Chapter XV. A New Acquaintance
 

The moment we reached the quay at Quebec, some two days later, a dozen young men, with little notebooks in their hands, jumped on board all at once.

"Miss Callingham!" they cried with one accord, making a dash for the quarter-deck. "Which is she? Oh, this!--If you please, Miss Callingham, I should like to have ten minutes of your time to interview you!"

I clapped my hands to my ears, and stood back, all horrified. What I should have done, I don't know, but for a very kind man in a big rough overcoat, who had jumped on board at the same time, and made over to me like the reporters. He stepped up to me at once, pushed aside the young men, and said in a most friendly tone:

"Miss Callingham, I think? You'd better come with me, then. These people are all sharks. Everybody in Quebec's agog to see the Two- souled Lady. Answer no questions at all. Take not the least notice of them. Just follow me to the Custom House. Let them rave, but don't speak to them."

"Who are you?" I asked blindly, clinging to his arm in my terror.

"I'm a policeman in plain clothes," my new friend answered; "and I've been specially detailed by order for this duty. I'm here to look after you. You've friends in Canada, though you may have quite forgotten them. They've sent me to help you. Those are two of my chums there, standing aside by the gangway. We'll walk you off between us. Don't be afraid.--Here, you sir, there; make way!--No one shall come near you."

I was so nervous, and so ashamed that I accepted my strange escort without inquiry or remonstrance. He helped me, with remarkable politeness for a common policeman, across to the Custom House, where I sat waiting for my luggage. Reporters and sightseers, meanwhile, pressed obtrusively around me. My protector held them back. I was half wild with embarrassment. I'm naturally a reserved and somewhat sensitive girl, and this American publicity made me crimson with bashfulness.

As I sat there waiting, however, the two other policemen to whom my champion had beckoned sat one on each side of me, keeping off the idle crowd, while my first friend looked after the luggage and saw it safely through the Customs for me. He must be an Inspector, I fancied, or some other superior officer, the officials were so deferential to him. I gave him my keys, and he looked after everything himself. I had nothing, for my part, to do but to sit and wait patiently for him.

As soon as he had finished, he called a porter to his side.

"Vite!" he cried, in a tone of authority, to the man. "Un fiacre!"

And the porter called one.

I started to find that I knew what he meant. Till that moment, in my Second State, I had learned no French, and didn't know I could speak any. But I recognised the words quite well as soon as he uttered them. My lost knowledge reasserted itself.

They bundled on my boxes. The crowd still stood around and gaped at me, open-mouthed. I got into the cab, more dead than alive.

"Allez!" my policeman cried to the French-Canadian driver, seating himself by my side.

"A la gare du chemin de fer Pacific! Aussi vite que possible!"

I understood every word. This was wonderful. My memory was coming back again.

The man tore along the streets to the Pacific railway station. By the time we reached it we had distanced the sightseers, though some of them gave chase. My policeman got out.

"The train's just going!" he said sharply. "Don't take a ticket for Palmyra, if you don't want to be followed and tracked out all the way. They'll telegraph on your destination. Book to Kingston instead, and then change at Sharbot Lake, and take a second ticket on from there to Palmyra."

I listened, half dazed. Palmyra was the place where Dr. Ivor lived. Yet, even in the hurry of the moment, I wondered much to myself how the policeman knew I wanted to go to Palmyra.

There was no time to ask questions, however, or to deliberate on my plans. I took my ticket as desired, in a turmoil of feelings, and jumped on to the train. I trusted by this time I had eluded detection. I ought to have come, I saw now, under a feigned name. This horrid publicity was more than I could endure. My policeman helped me in with his persistent politeness, and saw my boxes checked as far as Sharbot Lake for me. Then he handed me the checks.

"Go in the Pullman," he said quietly. "It's a long journey, you know: four-and-twenty hours. You've only just caught it. But if you'd stopped in Quebec, you'd never have been able to give the sightseers the slip. You'd have been pestered all through. I think you're safe now. It was this or nothing."

"Oh, thank you so much!" I cried, with heartfelt gratitude, leaning out of the window as the train was on the point of starting. I pulled out my purse, and drew timidly forth a sovereign. "I've only English money," I said, hesitating, for I didn't know whether he'd be offended or not at the offer of a tip--he seemed such a perfect gentleman. "But if that's any use to you--"

He smiled a broad smile and shook his head, much amused.

"Oh, thank you," he said, half laughing, with a very curious air. "I'm a policeman, as I told you. But I don't need tips. I'm the Chief Constable of Quebec--there's my card; Major Tascherel,--and I'm glad to be of use, I'm sure, to any friend of Dr. Ivor's."

