A STORY IN THREE PARTS.
MISS WHITTAKER’S garden covered a couple of acres, behind and beside her house, and at its farther extremity was bounded by a narrow meadow, which in turn was bordered by the old disused towingpath beside the river, at this point a slow and shallow stream. Its low flat banks were unadorned with rocks or trees, and a towing-path is not in itself a romantic promenade. Nevertheless, here sauntered bareheaded, on a certain spring evening, the mistress of the acres just mentioned and many more beside, in sentimental converse with an impassioned and beautiful youth.
She herself had been positively plain, but for the frequent recurrence of a magnificent broad smile, — which imparted loveliness to her somewhat plebeian features, — and (in another degree) for the elegance of her dress, which expressed one of the later stages of mourning, and was of that voluminous abundance proper to women who are massive in person, and rich besides. Her companion’s good looks, for very good they were, in spite of several defects, were set off by a shabby suit, as carelessly worn as it was inartistically cut. His manner, as he walked and talked, was that of a nervous, passionate man, wrought almost to desperation ; while her own was that of a person self-composed to generous attention. A brief silence, however, had at last fallen upon them. Miss Whittaker strolled along quietly, looking at the slow-mounting moon, and the young man gazed on the ground, swinging his stick. Finally, with a heavy blow, he brought it to earth.
“ O Gertrude ! ” he cried, “ I despise myself.”
“ That’s very foolish,” said Gertrude.
“And, Gertrude, I adore you.”
“ That’s more foolish still,” said Gertrude, with her eyes still on the moon. And then, suddenly and somewhat impatiently transferring them to her companion’s face, “ Richard,” she asked, “ what do you mean when you say you adore me ? ”
“ Mean ? I mean that I love you.”
“ Then, why don’t you say what you mean ? ”
The young man looked at her a moment. “ Will you give me leave,” he asked, “ to say all that I mean ? ”
“ Of course,” Then, as he remained silent, “ I listen,” added Gertrude.
Yet he still said nothing, but went striking vehemently at the weeds by the water’s edge, like one who may easily burst into tears of rage.
“Gertrude !” he suddenly exclaimed, “what more do you want than the assurance that I love you ! ”
“ I want nothing more. That assurance is by itself delightful enough. You yourself seemed to wish to add something more.”
“ Either you won’t understand me,” cried Richard, “or”—flagrantly vicious for twenty seconds — “ you can't! ”
Miss Whittaker stopped and looked thoughtfully into his face. “ In our position,” she said, “ if it becomes you to sacrifice reflection to feeling, it becomes me to do the reverse. Listen to me, Richard. I do understand you, and better, I fancy, than you understand yourself.”
“ O, of course ! ”
But she continued, heedless of his interruption. “ I thought that, by leaving you to yourself awhile, your feelings might become clearer to you. But they seem to be growing only more confused. I have been so fortunate, or so unfortunate, I hardly know which,”
— and she smiled faintly, — “ as to please you. That’s all very well, but you must not make too much of it. Nothing can make me happier than to please you, or to please any one. But here it must stop with you, as it stops with others.”
“ It does not stop here with others.”
“ I beg your pardon. You have no right to say that. It is partly out of justice to others that I speak to you as I am doing. I shall always be one of your best friends, but I shall never be more. It is best I should tell you this at once. I might trifle with you awhile and make you happy (since upon such a thing you are tempted to set your happiness) by allowing you to suppose that I had given you my heart; but the end would soon come, and then where should we be ? You may in your disappointment call me heartless now, — I freely give you leave to call me anything that may ease your mind,
— but what would you call me then ? Friendship, Richard, is a heavenly cure for love. Here is mine,” and she held out her hand.
“ No, I thank you,” said Richard, gloomily folding his arms. “ I know my own feelings,” and he raised his voice. “ Have n’t I lived with them night and day for weeks and weeks ? Great Heaven, Gertrude, this is no fancy. I’m not of that sort. My whole life has gone into my love. God has let me idle it away hitherto, only that I might begin it with you. Dear Gertrude, hear me. I have the heart of a man. I know I’m not respectable, but I devoutly believe I’m lovable. It’s true that I’ve neither worked, nor thought, nor studied, nor turned a penny. But, on the other hand, I’ve never cared for a woman before. I’ve waited for you. And now — now, after all, I’m to sit down and be pleased! The Devil ! Please other men, madam ! Me you delight, you intoxicate.”
An honest flush rose to Gertrude’s check. “ So much the worse for you ! ” she cried with a bitter laugh. “ So much the worse for both of us ! But what is your point ? Do you wish to marry me ? ”
Richard flinched a moment under this tacit proposition suddenly grown vocal; but not from want of heart. “ Of course I do,” he said.
“ Well, then, I only pity you the more for your consistency. I can only entreat you again to rest contented with my friendship. It 's not such a bad substitute, Richard, as I understand it. What my love might be I don't know, — I could n’t answer for that; but of my friendship I’m sure. We both have our duties in this matter, and I have resolved to take a liberal view of mine. I might lose patience with you, you know, and dismiss you, —leave you alone with your dreams, and let you break your heart. But it’s rather by seeing more of me than by seeing less, that your feelings will change.”
