Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Robert Prince
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
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the Canadian Institute for Historical Microproductions.
And other Sketches,
The Story of Monsieur, Madame, and the Pea-Green Parrot.
The Bishop of Saskabasquia.
"As it was in the Beginning."
A Christmas Sketch.
The Idyl of the Island.
The Story of Delle Josephine Boulanger.
The Story of Etienne Chezy d'Alencourt.
"Descendez a l'ombre, ma jolie blonde."
The Prisoner Dubois.
How the Mr. Foxleys Came, Stayed, and Never Went Away.
The Gilded Hammock.
I present these "Sketches" in all proper fear and humility, to my
Canadian public, hoping that the phases of colonial life they
endeavor to portray will be recognized as not altogether unfamiliar.
Some of them are true, others have been written through the medium
of Fancy, which can find and inhabit as large a field in Canada as
elsewhere; for, to my mind, there is no country, no town, no village,
as there is no nation, no class of society, nor individual existence,
that has not its own deep and peculiar significance, its own unique
and personal characteristics that distinguish it from the rest of
I am nobody. I am living in a London lodging-house. My room is up
three pair of stairs. I have come to London to sell or to part with
in some manner an opera, a comedy, a volume of verse, songs, sketches,
stories. I compose as well as write. I am ambitious. For the sake of
another, one other, I am ambitious. For myself it does not matter.
If nobody will discover me I must discover myself. I must demand
recognition, I must wrest attention, they are my due. I look from my
window over the smoky roofs of London. What will it do for me, this
great cold city? It shall hear me, it shall pause for a moment, for
a day, for a year. I will make it to listen to me, to look at me. I
have left a continent behind, I have crossed a great water; I have
incurred dangers, trials of all kinds; I have grown pale and thin
with labor and the midnight oil; I have starved, and watched the
dawn break starving; I have prayed on my stubborn knees for death
and I have prayed on my stubborn knees for life--all that I might
reach London, London that has killed so many of my brothers, London
the cold, London the blind, London the cruel! I am here at last. I
am here to be tested, to be proved, to be worn proudly, as a
favorite and costly jewel is worn, or to be flung aside scornfully
or dropped stealthily to--the devil! And I love it so this great
London! I am ready to swear no one ever loved it so before! The
smokier it is, the dirtier, the dingier, the better. The oftener it
rains the better. The more whimsical it is, the more fickle, the
more credulous, the more self-sufficient, the more self-existent,
the better. Nothing that it can do, nothing that it can be, can
change my love for it, great cruel London!
But to be cruel to _me_, to be fickle to _me_, to be deaf to _me_, to
be blind to _me_! Would I change then? I might. As yet it does not
know me. I pass through its streets, touching here a bit of old
black wall, picking there an ivy leaf, and it knows me not. It is
holy ground to me. It is the mistress whose hand alone I as yet dare
to kiss. Some day I shall possess the whole, and I shall walk with
the firm and buoyant tread of the accepted, delighted lover. Only
to-day I am nobody. I am crowded out. Yet there are moments when the
mere joy of being in England, of being in London, satisfies me. I
have seen the sunbeam strike the glory along the green. I know it is
an English sky above me, all change, all mutability. No steady
cloudless sphere of blue but ever-varying glories of white piled
cloud against the gray. Listen to this. I saw a primrose--the first
I had ever seen--in the hedge. They said "Pick it." But I did not.
I, who had written there years ago,--
I never pulled a primrose, I,
But could I know that there may lie
E'en now some small or hidden seed,
Within, below, an English mead,
Waiting for sun and rain to make
A flower of it for my poor sake,
I then could wait till winds should tell,
For me there swayed or swung a bell,
Or reared a banner, peered a star,
Or curved a cup in woods afar.
I who had written that, I had found my first primrose and I could
not pluck it. I found it fair be sure. I find all England fair. The
shimmering mist and the tender rain, the red wallflower and the ivy
green, the singing birds and the shallow streams--all the country;
the blackened churches, the grass-grown churchyards, the hum of
streets the crowded omnibus, the gorgeous shops,--all the town. God!
do I not love it, my England? Yet not my England yet. Till she
proclaim it herself, I am not hers. I will make her mine. I will
write as no man has ever written about her, for very love of her. I
look out to-night from my narrow window and think how the moonlight
falls on Tintern, on Glastonbury, on Furness. How it falls on the
primrose I would not pluck. How it would like to fall on the tall
blue-bells in the wood. I see the lights of Oxford St. The omnibuses
rattle by, the people are going to see Irving, Wilson Barrett, Ellen
Terry. What line, of mine, what bar, what thought or phrase will turn
the silence into song, the copper into gold?--I come back from
the window and sit at the square centre table. It is rickety and
uncomfortable, useless to write on. I kick it. I would kick anything
that came in my way to-night. I am savage. Outside, a French piano
is playing that infernal waltz. A fair subject for kicking if you
will. But, though I would I cannot. What a room! The fire-place is
filled with orange peel and brown paper, cigar stumps and matches.
One blind I pulled down this morning, the other is crooked. The lamp
glass is cracked, my work too. I dare not look at the wall paper nor
the pictures. The carpet I have kicked into holes. I can see it
though I can't feel it, it is so thin. My clothes are lying all about.
The soot of London begrimes every object in the room. I would buy a
pot of musk or a silken scarf if I dared, but how can I?
I must get my bread first and live for beauty after. Everything is
refused though, everything sent back or else dropped as it were into
some bottomless pit or gulf.
Here is my opera. This is my _magnum opus_, very dear, very clear,
very well preserved. For it is three years old. I scored it nearly
altogether, by _her_ side, Hortense, my dear love, my northern bird!
You could flush under my gaze, you could kindle at my touch, but you
were not for me, you were not for me!--My head droops down, I
could go to sleep. But I must not waste the time in sleep. I will
write another story. No; I had four returned to-day. Ah! Cruel London!
To love you so, only that I may be spurned and thrust aside, ignored,
forgotten. But to-morrow I will try again. I will take the opera to
the theatres, I will see the managers, I will even tell them about
myself and about Hortense--but it will be hard. They do not know me,
they do not know Hortense. They will laugh, they will say "You fool."
And I shall be helpless, I shall let them say it. They will never
listen to me, though I play my most beautiful phrase, for I am nobody.
And Hortense, the child with the royal air, Hortense, with her
imperial brow and her hair rolled over its cushion, Hortense, the
_Chatelaine_ of _Beau Sejour_, the delicate, haughty, pale and
impassioned daughter of a noble house, that Hortense, my Hortense,
Who in this great London will believe in me, who will care to know
about Hortense or about _Beau Sejour_? If they ask me, I shall say--
oh! proudly--not in Normandy nor in Alsace, but far away across a
great water dwells such a maiden in such a _chateau_. There by the
side of a northern river, ever rippling, ever sparkling in Summer,
hard, hard frozen in winter, stretches a vast estate. I remember its
impenetrable pinewood, its deep ravine; I see the _chateau_, long
and white and straggling, with the red tiled towers and the tall
French windows; I see the terrace where the hound must still sleep;
I see the square side tower with the black iron shutters; I see the
very window where Hortense has set her light; I see the floating
cribs on the river, I hear the boatmen singing--
Descendez a l'ombre,
Ma Jolie blonde.
And now I am dreaming surely! This is London, not _Beau Sejour_, and
Hortense is far away, and it is that cursed fellow in the street I
hear! The morrow comes on quickly. If I were to draw up that crooked
blind now I should see the first streaks of daylight. Who pinned
those other curtains together? That was well done, for I don't want
to see the daylight; and it comes in, you know, Hortense, when you
think it is shut out. Somebody calls it _fingers_, and that is just
what it is, long fingers of dawn, always pale, always gray and white,
stealing in and around my pillow for me. Never pink, never rosy,
mind that; always faint and shadowy and gray.
It was all caste. Caste in London, caste in _Le Bos Canada_, all the
same. Because she was a _St. Hilaire_. Her full name--_Hortense
Angelique De Repentigny de St. Hilaire_--how it grates on me afresh
with its aristocratic plentitude. She is well-born, certainly;
better born than most of these girls I have seen here in London,
driving, walking, riding in the Parks. They wear their hair over
cushions too. Freckled skins, high cheek-bones, square foreheads,
spreading eyebrows--they shouldn't wear it so. It suits Hortense--
with her pale patrician outline and her dark pencilled eyebrows, and
her little black ribbon and amulet around her neck. _O, Marie, priey
pour nous qui avous recours a vous_! Once I walked out to _Beau
Sejour_. She did not expect me and I crept through the leafy ravine to
the pinewood, then on to the steps, and so up to the terrace.
Through the French window I could see her seated at the long table
opposite Father Couture. She lives alone with the good Pere. She is
the last one of the noble line, and he guards her well and guards
her money too.
"I do remember that it vill be all for ze Church," she has said to me.
And the priest has taught her all she knows, how to sew and embroider,
and cook and read, though he never lets her read anything but works
on religion. Religion, always religion! He has brought her up like a
nun, crushed the life out of her. Until I found her out, found my
jewel out. It is Tennyson who says that. But his "Maud" was freer to
woo than Hortense, freer to love and kiss and hold--my God! that
night while I watched them studying and bending over those cursed
works on the Martyrs and the Saints and the Mission houses--I saw him--
him--that old priest--take her in his arms and caress her, drink her
breath, feast on her eyes, her hair, her delicate skin, and I burst
in like a young madman and told Father Conture what I thought. Oh! I
was mad! I should have won her first. I should have worked quietly,
cautiously, waiting, waiting, biding my time. But I could never bide
my time. And now she hates me, Hortense hates me, though she so
nearly learned to love me. There where we used to listen to the
magical river songs, we nearly loved, did we not Hortense? But she
was a _St. Hilaire_, and I--I was nobody, and I had insulted _le bon
Pere_. Yet if I can go back to her rich, prosperous, independent--
What if that happen? But I begin to fancy it will never happen. My
resolutions, where are they, what comes of them? Nothing. I have
tried everything except the opera. Everything else has been rejected.
For a week I have not gone to bed at all. I wait and see those
ghastly gray fingers smoothing my pillow. I am not wanted. I am
crowded out. My hands tremble and I cannot write. My eyes fail and I
cannot see. To the window!
* * * * *
The lights of Oxford St. once more; the glare and the rattle without,
the fever and the ruin, the nerves and the heart within. Poor nerves,
poor heart; it is food you want and wine and rest, and I cannot give
them to you.
* * * * *
Sing, Hortense, will you? Sit by my side, by our dear river St.
Maurice, the clear, the sparkling. See how the floating cribs sail by,
each with its gleaming lights! It is like Venice I suppose. Shall we
see Venice ever, Hortense, you and I? Sing now for me,
Descendez a l'ombre,
Ma Jolie blonde.
Only you are _petite brune_, there is nothing _blonde_ about you,
_mignonne_, my dear mademoiselle, I should say if I were with you
of course as I used to do. But surely I _am_ with you and those
lights are the floating cribs I see, and your voice it is that sings,
and presently the boatmen hear and they turn and move their hands
and join in--Now all together,
Descendez a l'ombre,
* * * * *
It was like you, Hortense, to come all this way. How did you manage
it, manage to cross that great water all alone? My poor girl did you
grow tired of _Le bon Pere_ at last and of the Martyrs and the
Saints and the Jesuit Fathers? But you have got your amulet on still
I hope. That is right, for there is a chance--there is a chance of
these things proving blessings after all to good girls, and you were
a good girl Hortense. You will not mind my calling you Hortense,
will you? When we are in _Le Bas Canada_ again, in your own
seignieury, it will be "Madamoiselle," I promise you. You say it is
a strange pillow, Hortense? Books, my girl, and manuscripts; hard
but not so hard as London stones and London hearts. Do you know I
think I am dying, or else going mad? And no one will listen even if
I cry out. There is too much to listen to already in England. Think
of all the growing green, Hortense, if you can, where you are, so far
away from it all. Where you are it is cold and the snow is still on
the ground and only the little bloodroot is up in the woods. Here
where I am Hortense, where I am going to die, it is warm and green
full of color--oh! Such color! Before I came here, to London you
know London that is going to do so much for me, for us both, I had
one day--one day in the country. There I saw--No! They will not let
me tell you, I knew they would try to prevent me, those long gray
fingers stealing in, stealing in! But I _will_ tell you. Listen,
Hortense, please. I saw the hawthorne, pink and white, the laburnum--
yellow--not fire-color, I shall correct the Laureate there, Hortense,
when I am better, when I--publish!--It is dreadful to be alone in
London. Don't come, Hortense. Stay where you are, even if it is cold
and gray and there is no color. Keep your amulet round your neck,
dear!--I count my pulse beats. It is a bad thing to do. It is
broad daylight now and the fingers have gone. I can write again
perhaps.--The pen--The paper--The ink--God. Hortense! There is no
ink left! And my heart--My heart--Hortense!!!
Descendez a l'ombre,
Ma Jolie blonde.
Monsieur, Madame and the Pea-Green Parrot
I am an Englishman by birth. Having however lived for fourteen years
out in America or rather in Canada, I am only half an Englishman.
All the love for the dear old land which I am now revisiting is
still there, deep in my heart, but from so long a residence in
another country certain differences arise of character, habit and
thought, not to be easily shaken off. I was in the Civil Service in
Canada and did very well until I meddled with literature.
Discovering that I had a faculty for verse and story-telling, I was
ambitious and at the same time foolish enough to work so hard at my
new pursuit that I was compelled to "cut" the service, in other
words to resign. Some other Englishman got my post and I found myself,
rather unexpectedly, it is true, free to write to my heart's content.
I got off a number of things, poems, sketches, etc., but my great
work turned out to be a comedy. I slaved at this all day and amused
myself by rehearsing it in my lodgings all night. I incurred the
odium of the landlady by coaxing the maid of all work to learn a
part and act it with me. Finally I resolved to take a great step. I
would go down to New York and get my comedy produced. That was
exactly five years ago and though the comedy was _not_ produced, I
am still sanguine that it yet may be, and perhaps not in New York
after all, but in a much more important creative centre.
I was at the time of my visit to New York perfectly unacquainted
with the ways of a metropolis, and it was fortunate for me that I
possessed one friend there who if not exactly a friend _at court_ as
we say, was in truth a much more useful person to me, as, having
once been young and inexperienced himself, he knew the ropes well
and handled them thoroughly to his own satisfaction and with an eye
to my comfort and safety.
In the matter of cheap dives, for instance, he was invaluable.
Left to myself I either drifted to the most expensive place, for
a meal short perhaps of Delmonicos, or else to a shabby and
altogether-to-be-repudiated den, where the meat would be rags as well
as the pudding. But under his guidance we invariably turned up in
some clean, bright, cheap and wholesome "oysterbar" or coffee room
round the corner or up a lane, and were as happy as kings over our
One day De Kock came to me (he is a grand-nephew or something, I
believe, of the great Frenchman) and said, with his knowing air,
"You will please put on your best coat, your tall hat and a pair of
gloves, for we are going to _dine_ to-night."
"Have we not dined once to-day!"
"Pish! Pshaw! You have had a soup, a mutton-chop, a triangle of pie,
a lager beer, but you have not dined. You are not starving, and yet
you have, from my present point of view, eaten nothing the whole of
this day. _Mon cher_, it is necessary that you should dine for once
in your life. _Allons_! We go to Giuseppe, Giuseppe Martinetti with
the pale wife and the pea-green parrot--_allons, allons_!" To
Martinetti's accordingly we went. I don't know what the dinner cost.
It was dearer, certainly, than it would have been in London, but it
was quite as good. We sat at a table formed for holding four at an
open window, which, filled with exotics, overlooked Union Square,
lighted by hundreds of incandescent lamps. The room contained about
twenty of these small tables, and was, I suppose, very much like
other rooms of its kind to _habitues_ of such places, but it was all
new to me, and I stared and wondered accordingly. The waiters seemed
to be all foreigners, De Kock addressing them in a mythical but
magical language of his own. The tables were all full, and the
people at them were mostly foreigners as well.
"The Leicester Square of New York," remarked De Kock, as he helped
me to the delicious Chiante wine out of a basket-covered bottle into
a dainty glass. The soup was excellent, I remember. So was the
macaroni, served in the best Italian method. I wondered to see De
Kock manipulate it in finished style, winding yards of it around his
fork, and swallowing it duly without any apparent effort. I cut mine
at that time, although I have learned better now. I recollect the
asparagus, too: served by itself on a great flat dish, and shining
pale and green through the clear golden sauce that was poured over it.
I was just finishing my first luscious, liquid stalk, and indulging
in anticipations of my second, when the highest, the shrillest, the
most piercing, and most unearthly voice I ever heard, shouted out--
"_And for goodness sake don't say I told you_!"
It was electrifying, at least to me. I dropped my half eaten
asparagus stalk and fork at the same time, and looked up to see my
companion quietly going on as before. One or two others had stopped
eating too, but the majority appeared quite unruffled. I concluded
that it was the parrot to which my friend had referred.
"The last comic song," said the imperturbable De Kock.
"But where is the beast!" I inquired. "It seemed to be over my head."
"Oh! Not so near as that. But take my advice and don't call it a
beast, although it is a nuisance undoubtedly. Besides, its master is
not very far away from your elbow."
"What of that?" said I, still injured, though in a lower tone.
"What of that? Ah! You shall see. Look now! This short, stout person
with the diamond pin and the expansive shirt front is Giuseppe. Ah,
he sees me! Good evening, Giuseppe!"
"Good evening, Monsieur, good evening, good evening! De friend not
like de _parrot_, eh?"
The man was smiling at me with his hands crossed behind him. An
Italian Jew I dubbed him immediately.
"On the contrary, he admires it very much," said De Kock.
Following their eyes presently I saw the cage hanging from the
centre of the room, and in it a parrot as nearly pea-green in hue as
it is possible for a parrot to be.
"Tell my friend her name, Giuseppe," said De Kock, beginning on some
Giuseppe stood in his patronizing way--quite the _grand seigneur_--
with the light falling on his solitaire, making it so brilliant that
it fascinated and at the same time fatigued my eyes.
"The name of my parrot? Monsieur De Kock, he know that well. It is
Felicite--you catch--Fe-li-ci-te. It was the name of my wife."
Then his wife was dead. De Kock must have made a mistake.
"It is an unusual name for a bird, is not it?" said I.
"Monsieur is right. Not often--not often--you meet with a bird that
name. My first wife--my _first_ wife, gentlemen, she was English.
_You_ are English--ah. Yes. So was she. The English are like this."
Giuseppe took a bottle out of the cruet-stand and set it on the
table in front of him. He went on, "When an Englishman an
Englishwoman argue, they say"--here he took the bottle up very
slowly and gingerly and altered his voice to a mincing and
conventional tone--"Is it oil or is it vinegare? Did you not say
that it was vinegare? I thought that it was oil Oh! Now I see that
it is vinegare."
"Bravo!" exclaimed De Kock. "And so you did not get on with the
Englishwoman then I suppose, Giuseppe, and took Madame the next time?"
We were both laughing heartily at the man's mimicry when once again
the parrot shrieked. "But for goodness sake don't say I told you!"
Giuseppe walked off to speak to it and my friend and I were left
"Was Felcite the name of his first or second wife!" I asked.
"Of his second, of course. Didn't you hear him say the first was an
Englishwoman? The second is a tall, rather good-looking pale
Frenchwoman. You may see her to-night, and on the other hand you may
not, she doesn't often appear in here. I wish she did, I am rather
fond of her myself, which is more than her husband is. It's pretty
well known that Mr. and Mrs. Joseph do _not_ get on comfortably. In
fact, he hates her, or rather ignores her, while she doats upon him
and is tremendously jealous of the parrot"
"What, that green thing?"
"Well, its a lovely parrot, you must know, and the moment it came
into his possession--he has had it about three years--he seemed to
transfer whatever affection he had for his wife to that creature,
with a great deal beside. Why, he hugs it, and kisses it, and mows
over it--look at him now!"
Sure, enough, there was Martinetti with the bird on his finger,
kissing it, and otherwise making a fool of himself. He finished by
actually putting it away inside his coat in a kind of breast pocket,
I should imagine.
"All this is good for business, perhaps," I said.
"What, the parrot and so on? Oh, yes I daresay, that has something
to do with it. Still they are a queer couple. I come here mostly on
account of this Chiante wine; you can't get it so good in many
places in New York, and besides I confess Monsieur and his wife
interest me somewhat. And the people one see here are immensely funny.
That is your English expression, isn't it? There are three actresses
over there at that table with _amis intimes_; they are 'restin' now,
and can cut about and dine out as much as they please. There is a
French dressmaker who lives on the floor above and is to be found
here every day. She is superbly built and is hopelessly ugly, isn't
she? There is young Lord Gurgoyle, an Englishman like yourself, you
see--what the devil is he staring at like that?"
From behind a _portiere_ which fell across the end of the room came
a woman, tall, pale, and with a peculiar air of distinction about her.
Perhaps it was her very unusual pallor which so distinguished her
for there was nothing absolutely fine or handsome about the
countenance. It was a weak face I thought, with an ugly red mark
over the upper lip, and had she not been so very pale and so
exceptionally well-dressed I should not have looked at her twice.
