The Works of E.P. Roe
HIS SOMBRE RIVALS
The following story has been taking form in my mind for several years, and at last I have been able to write it out. With a regret akin to sadness, I take my leave, this August day, of people who have become very real to me, whose joys and sorrows I have made my own. Although a Northern man, I think my Southern readers will feel that I have sought to do justice to their motives. At this distance from the late Civil War, it is time that passion and prejudice sank below the horizon, and among the surviving soldiers who were arrayed against each other I think they have practically disappeared. Stern and prolonged conflict taught mutual respect. The men of the Northern armies were convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they had fought men and Americans— men whose patriotism and devotion to a cause sacred to them was as pure and lofty as their own. It is time that sane men and women should be large-minded enough to recognize that, whatever may have been the original motives of political leaders, the people on both sides were sincere and honest; that around the camp-fires at their hearths and in their places of worship they looked for God's blessing on their efforts with equal freedom from hypocrisy.
I have endeavored to portray the battle of Bull Run as it could appear to a civilian spectator: to give a suggestive picture and not a general description. The following war-scenes are imaginary, and colored by personal reminiscence. I was in the service nearly four years, two of which were spent with the cavalry. Nevertheless, justly distrustful of my knowledge of military affairs, I have submitted my proofs to my friend Colonel H. C. Hasbrouck, Commandant of Cadets at West Point, and therefore have confidence that as mere sketches of battles and skirmishes they are not technically defective.
The title of the story will naturally lead the reader to expect that deep shadows rest upon many of its pages. I know it is scarcely the fashion of the present time to portray men and women who feel very deeply about anything, but there certainly was deep feeling at the time of which I write, as, in truth, there is to-day. The heart of humanity is like the ocean. There are depths to be stirred when the causes are adequate. E. P. R.
CORNWALL-ON-THE-HUDSON, August 21, 1883.
CHAPTER I AN EMBODIMENT OF MAY
CHAPTER II MERE FANCIES
CHAPTER III THE VERDICT OF A SAGE
CHAPTER IV WARNING OR INCENTIVE
CHAPTER V IMPRESSIONS
CHAPTER VI PHILOSOPHY AT FAULT
CHAPTER VII WARREN HILLAND
CHAPTER VIII SUPREME MOMENTS
CHAPTER IX THE REVELATION
CHAPTER X THE KINSHIP OF SUFFERING
CHAPTER XI THE ORDEAL
CHAPTER XII FLIGHT TO NATURE
CHAPTER XIII THE FRIENDS
CHAPTER XIV NOBLE DECEPTION
CHAPTER XV "I WISH HE HAD KNOWN"
CHAPTER XVI THE CLOUD IN THE SOUTH
CHAPTER XVII PREPARATION
CHAPTER XVIII THE CALL TO ARMS
CHAPTER XIX THE BLOOD-RED SKY
CHAPTER XX TWO BATTLES
CHAPTER XXI THE LOGIC OF EVENTS
CHAPTER XXII SELF-SENTENCED
CHAPTER XXIII AN EARLY DREAM FULFILLED
CHAPTER XXIV UNCHRONICLED CONFLICTS
CHAPTER XXV A PRESENTIMENT
CHAPTER XXVI AN IMPROVISED PICTURE GALLERY
CHAPTER XXVII A DREAM
CHAPTER XXVIII ITS FULFILMENT
CHAPTER XXIX A SOUTHERN GIRL
CHAPTER XXX GUERILLAS
CHAPTER XXXI JUST IN TIME
CHAPTER XXXII A WOUNDED SPIRIT
CHAPTER XXXIII THE WHITE-HAIRED NURSE
CHAPTER XXXIV RITA'S BROTHER
CHAPTER XXXV HIS SOMBRE RIVALS
CHAPTEB XXXVI ALL MATERIALISTS
CHAPTEE XXXVII THE EFFORT TO LIVE
CHAPTEE XXXVIII GRAHAM'S LAST SACRIFICE
CHAPTEE XXXIX MARRIED UNCONSCIOUSLY
CHAPTEE XL RITA ANDERSON
CHAPTEE XLI A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM
AN EMBODIMENT OF MAY
"Beyond that revolving light lies my home. And yet why should I use such a term when the best I can say is that a continent is my home? Home suggests a loved familiar nook in the great world. There is no such niche for me, nor can I recall any place around which my memory lingers with especial pleasure."
In a gloomy and somewhat bitter mood, Alford Graham thus soliloquized as he paced the deck of an in-coming steamer. In explanation it may be briefly said that he had been orphaned early in life, and that the residences of his guardians had never been made homelike to him. While scarcely more than a child he had been placed at boarding-schools where the system and routine made the youth's life little better than that of a soldier in his barrack. Many boys would have grown hardy, aggressive, callous, and very possibly vicious from being thrown out on the world so early. Young Graham became reticent and to superficial observers shy. Those who cared to observe him closely, however, discovered that it was not diffidence, but indifference toward others that characterized his manner. In the most impressible period of his life he had received instruction, advice and discipline in abundance, but love and sympathy had been denied. Unconsciously his heart had become chilled, benumbed and overshadowed by his intellect. The actual world gave him little and seemed to promise less, and, as a result not at all unnatural, he became something of a recluse and bookworm even before he had left behind him the years of boyhood.
Both comrades and teachers eventually learned that the retiring and solitary youth was not to be trifled with. He looked his instructor steadily in the eye when he recited, and while his manner was respectful, it was never deferential, nor could he be induced to yield a point, when believing himself in the right, to mere arbitrary assertion; and sometimes he brought confusion to his teacher by quoting in support of his own view some unimpeachable authority.
At the beginning of each school term there were usually rough fellows who thought the quiet boy could be made the subject of practical jokes and petty annoyances without much danger of retaliation. Graham would usually remain patient up to a certain point, and then, in dismay and astonishment, the offender would suddenly find himself receiving a punishment which he seemed powerless to resist. Blows would fall like hail, or if the combatants closed in the struggle, the aggressor appeared to find in Graham's slight form sinew and fury only. It seemed as if the lad's spirit broke forth in such a flame of indignation that no one could withstand him. It was also remembered that while he was not noted for prowess on the playground, few could surpass him in the gymnasium, and that he took long solitary rambles. Such of his classmates, therefore, as were inclined to quarrel with him because of his unpopular ways soon learned that he kept up his muscle with the best of them, and that, when at last roused, his anger struck like lightning from a cloud.
During the latter part of his college course he gradually formed a strong friendship for a young man of a different type, an ardent sunny-natured youth, who proved an antidote to his morbid tendencies. They went abroad together and studied for two years at a German university, and then Warren Hilland, Graham's friend, having inherited large wealth, returned to his home. Graham, left to himself, delved more and more deeply in certain phases of sceptical philosophy. It appeared to him that in the past men had believed almost everything, and that the heavier the drafts made on credulity the more largely had they been honored. The two friends had long since resolved that the actual and the proved should be the base from which they would advance into the unknown, and they discarded with equal indifference unsubstantiated theories of science and what they were pleased to term the illusions of faith. "From the verge of the known explore the unknown," was their motto, and it had been their hope to spend their lives in extending the outposts of accurate knowledge, in some one or two directions, a little beyond the points already reached. Since the scalpel and microscope revealed no soul in the human mechanism they regarded all theories and beliefs concerning a separate spiritual existence as mere assumption. They accepted the materialistic view. To them each generation was a link in an endless chain, and man himself wholly the product of an evolution which had no relations to a creative mind, for they had no belief in the existence of such a mind. They held that one had only to live wisely and well, and thus transmit the principle of life, not only unvitiated, but strengthened and enlarged. Sins against body and mind were sins against the race, and it was their creed that the stronger, fuller and more nearly complete they made their lives the richer and fuller would be the life that succeeded them. They scouted as utterly unproved and irrational the idea that they could live after death, excepting as the plant lives by adding to the material life and well-being of other plants. But at that time the spring and vigor of youth were in their heart and brain, and it seemed to them a glorious thing to live and do their part in the advancement of the race toward a stage of perfection not dreamed of by the unthinking masses.
Alas for their visions of future achievement! An avalanche of wealth had overwhelmed Hilland. His letters to his friend had grown more and more infrequent, and they contained many traces of the business cares and the distractions inseparable from his possessions and new relations. And now for causes just the reverse Graham also was forsaking his studies. His modest inheritance, invested chiefly in real estate, had so far depreciated that apparently it could not much longer provide for even his frugal life abroad.
"I must give up my chosen career for a life of bread-winning," he had concluded sadly, and he was ready to avail himself of any good opening that offered. Therefore he knew not where his lot would be cast on the broad continent beyond the revolving light that loomed every moment more distinctly in the west.
A few days later found him at the residence of Mrs. Mayburn, a pretty cottage in a suburb of an eastern city. This lady was his aunt by marriage, and had long been a widow. She had never manifested much interest in her nephew, but since she was his nearest relative he felt that he could not do less than call upon her. To his agreeable surprise he found that time had mellowed her spirit and softened her angularities. After the death of her husband she had developed unusual ability to take care of herself, and had shown little disposition to take care of any one else. Her thrift and economy had greatly enhanced her resources, and her investments had been profitable, while the sense of increasing abundance had had a happy effect on her character. Within the past year she had purchased the dwelling in which she now resided, and to which she welcomed Graham with unexpected warmth. So far from permitting him to make simply a formal call, she insisted on an extended visit, and he, divorced from his studies and therefore feeling his isolation more keenly than ever before, assented.
"My home is accessible," she said, "and from this point you can make inquiries and look around for business opportunities quite as well as from a city hotel."
She was so cordial, so perfectly sincere, that for the first time in his life he felt what it was to have kindred and a place in the world that was not purchased.
He had found his financial affairs in a much better condition than he had expected. Some improvements were on foot which promised to advance the value of his real estate so largely as to make him independent, and he was much inclined to return to Germany and resume his studies.
"I will rest and vegetate for a time," he concluded. "I will wait till my friend Hilland returns from the West, and then, when the impulse of work takes possession of me again, I will decide upon my course."
He had come over the ocean to meet his fate, and not the faintest shadow of a presentiment of this truth crossed his mind as he looked tranquilly from his aunt's parlor window at the beautiful May sunset. The cherry blossoms were on the wane, and the light puffs of wind brought the white petals down like flurries of snow; the plum-trees looked as if the snow had clung to every branch and spray, and they were as white as they could have been after some breathless, large- flaked December storm; but the great apple-tree that stood well down the path was the crowning product of May. A more exquisite bloom of pink and white against an emerald foil of tender young leaves could not have existed even in Eden, nor could the breath of Eve have been more sweet than the fragrance exhaled. The air was soft with summer- like mildness, and the breeze that fanned Graham's cheek brought no sense of chilliness. The sunset hour, with its spring beauty, the song of innumerable birds, and especially the strains of a wood-thrush, that, like a prima donna, trilled her melody, clear, sweet and distinct above the feathered chorus, penetrated his soul with subtle and delicious influences. A vague longing for something he had never known or felt, for something that books had never taught, or experimental science revealed, throbbed in his heart. He felt that his life was incomplete, and a deeper sense of isolation came over him than he had ever experienced in foreign cities where every face was strange. Unconsciously he was passing under the most subtle and powerful of all spells, that of spring, when the impulse to mate comes not to the birds alone.
It so happened that he was in just the condition to succumb to this influence. His mental tension was relaxed. He had sat down by the wayside of life to rest awhile. He had found that there was no need that he should bestir himself in money-getting, and his mind refused to return immediately to the deep abstractions of science. It pleaded weariness of the world and of the pros and cons of conflicting theories and questions. He admitted the plea and said:—
"My mind shall rest, and for a few days, possibly weeks, it shall be passively receptive of just such influences as nature and circumstances chance to bring to it. Who knows but that I may gain a deeper insight into the hidden mysteries than if I were delving among the dusty tomes of a university library? For some reason I feel to- night as if I could look at that radiant, fragrant apple-tree and listen to the lullaby of the birds forever. And yet their songs suggest a thought that awakens an odd pain and dissatisfaction. Each one is singing to his mate. Each one is giving expression to an overflowing fulness and completeness of life; and never before have I felt my life so incomplete and isolated.
"I wish Hilland was here. He is such a true friend that his silence is companionship, and his words never jar discordantly. It seems to me that I miss him more to-night than I did during the first days after his departure. It's odd that I should. I wonder if the friendship, the love of a woman could be more to me than that of Hilland. What was that paragraph from Emerson that once struck me so forcibly? My aunt is a woman of solid reading; she must have Emerson. Yes, here in her bookcase, meagre only in the number of volumes it contains, is what I want," and he turned the leaves rapidly until his eyes lighted on the following passage:—
"No man ever forgot the visitations of that power to his heart and brain which created all things new; which was the dawn in him of music, poetry, and art; which made the face of nature radiant with purple light, the morning and the night varied enchantments; when a single tone of one voice could make the heart bound, and the most trivial circumstance associated with one form was put in the amber of memory; when he became all eye when one was present, and all memory when one was gone."
"Emerson never learned that at a university, German or otherwise. He writes as if it were a common human experience, and yet I know no more about it than of the sensations of a man who has lost an arm. I suppose losing one's heart is much the same. As long as a man's limbs are intact he is scarcely conscious of them, but when one is gone it troubles him all the time, although it isn't there. Now when Hilland left me I felt guilty at the ease with which I could forget him in the library and laboratory. I did not become all memory. I knew he was my best, my only friend; he is still; but he is not essential to my life. Clearly, according to Emerson, I am as ignorant as a child of one of the deepest experiences of life, and very probably had better remain so, and yet the hour is playing strange tricks with my fancy."
Thus it may be perceived that Alford Graham was peculiarly open on this deceitful May evening, which promised peace and security, to the impending stroke of fate. Its harbinger first appeared in the form of a white Spitz dog, barking vivaciously under the apple-tree, where a path from a neighboring residence intersected the walk leading from Mrs. Mayburn's cottage to the street. Evidently some one was playing with the little creature, and was pretending to be kept at bay by its belligerent attitude. Suddenly there was a rush and a flutter of white draperies, and the dog retreated toward Graham, barking with still greater excitement. Then the young man saw coming up the path with quick, lithe tread, sudden pauses, and little impetuous dashes at her canine playmate, a being that might have been an emanation from the radiant apple-tree, or, rather, the human embodiment of the blossoming period of the year. Her low wide brow and her neck were snowy white, and no pink petal on the trees above her could surpass the bloom on her cheeks. Her large, dark, lustrous eyes were brimming over with fun, and unconscious of observation, she moved with the natural, unstudied grace of a child.
Graham thought, "No scene of nature is complete without the human element, and now the very genius of the hour and season has appeared;" and he hastily concealed himself behind the curtains, unwilling to lose one glimpse of a picture that made every nerve tingle with pleasure. His first glance had revealed that the fair vision was not a child, but a tall, graceful girl, who happily had not yet passed beyond the sportive impulses of childhood.
Every moment she came nearer, until at last she stood opposite the window. He could see the blue veins branching across her temples, the quick rise and fall of her bosom, caused by rather violent exertion, the wavy outlines of light brown hair that was gathered in a Greek coil at the back of the shapely head. She had the rare combination of dark eyes and light hair which made the lustre of her eyes all the more striking. He never forgot that moment as she stood panting before him on the gravel walk, her girlhood's grace blending so harmoniously with her budding womanhood. For a moment the thought crossed his mind that under the spell of the spring evening his own fancy had created her, and that if he looked away and turned again he would see nothing but the pink and white blossoms, and hear only the jubilant song of the birds.
The Spitz dog, however, could not possibly have any such unsubstantial origin, and this small Cerberus had now entered the room, and was barking furiously at him as an unrecognized stranger. A moment later his vision under the window stood in the doorway. The sportive girl was transformed at once into a well-bred young woman who remarked quietly, "I beg your pardon. I expected to find Mrs. Mayburn here;" and she departed to search for that lady through the house with a prompt freedom which suggested relations of the most friendly intimacy.
Graham's disposition to make his aunt a visit was not at all chilled by the discovery that she had so fair a neighbor. He was conscious of little more than an impulse to form the acquaintance of one who might give a peculiar charm and piquancy to his May-day vacation, and enrich him with an experience that had been wholly wanting in his secluded and studious life. With a smile he permitted the fancy—for he was in a mood for all sorts of fancies on this evening—that if this girl could teach him to interpret Emerson's words, he would make no crabbed resistance. And yet the remote possibility of such an event gave him a sense of security, and prompted him all the more to yield himself for the first time to whatever impressions a young and pretty woman might be able to make upon him. His very disposition toward experiment and analysis inclined him to experiment with himself. Thus it would seem that even the perfect evening, and the vision that had emerged from under the apple-boughs, could not wholly banish a tendency to give a scientific cast to the mood and fancies of the hour.
His aunt now summoned him to the supper-room, where he was formally introduced to Miss Grace St. John, with whom his first meal under his relative's roof was destined to be taken.
