to his, “Oh, Jamie! I was so young and foolish
when I promised to be his wife, and I had not even seen you then! Tell
me, Jamie, was I so very, very wicked that I loved you best? Could I
help it, Jamie?” She rose and threw herself upon his breast, sobbing
like a child. She could not, through her tears, see the working of his
face, nor the effort it caused him to speak. He tried to quiet her
with caresses and all manner of fond epithets, and at last she lay
still, with closed eyes, upon his shoulder.
A tremendous blast swept through the valley, shaking the cottage to
its foundation, and shrieking down the chimney like a cry of despair.
“Great heavens!” Dixon muttered; “what a night!” Then, rousing
himself, he added, “Come, lassie. Come rest, and promise me not to
give way to such excitement again. You are not strong, and such moods
are dangerous for you.”
They rose, and stood facing each other before the dying fire.
“One thing,” he said, seizing her hands, with a swift change of
manner—“one thing, Barbara. Have you ever been sorry that you came
with me—that you trusted me?”
She looked at him wonderingly, but with perfect love and trustfulness.
“Never, Jamie!” she said. “Never for one moment.”
“And whatever happens,” he went on, drawing her closer, “whatever
happens, you are sure you never will be sorry?”
“Quite sure, Jamie!”
He kissed her again and again, until she laughed at his lover-like
“Any one would suppose we were about to be separated for years,” she
He laughed, too, but his face and voice were serious, as he said,
“Nothing shall separate us but death, lassie!”
... When Dixon left his house the next morning it was still intensely
cold, but the wind had gone down, and the clumps of evergreens and
shrubbery on the lawn were motionless as if painted there.
He stood a moment on the lower step drawing on his fur mittens, and,
nodding at the child-face smiling at him from the window, then started
to go. But at the first step his foot struck against some object which
gave out a metallic sound, and stooping quickly, he raised from the
snow a small pistol. One glance showed him that it was in perfect
order, and every barrel loaded.
He remained for some time turning this object over and over in his
hand, his nether lip drawn between his teeth. At last he glanced
toward the window. The child was no longer there, but he saw now, what
had before escaped his notice, that the snow beneath the window was
broken and trodden by a man’s footprints. With a smothered exclamation
Dixon bent an instant above these tracks, and then began tracing them
carefully. He found where they led from the group of pines to the
window; he found where they had first approached the house across the
open fields from the hill beyond, direct and even, as of one with a
fixed purpose; he found also where they had turned from the window in
long, regular strides as of one in flight. These he followed to the
foot of the hill, and across to the other side, where they seemed to
lose themselves in the trackless forest. He stood here again for some
moments, an ashy ring forming itself about his lips. Then, with a deep
breath, he set his teeth together, thrust the pistol into his pocket,
and turned toward the town. It was scarcely awake as yet. Smoke curled
lazily upward from the chimneys, but hardly any one was stirring. Even
about the door of that great commercial emporium known far and near as
“Buckey’s,” the regular loafers had as yet no representative; and
here, as elsewhere, the snow, which had drifted across the steps, was
A little beyond “Buckey’s” stood a neat frame structure, across whose
entrance stretched a sign bearing the inscription:
“James Dixon, Justice of the Peace.”
This building Dixon entered. A boy who was steaming himself at the
great stove in the centre of the room looked up with a duck of the
head as the proprietor of the office entered, paying no further
attention as he proceeded to divest himself of his outer garments and
seat himself at his desk.
Apparently business at this time of the year was not pressing, for,
beyond arranging some papers with legal headings, and glancing over a
newspaper or two, Dixon did no work. The most of the time he sat
industriously smoking, his eyes set upon the uncheerful winter
landscape without. Once, when the boy was absent he took from his
breast-pocket the pistol, and examined it again with a knitted brow;
after which he locked it in a drawer of the desk, and resumed his
At noon he sent the boy away, and, locking the office-door, turned his
face homeward. The town was awake now, or as much so as it was likely
to be. A few sleighs and sleds were standing before the doors of the
saloons, and it appeared to Dixon that an unwonted excitement
prevailed in and about “Buckey’s,” all the men visible being gathered
before the familiar red door, and all talking at once in even louder
tones than usual.
As Dixon came nearer, two of the men started forward and approached
“We was jest a-comin’ fur ye, Square,” said the foremost. “Thar’s a
stranger in thar as won’t give no account of himself, an’ we was
“Oh, quit foolin’,” said the other, roughly. “It’s nothing but a dead
tramp. That’s all, Square,” and he shifted his quid to the other side
of his mouth, composedly.
Dixon changed countenance. A little tremor ran through his frame.
“A tramp?” he repeated. “Dead?”
“Dead as a door-nail!” the man answered. “Froze brittle. Small an’ his
boy found him this mornin’ in Crosse’s timber.”
They started on, giving Dixon precedence. It appeared to the men that
he showed very small interest, and unaccountable deliberation. Even
when they had reached Buckey’s, he mounted the steps slowly, standing
an instant with his hands on the latch, as if indifferent, or
reluctant. At last, with another impatient movement of the shoulders,
he opened the door and went in. The crowd of rough, bearded men who
filled the space between the counters and the stove, nodded
respectfully and fell back.
That which they had surrounded lay stretched stark and stiff upon the
bare floor. It was the body of a man which had been at some time
sturdy and strong. Now it was pinched and wasted, and clad in thin,
worn garments, and shoes that seemed ready to drop from the naked,
frost-bitten feet. The unkempt iron-gray hair and beard gave the face,
at first glance, a look of wildness, but, observing more closely, one
saw that the features, though heavy, were not uncomely, and wore a
look of extreme suffering, which even death had not been able to
“Looks like a Inglishman, eh, Square?” said one of the men present.
Dixon did not seem to have heard him. He stood looking down upon the
dead man without moving or speaking. The ashy ring had again shown
itself about his lips, and was creeping slowly over his face.
“It’s the first as I’ve seen in these parts for many a year,” said
another. “Our county ain’t pop’lar with that kind,” he added, grimly.
“He took a mighty oncomfortable time o’ year fur trampin’,” said a
blear-eyed vagabond near the stove. “I’ve ben meditatin’ somethin’ o’
the kind myself, but reckon I’ll wait fur warm weather. My
constitution is delikit.”
“Don’t wait for warm weather, Shanks,” said Buckey himself, leaning
comfortably across the counter. “They’ll make it warm enough for
you, whenever ye go!”
At the laugh which followed this sally, Dixon started and looked
around him, in a dazed sort of way. The laugh died out suddenly, and
the men sank into a shame-faced silence, but even now he did not
“They’s somethin’ in his breast pocket, Square,” said one of them,
bending over the body. “Somethin’ like a book, or a——”
“Take it out, Slater,” said Dixon, in a voice at which all present
started, and looked at him curiously.
The man did as ordered, producing from the tattered pocket a small,
soiled blank-book, whose pages appeared to be closely written. He
handed it to Dixon, who took it mechanically, and, opening it,
appeared to glance at the contents at random.
Those nearest him saw his fingers close suddenly upon the book, and
heard the sharp indrawn breath which he shut back between his teeth.
He put his hand to his head again, and held it there while his eyes
swept over the group of respectful but inquisitive faces.
“There is something here,” he said, holding the book before him, and
speaking in the voice which had once before made them start—“there is
something here I would like to look into. Let the—the body lie here
until I come back.”
There was a murmur of assent, and he turned and left the store. They
saw him stand a moment on the step outside, his face toward home. Then
he turned in the opposite direction and disappeared.
Dixon entered his office, locked the door, and flung himself into his
chair, the little book open before him. The ashen ring had widened
until his whole face was like that of the dead. Not a muscle of his
rigid face stirred as with desperate eyes he read on and on. Only the
faint rustle of the leaves as he turned the pages, and his heavy
breathing broke the silence. And this is what he read:
THE DEAD MAN’S STORY.
