AN OLDPORT ROMANCE.
By Thomas Wentworth Higginson
"What is Nature unless there is an eventful human life passing within her?
Many joys and many sorrows are the lights and shadows in which she shows most beautiful."
—THOREAU, MS. Diary.
PRELUDE I. AN ARRIVAL II. PLACE AUX DAMES! III. A DRIVE ON THE AVENUE IV. AUNT JANE DEFINES HER POSITION V. A MULTIVALVE HEART VI. "SOME LOVER'S CLEAR DAY" VII. AN INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION VIII. TALKING IT OVER IX. DANGEROUS WAYS X. REMONSTRANCES XI. DESCENSUS AVERNI XII. A NEW ENGAGEMENT XIII. DREAMING DREAMS XIV. THE NEMESIS OF FASHION XV. ACROSS THE BAY XVI. ON THE STAIRS XVII. DISCOVERY XVIII. HOPE'S VIGIL XIX. DE PROFUNDIS XX. AUNT JANE TO THE RESCUE XXI. A STORM XXII. OUT OF THE DEPTHS XXIII. REQUIESCAT
AS one wanders along this southwestern promontory of the Isle of Peace, and looks down upon the green translucent water which forever bathes the marble slopes of the Pirates' Cave, it is natural to think of the ten wrecks with which the past winter has strewn this shore. Though almost all trace of their presence is already gone, yet their mere memory lends to these cliffs a human interest. Where a stranded vessel lies, thither all steps converge, so long as one plank remains upon another. There centres the emotion. All else is but the setting, and the eye sweeps with indifference the line of unpeopled rocks. They are barren, till the imagination has tenanted them with possibilities of danger and dismay. The ocean provides the scenery and properties of a perpetual tragedy, but the interest arrives with the performers. Till then the shores remain vacant, like the great conventional armchairs of the French drama, that wait for Rachel to come and die.
Yet as I ride along this fashionable avenue in August, and watch the procession of the young and fair,—as I look at stately houses, from each of which has gone forth almost within my memory a funeral or a bride,—then every thoroughfare of human life becomes in fancy but an ocean shore, with its ripples and its wrecks. One learns, in growing older, that no fiction can be so strange nor appear so improbable as would the simple truth; and that doubtless even Shakespeare did but timidly transcribe a few of the deeds and passions he had personally known. For no man of middle age can dare trust himself to portray life in its full intensity, as he has studied or shared it; he must resolutely set aside as indescribable the things most worth describing, and must expect to be charged with exaggeration, even when he tells the rest.
I. AN ARRIVAL.
IT was one of the changing days of our Oldport midsummer. In the morning it had rained in rather a dismal way, and Aunt Jane had said she should put it in her diary. It was a very serious thing for the elements when they got into Aunt Jane's diary. By noon the sun came out as clear and sultry as if there had never been a cloud, the northeast wind died away, the bay was motionless, the first locust of the summer shrilled from the elms, and the robins seemed to be serving up butterflies hot for their insatiable second brood, while nothing seemed desirable for a human luncheon except ice-cream and fans. In the afternoon the southwest wind came up the bay, with its line of dark-blue ripple and its delicious coolness; while the hue of the water grew more and more intense, till we seemed to be living in the heart of a sapphire.
The household sat beneath the large western doorway of the old Maxwell House,—he rear door, which looks on the water. The house had just been reoccupied by my Aunt Jane, whose great-grandfather had built it, though it had for several generations been out of the family. I know no finer specimen of those large colonial dwellings in which the genius of Sir Christopher Wren bequeathed traditions of stateliness to our democratic days. Its central hall has a carved archway; most of the rooms have painted tiles and are wainscoted to the ceiling; the sashes are red-cedar, the great staircase mahogany; there are pilasters with delicate Corinthian capitals; there are cherubs' heads and wings that go astray and lose themselves in closets and behind glass doors; there are curling acanthus-leaves that cluster over shelves and ledges, and there are those graceful shell-patterns which one often sees on old furniture, but rarely in houses. The high front door still retains its Ionic cornice; and the western entrance, looking on the bay, is surmounted by carved fruit and flowers, and is crowned, as is the roof, with that pineapple in whose symbolic wealth the rich merchants of the last century delighted.
Like most of the statelier houses in that region of Oldport, this abode had its rumors of a ghost and of secret chambers. The ghost had never been properly lionized nor laid, for Aunt Jane, the neatest of housekeepers, had discouraged all silly explorations, had at once required all barred windows to be opened, all superfluous partitions to be taken down, and several highly eligible dark-closets to be nailed up. If there was anything she hated, it was nooks and odd corners. Yet there had been times that year, when the household would have been glad to find a few more such hiding-places; for during the first few weeks the house had been crammed with guests so closely that the very mice had been ill-accommodated and obliged to sit up all night, which had caused them much discomfort and many audible disagreements.
But this first tumult had passed away; and now there remained only the various nephews and nieces of the house, including a due proportion of small children. Two final guests were to arrive that day, bringing the latest breath of Europe on their wings,—Philip Malbone, Hope's betrothed; and little Emilia, Hope's half-sister.
None of the family had seen Emilia since her wandering mother had taken her abroad, a fascinating spoiled child of four, and they were all eager to see in how many ways the succeeding twelve years had completed or corrected the spoiling. As for Philip, he had been spoiled, as Aunt Jane declared, from the day of his birth, by the joint effort of all friends and neighbors. Everybody had conspired to carry on the process except Aunt Jane herself, who directed toward him one of her honest, steady, immovable dislikes, which may be said to have dated back to the time when his father and mother were married, some years before he personally entered on the scene.
The New York steamer, detained by the heavy fog of the night before, now came in unwonted daylight up the bay. At the first glimpse, Harry and the boys pushed off in the row-boat; for, as one of the children said, anybody who had been to Venice would naturally wish to come to the very house in a gondola. In another half-hour there was a great entanglement of embraces at the water-side, for the guests had landed.
Malbone's self-poised easy grace was the same as ever; his chestnut-brown eyes were as winning, his features as handsome; his complexion, too clearly pink for a man, had a sea bronze upon it: he was the same Philip who had left home, though with some added lines of care. But in the brilliant little fairy beside him all looked in vain for the Emilia they remembered as a child. Her eyes were more beautiful than ever,—the darkest violet eyes, that grew luminous with thought and almost black with sorrow. Her gypsy taste, as everybody used to call it, still showed itself in the scarlet and dark blue of her dress; but the clouded gypsy tint had gone from her cheek, and in its place shone a deep carnation, so hard and brilliant that it appeared to be enamelled on the surface, yet so firm and deep-dyed that it seemed as if not even death could ever blanch it. There is a kind of beauty that seems made to be painted on ivory, and such was hers. Only the microscopic pencil of a miniature-painter could portray those slender eyebrows, that arched caressingly over the beautiful eyes,—or the silky hair of darkest chestnut that crept in a wavy line along the temples, as if longing to meet the brows,—or those unequalled lashes! "Unnecessarily long," Aunt Jane afterwards pronounced them; while Kate had to admit that they did indeed give Emilia an overdressed look at breakfast, and that she ought to have a less showy set to match her morning costume.
But what was most irresistible about Emilia,—that which we all noticed in this interview, and which haunted us all thenceforward,—was a certain wild, entangled look she wore, as of some untamed out-door thing, and a kind of pathetic lost sweetness in her voice, which made her at once and forever a heroine of romance with the children. Yet she scarcely seemed to heed their existence, and only submitted to the kisses of Hope and Kate as if that were a part of the price of coming home, and she must pay it.
Had she been alone, there might have been an awkward pause; for if you expect a cousin, and there alights a butterfly of the tropics, what hospitality can you offer? But no sense of embarrassment ever came near Malbone, especially with the children to swarm over him and claim him for their own. Moreover, little Helen got in the first remark in the way of serious conversation.
"Let me tell him something!" said the child. "Philip! that doll of mine that you used to know, only think! she was sick and died last summer, and went into the rag-bag. And the other split down the back, so there was an end of her."
Polar ice would have been thawed by this reopening of communication. Philip soon had the little maid on his shoulder,—the natural throne of all children,—and they went in together to greet Aunt Jane.
Aunt Jane was the head of the house,—a lady who had spent more than fifty years in educating her brains and battling with her ailments. She had received from her parents a considerable inheritance in the way of whims, and had nursed it up into a handsome fortune. Being one of the most impulsive of human beings, she was naturally one of the most entertaining; and behind all her eccentricities there was a fund of the soundest sense and the tenderest affection. She had seen much and varied society, had been greatly admired in her youth, but had chosen to remain unmarried. Obliged by her physical condition to make herself the first object, she was saved from utter selfishness by sympathies as democratic as her personal habits were exclusive. Unexpected and commonly fantastic in her doings, often dismayed by small difficulties, but never by large ones, she sagaciously administered the affairs of all those around her,—planned their dinners and their marriages, fought out their bargains and their feuds.
She hated everything irresolute or vague; people might play at cat's-cradle or study Spinoza, just as they pleased; but, whatever they did, they must give their minds to it. She kept house from an easy-chair, and ruled her dependants with severity tempered by wit, and by the very sweetest voice in which reproof was ever uttered. She never praised them, but if they did anything particularly well, rebuked them retrospectively, asking why they had never done it well before? But she treated them munificently, made all manner of plans for their comfort, and they all thought her the wisest and wittiest of the human race. So did the youths and maidens of her large circle; they all came to see her, and she counselled, admired, scolded, and petted them all. She had the gayest spirits, and an unerring eye for the ludicrous, and she spoke her mind with absolute plainness to all comers. Her intuitions were instantaneous as lightning, and, like that, struck very often in the wrong place. She was thus extremely unreasonable and altogether charming.