As may naturally be supposed, Graham was not well furnished with small talk, and while he had not the proverbial shyness and awkwardness of the student, he was somewhat silent because he knew not what to say. The young guest was entirely at her ease, and her familiarity with the hostess enabled her to chat freely and naturally on topics of mutual interest, thus giving Graham time for those observations to which all are inclined when meeting one who has taken a sudden and strong hold upon the attention.
He speedily concluded that she could not be less than nineteen or twenty years of age, and that she was not what he would term a society girl—a type that he had learned to recognize from not a few representatives of his countrywomen whom he had seen abroad, rather than from much personal acquaintance. It should not be understood that he had shunned society altogether, and his position had ever entitled him to enter the best; but the young women whom it had been his fortune to meet had failed to interest him as completely as he had proved himself a bore to them. Their worlds were too widely separated for mutual sympathy; and after brief excursions among the drawing- rooms to which Hilland had usually dragged him, he returned to his books with a deeper satisfaction and content. Would his acquaintance with Miss St. John lead to a like result? He was watching and waiting to see, and she had the advantage—if it was an advantage—of making a good first impression.
Every moment increased this predisposition in her favor. She must have known that she was very attractive, for few girls reach her age without attaining such knowledge; but her observer, and in a certain sense her critic, could not detect the faintest trace of affectation or self-consciousness. Her manner, her words, and even their accent seemed unstudied, unpracticed, and unmodelled after any received type. Her glance was peculiarly open and direct, and from the first she gave Graham the feeling that she was one who might be trusted absolutely. That she had tact and kindliness also was evidenced by the fact that she did not misunderstand or resent his comparative silence. At first, after learning that he had lived much abroad, her manner toward him had been a little shy and wary, indicating that she may have surmised that his reticence was the result of a certain kind of superiority which travelled men—especially young men—often assume when meeting those whose lives are supposed to have a narrow horizon; but she quickly discovered that Graham had no foreign-bred pre-eminence to parade—that he wanted to talk with her if he could only find some common subject of interest. This she supplied by taking him to ground with which he was perfectly familiar, for she asked him to tell her something about university life in Germany. On such a theme he could converse well, and before long a fire of eager questions proved that he had not only a deeply interested listener but also a very intelligent one.
Mrs. Mayburn smiled complacently, for she had some natural desire that her nephew should make a favorable impression. In regard to Miss St. John she had long ceased to have any misgivings, and the approval that she saw in Graham's eyes was expected as a matter of course. This approval she soon developed into positive admiration by leading her favorite to speak of her own past.
"Grace, you must know, Alford, is the daughter of an army officer, and has seen some odd phases of life at the various military stations where her father has been on duty."
These words piqued Graham's curiosity at once, and he became the questioner. His own frank effort to entertain was now rewarded, and the young girl, possessing easy and natural powers of description, gave sketches of life at military posts which to Graham had more than the charm of novelty. Unconsciously she was accounting for herself. In the refined yet unconventional society of officers and their wives she had acquired the frank manner so peculiarly her own. But the characteristic which won Graham's interest most strongly was her abounding mirthfulness. It ran through all her words like a golden thread. The instinctive craving of every nature is for that which supplements itself, and Graham found something so genial in Miss St. John's ready smile and laughing eyes, which suggested an over-full fountain of joyousness within, that his heart, chilled and repressed from childhood, began to give signs of its existence, even during the first hour of their acquaintance. It is true, as we have seen, that he was in a very receptive condition, but then a smile, a glance that is like warm sunshine, is never devoid of power.
The long May twilight had faded, and they were still lingering over the supper-table, when a middle-aged colored woman in a flaming red turban appeared in the doorway and said, "Pardon, Mis' Mayburn; I'se a-hopin' you'll 'scuse me. I jes step over to tell Miss Grace dat de major's po'ful oneasy,—'spected you back afo'."
The girl arose with alacrity, saying, "Mr. Graham, you have brought me into danger, and must now extricate me. Papa is an inveterate whist- player, and you have put my errand here quite out of my mind. I didn't come for the sake of your delicious muffins altogether"—with a nod at her hostess; "our game has been broken up, you know, Mrs. Mayburn, by the departure of Mrs. Weeks and her daughter. You have often played a good hand with us, and papa thought you would come over this evening, and that you, from your better acquaintance with our neighbors, might know of some one who enjoyed the game sufficiently to join us quite often. Mr. Graham, you must be the one I am seeking. A gentleman versed in the lore of two continents certainly understands whist, or, at least, can penetrate its mysteries at a single sitting."
"Suppose I punish the irony of your concluding words," Graham replied, "by saying that I know just enough about the game to be aware how much skill is required to play with such a veteran as your father?"
"If you did you would punish papa also, who is innocent."
"That cannot be thought of, although, in truth, I play but an indifferent game. If you will make amends by teaching me I will try to perpetrate as few blunders as possible."
"Indeed, sir, you forget. You are to make amends for keeping me talking here, forgetful of filial duty, by giving me a chance to teach you. You are to be led meekly in as a trophy by which I am to propitiate my stern parent, who has military ideas of promptness and obedience."
"What if he should place me under arrest?"
"Then Mrs. Mayburn and I will become your jailers, and we shall keep you here until you are one of the most accomplished whist-players in the land."
"If you will promise to stand guard over me some of the time I will submit to any conditions."
"You are already making one condition, and may think of a dozen more. It will be better to parole you with the understanding that you are to put in an appearance at the hour for whist;" and with similar light talk they went down the walk under the apple-boughs, whence in Graham's fancy the fair girl had had her origin. As they passed under the shadow he saw the dusky outline of a rustic seat leaning against the bole of the tree, and he wondered if he should ever induce his present guide through the darkened paths to come there some moonlight evening, and listen to the fancies which her unexpected appearance had occasioned. The possibility of such an event in contrast with its far greater improbability caused him to sigh, and then he smiled broadly at himself in the darkness.
When they had passed a clump of evergreens, a lighted cottage presented itself, and Miss St. John sprang lightly up the steps, pushed open the hall door, and cried through the open entrance to a cosey apartment, "No occasion for hostilities, papa. I have made a capture that gives the promise of whist not only this evening but also for several more to come."
As Graham and Mrs. Mayburn entered, a tall, white-haired man lifted his foot from off a cushion, and rose with some little difficulty, but having gained his feet, his bearing was erect and soldier-like, and his courtesy perfect, although toward Mrs. Mayburn it was tinged with the gallantry of a former generation. Some brief explanations followed, and then Major St. John turned upon Graham the dark eyes which his daughter had inherited, and which seemed all the more brilliant in contrast with his frosty eyebrows, and said genially, "It is very kind of you to be willing to aid in beguiling an old man's tedium." Turning to his daughter he added a little querulously, "There must be a storm brewing, Grace," and he drew in his breath as if in pain.
"Does your wound trouble you to-night, papa?" she asked gently.
"Yes, just as it always does before a storm."
"It is perfectly clear without," she resumed. "Perhaps the room has become a little cold. The evenings are still damp and chilly;" and she threw two or three billets of wood on the open fire, kindling a blaze that sprang cheerily up the chimney.
The room seemed to be a combination of parlor and library, and it satisfied Graham's ideal of a living apartment. Easy-chairs of various patterns stood here and there and looked as if constructed by the very genius of comfort. A secretary in the corner near a window was open, suggesting absent friends and the pleasure of writing to them amid such agreeable surroundings. Again Graham queried, prompted by the peculiar influences that had gained the mastery on this tranquil but eventful evening, "Will Miss St. John ever sit there penning words straight from her heart to me?"
He was brought back to prose and reality by the major. Mrs. Mayburn had been condoling with him, and he now turned and said, "I hope, my dear sir, that you may never carry around such a barometer as I am afflicted with. A man with an infirmity grows a little egotistical, if not worse."
"You have much consolation, sir, in remembering how you came by your infirmity," Graham replied. "Men bearing such proofs of service to their country are not plentiful in our money-getting land."
His daughter's laugh rang out musically as she cried, "That was meant to be a fine stroke of diplomacy. Papa, you will now have to pardon a score of blunders."
"I have as yet no proof that any will be made," the major remarked, and in fact Graham had underrated his acquaintance with the game. He was quite equal to his aunt in proficiency, and with Miss St. John for his partner he was on his mettle. He found her skilful indeed, quick, penetrating, and possessed of an excellent memory. They held their own so well that the major's spirits rose hourly. He forgot his wound in the complete absorption of his favorite recreation.
As opportunity occurred Graham could not keep his eyes from wandering here and there about the apartment that had so taken his fancy, especially toward the large, well-filled bookcase and the pictures, which, if not very expensive, had evidently been the choice of a cultivated taste.
They were brought to a consciousness of the flight of time by a clock chiming out the hour of eleven, and the old soldier with a sigh of regret saw Mrs. Mayburn rise. Miss St. John touched a silver bell, and a moment later the same negress who had reminded her of her father's impatience early in the evening entered with a tray bearing a decanter of wine, glasses, and some wafer-like cakes.
"Have I earned the indulgence of a glance at your books?" Graham asked.
"Yes, indeed," Miss St. John replied; "your martyr-like submission shall be further rewarded by permission to borrow any of them while in town. I doubt, however, if you will find them profound enough for your taste."
"I shall take all point from your irony by asking if you think one can relish nothing but intellectual roast beef. I am enjoying one of your delicate cakes. You must have an excellent cook."
"Papa says he has, in the line of cake and pastry; but then he is partial,"
"What! did you make them?"
"Oh, I'm not objecting. Did my manners permit, I'd empty the plate. Still, I was under the impression that young ladies were not adepts in this sort of thing."
"You have been abroad so long that you may have to revise many of your impressions. Of course retired army officers are naturally in a condition to import chefs de cuisine, but then we like to keep up the idea of republican simplicity."
"Could you be so very kind as to induce your father to ask me to make one of your evening quartette as often as possible?"
"The relevancy of that request is striking. Was it suggested by the flavor of the cakes? I sometimes forget to make them."
"Their absence would not prevent my taste from being gratified if you will permit me to come. Here is a marked volume of Emerson's works. May I take it for a day or two?"
She blushed slightly, hesitated perceptibly, and then said, "Yes."
"Alford," broke in his aunt, "you students have the name of being great owls, but for an old woman of my regular habits it's getting late."
"My daughter informs me," the major remarked to Graham in parting, "that we may be able to induce you to take a hand with us quite often. If you should ever become as old and crippled as I am you will know how to appreciate such kindness.'"
"Indeed, sir, Miss St. John must testify that I asked to share your game as a privilege. I can scarcely remember to have passed so pleasant an evening."
"Mrs. Mayburn, do try to keep him in this amiable frame of mind," cried the girl.
"I think I shall need your aid," said that lady, with a smile. "Come, Alford, it is next to impossible to get you away."
"Papa's unfortunate barometer will prove correct, I fear," said Miss St. John, following them out on the piazza, for a thin scud was already veiling the stars, and there was an ominous moan of the wind.
"To-morrow will be a stormy day," remarked Mrs. Mayburn, who prided herself on her weather wisdom.
"I'm sorry," Miss St. John continued, "for it will spoil our fairy world of blossoms, and I am still more sorry for papa's sake."
"Should the day prove a long, dismal, rainy one," Graham ventured, "may I not come over and help entertain your father?"
"Yes," said the girl, earnestly. "It cannot seem strange to you that time should often hang heavily on his hands, and I am grateful to any one who helps me to enliven his hours."
Before Graham repassed under the apple-tree boughs he had fully decided to win at least Miss St. John's gratitude.
THE VERDICT OF A SAGE
When Graham reached his room he was in no mood for sleep. At first he lapsed into a long revery over the events of the evening, trivial in themselves, and yet for some reason holding a controlling influence over his thoughts. Miss St. John was a new revelation of womanhood to him, and for the first time in his life his heart had been stirred by a woman's tones and glances. A deep chord in his nature vibrated when she spoke and smiled. What did it mean? He had followed his impulse to permit this stranger to make any impression within her power, and he found that she had decidedly interested him. As he tried to analyze her power he concluded that it lay chiefly in the mirthfulness, the joyousness of her spirit. She quickened his cool, deliberate pulse. Her smile was not an affair of facial muscles, but had a vivifying warmth. It made him suspect that his life was becoming cold and self- centred, that he was missing the deepest and best experiences of an existence that was brief indeed at best, and, as he believed, soon ceased forever. The love of study and ambition had sufficed thus far, but actuated by his own materialistic creed he was bound to make the most of life while it lasted. According to Emerson he was as yet but in the earlier stages of evolution, and his highest manhood wholly undeveloped. Had not "music, poetry, and art" dawned in his mind? Was nature but a mechanism after whose laws he had been groping like an anatomist who finds in the godlike form bone and tissue merely? As he had sat watching the sunset a few hours previous, the element of beauty had been present to him as never before. Could this sense of beauty become so enlarged that the world would be transfigured, "radiant with purple light"? Morning had often brought to him weariness from sleepless hours during which he had racked his brain over problems too deep for him, and evening had found him still baffled, disappointed, and disposed to ask in view of his toil, Cui bono? What ground had Emerson for saying that these same mornings and evenings might be filled with "varied enchantments"? The reason, the cause of these unknown conditions of life, was given unmistakably. The Concord sage had virtually asserted that he, Alford Graham, would never truly exist until his one-sided masculine nature had been supplemented by the feminine soul which alone could give to his being completeness and the power to attain his full development.
"Well," he soliloquized, laughing, "I have not been aware that hitherto I have been only a mollusk, a polyp of a man. I am inclined to think that Emerson's 'Pegasus' took the bit—got the better of him on one occasion; but if there is any truth in what he writes it might not be a bad idea to try a little of the kind of evolution that he suggests and see what comes of it. I am already confident that I could see infinitely more than I do if I could look at the world through Miss St. John's eyes as well as my own, but I run no slight risk in obtaining that vision. Her eyes are stars that must have drawn worshippers, not only from the east, but from every point of the compass. I should be in a sorry plight if I should become 'all memory,' and from my fair divinity receive as sole response, 'Please forget.' If the philosopher could guarantee that she also would be 'all eye and all memory,' one might indeed covet Miss St. John as the teacher of the higher mysteries. Life is not very exhilarating at best, but for a man to set his heart on such a woman as this girl promises to be, and then be denied—why, he had better remain a polyp. Come, come, Alford Graham, you have had your hour of sentiment—out of deference to Mr. Emerson I won't call it weakness—and it's time you remembered that you are a comparatively poor man, that Miss St. John has already been the choice of a score at least, and probably has made her own choice. I shall therefore permit no delusions and the growth of no false hopes."
Having reached this prudent conclusion, Graham yawned, smiled at the unwonted mood in which he had indulged, and with the philosophic purpose of finding an opiate in the pages that had contained one paragraph rather too exciting, he took up the copy of Emerson that he had borrowed. The book fell open, indicating that some one had often turned to the pages before him. One passage was strongly marked on either side and underscored. With a laugh he saw that it was the one he had been dwelling upon—"No man ever forgot," etc.
"Now I know why she blushed slightly and hesitated to lend me this volume," he thought. "I suppose I may read in this instance, 'No woman ever forgot.' Of course, it would be strange if she had not learned to understand these words. What else has she marked?"
Here and there were many delicate marginal lines indicating approval and interest, but they were so delicate as to suggest that the strong scoring of the significant passage was not the work of Miss St. John, but rather of some heavy masculine hand. This seemed to restore the original reading, "No man ever forgot," and some man had apparently tried to inform her by his emphatic lines that he did not intend to forget.
"Well, suppose he does not and cannot," Graham mused. "That fact places her under no obligations to be 'all eye and memory' for him. And yet her blush and hesitancy and the way the book falls open at this passage look favorable for him. I can win her gratitude by amusing the old major, and with that, no doubt, I shall have to be content."
This limitation of his chances caused Graham so little solicitude that he was soon sleeping soundly.
WARNING OR INCENTIVE?
The next morning proved that the wound which Major St. John had received in the Mexican War was a correct barometer. From a leaden, lowering sky the rain fell steadily, and a chilly wind was fast dismantling the trees of their blossoms. The birds had suspended their nest-building, and but few had the heart to sing.
"You seem to take a very complacent view of the dreary prospect without," Mrs. Mayburn remarked, as Graham came smilingly into the breakfast-room and greeted her with a cheerful note in his tones. "Such a day as this means rheumatism for me and an aching leg for Major St. John."
"I am very sorry, aunt," he replied, "but I cannot help remembering also that it is not altogether an ill wind, for it will blow me over into a cosey parlor and very charming society—that is, if Miss St. John will give me a little aid in entertaining her father."
"So we old people don't count for anything."
"That doesn't follow at all. I would do anything in my power to banish your rheumatism and the major's twinges, but how was it with you both at my age? I can answer for the major. If at that time he knew another major with such a daughter as blesses his home, his devotion to the preceding veteran was a little mixed."
"Are you so taken by Miss St. John?"
"I have not the slightest hope of being taken by her."
"You know what I mean?"
"Yes, but I wished to suggest my modest hopes and expectations so that you may have no anxieties if I avail myself, during my visit, of the chance of seeing what I can of an unusually fine girl. Acquaintance with such society is the part of my education most sadly neglected. Nevertheless, you will find me devotedly at your service whenever you will express your wishes."
"Do not imagine that I am disposed to find fault. Grace is a great favorite of mine. She is a good old-fashioned girl, not one of your vain, heartless, selfish creatures with only a veneer of good breeding. I see her almost every day, either here or in her own home, and I know her well. You have seen that she is fitted to shine anywhere, but it is for her home qualities that I love and admire her most. Her father is crippled and querulous; indeed he is often exceedingly irritable. Everything must please him or else he is inclined to storm as he did in his regiment, and occasionally he emphasizes his words without much regard to the third commandment. But his gusts of anger are over quickly, and a kinder-hearted and more upright man never lived. Of course American servants won't stand harsh words. They want to do all the fault-finding, and the poor old gentleman would have a hard time of it were it not for Grace. She knows how to manage both him and them, and that colored woman you saw wouldn't leave him if he beat and swore at her every day. She was a slave in the family of Grace's mother, who was a Southern lady, and the major gave the poor creature her liberty when he brought his wife to the North. Grace is sunshine embodied. She makes her old, irritable, and sometimes gouty father happy in spite of himself. It was just like her to accept of your offer last evening, for to banish all dullness from her father's life seems her constant thought. So if you wish to grow in the young lady's favor don't be so attentive to her as to neglect the old gentleman."
Graham listened to this good-natured gossip with decided interest, feeling that it contained valuable suggestions. The response seemed scarcely relevant. "When is she to be married?" he asked.
"Yes. It is a wonder that such a paragon has escaped thus long."
"You have lived abroad too much," said his aunt satirically. "American girls are not married out of hand at a certain age. They marry when they please or not at all if they please. Grace easily escapes marriage."
"Not from want of suitors, I'm sure."
"You are right there."
"By saying, 'No, I thank you.' You can easily learn how very effectual such a quiet negative is, if you choose."
"Indeed! Am I such a very undesirable party?" said Graham, laughing, for he heartily enjoyed his aunt's brusque way of talking, having learned already the kindliness it masked.
"Not in my eyes. I can't speak for Grace. She'd marry you if she loved you, and were you the Czar of all the Russias you wouldn't have the ghost of a chance unless she did. I know that she has refused more than one fortune. She seems perfectly content to live with her father, until the one prince having the power to awaken her appears. When he comes rest assured she'll follow him, and also be assured that she'll take her father with her, and to a selfish, exacting Turk of a husband he might prove an old man of the sea. And yet I doubt it. Grace would manage any one. Not that she has much management either. She simply laughs, smiles, and talks every one into good humor. Her mirthfulness, her own happiness, is so genuine that it is contagious. Suppose you exchange duties and ask her to come over and enliven me while you entertain her father," concluded the old lady mischievously.
"I would not dare to face such a fiery veteran as you have described alone."
"I knew you would have some excuse. Well, be on your guard. Grace will make no effort to capture you, and therefore you will be in all the more danger of being captured. If you lose your heart in vain to her you will need more than German philosophy to sustain you."
"I have already made to myself in substance your last remark."
"I know you are not a lady's man, and perhaps for that very reason you are all the more liable to an acute attack."
Graham laughed as he rose from the table, and asked, "Should I ever venture to lay siege to Miss St. John, would I not have your blessing?"
"Yes, and more than my blessing."
"What do you mean by more than your blessing?"
"I shall not commit myself until you commit yourself, and I do not wish you to take even the first step without appreciating the risk of the venture."
"Why, bless you, aunt," said Graham, now laughing heartily, "how seriously you take it! I have spent but one evening with the girl."
The old lady nodded her head significantly as she replied, "I have not lived to my time of life without learning a thing or two. My memory also has not failed as yet. There were young men who looked at me once just as you looked at Grace last evening, and I know what came of it in more than one instance. You are safe now, and you may be invulnerable, although it does not look like it; but if you can see much of Grace St. John and remain untouched you are unlike most men."
"I have always had the name of being that, you know. But as the peril is so great had I not better fly at once?"
"Yes, I think we both have had the name of being a little peculiar, and my brusque, direct way of coming right to the point is one of my peculiarities. I am very intimate with the St. Johns, and am almost as fond of Grace as if she were my own child. So of course you can see a great deal of her if you wish, and this arrangement about whist will add to your opportunities. I know what young men are, and I know too what often happens when their faces express as much admiration and interest as yours did last night. What's more," continued the energetic old lady with an emphatic tap on the floor with her foot, and a decided nod of her head, "if I were a young man, Grace would have to marry some one else to get rid of me. Now I've had my say, and my conscience is clear, whatever happens. As to flight, why, you must settle that question, but I am sincere and cordial in my request that you make your home with me until you decide upon your future course."
Graham was touched, and he took his aunt's hand as he said, "I thank you for your kindness, and more than all for your downright sincerity. When I came here it was to make but a formal call. With the exception of one friend, I believed that I stood utterly alone in the world— that no one cared about what I did or what became of me. I was accustomed to isolation and thought I was content with it, but I find it more pleasant than I can make you understand to know there is one place in the world to which I can come, not as a stranger to an inn, but as one that is received for other than business considerations. Since you have been so frank with me I will be equally outspoken;" and he told her just how he was situated, and what were his plans and hopes. "Now that I know there is no necessity of earning my livelihood," he concluded, "I shall yield to my impulse to rest awhile, and then quite probably resume my studies here or abroad until I can obtain a position suited to my plans and taste. I thank you for your note of alarm in regard to Miss St. John, although I must say that to my mind there is more of incentive than of warning in your words. I think I can at least venture on a few reconnoissances, as the major might say, before I beat a retreat. Is it too early to make one now?"
Mrs. Mayburn smiled. "No," she said, laconically,
"I see that you think my reconnoissance will lead to a siege," Graham added. "Well, I can at least promise that there shall be no rash movements."
Graham, smiling at his aunt and still more amused at himself, started to pay his morning visit. "Yesterday afternoon," he thought, "I expected to make but a brief call on an aunt who was almost a stranger to me, and now I am domiciled under her roof indefinitely. She has introduced me to a charming girl, and in an ostensible warning shrewdly inserted the strongest incentives to venture everything, hinting at the same time that if I succeeded she would give me more than her blessing. What a vista of possibilities has opened since I crossed her threshold! A brief time since I was buried in German libraries, unaware of the existence of Miss St. John, and forgetting that of my aunt. Apparently I have crossed the ocean to meet them both, for had I remained abroad a few days longer, letters on the way would have prevented my returning. Of course it is all chance, but a curious chance. I don't wonder that people are often superstitious; and yet a moment's reasoning proves the absurdity of this sort of thing. Nothing truly strange often happens, and only our egotism invests events of personal interest with a trace of the marvellous. My business man neglected to advise me of my improved finances as soon as he might have done. My aunt receives me, not as I expected, but as one would naturally hope to be met by a relative. She has a fair young neighbor with whom she is intimate, and whom I meet as a matter of course, and as a matter of course I can continue to meet her as long as I choose without becoming 'all eye and all memory.' Surely a man can enjoy the society of any woman without the danger my aunt suggests and—as I half believe—would like to bring about. What signify my fancies of last evening? We often enjoy imagining what might be without ever intending it shall be. At any rate, I shall not sigh for Miss St. John or any other woman until satisfied that I should not sigh in vain. The probabilities are therefore that I shall never sigh at all."
As he approached Major St. John's dwelling he saw the object of his thoughts standing by the window and reading a letter. A syringa shrub partially concealed him and his umbrella, and he could not forbear pausing a moment to note what a pretty picture she made. A sprig of white flowers was in her light wavy hair, and another fastened by her breastpin drooped over her bosom. Her morning wrapper was of the hue of the sky that lay back of the leaden clouds. A heightened color mantled her cheeks, her lips were parted with a smile, and her whole face was full of delighted interest.
"By Jove!" muttered Graham. "Aunt Mayburn is half right, I believe. A man must have the pulse of an anchorite to look often at such a vision as that and remain untouched. One might easily create a divinity out of such a creature, and then find it difficult not to worship. I could go away now and make her my ideal, endowing her with all impossible attributes of perfection. Very probably fuller acquaintance will prove that she is made of clay not differing materially from that of other womankind. I envy her correspondent, however, and would be glad if I could write a letter that would bring such an expression to her face. Well, I am reconnoitring true enough, and had better not be detected in the act;" and he stepped rapidly forward.