“ Indeed ! And yours ? ”
“ I have no doubt they will change, too ; not in kind, but in degree. The better I know you, I am sure, the better I shall like you. The better too you will like me. Don’t turn your back upon me. I speak the truth. You will get to entertain a serious opinion of me, —which I’m sure you have n’t now, or you would n’t talk of my intoxicating you. But you must be patient. It’s a singular fact that it takes longer to like a woman than to love her. A sense of intoxication is a very poor feeling to marry upon. You wish, of course, to break with your idleness, and your bad habits,— you see I am so thoroughly your friend that I ’m not afraid of touching upon disagreeable facts, as I should be if I were your mistress. But you are so indolent, so irresolute, so undisciplined, so uneducated,” — Gertrude spoke deliberately, and watched the effect of her words,—■ “ that you find a change of life very difficult. I propose, with your consent, to appoint myself your counsellor. Henceforth my house will be open to you as to my deafest friend. Come as often and stay as long as you please. Not in a few weeks, perhaps, nor even in a few months, but in God's good time, you will be a noble young man in working order,— which I don’t consider you now, and which I know you don’t consider yourself. But I have a great opinion of your talents,” (this was very shrewd of Gertrude,) “and of your heart. If I turn, out to have done you a service, you ’ll not want to marry me then.”
Richard had silently listened, with a deepening frown. “ That’s all very pretty,” he said ; “ but ” — and the reader will see that, in his earnestness, he was inclined to dispense with courtesy—“ it’s rotten,— rotten from beginning to end. What’s the meaning of all that rigmarole about the inconsistency of friendship and love ? Such talk is enough to drive one mad. Refuse me outright, and send me to the Devil, if you must; but don’t bemuddle your own brains at the same time. But one little word knocks it all to pieces: I want you for my wife. You make an awful mistake in treating me as a boy, — an awful mistake. I am in working order. I have begun life in loving you. I have broken with drinking as effectually as if I had n’t touched a drop of liquor for twenty years. I hate it, I loathe it. I ’ve drunk my last. No, Gertrude, I 'm no longer a boy, — you ’ve cured me of that. Hang it, that’s why I love you ! Don’t you see ? Ah, Gertrude ! ” — and his voice fell, — " you ’re a great enchantress ! You have no arts, you have no beauty even, (can’t a lover deal with facts now?) but you are an enchantress without them. It’s your nature. You are so divinely, damnably honest! That excellent speech just now was meant to smother my passion ; but it has only inflamed it. You will say it was nothing but common sense. Very likely ; but that is the very point. Your common sense captivates me. It's for that that I love you.”
He spoke with so relentless a calmness that Gertrude was sickened. Here she found herself weaker than he, while the happiness of both of them demanded that she should be stronger,
“ Richard Clare,” she said, “ you are unkind ! ” There was a tremor in her voice as she spoke ; and as she ceased speaking, she burst into tears. A selfish sense of victory invaded the young man’s breast. He threw his arm about her ; but she shook it off. “ You are a coward, sir ! ” she cried.
“ Oho ! ” said Richard, flushing angrily.
“ You go too far ; you persist beyond decency.”
“ You hate me now, I suppose,” said Richard, brutally, like one at bay.
Gertrude brushed away her tears. “No indeed,” she answered, sending him a dry, clear glance. “ To hate you, I should have to have loved you. I pity you still.”
Richard looked at her a moment. “ I don’t feel tempted to return the feeling, Gertrude,” said he. “A woman with so much head as you needs no pity.”
“ I have not head enough to read your sarcasm, sir; but I have heart enough to excuse it, and I mean to keep a good heart to the end. I mean to keep my temper, I mean to be just, I mean to be conclusive, and not to have to return to this matter. It’s not for my pleasure, I would have you know, that I am so explicit. I have nerves as well as you. Listen, then. If I don’t love you, Richard, in your way, I don’t; and if I can't, I can’t. We can’t love by will. But with friendship, when it is once established, I believe the will and the reason may have a great deal to do. I will, therefore, put the whole of my mind into my friendship for you, and in that way we shall perhaps be even. Such a feeling— as I shall naturally show it — will, after all, not be very different from that other feeling you ask — as I should naturally show it. Bravely to reconcile himself to such difference as there is, is no more than a man of honor ought to do. Do you understand me?”
“ You have an admirable way of putting things. ‘After all,’ and ‘such difference as there is ’ ! The difference is the difference of marriage and nomarriage, I suppose you don’t mean that you are willing to live with me without that ceremony ? "
“ You suppose correctly.”
“Then why do you falsify matters? A woman is either a man's wife, or she is n't.”
“ Yes ; and a woman is either a man's friend, or she is n’t.”
“ And you are mine, and I 'm an ungrateful brute not to rest satisfied ! That s what you mean. Heaven knows you 're right,”—and he paused a moment, with his eyes on the ground. “ Don’t despise me, Gertrude,” he resumed. “ I 'm not so ungrateful as I seem. I ’m very much obliged to you for the pains you have taken. Of course I understand your not loving me. You’d be a grand fool if you did ; and you ’re no fool, Gertrude.”
“ No, I 'm no fool, Richard. It’s a great responsibility, — it ’s dreadfully vulgar ; but, on the whole, I ’m rather glad.”
“ So am I. I could hate you for it; but there is no doubt it’s why I love you. If you were a fool, you might love me ; but I should n't love you, and if I must choose, I prefer that.”
“ Heaven has chosen for us. Ah, Richard,” pursued Gertrude, with admirable simplicity, “let us be good and obey Heaven, and we shall be sure to be happy,” — and she held out her hand once more.
Richard took it and raised it to his lips. She felt their pressure and withdrew it.
“ Now you must leave me,” she said. “ Did you ride ? ”
“ My horse is at the village.”
“ You can go by the river, then. Good night.”
“ Good night.”
The young man moved away in the gathering dusk, and Miss Whittaker stood for a moment looking after him.
To appreciate the importance of this conversation, the reader must know that Miss Gertrude Whittaker was a young woman of four-and-twenty, whose father, recently deceased, had left her alone in the world, with a great fortune, accumulated by various enterprises in that part of the State. He had appointed a distant and elderly kinswoman, by name Miss Pendexter, as his daughter’s household companion ; and an old friend of his own, known to combine shrewdness with integrity, as her financial adviser. Motherless, country-bred, and homely-featured, Gertrude on arriving at maturity had neither the tastes nor the manners of a fine lady. Of a robust and active make, with a warm heart, a cool head, and a very pretty talent for affairs, she was, in virtue both of her wealth and of her tact, one of the chief figures of the neighborhood. These facts had forced her into a prominence which she made no attempt to elude, and in which she now felt thoroughly at home. She knew herself to be a power in the land ; she knew that, present and absent, she was continually talked about as the rich Miss Whittaker ; and although as modest as a woman need be, she was neither so timid nor so nervous as to wish to compromise with her inevitable distinctions. Her feelings were indeed, throughout, strong, rather than delicate ; and yet there was in her whole nature, as the world had learned to look at it, a moderation, a temperance, a benevolence, an orderly freedom, which bespoke universal respect. She was impulsive, and yet discreet; economical, and yet generous ; humorous, and yet serious ; keenly discerning of human distinctions, and yet almost indiscriminately hospitable ; with a prodigious fund of common sense beneath all ; and yet beyond this, — like the priest behind the king,-—and despite her broadly prosaic, and as it were secular tone, a certain latent suggestion of heroic possibilities, which he who had once become insensible of it (supposing him to be young and enthusiastic) would linger about her hoping to detect, as you might stand watchful of a florid and vigorous dahlia, which for an instant, in your passage, should have proved deliciously fragrant. It is upon the actual existence, in more minds than one, of a mystifying sense of this sweet and remote perfume, that our story is based.
Richard Clare and Miss Whittaker were old friends. They had in the first place gone democratically to the town school together as children ; and then their divergent growth, as boy and girl, had acknowledged an elastic bond in a continued intimacy between Gertrude and Fanny Clare, Richard’s sister, who, however, in the fulness of time had married, and had followed her husband to California. With her departure the old relations of habit between her brother and her friend had slackened, and gradually ceased. Richard had grown up a rebellious and troublesome boy, with a disposition combining stolid apathy and hot-headed impatience in equal proportions. Losing both of his parents before he was well out of his boyhood, he had found himself at the age of sixteen in possession actual, and as he supposed uncontested, of the paternal farm. It was not long, however, before those turned up who were disposed to question his immediate ability to manage it ; the result of which was, that the farm was leased for five years, and that Richard was almost forcibly abducted by a maternal uncle, living on a farm of his own some three hundred miles away. Here our young man spent the remainder of his minority, ostensibly learning agriculture with his cousins, but actually learning nothing. He had very soon established, and had subsequently enjoyed without a day’s interval, the reputation of an illnatured fool. He was dull, disobliging, brooding, lowering. Reading and shooting he liked a little, because they were solitary pastimes ; but to common duties and pleasures he proved himself as incompetent as he was averse. It was possible to live with him only because he was at once too selfish and too simple for mischief. As soon as he came of age he resumed possession of the acres on which his boyhood had been passed, and toward which he gravitated under an instinct of mere local affection, rather than from any intelligent purpose. He avoided his neighbors, his father’s former associates ; he rejected, nay, he violated, their counsel ; he informed them that he wanted no help but what he paid for, and that he expected to work his farm for himself and by himself. In short, he proved himself to their satisfaction egregiously ungrateful, conceited, and arrogant. They were not slow to discover that his incapacity was as great as his conceit. In two years he had more than undone the work of the late lessee, which had been an improvement on that of the original owner. In the third year, it seemed to those who observed him that there was something so wanton in his errors as almost to impugn his sanity. He appeared to have accepted them himself, and to have given up all pretence of work. He went about silent and sullen, like a man who feels that he has a quarrel with fate. About this time it became generally known that he was often the worse for liquor ; and he hereupon acquired the deplorable reputation of a man worse than unsociable,—a man who drinks alone,— although it was still doubtful whether this practice was the cause or the effect of his poor crops. About this time, too, he resumed acquaintance with Gertrude Whittaker. For many months after his return he had been held at his distance, together with most of his rural compeers, by the knowledge of her father’s bitter hostility to all possible suitors and fortune-hunters ; and then, subsequently, by the illness preceding the old man’s death ; but when at last, on the expiration of her term of mourning, Miss Whittaker had opened to society her long blockaded ports, Richard had, to all the world’s amazement, been among the first to profit by this extension of the general privilege, and to cast anchor in the wide and peaceful waters of her friendship. He found himself at this moment, considerably to his surprise, in his twenty-fourth year, that is, a few months Gertrude’s junior.
