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The Bird of Paradise

Chapter XIII. The Betrothal of the Bird of Paradise. Marvel Imogen Narramore Gould

Chapter XIII. The Betrothal of the Bird of Paradise. Marvel Imogen Narramore Gould.

Bedding him down and piling up the hay thick around the sides of his loose-box, at daylight he would be up every morning to lead him about the hills and the fields. Sieving his oats to separate any noxious dust; bandaging his legs with elastic woven silk bandages; brushing him up and smoothing him down with his hands, left Patrick Flynn for days without a dinner. So attached to his new attendant did Moss Rose become that he would allow no one else to enter the loose-box without a light lap from his heels, or a threatening retraction of his ears. Eugene was fast becoming a friend and welcome visitor, and would lean for hours over the tower half of the door talking to him or feeding him with carrots and thistles.

For a whole week, since his return from the trial of Graves, he had not caught a glimpse of or heard a word about Marvel. The old auntie had written a short note asking him if he could obtain two tickets of admission to the hanging of Graves, but whether she intended to give one of them to Marvel or not he could not guess. The new toy was to Eugene a substitute for Marvel, and for a week like a child he forgot everything else.

Now the day for the cavalry parade arrived, and go he must, as he had missed the last week's parade, and he was anxious to record all the attendances he could.

Engaging a diminutive disqualified jockey to ride the horse out over the adjoining fields by walking him about for an hour on the soft grass, he accompanied the boy on his riding hack, Rosie–his charger– as far as the training track, and left him there to canter on a mile to the parade. Passing the fence of the gardens, he reconnoitred the borders of the lake but not a soul was anywhere near. "Dreaming again;" he soliloquized, "she can't spend all her time feeding paradise ducks and swans, and I page 76may call at Sunnyside this evening on the way home." No thoughts other than merely seeing her and speaking to her a few words, no idea of anything beyond what usually transpired between them: perhaps he might after parade go into the house and have a game of cards or so, and perhaps he wouldn't go in at all; only a passing thought. But what is that which makes him rein in the careering charger, and slow her down till she halts, as if he dared go no farther? "Woa, Rosie! woa, my pretty Rose! woa. Rosie!" as in temper she champed the bit, stamped her feet and pawed the grass. What makes his face to fill with a blood-red crimson; his voice to falter and his hand to release the rein? Was it a thought, a remembrance, a forgotten duty? No; it was the sight of the angel of his soul, again at the Sunnyside wicket gate, enthralling him again as it enthralled him six years before at the library door, and substantiating his sunny dreams with her own belle idiale reality. "It is she! Marvel! my own to be! my own true bird of a coming Paradise!" he muttered.

No airy vision, no untold tale, no subjective fantasia now hovered above him; on she came through the yellow bloom of the cape-broom and the gorse, with an inexpressibly sweet smile, as she drew near and said, "You are a stranger; it seems like a year since we saw you."

Hauteur, he fancied, there was in her tone, but it quickly melted away, and in more familiar coy accents she asked him why he was stopping there, in the middle of the road.

"I was hesitating," he said, "about going to parade at all to-day; I intended to call coming back, but now that you will most likely be away I was thinking of turning back," as he dismounted and threw the bridle over his arm to lead the disappointed Rosie behind him.

She was going home she said, as her father had sent a peremptory command that she must go. She related how she had fallen out with the chronic broncho-asthmatical auntie, through nothing else, she declared, but winning some few dollars from her the night before.

"Don't you like going home?" he said. "it might be better for you to be at home; and indeed I forgot to tell you that your father asked me to deliver a message—an order I should say—that you should go home about a month ago."

Her eyes filled, and tears coursed adown her damask cheeks; she dried them and putting her handkerchief in her pocket said, "Oh! it's not father; I don't mind father."

"Supposing I drive you home to-day and forego the parade," said Eugene. "I can spare the afternoon, and it would be a very great—"

"Would it be a very great pleasure?" she said, looking up with tearful eyes and a wreathed attractive smile.

"It would be a very great pleasure," he said impressively, "a very great pleasure indeed."

"Then I will," replied Marvel, "I'll be ready to leave as soon as you bring the buggy here. Will you bring it here or shall I meet you on the way?" She smiled daintily through her diamond tears.