She recognized him with a piquant little nod and smile. The letter was folded instantly, and a moment later she opened the door for him herself, saying, "Since I have seen you and you have come on so kind an errand I have dispensed with the formality of sending a servant to admit you."
"Won't you shake hands as a further reward?" he asked. "You will find me very mercenary."
"Oh, certainly. Pardon the oversight. I should have done so without prompting since it is so long since we have met."
"And having known each other so long also," he added in the same light vein, conscious meantime that he held a hand that was as full of vitality as it was shapely and white.
"Indeed," she replied; "did last evening seem an age to you?"
"I tried to prolong it, for you must remember that my aunt said that she could not get me away; and this morning I was indiscreet enough to welcome the rain, at which she reminded me of her rheumatism and your father's wound."
"And at which I also hope you had a twinge or two of conscience. Papa," she added, leading the way into the parlor, "here is Mr. Graham. It was his fascinating talk about life in Germany that so delayed me last evening."
The old gentleman started out of a doze, and his manner proved that he welcomed any break in the monotony of the day. "You will pardon my not rising," he said; "this confounded weather is playing the deuce with my leg."
Graham was observant as he joined in a general condemnation of the weather; and the manner in which Miss St. John rearranged the cushion on which her father's foot rested, coaxed the fire into a more cheerful blaze, and bestowed other little attentions, proved beyond a doubt that all effort in behalf of the suffering veteran would be appreciated. Nor was he so devoid of a kindly good-nature himself as to anticipate an irksome task, and he did his utmost to discover the best methods of entertaining his host. The effort soon became remunerative, for the major had seen much of life, and enjoyed reference to his experiences. Graham found that he could be induced to fight his battles over again, but always with very modest allusion to himself. In the course of their talk it also became evident that he was a man of somewhat extensive reading, and the daily paper must have been almost literally devoured to account for his acquaintance with contemporary affairs. The daughter was often not a little amused at Graham's blank looks as her father broached topics of American interest which to the student from abroad were as little known or understood as the questions which might have been agitating the inhabitants of Jupiter. Most ladies would have been politely oblivious of her guest's blunders and infelicitous remarks, but Miss St. John had a frank, merry way of recognizing them, and yet malice and ridicule were so entirely absent from her words and ways that Graham soon positively enjoyed being laughed at, and much preferred her delicate open raillery, which gave him a chance to defend himself, to a smiling mask that would leave him in uncertainty as to the fitness of his replies. There was a subtle flattery also in this course, for she treated him as one capable of holding his own, and not in need of social charity and protection. With pleasure he recognized that she was adopting toward him something of the same sportive manner which characterized her relations with his aunt, and which also indicated that as Mrs. Mayburn's nephew he had met with a reception which would not have been accorded to one less favorably introduced.
How vividly in after years Graham remembered that rainy May morning! He could always call up before him, like a vivid picture, the old major with his bushy white eyebrows and piercing black eyes, the smoke from his meerschaum creating a sort of halo around his gray head, the fine, venerable face often drawn by pain which led to half-muttered imprecations that courtesy to his guest and daughter could not wholly suppress. How often he saw again the fire curling softly from the hearth with a contented crackle, as if pleased to be once more an essential to the home from which the advancing summer would soon banish it! He could recall every article of the furniture with which he afterward became so familiar. But that which was engraven on his memory forever was a fair young girl sitting by the window with a background of early spring greenery swaying to and fro in the storm. Long afterward, when watching on the perilous picket line or standing in his place on the battlefield, he would close his eyes that he might recall more vividly the little white hands deftly crocheting on some feminine mystery, and the mirthful eyes that often glanced from it to him as the quiet flow of their talk rippled on. A rill, had it conscious life, would never forget the pebble that deflected its course from one ocean to another; human life as it flows onward cannot fail to recognize events, trivial in themselves, which nevertheless gave direction to all the future.
Graham admitted to himself that he had found a charm at this fireside which he had never enjoyed elsewhere in society—the pleasure of being perfectly at ease. There was a genial frankness and simplicity in his entertainers which banished restraint, and gave him a sense of security. He felt instinctively that there were no adverse currents of mental criticism and detraction, that they were loyal to him as their invited guest, notwithstanding jest, banter, and good-natured satire.
The hours had vanished so swiftly that he was at a loss to account for them. Miss St. John was a natural foe to dulness of all kinds, and this too without any apparent effort. Indeed, we are rarely entertained by evident and deliberate exertion. Pleasurable exhilaration in society is obtained from those who impart, like warmth, their own spontaneous vivacity. Miss St. John's smile was an antidote for a rainy day, and he was loath to pass from its genial power out under the dripping clouds. Following an impulse, he said to the girl, "You are more than a match for the weather."
These words were spoken in the hall after he had bidden adieu to the major.
"If you meant a compliment it is a very doubtful one," she replied, laughing. "Do you mean that I am worse than the weather which gives papa the horrors, and Mrs. Mayburn the rheumatism?"
"And me one of the most delightful mornings I ever enjoyed," he added, interrupting her. "You were in league with your wood fire. The garish sunshine of a warm day robs a house of all cosiness and snugness. Instead of being depressed by the storm and permitting others to be dull, you have the art of making the clouds your foil."
"Possibly I may appear to some advantage against such a dismal background," she admitted.
"My meaning is interpreted by my unconscionably long visit. I now must reluctantly retreat into the dismal background."
"A rather well-covered retreat, as papa might say, but you will need your umbrella all the same;" for he, in looking back at the archly smiling girl, had neglected to open it.
"I am glad it is not a final retreat," he called back. "I shall return this evening reinforced by my aunt."
"Well," exclaimed that lady when he appeared before her, "lunch has been waiting ten minutes or more."
"I feared as much," he replied, shaking his head ruefully.
"What kept you?"
"Miss St. John."
"Not the major? I thought you went to entertain him?"
"So I did, but man proposes—"
"Oh, not yet, I hope," cried the old lady with assumed dismay. "I thought you promised to do nothing rash."
"You are more precipitate than I have been. All that I propose is to enjoy my vacation and the society of your charming friend."
"The major?" she suggested.
"A natural error on your part, for I perceived he was very gallant to you. After your remarks, however, you cannot think it strange that I found the daughter more interesting—so interesting indeed that I have kept you waiting for lunch. I'll not repeat the offence any oftener than I can help. At the same time I find that I have not lost my appetite, or anything else that I am aware of."
"How did Grace appear?" his aunt asked as they sat down to lunch.
"Then not like any one else you know?"
"We agree here perfectly."
"You have no fear?"
"No, nor any hopes that I am conscious of. Can I not admire your paragon to your heart's content without insisting that she bestow upon me the treasures of her life? Miss St. John has a frank, cordial manner all her own, and I think also that for your sake she has received me rather graciously, but I should be blind indeed did I not recognize that it would require a siege to win her; and that would be useless, as you said, unless her own heart prompted the surrender. I have heard and read that many women are capable of passing fancies of which adroit suitors can take advantage, and they are engaged or married before fully comprehending what it all means. Were Miss St. John of this class I should still hesitate to venture, for nothing in my training has fitted me to take an advantage of a lady's mood. I don't think your favorite is given to fancies. She is too well poised. Her serene, laughing confidence, her more than content, comes either from a heart already happily given, or else from a nature so sound and healthful that life in itself is an unalloyed joy. She impresses me as the happiest being I ever met, and as such it is a delight to be in her presence; but if I should approach her as a lover, something tells me that I should find her like a snowy peak, warm and rose-tinted in the sunlight, as seen in the distance, but growing cold as you draw near. There may be subterranean fires, but they would manifest themselves from some inward impulse. At least I do not feel conscious of any power to awaken them."
Mrs. Mayburn shook her head ominously.
"You are growing very fanciful," she said, "which is a sign, if not a bad one. Your metaphors, too, are so farfetched and extravagant as to indicate the earliest stages of the divine madness. Do you mean to suggest that Grace will break forth like a volcano on some fortuitous man? If that be your theory you would stand as good a chance as any one. She might break forth on you."
"I have indeed been unfortunate in my illustration, since you can so twist my words even in jest. Here's plain enough prose for you. No amount of wooing would make the slightest difference unless by some law or impulse of her own nature Miss St. John was compelled to respond."
"Isn't that true of every woman?"
"I don't think it is."
"How is it that you are so versed in the mysteries of the feminine soul?"
"I have not lived altogether the life of a monk, and the history of the world is the history of women as well as of men. I am merely giving the impression that has been made upon me."
