Ah! M. Bois-le-Duc, your training of Noel McAllister was at fault somewhere. You grounded him thoroughly in Latin and the classics, but you taught him little of the study of human character, that most profoundly interesting of all studies. Had your teaching been different, Noel McAllister might have had a different estimation of the depths of a nature like Marie Gourdon’s, of a woman’s true unselfish devotion. He might have made an effort to keep what he had already won—which was above all price. Had your teaching not failed in this one essential point, Noel McAllister’s life and career would have been far different. Well for him had it been so!
“O world! thy slippery turns!
Friends, now fast sworn in love
inseparable, shall within this hour break out to bitterest enmity.”
Coriolanus, Act iv., Scene iv.
It was two months later, a chilly October afternoon.
The glory of the maple and the sumach had departed, and a dingy russet brown had succeeded the more brilliant tints of early autumn. The tide was high, and the waves dashed angrily against the long pier at Rimouski.
On this pier were gathered six persons, awaiting the arrival from Quebec of the outward-bound steamer. They were Madame McAllister and her son Noel, Marie Gourdon, Pierre, her father, Jean, her brother, and M. Bois-le-Duc. What was the matter with M. le cure this afternoon? He looked anxious and care-worn, and scarcely spoke to anyone. Marie, on the contrary, was very bright, and tried to keep up Madame McAllister’s spirits, which were at the lowest ebb.
On the whole, there was not much talking done, for a cloud seemed to hang over the whole party.
Presently, some miles out on the gulf, at first like a tiny black speck, appeared the steamer. Nearer and nearer it came, growing larger and larger as it approached. The dark waters heaved up in huge waves as her bow pierced their depths. The foam dashed high, as if in angry protest at the intruder. And Madame McAllister, glancing at the ship, said in her quaint, pathetic way: “Ah! Noel, my son, here is the ship like some huge monster come to swallow you up. I cannot let you go. Oh! my son, my son!”
At length the steamer “Peruvian”—for Lady McAllister desired that Noel should travel in every way befitting her heir—reached the pier. Ropes were thrown out and caught by the fishermen.
The mails, in great leather bags, were thrown on board, and shouts were heard of “All passengers aboard!”
During all this bustle Noel McAllister stepped aside, and said to M. Bois-le-Duc, in a hurried, anxious tone:
“And now, my father, are you not going to give me your blessing?”
M. Bois-le-Duc, strangely enough, had made no advance towards his favorite pupil; in fact, during the whole of the last month had seemed to avoid him. Now, when thus directly questioned, he answered: