Produced by Juliet Sutherland, David Widger and PG Distributed Proofreaders from images generously made available by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions
THE HERALDS OF FAME
BY ROBERT BARR
AUTHOR OF “A WOMAN INTERVENES,” “IN THE MIDST OF ALARMS,” “THE FACE AND THE MASK,” “FROM WHOSE BOURNE,” ETC.
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY E. FREDERICK
John Trenton, artist, put the finishing touches to the letter he was writing, and then read it over to himself. It ran as follows:–
“MY DEAR ED.,
“I sail for England on the 27th. But before I leave I want to have another look at the Shawenegan Falls. Their roar has been in my ears ever since I left there. That tremendous hillside of foam is before my eyes night and day. The sketches I took are not at all satisfactory, so this time I will bring my camera with me, and try to get some snapshots at the falls.
“Now, what I ask is this. I want you to hold that canoe for me against all comers for Tuesday. Also, those two expert half-breeds. Tell them I am coming, and that there is money in it if they take me up and back as safely as they did before. I don’t suppose there will be much demand for the canoe on that day; in fact, it astonishes me that Americans, who appreciate the good things of our country better than we do ourselves, practically know nothing of this superb cataract right at their own doors. I suppose your new canoe is not finished yet, and as the others are up in the woods I write so that you will keep this particular craft for me. I do not wish to take any risks, as I leave so soon. Please drop me a note to this hotel at Quebec, and I will meet you in Le Gres on Tuesday morning at daybreak.
Mason was a millionaire and a lumber king, but every one called him Ed. He owned baronial estates in the pine woods, and saw-mills without number. Trenton had brought a letter of introduction to him from a mutual friend in Quebec, who had urged the artist to visit the Shawenegan Falls. He heard the Englishman inquire about the cataract, and told him that he knew the man who would give him every facility for reaching the falls. Trenton’s acquaintance with Mason was about a fortnight old, but already they were the firmest of friends. Any one who appreciated the Shawenegan Falls found a ready path to the heart of the big lumberman. It was almost impossible to reach the falls without the assistance of Mr. Mason. However, he was no monopolist. Any person wishing to visit the cataract got a canoe from the lumber king free of all cost, except a tip to the two boatmen who acted as guides and watermen. The artist had not long to wait for his answer. It was–
“My DEAR JOHN,
“The canoe is yours; the boatmen are yours: and the Shawenegan is yours for Tuesday. Also,
“I am yours,
On Monday evening John Trenton stepped off the C.P.R. train at Three Rivers. With a roughing-it suit on, and his camera slung over his shoulders, no one would have taken him for the successful landscape artist who on Piccadilly was somewhat particular about his attire.
John Trenton was not yet R.A., nor even A.R.A., but all his friends would tell you that, if the Royal Academy was not governed by a clique, he would have been admitted long ago, and that anyhow it was only a question of time. In fact, John admitted this to himself, but to no one else.
He entered the ramshackle ‘bus, and was driven a long distance through very sandy streets to the hotel on the St. Lawrence, and, securing a room, made arrangements to be called before daybreak. He engaged the same driver who had taken him out to “The Greys,” as it was, locally called, on the occasion of his-former visit.
The morning was cold and dark. Trenton found the buckboard at the door, and he put his camera under the one seat–a kind of a box for the holding of bits of harness and other odds and ends. As he buttoned up his overcoat he noticed that a great white steamer had come in the night, and was tied up in front of the hotel.
“The Montreal boat,” explained the driver.
As they drove along the silent streets of Three Rivers, Trenton called to mind how, on the former occasion, he thought the Lower Canada buckboard by all odds, the most uncomfortable vehicle he had ever ridden in, and he felt that his present experience was going to corroborate this first impression. The seat was set in the centre, between the front and back wheels, on springy boards, and every time the conveyance jolted over a log–a not unfrequent occurrence–the seat went down and the back bent forward, as if to throw him over on the heels of the patient horse.
The road at first was long and straight and sandy, but during the latter part of the ride there were plenty of hills, up many of which a plank roadway ran; so that loads which it would be impossible to take through the deep sand, might be hauled up the steep incline.
At first the houses they passed had a dark and deserted look; then a light twinkled here and there. The early habitant was making his fire. As daylight began gradually to bring out the landscape, the sharp sound of the distant axe was heard. The early habitant was laying in his day’s supply of firewood.
“Do you notice how the dawn slowly materialises the landscape?” said the artist to the boy beside him.
The boy saw nothing wonderful about that. Daylight always did it.
“Then it is not unusual in these parts? You see, I am very seldom up at this hour.”
The boy wished that was his case.
“Does it not remind you of a photographer in a dark room carefully developing a landscape plate? Not one of those rapid plates, you know, but a slow, deliberate plate.”
No, it didn’t remind him of anything of the kind. He had never seen either a slow or a rapid plate developed.
“Then you have no prejudices as to which is the best developer, pyrogallic acid or ferrous oxalate, not to mention such recent decoctions as eikonogen, quinol, and other?”
No, the boy had none.
“Well, that’s what I like. I like a young man whose mind is open to conviction.”
The boy was not a conversational success. He evidently did not enter into the spirit of the artist’s remarks. He said most people got off at that point and walked to warm up, and asked Trenton if he would not like to follow their example.
“No, my boy,” said the Englishman, “I don’t think I shall. You see, I have paid for this ride, and I want to get all I can out of it. I shall shiver here and try to get the worth of my money. But with you it is different. If you want to get down, do so. I will drive.”
The boy willingly handed over the reins, and sprang out on the road. Trenton, who was a boy himself that morning, at once whipped up the horse and dashed down the hill to get away from the driver. When a good half-mile had been worried out of the astonished animal, Trenton looked back to see the driver come panting after. The young man was calmly sitting on the back part of the buckboard, and when the horse began to walk again, the boy slid off, and, without a smile on his face, trotted along at the side.
“That fellow has evidently a quiet sense of humour, although he is so careful not to show it,” said Trenton to himself.
On reaching the hilltop, they caught a glimpse of the rim of the sun rising gloriously over the treetops on the other side of the St. Maurice River. Trenton stopped the horse, and the boy looked up to see what was wrong. He could not imagine any one stopping merely to look at the sun.
“Isn’t that splendid?” cried Trenton, with a deep breath, as he watched the great globe slowly ascend into the sky. The distant branches of the trees were delicately etched against its glowing surface, and seemed to cling to it like tendrils, slipping further and further down as the sun leisurely disentangled itself, and at last stood in its incomparable grandeur full above the forest.
The woods all around had on their marvellous autumn tints, and now the sun added a living lustre to them that made the landscape more brilliant than anything the artist had ever seen before.
“Ye gods!” he cried enthusiastically, “that scene is worth coming from England to have one glimpse of.”
“See here,” said the driver, “if you want to catch Ed. Mason before he’s gone to the woods you’ll have to hurry up. It’s getting late.”
“True, O driver. You have brought me from the sun to the earth. Have you ever heard of the person who fell from the sun to the earth?”
No, he hadn’t.
“Well, that was before your time. You will never take such a tumble. I–I suppose they don’t worship the sun in these parts?”
No, they didn’t.
“When you come to think of it, that is very strange. Have you ever reflected that it is always in warm countries they worship the sun? Now, I should think ought to be just the other way about. Do you know that when I got on with you this morning I was eighty years old, every day of it. What do you think my age is now?”
“Eighty years, sir.”
“Not a bit of it. I’m eighteen. The sun did it. And yet they claim there is no fountain of youth. What fools people are, my boy!”
The young man looked at his fare slyly, and cordially agreed with him.
“You certainly _have_ a concealed sense of humour,” said the artist.
They wound down a deep cut in the hill, and got a view of the lumber village–their destination. The roar of the waters tumbling over the granite rocks–the rocks from which the village takes its name–came up the ravine. The broad river swept in a great semicircle to their right, and its dark waters were flecked with the foam of the small falls near the village, and the great cataract miles up the river. It promised to be a perfect autumn day. The sky, which had seemed to Trenton overcast when they started, was now one deep dome of blue without even the suggestion of a cloud.
The buckboard drew up at the gate of the house in which Mr. Mason lived when he was in the lumber village, although his home was at Three Rivers. The old Frenchwoman, Mason’s housekeeper, opened the door for Trenton, and he remembered as he went in how the exquisite cleanliness of everything had impressed him during his former visit. She smiled as she recognised the genial Englishman. She had not forgotten his compliments in her own language on her housekeeping some months before, and perhaps she also remembered his liberality. Mr. Mason, she said, had gone to the river to see after the canoe, leaving word that he would return in a few minutes. Trenton, who knew the house, opened the door at his right, to enter the sitting-room and leave there his morning wraps, which the increasing warmth rendered no longer necessary. As he burst into the room in his impetuous way, he was taken aback to see standing at the window, looking out towards the river, a tall young woman. Without changing her position, she looked slowly around at the intruder. Trenton’s first thought was a hasty wish that he were better dressed. His roughing-it costume, which up to that time had seemed so comfortable, now appeared uncouth and out of place. He felt as if he had suddenly found himself in a London drawing-room with a shooting-jacket on. But this sensation was quickly effaced by the look which the beauty gave him over her shoulder. Trenton, in all his experience, had never encountered such a glance of indignant scorn. It was a look of resentment and contempt, with just a dash of feminine reproach in it.
