The Honourable Bovyne Vaxine Vyrus refused to be vaccinated. Stoutly, firmly and persistently refused to be vaccinated. Not even the temptation of exposing to the admiring gaze of a medical man the superb muscles and colossal proportions of an arm which had beaten Grace and thrashed (literally) Villiers of the Guards, weighed with him.
“It’s deuced cool!” he said, to his cousin Clarges, of Clarges St. Mayfair, a fair, slight fellow, with a tiny yellow moustache. “Haven’t I been six times to India, and twice to Africa; that filthy Algiers, you remember, and Turkey, and New Orleans, and Lisbon, and Naples? and now, when I was done only eight years ago at home, here I am to be done again, where, I am sure, it all looks clean enough and healthy! It makes me ill, and I won’t be done; laid up for a week and lose all the fun I came for!”
“Bovey, though you are the strongest fellow in England, you’re no less a coward!”
Young Clarges looked up as he spoke, seriously: “I shall be done!”
“You? Well, so I should expect from a baby like you, Arthur! You will never grow up, never learn to think for yourself! Now let me alone on the subject, and let us look up this country place we were told about!” But Clarges was not easily silenced.
“Think of Lady Violet, Bovey! If anything were to happen to you out here, and the children, Bovey,—Rex and Florence, you know!”
“Oh! cut it, now, Arthur; I tell you it’s of no use!” [page 76]
Young Clarges looked our across the river, and bit the tiny yellow moustache. “Then I won’t be done, either!” said he to himself. It’s borne in upon me that one of us has got to get this accursed thing, and if I can prevent it, it shan’t be Bovey!” What a strange scene it was beneath, around, above and opposite them! Beneath flowed the river, solid with sawdust, the yellow accumulation of which sent up a strong resinous smell that almost made them giddy; to the left the tumultuous foam of the Chaudière cast a delicate veil of spray over the sharp outlines of the bridge traced against a yellow sky; to the right, the water stretched away in a dull gray expanse, bordered by grim pines and flat sterile country. Around them the three mighty cliffs on which the Capital is built, above them the cold gray of an autumnal sky, and opposite them the long undulations of purplish brown hills that break the monotony of the view, and beyond which stretch away to an untrodden north the wastes and forests of an uncleared continent.
“Are we looking due north, now, Arthur, do you know?”
“I suppose so,” returned Clarges. He was astride a cannon and still biting the tiny moustache. “Yes, by the direction of the sunset we must be, I suppose. I say, if we are, you know, I should like to be able to tell between what two trees—it would have to be between two of those trees there—we should have to walk to get to the North Pole.”
The Hon. Bovyne looked around suddenly and laughed. He was fishing apparently in his pockets for a paper or something of the kind, as he had a number of letters in his hand, looking them over.
“What two trees? Where? Arthur, you are a donkey. What are you talking about?”
“I say,” returned Clarges, “that it is perfectly true that as we sit here, facing due north, all we have to do is walk straight over this river—“
“On the sawdust?”
“Certainly, over those hills and between two of those trees in order to get to the North Pole. Curious, isn’t it? If you look awfully close, real hard, you know, you can almost count their branches as they stand up against the sky. Like little feathers—huff-f-f-f—one could almost blow them away!”
The Honourable Bovyne laughed again. Clarges was a mystery to him, as to many others. Half-witted he sometimes [page 77] called him, though on other occasions he stood in awe of his bright, candid, fearless nature, and his truthful and reckless tongue.
“I say,” went on Clarges excitedly, shading his eyes with his hand. “There are two trees out there in a straight line from this very cannon that—that I should know again, Bovey! Do look where I point now like a good fellow. Don’t you see there, following the chimney of that big red place, factory or other, right in a line with that at the very top of the hill at its highest point, two trees that stand a little apart from the others and have such funny branches—Oh! you must be able to see them by those queer branches! One crooks out on one side just as the other does on the other tree. That isn’t very lucid, but you see what I mean can’t you? They make a sort of—of—lyre shape.”
The Hon. Bovyne shaded his eyes with his hand and looked out over the river and distant hills. “I see a line of trees, feathery trees, you aptly call them my dear Arthur, but I can’t make out your particular two. How is it possible, at such a distance, to see anything like a lyre of all things? Come along, I’ve found the address I wanted. It reads most peculiarly. It seems there are still a great number of French people around here, in fact, all over this Province which they sometimes call Lower Canada. Do you remember much of your French?” I spoke a lot in Algiers of course but I fancy it isn’t much like this jargon. Our destination is or appears to be, c/o Veuve Peter Ross, Les Chats, pronounced Lachatte, so Simpson told me.
“Who told you about the place?” enquired young Clarges getting off the cannon? “Simpson? What sort of a fellow is he?” “Who? Simpson?” said his cousin in turn. “Um—not bad. Been out here too long, though. Awfully quiet, goes in for steady work and takes hardly any exercise. I wonder why it is the fellows here don’t walk more! New country and all that; I should have thought they would all go in for country walks, and shooting and sports of all kinds. They don’t, you know, from some reason or other. It can’t be the fault of the country.” “You forget the roads, Bovey, and the fences, and the interminable distances and the immense rivers, and the long winter. I say, it looks like snow to-night, doesn’t it?”
“What do you know about snow!” rejoined the Hon. Bovyne. “Let us get on, there’s a good fellow—confound you! Don’t stare at those imaginary trees any longer, but come along.” [page 78]
Certainly young Clarges was possessed with the queerest fancy about those trees. “I say, Bovey, they were funny, though, to strike me like that, out of all the others! I am sure I should know them again. Perhaps some day we’ll take a fly and go out there—I wonder if there’s an inn? Does what’s her name, your old Scotch lady, keep an inn, or is it a farm we’re going to?”
“Scotch? Why do you say Scotch? She’s French, I tell you. Simpson says she can’t speak a word of English.”
“But ‘Peter Ross’ is Scotch, isn’t it? At least you can’t make it French, however you twist it.”
“I’m not anxious to twist it. Don’t you see, Arthur, she is evidently a Frenchwoman who married a man called Peter Ross; she is the veuve, widow, you know, of the lamented Scotchman. Now do you understand? But it is peculiar.”
“Very,” said Clarges. “When do we start?”
“There’s a train to-morrow morning at eight o’clock, but I thought we had better hire a trap, and a man to bring the trap back, and put all our things, tents and so on, into it, and go out comfortably so as to see the country.”
“All right!” said Clarges. “By Jove, what a splendid night it’s going to be, stars out already, Bovey! Don’t you hope it’ll be like this to-morrow? Shall we camp out the first night and think of—of—Lady Violet by our camp fire, and Rex and Florence—how they’d like to see us, wouldn’t they? And they can’t, you know, they’re three thousand miles away, trying to make out each other’s faces in the November fog, eh! Bovey? I say, what shall we get to eat out there, at Lachatte, you know, the country always makes me desperately hungry.”
“Oh! we shall do well enough. Simpson says she is a capital old woman, lives entirely alone; will cook for us, wait on us, make us pancakes, I expect, and give us plenty of that stuff we had this morning at the hotel.”
“Sweet stuff?” asked Clarges. “I know. Syrup, maple syrup, that’ll do.”
Simpson, the authority, thrice quoted by the elder of the two Englishmen, appeared at dinner with them that evening. He was a hard-working, stodgy sort of person who had come out to the Canadian Civil Service fifteen years ago, lived much by himself until he took a wife out of a Canadian village, a phlegmatic, stolid, unimaginative sort of a girl, who was nevertheless a good wife and an excellent housekeeper. Simpson sniffed at the dinner. [page 79] It wasn’t as good as his own. He felt ill at ease in the presence of the two men, whose airy talk and loud laughter struck him with a keen sense of its novelty. They joked about everything. Clarges particularly was in high feather. The wine, which came partly from the hotel and partly from the Hon. Bovyne’s hamper, flowed often and freely, and Simpson, who was a very moderate fellow, wondered at the quantity his friends seemed to be able to imbibe. “Without showing any traces of it, either,” he said to himself. “All this vivacity is natural; I remember the type; in fact, I was something like it myself ten or twelve years ago.”