It was impossible that she should not have gathered from mere juxtaposition a vague impression of his evil repute and of his peculiar relation to his neighbors, and to his own affairs. Thanks to this impression, Richard found a very warm welcome, —the welcome of compassion. Gertrude gave him a heavy arrear of news from his sister Fanny, with whom he had dropped correspondence, and, impelled by Fanny’s complaints of his long silence, ventured upon a friendly admonition that he should go straight home and write a letter to California. Richard sat before her, gazing at her out of his dark eyes, and not only attempting no defence of his conduct, but rejoicing dumbly in the utter absence of any possible defence, as of an interruption to his companion’s virtue. He wished that he might incontinently lay bare all his shortcomings to her delicious reproof. He carried away an extraordinary sense of general alleviation ; and forthwith began a series of visits, which in the space of some ten weeks culminated in the interview with which our narrative opens. Painfully diffident in the company of most women, Richard had not from the first known what it was to be shy with Gertrude. As a man of the world finds it useful to refresh his social energies by an occasional tête-à-tête of an hour with himself, so Richard, with whom solitude was the rule, derived a certain austere satisfaction from an hour’s contact with Miss Whittaker’s consoling good sense, her abundance, her decent duties and comforts. Gradually, however, from a salutary process, this became almost an æsthetic one. It was now pleasant to go to Gertrude, because he enjoyed the contagion of her own repose, — because he witnessed her happiness without a sensation of envy,— because he forgot his own entanglements and errors, — because, finally, his soul slept away its troubles beneath her varying glance, very much as his body had often slept away its weariness in the shade of a changing willow. But the soul, like the body, will not sleep long without dreaming; and it will not dream often without wishing at last to tell its dreams. Richard had one day ventured to impart his visions to Gertrude, and the revelation had apparently given her serious pain. The fact that Richard Clare (of all men in the world!) had somehow worked himself into an intimacy with Miss Whittaker very soon became public property among their neighbors ; and in the hands of these good people, naturally enough, received an important addition in the inference that he was going to marry her. He was, of course, esteemed a very lucky fellow, and the prevalence of this impression was doubtless not without its effect on the forbearance of certain long-suffering creditors. And even if she was not to marry him, it was further argued, she yet might lend him money : for it was assumed without question that the necessity of raising money was the mainspring of Richard’s suit. It is needless to inform the reader that this assumption was— to use a homely metaphor— without a leg to stand upon. Our hero had faults enough, but to be mercenary was not one of them ; nor was an excessive concern on the subject of his debts one of his virtues. As for Gertrude, wherever else her perception of her friend’s feelings may have been at fault, it was not at fault on this point. That he loved her as desperately as he declared, she indeed doubted ; but it never occured to her to question the purity of his affection. And so, on the other hand, it was strictly out of her heart’s indifference that she rejected him, and not for the disparity of their fortunes. In accepting his very simple and natural overtures to friendship, in calling him “Richard” in remembrance of old days, and in submitting generally to the terms of their old relations, she had foreseen no sentimental catastrophe. She had viewed her friend from the first as an object of lively material concern. She had espoused his interests (like all good women, Gertrude was ever more or less of a partisan) because she loved his sister, and because she pitied himself. She would stand to him in loco sororis. The reader has seen that she had given herself a long day’s work.
It is not to be supposed that Richard’s sober retreat at the close of the walk by the river implied any instinct of resignation to the prospects which Gertrude had opened to him. It is explained rather by an intensity of purpose so deep as to fancy that it can dispense with bravado. This was not the end of his suit, but the beginning. He would not give in until he was positively beaten. It was all very well, he reflected, that Gertrude should reject him. Such a woman as she ought properly to be striven for, and there was something ridiculous in the idea that she should be easily won, whether by himself or by another. Richard was a slow thinker, but he thought more wisely than he talked ; and he now took back all his angry boasts of accomplished self-mastery, and humbly surveyed the facts of the case. He was on the way to recovery, but he was by no means cured, and yet his very humility assured him that he was curable. He was no hero, but he was better than his life ; he was no scholar, but in his own view at least he was no fool. He was good enough to be better ; he was good enough not to sit by the hour soaking his slender brains in whiskey. And at the very least, if he was not worthy to possess Gertrude, he was yet worthy to strive to obtain her, and to live forevermore upon the glory of having been formally refused by the great Miss Whittaker. He would raise himself then to that level from which he could address her as an equal, from which he could borrow that authority of which he was now so shamefully bare. How he would do this, he was at a loss to determine. He was conscious of an immense fund of brute volition, but he cursed his barbarous ignorance, as he searched in vain for those high opposing forces the defeat of which might lend dignity to his struggle. He longed vaguely for some continuous muscular effort, at the end of which he should find himself face to face with his mistress. But as, instead of being a Pagan hero, with an enticing task-list of impossibilities, he was a plain New England farmer, with a bad conscience, and nature with him and not against him, — as, after slaying his dragon, after breaking with liquor, his work was a simple operation in common sense, —in view of these facts he found but little inspiration in his prospect. Nevertheless he fronted it bravely. He was not to obtain Gertrude by making a fortune, but by making himself a man, by learning to think. But as to learn to think is to learn to work, he would find some use for his muscle. He would keep sober and clear-headed; he would retrieve his land and pay his debts. Then let her refuse him if she could, — or if she dared, he was wont occasionally to add.
Meanwhile Gertrude on her side sat quietly at home, revolving in her own fashion a dozen ideal schemes for her friend’s redemption and for the diversion of his enthusiasm. Not but that she meant rigorously to fulfil her part of the engagement to which she had invited him in that painful scene by the river. Yet whatever of that firmness, patience, and courtesy of which she possessed so large a stock she might still oppose to his importunities, she could not feel secure against repeated intrusion (for it was by this term that she was disposed to qualify all unsanctioned transgression of those final and immovable limits which she had set to her immense hospitality) without the knowledge of a partial change at least in Richard's own attitude. Such a change could only be effected through some preparatory change in his life ; and a change in his life could be brought about only by the introduction of some new influence. This influence, however, was very hard to find. However positively Gertrude had dwelt upon the practical virtue of her own friendship, she was now on further reflection led sadly to distrust the exclusive use of this instrument. He was welcome enough to that, but he needed something more. It suddenly occurred to her, one morning after Richard’s image had been crossing and recrossing her mental vision for a couple of hours with wearisome pertinacity, that a world of good might accrue to him through the friendship of a person so unexceptionable as Captain Severn. There was no one, she declared within herself, who would not be better for knowing such a man. She would recommend Richard to his kindness, and him she would recommend to Richard’s — what ? Here was the rub ! Where was there common ground bebetween Richard and such a one as he ? To request him to like Richard was easy ; to ask Richard to like him was ridiculous. If Richard could only know him, the work were done ; he could n’t choose but love him as a brother. But to bespeak Richard’s respect for an object was to fill him straightway with aversion for it. Her young friend was so pitiable a creature himself, that it had never occurred to her to appeal to his sentiments of compassion. All the world seemed above him, and he was consequently at odds with all the world. If some worthy being could be found, even less favored of nature and of fortune than himself, to such a one he might become attached by a useful sympathy. There was indeed nothing particularly enviable in Captain Severn’s lot, and herein Richard might properly experience a fellow-feeling for him; but nevertheless he was apparently quite contented with it, and thus he was raised several degrees above Richard, who would be certain to find something aggressive in his equanimity. Still, for all this, Gertrude would bring them together. She had a high estimate of the Captain’s generosity, and if Richard should wantonly fail to conform to the situation, the loss would be his own. It may be thought that in this enterprise Captain Severn was somewhat inconsiderately handled. But a generous woman will freely make a missionary of the man she loves. These words suggest the propriety of a short description of the person to whom they refer.
Edmund Severn was a man of eightand-twenty, who, having for some time combated fortune and his own inclinations as a mathematical tutor in a second-rate country college, had, on the opening of the war, transferred his valor to a mure heroic field. His regiment of volunteers, now at work before Richmond, had been raised in Miss Whittaker’s district, and beneath her substantial encouragement. His soldiership, like his scholarship, was solid rather than brilliant. He was not destined to be heard of at home, nor to leave his regiment; but on many an important occasion in Virginia he had proved himself in a modest way an excellently useful man. Coming up early in the war with a severe wound, to be nursed by a married sister domiciled in Gertrude's neighborhood, he was, like all hts fellow-sufferers within a wide circuit, very soon honored with a visit of anxious inquiry from Miss Whittaker, who was as yet known to him only by report, and who transmitted to him the warmest assurances of sympathy and interest, together with the liveliest offers of assistance ; and, incidentally as it were to these, a copious selection from the products of her hot-house and store-room. Severn had taken the air for the first time in Gertrude’s own great cushioned barouche, which she had sent to his door at an early stage of his convalescence, and which of course he had immediately made use of to pay his respects to his benefactress. He was confounded by the real humility with which, on this occasion, betwixt smiles and tears, she assured him that to be of service to such as him was for her a sacred privilege. Never, thought the Captain as he drove away, had he seen so much rustic breadth combined with so much womanly grace. Half a dozen visits during the ensuing month more than sufficed to convert him into what is called an admirer; but, as the weeks passed by, he felt that there were great obstacles to his ever ripening into a lover. Captain Severn was a serious man; he was conscientious, discreet, deliberate, unused to act without a definite purpose. Whatever might be the intermediate steps, it was necessary that the goal of an enterprise should have become an old story to him before he took the first steps. And, moreover, if the goal seemed a profitable or an honorable station, he was proof against the perils or the discomforts of the journey ; while if, on the other hand, it offered no permanent repose, he generally found but little difficulty in resisting the incidental allurements. In pursuance of this habit, or rather in obedience