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Title: A Strange, Sad Comedy
Author: Seawell, Molly Elliot
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Strange, Sad Comedy" ***


A STRANGE, SAD COMEDY



[Illustration]



  A STRANGE, SAD COMEDY

  BY

  MOLLY ELLIOT SEAWELL

  AUTHOR OF “THE SPRIGHTLY ROMANCE OF MARSAC,” “CHILDREN OF
  DESTINY,” “MAID MARIAN AND OTHER STORIES”
  “LITTLE JARVIS,” ETC.

  [Illustration]

  NEW YORK
  THE CENTURY CO.
  1896



  Copyright, 1892, by
  GODEY PUBLISHING CO.

  Copyright, 1896, by
  THE CENTURY CO.

  _All rights reserved_


  THE DE VINNE PRESS.



A STRANGE, SAD COMEDY



A STRANGE, SAD COMEDY



I


One sunny November day, in 1864, Colonel Archibald Corbin sat placidly
reading “The Spectator” in the shabby old library at Corbin Hall, in
Virginia. The Colonel had a fine, pale old face, clean shaven, except
for a bristly, white mustache, and his white hair, which was rather
long, was combed back in the fashion of the days when Bulwer’s heroes
set the style for hair-dressing. The Colonel--who was no more a colonel
than he was a cheese-box--had an invincible placidity, which could not
be disturbed by wars or rumors of wars. He had come into the world in a
calm and judicial frame of mind, and meant to go through it and out of
it calmly and judicially, in spite of rude shocks and upheavals.

Everything about Colonel Corbin had reached the stage of genteel
shabbiness--a shabbiness which is the exclusive mark of gentlemen. His
dignified frock-coat was white about the seams with much brushing, and
the tall, old-fashioned “stock” which supported his chin was neatly
but obviously mended. The furniture in the room was as archaic as the
Colonel’s coat and stock. A square of rag carpet covered the floor;
there had been a Brussels carpet once, but that had long since gone to
the hospital at Richmond--and the knob of the Colonel’s gold-headed
cane had gone into the collection-plate at church some months before.
For, as the Colonel said, with a sort of grandiose modesty--“I can give
but little, sir, in these disjointed times. But when I do give, I give
like a gentleman, sir.”

There had been a time, not long before that, when he had been compelled
to “realize,” as the Virginians euphemistically express it, upon
something that could be converted into cash. This was when it became
necessary to bring the body of his only son, who had been killed
early in the war, back to Corbin Hall--and likewise to bring the dead
man’s twelve-year-old daughter from the far South, where her mother
had quickly followed her father across the gulf. Even in that sad
extremity, the Colonel had never dreamed of “realizing” on the great
piles of silver plate, which would, in those times, have commanded
instant sale. The Corbins, who were perfectly satisfied to have their
dining-room furnished with some scanty horsehair sofas and a few
rickety chairs and tables, had a fancy for loading down rude cupboards
with enough plate for a great establishment, according to a provincial
fashion in Virginia. But instead of this, the Colonel sacrificed a
fine threshing-machine and some of his best stock without a qualm. The
Colonel had borne all this, and much more,--and the rare, salt tears
had worn little furrows in his cheeks,--but he was still calm, still
composed, under all circumstances.

The sun had just marked twelve o’clock on the old sun-dial in the
garden, when the Colonel, happening to glance up, saw Aunt Tulip,
the dairymaid, streaking past the window, with her petticoat over
her head, followed by Nancy, the scullion, by little Patsy Jane, who
picked up chips for the kitchen fire, by Tom Battercake, whose mission
in life was indicated by his name,--the bringing in of battercakes
being an important part of life in Virginia,--and by Juba, who was
just beginning his apprenticeship by carrying relays of the eternal
battercakes from the kitchen to the dining-room. And the next moment,
Miss Jemima, the Colonel’s sister and double, actually danced into the
room with her gray curls flying, and gasped, “Brother, the Yankees are
coming!”

“Are they, my dear Jemima?” remarked the Colonel, rising. “Then we must
prepare to meet them with all the dignity and composure possible.” As
the Colonel opened the door, his own man, Dad Davy, nearly ran over
him, blurting out the startling news, “Marse, de Yankees is comin’!”
and the same information was screeched at him by every negro, big and
little, on the plantation who had known it in time to make a bee-line
for the house.

“Disperse to your usual occupations,” cried the Colonel, waving his
hand majestically. The negroes dispersed, not to their business, but
with the African’s natural love of a sensation to spread the alarm all
over the place. By the time it got to the “quarters,”--the houses of
the field-hands, farthest away from “de gret house,”--it was reported
that Dad Davy had told Tom Battercake that he saw Aunt Tulip “runnin’
outen de gret house, and the Yankees wuz hol’in er pistol at ole Marse’
hade, and Miss Jemima, she wuz havin’ er fit with nobody but little
Patsy Jane,” etc., etc., etc. What really happened was, the Colonel
walked calmly out in the hall, urging Miss Jemima to be composed.

“My dear Jemima, do not become agitated. David, you are an old fool.
Thomas Battercake, proceed to your usual employment at this time of
day, cleaning the knives, or whatever it is. Would you have these
Yankee miscreants to think us a body of Bedlamites?”

Just then, down the stairs came running pretty little twelve-year-old
Letty, his granddaughter. Letty seized his veined and nervous hand in
her two pink palms, and expressed a willingness to die on the spot for
him.

The Colonel marched solemnly out on the porch, and by that time, what
seemed to him an army of blue-coats was dashing across the lawn. A
lieutenant swung himself off his horse, and, coming up the steps,
demanded the keys of the barn, in a brogue that could be cut with a
knife.

“No, sir,” said the Colonel, firmly, his gray hair moved slightly by
the autumn wind, “you may break open my barn-door, but I decline to
surrender the keys.”

The lieutenant, at that, struck a match against the steps, and a
little point of flame was seen among the withered tendrils of the
Virginia creeper that clung to the wooden pillars of the porch.

“Now, will you give up those keys, you obstinate ould ribil?” asked the
lieutenant, fiercely.

“No!” responded the Colonel, quite unmoved. “The term that you apply to
me is the one that was borne with honor by the Father of his country.
Moreover, from your accent, which I may be permitted to observe, sir,
is grotesque to the last degree, I surmise that you yourself may be a
rebel to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, for certainly there is nothing
American about you.”

At this, a general snicker went around among the enemy, for discipline
was not very well observed between officers and men in those days.
Then, half a dozen cavalrymen dropped off their horses and made for the
well, whence they returned in a twinkling with water to put out the
fire that had begun to crackle ominously. The Colonel had not turned a
hair, although Miss Jemima behind him and Letty had clung together with
a faint cry.

The lieutenant rode off in the direction of the barn, ordering most of
the men to follow him. Wagons were then seen coming down the lane, and
going toward the barn to cart off the Colonel’s corn and wheat. The
sympathies of those who were left behind were plainly with the Colonel.
Especially was this so with a tall, lanky, grizzled sergeant, who had
been the first man to put out the fire.

“I am much obliged to you, my good man,” said Colonel Corbin, loftily,
“for your efforts in extinguishing the flames started by that person,
who appears to be in command.”

“You’re welcome,” answered the lanky sergeant, with the easy
familiarity of the rural New-Englander.

The lieutenant had showed unmistakably the bullying resentment of a
peasant brought face to face with a gentleman, but the lanky sergeant
indirectly felt some subtile sympathy with a spirit as independent as
his own.

“I am glad, brother,” said Miss Jemima, “that these men who are left
to guard us are plainly Americans. They will be more humane than
foreigners.”

“Vastly more so,” answered the Colonel, calmly watching the loading of
his crops upon the wagons in the distance. “There is, particularly in
New England, a sturdy yeomanry, such as our friend here belongs to,”
indicating the sergeant, “which really represents an admirable type of
man.”

“Gosh,” exclaimed the sergeant, in admiration, “it’s the durndest,
gamest thing I ever see, you standin’ up here as cool as a cucumber,
when your property’s bein’ took. I kin stand fire; my grandfather, he
fought at Lexington, and he didn’t flunk nuther, and I ain’t flunked
much. But I swan, if you Johnny Rebs was a-cartin’ off my hay and
stuff, I’d be a deal more excited ’n you are. And my old woman--gosh t’
almighty!”

The lanky sergeant seemed completely staggered by the contemplation of
the old woman’s probable behavior upon such an occasion.

“There are other things, my friend,” answered the Colonel, putting his
hands under his coat-tails and turning his back upon the barn in the
distance, “which are of more consequence, I opine, than hay and corn.
That, I think, the most limited intelligence will admit.”

“That’s so,” responded the lanky sergeant, “I kin do a sight better
keepin’ bees up in Vermont than down here in Virginny fightin’ the
rebs for eighteen dollars a month, but when Uncle Abe called for
seventy-five thousand men I couldn’t a-kep’ them bees another day,
not if I had been makin’ two hundred dollars a month at it. When I
heard ’bout it, I kem in, and I said to the old woman: ‘I’ve got a
call,’ and she screeched out, ‘A call to git converted, Silas?’--the
old woman’s powerful religious,--and I says, ‘No, Sary--a call to go
and fight for the Flag.’ And when we talked it over, and remembered
about my grandfather,--he lived to be selectman,--the old woman says,
‘Silas, you are a miser’bul man, and you’ll git killed in your sins,
and no insurance on your life, and it’ll take all I kin rake and scrape
to bring your body home, but mebbe it’s your duty to fight for your
country.’ And she said I might come, and here I am, and the bees is
goin’ to thunder.”

“Unfortunately for me, sir,” said the Colonel, with a faint smile, but
with unabated politeness. “However, I wish to say that you are pursuing
your humble but unpleasant duty in a most gentlemanlike manner. For,
look you, the term gentleman is comprehensive. It includes not only
a man who has had the advantages of birth and station,--advantages
which I may, with all modesty, claim, as enjoying them without any
merit of my own,--but a man like yourself, of honorable, though humble
parentage, who possesses a sturdy independence of spirit to which, I
may say, my friend with the violent brogue is a stranger.”

The lanky sergeant, who had a dry, Puritanical humor of his own, was
immensely tickled at this, and, at the same time, profoundly respectful
of a man who could enter into disquisitions respecting what constituted
a gentleman while his goods were being confiscated under his very nose.

“I tell you what,” said he, becoming quite friendly and confidential
with the Colonel, “there’s a fellow with our command,--an
Englishman,--and he’s got the same name as yours--Corbin--only he’s got
a handle to it. He is Sir Archibald Corbin, and I never see a young man
so like an old one as he is like you. He just seems to me to be your
very image. He ain’t reg’larly attached nor nothin’; he’s just one of
them aide’campers. He might be your son. Hain’t you got any son?”

At this, little Miss Letty, who had kept in the background clinging to
Miss Jemima, came forward, and the Colonel put one arm around her.

“I had a son,--a noble son,--but he laid down his life in defense of
his State, and this is his orphan child,” said he.

The lanky sergeant took off his cap and made a bow.

“And I’ll be bound,” he said, with infinite respect in his awkwardly
familiar manner, “that your son was true grit.” He stopped and hunted
about in his mind for a title to bestow upon the Colonel superior
to the one he had, and finally hit upon “Judge,” to which title the
Colonel was as much entitled as the one he bore.

“Judge, I don’t believe you’d turn a hair if there was a hundred pieces
of artillery trained on you. I believe you’d just go on talkin’ in
this ’ere highflown way, without kerin’ about anything except your
dignity. And if your son was like you, he didn’t have no skeer in him
at all, General.” By this time the sergeant had concluded that the old
gentleman deserved promotion even from the title of Judge.

The Colonel inclined his head, a slight flush creeping into his wan
face.

“You do me honor,” he said, “but you do my son only justice.”

By this time the wagons had been loaded up and were being driven off.
The scared negroes that had flocked about the house from all over the
plantation were peering, with ashy faces, around the corners and over
the garden fence. The men were ordered to fall in, the lieutenant
giving his orders at a considerable distance, and in his involuntary
and marked brogue. The lanky sergeant and the few men with him mounted,
and then all of them, simultaneously, took off their caps.

“Three cheers for the old game-cock!” cried the lanky sergeant
enthusiastically. The cheers were given with a will and with a grin.
The Colonel bowed profoundly, smiling all the time.

“This is truly grotesque,” he said. “You have just appropriated all
of my last year’s crops, and now you are assuring me of your personal
respect. For the last, I thank you,” and so, with cheering and
laughter, they rode off, leaving the Colonel with his self-respect
unimpaired, but minus several hundred bushels of corn and wheat. The
negroes gradually quieted down, and the Colonel and Miss Jemima and
little Miss Letty retired to the library. The Colonel took down his
family tree, and began gravely to study that perennially entertaining
document in order to place the Corbin who was serving as aide-de-camp
in the Union army. Miss Jemima, too, was deeply interested, and
remarked sagely:

“He is no doubt a great-grandson of Admiral Sir Archibald Corbin, who
adhered to the royal cause and was afterward made a baronet by George
III.”

At that very moment, the Colonel hit upon him.

“That is he, my dear Jemima. General Sir George Corbin, grandson of
the admiral and son of Sir Archibald Corbin, second, married to the
Honorable Evelyn Guilford-Hope, has one son and heir, Archibald, born
May 18, 1842. His father must be dead, and he has but little more
than reached his majority. Sister, if he were not in the Federal
army, I should be most happy to greet him as a kinsman. But I own to
an adamantine prejudice toward strangers who dare to meddle in civil
broils.”

So had Miss Jemima, of course, who regarded the Colonel’s prejudices as
direct inspirations from on high.

The very next week after the visitation of the Federal cavalry came
a descent upon the part of a squad of Confederate troopers. As the
Colonel and Miss Jemima entertained the commanding officers in the
library, with the most elaborate courtesy and home-made wine, the
shrill quacking and squawking of the ducks and chickens was painfully
audible as the hungry troopers chased and captured them. The Colonel
and Miss Jemima, though, were perfectly deaf to the clamor made by the
poultry as their necks were wrung, and when a cavalryman rode past the
window with one of Miss Jemima’s pet bronze turkeys hanging from his
saddle-bow and gobbling wildly, Miss Jemima only gave a faint sigh,
and looked very hard at little Miss Letty, who was about to shriek a
protest against such cruelty. Even next morning she made not a single
inquiry as to the startling deficit in the poultry yard. And when Aunt
Tulip began to grumble something about “dem po’ white trash dat cum ter
a gent’mun’ house, an’ cornfuscate he tu’keys settin’ on the nes’,”
Miss Jemima shut her up promptly.

“Not a word, not a word, Tulip. Confederate officers are welcome to
anything at Corbin Hall.”

A few nights after that, the Colonel sat in the library looking at
the hickory fire that danced up the chimney and shone on the polished
floor, and turned little Letty’s yellow hair into burnished gold.
Suddenly a terrific knocking resounded at the door.

In those strange times people’s hearts sometimes stood still when there
was a clamor for entrance; but the Colonel’s brave old heart went on
beating placidly. Not so Dad Davy’s, who, with a negro’s propensity to
get up an excitement about everything, exclaimed solemnly:

“D’yar dee come to bu’n de house over we all’s hades. I done dream lars
night ’bout a ole h’yar cotch hade fo’mos’ in er trap, an’ dat’s a sho’
sign o’ trouble and distrus’fulness.”

“David,” remarked the Colonel, according to custom, “you are a fool. Go
and open the hall door.”

Dad Davy hobbled toward the door and opened it. It was about dusk
on an autumn night, and there was a weird half-light upon the weedy
lawn, and the clumps of gnarled acacias, and the overgrown carriage
drive of pounded oyster-shells. Nor was there any light in the large,
low-pitched hall, with its hard mahogany sofa, and the walls ornamented
with riding-whips and old spurs. A tall and stalwart figure stood
before the door, and a voice out of the darkness asked:

“Is this the house of Mr. Archibald Corbin, and is he at home?”

The sound of that voice seemed to paralyze Dad Davy.

“Lord A’mighty,” he gasped, “’tis Marse Archy’s voice. Look a heah, is
you--is you a _ha’nt?_”[1]

“A what?”

But without waiting for an answer Dad Davy scurried off for a moment
and returned with a tallow candle in a tall silver candlestick. As
he appeared, shading the candle with one dusky hand, and rolling two
great eyeballs at the newcomer, he was handed a visiting card. This
further mystified him, as he had never seen such an implement in his
life before; he gazed with a fixed and frightened gaze at the young
man before him, and his skin gradually turned the ashy hue that terror
produces in a negro.

“Hi, hi,” he spluttered, “you is de spit and image o’ my young Marse,
that was kilt long o’ dis lars’ year. And you got he voice. I kin mos’
swar you wuz Marse Archy Corbin, like he wuz fo’ he got married.”

“And my name is Archibald Corbin, too,” said the young man,
comprehending the strange resemblance between himself and the dead
and gone Archy that had so startled the old negro. He poked his card
vigorously into Dad Davy’s hand.

“What I gwine to do with this heah?” asked Dad Davy, eying the card
suspiciously.

“Take this card to your master.”

“And if he ax me who k’yard ’tis, what I gwi’ tell him?”

At this the young man burst out into a ringing, full-chested laugh. The
negroes were new to him, and ever amusing, and he could not but laugh
at Dad Davy’s simplicity. That laugh brought the Colonel out into the
hall. He advanced with a low bow, which the stranger returned, and took
the card out of Dad Davy’s hand, meanwhile settling his spectacles
carefully on his nose, and reading deliberately:

“Sir Archibald Corbin, Fox Court.”

The Colonel fixed his eyes upon his guest, and, like Dad Davy, the
resemblance to the other Archibald Corbin overcame him instantly. His
lips trembled slightly, and it was a moment or two before he could say,
with his usual blandness:

“I see you are Archibald Corbin, and I am your kinsman, also Archibald
Corbin.”

“Being in your neighborhood,” said Sir Archibald, courteously, “I could
not forbear doing myself the pleasure of making myself known to the
only relatives I have on this side of the water.”

There was something winning and graceful about him, and the Colonel was
much surprised to find that any man born and bred outside of the State
of Virginia should have so fine an address.

“It gives me much gratification,” replied Colonel Corbin, in his most
imposing barytone, “to acknowledge the relationship existing between
the Corbins of Corbin Hall in Virginia and those of Fox Court in
England.”

In saying this he led the way toward the library, where two more tallow
dips in silver candlesticks had been lighted.

When young Corbin came within the circle of the fire’s red light--for
the tallow dips did not count--Miss Jemima uttered a faint scream.
This strange sensation that his appearance made in every member
of the family rather vexed the young Englishman, who was a robust
specimen, and with nothing uncanny about him, except the strange and
uncomfortable likeness to a dead man whom he had never seen or heard of
until that moment.

“Pardon me,” said the Colonel, after a moment, in a choked voice,
“but your resemblance to my only son, who was killed while gallantly
leading his regiment, is something extraordinary, and you will perhaps
understand a father’s agitation”--here two scanty tears rolled down
upon his white mustache. Even little Miss Letty looked at the newcomer
with troubled eyes and quivering lips.

Young Corbin, with a hearty and healthy desire to get upon more
comfortable subjects of discourse, mentioned that, having a taste for
adventure, he had come to America during the terrible upheaval, and
through the influence of friends in power he had obtained a temporary
staff appointment, by which he was able to see something of actual
warfare.

This statement was heard in absolute silence. Young Corbin received a
subtile impression that his new-found relatives rather disapproved
of him, and that the fact that he was a baronet with a big rent-roll,
which had hitherto brought him the highest consideration, ranked as
nothing with these primitive people. Naturally, this was a stab to
the self-love of a young fellow of twenty-two, but with the innate
independence of a man born to position and possessions, he refrained
from forcing his consequence upon his relatives. The Colonel talked
learnedly and eloquently upon the subject of the Corbins and their
pedigree, to which Miss Jemima listened complacently. Little Miss
Letty, though, seemed to regard the guest as a base intruder, and
glowered viciously upon him, while she knitted a large woolen sock.

Supper was presently announced by Dad Davy. There might be a rag carpet
on the floor at Corbin Hall, and tallow dips, but there was sure to
be enough on the table to feed a regiment. This supper was the most
satisfactory thing that young Sir Archy had seen yet among his Virginia
relations. There was an “old ham” cured in the smoke from hickory
ashes, and deviled turkey after Miss Jemima’s own recipe, and it took
Tom Battercake, Black Juba, and little Patsy Jane, all together, to
bring in supplies of battercakes, to which the invariable formula was:
“Take two, and butter them while they are hot.”

The Colonel kept up a steady fusillade, reinforced by Miss Jemima, of
all the family history, peculiarities, and what not, of the Corbin
family. The Corbins were, to a man, the best judges of wines in the
State of Virginia; they inherited great capacity for whist; and were
remarkable for putting a just estimate upon people, and inflexible in
maintaining their opinions. “Of which,” said the Colonel, suavely, “I
will give you an example:

“My honored father always believed that it was the guest’s duty, when
spending the night at a house, to make the motion toward retiring
for the night. My uncle, John Whiting Corbin, held the contrary. As
both knew the other’s inflexibility they avoided ever spending the
night at each other’s houses, although upon the most affectionate and
brotherly terms. Upon one occasion, however, my uncle was caught at
Corbin Hall by stress of weather. The evening passed pleasantly, but
toward midnight the rest of the family, including my sister Jemima and
myself, retired, leaving my father and his brother amicably discussing
the Virginia resolutions of ’98. As the night wore on both wished to
retire, but my father would not transgress the code of etiquette he
professed, by suggesting bedtime to his guest, nor would my uncle yield
the point by making the first move.

“When, at daylight the next morning, my boy Davy came in to make the
fire, here, sir, in this library, I assure you, my father and his
brother were still discussing the resolutions of ’98. They had been at
it all night.”

This was one of the Colonel’s crack stories, and Sir Archy laughed
at it heartily enough. But with all this studied hospitality toward
himself, he felt more, every moment, in spite of the Colonel’s sounding
periods, that he was merely tolerated at best, and as he had never
been snubbed before in his life, the experience did not please him. At
ten o’clock he rose to go, saying that he preferred traveling by night
under the circumstances. The Colonel invited him to remain longer, with
careful politeness, but when the invitation was declined, no more was
visible than civil regret. Nevertheless, the Colonel went himself to
see that Sir Archy’s horse had been properly fed and rubbed down, and
Miss Jemima went to fetch a glass of the home-made wine, which nearly
choked Sir Archy in the effort to gulp it down. He was alone for a few
moments with pretty little Letty, who had not for a moment abandoned
her standoffish attitude.

“Will you be glad to see me the next time I come, little cousin?” he
asked, mischievously.

Here was a chance for Letty to annihilate this brazen newcomer, and
she proceeded to do it by quoting one of the Colonel’s most elaborate
phrases. She got slightly mixed on the word “adamantine,” but still
Letty thought it sounded very well when she remarked, loftily, “I
have an anti-mundane prejudice toward foreigners meddling in domestic
broils.” And every word was punctuated by a scowl.

Miss Letty fondly imagined that the young Englishman would be awed and
delighted at this prodigious remark in one so young, but when Sir Archy
burst into one of his rich and ringing laughs, Letty promptly realized
that he was laughing at her, and could have pulled his hair with
pleasure.

Sir Archy was still laughing and Letty was still blushing and scowling
when their elders returned. In a little while Sir Archy was galloping
down the sandy lane at Corbin Hall, with the faint lights of the
grim old house twinkling far behind him. It was an odd experience,
and not altogether pleasing. For once, he had met people who knew he
was a baronet, and who did not care for it, and who knew he had a
great property, and who did not feel the slightest respect for it.
There was something sad, something ludicrous, and something noble and
disinterested about those refined, unsophisticated people at Corbin
Hall; and when that little sulky, frowning thing grew up, she would
be a beauty, Sir Archy decided, as he galloped along the sandy road
through the moonlight night.



II


Ten summers after this, the old Colonel and Miss Jemima and Miss Letty
scraped up money enough to spend a summer in a cheap boarding-house at
Newport. Many surprises awaited the Colonel upon his first visit to
Newport since “before the war, sir.” In the first place, the money they
paid for their plain rooms seemed a very imposing sum to them, and they
were extremely surprised to find how small it was regarded at Newport.

“Newport, my dear Jemima and Letty, is a more expensive place than
the White Sulphur in its palmiest days, when it had a monopoly of the
chivalry of the South,” announced the Colonel, oracularly.

Letty had innocently expected a great triumph, especially with her
wardrobe. She had no less than five white Swiss muslin frocks, all
tucked and beruffled within an inch of her life, and she had also a
lace parasol, besides one that had belonged to her mother, and several
lace flounces and a set of pearls. This outfit, thought Letty, vain
and proud, was bound to make a sensation. But it did not. However, no
matter what Letty wore, she was in no danger of being put behind the
door. First, because she was so very, very pretty, and second, because
she was so obviously a thoroughbred, from the sole of her little arched
foot, up to the crown of her delicate, proud head. And Letty was so
extremely haughty. But she soon found out that Swiss muslin frocks
don’t count at Newport, and that even a Corbin of Corbin Hall, who
lodged in a cheap place, was not an object of flattering attention.

And the more neglected she was, the more toploftical she became. So did
the Colonel, and so did Miss Jemima. Walking down Bellevue avenue with
the Colonel, Letty would criticize severely the stately carriages, the
high-stepping horses and the superbly dressed women and natty men that
are characteristic of that swell drive. But when a carriage would pass
with a crest on its doors, the Colonel’s white teeth showed beneath his
mustache in a grim smile.

“One of the Popes,” he remarked, with suave sarcasm, “who started in
life as a cobbler, took for his papal arms a set of cobblers’ tools.
But I perceive no indication whatever, in this community of retired
tradespeople, that they have not all inherited their wealth since the
days of the Saxon Heptarchy.”

For a time it seemed as if not one single person at Newport had ever
heard of Colonel Archibald Corbin, of Corbin Hall. But one afternoon,
as Letty and her grandfather were taking a dignified promenade,--they
could not afford to drive at Newport,--they noticed a stylish dog-cart
approaching, with a hale, manly fellow, neither particularly young nor
especially handsome, handling the ribbons. Just as he caught sight of
the Colonel he pulled up, and in another moment he had thrown the reins
to the statuesque person who sat on the back seat, and was advancing
toward the old man, hat in hand.

“This must be Colonel Corbin. I can’t be mistaken,” he cried, in a
cordial, rich voice.

Letty took in at a glance how well set up he was, how fresh and
wholesome and manly.

“It _is_ Colonel Corbin,” replied the Colonel, with stately affability.

“But you don’t remember me, I see. Perhaps you recall my father, John
Farebrother--wines and liquors. We’re not in the business now,” he
said, smiling, turning to Letty with a sort of natural gracefulness,
“but, contrary to custom, we haven’t forgotten it.”

The Colonel seized Farebrother’s hand and sawed it up and down
vigorously.

“Certainly, certainly,” he said. “Your father supplied the cellars
of Corbin Hall for forty years, and the acquaintanceship begun in a
business way was continued with very great pleasure on my part, and I
frequently enjoyed a noble hospitality at your father’s villa here, in
the good old days before the war.”

“And I hope you will extend the same friendship to my father’s son,”
said Farebrother, still holding his hat in his hand, and looking very
hard at Letty, as if to say, “Present me.”

“My granddaughter, Miss Corbin,” explained the Colonel, and Letty put
her slim little hand, country fashion, when she was introduced, into
the strong, sunburned one that Farebrother held out to her. Farebrother
nodded to the statuesque person in the dog-cart, and his nod seemed
to convey a whole code of meaning. The dog-cart trundled off down the
road, and Farebrother walked along by Letty’s side, the Colonel on the
other. Letty examined this new acquaintance critically, under her dark
lashes, anxiously endeavoring to belittle him in her own mind. But
having excellent natural sense, in about two minutes and a half she
recognized that this man, who mentioned so promptly that his father
dealt in wines and liquors, was a gentleman of the very first water. In
fact, there is no discounting a gentleman.

Almost every carriage that passed caused Farebrother to raise his hat,
and Letty took in, with feminine astuteness, that he was a man of
large and fashionable acquaintance. He walked the whole way back to
their dingy lodgings with them, and then went in and sat in the musty
drawing-room for half an hour. What had Miss Corbin seen at Newport?
he asked. Miss Corbin had seen nothing, as she acknowledged with a
faint resentment in her voice. This Mr. Farebrother pronounced a shame,
a scandal, and a disgrace. She must immediately see everything. His
sisters would call immediately; he would see to that. His mother never
went out. He hoped to see Miss Corbin at a breakfast or something or
other his sisters were planning. They had got hold of an Englishman
with a handle to his name, and although the girls pretended that
the Britisher was only an incident at the breakfast, that was all
a subterfuge. But Miss Corbin should judge for herself, and then,
after thanking the Colonel warmly for his invitation to call again,
Farebrother took his leave.

The very next afternoon, an immaculate victoria drove up to the
Corbins’ door, and two immaculately stylish girls got out. Miss Jemima
and the Colonel were not at home, so Letty received the visitors
alone in the grim lodging-house parlor. They got on famously, much of
the sweetness and true breeding of the brother being evident in the
sisters. They were very English in their voices and pronunciation and
use of phrases, but in some way it did not sound affected, and they
were genuinely kind and girlishly cordial. And it was plain that “our
brother” was regarded with extreme veneration. Would Miss Corbin come
to a breakfast they were giving next Saturday? Miss Corbin accepted so
delightedly, that the Farebrother girls, who were not accustomed to
Southern enthusiasm over trifles, were a little startled.

Scarcely had the young ladies driven off when up came Mr. Farebrother.
Letty, at this, their second meeting, received him as if he had been a
long-lost brother. He, however, who knew something about the genus to
which Letty belonged, grinned with keen appreciation of her rapturous
greeting, and was not the least overpowered by it. He hung on in the
most unfashionable manner until the Colonel arrived, who was highly
pleased to meet his young friend, as he called Farebrother, who had
a distinct bald spot on the top of his head, and the ruddy flush
of six-and-thirty in his face. Farebrother desired the Colonel’s
permission to put him up at the Club, and offered him various other
civilities, all of which the Colonel received with an inconceivably
funny air of conferring a favor instead of accepting one.

Newport assumed an altogether different air to the Corbins after the
Farebrother raid. But Letty’s anticipations of the breakfast were
dashed with a little secret anxiety of which she was heartily ashamed.
What should she wear? She had never been to a fashionable breakfast
before in her life. She hesitated between her one elaborate gown, and
one of her fresh muslins, but with intuitive taste she reflected that a
white frock was always safe, and so concluded to wear one, in which she
looked like a tall white lily.

The day of the breakfast arrived; the noon-day sun shone with a
tempered radiance upon the velvety turf, the great clumps of blue and
pink hydrangeas, and the flower borders of rich and varied color, on
the shaven lawns. It was a delicious August forenoon, and the warm and
scented air had a clear and charming freshness. The shaded piazzas of
the Farebrother cottage, with masses of greenery banked about them,
made a beautiful background for the dainty girls and well-groomed men
who alighted from the perfect equipages that rolled up every minute.
Presently a “hack” in the last stage of decrepitude passed through
the open and ivy-grown gateway, and as it drew up upon the graveled
circle, Letty Corbin, in her white dress and a large white hat, rose
from the seat. Farebrother was at her side in an instant, helping her
to descend. Usually, Letty’s face was of a clear and creamy paleness,
but now it was flushed with a wild-rose blush. It had suddenly dawned
upon her that the ramshackly rig, which was quite as good as anything
she was accustomed to in Virginia, did not look very well amid the
smart carriages that came before and after her. However, it in no wise
destroyed her self-possession, as it would have done that of some
of the girls who descended from the smart carriages. And there was
Farebrother with his kind voice and smile, waiting to meet her at the
steps, and pouring barefaced compliments in her ear, which last Miss
Letty relished highly.

The two girls received her cordially, and introduced her to one or
two persons. But they could not devote their whole time to her, and
in a little while Letty drifted into the cool, shaded, luxurious
drawing-room, and found that she was left very much to herself. The
men and girls around her chatted glibly among themselves, but they
seemed oblivious of the fact that there was a stranger present, to whom
attention would have been grateful. Two very elegant looking girls
talked directly across her, and were presently joined by a man who
quite ignored her even by a glance, and although she sat between him
and the girls, he kept his eyes fixed on them. Letty thought it was
very bad manners.

“At Corbin Hall,” she thought bitterly, “a stranger would have been
overwhelmed with kind attentions”; but apparently at Newport a stranger
had no rights that a cottager was bound to respect.

“The fact is, Miss Cornwell,” said the man, in the studied, low voice
of the “smart set,” “I’ve been nearly run off my legs this week by Sir
Archy Corbin. He’s the greatest fellow for doing things I ever saw in
my life. And he positively gives a man no rest at all. We’ve always
been good friends, but I shall have to ‘cut him’ if this thing keeps
up.”

