i00bost.

Favorite authors in prose and poetry online

. (page 31 of 66)
Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 31 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


or jealousy, or knowingly allowed an ignoble thought or an
ungentle word or an ungraceful act in herself. Her atmos-
phere does not tolerate flirtation. You must find out for
yourself how much genius she has and has not. But I will
say this, that I think of puns two a minute faster when
I 'm with her. Therefore she must be magnetic, and that
is the first charm in a woman."

Wade laughed. "You have not lost your powers of
analysis, Peter. But talking of this heroine, you have not
told me anything about yourself, except apropos of pun-
ning."

" Come up and dine, and we '11 fire away personal his-



136 THEODORE WTNTHROP.

tories, broadside for broadside ! I 've been looking in vain
for a worthy hero to set vis-a-vis to my fair kinswoman.
But stop ! perhaps you have a Christmas turkey at home,
with a wife opposite, and a brace of boys waiting for drum-
sticks."

" No, my boys, like cherubs, await their own drum-
sticks. They 're not born, and I 'm not married."

" I thought you looked incomplete and abnormal. Well,
I will show you a model wife, and here she comes ! "

Here they came, the two ladies, gliding round the Point,
with draperies floating as artlessly artful as the robes of
Raphael's Hours, or a Pompeian Bacchante. For want of
classic vase or patera, Miss Darner brandished Peter Sker-
rett's pocket-pistol.

Fanny Skerrett gave her' hand cordially to Wade, and
looked a little anxiously at his pale face.

" Now, M. D." says Peter, " you have been surgeon, you
shall be doctor and dose our patient. Now, then,

' Hebe, pour free !

Quicken his eyes with mountain-dew,
That Styx, the detested,
No more he may view.' "

" Thanks, Hebe ! "
Wade said, continuing the quotation,

"I quaff it!
lo Paean, I cry!
The whiskey of the Immortals
Forbids me to die."

"We effeminate women of the nineteenth century are
afraid of broken heads," said Fanny. " But Mary Darner
seems quite to enjoy your accident, Mr. Wade, as an adven-
ture."

Miss Darner certainly did seem gay and exhilarated.

" I enjoy it," said Wade. " I perceive that I fell on my
feet, when I fell on my crown. I tumbled among old friends,
and I hope among new ones."



LOVE AND SKATES. 137

" I have been waiting to claim my place among your old
friends," Mrs. Skerrett said, " ever since Peter told me you
were one of his models."

She delivered this little speech with a caressing manner
which totally fascinated Wade.

Nothing was ever so absolutely pretty as Mrs. Peter
Skerrett. Her complete prettiness left nothing to be de-
sired.

" Never," thought Wade, " did I see such a compact little
casket of perfections. Every feature is thoroughly well
done and none intrusively superior. Her little nose is a
combination of all the amiabilities. Her black eyes sparkle
with fun and mischief and wit, all playing over deep ten-
derness befyw. Her hair ripples itself full of gleams and
shadows. The same coquetiy of Nature that rippled her
hair has dinted her cheeks with shifting dimples. Every
time she smiles and she smiles as if sixty an hour were
not half-allowance a dimple slides into- view and vanishes
like a dot in a flow of sunny water. And, O Peter Skerrett !
if you were not the best fellow in the world, I should envy
you that latent kiss of a mouth."

"You need not say it, Wade, your broken head ex-
empts you from the business of compliments," said Peter ;
" but I see you think my wife perfection. You '11 think so
the more, the more you know her."

" Stop, Peter," said she, " or I shall have to hide behind
the superior charms of Mary Darner."

Miss Darner certainly was a woman of a grander order.
You might pull at the bells or knock at the knockers and be
introduced into the boudoirs of all the houses, villas, seats,
chateaus, and palaces in Christendom without seeing such
another. She belonged distinctly to the Northern races,
the " brave and true and tender " women. There was,
indeed, a trace of hauteur and imperiousness in her look
and manner; but it did not ill become her distinguished



138 THEODORE WINTHROP.

figure and face. Wade, however, remembered her sweet
earnestness when she was playing leech to his wound, and
chose to take that mood as her dominant one.

" She must have been desperately annoyed with borea
and boobies," he thought. " I do not wonder she protects
herself by distance. I am afraid I shall never get within
her lines again, not even if I should try slow and regular
approaches, and bombard her with bouquets for a twelve-
month."

" But, Wade," says Peter, " all this time you have not
told us what good luck sends you here to be wrecked on the
hospitable shores of my Point."

" I live here. I am chief cook and confectioner where
you see the smoking top of that tall chimney up-stream."

