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Between Whiles.

by

Helen Jackson (H. H.)

Author of "Ramona," "A Century of Dishonor," "Verses," "Sonnets and
Lyrics," "Glimpses of Three Coasts," "Bits of Travel," "Bits of Travel
at Home," "Zeph," "Mercy Philbrick's Choice," "Hetty's Strange History,"
"Bits of Talk about Home Matters," "Bits of Talk for Young Folks,"
"Nelly's Silver Mine," "Cat Stories."

1888.






Contents.


The Inn of the Golden Pear
The Mystery of Wilhelm Rütter
Little Bel's Supplement
The Captain of the "Heather Bell"
Dandy Steve
The Prince's Little Sweetheart




Between Whiles.




The Inn of the Golden Pear.

I.


Who buys? Who buys? 'Tis like a market-fair;
The hubbub rises deafening on the air:
The children spend their honest money there;
The knaves prowl out like foxes from a lair.

Who buys? Who sells? Alas, and still alas!
The children sell their diamond stones for glass;
The knaves their worthless stones for diamonds pass.
He laughs who buys; he laughs who sells. Alas!


In the days when New England was only a group of thinly settled
wildernesses called "provinces," there was something almost like the old
feudal tenure of lands there, and a relation between the rich land-owner
and his tenants which had many features in common with those of the
relation between margraves and vassals in the days of Charlemagne.

Far up in the North, near the Canada line, there lived at that time an
eccentric old man, whose name is still to be found here and there on the
tattered parchments, written "WILLAN BLAYCKE, Gentleman."

Tradition occupies itself a good deal with Willan Blaycke, and does not
give his misdemeanors the go-by as it might have done if he had been
either a poorer or a less clever man. Why he had crossed the seas and
cast in his lot with the pious Puritans, nobody knew; it was certainly
not because of sympathy with their God-reverencing faith and God-fearing
lives, nor from any liking for hardships or simplicity of habits. He had
gold enough, the stories say, to have bought all the land from the St.
Johns to the Connecticut if he had pleased; and he had servants and
horses and attire such as no governor in all the provinces could boast.
He built himself a fine house out of stone, and the life he led in it
was a scandal and a byword everywhere. For all that, there was not a man
to be found who had not a good word to say for Willan Blaycke, and not a
woman who did not look pleased and smile if he so much as spoke to her.
He was generous, with a generosity so princely that there were many who
said that he had no doubt come of some royal house. He gave away a farm
to-day, and another to-morrow, and thought nothing of it; and when
tenants came to him pleading that they were unable to pay their rent, he
was never known to haggle or insist.

Naturally, with such ways as these he made havoc of his estates, vast as
they were, and grew less and less rich year by year. However, there was
enough of his land to last several generations out; and if he had
married a decent woman for his wife, his posterity need never have
complained of him. But this was what Willan Blaycke did, - and it is as
much a mystery now as it doubtless was then, why he did it, - he married
Jeanne Dubois, the daughter of a low-bred and evil-disposed Frenchman
who kept a small inn on the Canadian frontier. Jeanne had a handsome but
wicked face. She stood always at the bar, and served every man who came;
and a great thing it was for the house, to be sure, that she had such
bold black eyes, red cheeks, and a tongue even bolder than her glances.
But there was not a farmer in all the north provinces who would have
taken her to wife, not one, for she bore none too good a name; and men's
speech about her, as soon as they had turned their backs and gone on
their journeys, was quite opposite to the gallant and flattering things
they said to her face in the bar. Some people said that Willan Blaycke
was drunk when he married Jeanne, that she took him unawares by means of
a base plot which her father and she had had in mind a long time. Others
said that he was sober enough when he did it, only that he was like one
out of his mind, - he sorrowed so for the loss of his only son, Willan,
whom he had in the beginning of that year sent back to England to be
taught in school.

He had brought the child out with him, - a little chap, with marvellously
black eyes and yellow curls, who wore always the costliest of
embroidered coats, which it was plain some woman's hand had embroidered
for him; but whether the child's mother were dead or alive Willan
Blaycke never told, and nobody dared ask.