Such was the lady whom Emilia and Malbone went up to greet,—the one shyly, the other with an easy assurance, such as she always disliked. Emilia submitted to another kiss, while Philip pressed Aunt Jane's hand, as he pressed all women's, and they sat down.
"Now begin to tell your adventures," said Kate. "People always tell their adventures till tea is ready."
"Who can have any adventures left," said Philip, "after such letters as I wrote you all?"
"Of which we got precisely one!" said Kate. "That made it such an event, after we had wondered in what part of the globe you might be looking for the post-office! It was like finding a letter in a bottle, or disentangling a person from the Dark Ages."
"I was at Neuchatel two months; but I had no adventures. I lodged with a good Pasteur, who taught me geology and German."
"That is suspicious," said Kate. "Had he a daughter passing fair?"
"Indeed he had."
"And you taught her English? That is what these beguiling youths always do in novels."
"What was her name?"
"What a pretty name! How old was she?"
"She was six."
"O Philip!" cried Kate; "but I might have known it. Did she love you very much?"
Hope looked up, her eyes full of mild reproach at the possibility of doubting any child's love for Philip. He had been her betrothed for more than a year, during which time she had habitually seen him wooing every child he had met as if it were a woman,—which, for Philip, was saying a great deal. Happily they had in common the one trait of perfect amiability, and she knew no more how to be jealous than he to be constant.
"Lili was easily won," he said. "Other things being equal, people of six prefer that man who is tallest."
"Philip is not so very tall," said the eldest of the boys, who was listening eagerly, and growing rapidly.
"No," said Philip, meekly. "But then the Pasteur was short, and his brother was a dwarf."
"When Lili found that she could reach the ceiling from Mr. Malbone's shoulder," said Emilia, "she asked no more."
"Then you knew the pastor's family also, my child," said Aunt Jane, looking at her kindly and a little keenly.
"I was allowed to go there sometimes," she began, timidly.
"To meet her American Cousin," interrupted Philip. "I got some relaxation in the rules of the school. But, Aunt Jane, you have told us nothing about your health."
"There is nothing to tell," she answered. "I should like, if it were convenient, to be a little better. But in this life, if one can walk across the floor, and not be an idiot, it is something. That is all I aim at."
"Isn't it rather tiresome?" said Emilia, as the elder lady happened to look at her.
"Not at all," said Aunt Jane, composedly. "I naturally fall back into happiness, when left to myself."
"So you have returned to the house of your fathers," said Philip. "I hope you like it."
"It is commonplace in one respect," said Aunt Jane. "General Washington once slept here."
"Oh!" said Philip. "It is one of that class of houses?"
"Yes," said she. "There is not a village in America that has not half a dozen of them, not counting those where he only breakfasted. Did ever man sleep like that man? What else could he ever have done? Who governed, I wonder, while he was asleep? How he must have travelled! The swiftest horse could scarcely have carried him from one of these houses to another."
"I never was attached to the memory of Washington," meditated Philip; "but I always thought it was the pear-tree. It must have been that he was such a very unsettled person."
"He certainly was not what is called a domestic character," said Aunt Jane.
"I suppose you are, Miss Maxwell," said Philip. "Do you often go out?"
"Sometimes, to drive," said Aunt Jane. "Yesterday I went shopping with Kate, and sat in the carriage while she bought under-sleeves enough for a centipede. It is always so with that child. People talk about the trouble of getting a daughter ready to be married; but it is like being married once a month to live with her."
"I wonder that you take her to drive with you," suggested Philip, sympathetically.
"It is a great deal worse to drive without her," said the impetuous lady. "She is the only person who lets me enjoy things, and now I cannot enjoy them in her absence. Yesterday I drove alone over the three beaches, and left her at home with a dress-maker. Never did I see so many lines of surf; but they only seemed to me like some of Kate's ball-dresses, with the prevailing flounces, six deep. I was so enraged that she was not there, I wished to cover my face with my handkerchief. By the third beach I was ready for the madhouse."
"Is Oldport a pleasant place to live in?" asked Emilia, eagerly.
"It is amusing in the summer," said Aunt Jane, "though the society is nothing but a pack of visiting-cards. In winter it is too dull for young people, and only suits quiet old women like me, who merely live here to keep the Ten Commandments and darn their stockings."
Meantime the children were aiming at Emilia, whose butterfly looks amazed and charmed them, but who evidently did not know what to do with their eager affection.
"I know about you," said little Helen; "I know what you said when you were little."
"Did I say anything?" asked Emilia, carelessly.
"Yes," replied the child, and began to repeat the oft-told domestic tradition in an accurate way, as if it were a school lesson. "Once you had been naughty, and your papa thought it his duty to slap you, and you cried; and he told you in French, because he always spoke French with you, that he did not punish you for his own pleasure. Then you stopped crying, and asked, 'Pour le plaisir de qui alors?' That means 'For whose pleasure then?' Hope said it was a droll question for a little girl to ask."
"I do not think it was Emilia who asked that remarkable question, little girl," said Kate.
"I dare say it was," said Emilia; "I have been asking it all my life." Her eyes grew very moist, what with fatigue and excitement. But just then, as is apt to happen in this world, they were all suddenly recalled from tears to tea, and the children smothered their curiosity in strawberries and cream.
They sat again beside the western door, after tea. The young moon came from a cloud and dropped a broad path of glory upon the bay; a black yacht glided noiselessly in, and anchored amid this tract of splendor. The shadow of its masts was on the luminous surface, while their reflection lay at a different angle, and seemed to penetrate far below. Then the departing steamer went flashing across this bright realm with gorgeous lustre; its red and green lights were doubled in the paler waves, its four reflected chimneys chased each other among the reflected masts. This jewelled wonder passing, a single fishing-boat drifted silently by, with its one dark sail; and then the moon and the anchored yacht were left alone.
Presently some of the luggage came from the wharf. Malbone brought out presents for everybody; then all the family went to Europe in photographs, and with some reluctance came back to America for bed.
II. PLACE AUX DAMES!
IN every town there is one young maiden who is the universal favorite, who belongs to all sets and is made an exception to all family feuds, who is the confidante of all girls and the adopted sister of all young men, up to the time when they respectively offer themselves to her, and again after they are rejected. This post was filled in Oldport, in those days, by my cousin Kate.
Born into the world with many other gifts, this last and least definable gift of popularity was added to complete them all. Nobody criticised her, nobody was jealous of her, her very rivals lent her their new music and their lovers; and her own discarded wooers always sought her to be a bridesmaid when they married somebody else.
She was one of those persons who seem to have come into the world well-dressed. There was an atmosphere of elegance around her, like a costume; every attitude implied a presence-chamber or a ball-room. The girls complained that in private theatricals no combination of disguises could reduce Kate to the ranks, nor give her the "make-up" of a waiting-maid. Yet as her father was a New York merchant of the precarious or spasmodic description, she had been used from childhood to the wildest fluctuations of wardrobe;—a year of Paris dresses,—then another year spent in making over ancient finery, that never looked like either finery or antiquity when it came from her magic hands. Without a particle of vanity or fear, secure in health and good-nature and invariable prettiness, she cared little whether the appointed means of grace were ancient silk or modern muslin. In her periods of poverty, she made no secret of the necessary devices; the other girls, of course, guessed them, but her lovers never did, because she always told them. There was one particular tarlatan dress of hers which was a sort of local institution. It was known to all her companions, like the State House. There was a report that she had first worn it at her christening; the report originated with herself. The young men knew that she was going to the party if she could turn that pink tarlatan once more; but they had only the vaguest impression what a tarlatan was, and cared little on which side it was worn, so long as Kate was inside.
During these epochs of privation her life, in respect to dress, was a perpetual Christmas-tree of second-hand gifts. Wealthy aunts supplied her with cast-off shoes of all sizes, from two and a half up to five, and she used them all. She was reported to have worn one straw hat through five changes of fashion. It was averred that, when square crowns were in vogue, she flattened it over a tin pan, and that, when round crowns returned, she bent it on the bedpost. There was such a charm in her way of adapting these treasures, that the other girls liked to test her with new problems in the way of millinery and dress-making; millionnaire friends implored her to trim their hats, and lent her their own things in order to learn how to wear them. This applied especially to certain rich cousins, shy and studious girls, who adored her, and to whom society only ceased to be alarming when the brilliant Kate took them under her wing, and graciously accepted a few of their newest feathers. Well might they acquiesce, for she stood by them superbly, and her most favored partners found no way to her hand so sure as to dance systematically through that staid sisterhood. Dear, sunshiny, gracious, generous Kate!—who has ever done justice to the charm given to this grave old world by the presence of one free-hearted and joyous girl?
At the time now to be described, however, Kate's purse was well filled; and if she wore only second-best finery, it was because she had lent her very best to somebody else. All that her doting father asked was to pay for her dresses, and to see her wear them; and if her friends wore a part of them, it only made necessary a larger wardrobe, and more varied and pleasurable shopping. She was as good a manager in wealth as in poverty, wasted nothing, took exquisite care of everything, and saved faithfully for some one else all that was not needed for her own pretty person.
Pretty she was throughout, from the parting of her jet-black hair to the high instep of her slender foot; a glancing, brilliant, brunette beauty, with the piquant charm of perpetual spirits, and the equipoise of a perfectly healthy nature. She was altogether graceful, yet she had not the fresh, free grace of her cousin Hope, who was lithe and strong as a hawthorne spray: Kate's was the narrower grace of culture grown hereditary, an in-door elegance that was born in her, and of which dancing-school was but the natural development. You could not picture Hope to your mind in one position more than in another; she had an endless variety of easy motion. When you thought of Kate, you remembered precisely how she sat, how she stood, and how she walked. That was all, and it was always the same. But is not that enough? We do not ask of Mary Stuart's portrait that it should represent her in more than one attitude, and why should a living beauty need more than two or three?