" Why, of course ! What a dolt I was, not to think of
you, when Churm told us an Athlete, a .Brave, a Sage, and
a Gentleman was the Superintendent of Dunderbunk ; but
said we must find his name out for ourselves. You remem-
ber, Mary. Miss Darner is Mr. Churm's ward."

She acknowledged with a cool bow that she did remem-
ber her guardian's character of Wade.

" You do not say, Peter," says Mrs. Skerrett, with a
bright little look at the other lady, " why Mr. Churm was
so mysterious about Mr. Wade."

" Miss Darner shall tell us," Peter rejoined, repeating his
wife's look of merry significance.

She looked somewhat teased. Wade could divine easily
the meaning of this little mischievous talk. His friend
Churm had no doubt puffed him furiously.

" All this time," said Miss Darner, evading a reply, " we
are neglecting our skating privileges."

" Peter and I have a few grains of humanity in our
souls," Fanny said. " We should blush to sail away from
Mr. Wade, while he carries the quarantine flag at his pale
cheeks."



LOVE AND SKATES. 139

" I am almost ruddy again," says Wade. " YoLr potion,
Miss Darner, has completed the work of your surgery. I
can afford to dismiss my lamp-post."

" Whereupon the post changes to a teetotum," Peter said,
and spun off in an eccentric, ending in a tumble.

" I must have a share in your restoration, Mr. Wade,"
Fanny claimed. " I see you need a second dose of medi-
cine. Hand me the flask, Mary. What shall I pour from
this magic bottle ? juice of Rhine, blood of Burgundy, fire
of Spain, bubble of Rheims, beeswing of Oporto, honey of
Cyprus, nectar, or Whiskey ? Whiskey is vulgar, but the
proper thing, on the whole, for these occasions. I prescribe
it." And she gave him another little draught to imbibe.

He took it kindly, for her sake, and not alone for that,
but for its own respectable sake. His recovery was com-
plete. His head, to be sure, sang a little still, and ached
not a little. Some fellows would have gone on the sick
list with such a wound. Perhaps he would, if he had had
a trouble to dodge. But here instead was a pleasure to
follow. So he began to move about slowly, watching the
ladies.

Fanny was a novice in the Art, and this was her first
lay this winter. She skated timidly, holding Peter very
tightly. She went into the dearest little panics for fear of
tumbles, and uttered the most musical screams and laughs.
And if she succeeded in taking a few brave strokes and
finished witk a neat slide, she pleaded for a verdict of
" Well done ! " with such an appealing smile and such a fine
show of dimples that every one was fascinated and applauded
heartily.

Miss Darner skated as became her free and vigorous
character. She had passed her Little Go as a scholar,
and was now steadily winning her way through the list of
achievements, before given, toward the Great Go. To-day
she was at work at small circles backward. Presently she



140 THEODORE WINTHROP.

wound off a series of perfectly neat ones, and, looking up,
pleased with her prowess, caught Wade's admiring eye. At
this she smiled and gave an arch little womanly nod of self-
approval, which also demanded masculine sympathy before
it was Vjuite a perfect emotion.

"With this charming gesture, the alert feather in her
Amazonian hat nodded, too, as if it admired its lovely
mistress.

Wade was thrilled. " Brava ! " he cried, in answer to
the part of her look which asked sympathy , and then, in
reply to the implied challenge, he forgot his hurt and his
shock, and struck into the same figure.

He tried not to surpass his fair exemplar too cruelly.
But he did his peripheries well enough to get a repetition
of the captivating nod and a Bravo ! from the lady.

" Bravo ! " said she. " But do not tax your strength too
soon."

She began to feel that she was expressing too much
interest in the stranger. It was a new sensation for her to
care whether men fell or got up. A new sensation. She
rather liked it. She was a trifle ashamed of it. In
either case, she did not wish to show that it was in her
heart.. The consciousness of concealment flushed her
damask cheek.

It was a damask cheek. All her hues were cool and
pearly ; while Wade, Saxon too, had hot golden tints in his
hair and moustache, and his color, now returning, was good
strong red with plenty of bronze in it.

" Thank you," he replied. " My force has all come back.
You have electrified me."

A civil nothing; but meaning managed to get into his
tone and look, whether he would or not.

Winch he perceiving, on his part began to feel guilty.

Of what crime ?

Of the very same crime as hers, the most ancient and



LOVE AND SKATES. 141

most pardonable crime of youth and maiden, that sweet
and guiltless crime of love in the first degree.

So, without troubling themselves to analyze their feelings,
they found a piquant pleasure in skating together, she in
admiring his tours de force, and he instructing her.

" Look, Peter ! " said Mrs. Skerrett, pointing to the other
pair skating, he on the backward roll, she on the forward,
with hands crossed and locked; such contacts are per-
mitted in skating, as in dancing. " Your hero and my
heroine have dropped into an intimacy."

" None but the Plucky deserve the Pretty," says Peter.

" But he seems to be such a fine fellow, suppose she
should n't "

The pretty face looked anxious.

" Suppose he should n't," Peter on the masculine behalf
returned. ,

" He cannot help it : Mary is so noble, and so charm-
ing, when she does not disdain to be."

" I do not believe she can help it. She cannot disdain
Wade. He carries too many guns for that. He is just as
fine as she is. He was a hero when I first knew him. His
face does not show an atom of change ; and you know what
Air. Churm told us of his chivalric deeds elsewhere, and
how he tamed and reformed Dunderbunk. He is crystal
grit, as crystalline and gritty as he can be."

" Grit seems to be your symbol of the highest qualities.
It certainly is a better thing in man than in ice-cream.
But, Peter, suppose this should be a true love and should
not run smooth?"

" "What consequence is the smooth running, so long as
there is strong running and a final getting in neck and neck
at the winning-post ? "

" But," still pleaded the anxious soul, having no anxie-
ties of her t wn, she was always suffering for others, " he
eeems to be such a fine fellow ! and she is so hard to win 1 *



142 THEODORE WINTER OP.

Am I a fine fellow?"

No, horrid ! "

" The truth, or I let you tumble."

" Well, upon compulsion, I admit that you are."

" Then being a fine fellow does not diminish the said fel-
low's chances of being blessed with a wife quite superfine."

" If I thought you were personal, Peter, I should object
to the mercantile adjective. ' Superfine,' indeed ! "

" I am personal. I withdraw the obnoxious phrase, and
substitute transcendent. No, Fanny dear, I read Wade's
experience in my own. I do not feel very much concerned
about him. He is big enough to take care of himself. A
man who is sincere, self-possessed, and steady, does not get
into miseries with beautiful Amazons like our friend. He
knows too much to try to make his love run up hill ; but let
it once get started, rough running gives it vim. Wade will
love like a deluge, when he sees that he may, and I 'd
advise obstacles to stand off."

" It was pretty, Peter, to see cold Mary Darner so gentle
and almost tender."

" I always have loved to see the first beginnings of what
looks like love, since I saw ours."

" Ours," she said, " it seems like yesterday."

And then together they recalled that fair picture against
its dark ground of sorrow, and so went on refreshing the
emotions of that time, until Fanny smiling said,

" There must be something magical in skates, for here we
are talking sentimentally like a pair of young lovers."

" Health and love are cause and effect," says Peter, sen-
tentiously.

Meanwhile Wade had been fast skating into the good
graces of his companion. Perhaps the rap on his head had
deranged him. He certainly tossed himself about in a
reckless and insane way. Still, he justified his conduct by
never tumbling again, and by inventing new devices with
bewildering rapidity.



LOVE AND SKATES. 143

This pair were not at all sentimental. Indeed, their talk
was quite technical : all about rings and edges, and heel and
toe, what skates are best, and who best use them. There
is an immense amount of sympathy to be exchanged on such
topics, and it was somewhat significant that they avoided
other themes where they might not sympathize so thor-
oughly. The negative part of a conversation is often as
important as its positive.

So the four entertained themselves finely, sometimes as a
quartette, sometimes as two duos with proper change. of
partners, until the clear west began to grow golden and the
clear east pink with sunset.

" It is a pity to go," said Peter Skerrett. " Everything
here is perfection and Fine Art; but we must not be
unfaithful to dinner. Dinner would have a right to pun-
ish us, if we did not encourage its efforts to be Fine Art
also."

" Now, Mr. Wade," Fanny commanded, " your most
heroic series of exploits, to close this heroic day."

He nimbly dashed through his list. The ice was traced
with a labyrinth of involuted convolutions.

Wade's last turn brought him to the very spot of his
tumble.

" All ! " said he. " Here is the oar that tripped me, with
' Wade, his mark,' gashed into it. If I had not this," he
touched Miss Darner's handkerchief, "for a souvenir, I
think I would dig up the oar and carry it home."

" Let it melt out and float away in the spring," Mary
said. "It may be a perch for a sea-gull or a buoy for a
drowning man."