She wore a gown of black silk, dead-black, lustrous, and fitting her
slender figure to perfection. It was cut square and low in the front
and fell away in long folds upon the floor at the back. What an
apparition she made in the midst of this noisy crowd, smoking,
chatting, swearing, laughing! Especially so when I noticed that as
she walked very slowly down between the tables, her lips were moving
nervously and her hands clutching at her beautiful dress. As for her
eyes, they were everywhere in an instant.
"'Tis Felicite. You are fortunate," murmured De Kock. "And she is a
little worse than usual."
"What is it?" I demanded. "Drink?" "Hush-sh-sh! _Mon cher_, you are
stupid. It is jealousy, jealousy, my friend, with perhaps an
occasional over-dose of chloral. Chloral is the favorite
prescription now-a-days, you must remember that. But jealousy will do,
jealousy will do. It will accomplish a great deal, will jealousy;
will destroy more, mark that! I hope she will be quiet to-night for
"Is she violent?" I asked.
"Poor thing, yes. When she finds him now with that creature inside
his coat; she will wring her hands and denounce him and threaten to
kill it--I wonder she doesn't--then her husband will march her off
behind the curtain and he will make love to the parrot again."
Precisely what happened. The lady soon found her husband, raised her
hands tragically and broke out into excited French that was
liberally sprinkled with oaths both English and French. The mania
was asserting itself, the propensity overcoming her. It was a sad
and at the same time an amusing scene, for one could not help
smiling at Giuseppe's fat unconcern as he kept his wife off at arms'
length, while all the time the parrot inside his coat was shrieking
in muffled tones "And for goodness sake don't say I told you!"
Finally Madame succumbed and was taken behind the curtain in a
dishevelled and hysterical condition which increased De Kock's pity
for her. We paid the waiter--or rather De Kock did--and left, not
seeing Giuseppe again to speak to, though he came in and removed the
parrot, cage and all.
It was a lovely night outside, and I suggested sitting for a time in
Union Square. Finding an unoccupied bench, we each made ourselves
happy with a good cigar and watched the exquisite shadows of the
trees above as thrown by the electric light on the pavement.
"Wonderful effect!" remarked my friends. "How did you enjoy your
dinner? That was a dinner, eh, and no mistake; rather have had it
without the 'episode'? Oh! I don't know; you literary fellows must
come in for that sort of thing as well as the rest of the world; I
should think it would just suit you. Put them--the three of them--
Monsieur, Madame and the Pea-Green Parrot--into a book, or better
still, on the stage. There's your title ready for you too."
I was just thinking of the same thing.
"They are undoubtedly originals, both of them--all three," said I,
"but as far as I have seen them, there is hardly enough to go upon."
"What do you mean by 'enough'?"
"I mean, for one thing, we do not understand the woman's mental and
moral condition sufficiently to make a study of her. You say it is
jealousy, and at the same time the use of chloral. That would have
to be understood more clearly. Then, one would like something to--"
"Go on," said my friend. "To--"
"Happen," said I, lighting a second cigar.
Just then a couple of boys ran across the square. One of them
stumbled over my feet, picked himself up quickly and ran on again.
Two or three people now came, all running. De Kock jumped up.
"Something is happening," he said, "and with a vengeance too I fancy.
The people now came fast and furious through the square, increasing
in numbers every moment, but through the bustle and hurry and
clatter of tongues, we could hear a woman's voice screaming in
evident distress. Mingled with it was another sound which may have
mystified the general crowd, but which De Kock and I could easily
"It is the parrot!" I exclaimed, as we started to run.
"You have your wish, _mon cher_, is it not so? But take it not so
fast; we will be there in time. _Ciel_! What a row!"
The steps leading up to the restaurant were thronged with people,
including two or three policemen. The dining-room was ablaze with
light, and still full of visitors, most of whom, however, were
moving about in a state of agitation. The upper windows were also
lighted and wide open. The screaming suddenly ceased, but not the
"For goodness sake don't say I told you!" It went on, louder than
ever, over and over again.
"Damn the bird!" exclaimed De Kock. "Policeman excuse me, but I am
rather at home here. Let me go up, will you?"
"It looks bad, sir. I'd better keep behind."
"Oh. It isn't murder or anything of that sort. I know them, pretty
couple, they are!"
The next moment we were in a kind of sitting room over the
restaurant proper. Madame Martinetti lay as if exhausted on a sofa
while the highly excited parrot sang and screamed and tore at its
cage as if for life. Giuseppe was nowhere visible. "Now then where's
the other?" demanded the policeman who had just entered behind us,
"There's always two at this business. Show him up, now." But Madame
at first would deign no explanation. Presently on the entry of
policeman No. 2 she admitted there had been a quarrel. Yes, she had
quarrelled with her dear Giuseppe, (the officers grinned) and had
driven him away. Yes, he had gone--gone forever, he had said so,
never to come back, never, never!
"And leave this fine business to you, eh? No fear of that. I guess
Mr. Martinetti'll turn up all right in the morning, however, let us
make a search, Joe." But Giuseppe was not found; there were no
traces of a struggle, and the policemen having done all they could
retired. My friend and I, by what right I know not were the last to
leave the room. De Kock stood for some moments looking out of the
window. I approached the parrot who was still screaming.
"If throwing a cloth over your head would stop you, I'd do it, my
dear," said I. To my surprise, it ceased its noise directly, and
became perfectly quiet. Madame Martinetti looked around with a
"You have the secret as well," said she. The bird turned to her and
then returned to me. I became quite interested in it. "Pretty Poll,
pretty bird; would you like a cracker?"
De Kock laughed softly at the window. "A cracker to such a bird as
that! Ask it another." I actually, though with a timid air, opened
the door of the cage and invited Polly to perch on my finger. She
came, looking at me intensely all the while. I petted her little,
which she took resignedly and with a faint show of wonder, then in
answer to De Kock's summons put her back in the cage.
"I have the honour to wish madame a _bonsoir_," said he, but the
lady was still sulky and vouchsafed no answer.
We were soon out in the street.
"Do you know," said De Kock slowly, lighting a cigar and looking up
at the house, "Do you know, I thought something had happened."
"And don't you now."
"I am not sure," answered my friend.
We were pardonably curious to see the papers next morning. The
affair was dismissed in three lines, and although as De Kock swore,
the case was one for Gaboriau, it certainly was not our business to
look into it and in fact in a week's time I was back in Canada, and
he up to his eyes in commercial pursuits. The main point remained
clear, however, that Martinetti did _not_ come back, nor was he found,
or traced or ever heard of again. Somebody took the business out of
hand, as they say, and De Kock would occasionally write a P. S. to
his letters like this--"Dined at poor Martinetti's, Chiante as usual.
Ever yours." Or it would be--"Drank to the production of your last
new comedy at Martinetti's." Once he stated that shortly after that
memorable night Madame disappeared also, taking the parrot along.
"I begin to think they are a pair of deep ones and up to some big
game" he wrote. For myself, I never entirely forgot the circumstance,
although it was but once vividly recalled to my mind and that was in
a theatre in Montreal. An American company from one of the New York
theatres was performing some farcical comedy or other in which
occurred the comic song, admirably sung and acted by Miss Kate
Castleton, "For goodness sake don't say I told you!" The
reminiscences forced upon me quite spoiled my enjoyment; I could see
that pale, nervous woman, hear her screams, and hear too the fearful
voice of the poor parrot. Where is it now, thought I? That same
winter I was much occupied in making studies of the different
classes of people among the French-Canadians. The latter turn up
everywhere in Montreal, and have a distinct "local color" about them
which I was curious to get and hope to preserve for use some future
day. I went everywhere and talked to everybody who might be of use
to me; cabmen, porters, fruit dealers and tobacconists. I found much
to interest me in the various Catholic institutions, and I was above
all very fond of visiting the large, ugly gray building with the air
of a penitentiary about it called the Grey Nunnery. Going through
its corridors one day I took a wrong turning and found I was among
some at least quasi-private rooms. The doors being open I saw that
there were flowers, books, a warm rug on the floor of one and a
mirror on the wall of another. The third I ventured to step inside of,
for a really beautiful Madonna and child confronted me at the door.
The next moment I saw what I had not expected to see--a parrot in a
cage suspended from the window! I made quite sure that it was not
_the_ parrot before I went up to it. It was asleep and appeared to
be all over of a dull grey color, to match the Nuns, one might have
said. I stood for quite a little while regarding it. Suddenly it
stirred, shook itself, awoke and seeing me, immediately broke out
into frantic shrieks to the old refrain "And for goodness sake don't
say I told you."
So it was the parrot after all! Of that I felt sure, despite the
changed color, not only because of the same words being repeated--two
birds might easily learn the same song, but because of the bird's
manner. For I felt certain that the thing knew me, recognized me, as
we say of human beings or of dogs and horses. I felt an
extraordinary sensation coming over me and sat down for a moment. I
seemed literally to be in the presence of something incomprehensible
as I watched the poor excited bird beating about and singing in that
way. The words of the song became painfully and awfully significant--
"for goodness sake don't say I told you!" They were an appeal to my
pity, to my sense of honor, to my power of secrecy, for I felt
convinced that the bird had seen something--in fact that, to use De
Kock's convenient if ambiguous phrase, _something had happened_!
Then to think of its recognizing me too, after so long an interval!
What an extraordinary thing to do! But I remembered, and hope I
shall never forget, how exceeding small do the mills of the gods
grind for poor humanity. I would have examined the creature at once
more closely had not two of the nuns appeared with pious hands lifted
in horror at the noise. They knew me slightly but affected
displeasure at the present moment.
"Who owns this bird?" said I. It was still screaming.
"The good Sister Felicite. It is her room."
"Can I see her?"
"Ah! _non_. She is ill, so very ill. She will not live long, _cette
I reflected. "Will you give her this paper without fail when I have
written upon it what I wish?"
"_Mais oui, Monsieur_!"
In the presence of the two holy women standing with their hands
devoutly crossed, and of the parrot whom I silenced as well as I
could, and in truth I appeared to have some influence over the
creature, I wrote the following upon a leaf torn out of my
scratch-book: "To the Soeur Felicite. A gentleman who, if he has not
made a great mistake, saw you once when you were Mdme. Martinetti,
asks you now if in what may be your last moments, you have anything
to tell, anything to declare, or anybody to pardon. He would also ask--
what _was done to the parrot_? He, with his friend M. De Kock, were
at your house in New York the night your husband disappeared."
"Give her that," said I to the waiting sister, "and I will come to
see how she is to-morrow."
That night, however, she died, and when I reached the nunnery next
day it was only to be told that she had read my note and with
infinite difficulty written an answer to it.
"I am sorry I should have perhaps hastened her end," said I.
"Before you give it to me, will you permit me to see her?"
"_Mais oui, Monsieur_, if monsieur will come this way."
Until I gazed upon the dead I did not feel quite sure of the
identity of this pious Sister of Charity. But I only needed to look
once upon the ghastly pallor, the ugly lip mark and the long slender
figure on the bed before me to recognize her who had once been Mdme.
"And now for the paper," I said.
"It will be in the room that was hers, if monsieur will accompany."
We walked along several corridors till we reached the room in which
hung the parrot, I quite expected it to fly at me again and try to
get rid of its miserable secret But no! It sat on its stick,
perfectly quiet and rational.
"I cannot find dat paper, it is very strange!" muttered the good
sister, turning everything over and over. A light wind playing about
the room had perhaps blown it into some corner. I assisted her in
"It surely was in an envelope?" I said to the innocent woman.
"Yes monsieur, yes, and with a seal, for I got the _cire_--you call
it _wax_--myself and held it for her, _la bonne soeur_."
"It is not always wise to leave such letters about," I put in as
meekly as I could "Where was it you saw it last?"
"On dees little table, monsieur."
Now, "dees little table" was between the two windows, and not far,
consequently from the parrot's cage. My eye travelled from the table
to the cage as a matter of necessity, and I saw that the bottom of
it was strewn with something white--like very, very tiny scraps of
paper. "I think you need not look any further," said I. "Polly, you
either are very clever, or else you are a lunatic and a fool. Which
But I never found out The parrot had got the letter by some means or
other and so effectually torn, bitten and made away with it that
nothing remained of it for identification except the wax, which it
did not touch and left absolutely whole. The secret which had been
the parrot's all along belonged to the parrot still, and after
having devoured it in that fashion it became satisfied, and never--
at least, as far as I am aware--reverted morbidly to the comic
refrain which has but one significance for me.
I took the bird and kept it. I have it now with me. It has been
examined hundreds of times; for a long time I was anxious to know
the secret of its changed color, but I have never deciphered it. It
is healthy, in good condition, sweet-tempered and very fond of me.
It does not talk much, but its talk is innocent and rational. No
morbid symptoms have ever appeared in it since I took it from the
nunnery in Montreal. Its plumage is soft and thick, and perfectly,
entirely gray. My own impression is that it was naturally a gray
parrot and had at that time of my sojourn in New York, either been
dyed or painted that peculiar pea-green which so distinguished it
then. I wrote to De Kock before leaving for England and told him
something of the story. I have seen the last of Madame; in all
probability I shall see the last of the Pea-Green Parrot, and I
cannot help wondering when I enter a cafe or ride on an omnibus
whether I shall ever run across Giuseppe Martinetti in the flesh, or
whether the last of him was seen in truth, five years ago.
The Bishop of Saskabasquia.
I have not a story, properly speaking, to tell about him. He, my
Bishop, is quite unconscious that I am writing about him, and would,
I daresay, be quite astonished if he knew that I could find anything
that relates to him to write about. But I will tell you just how I
came to do so. I went to see the "Private Secretary" some months ago.
I had never been a great admirer of clergymen as a sex (vide
Frenchman's classification), and I thoroughly enjoyed the capital
performance of so clever a play. Here, thought I, is a genuine and
perfectly fair, though doubtless exaggerated, portrait of the young
and helpless curate. I quite lived on that play. I used to go about,
like many another delighted playgoer, I expect, quoting the better
bits in it, and they are many, and often laughing to himself at its
admirable caricature. However, to go on with what I am going to tell
you, about two months after I had seen the "Private Secretary," I
had occasion to undertake a sea voyage. I had to go out on business
to Canada, and embarked one fine Thursday at Liverpool. One of the
first things you do on board an ocean steamer is to find your
allotted place at table, and the names, etc, of your companions. I
soon found mine, and discovered with a pang that I was six seats
from the Captain at the side, between a lady and her daughter I had
already met at the North-Western Hotel and did not like, and
opposite to the Bishop of Saskabasquia, his wife and sister and
three children. There was no help for it, I must endure the placid
small talk, the clerical platitudes, the intolerable intolerance
born of a deathless bigotry that would emanate from my _vis-a-vis_.
What a fuss they made over him, too! Only a Colonial Bishop after all,
but when we were all at the wharf, ready to get into the tender, we
were kept waiting--we the more insignificant portion of the
passengers, mercantile and so on--till "my lord" and his family,
nine in number, were safely handed up, with boys and bundles and
baggage of every description.
The Bishop himself was a tall thin man, rather priestly in aspect
and careworn. Mrs. Saskabasquia as I called her all through the
voyage and the seven children--seven little Saskabasquians--and
Miss Saskabasquia, the aunt, were all merry enough it seemed though
dressed in the most unearthly costumes I had ever seen. Where they
had been procured I could not imagine, but they appeared to be made
of different kinds of canvas, flannel shirting, corduroy, knitted
wool and blankets. Of course we all mustered at the lunch table that
first day, people always do, and affect great brightness and
hysterical intellectuality and large appetites. I took my seat with
a resigned air. There was not a single pretty girl on board. There
were plenty of children, but I did not care much for the society of
children. The lady and her daughter between whom I sat, presumably
to hand them the dishes, did not like me any better than I liked them.
They were Canadians, that was easy to discover by their peculiarly
flat pronunciation, a detestable accent I hold, the American is
preferable. They were connected with the Civil Service in some way
through "papa" who figured much in their conversation and I fancy
the mother rather disliked the idea of such close contact with a
member of the commercial world. So much for colonial snobbery. The
lunch was good however, excellent, and we did justice to it. The
Bishop did not appear nor any of his family until we had almost
finished. Then he entered with his wife and the two eldest boys. The
only vacant seats were those opposite me which they took. I wondered
they had not placed him next the Capt., but divined that the handsome
brunette and the horsey broker, Wyatt and his wife of Montreal,
fabulously rich and popular, had arranged some time before to sit
next the Capt. My Bishop was perhaps annoyed. But if so, he did not
show it. He and his wife ate abundantly, it was good to see them. I
involuntarily smiled once when the Bishop sent his plate back the
second time for soup, and he caught me. To my surprise, he laughed
very heartily and said to me:
"I hope you do not think I am forgetting all the other good things
to come! I assure you we are very hungry, are we not, Mary?"
Mrs. Saskabasquia laughed in her turn, and I began to perceive what
a very pretty girl she must have been once, and her accent was the
purest, most beautiful English. We seemed to warm up generally
around the table as we watched the Bishop eat. The boys behaved
beautifully and enjoyed their meal as well. Presently we heard a
baby crying. It was evidently the youngest of the seven young
Saskabasquians. The Bishop stopped directly.
"Go on, go on with your dinner, my dear; I'll see to him, its only
James. Dropped his rattle and put his finger in his eye, I expect."
He jumped up and went, I suppose, to the stateroom. Mrs.
Saskabasquia laughed softly, and when she spoke she rather addressed
herself to me.
"My husband is very good, you know. And James is such a little monkey,
and so much better with him than with anyone else, so I just let him
go, but it does certainly look very selfish, doesn't it?"
"Not at all," I responded gallantly. "I am sure you need the rest
quite as much as he does, particularly if the ba--if the little boy
is very young and you--that is--" I was not very clear as to what I
was going to say, but she took it up for me.
"Oh, James is the baby. He is just six months' old, you know."
"That is very young to travel," said I. I began to enjoy the
charming confidences of Mrs. Saskabasquia, in spite of myself.
"Oh, he was only _three_ months old when we left for England, quite
a young traveller as you say. But he is very good, and I have so
many to help me."
Here the Bishop returned and sat down once more to his lunch. We had
some further conversation, in which I learned that he and his wife
had gone out to the North-West just twelve years ago for the first
time. All their children had been born there, and they were
returning to work again after a brief summer holiday in England.
They told me all this with the most delightful frankness, and I
began to be grateful for my place at table, as without free and
congenial society at meal-time, life on board an ocean steamer
narrows down to something vastly uncomfortable. It was a bright and
beautiful afternoon on deck, and I soon found myself walking
energetically up and down with the Bishop. I commenced by asking him
some questions as to his work, place of residence and so on, and
once started he talked for a long time about his northern home in
the wilds of Canada.
"My wife and I had been only married two months when we went out,"
said he, with a smile at the remembrance. "We did not know what we
were going to."
"Would you have gone had you known?" I enquired as we paused in our
walk to take in a view of the Mersey we were leaving behind.
"Yes, I think so. Yes, I am quite sure we would. I was an Oxford man,
country-bred; my father is still alive, and has a small living in
Essex. I was imbued with the idea of doing something in the colonies
long after I was comfortably settled in an English living myself,
but I had always fancied it would be Africa. However, just at the
time of our marriage I was offered this bishopric in Canada, and my
wife was so anxious to go that I easily fell in with the plan."
"Anxious to go out there?" I said in much surprise.
"Ah! You don't know what a missionary in herself my wife is! Then,
of course, young people never think of the coming events--children
and all that you know. We found ourselves one morning at three
o'clock, having gone as far as there was any train to take us,
waiting in a barn that served as a station for the buckboard to take
us on further to our destination. Have you been in Canada yourself?
No? Then you have not seen a buckboard. It consists of two planks
laid side by side, lengthwise, over four antiquated wheels--usually
the remains of a once useful wagon. Upon this you sit as well as you
can, and get driven and jolted and bumped about to the appointed goal.
I remember that morning so well," continued the Bishop. "It was very
cold, being late in November, and at that hour one feels it so much
more--3 a.m., you know. There was one man in charge of the barn; we
called him the station-master, though the title sat awkwardly enough
upon him. He was a surly fellow. I never met such another. Usually
the people out there are agreeable, if slow and stupid."
"Slow, are they?" said I in surprise.
"Oh, frightfully slow. A Canadian laborer is the slowest person in
existence, I really believe. However, this man would not give us any
information, except to barely tell us that this buckboard was coming
for us shortly. It was pitch dark of course and the barn was lighted
by one oil lamp and warmed by a coal stove. The lamp would not burn
well, so my wife unstrapped her travelling bag and with a pair of
tiny curved nail scissors did her best, with the wick, the man
remaining perfectly unmoveable and taciturn all the while. At four
o'clock our conveyance arrived, and would you believe it--both the
driver and the station master allowed me to lift my own luggage into
it as well as I could? What it would not take I told the man in
charge I would send for as soon as possible. There was no sleighing
yet, and that drive was the most excruciating thing I ever endured
over corduroy roads through wild and dark forests, along
interminable country roads of yellow clay mixed with mud till
finally we reached the house of the chief member of society in my
district where we were to stay until our own house was ready."
"How long did that take you?" I was quite interested. This was
unlike the other clergymen's conversation I remembered.
"O, a matter of eight hours or so. We had the eggs and bacon--the
_piece de resistance_ in every Canadian farmhouse--at about
half-past 12, for which we were thankful and--hungry. But now you
must excuse me for here come two of the boys. Now, then, Alick,
where's your mother? Isn't she coming on deck with James? Run and
fetch her and you, George, get one of the chairs ready for her. And
get the rugs at the same time Alick, do you hear?"