The lie in this statement was not in the least obvious to Letty,
but was perfectly so to the young women, who knew there was not the
remotest chance of Sir Archy Corbin being cut by any of their set. The
name, though, at once struck Letty, and her mobile face showed that she
was interested in the subject.

“Will he be at the meet on Thursday, Mr. Woodruff?” asked the girl,
suddenly dropping her waving fan and indolent manner, and showing great
animation. At this, Woodruff answered with a slightly embarrassed
smile:

“Well--er--no, I hardly think so. You know, in England, this isn’t the
hunting season--”

“Oh, no,” struck in Miss Cornwell, perfectly at home in English
customs, “their hunting season is just in time to break up the New York
season.”

Letty’s face, which was very expressive, had unconsciously assumed
a look of shocked surprise. Hunting a fox in August! For Letty knew
nothing of the pursuit of the fierce and cunning aniseseed bag. Her
lips almost framed the words, “How dreadful!”

Woodruff, without glancing at her, but taking in swiftly the speaking
look of disgusted astonishment, framed with his lips something that
sounded like “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”

A blush poured hotly into Letty’s face. The rudeness of talking about
her before her face angered her intensely, but did not for a moment
disconcert her. There was a little pause. Miss Cornwell looked straight
before her with an air of amused apprehension. Then Letty spoke in a
clear, soft voice:

“You are mistaken,” she said, looking Woodruff calmly in the face.
“I do not belong to that society. I do not altogether believe in
professional philanthropy. I was, it is true, shocked at the idea of
fox-hunting in August, because, although I have been accustomed to
seeing hunting in a sportsmanlike manner all my life, the fox was given
a chance for his life.”

It was now Woodruff’s turn to blush, which he did furiously. He was
not really a rude man, but his whole social training had been in the
line of trying to imitate people of another type than himself, and
consequently his perceptions were not acute. The imitative process is a
blunting one. But he did not desire to give anybody pain, and the idea
of a social blunder was simply harrowing to him.

“Pray excuse me,” he said, and looked a picture of awkward misery, and
Miss Cornwell actually seemed to enjoy his predicament.

Letty had instantly risen as soon as she had spoken, but by the time
she had taken a step forward there was a little movement in front of
her, and the next moment she saw the same Sir Archibald Corbin she had
seen ten years ago, standing in front of her, holding out his hand and
saying: “May I ask if this is not my cousin, Miss Corbin, of Corbin
Hall? You were a little girl when I saw you last, but I cannot be
mistaken.”

“Yes, I am Letty Corbin,” answered Letty, giving him her hand,
impulsively; she would have welcomed her deadliest enemy at that
moment, in order to create a diversion.

But the effect of this meeting and greeting upon Woodruff and Miss
Cornwell, and the people surrounding them, was magnetic. If Letty had
announced, “I am the sole and only representative of the noble house of
Plantagenet,” or Howard, or Montmorenci, their surprise could not have
been greater.

Sir Archy spoke to them with that cool British civility which is not
altogether pleasing. Woodruff had time to feel a ridiculous chagrin at
the footing which his alleged friend put him on, and Letty was quite
feline enough to let him see it. She fixed two pretty, malicious eyes
on him, and smiled wickedly when instead of making up to Sir Archy,
he very prudently turned toward Miss Cornwell, who likewise seemed
secretly amused.

But Sir Archy’s manner toward Letty was cordiality itself. He asked
after the Colonel.

“And such a royal snubbing as I got from him that time so long ago,” he
said, fervently. “I hope he has no intention of repeating it.”

“I can’t say,” replied Letty, slyly, and examining her cousin with
much approval. He had the delicious, fresh, manly beauty of the
Briton, and he had quite lost that uncanny likeness to a dead man
which had been so remarkable ten years ago. He had, however, the
British simplicity which takes all of an American girl’s subtilities
in perfect candor and good faith. He and Letty got along wonderfully
together. In fact, Letty’s fluency and affability was such that she
could have got on with an ogre. But presently Farebrother came up and
carried her off, under Sir Archy’s very nose, toward the dining-room.
As Letty walked across the beautiful hall into the dining-room beyond,
some new sense of luxury seemed to awaken in her. She was familiar
enough with certain elegancies of life,--at that very moment she
had her great-grandmother’s string of pearls around her milky-white
throat,--and Corbin Hall contained a store of heirlooms for which
the average Newport cottager would have bartered all his modern
bric-à-brac. But this nicety of detail in comfort was perfectly new and
delightful to her, and she confided so much to Farebrother.

“You see,” she complained, confidentially, “down in Virginia we spend
all we have on the luxuries of life, and then we have to do without the
necessaries.”

“I see,” answered Farebrother, “but then you’ve been acknowledged as a
cousin by an English baronet. Think of that, and it will sustain you,
and make you patient under your trials more than all the consolation of
religion.”

“I’ll try to,” answered Letty, demurely.

“And he is a first-rate fellow, too,” continued Farebrother, who could
be magnanimous. “I made up to him at the club before I knew who he
was--”

“Oh, nonsense. You knew he was a baronet.”

“I’ll swear I didn’t. Presently, though, it leaked out that he was
what the newspapers call a titled person. We were talking about some
red wine that a villain of a steward was trying to palm off on us, and
Sir Archy gave his opinion, which was simply rubbish. I told him so
in parliamentary language, and when he wanted to argue the point, I
gently reminded him that my father and my grandfather had been in the
wine-importing line, and I had been born and bred to the wine business.”

By this time Farebrother’s light-blue expressive eyes were dancing, and
Letty fully took in the joke.

“The descendants of the dealers in tobacco, drugs, and hardware, who
were sitting around, were naturally much pained at my admission, but
Sir Archy wasn’t, and actually gave in to my opinion. He stuck to me so
close--now, Miss Corbin, I swear I am not lying--that I couldn’t shake
him off, and he walked home with me. Of course I had to ask him in, and
then the girls came out; they couldn’t have been kept away from him
unless they had been tied, and he has pervaded the house more or less
ever since. That is how it is that the noble house of Corbin is to-day
accepting the hospitality of the humble house of Farebrother.”

“Very kind of us, I’m sure,” said Letty, gravely, “but I’d feel more
important if I had more clothes. You can’t imagine how fine my wardrobe
seemed down in Virginia, and here I feel as if I hadn’t a rag to my
back.”

“A rag to your back, indeed,” said Farebrother, with bold admiration.
“Those white muslin things you wear are the prettiest gowns I ever saw
at Newport.”

Letty smiled rapturously. The breakfast was delightful to two persons,
Letty Corbin and Tom Farebrother. After it was over they went out on
the lawn, and watched the long, soft swell of the summer sea breaking
at their feet, and the gay hydrangeas nodding their pretty heads
gravely in the sunshine. And in a moment or two Sir Archy came up and
joined them. Farebrother held his ground stoutly; he always held it
stoutly and pleasantly as well, and the three had such a jolly time
that the correct young ladies who used their broad a’s so carefully,
and the correct young gentlemen in London-made morning clothes, stared
at such evident enjoyment. But it was a respectful stare, and even
Letty’s ramshackly carriage was regarded with toleration when it
rattled up. Sir Archy, however, asked permission to drive her back in
his dog-cart, which Letty at once agreed to, much to Tom Farebrother’s
frankly expressed disgust.

“There you go,” he growled in her ear. “Just like the rest; the fellow
has a handle to his name and that’s enough.”

“Why didn’t you offer to drive me home yourself?” answered Letty, with
equally frank coquetry, bending her eyes upon him with a challenge in
their hazel depths.

“By George, why didn’t I?” was Farebrother’s whispered reply, as he
handed her over to Sir Archy.

Miss Corbin’s exit was much more imposing than her arrival, as she
drove off, sitting up straight and slim, in Sir Archy’s dog-cart.

“Do you know,” said he, as they spun along the freshly watered drive in
the soft August afternoon, “that you are the first American I have seen
yet? All of the young ladies that I see here are tolerably fair copies
of the young ladies I meet in London drawing-rooms; but you are really
what I fancied an American girl to be.”

“Thank you,” answered Letty, dubiously. “But I daresay I am rather
better behaved than you expected to find me.”

“Not at all,” answered Sir Archy, with energy.

This was a good beginning for an acquaintance, and when Letty got home
she could not quite decide which she liked the better, Tom Farebrother
or this sturdy, sensible English cousin.

It is scarcely necessary to say that Letty’s fortune was made as far as
the Newport season went. Her opinions of people and things at Newport
underwent a sudden change when she began to be treated with great
attention. She triumphantly confided to both Farebrother and Sir Archy
that she did not mean to let the Colonel start for Virginia until he
had spent all his money, and she had worn out all her clothes, and
would be obliged to go home to be washed and mended. Meanwhile she
flirted infamously and impartially with both, after a manner indigenous
to the region south of Mason and Dixon’s line.



III


The period so frankly mentioned by Letty, when the party from Corbin
Hall would get to the end of their financial tether, arrived with
surprising promptness. But something still more surprising happened.
The Colonel quite unexpectedly had dumped upon him the vast and
imposing sum of two thousand dollars. This astonishing fact was
communicated to Farebrother one sunny day when he and Letty were
watching a game of tennis at the Casino.

“Do you know,” said she, turning two sparkling eyes on him from under
her large white hat, and tilting her parasol back gaily, “we are not
going away, after all.”

“Thank the Lord,” answered Farebrother, with fervent irreverence.

He had found out that he could talk any amount of sentiment to Letty
with impunity. In fact, she rather demanded excessive sentiment, of
which she nevertheless believed not one word. Farebrother, who had seen
something of Southern girls, very quickly and accurately guessed that
it was the sort of thing Letty had been used to. But he was amused
and charmed to find, that along with the most inveterate and arrant
coquetry, she combined a modesty that amounted to prudery, and a
reserve of manner in certain respects which kept him at an inexorable
distance. He could whisper soft nonsense in Letty’s ear all day long,
and she would listen with an artless enjoyment that was inexpressibly
diverting to Farebrother. But when he once attempted to touch her hand
in putting on her wrap, Letty turned on him with an angry stare that
disconcerted him utterly. It was not the surprise of an ignorant girl,
but the thorough resentment of an offended woman. Farebrother took care
not to transgress in that way again.

Letty fully expected him to express rapturous delight at her
announcement, and was not disappointed. “It’s very strange,” she
continued, twirling her parasol and leaning forward in her chair;
“grandpapa’s father lent some money a long time ago,--I think the
Corbins got some money by hook or by crook in 1814,--and they lent it
all out, and ever since then they have been borrowing, as far as I can
make out. Well, some of it was on a mortgage that was foreclosed the
other day, so grandpapa says, and he got two thousand dollars.”

Letty held off to watch the effect of this stunning statement. Two
thousand dollars was a great deal of money to her. Farebrother, arrant
hypocrite that he was, had learned the important lesson of promptly
adopting Letty’s view of everything, and did it so thoroughly that
sometimes he overdid it.

“Why, that’s a pot of money,” he said gravely. “It’s quite staggering
to contemplate.”

Letty was not deficient in shrewdness, and she knew by that time that
the standard of values in Virginia and at Newport varied. So she looked
at him very hard, and said, sternly:

“I hope you are not telling me a story.”

“Of course not. But really,” here Farebrother became quite serious, “it
depends a good deal on how it comes. Last year, for example, I only
made three thousand dollars. You see I’ve got enough to live upon
without work, and that’s a fearful drawback to people giving me work.
I’m an architect, and I love my trade. But I can’t convince people that
I’m not a _dilettante_. I am ashamed to eat the bread of idleness, and
yet--here’s a question that comes up. Has any man a right, who does not
need to work, to enter into close competition with those who do need
it?”

Farebrother was very much in earnest by that time. He saw that these
nineteenth-century problems had never presented themselves to Letty’s
simple experience. But they were of vast moment to him. Letty fixed her
large, clear gaze upon him very much as if he were a new sort of animal
she was studying.

“I thought here, where you are all so rich, you cared for nothing
except how to enjoy yourselves.”

“Did you? Then you made a huge mistake. Why, I know of men literally
wallowing in money who work for the pure love of work. I could work
for love of work, too, but I tell you, when I see a poor fellow, with
a wife and family to support, slaving over plans and specifications,
and then I feel that my competition is making that man’s chances
considerably less, it takes the heart out of my work. Now, if you’ll
excuse me, I’ll say that I could make three thousand dollars several
times over if I went at it for a living--because like all men who work
from love, not from necessity, I am inclined to believe in my own
capacity and to have a friendly opinion of my own performances. You
may disparage everything about me, and although it may lacerate my
feelings, I will forgive you. But just say one word against me as an
architect, and everything is over between us.”

“I sha’n’t say anything against you or your architecture either,”
replied Letty, bringing the battery of her eyes and smile to bear on
him with shameless cajolery.

But just then their attention was attracted by a group approaching them
over the velvet turf. Sir Archibald Corbin was in the lead, escorting
two tall, handsome, blonde young women. They were evidently sisters
and evidently English. They had smooth, abundant light hair, knotted
low under their turban hats, and their complexions were deliciously
fresh. Although the day was warm, and Letty found her sheer white frock
none too cool, and every other woman in sight had on a thin light
gown, these two handsome English women wore dark, tight-fitting tweed
frocks, and spotless linen collars. Behind them walked two men, one a
thoroughly English-looking young fellow, while the last of the party so
completely fixed Letty’s attention as soon as she put her eyes on him,
that she quite forgot everybody else.

He was an old man, small, slight, and scrupulously well dressed. His
hair was perfectly white, and his face was bloodless. His clothes were
a pale gray, his hat was a paler gray, and he was in effect a symphony
in gray. Even the rose at his buttonhole was white. But from his pallid
face gleamed a pair of the blackest and most fascinating eyes Letty had
ever beheld. It was as if they had gained in fire and intensity as his
blood and his life grew more sluggish. And however frail he might look,
his eyes were full of vitality. He walked along, leaning upon the arm
of the young man and speaking but little. The party stopped a little
way off to watch a game of tennis, while Sir Archy made straight for
Letty.

“May I introduce my friends to you?” he asked, in a low voice. “Mrs.
Chessingham, and her sister, Miss Maywood, Chessingham and Mr.
Romaine. Chess is one of the best and cleverest fellows going, and of
good family, although he is a medical man, and he is traveling with Mr.
Romaine--a rich old hypochondriac, I imagine.”

As soon as he mentioned Mr. Romaine a flood of light burst upon Letty.
“Isn’t he a Virginian?--an American, I mean? And didn’t grandpapa know
him hundreds of years ago?” she asked, eagerly.

“I have heard he was born in Virginia, as poor Chessingham knows to
his cost,” answered Sir Archy, laughing quietly. “After having gone
all over Europe, Asia, and Africa, the old hunks at last made up his
mind that he would come back to America. Chess was very well pleased,
particularly as Mrs. Chessingham and Miss Maywood were invited to come
as his guests. But old Romaine swears he means to take the whole party
back to Virginia to his old place there that he hasn’t seen for forty
years, and naturally they’ll find it dull.”

Sir Archy possessed in perfection that appalling English frankness
which puts to shame the characteristic American caution. But Sir
Archy’s mistake was Farebrother’s opportunity.

“Deuced odd mistake, finding Virginia dull,” remarked that arch
hypocrite, at which Letty rewarded him with a brilliant smile.

Sir Archy had got his permission by that time, and he went across the
grass to his friends and brought them up.

The two English women looked at Letty with calmly inquisitive eyes full
of frank admiration. Letty, with a side-look and an air of extreme
modesty, took them from the top of their dainty heads to the soles of
their ugly shoes at one single swift glance. Then Mr. Chessingham was
presented, and last, Mr. Romaine. Mr. Romaine gave the impression of
looking through people when he looked at them and nailing them to the
wall with his glance. And Letty was no exception to the rule. He fixed
his black eyes on her, and said in a peculiarly soft, smooth voice:
“Your name, my dear young lady, is extremely familiar to me. Archibald
Corbin and his brothers were known to me well in my youth at Shrewsbury
plantation.”

“Mr. Archibald Corbin is my grandfather, and he has spoken often of
you,” replied Letty, gazing with all her eyes.

This then was Mr. Romaine, the eccentric, the gifted Mr. Romaine,
of whose career vague rumors had reached the quiet Virginia country
neighborhood which he had left so long ago. Far back in the dark
ages, about 1835, when Colonel Corbin had made a memorable trip in
a sailing-vessel to Europe, Mr. Romaine had been an attaché of the
American legation in London; he had resigned that appointment, but he
seemed to have taken a disgust to his native country, and had never
returned to it. And Letty had a dim impression of having heard that
Miss Jemima in her youth had had a slight weakness for the handsome
Romaine. But it was so far in the distant past as to be quite shadowy.
There was a superstition afloat that Mr. Romaine had made an enormous
fortune in some way, and his conduct about Shrewsbury certainly
indicated it. The place had been farmed on shares for a generation
back, and the profits paid the taxes, and no more. But the house, which
was a fine old mansion, had never been suffered to fall into decay, and
was kept in a state of repair little short of marvelous in Virginia.
Nobody was permitted to live in it, and at intervals of ten years
the report would be started that Mr. Romaine intended returning to
Shrewsbury. But nothing of the sort had been said for a long time now,
and meanwhile Mr. Romaine was on the American side, and nobody in his
native county had heard a word of it.

“And Miss Jemima Corbin,” said Mr. Romaine, a faint smile wrinkling
the fine lines about his mouth. “When I knew her she was a very pretty
young lady; there have been a great many pretty young ladies in the
Corbin family,” he added, with old-fashioned gallantry.

“Aunt Jemima is still Miss Corbin,” answered Letty, also smiling. “She
never could find a man so good as my grandfather, ‘brother Archibald,’
as she calls him, and so she would not have any at all.”

“May I ask if your grandfather is here with you? and is he enjoying
good health?”

“Yes, he is now in the Casino--I don’t know exactly where, but he will
soon come for me.”

This reawakening of his early life was not without its effect on Mr.
Romaine, nor was it a wholly pleasant one. For time and Mr. Romaine
were mortal enemies. His face flushed slightly, and he sat down on a
garden chair by Letty, and the next moment Colonel Corbin was seen
advancing upon them. The Colonel wore gaiters of an ancient pattern;
they were some he had before the war. His new frock-coat was tightly
buttoned over his tall, spare figure, and on his head was a broad
palmetto hat. In an instant the two old men recognized each other
and grasped hands. They had been boy friends, and in spite of the
awful stretch of time which had separated them, and the total lack of
communication between them, each turned back with emotion to their
early associations together.

Then the Colonel was presented to the two ladies, who seemed to think
that there was a vast and unnecessary amount of introducing going on,
and the younger people formed a group to themselves. Letty and Miss
Maywood fell to talking, and Letty asked the inevitable question:

“How do you like America?”

“Quite well,” answered Miss Maywood, in her rich, clear English
voice. “Of course the climate is hard on us; these heats are almost
insufferable. But it is very interesting and picturesque, and all that
sort of thing. Mr. Romaine tells us the autumn in Virginia, where he
is to take us to his old place, is beautiful.”

“Mr. Romaine’s place and our place, Corbin Hall, are not far apart,”
said Letty, and at once Miss Maywood felt a new interest in her.

“Pray tell me about it,” she said. “Is it a hunting country?”

“For men,” answered Letty. “But I never knew of women following the
hounds. We sometimes go out on horseback to see the hunt, but we don’t
really follow the hounds.”

“But there is good hunting, I fancy,” cried Miss Maywood with
animation. “Mr. Romaine has promised me that, and I like a good stiff
country, such as he tells me it is. I have hunted for four seasons in
Yorkshire, but now that Gladys has married in London, she has invited
me to be with her for six months in the year, and although I hate
London, I love Gladys, and it’s a great saving, too. But it puts a stop
to my hunting.”

Letty noticed that not only did Miss Maywood use Mr. Romaine’s name
very often, but she glanced at him continually. He sat quite close to
the Colonel, listening with a half smile to Colonel Corbin’s sounding
periods, describing the effects of the war and the present status of
things in Virginia. His extraordinarily expressive black eyes supplied
comment without words.

“I am very glad you are coming to the county,” said Letty, after a
moment, “and I hope you’ll like Newport, too. At first I didn’t like
it, but afterward, I met the Farebrothers”--she spoke in a low voice,
and indicated Farebrother with a glance--“and they have been very
kind to me, and I have had a very good time. We intended to go home
next week. Newport’s a very expensive place,” she added, with a frank
little smile. “But now, we--that is, my grandfather and my aunt and
myself--intend staying a little longer.”

“Everything in America is expensive,” cried Miss Maywood, with energy.
“I can’t imagine how Mr. Romaine can pay our bills; they are so
enormous. Reginald--Mr. Chessingham--is his doctor, you know, and Mr.
Romaine won’t let Reggie leave him, and Reggie wouldn’t leave Gladys,
and Gladys wouldn’t leave me, and so, here we are. It is the one good
thing about Reggie’s profession. I hate doctors, don’t you?”

“Why?” asked Letty, in surprise.

“Because,” said Miss Maywood, positively, “it’s so unpleasant to have
people saying, ‘What a pity--there is that sweet, pretty Gladys Maywood
married to a medical man’--he isn’t even a doctor--and Gladys cannot
go to Court, you know, and it has really made a great difference in
her position in London. Papa was an army man, and we were presented
when we came out; but society has come to an end as far as poor Gladys
is concerned. And although Reggie is a dear fellow, and I love him, I
do wish he wasn’t associated with plasters and pills and that sort of
thing.”

All this was thoroughly puzzling to Letty, but she had realized
since she came to Newport that there was a great, big, wide world,
with which she was totally unfamiliar, outside of Corbin Hall and
its neighborhood. She knew she was a stranger to the thoughts and
feelings of the people who lived in this outer world. She glanced at
“Reggie”--he had a strong, sensible face, and she could imagine that
Mr. Romaine might well find help in him.

“Is Mr. Romaine very, very ill?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Miss Maywood, smiling. “He’s a very
interesting man, rich, and has an excellent position in England. He
doesn’t do a great deal, but he always has strength enough to travel. I
think, occasionally, perhaps, he is only hipped, but it would not do to
say generally. Sometimes he talks about dying, and sometimes he talks
about getting married.”

“Who would marry him, though?” asked Letty, innocently.

“Who _wouldn’t_ marry him?” replied Miss Maywood, calmly. “There was a
French woman a few years ago--” She stopped suddenly, remembering that
she knew very little about this French woman, a widow of good family
but small means. There had been a subdued hurricane of talk, and she
remembered hearing that at the time wagers had been made as to whether
the French woman would score or not. But Mr. Romaine had apparently
outwitted Madame de Fonblanque,--that was her name,--and since the
Chessinghams had been with him, nothing had been seen or heard of the
French widow. So Miss Maywood merely said in her gentle, even way, “I
grant you, he isn’t young, and his health is not good, but his manners
and his money are above reproach, and so is his position.” Miss
Maywood mentally added to this last qualification--“for an American.”

“Marrying for manners, money, and position doesn’t strike me as quite a
nice thing to do,” said Letty, stoutly.

Miss Maywood simply glanced at her, but the look said as plainly as
words, “What a fool to suppose anybody would believe you.”

But what she actually said was, with a little laugh, “That’s very nice
to say, but marriage without those things is out of the question, and
the possession of them marks the difference between a possible man and
an impossible man.”

This short discussion had brought the two young women to a mutual
contempt of one another, although each was too well bred to show
it. Just then there was a slight diversion in the group, and Letty
gravitated toward Sir Archy. It was then his turn instead of
Farebrother’s to receive assurances of Miss Corbin’s distinguished
consideration.

“Where have you been all the morning?” she asked, with her sweetest
wheedling. “I’ve been looking out for you a whole hour.”

Farebrother was then engaged with Mrs. Chessingham and Miss Maywood,
and did not hear this colossal fib, which would not have ranked as a
fib at all in Letty’s birthplace. But Miss Maywood heard it with a
thrill of disgust. Not so Sir Archy. He had found out by that time that
the typical American girl--_not_ the sham English one, which sometimes
is evolved from an American seedling--is prone to say flattering things
to men, which cannot always be taken at their face value. Nevertheless,
he liked the process, and showed his white teeth in a pleasant smile.

“And,” continued Letty, with determined cajolery, “you really must not
treat me with the utter neglect you’ve shown me for the last ten days.”

“Neglect, by Jove,” said Sir Archy, laughing. “It seems to me that the
neglect you complain of keeps me on the go from morning till night.
When I am not doing errands for you I am reading up on subjects that I
have never thought essential to a polite education before, but which
you seem to think anybody but a Patagonian would know.”

Nothing escaped Miss Maywood’s ears. “The brazen thing,” she thought
indignantly to herself. “Pretending that she wouldn’t marry for money
and position and now simply throwing herself at Sir Archy’s head.”

Letty, however, was altogether unconscious of this, and went on with
happy indifference.

“I found your knowledge of the American Constitution perfectly
rudimentary, and of course I could not condescend to talk to any man
ignorant of the first principles of our government, and you ought
to go down on your knees and thank me for putting you in the way of
enlightenment.”

Every word Letty uttered startled Miss Maywood more and more. It was
bad enough to see Sir Archy swallowing the huge lumps of flattery
that Miss America so calmly administered, but to see him take mildly
a hectoring and overbearing attack upon the one subject--public
affairs--on which a man is supposed to be most superior to woman was
simply paralyzing. Miss Maywood turned, fully expecting to see Sir
Archy walk off in high dudgeon. Instead of that he was laughing at
Letty, his fine, ruddy face showing a boyish dimple as he smiled.

Then there was a move toward the Casino. Somebody had proposed
luncheon. Colonel Corbin and Mr. Romaine got up from their seats and
joined the younger people. The Colonel, with a flourish of his hand,
remarked to Mrs. Chessingham, “You have witnessed, madam, the meeting
of two old men who have not seen each other in more than forty years. A
very gratifying meeting, madam; for although all retrospection has its
pain, it has also its pleasure.”

This allusion to himself as an old man evidently did not enrapture Mr.
Romaine. His eyes contracted and he scowled unmistakably, while the
Colonel, with a bland smile, fondly imagined that he had said the very
thing calculated to please. Farebrother took the lead, and the party
was soon seated at a round table, close to a window that looked out
upon the gay lawns and tennis grounds. Then Letty had a chance to study
Mr. and Mrs. Chessingham and Mr. Romaine a little more closely.

Mr. Chessingham was unmistakably prepossessing. He had in abundance
the vitality, the steadiness of nerve, the quiet reserve strength
most lacking in Mr. Romaine. There was a healthy personal magnetism
about the young doctor which accounted for Mr. Romaine’s willingness
to saddle himself with all of Chessingham’s impedimenta. Mrs.
Chessingham, although as like Miss Maywood as two peas, yet had
something much more soft and winning about her. She was, it is true,
strictly conventional, and had the typical English woman’s respect for
rank and money and matrimony, but marriage had plainly done much for
her. She might grieve that “Reggie” could not go to Court, but she did
full justice to Reggie as a man and a doctor.

Miss Maywood sat next Mr. Romaine, and agreed scrupulously with
everything he said. This peculiarity of hers seemed to inspire the old
gentleman with the determination to make a spectacle of her, and he
advanced some of the most grotesque and alarming fallacies imaginable,
to which Miss Maywood gave a facile assent.

“It is my belief,” he said, quite gravely, at last, in consequence
of an allusion to the Franco-Prussian war, “that had the Communists
succeeded in keeping possession of Paris a month longer, we should have
seen the German army trooping out of France, and glad to get away at
any price. Had the Communists’ intelligent use of petroleum been made
available against the Prussians, who knows what the result might have
been? I have always thought the few disorders they committed very much
exaggerated, and their final overthrow a misfortune for France.”

“Great heavens!” exclaimed Colonel Corbin, falling back in his chair;
but finding nothing else to say, he poured out a glass of Apollinaris
and gulped it down in portentous silence.

“No doubt you are right,” said Miss Maywood, turning her fresh,
handsome face on Mr. Romaine. “One never can get at the truth of these
things. The Communists were beaten, and so they were wrong.”

There was a slight pause, during which Sir Archy and Farebrother
exchanged sympathetic grins; they saw how the land lay, and then Letty
spoke up calmly.

“I can’t agree with Mr. Romaine,” she said in her clear voice. “I think
the Communists were the most frightful wretches that ever drew breath.
To think of their murdering that brave old archbishop.”

“Political necessity, my dear young lady,” murmured Mr. Romaine. “M.
Darboy brought his fate on himself.”

“However,” retorted Letty with a gay smile, “it is just possible that
you may be guying us. The fact is, Mr. Romaine, your eyes are too
expressive, and when you uttered those terrific sentiments, I saw that
you were simply setting a trap for us, as deep as a well and as wide as
a church door. But we won’t walk in it to please you.”

Miss Maywood colored quickly. It never had occurred to her literal mind
before that Mr. Romaine did not mean every word he said, and if she
had thought to the contrary, she would not have dared to say it. She
fully expected an outbreak of the temper which Mr. Romaine was known
to possess, but instead, as with Sir Archy, Letty’s daring onslaught
produced only a smile. Mr. Romaine was well pleased at the notion that
he was not too old to be chaffed.

“You are much too acute,” he said, with a sort of silent laughter.

“Just what I have always told Miss Corbin,” remarked Farebrother,
energetically. “If you will join me, perhaps we can organize a society
for the suppression of clever women, and then we sha’n’t be at their
mercy as we now are.”

“And don’t forget a clause guaranteeing that they shall be deprived of
all opportunities of a higher education,” suggested Sir Archy, who had
learned by that time to forward any joke on hand.

“That would be unnecessary,” said Mr. Romaine. “The higher education
does them no harm at all, and gives them much innocent pride and
pleasure.”

As the luncheon progressed Miss Letty became more and more in doubt
whether she liked Mr. Romaine or not. She regarded him as being
somewhere in the neighborhood of ninety-five, and wished to feel the
respect for him she ought to feel for all decent graybeards. But
Mr. Romaine was as fully determined not to be thought old as Letty
was determined to think that he was old. He was certainly unlike
any old man that she had ever met; not that there was anything in
the least ridiculous about him,--he was much too astute to affect
juvenility,--but there was an alertness in his wonderful black eyes
and a keenness in his soft speech that was far removed from old
age. And he was easily master of everybody at the table, excepting
Farebrother and Letty. With feminine intuition Letty felt Mr. Romaine’s
power, and knew that had Mr. Chessingham been the old man and Mr.
Romaine the young doctor, Mr. Romaine would still have been in the
ascendant. The Colonel, with well meant but cruel persistence, tried
to get Mr. Romaine into a reminiscent mood, but in vain. Mr. Romaine
utterly ignored the “forty years ago, my dear Romaine,” with which
Colonel Corbin began many stories that never came to a climax, and he
positively declined to discuss anything that had happened more than
twenty years before. In fact this peculiarity was so marked that Letty
strongly suspected that the old gentleman’s memory had been rigidly
sawed off at a certain period, as a surgeon cuts off a leg at the
knee-joint.

The Chessinghams evidently enjoyed themselves, and the utmost
cordiality prevailed, except between the two girls, who eyed each other
very much as the gladiators might have done when in the arena for the
fray. Still they were perfectly polite, and showed a truly feminine
capacity for pretty hypocrisy. Nevertheless, when the luncheon was
over and the party separated, Miss Maywood and Miss Corbin parted with
cordial sentiments of mutual disesteem. Scarcely were the two sisters
alone at the hotel, before Miss Maywood burst forth with, “Well,
Gladys, I suppose you see what the typical American girl is! Did you
ever hear anything equal to Miss Corbin’s language to Mr. Romaine and
Sir Archy? Actually rating them! And then the next moment plying them
with the most outrageous flattery.”

“And yet, Ethel, she seemed to please them,” answered Mrs. Chessingham,
doubtfully. “But I was a little scandalized, I admit.”

“A little scandalized! Now, I do assure you, leaving out of account
altogether any personal grievance about these two particular men, I
never heard a girl talk so to men in all my life.”

Ethel told the truth this time and no mistake.

“Nor did I,” said Mrs. Chessingham. “But perhaps she’s not a fair type.”

“Didn’t Sir Archy tell us she was the most typical American that he
has yet seen? And doesn’t Mr. Romaine know all about her family? And
really,” continued Miss Maywood, getting off her high horse, and
looking genuinely puzzled, “I scarcely know whether it would be right
for me to make a companion of such a girl; you know her home is in the
same county as Mr. Romaine’s place, quite near, I fancy--and we have
been so carefully brought up by dear mama, and so often warned against
associating with reckless girls, that I am not quite sure that we ought
to know her when we go to Virginia.”

Here Mrs. Chessingham’s confidence in Reggie came to her help.

“Now don’t say that, Ethel dear. Reggie thinks her a charming girl,
and you saw for yourself nobody seemed to take her seriously except
ourselves, so the best thing for you to do is to go on quietly and be
guided by circumstances.”

“But the way she made eyes!” said Miss Maywood, disgustedly. “It’s
perfectly plain she means to marry either Mr. Romaine or Sir Archy--she
advertises the fact so plainly that she’ll probably overshoot the mark.
At all events, I shall be on my guard, and unless I am much mistaken,
you will find that we can’t afford to know her.”

Meanwhile Letty, in the little sitting-room of their lodgings,
was haranguing Colonel Corbin and Miss Jemima upon Miss Maywood’s
iniquities.

“The most brazen piece, Aunt Jemima, actually saying that any girl
would marry that old pachyderm, Mr. Romaine! I wouldn’t marry him if
he was padded an inch thick with thousand-dollar bills! But she as good
as said _she_ would--and the way he poked fun at her! She agrees with
everything he says, and she is making such a dead set at him that she
can’t see the old gentleman’s game. I am perfectly disgusted with her.”

At the first mention of Mr. Romaine’s name, a faint color came into
Miss Jemima’s gentle, withered face.

“Don’t speak of him that way, Letty dear,” she said. “He was a
charming man once. But, perhaps, my love, it would be more prudent for
you to avoid Miss Maywood. Nothing is more dangerous to young girls
than association with others who lack modesty and refinement, as you
represent this young lady.”

“I’ll think over it,” answered the prudent Letty, who at that moment
remembered that they were all going to the country, which is dull for
young people at best, and a new neighbor is a distinct godsend not
to be trifled with. But in her heart she had grave doubts of Miss
Maywood’s propriety.



IV


It might be supposed that the modest sum of money, which seemed like
a million to Colonel Corbin, would have been used in paying off some
of the incumbrances on Corbin Hall, or at least in refitting some
part of it. A few hundreds might have been spent very judiciously in
stopping up the chinks and crannies of the house, in replacing the worn
carpets and having the rickety old furniture mended. But far were such
thoughts from the Colonel, Miss Jemima, or Letty. Money was a rare and
unfamiliar commodity to all of them, and when they got any of it they
wisely spent it in pleasuring. New carpets and sound furniture were not
in the least essential to these simple folk, and would have altogether
spoiled the harmony of the comfortable shabbiness that prevailed at
Corbin Hall. So the Colonel proposed to stop a month or two in New York
in order to disburden themselves of this inconvenient amount of cash.
Farebrother found out involuntarily, as indeed everybody else did, the
state of affairs, and he took positive delight in the simplicity and
primitiveness of these sweet and excellent people, to whom the majesty
of the dollar was so utterly unknown.

So admirably had Mr. Romaine got on with the Corbin party, in spite of
the Colonel’s continual efforts to remind him of the time when they
were boys together, that he announced his intention, one night, upon
a visit to the little sitting-room appropriated to the Chessinghams,
of going to New York the same time the Corbins did, and staying at the
same old-fashioned but aristocratic hotel. The two young women were
sitting under the drop-light, each with the inevitable piece of fancy
work in her hand that is so necessary to the complete existence of an
English woman. Mrs. Chessingham glanced at Ethel, whose fine, white
skin grew a little pale.

Mr. Romaine sat watching her with something like a malicious smile
upon his delicate, high-bred old face. He did not often bestow his
company upon his suite, as Letty wickedly called his party. He traveled
in extravagant luxury, and what with his own room, his sitting-room
and his valet’s room, and the apartments furnished the Chessinghams
and Miss Maywood, it really did seem a marvel sometimes, as Ethel
Maywood said, how anybody could pay such bills. But he did pay them,
promptly and ungrudgingly. Nobody--not Chessingham himself--knew how
Mr. Romaine’s money came or how much he had. Nor did Mr. Romaine’s
relatives, of whom he had large tribes and clans in Virginia, know
any more on this interesting subject. They would all have liked to
know, not only where it came from, but where it was going to. Not the
slightest hint, however, had been got from Mr. Romaine during his forty
years’ sojourn on the other side. Nor did his unlooked-for return to
his native land incline him any more to confidences about his finances.
There was a cheque-book always at hand, and Mr. Romaine paid his score
with a lofty indifference to detail that was delightful to women’s
souls, particularly to Mrs. Chessingham and Miss Maywood. Both of them
were scrupulously honest women, and not disposed in the slightest
degree to impose upon him. But if he found out by accident that they
had walked when they might have driven, or had paid for the carriage
themselves, or had in any way paid a bill that might have been charged
to him, he always chided them gently, and declared that if it happened
again all would be over between Chessingham and himself. This charming
peculiarity had caused Ethel to say very often to her sister:

“Although one would much rather marry an Englishman than an American, I
don’t believe any Englishman alive would be so indulgent to a woman as
Mr. Romaine would be. I have never known any married woman made so free
of her husband’s money as we are with Mr. Romaine’s, and if he does
offer himself, I am sure he will make most unheard-of settlements.”

But when Mr. Romaine, sitting back in a dark velvet chair which showed
off his face, clear cut as a cameo, with his superb black eyes shining
full of meaning, spoke of the New York trip, Ethel began to think that
there was no longer any hope of that offer. She remained silent, but
Mrs. Chessingham, with a pitying glance at her sister, said resignedly,
“It will be very pleasant, no doubt. The glimpse we had of New York
when we landed was scarcely enough for so large a place.”

“It is quite a large place,” answered Mr. Romaine, gravely. “How large
should you take it to be?” he asked Miss Maywood.

“About two or three hundred thousand,” replied Ethel, dubiously.

“There are four million people within a radius of ten miles of New
York’s City Hall. Good-night,” said Mr. Romaine, with much suavity,
rising and going.

When he was out of the door Mrs. Chessingham spoke up promptly: “What a
story! I don’t believe a word of it.”

“Of course it isn’t true,” complained Ethel, “but that is the worst
of Americans--you never can tell when they are joking and when they
aren’t. As for Miss Corbin, I simply can’t understand her at all.
However, this move of Mr. Romaine’s settles one thing. Miss Corbin will
be Mrs. Romaine, mark my words.”

“Reggie says that there is positively nothing in it; that Mr. Romaine
likes her, and is amused by her. She _is_ amusing.”

“Yes, I know she is,” replied Ethel, ruefully, with something like
tears in her voice at the admission.

“And he says that she wouldn’t marry Mr. Romaine to save his life--and
that he has heard her laugh at the idea.”

“That only shows, Gladys dear, how blind Reggie is, like the rest of
his sex. Of course Miss Corbin protests that she doesn’t want Mr.
Romaine. She did the equivalent to it the very first talk we ever had
together, that day at the Casino. But I didn’t believe her, and what
shocked me was her want of candor. The notion of a girl who doesn’t
want money and position is entirely too great a strain on my credulity.
I suppose she’ll say next that she doesn’t want to be Lady Corbin
and live at Fox Court. I think it’s much better to be truthful about
things.”

“So do I, dear. But my own belief is that she really likes Mr.
Farebrother best of all.”

“Nonsense,” cried Ethel, sharply. “Mr. Farebrother couldn’t begin
to give her Sir Archy’s position or Mr. Romaine’s money. He’s an
architect, with about enough to live on after his father’s fortune
is cut up into six or seven parts. Not that I pretend to despise Mr.
Farebrother; I am truthful in all things, and I think he’s a very
presentable, pleasant man, and would be a good match. But to suppose
that any girl in her senses would take him in preference to Mr. Romaine
or Sir Archibald Corbin is too wildly grotesque for anything. I’ll
follow Mr. Romaine’s example and say good-night.” And off she went.

Sir Archy had begun to find Newport pleasanter day by day. He had
wearied in the beginning of the adulation paid to his title and his
money, and it soon came to be understood that he was not in the market,
so to speak. He found the Farebrother girls pleasant and amiable, and
showed them some attention. As he showed none whatever to any other of
the cottage girls, nor did he go to any except to the Farebrothers’
villa, the family were credited with having laid a deep scheme to
monopolize him. The real state of the case was too simple to be
understood by artificial people.

Then he had an agreeable sense of familiarity with Mrs. Chessingham
and Miss Maywood. They were really well bred and well educated English
gentlewomen. Ethel’s aloneness had perhaps developed rather too sharply
her aspirations toward an establishment of her own, but that is a not
uncommon thing among women, and the terrible English frankness brings
it to the front without any disguises whatever. Sir Archy, though, knew
how to take care of himself among his own countrywomen, as Englishmen
do. But he was like clay in the hands of the potter where his American
cousin, as he persisted in calling Letty Corbin, was concerned.

Whether Letty was extravagantly fond of him or utterly detested him he
could not for the life of him discern. He did discover unmistakably,
though, that she was a very charming girl. Her frankness, so different
from Ethel Maywood’s frankness, was perfectly bewitching. She
acknowledged with the utmost candor her fondness for admiration,--her
willingness to swallow not only the bait of flattery, but the hook,
bob, sinker, and all,--and calmly related the details of her various
forms of coquetry. Thus she possessed the charm of both art and
simplicity, but, as the case is with her genus, when she fancied she
was artful she was very simple, and when she meant to be very simple
she was extremely artful.

But she was a delightful and never ending puzzle to Sir Archy. He
was manly, clever, and modest, but deep down in his heart was fixed
that ineradicable masculine delusion that he was, after all, a very
desirable fellow for any girl; and his money and his title had always
been treated as such outward and visible signs of an inward and
spiritual grace, that he would have been more or less than human if
he had not been sanguine of success if ever he really put his mind to
winning any girl. But Letty was a conundrum to him of the sort that it
is said drove old Homer to suicide because he could not solve it.

Farebrother, however, understood Letty and Sir Archy and the Romaine
party perfectly, and the little comedy played before his eyes had a
profound interest for him. When he heard of Mr. Romaine’s decision to
go to New York and stay at the same hotel with the Corbins, he chuckled
and shrewdly suspected that Mr. Romaine had in mind more Miss Maywood’s
discomfiture than Miss Corbin’s satisfaction. He chuckled more than
ever when, on the evening he went to see the Corbins off on the boat,
he found the Romaine party likewise established on deck with Mr.
Romaine’s valet and Mrs. Chessingham’s maid superintending the transfer
of a van-load of trunks to the steamer.

They were all sitting together on the upper deck when Farebrother
appeared. He carried three bouquets exactly alike, which he handed
respectively to Mrs. Chessingham, Miss Maywood, and Letty. Miss Maywood
colored beautifully under the thin gray veil drawn over her handsome,
aquiline features. Mrs. Chessingham smiled prettily, but Letty’s face
was a study. A thunder-cloud would have been more amiable. Farebrother,
however, was not in the least disconcerted, but went over to her and
smiled at her in a very exasperating manner.

“So kind of you to give us all bouquets alike,” began Letty, scornfully.

Meanwhile, in order to keep her chagrin from being obvious to Ethel
and Mrs. Chessingham, who would by no means have understood her
particularity about attentions, she was cuddling the bouquet as if it
were a real treasure.

“I suppose your feeble intelligence was not equal to inventing three
separate bouquets for one occasion,” she continued, frowning at the
offender.

“Yes, it was,” answered Farebrother, stoutly. “I knew though that it
would thoroughly exasperate you, so I did it on purpose.”

At this candid defiance Letty’s scowl dissolved into a smile.

“I like your childlike innocence,” she remarked, “and the way you avow
your dishonest motives. And I like a man who is a match for me. I was
going to give the wretched nosegay to the stewardess, but now I’ll keep
it as a souvenir of your delightful impertinence.”

“Thank you,” responded Farebrother politely. There was still half an
hour before the boat started, and all three of the young women felt a
degree of secret anxiety as to whether Sir Archy Corbin would be on
hand to bid them good-by. He had spoken vaguely of seeing them again,
and had accepted Colonel Corbin’s elaborate invitation to make a visit
at Corbin Hall, but whether he would depart far enough from his British
caution in dealing with marriageable young women to see them off on the
boat, was highly uncertain.

Miss Maywood, being an eminently reasonable girl, did not fix her
hopes too high, and thought that to be Lady Corbin was too good to be
true. Yet it was undeniable that he seemed to like her, and in this
extraordinary country, where, according to her ideas, there was a
scandalous laxity regarding the value of attentions, Sir Archy might
fall into the prevailing ways. So she kept her weather eye open, in
spite of the presence of Mr. Romaine, who sat a little distance off
slyly watching the bouquet episode and Farebrother.

Letty considered Mr. Romaine merely in the light of an interesting
fossil, but she felt a characteristic desire to monopolize Farebrother.
Besides, at the bottom of her heart was a genuine admiration for him,
and she felt a sentimental tenderness at the parting which she fully
expected him to share. But Farebrother was irritatingly unresponsive.
He divided his attentions among the three women with what was to Letty
the most infuriating impartiality. Nor did he show the downcast spirits
which she fully expected, and altogether his behavior was inexplicable
and unsatisfactory.

Letty, however, determined, as the severest punishment she could
inflict, to be very debonair with him, and when at last he seated
himself in the camp chair next hers, she began upon a flippant subject
which she thought would let Farebrother see that the parting was as
little to her as to him.

“When I get to New York I shall have some money of my own to spend, and
I have been wondering what I shall do with it,” she said, gravely.

“I am glad to see you appreciate your responsibilities,” answered
Farebrother.

“Now I know you are making fun of me,” said Letty, calmly. “But I don’t
mind. In the first place, I would like to buy two stained glass windows
for the church which you miserable Yankees wrecked during the war. Have
you any idea of the price of stained glass windows?”

“I think they run from fifteen dollars up to twenty or thirty thousand.”

“I shouldn’t get a thirty thousand dollar one, at all events. Then I
must have a complete new riding outfit for myself. This comes of going
to Newport. Before that I thought my riding-skirt, saddle, and bridle
quite good enough, but now I yearn for a tailor made habit and all the
etceteras. How much do you think that will cost? However, it’s not
worth while to ask you, for you wouldn’t be likely to know. And if you
knew, you wouldn’t tell me the truth.”

“Again--thanks.”

“And of course I want some clothes--swell gowns like those I saw at
Newport. And my mother’s watch is past repairing any more, and my piano
is on its last legs, and I promised to bring dear Mrs. Cary, our next
neighbor, an easy-chair for a present, and of course I shall have to
carry Dad Davy and all the other servants something nice, and I must
make a little gift to Aunt Jemima, and, and--I’m afraid my money won’t
hold out.”

“Don’t give up,” said Farebrother, encouragingly. “Leave out the swell
gowns, and the watch, and the piano, and the riding habit, and I
daresay you’ll have enough left for the rest.”

“What do you take me for? To get nothing for myself? Please understand
I am not so foolish as I look. But, perhaps, after all, I won’t buy any
of those things, and I will lay it all out in a pair of pearl bracelets
to match my mother’s necklace, and trust to luck to get another
windfall at some time during my sojourn in this vale of tears.”

But Farebrother, who professed to be deeply interested in this scheme
for squandering a fortune, would not let the subject drop. He drew Miss
Maywood into the conversation, and although the two girls cordially
disliked each other, they were too ladylike to show it, and they had
in mind the prospect of spending some months in a lonely country
neighborhood, when each might find the other a resource.

“I should think, dear,” said the literal Ethel, in her sweet, slow
English voice, “that it would be impossible to buy half the things you
are thinking of out of that much money, and everything is so ruinously
dear in New York, I understand.”

“Oh,” answered Letty, airily, “it’s not the impossibility of the thing
that puzzles me; it is the making up of my mind as to which one of the
impossibilities I shall finally conclude to achieve.”

Miss Maywood thought this a very flippant way of talking, but all
American girls were distressingly flippant, except the sham English
ones that she met at Newport, who were distressingly serious. And
then in a moment or two more a genuine sensation occurred. Sir Archy
appeared, red but triumphant, followed by his man, and both of them
loaded down with gun-cases, hat-boxes, fishing-reels, packing-cases,
mackintoshes, sticks, umbrellas, traveling-rugs and pillows,
guide-books and all the vast impedimenta with which an Englishman
prepares for a twelve hours’ trip as if he were going to the antarctic
circle.

Everybody was surprised to see him, and to see him in that guise. Mrs.
Chessingham opened her eyes, the ever ready blood flew into Ethel’s
fair face, while Letty uttered an exclamation of surprise.

“You here!” she cried.

“Yes,” sighed Sir Archy, beginning to pitch down his sticks, umbrellas
and mackintoshes, while he heaped a whole cartload of other things upon
the patient valet. “I made up my mind at the last moment that it would
be deucedly dull without all of you, and here I am.”

Mr. Romaine, who had been sitting at a little distance, now advanced,
his eyes gleaming with a Mephistophelian amusement. In traveling
costume, his make-up was no less complete than in full evening dress.
His perfectly fitting ulster was buttoned closely around his slight
figure; his usual gray hat was replaced by a correct traveling-cap;
his dog-skin gloves fitted without a wrinkle. He took in at once
the sensation Sir Archy’s unexpected appearance would create in the
feminine contingent of the party, and he wanted to be on hand to enjoy
it.

“We are very pleased to have your company, Sir Archy,” he said,
blandly, “and still more so if you intend patronizing the same hotel
that we shall in New York.”

“Thank you,” answered Sir Archy, heartily. “I had intended to do so,
having been recommended by Colonel Corbin.”

Just then the Colonel appeared.

“Why, my dear fellow,” he cried, in his rich, cordial voice. “This is
truly gratifying. I thought when I bade you farewell this morning it
was for a considerable period, until you paid us that promised visit at
Corbin Hall,” for the Colonel had become completely reconciled to Sir
Archy, and had generously overlooked his experiences during the war.

“Yes,” said Sir Archy, cheerfully, “I was afraid I’d be a horrid bore,
following you all up this way, but I felt so dismal after I had told
you good-by--swore so hard at Tompkins, and made a brute of myself
generally--that at last I concluded I’d better pull up stakes and
quit.”

“Nothing could have been more judicious, my young kinsman,” responded
the Colonel, “and these ladies, I am sure, are the magnets that have
drawn you to us.”

“Are you quite sure of that, Corbin?” asked Mr. Romaine, with a foxy
smile. “Sometimes a cow does not like to be chased by a haystack.”

Sir Archy, still busy with his traps, did not take this in. Ethel
Maywood did not contradict it at all. She never took issue with Mr.
Romaine, but Letty flushed angrily. She concluded then that Mr. Romaine
was very old and very disagreeable.

Farebrother was still lingering, although the first whistle had already
blown. It was about nine o’clock on a lovely September evening. The
moon had risen, and a pale, opaline glow still lingered on sea and sky,
bathing the harbor and the white walled fort and a fleet of yachts in
its magic light. The scene and the hour melted Letty. She had been
very happy at Newport. Usually, the first taste a provincial gets of
the great world beyond is bitter in the mouth, but her experiences
had been rather happy, and of all the men she met, Farebrother,
whose father had made his money in wines and liquors, and who had
conscientious scruples against making money, had impressed her the
most. With the easy confidence born of youthful vanity, and the
simplicity of a provincial girl, Letty fancied that Farebrother would
turn up at Corbin Hall within a month, unable to keep away from her
longer. But at the actual moment of saying good-by, some lines she
had once heard came back to her--“A chord is snapped asunder at every
parting”--some faint doubt, whether, after all, he cared enough about
her to seek her out, crossed her mind. Farebrother caught her eyes
fixed on him with a new light in them. He had begun then to make his
good-bys. Ethel Maywood only felt that general regret at parting with
him that she always felt at seeing the last of an eligible man--but the
presence of Mr. Romaine and Sir Archy Corbin was more than enough to
console her. All the others, though, were genuinely sorry--he was so
bright, so full of good fellowship, such a capital fellow all around.

The Colonel wrung his hand for five minutes. He gave Farebrother seven
separate invitations to visit them at Corbin Hall, each more pressing
than the last; he sent his regards to everything at the Farebrother
cottage, including the butler. “A very worthy man, although in an
humble station in life, and particularly attentive to me whenever I
availed myself of your noble hospitality, so that I did not feel the
want of my own serving man, David, who is equally worthy, although a
great fool.”

Miss Jemima pressed Farebrother’s hand warmly, and promised to send him
a gallon of a particular kind of peach cordial which she knew was very
superior to the trashy imported cordial he had been reduced to drinking.

Letty said nothing, but when Farebrother came to say good-by to her,
she made a deft movement that took them off a little to themselves,
where a word might be said in private without the others hearing it.

“Good-by,” she said, in a voice with a real thrill in it, such as
Farebrother had never heard before.

He had heard her in earnest about books, politics, religion, and
numerous other subjects, but seriousness in her tone with men, and
especially with men who admired her, was something new. He held her
slim gloved hand in his, and he felt the light pressure of her fingers
as she said quickly, in a low voice:

“I sha’n’t forget your goodness to me. I hope we shall meet again.”

“I hope so too,” answered Farebrother, laughing.

The extreme cheeriness of his tone grated upon Letty. She tried to
withdraw her hand, but Farebrother held on to it stoutly. A change,
too, came over him. His bright, strong face grew tender, and he looked
at Letty with a glance so piercing that it forced her to meet his gaze
and then forced her to drop her eyes.

“We shall meet again, and soon, if I can compass it; and meanwhile,
will you promise not to forget me?”

A hubbub of talk had been around them. The tramp of the last belated
ones hurrying across the gang-plank, and the screaming of the whistle
made a commotion that drowned their voices except for each other.

“I promise,” said Letty, her heart beginning to beat and her cheeks to
flush.

She was very emotional and she was conscious that her eyes were filling
with tears and her throat was beginning to throb, and she wanted
Farebrother to go before she betrayed herself.

“Good-by, and God bless you,” he said, with one last pressure of the
hand.

By that time the gang-plank was being hauled in. Farebrother swung
himself over the rail to the deck below, ran along the steamer’s
gangway, and just as the blue water showed between the great hull and
the dock, he cleared it at a bound and stood on the pier waving his
hat. The gigantic steamer moved majestically out, while handkerchiefs
fluttered from her decks and from the dock. It was now almost dark, but
as they steamed quickly out into the moonlit bay, Letty fancied she
could still distinguish Farebrother’s athletic figure in the shadowy
darkness that quickly descended upon the shore.



V


Next morning, after the usual tussle and struggle for their luggage, in
which the whole party, including Mr. Romaine’s valet, Sir Archy’s man
and Miss Maywood’s and Mrs. Chessingham’s maid took part, they were all
driven up to the old-fashioned “before the war” hotel where they had
all engaged quarters.

Those for Mr. Romaine and his party were of course the finest in the
house, on the drawing-room floor, and the best corner rooms. Sir Archy
cared very little where he was put, except that his rooms must be large
and have a bath, at which he never ceased to grumble, because there
were not shower baths, Turkish baths, Russian baths, and every other
arrangement provided for all varieties of bathing.

Colonel Corbin, having in hand what he considered a magnificent sum
of money, less a considerable hole in it made by prolonging his stay
at Newport, and a present to Letty and a like sum to Miss Jemima,
established himself _en prince_. He had a bed-room and sitting-room
for himself, besides the bed-rooms and sitting-room for Miss Jemima
and Letty. He insisted upon having their meals served in private, but
at this Letty flatly rebelled. Go to the public dining-room she would,
to see and be seen. The Colonel was no match for Letty when she really
put forth her prowess--for liberty or death was that young woman’s
motto--and in an hour or two after their arrival at the hotel, he very
obediently followed her down to the great red-carpeted room, where all
the lazy people in the hotel were taking a ten o’clock breakfast.

Letty looked uncommonly charming in her simple, well-fitting gown of
dark blue, and masculine eyes were pretty generally turned on her as
she entered. But the Colonel attracted still more attention. As he
stalked in the great open doorway the head waiter, as imposing as only
a black head waiter can be, suddenly exclaimed:

“Hi! Good Lord A’mighty! Ef dis heah ain’ Marse Colonel!”

The Colonel recognized his friend in an instant, and extended his hand
cordially.

“Why, bless my soul! If it isn’t Black Peter, that used to be Tom
Lightfoot’s body servant! How do you do? how do you do?”

By that time they were sawing the air with mutual delight.

“An’ ter think I done live ter see Marse Colonel agin! An’ how is all
de folks? How ole missis, and Miss Sally Lightfoot, and little Marse
Torm?”

“Admirably, admirably well,” cried the Colonel, beginning to give all
the particulars of ole missis, Miss Sally, little Marse Torm, etc.,
in his big baritone. The people all turned toward the Colonel and his
long-lost friend, and everybody smiled. Letty, not at all confused,
stood by her grandfather’s side and put her hand into Black Peter’s paw.

Peter was extremely elegant, after an antique pattern, not unlike the
Colonel’s own, and proud to be recognized as a friend by “de fust
quality.”

He escorted Colonel Corbin and Letty to the most prominent table in
the room, called up half a dozen waiters to take their orders, and
succeeded in making everybody in the great room see and hear what was
going on. He was at last obliged to tear himself away, and the Colonel,
while waiting for breakfast, suddenly remembering that he must go to
the office to inquire after the health of the room-clerk, who was also
an old acquaintance, he left Letty alone for a moment, while he stalked
out, magnificently.

Letty had picked up the newspaper and was deep in an editorial on the
tariff, when she realized that some one was approaching, and the next
moment Farebrother drew a chair up to hers.

For a moment she was too astonished to speak, and simply stared at him,
upon which Farebrother began laughing.

“W-where did you come from?” she cried, breathlessly.

“From Newport,” answered Farebrother, still laughing at Letty’s face.

“And how did you come?”

“By train. Do you suppose when I saw Sir Archy turn up, to come down
here, that I meant to be left in the lurch? So I made up my mind in a
jiffy, threw a few things in my bag, and made the ten o’clock train;
lovely night going down, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” answered Letty, who was instantly armed with the whole panoply
of coquetry, “lovely. I sat out on deck two hours with Sir Archy.”

“That was a pretty good stretch for a fellow. There are very few girls
who can hold a man’s attention that long, and it’s rather a dangerous
thing to try,” said Farebrother, with calm assurance.

“We had a very interesting time,” answered Letty, stiffly.

“Oh, yes, I know how an Englishman talks to a girl by moonlight. Tells
her about sheep farming, or how he hooked a salmon in the Highlands, or
killed a pig in India.”

“Our conversation _was_ a little on that order,” replied Letty, weakly.
“But it is a relief to meet with a man who can withstand the influences
of the moon and talk sense.”

“I never could,” said Farebrother, and then he asked for Miss Jemima
and the rest of the party. Letty explained that Mr. Romaine and the
Chessinghams preferred their meals in their rooms, and the Colonel
proposed the same thing to her, but she objected, first, because she
liked the liveliness of the public dining-room, and secondly, because
it cost more, and she didn’t believe in spending money to make one’s
self lonely and uncomfortable, which could generally be done for
nothing.

Presently the Colonel reappeared, and was delighted to see Farebrother,
whose arrival did not surprise him in the least. Farebrother, who was
astute, immediately made a series of engagements with the Colonel and
Miss Jemima and Letty for a drive in Central Park, a visit to the
opera, and various other festivities, strictly limited to a party of
four, from which he intended Sir Archy should be conspicuously left out.

When breakfast was over, and Letty had gone to prepare for the drive,
she met Sir Archy as she was coming down the stairs, putting on her
gloves.

“Are you going out?” he asked. “I had my breakfast in my room, and took
a spin around the park before nine o’clock.”

“I am going to the park now. Mr. Farebrother takes us. He came down
last night, on the late train.”

Sir Archy looked rather black at this. Of course Farebrother’s arrival
could mean but one thing--he had Letty’s encouragement to come. Letty,
however, was anxious to disclaim all responsibility for his presence
in New York. This only puzzled Sir Archy the more. He was not up in the
subtility of American flirtations, and regarded Letty’s way of playing
off as a grave infraction of the moral code. Something of this he
hinted to her. At this Letty’s gay laughter pealed out.

“Why, don’t you suppose that American men know how to take care of
themselves?” she cried.

“They ought to--they have opportunities enough to learn,” answered Sir
Archy, grimly.

But then Letty heard the Colonel’s voice, and tripped down the steps,
leaving Sir Archy moodily chewing his mustache, and wondering at the
depravity of American girls.

The day was bright and beautiful, and there was an autumn crispness
in the blue air. Letty leaned back in her own corner of the big easy
landau, shading her pretty, thoughtful face with her red parasol. She
had on a little black gown, and a large black hat, which suited well
her dainty type. Farebrother thought so, sitting opposite her, and
watching the look of calm delight in her eyes as they drove along the
leafy roads, and stopped in the bosky dells of the park.

There were not many people out--the “carriage people” had not yet
returned to town, and there was a charming air of peace and quiet
over the scene. The leaves were beginning to turn, and the caretakers
were busy gathering up piles of those that had dropped. Occasionally
the carriage stopped in the shade, and the voices of the little party
fell in unison with the faint rustling of the leaves and the sylvan
stillness. Sometimes they could almost forget that they were near the
throbbing heart of a mighty city.

At one part of the drive, in the very loneliest spot they had yet seen,
Farebrother proposed to Letty to get out and take a little stroll.
Letty agreed very promptly, and the Colonel and Miss Jemima concluded
they would stay where they were. So Letty and her friend strolled away
down to the banks of a little stream, where the dry leaves of the
young trees rustled to the whispering of the wind. It was high noon
then, but so retired was this spot that the glare was utterly shut
out. Whenever Letty found herself alone with Farebrother she felt a
very acute sympathy between them. She felt this now, more than usual.
Farebrother did not make love to her in the least with seriousness.
Indeed, he had never done so, and his most suggestive compliments
were paid when they were laughing and joking most familiarly. When
they were alone, his tone was one of tender friendship and respect,
which was very captivating to Letty. She was used to the overflowing
sentiment of Southern men, and the calm and sane admiration of a man
like Farebrother pleased her with its novelty, and flattered her by its
respect.

They stood there a long time, Letty idly throwing pebbles into the
stream. They said but little, and that in the low tone to which the
voice naturally drops in the woods, and presently, a silence that was
full of sweet companionship fell between them. They might have stayed
there all day, so charming was it, had not Letty suddenly remembered
herself.

“Oh, we must be going,” she said.

“Yes,” answered Farebrother, with a little sigh, “we must be going.”

When they caught sight of the carriage, the Colonel was just about
getting out in order to go in search of them. Letty’s face grew
scarlet, and she was unusually silent on their way home and wished she
had not stayed so long alone with Farebrother.

Farebrother had arranged to take the Colonel and Letty to the theater
that evening; Miss Jemima had declined. Letty spent the afternoon in
her room, resting. At dinner she came out radiant in a white gown,
a charming white hat, with white fan and gloves. This, she fondly
imagined, was the correct wear for the theater, in orchestra seats.
Farebrother had got those seats with a wary design. If he had taken a
box, Sir Archy might have found out where they were going, and it is
possible to pay visits in a box, and Farebrother determined to have
Letty free from the claims of any other man except the Colonel on that
one evening. He saw in a moment that Letty had got altogether the
wrong ideas about costume, but she looked so fresh and fair that, with
masculine indifference to conventionality, he was glad she had put on
her white gown.

When dinner was over, and they were waiting in the reception-room
for their carriage, the Chessinghams, Ethel Maywood and Mr. Romaine
appeared, also bound for the theater, and for the same play that
Farebrother had selected. It was the first appearance of a celebrated
artist in a play new in this country, and Farebrother had given more
attention to the artist than the piece. It was the first meeting
of the whole party since they had parted on the boat that morning.
Mr. Romaine, when he found that they were all bound for the same
performance, grinned suggestively, and said to Farebrother:

“May I ask if you have ever seen this piece?”

“No,” answered Farebrother, “but I fancy it’s very good. It’s an
adaptation from the French, no doubt made over to suit American
audiences, which are the most prudish in the world.”

Mr. Romaine indulged in one of his peculiar silent laughs. “It is
thoroughly French,” he remarked, slyly.

This made Farebrother genuinely uncomfortable. He knew that not only
Letty knew little of the theater, but that she was super-sensitive as
to questions of propriety, and that this outrageous coquette would
not stand one equivocal word. And the Colonel was as prudish as she.
Farebrother would have hailed with delight then anything that would
have broken up his party, and wished that he had suggested the Eden
Musée.

Nothing escaped Mr. Romaine’s brilliant black eyes. He took in at once
Letty’s white costume, and with malice aforethought, whispered to Miss
Maywood:

“Pardon me, but is a white gown the correct thing for the theater,
except in a box, for I see our young friend is radiant to-night as
snow.”

“No,” answered Ethel, very positively, “it is the worst possible form,
and if we were going in the same party, I should not hesitate to ask
Miss Corbin to wear something quieter. Otherwise we would all be made
conspicuous from her bad judgment.”

Miss Maywood had on her darkest and severest tweed frock, and her most
uncompromising turban. Mr. Romaine, having got this much out of Miss
Maywood, proceeded to extract amusement from Miss Corbin. He went over
to her, and leaning down, whispered:

“My dear young friend, I wish you had persuaded Miss Maywood into
wearing something more festive than her traveling gown on this
occasion. Because ladies wear their bonnets at the theater, that is
no reason why they should ransack their trunks for their oldest and
plainest gowns, too.”

“I quite agree with you,” answered Letty, promptly, who was not
ill-pleased to be complimented at Ethel Maywood’s expense. “She looks
a regular guy. Of course if we were going together, I shouldn’t mind
giving her a delicate hint, because it would scarcely be kind of me to
carry off all the honors of costume on the occasion, and no doubt she
would be much obliged to me. But I really can’t interfere now.”

Mr. Romaine went off chuckling, and the whole way to the theater he was
evidently in a state of suppressed amusement, which puzzled Ethel very
much.

Arrived in their seats, which were near the other party, Letty settled
herself with an ecstatic air of enjoyment to hear the play. The
overture was unmixed delight. So was the first quarter of the first
act. But in about ten minutes “the fun began,” as Farebrother afterward
ruefully expressed it. The play was one of the larkiest descriptions of
larky French comedy.

At the first _risqué_ situation, Farebrother, whose heart was in his
mouth, saw the Colonel’s eyes flash, and an angry dull red creep into
his fine old face. Letty was blissfully unconscious of the whole thing,
and remained so much longer than the Colonel. But when the curtain
came down on the first act, her cheeks were blazing, and she turned a
pair of indignant eyes full on Farebrother, who felt like a thief, a
sneak, and a liar. What made Letty blush never frightened her in the
least, but simply angered her, so that she was always able to take
care of herself. Farebrother, whose ruddy face was crimson, and who
struggled between a wild disposition to swear and to laugh, leaned over
toward the Colonel, and said in an agonized whisper, that Letty caught
distinctly:

“For Heaven’s sake, Colonel, don’t think that I brought you knowingly
to see this thing. I had never seen it myself, and merely went by the
advertisement in the papers.”

“Your intentions were no doubt good, my young friend,” replied the
Colonel, stiffly, “but you should exercise greater care in the
selection of plays to which you ask innocent young women.”

At that, Farebrother would have been thankful if the floor had opened
and swallowed him up. But Letty had evidently heard his few words
of explanation, and they had mollified her. She felt sorry for Mr.
Farebrother, and pitied his chagrin.

“Nevertheless, sir,” continued the Colonel, in a savage whisper, “if
this sort of thing continues, I shall deem it my duty to withdraw my
granddaughter.”

Farebrother was in an agony, and looking around, he saw Mr. Romaine’s
bright eyes fixed on him gleaming with malicious amusement. Poor
Farebrother at that moment was truly to be pitied. But disaster
followed disaster, and worse ever seemed to remain behind. The second
act was simply outrageous, and Farebrother, although he had more than
the average masculine tolerance for _risqué_ and amusing plays, was
so disconcerted by the Colonel’s scowl and Letty’s discomfort that he
fixed his eyes on his program and studied it as if it were the most
fascinating composition he had ever read. Not so the Colonel. He kept
his attention closely upon the stage, and at one point which brought
down the house with roars of laughter and applause, the Colonel rose,
with a snort, and with a countenance like a thunder-cloud, offering
his arm to Letty, stalked down the main aisle of the theater, with
Farebrother, utterly crestfallen, following them. Not only was
Farebrother deeply annoyed at having brought his innocent Virginia
friends to such a play, but the absurdity of his own position and the
illimitable chaff he would have to put up with on account of it at the
club and at masculine dinners was a serious consideration with him.

And there was no room for misunderstanding the reason of their
departure. The Colonel’s face was a study of virtuous indignation.
Letty was crimson, and her eyes persistently sought the floor,
particularly as they passed the Romaine party, while poor Farebrother’s
hangdog look was simply pitiable. He glanced woefully at Mr. Romaine
and Dr. Chessingham; both of them were grinning broadly, while a
particular chum of his, who had an end seat, actually winked and poked
a stick at him as he followed his friends out.

In the carriage he laid his hand upon the knee of the Colonel, who had
maintained a terrible and portentous silence, and said, earnestly:

“Pray, Colonel Corbin, forgive me for my mistake in taking you and Miss
Corbin there. Of course I didn’t dream that anything would be given
which would offend you, and I am more sorry than I can express.”

The Colonel cleared his throat and responded:

“I can well believe, my dear sir, that your mistake came from the head,
not the heart, and as such I fully condone it. But I could not allow my
granddaughter to remain and see and hear things that no young girl, or
any woman for that matter, should see or hear, and so I felt compelled
to take some decisive step. I am prodigiously concerned at treating
your hospitable intention to give us pleasure in this manner. But I ask
you, as a man of the world, what was I to do?”

Farebrother restrained his inclination to haw-haw at the Colonel’s idea
of a man of the world, and accepted his view of the whole thing with
the most slavish submission. He whispered in Letty’s ear, though, as
they rattled over the cobblestones, “Forgive me,” to which Letty, after
a moment, whispered back, “I do.”

As it was so early in the evening, Farebrother proposed Delmonico’s,
not having the courage to suggest any more theaters. They went,
therefore, and had a very jolly little supper, during which the
_entente cordiale_ was thoroughly restored, and the unlucky play
forgotten. On the whole the evening did not end badly for Farebrother.

He remained in New York as long as the Corbins did, which was about
two weeks. He accompanied Letty on her shopping tours, aiding her
with his advice, which she usually took, and then bitterly reproached
him for afterward. When Mrs. Cary’s chair had been bought, and lavish
presents for Miss Jemima, the Colonel, Dad Davy and all the servants,
and an evening gown contracted for, Letty then quite unexpectedly
indulged in a full set of silver for her toilet table. This left her
without any money to buy the shoes, gloves, and fan for her evening
gown, but Letty consoled herself by saying:

“Very probably I sha’n’t have a chance to wear it, anyhow, after we get
back to the country, and I couldn’t use white gloves and shoes and a
lace fan every day, and I can use a silver comb and brush, and look at
myself in a silver glass.”

Ethel Maywood thought this very impractical of Letty, and Farebrother
laughed so uproariously that Letty was quite offended with him. But
she frankly acknowledged that she felt happier after her mind had been
relieved of the strain of spending so large a capital, than when she
was burdened with its responsibilities. The Colonel’s purchases were
very much after the same order. He bought a pair of carriage horses
which in Virginia he could have got for considerably less than he paid,
and he quite forgot that the rickety old carriage for which they were
intended was past praying for. He also bought a variety of ornamental
shrubs and plants for which the climate at Corbin Hall was totally
unsuited. He indulged himself in twelve dozen of port, which, with his
hotel bills, swallowed up the rest of his cash capital.

Meanwhile, Sir Archy was by no means out of the running, and saw
almost as much of his cousins as Farebrother. But he became deeply
interested in New York, and went to work studying the great city with
a characteristic English thoroughness. Before the two weeks were over,
he knew more about the city government, taxation, rents, values,
commerce, museums, theaters, press, literature, and everything else,
than Farebrother did, who had lived there all his life.

The night before the Corbins were to start for Virginia, Letty knocked
at the door of the Chessinghams’ sitting-room to say good-by. Ethel
Maywood opened the door for her. She was quite alone, and the two girls
seated themselves for a farewell chat. They did not like each other
one whit better than in the beginning, but neither had they infringed
the armed neutrality which existed between them. They knew that in the
country that winter they would be thrown together, and sensible people
do not quarrel in the country; they are too dependent on each other.

“And I suppose I am to congratulate you,” said Ethel, with rather a
chill smile.

“On what, pray?” asked Letty, putting the top of her slipper on the
fender, and clasping her hands around her knee in a graceful but
unconventional attitude.

“Upon your engagement to Mr. Farebrother,” said Ethel, looking more
surprised than Letty.

“But I am not engaged to Mr. Farebrother,” answered Letty, sitting up
very straight, “and he has not asked me to marry him.”

“Oh, I am so sorry for you,” cried Ethel. “I would never have mentioned
it if I had known.”

“Why are you sorry for me?” demanded Letty, her cheeks showing a danger
signal.

“Because--because, dear, after a man has paid a girl the marked
attention for weeks that Mr. Farebrother has paid you, it is certainly
very bad treatment not to make an offer, and I should think your
grandpapa would bring Mr. Farebrother to terms.”

Letty’s surprise was indescribable. She could only murmur confusedly:

“Grandpapa--Mr. Farebrother to terms--bad treatment--what do you mean?”

“Just what I say,” answered Ethel, tartly. “If a man devotes himself to
a girl, he has no right to withdraw without making her an offer, and
such conduct is considered highly dishonorable in England.”

Rage and laughter struggled together in Letty’s breast, but laughter
triumphed. She lay back in her chair, and peal after peal of laughter
poured forth. Ethel Maywood thought Letty was losing her mind, until at
last she managed to gasp, between explosions of merriment, that things
were a little different in this country, and that neither she nor Mr.
Farebrother had incurred the slightest obligation toward each other by
their conduct.

It was now the English girl’s turn to be surprised, and surprised she
was. In the midst of it Mr. Romaine came in upon one of his rare
visits. He demanded to know the meaning of Letty’s merriment, and
Letty, quite unable to keep so diverting a cat in the bag, could not
forbear letting it out. Mr. Romaine enjoyed it in his furtive, silent
manner.

It found its way to Farebrother’s ears, who was as much amused as
anybody, and when he and Letty met a few hours afterward, each of them,
on catching the other’s eye, laughed unaccountably.

The Romaine party was to follow later in the season, considerable
preparations being necessary for the house at Shrewsbury to be
inhabitable after forty years of solitude. Farebrother and Sir Archy
had both accepted the Colonel’s pressing invitations to pay a visit to
Corbin Hall in time for the shooting, and so the parting with Letty was
not for long. He and Sir Archy went with them to the station, and Letty
found her chair surrounded by piles of flowers, books, and everything
that custom permits a man to give to a girl. There was also a very
handsome bouquet with Mr. Romaine’s card. Letty penned a card of thanks
which Farebrother delivered to Mr. Romaine before Miss Maywood. Mr.
Romaine, with elaborate gallantry, placed it in his breast pocket, to
Miss Maywood’s evident discomfiture.

Meanwhile the Corbins were speeding homeward on the Southern train.
Letty had enjoyed immensely her first view of the great, big, outside
world.



VI


November came, that sunny autumn month in lower Virginia, when the
changing woods glow in the mellow light, and a rich, blue haze envelops
the rolling uplands; when the earth lies calm and soft, wrapped in the
golden brightness of the day, or the cloudless splendor of the moonlit
night. The chirp of the partridge was heard abroad in the land, and
that was the sign for Farebrother’s arrival. An excursion down to
Virginia after partridges concealed a purpose on his part toward higher
game and a more exciting pursuit.

One day, though, two or three weeks before Farebrother’s arrival, the
Colonel received a marked copy of a newspaper. It contained the notice
of the collapse of a bank in New York, in which the Farebrother family
were large stockholders.

Then came a letter from Farebrother telling the whole story. By far
the bulk of their fortune was gone, but there was still enough left for
his mother and sisters to live comfortably.

“As for myself,” he wrote, “without indulging in any cant or hypocrisy,
I can say that the loss of what might have been mine has great
compensations for me. I shall now be free to pursue my profession of
architecture, which I love with the greatest enthusiasm. Formerly I was
handicapped by being thought a rich man, and among my fellows in my
trade it was always against me that I took money which I did not need.
But now I am upon the same footing as the rest, and I shall have a
chance to pursue it, not as a _dilettante_, but as a working member of
a great profession. I have done some things that have been commended,
and I have got engagements already, although I have not yet opened an
office. But I have taken one in New York. So, although I suppose no man
ever lost money who did not regret it, I can say, with great sincerity,
that I know of no man who ever lost it to whom it was so slight a real
loss.”

Letty and the Colonel both liked Farebrother’s letter; it was so
straightforward and manly. The Colonel, with masculine fatuity, had
suggested that Sir Archy and Farebrother should time their visit
together. The truth was he did not relish the idea of tramping over
meadows and through woods after partridges, nor did he think it
hospitable to let one of his guests go alone, but two of them could
get along very well, so he managed to ask them both at the same time.
Neither one liked the arrangement when he found it out, but neither
made any opposition.

Farebrother could not quite fathom how Sir Archy and Letty stood toward
each other. Sir Archy had not indulged in any demonstrations toward
her, except those that were merely friendly. Judged from the American
point of view, his attentions were nothing. And to complicate matters,
his following the Corbins and the Romaine party to New York might be
understood as committing him as much to Miss Maywood as to Miss Corbin.
The Chessinghams, Miss Maywood, and even Sir Archy himself regarded
that New York trip as a very important and significant affair, and Sir
Archy, not forgetting his British caution in love affairs, had at first
congratulated himself that his motive might be supposed to be either
one of the girls. But upon further reflection he rather regretted this.
He knew that Letty attached not the slightest importance to anything a
man might say or do short of an actual proposal.

But Ethel Maywood was different. She was of good family, accustomed
to all the restrictions of a young English girl, and Chessingham was
one of his best friends, so that it would be peculiarly awkward if his
conduct had given rise to hopes that never could be realized.

There was no doubt in Sir Archy’s mind, though, that he preferred
Letty. He had heretofore felt, in all the slight fancies he had had for
girls, a need for the greatest circumspection, for he was a baronet
with a rent-roll, and as such distinctly an eligible. But whether Letty
would take him or not, he had not the remotest inkling. Sometimes he
reasoned that the mere fact she exempted him to a certain degree from
the outrageous coquetry she lavished on Farebrother might be a good
sign. Again, he felt himself hopelessly out of the race. As for Miss
Maywood, he had a half acknowledged feeling that if Letty did not take
him Ethel had the next best claim. Of course he knew she would marry
Mr. Romaine if he asked her. But this did not shock him, accustomed
as he was to the English idea that there is a grave, moral obligation
upon every girl to marry well if she can, without waiting for further
eventualities.

The boat only came to the river landing twice a week, so that it
happened very naturally both Sir Archy and Farebrother stepped off the
steamer one November evening, and got into the rickety carriage drawn
by the two showy bobtailed horses bought in New York, over which Dad
Davy handled the ribbons. Dad Davy received the guests with effusion,
and apologized for the restlessness of the horses.

“Dee ain’ used ter de ways o’ de quality yit. Quality folks’ horses
oughter know to stan’ still an’ do nuttin’; ole marse say dee warn’t
raise’ by no gent’mun, an’ dee k’yarn’ keep quiet like er gent’mun’s
kerridge hosses oughter.”

The horses started off at a rattling pace, and the carriage bumped
along at such a lively rate over the country road that Sir Archy fully
expected to find himself landed flat on the ground.

“I don’t believe this old trap will ever get us to Corbin Hall,” he
said to Farebrother.

The two men were pleasant enough together, although each wished the
other back in New York. Farebrother inquired about Mr. Romaine, and Sir
Archy mentioned that the whole party would be down the next week.

It was quite dusk when the ramshackly old coach rattled and banged up
to the door of Corbin Hall. The house looked exactly as it had on that
November night ten years before, when Sir Archy had made his entry
there.

The hall door was wide open, and from it poured the ruddy glow of the
fire in the great drawing-room fireplace, and two candles sent a pale
ray into the darkness. The Colonel stood waiting to receive them, with
Letty and Miss Jemima in the background. When the two men alighted and
entered the house, the Colonel nearly sawed their arms off.

“Delighted to see you, my dear young friends,” he cried, “and most
fortunate and agreeable for us all that you are here together.”

The Colonel, in his simplicity, actually believed this. Miss Jemima’s
greeting and Letty’s was not less cordial, and each of the two men
would have felt perfectly satisfied under the circumstances but for
the presence of the other.

The shabby, comfortable old library looked exactly as it had done ten
years before. The identical square of rag carpet was spread over the
handsome floor, polished by many decades of “dry rubbin’.” Everything
in the room that could shine by rubbing did so--for Africans were
plentiful still at Corbin Hall. The brass fender and fire dogs, the old
mahogany furniture, all shone like looking-glasses.

Miss Letty regulated her conduct toward her two admirers with the
most artful impartiality, and both Sir Archy and Farebrother realized
promptly that their visit was to be a season of enjoyment, and not of
lovemaking--which last is too thorny a pursuit and too full of pangs
and apprehensions to be classed strictly under the head of pleasure.
Miss Jemima gave them a supper that was simply an epic in suppers--so
grand, so nobly proportioned, so sustained from beginning to end.
Afterward, sitting around the library fire, they had to hear a good
many of the Colonel’s stories, with Letty in a little low chair in
the corner, her hands demurely folded in her lap, and the fire-light
showing the milky whiteness of her throat and lights and shadows
in her hazel eyes. Letty was very silent--for, being a creature of
caprice, when she was not laughing and talking like a running brook,
she maintained a mysterious silence. One slender foot in a black
slipper showed from under the edge of her gown--the only sign of
coquetry about her--for no matter how much Puritanism in air and manner
Letty might affect, there was always one small circumstance--whether it
was her foot, her hand, or her hair, or the turn of her head,--in which
the natural and incorrigible flirt was revealed. The evening passed
quickly and pleasantly to all. The Colonel would not hear of a week
being the limit of their visit. Within a few days the Romaine party
would be at Shrewsbury, and then there would be a “reunion,” as the
Colonel expressed it.

When Farebrother was consigned to his bed-room that night, with a huge
four-poster like a catafalque to sleep in, and a dressing-table with
a frilled dimity petticoat around it, and the inevitable wood-fire
roaring up the chimney, he abandoned himself to pleasing reflections,
as he smoked his last cigar. How pleasant, home-like, and comfortable
was everything! Nothing was too good to be used--and the prevailing
shabbiness seemed only a part of the comfort of it all. And Letty, like
all true women, was more charming in her own home than anywhere else in
the world.

Sir Archy, in the corresponding bed-room across the hall, with a
corresponding catafalque, petticoated dressing-table, etc., likewise
indulged in retrospection before he went to bed. He was not so easy in
his mind--no man can be at peace who has two women in his thoughts. He
was very sorry the Romaine party were coming. He had not discriminated
enough in his attentions between Letty and Ethel Maywood, and the
feeling that he might be playing fast and loose with Ethel troubled and
annoyed him. But love with him was a much more prosaic and conventional
matter, though not less sincere, than with Farebrother, who had the
American disregard of consequences in affairs of the heart.

Next morning was an ideal morning for shooting. A white haze lay over
the land, tempering the glory of the morning sun. The rime lay over
the fields just enough to help the scent of the dogs, and there was a
calm, chill stillness in the air that boded ill for partridges.

The Colonel turned his two young friends over to the care of Tom
Battercake, and the trio started off accompanied by a good-sized
pack of pointers. Sir Archy had on the usual immaculate English rig
for shooting--immaculate in the mud and stains necessary for correct
shooting clothes. His gun, game-bag, and whole outfit were as complete
as if he had expected to be cast ashore on a desert island, with only
his trusty weapon to keep him from starvation. Farebrother’s gun, too,
was a gem--but in other respects he presented the makeshift appearance
of a man who likes sport, but does not affect it. His trousers, which
had belonged, not to a shooting-suit, originally, but had attended
first a morning wedding, were so shabby as to provoke Letty’s most
scathing sarcasm. His coat and hat were shocking, and altogether he
looked like a tramp in hard luck. Tom Battercake, much to Sir Archy’s
surprise, was provided with an ancient and rusty musket of the vintage
of 1840, with which he proposed to take a flyer occasionally. Sir
Archy privately expressed his surprise at this to Farebrother, who
laughed aloud.

“That’s all right down here,” he said, still laughing. “There’s game
enough for everybody--even the darkeys.”

Sir Archy could not quite comprehend this--but he reflected that not
much damage could be done by such a piece of ordnance as the old
musket. However, he soon changed his mind--for Tom, by hook or by
crook, managed to fill a gunny bag which he had concealed about his
person quite as soon as Sir Archy and Farebrother filled their bags,
and still he gave them all the best shots. Sir Archy’s wrath was
aroused by some of Tom’s unique methods--such as knocking a partridge
over with the long barrel of his musket as the bird was on the ground,
and various other unsportsmanlike but successful devices. But there
was no way of bringing Tom’s iniquities home to him, who evidently
considered the birds of the air were to be caught as freely as the
fishes of the sea. So Sir Archy soon relapsed into silent disgust.
He was a superb shot, but Tom Battercake fairly rivaled him, while
Farebrother was a bad third. After tramping about all the morning,
they sat down on the edge of the woods to eat the luncheon with which
Miss Jemima had provided them. While they were sitting on the ground,
Tom was noticed to be eying Sir Archy’s beautiful gun with an air of
longing. Presently he spoke up diffidently, scratching his wool.

“Marse Archy--please, suh--ain’ you gwi’ lem me have one shot outen dat
ar muskit o’ yourn?”

Sir Archy’s first impulse was to throw the gun at Tom’s woolly head,
but on reflection he merely scowled at him. Farebrother laughed.

“There, you rascal,” he said, “you may take my gun, and don’t blow your
head off with it.”

Sir Archy was paralyzed with astonishment--not so Tom, who dashed for
the gun and disappeared in the underbrush with Rattler, the dean of the
corps of pointers at Corbin Hall. In a little while a regular fusillade
was heard, and in half an hour Tom appeared with a string of partridges
on his shoulder, and a broad grin across his face.

“Thankee, thankee, marster,” he said to Farebrother, returning the
gun. “Dat ar muskit o’ yourn cert’ny does shoot good. I ain’ never
shoot wid nuttin’ like her--an’ ef dis nigger had er gun like dat,
ketch him doin’ no mo’ wuk in bird time!”

Sir Archy forbore comment, but he concluded that American sport, like
everything else American, was highly original and inexplicable.

The week passed quickly enough. Every day, when the weather was fine,
they went out in the society of Tom Battercake. In the afternoon the
lively horses were hitched up to some of the mediæval vehicles at
Corbin Hall, and they took a drive through the rich, flat country,
Letty being usually of the party. She was surprisingly well behaved,
but Farebrother doubted if it was a genuine reform, and suspected truly
enough that it was only one of Letty’s protean disguises. When the week
was out the Colonel would not hear of their departure, and Sir Archy
promptly agreed to prolong his visit. Of course, when he decided to
stay, Farebrother could not have been driven away with a stick. At the
beginning of the second week Mr. Romaine, the Chessinghams and Miss
Maywood arrived at Shrewsbury. Within a day or two the Colonel and
Letty, and their two guests, set out one afternoon for Shrewsbury to
pay their first call.

Instead of the picturesque shabbiness of Corbin Hall, Shrewsbury was in
perfect repair. It was a fine old country house, and when they drove up
to the door, it had an air of having been newly furbished up outside
and in that was extremely displeasing to the Colonel.

“Romaine is an iconoclast, I see,” he remarked, fretfully. “He is
possessed with that modern devil of paint and varnish that is the ruin
of everything in these days. The place looks quite unlike itself.”

“But doesn’t it look better than it ever did?” asked Letty, who would
have been glad to see some paint and varnish at Corbin Hall. This the
Colonel disdained to answer.

They were ushered into a handsome and modernly furnished drawing-room
by Mr. Romaine’s own man, who wore a much injured expression at finding
himself in Virginia and the country to boot. Newport suited his taste
much better. The Colonel sniffed contemptuously at the Turkish rugs,
divans, ottomans, lamps, screens and bric-à-brac that had taken the
place of the ancient horsehair furniture. Letty looked around, consumed
with envy and longing.

Presently Mr. Romaine appeared, followed by the Chessinghams and Ethel
Maywood, who was looking uncommonly handsome. As soon as greetings were
exchanged, the Colonel attacked Mr. Romaine about what he called his
“vandalism” in refurnishing his house. Mr. Romaine laughed his peculiar
low laugh.

“Why, if I had let that old rubbish remain here, which had no
associations whatever, except that it was bought by my father’s
agent--a person of no taste whatever--I should have been constantly
reminded of the flight of time, a thing I should always like to forget.”

“Life, my dear Romaine,” remarked the Colonel, solemnly, “is full of
reminders of the flight of time to persons of our advanced years, and
we have but a brief span in which to prepare for another world than
this sublunary sphere.”

At this Mr. Romaine, excessively nettled, turned to Letty and began to
describe to her a very larky ballet he had witnessed in New York just
before leaving for Virginia. Letty, in her innocence, missed the point
of the story, which annoyed and amused Mr. Romaine. The Colonel by that
time was deep in conversation with gentle Gladys Chessingham, whom he
sincerely admired, and so did not catch Mr. Romaine’s remarks, of which
he would have strongly disapproved.

Among the four young people--Farebrother, Letty, Sir Archy and Ethel
Maywood--a slight constraint existed. Each girl so resolutely believed
in the falsity of the other’s ideas where men were concerned that each
was on the alert to be shocked. Sir Archy was wondering if his friends,
the Chessinghams, were suspecting him of trifling with Ethel Maywood’s
feelings, and Farebrother was heartily wishing that Ethel would succeed
in landing the baronet in her net, and so leave Letty for himself.

Nevertheless, they made talk naturally enough. Ethel was secretly
much disgusted with the country as she saw it. There were few of the
resources of English country life at hand, and as she had been educated
to depending upon a certain round of conventional amusements to kill
time, she was completely at a loss what to do without them. Reading
she regarded as a duty instead of a pleasure. But with the class
instincts of a well born English girl, she conceived it to be her duty
to say she liked the country at all times, and so protested in her
pretty, well-modulated voice. Sir Archy and Farebrother were temporary
resources, but no more. As for Sir Archy, she regarded him as much
more unattainable than he fancied himself to be. It would be too much
good luck to expect for her to return to England as Lady Corbin of Fox
Court, and so she dismissed the dazzling vision with a sigh, and made
up her mind to fly no higher than Mr. Romaine. Letty wondered how the
domestic machinery ran at Shrewsbury, with black servants picked up
here and there in the country--for the Shrewsbury negroes, having no
personal ties to the place, had scattered speedily after the war. Ethel
soon enlightened her.

“Turner”--that was their maid--“is really excessively frightened at
the blacks. They grin at her so diabolically, and she can’t get rid of
the impression that all blacks are cannibals, and as for Dodson and
Bridge”--the two valets--“they do nothing but complain to Reggie, and
he says he expects them both to give warning before the month is out.”

“I should think they would,” cried Letty, laughing, and realizing the
woes of two London flunkies in a domestic staff made up of Virginia
negroes.

“None of them can read a written order,” continued Miss Maywood,
who usually avoided the bad form of talking about servants, but who
found present circumstances too overpowering for her. “The cook
seems an excellent old person, not devoid of intelligence, although
wholly without education--and as Reggie liked her way of preparing
an omelette, I sent for her to write down the recipe. She came in,
laughing as if it were the greatest joke in the world, called me
‘honey’ and ‘child,’ and I never could get out of her--although she
talked incessantly in her peculiar patois--what I really wished to
know.”

This amused Sir Archy very much, who went on to relate his experiences
with Tom Battercake.

But Mr. Romaine seemed to find Letty more than usually attractive, and
soon established himself by her with an air of proprietorship that
ran both Sir Archy and Farebrother out of the field altogether. He
put on his sweetest manner for her; his fine black eyes grew more and
more expressive, and he used upon her a great deal of adroit flattery
which was not without its effect. He gave her to understand that he
considered her quite a woman of the world. This never fails to please
an ingénue, while it is always wise to tell a woman of the world that
she is an ingénue. Letty really thought that her visit to Newport and
her week or two in New York had made another girl of her. So it had,
in one way. It had taught her a new manner of arranging her hair, and
several schemes of personal adornment, and she had seen a few pictures
and some artistic interiors. But Letty was a girl of robust and
well-formed character before she ever saw anything of the outside world
at all, and she was not easily swayed by any mere external influences;
but she was acutely sensitive to personal influences, and she felt
the individual magnetism of Mr. Romaine very strongly. Sometimes she
positively disliked him, and thought he affected to be young, although
nobody could say he was frivolous--and thought him hard and cynical and
generally unlovely. But to-day she found him peculiarly agreeable--he
artfully complimented her at every turn--he was unusually amusing in
his conversation, and in fact laid himself out to please with a power
that he possessed, but rarely exerted. He had seen in the beginning
that Letty was prejudiced against regarding him as a youngish man,
and this piqued him. He did not pretend, indeed, to be young, but he
decidedly objected to be shelved along with the Colonel and other
fossils--and as for Miss Jemima, who was a few months younger than
himself, he treated her as if she had been his great-grandmother. This,
however, did not disturb Miss Jemima’s placidity in the least.

The visit was a long one, and it was quite dark before the ramshackly
carriage rattled out of the gate toward Corbin Hall. Mr. Romaine had
made them all promise to come again soon, and when they were out of
hearing, Letty expressed an admiration for him which filled Farebrother
with a sudden and excessive disgust.



VII


Sir Archy and Farebrother remained three weeks at Corbin Hall, and in
that time a great many things happened.

There was constant intercourse between the two places, Corbin Hall and
Shrewsbury, which were only four miles apart. Neither of the young
men made anything of walking over to Shrewsbury for a little turn,
nor did the Chessinghams and Miss Maywood consider the walk to Corbin
Hall anything but a stroll. Not so Letty, who was no great walker, but
a famous rider. Nor did Mr. Romaine, who had a very stylish trap and
a well set-up iron-gray riding nag that speedily learned his way to
Corbin Hall. Mr. Romaine got to coming over with surprising frequency,
much to Miss Maywood’s disgust. The Colonel took all of Mr. Romaine’s
visits to himself, nor was Mr. Romaine ever able to convince him that
Letty was his objective point. As for Letty, she was a little amused
and a little annoyed and a little frightened at the attentions of her
elderly admirer. She did not know in the least how to treat him--and he
had so much acuteness and finesse, and subtlety of all sorts, that he
had the distinct advantage of her in spite of her native mother wit.
All her skill was in managing young men--a youngish old man was a type
she had never come across before--as, indeed, Mr. Romaine was, strictly
speaking, _sui generis_. He was never persistent--he paid short and
very entertaining visits. He made no bones of letting Miss Jemima see
that he regarded her as at least thirty years older than himself. Men
hug the fond delusion that they never grow old--women live in dread of
it--and men are the wiser.

Ethel Maywood, though, was cruelly disappointed. She thought Mr.
Romaine was in love with Letty, and in spite of that vehement protest
Letty had made at their very first meeting, she did not for one instant
believe that Letty would refuse so much money. For Ethel’s part, she
sincerely respected and admired Mr. Romaine; she had got used to his
peculiarities, and had fully made up her mind to be a good wife to him
if Fate should be so kind as to give her a chance. And now, it was too
exasperating that Letty, whom she firmly believed could have either
Farebrother or Sir Archy, should rob her of her one opportunity. It
turned out though that Miss Maywood was mistaken, and Letty did not by
any means enjoy the monopoly with which she was credited.

Chessingham, in consequence of the liberal salary paid him by Mr.
Romaine, had agreed to remain with him by the year--and, of course, Mr.
Romaine had nothing to do with Chessingham’s womankind, who elected to
stay, to which Mr. Romaine very willingly agreed. Still, the chance of
Miss Maywood being some day Mrs. Romaine was not without its effect
upon both the young doctor and his pretty wife. But shortly after their
arrival at Shrewsbury, they all became convinced that this hope was
vain.

One stormy November day, when they had been in Virginia about a
fortnight, Mr. Romaine shut himself up in the library as he usually
did, and there he remained nearly all day, writing busily. It was too
disagreeable for him to go over to Corbin Hall, which he had done
with uncommon frequency. In fact, every time he went out to drive or
ride he either said or hinted that he was going over there--but he
did not always go. Mr. Romaine, who could pay like a prince for other
people, and who treated the Chessinghams magnificently as regards
money, delighted in sticking pins in the people he benefited--and it
must be acknowledged that much of his attention to Letty Corbin came
from a malicious pleasure he took in teasing Miss Maywood. After these
announcements as to where he was going, Mr. Romaine would go off,
generally on horseback, his back looking very young and trim, while his
face looked white and old and bloodless; but as often as not he turned
his horse’s head away from Corbin Hall as soon as he was out of sight
of his own windows. He would grin sardonically at the injured air Ethel
would wear upon these occasions.

But on this day he saw no one, and went nowhere. About five o’clock,
when dusk had fallen, a message came. Mr. Romaine desired his
compliments to Miss Maywood and Mr. Chessingham, and would they come to
the library.

The message surprised them both--nevertheless they went with alacrity.
Mr. Romaine was walking up and down the luxurious room with a
peculiarly cheerful smile, and his black eyes glowing. A single large
sheet of paper, closely written, lay on the library table.

“Thank you for coming,” he said, in his sweetest tones to Ethel. “I
will detain you but a moment. I have been engaged in what is generally
a lugubrious performance--making my will. It is now done, and I desire
you and Chessingham to witness it.”

It gave a slight shock to both of them. Chessingham had always found
Mr. Romaine firmly wedded to the idea that, although he was full of
diseases, he would never die. He made plans extending onward for
twenty, thirty, and even forty years, and although he was decidedly
a valetudinarian, he indicated the utmost contempt for his alleged
ailments when it came to a serious question. Miss Maywood felt that
all her hopes were dashed to the ground. A man who is thinking about
getting married does not make his will before that event. She paled a
little, but being a philosophic girl, and not being in love with Mr.
Romaine, she maintained her composure fairly well. “I wish to read it
to you,” said he, and then, placing a chair for Ethel, and toying with
his _pince-nez_, he continued, with a smile:

“It may astonish you--wills generally do surprise people. But, after
all, mine will be found not so extraordinary. I make a few bequests,
and then I--make--Miss--Letty--Corbin--my--residuary--legatee.”

Mr. Romaine said this very slowly, so as not to miss its dramatic
effect. He achieved all he wanted. Ethel flushed violently, and fell
back in her chair. Chessingham half rose and sat down again. None
of this was lost on Mr. Romaine, who could not wholly conceal his
enjoyment of it. He began, in his clear, well-modulated voice, to read
the will. It was just as he said. He gave a thousand dollars here, and
a thousand dollars there, he left Chessingham five hundred dollars to
buy a memento, and then Letty Corbin was to have the rest.

“And now,” said he, gracefully handing a pen to Miss Maywood, “will you
kindly attest it?”

In the midst of Chessingham’s natural disappointment and disgust,
he could scarcely refrain from laughing. The whole thing was so
characteristic of Mr. Romaine. Ethel felt like flinging the pen in his
face, but she was obliged to sign her name, biting her lips as she did
so, with vexation. Chessingham’s signature followed. Then both of them
went out, leaving Mr. Romaine apparently in a very jovial humor.

As soon as they reached their own sitting-room, where Mrs. Chessingham
was waiting, devoured with curiosity, Ethel dissolved into tears of
anger and disappointment.

“He has made a fool of me,” she sobbed, to Chessingham’s attempted
consolation.

“Who is it that Mr. Romaine can’t make a fool of, when he tries?” asked
Chessingham, grimly.

“I think,” said Mrs. Chessingham, who had much sound sense, “Mr.
Romaine acts the fool himself. He has a plenty of money, fairly good
health in spite of his imagination to the contrary, and a great deal
to make him happy. Instead of that, he is about as dissatisfied an old
creature as I ever knew.”

“Right,” answered Chessingham, “and, Ethel, I am not at all sure that
you haven’t made a lucky miss.”

“That may be,” said Ethel, drying her eyes, “but all the same,
everybody expected him to offer himself to me. When we left England it
was considered, you remember, by all the people we knew, that it was as
good as an engagement. And now--to have to go back--” here Ethel could
say no more.

“And Letty Corbin--who, I believe, really dislikes him,” said Mrs.
Chessingham.

“Don’t be too sure about Letty,” remarked Chessingham. “It’s just as
likely as not that he will make another will to-morrow. All this may
be simply to enliven the dulness of the country, and to give Ethel
warning that she is wasting her time. You notice, he exacted no promise
of us--he probably wants us to tell this at Corbin Hall. _I_ sha’n’t
oblige him, for one.”

“Nor I,” added Ethel. “And one thing is certain, I shall go back to
England. I am missing all my winter visits by staying here, and I may
not be able to make a good arrangement for the season in town--so I
think I shall go.”

Both Chessingham and his wife thought this a judicious thing. Ethel was
twenty-seven and had no time to lose, and she was clearly wasting it
buried in the country--or rather in the wilderness, as she considered
it. And, besides, the Chessinghams were fully convinced that Mr.
Romaine would not stay long at Shrewsbury. It was a mere freak in the
beginning, and they already detected signs of boredom in him.

Within a few days Chessingham mentioned to him casually that Miss
Maywood would return to England at the first convenient opportunity.
Mr. Romaine received the news with a sardonic grin and many expressions
of civil regret.

“My dear Miss Maywood,” he said, the next time he ran across her,
“you cannot imagine what a gap your absence will make to me. However,
since your decision is made, all I can do will be to provide as far as
possible for your comfort during your journey back to England. I will
even let Chessingham off to take you to New York, and every day, while
you are at sea, I will arrange that you shall have some reminder of
those that you have left behind in Virginia.”

“Thank you,” stiffly responded the practical Ethel, who thought that
Mr. Romaine had behaved like a brute.

The news of her impending departure was conveyed to Letty one afternoon
when the two girls were sitting comfortably over Letty’s bed-room
fire--for although there was still no love lost between them, they
found no difficulty in maintaining a feminine _entente cordiale_. Letty
was surprised and said so.

“Of course,” said Ethel, who could not banish her injuries from her
mind, “it will be embarrassing to go back. Some malicious people will
say that Mr. Romaine has jilted me--but there is not a word of truth in
it.”

“Certainly not,” cried Letty, energetically. “Who on earth would
believe that you would marry that old--pachyderm?” Letty hunted around
in her mind for an epithet to suit Mr. Romaine, but could think of
nothing better than the one she used.

“I’m afraid plenty of people will believe it,” answered Ethel, with a
faint smile--and then the womanish incapacity to keep a secret that
is not bound by a promise made her tell Letty the very thing she had
declared she would not tell her.

“It sounds rather ungrateful of you to talk that way, for Mr. Romaine
intends conferring a very great benefit--the greatest benefit--on you.”

“What do you mean?” asked the surprised Letty.

“Only this. A week or two ago he called Reggie and me into the library
one afternoon, and there lay his will on the library table--and he
asked us to act as witnesses and read us the will--and you are--”

Ethel paused a moment. Letty was leaning forward deeply interested.

“Did he leave me money for a pair of pearl bracelets?” she cried.

“No. He made you his residuary legatee, after giving away a few
thousand dollars to other people,” answered Ethel.

Letty was quick of wit, and took in at once what Ethel meant. Mr.
Romaine had left her his fortune.

She grew a little pale and lay back in her chair. Her first feelings
were full of contradictions, as her emotions always were where Mr.
Romaine was concerned. Money was a delightful thing--she had found that
out--but Mr. Romaine’s money! And sometimes she hated Mr. Romaine, and
laughed at him behind his back--and now she would have to be very
attentive to him, and to let him see that she felt her obligations to
him. While this was passing through her mind in a chaotic way, she
suddenly remembered to ask:

“Did Mr. Romaine authorize you to tell me this?”

“Not exactly,” said Ethel. “But he said nothing about keeping it
secret, and Reggie says he is convinced Mr. Romaine wishes us to
mention it--for he is a very secretive man usually, and never omits any
precaution when he wishes a thing kept quiet.”

Letty remained strangely still and silent. She was staggered by what
Ethel told her, and thoroughly puzzled--and she had a vague feeling
that Mr. Romaine had taken an unwarrantable liberty with her.

“I think,” said Ethel, “that he wants to marry you, and he imagines
this will incline you to him.”

“In that case,” replied Letty, rising with dignity, “Mr. Romaine makes
a very great mistake. Nothing on earth would induce me to marry him.”

Ethel did not stay long after this, and Letty was left alone.

Sir Archy and Farebrother had not yet returned from their day’s sport.
Letty knew that her grandfather would be likely to be sitting alone in
the library, and the impulse to tell him this strange and not wholly
pleasing thing took hold of her. She ran down-stairs rapidly, opened
the door, and there, in the dusky afternoon, dozing before the fire,
was the Colonel, with a volume of Goldsmith open upon his knee.

Letty went up to him and touched him gently.

“Grandpapa,” she said.

“I was not asleep, my dear,” answered the Colonel, very promptly,
without waiting for the accusation.

“If you were,” said Letty, with nervous audacity, “what I’m about to
tell you will wake you up.”

She hesitated for a moment, in order to convey the news in a guarded
and appropriate manner--and then, suddenly burst out with--

“Grandpapa--Mr. Romaine has made his will and left me nearly all his
money.”

The Colonel fairly jumped from his chair. He thought Letty had lost her
mind.

“He has, indeed,” she continued, in a half-stifled, half-laughing
voice. “He read his will to Ethel Maywood and Mr. Chessingham, and got
them to sign it as witnesses.”

The Colonel could do nothing but gasp for a few moments. Then he lapsed
into an amazed silence--his shaggy brows drawn together, and his
deep-set eyes fixed on Letty’s agitated face.

“And there is something else Ethel Maywood said,” kept on Letty, with
her face growing scarlet, “something that made me very angry with Mr.
Romaine, and I don’t like him, anyhow,” she said.

“Go on,” commanded the Colonel, in a tragic basso.

“She thinks--that--that--Mr. Romaine wants to m-m-marry me--and he
fancies this will win me over,” said Letty, faintly.

“The old ass!” bawled the Colonel, for once roused out of his placid
dignity. “Excuse me, my love, but this is simply too preposterous! When
you first spoke, I assure you, I was alarmed--I was actually alarmed--I
thought you did not know what you were saying. But, on reflection,
knowing, as I do, Romaine’s perverse and peculiar character, I can
wholly believe what you tell me.”

The Colonel paused a moment, and then the same idea that occurred to
Chessingham came to him.

“And the making of a will doesn’t mean the enjoyment of the property,
my love. Romaine may have a passion for making wills--some rich men
have--and this may be one of a dozen he may make.”

Letty said nothing. Money was the greatest good fortune in the eyes
of the world--but the scheme devised for her eventual enrichment had
serious drawbacks. Mr. Romaine might live for twenty years--even
Mr. Chessingham himself did not know precisely what were the old
gentleman’s real maladies, and what were his imaginary ones--and that
would mean twenty years of subservience on her part toward a man for
whom she now felt a positive repulsion. She caught herself wishing that
Mr. Romaine would die soon--and was frightened and ashamed of herself.
And now Mr. Romaine’s relatives would hate her!

“All of the Romaine people will hate me,” she said, with pale lips,
to the Colonel--they were both standing up now before the fire, and
although the ruddy blaze made the room quite light, it was dark
outside.

“Yes,” answered the Colonel, gloomily, “and they may claim undue
influence on your part, and then there may be a lawsuit and the devil
to pay generally. Excuse my language, my dear.”

The Colonel was completely shaken out of his usual composure, and
expressed himself in what he was wont to call--“the vulgar--the
excessively vulgar tongue.” “I foresee a peck of trouble ahead,” he
continued.

“One thing is certain,” said Letty, raising her eyes, “I feel that I
hate Mr. Romaine--and with that feeling, I ought not in any event to
take his money. And if, as you say, he is merely amusing himself at my
expense, and trying to annoy his family, and--and--Ethel Maywood and
the Chessinghams, I hate him worse than ever.”

“If such is your feeling, you undoubtedly should protest against
Romaine’s action.”

Then there was a commotion in the hall. Farebrother and Sir Archy and
Tom Battercake had got home, and there was a rattle of guns on the
rack, and Tom Battercake was guffawing over the contents of the game
bags.

Both Letty and the Colonel had plenty of self-possession, and no one
during the evening would have suspected that anything out of the common
had occurred. But Letty went to bed early and lay awake half the night,
while her dislike for Mr. Romaine grew like Jonah’s gourd.

Next morning, as soon as the coast was clear, the Colonel sent for
Letty into the library.

“I want to say to you, my love,” he began at once, “that I believe
this thing that Romaine has done is not done in good faith. He is the
sort of man to leave his property to perpetuate his name in a library
or something of that kind. And, moreover, if he should even be in
good faith, his relations are not the people to let so much money go
to a comparative stranger without a struggle. They have been looking
to him now, for two generations, to set them on their feet, and they
will be infuriated with you. And they will have just cause--for, after
reflection, I am convinced that grave injustice will be done if this
money comes to you. Then, your personal dislike--”


“Personal dislike! say personal hatred; for I assure you I have felt
something more than mere dislike ever since I heard of this. Queer,
isn’t it?”

“Not at all,” replied the Colonel, with the ghost of a smile. “Your
amiable sex is subject to aberrations of that description. However, I
think, on the whole, that nothing but trouble will result if this plan
of Romaine’s is carried out--and I would be glad to see it prevented.”

The Colonel had no more idea of the practical value of money than a
baby. Nor had Letty much more--and besides, she had youth and beauty
and _esprit_, and so had managed to get on very well so far without a
fortune. The Colonel’s views decided her.

“Then, grandpapa, the best thing to do seems to me to be the most
direct and straightforward thing. Write to Mr. Romaine and tell him
frankly what we have heard, and say that I prefer not to incur the
obligation he would lay upon me.”

“Precisely what I desired you to say,” replied the Colonel, highly
gratified.

It required both of them to compose the letter to Mr. Romaine, but at
last it was finished, copied off in the Colonel’s best clerk-like hand
with a quill pen, and sealed with his large and flamboyant seal. This
was the letter:

                                          CORBIN HALL, November 21, 18--

  MY DEAR ROMAINE:

  Circumstances of a peculiar character necessitate this communication
  on my part, and I am constrained to approach you in regard to a
  subject on which otherwise I would observe the most punctilious
  reticence. This refers to certain testamentary intentions on your
  part concerning my granddaughter, which she and I have heard
  through direct and responsible sources. Many reasons influence my
  granddaughter in desiring me to say to you, that with the keenest
  sense of the good will on your part toward her, and with assurances
  of the most profound consideration, she feels compelled to decline
  absolutely the measures you have devised for her benefit. Of these
  many reasons, I will give only one, but that, my dear Romaine,
  will be conclusive. It would be a very flagrant wrong, I conceive,
  to those of your own blood, who might justly expect to be the
  beneficiaries of your bounty, to find themselves passed over in favor
  of one who has not the slightest claim of any kind upon you. This
  would place my granddaughter in a most painful position, and might
  result in legal complications extremely embarrassing to a delicate
  minded person of the gentler sex. She begs, therefore, through this
  medium, that you will change your kind intentions toward her and
  not bestow upon her that to which she apprehends others are better
  entitled than herself. With renewed assurances of respect and regard,
  believe me to be, my dear Romaine,

                                     Your friend and well-wisher,

                                                       ARCHIBALD CORBIN.

This, which both the Colonel and Letty thought a grand composition, was
despatched to Shrewsbury by Tom Battercake. Tom returned within an hour
or two, with a missive. The Colonel sent for Letty to the library to
read it. It was written with a fine pointed pen, upon delicately tinted
paper with a handsome crest. It ran thus:

                                                                Nov. 21.

  DEAR CORBIN:

  You always were the most impractical man about money I ever knew. I
  shall do as I please with my own.

                                            Yours truly,

                                                          RICH. ROMAINE.

“Most curt and unhandsome,” cried the Colonel, flushing angrily. “What
does he take me for? I shall at once express my sentiments in writing
regarding this extraordinary communication from Romaine.”

“No, grandpapa,” cried Letty, who agreed with the Colonel in thinking
Mr. Romaine’s letter extremely impertinent, “I’ll answer it.”

Once in a while Letty had her way, and this was one of the occasions.
She sat down at the library table, and, with the angry blood mantling
her face, dashed off the following to Mr. Romaine.

“Just listen to this, if you please,” she cried, flourishing her pen in
dangerous proximity to the Colonel’s nose. “I think Mr. Romaine will
find that he has got a Roland for his Oliver.”

Then, in a melodramatic voice, she read:

  MY DEAR MR. ROMAINE:

  As you say, you have a right to do as you please with your own. This
  personal liberty pertaining to you likewise pertains to me--and
  I decline positively to be benefited against my will. I will not
  have your money. Pardon me if I have copied your own brevity and
  positiveness in settling this question. I am,

                                               Very truly yours,

                                                           LETTY CORBIN.

The Colonel chuckled over this letter; nevertheless it was against his
code to send it, but Letty was firm, and Tom Battercake was despatched
for the second time that day to Shrewsbury, with an important
communication.

Letty was radiant with triumph. It was no mean victory to achieve over
Mr. Romaine.

“And if he reads between the lines he will see that he won’t be here
with those sharp black eyes and that cackling laugh of his when it
comes to disposing of his property,” she gleefully remarked to the
Colonel.

But her triumph only lasted until Tom Battercake’s return. He brought
the following letter from Mr. Romaine:

  MY DEAR MISS CORBIN:

  Your spirited and delightful letter has just been received. Permit
  me to say that I have been so charmed with your disinterestedness
  and freedom from that love of money which is the cancer of our age,
  that it only determines me the more to allow my well-considered will
  to stand. I need only make the alteration of leaving the property in
  trust for you, so that it will be out of your power to dispose of
  the principal, even to give it to my relatives--whom I particularly
  do not desire to have it. All I ask is that you continue to me the
  kindness you have always shown me. My ailments become daily more
  complicated and acute, but still I possess great vitality, and I
  would be deceiving you if I gave you to understand that you would not
  have long to wait for your inheritance. But whether you treat me well
  or ill, it and myself are both

                                         Forever yours,

                                                          RICH. ROMAINE.

At the conclusion of the reading of this letter Letty sat down and
cried as if her heart would break, from pure spite and chagrin at Mr.
Romaine’s “outrageous behavior,” as she and the Colonel agreed in
calling it.



VIII


Mr. Romaine had certainly succeeded perfectly in a pastime dear to
his heart--setting everybody by the ears. Colonel Corbin was deeply
offended with him, and made no secret of it.

“For, if the time should come,” he said, with dignity, to Letty and
Miss Jemima, “that Romaine’s relations may accuse us of playing upon
Romaine and getting his money out of him, I desire to be able to prove
that we were not on terms with him. Therefore, I shall only treat him
with the merest civility. I shall certainly not go to Shrewsbury, and I
trust he will not come to Corbin Hall.”

Futile hope! Mr. Romaine came twice as often as he had ever done
before, and the Colonel and Letty found it practically impossible
to freeze him out. Meanwhile, another complication came upon Letty,
who seemed destined to suffer all sorts of pains and penalties for
what are commonly counted the good things of life. She had privately
determined that it would take all her diplomatic powers to avert an
offer from both Sir Archy and Farebrother--for there was something
of “the fierceness of maidenhood” about her--and she was not yet
beyond the secret liking stage with Farebrother, whom she infinitely
preferred. But it dawned upon her gradually that Farebrother himself
was an adept in the art of walking the tight rope of flirtation. He
would talk to Letty in the rainy days, when he could not get out of
doors, by the hour, in such a way that Letty’s heart would be in her
mouth for fear the inevitable offer would come in spite of her. But
after a while she discovered that Farebrother could look down without
flinching from the dizzy height of sentimental badinage, and then
quietly walk away. In a little while these tactics of his bore fruit.
Letty, from being very much afraid that he would propose, began to be
very much piqued that he did not propose. Kindness was then lavished
upon him--sweet looks on the sly, and every encouragement was given
him to make a fool of himself, in order that Letty might be revenged
on him. But Farebrother declined to accept the invitation. He was
shrewd enough to see that Letty’s design in leading him on was simply
to throw him over--and he had no intention to be slaughtered to make a
coquette’s holiday. And he knew besides that Letty had a heart--that
she was a perfect specimen of the Southern type, which coquettes
with the whole world, only to make the most absolute surrender to
one man--and that her heart was not to be won by letting her make a
football of his.

The two men watched each other stealthily, but Farebrother, in
quickness of resource, had much the advantage of Sir Archy. And he was
clear sighted enough to see that there was something wrong between
the Corbins and Mr. Romaine. All at once the Colonel and Letty ceased
going to Shrewsbury, and once when he suggested casually to Letty that
they ride over to see the Chessinghams and Miss Maywood, the Colonel
interfered, with a flush upon his wrinkled face.

“I would prefer, my dear Farebrother,” he said, “that my granddaughter
should not go to Shrewsbury at present. Rest assured that my reason is
a good one--else I would not commit so grave a solecism toward a guest
in my house as to object to her going anywhere with you.”

Farebrother was completely puzzled--the more so that the objection was
all on the Colonel’s side--for Mr. Romaine had been at Corbin Hall the
day before alone, and the day before that with Chessingham’s womankind.
He had noticed some slight constraint on Letty’s part, but the Colonel
had been absent both times. He said no more about going to Shrewsbury,
and privately resolved to go there no more except for a farewell
visit. This gave him distinctly the advantage over Sir Archy, whose
long intimacy and real friendship with Chessingham made it natural and
inevitable that he should go often to Shrewsbury.

Letty, however, was no more capable of keeping an unpledged secret than
Ethel Maywood, and one afternoon, walking through the pine woods with
Farebrother, the whole story about Mr. Romaine and his will came out.

Farebrother sat down on a fallen log and shouted with laughter.

“The old imp!” he cried, and laughed the more.

“Of course,” said Letty, laughing in spite of herself, “I really don’t
believe it is in earnest. Grandpapa says people who make their wills so
openly commonly have a passion for making wills, and he has no doubt
Mr. Romaine is merely doing this for some present object.”

“Certainly,” cried Farebrother, laughing still. “It’s his own peculiar
Romainesque way of giving Miss Maywood warning. Pray pardon me for
hinting such a thing, but Miss Maywood herself has acted with such
delicious candor about the whole matter that it’s absurd to pretend
ignorance. Now what a devilish revenge the old Mephistopheles took!”

Farebrother seemed so carried away by his enjoyment of Mr. Romaine’s
tactics in giving Miss Maywood the slip that Letty was quite offended
with him for his lack of interest in her side of the case. But at
last he condescended to be serious. It was a soft and lovely autumn
afternoon, the red sun slanting upon the straggling woods, and making
golden vistas through the trees. It was hushed and still. It had
rained that day, and the air was filled with the aromatic odor of
the dead, wet leaves. Farebrother had remained seated on the log to
have his laugh out, but Letty had got up and was standing over him
in an indignant attitude, one hand thrust in the pocket of her natty
jacket, while with the other she grasped firmly the brim of her large
black hat, under which her eyes shone with a peculiar, soft splendor.
Farebrother thought then that he had never seen her pale, piquant
beauty to greater advantage.

“But if you could for one moment take your mind off Miss Maywood, and
consider my grievances,” said she, tartly. “Can you imagine anything
more odious? Here is Mr. Romaine pretending--for I don’t believe it’s
anything but that he is trying to make a fool of me--pretending, I
say, that he means to leave me a fortune some day--and he is just
perverse enough to ignore any objection I may make, not only to
his plans, but to himself--for I assure you, I really dislike him,
although I pity him, too. Then suppose he dies and does leave me the
money! You never heard of such tribes of poor relations as he has, in
your life, and all of them, as grandpapa says, have counted on Mr.
Romaine’s money for forty years. He has one niece--as poor as poverty,
with nine--shoeless--hatless--shabby children--who has actually
condescended to beg for help from him--and what do you think she will
say of me when the truth comes out? And there are whole regiments of
nephews--and cousins galore--and the entire family are what grandpapa
calls ‘litigious’--they’d rather go to law than not--oh, I can shut my
eyes and see the way these people will hound me for that money, that
after all should be theirs.”

Farebrother was grave enough now. He rose and went and stood by her.

“Money, my dear Miss Corbin, is like electricity or steam, or any other
great force--it is dangerous when it is unmanageable. However,” he
said, lightly, “as I’ve had to part with some lately, I’ve had to call
up all the old saws against it that I could think of.”

“But I don’t believe you are very sorry about your money.”

“Sorry? Then you don’t know me. I experienced the keenest regret when
I discovered that, according to my father’s will, I came out at the
little end of the horn in the event of disaster, because, as the dear
old gentleman said, I was well able to take care of myself. Of course
I said the handsome thing--when the crash came--especially to Colonel
Corbin, who would have kicked me out of his house if I hadn’t--but
I assure you I didn’t feel in spirits for a whole week after the
financial earthquake.”

Letty looked at him smiling. She was not a bad judge of human nature
and much shrewder than she looked, and she read Farebrother like an
open book--and liked the volume.

“But then, your profession?”

“Oh, yes, my profession. Well, the first thing that cheered my
gloom was when I got a contract for an eight-story granite business
building. I met on the street that very day the fellow I told you of
once--a clever architect, but who has a wife and an army of children
on him, and who always looked at me reproachfully in the old days
when we met--and I had the satisfaction of telling him that it was
work or starvation with me now--and he spoke out the thought I had
read so often in his mind before--‘It’s all right now, but when I
saw you driving those thoroughbreds round the Park, in that imported
drag of yours, and heard of you buying the pick of the pictures at
the exhibition, while I had seven children to bring up and educate
on my earnings, it did seem deuced hard that you should enter
into competition with us poor devils.’ So I reminded him that the
thoroughbreds and the pictures and a few other things were going under
the hammer, and the wretch actually grinned. But I’ll tell you what I
have found out lately--that there’s such a thing as good fellowship in
the world. There isn’t any among rich men. They are all bent on amusing
themselves or being amused. They are so perfectly independent of each
other that there isn’t any room for sentiment--while among poorer men
they are all interdependent. They have to help each other along in
pleasures and work, and that sort of thing--and that’s why it is that
comradeship exists among them as it cannot exist among the rich.”

“I never knew anything about money until that visit to Newport,” said
Letty, candidly. “We had bills--and when the wheat crop was sold it
paid the bills--that is, as far as it would go--for the wheat crop
never was quite as much as we expected, and the bills were always a
great deal more than we expected. But I found the spending of that
money in New York delightful.”

“So did I,” answered Farebrother. “Never enjoyed anything more in my
life. You had more actual, substantial fun in spending that money than
my sisters have out of so many thousands.”

“But I think,” remarked the astute Letty, “that it is more the way we
show it. Your sisters are used to money--”

“That’s it--and so it is as necessary to them as the air we
breathe--but as we breathe air all the time, we are not conscious of
any ecstatic bliss in doing it.”

“Perhaps--but, you see, I am bent on enjoyment, and I am bent on
showing it as well as feeling it.”

“In short, you are a very wise girl,” said Farebrother, smiling, “and
I think it is a pity that you are so determined on never bestowing so
much wisdom and cheerfulness on some man or other.”

“I have never said I wouldn’t.”

“Oh, not in words perhaps, but I imagine a fixed determination on your
part to hold on to your liberty. You may, however, succumb to the
charms of Sir Archy Corbin, of Fox Court.”

Farebrother emphasized the “Sir” and the “Fox Court” in a way that
Letty thought disagreeable--and how dared he talk so coolly of her
marrying Sir Archy, without one single qualifying word of regret? And
just as Farebrother intended, his suggestion did not help her to regard
Sir Archy with any increase of favor.

“There he is now,” cried Farebrother, “shall I make off so as to give
him a chance?”

Letty was so staggered by the novelty and iniquity of Farebrother’s
perfect willingness to give her up to Sir Archy that she could not
recover herself all at once--and the next thing, Sir Archy had tramped
through the underbush to them, looking wonderfully handsome and
stalwart in his knickerbockers and his glengarry pulled over his eyes.

If Letty found that Farebrother was always joking and difficult to
reduce to seriousness, she could find no such fault with Sir Archy. He
was the literal and exact Briton, who took everything _au sérieux_,
and whose humor was of the broad and obvious kind that prevails in the
tight little island. He was as much puzzled by the status of affairs
between Letty and Farebrother as Ethel Maywood was--and could hardly
refrain sometimes from classing Letty as a flirt--a word that meant to
him everything base and dishonorable in womankind--for a flirt, from
his point of view, was a girl with a little money, who led younger
sons and rash young officers and helpless curates to believe that she
could be persuaded to marry one of them, and ended by hooking a mature
baronet, or an elder son, with a good landed property.

Flirtation on the American plan, merely to pass away the time, and
with no ulterior object whatever, was altogether incomprehensible to
him. And Letty’s perfect self-possession! No tell-tale blush, but a
look of the most infantile innocence she wore, when she was caught
in the very act of taking a sentimental walk with a man! The genuine
American girl--not the imitation Anglo-American formed by transatlantic
travel--was a very queer lot, thought Sir Archy, gravely.

“Where have you been?” asked Letty, with an air of authority, which she
alternated with the most charming submissiveness.

“At Shrewsbury,” answered Sir Archy.

“Ah, I know--we all know. There’s a magnet at Shrewsbury.”

Now, to be chaffed about a girl, and particularly a girl like Miss
Maywood--to whom he had undeniably paid certain attentions, was both
novel and unpleasant to Sir Archy, so he only answered stiffly, “I
don’t quite understand your allusion.”

“Why, Ethel Maywood, of course!” cried Letty. “Does anybody suppose
that you would go so often to see that wicked old man at Shrewsbury? or
Mrs. Chessingham and her husband?”

“If you suppose that there is anything more than friendship between
Miss Maywood and myself, you are mistaken--and the suspicion would do
Miss Maywood great injustice,” said Sir Archy, with dignity.

“Oh, if you think it would hurt Miss Maywood to have it supposed that
you are devoted to her--”

“I did not intend to say that,” answered Sir Archy, who was neither
a liar nor a hypocrite, and who knew well enough how baronets with
unencumbered estates are valued matrimonially. “I only meant to state,
most emphatically, that there is nothing whatever between Miss Maywood
and myself--and justice requires--”

“Justice--fudge!” cried Letty, with animation; “who ever heard of
justice between a man and a woman?”

“I have,” answered Sir Archy, sententiously.

“And next, you will be saying that women are bound by the same rules of
behavior as men,” continued Letty, with pretty but vicious emphasis.

Farebrother looked on without taking any part in the scrimmage, and was
infinitely diverted.

“I hardly think I understand you,” said Sir Archy, much puzzled.

“I’ll explain then,” replied Letty. “I mean this; that a man should be
the soul of honor toward a woman--honorable to the point of telling
the most awful stories for her--and always taking the blame, and
never accusing her even if he catches her at the crookedest sort of
things--and giving her all the chicken livers, and the breast of duck,
and always pretending to believe her whether he does or not.”

“And may I ask,” inquired Sir Archy, who took all this for chaff,
without crediting in the least the amount of sincerity Letty felt in
her code, “may I ask what is exacted of a woman in her treatment of
men, as a return for all this?”

“Nothing whatever,” replied Letty, airily; “a man has no rights that a
woman is bound to respect--that is, in this glorious land.”

“It strikes me that your rule would work very one-sidedly.”

“It’s a bad rule that works both ways,” declared Letty, solemnly.

Sir Archy did not believe a word of all this; but Farebrother thought
that Letty had not really over-stated her case very much.

Presently they all turned round and walked home through the purple
twilight. The path led through the woods to the straggling edges of
the young growth of trees on the borders of a pasture, now brown and
bare. A few lean cattle browsed about--the Colonel spent a good deal
of time and money, as his fathers had done before him, in getting the
grass out of his fields, and raising fodder for his stock, instead of
letting the grass grow for them to fatten on--so they were very apt to
be lean for nine months in the year. The path led across the pasture
to the whitewashed fence that enclosed the lawn. A young moon trembled
in the opal sky. As they walked along in Indian file they felt their
feet sinking in the soft, rich earth. The old brick house, with its
clustering great trees, loomed large before them, and a ruddy light
from the library windows shone hospitably. The dogs ran yelping toward
them as they crossed the lawn, old Rattler giving subdued whines of
delight. The thoughts of both Sir Archy and Farebrother, all the way
home, had been how delicious that twilight walk would have been with
Letty, had only the other fellow been out of it.

When they got in the house there were letters--the mail only came twice
a week, and Tom Battercake brought the letters and papers in a calico
bag from the postoffice, eight miles off. Farebrother read his letters
with a scowl. He had meant to stay a few days longer--in fact, he
determined to stay as long as Sir Archy, if he could--but he discovered
that he could not.

“Business,” he said--“I am a working man, you know, and employers and
contractors won’t wait--so I shall have to take the boat to-morrow.”

The Colonel and Miss Jemima were profuse in their regrets--Letty
was civil and Sir Archy was positively gay, when it was fixed that
Farebrother should go the next day. Still, the supper table was
cheerful. Farebrother had a very strong hope that Letty and Sir Archy
never would be able to understand each other enough to enter into a
matrimonial agreement; and then, he was determined to show Miss Letty
that he was by no means heartbroken at the prospect of leaving her.

None of the men who had admired Letty Corbin understood her so well as
Farebrother. The others had paid her court, more or less sincere, but
Farebrother, when he became really interested in her, saw that such
tactics would never do. Instead, he made it his business to pique her,
so artfully that Letty was completely blind to the facts in the case,
and her determination was aroused to conquer this laughing, careless,
stiff-necked admirer, whose conduct to her was very like her conduct to
others. In the first place, the idea that he should come all the way
from New York, upon what seemed likely to turn out a purely platonic
errand, was, from her point of view, a most iniquitous proceeding.
She did not want any man--but she vehemently and innocently demanded
the homage of all. And when a man calmly retained his heart and his
reason, while she invited him to lose both, was in the highest degree
exasperating. But Farebrother absolutely declined presenting his head
to Letty on a charger, even when they were alone in the great cold
drawing-room, under the pretense of hearing some farewell waltzes from
Letty’s fingers, and it seemed almost unavoidable that he should say
something sentimental. He remained obstinately cheerful, and kept it up
until the last.

He had to leave Corbin Hall at five o’clock in the morning, so Letty,
secretly much disgusted with him on account of his callousness, had
to say farewell the night before. The Colonel would be up the next
morning, and Miss Jemima, to give him breakfast, but Letty gave no hint
of any such intention. They had a very jolly evening in the library,
the Colonel being in great feather and telling some of his best stories
while he brewed the family punch bowl full of apple toddy. Miss Jemima,
too, had been induced by the most outrageous flattery on Farebrother’s
part to bring out her guitar, and to sing to them in a thin, sweet
voice some desperately sentimental songs of forty years before--“Oh
No, We Never Mention Her,” “When Stars are in the Quiet Skies,” and
“Ben Bolt.” It was very simple and primitive. The two men of the world
enjoyed it much more than many of the costliest evenings of their
lives, and neither one could remember anything quite like it. The life
at Corbin Hall was as simple and quaint as that of the poorest people
in the world--and yet more refined, more gently bred, than almost any
of the rich people in the world.

At eleven o’clock, Letty rose to go. Farebrother lighted her candle
for her from those on the rickety hall table, and escorted her to the
foot of the stairs. It really did cost him an effort then to play the
cheerfully departing guest. There was no doubt that Letty had been
vastly improved by her touch with the outside world. She had learned
to dress herself, which she did not know before--and she had learned a
charming modesty concerning herself--and she was quite unspoiled. She
still thought Corbin Hall good enough for anybody in the world, and
although she admired satin damask chairs and sofas and art drapery,
she still cherished an affection for hair cloth and dimity curtains.
This ineradicable simplicity of character was what charmed Farebrother
most--she would always retain a delightful freshness, and she never
could become wholly sophisticated.

“I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed being here,” he said to her,
with hearty sincerity, as he stood at the foot of the stairs, looking
up at Letty. She held the candle a little above her head, and its
yellow circle of flame fell on her pure, pale face--for this young lady
who tried so hard to make fools of men, had the air, the face, and the
soul of a vestal.

Letty nodded her head gravely.

“Of course you have enjoyed yourself. We are such an--ahem--agreeable
family.”

“I should say so! And to get into a community where people won’t even
talk about divorce--and where nobody chases the dollar very hard--and
where the dear Colonel is considered a very practical man--pray excuse
me, Miss Corbin, but I do think your grandfather the noblest old
innocent!”

“I know it. Grandpapa _is_ innocent. So is Aunt Jemima. I am the only
worldling in the family.”

“My dear young friend,--for you must allow me to address you as a
father after that astounding statement,--you are not, and never can be
worldly minded. You are a very clever girl--but it is the wisdom of the
dove, not of the serpent.”

“Very graceful indeed. I thank you. You have a pretty wit when you
choose to exercise it. Now, good-by. I hope so much I shall, some time
or other, see--your sisters--again.”

“Oh, hang my sisters! Don’t you want to see me again?”

“Y-y-yes. A little. A very little.” But while saying this, her hand
softly returned Farebrother’s clasp.

It was still dark next morning, when Letty slipped out of bed and ran
to the window, pulling aside the dimity curtains--she had heard the
old carriage rattling up to the door. The moon had gone down, but the
stars still shone in the blue black sky. Presently Farebrother came
out, accompanied by the Colonel. Letty could hear their voices, and saw
Farebrother take off his hat as he shook the Colonel’s hand. Then he
sprang into the carriage. Tom Battercake gave the restless horses a
cut with a long sapling with all the twigs cut off, and in two minutes
the rig had disappeared around the turn in the lane. Letty crept
back to bed, feeling as if something pleasant had suddenly dropped
out of her life. She determined to go to sleep again, and to sleep
as late as she could. There was no object in going down to breakfast
early--only Sir Archy would be there. Then she began to think about
Farebrother--and her last conscious thought was: “A man so hard to get
must be worth having.”



IX


Meanwhile, a period of convulsion was at hand for the happy family
at Shrewsbury. As soon as it was decided that Miss Maywood was to
return to England, a number of obstacles arose, as if by magic, to her
departure--and they were all inspired by Mr. Romaine. As she was to
cross alone he declared that she must do it only under the charge of a
certain captain--and when inquiries were made at the steamship office
in New York, it turned out that this particular captain had a leave of
absence on account of ill health, and would not command his ship again
until after Christmas. Mr. Romaine proposed to wait for this event,
if it did not occur until midsummer. Then some acquaintances were
discovered who intended sailing almost immediately, but Mr. Romaine
suddenly grew very ailing, and could not part with Mr. Chessingham to
take his sister-in-law to New York. Besides he found every imaginable
fault with the proposed traveling companions, and the Chessinghams
and Ethel felt that, after enjoying Mr. Romaine’s hospitality for so
long, they ought to defer to him as regarded the impending departure.
Therefore, although Miss Maywood had undoubtedly got her congé from
Mr. Romaine, she was still under his roof well on in December, and it
looked as if he would succeed in doing to her what Letty complained of
in her own case--making a fool of her. Ethel was really very anxious to
leave; but this reluctance to give her up on the part of her elderly
and eccentric friend made her wonder sometimes whether, after all, Mr.
Romaine would let her return to England without him. He openly declared
that he was tired of Virginia and meant to take a house in London for
the season; and he actually engaged, by correspondence, a charming
house at Prince’s Gate, from the first of April. Ethel felt that it
would be flying in the face of Providence to insist upon going, as long
as there was a chance of her presiding over the house in Prince’s Gate.
And the liberty and spending-money enjoyed by American women seemed
daily more pleasing to her. Whatever could be said against Mr. Romaine,
his worst enemy could not charge him with meanness. He gave with a
princely generosity that made Ethel--who thought that nobody got more
than three per cent. interest on money--think he was worth millions.
Sir Archy had gone away from Corbin Hall a few days after Farebrother
left, but was to return after Christmas; but Ethel put Sir Archy out of
her mind altogether--she was eminently reasonable, and never counted
upon the vaguely brilliant.

The beginning of more serious upheavals was the announcement, one
day, from Bridge, Mr. Romaine’s own man, and Dodson, who was also Mr.
Romaine’s man, but waited on Mr. Chessingham, that they desired to
leave at the end of the month; and Carroll, the ladies’ maid, gave
simultaneous warning.

“I ’ave been, sir, with Mr. Romaine for sixteen year, and I ’ave put
hup with ’im, and I could put hup with ’im for sixteen year more; but
this stoopid country and the willainous blacks is too much for me,”
Bridge announced to Chessingham, with an injured air. Dodson followed
suit, and Carroll tearfully explained that she ’ad been in mortial
terror ever since she first knew the blacks, for fear they would kill
and eat her.

Chessingham was secretly much delighted with this, and confided his
feelings to his wife and Ethel.

“It will take the old curmudgeon back to London quicker than anything
on earth that could have been devised,” he said. “He can’t get on
without Bridge--nobody else, I’m told, ever stayed with him more than
three months--and he’ll be forced to quit.”

In the library a characteristic interview was taking place between
Bridge and his master. Bridge, feeling like a felon, announced his
determination to leave.

“That’s quite satisfactory,” remarked Mr. Romaine, raising his black
eyes from his book. “I have been thinking for some time that I needed
a younger and more active man. I do not like men of any sort when they
become antiquated.”

Bridge opened his mouth to speak, but dared not. He was at least twenty
years younger than Mr. Romaine, and there he was reproached with his
age!

However, some faint stirring of the heart toward the man he had served
so long, and who had given him some kicks, but a good many ha’pence,
too, made him say hesitatingly:

“Wot’s troublin’ me, sir, is how is you goin’ to be hattended to when
you’re hill; and how is you to get shaved, sir?”

“As to my attendance when I am ill, that is a trifle; and shaving will
be unnecessary, as I have intended for some time past to turn out a
full beard,” promptly responded Mr. Romaine. “Now you may go. When you
are ready to leave come to me and I will give you a check.”

The idea of Mr. Romaine in a full beard drove Bridge immediately
into the pantry, where he confided the news to Dodson, and they both
haw-hawed in company.

Nevertheless, the loss of his man, who knew some secrets about his
health, was a very serious one to Mr. Romaine. Also, he had never
shaved or dressed himself in his life, and to him immaculateness of
attire was a necessity. He turned the ridiculous and embarrassing
question over in his mind--how was he to get shaved?--until it nearly
drove him to asking Bridge to reconsider his decision. But before
doing that, he went over to Corbin Hall one day, where a new solution
of the difficulty presented itself.

It was a bright, wintry day in December when he was ushered into the
shabby library, where sat the Colonel. Now, although none of the family
from Corbin Hall had darkened the doors of Shrewsbury for a month past,
Mr. Romaine had calmly ignored this, and had treated the Colonel’s
studied standoffishness with the most exasperating nonchalance. Colonel
Corbin could not be actively rude to any one to have saved his own
life, and the extent of his resentment was shown merely in not visiting
Mr. Romaine, and receiving him with a stiffness that he found much more
difficult to maintain than Mr. Romaine did to endure. The struggle
between the Colonel’s natural and sonorous urbanity toward a guest
and his grave displeasure with Mr. Romaine was desperate; and Mr.
Romaine, seeing it with half an eye, enjoyed it hugely. The idea of
taking Colonel Corbin seriously was excessively ludicrous to him; and
the Colonel’s expectation of being taken seriously on all occasions he
thought the most diverting thing in the world.

“How d’ye do, Corbin?” said Mr. Romaine, entering with a very jaunty
air.

“Good-day, Mr. Romaine,” answered the Colonel, sternly--and then
suddenly and unexpectedly falling into his habitual tone, he continued,
grandiloquently:

“Has your horse been put up, and may we have the satisfaction of
entertaining you at dinner?”

“Oh, Lord, no,” answered Mr. Romaine, smiling; “I merely came over
to see how you and Miss Corbin were coming on--and to ask you a most
absurd question.”

“My granddaughter is coming on very well. For myself, at my time of
life--and yours, too, I may say--there is but one thing to do--which
constitutes coming on well--and that is to prepare for the ferriage
over the dark river.”

“I do not anticipate needing the services of the ferryman for a good
while yet, and my heirs, I apprehend, will have a long wait for their
inheritance,” snapped Mr. Romaine, who was always put in a bad humor
by any allusion to his age. Colonel Corbin, though, could not stand
Mr. Romaine’s hasty allusion to his heirs, and without saying a word,
turned away, and with a portentous frown began to stare out of the
window.

Mr. Romaine, after a moment or two, cooled down and proceeded to make
amends in his own peculiar fashion for his remark.

“Excuse me, Corbin, but you are so devilish persistent on the subject
of my age that I inadvertently used an illustration I should not have
done had I reflected for one instant whom I was addressing. But I take
it that no gentleman will hold another accountable for a few words
said in heat and under provocation. Remember, ‘an affront handsomely
acknowledged becomes an obligation.’”

“Your acknowledgment, sir, was not what I should call a handsome one.”

“Hang it, Corbin, we can’t quarrel. Here I am in trouble, and I have
come to you, as to my friend of forty years, to help me out.”

It was always hard for the Colonel to maintain his anger, and Mr.
Romaine, when he said this, put on one of his characteristic appealing
looks, and spoke in his sweetest voice, and the Colonel could not help
relaxing a little.

“I think you understand, Romaine, the attitude I feel compelled
to assume toward you; but--but--if you are really in unpleasant
circumstances--”

“Deuced unpleasant, I assure you. I’ve had a man for sixteen
years--never knew him to make a mistake, to be off duty when required,
or to have any serious fault--and now he swears he can’t stand Virginia
any longer, and intends leaving me in the lurch. I can’t stand Virginia
much longer myself, but I don’t want the villain to know that his loss
is actually driving me back to England before my time. But the case is
this--I can’t shave myself. Does that black fellow of yours, David,
shave you?”

“I always shave myself--but David understands the art of shaving, and
has practised it on guests upon various occasions, with much success.”

“I wish you would send him over to Shrewsbury to-morrow. If I can’t get
a man by the time Bridge leaves--which will be next week--I might ride
over here every day, and, with your permission, make use of David’s
services until I can get a capable white man.”

To say “No” was generally impossible to the Colonel, so he weakly
yielded. He would send David over on the next day.

Mr. Romaine did not ask to see Letty, and went off after a short visit,
leaving the Colonel in a very bad humor indeed.

Nevertheless, next day Dad Davy appeared and was introduced into Mr.
Romaine’s bed-room. Dad Davy was not only honored by being thought
capable of shaving Mr. Romaine, but he had brought his implements with
him in a rusty-looking rush basket.

“You may know that I am about to dismiss my man; and I desired to find
out if I could get any sort of a barber, in case there might be delay
in the arrival of a man from New York that my agent will send me,” said
Mr. Romaine. He was sitting in a large chair, with a newspaper in his
hand, and wore a flowered silk dressing-gown, and evidently had not
been shaved.

“Lord, yes, sir; I kin shave er gent’mun,” answered Dad Davy, with
visions of a silver quarter illuminating his imagination. “I done brung
some new shavin’ things wid me, and ef you wuz to let me git de hot
water, I kin trim yo’ face jes’ ez clean ez er b’iled onion.”

“Very well; you may try your hand,” said Mr. Romaine, picking up his
paper. “There is the shaving-table.”

Dad Davy tiptoed over to the shaving-table, and examined suspiciously
the silver toilet articles, the spirit-lamps, scented soaps, etc., etc.
Mr. Romaine, absorbed in his paper, presently heard Dad Davy, in an
apologetic tone, saying:

“Marse Richard, I k’yarn do nuttin’ wid dem gorgeousome things. I got
some mighty good soap here, an’ a new shavin’-bresh; an’ ef you will
jes’ lem me took yo’ razor--”

“All right,” answered Mr. Romaine, deep in his paper.

In a few minutes Dad Davy remarked, “I’se ready,” and Mr. Romaine,
lying back in his chair, shut his eyes, while Dad Davy began the
lathering process. When it was about half done Mr. Romaine began
sniffing suspiciously, but he could not open his mouth. Dad Davy then
began with the razor, and a smoother or more luxurious shave Mr.
Romaine never had in his life. As soon as he could speak, he growled:

“What infernal soap is that you’ve got there?”

“Hi, Marse Richard,” answered Dad Davy, in a surprised voice. “I got
de bes’ kin’ o’ soap fur shavin’. Dis heah is de bes’ sort o’ _sof’_
soap, made outen beef taller an’ ash lye--none o’ your consecrated lye,
but de drippin’s f’um er reg’lar lye gum, full o’ hick’ry ashes--an’ I
brung er go’d full.”

Dad Davy produced a large gourd full of a molasses-like substance,
which he poked under Mr. Romaine’s high-bred nose.

“Good heavens!” yelled Mr. Romaine, jumping up and seizing a towel with
much violence.

“Now, Marse Richard, what you gwine on dat way fur? Sof’ soap is de
bes’ fur shavin’. Didn’t I gin you er easy shave?”

“Yes, you did--but this villainous stuff--where’s your shaving-brush?”

Dad Davy triumphantly produced a shaving-brush made mop-fashion by
tying a mass of cotton threads to a short wooden handle.

“My ole ’oman made dis heah,” said Dad Davy, exhibiting this instrument
with great pride. “She make ’em fur ole Marse--and dis heah is er bran
new one--co’se I war n’ goin’ use no u’rr but a new one fur you, Marse
Richard--”

Mr. Romaine looked in speechless disgust from Dad Davy to the rusty
basket, the “go’d” of soap, and the mop for a shaving-brush. But
without one word he sat down again, and Dad Davy finished the job in
perfect style. Just as he had got through, a tap came at the door, and
Bridge entered--and came very near dropping dead in his tracks at the
paraphernalia of the new barber. Mr. Romaine was saying affably:

“A most satisfactory shave--the best I’ve had for years. I would
prefer, however, my own things next time. Give me the bay rum.”

Dad Davy soused his client with bay rum, and then taking up the gourd,
mop, etc., put them in the basket, and stood, expectant of his quarter.

“Here’s a dollar for you,” said Mr. Romaine; “and say to Colonel Corbin
I am much obliged for your visit to-day--and if I had as good a barber
as you I should not follow his plan of shaving himself.”

Dad Davy, although secretly astounded at the magnificence of the gift,
disdained to show his delight before “po’ white trash,” as he regarded
Bridge, and making a profound bow, took himself and his basket off.

Bridge, however, after the manner of his kind, seeing his master
independent of him, began to reflect that he had a good place and high
wages, and that if Mr. Romaine was a difficult master to serve, all
masters had their faults; and he finally concluded to stay. He went to
Mr. Romaine therefore a few days afterward, and with much shuffling,
hemming, and hawing, declared his willingness to remain, provided
Mr. Romaine went to England in April. At this Mr. Romaine expressed
much surprise, and declared that his return to England was quite
problematical and might never occur. Bridge, though, saw unmistakable
signs that Mr. Romaine’s latest freak had outworn itself, and at last
knuckled down completely--when he was restored to favor. Dodson then
followed the prevailing wind and asked to be reinstated; and Carroll,
the maid, being a diffident maiden of forty, declared she couldn’t
think of traveling alone from Virginia to New York; and so, with
the delays attending Miss Maywood’s departure, it looked as if the
Shrewsbury party would depart intact as when it came.

But a disturbance greater than any that yet occurred was now impending,
and was brought about by the innocent agency of Colonel Corbin.

One evening the Colonel had his two fine horses hitched up to a
two-wheeled chaise which had been resurrected from the loft of the
carriage-house during the emergencies of the war time, and started out
for the river landing for a parcel he expected by the boat.

It was now past Christmas, and the “Christmas snow” had come, whitening
the ground. The Colonel’s position in the chaise was one calculated
to make a nervous person uneasy. The vehicle ran down on the horses’
withers in the most uncomfortable way, and if the traces broke--and
they had several breaks in them, mended with twine--the Colonel would
be under the horses’ hind feet before he knew it. But Colonel Corbin
did not know what it was to be afraid of man or beast, and sat back
composedly in the chaise, bracing his feet against the low dashboard,
while the horses dashed along the slushy country road. The snow does
not last in Eastern Virginia, and it only made the road wet and
slippery to the most unsatisfactory degree. But over the fields and
woods it lay soft and unsoiled. The afternoon was gray, and a biting
east wind was blowing.

The Colonel got to the landing in ample time, but it would be dusk
before the great river steamboat would arrive. Meanwhile, he went into
the little waiting-room, with its red-hot stove, and conversed amicably
with the wharfinger, a blacksmith, and two drummers, waiting to take
the boat “up the bay.” It was almost dark when a long, shrill whistle
resounded, and everybody jumped up, saying, “The boat!” A truck loaded
with boxes and freight of all sorts, and the drummers’ trunks, and
drawn by a patient mule, was started down the tramway on the wharf that
extended nearly four hundred yards into the river. The Colonel, like
most country gentlemen, liked to see what was to be seen, and walked
out on the wharf to watch the exciting spectacle of the boat making her
landing.

The sky had darkened still more, and it looked as if more snow were
coming. The great, broad salt river, with its fierce tides and foaming
like the ocean that it was so near, was quite black, except for the
phosphorescent glare left in the steamer’s wake as she plowed her
way along, looking like a gigantic illuminated lantern with lights
blazing from one end of her to the other. At intervals her long, hoarse
whistle screamed over the waters, and presently, with much noise
and churning, she bumped against the wharf and was made fast. Her
gang-plank was thrown out, and a few passengers in the humbler walks
of life stepped off; but, in a moment, the captain himself appeared,
escorting a woman in a long fur cloak. The light from a lantern on
the wharf fell directly upon her, and as soon as the Colonel saw her,
he understood why she should have the captain’s escort. She was about
forty, apparently, and her abundant dark hair was slightly streaked
with gray. But there was not a line or a wrinkle in her clear, pale
face, and her eyes had the beauty of a girl of fifteen. There was
something peculiarly elegant in her whole air--the long seal-skin
mantle that enveloped her, the close black bonnet that she wore, her
immaculate gloves and shoes--Colonel Corbin at once recognized in her a
metropolitan.

She remained talking with the captain for a few moments, until he was
obliged to leave. It took only a short while to discharge the small
amount of freight, and in five minutes the boat had lurched off, and
the noise of her churning wheels and the myriad lights from her saloons
were melting in the blackness where the river and night sky blent
together.

The stranger looked around her with calm self-possession, and seemed
surprised at the loneliness of the landscape and the deserted look of
things around the little waiting-room and freight-house at the end of
the wharf. Colonel Corbin, imagining her the unexpectedly arrived guest
of some one in the county, advanced with a profound bow, and taking off
his hat in the cutting blast, said:

“Madam, permit me to say that you seem to be a stranger and to have
no one to meet you. I am Colonel Corbin, and I should esteem it a
privilege to be of assistance to you.”

“Thank you,” she answered, turning to him and speaking with a very
French accent, “I did not expect any one to meet me, but I thought
there would be a town--or a village at least, when I left the steamer.
I am foreign to this country--I am French, but I am accustomed to
traveling.”

“Every word that you say, madam, is another claim upon me. A lady,
and alone in a strange country! Pray command my services. May I ask if
you are a visitor to any of the county families?--for in that event
everything would be very much simplified.”

“Scarcely,” responded the stranger, with the ghost of a smile upon her
handsome face; “but I have traveled many thousand miles to have an
interview with Mr. Richard Romaine. Permit me to introduce myself--I am
Madame de Fonblanque.”

The Colonel’s face was a study as Madame de Fonblanque continued,
calmly: “I should like first to go to a hotel--somewhere--and then I
could arrange to meet Mr. Romaine.”

“But, madam, there is no hotel, except a country tavern at the Court
House, ten miles away. My residence, however, Corbin Hall, is only four
miles from here--and Mr. Romaine’s place, Shrewsbury, is also within
that distance; and if you would accept of my hospitality, and that of
my sister and my granddaughter, I should be most happy. I have here a
chaise and pair, and would feel honored if you would accept of their
service as well as mine.”

Madame de Fonblanque then showed considerable knowledge of human
nature: for she at once agreed to trust the Colonel, although she had
never laid eyes on him before.

“I think,” she said, after a slight pause, “that I shall be compelled
to accept of your kindness as frankly as you offer it. I will say at
once, that as I have come to demand an act of justice from Mr. Romaine,
he may not make any effort toward seeing me--and as he may do me that
act of justice, I must ask you to trust me for that. But the sooner I
see him the better. If, therefore, you would drive me at once to his
château--house--I could in a few moments discern his intentions. The
boat, I understand, passes here daily before the sun rises--and I could
leave to-morrow morning.”

The simplicity and directness of Madame de Fonblanque’s language
prepossessed the Colonel still more in her favor. But at the
proposition to go to Shrewsbury he winced a little. However, there
was no help for it--he had offered to befriend her, and he stood
unflinchingly to his word.

“Then, madam,” said the Colonel, bowing, “it shall be my privilege
to drive you to Shrewsbury, Mr. Romaine’s residence--and from there
to my own place, where my sister and granddaughter will be happy to
entertain you as long as you find it agreeable to remain with us.”

“I thank you a thousand times,” replied Madame de Fonblanque. “I have
never met with greater kindness, and you have the gratitude of a
woman and a stranger, whom you have relieved from a most inconvenient
predicament.”

The Colonel then offered her his arm, and together they traversed the
long wharf in the descending night, while a wild east wind raved about
them and made the black water seethe below them. There was not much
talking in the teeth of such a wind, but when Madame de Fonblanque was
seated in the chaise with the lap-robes tucked around her, and the
horses were making good time along the soggy road, she told all that
was necessary about herself. She was the widow of an army officer, and
since her widowhood had spent much time in traveling. She had come to
this country to see Mr. Romaine on a matter which she frankly declared
was chiefly one of money; and she desired a personal interview with him
before taking legal steps. She had had a maid with her, but the woman,
having found an unexpected opportunity of going back to France, had
basely left her only the day before.

“And so, as I am a soldier’s daughter and a soldier’s widow,” she
said, with a smile, “I thought, ‘What can harm one in this chivalrous
country? I will go alone. I will take enough money with me’--I was
careful not to take too much--‘and I will simply find out the quickest
way to reach Mr. Romaine, and see him; and then I will return to New
York, where I have friends.’”

“A very courageous thing for a lady to do, madam,” replied the Colonel,
gallantly. “But I think you will find, particularly in the State of
Virginia, that a woman’s weakness is her strength. Every Virginia
gentleman is the protector of a defenseless woman.”

Madame de Fonblanque smiled prettily, showing very white teeth. She
did not quite understand the Colonel’s allusion to Virginia gentlemen
especially, but having great tact, she appeared to comprehend it
perfectly.

“But do not think for a moment,” she said, “that I would bestow my
confidence upon all men as I have bestowed it on you. The supreme
honesty of your character was perfectly visible to me the instant you
addressed me. I have seen much of the world, and I am no bad reader of
character, and I trusted you from the moment I saw you.”

The Colonel took off his hat, and bowed so low that the chaise, at
that moment giving a lurch, nearly pitched him head foremost under his
horses’ heels. Madame de Fonblanque uttered a little scream.

“I always was so nervous about horses,” she said; “although both my
father and my husband were in the Lancers, they never could induce me
to ride.”

Then she began asking some questions about Mr. Romaine, which showed
that she had a very clear knowledge of his character.

“And is the English mees there still?” she inquired, with a slight
smile.

“Yes; but I understand that she has been desirous to leave for some
time,” answered the Colonel.

“Mr. Romaine is a very extraordinary man,” continued Madame de
Fonblanque, after a pause. “I have known him for a long time, and I do
not think in all these years I have ever known him to do one thing in
the usual manner.”

“I have known him, madam, many more years than you have--we were
boys together sixty years ago--and I must say your estimate of him is
correct. Yet Romaine is not without his virtues.”

“Quite true,” replied Madame de Fonblanque, composedly. “He can be the
most generous of men--but I do not think he knows what justice is.”

“Precisely--precisely, madam. After Romaine has spoiled a life, or
has used the power of his money most remorselessly, he will then turn
around and do the most generous and princely thing in the world. But I
should not like to be in his power.”

“Nor I,” said Madame de Fonblanque, in a low voice.

“At present,” continued the Colonel, “the relations between us are
somewhat strained. I am much vexed with him, and have shown it. But
Romaine, as you say, being totally unlike any created being, sees fit
to ignore it, and actually rides over and borrows my man David--a
worthy negro, of very inferior intellect, though--to shave him!”

It did not take long to make the four miles to Shrewsbury, and
presently they dashed up to the door of the large, brightly lighted
house, and the Colonel rapped smartly on the door. There was a bell--an
innovation introduced by Mr. Romaine--but Colonel Corbin disdained to
use so modern and unheard-of an appliance.

Dodson opened the door, and a flood of light from the fine
old-fashioned entrance hall poured out into the night. Colonel Corbin,
according to the Virginia custom, walked in, escorting Madame de
Fonblanque, without asking if any one was home--somebody was certain to
be at home and delighted to see visitors.

Dodson was about to usher them politely in the drawing-room, when
Bridge suddenly appeared. To say that his hair stood on end when he
caught sight of Madame de Fonblanque is hardly putting it strong
enough. His jaw dropped, and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. He
recovered himself and ran and seized the knob of the drawing-room door.

“Please,” he said, in a very positive tone, “Mr. Romaine hisn’t at
’ome.”

“How do you know that, sir?” sternly demanded the Colonel, advancing on
Bridge, who still held on to the door-knob.

“Because--because--I _knows_ he ain’t--to--that--’ere--pusson.”

The Colonel, who was tall and strong, caught Bridge by the coat collar,
and, with clenched teeth, shook him up and down as a terrier shakes a
rat.

“You insolent scoundrel,” he said, in a fierce basso, “I have a great
mind to throw you out of the door. Go this instant and tell your master
that Madame de Fonblanque and Colonel Corbin are here.”

Bridge, nearly frightened out of his life, and black in the face, was
glad to escape. He made his way half across the hall to Mr. Romaine’s
study door, and then hesitated. Afraid as he was of the Colonel,
the idea of facing Mr. Romaine with such a message was still more
terrifying. The Colonel helped him to make up his mind by advancing and
giving him a well-directed kick on the shins which nearly threw him
into Mr. Romaine’s arms, as that individual unexpectedly opened the
door.

Then there was a pause.

Madame de Fonblanque had remained a silent spectator of the whole
scene, wearing a look of calm amusement. As soon as Mr. Romaine caught
sight of her, his pale face grew still more ashy, and his inscrutable
black eyes blazed with a still more somber splendor. Colonel Corbin,
quite unmoved by his little rencontre with “that infernal flunkey,” as
he described the worthy Bridge afterward, advanced and said, with his
most magnificent air:

“Allow me, Romaine, to announce a lady with whom I imagine you to have
the honor of a previous acquaintance--Madame de Fonblanque.”

“The devil I have!” replied Mr. Romaine.



X


Colonel Corbin could not kick his friend Romaine as he had done poor
Bridge--but he would have dearly liked to at that moment.

Mr. Romaine, after glaring at Madame de Fonblanque, without the
slightest greeting, turned to the Colonel.

“Corbin,” he said, “you always were and always will be the most
unsophisticated, impractical creature God ever made. The idea of your
taking up with this brazen adventuress and bringing her to my house!”

“Hear me, sir,” responded the Colonel; “if you utter another
disparaging word respecting this lady, I will forget your age and
infirmities, and give you the most genteel walloping you ever had in
your life.”

“It will be the first time you ever forgot my age and infirmities,”
coolly answered Mr. Romaine; and then turning to Madame de Fonblanque,
he said:

“What do you want of me?”

“You know very well what I want of you.”

“You will never get it.”

“I shall try, nevertheless. I wish to see you in private.”

“Madam,” said the Colonel, “if you desire the protection of my
presence, you shall have it. I have not the slightest regard for
this--person--who so maligned you; and you see that physically I am
still worth a good deal.”

“You are worth a good deal in every way,” replied Madame de Fonblanque
warmly. “Still, I will see Mr. Romaine alone; and when the interview is
over I will again throw myself upon your protection.”

Mr. Romaine turned and led the way to his library, Madame de Fonblanque
following him. He closed the door, and stood waiting for her to speak.
He was in the greatest rage of his life, but he did not in the least
lose his self-possession.

“Well?” he said, his face blazing with the intensity of his anger.

“One hundred thousand francs,” responded Madame de Fonblanque, sweetly.

They were standing in the middle of the floor, the soft light of the
fire and of a great lamp on the table falling upon them.

“You have raised your price since we last met.”

“Yes. I reckoned up the interest and added it. Besides, I really think
a woman who was disappointed in being made your wife needs a hundred
thousand francs to console her for your loss. Now, most men would not
be worth more than thirty or forty thousand.”

Madame de Fonblanque spoke quite cheerfully and even gaily. She tapped
her pocket gracefully.

“Here I have those letters of yours. They never leave me--particularly
the one proposing marriage, and the half dozen in which you call me
your dearest Athanaise and reproach me bitterly for not loving you
enough. Just imagine the hurricane of amusement they would cause if
read out in court with proper elocutionary effect.”

Madame de Fonblanque laughed, and Mr. Romaine positively blushed.

“What an infernal, infernal ass I was!”

“Yes, I thought so, too,” responded the pretty and sprightly French
woman--“I have often noticed that people who can make fools of others,
invariably, at some time in their lives, make fools of themselves.”

“I did,” answered Mr. Romaine, sententiously. “But I tell you, once for
all, not a penny will I pay.”

“Ah, my dear M. Romaine, that is not for you to say. These
breach-of-promise cases sometimes turn out very badly for the
gentlemen. I can so easily prove my position, my respectability--the
way you pursued me from London to Brighton, from Brighton to
Folkestone, from Folkestone to Eastbourne--and these invaluable and
delightful letters. It will be a _cause célèbre_--that you may depend
upon. And what a figure you will cut! The New York papers will have a
column a day--the London papers two columns. By the way, I hear you
have leased a fine house at Prince’s Gate for the season. You will have
to give up that lease, my friend--you will not dare to show your face
in London this season, M. Romaine.”

