List Of Contents | Contents of Their Pilgrimage, by Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Occasionally there was an alarm that the mist was getting thin, that the
clouds were about to break, and a rush was made out-of-doors, and the
tourists dispersed about on the rocks.  They were all on the qui vine to
see the hotel or the boarding-house they had left in the early morning.
Excursionists continually swarmed in by rail or by carriage road.  The
artist, who had one of his moods for wanting to see nature, said there
were too many women; he wanted to know why there were always so many
women on excursions.  "You can see nothing but excursionists; whichever
way you look, you see their backs."  These backs, looming out of the
mist, or discovered in a rift, seemed to enrage him.

At length something actually happened.  The curtain of cloud slowly
lifted, exactly as in a theatre; for a moment there was a magnificent
view of peaks, forests, valleys, a burst of sunshine on the lost world,
and then the curtain dropped, amid a storm of "Ohs!" and "Ahs!" and
intense excitement.  Three or four times, as if in response to the call
of the spectators, this was repeated, the curtain lifting every time on a
different scene, and then it was all over, and the heavy mist shut down
on the registered and the unregistered alike.  But everybody declared
that they preferred it this way; it was so much better to have these
wonderful glimpses than a full view.  They would go down and brag over
their good-fortune.

The excursionists by-and-by went away out of the clouds, gliding
breathlessly down the rails.  When snow covers this track, descent is
sometimes made on a toboggan, but it is such a dangerous venture that all
except the operatives are now forbidden to try it.  The velocity attained
of three and a half miles in three minutes may seem nothing to a
locomotive engineer who is making up time; it might seem slow to a lover
whose sweetheart was at the foot of the slide; to ordinary mortals a mile
a minute is quite enough on such an incline.

Our party, who would have been much surprised if any one had called them
an excursion, went away on foot down the carriage road to the Glen House.
A descent of a few rods took them into the world of light and sun, and
they were soon beyond the little piles of stones which mark the spots
where tourists have sunk down bewildered in the mist and died of
exhaustion and cold.  These little mounds help to give Mount Washington
its savage and implacable character.  It is not subdued by all the roads
and rails and scientific forces.  For days it may lie basking and smiling
in the sun, but at any hour it is liable to become inhospitable and
pitiless, and for a good part of the year the summit is the area of
elemental passion.

How delightful it was to saunter down the winding road into a region of
peace and calm; to see from the safe highway the great giants in all
their majesty; to come to vegetation, to the company of familiar trees,
and the haunts of men!  As they reached the Glen House all the line of
rugged mountain-peaks was violet in the reflected rays.  There were
people on the porch who were looking at this spectacle.  Among them the
eager eyes of King recognized Irene.

"Yes, there she is," cried Mrs. Farquhar; "and there--oh, what a
treacherous North---- is Mr. Meigs also."

It was true.  There was Mr. Meigs, apparently domiciled with the Benson
family.  There might have been a scene, but fortunately the porch was
full of loungers looking at the sunset, and other pedestrians in couples
and groups were returning from afternoon strolls.  It might be the crisis
of two lives, but to the spectator nothing more was seen than the
everyday meeting of friends and acquaintances.  A couple say good-night
at the door of a drawing-room.  Nothing has happened--nothing except a
look, nothing except the want of pressure of the hand.  The man lounges
off to the smoking-room, cool and indifferent; the woman, in her chamber,
falls into a passion of tears, and at the end of a wakeful night comes
into a new world, hard and cold and uninteresting.  Or the reverse
happens.  It is the girl who tosses the thing off with a smile, perhaps
with a sigh, as the incident of a season, while the man, wounded and
bitter, loses a degree of respect for woman, and pitches his life
henceforth on a lower plane.