After dinner, Clarges rushed up stairs and down again with a small silk plush packet of photographs tied with ribbons. The men were in the smoking room.
“I say, I want Simpson to see Lady Violet, Bovey.”
“All right, and the children too? You sentimental ass, Arthur!” Clarges laughed. It was a funny laugh, a kind of inane ripple that nevertheless tickled everybody who heard it. “But it’s too smoky here. Come up stairs to the drawing room. There’s a jolly big drawing room with a piano, and we can say what we want to, everyone stares here so!” “I should think they would,” said Simpson quietly. “Why do you get yourself up like that, simply because you’re in Canada? A knitted waist-coat, three sizes too large for you—“
“That’s to admit of heavy underclothing,” said Clarges, not in the least perturbed. “Knickerbockers,” continued Simpson, that are certainly one size too small; a cap that looks like a hangman’s, and a coat that must have come off Praed St.”
The Hon. Bovyne laughed long and loud. “Oh, Arthur, Arthur!” he said. But young Clarges did not mind in the least. Indeed, had he but known it, and be it remembered to his merit that he did not know it, he made a fair and manly picture as he stood under the light of the chandelier. His slim, well-knit figure was more prepossessing than the herculean proportions of his cousin, “the strongest man in England;” his crisp fair hair brushed boyishly up on one side and his well-trimmed moustache of silky yellow, his keen gray eyes and delicate features, all went far in point of attractiveness, especially when added to these mere physical details, rang the infectious laugh, clear, hearty and youthful, and spoke the natural, honest, unrestrained tongue.
In the drawing room Clarges established himself on a sofa between the other two. “Now, Simpson,” he said, “you must [page 80] excuse me calling you Simpson so freely, by the way, but you know, Bovey always calls you Simpson—you don’t mind do you? You bang away at my clothing all you like, and in return I’ll call you Simpson. Now I’m going to show you Lady Violet. You know who she is, she is Bovey’s wife, and the loveliest woman in England. Loveliest woman in England, look at that!” Clarges held up very carefully, out at arm’s length, a very fine photograph of an undeniably beautiful woman. “Bovey’s wife!” he ejaculated again. “You never saw her, so you don’t know what beauty is, do you? But here’s the next best thing, her photograph, and such a photograph! Now, you be good, as we say to the children, and I’ll show you that again after all the others.” Next he showed him in a sort of ecstasy, Bovey’s children.
“Rex and Florence,” he said, in an awe-struck tone. Bovey laughed, so did Simpson. So would anybody have done.
“What are you laughing at,” said young Clarges, solemnly. “Oh, at me! that’s all right, everybody laughs at me. I knew it couldn’t be the children. Now here’s another lovely girl,” and then there was another and still another, and then a group in hunting attire just after the breakfast; then pretty interiors with dainty rooms and women and children and dogs, a capital likeness of Fred Burnaby, Vyrus’ fellow-officer, autographs of Gordon and Wolseley, a garden party at Clarges Mount, a water-party at Richmond, photograph’s and sketches taken in Algiers, Cairo, Damascus, Bombay and Edinburgh. Simpson sat through all this slightly bored and confused. What had he to do with this kind of life? Once he had had some gleams of it, it is true, but that was years ado, before his modest little establishment was in existence, presided over by the plain, but virtuous Matilda of his later days.
“Well, now,” said he, preparing to take his leave, “is there anything further you want to know about your plans, for I suppose I shall scarcely see you again before you leave if you get off to-morrow morning as you intend. One thing—of course you’ve been vaccinated?”
