The Abducted Bride
The Abducted Bride
By Emerson Hough
Author of "The Mississippi Bubble" "The Sowing," etc.
NOTHING happens," said Runt Ware, discontentedly. "Absolutely nothing happens but tourists. Look at 'em! And me that was an American once."
He sat in front of the King Edward livery barns at Barth, not far from the Royal Edward Hotel of Barth, which, as all men know, is situated near Edward's Peak, deep in the Canadian Rockies. His moody eye turned from the disembarking multitude of the multi-clad and fell upon a stable boy engaged in combing out the tails of four cream-colored horses whose like did not exist in all Canada in respect of stateliness, fatness and fitness to officiate upon important public occasions. Mr. Ware's remarks, however, were not addressed to the stable boy, but to his associate, partner and friend, Billy Hardy—who, with him, owned a large portion of the circumjacent landscape, and the appurtenances, easements, etc.
"I dunno," said Billy, slipping his bulldog pipe to the other corner of his mouth, "tourists ain't bad. They all eat, and they all hire horses; and we adjust the penalties for such loose habits. The boys sold two tons of grub to that Bavarian prince yesterday, and he'll have to hire forty horses of us to get the grub out into the mountains—maybe forty more to get back to town again."
"Oh, that's all right," said Runt Ware, vaguely.
They smoked on for a time and watched the boy curry the cream-colored horses, but after a time Billy resumed: "Now, look here. Runt, the way you talk doesn't make any sort of hit with me. Unless you want King George's job, I don't know how you can expect to do any better than we have here. You're captain of the baseball nine, and I run the polo team. We've bought the town a new red fire-engine. We've got stock in the King Edward hotel, and the Queen Victoria water-works, and the Queen Anne rum-works, and about everything else. We two fellows come pretty near being the entire resident population here, besides all the leading citizens.
"Who hands out the address of welcome when the prime minister comes? Us. Who receives the princes and potentates and crowned heads? Why, us! And yet you sit there studying up for Hamlet!"
"Bar Harbor!" said Runt, his chin in his hand and his eyes far away. "Rye Beach! All those places back home! They're just moving in there now."
"Yes, and Cissie Ann Taylor——"
His partner turned upon him a cold blue eye. "You may cut all that out, Billy," said he. "I don't propose to stand any talk about it."
They sat moodily staring out at the mountains until finally Mr. Ware arose and stretched his shoulders. "At least," said he, "a fellow can maybe get busy down at the Manœuvres." By this he meant the annual encampment of the Royal Light Horse, in which body he held the dignified position of first lieutenant.
"I think I'll start on over to the camp to-night," he went on. "The new station agent down here is Scotch, fresh over, and I can't talk to him without a dictionary, so I'll go down now and see about my luggitch. Of course you remember that in a couple of weeks the Governor of Alberta, Sir Alfred, is coming to Earth on a visit. You'll find the address of welcome all written out, and under the seltzer bottle on the table down at the bungalow. If anything happens to me so that I don't get back on time, why, you see that the big barouche and the cream colored four-horse team are down at the station. Send the new English coachman. Tell that Irish clerk at the hotel that Sir Alfred's to have the bridal chamber and the run of the house, with twenty off on all the billiards he plays."
"Yes," said Billy, "I stay at home and do the work, while you go out and drown your sorrows!"
"An officer's duty to his command," replied Runt, drawing himself up, stiffly, "is something which a gentleman cannot forget! It's true our old Major may get to stepping high and infrequent. He usually does; but it's my duty to the British Empire, in my capacity as Adjutant, to see that the camp is run with due decorum and full reference to our glorious regimental traditions."
Cissie Ann Taylor ought not to have been at Barth alone. Especially ought not she to have been alone at the Royal Edward Hotel. There should be a law against all appearances of Cissie Anns alone and unattended at popular resorts. They should be debarred from transcontinental railway trips in the summer time, even with Auntie Marys. Because, they constitute a menace to public safety.
Cissie Ann, plus Auntie Mary, would have been different. None knew this better than Cissie Ann herself. But Auntie Mary, busy photographing Indians at the junction point, east of Barth, had lost her train! What was worse, in her fright and flurry at seeing her own train roll out she had, with great presence of mind, taken a flying leap on board the next train to roll in. This happened to be going down over the Crow's Nest Railroad. If Auntie Mary and Cissie Ann had great good fortune, they might possibly get in telegraphic communication within the next week. If their good fortune continued, Auntie Mary might get around to Barth by way of Hawaii and the Aleutian Islands some time next year. For once in her self-reliant life, Cissie Ann was troubled.
It was not so much the necessity of registering alone and unchaperoned at the Royal Edward, nor even the difficulty of facing many eyes in the highly gilded dining-room and the highly polished corridors. The trouble in her soul existed over the fact that this town was the dwelling place of one Frederick William Ware.
Oh, it had all happened long ago, four years ago. They had parted forever. Cissie Ann almost wished that she had not bought with her own personal pin money that section of farming lands in the far Northwest which she and Auntie Mary had come out to investigate. In one corner of her soul she admitted that when she found her investment, and did not find Frederick William Ware standing at the edge of it to welcome her, she had experienced a distinct sense of disappointment. Neither did Frederick William Ware render himself visible now. Not that she would look at him if he were visible.
Cissie Ann sat down alone on the edge of the bed in-her room, surrounded by highly respectable travelling bags. Her hat was tied under her chin with a wide gray veil. Her gray travelling gown was a miracle of unwrinkledness. Her small foot, tapping impatiently on the floor, was likewise a miracle of neatness in its patent leather boot. She raised her eyes and gazed at an exceedingly fetching figure in the glass opposite. She adjusted the bow of her veil, smoothed down her frock. Then, all at once, as she did these things, she observed with surprise that the young lady in the glass had two large tears on her cheek; then two more.
Cissie Ann, alone, in an embarrassing situation, sat down and wept. It was not for the loss of Auntie Mary; it was not for this embarrassment to herself. It was for the sake of the world, this great, desolate, cold-hearted, busy world, into which men sometimes disappear.
Time passed, and Frederick William Ware, being three times called in the open court of Cissie Ann's heart, came not. She wondered whether or not he lived in a single room, all by himself. She wished that she might gaze therein, undetected, hoping to find him living in Spartan simplicity, with no adornments upon the wall save one picture of herself, and that surrounded with mournful black. (Perhaps, on the whole, it was just as well that Cissie Ann had no such private glimpse of Mr. Ware's bachelor abode.)
But, after all, a girl must live. In due time Cissie Ann appeared upon the veranda of the Royal Edward. In less than a half hour there were gathered about her in one corner some seventeen distinct nationalities of the male sex, all staring, all turning, twirling or pulling, seventeen assorted mustaches, displaying some seventeen varying costumes, each selected according to the notion of its wearer as to fitness in the "colonies".
And then and there arose a vast wave of feminine hatred and bitterness against Cissie Ann. The entire feminine bosom at the Royal Edward demanded, "Where is that girl's chaperon?"
It was a perfectly legitimate and proper question. But how could Cissie Ann have answered it? By this time Auntie Mary was somewhere towards Crow's Nest—far, far away. In truth, not even the next morning's train brought Auntie Mary nor any word of her. What is a girl to do who finds herself thus situated? Obviously, she should send out a tracer for Auntie Mary, and then order a saddle-horse for herself.
Now, if in her evening garb, Cissie Ann had been bewildering, in her cross-saddle riding turnout she was maddening. As she passed up the mountain rail she was followed by a long train of maudlin, gibbering imbeciles; all hating each other, all moody, and all with eyes firmly fixed ahead. In the soul of each of these, from Lord Ellmore Wiltonhaye to Count Adolph, the Bavarian prince, there was implanted a resolution to save this helpless girl's life in case any emergency should arise.
Sometimes mounted tourists riding up or down the trail forgot to call out advance warning before they reached a certain narrow impasse where a high wall arises upon one hand, and a sheer drop-off lies upon the other. It happened that at the very time Cissie Ann approached this portion of the trail, going up, there also approached it, coming down, a florid e000000x-major of the English Army, who rode as though he had belonged to the Navy. Cissie Ann called out, but her voice was not heeded. The Major, transfixed by the sudden sight of her exceeding loveliness, continued to ride on, down to the narrowest portion of the trail, gazing at her with a stony stare. All at once Cissie Ann found herself in a situation where she could go neither backward nor forward. Neither could the Major go backward or forward. Finding this to be the case, he very sensibly remarked, "God bless my soul!" All the assorted men lower down the trail also remarked, "God bless my soul!" None did anything further.
"Get down, sir!" commanded Cissie Ann to the Major of the Navy. The latter dismounted, gasping. "Come on down, now! Get inside. Let your horse take the edge."
The Major obeyed. His horse crowded him against the rock wall, both grunting exceedingly. "God bless my soul!" said the Major again. "God bl—— ouch!" The horse had stepped on his foot. Wild by reason of the heavy hand on its bit, it began to plunge, began to crowd down upon Cissie Ann. She, red in both her cheeks, reined her own mount in close against the rock wall.
"Let go of him!" she commanded, her voice high. The Major obeyed. Then Cissie Ann, gathering her mount in with the controlling power of a concentrated body which riders know and horses know, waited until the frightened cayuse came directly between her and the hand-rail. This rustic contrivance creaked and cracked and broke. The mad cayuse lost his fore-feet over the edge, his hind-quarters still crushing back. It was then that Cissie Ann put out a little patent leather foot and shoved at his projecting hips with all her strength. Suddenly the horse went over and down with a great smashing of jack pine far below.
Everybody now remarked, with different intonations, "God bless my soul!" Only the Major of the Navy had presence of mind enough to ask if Cissie Ann was hurt.
"No," she answered, coolly. "You'd better ask that plug down there if he's hurt."
"You don't mean to tell me he wouldn't be quite dead?" asked the Major.
Cissie Ann raised her level brows. "Do you think a little roll like that would hurt a mountain horse?" she asked with contempt. This view of the matter had not presented itself to any of the others, yet, as they peered over, they discovered at a distance of something like half a mile straight below, the missing cayuse, now eating grass contentedly, enjoying more leisure than he had experienced for the last two months. The cavalcade now returned down the hill. It was thus that Cissie Ann's life was saved—seventeen times.
After this, all the ladies at the Royal Edward Inn called the young American girl a Forward Thing.
On the day following, Cissie Ann did not present a figure of actual aggressiveness, but none the less she finally resolved upon doing something concrete and practical in the way of helping herself to forget. A boat ride on the lake known as the Royal Louise, a few miles distant in the biographical topography which surrounds this colonial resort, seemed to her to offer pastime. Since she pulled a very decent oar herself, and since her chaperon was at Crow's Nest, far away, and there was no one else she knew, she went out alone.
It need hardly be added that, mysteriously conjured from the vasty deep, there soon appeared about her solitary craft at varying distances, some seventeen other boats, each holding a man person bent upon saving the life of Cissie Ann should any emergency arise. Perhaps Lord Wiltonhaye and Adolph, the Bavarian prince, were closer than any of the others. Cissie Ann endured this as long as she could, then folded her sunshade in a roll of fluff and took up her oars to pull back again. She was tired of men.
Perhaps some time you may have seen some gentle, tender, silvery being of the deep surrounded by a school of devouring greater fishes. When this smaller creature is motionless, the others are motionless as well. When it moves, they also move; watching, drawing near. Thus, as Cissie Arm started to pull ashore, all those other boats, variously propelled with clawing, splashing, crabbing oars, also massed and followed after. And then and there it was that Adolph, the Bavarian cavalry prince, rammed amidships the British Navy, as represented by Lord Wiltonhaye.
Cissie Ann thought that everybody could swim, even in ice water, and had no great mental perturbation over the vision of Adolph's disappearing face, upturned mustaches and all. Neither did the smothered "God bl—blub—blub—" of Lord Wiltonhaye as he sank give her any real regrets. She did, however, cease rowing for the time. At last, after a very decent interval, two heads, one on each side of her boat, arose from the icy depths—Count Adolph, bald, hatless and goggle-eyed; Lord Wiltonhaye, still monocled, and with pale and plastered hair.
"Ach-ha-roo-o-o-oosh!" remarked Adolph. Lord Wiltonhaye, far more formal and polite, casually began "God bless," etc., etc. It was at that time that a small yet nervous hand, sun-burned and unhesitating, caught the owner of each of these expletives firmly by the collar.
"Here, you!" remarked Cissie Ann, sternly, over her shoulder to the most intelligent looking of the nearby oarsmen, "get into the bow of my boat and row us in. Keep still, both of you! Don't try to get in the boat. No, you don't"—and she shook Lord Wiltonhaye by the collar.
Finally someone climbed upon the front seat of Cissie Ann's boat; and the marine procession slowly, but with satisfactory safeness, progressed to shore. Thus it was that Cissie Ann's life was saved—another seventeen times.
After this, instead of being a Forward Thing, Cissie Ann was merely a Thing, tout court.
It was entirely natural that after the breaking up of the annual encampment of the Royal Edward Light Horse, Lieutenant F. William Ware should take the train for home. It was within the bounds of reason also that he could recognize his own town when the train reached it; and quite supposable, as well, that he would recognize his own carriage at the railway station—even the vice-regal barouche with the four cream-colored horses of state used upon occasions of importance in his community. It may be said, further, that it was quite natural that Lieutenant F. William Ware should know that the governor of the Province, Sir Alfred, was not on that particular railway train where he belonged, but side-tracked at the junction point far to the east, where at this current hour he was no doubt addressing four trainloads of Americans just coming in, and explaining to them what a beautiful thing it was to have a king and a royal family to furnish names for so much high-class mountain scenery. No one at the junction, however, appeared to bethink himself to advise the reception committee at Barth of this delay on the part of Sir Alfred.
The new Scotch station agent at Barth, in a blue funk at meeting what he supposed to be the Prime Minister of the Dominion, was in no condition to recognize even his own father, let alone Lieutenant F. William Ware dressed up in the full resplendence of his Royal Light Horse uniform. Hence there was a little misunderstanding when Lieutenant F. William Ware descended at Barth station and without hesitation started over toward the vice-regal barouche and the cream-colored team of state; it being really only his intention to have the state equipage taken to the barns, since there was to be no use for it this evening.
Lieutenant F. William Ware was, by virtue of fitness, always appointed Quarter Master at the annual encampment of the Royal Light Horse. Also he was by general acclamation chosen inspector of rifle practice, perpetual officer of the day, master of hounds, archbishop of tennis, and lord high governor of the golf. Everybody at the Manœuvres expected to have a good time, and Lieut. F. William Ware, Q. M., saw to it that he did. None the less, the Quarter Master himself now was not gay. His heart was bowed down with weight of woe as he pondered certain things. Preoccupied, absorbed, gazing straight ahead, he walked across the station platform without noticing the new Scotch agent, and, clad in full panoply as he was, with sword in hand—a very fitting figure of a Prime Minister, as the new Scotch agent thought—flung himself discontentedly upon the soft cushions of the vice-regal barouche.
The new English coachman, who did not know a prime minister by sight any better than the Scotch station agent, took this as a signal to drive up to the Royal Edward Hotel; there being no other place to which a Prime Minister, or anybody else, could by any possibility go. Whereupon he gathered up the reins over the broad backs of the cream-colored team. The band methodically struck up; the escort followed, horse and foot; many unattached carriages as well.
"By Jove!" suddenly whispered the moody occupant of the vice-regal carriage to himself. "Get on to it! They think I'm Sir Alfred!"
The band laboriously announced to the waiting populace that the chief was now in triumph advancing. Runt Ware sat in thought for one brief moment. Then he smiled sweetly to himself. He adjusted his cap, pulled down the tunic under his belt, arranged his sash, draped the long cords of his belt support across his chest, and resting one hand upon his sword hilt, the other in the bosom of his tunic, gazed sternly ahead.
Thus did this image of lese majeste progress along the street from the station house, over the bridge across the river, and up the incline to the front of the Royal Edward Inn, where waited a vast, expectant crowd, mostly made of tourists. The band blew valorously. Many 'kerchiefs waved. A venturous voice called for three cheers for Sir Alfred. They were given with a will. Whereupon, rising in the barouche, Sir Alfred, carrying his head high, and wearing a stern, official expression, made a formal and dignified acknowledgment.
