I first met Eleanor Vachy at a boarding-school in the city
of R——, where we soon became intimate friends.
Eleanor was the result of a system. When but a few months old,
and an orphan, she had been left to the care of her aunt, Miss
Willmanson, a reformer, a progressionist, advanced both in life
and opinions, who had spared nothing to make her niece an
example to her sex. No pugilist ever believed more fully in
training than did Miss Willmanson: she looked upon institutions
of learning as forcing-houses, where nipping, budding and
improving the natural growth was the constant occupation, and
where the various branches of knowledge were cultivated, like
cabbages, at so much a head. When Eleanor became, so to speak,
her property, she seized with avidity the opportunity of
submitting her principles to the test of experiment—of
demonstrating to an incredulous world the power of education,
and the vigor of the female mind and body when formed by proper
discipline. The child was fed in accordance with the most
recent discoveries in chemistry: she was taught to read after
the latest improvement in primers; she was provided with
mathematical toys and gymnastic exercises. Did she take a walk
in summer, her attention was directed to botany; if she picked
up a stone to make it skip over a passing brook, passages from
the Medals of Creation or Thoughts on a Pebble
were quoted; and when the stone went skimming over the surface
of the calm pool, the theory of the ricochet was explained and
the wonders of natural philosophy were dilated upon. Every
sentence she spoke was made the text of a lesson, and the names
of sages and philosophers became as familiar to her as those of
Jack the Giant-killer and Blue Beard are to ordinary
Especially were the stories of distinguished women repeated
by Miss Willmanson in glowing language, pointed out as
precedents, and dwelt upon as worthy of emulation. "If their
genius was great enough," she would remark, "to extort a
recognition in times when only masculine pens wrote history,
what could not the same ability do now?—now, when,
strengthened by waiting, encouraged by ungrudging praise, and
sure of having chroniclers of their own sex who will do them
justice, a new era is dawning. The history of the world needs
to be reseen from a woman's point of view, and rewritten by a
woman's hand. Men have had
the monopoly of making public opinion, and have distorted
facts. What in a king they name policy, in a queen is called
cruelty; what in a minister is diplomacy, in a favorite is
deceit; what in a man is justice, in a woman is inhumanity;
vigor is coarseness, generosity is weakness, sincerity becomes
shallowness; and faults that are passed over lightly in the
hero are sufficient to doom the heroine for all posterity."
The peculiar views of Eleanor's aunt did not prevent her
from being an agreeable acquaintance. Although she believed in
the intellectual capacity of woman, she did not look upon
herself as a representative of the class: her admiration of her
sex did not degenerate into self-laudation, and her enthusiasm
was not tainted by egotism. Hers was not a strong-mindedness
that showed itself in ungainly coiffures and tasteless attire.
It was content with desiring and claiming for woman whatever is
best, noblest and most lovely in mind and body. She would have
given her life to further this end, but thought it mattered
little if her name were forgotten in the bulletin that
announced success to the cause.
Owing to her extreme reserve in talking of herself, it was
very gradually that I gained this knowledge of Miss
Willmanson's character; but many of her opinions were received
at second hand from Eleanor, who admired her aunt greatly, and
never tired of quoting her. It was she who told me that this
talented lady was engaged upon a book the title of which was
Footsteps of Women in All Ages. The aunt returned this
admiration in no stinted measure, and her highest ambition
seemed centred in her niece.
Eleanor was a tall, well-formed, unaffected girl, with a
clear olive complexion; a slight rose-colored bloom on cheeks
and lips; deep blue eyes, rather purple than blue, rather
amethyst than purple, that looked every one candidly in the
face; and hair reminding you of late twilight—a shade
that, though dark, still bore traces of having once been light,
As to her acquirements, however, what in the older lady was
love of information, in the younger appeared to be what Pepys
called a "curious curiosity." If she had been obliged to
investigate a subject by constant labor, I doubt whether she
would have stood the test. At school she was a parlor-boarder,
attended outside lectures on the sciences, went to concerts and
the opera, frequented museums, had small blank-books in which
she took voluminous notes, and was constantly busy with some
new scheme of improvement. In looking at her I often thought
that could her aunt's dreams be realized, could her intellect
ever approach the unusual symmetry and beauty of her face and
form, it would indeed be an achievement. But was it likely that
Nature, who is so grudging of her gifts, after having endowed
her so highly physically would do as much for her mentally?
"Aunt Will," as the girl called her, had none of these
misgivings. This beautiful physique she believed to be the
effect of her own foresight and care—of proper food and
clothing, of training in the gymnasium, riding and walking. It
was itself an earnest of the success of her plans, and made her
confident for the future. One of the tenets of her faith was
that Eleanor needed only to decide in what direction to exert
herself, and that in any career success was certain. For this
reason she gave her opportunities of every kind, that her
choice might be unlimited.
In this, as in every other opinion, Eleanor agreed with her
aunt, not through vanity, but through respect and habit. What
she intended to become was the theme of long confidences
between us when alone together, for the time which most other
girls of her age devote to dreams of love and lovers was
employed by her in speculations about her future profession.
The artlessness of the girl in thus appropriating to herself
the whole field of human wisdom would have been ludicrous had
it not been so frank: it reminded you of a child reaching out
its chubby hands to seize the moon.
In regard to love and marriage, Aunt Will was most resolute
in speaking against them, and by precept and example she
endeavored to influence her niece in the same direction. "It is
a state which mentally
unfits a woman for anything"—a dictum which was accepted
by Eleanor without argument. It was understood that her life
was to be devoted to being great, not to being loved. But Aunt
Will refused to lend her help or advice in deciding what the
career should be, believing that the prophetic fire would
kindle itself without human help, and fearing that the least
hint of what she desired might fetter a waking genius, though
the girl often plaintively remarked, "I wish aunt would settle
it for me."
The entire faith with which these two women looked forward
to the future roused no little curiosity on my part as to the
realization of their hopes. A year after our acquaintance began
the ladies left R—— to travel abroad. Eleanor
assured me solemnly that she should not return until she had
won renown, that vision of so many young hearts on leaving
home. "The great trouble is to decide what to do;" and here she
sighed. "But Aunt Will says our work shapes itself without our
knowing. Some morning we wake and find it ready for our hands,
with no more doubt on the subject. I am waking."
At first I had frequent letters from my friend, but the
intervals between them became longer, as is usual when a new
life replaces the old. In those which I received there was no
allusion to the career, and I felt that inquiries on the
subject would be indiscreet. If she were succeeding, I should
hear of it soon enough; and if not, why should I give her pain?
After a separation of about eighteen months, and a silence of
six, one morning, on being sent for to the parlor, what was my
surprise to find myself face to face with Eleanor Vachy, and
the girl, prettier than ever, pressing warm kisses on my
We had been talking on every conceivable topic for perhaps
an hour, as only friends can talk, when I chanced to remark,
"You intended to make a much longer stay when you left: I hope
nothing disagreeable has happened to bring you home."
"I will try to be impartial," I answered gravely, seeing
that she was not in a humor to be laughed at. "I suppose it is
in reference to your career?"
"Yes it is," she replied, looking attentively at the point
of her boot; "and I fear aunt is disappointed, although she
says nothing; and it is very possible that you will be
"If you have chosen anything reasonable," I remarked
encouragingly, "I am sure your aunt will be satisfied: she is
so unprejudiced, and you know she always declared that she
would not influence you."
"She trusted me too much," sighing. "What I have preferred,
you—maybe she—that is, many people—would
think no career at all."
"Ah, indeed! Poetry?" (I knew that Aunt Will had no great
opinion of most of the versifiers.)
She interlocked her fingers and gave them a slight twist,
looked still more intently at the toe of her boot, and dropped
ruefully one little word, "No."
"It is not the stage, surely?" looking at her perfect beauty
with a sudden start.
"No, no! it is not that. You cannot guess. I may as well
tell you. I will begin at the beginning, and you will see that
I could not help it: that is—For Mercy's sake don't look
at me as if I were a criminal, or I won't say another
"Nonsense, Eleanor! I am not looking at you as if you were a
criminal. Go on and tell me."
"It is too late now," she said hastily: "I have been here so
long already. I will see you to-morrow."
"If you dare to go without making a
full confession, I will
never forgive you. Sit down: the sooner it is over the more
composed you will feel. I have been so anxious to hear about
"Well, if it must be. I know you will be disgusted. I have
to begin when we left here."
"Oh! I had professors, French, Italian and German, for
the languages, I visited the galleries, and aunt would read
me her notes, so that I was gaining much information. You
see, in a foreign country it is not the thing to sit in the
house to study: you must go about as much as possible and
use your eyes, which is an education in itself. That is
what I was doing."
"Don't be so impatient: I am about to tell you. We
concluded to spend the winter in Rome, aunt and I: the
in Paris. Aunt preceded me to Brussels about two weeks to
explore the libraries there, as we were to make the Rhine
tour before going to Italy. I should have accompanied her,
but we were expecting a remittance from home that had not
arrived, and I was obliged to wait for it. The day before I
left Paris I was regretting that I had not been to
Montmorency, and Mr. Kenderdine, who overheard me, proposed
that as I did not mind fatigue we should go. By starting
early in the morning we could make our 'last day,' as he
called it, a fête. I consented, and we
arranged to take the early train to Enghien, to breakfast
there, ride through Montmorency to the Château de la
Chasse, where we could have dinner, and return in time for
the Belgian train in the evening. The next morning I was
ready, my riding-skirt in a satchel, and off we went. The
day was perfect, the air cool and delicious. We took the
cars at the Gare du Nord, and in less than an hour we
arrived at Enghien, ordered breakfast at a charming little
hotel that overlooks the lake, and had it brought to us on
the balcony, from whence we could listen to the band
playing, and look at the beautiful villas that border the
water, watch the invalids taking their constitutionals, and
see the brightly-painted boats bobbing over the small
waves. While waiting for the horses, Fred made me go to the
springs and taste the water, which is horrid: then we
mounted and cantered leisurely on to Montmorency, a hilly,
desolate-looking place, although so much lauded by the
Parisians: I suppose the beautiful forest in the vicinity
is its attraction. The road for the next five or six miles
was shaded by trees, and most of it was a soft turf on
which the horses' hoofs rebounded noiselessly, with views
of rolling country at intervals. The château had been
a hunting-lodge two or three hundred years ago, but nothing
remains of it now but a couple of towers, to which a modern
country inn has been added, where excellent dinners may be
had, as I can testify. It is a great place for the picnics
and pleasure-parties of the natives, but foreigners seldom
visit it. After we had wandered about for several hours,
enjoying ourselves in that silly French way, with nothing
but light hearts, fresh air, green grass and blue sky for
all incitement thereto, I, in consideration of my evening
journey, recommended our return. We had the horses brought
round, and then my career commenced."
"You know that road from the château? No you
don't, but I will tell you of it. The woods lie on one
side, and an ivy-covered wall separates it from sloping
fields on the other—the prettiest place on earth."
("Artistic," thought I: "she has decided on
landscape-painting;" but I did not interrupt.) "It was just
there that Mr. Kenderdine came to my side: he had
dismounted to open the gate, and was leading his horse. He
came to my side, and, looking up at me, said half
seriously, half smiling, 'You are very happy to-day, Miss
Eleanor: what will you do when I am not with you to ride
and walk and talk to?'
"'I suppose I shall find some one in Rome who rides,
walks and talks as well. They say the Campagna is lovely
"'And perhaps some one who waltzes as well.'
"'Certainly: that is no great accomplishment. Like
playing a hurdy-gurdy, if you turn round often enough you
cannot fail to make a successful performance.'
"'There is one thing you will not find, Eleanor;' and he
laid his hand on my wrist: 'that is, some one who loves you
"'Mr. Kenderdine, please get on your horse, and don't
"'I suppose I have as good a right to talk nonsense as
any one, and I believe the fancy for doing so comes to all
of us once in our lifetime.'
"'I admit your right to talk, and claim mine to refuse
to listen;' so saying, I gave my horse a cut. The animal
started, but Fred's hand was still on my bridle-wrist, and
with a motion he checked the animal so violently that it
reared, afterward coming down on the sod with a thud that
almost unseated me.
"'I will talk, and
you shall listen,' said Mr. Fred, looking dangerous.
"'So it appears,' I retorted, thoroughly provoked; 'but
I hope you will oblige me by being as expeditious as
possible, for I am very much afraid that I shall miss the
"He looked at me a moment as if to be sure he understood
my meaning, then turned and sprang on his horse, at the
same time remarking, 'You are right: I had better not
detain you. I had forgotten your journey.'
"We cantered on in silence for about three miles. The
flush of anger had slowly faded out of his face, when he
commenced abruptly: 'Miss Vachy, I have no right to
ask you what I intend asking, but I have always thought you
had a kind heart, and perhaps you will answer my question.
You may depend that the confidence you may place in me will
be held sacred.' Then less quickly, 'Will you tell me, have
you an understanding, or are you engaged, or do you care
for any one else?'
"For a moment I thought of entering into an
explanation—of telling him what my aunt expected of
me, and what I intended doing—only I did not myself
know what I intended doing; and it seemed absurd to begin
such an account without being able to complete it. Besides,
if he thought I cared for some one else, it would end the
matter and save a world of argument; so I replied
hesitatingly, 'I am sorry, Mr. Kenderdine, that I cannot
answer your question, but—'
"'Enough: I understand.'
"Then our canter quickened into a gallop, and the gallop
into a race. I am quite sure those horses never went at
such a pace in their lives before. Fred seemed unconscious
of the run we were making of it, unconscious of everything,
urging his poor beast whenever it flagged, and fretting its
mouth by alternately jerking and loosening the reins, until
had it been anything but a livery hack it would have been
frantic. Conversation was impossible, and I had nothing to
sustain me during the ride but the satisfaction of feeling
that I had done my duty."
"It don't seem to me that you are getting any nearer the
end of your story."
"The darkest hour is that which precedes the dawn," said
Eleanor, adding maliciously, "if you are tired I will tell
you the rest to-morrow. Don't you see that I must bring you
up to it gradually, so that the shock will not be too
"But think of the suspense I am in."
"My dear, the first steps in any career are as important
as the last; so curb your curiosity and listen. If you were
telling it, you would not get on one bit faster."
"Perhaps not," I answered doubtfully: "however,
"Thanks to our haste, we got to Paris early enough to
allow me to rest and have supper. I had sent on my baggage
by express, and had nothing to worry about Starting at
seven, I should arrive next morning at Brussels. I can
sleep famously in the cars, and I apprehended no
difficulty. Fred, looking as black as a thundercloud, took
me to the station, and was preposterous enough to ask me if
I was not sorry I was going."
"And what did you say?"
"Say? Why, the truth—that I was glad; and then Mr.
Thundercloud looked blacker than ever.
"I had several stations to pass before we reached Creil,
where I was to change cars and take the express. I settled
myself comfortably, so that I could look out of the window,
and I whiled away the time by reviewing the whole of my
acquaintance with Mr. Kenderdine. I was forced to admit
that I had acted imprudently in not letting him know from
the beginning what my life was to be, but I never thought
it would matter to him. Then my conscience reproached me
for the lie I had implied: I might have told him the truth,
and spared him the mortification of believing that I
preferred some one else. I knew, in thinking of it calmly,
that it was not to avoid an argument that I had done it,
but to make him feel as badly as possible, because I was
angry at him for stopping my horse. It was mean in me,
especially as that De Vezin was the person he would pitch
on. You see, I had made a good deal of De Vezin while in
Paris, but it was only to improve my French accent—a fact which poor
Fred could not know.
"The train whizzed on. The night grew dark: I could
scarcely distinguish objects outside the blurred window,
but I still remained attentive to the voice of the
conductor as he called out the names of the successive
stations until—until I heard no more: I had fallen
"I suppose I slept profoundly for about half an hour,
when I was suddenly awakened by a jerk: the cars had
stopped. I was not aware I had been sleeping, but I had an
undefined sense that something was wrong. I hastily opened
the window and heard the name Liancourt shouted. There was
no such stopping-place between Paris and Creil, for I had
studied up my route before starting. The truth flashed upon
me, and impulsively I left my car, rushed to the conductor,
and asked, 'What place is this?'
"'And where is Creil?'
"'We have passed it. Did you want to go there?'
"'Of course I did. Why did you not call it?'
"'We did call it,' said he indignantly: 'you must have
"'No such thing,' I replied, for at the moment I did not
think it could be possible.
"There was but little time for reflection. Should I go
on to the next large town, or should I stay? If I went on,
I should get to my destination in the middle of the night,
and, knowing nothing of the place, might have great
difficulty in finding lodgings. If I stayed, I might get a
train back or a carriage, or even find here a hotel of some
kind where they would accommodate me until morning. I
decided to remain, and off went the cars.
"One of the ticket-agents came forward from the
office—as I supposed to offer his services: there
were but few people about, but all understood my situation.
As I said, the man came forward and bowed: 'Your fare, if
"I handed him my ticket: he stood before me and
repeated, 'Your fare, if you please.'
"'I have given you my ticket,' said I, looking at him
"'This one is not for Liancourt: it is for Creil.'
"'I was going to Creil, only the train brought me
"'Exactly, and you will please pay for the extra
distance,' said he politely.