The Hon. Bovyne muttered, “bah!” Clarges began putting the photographs away, all but Lady Violet.
“Then you haven’t been done, eh?” said Simpson, interrogatively. “I would if I were you. You can’t tell where you’re going or whom you’ll meet. Why, you can ‘do’ yourself if you object to a medical man fussing around.”
“Can you?” said Clarges. [page 81]
“I don’t object,” said Bovey, loftily; “but I must say I think it is making a ridiculous and most unnecessary fuss about the matter. Why, there are half a dozen diseases as virulent as the small-pox stalking about in every large town, and we don’t take those! Why should we take the small-pox when we don’t take the cholera or the—the—“
“Yes,” observed Simpson, in his quiet manner, “I thought you would stick for want of details. The fact is, that you can inoculate for small-pox, and you can’t as yet, for cholera or leprosy, and so wise people accept the fact, the revelation if you will, and get vaccinated. However, as far as your immediate surroundings go, you’re safe enough. Old Mrs. Ross will do all she can for you, and it isn’t far, only twenty-two miles from town after all. You’ll be walking in a day or two for another tent or a barrel of whiskey. Nothing like whiskey, Canadian whiskey, out in camp on cold nights.” Simpson got up.
“I wonder,” said he, suddenly, “how you escaped being done on the train. You came up from Quebec via St. Martin’s Junction, didn’t you?”
“Oh! your importunate Inspector did make an effort on my behalf, but I was firm. Nearly had a lodging in the Police Station though, but I told him who we were and swore to having marks the size of flat-irons on both arms, so he let me go.”
“And you,” said Simpson, turning to Clarges. “Me! oh! I shall be done. I say, couldn’t I walk out with you now and see a doctor about it? I believe I will, Bovey, if you can spare me. For look you, Simpson, I am the plaything of his leisure hours, a kind of Yorick, you know, and he might be dull.”
The Hon. Bovyne looked grave for a second, “I believe I should be dull without you, dear boy, though you are a crank. Let me see, how old are you, Arthur?”
“Twenty-two,” answered Clarges. “Good heaven!” exclaimed the Hon. Bovine, “and I am getting perilously near to forty. We’ll change the subject. I’m very sleepy. Don’t expect to find me up when you come in, Arthur; to-morrow night, remember, we may be sleeping on the cold ground, I shall get all the rest I can to-night.” Clarges and the other man took their leave.
“Once more, Bovey,” said the former, “won’t you be done? Simpson, make him! See here, look once more at Lady Violet, speak with her lips, look with her eyes—the loveliest woman in England!” [page 82]
“Go and get ‘done,’ as you call it, for heaven’s sake, and let me alone!” was all he got in reply.
But Clarges did not get done. He had an idea and this was his idea: To walk to some doctor recommended by Simpson and procure an instrument suitable for the purpose, and the necessary material, and to vaccinate his cousin himself. The first part was easy enough. Simpson vaguely wondering at his light-hearted talk, left him at a doctor’s surgery door, and Clarges, who could always get what he wanted from anybody in any part of the world, soon persuaded the doctor to give him a “point” and all necessary instructions.
“A small lancet is really a better thing,” said that gentleman, “but you will manage all right, I daresay. We must really take every precaution we can. Good evening.”
All this was easy; now arose the difficulty, how best to tackle Bovey.
“He’s such a giant of a fellow,” thought Clarges. “But if he is only asleep as he hinted he would be, there’ll not be much difficulty. What will he do when he finds it out in the morning, supposing I am successful in operating upon him to-night? What a suggestive word! I am quite the surgeon. But I’ll do it—Arthur Clarges, see that you do do it, by all you hold dear and sacred in England!”
On his return, however, to the hotel, he could that his cousin was clearly wide-awake again.