He lifted his hat with the inborn grace of a high-born gentleman. I coloured and bowed. The train steamed out of the station. As it went, I fell back, half fainting, in the comfortable armchair of the Pullman car, hardly able to speak with surprise and horror. It was all so strange, so puzzling, so bewildering! Then I owed my escape from the stenographic myrmidons of the Canadian Press to the polite care and attention of my father's murderer!

Major Tascherel was a friend, he said, of Dr. Ivor's!

Then Dr. Ivor knew I had come. He knew I was going to Palmyra to find him. And yet he had written to Quebec, apparently, expecting this crush, and asking his friend the Chief Constable to protect and befriend me. Had he murdered my father, and was he in love with me still? Did he think I'd come out, not to track him down, but to look for him? Strange, horrible questions! My heart stood still within me at this extraordinary revelation. Yet I was so frightened at the moment, alone in a strange land, that I felt almost grateful to the murderer himself for his kindness in thinking of me and providing for my reception.

As I settled in my seat and had time to realise what these things meant, it dawned upon me by degrees that all this was less remarkable, after all, than I first thought it. For they had telegraphed from England that I sailed on the Sarmatian; and Dr. Ivor, like everybody else, must have read the telegram. He might naturally conclude I would be half-mobbed by reporters; and as it was clear he had once been fond of me--hateful as I felt it even to admit the fact to myself--he might really have desired to save me annoyance and trouble. It was degrading, to be sure, even to think I owed anything of any sort to such a wretch as that murderer; yet in a certain corner of my heart I couldn't help being thankful to him. But how strange to feel I had come there on purpose to hunt him down! How horrible that I must so repay good with evil!

Then a still more ghastly thought surged up suddenly in my mind. Why on earth did he think I was going to Palmyra? Was it possible he fancied I loved him still--that I wanted to marry him? Could he imagine I'd come out just to fling myself at his feet and ask him to take me? Could he suppose I'd forgotten all the rest of my past life, and his vile act as well, and yet remembered alone what little love, if any, I ever had borne him? It was incredible that any man, however wicked, however conceited, should think such folly as that--that a girl would marry her father's murderer; and yet what might not one expect from a man who, after having shot my father, had still the inconceivable and unbelievable audacity to take deliberate steps for securing my own comfort and happiness? From such a wretch as that, one might look for almost anything!

For ten minutes or more, as we whirled along the line in the Pullman car, I was too dazed and confused to notice anything around me. My brain swam vaguely, filled full with wild whirling thoughts; the strange drama of my life, always teeming with mysteries, seemed to culminate in this reception in an unknown land by people who appeared almost to know more about my business than I myself did. I gazed out of the window blankly. In some vague dim way I saw we were passing between rocky hills, pine-clad and beautiful, with deep glimpses now and then into the riven gorge of a noble river. But I didn't even realise to myself that these were Canadian hills--those were the heights of Abraham--that was the silver St. Lawrence. It all passed by like a living dream. I sat still in my chair, as one stunned and faint; I gazed out, more dead than alive, on the unfamiliar scene that unrolled itself in exquisite panorama before me. Quebec and the Laurentian hills were to me half unreal: the inner senses alone were awake and conscious.

Presently a gentle voice at my side broke, not at all unpleasantly, the current of my reflections. It was a lady's voice, very sweet and musical.

"I'm afraid," it said kindly, with an air of tender solicitude, "you only just caught the train, and were hurried and worried and flurried at the last at the station. You look so white and tired. How your breath comes and goes! And I think you're new to our Canadian ways. I saw you didn't understand about the checks for the baggage. Let me take away this bag and put it up in the rack for you. Here's a footstool for your feet; that'll make you more comfortable."

At the first sound of her sweet voice, I turned to look at the speaker. She was a girl, perhaps a year or two younger than myself, very slender and graceful, and with eyes like a mother's. She wasn't exactly pretty, but her face was so full of intelligence and expression that it was worth a great deal more than any doll-like prettiness.

Perhaps it was pleasure at being spoken to kindly at all in this land of strangers; perhaps it was revulsion from the agony of shame and modesty I had endured at Quebec; but, at any rate, I felt drawn at first sight to my sweet-voiced fellow-traveller. Besides, she reminded me somewhat of Minnie Moore, and that resemblance alone was enough to attract me. I looked up at her gratefully.

"Oh, thank you so much!" I cried, putting my bag in her hand. "I've only just come out from England; and I'd hardly time at Quebec to catch the train; and the people crowded around so, that I was flustered at landing; and everything somehow seems to be going against me."

And with that my poor overwrought nerves gave way all at once, and without any more ado I just burst out crying.

The lady by my side leant over me tenderly.