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"Of course I'll bring the buggy here." he said; "you had better get your things ready at Mrs. Hornblower's, and say good-bye to her. Don't go away in the middle of a quarrel with your aunt; you may want to go back there someday."

"I won't go near her place again." she returned, stamping her foot. "I won't, indeed I won't; she's an old cat, and I can get plenty of places besides her's to stop at. I won't say goodbye to her, or speak to her again," and the tears began to appear in her liquid orbs again in sympathy with her avowed determination.

"Will you sit by the lake then?" he said, "while I am bringing the buggy. I won't keep you long; it will be better than walking up to the hospital with me. Or, if you don't like waiting, I can get Mrs Payne's horse and you can ride Rosie; she is quite a pearl of a palfrey, and as quiet as a dove. Mrs. Payne often rides her out with her husband."

"That's what I like," replied Marvel enthusiastically, "and you could get their side-saddle; I'll be here in my riding habit in ten minutes," when she ran joyously back to Sunnyside.

In ten minutes he was back to the spot where they parted, mounted on Marmaduke's Arab chestnut, and leading his offended Rosie by his side, The bird of the coming Paradisal home lost no time in changing, and quickly reappearing, she was assisted by her lover into the side-saddle on his mare. They both pranced merrily away.

Soon they reached the open country between Augusta and the township of Maconville, and entered the "vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended"1 as, proud of her new rider, that sweet dark chestnut mare through the long pine-forest avenues careered and danced with delight. Tossing her head, champing the bit and playfully manœuvering her feet over the plain, she was the apple of his eye and she carried for him the greatest treasure of all the treasures in the world. Marvel was a finished horsewoman and showed herself off to every advantage. Halting for breath every few minutes as she rode by his side. "Which horse do you like best?" said Marvel.

"Well, you know." said Eugene, "there is something about being off with the old love."

"Oh! yes," she returned, "before you are on with the new."

Coquetting and curvetting as she rode the mare alone, the military surgeon looked upon them as on some master-piece painting; but the voice within was silent still.

Not used to spurs and the clanking of the sword against his ribs, Marmaduke's shying Arab, restless and fidgetty ever since they started from the gardens, as soon as the spur touched him bolted and left the mare a few lengths behind, when the gallant little Rosie—the blood of the famous Kirkconnel2 boiling in her veins—drew up to his quarter and stuck to his girth for miles. "Stop her, doctor! stop her!" cried the terrified Marvel, her face as white as ivory, her hair dishevelled, and her hat hanging by a blue bow which she held in her hand. On she came full of page 78racing up to and past his breastplate; but, when essaying a lead into a sort of straight turning, the chestnut horse cannoned full up against her, and Rosie with her rider reeled off the road. The chestnut Arab, thinking the race over and won, slackened off his pace, and Eugene wheeled him around to his fair companion. There on the green siding they lay, rider and riderless, and he thought they were dead.

"I'm not much hurt," she called out, "but I can't get my foot out of the stirrup, and I'm afraid to move."

Trained as she was in the martial field to lie down, the mare looked up at her master and moved not a limb, while Eugene dismounted and released the stirrup. He bathed Marvel's face with his handkerchief beside a wayside streamlet, and soon, nothing daunted, she was raised to the saddle again, with only a slight pain in her ankle and some abrasions on one side of her face. The rest of the road, only two miles, they walked the horses, and reached Marvel's home without further mishap.

"My word, mother will be angry; I need never think of leaving home again," she said, as he helped her to dismount and Mrs. Gould appeared at the door, Coming out of the gate scowling, her brow contracted and flint and steel flashing out of her eyes—"Ha! Ha! my leddie," she savagely called out, "ye've been in the wars"—as a sort of slantindicular cut at the cavalry surgeon—"Serves ye richt, with yer gallivant in' tomfoolery. It's a peety it's nae waur; it would be a good cartion to ye. That'll keep ye in for a few weeks, my leddie," Without acknowledging the military salute from the doctor, she withdrew from the gate to the door of the house.

Under the shimmering phosphorescent sheen of the big yellow rising moon, with mingled feelings of indignation at the outburst of her mother and pity for Marvel, as the tears again welled into her dark eyes, he drew her away from the gate towards a gaunt canary pine, together with the horses, and leaning on the saddle of the mare with his elbow, he looked into her eyes and said, "Marvel, would you leave your home for me?"

