Lucretia by Grant Allen
I will acknowledge that I was certainly a very young man in the year
'67; indeed, I was only just turned of twenty, and was inordinately
proud of a slight downy fringe on my upper lip, which I was pleased to
speak of as my moustache. Still, I was a sturdy young fellow enough, in
spite of my consumptive tendencies, and not given to groundless fears in
a general way; but I must allow that I was decidedly frightened by my
adventure in the Richmond Hotel on the Christmas Eve of that aforesaid
year of grace. It may be a foolish reminiscence, yet I dare say you
won't mind listening to it.
When I say the Richmond Hotel, you must not understand me to speak of
the Star and Garter in the town of that ilk situated in the county of
Surrey, England. The Richmond where I passed my uncomfortable Christmas
Eve stands on the banks of the pretty St. Francis River in Lower Canada.
I had gone out to the colony in the autumn of that year, to look after a
small property of my mother's near Kamouraska; and I originally intended
to spend the winter in Quebec. But as November and December wore away,
and the snow grew deeper and deeper upon the plains of Abraham, I became
gradually aware that a Canadian winter was not the best adapted tonic in
the world for a hearty young man with a slight hereditary
predisposition to consumption. I had seen enough of Arctic life in
Quebec during those two initial months to give me a good idea of its
pleasures and its drawbacks. I had steered by taboggan down the ice-cone
at the Falls of Montmorenci; I had driven a sleigh, tête-à-tête with a
French Canadian belle, to a surprise picnic in a house at Sainte Anne; I
had skated, snow-shoed, and curled to my heart's content; and I had
caught my death of cold on the frozen St. Lawrence, not to mention such
minor misfortunes as getting my nose, ears, and feet frostbitten during
a driving party up the banks of the Chaudière. So a few days before
Christmas, I determined to strike south. I would go for a tour through
Virginia and the Carolinas, to escape the cold weather, waiting for the
return of the summer sun to catch a glimpse of Niagara and the great
For this purpose I must first go to Montreal; and, that being the case,
what could be more convenient than to spend Christmas Day itself with
the rector at Richmond, to whom I had letters of introduction, his wife
being in fact a first cousin of my mother's? Richmond lies half-way on
the Grand Trunk line between Quebec and Montreal, and it would be more
pleasant, by breaking my journey there, to eat my turkey and
plum-pudding in a friend's family than in that somewhat cheerless hotel,
the Dominion Hall. So off I started from the Point Levy station, at four
o'clock on the twenty-fourth of December, hoping to arrive at my
journey's end about one o'clock on Christmas morning.
Now, those were the days, just after the great American civil war, when
gold was almost unknown either in the States or Canada, and everybody
used greasy dollar notes of uncertain and purely local value. Hence I
was compelled to take the money for expenses on my projected tour in the
only form of specie which was available, that of solid silver. A hundred
and fifty pounds in silver dollars amounts to a larger bulk and a
heavier weight than you would suppose; and I thought it safer to carry
the sum in my own hands, loosely bundled into a large leather reticule.
Hinc illœ lacrimœ:—that was the real cause of my night's
adventure and of the present story.
When I got into the long open American railway-carriage, with its
comfortable stove and warm foot-bricks, I found only one seat vacant,
and that was a red velvet sofa, opposite to another occupied by a girl
of singular beauty. I can remember to this day exactly how she was
dressed. I dare say my lady readers will think it horribly old-fashioned
at the present time, but it was the very latest and most enchanting
style in the year '67. On her head was a coquettish little cheese-plate
bonnet, bound round with one of those warm, soft, fleecy woollen veils
or head-wraps which Canadian girls know as Nubias. Her dress was a short
winter walking costume of the period, trimmed with fur, and vandyked at
the bottom so as to show a glimpse of the quilted down petticoat
underneath. Her little high-heeled boots, displayed by the short
costume, were buttoned far above the ankle, and bound with fur to match
the dress; while a tiny tassel at the side added just a suspicion of
Parisian coquetry. Her cloak was lined with sable, or what seemed so to
my undiscriminating eyes; and her rug was a splendid piece of wolverine
skins. As to her eyes, her lips, her figure, I had rather not attempt
them. I can manage clothes, but not goddesses. Altogether, quite a dream
of Canadian beauty, not devoid of that indefinable grace which goes only
with the French blood.
