We have active at the present writing (place aux dames)—
Sequitur to the above, A HERO AND HEROINE.
On the death of his parents, Faraday Little was taken to Raby Hall. In accepting his guardianship, Mr. Raby struggled stoutly against two prejudices: Faraday was plain-looking and skeptical.
“Handsome is as handsome does, sweetheart,” pleaded Jael, interceding for the orphan with arms that were still beautiful. “Dear knows, it is not his fault if he does not look like—his father,” she added with a great gulp. Jael was a woman, and vindicated her womanhood by never entirely forgiving a former rival.
“It’s not that alone, madam,” screamed Raby, “but, d—m it, the little rascal’s a scientist,—an atheist, a radical, a scoffer! Disbelieves in the Bible, ma’am; is full of this Darwinian stuff about natural selection and descent. Descent, forsooth! In my day, madam, gentlemen were content to trace their ancestors back to gentlemen, and not to—monkeys!”
“Dear heart, the boy is clever,” urged Jael.
“Clever!” roared Raby; “what does a gentleman want with cleverness?”
Young Little was clever. At seven he had constructed a telescope; at nine, a flying-machine. At ten he saved a valuable life.
Norwood Park was the adjacent estate,—a lordly domain dotted with red deer and black trunks, but scrupulously kept with graveled roads as hard and blue as steel. There Little was strolling one summer morning, meditating on a new top with concealed springs. At a little distance before him he saw the flutter of lace and ribbons. A young lady, a very young lady,—say of seven summers,—tricked out in the crying abominations of the present fashion, stood beside a low bush. Her nursery-maid was not present, possibly owing to the fact that John the footman was also absent.
Suddenly Little came towards her. “Excuse me, but do you know what those berries are?” He was pointing to the low bush filled with dark clusters of shining—suspiciously shining—fruit.
“Certainly; they are blueberries.”
“Pardon me; you are mistaken. They belong to quite another family.”
Miss Impudence drew herself up to her full height (exactly three feet nine and a half inches), and, curling an eighth of an inch of scarlet lip, said scornfully, “Your family, perhaps.”
Faraday Little smiled in the superiority of boyhood over girlhood.
“I allude to the classification. That plant is the belladonna, or deadly nightshade. Its alkaloid is a narcotic poison.”
Sauciness turned pale. “I—have—just—eaten—some!” And began to whimper. “Oh dear, what shall I do?” Then did it, i.e., wrung her small fingers, and cried.
“Pardon me one moment.” Little passed his arm around her neck, and with his thumb opened widely the patrician-veined lids of her sweet blue eyes. “Thank Heaven, there is yet no dilation of the pupil; it is not too late!” He cast a rapid glance around. The nozzle and about three feet of garden hose lay near him.
“Open your mouth, quick!”
It was a pretty, kissable mouth. But young Little meant business. He put the nozzle down her pink throat as far as it would go.
“Now, don’t move.”
He wrapped his handkerchief around a hoop-stick. Then he inserted both in the other end of the stiff hose. It fitted snugly. He shoved it in and then drew it back.
Nature abhors a vacuum. The young patrician was as amenable to this law as the child of the lowest peasant. She succumbed. It was all over in a minute. Then she burst into a small fury.
“You nasty, bad—ugly boy.”
Young Little winced, but smiled.
“Stimulants,” he whispered to the frightened nurserymaid, who approached; “good-evening.” He was gone.
The breach between young Little and Mr. Raby was slowly widening. Little found objectionable features in the Hall. “This black oak ceiling and wainscoting is not as healthful as plaster; besides, it absorbs the light. The bedroom ceiling is too low; the Elizabethan architects knew nothing of ventilation. The color of that oak paneling which you admire is due to an excess of carbon and the exuvia from the pores of your skin”—
“Leave the house,” bellowed Raby, “before the roof falls on your sacrilegious head!”
As Little left the house, Lady Caroline and a handsome boy of about Little’s age entered. Lady Caroline recoiled, and then—blushed. Little glared; he instinctively felt the presence of a rival.
Little worked hard. He studied night and day. In five years he became a lecturer, then a professor.
