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Title: Boston Neighbours In Town and Out
Author: Poor, Agnes Blake
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.

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[Illustration: "HE TOOK OUT HIS EYEGLASS TO STUDY IT."]



BOSTON NEIGHBOURS
IN TOWN AND OUT

BY AGNES BLAKE POOR

[Illustration]

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
The Knickerbocker Press
1898


COPYRIGHT, 1898
BY
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

[Illustration]



CONTENTS

                                                                    PAGE
  OUR TOLSTOI CLUB                                                     1
  A LITTLE FOOL                                                       41
  WHY I MARRIED ELEANOR                                               83
  THE STORY OF A WALL-FLOWER                                         123
  POOR MR. PONSONBY                                                  187
  MODERN VENGEANCE                                                   239
  THREE CUPS OF TEA                                                  274
  THE TRAMPS' WEDDING                                                300

       *       *       *       *       *

The author and the publishers desire to make acknowledgment to the
publishers of the _Century Magazine_ and of the _New England Magazine_
for their courtesy in permitting the re-issue of certain stories which
were originally published in these periodicals.



[Illustration]

OUR TOLSTOI CLUB


I should be glad to tell a story if I only knew one, but I don't. Some
people say that one experience is as interesting as another, and that
any real life is worth hearing about; but I think it must make some
little difference who the person is. But if I really must tell one, and
since you all have told yours, and such nice ones, and anything is
better than nothing when we are kept in all the morning by a pouring
rain, with nothing to do, because we came only for a week, and did not
expect it to rain, I will try and tell you about our Tolstoi Club,
because that was rather like a story--at least it might have been like
one if things had turned out a little differently.

You know I live in a suburb of Boston, and a very charming, delightful
one it is. I cannot call it by its real name, because I am going to be
so very personal; so I will call it "Babyland," which indeed people
often do in fun. There never was such a place for children. The
population is mostly under seven years old, for it was about seven years
ago that young married people began to move into it in such numbers,
because it is so healthy; but it was always a great place for them even
when it was small. The old inhabitants are mostly grandfathers and
grandmothers now, and enjoy it very much; but they usually go into town
in the winter, with such unmarried children as they have left, to get a
little change; for there is no denying that there is a sameness about
it--the sidewalks are crowded with perambulators every pleasant day, and
at our parties the talk is apt to run too much on nursery-maids, and
milkmen and their cows, and drains, to be very interesting to those who
have not learned how terribly important such things are. So in winter
we--I mean the young married couples, of whom I am half a one--are left
pretty much to our own devices.

Though we are all so devoted to our infant families, we are not so much
so as to give up all rational pleasures or intellectual tastes; we could
not live so near Boston, you know, and do that. Our husbands go into
town every day to make money, and we go in every few days to spend it,
and in the evenings, if they are not too tired, we sometimes make them
take us in to the theatres and concerts. We all have a very nice social
circle, for Babyland is fashionable as well as respectable, and we are
asked out more or less, and go out; but for real enjoyment we like our
own clubs and classes the best. We feel so safe going round in the
neighbourhood, because we are so near the children, and can be called
home any time if necessary. There is our little evening dancing-club,
which meets round at one another's houses, where we all exchange
husbands--a kind of grown-up "puss-in-the-corner"; only, as the supply
of dancing husbands is not quite equal to that of wives, we have to get
a young man or two in if we can; and for the same reason we don't ask
any girls, who, indeed, are not very eager to come. Then there is the
musical club, and the sketching-club, and we have a great many morning
clubs for the women alone, where we bring our work (and it is splendid
to get so much time to sew), and read, or are read to, and then talk
over things. Sometimes we stay to lunch, and sometimes not; and we would
have an essay club, only we have no time to write the papers.

Now, many of these clubs meet chiefly at Minnie Mason's--Mrs. Sydney
Mason's. She gets them up, and is president: you see, she has more time,
because she has no children--the only woman in Babyland who hasn't, and
I don't doubt she feels dreadfully about it. She is not strong, and has
to lie on the sofa most of the time, and that is another reason why we
meet there so often; and then she lives right in the midst of us all,
and so close to the road that we can all of us watch our children, when
they are out for their airings, very conveniently. Minnie is very kind
and sympathetic, and takes such an interest in all our affairs, and if
she is somewhat inclined to gossip about them, poor dear, it is very
natural, when she has so few of her own to think about.

Well, in the autumn before last, Minnie said we must get up a Tolstoi
Club; she said the Russians were the coming race, and Tolstoi was their
greatest writer, and the most Christian of moralists (at least she had
read so), and that everybody was talking about him, and we should be
behindhand if we could not. So we turned one of our clubs, which had
nothing particular on hand just then, into one; and, besides Tolstoi, we
read other Russian novelists, Turgenieff and--that man whose name is so
hard to pronounce, who writes all about convicts and--and other
criminals. We did not read them all, for they are very long, and we can
never get through anything long; but we hired a very nice lady
"skimmer," who ran through them, and told us the plots, and all about
the authors, and read us bits. I forget a good deal, but I remember she
said that Tolstoi was the supreme realist, and that all previous
novelists were romancers and idealists, and that he drew life just as it
was, and nobody else had ever done anything like it, except indeed the
other Russians; and then we discussed. In discussion we are very apt to
stray off to other topics, but that day I remember Bessie Milliken
saying that the Russians seemed very queer people; she supposed that if
every one said these authors were so true to life, they must be, but she
had never known such an extraordinary state of things. Just as soon as
ever people were married--if they married at all--they seemed wild to
make love to some one else, or have some one else make love to them.

"They don't seem to do so here," said Fanny Deane.

"_We_ certainly do not," said Blanche Livermore. "I think the reason
must be that we have no time. I have scarcely time to see anything of my
own husband, much less to fall in love with any one else's."

We all laughed, but we felt that it was odd. In Babyland all went on in
an orderly and respectable fashion. The gayest girls, the fastest young
men, as soon as they were married and settled there, subsided at once
into quiet, domestic ways. At our dances each of us secretly thought
her own husband the most interesting person present, and he returned the
compliment, and after a peaceful evening of passing them about we were
always very thankful to get them back to go home with. Were we, then, so
unlike the rest of humanity?

"Are we sure?" asked Minnie Mason, always prone to speculation. "It is
not likely that we are utterly different from the rest of the world. Who
knows what dark tragedies lie hidden in the recesses of the heart? Who
knows all her neighbour's secret history?" This was being rather
personal, but no one took it home, for we never minded what Minnie said;
and as many of the club were, as always occurred, detained at home by
domestic duties, we thought it might apply to one of them. But I can't
deny that we, and especially Minnie, who had a relish for what was
sensational, and was pleased to find that realistic fiction, which she
had always thought must be dull, was really exciting, felt a little
ashamed at our being so behind the age--"provincial," as Mr. James would
call it; "obsolete," as Mr. Howells is fond of saying--at Babyland as
not to have the ghost of a scandal among us. None of us wished to give
cause for the scandal ourselves; but I think we might not have been as
sorry as we ought to be if one of our neighbours had been obliging
enough to do so. We did not want anything very bad, you know. Of course
none of us could ever have dreamed of running away with a fascinating
young man--like Anna Karenina--because in the first place we all liked
our husbands, and in the next place, who could be depended upon to go
into town to do the marketing, and to see that the children wore their
india-rubbers on wet days? But anything short of that we felt we could
bear with equanimity.

That same fall we were excited, though only in our usual harmless,
innocent way, by hearing that the old Grahame house was sold, and
pleased--though no more than was proper--that it was sold to the
Williamses. It was a pretty, old farm-house which had been improved upon
and enlarged, and had for many years been to let; and being as
inconvenient as it was pretty, it was always changing its tenants, whom
we despised as transients, and seldom called upon. But now it was
bought, and by none of your new people, who, we began to think, were
getting too common in Babyland. We all knew Willie Williams: all the men
were his old friends, and all the women had danced with him, and liked
him, and flirted with him; but I don't think it ever went deeper, for
somehow all the girls had a way of laughing at him, though he was a
handsome fellow, and had plenty of money, and was very well behaved,
and clever too in his way; but we could not help thinking him silly. For
one thing, he would be an artist, though you never saw such dreadful
daubs as all his pictures were. It was a mercy he did not have to live
by them, for he never sold any; he gave them away to his friends, and
Blanche Livermore said that was why he had so many friends, for of
course he could not work off more than one apiece on them. He was very
popular with all the other artists, for he was the kindest-hearted
creature, and always helped those who were poor, and admired those who
were great; and they never had anything to say against him, though they
could not get out anything more in his praise than that he was "careful
and conscientious in his work," which was very likely true. Then he was
vain; at least he liked his own good looks, and, being æsthetic in his
tastes, chose to display them to advantage by his attire. He wore his
hair, which was very light, long, and was seldom seen in anything less
fanciful than a boating-suit, or a bicycle-suit, though he was not given
to either exercise, but wanted an excuse for a blouse, and
knee-breeches, and tights, and a soft hat--and these were all of a more
startling pattern than other people's; while as to the velvet
painting-jackets and brocade dressing-gowns, in which he indulged in
his studio, I can only say that they made him a far more picturesque
figure than any in his pictures. It was a shame to waste such materials
on a man. Then he lisped when he was at all excited, which he often was;
and he had odd ways of walking, and standing, and sitting, which looked
affected, though I really don't think they were.

He made enthusiastic, but very brief, love to all of us in turn. I don't
know whether any of us could have had him; if one could, all could; but,
supposing we could, I don't believe any of us would have had the courage
to venture on Willie Williams. But we expected that his marriage would
be romantic and exciting, and his wedding something out of the common.
Opinions were divided as to whether his ardent love-making would induce
some lovely young Italian or Spanish girl of rank to run away from a
convent with him, or whether he would rashly take up with some artist's
model, or goose-girl, or beggar-maid. We were much disappointed when,
after all, he married in the most commonplace manner a very ordinary
girl named Loulie Latham.

We all knew Loulie too; she went to school at Miss Woodberry's, in the
class next below mine; and she was a nice girl, and we all liked her
well enough, but there never was a girl who had less in her. She was not
bad-looking, but no beauty; not at all the kind of looks to attract an
artist. Blanche Livermore said that he might have married her for her
red hair if only there had been more of it. The Lathams were very well
connected, and knew everybody, and she went about with the other girls,
and had a fair show of attention at parties; but she never had friends
or lovers. She had not much chance to have any, indeed, for she married
very young.

She was a very shy, quiet girl, and I used to think that perhaps it was
because she was so overcrowed by her mother. Mrs. Latham was a large,
striking-looking if not exactly handsome, lady-like though loud, woman,
who talked a great deal about everything. She was clever, but eccentric,
and took up all manner of fads and fancies, and though she was a
thoroughly good woman, and well born and well bred, she did know the
very queerest people--always hand in glove with some new crank. Hygiene,
as she called it, was her pet hobby. Fortunately she had a particular
aversion to dosing; but she dieted her daughter and herself, which, I
fear, was nearly as bad. All her bread had husks in it, and she was
always discovering that it was hurtful to eat any butter or drink any
water, and no end of such notions. She dressed poor Loulie so
frightfully that it was enough to take all the courage out of a girl:
with all her dresses very short in the skirt, and big at the waist, and
cut high, even in the evening, and thick shoes very queerly shaped, made
after her own orders by some shoemaker of her own, and loose cotton
gloves, and a mushroom hat down over her eyes. Finally she took up the
mind-cure, and Loulie was to keep thinking all the time how perfectly
well she was, which, I think, was what made her so thin and pale. Mrs.
Latham always said that no one ever need be ill, and indeed she never
was herself, for she was found dead in her bed one morning without any
warning.

This happened at Jackson, New Hampshire, where they were spending the
summer. Of course poor Loulie was half distracted with the shock and the
grief. There was no one in the house where they were whom she knew at
all, or who was very congenial, I fancy, and Willie Williams, whom they
knew slightly, was in the neighbourhood, sketching, and was very kind
and attentive, and more helpful than any one would ever have imagined he
could be. He saw to all the business, and telegraphed for some cousin or
other, and made the funeral arrangements; and the end of it was that in
three months he and Loulie Latham were married, and had sailed for
Europe on their wedding tour.

This was ten years ago, and they had never come back till now. They
meant to come back sooner, but one thing after another prevented. They
had no children for several years, and they thought it a good chance to
poke around in the wildest parts of Southern Europe--Corsica, and
Sardinia, and the Balearic Isles, and all that--and made their winter
quarters at Palermo. Then for the next six years they lived in less
out-of-the-way places. They had four children, and lost two; and one
thing or another kept them abroad, until they suddenly made up their
minds to come home.

We had not heard much of them while they were gone. Loulie had no one to
correspond with, and Willie, like most men, never wrote letters; but we
all were very curious to see them, and willing to welcome them, though
we did not know how much they were going to surprise us. Willie
Williams, indeed, was just the same as ever--in fact, our only surprise
in him was to see him look no older than when he went away; but as for
Mrs. Williams, she gave us quite a shock. For my part, I shall never
forget how taken aback I was, when, strolling down to the station one
afternoon with the children, with a vague idea of meeting Tom, who might
come on that train, but who didn't, I came suddenly upon a tall,
splendidly shaped, stately creature, in the most magnificent clothes;
at least they looked so, though they were all black, and the dress was
only cashmere, but it was draped in an entirely new way. She wore a
shoulder-cape embroidered in jet, and a large black hat and feather set
back over great masses of rich dark auburn hair; and, though so late in
the season, she carried a large black lace parasol. To be sure, it was
still very warm and pleasant. I never should have ventured to speak to
her, but she stopped at once, and said, "Perhaps you have forgotten me,
Mrs. White?"

"No--oh, no," I said, trying not to seem confused; "Mrs.--Mrs. Williams,
I believe?"

"You knew me better as Loulie Latham," she said pleasantly enough; but I
cannot say I liked her manner. There was something in it, though I could
not say what, that seemed like condescension, and she hardly mentioned
my children--and most people think them so pretty--though I saw her look
at them earnestly once or twice.

Willie was the same good-hearted, hospitable fellow as ever, and begged
us to come in, and go all over his house, and see his studio that he had
built on, and his bric-à-brac. And a lovely house it was, full of
beautiful things, for he knew them, if he could not paint them, and
indeed he had a great talent for amateur carpentering. We wished he
would come to our houses and do little jobs to show his good-will,
instead of giving us his pictures; but we tried to say something nice
about them, and the frames were most elegant. Of course we saw a good
deal of Mrs. Williams, but I don't think any of us took to her. She was
very quiet, as she always had been, but with a difference. She was
perfectly polite, and I can't say she gave herself airs, exactly; but
there was something very like it in her seeming to be so well satisfied
with herself and her position, and caring so little whether she pleased
us or not. Of course we all invited them, and they accepted most of our
invitations when they were asked together, though she showed no great
eagerness to do so; but she would not join one of our morning clubs, and
had no reason to give. It could not be want of time, for we used to see
her dawdling about with her children all the morning, though we knew
that she had brought over an excellent, highly trained, Protestant North
German nurse for them. When we asked her to the dancing-class, she said
she never danced, and we had better not depend on her, but Mr. Williams
enjoyed it, and would be glad to come without her. We did not relish
this indifference, though it gave us an extra man, and Minnie Mason said
that it was not a good thing for a man to get into the way of going
about without his wife.

"Why not?" said Mrs. Williams, opening her great eyes with such an air
of utter ignorance that it was impossible to explain. It was easy to see
that she need not be afraid of trusting her husband out of her sight,
for a more devoted and admiring one I never saw, whether with her or
away from her talking of "Loulou" and her charms, as if sure of
sympathy. But we had our doubts as to how much she returned his
attachment, and Minnie said it was easy to see that she only tolerated
him; and we all thought her unappreciative, to say the least. He was
very much interested in her dress, and spent a great deal of time in
choosing and buying beautiful ornaments and laces and stuffs for her,
which she insisted on having made up in her own way, languidly remarking
that it was enough for Willie to make her a fright on canvas, without
doing so in real life. Blanche Livermore said she must have some
affection for him, to sit so much to him, for he had painted about a
hundred pictures of her in different styles, each one worse than the
last. You would have thought her hideous if you had only seen them; but
Willie's artist friends, some of them very distinguished, had painted
her too, and had made her into a regular beauty. Opinions differed about
her looks; but those who liked her the least had to allow that she was
fine-looking, though some said it was greatly owing to her style of
dress. We all called it shockingly conspicuous at first, and then went
home and tried to make our things look as much like hers as we possibly
could, which was very little; for, as we afterwards found out, they came
from a modiste at Paris who worked for only one or two private
customers, and whose costumes had a kind of combination of the
fashionable and the artistic which it seemed impossible for any one here
to hit. We used to wonder how poor Mrs. Latham would feel, could she
rise from her grave, to behold her daughter's gowns, tight as a glove,
and in the evening low and long to a degree, her high-heeled French
shoes, and everything her mother had thought most sinful. Her hair had
grown a deeper, richer shade abroad, and she had matched it to
perfection, and one of Willie's pictures of her, with the real and false
all down her back together, looked like the burning bush. She was in
slight mourning for an old great-uncle who had left her a nice little
sum of money; and we thought, if she were so inimitable now, what would
she be when she put on colours?

We did better in modelling our children's clothes after hers, and I must
say she was very good-natured about lending us her patterns. She had a
boy and girl, beautiful little creatures, but they looked rather
delicate, which she did not seem to realise at all; she was very amiable
in her ways to them, but cool, just as she was to their father.

It must be confessed that we spent a great deal of time at our clubs in
discussing her, especially at the Tolstoi Club; for, as Minnie remarked,
she seemed very much in the Russian style, and it was not disagreeable,
after all, to think that we might have such a "type," as they call it,
among us.

Just as we had begun to get accustomed to Mrs. Williams's dresses, and
her beauty, and her nonchalance, and held up our heads again, she
knocked us all over with another ten-strike. It was after a little
dinner given for them at the Millikens', and a good many people had
dropped in afterward, as they were apt to do after our little dinners,
to which of course we could not ask all our set, however intimate. Mrs.
Reynolds had come out from Boston, and as she was by way of being very
musical, though she never performed, she eagerly asked Willie Williams,
when he mentioned having lived so long in Sicily, whether he had ever
seen Giudotti, the great composer, who had retired to the seclusion of
his native island in disgust with the world, which he thought was going,
musically speaking, to ruin. We listened respectfully, for most of us
did not remember hearing of the great Giudotti, but Willie replied
coolly:

"Oh, yes; we met him often; he was my wife's teacher. Loulou, I wish you
would sing that little thing of Mickiewicz, '_Panicz i Dziewczyna_,'
which Giudotti set for you."

Loulie was leaning back on a sofa across the room, lazily swaying her
big black lace fan. She had on a lovely gown of real black Spanish lace,
and a great bunch of yellow roses on her bosom, which you would not have
thought would have looked well with her red hair; but they suited her
"Venetian colouring," as her husband called it--

        "Ni blanche ni cuivrée, mais dorée
  D'un rayon de soleil."

Willie's strong point, or his weak point, as you may consider it, was in
quotations. She did not seem any too well pleased with the request, and
replied that she hardly thought people would care to hear any music; it
seemed a pity to stop the conversation--for all but herself were
chattering as fast as they could. But of course we all caught at the
idea, and the hostess was pressing, and after every mortal in the room
had entreated her, she rose, still reluctantly, and walked across the
room to the piano, saying that she hoped they really would not mind the
interruption.

It sounded fine to have something specially composed for her, but we
were accustomed to hear Fanny Deane, the most musical one among us, sing
things set for her by her teacher--indeed, rather more than we could
have wished; and I thought now to hear something of the same sort--some
weak little melody all on a few notes, in a muffled little voice, with a
word or two, such as "weinend," or "veilchen," or "frühling," or
"stella," or "bella," distinguishable here and there, according as she
sang in German or Italian. So you may imagine how I, as well as all the
rest, was struck when, without a single note of prelude, her deep, low
voice thrilled through the whole room:

  "Why so late in the wood,
    Fair maid?"

I never felt so lonely and eery in my life; and then in a moment the
wildly ringing music of the distant chase came, faint but growing nearer
all the time from the piano, while her voice rose sweeter and sadder
above it, till our pleasure grew more delicious as it almost melted into
pain. The adventures of the fair maid in the wood were, to say the
least, of a very compromising description; but we flattered ourselves
that our course of realistic fiction had made us less provincial and
old-fashioned, and we knew that nobody minded this sort of thing
abroad, especially the Russians, of whom we supposed Mickiewicz was one
till somewhat languidly set right by Mrs. Williams.

After that her singing made a perfect sensation all about Boston, the
more because it was so hard to get her to sing. Her style was peculiar,
and was a good deal criticised by those who had never heard her. She
never sang anything any one else did--that is, anybody you might call
any one, for I have heard her sometimes sing something that had gone the
rounds of all the hand-organs, and make it sound new again; but many of
her songs were in manuscript, some composed for her by Giudotti, and
others old things that he had picked up for her--folk-songs, and
ballads, and such. She always accompanied herself, and never from any
notes, and very often differently for the same song. Sometimes she would
sing a whole verse through without playing a note, and then improvise
something between. She always sang in English, which we thought queer,
when she had lived so long abroad; but she said Giudotti had told her
always to use the language of her audience, and Willie, who had a pretty
turn for versifying, used to translate for her. We felt rather piqued
that she should ignore the fact that we too had studied languages, but
we all agreed that she knew how to set herself off, and indeed we
thought she carried her affectation beyond justifiable limits. She had
to be asked by every one in the room, and was always saying that it was
not worth hearing, and that she hoped people would tell her when they
had enough of it, though, indeed, she could rarely be induced to sing
more than twice. If her voice was praised, she said she had none; and
when she was asked to play, she would say she could not--she could only
accompany herself. A likely story--as if any one who could do that as
she could, could not play anything!--and we used to hear her, too, when
she was in her own house, with nobody there but her husband. As for him,
he overflowed with pride and delight in her music, and evidently much
more than pleased her, and sometimes he even made her blush--a thing she
rarely did--by his remarks, such as that if we really wanted to know how
Loulou could sing, we must hide in the nursery. It was while singing to
her baby, it appeared, that the great Giudotti had chanced to hear her,
and immediately implored the privilege of teaching her, for anything or
nothing.

Minnie Mason said that it was impossible that a woman could sing like
that unless she had a history; and she spent much of her time and all of
her energy for several weeks in finding out what the history could be.
It was wonderful how ingeniously she put this and that together, until
one day at the club she told us the whole story, and we wondered that we
had never thought of it before. It seems that before Loulie Latham was
married there had been a love-affair between her and Walter Dana. It is
not known exactly how far it went, but her feelings were very much
involved. She was too young, poor thing, and too simple, to know that
Walter Dana was not at all a marrying man; he could not have afforded
it, if he had wanted to ever so much. He was the sort of young man, you
know, who never does manage to afford to marry, though in other respects
he seemed to get on well enough. He had passed down through several
generations of girls, and was now rather attentive, in a harmless,
general sort of way, to the married women, and came to our dances.

"And then," said Minnie, "when he did not speak, and she was so suddenly
left alone, and nearly penniless, after her mother's death, and Willie
Williams was so much in love with her, and so pressing--though I don't
believe he was ever in love with her more than he was with a dozen other
girls, only the circumstances were such, you know, that he could hardly
help proposing, he's so generous and impulsive. But he is not exactly
the sort of man to fall in love with, and his oddities have evidently
worn upon her; and now she feels with bitter regret how different her
life might have been if she could have waited till her uncle left her
this money. Walter has got on better, and might be able to marry her
now, and she is young still--only twenty-nine. It is the wreck of two
lives, perhaps of three. Willie is most unsuspicious, but should he ever
find out----"

We all shuddered with pleasurable horror at the thought that we were to
be spectators of a Russian novel in real life.

"I have seen them together," went on Minnie, "and their tones and looks
were unmistakable. Surely you remember that Eliot Hall german he danced
with her, the winter before her mother's death--the only winter she ever
went into society; and I recollect now that he seemed very miserable
about something at the time of her marriage, only I never suspected why
then."

"How very sad!" murmured Emmie Richards, a tender-hearted little thing.

"It is sad," said Minnie, solemnly; "but love is a great and terrible
factor in life, and elective affinities are not to be judged by
conventional rules."

For my own part, I thought Willie Williams a great deal nicer and more
attractive than Walter Dana, except, to be sure, that Walter did talk
and look like other people. Perhaps, I said, things were not quite so
bad as Minnie made them out. It was to be hoped that poor Loulie would
pause at the brink. A great many such stories, especially American ones,
never come to anything, except that the heroine lives on, pining, with a
blighted life; and I thought, if that were all, Willie was not the kind
of man who would mind it much. Very likely he would never know it.

Blanche Livermore said the idea of a woman pining all her days was
nonsense. All girls had affairs, but after they were married the cares
of a family soon knocked them all out of their heads. To be sure,
Blanche's five boys were enough to knock anything out; but Minnie told
us all afterward, separately, in confidence, that it was a little
jealousy on her part, because she had been once rather smitten with
Walter Dana herself. This seemed very realistic; and I must say my own
observations confirmed the truth of Minnie's story. Mrs. Williams did
look at times conscious and disturbed. One night, too, Tom and I called
on them to make arrangements about some concert tickets. Willie welcomed
us in his usual cordial fashion, saying Loulou would be down directly;
and in ten minutes or so down she came, in one of her loveliest evening
dresses, white embroidered crape, with a string of large amber beads
round her throat.

"I am afraid you are going out, Mrs. Williams; don't let us detain you."

"Not at all," she said, with her usual indifference. "We are not going
anywhere. I was waiting upstairs to see the children tucked up in their
beds."

It seemed like impropriety of behaviour in no slight degree to fag out
one's best clothes at home in that aimless way, but when in ten minutes
more Mr. Walter Dana walked in, her guilt was more plainly manifest, and
I shuddered to think what a tragedy was weaving round us. Only a day or
two after, I met her alone, near nightfall, hurrying toward her home,
and with something so odd about her whole air and manner that I stopped
short and asked, rather officiously perhaps, if Mr. Williams and the
children were well.

"Oh, yes; very--very well, indeed!" she threw back, in a quick, defiant
tone, very unlike her usual self; and then, as I looked at her, I
perceived to my dismay, that she was crying bitterly. I felt so awkward
that I did not know what to say, and I stood staring, while she pulled
down her veil with a jerk, and hurried on. I could not help going into
Minnie's to ask her what she thought it could mean. Minnie, of course,
knew all about it.

"She has been in here, and I have been giving her a piece of my mind. I
hope it will do her good. Crying, was she? I am very glad of it."

"But, Minnie! how could you? how did you dare to? how did you begin?" I
asked in amazement, heightened by the disrespectful way in which Minnie
had dealt with elective affinities.

"Oh, very easily. I began about her children, and said how very delicate
they looked, and that we all thought they needed a great deal of care."

"But she does seem to take a great deal of care of them. She has them
with her most of the time."

"Yes; that's just it. She always has them, because she wants to use them
for a cover. I am sure she takes them out in very unfit weather, and
keeps them out too long, just for a pretext to be strolling about with
him."

"You certainly have more courage than I could muster up," I said. "What
else did you say?"

"I did not say anything else out plainly; but I saw she understood
perfectly well what I meant."

"I don't see how you ever dared to do it."

"It is enough to make one do something to live next door to her as I do.
You know that Walter Dana has not been at either of the two last
dancing-classes. Well, it is just because he has been there, spending
the whole evening with her alone. I have been kept at home myself, and
have seen him with my own eyes going away before Mr. Williams gets home.
I can see their front gate from where I sit now, and the electric light
strikes full on every one who comes and goes."

I thought this was about enough, but we were to have yet more positive
proof. One evening, soon after, we were all at the Jenkses'. It was a
large party, and the rooms were hot and crowded. The Williamses were
there, and Walter Dana; but he did not go near Loulie; he paid her no
more attention in company than anybody else--from motives of policy,
most probably--and she was even quieter than usual, and seemed weary and
depressed. Mrs. Jenks asked her to sing, and she refused with more than
her ordinary decision. "She would rather not sing to-night, if Mrs.
Jenks did not mind," and this refusal she repeated without variation.
But Mrs. Jenks did mind very much; she had asked some people from a
distance, on purpose to hear Mrs. Williams, and when she had implored in
vain, and made all her guests do so too, she finally, in despair,
directed herself to Mr. Williams, who seemed in very good spirits, as he
always did in company. It was enough for him to know that Professor
Perkins and Judge Wheelwright depended on hearing his wife, to rouse
his pride at once, and I heard him say to her coaxingly:

"Come, Loulou, don't you think you could sing a little?"

Loulou said something in so low a tone that I could not catch a word.

"Yes, dear, I know; but I really don't think there's any reason for
it--and they have all come to hear you, and it seems disobliging not
to."

Again Loulie's reply was inaudible, all but the last words, "Cannot get
through with it."

"Oh, yes, you will. Come, darling, won't you? Just once, to oblige me.
It won't last long."

Loulie still looked most unwilling, but she rose, more as if too tired
to contest the point than anything else, and walked over to the piano.
Her cheeks were burning, but I saw her shiver as she sat down. Her
husband followed her, looking a little anxious, and I wondered if they
had been having a scene. Surely the course of dissimulation she was
keeping up must have its inevitable effect on her nerves and temper, but
her voice rang out as thrilling and triumphant as ever. She sang an
English song to the old French air _Musette de Nina_. It was a silly,
sentimental thing, all about parted loves and hopeless regrets; but the
most foolish words used to sound grandly expressive as she gave them.
When she came to the last line, "The flowers of life will never bloom
more," at "never" her accompaniment stopped, her voice shook, struggled
with the next words, paused, and a look of despair transformed her whole
face. I followed the direction of her eyes, and caught sight of Walter
Dana, just visible in the doorway, and, like every other mortal in the
room, gazing on her in rapt attention. It was like looking on a soul in
torture, and we all shuddered as we saw it. What must it have been for
him? He grew crimson, and made an uneasy movement, which seemed to break
the spell; for, Loulie, rousing herself with an effort, struck a ringing
chord, and taking up the words on a lower note, carried them through to
the end, her voice gaining strength with the repetition that the air
demanded. No one asked her to sing again; and when she rose Walter Dana
had disappeared, and the Williamses left very soon afterward.

Things had come to such a pass now that we most sincerely repented our
desire for a Tolstoi novel among us; and if this was life as it was in
Russia, we heartily wished it could be confined to that country. We felt
that something shocking was sure to happen soon, and so it did; but if
you go through with an earthquake, I am told, it never seems at all like
what you expected, and this came in a most unlooked-for way. It was on
a day when our Tolstoi Club met at Minnie Mason's, and she looked really
ill and miserable. She said she had enough to make her so; and when we
were all assembled, she asked one of us to shut all the doors, lest the
servants should hear us, and then took out, from a locked drawer in her
desk, a newspaper. It was the kind of paper that we had always regarded
as improper to buy, or even to look at, and we wondered how Minnie had
ever got hold of it; but she unfolded it nervously, and showed us a
marked passage:

     "It is rumoured that proceedings for a divorce will soon be
     taken by a prominent Boston artist, whose lovely wife is
     widely known in first-class musical circles. The
     co-respondent is an old admirer of the lady's, as well as an
     intimate friend of her husband's."

We all read these words with horror, and Emmie Richards began to cry.

"We ought to have done _something_ to prevent it," said Blanche,
decidedly.

"What could we do?" said I.

"Poor Willie hasn't a relation who could look after those children,"
murmured Bessie Milliken.

We all felt moved to offer our services upon the spot, but just then
there came a loud ring at the door-bell. We all started. It could not be
a belated member of the club, for we always walked right in. Minnie had
given orders, as usual, to be denied to any chance caller; but in a
moment the door opened, and the maid announced that Mr. Williams was in
the hall, and wished to see Mrs. Mason.

"Ask Mr. Williams, Ellen, if he will please to leave a message; tell him
I am engaged with my Tolstoi Club."

"I did, ma'am; but he says he wishes to see the club. He says it is on
very particular business, ma'am," as Minnie hesitated, and looked for
our opinion. Our amazement was so great that it deprived us of words,
and Minnie, after a moment, could only bow her head in silent
affirmation to the girl, who vanished directly. Could Mrs. Williams have
eloped, and had her husband rushed round to claim the sympathy of his
female friends, among whom were so many of his old flames? It was a most
eccentric proceeding, but we felt that if any man were capable of it, it
was poor Willie. But even this conjecture failed, and our very reason
seemed forsaking us, as Mr. Williams walked into the room, followed by
Mr. Walter Dana, who looked rather awkward on the occasion, while
Willie, on the contrary, was quite at his ease, and was faultlessly
dressed in a London walking-suit of the newest cut; for he had plenty of
such things, though he hated to wear them. He carried a large note-case
in his hand.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Mason," he began, "good-morning--" with a bow that
took us all in; and without an invitation, which Minnie was too confused
to give, he comfortably settled himself on a vacant chair, which
proceeding Mr. Dana imitated, though with much less self-assurance,
while his conductor, as he appeared to be, went on: "I beg your pardon
for disturbing you; but I am sorry to find that you have been giving
credence, if not circulation, to some very unpleasant and utterly false
rumours concerning my wife's character. I do not know, nor do I care to
know, how they originated, but I wish to put a stop to them; and as Mr.
Dana is the other person chiefly concerned in them, I have brought him
with me."

I believe we felt as if we should like to sink into the earth; nay, it
seemed to me that we must have done so, and come out in China, where
everything is different. Willie Williams, without a lisp, without a
smile, grave as a judge, and talking like a lawyer opening a case--it
was a transformation to inspire any one with awe. He saw that we were
frightened, and proceeded in a milder tone, but one equally strange in
our ears.

"Don't think I mean to blame you. I know women will talk, and I do not
believe any of you meant the least harm, or dreamed of things going as
far as they have. Indeed, Louise [!] attaches no importance to
it whatever. She says it is only idle gossip, and will die out if let
alone, and she did not wish me to take any notice of it; but I felt that
I must do so on my own account, if not on hers. I don't care what trash
gets into such journals as that," and he looked scornfully at the
unhappy newspaper, which we wished we had never touched with a pair of
tongs; "but I do not want our friends and neighbours to think more
meanly of me than I deserve, when I have it in my power to put a stop to
it at once. Mr. Dana, is it true that you and Mrs. Williams were ever in
love with each other?"

"It is not," replied Mr. Dana, who began to take courage under the
skilful peroration of his chief. "I was never on any terms with Mrs.
Williams, when she was Miss Latham, but those of the very slightest,
and, of course, most respectful acquaintance. I don't believe we ever
exchanged a dozen words."

"I believe you," murmured Blanche Livermore, who sat next to me, and
whose unruly tongue nothing could long subdue; and indeed we had none
of us supposed that Loulie Latham conducted her love-affairs by means of
conversation.

"Did you dance the german with her at the Eliot Hall Assembly on January
4, 188-?"

"I regret very much that I never had the pleasure of dancing the german
with Mrs. Williams. At the party to which you refer I danced with Miss
Wilmerding."

We all remembered Alice Wilmerding and her red hair, just the shade of
Loulie Latham's, but which had not procured her an artist for a husband;
indeed, it had not procured any at all, for she was still single.

"Neither," pursued Willie Williams, "is there any truth in the report
that Louise was obliged to marry me for a support. She had no need to do
so, being possessed of very sufficient means of her own, as I can show
by her bank-account at that date."

How he had got hold of every scrap we had said to one another, and even
of all we had thought, we could not imagine then, but we afterward found
out that he had procured every item from the editor of that horrid
paper, under threats of instant personal and legal attack; and as to how
this person happened to know so much, I can only advise you not to say
or think anything you would be ashamed to have known while there are
such papers in existence.

"The only reason that Loulou and I married each other," went on Loulou's
husband, "is that we loved each other; and we love each other now, if
possible, twice as much as we did then. If you think she does not care
for me because she is not demonstrative in company, you are mistaken.
She gives me as much proof of it as I want. We all have our
peculiarities, and I know I have a great many which she puts up with
better than most women would. Of course I don't expect her to be without
hers either; but they don't trouble me any more than mine do her, and,
besides, most of what has struck you as singular in her behaviour can be
easily explained. You have thought she was conceited about her music,
but it's no such thing; she has not an atom of conceit in her; indeed,
she thinks too humbly of herself. She has heard so much music of the
highest class that she thinks little of any drawing-room performance,
her own or anybody else's, and her reluctance to sing is genuine, for
she has a horror of being urged or complimented out of mere politeness.
You are not pleased, I hear" [_how_ could he know that?], "that she
refused to join all your clubs and classes; one reason was that she
really did not care to. Every one has a right to one's own taste; she
has met a great deal of artistic and literary society abroad, and has
become accustomed to live among people who are doing something; and it
is tedious to her to go about so much with people who are always talking
about things, as we are given to do here. She is really fond of hard
reading, as but few women are; and she likes better, for instance, to
stay at home and spend her time in reading Dante by herself in the
original, than to go to a club and hear him talked over, with a little
skimming from a translation interspersed. She dresses to please me and
herself, and not to be envied or admired; and if she has a fondness for
pretty clothes for their own sake, that is not surprising, when she had
so little chance to indulge it when she was a girl."

Here he paused, and it was high time, for we were growing restive under
the catalogue of his wife's virtues; but in a moment he resumed.

"There is another reason, too, why she has not been more sociable with
you all. You don't know how unhappy Loulou is about her children; but
you do know, perhaps, that we have lost two,"--here his voice faltered
slightly, with some faint suggestion of the Willie Williams of our old
acquaintance,--"and she is terribly afraid that the others will not live
to grow up. I don't think them as fragile as she does; but they do look
delicate, there's no denying it. We came home, and here, very much on
their account; but yours are all so healthy and blooming that it's
almost too much for poor Loulou sometimes, especially when people--" he
was considerate enough not to look at Minnie--"tell her that they look
poorly, and that she ought to be more careful of them. How can she be?
She is always with them--more than is good for her; but she has an idea
that they won't eat as much as they ought, or go to sleep when they
should, without her; and she never leaves them at lunch, which is, of
course, their dinner. I think she is a little morbid about them, but I
can't torment her to leave it off; and I hope, as they get older and
stronger, she'll be more cheerful. It is this that makes her out of
spirits sometimes, and not any foolish nonsense about being in love with
anybody else."

"_Mon âne parle, et même il parle bien!_" whispered the incorrigible
Blanche, and though I don't think it fair to call Willie Williams an ass
at any time, our surprise at his present fluency was nearly as great as
the prophet's. He seemed now to have made an end of what he wished to
say, but Mr. Dana, whose presence we had nearly forgotten, looked at him
meaningly, as if in request.

"Oh, yes--I had forgotten--but it is only due to Mr. Dana to say that he
has been coming to my house a good deal lately on business. I would tell
you all about it, but it's rather private." But, humbled as we were, we
could not hear this without a protesting murmur, disclaiming all vulgar
curiosity. I did, indeed, wonder for a moment if he were painting
Walter's portrait; if he were, I did not think it strange that the
latter looked a little sheepish about it; but I afterward found out
through Tom that it concerned some good offices of them both for an old
friend in distress. "When he came to my house in the evening when I was
out, it was to meet another person, and Mrs. Williams, half the time,
never saw either of them. As to that song at Mrs. Jenks's party, which,
I hear, created so much comment, she was feeling very unhappy that night
because little Violet had a cold, and she thought she might have made a
mistake in trying to keep her out, and toughen her, as you do your
children here. Perhaps that heightened her expression; but as to
breaking down on the last line of the song, that effect was one of
Giudotti's lessons, and he taught her how to give that look. He always
said she had the making of a great tragic actress in her. She does try
to look at the wall," went on Willie, simply, "but it was so crowded
there that she could not, and Mr. Dana could not help standing in the
way of it. I think I have said all I need say--and I hope you won't mind
it or think I am very impertinent, but I couldn't bear to have this
thing going on; and I hope we shall all be as good friends as we were
before, and that it will all be very soon forgotten." And he bowed and
departed, followed by Mr. Dana, with alacrity.

We were doubtful as to these happy results. We could all admire Willie
Williams for standing up so gallantly for his wife, but we did not like
her any the better for being so successfully stood up for, and we felt
that we could never forget the unpleasant sensation he had given us. It
took a long course of seeing him in his old shape and presentment among
us--working in the same flamboyant clothes, at paintings as execrable as
ever; with the same lisp, and the same trip and jerk, and the same easy
good nature, and trifling enthusiasms--to forget that he had ever
inspired us with actual fear, and might again, though he never has. We
came also, in course of time, to like Loulou better, though it was
rather galling to see how little she heeded the matter that cost us all
so much remorse; but she lost her reserve in great measure as her
children grew healthier and more like other people's. I think the
hatchet was fairly buried for good and all when, in another year, she
had another baby, a splendid boy weighing nine pounds and three
quarters, at whose birth more enthusiasm was manifested in Babyland than
on any similar occasion before, and who was loaded with the most
beautiful presents, one in particular from Minnie Mason, who was much
better, for her recovery of health dates from that sudden incursion into
our Tolstoi Club, and the shock it gave her.

I should have said as to that, that after the men had left us Blanche
Livermore exclaimed, "Well, girls, I think we are pretty sufficiently
crushed!"

This was generous of Blanche, when she was the only one among us who had
ever expressed any incredulity as to the "Russian novel," as we called
it. "The fact is," she went on, "I have come to the conclusion that we
have not yet advanced to the realistic period here; we are living in the
realms of the ideal; and, what is worse, I fear I am so benighted that I
like it best; don't you?" And, encouraged by an inarticulate but
affirmatory murmur from all of us, she proceeded:

"Let us all agree to settle down contentedly behind the age in our
provinciality; and, that we may keep so, let us cut the realists in
fiction, and take up something they don't approve of. I vote that we
devote the rest of the season to a good thorough course of Walter
Scott!"

And so we did.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

A LITTLE FOOL


"What, my dear Marian! And do you really and truly mean to say you
thought of taking the girl without going to ask her character!"

"There are so many difficulties about it. You see, she lived last with
Mrs. Donald Craighead for two years, and that would be quite enough for
a character. They all went abroad in a great hurry on account of Mr.
Craighead's health, and Mrs. Craighead promised to give her one, but
forgot it, and she couldn't bear to bother them when they were all in
such trouble. I know myself that all that about them is true."

"So do I; but that does not prove that she ever lived with them. Cannot
she refer to any of the family?"

"No; she did nothing but laundry work there, and never saw any of their
friends, I fancy; but she does have a written character from the family
she lived with before them, very nice people in South Boston."

"What's their name?"