"It was too much. I had the misfortune of being carried
out of my way, and this exasperating clerk was coolly
asking me to pay the company a premium for the result of
the conductor's carelessness. It was one of those
situations in which words fail to express the extent of
your indignation. The fellow's audacity verged on the
sublime. He stood there with the calmness of a hero. And
what did I do? Why, I paid him. But I tell you truly that I
have hated that whole railroad company with the blackest
hatred ever since. That was not all. As soon as he received
the provoking money—I wish it had been red
hot—he turned on his heel and walked into his
"But it was not the time to indulge in resentment: I
must act promptly. The people there when I arrived were
fast dispersing. I addressed myself to a half-grown boy who
was standing near me: 'When does the next train go to
Paris?' I thought I had better return and start afresh in
"'The last has gone for to-night,' answered the lad.
"'Are you quite sure?'
"He gave his head a decisive jerk.
"'How far is this place from Creil?'
"'About five miles.'
"'Can I get a carriage to take me there?'
"'No.' This time he looked for corroboration to the
group who had gathered round us, all of whom with one
accord wagged their heads in the negative.
"'Is there a hotel here?'
"'Isn't it a town?'
"'No,' much intensified.
"I knew that there are many stations in France
consisting of a single building located in the midst of
fields: these places take their names from the nearest
town (which may be
several miles distant), and are marked on the maps by a
black spot like a hyphen: many of them are served by an
omnibus. I found, on further questioning, that this was one
of the aforesaid black spots, minus the omnibus.
"'What is the nearest town?' I continued.
"'Liancourt is a little more than a mile off, but it is
"'Is there an inn there?'
"'I believe there is.'
"By this time most of my audience had satisfied their
curiosity and departed, leaving only the boy, and an old
man who attracted my attention. He held a lantern which
illuminated a kindly, weatherbeaten face, looking like that
of an old sailor. I discovered later that he had come from
Normandy, and like most Normans had spent half his life on
the waves. He seemed interested in my hapless plight:
perhaps he would assist me.
"'I want to go back to Creil' (I knew I should find a
hotel there): 'won't you come with me and show me the way
with your lantern?'
"'Can't, mademoiselle: can't leave here.' He gave an
indicative jerk of his head and thumb in a certain
direction toward the railroad.
"'I am the night-watchman, and should lose my place if I
"Then please point out the road: I shall have to return
"'Can't, mademoiselle: it is too dark. You would get
"I thought I could not get much more lost than I was at
that moment, but did not say so. Just then a bright idea
struck me: 'I will walk back on the railroad: I cannot fail
to find my way.'
"The old man looked aghast at the proposition, and
pointed to the long line of high thick hedge that bordered
it on each side.
"'How could you leave the track if you did get to Creil?
They are locked up there for the night. Besides, you would
be crushed by passing trains, and you would be fined too,
for it is against the law. Now,' he went on in that
patronizing manner which, from its naïveté is
so charming in the French peasant—'now, mademoiselle
does not wish to die to-night, does she, and be also
"'No,' I replied dolefully, seeing my chances of shelter
diminishing, 'but I shall certainly die if you will not
help me to find a hotel.'
"'Wait,' he whispered—'wait a little until all the
world is gone. It won't be five minutes until every one has
departed and every light is out in the station;
"I could not see how this was to improve my condition,
but, having no choice, I waited patiently while he went and
busied himself about his work. Presently he returned.
Everything was silent, and pointing mysteriously to the
waiting-room in the building, he said in a low voice,
'There is where you can stay till morning. They
would not allow it if they knew, but no one will be the
wiser. You can leave as soon as it is light, and to-night
sleep on one of the sofas. That's where I sit at night, and
I will give it up to you.'
"The idea was repugnant to me. I could not consent; it
was too frightful; it was impossible. I hastened to say,
'It will not do—I cannot stay here: you must take me
back. Do take me to Creil.'
"'Can't do it.'
"'Well, take me to the next town: there is an inn, and
it is not far.'
