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Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England




The Child Wife
By Captain Mayne Reid
Published by George Routledge and Sons Ltd, London.
This edition dated 1905.

The Child Wife, by Captain Mayne Reid.

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THE CHILD WIFE, BY CAPTAIN MAYNE REID.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE ISLE OF PEACE.

Aquidnec - "Isle of Peace!"

Oh, Coddington, and ye Assistants of the General Court! what craze
possessed you to change this fair title of the red aboriginal for the
petty appellation of "Rhodes?"

Out upon your taste - your classic affectation! Out upon your
ignorance - to mistake the "Roodt" of the old Dutch navigator for that
name appertaining to the country of the Colossus!

In the title bestowed by Block there was at least appropriateness - even
something of poetry. Sailing around Sachuest Point, he beheld the grand
woods, red in the golden sun-glow of autumn. Flashed upon his delighted
eyes the crimson masses of tree foliage, and the festoonery of scarlet
creepers. Before his face were bright ochreous rocks cropping out from
the cliff. Down in his log-book went the "Red Island!"

Oh, worthy Coddington, why did you reject the appellation of the Indian?
Or why decree such clumsy transformation to that of the daring
Dutchman?

I shall cling to the old title - "Isle of Peace"; though in later times
less apt than when the Warapanoag bathed his bronzed limbs in the
tranquil waters of the Narraganset, and paddled his light canoe around
its rock-girt shores.

Since then, Aquidnec! too often hast thou felt the sore scathing of war.
Where now thy virgin woods that rejoiced the eyes of Verrazano, fresh
from Tuscan scenes? Where thy grand oaks elms, and maples? Thy green
pines and red cedars? Thy birches that gave bark, thy chestnuts
affording food; thy sassafras laurel, restorer of health and life?

Gone - all gone! Swept away by the torch and axe of the ruthless
soldier-destroyer.

Despite thy despoliation, Aquidnec, thou art still a fair spot. Once
more the Isle of Peace, the abode of Love - its very Agapemone; every
inch of thy turf trodden by lovers' feet - every ledge of thy cliffs
listening to the old, old story.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Newport, in the year of our Lord 18 - , in the "height of the season."

An apartment in that most hospitable of American hostelries, the Ocean
House, with a window looking westward.

On the _troisieme etage_, commanding a continuous balcony, with a view
of the Atlantic, spreading broad and blue, beyond the range of the
telescope. Sachuest Point on the left, with the spray, like snowflakes,
breaking over the Cormorant Rock; on the right, Beaver Tail, with its
beacon; between them a fleet of fishing-craft, dipping for striped-bass
and tautog; in the far offing the spread sails of a full-rigged ship,
and the plume-like smoke soaring up from a steamer - both broadside to
the beholder, on their way between the two great seaports of Shawmut and
Manhattan.

A noble view is this opening of the great estuary of Narraganset - one
upon which beautiful eyes have often rested.

Never more beautiful than those of Julia Girdwood, the occupant of the
apartment above mentioned.

She is not its sole occupant. There is another young lady beside her,
her cousin, Cornelia Inskip. She has also pretty eyes, of a bluish
tint; but they are scarce observed after looking into those orbs of dark
bistre, that seem to burn with an everlasting love-light.

In the language of the romance writer, Julia would be termed a
_brunette_, Cornelia a _blonde_. Their figures are as different as
their complexion: the former tall and of full womanly development, the
latter of low stature, slighter, and to all appearance more youthful.

Equally unlike their dispositions. She of the dark complexion appears
darker in thought, with greater solemnity of movement; while, judging by
her speech, the gay, sprightly Cornelia thinks but little of the past,
and still less about the future.

Robed in loose morning-wrappers, with tiny slippers poised upon their
toes, they are seated in rocking-chairs, just inside the window. The
eyes of both, sweeping the blue sea, have just descried the steamer
coming from beyond the distant Point Judith, and heading in a
north-easterly direction.

It was a fine sight, this huge black monster beating its way through the
blue water, and leaving a white seething track behind it.

Cornelia sprang out into the balcony to get a better view of it.

"I wonder what boat it is?" she said. "One of the great ocean steamers,
I suppose - a Cunarder!"

"I think not, Neel. I wish it was one, and I aboard of it. Thank
Heaven! I shall be, before many weeks."