“What have I done?” thought the unhappy man; then he stammered aloud, “I–I–really–I beg your pardon. I thought the–ah–room was empty.”
The imperious young woman made no reply. She turned to the window again, and Trenton backed out of the room as best he could.
“Well!” he said to himself, as he breathed with relief the outside air again, “that was the rudest thing I ever knew a lady to do. She _is_ a lady, there is no doubt of that. There is nothing of the backwoods about her. But she might at least have answered me. What have I done, I wonder? It must be something terrible and utterly unforgivable, whatever it is. Great heavens!” he murmured, aghast at the thought, “I hope that girl isn’t going up to the Shawenegan Falls.”
Trenton was no ladies’ man. The presence of women always disconcerted him, and made him feel awkward and boorish. He had been too much of a student in higher art to acquire the smaller art of the drawing-room. He felt ill at ease in society, and seemed to have a fatal predilection for saying the wrong thing, and suffered the torture afterwards of remembering what the right thing would have been.
Trenton stood at the gate for a moment, hoping Mason would come. Suddenly he remembered with confusion that he was directly in range of those disdainful eyes in the parlour, and he beat a hasty retreat toward the old mill that stood by the falls. The roar of the turbulent water over the granite rocks had a soothing effect on the soul of the man who knew he was a criminal, yet could not for the life of him tell what his crime had been. Then he wandered up the river-bank toward where he saw the two half-breeds placing the canoe in the still water at the further end of the village. Half-way there he was relieved to meet the genial Ed. Mason, who greeted him, as Trenton thought, with a somewhat overwrought effusion. There evidently was something on the genial Ed.’s mind.
“Hello, old man,” he cried, shaking Trenton warmly by the hand. “Been here long? Well, I declare, I’m glad to see you. Going to have a splendid day for it, aren’t you? Yes, sir, I _am_ glad to see you.”
“When a man says that twice in one breath, a fellow begins to doubt him. Now, you good-natured humbug, what’s the matter? What have I done? How did you find me out? Who turned Queen’s evidence? Look here, Edward Mason, why are you _not_ glad to see me?”
“Nonsense; you know I am. No one could be more welcome. By the way, my wife’s here. You never met her, I think?”
“I saw a young lady remarkably—-“
“No, no; that is Miss —- By the way, Trenton, I want you to do me a favour, now that I think of it. Of course the canoe is yours for to-day, but that young woman wants to go up to the Shawenegan. You wouldn’t mind her going up with you, would you? You see, I have no other canoe to-day, and she can’t stay till to-morrow.”
“I shall be delighted, I’m sure,” answered Trenton. But he didn’t look it.
Eva Sommerton, of Boston, knew that she lived in the right portion of that justly celebrated city, and this knowledge was evident in the poise of her queenly head, and in every movement of her graceful form. Blundering foreigners–foreigners as far as Boston is concerned, although they may be citizens of the United States–considered Boston to be a large city, with commerce and railroads and busy streets and enterprising newspapers, but the true Bostonian knows that this view is very incorrect. The real Boston is penetrated by no railroads. Even the jingle of the street-car bell does not disturb the silence of the streets of this select city. It is to the ordinary Boston what the empty, out-of-season London is to the rest of the busy metropolis. The stranger, jostled by the throng, may not notice that London is empty, but his lordship, if he happens during the deserted period to pass through, knows there is not a soul in town.
Miss Sommerton had many delusions, but fortunately for her peace of mind she had never yet met a candid friend with courage enough to tell her so. It would have required more bravery than the ordinary society person possesses to tell Miss Sommerton about any of her faults. The young gentlemen of her acquaintance claimed that she had no faults, and if her lady friends thought otherwise, they reserved the expression of such opinions for social gatherings not graced by the presence of Miss Sommerton.
Eva Sommerton thought she was not proud, or if there was any tinge of pride in her character, it was pride of the necessary and proper sort.
She also possessed the vain belief that true merit was the one essential, but if true merit had had the misfortune to be presented to Miss Sommerton without an introduction of a strictly unimpeachable nature, there is every reason to fear true merit would not have had the exquisite privilege of basking in the smiles of that young Bostonian. But perhaps her chief delusion was the belief that she was an artist. She had learned all that Boston could teach of drawing, and this thin veneer had received a beautiful foreign polish abroad. Her friends pronounced her sketches really wonderful. Perhaps if Miss Sommerton’s entire capital had been something less than her half-yearly income, she might have made a name for herself; but the rich man gets a foretaste of the scriptural difficulty awaiting him at the gates of heaven, when he endeavours to achieve an earthly success, the price of which is hard labour, and not hard cash.
We are told that pride must have a fall, and there came an episode in Miss Sommerton’s career as an artist which was a rude shock to her self-complacency. Having purchased a landscape by a celebrated artist whose work she had long admired, she at last ventured to write to him and enclose some of her own sketches, with a request for a candid judgment of them–that is, she _said_ she wanted a candid judgment of them.
The reply seemed to her so ungentlemanly, and so harsh, that, in her vexation and anger, she tore the letter to shreds and stamped her pretty foot with a vehemence which would have shocked those who knew her only as the dignified and self-possessed Miss Eva Sommerton.
Then she looked at her libelled sketches, and somehow they did not appear to be quite so faultless as she had supposed them to be.
This inspection was followed by a thoughtful and tearful period of meditation; and finally, with contriteness, the young woman picked up from her studio floor the shreds of the letter and pasted them carefully together on a white sheet of paper, in which form she still preserved the first honest opinion she had ever received.
In the seclusion of her aesthetic studio Miss Sommerton made a heroic resolve to work hard. Her life was to be consecrated to art. She would win reluctant recognition from the masters. Under all this wave of heroic resolution was an under-current of determination to get even with the artist who had treated her work so contemptuously.
Few of us quite live up to our best intentions, and Miss Sommerton was no exception to the rule. She did not work as devotedly as she had hoped to do, nor did she become a recluse from society. A year after she sent to the artist some sketches which she had taken in Quebec–some unknown waterfalls, some wild river scenery–and received from him a warmer letter of commendation than she had hoped for. He remembered her former sketches, and now saw a great improvement. If the waterfall sketches were not exaggerations, he would like to see the originals. Where were they? The lady was proud of her discoveries in the almost unknown land of Northern Quebec, and she wrote a long letter telling all about them, and a polite note of thanks for the information ended the correspondence.
Miss Sommerton’s favourite discovery was that tremendous downward plunge of the St. Maurice, the Falls of Shawenegan. She had sketched it from a dozen different standpoints, and raved about it to her friends, if such a dignified young person as Miss Sommerton could be said to rave over anything. Some Boston people, on her recommendation, had visited the falls, but their account of the journey made so much of the difficulties and discomforts, and so little of the magnificence of the cataract, that our amateur artist resolved to keep the falls, as it were, to herself. She made yearly pilgrimages to the St. Maurice, and came to have a kind of idea of possession which always amused Mr. Mason. She seemed to resent the fact that others went to look at the falls, and, worse than all, took picnic baskets there, actually lunching on its sacred shores, leaving empty champagne bottles and boxes of sardines that had evidently broken some one’s favourite knife in the opening. This particular summer she had driven out to “The Greys,” but finding that a party was going up in canoes every day that week, she promptly ordered her driver to take her back to Three Rivers, saying to Mr. Mason she would return when she could have the falls to herself.”
“You remind me of Miss Porter,” said the lumber king.
“Miss Porter! Who is she?”
“When Miss Porter visited England and saw Mr. Gladstone, he asked her if she had ever seen the Niagara Falls. ‘Seen them?’ she answered. ‘Why, I _own_ them!'”
“What did she mean by that? I confess I don’t see the point, or perhaps it isn’t a joke.”
“Oh yes, it is. You mustn’t slight my good stories in that way. She meant just what she said. I believe the Porter family own, or did own, Goat Island, and, I suppose, the other bank, and, therefore, the American Fall. The joke–I do dislike to have to explain jokes, especially to you cool, unsympathising Bostonians–is the ridiculousness of any mere human person claiming to own such a thing as the Niagara Falls. I believe, though, that you are quite equal to it–I do indeed.”
“Thank you, Mr. Mason.”
“I knew you would be grateful when I made myself clearly understood. Now, what I was going to propose is this. You should apply to the Canadian Government for possession of the Shawenegan. I think they would let it go at a reasonable figure. They look on it merely as an annoying impediment to the navigation of the river, and an obstruction which has caused them to spend some thousands of dollars in building a slide by the side of it, so that the logs may come down safely.”
“If I owned it, the slide is the first thing I would destroy.”
“What? And ruin the lumber industry of the Upper St. Maurice? Oh, you wouldn’t do such a thing! If that is your idea, I give you fair warning that I will oppose your claims with all the arts of the lobbyist. If you want to become the private owner of the falls, you should tell the Government that you have some thoughts of encouraging the industries of the province by building a mill—-“
“Yes; why not? Indeed, I have half a notion to put a saw-mill there myself. It always grieves me to see so much magnificent power going to waste.”
