THE WORKS OF E. P. ROE
A KNIGHT OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
THIS BOOK IS REVERENTLY DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF MY HONORED FATHER
He best deserves a knightly crest, Who slays the evils that infest His soul within. If victor here, He soon will find a wider sphere. The world is cold to him who pleads; The world bows low to knightly deeds.
CORNWALL ON THE HUDSON, N.Y.
CHAPTER I BAD TRAINING FOR A KNIGHT
CHAPTER II BOTH APOLOGIZE
CHAPTER III CHAINED TO AN ICEBERG
CHAPTER IV IMMATURE
CHAPTER V PASSION'S CLAMOR
CHAPTER VI "GLOOMY GRANDEUR"
CHAPTER VII BIRDS OF PREY
CHAPTER VIII THEIR VICTIM
CHAPTER IX PAT AND THE PRESS
CHAPTER X RETURNING CONSCIOUSNESS
CHAPTER XI HALDANE IS ARRESTED
CHAPTER XII A MEMORABLE MEETING
CHAPTER XIII OUR KNIGHT IN JAIL
CHAPTER XIV MR. ARNOT'S SYSTEM WORKS BADLY
CHAPTER XV HALDANE'S RESOLVE
CHAPTER XVI THE IMPULSES OF WOUNDED PRIDE
CHAPTER XVII AT ODDS WITH THE WORLD
CHAPTER XVIII THE WORLD'S VERDICT—OUR KNIGHT A CRIMINAL
CHAPTER XIX THE WORLD'S BEST OFFER—A PRISON
CHAPTER XX MAIDEN AND WOOD-SAWYER
CHAPTER XXI MAGNANIMOUS MR. SHRUMPF
CHAPTER XXII A MAN WHO HATED HIMSELF
CHAPTER XXIII MR. GROWTHER BECOMES GIGANTIC
CHAPTER XXIV HOW PUBLIC OPINION IS OFTEN MADE
CHAPTER XXV A PAPER PONIARD
CHAPTER XXVI A SORRY KNIGHT
CHAPTER XXVII GOD SENT HIS ANGEL
CHAPTER XXVIII FACING THE CONSEQUENCES
CHAPTER XXIX HOW EVIL ISOLATES
CHAPTER XXX IDEAL KNIGHTHOOD
CHAPTER XXXI THE LOW STARTING-POINT
CHAPTER XXXII A SACRED REFRIGERATOR
CHAPTER XXXIII A DOUBTFUL BATTLE IN PROSPECT
CHAPTER XXXIV A FOOT-HOLD
CHAPTER XXXV THAT SERMON WAS A BOMB-SHELL
CHAPTER XXXVI MR. GROWTHER FEEDS AN ANCIENT GRUDGE
CHAPTER XXXVII HOPING FOR A MIRACLE
CHAPTER XXXVIII THE MIRACLE TAKES PLACE
CHAPTER XXXIX VOTARIES OF THE WORLD
CHAPTER XL HUMAN NATURE
CHAPTER XLI MRS. ARNOT'S CREED
CHAPTER XLII THE LEVER THAT MOVES THE WORLD
CHAPTER XLIII MR. GROWTHER "STUMPED"
CHAPTER XLIV GROWTH
CHAPTER XLV LAURA ROMEYN
CHAPTER XLVI MISJUDGED
CHAPTER XLVII LAURA CHOOSES HER KNIGHT
CHAPTER XLVIII MRS. ARNOT'S KNIGHT
CHAPTER XLIX A KNIGHTLY DEED
CHAPTER L "O DREADED DEATH!"
CHAPTER LI "O PRICELESS LIFE!"
CHAPTER LII A MAN VERSUS A CONNOISSEUR
CHAPTER LIII EXIT OF LAURA'S FIRST KNIGHT
CHAPTER LIV ANOTHER KNIGHT APPEARS
A KNIGHT OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
BAD TRAINING FOR A KNIGHT
Egbert Haldane had an enemy who loved him very dearly, and he sincerely returned her affection, as he was in duty bound, since she was his mother. If, inspired by hate and malice, Mrs. Haldane had brooded over but one question at the cradle of her child, How can I most surely destroy this boy? she could scarcely have set about the task more skilfully and successfully.
But so far from having any such malign and unnatural intention, Mrs. Haldane idolized her son. To make the paradox more striking, she was actually seeking to give him a Christian training and character. As he leaned against her knee Bible tales were told him, not merely for the sake of the marvellous interest which they ever have for children, but in the hope, also, that the moral they carry with them might remain as germinating seed. At an early age the mother had commenced taking him to church, and often gave him an admonitory nudge as his restless eyes wandered from the venerable face in the pulpit. In brief, the apparent influences of his early life were similar to those existing in multitudes of Christian homes. On general principles, it might be hoped that the boy's future would be all that his friends could desire; nor did he himself in early youth promise so badly to superficial observers; and the son of the wealthy Mrs. Haldane was, on the part of the world, more the object of envy than of censure. But a close observer, who judged of characteristic tendencies and their results by the light of experience, might justly fear that the mother had unwittingly done her child irreparable wrong.
She had made him a tyrant and a relentless task-master even in his infancy. As his baby-will developed he found it supreme. His nurse was obliged to be a slave who must patiently humor every whim. He was petted and coaxed out of his frequent fits of passion, and beguiled from his obstinate and sulky moods by bribes. He was the eldest child and only son, and his little sisters were taught to yield to him, right or wrong, he lording it over them with the capricious lawlessness of an Eastern despot. Chivalric deference to woman, and a disposition to protect and honor her, is a necessary element of a manly character in our Western civilization; but young Haldane was as truly an Oriental as if he had been permitted to bluster around a Turkish harem; and those whom he should have learned to wait upon with delicacy and tact became subservient to his varying moods, developing that essential brutality which mars the nature of every man who looks upon woman as an inferior and a servant. He loved his mother, but he did not reverence and honor her. The thought ever uppermost in his mind was, "What ought she to do for me?" not, "What ought I to do for her?" and any effort to curb or guide on her part was met and thwarted by passionate or obstinate opposition from him. He loved his sisters after a fashion, because they were his sisters; but so far from learning to think of them as those whom it would be his natural task to cherish and protect, they were, in his estimation, "nothing but girls," and of no account whatever where his interests were concerned.
In the most receptive period of life the poison of selfishness and self-love was steadily instilled into his nature. Before he had left the nursery he had formed the habit of disregarding the wills and wishes of others, even when his childish conscience told him that he was decidedly in the wrong. When he snatched his sisters' playthings they cried in vain, and found no redress. The mother made peace by smoothing over matters, and promising the little girls something else.
Of course, the boy sought to carry into his school life the same tendencies and habits which he had learned at home, and he ever found a faithful ally in his blind, fond mother. She took his side against his teachers; she could not believe in his oppressions of his younger playmates; she was absurdly indignant and resentful when some sturdy boy stood up for his own rights, or championed another's, and sent the incipient bully back to her, crying, and with a bloody nose. When the pampered youth was a little indisposed, or imagined himself so, he was coddled at home, and had bonbons and fairy tales in the place of lessons.
Judicious friends shook their heads ominously, and some even ventured to counsel the mother to a wiser course; but she ever resented such advice. The son was the image of his lost father, and her one impulse was to lavish upon him everything that his heart craved.
As if all this were not enough, she placed in the boy's way another snare, which seldom fails of proving fatal. He had only to ask for money to obtain it, no knowledge of its value being imparted to him. Even when he took it from his mother's drawer without asking, her chidings were feeble and irresolute. He would silence and half satisfy her by saying:
"You can take anything of mine that you want. It's all in the family; what difference does it make?"
Thus every avenue of temptation in the city which could be entered by money was open to him, and he was not slow in choosing those naturally attractive to a boy.
But while his mother was blind to the evil traits and tendencies which she was fostering with such ominous success, there were certain overt acts naturally growing out of her indulgences which would shock her inexpressibly, and evoke even from her the strongest expressions of indignation and rebuke. She was pre-eminently respectable, and fond of respect. She was a member "in good and regular standing" not only of her church, but also of the best society in the small inland city where she resided, and few greater misfortunes in her estimation could occur than to lose this status. She never hesitated to humor any of her son's whims and wishes which did not threaten their respectability, but the quick-witted boy was not long in discovering that she would not tolerate any of those vices and associations which society condemns.
There could scarcely have been any other result save that which followed. She had never taught him self-restraint; his own inclinations furnished the laws of his action, and the wish to curb his desires because they were wrong scarcely ever crossed his mind. To avoid trouble with his mother, therefore, he began slyly and secretly to taste the forbidden fruits which her lavish supplies of money always kept within his reach. In this manner that most hopeless and vitiating of elements, deceitfulness, entered into his character. He denied to his mother, and sought to conceal from her, the truth that while still in his teens he was learning the gambler's infatuation and forming the inebriate's appetite. He tried to prevent her from knowing that many of his most intimate associates were such as he would not introduce to her or to his sisters.
He had received, however, a few counter-balancing advantages in his early life. With all her weaknesses, his mother was a lady, and order, refinement, and elegance characterized his home. Though not a gentleman at heart, on approaching manhood he habitually maintained the outward bearing that society demands. The report that he was a little fast was more than neutralized by the fact of his wealth. Indeed, society concluded that it had much more occasion to smile than to frown upon him, and his increasing fondness for society and its approval in some degree curbed his tendencies to dissipation.