"What! tired of Newport already? We'll find no pleasanter place in
Europe. I'm sure we shan't."

"We'll find pleasanter people, at all events."

"Why, what have you got against them?"

"What have they got against us? I don't mean the natives here. They're
well enough, in their way. I speak of their summer visitors, like
ourselves. You ask what they've got against us. A strange question!"

"_I_ haven't noticed anything."

"But _I_ have. Because our fathers were retail storekeepers, these J.'s
and L.'s and B.'s affect to look down upon us! You know they do."

Miss Inskip could not deny that something of this had been observed by
her. But she was one of those contented spirits who set but little
store upon aristocratic acquaintances, and are therefore insensible to
its slights.

With the proud Julia it was different. If not absolutely slighting, the
"society" encountered in this fashionable watering-place had in some way
spited her - that section of it described as the J.'s and the L.'s and
the B.'s.

"And for what reason?" she continued, with increasing indignation. "If
our fathers were retail storekeepers, their grandfathers were the same.
Where's the difference, I should like to know?"

Miss Inskip could see none, and said so.

But this did not tranquillise the chafed spirit of her cousin, and
perceiving it, she tried to soothe her on another tack.

"Well, Julia, if the Miss J.'s, and Miss L.'s, and Miss B.'s, look down
on us, their brothers don't. On you, I'm sure they don't."

"Bother their brothers! A fig for _their_ condescension. Do you take
me for a stupid, Neel? A million dollars left by my father's will, and
which must come to me at mother's death, will account for it. Besides,
unless the quicksilver in my looking-glass tells a terrible lie, I'm not
such a fright."

She might well talk thus. Than Julia Girdwood, anything less like a
fright never stood in front of a mirror. Full-grown, and of perfect
form, this storekeeper's daughter had all the grand air of a duchess.
The face was perfect as the figure. You could not look upon it without
thoughts of love; though strangely, and somewhat unpleasantly,
commingled with an idea of danger. It was an aspect that suggested
Cleopatra, Lucrezia Borgia, or the beautiful murderess of Darnley.

In her air there was no awkwardness - not the slightest sign of humble
origin, or the _gaucherie_ that usually springs from it. Something of
this might have been detected in the country cousin, Cornelia. But
Julia Girdwood had been stepping too long on the flags of the Fifth
Avenue, to be externally distinguished from the proudest damsels of that
aristocratic street. Her mother's house was in it.

"It is true, Julia," assented her cousin; "you are both rich and
beautiful. I wish I could say the same."

"Come, little flatterer! if not the first, you are certainly the last;
though neither counts for much here."

"Why did we come here?"

"I had nothing to do with it. Mamma is answerable for that. For my
part I prefer Saratoga, where there's less pretensions about pedigree,
and where a shopkeeper's daughter is as good as his granddaughter. I
wanted to go there this season. Mother objected. Nothing would satisfy
her but Newport, Newport, Newport! And here we are. Thank Heaven! it
won't be for long."

"Well, since we are here, let us at least enjoy what everybody comes
for - the bathing."

"Pretends to come for, you mean! Dipping their skins in salt water, the
Miss J.'s, and L.'s, and B.'s - much has that to do with their presence
at Newport! A good thing for them if it had! It might improve their
complexions a little. Heaven knows they need it; and Heaven be thanked
I don't."

"But you'll bathe to-day?"

"I shan't!"

"Consider, cousin! It's such a delightful sensation."

"I hate it!"

"You're jesting, Julia?"

"Well, I don't mean that I dislike bathing - only in that crowd."

"But there's no exclusiveness on the beach."

"I don't care. I won't go among them any more - on the beach, or
elsewhere. If I could only bathe out yonder, in the deep blue water, or
amid those white breakers we see! Ah! that _would_ be a delightful
sensation! I wonder if there's any place where we could take a dip by
ourselves?"

"There is; I know the very spot I discovered it the other day, when I
was out with Keziah gathering shells. It's down under the cliffs.
There's a sweet little cave, a perfect grotto, with a deepish pool in
front, and smooth sandy bottom, white as silver. The cliff quite
overhangs it. I'm sure no one could see us from above; especially if we
go when the people are bathing. Then everybody would be at the beach,
and we'd have the cliff shore to ourselves. For that matter, we can
undress in the cave, without the chance of a creature seeing us. Keziah
could keep watch outside. Say you'll go, Julia?"

