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A British Islander From "Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899   By: (1847-1902)

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A BRITISH ISLANDER

From "Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899

By Mary Hartwell Catherwood

This story is set down exactly as it was told by the Island Chronicler.

Well, I wish you could have been here in Mrs. Gunning's day. She was the oddest woman on Mackinac. Not that she exerted herself to attract attention. But she was such a character, and her manners were so astonishing, that she furnished perennial entertainment to the few families of us constituting island society.

She was an English woman, born in South Africa, and married to an American army surgeon, and had lived over a large part of the world before coming to this fort. She had no children. But her sister had married Dr. Gunning's brother. And the good for nothing pair set out to follow the English drum beat around the world, and left a child for the two more responsible ones to rear. Juliana Gunning was so deaf she could not hear thunder. But she was quits with nature, for all that; a wonderfully alluring kind of girl, with big brown eyes that were better than ears, and that could catch the meaning of moving lips. It seemed to strangers that she merely evaded conversation; for she had a sweet voice, a little drawling, and was witty when she wanted to speak. Juliana couldn't step out of the surgeon's quarters to walk across the parade ground without making every soldier in the fort conscious of her. She was well shaped and tall, and a slight pitting of the skin only enhanced the charm of her large features. She used to dress unlike anybody else, in foreign things that her aunt gave her, and was always carrying different kinds of thin scarfs to throw over her face and tantalize the men.

Everybody knew that Captain Markley would marry her if he could. But along comes Dr. Mc Curdy, a wealthy widower from the East, and nothing will do but he must hang about Mackinac week after week, pretending to need the climate and he weighing nearly two hundred to court Juliana Gunning. The lieutenant's wife said of Juliana that she would flirt with a half breed if nothing better offered. But the lieutenant's wife was a homely, jealous little thing, and could never have had all the men hanging after her. And if she had had the chance she might have been as aggravating about making up her mind between two as Juliana was.

We used to think the girl very good natured. But those three people made a queer family. Dr. Gunning was the remnant of a magnificent man, and he always had a courtly air. He paid little attention to the small affairs of life, and rated money as nothing. Dr. Gunning had his peculiarities; but I am not telling you about him. He was a kind man, and would cross the strait in any weather to attend a sick half breed or any other ailing creature, who probably never paid him a cent. He was fond of the island, and quite satisfied to spend his life here.

The day I am telling you about, Mrs. Gunning had driven with me into the village to make some calls. She was very punctilious about calling upon strangers. If she intended to recognize a newcomer she called at once. We drove around to the rear of the fort and entered at the back sallyport, where carriages always enter; but instead of letting me put her down at the surgeon's quarters, she ordered the driver to stop in the middle of the parade ground. Then she got out and, with never a word, marched down the steps to Captain Markley, where he was leaning against the front sally port, looking below into the town. I didn't know what to do, so I sat and waited. It was the loveliest autumn morning you ever saw. I remember the beeches and oaks and maples were spread out like banners to the very height of the island, all crimson and yellow splashes in the midst of evergreens. There had been an awful storm the night before, and you could see down the sally port how drenched the fort garden was at the foot of the hill.

Captain Markley had a fearfully depressed look... Continue reading book >>




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