"I don't remember," said Miss Marian Carter, blushing, "but I have it
written down at home."

"I should certainly go there, if I were you."

"It is so far off, and I never went there in my life."

"Well, you ought. It sounds very suspicious. Of course there are a few
nice people in South Boston; they have to live there because they own
factories and things, and have to be near them; but then, again, there
are such dreadful neighbourhoods there. Most likely she depends on your
not taking the trouble, and you will find the number she gave you over
some low grog-shop."

"Oh, I should be so frightened! I really do not think I can go!"

"You surely ought not to risk taking her without, and very likely have
her turn out an accomplice of burglars, like that Norah of mine, through
whom I lost so much silver."

"I thought you had a character with her."

"So I did, or I should not have taken her. I make it a principle not to.
It only shows how great the danger is with a character; without one it
amounts to a certainty."

"She was such a nice-looking girl!"

"That makes no difference. I always mistrust maids who look too nice.
They are sure to have some story, or scrape, or something, like that
Florence of mine, who looked so much of a lady, and turned out to be a
clergyman's daughter, and had run away from her husband--a most
respectable man. He came to the house after her, and gave no end of
trouble."

"But this girl did not look at all like that; not a bit above her place,
but so neatly dressed, and with a plain, sensible way about her; and her
name is Drusilla Elms--such a quaint, old-fashioned, American-sounding
name, quite refreshing to hear."

"It sounds very like an assumed name. The very worst woman I ever had
was named Bathsheba Fogg; she turned out to have been a chorus girl at
some low theatre, and must have picked it up from some farce or other."

"Then you really think I ought to go to South Boston?"

"I should do so in your place," replied Mrs. William Treadwell.

This gave but scant encouragement, for Marian could not but feel that
the result of her friend's going and that of her own, might be very
different; and Mrs. Treadwell, as she watched her visitor off, smiled
good-humouredly, but pityingly. "Poor dear Marian! What a little fool
she is to swallow everything that she is told in that way! It is a
wonder that the Carters ever have a decent servant in their house."

However much of a wonder it might be, it was still a fact; but it did
not occur to Marian, as she bent her way homeward, to revive her feeble
self-confidence, crushed flat by her friend's scorn, with any
recollection that such fearful tales as she had just heard were without
a parallel in her own experience. It is to be feared that she was a
little fool, though she kept her mother's house very well and carefully,
if, indeed, it were her mother's house. Nobody but the tax-gatherer knew
to whom it really belonged, and he forgot between each assessment. It
stood on Burroughs street, Jamaica Plain, a neighbourhood that still
boasts an air of dignified repose. It was without the charm of a really
old-fashioned house, or even such as may be possessed by a modern
imitation of one; indeed it bore the stamp of that unfortunate period
which may be called the middle age of American architecture, extending,
at a rough estimate, from 1820 to 1865; but it was a well-built house,
and looked, as at present inhabited, a pleasant abode enough, of
sufficient size to accommodate a numerous female flock--Marian's
grandmother and her great-aunt, her mother and her aunt, her widowed
sister and two children, a trained nurse who was treated as one of the
family, three servants, and Marian herself to make up the round dozen.
The grandmother had lost the use of her limbs, and the great-aunt that
of her mind; the mother and the trained nurse were devoted to them, and
the aunt to philanthropic objects, and the sister to her children; so
the housekeeper's duties devolved on Marian, though she was still but a
child in her elders' eyes, and were well discharged, as they all
allowed, though qualifying their praise with the remark that it was
"easy enough to keep a house without a man in it."

As Marian Carter passed along bustling, suburban Centre Street, she
looked a very flower of the Western world of feminine liberty; fine and
fair, free and fearless, coming and going at her own pleasure, on foot
or by the horse-cars, those levellers of privilege; no duenna to track
her steps, no yashmak or veil to hide her charms. Yet the fact was that
she knew less of men than if she had lived in a harem or a convent. She
had no sultan, no father confessor. She could not, like Miss Pole of
Cranford memory, claim to know the other sex by virtue of her father
having been a man, for Marian's father had died before she was born. Her
sister Isabel and she had had friends, and had gone into society in a
mild way, and being pretty girls, had met with a little general
attention, but nothing ever came of it. The family never entertained,
except now and then an old friend to tea, their means and opportunity
being small; nor could young men venture to call. The grandmother had
been a great invalid before she lost the use of her limbs, and the
great-aunt a formidable person before she lost that of her mind, while
Aunt Caroline from her youth upward had developed a great distaste for
the society of men, even when viewed as objects of philanthropy.

When Isabel was four and twenty she went to New York to visit some
cousins, and though they lived very quietly, she made the acquaintance
of a young civil engineer, at home on a vacation from his work in the
United States of Colombia, who had married and borne her off after the
briefest possible courtship, never to see her old home again till she
came back, ten years after, a widow with two children, to eke out her
small means by the shelter of the family abode. I cannot delay the
humiliating confession, postponed as long as may be for the sake of the
artistic unity of my picture, that the youngest of these children was a
boy, if, as his mother was wont to plead, "a very little one." He was
dressed in as unboyish a fashion as possible, and being christened
Winthrop, was always called Winnie. He was a quiet, gentle child, kept
down by his position; but though thus made the best of, he was felt to
be an inconvenience and an encumbrance, if not now, certainly in the
future. There was no end to the trouble it would make when Winnie grew
older, and required a room to himself, and would be obliged to go to a
boys' school, which might even lead up to the direful contingency of his
"bringing home other boys."

After Isabel's departure, Marian, though the prettier of the two, found
it dull to go about alone. No one asked her to New York; the cousin had
died, and the cousin's husband had married again; and when she grew past
the dancing age, perhaps earlier than she need, she went nowhere where
she had any chance of meeting any men but the husbands of one or two
married friends, and she was such a little fool that she fancied they
despised her for being an old maid. She knew she was five-and-thirty on
her last birthday, and was foolish enough to be afraid and ashamed of
owning to it. She need not have done so, for she did not look a day
older than twenty-five; but the memories of her contemporaries were
pitiless.

She enjoyed her housekeeping, which gave her life some object, and her
intercourse with her butcher, a fine young fellow who admired her
hugely, was the nearest approach to a love-affair in which she had ever
indulged, so much sentiment did he contrive to throw about the legs of
mutton and the Sunday roast. Though honestly thinking herself happy,
and her position a fortunate one, she relished a change, which seldom
came, and was glad of the prospect of a visit to South Boston, now that
she could conscientiously say she ought to go since Emma Treadwell had
ordered it. The excitement of going off the beaten track was heightened
by the mystery which invested the affair. Marian had not dared to
confess to her managing friend that the "written character" to which she
referred had struck her rather oddly when the neat, civil, young, but
not too young woman whose appearance had so favourably impressed her had
handed it to her with an air which seemed to indicate that nothing more
need be said on the subject, although it only said, "Drusilla Elms
refers by permission to ---- Hayward, City Point, South Boston," in a
great, scrawling, masculine-looking hand. The name was easy enough to
read, a painful effort having evidently been made to write thus much
legibly; but the title, be it Mr., Mrs., or Miss, was so utterly
unreadable that Marian, who dreaded, like most timid people, to put a
direct question, ventured upon an indirect one:

"Is--Mr. Hayward a widower?"

"Oh, dear, no, ma'am!" replied Drusilla, emphatically.

"And--they--still live there?"

"Oh, dear, yes, ma'am!"

Marian was very glad that the Saturday she chose for her expedition was
Aunt Caroline's day for the Women's and Children's Hospital, and that
Isabel had taken Minna and Winnie for a holiday trip into town to see
the Art Museum, which left fewer people at home to whom to explain her
errand, and to whose comments to reply. Mrs. Carter said it was silly to
go so far, and if she couldn't be satisfied to take the girl without,
she had better find some one near by. The trained nurse, who was slowly
but surely getting the whole household under her control, said that Miss
Carter's beautiful new spring suit would be ruined going all the way to
South Boston in the horse-cars; and Mrs. Carter, who would never have
thought of this herself, seconded her. Marian did not argue the point,
but she wore the dress nevertheless. She never felt that anything she
wore made any impression on any one she knew, but she could not help
fancying that if she had the chance she might impress strangers. No one
she knew ever called her pretty, and perhaps five-and-thirty was too old
to be thought so; and yet, if there was any meaning in the word, it
might surely be applied to the soft, shady darkness of her hair and
eyes, and the delicate bloom of her cheeks and lips, set off by that
silver-grey costume, with its own skilfully blended lights and shades of
silk and cashmere, and the purple and white lilacs that were wreathed
together on her small bonnet. She made a bad beginning, for while still
enjoying the effect of her graceful draperies as she entered the
horse-car for Boston, she carelessly caught the handle of her nice grey
silk sunshade in the door, and snapped it short in the middle. She could
have cried, though the man who always mended their umbrellas assured
her, with a bow and smile, that it should be mended, when she called for
it on her way back, "so that she would never know it;" but it deprived
her costume of the finishing touch, and she really needed it on this
warm sunny day; then, it was a bad omen, and she was foolish enough to
believe in omens. Her disturbance prevented her from observing much of
the route after she had drifted into a car for South Boston, and had
assured herself that it was the right one. Perhaps this was as well, as
the first part of the way was sufficiently uninviting to have frightened
her out of her intention had she looked about her. When at last she did,
they were passing along a wide street lined with sufficiently
substantial brick buildings, chiefly devoted to business, crossed by
narrower ones of small wooden houses more or less respectable in
appearance; but surely no housemaid who would suit them could ever have
served in one of these. Great rattling drays squeezed past the car, and
Chinese laundrymen noiselessly got in and out. The one landmark she had
heard of in South Boston, and for aught she knew the reason of its
existence, was the Perkins Institution for the Blind, which her Aunt
Caroline sometimes visited. But she passed the Institution, and still
went on and on. That the world extended so far in that direction was an
amazement in itself; she knew that there must be something there to fill
up, but she had had a vague idea that it might be water, which is so
accommodating in filling up the waste spaces of the terrestrial globe.
Finally the now nearly empty car came to a full stop at the foot of a
hill, the track winding off around it, and the conductor, of whom she
had asked her way, approached her with the patronising deference which
men in his position were very apt to assume to her: "Lady, you'll have
to get out here, and walk up the hill. Keep straight ahead, and you
can't miss it."

"And can I take the car here when I come back?" asked Marian, clinging
as if to an ark of refuge.

"Oh, yes," said the man, encouragingly; "we're along every ten minutes.
It ain't far off."

Marian slowly touched one little foot, and then another, to the unknown
and almost foreign soil of South Boston. She looked wistfully after the
car till it turned a corner, and left her stranded, before she began
slowly to climb the hill. It was warm, and she missed her sunshade. "I
shall be shockingly burned!" she thought. She looked about her, and
acknowledged that the street was a pleasant, sunny one, and that its
commonplace architecture gained in picturesqueness by its steep ascent.
As she neared the top the houses grew larger, scattered among garden
grounds, and she at last found the number she looked for on the
gate-post of one of the largest. She walked up a brick-paved path to the
front door between thick box borders, inclosing beds none too well
weeded, but whose bowery shrubs and great clumps of old-fashioned bulbs
and perennials had acquired the secure possession of the soil that comes
with age. Behind them were grape-vines trained on trellises, over which
rose the blossoming heads of tall old cherry-trees, and through the
interstices in the flowery wall might be caught glimpses of an old
garden where grass and flowers and vegetables mingled at haphazard. It
dated from the days when people planted gardens with a view to what they
could get out of them, regardless of effect; and the house, in like
manner, had been built to live in rather than to look at. No one could
say how it had looked before trees had shaded it and creepers enveloped
it so completely. The veranda which ran around it was well sheltered
from the street, fortunately, thought Marian, for the bamboo chairs and
sofas, piled up with rugs and cushions, with which it was crowded, were
heaped with newspapers, and hats, and tennis-rackets, and riding-whips,
and garden-tools, and baskets, tossed carelessly about. On the door-mat
lay a large dog, who flopped his tail up and down with languid courtesy
as she approached. She was terribly afraid of him, but thought it safer
to face him than to turn her back upon him, and edging by him, gave a
feeble ring at the door-bell. No one came. She rang again with more
energy, and then, after a brief pause, the door was opened by a
half-grown boy.

Marian only knew a very few families who aspired to have their doors
opened by anything more than a parlour-maid, and these had butlers of
unimpeachable respectability. But this young person had a bright, but
roguish look, which accorded better with the page of farce than with one
of real life. He seemed surprised to see her, though he bowed civilly.

"Is Mrs. Hayward at home?" asked Marian, in the most dulcet of small
voices; and as he looked at her with a stare that seemed as if it might
develop into a grin, she added, "or any of the ladies of the family? I
only wish to see one of them on business."

"Walk in, please, ma'am, and I'll see," faltered the porter, appearing
perplexed; and he opened the door, and ushered Marian across a wide hall
with a great, old-fashioned staircase at the further end--a place that
would have had no end of capabilities about it in a modern decorator's
eyes, but which looked now rather bare and unfurnished, save for pegs
loaded with hats and coats, and stands of umbrellas--into a long, low
room that looked crowded enough. Low bookcases ran around the walls, and
there were a great many tables heaped with books and magazines, and a
piano littered with music in a most slovenly condition; a music-stand or
two, and a violin and violoncello in their cases clustered about it. The
walls over the books were hung with old portraits, which looked as if
they might be valuable; among them were squeezed in whips, and long
pipes on racks, and calendars, and over them were hung horns and heads
of unknown beasts, whose skins lay on the floor. Over the fireplace hung
a sword and a pair of pistols in well-worn cases, but they were free
from dust, which many of the furnishings were not. The long windows at
the side opened on to the veranda, which was even more carelessly
strewed with the family possessions than at the front door, and from
which steps led down to a tennis-court in faultless trim, the only
orderly spot on the premises.

What a poor housekeeper Mrs. Hayward must be! She must let the men of
the family do exactly as they pleased, and there must be at least half a
dozen of them, while not a trace of feminine occupation was to be seen.
No servant from here could hope to suit the Carter household, no matter
how good a character she brought. But somehow the intensely masculine
air of the place had a wild fascination for Marian herself, in spite of
warning remembrances of how much her family would be shocked. There was
something delicious in the freedom with which letters and papers were
tossed about, and books piled up anywhere, while their proper homes
stood vacant, and in the soothing, easy tolerance with which persecuted
dust was allowed to find a quiet resting-place. A pungent and pleasing
perfume pervaded the premises, which seemed appropriate and agreeable to
her delicate senses, even though she supposed it must be tobacco-smoke.
She had smelled tobacco only as it exhaled from passers in the street,
and surely this fine, ineffable aroma came from a different source than
theirs! While she daintily inhaled it as she looked curiously about, her
ears became aware of singular sounds--a subdued scuffling and scraping
at the door at the further end of the room, and a breathing at its
keyhole, which gave her an unpleasant sensation of being watched; and
she instantly sat stiffly upright and looked straight before her, her
heart beating with wonder and affright lest the situation might prove
actually dangerous. The sounds suddenly ceased, and in a moment more a
halting step was heard outside, and a gentleman came in at the other
door--a tall man, whose hair was thick, but well sprinkled with grey;
whose figure, lean and lank, had a certain easy swing about its motions,
in spite of a very perceptible limp; and whose face, brown and thin, and
marred by a long scar right across the left cheek, had something
attractive in its expression as he came forward with a courteous,
expectant look. Marian could only bow.

"I beg your pardon; did you wish to see me?" inquired the stranger, in a
deep, low voice that sounded as if it might be powerful on occasion.

"Oh, I am very sorry to trouble you! I only wanted to see the mistress
of the house, if she is able----"

"I am afraid I am the only person who answers to that description."
There was a good-natured twinkle in his eye, and he had a pleasant
smile, but his evident amusement abashed her. "I keep my own house," he
went on.

"Oh, I beg your pardon! I thought there was a Mrs. Hayward!"

"I am sorry to say that there is none. But I am Mr. Hayward, and shall
be very glad if I can be of any service to you."

"I don't want to disturb you," said Marian, blushing deeply, while Mr.
Hayward, with, "Will you allow me?" drew up a chair and sat down, as if
to put her more at her ease. "It is only--only--" here she came to a
dead stop. "I do not want to take up so much of your time," she
confusedly stammered.

"Not at all; I shall be very happy--" he paused too, not knowing how to
fill up the blank, and waited quietly, while Marian sought frantically
in her little bag for a paper which was, of course, at the very bottom.
"It is only," she began again--"only to ask you about the character of a
chambermaid named Drusilla--yes, Drusilla Elms. I think it must be you
she refers to; at least I copied the address from the reference she
showed me; here it is," handing him the slip of paper; and as he took
out his eyeglass to study it, "only I couldn't tell--I didn't
know--whether it was Mr., or Mrs., or what it was before the name, I am
very sorry."

"So am I. It has been the great misfortune of my life, I assure you,
that I write such a confounded--such an execrable hand. Pray accept my
apologies for it."

"Oh, it was not a bad hand!--not at all! It was my own stupidity! I
suppose you really did give her the character, then?"

"In spite of your politeness, I am afraid I too plainly recognise the
bewildering effect of my own scrawl. I think I must have given her the
reference, though I don't remember doing so."

"The name is so peculiar----"

"Yes; but the fact is that our old Catherine, who has been cook here for
a longer time than I can reckon, generally engages our other maid for
us, and she dislikes to change the name, and calls them all Margaret. I
think we had a very nice Margaret two years ago, but I will go and ask
Catherine; she may recollect."

"Oh, don't trouble yourself! I have no doubt that you are quite
right--none at all!"

"But I have so many doubts, I should like to be a little surer; and if
you will excuse me for a moment--well! _What_, in the devil's name, are
you up to now?"

It must be explained that by this time he had reached the further door,
and that the sudden close of his speech was addressed, not to Marian,
but to some invisible person, or rather persons; for the subdued
laughter which responded, the very equivalent to a girlish giggle,
surely came from more than one pair of boyish lungs. Some stifled
speech, too, was heard, to which the master of the house replied, "Go to
----, then, and be quick about it!" as he closed the door behind him,
leaving Marian trembling with apprehension lest he might be mad or
drunk. And yet if this were swearing, and she feared it was, there was
something gratifying in the sound of a good, round, mouth-filling oath,
especially when contrasted with the extreme and punctilious deference of
his speech to her. He came back in a moment, and, standing before her
with head inclined, said, as if apologising for some misdeed of his own:

"I am very sorry, but Catherine is out, doing her marketing. She will
probably return soon, if you do not mind waiting."

"Oh, no!" said Marian, shocked with the idea that her presence might be
inconvenient; "I could not possibly wait! I am in a very great hurry."

"Then, if you will allow me to write what she says? I promise," he
added, with another humorous twinkle in his eye, "to try and write my
very best."

"Thank you, if it is not too much trouble," said Marian, rising, and
edging toward the door as if she had some hopes of getting off
unnoticed. It was confusing to have him follow her with an air of
expectation, she could not imagine of what, though she had a
consciousness, too, of having forgotten something, which made her
linger, trying to recollect it. He slowly turned the handle of the outer
door, and, opening it for her exit, seemed waiting for her to say
something--what, she racked her brains in vain to discover. He looked
amused again, and as if he would have spoken himself; but Marian, with a
sudden start, exclaimed, "Oh, dear, it rains!" She had not noticed how
dark the sky was growing, but to judge by the looks of the pavement, it
had been quietly showering for some time.

"So it does!" said he. "That is a pity. I fear you are not very well
protected against it."

"Oh, it doesn't matter!" cried Marian, recklessly; "it is only a step to
the horse-cars."

"Enough for you to get very wet, I am afraid."

"It isn't of the least consequence. I have nothing on that will
hurt--nothing at all!"

Mr. Hayward looked admiringly and incredulously at the lilacs on her
bonnet. "I can hardly suppose your flowers are real ones, though
certainly they look very much like them; if they are not, I fear a
shower will scarcely prove of advantage to them. You must do me the
honour of letting me see you to the car." As he spoke he extracted from
the stand an enormous silk umbrella with a big handle, nearly as large
as Marian herself.

"I could not think of it!" she cried, and hurried down the wet steps,
sweeping them with the dainty plaiting round the edge of her silvery
skirt.

"Oh, but you must!" he went on in a tone of lazy good humour, yet as one
not accustomed to be refused. There was something paternal in his manner
gratifying to her, for as he could not be much over fifty, he must think
her much younger than she really was.

"Don't hurry; there is a car every ten minutes, and a very good place to
wait in; there--take care of the wet box, please, with your dress, and
take my arm, if you don't mind."

"Oh, no, thank you! Really, I am very well covered!" protested Marian,
squeezing herself and her gown into the smallest possible space. The big
umbrella was up before she knew it, and he was hobbling along the brick
path by her side, in an old pair of yellow leather slippers as ill
fitted to keep out the wet as her own shining little shoes.

"I am very sorry you should have been caught in this way," he said
apologetically.

"Don't mention it."

"I hope you have not far to go."

"Oh, no, indeed! That is--yes, rather far; but when I get into the car,
I am all right, because it meets--I mean, I can take a cab. It is very
easy to get about in town, you know." She turned while he opened the
gate, and caught sight of the front windows, thronged, like the gates of
Paradise Lost, with faces which might indeed have served as models for a
very realistic study, in modern style, of cherubim, being those of
healthy boys of all ages from twelve to twenty, each wearing a broad
grin of delight.

"Confound 'em!" muttered her conductor in a low tone, but Marian caught
the words, and the accompanying grimace which he flung back over his
shoulder. Could his remarkable house be a boys' school? If so, he was
the very oddest teacher, and his discipline the most extraordinary, she
had ever heard of; it was too easy of egress, surely, to be a private
lunatic asylum, a thought which had already excited her fears.

"Please lower your head a little, Miss--" he paused for the name, but
she did not fill up the gap; "the creepers hang so low here," and he
carefully held the umbrella so as best to protect her from the dripping
sprays.

"How very pretty your garden is!" she said as he closed the gate.

"It is a sad straggling place; we all run pretty wild here, I am
afraid."

"But it is so picturesque!"

"Picturesque it may be, and we get a good deal of fruit and vegetables
out of it; it isn't a show garden, but it is a comfort to have any
breathing-place in a city."

"This seems a very pleasant neighbourhood."

"Hum! well, yes; I think it pleasant enough. It is my old home; near the
water, too, and the boys like the boating. It's out of the way of
society, but then, we have no ladies to look after. It is easy enough,
you know, for men to come and go anyhow."

"Coming and going anyhow" rang with a delicious thrill of freedom in
Marian's ears, and in the midst of her alarm at possible consequences
she revelled in her adventure, such a one as she had never had before,
and probably never should again; and there was the car tinkling on its
early way. Mr. Hayward signed to it to stop, and waded in his slippers
through the wet dust, for it could not be called mud yet, to hand her
deferentially in.

"You are sure you can get along now?" he asked, as the car came to a
stop.

"Oh, yes, indeed! Thank you so much; I am very sorry----"

"No need of it, I assure you. I am sorry I cannot do more." He looked
at the big umbrella doubtfully, and so did she; but the idea of offering
it to her was too absurd, and they both laughed, which Marian feared was
improperly free and easy for her. Then, as she turned on the step to bow
her farewell, he added, "I beg your pardon; but you have forgotten to
leave me your address. I should be very glad to write in case
Catherine----"

"Mrs. W. Cracker, 40 Washington Street," stammered Marian, frightened
out of her little sense, and rattling off the first words that came into
her head, suggested in part by a baker's cart which passed at the
moment. She should never dare to give her real address! Anything better
than to have those dreadful boys know who she was! He looked puzzled,
then laughed; but it was of no use for him to say anything, for the car
had started, and swept her safely beyond his reach at once. She could
see him looking after it till it turned out of sight, and was thankful
he had not followed her, as he might perhaps have done if he had not had
on those old slippers.

Marian did not go directly home, but stopped at Mrs. William Treadwell's
till the spring shower was over, that she might be able to tell her
family that she had been there, and thus avoid over-curious questioning
as to where she had been caught in it. She briefly informed them that
she could obtain no satisfactory account of Drusilla Elms--the people to
whom she referred seemed to have forgotten her--and wrote to the girl
that she had made other arrangements. She waited in fear for a few days,
lest something might happen to bring her little adventure to light; but
nothing did, and her fears subsided, with a few faint wishes as well.
What a pleasant world, she wistfully thought, was the world of men--a
world where conventionalities and duty calls gave way to a delicious,
free, Bohemian existence of boating and running about; where even
housekeeping was a thing lightly considered, and where dogs jumped on
sofas, and people threw their things around at pleasure--nay, even
smoked and swore, regardless of consequences temporal or eternal!

About a fortnight after her wild escapade, the household of
Freeman-Robbins-Carter-Dale, to use the collective patronymic of the
female dynasty which reigned there, was agitated by the unusual
phenomenon of an evening visitor who called himself a man, though but in
his freshman year at Harvard University. It was the son of their
deceased cousin in New York, whose husband, though married again,
retained sufficient sense of kinship to insist that the boy should call
on his mother's relatives, which duty the unhappy youth had postponed
from week to week, and from month to month, until the awkwardness of
introducing himself was doubled. He had struggled through this ordeal,
and now sat, the centre of an admiring female circle who were trying to
hang upon his words. Winnie, whose presence might have given him some
support, had been sent to bed; but his sister was privileged to remain
up longer, and being a serious child, and wise beyond her years, she
fixed him with her solemn gaze, while one great-aunt remarked over and
over again on his resemblance to his grandfather, and the other as often
inquired who he was, though his name and pedigree were carefully
explained each time by the nurse. Mrs. Carter addressed him as "Freddy,
dear!" and Miss Caroline asked what he was studying at college, and his
cousin Isabel pressed sweet cake upon him. Only his cousin Marian sat
silent in the background. He thought her very pretty, and not at all
formidable, though so old--not that he had the least idea how old she
really was.

"Did you bolt the front door, Marian, when you let Trippet out?" asked
her mother. Trippet was the family cat, who had shown symptoms of alarm
at the aspect of the unwonted guest.

"I--I think so."

"You had better go and look," said her sister. "It would be no joke if
Freddy's nice overcoat and hat were to be taken by a sneak-thief. They
are very troublesome just now in the suburbs," she continued; "but we
never leave anything of value in our front hall, and we always make it a
rule to bolt as well as lock the door as soon as it grows dusk. There is
no harm in taking every precaution."

"Sneak-thieves and second-floor thieves have quite replaced the
old-fashioned midnight burglar," said Miss Caroline.

"They are just as bad," said Mrs. Dale.

"Women--ladies--are taking to it now," said Master Frederick. "I heard
the funniest story about one the other day." He paused, and grew red at
the drawing upon himself the fire of eight pairs of eyes, but plucked up
his courage and resumed the theme, not insensible to the possible
delight of terrifying those before whom he had quailed. "It was in Ned
Hayward's family, my classmate; he and his brother Bob--he's a
junior--live in South Boston with their uncle, Colonel Hayward--the
celebrated Colonel Hayward, you know, who was so distinguished in the
war, and--and everything; perhaps you know him?"

"We have heard of him," said Mrs. Carter, graciously.

"Well, I've been out there sometimes with him, and it's no end of
jolly--I mean, it is a pleasant place to visit in. The Colonel's an old
bachelor, and brings his nephews up, because, you know, their father's
dead." He stopped short again, overwhelmed with the sound of so long a
speech from himself.

"But about the thief? Oh, do tell us," murmured the circle,
encouragingly.

"Well," began Fred, seeing his retreat cut off, and gathering courage as
the idea struck him that the topic, if skilfully dwelt on, might last
out the call, "it happened this way. Bob was at home a few weeks ago to
spend Sunday, and took a lot of fellows--I mean a large party of his
classmates; and there were some boys there playing tennis with his
brothers--it was on a Saturday morning--and a woman came and asked for
the lady of the house; that's a common dodge of theirs, you know. Well,
of course, the Colonel went in to see her. The boys wanted to see the
fun, so they all took turns in looking through the keyhole; and Bob says
she was stunning--I mean very pretty--and looked like a lady, and
dressed up no end; but she seemed very confused and queer, and as if she
hardly knew what to say, and she pretended to have come to ask for the
character of a servant with the oddest name, I forget what; but most
likely she made it up, for none of them could remember it. Well, she
hung on ever so long, looking for a chance to hook something, I
suppose, and at last, just as she was going, it began to rain, and she
seemed to expect him to lend her an umbrella. But he wasn't as green as
all that comes to; he said he would see her to the car himself; so off
he walked with her as polite as you please. Bob says it's no end of fun
to see his uncle with a lady; he doesn't see much of them, and when he
does he treats 'em like princesses. He took her to the car, and put her
in, and just as it started he asked her address, and she told him--"
here an irrepressible fit of laughter interrupted his tale--"she told
him that it was Mrs. W. Cracker, 40 Washington Street. Did you ever hear
such stuff? Of course there's no such person, for the Colonel wasted
lots of time taking particular pains to find out. Bob says they're all
sure she was a thief, except his uncle, who was awfully smashed on her
pretty face, and he sticks to it she was only a little out of her head.
They poke no end of fun at him about it, but it really was no joke for
him, for he walked with her down to the car in his old slippers in the
wet, and caught cold in the leg where he was wounded; he's always lame
in it, and when he takes cold it brings on his rheumatic gout. He was
laid up a fortnight; he's always so funny when he's got the gout; he
can't bear to have any of the boys come near him, and flings boots at
their heads when they do, for of course they have to wait on him some,
and he swears so. Bob says he's sorry for him, for of course it hurts,
but he can't help laughing at the queer things he says. He always swears
some when he's well, but when he's sick it fairly takes your head off."

"Dear me! dear me!" said Mrs. Carter; "swearing is a sad habit. I hope,
Freddy, dear, that you will not catch it. Colonel Hayward is a very
distinguished officer, and they have to, I suppose, on the battle-field;
but there is no war now, and it is not at all necessary."

"Oh, he won't let the boys do it! He swears at them like thunder if they
do, but they don't mind it. He's awfully good-natured, and lets them
rough him as much as they please, and they've done it no end about the
pretty little housebreaker. Bob has made a song about her to the tune of
_Little Annie Rooney_--that's the one his uncle most particularly hates.
Phil had a shy at her with his kodak, but what with the rain and the
leaves, you can't see much of her."

"It is a pity," said Miss Caroline; "it might be shown to the police,
who could very likely identify her. I dare say she has been at Sherborne
Prison, and there we photograph them all. If it were not that Mary
Murray is in for a two years' sentence, I should say it answered very
well to her description."

Some more desultory conversation went on, while the hands of the clock
ran rapidly on toward eleven. The youthful Minna silently stole away at
a sign from her mother, without drawing attention upon herself. Ten
o'clock was the latest hour at which these ladies were in the habit of
being up; but how hint to a guest that he was staying too long? They
guessed that it might not seem late to him, and feared that he was
acquiring bad habits in college.

The poor fellow knew perfectly well that he was making an unconscionably
long call; but how break through the circle? And then he was remembering
with affright into how much slang he had lapsed in the course of his
tale, and was racking his brains for some particularly proper farewell
speech which should efface the recollection of it. Suddenly his eyes
were caught by Marian's face. Her look of abject misery he could
attribute only to her extreme fatigue, and he made a desperate rally:

"I'm afraid, Miss Dale, I mean Mrs. Robbins, that I'm making a terribly
long call. I am very sorry."

"Oh, not at all! Not at all! Pray do not hurry! You must come often; we
shall be delighted to see you."

"It seems a very long way," murmured Freddy, conscious that he was
saying something rude, but unable to help himself; and he finally
succeeded in escaping, under a fire of the most pressing invitations to
"call again," for, as Mrs. Carter said, "we must show some hospitality
to poor Ellen's boy. Marian, you look tired. I hope you did not let him
see it. Do go to bed directly. I must confess I feel a little sleepy
myself." But the troubles which Marian bore with her to the small room
which she shared with her little niece were of a kind for which bed
brought no solace, and she lay awake till almost dawn, only thankful
that Minna slumbered undisturbed by her side.

To Marian every private who had fought in the war was an angel, and
every officer an archangel _ex officio_. That she should have been the
cause of an attack of rheumatic gout to a wounded hero filled her with
remorse, especially as this particular hero was the most delightful man
she had ever met. She wept bitterly from a variety of emotions--pity,
and shame, too--for what must he think of her? That last misery, at any
rate, she could not and would not endure, and before breakfast she had
written the following letter:

  "BURROUGHS STREET, JAMAICA PLAIN.

     "DEAR COLONEL HAYWARD,

     "I was very, very sorry to hear that you had taken cold and
     been ill in consequence of that unfortunate call of mine on
     Saturday, three weeks ago. I really came on the errand I
     said I did; but I don't wonder you thought otherwise, after
     I had behaved so foolishly. I did not know who you were, nor
     where I had been, and I gave the wrong name because I was
     frightened. But I cannot let you think so poorly of me, or
     believe I had the least intention of giving you so much pain
     and trouble. I can remember the war" [this was a mortifying
     confession for Marian to make, but she felt that the proper
     atonement for her fault demanded an unsparing sacrifice of
     her own feelings], "and I know how much gratitude I, and
     every other woman in our country, owe to you. Begging your
     pardon most sincerely, I am,

  "Yours very truly,
  "MARIAN R. CARTER.
  "_May 5th, 1885_."

Marian found no time to copy this letter over again before she took it
with her on her morning round of errands, to slip into the first
post-box, and she would not keep it back for another mail, although she
feared by turns that it was improperly forward, and chillingly distant.
Posted it was, and she could not get it back. She did not know whether
she wanted him to answer it or not. It would be kind and civil in him to
do so, but she felt that she could hardly bear the curiosity of the
family, as his letter was passed from hand to hand before it was opened
to guess whom it could be from, or handed round again to be read. There
was no more privacy in the house than there was in an ant-hill.

She had not long to speculate, for the very next afternoon, as the
family were all sitting in grandmamma's room downstairs, their common
rallying-ground, as it was the pleasantest one in the house, and the old
lady, who disliked being left alone, rarely went into the drawing-room
till evening, the parlour-maid brought in a card, which went the rounds
immediately:

  "MR. ROBERT HAYWARD,
  "City Point, South Boston."

"What can he want?" said Mrs. Dale.

"Very likely to see me on business," said Aunt Caroline.

"It must be Colonel Hayward," said Isabel, remembering Frederick's tale.

"It was Miss Marian he wanted to see," said Katy.

"How very strange!" said Miss Caroline. But Mrs. Carter, dimly
remembering Marian's South Boston errand, till now forgotten, and
bewildered with the endeavour to weave any coherent theory out of her
scattered recollections, was silent; and Marian glided speechless out of
the room, and up the back stairs to her own for one hasty peep at her
looking-glass, and then down the front stairs again.

"Aunt Marian!" shouted Winnie from a front upper window, and she started
at his tone, grown loud and boyish in a moment; "the gentleman came on a
horse, and tied it to a post, and it is black, and it is stamping on the
sidewalk; just hear it!" But Marian, whose pet he was, passed him
without a word.

She lingered so little that the Colonel had no more time to examine her
abode than she had had his, and here the subject was more complex. The
room was not very small, but it was very full, and everything in it, so
to speak, was smothered. The carpet was covered with large rugs, and
those again with small ones, and all the tables with covers, and those
with mats. Each window had four different sets of curtains, and every
sofa and chair was carefully dressed and draped. The very fireplace was
arrayed in brocaded skirts like a lady, precluding all possibility of
lighting a fire therein without causing a conflagration, and, indeed,
those carefully placed logs were daily dusted by the parlour-maid. Every
available inch of horizontal space was crowded with small objects, and
what could not be squeezed on that was hung on the walls. The use of
most of these was an enigma to the Colonel; he had an idea that they
might be designed for ornament, and some, as gift books and booklets
and Christmas cards, appealed to a literary taste; but he was a little
overwhelmed by them, especially as there were a number of little boxes
and bags and baskets about, trimmed and adorned in various fashions,
which might contain as many more. There were a great many really pretty
things there, if one could have taken them in; but they were utterly
swamped, owing to the fatal habit which prevailed in the family of all
giving each other presents on every Christmas and birthday.

The Colonel felt terribly big and awkward among them. He sat down on a
little chair with gilded frame and embroidered back and seat. It cracked
beneath him, and he sprang hastily up and took another, from which he
could see out of a window, and into a trim little garden where plants
were bedded out in small beds neatly cut in shaved green turf. A few
flowers were allowed in the drawing-room, discreetly quarantined on a
china tray, though there were any number of empty vases, and from above
he could hear the cheerful warble of a distant canary-bird, which woke
no answering life in the stuffed corpses of his predecessors standing
about under glass shades.

The room looked stuffy, but it was not; the air was very sweet and clean
and clear, and the Colonel felt uncomfortably that he was scenting it
with tobacco. There could be no dust beneath those rugs, no spot on the
glass behind those curtains. There was a feminine air of neatness, and
even of fussiness, that pleased him; everything was so carefully
preserved, so exquisitely cared for. It would be nice to have some one
to look after one's things like that; he knew that the rubbish at home
was always getting beyond him somehow.

And now came blushing in his late visitor, even more daintily pretty
than he had thought her before.

The Colonel made a long call, as all the family, anxious to see the
great man, dropped in one after the other; but the situation was not
unpleasing to him, and he even exerted himself to win their liking,
which was the easiest thing in the world. He told Mrs. Carter that he
had come on behalf of his quondam servant, Drusilla Elms, whose name, he
was sorry to say, his cook had forgotten; but now she remembered it, and
could give her the very highest character, and he should be sorry if
their carelessness had lost the poor girl so excellent a place. He
listened to the tale of the grandmother's rheumatism, and even made some
confidences in return about his own. He talked about the soldiers'
lending libraries with Aunt Caroline, and promised to write to a friend
of his in the regulars on the subject. In his imposing presence the
great-aunt sat silently attentive. He had met Isabel's late husband, and
he took much notice of her children. He said Winnie was a fine little
lad, but would be better for a frolic with other boys. Could he not come
over and spend a Saturday afternoon with them at South Boston, and his
boys would take him on the water? Oh, yes; they were very careful, and
quite at home in a boat. Yes, he would go with them himself, if Mrs.
Dale would prefer it; and then the invitation was given and accepted--no
unmeaning, general one, but a positive promise for Saturday next, and
the one after if it rained. Of course, he should be charmed to have some
of the ladies come, too. Miss Carter would, perhaps, for she knew the
way. He did not take leave till his horse, to Winnie's ecstatic delight,
had pawed a large hole in the ground; and a chorus of praise arose
behind him from every tongue but Marian's.

Colonel Hayward said nothing about his visit at home; but as he stood
after returning from his long ride, for which the boys had observed that
he had equipped himself with much more than ordinary care, smoking a
meditative cigar before the crackling little fire which the afternoon
east wind of a Boston May rendered so comfortable, he was roused by his
nephew Bob's voice:

"Really, Uncle Rob, our bachelor housekeeping is getting into a hopeless
muddle!" Then, as his uncle said nothing: "I am afraid--I am really
afraid that one of us will have to marry."

"Marry yourself, then, you young scamp, and be hanged to you; you have
my full consent if you can find a girl who will be fool enough to take
you."

"Of course, I could not expect _you_ to make the sacrifice; but though I
am willing--entirely for your sake, I assure you--I shall not render it
useless by asking some giddy and inexperienced girl. I shall seek some
mature female, able and willing to cope with them----"

"Them?"

"The spiders. I have long known that they spun webs of immense size in
and about our unfortunate dwelling; but I was not prepared to find that
they attached them to our very persons." As he spoke he drew into sight
a fabric hanging to the back of his uncle's coat. It was circular in
shape, about the size of a dinner-plate, white in colour, and
ingeniously woven out of thread in an open pattern with many
interstices, by one of which it had fastened itself to the button at the
back of the Colonel's coat as firmly as if it grew there.

"What the ----!" I spare my readers the expletives which, with the
offending waif, the Colonel hurled at his nephew as the young man and
his brothers exploded in laughter.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I never was so surprised!" cried Mrs. Treadwell.

"I did not think anything in the matrimonial line could surprise you!"
cried her husband.

"Not often; but Colonel Hayward and Marian Carter! I could hardly
believe it. Mrs. Carter herself seems perfectly amazed, though of course
she's delighted. I suppose she had given up all idea of Marian's
marrying."

"She is a sweet little thing," said Mr. Treadwell; "I wonder she has not
been married long ago."

"I thought he was a confirmed old bachelor," said the lady; "I wonder
where he met her! I wonder whatever made him think of her! I hope
they'll be happy, but I don't know. Marian is a good girl, but she has
so little sense!"

"I should think any man ought to be happy with Miss Carter," said the
gentleman, warmly; "I only hope he'll make her happy. Hayward's a very
good fellow, but he'll frighten that little creature to death the first
time he swears at her."

"Colonel Hayward is a _gentleman_, William; he would never swear before
a lady."

"I wouldn't trust him--when she's his wife."

       *       *       *       *       *

Nevertheless, Mrs. Robert Hayward has not yet been placed in danger of
such a catastrophe, not even when her husband has been laid up with
rheumatic gout. To be sure, her ministrations on those occasions were
more soothing than those of the boys. Perhaps she was even a little
disappointed in her craving for excitement, and her new household ran
almost too smoothly. The boys gave no trouble, though they were aghast
on first hearing that the Colonel really contemplated matrimony, and Bob
reproached himself in no measured terms for having drawn attention to
the "work of Arachne," and driven his uncle to rush madly upon fate. But
Marian made it her particular request that things should go on as
before, which pleased her bridegroom, though he had never dreamed of any
change; and when they came to know her, she pleased the boys as well.

"It's easy enough to get on with Aunt Marian," Bob would say; "she's
such a dear little fool! She swallows everything men tell her, no matter
how outrageous, and thinks if we want the moon, we must have it. If
only Minna would turn out anything like her! But no; they are ruining
all the girls now with their colleges. I doubt if Aunt Marian isn't the
last of her day and generation."

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

WHY I MARRIED ELEANOR


It has often been remarked that if every man would truthfully tell how
he wooed and won his wife, the world would be the gainer by a number of
romances of real life which would put to shame the novelist's skill.
"How" is the word usually employed in such cases, and, indeed, properly
enough. There are a number of marriages where the reason is sufficiently
palpable, and where any stronger one fails there is the all-sufficing
one of propinquity. But none of these were allowed in the case of my
marriage with Eleanor. Why did I do it? was the absorbing nine days'
wonder; for, as was unanimously and justly observed, if it were a matter
of propinquity alone, why did I not marry----? But I anticipate.