"Well, I don't mind. But what about mamma? She's such a terrible
stickler for the proprieties. She may object."

"We needn't let her know anything about it. She don't intend bathing
to-day; she's just told me so. We two can start in the usual style, as
if going to the beach. Once outside, we can go our own way. I know of
a path across the fields that'll take us almost direct to the place.
You'll go?"

"Oh, I'm agreed."

"It's time for us to set out, then. You hear that tramping along the
corridor? It's the bathers about to start. Let us call Keziah, and be
off."

As Julia made no objection, her sprightly cousin tripped out into the
corridor; and, stopping before the door of an adjoining apartment,
called "Keziah!"

The room was Mrs Girdwood's; Keziah, her servant - a sable-skinned
damsel, who played lady's maid for all three.

"What is it, child?" asked a voice evidently not Keziah's.

"We're going to bathe, aunt," said the young lady, half-opening the
door, and looking in. "We want Keziah to get ready the dresses."

"Yes, yes," rejoined the same voice, which was that of Mrs Girdwood
herself. "You hear, Keziah? And hark ye, girls!" she added, addressing
herself to the two young ladies, now both standing in the doorway, "see
that you take a swimming lesson. Remember we are going over the great
seas, where there's many a chance of getting drowned."

"Oh, ma! you make one shiver."

"Well, well, I hope swimming may never be needed by you. For all that,
there's no harm in being able to keep your head above water, and that in
more senses than one. Be quick, girl, with the dresses! The people are
all gone; you'll be late. Now, then, off with you!"

Keziah soon made her appearance in the corridor, carrying a bundle.

A stout, healthy-looking negress - her woolly head "toqued" in New
Orleans style, with a checkered bandanna - she was an appanage of the
defunct storekeeper's family; specially designed to give to it an air
Southern, and of course aristocratic. At this time Mrs Girdwood was
not the only Northern lady who selected her servants with an eye to such
effect.

Slippers were soon kicked off, and kid boots pulled on in their places.
Hats were set coquettishly on the head, and shawls - for the day was
rather cool - were thrown loosely over shoulders.

"Come on!" and at the word the cousins glided along the gallery,
descended the great stair, tripped across the piazza outside, and then
turned off in the direction of the Bath Road.

Once out of sight of the hotel, they changed their course, striking into
a path that led more directly toward the cliff.

In less than twenty minutes after, they _might have been_ seen
descending it, through one of those sloping ravines that here and there
interrupt the continuity of the precipice - Cornelia going first, Julia
close after, the turbaned negress, bearing her bundle, in the rear.



CHAPTER TWO.

A BRACE OF NAIADS.

They _were_ seen.

A solitary gentleman sauntering along the cliff, saw the girls go down.

He was coming from the direction of Ochre Point, but too far off to tell
more than that they were two young ladies, followed by a black servant.

He thought it a little strange at that hour. It was bathing-time upon
the beach. He could see the boxes discharging their gay groups in
costumes of green and blue, crimson and scarlet - in the distance looking
like parti-coloured Lilliputians.

"Why are these two ladies not along with them?" was his reflection.
"Shell-gatherers, I suppose," was the conjecture that followed.
"Searchers after strange seaweeds. From Boston, no doubt. And I'd bet
high that the nose of each is bridged with a pair of blue spectacles."

The gentleman smiled at the conceit, but suddenly changed it. The sable
complexion of the servant suggested a different conclusion.

"More like they are Southerners?" was the muttered remark.

After making it he ceased to think of them. He had a gun in his hand,
and was endeavouring to get a shot at some of the large seabirds now and
then sweeping along the escarpment of the cliff.

As the tide was still only commencing to return from its ebb, these flew
low, picking up their food from the stranded _algae_ that, like a
fringe, followed the outlines of the shore.

The sportsman, observing this, became convinced he would have a better
chance below; and down went he through one of the gaps - the first that
presented itself!

Keeping on towards the Forty Steps, he progressed only slowly. Here and
there rough ledges required scaling; the yielding sand also delayed him.