Kate was betrothed to her cousin Harry, Hope's brother, and, though she was barely twenty, they had seemed to appertain to each other for a time so long that the memory of man or maiden aunt ran not to the contrary. She always declared, indeed, that they were born married, and that their wedding-day would seem like a silver wedding. Harry was quiet, unobtrusive, and manly. He might seem commonplace at first beside the brilliant Kate and his more gifted sister; but thorough manhood is never commonplace, and he was a person to whom one could anchor. His strong, steadfast physique was the type of his whole nature; when he came into the room, you felt as if a good many people had been added to the company. He made steady progress in his profession of the law, through sheer worth; he never dazzled, but he led. His type was pure Saxon, with short, curling hair, blue eyes, and thin, fair skin, to which the color readily mounted. Up to a certain point he was imperturbably patient and amiable, but, when overtaxed, was fiery and impetuous for a single instant, and no more. It seemed as if a sudden flash of anger went over him, like the flash that glides along the glutinous stem of the fraxinella, when you touch it with a candle; the next moment it had utterly vanished, and was forgotten as if it had never been.
Kate's love for her lover was one of those healthy and assured ties that often outlast the ardors of more passionate natures. For other temperaments it might have been inadequate; but theirs matched perfectly, and it was all sufficient for them. If there was within Kate's range a more heroic and ardent emotion than that inspired by Harry, it was put forth toward Hope. This was her idolatry; she always said that it was fortunate Hope was Hal's sister, or she should have felt it her duty to give them to each other, and not die till the wedding was accomplished. Harry shared this adoration to quite a reasonable extent, for a brother; but his admiration for Philip Malbone was one that Kate did not quite share. Harry's quieter mood had been dazzled from childhood by Philip, who had always been a privileged guest in the household. Kate's clear, penetrating, buoyant nature had divined Phil's weaknesses, and had sometimes laughed at them, even from her childhood; though she did not dislike him, for she did not dislike anybody. But Harry was magnetized by him very much as women were; believed him true, because he was tender, and called him only fastidious where Kate called him lazy.
Kate was spending that summer with her aunt Jane, whose especial pet and pride she was. Hope was spending there the summer vacation of a Normal School in which she had just become a teacher. Her father had shared in the family ups and downs, but had finally stayed down, while the rest had remained up. Fortunately, his elder children were indifferent to this, and indeed rather preferred it; it was a tradition that Hope had expressed the wish, when a child, that her father might lose his property, so that she could become a teacher. As for Harry, he infinitely preferred the drudgery of a law office to that of a gentleman of leisure; and as for their step-mother, it turned out, when she was left a widow, that she had secured for herself and Emilia whatever property remained, so that she suffered only the delightful need of living in Europe for economy.
The elder brother and sister had alike that fine physical vigor which New England is now developing, just in time to save it from decay. Hope was of Saxon type, though a shade less blonde than her brother; she was a little taller, and of more commanding presence, with a peculiarly noble carriage of the shoulders. Her brow was sometimes criticised as being a little too full for a woman; but her nose was straight, her mouth and teeth beautiful, and her profile almost perfect. Her complexion had lost by out-door life something of its delicacy, but had gained a freshness and firmness that no sunlight could impair. She had that wealth of hair which young girls find the most enviable point of beauty in each other. Hers reached below her knees, when loosened, or else lay coiled, in munificent braids of gold, full of sparkling lights and contrasted shadows, upon her queenly head.
Her eyes were much darker than her hair, and had a way of opening naively and suddenly, with a perfectly infantine expression, as if she at that moment saw the sunlight for the first time. Her long lashes were somewhat like Emilia's, and she had the same deeply curved eyebrows; in no other point was there a shade of resemblance between the half-sisters. As compared with Kate, Hope showed a more abundant physical life; there was more blood in her; she had ampler outlines, and health more absolutely unvaried, for she had yet to know the experience of a day's illness. Kate seemed born to tread upon a Brussels carpet, and Hope on the softer luxury of the forest floor. Out of doors her vigor became a sort of ecstasy, and she walked the earth with a jubilee of the senses, such as Browning attributes to his Saul.
This inexhaustible freshness of physical organization seemed to open the windows of her soul, and make for her a new heaven and earth every day. It gave also a peculiar and almost embarrassing directness to her mental processes, and suggested in them a sort of final and absolute value, as if truth had for the first time found a perfectly translucent medium. It was not so much that she said rare things, but her very silence was eloquent, and there was a great deal of it. Her girlhood had in it a certain dignity as of a virgin priestess or sibyl. Yet her hearty sympathies and her healthy energy made her at home in daily life, and in a democratic society. To Kate, for instance, she was a necessity of existence, like light or air. Kate's nature was limited; part of her graceful equipoise was narrowness. Hope was capable of far more self-abandonment to a controlling emotion, and, if she ever erred, would err more widely, for it would be because the whole power of her conscience was misdirected. "Once let her take wrong for right," said Aunt Jane, "and stop her if you can; these born saints give a great deal more trouble than children of this world, like my Kate." Yet in daily life Hope yielded to her cousin nine times out of ten; but the tenth time was the key to the situation. Hope loved Kate devotedly; but Kate believed in her as the hunted fugitive believes in the north star.
To these maidens, thus united, came Emilia home from Europe. The father of Harry and Hope had been lured into a second marriage with Emilia's mother, a charming and unscrupulous woman, born with an American body and a French soul. She having once won him to Paris, held him there life-long, and kept her step-children at a safe distance. She arranged that, even after her own death, her daughter should still remain abroad for education; nor was Emilia ordered back until she brought down some scandal by a romantic attempt to elope from boarding-school with a Swiss servant. It was by weaning her heart from this man that Philip Malbone had earned the thanks of the whole household during his hasty flight through Europe. He possessed some skill in withdrawing the female heart from an undesirable attachment, though it was apt to be done by substituting another. It was fortunate that, in this case, no fears could be entertained. Since his engagement Philip had not permitted himself so much as a flirtation; he and Hope were to be married soon; he loved and admired her heartily, and had an indifference to her want of fortune that was quite amazing, when we consider that he had a fortune of his own.
III. A DRIVE ON THE AVENUE.
OLDPORT AVENUE is a place where a great many carriages may be seen driving so slowly that they might almost be photographed without halting, and where their occupants already wear the dismal expression which befits that process. In these fine vehicles, following each other in an endless file, one sees such faces as used to be exhibited in ball-rooms during the performance of quadrilles, before round dances came in,—faces marked by the renunciation of all human joy. Sometimes a faint suspicion suggests itself on the Avenue, that these torpid countenances might be roused to life, in case some horse should run away. But that one chance never occurs; the riders may not yet be toned down into perfect breeding, but the horses are. I do not know what could ever break the gloom of this joyless procession, were it not that youth and beauty are always in fashion, and one sometimes meets an exceptional barouche full of boys and girls, who could absolutely be no happier if they were a thousand miles away from the best society. And such a joyous company were our four youths and maidens when they went to drive that day, Emilia being left at home to rest after the fatigues of the voyage.
"What beautiful horses!" was Hope's first exclamation. "What grave people!" was her second.
"What though in solemn silence all Roll round—"
"Hope is thinking," said Harry, "whether 'in reason's ear they all rejoice.'"
"How COULD you know that?" said she, opening her eyes.
"One thing always strikes me," said Kate. "The sentence of stupefaction does not seem to be enforced till after five-and-twenty. That young lady we just met looked quite lively and juvenile last year, I remember, and now she has graduated into a dowager."
"Like little Helen's kitten," said Philip. "She justly remarks that, since I saw it last, it is all spoiled into a great big cat."
"Those must be snobs," said Harry, as a carriage with unusually gorgeous liveries rolled by.
"I suppose so," said Malbone, indifferently. "In Oldport we call all new-comers snobs, you know, till they have invited us to their grand ball. Then we go to it, and afterwards speak well of them, and only abuse their wine."
"How do you know them for new-comers?" asked Hope, looking after the carriage.
"By their improperly intelligent expression," returned Phil. "They look around them as you do, my child, with the air of wide-awake curiosity which marks the American traveller. That is out of place here. The Avenue abhors everything but a vacuum."
"I never can find out," continued Hope, "how people recognize each other here. They do not look at each other, unless they know each other: and how are they to know if they know, unless they look first?"
"It seems an embarrassment," said Malbone. "But it is supposed that fashion perforates the eyelids and looks through. If you attempt it in any other way, you are lost. Newly arrived people look about them, and, the more new wealth they have, the more they gaze. The men are uneasy behind their recently educated mustaches, and the women hold their parasols with trembling hands. It takes two years to learn to drive on the Avenue. Come again next summer, and you will see in those same carriages faces of remote superciliousness, that suggest generations of gout and ancestors."
"What a pity one feels," said Harry, "for these people who still suffer from lingering modesty, and need a master to teach them to be insolent!"
"They learn it soon enough," said Kate. "Philip is right. Fashion lies in the eye. People fix their own position by the way they don't look at you."
"There is a certain indifference of manner," philosophized Malbone, "before which ingenuous youth is crushed. I may know that a man can hardly read or write, and that his father was a ragpicker till one day he picked up bank-notes for a million. No matter. If he does not take the trouble to look at me, I must look reverentially at him."
"Here is somebody who will look at Hope," cried Kate, suddenly.
A carriage passed, bearing a young lady with fair hair, and a keen, bright look, talking eagerly to a small and quiet youth beside her.
Her face brightened still more as she caught the eye of Hope, whose face lighted up in return, and who then sank back with a sort of sigh of relief, as if she had at last seen somebody she cared for. The lady waved an un-gloved hand, and drove by.
"Who is that?" asked Philip, eagerly. He was used to knowing every one.
"Hope's pet," said Kate, "and she who pets Hope, Lady Antwerp."