"How do you mean?" she answered: "I'm sure they will never let me out again for months."

"Would you leave this place and come home with me?" he said, looking at her earnestly.

Bewildered, taken by surprise, between the devil in her mother and the deep sea of his affection, she looked the picture of amazement and perplexity. "Go—home—with—you?" slowly she repeated.

"Yes," he said, in deep, impressive and earnest tones; no rhapsodies, no unmeaning phrases of dilettante affection; nothing about hearts and darts and little Cupids adorning his unvarnished love; but in the plain, candid and honest words of a man—"Come home with me and be my wife."

She answered not a word, as she smiled and looked full up at his calm face; but the deep hidden meaning was patent to Eugene. Her head resting on his bosom, and holding her in his strong embrace, he impressed his lips page 79upon the blossom of her own. Clasped in his arms, beneath the shade of the spreading pine tree, while the soft glow of the ascendant moon shed its silvery iridescence around, "Will you come with me, and stay with me, and blend your life with mine?" he said again; yet she answered not a word, and lay in his arms as if in a peaceful dream. The solace of her bruised feelings by the tenderness of his confessed love, the sudden crisis to her lonely meditations and the attainment of her longed-for position by his side, had soothed her with an ineffable quietude, and for the while had closed her lips; but her spirit was in communion with Eugene, though her eyes were with her thoughts, and they were far away.

Amidst bouquets of sweet sentiments, presently the harsh, hoarse voice of her mother broke the spell, and awakening as if from a trance, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, saying—"Yes, I will." and the lottery of Eugene's life was closed on earth for ever.

Releasing his passionate embrace, "I will write to your father when I get back," he said, "and perhaps you will come and stay at Sunnyside for a week or so longer."

"I will," she said; "but you write and tell me when to come." He kissed her as his own fairly-won prize once again, and saying au revoir, she hurried into her father's home, whereas Eugene with the two horses went galloping triumphant to Augusta in the silence and solitude of the night, majestic with a crown of countless stars.

That night the brain of Marvel Gould was in one unending whirl. The sole object of her existence during the past three months was un fait accompli; she was soon to be relieved of the harassing gibes of her mother—soon to take a position in the world that most girls would be proud to fill. She built enchanted castles in the air, and conjured up in her exhilarated mind fairy pictures of orange blossoms, marriage bells, wedding cakes and presents, trousseaux3, honeymoon holidays, and the halcyon days which she would spend with her husband in the fine residence of the hospital at Augusta. In her heart of hearts she felt the inward comforting triumph of having won the prize, and outstripped all her rivals in bearing away the palm of the much-cherished Eugene's affections. How remorseful she felt at having quarrelled with her aunt, and how anxious she was to repair any fault of her own, by writing to her in the morning and asking her to forgive and forget; to take her to her bosom again. Augusta was so far away, she argued within herself, and I want to be near him and see him every day. He didn't say when it was to be, she reflected; but that would have been premature, and besides there was no great hurry, because she felt sure she could trust him, and she had heard people call him the "true blue." This way and that way floated her thoughts about her husband that was to be, ever and anon trending to the constancy with which she meant to devote herself to him, to comfort and to please him, and do all that a wife could possibly do to make her new home a haven of peace and joy, a blessing to them both and an earthly paradise. In the first blush of her excitement, projects for promoting his happiness and advancing his professional page 80interests placed themselves in tempting order before her awakened, active mind; but she kept it all a profound secret and never even told it to her cousin or her mother. His genuine fervent and lasting love nurtured her whole soul with the ambrosial nectar of happiness: she lived on the dew of his flowery words, sipping the wine from the chalice of his love. But how long, Marvel Gould, will your well-serried4 schemes of devotion and your noble intentions last? How long before those sacred vows will be dissipated and ignored? How long before all that is adorable and supernal in your amorous nature will crumble away to ashes and dust, and all those well-ordered and harmonious plans end in chaos and abysmal gloom?

The following morning she wrote to her aunt and apologised most abjectly for going away so unceremoniously, and saying she would be back in a few days.