"He wavered, and seeing my distress his good-nature
conquered. 'I will go with you,' he answered, slowly
shaking his head as if admonishing himself for being such a
fool; 'but if they should find it out—'
"You may think it was unkind in me to let him run the
risk of losing his place, but what was I to do? I could not
submit to stay at the station like a vagabond, and I could
not find my way alone. So, without allowing him time to
change his mind, I set out. The road was bad and the night
dark; the lantern threw a circle of light around us, but
all beyond was impenetrable; still, the hope of shelter at
the end made the walk agreeable to
me. We stumbled along
in silence, and by and by heard the barking of dogs that
always heralds a night approach to a village. The first
house that greeted my eyes had the welcome signboard
swinging before it, and above its lintel a bush. It was a
tiny place, but it was a refuge, and I felt quite cheerful
as I requested the old tar to knock.
"He did so, and the sound echoed and re-echoed, but
there was no response.
"'Again,' I said, and 'again,' and 'again,' with no
better result. It was anything but encouraging.
"'They cannot hear, they are asleep: take up a stone and
beat the door. You must awaken them.'
"He obediently picked up a stone, and there followed a
noise like thunder. I should not have been surprised to see
the wee house tilt over and lie down on its side under the
force of the blows. Now a gruff voice called out, 'What do
"'We have no room for any one: go away.'
"'Tell him I must stay,' And with the help of my
prompting the old fellow put my case in the most persuasive
light possible, but, although we talked and knocked with
perseverance, the owner of the voice neither appeared, nor
would he vouchsafe us another answer. One might have
thought the house had been suddenly enchanted.
"'It is of no use—of no use whatever: they will
not open,' finally said my exhausted companion.
"'Is there no other inn here?'
"'No: you will have to return.'
"'Then you must take me to Creil.'
"'That I can't do. I have been away too long already:
there is a freight-train expected, and I must see that the
track is clear. We must go back;' and he turned resolutely
and led the way.
"Just as we left the village a gay party of
peasant-girls passed us coming from a ball, laughing and
chatting merrily with their beaus. I had an insane idea of
accosting them, appealing to their pity, and asking them to
keep me for the night, but fear lest they should refuse
restrained me: I was too dejected to risk a second repulse.
I have been able to realize the poetical things they tell
us of the sensations of outcasts, of adventurers; and
homeless wanderers ever since. The sight of this merry
party made me feel more terribly alone; and the
beaus—well, I confess I did wonder what Fred was
doing at that moment. Then I thought of the horror of my
aunt could she know where I was, and what she would think
of the 'footsteps' her own niece was making just then,
could she see her.
"When we arrived at the station my guide preceded me to
the waiting-room, and I, completely worn out, meekly
"'This is much better than sleeping in the fields,' he
remarked cheerily as we entered: 'shall I make you a
"'No, thank you, but let me go into the other room.' My
reason for this was that its sofas and chairs had some
pretensions to comfort, being 'first class.' He went to
open the connecting door. It was locked.
"'This is the only room that is open: I am sorry. Wait a
moment: I will bring something to make a pillow, and you
can sleep like a top.' He went out, and returned with an
old coat, which he folded for me, and which, after covering
it with my handkerchief, made a tolerable resting-place for
my head. My bed was a hard bench.
"'Now,' said my protector in a tone of much
satisfaction—'now, you will be well. Voilà
un bon gîte! Both these other doors are fastened,
and this one you can lock after me. Very early I will come
and take you part of the way back, and by daylight you can
easily find the rest yourself. Bonne nuit, mademoiselle:
dormez bien.' He went to the door, and taking the key
from the outside put it inside. It would not turn. The lock
had been made to work with two keys, and the other was
"'I will tell you what I will do,' said my friend, not
in the least discomfited: 'I will lock the door and take
the key with me. I must go up the road about two miles on
my beat, but you can feel quite safe: no one can get in while I am gone.
There is another watchman on the road: he might come while
I am away, and—and raise a row. It is best to lock
you up.' He nodded his head with great complacency at his
good management, and prepared to leave me. I could suggest
nothing better. I was at the end of my resources, and had
to accept my fate. It would be interesting to know what the
Pompadour or Queen Elizabeth would have done under the
circumstances, wouldn't it?
"It was with no pleasant feeling that I saw the door
shut, heard the key turned, then withdrawn: the lantern
glimmered for a moment through the window, and I was left
in the darkness a prisoner. Thoroughly a prisoner, for none
of the three doors had keys on my side, and the windows,
with their tiny panes of ground glass, were high above the
floor. Then, too, the old man had insisted on speaking in a
whisper, and walked about on tiptoe. Who were those persons
he evidently feared to waken? Persons near by, of course.