"Is it possible?" said Malbone. "That young creature? I fancied her ladyship in spectacles, with little side curls. Men speak of her with such dismay."
"Of course," said Kate, "she asks them sensible questions."
"That is bad," admitted Philip. "Nothing exasperates fashionable Americans like a really intelligent foreigner. They feel as Sydney Smith says the English clergy felt about Elizabeth Fry; she disturbs their repose, and gives rise to distressing comparisons,—they long to burn her alive. It is not their notion of a countess."
"I am sure it was not mine," said Hope; "I can hardly remember that she is one; I only know that I like her, she is so simple and intelligent. She might be a girl from a Normal School."
"It is because you are just that," said Kate, "that she likes you. She came here supposing that we had all been at such schools. Then she complained of us,—us girls in what we call good society, I mean,—because, as she more than hinted, we did not seem to know anything."
"Some of the mothers were angry," said Hope. "But Aunt Jane told her that it was perfectly true, and that her ladyship had not yet seen the best-educated girls in America, who were generally the daughters of old ministers and well-to-do shopkeepers in small New England towns, Aunt Jane said."
"Yes," said Kate, "she said that the best of those girls went to High Schools and Normal Schools, and learned things thoroughly, you know; but that we were only taught at boarding-schools and by governesses, and came out at eighteen, and what could we know? Then came Hope, who had been at those schools, and was the child of refined people too, and Lady Antwerp was perfectly satisfied."
"Especially," said Hope, "when Aunt Jane told her that, after all, schools did not do very much good, for if people were born stupid they only became more tiresome by schooling. She said that she had forgotten all she learned at school except the boundaries of ancient Cappadocia."
Aunt Jane's fearless sayings always passed current among her nieces; and they drove on, Hope not being lowered in Philip's estimation, nor raised in her own, by being the pet of a passing countess.
Who would not be charmed (he thought to himself) by this noble girl, who walks the earth fresh and strong as a Greek goddess, pure as Diana, stately as Juno? She belongs to the unspoiled womanhood of another age, and is wasted among these dolls and butterflies.
He looked at her. She sat erect and graceful, unable to droop into the debility of fashionable reclining,—her breezy hair lifted a little by the soft wind, her face flushed, her full brown eyes looking eagerly about, her mouth smiling happily. To be with those she loved best, and to be driving over the beautiful earth! She was so happy that no mob of fashionables could have lessened her enjoyment, or made her for a moment conscious that anybody looked at her. The brilliant equipages which they met each moment were not wholly uninteresting even to her, for her affections went forth to some of the riders and to all the horses. She was as well contented at that moment, on the glittering Avenue, as if they had all been riding home through country lanes, and in constant peril of being jolted out among the whortleberry-bushes.
Her face brightened yet more as they met a carriage containing a graceful lady dressed with that exquisiteness of taste that charms both man and woman, even if no man can analyze and no woman rival its effect. She had a perfectly high-bred look, and an eye that in an instant would calculate one's ancestors as far back as Nebuchadnezzar, and bow to them all together. She smiled good-naturedly on Hope, and kissed her hand to Kate.
"So, Hope," said Philip, "you are bent on teaching music to Mrs. Meredith's children."
"Indeed I am!" said Hope, eagerly. "O Philip, I shall enjoy it so! I do not care so very much about her, but she has dear little girls. And you know I am a born drudge. I have not been working hard enough to enjoy an entire vacation, but I shall be so very happy here if I can have some real work for an hour or two every other day."
"Hope," said Philip, gravely, "look steadily at these people whom we are meeting, and reflect. Should you like to have them say, 'There goes Mrs. Meredith's music teacher'?"
"Why not?" said Hope, with surprise. "The children are young, and it is not very presumptuous. I ought to know enough for that."
Malbone looked at Kate, who smiled with delight, and put her hand on that of Hope. Indeed, she kept it there so long that one or two passing ladies stopped their salutations in mid career, and actually looked after them in amazement at their attitude, as who should say, "What a very mixed society!"
So they drove on,—meeting four-in-hands, and tandems, and donkey-carts, and a goat-cart, and basket-wagons driven by pretty girls, with uncomfortable youths in or out of livery behind. They met, had they but known it, many who were aiming at notoriety, and some who had it; many who looked contented with their lot, and some who actually were so. They met some who put on courtesy and grace with their kid gloves, and laid away those virtues in their glove-boxes afterwards; while to others the mere consciousness of kid gloves brought uneasiness, redness of the face, and a general impression of being all made of hands. They met the four white horses of an ex-harness-maker, and the superb harnesses of an ex-horse-dealer. Behind these came the gayest and most plebeian equipage of all, a party of journeymen carpenters returning from their work in a four-horse wagon. Their only fit compeers were an Italian opera-troupe, who were chatting and gesticulating on the piazza of the great hotel, and planning, amid jest and laughter, their future campaigns. Their work seemed like play, while the play around them seemed like work. Indeed, most people on the Avenue seemed to be happy in inverse ratio to their income list.
As our youths and maidens passed the hotel, a group of French naval officers strolled forth, some of whom had a good deal of inexplicable gold lace dangling in festoons from their shoulders,—"topsail halyards" the American midshipmen called them. Philip looked hard at one of these gentlemen.
"I have seen that young fellow before," said he, "or his twin brother. But who can swear to the personal identity of a Frenchman?"
IV. AUNT JANE DEFINES HER POSITION.
THE next morning had that luminous morning haze, not quite dense enough to be called a fog, which is often so lovely in Oldport. It was perfectly still; the tide swelled and swelled till it touched the edge of the green lawn behind the house, and seemed ready to submerge the slender pier; the water looked at first like glass, till closer gaze revealed long sinuous undulations, as if from unseen water-snakes beneath. A few rags of storm-cloud lay over the half-seen hills beyond the bay, and behind them came little mutterings of thunder, now here, now there, as if some wild creature were roaming up and down, dissatisfied, in the shelter of the clouds. The pale haze extended into the foreground, and half veiled the schooners that lay at anchor with their sails up. It was sultry, and there was something in the atmosphere that at once threatened and soothed. Sometimes a few drops dimpled the water and then ceased; the muttering creature in the sky moved northward and grew still. It was a day when every one would be tempted to go out rowing, but when only lovers would go. Philip and Hope went.
Kate and Harry, meanwhile, awaited their opportunity to go in and visit Aunt Jane. This was a thing that never could be done till near noon, because that dear lady was very deliberate in her morning habits, and always averred that she had never seen the sun rise except in a panorama. She hated to be hurried in dressing, too; for she was accustomed to say that she must have leisure to understand herself, and this was clearly an affair of time.
But she was never more charming than when, after dressing and breakfasting in seclusion, and then vigilantly watching her handmaiden through the necessary dustings and arrangements, she sat at last, with her affairs in order, to await events. Every day she expected something entirely new to happen, and was never disappointed. For she herself always happened, if nothing else did; she could no more repeat herself than the sunrise can; and the liveliest visitor always carried away something fresher and more remarkable than he brought.
Her book that morning had displeased her, and she was boiling with indignation against its author.
"I am reading a book so dry," she said, "it makes me cough. No wonder there was a drought last summer. It was printed then. Worcester's Geography seems in my memory as fascinating as Shakespeare, when I look back upon it from this book. How can a man write such a thing and live?"
"Perhaps he lived by writing it," said Kate.
"Perhaps it was the best he could do," added the more literal Harry.
"It certainly was not the best he could do, for he might have died,—died instead of dried. O, I should like to prick that man with something sharp, and see if sawdust did not run out of him! Kate, ask the bookseller to let me know if he ever really dies, and then life may seem fresh again."
"What is it?" asked Kate.
"Somebody's memoirs," said Aunt Jane. "Was there no man left worth writing about, that they should make a biography about this one? It is like a life of Napoleon with all the battles left out. They are conceited enough to put his age in the upper corner of each page too, as if anybody cared how old he was."
"Such pretty covers!" said Kate. "It is too bad."
"Yes," said Aunt Jane. "I mean to send them back and have new leaves put in. These are so wretched, there is not a teakettle in the land so insignificant that it would boil over them. Don't let us talk any more about it. Have Philip and Hope gone out upon the water?"
"Yes, dear," said Kate. "Did Ruth tell you?"
"When did that aimless infant ever tell anything?"
"Then how did you know it?"
"If I waited for knowledge till that sweet-tempered parrot chose to tell me," Aunt Jane went on, "I should be even more foolish than I am."
"Then how did you know?"
"Of course I heard the boat hauled down, and of course I knew that none but lovers would go out just before a thunder-storm. Then you and Harry came in, and I knew it was the others."
"Aunt Jane," said Kate, "you divine everything: what a brain you have!"
"Brain! it is nothing but a collection of shreds, like a little girl's work-basket,—a scrap of blue silk and a bit of white muslin."
"Now she is fishing for compliments," said Kate, "and she shall have one. She was very sweet and good to Philip last night."
"I know it," said Aunt Jane, with a groan. "I waked in the night and thought about it. I was awake a great deal last night. I have heard cocks crowing all my life, but I never knew what that creature could accomplish before. So I lay and thought how good and forgiving I was; it was quite distressing."
"Remorse?" said Kate.
"Yes, indeed. I hate to be a saint all the time. There ought to be vacations. Instead of suffering from a bad conscience, I suffer from a good one."
"It was no merit of yours, aunt," put in Harry. "Who was ever more agreeable and lovable than Malbone last night?"
"Lovable!" burst out Aunt Jane, who never could be managed or manipulated by anybody but Kate, and who often rebelled against Harry's blunt assertions. "Of course he is lovable, and that is why I dislike him. His father was so before him. That is the worst of it. I never in my life saw any harm done by a villain; I wish I could. All the mischief in this world is done by lovable people. Thank Heaven, nobody ever dared to call me lovable!"