The profound change was readily noticed by her mother and her cousin, who was staying for a few weeks' change at Maconville. She became as inordinately joyous as a newly-born antelope on the hills. They wondered and queried with each other but "la fiancée" uttered never a word of the secret. Her father was away and would not be back till the end of the week, and if she confided in anybody she would confide first of all in him, Her mother's directions and orders were treated with derision and scorn, and her common, ungainly cousin was flouted and despised. In the ecstasy of her gleefulness she was rebuked as being childish and silly, but she laughed in her sleeve at both of them, and called them a pair of old fossils. informing them that she was going back to Augusta in a day or so, whether they liked it or not.

Not seeing any light in Guinevere's house on his return that all-absorbing night, he took off the side-saddle which he had changed on the journey from Rosie's back to the Arab, having preferred to ride his mare, especially as Rosie seemed to be quite jealous of the chestnut. He led him into the stable at the back, put the saddle and bridle in their places, rugged him up for the night, filling his rack with hay, and rode home to the hospital happy as a king. The prospect to Eugene was all couleur de rose.

The little black thoroughbred Moss Rose, hearing the pad of her hoofs in the distance, commenced a series of wild neighings, and when the stable door was opened he whinnied and sniffed and snorted his welcome to Rosie home. "Paddy, here's the mare," called out Eugene, when up sprang the Hibernian5 groom from among the straw in the loose-box. He had fallen asleep there after bathing the racehorse's leg with hot water to take down some swelling around his fore fetlock.

"That harse," said Paddy, "knocked his leg agin' a thistle and I have a bran powltice on it."

Looking down as the "powltice" was removed, "It looks uncommonly like a prick with the stable-fork," said Eugene; "when you are bedding him down again hold the points of the fork away from him and he won't want any poultices; don't smoke in the stable, Paddy."

Not concurring with the diagnosis of the doctor, "Faith an' it's meself page 81that knows it was a thistle when the bye had been exercising him to-day; and it's more than that bye can do to howld him, for he's as proud as a paycock, sure he is the darlin'; sorra word of a lie it was a thistle."

"Good night, Paddy," said the doctor. "Good night, sir," said Paddy, lifting the bright green cap, scratching his head ovar the theory of the "powltice," and singing to a jingling tune the fag-end of an Irish song.

"Call me in the morning, Paddy, at six, and I'll see him work for half-an-hour. It's Wednesday to-morrow, and he wants a gallop twice a week and a good bran-mash to warm him up afterwards. He must win his first race next week, so get that swelling down as soon as you can," said Eugene, as he walked away up the hill home. The big, hungry house was a dismal and disconsolate abode, and he felt the empty gap in his heart after parting from his future bride. There, there was nothing but old Hemlock and the birds, but he cheered himself up with the hopes that, when the idol of his life came, old Hemlock would relegate herself back to the tablecloth in the little room of the hospital, and his new residence would be transformed into a veritable mundane Paradise.

Arising next morning at the call of the groom, he rode over to the training-track, where the jockey took the race-horse a gallop of a mile and a-half. Coming back to the hospital stable, he watched the enthusiastic Paddy mix the bran-mash and put it into the feed-box, and retracing his steps up the hill he wrote the promised letter to the great and mighty Gould, in a few words asking of him the honour of his daughter's hand in marriage; and a further epistle to Marvel herself urging her to come back to Sunnyside as soon as she possibly could. Reflecting that the letter, if posted that day, would be lying in the house pending the coal king's 'return from the city, exposed to the danger of being opened by her wrathful mother, he kept the letter to Marvel till the following morning in his coat pocket, intending to post it himself. The letter to her father portrayed his great affection for Marvel, and disclosed his age as twenty-three. He was the resident surgeon of the Augusta hospital—one of the finest in the States—and his income was, approximately, four thousand dollars a year; that he had found Marvel willing to become his wife, and prayed for the consent and the goodwill of her parents. Dropping red sealing-wax on the lip of the envelope, he impressed it with his star-spangled seal and posted it to the great and mighty coal-miner upon the following day.

1 Clancy of the Overflow, by Banjo Paterson (1889). Unusually, Dutton is quoting Australasian literature.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

2 An English racehorse who won the Two Thousand Guineas Stakes race in 1895.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

3 Possessions, such as clothing and linens, that a bride assembles for her marriage. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

4 Closely packed together; well marshalled (with a military sense). OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

5 Irish. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]