to this principle, of carefully fixing his programme, he had asked himself whether he was prepared to face the logical results of a series of personal attentions to our heroine. Since he had determined a twelvemonth before not to marry until, by some means or another, he should have evoked a sufficient income, no great change had taken place in his fortunes. He was still a poor man and an unsettled one ; he was still awaiting his real vocation. Moreover, while subject to the chances of war, he doubted his right to engage a woman’s affections : he shrank in horror from the thought of making a widow. Miss Whittaker was one in five thousand. Before the luminous fact of her existence, his dim ideal of the desirable wife had faded into vapor. But should he allow this fact to invalidate all the stern precepts of his reason ? He could no more afford to marry a rich woman than a poor one. When he should have earned a subsistence for two, then he would be free to marry whomsoever he might fancy,—a beggar or an heiress. The truth is, that the Captain was a great deal too proud. It was his fault that he could not bring himself to forget the difference between his poverty and Gertrude’s wealth. He would of course have resented the insinuation that the superior fortune of the woman he loved should really have force to prevent him from declaring his love; but there is no doubt that in the case before us this fact arrested his passion in its origin. Severn had a most stoical aversion to being in debt. It is certain that, after all, he would have made a very graceful debtor to his mistress or his wife ; but while a woman was as yet neither his mistress nor his wife, the idea of being beholden to her was essentially distasteful to him. It would have been a question with one who knew him, whether at this juncture this frigid instinct was destined to resist the warmth of Gertrude’s charms, or whether it was destined gradually to melt away. There would have been no question, however, but that it could maintain itself only at the cost of great suffering to its possessor. At this moment, then, Severn had made up his mind that Gertrude was not for him, and that it behooved him to be sternly vigilant both of his impulses and his impressions. That Miss Whittaker, with a hundred rational cares, was anything less than supremely oblivious of him, individually, it never occurred to him to suspect. The truth is, that Gertrude’s private and personal emotions were entertained in a chamber of her heart so remote from the portals of speech that no sound of their revelry found its way into the world. She constantly thought of her modest, soldierly, scholarly friend as of one whom a wise woman might find it very natural to love. But what was she to him ? A local roadside figure, — at the very most a sortofmillionnaire Maud Muller, — with whom it was pleasant for a lonely wayfarer to exchange a friendly “ goodmorning.” Her duty was to fold her arms resignedly, to sit quietly on the sofa, and watch a great happiness sink below the horizon. With this impression on Gertrude’s part it is not surprising that Severn was not wrenched out of himself. The prodigy was apparently to be wrought— if wrought at all — by her common, unbought sweetness. It is true that this was of a potency sufficient almost to work prodigies ; but as yet its effect upon Severn had been none other than its effect upon all the world. It kept him in his kindliest humor. It kept him even in the humor of talking sentiment; but although, in the broad sunshine of her listening, his talk bloomed thick with field-flowers, he never invited her to pluck the least little daisy. It was with perfect honesty, therefore, that she had rebutted Richard’s insinuation that the Captain enjoyed any especial favor. He was as yet but another of the pensioners of her good-nature.
The result of Gertrude’s meditations was, that she despatched a note to each of her two friends, requesting them to take tea with her on the following day. A couple of hours before tea-time she received a visit from one Major Luttrel, who was recruiting for a United States regiment at a large town, some ten miles away, and who had ridden over in the afternoon, in accordance with a general invitation conveyed to him through an old lady who had bespoken Miss Whittaker’s courtesy for him as a man of delightful manners and wonderful talents. Gertrude, on her venerable friend’s representations, had replied, with her wonted alacrity, that she would be very glad to see Major Luttrel, should he ever come that way, and then had thought no more about him until his card was brought to her as she was dressing for the evening. He found so much to say to her, that the interval passed very rapidly for both of them before the simultaneous entrance of Miss Pendexter and of Gertrude’s guests. The two officers were already slightly known to each other, and Richard was accordingly presented to each of them. They eyed the distracted-looking young farmer with some curiosity. Richard’s was at all times a figure to attract attention ; but now he was almost picturesque (so Severn thought at least) with his careless garments, his pale face, his dark mistrustful eyes, and his nervous movements. Major Luttrel, who struck Gertrude as at once very agreeable and the least bit in the world disagreeable, was, of course, invited to remain, — which he straightway consented to do; and it soon became evident to Miss Whittaker that her little scheme was destined to miscarry. Richard practised a certain defiant silence, which, as she feared, gave him eventually a decidedly ridiculous air. His companions displayed toward their hostess that half-avowed effort to shine and to outshine natural to clever men who find themselves