The Bewitchment of Lieut. Hanworthy

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The Bewitchment of Lieut. Hanworthy
Charles G. D. Roberts
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THE BEWITCHMENT OF LIEUT. HANWORTHY. BY CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS. From the Saturday Evening Post. (Continued.) The voice was very low and quiet, but penetratingly clear. The quaintly accented and foreignly ordered syllables seemed to me the sweetest music I had ever heard. The blood throbbed up into my temples. “I am coming, mademoiselle!” I cried, a sort of thickness in my tones; and whirling the sorrel I put him at a fast gallop back to the gate. Along the hedge just within ran a broad path. In but a handful of seconds, so to speak, I had flung myself from the saddle and was standing beside a girl whose downcast, half-averted face made me think of the flower of a white lily. A heavy lock of dark hair had fallen far forward, hiding half the rondure of her cheek and chin. She was dressed all in black, save for a scarf of orange-colored silk flung carelessly about her shoulders. She sat in an attitude of tense constraint, as if resolved upon no weak feminine oratory; and with both white hands she clasped a slippered foot of exceeding smallness and grace, a glimpse of which the old saying came across my memory: “The littlest foot may be heaviest on a man’s neck!” “Do you think, mademoiselle, you could walk with my assistance?” I enquired, bending over her, cap in hand. * * * She lifted her face, she lifted her drooping white lids, and gave me one darkly brilliant look. Eyes so large, so enigmatic, so mysteriously deep, I had never before imagined. The look dropped again upon the moment; but in that moment I experienced a swift and breathless sinking of the heart, and it seemed that life rushed by me dizzily. The sensation was incomprehensible to me then; but afterward I knew that it was a sensation very proper to one falling a great depth; for in that moment my spirit fell into the deeps of her eyes -- whence it is my prayer and my steadfast purpose it shall nevermore emerge. After a little hesitation, she gave me her hand and tried to rise; but I took her gently by the hand and lifted her. For an instant so she stood, leaning upon me, then she sank to the ground again with a catching of the breath. “I am afraid it is no use, monsieur!” she said, speaking now in French, as I had addressed her in that tongue. “It hurts too much. Perhaps -- though I am afraid I am terribly heavy -- you could lift me into the saddle, and in that way, monsieur, you could get me to the house?” How had I deserved that Fate should so favor me? The blood hummed in my ears, and I think a foolish grin of ecstasy came upon my face. But I managed to stammer: “Permit me, then, mademoiselle!” and, stooping low, I lifted her in my arms with reverent care. I carried her as if she were a child. In truth, she was no great weight to carry; for among women of English blood she would have been accounted small and her body was of a very slender, delicate mould, girlish, but not thin. * * * I lifted her, but I did not put her into the saddle. Whistling the horse to follow me, which he did at the heel, like a dog, with his nose down, I strode up a narrow path which led direct to the house. “But -- but monsieur!” she exclaimed in a voice of surprise and protest, “you are not going to try and carry me all that distance. Indeed, you must not. Put me on the horse's back, please!” This last was spoken with a touch of imperiousness -- quite lost upon me! “You must, please! And you can hold me on!” she continued, less assuredly. “No mademoiselle,” said I; “this, believe me, is the only way. Suffering so, you could not sit in the saddle. And the jolting would hurt you. For the moment, I am your physician, and you must obey. It is only for a minute. See, we are almost there -- unfortunately!” I added in my heart. She made no answer; and I wondered uneasily if she were vexed at my positive air. But no, she was not vexed, for presently she said: “But how strong you are, monsieur!” The simple, unaffected admiration in her words thrilled me. “If I am strong, mademoiselle,” said I, “the present enchanted enterprise were no proof of it. A flower, a dream, and a prayer make no great weight to carry!” “Oh, monsieur!" she said rebukingly, “I had heard you English were rough and direct of speech; but no Frenchman dare flatter me so extravagantly as that!” “I cannot flatter at all, mademoiselle. But I can tell merely some poor fragments of the truth, as my own heart sees it!” I rejoined with dogged earnestness. At this she kept silence. Her wit was accustomed to skilled fence. I guessed that my sudden plainness perplexed her. She kept her eyes cast down. Wonderful to me were those long lashes sweeping the clear pallor of her skin. With one hand I flung open the door. Into a spacious hall I stepped, and closed the door behind me -- to the disappointment of my faithful sorrel, who seemed ready to follow me in! No candles were lit; but from a large room upon my right came the red flicker of a fire upon the hearth. I paused irresolutely on the threshold. “In there, if you please, monsieur,” said mademoiselle. “You may put me on the divan in the corner.” I set her down with a slow and, I fear, too obvious reluctance. Then I arranged the cushions that she might lie at ease. This done, I paused beside the couch, wavering. What excuse had I to stay longer? Plainly, I must make my adieu. But she did not help me to go. She raised her eyes to mine for the least part of a moment, and said gratefully: “How kind you are, monsieur! I feel better already!” “But your ankle must be