THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE ARCHITECT’S WIFE. But after great risk and exerticn she reached the bridge, through whose arches the wind still moaned, whilst the river foamed along with an angry roar as if enraged at not being able to overcome this new and apparently invincible obstacle to its course. Catalina drew near to the buttress of the bridge, and could not repress a cry of horror. Perhaps it was that she found herself on the very brink of the boiling abyss ? Or was it that in her hand, accustomed only to do good, she bore a means of destruction ? Or it might have been the awful peal of thunder which just at that moment sounded in her ears ; or did she think that they who do not understand sacrifice for love, might hold that a crime had led her where she stood ?
Be that as it may, Catalina hesitated not, biit drawing her torch from under her cloak, she set fire to the scaffolding of the bridge. The resinous pine-wood was speedily in a blaze, and the flames, fanned by the wind, lapped the timbers with their fiery tongues and enveloped the bridge with fearful rapidity. No need of torchlight now-—and Catalina hastened back to her home, entering as noiselessly and with the same precautions as had marked her exit.
Her husband was sleeping still, and Catalina hurriedly divesting herself of her clothes lay down beside him, just as a tremendous crash announced that some of the huge blocks of stone in the bridge had given way.
A few moments later a dull continuous murmur was heard throughout the city, and from a hundred steeples clanged the dread alarm of fire, whilst the falling arches drew from the Toledans sounds of grief such as those which their fathers had uttered when Don Enrique set light to the structure which in those days had been their pride.
Juan de Arevalo awoke with a start. Catalina lay at his side, to all appearances asleep. Juan dressedj in haste and hurried into the street, there to learn to his unbounded joy, that the illfated bridge which he had built had fallen a prey to the flames, and was then in ruins.
Both the Archbishop and the Toledans attributed the fire to the lightning, the thunderstorm during the night having rendered that explanation most probable; and, however great their grief over the destruction of the bridge, they held their own regrets as trifles in comparison with the despair which they assumed would overwhelm the soul of the architect when he learnt the full extent of the disaster wtiich had converted into a heap of ruins the structure he had fondly hoped would be a triumph. The Toledans never knew whether the destruction of the bridge was due to lightning or incendiarism, but Juan de Arevalo, who had lived a blameless life, and believed that the good are ever under God’s protecting arm, did not hesitate a moment in attributing the conflagaration to the fire of Heaven, a Catalina asserted that she was of the same opinion. Surely God would forgive the falsehood of a wife, who, with it, saved the life and honor of her husband.
, The burning of the new bridge merely delayed the triumph of Juan de Arevalo for a year. When that time had elapsed, on the festival, too, of San Ildefonso, the Toledans crossed the river by the bridge of San Martin to visit their beloved Cigarreles. And the Archbishop, Don Pedro Tenorio, at the banquet given in honor of Juan de Arevalo, who was seated at his right hand, said to Catalina : “If with most men it is true that “ the third time pays for all,” may it not be said in the case of your husband and our well-beloved friend, Juan de Arevalo, that ‘ second thoughts are best?”
How he Solved a Very Tough Problem. Jack Mariand was a happy fellow—at least anyone who saw him seated in his comfortable chambers in the Temple in a vast easy chair, and enveloped in clouds of smoke proceeding from his favorite meerschaum, as the bell of St. Paul’s rang ten, would have said so. Jack was a clever fellow, too ; he sang well; he danced well; the partridges on the first of September knew him well; the Cheshire hounds were not unacquainted with him; the Isis and the Thames were intimate with him (for Jack pulled a good oar); a dab at fencing, a fair single-stick player; in his element in the pistol gallery, and to crown all, he had just made a not unsuccessful debut as a speaker in the Courts of Westminister. Jack truly ought to have been happy, for a thousand reasons; he was a favorite with his acquaintances and professional brethren; by the fair sex his witty conversation and gentlemanly person and demeanor were duly appreciated; in short, he was universally liked. Papas and mammas opened their doors to him, for he had a nice little fortune at his command; daughters and sons were glad when he entered the doors so thrown open, for not a dull moment was suffered to exist from the time Jack came to the time he took his departure. “And was Jack happy?” methinks I hear a fair reader enquire. Jack was not happy, or, rather, he thought he was not happy. Jack had got into his silly head that, in spite of his accomplishments, his handsome face and figure, he, Jack, was a coward; and that if his courage should be put to a proof, he should be lamentably wanting. This Jack’s ombronoir ; this was the thought which embittered Jack’s existence; and at the time we introduced Jack to the notice of our readers, he was in the aforesaid easy chair, and under the soothing influence of his aforesaid pipe, assisted by a cup of strong Moca—turning over in his mind the different methods by .which he thought it likely that he might be able to solve the knotty question, “Am I, or am I not, a coward ? ”
Jack thought and thought, and smoked and smoked, till he was half asleep, without coming to any correct or satisfactory conclusion ; the idea had takeri strong posession of his mind and tormented him'strangely ; he, however, determined, as indeed he had fifty times
before determined, toseize the first opportunity which might present itself in the way of grappling with some imminent danger. We shall in less than ten minutes see that the wished-for opportunity presented itself, and in rather a curious manner.
The long vaction arrrived ; that time so wished for, so looked forward to by all the legal profession, that time, during which, etc. Jack, like many other denizens of the Temple, packed up his traps, sent his clerk for a cab, stuck a card outside his door, with the inscription, “ Return before the xoth of October,” “shipped himself all aboard of a ship,” then of a diligence, and in due course of time found himself in Paris. One half day was sufficient to enable him to find a good suite of rooms, Rue due Helder, Boul. Italien ; and now behold Jack fully launched in all the gaiety, not to say dissipation, of the metropolis of the French. Jack, we have before said, was a very good shot with a pistol, yet he had never been guilty of that height of folly, a duel; and, indeed, had often been heard to say that he never would. He, however, frequented many of the pistol galleries which abounded in Paris; and, amongst others, he had honored with his presence the tir au pistolet of M. Lepage, where, of course, he very soon became known as “ Ce Monsieur Anglais , que tire ausi bien qu'un Ftancais. One day Jack, on going to the gallery of M. Lepage with one of his friends, found it occupied by a young man well known as one of the best shots in Paris; and most assuredly he was a good shot. He performed all the feats which tradition assigns to the Chevalier St. George; he each time hit the bull’s eye of the target at the usual distance, snuffed a candle with a ball, split a bullet against the edge of a knife, and drove a nail into the wall by striking the head exactly in the centre with his ball; and, in short, by a thousand feats of this nature proved himself worthy the name of a first-rate shot.
His amourpropre was roused by the presence of Jack, whom the attendant, in presenting him with the pistol, had quietly said was almost as good a shot as himself; but at each shot, instead of receiving from Jack the tribute of praise which he deserved, he heard Jack, in reply to the exclamation of astonishment which proceeded from all the gallery, say, “No doubt that is a very good shot; but the result would be very different, I’ve a notion, if he had a live man for his butt.” This incessant calling in question of his powers as a duelist, for Jack had repeated his observation three times, at first astonished the “ iiteur ,” and ended by annoying him ; and, at length, turning round to Jack, and looking at him with an air half threatening, he said, “ Forgive me, Mr. Englishman, but it appears to me that three times you have made an observation disparaging to my courage, will you be kind enough to give me some explanation of the meaning of your words ?”
“My words;” answered our friend, “ do not, I think, require any explanation. They are plain enough, in my opinion.” “ Perhaps, then, sir, you will be good enough to repeat them, in order that I may judge of the meaning which they will bear, and the object with which they have been spoken,” was the reply of the Frenchman.
“ I said,” -answered Jack, with the most perfect sang froid. , “ when I saw you hit the bull’s-eye at every shot, that neither your hand nor your eye would be so steady if your pistol were pointed against the breast of a man in the place of a wooden partition.” “ And why, may I ask ?”
“ Because,” answered jack, “it seems to me, that at the moment of pulling the trigger, and firing at a man, the mind would be seized with a kind of emotion likely to unsteady the hand, and, consequently, the aim.” “ You have fought many duels ?” asked the Frenchman.
“Not one,” said Jack. “ Ah,” rejoined the other, with a light sneer, “ then I am not surprised thatyou suppose the possibility of a man being afraid under such circumstances.” “ Forgive me,” said Jack, *• you misunderstand me. I fancy that at the moment when one man is about to kill another he may tremble from some other motion than that of fear.” “Sir! I never tremble,” said the shot.
“Possibly,” replied Jack with the same composure ; “ still I am not at all convinced that at twenty-five paces, that is, at the distance at which you hit the bull’s-eye each time ” “ Well! at twenty paces ?” interrupted the other.
“ You would miss your man,” was the cool reply. “ Sir, I assure you I should not,” answered the Frenchman.