concurring to the entertainment of a young and agreeable woman. Richard sat by, wondering, in splenetic amazement, whether he was an ignorant boor, or whether they were only a brace of inflated snobs. He decided, correctly enough, in substance, for the former hypothesis. For it seemed to him that Gertrude’s consummate accommodation (for as such he viewed it) of her tone and her manner to theirs added prodigiously (so his lover’s instinct taught him) to her loveliness and dignity. How magnanimous an impulse on Richard’s part was this submission for his sweetheart’s sake to a fact damning to his own vanity, could have been determined only by one who knew the proportions of that vanity. He writhed and chafed under the polish of tone and the variety of allusion by which the two officers consigned him to insignificance ; but he was soon lost in wonder at the mettlesome grace and vivacity with which Gertrude sustained her share of the conversation. For a moment it seemed to him that her tenderness for his equanimity (for should she not know his mind, — she who had made it?) might reasonably have caused her to forego such an exhibition of her social accomplishments as would but remind him afresh of his own deficiencies ; but the next moment he asked himself, with a great revulsion of feeling, whether he, a conscious suitor, should fear to know his mistress in her integrity. As he gulped down the sickening fact of his comparative, nay, his absolute ignorance of the great world represented by his rivals, he felt like anticipating its consequences by a desperate sally into the very field of their conversation. To some such movement Gertrude was continually inviting him by her glances, her smiles, her questions, and her appealing silence. But poor Richard knew that, if he should attempt to talk, he would choke ; and this assurance he imparted to his friend in a look piteously eloquent. He was conscious of a sensation of rage under which his heart was fast turning into a fiery furnace, destined to consume all his good resolutions. He could not answer for the future now. Suddenly, as tea was drawing to a close, he became aware that Captain Severn had lapsed into a silence very nearly as profound as his own, and that he was covertly watching the progress of a lively dialogue between Miss Whittaker and Major Luttrel. He had the singular experience of seeing his own feelings reflected in the Captain’s face ; that is, he discerned there an incipient jealousy. Severn too was in love !
On rising from table, Gertrude proposed an adjournment to the garden, where she was very fond of entertaining her friends at this hour. The sun had sunk behind a long line of hills, far beyond the opposite bank of the river, a portion of which was discernible through a gap in the intervening wood. The high-piled roof and chimney-stacks, the picturesquely crowded surface, of the old patched and renovated farm-house which served Gertrude as a villa, were ruddy with the declining rays. Our friends’ long shadows were thrown over the short grass, Gertrude, having graciously anticipated the gentlemen’s longing for their cigars, suggested a stroll toward the river. Before she knew it, she had accepted Major Luttrel's arm ; and as Miss Pendexter preferred remaining at home, Severn and Richard found themselves lounging side by side at a short distance behind their hostess. Gertrude, who had marked the reserve which had suddenly fallen upon Captain Severn, and in her simplicity had referred it to some unwitting failure of attention on her own part, had hoped to repair her neglect by having him at her own side. She was in some degree consoled, however, by the sight of his happy juxtaposition with Richard. As for Richard, now that he was on his feet and in the open air, he found it easier to speak.
“ Who is that man ?” he asked, nodding toward the Major.
“ Major Luttrel, of the —th Artillery.”
“ I don’t like his face much,” said Richard.
“ Don’t you ? ” rejoined Severn, amused at his companion’s bluntness. “ He ’s not handsome, but he looks 1 ke a soldier.”
“ He looks like a rascal, I think,” said Richard.
Severn laughed outright, so that Gertrude glanced back at him. “ Dear me ! I think you put it rather strongly. I should call it a very intelligent face.”
Richard was sorely perplexed. He had expected to find acceptance for his bitterest animadversions, and lo ! here was the Captain fighting for his enemy. Such a man as that was no rival. So poor a hater could be but a poor lover. Nevertheless, a certain new-born mistrust of his old fashion of measuring human motives prevented him from adopting this conclusion as final. He would try another question.
“ Do you know Miss Whittaker well?” he asked.
“ Tolerably well. She was very kind to me when I was ill. Since then I ’ve seen her some dozen times.”
“ That’s a way she has, being kind,” said Richard, with what he deemed considerable shrewdness. But as the Captain merely puffed his cigar responsively, he pursued, “ What do you think of her face ? ”
“ I like it very much,” said the Captain.
“ She is n’t beautiful,” said Richard, cunningly.
Severn was silent a moment, and then, just as Richard was about to dismiss him from his thoughts, as neither formidable nor satisfactory, he replied, with some emphasis, “ You mean she is n’t pretty. She is beautiful, I think, in spite of the irregularity of her face. It’s a face not to be forgotten. She has no features, no color, no lilies nor roses, no attitudes ; but she has looks, expressions. Her face has character ; and so has her figure. It has no ‘ style,’ as they call it ; but that only belongs properly to a work of art, which Miss Whittaker’s figure is n’t, thank Heaven ! She’s as unconscious of it as Nature herself.”
