John Brent/Chapter XXXIV
The Last of a Love-Chase
“How easy it seems for noble souls to be noble!” thought I, as I followed Padiham up the neat staircase of his House of Charity. “What a beautiful vengeance it is of this man upon nature for blighting him! A meaner being would be soured, and turn cynic, and perhaps chuckle that others were equalized with him by suffering. He simply, and as if it were a matter of course, gives himself to baffling sorrow and blight. It is Godlike.” And I looked with renewed admiration at the strange figure climbing the stairs before me.
He was all head and shoulders, and his motions were like a clumsy child’s. I went slowly after him. Was it true that this long love-chase over land and sea was at its ending? Joy is always a giant surprise, — success a disappointment among the appointed failures. Was this grim dwarf to be a conjurer of happiness?
Padiham tapped at a door in the upper story.
A voice said, “Come in.”
Her voice! That sweet, sad voice! That unmurmuring, unrebellious voice! That voice of gentle defiance, speaking a soul impregnable! How full of calm hopefulness! while yet I could detect in it the power of bursting into all the horror of that dread scream that had come through the stillness to our camp at Fort Bridger.
The dwarf opened the door quietly.
The sunshine of that fresh June morning lay bright upon the roses in the window. My glance perceived the old blue-gray infantry surtout hanging in a corner. Mr. Clitheroe was sitting up in bed, lifting a tea-cup with his left hand. His long white beard drifted over the cool bedclothes. An appetizing breakfast, neatly served, was upon a table beside him. And there in this safe haven, hovering about him tenderly as ever in the days of his errant voyaging in the hapless time gone by, was his ministering angel, that dear daughter, the sister of my choice.
She turned as we entered.
The old steady, faithful look in the gray eyes. The same pale, saddened beauty. The unblenching gaze of patient waiting.
She looked at me vaguely, while life paused one pulse. Then, as I stepped forward, the eloquent blood gushed into her face, — for she knew that the friend could not long outrun the lover. She sprang into my arms. Forgive me, John Brent, if I did put my lips close to her burning cheek. It was only to whisper, “He is in London, searching for you. He has never rested one moment since you were lost to us. In an hour he will be here.”
“Dear father,” she said, drawing herself away, and smiling all aglow, while tears proclaimed a joy too deep for any surface smile to speak, “this is our dear friend, my preserver, Mr. Wade.”
Mr. Clitheroe studied me with a bewildered look, as I have seen an old hulk of a mariner peer anxiously into a driving sea-fog from the shore, while he talked of shipmates shaken from the yard, or of brave ships that sunk in unknown seas. Then the mist slowly cleared away from the old gentleman’s dim eyes, and he saw me in the scenery of my acting with him.
“Ah yes!” he said, in a mild, dreamy voice, “I see it all. Sizzum’s train, Fort Bridger, the Ball, the man with a bloody blanket on his head, you and your friend galloping off over the prairie, — I see it all.”
He paused, and seemed to review all that wild error of his into the wilderness.
“Yes, I see it all,” he continued. “My dear Mr. Wade, I remember you with unspeakable gratitude. You and your friend saved me this dearest daughter. I have suffered wearing distress since then, and you must pardon me for forgetting you one instant. Excuse my left hand! Dwarf George is a capital machinist, but he says he cannot put new springs into my right. That is nothing, my dear Mr. Wade, that is nothing. God has given me peace of mind at last, my dear daughter has forgiven me all my old follies, and my stanch old mate will never let me want a roof over my head, or a crust of his bread and a sup of his can.”
There is a Hansom cab-horse, now or late of London, who must remember me with asperity.
But then there is a cabman who is my friend for life, if a giant fare can win a cabman’s heart.
By the side of the remembrance of my gallop down Luggernel Alley, I have a picture in my mind of myself, in a cab, cutting furiously through the cañons of London in chase of a lover. The wolves and cayotes of the by-streets — there are no antelopes in London — did not attempt to follow our headlong speed. We rattled across Westminster Bridge, up Whitehall, and so into May Fair to Lady Biddulph’s door.
The footman — why did he grin when he saw me? — recognized me as the family friend of yesterday, and ushered me without ceremony into the breakfast-room, where the family were all assembled.
Why did the footman grin? I perceived, as I entered. A mirror fronted me. My face was like a Sioux’s in his war-paint. There had been flies in Padiham’s shop, and I had brushed them away from my face, alas! with hands blackened over the lathe.
All looked up amazed at this truculent intruder. It was, —
“Enter Orlando, with his sword drawn.”
“Forbear, and eat no more!”
An injunction not necessary for poor Brent, who sat dreary and listless.
The rest forbore at my apparition. Egg-spoon paused at egg’s mouth. Sugar sank to the floor of coffee-cup. Toast silenced its crackle.
Brent recognized me in the grimy pirate before him.
He sprang to his feet. “You have found her!” cried he.
He looked at me eagerly.
“Well and happy,” I said; “in a safe haven with a faithful friend. Lady Biddulph will pardon me, bringing such tidings, for rushing in in my war-paint, American fashion.”
“You are always welcome, Mr. Wade, in what costume you please,” said she. “Doubly so with this happy news. My dear Ellen! I must see her at once, — as soon as closer friends have had their hour. But, Mr. Brent, you are not going without your breakfast!”
“Come! Come!” cried Brent.
“Come!” and as we hurried away, there was again the same light in his eye, — the same life and ardor in his whole being, as when, in that wild Love-Chase on the Plains, we galloped side by side.