"There--cry, dear," she said, as if she'd known me for years, stooping down and almost caressing me. "Jack,"--and she turned to a tall gentleman at her side,--"quick! you've got my black bag; get me out the sal volatile. She's quite faint, poor thing; we must look after her instantly."

The person to whom she spoke, and who was apparently her husband or her brother, took down the black bag from the rack hastily, and got out the sal volatile, as my friend directed him. He poured a little into a tumbler and held it quietly to my lips. I liked his manner, as I'd liked the lady's. He was so very brotherly. Besides, there was something extremely soothing about his quick, noiseless way. He did it all so fast, yet without the faintest sign of agitation. I couldn't help thinking what a good nurse he would make; he was so rapid and effective, yet so gentle and so quiet. He seemed perfectly accustomed to the ways of nervous women.

I dried my eyes after a while, and looked up in his face. He was very good-looking, and had a charming soft smile. How lucky I should have tumbled upon such pleasant travelling companions! In my present mental state, I had need of sympathy. And, indeed, they took as much care of me, and coddled me up as tenderly, as if they'd known me for years. I was almost tempted to make a clean breast of my personality to them, and tell them why it was I had been so worried and upset by my reception at Quebec: but I shrank from confessing it. I hated my own name, almost, it seemed to bring me such very unpleasant notoriety.

In a very few minutes, I felt quite at home with my new friends. I explained to them that when I landed I had no intention of going on West by train at once, but that news which I received on the way had compelled me to push forward by the very first chance; and that I had to change my ticket at a place called Sharbot Lake, whose very position or distance I hadn't had time to discover. The lady smiled sweetly, and calmed my fears by telling me we wouldn't reach Sharbot Lake till mid-day to-morrow, and that I would have plenty of time there to book on to my destination.

Thus encouraged, I went on to tell them I had no Canadian money, having brought out what I needed for travelling expenses and hotels in Bank of England 20 pound notes. The lady smiled again, and said in the friendliest way:

"Oh, my brother'll get them changed for you at Montreal as we pass, won't you, Jack? or at least as much as you need till you get to"--she checked herself--"the end of your journey."

I noticed how she pulled herself up, though at the moment I attached no particular importance to it.

So he was her brother, not her husband, then! Well, he was a very nice fellow, either way, and nobody could be kinder or more sympathetic than he'd been to me so far.

We fell into conversation, which soon by degrees grew quite intimate.

"How far West are you going?" the man she called Jack asked after a little time, tentatively.

And I answered, all unsuspiciously:

"To a place called Palmyra."

"Why, we live not far from Palmyra," the sister replied, with a smile. "We're going that way now. Our station's Adolphus Town, the very next village."

I hadn't yet learned to join the wisdom of the serpent to the innocence of the dove, I'm afraid. Remember, though in some ways I was a woman full grown, in others I was little more than a four- year-old baby.

"Do you know a Dr. Ivor there?" I asked eagerly, leaning forward.

"Oh, yes, quite well," the lady answered, arranging my footstool more comfortably as she spoke. "He's got a farm out there now, and hardly practises at all. How queer it is! One always finds one knows people in common. Is Dr. Ivor a friend of yours?"

I recoiled at the stray question almost as if I'd been shot.

"Oh, no!" I cried, horrified at the bare idea of such treason. "He's anything but a friend... I--I only wanted to know about him."

The lady looked at Jack, and Jack looked at the lady. Were they telegraphing signs? I fancied somehow they gave one another very meaning glances. Jack was the first to speak, breaking an awkward silence.

"You can't expect everyone to know your own friends, or to like them either, Elsie," he said slowly, with his eyes fixed hard on her, as if he expected her to flare up.

My heart misgave me. A hateful idea arose in it. Could my sweet travelling companion be engaged--to my father's murderer?

"But he's a dear good fellow, for all that, Jack," Elsie said stoutly; and strange as it sounds to say so, I admired her for sticking up for her friend Dr. Ivor, if she really liked him. "I won't hear him run down by anybody, not even by you. If this lady knew him better, I'm sure she'd like him, as we all do."

Jack turned the conversation abruptly.

"But if you're going to Palmyra," he asked, "where do you mean to stop? Have you thought about lodgings? You mustn't imagine it's a place like an English town, with an inn or hotel or good private apartments. There's nowhere you can put up at in these brand-new villages. Are you going to friends, or did you expect to find quarters as easily as in England?"

This was a difficulty which, indeed, had never even occurred to me till that moment. I stammered and hesitated.