I was not bold in '67, and I would have preferred to take any other seat
rather than face this divine apparition; but there was no help for it,
since all the others were filled: so I sat down a little sheepishly, I
dare say. Almost before we were well out of the station we had got into
a conversation, and it was she who began it.
"You are an Englishman, I think?" she said, looking at me with a frank
and pleasant smile.
"Yes," I answered, colouring, though why I should have been ashamed of
my nationality for that solitary moment of my life I cannot
imagine,—unless, perhaps, because she was a Canadian; "but how on
earth did you discover it?"
"You would have been more warmly wrapped up if you had lived long in
Canada," she replied. "In spite of our stoves and hot bricks, you'll
find yourself very cold before you get to your journey's end."
"Yes," I said; "I suppose it's rather chilly late at night in these big
"Dreadfully; oh, quite terribly. You ought to have a rug, you really
ought. Won't you let me lend you one? I have another under the seat
"But you brought that for yourself," I interposed. "You will want it
by-and-by, when it gets a little colder."
"Oh no, I shan't. This is warm enough for me; it's wolverine. You have a
What an extraordinary question, I thought, and what an unusually
friendly girl! Was she really quite as simple-minded as she seemed, or
could she be the "designing woman" of the novels? Yes, I admitted to her
cautiously that I possessed a maternal parent, who was at that moment
safely drinking her tea in a terrace at South Kensington.
"I have none," she said, with an emphasis on the personal pronoun, and
a sort of appealing look in her big eyes. "But you should take care of
yourself, for her sake. You really must take my rug. Hundreds, oh,
thousands of young Englishmen come out here, and kill themselves their
first winter by imprudence."
Thus adjured, I accepted the rug with many thanks and apologies, and
wrapped myself warmly up in the corner, with a splendid view of my
Exactly at that moment, the ticket collector came round upon his
official tour. Now, on American and Canadian railways, you do not take
your ticket beforehand, but pay your fare to the collector, who walks up
and down through the open cars from end to end, between every station. I
lifted up my bag of silver, which lay on the seat beside me, and
imprudently opened it to take out a few dollars full in sight of my
enchanting neighbour. I saw her look with unaffected curiosity at the
heap of coin within, and I was proud at being able to give such an
unequivocal proof of my high respectability—for what better guarantee
of all the noblest moral qualities can any man produce all the world
over than a bag of dollars?
"What a lot of money!" she said, as the collector passed on. "What can
you want with it all in coin?"
"I'm going on a tour in the Southern States," I confided in reply, "and
I thought it better to take specie." (I was very proud ten or twelve
years ago of that word specie.)
"And I suppose those are your initials on the reticule? What a pretty
monogram! Your mother gave you that for a birthday present."
"You must be a conjurer or a clairvoyant," I said, smiling. "So she
did;" and I added that the initials represented my humble patronymic and
"My name's Lucretia," said my neighbour artlessly, as a child might have
said it, without a word as to surname or qualifying circumstances; and
from that moment she became to me simply Lucretia. I think of her as
Lucretia to the present day. As she spoke, she pointed to the word
engraved in tiny letters on her pretty silver locket.
I suppose she thought my confidence required a little more confidence in
return, for after a slight pause she repeated once more, "My name's
Lucretia, and I live at Richmond."
"Richmond!" I cried. "Why, that's just where I'm going. Do you know the
"Mr. Pritchard? Oh yes, intimately. He's our greatest friend. Are you
going to stop with him?"
"For a day or two at least, on my way to Montreal. Mrs. Pritchard is my
"How delightful! Then we may consider ourselves acquaintances. But you
don't mean to knock them up to-night? They'll all be in bed long before
"No, I haven't even written to tell them I was coming," I answered.