But he was in no hurry. The chances of a shot were as good at one place
as another. Hours must elapse ere the Ocean House gong would summon its
scattered guests to their grand dinner. He was one of them. Until that
time he had no reason for returning to the hotel.

The gentleman thus leisurely strolling, is worthy a word or two by way
of description.

That he was only an amateur sportsman, his style of dress plainly
proclaimed. More plainly did it bespeak the soldier. A forage cap,
that had evidently seen service, half shadowed a face whose deep sun-tan
told of that service being done in a tropical clime; while the tint,
still fresh and warm, was evidence of recent return. A plain
frock-coat, of civilian cut, close buttoned; a pair of dark-blue
pantaloons, with well-made boots below them, completed his semi-military
costume. Added: that these garments were fitted upon a figure
calculated to display them to the utmost advantage.

The face was in keeping with the figure. _Not_ oval, but of that rotund
shape, ten times more indicative of daring, as of determination.
Handsome, too, surmounted as it was by a profusion of dark hair, and
adorned by a well-defined moustache. These advantages had the young man
in question, who, despite the appearance of much travel, and some
military service, was still under thirty.

Slowly sauntering onward, his boots scranching among the pebbles, he
heard but the sound of his own footsteps.

It was only on stopping to await the passage of a gull, and while
calculating the carry of his gun, that other sounds arrested his
attention.

These were so sweet, that the gull was at once forgotten. It flew past
without his attempting to pull trigger - although so close to the muzzle
of his gun he might have "murdered" it!

"Nymphs! Naiads! Mermaids! Which of the three? Proserpine upon a
rock superintending their aquatic sports! Ye gods and goddesses! what
an attractive tableau?"

These words escaped him, as he stood crouching behind a point of rock
that abutted far out from the line of the cliff. Beyond it was the cove
in which the young ladies were bathing - the negress keeping but careless
watch as she sat upon one of the ledges.

"Chaste Dian!" exclaimed the sportsman; "pardon me for this intrusion.
Quite inadvertent, I assure you. I must track back," he continued, "to
save myself from being transformed into a stag. Provoking, too! I
wanted to go that way to explore a cave I've heard spoken of. I came
out with this intention. How awkward to be thus interrupted!"

There was something like a lie outlined upon his features as he muttered
the last reflection. In his actions too; for he still loitered behind
the rock - still kept looking over it.

Plunging in pellucid water not waist-deep - their lower extremities only
concealed by the saturated skirts that clung like cerements around
them - their feet showing clear as coral - the two young creatures
continued to disport themselves. Only Joseph himself could have
retreated from the sight!

And then their long hair in full dishevelment - of two colour, black and
gold - sprinkled by the pearly spray, as the girls, with tiny rose-tipped
fingers, dashed the water in each other's faces - all the time making the
rocks ring with the music of their merry voices - ah! from such a picture
who could comfortably withdraw his eyes?

It cost the sportsman an effort; of which he was capable - only by
thinking of his sister.

And thinking of her, he loitered no longer, but drew back behind the
rock.

"Deuced awkward!" he again muttered to himself - perhaps this time with
more sincerity. "I wished particularly to go that way. The cave cannot
be much farther on, and now to trudge all the way back! I must either
do that, or wait till they've got through their game of aquatics."

For a moment he stood reflecting. It was a considerable distance to the
place where he had descended the cliff. Moreover, the track was
toilsome, as he had proved by experience.

He decided to stay where he was till the "coast should be clear."

He sat down upon a stone, took out a cigar, and commenced smoking.

He was scarce twenty paces from the pool in which the pretty dears were
enjoying themselves. He could hear the plashing of their palms, like
young cygnets beating the water with their wings. He could hear them
exchange speeches, mingled with peals of clear-ringing laughter. There
could be no harm in listening to these sounds, since the sough of the
sea hindered him from making out what was said. Only now and then did
he distinguish an interjection, proclaiming the delight in which the two
Naiads were indulging, or one, the sharper voice of the negress, to warn
then against straying too far out, as the tide had commenced rising.

From these signs he knew he had not been observed while standing exposed
by the projection of rock.

A full half-hour elapsed, and still continued the plunging and the peals
of laughter.

"Very mermaids they must be - to stay so long in the water! Surely
they've had enough of it!"