Severn spoke Richard’s mind as well as his own. That " She is n’t beautiful ” had been an extempore version of the young man’s most sacred dogma, namely, She is beautiful. The reader! will remember that he had so translated it on a former occasion. Now, all that he felt was a sense of gratitude to the Captain for having put it so much more finely than he, the above being his choicest public expression of it. But the Captain’s eyes, somewhat brightened by his short but fervid speech, were following Gertrude’s slow steps. Richard saw that he could learn more from them than from any further oral declaration; for something in the mouth beneath them seemed to indicate that it had judged itself to have said enough, and it was obviously not the mouth of a simpleton. As he thus deferred with an unwonted courtesy to the Captain’s silence, and transferred his gaze sympathetically to Gertrude’s shapely shoulders and to her listening ear, he gave utterance to a tell-tale sigh, — a sigh which there was no mistaking. Severn looked about; it was now his turn to scrutinize. “ Good Heavens ! ” he exclaimed, “ that boy is in love with her !”
After the first shock of surprise, he accepted this fact with rational calmness. Why should n’t he be in love with her ? “ Je le suis biend," said the Captain ; “or, rather, I ’m not.” Could it be, Severn pursued, that he was a favorite ? He was a mannerless young farmer ; but it was plain that he had a soul of his own. He almost wished, indeed, that Richard might prove to be in Gertrude’s good graces. “ But if he is,” he reflected, “ why should he sigh ? It is true that there is no arguing for lovers. I, who am out in the cold, take my comfort in whistling most impertinently. It may be that my friend here groans for very bliss. I confess, however, that he scarcely looks like a favored swain.”
And forthwith this faint-hearted gentleman felt a twinge of pity for Richard’s obvious infelicity; and as he compared it with the elaborately defensive condition of his own affections, he felt a further pang of self-contempt. But it was easier to restore the equilibrium of his self-respect by an immediate cession of the field, than by contesting it against this wofully wounded knight. “Whether he wins her or not, he ’ll fight for her,” the Captain declared ; and as he glanced at Major Luttrel, he felt that this was a sweet assurance. He had conceived a singular distrust of the Major.
They had now reached the water’s edge, where Gertrude, having arrested her companion, had turned about, expectant of her other guests. As they came up, Severn saw, or thought that he saw (which is a very different thing), that her first look was at Richard. The “ admirer” in his breast rose fratricidal for a moment against the quiet observer ; but the next, it was pinioned again. “ Amen,” said the Captain ; “ it’s none of my business.”
At this moment, Richard was soaring most heroically. The end of his anguish had been a sudden intoxication. He surveyed the scene before him with a kindling fancy. Why should he stand tongue-tied in sullen mistrust of fortune, when all nature beckoned him into the field ? There was the river-path where, a fortnight before, he had found an eloquence attested by Gertrude’s tears. There was sweet Gertrude herself, whose hand he had kissed and whose waist he had clasped. Surely, he was master here! Before he knew it, he had begun to talk, — rapidly, nervously, and almost defiantly. Major Luttrel having made an observation about the prettiness of the river, Richard entered upon a description of its general course and its superior beauty upon his own place, together with an enumeration of the fish which were to be found in it, and a story about a great overflow ten years before. He spoke in fair, coherent terms, but with singular intensity and vehemence, and with his head thrown back and his eyes on the opposite bank. At last he stopped, feeling that he had given proof of his manhood, and looked towards Gertrude, whose eyes he had been afraid to meet until he had seen his adventure to a close. But she was looking at Captain Severn, under the impression that Richard had secured his auditor. Severn was looking at Luttrel, and Luttrel at Miss Whittaker ; and all were apparently so deep in observation that they had marked neither his speech nor his silence. “ Truly,” thought the young man, “ I ’m well out of the circle ! ” But he was resolved to be patient still, which was assuredly, all things considered, a very brave resolve. Yet there was always something spasmodic and unnatural in Richard’s magnanimity. A touch in the wrong place would cause it to collapse. It was Gertrude’s evil fortune to administer this touch at present. As the party turned about toward the house, Richard stepped to her side and offered her his arm, hoping in his heart — so implicitly did he count upon her sympathy, so almost boyishly, filially, did he depend upon it — for some covert token that his heroism, such as it was, had not been lost upon her.
But Gertrude, intensely preoccupied by the desire to repair her fancied injustice to the Captain, shook her head at him without even meeting his eye. “ Thank you,” she said ; “ I want Captain Severn,” who forthwith approached.
Poor Richard felt his feet touch the ground again. He felt that he could have flung the Captain into the stream. Major Luttrel placed himself at Gertrude’s other elbow, and Richard stood behind them, almost livid with spite, and half resolved to turn upon his heel and make his way home by the river. But it occurred to him that a more elaborate vengeance would be to follow the trio before him back to the lawn, and there make it a silent and scathing bow. Accordingly, when they reached the house, he stood aloof and bade Gertrude a grim good-night. He trembled with eagerness to see whether she would make an attempt to detain him. But Miss Whittaker, reading in his voice — it had grown too dark to see his face at the distance at which he stood — the story of some fancied affront, and unconsciously contrasting it, perhaps, with Severn’s clear and unwarped accents, obeyed what she deemed a prompting of self-respect, and gave him, without her hand, a farewell as cold as his own. It is but fair to add, that, a couple of hours later, as she reviewed the incidents of the evening, she repented most generously of this little act of justice.