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From Temple Bar. A FREAK OF CUPID..
The earth was white, the firmament was white, the plumage of the wind was white. The wind flew between curling drift and falling cloud, brushing allcomers with its feathers of light dry snow. At the sides of the road the posts and bars of log-fences stood above the drifts; on the side of the hill the naked maple-trees formed a soft brush of grey; just in sight, and no more, the white tin roof and grey walls of a huge church and a small village were visible; all else was unbroken snow. The surface of an ice-covered lake, the sloping fields, the long straight road between the fences, were as pure, in their farreaching whiteness, as the upper levels of some cloud in shadeless air.
A young Englishman was travelling alone through this region. He had set out from the village and was about to cross the lake. A shaggy pony, a small sleigh, a couple of buffalo-robes and a portmanteau formed his whole equipment. The snow was light and dry; the pony trotted although the road was soft; the young man, wrapped in his fur-lined coat, had little to do in driving.
In England no one would set out in such a storm; but this traveller had learned that in Canada the snowy vast is regarded as a plaything, or a good medium of transit, or, at the worst, an encumbrance to be plodded through as one plods through storms of rain. He had found that he was not expected to remain at an inn merely because it snowed, and being a man of spirit, he had on this day, as on others, done what was expected of him.
To-day, in the snow and wind, there was a slight difference from the storms of other days. The innkeeper, who had given him his horse an hour before by the walls of the great tin-roofed church, had looked at the sky and the snow, and asked if he knew the road well; but this had been accepted as an ignorant distrust of the foreign gentleman. Having learned his lesson, that through
falling snow he must travel, into the heart of this greater snowstorm he travelled, valiant, if somewhat doubtful.
When he descended upon the ice of the lake he was no longer accompanied by the grey length of the log-fences. This road across the lake had been well tracked after former snowfalls, and so the untrodden snow rose high on either side; branches of fir and cedar, stuck at short intervals in these snow walls, marked out the way. The pony ceased to trot. The driver was only astonished that this cessation of speed had not come sooner.
Standing up in his sleigh and looking round he could see two or three other sleighs travelling across nearer the vil lage. The village he could no longer see, scarcely even the hill, nor was there any communication over the deep un. trodden snow between his road and that other on which there were travellers.
Another hour passed, and now, as he went on slowly up the length of the lake, all sound and sight of other sleighs were lost. The cloud was not dark; the snow fell in such small flakes that it did not seem that even an infinite number of them could bury the world; the wind drifting them together, though strong, was not boisterous; the March evening did not soon darken; and yet there was something in the determined action of cloud and wind and snow, making the certainty that night would come with no abatement, which caused even the inexperienced Englishman to perceive that he was passing into the midst of a heavy storm.
As is frequently the case with travellers, he had certain directions concerning the road which appeared to be adequate until he was actually confronted with that small portion of the earth's surface to which it was necessary to apply them. He was to take the first road which crossed his, running from side to side of the lake; but the first cross track appeared to him so narrow and so deeply drifted that he did not believe it to be the public road he sought. "Some farm, hidden in the
level maple-bush just seen through the falling snow, sends an occasional cart to the village by this by-path," so he reassured himself; and the pony, who had spied the track first and paused to have time to consider it, at the word of command obediently plodded its continuous route. A quarter of a mile further on the traveller saw something on the road in front; as the sound of his pony's jangling bells approached, a horse lifted its head and shook its own bells. The horse, the sleigh which it ought to have been drawing, were standing still, full in the centre of the road. The first thought, that it was cheering to come upon the trace of another wayfarer, was checked by the gloomy idea that some impassable drift must bar the way.
The other sleigh was a rough wooden platform on runners. Upon it a man, wrapped in a ragged buffalo-skin, lay prostrate. The Englishman jumped to the ground and waded till he could lay his hand upon the recumbent figure. At the touch the man jumped fiercely, and shook himself from sleep. Warm, luxurious sleep, only that, seemed to have enthralled him. His cheeks were red, his aquiline nose, red also, suggested some amount of strong drink; but his black eyes were bright, showing that the senses were wholly alive. He looked defiant, inquiring. He was a French-Canadian, apparently a habitant, but he understood the English questions addressed to him. The curious thing was that he seemed to have no reason for stopping. When he had with difficulty made way for the gentleman to pass him on the road, he followed slowly, as it seemed reluctantly. mile further on the Englishman, now far in front, suspected that the other had again stopped, and wondered much. The man's face had impressed him; the high cheek bones, the aquiline nose, the clearness of the eye and complexionthese had not expressed dull folly.
land undulated, the drifts were still deeper. There were no trees here; he could see no house; there was hardly any evidence, except the evergreen branches stuck in the sides, that the road had ever been trodden. The March dusk had now fallen, yet not darkly. The full moon was beyond the clouds, and whatever wave of light came from declining day or rising night was held in by, and reflected softly from, the storm of pearl. After some debate he turned back to the lake and his former road. It must lead somewhere; he pressed steadily on toward the western end of the lake.
The western shore was level; he hardly knew when he was upon the land. The glimmering night blinded the traveller; no ray of candle light was in sight. He began to think that he was destined to see his horse slowly buried, and himself to fight as long as might be, a losing battle with the fiends of the air.
At last the plodding pony stopped again resolutely. Long lines of Lombardy poplars here met the road. They were but as the ghosts of trees; their stately shape, their regular succession, inspired him with some sentiment of romance which he did not stay to define. He dimly discerned shrubs as if planted in a pleasure-ground. Wading and fumbling he found a paling and a gate. The pony turned off the highroad with renewed courage in its motion; the Englishman, letting loose the rein, found himself drawn slowly up a long avenue of the ghostly poplar trees. The road was straight, the land was flat, the poplars were upright. A The simplicity affected him with the notion that he was coming to an enchanted palace. The pony approached the door of a large house, dim to the sight; its huge pointed tin roof, its stone sides, mantled as they were with snowflakes and fringed with icicles at eaves and lintels, hardly gave a dark outline in the glimmering storm. The rays of light which twinkled through chinks of shutters might be analogous to the stars produced by a stunned brain; it seemed to the Englishman that
Now the Englishman came to another cross road, wider but more deeply drifted than the track he was on. He turned into it and ploughed the drifts. When he reached the shore, where the
if he went up and tried to knock on the door the ghostly house, the ghostly poplar avenue, would vanish. The thought was born of the long monotony of a danger which had called for no activity of brain or muscle on his part. The pony knew better; it stopped before the door.
The traveller stood in a small porch raised a step or two from the ground. The door was opened by a middle-aged French woman clad in a peasant's gown of bluish-grey. Behind her holding a lamp a little above her head, stood a young girl, large, womanly in form, with dimpled softness of face, and dressed in a rich but quaint garment of amber color. With raised and statuesque wrist, she held the lamp aloft to keep the light from dazzling her eyes. She was looking through the doorway with the quiet interest of responsibility, nothing of which was expressed in the servant's furrowed countenance.
"Is the master of the house at home?" "There is no master."
The girl spoke with a mellow voice and with a manner of soft dignity; yet, having regarded the stranger, there leaped into her face, as it seemed to him, behind the outward calm of the dark eyes and dimpling curves, a certain excited interest and delight. The current of thought thus revealed contrasted with the calm which she instinctively turned to him, as the words which an actor speaks aside contrast with those which are not soliloquy.
With more hesitation, more obvious modesty, he said:
don at play. Above all, as evidence of her youth, there was that inward quiver of delight at his appearance and presence, veiled perfectly, but seen behind the veil, as one may detect glee rising in the heart of a child even though it be upon its formal behavior.
"Can you tell me if there is any house within reach where I can stop for the night?" He gave a succinct account of his journey, the lost road, the increas ing storm. "My horse is dead tired, but it might go a mile or so further."
The serving-woman, evincing some little curiosity, received from the girl an interpretation in low and rapid French. The woman expressed by her gestures some pity for man and beast. The girl replied with gentle brevity:— "We know that the roads are snowed up. The next house is three miles farther on."
He hesitated, but his necessity was obvious.
"I am afraid I must beg for a night's shelter."
He had been wondering a good deal what she would say, how she would accede, and then he perceived that her dignity knew no circumlocution. “I will send the man for your horse." She said it with hardly a moment's pause.
The woman gave him a small broom, an implement to the use of which he had grown accustomed, and disappeared upon the errand. The girl stood still in her statuesque pose of lightbearer. The young man busied himself in brushing the snow from cap and coat and boots. As he brushed himself he
"May I speak to the mistress of the felt elation in the knowledge, not house?"
"I am the mistress."
He could but look upon her more intently. She could not have been more than eighteen years of age. Her hair had the soft and loose manner of lying upon her head that is often seen in hair which has, till lately, been allowed to hang loose to the winds. Her dress, folded over the full bosom and sweeping to the ground in ample curves, was, little as he could have described a modern fashion, even to his eyes evidently fantastic-such as a child might
ordinarily uppermost, that he was a good-looking fellow and a gentleman.
"My name is Courthope." The visitor, denuded of coat and cap, presented his card, upon which was written, "Mr. George Courthope."
He began telling his hostess whence he came and what was his business. A quarry which a dead relative had bequeathed to him had had sufficient attraction to bring him across the sea and across this railless region. His few
words of self-introduction were mingled glish, like father. He says "cawn't,"
with and followed by regrets for his intrusion, expressions of excessive grat itude. All the time his mind was questioning amazedly.
By the time the speeches which he deemed necessary were finished, he had followed the girl into a spacious room, furnished in the large gay style of the fifties, brilliantly lit, as if for a festival, and warmed by a log fire of generous dimensions. Having led him in, listening silently the while, and put her additional lamp upon the table, she now spoke, with no empressement, almost with a manner of insouciance.
"You are perfectly welcome; my father would never have wished his house to be inhospitable."
With her words his own apologies seemed to lose their significance; he felt a little foolish, and she, with some slight evidence of childish awkwardness, seemed to seek a pretext for short escape.
"I will tell my sister." These words came with more abruptness, as if the interior excitement was working itself to the surface.
The room was a long one. She went out by a door at the farther end, and, as with intense curiosity he watched her quickly receding form, he noticed that when she thought herself out of his sight she entered the other room with a skip. At that same end of the room hung a full-length portrait of a gentleman. It was natural that Courthope should walk towards it, trying to become acquainted with some link in the train of circumstances which had raised this enchanted palace in the wilderness; he had not followed to hear, but he overheard.
"Eliz, it's a real young man!"
"No! you are only making up, and" (here a touch of querulousness) "I've often told you that I don't like makeups that one wants too much to be true. I'll only have the Austens and Sir Charles and Evelina and
"Eliz! He's not a make-up; the fairies have sent him to our party. Isn't it just fairilly entrancing? He has a curly moustache and a nice nose. He's En
and "shawn't," and "heah," and "theyah"-genuine, no affectation. Oh" (here came a little gurgle of joy), "and to-night too! It's the first perfectly joyful thing that has ever come to us."
Courthope moved quietly back and stood before the blazing logs, looking down into them with a smile of pure pleasure upon his lips.
It was not long before the door, which she had left ajar, was re-opened, and a light-wheeled chair was pushed into the room. It contained a slight, elfin-like girl, white-faced, flaxen-haired, sharpfeatured, and arrayed in gorgeous crimson. The elder sister pushed from behind. The little procession wore an air of triumphant satisfaction, still tempered by the proprieties.
"This is my sister," said the mistress of the house.
"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Courthope." The tones of Eliz were sharp and thin. She was evidently acting a part, as with the air of a very grand lady she held out her and.