It might also prove to his advantage that so much Christian and ethical truth had been lodged in his memory during early years. His mother had really taken pains to acquaint him with the Divine Man who "pleased not himself," even while she was practically teaching him to reverse this trait in his own character. Thus, while the youth's heart was sadly erratic, his head was tolerably orthodox, and he knew theoreticaly the chief principles of right action. Though his conscience had never been truly awakened, it often told him that his action was unmanly, to say the least; and that was as far as any self-censure could reach at this time. But it might prove a fortunate thing that although thorns and thistles had been planted chiefly, some good seed had been scattered also, and that he had received some idea of a life the reverse of that which he was leading.
But thus far it might be said with almost literal truth, that young Haldane's acquaintance with Christian ethics had had no more practical effect upon his habitual action and thought than his knowledge of algebra. When his mother permitted him to snatch his sisters' playthings and keep them, when she took him from the school where he had received well-merited punishment, when she enslaved herself and her household to him instead of teaching considerate and loyal devotion to her, she nullified all the Christian instruction that she or any one else had given.
The boy had one very marked trait, which might promise well for the future, or otherwise, according to circumstances, and that was a certain wilful persistence, which often degenerated into downright obstinacy. Frequently, when his mother thought that she had coaxed or wheedled him into giving up something of which she did not approve, he would quietly approach his object in some other way, and gain his point, or sulk till he did. When he set his heart upon anything he was not as "unstable as water." While but an indifferent and superficial student, who had habitually escaped lessons and skipped difficulties, he occasionally became nettled by a perplexing problem or task, and would work at it with a sort of vindictive, unrelenting earnestness, as if he were subduing an enemy. Having put his foot on the obstacle, and mastered the difficulty that piqued him, he would cast the book aside, indifferent to the study or science of which it formed but a small fraction.
After all, perhaps the best that could be said of him was that he possessed fair abilities, and was still subject to the good and generous impulses of youth. His traits and tendencies were, in the main, all wrong; but he had not as yet become confirmed and hardened in them. Contact with the world, which sooner or later tells a man the truth about himself, however unwelcome, might dissipate the illusion, gained from his mother's idolatry, that in some indefinite way he was remarkable in himself, and that he was destined to great things from a vague and innate superiority, which it had never occurred to him to analyze.
But as the young man approached his majority his growing habits of dissipation became so pronounced that even his willingly blind mother was compelled to recognize them. Rumor of his fast and foolish behavior took such definite shape as to penetrate the widow's aristocratic retirement, and to pass the barriers created by the reserve which she ever maintained in regard to personal and family matters. More than once her son came home in a condition so nearly resembling intoxication that she was compelled to recognize the cause, and she was greatly shocked and alarmed. Again and again she said to herself:
"I cannot understand how a boy brought up in the careful Christian manner that he has been can show such unnatural depravity. It is a dark, mysterious providence, to which I feel I cannot submit."
Though young Haldane was aware of his mother's intolerance of disreputable vices and follies, he was not prepared for her strong and even bitter condemnation of his action. Having never been taught to endure from her nor from any one the language of rebuke, he retorted as a son never should do in any circumstances, and stormy scenes followed.
Thus the mother was at last rudely awakened to the fact that her son was not a model youth, and that something must be done speedily, or else he might go to destruction, and in the meantime disgrace both himself and her—an event almost equally to be dreaded.
In her distress and perplexity she summoned her pastor, and took counsel with him. At her request the venerable man readily agreed to "talk to" the wayward subject, and thought that his folly and its consequences could be placed before the young man in such a strong and logical statement that it would convince him at once that he must "repent and walk in the ways of righteousness." If Haldane's errors had been those of doctrine, Dr. Marks would have been an admirable guide; but the trouble was that, while the good doctor was familiar with all the readings of obscure Greek and Hebrew texts, and all the shades of opinions resulting, he was unacquainted with even the alphabet of human nature. In approaching "a sinner," he had one formal and unvarying method, and he chose his course not from the bearing of the subject himself, but from certain general theological truths which he believed applied to the "unrenewed heart of man as a fallen race." He rather prided himself upon calling a sinner a sinner, and all things else by their right names; and thus it is evident that he often had but little of the Pauline guile, which enabled the great apostle to entangle the wayward feet of Jew, Greek and Roman, bond and free, in heavenly snares.
The youth whom he was to convince and convert by a single broadside of truth, as it were, moved in such an eccentric orbit, that the doctor could never bring his heavy artillery to bear upon him. Neither coaxing nor scolding on the part of the mother could bring about the formal interview. At last, however, it was secured by an accident, and his mother felt thereafter, with a certain sense of consolation, that "all had been done that could be done."
Entering the parlor unexpectedly one afternoon, Haldane stumbled directly upon Dr. Marks, who opened fire at once, by saying:
"My young friend, this is quite providential, as I have long been wishing for an interview. Please be seated, for I have certain things to say which relate to your spiritual and temporal well-being, although the latter is a very secondary matter."
Haldane was too well bred to break rudely and abruptly away, and yet it must be admitted that he complied with very much the feeling and grace with which he would take a dentist's chair.
"My young friend, if you ever wish to be a saint you must first have a profound conviction that you are a sinner. I hope that you realize that you are a sinner."
"I am quite content to be a gentleman," was the brusque reply.
"But as long as you remain an impenitent sinner you can never be even a true gentleman," responded the clergyman somewhat warmly.
Haldane had caught a shocked and warning look from his mother, and so did not reply. He saw that he was "in for it," as he would express himself, and surmised that the less he said the sooner the ordeal would be over. He therefore took refuge in a silence that was both sullen and resentful. He was too young and uncurbed to maintain a cold and impassive face, and his dark eyes occasionally shot vindictive gleams at both his mother and her ally, who had so unexpectedly caged him against his will. Fortunately the doctor was content, after he had got under way, to talk at, instead of to, his listener, and thus was saved the mortification of asking questions of one who would not have answered.
After the last sonorous period had been rounded, the youth arose, bowed stiffly, and withdrew, but with a heart overflowing with a malicious desire to retaliate. At the angle of the house stood the clergyman's steady-going mare, and his low, old-fashioned buggy. It was but the work of a moment to slip part of the shuck of a horse-chestnut, with its sharp spines, under the collar, so that when the traces drew upon it the spines would be driven into the poor beast's neck. Then, going down to the main street of the town, through which he knew the doctor must pass on his way home, he took his post of observation.
Haldane's hopes were realized beyond his anticipations, for the doctor's old mare—at first surprised and restless from the wounds made by the sharp spines—speedily became indignant and fractious, and at last, half frantic with pain, started on a gallop down the street, setting all the town agog with excitement and alarm.
With grim satisfaction Haldane saw the doctor's immaculate silk hat fly into the mud, his wig, blown comically awry, fall over his eyes, and his spectacles joggle down until they sat astride the tip of a rather prominent nose.
Having had his revenge he at once relented, and rushing out in advance of some others who were coming to the rescue, he caught the poor beast, and stopped her so suddenly that the doctor was nearly precipitated over the dashboard. Then, pretending to examine the harness to see that nothing was broken, he quietly removed the cause of irritation, and the naturally sedate beast at once became far more composed than her master, for, as a bystander remarked, the venerable doctor was "dreadfully shuck up." It was quite in keeping with Haldane's disingenuous nature to accept the old gentleman's profuse thanks for the rescue. The impulse to carry his mischief still further was at once acted upon, and he offered to see the doctor safely home.
His services were eagerly accepted, for the poor man was much too unnerved to take the reins again, though, had he known it, the mare would now have gone to the parsonage quietly, and of her own accord.
The doctor was gradually righted up and composed. His wig, which had covered his left eye, was arranged decorously in its proper place, and the gold-rimmed spectacles pressed back so that the good man could beam mildly and gratefully upon his supposed preserver. The clerical hat, however, had lost its character beyond recovery, and though its owner was obliged to wear it home, it must be confessed that it did not at all comport with the doctor's dignity and calling.
Young Haldane took the reins with a great show of solicitude and vigilance, appearing to dread another display of viciousness from the mare, that was now most sheeplike in her docility; and thus, with his confiding victim, he jogged along through the crowded street, the object of general approval and outspoken commendation.
"My dear young friend," began the doctor fervently, "I feel that you have already repaid me amply for my labors in your behalf."
"Thank you," said Haldane demurely; "I think we are getting even."
"This has been a very mysterious affair," continued the doctor musingly; "surely 'a horse is a vain thing for safety.' One is almost tempted to believe that demoniacal possession is not wholly a thing of the past. Indeed, I could not think of anything else while Dolly was acting so viciously and unaccountably."
"I agree with you," responded Haldane gravely, "she certainly did come down the street like the devil."
The doctor was a little shocked at this putting of his thoughts into plain English, for it sounded somewhat profanely. But he was in no mood to find fault with his companion, and they got on very well together to the end of their brief journey. The young scapegrace was glad, indeed, that it was brief, for his self-control was fast leaving him, and having bowed a rather abrupt farewell to the doctor, he was not long in reaching one of his haunts, from which during the evening, and quite late into the night, came repeated peals of laughter, that grew more boisterous and discordant as that synonyme of mental and moral anarchy, the "spirit of wine," gained the mastery.
The tidings of her son's exploit in rescuing the doctor were not long in reaching Mrs. Haldane, and she felt that the good seed sown that day had borne immediate fruit. She longed to fold him in her arms and commend his courage, while she poured out thanksgiving that he himself had escaped uninjured, which immunity, she believed, must have resulted from the goodness and piety of the deed. But when he at last appeared with step so unsteady and utterance so thick that even she could not mistake the cause, she was bewildered and bitterly disappointed by the apparent contradictoriness of his action; and when he, too far gone for dissimulation, described and acted out in pantomime the doctor's plight and appearance, she became half hysterical from her desire to laugh, to cry, and to give vent to her kindling indignation.
This anger was raised almost to the point of white heat on the morrow. The cause of the old mare's behavior, and the interview which had led to the practical joke, soon became an open secret, and while it convulsed the town with laughter, it also gave the impression that young Haldane was in a "bad way."
It was not long before Mrs. Haldane received a note from an indignant fellow church-member, in which, with some disagreeable comment, her son's conduct was plainly stated. She was also informed that the doctor had become aware of the rude jest of which he had been the subject. Mrs. Haldane was almost furious; but her son grew sullen and obstinate as the storm which he had raised increased. The only thing he would say as an apology or excuse amounted to this:
"What else could he expect from one who he so emphatically asserted was a sinner?"
The mother wrote at once to the doctor, and was profuse in her apologies and regrets, but was obliged to admit to him that her son was beyond her control.
When the doctor first learned the truth his equanimity was almost as greatly disturbed as it had been on the previous day, and his first emotions were obviously those of wrath. But a little thought brought him to a better mood.
He was naturally deficient in tact, and his long habit of dwelling upon abstract and systematic truth had diminished his power of observantly and intuitively gauging the character of the one with whom he was dealing. He therefore often failed wofully in adaptation, and his sermons occasionally went off into rarefied realms of moral space, where nothing human existed. But his heart was true and warm, and his Master's cause of far more consequence to him than his own dignity.
As he considered the matter maturely he came to the conclusion that there must have been something wrong on both sides. If he had presented the truth properly the young man could not have acted so improperly. After recalling the whole affair, he became satisfied that he had relied far too much on his own strong logic, and it had seemed to him that it must convince. He had forgotten for the moment that those who would do good should be very humble, and that, in a certain sense, they must take the hand of God, and place it upon the one whom they would save.
Thus the honest old clergyman tried to search out the error and weakness which had led to such a lamentable failure in his efforts; and when at last Mrs. Haldane's note of sorrowful apology and motherly distress reached him, his anger was not only gone, but his heart was full of commiseration for both herself and her son. He at once sat down, and wrote her a kind and consolatory letter, in which he charged her hereafter to trust less to the "arm of flesh" and more to the "power of God." He also inclosed a note to the young man, which his mother handed to him with a darkly reproachful glance. He opened it with a contemptuous frown, expecting to find within only indignant upbraidings; but his face changed rapidly as he read the following words:
"MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND—I hardly know which of us should apologize. I now perceive and frankly admit that there was wrong on my side. I could not have approached you and spoken to you in the right spirit, for if I had, what followed could not have occurred. I fear there was a self-sufficiency in my words and mariner yesterday, which made you conscious of Dr. Marks only, and you had no scruples in dealing with Dr. Marks as you did. If my words and bearing had brought you face to face with my august yet merciful Master, you would have respected Him, and also me, His servant. I confess that I was very angry this morning, for I am human. But now I am more concerned lest I have prejudiced you against Him by whom alone we all are saved. Yours faithfully,
The moment Haldane finished reading the note he left the room, and his mother heard him at the hat-rack in the hall, preparing to go out. She, supposing that he was again about to seek some of his evil haunts, remonstrated sharply; but, without paying the slightest attention to her words, he departed, and within less than half an hour rang the bell at the parsonage.
Dr. Marks could scarcely believe his eyes as the young man was shown into his study, but he welcomed him as cordially as though nothing unpleasant had occurred between them.
After a moment's hesitation and embarrassment Haldane began:
"When I read your note this evening I had not the slightest doubt that I was the one to apologize, and I sincerely ask your pardon."
The old gentleman's eyes grew moist, and he blew his nose in a rather unusual manner. But he said promptly:
"Thank you, my young friend, thank you. I appreciate this. But no matter about me. How about my Master? won't you become reconciled to Him?"
"I suppose by that you mean, won't you be a Christian?"
"That is just what I mean and most desire. I should be willing to risk broken bones any day to accomplish that."
Haldane smiled, shook his head, and after a moment said:
"I must confess that I have not the slightest wish to become a Christian."
The old gentleman's eager and interested expression changed instantly to one of the deepest sorrow and commiseration. At the same time he appeared bewildered and perplexed, but murmured, more in soliloquy than as an address to the young man:
"O Ephraim! how shall I give thee up?"
Haldane was touched by the venerable man's tone and manner, more than he would have thought possible, and, feeling that he could not trust himself any longer, determined to make his escape as soon as practicable. But as he rose to take his leave he said, a little impulsively:
"I feel sure, sir, that if you had spoken and looked yesterday as you do this evening I would not have—I would not have—"
"I understand, my young friend; I now feel sure that I was more to blame than yourself, and your part is already forgiven and forgotten. I am now only solicitous about you."
"You are very kind to feel so after what has happened, and I will say this much—If I ever do wish to become a Christian, there is no one living to whom I will come for counsel more quickly than yourself. Good-night, sir."
"Give me your hand before you go."
It was a strong, warm, lingering grasp that the old man gave, and in the dark days of temptation that followed, Haldane often felt that it had a helping and sustaining influence.
"I wish I could hold on to you," said the doctor huskily; "I wish I could lead you by loving force into the paths of pleasantness and peace. But what I can't do, God can. Good-by, and God bless you."
Haldane fled rather precipitously, for he felt that he was becoming constrained by a loving violence that was as mysterious as it was powerful. Before he had passed through the main street of the town, however, a reckless companion placed an arm in his, and led him to one of their haunts, where he drank deeper than usual, that he might get rid of the compunctions which the recent interview had occasioned.
His mother was almost in despair when he returned. He had, indeed, become to her a terrible and perplexing problem. As she considered the legitimate results of her own weak indulgence she would sigh again and again:
"Never was there a darker and more mysterious providence. I feel that I can neither understand it nor submit."
A sense of helplessness in dealing with this stubborn and perverse will overwhelmed her, and, while feeling that something must be done, she was at a loss what to do. Her spiritual adviser having failed to meet the case, she next summoned her legal counsellor, who managed her property.
He was a man of few words, and an adept in worldly wisdom.
"Your son should have employment," he said;
"'Satan finds some mischief still For idle hands,'
"etc., is a sound maxim, if not first-class poetry. If Mr. Arnot, the husband of your old friend, is willing to take him, you cannot do better than place your son in his charge, for he is one of the most methodical and successful business men of my acquaintance."
Mrs. Arnot, in response to her friend's letter, induced her husband to make a position in his counting-house for young Haldane, who, from a natural desire to see more of the world, entered into the arrangement very willingly.
CHAINED TO AN ICEBERG
Hillaton, the suburban city in which the Arnots resided, was not very distant from New York, and drew much of its prosperity from its relations with the metropolis. It prided itself much on being a university town, but more because many old families of extremely blue blood and large wealth gave tone and color to its society. It is true that this highest social circle was very exclusive, and formed but a small fraction of the population; but the people in general had come to speak of "our society," as being "unusually good," just as they commended to strangers the architecture of "our college buildings," though they had little to do with either.
Mrs. Arnot's blood, however, was as blue as that of the most ancient and aristocratic of her neighbors, while in character and culture she had few equals. But with the majority of those most cerulean in their vital fluid the fact that she possessed large wealth in her own name, and was the wife of a man engaged in a colossal business, weighed more than all her graces and ancestral honors.
Young Haldane's employer, Mr. Arnot, was, indeed, a man of business and method, for the one absorbed his very soul, and the other divided his life into cubes and right angles of manner and habit. It could scarcely be said that he had settled down into ruts, for this would presuppose the passiveness of a nature controlled largely by circumstances. People who travel in ruts drop more often into those made by others than such as are worn by themselves. Mr. Arnot moved rather in his own well-defined grooves, which he had deliberately furrowed out with his own steely will. In these he went through the day with the same strong, relentless precision which characterized the machinery in his several manufacturing establishments.
He was a man, too, who had always had his own way, and, as is usually true in such instances, the forces of his life had become wholly centripetal.
The cosmos of the selfish man or woman is practically this—Myself the centre of the universe, and all things else are near or remote, of value or otherwise, in accordance with their value and interest to me.
Measuring by this scale of distances (which was the only correct one in the case of Mr. Arnot) the wife of his bosom was quite a remote object. She formed no part of his business, and he, in his hard, narrow worldliness, could not even understand the principles and motives of her action. She was a true and dutiful wife, and presided over his household with elegance and refinement; but he regarded all this as a matter of course. He could not conceive of anything else in his wife. All his "subordinates" in their several spheres, "must" perform their duties with becoming propriety. Everything "must be regular and systematic" in his house, as truly as in his factories and counting-room.
Mrs. Arnot endeavored to conform to his peculiarities in this respect, and kept open the domestic grooves in which it was necessary to his peace that he should move regularly and methodically. He had his meals at the hour he chose, to the moment, and when he retired to his library—or, rather, the business office at his house—not the throne-room of King Ahasuerus was more sacred from intrusion; and seldom to his wife, even, was the sceptre of favor and welcome held out, should she venture to enter.
For a long time she had tried to be an affectionate as well as a faithful wife, for she had married this man from love. She had mistaken his cool self-poise for the calmness and steadiness of strength; and women are captivated by strength, and sometimes by its semblance. He was strong; but so also are the driving-wheels of an engine.
There is an undefined, half-recognized force in nature which leads many to seek to balance themselves by marrying their opposites in temperament. While the general working of this tendency is, no doubt, beneficent, it not unfrequently brings together those who are so radically different, that they cannot supplement each other, but must ever remain two distinct, unblended lives, that are in duty bound to obey the letter of the law of marriage, but who cannot fulfil its spirit.
For years Mrs. Arnot had sought with all a woman's tact to consummate their marriage, so that the mystical words of God, "And they twain shall be one flesh," should describe their union; but as time passed she had seen her task grow more and more hopeless. The controlling principles of each life were utterly different. He was hardening into stone, while the dross and materiality of her nature were being daily refined away. A strong but wholly selfish character cannot blend by giving and taking, and thus becoming modified into something different and better. It can only absorb, and thus drag down to its own condition. Before there can be unity the weaker one must give up and yield personal will and independence to such a degree that it is almost equivalent to being devoured and assimilated.
But Mr. Arnot seemed to grow too narrow and self-sufficient in his nature for such spiritual cannibalism, even had his wife been a weak, neutral character, with no decided and persistent individuality of her own. He was not slow in exacting outward and mechanical service, but he had no time to "bother" with her thoughts, feelings, and opinions; nor did he think it worth while, to any extent, to lead her to reflect only his feelings and opinions. Neither she nor any one else was very essential to him. His business was necessary, and he valued it even more than the wealth which resulted from it. He grew somewhat like his machinery, which needed attention, but which cherished no sentiments toward those who waited on it during its hours of motion.
Thus, though not deliberately intending it, his manner toward his wife had come to be more and more the equivalent of a steady black frost, and she at last feared that the man had congealed or petrified to his very heart's core.
While the only love in Mr. Arnot's heart was self-love, even in this there existed no trace of weak indulgence and tenderness. His life consisted in making his vast and complicated business go forward steadily, systematically, and successfully; and he would not permit that entity known as Thomas Arnot to thwart him any more than he would brook opposition or neglect in his office-boy. All things, even himself, must bend to the furtherance of his cherished objects.
But, whatever else was lacking, Mr. Arnot had a profound respect for his wife. First and chiefly, she was wealthy, and he, having control of her property, made it subservient to his business. He had chafed at first against what he termed her "sentimental ways of doing good" and her "ridiculous theories," but in these matters he had ever found her as gentle as a woman, but as unyielding as granite. She told him plainly that her religious life and its expression were matters between herself and God—that it was a province into which his cast-iron system and material philosophy could not enter. He grumbled at her large charities, and declared that she "turned their dwelling into a club-house for young men"; but she followed her conscience with such a quiet, unswerving dignity that he found no pretext for interference. The money she gave away was her own, and fortunately, the house to which it was her delight to draw young men from questionable and disreputable places of resort had been left to her by her father. Though she did not continually remind her husband of these facts, as an under-bred woman might have done, her manner was so assured and unhesitating that he was compelled to recognize her rights, and to see that she was fully aware of them also. Since she yielded so gracefully and considerately all and more than he could justly claim, he finally concluded to ignore what he regarded as her "peculiarities." As for himself, he had no peculiarities. He was a "practical, sensible man, with no nonsense about him."
Mrs. Haldane had been in such sore straits and perplexity about her son that she overcame her habitual reserve upon family and personal matters, and wrote to her friend a long and confidential letter, in which she fully described the "mysterious providence" which was clouding her life.
Mrs. Arnot had long been aware of her friend's infirmity, and more than once had sought with delicacy and yet with faithfulness to open her eyes to the consequences of her indulgence. But Mrs. Haldane, unfortunately, was incapable of taking a broad, and therefore correct, view of anything. She was governed far more by her prejudices and feelings than by reason or experience, and the emotion or prejudice uppermost absorbed her mind so completely as to exclude all other considerations. Her friendship for Mrs. Arnot had commenced at school, but the two ladies had developed so differently that the relation had become more a cherished memory of the happy past than a congenial intimacy of their maturer life.
The "mysterious providence" of which Mrs. Haldane wrote was to Mrs. Arnot a legitimate and almost inevitable result. But, now that the mischief had been accomplished, she was the last one in the world to say to her friend, "I told you so." To her mind the providential feature in the matter was the chance that had come to her of counteracting the evil which the mother had unconsciously developed. This opportunity was in the line of her most cherished plan and hope of usefulness, as will be hereafter seen, and she had lost no time in persuading her husband to give Haldane employment in his counting-room. She also secured his consent that the youth should become a member of the family, for a time at least. Mr. Arnot yielded these points reluctantly, for it was a part of his policy to have no more personal relations with his employes than with his machinery. He wished them to feel that they were merely a part of his system, and that the moment any one did not work regularly and accurately he must be cast aside as certainly as a broken or defective wheel. But as his wife's health made her practically a silent partner in his vast business, he yielded—though with rather ill grace, and with a prediction that it "would not work well."
Haldane was aware that his mother had written a long letter to Mrs. Arnot, and he supposed that his employer and his wife had thus become acquainted with all his misdeeds. He, therefore, rather dreaded to meet those who must, from the first, regard him as a graceless and difficult subject, that could not be managed at home. But, with the characteristic recklessness of young men who have wealth to fall back upon, he had fortified himself by thoughts like the following:
"If they do not treat me well, or try to put me into a straight-jacket, or if I find the counting-house too dull, I can bid them good-morning whenever I choose."
But Mrs. Arnot's frank and cordial reception was an agreeable surprise. He arrived quite late in the evening, and she had a delightful little lunch brought to him in her private parlor. By the time it was eaten her graceful tact had banished all stiffness and sense of strangeness, and he found himself warming into friendliness toward one whom he had especially dreaded as a "remarkably pious lady"—for thus his mother had always spoken of her.
It was scarcely strange that he should be rapidly disarmed by this lady, who cannot be described in a paragraph. Though her face was rather plain, it was so expressive of herself that it seldom failed to fascinate. Nature can do much to render a countenance attractive, but character accomplishes far more. The beauty which is of feature merely catches the careless, wandering eye. The beauty which is the reflex of character holds the eye, and eventually wins the heart. Those who knew Mrs. Arnot best declared that, instead of growing old and homely, she was growing more lovely every year. Her dark hair had turned gray early, and was fast becoming snowy white. For some years after her marriage she had grown old very fast. She had dwelt, as it were, on the northern side of an iceberg, and in her vain attempt to melt and humanize it, had almost perished herself. As the earthly streams and rills that fed her life congealed, she was led to accept of the love of God, and the long arctic winter of her despair passed gradually away. She was now growing young again. A faint bloom was dawning in her cheeks, and her form was gaming that fulness which is associated with the maturity of middle age. Her bright black eyes were the most attractive and expressive feature which she possessed, and they often seemed gifted with peculiar powers.
As they beamed upon the young man they had much the same effect as the anthracite coals which glowed in the grate, and he began to be conscious of some disposition to give her his confidence.
Having dismissed the servant with the lunch tray, she caused him to draw his chair sociably up to the fire, and said, without any circumlocution:
"Mr. Haldane, perhaps this is the best time for us to have a frank talk in regard to the future."
The young man thought that this was the preface for some decided criticism of the past, and his face became a little hard and defiant. But in this he was mistaken, for the lady made no reference to his faults, of which she had been informed by his mother. She spoke in a kindly but almost in a business-like way of his duties in the counting-room, and of the domestic rules of the household, to which he would be expected to conform. She also spoke plainly of her husband's inexorable requirement of system, regularity, and order, and dwelt upon the fact that all in his employ conformed to this demand, and that it was the business-like and manly thing to do.
"This is your first venture out into the world, I understand," she said, rising to intimate that their interview was over, "and I greatly wish that it may lead toward a useful and successful career. I have spoken plainly because I wished you to realize just what you have undertaken, and thus meet with no unpleasant surprises or unexpected experiences. When one enters upon a course with his eyes open, he in a certain sense pledges himself to do the best he can in that line of duty, and our acquaintance, though so brief, has convinced me that you can do very well indeed."
"I was under the impression," said the young man, coloring deeply, "that my mother's letter had led you to suppose—to expect just the contrary."
"Mr. Haldane," said Mrs. Arnot, giving him her hand with graceful tact, "I shall form my opinion of you solely on the ground of your own action, and I wish you to think of me as a friend who takes a genuine interest in your success. Good-night."
He went to his room in quite a heroic and virtuous mood.
"She does not treat me a bit like a 'bad boy,' as I supposed she would," he thought; "but appears to take it for granted that I shall be a gentleman in this her house, and a sensible fellow in her husband's office. Blow me if I disappoint her!"
Nor did he for several weeks. Even Mr. Arnot was compelled to admit that it did "work rather better than he expected," and that he "supposed the young fellow did as well as he could."
As the novelty of Haldane's new relations wore off, however, and as his duties became so familiar as to be chiefly a matter of routine, the grave defects of his character and training began to show themselves. The restraint of the counting-room grew irksome. Associations were formed in the city which tended toward his old evil habits. As a piece of Mr. Arnot's machinery he did not move with the increasing precision that his employer required and expected on his becoming better acquainted with his duties.
Mrs. Arnot had expected this, and knew that her husband would tolerate carelessness and friction only up to a certain point. She had gained more influence over the young man than any one else had ever possessed, and by means of it kept him within bounds for some time; but she saw from her husband's manner that things were fast approaching a crisis.
One evening she kindly, but frankly, told him of the danger in which he stood of an abrupt, stern dismissal.
He was more angry than alarmed, and during the following day about concluded that he would save himself any such mortification by leaving of his own accord. He quite persuaded himself that he had a soul above plodding business, and that, after enjoying himself at home for a time, he could enter upon some other career, that promised more congeniality and renown.
In order that his employer might not anticipate him, he performed his duties very accurately that day, but left the office with the expectation of never returning.
He had very decided compunctions in thus requiting Mrs. Arnot's kindness, but muttered recklessly:
"I'm tired of this humdrum, treadmill life, and believe I'm destined to better things. If I could only get a good position in the army or navy, the world would hear from me. They say money opens every door, and mother must open some good wide door for me."
Regardless now of his employer's good or bad opinion, he came down late to supper; but, instead of observing with careless defiance the frown which he knew lowered toward him, his eyes were drawn to a fair young face on the opposite side of the table.