PHILOSOPHY AT FAULT
If Mrs. Mayburn had fears that her nephew's peace would be affected by his exposure to the fascinations of Miss St. John, they were quite allayed by his course for the next two or three weeks. If she had indulged the hope that he would speedily be carried away by the charms which seemed to her irresistible, and so give the chance of a closer relationship with her favorite, she saw little to encourage such a hope beyond Graham's evident enjoyment in the young girl's society, and his readiness to seek it on all fitting occasions. He played whist assiduously, and appeared to enjoy the game. He often spent two or three hours with the major during the day, and occasionally beguiled the time by reading aloud to him, but the element of gallantry toward the daughter seemed wanting, and the aunt concluded, "No woman can rival a book in Alford's heart—that is, if he has one—and he is simply studying Grace as if she were a book. There is one symptom, however, that needs explanation—he is not so ready to talk about her as at first, and I don't believe that indifference is the cause."
She was right: indifference was not the cause. Graham's interest in Miss St. John was growing deeper every day, but the stronger the hold she gained upon his thoughts, the less inclined was he to speak of her. He was the last man in the world to be carried away by a Romeo- like gust of passion, and no amount of beauty could hold his attention an hour, did not the mind ray through it with a sparkle and power essentially its own.
Miss St. John had soon convinced him that she could do more than look sweetly and chatter. She could not only talk to a university-bred man, but also tell him much that was new. He found his peer, not in his lines of thought, but in her own, and he was so little of an egotist that he admired her all the more because she knew what he did not, and could never become an echo of himself. In her world she had been an intelligent observer and thinker, and she interpreted that world to him as naturally and unassumingly as a flower blooms and exhales its fragrance. For the first time in his life he gave himself up to the charm of a cultivated woman's society, and to do this in his present leisure seemed the most sensible thing possible.
"One can see a rare flower," he had reasoned, "without wishing to pluck it, or hear a wood-thrush sing without straightway thinking of a cage. Miss St. John's affections may be already engaged, or I may be the last person in the world to secure them. Idle fancies of what she might become to me are harmless enough. Any man is prone to indulge in these when seeing a woman who pleases his taste and kindles his imagination. When it comes to practical action one may expect and desire nothing more than the brightening of one's wits and the securing of agreeable pastime. I do not see why I should not be entirely content with these motives, until my brief visit is over, notwithstanding my aunt's ominous warnings;" and so without any misgivings he had at first yielded himself to all the spells that Miss St. John might unconsciously weave.
As time passed, however, he began to doubt whether he could maintain his cool, philosophic attitude of enjoyment. He found himself growing more and more eager for the hours to return when he could seek her society, and the intervening time was becoming dull and heavy-paced. The impulse to go back to Germany and to resume his studies was slow in coming. Indeed, he was at last obliged to admit to himself that a game of whist with the old major had more attractions than the latest scientific treatise. Not that he doted on the irascible veteran, but because he thus secured a fair partner whose dark eyes were beaming with mirth and intelligence, whose ever-springing fountain of happiness was so full that even in the solemnity of the game it found expression in little piquant gestures, brief words, and smiles that were like glints of sunshine. Her very presence lifted him to a higher plane, and gave a greater capacity for enjoyment, and sometimes simply an arch smile or an unexpected tone set his nerves vibrating in a manner as delightful as it was unexplainable by any past experience that he could recall. She was a good walker and horsewoman, and as their acquaintance ripened he began to ask permission to join her in her rides and rambles. She assented without the slightest hesitancy, but he soon found that she gave him no exclusive monopoly of these excursions, and that he must share them with other young men. Her absences from home were always comparatively brief, however, and that which charmed him most was her sunny devotion to her invalid and often very irritable father. She was the antidote to his age and to his infirmities of body and temper. While she was away the world in general, and his own little sphere in particular, tended toward a hopeless snarl. Jinny, the colored servant, was subserviency itself, but her very obsequiousness irritated him, although her drollery was at times diverting. It was usually true, however, that but one touch and one voice could soothe the jangling nerves. As Graham saw this womanly magic, which apparently cost no more effort than the wood fire put forth in banishing chilliness and discomfort, the thought would come, "Blessed will be the man who can win her as the light and life of his home!"
When days passed, and no one seemed to have a greater place in her thoughts and interest than himself, was it unnatural that the hope should dawn that she might create a home for him? If she had a favored suitor his aunt would be apt to know of it. She did not seem ambitious, or disposed to invest her heart so that it might bring fortune and social eminence. Never by word or sign had she appeared to chafe at her father's modest competency, but with tact and skill, taught undoubtedly by army experience, she made their slender income yield the essentials of comfort and refinement, and seemed quite indifferent to non-essentials. Graham could never hope to possess wealth, but he found in Miss St. John a woman who could impart to his home the crowning grace of wealth—simple, unostentatious elegance. His aunt had said that the young girl had already refused more than one fortune, and the accompanying assurance that she would marry the man she loved, whatever might be his circumstances, seemed verified by his own observation. Therefore why might he not hope? Few men are so modest as not to indulge the hope to which their heart prompts them. Graham was slow to recognize the existence of this hope, and then he watched its growth warily. Not for the world would he lose control of himself, not for the world would he reveal it to any one, least of all to his aunt or to her who had inspired it, unless he had some reason to believe she would not disappoint it. He was prompted to concealment, not only by his pride, which was great, but more by a characteristic trait, an instinctive desire to hide his deeper feelings, his inner personality from all others. He would not admit that he had fallen in love. The very phrase was excessively distasteful. To his friend Hilland he might have given his confidence, and he would have accounted for himself in some such way as this:—
"I have found a child and a woman; a child in frankness and joyousness, a woman in beauty, strength, mental maturity, and unselfishness. She interested me from the first, and every day I know better the reason why—because she is interesting. My reason has kept pace with my fancy and my deeper feeling, and impels me to seek this girl quite as much as does my heart. I do not think a man meets such a woman or such a chance for happiness twice in a lifetime. I did not believe there was such a woman in the world. You may laugh and say that is the way all lovers talk. I answer emphatically, No. I have not yet lost my poise, and I never was a predestined lover. I might easily have gone through life and never given to these subjects an hour's thought. Even now I could quietly decide to go away and take up my old life as I left it. But why should I? Here is an opportunity to enrich existence immeasurably, and to add to all my chances of success and power. So far from being a drag upon one, a woman like Miss St. John would incite and inspire a man to his best efforts. She would sympathize with him because she could understand his aims and keep pace with his mental advance. Granted that my prospects of winning her are doubtful indeed, still as far as I can see there is a chance. I would not care a straw for a woman that I could have for the asking—who would take me as a dernier ressort. Any woman that I would marry, many others would gladly marry also, and I must take my chance of winning her from them. Such would be my lot under any circumstances, and if I give way to a faint heart now I may as well give up altogether and content myself with a library as a bride."
Since he felt that he might have taken Hilland into his confidence, he had, in terms substantially the same as those given, imagined his explanation, and he smiled as he portrayed to himself his friend's jocular response, which would have nevertheless its substratum of true sympathy. "Hilland would say," he thought, "'That is just like you, Graham. You can't smoke a cigar or make love to a girl without analyzing and philosophizing and arranging all the wisdom of Solomon in favor of your course. Now I would make love to a girl because I loved her, and that would be the end on't.'"
Graham was mistaken in this case. Not in laughing sympathy, but in pale dismay, would Hilland have received this revelation, for he was making love to Grace St. John because he loved her with all his heart and soul. There had been a time when Graham might have obtained a hint of this had circumstances been different, and it had occurred quite early in his acquaintance with Miss St. John. After a day that had been unusually delightful and satisfactory he was accompanying the young girl home from his aunt's cottage in the twilight. Out of the complacency of his heart he remarked, half to himself, "If Hilland were only here, my vacation would be complete."
In the obscurity he could not see her sudden burning flush, and since her hand was not on his arm he had no knowledge of her startled tremor. All that he knew was that she was silent for a moment or two, and then she asked quietly, "Is Mr. Warren Hilland an acquaintance of yours?"
"Indeed he is not," was the emphatic and hearty response. "He is the best friend I have in the world, and the best fellow in the world."
Oh, fatal obscurity of the deepening twilight! Miss St. John's face was crimson and radiant with pleasure, and could Graham have seen her at that moment he could not have failed to surmise the truth.
The young girl was as jealous of her secret as Graham soon became of his, and she only remarked demurely, "I have met Mr. Hilland in society," and then she changed the subject, for they were approaching the piazza steps, and she felt that if Hilland should continue the theme of conversation under the light of the chandelier, a telltale face and manner would betray her, in spite of all effort at control. A fragrant blossom from the shrubbery bordering the walk brushed against Graham's face, and he plucked it, saying, "Beyond that it is fragrant I don't know what this flower is. Will you take it from me?"