That the boy needed a mother sadly enough was only too plain. Riding
from county to county on his little white pony by his father's side,
sitting up late at roystering feasts till he nodded in his chair, seeing
all that rough men saw, and hearing all that rough men said, the child
was in a fair way to be ruined outright; and so Willan Blaycke at last
came to see, and one day, in a fit of unwonted conscientiousness and
wisdom, he packed the poor sobbing little fellow off to England in
charge of a trusty escort, and sternly made up his mind that the lad
should not return till he was a man grown. It was only a few months
after this that Jeanne Dubois became Mistress Willan Blaycke; so it
seemed not improbable that the bereaved father's loneliness had had much
to do with that extraordinary step.

Be that as it may, whether he were drunk or sober when he married her,
he treated her as a gentleman should treat his wife, and did his best to
make her a lady. She was always clad in a rich fashion; and a fine show
she made in her scarlet petticoat and white hat with a streaming scarlet
feather in it, riding high on her pillion behind Willan Blaycke on his
great black horse, or sitting up straight and stiff in the swinging
coach with gold on the panels, which he had bought for her in Boston at
a sale of the effects of one of the disgraced and removed governors of
the province of Massachusetts. If there had been any roads to speak of
in those days, Jeanne Dubois would have driven from one end to the other
of the land in her fine coach, so proud was she of its splendor; but
even pride could not heal the bruises she got in jolting about in it,
nor the terror she felt of being overturned. So she gradually left off
using it, and consoled herself by keeping it standing in all good
weather in full sight from the highway, that everybody might know she
had it.

It was a sore trial to Jeanne that she had no children, - a sore trial
also to her wicked old father, who had plotted that the great Blaycke
estates should go down in the hands of his descendants. Not so Willan
Blaycke. It was undoubtedly a consolation to him in his last days to
think that his son Willan would succeed to everything, and the Dubois
blood remain still in its own muddy channel. It is evident that before
he died he had come to think coldly of his wife; for his mention of her
in his will was of the curtest, and his provision for her during her
lifetime, though amply sufficient for her real needs, not at all in
keeping with the style in which she had dwelt with him.

The exiled Willan had returned to America a year before his father's
death. He was a quiet, well-educated, rather scholarly young man. It
would be foolish to deny that his filial sentiment had grown cool during
the long years of his absence, and that it received some violent shocks
on his return to his father's house. But he was full of ambition, and
soon saw the opening which lay before him for distinction and wealth as
the ultimate owner of the Blaycke estates. To this end he bent all his
energies. He had had in England a good legal education; he was a clear
thinker and a ready speaker, and speedily made himself so well known and
well thought of, that when his father died there were many who said it
was well the old man had been taken away in time to leave the young
Willan a property worthy of his talents and industry.

Willan had lived in his father's house more as a guest than as a son. To
the woman who was his father's wife, and sat at the head of his father's
table, he bore himself with a distant courtesy, which was far more
irritating to her coarse nature than open antagonism would have been.
But Jeanne Dubois was clever woman enough to comprehend her own
inferiority to both father and son, and to avoid collisions with either.
She had won what she had played for, and on the whole she had not been
disappointed. As she had never loved her husband, she cared little that
he did not love her; and as for the upstart of a boy with his fine airs,
well, she would bide her time for that, Jeanne thought, - for it had
never crossed Jeanne's mind that when her husband died she would not be
still the mistress of the fine stone house and the gilt panelled coach,
and have more money than she knew what to do with. Many malicious
reveries she had indulged in as to how, when that time came, she would
"send the fellow packing," "he shouldn't stay in her house a day." So,
when it came to pass that the cards were turned, and it was Willan who
said to her, on the morning after his father's funeral, "What are your
plans, Madame?" Jeanne was for a few seconds literally dumb with anger
and astonishment.

Then she poured out all the pent-up hatred of her vulgar soul. It was a
horrible scene. Willan conducted himself throughout the interview with
perfect calmness; the same impassable distance which had always been so
exasperating to Jeanne was doubly so now. He treated her as if she were
merely some dependant of the house, for whom he, as the executor of the
will, was about to provide according to instructions.