Probably they carried the missing keys and could enter at
any moment. And the other watchman? What if he should come,
and, this being the room allotted to himself and companion,
refuse to be barred out? Those other unknowns would be
aroused by his knocking, and rush in to seek an
explanation. If I were found there, should I be taken
before the police as a vagabond? Or imagine a fire—a
fire and no one knowing that I am here! A fire and no means
of escape! My friends losing all trace of me, unable to
ascertain how I came by my death! And such a horrible
death! Four hours yet till dawn! What might not happen in
four hours? The man himself might only have gone to seek an
accomplice to murder me. He might have known that the key
would not turn on the inside. But at last, in spite of
myself, fatigue conquered fear and I slept.
"I cannot say how long I had been unconscious when I was
awakened by hearing a key turning in the lock: the door
cautiously opened, and a man entered and came toward the
bench where I was lying. My drowsiness calmed me. I
wondered quite placidly whether it was to be robbery or
murder. What a paragraph it would make in the
Moniteur next day! I would cheerfully give him my
watch and purse if they would content him. I might call out
and rouse the house, but most likely Brunhilda in my
situation would have held a parley. A good precedent. I sat
up to show that I was awake, and in doing so recognized my
old man. Though nothing could look more threatening as he
stealthily advanced, shading his light, taking pains to
make no noise, I could not entirely mistrust the
weatherbeaten face with its anxious, benevolent eyes that
"'Is it time to go?' I asked.
"'Not yet, but soon. I have just returned, and came in
to know if you would have a fire: it is cold outside.'
"'No, never mind: I am doing well enough. I think I will
take another nap.'
"'Very well: I shall be near for the rest of the night,
so you need not be afraid.' And he left, carefully locking
me in again.
"When he came for me the dawn was beginning to break;
the morning star was shining in the sky; the earliest birds
were twittering, and cocks answered each other from
distance to distance; but not a human being was to be seen.
We crossed ploughed fields and stubble to find the road,
and I felt the truth of my guide's augury of the night
before. Had I attempted to go alone I should have become
bewildered, and ended by sleeping in the fields. It did
strike me that if the man wished to rob me, now would be
his chance, and at first I intentionally kept a little
behind; but his innocent garrulity was such as to allay all
suspicions, and we jogged on very amicably until, coming to
two roads, he pointed out that which leads to Creil, and
bade me good-bye.
"Had I had the giving of a medal of the Legion of Honor,
I should have decorated him on the spot. I believe it
repaid me for my annoyance to have found such ample
goodness, such chivalry, such kindness, growing as it were by the wayside. It
was as if the world had rolled back into the days of
knight-errantry, when to rescue and protect distressed
damsels ranked next to religious worship. Sure am I if my
weatherbeaten old man had lived at that time, none would
have been more renowned for gentle deeds: in this prosaic
age he is but a watchman on a railroad. I was about to pour
out my gratitude, when I remembered we were in the
nineteenth century, and looking into his face, I fancied
that something more substantial would be better. I drew out
my purse. He was frankly delighted with what I gave him,
saying only that it was too much, and we separated mutually
"I sauntered on, lingering by the way to avoid waiting
at Creil; consequently, I was just able to procure my
ticket and a paper of brioches at the buffet when the
English train came in. As I stood at the door, knowing that
as soon as it moved off the Belgian train was due, whom
should I see get out but Fred! I thought he would re-enter
in a moment, and placed myself so that he could not see me.
I was mistaken. The train started, and mine puffed up:
there he was still. In the crowd I hoped I should not be
discovered, but as I stepped from the door his eyes met
mine, and he rushed up to me with the exclamation, 'In the
name of Heaven, how did you get here? Was there an
accident? Are you hurt? What is the matter?'
"It was singular how his voice unnerved me: I could not
say a word. The crowd carried us with them, and he helped
me into a car, sitting by me and recommencing his
questions. Then I stammered, 'You will be taken on if you
do not get out: there is nothing wrong.'
"For answer he shut the door of the compartment, and
said, 'I am going with you. Now tell me how you come to be
"I do not know why I should have given way when all
danger was over—I believe there is no parallel case
in the life of any celebrated woman—but I suppose I
was tired out. My anxiety and fright, a night spent on a
hard board, the surprise of meeting Mr.
Kenderdine,—whatever it was, I leaned back in the
corner of the seat, took out my handkerchief, and cried
harder than I had ever done in my life before. He was
greatly alarmed, but, like a sensible man, waited until I
became more composed, and when I was able to tell him,
instead of blaming me or thinking I was stupid, he censured
himself for not accompanying me.
