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Mrs. Falchion, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 21517

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Next day we had a picnic on the Whi-Whi River, which, rising in the far north, comes in varied moods to join the Long Cloud River at Viking.

[Dr. Marmion, in a note of his MSS., says that he has purposely

changed the names of the rivers and towns mentioned in the second

part of the book, because he does not wish the locale to be too


Ruth Devlin, her young sister, and her aunt Mrs. Revel, with Galt Roscoe and myself, constituted the party. The first part of the excursion had many delights. The morning was fresh and sweet, and we were all in excellent spirits. Roscoe's depression had vanished; but there was an amiable seriousness in his manner which, to me, portended that the faint roses in Ruth Devlin's cheeks would deepen before the day was done, unless something inopportune happened.

As we trudged gaily up the canon to the spot where we were to take a big skiff, and cross the Whi-Whi to our camping-ground, Ruth Devlin, who was walking with me, said: "A large party of tourists arrived at Viking yesterday, and have gone to the summer hotel; so I expect you will be gay up here for some time to come. Prepare, then, to rejoice."

"Don't you think it is gay enough as it is?" I answered. "Behold this festive throng."

"Oh, it is nothing to what there might be. This could never make Viking and 'surrounding country' notorious as a pleasure resort. To attract tourists you must have enough people to make romances and tragedies,-without loss of life, of course,-merely catastrophes of broken hearts, and hair-breadth escapes, and mammoth fishing and shooting achievements, such as men know how to invent,"-it was delightful to hear her voice soften to an amusing suggestiveness, "and broken bridges and land-slides, with many other things which you can supply, Dr. Marmion. No, I am afraid that Viking is too humdrum to be notable."

She laughed then very lightly and quaintly. She had a sense of humour.

"Well, but, Miss Devlin," said I, "you cannot have all things at once. Climaxes like these take time. We have a few joyful things. We have splendid fishing achievements,-please do not forget that basket of trout I sent you the other morning,-and broken hearts and such tragedies are not impossible; as, for instance, if I do not send you as good a basket of trout to-morrow evening; or if you should remark that there was nothing in a basket of trout to-"

"Now," she said, "you are becoming involved and-inconsiderate. Remember, I am only a mountain girl."

"Then let us only talk of the other tragedies. But are you not a little callous to speak of such things as if you thirsted for their occurrence?"

"I am afraid you are rather silly," she replied. "You see, some of the land up here belongs to me. I am anxious that it should 'boom'-that is the correct term, is it not?-and a sensation is good for 'booming.' What an advertisement would ensue if the lovely daughter of an American millionaire should be in danger of drowning in the Long Cloud, and a rough but honest fellow-a foreman on the river, maybe a young member of the English aristocracy in disguise-perilled his life for her! The place of peril would, of course, be named Lover's Eddy, or the Maiden's Gate-very much prettier, I assure you, than such cold-blooded things as the Devil's Slide, where we are going now, and much more attractive to tourists."

"Miss Devlin," laughed I, "you have all the eagerness of the incipient millionaire. May I hope to see you in Lombard Street some day, a very Katherine among capitalists?-for, from your remarks, I judge that you would-I say it pensively-'wade through slaughter to a throne.'"

Galt Roscoe, who was just ahead with Mrs. Revel and Amy Devlin, turned and said: "Who is that quoting so dramatically? Now, this is a picnic party, and any one who introduces elegies, epics, sonnets, 'and such,' is guilty of breaking the peace at Viking and its environs. Besides, such things should always be left to the parson. He must not be outflanked, his thunder must not be stolen. The scientist has unlimited resources; all he has to do is to be vague, and look prodigious; but the parson must have his poetry as a monopoly, or he is lost to sight, and memory."

"Then," said I, "I shall leave you to deal with Miss Devlin yourself, because she is the direct cause of my wrong-doing. She has expressed the most sinister sentiments about Viking and your very extensive parish. Miss Devlin," I added, turning to her, "I leave you to your fate, and I cannot recommend you to mercy, for what Heaven made fair should remain tender and merciful, and-"

"'So young and so untender!'" she interjected, with a rippling laugh. "Yet Cordelia was misjudged very wickedly, and traduced very ungallantly, and so am I. And I bid you good-day, sir."

Her delicate laugh rings in my ears as I write. I think that sun and clear skies and hills go far to make us cheerful and harmonious. Somehow, I always remember her as she was that morning.

She was standing then on the brink of a new and beautiful experience, at the threshold of an acknowledged love. And that is a remarkable time to the young.

