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Title: A Pessimist - In Theory and Practice
Author: Bird, Frederic Mayer, 1838-1908
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Pessimist - In Theory and Practice" ***

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A PESSIMIST;

IN

THEORY AND PRACTICE.

BY

ROBERT TIMSOL.


NEW YORK:

JOHN B. ALDEN, PUBLISHER.

1888.


Copyright, 1888,

BY

THE PROVIDENT BOOK COMPANY.



CONTENTS.


I. Wisdom in the Woods.                  7

II. Worse Yet.                          17

III. Complications.                     24

IV. A Wilful Princess.                  28

V. Consultation.                        37

VI. Preparation.                        44

VII. Initiation.                        47

VIII. Introduction.                     52

IX. At Newport.                         55

X. On the Cliffs.                       58

XI. Explanations.                       63

XII. Awakening.                         71

XIII. Domestic Criticisms.              75

XIV. Over two Cigars.                   79

XV. The Catastrophe.                    83

XVI. Feminine Councils.                 87

XVII. Consolation.                      91

XVIII. Against Earnestness.             99

XIX. Conspiracy.                       102

XX. Apology for Lying.                 108

XXI. Jane to the Rescue.               118

XXII. An Ordeal.                       125

XXIII. Plan of Campaign.               132

XXIV. To Wayback again.                139

XXV. A Wild Brook.                     145

XXVI. An Intractable Patient.          149

XXVII. Scenery Improved.               156

XXVIII. Diplomacy.                     159

XXIX. Submission.                      168

XXX. Wasted Advice.                    175

XXXI. Results Reported.                178

XXXII. Confession.                     185

XXXIII. A Family Conclave.             192

XXXIV. To Persons About to Marry.      197



A PESSIMIST.



I.

WISDOM IN THE WOODS.


I had seen and heard little of Hartman since our college days. There he
was counted a youth of eminent promise: after that I knew that he had
traveled, written something or other, and practised law--or professed
it, and not too eagerly: then he had disappeared. Last May I stumbled on
him in a secluded region where I had gone to fish and rest, after a year
of too close attention to business. We came face to face in the woods,
stared at each other, and then our hands met in the old grip. He took me
home with him, to a comfortable enough bachelor establishment, and we
made a night--or more than an evening--of it. He did not seem curious,
but I was.

"What have you been doing with yourself!" I began; "withdrawing from the
world?"

"To some extent," he said. "You can't do that entirely, you know. The
world is in you as well as around you, unluckily. It is too much with
us, as the poet observed. Do you remember the time you had in class over
that sonnet?"

"Pass that," I said. "I've given up poetry." ("I should have thought
that impossible," he put in, in his nasty nagging fashion; but I took no
notice.) "Where have you been all the time?"

"Here, mostly. It's not much of a place, but that is its merit."

He was getting too deep now, as he often did of old; so I said, "But
it's so far away."

"That's its other merit. You always had a direct and ingenuous mind,
Bob. Here you've hit both bull's-eyes in two shots."

"None of your chaff," said I. "Who do you practice your wits on, up
here?"

"My dogs. And there are some hens in the neighborhood, and a few small
farmers. Or if my bosom cries too loudly to be eased of its perilous
stuff, I can chaff myself, which is more profitable."

"You were always too clever for me. What else do you do?"

"As the Baroness used to say in _The Danicheffs_, in our days of vanity,
'Do you think that is much of a compliment?' I read, and fish, and
climb, and ride several hobbies, and meditate on Man, on Nature, and on
Human Fate."

"What's the good of that?" I was growing impatient of all this nonsense.

"Well, not much, perhaps," said he. "For you, very little indeed. But
intrinsically it is about as profitable as more popular avocations."

"Now look here, Hartman," I said. "You're a better man any day than
I--or you were. But here you are, hidden in the backwoods with owls (one
of them was making a horrid noise outside), and nothing to show. Now
I've got a wife--"

"And seven children," he interposed.

"No, only three. But I have a good business, and a house on the avenue,
and a decent social position, and I'm making money. And I don't like to
see you throw yourself away like this."

"Old man," said Hartman, "we are just of an age, and you would pass for
five years the elder. Your hair is getting gray, and thin on top. You
look fagged. And you owned to me that you came here to pick up."

He had me there a little. "Yes, I've been working hard. But I'm in the
swim. I do as others do. I help to make the wheels go round." I thought
I had him there; but you never can count on Hartman, except for an
answer of some kind.

"Wouldn't they go round without your help? And why should they go
around, anyway? It might be a variety to have them stop. What's the good
of it?"

I stared at him; but his eye looked more rational than his talk sounded.
"The good of it is that I am in things generally, while you are out."

"Exactly so. I am out, while you are in. As to things generally, I
prefer to be with the outs. It is a matter of taste, no doubt."

"Well, you are beyond me. But I brought myself in merely as an
example--not that I set up to be much of that--or an illustration, say.
I want to know about you." It may have been foolish, but somehow I felt
the old affection coming back as we talked. "What does it all mean,
Harty?"

He looked at me. "Do you really want to know, Bob?"

"Of course I do. Do you suppose I've forgotten the larks we used to
have, and the scrapes you got me out of, and how you coached me through
that exam, in Calculus? It's long ago, Jim; but I took it rather hard,
the way you dropped me."

He began to look as he used to: he wasn't a selfish fellow in those
days. "I never meant to be hard on you, Bob, nor supposed you'd take it
so: and I doubt if you did, though you think so at this moment. It was
part of a system; and systems are poor things, though we can't do
without them. I'll tell you how it was."

"Wait till I fill up.--Now go ahead."

"You don't smoke as you used to, Bob. Does the Madam object?"

"She doesn't like tobacco about the house, of course. And I'm not sure
it's good for me."

"Ah. Sorry to be leading you astray. There is no one to interfere with
my little vices. Well, Bob, I got tired of it. Not that that alone would
matter: one could stand being bored in a good cause. But I couldn't see
that it was a good cause."

"Would you mind explaining?" said I. "What cause?"

"Helping to make the wheels go round. Being in the swim. Doing as others
do. Trying to make a little money and a little name, and following the
fashions of a carnal-minded generation. I could see no point to it, Bob;
the game never seemed worth the candle."

"And so you came out in the woods, like what's his name--that Concord
fellow. Do you find this any better?"

"Negatively. I am not so much a part of the things I despise. The pomps
and vanities are conspicuous chiefly by their absence. It is a simpler
life, comparatively laudable for there being less of it."

"And don't you get bored, out here? A week or so of it is well enough in
a way; but take it the year round, I should think you'd find it worse
than civilization."

"I get bored, of course: that is incidental to life, and chronic with
one who has looked beneath the surface and sifted values. But it's not
so oppressive as in town. There are no shams here, to speak of. Having
no business and no society, we don't pretend to be very different from
what we are."

"O, if you come to that, the women still improve on nature, and the
street has its little tricks and methods; but you could keep out of
them. You were in the law."

"It's all the same, Bob. The law now is worked much more as a business
than as a science. Look at Jones, and Brown, and Jenkins: they are
getting on, I hear. I don't want to get on in that way."

"But you might have taken the scientific side of it. With your head
piece, and your high and mighty notions, there was a field for you."

"So is theology a field, or physic, or Greek roots, or chiropody--for
him, who believes in them. I was not able to see that one line of
thought has a right to crowd out all the rest, or to sink my whole soul
in a profession. That's what they want of you now--to make a little
clearing, and put up palings all round it, and see things outside only
through the chinks of your blessed fence. Be a narrow specialist: know
one thing, and care for nothing else. I suppose you can do that with
oil."

I thought there was some uncalled-for bitterness in this; but the poor
fellow can't be contented, with his lonesome and aimless life. "We're
not talking about me, Jim. You're the topic. Stick to your text, and
preach away: my soul is not so immersed in oil that I can't listen. But
I don't blame you for going back on the law; a beast of a business, I
always thought it. Why didn't you go for a Professorship?"

"My poor friend, you were at college four years, and graduated--without
honors, it is true. Don't you remember how little we cared for the
Profs. and their eminent attainments? We took it for granted that it was
all right, and they understood what they were at; but it was a grind, to
them and to us. If a man was an enthusiast for his branch, we rather
laughed at him; or if his name was well up, we were willing to be proud
of him--at a distance--as an honor to Alma Mater; but we kicked all the
same, if he tried to put extra work on us. It was all fashion, routine,
tradition. The student mind doesn't begin to look into things for itself
till about the senior year, and then it's full of what lies ahead, in
the great world outside--poor innocents! With those of us who had
anything in us, it took most of the time to knock the nonsense
out.--And then if a man wants a chair, he must take it in a western
concern, where he'll be expected to lead in prayer-meeting, and to have
no views of geology that conflict with the Catechism."

"Well then, why not go on with literature? That was in your line: you
might have made a good thing of it."

"Yes, by 'unremitting application,' much the same as at law, and taking
it seriously as a profession, I might in time possibly have made five
hundred a year off the magazines, and won an humble place among our
seven hundred rising authors. What's the good of that, when one is not a
transcendent genius, destined for posterity? The crowd seems to be
thickest just there: too many books, too many writers, and by far too
many anxious aspirants. Why should I swell the number? The community was
not especially pining to hear what I might have to say; and I did not
pine so much as some to be heard."

"I fear you lacked ambition, Harty. You would have made a pretty good
preacher; but I suppose you weren't sanctified enough."

"Thanks: scarcely. I prefer to retain some vestiges of self-respect.
That will do for the youths on the beneficiary list, who are taken in
and done for from infancy, to whom it is an object to get a free
education and into a gentlemanly profession. That's the kind they mostly
make parsons of now, I hear. My boy, to do anything really in that line,
a man ought to have notions different from mine--rather. Why don't you
advise me to set up a kindergarten? That would suit as well as
chronicling ecclesiastical small beer. Cudgel your brains, and start
something more plausible."

This did not surprise me at all; but my suggestion-box was getting low.
Then I made a rally. "How about the philanthropic dodge? Robinson is on
the Associated Charities in town. I saw in the paper that he made a
speech the other night."

"If he does nothing better than speech-making, he might as well drop it.
There might be something in benevolent efforts, if one had just the
temperament and talents for them. But as it is, I fear most of it is
humbug; mutual admiration, seeing your name in the paper, and all that.
And how they get imposed on! How they pauperize and debauch those they
try to raise! It's a law of nature, Bob, that every tub must stand on
its own bottom: you can't reform a man from without. Natural selection
will have its way: the shiftless and the lazy must go to the wall. If
you could kill them off, now, that might do some good. The class that
needs help is not like us--not that we are anything to brag of: they've
not had our chance. It's very well to say, give 'em a chance; but that's
no use unless they take it, which they won't. 'Who would be free,
themselves must strike the blow.' If they wouldn't, you are bound to
respect their right of choice. Your drunken ruffian will keep on
breaking the furniture, till another like him breaks his skull. His
wife, the washerwoman with six small children, will continue getting
more and making things worse. This part of it at least ought to be
regulated by law: but that would be a restriction of personal liberty,
which is the idol of this age, and not without reason. We're between two
millstones, and I see no way out."

"How would you like politics? The gentleman is supposed to have an
opening there now."

"A doubtful and difficult one. If it had come in my time I might have
tried it. But it would be uphill work, a sort of Sisyphus affair: you
may get the stone to the top, but the chances are against it. And which
party is one to join, when he sees nothing in either but selfish greed
and stale traditions? Viewed as a missionary field, Bob, it's just like
the ministry: you are weighed down with a lot of dead conventions which
you must pretend to believe have life and juice in them yet. Before you
can do anything you must be a partisan, and that requires a mediæval
state of mind. Mine, unluckily if you like, is modern. It wouldn't go,
Bob. Try again, if you have more on your list."

"Well, there's pure Science: you wouldn't care for the applied, I know.
But you used to like beetles and things. Truth for Truth's sake is a
fine motto, now?"

"Yes, if they lived by it. There was Bumpus, old Chlorum's favorite
student--in the laboratory, you remember. The old man died, and Bumpus
stole all his discoveries, and published them as his own; made quite a
pretty reputation, and is one of our leading chemists. You know how the
books on Astronomy are made? A man finds out a thing or two for himself,
cribs the rest from other books, changes the wording, and brings it all
out with a blare of trumpets as original research. Those methods are
approved, or at least tolerated, in the best scientific circles, and
other folks don't know the difference. O, I belong to a few societies
yet, and once in an age go to their meetings, when I get tired up here."

"So the outside world still has charms, eh? Have to go back to it now
and then, to keep alive, do you?"

"Yes, when I need to be reconciled to solitude; much as you go to hear
Ingersoll when your orthodoxy wants confirming, or Dr. Deadcreed if your
liberalism is to be stirred up. Let us spice the insipid dish with some
small variety. The lesser evil needs the greater for its foil."

"Look here, Harty; this sounds like pure perverseness; opposition for
its own sake, you know. I believe your money has been the ruin of you.
It's not an original remark, but if you'd had nothing you'd have done
something; gone into business like the rest of us, and made your way."

"Of course, if I had been obliged to; but I should have loved it none
the better. Poor Bayard Taylor said a man could serve God and mammon
both, but only by hating the mammon which he served from sheer
necessity. Say I got my living by a certain craft, would that make the
craft noble? 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians,' because we sell her
images! Why should I desire to supply the confiding public with shoes,
or sugar, or sealing-wax? Plenty of others can do that better, and find
it more amusing, than I should."

"If it's amusement you're after, most men find it in Society. You're not
too old for that yet."

"Blind guide, I have been there. So long ago, you say, that I've
forgotten what it's like? Not quite. Last winter I had to attend an
execution: couldn't get out of it, you know. My cousin married a
Washington belle, and I had to be there a week, and take it all in. Ah
well, this is a threadbare theme; but I could understand how men fifteen
hundred years ago fled from Alexandrian ball-rooms to Nitrian deserts.
The emptiness of it--the eternal simper, the godless and harrowing
routine! If a man has brains or a soul about him, what can he do with
them in such a crowd? Better leave them at home with his pocket-book, or
he might lose them--less suddenly, but more certainly, I fancy. No, the
clubs are not much better; I don't care for horse-talk or the price of
shares. See human nature? not in its best clothes--and you may read that
remark either way you like. Why man, you can get all this in _Punch_ and
the novels, with far less fatigue, and lay them down when you have had
enough. An hour on Broadway sickens me for the wild-flowers, the
brooks, the free breeze or the mountain side."

He was getting violent now, and I thought I had better calm him down.
"Oho! the rhyme and reason of a rural life, is it? Soothing effect of
Nature on a world-worn bosom, and all that? So you do believe in
something, after all?"

"I told you it was but a choice of evils, and this is the less. Nature
has neither heart nor conscience, and she sets us a bad example. She has
no continuity, no reliableness, no self-control. I can see none of the
fabled sublimity in a storm; only the pettishness of a spoiled child, or
of an angry man bent on breaking things. The sunset is better to look
at, but it has no more moral meaning than a peep-show. Yet this is a
return to primitive conditions, in a way. I can throw off here the
peddler's pack of artificialities that Vanity Fair imposes, and carry
only the inevitable burden of manhood. The air is less poisonous to body
and mind than in the cities. The groves were God's first temples, and
may be the last."

"See here, Hartman. Suppose people in general were to take up with these
cheerful notions of yours, and go away from each other and out in the
backwoods--what then?"

"It might be the best thing they could do. But don't be alarmed, Bob: I
am not a Nihilist agent. Preserve your faith in the Oil Exchange and the
general order. I speak only for myself, and I'm not proselyting to any
great extent. We'll have a week's fishing, and then I'll send you back
to your wife in good shape. Or if you find yourself getting demoralized,
you can skip earlier, either home or to a place further up that I'll
tell you of, where the few inhabitants are as harmless as your youngest
baby."

But I was not to be bluffed off in this way. "Jim," I said, "there is
something behind all this. Was it that girl you met at Newport and
afterwards in Naples? You told me once--"

"Never mind the girl," he said. "You are a married man, and I an old
bachelor. Leave girls to those who have use for them. If we are to get
any trout to-morrow, it's time we turned in. And if you won't stay, I'll
go with you to the tavern and knock up old Hodge: he's been asleep these
four hours." I thought he had talked enough for one night, so I said no
more, but got back to bed.



II.

WORSE YET.


Hartman had asked me to stay with him, but there is no use of
overloading friendship, and I like to be my own master as well as he
does. I might get tired of him, or he of me; and it's not well to be
chained to your best friend for a solid week. Not that I am afraid of
Hartman; he is not a lunatic, only a monomaniac; but I can cheer him up
better when I have a good line of retreat open. He took me next morning
to some superior pools, where the trout were fat and fierce; but I had
not my usual skill. The truth is, Jim was on my mind; and after missing
several big fish and taking a good deal of his chaff, I begged off--said
I had letters to write--and so got to the tavern in time for dinner,
which they have at the pagan hour of half-past eleven. Then I set to
work thinking. I am not quite so dull as I may seem, but Hartman always
had the ascendancy at college, and last night I fell into the old way of
playing chorus to his high tragedy. This will not do, and I must assert
myself. He was much the better student of course, but I have knocked
about and seen more of the world than he has, shut up in these woods
like a toad in a tree. He is too good a sort to go to seed with his
confounded whimseys; so I determined to take a different tone with him.
And I wrote to my wife about it: Mabel is a competent woman, and
sometimes has very good ideas where mine fail--though of course I seldom
let her see that. That evening I took him in hand.

"Jim," I said, "I've been thinking--about you."

"Ah," said he. "Large results may be expected from such unusual
exertion. Impart them by all means."

"James Hartman, you are lazy, and selfish, and unprincipled."

"Yes?" said he, in an inquiring tone. "That is your thesis. Prove it."

I went on. "A man should be doing something: you are doing nothing. A
man should have a stake in the community. What have you got? Three dogs
and an old cow. A man should be in connection and sympathy with the
great tides of life. Here you are with nobody but yokels to talk to, and
the pulse of the region about two to the minute."

"Twin brother of my soul, companion of the palmy days of youth,
methinks--as they say in the wild and wondrous West--you hit me where I
live. But none of these things move me. I am lost in admiration of your
oratory: really, Bob, I didn't think it was in you. But you said all
this, in simpler language, last night."

I saw I had overshot the mark: when he takes that tone, you are nowhere.
"Jim," I said, "let's be serious. Begin where we left off, then. Granted
that you don't care for making money, and the ends most of us are after.
By character and fortune you are above the usual selfish motives. Still
you are a man, a member of the community: you have duties to your
fellows. Let the nobler motives come in. Do something to make the world
happier, wiser, better. You have the power, if you had the will. Are not
private talents a public trust? You used to berate the hogs of Epicurus'
sty. It seems to me you've fallen back on mere self-indulgence. Your
life here is a huge egoism. Cut loose from these withering notions:
there is a better side to things than the one you see. Come back to the
world, and be a man again."

His eye was very bright now--not that it was ever dull--but I could not
quite make out what it meant; perhaps mere curiosity. "Robert," he said,
"I should believe that somebody had been coaching you, but there's no
one in range who could do it except myself. It's not like you to have
brought books along; and you've not had time to hear from home. What put
you up to this?"

"Hartman," I said, "look me in the eye and see whether I mean what I
say. Go back with me next week. Make your home at my house till you can
look round. I'll introduce you to some men who are not shams--and women,
if you like. I know a few who have souls and consciences, though they do
go to parties. I'll help you all I'm worth. You can make a new start.
Something went wrong before. Better luck this time."

"Bob," said he, "I'll take your word for it. Deeply touched by such
unexpected and undeserved consideration--no, I won't chaff. You're not
half a bad lot. But, my dear boy, you see the thing from your
standpoint; mine is different. I'll try to explain. But what would you
have me do?"

"Whatever is best for you. Anything, so you get an object in life."

"Do you remember what De Senancour says, in _Obermann_?"

"Not I. Put it in your own English, please: no French morals in mine."

"What is there to be done that is worth doing? It seems to me that
everything is overdone. I go into a town, big or little: ten stores
where one is needed. How do all these poor creatures live? Do you see
anything noble in this petty struggle for existence? I can't. I serve my
kind best by getting out of their way: that makes one less in the
scramble."

"I shouldn't expect you to sell tape or taffy, Jim. You could deal in a
higher line of goods, and do it in your own way."

"They don't want my goods, Bob, and I can't do it in my own way. I have
tried--not much, but enough to see. There is no market for my wares: and
I'm not sure they are worth marketing--or that any man's are. Truth as I
see it is the last article to be in demand."

"As you think you see it just now, very likely. Your eye is jaundiced,
and sees all things yellow. Get well, and you can find a market. Fit
your mind to the facts, and receive a true impression."

"Exactly what I have done--so far as any impression is true. That's the
point I've been waiting for you to come to. 'The Universe is change, and
Life is opinion.' As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he; and as he
thinks of things outside himself, so are they to him. One can do no more
than use his eyes and brains, and then rule himself by what he sees. I
have looked at matters more carefully and dispassionately than some do,
and seen a little deeper into them: the prospect is not edifying, Bob. I
am prejudiced, you say? No, I have cast aside prejudice. Most of you are
misled by the love of life: you want to give a favorable account of your
own belongings, and the wish is father to the thought: so you blink what
is before you, and won't own the truth. Perhaps you are wise in your
way: you gain such bliss as is in ignorance. Keep it if you can: I have
no desire to disturb it."

"Jim, mayn't there be a little conceit of superior wisdom here?"

"Very possibly: as the lamented Bedott observed, we are all poor
creatures. 'I do not speak as one that is exempt:' doubtless I have my
full share of infirmity."

"Then why not take the benefit of it, with the rest of us? There's a
better as well as a worse side. Take things as they are, and make the
best of them."

"I do. The best is the least, and I get away from things as much as
possible. To minimize life is to make the best of it."

"Now you're at it again; begging the question, and dodging the
argument--you'd say, summing it up, I suppose. I tell you, it's all
mental, and your mind's diseased. You think you're injured by the scheme
of things. Well, change your opinion, and the injury is gone. Didn't one
of your old philosophers say something like that?"

"He didn't give it quite the application you do, Bob. How can I change
an opinion that is based accurately on facts? I don't make the facts: if
I did, my opinion of myself would be yet worse than it is. I have a
brain--such as it is--and a conscience: I can keep them clean and awake,
even on Crusoe's island. Nothing better than that, my boy. 'What is the
good of man? Rectitude of will, and to understand the appearances of
things.'"

"Well, Hartman, if you had two or three kids, as I have, you'd see
things differently. They would give you an interest in life."

"A tragically solemn one, no doubt. That responsibility at least can't
be forced on a man. He can let his part of the curse die out with him."

"Jim, you _are_ selfish. You were made to gladden some woman's eye and
fill her heart. You were the strongest man of the nine, and the best oar
in the crew. We all envied your looks, and there's more of them now.
You could outshine all the gilded youth I know, and hold your own with
the best. I remember a girl that thought so, a dozen years ago.
Somewhere a woman is waiting for you to come and claim her. Why will you
rob her and the world? This wilful waste is selfish wickedness, that's
what it is."

"Think so if you must: it's a free country. But you sugar the pill too
much. Who misses me--or what if some few did for a while? They've
forgotten me long ago. I tell you, I served society by deserting it."

"It's all very well now, Jim, while your youth and strength last. But
after you turn forty, or fifty say, these woods and whims will lose
their charm; you'll get bored as you've never been yet. The emptiness
and dreariness that you theorize about will become stern realities:
you'll pine, when it's too late, for human affection and some hold on
life. My lad, you are storing up for yourself a sad old age."

I thought I had him at last. His surface lightness was all gone: he
looked intent and solemn. "No doubt of it, Bob; not the least in life. I
am human, and the worst is yet to come. But do you think me such a cad
as to go back on my principles in search of so poor a shadow as
happiness? Shall I, in base hope of easing my own burden, throw it on
somebody else who but for me might go through existence lightly? Should
I call sentient beings out of the blessed gulf of nothingness, that they
may pay a duty to my weakness by and by, and curse me in their hearts?
That would be somewhat too high a price to pay for broth when I am
toothless, and the coddling comforts of one who has lived too long."

I am not thin-skinned, but his tone shocked me. "Dear boy," I said,
"they wouldn't look at it in that light. They would be your wife and your
children."

"Yes," he said, still savagely, "they would be my wife and
children--supposing your unsupposable case. Grant that my notions are as
false and monstrous as you think them: a pleasant lot for my wife,
wouldn't it, to be in constant contact with them? And my children would
have my blood in them--the taint of eccentricity, perhaps of madness: O,
I've seen it in your eye. Others would think so too--most, no doubt. No,
Bob; better let it die out with me."

"Jim, you make me tired. I'll go back to the tavern." I was
disappointed, and he saw it.

"Don't make yourself wretched about me, old man. Let this thing go--you
can't mend it. Follow your own doctrine, and take what you find. We have
the May weather, good legs, and our tackle, and the brooks are full of
trout. I kill nothing bigger than fish, but if you want a change I'll
show you where you can have a chance for deer. And for the evenings,
there are other topics besides ourselves--or rather myself. You can tell
me about your children; they are likely to be healthier than mine would
be. Good night, my boy: sound sleep, and no dreams of me."



III.

COMPLICATIONS.


After that I found it best to do as Hartman had said. The sport was
good, but I failed to enjoy it. I suppose I was a fool, for each of us
makes or mars his own life, and it is no use moping over your neighbor's
blunders; but I could not get that poor devil out of my mind. He talks
as well on one subject as on another: it was I, not he, had brought him
under discussion; but the evenings dragged. Then came a letter from
home: the distance is considerable, and the mails slow. "Dear Robert,"
my wife wrote, "I am glad to know you are so comfortable. Keep your
flannels on, and change your clothing when you have been in the wet. The
children are well: Herbert fell over the banisters yesterday, but
fortunately without injury. Bring your friend Mr. H. back with you; he
seems to be presentable, and evidently all he needs is a little cheering
feminine society." [Hum: feminine society puts a higher estimate on its
own powers than I do, then.] "Clarice has returned. You know how
enterprising she is, not to say wilful, and how fond she is of you. She
has taken a fancy to try your retreat, and learn to catch trout." [She
has, eh? Well, let's get on with this.] "Jane will go with her, of
course: they start on Thursday. Secure rooms for them, and have a
vehicle to meet them."

Here was a nice situation. To make Mabel easy about me, I had enlarged
too much on the accommodations here; they are a long way from what she
supposes. I called the landlord. "Hodge, here are two ladies coming from
the city. Where can you put them?"

"Wall, I d'no, Square. Ain't much used to city gals. Hope they don't
bring no sarrytogys. There ain't nothin but your room, an mine, an old
Poll's, and the gerrit. Me and you might go out in the hayloft like, or
sleep on the pyazzer if the nights is warm."

While he was maundering on, the whole truth flashed upon me. Why can't
I see things at once, like Hartman? If I had his sharpness, and he my
slow common sense, there would be two men fit for this world's
uses--which neither of us appears to be, as the case stands. I had
rashly said too much about Jim and his attractions. Mabel is a born
manager and matchmaker--can't endure to see an eligible man uncaught.
She has put the girls up to this game: 'cheering feminine society,'
indeed! My sister Jane is a sensible woman enough, and not much younger
than I; but Clarice is a beauty with six years' experience, and
irresistible, some think. 'Enterprising'--well, I should say so: cheeky,
you might call it. Women do take such stunning liberties nowadays. My
wife would reprove me for slang; but weaker words fail to express the
fact, and my feelings about it. I might stand these girls coming up here
after me--Clarice is a sort of eighth cousin of Mabel's and looks on me
as a brother. But Jim--no. She must be pining for more worlds to
conquer, and it would just suit her book to bring a romantic hermit to
her feet. I should like well enough to see her try it, when I was not
responsible, but not under present circumstances. Great Cæsar! Jim will
think I have put up this job on him, and never forgive me: nor would I,
in his place. This field is getting too thick with missionaries.--"Hodge,
it won't do. Harness your old nag, and drive me to the station. I must
telegraph. And while I'm there, I may as well put for home. We can catch
the night train if you hurry."

"Wall, Square, I don't cotton to suddint changes: like to move when I
git a good ready. Ye put a man off his base, Darn--."

I checked his incipient profanity. "My friend, whether you like it or
not is in this case immaterial. I'll pay you for the time I meant to
stay, and all you like for the fifteen miles. But be quick, now."

While he was hunting strings for his broken buckboard, I threw my traps
together, and scratched a line to Jim: called home by sudden press of
business, I said--and so it was, in a way. It is a long ride, but I had
enough to think of. At the depot I wired, "Hold the girls. I am coming
back." As I straightened up from this exercise, there was the old sinner
grinning malignantly over my shoulder. "Hodge," I said, "not a word
about the ladies to Mr. Hartman, mind," and I gave him an extra dollar.
This was another mistake, I suppose.

"Never you mind, Square: tain't me as goes back on my friends." What
could the old fool be thinking of? I would have given him some more
cautions, but the train came, and I was off.

You may imagine the reception at home. I tried to take a high hand, but
what can a man do against three women? "I really think, Robert," said
Mabel, "that since the girls had set their hearts on this excursion, you
might have indulged them." "The conceit of men!" cried Clarice; "what
had our coming to do with Mr. Hartman? Is he lord of the manor, that no
one may trespass on his demesne?" Jane too turned on me. "It was not
very kind of you, brother, to prefer a mere acquaintance above your own
sister, and suspect her motives in order to save his peace, forsooth!" I
knew it was humbug; but I had to eat no end of humble pie, all the same.
You may believe me or not--if you are a family man you will, without
difficulty--but I had to get those women apart, and explain things to
them one at a time, before I could have peace in the house. My own flesh
and blood were soon mollified; but Clarice has not forgiven me yet. I
have been on my knees to her, so to speak--most men do it, and she
expects it--but it is of no use. "My dear Clarice," said I, "you know I
would do anything in the world for you." "Yes," said she contemptuously,
"I've just had experience of it." "But you don't know Hartman." "Then
why couldn't you let me know him?" "But it wouldn't have done, under
these circumstances. He--I--." "Unhappy man," she said, with her tragedy
queen air, "is it possible you imagined that you were a better judge of
the proprieties than I?" And that's the way it goes. I am coming to
believe Hartman was right about the fate of philanthropic efforts, at
least.

In the midst of all this came a note from Jim himself. "Dear Bob, I
enclose something which Hodge says you left behind." [O thrice-accursed
idiot, did I leave Mabel's letter lying around loose?] "Of course I have
not looked into it, but I fear he has." [You may bet on that: the only
chance was that he could not read her fine Italian hand.] "He says one
of your children fell down stairs: I trust the results were not serious.
Sorry you left in such haste, and hindered the ladies from coming.
Hodge's quarters are not palatial, but you could bunk with me, as I at
first proposed; and since they were willing to rough it, we would have
managed somehow. You could surely rely on my humble aid toward making
their sojourn in the wilderness endurable. And _per contra_, a little
cheering feminine society might have assisted your benevolent efforts
toward my reclamation. Was it not selfish to leave me thus unconsoled
and unconverted?"

Well, the business is done now, with neatness and dispatch. That beast
Hodge has told Jim all he knew or suspected, even to that fatal phrase
of my wife's: so there's an end of his faith in me, and of any chance I
might have had to set him straight. That was a fortnight ago, and I have
not the face to answer him. When I have any more doctrinaire anchorites
to convert, I shall not call a family council. But alas, poor Hartman!



IV.

A WILFUL PRINCESS.


I was wrong about Hartman after all. He has written me again, and this
is what he says:

"Do you want to confirm the heretical opinions you argued against so
manfully? You had revived my faith in friendship, Bob: I believed, and
would like still to believe, that one man can be true and kind to
another. And perhaps in general you had stirred and shaken me up more
than you knew. Socrates outranks Pyrrho, and I am open to conviction.
Possibly I have been too sweeping; I don't wish to dogmatize. It may be
that I have lived alone too long, shut up in a narrow space, where light
could enter only through my perversely colored glasses. At any rate,
your coming was like opening a door and letting in a wholesome breeze.
Have I offended you? I thought I was past asking favors from my kind:
but do let me hear from you."

Of course I had to answer that, and worse, to show it to the girls. Some
men, now, would keep it to themselves, and preserve their dignity; but
such is not my style. Let them crow over me if they must.

They did. "Well, Robert," said Mabel, "you see now how absurdly mistaken
you were. Perhaps hereafter you will allow us to manage our own affairs,
and not complicate them with your bungling masculine attempts at
superior wisdom." "I am glad to know, brother," said Jane, "that your
friend is a gentleman, incapable of the base suspicions you would have
attributed to him. You did your best to prevent our knowing him and
carrying out your ideas for his improvement: now we shall be able to
meet him cordially, and try to cheer him a little. But probably he is
not at all as dark as you have painted him."

Clarice would say nothing: she was in one of her high and mighty moods.
Her soul is like a star, and sits up aloft; sometimes it twinkles, but
more generally it does not. I often want to tell her that she is a
creature too bright and good to come to breakfast like other folks; but
somehow she has a way of keeping people at a distance, and even of
repressing my pleasantries. We call her the Princess: She has to be
approached with bated breath, and you must whisper your compliments if
you want to fire them off at her; rear them as gently as a sucking
child, in fact--and then they are very seldom appreciated.

"Clarice," I said, "I want to get Hartman down here. Do treat him
kindly, please; won't you, now?"

She looked at me with her Juno air. "Why should I treat him kindly?"

"O well, I won't say for my sake, because you wouldn't care for that.
But the poor devil has lived in the woods so long."

"He might have been well enough in his woods; but why should you bring
your poor devils into civilized society, and expect me to bear with
their gaucheries, in addition to your own?"

There it is: she'll not forgive me in a year for upsetting her fine plan
of going up there to beard the hermit in his den. She rarely takes these
fancies, I must own; and when she does, she is not accustomed to be
balked of them. As it has turned out, I might as well have let her have
her way that time; there was no harm in it. "Princess, haven't you
trampled on me enough? I was wrong, and I'm very sorry: what more can a
man say? But Hartman had no hand in that."

"Yes, that is clear now, no thanks to you. Small merit in confessing
after you are proved guilty."

"Well, you are pretty hard on a fellow. But you needn't punish Hartman
for my fault. Thrash me all you like, but give him a chance. I give you
my word of honor, Clarice, he is a finished gentleman, and very
different from me. You needn't fear awkwardness in him. I knew you would
like him."

"How do _you_ know what I would like? If this Mr. Hartman wants to see a
little of the world, I have no desire to prevent his being reclaimed
from barbarism. Mabel and Jane can do that, without my aid. To tell you
the truth, Robert, I don't care to meet the man, after the disgusting
complications which you have introduced."

I groaned--I couldn't help it. "Princess, please God, I will never
interfere with you again. You shall be safe from any meddling of mine.
If you will kindly say what you want, and say it slow, so that my
limited faculties can take it in, I will try to act accordingly. But, if
I may make so bold as to inquire, what are you up to now?"

"I shall go away. O, you need not feel so badly about it, Bob: I am not
tied to you and Mabel. I was in the South all winter, you know, and only
returned while you were at your fishing. I have a dozen invitations for
the summer: I think I will join Constance."

"Not if I can help it, you won't. This is your natural home, Clarice,
and you shall not be driven from it. Nobody shall enter here who is not
acceptable to you: if anything about the house don't suit you, name it
and it shall be corrected. You know Jane and Mabel worship you; so do
the children, if you count them. I'll not have Hartman; or I can
entertain him at the club while you are all at Newport."

"That will be hospitality indeed. Would you desert your friend for me?"

"I would not desert you for all the friends under the canopy. You have
always ruled the house when you deigned to be in it, and you always
will. I may be low in your books, but it does not follow that you are
not high in mine. We can't do without you, Princess; you must stay. Name
your price, and I'll pay it if it breaks me."

"Very well then; I will remain, and meet your Mr. Hartman. But one thing
must be distinctly understood: there must be no more crossing of my
will. I must be absolutely free and unhampered, to plan and carry out
what I see fit. I may possibly be wrong at times; but you will not know
when, and it is not for you to judge. No more interference or
opposition, remember. Do the terms suit you?"

"O Lord, yes. I'll have a throne set up in the drawing-room, and
everybody shall approach you Siamese fashion. And perhaps I had better
come to you to see if my tie is right before dinner, and to practice
what I shall say when we have company."

"It might improve you. But Mabel should be competent to attend to those
trifles. On one point I must instruct you, though. I shall doubtless do
things that appear to you strange, perverse, incomprehensible. In such
cases it will be best for you to walk by faith. No meddling nor
espionage, mind."

"Clarice, you don't think me capable of playing the spy on you?"

"Not that exactly, but you sometimes indulge in little tricks and
stratagems: you like to think that you hoodwink your wife--not that it
ever succeeds--in small unimportant matters. Mabel and Jane may endure
your attempts, if they like; but don't try them on me. They would never
deceive me for a moment, of course; but I can't waste time in
explaining that to you in detail. Besides, your fancied success would
unsettle your mind, and so tend to disturb the domestic equilibrium."

"Good heavens, Clarice! would I lie to you?"

"No: you dare not. But let me have no subterfuges, no concealments, and
no criticisms. What I may do you cannot expect to understand, nor is it
necessary that you should."

"Well, thought has been hitherto supposed to be free. When I see you at
those little games of which you are to enjoy a monopoly, can't I have an
opinion of them?"

"O yes. The opinion will be of small value, but your poor mind must be
amused and occupied somehow, I suppose. But you will be carrying your
opinions about the house, and introducing an element of confusion. If
you could keep your own counsel, now--but that is hopeless."

"When you are operating on Hartman, for instance, it might confuse the
programme if I were to say anything to him, eh?"

"When I take Mr. Hartman up, it will be very much better for his welfare
and yours for you to leave him in my hands."

"O, he would rather be left there, no doubt, though they grind him to
powder. But what the deuce am I to do? If I mayn't talk to anybody else,
can't I come to you with my opinions--in odd moments, when your serene
highness has nothing better on hand?"

"You may bring your valuable ideas to me, and I will hear them, when I
have leisure and inclination. Yes, that will be best. But no
concealments, mind. When you think you know anything that affects me,
come to me with it at once: otherwise you will be blurting it out to
somebody else. You promise?"

"I swear, by all my hopes of your royal favor. Anything else? I mean,
has your majesty any further commands? You'll have to give me audience
about three times a day, you know, to keep me in mind of all these
rules, or I'll be safe to forget some of them."

"You had better try to remember. I'll keep an eye on you. And now do you
want any more, or have you learnt your lesson?"

"I'll trust so. Henceforth I shall not call my soul my own. The humblest
of your slaves craves permission to kiss the royal hand. I say, Clarice,
you won't be rough on poor Hartman, will you? He's had hard lines: you
could easily break him to pieces, what is left of him."

"If there is so little left of him, there would be small credit in
breaking him to pieces, as you elegantly express it. I shall probably
let him alone."

"Scarcely. There is a good deal left of him yet: he is as handsome a
fellow, and as fine a fellow, as you'd be apt to find. You're tired of
the regulation article, dancing man and such, that you meet every night:
I don't wonder. This is something out of the common. He needs a little
looking after, too. I wish now I had let you get at him in May, as you
proposed."

"Robert, if you fling that odious and vulgar figment of your debased
imagination at me again, I will go away and never come back. You make me
sick of the man's name. If you ever breathe a hint of this disgusting
slander to him I will never forgive either of you, nor speak to you."

"God forbid, Princess dear. Don't you know that your good name is as
sacred to me as Mabel's? Wasn't I to come to you with notions that I
couldn't put in words to anybody else?"

"Let them have some shadow of reason and decency about them, then.
Cannot a girl plan a rural excursion, in company with your sister and
under your escort, without being accused of designs on a strange man who
chances to be in the neighborhood? You try my patience sorely, Robert. I
wonder how Mabel can endure you."

"Well, he that is down can't fall any lower, as it says in Pilgrim's
Progress. Walk over me some more, and then maybe you'll feel better.
What the d--There, I'm at it again. Clarice, it might improve me if you
would mix a little kindness with your corrections; handle me as if you
loved me, like the old fisherman with his worms, you know. It
discourages a fellow to get all kicks and no kisses."

"Robert, look me in the eye and swear to purge your mind of that vile
thought, and never to admit another that dishonors me."

"O, I swear it. Bring me the Thirty-nine Articles and the Westminster
Catechism and the Ten Tables, and I'll subscribe to all of 'em. I'll
think anything you tell me to: I signed my soul away an hour ago." Here
I saw that I had gone too far, and she was really angry. She's right; I
must learn to check my confounded tongue, if I am to keep on any terms
with the Princess. So I changed my tune, just in time. "Don't go,
Clarice. Honestly, I beg your pardon; upon my soul, I do. Your word is
all the evidence I want of any fact under heaven, of course. Princess
dear, I've been fond of you since you were a baby, and it has grown with
your growth--it has, really. I'll prove it some day: you wait and see.
Forgive me this once, won't you? Don't speak, if you are tired, but just
give me your hand, as they did in the Old Testament, in token of
forgiveness."

She gave it. I am not good at descriptions, but a man might go barefoot
and fasting for a week, and be paid by touching such a hand as that. The
queer thing is that I've known Clarice for over twenty years--I told you
she had been in society for six--and practically lived with her most of
that time, and yet she grows more surprising every day. It seems to be
generally supposed that familiarity breeds contempt in such cases; that
sisters, and wives, and the like, get to be an old story to the men who
belong to them. Clarice is not that kind: possibly I am not. To be sure,
she is neither my wife nor any blood relation; but I don't see that that
makes any difference. They took out a patent for her up above, and
reserved all rights, with no power of duplication. She might care for me
a little more; but then I don't suppose I've ever given her any reason
to. I am well enough in my way, but I'm not such an original and
striking specimen of my 'sect' as she is of hers--not by a long shot.
She was exhausted now, and that is how I got a chance to put in all this
wisdom just here. I might talk to Mabel for a week, and it would produce
no effect: but a little thing upsets the Princess, her organization is
so delicate and sensitive. She is all alive and on fire, or else languid
and disdainful: she can't take life easily, as people of coarser grain
do, like me. Her brain weighs too much and works too hard; that uses her
up. I don't doubt she has a heart to match; but it has never yet waked
up to any great extent, so far as I have seen or heard. No matter;
people will care for you all the same, Beauty, whether you care for them
or not. Don't fancy that I am the only one--far from it: but I have the
luck to be her adopted brother from infancy, and to have access to her
when others have not. She is not always kind--very seldom, in fact, up
to date: but it is a privilege to look at her, and any treatment from
her is good enough for me. She used to tyrannize over me in this way
when she was ten and I twenty, and so it will be, no doubt, to the end
of the chapter. Outside, I sometimes take on a man-of-the-world air, and
fancy that I can think of you lightly, my Princess--that is the correct
society tone, and it does not pay to display the finer feelings of our
nature to the general world: but when I come under the spell of your
presence, I know that that is all humbug, and that you are Fair Inez of
the ballad, God bless you. You and Hartman ought to get on together: it
might be a good thing for you both--him especially. Mabel and Jane are
women too, but they are as devoted to you as I am, according to their
lights, and more jealous for you: jealousy seems to be no part of me,
luckily. Well, between us we ought to be able to keep all harm from you,
if you will let us.

Of course I didn't say all this out loud, but only thought it. Then she
opened her eyes and yawned a little.

"Have I been asleep, Bob? I must have been: you tired me so. O yes, I
know you think a good deal of me: that is an old story. Well, anything
more?"

"Only about poor Hartman, dear: you didn't promise yet."

"Well, when he comes I will look him over and see what is to be done
with him. I must go upstairs and dress now." And with this I had to be
content.

This conversation occurred of a Sunday afternoon, when Mabel and Jane
had gone to Church, and taken Herbert with them: the infants were out
for an airing with their nurse. Fortunately there was a long missionary
sermon, and a big collection, to which I must send five dollars extra:
the occasion was worth that much to me. As the Princess left the room,
they came in. They looked at her, then at me. "What have you been doing
to Clarice, Robert?"

"Only preparing her to receive Hartman."

"Preparing her! you great goose, what does she want with your
preparation? You'll only prejudice her against him, and spoil any
chances he might have. Let her alone, do. Haven't you made mischief
enough between them already?"

That is all they know about it. Churchgoing sometimes fails to bring the
female mind into a proper frame. But you see they are ready to scratch
out even my eyes at the thought that I have been rubbing her down the
wrong way. No matter: I know what I know, and they need not try to make
me believe that these things will go right without proper management.



V.

CONSULTATION.


We usually go to Newport for the summer. As Mrs. Fishhawk says, the
bathing is so fine, and the cliffs are such a safe place for children to
play. Not that we care so much for the society: the Princess has seen
the vanity of that and been bored with it, and the rest of us are very
domestic people. After much persuasion through the mail, Hartman agreed
to join us there: I was to pick him up in New York and take him down. A
night or two before this, Clarice took me out on the aforesaid cliffs,
which afford a fine walk in the moonlight with the right kind of
company, but somewhat dangerous if you get spoony and forget to look
where you are going. The Princess, it is needless to say, never commits
this folly: she always has her wits about her, and wits of a high order
they are, as not a few men have found to their cost, myself
included,--many and many a time. She opened the ball.

"Robert, do you remember our compact?"

"I'm not likely to forget it. Your words are my law, more sacred and
peremptory than the Ten Commandments, or those of the old codger who
wrote 'em in blood because his ink had given out. As a servant looks to
the hand of his mistress, so am I to watch your dark blue eye for
direction and approval. Deign to cast a sweet smile, however faint, in
this direction occasionally: it won't cost you much, and will encourage
me. If the devotion of a lifetime--"

"Yes, I know all that: at least you've said it often enough. Now you
will have an opportunity to put it in practice. Drop generalities, and
come to business."

"My heart's queen, I am all attention. Speak, and thy slave obeys. Bid
me leap from yon beetling crag into the billows' angry roar--"

"Will you stop that, or shall I go into the house? We are not rehearsing
private theatricals now."

"Ah, indeed? I thought we might be. I expect to see some next week."

"You will see my place at table vacant if you don't keep quiet, and
listen to what I have to say. I can join Constance yet. You talk about
your affection for me and anxiety to serve me, and when I want something
definite of you, you go off into the Byronic, or the Platonic, or what
you would perhaps call the humorous: it is not easy to discriminate
them. Once for all, will you do as I bid you, or not?"

When the Princess wants to bring a man to book, he has to come there,
and stay there till he sees a favorable opening for a break: there was
none such just now. So I called in the white-winged coursers of my too
exuberant fancy, locked them up in the barn, begged the lady's pardon as
usual, and composed myself into an attitude of respectful and devout
attention, as if I were in church. It was not long after dinner: I
wanted to have some more fun, but that did not seem to be just the time
and place for it. My preceptress eyed me sternly, and waxed anew the
thread of her discourse.

"I told you that my actions might appear strange to your ignorance. I
will tell you now what my plan is, so far as is necessary for your
guidance: then perhaps you will have sense enough not to go gaping
about, but to fall into line and do what is required of you. I have
determined to see very little of this Mr. Hartman--"

"O now, Clarice! After you promised! I relied on you--"

"Be still, stupid, and hear me out. I shall see but little of him at
first. You have made such an ado about the man, I am disposed to be
interested in him, for your sake. There, that will do; let my hand
be."--I was merely pressing it a little, I assure you, to testify my
gratitude for this unusual consideration: I don't know when she ever
owned to doing a thing for my sake before. "For your sake first, you
great baby, and then, if he is worth it, for his own. But at the start,
as I told you, I must look him over; and that I can do best at a little
distance."

"And then you mean to take him in and do for him? You can, of course;
but, Princess dear, be merciful--for my sake first, and then, if he is
worth it, for his own. Don't grind him up too fine: leave pieces of him
big enough to be recognized and collected by his weeping friends."

"Robert, you really ought to try to restrain your native coarseness.
What can a man like you know of the motives and intentions of a woman
like me? Poor child, if I were to put them before you in the plainest
terms the facts and the dictionary allow, you could not understand
them."

As a quartz-crusher the Princess could have won fame and fortune. I hope
she may not pulverize Hartman as effectually as she does me: he might
not take it so kindly. To eliminate the metaphor, she is a master at the
wholesome process of taking a man down: not that I don't often deserve
it, or that it is not good for me. In fact, I've given her occasion,
from her youth up, to get her hand in; and admiration of her skill binds
up the wounds, so to speak, with which my whole moral nature is scarred
at least sixteen deep. In case you should not follow my imaginative
style, let me say in simpler language that I am used to it; but another
man might not understand it. I consumed some more humble pie--these
desserts occur frequently in the symposia of our conversations--and she
resumed.

"So I will leave him to Jane at first. She will be very sisterly and
gracious, and will make the first stages of his return to the world easy
and pleasant. This may last two days, or two weeks."

"O, don't overdo it. He talked of staying but a week or ten days."

"Dear Robert, you are so innocent. He will stay as long as I want him
to."

"What, whether you notice him or not?"

"Of course. Are you six years old? Have you never seen me in action
before?"

"Body of Venus and soul of Sappho, I give it up. Of course you can do
anything you like, but I never realized that you could do it without
seeming to take a hand in the game. I strew ashes on my head like
what's-his-name, and sit down in the dust at your feet. Forgive a
penitent devotee for forming such lame and inadequate conceptions of
your power. But what part do you want me to dress for in this improving
moral drama?"

"Your part is very simple. Of course I must be occupied. I should hardly
shine as a wall-flower."

"You would shine anywhere. If you were a violet by an old stone, you
couldn't be half or a quarter hidden from the eye. But the supposition
is impossible. If you were free, no other girl in the room would have a
chance."

"That is very passable, though not wholly new. You are improving, Bob.
If you would give your mind to it, I could mould you into tolerable
manners yet.--Well, I might get plenty of men from the houses around.
But they are tiresome--staler than you, my Robert, though I see less of
them--and I can't take the same liberties with them I do with you. You
are to belong to me as long as I may want you."

"That is not new at all, Princess. It has been so for years. Everybody
about the house knows that, even the servants--and all our friends."

"Yes, of course. But I am to make special use of my property for the
next few days. You will have to be in constant attendance. You ought to
enjoy the prospect, and the reality when it comes."

"I do; I shall: bet your boots on that. O confound it, I've got my lines
mixed already."

"Rather. If you startle the audience with such a speech as that, what
will Mr. Hartman think? You must put on your prettiest behavior, Bob.
Make a desperate effort, and try to keep it up--for my sake, now."

"For your sake I can be Bayard and Crichton and Brummell and all those
dudes rolled into one. I'll order some new clothes when I go down. And
you will have to be very gracious to me, you know."

"Am I not gracious enough now, pet? How is this for a rehearsal?"

"Beyond my wildest dreams, Empress. When you treat me thus for an hour,
I can bear your ill usage for a year."

"There will be no ill usage at present, if you behave. Now don't forget,
and spoil the play. Understand, you are to pair off with me, as Mr.
Hartman with Jane. Mabel is mostly occupied with the children; we will
all look after her, of course. And there will be mixing and change of
partners, but not much. You must watch, and obey my slightest hint--the
turn of an eyelid, the flutter of a fan. I'll teach you all that."

"I know a lot of it already: when it comes to watching you, I am a
dabster. I'll behave as if I was at school to Plato and Confucius, and
in training to succeed them both. Do you know, Princess, if you were to
treat a stranger for half a day as you are treating me now, he would
want to die for you?"

"He might die for want of me before the day was over, if he grew
lackadaisical over his wants. All men are not so chivalrous as you, my
poor Robert. You may have to do that sort of dying before long. You must
be ready to be dropped when the time comes to change the figures. No
growling or moping, mind: you must submit sweetly, and take your place
in the background with Jane, while the rest of the play goes on."

"I know: I've been there before. I can find consolation in seeing you
carry the leading part. One set of men passes away, and another set
comes on; but the Princess goes on conquering, regardless of the moans
of her victims as they writhe on the bloody battlefield. O, I'm used to
being shoved aside, and feeding on my woes in silent patience. The
flowret fades when day is done, and so does every mother's son Who
thinks his course is just begun, And knows not that his race is run--How
does it go on, Clarice? I forget the rest of it."

"It is a pity you didn't forget the whole of it. I would if I were you,
and quickly, lest you horrify some one else with it. You are too big to
pose as a flowret, Bob."

"Polestar of my faith, see here. I'll have to be around with Hartman,
smoking and so on, nights, after you and the rest have turned in, and
often in the daylight. You and Jane can't attend to his case in person
all the time, you know, and I'm his host. What shall I say about you?"

"Anything you like. Praise me to the skies, of course. That will be in
keeping with your part as my cavalier; and he will see how things are
between us--on your side, I mean. Tell him about my few faults, if you
can bring yourself to mention them. Yes, you must; they will set off my
many virtues. Be perfectly natural about it: you have known and
cherished me from infancy, and so forth. Not a word, of course, about
our compact, and these rehearsals, and my coaching you--O you great
booby, were you capable of blurting that out? If you do, you'll spoil
all, and I'll never forgive you. Remember now: you profess to dread my
anger, and you have reason; you've felt it before. If you want me ever
to trust you again, keep to yourself what is between us; regard it as
sacred. O, I know you profess to look at all that belongs to me in that
light; but show your faith by your works. Swear it to me now."

I swore. That is a ceremony which has to be gone through rather
frequently with the Princess, and somehow I don't mind it. But how the
deuce is one to remember all these rules and regulations? I'll have to
get Clarice to write them out for me, by chapter and verse, with big
headings; then I'll get the thing printed, and carry it about with me,
and study it nights and mornings. But Mabel might find it in my clothes:
she is welcome to my secrets, but this is not mine. I might have it
printed in cipher; but then I should be sure to lose the key. O,
confound it all, I'll have to chance it: I'll be sure to slip up
somewhere, and then there'll be a row. Well, why borrow trouble? Let's
gather the flowers while we may: only there are none just here, and it
is too dark to find them. Then a thought suddenly struck me: why not
head off the difficulty by improving my position beforehand? "Princess
dearest, do you like me better than you used to, or is this only part
of the play, the excitement of practicing for a newcomer? Tell me,
please--there's a dear."

We were near the house now, and she darted away from me. "If you tells
me no questions, I asks you no lies," she sang gaily as she ran in. O
shades of Juliet and Cleopatra, what a woman that is--or what an idiot I
am: I can't be sure which till I get an outside opinion. I'd give odds
that within a fortnight Hartman will be far gone. It will be life or
death for him, poor old man. But he's nigh dead now, inwardly speaking,
and so has not much to lose. Anyway, he'll see that a world with Clarice
in it is not as blank and chilly as he thinks it now--not by several
thousand degrees. I fancy his thermometer will begin to go up pretty
soon. He needs shaking up and turning inside out and upside down--a
general ventilating, in fact, and I rather think Miss Elliston will
administer it to him.



VI.

PREPARATION.


I was mighty glad that Clarice felt this way about Hartman's coming; she
has not waked up so, or come down from her Olympian clouds of
indifference, in a long time. But still I thought it best to go around
and make some more preparations. When I have a secret to carry, it
oppresses my frank and open nature more than you would think; and I find
that I can conceal it best by inquiring concerning the matter of it of
persons who know nothing about it. Naturally I began with the head of
the house. That is myself, I suppose, nominally; but every decent man
allows his wife to fill the position, and get what comfort she can out
of it.

"Mabel," I said, "I hope that Hartman will enjoy himself here."

"You told us he was not given to enjoying himself; on the contrary,
quite the reverse. No doubt he will take us as he finds us. He will
hardly want to go out to dinner every day, and meet the Vanderdeck's and
the foreign princess."

"But, Mabel, I trust you are all prepared to meet him in the right
spirit."

"What absurd questions you ask, Robert. You talk as if he were a bishop,
come to convert us: I thought we were to convert him. I hope I do not
need to be instructed how to receive my husband's friends. And Jane is
ready to take an interest in him: she can be very nice, you know."

"And Clarice: will she do her part?"

"Nobody knows what Clarice will do on any occasion. She would be more
apt to do what you wish if you would not trouble her about Mr. Hartman.
We are not three little maids from school, to be taught our manners. Why
can you not learn that matters would move just as well, yes, and better,
without your continual interference, dear? Your blunders only complicate
them, and disturb the harmony."

Now that is a nice way for the wife of one's bosom to talk, isn't it?
How often, O how often, would I remove the clouds of care from her
placid brow, and smooth her path through life by graceful persiflage and
appropriate witticisms: but she does not seem to appreciate them. I fear
she must have had some Scottish ancestors. Sometimes I think she does
not appreciate _me_. It is a cold world; a cold, heartless, unfeeling,
unresponsive world, in which the sensitive spirit may fly around
promiscuously like Noah's dove, and have to stay out in a low
temperature. Wisely and beneficently is it arranged that Virtue should
be her own reward, since she gets no other. I will try Jane next.

"My dear sister, you know I go to town to-night, and expect to bring
Hartman back. You will receive him kindly, for my sake, will you not?"

Jane is a little prim at times, and I have to arrange my sentences
carefully, when I am with her.

"I will do that, of course: why so many words about it? Have you not
been preparing me, and all of us, for this visit, for the last month? We
know what is right, Robert: _your_ behavior is the only doubtful part."

"But Clarice, sister? She is always so doubtful, as Mabel says; so
capricious, so haughty, so unapproachable. You have great influence with
her. Dear Jane, can you not persuade her to treat my poor friend
kindly?"

"Now, brother, why will you be such an unconscionable humbug? We all
know that you are in her confidence, when any one is. What were you two
talking about all last evening? Hatching some plot, no doubt. But it was
not intended to be practiced on me--not on her part; that is your
unauthorized addition to her text." And the maiden assumed the part of
Pallas, and gazed at me with severity, as if she would read my inmost
soul. But she can't beat Clarice at that. See here, young lady, you are
too sharp; you are getting dangerously near the truth. I came near
saying this out, but did not. Instead I took an injured tone.

"You are a pretty sister, Jane, to go about suspecting me this way, and
accusing me of intrigue and hypocrisy, and all kinds of black-hearted
wickedness. What would I want to deceive you for? You know we all have
to consider Clarice, and humor her: she is an orphan, and we are her
nearest friends. She amuses herself with me sometimes, for want of
another man at hand, and then throws me aside when the fit is over."

"O yes, we all know that, of course. Well, brother, you can go to town
with an easy mind. Leave Mr. Hartman to Clarice and me; when she is not
in the humor to attend to him, I will."

Now how does Jane come to know so much? Has the Princess been taking her
into the plan too, as well as me? That I don't believe. Clarice would
expect Jane to take her cue by intuition, and not bother to coach her as
she has me: perhaps she can trust Jane farther. That must be it: one
woman can see into another's mind where a man couldn't. I must put a
mark on that for future reference. They do beat us at some minor points.
Well, I didn't exactly get the best of that encounter: it seems to me I
owe Jane one, which I must try and remember to pay.



VII.

INITIATION.


Hartman arrived on schedule time, and was duly taken home with me. "Old
man," I said, "welcome back to the amenities of life; to the tender
charities of man and woman; to the ties, too long neglected, which bind
your being to the world's glad heart. You are the prodigal returning
from sowing his wild oats in the backwoods: the fatted calf shall be
killed for you, in moderation, as per contract, and the home brewed ale
drawn mild. We are quiet people, and live mostly by ourselves: that will
suit your book. The giddy crowd, in its frivolous pursuit of amusement
and fashion, surges by in the immediate vicinity, and old Ocean, in his
storm-tost fury, dashes his restless waves upon our good back door, or
adjacent thereto. But we give small heed to either one of them. The sea
views and feminine costumes are supposed to be of the highest order,
and there is polo at stated intervals, if you care for such; but these
vanities have little to do with the calm current of our daily life. You
will shortly have in front of you a christian family, united in bonds of
long-tried affection and confidence. The earthly paradise, James, must
be sought in the peaceful bosom of one's Home. After tossing on the
angry billows of Water Street, how sweet to return to this haven of
rest! And you too, world-worn and weary man of woes, shall receive
attention. The furrows of care shall be smoothed out of your manly brow:
gentle hands will bind up your wounds--even the one you got from that
girl a dozen years ago, if it isn't healed yet. The shadows of gloomy
and soul-debasing Theory will flit away from your bewildered brain, and
in this healthful atmosphere your spirit will regain its long-lost tone,
and embrace once more the ethereal images of Hope and Joy and Faith.
Probably you will yet find some one to love in this wide world of
sorrow; anyway, we hope to send you forth clothed and in your right
mind."

"I hope I'm properly clothed now, or will be with what I've got in my
trunk; and I need to be in my right mind to take in all this eloquence.
I was mistaken about you, Bob; you should have been a preacher. The only
drawback is, you don't stick to one key long enough: these sudden
changes in your woodnotes wild might confuse a congregation."

"The church lacks vivacity and sense of humor, Jim: she's all for a dull
monotone. Old Fuller is dead: his mantle descended on me, but they don't
appreciate that style nowadays. To return to our topic, and deal with
the duty that lies nearest. In an humble and pottering way, we are a
happy family, James. We envy not the rich and great: seek elsewhere
their gilded saloons, and tinsel trappings of pride; but you will find
things pretty comfortable. I regret to say we'll have to do our smoking
out of doors; but it is generally warm enough for that. If we are noted
for anything, it is for modest contentment, unassuming virtue, and
cheerful candor--just as you see them in me. Each face reflects the
genuine emotions and guileless innocence of the heart connected
therewith; more than that, they reflect one another, as in a glass. You
can look at Mabel, and see all that is passing in my capacious bosom. We
share each other's woes, each other's burdens bear, and if we don't drop
the sympathizing tear frequently, it is because there is very seldom any
call for it. We have no secrets from one another: limpid and pure flows
the confidential stream--but it flows no further than the fence. You can
say what you like to any of us, and it will not go out of the
house--unless the servants overhear it; you'll have to look out for
that, of course."

"See here, Bob; judging by you, I had no idea I was coming among such
apostolic manners, or I'd have taken a course of À Kempis. Are there any
prayer-meetings near by, where I can go to freshen up?"

"Within a mile or two, no doubt. Jane can tell you about them; she can
lend you a prayer-book, anyway. But I was not meaning to discourage you:
they will make allowances. My wife is an exemplary woman; if you want to
get on with her, you'll have to take an interest in Herbert's bruises
when he falls over the banisters. He is the only one of the children who
will trouble you much; the others are small yet, happily. My sister is a
pattern of propriety, but of rather an inquiring mind, and sympathetic
if you take her the right way: she can talk with you about philosophy
and science and your dried-up old doxies. Not that she knows anything
about Schopenhauer, and Darwin, and Diogenes, of course; but she's heard
their names, and she'll pretend to be posted--you know how women are.
And when you need a mental tonic--the companionship of a robust
intellect, the stimulus of wide acquaintance with the great world of men
and things, a manly comprehension of any difficulties that you may meet,
or sound and wise advice how to steer your way through the pitfalls and
intricacies of the female character--in such cases, which will no doubt
often arise, you have only to come to me. I know all about these
matters, of which you have had no experience. I'll be at home as much as
possible while you are there, and I'll stand by you, Jim."

"Thanks, awfully--as I believe they say where we are going. Yes, you
will be an invaluable mentor, Bob. Well, I'll try not to disgrace you.
It is late: let us turn in."

This important conversation took place on the boat. You see, when I was
with Hartman in May, he took the lead; but in my own house, or on the
way to it, I like to be cock of the walk. Besides, as I had prepared the
women for his coming, so now it was necessary to prepare his mind to
meet them. In my picture of our domestic felicity, I may have laid on
some tints too heavily, as about our mutual confidence. But he will soon
see how that is. You may notice that I said nothing about the Princess.
There was a deep design in that omission. When the orb of day in all his
glory bursts from his liquid bed upon the astonished gaze of some lonely
wanderer on the Andes, or the Alps,--or our own Rockies, say,--the
spectacle is all the more effective if the wanderer was not expecting
anything of the kind; didn't suppose it was time yet, or, still better,
didn't know there was any sun. That is the way Jim will feel when he
sees Clarice. If he has forgotten about her wanting to go up there in
the woods in May, O. K.; that will meet her views, and he'll be reminded
of her existence soon enough.

This is one of those delicate ideas which might not occur to the male
mind unassisted: in fact, left to my native nothingness, I should
probably have enlarged on her charms most of the evening. But she laid
special stress on this point, that I was to say as little as possible
about her beforehand, and fortunately I remembered it. Hartman thinks he
is going to have a safe and easy time with me and two highly respectable
ladies of sedate minds and settled habits. Sleep on, deluded James,
while I finish my cigar here on deck: dream of the forest and the trout
brooks, and your neighbor Hodge and your old tomcat. By to-morrow night
your mental horizon will be enlarged, and when you return to your castle
in the wilderness there will be some new sensations tugging at your
vitals. It will be a change for you, old man, and you needed one. Well,
I've given you enough to think of for now, and you'll get more before
you are a week older. I hope he will come through it right: it is like
taking one's friend to the surgeon to undergo an operation, when he
doesn't know that anything ails him or is going to be done. Poor old
Jim, I wouldn't have put up such a job on you if I didn't believe it was
for your good. I am not a pessimist like you: I believe in God and the
Princess.



VIII.

INTRODUCTION.


The drive from the wharf is too long: I often think that the older part
of the town ought to be submerged, or removed to one of the adjacent
islands. We met the family at breakfast, and I said, "Ladies, you see
before you a wild man of the woods, brought hither to be subdued and
civilized by your gentle ministrations. By the way, Mabel, there was a
corner in oil yesterday. I made fourteen thousand, and Simpkins went
under; so you can have that new gown now." They paid no attention
whatever to these pleasantries. Clarice was not there, or the sparkling
fount of humor would have flowed less freely.

Hartman has very good manners when he chooses, and in my house he would
naturally choose; so he got on well enough. The children took to him at
once, and he seemed to take to them. After breakfast I led him out for a
walk, to show him the points of interest. Several very creditable
cottages have been put up since he was here last: in fact, this is quite
a growing place, for the country. As we went back he suddenly said,
"Bob, who is this Clarice that your sister mentioned at the table? Fancy
name, isn't it?"

"O no," I said as indifferently as I could. He ought not to go springing
her on me in that way: it makes a man nervous. "She's an orphan; a sort
of cousin of Mrs. T. Got no brothers or sisters, and all that sort of
thing; so we look after her a good deal. Sometimes she's with us,
sometimes she's not. Was south all winter: got back while I was up there
with you."

Now what the deuce did I say that for? It'll brush up his rusty mental
machinery, and help him to recall what she wants forgotten. Just so; of
course.

"Yes, I remember. She thought of joining you with Miss Jane. I wish you
had let them come."

"Well, you see, you don't know what these girls are used to; I do. There
were no fit quarters for them at Hodge's. I had gone and written my wife
a lot of rot, pretending his place was much better than it is."

"With your usual unassuming virtue and cheerful candor; yes. We have no
secrets from one another: the limpid stream of confidence flows
unchecked and unpolluted. Just so. But see here, you old hypocrite, if
there is another young woman in the family, you ought to have told me
about her last night, when you were preparing my mind, you know, and
pretending to explain the whole domestic situation.--Great heavens,
who's that?"

We had turned a corner, and come plump on the house; and there on the
piazza, two rods away, sat a rare and radiant maiden, playing cat's
cradle with my eldest son and heir. I can't tell you how she was
dressed; but she was a phantom of delight when thus she broke upon our
sight; a lovely apparition, sent to be Jim Hartman's blandishment. At
least so it seemed, for he stood there and stared like a noble savage.
As when the lightning descends on the giant oak in its primeval
solitude--but I must stop this; she is too near, though she pretends not
to see us yet. So I whispered in low and warning tones:

"Brace up, Jim. She's not the one you met here twelve years ago, who
jilted you at Naples: this one wasn't out of her Fourth Reader then.
Don't get them mixed, or be deceived by a chance resemblance." I thought
it was better to lay his embarrassment on that old affair, you see. But
that was all nonsense: he never saw anybody like Clarice before--how
should he?

"Confound you, Bob," he muttered between his teeth, "so you've been
practising your openhearted innocence on me. Get on with it now, and
finish it up."

He pulled himself together, and I went through the introduction with due
decorum; then I got away as soon as I could. You see, I was unmanned by
the spectacle of so much young emotion, and somewhat exhausted by my own
recent exertions. I found a cool corner in the library; and presently
Jane had to come in. "What is the matter with you, Robert? Why do you
sit there grinning like an idiot?" Perhaps a smile of benevolence had
overspread my striking countenance; and that's the way she distorts it.
I could not tell her what pleased me, so I said I had been reading a
comic paper. "You write your own comic papers, I suspect; and bad enough
they are. If you go on at this rate, you will end by editing the _Texas
Siftings_. Do try to be decent, brother, while you have a guest in the
house." I suppose she thinks that is a crushing rebuke, now. I said I
would try, and told her she had better join Clarice and Hartman, who
would probably be tired of each other by this time. Here again I have
played into the Princess' hands. She doesn't want Jim to see too much of
her at first, but to get used to the blinding glare by degrees, and take
his physic in small doses, until he can bear it in larger. At least I
hope so: if I've made a mistake and spoiled the procession, I'll learn
it soon enough. But Jane wouldn't go unless it was right: that's the
good of being a woman. You don't catch me interrupting them, or going
near the Princess when she has any of her procedures on foot, unless I
am called.



IX.

AT NEWPORT.