It was in this somewhat extraordinary fashion that Runt Ware, or F. W. Ware, or Frederick William Ware, or Lieutenant F. William Ware, alias Sir Alfred, now approached a certain person whom he had not seen for four years. And they did not know—ye gods of woe and luck, neither one of them knew!
None the less, the Prime Minister's face was full of repose as the crowd surged upon the steps of the Royal Edward to greet him. Dowagers, spinsters, tourists, blocked the way. A Babel of tongues arose. Pushing through the crowd came a body of men whom he saw to be the reception committee. "My God!" he muttered to himself, "What if they should read me my own address of welcome!"
To escape this contingency, the Prime Minister pushed his way up the steps and through the wide corridor. Halted here midway by the crush, he essayed yet other heights of audacity.
"My dear Lady M-m-m-m-m—" grasping the first hand he could find—"I was so charmed to meet your husband." The Ontario school teacher in question had, as it chanced, never had a husband, and drew back confused. The Prime Minister did not notice it, as he was at that time addressing another dear Lady Something-or-other, telling her how much she was improved.
Naturally, there ensued a great crush with the affable dignitary. A certain small and terrified person about this time was caught in the crowd and swept on in spite of her will toward the place where stood a figure and arose a voice exceedingly familiar to herself.
Poor Cissie Ann! She was sadly elbowed and jostled that night. Which way she turned, she found not one friendly face. Full of fright, now quite out of hand, almost lost as to her self-respect, her eyes piteous, her hair tumbled, her gown crumpled, her face full of the first fear she had ever known, she was slowly pushed toward the space where stood the owner of the voice she knew; and thus it was that Runt Ware, Prime Minister, now to her excited vision indeed the prime minister of her salvation, caught a glimpse of her.
Their eyes met. Neither understood, nor could either find a chance to ask. Cissie Ann turned her face toward the fat grocer's wife who was elbowing her.
In a flash the Prime Minister saw and understood; or at least if he did not fully understand, he took his chance, and that is all any man may do.
"I beg pardon, my good Lady M-m-m-m," he said to the grocer's wife, who overshadowed the shrinking figure at her side, "but do you know this lady?"
The grocer's wife bridled and sniffed.
"Indeed, Sir Alfred!" she said scornfully, "No one knows her. She's alone here altogether, you know."
The Prime Minister edged through the crowd. "Alone? What do you mean?" he asked.
"Quite unattended! These Americans——"
The Irish clerk from the desk, flushed and anxious, broke through the surrounding line. "I beg pardon, Sir Alfred," he asked, "but what is your pleasure as to going up? I beg pardon, but is Lady Alfred with you, as was planned?"
Then it was that Runt Ware showed himself a great man. "Certainly," he answered. "This is Lady Alfred, there. I beg pardon, madam, but will you permit me to shake hands with my wife?"
Cissie Ann saw and heard! She saw him turn to her now, color in his sunburned cheek, his head uncovered. He pushed through and took her hand.
The crowd fell back, troubled astonished. To their extremest astonishment they saw Sir Alfred and his lady proceed, not forward but down the steps, into the vice-regal barouche!
Sudden fright arose. Consternation was expressed by many who guessed that perhaps Sir Alfred resented some indignity to Lady Alfred, who, for some unknown reason, had travelled on ahead incognita. The reception committee fought wildly to get through the crowd, the Chairman with an address of welcome in his hand.
Sir Alfred, with Lady Alfred upon the seat behind him, waved the driver from the box, took up the reins himself, and rapidly tooled the cream-colored team out into the open air, into the high white hills, up the winding mountain trail. None dared follow.
"Oh, by the way, Cissie Ann," he asked, turning about after what seemed to her an age of silence, "what are you doing here, anyway?"
No answer from scared Cissie Ann, weeping and unstrung.
"What were you doing here?" he repeated. "Oh, hang it! I know well enough what you were doing. You were at your old tricks. You couldn't help flirting, even with a cigar sign. Those two fellows I saw standing by you in the corridor—but I suppose you couldn't help it?"
No answer for some moments. Then, "I didn't."
"Woman, I repeat, what do you here?" asked Runt, sternly. "How came you alone and unattended into this dash blamed joint that I happen to own, by the way? Tell me, quick!"
No answer. Then "I won't."