To begin at the beginning, then, and to tell my tale as truthfully as if
I were on oath; there was no reason why Eleanor, or any other girl,
should not have married me. I was by all odds the best match in New
England, being the only son and heir of Roger Greenway, third of the
name. Whether my father could ever have made a fortune any more than I
could is doubtful; but he inherited a considerable estate, so well
invested that it only needed letting alone to grow, and for this he had
the good sense. Large as it was when I came into it, it was more than
doubled by my prospective wealth on the other side, for my mother was
the oldest of the four daughters of old Jonathan Carver, the last of the
Massachusetts vikings whose names were words of power in the China seas.

My father was an elderly man when he married, and my mother was no
longer young. She and her sisters were handsome, high-bred women, with
every accomplishment and virtue under the sun. They did not, to use the
vulgar phrase, marry off fast. Indeed, the phrase and the very idea
would have shocked them. They were beings of far too much importance to
be so lightly dealt with. When, only a few years before her father's
death, Louisa married Roger Greenway, it was allowed by their whole
world to be a most fitting thing; and when I appeared in due season, the
old gentleman was so delighted that he made a will directly, tying up
his whole estate as tightly as possible for future great-grandchildren.
Some years after his death, my Aunt Clara, the second daughter, married
a Unitarian clergyman of good family, weak lungs, æsthetic tastes, and
small property, who never preached. He lived long enough to catalogue
all our family pictures and bric-à-brac, and arrange the "Carver
Collection" for the Art Museum, and then died of consumption soon after
my own father, leaving no children. By the time these events had passed
with all due observances, Aunt Frances and Aunt Grace thought it was
hardly worth while to marry; there had been a sufficient number of
weddings in the family, and they were very comfortable together--and
then how could they ever want for an object, with that fine boy of dear
Louisa's to bring up? We all had separate households; but my aunts were
always at "Greenways," my place on the borders of Brookline and West
Roxbury, which my father had bought when young and spent the greater
part of his life in bringing to a state of perfection; and my mother and
I were apt to pass the hottest summer months at Manchester-by-the-Sea,
where Aunt Clara, during her married life, had reared a little fairy
palace of her own; and to spend much of the winter at the great old
Carver house on Mount Vernon Street, which Jonathan Carver had left to
his unmarried daughters for life.

I was the first object of four devoted and conscientious women. The
results were different from what might have been expected. The world
said I would be spoiled, and then marvelled that I was not; but my
mother's and aunts' conscientiousness outran their devotion, and they
all felt, though they would not acknowledge it to each other, that I had
rather disappointed them. I grew up a big, handsome young fellow enough,
very young-looking for my age, with a trick of blushing like a girl at
anything or nothing, which gave me much pain, though it won upon all the
old ladies, who said it showed the purity of my mind and the goodness of
my heart.

By the way in which my moral qualities were always selected for praise,
it will be divined that but little could be said for my intellectual.
Had I been a few steps lower on the social ladder, something might have
been said against them. It was only by infinite pains on my own part and
that of the highly salaried tutor who coached me, that I was ever
squeezed through Harvard University. I did squeeze through, and with an
unblemished moral record; my Aunt Clara, the pious one of the family,
said it might have been worse, and my mother, to whom my commencement
day was a blessed release from four years of perpetual worry, said she
was highly gratified at the way in which dear Roger had withstood the
temptations of college life. For this I deserved no credit. The
temptations of which she thought were none to me. Where would have been
the excitement of gambling, when I had nothing to lose? and one brought
up from infancy in an atmosphere of fastidious refinement the baser
female attractions repelled at once, before they had the chance of
charming. I hated tobacco, and liquor of all kinds made me deadly sick.
A more subtle snare was set for me.

Time slipped away for the first few years after I left college. We all
went to Europe and returned. I pottered a little about my place, and
discharged social duties, and such few local political ones as a
position like mine entails even in America. I did not know why I did not
do more, or what more to do. I did not think I was stupid exactly; it
seemed to me that I could do something, if I only knew what. Perhaps I
was slow--I certainly was in thought; but sometimes I startled myself by
hasty action before I thought at all, which gave me a dim consciousness
of the presence of my "genius." My mother's expectations had just begun
to take an apologetic turn, when my Aunt Frances, the clever one of the
family, put forward a bright idea. She said that it was all very well
for a young man who had his own way to make in the world to wait awhile;
a man with my opportunities could never be in a satisfactory position to
employ them until he was married. While I remained single there must
always be speculations, expectations, and reports. Once let me be
married, and all these worries, troublesome and distracting at present,
would receive their proper quietus. The sisters all applauded her
penetration, and all said with one voice that if Roger were to marry, he
could not do better than--but I anticipate again.

Greenways and the neighbouring estates were large, and the only very
near neighbours we had were the Days and the Beechers; in fact, they
were both my tenants. When my father bought the place there was an old
farm-house on it, which, though it stood rather near the spot where he
wished to build, was too well built and too picturesque to pull down.
Old Sanderson, our head gardener for many a year, lived there with his
wife, and their house, with its own pretty garden and little greenhouse,
was one of my favourite haunts when a child. When the old couple died,
nearly at the same time, Sanderson had long left off active work, and
his deputy and successor, Macfarlane, lived in another house some
distance off. My mother said of course she could never put him into the
Garden House with all those children; she could never put another
servant there at all; she hated to pull it down; she did not know what
to do with it. My Aunt Grace, the impulsive one of the family, broke in,
and all the others followed suit with, "Why would it not be just the
thing for Katharine Day?"

Katharine Day had been Katharine Latham, an old school friend of my Aunt
Grace. She was the daughter of a country clergyman, a pretty woman of
fascinating manners, and her relations were very well bred, though poor.
The friendship was an excellent thing for her; I don't mean to say that
it was not so for my aunt also, for I never knew a woman who could pay
back a social debt to a superior more gracefully than Mrs. Day. She was
always a little pitied as not having met with her deserts in marriage,
though Mr. Day was a handsome man, with good connections and a fine
tenor voice. He had some kind of an office with a very fair salary, but
his wife said, and it was a thing generally understood, that they were
very poor. They felt no shame, rather a sort of pride, in getting along
so well in spite of it. They went everywhere, and all her richer friends
admired Mrs. Day for being such a good manager, and dressing and
entertaining so beautifully on positively nothing, and showed their
admiration by deeds as well as words. One paid Phil's college expenses,
another took Katie abroad, and they were always having all kinds of
presents. They were invited everywhere in the height of the season, and
always had tickets for the most reserved of reserved seats. My mother,
or my guardian, for her, let them have the Garden House at a mere
nothing of a rent, but we said that it was really a gain for us, they
would take such beautiful care of it.

Phil Day, though he was some years younger than I, was my classmate in
college, and graduated far ahead of me. My mother was consoled for his
superiority by thinking what a nice intimate friend he was for me. That
he was my intimate friend was settled for me by the universal verdict.
In reality I did not like him at all, but it would have been unkind to
be as offish as I must have been to keep him from being always at my
house, sailing my boats, riding my horses, playing at my billiard-table,
smoking my cigars, and drinking my wines, as naturally as if he had been
my brother, albeit I had a suspicion that these luxuries were not as
harmless to Phil as they were to me. He was a clever, handsome fellow,
and very popular. What I really disliked in him was his being such a
terrible snob, but this was an accusation that it seemed particularly
mean for me to make against him, even to my own mind.

Phil's sister Katie was worth a dozen of him. She was a beautiful
creature, tall and lithe, with a rich colour coming and going under a
clear olive skin, and starry dark eyes that seemed to shoot out rays of
light for the whole length of her long lashes. She was highly
accomplished, and always exquisitely dressed. Mrs. Day said it did not
cost much, for dear Katie was so clever at making her own clothes. To be
sure, she could not make her boots and gloves, her fans and furs, and
these were of the choicest. Their price would have made a large hole in
her father's salary, but probably he was never called upon to pay
it--for I know my Aunt Grace, for one, thought nothing of giving her a
whole box of gloves at a time. Katie inherited all her mother's
fascination of manner and practical talent, and, like her, well knew how
to pay her way. She was a great pet of my mother and aunts. She poured
out tea, and sang after dinner, helped in their charity work, and chose
their presents. They had an idea that I could marry whom I pleased, but
I knew they felt I could not do better than marry Katie. It was their
opinion, and that of every one else, that she deserved a prize in the
matrimonial line. Providence evidently designed that she should get one,
for, as all her friends remarked, "If Katie Day could do so beautifully
with so little, what could she not do if she were rich?" Providence as
evidently had destined me for the lucky man, and even the other young
men bowed to manifest destiny in the united claims of property and
propinquity.

The Beechers lived a little farther off the other way. About them and
their dwelling there was no glamour of boyish memories. The bit of land
on which it stood had always cut awkwardly into ours, and my father had
longed to buy it; but it had some defect in the title which could not be
set right until the death of some old lady in the country. She died at
last just about the time that he did, and in the confusion caused by his
sudden death the land was snapped up by O'Neil, an Irishman, who turned
a penny when he could get a chance by levying blackmail upon a
neighbourhood--buying up bits of land, building tenement houses on them,
and crowding them with the poorest class of his country people, on the
chance of being bought off at last at an exorbitant rate by the
neighbouring proprietors.

In this present case O'Neil had mistaken his man. My guardian and first
cousin once removed, John Greenway, was the last person alive to screw a
penny out of. He would have borne any such infliction himself with
Spartan firmness; judge with what calmness he endured it for a ward. He
built a high wall on O'Neil's boundary, planted trees thickly around
that, and then proceeded to harass the unhappy tenants by every means
within his power and the letter of the law, so that they ran away in
hordes without waiting for quarter-day. O'Neil failed at last, and my
guardian bought in the concern for a song. Before this, however, O'Neil,
in desperate straits, had made a few cheap alterations in the house,
advertised it as a "gentleman's residence," and let it to the Beechers,
who were only too glad to get so well-situated a house so low.

Mr. Beecher was well educated and of a good family, though he had no
near relations who could do anything for him. He had married early a
young lady much in the same condition, and had done but poorly in life,
hampered in all his efforts by a delicate wife and a large family. When
we bought the place I had not attained my legal majority; but I was old
enough to have my wishes respected, and I said positively that I would
not have him turned out. As I used to meet the poor old fellow--not that
he was really old, though he looked to me a perfect Methuselah--with his
grey head and shining, well-brushed coat, trotting to the station, a
good mile and a half off, at seven in the morning, through winter's cold
and summer's heat; and back again after dark, for nine months in the
year, my heart used to ache for him. But I could not tell him so, and of
course there was precious little I could do for him. My mother and aunts
were eminently charitable, but what could they do for Mrs. Beecher? Her
hours and ways and thoughts were not as theirs. She did not come very
often when they invited her, nor seem to enjoy herself very much when
she did. There was but little use in taking her rare flowers and
hothouse grapes, and they could not send her food and clothes as if she
were a poor person. The Beecher house had a garden of its own, out of
which Mr. Beecher, with a little help from his boys, contrived to get
their fruit and vegetables, though it always looked in very poor order.
We were thankful that it was so well shut out from our view, and poor
Mrs. Beecher was equally thankful that her boisterous boys and crying
babies were so well shut in. My mother did not approve of her much, and
said she must lack method not to get on better. Jonathan Carver's
daughters had been so trained by their father that any one of them could
have stepped into his counting-house and balanced his books at a
minute's warning. They kept their own accounts, down to the last mill,
by double entry, and were fond of saying that if you only did this you
would always be able to manage well. They were most kind-hearted, when
they saw their way how to be, but they had been so harassed from
childhood up by begging letter-writers and agents for societies that
they had a horror of leading people to expect anything from them; and
as the Beechers evidently expected nothing, it was best that they
should be left in that blissful condition. They were indeed painfully
overwhelmed by their obligations in the matter of the house. I made the
rent as low as I decently could, and put in improvements whenever I had
the chance. I used to rack my brains to think what more I could do for
them; but in all my wildest dreams it never occurred to me that I might
give them a lift by marrying Eleanor.

Eleanor was their oldest child, and a year or two younger than Katie
Day. She was really as plain as a girl has any right to be. She had the
light eyelashes and freckles which often mar the effect of the prettiest
red hair, and hers was not a pretty shade, but very common carrots. Her
features and her figure were not bad exactly, and her motions had
nothing awkward--one would never have noticed them in any way. It might
have been better for her had she been strikingly ugly. Anything striking
is enough for some clever girls to build upon; but whether Eleanor were
clever or stupid, no one knew or cared to know. She was a good girl, and
helped her mother, and looked after the younger children;--but then, she
had to. Her very goodness was a mere matter of course, and had nothing
for the imagination to dwell upon. She was not a bit more helpful to
her mother than Katie Day was to hers; and if Katie's path of duty led
to trimming hats and writing notes, and Eleanor's to darning the
children's stockings and washing their faces, why, that was no fault in
the one nor merit in the other.

I felt very sorry for Eleanor, when I thought of her at all, which was
not often, but I could do even less for her than for her father. We used
to invite them when we gave anything general, but they did not always
come, and when we sent them tickets they often could not use them. They
had not many other invitations, and could seldom accept any, on account
of the cost of clothes and carriage hire. My mother, of course, could
not take them about much, for there were our own family and the Days,
whom she took everywhere, and who enjoyed going so much. I always asked
Eleanor to dance, but as she was dreadfully afraid of me, I fear it gave
her more pain than pleasure. She did not dance well, and I could not
expect my friends to follow my example. Phil Day, indeed, once declared
that he "drew the line at Eleanor Beecher." I remember longing to kick
him for the speech, and that was the liveliest emotion I ever felt in
connection with her.

Why I did not marry Katie is plainer--to myself at least. I came very
near it, not once alone, but many times. I do not think that there was
any man who could have seen her day after day, as I did, and not have
fallen in love with her, unless there were some barrier in the way. Mine
was fragile as a reed, but it proved in the end to be strong enough. It
arose in the days when I was a green young hobble-de-hoy of nineteen,
dragging along in my freshman year, and she was a bright little gipsy
four years younger. At a juvenile tea-party at the Days' we were playing
games, and one--I don't know what it was, except that it demanded some
familiarity with historical characters and readiness in using one's
knowledge. The little wit I had was soon hopelessly knocked out of me,
while Katie, quick and alert, was equally ready at showing all she knew,
and shielded herself by repartee when she knew nothing. I made some
absurd blunder, perhaps more in my awkward way of putting things than in
what I really meant, between the two celebrated Cromwells, giving the
impression that I thought the great Oliver a Catholic. I might have made
some confused explanation, but was silenced by Katie's ringing laugh, a
peal of irresistible girlish gayety, such as worldly prudence is rarely
strong enough to check at fifteen. Perhaps she was excited and could not
help it, but I thought she laughed more than she need, and there was
something scornful in the tone that jarred on me painfully. I could not
be so foolish as to resent it, but I could not forget it, and often when
she has looked most lovely, and the star of love has shone most
propitious, some sharper cadence than usual in her voice, or a hint at
harder lines under the soft curves of her face, or a contemptuous ring
in her musical laugh, has withered the words on my lips, and the hour
has passed with them unspoken. It was, I dimly felt, only a question of
time; the flood must some day rise high enough to sweep the frail
barrier away.

Katie and Eleanor had but little in common on the surface, nor were
there ever any deeper sympathies of thought and feeling between them.
Still, they were girls, living near together, and with all the others
much farther off. It was impossible that there should not be some
intercourse of business or pleasure, though never intimate and always
irregular; and one pleasant September it came about that we spent a good
many hours together, playing lawn tennis on my court. There was another
young man hanging about; an admirer of Katie's, he might be called,
though he was not very forward to try his chances, thinking, as I
plainly saw, that they were not worth much. Herbert Riddell was not much
cleverer than I was, and, though not poor, had no wealth to give him
importance. He was a thoroughly good fellow, and felt no jealousy of me,
and it was pleasant for him to loiter away the golden autumn days with
beauty on the tennis court, even if both were another's property. We
were well enough matched, for, though Herbert and Katie were very fair
players, while Eleanor was a perfect stick, yet I played so much better
than the others that I generally pulled her through. She really tried
her best, but somehow the more she tried the more blunders she made,
perhaps from nervousness, and one afternoon they were especially
remarkable. We were hurrying to finish our match, as it was getting late
and nearly time for "high tea" at the Days', to which we were all asked,
though Eleanor, as usual, had declined, and Katie, as usual, had not
pressed her. It was nothing to either Herbert or me, for we both found
Mrs. Day a much more lively _pis aller_ in conversation than Eleanor.
Katie was serving, and sent one of her finest, swiftest balls at
Eleanor, who struck at it with all her force, and did really hit it, but
unfortunately and mysteriously sent it straight up into the air. We all
watched it breathlessly, as it came down--down--and fell on our side of
the net. Katie, warm and excited, laughed loud and long. I thought that
there was a little affection of superiority in her mirth, just like
there was in the high, clear, scornful music that woke the echoes of
long ago, and I in turn lost my self-possession, and returned my next
ball with such nervous strength that it flew far beyond the lawn and
over the clumps of laurels into the wood beyond. We had lost the set.

"Really, Mr. Greenway," cried Katie, "you must have tried to do that; or
have you been taking private lessons of Eleanor?" She stopped, her fine
ear perhaps detecting something strained and hard in her own voice. I
see her still as she looked then, poised like Mercury on one slender
foot, one arm thrown back and holding her racket behind her head,
framing it in, the little dimples quivering round her mouth, ready to
melt into smiles at a word, while from under her dark eyelashes she shot
out a long, bright look, half saucy defiance, half pleading for pardon.
It was enough to madden any man who saw her, and it struck home to
Riddell. Poor fellow! it was never aimed at him, and it fell short of
its mark:

  "My heart's cold ashes vainly would she stir,
  The light was quenched she looked so lovely in."

Eleanor, meanwhile, was bidding her usual good-by, nothing in her manner
showing that she was at all offended. She need not be, for of course
Katie could not seriously intend any slight to her, any more than to a
stray tennis ball to which she might give a random hit. But I could not
let a lady go home alone from my own ground in just this way, and I had
a sort of fellow-feeling with her, which I wanted to show.

"I will see Miss Beecher home, and then come back," I said, and hastened
after her, although I had seen, by the prompt manner in which she had
walked off, that she did not intend, and very likely did not wish, I
should. I was glad to leave the ground and get away from them. I kept
saying to myself that after all Katie was not much to blame; girls would
be thoughtless, and Katie was so pretty and so petted that she might
well be a little spoiled; and then I asked myself what right I had to
set myself up as a judge of her conduct? None at all; only I wished that
women, who can so easily and lightly touch on the raw places of others,
would use their power to heal and not to wound. I could picture to
myself some girl with an eagerness to share the overflowing gifts of
fortune with others, a respectful tenderness for those who had but
little, a yearning sweetness of sympathy that should disarm even envy,
and give the very inequalities of life their fitness and significance.
We men have rougher ways to hurt or heal; and though I tried
desperately hard, I could not hit on anything pleasant or consolatory to
say to Eleanor.

She had got pretty well ahead of me, and was out of sight already. Her
way home was by a long roundabout walk through our place, and then by a
short one along the public road. When I turned into the winding, shady
path which led through the thick barrier of trees hiding the Beecher
wall, she was loitering slowly along before me; and though she quickened
her pace when she heard me behind her, as a hint that I need not follow,
I soon caught up with her, and then I was sorry I had tried to, for I
saw that she was crying most undisguisedly and unbecomingly.

"Miss Beecher--Eleanor," I stammered out, "you mustn't mind it--she
didn't mean it--it was too bad--I was a little provoked myself--but
don't feel so about it."

"Oh, it's not that," said Eleanor, stopping short, and steadying her
trembling voice, so that it seemed as if she were practised in stifling
her emotions. The very tears stopped rolling down her cheeks.
"It's--it's everything. You don't know what it is," she went on more
rapidly; "you never can know--how should you--but if you were I, to see
another girl ahead of you in everything--to have nothing, not one single
thing, that you could feel any satisfaction in--and no matter how hard
you tried, to have her do everything better without taking any trouble,
and to know that if you worked night and day for people, you could not
please them as well as she can without a moment's care or thought, just
by being what she is--you would not like it. And the worst of it all is
that I know I am mean and selfish and hateful to feel so about it, for
it's not one bit Katie's fault."

"Oh, come!" I said; "don't look at it so seriously. You exaggerate
matters."

"I should not mind it," said Eleanor, gravely, "if I did not feel so
badly about it. Now, I know that's nonsense. I mean that if I could only
keep from having wrong feelings about it myself, it would not matter
much if she were ever so superior in every way."

"Are you not a little bit morbid? If you were really as selfish as you
think, you would not be so much concerned about it. It seems to me that
we all have our own peculiar place in this world, and that if we fill it
properly, we must have our own peculiar advantages; no one else can do
just what we can, any more than we could do what they could; we must
just try to do well what we have to do."

"It is very well for you to talk in that way," said Eleanor, simply.

"I?"--a little bitterly. "I am a very idle fellow, who has made but
little effort to better himself or others. But we won't talk of efforts,
for I am sure your conscience must acquit you there. I suppose you were
thinking more of natural gifts--of pleasing, which is after all only
another way of helping. One pleases one, and one another, and it is as
well, perhaps, to be loved by a few as liked by a great many. Don't
doubt, my dear Miss Beecher, that any man who truly loves you will find
you more charming even than Katie Day."

What there was in this harmless and well-meant speech to excite
Eleanor's anger I could not imagine; but girls are queer creatures. She
grew, if possible, redder than before, and her eyes fairly flashed. "No
one--" she began, and stopped, unable to speak a word. I went on, as
much for a sort of curious satisfaction I had in hearing my own words,
as for any consolation they might be to her. "Beautiful as she is, she
only pleases my eye; she does not touch my heart. I am not one particle
in love with her, and sometimes I scarcely even like her."

"Stop!" cried Eleanor; "you must not say such things--I did very wrong
to speak to you as I did. You mean to be kind, but you don't know how
every word you say humiliates me. Surely, you can't think me so mean as
to let it please me, and yet, perhaps, you know me better than I do
myself. There is a wretched little bit of a feeling that I would not own
if I could help it, that--that--" She was trembling like a leaf now, and
so pale that I thought she was going to faint away. I did not know
whether to feel more sorry for her or angry with myself for having made
things worse instead of better by my awkwardness. There was only one way
to get out of the scrape. I threw my arm around her shaking form, took
her cold hand in mine, and said with what was genuine feeling at the
time, "Dearest Eleanor!" Of course there was no going back after that.

Eleanor, equally of course, made her escape at once from my arm, but I
still held her hand as I went on. "Do--do believe me. I love you and no
one else." She seemed too much astonished to say anything. "Could you
not love me a little?"

She looked at me still surprised and incredulous. "You can't mean
it--you don't know what you are saying."

I remember feeling well satisfied with myself, for doing the thing so
exactly according to the models in all dramas of polite society; but
Eleanor, it must be owned, was terribly astray in her part. I went on
with increasing energy. "Plainly, Eleanor, will you be my wife? Will
you let me show what it is to be loved?"

Poor Eleanor twisted her damp little handkerchief round and round in her
restless fingers without speaking for a moment, and then said in a
frightened whisper, "I--I don't know."

I tried to take her hand again, but she drew it away, and said shyly,
"Indeed I don't know. I never dreamed of any one's loving me, much less
you. I don't know how I ought to feel."

"Have you never thought how you would feel if you loved anyone?" I
asked, her childish simplicity making me smile, and I felt as if I were
talking to a little girl; but, to my surprise, she blushed deeply, and
then answered firmly, as if bound to be truthful, "Yes! I have felt--all
girls have their dreams"; here a something in her tone made her seem to
have grown a woman in a moment; "I thought I should never find any real
person to make my romance about, and so for a long time I have loved Sir
Philip Sidney."

"What?"

"Because he would have been too much of a gentleman to mind how plain
and insignificant I was; it isn't likely he would have loved me--but I
should not have minded his knowing that I loved him."

"And do you think that there are no gentlemen now?"

As I looked at her, the surprise and interest roused by her words making
me forget for a moment the position in which we stood, I saw a sudden
eager look rise in her eyes, then fade away as quickly as it came; but
it showed that if no one could call Eleanor beautiful, it might be
possible to forget that she was plain. She walked along slowly under the
broad fir boughs, and I by her side, both silent. She was frightened at
having said so much. But as we drew near the gate which opened to the
public road, I said, "Will you not give me my answer, Eleanor?"

"I cannot," she murmured, "it is so sudden. Can you not give me a little
time to think about it?"

"Till this evening?"

"No--no. I have no time before then. Come to-morrow morning--after
church begins, and I will be at home--that is," she added
apologetically, "if it is just as convenient to you."

Poor child! she did not know what it was to use her power, in caprice or
earnest, over a lover. Every word she said was like a fresh appeal to
me. I told her it should be as she wished, and but little else passed
till we reached her father's door, which closed between us, to our
common relief.

Instead of appearing at the Days' tea-table, which indeed I forgot, I
walked straight to the darkest and remotest nook in the fir-wood, flung
myself flat on the ground, and tried to face my utterly amazing
position, and to realise what I had been about. It was evident that I
had irrevocably pledged myself to marry Eleanor Beecher, but still I
could hardly believe it. It seemed too absurd that I, who had been proof
against the direct attacks of so many pretty girls, and the more
delicate allurements of the prettiest one I knew, should have been such
a fool as to blurt out a proposal because a plain one had shed a few
tears, which, to do her justice, were shed utterly without the design of
producing any effect on me.

In this there lay a ray of hope. Eleanor, I had fully recognised, was
transparently sincere; if she did not love me, I was sure she would tell
me so frankly; and, after all, should I not be a conceited fool to think
that every girl I saw must fall in love with me? If she refused me, as
she very likely would, I should be very glad to have given her the
chance; it would give her a little self-esteem, of which she seemed more
destitute than a girl ought to be, and it would not diminish mine. I
felt more interest in her than I could have thought possible two hours
ago, but I did not love her, and did not want to marry her. I did not
feel that we were at all suited to each other, and I hoped that she
would have the good sense to see it too; and yet, would she--would she?

Next day at a quarter past eleven I ascended the Beecher doorsteps in
all the elegance of array that befitted the occasion, and, I hope, no
unbecoming bearing. I had had a sleepless night of it, but had reasoned
the matter out with myself, and decided that if I had done a foolish
thing, I must take the consequences like a man, and see that they ended
with me. Eleanor herself opened the door and showed me into the stiff
little drawing-room, which had to be stiff or it would have been
hopelessly shabby at once. The family were at church, and it was the
only time in the week that she could have had any chance to see me
alone. She had made, it was plain, a great effort to look well, and was
looking very well for her. She had put on a fresh, though old, white
frock, had stuck a white rose in her belt, and done up her hair in a way
I had never seen it in before. She looked very nervous and frightened,
but not unbecomingly so, I allowed, though with rather a sinking of the
heart at the way these straws drifted. We got through the few polite
nothings that people exchange on all occasions, from christenings to
funerals, and then I said:

"Dear Eleanor, I hope you have thought over what I said to you
yesterday, and that you know how you really feel, and can--that you can
love me enough to let you make me--to let me try to make you--I mean--"
I was blundering terribly now, and getting very red. Yesterday's fluency
had quite deserted me. But Eleanor was thinking too much of what she had
to say herself to heed it.

"Oh!" she began, "I am afraid--I know I am not worthy of you. It was all
so sudden and so unexpected yesterday. But I know now that I do not love
you as much as I ought--as you deserve to be loved by the woman you
love. I ought to say that I will not marry you--but--" she looked up
beseechingly--"I can't--I can't."

She paused, then went on in a trembling voice, "You don't know how hard
a time my father and mother have had. There has hardly a single pleasant
thing ever happened to them. Ever since I was a little girl I have
longed and longed to do something for them--something that would really
make them happy--and I never could. I never dreamed I should have such a
chance as this! and then all the others! I have thought so what I should
like to give them, and I never had the smallest thing; and then
myself--I don't want to make myself out more unselfish than I am--but
you don't know how little pleasure I have had in my life. I never
thought of such a chance as this--all the good things in life offered
me at once--and I cannot--cannot let them go by."

She stopped, breathless, only for a moment, but it was a bitter one for
me. I had one of those agonising sudden glimpses such as come but
seldom, of the irony of fate, when the whole tragedy of our lives lies
bare and exposed before us in all its ugliness. So then even she, for
whom I was giving up so much, could not love me, and I was going to be
married for my money after all! Then with another electric shock of
instant quick perception, it came across me that I was getting perhaps a
better, certainly a rarer, thing than love. Many women had flattered my
vanity with hints of that; but here was the only one I had ever met whom
I was sure was telling me the absolute, unflattering truth. The sting of
wounded pride grew milder as Eleanor, unconsciously swaying toward me in
her earnestness, went on:

"Will you--can you love me, and take my friendship, my gratitude and
admiration--more than I can tell you--and wait for me to love you as
well as you ought to be loved? I know I shall--how can I help it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

As things in our family were always done with the strictest attention to
etiquette, I informed my mother, as was due to her, during our usual
stroll on the terrace, after our early Sunday dinner, that I was paying
my addresses to Eleanor Beecher, and intended to apply for her father's
consent that afternoon. It was a great and not a pleasant surprise for
her. My mother was celebrated for never saying anything she would be
sorry for afterwards--an admirable trait, but one which frequently
interfered with her conversational powers; and unfortunately, on this
occasion, to say nothing was almost as bad as anything she could have
said. It was rather hard for both of us, but after it was over, she
could go to her room and have a good cry by herself, while I was obliged
to set off for an interview with my intended father-in-law, whom I found
in his little garden, in shirt-sleeves and old slippers, cutting the
ripest bunches from his grape-vines. It was the blessed hour sacred to
dawdle--the only one the poor old fellow had from one week's end to the
other. He was evidently not accustomed to have it broken in upon by
young men visitors in faultless calling trim, and starting, dropped his
shears, which I picked up and handed to him; dropped them again,
shuffled about in his old slippers, and muttered something of an
apology. Evidently I must plunge at once into the subject, but I was
getting practised in this, and began boldly: "Mr. Beecher, may I have
your consent to pay my addresses to your daughter Eleanor?"

"Eleanor at home? Oh, yes, she's in. Perhaps you'll kindly excuse me?"
and he looked helplessly toward the house door.

"I don't think you quite understand me. I spoke to Eleanor last night
about my wishes--hopes--my love for her, and she promised to give me an
answer this morning. She has consented to become my wife--of course,
with your approval."

"Lord bless my soul!" exclaimed Mr. Beecher, throwing back his head, and
looking full at me over the top of his spectacles; "who would ever have
thought it? I mean--you seem so young, such a boy."

"I am twenty-six, and Eleanor, I believe, is twenty."

"True, true; yes, she was twenty last June--but--but--why, of course,
she must decide for herself--that is, if you are sure you love her."

I felt myself growing red; but Mr. Beecher seemed to interpret this as a
sign of my ardent devotion, and anger at its being doubted, for he went
on: "Yes, yes! I beg your pardon. I never heard anything about you but
in your favour. Of course, I have nothing to say but that I am very
happy. Of course," more quickly, "it's a great honour; that is, of
course you know my daughter has no fortune to match with yours."

"I am perfectly indifferent to that."

"Of course--of course--well, it must rest with Eleanor. She is a good
girl, and I can trust her choice. Will you not go in and see my--Mrs.
Beecher?" he added with relief, as if struck with a bright idea; and I
left him slashing off green bunches and doing awful havoc among his
grape-vines. He did not appear so overwhelmed with delight at the
prospect of an alliance with me as Eleanor had seemed to expect. Mrs.
Beecher, on her part, took the tidings in rather a melancholy way; she
wept, and said Eleanor was a dear good child, and she hoped we would
make each other happy, but there was more despondency than joy in her
manner; either she was accustomed to look at every new event in that
light, or, as I suspected, this piece of good fortune was rather too
overwhelming. I thought many times in the next two months of the man who
received the gift of an elephant. I played the part of elephant in the
Beecher _ménage_, and was sometimes terribly oppressed by my own
magnificence. Perhaps an engagement may be a pleasant period of one's
life under some circumstances; decidedly mine was not. I insisted on its
being as short as possible, thinking that the sooner it was over the
better for all parties. Mr. and Mrs. Beecher might have had some comfort
in getting Eleanor ready to be married to some nice young man with a
rising salary and a cottage at Roxbury; but to get her ready to be
married to me was a task which I was afraid would be the death of both
of them. Poor Eleanor herself was worn to a shadow with it all, and I
remember looking forward with some satisfaction to bringing her up again
after we were married.

My mother, of course, could not interfere with their arrangements, even
to offer help. She asked no questions, found no fault, but was
throughout unapproachably courteous and overpoweringly civil. Once, and
once only, did she speak out her mind to me. The evening after the
wedding-day was fixed, she tapped late at my door, and when I opened it,
she walked in in her white wrapper, candlestick in hand--for the whole
house was long darkened--her long, thick, still bright brown locks
hanging below her waist, and a look of determination on her
features--looking like a Lady Macbeth, who had had the advantages of a
good early education.

"Roger!" she began, and paused.

"Well."

"Roger," as I placed a chair for her, and she sat down as if she were at
the dentist's, "there is one thing I must say to you. I hope you will
not mind. I must be satisfied on one point, and then I will never
trouble you again about it."

"Anything, dearest, that I can please you in."

"Roger, did you ever--did you never care for Katie Day?"

"I always liked her."

"I mean, Roger, did you ever want to marry her? And, oh, Roger! I hope,
I do hope that if you did not, you have never let her have any reason to
think you did."

"Never! I have never given her any reason to think I cared for her more
than as a very good friend."

"I felt sure you would never wilfully deceive any girl," said my mother,
with a sigh of relief; "but I am anxious about you yourself. Did you and
Katie ever have any quarrel--any misunderstanding? I have heard of
people marrying some one else from pique after such things. Do forgive
me, Roger, dear; but I should be so glad to know." My poor mother
paused, more disconcerted than she usually allowed herself to be, and
her beautiful eyes brimming over with tears.

"Don't worry about me, dearest mother," I said, kissing her tenderly;
for my heart was touched by her anxiety. "I can tell you truly that I
have never really wanted to marry Katie, though once or twice I have
thought of it. I have always admired her, as every one must. She is a
lovely girl; and seeing so much of her as I have, it might have come to
something in time, if it had not been for Eleanor."

"If it had not been for Eleanor!" My mother was too well-bred to repeat
my words, but I saw them run through her mind like a lightning flash.
She looked for a moment as if she thought I was mad, then in another
moment she remembered that she had heard love to be not only mad but
blind. Her own Cupid had been a particularly wide-awake deity, with all
his wits about him; but she bowed to the experience of mankind. From
that hour to this she has never breathed a word which could convey any
idea that Eleanor was anything but her own choice and pride as a
daughter-in-law.

The Beechers got up a very properly commonplace wedding, after all,
though nothing to what my wedding ought to have been. Eleanor herself,
like many prettier brides, was little but a peg to hang a wreath and
veil on. Her younger sisters did very well as bridesmaids. The only will
I showed in the matter was in refusing to ask Phil Day to act as best
man, though I knew it was expected of me. I asked Herbert Riddell; and
the good fellow performed his part admirably, and made the thing go off
with some life. I verily believe he was the happiest person there. They
only had a very small breakfast for the nearest relations, my mother
remarking that we could have something larger afterwards; but the church
was crammed. The thing I remember best of that day, now fifteen years
ago, was the expression on Mrs. Day's and Katie's faces. It was not
pique--they were too well-bred for that--nor disappointment--they were
too proud for that, even had they felt it. And I don't believe that
there was any deep disappointment, at least on Katie's part. I had made
no undue advances; and she was far too sensible and sunny-tempered a
lassie to let herself do more than indulge in a few day-dreams, or to
wear the willow for any man, even if he were a good match, and had
pleased her fancy. She married, as every one knows, Herbert Riddell, and
made him a very good wife. But neither mother nor daughter could quite
keep out of their faces, wreathed in smiles as befitted the occasion,
the look of uncomprehending, unmitigated amazement, too overpowering to
dissemble. I suppose it was reflected on many others, and I remembering
overhearing Aunt Frances severely reproving Aunt Grace for so far
forgetting herself as to utter the vulgar remark that she "would give
ten thousand dollars to know what Roger was marrying that little fright
for."

The Roger Greenway and Eleanor Beecher of ten years ago are so far past
now that I can talk of them like other people. That Roger Greenway
ranked so low in his class at college is only remembered to be cited as
a comfort to the mothers of stupid sons--Roger Greenway, now the coming
man in Massachusetts. Have I not made a yacht voyage round Southern
California, and is not my book on the deep-sea dredgings off the coasts
considered an important contribution to the Darwinian theory, having
drawn, in his later days, a kind and appreciative letter from the great
naturalist? Do I not bid fair to revolutionise American agriculture by
my success in domesticating the bison on my stock-farm in Maine? Have I
not come forward in politics, made brilliant speeches through the State,
and am I not now sitting in Congress for my second term? The world would
be incredulous if I told them that all this was due to Eleanor. She did
not, indeed, know exactly what deep-sea dredging was; but she said I
ought to do something with my yacht, and had better make a voyage, and
write a book about it. She is as afraid, not only of a bison, but of a
cow, as a well-principled woman ought to be; but she said I ought to do
something with my stock-farm, and had better try some experiments. She
is no advocate of women's going into politics; but she said I was a good
speaker, and ought to attend the primary meetings. And when I said the
difficulty was to think of anything to say, she said if that were all,
she could think of twenty things. So she did; and when I had once
begun, I could think of them myself. I have had no military training;
but if Eleanor were to say that she was sure I could take a fort, I
verily believe I could and should.

Not less is Eleanor Beecher of the old days lost in Mrs. Roger Greenway.
As she grew older she grew stouter, which was very becoming to her, as
she had always been of a good height, though no one ever gave her credit
for it. Her complexion cleared up; her hair was better dressed, and
looked a different shade; and she developed an original taste in dress.
She developed a peculiar manner, too, very charming and quite her own.
She showed an organising faculty; and after getting her household under
perfect control, and starting her nursery on the most systematic basis,
she grew into planning and carrying out new charities. The name of Mrs.
Roger Greenway at the head of a charity committee wins public confidence
at once, and, seen among the "remonstrants" against woman's suffrage,
has more than once brought over half the doubtful votes in the General
Court. Every one says that I am unusually fortunate in having such a
wife for a public man, and my mother cannot sufficiently show her
delight in the wisdom of dear Roger's choice.

Eleanor would never let me do what she called "pauperise" her family;
but I found Mr. Beecher a good place on a railroad, over which I had
some control, which he filled admirably, and built a new house to let to
him. I helped the boys through college, letting them pay me back, and
gave them employment in the lines they chose. The girls, under
pleasanter auspices, turned out prettier than their eldest sister, and
enjoyed society; and one is well married, and another engaged.

Katie Day, as I said before, married Herbert Riddell. She was an
excellent wife, and made his means go twice as far as any one else could
have done. She and Eleanor are called intimate friends with as much
reason as Phil and I had been. I don't believe they ever have two words
to say to each other when alone together, but then they very seldom are.
Eleanor is always lending Katie the carriage, and sending her fruit and
flowers when she gives one of her exquisite little dinners; and Katie
looks pretty, and sings and talks at our parties, and so it goes on to
mutual satisfaction.

We all have our youthful dreams, though to few of us is it given to find
them realities. Perhaps we might more often do so, did we know the
vision when we met it in mortal form. I had had my ideal, a shadowy one
indeed--and never, certainly, did I imagine that I was chasing after it
when I followed Eleanor down the fir-tree walk. "An eagerness to share
the overflowing gifts of fortune with others--a respectful tenderness
for those who had but little--a yearning sweetness of sympathy that
should disarm even envy, and give the very inequalities of life their
fitness and significance." Had I ever clothed my fancies in words like
these? I hardly knew; but as I watched my wife in the early days of our
married life, shyly and slowly learning to use her new powers, as the
butterfly, fresh from the chrysalis, stretches its cramped wings to the
sun and air, they took life and shape before me--and I felt the charm of
the "ever womanly" that has ever since drawn me on, as it must draw the
race.

Did Eleanor's love for me spring from gratitude for, or pleasure in, the
wealth that was lavished on her with a liberal hand? Who shall say? A
girl's love, if love it be, is often won by gifts of but a little higher
sort. But if it be worthy of the name, it finds its earthly close in
loving for love's sake alone; and then it matters not how it came, for
it can never go, and the pulse of its life will be giving, not taking.
To Eleanor herself, sure of my heart because so sure of her own, it
would matter but little to-day if I had loved her first from pity. That
I did not is my own happiness, not hers.



[Illustration]

THE STORY OF A WALL-FLOWER


It would never have occurred to anyone on seeing Margaret Parke for the
first time, that she was born to be a wall-flower,--plainness, or at
best insignificance of person, being demanded by the popular mind as an
attribute necessary to acting in that capacity, whereas Margaret was
five feet eight inches in height, with a straight swaying figure like a
young birch tree, a head well set back upon her shoulders--as if the
better to carry her masses of fair hair--an oval face, a straight nose,
blue eyes so deeply set, and so shaded by long dark eyelashes, that they
would have looked dark too, but for the sparkles of coloured light that
came from them, an apple-blossom skin, and thirty-two sound teeth behind
her ripe red lips. With all these disqualifications for the part, it was
a wonder that she should ever have thought of playing it; and to do her
justice, she never did,--but some have "greatness thrust upon them."

Margaret's father, too, was a man of some consequence, having a
reputation great in degree, though limited in extent. He was hardly
known out of medical circles, but within them everyone had heard of Dr.
Parke of Royalston. His great work on "Tissues," which afterwards
established his fame on a secure basis, lay tucked away in manuscript,
with all its illustrations, for want of funds to publish it; but even
then there were rooms in every hospital in Europe into which a king
could hardly have gained admittance, where Dr. Parke might have walked
in at his pleasure. So brilliant had been "Sandy" Parke's career at
college, and in the Medical School, that his classmates had believed him
capable of anything; and when he married Margaret's mother, a beauty in
a quiet way, both young people, though neither had any money, were
thought to have done excellently well for themselves. Alas! they were
too young. Dr. Parke's marriage spoiled his chances of going abroad to
complete his medical education. When he launched on his profession, it
was found that many men were his superiors in the art of getting a
lucrative practice in a large city; and, at last, he was glad to settle
down in a country town, where he had a forty-mile circuit, moderate
gains, and still more moderate expenses. His passion was study, which he
pursued unremittingly, though time was brief and subjects were scanty.

Mrs. Parke was a devoted wife and mother, who thought her husband the
greatest of men, and pitied the world for not recognising the fact. She
managed his affairs wisely, and they lived very comfortably and cheaply
in the pleasant semi-rural town. Could the children have remained babies
forever, Mrs. Parke's wishes would never have strayed beyond the limits
of her house and garden; but as they grew older, and so fast! ambition
began to stir in her heart. It was the great trial of her life that with
all her economy, they could not find it prudent to send the two oldest
boys to Harvard, but must content themselves with Williams College. She
bore it well; but when Margaret bloomed into loveliness that struck the
eyes of others than her partial parents, she felt here she must make an
effort. Margaret should go down to Boston to see and be seen in her own
old set, or what remained of it. Mrs. Parke was an orphan, with no very
near relations, but her connections were excellent, and her own first
cousin, Mrs. Robert Manton, might have been a most valuable one had
things been a little different. Unfortunately, Mrs. Manton, being early
left a widow, with a neat little property and no children, and having to
find some occupation for herself, had chosen the profession of an
invalid, which she pursued with exclusive devotion. She had long ceased
to follow the active side of it--that of endeavouring to do anything to
regain her health; having exhausted the resources of every physician of
reputation in the New England and Middle States, among them Dr. Parke,
who, like the others, did not understand her case, and indeed had never
been able to see that she had any. She had now passed into the passive
stage, trying only to avoid anything that might do her harm. She never
went to Royalston, as there was far too much noise in the house there to
suit her, but she felt kindly towards her cousin's family, and when she
was able would send them pretty presents at Christmas. More often she
would simply order a box of confectionery to be sent them, which they
ate up as fast as possible, Dr. Parke being inclined to growl when he
saw it about.

Cousin Susan had rather dropped out of society, though the little she
did keep up was of a very select order; and Mrs. Parke knew better than
to expect her to take any trouble to introduce Margaret into it. The
bare idea of having a young girl on her hands to take about would have
sent her out of her senses. But she lived in her own very good house on
West Cedar Street, and though she had let most of it to a physician,
reserving rooms for herself and her maid, surely there was some little
nook into which she could squeeze Margaret, if the girl, who had a
pretty talent for drawing, could be sent to Boston to take a quarter at
the Art School. Mrs. Manton assented, because refusing and excusing were
too much trouble. Mrs. Parke had also written to an old school friend,
now Mrs. David Underwood; a widow, too, but still better endowed, who
had kept up with the world, and went out and entertained freely; the
more, because her son, Ralph Underwood, a rising young stockbroker, was
a distinguished member of the younger Boston society. Mrs. Underwood had
visited the Parkes in her early widowhood, when Ralph was a little boy
and Margaret a baby, and had been most hospitably entertained. Of course
she would be only too glad to do all she could to show her friend's
pretty daughter the world, and show her to it.

Now, if Mrs. Parke had sent Margaret down to Boston a year sooner or a
year later, things would doubtless have taken quite another turn, and
this history could never have been written. But the year before she was
still feeding her family on stews and boiled rice, to lay up the money
for Margaret's expenses, and working early and late to get up an outfit
for her; which objects she achieved by the autumn of 188-. What baleful
conjunction of planets was then occurring to make Mrs. Underwood
mutter, as she read the letter, that she wished Mary Pickering had
chosen any other time to fasten her girl upon them, while Ralph growled
across the breakfast-table under his breath, "At any rate, don't ask her
to stay with us," must be left for the future to disclose. Mrs.
Underwood eagerly promised anything and everything her son chose to ask,
and as he sauntered out of the house leaving his breakfast untouched,
and she watched anxiously after him from the window, the important
letter dropped unheeded from her hand, and out of her mind.

Margaret came down in due season, bright and expectant. Cousin Susan was
rather taken aback at the girl's beauty, partly frightened at the
responsibilities it involved, partly relieved by the thought that it
would make Mrs. Underwood the more willing to assume them all. Margaret
went to the Art School, and got on very well with her drawing. She was
much admired by the other girls, who were never weary of sketching her.
They were nice girls, though they did not move in the sphere of society
in which they seemed to take it for granted that Margaret must achieve a
distinguished success; and even though she was modest in her
disclaimers, she could not help feeling that she might have what they
called "a good time" under Mrs. Underwood's auspices.

Mrs. Underwood for more than a week gave no sign of life; then made a
very short, very formal call, apologising for her tardiness by reason of
her numerous engagements, and proffering no further civilities; and when
Margaret, in a day or two, returned the call, she found Mrs. Underwood
"very much engaged." But in another day or two there came a note from
her, asking Margaret to a small and early dance at her house, and a card
for a set of Germans at Papanti's Hall, of which she was one of the lady
patronesses, and which Cousin Susan knew to be the set of the season. In
her note she rather curtly stated that she had settled the matter of
Margaret's subscription to the latter affairs, and that she would call
and take her to the first, which was to come off three days after her
own dance. Margaret was pleased, but a little frightened; there was
something not very encouraging in the manner of Mrs. Underwood's note;
though perhaps it was silly to mind that when the matter was so
satisfactory,--only she did hate to go to her first dance alone. She
longed even for Cousin Susan's chaperonage, though she knew her longings
were vain; Mrs. Manton never went out in the evening under any
circumstances, and told Margaret that there was no need of a chaperon at
so small an affair at the house of an intimate friend, and that she
should have that especially desirable cab and cabman that she honoured
with her own custom, whenever she could make up her mind to leave the
house. It would, of course, be charged on her bill; after which piece of
munificence she washed her hands of the whole affair.

Margaret set out alone. It was a formidable ordeal for her to get
herself into the house and up the staircase, and glad was she when she
was safely landed in the dressing-room, though there was not a soul
there whom she knew. Her dress was a pink silk that had been a part of
her mother's trousseau; a good gown, though not at all the shade people
were wearing now; but Mrs. Parke had made it over very carefully, and
veiled it with white muslin. It had looked very nice to Margaret till it
came in contact with the other girls' dresses. She hoped they would not
look at it depreciatingly; and they did not,--they never looked at it at
all, or at her either. She stood in the midst of the gayly greeting
groups, less noticed than if she were a piece of furniture, on which at
least a wrap or two might have been thrown. She found it easy enough,
however, to get downstairs and into the reception-room in the stream,
and up to Mrs. Underwood, who looked worried and anxious, said she was
glad to see her, and it was a very cold evening; and then, as the
waiting crowd pushed Margaret on, she could hear the hostess tell the
next comer that she was glad to see him, and that it was a very warm
evening. Margaret was softly but irresistibly urged on toward the door
of the larger room where the dancing was to be; but that she had not the
courage to enter alone, and coming across a single chair just at the
entrance, she sat down in it and sat on for two hours without stirring.
The men were bustling about to ask the girls who had already the most
engagements; the girls were some of them looking out for possible
partners, some on the watch for the men by whom they most wished to be
asked to dance; but no one asked Margaret. The music struck up, and
still she sat on unheeded.

The loneliness of one in a crowd has often been dwelt upon, as greater
than that of the wanderer in the desert; but all pictures of isolation
are feeble compared to that of a solitary girl in a ballroom. Margaret's
seat was in such a conspicuous position that it seemed as if all the
couples who crushed past her in and out of the ballroom must take in the
whole fact of her being neglected. There were a few older ladies in the
room, but these sat together in another part of it, and talked among
themselves without paying any heed to her.

At first she hardly took in the situation in all its significance; but
as dance after dance began and ended, she began to feel puzzled and
frightened. Did the Underwoods mean to be rude to her, or was this the
way people in society always behaved, and ought she to have known it all
along? Ought she to feel more indignant with them, or ashamed of
herself? If she could only know what the proper sentiment for the
occasion might be, it would be some relief to feel miserable in the
proper way. Miserable her condition must be, since she was the only girl
in it.

At last Mrs. Underwood brought up her son and introduced him. He was a
tall, dark, well-grown young fellow, who might have been handsome but
for a look of gloomy sulkiness which made his face repulsive. He
muttered something indistinguishable and held out his arm, and Margaret,
understanding it as an invitation to dance, mechanically rose, and
allowed herself to be conducted to the ballroom. She made one or two
remarks to which he never replied, and after pushing her once or twice
round the room in as perfunctory a manner as if he were moving a table,
watching the door over her head, meanwhile, with an attention which made
him perpetually lose the step, he suddenly dropped her a little way from
her former seat, on which she was glad to take refuge. She thought she
must have made a worse figure on the floor than sitting down, and then
a terrible fear rushed over her like a cold chill. Was there something
very much amiss with her appearance? Had anything very shocking happened
to her gown? She looked at it furtively; but just then the bustle of a
late arrival diverted her thoughts a little, as a short, plump,
black-eyed girl came laughing in, followed by a quiet, middle-aged lady,
and a rather bashful-looking young man. Margaret thought her only rather
pretty, not knowing that she was Miss Kitty Chester, the beauty of
Boston for the past two seasons; however, she did observe that she had
the most gorgeous gown, the biggest nosegay, and the highest spirits in
the room. She hastened up to Mrs. Underwood, with an effusive greeting,
which that lady seemed trying, not quite successfully, to return in
kind. Half of the girls in the room, and most of the men, gathered round
her in a moment; and a confused rattle of lively small talk arose, of
which Margaret could make out nothing. She noticed, however, that the
other girls, many of them momentarily deserted, appeared to regard the
sensation with something of a disparaging air, and she heard one of them
say, that it was a little too bad, even for Kitty Chester. What "it"
might be remained a mystery, but there was no doubt that it contributed
amazingly to the success of Mrs. Underwood's dance, which went on,
Margaret thought, with redoubled zest, for all but herself; nor, indeed,
did Ralph Underwood appear enlivened, for she caught a glimpse of him
across the room, sulkier than ever. To her surprise, as he looked her
way, a sort of satisfaction, it could not be called pleasure, suddenly
dawned on his face. Surely she could never be the cause! And then for
the first time she perceived that someone was standing behind her; and,
as one is apt to do in such a consciousness, she turned sharply and
suddenly around, the confusion which came too late to check her movement
coloring her face. It was a relief to find that it was a very
insignificant person on whom her glance fell, a small, plain man of
indefinite age, who looked, as the girls phrase it, "common." He was
dressed like the other men, but his clothes had not the set of theirs,
and he had the air, if not of actual ill-health, of being in poor
condition. In that one glance her eyes met his, which sent back a look,
not of recognition, but of response. There was nothing which she could
notice as an assumption of familiarity, but if anyone else had seen it
they might have thought that she had been speaking to him. Of course,
she could do nothing but turn as quickly back; but she was conscious
that he still kept his place, and somehow it seemed a kind of protection
to have him there. He stood near, but not obtrusively so; a little to
one side, in just such a position that she could have spoken to him
without moving, and they might have been thought to be looking on
together, too much at their ease to talk. When people paired off for
supper and nobody came for her, he waited till everyone else had left
the room, so that he might have been thought her escort. He then
disappeared; but in a moment Margaret was amazed by the entrance of a
magnificent colored waiter, who offered her a choice of refreshments
with the finest manners of his race. His subordinates rushed upon each
other's heels with all the delicacies she wished, and more that she had
never heard of, and their chief came again to see that she was properly
served. Not a young woman at the ball had so good a supper as Margaret;
but that is the portion of the entertainment for which young women care
the least.

Just before the crowd surged back from the supper-room, her protector,
as she could not help calling him to herself, had slipped back into his
old place, so naturally that he might have been there all the time
during the supper, whose remains the waiters were now carrying off with
as much deference as they had brought it. Margaret wondered how a person
who looked, somehow, so out of his sphere, could act as if he were so
perfectly in it. Very few people seemed to know him, and though when
one or two of the men spoke to him it was with an air of being well
acquainted, he seemed rather to discourage their advances, and Margaret
was glad, for she dreaded his being drawn away from her neighbourhood.
While she was puzzling over the question as to whether he were a poor
relation, or Ralph's old tutor, the wished-for, yet dreaded hour of her
release sounded,--dreaded, for how to say her good-by and get out of the
room. But somehow the unknown was close behind her, and one or two of a
party who were going at the same time were speaking to him, so she might
have been of, as well as in, the group. Mrs. Underwood looked worried
and tired and had hardly a word for her, but seemed to have something to
say to her companion of a confidential nature, by which, however, he
would not allow himself to be detained, but excused himself in a few
murmured words, which seemed to satisfy his hostess, and passed on,
still close behind Margaret, to the door, where they came full against
Ralph Underwood, who barely returned Margaret's bow, but exclaimed:
"What, Al, going? Oh, come now, don't go."

"Al" said something in a low voice, as inexpressive as the rest of him,
of which Margaret could only distinguish the words "coming back," and
followed her on, waiting till she came down the stairs and out of the
house. He did not offer to put her into the carriage, but somehow it was
done without any exertion on her part, and as she drove off, she saw him
on the steps looking after her.

Margaret had a fine spirit of her own, and could have borne the downfall
of her illusions and hopes as well as ninety-nine young women out of a
hundred. She could even, when her distresses were well over, have
laughed at them herself, and turned over the leaf in hopes of a better.
But what was she to write home about it? how satisfy her father, mother,
and Winnie, eager for news of her? how bear their disappointment? There
lay the sting. "If it were not for them," she thought, "I should not
mind so very much." She was strictly truthful both by nature and
education, and though she did feel that if ever a few white lies were
justifiable, they would be here, she dismissed the notion as foolish, as
well as wicked, and lay awake most of the night, trying to
diplomatically word a letter which should keep to the facts and still
give a cheerful impression. "Mrs. Underwood's dance was very pretty,"
she said, and she described the decorations and dresses. She had "rather
a quiet time" herself, not knowing many people, and did not dance more
than "once or twice." Here was a long pause, until she decided that
"once or twice" might literally stand for one as well as more. She did
not see much of Mrs. Underwood or Ralph, as they were busy receiving,
but "some of the men were very kind." Here again conscience pricked her;
but to say one man would sound so pointed and particular--it would draw
attention and perhaps inquiry which she could but ill sustain; and then
luckily the devotion of the black waiters darted into her mind, and she
went off peacefully to sleep, her difficulties conquered for the
present, and a feeling of gratitude toward the unknown warm at her
heart. Of course "a man like that" could only have acted out of pure
good-nature, and couldn't have expected that she should dream of its
being anything else. She wished she could have thanked him for it.

The lesser trial of having to tell Cousin Susan about it was fortunately
averted. Mrs. Manton never left her room the next day, and when Margaret
saw her late the day after, the party was an old story, and Margaret
could say carelessly that it had been rather slow, and her host not
particularly attentive, without exciting too much comment. Cousin Susan
said it was a pity, but that it would be better at the next, as she
would know a few people to start with. Margaret did not feel so sure of
that, and wished she could stay away; but she had no excuse to give
without telling more of the truth than she could bring herself to do;
and then, she reasoned, things might be different next time. Mrs.
Underwood might have more time or inclination to attend to her, when she
was not occupied with her other guests; and there were other matrons,
some of whom might be good-natured,--perhaps some of the men might
notice her at a second view, and ask her to dance; at any rate, she
thought, it could not well be worse than the first. She wished she had
another gown to wear than that pink silk, which might be unlucky, but
the white muslin prepared as an alternative was by no means smart
enough. So she put on the gown of Monday, trying to improve it in
various little ways, and waited with something that might be called
heroism.

Mrs. Underwood called at the appointed hour. She bade Margaret good
evening, and asked if she minded taking a front seat, as she was going
to take up Mrs. Thorndike Freeman; and that, and Margaret's
acquiescence, was about all that passed between them till the carriage
stopped, and a faded-looking, though youngish woman, plain, but with an
air of some distinction got in, and acknowledged her introduction to
Margaret with a few muttered indistinguishable words.

"Dear Katharine, I am so glad!" said Mrs. Underwood; "I thought you
would certainly have some girl to take, and I should have to go alone."

"I'm not quite such a fool, thank you," said Mrs. Freeman, in a quick
little incisive voice that somehow brought her words out; "I told them
I'd be a patroness, if I need have no trouble, and no responsibilities;
but you needn't expect to see me with a girl on my hands."

"Oh, but any girl with you would be sure to take."

"You can never tell--unless a girl happens to hit, or her people are
willing to entertain handsomely, you can't do much for her. A girl may
be pretty enough, and nice enough, and have good connections, too, and
she may fall perfectly flat. I had such a horrid time last winter with
Nina Turner; I couldn't well refuse them. Well, thank Heaven, she's
going _in_ this winter;--going to set up a camera and take to
photography."

"I wish more of them would go in," said Mrs. Underwood with a groan.
"Here has Bella Manning accepted, if you will believe it. I should think
she had had enough of sitting out the German. Well--I shan't trouble
myself about her this winter. She ought to go in and be done with it."

"The mistake was in her ever coming out," said Mrs. Freeman, with a
laugh at her own wit.

"It is a mistake a good many of them have made this year. Did you ever
see a plainer set of debutantes?"

"Never, really; it seems to have given Mabel Tufts courage to hold on
another year. I hear she's coming."

"Yes," said Mrs. Underwood scornfully. "It's too absurd. Why, her own
nephews are out in society! They go about asking the other fellows,
'Have you met my aunt?' Ned Winship has made a song with those words for
a chorus, and the boys all sing it. And yet, Mabel is very pretty
still--I wonder no one has married her."

"Mabel Tufts was never the sort of girl men care to marry."

Margaret wondered in her own mind at the sort of girl Mr. Thorndike
Freeman had cared to marry. She tried to keep her courage up, but it
grew weaker as she followed the other ladies upstairs and took off her
wraps and pulled on her gloves as fast as she could, while Mrs.
Underwood stood impatiently waiting, and Mrs. Freeman looked Margaret
over beginning with her feet and working upward.

"Have you a partner engaged, Miss Parke?" asked Mrs. Underwood suddenly.

"No"--faltered Margaret, unable to add anything to the bare fact.

"I am afraid you won't get one then, there are so many more girls than
men."

The "so many more" turned out, in fact, to be two or three, but Margaret
had no hope. She felt that whoever got a partner, it would not be she.
The dancers paired off, the seats were drawn, the music began, and she
found herself sitting by Mrs. Underwood on the back row of raised
benches, with a quarter view of that lady's face, as she chatted with
Mrs. Thorndike Freeman on the other side. There were only two other
girls, as far as Margaret could make out, among the chaperons. Some of
the latter were young enough, no doubt, but their dress and careless
easy manner marked the difference. A pretty, thin, very
fashionable-looking elderly young lady sat near Margaret;--perhaps the
luckless Mabel Tufts; but she seemed to know plenty of people, and was
perpetually being taken out for turns. She laughed and talked freely, as
if defying her position, and Margaret wished she could carry it off so
well, little guessing how fiercely the other was envying her for the
simplicity that might not know how bad her plight was, and the youth
that had still such boundless possibilities in store. Another small,
pale girl in a dark silk sat far back, and perhaps had only come to look
on,--too barefaced a pretence for Margaret in her terribly obtrusive
pink gown. She could not even summon resolution to refuse young
Underwood when he asked her for a turn, though she wished she had after
he had deposited her in her chair again and stalked off with the air of
one who has done his duty.

The griefs of a young woman who has no partner for the German, though
perhaps not so lasting as those of one who lacks bread and shelter, are
worse while they do last, for there may be no shame in lacking bread,
and one can, and generally does, take to begging before starving. As the
giraffe is popularly supposed to suffer exceptionally from sore throat,
owing to the length of that portion of his frame, so did Margaret, as
she sat through one figure, and then through another, feel her torture
through every nerve of her five feet, eight inches. What would she not
have given to be smaller, perhaps even plainer,--somehow less
conspicuous. Man after man strolled past her, and lounged in front of
her, chatting and laughing with Mrs. Thorndike Freeman; but it was not
possible they could help seeing her, however they might ignore her.

"_Le jour sera dur, mais il se passera._"

Margaret could have looked forward to all this being over at last, and
to night and darkness, and bed for relief; but--here rose again the
spectre--what could she write home about it? She could not devise
another evasive letter; she must tell the whole truth, and had better
have done so at first--for of course she should never, never come to one
of these things again. The hands of the great clock crept slowly on;
would they never hurry to midnight before the big ball in her throat
swelled to choking, and her quivering, burning, throbbing pulses drove
her to do something, she could not tell what, to get away and out of it
all?

The second figure was over, and she looked across the great hall,
wondering if she could not truthfully plead a headache, and go to the
cloak-room. But how was she to get there? and what could she do there
alone? She would have died on the spot rather than make any appeal to
Mrs. Underwood. No, she must go through with it; and then as she looked
again, a great, sudden sense of relief came over her, for she saw in the
doorway the slouching figure of her friend of Monday. He did not look at
her, and she doubted if he saw her; but it was something to have him in
the room. In a moment more, however, she saw him speak to Ralph
Underwood; and then the latter came up to her and asked if he might
present a friend of his, and at her acquiescence, moved away and came up
again with "Miss Parke, let me introduce Mr. Smith."

"I am very sorry to say I don't dance," Mr. Smith began, "but I hear
that there are more ladies than men to-night; so perhaps if you have not
a partner already, you won't mind doing me the favour of sitting it out
with me."

Margaret hardly knew what he meant, but she would have accepted, had he
asked her to dance a _pas de deux_ with him in the middle of the hall.
She took his arm and they walked far down to a place at the very end of
the line of chairs; but it did not matter; it was in the crowd.

Mr. Smith did not say much at first; he hung her opera cloak over the
back of her chair carefully, so that she could draw it up if she needed
it, and somehow the way he did so made her feel quite at home with him,
and as if she had known him for a long time; even though she perceived,
now that she had the opportunity to look more closely at him, that he
was by no means so old as she had at first taken him to be. His hair was
thin, and there were one or two deeply-marked lines on his face, but
there was something about his figure and motions that gave an impression
of youthfulness. Without knowing his age, you would have said that he
looked old for it. He was rather undersized than small, having none of
the trim compactness that we associate with the latter word, and his
face had the dull, thick, sodden skin that indicates unhealthy
influences in childhood.

"That was a pleasant party at Mrs. Underwood's the other evening," he
began at last.

"Was it?" said Margaret, "I never was at a party before--I mean a party
like that."

"And I have been to very few; parties are not much in my line, and when
I do go I am generally satisfied with looking on; but I like that very
well, sometimes."

"Perhaps," said Margaret ingenuously, "if I had gone only to look on, I
should have thought it pleasant too; but I did not suppose one went to a
party for that."

"You do not know many people in Boston?"

"Oh, no! I live in the country--at Royalston. I don't know anyone here
but Mrs. Underwood; but I thought--mamma said, that she would probably
introduce me to some of her friends; but she didn't--not to one. Don't
people do so now?"

"Well, it depends on circumstances. I certainly think she might have;
but then she has so much to think about, you know."

"I suppose I was foolish to expect anything different, but I had read
about parties, and I thought--I was very silly--but I thought I didn't
look so very badly. I thought I should dance a little--that everybody
did. Perhaps my gown doesn't look right. Mamma made it, and took a
great deal of pains with it. Of course, it isn't so new or nice as the
others here, but I can't see that it looks so very different; do you?"

"It looks very nice to me," said Mr. Smith, smiling. He had a pleasant,
rather melancholy smile, which gave his face the sole physical
attraction it possessed, and would have given it more, if he had had
better teeth. "It looks very nice to me, and as you are my partner, I am
the one you should wish most to please."

"Oh, thank you! it was so kind in you to ask me. I can tell them when I
write home that I had a partner at any rate; and you can tell me who
some of the others are."

"I am afraid not many," said Mr. Smith, "I go out but very little. I
only went to the Underwoods because Ralph is an old friend of mine, and
I came here because--" He checked himself suddenly.

"I am sorry, since he is your friend, but I must say that I do think him
very disagreeable. I did not know a man could be so unpleasant. I had
rather he had not danced with me at all than to do it in that terribly
dreary way, as if he were doing it because he had to."

"You mustn't be hard on poor Ralph. He's a very good fellow, really, but
he's almost beside himself just now. The very day of their dance, Kitty
Chester's engagement came out. She had been keeping him hanging on for
more than a year, and at one time he really thought she was going to
have him; and not only that, but she and Frank Thomas actually came to
his party, and they are here to-night. Ralph acts as if he had lost his
senses, and his mother is almost wild about him. Why, after their dance,
I was up all the rest of the night with him. He can't make any fight
about it, and I think it would be better if he were to go away; but he
won't--he just hangs about wherever she is to be seen. We all do all we
can to get him to pluck up some spirit, but it's no go--yet."

"I am very sorry for him," said Margaret, with all a girl's interest in
a love story; and she cast an awe-struck glance toward the spot where
Miss Chester was keeping half a dozen young men in conversation; "but he
need not make everyone else so uncomfortable on account of it--need he?"

"He needn't make himself so uncomfortable, you might say, for a girl who
could treat him in that way; but it doesn't do to tell a man that. It
doesn't seem to me that I should give up everything in the way he is
doing; but then I was never in his place; of course, things are
different for Ralph and me."

"Yes, I am sure, you are different. I don't believe you would ever have
behaved so ill to one girl in your own mother's house, because another
hadn't treated you well."

"I have had such a different experience of life; that was what I meant.
It made me sympathise with you when you felt a little strange; though of
course, it was only a mere accident that things happened so with you.
Now, I was never brought up in society, and always feel a little out of
place in it."

"I don't know much about society either; we live very quietly at home,
and when we do go out, why it is at home, you know, and that makes it
different."

"I suppose you live in a pretty place when you are at home?"

"Oh, Royalston is lovely!" said Margaret, eagerly; "there are beautiful
walks and drives all round it, and the streets have wide grass borders,
and great elms arching over them, and every house has a garden, and our
garden is one of the prettiest there. The place was an old one when
father bought it, and the flower-beds have great thick box edges and
they are so full of flowers; and there is a long walk up to the front
door, between lilac bushes as big as trees, some purple and some white;
and inside it is so pleasant, with rooms built on here and there, all in
and out, and stairs up and down between them. Of course we are not rich
at all, and things are very plain, but mamma has so much taste; and then
there are all the old doors and windows, and the big fireplaces with
carved mantel-pieces, and so much old panelling and queer little
cupboards in the rooms--mamma says it is the kind of house that
furnishes itself."

"I see--it is a good thing to have such a home to care about. Now I was
born in the ugliest village you can conceive of in the southern part of
Illinois; dust all summer, and mud all winter, and in one of the ugliest
houses in it; and yet, do you know, I am fond of the place; it was home.
We were very poor then--poorer than you can possibly conceive of--and I
was very sickly when I was a boy, and had to stay in most of the time. I
was fond of reading, though I hadn't many books, but I never saw any
society--what you would call society. When I was old enough to go to
college, father had got along a little, and sent me to Harvard. I liked
it there, and some of the fellows were very kind to me, especially Ralph
Underwood, though you might not think it. I tried to learn what I could
of their ways and customs, but it was rather late for me, and I never
cared to go out much; and then--there were other reasons." A faint flush
rose on his sallow face and he paused. Margaret fancied he alluded to
his poverty, and felt sorry for him. She hoped he was getting on in the
world, though he did not look very well fitted for it. By this time they
were on a footing of easy comradeship, such as two people of the same
sex and on the same plane of thought sometimes fall into at their first
meeting. It is not often that a young man and a girl of such different
antecedents slide so easily into it; but as Margaret said to herself,
this was a peculiar case. He had told his little story with an apparent
effort to be strictly truthful and put things in their proper position
at the outset. There could be no intentions on his part, or foolish
consciousness or any reason for it on hers, and she asked him with
undisguised interest:

"Where do you live now,--in Illinois?"

"Not that part of it. Father and mother live in Chicago when they are at
home. I am in Cambridge, just now, myself; it is a convenient place for
my work"; and then as her eyes still looked inquiry, he went on, "I am
writing a book."

"Oh! and what is it about?"

"The Albigenses--it is a historical monograph upon the Albigenses."

"That must be a very interesting subject."

"It is interesting. It would be too long a story to tell you how I came
to think of writing it, but I do enjoy it very much indeed. It's the
great pleasure of my life. It isn't that I have any ambition, you know,"
he said in a disclaiming manner. "It's not the kind of book that will
sell well, or be very generally read, for I know I haven't the power to
make it as readable as it ought to be; but I hope it may be useful to
other writers. I am making it as complete as I can. I have been out
twice to Europe to look up authorities, and spent a long time in the
south of France studying localities."

"Oh, have you? how delightful it must be! Father writes too," with a
little pride in her tone, "but it's all on medical subjects; we don't
understand them, and he doesn't care to have us. He hates women to
dabble in medicine, and he says amateur physicians, anyhow, are no
better than quacks."

Mr. Smith made no answer, and they sat silent, till Margaret, fancying
that perhaps he did not like the conversation turned from his book,
asked another question on the subject. She was a well-taught girl, fond
of books, and accustomed to hear them talked over at home, and made an
intelligent auditor. The evening flew by rapidly for both of them,
though their tête-à-tête was seldom disturbed. The man who sat on
Margaret's other side, after staring at her for a long time, asked to be
introduced to her, and took her out once; but it was not very
satisfactory, for he had nothing to talk of but the season, and other
parties of which she knew nothing. However, the figure brought a group
of the ladies together for a moment in the middle of the hall; and a
smiling girl who had been pretty before her face had taken on the tint
of a beetroot, made some pleasant remark to Margaret on the excessive
heat of the room, but was off and away before the answer. Margaret
thought the room comfortably cool--but then she had been sitting still,
while the other had hardly touched her chair since she came. Almost at
the end of the evening too, it dawned upon good-natured, short-sighted,
absent-minded Mrs. Willy Lowe, always put into every list of patronesses
to keep the peace among them, that the pretty girl in pink did not seem
to be dancing much; and she seized and dragged across the room, much as
if by the hair of the head, the only man she could lay hold of--a shy,
awkward undergraduate, of whose little wits she quickly deprived him, by
introducing him as Warner, his real name being Warren. She addressed
Margaret as Miss Parker; but she meant well, and Margaret was grateful,
though they interrupted Mr. Smith in his account of the Roman
Amphitheatre at Arles, and the "Lilies of Arles." But it was well that
she should have something to put into her letter home besides Mr.
Smith--it would never do to have it entirely taken up with him. By the
by, what was his other name? Mr. Smith sounded so unmeaning. She had
heard Ralph Underwood call his friend "Al," which it would not do for
her to use. It might be either Alfred or Albert, and with that proneness
to imagine we have heard what we wish, it really seemed to her as if she
had heard that his name was Albert; she would venture on it, and if she
were mistaken it would be very easy to correct it afterwards; and she
wrote him down as "Mr. Albert Smith." His story she considered as told
in confidence and nobody's affair but his own.

Cousin Susan had never heard the name, but thought of course he must be
one of the right Smiths, or he wouldn't have been there; there were
plenty of them, and this one, it seemed, had lived much abroad. She
would ask Mrs. Underwood when they next met; but this did not happen
soon, and Cousin Susan never took any pains to expedite events--she was
not able. The world did not make allowance for this habit of hers, but
went on its determined course, and the very next day but one, as
Margaret was lightly skimming with her quick country walk across the
Public Garden on her way to the Art School, Mr. Smith, overtaking her
with some difficulty, asked if he might not carry her portfolio? he was
going that way. She did not know how she could, nor why she should,
refuse and they walked happily on together. People turned to look after
them rather curiously, and Margaret thought it must be because she was
so much taller than Mr. Smith and wondered if he minded it. She should
be very sorry if he did--she was sure she did not if he did not; and she
longed to tell him so, but of course that would never do; and then the
little worry faded from her mind, her companion had so much to say that
was pleasant to hear.

After that he joined her on her way more and more frequently. She did
not think it could be improper. The Public Garden was free to everybody,
and after all he didn't come every day, and somehow the meetings always
had an accidental air, which seemed to put them out of her control. He
could hardly call on her in the little sitting-room, where Cousin Susan
was almost always lying on her sofa by the fire in a wrapper, secure
from the intrusion of any man but the reigning physician. Sometimes Mrs.
Swain, below, asked Margaret to sit with her, but the Swain sitting-room
was full of their own affairs, the children and servants running in and
out by day, and Dr. Swain, when at home, resting there in the evening.
Margaret felt herself in the way in both places, and preferred her own
chilly little bedroom. A man calling would be a sad infliction, and
have a most tiresome time of it himself. The winter was a warm and
bright one, and it was far pleasanter to stroll along the walks when it
was too early for the school.

Their acquaintance during this time progressed rapidly in some respects,
more slowly in others. They knew each others' opinions and views on a
vast variety of subjects. On many of these they were in accordance, and
when they differed, Mr. Smith usually brought her round to his point of
view in a way which she enjoyed more than if she had seen it at first.
Sometimes she brought him round to hers, and then she was proud and
pleased indeed. He told her all about his book, what he had done on it,
what he did day by day, and what he projected. On her side, Margaret
told him a world about her own family,--their names, ages, characters,
and occupations,--but on this head he was by no means so communicative.
She supposed the subject might be a painful one, after she had found out
that he was the only survivor of a large family. He spoke of his
parents, when he did speak, respectfully and affectionately, casually
mentioning that his father had been very kind to let him take up
literature instead of going into business. Margaret conjectured that
they were not very well-to-do, and probably uneducated, and that without
any false shame, of which, indeed, she judged him incapable, he might
not enjoy being questioned about them; and she was rapidly learning an
insight into his feelings, and a tender care for them. But one day a
sudden impulse put it into her head to ask his Christian name, as yet
unknown to her, and he quietly answered that it was Alcibiades.

Margaret did not quite appreciate the ghastly irony of the appellation,
but it hit upon her ear unpleasantly, and yet not as entirely
unfamiliar. She was silent while her mind made one of those plunges
among old memories, which, as when one reaches one's arm into a still
pool after something glimmering at the bottom, only ruffles the water
until the wished-for treasure is entirely lost to view; then she frankly
said. "I was trying to think where I had heard your name before, but I
can't."

Mr. Smith actually colored, a rare thing for him, and Margaret longed to
start some fresh topic, but could think of none. He did it for her in a
moment, by asking her whether she meant to go to the German next
Thursday.

"I don't think I shall. I don't know anyone there, and it doesn't seem
worth while."

"I was going to ask you," said Mr. Smith, still with a slight confusion
which she had never noticed in him before, "if you would mind going, and
sitting it out with me as we did the other night?"

"No, but--oh, yes, I should enjoy that ever so much, but--would you like
it? You wouldn't go if it were not for me, would you?"

"I certainly should not go if it were not for you; and I shall like it
better than I ever liked anything in my life."

It was now Margaret's turn to blush, and far more deeply. They had
reached the corner of West Cedar Street, and parted with but few words
more, for he never went further with her, and she went home in a happy
dream, only broken by a few slight perplexities. What should she wear?
She could not be marked out by that old pink silk again; she must wear
the white, and make the best of it. And how was she to get there? She
knew that it would not have been the thing for Mr. Smith to ask her to
go with him. She was so urgent about the matter that she brought herself
to do what she fairly hated, and wrote a timid little note to Mrs.
Underwood, asking if she might not go with her. Mrs. Underwood wrote
back that she was sorry, but her carriage was full; she would meet Miss
Parke in the cloak-room. Even Cousin Susan was a little moved at this,
and said it was too bad of Mrs. Underwood, though she had no suggestion
to make herself but her former one of a cab. Margaret was apprehensive;
but she knew that when she once got there, Mr. Smith would make it all
right and easy for her, and her little troubles faded away in the light
of a great pleasure beyond. The old white muslin looked better than
might have been expected, and Cousin Susan gave her a lovely pair of
long gloves; and she came down into the sitting-room to show off their
effect, well pleased. On the table stood a big blue box with a card
bearing her name attached to it. Mrs. Swain, who had come in to see her
dress, was regarding it curiously, and Jenny, who had brought it up, was
lingering and peering through the half-open door.

"Your partner has sent you some flowers, Margaret," said Cousin Susan
with unusual animation. "Do open that immense box, and let us see them!"

Margaret had never thought of Mr. Smith sending her any flowers. She
wished that Jenny had had the sense to take them into her own room; she
would have liked to open them by herself; but it was of no use to
object, and slowly and unwillingly she untied the cords, and lifted the
lid. Silver paper, sheet upon sheet, cotton wool, layer upon layer; and
then more silver paper came forth. An ineffable perfume was filling her
senses and bringing up dim early memories. It grew stronger, and they
grew weaker, as at last she took out a great bunch of white lilacs, the
large sprays tied loosely and carelessly together with a wide, soft,
thick white ribbon.

"Ah!" said Mrs. Swain, in a slightly disappointed tone; "yes, very
pretty; I suppose that is the style now; and they are raised in a
hothouse, and must be a rarity at this season."

"Where's his card?" asked Cousin Susan. But the card was tightly crushed
up in Margaret's hand; she was not going to have "Alcibiades" exclaimed
over. She need not have been afraid, for it only bore the words, "Mr. A.
Smith, Jr." A pencil line was struck through "14,000 Michigan Avenue,
Chicago," and "Garden Street, Cambridge," scribbled over it.

Margaret wondered how she should ever get her precious flowers safely
upstairs and into the hall--the box was so big; but the moment the
carriage stopped an obsequiously bowing servant helped her out, seized
her load, ushered her up and into the cloak-room, and set down his
burden with an impressiveness that seemed to strike even the chattering
groups of girls. Mrs. Underwood was nowhere to be seen, and Margaret was
glad to have time to adjust her dress carefully. She took out her
flowers at last; but on turning to the glass for a last look, saw that
one of the knots of ribbon on her bodice was half-unpinned, and stopped
to lay her nosegay down, while she secured it more firmly.

"Oh, don't!" cried a voice beside her; "don't, pray don't put them
down"; and Margaret turned to meet the pretty girl, very pretty now,
whose passing word at the last dance had been the only sign of notice
she had received from one of her own sex. "You'll spoil them," she went
on; "do let me take them while you pin on your bow."

Margaret, surprised and grateful, yielded up her flowers, which the
other took gingerly with the tips of her fingers, tossing her own large
lace-edged bouquet of red rosebuds on to a chair.

"You will spoil your own beautiful flowers," said Margaret.

"Oh, mine are tough! And then--why, they are very nice, of course, but
not anything to compare to yours"--handling them as if they were made of
glass.

Margaret, astonished, took them back with thanks, and wished a moment
later, that she had asked this good-natured young person to let her go
into the ballroom with her party. But she had already been swept off by
a crowd of friends, throwing back a parting smile and nod, and Margaret,
left alone, and rather nervous at finding how late it was getting,
walked across the room to the little side door that led into the dancing
hall, and peeped through. There sat Mrs. Underwood at the further end,
having evidently forgotten her very existence; and she drew back with a
renewed sensation of awkward uncertainty.

"They must have cost fifty dollars at least," said the clear, crisp
tones of Miss Kitty Chester, so near her that she started, and then
perceived, by a heap of pink flounces on the floor, that the sofa
against the wall of the ballroom, close by the door, was occupied,
though by whom she could not see without putting her head completely
out, and being seen in her turn.

"One might really almost dance with little Smith for that," went on the
speaker.

"Ralph Underwood says he isn't anything so bad as he looks," said the
gentler voice of Margaret's new acquaintance.

"Good heavens! I should hope not; that would be a little too much,"
laughed Kitty.

"He is very clever, I hear, and has very good manners, considering--and
she seems such a thoroughly nice girl."

"Why, Gladys, you are quite in earnest about it. But now, do you think
that you could ever make up your mind to be Mrs. Alcibiades?"

"Why, of course not! but things are so different. A girl may be just as
nice a girl, and,"--she stopped as suddenly as if she were shot.
Margaret could discern the cause perfectly well; it was that Mr. Smith
was approaching the door, looking out, she had no doubt, for her, and
unconsciously returning the bows of the invisible pair. She had the
consideration to wait a few moments before she appeared, and then she
passed the sofa without a look, taking in through the back of her head,
as it were, Miss Kitty's raised eyebrows and round mouth of comic
despair, and poor Gladys's scarlet cheeks. Her own affairs were becoming
so engrossing, that it mattered little to her what other people thought
or said of them; and she crossed the floor on her partner's arm as
unconsciously as if they were alone together, and spoke to the matrons
with the ease which comes of absolute indifference. She did not mind
Mrs. Underwood's short answers, or Mrs. Thorndike Freeman's little
ungracious nod, but the long stare with which the latter lady regarded
her flowers troubled her a little. What was the matter with them?
Somehow, Mr. Smith had given her the impression of a man who counts his
sixpences, and if he had really been sending her anything very
expensive, it was flattering, though imprudent. Margaret was now
beginning to feel a personal interest in his affairs, and its growth had
been so gradual and so fostered by circumstances, that she was less shy
with him than young girls usually are in such a position. She felt quite
equal to administering a gentle scolding when she had the chance; and
when they were seated, and the music made it safe to talk
confidentially, she began with conciliation.

"Thank you so much for these beautiful flowers."

"Do you like the way they are put up?"

"Oh, yes, they are perfect; but they are too handsome for me to carry.
You ought not to have sent me such splendid ones, nor spent so much upon
them. I did not have any idea what they were till I came here and
everybody--"

"I am very sorry," said Mr. Smith, apologetically, "to have made you so
conspicuous; but really I never thought of their costing so much, or
making such a show. I wanted to send you white lilacs, because somehow
you always make me think of them; don't you remember telling me about
the lilac bushes at Royalston? And when I saw the wretched little bits
at the florist's I told them to cut some large sprays, and never thought
of asking how much they would be." Then, as Margaret's eyes grew larger
with anxiety, he went on, with an air of amusement she had seldom seen
in him, "Never mind! I guess I can stand it for once, and I won't do so
again. I'll tell you, Miss Parke, you shall choose the next flowers I
give you, if you will. Will you be my partner at the next German, and
give me a chance?"

"I wish I could," said Margaret, "but I shall not be here then. I am
going home."

"What--so soon?"

"Yes, my term at the Art School will be over, and I know Cousin Susan
won't want to have me stay after that. She hates to have anyone round.
Mother thought that if I came down, Mrs. Underwood would ask me to visit
her before I went home, but she hasn't, and," with a little sigh, "I
must go. Never mind! I have had a very nice time."

Mr. Smith seemed about to say something, but checked himself; perhaps he
might have taken it up again, but just then Ralph Underwood approached
to ask Margaret for a turn. Something in her partner's manner had set
her heart beating, and she was glad to rise and work off her excitement.
As she spun round with young Underwood, she felt that his former frigid
indifference was replaced by a sort of patronising interest, a mood that
pleased her better, for she could cope with it; and when he said, "I'm
so glad you like Al Smith, Miss Parke; he is a thorough good fellow,"
she looked him full in the face, with an emphatic, "Yes, that he is,"
which silenced him completely.

The men Margaret had danced with the last time asked her again; and she
was introduced to so many more, that she was on the floor a very fair
share of the time. Her reputation as a wall-flower seemed threatened;
but it was too late, for she went home that night from her last girlish
gayety. The attentions which would have been so delightful at her first
ball were rather a bore now. They kept breaking up her talks with Mr.
Smith, making them desultory and fitful; and then she had such a hurried
parting from him at last! It was too bad! and she might not have such
another chance to see him before she left. Their talks were becoming too
absorbing to be carried on with any comfort in the street,--it would be
hateful to say good-by there. Perhaps he felt that himself, and would
not try to meet her there again. She almost hoped he would not; and yet,
as she entered the Public Garden a little later than usual the next
morning, what a bound her heart gave as she saw him, evidently waiting
for her! As he advanced to meet her, he said at once,--

"Miss Parke, will you walk a little way on the Common with me? There are
not so many people there, and I have something I wish very much to say
to you."

Simple as Margaret was, it was impossible for her not to see that Mr.
Smith "meant something"; only he did not have at all the air that she
had supposed natural to the occasion. He looked neither confident nor
doubtful, but calm, and a little sad. Perhaps it was not the great
"something," after all, but an inferior "something else." She walked
along with him in silence, her own face perplexed and doubtful enough.
But when they reached the long walk across the loneliest corner of the
Common, almost deserted at this season, he said, without further
preface,--

"I don't think I ought to let you go home without telling you how great
a happiness your stay here has been to me. I never thought I should
enjoy anything--I mean anything of that kind--so much. It would not be
fair not to tell you so, and it would not be fair to myself either. I
must let you know how much I love you. I don't suppose there is much
chance of your returning it, but you ought to know it."

Margaret's downcast eyes and blushes, according to the wont of girls,
might mean anything or nothing; but her eyes were brimming over with
great tears, that, in spite of all her efforts to check them, rolled
slowly over her crimson cheeks.

"Don't, pray, feel so sorry about it," said her lover more cheerfully;
"there is no need of that. I have been very happy since I first saw
you,--happier than I ever was before. I knew it could not last long;
but I shall have the memory of it always. You have given me more
pleasure than pain, a great deal."

For the first and last time in her life, Margaret felt a little provoked
with Mr. Smith. Was the man blind? Then, as she looked down at his face,
pale with suppressed emotion, a great wave of mingled pity and reverence
at their utmost height swept over her, and made her feel for a moment
how near human nature can come to the divine. Had he, indeed, been
blind, light must have dawned for him; though, as it was never his way
to leave things at loose ends, he had probably intended all along to say
just what he did. He stopped short, and said in tones that were now
tremulous with a rising hope,--

"Margaret, tell me if you can love me ever so little?"

"How can I help it, when you have been so good to me?" Margaret
contrived to stammer out, vexed with herself that she had nothing better
to say. Her words sounded so inadequate--so foolish.

"Oh, but you mustn't take me merely out of gratitude," said he, rather
sadly.

"Merely out of gratitude!" cried Margaret, her tongue loosened as if by
magic, and exulting in her freedom as her words hurried over each other.
"Why, what is there better than gratitude, or what more would you want
to be loved for? If I had seen you behave to another girl as you have to
me, I might have admired and respected you more than any man I ever saw;
but I shouldn't have had the right to love you for it, as I do now. Oh!"
she went on, all radiant now with beauty and happiness, "how I wish I
could do something for you that would make you feel for one single
moment to me as I feel to you, and then you would never, never talk of
mere gratitude again!

"Darling, forgive me--only give yourself to me, and I'll feel it all my
life."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was no Art School for Margaret that day, nor any thought of it, as
she and Mr. Smith walked up and down the long walk again and again,
until she was frightened to find how late it was, and hurried home; but
now he proudly walked with her to the very door. They had so much to say
about the past and the future both, and it was hard to tell which was
most delightful; whether they laughingly recalled their first meeting,
or more soberly discussed their future plans. How fortunate it was,
after all, that she was going back so soon, as now Mr. Smith could
follow her in a few days to Royalston. Margaret said she must write to
mamma that night--she could not wait; and Mr. Smith said he hoped that
her parents would not want to have their engagement a very long one. Of
course he had some means besides his books on which to marry. It was
asking a great deal of her father and mother, but perhaps he need not
take her so very much away from them. Would it not be pleasant to have
their home at Royalston, where he could do a great deal of his work, and
run down to Boston when necessary? Margaret was charmed with the idea,
and said that living was so cheap there, and house rent--oh, almost
nothing.

Margaret found Cousin Susan up and halfway through her lunch. She
apologised in much confusion, but her cousin did not seem to mind. She,
as well as Margaret, was occupied with some weighty affair of her own,
and both were silent till Jenny had carried off the lunch tray, when
both wanted to speak, but Margaret, always the quicker of the two, began
first. Might not Mr. Smith call that evening? He had been saying--of
course it could not be considered anything till her father and mother
had heard--but she thought Cousin Susan ought to know it before he
called at her house--only no one else must know a word till she had
written home.

This rather incoherent confession was helped out by the prettiest
smiles and blushes; but Mrs. Manton showed none of an older woman's
usual prompt comprehension and pleasure in helping out a faltering
love-tale. She listened in stolid silence, the most repellent of
confidantes, and when it ended in an almost appealing cadence, she broke
out with, "Margaret Parke, I am astonished at you!"

Margaret first started, then stared amazedly.

"I would not have believed it if anyone had told me!" went on Mrs.
Manton. "I would never have thought that your mother's daughter could
sell herself in that barefaced way."

"What do you mean?"

"As if you did not know perfectly well that you were taking that--that
Smith--" she paused in vain for an epithet; but the mere name sounded
more opprobrious than any she could have selected--"for his money!"

"What do you mean? Mr. Smith hasn't much money; he may have enough to
live on; but I can't help that."

"Margaret, don't quibble with the truth. You know well enough that he
will have it all. Who else is there for the old man to leave it to?"

"What old man?"

"Why, old Smith, of course! You can't pretend you don't know who he is,
and you have been artful enough to keep it all from me! You knew if I
heard his Christian name it would all come out! I don't know what your
father and mother will say! Mrs. Champion Pryor has been calling here
to-day, and told me the whole story, and how you have been seen walking
the streets with him for hours. I would scarcely credit it."

"His Christian name! what's that got to do with it? He can't help it!"
Margaret's first words rang out defiantly enough; but her voice faltered
on the last, as her mind made another painful plunge after vanished
memories. Cousin Susan rose, and rang the bell herself; more wonderful
still, she went out into the entry, closing the door after her while she
spoke to Jenny, and when the girl had run rapidly upstairs and down
again, returned with something in her hand.

"I knew Jenny had some of the vile stuff," she said triumphantly; "she
was taking it last Friday, when I tried to persuade her to send for the
doctor, and be properly treated for her cough." And she thrust a large
green glass bottle under Margaret's eyes with these words on the paper
label:

  "ERIGERON ELIXIR.

  "An Unfailing cure for

  "Ague. Asthma. Bright's Disease. Bronchitis.
  Catarrh. Consumption. Colds. Coughs.
  Diphtheria. Dropsy.

     "(We spare our readers the remainder of the alphabet.)

     "All genuine have the name of the inventor and proprietor
     blown on the bottle, thus:

  "ALCIBIADES SMITH."

A sudden light flashed upon poor Margaret, showing her forgotten piles
of bottles on the counters of village stores, and long columns of
unheeded advertisements in the country newspapers. She stood silent and
shamefaced.

"What will your father say?" reiterated Cousin Susan. Dr. Parke's
reputation with the general public was largely founded on a series of
letters he had contributed to a scientific journal exposing and
denouncing quack medicines.

"I didn't know," said Margaret, helplessly, wondering that the truth
could sound so like a lie, but unable to fortify it by any asseveration.

"Why, you must have heard about the Smiths: everybody has. They have cut
the most ridiculous figure everywhere. They came to Clifton Springs once
while I was there; and they were really too dreadful; the kind of people
you can't stay in the room with." Cousin Susan had not talked so much
for years, and began to feel that the excitement was doing her good,
which may excuse her merciless pelting of poor Margaret. "You were too
young, perhaps," she went on, "to have heard about Ossian Smith, the
oldest son, but the newspapers were full of him--of the life he led in
London and Paris, when he was a mere boy. The American minister got him
home at last, and a pretty penny old Smith had to pay to get him out of
his entanglements. He had delirium tremens, and jumped out of a window,
and killed himself, soon after--the best thing he could do. But you must
have heard of Lunetta Smith, the daughter; about her running away with
the coachman; it happened only about three or four years ago. Why, the
New York _Sun_ had two columns about it, and the _World_ four. All the
family were interviewed, your young man among the rest, and the comic
papers said the mésalliance appeared to be on the coachman's side. She
died, too, soon after; you must have heard of it."

"No, I never did. Father never lets me read the daily papers," said
Margaret, a little proudly.

"Well!" said Cousin Susan, with relaxing energy, "I don't often read
such things myself; but one can't help noticing them; and Mrs. Champion
Pryor has been telling me a great deal about it."

"And did Mrs. Pryor tell you anything about my--about young Mr. Smith?"

"Oh, she said he was always very well spoken of. He was younger than the
rest and delicate in health, and took to study; and his father had a
good deal of money in time to educate him. They say he's rather clever,
and the old man is quite proud of him; but he can't be a gentleman,
Margaret--it is not possible."

"Yes, he can!" burst out Margaret; "he's too much of a man not to be a
gentleman, too!"

"Well," said Cousin Susan, suddenly collapsing, "I can't talk any
longer. I have such a headache. If you have asked him to call, I suppose
he must come; but I can't see him. What's that? a box for you? more
flowers? Oh, dear, do take them away. If there is anything I cannot
stand when I have a headache, it is flowers about, and I can smell those
lilacs you carried last night all the way downstairs, and through two
closed doors."

Poor Margaret escaped to her own room with her flowers to write her
letter, the difficulty of her task suddenly increased. Mrs. Manton threw
herself back on the sofa to nurse her headache, but found that it was of
no use, and that what she needed was fresh air. She ordered a cab, and
drove round to see Mrs. Underwood, unto whom, in strict confidence, she
freed her mind. She found some relief in the dismay her recital gave her
hearer. Ralph Underwood was slowly recovering from the fit of
disappointment in which he had wreaked his ill-temper on whoever came
near him, as a younger, badly trained child might do on the chairs and
tables; and his mother, his chief _souffre douleur_; who in her turn had
made all around her feel her own misery, was now beginning ruefully to
count up the damages, of which she felt a large share was due to the
Parkes. She had been wondering whether she could not give a little lunch
for Margaret; she could, at least, take her to the next German, and find
her some better partner than Al Smith. Nothing could have been more
disconcerting than this news. She could not with any grace do anything
for Margaret now to efface the memories of the first part of her visit,
and the Parkes must blame her doubly for the neglect which had allowed
this engagement to take place. Why, even Susan Manton put on an injured
air!

She craved some comfort in her turn, and after keeping the secret for a
day and a night, told it in the strictest confidence to her intimate
friend, Mrs. Thorndike Freeman, whose "dropping in" was an irresistible
temptation.

"What!" cried Mrs. Freeman, "is it that large young woman with red
cheeks, whom you brought one evening to Papanti's? I think it will be an
excellent thing; why, the Smiths can use her photograph as an
advertisement for the Elixir."

"Yes--but then her parents--you see, she's Mary Pickering's daughter."

"Mary Pickering has been married to a country doctor for five and twenty
years, hasn't she? You may be sure her eyes are open by this time.
Depend upon it, they would swallow Al Smith, if he were bigger than he
is. The daughter seems to have found no difficulty in the feat."

"Well," said Mrs. Underwood, with a sigh, "perhaps I ought to be glad
that poor Al has got some respectable girl to take him for his money. I
never dreamed one would."

"It isn't likely that he ever asked one before," said Mrs. Freeman, with
a double-edged sneer.

The door-bell rang, and the butler ushered in Margaret, who had come to
make her farewell call. Mrs. Underwood looked at her in astonishment.
Was this the shy, blushing girl who had come from Royalston three short
months ago? With such gentle sweetness did she express her gratitude for
the elder lady's kind attentions, with such graceful dignity did she
wave aside a few awkwardly hinted apologies, above all, so regally
beautiful did she look, that Mrs. Underwood felt more than ever that she
would be called to account by the parents of such a creature. Margaret
had quite forgiven Mrs. Underwood, for, she reasoned, if that lady had
done as she ought to have done by her, she would never have had the
chance of knowing Al, a contingency too dreadful to contemplate; and her
forgiveness added to the superiority of her position. Mrs. Underwood
could only reiterate the eternal useless regret of the tempted and
fallen: "If things had not happened just when, and how, and as they
did!" She envied Mrs. Freeman, who was now in the easiest manner
possible plying the young girl with devoted attentions, with large doses
of flattery thrown in. Mrs. Freeman, meanwhile, was mentally resolving
to call on Margaret before she left town, in which case they could
hardly avoid sending her wedding-cards. She foresaw that, as two
negatives make an affirmative, Mr. and Mrs. Alcibiades Smith, Jr., might
yet be worthy of the honor of her acquaintance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Margaret's engagement was no primrose path. It was easier for her when
her lover was away, for he wrote delightful letters, but they rarely had
one happy and undisturbed hour together. Dr. and Mrs. Parke, of course,
gave their consent to the marriage; but they did not like it, and did
not pretend to. Dr. Parke, who, as is the wont of his profession,
placed a high value on physical attractions, and who cared as little for
money as any sane man could, hardly restrained his expressions of
dislike. "What business," he growled, "had the fellow to ask her?" Mrs.
Parke, while trying hard to keep her husband in order, was cold and
constrained herself. Being a woman, she thought less of looks, and had
learned in her married life to appreciate the value of money. She would
have liked Margaret to make a good match; but here was more money by
twenty times than she would have asked, had it only been offered by a
lover more worthy of her beautiful daughter! And yet, if Margaret would
only have been open with her! If she would have frankly said that she
was tired of being poor, and could not forego the opportunity of
marrying a rich man, who was a good sort of man enough, Mrs. Parke could
have understood, and pitied, and forgiven; but to see her put on such an
affectation of attachment for him drove her mother nearly wild. Why, she
acted as if she were more in love than he was!

The boys had been duly respectful on hearing that their sister's
betrothed was a "Harvard man," but grew contemptuous when they found him
so unfit for athletics. Relations and friends, and acquaintances of
every degree, believed, and still believe, and always will believe,
that Margaret's was one of the most mercenary of mercenary marriages.
Some blamed her parents for allowing it; others thought that their
opposition was feigned, and that they were really forcing poor Margaret
into it.

The two younger children, Harry and Winnie, at once adopted their new
brother, and stood up stanchly for him on all occasions, and their
sister was eternally grateful to them for it. Her only other support
came, of all the people in the world, from Ralph Underwood. He could not
be best man at the wedding, as he was going abroad with his mother, who
was sadly run down and needed change; but he wrote Margaret a
straightforward, manly letter, in which he said that he trusted,
unworthy as he was, she would admit him to her friendship for Al's sake.
He spoke of all he owed to his friend in such a way that Margaret
perceived that more had passed in their college days than she ever had
been or ever should be told.

The family discomfort came to a climax on the day before the wedding,
when the great Alcibiades Smith himself and his wife made their
appearance at Royalston. They stayed at the hotel with their suite, but
spent the evening with the Parkes to make the acquaintance of their new
connections. Old Mr. Smith pronounced Margaret "a bouncer." He had
always known, he said, that Al would get some kind of a wife, but never
thought it would be such a stunner as this one. It naturally fell to him
to be entertained by Dr. Parke, or rather to entertain him, which he did
by relating the whole history of the Elixir, from its first invention to
the number of million bottles that were put up the last year, winding up
every period with, "As you're a medical man yourself, sir." Mrs. Smith
was quieter, and though well pleased, a little awe-struck, as her French
maid, her authority and terror, had told her, after Mrs. Parke's and
Margaret's brief call at the hotel that afternoon, that these were,
evidently, "_dames très comme il faut_." She poured into Mrs. Parke's
ear, in a corner, the tale of all Al's early illnesses, and the various
treatments he had had for them, till her hearer no longer wondered at
their being so little of him; the wonder was, that there was anything
left at all. Then, à propos of marriages, she grew confidential and
almost tearful about their distresses in the case of their daughter
"Luny." She did think Mr. Smith a little to blame for poor Luny's
runaway match. There was an Italian count whom she liked, but her father
could not be induced to pay his debts, and "a girl must marry somebody,
you know," she wound up, with a look at Margaret.

Margaret, in after years, could appreciate the comedy of the situation.
It is no wonder if it seemed to her at the time the most gloomily
tragical that perverse ingenuity could devise. Al's manner to his
parents was perfect. He was very silent; not more, perhaps, than he
always was in a room full, but she thought he looked fagged and tired,
and wondered how he could bear it. She longed intensely to say something
sympathetic to him; but, like most girls on the eve of their marriage,
she felt overpowered with shyness. If this dreadful evening ever came to
an end, and they were ever married, then she would tell him, once for
all, that she loved him all the better for all and everything that he
had to bear.

       *       *       *       *       *

"They will spoil the whole effect," said Mrs. Parke, despondently, as
she put the last careful touches to Margaret's wedding-dress. It was a
very simple but becoming one of rich plain silk, with a little lace, and
the pearl daisies with diamond dewdrops, sent by the bridegroom,
accorded with it well. But Mr. Smith, senior, had begged that his gift,
or part of it, should be worn on the occasion, and Mrs. Parke now slowly
opened a velvet box, in which lay a crescent and a cross. Neither she
nor Margaret was accustomed to estimate the price of diamonds, and had
they been, they would have seen that these were far beyond their mark.

"They don't go with the dress," repeated Mrs. Parke, doubtfully.

"Oh, never mind; to please Mr. Smith," said Margaret, carelessly, as she
bent forward to allow her mother to clasp round her neck the slender row
of stones that held the cross, and to stick the long pins of the
crescent with dexterous hand through the gathered tulle, of the veil and
the thick wavy bands of hair beneath it.

As she drew herself up to her full height again before the mirror, it
seemed as if the June day outside had taken on the form of a mortal
girl. The gold and blue of the heavens, the pink and white of the
blossoming fields, whose luminous tints rested so softly on hair and
eyes, on cheek and brow, were reflected and intensified in the rainbow
rays of light that blazed on her head and at her throat. It was not in
human nature not to look with one touch of pride and pleasure at the
vision in the glass. But the sight of another face behind hers made her
turn quickly round, with, "O mamma! mamma! what is it?"

"Nothing, my dear; it's a very magnificent present; only I thought--"

"Mamma! surely you don't think I care for such things! you don't, you
can't think I am the least bit influenced by them in marrying Al. O
mamma! don't, don't look at me so!"

"Never mind, my dear. We will not talk about it now. It is too late for
me to say anything, I know, and I am very foolish."

"Mother!" cried the girl, piteously; "you _must_ believe me! You _know_
that when Al asked me to marry him, and I said I would, I had no idea,
not the slightest idea, that he had a penny in the world!"

"Hush, Margaret! hush, my dear! you are excited, and so am I. Don't say
anything you may wish afterwards that you had not. God bless you, and
make you a happy woman, and a good wife; but don't begin your married
life with a--" Mrs. Parke choked down the word with a great sob, and
hastily left the room. It was high noon, and she had not yet put on her
own array.

Margaret stood stiff and blind with horror. Had she really known, then?
Had her hand been bought? Then she remembered her own innocence when she
told her love. Not so proudly, not so freely, not so gladly, could it
ever have been told to the millionaire's son. A rush of self-pity came
over her, softening the indignant throbbing of her heart, and opening
the fountains of tears. She was at the point where a woman must have a
good cry, or go mad,--but where could she give way? Not here, where
anyone might come in. Indeed, there was Winnie's voice at the door of
the nursery, eager to show her bridesmaid's toilette. Margaret snatched
up two white shawls which lay ready on the sofa, caught up the heavy
train of her gown in one hand, and flew down the front staircase like a
hunted swan, through the library to the sacred room beyond--her father's
study, now, as she well knew, deserted, while its owner was above,
reluctantly dressing for the festivity. She pushed the only chair
forward to the table, threw one shawl over it, and laying the other on
the table itself, sat down, and carefully bending her head down over her
folded arms, so as not to crush her veil by a feather's touch, let loose
the flood-gates. In a moment she was crying as only a healthy girl who
seldom cries can, when she once gives up to it.

Someone spoke to her; she never heard it. Someone touched her; she never
felt it. It was only when a voice repeated, "Why, Margaret, dearest,
what is the matter?" that she checked herself with a mighty effort,
swallowed her sobs, and still holding her handkerchief over her
tear-stained cheeks and quivering mouth, turned round to find herself
face to face with her bridegroom, who having stopped to take up his
best man, Alick Parke, was waiting till that young man tied his sixth
necktie. She well knew that a lover who finds his betrothed crying her
eyes out half an hour before the wedding has a prescriptive right to be
both angry and jealous; but he looked neither; only a little anxious and
troubled.

"Darling, has anything happened?"

"No--not exactly; that is--O Al! they won't believe me!"

"They! who?"

"Not one single one of them. Not mother, even mother! I thought she
would--but she doesn't."

"Does not what?"

"She does not believe," said Margaret, trying to steady her voice, "that
when you asked me to marry you, and I said I would, that I did not know
you were rich. I told her, but she won't believe me."

"Well," said Mr. Smith, quietly, though with a little flush on his face;
"it's very natural. I don't blame her."

"Al!" cried Margaret, seizing both his hands; "O Al, you don't--you
do--_you_ believe me, don't you, Al? _don't_ you?"

"Of course I do."



[Illustration]

POOR MR. PONSONBY


On a bright, windy morning in March, Miss Emmeline Freeman threw open
the gate of her mother's little front garden on Walnut Street,
Brookline, slammed it behind her with one turn of her wrist, marched
with an emphatic tapping of boot-heels up the path between the
crocus-beds to the front door, threw that open, and rushed into the
drawing-room, where she paused for breath, and began before she found
it:

"O mamma! O Aunt Sophia! O Bessie! What do you think? Lily Carey--you
would never guess--Lily Carey--I was never so surprised in my life--Lily
Carey is engaged!"

Mrs. Freeman laid down her pen by the side of her column of figures,
losing her account for the seventh time; Miss Sophia Morgan paused in
the silk stocking she was knitting, just as she was beginning to narrow;
and Bessie Freeman dropped her brush full of colour on to the panel she
was finishing, while all three exclaimed with one voice, "To whom?"

"That is the queer part of it. You will never guess. Indeed, how should
you?"

"To whom?" repeated the chorus, with a unanimity and precision that
would have been creditable to the stage, and with the due accent of
impatience on the important word.

"To no one you ever would have dreamed of; indeed, you never heard of
him--a Mr. Reginald Ponsonby. It is a most romantic thing. He is an
Englishman, very good family and handsome and all that, but not much
money. That is why it has been kept quiet so long."

"So long? How long?" chimed in the trio, still in unison.

"Why, for three years and more. Lily met him in New York that time she
was there in the summer, you know, when her father was ill at the Fifth
Avenue Hotel. But Mr. Carey would never let it be called an engagement
till now."

"Did Lily tell you all this?" asked Bessie.

"No, Ada Thorne was telling everyone about it at the lunch party. She
heard it from Lily."

"I think Lily might have told us herself."

"She said she did not mean to write to anyone, it has been going on so
long, and her prospects were so uncertain; she did not care to have any
formal announcement, but just to have her friends hear of it gradually.
But she sent you and me very kind messages, Bessie, and she wants you to
take the O'Flanigans--that's her district family, you know--and me to
take her Sunday-school class. She says she really must have her Sundays
now to write to Mr. Ponsonby, poor fellow! She has been obliged to
scribble to him at any odd moment she could, and he is so far off."

"Where is he--in England?"

"Oh, dear, no! In Australia. He owns an immense sheep-farm in West
Australia. He belongs to a very good family; but he was born on the
continent, and has no near relations in England, and has rather knocked
about the world for a good many years. He had not very good luck in
Australia at first, but now things look better there, and he may be able
to come over here this summer, and if he does they will perhaps be
married before he goes back. Mr. Carey won't hear it spoken of now, but
Ada says she has no doubt he will give in when it comes to the point. He
never refuses Lily anything, and if the young man really comes he won't
have the heart to send him back alone, for Ada says he must be
fascinating."

"Lily seems to have laid her plans very judiciously," said Miss Morgan,
"and if she wishes them generally understood, she does well to confide
them to Ada Thorne."

"And she has been engaged for years!" burst out Bessie, whose mental
operations had meanwhile been going ahead of the rest; "why then--then
there could never have been anything between her and Jack Allston!"

"Certainly not," replied Emmeline, confidently.

"Very likely he knew it all the time," said Bessie.

"Or she may have refused him," said Mrs. Freeman.

"What is Miss Thorne's version?" said Aunt Sophia. "I shall stand by
that whatever it is. Considering the extent of that young woman's
information, I am perpetually surprised by its accuracy."

"Ada thinks Lily never let it come to a proposal, but probably let Jack
see from the beginning that it would be useless, and that is why they
were on such friendly terms."

"Well!" said Aunt Sophia, "I am always glad to think better of my
fellow-creatures. I always thought Jack Allston a fool for marrying as
he did if he could have had Lily, and now I only think him half a one,
since he couldn't. I am only afraid the folly is on poor Lily's side.
However, we must all fulfil our destiny, and I always said she was born
to become the heroine of a domestic drama, at least."

"Oh, here's Bob!" said Emmeline, as her elder brother's entrance broke
in upon the conversation. "Bob, who do you think is engaged?"

"You have lost your chance of telling, Emmie," replied the young man,
with a careful carelessness of manner; "I have just had the pleasure of
walking from the village with Ada Thorne."

"Really, it is too bad of Ada," said Emmeline, as she adjusted her hat
at the glass. "She will not leave me one person to tell by to-morrow.
Bessie, I think as long as we are going to five o'clock tea at the
Pattersons', and I have all my things on, I will set out now and make
some calls on the way. You might dress and come after me. I will be at
Nina Turner's. Mamma and Aunt Sophy can"--but her voice was an
indistinct buzz in her brother's ears, as he stood looking blankly out
of the window at the bright crocus tufts. He had never had any intention
of proposing to Lily Carey himself, and he knew that if he had she would
never have accepted him, yet somehow a shadow had crept over the day
that was so bright before.

Lily Carey was at that time a very conspicuous figure in Boston society;
that is, in the little circle of young people who went to all the "best"
balls and assemblies. She was also well known in some that were less
select, for the Careys had too assured a position to be exclusive, and
were too good-natured to be fashionable, so that she knew the whole
world and the whole world knew her. To be exact, she was acquainted with
about one five-hundredth part of the inhabitants of Boston and vicinity,
was known by sight to about twice as many, and by name to as many more,
with acquaintance also in such other cities and villages as had
sufficiently advanced in civilisation to have a "set" which knew the
Boston "set." She stood out prominently from the usual dead level of
monotonous prettiness which is the rule in American ballrooms and
gives piquant plainness so many advantages. Her nymph-like figure,
dressed very likely in a last-year's gown of no particular fashion--for
the Careys were of that Boston _monde_ which systematically
under-dresses--made the other girls look small and pinched and
doll-like; her towering head, crowned with a great careless roll of her
bright chestnut hair, made theirs look like barbers' dummies; and her
brilliant colouring made one half of them show dull and dingy, the other
faded and washed out. These advantages were not always appreciated as
such--by no means; unusual beauty, like unusual genius, may fly over the
heads of the uneducated; and it was the current opinion among the young
ladies who only knew her by sight, and their admirers, that "Miss Carey
had no style." Among her own acquaintance she reigned supreme. To have
been in love with Lily Carey was regarded by every youth of quality as a
necessary part of the curriculum of Harvard University; so much so that
it was not at all detrimental to their future matrimonial prospects. Her
old lovers, like her left-over partners, were always at the service of
her whole coterie of adoring intimate friends. If she had no new ideas,
these not being such common articles as is usually supposed, no one
could more cleverly seize upon and deftly adapt some stray old one. She
could write plays when none could be found to suit, and act half the
parts, and coach the other actors; she made her mother give new kinds of
parties, where all the new-old dances and games were brought to life
again; and she set the little fleeting fashions of the day that never
get into the fashion-books, to which, indeed, her dress might happen or
not to correspond; but the exact angle at which she set on her hat, and
the exact knot in which she tied her sash, and the exact spot where she
stuck the rose in her bosom, were subjects of painstaking study, and
objects of generally unsuccessful imitation to the rest of womankind.

Why Lily Carey at one and twenty was not married, or even engaged, was a
mystery; but for four years she had been supposed by that whole world
of which we have spoken to be destined for Jack Allston. Jack was young,
handsome, rich, of good family, and so rising in his profession, the
law, that no one could suppose he lacked brains, though in general
matters they were not so evident. For four years he had skated with
Lily, danced with her, sung with her, ridden, if not driven, with her,
sent her flowers, and scarcely paid a single attention of the sort to
any other girl; and Lily had danced, sung, ridden, skated with him, at
least twice as often as with any other man. Jack had had the _entrée_ of
the Carey house, where old family friendship had admitted him from
boyhood, almost as if he were another son, and was made far more useful
than sons generally allow themselves to be made. He came to all parties
early and stayed late, danced with all the wall-flowers and waited upon
all the grandmothers and aunts, and prompted and drew up the curtain,
and took all the "super" parts at their theatricals. He was "Jack" to
all of them, from Papa Carey down to Muriel of four years old. The Carey
family, if hints were dropped, disclaimed so smilingly that everyone was
convinced that they knew all about it, and that Mrs. Carey, a most
careful mother, who spent so much time in acting chaperon to her girls
that she saw but little of them, would never have allowed it to go so
far unless there were something in it. Why this something was not
announced was a mystery. At first many reasons were assigned by those
who must have reasons for other people's actions, all very sufficient:
Lily too young, Jack not through the law-school, the Allstons in
mourning, etc., etc.; but as one after another exhibited its futility,
and new ones were less readily discovered, the subject was discussed in
less amiable mood by tantalised expectants, and the ominous sentence was
even murmured, "If they are not engaged they ought to be."

On October 17, 1887, Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé stock was quoted at
90-1/2, and the engagement of Mr. John Somerset Allston to Miss Julia
Henrietta Bradstreet Noble was announced with all the formality of which
Boston is capable on such occasions. It can hardly be said which piece
of news created the greater sensation; but many a paterfamilias who had
dragged himself home sick at heart from State Street found his family so
engrossed in their own private morsel of intelligence that his, with all
its consequences of no new bonnets and no Bar Harbor next summer, was
robbed of its sting. All was done according to the most established
etiquette. Jack Allston had told all the men at his lunch club, and a
hundred notes from Miss Noble to her friends and relatives, which she
had sat up late for the two preceding nights to write, had been received
by the morning post. Jack had sat up later than she had, but only one
single note had been the product of his vigils.

Unmixed surprise was the first sensation excited as the news spread. It
was astonishing that Jack Allston should be engaged to any girl but Lily
Carey, and it was not much less so that he should be engaged to Miss
Noble. She was a little older than he was, an only child, and an orphan.
Her family was good, her connections high, and her fortune just large
enough for her to live upon with their help. She was of course invited
everywhere, and received the attentions demanded by politeness; but even
politeness had begun to feel that it had done enough for her, and that
she should perform the social _hara-kiri_ that unmarried women are
expected to make at a certain age. She was very plain and had very
little to say for herself. Her relatives could say nothing for her
except that she was a "nice, sensible girl," a dictum expressed with
more energy after her engagement to Jack Allston, when some of the more
daring even discovered that she was "distinguished looking." The men had
always, from her silence, had a vague opinion that she was stupid, but
amiable; the other girls were doubtful on both these points, certain
double-edged speeches forcibly recurring to their memory. Their doubts
resolved into certainties after her engagement was announced, when she
became so very unbearable that they could only, with the Spartan
patience shown by young women on such occasions, hold their tongues and
hope that it might be a short one. Their sole relief was in discussing
the question as to whether Jack Allston had thrown over Lily, or whether
she had refused him. Jack was sheepish and shy at being congratulated;
Lily was bright and smiling, and in even higher spirits than usual; Miss
Noble spoke very unpleasantly to and of Lily whenever she had the
chance; but all these points of conduct might and very likely would be
the same under either supposition. Parties were pretty evenly balanced,
and the wedding was over before they had drifted to any final
conclusion. As the season went on Lily looked rather worn and fagged,
which gave the supporters of the first hypothesis some ground; but when,
in the spring, her own engagement came out, it supplied a sufficient
reason, and gave a triumphant and clinching argument to the advocates of
the second. She looked happy enough then, though her own family gave but
a doubtful sympathy. Mr. Carey refused to say anything further than that
he hoped Lily knew her own mind; she must decide for herself. Mrs.
Carey looked sad, and changed the subject, saying there was no need of
saying anything about it at present; she was sorry that it was so widely
known and talked about. The younger Carey girls, Susan and Eleanor,
openly declared that they hoped it would never come to anything. Poor
Mr. Ponsonby! His picture was very handsome, and the parts of his
letters they had heard were very nice, but he did not seem likely to get
on in the world, and he could not expect Lily to wait forever. "Would
you like to see his picture?--an amateur one, taken by a friend; and
Lily says it does not do him justice."

The photograph won the hearts of all the female friends of the family,
who saw it in confidence, and increased their desire to see the
original. But Mr. Ponsonby was not able, as had been expected, to come
over in the summer. Violent rains and consequent floods in the
Australian sheep-runs inflicted so much damage upon his stock that the
marriage was again postponed, at least for a year, in which time he
hoped to get things on a better basis. Lily kept up her spirits bravely.
She did not go to Mount Desert with her mother and sisters, but stayed
at home, wrote her letters, hemstitched her linen, declaring that she
was glad of the time to get up a proper outfit, and went to bed early,
keeping a pleasant home for her father and the boys as they went and
came, to their huge satisfaction, and gaining in bloom and freshness; so
that she was in fine condition in the fall to nurse her mother through a
low fever caught at a Bar Harbor hotel, also to wait upon Susan, nervous
and worn down with late hours and perpetual racket, and Eleanor, laid up
with a sprained ankle from an overturn in a buckboard.

Eleanor, though not yet eighteen, was to come out next winter, Lily
declaring that she should give up balls--what was the use when one was
engaged? She stayed at home and saw that her sisters were kept in
ball-gowns and gloves, no light task, taking the part of Cinderella _con
amore_. She certainly looked younger than Susan at least, who since she
had taken up the Harvard Annex course, besides going out, began to grow
worn and thin.

One February morning Eleanor's voice rose above the usual babble at the
Carey breakfast-table.

"Can't I go, mamma?"

"Where, dear?"

"Why, to the Racket Club german at Eliot Hall, next Tuesday. It's going
to be so nice, you know, only fifty couples, and we ought to answer
directly; and I have just had notes from Harry Foster and Julian Jervis
asking me for it."

"And which shall you dance with?" asked Lily.

"Why, Harry, of course."

"I would not have any _of course_ about it," said Lily, rather sharply.
Harry Foster was now repeating Jack Allston's late role in the Carey
family, with Eleanor for his ostensible object. "My advice is, dance
with Julian; and I suppose I must see that your pink net is in order, if
Miss Macalister cannot be induced to hurry up your new lilac."

"Shall we not go, mamma?"

"Why, mamma, how can we?" broke in Susan, who had her own game in
another quarter. "It's the 'Old Men of Menottomy' night, and we missed
the last, you know."

"Those old Cambridge parties are the dullest affairs going," said
Eleanor; "I'd rather stay at home than go to them."

"That is very ungrateful of you," said Lily, laughing, "when I gave up
my place in the 'Misses Carey' to you, for of course I don't go to
either."

"Can't I go to Eliot Hall with Roland, mamma? He is asked, and Mrs.
Thorne is a patroness; she will chaperon me after I get there."

"Roland will want to go right back to Cambridge, I know--the middle of
the week and everything! He'll be late enough without coming here."

"Then can't I take Margaret, and depend on Mrs. Thorne?" went on
Eleanor, with the persistence of the youngest pet. "Half the girls go
with their maids that way."

"Oh, I don't know, my dear," said poor Mrs. Carey, looking helplessly
from Eleanor, flushed and eager, to Susan, silent, but with a tightly
shut look on her pretty mouth, that betokened no sign of yielding. "I
never liked it--in a hired carriage--and you can't expect _me_ to go
over the Cambridge bridges without James. And I hate asking Mrs. Thorne
anything, she always makes such a favour of it, and the less trouble it
is the more fuss she gets up about it. Do you and Susan settle it
somehow between you, and let me know when it is decided."

"Let me go with Eleanor, mamma," said Lily. "Mrs. Freeman will probably
go with Emmeline and Bessie, and she will let me sit with her. I will
wear my old black silk and look the chaperon all over--as good a one, I
will wager, as any there. It will be good fun to act the part, and I
have been engaged so long that I should think I might really begin to
appear in it."

Mr. Carey was heard to growl, as he pushed back his chair and threw his
pile of newspapers on to the floor, that he wished Lily would stop that
nonsensical talk about her engagement once for all; but the girls did
not pause in their chatter, and Mrs. Carey was too much relieved to
argue the point.

"Only tell me what to do and I will do it," was this poor lady's
favourite form of speech. She set off with a clear conscience on Tuesday
evening with Susan for the assembly at Cambridge, where a promisingly
learned post-graduate of good fortune and family was wont to unbend
himself by sitting out the dances and explaining the theory of evolution
to Miss Susan Carey, who was as mildly scientific as was considered
proper for a young lady of her position. Lily accompanied Eleanor to
more frivolous spheres, where chaperonage was an easier if less exciting
task; for once having touched up her sister's dress in the ante-room,
and handed her over to Julian Jervis, she bade her farewell for the
evening, and herself took the arm of Harry Foster, who, gloomily cynical
at the sight of Eleanor, radiant in her new lilac, with another partner,
had hardly a word to say as he settled her on a bench on the raised
platform where the chaperons congregated, except to ask her sulkily if
she would not "take a turn," which she declined without mincing matters,
and took the only seat left, next to Mrs. Jack Allston, who was
matronising a cousin.

"What, Lily! you here?" asked Mrs. Thorne.

"Oh, yes; mamma has gone to Cambridge with Susan, and said I might come
over with Eleanor, and she was sure Mrs. Freeman,"--with a smile at that
lady--"would look after us if we needed it."

"With the greatest pleasure," said Miss Morgan, who sat by her sister.
"Here have Elizabeth and I both come to take care of our girls, as
half-a-dozen elders sometimes hang on to one child at a circus. We both
of us had set our hearts on seeing _this_ german and would not give up,
so you see there is an extra chaperon at your service."

"Doesn't your mother find it very troublesome to have three girls out at
once?" asked Mrs. Allston of Lily, bluntly.

"Hardly three; I am not out this winter, you know."

"I don't see any need of staying in because one is engaged, unless,
indeed, it were a very short one, like mine."

Mrs. Allston cast a rapid and deprecatory glance at the "old black
silk," which had seen its best days, and then a still swifter one at her
own gown, from Worth, but so unbecoming to her that it was easy for Lily
to smile serenely back, though her heart sank within her at her
prospects for the evening.

At the close of the first figure of the german, a slight flutter seemed
to run through the crowd, tending toward the entrance.

"Who is that standing in the doorway--just come in?" asked Lily, in the
very lowest tone, of Miss Morgan. Miss Morgan looked, shook her head
decidedly, and then passed the inquiry on to Mrs. Thorne, who hesitated
and hemmed.

"He spoke to me when he first came--but--I really don't recollect--it
must be Mr.--Mr.----"

"Arend Van Voorst," crushingly put in Mrs. Allston, with somewhat the
effect of a garden-roller. Both of the older ladies looked interested.

"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Thorne, "I sent him a card when I heard he was in
Boston. I have not seen him--at least since he was very young--but his
mother--of course I know Mrs. Van Voorst--a little."

"I don't know them at all," said Miss Morgan; "but if that's young Van
Voorst, he is better looking than there is any occasion for."

"He was a classmate and intimate friend of Jack's," said Mrs. Allston,
loftily.

"I never saw him before," said Lily, incautiously.

"He only went out in a very small set in Boston," said Mrs. Allston. "I
met him often, of course."

"You were too young, Lily, to meet any one when he was in college," said
Miss Morgan, who liked "putting down Julia Allston."

"It's too bad the girls are all engaged," said the simple-minded Mrs.
Freeman; "he won't have any partner."

"_He_ wouldn't dance!" said Julia, too tough to feel Miss Morgan's light
touches. "Very likely, as you asked him, Mrs. Thorne, he may feel that
he _must_ take a turn with Ada; and when he knows that Kitty Bradstreet
is with me, very likely he will ask her out of compliment to me. He will
hardly ask me to dance at such a very young party as this; I don't see
any of the young married set here but myself."

Mr. Van Voorst stood quietly in the doorway, hardly appearing to notice
anything, but when Ada Thorne's partner was called out, and she was left
sitting alone, he walked across the room and sat down by her. He did not
ask her to dance, but it was perhaps as great an honour to have the Van
Voorst of New York sitting by her, holding her bouquet and bending over
her in an attitude of devotion; and if what he said did not flatter her
vanity, it touched another sentiment equally strong in Ada even at that
early period of life.

"Who is that girl in black, sitting with the chaperons?"

"Oh, that is Lily Carey."

"Why is she there?"

"She is chaperoning Eleanor, her youngest sister, that girl in lilac who
is on the floor now. They look alike, don't they?"

"Why, she is not married?"

"No, only engaged. She has been engaged a great while, and never goes to
balls or anything now--only she came here with Eleanor because Mrs.
Carey wanted to go to Cambridge with Susan. There are three of the
Careys out; it must be a dreadful bother, don't you think so?"

"To whom is she engaged?"

"To a Mr. Reginald Ponsonby--an Englishman settled in Australia
somewhere. They were to have been married last summer, but he had
business losses. She is perfectly devoted to him. He wrote and offered
to release her, but she would not hear of it. She was very much admired;
don't you think her pretty?"

"Will you introduce me to Miss Carey? I see Mr. Freeman is coming to ask
you for a turn--will you be so kind as to present me first?"

There was a sort of cool determination about this young man which Ada,
or any other girl, would have found it hard to resist. She did as she
was bid, not ill-pleased at the general stir she excited as she crossed
the floor with her two satellites and walked up the platform steps.

"Mrs. Freeman, Miss Morgan, allow me to introduce Mr. Van Voorst. Miss
Carey, Mr. Van Voorst;--I think you know my mother and Mrs. Allston."
And having touched off her train, she whirled away with Robert Freeman,
her observation still on the alert.

Mrs. Thorne and Mr. Van Voorst exchanged civilities; Mrs. Allston said
Jack was coming soon and would be glad to see him, making room for him
at her side.

"No, thank you, Mrs. Allston. Miss Carey, may I have the pleasure of a
turn with you?"

"Oh, Mr. Van Voorst! You are quite out of rule--tempting away our
chaperons--you should ask some of the young ladies; we did not come here
to dance."

"I shall not dare to ask you, then, Mrs. Allston," he said, smiling, and
offered his arm without another word to Lily. She rose without looking
at him, with a quick furtive motion pulled off her left-hand glove--the
right was off already--got out of the crowd about her and down the
steps, she hardly knew how, and in a moment his arm was around her and
they were floating down the long hall. The quartette left behind looked
rather blankly at each other.

"Well," said Mrs. Thorne at last, "it really is too bad for Lily Carey
to come and say she did not mean to dance, and then walk off with Arend
Van Voorst, who has not asked another girl here----"

"And in that old gown!" chimed in Mrs. Allston.

"It is certainly very unkind in her to look so well in an old gown,"
said Aunt Sophia; "it is a dangerous precedent."

"Oh, auntie!" said Emmeline, who had come up to have her dress adjusted.
"Poor Lily! She has been so very quiet all the winter, never going to
anything, it would be too bad if she could not have a little pleasure."

"Very kind in you, my dear; but I don't see the force of your 'poor
Lily.' I shall reserve my pity for poor Mr. Ponsonby--he needs it most."

It was long since Lily had danced, and as for Mr. Van Voorst, he was, as
we have seen, supposed to be above it on so youthful an occasion; but
perhaps it was this that gave such a zest, as if they were boy and girl
together, to the pleasure of harmonious motion. Round and round again
they went, till the dancing ranks grew thinner, and just as the music
gave signs of drawing to a close, they passed, drawing all eyes, by the
doorway. The line of men looking on opened and closed behind them. They
had actually gone out to sit on the stairs, leaving a fruitful topic
behind them for the buzz of talk between the figures. Eleanor Carey, a
pretty girl, and not unlike her sister, bloomed out with added
importance from her connection with one who might turn out to be the
heroine of a drawing-room scandal.

Meanwhile the two who were the theme of comment sat silent under the
palms and ferns. No one knew better when to speak or not to speak than
Lily, and her companion was looking at her with a curiously steady and
absorbed gaze, to which any words would have been an interruption. It
was not "the old black silk" which attracted his attention, except,
perhaps, so far as it formed a background for the beautiful hands that
lay folded together on her lap, too carelessly for coquetry. No such
motive had influenced Lily when she had pulled off her gloves; it was
only that they were not fresh enough to bear close scrutiny; but their
absence showed conspicuous on the third finger of her left hand her only
ring, a heavy one of rough beaten gold with an odd-looking dark-red
stone in it. Not the flutter of a finger betrayed any consciousness as
his eye lingered on it; but as he looked abruptly up he caught a glance
from under her eyelashes which showed that she had on her part been
looking at him. An irresistible flash of merriment was reflected back
from face to face.

"What did you say?" she asked.

"I--I beg your pardon, I thought you said something."

Both laughed like a couple of children; then he rose and offered his arm
again, and they turned back to the ballroom.

"Good evening, Jack," said Miss Lily brightly, holding out her hand to
Mr. Allston, who had just come in, and was standing in the doorway.
Jack, taken by surprise, as we all are by the sudden appearance of two
people together whom we have never associated in our minds, looked shy
and confused, but made a gallant effort to rally, and got through the
proper civilities well enough, till just as the couple were again
whirling into the ranks, he spoiled it all by asking with an awkward
stammer in his voice:

"How's--how's Mr. Ponsonby?"

"Very well, when I last heard," Lily flung back over her shoulder, in
her clearest tone and with a laugh, soft, but heard by both men.

"What are you laughing at?" asked her partner.

"At the recollection of my copy-book--was not yours amusing?"

"I dare say it was, if it was the same as yours."

"Oh, they are all alike. What I was thinking of was the page with 'Evil
communications corrupt good manners.'"

"Yes--Jack was a very good fellow when we were in college
together--but----"

But "what" was left unsaid. On and on they went, and only stopped with
the music. Lily, having broken the ice, was besieged by every man in the
room for a turn. One or two she did favour with a very short one, but it
was Mr. Van Voorst to whom she gave every other one, and those the
longest, and with whom she walked between the figures; and finally it
was Mr. Van Voorst who took her down to supper. Eleanor and she had all
the best men in the room crowding round them.

"Come and sit with us, Emmie," she asked, as Emmeline Freeman passed
with her partner; and Emmeline came, half frightened at finding herself
in the midst of what seemed to her a chapter from a novel. Never had the
even tenor of her social experiences,--and they were of as unvarying and
business-like a nature as the "day's work" of humbler maidens--been
disturbed by such an upheaval of fixed ideas; one of which was that Lily
Carey could do no wrong, and another, that there was something "fast"
and improper in having more than one man waiting upon you at a time.

"Do you mind going now, Eleanor?" asked Lily of her sister, as the
crowd surged back to the ballroom. Eleanor looked rather blank at the
thought of missing the after-supper dance, and such an after-supper
dance; no mamma to get sleepy on the platform; no old James waiting out
in the cold to lay up rheumatism for the future and to look respectfully
reproachful at "Miss Ellis"; no horses whose wrongs might excite papa's
wrath; nothing but that wretched impersonal slave, "a man from the
livery stable" and his automatic beasts. But the Careys were a very
amiable family, the one who spoke first generally getting her own way.
The after-supper dance at the Racket Club german was rather a falling
off from the brilliancy at the commencement, as Arend Van Voorst left
after putting his partner into her carriage, and Julian Jervis and
others of the men thought it the thing to follow his example.

Two days after the german, "Richards's Pond," set in snowy shores, was
hard and blue as steel under a cloudless sky, while a delicious breath
of spring in the air gave warning that this was but for a day. The rare
union of perfect comfort and the fascination that comes of transient
pleasure irresistibly called out the skaters, and "everybody" was there;
that is, about fifty young men and women were disporting themselves on
the pond, and one or two ladies stood on the shore looking on. Miss
Morgan, who was always willing to chaperon any number of girls to any
amusement, stood warmly wrapped up in her fur-lined cloak and
snow-boots, talking to a Mrs. Rhodes, a mild little new-comer in
Brookline, who had come with her girls, who did not know many people,
and whom she now had the satisfaction of seeing happily mingled with the
proper "set"; for Eleanor Carey, who had good-naturedly asked them to
come, had introduced them to some of the extra young men, of whom there
were plenty; and that there might be no lack of excitement, Mr. Van
Voorst and Miss Lily Carey were to be seen skating together, with hardly
a word or a look for anyone else--a sight worth seeing.

No record exists of the skating of the goddess Diana, but had she
skated, Lily might have served as her model. Just so might she have
swept over the ice with mazy motion, ever and ever throwing herself off
her balance, just as surely to regain it. As for Arend Van Voorst, he
skated like Harold Hardrada, of whose performances in that line we have
not been left in ignorance. "It must be his Dutch blood," commented Miss
Morgan.

Ada Thorne, meanwhile, was skating contentedly enough under the escort
of the lion second in degree--Prescott Avery, just returned from his
journey round the world, about which he had written a magazine article,
and was understood to be projecting a book. His thin but well-preserved
flaxen locks, whitey-brown moustache, and little piping voice were
unchanged by tropic heats or Alpine snows, but he had gained in
consequence and, though mild and unassuming, felt it. He had always been
in the habit of entertaining his fair friends with a number of pretty
tales drawn from his varied social experiences, and had acquired a fresh
stock of very exciting ones in his travels. But his present hearer's
attention was wandering, and her smiles unmeaning, and in the very midst
of a most interesting narrative about his encounter with an angry llama,
she put an aimless question that showed utter ignorance whether it took
place in China or Peru. Prescott, always amiable, gulped down his
mortification with the aid of a cough, and then followed the lady's gaze
to where the distant flash of a scarlet toque might be seen through the
thin, leafless bushes on a low spur of land.

"That is Lily Carey, is it not?" he asked. "How very handsome she is
looking to-day! She has grown even more beautiful than when I went away.
By-the-by, is that the gentleman she is engaged to?"

"Oh, dear, no! Why, that is Arend Van Voorst! Don't you know him? She is
engaged to a Mr. Ponsonby, an English settler in South Australia."

"I see now that it is Mr. Van Voorst, whom I met several times before I
left," said Prescott, with unfailing amiability even under a snubbing.
Then, cheered by the prospect of again taking the superior position, he
continued in an impressive tone: "But it is not astonishing that I
should have taken him for Mr. Ponsonby. I believe I had the pleasure of
meeting that gentleman in Melbourne when I was in Australia, and the
resemblance is striking, especially at a little distance."

"Did you, indeed?" asked Ada, inwardly burning with excitement, but
outwardly nonchalant. The remarkable extent of Miss Thorne's knowledge
of everyone's affairs was not gained by direct questioning, which she
had found defeated its own object. "It is rather odd you should have
happened to meet him in Melbourne, for he very seldom goes there, and
lives on a ranch in quite another part of Australia."

"But I did meet him," replied Prescott. "He had come to Melbourne on
business, and I met him at a club dinner--a tall, handsome, light-haired
man. He sat opposite to me and we did not happen to be introduced, but I
am certain the name was Ponsonby. He took every opportunity of paying me
attention, and said something very nice about American ladies, which
made me feel sure he must have been here. Of course I did not know of
Miss Carey's engagement, or I should certainly have made his
acquaintance."

"The engagement was not out then, and of course he could not speak of
it. Now I think of it, Mr. Van Voorst does really look a great deal like
Mr. Ponsonby's photograph."

"I will speak of it to Miss Carey when I get an opportunity," said
Prescott, delighted. "The experiences one has on a long journey are
singular, Miss Thorne. Now as I was telling you----"

Ten minutes later the whole crowd were gathering round Miss Morgan, who
made a kind of nucleus for those with homeward intentions, when Mr.
Avery and Miss Thorne came in the most accidental way right against Mr.
Van Voorst and Miss Carey. By what means half the crowd already knew
what was in the wind, and the other half knew that something was, we may
not inquire. It was not in human nature not to look and listen as the
four exchanged proper greetings.

"Mr. Avery, Lily, has been telling me that he had the pleasure of
meeting Mr. Ponsonby in Melbourne," said Ada, "and thought you would be
glad to hear about it."

"Oh, thank you," said Lily, quietly, "I have had letters written since,
of course. You were not in Melbourne very lately, Mr. Avery?"

"Last summer--winter, I should say. You know, Miss Carey, it is so
queer, it is winter there when it is summer here--it is very hard to
realise it. But it is always agreeable to meet those who have really
seen one's absent friends, don't you think so?"

"Oh, very!"

"Mr. Ponsonby was looking very well and in very good spirits. I fancied
he showed a great interest in American matters, which I could not
account for. I wish I had known why, that I might have congratulated
him. I hope you will tell him so."

"Thank you," said Lily again. She spoke with ease and readiness, but her
beautiful colour had faded, and there was a frightened look in her eyes,
as of someone who sees a ghost invisible to the rest of the company.

"Mr. Avery was struck with Mr. Ponsonby's resemblance to you, Mr. Van
Voorst," said Ada; "you cannot be related, can you?"

"Come," said Aunt Sophia, suddenly, "what is the use of standing here? I
am tired of it, for one, and I am going to the Ripley's to get a little
warmth into my bones, and all who are going to the Wilson's to-night had
better come too. Emmie, you and Bessie _must_, Lily, you and Susie and
Eleanor _had better_--you see, Mr. Van Voorst, how nice are the
gradations of my chaperonage."

"Let me help you up the bank, Miss Morgan," said Arend; "it is steep
here."

"Thank you--come, Mrs. Rhodes. Mrs. Ripley isn't at home, but we shall
find hot bouillon and bread and butter."

"I had better not, thank you. I don't know Mrs. Ripley," stammered, with
chattering teeth, poor Mrs. Rhodes, shivering in her tight jacket and
thin boots.

"You need not know her if you do come, as she is out," said Miss Morgan,
coolly; "and if you don't, you certainly won't, as you will most likely
die of pneumonia. Now Fanny may think you a fool for doing so, if you
like, but I'm not going to have her call me a brute for letting you. So
come before we freeze."

Mrs. Rhodes meekly followed her energetic companion, both gallantly
assisted up the bank by Arend Van Voorst, who was devoted in his
attentions till they reached the house. He never looked towards Lily,
who, pale and quiet, walked behind with Emmeline Freeman, and as soon as
she entered the Ripley drawing-room ensconced herself, as in a nook of
refuge, behind the table with the big silver bowl, and ladled out the
bouillon with a trembling hand. The young men bustled about with the
cups, but Arend only took two for the older ladies, and went near her no
more.

Not a Ripley was there, though it was reported that Tom had been seen on
the ice that morning and told them all to come in, of course. No one
seemed to heed their absence; Miss Morgan pulled Mrs. Ripley's own
blotting-book towards her and scribbled a letter to her friend; Eleanor
Carey threw open the piano, and college songs resounded. Mrs. Rhodes was
lost in wonder as she shyly sipped her soup, rather frightened at Mr.
Van Voorst's attentions. How could Mrs. Ripley ever manage to make her
cook send up hot soup at such an unheard-of hour? And could it be the
"thing" to have one's drawing-room in "such a clutter"? She tried to
take note of all the things lying about, unconscious that Miss Morgan
was noting _her_ down in her letter. Then came the rapid throwing on of
wraps, rushing to the station, and a laughing, pell-mell boarding of the
train. Mr. Van Voorst had disappeared, and Ada Thorne said he was going
to walk down to Brookline and take the next train from there--he was
going to New York on the night train and wanted a walk first. No one
else had anything to say in the matter, certainly not Lily, who
continued to keep near Miss Morgan and sat between her and the window,
silent all the while. As the train neared the first station, she jumped
up suddenly and hastened toward the door.

"Why, Lily, what are you about?" "Lily, come back!" "Lily, this is the
wrong station!" resounded after her; but as no one was quick enough to
follow her, she was seen as the train moved on, walking off alone, with
the same scared look on her face.

"There is something very odd about that girl," said Miss Morgan, as soon
as she was with her nieces on their homeward path.

"It is only that she feels a little overcome," said Lily's staunch
admirer. "You know what Prescott Avery said about Mr. Van Voorst looking
like Mr. Ponsonby, and I'm sure he does. Don't you think him very like
his photograph?"

"There is a kind of general likeness, but I must say of the two Arend
Van Voorst looks better fitted to fight his way in the bush, while Mr.
Ponsonby might spend his ten millions, if he had them, pleasantly
enough. Perhaps the idea is what has 'overcome' Lily, as you say."

"Now, auntie, I am sure the resemblance might make her feel badly. She
has not seen Mr. Ponsonby for so long, and that attracted her to Mr. Van
Voorst; and it was so unkind of people to say all the hateful things
they did at the ball."

"I must say myself, that she rather overdoes the part of Mrs. Gummidge.
It looks as if there was something more in it than thinking of the 'old
un.' If she really is so afraid of Mr. Ponsonby, he must look more like
Arend Van Voorst than his picture does. Well--we shall see."

Late that afternoon Arend Van Voorst walked up Walnut Street westward,
drawn, as so many have been, by the red sunset glow that struck across
the lake beyond, through the serried ranks of black tree trunks, down
the long vista under the arching elms. Straight toward the blazing gate
he walked, but when he came to where the road parted, leaving the
brightness high and inaccessible above high banks of pure new snow that
looked dark against it, and dipping down right and left into valleys
where the shade of trees, even in winter, was thick and dark, he paused
a moment and then struck into the right hand road, the one that did not
lead toward the Careys' house. It was not till two or three hours later
that he approached it from the other side, warm with walking, and having
apparently walked off his hesitation, for he did not even slacken his
pace as he passed up the drive, though he looked the house, the place,
and the whole surroundings over with attentive carefulness.

The Careys lived in a fascinating house, of no particular style, the
result of perpetual additions to the original and now very old nucleus.
As Mr. Carey's father had bought it fifty years ago, and as his
progenitors for some time further back had inhabited a much humbler
dwelling, now vanished, in the same town, it was called, as such things
go in America, their "ancestral home." It was the despair of architects
and decorators, who were always being adjured to "get an effect
something like the Carey house." The component elements were simple
enough, and the principal one was the habit of the Carey family always
to buy everything they wanted and never to buy anything they did not
want. If Mr. and Mrs. Carey took a fancy to a rug, or a chair, or a
picture, or a book, they bought it then and there, but they would go on
for years without new stair-carpets or drawing-room curtains--partly
because they never had time to go and choose them, partly because it was
such a stupid way to spend money; it was easier to keep the old ones, or
use something for a substitute that no one had ever thought of before,
and everybody was crazy to have afterwards.

How much of all this Arend Van Voorst took in I cannot tell, but he
looked about him with the same curiosity after the house door had opened
and he was in the hall, and then as the parlour door opened, and he saw
Lily rising from her low chair, before the fire afar off at the end of
the long low room, a tall white figure standing out in pure, cool
darkness against the blaze, like the snow-banks against the sunset. He
did not know whether he wanted or not to see her alone, but on one point
he was anxious--he wanted to know whether he was to be alone with her or
not. The room was crowded with objects of every kind; two or three dogs
and cats languidly raised their heads from the sofas and ottomans as he
passed, and for aught he knew two or three children might be in the
crowd. Lily had the advantage of him; she knew very well that her mother
had driven into town with the other girls to the Wilsons' "small and
early"; that the younger children had been out skating all the afternoon
and had gone to bed; that the boys were out skating now and would not be
home for hours yet; and that her father, shut into his study with the
New York stock list, was as safe out of the way as if he had been
studying hieroglyphics at the bottom of the Grand Pyramid. So she was
almost too unconcerned in manner as she held out her hand and said,
"Good evening."

He took the offered hand absently, still looking round the room, and as
he took in its empty condition, gave a sigh of relief. She sat down,
with a very slight motion toward a chair on the other side of the fire.
He obeyed mechanically, his eyes now fixed on her. If she was lovely in
her "old black," how much more was she in her "old white," put on for
the strictest home retirement. It was a much washed affair, very
yellowish and shrunken, and clinging to every line of her tall figure,
grand in its youthful promise. She had lost her colour, a rare thing for
her, and she had accentuated the effect of her pale cheeks and dark
eyelashes with a great spray of yellow roses in the bosom of her gown.

"I thought you had gone to New York," she said, trying to speak lightly.

"No," slowly; "I could not go without coming here first. I must see you
once at your own home." Then with an eager thrill in his voice, "He has
never been here, I believe?"

"No," said Lily; "he was never here."

"I have come the first, then; let him come when he wants to; I shall not
come again, to see him and you together."

Both sat silently looking into the fire for a few moments, which the
clock seemed to mark off with maddening rapidity. Then Lily said in a
low tone, but so clearly that it could have been heard all over the
room, "If you do not wish to see him, he need never come at all."

"For God's sake, Miss Carey!" burst out Arend, "show a little feeling in
this matter. I don't ask you to feel for me. I knew what I was about
from the first, and I took the risk. But show a little, feign a little,
if you must, for him. You know I love you. If your Mr. Ponsonby were
here to fight his own battles for himself, I would go in for a fair
fight with him, and give and ask no quarter. But--but--he is far away
and alone, keeping faith with you for years. If he has no claim on you,
he has one on me, and I'll not forget it."

He paused, but Lily was silent. She looked wistful, yet afraid to speak.
Something of the same strangely frightened look was in her eyes that had
been there that afternoon. Arend, whose emotion had reached the stage
when the sound of one's own voice is a sedative, went on more calmly:

"And don't think I make so much of a sacrifice. I am sure now you never
loved or could have loved me. If you had, there would have been some
struggle, some pleading of old remembrances. Your very feeling for me
would have roused some pity, at least, for him. He has your first
promise; I do not ask you to break it. You can give him all you have to
give to anyone, and perhaps he may be satisfied."

"You need not trouble yourself about Mr. Ponsonby," said Lily, now cold
and calm, "as no such person exists."

"What!" exclaimed her hearer, in bewildered astonishment. Wild visions
of the luckless Ponsonby, having heard by clairvoyance, or submarine
cable, of his own pretensions, and having forthwith taken himself out of
the way by pistol or poison, floated through his brain, and he went on
in an awe-struck tone, "Is he--is he dead?"

"He never lived; Mr. Ponsonby, from first to last, is a pure piece of
fiction. Oh, you need not look so amazed; I am not out of my senses, I
assure you. Ask my father, ask my mother--they will tell you the same.
And now, stop! Once for all, just once! You must hear what I have to
say. I shall never ask you to hear me again, and you probably will never
want to."

He looked blankly at her in a state of hopeless bewilderment.

"Oh," she broke out suddenly, "you do not know--how should you?--what it
is to be a girl! to sit and smile and look pleasant while your life is
being settled for you, and to see some man or other doing his best to
make an utter snarl of it, while you must wait ready with your 'If you
please,' when he chooses to ask you to dance with him or marry him. And
to be a pretty girl is ten times worse. Everyone had settled ever since
I was seventeen that I was to marry Jack Allston. Both his family and my
family took it as a matter of course, and liked it well enough, as one
likes matters of course. I liked it well enough myself. I cannot say now
that I was ever in love with Jack Allston, but he seemed bound up in me,
and I was very fond of him, and thought I should be still more so when
we were once engaged. All the girls in my set expected to marry or be
called social failures, and where was I ever to find a better match in
every way than Jack? If I had refused him everyone would have thought
that I was mad. I had not the least idea of doing so, but meanwhile I
was in no hurry to be married. I thought it would be nicer to wait and
have a little pleasure, and I did have a great deal, till I was
eighteen, then till I was nineteen, and so on----"

She stopped for a moment, for her voice was trembling, but with an
effort recovered herself and went on more firmly:

"Just as people began to look and talk, and wonder why we were so slow,
and why it did not come out, and just as I began to think that I had had
enough of society, and that perhaps I ought to be willing to settle
down, I began to feel, too, that my power over him was going, gone! The
strings I had always played upon so easily were broken, and though I ran
over them in the old way, I could not win a sound. I hardly had time to
feel more than puzzled and frightened, when his engagement came out, and
it was all over. But there! it was the kindest way he could have done
it. I hate to think of some of the things I did and said to try if he
had indeed ceased to care for me; but they were not _much_, and if I had
had time I might have done more and worse. I was struck dumb with
surprise like everybody else. My father and mother were hurt and
anxious, but it was easy to reassure them, and without deception. I
could tell them the truth, but not the whole truth. I did not suffer
from what they supposed. My heart was not broken, or even seriously
hurt, but oh! how much I wished at times that it had been! Had I really
loved and been forsaken, I could have sat down by the wayside and asked
the whole world for pity, without a thought of shame. But for what had I
to ask pity? I was like a rider who had been thrown and broken no bones,
in so ridiculous a way that he excites no sympathy. What if he is
battered and bruised? If he complains, people only laugh. I held my
tongue when my raw places were hit. I had the pleasure of hearing that
Julia Noble had been saying--" and here Lily put on Mrs. Allston's
manner to perfection--"'I hope poor Miss Carey was not disappointed.
Jack has, I fear, been paying her more attention than he ought; but it
was only to divert comment from me; dear Jack has so much delicacy of
feeling where I am concerned!'--No, don't say anything; let me have
done, I will not take long. I could not get away from it all, and what
was I to do? To go on in society and play the same game over with some
one else was unendurable; I was getting past the age for that. Susan was
out and Eleanor coming out, and I felt I ought to have taken myself out
of their way, in the proper fashion. To take up art or philanthropy was
not in my line. The girls I knew were not brought up with those ideas
and didn't take to them unless they started with being odd, or ugly, or
would own up to a disappointment. My place in the world had suited me to
perfection, and now it was hateful and no other was offered me.

"It was just at this time that the devil--to speak plainly, as I told
you I was going to--put the idea of poor Mr. Ponsonby into my head. An
engaged girl is always excused from everything else. My lover was not
here to take up my time, and as I could postpone my wedding indefinitely
whenever I pleased, my preparations need not be hurried. I dropped
society and all the hateful going out, and had delicious evenings at
home with papa when I was supposed to be writing my long letters to
Australia. I thought I could drop it whenever I liked. I did not know
what I was doing."

"You? Perhaps not!" exclaimed Arend, with an exasperating air of
superior age; "but your father and mother--what in the name of common
sense were they thinking about to allow all this?"

"Oh, you must not think they liked it; they didn't. To tell you all the
truth, I don't think they half-understood it at first. I did not tell
them until I had dropped a hint of it elsewhere, and I suppose they
thought I had only given a vague glimpse of a possible future lover
somewhere in the distance. Poor dears! things have changed since they
were young, and they don't realise that if a man speaks to a girl it is
in the newspapers the next day. I had not known what I was doing. I
really have not told as many lies as you might think. Full half that you
have heard about Mr. Ponsonby never came from me at all. You don't know
how reports can grow, especially when Ada Thorne has the lead in them.
Not that she exactly invents things, but a hint from me, and some I
never meant, would come back all clothed in circumstance. I could not
wear my old pink sash to save my others without hearing that that
tea-rose tint was Mr. Ponsonby's favourite colour. Ponsonby grew out of
my hands as this went on; and really the more he outgrew me the better
I liked him, and indeed I ended by being rather in love with him. He had
to have so many misfortunes, too, and that was a link between us."

"But," said her hearer, suddenly, "did not Prescott Avery meet him at
Melbourne?"

"Oh, if you knew Prescott, you would know that he meets everybody. If it
had been a Mr. Percival of Java, instead of Ponsonby of Australia, he
would have remembered him or something about him. Still, that was a
dreadful moment. I felt like Frankenstein when his creature stalks out
alive. Poor Mr. Ponsonby! I shall send him his _coup-de-grâce_ by the
next Australian mail. People will say that I did it in the hope of
catching you, and have failed. Let them--I deserve it. And now, Mr. Van
Voorst, please to go. I have humiliated myself before you enough. I said
I would tell you the truth, and you have heard it all. If you must
despise me, have pity and don't show it."

Lily's voice, so clear at first, had grown hoarse, and her cheeks were
burning in a way that caused her physical pain. She rose to her feet and
stood leaning on the back of her chair and looking at the floor.

"Go! and without a word? Do you think I have nothing to say? Sit
down!"--as she made some little motion to go. "I have heard you, and
now you must hear me."

Lily sank unresistingly into her chair, while he went on, "You say girls
have a hard time; so they do--I have always been sorry for them. But
don't you suppose men have troubles of their own? You say a pretty girl
has the worst of it. How much better off is the man, who, according to
the common talk, has only to 'pick and choose'; who walks along the row
of pretty faces to find a partner for the dance or for life, as it
happens--it is much the same. The blue angel is the prettiest and the
pink the wittiest; very likely he takes the yellow one, who is neither,
while in the corner sits the white one, who would have suited him best,
and whom he hardly saw at all. If he thinks he is satisfied, it is just
as well. I was not unduly vain nor unduly humble. I knew my wealth was
the first thing about me in most people's minds, but I was not a
monster, and a girl might like me well enough without it. A woman is not
often forced into marriage in this country. I had no notions of
disguising myself, or educating a child to marry, as men have done, to
be loved for themselves alone. What is a man's self? My wealth, my place
in the world were part of me. I was born with them. I should probably
find some nice girl who appreciated them and liked me well enough, and
I felt that I ought to give some such one the chance--and yet--and
yet--I wanted something more.

"In this state of mind I met you at the ball. Very likely if I had seen
you among the other girls, I might not have given you more than a
passing glance; but I thought you were married, and the thrill of
disappointment had as much pleasure as pain, for I felt I could have
loved. But you were not married, only engaged. What's an engagement? It
may mean everything or nothing. For the life of me I could not help
trying how much it meant to you. What must the man be, I thought, as I
sat by you on the stairs, whom this girl loves? He should be a hero, and
yet, as such things go, he's just as likely to be a noodle. You
laughed--I could have sworn you knew what I was thinking."

"Yes! I remember. I was thinking how nicely you would do for a model for
my Ponsonby," Lily said. Their eyes met for a moment with a swift flash
of intelligence, but the light in hers was quenched with hot, unshed
tears.

"No laugh ever sounded more fancy free! I felt as if you challenged me;
and if he had been here I would have taken up the challenge--he or I,
once for all. But he was alone and far away, and I could not take his
place. Why did I meet you on the pond, then? why did I come here
to-night? Because I wanted to see if I could not go a little further
with you. I wanted something to remember, a look, a tone, a word, that
ought not to have been given to any man but your promised husband;
something I could not have asked if I had hoped to be your husband. My
magnanimity toward Ponsonby, you see, did not go the length of behaving
to his future wife with the respect I would show my own."

"You have shown how much you despise me," said Lily, springing to her
feet, her hot tears dried with hotter anger, but her face white again.
"That might have been spared me. I suppose you think I deserve it. Very
well, I do, and you need not stay to argue the matter. Go!"

"Go! Why I should be a fool to go now, and you would be--well, we will
call it mistaken--to let me. After we have got as far as we have, it
would be absurd to suppose we can go back again. We know each other now
better than nine tenths of the couples who have been married a year. I
don't ask you to say you love me now; I am very sure you can, and I know
I can love you--infinitely----"

"Oh, but--but you said you would not take his place--Mr. Ponsonby's. Can
you let everyone think you capable of such an act of meanness? And if
you could not respect me as your wife, how can you expect others to? Can
we appear to act in a way to deserve contempt without despising each
other?"

"There will be a good deal that is unpleasant about it, no doubt; but
everyone's life has some unpleasantness. It would be worse to let a
dream, even a dream of honor, come between us and our future. You made a
mistake and underestimated its consequences, but it would be foolish to
lose the substance of happiness because we have lost the shadow. We will
live it down together and be glad it is no worse."

"But I have been so wrong, so very wrong--I have too many faults ever to
make anyone happy."

"Of course you have faults, but I know the worst of them and can put up
with them. I have plenty of my own which you may be finding out by this
time. I am very domineering--you will have to promise to obey me, and I
shall keep you to it; and then I can, under provocation, be furiously
jealous."

"You are not jealous of Jack Allston?" she whispered.

"Jealous of old Jack? Oh, no! I shall keep my jealousy for poor Mr.
Ponsonby."

Society had been so often agitated by Lily Carey's affairs that it took
with comparative coolness the tidings that she was to be married to
Arend Van Voorst in six weeks. Miss Morgan said she supposed Lily was
tired of "engagements," and wanted to be married this time. Her niece
Emmeline shed tears over "poor Mr. Ponsonby," and refused to act as
bridesmaid at his rival's nuptials; and in spite of her aunt's scoldings
and Lily's entreaties, and all the temptations of the bridesmaids' pearl
"lily" brooches and nosegays of Easter lilies, arranged a visit to her
cousins in Philadelphia to avoid being present. Miss Thorne had no such
scruples, and it is to her the world owes a lively account of the
wedding; how it was fixed at so early a date lest "poor Mr. Ponsonby"
should hurry over to forbid the banns, and how terribly nervous Lily
seemed lest he might, in spite of the absolute impossibility, and though
Ponsonby, true gentleman to the last, never troubled her then or after.

"Poor Mr. Van Voorst, I should say!" exclaimed Mrs. Jack Allston. "I am
sure he is the one to be pitied. But do tell me all the presents that
have come in, for Jack says that I must give them something handsome
after such a present as he gave me when we were married."

Mrs. Van Voorst received the tidings of her son's approaching marriage
rather doubtfully. "Yes--the Careys were a very nice family; she knew
Mrs. Carey was an Arlington, and her mother a Berkeley, and his
mother--but--Miss Carey was very handsome, she had heard--with the
Berkeley style of beauty and the Arlington manner, but--but--she did not
mind their being Unitarians, for many of the very best people were, in
Boston, but--but--but--indeed, my dear Arend, I have heard a good deal
about her that I do not altogether like. I hope it may not be
true--about her keeping Jack Allston hanging on for years, as
_pis-aller_ to that young Englishman she was engaged to all the
while--and finally throwing him over--and now she has thrown over this
Mr. Ponsonby too!"

"Will you do just one thing for me, dear mother," asked her son; "will
you forget all you have _heard_ about Lily, and judge her by what you
_see_?"

Mrs. Van Voorst had never refused Arend anything in his life, and could
not now. By what magic Lily, in their very first interview, won over the
good lady is not known, but afterwards no mother-in-law's heart could
have withstood the splendid son and heir with which she enriched the Van
Voorst line. The young Van Voorsts were allowed by all their friends to
be much happier than they deserved to be. Long after the gossip over
their marriage had ceased, and it was an old story even to them, Arend
was still in love with his wife. Lily was interesting; she had that
quality or combination of qualities, impossible to analyse, which wins
love where beauty fails, and keeps it when goodness tires. Her own
happiness was more simple in its elements. She was better off than most
women, and knew it--the last, the crowning gift, so often lacking to the
fortunate of earth. She thought her husband much too good for her,
though she never told him so. Nay, sometimes when she was a little
fretted by his exacting disposition, for Arend was a strict martinet in
all social and household matters and, as he had said, would be minded,
she would sometimes more or less jestingly tell him that perhaps after
all she had made a mistake in not keeping faith with "poor Mr.
Ponsonby."

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

MODERN VENGEANCE


"Well, Lucy, I must say I never saw anything go off more delightfully!"

"It would hardly fail to, with such interesting people," said Mrs. Henry
Wilson.

"Why, every one said they thought it would be most difficult to manage;
a sort of half-public thing, you know, to entertain those delegates or
whatever they call them; they said it was well you had it, for no one
else could possibly have made it go so well."

"I have no doubt most of them could, if they had all the help I
had--from you, especially! I only wish I could have made it a dinner,
instead of a lunch; but Henry is so very busy, just now, and I dared not
attempt a dinner without him."

"Oh, my dear!" said her mother-in-law, "a doctor's time is always so
occupied; they all know that. And dear Henry, of course, is more
occupied than most."

"Perhaps it is as well," said the younger lady, "that they could come by
daylight, as it is so far out of town; Medford is pretty, even in
winter."

"Oh, yes! so they all said. Lady Bayswater thinks it is the prettiest
suburb of Boston she has yet seen; and she admired the house, too, and
you, and everything. 'Mrs. Wilson,' she said to me, 'your charming
daughter-in-law is the prettiest American woman I have seen yet.'" And
Mrs. Wilson, senior, a little elderly woman, to whom even her rich
mourning dress could not impart dignity, jerked her heavy black
Astrachan cape upon her shoulders, and tied its wide ribbons in a
fluttering, one-sided way.

"She is very kind."

"And they all said so many things--I can't remember them."

"I am glad if they were pleased," said Mrs. Henry Wilson, rousing
herself; "to tell the truth, I have not been able to think much of the
lunch, or how it went off."

"Why, dear Henry is well, isn't he?"

"Yes, as well as usual, but a good deal troubled about----"

"Oh, the poor little Talbot boy! how is he?"

"I do not know. Henry, of course, gives no opinion; but I am afraid it
is a very serious case. Membranous croup always is alarming, you know."

"Yes, indeed! sad--very sad; and their only boy, too, now. To be sure,
if any one can save him, dear Henry can; but then, what with losing the
other, and so much sickness as they have had, and Mabel expecting again,
I really don't see how they are to get along," said Mrs. Wilson, fussing
with her pocket handkerchief.

"It is very hard," assented her daughter-in-law, with a sigh.

"I do pity poor Eugene. What can a man do? I saw all those children
paddling in the wet snow only last week; very likely that brought it on.
If I had let mine do so when they were little, I should have expected
them to have croup, and diphtheria, and everything else. I would not
mention it to any one but you, but I do think Mabel has always been very
careless of her children."

"Poor Mabel!" said Mrs. Henry Wilson, with a look of angelic compassion.
"Remember how many cares and troubles she has had, and all her own
ill-health. We all make mistakes sometimes in the care of our children,
with the very best intentions. I let Harry play out in that very snow. I
feared then that you might not approve; but you were not here, and he
was so eager!"

"Oh, but, my dear, you always look after Harry so well! Those Talbot
children had no rubbers on; and then, Harry is so much stronger than
his father was. I do think your management most successful. I only wish
poor Eugene had a wife like you." And as her hearer was silent: "I must
go. Darling Harry is still at gymnasium, isn't he? and I suppose it is
no use waiting for dear Henry, now. My love to them both; and do come
round when you can, dear, won't you?" And after a little more fuss in
looking for her muff and letting down her veil, and a prolonged series
of embraces of her daughter-in-law, she departed.

Young Mrs. Wilson, left alone, sat down in front of a glowing fire to
review her day; but earlier memories appealed so much more powerfully,
that in another moment she was reviewing her whole past life--an
indulgence she rarely allowed herself.

If the poet in the country churchyard was struck with the thought of
greatness that had perished unknown for lack of opportunity, how doubly
he might have pointed his moral with renown missed by being of the wrong
sex. In clear perception of her ends, and resistless pursuit of them,
Lucy Morton had not been inferior in her sphere to Napoleon in his; and
if, after all, she was not so clever as she thought herself, why,
neither was he. To begin with, she was born in a _cul-de-sac_ ending at
a cow pasture. But what is that to genius? "This lane," she thought,
"shall never hem me in"; and from earliest childhood she struggled to
grow out of it, like a creeper out of a hole, catching at every aid.

She was early left an orphan, and lived with her grandfather, a
well-to-do retired grocer, and her grandmother, and a maiden aunt. There
was one other house in the lane, and in it lived a great-aunt, widow of
the grocer's brother and partner, and a maiden first cousin once
removed. They were a contented family, and liked the seclusion of their
place of abode, which was clean and quiet, and where the old gentleman
could prune his trees, and prick out his lettuces unobserved. He read
the daily paper, and took a nap after his early dinner. The women made
their own clothes, and dusted their parlours, and washed their dishes,
and as the _cul-de-sac_ was loathed of servants, they often had the
opportunity of doing all their own work, which they found a pleasant
excitement, and in their secret souls preferred. They belonged to the
Unitarian church, which marked them as slightly superior to the reigning
grocer, who went to the "Orthodox meeting," but did not give them the
social intercourse they would have found in churches of inferior
pretensions. The elite of Medford, in those early days, was chiefly
Unitarian, and it respected the Mortons, who gave generously of their
time and money whenever they were asked. Its men spoke highly of "old
Morton," and were civil to him at town and parish meetings; and its
women would bow pleasantly to his female relatives after service and
speak to them at sewing circles; and would inquire after the rest of the
family when they could remember who they were. More, the Mortons did not
ask or wish. They knew enough people on whom to make formal calls, gave
or went to about six tea-parties a year, and exchanged visits with
cousins who lived in Braintree.

Lucy was sent to the public school, and taught sewing and housework at
home. She proved an apt pupil at both, and showed no discontent with her
daily routine. She was early allowed to sit up to tea, even when company
came; and had she asked to bring home any little girl in her school to
play with her, her grandmother would not have objected. But she did not
ask, nor was she ever seen with her schoolmates in the shady, rural
Medford roads.

Perhaps she might have pined for companions of her own age, but that
fortune had provided her with some near by. At the entrance of the lane
where she lived, but fronting on a wider thoroughfare, was the house of
Mrs. Wilson, a widow of good means and family, who filled less than her
proper space among her own connections, for she went out but little,
being engrossed with the care and education of her two delicate little
boys to a degree which rendered her fatiguing as a companion--the
poorness of their physical constitutions, and the excellence of their
moral natures, being her one unending theme. They were not strong enough
for the most private of schools, and were too good to be exposed to its
temptations, and always had a governess at home.

"Henny" and "Cocky" Wilson--their names were Henry and Cockburn, and
their light red hair, combed into scanty crests on top of their heads,
had suggested these soubriquets--were the amusement of their mother's
contemporaries, and the scorn of their own. A hundred tales were told of
them: as, how when Mrs. Wilson first came home from abroad, where she
had lived long after her husband's death there, she brought her boys to
Sunday-school, with the audible request to the superintendent that as
they were such good little children, they might, if possible, be placed
among those of similar, if not equal, qualities; thereby provoking the
whole school for the next month to a riotous behaviour which poor Mr.
Milliken found it difficult to subdue.

Mrs. Wilson's friends made some efforts to induce their boys to be
friendly with hers, with the result that one July evening, Eugene
Talbot, a bright-eyed, curly-haired little dare-devil, who led the
revels, patronisingly invited them to join a swimming party after dark
in the reservoir which supplied Medford with water--one of those
illegal, delicious sprees which to look back on stirs the blood of age.
Henny and Cocky gave no answer till they had gone, as in duty bound, to
consult their mother, who replied: "My dears, I think this would be a
very uncomfortable amusement. Should you not enjoy much more taking a
bath in our own bathroom, with plenty of soap and hot-water?" It
required a great effort of self-control on Eugene's part not to knock
the heads of the two together when they reported their mother's opinion
to him _verbatim_; but he had the feeling that it would be as mean to
hit one of the Wilsons as to hit a girl, and he only sent them to
Coventry, where they grew up, apparently careless. They were content at
home, and they could now and then play with Lucy Morton, who had
contrived to make their acquaintance through the garden fence, and who,
though three years younger than Cocky, the youngest, was quite as
advanced in every way.

When Mrs. Richard Reed, the social leader of the town, tired of taking
her children into Boston to Papanti's dancing-class, prevailed upon the
great man to come out and open one in Medford, she could not be
over-particular in her selection of applicants, the requisite number
being hard to make up; but when she opened a note signed, "Sarah C.
Morton," asking admission for the writer's granddaughter, she paused
doubtfully. "It is a queerly written note, but it looks like a lady's
somehow," she said, consulting her privy council.

"Oh, that is old Mrs. Morton, who comes to our church, don't you know?
They are very respectable, quiet people. I don't believe there's any
harm in the little girl," said adviser number one.

"She is a pretty, well-behaved child. I have noticed her at
Sunday-school," added councillor number two.

"She is a sweet little thing," said Mrs. Wilson, who was present, though
not esteemed of any use in the matter. "My dear boys sometimes play with
her, and are so fond of her, and they would not like any little girl who
was not nice."