bathed at once, or bandaged! Something must be done for it at once!” I exclaimed. “Whom shall I call to attend you, mademoiselle?” “I am afraid there is no one, monsieur!" she said very sweetly, as if the situation were the most usual in the world. “But, truly, my ankle needs no attendance at all. I could not bear to have it touched -- at least yet. It needs only that I should lie quite still for the present!” “Do you mean to say, mademoiselle, that you are all alone in this house?” I cried in amazement. “Why, it is nothing!” she replied. “My uncle, with his guest, Captain Duchesne, and with our two men, has gone away -- shooting, not to be back until midnight. The maids, Lize and Susette, I have foolishly allowed to go and visit friends down the valley for an hour or two. But I am not at all afraid to be alone!” * * * “It is out of the question, mademoiselle,” said I, with an air of virtuous decision (my heart the while thumping mightily), “that you should be left alone! If you will excuse me for a moment, I will go and stand my beast out of the wind! He has served me faithfully today, and I must not forget him” “Since you are so decided, monsieur, I will not try to dissuade you,” said she smiling. “But you are undertaking a stay of perhaps some hours, so you must stand the good beast in the stables, and bait him. May I stay alone so long?” At this there was a laughter about her mouth, triumphant and mysterious. It confused me, and I retired without reply. The sorrel, awaiting impatiently, whinnied at my approach. I led him around to the back of the many-gabled house, and found the barns, a little village in themselves. The horse stalls were all empty, whereat I might have wondered had my brain not been dazed with the vision of mademoiselle’s eyes. I found oats for the horse, and hay and a blanket, yet moved the while as one in a dream. Then I made haste to the fire-lit room. * * * Mademoiselle apparently had not stirred from her cushions. She did not look up as I entered, but she spoke at once. “I very well know, monsieur, what you are sacrificing for me,” she murmured musingly. “It is wonderful to me that an Englishman should give up a dinner for a woman! Your brother officers will miss you sorely at their Thanksgiving feast; and me, I know, they never, never will forgive!” “How did you know,” I asked in astonishment, “that we were having a Thanksgiving dinner at Port Royal tonight?” “All the master’s doings are of consequence to the slave! The conqueror sits in a fierce light, Lieutenant Hanworthy,” she said, deliciously stumbling at my name, and turning, as she spoke it, the full glory of her eyes upon my face. “You know my name, too? But how, mademoiselle?” I stammered, amazement making my own eyes wide. “Oh, I am a kind of a witch!” she laughed merrily. “I know all about you, and I have seen you before, Lieutenant Hanworthy! Have you not seen me – a glimpse of me – once, in Port Royal? Think!” “No, never, mademoiselle, save in my dreams!” I declared boldly. A slight flush crept up into her pale face – or was it the firelight? “Monsieur --” she began. “Mademoiselle -- ” said I, patiently expecting a rebuke. “Being an Englishman, and surely hungry, you must eat!” “Yes, mademoiselle,” I assented very cheerfully, as I should have done to any proposition that she might have made, save one – that I should leave her. * * * “Please go into the next room and light the candles. Then you may help me in there also. It is the dining-room. On the buffet you will find some wine of Bordeaux which is good, if my good uncle be not deceived; and some cakes of the country; and a pastry which your politeness, monsieur, shall swear to be unsurpassable, for my own hands made it. You shall have your Thanksgiving dinner, but translated into French!” “No, mademoiselle; rather translated, like Elijah, into Heaven!” I cried extravagantly, springing up in a kind of intoxication to do her bidding. The candles lighted, I found the dining-room, a large, low ceiled chamber, with walls of dark oak, a long table in the centre, and all one side occupied by a buffet which bore a lavish profusion of wines and viands. The pastry, fresh cut and sweet smelling, I set upon the table, and a dish of Acadian cakes – a kind of sweet dough fried in lard and rolled in maple sugar, which I liked. Then, pulling a couch from the wall of the table, I went to get my hostess. “I can walk now, monsieur!” she said, giving me her hand. I ignored it. “One step now, and you may be helpless for weeks! It is impossible, mademoiselle, that such a hurt should be so soon recovered!” said I decisively; and before she could find words of effective protest I had carried her to the couch in the dining room. Her face flushed this time most unmistakably, and she bit her lips – but whether in amusement or in anger I could not tell. “Allow me to give you a glass of wine, mademoiselle!” said I, pouring and presenting it. “I never touch it, monsieur,” said she lightly waving the glass aside. “Then I do not want it,” I exclaimed, replacing the decanter on the buffet. “But hungry I am, strange as it may seem, I have not eaten since breakfast.” “I pray you make a good meal, monsieur,” she said gently. I dug from the delectable depths of the pastry a plump pigeon breast for her. She picked at it, while I set myself vigorously to break my long fast. But eating, for me then, was a business to be got through with. I scarce knew what I ate, and in a few minutes I had enough. I turned my chair so as to face her squarely. She was looking at me through the fringe of her lashes, but dropped her gaze at once, and began a frowning scrutiny of her hands, as if displeased at their snowy slenderness. (To be continued.)