As shown by this reflection, the sportsman was becoming impatient.

Shortly after, the plashing ceased, and along with it the laughter. He
could still hear the voices of the two girls engaged in conversation - at
intervals intermingled with that of the negress.

"They are out now, and dressing," he joyfully conjectured. "I wonder
how long they'll be about that. Not another hour, I hope."

He took out a fresh cigar. It was his third.

"By the time I've finished this," reflected he, "they'll be gone. At
all events, they ought to be dressed; and, without rudeness, I may take
the liberty of slipping past them."

He lit the cigar, smoked, and listened.

The conversation was now carried on in an uninterrupted strain, but in
quieter tones, and no longer interspersed with laughter.

The cigar became shortened to a stump, and still those silvery voices
were heard mingling with the hoarse symphony of the sea - the latter,
each moment growing louder as the tide continued to rise. A fresh
breeze had sprung up, which, brought shoreward by the tidal billow,
increased the noise; until the voices of the girls appeared like some
distant metallic murmur, and the listener at length doubted whether he
heard them or not.

"Their time's up," he said, springing to his feet, and flinging away the
stump of the cigar. "They've had enough to make their toilet twice
over, at all events. I can give no more grace; so here goes to continue
my exploration!"

He turned towards the projection of the cliff. A single step forward,
and he came to a stand - his countenance suddenly becoming clouded with
an unpleasant expression! The tide had stolen up to the rocks, and the
point of the promontory was now full three feet under water; while the
swelling waves, at intervals, surged still higher!

There was neither beach below, nor ledge above; no way but by taking to
the water.

The explorer saw that it would be impossible to proceed in the direction
intended, without wading up to his waist. The object he had in view was
not worth such a saturation; and with an exclamation of disappointment -
chagrin, too, for the lost time - he turned upon his heel, and commenced
retracing his steps along the base of the bluffs.

He no longer went strolling or sauntering. An apprehension had arisen
in his mind that stimulated him to the quickest pace in his power. What
if his retreat should be cut off by the same obstacle that had
interrupted his advance?

The thought was sufficiently alarming; and hastily scrambling over the
ledges, and skimming across the stretches of quicksand - now transformed
into pools - he only breathed freely when once more in the gorge by which
he had descended.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE TWO POETASTERS.

The sportsman was under a mistake about the girls being gone. They were
still within the cove; only no longer conversing.

Their dialogue had ended along with their dressing; and they had betaken
themselves to two separate occupations - both of which called for
silence. Miss Girdwood had commenced reading a book that appeared to be
a volume of poems; while her cousin, who had come provided with drawing
materials, was making a sketch of the grotto that had served them for a
robing-room.

On their emerging from the water, Keziah had plunged into the same
pool - now disturbed by the incoming tide, and deep enough to conceal her
dusky charms from the eyes of any one straying along the cliff.

After spluttering about for a matter of ten minutes, the negress
returned to the shore; once more drew the gingham gown over her head;
squeezed the salt spray out of her kinky curls; readjusted the bandanna;
and, giving way to the languor produced by the saline immersion, lay
down upon the dry shingle - almost instantly falling asleep.

In this way had the trio become disposed, as the explorer, after
discovering the obstruction to his progress, turned back along the
strand - their silence leading him to believe they had taken departure.

For some time this silence continued, Cornelia taking great pains with
her drawing. It was a scene well worthy of her pencil, and with the
three figures introduced, just as they were, could not fail to make an
interesting picture. She intended it as the record of a rare and
somewhat original scene: for, although young ladies occasionally took a
sly dip in such solitary places, it required a certain degree of daring.

Seated upon a stone, as far out as the tide would allow her, she
sketched her cousin, leaning studiously against the cliff, and the
sable-skinned maid-servant, with turbaned head, lying stretched along
the shingle. The scarped precipice, with the grotto underneath; the
dark rocks here overhanging, there seamed by a gorge that sloped steeply
upward - the sides of the latter trellised with convolvuli and clumps of
fantastic shrubbery, - all these were to appear in the picture.

She was making fair progress, when interrupted by an exclamation from
her cousin.

The latter had been for some time turning over the leaves of her book
with a rapidity that denoted either impatience or dire disappointment in
its contents.

At intervals she would stop, read a few lines, and then sweep onward - as



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