"I should like to see any one dare call you anything else,—you dear, old, soft-hearted darling!" interposed Kate.
"But, aunt," persisted Harry, "if you only knew what the mass of young men are—"
"Don't I?" interrupted the impetuous lady. "What is there that is not known to any woman who has common sense, and eyes enough to look out of a window?"
"If you only knew," Harry went on, "how superior Phil Malbone is, in his whole tone, to any fellow of my acquaintance."
"Lord help the rest!" she answered. "Philip has a sort of refinement instead of principles, and a heart instead of a conscience,—just heart enough to keep himself happy and everybody else miserable."
"Do you mean to say," asked the obstinate Hal, "that there is no difference between refinement and coarseness?"
"Yes, there is," she said.
"Well, which is best?"
"Coarseness is safer by a great deal," said Aunt Jane, "in the hands of a man like Philip. What harm can that swearing coachman do, I should like to know, in the street yonder? To be sure it is very unpleasant, and I wonder they let people swear so, except, perhaps, in waste places outside the town; but that is his way of expressing himself, and he only frightens people, after all."
"Which Philip does not," said Hal.
"Exactly. That is the danger. He frightens nobody, not even himself, when he ought to wear a label round his neck marked 'Dangerous,' such as they have at other places where it is slippery and brittle. When he is here, I keep saying to myself, 'Too smooth, too smooth!'"
"Aunt Jane," said Harry, gravely, "I know Malbone very well, and I never knew any man whom it was more unjust to call a hypocrite."
"Did I say he was a hypocrite?" she cried. "He is worse than that; at least, more really dangerous. It is these high-strung sentimentalists who do all the mischief; who play on their own lovely emotions, forsooth, till they wear out those fine fiddlestrings, and then have nothing left but the flesh and the D. Don't tell me!"
"Do stop, auntie," interposed Kate, quite alarmed, "you are really worse than a coachman. You are growing very profane indeed."
"I have a much harder time than any coachman, Kate," retorted the injured lady. "Nobody tries to stop him, and you are always hushing me up."
"Hushing you up, darling?" said Kate. "When we only spoil you by praising and quoting everything you say."
"Only when it amuses you," said Aunt Jane. "So long as I sit and cry my eyes out over a book, you all love me, and when I talk nonsense, you are ready to encourage it; but when I begin to utter a little sense, you all want to silence me, or else run out of the room! Yesterday I read about a newspaper somewhere, called the 'Daily Evening Voice'; I wish you would allow me a daily morning voice."
"Do not interfere, Kate," said Hal. "Aunt Jane and I only wish to understand each other."
"I am sure we don't," said Aunt Jane; "I have no desire to understand you, and you never will understand me till you comprehend Philip."
"Let us agree on one thing," Harry said. "Surely, aunt, you know how he loves Hope?"
Aunt Jane approached a degree nearer the equator, and said, gently, "I fear I do."
"Yes, fear. That is just what troubles me. I know precisely how he loves her. Il se laisse aimer. Philip likes to be petted, as much as any cat, and, while he will purr, Hope is happy. Very few men accept idolatry with any degree of grace, but he unfortunately does."
"Unfortunately?" remonstrated Hal, as far as ever from being satisfied. "This is really too bad. You never will do him any justice."
"Ah?" said Aunt Jane, chilling again, "I thought I did. I observe he is very much afraid of me, and there seems to be no other reason."
"The real trouble is," said Harry, after a pause, "that you doubt his constancy."
"What do you call constancy?" said she. "Kissing a woman's picture ten years after a man has broken her heart? Philip Malbone has that kind of constancy, and so had his father before him."
This was too much for Harry, who was making for the door in indignation, when little Ruth came in with Aunt Jane's luncheon, and that lady was soon absorbed in the hopeless task of keeping her handmaiden's pretty blue and white gingham sleeve out of the butter-plate.
V. A MULTIVALVE HEART.
PHILIP MALBONE had that perfectly sunny temperament which is peculiarly captivating among Americans, because it is so rare. He liked everybody and everybody liked him; he had a thousand ways of affording pleasure, and he received it in the giving. He had a personal beauty, which, strange to say, was recognized by both sexes,—for handsome men must often consent to be mildly hated by their own. He had travelled much, and had mingled in very varied society; he had a moderate fortune, no vices, no ambition, and no capacity of ennui.
He was fastidious and over-critical, it might be, in his theories, but in practice he was easily suited and never vexed.
He liked travelling, and he liked staying at home; he was so continually occupied as to give an apparent activity to all his life, and yet he was never too busy to be interrupted, especially if the intruder were a woman or a child. He liked to be with people of his own age, whatever their condition; he also liked old people because they were old, and children because they were young. In travelling by rail, he would woo crying babies out of their mothers' arms, and still them; it was always his back that Irishwomen thumped, to ask if they must get out at the next station; and he might be seen handing out decrepit paupers, as if they were of royal blood and bore concealed sceptres in their old umbrellas. Exquisitely nice in his personal habits, he had the practical democracy of a good-natured young prince; he had never yet seen a human being who awed him, nor one whom he had the slightest wish to awe. His courtesy, had, therefore, that comprehensiveness which we call republican, though it was really the least republican thing about him. All felt its attraction; there was really no one who disliked him, except Aunt Jane; and even she admitted that he was the only person who knew how to cut her lead-pencil.
That cheerful English premier who thought that any man ought to find happiness enough in walking London streets and looking at the lobsters in the fish-markets, was not more easily satisfied than Malbone. He liked to observe the groups of boys fishing at the wharves, or to hear the chat of their fathers about coral-reefs and penguins' eggs; or to sketch the fisher's little daughter awaiting her father at night on some deserted and crumbling wharf, his blue pea-jacket over her fair ring-leted head, and a great cat standing by with tail uplifted, her sole protector. He liked the luxurious indolence of yachting, and he liked as well to float in his wherry among the fleet of fishing schooners getting under way after a three days' storm, each vessel slipping out in turn from the closely packed crowd, and spreading its white wings for flight. He liked to watch the groups of negro boys and girls strolling by the window at evening, and strumming on the banjo,—the only vestige of tropical life that haunts our busy Northern zone. But he liked just as well to note the ways of well-dressed girls and boys at croquet parties, or to sit at the club window and hear the gossip. He was a jewel of a listener, and was not easily bored even when Philadelphians talked about families, or New Yorkers about bargains, or Bostonians about books. A man who has not one absorbing aim can get a great many miscellaneous things into each twenty-four hours; and there was not a day in which Philip did not make himself agreeable and useful to many people, receive many confidences, and give much good-humored advice about matters of which he knew nothing. His friends' children ran after him in the street, and he knew the pet theories and wines of elderly gentlemen. He said that he won their hearts by remembering every occurrence in their lives except their birthdays.
It was, perhaps, no drawback on the popularity of Philip Malbone that he had been for some ten years reproached as a systematic flirt by all women with whom he did not happen at the moment to be flirting. The reproach was unjust; he had never done anything systematically in his life; it was his temperament that flirted, not his will. He simply had that most perilous of all seductive natures, in which the seducer is himself seduced. With a personal refinement that almost amounted to purity, he was constantly drifting into loves more profoundly perilous than if they had belonged to a grosser man. Almost all women loved him, because he loved almost all; he never had to assume an ardor, for he always felt it. His heart was multivalve; he could love a dozen at once in various modes and gradations, press a dozen hands in a day, gaze into a dozen pair of eyes with unfeigned tenderness; while the last pair wept for him, he was looking into the next. In truth, he loved to explore those sweet depths; humanity is the highest thing to investigate, he said, and the proper study of mankind is woman. Woman needs to be studied while under the influence of emotion; let us therefore have the emotions. This was the reason he gave to himself; but this refined Mormonism of the heart was not based on reason, but on temperament and habit. In such matters logic is only for the by-standers.
His very generosity harmed him, as all our good qualities may harm us when linked with bad ones; he had so many excuses for doing kindnesses to his friends, it was hard to quarrel with him if he did them too tenderly. He was no more capable of unkindness than of constancy; and so strongly did he fix the allegiance of those who loved him, that the women to whom he had caused most anguish would still defend him when accused; would have crossed the continent, if needed, to nurse him in illness, and would have rained rivers of tears on his grave. To do him justice, he would have done almost as much for them,—for any of them. He could torture a devoted heart, but only through a sort of half-wilful unconsciousness; he could not bear to see tears shed in his presence, nor to let his imagination dwell very much on those which flowed in his absence. When he had once loved a woman, or even fancied that he loved her, he built for her a shrine that was never dismantled, and in which a very little faint incense would sometimes be found burning for years after; he never quite ceased to feel a languid thrill at the mention of her name; he would make even for a past love the most generous sacrifices of time, convenience, truth perhaps,—everything, in short, but the present love. To those who had given him all that an undivided heart can give he would deny nothing but an undivided heart in return. The misfortune was that this was the only thing they cared to possess.
This abundant and spontaneous feeling gave him an air of earnestness, without which he could not have charmed any woman, and, least of all, one like Hope. No woman really loves a trifler; she must at least convince herself that he who trifles with others is serious with her. Philip was never quite serious and never quite otherwise; he never deliberately got up a passion, for it was never needful; he simply found an object for his emotions, opened their valves, and then watched their flow. To love a charming woman in her presence is no test of genuine passion; let us know how much you long for her in absence. This longing had never yet seriously troubled Malbone, provided there was another charming person within an easy walk.
If it was sometimes forced upon him that all this ended in anguish to some of these various charmers, first or last, then there was always in reserve the pleasure of repentance. He was very winning and generous in his repentances, and he enjoyed them so much they were often repeated. He did not pass for a weak person, and he was not exactly weak; but he spent his life in putting away temptations with one hand and pulling them back with the other. There was for him something piquant in being thus neither innocent nor guilty, but always on some delicious middle ground. He loved dearly to skate on thin ice,—that was the trouble,—especially where he fancied the water to be just within his depth. Unluckily the sea of life deepens rather fast.