"They gave me a general invitation, and said I might drop in whenever I
"Then you must stop at the hotel to-night. I'm going there myself. My
people keep the hotel."
Was it possible! I was thunderstruck. I had pictured Lucretia to myself
as at least a countess of the ancien régime, a few of whom still
linger on in Montreal and elsewhere. Her locket, her rugs, her eyes, her
chiselled features, all of them seemed to me redolent of the old French
noblesse. And here it turned out that this living angel was only the
daughter of an inn-keeper! But in that primitive and pleasant Canadian
society such things, I thought, can easily be. No doubt she is the
petted child of the house, the one heiress of the old man's savings; and
after spending a winter holiday among the gaieties of Quebec, she is now
returning to pass the Christmas season with her own family. I will not
conceal the fact that I had already fallen over head and ears in love
with Lucretia at first sight, and that frank avowal made me love her all
the more. Besides, these Canadian hotel-keepers are often very rich; and
was not her manner perfect, and was she not an intimate friend of the
rector and his wife? All these things showed at least that she was
accustomed to refined society. I caught myself already speculating as to
what my mother would think of such a match.
In five minutes it was all arranged about the hotel, and I had got into
the midst of a swimming conversation with Lucretia. She told me about
herself and her past; how she had been educated at a convent in
Montreal, and loved the nuns, oh so dearly, though she was a Protestant
herself, and only French on her mother's side. (This, I thought, was
well, as a safeguard against parental prejudice.) She told me all the
gossip of Richmond, and whom I should meet at the rector's, and what a
dull little town it was. But Quebec was delightful, and Montreal—oh, if
she could only live in Montreal, it would be perfect bliss. And so I
thought myself, if only Lucretia would live there with me; but I
prudently refrained from saying so, as I thought it rather premature. Or
perhaps I blushed and stammered too much to get the words out. "Had she
ever been in Europe?" No, never, but she would so like it. "Ah, it would
be delightful to spend a month or two in Paris," I suggested, with
internal pictures of a honeymoon floating through my brain. "Yes, that
would be most enjoyable," she answered. Altogether, Lucretia and I kept
chatting uninterruptedly the whole way to Richmond, and the other
passengers must have voted us most unconscionable bores; for they
evidently could not sleep by reason of our incessant talking. We did
not sleep, nor wish to sleep. And I am bound to say that a more frankly
enchanting or seemingly guileless girl than Lucretia I have never met
from that day to this.
At last we reached Richmond Depôt (as the Canadians call the stations),
very cold and tired externally, but lively enough as regards the
internal fires. We got out, and looked after our luggage. A sleepy
porter promised to bring it next morning to the hotel. There were no
sleighs in waiting—Richmond is too much of a country station for
that—so I took my reticule in my hand, threw Lucretia's rug across her
shoulders, and proceeded to walk with her to the hotel.
Now, the "Depôt" is in a suburb known as Melbourne, while Richmond
itself lies on the other side of the river St. Francis, here crossed by
a long covered bridge, a sort of rough wooden counterpart of the famous
one at Lucerne. As we passed out into the cold night, it was snowing
heavily, and the frost was very bitter. Lucretia took my arm without a
word of prelude, as naturally as if she were my sister, and guided me
through the snow-covered path to the bridge. When we got under the
shelter of the wooden covering, we had to pass through the long dark
gallery, as black as night, heading only for the dim square of moonlight
at the other end. But Lucretia walked and chatted on as unconcernedly as
if she had always been in the habit of traversing that lonely
tunnel-like bridge with a total stranger every evening of her life. I
confess I was surprised. I fancied a prim English girl in a similar
situation, and I began to wonder whether all this artlessness was really
as genuine as it looked.