"Well," I said slowly, "to tell you the truth, I haven't thought about that. The landing at Quebec was such a dreadful surprise to me, and"--tears came into my eyes again--"I had a great shock there--and I had to come on so quick, I didn't ask about anything but catching the train. I meant to stop a night or two either at Quebec or in Montreal, and to make all inquiries: but circumstances, you see, have prevented that. So I really don't know what I'd better do when I get to Palmyra."

"I do," my new friend answered quickly, her soft sweet voice having quite a decisive ring in it. "You'd better not go on to Palmyra at all. There's no sort of accommodation there, except a horrid drinking-saloon. You'd better stop short at Adolphus Town and spend the night with us; and then you can look about you next day, if you like, and see what chance there may be of finding decent quarters. Old Mrs. Wilkins might take her in, Jack, or the Blacks at the tannery."

I smiled, and felt touched.

"Oh, how good of you!" I cried. "But I really couldn't think of it. Thank you ever so much, though, for your kind thought, all the same. It's so good and sweet of you. But you don't even know who I am. I have no introduction."

"You're your own best introduction," Elsie said, with a pretty nod: I thought of her somehow from the very first moment I heard her name as Elsie. "And as to your not knowing us, never mind about that. We know you at first sight. It's the Canadian way to entertain Angels unawares. Out here, you know, hospitality's the rule of the country."

Well, I demurred for a long time; I fought off their invitation as well as I could: I couldn't bear thus to quarter myself upon utter strangers. But they both were so pressing, and brought up so many cogent arguments why I couldn't go alone to the one village saloon--a mere whisky-drinking public-house, they said, of very bad character,--that in the long run I was fain almost to acquiesce in their kind plan for my temporary housing. Besides, after my horrid experience at Quebec, it was such a positive relief to me to meet anybody nice and delicate, that I couldn't find it in my heart to refuse these dear people. And then, perhaps it was best not to go quite on to Palmyra at once, for fear of unexpectedly running against my father's murderer. If I met him in the street, and he recognised me and spoke to me, what on earth could I do? My head was all in a whirl, indeed, as to what he might intend or expect: for I felt sure he expected me. I made one last despairing effort.

"If I stop at your house, though," I said, half ashamed of myself for venturing to make conditions, "there's one promise you must make me--that I sha'n't see Dr. Ivor unless you let me know and get my consent beforehand."

Jack, as I called him to myself, answered gaily back with a rather curious smile:

"If you like, you need see nobody but our own two selves. We'll promise not to introduce anybody to you without due leave, and to let you do as you like in that and in everything."

So I yielded at last.

"Well, I must know your name," I said tentatively.

And Jack, looking queerly at me with an inquiring air, said:

"My sister's name's Elsie; mine's John Cheriton."

"And yours?" Elsie asked, glancing timidly down at me.

My heart beat hard. I was face to face with a dilemma. These were friends of Courtenay Ivor's, and I had given myself away to them. I was going to their house, to accept their hospitality--and to betray their friend! Never in my life did I feel so guilty before. Oh! what on earth was I to do? I had told them too much; I had gone to work foolishly. If I said my real name, I should let out my whole secret. I must brazen it out now. With tremulous lips and flushed cheek, I answered quickly, "Julia Marsden."

Elsie drew back, all abashed. In a moment her cheek grew still redder, I felt sure, than my own.

"Oh, Marsden!" she cried, eyeing me close. "Why, I thought you were Miss Callingham!"

"How on earth did you know that?" I exclaimed, terrified almost out of my life. Was I never for one moment to escape my own personality?

"Why, they put it in the papers that you were coming," Elsie answered, looking tenderly at me, more in sympathy than in anger. "And it's written on your bag, you know, that Jack put up in the rack there... That's why we were so sorry for you, and so grieved at the way you must have been hustled on the quay. And that's also why we wanted you to come to us... But don't be a bit afraid. We quite understand you want to travel incognita. After the sort of reception you got at Quebec, no wonder you're afraid of these hateful sightseers!... Very well, dear," she took my hand with the air of an old friend, "your disguise shall be respected while you stop at our house. Miss Marsden let it be. You can make any inquiries you like about Dr. Ivor. We will be secrecy itself. We'll say nothing to anyone. And my brother'll take your ticket at Sharbot Lake for Adolphus Town."

I broke down once more. I fairly cried at such kindness.

"Oh, how good you are!" I said. "How very, very good. This is more than one could ever have expected from strangers."

She held my hand and stroked it.

"We're not strangers," she answered. "We're English ourselves. We sympathise deeply with you in this new, strange country. You must treat us exactly like a brother and sister. We liked you at first sight, and we're sure we'll get on with you."

I lifted her hand to my lips and kissed it.

"And I liked you also," I said, "and your brother, too. You're both so good and kind. How can I ever sufficiently thank you?"