Malbone had known Hope from her childhood, as he had known her cousins, but their love dated from their meetings beside the sickbed of his mother, over whom he had watched with unstinted devotion for weary months. She had been very fond of the young girl, and her last earthly act was to place Hope's hand in Philip's. Long before this final consecration, Hope had won his heart more thoroughly, he fancied, than any woman he had ever seen. The secret of this crowning charm was, perhaps, that she was a new sensation. He had prided himself on his knowledge of her sex, and yet here was a wholly new species. He was acquainted with the women of society, and with the women who only wished to be in society. But here was one who was in the chrysalis, and had never been a grub, and had no wish to be a butterfly, and what should he make of her? He was like a student of insects who had never seen a bee. Never had he known a young girl who cared for the things which this maiden sought, or who was not dazzled by things to which Hope seemed perfectly indifferent. She was not a devotee, she was not a prude; people seemed to amuse and interest her; she liked them, she declared, as much as she liked books. But this very way of putting the thing seemed like inverting the accustomed order of affairs in the polite world, and was of itself a novelty.
Of course he had previously taken his turn for a while among Kate's admirers; but it was when she was very young, and, moreover, it was hard to get up anything like a tender and confidential relation with that frank maiden; she never would have accepted Philip Malbone for herself, and she was by no means satisfied with his betrothal to her best beloved. But that Hope loved him ardently there was no doubt, however it might be explained. Perhaps it was some law of opposites, and she needed some one of lighter nature than her own. As her resolute purpose charmed him, so she may have found a certain fascination in the airy way in which he took hold on life; he was so full of thought and intelligence; possessing infinite leisure, and yet incapable of ennui; ready to oblige every one, and doing so many kind acts at so little personal sacrifice; always easy, graceful, lovable, and kind. In her just indignation at those who called him heartless, she forgot to notice that his heart was not deep. He was interested in all her pursuits, could aid her in all her studies, suggest schemes for her benevolent desires, and could then make others work for her, and even work himself. People usually loved Philip, even while they criticised him; but Hope loved him first, and then could not criticise him at all.
Nature seems always planning to equalize characters, and to protect our friends from growing too perfect for our deserts. Love, for instance, is apt to strengthen the weak, and yet sometimes weakens the strong. Under its influence Hope sometimes appeared at disadvantage. Had the object of her love been indifferent, the result might have been otherwise, but her ample nature apparently needed to contract itself a little, to find room within Philip's heart. Not that in his presence she became vain or petty or jealous; that would have been impossible. She only grew credulous and absorbed and blind. A kind of gentle obstinacy, too, developed itself in her nature, and all suggestion of defects in him fell off from her as from a marble image of Faith. If he said or did anything, there was no appeal; that was settled, let us pass to something else.
I almost blush to admit that Aunt Jane—of whom it could by no means be asserted that she was a saintly lady, but only a very charming one—rather rejoiced in this transformation.
"I like it better, my dear," she said, with her usual frankness, to Kate. "Hope was altogether too heavenly for my style. When she first came here, I secretly thought I never should care anything about her. She seemed nothing but a little moral tale. I thought she would not last me five minutes. But now she is growing quite human and ridiculous about that Philip, and I think I may find her very attractive indeed."
VI. "SOME LOVER'S CLEAR DAY."
"HOPE!" said Philip Malbone, as they sailed together in a little boat the next morning, "I have come back to you from months of bewildered dreaming. I have been wandering,—no matter where. I need you. You cannot tell how much I need you."
"I can estimate it," she answered, gently, "by my need of you."
"Not at all," said Philip, gazing in her trustful face. "Any one whom you loved would adore you, could he be by your side. You need nothing. It is I who need you."
"Why?" she asked, simply.
"Because," he said, "I am capable of behaving very much like a fool. Hope, I am not worthy of you; why do you love me? why do you trust me?"
"I do not know how I learned to love you," said Hope. "It is a blessing that was given to me. But I learned to trust you in your mother's sick-room."
"Ay," said Philip, sadly, "there, at least, I did my full duty."
"As few would have done it," said Hope, firmly,—"very few. Such prolonged self-sacrifice must strengthen a man for life."
"Not always," said Philip, uneasily. "Too much of that sort of thing may hurt one, I fancy, as well as too little. He may come to imagine that the balance of virtue is in his favor, and that he may grant himself a little indulgence to make up for lost time. That sort of recoil is a little dangerous, as I sometimes feel, do you know?"
"And you show it," said Hope, ardently, "by fresh sacrifices! How much trouble you have taken about Emilia! Some time, when you are willing, you shall tell me all about it. You always seemed to me a magician, but I did not think that even you could restore her to sense and wisdom so soon."
Malbone was just then very busy putting the boat about; but when he had it on the other tack, he said, "How do you like her?"
"Philip," said Hope, her eyes filling with tears, "I wonder if you have the slightest conception how my heart is fixed on that child. She has always been a sort of dream to me, and the difficulty of getting any letters from her has only added to the excitement. Now that she is here, my whole heart yearns toward her. Yet, when I look into her eyes, a sort of blank hopelessness comes over me. They seem like the eyes of some untamable creature whose language I shall never learn. Philip, you are older and wiser than I, and have shown already that you understand her. Tell me what I can do to make her love me?"
"Tell me how any one could help it?" said Malbone, looking fondly on the sweet, pleading face before him.
"I am beginning to fear that it can be helped," she said. Her thoughts were still with Emilia.
"Perhaps it can," said Phil, "if you sit so far away from people. Here we are alone on the bay. Come and sit by me, Hope."
She had been sitting amidships, but she came aft at once, and nestled by him as he sat holding the tiller. She put her face against his knee, like a tired child, and shut her eyes; her hair was lifted by the summer breeze; a scent of roses came from her; the mere contact of anything so fresh and pure was a delight. He put his arm around her, and all the first ardor of passion came back to him again; he remembered how he had longed to win this Diana, and how thoroughly she was won.
"It is you who do me good," said she. "O Philip, sail as slowly as you can." But he only sailed farther, instead of more slowly, gliding in and out among the rocky islands in the light north wind, which, for a wonder, lasted all that day,—dappling the bare hills of the Isle of Shadows with a shifting beauty. The tide was in and brimming, the fishing-boats were busy, white gulls soared and clattered round them, and heavy cormorants flapped away as they neared the rocks. Beneath the boat the soft multitudinous jellyfishes waved their fringed pendants, or glittered with tremulous gold along their pink, translucent sides. Long lines and streaks of paler blue lay smoothly along the enamelled surface, the low, amethystine hills lay couched beyond them, and little clouds stretched themselves in lazy length above the beautiful expanse. They reached the ruined fort at last, and Philip, surrendering Hope to others, was himself besieged by a joyous group.
As you stand upon the crumbling parapet of old Fort Louis, you feel yourself poised in middle air; the sea-birds soar and swoop around you, the white surf lashes the rocks far below, the white vessels come and go, the water is around you on all sides but one, and spreads its pale blue beauty up the lovely bay, or, in deeper tints, southward towards the horizon line. I know of no ruin in America which nature has so resumed; it seems a part of the living rock; you cannot imagine it away.
It is a single round, low tower, shaped like the tomb of Cacilia Metella. But its stately position makes it rank with the vast sisterhood of wave-washed strongholds; it might be King Arthur's Cornish Tyntagel; it might be "the teocallis tower" of Tuloom. As you gaze down from its height, all things that float upon the ocean seem equalized. Look at the crowded life on yonder frigate, coming in full-sailed before the steady sea-breeze. To furl that heavy canvas, a hundred men cluster like bees upon the yards, yet to us upon this height it is all but a plaything for the eyes, and we turn with equal interest from that thronged floating citadel to some lonely boy in his skiff.
Yonder there sail to the ocean, beating wearily to windward, a few slow vessels. Inward come jubilant white schooners, wing-and-wing. There are fishing-smacks towing their boats behind them like a family of children; and there are slender yachts that bear only their own light burden. Once from this height I saw the whole yacht squadron round Point Judith, and glide in like a flock of land-bound sea-birds; and above them, yet more snowy and with softer curves, pressed onward the white squadrons of the sky.
Within, the tower is full of debris, now disintegrated into one solid mass, and covered with vegetation. You can lie on the blossoming clover, where the bees hum and the crickets chirp around you, and can look through the arch which frames its own fair picture. In the foreground lies the steep slope overgrown with bayberry and gay with thistle blooms; then the little winding cove with its bordering cliffs; and the rough pastures with their grazing sheep beyond. Or, ascending the parapet, you can look across the bay to the men making hay picturesquely on far-off lawns, or to the cannon on the outer works of Fort Adams, looking like vast black insects that have crawled forth to die.
Here our young people spent the day; some sketched, some played croquet, some bathed in rocky inlets where the kingfisher screamed above them, some rowed to little craggy isles for wild roses, some fished, and then were taught by the boatmen to cook their fish in novel island ways. The morning grew more and more cloudless, and then in the afternoon a fog came and went again, marching by with its white armies, soon met and annihilated by a rainbow.
The conversation that day was very gay and incoherent,—little fragments of all manner of things; science, sentiment, everything: "Like a distracted dictionary," Kate said. At last this lively maiden got Philip away from the rest, and began to cross-question him.
"Tell me," she said, "about Emilia's Swiss lover. She shuddered when she spoke of him. Was he so very bad?"
"Not at all," was the answer. "You had false impressions of him. He was a handsome, manly fellow, a little over-sentimental. He had travelled, and had been a merchant's clerk in Paris and London. Then he came back, and became a boatman on the lake, some said, for love of her."