In the space of ten steps King passed through an age of emotions, but the
strongest one steadied him.  There was a general movement, exclamations,
greetings, introductions.  King was detained a moment by Mr. and Mrs.
Benson; he even shook hands with Mr. Meigs, who had the tact to turn
immediately from the group and talk with somebody else; while Mrs.
Farquhar and Miss Lamont and Mrs. Cortlandt precipitated themselves upon
Irene in a little tempest of cries and caresses and delightful feminine
fluttering.  Truth to say, Irene was so overcome by these greetings that
she had not the strength to take a step forward when King at length
approached her.  She stood with one hand grasping the back of the chair.
She knew that that moment would decide her life.  Nothing is more
admirable in woman, nothing so shows her strength, as her ability to face
in public such a moment.  It was the critical moment for King--how
critical the instant was, luckily, he did not then know.  If there had
been in his eyes any doubt, any wavering, any timidity, his cause would
have been lost.  But there was not.  There was infinite love and
tenderness, but there was also resolution, confidence, possession,
mastery.  There was that that would neither be denied nor turned aside,
nor accept any subterfuge.  If King had ridden up on a fiery steed,
felled Meigs with his "mailed hand," and borne away the fainting girl on
his saddle pommel, there could have been no more doubt of his resolute
intention.  In that look all the mists of doubt that her judgment had
raised in Irene's mind to obscure love vanished.  Her heart within her
gave a great leap of exultation that her lover was a man strong enough to
compel, strong enough to defend.  At that instant she knew that she could
trust him against the world.  In that moment, while he still held her
hand, she experienced the greatest joy that woman ever knows--the bliss
of absolute surrender.

"I have come," he said, "in answer to your letter.  And this is my

She had it in his presence, and read it in his eyes.  With the delicious
sense thrilling her that she was no longer her own master there came a
new timidity.  She had imagined that if ever she should meet Mr. King
again, she should defend her course, and perhaps appear in his eyes in a
very heroic attitude.  Now she only said, falteringly, and looking down,
"I--I hoped you would come."

That evening there was a little dinner given in a private parlor by Mr.
Benson in honor of the engagement of his daughter.  It was great larks
for the young ladies whom Mrs. Cortlandt was chaperoning, who behaved
with an elaboration of restraint and propriety that kept Irene in a
flutter of uneasiness.  Mr. Benson, in mentioning the reason for the
"little spread," told the story of Abraham Lincoln's sole response to
Lord Lyons, the bachelor minister of her majesty, when he came officially
to announce the marriage of the Prince of Wales--"Lord Lyons, go thou and
do likewise; " and he looked at Forbes when he told it, which made Miss
Lamont blush, and appear what the artist had described her to King--the
sweetest thing in life.  Mrs. Benson beamed with motherly content, and
was quite as tearful as ungrammatical, but her mind was practical and
forecasting.  "There'll have to be," she confided to Miss Lamont, "more
curtains in the parlor, and I don't know but new paper."  Mr. Meigs was
not present.  Mrs. Farquhar noticed this, and Mrs. Benson remembered that
he had said something about going down to North Conway, which gave King
an opportunity to say to Mrs. Farquhar that she ought not to despair, for
Mr. Meigs evidently moved in a circle, and was certain to cross her path
again.  "I trust so," she replied.  " I've been his only friend through
all this miserable business."  The dinner was not a great success.  There
was too much self-consciousness all round, and nobody was witty and

The next morning King took Irene to the Crystal Cascade.  When he used to
frequent this pretty spot as a college boy, it had seemed to him the
ideal place for a love scene-much better than the steps of a hotel.  He
said as much when they were seated at the foot of the fall.  It is a
charming cascade fed by the water that comes down Tuckerman's Ravine.
But more beautiful than the fall is the stream itself, foaming down
through the bowlders, or lying in deep limpid pools which reflect the sky
and the forest.  The water is as cold as ice and as clear as cut glass;
few mountain streams in the world, probably, are so absolutely without
color.  "I followed it up once," King was saying, by way of filling in
the pauses with personal revelations, "to the source.  The woods on the
side are dense and impenetrable, and the only way was to keep in the
stream and climb over the bowlders.  There are innumerable slides and
cascades and pretty falls, and a thousand beauties and surprises.
I finally came to a marsh, a thicket of alders, and around this the
mountain closed in an amphitheatre of naked perpendicular rock a thousand
feet high.  I made my way along the stream through the thicket till I
came to a great bank and arch of snow--it was the last of July--from
under which the stream flowed.  Water dripped in many little rivulets
down the face of the precipices--after a rain there are said to be a
thousand cascades there.  I determined to climb to the summit, and go
back by the Tip-top House.  It does not look so from a little distance,
but there is a rough, zigzag sort of path on one side of the
amphitheatre, and I found this, and scrambled up.  When I reached the top
the sun was shining, and although there was nothing around me but piles
of granite rocks, without any sign of a path, I knew that I had my
bearings so that I could either reach the house or a path leading to it.

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: