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Title: Potts's Painless Cure - 1898
Author: Bellamy, Edward
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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POTTS’S PAINLESS CURE

By Edward Bellamy

1898


“Must you go up to that tiresome old college again to-night?”

Pouting lips and delicate brows fretted in pretty importunity over the
troubled eyes enforced the pleading tones, and yet the young man to whom
they were addressed found strength to reply:--

“I ‘m afraid I can’t get rid of it. I particularly promised Sturgis I
would look in on him, and it won’t do for me to cut my acquaintance
with the class entirely just because I ‘m having such a jolly time down
here.”

“Oh, no, you don’t think it jolly at all, or you would n’t be so eager
to go away. I ‘m sure I must be very dull company.”

The hurt tone and pretended pique with which she said this were
assuredly all that was needed to make the _petite_ teaser irresistible.
But the young man replied, regarding her the while with an admiration in
which there was a singular expression of uneasiness:--

“Can’t, Annie, ‘pon honor. I ‘m engaged, and you know--

    “‘I could not love thee, dear, so much,
        Loved I not honor more!’”

And transferring her hand to his lips he loosed its soft, lingering
clasp and was gone, stopping at the gate to throw back a kiss to her as
she stood in the porch, by way of amends for his hasty parting.

“George Hunt, you ‘re an infernal scamp!”

These were the opprobrious words he muttered to himself as he passed out
of earshot. The beneficent common law does not condemn a man merely on
his own confession unless circumstances in evidence lend probability
to his self-accusation. Before we coincide in Mr. Hunt’s opinion of
himself, let us therefore inquire into the circumstances.

He was in the last term of senior year at ------ college. For the past
year he had been boarding at the Giffords’, and Annie and he had fallen
in love. The fall on his part had been quite voluntary and deliberate.
He had fallen in love because it was the correct thing for a young
collegian, engaged in the study of the humanities, to be in love, and
made him feel more like a man than smoking, drinking, or even sporting a
stove-pipe hat and cane. Vanity aside, it was very jolly to have a fine,
nice girl who thought no end of a fellow, to walk, talk, and sing with,
and to have in mind when one sang the college songs about love and wine
with the fellows. And it gave him also a very agreeable sense of
superior experience as he mingled in their discussions of women and the
tender passion.

But withal he was a conscientious, kind-hearted young fellow enough,
and had suffered occasional qualms of conscience when little words or
incidents had impressed him with the knowledge that Annie’s love for him
was a more serious matter than his for her. He felt that by insisting on
exchanging the pure gold of her earnest affection for the pinchbeck of
his passing fancy, she was making a rogue of him. He should be in no
position to marry for years, nor did he want to; and if he had wanted
to, though he felt terribly hard-hearted when he owned it to himself,
his feeling toward Annie was not quite so deep as to be a real wish
to marry her. As his last year in college approached its end, he had
thought more and more of these things, and had returned from his last
vacation determined to begin to draw gradually away from her, and
without any shock to bring their relations back to the footing of
friendship. The idea seemed a very plausible one, but it is scarcely
necessary to state that, living in the same house, and frequently alone
with her, it took about a week and a few dozen reproachful glances from
grieving eyes to melt this artificial ice with a freshet of affection,
and when, a couple of months later, he calmly reviewed the situation, he
found himself involved perceptibly deeper than ever, on account of the
attempt at extrication.

Only two or three weeks of the term remained, and it was too late to
repeat the unsuccessful experiment. He had tried his best and failed,
and nothing remained but to be as happy as possible with her in the
short time left. Then she must get over her disappointment as other
girls did in like cases. No doubt some woman would hurt his feelings
some day, and so make it square. He took much satisfaction in this
reflection. But such cynical philosophy did not lull his conscience,
which alternately inspired his manner with an unwonted demonstrativeness
and tenderness, and again made him so uncomfortable in her presence
that he was fain to tear himself away and escape from her sight on any
pretext. Her tender glances and confiding manner made him feel like a
brute, and when he kissed her he felt that it was the kiss of a Judas.
Such had been his feelings this evening, and such were the reflections
tersely summed up in that ejaculation,--“George Hunt, you ‘re an
infernal scamp!” On arriving at Sturgis’s room, he found it full of
tobacco smoke, and the usual crowd there, who hailed him vociferously.
For he was one of the most popular men in college, although for a year
or so he had been living outside the buildings. Several bottles stood on
the tables, but the fellows had as yet arrived only at the argumentative
stage of exhilaration, and it so happened that the subject under
discussion at once took Hunt’s close attention. Mathewson had been
reading the first volume of Goethe’s autobiography, and was indulging in
some strictures on his course in jilting Frederica and leaving the poor
girl heartbroken.

“But, man,” said Sturgis, “he didn’t want to marry her, and seeing
he didn’t, nothing could have been crueler to her, to say nothing of
himself, than to have done so.”

“Well, then,” said Mathewson, “why did he go and get her in love with
him?”

“Why, he took his risk and she hers, for the fun of the game. She
happened to be the one who paid for it, but it might just as well have
been he. Why, Mat, you must see yourself that for Goethe to have married
then would have knocked his art-life into a cocked hat. Your artist
has just two great foes,--laziness and matrimony. Each has slain
its thousands. Hitch Pegasus to a family cart and he can’t go off the
thoroughfare. He must stick to the ruts. I admit that a bad husband
may be a great artist; but for a good husband, an uxorious, contented
husband, there’s no chance at all.”

“You are neither of you right, as usual,” said little Potts, in his
oracular way.

When Potts first came to college, the fellows used to make no end of fun
of the air of superior and conclusive wisdom with which he assumed
to lay down the law on every question, this being the more laughable
because he was such a little chap. Potts did not pay the least attention
to the jeers, and finally the jeerers were constrained to admit that
if he did have an absurdly pretentious way of talking, his talk was
unusually well worth listening to, and the result was that they took him
at his own valuation, and, for the sake of hearing what he had to say,
quietly submitted to his assumption of authority as court of appeal.
So when he coolly declared both disputants wrong, they manifested no
resentment, but only an interest as to what he was going to say, while
the other fellows also looked up curiously.

“It would have been a big mistake for Goethe to have married her,”
 pursued Potts, in his deliberate monotone, “but he was n’t justified on
that account in breaking her heart. It was his business, having got her
in love with him, to get her out again and leave her where she was.”

“Get her out again?” demanded Mathewson. “How was he to do that?”

“Humph!” grunted Potts. “If you have n’t found it much easier to lose a
friend than to win one, you ‘re luckier than most. If you asked me how
he was to get her in love with him, I should have to scratch my head,
but the other thing is as easy as unraveling a stocking.”

“Well, but, Potts,” inquired Sturgis, with interest, “how could Goethe
have gone to work, for instance, to disgust Frederica with him?”

“Depends on the kind of girl. If she is one of your high-steppers as to
dignity and sense of honor, let him play mean and seem to do a few dirty
tricks. If she’s a stickler for manners and good taste, let him betray a
few traits of boorishness or Philistinism; or if she has a keen sense
of the ridiculous, let him make an ass of himself. I should say the
last would be the surest cure and leave least of a sore place in her
feelings, but it would be hardest on his vanity. Everybody knows that a
man would ‘rather seem a scamp than a fool.’”

“I don’t believe there’s a man in the world who would play the voluntary
fool to save any woman’s heart from breaking, though he might manage the
scamp,” remarked Mathewson. “And anyhow, Potts, I believe there ‘s no
girl who would n’t choose to be jilted outright, rather than be juggled
out of her affections that way.”

“No doubt she would say so, if you asked her,” replied the imperturbable
Potts. “A woman always prefers a nice sentimental sorrow to a fancy-free
state. But it isn’t best for her, and looking out for her good, you
must deprive her of it. Women are like children, you know, our natural
wards.”

This last sentiment impressed these beardless youths as a clincher,
and there was a pause. But Mathewson, who was rather strong on the
moralities, rallied with the objection that Potts’s plan would be
deceit.

“Well, now, that’s what I call cheeky,” replied its author, with a drawl
of astonishment. “I suppose it wasn’t deceit when you were prancing
around in your best clothes both literally and figuratively, trying to
bring your good points into such absurd prominence as to delude her into
the idea that you had no bad ones. Oh, no, it’s only deceit when you
appear worse than you are, not when you try to appear better. Strikes me
that when you ‘ye got a girl into a fix, it won’t do at that time of
day to plead your conscience as a reason for not getting her out of
it. Seeing that a man is generally ready to sacrifice his character in
reality to his own interests, he ought to be willing to sacrifice it in
appearance to another’s.”

Mathewson was squelched, but Sturgis came to his relief with the
suggestion:--

“Would n’t a little genuine heartache, which I take it is healthy
enough, if it is n’t pleasant, be better for her than the cynical
feeling, the disgust with human nature, which she would experience from
finding her ideal of excellence a scamp or a fool?”

The others seemed somewhat impressed, but Potts merely ejaculated,--

“Bosh!” Allowing a brief pause for this ejaculation to do its work
in demoralizing the opposition he proceeded. “Sturgis, you remember
‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ and how Titania, on the application of Puck’s
clarifying lotion to her eyes, perceives that in Bottom she has loved an
ass. Don’t you suppose Titania suffered a good deal from the loss of her
ideal?”

There was a general snicker at Sturgis’s expense.

“Well, now,” continued Potts gravely, “a woman who should fall in love
with one of us fellows and deem him a hero would be substantially in
Titania’s plight when she adored Bottom, and about as much an object
of pity when her hero disclosed an asininity which would be at least as
near to being his real character as the heroism she ascribed to him.”

“That ‘s all very well,” said Merril dryly, “but it strikes me that it’s
middling cheeky for you fellows to be discussing how you ‘ll jilt your
sweethearts with least expense to their feelings, when the chances are
that if you should ever get one, you ‘ll need all your wits to keep her
from jilting you.”

“You are, as usual, trivial and inconsequential this evening, Merril,”
 replied Potts, when the laughter had subsided. “Supposing, as you
suggest, that we shall be the jilted and not the jilters, it will be
certainly for our interest that the ladies should spare our feelings by
disenchanting us,--saying, as it were, the charm backward that first
charmed us. He who would teach the ladies the method and enlist their
tender hearts in its behalf would be, perhaps, the greatest benefactor
his much-jilted and heart-sore sex ever had. Then, indeed, with the
heart-breakers of both sexes pledged to so humane a practice, there
would be no more any such thing as sorrow over unrequited affections,
and the poets and novelists would beg their bread.”

“That is a millennial dream, Potts,” responded Merril. “You may possibly
persuade the men to make themselves disagreeable for pity’s sake, but it
is quite too much to expect that a woman would deliberately put herself
in an unbecoming light, if it were to save a world from its sins.”

“Perhaps it is,” said Potts pensively; “but considering what perfectly
inexhaustible resources of disagreeableness there are in the best of us
and the fairest of women, it seems a most gratuitous cruelty that any
heart should suffer when a very slight revelation would heal its hurt.
We can’t help people suffering because we are so faulty and imperfect,
but we might at least see that nobody ever had a pang from thinking us
better than we are.”

“Look at Hunt!” said Sturgis. “He does n’t open his mouth, but drinks in
Potts’s wisdom as eagerly as if he did n’t know it was a pump that never
stops.”

There was a general laugh among those who glanced up in time to catch
the expression of close attention on Hunt’s face.

“Probably he ‘s deliberating on the application of the Potts patent
painless cure to some recent victim of that yellow mustache and goatee,”
 suggested Merril, with the envy of a smooth-faced youth for one more
favored.

Hunt, whose face had sprung back like a steel-trap to its usual
indifferent expression, smiled nonchalantly at Merril’s remark. One
whose reticent habit makes his secrets so absolutely secure as Hunt’s
private affairs always were is stirred to amusement rather than
trepidation by random guesses which come near the truth.

“If I were situated as Merril flatteringly suggests, I should enjoy
nothing better than such an experiment,” he replied deliberately. “It
would be quite a novel sensation to revolutionize one’s ordinary rule of
conduct so as to make a point of seeming bad or stupid. There would be
as much psychology in it as in an extra term, at least. A man would find
out, for instance, how much there was in him besides personal vanity and
love of approbation. It would be a devilish small residue with most of
us, I fancy.”

The talk took a new turn, and the fun grew fast and furious around Hunt,
who sat puffing his pipe, absorbed in contemplation. At about half-past
nine, when things were getting hilarious, he beat a retreat, followed by
the reproaches of the fellows. He was determined to administer the first
dose of Potts’s painless cure to his interesting patient that very
evening, if she had not already retired. He was in high good humor.
Potts was a brick; Potts was a genius. How lucky that he had happened to
go up to college that night! He felt as if an incubus were lifted off
his mind. No more pangs of conscience and uncomfortable sense of being a
mean and cruel fellow, for him. Annie should be glad to be rid of him
before he had ended with her. She should experience a heartfelt relief,
instead of a broken heart, on his departure. He could n’t help
chuckling. He had such confidence in his nerve and his reticent habit
that his confidence and ability to carry out the scheme were undoubting,
and at its first suggestion he had felt almost as much relief as if he
had already executed it.

On arriving home, he found Annie sewing alone in the parlor, and a
little offish in manner by way of indicating her sense of his offense in
leaving her to spend the evening alone.

“Really, Annie,” he said, as he sat down and unfolded the evening paper,
“I try to give you all the time I can spare. If, instead of sulking,
you had taken a piece of paper and calculated how many hours this week
I have managed to give you my company, you would scarcely have felt like
repining because you could n’t see me for an hour or two this evening.”

That was the first gun of the campaign. She looked up in blank surprise,
too much astonished, for the moment, to be indignant at such a vulgarly
conceited remark from him. Without giving her time to speak, he proposed
to read the newspaper aloud, and at once began, making a point of
selecting the dullest editorials and the flattest items and witticisms,
enlivening them with occasional comments of studied insipidity, and
one or two stories, of which he carefully left out the “nubs.” He was
apparently making an unusual effort all the while to be entertaining,
and Annie, finding no opening for expressing her vexation, finally
excused herself and went upstairs, with no very angelic expression of
countenance.

“Pretty well for a beginning,” was Hunt’s muttered comment as he laid
down the paper.

At breakfast Mr. Gifford asked him:--

“Shall I give you some tongue?”

Looking around with the air of one saying a good thing, he replied:--

“Thank you, I have enough of my own.”

The silence was painful. Mr. Gifford looked as if he had lost a near
friend. Mrs. Gifford at length, remembering that Hunt was a guest,
forced a momentary, ghastly smile. Annie was looking melancholy enough
before, but a slight compression of the lips indicated that she had
received the full effect. Certain degrees of badness in jokes stamp the
joker as a natural inferior in the eyes of even the most rabid of social
levelers. Scarcely any possible exhibition of depravity gives quite
the sickening sense of disappointment in the perpetrator imparted by a
genuinely bad or stale joke. Two or more similar sensations coming near
together are multiplied by mutual reverberations so as to be much more
impressive than if they occurred at considerable intervals. Hunt’s
tongue joke not only retroacted to deepen the impression of vulgarity
which his last evening’s performance had given Annie, but in turn was
made to appear a far more significant indication of his character on
account of its sequence to that display.

That evening he made her a little present, having selected as a gift
a book of the day of which he had chanced to overhear her express to a
third person a particularly cordial detestation. It was decidedly the
best book of the year, he said; he had read it himself. She was obliged
to thank him for it, and even to tell one or two polite fibs, which
wrenched her terribly, and the memory of which lent a special spite to
the vehemence with which she threw the book into a corner on reaching
her room. Then she went remorsefully and picked it up again, and after
holding it awhile irresolutely, proceeded to hide it away in a far
corner of one of the least used drawers of her bureau.

Not sleeping very well that night, she came downstairs next morning
just as Hunt was leaving. He kissed his hand to her and called out
“Aw revore.” At first she was merely puzzled, and smiled, and then it
occurred to her that it was doubtless the barbarous way he pronounced
_au revoir_, and the smile gave place to an expression of slight nausea.
As Hunt well knew, her pet aversion was people who lugged mispronounced
French phrases into their conversation under the impression that they
imparted a piquant and graceful effect. It was a touch of vulgarity
which inspired her with a violent contempt absurdly disproportioned to
the gravity of the offense. It had always been a cherished theory of
hers that there were certain offenses in manners which were keys to
character. If persons committed them, it implied an essential strain of
vulgarity in their dispositions. Judged by this theory, where would her
lover come out?

Hunt managed to get into a political discussion with Mr. Gifford at
table that noon, talking in a rather supercilious tone, and purposely
making several bad blunders, which Mr. Gifford corrected rather
pointedly. Annie could not help observing that her lover’s conceit and
ignorance of the subjects discussed seemed about equal.

“How do you like your book?” he asked that evening.

She murmured something confusedly.

“Haven’t begun it yet?” he inquired in surprise. “Well, when once you
do, I ‘m sure you ‘ll not lay it down till it’s finished. And, by the
way, your judgment in literary matters is so good, I ‘d like to get
your opinion on the essay I ‘m getting up for Commencement. I think it’s
rather the best thing I ‘ve written.”

He proceeded to read what purported to be a sketch of its argument,
which proved to be so flat and vapid that Annie blushed with shame
for his mental poverty, and was fain to cover her chagrin with a few
meaningless comments.

Her mind was the theatre of a struggle between disgust and affection,
which may be called ghastly. Had he been openly wicked, she would have
known how to give a good account of all disloyal suggestions to desert
or forget him. But what could she do against such a cold, creeping
thing as this disgust and revulsion of taste, which, like the chills
of incipient fever, mingled with every rising pulse of tender feeling?
Finally, out of her desperation, she concluded that the fault must be
with her; that she was fickle, while he was true. She tried hard to
despise herself, and determined to fight down her growing coldness, and
reciprocate as it deserved the affection with which he was so lavish.
The result of these mental exercises was to impart a humility and
constrained cordiality to her air very opposite to its usual piquancy
and impulsiveness, and, by a sense of her own shortcomings, to distract
her mind from speculation, which she might otherwise have indulged, over
the sudden development of so many unpleasant qualities in her lover.
Though, indeed, had her speculations been never so active and ingenious,
the actual plan on which Hunt was proceeding would probably have lain
far beyond the horizon of her conjecture.

Meanwhile, Hunt was straitened for time; only eight or ten days of the
term were left, and in that time he must effect Annie’s cure, if at all.
A slow cure would be much more likely to prove a sure one, but he must
do the best he could in the time he had. And yet he did not dare
to multiply startling strokes, for fear of bewildering instead of
estranging her, and, possibly, of suggesting suspicion. Stimulated
by the emergency, he now began to put in some very fine work, which,
although it may not be very impressive in description, was probably more
effective than any other part of his tactics. Under guise of appearing
particularly attentive and devoted, he managed to offend Annie’s taste
and weary her patience in every way that ingenuity could suggest.
His very manifestations of affection were so associated with some
affectation or exhibition of bad taste, as always to leave an unpleasant
impression on her mind. He took as much pains to avoid saying tolerably
bright or sensible things in his conversation as people generally do
to say them. In all respects he just reversed the rules of conduct
suggested by the ordinary motive of a desire to ingratiate one’s self
with others.

And by virtue of a rather marked endowment of that delicate sympathy
with others’ tastes and feelings which underlies good manners, he
was able to make himself far more unendurable to Annie than a less
sympathetic person could have done. Evening after evening she went to
her room feeling as if she were covered with pin-pricks, from a score of
little offenses to her fastidious taste which he had managed to commit.
His thorough acquaintance with her, and knowledge of her aesthetic
standards in every respect, enabled him to operate with a perfect
precision that did not waste a stroke.

It must not be supposed that it was altogether without sharp twinges
of compunction, and occassional impulses to throw off his disguise and
enjoy the bliss of reconciliation, that he pursued this cold-blooded
policy. He never could have carried it so far, had he not been prepared
by a long and painful period of self-reproach on account of his
entanglement. It was, however, chiefly at the outset that he had felt
like weakening. As soon as she ceased to seem shocked or surprised at
his disclosures of insipidity or conceit, it became comparatively
easy work to make them. So true is it that it is the fear of the first
shocked surprise of others, rather than of their deliberate reprobation,
which often deters us from exhibitions of unworthiness.

In connection with this mental and moral masquerade, he adopted several
changes in his dress, buying some clothes of very glaring patterns, and
blossoming out in particularly gaudy neckties and flashy jewelry.
Lest Annie should be puzzled to account for such a sudden access
of depravity, he explained that his mother had been in the habit of
selecting some of his lighter toilet articles for him, but this term
he was trying for himself. Didn’t she think his taste was good? He also
slightly changed the cut of his hair and whiskers, to affect a foppish
air, his theory being that all these external alterations would help out
the effect of being a quite different person from the George Hunt with
whom she had fallen in love.

Lou Roberts was Annie’s confidante, older than she, much more dignified,
and of the reticent sort to which the mercurial and loquacious naturally
tend to reveal their secrets. She knew all that Annie knew, dreamed,
or hoped about Hunt; but had never happened to meet him, much to the
annoyance of Annie, who had longed inexpressibly for the time when Lou
should have seen him, and she herself be able to enjoy the luxury of
hearing his praises from her lips. One evening it chanced that Lou
called with a gentleman while Hunt had gone out to rest himself, after
some pretty arduous masquerading, by a little unconstrained intercourse
with the fellows up at college. As he returned home, at about half-past
nine, he heard voices through the open windows, and guessed who the
callers were.

As he entered the room, despite the disenchanting experiences of the
past week, it was with a certain pretty agitation that Annie rose to
introduce him, and she looked blank enough when, without waiting for her
offices, he bowed with a foppish air to Lou and murmured a salutation.

“What, are you acquainted already?” exclaimed Annie.

“I certainly did not know that we were,” said Lou coldly, not thinking
it possible that this flashily dressed youth, with such an enormous
watch-chain and insufferable manners, could be Annie’s hero.

“Ah, very likely not,” he replied carelessly, adding with an explanatory
smile that took in all the group: “Ladies’ faces are so much alike that,
‘pon my soul, unless there is something distinguished about them, I
don’t know whether I know them or not. I depend on them to tell me;
fortunately they never forget gentlemen.”

Miss Roberts’s face elongated into a freezing stare. Annie stood there
in a sort of stupor till Hunt said briskly:--

“Well, Annie, are you going to introduce this lady to me?”

As she almost inaudibly pronounced their names, he effusively extended
his hand, which was not taken, and exclaimed:--

“Lou Roberts! is it possible? Excuse me if I call you Lou. Annie talks
of you so much that I feel quite familiar.”

“Do you know, Miss Roberts,” he continued, seating himself close beside
her, “I ‘m quite prepared to like you?”

“Indeed!” was all that young lady could manage to articulate.

“Yes,” continued he, with the manner of one giving a flattering
reassurance, “Annie has told me so much in your favor that, if half is
true, we shall get on together excellently. Such girl friendships as
yours and hers are so charming.”

Miss Roberts glanced at Annie, and seeing that her face glowed with
embarrassment, smothered her indignation, and replied with a colorless
“Yes.”

“The only drawback,” continued Hunt, who manifestly thought he was
making himself very agreeable, “is that such bosom friends always tell
each other all their affairs, which of course involve the affairs of all
their friends also. Now I suppose,” he added, with a knowing grin and
something like a wink, “that what you don’t know about me is n’t worth
knowing.”

“You ought to know, certainly,” said Miss Roberts.

“Not that I blame you,” he went on, ignoring her sarcasm. “There’s no
confidence betrayed, for when I ‘m talking with a lady, I always
adapt my remarks to the ears of her next friend. It prevents
misunderstandings.”

Miss Roberts made no reply, and the silence attracted notice to the
pitiable little dribble of forced talk with which Annie was trying to
keep the other gentleman’s attention from the exhibition Hunt was making
of himself. The latter, after a pause long enough to intimate that he
thought it was Miss Roberts’s turn to say something, again took up the
conversation, as if bound to be entertaining at any cost.

“Annie and I were passing your house the other day. What a queer little
box it is! I should think you ‘d be annoyed by the howlings of that
church next door. The ------ are so noisy.”

“I am a ------ myself,” said Miss Roberts, regarding him crushingly.

Hunt, of course, knew that, and had advisedly selected her denomination
for his strictures. But he replied as if a little confused by his
blunder:--

“I beg your pardon. You don’t look like one.”

“How do they usually look?” she asked sharply.

“Why, it is generally understood that they are rather vulgar, I believe,
but you, I am sure, look like a person of culture.” He said this as if
he thought he were conveying a rather neat compliment. Indignant as she
was, Miss Roberts’s strongest feeling was compassion for Annie, and she
bit her lips and made no reply.

After a moment’s silence, Hunt asked her how she liked his goatee. It
was a new way of cutting his whiskers, and young ladies were generally
close observers and therefore good judges of such matters. Annie,
finding it impossible to keep up even the pretense of talking any
longer, sat helplessly staring at the floor, and waiting in nerveless
despair for what he would say next, fairly hating Lou because she did
not go.

“What’s come over you, Annie?” asked Hunt briskly. “Are you talked out
so soon? I suppose she is holding back to give you a chance to make my
acquaintance, Miss Roberts, or do let me call you Lou. You must improve
your opportunity, for she will want to know your opinion of me. May I
hope it will prove not wholly unfavorable?” This last was with a killing
smile.

“I had no idea it was so late. We must be going,” said Miss Roberts,
rising. She had been lingering, in the hope that something would happen
to leave a more pleasant impression of Hunt’s appearance, but seeing
that matters were drifting from bad to worse, she hastened to break
off the painful scene. Annie rose silently without saying a word, and
avoided Lou’s eyes as she kissed her good-by.

“Must you go?” Hunt said. “I ‘m sure you would not be in such haste if
you knew how rarely it is that my engagements leave me free to devote
an evening to the ladies. You might call on Annie a dozen times and not
meet me.”

As soon as the callers had gone, Hunt picked up the evening paper and
sat down to glance it over, remarking lightly as he did so:--

“Rather nice girl, your friend, though she does n’t seem very
talkative.”

Annie made no reply, and he looked up.

“What on earth are you staring at me in such an extraordinary manner
for?”

Was he then absolutely unconscious of the figure he had made of himself?

“You are not vexed because I went out and left you in the early part of
the evening?” he said anxiously.

“Oh, no, indeed,” she wearily replied.

She sat there with trembling lip and a red spot in each cheek, looking
at him as he read the paper unconcernedly, till she could bear it no
longer, and then silently rose and glided out of the room. Hunt heard
her running upstairs as fast as she could, and closing and locking her
chamber door.

Next day he did not see her till evening, when she was exceedingly cold
and distant, and evidently very much depressed. After bombarding her
with grieved and reproachful glances for some time, he came over to
her side, they two having been left alone, and said, with affectionate
raillery:--

“I ‘d no idea you were so susceptible to the green-eyed monster.”

She looked at him, astonished quite out of her reserve.

“What on earth do you mean?”

“Oh, you need n’t pretend to misunderstand,” he replied, with a knowing
nod. “Don’t you suppose I saw how vexed you were last night when your
dear friend Miss Roberts was trying to flirt with me? But you need n’t
have minded so much. She is n’t my style at all.”

There was something so perfectly maddening in this cool assumption that
her bitter chagrin on his account was a fond jealousy, that she fairly
choked with exasperation, and shook herself away from his caress as if
a snake had stung her. Her thin nostrils vibrated, her red lips trembled
with scorn, and her black eyes flashed ominously. He had only seen them
lighten with love before, and it was a very odd sensation to see
them for the first time blazing with anger, and that against himself.
Affecting an offended tone, he said:--

“This is really too absurd, Annie,” and left the room as if in a pet,
just in time to escape the outburst he knew was coming. She sat in the
parlor with firm-set lips till quite a late hour that evening, hoping
that he would come down and give her a chance to set him right with an
indignant explanation. So humiliating to her did his misunderstanding
seem, that it was intolerable he should retain it a moment longer, and
she felt almost desperate enough to go and knock at his door and correct
it. Far too clever a strategist to risk an encounter that evening,
he sat in his room comfortably smoking and attending to arrears
of correspondence, aware that he was supposed by her to be sulking
desperately all the while. He knew that her feeling was anger and not
grief, and while, had it been the latter, he would have been thoroughly
uncomfortable from sympathy, he only chuckled as he figured to himself
her indignation. At that very moment, she was undoubtedly clenching her
pretty little fists, and breathing fast with impotent wrath, in the room
below. Ah, well, let her heart lie in a pickle of good strong disgust
overnight, and it would strike in a good deal more effectually than if
she were allowed to clear her mind by an indignant explanation on the
spot.

The following day he bore himself toward her with the slightly distant
air of one who considers himself aggrieved, and attempted no approaches.
In the evening, which was her first opportunity, she came to him and
said in a tone in which, by this time, weariness and disgust had taken
the place of indignation:--

“You were absurdly mistaken in thinking that Miss Roberts was trying to
flirt.”

“Bless your dear, jealous heart!” interrupted Hunt laughingly, with an
air of patronizing affection. “I’d no idea you minded it so much. There,
there! Let’s not allude to this matter again. No, no! not another word!”
 he gayly insisted, putting his hand over her mouth as she was about to
make another effort to be heard.

He was determined not to hear anything, and she had to leave it so.
It was with surprise that she observed how indifferently she finally
acquiesced in being so cruelly misunderstood by him. In the deadened
state of her feelings, she was not then able to appreciate the entire
change in the nature of her sentiments which that indifference showed.
Love, though rooted in the past, depends upon the surrounding atmosphere
for the breath of continued life, and he had surrounded her with the
stifling vapors of disgust until her love had succumbed and withered.
She found that his exhibitions of conceit and insipidity did not affect
her in the same way as before. Her sensations were no longer sharp and
poignant, but chiefly a dull shame and sense of disgrace that she had
loved him. She met his attentions with a coldly passive manner, which
gave him the liveliest satisfaction. The cure was succeeding past all
expectation; but he had about time for one more stroke, which would make
a sure thing of it. He prepared the way by dropping hints that he had
been writing some verses of late; and finally, with the evident idea
that she would be flattered, gave out that his favorite theme was
her own charms, and that she might, perhaps, before long receive some
tributes from his muse. Her protests he laughed away as the affectations
of modesty.

Now Hunt had never actually written a line of verse in his life, and had
no intention of beginning. He was simply preparing a grand move. From
the poet’s corner of rural newspapers, and from comic collections, he
clipped several specimens of the crudest sort of sentimental trash in
rhyme. These he took to the local newspaper, and arranged for their
insertion at double advertising rates. A few days later, he bustled into
the parlor, smirking in his most odious manner, and, coming up to
Annie, thrust an open newspaper before her, marked in one corner to call
attention to several stanzas

     “Written for the ‘Express.’ To A--E G----D.”

With sinking of heart she took the paper, after ineffectually trying
to refuse it, and Hunt sat down before her with a supremely complacent
expression, to await her verdict. With a faint hope that the verses
might prove tolerable, she glanced down the lines. It is enough to say
that they were the very worst which Hunt, after great industry, had been
able to find; and there he was waiting, just the other side the paper,
in a glow of expectant vanity, to receive her acknowledgments.

“Well, what do you think of it? You need n’t try to hide your blushes.
You deserve every word of it, you know, Miss Modesty,” he said gayly.

“It’s very nice,” replied Annie, making a desperate effort.

“I thought you ‘d like it,” he said, with self-satisfied assurance.
“It’s queer that a fellow can’t lay on the praise too thick to please a
woman. By the way, I sent around a copy to Miss Roberts, signed with my
initials. I thought you ‘d like to have her see it.”

This last remark he called out after her as she was leaving the
room, and he was not mistaken in fancying that it would complete her
demoralization. During the next week or two he several times brought her
copies of the local paper containing equally execrable effusions, till
finally she mustered courage to tell him that she would rather he would
not publish any more verses about her. He seemed rather hurt at this,
but respected her feelings, and after that she used to find, hid in her
books and music, manuscript sonnets which he had laboriously copied out
of his comic collections. It was considerable trouble, but on the
whole he was inclined to think it paid, and it did, especially when he
culminated by fitting music to several of the most mawkish effusions,
and insisting on her playing and singing them to him. As the poor girl,
who felt that out of common politeness she could not refuse, toiled
wearily through this martyrdom, writhing with secret disgust at every
line, Hunt, lolling in an easy-chair behind her, was generally indulging
in a series of horrible grimaces and convulsions of silent laughter,
which sometimes left tears in his eyes,--to convince Annie, when she
turned around to him, that his sentiment was at least genuine if vulgar.
Had she happened on one of these occasions to turn a moment before she
did, the resulting tableau would have been worth seeing.

Hunt had determined to both crown and crucially test the triumph of
Potts’s cure in Annie’s case by formally offering himself to her. He
calculated of course that she was now certain to reject him, and that
was a satisfaction which he thought he fairly owed her. She would feel
better for it, he argued, and be more absolutely sure not to regard
herself as in any sense jilted, and that would make his conscience
clearer. Yes, she should certainly have his scalp to hang at her girdle,
for he believed, as many do, that next to having a man’s heart a woman
enjoys having his scalp, while many prefer it. Six weeks ago he would
have been horrified at the audacity of the idea. His utmost ambition
then was to break a little the force of her disappointment at his
departure. But the unexpected fortune that had attended his efforts had
advanced his standard of success, until nothing would now satisfy him
but to pop the question and be refused.

And still, as the day approached which he had set for the desperate
venture, he began to get very nervous. He thought he had a sure thing if
ever a fellow had, but women were so cursedly unaccountable. Supposing
she should take it into her head to accept him! No logic could take
account of a woman’s whimsies. Then what a pretty fix he would have got
himself into, just by a foolhardy freak! But there was a strain of Norse
blood in Hunt, and in spite of occasional touches of ague, the risk of
the scheme had in itself a certain fascination for him. And yet he
could n’t help wishing he had carried out a dozen desperate devices for
disgusting her with him, which at the time had seemed to him too gross
to be safe from suspicion.

The trouble was that since he loved her no more he had lost the insight
which love only gives into the feelings of another. Then her every touch
and look and word was eloquent to his senses as to the precise state
of her feeling toward him, but now he was dull and insensitive to such
direct intuition. He could not longer feel, but could only argue as to
how she might be minded toward him, and this it was which caused him so
much trepidation, in spite of so many reasons why he should be confident
of the result. Argument as to another’s feelings is such a wretched
substitute for the intuition of sympathy.

Finally, on the evening before the day on which he was to offer himself,
the last of his stay at the Giffords’, he got into such a panic that,
determined to clinch the assurance of his safety, he asked her to play
a game of cards, and then managed that she should see him cheat two or
three times. The recollection of the cold disgust on her face as he bade
her good-evening was so reassuring that he went to bed and slept like a
child, in the implicit confidence that four horses could n’t drag that
girl into an engagement with him the next day.

It was not till the latter part of the afternoon that he could catch
her alone long enough to transact his little business with her.
Anticipating, or at least apprehending his design, she took the greatest
pains to avoid meeting him, or to have her mother with her when she did.
She would have given almost anything to escape his offer. Of course she
could reject it, but fastidious persons do not like to have unpleasant
objects put on their plates, even if they have not necessarily to eat
them. But her special reason was that the scene would freshly bring up
and emphasize the whole wretched history of her former infatuation and
its miserable ending,--an experience every thought of which was full
of shame and strong desire for the cleansing of forgetfulness. He
finally cornered her in the parlor alone. As she saw him approaching
and realized that there was no escape, she turned and faced him with her
small figure drawn to its full height, compressed lips, pale face, and
eyes that plainly said, “Now have it over with as soon as possible.” One
hand resting on the table was clenched over a book. The other, hanging
by her side, tightly grasped a handkerchief.

“Do you know I ‘ve been trying to get a chance to speak with you alone
all day?” he said.

“Have you?” she replied in a perfectly inexpressive tone.

“Can’t you guess what I wanted to say?”

“I ‘m not good at conundrums.”

“I see you will not help me,” he went on, and then added quickly, “it’s
a short story; will you be my wife?”

As he said the words, he felt as the lion-tamer does when he puts his
head in the lion’s jaws. He expects to take it out again, but if the
lion should take a notion--His suspense was, however, of the shortest
possible duration, for instantly, like a reviving sprinkle on a fainting
face, the words fell on his ear:--

“I thank you for the honor, but I ‘m sure we are not suited.”

Annie had conned her answer on many a sleepless pillow, and had it by
heart. It came so glibly, although in such a constrained and agitated
voice, that he instantly knew it must have been long cut and dried.

It was now only left for him to do a decent amount of urging, and then
acquiesce with dignified melancholy and go off laughing in his sleeve.
What is he thinking of to stand there gazing at her downcast face as if
he were daft?

A strange thing had happened to him. The sweet familiarity of each
detail in the _petite_ figure before him was impressing his mind as
never before, now that he had achieved his purpose of putting it beyond
the possibility of his own possession. The little hands he had held so
often in the old days, conning each curve and dimple, reckoning them
more his hands than were his own, and far more dearly so; the wavy hair
he had kissed so fondly and delighted to touch; the deep dark eyes under
their long lashes, like forest lakes seen through environing thickets,
eyes that he had found his home in through so long and happy a time,--
why, they were his! Of course he had never meant to really forfeit
them, to lose them, and let them go to anybody else. The idea was
preposterous,--was laughable. It was indeed the first time it had
occurred to him in that light. He had only thought of her as losing him;
scarcely at all of himself as losing her. During the whole time he
had been putting himself in her place so constantly that he had failed
sufficiently to fully canvass the situation from his own point of view.
Wholly absorbed in estranging her from him, he had done nothing to
estrange himself from her.

It was rather with astonishment and even an appreciation of the absurd,
than any serious apprehension, that he now suddenly saw how he had
stultified himself, and come near doing himself a fatal injury. For
knowing that her present estrangement was wholly his work, it did not
occur to him but that he could undo it as easily as he had done it. A
word would serve the purpose and make it all right again. Indeed, his
revulsion of feeling so altered the aspect of everything that he quite
forgot that any explanation at all was necessary, and, after gazing
at her for a few moments while his eyes, wet with a tenderness new and
deliciously sweet, roved fondly from her head to her little slipper,
doating on each feature, he just put out his arms to take her with some
old familiar phrase of love on his lips.

She sprang away, her eye flashing with anger.

He looked so much taken aback and discomfited that she paused in mere
wonder, as she was about to rush from the room.

“Annie, what does this mean?” he stammered. “Oh, yes,--why,--my
darling, don’t you know,--did n’t you guess,--it was all a joke,--
a stupid joke? I ‘ve just been pretending.”

It was not a very lucid explanation, but she understood, though only to
be plunged in greater amazement.

“But what for?” she murmured.

“I did n’t know I loved you,” he said slowly, as if recalling with
difficulty, and from a great distance, his motives, “and I thought it
was kind to cure you of your love for me by pretending to be a fool.
I think I must have been crazy, don’t you?” and he smiled in a dazed,
deprecating way.

Her face from being very pale began to flush. First a red spot started
out in either cheek; then they spread till they covered the cheeks; next
her forehead took a roseate hue, and down her neck the tide of color
rushed, and she stood there before him a glowing statue of outraged
womanhood, while in the midst her eyes sparkled with scorn.

“You wanted to cure me,” she said at last, in slow, concentrated tones,
“and you have succeeded. You have insulted me as no woman was ever
insulted before.”

She paused as if to control herself; for her voice trembled with
the last words. She shivered, and her bosom heaved once or twice
convulsively. Her features quivered; scorching tears of shame rushed to
her eyes, and she burst out hysterically:--

“For pity’s sake never let me see you again!”

And then he found himself alone.





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