I could not tell you all that occurred that week; but it went exactly as
Clarice intended and had foretold. She was gracious and equable and
gentle, a model young lady of the social-domestic type; but Hartman did
not see much of her. I on my part was kept steadily occupied, what with
boats, and horses, and parasols, and fans, and wools, and wide hats, and
more things than you could think of. It was, "Robert, come out on the
cliffs," or "Robert, get my garden gloves, please; they are in the
sitting-room, or somewhere else;" or "Robert, take me to town; I must
telegraph to Constance;" or "Bob dear, would you mind running over to
Miss Bliffson's, and telling her that I can't go to the Society this
afternoon; and on your way back, stop at the milliner's and see if my
hat is done." I usually attended to these commissions promptly; when you
have women about, your generous heart will rejoice to protect and
indulge their helplessness. They are the clinging vine, you are the
sturdy oak; and then, as I said, Clarice is an orphan. Hartman at first
showed an inclination to relieve me of the lighter part of these useful
avocations, such as taking her about over the rocks and in the bay; but
she very quietly, and without the least discourtesy, made him understand
that no foreigners need apply for that situation. Other men were coming
after her every day, but she avoided them or sent them to the right
about: she can do that in a way to make you feel that you have received
a favor. She kept reminding me that it was my business to wait on her:
if these things were paid for in cash, I should want high wages, for
the duties are far from light. But I can stand it: within the bosom of
Robert T. glows a spark of warm and pure philanthropy. When I see my
fellow-creatures in need, and this good right arm refuses to extend its
friendly aid, may my hand cleave to the roof of my mouth--O well, you
know what I mean. I used to retire to my meagre and philosophic
cot-bedstead with aching limbs and an approving conscience: I never was
worked so hard before. Some of these errands were perfectly needless, I
knew. She can't want to get me out of the way for an hour or two, for I
am never _in_ the way; nor simply to show what she can do, for that is
an old story, familiar to all concerned. Doubtless she has some high
moral end in view; perhaps to teach Hartman what are the true relations
of man and woman, and how the nobler animal can be trained to be a
helpmeet and boy-of-all-work to the weaker. Whether this will suit his
views I doubt; but she knows what she is about. It is mine not to
question why, mine not to make reply, mine simply to go on doing what my
hand finds to do--of which there is quite enough at present. Meanwhile,
everybody else is having a nice easy time, while I am laboring like six
dray-horses for the general good. Hartman sits about with Jane, and they
seem to be getting on finely. Mabel also appears to enjoy his society.
Sometimes she looks at me and at Clarice, and then at Jim, in a way
which might indicate a notion that things are too much mixed, and that
the Princess ought to be giving her attention to Hartman's case. I think
so too, but it is not for me to suggest it. I feel like asking Mrs. T.
what all these complications mean, and why she does not straighten them
out: she is Clarice's relative and hostess, and head of the house when I
am away. But it will straighten itself pretty soon now, and a new tangle
will begin for the predestined victim. Wild man of the woods, your hour
will soon strike, and the grim executioner in the black mask will
prepare to take your head off. You will see a hand not clearly visible
to the outside world--a very beautiful hand it is too, as I ought to
know--that will beckon you to your doom: you will hear a voice whose
silvery music will drown all fears, all scruples, all world-sick
longings for your woman-hating moods, all memories of your lost Lenore
of long ago, and tell you that resistance and delay are vain. What the
details of the process may be, and whether joy or woe will tip the
scales for one who takes things as seriously as you do, I cannot tell;
but it is coming, and it is coming presently. You may not like it: you
are not used to it as I am; but you cannot help yourself. Farewell to
the old life, the old delusions, the old fancied knowledge: you will
find yourself a small boy in primary school, beginning the world anew.
You think you are locked up in steel, defended by your indifference,
your disgust, your unbelief in Life. These glittering generalities will
fall into dust before the wand of a magician who has some eminently
particular business with you. You have sounded the depths, and found
them shallow; you have tested values, and they are less than nothing,
and vanity; you have emptied the pincushion, and only bran is there. My
skeptical friend, a sharp needle is there yet, and it will prick your
finger: there are depths that you know nothing about, and heights too,
it may be: there are thrills of life that will go through all your
veins, and show you that you are not as near dead as you supposed. You
were but a boy when that girl gave you your quietus, as you imagined;
you are a man now, with more in you than you fancy, and another girl may
bring you to life. Still in your ashes live their ancient fires, and I'm
mistaken if they don't start a superior blaze before long. Well, well,
I hope it will make a man of you.



X.

ON THE CLIFFS.


I was betrayed into the above apostrophe by the violence of my
sympathies; but the lucid and graphic sentences which precede this
moralizing ably sum up the situation during the first week of Hartman's
visit. A good deal of wisdom was in circulation: I said some things
myself which deserve to be remembered, and the others occasionally dropt
a remark which showed how the ball was moving. You will want the chief
of these outpourings in order of time, as landmarks in this history.

Clarice took me apart the first day and began to cross-examine me: that
is, she told me to go outside and wait for her, and by the time she came
it was dusk. Why is it that the garish day seems to freeze our finer
emotions, and reduce us to the monotonous level of a dull cold
practicality? It is under the calm light of moon and stars that soul
speaks to soul, and we gain those subtler experiences, those deeper
views of our own nature and that of our nearest and dearest, which so
far transcend the plodding sciences of the laboratory, the useless
learning of the pedant, and the empty wisdom of the children of this
world.

"Come, Robert, wake up; don't sit mooning there like a calf. Make your
report."

"Report?" said I, thus rudely startled from a train of thought which
might have borne rich fruit for coming generations. "What about?"

"What about? You forget yourself. Whose employ are you in?"

"Well, on Water Street I am supposed to be carrying on business for
myself, and at home I am the envied husband and father of a happy and
admiring family. Clarice, I was meditating on subjects of much moment;
and the duties of hospitality claim my valuable time. Did you wish to
speak to me particularly?"

"None of your nonsense, now. What did you talk about last night on the
boat?"

"All sorts of things. My conversation is always improving. I explained
to Jim that his reëntrance on society could not be made under fairer
auspices; that models of deportment and of all the virtues would be
about him on every hand; that a pure atmosphere of love and peace
pervaded this modest mansion; that joy was unconfined; that we could lay
our weary heads on each other's bosoms in the repose of perfect trust,
knowing that not a thought entered any one of them which the angels
above might not look into with satisfaction, and--"

"You talk too much about bosoms, Robert: it is not in good taste. What
did you say about me?"

"Divil a word, bedad. Wasn't that right? Didn't you tell me to keep
dark, and not mention you?"

"Not unnecessarily. But didn't he ask?"

"He'd forgotten all about you. Now, Princess, don't be offended; there
was next to nothing to forget, you know. It's not as if he had ever seen
you, or really heard anything about you. O, I'll talk you up to him
whenever you say so; to-night, if you like. But I thought his forgetting
was what you wanted. Didn't I manage it well? Do own that now, please.
Let those cerulean orbs shed one ray of gentle light upon the path of a
weary wayfarer--yes, that's better. Have I merited your approval, Serene
Highness?"

"You've done very well--for you. But was it necessary to tell so many
lies, Bob?"

"Now _that_ is not in good taste, if I am a judge--to put such ugly
names upon the graceful fancies with which I decorate the plain, rude
facts of everyday life. What are we without Imagination, that glorious
gift which causes the desert to rejoice and blossom like your little
flower-bed in the back yard at home? You know, Clarice, that my mind is
a deep clear well of Truth, and my lips merely the bucket that draws it
up. Where will you get candor and veracity, those priceless pearls, if
not from me?"

"Robert, you have fallen into this way of practising your little tricks
and deceptions on everybody. O, I know you mean no harm; it is merely
for your own amusement. But Mabel and Jane don't quite understand it."

"Couldn't you explain it to them, Clarice? Some people have no sense of
humor. I can't well go around saying, This is a joke; please take it in
the spirit in which it is offered."

"O, it does no great harm: they are very seldom deceived, and perhaps
they will learn to make allowances for you by and by. But you may be
tempted to try your games on me: if I ever catch you at that--Remember,
I am not to be trifled with."

"Perish the thought, and perish the caitiff base who would harbor it.
Princess, you are sharper than I. Do you think I would be fool enough to
try any tricks on you, when I should be found out at once?"

"People generally find you out at once, but that doesn't seem to stop
you. How can I tell whether I can trust you? I don't believe you know
yourself when you are serious--if you ever are."

"There is one subject on which I am serious--deeply so, and always.
Clarice, when I die, if you will see that the autopsy is properly
performed, you will find your initials, as the poet says, neatly
engraven on my blighted heart."

"Robert, sometimes I fear you have incipient softening of the brain."

"And if I have, is not that a reason why I should be watched and guarded
tenderly--why loving arms should enfold my tottering frame, and sweet
smiles cheer my declining path, and a strong firm brain like yours
support my failing intellect? Clarice, be gentle with me. I am an orphan
like yourself; soon, if you read the future aright, to be laid beneath
the cold clods of the valley. When I am sleeping under the daisies in
the lonely churchyard, you will say to yourself, He was my friend, my
more than brother: he loved me with a loyal and self-oblivious devotion.
And then, in those sad hours of vain remembrance, every unkind word that
you have spoken, all the coldness and cruelty which have pierced my
patient breast, will return to torture yours. Be warned in time,
Clarice, and make it easy for me while you have the chance."

"Robert, if you have a talent, it is for shirking a subject you are
afraid of. When you go off like this, I know you are hiding something
from me. What is it this time?"

I saw things were getting serious. She was bound to get it out of me,
and I might as well give in. "Princess, I will confess, and throw myself
on your mercy. Strike, but hear me. It won't pay you to be cross now,
for you've got to be with me till you conclude to take Hartman up; we
can't be quarrelling all the time, you know. He asked me about you this
morning; Jane had spoken of you at breakfast. I put him off with general
remarks about your being down south last winter, and the like of that;
then suddenly my brain slipped--it _is_ softening, you see--and I said
you had come back when I was in the woods with him. That started him,
and he recalled your notion of going up there."

"You are sure you didn't mention it yourself? What did he say?"

"Merely that he wished I had let you and Jane come. He likes Jane. Upon
my honor now, he had no suspicion of anything."

"You goose, how often have I told you there was nothing to suspect? But
men are so coarse. Well, is that all? What else are you trying to
conceal?"

"On my soul, Princess, that's all. I explained it all right, and he was
commencing to berate me for not preparing him to meet you as well as the
others, when we suddenly came on you, and you struck him deaf and dumb
and blind. He swore at me under his breath just before I introduced
him." Here my feelings overcame me again.

"Well, there's no harm done. But you really must be more careful, Bob.
Try and make your poor mind work better while it lasts; don't forget my
instructions again, and when you have made a blunder, tell me at once.
You are so light, so devoted to your frivolous amusements; you seem to
be drifting into second childhood, thirty years too soon. If you had an
object, now, a serious purpose in life: if you really cared for
anything--even for me!"

She cuts me when she talks like that. "Clarice, my regard for you is so
undemonstrative that you fail to appreciate its depth. If I were to make
a fuss over it, now, and use a lot of endearing epithets and big
professions, perhaps you would believe me. Some time you will know
whether I care for you or not; whether I've got anything in me, and am
capable of acting like a man. You wait and see. But I wish I knew what
you are going to do with poor Jim."

"Some time you will know: you wait and see. You can go and comfort him
now. Good night, poor Bob."



XI.

EXPLANATIONS.


I went and comforted him. "Well, old man," I said with a cheerful air,
"how do you get on?"

"Robert," said he, "do you suppose I would have come here if I had known
what an atrocious humbug you are? Do you imagine for a moment that my
relatives, if I had any, would have subjected my innocence to such
insidious guardianship? Have you brought me here to destroy my faith,
and pollute my morals, and poison my young life with the spectacle of
your turpitude?"

"You're improving already, Jim. When I saw you last you hadn't any
faith, nor much morals; your youth was away back in the past, and your
strength was dried up like railroad doughnuts; you were ready to fall
with the first leaves of autumn. Well, since you are here, you can stay
till you see how you like us. What do you think of Clarice?"

"She has given me no basis on which to think of her, beyond her looks;
they rather take one's breath away. You beast, what do you mean by
springing a face like that on me without warning, after all your
humbugging talk last night, pretending to post me on every one I was to
meet? And I say, do you always stand guard over her when anybody comes
near?"

"Well, you see, you were so overcome by the first sight of her this
morning, that it seemed no more than fair to let you recover your
breath, as you say, and get used to her by degrees. But, James, this is
unseemly levity on your part. What have we to do with girls? Let us
leave them to the baser spirits who have use for them. The world's a
bubble, and the life of man of no account at all. We have tried it, and
it is empty; hark, it sounds. Vain pomp and glory of it all, we hate ye.
Ye tinsel gauds, ye base embroideries, ye female fripperies, have but
our scorn. What are flashing eyes, and tossing ringlets, and rosy lips,
and jewelled fingers, to minds like ours? Let us go off to the Nitrian
desert, Jim, away from this eternal simper, this harrowing routine."

"You must have been reading up lately, my boy. I left all that in the
woods, Bob, and came down here in good faith for a change of air,
prepared to learn anything you might have to teach me. If you've got any
more traps and masked batteries, let them loose on me; practice on me to
your heart's content. You've undertaken to convert me, and I'm here to
give you a chance: a fine old apostle you are. But I don't quite
understand Miss Elliston's position here, Bob."

"Her position here, or anywhere else, is that she does about as she
pleases, and makes everybody else do it too, as you will see before your
hair is gray, my learned friend. As I may have told you, we are her
nearest relatives: she is an orphan."

"Parents been dead long?"

"About seventeen years. What's that got to do with it?"

"O, not much; don't be so suspicious. Do you think I'm trying to play
some trick on you, after your model? How should I, a helpless stranger
in a strange land, betrayed by the friend in whom I trusted? I'm an
orphan myself too. So that Miss Elliston is in a measure dependent on
your kindness?"

"O, don't fancy that she's a poor relation, or anything of that sort.
She's got more cash than she wants, and loads of friends: had twenty
invitations for the summer. If you don't behave to suit her, she's
liable to go off any day to Bar Harbor, or Saratoga, or the Yosemite, or
Kamtchatka."

"Very good of her, to stay here with you, then."

"Well, Mabel is deeply attached to her; so is Jane, and the children of
course. Her parents and mine were close friends in the country--where I
came from, you know. She and I were brought up together; that is, she
was--I was mostly brought up before her appearance on this mundane
sphere. We used to play in the haymow, and fall from the apple trees
together, and all that. O, Clarice is quite a sister to me--a pretty
good sister too, all things considered."

"And you are quite a brother to her, as I see. Strange, that it never
occurred to mention her, when you were describing the various members of
your family. Does her mind match her personal attractions?"

"She's got as good a head as you have, old man, or any other male
specimen I've struck. I myself meet her on almost equal terms. O, hang
that; I don't either. This is no subject for profane jesting. Talk about
the inferiority of women! If the moralists and stump-speakers had one
like her at home, they'd change their tune. But there are no more like
her."

"You speak warmly, Bob. To Clarice every virtue under heaven. Beautiful,
brilliant, accomplished, amiable; you are a happy man to have such an
annex to your household--even if she wasn't worth naming at the start."

"Amiable--who said she was amiable? Leave that to commonplace women and
plain everyday fellows like me. You can't expect that of her sort, Jim.
She can be very nice when she pleases. I suppose she has a heart; it has
never waked up yet. When it does, it will be a big one. We don't expect
the plebeian virtues of her."

"She has a conscience, I hope? If not, it might be better to go away,
and stay away. You ought not to keep dangerous compounds about the
house, Bob."

"She won't explode--though others may. A conscience? I think so. She
couldn't do a mean thing. She keeps a promise: she has more sense of
justice than most women. But you can't apply ordinary rules to her. She
is of the blood royal: the Princess, we call her. Can't you see, Jim?
You are man enough to take her measure, so far as any one can."

"I see her outside; it is worth coming here to see, if I were an artist
or an æsthete. She has deigned to show me no more as yet."

"It is all of a piece: the rest matches that, as you will see in time.
There is but one Clarice."

"Bob, you are different from last night. I believe you are telling the
truth now."

"She sobers you. When you have been with her, when you think of her, it
is as if you were in church--only a good deal more so."

"Very convenient and edifying, to have such a private chapel in one's
house. Bob, in this mood I can trust you. Tell me one thing: why did you
never mention her to me?"

"She doesn't wish me to talk of her to strangers."

"And now the prohibition is removed?"

"You are not a stranger now. She knows you, and you have seen her."

"Well, you are loyal. Does she appreciate such fidelity?"

"We are very good friends. From childhood we have been more together
than most brothers and sisters. More or less, I have always been to her
as I am now. She is used to me. I do not ask too much of her. Don't
fancy that I am in her confidence, or any one: she has a royal reserve.
See here, Jim; I am making you one of the family."

"I understand. I must ask you one thing: why did you bring me here, to
expose me to all this?"

"You needed a change, Jim, as you half owned just now; almost any change
would be for the better. I wanted you to see the world again: there is
in it nothing fairer or richer than Clarice."

"You go on as if she were a saint; and yet you say she's not."

"You can answer that yourself, Jim. She's far from it: you and I are not
saint-worshippers. But she has it in her to be a saint, if her attention
and her latent force were turned that way. She can be anything, or do
anything. She hasn't found her life yet. She bides her time, and I wait
with her. Her wings will sprout some day. I like her well enough as she
is."

"Evidently. Do you know, old man, that you are talking very freely?"

"Am I the first? or do you suppose I would say all this to any chance
comer? You opened your soul to me in May, as far as you knew it: you are
welcome to see into mine now."

"There is a difference. I cared for nothing, and believed in nothing; so
my soul was worth little. Yours is that of a prosperous and happy man."

"Externals are not the measure of the soul, Jim, nor yet creeds. I know
a gentleman when I see him, and so do you. Your soul will get its food
yet, and assume its full stature; you've been trying to starve it
partly, that's all."

"Do you talk this way to your Princess, Bob?"

"No. She is younger than we: why should I bore her? You and I are on
equal terms: she and I are not."

"This humility is very chivalric, but I don't quite understand it in
you, Bob."

"You can't: you've been so long unused to women, and you never knew one
like her. If you had, it would have been too early; what does a boy of
twenty know of himself, or of the girls he thinks he is in love with, or
of the true relations that should exist between him and them? Call it
quixotic if you like; I don't mind. Any gentleman, that is, any
spiritual man, has it in him to be a Quixote. When you come to know
Clarice, you will understand."

"Do you call yourself and me spiritual men, Bob?"

"Yes; why not? Spirituality does not depend on the opinions one chances
to hold, but on the view he takes of his own part in Life, and on the
inherent nature of his soul. We are not worshippers of mammon, or
fashion, or any of the idols of the tribe. I live in the world, and you
out of it; but that makes little difference. You were in danger of
becoming a dogmatist, but you are too much of a man for that. We both
live to learn, and we can spend ourselves on an adequate object when we
find it."

"Bob, if you don't talk to her like this, she doesn't know you as I do."

"No human being knows another exactly as a third does. We strike fire at
different points--when we do at all, which is seldom--and show different
sides of ourselves to such few as can see at all. She does not care
especially for me: why should she? But she has great penetration--more
than you have, far more than I. She sees my follies and faults as you
don't; she is a sort of a confessor. At present she is a Sunday-school
teacher, and I am her class."

"What _do_ you talk of, all the time?"

"It's not all the time, by any means. That is as she pleases; just now
it may be a good deal. By and by it may be your turn: then you'll know
some things you don't now. There is nothing I say to her which the world
might not overhear, if the world could understand it; and nothing that I
can repeat. Jim, I am done: we are up very late."

"Two things I must say yet, or ask, old man. You would stand by this
girl against the world; and yet you have charged yourself with me. It
may be idle to formulate remote and improbable contingencies, but it is
in our line. Would you take her part against me, and be my enemy--you
who are my only friend?"

"I would stand by her against the world, assuredly. I would stand by you
against all the world but her, I think. You two might quarrel, but
neither of you would be wrong: I know you both, and you don't know each
other. So I take the risk; it is none. When that time comes, neither of
you will find me wanting."

"I believe it. The other thing is this--forgive me if I go too far. Do
you know what even intelligent and charitable people would say of all
this? That it was very queer, very mixed, very dubious."

"They are not our judges, nor we theirs. What would they say of your
theories, and your way of life? To be sure, these concern yourself
alone. So is this inwardly my affair; it binds, it holds no other. Must
a man live in the woods, to form his own ethical code? Here too one may
keep clean hands and a pure heart, and do his own thinking. Life is very
queer, very mixed, very dubious; I take it as it comes. O, I see truth
here and there in your notions of it, though it has done well by me. If
I find in it something unique and precious, shall I thrust that aside,
because the statutes have not provided for such a case? But one thing I
can reject, so that for me it is not: the baser element. Gross
selfishness and vulgar passions are no more in my scheme than in yours:
if their suggestions were to rise, it would be easy to disown them. The
human beasts who let their lower nature rule, the animals who care for
themselves and call it caring for another, are not of our society. O
yes, in common things one must get and keep his own--the body must have
its food; but one's private temple is kept for worship, and owns a
different law. It is not always, nor often, that one can build his
shrine on earth, and enter it every day: when a man has that exceptional
privilege, he must and may keep his standards high enough to fit. You
understand?"

"I do: I am learning. I knew all this in theory, but supposed it ended
there. And your Princess, you think is of our society?"

"No root of nobleness is lacking in her; when the season comes, the
plants will spring and the garden bloom. But we cannot expect to
understand her fully; she is of finer clay than we."

"One thing more, and then I will let you go. There is more of you than I
thought, my boy. In May I knew you had a heart; but one who heard you in
the woods would have set you down just for a kindly, practical man of
the world. Last night, and most of the time to-day, you were the
trifler, the incorrigible jester. Why do you belie yourself so and hide
your inmost self from all but me?"

"Because I've got to convert you, old man. It is a poor instrument that
has but a single string; and David's harp of solemn sound would bore me
as much as it would other folks, if I tried to play on it all the time.
How many people would sit out this talk of ours, or read it if we put it
in print? Taken all in all, the light fantastic measure suits me much
better. To see all sides, we must take all tones. The varying moods
within fit the varying facts without; to get at truth we must give each
its turn. But in the main it is best to take Life lightly. Your error
was that you were too serious about it: it's not worth that. Most things
are chiefly fit to laugh at. The highgrand style will do once in a way:
we've worked it too hard now. Let's come down to earth. I wanted to show
you that I could do the legitimate drama as well as you, and yet wear a
tall hat and dress for dinner. See?"

"That's all very well, Bob, but I can discriminate between your
seriousness and your farce. Perhaps it is well to mix them, or to take
them as they are mixed for us. You may be right in that; I'll think it
over. Yes, I can see now that Heraclitus overdoes it, and that I used
to. Well, my lad, you are a queer professor of ethics; but I'm not sure
you've brought me to the wrong school."



XII.

AWAKENING.


The next day Clarice took me off as usual. "Well, have you made any more
blunders?"

"Not one. You have nothing to reproach me with this time, Czarina."

"You kept Mr. Hartman up dreadfully late. What were you talking about so
long?"

"O, he is prepared to find you wonderful, and to come to time whenever
you want him. I told him your wings weren't grown yet: you were the
Sleeping Beauty in the Enchanted Palace; the hour and the man hadn't
arrived. You dwelt in maiden meditation, and the rest of it."

"You did not cheapen me, surely, Robert?"

"God forbid: do I hold you cheap, that I should rate you so to others?
He may tell you every word I said, when you begin to turn him inside
out; there was none of it that you or I need be ashamed of. He knows,
both by his own observation and from my clear and impressive narrative,
that you are remote and inaccessible--the edelweiss growing high up in
its solitude, where only the daring and the elect can find its haunt."

"That is very neat. Did it take you three hours to tell him that? I
heard you come in as it struck two."

"Too bad to disturb your slumbers, Princess: we will take our boots off
outside, next time. Naturally you were the most important topic we could
discuss; but I also explained his advantages in being thrown so much
into my own society. O, he is getting on. He said--"

"I don't want to know what he said. The man is here, and I can see--and
hear, when I choose--for myself. Do you think I would tempt you to
violate what might be a confidence, Robert?"

"But if I repeat to you what I said, why not what he said?--except that
his observations would not be so powerful and suggestive as mine, of
course. Otherwise I don't see the difference."

"Now that is stupid, Bob. The difference is that you belong to me, and
he doesn't--as yet."

I can't tell you how she says these things. If I could put on paper the
tone, the toss of that lovely head, the smile, the sparkle of eyes and
lips, that go with what you might call these little audacities, then you
would know how they not only accent and punctuate the text, but supply
whole commentaries on it. If you get a notion that the Princess is
capable of boldness, or vulgar coquetry, or any of the faults of her sex
or of ours, you are away off the track, and my engineering must have
gone wrong. But I must stop this and get back to my report.

"One thing I must repeat, Princess. I got off a lot of wisdom for Jim's
benefit. You wouldn't think how wise it was; deep principles of human
nature, and rules for the conduct of life, and such. It did him no end
of good: and then he said that if I didn't talk to you that way, you
couldn't know me as well as he does."

"He must know you remarkably well then. Just like a man's conceit. Poor
Bob, who should know you through and through if I don't?--Why don't you
talk to me that way then, and improve me too?"

"As the Scotchwoman said when they asked her if she understood the
sermon, Wad I hae the presumption? When you catch me taking on airs and
trying to improve you, make a note of it. No, no, Princess dear; the
lecturing and improving between us had better remain where they are."

"But, Robert, perhaps I would like to have you vary this continual
incense-burning with snatches of something else."

"I dare say. Do you know, Clarice, sometimes I think I am an awful fool
about you."

"That is what the doctors call a congenital infirmity, my dear. No use
lamenting over what you can't help. Worship me as much as you like; it
keeps you out of mischief. But you might change the tune now and then,
and give me some of your alleged wisdom."

"Shall I becloud that pure and youthful brow with metaphysic fumes?
Should I soil your dainty muslins with the antique dust of folios, and
oil from the midnight lamp? You wait till you take up Hartman; perhaps
you can stand it from him. But if I were to hold forth to you in the
style he prefers, you would get sick of me in twenty minutes. Let it
suffice that my lonely vigils are spent in severe studies and profound
meditations, the fruit whereof, in a somewhat indirect and roundabout
way, may make smooth and safe the path that is traversed by your fairy
feet. In the expressive language of the poet, Be happy; tend thy
flowers; be tended by my blessing."

"I know about your lonely vigils, Bob; they are spent on cigars, and
making up jokes to use next morning. But you are not as bad as usual
to-day. Do you know, I like you better when you are comparatively
serious."

"Then let me be ever thus, my Queen! It is the solemnizing influence of
being so much with you. If you keep it up for another week, you'll have
to send me off to New York to get secularized. I say, Clarice, how long
do you mean to go on in this way? It's all very nice for me, but how
about Hartman? _He's_ not frivolous; he takes Life in awful earnest.
What do you propose to do with him after you've got him--I should say,
after the fatal dart has transfixed his manly form, and he falls pierced
and bleeding at your feet?"

"My dear child, let me tell you a pretty little tale. Once upon a time
there was a friend of mine, who thought a good deal of me, and of whom I
thought more than he knew, poor man--enough to make you jealous,
Bob."--Now who the devil was that, confound him? I never heard of him
before. It must have been that winter she spent in Boston, just after
she came out. That's over five years ago; he's probably dead or married
before this. Well, get on with your pretty little tale: not that I see
much prettiness about it.--"And when I would tease him to tell me some
secret, he would answer, in his own well-chosen language. Some day you
will know: you wait and see. By-by, baby!"--and away she dashed.

My tongue went too fast last night. Her heart _is_ waking; her wings are
sprouting. She must be getting interested in Jim. The hour is at hand,
and the man: the horn at the castle-gate will soon be sounded, and
presto! the transformation scene. That will be a spectacle for gods and
men, now; but no tickets will be sold at the doors--admittance only by
private card, and that to a very select few. I don't want any change in
you, Princess; but I suppose the angels would like to see the depths in
you that you haven't sounded, the fairer and wider chambers of your soul
opened to the light. God grant that light may need no darkness to come
before it, no storm-tossed, doubtful daybreak. If the change is for
your happiness, no matter about us. You are moving toward a land where I
cannot follow you; a land of mystery and wonder and awakening, of new
beauties and glories and perils, and possibilities unknown and
infinite--a journey wherein you can have no guide but your own pure
instincts, no adviser but your own untried heart. God be with you, for
Jane and Mabel can do no more than I. We shall hear no word from you
till all be over, and then the Clarice of old will return to us no more.
Transfigured she may be and beatified, but not the one we knew and loved
so long. Little sister, all these years I have been at your side or
ready at your call, and now you will not call and I cannot come to help
you; for in these matters the heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a
stranger doth not intermeddle with its joy. May it be joy and not the
other! God be with them both, for it is a dangerous country where they
are going; a region of mists and pitfalls and morasses, where closest
friends may be rudely severed, and those whom Heaven hath joined be put
asunder by their own most innocent errors--and the finest spirits run
the heaviest risk. Ah well, if I were the Grand Duke of Gerolstein,
maybe things would be better managed in my dominions.



XIII.

DOMESTIC CRITICISMS.


Hartman has made a first-rate impression here. It would please you to
see this stern ascetic, this despiser of Life and Humanity, with two
toddlers on his lap, and Herbert at his knee, all listening open-mouthed
to tales of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The boy thinks that one
who lives in the woods must be a great hunter, and clamors for bears and
wildcats: Jane, in her usual unfeeling way, insists that I put him up to
this. But though I am a family man--and you could not easily find one
more exemplary--I do not propose to drag the nursery into the cold glare
of public comment, or favor you with a chapter on the Management of
Children.

I would like to know why it is that women are so ready to take up with
any chance stranger who comes along, when they cannot see the true
greatness of their own nearest and dearest. Mabel pronounces Hartman a
perfect gentleman and a safe companion for me; as if it were I, not he,
that needed looking after. Jane seems to regard him as the rock which
withstands the tempest, the oak round which the vine may safely cling,
and that sort of thing. He is a good-looking fellow yet, and he has a
stalwart kind of bearing, adapted to deceive persons who do not know him
as well as I do. They would almost side with him against Clarice--but
not quite: in their hearts, they think her perfect.

One evening we were all together in the parlor. The Princess had gone
somewhere with one of her numerous adorers, whom she had failed to bluff
off as she generally does: the young man was going to cast himself into
the sea, I believe, and I told her she had better let him and be done
with it, but she said he had a widowed mother and several sisters, and
ought to live long enough to leave them comfortably provided for; so I
let her go. I was trying to direct the conversation into improving
channels, but the frivolous female mind is too much for me.

"Mr. Hartman," Jane began, "we rely on you to exercise a good influence
upon Robert. He is so light-minded, and so deceitful."

"Yes," Mabel added; "no one can restrain him but Clarice, and she
cannot spend her whole time upon him, she has so much else to do."

"See here," said I; "this is a put-up job: I will have you all indicted
for conspiracy. Have you no proper respect for the head of the house?"

"We would like to," my spouse replied: "we make every effort: but it is
so difficult! Mr. Hartman, he wants to manage every little matter,
particularly those which pertain exclusively to women, and which he
cannot understand at all."

"Yes," said Jane; "would you believe it, Mr. Hartman, he attempted to
instruct us as to the proper manner of receiving you! But that is not
the worst of it. He is utterly unable to keep a secret--not that any one
would entrust him with secrets of the least importance, of course. And
when he thinks he knows something that we do not know, he goes about
looking so solemn that even Herbert can detect him at once. And in such
cases he actually comes to us, and questions us about the matter, with a
view to throwing us off the scent, and keeping dark, as he calls it. Did
you ever hear of such absurdity?"

"Ladies and gentleman," I said with dignity, "would you mind excusing me
for a few moments? I would like to retire to the rocks outside, and
swear a bit."

"Robert!" my wife cried, "I am ashamed of you. What will Mr. Hartman
think of your morals?" You see, they think Jim is a very correct young
man.

"O, I know him of old," he said. "Never mind, Bob, I will stand by you.
Really, you are a little hard on him. He has improved; I assure you he
has. Why, he was quite a cub at college. Your softening influences have
done a great deal for him; everything, in fact."

"It is very nice in you to say so, Mr. Hartman, and very polite, and
very loyal; but I know Robert. Clarice does him a little good: she would
do very much more, if he were not so stiff-necked. He thinks he is a
man, and we are only women."

"Well," I asked, "are you going to dispute that proposition? If so, I
will leave Hartman to argue it out with you."

"Mr. Hartman," said Jane, "he thinks he knows everything, and women are
inferior creatures. O, such a superior being as he is!"

"This is getting monotonous," I remarked. "Suppose, for a change, we
abuse Clarice, as she is not here; that will be pleasanter all round,
and less unconventional. Now that girl does a great deal of harm,
turning the heads of so many foolish young men. She spends more on her
dress than you and I do together, Hartman. What an aim in life for a
rational being! Simply to look pretty, and produce an occasional piece
of perfectly idle and useless embroidery: tidies even, now and
then--just think of it! Of all the--"

My wife stopped me here, and I was glad of it, for I really did not know
what to say next.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Robert. To speak in that way of my
cousin, and your own adopted sister! Don't believe a word of it, Mr.
Hartman. She is sweet girl, though reserved with strangers: I am sorry
you have seen so little of her. A high-minded, pure-hearted, dear,
sweet, lovely girl; she is, and you know it, Robert." Well, perhaps I
do; but there is no need of my saying so just now. Jane has to put in
her oar again, of course.

"Yes, Mr. Hartman, and that is a sample of his hypocrisy. He thinks as
highly of Clarice as we do, and is almost as fond of her; and yet he
pretends to criticize her, just to draw away attention from his own
shortcomings."

"Well, let's drop Clarice then, and go on discussing the present
company, if you insist. We'll take them up one by one: I've had my
turn, and my native modesty shrinks from further praise. You see Mrs.
T., Hartman? She sits there looking so calm and placid, like a mother in
Israel; you would think her a model spouse. Yet no one knows what I
suffer. Mabel, I had not been with him ten minutes last May when he
noticed my premature baldness, and general fagged-out and jaded look;
and to hide the secrets of my prison-house, I had to pretend that I had
been working too hard in Water Street. You all know how painful
deception is to my candid nature; but I did it for your sake, Mabel.
When did I ever return aught but good for evil? Yet O, the curtain
lectures, the manifold ways in which the iron has entered into my soul!
But we brought Hartman here to reconcile him to civilized and domestic
life, and I will say no more. Now there is Jane. She naturally puts her
best foot foremost in company; you think she is all she seems: but I
could a tale unfold. Now mark my magnanimity: I won't do it. She is my
sister, and with all her faults I love her still. Well, if you are tired
you'd better go to bed: Hartman wants to smoke."



XIV.

OVER TWO CIGARS.


When we got out under the pure breezes of heaven, Hartman turned to me
and said, "So you call this reconciling me to domestic life, do you?"

"Well, I want you to see things as they are. They are not as bad as your
fancy used to paint them, or as a duller man might suppose from recent
appearances. Women haven't our sense of humor, Jim: their humble
efforts at jocosity are apt to be exaggerated, or flat--generally both;
but they mean no harm."

"Well, Bob, your preparations to instruct my ignorance are highly
successful. All this is as good as a play. You see you are found out,
old humbug; everybody sees through you. You can't delude any of us any
more."

"I don't quite see what you're driving at, my christian friend; but I'm
glad you like us, and I hope you'll like us better before you are done
with us." When he talks like this, I am content to see the hand of Fate
snatch at his scalp, as it will before long. Gibe on, ungrateful mocker:
retribution will soon overtake you in your mad career. Where then will
be your gibes, your quips, your quiddities? You'll want my sympathy by
and by, and I'll see about giving it.

"You needn't be so much cast down, Bob. Perhaps you are building me up
better than you know. Your struggles with your womankind give a flavor
to what I used to suppose must be insipid. You are pretty well satisfied
with each other, or you wouldn't pretend to quarrel so. What I saw of
you before did something toward reconciling me to human nature at large,
and your quaint efforts at shrewdness and finesse set off your real
character. You might take in outsiders, but not me."

"This is too much, my friend--a blanked sight too much. Crushed to earth
by such unmerited compliments, I can only repeat my gratification that
we meet with your approval. You settle down, and you'll see how insipid
it is: then you'll be making some quaint efforts at shrewdness and
finesse yourself. Invite me then, and I'll get even with you, old man.
But I say, what did you mean about my being a cub at college?"

"Well, you were, you know. Barmaids and ballet-dancers, and that sort of
thing."

"Confound you, Hartman, what do you go bringing them up for? There was
only one of each, or thereabouts, and they were generally old enough to
be my mothers. I was but a child, Jim--a guileless, merry, high-hearted
boy, and innocent as the lamb unshorn."

"You were that, and the shearing did you a lot of good. O, you can be
easy; I'll not bring up the sins of your youth."

"They were no sins, only follies. I had my early Pendennis stage, of
course, and invested every woman I met with the hues of imagination. But
Mabel and the girls might not understand that."

"I don't think they would. Happily, it is not necessary they should try
to, since you have returned to the path of rectitude. Do you think you
belonged to Our Society in those days, Bob?"

"Yes, sir: I did, in embryo. I had it in me to develop into the ornament
of our species you behold at present. That's all a boy is good for,
anyway. He thinks he's somebody, but he isn't. He doesn't amount to
anything, except in the fond hopes of his anxious parents. He knows
nothing, and he can do nothing, except learn by his blunders; and some
of 'em can't do that. But if he has any stuff in him, he grows and
ripens with time, as you and I did. What bosh, to put the prime of life
at twenty-five. They ought to move it on a bit; about our age, now, a
man ought to be at his best."

"I don't know, Bob. I was an egregious ass at twenty-five, and I'm not
sure I'm any better now."

"Then there's hope of you, my boy. But one must go on getting
experience. You shut the door too soon and too tight, Jim."

"When I had it open, such an infernal stench and dust came in, that it
seemed best to close it. But it's open again now, partly, and this seems
a healthier and cleaner atmosphere."

"You'll come out all right, Jim; and when you do, you won't seem to have
been altogether wrong all these years. You've kept yourself unspotted
from the world, more than most of us; and when you come to know a girl
like Clarice, you'll want the most and best of you, to be fit for her
society. If only one could get the general ripening without some of the
dashed details of the process! She makes you wish you could have been
brought up in a bandbox, if only you could have come out of it a man and
not a mollycoddle."

"Only 'men-maidens in their purity' are worthy to approach her, no
doubt. Apparently I am not. I'll have to be content with your account of
Miss Elliston's perfections, Robert. She seems to have no more use for
me than the Texans for the Sheriff. But I am doing very nicely, thanks
to your sister. I doubt if you appreciate Miss Jane, Bob. She sees
further into things than you do. She impresses me as a sound-hearted
woman, wise, kind, and gracious."

"Yes, and so sisterly and appreciative. O yes, such a superior person as
she is! But see here, Jim; that's not what you're here for. Jane is all
very well in her way, but----"

He turned on me suddenly. "What the deuce do you mean now?"

By Jove, now I've done it: he's got me in a corner.--You just wait and
see me get out of it. "O well, Jim, I speak only by general analogy, of
course. I am not in the Princess's confidence, as I told you. I might be
if any one were, but nobody can see into her mind further than she
chooses to let them, and that is but a very little way. It would be a
fine sight, no doubt; but she has the reticence of a--well, of an angel
probably; exceptionally delicate and sensitive nature, and all that, you
know. It's not her way to let a good thing go by unnoticed, and she is
quite able to appreciate you. Your time is not up yet: you're likely to
see more of her before you go--at least, I should suppose so."

"Well, I am here to see things, as you say, and I may as well see
whatever is to be shown me. I am in your hands, old man; make as good a
job of it as you can before you send me back to the woods."

It is all very well for him to talk lightly on solemn subjects; he'll
change his tone by and by. I have prepared his mind now, as I prepared
the others before he came. Perhaps I ought to have done it sooner;
perhaps the Princess has been waiting for that. She'll know, without my
telling her; she'll see it in his eye.--Nonsense, Robert T.; your zeal
outruns your discretion. What does she want of your help in a thing like
this? Anyway, he's ready to be operated on, and it seems about time she
began to put in her work.



XV.

THE CATASTROPHE.


This miscellaneous entertainment, as I have remarked, lasted for about a
week: then suddenly the situation changed. I can't tell you how it was
done, though I was looking on all the time; but one evening I found
myself with Jane, and Hartman had gone off with the Princess. We were
all ready to play to her lead, no doubt; but it would have made no
difference if it had been otherwise: when she ordains a thing, that
thing is done, and without her taking any pains about it either, so far
as you can see. I think the predestined victim was pleased and flattered
to have the sacrificial chapter placed upon his head, so to speak; he
ought to have been, at any rate.

"Jane," I said, "what do you suppose Clarice is up to now?"

"Robert," said she, "I thought I had given you a lesson about practising
your absurd hypocrisies on me. Who should know what her plans are, if
not you? If you really are not in her confidence--and it would not be
far, certainly--surely you know Clarice well enough not to interfere.
Let them alone, and keep quiet." That is the way they always talk to me:
I wish they would find something new to say.

Things went on in this fashion for another week or more. It was all very
quiet: there was really nothing to see. What they talked about I don't
know; when the rest of us were by, their conversation was not notable. I
can make more original and forcible remarks myself; in fact, I do, every
day. But I have no doubt she catechized and cross-examined him in
private. It is not Hartman's way to air his theories before ladies, or
to obtrude himself as a topic of discussion; but the Princess, when she
condescends to notice a man at all, likes to see a good deal further
into his soul than he ever gets to see into hers. That is all right in
this case; the doctor has to be acquainted with the symptoms before he
can cure the patient. When Hartman and I were together at the end of the
evenings and at odd hours, he had very little to say: he seemed rather
preöccupied and introspective. He is another of your plaguedly reserved
people, who when they have anything on hand wrap it up in Egyptian
darkness and Cimmerian gloom. That is the correct thing in a woman--in
Clarice at least: in a man I don't like it. My soul, now, is as open as
the day, and when I have struck any new ideas or discoveries, I would
willingly stand on a house-top--if it were flat--and proclaim them for
the benefit of the world. Even my uncompleted processes of thought are
at the service of any one who can appreciate them; but you can't expect
everybody to be like me. Most men are selfish, narrowly engrossed in
their small private concerns--no generous public spirit about them. But
then Hartman is not used to this kind of thing, and I suppose it knocks
the wind out of him.

One evening I was by myself in the shrubbery; it was just dark, but
there was a tidy young moon. I wanted to smoke a pipe for a change, and
so had gone to the most secluded place I could find, for if Mabel were
to hear of this, Hartman might not get reconciled to domestic life. I
sat there, meditating on the uncertainty of human affairs: it would do
you more good than a little to know what thoughts passed through my
mind, but there is no time to go into that. Suddenly two forms came in
sight. One was of manly dignity, the other of willowy grace. His frame
towered like the noble oak on the hilltop, while hers--but we have had
the oak and the vine before, and worked them for all they are worth.
Perhaps I ought to have given you a more particular account of the
appearance of these two young persons: but you don't care to know their
exact height and fighting weight, the color of their hair and eyes, and
so forth; what you want is the stature and complexion of their souls.
They were a handsome pair, and whene'er they took their walks and drives
abroad like Dr. Watts, they attracted much attention. Just now there was
nobody but myself to admire them, and I was in ambush. They strolled
about in what there was of the moonlight, seeming much absorbed, and I
sat still in the shade, and put down my pipe: I couldn't hear their
talk, and didn't want to disturb them. Suddenly he raised his voice:
matters between them must have come to an interesting stage. "But,
Clarice, if you care for me--"

He was too quick. The madness which urged him on can easily be
understood and--except by the one concerned--pardoned; but what devil
possessed her, who shall say? She drew herself up with superb scorn.
"You are beginning at the wrong end, Sir. 'If I care for you!' Why
should I?"

"Very good," he said at once. "I was mistaken. I beg your pardon most
humbly."

There was as little humility as possible in his look and tone. He stood
like a gladiator--and not a wounded one either--with his head thrown
back and his chest out. I could fancy, rather than see, the flashing of
his eyes.

The flashes were all on his side now; Clarice's brief exhibition of
fireworks seemed to be over, and she was drooping. "Mr. Hartman," she
began, and could get no further.

In the act to go, he turned and faced her again.

"Miss Elliston, my presumption was doubtless unpardonable; I shall not
know how to forgive myself. Do me the undeserved honor, if you can, to
forget it--and me. I can only renew my apologies, and relieve you of my
presence."

He bowed, and was gone. The proper thing for Clarice to do next was to
swoon or shriek; but I knew her too well to expect anything of that
sort. Nor did she tear her hair, or beat her breast, or offer to the
solitary spectator any performance worth noting. I thought it best to
keep remarkably quiet in my corner till she too had gone. In fact, I
staid there for an hour or two after, though I did not enjoy that pipe
at all; the tobacco was not right, or something. You see, after all the
lectures I had had, I did not want to spoil things by mixing myself up
with them; the situation looked picturesque enough without me in it.

When I went back to the house I found that Jim had caught the boat and
gone. "He came to me," said Mabel, "and told me that he had overstaid
his time and found it best to go to-night. He was very friendly, but his
tone did not encourage questioning or remonstrance. His parting with
Jane was almost affectionate, and he left kind regards for you. But not
a word for Clarice."

"Great Jackson! what is the matter with them?" I often use what my wife
considers profane language when I have something to hide.

It had its effect this time. "Robert, be quiet. It is all right. When
there is anything for you to know, you shall know it."

She sometimes appears to mistake me for our eldest boy. But I was glad
to get off with the secret. Yes, there is something to know, my lady,
and I know it, though you don't. But I fear it is a long way from all
right.



XVI.

FEMININE COUNSELS.


After this there was general gloom about the place, and I preferred to
spend much of the time in New York. But whenever I got there, this
confounded business would drive me back: Clarice might want me. Nobody
dared question her, till one day at lunch Herbert spoke up. "Mamma, why
doesn't Mr. Hartman come back? Cousin Clarice, what have you done to
him?" He was promptly suppressed, and the Princess froze his infant
veins with a stony stare, while Jane and I looked hard at our plates.
But later that day I came upon Clarice and the child together: he was
locked in her arms, and begging her not to cry. They did not see me, and
I retired in good order.

Within a week came a short note from Jim: apologies for leaving without
saying good-bye to me, appreciation of our kindness, regards to my wife
and sister--and not a word of Clarice. I took it to Mabel, of course.

"Be very careful how you answer this now, Robert."

"How will this do? 'Dear Jim, sorry you went off in such a hurry; but
after my performance in May I have no right to find fault. We all miss
you, I think: the house has grown dull. Herbert continues to fall over
the banisters, and at intervals over the rocks: at all hours, but
especially when laid up for repairs, he howls for you and bear-stories.
Our kindest regards. Keep us posted.' That's about it, eh?"

"Ye-es: you can't ask him to come back, and you can't mention Clarice;
so you can say no more, and I don't like you to say any less. That is
very well--for you, Robert; though you need not be so unfeeling about
your own son."

It is well occasionally to consult your womankind in such cases,
because, though they may not know as much of the facts as you do, still
they can sometimes give you an inner light on points you would not have
thought of. Besides, it compliments and encourages them; whereas, if you
appeared to pay no regard to their opinions, they would naturally feel
neglected. A little judicious indirect flattery is of great use in
managing one's household. So I put on my best air of injured innocence.

"Mabel, I wish you could tell me what is the matter. Here my guest
leaves my house suddenly, without a word of explanation. Herbert must be
right: what has Clarice done to him?"

"Robert, I told you that all was well; at least I trust it will be,
though it may not seem so now. The leaven is working; leave it to Time.
Above all, don't meddle; ask no questions; leave the matter to those who
understand it."

Now does she mean herself and Jane by that, or only Clarice and Hartman?
I wonder if she thinks that I think that she knows anything about it.
If she did, I should catch some sign of it. I tried my sister.

"Jane, don't fly at me now, please. I am in trouble."

"So are we all, brother. Trouble not of our own making--most of us."

"Well then, what does all this secrecy mean? Has Clarice spoken to you?
What does Mabel know?"

"She knows no more than you and I, brother. Something has happened: any
one may suspect what it is, but Clarice will not tell. I love and
respect her too much to ask: so does Mabel; and so, I hope, do you."

"Well, it's confounded hard lines, Jane, to have these things happening
in your own house, and such a mystery made of it." I had to grumble to
somebody, you see, if only to keep up appearances and help hide my
guilty secret; and then I _was_ bored, and worse, with the way things
had gone.

"You took that risk, Robert, when you brought them together here. Did
you expect that two such persons as they would agree easily and at once?
I think they love each other, or were in a way to it when this occurred,
whatever it was."

"Well, I am awfully sorry. Clarice can take care of herself, I suppose;
but as for Hartman, he had load enough to carry before. I love that man,
Jane."

"So do I, Robert."

"Eh? O, the devil you do!" This came out before I could stop it. It did
not please her.

"Brother, you are simply scandalous. Will you never learn a decent
respect for women--you with a wife of your own, and boys growing up?
Where have you been to acquire such ideas and such manners? You might
have lived in the woods instead of Mr. Hartman, and he might have been
bred in courts, compared with you.--I mean, of course, that I am
interested in him, and sorry for him, as we all are. He is your friend,
and he has excellent qualities."

I was somewhat cast down by all this browbeating. Where shall a man go
for gentle sympathy and that sort of thing, if not to his own sister? I
suppose she thought of this, for she went on more kindly. "I would say
nothing to Clarice if I were you. When she is ready, she will speak--to
you."

"To me, eh? What would she do that for?" I put this in as part of the
narrative, but I am not proud of it. I had not quite recovered yet from
the effect of Jane's previous violence; and then my intellect is not
equal to all these feminine convolutions.

"Brother, your head is not as good as your heart. Don't you understand
that in some cases a woman goes to a man, if there is one of the right
kind at hand, much as a man goes to a woman? You are a man, and Mr.
Hartman's nearest friend. After all her recent confidences with you, or
intimacy at any rate--of course I don't know what she talked with you
about, so many hours--is it surprising that Clarice should turn to you
in her trouble, when she can bring herself to break silence at all? When
she is ready, she will speak to you, and to no one else. Till she is
ready, not all of us together, nor all the world, could draw a word from
her. Must I explain all this to you, as if you were Herbert? And when
she does speak, brother, I do hope that you will listen with due respect
and sympathy, and not disgust and repel her by any more coarse ideas and
base interpretations."

I paid no attention to these last remarks, which seemed to me wholly
unworthy of Jane. Strange, that one who at times displays so much
intelligence and even, as Hartman calls it, discernment, can in other
things be so unappreciative and almost low-minded. Coarse ideas,
indeed! Well, never mind that now: let me meditate on this prospect
which she has opened to my view. So Clarice is coming to me: she knows I
am her best friend after all. Little Clarice, how often have I dandled
her on my knee in the years that have gone by! Dear little
Clarice----BOSH! What an infernal fool a man can make of himself over a
pretty woman in trouble! I am sometimes almost tempted to think that, as
she delicately hinted, there must be an uncommon soft spot in my upper
story. It is bad enough to show it when the girl is by; let me preserve
my balance till then. When she wants to talk to me, I will hear what she
has to say.



XVII.

CONSOLATION.


Sure enough about a week after this Clarice came to me as I was smoking
a surreptitious cigar on the rocks, away from the house, after sundown.
She came and sat down close by me, but I pretended not to notice.
"Robert," said she. "Well," said I. There is no use in meeting them half
way when they are willing to come the whole distance: mostly you have to
do it all yourself, and turn about is fair play.

"Robert, are you angry with me?"

I couldn't help looking at her now, and she shot one of her great
glances into my face. I melted right down, and so would you have done.
"Clarice, you know I never could be angry with you five minutes
together--nor five seconds, if you chose to stop it. What have I got to
be angry about now?"

"Well, Bob, it wasn't your fault this time."

"No, I trust not. Whose fault was it?"

"Mine, mine. Bob, will you be my friend?" And she put her hand in mine.

"What have I ever been but your friend? Don't you do as you like with
me--and with all of us? Clarice, you know it hurts me to see you like
this. And there's poor Hartman."

She pulled away from me. "What has Mr. Hartman to do with it? Who was
talking of him?"

"Miss Elliston," I said with dignity, "the First of April is past some
time ago. What do you want to be playing these games on me for?"

"O, don't 'Miss Elliston' me, Bob. Don't you understand women yet?"

"No, I'll be shot if I do; and I never expect to. That will do for young
beginners, who think they know everything. I've seen too much of you to
pretend to understand you. Why don't you speak out and come straight to
the point?"

"Why, you goose, that's not our nature. Speaking out and going straight
to the point will do for great clumsy things like you and Mr. Hartman."

"Well, I am a great clumsy thing, as you justly observe. It's very
pleasant to have you come to me like this, Princess, and I wish you
would do it oftener; it's mighty little I've seen of you of late. But
though it would meet my views to prolong this session indefinitely, I
suppose you want something of me, or you wouldn't be so sweet. It may
seem an improbable statement, but I would rather help you out of this
scrape than enjoy your society even--that's saying a good deal, but it's
true. Yes, I'm fool enough for that."

"I know you are, dear," she said, very low and sweetly. Now what was it
she knew? You can take that two ways. All the compliments I get are so
ambiguous. But this did not occur to me till afterwards. So I went on
with my usual manly simplicity.

"Then you know there's no need of circumlocution and feminine wiles when
you want anything of me, Princess. You have but to speak, and, as the
Frenchman said, 'If it is possible, it shall be done: if it is
impossible, I can only regret that I can't do it.' What do you want me
to do now?"

"Nothing, Bob; nothing but to listen to me and be good."

"I am listening, Clarice: I've been listening all this time." This was
not quite true, for I had done most of the talking; but then what I said
was not of much account. When I am with her I often talk just to fill
the gaps.

"You can listen when I am ready to talk, and keep quiet till then. I
only want your sympathy."

"You have it, Clarice; you have it most fully. Come rest on this bosom,
my own stricken dear--"

"I don't want to rest on your bosom, Bob; your shoulder is big enough.
Have you got your best coat on?"

"Well, no; this is not the one I wore at dinner. But I will go to the
house and get my clawhammer if you wish."

"No, no. I only want to cry a little."

"You would be perfectly welcome to cry on my best coat every day of the
week, Princess, and I would get a new one as often as it might be
needed. I don't wish to make capital out of your grief, my dear; I would
rather never get a kind word from you than have you suffer. But often it
seems as if you didn't care for anybody, you are so high and mighty and
offish; and O doth not an hour like this make amends--"

"Drop that, Bob. Don't try to be sentimental: you always get the lines
wrong. I've not been here an hour. O, were you joking? You are no more
in the humor for jokes than I am, and you know it. Do keep quiet."

I did: I 'dropped it.' Clarice will use slang at times, it is one of
her few faults. Where she learns it, I cannot conceive. It is
unfeminine, and out of keeping with her whole character; in any one else
I should call it vulgar. But I saw she did not wish to be disturbed just
then, so I said no more. Instead, I thought of my guilty secret--her
secret. It weighs on me heavily; but I can't tell her what I saw and
heard. I don't know how she would take it; and I don't care to be
exploding any dynamite bombs about my own premises. The situation is bad
enough as it is; I'll not make it worse. Poor Clarice! poor Hartman! And
yet you can't meddle with such high-strung folks. By and by she spoke.

"Bob, do you know why I come to you, instead of to Jane or Mabel?"

I was on the point of quoting Jane's valuable idea about my being a man,
but refrained.

"I could not ask any woman for what you give me. And you are half a
woman, Bob; you are so patient and loyal. Nobody else would be that."

"But Mabel and Jane love you too, dear. They would do anything for you."

"Yes, but that is more on equal terms. I am so exacting; I want so much,
and give so little. I suppose I was born so; and you have spoiled
me--all of you. O, I know I have treated you badly, Robert, often;
generally, in fact. I am proud and hateful, and you never resent it.
Only a man can be like that--to a woman: and very few men would be so.
You are not like other men, Bob: there is nobody like you. You are such
a useful domestic animal."

Perhaps I was getting unduly exalted when she let me down thus. I wish
Clarice at least would be less mixed--more continuous and consistent, so
to speak--when she sets forth my virtues. But one must take the Princess
as he finds her, and be content with any crumbs of approval she may
drop. Sometimes I think I am a fool about her; but when she talks as
she does to-night, I know I am not. There may be more amiable women, and
plenty more even-tempered; but there is only one Clarice. I may have
made that remark before, but it will bear repeating. It is not of me she
is thinking all this time: how should it be? O Hartman, Hartman, if you
could know what I know, and see what is before you!

Presently she spoke again. "Robert, why don't you ask me what I have
done? I know you are dying of curiosity."

"I can restrain my curiosity, rather than pry into your affairs, dear.
When you see fit, you will tell me. But if you wish it, I will ask you."

"No, it would be of no use. I can't tell you now; perhaps never. Robert,
where did you learn to respect a woman so?"

"Jane says I will never learn it. But I do respect you, Princess."

"That must have been when you had vexed her with some of your blunders:
you do make blunders, you know? But, Bob, do you know why I love you?"

This moved me so that I had to put myself on guard. She never said so
much as that before: it is not her way to talk about feelings or profess
much affection for anybody.

"I suppose because we were brought up together, and you are used to me.
And, as you say, I am a useful domestic animal. If I can be useful to
you, I am proud and thankful. I think more of you than I could easily
say: it is very good of you to give me some small return."

"It is because you have a heart, Robert. They may say what they please
of your head, but you have a great big heart."

Now was ever the superior male intellect thus disparaged? She must have
got this notion from Jane; but I can't quarrel with her now.

"Men are great clumsy things, as you said, dear: we have not your tact,
nor your delicate roundabout methods. You are right, I do make blunders;
I feel my deficiencies when I am with you. But if my head, such as it
is, or my heart, or my hand, can ever serve you, they will be ready."

"Suppose I were to leave you, and go out of your life?"

"You could not go out of my life, though you might go far away. I should
be sorry, but I have no right to hold you. But if you ever wanted me, I
should always be here."

"Suppose I did something wrong and foolish?"

"I don't want to suppose that, but if I must--it would not be for me to
judge you, as you told me once. You might do something that did not
accurately represent your mind and character: since I know them, the
action would be merely a mistake, a transient incongruity. I don't
change easily: I have known you from your cradle. And if it was ever
possible for me to fail you, it is not possible after to-night."

"You are very fond of Mr. Hartman, Robert. What if I quarreled with him?
Would you take my part against him?"

"I would take your part against the world, Clarice. But he is not of the
world. A sad and lonely man, burdened with an inverted conscience and
quixotic fancies that turn the waters into blood, who has come for once
out of his hermitage to catch a glimpse of the light that never was on
sea or land, and then to see it turn into darkness for him. I fear he is
sadder and lonelier now than when I brought him from the woods: but I
would stake my soul on his honor, as I would on yours. You cannot force
me into such a dilemma."

A heavenly glow was on her face now, as she looked long at the stars,
and then at me. "Why are you eloquent only when you speak of him,
brother?"

"You say I have a heart, Clarice: it is eloquent when I think of you.
Shall a stranger be more sacred to me than my sister?--and I don't mean
Jane. You would be sacred to a better man than I, dear, if he knew you
as I do: you may be so already, for what I can tell. He _could_ not mean
to sin against you, Princess. If he seemed to fail in respect, or
courtesy, or anything that was your due, forgive him, and don't banish
him forever. I trusted that you would have enlightened and converted and
consoled him: he is worth it."

I longed to say more, but this was as far as I dared go. She sighed.

"Perhaps I need to be converted and consoled myself. But that is
ungrateful; with such a comforter at hand I ought not to be miserable.
We never knew each other like this before, Robert. Why is it?"

"I don't know, Clarice--or rather I do, of course. It takes the moon,
and stars, and a common trouble, to bring people together, even when
they see each other every day; and then concurring moods must help. One
stands in awe of you, Princess; I always shall. You only tolerated me
when you were happy: I was rough, and careless, and stupid, and made bad
jokes in the wrong places. I will try to do better after this, so that
you need not be repelled when you want me. Hartman, now, is of finer
mould than I: if you would let him come back--"

"No more of that now, dear. Let us go in. The moon is going down: it is
getting cold and dark." So it was; and damp too--on my shoulder at
least. "I am glad you had your old coat on," she said.

Mabel was alone in the parlor. "Well," she began; then she saw our
faces, and modified her tone. "The moonlight was very fine, I suppose?"

"You know you never will go out in the evening," said Clarice. "It is
later than I thought. Don't scold Robert; he has been a dear good boy."
She kissed her, and went upstairs.

"Mabel," said I, "Clarice is in trouble." I had to say something, and
this was perfectly safe. You see, she had told me nothing, and so I
could say if asked. But I wasn't.

"I know that, of course, Robert: I have seen it all along. She is a dear
girl, for all her flightiness. She will say nothing to me. I hope it
will come right. If you can help or comfort her, I shall be glad." Then
she too went to bed.

It is unusual for Mabel to be surprised into such candor. I got a cigar,
and went out on the porch to meditate. Jane thought that Clarice would
tell me things. Yes, I have got a lot of information. Let me see, I am a
useful domestic animal, and I have a big heart: that's about the size of
it. At this rate, I can soon write a Cyclopædia. Well, cold facts are
not all there is in life: there are some things the Cyclopædias fail to
tell us about. I don't regard the last few hours as altogether wasted.

After this the Princess and I did not talk much: there seemed to be no
need of it. But she was a new and revised edition of the old Clarice,
wonderfully sweet, and gracious, and equable; and her look when we met
was like the benediction in answer to prayer, as Longfellow says. I went
about with a solemn feeling, as if I had just joined the Church. What
does a fellow want with slang, and pipes, and beer, and cheating other
fellows on the street, when he has such entertainments at home? And yet
it cuts me to the soul to look at her: I _must_ do something to bring
them together. Pretty soon we went back to New York.



XVIII.

AGAINST EARNESTNESS.


Jane, and even Mabel, have the idea that I am of light and shallow
nature; and sometimes I think they are right. It must be so; for your
profound and serious characters have a weakness for sorrow, and
luxuriate in woe--whereas I object to trouble of any kind, and cannot
get used to it. The house has been like a rural cemetery for near two
months, and it simply bores me. Hartman now prefers to dwell among the
tombs: he has lived these ten years in a graveyard, so to speak, under a
canopy of funereal gloom, and he thrives on it. He and Clarice are the
most superior persons I know; and they have gone and got themselves into
a peck, or rather several bushels, of trouble, about nothing at all.
They must like it, or why should they do it? I doubt if I can ever be
educated up to that point. I have the rude and simple tastes of a child:
sunshine seems to me better than shade (except during the heated term),
and pleasure more desirable than pain. I like to be comfortable myself,
and to have every one else so. Imagine Mabel getting miffed at me, or I
at her, over some little two-penny affair of unadvised expressions! She
often says unkind things to me: if I took an earnest view of life, and
were full of deep thought and fine feeling, probably I should have to
take her criticisms to heart, and go away in a hurry and never come
back. I sometimes make blunders worse than that one of Hartman's, and no
harm worth mentioning ever comes of them--though I do have to be careful
with the Princess. No doubt I am frivolous and superficial; but people
of my sort appear to get along more easily, and to make less trouble for
themselves and others, than those whose standards are so much higher.
If I had the managing of this business, I could set it right inside a
week--or in two days, if Jim were not so far away. It is merely to say
to him, "Your language was unparliamentary. It is not etiquette to
assume that a lady cares for you when you have not asked her to. You
have no right to resent her resenting such unconventional behavior. You
owe her an apology: go and make it like a man, and withdraw the
offensive epithet, term, phrase, clause, or sentence, which ever it
might be." Then I would say to her, "He meant no harm. How do you expect
a member from Wayback to be posted on all the usages of metropolitan
society? You ought not to have come down on him so hard. Let the man say
he is sorry, and forgive him. You were mainly to blame yourself; but
seeing it is you, we'll pass that." Then I would stand over them like
the heavy father in the plays, and say, "You love each other. Take her,
Jim: take him, Clarice. Bless you, my children." That is the way it
ought to be done, and that is the way I would fix it if it concerned
common every-day people like myself, with no pretence to qualities
higher than practicability and common sense--supposing such people could
have got into such a mess, which I own is improbable. A method that
would answer for them is not so easily applied to these superfine
specimens, who have taken such pains to build themselves a private
Purgatory, and keep it going on a limited supply of fuel. They might
resent intrusion on their agreeable demesne, and put up a board with 'No
Trespassing' on it; but then they ought to keep the place fenced in
better: as it is, the smoke and heat spread too much. They might say,
'If we enjoy our misery, what right have the rest of you to interfere?'
Yes, but what right have they to rope in the rest of us, who are not so
addicted to the luxury of grief, and make us miserable too? That's what
it comes to. 'Each man's life is all men's lesson,' and each woman's
too. Now if our high-toned friends had kept this particular part of
their lives in manuscript, and not supplied us with copies, but reserved
it for spelling out in secret at their own leisure, the case would be
different. As it stands, this embroglio is a lesson which I have got by
heart and am tired of: I would like to set it aside and turn to
something more cheerful. Moreover, as the head of a family I have duties
in the matter, for it affects us all. I don't mind so much about Jane:
she thinks this is a XX. romance, which the parties chiefly concerned
are conducting in the most approved manner; if she had one of her own, I
suppose this would be her style--her idea of how the thing should be
done.[1] It is not mine, however; far from it. Shall I sit passive, and
see the clouds of care growing heavier about the wife of my bosom, and
the furrows deepening in that once marble brow? She looks two years
older than she did two months ago, and she owns it. I have three lovely
children: how brief a space it is since they played in the abandonment
of infant glee! And now their young existence, too, is darkened. Herbert
no longer slides down the banisters, with his former recklessness, but
sits and looks wistfully at Cousin Clarice. The change involves a saving
in lint and arnica, but a loss of muscular development. You see, we are
all of the sympathetic--which is the expensive--temperament: we have not
sense enough to be content each with his or her own personal affairs,
and let the others arrange their private funerals at their own charge.
There is more truth than I thought in part of what I told Hartman, that
night on the boat.

This thing must stop. I will have to ask the Princess if she wants our
humble abode to be a house of mourning much longer. We might accommodate
her in that respect for another month or two, but not permanently.
Lovers are so selfish: they don't care if they upset all your domestic
arrangements, and spoil your harmonies with the discord of their sweet
bells jangled. It ought not to be encouraged, nor yet allowed.

[Footnote 1: I was wholly mistaken in this, as will appear by the next
chapter. _R. T._]



XIX.

CONSPIRACY.


The summer has not done for any of us what it ought; quite the reverse.
Even I am not in my usual form, if Mabel and Jane are right. They had
let me alone for some time: last night they attacked me together--a
preconcerted movement, obviously.

"Robert, you are pale, almost haggard. You need a change."

"Why," said I, "I've just had a change--or rather several of them. We've
been back only three weeks."

"You need mountain air: the sea does not agree with you. And Newport is
not what it used to be."

"It's a good deal more so, if you mean that; but I don't know that its
increased muchness has damaged my health to any great extent."

"You prefer small, remote places, and their way of life; you know you
do. They are more of a change from town. You bought the house at Newport
for our sakes. I have often feared you were sacrificing yourself to
us--with your usual disinterestedness, dear."

"Well, my usual disinterestedness is ready to be worked again, to any
reasonable extent, if you will say what you're after. But how can I
leave the business now?"

"O, the business!" (It was Jane this time.) "That is all very fine, when
you don't want to leave town. But I notice that the business never
interferes with any of your junketings. What are your clerks paid for?
Can't they attend to the business?"

"A fine idea you women have of business, and a fine success you'd make
of it. Jane, suppose you take charge in Water Street while I am away."

"I don't doubt I could do it quite as well as you, after a little
practice. Why, brother, Mr. Pipeline understands it a great deal better
than you do. Our father, in his later years, trusted him entirely."

"Yes, Robert," said Mabel, "and how often you have assured me that Mr.
Pipeline was absolutely competent and reliable. When we were married,
and a hundred times since, you explained your carelessness and
indifference about the business by saying that all was right while old
Mr. Pipeline was there: he knew everything, and kept the whole force to
their work. It was that, you said, which enabled you to be so much more
about the house than most men could be, and so attentive and
satisfactory as a husband and father."

She had me there: who would expect a woman to remember things and bring
them up in this way, so long after? So I tried to turn it off.

"O, well, he hasn't gone to Canada yet: the books seem straight, and the
returns are pretty fair. But it is well for the head of the firm to look
in occasionally, all the same."

"You do look in occasionally, Robert: no one can accuse you of
neglecting that duty. Would I have married a man who neglected duty, and
allowed his business to go to ruin, and his family to come to want? Your
conscience may rest perfectly easy on that score, dear."

"O, thank you: it does. I've not often allowed the state of the oil
market to interfere with sleep or appetite, or with my appreciation of
you and the children. Family duties first, my dear; what so sacred, so
primary, as the ties of Home? But such virtue is not always duly prized
there. I'm glad you do me justice."

"I always have, Robert; always. Whatever Jane and others might say about
your levity and your untimely jests and so forth, I have steadily
maintained that you had a good heart."

"There, Jane, do you hear that? Mabel knows, for she is in a position to
know."

"Of course, brother, we are all aware of that. If you had not that one
redeeming trait, I should have left you long ago, even if I had had to
get married. You admire Artemus Ward: he had a giant mind, you
recollect, but not always about him. So with your good heart at times.
But we are wandering from the point. Mabel, you were showing him how he
could go away for a week or two without neglecting his important duties
down town."

"Why yes, Robert. You have been here three weeks now, and I am sure you
have been at the store nearly every day. Indeed, when you were not at
home, or at the club, or somewhere about town, I doubt not you might be
found in Water Street a good part of the time."

"Yes," I said with an air of virtuous complacency, "I believe you are
right. I can't deny it, though it may help your side of the argument."

"Well then, you can surely be spared during a brief absence. And when
you return, you can continue to look in occasionally, as you say."

"Perhaps I could, though it is not well to be too positive. Where do you
think I ought to go?"

"Well, you are fond of fishing and hunting. You might go up and spend a
week with Mr. Hartman. You found good sport there, you said."

"O yes, there are trout enough, and deer not far off, he told me. But I
was there in May. And it is not very comfortable at Hodge's, if you
remember."

"But of course this time you would stay with Mr. Hartman. You refused
his invitation before, and it was hardly civil to such an old friend."

"He has a mere bachelor box, my dear, and I hardly like to thrust myself
on him."

"Why, Robert, I am surprised at you. After Mr. Hartman spent a fortnight
with us at Newport--and when he has written you twice, urging you to
come. Can't you see that the poor man is lonely, and really wants you?"

"Mabel, it would be all very well if it were like last May--only he and
I to be considered. But here is that blessed entanglement of his with
Clarice--quarrel, or love-making nipped in the bud, or whatever it
was--that complicates matters. After all the lectures I've had from you
two, I don't want to complicate them any more, nor to meddle in her
affairs, nor appear to. Suppose I go up there, and he wants news of her,
and anything goes wrong, or it simply doesn't come right as you expect;
I'd have your reproaches to bear ever after, and perhaps those of my own
conscience. You're not sending me off simply for my health, or for a
little fishing. If I go to Hartman, the sport will not be the main item
on the programme; and that every one of us knows perfectly well. So I
don't move till I see my way straight."