At the opposite end of the bridge we emerged upon a street of wooden
frame houses. In one of them only was there a light. "That's the hotel!"
said Lucretia, nodding towards it, and again I suffered a thrill of
disappointment. I had pictured to myself a great solid building like the
St. Lawrence Hall at Montreal, forgetting that Richmond was a mere
country village; and here I found a bit of a frame cottage as the whole
domain of Lucretia's supposed father. It was too awful!
We reached the door and entered. Fresh surprises were in store for me.
The passage led into a bar, where half-a-dozen French Canadians were
sitting with bottles and glasses, playing some game of cards. One rather
rough-looking young man jumped up in astonishment as we entered, and
exclaimed, "Why, Lucretia, we didn't expect you for another hour. I
meant to take the sleigh for you." I could have knocked him down for
calling her by her Christian name, but the conviction flashed upon me
that this was Lucretia's brother. He glanced up at the big Yankee clock
on the mantelpiece, which pointed to a quarter past twelve, then pulled
out his watch and whistled. "Stopped three quarters of an hour ago, by
Jingo," was his comment. "Why, I forgot to wind it up. Upon my word,
Lucretia, I'm awfully sorry. But who is the gentleman?"
"A friend of the Pritchards, Tom dear, who wants a bed here to-night. I
couldn't imagine why the sleigh didn't come for me. It's so unlike you
not to remember it." And she gave him a look to melt adamant.
Tom was profuse in his apologies, and made it quite clear that his
intentions at least had been most excellent; besides, he kissed Lucretia
with so much brotherly tenderness that I relented of my desire to knock
him down. Then brother and sister retired for a while, apparently to see
after my bedroom, and I was left alone in the bar.
I cannot say I liked the look of it. The men were drinking whiskey and
playing écarté—two bad things, I thought in my twenty-year-old
propriety. My dear mother hated gambling, which hatred she had instilled
into my youthful mind, and this was evidently a backwoods
gambling-house. Moreover, I carried a bag of silver coin, quite large
enough to make it well worth while, to rob me. The appearances were
clearly against Lucretia's home; but surely Lucretia herself was a
guarantee for anything.
Presently Tom returned, and told me my room was ready. I followed him up
the stairs with a beating heart and a heavy reticule. At the top of the
landing Lucretia stood smiling, my candle in her hand, and showed me
into the room. Tom and she looked around to see that all was
comfortable, and then they both shook hands with me, which certainly
seemed a curious thing for an inn-keeper and his sister. As soon as they
were gone, I began to look about me and consider the situation. The room
had two doors, but the key was gone from both. I opened one towards the
passage, but found no key outside; the other, which probably
communicated with a neighbouring bedroom, was locked from the opposite
side. Moreover, there had once been a common bolt on this second door,
but it had been removed. I looked close at the screw-holes, and was sure
they were quite fresh. Could the bolt have been taken off while I was
waiting in the bar? All at once it flashed upon my mind that I had been
imprudently confiding in my disclosures to Lucretia. I had told her that
I carried a hundred and fifty pounds in coin, an easy thing to rob and a
difficult thing to identify. She had heard that nobody was aware of my
presence in Richmond, except herself and her brother. I had not written
to tell the Pritchards I was coming, and she knew that I had not told
any one of my whereabouts, because I did not decide where I should go
until I talked with her about the matter. No one in Canada would miss
me. If these people chose to murder me for my money (and inn-keepers
often murder their guests, I thought), nobody would think of inquiring
or know where to inquire for me. Weeks would elapse before my mother
wrote from England to ask my whereabouts, and by that time all traces
might well be lost. I left Quebec only telling the people at my hotel
that I was going to Montreal. Then I thought of Lucretia's eagerness to
get into conversation, her observation about my money, her suggestion
that I should come to the Richmond Hotel. And how could she, a small
inn-keeper's daughter, afford to get all those fine furs and lockets by
fair means? Did she really know the Pritchards, or was it likely,
considering her position? All these things came across me in a moment.
What a fool I had been ever to think of trusting such a girl!
I got up and walked about the room. It was evidently Lucretia's own
bedroom; "part of the decoy," said I to myself sapiently. But could so
beautiful a girl really hurt one? A piece of music was lying on the
dressing-table. I took it up and looked at it casually. Gracious
heavens! it was a song from "Lucrezia Borgia!" Her very name betrayed
her! She too was a Lucretia. I walked over to the mantelpiece. A little
ivory miniature hung above the centre: I gave it a glance as I passed.
Incredible! It was the Beatrice Cenci! Talk of beautiful women! Why,
they poison one, they stab one, they burn one alive, with a smile on
their lips. Lucretia must have a taste for murderesses. Evidently she is
At least, thought I, I shall sell my life dearly. I could not go to bed;
but I pulled the bedstead over against one of the doors—the locked
one—and I laid the mattress down in front of the other. Then I lay down
on the mattress, my money-bag under my head, and put the poker
conveniently by my side. If they came to rob and murder me, they should
at least have a broken head to account for next day. But I soon got
tired of this defensive attitude, and reflected that, if I must lie
awake all night, I might as well have something to read. So I went over
to the little book-case and took down the first book which came to hand.
It bore on the outside the title "Œuvres de Victor Hugo. Tome Ier.
Théâtre." "This, at any rate," said I to myself, "will be light and
interesting." I returned to my mattress, opened the volume, and began to
read Le Roi s'amuse.
I had never before dipped into that terrible drama, and I devoured it
with a horrid avidity. I read how Triboulet bribed the gipsy to murder
the king; how the gipsy's sister beguiled him into the hut; how the plot
was matured; and how the sack containing the corpse was delivered over
to Triboulet. It was an awful play to read on such a night and in such a
place, with the wind howling round the corners and the snow gathering
deeply upon the window-panes. I was in a considerable state of fright
when I began it: I was in an agony of terror before I had got half-way
through. Now and then I heard footsteps on the stairs: again I could
distinguish two voices, one a woman's, whispering outside the door; a
little later, the other door was very slightly opened and then pushed
back again stealthily by a man's hand. Still I read on. At last, just as
I reached the point where Triboulet is about to throw the corpse into
the river, my candle, a mere end, began to sputter in its socket, and
after a few ineffectual flickers suddenly went out, leaving me in the
dark till morning.
I lay down once more, trembling but wearied out. A few minutes later the
voices came again. The further door was opened a second time, and I saw
dimly a pair of eyes (not, I felt sure, Lucretia's) peering in the
gloom, and reflecting the light from the snow on the window. A man's
voice said huskily in an undertone, "It's all right now;" and then there
was a silence. I knew they were coming to murder me. I clutched the
poker firmly, stood on guard over the dollars, and waited the assault.
The moment that intervened seemed like a lifetime.
A minute. Five minutes. A quarter of an hour. They are evidently trying
to take me off my guard. Perhaps they saw the poker; in any case, they
must have felt the bedstead against the door. That would show them that
I expected them. I held my watch to my ear and counted the seconds, then
the minutes, then the hours. When the candle went out it was three
o'clock. I counted up till about half-past five.
After that I must have fallen asleep from very weariness. My head glided
back upon the reticule, and I dozed uneasily until morning. Every now
and then I started in my sleep, but the murderers hung back. When I
awoke it was eight o'clock, and the dollars were still safe under my
head. I rose wearily, washed myself, and arranged the tumbled clothes in
which I had slept, for my portmanteau had not yet arrived from the
Depôt. Next, I put back the bed and mattress, and then I took the
dollars and went downstairs to the bar, hardly knowing whether to laugh
at my last night's terror, or to congratulate myself on my lucky escape
from a den of robbers. At the foot of the stairs, whom should I come
across but Lucretia herself!