My wanderings are almost over. Exposure and misery have
nearly finished their work. I feel my strength ebbing from
day to day, and I know that I must soon die, and die, it may
be, with the purpose which has sustained me all these years
unattained. Knowing this, I have determined to write in this
book the story of my life, hoping that when I am
dead—“found dead,” it may be, like a tramp or
vagabond—some pitying eye may fall upon these words and
give me decent burial, for something in me rebels at being
thrown like a dog into an outcast’s grave. Here is the story
as I have repeated it over and over to myself hundreds of
times during the weary years that have passed:
I was accounted a quiet, good-natured fellow in the little
town in England where I was born and lived before I came to
this country. I was slow of speech, but I had received a
fair education, and had a turn for reading, and for
scribbling down my thoughts. I was a printer by trade, like
my father before me. He died when I was a lad of sixteen,
leaving me to care for the mother, and for Barbara. She was
the daughter of our nearest neighbor, and from the time she
could walk we were always together. When she was still very
young her parents died, and their children were scattered,
and Barbara came to us. I was the only child left of many,
and my mother gladly welcomed her as a daughter. We lived
together for years as brother and sister, but I was not long
in finding out that my love for Barbara passed that of any
brother, and when she was fifteen we became engaged.
From that day I had but one ambition in life—to put myself
into circumstances where I could make her my wife, for I had
vowed in my heart not to do so until I could offer her
something more than the hard lot of a common mechanic’s
wife. It seemed to me she was born for something better. She
was a real English beauty, with chestnut hair falling far
below her waist, and a skin like milk and roses. A gay,
bright creature she was, fond of music and dancing and
company; fond of me too, as I believe still, though I was
slow and silent and awkward; trusting in me, leaning upon
me, and confiding in me every thought of her innocent
I did not care for gay scenes myself, but I often went with
Barbara to such entertainments as the place afforded, and
enjoyed seeing her happy, and admired, and courted.
When Barbara was about eighteen years old a young man came
to our place. I will not write his name here—there is no
need. He was London-born and bred, and, though a printer
like myself, far cleverer, and full of ambitious schemes of
which I never dreamed. He was a handsome, dashing fellow,
with finer ways than we were used to. He could do a little
of everything, and very well too. He sang, and played the
guitar, and danced like a Frenchman, and in no time had won
his way with every one. The women folks, of course, were
carried away with him.
The first time he saw Barbara was at a dance where I had
taken her. He pointed her out to me, and asked her name. I
may have betrayed something of my love and pride as I
answered, for he gave me a quick, curious look, and a moment
later asked for an introduction to her. After that they
danced together a good deal, and every one was saying what a
handsome couple they made.
Soon after this the mother became ailing and fretted at
being left alone of evenings, so I often stayed with her
while Barbara danced at some neighbor’s house or public
assembly with the new-comer.
I never had a thought of jealousy, not even when the fellows
in the shop began chaffing me for letting my sweetheart run
about with another man, for I trusted Barbara, and was not
he my friend? Unlike as we were, had he not singled me out
from all the others, and made me his confidant and companion
on all occasions?
Even after I had left the shop, having at last secured the
position as book-keeper at the —— Mills which I had for
years been working for, he kept up the former intimacy, and
often I found him waiting for me when I returned late from
my work, and I liked nothing so well as to sit and smoke,
and listen to him and Barbara, their singing, and laughter,
and foolish talk.
It went on so for a good while. I was beginning to lay by
money, and the time for our marriage was not far off. But a
strike broke out just then among the spinners. I had known
it was coming, and done what I could to prevent it, knowing
what the result would be, but it was all in vain. Their
wrongs were too real and of too long standing. The crisis
came; the mills were closed; for a few days the strikers
believed they would win the day.
At the end of a week the mills opened with a new set of
operatives hired from a neighboring town. Riots and
bloodshed followed. Those were troublous times. I could not
keep my hand from giving aid to the suffering wives and
children of men I had lived among all my life. I took no
thought for consequences. One day I received my discharge.
I was dazed by the cruel blow; I went about like a man
walking in his sleep.
One night as I walked the streets, some one I met told me
that my friend, the man I am writing of, was ill. I went at
once to his room, which was in the building over the
printing office where he had now gotten to be foreman. I
found him restless and feverish, and at his request I stayed
with him until the small hours of the night. Then I went
home. No one saw me going in or out of his room, but I met
two or three stragglers on my way home. I had been half an
hour in bed when an alarm of fire was sounded, and I rose
and joined the crowd in the streets. The —— Mills were
burning, and in a short time were burned to the ground. The
same day I was arrested on a charge of having set the fire.
I laughed at the charge. My friend, who was now delirious
with fever, would soon put me right. My trial was deferred
until he was able to appear. When the day came at last, he
stood up, white and haggard, in that crowded court-room, and
swore he had not seen me at all on the night I had spent
with him—the night of the fire. There were other things
against me: my known friendship for the leaders of the
strike, my discharge, my absence from home at the time the
fire must have been started, and other small but damning
evidence. I was convicted, and sentenced to transportation.
I saw my old mother fall as if dead! I saw Barbara’s white
face bending over her; plainer than all, I saw that man who
had been my friend, and the look he gave the woman who was
to have been my wife! Something leaped into life within me
then—something which has never died. If I could have
reached him then and there!
I do not suppose twenty people in the town believed me
guilty. I do not believe the jury which convicted me, nor
the judge who sentenced me, believed me guilty; but
everything was against me, except my past life, and that had
no weight with the law. My sentence was commuted to a term
of years in the penitentiary. I will not write of my
prison-life. Three months after it began I received a letter
from Barbara, telling me of my mother’s death, bidding me
keep up courage, and pray, but saying nothing of herself, or
At the end of five years came freedom. The real criminals
had been discovered, and I was discharged. The man who went
out of that prison door was not the man who had entered it.
The law, conscious of the fact that no human power can make
amends to an innocent man for a punishment unjustly
inflicted, takes no notice of it. It is dumb before a wrong
so monstrous. I went back to my native town. Every hand was
stretched out to me. My old employers at the mill would have
put me in my old place, but I refused. I inquired for
Barbara and for him. They had married after my mother’s
death and gone, it was said, to America. I took measures to
prove this; then I went to work at my old trade. I worked
day and night, and lived on next to nothing. At the end of
a year I had what I wanted. A fortnight later I was in New
My plan was to work my way over the country—to work and
watch. I felt sure that the man I was looking for would work
at his trade, too, and I believed in time I should get on
his track. I stayed several months in New York, and found
plenty to do. The only fault found with me was my love of
change. “You know what is said of ‘rolling stones,’ Jordan,”
my employers would say, as I was about to leave. “It isn’t
moss-gathering I am after,” I would answer.
I took no man into my confidence, but I lost no chance of
getting acquainted with men of our craft. I frequented
places where they congregated, set them to talking, asking
them as to Englishmen they had known, etc.
“You are looking for some one, Jordan,” was said more than
“Maybe I am,” I would answer.
Once a man who had been looking on and listening, said, with
a laugh, “I’m devilish glad it ain’t me you’re looking for,
Jordan!” And I knew well enough what he meant.
I have wandered south and west, I have thought many a time I
was on the right trail, but it has come to naught so far.
About a year ago I fell ill, and was a long time in a
hospital. When I was discharged I was a mere wreck.
Something was the matter with my heart, they said. I have
not been able to work long at a time since. Such work as I
get is given me out of compassion.
At thirty-five I have the face and gait of a feeble man of
sixty. When I catch a glimpse of my reflection, I am like a
stranger in my own eyes, yet feeble as is my body, the
motive for which I live is strong within me.
By every glimpse into a warm, cosey fireside where the happy
husband and wife and children gather, I renew my vow to find
the man who wrecked my life, to meet him face to face, to
unmask his villainy, to let him see Barbara, his wife, turn
from him in horror and loathing, to have his craven life at
last! This desire, continually thwarted, never extinguished,
upholds me. It is meat, and drink, and clothing to my
famished, shivering body. I must be the chosen instrument of
God’s vengeance, or I should have died of sheer despair
before now. Die? No, not yet. I must press on. Who knows but
I may be even now near the goal?
I am stranded here in a little western town where a false
trail has led me. I am growing weaker. A slow fever is
burning out my life. The last three months have been
terrible. I have had but little work, and I have
suffered—oh my God, how I have suffered—from cold and
My appearance is such that I am taken for a tramp. I have
barely escaped arrest several times as a suspicious
character. It is hard for me to see little children run away
at my approach, and women turn pale and tremble as they open
the door to me. So far I have only asked for work, though I
have often slept supperless in sheds and barns. I have found
a little work at my old trade. When it is done I shall push
on. What with this fever in my blood, and the deadly longing
in my heart, I have no rest.
I have found a new trail—the clearest I have come across.
Chance threw into my hand a newspaper in which the name of
him I am seeking is mentioned, honorably mentioned, in
connection with the politics of a certain State. It may not
be he. Another man may bear the same name, but new life has
entered my veins since I saw it. Last night I dreamed I had
my hand on his throat.
I have found him! From this hill-top where I am sitting I
see the town where he lives in comfort and honor—the very
house that shelters him. The smoke of his fire comes up to
me. It is a bitter cold day, and I have eaten nothing, but I
feel neither cold nor hunger. From the day when I started on
this last sure trail everything has been against me. I have
been sick; I have found no work; I have begged my bread; I
have been hunted for the crimes of others; I have borne
abuse, scorn, insult. The very lowest depth of misery and
humiliation has been reached. But that is all nothing: my
purpose is to be accomplished. The end is near.
I reached this spot to-day at noon, and sat down here to
rest a bit before going down into the town to make assurance
sure. Soon after, a party of children came up the hill with
their sleds. When they saw me they ran, except one little
lass of seven or eight. She stood still and looked at me, as
if too scared to move. I know I am terrible to look at—I
have seen my face in pools of water as I drank—but I would
not fright the child, and I tried to make my voice gentle as
“Don’t be scared, little one; I won’t hurt you.”
Just then the sun came out of a cloud and struck across her
face and hair. I cried out, I could not help it. It was
Barbara’s face and hair, but the eyes were his.
“Stop!” I said, as the child started off. “What is your
“Barbara,” she answered, and then: “If you are hungry,” she
said, “mamma will give you something to eat. We live down
yonder in the brown cottage.”
I stared at her, shutting my teeth together.
“Maybe papa would give you some money,” she said again. “He
is such a good man, my papa is.”
I burst into a laugh. The little lass’s fear came back, and
she turned and ran away.
I have not moved from the spot since she left me. I have
carefully cleaned and loaded the weapon I have carried so
long—the instrument in my hand of God’s vengeance. Before
another sun rises it will be over.
I sit and look at the cottage the child pointed out. I can
see that it is neat and comfortable. The sun is going down,
and the windows on this side are red as blood. So is all the
snow between this place and that. I shall wait until night.
I feel no fear, no remorse; and yet, if the child had not
had his eyes——
Meanwhile the men who were waiting for Dixon’s return became a little
restive, as the minutes dragged along and he did not appear. Even
those ready means of beguiling time common to men of their stamp—the
telling of highly-seasoned and apropos stories interspersed with
frequent libations, began to pall. Some of them stole away to their
neglected dinners, returning shortly with a renewed sense of wonder as
they still found him absent.
And the stark figure lay there in their midst, itself for the time
forgotten in the stories and conjectures its presence had evoked, the
faint smile frozen on its unshaven lips, the half-open eyes fixed
seemingly upon the door with a terrible intentness.
At last one of the men who was near a window overlooking the street,
“He’s comin’!” and a moment or two later, “I swear, he’s paler’n the
dead man his self!”
“Mebbe it’s his long-lost brother!” suggested the vagabond Shanks, who
was given to pleasantries of this sort.
“He was always that a way!” declared another. “They’s men as can’t
look at a corpse without turnin’ white around the gills, an’ Dixon’s
one on ’em! I’ve seen him a-fore. An’ he ain’t no coward, neither!”
“No! He ain’t no coward!” chorused the others, and a moment or two
later Dixon pushed open the door and came in. Every man’s eye was
drawn to his face, but he saw no one. He looked straight before him
“Buckey,” he said, addressing that worthy in one of his many
capacities, that of undertaker, “I knew this—man. Make arrangements
to have the—the body brought to my house, at once, and to have the
funeral from there to-morrow morning.”
He paused a moment, a kind of click in his throat, and then added,
“Let every man and woman who knows me be present.”
He turned and went out, and they saw him, with his head sunk on his
breast, walking homeward.
At the appointed hour the small front room of Dixon’s cottage was
filled with men and women, drawn thither in part through deference to
his expressed desire, in part through curiosity excited by the rumors
which had filled the air since the day before.
The body of the stranger, now shrouded and coffined, rested upon a
bier in the centre of the room. At its head sat the minister of the
one church of which the town could boast.
The people were very silent, even more so than the occasion seemed to
warrant, but they studied each other’s faces furtively, as if each
sought in the other some clue to the mystery which was to himself
They were plain, hard-working people, and, for the most part, decent,
law-abiding citizens. The man in whose house they were assembled had
been with them for years. What he had been before he came among them
they had never asked. It may be that some of them had something in
their own past they would fain have forgotten. He had won their
respect and confidence, and in time their affection, for, as has been
said, he was generous, brave and helpful. He had been their chosen
leader. They had honored him with such small honors as they had to
bestow, and as his reputation as a political writer and speaker
spread, other and higher honors were more than hinted at.
To-day they were disturbed and restless, as if under the shadow of
some impending change or calamity. They waited in a tense, constrained
silence for what might happen. At length a door opened noiselessly and
Dixon stood before them. A thrill ran through every breast as they saw
him. A score of years might have passed over him, and not have wrought
the change of this one night. The assured carriage, the look of
strength and power and pride had vanished. The broad shoulders
stooped. The hair was matted over his brow, the features pinched and
He let his eyes wander over the faces of those present a moment; then,
in a strained, husky voice, began speaking.
“You who have been my friends,” he said, “who for years have given me
your respect and confidence and support, look at the man lying there
in his coffin! That is my work!”
He paused. Every face blanched perceptibly. No one moved, but all
hung, with parted lips, upon the next words that strange, toneless
voice might utter. It began again:
“That man was my friend, and I was his; but he possessed one thing I
wanted—the love of a woman, his betrothed wife. Up to the time I
began to covet this woman’s love, I was as truly his friend as he was
mine. Up to the hour when the devil put it into my power to swear away
his good name I had never dreamed of being false to him, though I had
reason to believe that the woman I loved cared for him only as a
sister might, and I might have fairly won her. He was accused of a
crime, and my word might have cleared him. Instead of that, it
convicted him. On my false testimony he went, an innocent man, to
prison, and I came with the woman I had perjured my soul to win as my
wife to this country.
“For years I tried to forget. I could not. My sin followed me day and
night, and poisoned every moment of my existence. At last I made up my
mind to go back to the old place and give myself up, and make amends
for what I had done. I left my wife and child here, and worked my
passage back to England. I was too late. Justice had been done so far
as human law could do it. The real criminals had been found, and he I
had wronged was free. And he had gone to America. I knew what for. He
was slow to anger, but, when once aroused, his anger was terrible. I
knew that he was seeking me, and I knew that he would find me. From
that time I never lay down to sleep but my last thought was, ‘It may
be to-morrow!’ I never rose in the morning that I did not say to
myself, ‘Perhaps it may be to-day!’ For years I have lived with this
spectre of vengeance at my elbow. What my life has been since I came
among you, you think you know. What it really has been, no mortal man
can guess. At last, what was to be came to pass. He found me.”
A shudder shook the speaker, and he was silent an instant. Then he
“He found me. I have read in his own hand-writing how he found me,
and all the history of his ruined life. He has stood at my window with
my life in his hands, and at the last moment—God alone knows why,
perhaps for the sake of the woman he loved and her child—he has
spared my life. I have seen the print of his feet where he must have
stood outside in the bitter cold looking in upon my warmth and
comfort. I have found the very weapon with which he would have taken
my life lying at my door where he must have flung it, and I have
traced his steps where he must have fled across the field to hide
himself in the darkness, only to die almost within a stone’s-throw of
this house. He had sworn to meet me face to face, and it was to
be—like this! The hand of God was in it. I might have kept silent.
The secret was in my hands alone. No human law could reach me now that
his tongue is silent; but lying there, as he lay yesterday, dead, in
rags, he has spoken as no living man could speak! He has accused and
convicted and sentenced me, as no human law could have done!”
He ceased as abruptly as he had began. He stood there, broken,
self-accused, in a humiliation so deep, a despair so utter, that the
sternest of his listeners was moved to a compassion which fought
desperately with the horror his story had inspired. Involuntarily,
unconsciously, those nearest him had shrunk away until he stood apart,
alone, at the foot of the coffin, from which the dead, half-opened
eyes seem to hold him in a stony, unrelenting stare.
For a time there was a complete, terrible silence. Then the minister,
who had sat all this time at the head of the coffin, his venerable
head bowed upon his hands, rose, and went across the room, his mild
face illumined with a look of divine pity. He laid his withered hands
upon Dixon’s folded arms, and spoke:
“‘When I kept silence my bones waxed old. Day and night Thy hand was
heavy upon me.