“Oh, seriously, Mr. Mason, you would never think of committing such an act of sacrilege?”
“Sacrilege, indeed! I like that. Why, the man who makes one saw-mill hum where no mill ever hummed before is a benefactor to his species. Don’t they teach political economy at Boston? I thought you liked saw-mills. You drew a very pretty picture of the one down the stream.”
“I admire a _ruined_ saw-mill, as that one was; but not one in a state of activity, or of eruption, as a person might say.”
“Well, won’t you go up to the falls to-day, Miss Sommerton? I assure you we have a most unexceptionable party. Why, one of them is a Government official. Think of that!”
“I refuse to think of it; or, if I do think of it, I refuse to be dazzled by his magnificence. I want to see the Shawenegan, not a picnic party drinking.
“You wrong them, really you do, Miss Sommerton, believe me. You have got your dates mixed. It is the champagne party that goes to-day. The beer crowd is not due until to-morrow.”
“The principle is the same.”
“The price of the refreshment is not. I speak as a man of bitter experience. Let’s see. If recollection holds her throne, I think there was a young lady from New England–I forget the name of the town at the moment–who took a lunch with her the last time she went to the Shawenegan. I merely give this as my impression, you know. I am open to contradiction.”
“Certainly, I took a lunch. I always do. I would to-day if I were going up there, and Mrs. Mason would give me some sandwiches. You would give me a lunch, wouldn’t you, dear?”
“I’ll tell them to get it ready now, if you will only stay,” replied that lady, on being appealed to.
“No, it isn’t the lunch I object to. I object to people going there merely _for_ the lunch. I go for the scenery; the lunch is incidental.”
“When you get the deed of the falls, I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” put in Mason. “We will have a band of trained Indians stationed at the landing, and they will allow no one to disembark who does not express himself in sufficiently ecstatic terms about the great cataract. You will draw up a set of adjectives, which I will give to the Indians, instructing them to allow no one to land who does not use at least three out of five of them in referring to the falls. People whose eloquent appreciation does not reach the required altitude will have to stay there till it does, that’s all. We will treat them as we do our juries–starve them into a verdict, and the right verdict at that.”
“Don’t mind him, Eva. He is just trying to exasperate you. Think of what I have to put up with. He goes on like that all the time,” said Mrs. Mason.
“Really, my dear, your flattery confuses me. You can’t persuade any one that I keep up this brilliancy in the privacy of my own house. It is only turned on for company.”
“Why, Mr. Mason, I didn’t think you looked on me as company. I thought I enjoyed the friendship of the Mason family.”
“Oh, you do, you do indeed! The company I referred to was the official party which has just gone to the falls. This is some of the brilliancy left over. But, really, you had better stay after coming all this distance.”
“Yes, do, Eva. Let me go back with you to the Three Rivers, and then you stay with me till next week, when you can visit the falls all alone. It is very pleasant at Three Rivers just now. And besides, we can go for a day’s shopping at Montreal.”
“I wish I could.”
“Why, of course you can,” said Mason. Imagine the delight of smuggling your purchases back to Boston. Confess that this is a pleasure you hadn’t thought of.”
“I admit the fascination of it all, but you see I am with a party that has gone on to Quebec, and I just got away for a day. I am to meet them there to-night or to-morrow morning. But I will return in the autumn, Mrs. Mason, when it is too late for the picnics. Then, Mr. Mason, take warning. I mean to have a canoe to myself, or–well, you know the way we Bostonians treated you Britishers once upon a time.”
“Distinctly. But we will return good for evil, and give you warm tea instead of the cold mixture you so foolishly brewed in the harbour.”
As the buckboard disappeared around the corner, and Mr. and Mrs. Mason walked back to the house, the lady said–
“What a strange girl Eva is.”
“Very. Don’t she strike you as being a trifle selfish?”
“Selfish? Eva Sommerton? Why, what could make you think such a thing? What an absurd idea! You cannot imagine how kind she was to me when I visited Boston.”
“Who could help it, my dear? I would have been so myself if I had happened to meet you there.”
“Now, Ed., don’t be absurd.”
“There is something absurd in being kind to a person’s wife, isn’t there? Well, it struck me her objection to any one else being at the falls, when her ladyship was there, might seem–not to me, of course, but to an outsider–a trifle selfish.”
“Oh, you don’t understand her at all. She has an artistic temperament, and she is quite right in wishing to be alone. Now, Ed., when she does come again I want you to keep anyone else from going up there. Don’t forget it, as you do most of the things I tell you. Say to anybody who wants to go up that the canoes are out of repair.”
“Oh, I can’t say that, you know. Anything this side of a crime I am willing to commit; but to perjure myself, no, not for Venice. Can you think of any other method that will combine duplicity with a clear conscience? I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I will have the canoe drawn up, and gently, but firmly, slit it with my knife. One of the men can mend it in ten minutes. Then I can look even the official from Quebec in the face, and tell him truly that the canoe will not hold water. I suppose as long as my story will hold water you and Miss Sommerton will not mind?”
“If the canoe is ready for her when she comes, I shall be satisfied. Please to remember I am going to spend a week or two in Boston next winter.”
“Oh ho, that’s it, is it? Then it was not pure philanthropy—-“
“Pure nonsense, Ed. I want the canoe to be ready, that’s all.”
When Mrs. Mason received the letter from Miss Sommerton, stating the time the young woman intended to pay her visit to the Shawenegan, she gave the letter to her husband, and reminded him of the necessity of keeping the canoe for that particular date. As the particular date was some weeks off, and as Ed. Mason was a man who never crossed a stream until he came to it, he said, “All right,” put the letter in his inside pocket, and the next time he thought of it was on the fine autumn afternoon–Monday afternoon–when he saw Mrs. Mason drive up to the door of his lumber-woods residence with Miss Eva Sommerton in the buggy beside her. The young lady wondered, as Mr. Mason helped her out, if that genial gentleman, whom she regarded as the most fortunate of men, had in reality some secret, gnawing sorrow the world knew not of.
“Why, Ed., you look ill,” exclaimed Mrs. Mason; “is there anything the matter?”
“Oh, it is nothing–at least, not of much consequence. A little business worry, that’s all.”
“Has there been any trouble?”
“Oh no–at the least, not _yet_.”
“Trouble about the men, is it?”
“No, not about the men,” said the unfortunate gentleman, with a somewhat unnecessary emphasis on the last word.
“Oh, Mr. Mason, I am afraid I have come at a wrong time. If so, don’t hesitate to tell me. If I can do anything to help you, I hope I may be allowed.”
“You have come just at the right time,” said the lumberman, “and you are very welcome, I assure you. If I find I need help, as perhaps I may, you will be reminded of your promise.”
To put off as long as possible the evil time of meeting his wife, Mason went with the man to see the horse put away, and he lingered an unnecessarily long time in ascertaining that everything was right in the stable. The man was astonished to find his master so particular that afternoon. A crisis may be postponed, but it can rarely be avoided altogether, and knowing he had to face the inevitable sooner or later, the unhappy man, with a sigh, betook himself to the house, where he found his wife impatiently waiting for him. She closed the door and confronted him.
“Now, Ed., what’s the matter?”
“Where’s Miss Sommerton?” was the somewhat irrelevant reply.
“She has gone to her room. Ed, don’t keep me in suspense. What is wrong?”
“You remember John Trenton, who was here in the summer?”
“I remember hearing you speak of him. I didn’t meet him, you know.”
“Oh, that’s so. Neither you did. You see, he’s an awful good fellow, Trenton is–that is, for an Englishman.”
“Well, what has Trenton to do with the trouble?”
“Everything, my dear–everything.”
“I see how it is. Trenton visited the Shawenegan?”
“And he wants to go there again?”
“And you have gone and promised him the canoe for to morrow?”
“The intuition of woman, my dear, is the most wonderful thing on earth.”
“It is not half so wonderful as the negligence-of man–I won’t say the stupidity.”
“Thank you, Jennie, for not saying it, but I really think I would feel better if you did.”
“Now, what are you going to do about it?”
“Well, my dear, strange as it may appear, that very question has been racking my brain for the last ten minutes. Now, what would you do in my position?”
“Oh, I couldn’t be in your position.”
“No, that’s so, Jennie. Excuse me for suggesting the possibility. I really think this trouble has affected my mind a little. But if you had a husband–if a sensible woman like you _could_ have a husband who got himself into such a position–what would you advise him to do?”
“Now, Ed., don’t joke. It’s too serious.”
“My dear, no one on earth can have such a realisation of its seriousness as I have at this moment. I feel as Mark Twain did with that novel he never finished. I have brought things to a point where I can’t go any further. The game seems blocked. I wonder if Miss Sommerton would accept ten thousand feet of lumber f.o.b. and call it square.”
“Really, Ed., if you can’t talk sensibly, I have nothing further to say.”
“Well, as I said, the strain is getting too much for me. Now, don’t go away, Jennie. Here is what I am thinking of doing. I’ll speak to Trenton. He won’t mind Miss Sommerton’s going in the canoe with him. In fact, I should think he would rather like it.”