In a moment the doubt was gone. She was enchanting. Quite a different
style of dress, but equally lovely and suitable. A long figured gown of
some fine woollen material, giving very nearly the effect of a plain
neat print, and made quite simply to fit her perfect little figure. A
plain linen collar, and a quiet silver brooch. Hair tied in a single
broad knot above the head, instead of yesterday's chignon and
cheese-plate. Altogether, a model winter morning costume for a cold
climate. And as she advanced frankly, holding out her hand with a smile,
I could have cut my own throat with a pocket-knife as a merited
punishment for daring to distrust her. Such is human nature at the ripe
age of twenty!
"We were so afraid you didn't sleep, Tom and I," she said with a little
tone of anxiety; "we saw a light in your room till so very late, and Tom
opened the door a wee bit once or twice to see if you were sleeping; but
he said you seemed to have pulled the mattress on the floor. I do hope
you weren't ill."
What on earth could I answer? Dare I tell this angel how I had suspected
her? Impossible! "Well," I stammered out, colouring up to my eyes, "I
was rather over-tired, and couldn't get to rest, so I put the candle
on a chair, took a book, and lay on the floor so as to have a light to
read by. But I slept very well after the candle went out, thank you."
"There were none but French books in the room, though," she said
quickly: "perhaps you read French?"
"I read Le Roi s'amuse, or part of it," said I.
"Oh, what a dreadful play to read on Christmas Eve!" cried Lucretia,
with a little deprecating gesture. "But you must come and have your
I followed her into the dining-room, a pretty little bright-looking
room behind the bar. Frightened as I was during the night, I could not
fail to notice how tastefully the bedroom was furnished; but this little
salle-à-manger was far prettier. The paper, the carpet, the furniture,
were all models of what cheap and simple cottage decorations ought to
be. They breathed of Lucretia. The Montreal nuns had evidently taught
her what "art at home" meant. The table was laid, and the white
table-cloth, with its bright silver and sprays of evergreen in the vase,
looked delightfully appetising. I began to think I might manage a
breakfast after all.
"How pretty all your things are!" I said to Lucretia.
"Do you think so?" she answered. "I chose them, and I laid the table."
I looked surprised; but in a moment more I was fairly overwhelmed when
Lucretia left the room for a minute, and then returned carrying a tray
covered with dishes. These she rapidly and dexterously placed upon the
table, and then asked me to take my seat.
"But," said I, hesitating, "am I to understand.... You don't mean to
say.... Are you ... going ... to wait upon me?"
Lucretia's face was one smile of innocent amusement from her white
little forehead to her chiselled little chin. "Why, yes," she answered,
laughing, "of course I am. I always wait upon our guests when I'm at
home. And I cooked these salmon cutlets, which I'm sure you'll find nice
if you only try them while they're hot." With which recommendation she
uncovered all the dishes, and displayed a breakfast that might have
tempted St. Anthony. Not being St. Anthony, I can do Lucretia's
breakfast the justice to say that I ate it with unfeigned heartiness.
So my princess was, after all, the domestic manager and assistant cook
of a small country inn! Not a countess, not even a murderess (which is
at least romantic), but only a prosaic housekeeper! Yet she was a
princess for all that. Did she not read Victor Hugo, and play "Lucrezia
Borgia," and spread her own refinement over the village tavern? In no
other country could you find such a strange mixture of culture and
simplicity; but it was new, it was interesting, and it was piquant.
Lucretia in her morning dress officiously insisting upon offering me the
buckwheat pancakes with her own white hands was Lucretia still, and I
fell deeper in love than ever.
After breakfast came a serious difficulty. I must go to the Pritchards,
but before I went, I must pay. Yet, how was I to ask for my bill? I
couldn't demand it of Lucretia. So I sat a while ruminating, and at
last I said, "I wonder how people do when they want to leave this
"Why," said Lucretia, promptly, "they order the sleigh."
"Yes," I answered sheepishly, "no doubt. But how do they manage about
Lucretia smiled. She was so absolutely transparent, and so accustomed to
her simple way of doing business, that I suppose she did not comprehend
my difficulty. "They ask me, of course, and I tell them what they owe.
You owe us half-a-dollar."