Mrs. Arnot, in her pleasant, cordial voice, which made the simplest thing she said seem real and hearty, rather than conventional, introduced him:
"Mr. Haldane, my niece, Miss Laura Romeyn. Laura, no doubt, can do far more than an old lady to make your evenings pass brightly."
After a second glance of scrutiny, Haldane was so ungratefully forgetful of all Mrs. Arnot's kindness as to be inclined to agree with her remark.
"Is she a young lady, or merely a school-girl?" was Haldane's query concerning the stranger sitting opposite to him; and he addressed to her a few commonplace but exploring remarks. Regarding himself as well acquainted with society in general, and young ladies in particular, he expected to solve the question at once, and was perplexed that he could not. He had flirted with several misses as immature as himself, and so thought that he was profoundly versed in the mysteries of the sex. "They naturally lean toward and look up to men, and one is a fool, or else lacking in personal appearance, who does not have his own way with them," was his opinion, substantially.
Modesty is a grace which fine-looking young men of large wealth are often taught by some severe experiences, if it is ever learned. Haldane, as yet, had not received such wholesome depletion. His self-approval and assurance, moreover, were quite natural, since his mother and sisters had seldom lost an opportunity of developing and confirming these traits. The yielding of women to his will and wishes had been one of the most uniform experiences of his life, and he had come to regard it as the natural order of things. Without formulating the thought in plain words, he nevertheless regarded Mrs. Arnot's kindness, by which she sought to gain a helpful influence over him, as largely due to some peculiar fascination of his own, which made him a favorite wherever he chose to be. Of course, the young stranger on the opposite side of the table would prove no exception to the rule, and all he had to do was to satisfy himself that she was sufficiently pretty and interesting to make it worth while to pay her a little attention.
But for some reason she did not seem greatly impressed by his commonplace and rather patronizing remarks. Was it pride or dignity on her part, or was it mere girlish shyness? It must be the latter, for there was no occasion for pride and dignity in her manner toward him.
Then came the thought that possibly Mrs. Arnot had not told her who he was, and that she looked upon him as a mere clerk of low degree. To remove from her mind any such error, his tones and manner became still more self-asserting and patronizing.
"If she has any sense at all," he thought, "she shall see that I have peculiar claims to her respect."
As he proceeded in these tactics, there was a growing expression of surprise and a trace of indignation upon the young girl's face. Mrs. Arnot watched the by-play with an amused expression. There was not much cynicism in her nature. She believed that experience would soon prick the bubble of his vanity, and it was her disposition to smile rather than to sneer at absurdity in others. Besides, she was just. She never applied to a young man of twenty the standard by which she would measure those of her own age, and she remembered Haldane's antecedents. But Mr. Arnot went to his library muttering:
"The ridiculous fool!"
When Miss Romeyn rose from the table, Haldane saw that she was certainly tall enough to be a young lady, for she was slightly above medium height. He still believed that she was very young, however, for her figure was slight and girlish, and while her bearing was graceful it had not that assured and pronounced character to which he had been accustomed.
"She evidently has not seen much of society. Well, since she is not gawky, I like her better than if she were blase. Anything but your blase girls," he observed to himself, with a consciousness that he was an experienced man of the world.
The piano stood open in the drawing-room, and this suggested music. Haldane had at his tongue's end the names of half a dozen musicians whose professional titles had been prominent in the newspapers for a few months previous, and whose merits had formed a part of the current chit-chat of the day. Some he had heard, and others he had not, but he could talk volubly of all, and he asked Miss Romeyn for her opinion of one and another in a manner which implied that of course she knew about them, and that ignorance in regard to such persons was not to be expected.
Her face colored with annoyance, but she said quietly and a trifle coldly that she had not heard them.
Mrs. Arnot again smiled as she watched the young people, but she now came to her niece's rescue, thinking also it would be well to disturb Haldane's sense of superiority somewhat. So she said:
"Laura, since we cannot hear this evening the celebrated artists that Mr. Haldane has mentioned, we must content ourselves with simple home music. Won't you play for us that last selection of which you wrote to me?"
"I hardly dare, auntie, since Mr. Haldane is such a critical judge, and has heard so much music from those who make it a business to be perfect. He must have listened to the selection you name a hundred times, for it is familiar to most lovers of good music."
Haldane had sudden misgivings. Suppose he had not heard it? This would be awkward, after his assumed acquaintance with such matters.
"Even if Mr. Haldane is familiar with it," Mrs. Arnot replied, "Steibelt's Storm Rondo will bear repetition. Besides, his criticism may be helpful, since he can tell you wherein you come short of the skilled professionals."
Laura caught the twinkle in her aunt's eye, and went to the piano.
The young man saw at once that he had been caught in his own trap, for the music was utterly unfamiliar. The rondo was no wonderful piece of intricacy, such as a professional might choose. On the contrary, it was simple, and quite within the capabilities of a young and well-taught girl. But it was full of rich melody which even he, in his ignorance, could understand and appreciate, and yet, for aught that he knew it was difficult in the extreme.
At first he had a decided sense of humiliation, and a consciousness that it was deserved. He had been talking largely and confidently of an art concerning which he knew little, and in which he began to think that his listener was quite well versed.
But as the thought of the composer grew in power and beauty he forgot himself and his dilemma in his enjoyment. Two senses were finding abundant gratification at the same time, for it was a delight to listen, and it was even a greater pleasure to look at the performer.
She gave him a quick, shy glance of observation, fearing somewhat that she might see severe judgment or else cool indifference in the expression of his face, and she was naturally pleased and encouraged when she saw, instead, undisguised admiration. His previous manner had annoyed her, and she determined to show him that his superior airs were quite uncalled for. Thus the diffident girl was led to surpass herself, and infuse so much spirit and grace into her playing as to surprise even her aunt.
Haldane was soon satisfied that she was more than pretty—that she was beautiful. Her features, that had seemed too thin and colorless, flushed with excitement, and her blue eyes, which he had thought cold and expressionless, kindled until they became lustrous. He felt, in a way that he could not define to himself, that her face was full of power and mind, and that she was different from the pretty girls who had hitherto been his favorites.
As she rose from the piano he was mastered by one of those impulses which often served him in the place of something better, and he said impetuously:
"Miss Romeyn, I beg your pardon. You know a hundred-fold more about music than I do, and I have been talking as if the reverse were true. I never heard anything so fine in my life, and I also confess that I never heard that piece before."
The young girl blushed with pleasure on having thus speedily vanquished this superior being, whom she had been learning both to dread and dislike. At the same time his frank, impulsive words of compliment did much to remove the prejudice which she was naturally forming against him. Mrs. Arnot said, with her mellow laugh, that often accomplished more than long homilies:
"That is a manly speech, Egbert, and much to your credit. 'Honest confession is good for the soul.'"
Haldane did not get on his stilts again that evening, and before it was over he concluded that Miss Romeyn was the most charming young lady he had ever met, though, for some reason, she still permitted him to do nearly all the talking. She bade him good-night, however, with a smile that was not unkindly, and which was interpreted by him as being singularly gracious.
By this time he had concluded that Miss Romeyn was a "young lady par excellence"; but it has already been shown that his judgment in most matters was not to be trusted. Whether she was a school-girl or a fully fledged young lady, a child or a woman, might have kept a closer observer than himself much longer in doubt. In truth, she was scarcely the one or the other, and had many of the characteristics of both. His opinion of her was as incorrect as that of himself. He was not a man, though he considered himself a superior one, and had attained to manly proportions.
But there were wide differences in their immaturity. She was forming under the guidance of a mother who blended firmness and judgment equally with love. Gentle blood was in her veins, and she had inherited many of her mother's traits with her beauty. Her parents, however, believed that, even as the garden of Eden needed to be "dressed and kept," so the nature of their child required careful pruning, with repression here and development there. While the young girl was far from being faultless, fine traits and tendencies dominated, and, though as yet undeveloped, they were unfolding with the naturalness and beauty of a budding flower.
In Haldane's case evil traits were in the ascendant, and the best hope for him was that they as yet had not become confirmed.
"Who is this Mr. Haldane, auntie?" Laura asked on reaching her room. There was a slight trace of vexation in her tone.
"He is the son of an old friend of mine. I have induced my husband to try to give him a business education. You do not like him."
"I did not like him at all at first, but he improves a little on acquaintance. Is he a fair sample of your young men proteges?"
"He is the least promising of any of them," replied Mrs. Arnot, sitting down before the fire. Laura saw that her face had become shadowed with sadness and anxiety.
"You look troubled, auntie. Is he the cause?"
"Are you very much interested in him?"
"I am, Laura; very much, indeed. I cannot bear to give him up, and yet I fear I must."
"Is he a very interesting 'case'?" asked the young girl in some surprise. "Mother often laughingly calls the young men you are trying to coax to be good by your winning ways, 'cases.' I don't know much about young men, but should suppose that you had many under treatment much more interesting than he is."
"Sister Fanny is always laughing at my hobby, and saying that, since I have no children of my own, I try to adopt every young man who will give me a chance. Perhaps if I try to carry out your mother's figure, you will understand why I am so interested in this 'case.' If I were a physician and had charge of a good many patients, ought I not to be chiefly interested in those who were in the most critical and dangerous condition?"
"It would be just like you to be so, auntie, and I would not mind being quite ill myself if I could have you to take care of me. I hope the young men whom you 'adopt' appreciate their privileges."