"Yes," she said, hesitatingly, for at that moment her absent lover had been brought so vividly to her consciousness that her heart recoiled from even the slightest hint of gallantry from another. A moment later the thought occurred, "Mr. Graham is his dearest friend; therefore he is my friend, although I cannot yet be as frank with him as I would like to be."
She paused a few moments on the piazza, to cool her hot face and quiet her fluttering nerves, and Graham saw with much pleasure that she fastened the flower to her breastpin. When at last she entered she puzzled him a little by leaving him rather abruptly at the parlor door and hastening up the stairs.
She found that his words had stirred such deep, full fountains that she could not yet trust herself under his observant eyes. It is a woman's delight to hear her lover praised by other men, and Graham's words had been so hearty that they had set her pulses bounding, for they assured her that she had not been deceived by love's partial eyes.
"It's true, it's true," she murmured, softly, standing with dewy eyes before her mirror. "He is the best fellow in the world, and I was blind that I did not see it from the first. But all will yet be well;" and she drew a letter from her bosom and kissed it.
Happy would Hilland have been had he seen the vision reflected by that mirror—beauty, rich and rare in itself, but enhanced, illumined, and made divine by the deepest, strongest, purest emotions of the soul.
The closing scenes of the preceding chapter demand some explanation. Major St. John had spent part of the preceding summer at a seaside resort, and his daughter had inevitably attracted not a little attention. Among those that sought her favor was Warren Hilland, and in accordance with his nature he had been rather precipitate. He was ardent, impulsive, and, indulged from earliest childhood, he had been spoiled in only one respect—when he wanted anything he wanted it with all his heart and immediately. Miss St. John had seemed to him from the first a pearl among women. As with Graham, circumstances gave him the opportunity of seeing her daily, and he speedily succumbed to the "visitation of that power" to which the strongest must yield. Almost before the young girl suspected the existence of his passion, he declared it. She refused him, but he would take no refusal. Having won from her the admission that he had no favored rival, he lifted his handsome head with a resolution which she secretly admired, and declared that only when convinced that he had become hateful to her would he give up his suit.
He was not a man to become hateful to any woman. His frank nature was so in accord with hers that she responded in somewhat the same spirit, and said, half laughingly and half tearfully, "Well, if you will, you will, but I can offer no encouragement."
And yet his downright earnestness had agitated her deeply, disturbing her maiden serenity, and awaking for the first time the woman within her heart. Hitherto her girlhood's fancies had been like summer zephyrs, disturbing but briefly the still, clear waters of her soul; but now she became an enigma to herself as she slowly grew conscious of her own heart and the law of her woman's nature to love and give herself to another. But she had too much of the doughty old major's fire and spirit, and was too fond of her freedom, to surrender easily. Both Graham and Mrs. Mayburn were right in their estimate—she would never yield her heart unless compelled to by influences unexpected, at first unwelcomed, but in the end overmastering.
The first and chief effect of Hilland's impetuous wooing was, as we have seen, to destroy her sense of maidenly security, and to bring her face to face with her destiny. Then his openly avowed siege speedily compelled her to withdraw her thoughts from man in the abstract to himself. She could not brush him aside by a quiet negative, as she had already done in the case of several others. Clinging to her old life, however, and fearing to embark on this unknown sea of new experiences, she hesitated, and would not commit herself until the force that impelled was greater than that which restrained. He at last had the tact to understand her and to recognize that he had spoken to a girl, indeed almost a child, and that he must wait for the woman to develop. Hopeful, almost confident, for success and prosperity had seemingly made a league with him in all things, he was content to wait. The major had sanctioned his addresses from the first, and he sought to attain his object by careful and skilful approaches. He had shown himself such an impetuous wooer that she might well doubt his persistence; now he would prove himself so patient and considerate that she could not doubt him.
When they parted at the seaside Hilland was called to the far West by important business interests. In response to his earnest pleas, in which he movingly portrayed his loneliness in a rude mining village, she said he might write to her occasionally, and he had written so quietly and sensibly, so nearly as a friend might address a friend, that she felt there could be no harm in a correspondence of this character. During the winter season their letters had grown more frequent, and he with consummate skill had gradually tinged his words with a warmer hue. She smiled at his artifice. There was no longer any need of it, for by the wood fire, when all the house was still and wrapped in sleep, she had become fully revealed unto herself. She found that she had a woman's heart, and that she had given it irrevocably to Warren Hilland.
She did not tell him so—far from it. The secret seemed so strange, so wonderful, so exquisite in its blending of pain and pleasure, that she did not tell any one. Hers was not the nature that could babble of the heart's deepest mysteries to half a score of confidants. To him first she would make the supreme avowal that she had become his by a sweet compulsion that had at last proved irresistible, and even he must again seek that acknowledgment directly, earnestly. He was left to gather what hope he could from the fact that she did not resent his warmer expressions, and this leniency from a girl like Grace St. John meant so much to him that he did gather hope daily. Her letters were not nearly so frequent as his, but when they did come he fairly gloated over them. They were so fresh, crisp and inspiring that they reminded him of the seaside breezes that had quickened his pulses with health and pleasure during the past summer. She wrote in an easy, gossiping style of the books she was reading; of the good things in the art and literary journals, and of such questions of the day as would naturally interest her, and he so gratefully assured her that by this course she kept him within the pale of civilization, that she was induced to write oftener. In her effort to gather material that would interest him, life gained a new and richer zest, and she learned how the kindling flame within her heart could illumine even common things. Each day brought such a wealth of joy that it was like a new and glad surprise. The page she read had not only the interest imparted to it by the author, but also the far greater charm of suggesting thoughts of him or for him; and so began an interchange of books and periodicals, with pencillings, queries, marks of approval and disapproval. "I will show him," she had resolved, "that I am not a doll to be petted, but a woman who can be his friend and companion."
And she proved this quite as truly by her questions, her intelligent interest in his mining pursuits and the wild region of his sojourn, as by her words concerning that with which she was familiar.
It was hard for Hilland to maintain his reticence or submit to the necessity of his long absence. She had revealed the rich jewel of her mind so fully that his love had increased with time and separation, and he longed to obtain the complete assurance of his happiness. And yet not for the world would he again endanger his hopes by rashness. He ventured, however, to send the copy of Emerson with the quotation already given strongly underscored. Since she made no allusion to this in her subsequent letter, he again grew more wary, but as spring advanced the tide of feeling became too strong to be wholly repressed, and words indicating his passion would slip into his letters in spite of himself. She saw what was coming as truly as she saw all around her the increasing evidences of the approach of summer, and no bird sang with a fuller or more joyous note than did her heart at the prospect.
Graham witnessed this culminating happiness, and it would have been well for him had he known its source. Her joyousness had seemed to him a characteristic trait, and so it was, but he could not know how greatly it was enhanced by a cause that would have led to very different action on his part.
Hilland had decided that he would not write to his friend concerning his suit until his fate was decided in one way or the other. In fact, his letters had grown rather infrequent, not from waning friendship, but rather because their mutual interests had drifted apart. Their relations were too firmly established to need the aid of correspondence, and each knew that when they met again they would resume their old ways. In the sympathetic magnetism of personal presence confidences would be given that they would naturally hesitate to write out in cool blood.
Thus Graham was left to drift and philosophize at first. But his aunt was right: he could not daily see one who so fully satisfied the cravings of his nature and coolly consider the pros and cons. He was one who would kindle slowly, but it would be an anthracite flame that would burn on while life lasted.
He felt that he had no reason for discouragement, for she seemed to grow more kind and friendly every day. This was true of her manner, for, looking upon him as Hilland's best friend, she gave him a genuine regard, but it was an esteem which, like reflected light, was devoid of the warmth of affection that comes direct from the heart.
She did not suspect the feeling that at last began to deepen rapidly, nor had he any adequate idea of its strength. When a grain of corn is planted it is the hidden root that first develops, and the controlling influence of his life was taking root in Graham's heart. If he did not fully comprehend this at an early day it is not strange that she did not. She had no disposition to fall in love with every interesting man she met, and it seemed equally absurd to credit the gentlemen of her acquaintance with any such tendency. Her manner, therefore, toward the other sex was characterized by a frank, pleasant friendliness which could be mistaken for coquetry by only the most obtuse or the most conceited of men. With all his faults Graham was neither stupid nor vain. He understood her regard, and doubted whether he could ever change its character. He only hoped that he might, and until he saw a better chance for this he determined not to reveal himself, fearing that if he did so it might terminate their acquaintance.