Half-a-dollar—two shillings sterling—for a night of romance and
terror, a bed and bedroom, a regal breakfast, and—Lucretia to wait upon
one! It was too ridiculous. And these were the good simple Canadian
villagers whom I had suspected of wishing to rob and murder me! I never
felt so ashamed of my own stupidity in the whole course of my life.
I must pay it somehow, I supposed, but I could not bear to hand over two
shilling pieces into Lucretia's outstretched palm. It was desecration,
it was sheer sacrilege. But Lucretia took the half-dollar with the
utmost calmness, and went out to order the sleigh.
I drove to the rector's, after saying good-bye to Lucretia, with a
clear determination that before I left Richmond she should have
consented to become my wife. Of course there were social differences,
but those would be forgotten in South Kensington, and nobody need ever
know what Lucretia had been in Canada. Besides, she was fit to shine in
the society of duchesses—a society into which I cannot honestly pretend
that I habitually penetrate.
The rector and his wife gave me a hearty welcome, and I found Mrs.
Pritchard a good motherly sort of body—just the right woman for helping
on a romantic love-match. So, in the course of the morning, as we walked
back from church, I managed to mention to her casually that a very nice
young woman had come down in the train with me from Quebec.
"You don't mean Lucretia?" cried good Mrs. Pritchard.
"Lucretia," I answered in a cold sort of way, "I think that was her
name. In fact, I remember she told me so."
"Oh yes, everybody calls her Lucretia—indeed, she's hardly got any
other name. She's the dearest creature in the world, as simple as a
child, yet the most engaging and kind-hearted girl you ever met. She was
brought up by some nuns at Montreal, and being a very clever girl, with
a great deal of taste, she was their favourite pupil, and has turned out
a most cultivated person."
"Does she paint?" I asked, thinking of the Beatrice.
"Oh, beautifully. Her ivory miniatures always take prizes at the Toronto
Exhibition. And she plays and sings charmingly."
"Are they well off?"
"Very, for Canadians. Lucretia has money of her own, and they have a
good farm besides the hotel."
"She said she knew you very well," I ventured to suggest.
"Oh yes; in fact, she's coming here this evening. We have an early
dinner—you know our simple Canadian habits—and a few friends will drop
in to high tea after evening service. She and Tom will be among
them—you met Tom, of course?"
"I had the pleasure of making Tom's acquaintance at one o'clock this
morning," I answered. "But, excuse my asking it, isn't it a little odd
for you to mix with people in their position?"
The rector smiled and put in his word. "This is a democratic country,"
he said; "a mere farmer community, after all. We have little society in
Richmond, and are very glad to know such pleasant intelligent people as
Tom and Lucretia."
"But then, the convenances," I urged, secretly desiring to have my own
position strengthened. "When I got to the hotel last night, or rather
this morning, there were a lot of rough-looking hulking fellows drinking
whiskey and playing cards."
"Ah, I dare say. Old Picard, and young Le Patourel from Melbourne, and
the Post Office people sitting over a quiet game of écarté while they
waited for the last train. The English mail was in last night. As for
the whiskey, that's the custom of the country. We Canadians do nothing
without whiskey. A single glass of Morton's proof does nobody any harm."
And these were my robbers and gamblers? A party of peaceable farmers and
sleepy Post officials, sitting up with a sober glass of toddy and
beguiling the time with écarté for love, in expectation of Her
Majesty's mails. I shall never again go to bed with a poker by my side
as long as I live.
About seven o'clock our friends came in. Lucretia was once more
charming; this time in a long evening dress, a peach-coloured silk with
square-cut boddice, and a little lace cap on her black hair. I dare say
I saw almost the full extent of her wardrobe in those three changes; but
the impression she produced upon me was still that of boundless wealth.
However, as she had money of her own, I no longer wondered at the
richness of her toilette, and I reflected that a comfortable little
settlement might help to outweigh any possible prejudice on my mother's
Lucretia was the soul of the evening. She talked, she flirted innocently
with every man in the room (myself included), she played divinely, and
she sang that very song from "Lucrezia Borgia" in a rich contralto
voice. As she rose at last from the piano, I could contain myself no
longer. I must find some opportunity of proposing to her there and then.