Runt Ware chuckled. "You haven't changed much in four years, Cissie Ann," he said blithely.
"You'd be better if you had changed," said Cissie Ann, tartly.
"Woman, cease!" rebuked the Prime Minister, sternly. "I shall entertain no idle talk from my own wife!"
Silence. Then, "I'm not your own wife."
"No? Then a lot of folks down there are mighty well fooled about it, including myself. If you aren't, you're going to be, and mighty quick—I mean jolly well quick. Didn't you hear me—er—call you by—er—that name down there in the hotel?"
"Yes, I d-d-did. It was horrid of you!"
Silence for a long time, as the fat and wheezing team climbed up the mountain slope. At length the Prime Minister resumed: "Honestly, Cissie Ann, I was going to come back to the States to see you. I was just going to start day after to-morrow. You ask Billy." Silence again, till his ancient grievance arose.
"Oh, hang it, Cissie, you just never would let men alone. You'd flirt with a camel driver at a Wild West show if you couldn't do any better. You'd wake up a drunken sailor to smile in his face. You'd flirt with a minister of the Gospel, and make him forget his sacred office. From your French teacher down to old Deacon Potter, that ran the grocery store, you just couldn't and wouldn't let men alone. Now, what was I to do? I kept away from you for four years. I come here now, not expected, and what do I see—"
"It isn't true!" The little figure on the back seat stiffened. "On my honor, Fred, I didn't. It's the only time in my life I didn't, but I didn't. Back there, at home. I just couldn't help it. A girl's a girl. She can't help it. I was going to think a g-g-great deal of you. Fred, but you carried on so abominably with that Sally Currier from New Orleans that—Oh, you have no heart at all! And now look how you've situated me here. Your wife! My word!" She stole a look out of an eye-corner.
"Go on! Duke. Get up! Prince." So spoke the unperturbed voice of the Prime Minister, who still was chuckling to himself. "Woman, you wrong meh! I seemed to be gone on Sally, but the truth—the entire truth, Cissie Ann—is that it was my farewell performance. I knew that in a few months I was going to be where I'd never have another chance to look at another girl in all my life—and never want one."
Silence for a time. Then, "Did you really feel that way, Fred?"
"Of course I did! Didn't you hear me say it?"
"So did I."
"Oh. you did? Well, now, as wife of the Prime Minister of these colonies, and a possible successor to the throne of the British Empire—no one can tell what'll happen these days—you've got to cut all that out. I won't have it. There's not a jealous hair in my head—but when I see another man talking to you I just get wild: Well. I won't have it, that's all."
"Nor I, either!" said Cissie Ann. "I won't have you carrying on with other girls. That"s what—what—broke it off."
"Yes," said Runt, slowly and solemnly, once more touching up the lead team. "Yes. Lady Alfred, that's what brought us to this pass. I have been, much against my will, forced to marry you to save your reputation! Woman, tell meh—tell meh, what hope is there for a happy future after all that has passed between us!—Oh, dash it, Cissie Ann—what's the use—I beg your pardon. But you know."
He turned about and climbed into the back seat. Their cheeks met as their arms clasped each other in the vice-regal barouche. Cissie Ann sobbed freely. The Prime Minister gurgled in his own throat.
"It was—it was—noble of you," gasped Cissie Ann, finally.
"Madame, in honor, I could have done no less!" said Runt Ware, solemnly.
"But I say," he looked up, "where are we? What's become of the rail on this embankment?"
"Oh, that?" said Cissie Ann, vaguely. "That's where that horse went down the other day. Look out, we might slip over, ourselves."
"I shouldn't mind, now," said Runt Ware, happily.
When, how, or where the Prime Minister and his consort got down off the mountain is not of record, but it apparently happened some time. Perhaps the highly intelligent Jap, who played shortstop for the baseball nine covered as well as possible the question which for some time rent social Barth asunder and filled the Colonial press with bitter discussion.
"Whether Sir Alfred and our honorable captain are one and the same persons is honorably permitted to doubt; also whether our Captain was married to his wife at time of reception to Sir Alfred, or day after same reception. But it is not now permitted to doubt our Captain is east on wedding journey with his honorable bride. The honorable Lady Mary, Auntie of same, is not yet discovered also."