All this time Madame de Fonblanque had been laughing, as if it were a
very good joke; but she now became serious.

“There is a tragic side to it,” she continued, going closer to Mr.
Romaine, and looking at him in a threatening way. “I know all about
that visit to Dr. Chambers. No matter how I found it out--I know
he passed sentence of death on you; and while this good, amiable
Chessingham is doctoring you for all sorts of imaginary aches and
pains, you have one constant ache and pain that he does not suspect,
because you have so carefully concealed it from him--and the slightest
annoyance or chagrin may be fatal to you. I know that you have tried
to persuade the good Chessingham that you have every disease in the
calendar of diseases--except the one that is killing you.”

Mr. Romaine walked rather unsteadily to a chair and sat down, burying
his face in his hands. Madame de Fonblanque, after a moment, felt an
impulse of pity toward him. She went and touched him lightly.

“You called me a brazen adventuress just now--and I acknowledge that
I am not engaged in a very high business, trying to make you pay me
for not keeping your word. But I feel sorry for you now. I dislike to
witness your unhappiness. Say you will pay me, and let me go.”

“Never,” answered Mr. Romaine, looking up, with an unquenchable
determination in his eyes.

“Very well, then,” answered Madame de Fonblanque, quietly; “you know
I am a very determined woman. I came here to see for myself what your
condition is. I shall go away to instruct my lawyers to bring suit
against you immediately. I may not get one hundred thousand francs in
money--but I will get a hundred thousand francs’ worth of revenge.”

“It seems to me,” presently said Mr. Romaine, with a cynical smile on
his face, “your revenge will be two-edged.”

“So is nearly all revenge. It’s a very ignoble thing to avenge one’s
self--few people can do it without sharing in the ignominy. But I
weighed the matter well before I made up my mind. French newspapers
take but little notice of what goes on outside of Paris. I have
influence enough to silence those that would say anything about it--and
I care not a sou for anybody or anything in this country or England. I
shall go back to Paris and say it was another Madame de Fonblanque.”

Madame de Fonblanque, following Mr. Romaine’s example, seated herself,
and opened the long, rich cloak of fur she wore. She was certainly very
handsome, particularly when the heat of the room brought a slight flush
to her clear cheeks.

“It is strange to me that a woman of your education and standing should
engage in this scheme of yours,” after a while said Mr. Romaine.

“One hundred thousand francs,” responded Madame de Fonblanque.

“You might have married well a dozen times if you had played your cards
right,” he continued.

“One hundred thousand francs,” again said Madame de Fonblanque.

“What are your plans of campaign, may I ask?”

“To get one hundred thousand francs from you.”

“That ridiculous old blunderbuss, Corbin! I suppose he has invited you
to take up your quarters at Corbin Hall, indefinitely, without knowing
any more about you than he does of the man in the moon.”

“He has--the dear, innocent old gentleman--and I shall stay until I get
my one hundred thousand francs. But he shall not regret it. I know how
to appreciate kindness. I have met with so little. The man I loved--my
husband--squandered my _dot_, which I gave him, and it is on account of
my rash fondness for one man that it is now absolutely necessary for me
to have some money from another; and I intend to make every effort to
get a hundred thousand francs from you.”

Mr. Romaine remained silent for a few minutes, considering a _coup_.
Then his usual sly smile appeared upon his countenance. When he spoke
his voice had more than its usual velvety softness.

“Your efforts, Madame de Fonblanque, will not be necessary; for I
hereby declare to you my perfect willingness to marry you, and I shall
put it in writing.”

It was now Madame de Fonblanque’s turn to be disconcerted. She fell
back in her chair and gazed dumbly at Mr. Romaine. Marry him! And as
she had laughed while Mr. Romaine had suffered, now he laughed wickedly
while she literally cowered at the prospect presented to her.

“And as regards my sudden and speedy death, which you seem to
anticipate, it could not benefit you”--he leaned over and said
something to her in a low tone, which caused Madame de Fonblanque
to start--“so that you will have the satisfaction of enjoying my
money--such as I may choose to give you--as long as I live. But I warn
you--I am not an easy man to live with, nor would the circumstances of
our marriage render me more so. Ask Chessingham if I am easy to live
with, and he will tell you that I am not, even at my best. It would
not surprise me, in case our marriage took place, if you were to wish
yourself free again. You say you desire revenge. So would I--and I
would take it.”

Madame de Fonblanque grew steadily paler as Mr. Romaine spoke. She
knew well enough the purgatory he was offering her. To marry him! Such
an idea had never dawned upon her. The conviction of his insincerity
had caused her coyness in the first instance which had stimulated Mr.
Romaine so much. It had really looked, in the beginning, as if he
would not succeed in the least in making a fool of this pretty French
widow. But he had finally succeeded at the cost of making a fool of
himself. However, it was now his turn to score--because it was plain
that Madame de Fonblanque was anything but enraptured at the notion of
marrying him.

She caught sight of Mr. Romaine’s black eyes dancing in enjoyment of
her predicament. She rose and drew her fur cloak around her.

“I will think it over, Mr. Romaine,” she said, calmly.

“Pray do,” responded Mr. Romaine; “and I will write you a letter
to-morrow morning, making a specific offer to fulfil my promise, which
will make those cherished letters of yours worth considerably less than
the paper they are written on--and what a honeymoon we will have!”

At this, Madame de Fonblanque positively shuddered, but she held her
head up bravely as Mr. Romaine opened the door politely for her, and
they discovered Colonel Corbin stalking up and down the hall alone.

“Corbin,” said Mr. Romaine, blandly, “Madame de Fonblanque and I have
reached a perfectly satisfactory agreement.”

“Sir,” replied the Colonel, glowering with wrath, “it must also be made
satisfactory to me. When I bring a lady to a house, she is under my
protection; and when she has the term ‘brazen adventuress’ applied to
her, simply because she has come to demand a mere act of justice--and I
know this to be a fact, because she has so informed me--I must insist
upon an apology from the person applying that term.”

“Very well, then,” said Mr. Romaine, debonair and smiling. “I
apologize. Madame de Fonblanque is not a brazen adventuress--she is
merely a lady of great enterprise and assurance, and I wish you joy of
her acquaintance.”

In Madame de Fonblanque’s breast there sprang up that desire that
is never wholly smothered in any human being--to appear well in the
presence of a person she respected. She did sincerely respect Colonel
Corbin, who had befriended her on that risky expedition, and it cut her
to the heart to be insulted before him. Her eyes filled with tears, and
she turned to him with trembling lips.

“Do not mind what he says. He hates me because he has injured me, and
keeps me out of money that he ought to pay me.”

“I do not mind him in the least, madam,” replied the Colonel, suavely.
“Mr. Romaine knows perfectly well my opinion of him. He keeps you out
of money he owes you, and insists upon forcing on my granddaughter
money that she does not want, and which will involve her in endless
trouble. I think that is quite characteristic of Romaine. Let us now
leave this inhospitable house.”

Madame de Fonblanque took the arm the Colonel offered her, and walked
out of the hall without noticing Mr. Romaine’s courteous bow.

The proposition made to Madame de Fonblanque was truly startling.
Almost anything on earth was better than marrying him--and what he
had whispered to her proved that she could not profit one penny by
his death. She would gladly have foregone that offer on paper for
some other letters she had in which he flatly refused to keep his
word, and which she had held over him _in terrorem_. She could not
determine in a moment what to do, but she was convinced that she could
not see Mr. Romaine again, and the matter would have to be settled
by correspondence. And then she felt the sooner she got away from
this place where she had been checkmated the better. When they were
traveling fast through the murky night toward Corbin Hall, she broached
the subject at once of her return in the morning. The Colonel declared
it depended upon the weather, which puzzled Madame de Fonblanque very
much until it was explained to her that it was a question of weather
whether the boat came or not. Sometimes, in that climate, the river
froze over, and then the river steamers stopped running until there was
a thaw--for ice-boats were unknown in that region. It was very cold,
and getting colder, and the Colonel was of the opinion that a freeze
was upon them, and no boat could get down the river that night.

When they got to Corbin Hall, Madame de Fonblanque was extremely
nervous about the greeting she would get from the Colonel’s
womankind--but it was as cordial and unsuspicious as his had been.
The Colonel explained that Madame de Fonblanque had business with Mr.
Romaine, who had treated her like--Mr. Romaine; and Letty, as soon as
she found somebody with a community of prejudice against the master of
Shrewsbury, felt much drawn toward her. There was no doubt that Madame
de Fonblanque was a lady; and in the innocent and unworldly lives of
the ladies at Corbin Hall, the desperate shifts and devices to get
money of people with adventurous tendencies were altogether unknown and
unsuspected. Besides, people from a foreign country were very great
novelties to them; and Letty seated herself, after tea, to hear all
about that marvelous world beyond the sea. The Colonel still talked
about his visit to Europe in 1835, and Paris in the days of the Citizen
King, and imagined that everything had remained unchanged since then.
Madame de Fonblanque was a stout Monarchist, as most French people of
dubious antecedents profess to be, and gave out with much tact that,
although only the widow of a poor officer in the Lancers, she was on
intimate terms with all the Faubourg St. Germains. As she frankly
admitted her modest means, there was no hint of braggadocio in anything
she said in her fluent French-English. She had great curiosity about
Mr. Romaine, and was well up in all his adventures since he had been in
America. She spoke of him so coolly and critically that it never dawned
upon her listeners that the difficulties between them were not of the
usual business kind.

“As for the English mees,” she said, calmly, “I would say to her, ‘Go
home, my pretty demoiselle; don’t waste your time on that--that aged
crocodile.’ The English, you know, have no sentiment. They call us
unfeeling because French parents select a suitable man for an innocent
young daughter to marry, and bid her feel for him all the tenderness
possible. But those calculating English meeses would marry old
Scaramouch himself if he had money enough.”

The Colonel did not like to hear his favorite nation abused, and rather
squirmed under this; but he reflected that Madame de Fonblanque’s
remarks were due, no doubt, to the traditional jealousy between the
French and the English.

Madame de Fonblanque gave the straightest possible account of herself,
including the desertion of her maid the day before.

“I thought, with my trusty Suzanne, I could face anything. I did not
imagine I could go anywhere in this part of America that I would not
find hotels, railroads, telegraph offices--”

“There is one tavern in the county, and that a very poor one, six miles
away--and not a line of telegraph wire or railway nearer than two
counties off,” explained Letty, smiling.

Madame de Fonblanque clapped her hands.

“How delicious! I shall tell this in France. It is like some of our
retired places in the provinces, where the government has erected
telegraph lines, but the people do not know exactly what they are meant
for! And when that wretched Suzanne left me, I asked at once for the
French consul--but I found there was none in town. All of my adventures
here have been novel--and as I have met with such very great kindness,
I shall always regard them as amusing.”

She showed no disposition to trespass on the hospitality so generously
offered her, and looked out of the window anxiously when they rose to
go to their rooms. But it had begun snowing early in the evening, and
the ground was now perfectly white.

“No boat to-morrow, madam,” said the Colonel. “You will, I am sure, be
forced to content yourself at Corbin Hall for some days yet.”

“I content myself perfectly,” replied Madame de Fonblanque, with ready
grace; “but one must be careful not to take advantage of so much
generosity as yours.”

When she was alone in the same old-fashioned bed-room that Farebrother
had occupied, enjoying, as he had done, the sparkling wood-fire,
she reflected gratefully upon the goodness of these refined and
simple-minded people--but she also reflected with much bitterness
upon the extremely slim prospect of her getting any money from Mr.
Romaine. She had fully counted upon his dread of ridicule, his fear of
publicity, to induce him to hand over a considerable sum of money; but
she had not in the least counted upon what she considered his truly
diabolical offer to come up to his word. To marry Mr. Romaine! She
could have brought herself to it, reflecting that he could not live
forever; but those few words he whispered to her showed her that it
was out of her power to get any money at his death. She believed what
he told her--it was so thoroughly characteristic of him--and she would
by no means risk the horrors of marrying this embodied whim with that
probability hanging over her. She turned it over and over in her mind,
wearily, until past midnight, when she tossed to and fro until the gray
dawn shone upon the snow-covered world.

But Mr. Romaine suffered from more than sleeplessness that night. The
Chessinghams guessed from the accounts given by the servants of the
strange visitor that Madame de Fonblanque had turned up miraculously
with Colonel Corbin, and after a short interview with Mr. Romaine had
disappeared. They knew all about the old report that Mr. Romaine had
been very marked in his attentions at one time to the pretty widow and
Chessingham shrewdly guessed very near the truth concerning her visit,
which truth convulsed him with laughter.

“It is the most absurd thing,” he said to his wife and Ethel Maywood,
in their own sitting-room that night. “No doubt the old fellow has some
entanglement with her, and finding widows a little more difficult to
impose upon than guileless maidens, he’s been trapped in some way.”

“And serves him right,” said Mrs. Chessingham, with energy. “I know
he’s kind to us, Reggie--but--was there ever such another man as Mr.
Romaine, do you think?”

“The Lord be praised, no,” answered Chessingham. “And he is not only
mentally and morally different from any man I ever saw, but physically,
too. I swear, after having been his doctor for two years, I don’t know
his constitution yet. He will describe to me the most contradictory
symptoms. He will profess to take a prescription and apparently it
will have just the opposite effect from that intended. Sometimes I
have asked myself if he has not, all the time, some disease that he
rigorously conceals from me, and he simply uses these subterfuges to
deceive me.”

“Anything is possible with Mr. Romaine,” said Ethel quietly. “And
yet--he is the most generous of men. Our own father was not half so
free with his money to us as Mr. Romaine is. And he seems to shrink
from the least acknowledgment of it. How many men, do you think, would
allow a doctor to carry his wife and sister-in-law around with him
as he does, and do everything for us, as if we were the most valued
friends and guests?”

“Oh, Romaine isn’t a bad man, so much as a perverse one,” replied
Chessingham, lightly, “and he is a tremendously interesting one.”

At that very moment, Mr. Romaine was in the condition that any man but
himself would have called for a doctor--but not for worlds would he
have allowed Chessingham to see him then. He understood his own case
perfectly--and the one human being near him that was in his confidence
was Bridge.

The evening was a very unhappy one for Mr. Romaine--the more so that
what the great specialist he had consulted had predicted was actually
happening. Being disturbed in mind, he was becoming ill in body. How
on earth had that cruel French woman found out about Dr. Chambers? So
Mr. Romaine thought, sitting in his library chair, suffering acutely.
Dr. Chessingham offered to come in and read to him, to play écarté
with him--but it occurred to Mr. Romaine that perhaps a visit to the
Chessinghams’ part of the house might divert his spirits and take
his mind off the torturing subject of Madame de Fonblanque. He took
Bridge’s arm and tottered off to the Chessinghams’ sitting-room. But
the instant he entered the door his indomitable spirit asserted itself.
He stood upright, walked steadily, and even forced a smile to his lips.
Mrs. Chessingham and Ethel were at their everlasting fancy work, of
which Mr. Romaine had never seen a completed specimen. Ethel rose and
placed a chair for him--which, as he was old and infirm and needed it,
nettled him extremely.

“Pray, my dear Miss Maywood, don’t trouble yourself. I do not yet
require the kind coddling you would bestow upon me.”

Ethel, being an amiable and patient creature, took this with a smile.

“I am looking forward with great pleasure,” said Mr. Romaine, after
having seated himself in a straight-backed chair, while he yearned
for an easy one, “to the season in London. I have had my eye on that
house in Prince’s Gate for several years, and, of course, feel pleased
to have it. Being an old-fashioned man, I have kept pretty closely
to the localities which were modish when I was a young attaché some
years since--such as Belgravia, Grosvenor, and Lowndes Squares, and
all those places. But there is something very attractive about the new
Kensington--and I have intended for some years to take a house in that
part of town for a season--and this one particularly struck my fancy.”

“It is very handsome--but very expensive,” said Mrs. Chessingham.

“Most handsome things are expensive, dear madam, but this house is
reasonable, considering its charm, and I hope that you as well as your
sister will enjoy some of its pleasures with me.”

Both young women smiled--it would be nice to have the run of the house
at Prince’s Gate--and after going through with a winter in the country,
and in Virginia, too, they thought they had earned it.

“Heretofore,” continued Mr. Romaine, stroking his white mustache with
his delicate hand, “while I have been fond of entertaining, it has
always been of a sedate kind--chiefly dinners. But last year I was
beguiled into promising my young friend, Lady Gwendolen Beauclerc,
a ball, if I could get a house with a ball-room--and a few days ago
I received a very pretty reminder of my promise, in the shape of a
photograph and a letter.”

“Better and better,” thought Ethel--“to be invited to a ball given to
please Lady Gwendolen Beauclerc!” But Gladys spoke up with her usual
simplicity and straightforwardness.

“I hardly think, being now married to a medical man with his way to
make in the world, that I shall be asked to many swell balls--and
perhaps it is better that I should not go.”

“But, Gladys, we went once to swell balls,” said Ethel, reproachfully.

“Oh, yes,” answered Gladys, “but that was over and done with when I
married my husband--and he is well worth the sacrifice. Reggie himself
is of good family, as you know, but he is on that account too proud
to associate with people upon terms of condescension--so, when we
were married, we agreed to be very careful about giving and accepting
invitations.”

“The social prejudices of you English are peculiar,” remarked Mr.
Romaine. “It is from you that we Virginia people inherit that profound
respect for land. I found, early in life, when I first went to
England and when Americans were scarce there, that it was more in my
favor to be a landholder and a slave-owner than if I had been worth
millions. The landed people in all countries are united by a powerful
bond, which does not seem to exist with other forms of property. But
because agriculture is perhaps the first and the most absorbing and
conservative of all industrial callings, the people who own land are
naturally bound together and appreciative of each other.”

While Mr. Romaine was giving this little disquisition, he suffered
furious pain, but the only indication he gave of it was a furtive
wiping of his brow.

“And the hold of the land upon one is peculiar. I could never bring
myself to part with an acre of it which I had either bought or
inherited. Of course, during my practical expatriation for many years,
my landed property here has suffered. I have often wondered at myself
for holding on to it, when I could have invested the money in an
English estate which really would have been much more profitable--but
I could never divest myself of the feeling that the land would yet
draw me back to it. However,” he continued, quite gaily, “it is now so
depreciated, and the new system is so impossible for the old masters
to adopt, that I can’t sell it, and I can’t live on it--so I shall be
compelled to buy an estate in England in the country, for a town house,
even the Prince’s Gate one, is only endurable for five months in the
year.”

Ethel’s eyes glistened--a town house at Prince’s Gate--an estate in the
country! Might she not, after all, be Mrs. Romaine? And Mr. Romaine’s
position was so much better than that of any other American she knew;
the others were all striving for recognition, but Mr. Romaine had had
an assured place in English society for a generation. He had not only
dandled Lady Gwendolen Beauclerc, who was a duke’s daughter, on his
knee, but he had danced, at a court ball, with the Queen herself, when
she was a youthful matron, and he was a slim young diplomat. And in a
flash of imagination, Ethel saw herself becomingly attired in widow’s
weeds and leaving, by the hands of a footman in mourning livery,
black-bordered cards, bearing the inscription, “_Mrs. Romaine_.”



XI


At last, Mr. Romaine was conquered by pain, and rose to leave the
Chessinghams’ rooms about ten o’clock. As he said good-night, some
strange impulse made him take Ethel’s soft, white hand in his, which
was deathly cold and clammy. He looked at her in her fresh, wholesome
beauty. He knew she was just as designing in her own way as Madame
de Fonblanque--but the designing was different in the two women,
according to their race. Ethel’s was the peculiarly artless and
primitive designing, which is as near as the English character can come
to deception--for it really deceives nobody. Madame de Fonblanque’s
was the consummate designing of the Latin races, which could deceive
almost anybody. At that very moment she was completely hoodwinking
the people at Corbin Hall, and Letty, who had been disgusted with
Ethel’s transparent devices to ensnare Mr. Romaine, never for a
moment suspected that the graceful and tactful Madame de Fonblanque’s
“business” with Mr. Romaine was an attempt to entrap him of a nature
much more desperate and barefaced than Ethel would have dreamed of.

But as Mr. Romaine looked into Ethel’s rosy, fresh face, he saw a great
deal of good there. She would not bedevil him as the French woman had
done. She was amiable even in her disappointments, and if things had
been otherwise, and she could have shared with him the town house, and
the country house, and the carriage, would have tended him faithfully
and kindly. Some dim idea of rewarding her by making her an offer as
soon as he was clear of the French woman dawned upon his mind. Ethel,
for her part, read a new look of gentleness in his expressive black
eyes--and his hand-clasp was positively tender. But his pain showed
in his glance--there was something agonizing in his eyes as Ethel’s
met his. And fascinated by them she gazed into them with a strange
and pathetic feeling that it was not “good-night” she was saying, but
“good-by.” Mr. Romaine himself had something of this feeling--and
so for a fall minute they stood hand in hand, and quite silent. Mrs.
Chessingham moved away judiciously--and did not return until the door
closed behind Mr. Romaine. Ethel stood in the same spot, with a pained
face.

“Do you know, Gladys, I had a queer feeling just now--as if Mr. Romaine
were really ill, and might die at any time? And all the time we have
looked upon him as a hypochondriac.”

“Reggie says if anybody really expected Mr. Romaine to die he would
live forever. But I have not heard him say he was ill, and I am sure
Reggie does not suspect it. And, Ethel dear, I shouldn’t be surprised
if, after all, that house at Prince’s Gate should be yours.”

“_I_ should be,” answered Ethel, “but if it ever is, I promise to be
kind to the old gentleman.”

Bridge had met “the old gentleman” just outside the door, and had gone
with him to the library, where he sat within easy call. Mr. Romaine,
seated at his table, after a while seemed to recover from his paroxysm
of pain. He unlocked a drawer and took out his will, which he read
over, smiling all the time--he seemed to regard it as a very facetious
document. Then he added something to it. He had a few valuable diamonds
which he had collected for no particular purpose some years before,
and he thought that Ethel Maywood might as well have them. And then
he wrote his offer to Madame de Fonblanque, and sealed and addressed
it. It seemed to give him such acute pleasure that he almost forgot
his pain. He smiled, his black eyes sparkled, he smoothed his mustache
coquettishly, and thought to himself:

“Checkmated, by Jove!”

It was then near twelve o’clock, and he rang for Bridge and went to his
bed-room.

The man undressed him and put him to bed, and then Mr. Romaine said
casually:

“You had better sit in this room to-night.”

Even with this servant, who knew the whole secret of his ailments, Mr.
Romaine maintained a systematic kind of deceit which did not deceive.

Bridge stirred the fire into a ruddy blaze, and sat down by it to
doze. Occasionally he rose and went toward the luxurious bed, where
Mr. Romaine lay with wide-open, staring eyes, and every few moments he
wanted something done for him. This alarmed Bridge, but he dared not
show his uneasiness. At last, about two o’clock in the morning, when he
had given up all attempts at dozing, he heard a sound which made him
jump. It was a slight groan.

In all the sixteen years that he had served Mr. Romaine he had never
known from him the slightest sign that pain was victor. Bridge fairly
ran to the bed at this.

“What’s the matter?” sternly asked Mr. Romaine.

“Didn’t I hear you groan, sir?”

“Of course not--Bridge, you are in your dotage.”

Bridge went back to his place. In ten minutes came another groan--and
another.

He rose and went to the bedside again.

“Mr. Romaine, I’m a-goin’ for Mr. Chessingham. I can’t stand this no
longer.”

“I should think if I could stand it, you could.”

“No, sir. Can’t nobody stand what you can stand, and I’m a-goin’ for
Mr. Chessingham.”

“If you dare,” said Mr. Romaine.

Bridge moved toward the door. By a tremendous effort Mr. Romaine rose
up in bed, and seizing a carafe of water from the table at his side,
sent it whizzing after Bridge. It missed its target by a very close
shave, indeed.

“Next time,” said Mr. Romaine, “I will aim better.”

Bridge returned to his seat by the fire.

All night the struggle went on. Mr. Romaine writhed in agony, but the
determination to disappoint Bridge brought him out alive. When morning
broke, the worst was over, and he seemed as likely to live as he had
done at any time since Bridge first knew him. But the unhappy valet
showed the terrible experience he had been through with, and his pallid
face and nervous hands brought a grim smile to Mr. Romaine’s face.

About ten o’clock Mr. Romaine announced that he would rise and dress,
having made, many years before, a secret resolution that he would die
with his boots on. Bridge, completely subdued, assisted at this toilet,
and helped him into the library.

While shaving him, though, Mr. Romaine said, crossly:

“You are so afraid I am dying that you’ll probably cut my throat out of
pure nervousness. I have half a mind to send for that black barber at
Corbin Hall, who can give you points on shaving.”

Bridge was so frightened and uneasy about Mr. Romaine’s condition that
he did not even resent this slur.

It was still intensely cold and snowing. But the roaring fire and heavy
curtains made the room deliciously comfortable. Chessingham always came
to Mr. Romaine at eleven--and on this particular morning he found Mr.
Romaine in his usual place before the great, cheery fireplace. But he
undoubtedly looked ill.

“What sort of a night did you have?” was the young doctor’s first
inquiry.

“Only fairly good,” replied Mr. Romaine, and then went on with great
seriousness to describe a multitude of trifling symptoms, such as any
imaginative person can conjure up at any moment.

“The fact is,--to be perfectly candid with you,”--said Chessingham, who
was a conscientious man, “if you allow yourself to dwell upon these
trifling ailments they will entail real suffering upon you. Try and
forget about your stiff shoulder, and your neuralgic headache, and that
sort of thing.”

“But my dear fellow,” answered Mr. Romaine, with a flash of humor in
his black eyes, “you know it is my infirmity to exaggerate my aches and
pains. Last night, for what I acknowledge was a mere trifle, I actually
lay in my bed and groaned.” This was for Bridge’s benefit, who was
putting on Mr. Romaine’s immaculate boots at that moment.

Chessingham, however, did not know exactly what to make of Mr.
Romaine’s statement. His practised eye saw that something was the
matter. But if Mr. Romaine refused to tell the doctor whom he hired to
take care of his health what ailed him, the doctor was not to blame.
Chessingham went back to his part of the house, much puzzled and deeply
annoyed.

“Do you know,” he said to his wife, “I doubt very much if I did a wise
thing in accepting Mr. Romaine’s offer to stay with him. My object, of
saving enough from my salary to start me in London, will be attained.
But suppose Mr. Romaine should die of some disease that he has
concealed from me--my professional reputation would be hurt.”

Gladys said some comforting words, and told him about Mr. Romaine’s
plans for buying an estate in England, the Prince’s Gate house, the
impending ball, etc. At every word she said, Chessingham looked more
and more gloomy.

“Very bad, very bad,” he said. “Worse and worse. He must be very ill,
indeed, if he thinks it necessary to talk that way.”

Gladys laughed at Chessingham’s interpretation of Mr. Romaine’s
remarks, and reminded him of his oft-repeated prediction that Mr.
Romaine would live to bury all of them.

“It is simply the same old puzzle,” he said at last, impatiently. “I
thought heretofore that nothing ailed him except his diabolically
ingenious imagination. Now, I believe that everything ails him--but I
cannot tell.”

The day passed on with leaden feet to Mr. Romaine, sitting, suffering
and smiling, in his easy-chair. At six o’clock, he called for Bridge
to dress him for the evening as usual. Bridge, thoroughly frightened,
turned pale at this.

“Mr. Romaine,” he said, pleadingly, “I’m afraid, sir, it’ll--be the
death of you.”

“You’ll be the death of me another way,” vigorously responded Mr.
Romaine. “You’ll enrage me so that I’ll break a blood vessel.”

Bridge went and got the necessary things, and Mr. Romaine made a
ghastly toilet. He was always particular about the tying of his white
cravat, and on this especial evening almost took poor Bridge’s head
off and ruined four ties before one was done to suit him. When he got
through, he was gasping for breath, but perfectly undaunted.

The nervous apprehension of the young doctor about Mr. Romaine
communicated itself to everybody at Shrewsbury. They all, from the
Chessinghams and Miss Maywood down to the very house dogs, that whined
in their loneliness and imprisonment to the house, felt as if something
ghastly and terrible was descending with the night. All except Mr.
Romaine himself, who maintained an uncanny sort of gaiety all day long,
and who, every time Chessingham visited him, was found cackling over
some humorous journals that had arrived a day or two before. But the
young doctor could not quite appreciate the funny cartoons and lively
jokes, and his grave face seemed to afford Mr. Romaine much saturnine
amusement.

The day that was so long at Shrewsbury was very short at Corbin Hall.
The Colonel was simply delighted with Madame de Fonblanque, and
harangued to Letty privately upon Romaine’s deuced unchivalric conduct
to a noble, attractive, and blameless woman. This excellent man had
accepted Madame de Fonblanque at her face value. Letty was more worldly
wise than the Colonel, but she, too, had fallen a victim to Madame de
Fonblanque’s charms and was only too ready to think Mr. Romaine a brute.

After a delightful day, spent chiefly in the comfortable old library,
where they could bid defiance to the cold and snow without, a wholly
unexpected visitor turned up just at nightfall. A loud knock at the
front door, much yelping of dogs and stamping of booted feet announced
an arrival.

There had been an understanding that Sir Archy was to repeat his visit
later in the winter. He was liable to arrive at any day, and when the
commotion in the large and dusky hall was heard, the Colonel only
voiced the general impression of the group around the library fire when
he said:

“It is no doubt our kinsman, Sir Archibald.” But it was not “Sir
Archibald”--and the next minute Farebrother came walking in, as if he
had just been around the corner. His face was ruddy with the biting
wintry air, and his eyes were bright.

The Colonel was openly charmed to see him; so was Miss Jemima, and
Letty’s face turned such a rosy red that it told a little story of its
own. Farebrother explained that he was on his way home from the South
on a professional trip, and had written that he would stop over two or
three days at Corbin Hall. His letters had not been received--the mails
being conducted upon a happy-go-lucky schedule in that part of the
world--and on finding the river closed by ice when he left the railway
twenty-five miles away, he had hired horses and had driven the distance
that day in spite of the storm.

It was certainly good to see him--he was so cheerful, so manly, so full
of fresh and breezy life. When he, as it were, was dragged into the
library by the Colonel, Madame de Fonblanque was not present--she had
gone to her room for a little rest before supper. In a little while the
Colonel began to tell about her--and once started on a theme, he could
not resist airing his opinion of “Romaine’s utter want of courtesy and
consideration for a woman.”

Farebrother’s countenance was a study during all this. When the
Colonel had left the room, he turned to Letty and said, half laughing
as he spoke, “Is it possible that Colonel Corbin picked up Madame de
Fonblanque at the river landing and brought her here to stay until she
chooses to quit?”

“Of course,” answered Letty, tartly. “What else was there left to do?”

A great part of Farebrother’s enjoyment of his Corbin Hall friends
consisted in their simplicity and the number of hearty laughs they
afforded him.

“I declare, Miss Corbin,” he exclaimed, after indulging himself in a
masculine ha-ha, “it’s a great thing to know a place where one can get
a new sensation. It can always be had in Virginia. You are certainly
the simplest people about some things and the shrewdest about others I
ever saw.”

“Thank you,” answered Letty, smiling, “but, please, as I am not quite
a woman of the world yet--tell me what is the matter with Madame de
Fonblanque?”

“Nothing on earth that I know of. But there is room for suspicion in
everybody’s mind who knows the world. What is her mysterious business
with Mr. Romaine? Likely as not, blackmail.”

Letty jumped as Farebrother said this; for at that moment the door
opened and Madame de Fonblanque entered.

Within ten minutes after her introduction to Farebrother, Letty saw
a subtile change in her. She exchanged her charming candor and frank
personal conversation for the guarded manner of a woman who knows a
good deal about this wicked world, and she conversed upon the safest
and most general subjects. When the Colonel returned they all went in
to supper, which boasted seven different kinds of bread, served by
Dad Davy with his grandest flourishes. But the Colonel’s delightful
assumption that Madame de Fonblanque would be their guest for at least
a month, and would probably return in the autumn, “when the climate of
old Virginia, madam, is truly glorious and life-giving,” did not meet
with the same enthusiastic acceptance from Madame de Fonblanque as it
had done at dinner.

The truth was, with Farebrother’s keen eyes upon her, and his polite
but guarded manner toward her, she was dealing with a different
person from the innocent old Colonel and the unsuspicious Letty. The
conversation turned upon Mr. Romaine. The Colonel glowered darkly, and
growled below his breath that Romaine, with age and eccentricities, was
becoming intolerable. Madame de Fonblanque shrugged her shoulders.

“I hope none of you will be so unhappy as to have business transactions
with Mr. Romaine. You will certainly find him a very difficult person.”
She said Farebrother seemed to be the only friend that Mr. Romaine had
at the table.