“Dear me, Ed., is that all the progress you’ve made? I am not troubling myself about Mr. Trenton. The difficulty will be with Eva. Do you think for a moment she will go if she imagined herself under obligations to a stranger for the canoe? Can’t you get Mr. Trenton to put off his visit until the day after tomorrow? It isn’t long to wait.”
“No, that is impossible. You see, he has just time to catch his steamer as it is. No, he has the promise in writing, while Miss Sommerton has no legal evidence if this thing ever gets into the courts. Trenton has my written promise. You see, I did not remember the two dates were the same. When I wrote to Trenton—-“
“Ed., don’t try to excuse yourself. You had her letter in your pocket, you know you had. This is a matter for which there is no excuse, and it cannot be explained away.”
“That’s so, Jennie. I am down in the depths once more. I shall not try to crawl out again–at least, not while my wife is looking.”
“No, your plan will not work. I don’t know that any will. There is only one thing to try, and it is this–Miss Sommerton must think that the canoe is hers. You must appeal to her generosity to let Mr. Trenton go with her.”
“Won’t you make the appeal, Jen?”
“No, I will not. In the first place she’ll be sorry for you, because you will make such a bungle of it. Trial is your only hope.”
“Oh, if success lies in bungling, I will succeed.”
“Don’t be too sure. I suppose that man will be here by daybreak to-morrow?”
“Not so bad as that, Jennie. You always try to put the worst face on things. He won’t be here till sunrise at the earliest.”
“I will ask Eva to come down.”
“You needn’t hurry just because of me. Besides, I would like a few moments to prepare myself for my fate. Even a murderer is given a little time.”
“Not a moment, Ed. We had better get this thing settled as soon as possible.”
“Perhaps you are right,” he murmured, with a deep sigh. “Well, if we Britishers, as Miss S. calls us, ever faced the Americans with as faint a heart as I do now, I don’t wonder we got licked.”
“Don’t say ‘licked,’ Ed.”
“I believe it’s historical. Oh, I see. You object to the word, not to the allegation. Well, I won’t cavil about that. All my sympathy just now is concentrated on one unfortunate Britisher. My dear, let the sacrifice begin.”
Mrs. Mason went to the stairway and called–
“Eva, dear, can you come down for a moment? We want you to help us out of a difficulty.”
Miss Sommerton appeared smilingly, smoothing down the front of the dress that had taken the place of the one she travelled in. She advanced towards Mason with sweet compassion in her eyes, and that ill-fated man thought he had never seen any one look so altogether charming–excepting, of course, his own wife in her youthful days. She seemed to have smoothed away all the Boston stiffness as she smoothed her dress.
“Oh, Mr. Mason,” she said, sympathetically, as she approached, “I am so sorry anything has happened to trouble you, and I do hope I am not intruding.”
“Indeed, you are not, Miss Eva. In fact, your sympathy has taken away half the trouble already, and I want to beg of you to help me off with the other half.”
A glance at his wife’s face showed him that he had not made a bad beginning.
“Miss Sommerton, you said you would like to kelp me. Now I am going to appeal to you. I throw myself on your mercy.”
There was a slight frown on Mrs. Mason’s face, and her husband felt that he was perhaps appealing too much.
“In fact, the truth is, my wife gave me—-“
Here a cough interrupted him, and he paused and ran his hand through his hair. “Pray don’t mind me, Mr. Mason,” said Miss Sommerton, “if you would rather not tell—-“
“Oh, but I must; that is, I want you to know.”
He glanced at his wife, but there was no help there, so he plunged in headlong.
“To tell the truth, there is a friend of mine who wants to go to the falls tomorrow. He sails for Europe immediately, and has no other day.”
The Boston rigidity perceptibly returned.
“Oh, if that is all, you needn’t have had a moment’s trouble. I can just as well put off my visit.”
“Oh, can you?” cried Mason, joyously.
His wife sat down in the rocking-chair with a sigh of despair. Her infatuated husband thought he was getting along famously.
“Then your friends are not waiting for you at Quebec this time, and you can stay a day or two with us.”
“Eva’s friends are at Montreal, Edward, and she cannot stay.”
“Oh, then–why, then, to-morrow’s _your_ only day, too?”
“It doesn’t matter in the least, Mr. Mason. I shall be most glad to put off my visit to oblige your friend–no, I didn’t mean that,” she cried, seeing the look of anguish on Mason’s face, “it is to oblige you. Now, am I not good?”
“No, you are cruel,” replied Mason. “You are going up to the falls. I insist on that. Let’s take that as settled. The canoe is yours.” He caught an encouraging look from his wife. “If you want to torture me you will say you will not go. If you want to do me the greatest of favours, you will let my friend go in the canoe with you to the landing.”
“What! go alone with a stranger?” cried Miss Sommerton, freezingly.
“No, the Indians will be there, you know.”
“Oh, I didn’t expect to paddle the canoe myself.”
“I don’t know about that. You strike me as a girl who would paddle her own canoe pretty well.”
“Now, Edward,” said his wife. “He wants to take some photographs of the falls, and—-“
“Photographs? Why, Ed., I thought you said he was an artist.”
“Isn’t a photographer an artist?”
“You know he isn’t.”
“Well, my dear, you know they put on their signs, ‘artist–photographer, pictures taken in cloudy weather.’ But he’s an amateur photographer; an amateur is not so bad as a professional, is he, Miss Sommerton?”
“I think he’s worse, if there is any choice. A professional at least takes good pictures, such as they are.”
“He is an elderly gentleman, and I am sure—-“
“Oh, is he?” cried Miss Sommerton; “then the matter is settled. He shall go. I thought it was some young fop of an amateur photographer.”
“Oh, quite elderly. His hair is grey, or badly tinged at least.”
The frown on Mrs. Sommerton’s brow cleared away, and she smiled in a manner that was cheering to the heart of her suppliant. He thought it reminded him of the sun breaking through the clouds over the hills beyond the St. Maurice.
“Why, Mr. Mason, how selfishly I’ve been acting, haven’t I? You really must forgive me. It is so funny, too, making you beg for a seat in your own canoe.”
“Oh no, it’s your canoe–that is, after twelve o’clock to-night. That’s when your contract begins.”
“The arrangement does not seem to me quite regular; but, then, this is the Canadian woods, and not Boston. But, I want to make my little proviso. I do not wish to be introduced to this man; he must have no excuse for beginning a conversation with me. I don’t want to talk to-morrow.”
“Heroic resolution,” murmured Mason.
“So, I do not wish to see the gentleman until I go into the canoe. You can be conveniently absent. Mrs. Perrault will take me down there; she speaks no English, and it is not likely he can speak French.”
“We can arrange that.”
“Then it is settled, and all I hope for is a good day to-morrow.”
Mrs. Mason sprang up and kissed the fair Bostonian, and Mason felt a sensation of joyous freedom that recalled his youthful days when a half-holiday was announced.
“Oh, it is too good of you,” said the elder lady.
“Not a bit of it,” whispered Miss Sommerton; “I hate the man before I have seen him.”
When John Trenton came in to breakfast, he found his friend Mason waiting for him. That genial gentleman was evidently ill at ease, but he said in an offhand way–
“The ladies have already breakfasted. They are busily engaged in the preparations for the trip, and so you and I can have a snack together, and then we will go and see to the canoe.”
After breakfast they went together to the river, and found the canoe and the two half-breeds waiting for them. A couple of rugs were spread on the bottom of the canoe rising over the two slanting boards which served as backs to the lowly seats.
“Now,” said Mason with a blush, for he always told a necessary lie with some compunction, “I shall have to go and see to one of my men who was injured in the mill this morning. You had better take your place in the canoe, and wait for your passenger, who, as is usual with ladies, will probably be a little late. I think you should sit in the back seat, as you are the heavier of the two. I presume you remember what I told you about sitting in a canoe? Get in with caution while these two men hold the side of it; sit down carefully, and keep steady, no matter what happens. Perhaps you may as well put your camera here at the back, or in the prow.”
“No,” said Trenton, “I shall keep it slung over my shoulder. It isn’t heavy, and I am always afraid of forgetting it if I leave it anywhere.”
Trenton got cautiously into the canoe, while Mason bustled off with a very guilty feeling at his heart. He never thought of blaming Miss Sommerton for the course she had taken, and the dilemma into which she placed him, for he felt that the fault was entirely his own.
John Trenton pulled out his pipe, and, absent-mindedly, stuffed it full of tobacco. Just as he was about to light it, he remembered there was to be a lady in the party, and so with a grimace of disappointment he put the loaded pipe into his pocket again.
It was the most lovely time of the year. The sun was still warm, but the dreaded black fly and other insect pests of the region had disappeared before the sharp frosts that occurred every night. The hilly banks of the St. Maurice were covered with unbroken forest, and “the woods of autumn all around, the vale had put their glory on.” Presently Trenton saw Miss Sommerton, accompanied by old Mrs. Perrault, coming over the brow of the hill. He attempted to rise, in order to assist the lady to a seat in the canoe, when the half-breed-said in French–:
“Better sit still. It is safer. We will help the lady.”