"If I can't live in my own house," cried the angry woman, "I'll go back
to my father and tend bar again; and how'll you like that?"

"It is purely immaterial to me, Madame," replied Willan, "where you
live. I merely wish to know your address, that I may forward to you the
quarterly payments of your annuity. I should think it probable," he
added with an irony which was not thrown away on Jeanne, "that you
would be happier among your own relations and in the occupations to
which you were accustomed in your youth."

Jeanne was not deficient in spirit. As soon as she had ascertained
beyond a doubt that all that Willan had told her was true, and that
there was no possibility of her ever getting from the estate anything
except her annuity, she packed up all her possessions and left the
house. No fine instinct had restrained her from laying, hands on
everything to which she could be said to have a shadow of
claim, - indeed, on many things to which she had not, - and even Willan
himself, who had been prepared for her probable greed, was surprised
when on returning to the house late one evening he found the piazza
piled high from one end to the other with her boxes. Jeanne stood by
with a defiant air, superintending the cording of the last one. She
anticipated some remonstrance or inquiry from Willan, and was half
disappointed when he passed by, giving no sign of having observed the
boxes at all, and simply lifting his hat to her with his usual
formality. The next morning, instead of the public vehicle which Jeanne
had engaged to call for her, her own coach and the gray horses she had
best liked were driven to the door. This unexpected tribute from Willan
almost disarmed her for the moment. It was her coach almost more than
her house which she had grieved to lose.

"Well, really, Mr. Willan," she exclaimed, "I never once thought of
taking that, though there's no doubt about its being my own, and your
father'd tell you so if he was here; and the horses too. He always said
the grays were mine from the day he bought them. But I'm much obliged to
you, I'm sure."

"You have no occasion to thank me, Madame," replied Willan, standing on
the threshold of the house, pale with excitement at the prospect of
immediate freedom from the presence of the coarse creature. "The coach
is your own, and the horses; and if they had not been, I should not have
permitted them to remain here."

"Oh ho!" sneered Jeanne, all her antagonism kindled afresh at this last
gratuitous fling. "You needn't think you can get rid of everything
that'll remind you of me, young man. You'll see me oftener than you
like, at the Golden Pear. You'll have to stop there, as your father did
before you." And Jeanne's black eyes snapped viciously as she drove off,
her piles of boxes following slowly in two wagon-loads behind.

Willan was right in one thing. After the first mortification of
returning to her father's house, a widow, disgraced by being pensioned
off from her old home, had worn away, Jeanne was happier than she had
ever been in her life. Her annuity, which was small for Mistress Willan
Blaycke, was large for Jeanne, daughter of the landlord of the Golden
Pear; and into that position she sank back at once, - so contentedly,
too, that her father was continually reproaching her with a great lack
of spirit. It was a sad come-down from his old air-castles for her and
for himself, - he still the landlord of a shabby little inn, and Jeanne,
stout and middle-aged, sitting again behind the bar as she had done
fifteen years before. It was pretty hard. So long as he knew that Jeanne
was living in her fine house as Mistress Blaycke he had been content,
in spite of Willan Blaycke's having sternly forbidden him ever to show
his face there. But this last downfall was too much. Victor Dubois
ground his teeth and swore many oaths over it. But no swearing could
alter things; and after a while Victor himself began to take comfort in
having Jeanne back again. "And not a bit spoiled," as he would say to
his cronies, "by all the fine ways, to which she had never taken; thanks
to God, Jeanne was as good a girl yet as ever." - "And as handsome too,"
the politic cronies would add.

The Golden Pear was a much more attractive place since Jeanne had come
back. She was a good housekeeper, and she had learned much in Willan
Blaycke's house. Moreover, she was a generous creature, and did not in
the least mind spending a few dollars here and there to make things
tidier and more comfortable.