There was something thrilling about the experiences of that morning, and I think we all felt it. Even the great frowning precipices seemed to have lost their ordinary gloom, and when some young white eagles rose from a crag and flew away, growing smaller as they passed, until they were one with the snow of the glacier on Mount Trinity, or a wapiti peeped out from the underwood and stole away with glancing feet down the valley; we could scarcely refrain from doing some foolish thing out of sheer delight. At length we emerged from a thicket of Douglas pine upon the shore of the Whi-Whi, and, loosening our boat, were soon moving slowly on the cool current. For an hour or more we rowed down the river towards the Long Cloud, and then drew into the shade of a little island for lunch. When we came to the rendezvous, where picnic parties generally feasted, we found a fire still smoking and the remnants of a lunch scattered about. A party of picnickers had evidently been there just before us. Ruth suggested that it might be some of the tourists from the hotel. This seemed very probable.

There were scraps of newspaper on the ground, and among them was an empty envelope. Mechanically I picked it up, and read the superscription. What I saw there I did not think necessary to disclose to the other members of the party; but, as unconcernedly as possible, for Ruth Devlin's eyes were on me, I used it to light a cigar-inappropriately, for lunch would soon be ready.

"What was the name on the envelope?" she said. "Was there one?"

I guessed she had seen my slight start. I said evasively: "I fancy there was, but a man who is immensely interested in a new brand of cigar-"

"You are a most deceitful man," she said. "And, at the least, you are selfish in holding your cigar more important than a woman's curiosity. Who can tell what romance was in the address on that envelope-"

"What elements of noble tragedy, what advertisement for a certain property in the Whi-Whi Valley," interrupted Roscoe, breaking off the thread of a sailor's song he was humming, as he tended the water-kettle on the fire.

This said, he went on with the song again. I was struck by the wonderful change in him now. Presentiments were far from him, yet I, having read that envelope, knew that they were not without cause. Indeed, I had an inkling of that the night before, when I heard the voices on the hill. Ruth Devlin stopped for a moment in the preparations to ask Roscoe what he was humming. I, answering for him, told her that it was an old sentimental sea-song of common sailors, often sung by officers at their jovial gatherings. At this she pretended to look shocked, and straightway demanded to hear the words, so that she could pronounce judgment on her spiritual pastor and master.

He good-naturedly said that many of these old sailor songs were amusing, and that he often found himself humming them. To this I could testify, and he sang them very well indeed-quietly, but with the rolling tone of the sailor, jovial yet fascinating. At our united request, his humming became distinct. Three of the verses I give here:

"The 'Lovely Jane' went sailing down

To anchor at the Spicy Isles;

And the wind was fair as ever was blown,

For the matter of a thousand miles.

"Then a storm arose as she crossed the line,

Which it caused her masts to crack;

And she gulped her fill of the whooping brine,

And she likewise sprained her back.

"And the capting cried, 'If it's Davy Jones,

Then it's Davy Jones,' says he,

'Though I don't aspire to leave my bones

In the equatorial sea.'"

What the further history of the 'Lovely Jane' was we were not informed, for Ruth Devlin announced that the song must wait, though it appeared to be innocuous and child-like in its sentiments, and that lunch would be served between the acts of the touching tragedy. When lunch was over, and we had again set forth upon the Whi-Whi, I asked Ruth to sing an old French-Canadian song which she had once before sung to us. Many a time the woods of the West had resounded to the notes of 'En Roulant ma Boule', as the 'voyageurs' traversed the long paths of the Ottawa, St. Lawrence, and Mississippi; brave light-hearted fellows, whose singing days were over.

By the light of coming events there was something weird and pathetic in this Arcadian air, sung as it was by her. Her voice was a mezzo-soprano of rare bracing quality, and she had enough natural sensibility to give the antique refinement of the words a wistful charm, particularly apparent in these verses:

"Ah, cruel Prince, my heart you break,

In killing thus my snow-white drake.

"My snow-white drake, my love, my King,

The crimson life-blood stains his wing.

"His golden bill sinks on his breast,

His plumes go floating east and west-

"En roulant ma boule:

Rouli, roulant, ma boule roulant,

En roulant ma boule roulant,

En roulant ma boule!"

As she finished the song we rounded an angle in the Whi-Whi. Ahead of us lay the Snow Rapids and the swift channel at one side of the rapids which, hurrying through a rocky archway, was known as the Devil's Slide. There was one channel through the rapids by which it was perfectly safe to pass, but that sweep of water through the Devil's Slide was sometimes a trap of death to even the most expert river-men. A half-mile below the rapids was the confluence of the two rivers. The sight of the tumbling mass of white water, and the gloomy and colossal grandeur of the Devil's Slide, a buttress of the hills, was very fine.