Finding me thus unexpectedly firm, Jane looked at Mabel, and Mabel
looked at Jane, and there was a pause. You see, in this last deliverance
I had uttered my real mind--or part of it--and it naturally impressed
them.

My sister's share in the discussion had thus far been confined to the
few efforts at sarcasm duly credited to her above--let no one say that I
am unjust to Jane. She had been watching me pretty closely, but I hardly
think she saw anything she was not meant to see. Now she came to the
front, looking very serious--as we all did, in fact.

"Well, brother, some things are better understood than spoken--from our
point of view. But if you insist on having all in plain words, and
playing, as you call it, with cards on the table--"

"Just so," said I. "You use your feminine tools: I use mine, which are a
man's. If I have to do this piece of work, it must be on my own
conditions and after my own fashion, with the least risk of
misunderstanding."

"Robert, if this is affectation, you are a better actor than I thought.
But if you really know no more than we do--"

This was too much for Mabel. "Now, Jane, you go too far. Robert likes
his little joke, but he knows when to be serious. Why do you suspect him
so?"

Jane went on. "Of course it is possible he may be no deeper in Clarice's
confidence than we: she is very reticent. You mean, brother, that you
will do nothing till she authorizes you?"

"Well, as I said, this is her affair. For you, or me, or anybody else,
to meddle in it without her direction, or permission--unless in case of
obvious extremity--would seem, by all rules alike ethical and
prudential, a delicate and doubtful proceeding, to say the least."

"I suppose you are right there. Mabel, you may as well tell him. Robert,
don't think, from all this preamble, that it is of more importance than
it would otherwise seem. Perhaps we might as well have told you at once;
but we are only women, you know. Now at last we are using your
tools--the tools you always use with such manly consistency--candor and
open speech. Tell him, Mabel."

"Robert dear, Clarice told me to-day that you were looking badly; she
thought you needed a change. 'Is he not going off for his fall fishing?'
she said."

"Is that all?"

"It is a good deal for her," said Jane. "If you want more, ask her. Are
you less concerned for her happiness than we are? Must we arrange all
the preliminaries? Brother, if _I_ could do anything, no fear of
consequences or reproaches should tie my hands: I would do what is
right, and take the chances. If I stood where you do, I would have this
matter settled, or know why it could not be. I would never sit idle, and
see two such lives spoiled--and all our hearts broken. O, I know you
love them both. But you are so cautious--unnecessarily and absurdly so
at times, and wedded to useless diplomacy, when only the plain speech
you talk about is needed. You stand in awe of Clarice too much: you may
wait too long. Forgive me, Robert; but whatever she may say, you _must_
see Mr. Hartman before winter."

I could have embraced Jane, besides forgiving her slurs on me, which may
contain an element of truth. There is more in her than I have supposed;
and of course what she insists on is exactly what I have all along meant
to do. But it did not come in handy to say so at this point. "I'll think
it over. You two had better go to bed: I must go out and smoke."

"Robert," said Mabel, "don't go out to-night. You can smoke in the
dining-room."

"No; I'll not take a base advantage of your present amiable mood. But I
tell you what it is; if you want to get Hartman here in cold weather you
must let us have a snuggery. He can't do without his tobacco."

It was a fine night, and I wanted a walk as well as a smoke. I felt
gratified, for this thing had gone just as I desired. I am not quite so
impulsive as Jane, and I understand the difficulties as she does not;
but my plan has merely waited for events to give it definite shape and
make it feasible. Certainly I must see Hartman, and as he can't come
here, I must go there. But I wanted the women to suggest my going; that
divides the responsibility, and gives them a hand in the game. I would
have had to propose it myself within a week or so, if they had not
spoken. But the Princess knows what she is about, and what is fit and
proper. It may seem strange that she should speak to Mabel instead of to
me; but she will say what she has to say to me before I start. In fact,
I'll not start till she does--how could I? It is her business I am going
on, with just enough of my own to give it a color. I'll write to Jim at
once, to ask when he wants me: the mails are slow up there, and it may
be a week before his answer comes. That will give me time to get my
instructions, and not be in any unseemly haste to seek them either. So
far, so good; but there is more to be done, and delicate work too, such
as will bear no scamping. It is the biggest contract you ever undertook,
R. T., and you must make a neat job of it.



XX.

APOLOGY FOR LYING.


If you do not understand my waiting for Mabel and the girls to prompt
this move, and allowing them to urge it against my apparent reluctance,
I ascribe this failure on your part to lack of experience, rather than
to any deeper deficiency. Some men like to make a parade of
independence, and to do--or pretend to do--everything of themselves,
without consulting or considering their womankind. But such are not the
sort I choose my friends from; for I have been accustomed to regard both
brain and heart as desirable appurtenances to a man. There is little
Bruteling, at the club, who would like to be considered a man of the
world--but I can't waste space or time on him. And I have met family men
even--but I don't meet them more than once if I can help it--who regard
their wives and sisters as playthings, dolls, upper-class servants, not
to be trusted, taken into their confidence, or treated with any real
respect. Such heresies have no place under a Christian civilization,
which has exalted Woman to her true rank as the equal and helpmeet of
Man, the object of his tenderest affections and most loyal services. It
is in his domestic life that one's true character is shown; and Home is
not only the dearest place on earth to me and to every one whose head is
level, but the stage on which his talents and qualities are best brought
out.

You think that I don't practice what I preach; that I introduce within
those sacred precincts too much of play-acting and small diplomacy, as
Jane says; that even at this moment my thoughts and intentions in a
matter which concerns us all are imperfectly revealed to my nearest and
dearest? Ah, that is owing to the difference between the sexes, and to
the singular lines on which the Sex was constructed, mentally speaking.
I don't wish to criticize the Architect's plans, but it seems to me I
could suggest improvements which might have simplified relations, and
avoided much embarrassment. The difficulty is that women, as a rule, can
neither use nor appreciate Frankness. Just after I was married, I
thought it was only the fair thing to tell Mabel about several girls I
had been sweet on before I knew her. Would you believe it, she burst
into tears, and upbraided me with my brutality; and she brings up that
ill-advised disclosure against me to this day. I know several ladies who
will not lie, under ordinary circumstances--not for the mere pleasure of
it, at least; Clarice, for instance, and Jane, I believe; but not one
who will tell the whole truth, or forgive you for telling it. Well,
well, we have to take them as they are, and make the best of them: they
have other redeeming traits, as Jane says of me. In heaven these
inequalities will be done away, and one can afford to speak out--at
least I hope so. But meantime you can see how these feminine
peculiarities hamper a man, and check his natural candor, and impose on
him a wholly new, or at least a hugely modified, ethical code. If I were
to follow my original bent, which was uncommonly direct and guileless, I
should be in hot water all the time. It is this struggle between nature
and--well, I can hardly call it grace; let us say necessity, or
environment--which is making me bald, and fat, and aging me so fast. You
have seen, in the course of this narrative, what scrapes I have gotten
into by speaking before I stopped to think, and blurting out the simple
truth. I was once as honest as they are ever made--and for practical and
domestic uses nearly an idiot. I have been obliged, actually forced, to
deny myself the indulgence of a virtue, and diligently to cultivate the
opposite vice. The preachers don't know everything: I could give them
points. I don't say I have succeeded remarkably, and the exercise has
been deeply painful to me; but it was absolutely essential, if I was to
be fit for the family circle, and able to do or get any good in this
imperfect world. There is no escape, unless you live in a hermitage like
Hartman. You may have noticed that my loved ones sometimes appear to
treat me with less than absolute respect and confidence: it is the
result of this life-conflict, which has left me with a character mixed,
and in one respect wrecked. But they would think much worse of me than
they do if I told them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth, on all occasions. Thus I might--and then again I might not--go to
our poor Princess, and say, "Clarice, Mabel and Jane think I ought to
see Hartman. I think so too, and they report you as concurring in the
verdict. This is delicately put under cover of my health and the fall
fishing; but we all know that you and Jim want looking after more than I
do, and that bigger game than trout is to be caught. Tell me what you
want me to say to him and do with him, and I will start at once." Some
women might stand that, possibly, but not the ones I am used to: such
would be eminently the way not to attain my benevolent end. No, no; you
can do nothing in such cases without finesse, as Jim calls it, and
strategy, and tact, and management; and if you have not these gifts by
nature, you must acquire them, whatever they may cost. I still hold to
my principles; but I don't propose to run them into the ground. In
morality, as elsewhere, a little too much is apt to be worse than much
too little; and theory and practice are very different things, not to be
rashly confounded. You want to hold the right theories, and then to live
as near them as depraved mundane conditions will allow. The manly
weapons of which Jane spoke so scornfully last night are the right
ones--when you can use them. In the case in hand, to tell all I know
would have been at any time, and would still be, impossible and ruinous.
Hartman is not so far out on some points: as he says, we did not arrange
the present scheme of things, and could not be proud of it if we had.

You may say, and I could not deny, that my diplomacy, such as it is, is
not always employed for the benefit of women only. Hartman is a luminous
and transparent soul--too much so for his own good: why did I practise
occasionally on him? I can explain that best on general principles.

In a world a majority of whose inhabitants are female, demoralization
has naturally extended far and wide, till strict veracity has become
unpractical. The first falsehood (after the serpent's) must have been
humiliating to him who uttered it, and a fatal example to those who
heard; but mankind soon grew used to the new fashion. I pass over the
rude barbarian ages, whose gross and inartistic lying offers no claim to
respectful and sympathetic interest, and no excuse but the lame one of
selfish depravity, common to the race. But with the inroads of
civilization Life became complex, and Truth was found too simple and
rigid to fit with all its varied intricacies. That is, when Truth _is_
simple. "Don't you think my baby beautiful?" demands a fond parent. "No,
I don't: far from it." That is the truth; but its naked and repulsive
brutality demands to be clothed with the garb of humane and graceful
fiction. "Prisoner at the bar, are you guilty or not guilty?" He is
guilty, of course; but if he says so, it is a dead give-away. In this
case indeed the interests of Truth are one with those of Society, though
not of the prisoner; but often it is different. The basis of ethics, our
moralists say, is as largely utilitarian as it is ideal. If so, is there
any special sacredness about cold facts, that they should get up on end
and demand to be published everywhere continually? Truth ought to be
modest, and not claim all the observances and honors, seeing there are
so many other deities whom we poor mortals are no less bound to worship.
When Grotius' wife lied to the policeman about her husband's
whereabouts, the lie was an act of piety, whereas truthtelling would
have been murderous infidelity. If the minions of the law were after me,
would I thank Mabel and Jane and Herbert for telling them which way I
had gone? There is no more aggravated nuisance than he who insists on
exposing all he knows at all times and places--as I used to do before I
learned these tricks. Look at poor Hartman, ejecting his honest
backwoods thought without asking whether it was a wise and decent
offering to his small but highly select audience; and see what trouble
he has brought on himself and all of us thereby.

This outspokenness is often mere self-indulgence. Take me, for instance:
to this day, in spite of all the lessons I have had, it is far easier
and pleasanter for me to tell the truth than not. People of this
temperament must learn to put a check on nature. Self-indulgence is
bad, all agree, and self-denial useful and necessary. This is the way
virtues clash and collide. I say, confound such a world. What is a plain
man to do in it? As the poet sings, the _Summum Bonum_ belongs in
heaven, and you can't expect to get at it here, but must simply do the
best you can, which is generally not very good. And then, as another
poet puts it, very likely nobody will appreciate your efforts, but you
will get cuffed for them: we are punished for our purest deeds, and so
forth.--But this is trenching on Hartman's province. It is well that I
should think all this out now: I can talk it over with him before we get
to business. He will want sympathy with his notions about the depravity
of things in general, and that will smooth the way, and make him willing
to open up on the specific woe that lies nearest.

To return to our muttons. The guilt of duplicity has lain heavy on my
conscience for two months, but how can I help it? I don't so much mind
keeping what I know from Mabel and Jane, for it is not their affair. But
it is Clarice's affair--most eminently so--and I had promised solemnly
to tell her at once when I knew or thought of anything that concerned
her. It was obviously impossible to keep my promise in this case--not on
my account, but on hers. It will not be easy to tell even Jim that I
overheard their last colloquy, and witnessed the tragical parting scene:
I'll have to watch my opportunities, and spring that on him just at the
right moment, when it will have the best effect. Now any one who knows
Clarice must see that to tell her this would be to take the most awful
risks, and probably to destroy all chance of reconciling them; that is
level to the meanest apprehension, I judge. No sir: it can't be done
till I have seen Jim, and got things in train. Properly handled, the
secret--that is, my possession of it, which is a second secret, almost
as weighty as the original one--may be a tool to manage both these
intractable subjects with, and bring them to terms: in a fool's hands,
and thrown about promiscuously, it would be an infernal machine to blow
us up. No: I'll take whatever guilt there is, rather than hurt Clarice
now and hereafter. Do you want to know my opinion of a man who is always
and only thinking about keeping his hands clean and his conscience at
peace, so that he can't do a little lying--or it might be other
sinning--on adequate occasion, to serve his friends or a good cause? I
think he is a cad, sir--a low-minded cad; and of such is not the kingdom
of heaven. It may not occur every day: it might not do to insert in the
text-books as a rule; but once in a while there may be better businesses
than saving one's soul and keeping one's conscience void of offense.[2]

I am arguing against my own nature in all this. In my heart I love Truth
above all things, and follow and serve her with a devotion that is
probably exaggerated. But I can't help seeing that there are two kinds
of her. When she is simple and obvious, she seems to reside in bare
facts, which we may easily respect too much, for what are they but
blackguard carnalities? Preraphaelitism in art, Realism in literature,
might be all very well if they would keep their place--which is in the
kitchen. Some may want pots and pans, and scullions, and pigs' feet, and
ribs of beef described. I don't myself; but it is a free country, and
vivid and accurate portraiture of these delicacies may constitute the
main charm of literature for some readers, possibly. But Realism wants
to take its pots and pans into the parlor: it always overdoes things. "A
daisy by the river's brim a yellow daisy was to him, and it was nothing
more." Well, what else should it be?--But perhaps I have not got that
right. Pass on to our next head.

Truth is not always simple--by no means always. Often she is highly
complex, and as much mixed as I was just now; and then you don't know
where she is, or what she is, and it gets to be all guesswork. One says,
Here, and another says, There: the philosophers upset each other's
schemes in turn, the theologians hurl reciprocal excommunications, the
scientists of to-day laugh at those of last year. If Pilate meant it
this way, we owe him some sympathy and respect. "Speak the truth and
shame the devil," they say. Bah! [I think this expletive ought to be
spelt _Baa_.] When you know what the truth is, you are more likely to
shame your friends, and become obnoxious and ridiculous. And in most
cases you don't know, and if you suppose you do, you are mistaken. I
have thought out a way of approximating Truth on a large scale, and more
nearly than most succeed in doing; but this is a big topic, and I had
better keep it to entertain Hartman with.

O yes; I was to explain why I sometimes use roundabout methods even with
him. If you tell all you know to everyone you meet, or disclose your
real character, it will generally be a waste of good material which
might better be economized. By the way, what _is_ my real character? How
should I know? One sees one side of it, another another. I see all that
have turned up yet, but there may be many more, thus far latent; and how
am I to harmonize them all, and take the average of a succession of
phenomena? I am complex, like Truth.

But I must not interrupt myself any more. Let us fall back on the
utilitarian basis of ethics. You see, if I had talked like this to Jim
when we met last May, he would have put himself on guard and begun to
study me, whereas I wanted to draw him out--as I did. I have no
objection to people studying me when I don't care to study them; but
when there is anything to be done for them you have got to understand
them first, and to this end it is best to appear simple and not distract
their minds from the contemplation and disclosure of their own
qualities: you can play on their vanity if your own does not stand in
the road. Hartman has a fine mind, but in his innocent rural way he took
for granted that I had stood still since we were together at college. So
I played to his lead, and pretended, for instance, to know nothing about
poetry; whereas, as you must have noticed, I am pretty well read, and my
memory is remarkably copious and accurate. (Clarice did indeed say that
I sometimes got the lines wrong; but what she meant was that the
passages I quoted in my well-meant efforts to console her were of too
gay a character for her melancholy mood.)

In this way I secured Jim's regard and confidence, which I am using for
his good: if I had put myself forward, and been anxious to impress him
with my importance, he might have looked on me with the cynical
indifference which is all the feeling he can afford to most people, and
I should never have got him out of the woods. So when I was taking him
to Newport, I said what it was desirable to say, and omitted what was
not: how else should a rational man talk? And that first night there, I
took the tone that he required, as a host is bound to do: sacred are the
duties of christian hospitality. Poor Jim is as good as a play; he takes
Life in such dead earnest, and expects his friends to be rampant
idealists too: so I mounted the high horse for once to gratify him. He
will never forget that, nor cease to respect me accordingly: he thinks I
was serious then, and joking at all other times. You and I of course
understand that Life is but a series of appearances; and if I seem to
contradict myself, to say one thing on one page and its opposite on the
next, I am only reporting the various phases assumed by facts without
and moods within. 'The shield is gold.' 'No, it is silver.' Well, shall
we fight about that? Probably it is both. A thing may be black in one
light, and white in another, for what I know. Of all fools the positive
philosophers seem to me the worst; and the most abject kind of conceit
is that of alleged consistency. Why will you insist on a definiteness
which has so little place in nature? The world is a chameleon, and you
and I are smaller copies of it.

I must try to explain all this to Hartman, and make him see that it is
time he took on another color. He has been down in the depths all this
while; now let him get up on the heights. But he would never do it of
himself, nor without the management of a more practical mind. If I took
things as he does, I should be tempted to say, "You monumental idiot, to
fling a rash word at a girl as proud as Lucifer, and then to take her
hasty repartee as a final verdict from doomsday book!" Happily there is
one person around with sense enough to see that both these moon-struck
babes are forgivable, and therefore capable of such bliss as may be
found in a world of which the best to be said is that we are in very
small measure responsible for it. They were both foolish, of course; but
what proportion does their joint offence bear to their punishment--and
ours? That is the Order of Things--this blessed and beautiful Kosmos.

[Footnote 2: The unwary reader may possibly need to be reminded that R.
T. is not to be taken too seriously, especially in this his Apology for
Lying.--_Pub._]



XXI.

JANE TO THE RESCUE.


It may seem unfeeling in me to indulge in dissertations like the above
at so critical a juncture: but they serve to fill the time while I am
waiting for marching orders. I have written to Jim, and that is all I
can do at present. Jane thinks differently: she ought to have been a
man, she is so fond of action. She got me in a corner to-day.

"Well, brother?"

"Well, Jane?"

"What have you done?"

"Done? what should I do?"

"Use a man's tools, that you are so fond of; plain speech, if no more.
Have you spoken to Clarice yet?"

"No: why should I speak to her? She spoke to Mabel, not to me."

"Robert, are you ever sincere in anything? When _I_ profess affection
for people, I am ready to serve them at their need."

"So am I, and Clarice knows it. She is perfectly aware that I am ready
to do this thing, or any other thing within my power, for her at any
time. It is easy for her to say what she wants."

"Brother, you are _so_ stupid! Don't you know that it is excessively
difficult for her to allude, however remotely, to a matter like this?
Say what she wants, she would die first. Do you desire to wait for that?
She is not like the rest of us; and a woman is not like a man. _You_
could talk for a week, and turn your whole mind inside out, with no
fatigue--except to your audience; but the faintest reference to what I
need not name would cost her a painful effort. I told you it was a great
thing for her to say what she did to Mabel. That ought to have been
enough for you."

"How could it be enough? Do try to talk sense now, Jane. How can I go
off blindly on a fool's errand--in her interest, but without commission
or instructions?"

"Ask her for them, then. It is ungenerous to put on her the burden of
opening the subject. She is doubtless waiting for you to speak, and
wondering at your slackness."

"Hanged if I can understand that. How many times have you lectured me
about showing her proper respect, and restraining my native coarseness,
and what not; and now you want me to go to her like a trooper or a grand
inquisitor, and ask about the state of her feelings toward Hartman. I
can't do it, Jane. When you get into such a scrape, I might try it, if
you insisted--though it would go against me, as Sir Lancelot said: then
you could see how you liked it. Clarice wouldn't like it at all; and she
has deserved better things of me than that."

"She _has_ deserved better things of you than she is getting. I thought
you loved her as I do. So that was only one of your pretences?"

"I love her too well to harass her; to intrude upon her solitude when
she does not want me; to pry into her affairs without her consent, and
destroy what chance there is that she may call me when she is ready."

"She will never be ready, unless we, that are her first friends, come to
her aid against her own pride and shyness. You think me intrusive--a
meddlesome old maid, prying into what does not concern me: but, brother,
she and Mr. Hartman were made for one another. They were deeply
interested, both of them--I could see it plainly: it would have been
settled in a few days more, if that wretched misunderstanding had not
occurred. _He_ may get over it; he is a man, though he did not seem to
be that kind. But she--she is of the deep, and silent, and constant
type: she will nurse this hurt till it kills her. I love her, Robert;
she has nobody but us. She never knew a thing like this before; it is
her first experience. Other men to her were playthings, or bores; she
had no friend among them but you. You cannot fancy how hard it is for
her; harder far than for a younger girl. She is so helpless, for all her
pride--her pride makes her more helpless to speak or act. If I could
only help her, now--"

And here, to my amazement, my stately sister broke down in a passion of
tears and sobs: I never knew her do such a thing before. I patted, and
petted, and soothed her, and did all that a man of humanity and
experience does in such cases. I shall apply for the title, Consoler of
Feminine Woes, since the business of the office comes to me. It will be
Mabel next, I suppose, and then this thing must stop, unless we begin
the round afresh. Clarice may naturally want to be comforted once or
twice more; but I hope soon to remove all further occasion for that.
Jane and I have not been like this since we were children.

"There, there. Sister dear, I would knock any man down, and insult any
woman, who said of you what you just said of yourself. You are not an
old maid, and you might be a society leader if you cared for it: plenty
of women are who have more years and less looks and manners and brains
than you. You are as far as possible from a meddler: your fault is that
you keep too much to yourself. I am sure Clarice would be touched and
flattered by your interest in her: I should, if you took a quarter as
much in me. Do you know, I never saw you look so well, or do yourself
such credit--till now--as night before last. My heart said amen to every
word you uttered, even when you were girding at me; for you thought I
deserved it, and in part I did. I will have no more secrets from
you--except such as I have no right to impart. If you will, we shall be
friends now, and work together in this thing. You always seemed to
despise me, Jane; and it is tedious when the affection is all on one
side."

"Yes: you used to have enough of that with Clarice."

She was feeling better now. As I may have said on some previous
occasion, a little judicious management will do great things for a
woman. I must keep this up if I can, and make appropriate responses to
all her remarks. I have been too hard on Jane in the past. After all,
the tie between brother and sister is a peculiar one--few more so; and,
except for the Princess, who is such only by adoption, each of us is all
the other has got in that line. Perhaps I ought to have thought of this
earlier.

"Clarice appreciates my virtues better now, as I hope you will. But I
was going to tell you: I am of one mind and heart with you about this,
dear. I have always meant to see Hartman this fall, of course; but it
was better that the suggestion should come from Mabel, you see."

"You do tangle things up so unnecessarily, Robert. Mabel would have
approved of anything you proposed, as a matter of course."

"Well, my dear, I have no desire to be a dictator in the house, like
some men. You all have interests and rights to be respected, and I want
you to have your say."

"We would have it more cheerfully if you would take yours--out plainly,
in a man's way, you know. Have you written Mr. Hartman?"

"Certainly: that same night, and asked if he wanted me next week. That
was simple enough. I'm not afraid of _him_."

"I can't see why you should be so afraid of Clarice. You've known her
all her life, and she is only ten years younger than you. If she were
but seventeen, now, and a new acquaintance, I might understand it. You
_must_ have it out with her, Robert. If I adopt her style, perhaps you
will do as I wish. Remember, we are to work together in this thing, and
you are of one mind and heart with me about it; so you must let me
direct you. Mind, now!"

I stared: it was an imitation, gentle and subdued indeed, of the
Princess as she was in her days of glory--not so long ago, alas!--before
the rains descended and the winds blew and the storm beat upon her house
of life: the tones were there, and a hint of the arch looks. Where did
Jane learn these tricks? And what has come over her? A maiden, even of
her years, is hardly warmed to life by a few compliments and caresses
from her own mother's son. Can Hartman have waked her up too? She
laughed in my face.

"If our plot succeeds, you may be thrown on my society again; and as you
are going to be so affectionate, I must fill Clarice's place as well as
I can. Meantime, you had better let me guide you; indeed you had."

"That may be; only don't drive me too hard, please. I'm not what I once
was: all these emotions are too many for me. Where do you propose to
guide me to?"

"To Clarice. Will you come now?"

"Scarcely: a nice reception we should get. This is not a case where two
are better far than one. And then it would be three presently, which
never answers--when she is one of them. I would rather go alone, and
much rather not at all. Guide me somewhere else, sweet sister: or you
can go yourself, if you like. But I don't see why she should stand on
ceremony with me."

"Not with you, but with her own heart--a more recent acquaintance, and
much more formidable."

"But that is there all the same, whether I go to her or she comes to
me."

"Yes, but--can't you see? She dislikes to take the initiative."

"So do I. According to you, she has taken it already."

"Yes, and once is enough. You are so slow, Robert: you require so much
teaching."

"I know. But don't despair: Hartman says you have improved me a heap,
between you. You see, the cases are different. None of you are the least
afraid of me--I should be sorry if you were. But I am afraid of you: you
are such superior beings. You know you are: you look on my masculine
dulness with contempt; and so do I. It is my deep and loyal respect for
a woman--which you said I would never learn. Jane, you hurt me then; you
have hurt me often. I would have been fonder of you--showed it more, I
mean; but affection, repulsed, shrank into the shell of indifference. Be
kind, now, and I will do anything you say. You see, I _am_ getting on."

"I wish you would get on toward the business in hand. A nice time
Clarice must have had with you. I can see now why she had to keep so
tight a rein on you, and to rule you by fear. Will you speak to her, or
will you not?"

"Of course I will, before I go. We can't hear from Jim for several days
yet. She will probably come to me before that. If not, I'll have to go
to her. Jane, there are some things that you don't understand, and I
can't explain."

"Queer things they must be, then. I wonder that a man should be such a
coward."

"If you were a man, you wouldn't. I don't care to display my courage at
home, sister. You are harder than Clarice. You want me to be all around
the circle at once, and whatever I do, you find fault. My dear, ever
since you spoke, I have been hanging about, to give her a chance to say
what she wants. How can I stride up to her and shout, 'Here, tell me
what to say to your runaway lover'? She knows all about it, if you
don't. I'll wait to-morrow after breakfast; tell her so, if you will.
She has only to look at me, and I'll ask her, if she wishes. Then you
can scold me to your heart's content for making a mess of it, and being
rough and brutal and stupid. Jane, I am doing the best I can. If I could
put myself absolutely into your hands, and be but a voice and body to
your mind, it might be an improvement; but unhappily that is not
feasible at present. Will what I propose answer?"

"Perhaps: I will see. I may have been unjust to you, Robert: you are
different from most men, and not easy to understand: you like to let
part of you pass for the whole. Whether you are so easy to rule as you
pretend to be, I am not sure yet. Well, there is time to find out. If
you live by your professions, well and good. Kiss me, dear; good-night."

Since Jane has panned out in this unexpected way, I wish I could tell
her the Secret: she might give me some points. But that is
impossible--unthinkable, as they say at Concord. Clarice would never
forgive me: that would be bad, but not the worst. It would be disloyal
to her--distinctly so. That I've never been yet, and I'm too old to
begin now. There may be cases in which the end justifies the means, but
this is not one of them. No: I must dree this weird (if that is the
expression), and hoe this row, all by myself. If I had been bred in the
east, I should be tempted to say it was a contumelious responsibility.
The next time you want to get into difficulties with a lady, James
Hartman, you must do it on some other premises than mine.



XXII.

AN ORDEAL.


Next morning I was nosing about in the library, pretending to be looking
for a book, when Clarice came to me and said, "I don't think what you
want is here. Leave business this afternoon, and take me to the Park."

If she were to say, "Leave business this year, and take me to Europe, or
to Madagascar," I should do it: she would have to arrange the matter
with Mabel, but that she could do without difficulty, I have not the
least doubt. It would be a loss to Water Street, and my departure would
be felt in business circles generally; but they would have to stand it
as they might. In this case, however, no heavy sacrifice was involved:
for a few hours, or days, or weeks, Pipeline, as Mabel says, can conduct
the old stand well enough. What it needs is the feeling that a master
mind presides over its destinies, though from such a distance as Newport
or the Wayback woods.

We agreed on an hour--that is, she told me to be at the door at two--and
I went down town, feeling relieved. It is much better for Clarice to
take the responsibility of opening communications, and I wish she would
conduct the whole interview, like a major-general with his aid-de-camp
or a master plumber sending out his apprentices to mend the
pipes--leaving me only to take notes of instructions. But that is too
much to expect. It is a delicate task before me, and my talents for such
(according to the ladies), are not so eminent that I should be anxious
to overwork them. I can manage a man, and some women perhaps; but to
catechize and cross-examine her on a subject as to which pride, and
honor, and modesty lock a girl's lips--I don't see how I can do it,
even with her consent. I would rather smoke my pipe through a powder
mill than hurt you, my poor Princess: my clumsy fingers were never made
to play about your heartstrings.

I dropped in at Trinity on my way, and put up a prayer; it was that she
might make it easy for herself, and for me, though that is a minor
matter--keep the game in her own hands, and tell enough to serve her
ambassador's need, without his questioning.

She did not keep me waiting: she never had that vice. The change in her
is not for casual eyes to see. Outwardly, I have fallen off more than
she has; in fact, I have lost three pounds in these last two months.
Many a hat was raised, many an envious glance turned toward me, as we
spun up the avenue. The fellows at the club, and elsewhere, used to
pester me to introduce them, and I gratified them for a while, till she
told me she could not have all my acquaintances coming to call, and made
Mabel say I must leave off bringing men home to dinner. She never was a
coquette; but what is a girl so endowed to do? They would force
themselves on her, by dozens, by scores, by hundreds: they overflowed
the house and took up all her time; they crowded her life, until she
could stand it no longer and stopped it. That is why we live so quietly
of late: it is a great improvement. Now, they gaze on her from afar: yet
she never had difficulty with any of them--till August, alas. That was
my fault, for bringing in a wild man from the woods, who could not be
counted on or ruled like the rest, but would flop around in his
uncircumcised way and break things. I should never forgive myself for
that, if I did not hope to get matters right--and more so than they ever
were, for her.

For a time we drove on silently. Then of a sudden, without looking at
me, she said very quietly, "Jane told me you wanted to see me, Robert."

O Lord, is this to be the shape of it after all? Well, what must be
must, and I will do my stint as a man may. "Did she say nothing else?"

"That you were afraid to come to me. Have I been so harsh with you, or
so terrible of late?" Her tone was half arch, half reproachful.

"No, no; far from it. But you know how it is, Clarice. Your trouble is
ours, and I am a poor surgeon. How can I put a knife into the wound? I
wish it were mine, and mine only."

"I have brought trouble on you all, brother. I ought to have gone away."

"Never; do you think Mabel and Jane would allow that, any more than I?
We would all rather break our hearts together, if that need be, than
have you among strangers now: it would be worse for us, no less than for
you. When you are happy you may leave us; not till then."

"I know. You love me, here, and bear with me, and for me--though I don't
deserve it."

"Don't say that--anything but that. My Princess deserves everything--and
by Jove, she shall have it. If I knew exactly what she wanted, now--"

All this time we had to be smiling and bowing right and left. You can't
make pretty speeches under such circumstances, or do delicate work. I
had turned from the main drive, but it was only a little better.

"Let us get out of this, Robert. There are too many people: we can't
talk here."

We went by streets which you must know, if you are accustomed to have
this kind of business on hand. I trust you are not: a little of it goes
a long way. At last we got into a quieter, semi-rural region. Find it
out for yourself, if you can: I am not going to tell you the exact spots
made sacred by these confidences. Meantime I had been thinking what to
say, and it came out with a rush. It is a little easier when you put the
third person for the second--yes, that is a good idea.

"If I were sure just what she wanted, she should have that thing, if
there is any power in the human will. But I am clumsy, and thick-headed,
and make blunders--you have often said so, Clarice, and so has Jane, and
even Mabel. She I speak of is of finer clay than others. Her nature has
its own laws, which I can understand only very imperfectly. Yes, you
know it is so: you have told me that too. O, she need not mind me, nor
consider me in the least. I am afraid only of offending or hurting her:
I only want to help and serve her, if I can. If she could look on me
just as a tool to be used, an instrument in case she desired to produce
certain sounds--I wish I were more capable of harmony--as a medium
possibly--. But she will not speak--perhaps she cannot. And how can I
question her, as if from vulgar curiosity? What right have I?"

Her eyes were wet now, under her veil: I could see it, though nobody
else could; and we were on a country road.

"Robert, you are the best and dearest man in the world."

"Hardly that. But I am proud of your approval, and will try to earn it.
I have not earned it yet, you know."

"Brother, you rate me too high, and--and her you speak of. What if she
had what she wanted within reach, and rudely thrust it away?"

"But she did not do that, dear: she could not. I am sure it is there
yet, if she would deign to take it."

"If that were certain, she would have others than herself to think of.
So long as it was or might be merely herself, what could she do?"

I began to see light now. "There _are_ others; and though they are of
less consequence, her generous heart would not let them suffer. Suppose
to one of them this meant life or death, hope or despair, use or
uselessness. Suppose one not like most of us, but simple, sincere, and
noble, unversed in the world's ways and little loving them, with a great
heart early clouded and a strong mind warped thereby, had begun to pin
his faith to her I speak of, and in her eyes to see reconciliation to
earth and heaven; and then for one rash word, one casual misconception
such as comes between any of us, had fancied the cup of promise snatched
away, and in his misjudging innocence gone back to his cave of gloom,
thinking himself doomed to a state worse than that from which he had
been nearly rescued. Would she let him stay there forever?"

"I suppose she ought not--if she could help it. It is well he has better
friends than she has proved. But I cannot talk of this: indeed I cannot.
It may be weak and foolish, but I cannot. You must do what you have to
do in your own way.--No, I will not be such a coward, and so basely
ungrateful. O, I understand your position, Robert. You will have to
question me: I am sorry, but it is the only way. Ask what you absolutely
need to know for your own guidance--I know you will ask no more--and I
will try to answer."

I groaned; and then I could have choked myself. Must my despicable
selfishness add to her burdens? What are my feelings, my petty
reluctance, to her interests? Have I not set myself aside? Are you not
man enough, Robert T., to put a few civil queries to a lady, when she
has just given you express permission, and even directed you to do so?
The less you sneer at cads after this, the better.--I was so long making
up my mind to it that the poor girl had to speak again.

"I am very sorry, brother. It is too bad to burden you so. If I could
save you the trouble, I would, indeed. O, I appreciate your motives, and
your delicacy, and all your efforts to shield and spare me--never fancy
that I did not, I have made more trouble than I am worth. If I could
only die, and end it all!"

This, as you may imagine, put a speedy end to my shilly-shallying. "That
would end it all, with a vengeance. Some other people of my acquaintance
would want to die then too--or before. Dearest Clarice, don't talk so.
Two things I can't bear--your lowering yourself like this, and your
exalting me. I am a hound: if I were half a man, I'd have made it easier
for you. It is only that I distrust my own ability, my own penetration,
my own judgment. I ought not to need any more instructions--but this
business is so important, and I'm afraid of making a mess of it."

"Dear Robert, you lay too much stress on the opinion I pretended to have
of you, in days when I only half knew you and thought far too much of
myself and too little of others. I know better now. You have the insight
of sympathy: your heart will help your head. You will not need to ask me
many questions; you can read between the lines."

"I will try. You need not answer in words when you don't want to: just
move your head a little, and let me see your eyes. You see, in view of
my stupidity, the less risks we take the better: I must have some things
down in black and white. Well then: you said something to Mabel about my
health, and the fall fishing?"

"Yes. You do need a change; I have had you on my conscience all this
while. It is all my doing; and you love me so." Her hand stole into
mine.

"That is certainly so. Do you know where I would go if left to
myself--if these last months were blotted from the calendar?"

"Of course. Is it necessary to go through all these formalities?"

"I think so: forgive me, dear. I must not trust my intuitions too far:
they are not as fine as yours.--You know what construction might be put
on my going there now?--Not by the outside world; it has nothing to do
with this business, happily. But by any of us; and more especially
by--ah--by him?"

Her face was set now, her lips closed tight; but she nodded.

"You have no word to send, I suppose?--No, of course not: how could you?
Then if he asks, or if it is necessary to tell him about you, as of
course it will be, I am to say merely what I think, so that you are
nowise responsible?--Yes, I see. But the main thing to do there is to
make observations, and bring my report to you?--Certainly: he must put
himself on record before you do, if this is to go on. _If?_ Of course it
will: it shall be all right, my dear child. Then it follows that I can't
bring him back with me?--Why no: he must bide his time, and fulfil his
penance. That is all, I believe: the examination--or the operation, I
had nearly said--is over, and you have borne it well. Thank you,
Princess; and forgive me for troubling you. You won't hate me, will you,
for having to be so horrid, and making you go through all this?--Thank
you again. Shall we turn homeward now?--Yes, we'll be there by dark."

She sat very still, and paler than I like to see her. As for me, great
beads of perspiration were on my forehead, though it was a cool day. I
drove as fast now as the law allows. At last she spoke, and her voice
trembled. "Brother, how shockingly we have all misjudged you!"

"No, dear: you did not misjudge me at all. But you have been educating
me, and it is fit the best there is in me should come to the front for
your service--if it never put its head up before, nor should again. Wait
till I come back: I've done nothing yet."

"You have done everything. The rest will be easy for you, compared with
this."

"By Jove, you are right there: I'm glad we're through this part of
it.--One thing more; about Jane. She loves you as I do; she has been
berating me for indifference and slackness in the cause. O, she is a
trump: she was crying bitterly last night because she could do nothing
to help you, and because I was too lazy and cowardly to move; she has
egged me on to this. May I tell her what we have agreed on?"

"O yes, tell her anything you like, and Mabel too. I have made you all
such a poor return: any other woman in my place would have trusted you
long ago, and been the better for it. But I am so strangely made,
Robert: my lips are like a seal to my heart. Excuse me at dinner, won't
you? And promise me one thing--that always, after this, you will come to
me at once, without scruple, when you want me, on my account or on your
own. As if I could be reluctant to talk with you! Tell me when you hear
from him, and when you are going, and--anything else. You won't mind my
silence, or wait for me to speak? And you must never be afraid of me
again."



XXIII.

PLAN OF CAMPAIGN.


The Princess was seen no more that night, and I got away till dinner
time. Then I said that she was not coming down, and anxious looks were
exchanged, and dark ones cast on me. In return I winked at Jane, and
frowned severely on Herbert, who intercepted the signal and began to
grin. Mabel, who had seen it too, reproved me for setting the boy a bad
example; and thus a diversion was effected. While she was seeing after
the children, my sister carried me off to the library: I made her kiss
me before I would tell her anything.

"Jane, you may scold me as much as you like after this, and I will never
say a cross word to you again. Hartman was right: he said you had more
penetration than any of us, and all sorts of virtues. O, you needn't
mind about blushing; we are alone. It's true, and I shall hold you in
honor accordingly."

"Brother, I hope you have not spoiled your work with careless handling.
I always distrust you when you begin your fine speeches."

"That was in the past, which we have put behind us: they come now from
the abundance of the heart. We are one, you know, and I am to tell you
everything. Jane, I've done exactly as you told me, and given you all
credit. She knows it was your move; and it's all right."

"Then you found that your imagination had created, or greatly magnified,
the difficulties, and that your fears were unnecessary?"

"Far from it. It was a terrible job for both of us: the mere
recollection of it is harrowing. Clarice is laid up, and only my
superior physical strength and fortitude, with an hour's recuperation,
enabled me to face you all at table."

"Then you must have been rough with her. Brother, how could you?"

"What did I tell you? You drive me, with all your sharp-pointed feminine
weapons, to a painful task, and then you blame me because you fancy I've
not discharged it as neatly as the angel Gabriel might. She thinks I
did, however. Was I rough with you last night? Is it my habit to go
around trampling on the finer feelings of our nature? In the hour of
woe, when your heartstrings are torn asunder, you will find me a
first-class comforter. I thought you knew that already."

"I doubt if Clarice knows it, if you took this tone with her. Can you
never be serious, Robert?"

"Good heavens, Jane, what would you have? Have I not been serious
through two weary months, and eminently so all this afternoon? I had to
be. Let the overstrung bow be relaxed a little now. You remember the
Prime Minister, who after an exciting debate used to go home and play
with his children?

"As exciting debates are usually conducted in the small hours, it was
cruel to disturb their infant slumbers. If you want to do that here you
will have to get Mabel's consent; it is out of my province. Best play
with your children before they go to bed."

"Children of a larger growth will serve. Bear with me, sister. My
faculties have been sorely tasked: I am spent and weary--"

"And you must have somebody to play with. Was that why you were so fond
of Clarice, because she sometimes humored you? She could hardly serve
your turn now: the poor child is in no jesting mood. Nor am I; nor ought
you to be."

"Sister, you wrong me. It is my warmth of heart, my fraternal affection,
which you have so oft-repulsed. Mine is a poet's nature. You stare, but
it is so: it is only lately that I discovered the fact myself. Like the
elder Bulwer, I pine for appreciation, for sympathy--"

"You will continue to pine if you go on like this. I never saw such a
man for beating about the bush and talking nonsense. What have you
accomplished?--I don't want to pry into her secrets, or ask her to share
her confidences, but--"

"Now, Jane, if you have any heart left, I will bring the tear of
contrition to your eye. I asked and obtained her permission to tell you
all I know, and all we have just arranged."

"Don't be so long about it, then. What are the arrangements?"

So I imparted them with but little modification or reservation; and
Mabel coming in presently, I went over the main outlines again. It is
not every man who could thus communicate state secrets to his family;
but mine never talk about home affairs to outsiders. One point is, they
do not attend the Sewing Society: if they did, I should feel less safe.
They approved in the main.

"It hardly seems fair to Mr. Hartman," said Jane; "but no doubt it's as
much as you can expect from her."

"I should say it was: why, she is acting nobly. If it were any other
man, he should, and would, have all the making up to do, instead of
putting it on us. You see, you--that is, we--don't exactly know what the
quarrel was. He must have been in the wrong, of course."

"O yes, because you are a man. Now suppose I, being a woman, say, 'She
must have been in the wrong, of course.'"

"My dears," said Mabel, "let us compromise. They are both human beings;
probably they were both in the wrong."

"Happy thought," said I. "We'll fix it that way: then they have only to
kiss and be friends. But still, the man is generally expected to open
the ball."

"That is," said Jane, "if all does not go smoothly from the start, which
can hardly be expected, poor Mr. Hartman is to be sacrificed."

"I would not put it just that way; though he, or any man, ought to be
glad to be sacrificed for Clarice. She is naturally first with me, as I
should suppose she would be with you--except that, as you pertinently
observe, you also are a woman. But never fear, Jane; I'll attend to
Hartman's case too. I hope to act as attorney for both plaintiff and
defendant, and speedily to reconcile their conflicting interests. It is
true I am on a prospecting tour: I have no retainer from him yet. But I
shall soon pocket that, and master his side of the suit. O, I'll take
him up tenderly, and handle with care."

"Of course you will, Robert," said Mabel. "If there is any quality for
which you are distinguished, it is the even-tempered justice of your
mind. You can argue on both sides of a case with equal fluency and
force, and that quite independent of your personal predilections."

"Just so. But I fear Jane has not the same confidence in my fairness and
ability with you, my dear. You will have to talk to her privately, and
bring her to a proper frame of mind. She is my only and much loved
sister, and I can't go till she has faith in me."

"It is you who are not in a proper frame of mind as to Mr. Hartman's
side of this affair, brother. A man has no sympathy, no charity, for
another man. You can be all tenderness, and consideration, and faith,
and loyalty, to a woman--when she has Clarice's looks; but when it is
only an old friend who trusts you, you will laugh, and sneer, and amuse
yourself at his expense, and either delude him or hopelessly estrange
him."

"Did you ever hear the like? Yesterday, and the day before, she insisted
on my going; and now, when I am all on fire to go, she throws cold water
on my zeal, and--"

Here my wife interrupted me. "Jane, it is you who show undue levity. You
forget that Clarice is my cousin; that is why Robert is so fond of her,
and espouses her cause so warmly. I think it is very good of him, and
very generous."

"Now you have hit it: Jane, hide your diminished head. Mabel, if Hartman
can prove affinity with you, I will take just as much pains for him as
for Clarice. But, sister, you and I must be one. I tell you what I will
do: I will stay at home all next Sunday, and let you preach to me: then,
if you can't fill me to the nozzle with your views, whose fault will it
be? Or you might go along, as you wanted to in May. Then you could
personally superintend the campaign."

"My only hope is that you will sober down before you get there. In this
mood you could do no good at all."

"That's where you are mistaken. Jim expects me to brighten him up: _he_
is not wholly without a sense of humor. But if you think I am going
there for amusement, you are out again. I shall take Young's Night
Thoughts, and Hervey's Meditations among the Tombs, and a volume or two
of sermons, to read on the way, and get my mind attuned to the
atmosphere of the place. My jokes there will be solemn and elaborate
offerings, prompted solely by a humane sense of necessity. But, Jane,
you are in a minority of one. Clarice has confidence in me: you ask her.
And so has Mabel: haven't you, my love?"

"Yes, certainly. Why, Jane, Robert is the only person who can possibly
manage this affair, since you and I can't well go, and Clarice does not
like to speak out herself. We could not commit it to a stranger, you
know. Robert knew Mr. Hartman before any of us did; they were old
friends at college. He is the natural link between them, you might say.
If he will only remember not to laugh in the wrong places, as he did
that time we took him to church, when the minister thumped his sermon
off the pulpit, and not to tell the wrong stories, as he so often does
at table, and not to yawn when Mr. Hartman explains how badly he has
been feeling since he left us, he will do very well. You can't expect
him to take the same interest in Mr. Hartman as in Clarice: would he
care for us as he does, if we were men? Jane, he is pointed out by
Providence as the means of reconciling them. You must see that he is to
be trusted entirely. Under his supervision it will all come right: I
said so from the beginning."

After this, there seemed no need of further remarks. Mabel withdrew
early, and I went out to smoke. When I came back, I found Jane again in
tears.

"Brother, tell me that you were only playing with me, and that you are
really in earnest about this matter, and will do your best to set it
straight."

"My dear sister, I will tell you anything you like, if you will only
believe me; what is the use, if you won't? Do you suppose I care less
for Clarice's happiness than you do--or for Jim's either? I wish you
would talk to her, and let her clarify your ideas. Faith, as you may
have heard in church, is a saving grace, and essential to peace of mind.
Within a month or two you will see whether I fail my friends or not, and
then perhaps you will learn to trust me. Jane, I believe in you now,
even if you don't believe in me; I would do almost anything to please
you. You want me to change my nature: I would do even that, but it is so
expensive, and then the new one might not fit as well as what I have
now. You are very exacting, but you can't quarrel with me, because I
will be no party to such proceedings."

"Brother, it all rests with you. If you will bring them together, I will
never doubt you again."

"No, my dear, I'll not hold you to that. You shall doubt me as often as
you like; but I will keep my promises all the same."

You see, I am trying new tactics with Jane now. Magnanimity, patient
forgiveness of injuries, disinterested and persistent affection, will in
time soften the most obdurate. After Clarice goes off, there will be so
few of us left that I can't afford to be on any but the best terms with
such as remain. And then my sister, when she is willing to do
herself--and me--justice, has some quite creditable traits.



XXIV.

TO WAYBACK AGAIN.


I pass succeeding interviews, of which there were several. Poor Clarice
had little to say, but was quite willing to listen to any suggestions of
mine. What Jane unkindly calls beating about the bush is necessary with
a person of her sensitive organization. She seems to feel that she has
fallen from her old estate, and is not yet established in a new one. I
am satisfied that she never would have made those admissions, slight as
they are, and allowed me to go on this secret embassy, if she had only
herself to consider. For the first time duty to others has come into
collision with her pride, and shaken the citadel of her reserve. Always
hitherto she has had things and people come to her; the exercise has
been in keeping them off. To want, to seek, to invite--to lift a finger,
unless in the way of small and graceful social management--this is new
to her, and she takes it hard. The thing I have to do beyond all others
is to preserve her dignity: she knows I can be trusted for that, though
Jane does not. I can't blame Jane: she has never seen me conduct an
affair like this, nor has any one else, for the simple reason that I
never had it to do till now. I am only her brother: she has had
experience of all my failings, and is imperfectly acquainted with my
resources. Mabel is more satisfactory. She has not figured as much as
some others in this chronicle; connubial modesty prevents my making her
prominent. But she too possesses some very good traits; especially she
has a way of bringing forward and dwelling upon points which nobody else
would think of mentioning. She used to scold me sometimes, but that was
chiefly when she thought I was not treating Clarice well. She lays
great stress on ties of blood, and considers herself natural guardian
and defender to the Princess, whom she sometimes forgets that I knew for
fifteen years before I ever met her. Clarice talks little with her, and
no more with Jane: I really believe that her only confidences--which are
not much, if measured by words--have been made to me. But they are very
fond of each other all the same. I suppose you can understand that much
affection can exist with little intimacy. The Princess was cast in her
own peculiar mould: I don't want to see many more like her, for they
would be poor imitations. None of us ever attempt to pry into her inner
life--or to meddle with her outward life either; when she wants anything
of any of us, we are ready, and there it ends. She knows we love her,
and that is enough.

Hartman, now, is much less impenetrable; though I suppose he will shut
himself up like an oyster over the dubious pearl of his precious secret,
and give me no end of trouble to extract his contents. But I possess a
knife which is able to open his shell. He has answered my letter
promptly, and expects me presently. Does he think I am going up there
merely to fish and hunt, and hear him talk a lot of rubbish about the
Vanity of Life? Or does he scent my deeper motives--discern the
Ethiopian within the encompassing pale, as they say in Boston? If so, he
is apparently as willing to be operated on as he was before. At any rate
he is a gentleman, and knows how to respect a woman--when he takes time
to think about it. This is a delicate business for him as well as for
the lady--and there is where the awkwardness comes in: from his point of
view he can't speak out, any more than she. Well, I'll turn him inside
out and manipulate him, if it takes the whole week. Happily I don't have
to consider him as I did Clarice; as Jane intimates, a man can't expect
to have his feelings spared in the process. What are a man's feelings
anyway, compared with a woman's? And what rights has he as against hers?
No: between man and man all that can be needed is plain speech and manly
frankness--aided by a little diplomacy. I'll break you to pieces, James
H., if you are fractious; and I've got the weapons to do it with. It is
all for your good, and you'll bless me the rest of your life. One thing
must be understood: I can't have you coming to my place and practising
your wild backwoods manners on my family, and then sneaking off in the
night and evading responsibility. The next time you come you will have
to behave yourself, and to stay till Somebody has had enough of you.

Mabel thinks I ought to enliven the account of my trip with descriptions
of scenery and the like. But a rock is a rock, and a field is a field,
and who wants to know whether a tree is elm or maple? I am not a
geological survey, and you can get mountains enough from Craddock. Not
that I am insensible to the beauties of Nature--as I have proved before
now. How often have I sat upon an eminence, and admiringly gazed at the
departing luminary as he sank slowly to rest, flooding hill and valley
with tints which a painter might strive in vain to reproduce! I would
have to sit there some time to see it all, for I have noticed that with
us the Sunset proper does not begin till after the Setting of the Sun is
finished. And when the distant mountains assumed a robe of royal purple,
and 'the death-smile of the dying day' lingered pathetically on the
horizon, my thoughts would soar to the Celestial City, and long to rest
themselves upon its pavement of liquid gold. I heard Dr. Chapin say
these last words at the first lecture I ever attended, and it struck my
infant intelligence that they ought to be preserved. And I too might be
a poet if I lived in the country, in constant communion with Nature,
abandoning my soul to her maternal caress. But alas, the stir, the
scramble, the mad whirl of city life, the debasing contact with low
material minds, the daily study of Prices Current, make even of me a
muckworm. Still, I might work up a brook or two after I get to the
woods, or expatiate on a seven-pound trout: my conscience forbids me to
weigh them higher, for I never saw any above three. And yet some men
will talk familiarly of ten-pounders!--Or I might analyze the mediæval
garments of Hodge and his old Poll. As for the Wayback houses, they are
like any other habitations, only less of them, and few and far between:
Jim's is the best, and it is nothing to brag of. You can see much better
buildings any day on Broadway. The rural parts, as Lord Bacon observed,
are but a den of savage men. It is to see one of these, and resume the
interrupted process of civilizing him, that I am about starting on this
philanthropic journey, leaving my happy home and the advantages of a
metropolis. If the savage breast is open to ennobling influences, it
shall be soothed and charmed by the music of my discourse. What loftier,
more disinterested task than to reclaim the wanderer, and guide the
penitent in the way wherein he should go? I began this soul-raising
labor some time ago, but an unexpected hitch occurred in the proceeding:
there must be no more such now.

I found Hodge awaiting me at the station: he said that Hartman was
arranging the tackle for to-morrow. The fact is, it is one of Jim's
notions not to keep a horse, but to depend on Hodge for his
communications with the outside world; and another never to see the
railroad when he can help it.

"Well, old man," I said as the effete steed began laboriously to get in
motion, "how is your valuable health?"

"Pooty tollable. How's them gells o' yourn as wanted to foller ye up
here las' time?"

"The ladies are reasonably well, and will be flattered by your
inquiries. How is Mr. Hartman?"

"Wall, Square, I ain't none too satyfied 'bout him. He don't say nothin
to nobody, but he seems kinder low in his mind, like. Ever sence you
played that durn trick on me and him, he's ben someways diffurnt. He--"

"Look here, my aged friend; why should you accuse me of playing durn
tricks on people? To what circumstance do you allude?"

"I ain't alludin' to nothin; I says it out plain. If ye don't know,
Id'no as I'm called to tell ye. Me an' Hartman was gittin on fust rate,
till ye come and upsot us; we ain't used to bein upsot. So when our
commydations wan't good enough for ye an' yer gells, ye went and got
Hartman down thar in the city, or wharever 'twas. An' Id'no what ye done
to him thar, an' I spose it's no good to ask a feller like ye; but he
ain't ben the same man sence. That's how _he_ is. He uster be chipper,
an' peart, an' clost frens with me; an' now he don't say nothin. Ye can
see fur yerself pooty durn soon."

And the native bestowed on me a malign glance. I trotted him out and
entertained myself with his paces (which were livelier than those of his
nag) for the next three hours. Those who like nature unadorned can find
it here. As a specimen of unbridled rancor Hodge deserves a prize. I
believe I have got to the bottom of his luminous intellect--not that it
was worth the labor, if one had anything else to do. Supposing himself
Jim's most intimate friend, he is jealous of me as a rival in that
capacity; and he has never forgiven the slight put on his establishment
in connection with the girls' proposed visit. I partly appeased him by
suggesting that he supply the shanty with a new signboard labeled
'Palace Hotel.' Fortunately I don't have to put up there this time.

Of course he told me a lot of lies. A casual eye could see no change in
the recluse: his head does not hang down on his breast, his locks are
not long and matted, his sighs do not resound through the primeval
forest and scare away the panthers. When you look closely at him, or
have been with him long enough, you can see that he is a little thinner,
a little older, a little less inclined to chaff--as well he may be.
Chaffing is a bad habit anyway, and was his worst fault when I was here
before; so far, his woes have improved him. He met me cordially enough,
but with no wild demonstration: he seems no nearer insanity than last
May. He asked after Mabel, Jane, and the children, but not after
Clarice; nor did I mention her, of course. It was not a very pleasant
evening, for each of us was watching the other to see what he would say.
He knows as well as I do that the enemy has troops in reserve: he is not
so unsuspicious as he was. He did not ventilate his theories to any
great extent, nor did I see my way to expound my great scheme for the
Ascertainment of Truth: the ground ought to be in good condition before
you drop seed of such value upon it.

If I thought things would go on like this, I should begin to grumble;
but we shall probably get broken in to each other in a day or two, and
then I can thaw him out. We talked glittering generalities for a
while--the weather, and the war prospects abroad, and the chances of
getting deer on the other side of a mountain not far away--like any
commonplace boobies at a county fair. Then he proposed for next morning
a stream I had not seen, some distance off, which would necessitate a
start before daybreak: so I pretended to be tired from the journey, and
we turned in early.



XXV.

A WILD BROOK.


Next day we went some miles along a lonely road, and then through the
fields of an abandoned farm. I don't wonder they abandoned it; I am only
sorry for the poor wretch who once cherished the delusive dream of
scratching a living there; when he died or went back to Canada, he
couldn't well be worse off. Nature had but partially reclaimed the land,
and we tramped through weeds and grass up to our middle; one might as
well be wading a fair-sized river. You have no idea of the dew up here
till you have tried it. After a while we struck into the woods, and such
woods you never saw--at least I hope so for your sake. Rocks, big and
little, generally of the most unchristian shapes--not picturesque, but
sprawling; underbrush wherever it had a chance to grow: you could
scarcely find a foot of smooth ground. The worst of it was the way the
trees lay around loose. The region had not been burned over, at least
not for many years; but it did seem to have been cursed, as if Adam's
fall had been enacted there. The monarchs of the forest, for countless
generations, had indulged a depraved propensity to fall also, and across
each other in all possible directions. It was such an abattis as I trust
our men, in the war, never had to fight their way through: here it was
bad enough without anybody to shoot at you. I would go rods out of my
way to get around a great bowlder, and come upon a conglomeration of big
trees which had tumbled about till they made a Virginia fence fifteen
feet high. Climbing is all very well in its way, but I don't like this
kind. The queer thing was that they had not the sense to decay and
crumble; the wood was mostly sound enough to be standing yet. I asked
Hartman why they did not haul off all this timber, and he said there was
no place to haul it to, nor any way to haul it, nor anybody to do the
hauling; that fuel was cheap, and the few inhabitants had plenty nearer
home; and besides, that it was most ornamental and useful where it
was--it afforded exercise to the bodily and spiritual muscles of any
anglers from the city who might come that way like me. "You forget the
characteristics of this region, which are its advantages in my view. You
can get turnpike roads, and teams, and sawmills, nearer home. You come
up here to be away from the busy haunts, you know, and to see Nature in
her native purity. This stream that I am taking you to is very seldom
visited."

"I should think it would be, if this is the way to get to it," I said,
as I fell over a root and barked my nose and knees. "What the deuce did
we come to such a blanked place for?"

"For trout: you said they were what you wanted. The less fishermen, the
more fish. This is the best brook in the county, because it is the least
accessible. I rarely come here myself: I've been saving it up this year
for you."

We went on, our progress marked by frequent delays and accidents; that
it was marked by no profanity was due merely to Jim's reticence and to
my exceptional manners and principles. After what seemed to me about
twenty miles--though he said it was only one and a half--of this
singularly forsaken country, he cried, "Look out now, or you'll fall in.
Here is the brook."

It made noise enough to be heard a long way off, but I thought that was
something else--some kobolds or other abnormal beings, probably, working
at their forges underground. The brook itself was well enough, but it
did not seem to belong there; you could not see it till you were on the
edge of it. I have fished a good many streams, and tramped through all
sorts of woods, but I never saw such a place as that before, and I never
want to again. We had left our rods at home; high-toned anglers who
carry fancy tackle through such regions leave it along the painful way
in small pieces. So we carried merely our baskets--which were
encumbrance enough--and what we had in our pockets. You can cut a pole
anywhere, and it does not want to be a long one either: take your
fly-book if you like, but worms are as good or better. There was no use
of wading: you would be more likely to scare the fish so than by staying
on the bank, where they could never see you; the difficulty was to see
far enough to throw in five feet of line. It was a superior brook--all
but the getting to it, and, as I afterwards found, away from it. If it
could be removed from its loathsome surroundings and put down in a
decent country, I would go there every year. I was going to say that
some of the cascades were forty feet high, till I remembered that trout
cannot climb as far as that.

"Don't lose your balance," said Jim; "these fish are fierce." They were,
in the wilder parts. They would bite like mad, and then wriggle and
wrench themselves off the hook before you could get them up the bank. I
never saw or heard of such ferocity, except in the celebrated scaly
warrior which chased an equally famous fisherman all over an Adirondack
lake, jumped across his boat several times, and, if I remember rightly,
bit him on the nose. No such adventure fell to my lot on this occasion,
though I thought that some of them, when sufficiently near my face,
grinned at me as they parted company. Yet none of them were over half a
pound, and most of them much less. You can see that this healthful
pastime does not produce its usual demoralizing effect on me. When we
reached a flat piece of ground, the water would become quiet and the
manners of the fish more humane, so that they would come out like
chubs. I stood in one spot under a tree, and took twenty-nine in
succession. My sister, looking over these memoirs, suggests that they
probably _were_ chubs; but Hartman, who was behind me then, came up and
saw them, so I have his evidence. He said it was a spawning bed, and I
ought to put the twenty-nine back. Who would have thought him capable of
such mean jealousy? But he cannot play his tricks on me.

About two P.M. he said we had better start.

"Why, we don't want to reach home much before dark," said I.

"No danger of it. It's much worse getting out of this than getting in.
You saw how much path there is: we can't go straight, and it's all
chance where we strike the fields. You'd better eat what you've got, and
drink all you can: there's no water between this and the road."

"Didn't you take landmarks? Look at the mountains all round."

"They are like the mountains about the Dark Tower Childe Roland came to.
I've been here twice before, and missed the way back both times. Nobody
ever got out of here without going a circuit to the right, and taking
his chances. The natives are afraid to come here: they say there are
ghosts--the ghosts of those who got lost of old, and were eaten by
bears. That's how we took so many trout. Look to your belt now, and the
straps of your basket. The last time I was here, the other fellow lost
his fish in the woods, and I made him go back and hunt them up: it was
near night before he found them, and his basket was not much heavier
than yours is now. If we should have to camp out, we can build a fire,
cook some of the fish, and probably avoid freezing: but we'd better try
to get out."

I thought so too, and supposed he was trying to scare me; but the sun
was nearly down when we saw the fields. We went four times too far,
through that beastly region of rocks and dead trees: I think our course
was mainly northwest by south-southeast. At last we got back to the
house, tired and hungry; but Jim's old housekeeper is a pretty good cook
for a native, and there is no better supper than trout that were in the
water the same day.



XXVI.

AN INTRACTABLE PATIENT.


When we were settled down to our pipes, I said, "Is this the way you
treat the friends of your youth, when they entrust life and limb to your
hospitality?"

"I give 'em the best I've got: sorry if it doesn't suit. There's no
Delmonico's round the corner, here. What's the matter with you, old
man?"

"O, it's not your housekeeping: that's all right. But why did you lead
me such a dance, and get me lost in that unconscionable doghole of a
wilderness?"

"Did you ever take so many fish out of a brook in one day before? No, of
course you didn't. Well, that's why. I told you it would be a rough
expedition; but I thought you came here to rough it. You didn't expect
balls and a casino, did you? You were here last May."

"Last May I saw nothing as bad as this to-day. You haven't been playing
it on me, I hope? Jim, have you got any grudge against me?"

"What should I have? You're deucedly suspicious and sensitive--far more
so than I was with you. I believe I let you play on me to your heart's
content, and never complained--did I?"

"Jim, I don't like this. There's a change in you: Hodge said so, and I
didn't believe him. You're not the same man."

"O, we all change--from year to year, and from day to day. But I ought
never to have left these woods, Bob, and that's the truth. You should
have let me stay here as I was."

"I meant it in all kindness, for your good, Jim. Surely you'll do me the
justice to acknowledge that."

"No doubt. But your philanthropic experiments are apt to be damnably
expensive to the patient."

"You couldn't be much worse than you were, according to your own
account. Any change ought to have been for the better."

"That was your assumption. Do I strike you as being changed for the
better?"

"Well, no, you don't--not to put too fine a point upon it."

He certainly does not. His whole manner is altered. His former
gentleness has given way to rough harshness. You have seen how he treats
me. It may be his best, as he says; if so, his best is far from good.
His bitterness used to be, if I may say so, in the abstract, and leveled
against abstractions; now it seems to have a painfully concrete
character and aim. His estrangement from the scheme of things, or from
his kind at least, was purely intellectual, leaving his heart no more
affected than the heart usually is by brain-disorders; now it is moral.
He is like a man tormented by remorse, or regrets as savage. But I think
I know a cure for his complaint.

After a pause he said, "I don't want to blame you, Bob, and I don't
propose to whine. Nor was it any great matter what came to me, wherever
it might come from. I thought I was done with the world, and had nothing
to fear from it, except being bored and disgusted. There was only one
thing I cared about, and that I supposed I could keep. I was mistaken.
It was my little ewe lamb--all I had; and they took it from me."

"I thought your live stock was confined to dogs, and a cow, and the
tomcat--by the way, I don't see him any more. I didn't know you went
into sheep. Was Tommy the ewe-lamb, and did the dogs play Nathan and
David with him?"

This I said, thinking to cheer him up a bit; but he only scowled.
Really, I must remember Mabel's caution about telling the wrong stories
and laughing in the wrong places. "Well, Jim, what was 'it' that you
valued so, and who were 'they' who took it away?"

"The prince of the power of the air; the spirit that walks in darkness,
and rules in the children thereof. The beautiful order of things
generally, and their incurable depravity. All these are one, and the
name doesn't matter. If you urged me to it, I might say that you had
played a very passable David to my Uriah."

"Who--I? I'm not a sheep-stealer. What would I want to hurt you for?
Jim, you're joking, and it's a joke of doubtful taste."

"Do I look like it? _You_ might find a joke in this: you can find them
everywhere. I can't."

"As I told you, you take Life too seriously. If you will be more
specific, and tell me what you have lost, perhaps I can help you to find
it."

"Some losses are irrecoverable. You'd better let it alone, Bob; you'd
better have let me alone before, as I've said. You mean well enough; but
it's ill meddling with another man's life. You don't know what
responsibility you take, or what effect you may produce. I don't say
that it's the worst of all possible worlds, but it is such that each of
us had best go his own way, and keep clear of the others. When one
forgets that safe rule, and mixes with his kind, only harm seems to come
of it."

"If that is so, I might better have staid at home now. Methinks your
written hand is different from your spoken. I mean--"

"O yes, when I write I try to come out of myself and be decently civil;
and so I should to a chance visitor for five minutes, or an hour maybe.
But I can't keep it up all day--not to say for a week. You'll have to
see the facts, and bear with them. I don't want to be rough on you; but
I'm not myself--or not what I was before, or supposed myself to be. It's
all in the plan, no doubt; we are fulfilling the beneficent intentions
of Nature. Perhaps I'm breaking down, and the end is not so far off as
we thought. If so, so much the better: we'll escape that sad old age you
prophesied."

Now I am not lacking in humanity, but it does not afflict me as it did
six months ago to hear Jim go on in this way. I know what is the matter
with him now, and what he is driving at, though I must assume ignorance
for a while yet. The patient must tell his symptoms, and then the doctor
will give him the physic he needs, and proceed to make a new man of him.
That is what I am after now, and the good work must not be spoiled by
undue haste. So I put on a decorous air of sympathy, and said,

"That's all bosh, you know. If anything is the matter with you
physically, I ought to hear about it; but I don't believe there is. As
for the mind, we are all subject to gloomy moods and periods of
depression; but they pass, Jim--they pass. You believed in friendship
before; hadn't you better tell me what you think ails you?"

"I can't talk about it, except in this roundabout way: what's the use?
Best keep to broad principles: the particular case only illustrates the
general law. I knew it of old: what business had I to expose myself
again? What would you do with a child who will keep on playing about
moving cars, or mill machinery? Let him fall under the wheels, and rid
the earth of an idiot."

"O no: pull him out in time, and he'll learn better. Well, Jim, you
might at least tell me what hand I had in this catastrophe."

"O, none, none whatever: how should you? You never laid any plots for
me, and used me for your mirth. You never devised an elaborately
concealed ambush, and smoothed it over till I was in the snare. That
would be foreign to your open and candid nature. It is very good fun to
practice on unsuspecting innocence; but you are far above that."

"See here, Hartman: you talk as if my house were a den of iniquity. If
so, I was not aware of it till now. Your ill opinion has not thus far
been reciprocated. We entertain none but kind feelings toward you: we
all regretted your hasty departure. You were received as a friend, and
treated as such, I believe. My wife and sister often speak of you: you
could command their fullest sympathy in this, or any trouble, real or
imaginary."

"That I never doubted: I owe them nothing but pleasant memories, and
thankful good will.--You need not stare at me so: I make no charges, and
imply none.--Well, if you must have it, I can say that every member of
your family has my absolute respect,--down to the twins; do you
understand? If I have any grudge, it is toward you alone."

It was plain that he forced himself to say this--or some of it--as if it
were coming perilously near a name he could not utter. He is having his
bad time now, as I had mine last week. It is his own fault: he has no
need to be so censorious. He _had_ to say what he did, or there would be
trouble: some things a man cannot stand, and my best friend would be my
friend no longer, if he ventured to reflect upon the Princess.

"I'm glad to hear you say so: the difficulty is simple then, and easily
settled. You've got no pistols, of course, and I didn't bring mine. I'll
take your rifle, and you can borrow Hodge's old shotgun: if it bursts,
it won't be much loss--only you mustn't come too near me with it.
There's no danger of interference from the police up here, I judge? But
I say, what shall we do for a surgeon?"

"There you go again, turning everything into a jest. Can you never be
serious, man?"

"Try to say something original, James: that is stale. Jane asks me that
about six times a day, and Mabel frequently, and--and the others. I was
serious with you just now, or nearly: had I been entirely so, I might
have knocked the top of your head off, and then they would have blamed
me at home. You see, they think you are more of a man than you show
yourself. To be serious all the time is the most serious mistake one can
make in life; and I want no worse example than you. When I go back to
town I shall write the Decline and Fall of an Alleged Seeker after
Truth, who missed it by taking things too seriously. You are too stiff
and narrow and rigid and dogmatic: you take one point of view and stick
to it like grim death. You can't get at Truth in that way."