“There’s really a great deal that is engaging and even admirable about
him,” he said. “He is a man of great natural astuteness, and if he took
a stand he would be apt to know his ground well, so that he could hold
it.”

Madame de Fonblanque flashed a look at Farebrother, which he met with
a cool smile. She knew that he suspected her, and he knew that she
knew he suspected her. Her surroundings were entirely novel to her;
her hosts were like the old provincial gentry in the remote corners of
France, and such people are always much alike, and easy to hoodwink.
She was grateful to them for their kindness, and had no thought of
deceiving them any more than was necessary. But Farebrother was a type
of man that she knew all about; well learned in the ways of the world,
superlatively honest, but fully able to protect himself against scamps
of either sex. She wondered if he had not heard some talk about the
affair between Mr. Romaine and herself--and at that very moment, she
was almost overcome by chagrin and disappointment. She was desperately
in need of money, despite her fur cloak and her expensive finery, and
she had felt from the moment Mr. Romaine spoke that there was not the
slightest chance of her getting any money from him. She wanted to write
to England and consult her lawyer there before taking any further
steps, and it had occurred to her, as the most convenient arrangement,
to await his reply at Corbin Hall. And besides, what a rage it would
put Mr. Romaine in! But if this robust and slightly bold person, with
his cheerful manner and his alert blue eyes, were to be there, Madame
de Fonblanque would rather be somewhere else.

The Colonel was much puzzled because Madame de Fonblanque and
Farebrother were not hail-fellow-well-met, and felt very much as if
Farebrother were guilty of a want of chivalry--but still, there was
nothing to take hold of, for he was perfectly courteous to her. But
she had nothing more to say about her intimacy with the old royalist
families, and when Farebrother boldly avowed himself a firm believer in
the French republic, Madame de Fonblanque did not sigh and say, “Ah, if
you had ancestors who died for Louis and Charles and Louis Philippe,
you would not love the republic,” as she had done when Letty advanced
the same view. In short, Madame de Fonblanque had met her match.

As soon as supper was over she excused herself and went to her room
for an hour or two. She really felt depressed and unequal to keeping
up the strain any longer at that time. The Colonel tramped down to the
stable in the snow, to see that Tom Battercake had made the horses
comfortable for the night; and Miss Jemima always remained an hour in
the dining-room after every meal, in close confabulation with the cook.
Letty and Farebrother went alone to the library.

The lamps were lighted, but the fire needed a vigorous poking, which
Letty proceeded to administer, going down on her knees. Farebrother,
who knew better than to interfere, stood by the hearth watching her.
When she had got through, he suddenly went up close to her and caught
her hands in his.

“Letty,” he said, in a firm and serious voice that she had never heard
him use before, “do you know what I came here for?”

In an instant she knew. But the knowledge staggered her. The idea that
Farebrother would take the bit between his teeth and break through all
her maze of little coquetries like that had never dawned upon her. In
another minute he had made his meaning so plain to her that there was
no evading it.

For the first time Farebrother saw a frightened look come into her
clear eyes. She turned pale, but she made no effort to escape from him.
He told her that he loved her well, with the manly force and directness
that women like, and Letty stammered some sweet, incoherent answer
which revealed that she too knew the exaltation of life’s great fever.
All her pretty airs and graces dropped from her in a moment--she stood
trembling, and unconsciously returned the clasp of Farebrother’s strong
hands, like some weak creature holding desperately to one that is all
steadfastness. Farebrother could not recall afterward one word that he
had said; he only remembered that he felt as if they two stood alone on
some cloud-capped peak, the whole world vanished from their sight, but
sunshine above them and all around them.

Two tears dropped from Letty’s eyes, she knew not why, and Farebrother
consoled her, for what he did not know--and they drank the wine of life
together. But after a while they came from their own heaven down to a
real world that was scarcely less beautiful to them.

Almost the first rational question Farebrother asked her was--“And how
about that good-looking villain of an Englishman?”

“My cousin Archibald? Why, he never asked me to be Lady Corbin.”

“Thank the Lord.” There was a good deal more sincerity in this
thanksgiving than might have been suspected.

“Do you think I would have been dazzled by his title and money?” asked
Letty, offended.

“No, because you don’t know anything about either money or titles. You
are a very clever girl, my dear, but you are very unsophisticated, so
far. I believe, though, he would have to come down here among you
quaint Virginia people to find any girl who wouldn’t take him. And the
sinner is a deuced fine fellow--that I must admit.”

“I _did_ want the honor and glory of refusing him,” Letty admitted,
candidly, “but he never gave me the chance, more’s the pity.”

Farebrother burst into a ringing laugh. Letty’s ideas on the subject of
love and courtship had a unique and childish candor which delighted a
man who knew as much about this ridiculous old planet as Farebrother.

Their lovemaking was cut short by the Colonel’s and Miss Jemima’s
entrance. Colonel Corbin at once engaged Farebrother in a red-hot
political discussion. The Colonel was a believer in states’ rights to
the point of not believing in a central government at all, and Letty
ably assisted him by ready references to the Constitution of the United
States. But Farebrother was a match for them both, and argued that
Washington, Hamilton, and a great many of the fathers wanted a central
government a great deal stronger than their successors of to-day are
prepared to accept. The Colonel, though, was rather disgusted to
observe that Letty and Farebrother were half laughing while they
argued and quarrelled, and that Letty wore a very sweet smile when once
or twice the Colonel was unhorsed in the discussion. From politics they
fell into talk about Mr. Romaine, and in the midst of it a tap came at
the door, and Madame de Fonblanque entered.

“We were again discussing our eccentric friend Romaine, Madame,” said
the Colonel, anxious lest Madame de Fonblanque should suppose that her
arrival was an interruption. “Mr. Farebrother seems to take a more
indulgent view of him than any of us do.”

“For my part,” answered Madame de Fonblanque, with a gesture of
aversion, “I do not hesitate to say that I dislike Mr. Romaine very
much. I cannot deny that he is a gentleman--”

“Technically, my dear madam--technically--”

“--But I believe, if he were to die to-morrow, he would not leave
behind him one heart to ache for him.”

Just then the door opened, and Dad Davy presented a solemn, scared face.

“Marse Colonel,” he said, “dee done sont dat white man, Dodson, f’um
Shrewsbury, an’ he say Mr. Romaine mighty sick an’ dee ’feerd he gwine
die, and he want Madame Fireblock--or whatever she name--ter come right
away. Dee got a kerridge and hosses out d’yar and de white man k’yarn
leave ’em.”

A sudden chill and silence fell upon them all at this. Mr. Romaine must
indeed be dying if he sent for Madame de Fonblanque.

So terrible and so piteous is death that every one of them, who a
moment before had been discussing the dying man with severity, felt
that he or she would do much to save him. Even Madame de Fonblanque
turned pale.

“Of course, I will go,” she said, “perhaps he wants my forgiveness--or
to repair the injury he has done me.”

She went hastily up-stairs, Letty with her, to put on her wraps to
go to the house from which only a few hours before she had been
ignominiously shown. The Colonel would by no means allow her to go
alone, and when she came down, she found him with his great-coat on,
and a large pair of “gambadoes” strapped around his legs to protect his
trousers, in case he should have to get out on the road in the snow and
slush. In a few moments, they were on their way in the bitter night
toward Shrewsbury, the Colonel’s saddle horse following the carriage.

Letty and Farebrother and Miss Jemima, sitting in the library,
determined to wait until midnight, certainly, for some news of the
dying man or the Colonel’s return. In spite of the happiness of the
lovers, there was a cloud upon Farebrother and Letty. Not a word was
said about Mr. Romaine’s will. All of them were more or less skeptical
about it, but still his death was deeply impressive to them. At one
o’clock, they were still sitting there, talking gravely, when they
heard the returning carriage, and presently the Colonel stalked
solemnly in, and Madame de Fonblanque in much agitation with him.



XII


It was only four miles to Shrewsbury, and Dodson did not spare the
horses, but it took them an hour to make it, and it was ten o’clock
before they drew up to the door. Madame de Fonblanque had remained
perfectly silent during the drive. But the Colonel, remembering that he
must, of necessity, soon go the perilous way that Mr. Romaine was now
traversing, was all remorse. He reproached himself for his estrangement
from Mr. Romaine, and remembered only their boyhood together, when they
had been really fond of one another.

As the carriage crunched along the drive across the lawn, the house
door opened, and Mrs. Chessingham appeared. The Colonel assisted Madame
de Fonblanque up the steps, and in the full glare of the light Mrs.
Chessingham saw the woman that had made such a commotion the night
before. She was struck by the dignity of Madame de Fonblanque’s
bearing, and could imagine how even so fastidious a person as Mr.
Romaine might be fascinated by her.

“He has been asking for you for the last half hour,” she said, helping
Madame de Fonblanque off with her wraps, and escorting her to the door
of Mr. Romaine’s library.

Mr. Chessingham came out with a troubled face, and, closing the door
behind him, was presented to Madame de Fonblanque.

“Do you think he is dying?” she asked.

“Undoubtedly. And he knows it himself, and is perfectly prepared, but
when I ventured to hint as much to him, he told me he thought Carlsbad
was the place for him, and he was going there next summer.”

A faint smile appeared upon the faces of all three. Majestic death was
at hand, but Mr. Romaine had to have his quip with the Destroyer before
going upon the great journey.

“And I frankly admit,” said Chessingham, worried almost beyond
bearing, “that Mr. Romaine has never yet told me what ailed him, and
I do not know any more than you do what he is dying of. I suspect, of
course--but it may be one of a half dozen things, any one of which
would be equally fatal. He will not let me know his pulse, temperature,
or anything, and his perversity about his symptoms is simply
phenomenal. He will not even be undressed and go to bed. If you will
believe me, he had his evening clothes put on him, and there he sits,
dying.”

Madame de Fonblanque, without another word, advanced and opened the
door for herself, shutting it carefully after her.

There, indeed, sat Mr. Romaine in his easy-chair, with his feet in
exquisite dancing pumps, stretched out to the fire. His face was
ghastly white--but as it was always white, it did not make a great deal
of difference. His eyes, though, were quite unchanged--in fact, they
seemed to glow with an added fire and brilliance. Still, he was plainly
dying.

“I came as soon as you sent for me,” said Madame de Fonblanque, gently.
“I want to say now, that if you think I bear you any anger for anything
you have said or done to me, you are mistaken. I forget it all as I
look at you.”

“Did you think I sent for you to ask your forgiveness?” asked Mr.
Romaine, faintly, but fluently.

“I can think of no other reason.”

“Then you must be a very unimaginative person. I sent for you to punish
you as you deserve. It won’t make life any pleasanter for you to know
that you helped me out of it. I have had, for some years, as you know,
an affection which the doctors told me any agitation or distress might
make fatal. I might have lived for years--but your presence here last
night was my death blow. I don’t care a rush about living,--in fact,
I would rather die than suffer as I do now,--but I would have lived
possibly ten years longer, but for you.”

“Pray do not say that,” cried Madame de Fonblanque, turning pale.
“Think what a painful thought to follow one through life.”

“That’s why I tell you.”

“Pray, pray withdraw it,” cried Madame de Fonblanque, in tears. “I
implore you.”

“You would not withdraw your demand for one hundred thousand francs.
If you had--if you had shown me the slightest mercy, there is a way
by which I might have rewarded you. I could have borrowed a good deal
of money upon some few pictures I have in Europe. But forced under
the hammer, they will not bring, with this Virginia land, more than
enough to pay my debts and a few legacies.” He stopped a moment, out of
breath, and the silence was only broken by Madame de Fonblanque’s faint
sobs.

“Nobody has ever yet relied upon my generosity without experiencing
it. But everybody that has ever fought me, I have made to rue it,” he
continued.

Madame de Fonblanque sank kneeling by his chair, and wept nervously.

“Will you--forgive me? You must.”

“Rubbish!”

“And are you not afraid to go into that other world with a fellow
creature crying after you from this for forgiveness?”

“Not a bit. I never knew what fear was. Pain, instead of making me fear
death, has rendered me totally indifferent to it. I am astonished at
myself now, that I feel so little apprehension.”

Madame de Fonblanque got up from her knees. Living or dying, he was
unlike other men.

“Now,” said he, “I want you to make me a promise. Dying people’s
requests are sacred, you know. Perhaps if you oblige me in this
instance, I may oblige you later on. Will you promise?”

“Yes,” answered Madame de Fonblanque, unable to say no.

“I desire that you remain alone with me until I am dead. It is coming
now. I feel it.”

Madame de Fonblanque remained silent with horror. A frightful paroxysm
of pain came on, and after standing the sight of him writhing for a few
moments, she fled shrieking from the room.

An instant later she returned with Chessingham. Mr. Romaine had then
recovered from his spasm of pain, and greeted her sarcastically.

“You have broken your promise,” he said.

Chessingham came up to him anxiously. He proposed a dozen alleviations
of the pain, but Mr. Romaine would not agree to any.

“Look here, Chessingham,” he said, “the game is up. I am dying, and I
might as well own it. I haven’t taken a dose of your medicine since I
employed you as my doctor. I consulted Chambers on the sly, and studied
up my case myself--and I have a whole pharmacopœia that you never saw
or heard of. It was rather shabby of me, I acknowledge; but I liked
you and thought you were a capital fellow, and I wanted your company,
and the only way I could get you was to make you my doctor.”

Chessingham said nothing. He could not reproach a dying man, but his
stern face spoke volumes.

“And you are one of the most honest fellows in the world. Don’t think
I disbelieve in honesty. I believe in a great many good things. I even
believe in a Great First Cause. I have only followed the natural law:
those that have been good to me, I have been good to--and those that
haven’t been good to me, I have taken the liberty of paying off in
this world, for fear that by some hocus-pocus they might sneak out of
punishment in the next.”

“I want to say one thing to you,” said Chessingham. “I never have
considered you a bad man. But your virtues are not common virtues, and
your faults are not common faults.”

“Thank you, my dear fellow. It is true, I never could strike the great
vein of commonplace in anything.”

Then there was a pause. Mr. Romaine, though evidently suffering, yet
continued to talk until Madame de Fonblanque whispered to Chessingham:

“I believe he actually enjoys the situation!”

She herself longed to leave, yet hesitated. She thought if she stayed
that perhaps at the end Mr. Romaine might grant her some words of
forgiveness. She was a superstitious woman, and Mr. Romaine knew it.
So, with a white face, she seated herself a little way off, at the side
of the fireplace. Bridge came in and out of the room noiselessly, his
feet sinking in the thick Turkish carpet. The room was strangely quiet,
but the very intensity of the silence gave Mr. Romaine’s voice and
quivering breath and faint sounds of pain a fearful distinctness. And
even in his extremity, the “situation,” as Madame de Fonblanque called
it, was not without its diversion to him.

“Corbin came with you, of course,” Mr. Romaine said to Madame de
Fonblanque after a while. He had at last consented to take a little
brandy, although steadily refusing any of Chessingham’s medicine, and
seemed to be revived by it. Then he said to Chessingham:

“Pray, after I am dead, give my regards to Corbin, but don’t let him
examine my coffin plate. I desire my age put down as fifty-eight, and
I won’t have one of Corbin’s long-winded arguments to prove that I am
sixty-nine. Still, Corbin is a good fellow. But if there were many like
him, the rascals would soon have a handsome majority everywhere. And I
also wish my regards given to Mrs. Chessingham and Miss Maywood, and my
apologies for disappointing them regarding the season in London. And
also to Letty Corbin,” and Mr. Romaine paused, and his face softened.

“Say to Jemima Corbin, if I ever caused her pain I now ask her
forgiveness for it.”

This surprised both Chessingham and Madame de Fonblanque much, who knew
of no reason why Mr. Romaine should send such a message to good Miss
Jemima.

It was now about eleven o’clock. Mr. Romaine was evidently going fast,
but he still managed to resist being laid on the sofa.

“You will last longer,” said Chessingham.

“I don’t care to last any longer than I can help,” snapped Mr. Romaine,
in what Farebrother had called his Romainesque manner.

“My will is in that drawer,” he said, with some difficulty. “It will
cause a good deal of surprise,” and his teeth showed in a ghastly smile
between his blue lips, “and also a letter for Madame de Fonblanque.”

At the last Mr. Romaine fell into a stupor. Presently he opened his
eyes, and looking Chessingham full in the face, said in a pleasant
voice, “Good-night.”

“Good-night,” responded Chessingham; and before the words were out of
his mouth Mr. Romaine had ceased to breathe.

Madame de Fonblanque rushed to the door, as she had been on the point
of doing every moment she had been in the room. Bridge followed her,
and caught her out in the hall.

“Madam,” he said, “I wants to say as I heard what Mr. Romaine said to
you about your givin’ ’im ’is death blow. Mr. Romaine has been a-dyin’
for a month--and it s’prised me he lasted so long. I say this because
it’s my dooty.”

“Thank you,” cried Madame de Fonblanque.

Mrs. Chessingham, Colonel Corbin, and Ethel Maywood were all gathered
in the hall when Chessingham came out with a solemn face. Ethel was
white and trembling, and felt a strange grief at knowing that Mr.
Romaine was no more. There were no tears shed. All of them had at some
time received kindnesses from Mr. Romaine, but also all of them had
experienced the iron hand under the velvet glove. Madame de Fonblanque
could not get away from the house fast enough, and so the same carriage
that had brought them there landed them at Corbin Hall about one
o’clock.

Farebrother, Letty, and Miss Jemima were still up. The fire had been
kept going, although the lamp had long since given out. Colonel
Corbin’s face told the story. A pause fell, as in the hall at
Shrewsbury, and in the shadows Miss Jemima wiped two tears from her
withered face. They were the only tears shed for Mr. Romaine.

Madame de Fonblanque’s nerve quite forsook her. She felt that she must
get away from that place, so associated with tragic things, or die. It
had suddenly moderated, and a warm rain had set in by midnight that was
certain to break up the ice in the river. She begged and implored the
Colonel to take her to the landing on the chance of the boat passing.
Colonel Corbin could not say no to her pleading--and so, in the dimness
of early dawn, she disappeared like a shadow that had come from another
world and had gone back to it.



XIII


As soon as the funeral was over came the reading of the will. On the
outside was the request, written in Mr. Romaine’s own hand, that it be
read by Chessingham, whom he appointed his executor in case he died in
America--for in his own country there was scarcely a person with whom
Mr. Romaine was upon terms of any close association. The request was
also made that Colonel Corbin and Miss Letty Corbin be present when the
will was read, and any one else that Chessingham desired.

On the day following the one when Mr. Romaine had been laid in the
old burying-ground beside his fathers, Chessingham wrote a note to
Colonel and Miss Corbin, inviting their presence upon a certain day
at Shrewsbury, and although Mr. Romaine had not mentioned any of
his numerous tribes of nephews and nieces, Chessingham scrupulously
invited them all. Farebrother, who found it very pleasant lingering at
Corbin Hall as Letty’s lover, of course did not accompany the Corbins
to Shrewsbury. Like Letty, he would have been pleased to have money
“honestly come by,” so to speak; but the idea of having it under the
circumstances from Mr. Romaine appeared to him as undesirable as it did
to her.

“And I tell you now,” said Letty, firmly, to Farebrother, as he stood
on the old porch in the wintry sunshine waiting for Dad Davy (who
superseded Tom Battercake on important occasions like this) with the
ramshackly carriage; “I tell you now, I don’t want that money, and I
shall at once consult a lawyer to see if it can’t be turned over to the
people it rightfully belongs to. It would make me wretched to know of
those poor people--I know how poor they are and out at elbows--actually
in want, while I should have what was their grandfather’s and their
uncle’s.”

“All right,” answered Farebrother, “and I would prefer that you should
have the whole thing settled before we are married, so you can act as
a perfectly free agent. As for me, if I can have you,” etc., etc.,
etc.--which may be interpreted in the language of lovers.

Arrived at Shrewsbury, it was seen that every relative of Mr. Romaine
had accepted Chessingham’s invitation and was on hand. Letty had to
run the gantlet of their hostile eyes as she entered the library, for
the great affair had already leaked out. The room looked strangely
suggestive of Mr. Romaine. Letty could scarcely persuade herself that
at any moment his slight figure and sparkling black eyes would not
appear.

Mrs. Chessingham and Ethel were in the room by special request of
Colonel Corbin, who thought it a mark of respect. When they were all
assembled, Chessingham, who had worn a very peculiar look, began to
speak in the midst of a solemn silence.

“As you are perhaps aware, our late friend, Mr. Romaine, desired me
to act as his executor in case he died in this country--a contingency
which he seemed to think likely when he came here, less than a year
ago. In pursuance of my duties, I have examined his papers, which are
very few, and find everything concerning him to have been in perfect
order for many years past, so that if he had died at any moment there
would have been no difficulty in settling his affairs. But I soon
discovered a very important fact--which is,”--here he spoke with
deliberate emphasis,--“that instead of Mr. Romaine possessing a large
fortune, as the world has always supposed, he had invested everything
he had in--annuities--which gave him a very large income--but he left
but little behind him.”

A kind of groan went round among the poor relations. Letty, who
understood quickly what was meant, felt dazed; she did not know whether
she was glad or sorry.

Chessingham exhibited some papers, showing, in Mr. Romaine’s writing,
the amounts of various annuities, which aggregated a magnificent
income. Then came a list of his actual property, which consisted
chiefly of the Shrewsbury place and the Virginia lands, but which
were heavily mortgaged. His personal property was remarkably small;
Mr. Romaine had always boasted his freedom from impedimenta. And then
began the reading of the will. It was the same brief document that
Chessingham and Miss Maywood had witnessed. Some of the nieces and
nephews got a few thousand dollars. Chessingham got his _douceur_,
Miss Maywood got the diamonds in a codicil witnessed by Bridge and
Dodson, and Letty was left “residuary legatee” by a person who had
nothing to give. When she walked out of the Shrewsbury house she was
not any richer than when she went in it. But before that Colonel
Corbin had risen and in a very dignified and forcible manner read the
correspondence that had passed between Mr. Romaine and himself and
Letty, which showed conclusively that they were in no way parties to
Mr. Romaine’s scheme, but rather victims of it. Then Chessingham,
replying to a formal question of the Colonel’s, admitted that there
would be in all probability not enough property to pay the legacies in
full, and the Colonel and Letty retired, having no further interest in
Mr. Romaine’s affairs.

When they got home Farebrother ran down the steps to meet them.

“I sha’n’t get a penny, and I’m glad of it,” cried out Letty, from the
carriage, before Farebrother could open the door.

“Wait until you have struggled along in New York on four or five
thousand a year before you say that,” answered Farebrother in a gay
whisper which quite escaped the Colonel, who knew, however, how the
land lay.

Farebrother stayed two weeks altogether at Corbin Hall on that visit;
and before he left Sir Archibald Corbin arrived.

The status of affairs looked decidedly unpleasant to Sir Archy. After
he had been there a day or two, he went for a walk with Letty in the
woods--the very path they had taken that autumn evening two months
before--and Sir Archy presently demanded to know if she was engaged to
Farebrother.

“What a very singular inquiry,” replied Letty, haughtily. “Surely you
can’t expect me to answer it.”

“I would scarcely expect you to hesitate about denying it if it were
not true--and if it were true, and you kept it a secret, it would be a
very grave reflection on you, which I should be loath to entertain,”
responded Sir Archy, with equal haughtiness.

“A reflection on me to be engaged to Mr. Farebrother,” cried Letty,
whirling around on him.

“I meant, of course, secretly,” answered Sir Archy, stiffly.

“Do you mean to say that I would be guilty of the shocking indelicacy
of proclaiming my engagement to the world--if I _were_ engaged to Mr.
Farebrother--as if I had just landed a big fish?”

“Our ideas of delicacy differ widely. There seems to me an indelicacy
in a secret engagement.”

Sir Archy was very angry--but Letty was simply boiling with rage. Both
were right from their respective points of view, but neither had the
slightest understanding of the other.

After that there was no further staying at Corbin Hall for Sir Archy.
He escorted Letty to the door, and then tramped off to Shrewsbury and
sent for his luggage.

The Chessinghams remained at the Romaine place for the present,
awaiting their speedy return to England.

Letty went into the house, nearly crying with rage. Farebrother, who
was to leave the next day, met her and received the account, red-hot,
of Sir Archy’s rude remarks, with shouts of laughter which very much
offended Letty.

“I don’t see anything to laugh at,” she said, with pretty sullenness.

“I see everything to laugh at,” answered Farebrother, going off again.
He did not further explain the joke to Letty, who never quite fully
comprehended it.

Sir Archy, stalking along toward Shrewsbury, smarting under his
disappointment--for he really admired Letty, and had fully meant to
offer her the chance of becoming Lady Corbin--yet felt a sort of
secret relief. Letty was the soul of bright purity, but as Sir Archy
philosophically argued, no matter how right people’s characters may be,
if their ideas are radically wrong, it sooner or later affects their
characters.

“And that fatal want of prudence,” reasoned this English-minded
gentleman, “this recklessness concerning her relations with men, is a
most grave consideration. She appears totally unable to take a serious
view of anything in the relations of young men and women. Life seems to
be to her one long flirtation. And she may, of course, be expected to
keep this up after she is married. On the whole, although a fascinating
creature, I should call it a dangerous experiment to marry her.”

So thought Sir Archy concerning Letty, who was of a type that is apt to
develop into the most cloying domesticity.

Then his thoughts wandered to Ethel Maywood. He was too sincere and
too earnest a man to cast his heart immediately at Ethel’s feet--but
something in his glance that very night made Ethel and the Chessinghams
think that perhaps, in the end, Miss Maywood’s name might be Lady
Corbin.

The first step toward this followed some days after. Sir Archy had
continued to stay at Shrewsbury, much to Colonel Corbin’s chagrin. He
had divined that there had been a falling out of some sort between
Letty and Sir Archy--but he was quite unable to get at the particulars.
Each professed a willingness to make up, and upon Sir Archy’s paying a
formal visit at Corbin Hall, Letty came down to see him and they were
stiffly polite. But their misunderstanding seemed, as it was, deep
rooted. Letty felt a profound displeasure with a man who could, even by
implication, accuse her of indelicacy--and Sir Archy had grave doubts
upon the score of Letty’s knowledge of good form, to put it mildly.

It was on this subject that he grew confidential with Ethel, and made
the longest speech of his life.

“You see,” he said, “at first I found those American young ladies who
imitate English girls rather a bore, as most of us do. When we go in
for an English girl, we like the real thing--sweet, genuine, and
wholesome. But at least the ideas of these pseudo-English girls are
correct. They are not flirts”--Sir Archy classed flirts as the feminine
form of barnburners and horse thieves--“and there’s nothing clandestine
in their way of arranging marriages. They are quite candid and correct
in that matter. They receive the attentions of men properly, and when
an engagement is made, it is duly and promptly announced. But my
cousin, Miss Corbin, has the most extraordinary notions on the subject
of the proprieties. She goes according to the rule of contrary. She
thinks it no harm to make eyes at every man she sees, without caring
a button about any one of them--and an engagement is a thing to be
concealed as if it were something to be ashamed of. I confess it
puzzles me.”

“And it puzzles me, too,” replied Ethel. “Of course I know how
sincerely high minded Miss Corbin is, but, like you, I can’t reconcile
myself to her peculiar notions. Do you remember the evening we went to
the theater in New York and she wore that astonishing white gown?”

“Yes--and uncommonly pretty she looked. But it was bad form--decidedly
bad form--and she never seemed to suspect it. My cousin is charming,
but unusual and unaccountable.”

Which Miss Maywood felt a profound satisfaction in hearing.

It was a month or two before the Chessinghams sailed. Although Mr.
Romaine’s affairs were so well arranged, the sale of the landed
property could not take place at once, and Chessingham concluded to
return to England, and come back in a year’s time to settle up the
small estate. The more he looked into it, the more convinced he was
that Mr. Romaine’s residuary legatee would get nothing, and that Mr.
Romaine knew it; and his object was merely that contrary impulse and
the natural perversity and desire to disconcert people which always
gave him acute delight.

Colonel Corbin and Letty were sincerely sorry to part from the
Chessinghams, but Letty bore the coming privation of Miss Maywood’s
society with the utmost fortitude. When they went over to say good-by
on an early spring afternoon, Letty noticed a peculiarly joyous
look on Ethel’s fair face. In a little while she proposed a walk in
the old-fashioned garden. The two girls strolled together down the
box-edged walk, and passed under the quaint old arbors, heavy with
the yellow jessamine, just beginning then to show the faintly budding
leaves. There was something melancholy in the scene. The place had been
deserted for so long--and it was now for sale, with the prospect of
soon passing into other hands. The graveyard, with its high brick wall,
was just below the garden, and, although she could not see it, Letty
was conscious of a new white tombstone there with Mr. Romaine’s name
and “aged 58” engraved upon it--which last had caused Colonel Corbin
much dissatisfaction. But Chessingham preferred to carry out what he
knew to be Mr. Romaine’s wishes in the matter, and believed that his
ghost would have walked had his real age been proclaimed upon his
monument.

As soon as the two girls were well in the garden, Ethel began, with a
glowing face:

“I have had great happiness lately.”

“Have you?” asked Letty, sympathetically. “What is it?”

“I am engaged to Sir Archibald Corbin,” said Ethel, looking into
Letty’s face with a bright smile. Letty was so shocked by Miss
Maywood’s candor that she stood quite still, and said “Oh!” in a
grieved voice, which Miss Maywood took to mean regret at having lost
the prize.

“As everybody knows you are engaged to Mr. Farebrother,” continued
Ethel, still smiling, and twisting off a twig of syringa that was at
hand, “you can’t grudge me my good fortune.”

Grudge her her good fortune! And “everybody” knowing she was engaged
to Farebrother, when she had not breathed a word of it outside her
own family, albeit she had half her trousseau finished! Letty was so
scandalized by Miss Maywood’s brazen assurance, as she regarded it,
that she could only say, coldly:

“I do not understand how ‘everybody’ can know that I am engaged to Mr.
Farebrother. Certainly I have never mentioned it, and I am sure that he
hasn’t.”

“That’s only your odd Southern way,” answered Ethel, disapprovingly.

Curiosity got the better of Letty’s disgust, and she asked, “How long
have you and my cousin been engaged?”

“Only to-day,” calmly replied Ethel. “Reggie brought the letter from
the postoffice this morning, and I answered it at once. I also wrote
to England, in order to catch the next steamer. Sir Archy is in New
York, and won’t get my letter for two days perhaps. Reggie and Gladys
and I have talked over the engagement a little this afternoon. I
shall be married very quietly in the country--we have an uncle who is
a clergyman, and he has a nice parish, and will be glad to have me
married from the rectory--and Reggie and Gladys very sensibly don’t
expect me to marry a baronet from their London lodgings. Sir Archy was
very explicit in his letter about our future plans. He is willing to
spend a month in London this season, but he has been away so much he
feels it necessary to be at Fox Court in June--and he has taken a place
in Scotland from the 12th of August.”

“But suppose you didn’t care to go to Scotland from the 12th of August?
And suppose you wanted to spend more than a month in London?” asked
Letty, much scandalized by these cut and dried proceedings.

“Of course I should not make the slightest objection to any of Sir
Archy’s plans,” replied Ethel, wonderingly.

“And he must have assumed a good deal,” suddenly cried Letty, bursting
out laughing.

“He only assumed that I would act as any other sensible girl would,”
replied Ethel, calmly. “Sir Archy is a baronet of good family, suitable
age, and excellent estate. What more could a girl--and a girl in my
position--want?”

“Nothing in the world, I fancy,” answered Letty, laughing still more;
and when the two girls had their last interview they misunderstood and
disesteemed each other more than at their first.

Driving home through the odorous dusk, in the chaise by the Colonel’s
side, Letty pondered over the remarkable ways of some people. The idea
of a man dictating his plans to a woman before he married her--or
after, for that matter. Farebrother had asked her what she would like,
and their plans were made solely and entirely by Letty. “But I think,”
she reflected, as she laid her pretty head back in the chaise, “that I
would do whatever he asked me to do--because, after all, he is twice
the man that my cousin Archy is, and deserves to be loved twice as
much--” and “he” meant Farebrother, who was, at that very moment,
working hard for Letty in his office on a noisy New York thoroughfare.
And when his work was done, he turned for refreshment to a photograph
of her which he kept in that breast pocket reserved for such articles,
and gazed fondly at her face in its starlike purity--and then smiled.
He never looked at Letty or thought of her that, along with the most
tender respect, he did not feel like smiling; and Letty never could
and never did understand why it was that Farebrother found her such an
amusing study.



FOOTNOTE:

  [1] A ghost.



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

  Archaic or alternate spelling has been retained from the original.




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