"'I did mean to ask your permission to do so, Miss
Eleanor,' he said slightly embarrassed, 'and I was prig
enough to think you would allow it, but when you told me of
your engagement I did not dare. After you left I had a
dread that something might happen, and I could not rest
satisfied until I had made up my mind to come on and see
that you had arrived safely. I thought you would forgive
me, as it is for the last time, and De Vezin need not be
jealous, for he will have you for ever, while I—'
Fred can be wonderfully pathetic.
"Then I made up my mind to undeceive him, as was my
duty, you know. I told him very gently that he was under a
false impression. I was not engaged: my aunt had educated
me for a purpose, and we both had quite determined that I
should never marry, but instead do something great in the
world, though I had not yet decided what. I explained it to
him fully, so that there should be no more mistakes about
it. When I ended I did not venture to look at him for a
long time, fearing to see him grieved at this irrevocable
barrier; but when I did, what was my surprise to see his
face beaming with joy! He began impetuously, 'If you had
told me I was to be crowned at Brussels, it would not be
better news. I was sure it was De Vezin who separated us.
Now I can hope.'
"'You must not talk in that way if you do not want our
friendship to cease: you offend me deeply. Can't you see
that if you persist in this idea of yours, our pleasant
acquaintance must end?' It was so frivolous in Fred, and I
spoke very decidedly.
"'Not at all, Eleanor: it would only begin. Why should
not our whole life be like this past year?'
"'You know it
can't,' said I. 'Haven't I told you the reason?'
"'It will be no reason when De Vezin asks you,' said he
"'De Vezin is nothing to me.'
"'You carry a gage d'amour from him on your
watch-chain at this very minute.'
"Now, wasn't that talk silly? De Vezin had brought me a
two-centime piece one day because I said I had never seen
one. and I put a hole in it and hung it to my chain. Fred
to call that a gage d'amour!
"'Nonsense!' said I.
"'De Vezin thought the same when he saw it there. I took
him for a fool, but I see he was right.'
"'Well, now you will see you were both fools,' said I
angrily, and I twisted off the coin and threw it from the
"'Is only that preposterous notion in the way?' he
asked, looking happy again and taking a seat by me.
"I told you how I cried on first entering the cars, and
now—would you believe it?—I got terribly
embarrassed. It seemed as if everything I did or said made
matters worse. I was scarcely able to stammer, 'My
"'I will speak to her. Let me put this on your finger
until I can replace it by another:' and he slipped off his
seal and leaned forward with an entreating look.
"I shook my head.
"'I won't ask you to promise anything: only wear it that
I may not be forgotten in Rome.'
"'No, no, I cannot!' I exclaimed, clasping my hands. I
suppose the action and tone were very exaggerated, for Mr.
Kenderdine drew back, saying, 'I shall not force you
to take it;' and then went to the other window, took a
newspaper out of his pocket and pretended to read it, while
I was angry and sorry and miserable, though why I should
feel so much like crying at what had only amused me the day
before I cannot understand. I suppose none of those
wonderful ladies would have acted so, would they?
"But you are tired long ago, and you can easily imagine
what comes after. See!" and she turned a ring on her finger
until I could catch the shimmer of its stone. "That is how
it ended; and though I did not accept it until the next
spring in Rome, I shall always blame that night for the
whole affair. When I asked Fred why he took the trouble to
follow me after the double snubbing I had given him, he
said 'I was worth it.' But since we are engaged he teases
me shamefully—calls me doctor, hopes I intend to
support him in comfort and ease, and says that it always
was his ambition to be the husband of a strong-minded
woman, and broadly hints about my experience in traveling
being so useful to him. And aunt? When I first told her she
looked so shocked and disappointed that I threw myself in
her arms, saying I would not distress her for the world;
that I would do anything she desired; that if she wished
she might send Fred off, for I loved her best on earth. But
after some minutes of deep thought she looked at me
quizzically and replied, 'You know, dear, I always said you
must choose your career for yourself.' Then seeing that I
seemed hurt and ashamed, she kissed me and whispered, 'Love
makes us selfish: my affection for you has grown stronger
than my ambition. If you are happy, my Eleanor, I
can wait patiently for the advancement of the rest of my
Then Eleanor rose, and drawing her shawl round her
preparatory to going, said shyly, "And what I came to tell you
is, that the wedding will take place at Christmas."