A few weeks after Jeanne's return to the inn there appeared in the
family a new and by no means insignificant member. This was the young
Victorine Dubois, who was a daughter, they said, of Victor Dubois's son
Jean, the twin brother of Jeanne. He had gone to Montreal many years
ago, and had been moderately prosperous there as a wine-seller in a
small way. He had been dead now for two years, and his widow, being
about to marry again, was anxious to get the young Victorine off her
hands. So the story ran, and on the surface it looked probable enough.
But Montreal was not a great way off from the parish of St. Urbans, in
which stood Victor Dubois's inn; there were men coming and going often
who knew the city, and who looked puzzled when it was said in their
hearing that Victorine was the eldest child of Jean Dubois the
wine-seller. She had been kept at a convent all these years, old Victor
said, her father being determined that at least one of his children
should be well educated.

Nobody could gainsay this, and Mademoiselle Victorine certainly had the
air of having been much better trained and taught than most girls in her
station. But somehow, nobody quite knew why, the tale of her being Jean
Dubois's daughter was not believed. Suspicions and at last rumors were
afloat that she was an illegitimate child of Jeanne's, born a few years
before her marriage to Willan Blaycke.

Nothing easier, everybody knew, than for Mistress Willan Blaycke to
have supported half a dozen illegitimate children, if she had had them,
on the money her husband gave her so lavishly; and there was old Victor,
as ready and unscrupulous a go-between as ever an unscrupulous woman
needed. These rumors gained all the easier credence because Victorine
bore so striking a resemblance to her "Aunt Jeanne." On the other hand,
this ought not to have been taken as proof any more one way than the
other; for there were plenty of people who recollected very well that in
the days when little Jean and Jeanne toddled about together as children,
nobody but their mother could tell them apart, except by their clothes.
So the winds of gossiping breaths blew both ways at once in the matter,
and it was much discussed for a time. But like all scandals, as soon as
it became an old story nobody cared whether it were false or true; and
before Victorine had been a year at the Golden Pear, the question of her
relationship there was rarely raised.

One thing was certain, that no mother could have been fonder or more
devoted to a child than Jeanne was to her niece; and everybody said
so, - some more civilly, some maliciously. Her pride in the girl's beauty
was touching to see. She seemed to have forgotten that she was ever a
beauty herself; and she had no need to do this, for Jeanne was not yet
forty, and many men found her piquant and pleasing still. But all her
vanity seemed now to be transferred to Victorine. It was Victorine who
was to have all the fine gowns and ornaments; Victorine who must go to
the dances and fêtes in costumes which were the wonder and the envy of
all the girls in the region; Victorine who was to have everything made
easy and comfortable for her in the house; and above all, - and here the
mother betrayed herself, for mother she was; the truth may as well be
told early as late in our story, - most of all, it was Victorine who was
to be kept away from the bar, and to be spared all contact with the
rough roysterers who frequented the Golden Pear.

Very ingenious were Jeanne's excuses for these restrictions on her
niece's liberty. Still more ingenious her explanations of the occasional
exceptions she made now and then in favor of some well-to-do young
farmer of the neighborhood, or some traveller in whom her alert maternal
eye detected a possible suitor for Victorine's hand. Victorine herself
was not so fastidious. She was young, handsome, overflowing with
vitality, and with no more conscience or delicacy than her mother had
had before her. If the whole truth had been known concerning the last
four years of her life in the convent, it would have considerably
astonished those good Catholics, if any such there be, who still believe
that convents are sacred retreats filled with the chaste and the devout.
Victorine Dubois at the age of eighteen, when her grandfather took her
home to his house, was as well versed a young woman in the ways and the
wiles of love-making as if she had been free to come and go all her
life. And that this knowledge had been gained surreptitiously, in stolen
moments and brief experiences at the expense of the whole of her
reverence for religion, the whole of her faith in men's purity, was not
poor Victorine's fault, only her misfortune; but the result was no less
disastrous to her morals. She went out of the convent as complete a
little hypocrite as ever told beads and repeated prayers. Only a
certain sort of infantile superstitiousness of nature remained in her,
and made her cling to the forms, in which, though she knew they did not
mean what they pretended, she suspected there might be some sort of
mechanical efficacy at last; like the partly undeceived disciple and
assistant of a master juggler, who is not quite sure that there may not
be a supernatural power behind some of the tricks. Beyond an overflowing
animal vitality, and a passion for having men make love to her, there
really was not much of Victorine. But it is wonderful how far these two
qualities can pass in a handsome woman for other and nobler ones. The
animal life so keen, intense, sensuous, can seem like cleverness, wit,
taste; the passion for receiving homage from men can make a woman
graceful, amiable, and alluring. Some of the greatest passions the world
has ever seen have been inspired in men by just such women as this.