But th

ere was more than scenery to interest us here, for, moving quickly towards the Slide, was a boat with three people in it. They were evidently intending to attempt that treacherous passage, which culminated in a series of eddies, a menace to even the best oarsman ship. They certainly were not aware of their danger, for there came over the water the sound of a man's laughing voice, and the two women in the boat were in unconcerned attitudes. Roscoe shouted to them, and motioned them back, but they did not appear to understand.

The man waved his hat to us, and rowed on. There was but one thing for us to do: to make the passage quickly through the safe channel of the rapids, and to be of what service we could on the other side of the Slide, if necessary. We bent to the oars, and the boat shot through the water. Ruth held the rudder firmly, and her young sister and Mrs. Revel sat perfectly still. But the man in the other boat, thinking, doubtless, that we were attempting a race, added his efforts to the current of the channel. I am afraid that I said some words below my breath scarcely proper to be spoken in the presence of maidens and a clerk in holy orders. Roscoe was here, however, a hundred times more sailor than parson. He spoke in low, firm tones, as he now and then suggested a direction to Ruth Devlin or myself. Our boat tossed and plunged in the rapids, and the water washed over us lightly once or twice, but we went through the passage safely, and had turned towards the Slide before the other boat got to the rocky archway.

We rowed hard. The next minute was one of suspense, for we saw the boat shoot beneath the archway. Presently it emerged, a whirling plaything in treacherous eddies. The man wildly waved his arm, and shouted to us. The women were grasping the sides of the boat, but making no outcry. We could not see the faces of the women plainly yet. The boat ran forward like a race-horse; it plunged hither and thither. An oar snapped in the rocks, and the other one shot from the man's hand. Now the boat swung round and round, and dipped towards the hollow of a whirlpool. When we were within a few rods of them, it appeared to rise from the water, was hurled on a rock, and overturned. Mrs. Revel buried her face in her hands, and Ruth gave a little groan, but she held the rudder firmly, as we swiftly approached the forms struggling in the water. All, fortunately, had grasped the swamped boat, and were being carried down the stream towards us. The man was caring resolutely for himself, but one, of the women had her arm round the other, supporting her. We brought our skiff close to the swirling current. I called out words of encouragement, and was preparing to jump into the water, when Roscoe exclaimed in a husky voice: "Marmion, it is Mrs. Falchion."

Yes, it was Mrs. Falchion; but I had known that before. We heard her words to her companion: "Justine, do not look so. Your face is like death. It is hateful."

Then the craft veered towards the smoother water where we were. This was my opportunity. Roscoe threw me a rope, and I plunged in and swam towards the boat. I saw that Mrs. Falchion recognised me; but she made no exclamation, nor did Justine Caron. Their companion, however, on the other side of the boat, was eloquent in prayers to be rescued. I caught the bow of the boat as it raced past me, and with all my strength swung it towards the smoother water. I ran the rope I had brought, through the iron ring at the bow, and was glad enough of that; for their lives perhaps depended on being able to do it. It had been a nice calculation of chances, but it was done. Roscoe immediately bent to the oars, I threw an arm around Justine, and in a moment Roscoe had towed us into safer quarters. Then he drew in the rope. As he did so, Mrs. Falchion said: "Justine would drown so easily if one would let her."

These were her first words to me. I am sure I never can sufficiently admire the mere courage of the woman and her presence of mind in danger. Immediately afterwards she said-and subsequently it seemed to me marvellous: "You are something more than the chorus to the play this time, Dr. Marmion."

A minute after, and Justine was dragged into our boat, and was followed by Mrs. Falchion, whose first words to Roscoe were: "It is not such a meeting as one would plan."

And he replied: "I am glad no harm has come to you."

The man was duly helped in. A poor creature he was, to pass from this tale as he entered it, ignominiously and finally here. I even hide his nationality, for his race are generally more gallant. But he was wealthy, had an intense admiration for Mrs. Falchion, and had managed to secure her in his boat, to separate from the rest of the picnic party-chiefly through his inefficient rowing.

Dripping with water as Mrs. Falchion was, she did not, strange to say, appear at serious disadvantage. Almost any other woman would have done so. She was a little pale, she must have felt miserable, but she accepted Ruth Devlin's good offices-as did Justine Caron those of Mrs. Revel-with much self-possession, scanning her face and form critically the while, and occasionally turning a glance on Roscoe, who was now cold and impassive. I never knew a man who could so banish expression from his countenance when necessary. Speaking to Belle Treherne long afterwards of Mrs. Falchion's self-possessed manner on this occasion, and of how she rose superior to the situation, I was told that I must have regarded the thing poetically and dramatically, for no woman could possibly look self-possessed in draggled skirts. She said that I always magnified certain of Mrs. Falchion's qualities.