"The trouble with most of us, Laura, is that we become wise too late in life. Young people are often their own worst enemies, and if you wish to do them good, you must do it, as it were, on the sly. If one tries openly to reform and guide them—if I should say plainly, Such and such are your faults; such and such places and associations are full of danger—they would be angry or disgusted, or they would say I was blue and strait-laced, and had an old woman's notions of what a man should be. I must coax them, as you say; I must disguise my medicines, and apply my remedies almost without their knowing it. I also find it true in my practice that tonics and good wholesome diet are better than all moral drugs. It seems to me that if I can bring around these giddy young fellows refining, steadying, purifying influences, I can do them more good than if I lectured them. The latter is the easier way, and many take it. It would require but a few minutes to tell this young Haldane what his wise safe course must be if he would avoid shipwreck; but I can see his face flush and lip curl at my homily. And yet for weeks I have been angling for him, and I fear to no purpose. Your uncle may discharge him any day. It makes me very sad to say it, but if he goes home I think he will also go to ruin. Thank God for your good, wise mother, Laura. It is a great thing to be started right in life."
"Then this young man has been started wrong?
"Yes, wrong indeed."
"Is he so very bad, auntie?" Laura asked with a face full of serious concern.
Mrs. Arnot smiled as she said, "If you were a young society chit, you might think him 'very nice,' as their slang goes. He is good-looking and rich, and his inclination to be fast would be a piquant fact in his favor. He has done things which would seem to you very wrong indeed. But he is foolish and ill-trained rather than bad. He is a spoiled boy, and spoiled boys are apt to become spoiled men. I have told you all this partly because, having been your mother's companion all your life, you are so old-fashioned that I can talk to you almost as I would to sister Fanny, and partly because I like to talk about my hobby."
A young girl naturally has quick sympathies, and all the influences of Laura's life had been gentle and humane. Her aunt's words speedily led her to regard Haldane as an "interesting case," a sort of fever patient who was approaching the crisis of his disease. Curling down on the floor, and leaning her arms on her aunt's lap, she looked up with a face full of solicitude as she asked:
"And don't you think you can save him? Please don't give up trying."
"I like the expression of your face now," said Mrs. Arnot, stroking the abundant tresses, that were falling loosely from the girl's head, "for in it I catch a glimpse of the divine image. Many think of God as looking down angrily and frowningly upon the foolish and wayward; but I see in the solicitude of your face a faint reflection of the 'Not willing that any should perish' which it ever seems to me is the expression of His."
"Laura," said she abruptly, after a moment, "did any one ever tell you that you were growing up very pretty?"
"No, auntie," said the girl, blushing and laughing.
"Mr. Haldane told you so this evening."
"O auntie, you are mistaken; he could not have been so rude."
"He did not make a set speech to that effect, my dear, but he told you so by his eyes and manner, only you are such an innocent home child that you did not notice. But when you go into society you will be told this fact so often that you will be compelled to heed it, and will soon learn the whole language of flattery, spoken and unspoken. Perhaps I had, better forewarn you a little, and so forearm you. What are you going to do with your beauty?"
"Why, auntie, how funny you talk! What should I do with it, granting that it has any existence save in your fond eyes?"
"Suppose you use it to make men better, instead of to make them merely admire you. One can't be a belle very long at best, and of all the querulous, discontented, and disagreeable people that I have met, superannuated belles, who could no longer obtain their revenue of flattery, were the worst. They were impoverished, indeed. If you do as I suggest, you will have much that is pleasant to think about when you come to be as old as I am. Perhaps you can do more for young Haldane than I can."
"Now, auntie, what can I do?"
"That which nearly all women can do: be kind and winning; make our safe, cosey parlor so attractive that he will not go out evenings to places which tend to destroy him. You feel an interest in him; show it. Ask him about his business, and get him to explain it to you. Suggest that if you were a man you would like to master your work, and become eminent in it. Show by your manner and by words, if occasion offers, that you love and revere all that is sacred, pure, and Christian. Laura, innocent dove as you are, you know that many women beguile men to ruin with smiles. Men can be beguiled from ruin with smiles. Indeed, I think multitudes are permitted to go to destruction because women are so unattractive, so absorbed in themselves and their nerves. If mothers and wives, maidens and old maids, would all commence playing the agreeable to the men of their household and circle, not for the sake of a few compliments, but for the purpose of luring them from evil and making them better, the world would improve at once."
"I see, auntie," said Laura, laughing; "you wish to administer me as a sugar-coated pill to your 'difficult case.'"
A deep sigh was the only answer, and, looking up, Laura saw that her words had not been heeded. Tears were in her aunt's eyes, and after a moment she said brokenly:
"My theories seem true enough, and yet how signally I have failed in carrying them out! Perhaps it is my fault; perhaps it is my fault; but I've tried—oh! how I have tried! Laura, dear, you know that I am a lonely woman; but do not let this prejudice you against what I have said. Good-night, dear; I have kept you up too long after your journey."
Her niece understood her allusion to the cold, unloving man who sat alone every evening in his dim library, thinking rarely of his wife, but often of her wealth, and how it might increase his leverage in his herculean labors. The young girl had the tact to reply only by a warm, lingering embrace. It was an old sorrow, of which she had long been aware; but it seemed without remedy, and was rarely touched upon.
Laura had a strong affection for her aunt, and would naturally be inclined to gratify any wishes that she might express, even had they involved tasks uncongenial and unattractive. But the proposal that she should become an ally in the effort to lure young Haldane from his evil associations, and awaken within him pure and refined tastes, was decidedly attractive. She was peculiarly romantic in her disposition, and no rude contact with the commonplace, common-sense world had chastened her innocent fancies by harsh and disagreeable experience. Her Christian training and girlish simplicity lifted her above the ordinary romanticism of imagining herself the heroine in every instance, and the object and end of all masculine aspirations. On this occasion she simply desired to act the part of a humble assistant of Mrs. Arnot, whom she regarded as Haldane's good angel; and she was quite as disinterested in her hope for the young man's moral improvement as her aunt herself.
The task, moreover, was doubly pleasing since she could perform it in a way that was so womanly and agreeable. She could scarcely have given Haldane a plain talk on the evils of fast living to save her life, but if she could keep young men from going to destruction by smiling upon them, by games of backgammon and by music, she felt in the mood to be a missionary all her life, especially if she could have so safe and attractive a field of labor as her aunt's back parlor.
But the poor child would soon learn that perverse human nature is much the same in a drawing-room and a tenement-house, and that all who seek to improve it are doomed to meet much that is excessively annoying and discouraging.
The simple-hearted girl no more foresaw what might result from her smiles than an ignorant child would anticipate the consequences of fire falling on grains of harmless-looking black sand. She had never seen passion kindling and flaming till it seemed like a scorching fire, and had not learned by experience that in some circumstances her smiles might be like incendiary sparks to powder.
In seeking to manage her "difficult case," Mrs. Arnot should have foreseen the danger of employing such a fascinating young creature as her assistant; but in these matters the wisest often err, and only comprehend the evil after it has occurred. Laura was but a child in years, having passed her fifteenth birthday only a few months previous, and Haldane seemed to the lady scarcely more than a boy. She did not intend that her niece should manifest anything more than a little winning kindness and interest, barely enough to keep the young fellow from spending his evenings out she knew not where. He was at just the age when the glitter and tinsel of public amusements are most attractive. She believed that if she could familiarize his mind with the real gold and clear diamond flash of pure home pleasures, and those which are enjoyed in good society, he would eventually become disgusted with gilt, varnish, and paste. If Laura had been a very plain girl, she might have seconded Mrs. Arnot's efforts to the utmost without any unpleasant results, even if no good ones had followed; and it may well be doubted whether any of the latter would have ensued. Haldane's disease was too deeply rooted, and his tastes vitiated to such a degree that he had lost the power to relish long the simple enjoyments of Mrs. Arnot's parlor. He already craved the pleasures which first kindle and excite and then consume.
Laura, however, was not plain and ordinary, and the smiles which were intended as innocent lures from snares, instead of into them, might make trouble for all concerned. Haldane was naturally combustible, to begin with, and was now at the most inflammable period of his life.
The profoundest master of human nature portrayed to the world a Romeo and a Juliet, both mastered by a passion which but a few words and glances had kindled. There are many Romeos who do not find their Juliets so sympathetic and responsive, and they usually develop at about the age of Haldane. Indeed, nearly all young men of sanguine temperaments go through the Romeo stage, and they are fortunate if they pass it without doing anything especially ridiculous or disastrous. These sudden attacks are exceedingly absurd to older and cooler friends, but to the victims themselves they are tremendously real and tragic for the time being. More hearts are broken into indefinite fragments before twenty than ever after; but, like the broken bones of the young, they usually knit readily together again, and are just as good for all practical purposes.
There was nothing unusual in the fact, therefore, that Haldane was soon deeply enamored with his new acquaintance. It was true that Laura had given him the mildest and most innocent kind of encouragement—and the result would probably have been the same if she had given him none at all—but his vanity, and what he chose to regard as his "undying love," interpreted all her actions, and gave volumes of meaning to a kindly glance or a pleasant word. Indeed, before there had been time to carry out, to any extent, the tactics her aunt had proposed, symptoms of his malady appeared. While she was regarding him merely as one of her aunt's "cases," and a very hard one at best, and thought of herself as trying to help a little, as a child might hold a bandage or a medicine phial for experienced hands, he, on the contrary, had begun to mutter to himself that she was "the divinest woman God ever fashioned."
There was now no trouble about his spending evenings elsewhere, and the maiden was perplexed and annoyed at finding her winning ways far too successful, and that the one she barely hoped to keep from the vague—and to her mind, horrible—places of temptation, was becoming as adhesive as sticking-plaster. If she smiled, he smiled and ogled far too much in return. If she chatted with one and another of the young men who found Mrs. Arnot's parlor the most attractive place open to them in the town, he would assume a manner designed to be darkly tragical, but which to the young girl had more the appearance of sulking.
She was not so much of a child as to be unable to comprehend Haldane's symptoms, and she was sufficiently a woman not to be excessively angry. And yet she was greatly annoyed and perplexed. At times his action seemed so absurd that she was glad to escape to her room, that she might give way to her merriment; and again he would appear so much in earnest that she was quite as inclined to cry and to think seriously of bringing her visit to an abrupt termination.
While under Mrs. Arnot's eye Haldane was distant and circumspect, but the moment he was alone with Laura his manner became unmistakably demonstrative.
At first she was disposed to tell her aunt all about the young man's sentimental manner, but the fact that it seemed so ridiculous deterred her. She still regarded herself as a child, and that any one should be seriously in love with her after but a few days' acquaintance seemed absurdity itself. Her aunt might think her very vain for even imagining such a thing, and, perhaps, after all it was only her own imagination.
"Mr. Haldane has acted queerly from the first," she concluded, "and the best thing I can do is to think no more about him, and let auntie manage her 'difficult case' without me. If I am to help in these matters, I had better commence with a 'case' that is not so 'difficult.'"
She therefore sought to avoid the young man, and prove by her manner that she was utterly indifferent to him, hoping that this course would speedily cure him of his folly. She would venture into the parlor only when her aunt or guests were there, and would then try to make herself generally agreeable, without an apparent thought for him.
While she assured herself that she did not like him, and that he was in no respect a person to be admired and liked, she still found herself thinking about him quite often. He was her first recognized lover. Indeed, few had found opportunity to give more than admiring glances to the little nun, who thus far had been secluded almost continuously in the safest of all cloisters—a country home. It was a decided novelty that a young man, almost six feet in height, should be looking unutterable things in her direction whenever she was present. She wished he wouldn't, but since he would, she could not help thinking about him, and how she could manage to make him "behave sensibly."
She did not maintain her air of indifference very perfectly, however, for she had never been schooled by experience, and was acting solely on the intuitions of her sex. She could not forbear giving a quick glance occasionally to see how he was taking his lesson. At times he was scowling and angry, and then she could maintain her part without difficulty; again he would look so miserable that, out of pity, she would relent into a half smile, but immediately reproach herself for being "so foolish."
Haldane's manner soon attracted Mrs. Arnot's attention, notwithstanding his effort to disguise from her his feeling and a little observation on the part of the experienced matron enabled her to guess how matters stood. While Mrs. Arnot was perplexed and provoked by this new complication in Haldane's case, she was too kindly in her nature not to feel sorry for him. She was also so well versed in human nature as to be aware that she could not sit down and coolly talk him out of his folly.
Besides it was not necessarily folly. The youth was but following a law of nature, and following it, too, in much the same manner as had his fathers before him since the beginning of time. There would not be any thing essentially wrong in an attachment between these young people, if it sprang up naturally; only it would be necessary to impress upon them the fact that they were young, and that for years to come their minds should be largely occupied with other matters. Haldane certainly would not have been her choice for Laura, but if a strong attachment became the means of steadying him and of inciting to the formation of a fine character, all might be well in the end. She was morbidly anxious, however, that her niece should not meet with any such disappointment in life as had fallen to her lot, and should the current of the young girl's affection tend steadily in his direction she would deeply regret the fact.
She would regret exceedingly, also, to have the young girl's mind occupied by thoughts of such a nature for years to come. Her education was unfinished; she was very immature, and should not make so important a choice until she had seen much more of society, and time had been given for the formation of her tastes and character.
Mrs. Arnot soon concluded that it would be wiser to prevent trouble than to remedy it, and that Laura had better return speedily to the safe asylum of her own home. She could then suggest to Haldane that if he hoped to win the maiden in after years he must form a character worthy of her.
Had she carried out her plan that day all might have turned out differently, but the advanced in life are prone to forget the impetuosity of youth. Haldane was already ripe for a declaration, or, more properly, an explosion of his pent-up feelings, and was only awaiting an opportunity to insist upon his own acceptance. He was so possessed and absorbed by his emotions that he felt sure they would sweep away all obstacles. He imagined himself pleading his cause in a way that would melt a marble heart; and both vanity and hope had whispered that Laura was a shy maiden, secretly responsive to his passion, and only awaiting his frank avowal before showing her own heart. Else why had she been so kind at first? Having won his love, was she not seeking now to goad him on to its utterance by a sudden change of manner?
Thus he reasoned, as have many others equally blind.
On becoming aware of Haldane's passion, Mrs. Arnot resolved to sedulously guard her niece, and prevent any premature and disagreeable scenes. She was not long in discovering that the feeling, as yet, was all on the young man's side, and believed that by a little adroitness she could manage the affair so that no harm would result to either party.
But on the day following the one during which she had arrived at the above conclusions she felt quite indisposed, and while at dinner was obliged to succumb to one of her nervous headaches. Before retiring to her private room she directed the waitress to say to such of her young friends as might call that she was too ill to see them.
Haldane's expressions of sympathy were hollow, indeed, for he hoped that, as a result of her indisposition, he would have Laura all to himself that evening. With an insinuating smile he said to the young girl, after her aunt had left the table:
"I shall expect you to be very agreeable this evening, to compensate me for Mrs. Arnot's absence."
Laura blushed vividly, and was provoked with herself that she did so, but she replied quietly:
"You must excuse me this evening, Mr. Haldane; I am sure my aunt will need me."
His smile was succeeded by a sudden frown; but, as Mr. Arnot was at the table, he said, with assumed carelessness:
"Then I will go out and try to find amusement elsewhere."
"It might be well, young man," said Mr. Arnot austerely, "to seek for something else than amusement. When I was at your age I so invested my evenings that they now tell in my business."
"I am willing to invest this evening in a way to make it tell upon my future," replied Haldane, with a meaning glance at Laura.
Mr. Arnot observed this glance and the blushing face of his niece, and drew his own conclusions; but he only said dryly:
"That remark is about as inexplicable as some of your performances at the office of late."
Laura soon after excused herself and sought a refuge in her aunt's room, which, being darkened, prevented the lady from seeing her burning cheeks and general air of vexation and disquiet. Were it not for Mrs. Arnot's suffering condition and need of rest, Laura would then have told her of her trouble and asked permission to return home, and she determined to do this at the first opportunity. Now, however, she unselfishly forgot herself in her effort to alleviate her aunt's distress. With a strong sense of relief she heard Haldane go out, slamming the front door after him.
"Was there ever such an absurd fellow!" thought she; "he has made himself disagreeable ever since I came, with his superior airs, as if he knew everything, when, in fact, he doesn't know anything well, not even good manners. He acts as if I belonged to him and had no right to any will or wishes of my own. If he can't take the hints that I have given he must be as stupid and blind as an owl. In spite of all that I can do or say he seems to think that I only want an opportunity to show the same ridiculous feeling that makes him appear like a simpleton. If I were a young lady in society I should detest a man who took it for granted that I would fall in love with him."
With like indignant musings she beguiled the time, wondering occasionally why her aunt did not ask her to go down and entertain the object of her dread, but secretly thankful that she did not.
At last Mrs. Arnot said:
"Mr. Haldane went out, did he not?"
"Yes, auntie, some time ago."
"I left my other bottle of smelling-salts in the parlor. I think it is stronger than this. Would you mind getting it for me? It's on the mantel."
Laura had no difficulty in finding it in the somewhat dimly-lighted drawing-room, but as she turned to leave the apartment she saw Haldane between her and the door.
Before he had reached any of his garish haunts he had felt such an utter distaste for them in his present mood that he returned. He was conscious of the impulse merely to be near the object of his thoughts, and also hoped that by some fortunate chance he might still be able to find her alone. That his return might be unnoted, he had quietly entered a side door, and was waiting and watching for just such an opportunity as Mrs. Arnot had unwittingly occasioned.
Laura tried to brush past, but he intercepted her, and said:
"No, Miss Laura, not till you hear me. You have my destiny in your hands."
"I haven't anything of the kind," she answered, in tones of strong vexation. Guided by instinct, she resolved to be as prosaic and matter-of-fact as possible; so she added: "I have only aunt's smelling-salts in my hands, and she needs them."
"I need you far more than Mrs. Arnot needs her smelling-salts," he said tragically.
"Mr. Haldane, such talk is very absurd," she replied, half ready to cry from nervousness and annoyance.
"It is not absurd. How can you trifle with the deepest and holiest feelings that a man—of which a man—feels?" he retorted passionately, and growing a little incoherent.
"I don't know anything about such feelings, and therefore cannot trifle with them."
"What did your blushes mean this evening? You cannot deceive me; I have seen the world and know it."
"I am not the world. I am only a school-girl, and if you had good sense you would not talk so to me. You appear to think that I must feel and do as you wish. What right have you to act so?"
"The truest and strongest right. You know well that I love you with my whole soul. I have given you my heart—all there is of me. Have I not a right to ask your love in return?"
Laura was conscious of a strange thrill as she heard these passionate words, for they appeared to echo in a depth of her nature of which she had not been conscious before.
The strong and undoubting assurance which possessed him carried for a moment a strange mastery over her mind. As he so vehemently asserted the only claim which a man can urge, her woman's soul trembled, and for a moment she felt almost powerless to resist. His unreserved giving appeared to require that he should receive also. She would have soon realized, however, that Haldane's attitude was essentially that of an Oriental lover, who, in his strongest attachments, is ever prone to maintain the imperative mood, and to consult his own heart rather than that of the woman he loves. While in Laura's nature there was unusual gentleness and a tendency to respect and admire virile force, she was too highly bred in our Western civilization not to resent as an insult any such manifestation of this force as would make the quest of her love a demand rather than a suit, after once recognizing such a spirit. She was now confused, however, and after an awkward moment said:
"I have not asked or wished you to give me so much. I don't think you realize what you are saying. If you would only remember that I am scarcely more than a child you would not talk so foolishly. Please let me go to my aunt."