“ Forgive me if I doubt your word,” said Jack. “You mean then to give me the lie T
“ I merely assert the fact,” replied our friend.
“ A fact, however, which I think you would scarcely like to establish,” said the “ tireur."
“Why not?” said Jack, looking steadily at his antagonist. “ By proxy, perhaps ?” “By proxy, or in my own person, I care not which,” said Jack. “ I warn you, you would be somewhat rash.”
“Not at all,” said Jack, “for I merely say what I think ; and, consequently, my conviction is that I should risk but little.”
“Let us understand each other,” said the Frenchman; “you repeat to me a second time, that at twenty-five paces I should miss my man.” “ You are mistaken, monsieur,” said Jack; “it appears to me that this is the filth time that I have said it.” “ Parbleu!” said the Frenchman, now thoroughly exasperated; “ this is too'much ; you want to insult me.” “ Think as you like, monsieur,” said Jack. “ Good!” said the other; your hour, sir?”
“ Why not now?” said Jack. “ The place ?” said the other. “We are but five steps from the Bois de Boulogne,” cried Jack.
“Your.arms, sir?” “The pistol, of course,” was Jack’s answer j “we are not about to fight a duel, but to decide a point at which we are at issue.”
The young men entered their cabriolets, each accompanied by a friend,, and drbve toward the Bois de Boulogne. Arrived at the appointed place, the seconds wished to arrange the matter. This, however, ’ was very difficult: Jack’s adversary required an apology, whilst Jack maintained that he owed.him none; unless he himself was either killed or wounded; for unless this happened, he (Jack) would not have been proved wrong. The seconds spent a quarter of an hour in the attempt to effect a reconciliation, but in vain. They 'then wished to place the antagonists at thirty paces from each, other; to this Jack would not consent, observing that the point in question could not be correctly decided if any difference were made between the distance now to be fixed, and the distance to which his antaonist had hit the bull’s eye in the gallery. It was then proposed that a louis should be thrown up, in order to decide who was to shoot first; this Jack declared was totally unnecessary, that the right to the first shot naturally belonged to his adversary ; and although the Frenchman was anxious that Jack should take advantage of this one chance, he was firm, and carried his point. The “ garcon ’’ofthe shooting gallery had followed, and was ready to charge the pistols, which he did with- the same measure, same kind of powder, and; the same kind of balls as those used by the Frenchman in the gallery a short time before. The pistols, too, were the same; this condition alone Jack had imposed, as a sine qua non. The antagonists, placed at twenty-five paces from each other, received each his pistol; and the seconds retired a few paces, in order to leave the combatants free to fire on one another, according to the stipulated arrangements. Jack took none of the precautions usual with duelists; he attempted not to shield any portion of his body, by position or any other means ; but allowed his arms to hang down his side, presented his full front to his enemy, who scarcely knew what to make of this extraordinary conduct. He had fought several duels, but it had never been his lot to see such sang-froid in any one of his antagonists ; he felt as if bewildered ; and Jack’s theory occurring to his mind, tended but little to reassure him. In short, this celebrated shot, who never missed either his man or the bull’s-eye of the target, began to doubt his own powers. Twice he raised his pistol, and twice he lower'ed it again ; this was of course contrary to all the laws of dueling ; but each time Jack contented himself with saying, “ Take time, monsieur! take time.” A third time he raised his arm, and feeling ashamed of himself, fired. It was a moment of most painful anxiety to the seconds; but they were soon relieved, for Jack the instant after the pistol had been fired, turned to the right and to the left, and made a low bow to the two friends, to show that he was not wounded, and then said, coolly, to his antagonist, “ You see, sir, I was right !” “ You were,” answered the Frenchman ; “ and now fire, in your turn.” “Not I,” said Jack, picking up his hat, and handing the pistol to the garcon ; “ what good would it do me to shoot at you ?” “ But, sir,” said his adversary, “ you have a right, and I cannot permit it to be otherwise, besides I am anxious to see how you shoot.” “ Let us understand each other,” said Jack. “ I never said that I would hit you; I said, that you would not hit me; I was right, and now there is an end to the matter ; and in spite of all the remonstrances and entreaties of the Frenchman, Jack mounted his cab, and drove off, repeating to his friend, “ 1 told you there was a mighty difference between firing at a doll and firing at a man,” Jack’s mind was eased ;he had solved his problem and found that he was not a coward.
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 208, 4 December 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 208, 4 December 1880
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