“‘Mine iniquities are gone over my head, as a heavy burden they are
too heavy for me. I am troubled. I am bowed down greatly. My sorrow is
continually before me. I will declare my iniquity. I will be sorry for
my sin. Forsake me not, O Lord! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my
All heads were bowed. From the corner where the women sat together
came the sound of suppressed sobbing.
The minister went back to his place, and folding his hands above the
“Let us pray.”
When the prayer was ended, the coffin was closed, and, followed by the
entire assemblage, was borne to the place prepared for it.
The day was mild. A dense, soft snow was falling, through which the
figures of men and women moved with phantasmal noiselessness. Dixon
walked foremost by the side of the clergyman. When all was over, he
raised his eyes from the icy clods of the new-made grave. The
venerable man stood silent at its foot. Otherwise he was alone.
At the door of his cottage, the old man, too, left him, with a strong,
long hand-pressure. He stood for some time before the door. The air
was thick with the great flakes of snow, the footprints beneath the
window and across the frozen field were already hidden from sight,
but he knew that they were there, and always would be.
At last, very slowly and heavily, he turned and went into the house.
It was cold and silent. The door of the front room stood open, and the
chairs were as the people had left them. He went into the room and
tried to restore things to their customary appearance. With a visible
shudder he crossed the middle of the room where the coffin had stood,
and threw open the windows. Then he went out, closing the door
carefully. In the passage he listened a moment, but it was still
silent. He knew that the child had been sent to a neighbor’s, and that
he should find his wife in her own room.
He found her sitting by the window. She did not move as he entered,
and he stood near her for some moments waiting vainly for some sign
that she was aware of his presence. Then he spoke her name.
She turned slightly toward him. That was all.
Dixon threw himself upon a chair near her, with a groan.
“Barbara!” he cried, in a voice of anguish, “Barbara! Is this all you
have to give me?”
She turned toward him a wan, drawn face with dazed, tearless eyes that
seemed to look at him as from afar off.
“I trusted you so completely,” she said, her words falling as slowly
and coldly as the snowflakes outside, “so completely! I never knew
that such things could be! I shall never forgive myself that I
believed him guilty, never! I shall never forgive myself that I helped
to drive him to despair. I shall never forgive——”
“Don’t say it, Barbara! For God’s sake, don’t say it!” her husband
cried, throwing himself at her feet, and burying his face upon her
lap. He felt her whole body recoil from his touch, and shrank back,
hiding his face upon his arms.
“I was such a child,” she went on, “such a foolish, weak child—but I
might have known better. I shall never forgive myself!”
Dixon groaned aloud. “But I am ready, quite ready,” she continued in
the same voice.
He started up, and stared at her wildly. He feared for her reason.
“Yes,” she said, “ready to go with you, away from here, anywhere, at
any time. You cannot stay here?”
There was something in her voice and face impossible to describe—a
deadly apathy, an icy coldness, a stony acceptance of a hopeless
For the first time in twenty-four hours the color returned to Dixon’s
face. His eyes flashed, his teeth were set, as he sprang to his feet.
In that instant he set his face against the power that would fling him
into bottomless abysses of shame and ruin.
“I will stay here!” he said, fiercely. “I will not fly again! The
worst that could happen has happened. Where should I go to escape
my fate? Why should I attempt it? No! I swear to live my life here,
and to live it as a man should live with God’s help, and yours,
Barbara!” he implored. “Will you drive me to despair? Will you forsake
me, or will you help me?”
A shiver shook the woman’s slight form, and she passed her hand across
her eyes once or twice, before reaching it toward him. A piteous smile
quivered across her lips, but her eyes did not seek his.
He seized her hand, and again threw himself before her.
“I am your wife, Jamie,” she said, gently. “Your wife, for better or
for worse. Whatever I can do to help you, I will do.”
Then at last the eyes of the two met in a long, long gaze, and in that
moment Dixon read his fate.
Everything else might, and did, come back to him—the esteem and
confidence of his fellow-men, worldly success, aye, and the blessing
of God upon the work to which he dedicated the best portion of his
remaining years—the raising up of the fallen and unfortunate; all
these things came to him in time, but one thing he forever missed—the
old look of perfect, unquestioning trust in one woman’s eyes, the eyes
of the woman for whose sake he had sinned.