Here, if this were a long story instead of a short OE3,
might be given a description of Peter Skerrett's house and
the menu of Mrs. Skerrett's dinner. Peter and his wife
had both been to great pillory dinners, ad nauseam, and
learnt what to avoid. How not to be bored is the object



144 THEODORE WINTHROP.

of all civilization, and the Skerretts had discovered the
methods.

I must dismiss the dinner and the evening, stamped with
the general epithet, Perfection.

" You will join us again to-morrow on the river," said
Mrs. Skerrett, as Wade rose to go.

" To-morrow I go to town to report to my Directors."

"Then next day."

"Next day, with pleasure."

Wade departed and marked this halcyon day with white
chalk, as the whitest, brightest, sweetest of his life.



CHAPTER X.

FOREBODINGS.

JUBILATION! Jubilation now, instead of Consternation,
in the office of Mr. Benjamin Brummage in Wall Street.

President Brummage had convoked his Directors to hear
the First Semi- Annual Report of the new Superintendent
and Dictator of Dunderbunk.

And there they sat around the green table, no longer
forlorn and dreading a failure, but all chuckling with satis-
faction over their prosperity.

They were a happy and hilarious family now, so
hilarious that the President was obliged to be always rap-
ping to Orderr with his paper-knife.

Every one of these gentlemen was proud of himself as a
Director of so successful a Company. The Dunderbunk
advertisement might now consider itself as permanent in
the newspapers, and the Treasurer had very unnecessarily
inserted the notice of a dividend, which everybody knew of
already.

When Mr. Churm was not by, they all claimed the honor
of having discovered Wade, or at least of having been the
first to appreciate him.



LOVE AND SKATES. 145

They all invited him to dinner, the others at their
houses, Sam Gwelp at his club.

They had not yet begun to wax fat and kick. They still
remembered the panic of last summer. They passed a
unanimous vote of the most complimentary confidence in
Wade, approved of his system, forced upon him an increase
of salary, and began to talk of " launching out " and doub-
ling their capital. In short, they behaved as Directors do
when all is serene.

Churm and Wade had a hearty laugh over the ab-
surdities of the Board and all their vague propositions.

" Dunderbunk," said Churm, " was a company started on
a sentimental basis, as many others are."

" Mr. Brummage fell in love with pig-iron ? "

" Precisely. He had been a dry-goods jobber, risen from
a retailer somewhere in the country. He felt a certain lack
of dignity in his work. He wanted to deal in something
more masculine than lace and ribbons. He read a sen-
timental article on Iron in the ' Journal of Commerce ' : how
Iron held the world together ; how it was nerve and sinew ;
how it was ductile and malleable and other things that
sounded big ; how without Iron civilization would stop, and
New-Zealanders hunt rats among the ruins of London ;
how anybody who would make two tons of Iron grow where
one grew before was a benefactor to the human race greater
than Alexander,' Caesar, or Napoleon; and so on, you
know the eloquent style. Brummage's soul was fired. He
determined to be greater than the three heroes named. He
was oozing Avith unoccupied capital. He went about among
the other rich jobbers, with the newspaper article in his
hand, and fired their souls. They determined to be great
Iron-Kings, magnificent thought ! They wanted to read
in the newspapers, * If all the iron rails made at the Dun-
derbunk Works in the last six months were put together in
a straight line, they would reach twice round our terraque

10



146 THEODORE WINTHROP.

ous globe and seventy-three miles two rails over.' So on
that poetic foundation they started the concern."

Wade laughed. " But how did you happen to be with
them?"

" Oh ! my friend Darner sold them the land for the shop
and took stock in payment. I came into the Board as his
executor. Did I never tell you so before ? "

" No."

" Well, then, be informed that it was in Miss Darner's
behalf that you knocked down Friend Tarbox, and so got
your skates for saving her property. It 's quite a romance
already, Richard, my boy ! and I suppose you feel im-
mensely bored that you had to come down and meet us old
chaps, instead of tumbling at her feet on the ice again to-
day."

" A tumble in this wet day would be a cold bath to
romance."

The Gulf Stream had sent up a warm spoil-sport rain
that morning. It did not stop, but poured furiously the
whole day.

From Cohoes to Spuyten Duyvil, on both sides of the
river, all the skaters swore at the weather, as profane per-
sons no doubt did when the windows of heaven were opened
in Noah's time. The skateresses did not swear, but sav-
agely said, " It is too bad," and so it was.

Wade, loaded with the blessings of his Directors, took the
train next morning for Dunderbunk.