That may be so, and yet it must be remembered that I was not predisposed towards her, and that I wished her well away from where Roscoe was.

As for Justine Caron, she lay with her head on Mrs. Revel's lap, and looked from beneath heavy eyelids at Roscoe with such gratitude and-but, no, she is only a subordinate in the story, and not a chief factor, and what she said or did here is of no vital consequence at this moment! We rowed to a point near the confluence of the two rivers, where we could leave our boats to be poled back through the rapids or portaged past them.

On the way Mrs. Falchion said to Roscoe: "I knew you were somewhere in the Rockies; and at Vancouver, when I came from San Francisco, I heard of your being here. I had intended spending a month somewhere in the mountains, so I came to Viking, and on to the summer hotel: but really this is too exciting for recreation."

This was spoken with almost gay outward manner, but there was a note in her words which I did not like, nor did I think that her eye was very kind, especially when she looked at Ruth Devlin and afterwards at Roscoe.

We had several miles to go, and it was nightfall-for which Mrs. Falchion expressed herself as profoundly grateful-when we arrived at the hotel. Our parting words were as brief as, of necessity, they had been on our journey through the mountains, for the ladies had ridden the horses which we had sent over for ourselves from Viking, and we men walked in front. Besides, the thoughts of some of us were not at all free from misgiving. The spirit possessing Roscoe the night before seemed to enter into all of us, even into Mrs. Falchion, who had lost, somewhat, the aplomb with which she had held the situation in the boat. But at the door of the hotel she said cheerfully: "Of course, Dr. Marmion will find it necessary to call on his patients to-morrow-and the clergyman also on his new parishoners."

The reply was left to me. I said gravely: "Let us be thankful that both doctor and clergyman are called upon to use their functions; it might easily have been only the latter."

"Oh, do not be funereal!" she replied. "I knew that we were not to drown at the Devil's Slide. The drama is not ended yet, and the chief actors cannot go until 'the curtain.'-Though I am afraid that is not quite orthodox, is it, Mr. Roscoe?"

Roscoe looked at her gravely. "It may not be orthodox as it is said, but it is orthodox, I fancy, if we exchange God for fate, and Providence for chance.... Good-night."

He said this wearily. She looked up at him with an ironical look, then held out her hand, and quickly bade him good-night. Partings all round were made, and, after some injunctions to Mrs. Falchion and Justine Caron from myself as to preventives against illness, the rest of us started for Sunburst.

As we went, I could not help but contrast Ruth and Amy Devlin, these two gentle yet strong mountain girls, with the woman we had left. Their lives were far from that dolorous tide which, sweeping through a selfish world, leaves behind it the stain of corroding passions; of cruelties, ingratitude, hate, and catastrophe. We are all ambitious, in one way or another. We climb mountains over scoria that frays and lava that burns. We try to call down the stars, and when, now and then, our conjuring succeeds, we find that our stars are only blasting meteors. One moral mishap lames character for ever. A false start robs us of our natural strength, and a misplaced or unrighteous love deadens the soul and shipwrecks just conceptions of life.

A man may be forgiven for a sin, but the effect remains; it has found its place in his constitution, and it cannot be displaced by mere penitence, nor yet forgiveness. A man errs, and he must suffer; his father erred, and he must endure; or some one sinned against the man, and he hid the sin-But here a hand touched my shoulder! I was startled, for my thoughts had been far away. Roscoe's voice spoke in my ear: "It is as she said; the actors come together for 'the curtain.'"

Then his eyes met those of Ruth Devlin turned to him earnestly and inquiringly. And I felt for a moment hard against Roscoe, that he should even indirectly and involuntarily, bring suffering into her life. In youth, in early manhood, we do wrong. At the time we seem to be injuring no one but ourselves; but, as we live on, we find that we were wronging whomsoever should come into our lives in the future. At the instant I said angrily to myself: "What right has he to love a girl like that, when he has anything in his life that might make her unhappy, or endanger her in ever so little!"

But I bit my tongue, for it seemed to me that I was pharisaical; and I wondered rather scornfully if I should have been so indignant were the girl not so beautiful, young, and ingenuous. I tried not to think further of the matter, and talked much to Ruth,-Gait Roscoe walked with Mrs. Revel and Amy Devlin,-but I found I could not drive it from my mind. This was not unnatural, for was not I the "chorus to the play"?

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