Miss Sommerton was talking rapidly in French–with rather overdone eagerness–to Mrs. Perrault. She took no notice of her fellow-voyager as she lightly stepped exactly in the centre of the canoe, and sank down on the rug in front of him, with the ease of one thoroughly accustomed to that somewhat treacherous craft. The two stalwart boatmen–one at the prow, the other at the stern of the canoe–with swift and dexterous strokes, shot it out into the stream. Trenton could not but admire the knowledge of these two men and their dexterous use of it. Here they were on a swiftly flowing river, with a small fall behind them and a tremendous cataract several miles in front, yet these two men, by their knowledge of the currents, managed to work their way up stream with the least possible amount of physical exertion. The St. Maurice at this point is about half a mile wide, with an island here and there, and now and then a touch of rapids. Sometimes the men would dash right across the river to the opposite bank, and there fall in with a miniature Gulf Stream that would carry them onward without exertion. Sometimes they were near the densely wooded shore, sometimes in the center of the river. The half-breed who stood behind Trenton, leant over to him, and whispered–
“You can now smoke if you like, the wind is down stream.”
Naturally, Mr. Trenton wished to smoke. The requesting of permission to do so, it struck him, might open the way to conversation. He was not an ardent conversationalist, but it seemed to him rather ridiculous that two persons should thus travel together in a canoe without saying a word to each other.
“I beg your pardon, madam,” he began; “but would you have any objection to my smoking? I am ashamed to confess that I am a slave to the pernicious habit.”
There was a moment or two of silence, broken only by the regular dip of the paddle, then Miss Sommerton said, “If you wish to desecrate this lovely spot by smoking, I presume anything I can say will not prevent you.”
Trenton was amazed at the rudeness of this reply, and his face flushed with anger. Finally he said, “You must have a very poor opinion of me!”
Miss Sommerton answered tartly, “I have no opinion whatever of you.” Then, with womanly inconsistency, she proceeded to deliver her opinion, saying, “A man who would smoke here would smoke in a cathedral.”
“I think you are wrong there,” said Mr. Trenton, calmly. “I would smoke here, but I would not think of smoking in a cathedral. Neither would I smoke in the humblest log-cabin chapel.”
“Sir,” said Miss Sommerton, turning partly round, “I came to the St. Maurice for the purpose of viewing its scenery. I hoped to see it alone. I have been disappointed in that, but I must insist on seeing it in silence. I do not wish to carry on a conversation, nor do I wish to enter into a discussion on any subject whatever. I am sorry to have to say this, but it seems to be necessary.”
Her remarks so astonished Trenton that he found it impossible to get angrier than he had been when she first spoke. In fact, he found his anger receding rather than augmenting. It was something so entirely new to meet a lady who had such an utter disregard for the rules of politeness that obtain in any civilized society that Mr. Trenton felt he was having a unique and valuable experience.
“Will you pardon me,” he said, with apparent submissiveness–“will you pardon me if I disregard your request sufficiently to humbly beg forgiveness for having spoken to you in the first place?”
To this Miss Sommerton made no reply, and the canoe glided along.
After going up the river for a few miles the boatmen came to a difficult part of the voyage. Here the river was divided by an island. The dark waters moved with great swiftness, and with the smoothness of oil, over the concealed rocks, breaking into foam at the foot of the rapids. Now for the first time the Indians had hard work. For quite half an hour they paddled as if in despair, and the canoe moved upward inch by inch. It was not only hard work, but it was work that did not allow of a moment’s rest until it was finished, Should the paddles pause but an instant, the canoe would be swept to the bottom of the rapids. When at last the craft floated into the still water above the rapids, the boatmen rested and mopped the perspiration from their brows. Then, without a word, they resumed their steady, easy swing of the paddle. In a short time the canoe drew up at a landing, from which a path ascended the steep hill among the trees. The silence was broken only by the deep, distant, low roar of the Shawenegen Falls. Mr. Trenton sat in his place, while the half-breeds held the canoe steady. Miss Sommerton rose and stepped with firm, self-reliant tread on the landing. Without looking backward she proceeded up the steep hill, and disappeared among the dense foliage. Then Trenton leisurely got out of the canoe.
“You had a hard time of it up that rapid,” said the artist in French to the boatmen. “Here is a five-dollar bill to divide when you get down; and, if you bring us safely back, I shall have another ready for you.”
The men were profusely grateful, as indeed they had a right to be, for the most they expected was a dollar each as a fee.
“Ah,” said the elder, “if we had gentlemen like you to take up every day,” and he gave an expressive shrug.
“You shouldn’t take such a sordid view of the matter,” said the artist. “I should think you would find great pleasure in taking up parties of handsome ladies such as I understand now and then visit the falls.”
“Ah,” said the boatman, “it is very nice, of course; but, except from Miss Sommerton, we don’t get much.”
“Really,” said the artist; “and who is Miss Sommerton, pray?”
The half-breed nodded up the path.
“Oh, indeed, that is her name. I did not know.”
“Yes,” said the man, “she is very generous, and she always brings us tobacco in her pocket–good tobacco.”
“Tobacco!” cried the artist. “The arrant hypocrite. She gives you tobacco, does she? Did you understand what we were talking about coming up here?”
The younger half-breed was about to say “Yes,” and a gleam of intelligence came into his face; but a frown on the other’s brow checked him, and the elder gravely shook his head.
“We do not understand English,” he said.
As Trenton walked slowly up the steep hillside, he said to himself, “That young woman does not seem to have the slightest spark of gratitude in her composition. Here I have been good-natured enough, to share my canoe with her, yet she treats me as if I were some low ruffian instead of a gentleman.”
As Miss Sommerton was approaching the Shawenegan Falls, she said to herself, “What an insufferable cad that man is? Mr. Mason doubtless told him that he was indebted to me for being allowed to come in the canoe, and yet, although he must see I do not wish to talk with him, he tried to force conversation on me.”
Miss Sommerton walked rapidly along the very imperfect woodland path, which was completely shaded by the overhanging trees. After a walk of nearly a mile, the path suddenly ended at the top of a tremendous precipice of granite, and opposite this point the great hillside of tumbling white foam plunged for ever downward. At the foot of the falls the waters flung themselves against the massive granite barrier, and then, turning at a right angle, plunged downward in a series of wild rapids that completely eclipsed in picturesqueness and grandeur and force even the famous rapids at Niagara. Contemplating this incomparable scene, Miss Sommerton forgot all about her objectionable travelling companion. She sat down on a fallen log, placing her sketch-book on her lap, but it lay there idly as, unconscious of the passing time, she gazed dreamily at the great falls and listened to their vibrating deafening roar. Suddenly the consciousness of some one near startled her from her reverie. She sprang to her feet, and had so completely forgotten her companion that she stared at him for a moment in dumb amazement. He stood back some distance from her, and beside him on its slender tripod was placed a natty little camera. Connected with the instantaneous shutter was a long black rubber tube almost as thin as a string. The bulb of this instantaneous attachment Mr. Trenton held in his hand, and the instant Miss Sommerton turned around, the little shutter, as if in defiance of her, gave a snap, and she knew her picture had been taken, and also that she was the principal object in the foreground.
“You have photographed me, sir!” cried the young woman, with her eyes blazing.
“I have photographed the falls, or, at least, I hope I have,” replied Trenton.
“But my picture is in the foreground. You must destroy that plate.”
“You will excuse me, Miss Sommerton, if I tell you I shall do nothing of the kind. It is very unusual with me to deny the request of a lady, but in this case I must do so. This is the last plate I have, and it may be the one successful picture of the lot. I shall, therefore, not destroy the plate.”
“Then, sir, you are not a gentleman!” cried the impetuous young lady, her face aflame with anger.
“I never claimed to be one,” answered Trenton, calmly.
“I shall appeal to Mr. Mason; perhaps he has some means of making you understand that you are not allowed to take a lady’s photograph without her permission, and in defiance of her wishes.”
“Will you allow me to explain why it is unnecessary to destroy the plate? If you understand anything about photography, you must be aware of the fact—-“
“I am happy to say I know nothing of photography, and I desire to know nothing of it. I will not hear any explanation from you, sir. You have refused to destroy the plate. That is enough for me. Your conduct to-day has been entirely contemptible. In the first place you have forced yourself, through Mr. Mason, into my company. The canoe was mine for to-day, and you knew it. I granted you permission to come, but I made it a proviso that there should be no conversation. Now, I shall return in the canoe alone, and I shall pay the boatmen to come back for you this evening.” With this she swept indignantly past Mr. Trenton, leaving the unfortunate man for the second or third time that day too much dumbfounded to reply. She marched down the path toward the landing. Arriving at the canoe, she told the boatmen they would have to return for Mr. Trenton; that she was going back alone, and she would pay them handsomely for their extra trip. Even the additional pay offered did not seem to quite satisfy the two half-breeds.
“It will be nearly dark before we can get back,” grumbled the elder boatman.
“That does not matter,” replied Miss Sommerton, shortly.
“But it is dangerous going down the river at night.”
“That does not matter,” was again the reply.
“But he has nothing—-“
“The longer you stand talking here the longer it will be before you get back. If you are afraid for the safety of the gentleman, pray stay here with him and give me the paddle–I will take the boat down alone.”