“Hang it all!” he said to himself, “why is’nt he asleep?” But the Hon. Bovyne was not in the least sleepy. He rallied Arthur on his poor arm but fortunately did not ask to look at it. He ordered up a sherry cobbler apiece and brought out some of his rarest weeds. “I say, what do you think of Simpson, Bovey?” asid Clarges, suddenly. “Think? why that there’s nothing in him to think about.”
“Did you know he was married?” “No; is he?” Bovey was always laconic. “Yes, and he has four children. Just think, four! Two boys and two girls.”
“How interesting!” The two men smoked silently for a few minutes, then Clarges said, “It must be a beautiful thing to be married, you know.”
“Well I ought to know,” returned his cousin.
Clarges put his cigar down and went on. “To have somebody that belongs to you, and to know that you belong to somebody; [page 83] that’s marriage, and I think it must be very beautiful. Of course, you belong to other people too, just the same, and they belong to you, but not so much, not in the same way. You don’t go to church all in a tremble with your father and your mother, or your sister or your brother. You don’t wear a ring—a beautiful, great broad band of gold, you know, always shining there on your finger—or you don’t put one on for anybody else save just the person that belongs to you in that way, in the way of marriage, you know. And to be able to think wherever you are, ‘Well, there is that person, anyway, thinking of me, waiting for me; the whole world doesn’t matter if that person is really there, anywhere, thinking of me, waiting for me.’ Now, you know, I’ll never feel that, never, in this world. What good is there in me? I may be Arthur Clarges, of Clarges, of course, but without money, that means nothing. I say, Bovey, it’s rather ghastly, but it’s perfectly true. I haven’t a single soul in the world but you and Lady Violet to think of me at all, of for me to think of.”
“I don’t suppose you have,” said the Hon. Bovyne, thoughtfully. “You are a lone beggar, Arthur, but a cheery one nevertheless.”
“So you see,” Clarges went on, “If in accompanying you around the world in search of new pleasures and exciting experiences, anything happens to me, you know, Arthur Clarges, of Clarges, nobody need mind. There isn’t anybody to mind.”
“All this because Simpson has got four children! Well, I hope you’ll get married yet, Arthur, you queer fish, and have six, two more than Simpson. I know what you are driving at, however. You think me a selfish brute. You can’t understand how I can leave Lady Vi., and the two kids, and go off annually on tours of exploration and so forth. I tell you, I am the better for it, and she is the better for it, and nobody is any the worst for it, unless it be yourself. Men who have knocked about as I have done, will continue to knock about as long as they live. In the army, out of the army, all the same. Lady Vi., understands me, and I her, and you forget, Arthur, that you are very—young.”
“Then may I never get any older,” said Charles, almost rudely.
Not long afterwards his cousin, slightly heavy with wine, went to bed. Clarges, abnormally wakeful, tried to read Bell’s Life which lay before him and waited until Bovey was fast asleep. They occupied the same room, a large double-bedded one, which [page 84] opened into a bathroom and a parlour en suite. When he was perfectly certain that his cousin was sound asleep, so sound that “a good yelp from the county pack, and a stirring chorus of ‘John Peel’ by forty in pink could not wake him,” thought Clarges, the latter undertook his delicate task and accomplished it. He did it quickly and skilfully with a tiny lancet he found in his cousin’s well-appointed travelling bag. Bovey never stirred. Clarges next undertook to “do” himself. Then a strange thing happened. He had gone to the glass and bared his left arm when a sudden faintness overcame him. He tried to shake it off and sat down. Presently it left him and he felt quite as usual. Then he made a second attempt. The same thing occurred again. This time it was worse, and sight and strength failing, he sank on his own bed, fainting. By a tremendous effort, he prevented entire unconsciousness from taking place and lay there half dressed and tremulous.
“Well, I am a fool! I can’t help it. I can’t try any more to-night, for I am as weak and sleepy—if I can get up and undress it’s as much as I am capable of. But Bovey’s all right. There’s Lady Violet”—turning his eyes to the photograph he had stuck in the looking glass frame—“she’d thank me if she knew.” Sweet Lady Vi, the loveliest woman in England!