"I suppose you would stand on your head and look at it upside down, and
then turn a back somersault and view it from between your legs."

"You express it inelegantly, but you have caught the idea. Truth is not
a half pound package done up in brown paper and permanently deposited in
one corner of the pantry shelf; she is big and various and active. While
you have your head fixed in the iron grip and are staring at the sign
'Terms Cash,' she is off to the other side of the room--and you don't
make a good picture at all in that constrained attitude. Your mind has
got to be nimble and unbiassed if you want to overtake her, because she
is always changing: that is, she appears in new and--to you--unexpected
places. I gave you a hint of this in May, and another last summer, but
you seem to have forgotten it. O, I could sit here all night and
explain it to you, if you were in the right frame of mind."

"No doubt: happily I am not. What has this to do with your defence of
buffoonery, and apotheosis of clowns and pantomimes?"

"A pantomime is a very good thing in its way. But that is your
illustration; I would rather say opera bouffe, which is probably the
truest copy of Life--if we were limited to one kind. But we are not: I
tell you, we must have all sorts. There is tragedy in Life, and
comedy--that more especially; a little of the other goes a long way. But
they are always mixed--not kept apart, and one alone taken in large and
frequent doses, after your fashion. Shakespeare understood his business
pretty well; though, if I had been he, I would have put in more of those
light and graceful touches which hit us where we live, and make the
whole world kin."

"Like the Dromios, or the Carriers in Henry Fourth."

"Or the Gravediggers; they are more to your purpose. I want you to see
that Humor is the general solvent and reconciler, the key that opens
most locks: a feeling for it, well developed, would be money in your
pocket. Things don't go to suit you, and you think your powers of the
air are frowning, the universe a vault, and the canopy a funeral pall:
perhaps the powers are only laughing at you, and want you to smile with
them. If you could do that, it would let in light on your darkness. Any
situation, properly viewed, has its amusing elements: if you ignore
them, you fail to understand the whole. What did Heine say about his
irregular Latin nouns? That his knowledge of them, in many a gloomy
hour, supplied much inward consolation and delight. You ought to read
him more, Jim."

"And Josh Billings, and Bill Nye. Well, that's enough of your wisdom for
to-night. We must arrange for to-morrow. Are you up to another
scramble?"

"Not like to-day's. Let's take in some decent scenery along with the
trout."

"There is a wild gorge ten miles off, with a brook in it. We can take
Hodge's mare, put up at a house, and work down the ravine. It's not so
bad as the last place, nor so good for fish." I agreed, and we went to
bed.

You may think I am humoring Hartman too much, and letting him shirk the
subject. But I have a week--more if necessary--and I don't want to be
too hard on him. He'll thaw out by degrees: so long as he doesn't blame
Clarice, it is all right. He has got my idea about the way to discover
Truth now, and it will work in his brain, and soften him. I know Jim: he
never seems to take hold at first, but he comes round in time. You just
wait, and you will see whether I know what I am about.



XXVII.

SCENERY IMPROVED.


The next day we drove to a farmhouse which had annexed some rather
decent fields for that region. On one side was tolerably level ground,
on the other a cut between two savage mountains. Down this we made our
way, taking presently the bed of a small brook: woodroad or footpath
never can be there. For a while there was room to walk on dry land: soon
the cliffs closed in upon us, on the right rising sheer, on the left
sloping, but steeper than I would want to climb. At first the stream was
very shallow and narrow, and the fish small and scarce; but think of the
creatures that must come there to drink at night! It was the only
watercourse for miles, Jim said. He pointed out the tracks of a bear or
two, and he thought of a panther; but it is not here I should choose to
hunt--your game might have you at a disadvantage. He tried to make me
believe that even now some of these beasts might catch us; but that was
simply to discourage me from going after them, later on: Jim does not
like the chase. _My_ jokes are in better taste: as he is now, I believe
the bears could beat him in manners. Near noon we found a place to sit
down, where we could see a little of the crags, and proceeded to
assimilate our frugal lunch.

"Hartman," said I, "I should think you would want to live up to your
scenery, as the ladies do to their blue china. Look at this majestic
cliff, whose scarred and aged front, frowning upon these lonesome trout
since the creation, has never been profaned by mortal foot."

"Probably not. People very seldom come here, and when they do, they
wouldn't be fools enough to try to climb up. They couldn't do it, and it
wouldn't pay if they could."

"Well, it is grand, anyway, and it ought to quicken your soul to grand
thoughts. In such a scene you ought to feel stirring within you noble
sympathies and resolves."

"I can't see much grandeur in human nature, Bob, nor any in myself. If
you had thought yourself a gentleman, and suddenly awaked to the fact
that you were a cad and a scoundrel, you would be apt to change your
tune, and drop the high notes."

Oho, I thought, he is coming to the point. While I was meditating how to
utilize this confidence, a small piece of rock fell from above upon the
edge of my toes: if it had been a large piece, and fallen on my head,
you would have missed this moral tale. When I had expressed my
sentiments, he said, "I can't insure you against accidents,--any more
than you did me. If I had brought you here in spring, you might growl.
The rocks are loose then, and it is dangerous. A man was killed once
just below here, and his body never found till the year after." This
trivial occurrence seemed to turn his thoughts away from the important
topic, and I could not get him back to it.

It was a warm day for the season: once in a while it will be hotter in
these sylvan solitudes than it is in New York. While we were in the
brook we did not mind that, for we could drop every five minutes and
drink. I suppose I consumed some nine gallons of _aqua pura_ during the
morning: you can do this with impunity, because there is no ice in it,
and the bacteria are of the most wholesome kind. But by and by we
finished with the gorge: then we had to go across a sort of common, up
hill. There was no water now, and it was hot. After more trees, and a
steeper ascent, Jim said, "You'll get a view now." We came out on an
open place, with steep rocks beneath. Before us lay a wilderness, with
clearings here and there, and a background of mountains. The forests
were in their early November bloom; the country looked one great flower.
In the Alps or the Rockies they can give this odds, and beat it easily,
but it was pretty well for eastern America--and an occasion to be
improved. "Jim, if the crags don't appeal to you, this might. If you
don't feel up to moral grandeur, why not go in for peace? Let your
perturbed spirit catch the note of harmony from this landscape, and
drink in purity from this air."

"That is all very fine, and you would make a pretty fair exhorter--with
practice. But natural theology is not in my line. These hills look
nicely now, but it will be different within a month. If I am to learn
peace from a fine day, what from a stormy one? Nature changes for the
worse like us, and with less shame: she has no regrets for the past, no
care to keep up appearances or make a show of consistency."

"I fear you have been learning of Nature on her wrong side then. Half
confidences are in bad taste, Jim. What is it you keep hinting at? It
ought to be murder, from the airs you put on about it."

"Leave that for to-night, when we have nothing better to attend to.
There is another brook here we ought to try."



XXVIII.

DIPLOMACY.


We got back reasonably early, much less tired than the day before. Now,
I thought, for some progress. "Well, Jim, you wanted to unfold your tale
to-night."

"That is, you wanted to ask me about it. You can't do any good, and I
don't find speech a safety-valve: but I suppose it is my duty to supply
you with amusement. So get on, and say what is on your mind."

He takes this tone to conceal his morbid yearning to ease his bosom of
its perilous stuff: I will have his coil unwound pretty soon. If I were
not here, he would probably be whispering her name under the solemn
stars, and shouting it in tragic tones on the lonely mountain-top;
sighing it under the waterfalls, and expecting the trout to echo it. He
talks about fishing the home brook the first rainy day, but he must have
scared all the fish away from there with his sentiment. I must remember
to notice whether 'C. E.' is carved about the forest. He will pretend to
hold back; but I will get it out of him.--I made this pause long enough
to let him prepare for the examination on which depends his admission
into the civil service, so to speak--he will have to be more civil and
serviceable than hitherto if he is to pass it, and follow me back to
town--and indeed his whole future.

"You say you have lost something valuable. All you had, you said it was;
but that is nonsense. You have health, and more money than you want, and
brains and education, of which you are making very poor use, and
friends, whom you are treating badly. I can't think what you have
lost--unless it was your heart, perhaps." This I brought in in the way
of afterthought, as if it had suddenly occurred to me. He started, but
assumed a tone of cynical indifference.

"My heart? Would I sit down and howl over that? What use have I for a
heart, any more than for a poodle? And if I had one, what does it matter
what may have become of it?"

"Strayed or stolen, probably. Such things have happened, especially when
persons of the opposite sex are about. They are apt to attach themselves
to poodles, and vice versa. But if you give me your honor that a loss of
heart is not the cause of these lamentations--"

"Why will you press that point, Bob? What is done can't be undone, and
what is broken can't be mended."

"And what is crooked can't be made straight, and what is wanting can't
be supplied; though these things are done every day and every hour. Why
any able-bodied lady of my acquaintance, even those at my own house,
limited as is their experience of the world's devious ways--Jane, I
mean, or Mabel--could tell you how."

"Robert, I am too old for these follies."

"James, you are the youngest man I ever knew. Any boy of eighteen would
be apt to know better how to manage such matters, and--if you will
pardon the frankness you employ yourself--to exhibit more sense."

He stared a little, and I gave him time to recover. Then he took up his
parable, defensively falling back on the abstract, after his manner.

"Of course I have thought of these things, Bob, and the philosophy of
them, if they can be said to have any. They seem much like everything
else. Taking Life in its unfinancial aspects, men do things, not because
the particular things are worth doing, but as an apology for the
unwarranted liberty they take in being alive. 'I am: why am I?' said the
youth at prayer-meeting, and everybody gave it up. As an effort toward
answering his own conundrum, he entered the ministry. Being alive, we
have to make a pretense of doing something, which else might better
remain undone. That is why books are written, and controversies waged;
it explains most of our intellectual and moral activities. So with
society: time must be killed, and we go out for an evening, though we
are dreadfully bored and gain nothing at all. So, I suppose, with what
is called love. The emotional part of our nature, which is the absurdest
part of all, finds or fancies itself unemployed: a void craves and aches
in the breast, and the man, as an old farmer once expressed it, is
'kinder lovesick for suthin he ain't got and dunno what.' Almost any
material of the other sex, if you allow a little for taste and
temperament, will fill the void--in a way, and for a time at least.
Darby marries Joan and is content, though any other woman would have
served his turn as well. With us of the finer feelings and higher
standards, the only difference is that we rant more and sophisticate
more, as belongs to our wider range. No one ever felt thus
before--because the feeling is new to us, and newer each time it comes:
so Festus protests to each successive mistress, perjuring himself in all
sincerity. Nor was any mistress ever so beautiful and divine as this
one, appointed to possess and be adored by us. All that is purely a
mental exercise: carry the illusion a little farther, and it might be
practised as well on a milliner's lay-figure. 'He that loves a coral
cheek or a ruby lip admires' is simply a red hot donkey, Bob. Nature
provides the imbecile desire, Propinquity furnishes an object at random.
Imagination does all the rest."

"Just so, Jim. I am glad to find you again capable of such lucid and
exhaustive analysis. But how about what is called _falling_ in love,
when the wild ass has not been craving to have his void filled up at
all, but is suddenly brought down unawares by an Amazonian arrow?"

"He was no less a donkey that he didn't know it, and it only comes
harder for him. The fool ought to have been better acquainted with his
own interior condition; then he might have eased his descent to his
royal thistle, secured his repast or gone without it, and got back to
his stable with a whole skin. Otherwise it is just the same. The heart
is an idiot baby, Robert: it feeds on pap and thinks it is guzzling
nectar on Olympus."

"Exactly, James; exactly. As you say, it is our fertile fancy that does
it all. You and I can conjure up women far more charming than we ever
met on brick or carpet. If we only had the raw material and knew how to
work it up, we could beat these flesh and blood girls off the field
before breakfast. Their merits and attractions are mainly such as we
generously invest them with; and often they take a mean advantage of our
kindness."

I glanced at him sideways, and he flushed and winced. "I would not
derogate from women, nor rate myself so high. I meant only that we
imagine--well, monstrous heaps of nonsense. For instance, we often fancy
that they care for us when they don't--and whose fault is that but ours?
There's a deal of rot talked about lords of creation--when a man isn't
able to be lord of himself. O, women are very well in their way: I've
nothing against them. They are just as good as we--better, very likely;
and wiser, for they don't idealize us as we do them."

"Yes, but this idealizing faculty is a very useful one to have. I see
you must have found a Blowsalinda on some of these hill farms:--why,
man, you're as red as her father's beets. I congratulate you, Jim: I do,
heartily. As you say, the tender passion is merely a spark struck by the
flint of Opportunity on the steel of Desire; and for the rest, you can
enrich her practical native virtues with the golden hues of your
imagination. She'll suit you just as well as any of these proud cityfied
damsels--after you've sent her a term or two to boarding school; and
she'll be more content to stay up here than the city girl would."

I paused to view my work, and was satisfied. The shadows of wrath and
disgust were chasing each other over my friend's intelligent
countenance. You see, I get so browbeaten at home that I must avenge
myself on somebody now and then; and of course, it has to be a man. And
then it is all for Jim's good, and he deserves all he is getting. So I
went on.

"But seeing this is so, Jim, you ought to be content; and what means all
your wild talk of last night and this morning, as if you had something
on your conscience? You haven't--you wouldn't--No, you're not that kind
of a man. Well then, what in thunder have you been making all this fuss
about, and pitching into me for?"

He suppressed something with a gulp: I think it was not an expression of
gratitude or affection. "Confound you, Bob; one never knows how to take
you. In the name of Satan and all the devils, what are you after now?"

"I'm not after anything in the name of the gentlemen you mention; they
are no friends of mine, nor objects of my regard. Put a better name on
it, and I'm after getting you to say what you mean, as we agreed--though
it seems to be hard work. Who's playing tricks upon travellers, and
misleading a confiding friend now? I never knew such a man for beating
about the bush, and talking nonsense." (I remembered this apothegm of
Jane's, which sounded well, and fitted in nicely just here.)

He appeared to take himself to pieces, shake them well, and put them
together carefully, before he spoke. "Perhaps my language was obscure,
or even enigmatical; but I thought you might understand. Forgive me if I
have been harsh, Bob, not to say uncivil: I have gone through a good
deal, until I hardly know myself. It is base enough for a man to be thus
at the mercy of mere externals--and I used to think I could practice the
Stoic doctrine! But to be human is to be a pitiable, and, if you like, a
despicable creature. I knew a case that may serve in a way to
explain--not to justify--my treatment of you. Say it was years ago; the
man met, in a friend's house, a lady who showed him the utmost kindness.
She was used to all deference, till she and every one regarded it as her
right--as it was. And he--it's not pleasant to tell--he ended by
insulting her. I always understood how that fellow never could bear to
mention her name, nor to hear it; how any reminder of her, or contact
with the friends through whom he met her, would upset him. He would get
confused, and some of his self-reproaches would fall on the wrong heads.
I suppose you never knew how that could be, Bob."

"I never was in exactly such a scrape as that; but I've been near enough
to imagine, and make allowances. Your friend must have thought a good
deal of the lady, in spite of his insulting her. He apologized, of
course?"

"Certainly, and then took himself off, and kept out of her way ever
after. It was all he could do."

"Just how did he insult her? It could hardly have been intentional."

"O no. He had had misfortunes, or something of the kind, and she took a
humane interest in him--tried to help him, no doubt. Women often do such
things, I believe; it is very creditable to them, but liable to be
dangerous in a case like this, for men are sometimes fools enough to
misinterpret it. Well, this particular beast took it into his wooden
head that she cared for him--in a personal way, you know; and--you
wouldn't think a man could be such an infernal ape, would you?--he told
her so."

"He planned beforehand to tell her so--thought that was the right card
to play, the proper way of wooing?"

"You make him worse than he was. It came out unawares--he was surprised
into it. The conversation took a certain turn, and he misunderstood for
a moment. That was all, and it was quite enough."

"What did the lady do then?"

"She was naturally and properly indignant and contemptuous; made him see
his place. He took it, and took his departure."

"Did it never enter your friend's wise head that he might have
mismanaged the affair in some other way than the one you mention; for
instance, in going off so speedily?"

"No other course was possible. Enough of this, Bob: he bore the penalty
of his offence."

"Excuse me: it's a curious case, and as a student of human nature I like
to study such, and master all the facts. You say it never occurred to
him that the worst part of his offence might be his levanting in such
haste? that it might have been a more appropriate act of penitence to
wait a day, or five minutes, and give the lady a chance to forgive him?"

"How can you make such low suggestions? The man was not a scoundrel at
heart: at least he had always passed for a gentleman before, and thought
himself such."

"For one who goes about insulting ladies, he was a singularly modest
youth. So he never thought afterwards that there might have been a basis
of fact for the fancy that made the trouble?"

"Drop the subject, will you? I brought it in merely as an illustration,
that you might see how a man can be affected--even his character
changed--by the recollection of such a blunder. It would destroy his
self-respect."

"Naturally. But self-respect is too good a thing to lose forever, and
this illustration of yours may serve to pass the time till you are ready
to talk of your own affairs, which you say it somehow illustrates. Did
your friend never think that the girl might have led him on, either
seriously or for mere amusement? If she did, that would be some excuse
for him."

"I tell you he was not that kind of a blackguard. All sorts of thoughts
will offer themselves to a man in such a state of mind, I suppose; but
he knew her too well to admit any that lowered her. O no, he saw the
fault was all his. At the moment he was bewildered, and could not
realize the sudden change, nor what he had done; so his apology (if I
remember that part of his story) may have been inadequate in manner,
however suitable in words. Apart from that, which could not be mended
afterwards, he did all he possibly could."

"I beg to differ, Jim. I think this fellow did much worse than you seem
to realize. Stare as much as you like: if he is still a friend of yours,
I am sorry for him, as for one who has committed a most outrageous
blunder and a nearly unpardonable wrong. What right had he to think of
himself alone? You say the girl had shown goodness of heart, and a real
interest in him? Then suppose the interest went no further than he
thought: what business had he to burden her mind with a broken
friendship and the feeling that she had helped to spoil his life? Or
suppose the interest in him did go further. What do you and he know
about a woman's feelings?"

He was pale now, and wild in the eyes. "Your last supposition is
impossible. For the other--you may possibly be right. He never thought
she would care--or that he could do anything but what he did."

"A nice lot he is then. If I were you, I would write to him to-morrow
and give him a lecture--supposing they are both alive and free. And if
this affair was anyway parallel to your own, of which you won't talk, I
hope it may be a lesson to you--a warning, if you need one. Do you
suppose women, of the high-minded and superior sort, have no hearts, no
consciences, no sense of the duties of humanity? They have a blanked
sight more than you and your friend seem to have, I can tell you. You'd
better sleep on this, and wake with some enlarged ideas. As you decline
to tell me anything of yourself, and so I can't help you there, I'm
going to bed."



XXIX.

SUBMISSION.


Next day Jim was haggard and restless, and wanted to potter about the
house. I took him to the largest stream in those parts, when our rods
came in play; and there he did some of the worst fishing I ever
saw--worse than I did in May, when I had him on my mind. He has himself
on his mind now, and some one else too. He kept trying to talk, which is
impossible when you are wading. After he had lost a two-pounder and
fallen into a deep hole, I got out on the bank to avoid a place where
the water went down hill too fast--something between rapids and a
cascade. He came and sat on a log by me, looking disconsolate.

"Jim," I said, "You're pretty wet. Perhaps you'd better go home and
write that letter."

"I don't see my way yet. How can you be so positive?"

"Because I've heard the story before, and know more about it than you
do. I had a friend who was there at the time too. O, it caused some
talk, I can tell you. Did your hero suppose it would interest nobody but
himself?"

"Yes, as I told you. Good heavens! You don't mean--"

"O, no public talk; only the family, and people who knew the facts and
could be trusted. They were all sorry for him too; they thought he was
such an ass. You see a performance like his can't end where it begins;
it has consequences."

"You say, 'for him too.' They couldn't be sorry for the lady--why should
they?"

"You are pigheaded, Jim. What did I tell you last night? This thing put
its mark on her, in a way no man has a right to mark a woman without
her consent. See that trout jump, in the pool down yonder? I must get
him."

"Wait a moment. What I told you about could not have been known unless
the lady told it; and she was not of that sort. I don't understand."

"Decidedly you don't. I can't waste a day like this on second-hand
gossip, Jim; as you said yesterday, the evening is the time for talk.
You go home and change your clothes and rest your brain. I know my way
here, and I want to fill my basket. I'll get back in time for supper.
Here, you can take these."

And so I sent him off. He is biddable and humble now, and will be more
so presently; in a kind of transition state, he is. He came back in the
afternoon, and sat on the bank while I pulled out the biggest fish yet.
I carried home the best basket we've had; not so many specimens, but far
finer ones, than from that Devil's Brook in the Land Accursed. In
fishing, as in other things, a good deal depends on your state of mind.

That evening I dressed for dinner, as far as I could, like a gentleman;
not that any visitors were likely to drop in, but I thought it due to
the occasion. Jim, having plenty of leisure at command, and noting my
manoeuvres, did the same. He ate little, but I paid due attention to the
trout and claret, and took my time to it; though we do not have a lot of
courses and ceremony at meals up here, nor are such necessary. Then we
settled ourselves in easy chairs before the great fireplace, where pine
logs were roaring: the nights are cold now, and this is one comfort of
these out-of-the-way places, where fuel is plenty.

As soon as he had a chance, he began. "There is some mystery about this,
Bob. You wouldn't answer my question this morning."

"Now that I have dined, James, I'll answer any questions you
like--provided they are such as may fitly be put to the father of a
family. So fire away."

"First then, how do you come to know so much about this?"

"Because I was there. O, not eavesdropping, not as a spy--that is out of
my line; but purely, and luckily as it proves, by accident." And I told
him all about it. I will not say that his jaw dropped, but his facial
apparatus elongated.

"Then Cl--she knows that you know?"

"Not a word. What do you take me for? How could I tell her?"

"But--the others know?"

"Certainly not. You have the most extraordinary notions, Hartman. It was
her secret, not theirs. If you had been in my place, perhaps you would
have written to the papers, or told the story at family prayers. Can't
you see that it was impossible for me to let her know till I had had it
out with you?"

"And you have stood by me, knowing all this--you are still my friend?"

"Well, if I had had merely myself to consider, my natural loathing and
contempt for the beast, ape, idiot and scoundrel who was capable of such
conduct might have led me to extremities. O, I endorse all the
compliments you have paid yourself. But there is my interesting family;
the twins have quite a regard for you, and Herbert. And so has my wife;
she doesn't know you as well as I do. And my sister--a superior person,
though too soft-hearted, whom I cherish with a deep fraternal
affection--she has been besieging me with intercessions, and melting my
obduracy with her tears; and that for one who has made all this coil,
and whose qualities have been too well enumerated by himself."

"I will try to be more deserving of her kindness, Bob: I told you she
was the right sort. But you said just now they did not know."

"Only by surmise, and inference from your hasty departure, and
from--subsequent developments. Women are not wholly fools, Jim: they are
just as good as we; perhaps better, and sometimes wiser. O, they are
very well in their way. Let us bear with them, James, and allow for
their redeeming traits."

"Don't hit a man with his own words when he is down, Bob. But--there is
Another, whom you've not mentioned."

"So there is: you didn't mention her, either. Come to think of it, there
is another member of my household, whom we have overlooked in this
discussion, yet to whom I owe some sort of consideration."

"Of course I know who is first with you: I am content to come in a bad
second. You haven't--I suppose--any word--from Her?"

"What do you take her for? Ladies can't do that sort of thing. See here,
Hartman, don't get on that line again. She is used to due respect."

His face fell. "I know: I mean nothing else. What have you to say to me
then?"

"Say? Haven't I said enough? Confound you, it's your turn to say things
now."

"I thought I had said a good deal. O, I am ready to make my submission,
if it will do any good. Imagine the rest, can't you? Don't be playing
your games on me now, Bob."

There was a tone of pathos in this: I took a good look at him, and saw
that he was doing the contrite as well as I could expect. He will do it
better without a middleman when he gets the chance; he'll hardly lapse
into the other style again soon. All I have to do is to secure her
position meanwhile.

"Well, what comes next? I believe I am on the witness-stand now."

"Tell me about Her, Bob."

"She is changed. Of old, one never knew what to expect of her. Now she
is different. No stale customs about her, my boy."

"'Nor custom stale her infinite variety,' I suppose you mean. Yes, so I
found--but that was my own fault. Some might prefer your version. But
you don't imply--"

"No, I don't. You must find out for yourself about that. I thought you
knew that she is chary of her confidences, and that none of us is given
to seeking them. She has mentioned your name once in all this time, and
then to say that you and I were great clumsy things--which is true;
measurably of me, of you most eminently."

"What chance is there for me then?" He was discouraged again. Jim is so
foolish; he gets exalted and depressed on the slightest provocation.
Perhaps I was like that once, but it was long ago.

"Well, she knows I am here; do you suppose I would have come if she
objected? Make what you can out of that.--You needn't make too much of
it either: go slow, now. You see she doesn't like to be thwarted in her
benevolent plans; and you were a wild man, to be reclaimed and
civilized. Instead of submitting like a decent savage, you broke loose
all at once, and left her to feel that she had done you harm instead of
good. You are the only fellow who ever gave her any trouble: I can't see
how you had the cheek to do it. Why, man, you have got to learn manners
if you want to associate with that kind. She could do better than you
any day; but a wilful woman must have her way, and a gentleman usually
lets her have it.--Now there you go again. I didn't say what her way
might be in this case, did I? How should I know what she wants of you?
Probably just to smooth you down, and be friends, and see you behave.
The other supposition, as you said last night, is too wildly impossible.
You ought to be glad to meet her on any terms she may choose to make,
and thankful and proud to undergo any penance of her imposing, after
your conduct, and the annoyance it has caused her and all of us. Most
women, in her place, would let you stay in the woods and eat your heart
out. Perhaps she will yet; you needn't look so pleased. All I know is
that you owe her reparation. You ought to go on your knees from here to
the avenue, even if you have to come back on foot."

"You have gained in insight since August, Bob. You express my views with
accuracy--though one can hardly talk of these matters to another man. I
always honored you for holding Her in such esteem. But practically, what
am I to do?"

"That is not easy to say, James: it can hardly be plain sailing. If
women were not more forgiving than we, bless their little hearts, you
would have no chance to do anything. And the finer grain they are of,
the more embarrassing it becomes; with her sort it is peculiarly
difficult. I know, from long and trying experience; I have to mind my
p's and q's, I tell you. If you had taken up with one of these farmers'
daughters, as you nearly led me to believe last night--there's nothing
to get mad about--it would have been much simpler and easier for you. If
it were that other man, I should say to him, Write to the lady, if you
think that safe: I don't advise it. But if you had a friend who knew her
well, and was a person of capacity and resource and great tact and
approved discretion, and willing to employ all these qualities in your
service--"

"O, I'll leave the affair in your hands: I don't see what else I can do.
I'm everlastingly obliged to you, of course."

"Yes, I should think you would be; a nice mess you'd make of it by
yourself. You have no idea how this thing has weighed on my mind ever
since you left us at Newport; nor how awkward it is, even for me, to
approach a girl of her sensitive pride and highminded delicacy on such a
subject. But I'm ready to go on suffering in your cause, James, even if
it be for years."

"I hope it won't take as long as that. Hurry it up, old man, now you've
got a start. Don't let the injury to Her and the weight on my conscience
go on accumulating. What you do, do quickly."

"So you'd like me to rush off to-morrow? There's gratitude. No, sir; I
must think the matter over, and I may have to consult you about details.
Besides, they are all exercised about my health, and expect me to make
my week out. Your case is not a strong one, James; all depends on the
way it is put. I will not ruin it by indecent pressure or undue haste.
Leave it to me, and let sweet sleep revisit the weary head whence she
has fled so long. In simpler language, keep still and do as I tell you,
and don't bother."

I took pen and ink to my room, and indited a home epistle. It informed
Mabel that I was progressing toward recovery, and expected to ship some
large trout, carefully packed in ice; also that she was a true prophet,
and the other business in hand was moving just as she had foretold. I
enclosed a brief note to Clarice, which said simply, "O. K. Ever thine,"
and signed it with my initials and Jim's: and a cartoon for Jane, which
I sat up late to design and execute. It represented a small lover,
transfixed with a large arrow, prostrating himself before a Haughty
Damsel of High Degree. This work of art, with the subjoined effusions,
will keep up their spirits till I get home.



XXX.

WASTED ADVICE.


I will not tell you what more we did that week, nor how many wagonloads
of big game we bagged when we sallied forth with guns to make war upon
the monarchs of the forest: perhaps their hides and horns are on view in
my library, and perhaps not. Nor will you expect any more scenery of me,
seeing how I have groaned and sweated to produce the pen-pictures you
have already enjoyed: I don't desire to advertise Jim's retreat too
much, and spoil its seclusion. He was impatient and restive, but feeling
much better than when I came, and ready to do anything I wished--of
course. But he wanted to talk all the time, and ask questions: he kept
me busy pacifying him, till I was tired. Rational conversation on
serious subjects is good, but to be thus forever harping on small
personal feelings and relations makes one realize that Silence is
Golden. Clarice never acts in that way: I wish Jim would have some
occasional flashes of taciturnity, like Macaulay.

The day before I left, while we were burying a calf I had shot by
mistake, he said, "Bob, do you remember my asking you once, in a purely
suppositious way, what you would do if I were to quarrel with--Her?"

"O yes. But the farmer that owned this late lamented beast ought to be
paid for it."

"Never mind that. I'll attend to it after you're gone, and save your
feelings. Well, you said you'd stand by both of us."

"Hang my feelings: do you suppose I expend feelings on a misguided
heifer? It got in the bushes where you said I might look for a deer, and
here's a ten on account; you can write me if it costs more. My
sympathies, James, are reserved for nobler animals when they make worse
mistakes."

"Yes, as I have proved. You've kept your word; but you were pretty rough
on me."

"Your conduct was pretty rough on all of us. I had to open your eyes;
and I don't want you to try those tricks again. If you do, I may have to
shoot you by mistake."

"You would have been welcome to shoot me last week. Why did you leave me
so long in the dark, Bob?"

"O, the deuce! Were explanations due from our side? It's true you need
somebody to take care of you; but, you see, I have others to look after,
and so can't devote myself exclusively to you: you'd better get a
keeper. It was Jane who urged my coming up here. I always meant to, but
I couldn't till Clarice suggested it."

"She suggested it, did she? You never told me that before."

"I ought not to have told you now, if it makes you fly off the handle in
this way. She merely said to Mabel, no doubt in all sincerity, that I
looked badly and needed a change; she said nothing about my coming here.
She has a regard for me; whether you are anybody in her eyes remains to
be seen. Don't jump to conclusions, now. The Princess is not a person to
take liberties with, as I've learned by repeated lessons."

"I know it, Bob: one lesson is enough for me. I suppose it would hardly
do for me to go back with you?"

"Hardly. Personally I should be delighted, and so would some others;
but--you know as well as I do. I have got to feel somebody's pulse, and
proceed very gingerly. Possess your soul in what patience you can till
you hear from me. See here, Hartman; with your views, and your
well-grounded aversion to domestic and even social life, a little of
this sort of thing ought to go a long way. I should think you'd be
unwilling to risk contact with the world again. A child that will play
about the cars, you know, after it's once been run over--"

"O, but you have opened my eyes to a sacred duty. Honor is above
self-preservation. I want to purge my conscience, you see."

"Then do that and pause there. It was your vaulting ambition which
overleaped all bounds before. If you get into another row, you may have
to stay in it. I have full power of attorney, you say; well, I may have
to make all sorts of promises for you before I can get you leave to
return to duty, and you'll be expected to keep them. You don't know how
difficult that will be for your unbridled inexperience; you'll be
cabined, cribbed, confined within the dull limits of Propriety. It would
be much better for you to be content with a correspondence, if you can
get as far as that. You could expound your penitence and changed views
by mail, and have time to think what you were saying, and get it in
shape; whereas, if you plunge into the cold and heartless world again,
you'll probably get into more trouble, and I can't come up here to set
you straight again--not before next May. You were right, James: there is
nothing in common between you and the world. Why expose yourself to its
temptations, its dangers, its hollow and soul-wearying forms? This
atmosphere is so much purer; there is less of Vanity and Woe up here.
Stay where you are well off. Clarice can write a pretty good letter when
she chooses; I'll try to fix it that way for you." But he would not
accept this reasonable view, and insisted on my getting permission for
him to come down before Christmas, and as much sooner as possible.

So nobody but he could drive me to the cars; he filled the fifteen miles
with charges and reminders. As the train moved off, he was waving his
hat, his face radiant with hope and pathetic with confidence. He looks
ten years younger than he did last week. A pretty fellow he is to call
himself a Pessimist.



XXXI.

RESULTS REPORTED.


I reached home in the early evening. The servant told me at the door
that Mrs. T. was in attendance on Master Herbert, who had fallen over
the banisters and injured his nasal organ. I rushed upstairs: Mabel met
me with no demonstrations of grief or anxiety. "I see by your face that
it is all right--as I always said it would be. Go to Clarice; she is in
the library. O, Herbert? He fell on his nose, of course; he always does.
It is not at all serious. The dear child has been feeling better since
we heard from you, and taking more exercise. Clarice has the first right
to your news."

I found her, and dropped on my knees. She looked at me, not so sweetly
as of late. "Get up, Robert, I thought I had cured you of your bad habit
of untimely jesting."

"You have. I realize the solemnity of the occasion, if you do not. My
name is James--no, that's not it. I am a representative, an envoy. You
see before you a banished man who has justly incurred his sovereign's
displeasure, and has repented day and night. This posture, perhaps
unseemly in the father of a family, expresses the other fellow's state
of mind. He's afraid to come himself, and so he sent me."

She looked at me again, and saw that I was serious. You see, these
delicate matters have to be managed delicately. I can't do the
unmitigated tragedy business as well as Hartman might, and yet I had to
meet the requirements of the situation, and the Princess' expectations,
which are always high. People who have their own affairs of this kind to
conduct might sometimes avoid painful failures by taking a leaf out of
my book, and mixing the difficult passages with a little--a very
little--chastened and judicious humor; then they would avoid overdoing
it, and sending the lady off disgusted.

"Does he take all the blame?"

"Absolutely: he did from the first moment. He can't come here to say so
till he's allowed, and he can't get up till you give him a token of
forgiveness."

She gave it: it was inexpensive to her, and soothing to the penitent--or
would have been if he had been there to get it in person. I took it
simply on his account.

"Keep still now, and let me think."

I kept still. The attitude of prayer, while well suited to the lighter
forms of ladies, is inconvenient to a man of my size, and deeply
distressing when I am obliged to maintain it for more than five minutes;
for that reason I don't go to church as much as I might. But I had to
keep quiet while she did her thinking. May it be recorded to my credit!
I would bear a good deal for Clarice, and sometimes I have to.

At last she finished her cogitations. "O, get up, Robert; I forgot. What
else have you to tell me? But don't you want some supper?"

I was as hungry as a bison, but that was a secondary consideration.