I edged my way to the little group where she was standing, flushed with
the compliments on her song, talking to our hostess near the piano. As I
approached from behind, I could hear that they were speaking about me,
and I caught a few words distinctly. I paused to listen. It was very
wrong, but twenty is an impulsive age.
"Oh, a very nice young man indeed," Lucretia was saying; "and we had a
most enjoyable journey down. He talked so simply, and seemed such an
innocent boy, so I took quite a fancy to him." (My heart beat about two
hundred pulsations to the minute.) "Such a clever, intelligent talker
too, full of wide English views and interests, so different from our
narrow provincial Canadian lads." (Oh, Lucretia, I feel sure of you now.
Love at first sight on both sides, evidently!) "And then he spoke to me
so nicely about his mother. I was quite grieved to think he should be
travelling alone on Christmas Eve, and so pleased when I heard he was to
spend his Christmas with you, dear. I thought what I should have felt
I listened with all my ears. What could Lucretia be going to say?
"If one of my own dear boys was grown up, and passing his Christmas
alone in a strange land."
I reeled. The room swam before me. It was too awful. So all that
Lucretia had ever felt was a mere motherly interest in me as a solitary
English boy away from his domestic turkey on the twenty-fifth of
December! Terrible, hideous, blighting fact! Lucretia was married!
The rector's refreshments in the adjoining dining-room only went to the
length of sponge-cake and weak claret-cup. I managed to get away from
the piano without fainting, and swallowed about a quart of the
intoxicating beverage by tumblerfuls. When I had recovered sufficiently
from the shock to trust my tongue, I ventured back into the
drawing-room. It struck me then that I had never yet heard Lucretia's
surname. When she and her brother arrived in the early part of the
evening, Mrs. Pritchard had simply introduced them to me by saying, "I
think you know Tom and Lucretia already." Colonial manners are so
I joined the fatal group once more. "Do you know," I said, addressing
Lucretia with as little tremor in my voice as I could easily manage,
"it's very curious, but I have never heard your surname yet."
"Dear me," cried Lucretia, "I quite forgot. Our name is Arundel."
"And which is Mr. Arundel?" I continued. "I should like to make his
"Why," answered Lucretia with a puzzled expression of face, "you've met
him already. Here he is!" And she took a neighbouring young man in
unimpeachable evening dress gently by the arm. He turned round. It
required a moment's consideration to recognize in that tall and
gentlemanly young fellow with the plain gold studs and turndown collar
my rough acquaintance of last night, Tom himself!
I saw it in a flash. What a fool I had been! I might have known they
were husband and wife. Nothing but a pure piece of infatuated
preconception could ever have made me take them for brother and sister.
But I had so fully determined in my own mind to win Lucretia for myself
that the notion of any other fellow having already secured the prize had
never struck me.
It was all the fault of that incomprehensible Canadian society, with its
foolish removal of the natural barriers between classes. My mother was
quite right. I should henceforth be a high-and-dry conservative in all
matters matrimonial, return home in the spring with heart completely
healed, and after passing correctly through a London season, marry the
daughter of a general or a Warwickshire squire, with the full consent of
all the high contracting parties, at St. George's, Hanover Square. With
this noble and moral resolution firmly planted in my bosom, I made my
excuses to the rector and his good little wife, and left Richmond for
ever the very next morning, without even seeing Lucretia once again.
But, somehow, I have never quite forgotten that journey from Quebec on
Christmas Eve; and though I have passed through several London seasons
since that date, and undergone increasingly active sieges from mammas
and daughters, as my briefs on the Oxford Circuit grow more and more
numerous, I still remain a bachelor, with solitary chambers in St.
James's. I sometimes fancy it might have been otherwise if I could only
once have met a second paragon exactly like Lucretia.