"Did she love him?"
"Passionately, as she thought."
"Did he love her much?"
"I suppose so."
"Then why did she stop loving him?"
"She does not hate him?"
"No," said Kate, "that is what surprises me. Lovers hate, or those who have been lovers. She is only indifferent. Philip, she had wound silk upon a torn piece of his carte-de-visite, and did not know it till I showed it to her. Even then she did not care."
"Such is woman!" said Philip.
"Nonsense," said Kate. "She had seen somebody whom she loved better, and she still loves that somebody. Who was it? She had not been introduced into society. Were there any superior men among her teachers? She is just the girl to fall in love with her teacher, at least in Europe, where they are the only men one sees."
"There were some very superior men among them," said Philip. "Professor Schirmer has a European reputation; he wears blue spectacles and a maroon wig."
"Do not talk so," said Kate. "I tell you, Emilia is not changeable, like you, sir. She is passionate and constant. She would have married that man or died for him. You may think that your sage counsels restrained her, but they did not; it was that she loved some one else. Tell me honestly. Do you not know that there is somebody in Europe whom she loves to distraction?"
"I do not know it," said Philip.
"Of course you do not KNOW it," returned the questioner. "Do you not think it?"
"I have no reason to believe it."
"That has nothing to do with it," said Kate. "Things that we believe without any reason have a great deal more weight with us. Do you not believe it?"
"No," said Philip, point-blank.
"It is very strange," mused Kate. "Of course you do not know much about it. She may have misled you, but I am sure that neither you nor any one else could have cured her of a passion, especially an unreasonable one, without putting another in its place. If you did it without that, you are a magician, as Hope once called you. Philip, I am afraid of you."
"There we sympathize," said Phil. "I am sometimes afraid of myself, but I discover within half an hour what a very commonplace land harmless person I am."
Meantime Emilia found herself beside her sister, who was sketching. After watching Hope for a time in silence, she began to question her.
"Tell me what you have been doing in all these years," she said.
"O, I have been at school," said Hope. "First I went through the High School; then I stayed out of school a year, and studied Greek and German with my uncle, and music with my aunt, who plays uncommonly well. Then I persuaded them to let me go to the Normal School for two years, and learn to be a teacher."
"A teacher!" said Emilia, with surprise. "Is it necessary that you should be a teacher?"
"Very necessary," replied Hope. "I must have something to do, you know, after I leave school."
"To do?" said the other. "Cannot you go to parties?"
"Not all the time," said her sister.
"Well," said Emilia, "in the mean time you can go to drive, or make calls, or stay at home and make pretty little things to wear, as other girls do."
"I can find time for that too, little sister, when I need them. But I love children, you know, and I like to teach interesting studies. I have splendid health, and I enjoy it all. I like it as you love dancing, my child, only I like dancing too, so I have a greater variety of enjoyments."
"But shall you not sometimes find it very hard?" said Emilia.
"That is why I shall like it," was the answer.
"What a girl you are!" exclaimed the younger sister. "You know everything and can do everything."
"A very short everything," interposed Hope.
"Kate says," continued Emilia, "that you speak French as well as I do, and I dare say you dance a great deal better; and those are the only things I know."
"If we both had French partners, dear," replied the elder maiden, "they would soon find the difference in both respects. My dancing came by nature, I believe, and I learned French as a child, by talking with my old uncle, who was half a Parisian. I believe I have a good accent, but I have so little practice that I have no command of the language compared to yours. In a week or two we can both try our skill, as there is to be a ball for the officers of the French corvette yonder," and Hope pointed to the heavy spars, the dark canvas, and the high quarter-deck which made the "Jean Hoche" seem as if she had floated out of the days of Nelson.
The calm day waned, the sun drooped to his setting amid a few golden bars and pencilled lines of light. Ere they were ready for departure, the tide had ebbed, and, in getting the boats to a practicable landing-place, Malbone was delayed behind the others. As he at length brought his boat to the rock, Hope sat upon the ruined fort, far above him, and sang. Her noble contralto voice echoed among the cliffs down to the smooth water; the sun went down behind her, and still she sat stately and noble, her white dress looking more and more spirit-like against the golden sky; and still the song rang on,—
"Never a scornful word should grieve thee, I'd smile on thee, sweet, as the angels do; Sweet as thy smile on me shone ever, Douglas, Douglas, tender and true."
All sacredness and sweetness, all that was pure and brave and truthful, seemed to rest in her. And when the song ceased at his summons, and she came down to meet him,—glowing, beautiful, appealing, tender,—then all meaner spells vanished, if such had ever haunted him, and he was hers alone.
Later that evening, after the household had separated, Hope went into the empty drawing-room for a light. Philip, after a moment's hesitation, followed her, and paused in the doorway. She stood, a white-robed figure, holding the lighted candle; behind her rose the arched alcove, whose quaint cherubs looked down on her; she seemed to have stepped forth, the awakened image of a saint. Looking up, she saw his eager glance; then she colored, trembled, and put the candle down. He came to her, took her hand and kissed it, then put his hand upon her brow and gazed into her face, then kissed her lips. She quietly yielded, but her color came and went, and her lips moved as if to speak. For a moment he saw her only, thought only of her.
Then, even while he gazed into her eyes, a flood of other memories surged over him, and his own eyes grew dim. His head swam, the lips he had just kissed appeared to fade away, and something of darker, richer beauty seemed to burn through those fair features; he looked through those gentle eyes into orbs more radiant, and it was as if a countenance of eager passion obliterated that fair head, and spoke with substituted lips, "Behold your love." There was a thrill of infinite ecstasy in the work his imagination did; he gave it rein, then suddenly drew it in and looked at Hope. Her touch brought pain for an instant, as she laid her hand upon him, but he bore it. Then some influence of calmness came; there swept by him a flood of earlier, serener memories; he sat down in the window-seat beside her, and when she put her face beside his, and her soft hair touched his cheek, and he inhaled the rose-odor that always clung round her, every atom of his manhood stood up to drive away the intruding presence, and he again belonged to her alone.
When he went to his chamber that night, he drew from his pocket a little note in a girlish hand, which he lighted in the candle, and put upon the open hearth to burn. With what a cruel, tinkling rustle the pages flamed and twisted and opened, as if the fire read them, and collapsed again as if in agonizing effort to hold their secret even in death! The closely folded paper refused to burn, it went out again and again; while each time Philip Malbone examined it ere relighting, with a sort of vague curiosity, to see how much passion had already vanished out of existence, and how much yet survived. For each of these inspections he had to brush aside the calcined portion of the letter, once so warm and beautiful with love, but changed to something that seemed to him a semblance of his own heart just then,—black, trivial, and empty.
Then he took from a little folded paper a long tress of dark silken hair, and, without trusting himself to kiss it, held it firmly in the candle. It crisped and sparkled, and sent out a pungent odor, then turned and writhed between his fingers, like a living thing in pain. What part of us has earthly immortality but our hair? It dies not with death. When all else of human beauty has decayed beyond corruption into the more agonizing irrecoverableness of dust, the hair is still fresh and beautiful, defying annihilation, and restoring to the powerless heart the full association of the living image. These shrinking hairs, they feared not death, but they seemed to fear Malbone. Nothing but the hand of man could destroy what he was destroying; but his hand shrank not, and it was done.
VII. AN INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION.
AT the celebrated Oldport ball for the French officers, the merit of each maiden was estimated by the number of foreigners with whom she could talk at once, for there were more gentlemen than ladies, and not more than half the ladies spoke French. Here Emilia was in her glory; the ice being once broken, officers were to her but like so many school-girls, and she rattled away to the admiral and the fleet captain and two or three lieutenants at once, while others hovered behind the circle of her immediate adorers, to pick up the stray shafts of what passed for wit. Other girls again drove two-in-hand, at the most, in the way of conversation; while those least gifted could only encounter one small Frenchman in some safe corner, and converse chiefly by smiles and signs.
On the whole, the evening opened gayly. Newly arrived Frenchmen are apt to be so unused to the familiar society of unmarried girls, that the most innocent share in it has for them the zest of forbidden fruit, and the most blameless intercourse seems almost a bonne fortune. Most of these officers were from the lower ranks of French society, but they all had that good-breeding which their race wears with such ease, and can unhappily put off with the same.
The admiral and the fleet captain were soon turned over to Hope, who spoke French as she did English, with quiet grace. She found them agreeable companions, while Emilia drifted among the elder midshipmen, who were dazzling in gold lace if not in intellect. Kate fell to the share of a vehement little surgeon, who danced her out of breath. Harry officiated as interpreter between the governor of the State and a lively young ensign, who yearned for the society of dignitaries. The governor was quite aware that he himself could not speak French; the Frenchman was quite unaware that he himself could not speak English; but with Harry's aid they plunged boldly into conversation. Their talk happened to fall on steam-engines, English, French, American; their comparative cost, comparative power, comparative cost per horse power,—until Harry, who was not very strong upon the steam-engine in his own tongue, and was quite helpless on that point in any other, got a good deal astray among the numerals, and implanted some rather wild statistics in the mind of each. The young Frenchman was far more definite, when requested by the governor to state in English the precise number of men engaged on board the corvette. With the accuracy of his nation, he beamingly replied, "Seeshundredtousand."
As is apt to be the case in Oldport, other European nationalities beside the French were represented, though the most marked foreign accent was of course to be found among Americans just returned. There were European diplomatists who spoke English perfectly; there were travellers who spoke no English at all; and as usual each guest sought to practise himself in the tongue he knew least. There was the usual eagerness among the fashionable vulgar to make acquaintance with anything that combined broken English and a title; and two minutes after a Russian prince had seated himself comfortably on a sofa beside Kate, he was vehemently tapped on the shoulder by Mrs. Courtenay Brash with the endearing summons: "Why! Prince, I didn't see as you was here. Do you set comfortable where you be? Come over to this window, and tell all you know!"
The prince might have felt that his summons was abrupt, but knew not that it was ungrammatical, and so was led away in triumph. He had been but a month or two in this country, and so spoke our language no more correctly than Mrs. Brash, but only with more grace. There was no great harm in Mrs. Brash; like most loquacious people, she was kind-hearted, with a tendency to corpulence and good works. She was also afflicted with a high color, and a chronic eruption of diamonds. Her husband had an eye for them, having begun life as a jeweller's apprentice, and having developed sufficient sharpness of vision in other directions to become a millionnaire, and a Congressman, and to let his wife do as she pleased.
What goes forth from the lips may vary in dialect, but wine and oysters speak the universal language. The supper-table brought our party together, and they compared notes.
"Parties are very confusing," philosophized Hope,—"especially when waiters and partners dress so much alike. Just now I saw an ill-looking man elbowing his way up to Mrs. Meredith, and I thought he was bringing her something on a plate. Instead of that, it was his hand he held out, and she put hers into it; and I was told that he was one of the leaders of society. There are very few gentlemen here whom I could positively tell from the waiters by their faces, and yet Harry says the fast set are not here."
"Talk of the angels!" said Philip. "There come the Inglesides."
Through the door of the supper-room they saw entering the drawing-room one of those pretty, fair-haired women who grow older up to twenty-five and then remain unchanged till sixty. She was dressed in the loveliest pale blue silk, very low in the neck, and she seemed to smile on all with her white teeth and her white shoulders. This was Mrs. Ingleside. With her came her daughter Blanche, a pretty blonde, whose bearing seemed at first as innocent and pastoral as her name. Her dress was of spotless white, what there was of it; and her skin was so snowy, you could hardly tell where the dress ended. Her complexion was exquisite, her eyes of the softest blue; at twenty-three she did not look more than seventeen; and yet there was such a contrast between these virginal traits, and the worn, faithless, hopeless expression, that she looked, as Philip said, like a depraved lamb. Does it show the higher nature of woman, that, while "fast young men" are content to look like well-dressed stable boys and billiard-markers, one may observe that girls of the corresponding type are apt to addict themselves to white and rosebuds, and pose themselves for falling angels?
Mrs. Ingleside was a stray widow (from New Orleans via Paris), into whose antecedents it was best not to inquire too closely. After many ups and downs, she was at present up. It was difficult to state with certainty what bad deed she had ever done, or what good deed. She simply lived by her wits, and perhaps by some want of that article in her male friends. Her house was a sort of gentlemanly clubhouse, where the presence of two women offered a shade less restraint than if there had been men alone. She was amiable and unscrupulous, went regularly to church, and needed only money to be the most respectable and fastidious of women. It was always rather a mystery who paid for her charming little dinners; indeed, several things in her demeanor were questionable, but as the questions were never answered, no harm was done, and everybody invited her because everybody else did. Had she committed some graceful forgery tomorrow, or some mild murder the next day, nobody would have been surprised, and all her intimate friends would have said it was what they had always expected.
Meantime the entertainment went on.
"I shall not have scalloped oysters in heaven," lamented Kate, as she finished with healthy appetite her first instalment.
"Are you sure you shall not?" said the sympathetic Hope, who would have eagerly followed Kate into Paradise with a supply of whatever she liked best.
"I suppose you will, darling," responded Kate, "but what will you care? It seems hard that those who are bad enough to long for them should not be good enough to earn them."
At this moment Blanche Ingleside and her train swept into the supper-room; the girls cleared a passage, their attendant youths collected chairs. Blanche tilted hers slightly against a wall, professed utter exhaustion, and demanded a fresh bottle of champagne in a voice that showed no signs of weakness. Presently a sheepish youth drew near the noisy circle.
"Here comes that Talbot van Alsted," said Blanche, bursting at last into a loud whisper. "What a goose he is, to be sure! Dear baby, it promised its mother it wouldn't drink wine for two months. Let's all drink with him. Talbot, my boy, just in time! Fill your glass. Stosst an!"
And Blanche and her attendant spirits in white muslin thronged around the weak boy, saw him charged with the three glasses that were all his head could stand, and sent him reeling home to his mother. Then they looked round for fresh worlds to conquer.
"There are the Maxwells!" said Miss Ingleside, without lowering her voice. "Who is that party in the high-necked dress? Is she the schoolmistress? Why do they have such people here? Society is getting so common, there is no bearing it. That Emily who is with her is too good for that slow set. She's the school-girl we heard of at Nice, or somewhere; she wanted to elope with somebody, and Phil Malbone stopped her, worse luck. She will be for eloping with us, before long."
Emilia colored scarlet, and gave a furtive glance at Hope, half of shame, half of triumph. Hope looked at Blanche with surprise, made a movement forward, but was restrained by the crowd, while the noisy damsel broke out in a different direction.
"How fiendishly hot it is here, though! Jones junior, put your elbow through that window! This champagne is boiling. What a tiresome time we shall have to-morrow, when the Frenchmen are gone! Ah, Count, there you are at last! Ready for the German? Come for me? Just primed and up to anything, and so I tell you!"
But as Count Posen, kissing his hand to her, squeezed his way through the crowd with Hal, to be presented to Hope, there came over Blanche's young face such a mingled look of hatred and weariness and chagrin, that even her unobserving friends saw it, and asked with tender commiseration what was up.
The dancing recommenced. There was the usual array of partners, distributed by mysterious discrepancies, like soldiers' uniforms, so that all the tall drew short, and all the short had tall. There were the timid couples, who danced with trembling knees and eyes cast over their shoulders; the feeble couples, who meandered aimlessly and got tangled in corners; the rash couples, who tore breathlessly through the rooms and brought up at last against the large white waistcoat of the violon-cello. There was the professional lady-killer, too supreme and indolent to dance, but sitting amid an admiring bevy of fair women, where he reared his head of raven curls, and pulled ceaselessly his black mustache. And there were certain young girls who, having astonished the community for a month by the lowness of their dresses, now brought to bear their only remaining art, and struck everybody dumb by appearing clothed. All these came and went and came again, and had their day or their night, and danced until the robust Hope went home exhausted and left her more fragile cousins to dance on till morning. Indeed, it was no easy thing for them to tear themselves away; Kate was always in demand; Philip knew everybody, and had that latest aroma of Paris which the soul of fashion covets; Harry had the tried endurance which befits brothers and lovers at balls; while Emilia's foreign court held out till morning, and one handsome young midshipman, in special, kept revolving back to her after each long orbit of separation, like a gold-laced comet.
The young people lingered extravagantly late at that ball, for the corvette was to sail next day, and the girls were willing to make the most of it. As they came to the outer door, the dawn was inexpressibly beautiful,—deep rose melting into saffron, beneath a tremulous morning star. With a sudden impulse, they agreed to walk home, the fresh air seemed so delicious. Philip and Emilia went first, outstripping the others.
Passing the Jewish cemetery, Kate and Harry paused a moment. The sky was almost cloudless, the air was full of a thousand scents and songs, the rose-tints in the sky were deepening, the star paling, while a few vague clouds went wandering upward, and dreamed themselves away.
"There is a grave in that cemetery," said Kate, gently, "where lovers should always be sitting. It lies behind that tall monument; I cannot see it for the blossoming boughs. There were two young cousins who loved each other from childhood, but were separated, because Jews do not allow such unions. Neither of them was ever married; and they lived to be very old, the one in New Orleans, the other at the North. In their last illnesses each dreamed of walking in the fields with the other, as in their early days; and the telegraphic despatches that told their deaths crossed each other on the way. That is his monument, and her grave was made behind it; there was no room for a stone."
Kate moved a step or two, that she might see the graves. The branches opened clear. What living lovers had met there, at this strange hour, above the dust of lovers dead? She saw with amazement, and walked on quickly that Harry might not also see.
It was Emilia who sat beside the grave, her dark hair drooping and dishevelled, her carnation cheek still brilliant after the night's excitement; and he who sat at her feet, grasping her hand in both of his, while his lips poured out passionate words to which she eagerly listened, was Philip Malbone.
Here, upon the soil of a new nation, lay a spot whose associations seemed already as old as time could make them,—the last footprint of a tribe now vanished from this island forever,—the resting-place of a race whose very funerals would soon be no more. Each April the robins built their nests around these crumbling stones, each May they reared their broods, each June the clover blossomed, each July the wild strawberries grew cool and red; all around was youth and life and ecstasy, and yet the stones bore inscriptions in an unknown language, and the very graves seemed dead.
And lovelier than all the youth of Nature, little Emilia sat there in the early light, her girlish existence gliding into that drama of passion which is older than the buried nations, older than time, than death, than all things save life and God.
VIII. TALKING IT OVER.
AUNT JANE was eager to hear about the ball, and called everybody into her breakfast-parlor the next morning. She was still hesitating about her bill of fare.
"I wish somebody would invent a new animal," she burst forth. "How those sheep bleated last night! I know it was an expression of shame for providing such tiresome food."
"You must not be so carnally minded, dear," said Kate. "You must be very good and grateful, and not care for your breakfast. Somebody says that mutton chops with wit are a great deal better than turtle without."
"A very foolish somebody," pronounced Aunt Jane. "I have had a great deal of wit in my life, and very little turtle. Dear child, do not excite me with impossible suggestions. There are dropped eggs, I might have those. They look so beautifully, if it only were not necessary to eat them. Yes, I will certainly have dropped eggs. I think Ruth could drop them; she drops everything else."
"Poor little Ruth!" said Kate. "Not yet grown up!"
"She will never grow up," said Aunt Jane, "but she thinks she is a woman; she even thinks she has a lover. O that in early life I had provided myself with a pair of twins from some asylum; then I should have had some one to wait on me."