"No, not till you give me some hope. Your blushes prove that you are a woman."
"They prove that I am excessively annoyed and vexed."
"Oh, Laura, after raising so many hopes you cannot—you cannot——"
"I haven't meant to raise any hopes."
"Why were you so kind to me at first?"
"Well, if you must know, my aunt wished me to be. If I had dreamed you would act so I would not have spoken to you."
"What motive could Mrs. Arnot have had for such a request?"
"I will tell you, and when you know the whole truth you will see how mistaken you are, and how greatly you wrong me. Aunt wanted me to help her keep you home evenings, and away from all sorts of horrid places to which you were fond of going."
These words gave Haldane a cue which he at once followed, and he said eagerly:
"If you will be my wife, I will do anything you wish. I will make myself good, great, and renowned for your sake. Your smiles will keep me from every temptation. But I warn you that if you cast me off—if you trifle with me—I shall become a reckless man. I shall be ruined. My only impulse will be self-destruction."
Laura was now thoroughly incensed, and she said indignantly:
"Mr. Haldane, I should think you would be ashamed to talk in that manner. It's the same as if a spoiled boy should say: If you don't give me what I wish, right or wrong, I will do something dreadful. If I ever do love a man, it will be one that I can look up to and respect, and not one who must be coaxed and bribed to give up disgusting vices. If you do not open that door I will call uncle."
The door opened, and Mr. Arnot entered with a heavy frown upon his brow.
Mr. Arnot's library was on the side of the hall opposite to the drawing-room. Though he had been deeply intent upon his writing, he at last became conscious that there were some persons in the parlor who were talking in an unusual manner, and he soon distinguished the voice of his niece. Haldane's words, manner, and glances at the dinner-table at once recurred to him, and stepping silently to the drawing-room door, he heard the latter part of the colloquy narrated in the previous chapter. He was both amused and angry, and while relieved to find that his niece was indulging in no "sentimental nonsense," he had not a particle of sympathy or charity for Haldane, and he determined to give the young man a "lesson that would not soon be forgotten."
"What is the meaning of this ridiculous scene?" he demanded sternly. "What have you been saying to this child?"
Haldane at first had been much abashed by the entrance of his employer; but his tone and manner stung the young fellow into instant anger, and he replied haughtily:
"She is not a child, and what I have said concerns Miss Romeyn only."
"Ah, indeed! I have no right to protect my niece in my own house!"
"My intentions toward Miss Romeyn are entirely honorable, and there is no occasion for protection."
Reassured by her uncle's presence, Laura's nervous apprehension began to give place to something like pity for the youth, who had assumed an attitude befitting high tragedy, and toward whom she felt that she had been a little harsh. Now that he was confronted by one who was disposed to be still more harsh, womanlike, she was inclined to take his part. She would be sorry to have him come to an open rupture with his employer on her account, so she said eagerly:
"Please, uncle, do me the favor of letting the whole matter drop. Mr. Haldane has seen his mistake by this time. I am going home to-morrow, and the affair is too absurd to make any one any more trouble."
Before he could answer, Mrs. Arnot, hearing their voices, and surmising the trouble which she had hoped to prevent, now appeared also, and by her good sense and tact brought the disagreeable scene to a speedy close.
"Laura, my dear," she said quietly, "go up to my room, and I will join you there soon." The young girl gladly obeyed.
There were times when Mrs. Arnot controlled her strong-willed husband in a manner that seemed scarcely to be reconciled with his dictatorial habits. This fact might be explained in part by her wealth, of which he had the use, but which she still controlled, but more truly by her innate superiority, which ever gives supremacy to the nobler and stronger mind when aroused.
Mr. Arnot had become suddenly and vindictively angry with his clerk, who, instead of being overwhelmed with awe and shame at his unexpected appearance, was haughty and even defiant. One of the strongest impulses of this man was to crush out of those in his employ a spirit of independence and individual self-assertion. The idea of a part of his business machinery making such a jarring tumult in his own house! He proposed to instantly cast away the cause of friction, and insert a more stolid human cog-wheel in Haldane's place.
But when his wife said, in a tone which she rarely used:
"Mr. Arnot, before anything further is said upon this matter, I would like to see you in your library"—he followed her without a word.
Before the library door closed, however, he could not forbear snarling.
"I told you that your having this big spoiled boy as an inmate of the house would not work well."
"He has been offering himself to Laura, has he not?" she said quietly.
"I suppose that is the way in which you would explain his absurd, maudlin words. A pitiful offer it was, which she, like a sensible girl, declined without thanks."
"What course do you propose to take toward Haldane?"
"I was on the point of sending him home to his mother, and of suggesting that he remain with her till he becomes something more than a fast, foolish boy. As yet I see no reason for acting differently."
"On just what grounds do you propose to discharge him?"
"Has he not given sufficient cause this evening in his persecution of Laura and his impudence to me?"
"Thomas, you forget that while young Haldane is your clerk, he enjoys a social position quite equal to that which a son of ours would possess, did we have one. Though his course toward Laura has been crude and boyish, I have yet to learn that there has been anything dishonorable. Laura is to us a child; to him she seems a very pretty and attractive girl, and his sudden passion for her is, perhaps, one of the most natural things in the world. Besides, an affair of this kind should be managed quietly and wisely, and not with answering passion. You are angry now; you will see that I am right in the morning. At all events, the name of this innocent girl, my sister's child, must not be bandied about in the gossip of the town. Among young men Haldane passes for a young man. Do you wish to have it the town talk that he has been discharged because he ventured to compliment your niece with the offer of his hand? That he has been premature and rash is chiefly the fault of his years and temperament; but no serious trouble need follow unless we make it ourselves. Laura will return home in a day or two, and if the young fellow is dealt with wisely and kindly, this episode may do much toward making a sensible man of him. If you abruptly discharge him, people will imagine tenfold more than has occurred, and they may surmise positive evil."
"Well, well, have it your own way," said her husband impatiently. "Of course, I do not wish that Laura should become the theme of scandal. But as for this young firebrand of a Haldane, there must be a decided change in him. I cannot bother with him much longer."
"I think I can manage him. At any rate, please make no change that can seem connected with this affair. If you would also exercise a little kindness and forbearance, I do not think you would ever have cause to regret it."
"My office is not an asylum for incapables, lovesick swains, and fast boys. It's a place of business, and if young Haldane can't realize this, there are plenty who can."
"As a favor to me, I will ask you to bear with him as long as possible. Can you not send him to your factory near New York on some errand? New scenes will divert his thoughts, and sudden and acute attacks, like his, usually do not last very long."
"Well, well, I'll see."
Mrs. Arnot returned to the parlor, but Haldane was no longer there. She went to his room, but, though he was within, she could obtain no response to her knocking, or to the kind tone in which she spoke his name. She sighed, but thought that perhaps he would be calmer and more open to reason on the morrow, and, therefore, returned to her own apartment. Indeed, she was glad to do so, for in her ill and suffering condition the strain had already been too great.
She found Laura tearful and troubled, and could not do less than listen to her story.
"Do you think I have done anything wrong, auntie?" asked the girl in deep anxiety.
"No, dear, I think you have acted very sensibly. I wish I could have foreseen the trouble sooner, and saved you both from a disagreeable experience."
"But uncle won't discharge Mr. Haldane on my account, will he?" she continued with almost equal solicitude.
"Certainly not. Egbert has not done anything that should cause his dismissal. I think that the only result will be to teach you both that these are matters which should be left to future years."
"I'm glad they are distant, for I had no idea that love affairs were so intensely disagreeable."
Her aunt smiled, and after a little time the young girl departed to her rest quite comforted and reassured.
The next morning Mrs. Arnot was too ill to appear at breakfast, and her niece would not venture down alone. Haldane and his employer sat down together in grim silence, and, after a cup of coffee only, the former abruptly excused himself and went to the office.
As might have been expected, the young man had passed a restless night, during which all sorts of rash, wild purposes surged through his mind. At first he meditated hiding his grief and humiliation in some "far distant clime"; but the thought occurred to him after a little time that this would be spiting himself more than any one else. His next impulse was to leave the house of his "insulting employer" forever; but as he was about to depart, he remembered that he happened to have scarcely a dollar in his pocket, and therefore concluded to wait till he had drawn his pay, or could write to his mother for funds. Then, as his anger subsided, a sense of loss and disappointment overwhelmed him, and for a long time he sobbed like a brokenhearted child. After this natural expression of grief he felt better, and became able to think connectedly. He finally resolved that he would become "famous," and rise in "gloomy grandeur" till he towered far above his fellow men. He would pierce this obdurate maiden's heart with poignant but unavailing regret that she had missed the one great opportunity of her life. He gave but slight and vague consideration to the methods by which he would achieve the renown which would overshadow Laura's life; but, having resolutely adopted the purpose with a few tragic gestures and some obscure fragmentary utterances, he felt consoled and was able to obtain a little sleep.
The routine duties at the office on the following day did not promise very much, but he went through them in a kind of grim, vindictive manner, as if resolving to set his foot on all obstacles. He would "suffer in silence and give no sign" till the hour came when he could flash out upon the world. But as the day declined, he found the role of "gloomy grandeur" rather heavy, and he became conscious of the fact that he had scarcely eaten anything for nearly twenty-four hours. Another impulse began to make itself felt—that of fulfilling his threat and torturing Miss Romeyn by going to ruin. With alluring seductiveness the thought insinuated itself into his mind that one of the first steps in the tragedy might be a game and wine supper, and his growing hunger made this mode of revenge more attractive than cold and austere ambition.