"Oh, well, she can come!" said Mrs. Reed, dashing off a hasty consenting
line, and thinking, "She will do to dance with Henny and Cocky; none of
the other girls will care to, I imagine, and I don't want to hurt the
old lady's feelings. What can have made her think of asking?"

It will easily be guessed that Miss Lucy had been the instigator of
this daring move. She had begun by asking her grandfather, who never
refused her anything, and backed by his sanction had succeeded in
persuading her grandmother, who wrote an occasional letter, but who
hardly knew what a note was, to sit down and write one to Mrs. Reed. So
to the dancing-school she went, alone; for neither grandmother, aunts,
nor cousin ever dreamed of accompanying her. But she felt no fears. She
was a pretty little girl, and took to dancing as a duck to water; but
she did not presume on the popularity these qualities might have won her
with the older boys, but patiently devoted herself to Henny and Cocky
and the younger fry, whom Mr. Papanti was only too glad to consign to
her skilful pilotage. Their mothers approved of her, especially after
she had asked Mrs. Reed, with many blushes, "if she might not sit near
her, when she was not dancing?" "I have to come alone," she added shyly,
"for my dear grandmamma is so old, you know, and my aunt is far from
strong." Both of these women could have done a good day's washing, and
slept soundly for nine hours after it; but of this Mrs. Reed knew
nothing, and pronounced Lucy a charming child, with such sweet manners,
took her home when it rained, and asked her to her next juvenile party.

It was an easy step from this to Lucy Morton at one-and-twenty, where
her quick backward glance next lighted, the popular favourite of the
best "set" of girls in Medford, and extending her easy flight beyond
under the drilling chaperonage of their mammas. She pleased all she met
of whatever age or sex, though to more dangerous distinctions she made
no pretensions. She had early learned the great secret of popularity, so
rarely understood at any age, that people do not want to admire
you--they want you to admire them. No one called Lucy Morton a beauty;
but it was wonderful how many beauties were numbered among her intimate
friends, how many compliments they received, what hosts of admirers they
had, and how brilliant, clever, and full of promise were these admirers.
Indeed, after a dance or a talk with Miss Morton, the young men could
not help thinking so themselves.

As for Lucy, she was early consigned by public opinion to one or other
of the Wilsons. Henny and Cocky had miraculously survived their mother's
coddling and clucking, and had kept alive through college and
professional training, though looking as if it had been a hard struggle.
Henny had, at the period on which his wife was now dwelling, returned
from his medical studies at Vienna, while Cocky still lingered in Paris
studying architecture.

There was very little opening for Dr. Henry Wilson in his native town;
but his mother would have been wretched had he gone anywhere else. He
set up an office in her house, and his friends said it was a good thing
he had money enough to live on, for really none of them could be
expected to call him in. He practised among the poor, who seemed to like
him; but of course they could not afford to be particular.

He would be a very good match for Lucy Morton, if not for any girl of
his own circle. They lived close by each other and had always been
intimate; and she was such a sweet, amiable girl, just the one to put up
with Mrs. Wilson's tiresome ways! If her relations were scarcely up to
the Wilson claims, at least they were quiet and harmless, and would
probably leave her a little money.

With such reasoning did all the neighbouring matrons allay their
anxieties as to their favourite's future. Their daughters dissented. The
latter had gradually come to perceive that Lucy had no intentions of the
kind. Not one of them but thought her justified in looking higher, and
not one envious or grudging comment was spoken or even thought when they
began to regard her as destined for Eugene Talbot--not even by those,
and they were many, who themselves cherished a budding preference for
Eugene, a flirt in a harmless, careless way. Everyone allowed that his
attentions this time were serious. How naturally, how irresistibly, the
pleasing conviction stole upon Lucy's own heart!

Mrs. Wilson, a wife of many years, here sprang to her feet, with her
heart beating hard, and her cheeks flushing scarlet with shame. So would
they flush on her death-bed, if the remembrance of that time came to
disturb her then--the only time when her prudence had for once failed,
the only time when she had trusted any one but herself, when she had
really, truly, been so sure that Eugene Talbot loved her, that she had
let others see she thought so. She had disclaimed, indeed, all knowledge
of his devotion, but she had disclaimed it with a blushing cheek and
conscious smile, like a little--little--oh, _what_ a little fool!

There was no open wound to her pride to resent. He had never spoken out
plainly, and no mere attentions from an emperor would have won a
premature response from Miss Morton; nor was it possible for her to
betray her preference to anyone else. How she found out, as early and as
surely as she did, that his hour for speaking was never to come, was
marvellous even to herself; but she was clairvoyant, so to speak, so
fully did she extract from those who surrounded her all they knew, and
much they did not know. Before Eugene's engagement to Mabel Andrews was
a fixed fact, before Mabel herself knew it was to come, she did, and
took her measures accordingly.

One terrible, long afternoon she spent in her own room behind closed
shutters, seeing even then, in the darkness, Eugene, proud and handsome,
breathing words of love in the Andrews's beautiful blossoming garden
among all the flowers of May, while a glow of rapturous surprise lighted
up Mabel's sweet, impassive face. It might have been some consolation to
another girl to know her own superiority, and to feel sure that Eugene
was marrying the amiable, refined, utterly commonplace Miss Andrews with
the view to the push her highly placed relatives could, and doubtless
would, give him in his business; but the knowledge only added a sting to
Lucy's sufferings. She bore them silently, tasting their full
bitterness, and then left the room, the very little bit of girlishness
in her composition gone forever, but still ready to draw from life the
gratifications proper to maturer years. She could imagine that revenge
might not lose its taste with time, and she had already some faint
conception of the form hers might take.

She walked down the lane and far enough along the street to turn about
and be overtaken by Dr. Wilson on his way home. Of course he stopped to
speak to her, and then walked a little way up the lane with her; and
when Miss Morton once had Dr. Wilson all to herself in a _cul-de-sac_,
it was impossible for him to help proposing to her if she were inclined
to have him. Indeed, he was much readier at the business than she had
expected. In an hour both families knew all about it; and the next day
the engagement was "out," to the excitement of their whole world. It was
such a romantic affair--childish attachment--Henry Wilson so deeply in
love, and so hopeless of success, his feelings accidentally betrayed at
last! On these details dilated all Lucy's young friends. They did not
think they could ever have loved him themselves, but they admired her
for doing so. When, some time after, the grander but less interesting
match between the Talbot and Andrews clans was announced, it chiefly
roused excitement as having doubtless been the result of pique on
Eugene's part--an idea to which his subdued appearance gave some colour;
and he was pitied accordingly.

His wedding was a quiet one, overshadowed by the glories of Lucy's. No
one would have dreamed of her grandparents doing the thing with such
magnificence; but they were so surprised and pleased, for to them the
Wilson connection was a lofty one; and Mrs. Wilson was so flatteringly
eager and delighted, that Lucy found them pliant to her will. Her
grandfather unhesitatingly put at her disposal a larger sum than his
yearly expenditure had ever amounted to; and her exquisite taste in
using it made her wedding a spectacle to be remembered, and conferring
distinction on everyone who assisted in the humblest capacity, while
still each one of these had the flattering conviction that without his
or her presence the whole thing would have been a failure. The bride of
ten years back could not but recall with approval her own demeanour on
the occasion, when, "as one in a dream, pale and stately she went," the
very personification of feeling too deep to be stirred by the unregarded
trifles of her wedding pomp.

The tale of the ensuing years she ran briefly over, for it was one of
uncheckered prosperity. Dr. Wilson's reputation had steadily grown.
Hardly a year after his marriage he had successfully performed the
operation of tracheotomy upon a patient almost _in articulo mortis_; and
although it was only on the ninth child of an Irish labourer, it got
into all the newspapers, and ran the rounds of all circles. It was
wonderful how such cases came in his way after that, till no one in
town dreamed of calling in anyone else for a sore throat; the other
physicians being, as Mrs. Henry Wilson was wont to say, "very good
general practitioners, _but_--" At thirty-five he had an established
fame as a specialist, with an immense consulting practice extending all
over and about Boston, his personal disadvantages forgotten in the
prestige of his marvellous skill, indeed, rather enhancing it.

He took his successes very indifferently; but his wife showed a loving
pride in them, too simple and too well controlled to excite envy, gently
checking his mother's more outspoken exultation, and backing him up in
his refusal of all solicitations to move into Boston, well knowing his
constitution could never stand a town life. Money was now less of an
object to him than ever. Lucy's grandfather had died in peace and
honour, leaving a much larger estate than any one had dreamed possible.
The lane had been extended into a road, and the cow pasture had been cut
up into building lots. All the Morton property had risen in value, and
all was one day to be Lucy's; and on the very prettiest spot in it she
now lived, in a charming house designed (with her assistance) by her
brother-in-law, that rising young architect, Cockburn Wilson, so
strikingly original, and so delightfully convenient, that photographs
and plans of it were circulated in every direction, bringing the
architect more orders than he wanted or needed; for though with not much
more to boast of in the way of looks than his brother, he had made
another amazing stroke of Wilson luck in marrying that great heiress,
Miss Jenny Diman. She was a heavy, shy young person, who had been
educated in foreign convents, and had missed her proper duty of marrying
a foreign nobleman by being called suddenly home to settle her estate.
She had taken a fancy to the clever, amusing Mrs. Wilson, had visited
her, and found the little _partie carrée_ at her pretty house
delightful, she hardly knew why; but it was evident that her hostess's
married life was most successful, and Lucy told her that dear Cockburn
had in him the making of as devoted a husband as dear Henry.

Dear Cockburn for some time showed no eagerness to exercise his latent
powers; but his delicacy in addressing so great an heiress once
overcome, swelled into heroic proportions, and made the love affairs of
two extremely plain and quiet people into a wildly romantic drama. They
seemed surprised, but well content, when they found themselves settled
in their pretty home, still prettier than Dr. Wilson's, because it
showed yet newer ideas; and Mrs. Cockburn Wilson, who had never known
society, developed a taste for it, which her sister-in-law well knew how
to direct.

Lucy's active mind had just run down the stream of time to the present,
and was boldly projecting itself forward into the future, and the
throbbing pulses her one painful memory had raised were subsiding in the
soothing task of planning the decorations for a dinner party for which
Jenny's invitations were already out. She had just decided that it would
make a good winter effect to fill all Jenny's lovely Benares brass bowls
with red carnations, when her husband entered the room.

The crest of sandy locks, which had won Dr. Wilson his boyish title, had
thinned and faded now. It was difficult to say of what colour it had
been; and his face was of no colour at all. He had no salient points,
and won attention chiefly by always looking very tired. This evening he
looked doubly so. "Dear Henry, I am so glad!" cried his wife, springing
up to give him an affectionate embrace. "You will have something to
eat?" and, as he nodded silently, she rang the bell twice, the only
signal needed at any hour to produce an appetising little meal at once;
and she herself waited on him while he ate.

"How is the little boy?" she asked timidly.

"Very low."

"Are you going back?"

"Directly. I am going to operate as soon as Stevens gets there. I have
telephoned for him."

"Is there any hope?"

"Can't say."

"Can I do anything?"

"You might come and take the other children home with you--all but the
baby."

"I can just as well have her too."

"I would rather have her there; her mother needs her."

"Yes, I suppose you don't want Mabel in the room while the operation is
going on."

"I don't want her there at all. She's of no use."

"Poor thing!"

"She can't help it."

"Could I do anything there? If I can, Jenny will take the children, I
know."

"No, there's no need of that." The doctor threw out his sentences
between mouthfuls of food automatically taken from a plate replenished
by his wife.

"What nurse have they?"

"They've had Nelly Fuller--she is a very fair one; but of course they
need two now, and one of them first rate, so I got Julia Mitchell for
them."

"Julia! but how ever could you make Mrs. Sypher give her up?"

"I had no trouble."

"And how can the Talbots ever manage to pay her?"

"That will be all right. I told them she would not expect her full price
for such a short engagement, in a gap between two others. I settled it
with her myself beforehand, of course."

"I am very glad you did," said Lucy, with another loving caress, which
he hardly seemed to notice. He looked at his watch, and told her she had
better hurry and change her dress. In five minutes they walked together
down the street under the beautiful arch of leafless elms, where the
snowy air brought glowing roses into Lucy's cheeks, and an elastic
spring into her tread. Her husband shrank up closer inside his fur-lined
coat, and slipped a case he had taken from his study from one cold hand
to another.

"I hope the children will be ready," from her; "Julia will see to that,"
from him,--were all the words that passed between them on their way.

The Talbot house was but a few streets off. Lucy did not often enter it;
but the picture of battered, faded prettiness it presented, taken in at
a few glances, and heightened each time it was seen, was deeply stamped
on her mind. There was no spare money to keep up appearances here.
Mabel's father had been unfortunate in his investments and extravagant
in his expenditures, and died a poor man, while her relations had grown
tired of helping Eugene, whose business talents had not fulfilled their
early promise. He always seemed, somehow, to miss in his calculations.

What little order there now was in the place was due to the energetic
rule of Julia Mitchell, already felt from garret to cellar. By her care
the three little girls were dressed and ready, and were hanging, eager
and excited, round their mother, who sat, her baby on her lap, with
tear-washed cheeks and absent gaze, all pretence to the art of dress
abandoned. She hardly looked up as her beautiful, richly clad visitor
entered; but when she felt the tender pressure of the hand that Lucy
silently extended, she gave way to a fresh burst of grief.

"Stevens here? asked Dr. Wilson, aside, of Miss Mitchell.

"Yes, sir; he's upstairs; and Miss Fuller, and Mr. Talbot--_he's_ some
use, and the boy wants him. I don't believe you'll ever get him to take
the ether unless his papa's 'round; and I thought, if Miss Fuller would
stay outside and look after _her_?"

"Certainly."

"Then, if Mrs. Wilson will take the others off, why, the sooner the
better."

The doctor looked at his wife, who was quick to respond, though with her
whole soul she longed to stay. She wanted to see Eugene; to know how he
was taking it; to hear him say something to her, no matter what; to give
him the comfort and support his wife was evidently past giving; and
then, she wanted to see her husband as nearly as possible at the moment
he had saved the child's life. She did not let the thought that he might
fail enter her mind,--not in this case, the crowning case of his life!
For this alone he had toiled, and she had striven. She gave his hand one
hard squeeze, as if to make him catch some of the passionate longing of
her heart, and then drew back with the fear that it might weaken rather
than strengthen his nerve. He looked as immobile as ever; and she turned
to take the children's little hands in hers.

"Oh, Lucy!" faltered out her successful rival, "how good of you! I can't
tell you--it does not seem as if it could be true that my beautiful
Eugene--" Here another burst of sobs shook her all over. Lucy's own
tears, as she kissed the poor mother, were bright in her eyes, but they
did not fail. She led the two older girls silently away, and young Dr.
Walker, who had been standing in the background, followed with the third
in his arms, his cool business air, just tempered by a proper
consideration for the parents' feelings, covering his inward excitement
at this first chance of assisting the great physician at an operation.
As he helped the pretty Mrs. Wilson, adored of all her husband's pupils,
into her handsome carriage, which had come for her, and settled his
little charge on her lap, he was astonished, and even awe-struck, to see
that she was crying. "I never thought," he said to himself, "that Mrs.
Wilson had so much feeling! but to be sure she has a boy just this
little fellow's age!"

       *       *       *       *       *

At nine o'clock, the Talbot children, weary of the delights of that
earthly paradise, Harry Wilson's nursery, had been put to bed, and Lucy
was waiting for her husband. She looked anxiously at his face when he
came, but it told her nothing.

"How--is he?" she faltered out at last.

"Can't tell as yet."

"Was the operation successful?"

"Yes, that was all right enough."

"And how soon shall you know if he's likely to rally?"

"Impossible to say."

"Any bad signs?"

"No, nothing apparent as yet."

"You must be very tired," she said, with a tender, unnoticed touch of
her hand to his forehead.

"Not very."

"Have you been there all this time?"

"No, I have made one or two other calls. I was there again just now."

"Do have some tea," said Lucy, striking a match and lighting the alcohol
lamp under her little brass kettle, to prepare the cup of weak,
sugarless, creamless tea, the only luxury of taste which the doctor,
otherwise rigidly keeping to a special unvaried regimen, allowed
himself; and while he sipped it languidly, she watched him intently. If
only he would say anything without being asked! But she could not wait.

"How is Mabel?"

"Very much overcome."

"She has no self-control."

"She is fairly worn out."

"I am glad Julia is there."

"Yes, I should not feel easy unless she were. But Talbot himself behaved
very well. He is more of a hand with the boy than the mother is. He
seems bound up in him."

"Poor fellow!" said Lucy, sympathetically. Her husband did not respond.
"You had better go to bed, dear, and get some sleep," she went on. "You
must need it."

"I told Julia I would be there before six," said Dr. Wilson, rising.
"She must get some rest then. So if you'll wake me at five--"

"Of course," said Lucy, who was as certain and much more agreeable than
an alarm clock; "and now go to sleep, and forget it all. You have had a
hard day, you poor fellow!"

The doctor threw his arm round his wife, as she nestled closer to him,
and they turned with a common impulse to the next room, where there own
only child lay sleeping. Father and mother stood long without a word,
looking at the bright-haired boy, whose healthy breathing came and went
without a sound or a quiver; but when the mother turned to go, the
father lingered still. She did not wait for him, for her exquisite tact
could allow for shyness in a husband as well as in anyone else, and she
had no manner of jealousy of it. If he wanted to say his prayers, or
shed a few tears, or go through any other such sentimental performance
which he would feel ashamed to have her witness, why, by all means let
him have the chance; and she kept on diligently brushing her rich, dark
hair, that he might not find her waiting.

There was no dramatic scene when little Eugene Talbot was declared out
of danger; it came gradually as blessings are apt to do; but after Dr.
Wilson had informed his wife day after day for a week that the child was
"no worse," he began to report him as "a little better," and finally
somewhat grudgingly to allow that with care there was no reason why he
should not recover. By early springtime the little fellow was playing
about in the sun and air; his sisters had been sent home all well and
blooming, with many a gift from Mrs. Wilson, and their wardrobes bearing
everywhere traces of her dainty handiwork; the mother had overflowed in
tearful thanks, and the father had struggled to speak his in vain.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I wish I knew how small I could decently make Talbot's fee," said Dr.
Wilson, as he sat at his desk, in a half-soliloquising tone, but still
designed to catch his wife's ear, and win her judicious advice.

But it was not till after he had repeated the words, that she said
without raising her head from her work, while her fingers ran nervously
on, "I will tell you what I should do."

"Well?" as she paused.

"I should make out my bill for the usual amount, and send it in
receipted. Won't you, Henry? I wish you would, so very, very much!" she
went on, surprised at the dawning of a look she had never seen before on
his face.

"That would be hardly treating him like a gentleman," he began; and then
suddenly, "Lucy, how can you keep up such a grudge against Eugene
Talbot?"

Lucy's work dropped, and she sat looking full at him, her pretty face
white as ashes, and her eyes dilated as if she had heard a voice from
the grave.

"I know," he resumed, "that he has injured you on the tenderest point on
which a man can injure a woman, but surely you should have got over
thinking of that by this time. Is it noble, is it Christian to bear
malice so long? Can't you be satisfied without crowding down the coals
of fire so very hard upon his head? I never," went on Dr. Wilson,
reflectively, "did like that passage, though it is in the Bible."

"Oh, Henry!"

"Put it on a lower ground. Is it just to me? Do you owe me nothing? I
don't forget how much I owe you. You have made the better part of what
little reputation I have; you are proud of it; you would like to have me
more so. But do you suppose I can feel pride in anything earthly, while
another man has the power so to move my wife? You may think you do not
love him now; but where you make a parade of forgiveness, resentment
lingers; and where revenge is hot, love is still warm."

"Then you knew it all?" gasped Lucy; "but how--how could you ever want
to marry me?"

"Because, my dear, I loved you--all the time--too well not to be
thankful to get you on any terms. I gave you credit for too much good
sense and high principle to let yourself care for him when you were once
married; and--I am but a poor creature, God knows! but I hoped I could
win your love in time. There, my dear, don't! I knew I could! I am very
sure I did."

He raised her head from where she had buried it among the sofa pillows,
and let her weep out a flood of the bitterest tears she had ever shed,
on his shoulder. It was long before she could check them enough to
murmur, "Forgive me--only forgive me!"

"Dearest, we will both of us forget it."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Mr. Talbot wants to see you, ma'am."

"Is the doctor out?"

"Yes, ma'am. He did not ask for the doctor. He said he wanted to speak
to you for a minute."

"Show him into the library, and tell anyone else who calls that I am
engaged for a few moments."

Mrs. Wilson hastened downstairs, to find her visitor rather nervously
turning over the books on her table. Eugene's once bright chestnut curls
were as thin now as Henry Wilson's sandy locks, and his attire was
elegant with an effort, though he still kept his fine eyes and winning
smile.

"Won't you sit down?"

"No, thank you. I only came--I have not much time--I came on
business--if you are not too much engaged?"

"Not at all," said Lucy, quietly seating herself, which seemed to soothe
her companion's nerves.

He sat down, too, and began abruptly, "I cannot begin to tell you how
much we owe to your husband!"

"We have both sympathised so much in your sorrow and anxiety! If he
could do anything at all, I am sure he is only too glad, and so am I."

"It was not only his saving our child's life, but he has done--I can't
tell you what he has done for us in every way, as if he had been a
brother--"

Lucy raised her head proudly, with a glad light in her eyes. Eugene
looked at her a moment, and then went on with a sigh; "I couldn't say
this to him, but I must to you, though of course you don't need any
praise I can give him to tell you what he is."

"No," said Lucy, "it is the greatest happiness of my life to know it--it
would be if no one else did; not but what it is very pleasant to have
him appreciated," she added, smiling.

"I know," said Eugene, now growing red and confused, "that no recompense
could ever express all we felt. Such services as his are not to be
bought with a price, but I could not feel satisfied if I did not give
him all that was in my power. I shall never rest till I have done
so,--but--the fact is," he hurried on desperately, "I know his charges
are very small--they seem ridiculously so for a man of his
reputation--but the fact is, I am unable just now to meet all my
obligations; the ill-health of my family has been terribly expensive--I
must ask a little time--I am ashamed to do so, but I can do it better
from him than from anyone else--and from you."

"Oh, don't mention it!" cried Lucy, eagerly, "the sum is a mere trifle
to us; it would not matter if we never had it. To whom should you turn
to be helped or understood, if not to old friends like us?"

"I hope to be able to pay all my just debts, and this among the first."

"Oh, of course! but don't feel the least bit hurried about it! Henry
will never think of it till the time comes. He always forgets all about
his bills when they are once out. Wait till it is perfectly convenient."

"Thank you," said Eugene huskily; "you are all goodness. I have not
deserved this of you." He had already risen to go: but as he drew near
the door he turned back: "Oh, Lucy, don't believe I was ever quite as
heartless as I seemed. I know I treated you in a scoundrelly way, but I
loved you all the time--indeed, indeed, I did."

"Stop, Mr. Talbot! This is no language for you to use! If you have no
regard for me, recollect at least what is due to your wife."

"I have nothing to say against Mabel. She's a dear good girl, a great
deal too good for me. It isn't her fault that things have gone against
me. I always felt it was to pay me up for my conduct to you. I loved you
as well as I ever could love anyone; but I was a selfish brute, and
thought to better myself in the world--"

"Stop, Mr. Talbot! I ought not to hear any more of this! I was too much
overcome by surprise at first to check you, but now I must ask you to
leave me at once if you cannot control yourself."

"I haven't a word to say that need offend you," said Eugene, humbly. "I
only wanted to ask you to forgive me for old time's sake."

"There is nothing I know of for me to forgive. I am sorry, for your own
sake, to hear that you ever had such feelings. I never dreamed of them."

"It seemed to me as if you could not help knowing."

"Indeed? I don't remember," said Mrs. Wilson, smiling. "I was so
engrossed with my own affairs then, you see," she added with engaging
candour; "and if I thought about you, I supposed you were the same. You
can understand, after what you have seen of Henry, how little attention
a girl who loved him would have to spare for anyone else."

Eugene assented absently. He was unable to discipline his wandering
memory, which just then was vividly picturing Lucy Morton at her
prettiest, as with a sparkle in her eye and a curl on her lip she had,
for the amusement of them both, flung some gentle sarcasm at "Henny
Wilson." He could still hear her ringing laugh at his affected jealousy
of her neighbour. But those days were past, and there before him sat
Mrs. Wilson, her face lighted up with earnest emotion, grown more lovely
still, and her voice thrilling with a deeper music. He allowed with a
pang of mortification that he was not as clever as he had supposed
himself in sounding the depths of womankind; and then with keener shame
he stifled his incredulous doubts of Dr. Wilson's being able to win and
keep love. "He deserves it all," he said aloud, while still a secret
whisper told him that love does not go by desert.

"Does he not?" said Lucy. "And now we will not talk of this any more.
You must know how glad we are to be able to give you any little help,
and you must be willing to take it as freely as it is given. I am very
sure that brighter days are coming for Mabel and you; and when they do,
we will all enjoy them together, will we not?"

"You are an angel," said Eugene, taking the hand she held out; and then
he let it go and turned away without another word. Lucy stood looking
after him a longer time than she usually allowed herself to waste in
revery; and then, starting, hastened off intent on household duties.

"Why are these boots in such a condition?" she asked, in a more emphatic
tone than was her wont to use to her servants, as a muddy pair in her
back entry caught her eye.

"I am very sorry, ma'am. I brought them down here to be cleaned, but
Crossman has gone, as you ordered, to take Mrs. Talbot a little drive,
and James is out with the doctor somewhere, and there are two clean pair
in his dressing-room. Shall I black these, ma'am?" inquired the highly
trained parlour maid, who would have gone down on her very knees to
scrub the stable floor at a hint that such a proceeding might be
agreeable to Dr. Wilson.

"Oh, no; never mind," said her mistress, carelessly; but when the girl
had gone, she stooped and, picking up the boots, bore them to her own
room, and bringing blacking also, cleaned and blacked them all over in
the neatest manner, with her own delicate hands.

"I know I'm not worthy to black Henry's boots," she thought to herself,
as a tear or two, which she made haste to rub away, dropped on their
polished surface; "but I can do them well, at least. No one shall ever
say that I have not made him a good wife!"

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

THREE CUPS OF TEA


     "Mrs. Samuel N. Brackett, at home Wednesday, December Tenth,
     from four to seven, 3929 Commonwealth Avenue."

       *       *       *       *       *

     "Miss Caldwell, Wednesdays, Mount Vernon Street, December
     10th, 4.30-6.30."

       *       *       *       *       *

  "100 CHARLESGATE, EAST.

     "DEAREST CARRIE:

     "I am obliged to give up the Bracketts'. Mother went and
     asked Dr. Thomas if I could go, and he said, of course not.
     I was so provoked, for if she hadn't spoken of it, he would
     never have dreamed of forbidding me to go out--he never
     does. Most likely he never imagines that anybody will go
     anywhere if they are not obliged to. Now that I am not
     going, mother won't go herself. She wants to go to Cousin
     Jane's little tea. She says they are so far apart she can't
     do both. So stupid in Cousin Jane to put hers the same day
     as the Bracketts'--but I dare say she will have a sufficient
     number of her own set to fill up. I doubt if she gets many
     of the girls. You are so soft-hearted that I dare say you
     will struggle for both. Do get through in time to drop in
     here any time after half-past six. I am going to have a few
     girls to tea in my room to cheer me up and tell me all about
     the Bracketts'. They have asked everyone they possibly can,
     and I dare say everyone will go to see what it is like. I am
     sure I would if I could. Remember you must come.

  "Ever your
  "GRACE G. D.
  "_Tuesday P.M._"

As Miss Caroline Foster, after lunch on the tenth of December, inspected
the cards and notes which encircled her mirror in a triple row, she
selected these three as calling for immediate attention. Of course she
meant to go to all: when was she ever known to refuse an invitation?
Though young and pretty, well connected and well dowered, and far from
stupid, she occupied in society the position of a down-trodden pariah or
over-worked galley-slave, for the reason that she never could say no to
anyone. She had nothing--money, time, sympathy--that was not at the
service of anyone who chose to beg or borrow them. At parties she put up
with the left-over partners, and often had none--for even the young men
had found out that she could always be had when wanted. Perhaps this was
the reason why, with all her prettiness and property, she was not
already appropriated in marriage. Of course she had hosts of friends,
who all despised her; but one advantage she did enjoy, for which others
might have been willing to barter admiration and respect; no one, man,
woman, or child, was ever heard to speak harshly to Caroline Foster, or
to say anything against her. Malice itself must have blushed to say that
she was too complying, and malice itself could think of nothing else.

This tenth of December marked an uncommon event in her experience, for
on it she had, for the first time in her life, made up her mind to
refuse an asked-for gift; and the consciousness of this piece of spirit,
and of a beautiful new costume of dark-blue velvet trimmed with otter
fur, which set off her fair hair and fresh face to perfection, gave her
an air of unwonted stateliness as she stepped into a handsome coupé and
drove off alone. She was by no means an independent or unguarded young
woman; but her aunt, with whom she lived, had two committee meetings
that afternoon, and told Caroline that she might just as well go to Miss
Caldwell's little tea for ladies only, alone. They would meet at Mrs.
Brackett's; and if they didn't they could tell everyone they were trying
to--which would do just as well.

Miss Caldwell lived in an old house on Mount Vernon Street which gave
the impression that people had forgotten to pull it down because it was
so small; but within it looked spacious, as it sheltered only one lady
and two maids. Everything about it had an air of being fresh and faded
at once. The little library in front was warm dull olive-green; and the
dining-room at the back soft deep grey-blue; and the drawing-room, up
one flight of an unexpected staircase, was rich dark brick-red--all very
soothing to the eye. They were full of family portraits, and old brass
and pewter, and Japanese cabinets, and books bound in dimly gilded
calf-skin, and India chintzes, all of which were Miss Caldwell's by
inheritance. Even sunlight had a subdued effect in these rooms; and now
they were lighted chiefly by candles, and none too brilliantly.

Miss Caldwell had been receiving her guests in the drawing-room; but
there were not many, and being a lady accustomed to do as she pleased,
she had followed them down to the dining-room, which was just
comfortably full. Conversation was, as it were, forced to be general,
and the whole room heard Mrs. Spofford remark that "Malcolm Johnson
would be a very poor match for Caroline Foster."

"Caroline Foster and Malcolm Johnson, is that an engagement?" asked the
stout, good-natured Mrs. Manson, who was tranquilly eating her way
through the whole assortment of biscuits and bonbons on the table.
"Well, Caroline is a dear, sweet girl--just the kind to make a good wife
for a widower."

"With five children to start with, and no means that I know of!" said
Miss Caldwell, scornfully. "I am sure I hope not!"

"I have heard it on the best authority," said the first speaker.

"It will take better authority than that to make me believe it."

"If he proposes to her," said Mrs. Manson, "I should say she would take
him. I never knew Caroline to say no to anyone."

"Well," said Miss Caldwell, "I suppose it's natural for a woman to be a
fool in such matters--for most women," she corrected herself; "but if
Caroline marries Malcolm Johnson I shall think her _too_ foolish--and
she has never seemed to me to be lacking in sense."

"Perhaps," said the pourer out of tea, a pretty damsel with large dark
eyes, a little faded to match the room--"perhaps she wants a sphere."

"As if her aunt could not find her fifty spheres if she wanted them!"

"Too many, perhaps," said a tall lady with a sensible, school-teaching
air. "I have sometimes thought that Mrs. Neal, with managing all her own
children's families and her charities, had not much time or thought to
spare for poor little Caroline. She is kind to her, but I doubt if she
gives her much attention."

"A woman likes something of her own," said Mrs. Manson.

"Her own!" said Miss Caldwell. "How much good of her own is she likely
to have if she marries Malcolm Johnson?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Spofford, "his motives would be plain enough; I dare
say he's in love with her. Caroline is a lovely girl, but of course in
such a case her money goes for something."

"But she has not so very much money," said Mildred, dropping a lump of
sugar into a cup--"plenty, I suppose, for herself, but it would not
support a large family like Mr. Johnson's."

"It would pay his taxes, my dear, and buy his coal," said Miss Caldwell,
"and he has kept house long enough to appreciate the help _that_ would
be."

"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Manson, "coal is so terribly high this winter!"

"It would be a saving for him to marry anybody," said a thin lady with a
sweet smile, slightly soiled gloves, and her bonnet rather on one side.
"He tells me that his housekeepers are no end of trouble. He is always
changing them, and his children are running wild with it all. He's a
very old friend of mine," she added with a conscious air.

"They are very troublesome children," said Miss Caldwell. "I hear them
crying a great deal."

"Poor little things!--they need training," said Mrs. Manson.

"Caroline would never train them; she is too amiable."

"They have so much illness," said Mrs. Eames, the "old friend." "Poor
Malcolm tells me he is afraid that little Willie has incipient spine
complaint; he is in pain most of the time. The poor child was always
delicate, and his mother watched him most carefully. She was a most
painstaking mother, poor thing, though I don't imagine there was much
congeniality between her and Malcolm. I wish I could do something for
them, but I have _such_ a family of my own."

"Someone ought to warn Caroline," said Miss Caldwell. "I wonder he has
the audacity to ask her. If he wasn't a widower he wouldn't dare to."

"If he wasn't a widower," said Miss Mildred, "her loving him in spite of
all his drawbacks would seem more natural."

"If he wasn't a widower," said Mrs. Manson, "he wouldn't have the
drawbacks, you know."

"If he wasn't a widower," said Mrs. Eames, "he might not be so anxious
to marry her. Good-by, dear Miss Caldwell. Such a delightful tea! I may
take some little cakes to the dear children?"

"Good-by," said Mrs. Manson, swallowing her last macaroon. She turned
back as she reached the doorway; and her ample figure, completely
filling it up, gave opportunity for a young lady who had been standing
in the shadow of the staircase to dart across the hall unseen. Miss
Caroline Foster had sought her hostess in the drawing-room, but finding
it empty, had come downstairs again, and had been obliged to listen to
the conversation, which she had not the courage to interrupt; and she
now threw on her wrap and rushed past the astonished maid out of the
house before Mrs. Manson's slow progress could reach the cloak-room.

       *       *       *       *       *

At half-past five o'clock the Brackett tea was in full swing. The
occupants of the carriages at the end of the long file were getting out
and walking to the door, and some of the more prudent were handing in
their cards and departing, judging from the crush that if their chance
of getting in was but small, their chance of getting away was none at
all. The Bracketts were at home; but of their home there was nothing to
be seen for the crowd, except the blazing chandeliers overhead, the
high-hung modern French pictures in heavy gilded frames, the intricate
draperies of costly stuffs and laces at the tops of the tall windows,
here and there the topmost spray of some pyramid or bank of flowers, and
the upper part of the immense mirrors which reflected over and over what
they could catch of the scene. The hostess was receiving in the middle
drawing-room; but it was a work of time and pains to get so far as to
obtain a view of the sparkling aigret in her hair. A meagre, carefully
dressed woman had accomplished this duty, and might now fairly be
getting off and leaving her place for someone else; yet she lingered
near the door of the outer room, loath to depart, looking with an
anxious eye for familiar faces, with an uneasy incipient smile waiting
for the occasion to call out. Sometimes it grew more marked, and she
made a tentative step forward; and if the person went by with scant
greeting or none at all, she would draw back and patiently repair it for
future use. For the one or two who stopped to speak to her she kept it
carefully up to, but not beyond, a certain point, while still her
restless eye strayed past them in search of better game. Just as she had
exchanged a warmer greeting than her wont with a quiet, lady-like woman
who was forced on inward by the crowd, she was startled by a smart tap
on her shoulder, and as she turned sharp round towards the wall, the
rich brocade window-curtains waved, and a low voice was heard from
behind them.

"Come in here, won't you, Miss Snow?"

Miss Martha Snow, bewildered, drew aside the heavy folds, and found
herself face to face with a richly arrayed, distinguished-looking,
though _passée_ woman, who had settled herself comfortably on the
cushioned seat between the lace curtains without and the silk within.

"My dear Mrs. Freeman! how do you do? How you did frighten me!"

"I have been trying to get at you for an age," said Mrs. Thorndike
Freeman, laughing. "I thought you would never have done falling into the
arms of that horrid Hapgood woman."

"I could not help it. She would keep me. She is one of those people you
can't shake off, you know."

"I! _I_ don't know her."

"But why are you here, out of sight of everyone? Are you waiting for a
chance to get at Mrs. Brackett?" hurried on Miss Snow.

"I'm waiting for a chance to get away from her. I would not be seen
speaking to her for any consideration whatever."

"I--I _was_ surprised to meet you here!"

"I came because I wanted to see what it would be like, but I had no
conception it would be so bad. Did you ever see such a set as she has
collected?"

"It does seem mixed."

"Unmixed, I should call it. I have been waiting for half an hour to see
a soul of my acquaintance. Sit down here, and let us have a nice talk."

A nice talk with Mrs. Thorndike Freeman foreboded a dead cut from her
the next time you met her; for she never took anyone up without as
violently putting them down again--and then there was no one now to see
and envy. However, Miss Snow dared not refuse, and seating herself with
a conciliatory, frightened air, somewhat like a little dog in the cage
of a lioness, asked in timid tones:

"Why do you stay? Is not your carriage here?"

"I want to get something to eat first," said Mrs. Freeman, "for I
suppose their spread is something indescribable."

"Oh, quite! The whole middle of the table is a mass of American Beauty
roses as large as--as cabbages, and around that a bank of mignonette
like--like small cauliflowers, and all over beneath it is covered with
hothouse maiden-hair ferns, and----"

"And what's the grub?"

"I--did not eat much; I only wanted to see it; but I had a delicious
little _paté_--chicken done in cream, somehow; and I saw aspic jelly
with something in it handed round; and the ices--they are all in floral
devices, water lilies floating on spun sugar, and roses in gold baskets,
and cherries tied in bunches with ribbons, and grapes lying on tinted
Bohemian glass leaves--and------"

"It sounds appetising. I'll wait till I see a man that doesn't know me,
and he shall get me some. I don't want it known that I ever entered
their doors."

"Shall I not go back to the dining-room and send a waiter to you?"

"No, indeed--he would be sure to know me, and I should get put on the
list."

"The stationers who sent out the invitations will do that."

"Oh, well--I can only say I never came. But the waiter would swear to
me, and very likely describe my dress. No, I shall wait a little longer.
Stay here and keep me company."

"Oh, it will be delightful!" quavered Miss Snow, though worrying at the
prospect of getting away late on foot, and ill able to afford cab-hire.

"You've heard of the engagement, I suppose?"

"Which of them?" asked Miss Snow, skilfully hedging.

"Why, the only one, so far as I know. Why, haven't you heard? Ralph
Underwood and Winnie Parke."

"Oh, yes! has that come out? I have been away from home for a few days,
and had not heard. Very pleasant, I'm sure."

"Very--for her. It was her sister who did it, Mrs. Al Smith. She's a
very clever young woman; fished for Al herself in the most barefaced
way, and now she's caught Ralph for her sister; and she's not nearly so
good-looking, either, Winnie Parke, though I should say she had a better
temper than Margaret. You know Margaret Smith of course?"

"Not very well," said Miss Snow, deprecatingly. "I thought when you
spoke of an engagement you meant Malcolm Johnson and Caroline Foster."

"That never will be an engagement!" said Mrs. Freeman scornfully.

"Oh! I am very glad to hear you say so--only I have met him so much
there lately, and it quite worried me; it would be such a bad thing for
dear Caroline; she is a sweet girl."

"You need not worry about it any longer, for I know positively that she
has refused him."

"I am very glad. I was so afraid that Caroline--she is so amiable a
girl, you know, and so apt to do what people tell her to--I was afraid
she might say yes for fear of hurting his feelings."

"She would never dream of his having feelings--her position is so
different. Why, Caroline is a cousin of my own."

"Oh, yes, of course--only he would doubtless be so much in love; and
many people think him delightful--he _was_ very handsome."

"Before Caroline was born, maybe. No, no, Caroline has plenty of sense,
though she looks so gentle--and then the family would never hear of it.
His affairs are in a shocking condition. Why, you know what he lost in
Atchison--and I happen to know that his other investments are in a very
shaky condition."

"He has that handsome house."

"Mortgaged, my dear, mortgaged up to its full value. No, he's badly
off--and then there are such discreditable rumours about him; Thorndike
knows all about it."

"Dear me! I never heard anything against his character."

"I could tell you plenty," said Mrs. Freeman, with a little shrug. "And
then he drinks, or at least he probably will end in drinking--they
always do when they are driven desperate. Oh, no, Caroline is a cousin
of mine, and a most charming girl. Don't for heaven's sake hint at such
a thing."

"Oh, I assure you, I never have. I am always so careful."

"Yes, I never say a thing that I am not certain is true," said Mrs.
Freeman, yawning. "Why, where do all these lovely youths come from? Ah!
I see; past six o'clock; the shop is closed, and they have turned the
clerks on duty here. Well, now, I can get something to eat, for I never
buy anything of them. Tell that one over there to come to me, the
light-haired one, I mean; he looks strong and good-humoured."

As Miss Snow rose to obey this order, a fair-haired girl in a dark-blue
velvet gown, who on entering had been pinned close against the wall
within hearing by the crowd, made a frantic struggle for freedom, and
succeeded in reaching the entrance hall, to the amazement of the other
guests, who did not look for such a display of strength in so
gentle-looking and painfully blushing a creature.

       *       *       *       *       *

At half-past six a select party was assembling in Miss Grace Deane's own
room, the prettiest room, it was said, in Boston, in the handsomest of
the new Charlesgate houses; a corner room, with a bright sunny outlook
over the long extent of waterside gardens. The high wainscot, the
chimney-piece, the bed on its alcoved and curtained _haut pas_ were of
cherry wood, the natural colour, carved with elaborate and unwearied
fancy; and its rich hue showed here and there round the Persian rugs on
the floor. At the top of the wall was a painted frieze of cherry boughs
in bloom, with now and then one loaded with fruit peeping through, and
the same idea was imitated in the chintzes. The wall space left was
papered in a shade of spring green so delicate and elusive that no one
could decide whether it verged on gold or silver, almost hidden with
close-hung water colours and autotypes; and the ceiling showed between
cherry beams an even softer tint in daintily stained woods. The Minton
tiles around the fireplace and lining the little adjoining bathroom were
all in different designs of pale green and white sparingly dashed with
coral pink. There were sofas and low chairs and bookcases and cabinets
and a tiny piano and a writing-desk and a drawing-table, and a
work-table and yet more tables, all covered with smaller objects.
Useless, and especially cheap, bric-à-brac was Miss Deane's abomination,
but everything she used was exquisite. The bed and dressing-table were
covered with finest linen, drawn and fretted by the needle, into filmy
gossamer; and from the latter came a subdued glitter of a hundred silver
trifles of the toilet, beaten and chiselled like the fine foamy crest of
the wave.