Victorine was not without accomplishments and some smattering of
knowledge. She had read a good deal of French, and chattered it like
the true granddaughter of a Normandy _propriétaire_. She sang, in a
half-rude, half-melodious way, snatches of songs which sounded better
than they really were, she sang them with so much heartiness and
abandon. She embroidered exquisitely, and had learned the trick of
making many of the pretty and useless things at which nuns work so
patiently to fill up their long hours. She had an insatiable love of
dress, and attired herself daily in successions of varied colors and
shapes merely to look at herself in the glass, and on the chance of
showing herself to any stray traveller who might come.

The inn had been built in a piecemeal fashion by Victor Dubois himself,
and he had been unconsciously guided all the while by his memories of
the old farmhouse in Normandy in which he was born; so that the house
really looked more like Normandy than like America. It had on one corner
a square tower, which began by being a shed attached to the kitchen,
then was promoted to bearing up a chamber for grain, and at last was
topped off by a fine airy room, projecting on all sides over the other
two, and having great casement windows reaching close up to the broad,
hanging eaves. A winding staircase outside led to what had been the
grain-chamber: this was now Jeanne's room. The room above was
Victorine's, and she reached it only by a narrow, ladder-like stairway
from her mother's bedroom; so the young lady's movements were kept well
in sight, her mother thought. It was an odd thing that it never occurred
to Jeanne how near the sill of Victorine's south window was to the stout
railing of the last broad platform of the outside staircase. This
railing had been built up high, and was partly roofed over, making a
pretty place for pots of flowers in summer; and Victorine never looked
so well anywhere as she did leaning out of her window and watering the
flowers which stood there. Many a flirtation went on between this
casement window and the courtyard below, where all the travellers were
in the habit of standing and talking with the ostlers, and with old
Victor himself, who was not the landlord to leave his ostlers to do as
they liked with horses and grain, - many a flirtation, but none that
meant or did any harm; for with all her wildness and love of frolic,
Mademoiselle Victorine never lost her head. Deep down in her heart she
had an ambition which she never confessed even to her aunt Jeanne. She
had read enough romances to believe that it was by no means an
impossible thing that a landlord's daughter should marry a gentleman;
and to marry a gentleman, if she married at all, Victorine was fully
resolved. She never tired of questioning her aunt about the details of
her life in Willan Blaycke's house; and she sometimes gazed for hours at
the gilt-panelled coach, which on all fine days stood in the courtyard
of the Golden Pear, the wonder of all rustics. On the rare occasions
when her aunt went abroad in this fine vehicle, Victorine sat by her
side in an ecstasy of pride and delight. It seemed to her that to be the
owner of such a coach as that, to live in a fine house, and have a fine
gentleman for one's husband must be the very climax of bliss. She
wondered much at her aunt's contentment in her present estate.

"How canst thou bear it, Aunt Jeanne?" she said sometimes. "How canst
thou bear to live as we live here, - to be in the bar-room with the men,
and to sit always in the smoke, after the fine rooms and the company
thou hadst for so long?"

"Bah!" Jeanne would reply. "It's little thou knowest of that fine
company. I had like to die of weariness more often than I was gay in it;
and as for fine rooms, I care nothing for them."

"But thy husband, Aunt Jeanne," Victorine once ventured to say, - "surely
thou wert not weary when he was with thee?"

Jeanne's face darkened. "Keep a civiller tongue in thy head," she
replied, "than to be talking to widows of the husbands they have buried.
He was a good man, Willan Blaycke, - a good man; but I liked him not
overmuch, though we lived not in quarrelling. He went his ways, as men
go, and I let him be."

Victorine's curiosity was by no means satisfied. She asked endless
questions of all whom she met who could tell her anything about her
aunt's husband. Very much she regretted that she had not been taken from
the convent before this strange, free-hearted, rollicking gentleman had
died. She would have managed affairs better, she thought, than Aunt


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