The boatman said nothing more, but shot the canoe out from the landing and proceeded rapidly down the stream.
Miss Sommerton meditated bitterly on the disappointments and annoyances of the day. Once fairly away, conscience began to trouble her, and she remembered that the gentleman so unceremoniously left in the woods without any possibility of getting away was a man whom Mr. Mason, her friend, evidently desired very much to please. Little had been said by the boatmen, merely a brief word of command now and then from the elder who stood in the stern, until they passed down the rapids. Then Miss Sommerton caught a grumbling word in French which made her heart stand still.
“What is that you said?” she cried to the elder boatman.
He did not answer, but solemnly paddled onward.
“Answer me,” demanded Miss Sommerton. “What is that you said about the gentleman who went up with us this morning?”
“I said,” replied the half-breed, with a grim severity that even the remembrance of gifts of tobacco could not mitigate, “that the canoe belonged to him today.”
“How dare you say such a thing! The canoe was mine. Mr. Mason gave it to me. It was mine for to-day.”
“I know nothing about that,” returned the boatman doggedly; “but I do know that three days ago Mr. Mason came to me with this gentleman’s letter in his hand and said, ‘Pierre, Mr. Trenton is to have the canoe for Tuesday. See it is in good order, and no one else is to have it for that day.’ That is what Mr. Mason said, and when they were down at the canoe this morning, Mr. Mason asked Mr. Trenton if he would let you go up to the falls in his canoe, and he said ‘Yes.'”
Miss Sommerton sat there too horrified to speak. A wild resentment against the duplicity of Ed. Mason arose for a moment in her heart, but it speedily sank as she viewed her own conduct in the light of this astounding revelation. She had abused an unknown gentleman like a pickpocket, and had finally gone off with his canoe, leaving him marooned, as it were, to whose courtesy she was indebted for being there at all. Overcome by the thoughts that crowded so quickly upon her, she buried her face in her hands and wept. But this was only for an instant. Raising her head again, with the imperious air characteristic of her, she said to the boatman–
“Turn back at once, please.”
“We are almost there now,” he answered, amazed at the feminine inconsistency of the command.
“Turn back at once, I say. You are not too tired to paddle up the river again, are you?”
“No, madame,” he answered, “but it is so useless; we are almost there. We shall land you, and then the canoe will go up lighter.”
“I wish to go with you. Do what I tell you, and I will pay you.”
The stolid boatman gave the command; the man at the bow paddled one way, while the man at the stern paddled another, and the canoe swung round upstream again.
The sun had gone down when Miss Sommerton put her foot once more on the landing.
“We will go and search for him,” said the boatman.
“Stay where you are,” she commanded, and disappeared swiftly up the path. Expecting to find him still at the falls, she faced the prospect of a good mile of rough walking in the gathering darkness without flinching. But at the brow of the hill, within hearing distance of the landing, she found the man of whom she was in search. In her agony of mind Miss Sommerton had expected to come upon him pacing moodily up and down before the falls, meditating on the ingratitude of womankind. She discovered him in a much less romantic attitude. He was lying at full length below a white birch-tree, with his camera-box under his head for a pillow. It was evident he had seen enough of the Shawenegan Falls for one day, and doubtless, because of the morning’s early rising, and the day’s long journey, had fallen soundly asleep. His soft felt hat lay on the ground beside him. Miss Sommerton looked at him for a moment, and thought bitterly of Mason’s additional perjury in swearing that he was an elderly man. True, his hair was tinged with grey at the temples, but there was nothing elderly about his appearance. Miss Sommerton saw that he was a handsome man, and wondered this had escaped her notice before, forgetting that she had scarcely deigned to look at him. She thought he had spoken to her with inexcusable bluntness at the falls, in refusing to destroy his plate; but she now remembered with compunction that he had made no allusion to his ownership of the boat for that day, while she had boasted that it was hers. She determined to return and send one of the boatmen up to awaken him, but at that moment Trenton suddenly opened his eyes, as a person often does when some one looks at him in his sleep. He sprang quickly to his feet, and put up his hand in bewilderment to remove his hat, but found it wasn’t there. Then he laughed uncomfortably, stooping to pick it up again.
“I–I–I wasn’t expecting visitors,” he stammered–
“Why did you not tell me,” she said, “that Mr. Mason had promised you the boat for the day?”
“Good gracious!” cried Trenton, “has Ed. Mason told you that?”
“I have not seen Mr. Mason,” she replied; “I found it out by catching an accidental remark made by one of the boat-men. I desire very humbly to apologise to you for my conduct.”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter at all, I assure you.”
“What! My conduct doesn’t?”
“No, I didn’t mean quite that; but I —- Of course, you did treat me rather abruptly; but then, you know, I saw how it was. You looked on me as an interloper, as it were, and I think you were quite justified, you know, in speaking as you did. I am a very poor hand at conversing with ladies, even at my best, and I am not at my best to-day. I had to get up too early, so there is no doubt what I said was said very awkwardly indeed. But it really doesn’t matter, you know–that is, it doesn’t matter about anything you said.”
“I think it matters very much–at least, it matters very much to me. I shall always regret having treated you as I did, and I hope you will forgive me for having done so.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” said Mr. Trenton, swinging his camera over his shoulder. “It is getting dark, Miss Sommerton; I think we should hurry down to the canoe.”
As they walked down the hill together, he continued–
“I wish you would let me give you a little lesson in photography, if you don’t mind.”
“I have very little interest in photography, especially amateur photography,” replied Miss Sommerton, with a partial return of her old reserve.
“Oh, I don’t wish to make an amateur photographer of you. You sketch very nicely, and–“
“How do you know that?” asked Miss Sommerton, turning quickly towards him: “you have never seen any of my sketches.”
“Ah, well,” stammered Trenton, “no–that is–you know–are not those water-colours in Mason’s house yours?”
“Mr. Mason has some of my sketches. I didn’t know you had seen them.”
“Well, as I was saying,” continued Trenton, “I have no desire to convert you to the beauties of amateur photography. I admit the results in many cases are very bad. I am afraid if you saw the pictures I take myself you would not be much in love with the art. But what I wish to say is in mitigation of my refusal to destroy the plate when you asked me to.”
“Oh, I beg you will not mention that, or refer to anything at all I have said to you. I assure you it pains me very much, and you know I have apologised once or twice already.”
“Oh, it isn’t that. The apology should come from me; but I thought I would like to explain why it is that I did not take your picture, as you thought I did.”
“Not take my picture? Why I _saw_ you take it. You admitted yourself you took it.”
“Well, you see, that is what I want to explain. I took your picture, and then again I didn’t take it. This is how it is with amateur photography. Your picture on the plate will be a mere shadow, a dim outline, nothing more. No one can tell who it is. You see, it is utterly impossible to take a dark object and one in pure white at the instantaneous snap. If the picture of the falls is at all correct, as I expect it will be, then your picture will be nothing but a shadow unrecognisable by any one.”
“But they do take pictures with the cataract as a background, do they not? I am sure I have seen photos of groups taken at Niagara Falls; in fact, I have seen groups being posed in public for that purpose, and very silly they looked, I must say. I presume that is one of the things that has prejudiced me so much against the camera.”
“Those pictures, Miss Sommerton, are not genuine; they are not at all what they pretend to be. The prints that you have seen are the results of the manipulation of two separate plates, one of the plates containing the group or the person photographed, and the other an instantaneous picture of the falls. If you look closely at one of those pictures you will see a little halo of light or dark around the person photographed. That, to an experienced photographer, shows the double printing. In fact, it is double dealing all round. The deluded victim of the camera imagines that the pictures he gets of the falls, with himself in the foreground, is really a picture of the falls taken at the time he is being photographed. Whereas, in the picture actually taken of him, the falls themselves are hopelessly over-exposed, and do not appear at all on the plate. So with the instantaneous picture I took; there will really be nothing of you on that plate that you would recognise as yourself. That was why I refused to destroy it.”
“I am afraid,” said Miss Sommerton, sadly, “you are trying to make my punishment harder and harder. I believe in reality you are very cruel. You know how badly I feel about the whole matter, and now even the one little point that apparently gave me any excuse is taken away by your scientific explanation.”
“Candidly, Miss Sommerton, I am more of a culprit than you imagine, and I suppose it is the tortures of a guilty conscience that caused me to make this explanation. I shall now confess without reserve. As you sat there with your head in your hand looking at the falls, I deliberately and with malice aforethought took a timed picture, which, if developed, will reveal you exactly as you sat, and which will not show the falls at all.”
Miss Sommerton walked in silence beside him, and he could not tell just how angry she might be. Finally he said, “I shall destroy that plate, if you order me to.”
Miss Sommerton made no reply, until they were nearly at the canoe. Then she looked up at him with a smile, and said, “I think it a pity to destroy any pictures you have had such trouble to obtain.”
“Thank you, Miss Sommerton,” said the artist. He helped her into the canoe in the gathering dusk, and then sat down himself. But neither of them saw the look of anxiety on the face of the elder boatman. He knew the River St. Maurice.