He soared as high as the clouds, he dipped as low as the cellars of the London poor. He analyzed the London fog, and found it two parts smoke, one disease, one unmentionable abominations. He published a pamphlet, which was violently attacked. Then he knew he had done something.
But he had not forgotten Caroline. He was walking one day in the Zoological Gardens, and he came upon a pretty picture,—flesh and blood, too.
Lady Caroline feeding buns to the bears! An exquisite thrill passed through his veins. She turned her sweet face and their eyes met. They recollected their first meeting seven years before, but it was his turn to be shy and timid. Wonderful power of age and sex! She met him with perfect self-possession.
“Well meant, but indigestible, I fear” (he alluded to the buns).
“A clever person like yourself can easily correct that” (she, the slyboots, was thinking of something else).
In a few moments they were chatting gayly. Little eagerly descanted upon the different animals; she listened with delicious interest. An hour glided delightfully away.
After this sunshine, clouds.
To them suddenly entered Mr. Raby and a handsome young man. The gentlemen bowed stiffly and looked vicious—as they felt. The lady of this quartette smiled amiably—as she did not feel.
“Looking at your ancestors, I suppose,” said Mr. Raby, pointing to the monkeys; “we will not disturb you. Come.” And he led Caroline away.
Little was heart-sick. He dared not follow them. But an hour later he saw something which filled his heart with bliss unspeakable.
Lady Caroline, with a divine smile on her face, feeding the monkeys!
Encouraged by love, Little worked hard upon his new flying-machine. His labors were lightened by talking of the beloved one with her French maid Therese, whom he had discreetly bribed. Mademoiselle Therese was venal, like all her class, but in this instance I fear she was not bribed by British gold. Strange as it may seem to the British mind, it was British genius, British eloquence, British thought, that brought her to the feet of this young savan.
“I believe,” said Lady Caroline, one day, interrupting her maid in a glowing eulogium upon the skill of ‘M. Leetell,’—“I believe you are in love with this professor.” A quick flush crossed the olive cheek of Therese, which Lady Caroline afterward remembered.
The eventful day of trial came. The public were gathered, impatient and scornful as the pig-headed public are apt to be. In the open area a long cylindrical balloon, in shape like a Bologna sausage, swayed above the machine, from which, like some enormous bird caught in a net, it tried to free itself. A heavy rope held it fast to the ground.
Little was waiting for the ballast, when his eye caught Lady Caroline’s among the spectators. The glance was appealing. In a moment he was at her side.
“I should like so much to get into the machine,” said the arch-hypocrite demurely.
“Are you engaged to marry young Raby?” said Little bluntly.
“As you please,” she said with a curtsy; “do I take this as a refusal?”
Little was a gentleman. He lifted her and her lap-dog into the car.
“How nice! it won’t go off?”
“No, the rope is strong, and the ballast is not yet in.”
A report like a pistol, a cry from the spectators, a thousand hands stretched to grasp the parted rope, and the balloon darted upward.
Only one hand of that thousand caught the rope,—Little’s! But in the same instant the horror-stricken spectators saw him whirled from his feet and borne upward, still clinging to the rope, into space.
Lady Caroline fainted. The cold, watery nose of her dog on her cheek brought her to herself. She dared not look over the edge of the car; she dared not look up to the bellowing monster above her, bearing her to death. She threw herself on the bottom of the car, and embraced the only living thing spared her,—the poodle. Then she cried. Then a clear voice came apparently out of the circumambient air,—
“May I trouble you to look at the barometer?”
She put her head over the car. Little was hanging at the end of a long rope. She put her head back again.
In another moment he saw her perplexed, blushing face over the edge,—blissful sight.
“Oh, please don’t think of coming up! Stay there, do!”
Little stayed. Of course she could make nothing out of the barometer, and said so. Little smiled.
“Will you kindly send it down to me?”
But she had no string or cord. Finally she said, “Wait a moment.” Little waited. This time her face did not appear. The barometer came slowly down at the end of—a stay-lace.
The barometer showed a frightful elevation. Little looked up at the valve and said nothing. Presently he heard a sigh. Then a sob. Then, rather sharply,—
“Why don’t you do something?”
Little came up the rope hand over hand. Lady Caroline crouched in the farther side of the car. Fido, the poodle, whined.
“Poor thing,” said Lady Caroline, “it’s hungry.”
“Do you wish to save the dog?” said Little.
“Give me your parasol.”
She handed Little a good-sized affair of lace and silk and whalebone. (None of your “sunshades.”) Little examined its ribs carefully.
“Give me the dog.”
Lady Caroline hurriedly slipped a note under the dog’s collar, and passed over her pet.
Little tied the dog to the handle of the parasol and launched them both into space. The next moment they were slowly, but tranquilly, sailing to the earth.
“A parasol and a parachute are distinct, but not different. Be not alarmed, he will get his dinner at some farmhouse.”
“Where are we now?”
“That opaque spot you see is London fog. Those twin clouds are North and South America. Jerusalem and Madagascar are those specks to the right.”
Lady Caroline moved nearer; she was becoming interested. Then she recalled herself, and said freezingly, “How are we going to descend?”
“By opening the valve.”
“Why don’t you open it then?”
“BECAUSE THE VALVE-STRING IS BROKEN!”
Lady Caroline fainted. When she revived it was dark. They were apparently cleaving their way through a solid block of black marble. She moaned and shuddered.
“I wish we had a light.”
“I have no lucifers.” said Little. “I observe, however, that you wear a necklace of amber. Amber under certain conditions becomes highly electrical. Permit me.”
He took the amber necklace and rubbed it briskly. Then he asked her to present her knuckle to the gem. Abright spark was the result. This was repeated for some hours. The light was not brilliant, but it was enough for the purposes of propriety, and satisfied the delicately minded girl.
Suddenly there was a tearing, hissing noise and a smell of gas. Little looked up and turned pale. The balloon, at what I shall call the pointed end of the Bologna sausage, was evidently bursting from increased pressure. The gas was escaping, and already they were beginning to descend. Little was resigned but firm.
“If the silk gives way, then we are lost. Unfortunately I have no rope nor material for binding it.”
The woman’s instinct had arrived at the same conclusion sooner than the man’s reason. But she was hesitating over a detail.
“Will you go down the rope for a moment?” she said, with a sweet smile.
Little went down. Presently she called to him. She held something in her hand,—a wonderful invention of the seventeenth century, improved and perfected in this: a pyramid of sixteen circular hoops of light yet strong steel, attached to each other by cloth bands.
With a cry of joy Little seized them, climbed to the balloon, and fitted the elastic hoops over its conical end. Then he returned to the car.
“We are saved.” Lady Caroline, blushing, gathered her slim but antique drapery against the other end of the car.
They were slowly descending. Presently Lady Caroline distinguished the outlines of Raby Hall.
“I think I will get out here,” she said.
Little anchored the balloon, and prepared to follow her.
“Not so, my friend,” she said, with an arch smile. “We must not be seen together. People might talk. Farewell.”
Little sprang again into the balloon and sped away to America. He came down in California, oddly enough in front of Hardin’s door, at Dutch Flat. Hardin was just examining a specimen of ore.
“You are a scientist; can you tell me if that is worth anything?” he said, handing it to Little.
Little held it to the light. “It contains ninety per cent of silver.”
Hardin embraced him. “Can I do anything for you, and why are you here?”
Little told his story. Hardin asked to see the rope. Then he examined it carefully.
“Ah, this was cut, not broken!”
“With a knife?” asked Little.
“No. Observe both sides are equally indented. It was done with a scissors!”
“Just Heaven!” gasped Little. “Therese!”
Little returned to London. Passing through London one day he met a dog-fancier.
“Buy a nice poodle, sir?”
Something in the animal attracted his attention.
“Fido!” he gasped.
The dog yelped.
Little bought him. On taking off his collar a piece of paper rustled to the floor. He knew the handwriting and kissed it. It ran:—
|To THE HONORABLE AUGUSTUS RABY—I cannot marry you. If I marry any one [sly puss] it will be the man who has twice saved my life, Professor Little. CAROLINE COVENTRY.|
And she did.
|1. The right of dramatization of this and succeeding chapters is reserved by the writer. [back]|