Miss Deane, the owner of this pretty room, for whom and by whom it had
been devised and decked with abundant means held well in check by taste,
was very seldom in it. The Deanes had two country houses, and they spent
a great deal of time abroad, and in the winter they often went to
California or Florida or Bermuda; and when they were at their town
houses they were usually out. But Miss Deane did sometimes sleep there,
and when she had a cold and had to keep in she could not but look around
it with gratification. It certainly was a pleasant room to give a little
tea in. Its being her bedroom only made the effect more piquant. She
believed the ladies of the last century used to have tea in their
bedrooms; and this was quite in antique style--yes, the tea-table and
some of the chairs were real antiques. By the time she had arranged the
flowers to her taste and sat down arrayed in a tea-gown of rose-coloured
China crape and white lace to make tea in a Dresden service with little
rosebuds for handles, she felt quite well again, and ready to greet a
dozen or so of her dearest friends, who ran upstairs unannounced and
threw off their own wraps on the lace-covered bed.

Some of these young women were beautiful, and all looked pretty, their
charms equalised by their clothes and manners. They had all been on the
most intimate terms with each other from babyhood, and they had the
eagerness to please anyone and everyone, characteristic of the American
girl. Each talked to the other as if that other were a lover, and they
had the sweetest smiles for the maid.

"So it was pleasant at the Bracketts'?" asked Grace, beginning to fill
her cups.

"Oh, delightful!" exclaimed the whole circle; "that is"--with modified
energy--"it was crowded of course, and very hot, and it was hard to get
at people, and there was no time to talk when you did; but everybody was
there," they concluded with revived spirit.

"I was not there," sighed Mildred; "I had to make tea for Miss
Caldwell--mother said I must--and some of the people stayed so late that
it was no use thinking of the other place, though I put on this gown to
be all ready. I thought it would do to pour out at such a little
tea"--surveying her pale fawn cloth gown dashed with dark velvet worked
in gold.

"Oh, perfectly! most appropriate!" said the others.

"Who else poured out?" said Grace.

"Why, she told me that Caroline Foster was coming, and I was so
delighted; but when I got there I found Mrs. Neal had sent a note saying
she could not allow Caroline to give up the Bracketts' altogether; and
Miss Caldwell had invited that Miss Leggett, whom I hardly know--wasn't
it unpleasant? And she wore regular full dress, pink India silk and
chiffon, cut very low--the effect was dreadful!"

"Horrid!" murmured her sympathising friends.

"Caroline was there, I suppose?" queried one.

"No--she never came at all."

"Probably she went to the Bracketts' first, and couldn't get away," said
Grace. "I wonder she isn't here by this time. Who saw her there?"
General silence was the sole answer, and she looked round her only to
have it re-inforced by a more emphatic "I didn't."

"Why, she must have been there! She told me she should surely go. How
odd--" but her words died away, and the group regarded each other with
looks of awe, till one daring young woman broke the spell with, "Do you
think--can it be possible--that she's really engaged?"

"To Mr. Johnson?" broke out the whole number. "Oh! I hope not! It would
be shocking--dreadful--too bad!"

"We shouldn't see a thing of her; she would be so tied down," murmured
Dorothy Chandler, almost in tears.

"Everyone who marries is tied down, for that matter," cheerfully
remarked a blooming young matron, who had been the rounds of the teas.
"I assure you," she went on, nibbling a chocolate peppermint with
relish, "I am doing an awful thing myself in being here at this hour;
aren't you, Anna?"--addressing a mate in like condition, who blushed,
conscience-stricken as she said, "Perhaps Caroline is in love with Mr.
Johnson."

"I don't see how any one can fall in love with a widower," said Mildred.

"That depends on the widower," said the pretty Mrs. Blanchard. "I do
think Mr. Johnson is rather too far gone."

"Oh, yes," said Mildred; "he looks so--so--I don't know how to express
it."

"What you would call dowdy if he were a woman," said her more
experienced friend. "He looks as if he wanted a wife; but I don't see
why someone else would not do as well as Caroline--some respectable
maiden lady who could sew on his buttons and make his children stand
round. I don't think Caroline would be of the least use to him."

"It would be almost impossible to keep her up," said Grace.

"Yes," said Mrs. Blanchard; "I'm very fond of Caroline, but I'm afraid I
could never get Bertie up to the point of intimacy with Malcolm Johnson;
he thinks him underbred--says his hats show it."

"Is your tea too strong, Harriet, dear? There is no hot water left,"
said Grace, ringing her little silver bell with energy. But no one came.
"I told Marguerite to keep in the sewing-room, in hearing," she went on,
ringing it again.

"I thought I heard her at the door just now," said the outermost of the
circle.

"_Would_ you mind looking, dear? If she's not there I'll ring the other
bell for someone from downstairs."

No Marguerite was at the door, the sounds laid to her charge having been
caused by the precipitate retreat of a young lady who had come late and,
running quickly upstairs unannounced, had paused at the room door to
recover her breath, and had just time to do so and to fly downstairs
again and out of the house without encountering anyone.

Caroline--for it was she--hurried round the corner; for her home was so
near that she had dismissed her carriage. The house was empty and dark.
Mrs. Neal had gone to spend the evening with one of her married
daughters and had not thought it necessary to provide any dinner at
home. There was no neglect in this. There were plenty of cousins at
whose houses Caroline could have dined and welcome; or if she did not
choose to do so, there was abundance in the larder, and if her teas had
left her any appetite she had but to give the order herself and sit
down alone to her cold meat and bread and butter. As we know, her teas
had been feasts of Tantalus; but she did not feel hungry--for food. She
hastened up to her room without a word to the maid, lighted her gas,
took a key from her watch-chain, opened her writing-desk, and took out a
letter which she read, not for the first time, with attention.

  "MOUNT VERNON STREET.

     "MY DEAR MISS FOSTER:

     "You will, I am afraid, be surprised at what I am going to
     say. Perhaps you will blame me for writing it, and perhaps
     you will blame me for saying it at all. I know it is an act
     of presumption in me to ask one so beautiful, so young and
     untrammelled by care, to link her fortunes with mine: but I
     do it because I cannot help it. I love you so much that I am
     unable to turn my thoughts to my most pressing duties till I
     have at least tried my fate with you; and yet my hopes are
     so faint that I cannot venture to ask you in any way but
     this.

     "Don't think I love you less because I have so many other
     claimants for my affections; any more than I love them less
     because I love you. My poor children have no mother; I could
     never ask any woman to take that place to them unless we
     could both feel sure that ours was no mere match of
     convenience; but I could not love anyone unless she had the
     tenderness of nature which belongs to a true mother. I
     never saw any girl in whom it showed so plainly as in you.
     Your angelic sweetness and gentleness are to me, who have
     seen something of the rough side of life, unspeakably
     beautiful. I know I am not worthy of you in any way; but it
     sometimes seems to me that appreciating you so thoroughly as
     I do must make me a little so.

     "Your family will very likely object to me on the score of
     want of means. I am fully aware that I cannot give you such
     advantages in that respect as you have a right to expect,
     even if I were much richer than I am ever likely to be; but
     I am not so poorly off as they may suppose. I own the house
     in which I live, free of encumbrance, and I should like to
     settle it upon you. I do not know whether your property is
     secured to your separate use or not; but I should wish to
     have it so in any case. If my life and health are spared, I
     have no fears that I shall not be able to support my family
     in comfort. I know you will have to give up a great deal in
     the way of society; and I cannot promise that you shall have
     no cares, but I can and do promise that you will make us all
     very happy.

     "I still fear my chances are but small; but do, I entreat
     you, take time to think over this. No matter what your
     answer may be, I am and ever shall be

  "Your faithful and devoted
  "MALCOLM JOHNSON.
  "_December 8, 189-._"

After Caroline had read this letter twice, she drew out another,
spotless and freshly written, and breaking the seal, read:

  "BEACON STREET.

     "MY DEAR MR. JOHNSON:

     "I was very sorry to receive your letter this morning. Pray
     don't think I blame you for writing--but indeed you think
     much too highly of me. I am not at all fitted to assume such
     serious duties as being at the head of your family would
     involve, and it would only be a disappointment to you if I
     did. I have had no experience, and I should feel it wrong to
     undertake it, even if I could return your generous affection
     as it deserves. Indeed, I don't value money, or any of those
     things; but I do not want to give up my friends and all my
     own ways of life, unless I loved you. I am so sorry I
     can't--but surely you will not blame me, for I never dreamed
     of this, or I would have tried to let you know my thoughts
     sooner.

     "I am sure my aunt would disapprove. Highly as she esteems
     you, she would think me too young, and not at all the right
     kind of wife for you. I shall not breathe a word to her or
     to anyone, and I hope you will soon forget this, and find
     some one who will really be a good wife to you and a devoted
     mother to your children. No one will be more delighted at
     this than

  "Your sincere friend,
  "CAROLINE ALICE FOSTER.
  "_December 9, 189-._"

This letter, which Caroline had spent three hours in writing, and copied
six times, she now tore into small pieces and threw them into the
fireplace. The fire was out, and the grate was black, so she lighted a
match and watched till every scrap was consumed to ashes, when she sat
down at her desk and, heedless of the chilly room, wrote with a flying
pen:

  "BEACON STREET.

     "MY DEAR MR. JOHNSON:

     "Pray forgive me that I have been so long in answering your
     letter. I could not decide such an important matter in
     haste. Indeed you think more highly of me than you ought;
     but if such a foolish, ignorant girl as I am can make you
     happy, and you are sure you are not mistaken, I will try to
     return your love as it deserves. I have not much experience
     with children; but I will do my best to make yours love me,
     and it will surely be better for the dear little things than
     to have no mother at all.

     "I dare say my aunt will think me very presumptuous to
     undertake so responsible a position; but she will not oppose
     me when she knows my heart is concerned,--and I am of age,
     and have a right to decide for myself. I shall be so glad of
     some real duties to make my idle, aimless life really useful
     to someone. I don't care for wealth, and as for society, I
     am heartily tired of it. The only fear I have is that you
     are over-rating me; but it is so pleasant to be loved so
     much that I will not blame you for it.

  "I am ever yours sincerely,
  "CAROLINE ALICE FOSTER.
  "_December 10, 189-._"

If Caroline, by writing this letter, constituted herself a lunatic in
the judgment of all her friends, it must be allowed, as Miss Caldwell
had said, that she was not quite lacking in sense. Unlike either a fool
or the heroine of a novel, she rang the bell for no servant, sent for no
messenger, but when she had sealed and stamped her letter she tripped
downstairs with it and, having slipped back the latch as she opened the
door, walked as far as the nearest post-box and dropped it in herself.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

THE TRAMPS' WEDDING

  "They know no country, own no lord.
  Their home the camp, their law the sword."


"Who is it?" asked Mrs. Reed, as her husband entered her sitting-room;
with some curiosity, pardonable in view of the fact that a stranger had
for some time been holding an interview with him in his study.

"Why," replied the Reverend Richard Reed, looking mildly absent, as was
his custom when interrupted of a Saturday morning, "it is a Mr. Perley
Pickens--the man, you know, who has taken the Maynard place for the
summer."

"Indeed! what did he want?" cried the lady, interested at once. The
Maynard house was the great house of the place, and the Maynard family
the magnates of the First Parish, and the whole town of Rutland. Their
going abroad for a year or two had been felt as a public loss, and when,
somewhat to the general surprise, it transpired that their house was
let, it was at once surmised that it could only be to "nice" people,
though the new occupants had never been heard of, and were rarely seen.

"Oh, his daughter is to be married, and he wants the ceremony to take
place in our church."

"You don't say so? and he wants you to marry them?"

"Certainly."

"Why, we haven't had a wedding in the church for quite a while! It will
be very nice, won't it?"

"Yes, my dear; but excuse me, I am in a hurry just now. Mr. Pickens is
waiting. He wants you to give him a few addresses. I gave him the
sexton's----"

"It will be a good thing for poor Langford," said Mrs. Reed,
benevolently.

"Yes--" drawled the Reverend Richard, still abstractedly, "very good;
and he wants a Boston caterer, and a florist. I know nothing about such
things, and I told him I'd ask you, though I did not believe you did,
either."

"Oh, yes, I do! Mrs. Maynard always has Rossi, and as for a florist,
they must have John Wicks, at the corner here. He's just set up, and it
will be such a chance for him."

"Do you think he will do? Mr. Pickens said that expense was no
object--that everything must be in style, as he phrased it."

"Oh, he'll do! Anyone will do, at this season. Why, they could decorate
the church, and house too, from their own place; but I shan't suggest
that."

"Very well, my dear--but I am keeping Mr. Pickens waiting."

"I'll go and speak to him myself," said the lady, excitedly; and she
tripped into the study, where the guest was sitting, with his hat on his
knees; a tall, narrow-shouldered man, with a shifty eye. Somehow the
sight of him was disappointing, she could hardly tell why, for he rose
to greet her very politely, and thanked her effusively.

"My wife will be most grateful, I am sure--most grateful for your
kindness. It will save her so much trouble."

"Here are the addresses you want," said Mrs. Reed, hastily scratching
them off at her husband's desk, "and if Mrs. Pickens wants any others, I
shall be happy to be of use to her."

"Thank you! thank you! You see, she's a stranger here, and doesn't know
anything about it."

"You have not been in this part of the country before?"

"No--oh, no, I come from Clarinda, Iowa. At least, I always register
from there, though I haven't any house there now; and my present wife
was a Missouri woman, though she's never lived in the State much. I had
to be in Boston on business this summer, so thought I'd take a place
outside, and Mr. Bowles, the real estate agent, said this was the
handsomest going, and the country first-rate; but my wife's a little
disappointed."

"I suppose, if she has travelled so much, she has seen a great deal of
fine scenery--but this is generally thought a pretty place."

"Yes, certainly--very rustic, though, ain't it?"

"I suppose so," said his hearer, a little puzzled, while for the first
time her husband looked up, alert and amused. "I will call on Mrs.
Pickens," she hastened to say, "if she would like to see me."

"Yes, certainly; delighted, I'm sure; yes, she'd be delighted to see
you, and so would Miss Minnie, too."

"What a very queer man!" thought Mrs. Reed. But she only smiled sweetly,
and made a little move, as if the interview were fairly over. Her
visitor, however, did not seem inclined to depart, and after a moment's
silence began again.

"And there's another thing; if you would be so very kind as to
recommend--I mean, introduce--we know so few people here, and Miss
Minnie wants everything very stylish; perhaps you know some nice young
men who would like to be ushers; I believe that is what they are called.
It would be a good thing for them to be seen at; everything in
first-class style, you know."

The Reverend Richard, whose attention was now thoroughly aroused, beamed
full on the speaker a guileless smile, while his wife thoughtfully
murmured, "Let me see; do you expect a great many people?"

"Oh, no, we don't know many round here; but if you and your family, and
the ushers and their families, would come to the house, it would make
quite a nice little company. As to the church--anyone that liked--it
would be worth seeing."

"I can find some ushers," said Mrs. Reed, still musing; "two at least;
that will be enough, I should think."

"And then," murmured Mr. Pickens, as if checking off a mental list,
"there is a young man to go with the bridegroom, I believe. I never had
one, but Miss Minnie says it's the fashion."

"Oh, yes, a 'best man!'" explained his hostess, "but--the bridegroom
usually selects one of his intimate friends for that."

"I don't believe Mr. MacJacobs has any friends; round here, that is. He
came from Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, but he's never been there since he
was a boy. He's been in New Orleans, and then in Europe, as travelling
agent for MacVickar & Company. I suppose you've heard of _them_."

"I dare say I can find a best man."

"Thank you. You are very kind; yes, very kind indeed, I'm sure."

"I presume," interposed the host, in bland accents, "you wish to give
away the bride yourself?"

"Yes!" said Mr. Pickens, starting; "oh, yes, I suppose I can, if there's
not too much to do. Should I have to say anything?"

"Scarcely," replied the clergyman, reassuringly. "I ask a question to
which you are supposed to reply, but a nod will be quite sufficient. The
bridegroom is generally audible, and sometimes the bride, but I have
never heard a sound proceed from the bride's father."

"Very good--very good; it will be very pleasant to join in your service,
I am sure. Many thanks to you for your kind advice. I will now take my
leave," and after a jerking bow or two he departed, with a sort of
fluttering, bird-like step. The pastor laughed, but his wife looked
sober.

"Our friend is as amusing a specimen as I ever encountered," he began.

"Amusing! I call him disgusting, with his 'Miss Minnie 'and 'take his
leave.' He can't be a gentleman; there is something very suspicious
about the whole affair."

"Indeed! and what do you suspect?"

"I don't believe there's a wedding at all. Perhaps he's an impostor who
wants to get in here to steal."

"Do you miss anything?"

"No," said the lady, after a peep into her dining-room. "I can't say I
do. But he may come back on this pretended wedding business. Are you
sure that he really is Mr. Perley Pickens?"

"Why, yes. I have never spoken to him before, but I have seen him at the
post-office, opening his box, and again at the station. I cannot be
mistaken in that walk of his."

"Well, he may be the head of a gang of thieves, and have taken the house
and got up this scheme of a wedding for some end of his own."

"Such as what?"

"Why, to cheat somebody, somehow. I am sure you will never get a wedding
fee for it; and he may not pay any of the bills, and the people may
bother us."

"He gave me the name of his Boston bankers, May & Maxwell, to whom he
said I could refer the tradespeople, if they wished it, 'being a
stranger here himself,' as he justly remarked. But whom, my dear, do
you expect to provide for ushers or best man?"

"Oh, for ushers, the Crocker boys will do. They will be glad of
something to amuse them in vacation."

"Are they not rather young? Fred can hardly be eighteen yet."

"Well! he is six feet and over. One needn't tell his age; and as for
best man, I think William Winchester wouldn't mind it--to oblige me."

"But why, my love, since you are so distrustful, are you so anxious to
be of use in this matter?"

"Why!" echoed his wife, triumphantly; "it's the best way to encourage
them to go on, and then, don't you see? if they have any dishonest
designs, they'll be the sooner exposed; and then--I do want to see what
the end of it all will be--don't you?"

In pursuance of these ideas, Mrs. Reed, next afternoon, put on her best
bonnet, and went to call on the ladies of the Pickens family. The
gardens and shrubberies of the Maynard house, always beautiful, yet
showed already the want of the master's eye. The servant who opened the
door was of an inferior grade, and the drawing-room, stripped of Mrs.
Maynard's personal belongings, looked bare and cold. Mrs. Reed sat and
sighed for her old friend full quarter of an hour, before a pale, slim,
pretty girl, much dressed, and with carefully crimped locks, came in
with, "It's very kind in you to call. Aunt Delia's awfully sorry to keep
you waiting, but she'll be down directly."

"I am very glad to see you," said Mrs. Reed, looking with some attention
at the probable bride-elect.

"Aunt Delia was sitting in her dressing-sack. She generally does,
day-times. It's so much trouble to dress, she thinks. Now I think it's
something to do; there isn't much else, here."

"This is a lovely place. I always admire it afresh every time I come
here."

"It's lonesome; but then, it's pleasant enough for a little while. I
never care to stay long in any one place. I've lived in about a hundred
since I can recollect; and I wouldn't take a house in any one of 'em for
a gift, if I had to live in it."

"Perhaps you may feel differently when you have a house of your own."

"Well, that's one of the things Mr. MacJacobs and I quarrel about. I
want to board, and he wants to take a flat. I tell him I'll do that, if
he'll get one where we can dine at the table d'hote. That's about as
easy as boarding. As like as not, when we get settled, he'll have to go
off somewhere else; but if he is willing to pay for it himself, why, let
him! Here's Aunt Delia," she suddenly added, as a fresh rustle
announced the entrance of a stout lady, also very handsomely attired,
and carrying a large fan, which she waved to and fro, slowly but
steadily, gazing silently over it at her visitor, whom Minnie introduced
with some explanation, after which she remarked that it was "awfully
hot."

"It is warm; but I have not found it unpleasant. I really enjoyed my
walk here."

"Did you walk?" asked her hostess, with more interest.

"Oh, yes; it is not more than a mile here from the church; and the
parsonage is but a step farther."

"A mile!"

"I am very glad," said Mrs. Reed, well trained, as became her position,
in the art of filling gaps in talk, and striking out on new lines, "to
find you at home, and Miss--I beg your pardon, but I have not heard your
niece's name. Mr. Reed thought she was your daughter."

"Oh, Minnie isn't my niece!" exclaimed the hostess, laughing, as if
roused to some sense of amusement, which Minnie shared; "she's an
adopted daughter of Mr. Webb's second wife!"

"My name's Minnie Webb, though pa never approved of it, and when he
married again, we thought it would be easier to say Aunt Delia, to
distinguish her from ma, you know."

Mrs. Reed paused before these complicated relationships, and skilfully
executed another tack; "I hope you find it pleasant here."

"It's a pretty place here, but it's awful dull," said Mrs. Pickens, "and
it's so much trouble; I never kept house before. I've always boarded,
and mostly in hotels."

"I am afraid it may seem quiet here to a stranger," said Mrs. Reed,
apologetically. "You see when anyone takes a house here for the summer,
people are rather slow to call; they suppose that you have your own
friends visiting you, and that you don't care to make new acquaintances
for so short a time. I am sorry I have not been able to call before. I
was not sure that you went to our church."

"I don't go much to church; it is so much trouble. But Minnie says yours
is the prettiest for a wedding," said Mrs. Pickens, smiling so aimlessly
that it was impossible to suppose any rudeness intended. Mrs. Reed could
only try to draw out the more responsive Minnie. "Is there anything else
that I can do to help you about the wedding?"

"Why, yes--only, you've been so kind. I most hate to ask you for
anything more."

"Don't mention it!"

"Well, then, if you could think of any girl that would do for a
bridesmaid."

"A bridesmaid?"

"Oh, yes, there ought to be _one_ bridesmaid; a pretty one I should
want, of course, and just about my size. You see, I have her dress all
ready, for when I ordered my own gown in Paris, Madame Valerie showed me
the proper bridesmaid's gown to go with it, and it looked so nice I told
her I would take it. I thought, if the worst came to the worst, I could
wear it myself; but it would be a shame not to have it show at the
wedding. Of course," said Minnie, impressively, "I mean to _give_ the
young lady the dress--for her own, to keep!"

Mrs. Reed, at last, was struck fairly speechless, and her resources
failed. "Suppose," said the bride, in coaxing tones, "you just step up
and look at the gowns; if it would not be too much trouble."

The sight of the dresses was a mighty argument. At any rate, people with
such garments could be planning no vulgar burglary. It might be a
Gunpowder Treason, or an Assassination Plot, and that was romantic and
dignified, while at the same time it was a duty to keep it under
observation.

"I think," said Mrs. Reed, slowly, "I know a girl--a very pretty
one--who would just fit this dress."

"What's her name?"

"Muriel Blake."

"Oh, how sweet! I wish it was mine! Who is she?"

"She--she teaches school--but they're of very good family. She's very
pretty--but they're not at all well off. She's a very sweet girl." Mrs.
Reed balanced her phrases carefully, not knowing whether it would be
better to present her young friend in the light of a candidate for pity
or admiration. But Minnie smiled, and said she had no doubt it would do,
and that Mrs. Reed was very good; and even Mrs. Pickens wound herself up
to remark that it was very kind in her to take so much trouble.

Mrs. Reed hastened home overwhelmed with business. The Crocker boys were
easily persuaded to take the parts assigned them, and even her elegant
and experienced friend, William Winchester, though he made a favour of
his services, gave them at last, "wholly to oblige her."

"Any bridesmaids?" asked Reggie Crocker.

"She wants me to ask Muriel Blake."

"What, the little beauty of a school teacher! Well, there will be
sport!" cried his brother, and even William Winchester asked with some
interest, if she supposed Miss Blake would consent. "I think so," said
Mrs. Reed; but her hopes were faint as she bent her way to the little
house where Mrs. Blake, an invalid widow with scarce a penny, scraped
out a livelihood by taking the public-school teachers to board, while
her Muriel did half the housework, and taught, herself, in a primary
school, having neither time nor talents to fit herself for a higher
grade. Never was there a girl who better exemplified the old simile of
the clinging vine than she; only no support had ever offered itself for
her to cling to, and she had none of that instinctive skill which so
many creepers show in striking out for, and appropriating, an eligible
one. Mrs. Blake, a gentlewoman born and bred, gave at first a most
decided refusal to her daughter's appearance in the character proposed.
But Mrs. Reed, warming as she met with obstacles, pressed her point
hard. She said a great deal more in favour of the respectability of the
Pickenses than she could assert from her own knowledge, dwelt with
compassion on their loneliness, and touched, though lightly, on the
favour to herself; both ladies knowing but too well that the claims to
gratitude were past counting. Mrs. Blake faltered, perhaps moved
somewhat by a wistful look, which through all doubts and excuses, would
rise in her daughter's eyes. As for Muriel's own little childish
objections, they were swept away by her patroness like so many cobwebs.
There was a gown ready and waiting for her, and Mrs. Reed would arrange
about her absence from school.

"But, if I am bridesmaid, I ought to make her a present," she said at
last, "and I am afraid----"

"_That_ need not matter," said her mother, loftily, "I will give her one
of my India China plates. That will be present enough for anybody; and I
have several left."

This, Mrs. Reed correctly augured, was the preface to surrender; and she
walked Muriel off to call on Miss Webb, before any more objections
should arise.

"Well!" cried that young lady at the first sight of her bridesmaid,
"Well! I beg your pardon, but you _are_--" and even Mrs. Pickens
regarded the young girl with languid admiration. Muriel Blake's golden
curls, and azure eyes, and roseate bloom flashed on the eye much as does
a cardinal flower in a wayside brook. No one could help noticing her
charms; but no one had ever gone farther than to notice them, and they
were about as useful in her daily duties as diamonds on the handle of a
dustpan. Minnie looked at her rather doubtfully for a moment; but her
good humour returned during the pleasing task of arraying the girl in
her costume, and she even insisted on Miss Blake's assuming the bridal
dress herself.

"Well, I'm sure! What a bride you would make! You aren't engaged, are
you?"

"No."

"You ought to travel. You'd be sure to meet someone. Well, we'll take it
off. I'm glad I'm going to wear it, and not you. You look quite stunning
enough in the other."

"It is lovely--too handsome for me."

"I had a complete outfit made in Paris this spring, though I wasn't
engaged then; but I guessed I should be before the things went out of
fashion."

"You knew Mr. MacJacobs very well then?"

"No--oh, no. I'd never seen him. Ma was anxious I should marry a foreign
gentleman."

"Does your mother live abroad?"

"Yes--that is, she's not my real mother. I never knew who my real father
and mother were. Ma wanted to adopt a little girl, and, she took me from
the Orphan Asylum at Detroit, because I had such lovely curls. They were
as light as yours, then, but they've grown dark, since. Is there
anything you put on yours to keep the colour?"

"No--nothing."

"Well, pa was very angry when he found out what ma had done. He didn't
want to adopt a child; but ma said she would, and she could, because
she had money of her own. But he was always real kind to me. They were
both very nice, only they would quarrel. Well, when I was sixteen, ma
said she would take me abroad to finish my education. We'd travelled so
much, I never had much chance to go to school. Pa said it was nonsense,
but she would go. But I didn't go to school there, either. We went to
Germany to look at one we'd heard of, and there a German gentleman,
Baron Von Krugenstern, proposed to me. He thought I was going to be
awfully rich. But when he found out how things really were, and that ma
had the money, he changed about and proposed to her. They are so fond of
money, those foreigners, you know!"

"Did your father die while you were abroad?"

"Oh, dear, no! He wasn't dead! He was over here, all right. But ma got a
divorce from him without any trouble. She and I and the Baron came over
and went to Dakota, and it was all arranged, and they were married in
six weeks. She got it for cruelty. I could testify I'd seen him throw
things at her. She used to throw them back again, but no one asked me
about that. Well, pa never heard about it till it was all over, and then
he was awfully mad; but I guess he didn't mind much, for he soon married
Aunt Delia, and they always got along very pleasantly. I made them a
visit after they were married, and then I went abroad with ma and the
Baron. But pa told me if I wasn't happy there, I could come back any
time."

"Were you happy there?"

"No, I can't say I was. They lived in an awfully skimpy way, in a flat,
three flights up, and no elevator. Baron Von Krugenstern didn't like
ma's having brought me, till pa died, and that made a change. Pa left
half his money to Aunt Delia, and the other half to me. Now, don't you
call that noble of him?"

Muriel assented.

"As soon as they found that out, the whole family were awfully polite to
me; they wanted me to marry his younger brother, Baron Stanislaus. But I
wrote to Aunt Delia; she'd married Uncle Perley by that time, and come
to Europe for a wedding tour. They were in Paris; and Uncle Perley was
very kind, and sent back word for me to come to them, and I set off all
alone; all the Von Krugensterns thought it was perfectly dreadful. I
bought my trousseau in Paris, for I hadn't quite decided I wouldn't have
Baron Stanislaus, after all. But Uncle Perley advised me strongly
against it; he said American husbands were a great deal the best, and I
conclude he was right. And then, on the voyage home, we met Mr.
MacJacobs."

"I suppose you are very glad you came away?"

"Oh, yes, I am quite satisfied--quite. Baron Stanislaus was six feet
three and a half inches high; but I don't think height goes for so much
in a man; do you?"

Muriel looked at the little nomad with some wonder, but without the
reprobation which might have been expected from a young person carefully
brought up under the teachings of the Reverend Richard Reed. She rather
regarded Minnie in the aspect of--to quote the hymn familiar to her
childhood--"a gypsy baby, taught to roam, and steal her daily bread;"
and no matter how carefully guarded the infant mind, the experiences of
the gypsy will kindle a flame of interest. She, too, like Mrs. Reed,
felt eager to see the end of the story.

The wedding preparations went on apace. The tradesmen worked briskly,
for they had received information, on the application of some of the
doubting among them to Messrs. May & Maxwell, that Mr. Pickens's credit
was good for a million at least, not counting the very handsome banking
accounts of his two ladies. Miss Webb made all the arrangements for her
bridal, as Mr. MacJacobs could not come till the evening before.

"I only hope he'll come at all," carelessly suggested William
Winchester, one evening at the Parsonage.

"Why! do you think there is any danger of his giving it up?" cried Mrs.
Reed, in consternation.

"I rather begin to think that there is no such person. MacJacobs! What a
name! Can it possibly be real?"

"The name has a goodly ring of wealth about it," said the parson.
"Scotch and Hebrew! 'tis a rich combination, indeed! Still, if it were
as you suggest, it is a comfort to know that the remedy is at hand. You
have done so much for them, Emma, my dear, that you cannot fail them
now. They will ask you to find some nice young man for a bridegroom,
rather than have the whole thing fall through, and I hope William is
prepared to see it in the proper light, and offer his services 'purely
to oblige you.'"

"I shall have an answer ready," said William, coolly, "I shall say that
I am already bespoken."

"And can you produce the proof? It will have to be a pretty convincing
one."

"Perhaps in such an emergency I might find a _very_ convincing one,"
said William, with a glance at Muriel, who had been looking confused,
and who now coloured deeply. It was more with displeasure than distress;
but then it was, for the first time, that she struck him as being
something more than a merely pretty girl.

MacJacobs, came, punctual to his time, a small but sprightly individual,
with plenty to say as a proof of his existence. He brought neat, if not
over-expensive, scarf-pins for his gentlemen attendants, and a bracelet
in corresponding style for Miss Blake. The wedding went off to general
admiration. The church was full, and if the company at the house was
scanty, there was no scarcity in the banquet. And when the feast was
over, and Mrs. MacJacobs, on the carriage-step, turned to take her last
farewell; while Muriel's handkerchief was ready in her hand, and the
Crocker boys were fumbling among the rice in their pockets, and William
Winchester himself was feeling in his for the old shoe--"I am sure," she
said, "it has gone off beautifully, and I shall never, never forget your
kindness, as long as I live! I _did_ so want to have a pretty
wedding--such as I've read about!"

If these last words roused dismal forebodings in the minds of the bridal
train, to be verified by a perusal of the next day's Boston papers,
they were forgiven as soon as they were uttered; for the light patter of
Minnie's voice died away in a quaver of genuine feeling; and a shower of
real tears threw for once a veil of sweetness over her little
inexpressive face.

THE END.

[Illustration]



BY ANNA FULLER.


A LITERARY COURTSHIP.

    =Under the auspices of Pike's Peak.= Printed on deckel edged
    paper, with illustrations. 22nd edition. 12°, gilt top $1.25

"A delightful little love story. Like her other book it is bright and
breezy; its humor is crisp and the general idea decidedly original. It
is just the book to slip into the pocket for a journey, when one does
not care for a novel or serious reading."--_Boston Times._

A VENETIAN JUNE.

    Illustrated by George Sloane. Printed on deckel edged paper.
    7th edition. 12°, gilt top                             $1.25

"_A Venetian June_ bespeaks its materials by its title, and very full
the little story is of the picturesqueness, the novelty, the beauty, of
life in the city of gondolas and gondoliers--a strong and able work,
showing seriousness of motive and strength of touch."--_Literary World._

    A _Venetian June_ and _A Literary Courtship_ are also put up
    as a set in a box. 2 vols                              $2.50


PRATT PORTRAITS.

    =Sketched in a New England Suburb.= 10th edition. 16°, paper,
    50 cts.; cloth                                         $1.00

    New edition, illustrated by George Sloane. 8°          $2.00

"The lines the author cuts in her vignette are sharp and clear, but she
has, too, not alone the knack of color, but, what is rarer, the gift of
humor."--_New York Times._

PEAK AND PRAIRIE.

    =From a Colorado Sketch-book.= 3rd edition. 16°. With a
    frontispiece by Louis Loeb                             $1.00

"We may say that the jaded reader fagged with the strenuous art of the
passing hour, who chances to select this volume to cheer the hours, will
throw up his hat for sheer joy at having hit upon a book in which
morbidness and self-consciousness are conspicuous, by their
absence."--_New York Times._



THE HUDSON LIBRARY

_Registered as Second-Class Matter._

16°, paper, 50 cts.; 12°, cloth, $1.00 and $1.25.


I. =Love and Shawl-Straps.= By ANNETTE LUCILE NOBLE.

     "Decidedly a success."--_Boston Herald._

II. =Miss Hurd: An Enigma.= By ANNA KATHARINE GREEN.

     "Miss Hurd fulfils one's anticipations from start to finish.
     She keeps you in a state of suspense which is positively
     fascinating."--_Kansas Times._

III. =How Thankful was Bewitched.= By J. K. HOSMER.

     "A picturesque romance charmingly told. The interest is both
     historical and poetic."--_Independent._

IV. =A Woman of Impulse.= By JUSTIN HUNTLEY MCCARTHY.

     "It is a book well worth reading, charmingly written, and
     containing a most interesting collection of characters that
     are just like life...."--_Chicago Journal._

V. =Countess Bettina.= By CLINTON ROSS.

     "There is a charm in stories of this kind, free from
     sentimentality, and written only to entertain."--_Boston
     Times._

VI. =Her Majesty.= By ELIZABETH K. TOMPKINS.

     "It is written with a charming style, with grace and ease,
     and very pretty unexpected turns of expression."--DROCH, in
     _N. Y. Life_.

VII. =God Forsaken.= By FREDERIC BRETON.

     "A very clever book.... The characters are well and firmly
     drawn."--_Liverpool Mercury._

VIII. =An Island Princess.= By THEODORE GIFT.

     "A charming and often brilliant tale."--_Literary World._

IX. =Elizabeth's Pretenders.= By HAMILTON AÏDÉ.

     "It is a novel of character, of uncommon power and interest,
     wholesome, humorous, and sensible in every
     chapter."--_Bookman._

X. =At Tuxter's.= By G. B. BURGIN.

     "A very interesting story. The characters are particularly
     well drawn."--_Boston Times._

XI. =At Cherryfield Hall.= By FREDERIC H. BALFOUR (Ross George Deering).

     "This is a brilliantly-told tale, the constructive ingenuity
     and literary excellence of which entitle the author to a
     place of honor in the foremost rank of contemporary English
     romancists."--_London Telegraph._

XII. =The Crime of the Century.= By R. OTTOLENGUI.

     "It is one of the best-told stories of its kind we have
     read, and the reader will not be able to guess its ending
     easily."--_Boston Times._

XIII. =The Things that Matter.= By FRANCIS GRIBBLE.

     "A very amusing novel, full of bright satire directed
     against the New Woman and similar objects."--_London
     Speaker._

XIV. =The Heart of Life.= By W. H. MALLOCK.

     "Interesting, sometimes tender, and uniformly brilliant....
     People will read Mr. Mallock's 'Heart of Life,' for the
     extraordinary brilliance with which he tells his
     story."--_Daily Telegraph._

XV. =The Broken Ring.= By ELIZABETH K. TOMPKINS.

     "A romance of war and love in royal life, pleasantly written
     and cleverly composed for melodramatic effect in the
     end."--_Independent._

XVI. =The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason.= By MELVILLE D. POST.

     "This book is very entertaining and original ... ingeniously
     constructed ... well worth reading."--_N. Y. Herald._

XVII. =That Affair Next Door.= By ANNA KATHARINE GREEN.

     "The success of this is something almost unprecedented. Its
     startling ingenuity, sustained interest, and wonderful plot
     shows that the author's hand has not lost its
     cunning."--_Buffalo Inquirer._

XVIII. =In the Crucible.= By GRACE DENIO LITCHFIELD.

     "The reader will find in this book bright, breezy talk, and
     a more than ordinary insight into the possibilities of human
     character."--_Cambridge Tribune._

XIX. =Eyes Like the Sea.= By MAURUS JÓKAI.

     "A strikingly original and powerful story."--_London
     Speaker._

XX. =An Uncrowned King.= By S. C. GRIER.

     "Original and uncommonly interesting."--_Scotsman._

XXI. =The Professor's Dilemma.= By A. L. NOBLE.

     "A bright, entertaining novel ... fresh, piquant, and well
     told."--_Boston Transcript._

XXII. =The Ways of Life.= Two Stories. By MRS. OLIPHANT.

     "As a work of art we can praise the story without
     reserve."--_London Spectator._

XXIII. =The Man of the Family.= By CHRISTIAN REID.

     "A Southern story of romantic and thrilling
     interest."--_Boston Times._

XXIV. =Margot.= By SIDNEY PICKERING.

     "We have nothing but praise for this excellently written
     novel."--_Pall Mall Gazette._

XXV. =The Fall of the Sparrow.= By M. C. BALFOUR.

     "A book to be enjoyed ... of unlagging interest and original
     in conception."--_Boston Times._

XXVI. =Elementary Jane.= By RICHARD PRYCE.

     "A heartfelt, sincere, beautiful love story, told with
     infinite humor."--_Chicago Times-Herald._

XXVII. =The Man of Last Resort.= By MELVILLE D. POST.

     "The author makes a strong plea for moral responsibility in
     his work, and his vivid style and undeniable earnestness
     must carry great weight with all thinking readers. It is a
     notable book."--_Boston Times._

XXVIII. =The Confession of Stephen Whapshare.= By EMMA BROOKE.

     _In preparation:_

XXIX. =The Chase of an Heiress.= By CHRISTIAN REID.

XXX. =Lost Man's Lane.= By ANNA KATHARINE GREEN.



THE UNIVERSITY SERIES


I. =Harvard Stories.= Sketches of the Undergraduate. By W. K. POST.
Fifteenth edition. 12°, paper, 50 cts.; cloth, $1.00.

     "Not since the days of _Hammersmith_ have we had such a
     vivid picture of college life as Mr. W. K. Post has given us
     in this book. Unpretentious, in their style, the stories are
     mere sketches, yet withal the tone is so genuine, the local
     color so truly 'crimson,' as to make the book one of
     unfailing interest."--_Literary World._

II. =Pale Yarns.= By J. S. WOOD. Fifth edition. Illustrated, 12°, $1.00.

     "A bright, realistic picture of college life, told in an
     easy conversational, or descriptive style, and cannot fail
     to genuinely interest the reader who has the slightest
     appreciation of humor. The volume is illustrated and is just
     the book for an idle or a lonely hour."--_Los Angeles
     Times._

III. =The Babe, B.A.= Stories of Life at Cambridge University. By EDW
F. BENSON. Illustrated, 12°, $1.00.

     "The story tells of the every-day life of a young man called
     the Babe.... Cleverly written and one of the best this
     author has written."--_Leader_, New Haven.

IV. =A Princetonian.= A Story of Undergraduate Life at the College of
New Jersey. By JAMES BARNES. Illustrated, 12°, $1.25.

     "It is fresh, hearty, sensible, and readable, leaving a good
     impression of college life upon the mind."--_Baltimore Sun._


BY ANNA KATHARINE GREEN

=The Leavenworth Case.= A Lawyer's Story. 4°, paper, 20 cts.; 16°,
paper, 50 cts.; cloth, $1.00.

     "She has worked up a _cause celèbre_ with a fertility of
     device and ingenuity of treatment hardly second to Wilkie
     Collins or Edgar Allan Poe."--_Christian Union._

     ".... Told with a force and power that indicate great
     dramatic talent in the writer."--_St. Louis Post._

=Hand and Ring.= Popular edition. 4°, paper, 20 cts.; 16°, paper,
illustrated, 50 cts.; cloth, $1.00.

     "The best, most intricate, most perfectly constructed, and
     most fascinating detective story ever written."--_Utica
     Herald._

=Marked "Personal."= 16°, paper, 50 cts.; cloth, $1.00.

     "It is a tribute to the author's genius that she never tires
     and never loses her readers. It moves on, clean and healthy,
     and ends without raising images or making impressions which
     have to be forgotten."--_Boston Journal._

=That Affair Next Door.= Hudson Library, No. 17. Seventh edition. 12°,
paper, 50 cts.; cloth, $1.00.

     Other works by Anna Katharine Green are as follows: "A
     Strange Disappearance," "The Sword of Damocles," "The Mill
     Mystery," "Behind Closed Doors," "X. Y. Z.," "7 to 12," "The
     Old Stone House," "Cynthia Wakeham's Money," "The Doctor,
     His Wife, and the Clock," "Dr. Izard."

       *       *       *       *       *

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS, NEW YORK AND LONDON.





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