He was somewhat dazzled. He felt it not inappropriate to ask if he had entered fairyland. Eliz would have answered him with fantastic affirmative, but the elder sister, like a sensible child who knew better how to arrange the game, interposed.
"I'll explain it to you. Eliz and I are giving a party to-night. There hasn't been any company in the house since father died four years ago, and we know he wouldn't like us to be dull, so when our stepmother went out, and sent word that she couldn't come back to-night, we decided to have a grand party. There are only to be play-people, you know; all the people in Miss Austen's books are coming, and the nice ones out of 'Sir Charles Grandison.'"
She paused to see if he understood.
"Are the 'Mysteries of Udolpho' invited?" he asked.
- "No, the others we just chose here and there, because we liked them-Evelina, although she was rather silly and we told her that we couldn't have Lord Ormond, and Miss Matty and Brother Peter out of 'Cranford,' and Moses
Wakefield, because we liked him best of the family, and the Portuguese nun who wrote the letters. We thought we would have liked to invite the young man in 'Maud' to meet her, but we decided we should have to draw the line somewhere and leave out the poetrypeople."
The girl, leaning her forearms slightly on the back of her sister's chair, gave the explanation in soft, business-like tones, and there was only the faintest lurking of a smile about the corners of her lips to indicate that she kept in view both reality and fantasy.
"I think that I shall have to ask for an introduction to the Portuguese nun," said Courthope; "the others, I am happy to say, I have met before."
A smile of approval leapt straight out of her dark eyes into his, as if she would have said: “Good boy! you have read quite the right sort of books!"
Eliz was not endowed with the same well-balanced sense of proportion; for the time the imaginary was the real.
"The only question that remains to be decided," she cried, “is, who you would prefer to be. We will let you choose Bingley, or Darcy, or—”
"It would be fair to tell him," said the other, her smile broadening now, "that it's only the elderly people and notables who have been invited to din. ner, the young folks are coming in after; so if you are hungry-" Her soft voice paused, as if suspended in mid-air, allowing him to draw the inference.
"It depends entirely on who you are, who I would like to be." He did not realize that there was undue gallantry in his speech; he felt exactly like another child playing, loyally determined to be her mate, whatever the character that might entail. “I will even be the idiotic Edward if you are Eleanor Dashwood."
Her chin was raised just half an inch higher; the smile that had been peeping from eyes and dimples seemed to retire for the moment
"Oh, we," she said, "are the hostesses. My sister is Eliz King and I am Madge King, and I think you had better be a
real person too; just a Mr. Courthope come in by accident."
"Well, then he can help us in the receiving and chatting to them." Eliz was quite reconciled.
He felt glad to realize that his mistake had been merely playful. “In that case, may I have dinner without growing grey?" He asked it of Madge, and her smile came back, so readily did she forget what she had hardly consciously perceived.
When the sharp-voiced little Eliz had been wheeled into the dining-room to superintend some preparations there before the meal was ready, Courthope could again break through the spell that the imaginary reception imposed. He came from his dressing-room to find Madge at the housewifely act of replenishing the fire. Filled with curiosity, unwilling to ask questions, he remarked that he feared she must often feel lonely, that he supposed Mrs. King did not often make visits unac companied by her daughters. "She does not, worse luck!" Madge on her knees replied with childish audacity.
"I hope when she returns she may not be offended by my intrusion."
"Don't hope it," she smiled-"such hope would be vain."
He could not help laughing.
"Is it dutiful then of you"-he paused "or of me?"
"Which do you prefer to sleep in the barn, or that I should be undutiful and disobey my stepmother?"
In a minute she gave her chin that lift in the air that he had seen before.
"You need not feel uncomfortable about Mrs. King; the house is really mine, not hers, and father always had his house full of company. I am doing my duty to him in taking you in, and in making a feast to please Eliz when the stepmother happens to be away and I can do it peaceably. And when she happens to be here I do my duty to him by keeping the peace with her."
"Is she unkind to you?" he asked, with the ready, overflowing pity that young men are apt to give to pretty women who complain.