From the words the elder boatman rapidly addressed to the younger, it was evident to Mr. Trenton that the half-breed was anxious to pass the rapids before it became very much darker.
The landing is at the edge of comparatively still water. At the bottom of the falls the river turns an acute angle and flows to the west. At the landing it turns with equal abruptness, and flows south.
The short westward section of the river from the falls to the point where they landed is a wild, turbulent rapid, in which no boat can live for a moment. From the Point downwards, although the water is covered with foam, only one dangerous place has to be passed. Toward that spot the stalwart half-breeds bent all their energy in forcing the canoe down with the current. The canoe shot over the darkening rapid with the speed of an arrow. If but one or two persons had been in it, the chances are the passage would have been made in safety. As it was one wrong turn of the paddle by the younger half-breed did the mischief. The bottom barely touched a sharp-pointed hidden rock, and in an instant the canoe was slit open as with a knife.
As he sat there Trenton felt the cold water rise around him with a quickness that prevented his doing anything, even if he had known what to do.
“Sit still!” cried the elder boatman; and then to the younger he shouted sharply, “The shore!”
They were almost under the hanging trees when the four found themselves in the water. Trenton grasped an overhanging branch with one hand, and with the other caught Miss Sommerton by the arm. For a moment it was doubtful whether the branch would hold. The current was very swift, and it threw each of them against the rock bank, and bent the branch down into the water.
“Catch hold of me!” cried Trenton. “Catch hold of my coat; I need both hands.”
Miss Sommerton, who had acted with commendable bravery throughout, did as she was directed. Trenton, with his released hand, worked himself slowly up the branch, hand over hand, and finally catching a sapling that grew close to the water’s edge, with a firm hold, reached down and helped Miss Sommerton on the bank. Then he slowly drew himself up to a safe position and looked around for any signs of the boatmen. He shouted loudly, but there was no answer.
“Are they drowned, do you think?” asked Miss Sommerton, anxiously.
“No, I don’t suppose they are; I don’t think you _could_ drown a half-breed. They have done their best to drown us, and as we have escaped I see no reason why they should drown.”
“Oh, it’s all my fault! all my fault!” wailed Miss Sommerton.
“It is, indeed,” answered Trenton, briefly.
She tried to straighten herself up, but, too wet and chilled and limp to be heroic, she sank on a rock and began to cry.
“Please don’t do that,” said the artist, softly. “Of course I shouldn’t have agreed with you. I beg pardon for having done so, but now that we are here, you are not to shirk your share of the duties. I want you to search around and get materials for a fire.”
“Search around?” cried Miss Sommerton dolefully.
“Yes, search around. Hunt, as you Americans say. You have got us into this scrape, so I don’t propose you shall sit calmly by and not take any of the consequences.”
“Do you mean to insult me, Mr. Trenton, now that I am helpless?”
“If it is an insult to ask you to get up and gather some wood and bring it here, then I do mean to insult you most emphatically. I shall gather some, too, for we shall need a quantity of it.”
Miss Sommerton rose indignantly, and was on the point of threatening to leave the place, when a moment’s reflection showed her that she didn’t know where to go, and remembering she was not as brave in the darkness and in the woods as in Boston, she meekly set about the search for dry twigs and sticks. Flinging down the bundle near the heap Trenton had already collected, the young woman burst into a laugh.
“Do you see anything particularly funny in the situation?” asked Trenton, with chattering teeth. “I confess I do not.”
“The funniness of the situation is that we should gather wood, when, if there is a match in your pocket, it must be so wet as to be useless.”
“Oh, not at all. You must remember I come from a very damp climate, and we take care of our matches there. I have been in the water before now on a tramp, and my matches are in a silver case warranted to keep out the wet.” As he said this Trenton struck a light, and applied it to the small twigs and dry autumn leaves. The flames flashed up through the larger sticks, and in a very few moments a cheering fire was blazing, over which Trenton threw armful after armful of the wood he had collected.
“Now,” said the artist, “if you will take off what outer wraps you have on, we can spread them here, and dry them. Then if you sit, first facing the fire and next with your back to it, and maintain a sort of rotatory motion, it will not be long before you are reasonably dry and warm.”
Miss Sommerton laughed, but there was not much merriment in her laughter.
“Was there ever anything so supremely ridiculous?” she said. “A gentleman from England gathering sticks, and a lady from Boston gyrating before the fire. I am glad you are not a newspaper man, for you might be tempted to write about the situation for some sensational paper.”
“How do you know I am not a journalist?”
“Well, I hope you are not. I thought you were a photographer.”
“Oh, not a professional photographer, you know.”
“I am sorry; I prefer the professional to the amateur.”
“I like to hear you say that.”
“Why? It is not very complimentary, I am sure.”
“The very reason I like to hear you say it. If you were complimentary I would be afraid you were going to take a chill and be ill after this disaster; but now that you are yourself again, I have no such fear.”
“Myself again!” blazed the young woman. “What do you know about me? How do you know whether I am myself or somebody else? I am sure our acquaintance has been very short.”
“Counted by time, yes. But an incident like this, in the wilderness, does more to form a friendship, or the reverse, than years of ordinary acquaintance in Boston or London. You ask how I know that you are yourself. Shall I tell you?”
“If you please.”
“Well, I imagine you are a young lady who has been spoilt. I think probably you are rich, and have had a good deal of your own way in this world. In fact, I take it for granted that you have never met any one who frankly told you your faults. Even if such good fortune had been yours, I doubt if you would have profited by it. A snub would have been the reward of the courageous person who told Miss Sommerton her failings.”
“I presume you have courage enough to tell me my faults without the fear of a snub before your eyes.”
“I have the courage, yes. You see I have already, received the snub three or four times, and it has lost its terrors for me.”
“In that case, will you be kind enough to tell me what you consider my faults?”
“If you wish me to.”
“I do wish it.”
“Well, then, one of them is inordinate pride.”
“Do you think pride a fault?”
“It is not usually reckoned one of the virtues.”
“In this country, Mr. Trenton, we consider that every person should have a certain amount of pride,”
“A certain amount may be all right. It depends entirely on how much the certain amount is.”
“Well, now for fault No. 2.”
“Fault No. 2 is a disregard on your part for the feelings of others. This arises, I imagine, partly from fault No. 1. You are in the habit of classing the great mass of the public very much beneath you in intellect and other qualities, and you forget that persons whom you may perhaps dislike, have feelings which you have no right to ignore.”
“I presume you refer to this morning,” said Miss Sommerton, seriously. “I apologised for that two or three times, I think. I have always understood that a gentleman regards an apology from another gentleman as blotting out the original offence. Why should he not regard it in the same light when it comes from a woman?”
“Oh, now you are making a personal matter of it. I am talking in an entirely impersonal sense. I am merely giving you, with brutal rudeness, opinions formed on a very short acquaintance. Remember, I have done so at your own request.”
“I am very much obliged to you, I am sure. I think you are more than half right. I hope the list is not much longer.”
“No, the list ends there. I suppose you imagine that I am one of the rudest men you ever met?”
“No, we generally expect rudeness from Englishmen.”
“Oh, do you really? Then I am only keeping up the reputation my country-men have already acquired in America. Have you had the pleasure of meeting a rude Englishman before?”
“No, I can’t say that I have. Most Englishmen I have met have been what we call very gentlemanly indeed. But the rudest letter I ever received was from an Englishman; not only rude, but ungrateful, for I had bought at a very high price one of his landscapes. He was John Trenton, the artist, of London. Do you know him?”
“Yes,” hesitated Trenton, “I know him. I may say I know him very well. In fact, he is a namesake of mine.”
“Why, how curious it is I had never thought of that. Is your first name J—-, the same as his?”
“Not a relative, is he?”
“Well, no. I don’t think I can call him a relative. I don’t know that I can even go so far as to call him my friend, but he is an acquaintance.”
“Oh, tell me about him,” cried Miss Sommerton, enthusiastically. “He is one of the Englishmen I have longed very much to meet.”
“Then you forgave him his rude letter?”
“Oh, I forgave that long ago. I don’t know that it was rude, after all. It was truthful. I presume the truth offended me.”
“Well,” said Trenton, “truth has to be handled very delicately, or it is apt to give offence. You bought a landscape of his, did you? Which one, do you remember?”
“It was a picture of the Thames valley.”
“Ah, I don’t recall it at the moment. A rather hackneyed subject, too. Probably he sent it to America because he couldn’t sell it in England.”
“Oh, I suppose you think we buy anything here that the English refuse, I beg to inform you this picture had a place in the Royal Academy, and was very highly spoken of by the critics. I bought it in England.”
“Oh yes, I remember it now, ‘The Thames at Sonning.’ Still, it was a hackneyed subject, although reasonably well treated.”
“Reasonably well! I think it one of the finest landscape pictures of the century.”
“Well, in that at least Trenton would agree with you.”
“He is very conceited, you mean?”
“Even his enemies admit that.”
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe a man of such talent could be so conceited.”
“Then, Miss Sommerton, allow me to say you have very little knowledge of human nature. It is only reasonable that a great man should know he is a great man. Most of our great men are conceited. I would like to see Trenton’s letter to you. I could then have a good deal of amusement at his expense when I get back.”