"The supper can wait while I have your work to do. I'll tell you
anything you care to know: he wants to have no secrets from you. But it
has all been graphically summed up already. A famous orator of old told
a young fellow who went to him to learn how to speak a piece, 'Act it.'
That's what I've been doing the last half hour: I didn't think it would
take so long."

I rubbed my knees, which were still sore: the library carpet is
reasonably thick, but it was not built for devotional uses, "I suppose
Hartman would be glad to stay down there all night if he had the chance.
But he'd be awkward about it--infernally awkward. You see, he has had no
practice in this kind of thing; he doesn't know your ways as I do. I
wonder if you will ever get him into as good training as you have me."

I put in this light badinage to relieve any embarrassment she might
feel--not that she could show any such if she tried, but for what you
and I know even she might feel it--and to let her get used to the
situation. But she did not seem to care for it. "That's enough for now,
Robert. Go and get your supper." She said this in a weary tone. My heart
sank.

"Princess dear, have I offended you? I meant it all right. Have I done
anything wrong, and made a mess of this as usual?"

She gave me her hand. "O no, Bob. But go now. I'll talk more to you
to-morrow."

Now I thought I had done this up in the most superior style, and that
she would be pleased for once. But the ways of women are past man's
understanding.

Jane awaited me in the dining-room with viands and an anxious brow, and
would scarcely let me appease the cravings of exhausted nature. She sent
the servant out, and ministered to my wants herself.

"Brother, you look downcast. Have you returned with empty hands?"

"I have brought some of the finest trout you ever saw--not in mere size
perhaps, but in flavor, colors, and gaminess. You didn't expect me to
carry 'em on a string over my shoulder, did you? And I would have
brought some venison, but you don't care for it. You told me once that
their eyes were so pretty and plaintive, it was a shame to kill them. I
always try to please you, so I thought I would let them live.--Yes,
thank you, I have brought back more health than I took away: I may be
able now to stand the fatigues of business till Thanksgiving.--O,
Hartman? I couldn't bring him along, you know: where is your sense of
propriety? I advised him to stay up there where he is safe, and not
tempt the shafts and arrows any more. What, I 'haven't done anything
then, after all?' O, haven't I! Jane, you are worse than a serpent's
tooth: if Lear had been in my place, he would have talked about a
thankless sister. It has been a weary, toilsome, painful task, and few
men could have carried it through to so happy an end. And when I come
back hungering for sympathy--I told you what my nature was--you meet me
with cold words and suspicious looks. It is enough to make one weep, and
long for the silent grave. If it were Hartman, you would do the weeping,
no doubt. Yet that man, whom you thus unnaturally set above your
brother--you have no idea of his harshness, his violence, his embittered
prejudice and obstinacy; nor of the patience and gentleness and
persuasive force with which I expelled the demons that possessed him,
and brought him to his right mind. O, he has had an overhauling; he will
take care how he does it again. But he is all right now."

"I wonder at that, after his being in your hands for a week. Your tender
mercies were cruel, I fear. What does Clarice say to this? Is she
satisfied?"

"She ought to be, but she says nothing at all; couldn't take in the
magnitude of my news at once, most likely. Yet I took pains to break it
to her delicately, and with light touches of humor, to relieve any
strain there might be."

"Yes, soothed her nerves as with a nutmeg-grater, no doubt. You will
serenade her next with tin pans and fish-horns, and think that a
delicate attention. Brother, Clarice does not share your peculiar view
of humor, nor do I. Mabel tries to comprehend it and to catch your tone,
as is her melancholy duty; but it is hard work for her. Well, what does
Mr. Hartman say?--Don't tell me anything that is private, or belongs to
Clarice alone."

"O, you may hear most of it. He says all sorts of things--anything you
like. You see he can't be trusted, or trust himself, any longer, so I
have full power to represent him."

"That is definite, and convenient for you, whatever it may be to others.
Of course a man will promise anything when he has an object to gain. I
suppose you left him in the depths of despair and on a pinnacle of
ecstasy at once."

"That is about it. Let us be thankful that you and I are well beyond
these follies.--My dear, I wasn't alluding to your age; upon my honor
I wasn't. I only meant that your elevation of mind and dignity of
character lift you far above such idiotic transports, and give you a
right to despise weak creatures like Jim, and in some degree even
myself. No man is worthy of you, Jane: you know you never would look at
any of them. What did I tell you about your looks? Except Clarice, and
perhaps I ought to say Mabel, and a few on the cars, you are by far the
handsomest woman I've seen since I left home."

"After your week among the belles of Wayback, that compliment seems
strained. O, I see: Clarice was not in the right mood just now, and your
tide of geniality rolled back upon itself, so that it has to break loose
on some one else: or you are to see her again to-morrow, and must
practice smooth things meantime to say then.--Ah, it is both, is it?"

"Sister, you are an external conscience--except that you won't approve
when I have done the right thing, and done it well. You would be
invaluable to Jim. I doubt whether he and Clarice will get on; and he
thinks a heap of you. If he don't suit her on further inspection, or
makes any more blunders, you might take him in hand and make a man of
him."

"So as to keep him in reach as material for you? Robert, if you want me
to comfort you when Clarice is gone, you will have to make your light
humor much lighter yet, and let me select subjects for its exercise."

"Now, now--do you think I would offer you secondhand goods? If I had
known him then as I do to-day, I would have let her go off in June as
she proposed, and fixed it the other way. It would have saved no end of
bother."

"And deprived you of a source of huge amusement, and an unprecedented
field for the display of your peculiar talents. Do you think men and
women are mere puppets for you to play with? You would make but a poor
tenth-rate Providence--though you may have succeeded in this case. Tell
me how you did it."

"I showed him that he was all wrong. He knew that already, but thought
she didn't care. I told him she did."

"Robert! You have not betrayed her? Is this your diplomacy?"

"Of course not: how you talk, Jane. I said her interest in him was
philanthropic, and he had behaved with brutal ingratitude--like a
charity patient in the hospital, or a bad boy at Sunday School; so he
ought to yearn to come back--if she will kindly allow--and give her a
chance to go on reforming him or not, just as she pleases. I admitted
the purely speculative possibility that it might be otherwise--of a more
personal and commonplace description--just to encourage him a little;
but as he had said at the start that this chance was practically
nonexistent, I let him think so and dwelt on the other view, which was
new to him, and impressive. O, I preserved her dignity; that was the
first necessity. If he is cherishing any hopes of the vulgar, everyday
sort, he did not get them from me."

"And did he believe all that? If so, I must have been mistaken in the
man."

"He had to believe it. It was the simple truth: I merely arranged the
colors properly on his mental canvas. He thinks I am Solon and
Rhadamanthus and Nehemiah in one. How would you have done it perhaps,
when you had to hook your fish without letting him get the bait--induce
him to commit himself, and yet not commit her at all?"

"I don't know, brother. You could not have thrown her on his generosity,
of course; she would have killed herself and him and all of us, rather
than take happiness at such a price--and I can't blame her. Yet she
despises a subterfuge. I would not tell her the details if I were you;
she will not ask for them, nor want to hear them. It is a queer world:
when such things have to be done--sacrificing your best friend to insure
his welfare, deceiving him in the interest of one who abhors
deception--your eccentricities may be of more use than I had hitherto
supposed possible."

I pretended to be deeply pained at this; but in my heart I knew it was
high praise, coming from Jane. She is not like Clarice; she asked all
manner of questions, and kept me answering them three mortal hours.
Fortunately Mabel has less curiosity, or I should not have got much
sleep that night, after all my ill-appreciated labors. But I don't
regret what I did for Hartman; _he_ believes what you tell him.



XXXII.

CONFESSION.


Clarice was not at breakfast next day; but as I was going out, she met
me in the hall. "Robert, can you come back at four?"

"At any hour you wish, Princess; or I will stay now."

"No, that will be early enough. I will be in the library."

Now that is Clarice all over: she is herself again. No eagerness, no
petty curiosity, but a grand indifference, a statuesque calm, a
goddess-like withdrawal from the affairs and atmosphere of common
mortals. Indeed it is not she who will ask for details that any other
woman would burn to know: a single question as to the vital point, and
then "what else have you to tell me?" The rest might keep a day, a week,
a month. Her taste was always for large outlines, her mind has breadth
and grasp and comprehension; when she seemed to care for little things,
she was at play. In a matter like this, her secret thoughts are the main
element; what others may think or say or do need be noticed only as
contributing material for them to work with. What has vexed her all this
time has been that the sacrilege of events had put one factor in the
problem out of reach, beyond her control: she has been used to having
all she wanted of the earth, and deigning to want but little of it and
to value that little but lightly. Now that she cares for something at
last, and it is at her call again, she will weigh and measure the
situation, and all its aspects and possibilities, in the silent council
chamber of her soul, and the decision will go forth before any one
ventures to ask what it may be. Stay in your cave, hermit of Wayback,
and say your _Ave Clarissa_ as patiently as you can: when the edict
calls you to court, your part will be cast for you, and you will have
nothing to do but say the lines. If you break bounds again and stray
from your proper posture before the throne, or put in any more of your
irreverent gags, I am done with you.

I have wrought your will, my Princess, and brought back your pretty toy,
for you to mend or break: you hardly mean to break it. Yet it is a pity
to see you descend to common uses, to ordering a house and taking care
of poor old Jim; you were born to shine apart in solitary state, and
have men gaze at you wistfully from far below. No man can rate more
highly than I the domestic relations, affections, virtues; but I don't
like to see you put yourself in the category of mere human beings, as if
marriage and a man were good enough for you. You will have your way, now
as always, and use me at your will: it is you who have the ordering of
this funeral, not I.

As she did not seem to like my style last night, I had better be sober
and plain this afternoon; sort of Quaker thee and thou, without artistic
embellishments. Yes, by Jove, I'll have to be, for there's the guilty
secret to be unloaded. There is no excuse for keeping it to myself any
longer, now Jim has it; sooner or later she must know that I've known
all along what was not meant for me, and it may as well be done now,
whatever the result. It will not please her, but I can't help that. I
will not break my word and keep a thing from her, except as there is
reason; to tell it can do no great harm now, unless to me--and that is a
minor matter.

At the hour appointed I was on deck: no one ever interrupts the
Princess, and we were undisturbed. "Robert, I had better hear your
report. Cut it short, please; give me a condensed outline merely."

What did I tell you? This was said with an air as if she were
discharging an unwelcome duty, so that I might not feel neglected. She
evidently resents the impertinence of circumstances in forcing her to
allow me to have a hand in her private matters: it will be as much as I
can expect if she forgives me for meddling. Obeying orders, I endeavored
to be brief and business-like.

"He has had a bad time of it, Clarice. He was a changed man when I got
there--rough and morose and unmanageable; kept hinting at some
mysterious crime he had committed. It was a day or two before I could
bring him to book, by methods on which I need not dwell. Detective work
is not a nice business; the means has to take its justification from the
end. He made his confession as if it were another's; said how superior
you were, and how basely he had repaid your condescension. He thought
that ended the affair, except for his lifelong remorse; hoped he might
die soon; impossible to be forgiven, or regarded by you in any light but
that of a loathsome object--regular stage part, you know, but perfectly
sincere: if you like innocence, he can supply a first-class article. I
put a head on him by saying his behavior had been much more flagrant
than he realized, and the worst part of it was interfering with your
plans and going off in such a hurry; that ladies like to be consulted in
such cases, and sometimes to administer divine forgiveness, or at least
punish the transgressor in their own way, and not leave it all to
him.--You need not look at me like that, Princess. I know nothing of
your feelings, and told him so. Of course I maintained your dignity:
what else was I there for? And so, to do him justice, did he, as far as
he knows how. He is just where you like to have them--or would if you
cared enough about them. After I had enlightened him as to his duty, it
was all simple. I gave him just sufficient hope--of pardon, I mean--to
keep him alive, and turn his despair to active penitence. The game is
entirely in your hands now. He was on fire to come back with me, or to
write at once. I said he must take no more liberties, but wait for
permission. If I may venture a suggestion, you might let me tell him to
write you; then you can graciously allow him to come when you are ready
for him."

That I may call a succinct and lucid narrative. She listened to it with
clear eyes like Portia, as if she were a judge and had to hear such
cases every day. Now for questions: I bet odds there will not be more
than three, and those straight to the heart of my discourse--nothing
irrelevant, or secondary, or sentimental.

"Did he say what had been his offence?"

"Presumption. He insulted you--though of course he didn't mean to--and
you very properly resented it and withered him with contempt. He never
understood, till I made him see it, that what he did next was worse than
this, as emphasizing the wrong and making it--for a while--irrevocable."

Her eyes were like judgment lightnings now, that might burn through the
darkness and bring out all hidden things. Luckily I had nothing to hide;
or rather I was about to make a clean breast of it.

"How were you able to speak so positively?"

"That is what he asked me, and therein lay such power as I had to master
him; at least it was the chief weapon in my arsenal. I answer you as I
answered him: By knowing more about the matter than he did. Princess, I
have deceived you all along, and broken my promise to tell you
everything. I saw and overheard the quarrel." And then I told her all
about it.

She looked at me silently, with an expression I never saw before. I
turned away, as one turns from the sun in his strength. I was sitting on
a stool beside her, and I suppose my head went down. Suddenly a hand was
on my forehead, pushing it back. "Robert, look at me. What was your
motive in keeping this from me?"

"O, the motives were mixed; they always are. There was my dread of
offending you; that was selfish. And more than that, I did not want to
hurt you, if it could be avoided. And most, I was not willing to
complicate the trouble, and all but certainly make it worse. It seemed
to me that you would be shocked, and disgusted, and enraged to know that
a third person had intruded on so private a scene, and surprised a
secret that belonged to you. Don't fancy that I was blaming you; that
was my rough guess at how any woman would feel, most of all you: perhaps
I was wrong. I thought that for you to know might widen the breach, and
destroy all chance of reconciliation. I had to think of him, as well as
of you. Not as well, no; not as much--you know that; but of him too. I
could not tell you till I had told him, and made the matter right--if
you will have it so. You will not let it turn you against him now--this
fact that I was there? It was not his fault: it was an accident, and I
am the only one to blame. I did the best I could, after such lights as I
had."

Still the great eyes kept burning into mine; but they did not hurt so
much as I had expected. "Did you tell Mabel and Jane of this?"

"How could I? It was your secret. What do you take me for, Clarice? I
never breathed a word of it, of course, until I had it out with Jim a
week ago, and brought him to his senses: after that I thought you ought
to know. Mabel and Jane never dreamed that I knew anything beyond what
little you might have told me, or let me see."

Her arms were round my neck now. There was a minute or two of silence: I
really did not know what to say next. Then she looked up, tears in her
eyes, a tone I never could describe in her voice.

"And you have done all this for me, Robert!"

I made a feeble attempt to unloose her hands and draw myself up. "Don't
talk that way, Clarice; it hurts me. You make too much of this; it was a
matter of course, and there is nothing new in it. I thought you knew I
was always ready to do anything I could for you: that is an old story,
as you used to say."

The effort at dignity was not successful, for her head drooped again.
Soon she raised it, a smile chasing the tears away.

"You can triumph over Jane now. She used to say you never could keep a
secret. Did you enjoy keeping this one, Bob?"

"Not exactly. I will keep some more if you insist on it, but it would be
more enjoyable if they were of another sort. No more like this, if it is
the same to you."

"You said you used this as a weapon to master him with. Why didn't you
use it on me? It might have been good for me to be mastered and
overruled."

I had to laugh now. "Jim can try that by and by--if he dares. Other men
may overrule other women, perhaps; I know my place too well. Clarice, it
is not like you to talk nonsense. If I could have consulted you about
this--how to keep the secret, and what to do with it--it would have made
things easier for me, but unhappily that was not feasible. You don't
mean it would have done good instead of harm if I had told you earlier?"

"I doubt it. No, you were right. Brother, there is so much more of you
than any of us thought!"

"So Hartman has found. But I don't want to be unduly exalted. Love is
better than pride, and this trouble of yours has brought us all closer
together, I believe. There is only one thing to be done yet."

"No; two at least. Robert, you deserve to know everything. I will tell
you what we were talking about that wretched day, so that you may see
what excuse there was for him, and how wrong I was. And then you can
tell Jane and Mabel."

"I don't want to know, my dear, nor is there any need to tell them
anything. None of us desire to pry into your affairs, but only to see
them set right. It was plain that something led up to poor Jim's
blunder, and that is enough. You can tell Mabel and Jane what you like
before he comes back,--though they won't ask it.--I will overrule you
for once, as you insist. You want to put a force upon yourself for my
sake, and I will not have it; not another word of that. But--and in this
case I am not overruling, but only suggesting--Jim is waiting all this
time. May I tell him that he can write to you?"

"Not just yet. You have opened my eyes as well as his, Bob; you've
revealed so many masculine virtues that I must take them in by degrees.
You've been keeping yourself in the background and putting him forward,
as if I could be interested in one person only. Now let him wait a day
or two, while I think about you."

There may have been more of these exchanges, which I do not care to
repeat. What goes on in the domestic circle is essentially of a private
nature, too intimate and sacred to be whispered into the general ear.
There are persons who will violate these holy confidences, and tell you
what he said and she said when the doors were shut. I am not like them.
If I appear at times to break my own rule and treat you as a member of
the household, it is merely for your improvement, that you may see (as I
told Jim last summer) how things are arranged in a christian family: and
especially that, when any trouble of this kind invades your own humble
roof, you may know how to slay the lion and extract strength and
sweetness from his carcass, as I have done. Should these pages instruct
but a single brother, whether by nature or adoption, how to unwind his
sister's tangled affairs and bring them to a prosperous conclusion, I
shall not have penned them in vain.



XXXIII.

A FAMILY CONCLAVE.


I had written to Hartman more than once since my return, telling him to
keep up his spirits and bide his time. Before long came the permission
to open a correspondence with a more important person than I. What he
wrote I know not; he is probably able to do that well enough, whatever
blunders he may commit when face to face. I have reason to believe his
outpouring was answered, with excessive brevity but to the purpose, in
the one word, 'Come.' In fact, the Princess declined (and very properly)
to expend a postage-stamp on him, or to gratify him with an envelope of
her own inditing, but told me to enclose this minute but inflammatory
document in non-explosive wrappings of my own.

He was to arrive on a certain day in late November. The evening
previous, as we were sitting together, Clarice--who generally prefers
her own society, and I can't blame her--appeared, in our midst (if that
expression is allowable), with an aspect of grim determination. I rose
to give her a chair in the corner, but she sat down where she could see
us and we could look at her. We did so, anxiously expectant, for this
was a most unusual proceeding; and I inwardly resolved to make it easier
for her than she meant to have it. She began with the air of an orator
who reluctantly emerges from seclusion at his country's call,
constrained to deliver matter of pith and moment.

"It is no news that you all have shown me kindness such as passes all
acknowledgment--"

She was not allowed to proceed without hindrance. Jane put forth an
interrupting hand, which the speaker seized and imprisoned in her own:
not that Clarice's is bigger than Jane's, but it possesses some muscular
force. Mabel opened her lips, and one of us--I will not say which--was
obliged to remind her that Miss Elliston had the floor.

"It is not in me to be demonstrative, and I have seemed cold and
thankless--"

"We knew you better than that, dear," came from both.

"--But I knew, I felt it all. Never did a girl without natural
protectors--"

"But you can have a natural protector whenever you like," cried Mabel.
"You might have had any number of them, for years past."

"Well, with or without, no girl ever had, or could have had, more
faithful affection and delicate consideration shown her than I. I have
given you a great deal of trouble, and you never complained. I have come
between you and friends--"

"My dear," Mabel interposed again, "that is all right. Our friends will
come back." And she nodded and looked like a female Solomon, while Jane
whispered something and put her disengaged arm around the orator.

"Don't interrupt me any more, please. You know it is not easy for me to
talk of these matters--"

"That is so," said I. "It is rarely we get a speech from Clarice on any
subject. Do keep quiet, all of you, and let the poor girl go on."

"But now I must tell you something you have no idea of."

Here the female portion of the audience pricked up their ears, and I
began to be nervous. "It is about Mr. Hartman's going away in August.
That was all my fault."

"Don't you believe her," said I. "He says it was all his fault."

"Do be quiet, Robert. He is coming to-morrow, and justice must be done
him. I treated him very badly, and--"

"She didn't," said I. "Clarice, we don't want to be dragged into all
your private squabbles, but if you will tell this disreputable story you
have got to tell it straight. Jim says you merely showed a proper
spirit, and so you did."

"Why, what do you know about it, Robert?" cried Mabel and Jane together.

"He was there, hidden in the bushes, like a villain in a cloak and
slouched hat."

Here came a chorus of exclamations and reproaches, till one of us had to
say, "You may as well give it up, Clarice. These women will never let
you go on; they don't know how to listen. If you were talking only to
me, now--"

"Jane, you can never twit him again with not being able to keep a
secret; he kept this one sacredly for three months."

"Of course he did," said Mabel: "I always knew it."

"Why, Robert, you told me--," Clarice exclaimed, and "O no, you didn't,
my dear," some one else put in, while Jane looked triumphant.

"No, I didn't know this secret, of course," Mabel admitted: "I only
meant that I always knew Robert could keep a secret, if it were of very
extraordinary importance, and if he were certain it would ruin
everything to let it out. Poor Robert, what a hard time you have had!"

"But how did he come to overhear your conversation?" said Jane. "What
business had he there?"

"It was all through his pipe. Mabel, you must never object to his pipe
again."

"There now, Mabel," remarked another of the company, "you wouldn't
believe that the pipe was good for my health, and now you see it has
preserved the whole family."

"I don't see that," said the troublesome Jane: "what was the use of your
being there intermeddling?"

"Jane," said one severely, "if you will be still, you will probably
learn. How can you expect to hear anything when you keep on interrupting
Clarice like this?"

"I am coming to that now, Jane. What he thus saw and heard he most
patiently, and heroically, and from the noblest motives--"

"Excuse me, ladies," said I. "My pipe is not handy, but I must go out
and smoke a cigar. I want to see a man--"

"Let the man smoke the cigar, and that will provide for both of them.
You will sit down, Robert, and hear me out; I am not to be overruled
this time."

"It would give me the greatest pleasure to hear you out, my dear, but
you know your health is delicate, and you are not accustomed to public
speaking. This is the longest oration you ever made: Jane's constant
interruptions are trying, and you must be fatigued. If I were you, I
would rest now, and finish this up to-morrow."

"Now isn't that exactly like him?" cried the irrepressible Jane. "He is
afraid of your exposures, as well he may be. Go on, Clarice, and tell us
what other iniquities he has committed, besides deceiving Mabel and me
about this, while he was questioning us all the time, and pretending to
impart all he knew."

"He deceived me too. Yes, you may well stare; he kept this absolutely to
himself, till he could use it for his own deep purposes; and"--she
blushed a little--"that is why things are as they are."

I saw she wanted to be helped out, so I said.

"Yes, that is the cause of this thusness. You see, Mabel, what great
results may spring from a little pipe. Jane, you will have to admit
that I am the guardian angel and protecting genius of you all."

"Well, Clarice," said Jane, "I will own that my estimate of his talents
has risen lately; but then my confidence in his moral character has
fallen in the same degree. He does tell such dreadful falsehoods."

"It is not quite as if he told them for love of them, simply for the
pleasure he takes in falsehood itself. You must allow for his motives."

"Yes," said Mabel, "his motives are always excellent, whatever his words
and actions may be. You remember the man in the Bible, who was delivered
to Satan for his soul's sake; and I have heard Robert himself say that
in ascending a mountain you often have to go down hill."

"She means," I explained, "that on the rare occasions when I employ
fiction, I do it purely in the interests of Truth. That goddess is
imperfectly provided with garments--excuse me for stating so scandalous
a fact, but it is so. Now this might have been well enough in Eden
before the fall, but it will not do now; so we have to make the poor
creature presentable, and pay her milliner's bills, which are often
high. It would have been far more congenial to my candid nature to tell
you all at once what I saw and heard that day in August; but such a
course might have been attended with unpleasant consequences. If you
will all forgive me, I will try not to do it again."

"I do not see my way to forgive you, brother," said Jane with a judicial
air, "unless Clarice does; and that appears doubtful. I will be guided
entirely by her."

"I have managed my own affairs so well without help, that you will
naturally all wish to be guided by me. It is a good deal for me to do;
but since Robert's misconduct has done no great harm, and rather than
come between brother and sister, I will--yes, I will forgive him." She
rose majestically, signed to me to do the same, and gave me both hands,
with the air of a sovereign conferring knighthood; we made an impressive
tableau. "And since you are all so quiet at last, I may finish my
speech, and state the reason for this act of leniency. As Mr. Hartman's
conversion is to be completed this time without fail, it is plainly
necessary that he should find us a united family."



XXXIV.

TO PERSONS ABOUT TO MARRY.


I would have liked to celebrate Jim's arrival by sundry pleasant and
appropriate remarks; but impressive warnings and entreaties had reached
me privately from three distinct quarters, urging me to efface myself on
this occasion, and keep in the background. I complied with these
suggestions, and there were no tumultuous rejoicings over the returning
prodigal. Mabel and Jane greeted him with unobtrusive warmth: Clarice
was rather stately and very calm; to look at her, you would have thought
this was an ordinary call. When they talk about my duplicity, they mean
that they want a monopoly of the article themselves. The visitor flushed
and trembled like a boy, till I felt sorry for him, and would have
offered him something to drink if they had given me a chance. Women are
so queer about such matters: instead of letting the poor man go off with
me, they pretended not to notice his confusion, and talked about the
weather and mountains and trout, as if he wanted to discuss such
frivolities. This soon got to be a bore, and I went to the new
smoking-room, inviting him to follow when he needed rational
conversation. He did not come at all, and I found afterwards that my
wife and sister had gone away presently, and left him alone with
Clarice--and they such sticklers for Propriety.

I expected to have some fun watching this tender pair; but I was
disappointed. There never is anything sensational to see when the
Princess is in action: she carries an atmosphere of quietness about with
her, and imposes it on those who come within her circle. Hartman broke
rules and bounds once last summer, but he seems unlikely to do it again.
The rest of us kept out of the way as much we could, and gave them
scope. I said to Jane that we ought to get up a torchlight procession,
or a big dinner, or something, in Jim's honor, but she scornfully told
me to wait at least till the engagement was announced. When he was with
me--which was little, for his time seemed to be much occupied, and his
weakness for tobacco nearly cured--he once or twice attempted some
drivel about disinterested friendship and undying gratitude; but I
stopped that. If there be one thing for which I profess no sympathy, it
is puling sentiment. He apparently did not care to discuss the progress
of his affair, which was a relief; it is a dreadful nuisance to have to
listen to lovers' talk, and I had enough of that at Wayback, when I
could not help myself. At our time of life a man ought to be occupied
with serious pursuits. But Jim is as if he had been asleep in a cave for
ten years, and waked up with his beard well grown and a large stock of
emotional aptitudes abnormally developed. I suppose Clarice likes this
kind of thing, but I wonder at her taste.

They had been at it a week or so when I stumbled upon them unawares one
day in the library. I tried to retreat, but they both called to me to
stop.

"Robert," said she, "we have quarrelled again. That is, he has."

"Yes, Bob," said Jim, "and you'll have to straighten it out for us as
you did before."

"This is too much," said I. "You had better take the next train for
home, and by next May my health will need another change and I'll come
up and attend to your case."

"This needs to be settled right away. Clarice wants to go to the woods
and live there the year round, and I can't permit such a sacrifice."

"Robert, he wants to live in the world like other people, just for my
sake, and I can't permit such a sacrifice either."

"You must both prepare to be sacrificed, my lambs. Each of you will have
to bear and forbear, and get used to the other's repulsive selfishness
and hidebound eccentricities, to forego the sweet privacy and freedom of
self-indulgence which have marked your innocent lives hitherto. When the
glamour of young romance has faded, when the bloom is rubbed off the
peach and the juice is crushed out of the strawberry, there will remain
only the hard reality of daily duty, which is continual self-immolation.
You are wise to commence practising this virtue at once."

"You must instruct us how to do it, Bob. It would be as you say, no
doubt--with her--if she had to live at Wayback as she proposes. You have
been there enough to know that it is no place for her; tell her so. She
has confidence in you, and she won't believe me."

"It would be as you say, Robert--with him--if he had to live among the
constraints and shams which his soul abhors. You know it, and you have
great influence over him. Tell him so."

"You are both right, and it is clear there is no place where you can
live--together. James, she is a fragile flower; transplanted to your
sterile soil, she would soon wither and drop from the stalk. Clarice, he
is fastidious, critical, and intense; made a part of the things he
despises, the torturing contact with pomps and vanities would soon
strike his knell. My little dears, your paths were never meant to
unite, and the best thing you can do is to part in peace. James, this is
all imagination, and you know it; a milliner's lay-figure, or that rural
nymph at Wayback, would do just as well, and be much less exacting and
expensive. Clarice, you are pushing philanthropy too far: the
picturesqueness of this hermit, and his alleged romantic woes, have
misled you as to the nature of your interest in him. I don't think
matrimony would suit you at all: you had much better stay with us, whom
you can leave whenever you please. You could not do that so easily with
a husband, and you don't like divorce. My children, pause: you will soon
have had enough of each other, and then you can go your several ways in
peace."

"See here, old man; it is too late for this kind of wisdom, after all
the pains you have taken to bring us together when we were parted
indeed. You ought to be proud of your work, and ready to give us your
blessing."

"Don't mind Robert, James. You must take him as you find him, and it
encourages him to go on if you seem to pay attention. All you need is to
give him time--generally a great deal of it, to be sure. When you have
known him twenty years or so as I have, you will understand that he
usually has some tolerably good sense at the bottom of his mind,
underneath a mountain of foolishness; he would say it is like the beer
after he has blown the froth off.--Get to the sense as soon as you can,
dear, for we can't well wait more than a month or two for it: we have to
make our plans."

"I was going to say that you had better leave the engagement unlimited
as to time and say nothing about it, for then you can get tired of one
another at leisure, and part without embarrassment. But if you are in
such indecent haste, and seriously bent on ruin, I will assist you over
the precipice as gently as may be. You will have to compromise, and
humor each other a little. Go abroad for awhile, or to Florida or the
Pacific, till you feel less exclusive; then come back to us. The house
is big enough, and you can make your winter home here: we can't let you
have her on any other terms, Jim. You can enlarge your place when the
weather opens, and put in the spring and fall there: some of us will
come up, or I will anyway, after trout. Perhaps I'll bring Jane: she
wanted to catch some. It would not be safe for Herbert; he is too fond
of bears. If you find the whole summer there too much bliss, as you
will, you can divide with us at Newport. That is fair to all parties,
isn't it?"

"It will do nicely, for a rough sketch at least, and give us time to
think. But there is a more serious difficulty, as you will see. Robert,
he wants to give up his well-considered principles of so many years, and
just for me--however he may deny it. Now I say he was mainly right. Take
Life in the large view, and it is not a grand or beautiful thing. Have
we any right to overlook the misery of millions, because a few of us
like each other and are outwardly comfortable? I will not have him do so
weak a thing as change his standards from no better reason than--well,
that you went up to him for the fall fishing."

"My dear Clarice, if you set up as a Pessimist apostle, you will convert
all the town, and that will never do.--You hear her, Jim? A wise man
sometimes has to take his sentiments from a wiser woman. But seriously,
I am ashamed of you. Having used your eyes and brains long ago and
received a true impression, what right have you to cast it away, and be
misled by a narrow prejudice in behalf of Life--or of some particular
section of it? If he that loves a coral cheek and a ruby lip is but a
redhot donkey, what shall we say of him who makes these his weatherguage
to test the universe by?"

"Well, Bob, perhaps I have received a new impression, which is truer
than the other--and deeper. As you told me last summer, a world with
Clarice in it is quite different from a world without her. Princess--if
I may use his term--Bob thinks a good deal of you too; at least he used
to. You entered into his scheme of things as well as mine. Such is his
duplicity, perhaps you never suspected the fact."

"That is strange, when he has taken such pains to get me off his hands.
I could hardly believe it of you, Robert, on any less authority; it was
an unworthy weakness, in such a philosopher. But really now, are you
going to uphold him in this--against me?"

"Far from it: you will make him think what you please--only your own
opinion on this point, though so strongly held and stated, is somewhat
recent. Let us have a middle ground to start from, on which all parties
can meet, as in the other case. When things go to suit us, let us call
it a good world: when they don't, of course it is a bad one. O, we can
consider the suffering millions too; but then we ourselves are somebody,
and have our own point of view. So when you two look at each other, and
contemplate your own bliss, you will be optimists; and when you read the
suicides in the papers, and think of the Siberian exiles and my labors
in Water Street, it will be the other way. Why, I am often a pessimist
in the morning, and the reverse at night. It depends on the impression
you receive, as Jim says; and there are a good many impressions, and not
all alike. Often you can be betwixt and between. Let us fix it that way:
I am sure that ought to suit anybody."

Jim agreed that it would do very well, but Clarice seemed undecided. "It
seems so frivolous to look at Life in this easy way, just because
we--well, are not unhappy, and not without friends. You never do
yourself justice, Robert--or very rarely. If we have been favored
beyond others, we ought to be earnest and serious."

"My dear, Time will check your frivolity, and mitigate the morbid
bitterness of Jim's gloomy contempt of life--or vice versa. If I have
got you mixed up, I beg pardon: you have changed positions so, it
confuses me. But as we are to be earnest and serious, we should seek to
communicate our happiness to others. Hadn't I better call them in?"

The lovers consented, and I called. Mabel and Jane came with eager
smiles and effusive congratulations. It is curious, the stress which the
feminine intellect lays on a mere point of time, or external event, like
the celebration of a union between two young people, or the first
statement that such a union is to be formed; whereas we all know that
the real event is mental, or at most resides in the clash and
concurrence of two minds, assisted by the bodies they inhabit. Our
friends had probably come to a sufficient understanding the night of
Jim's arrival, a week ago: in fact the thing was practically settled
when I brought back his submission, and even he must have had sense
enough to know it was when she wrote him that one word, 'Come.' So what
on earth is the use of making a fuss about it now? But I will not press
this view, which may be too rarefied and lofty for the vulgar mind.

There were kisses, and laughter, and tears I believe--but not of the
Princess' shedding--just as if something had really happened. I was
sorry for Jim, he looked so sheepish. Then he, or Clarice, or both of
them, to cover the awkwardness of the moment, began to extol my virtues
and services--in which there was no sense at all; for suppose you have
done a good thing, you don't want to be everlastingly cackling about it:
the thing is done, let it stand on its own merits or demerits. To stop
this, I proposed a division of the honors. "There is Herbert, who is
unhappily in bed now: he set the ball rolling. He was the only one of
us all who dared ask Clarice what she had done to you, Jim. And here is
Clarice herself, who discovered that my health was failing and needed
the air that blows over troutbrooks; give her a benefit. And here is
Jane, who urged me on--drove me, I may say. But for her, I might never
have had courage to beard you two dreadful people, and ask you what you
meant by such conduct."

Jane was receiving due attention, when Mabel spoke. "You must not
overlook me, as if I had had no hand in it. I approved and encouraged it
from the start: you know I did. And when you went away, Mr. Hartman, and
they all felt so badly and thought you would never come back, I always
said it would be right--always."

THE END.





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