When Clarges awoke he was chilled and dazed, could’nt remember where he was and what he had done. When he did recollect, he rose quietly, extinguished the gas and made the room as dark as possible, in hopes that Bovey might outsleep himself in the morning. Then he went to bed properly, putting as a final precaution, his watch an hour in advance. It thus happened that by Clarges’ watch it was a quarter past ten when he awoke. He rose first and bullied his cousin to that extent that the latter tumbled out of bed and flung on his clothes without indulging in his usual bath. At eleven the trap was due and Bovey was all on fire, bundled his things around recklessly and swore a little at Clarges for keeping him up the night before. Clarges was nervous, but up to the present time was master of the situation. At breakfast, Bovey discovered the mistake, and attributed it to Clarges’ carelessness in such matters aggravated by a probable bad arm.
“Why I took your watch for an authority instead of my own, I don’t know,” said he. “But last night I thought you were the clearer of the two, in fact, I don’t recollect winding mine at all, [page 85] and it seems now that you were the delinquent.” “Yes, I must have been,” said Clarges, self-reproachfully.
At eleven the trap came, and by noon they were half-way to their destination. The road winding higher and higher as it followed the magnificent curves of the Gatineau was very beautiful, and revealed at each turn a superb panorama of water, and wood and sky. For a long time the Buildings were visible, towering over trees and valleys. Once the sun came out and lit up the cold, gray scene.
“Pull up, Johnny,” said the Hon. Bovyne, “I want to see this. Why, its immense, this is! Arthur, how’s your arm?”
But Clarges was evidently struck with something. “I say, over there, is where we were yesterday, Bovey, I can imagine I see the very spot, cannon and all.”
“Just a then you imagined you saw a couple of trees here, eh? Now go along, Johnny, and sit down, Arthur. It doesn’t agree with you to be vaccinated. I’m afraid you’re too imaginative already my boy. By the way, how is your arm?”
“It’s a novel situation,” thought Clarges. “He’s the one, not me. It’s his arm, not mine. But my turn will come to-night; pretty soon he’ll find it out for himself.”
Arrived at the house of Veuve Peter Ross, they found it clean and inviting; warmed by a wood stove and carpeted with home-made rugs. The old woman took a great interest in their arrival and belongings and jabbered away incessantly, in French. Did they but request her to “cerchez un autre blankette!” or fry an additional egg, up went her hands, her eyes and her shoulders, and such a tirade of excited French was visited upon them that they soon forebore asking her for anything but went about helping themselves. At first they thought she was angry when these outbreaks took place, but Bovey, who could partially understand her, gathered that she was far from offended, but given over to the national habit of delivering eloquent and theatrical monologues on the slightest provocation. She had no lodgers at the present moment; a Frenchman had left the day before, and the prospect was in every way favorable, to the comfort of the two friends.
When the dusk fell, Bovey made a camp-fire.
“It’s what we came for,” he said, “and we can’t begin too early or have enough of it, and I feel chilly, queer, quite unlike myself to-night. It’s a depressing country just about here.” [page 86]
“It is,” said Clarges, anxious to keep his friend a little longer in the dark. “We’ll be all right when it’s really night, you know, and the fire blazes up. What a jolly tent and what glorious blankets! We ought to go to bed early, for it was awfully late the last night. There! now its getting better. Hoop-la! more sticks, Bovey! Throw them on, make it blaze up. Here we are in the primeval forest at last, Bovey, pines and moss, and shadows and sounds—What’s that now? Is that on the river?”
For suddenly they heard the most wonderful strain coming from that direction. The river was about three or four hundred yards away across the road, in front of them, and upon a raft slowly passing by were a couple of habitants singing. What strain this was, so weird, so solemn, yet so pathetic, so sweet, so melodious!