I excused myself in turn and watched the family preparations with
much amusement. Mrs. Saskabasquia came up from her state room with a
baby in her arms, and a big fellow he was, followed by the other six
and their aunt. The Bishop placed chairs for the two ladies and
walked up and down the deck I should think the entire afternoon,
first with two children and then with two more and finally with the
baby in his arms. This was a funny sight but still not one to be
ridiculed, far from it. Well, every day showed my new friend in an
improved light. Who was it took all the children, not only his own
but actually the entire troop on board up to the bow and down to the
stern in a laughing crowd to see this or that or the other? Now a
shoal of porpoises, now a distant sail or an iceberg, now the
beautiful phosphorescence or the red light of a passing ship--the
Bishop. Who divined the innate cliquism of life on board ship and
cunningly got together in intercourse the very people who wanted to
know each other, and even brought into good temper those unfortunate
souls who thought only of their own dignity and station in life? The
Bishop. Who organized the Grand Concert and Readings in the saloon,
writing the programmes himself, pinning them on the doors,
discovering the clever and encouraging the timid and reading from
the "Cricket on the Hearth," and the "Wreck of the Grosvenor," as I
had never imagined a divine could read? The Bishop again. Who might
be seen in the mid-day hours when the cabin passengers were asleep,
quietly and without ostentation reading or talking to the steerage,
ay, and Mrs. Saskabosquia too with her baby on her arm, going about
amongst those poor tired folk, many of them with their own babies,
not too well fed and not too well washed nor clothed? Still the
Bishop, always the Bishop. They appeared as if they could not rest
without helping on somebody or something, and yet there was in
Mrs. Saskabasquia at least, a delightful sense of calm which
affected all who came near her. I used often to sit down by her, she
with the inevitable baby on her lap and two or three of the others
at her feet on rugs, and she would talk most frankly and
unaffectedly of their strange life in Canada. I learnt that she was
the daughter of a clergyman in Essex, and had, of course, been
brought up in a refined and charming country home like an English
gentlewoman. What she had had to do in the new world seemed like a
"What servants do I keep?" she said one day in answer to a question
of mine "Why, sometimes I am without any. Then Kathleen and I do the
best we can and the children they do the same and my husband takes
what we give him! Indeed, my house is a sort of dispensary you know.
The most extraordinary people come to me for the most extraordinary
things. Now for a bottle of medicine, now for some cast off clothing,
now for writing paper and old newspapers or a few tacks. So we have
many wants to relieve besides our own and really, that is good for us
you know. One Xmas dinner was an amusing one. Roast beef was out of
the question, we couldn't get any, and the old woman who usually
brought us a turkey came eight miles in the snow to bitterly lament
the failure of her turkey crop. The one she had intended for me had
been killed and trussed and then the rats which abound out there,
got at it in the night and left not a bone of it! So I got the poor
old thing a warm cup of tea and gave her some thick socks and sent
her away relieved, resolved to spread myself on the pudding. Do you
And Miss Saskabasquia did and smiled at the remembrance.
"What was it like?"
"The pudding? Oh! It was the funniest pudding! George--no--Ethel,
was the baby then and very troublesome. Yes, you were my dear and
cutting teeth. I was far from strong and in the act of stirring the
pudding was taken quite ill and had to give it up. Kathleen was
naturally forced to attend to me and the three children, and only
for Henry, we should have had no Xmas dinner at all! He went to work
with a will, stirred it well, put it into the cloth and was just I
believe dropping it into the water when the string broke and the
poor pudding tumbled into the water! Of course it was useless, and
my husband scarcely knew what to do with himself. Fancy what he did
do, though! He went to work and made another out of what he could
find without telling us. He'll tell you about it if you ask him, how
puzzled he was at first. There was some suet over, only not minced,
you know. So he took that just as it was in a lump and buried it in
bread-crumbs, luckily we had plenty of bread. Then he broke in the
eggs, but when he came to look for the fruit, that was all in the
pot of hot water, not a raisin left. He just ladled them out and put
them in the second time. I think that was delicious of him don't you?
But he forgot the flour and there was so little sugar seemingly in
the bag (he didn't know where my Xmas stores were kept) that he took
fright and wouldn't use it but broke up some maple sugar instead,
then tied it up and got it safely launched the second time. And it
was not at all bad, though _very_ shapeless and unlike a trim plum
pudding, with the holly at the top."
And many another tale did she tell me of "Henry's" ceaseless activity,
and courage and patience. He had learnt three Indian dialects, the
_patois_ of the _habitant_, and the Gaelic of two Scotch settlements,
in order to converse freely with his people and understand their
wants properly. He could doctor the body as well as the soul,
set a fractured limb, bind a wound, apply ice for sunstroke and
snow for chilblains. He could harness a horse and milk a cow;
paddle a canoe and shoot and fish like an Indian, cook and garden
and hew and build--indeed there seemed nothing he could not do and
had not done, and all this along with the care of his office, as
much a missionary one as any could be. Peril of shipwreck and peril
of fire, peril of frost and peril of heat, peril of sickness, pain
and death, peril of men, ignorant and wicked, of wild beasts and
wilder storms--all these he had braved with his wife and little
ones for the sake of his convictions added to a genuine love of his
fellow-man. I began to consider, and rightly I think, the unknown,
obscure Bishop of Saskabasquia one of the most interesting men of
Our journey, however, could not always last. Our pleasant chats, our
lively table-talk, Mrs. Saskabasquia's pretty womanly confidences and
her husband's deep-voiced readings from Dickens which he told me were
of the utmost moral value to his people, all came to an end. We all
felt sorry to part, yet greatly relieved at seeing the mighty cliff
of Quebec draw nearer and nearer with each succeeding hour. I had
been quite ill for the last two days like nearly all the other
passengers. Coming up the Gulf of St. Lawrence that is sometimes the
case, and we were a miserable party that Friday, hardly anyone on
deck except the irrepressible Bishop and his family and myself. I
was wretched, sick and cold and trembling in every limb, undoubted
_mal de mer_ had fastened upon me. We were standing close by the
railing of the promenade deck when a something swept by on the water.
"Child overboard!" I sang out as loudly as I could. Instantly the
steerage was in a state of commotion--the child was missed. There
didn't appear to be a sailor on the spot. The Bishop looked at me,
and I looked at the Bishop. Like lightning he tore off his coat. I
put my hand on his arm.
"Dear sir, you will not do such a thing!"
"What is it, Henry?" cried his wife. "Somebody must."
"I wish to God I could, sir!" In another moment he was over.
How he ever recovered from that awful plunge I don't know, but a
boat was immediately lowered for him and the child--he had it safe,
miraculously enough. How I cursed my weakness which prevented my
going in his place. But when I saw the two lives saved I was glad I
had not gone, for in my weak state I could not even have saved the
I am invited to a Christmas dinner, _whenever I like_, with the
Bishop of Saskabasquia, whom I count as perhaps the finest specimen
of healthy Christian manhood I have ever met, and although I can
still laugh at the fun of "The Private Secretary" I can say that
even among her clergy England can boast of heroes in these latter
days as noble and disinterested as in years gone by.
"As it was in the Beginning."
A CHRISTMAS SKETCH.
It is Christmas day in the morning. There is no doubt about it. The
shine of the sun, the frost on the trees, the voice of the birds,
and the unusual crow, and cackle and clatter and confusion outside
the house can leave no doubts upon the subject, to say nothing of
the inside of the house. Here it is Christmas day and no mistake. On
what other day is the larder so full?--Full is not expressive enough;
crammed, rammed, jammed full is more like the actual condition of
things, so tightly wedged are pheasants and partridges, grouse and
quail, great roasts of beef and haunches of venison, pork and pasty,
mutton and fowl. On what other day is the still-room so alluring,
where cordials are at their liveliest of brown and amber, and the
white fingers of the lady of the house gleam in and out of the
piling of herbs and the stirring of compounds--both innocent and
inebriating? On what other day is the kitchen so important? Why, the
cook is actually thinner than she was the yesterday! Christmas day
in the morning is taking it out of her. "No men cooks about me",
growls Sir Humphrey Desart, "we'll keep Sarah." So Sarah is kept,
and though she be fat, aye, and getting on to three score, yet her
strength faileth not, as you may observe. Somewhat of a martinet,
yet kindly withal and leading the hubbub in the kitchen with all the
gusto of twenty years ago. My lady will descend presently to see if
all goes on properly, and Sarah must lose no time. Heavens, how many
eggs is she going to break? What are they all for? Will not the
resources of the farmyard fail her? This, then, explains all the
crow and cackle outside. Now what is she at? Lemons this time, and
anon giving a fine stimulus with her master-hand to the lumpy yellow
contents of a smooth yellow bowl. Ah! No lumps now; one turn and all
resolved into a perfect cadence. Anyone is an artist and a great one
who can so resolve a discordant measure. And now she is busy with
the brandy! Ah! Sarah, will no temptation accrue from the pouring of
the warming draught? "Out upon thee!" says Sarah. "Am I not already
as warm over my work as I want to be, and shall I not have my good
glass of beer at my dinner? Leave the quality upstairs their brandy,"
says Sarah, "and let me get to my work."
Well, and the upshot of all this is, that, despite all one may
affirm to the contrary, the one grand essential, the peculiar and
individualizing attribute of Christmas is--the dinner. The parson
may think of his preaching (and if he ever does so, surely most of
all on this day) and the virtuous may think of the poor; the old may
remember the young, and the young be pardoned for only remembering
each other, but the chief thought, the most blissful remembrance is
If the parson preach a little better sermon than usual, it is
because his nine children have not been forgotten by Lady Bountiful,
and are actually going to have--A Dinner.
My Lady Bountiful in her turn may go to church, and appear devoutly
removed from the _mundus edibilis_, yet if you could look into her
reflections, you would perceive that she has but one thought--The
Dinner. Do you suppose, much as the youths from Oxford and their
friend the captain, from London, are devoted to mamma and her
daughters, they are not at the same time being eaten up, as it were,
devoured, by the intense wish for the hour to come when they may
partake of--That Dinner!
Sir Humphrey has asked a particularly large party down this Christmas,
and seems to have forgotten nobody he ever knew. Not a poor relation
but has been remembered, and things are on a grander scale than usual.
The candles build famously, set in the chimney candelabra; the logs
are all of the biggest, and as for the Yule himself, he is a
veritable Brobdignag; the staircases drop flowers, and holly and
mistletoe hang all about. Everything shines, and gleams, and glows.
There is to be a boar's head, with, no lack of mustard and minstrelsy,
and nothing eatable or drinkable that pertains to Christmas will be
wanting. Carols, and waits, and contended tenants; merry chimes and
clinking glasses; twanging fiddles and the rush down the middle--
nothing is spared and nobody is forgotten. So the hour draws on, the
guests pull through the dreary day (for as I have said before,
everything on Christmas day gives place to the dinner), and at last
the dinner becomes an absolute fact, something to be apprehended,
sat down to, and finally eaten. It _is_ eaten, and everyone has come
into the long hall, at one end of which the Yule burns. There is
merry talk, and it is easier now for the captain to devote himself
to the girls, having left the dinner behind; there is talk, too, of
a little wonder at the gorgeousness of the dinner, for Sir Humphrey
has not been so gay for years, yes, just twenty years, when it is
evident that Sir Humphrey is going to make a speech. He stands alone
in front of the fire, and this is what he says. If you want to know
what he looks like, you may think of an old man who is a gentleman,
white-haired, noble and resolute, but with a sense of broken
fortunes and deferred hopes upon him.
"I have been young and now am old," says Sir Humphrey, "and I have
never yet seen the house, known the family, or penetrated the life
where there did not exist some trouble or some secret. Therefore, if
I refer to-night to the skeleton in my own house," he continues,
with a slight shudder, "I only do what perhaps each individual
before me might also do were there the like necessity. The necessity
of such reference, in my own case, does not make it less hard for me."
Here, Sir Humphrey pauses. When he speaks again he is something
straighter and firmer than before. "But as at this season the Church
and our good friend the parson would teach us all to remember each
other and to help those we can help, I am about to speak. You have
heard, all of you, how twenty years ago I sent my two eldest sons
out of the house. You have heard, all of you, that they were foolish,
and that I was hard, something about a girl and cut off with a
shilling, I suppose. Well, to-night you shall hear the true story. I
do not think even Lady Desart knows it. She was not their mother, but,
as you know, my adored and adoring second wife. I do not know if
many of you remember my boys. I can see Humphrey now--a man does not
easily forget his first-born, and Hugh was no less dear. My dear
friends, if I drove the lads from my house twenty years ago to-night,
I did it in obedience to the rules of my own conscience and with
regard to the laws of nature, which I should have put before my
conscience, as I have far greater respect for them. I did it, as we
so often futilely say, for the best. But how often, oh, my dear
friends, how often since I have thought that I may have made a
"They were, Hugh and Humphrey, both madly in love with the same girl.
She was no pauper, as you may have been led to believe, but the Lady
Barbara Hastings. Her name is familiar to you. She was beautiful and
talented, never married, and you may remember that about a month ago
she died at the house of friends in London. I knew her, fortunately
or unfortunately, however, moving in society as the adopted daughter
of a refined gentlewoman, to be the child of a lunatic mother and a
father who drank his life away in a Continental retreat. Knowing this
I would not for a moment consent even to the thought of either of my
sons marrying her, although I knew her to be all that was gracious
in womankind. I could not tell them the reason: the secret was hers,
poor girl, and I did not betray it. I said 'No,' and each knew what
that meant. So we separated, but the worst of it was, my friends,
that each lad thought I had refused my consent to save the other the
pain of seeing his brother happy; so that greater than their anger
with me was their jealousy of one another. With murder in their
hearts they fled to America, I believe, pursuing in self-torture
that phantom of revenge which we have all seen sometime or another,
and whose hot breath we must have felt."
Sir Humphrey pauses oftener now.
"I tell you all this because I want you to see how possible it may
be for a man to think he is doing the very best, the only right thing,
and then for perhaps an infinitely worse one to crop up. I read not
long ago in a wild Western paper a story of two Englishmen who
fought a lonely duel on some slope of those great mountains out there,
and I think I have not slept since I read it. To have exiled my boys
only that they might kill one another in foreign lands and sleep so
far away from our English ground!"
Sir Humphrey's voice is failing now and his eyes grow moist A man,
you see, does not easily forget his first-born.
"I tell you all this," he continues, "that it may help you to be
kind and to think twice. I only thought once, and perhaps the worst
may have come of it. Then I tell it to you, too, because I am an old
man now, and my voice is not as strong as it was, and I can't get
out to church as regularly as I used to do, and I want you all to
help me to remember these absent ones and with them any of your own.
There is virtue in the holding up of many hands and the lifting up
of many hearts. Whether I see them again or not, that does not matter;
but for the assurance that they have not harmed each other, let us
pray Almighty God this night."
Ah! Sir Humphrey, there are those who would give their life for yours,
but they cannot bring you that assurance to-night. Can you wait?
"I can wait," says Sir Humphrey.
It is Christmas day in the morning. At least, so Almanack says, and
Almanack ought to know, though he is given in those days to such
ornate and emblazoned titivation of himself outwardly, putting
himself in the hands of fair Mistress Kate Greenaway at the head of
a mischievous throng, that he causes one to seriously consider
whether his old head be turned or no. A scholar and statistician
buried in heaps of flowers, with a rope of daisies round his neck,
and a belt of primroses round his waist; a sunflower in his
buttonhole, and a singing bird upon his shoulder; and, worst of all,
the picture of a pink-frocked, pink-faced girl next his heart--can
he be relied upon? But he persists in his claim to be listened to,
and we must take his word for it that this is Christmas day in the
morning, although it just looks like any other day. On any other day
the sun is just as bright, and the air just as keen. On other days
the snow is just as white, just as deep--two feet where the constant
tramping has levelled its crystalline beauty, ten, twelve, fifteen
there where a great soft cloud of drift reaches halfway up the side
of a small wooden house. On other days there is just as much blue in
the sky, in the smoke, in the shadows of the pines, and the shadows
of the icicles. On other days the house looks just as neat, just as
silent, just as poor. The clearing is small, the house is small, a
small terrier suns himself on a pile of wood, and the only large
object apparently in existence is the tall, broad-shouldered,
well-proportioned man who presently emerges from the wooden house.
His ear has just caught the sound of a bell. It is not a bad bell
for Muskoka, and it has a most curious effect on this white, cold
silent world of snow and blue shadows. The owner of the house, who
is also the builder of it, stands a few moments listening. There is
only the twitter of the snowbirds to listen to, then the bell; more
snowbirds, and then the bell again.
"It has quite a churchy sound," he remarks; "I never noticed how
churchy before, but it reminds me of some other bell. Ten years I
have read for them here, and I never noticed it before." More
twitter from the snowbirds and the bell again. Time for church,
although the functions of the lay-reader will be this day laid aside,
giving place to the more exacting ones of the _rector chori_. This
being Christmas day in the morning, it devolves upon one clergyman
to preach in four different places, if not literally at once, at
least on the same day.
"It isn't possible," thinks the tall man swinging along at a
tremendous pace, "that this bell--there it is again, confound it;
yet no, not confound it--can resemble that other bell I used to know.
No, quite impossible. Is it likely that anything here," and the
thinker spreads both long arms out to take in the entire landscape,
"can resemble or remotely suggest the Old Country, or, as people
call it, home? Home? Why this is home. That four-roomed and
convenient, if not commodious, mansion I have just quitted is my home.
Talking of commodiousness, it's quite large enough, too. I have no
wife, no children, no partner, not even a sleeping one, no one ever
comes to see me. So I do not need a drawing-room, a nursery, a guest
chamber, or a smoking-room. I have no books, therefore I need no
library; I indulge in no chemical pursuits, therefore I need no
laboratory; my music-room is the forest in summer and the chimney in
winter, while my studio, according to the latest aesthetic fad--I
think that is the word--opens off the music-room.
"Now, if you take away art, science, literature, and society from
the daily life of a man, what do you leave? Simply the three radical
necessities of sleeping, eating, working. My work I do mostly in the
open air, so that, practically, I need but two rooms, one to cook in
and the other to sleep in. I have always felt convinced that to be
happy I only require two rooms, except on extra cold nights, when I
find that one suffices. That is when Tim and I lie near the kitchen
fire to keep warm. Home! Why of course it is home. Didn't I build
the house myself? What association is dearer than that? To come into
a pile of half-ruined towers, all gables and gargoyles, built
somewhere about the fourteenth century, and added to by every fool
who liked, without the slightest pretence to knowledge of
architecture and civilization may be very gratifying, but, strange
as it may seem, I prefer the work of my own hands. I am quite a
Canadian, of course, though I once was an Englishman. I array myself
in strange raiment, thick and woollen, of many colours; my linen is
coarse and sometimes superseded by flannel; I wear a cast-off fur
cap on my head and moccasins on my feet. I have grown a beard and a
fierce moustache. I have made no money and won no friends except the
simple settlers around me here. And I shall grow old and grey in
your service, my Muskoka. I shall be forty-one on my next birthday.
Then will come fifty-one, another ten years and sixty-one. All to be
lived here? Yes, I have sworn it. Not Arcady, not Utopia, only
Muskoka, but very dear to me. There is the forest primeval! I know
everything in it from the Indian pipe--clammy white thing, but how
pretty!--to that great birch there with the bark peeling off in
pieces a yard wide. There is the lovely Shadow river. Masses of
cardinal flowers grow there in the summer, and when I take my boat
up its dark waters I feel that no human being has felt its beauty so
before. I think, for a small river it is the loveliest in the world.
And as to my larder now, why I am going to make my Christmas dinner
off a piece or pork and ask for nothing better! I shall have a
glorious appetite, which is the main point. The bell again!"
Yes, and the snow birds, too, flying round the porch of the little
church. It is a very small and plain edifice and not over warm, and
the officiating clergyman, who has just driven eighteen miles with
the prospect of eighteen back after service, hurries the proceedings
somewhat. There is a harmonium played by the tall man, and there is
a choir consisting of himself and a small boy. In place of the usual
Anglican hymns two carols are sung by the choir, which have the
quaintest effect in such a place, and which appear to interest and
even excite one of the congregation. This is a man of middle age,
most richly dressed with a certain foreign air about him and
evidently in a very delicate state of health. He is accompanied by a
lady whose dress is also a marvel of beauty and costliness though
hardly of fitness. The broad bands of gold which adorn her wrists
and neck would alone procure for her the entire attention of the
congregation were she seated in a more conspicuous place. As it is
they are seated near the stove for increased comfort. "Good King
Wenceslas" sings the choir, the small boy finding the long word very
trying, and coming utterly to grief in the last two verses, for his
companion appears to have lost his place. With the last verse of the
carol comes the close of the service, the straggling congregation
disperse and the jolly clergyman drives off again. Then an important
thing happens, and happens very quietly. So quietly that the richly
dressed lady who is a bright, shallow and unsentimental Californian
does not mind it at all. "Humphrey!" says the tall man, "Hugh!" says
the other, and all is said. There is not much sentiment in the
meeting, how can there be? Their ways have gone too far apart. The
years--nearly twenty, since they parted in Los Angeles--have brought
gold and kith and kin to the one, with an enfeebled constitution and
an uncertain temper. To the other, they have brought the glory of
health for his manhood's crown, content and peace unutterable. To
learn to subdue the ground is to learn one great lesson. So the
strange meeting is soon over. The Christmas spell may not always
last and the brothers separate once more.
* * * * *
The bright little lady who is taking her husband for a winter's
Canadian tour gets restive in this silent snowy world. But before
they part a letter is written to a white-haired old gentleman' in
England, who has only a month to wait.
"Whether I see them again or not does not matter," says Sir Humphrey,
"but for the assurance that they have not harmed each other, I thank
Almighty God this night!"
THE IDYL OF THE ISLAND.
* * * * *
Here lies mid-way between parallels 48 and 49 of latitude, and
degrees 89 and 90 of longitude, in the northern hemisphere of the
New World, serenely anchored on an ever-rippling and excited surface,
an exquisitely lovely island. No tropical wonder of palm-treed
stateliness, or hot tangle of gaudy bird and glowing creeper, can
compare with it; no other northern isle, cool and green and
refreshing to the eye like itself, can surpass it. It is not a large
island. It is about half-a-mile long and quarter of a mile broad It
is an irregular oval in shape, and has two distinct and different
sides. On the west side its grey limestone rises to the height of
twenty feet straight out of the water. On the east side there occurs
a gradual shelving of a sumac-fringed shore, that mingles finally
with the ever-rippling water. For the waters in this northern
country are never still. They are perpetually bubbling up and
boiling over; seething and fuming and frothing and foaming and yet
remaining so cool and clear that a quick fancy would discover
thousands of banished fountains under that agitated and impatient
surface. Both ends of the island are as much alike as its sides are
dissimilar. They taper off almost to a distinct bladepoint of rock,
in which a mere doll's flagstaff of a pine-tree grows; then comes a
small detached rock, with a small evergreen on it, then a still
smaller rock, with a tuft of grass, then a line of partially
submerged stones, and so out to the deep yet ever-bubbling water.
This island might seem, just the size for two, and there were two on
it on a certain July morning at five o'clock. One of these was a lady
who lay at full length and fast asleep upon a most unique couch.
These northern islands are in many places completely covered with a
variety of yellowish-green moss, varying from a couple of inches to
a foot and a half in thickness; and yielding to the pressure of the
foot or the body as comfortably as a feather bed, if not more so,
being elastic in nature. A large square of this had been cut up from
some other part of the island and placed on the already moss-grown
and cushioned ground, serving as a mattress, while two smaller
pieces served as pillows. A sumac tree at the head of the
improvised couch gave the necessary shade to the face of the sleeper,
while a wild grapevine, after having run over and encircled with its
moist green every stone and stem on the island, fulfilled its
longing at length in a tumultuous possession of the sumac, making a
massive yet aerial patched green curtain or canopy to the fantastic
bed, and ending seemingly in two tiny transparent spirals curling up
to the sky.
If there were a fault in the structure it was that it was too clever,
too well thought out, too rectangular, too much in fact like a bed.
But it told certainly of a skillful pair of hands and of a beautiful
mind and the union of art with nature perfectly suited the charms--
contradictory yet consistent--of the occupant. For being anything
but a beautiful woman she was still far from a plain one, which
though no original mode of putting it does convey the actual
impression she made upon a gentleman in a small boat who rowing past
this island at the hour of five o'clock in the morning was so much
struck with this curious sight, quite visible from the water below,
that he was rude enough to stand up that he might see better. The
lady was dressed in some dark blue stuff that evidently covered her
all over and fitted tightly where it could be seen. A small linen
collar, worn all night and therefore shorn of its usual freshness
was round her neck, and she was tucked up from the waist under a
Scotch woollen rug. Her hair, of a peculiar red-brown, was allowed
to hang about her and was lovely; her mouth sad; her nose, rather
too prominent; her complexion natural and healthy, but marred by
freckles and moles, not many of either but undeniably scattered over
the countenance. All told but her eyes which, if they proved to
match with her hair, would atone for these other shortcomings. The
gentleman sat down again and reflected.
"How still it is!" he said under his breath. "Absolutely not a thing
stirring. This is the time when the fish bite. I ought to be fishing
I suppose. Going to be warm by-and-bye."
It was indeed almost absolutely silent. The sun climbed higher but
the lady slept on, and the gentleman gazed as if fascinated. The
only sound that broke the beautiful early morning silence was the
occasional weird laugh of the loon. It came twice and then a third
time. The sleeper stirred.
"If that thing out there cries again she will wake," said the
gentleman to himself. "I must be off before that happens. But I
_should_ like to see her eyes. What a pretty picture it is!" Once
more the loon gave its maniacal laugh and the lady started, sat bolt
upright and wide awake. Her admirer had not time to retreat but he
took his oars up and confronted her manfully. It was an awkward
moment. He apologized. The lady listened very politely. Then she
"Most of the islands in this lake are owned by private people," she
said, "who use them during the summer months for the purpose of
camping out upon them. I should advise you, if you row about much
here, to keep to the open water, unless you wish to be seriously
handled by the fathers and mothers of families."
"Thank you very much," returned the gentleman, standing up in his
boat, "I assure you I intended no rudeness, but I have never seen so
charming a summer couch before, and I was really fascinated by the--
ah,--the picture you made. May I ask what you mean by 'camping out'?
Is it always done in this fashion?"
The lady stared "Have _you_ never camped out?"
"Never in my life," said the gentleman. "I am an Englishman, staying
at the hotel near the point for a day or two. I came out to see
something of the country."
"Then you should at least have camped out for a week or so. That is
a genuine Canadian experience," said the lady with a frankness which
completely restored the equanimity of the Englishman.
"But how do you live?" he went on in a puzzled manner that caused
the lady with the red-brown hair, still all hanging about her, much
"O, capitally! Upon fish and eggs, and gooseberry tarts, and
home-made bread and French coffee. Just what you would get in town,
and much better than you get at the hotel."
"O, that would be easy!" the gentleman groaned. "I eat my meals in a
pitch-dark room, in deadly fear and horror of the regiments of flies
that swarm in and settle on everything the minute one raises the
green paper blinds."
The lady nodded. "I know. We tried it for two or three seasons, but
we could not endure it; the whole thing, whitewash and all, is so
trying, isn't it? So we bought this lovely island and bring our tent
here and live _so_ comfortably." The gentleman did not reply at once.
He was thinking that it was his place to say "Good morning," and go,
although he would much have liked to remain a little longer. He
hazarded the remark:
"Now, for instance, what are you going to breakfast on presently?"
The lady laughed lightly and shook her red brown hair.
"First of all I have to make a fire."
"But that is not so very difficult"
"How do you do it?"
"Would you like to know?"
"Very much indeed. I should like to see, if I may."
The lady reflected a moment. "I suppose you may, but if you do, you
ought to help me, don't you think?" The gentleman much amused and
"Ah but you see, it is you I want to see make it. I am very useless
you know at that sort of thing, still, if you will allow me, I will
try my best. Am I to come ashore?"
"Certainly, if you are to be of any use."
The lady jumped lightly off the pretty couch of moss and wound her
plentiful hair round her head with one turn of her arm. Her dress
was creased but well-fitting, her figure not plump enough for beauty
but decidedly youthful. She watched her new friend moor his boat and
ascend with one or two strides of his long legs up the side of the
cliff that was not so steep. He took off his hat.
"I am at your service," he said with a profound bow. The lady made
him another, during which all her long hair fell about her again, at
which they both laughed.
"What do we do first?" said he.
"O we find a lot of sticks and pieces of bark, mostly birch bark,
and anything else that will burn--you may have to fell a tree while
you are about it--and I'll show you how to place them properly
between two walls of stones, put a match to them and there is our
fire. Will you come with me?"
He assented of course, and they were soon busy in the interior of
the little wood that grew up towards the centre of the island. I
must digress here to say that the gentleman's name was Amherst. He
was known to the world in latter life as Admiral Amherst, and he was
a great friend of mine. When he related this story to me, he was
very particular in describing the island as I have done--indeed he
carried a little chart about with him of it which he had made from
memory, and he told me besides that he never forgot the peculiar
beauty of that same little tract of wood. The early hour, the
delicious morning air, the great moss-grown and brown decaying tree
trunks, the white, clammy, ghostly, flower or fungus of the Indian
Pipe at his feet, the masses of ferns, the elastic ground he trod
upon, and the singular circumstance that he was alone in this
exquisite spot with a woman he had never seen until five minutes
previously, all combined to make an ineffaceable impression upon his
mind. The lady showed herself proficient in the art of building a
fire and attended by Amherst soon had a fine flame rising up from
between the fortifications evidently piled by stronger hands than
"What do we do now?" asked Amherst "I should suggest--a kettle."
"Of course, that is the next step. If I give it to you, you might
run and fill it, eh?'
"Delighted!" and away went Amherst. When he returned the lady was
not to be seen. The place was shorn of its beauty, but he waited
discreetly and patiently, putting the kettle on to boil in the
"It's very singular," said he, "how I come to be here. I wonder who
are with her in her party; no one else appears to be up or about.
That striped red and white thing is the tent, I see, over there. Ah!
That's where she has gone, and now she beckons me! Oh! I'll go, but
I don't want to meet the rest of them!"
But when he reached the tent, it was quite empty, save for rugs and
wraps, boxes, etc., and the lady was laughingly holding out a loaf
of bread in one hand and a paper package in the other.
"You will stay and breakfast with me?"
"What will you give me?" said Amherst, smiling.
"I can only give you eggs, boiled in the kettle, coffee and bread
and butter. The fish haven't come in yet."
"What can be nicer than eggs--especially when boiled in the kettle,
that is, if you make the coffee first"
"Certainly I do."
"And it is really French coffee?"
"Really. Cafe des Gourmets, you know; we--I always use it--do not
like any other."
Amherst was fast falling in love. He told me that at this point his
mind was quite made up that if it were possible he would remain in
the neighborhood a few days at least, in order to see more of this
charming girl. She seemed to him to be about twenty-six or seven,
and so frank, simple and graceful, one could not have resisted
liking her. Her hair and eyes were identical in colour and both were
beautiful; her expression was arch and some of her gestures almost
childish, but a certain dignity appeared at times and sat well upon
her. Her hands were destitute of any rings as Amherst soon discovered,
and were fine and small though brown. While she made the coffee,
Amherst threw himself down on the wonderful moss, the like of which
he had never seen before and looked out over the water. An
unmistakeable constraint had taken the place of the unaffected
hilarity of the first ten minutes. A reaction had set in. Amherst
could of course only answer to me in telling this for himself, but he
divined at the time a change in his companion's manner as well.
"I hope you like your eggs," she said presently.
"They are very nice, indeed, thank you," rejoined Amherst.
"And I have made your coffee as you like it?"
"Perfectly, thank you. But you--you are not eating anything! Why is
As he asked the question he turned quickly around, in order to rise
that he might help her with the ponderous kettle that she was about
lifting off the camp-fire, when a long strand of her hair again
escaping from its coil blew directly across his face. Amherst
uttered a radiant "Oh!", and taking it to his lips forgot himself so
far as to press kiss after kiss upon it. The lady stood as if
transfixed and did not move, even when Amherst actually swept all
her hair down over one arm and turning her face to his, pressed one
long long kiss on her forehead.
The moment he had done this his senses returned and he stepped back
in indignation with himself. But his companion was still apparently
transfixed. Amherst looked at her in dismay. She did not seem to see
him and had grown very pale. He touched her gently on the arm but
she did not show that she felt the touch. He retreated a few paces
and stood by himself, overcome with shame and contrition. What had
he done? How should he ever atone for such an unwarrantable action?
Had it been the outcome of any ordinary flirtation, he would have
felt no such scruples, but the encounter, though short, had been one
of singular idyllic charm until he had by his own rash act spoilt it.
A few minutes passed thus in self contemplation appeared like an
eternity. He must speak.
"If you would allow me--"
But the lady put out her left hand in deprecation as it were and he
got no further. The silence was unendurable. Amherst took a step or
two forward and perceived great tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Oh!" he began desperately, "won't you allow me to say a word to
tell you how very, very sorry I am, how grieved I am and always
shall be? I never--I give you my word of honor--I never do those
sort of things, have never done such a thing before! But I can't
tell what it was, the place is so beautiful, and when all that
lovely hair came sweeping past my face, I could not help doing as I
did, it was so electrical! Any man would have done the same. I know
that sounds like a miserable, cowardly excuse, but it is true,
perfectly true." The lady seemed to struggle to appear calm and with
a great effort she turned her face towards Amherst.
"I know one man," she said, in a voice choked with sobs, "who would
not have done it"
Amherst started. "I am sorrier than ever, believe me. I might have
known you were engaged, or had a lover--one so Charming"--
"It is not that," said the lady. "I am married." She was still
struggling with her emotion.
Amherst recoiled. He was torn with conflicting thoughts. What if he
had been seen giving that involuntary salute? He might have ruined
her peace for ever. Who would believe in the truth of any possible
"I will leave you at once;" he said stiffly, "there is nothing more
to be said."
"Oh! You will reproach me now!" said his companion, wiping her eyes
as the tears came afresh.
"I will try not to;" said Amherst, "but you could so easily have
told me; I do not think it was--quite--fair." Yet he could not be
altogether angry with the partner of his thoughtlessness, nor could
he be entirely cold. Her beautiful eyes, her despairing attitude
would haunt him he knew for many a day. She had ceased weeping and
stood quietly awaiting his departure. Amherst felt all the force of
a strong and novel passion sweep along his frame as he looked at
her. Was she happy, was she a loved and loving wife? Somehow the
conviction forced itself upon him that she was not. Yet he could not
ask her, it must remain her secret.
Amherst looked at his watch. It aroused her.
"What is the time?" she said lifting her head for the first time
since he had kissed her.
"Ten minutes past six," Amherst replied.
"You must go," she said, with an effort at self-control. "I shall
have much to do presently."
He cast one look about and approached her.
"Will you forgive me"--he began in a tone of repression, then with
another mighty and involuntary movement he caught her hands and
pressed them to his breast. "My God," he exclaimed, "how I should
have loved you!"
A moment after he flung her hands away and strode down the cliff,
unfastened his boat and rowed away in the direction of the hotel as
fast as he could. Rounding a sharp rock that hid what lay beyond it,
he nearly succeeded in overturning another boat like his own, in
which sat a gentleman of middle age, stout and pleasant and mild of
countenance. The bottom of the boat was full of fish. Amherst made
an incoherent apology, to which the gentleman answered with a
good-natured laugh, insisting that the fault was his own. He would
have liked to enter into conversation with Amherst, but my friend
was only anxious to escape from the place altogether and forget his
recent adventure in the hurry of departure from the hotel. Three
days after he embarked at Quebec for England, and never revisited
Canada. But he never married and never forgot the woman whom he
always asserted he might have truly and passionately loved. He was
about twenty-eight when that happened and perfectly heart-whole. Why--
I used to say to him, why did you not learn her name and that of her
husband? Perhaps she is a widow now, perhaps you made as great an
impression upon her mind and affections as she did upon yours.
But my friend Admiral Amherst, as the world knew him, was a strange,
irrational creature in many ways, and none of these ideas would he
ever entertain. That the comfortable gentleman in the boat was her
husband he never doubted; more it was impossible to divine. But the
cool northern isle, with its dark fringe of pines; its wonderful moss,
its fragrant and dewy ferns, its graceful sumacs, just putting on
their scarlet-lipped leaves, the morning stillness broken only by
the faint unearthly cry of the melancholy loon, the spar-dyked
cliffs of limestone, and the fantastic couch, with its too lovely
occupant, never faded from his memory and remained to the last as
realities which indeed they have become likewise to me, through the
intensity with which they were described to me.
The Story of Delle Josephine Boulanger
Delle Josephine Boulanger, Miss Josephine Baker, Miss Josephine Baker,
Delle Josephine Boulanger. What a difference it makes, the language!
What a transformation! I thought this to myself as I stood on the
opposite side of the street looking at the sign. To be sure, it, was
only printed in French and sad little letters they were that
composed the name, but my mind quickly translated them into the more
prosaic English as I stood and gazed. Delle Josephine was a milliner
and I had been recommended to try and get a little room "_sous les
toits_" that she sometimes had to let, during my stay in the dismal
Canadian village with the grand and inappropriate name of _Bonheur
du Roi_. Bonneroi, or Bonneroy, it was usually called. Such a dismal
place it seemed to be; one long street of whitewashed or dirty
wooden houses, two raw red brick "stores," and the inevitable Roman
Catholic Church, Convent and offices, still and orderly and gray,
with the quiet priests walking about and the occasional sound of the
unmistakeable convent bell. I arrived on a sleety winter's day early
in December. Everything was gray, or colorless or white; the people's
faces were pinched and pale, the sky was a leaden gray in hue, and I
thought as I stood opposite to my future abode under Delle
Josephine's roof that the only bit of "local color" so far was to be
found in her window. I could distinctly see from where I stood the
most extraordinary _hat_ I had ever seen. I immediately crossed the
road to examine it. It was a triumph in lobster-color. In shape like
a very large Gainsborough, it was made of shirred scarlet satin with
large bows of satin ribbon of the same intense color and adorned
with a bird of paradise. I can see it now and can recall the images
it suggested to my mind at the time. These were of cardinals and
kings, of sealing-wax and wafers, of tropic noons and tangled marshes,
of hell and judgment and the conventional Zamiel. It looked fit to
be worn by a Mrs. Zamiel, if there be such a person. I looked so
long and earnestly that I evidently attracted the notice of the
mistress of the shop, for I saw a hand push back the faded red
curtain that veiled the interior and a queer little visage appeared
regarding me with something I thought of distrust. Did I look as if
I might break the glass and run off with the hat? Perhaps I did, so
I entered the shop immediately and said in a reasoning tone,
"I am looking for rooms in the village, Mademoiselle, and hear you
have one to let. Can I see it now, if not too much trouble?"
"You come from Morreall?"
This I learnt was meant for Montreal.
"Yes," I returned.
"You are by yourself, Monsieur, you are sure? No ladees, eh?"
"O dear! No" said I laughing. "I am making some studies--sketches--
in this locality and am entirely alone. Do you find ladies a trouble?"
"Oh, perhaps not always. But there was one Mees I had. I did not
like her, and so I said--we will have no more Mees, but again and
always Messieurs." She was frank enough but not unpleasant in her
manner. A little bit of a woman, thin and shrivelled, with one
shoulder slightly higher than the other, black beads for eyes, and
the ugliest mouthful of teeth that I had ever seen on any one. Had
it not been that her expression was honest and good natured and her
manner bright and intelligent, I should have recoiled before the
yellow tusks of eye-teeth, and the blackened stumps and shrunken
gums revealed to me every time she spoke. She wore a print dress made
neatly enough which was very clean, and a black crape ruff round her
sallow neck. The shop was small but clean and at the back I saw, a
kind of little sitting room. Into this I went while she ran
up-stairs to prepare the room for my inspection. The carpet was the
usual horribly ingenious affair of red squares inside green octagons,
and green squares inside red octagons, varied by lengthwise stripes
of bright purple. The walls were plain white, covered with many
prints in vivid colors of the Crucifixion, the Annunciation and the
Holy Family; also three pictures of three wonderful white kittens
which adorn so many nurseries and kitchens. There were no ornaments,
but there was a large looking glass framed in walnut, and over it a
dismal wreath of roses and their leaves done in human gray hair. The
glass was opposite the door and I saw Delle Josephine descending to
meet me just as I was turning away from this suggestive "in memoriam."
A crooked little stairway brought me to a small landing, and three
more steps to my room. I may call it that, for I took it on the spot
It was large enough for my wants and seemed clean and when the paper
blinds, yellow, with a black landscape on them, were raised, rather
cheerful. We were opposite the chief "_epicerie_," the only
_"marchandise seches_" and a blacksmith, whose jolly red fire
I could sometimes catch a glimpse of.
Now, this is a really a true story of French Canadian life, or
rather let me say, a true story of one of my own French Canadian
experiences, and so I must confess that once installed in my little
room _chez_ Delle Josephine Boulanger, nothing whatever of any
interest took place until I had been there quite a week. I lived
most regularly and monotonously; rising at eight I partook of coffee
made by my landlady, accompanied by tinned fruit for which I formed
a great taste. Then I went out, getting my mid-day meal where I could,
eggs and bacon at a farmhouse, or tough steak at the hotel, and
sometimes not getting anything at all until I returned ravenously
hungry to my lodging. On these occasions the little Frenchwoman
showed herself equal to the extent of cooking a chicken or liver and
bacon very creditably and then I would write and read in my own room
till eleven. I must not forget to say that I never failed to look at
the wonderful scarlet hat in the window every time I went out or
came in. Purchasers for it would be rare I thought; I half formed
the idea of buying it myself when I went away as a "Souvenir."
One day I came home very tired. After walking about, vainly waiting
for a terrific snowstorm to pass over that I might go on with my work--
the frozen fall of Montmorenci, framed in the dark pines and somber
rocks that made such a back ground for its glittering thread of ice,
I gave it up, chilled in every limb, and began to consider whether I
was not a fool for pains. Although I started quite early in the
afternoon on my homeward walk, the snow, piled in great masses
everywhere along the route, impeded my progress to such an extent
that it was nearly seven o'clock and pitch-dark when I got into the