“Well, in that case I can assure you that you will never see the letter.”
“Ah, you destroyed it, did you?”
“Not for that reason.”
“Then you _did_ destroy it?”
“I tore it up, but on second thoughts I pasted it together again, and have it still.”
“In that case, why should you object to showing me the letter?”
“Well, because I think it rather unusual for a lady to be asked by a gentleman show him a letter that has been written to her by another gentleman.”
“In matters of the heart that is true; but in matters of art it is not.”
“Is that intended for a pun?”
“It is as near to one as I ever allow myself to come, I should like very much to see Mr. Trenton’s letter. It was probably brutally rude. I know the man, you see.”
“It was nothing of the sort,” replied Miss Sommerton, hotly. “It was a truthful, well-meant letter.”
“And yet you tore it up?”
“But that was the first impulse. The pasting it together was the apology.”
“And you will not show it to me?”
“No, I will not.”
“Did you answer it?”
“I will tell you nothing more about it. I am sorry I spoke of the letter at all. You don’t appreciate Mr. Trenton’s work.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon, I do. He has no greater admirer in England than I am–except himself, of course.”
“I suppose it makes no difference to you to know that I don’t like a remark like that.”
“Oh, I thought it would please you. You see, with the exception of myself, Mr. Trenton is about the rudest man in England. In fact, I begin to suspect it was Mr. Trenton’s letter that led you to a wholesale condemning of the English race, for you admit the Englishmen you have met were not rude.”
“You forget I have met you since then.”
“Well bowled, as we say in cricket.”
“Has Mr. Trenton many friends in London?”
“Not a great number. He is a man who sticks rather closely to his work, and, as I said before, he prides himself on telling the truth. That doesn’t do in London any more than it does in Boston.”
“Well, I honour him for it.”
“Oh, certainly; everybody does in the abstract. But it is not a quality that tends to the making or the keeping of friends, you know.”
“If you see Mr. Trenton when you return, I wish you would tell him there is a lady in America who is a friend of his; and if he has any pictures the people over there do not appreciate, ask him to send them to Boston, and his friend will buy them.”
“Then you must be rich, for his pictures bring very good prices, even in England.”
“Yes,” said Miss Sommerton, “I am rich.”
“Well, I suppose it’s very jolly to be rich,” replied the artist, with a sigh.
“You are not rich, then, I imagine?”
“No, I am not. That is, not compared with your American fortunes. I have enough of money to let me roam around the world if I wish to, and get half drowned in the St. Maurice River.”
“Oh, is it not strange that we have heard nothing from those boatmen? You surely don’t imagine they could have been drowned?”
“I hardly think so. Still, it is quite possible.”
“Oh, don’t say that; it makes me feel like a murderer.”
“Well, I think it was a good deal your fault, don’t you know.” Miss Sommerton looked at him.
“Have I not been punished enough already?” she said.
“For the death of two men–if they are dead? Bless me! no. Do you imagine for a moment there is any relation between the punishment and the fault?”
Miss Sommertan buried her face in her hands.
“Oh, I take that back,” said Trenton. “I didn’t mean to say such a thing.”
“It is the truth–it is the truth!” wailed the young woman. “Do you honestly think they did not reach the shore?”
“Of course they did. If you want to know what has happened, I’ll tell you exactly, and back my opinion by a bet if you like. An Englishman is always ready to back his opinion, you know. Those two men swam with the current until they came to some landing-place. They evidently think we are drowned. Nevertheless, they are now making their way through the woods to the settlement. Then comes the hubbub. Mason will stir up the neighbourhood, and the men who are back from the woods with the other canoes will be roused and pressed into service, and some time to-night we will be rescued.”
“Oh, I hope that is the case,” cried Miss Sommerton, looking brightly at him.
“It is the case. Will you bet about it?”
“I never bet,” said Miss Sommerton.
“Ah, well, you miss a good deal of fun then. You see I am a bit of a mind reader. I can tell just about where the men are now.”
“I don’t believe much in mind reading.”
“Don’t you? Shall I give you a specimen of it? Take that letter we have spoken so much about. If you think it over in your mind I will read you the letter–not word for word, perhaps, but I shall give you gist of it, at least.”
“Do you remember it?”
“I have it with me.”
“Oh, have you? Then, if you wish to preserve it, you should spread it out upon the ground to dry before the fire.”
“There is no need of my producing the letter,” replied Miss Sommerton; “I remember every word it.”
“Very well, just think it over in your mind, and see if I cannot repeat it. Are you thinking about it?”
“Yes, I am thinking about it.”
“Here goes, then. ‘Miss Edith Sommerton—-‘”
“Wrong,” said that young lady.
“The Sommerton is right, is it not?”
“Yes, but the first name is not.”
“What is it, then?”
“I shall not tell you.”
“Oh, very well. Miss Sommerton,–‘I have some hesitation in answering your letter.’ Oh, by the way, I forgot the address. That is the first sentence of the letter, but the address is some number which I cannot quite see, ‘Beacon Street, Boston.’ Is there any such street in that city?”
“There is,” said Miss Sommerton. “What a question to ask.”
“Ah, then Beacon Street is one of the principal streets, is it?”
“One of them? It is _the_ street. It is Boston.”
“Very good. I will now proceed with the letter. ‘I have some hesitation in answering your letter, because the sketches you send are so bad, that it seems to me no one could seriously forward them to an artist for criticism. However, if you really desire criticism, and if the pictures are sent in good faith, I may say I see in them no merit whatever, not even good drawing; while the colours are put on in a way that would seem to indicate you have not yet learned the fundamental principle of mixing the paints. If you are thinking of earning a livelihood with your pencil, I strongly advise you to abandon the idea. But if you are a lady of leisure and wealth, I suppose there is no harm in your continuing as long as you see fit.–Yours truly, JOHN TRENTON.'”
Miss Sommerton, whose eyes had opened wider and wider as this reading went on, said sharply–
“He has shown you the letter. You have seen it before it was sent.”
“I admit that,” said the artist.
“Well–I will believe all you like to say about Mr. John Trenton.”
“Now, stop a moment; do not be too sweeping in your denunciation of him. I know that Mr. Trenton showed the letter to no one.”
“Why, I thought you said a moment ago that he showed it to you.”
“He did. Yet no one but himself saw the letter.”
The young lady sprang to her feet.
“Are you, then, John Trenton, the artist?”
“Miss Sommerton, I have to plead guilty.”
Miss Eva Sommerton and Mr. John Trenton stood on opposite sides of the blazing fire and looked at each other. A faint smile hovered around the lips of the artist, but Miss Sommerton’s face was very serious. She was the first to speak.
“It seems to me,” she said, “that there is something about all this that smacks of false pretences.”
“On my part, Miss Sommerton?”
“Certainly on your part. You must have known all along that I was the person who had written the letter to you. I think, when you found that out, you should have spoken of it.”
“Then you do not give me credit for the honesty of speaking now. You ought to know that I need not have spoken at all, unless I wished to be very honest about the matter.”
“Yes, there is that to be said in your favour, of course.”
“Well, Miss Sommerton, I hope you will consider anything that happens to be in my favour. You see, we are really old friends, after all.”
“Old enemies, you mean.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. I would rather look on myself as your friend than your enemy.”
“The letter you wrote me was not a very friendly one.”
“I am not so sure. We differ on that point, you know.”
“I am afraid we differ on almost every point.”
“No, I differ with you there again. Still, I must admit I would prefer being your enemy—-“
“To being my friend?” said Miss Sommerton, quickly.
“No, to being entirely indifferent to you.”
“Really, Mr. Trenton, we are getting along very rapidly, are we not?” said the young lady, without looking up at him.
“Now, I am pleased to be able to agree with you there, Miss Sommerton. As I said before, an incident like this does more to ripen acquaintance or friendship, or—-” The young man hesitated, and did not complete his sentence.
“Well,” said the artist, after a pause, “which is it to be, friends or enemies?”
“It shall be exactly as you say,” she replied.
“If you leave the choice to me, I shall say friends. Let us shake hands on that.”
She held out her hand frankly to him as he crossed over to her side, and as he took it in his own, a strange thrill passed through him, and acting on the impulse of the moment, he drew her toward him and kissed her.
“How dare you!” she cried, drawing herself indignantly from him. “Do you think I am some backwoods girl who is flattered by your preference after a day’s acquaintance?”
“Not a day’s acquaintance, Miss Sommerton–a year, two years, ten years. In fact, I feel as though I had known you all my life.”
“You certainly act as if you had. I did think for some time past that you were a gentleman. But you take advantage now of my unprotected position.”
“Miss Sommerton, let me humbly apologise!”
“I shall not accept your apology. It cannot be apologised for. I must ask you not to speak to me again until Mr. Mason comes. You may consider yourself very fortunate when I tell you I shall say nothing of what has passed to Mr. Mason when he arrives.”
John Trenton made no reply, but gathered another armful of wood and flung it on the fire.
Miss Sommerton sat very dejectedly looking at the embers.
For half an hour neither of them said anything.
Suddenly Trenton jumped up and listened intently.
“What is it?” cried Miss Sommerton, startled by his action.