The weather was still mild and drizzly, but promised to
clear. As the train rattled along by the river, Wade could
see that the thin ice was breaking up everywhere. In mid-
stream a procession of blocks was steadily drifting along.
Unless Zero came sliding down again pretty soon from
Boreal regions, the sheets that filled the coves and clung
to the shores would also sail away southward, and the whole
Hudson he left clear as in midsummer.



LOVE AND SKATES. 147

At Yonkers a down train ranged by the side of Wade's
tram, and, looking out he saw Mr. and Mrs. Skerrett
alighting.

He jumped down, rather surprised, to speak to them.

" We have just been telegraphed here," said Peter, grave-
ly. " The son of a widow, a friend of ours, was drowned
this morning in the soft ice of the river. He was a pet of
mine, poor fellow! and the mother depends upon me for
advice. We have come down to say a kind word. Why
won't you report us to the ladies at my house, and say
we shall not be at home until the evening train ? They
do not know the cause of our journey except that it is
a sad one."

" Perhaps Mr. Wade will carve their turkey for them at
dinner, Peter," Fanny suggested.

" Do, Wade ! and keep their spirits up. Dinner 's at
six."

Here the engine whistled. Wade promised to "shine
substitute " at his friend's board, and took his place again.
The train galloped away.

Peter and his wife exchanged a bright look over the
fortunate incident of this meeting, and went on their kind
way to carry sympathy and such consolation as might be
to the widow.

The train galloped northward. Until now, the beat of
its wheels, like the click of an enormous metronome, had
kept time to jubilant measures singing in Wade's brain.
He was hurrying back, exhilarated with success, to the
presence of a woman whose smile was finer exhilaration
than any number of votes of confidence, passed unanimously
by any number of conclaves of overjoyed Directors, and
signed by Brummage after Brummage, with the signature
of a capitalist in a flurry of delight at a ten per cent divi-
dend.

But into this joyous mood of Wade's the thought of death



148 THEODORE WINTHROP.

suddenly intruded. He could not keep a picture of death
and drowning out of his mind. As the train sprang along
and opened gloomy breadth after breadth of the leaden
river, clogged with slow-drifting files of ice-blocks, he found
himself staring across the dreary waste and forever fancy-
ing some one sinking there, helpless and alone.

He seemed to see a brave, bright-eyed, ruddy boy ven-
turing out carelessly along the edges of the weakened ice.
Suddenly the ice gives way, the little figure sinks, rises,
clutches deperately at a fragment, struggles a moment, is
borne along in the relentless flow of the chilly water, stares
in vain shoreward, and so sinks again with a look of agony,
and is gone.

But whenever this inevitable picture grew before Wade's
eyes, as the drowning figure of his fancy vanished, it sud-
denly changed features, and presented the face of Mary
Darner, perishing beyond succor.

Of course he knew that this was but a morbid vision.
Yet that it came at all, and that it so agonized him,
proved the force of his new feeling.

He had not analyzed it before. This thought of death
became its touchstone.

Men like Wade, strong, healthy, earnest, concentrated,
straightforward, isolated, judge men and women as friends or
foes at once and once for all. He had recognized in Mary
Darner from the first a heart as true, whole, noble, and
healthy as his own. A fine instinct had told him that she
was waiting for her hero, as he was for his heroine.

So he suddenly loved her. And yet not suddenly ; for
all his life, and all his lesser forgotten or discarded passions,
had been training him for this master one.

He suddenly and strongly loved her ; and yet it had only
been a beautiful bewilderment of uncomprehended delight,
until this haunting vision of her fair face sinking amid the
hungry ice beset him. Then he perceived what would be
lost to him, if she were lost



LOVE AND SKATES. 149

The thought of Death placed itself between him and
Love. If the love had been merely a pretty remembrance
of a charming woman, he might have dismissed his fancied
drowning scene with a little emotion of regret Now, the
fancy was an agony.

He had too much power over himself to entertain it long.
But the grisly thought came uninvited, returned undesired,
and no resolute Avaunt, even backed by that magic wand, a
cigar, availed to banish it wholly.

The sky cleared cold at eleven o'clock. A sharp wind
drew through the Highlands. As the train rattled round
the curve below the tunnel through Skerrett's Point, Wade
could see his skating course of Christmas day with the
ladies. Finn ice, glazed smooth by the sudden chill after
the rain, filled the Cove and stretched beyond the Point
into the river.

It was treacherous stuff, beautiful to the eyes of a skater,
but sure to be weak, and likely to break up any moment
and join the deliberate headlong drift of the masses in mid-
current.

Wade almost dreaded lest his vision should suddenly



Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 31 of 66)