Joseph and His Friend

CHAPTER VII.

JOSEPH’S secret was not suspected by any of the company. Elwood’s manner towards him next morning was warmer and kinder than ever ; the chill of the past night had been forgotten, and the betrothal, which then almost seemed like a fetter upon his future. now gave him a sense of freedom and strength. He would have gone to Warriner’s at once, but for the fear lest he should betray himself. Miss Blessing was to return to the city in three days more, and a single farewell call might be made with propriety; so he controlled his impatience and allowed another day to intervene.

When, at last, the hour of meeting came, Anna Warriner proved herself an efficient ally. Circumstances were against her, yet she secured the lovers a few minutes in which they could hold each other’s hands, and repeat their mutual delight, with an exquisite sense of liberty in doing so. Miss Blessing suggested that nothing should be said until she had acquainted her parents with the engagement; there might be some natural difficulties to overcome ; it was so unexpected, and the idea of losing her would possibly be unwelcome, at first. She would write in a few days, and then Joseph must come and make the acquaintance of her family.

Them,” she added, “ I shall have no fear. When they have once seen you. all difficulties will vanish. There will be no trouble with ma and sister Clementina; but pa is sometimes a little peculiar, on account of his connections. There ! don’t look so serious, all at once; it is my duty, you know, to secure you a loving reception. You must try to feel already that you have two homes, as I do.”

Joseph waited very anxiously for the promised letter, and in ten days it came ; it was brief, but satisfactory. “ Would you believe it, dear Joseph,” she commenced, “pa makes no difficulty! he only requires some assurances which you can very easily furnish. Ma, on the other hand, don’t like the idea of giving me up. I can hardly say it without seeming to praise myself; but Clementina never took very kindly to housekeeping and managing, and even if I were only indifferent in those branches, I should be missed. It really went to my heart when ma met me at the door, and cried out, ‘Now I shall have a little rest! ’ You may imagine how hard it was to tell her. But she is a dear, good mother, and I know she will be so happy to find a son in you, — as she certainly will. Come, soon, — soon ! They are all anxious to know you.”

The city was not so distant as to make a trip thither an unusual event for the young farmers of the neighborhood. Joseph had frequently gone there for a day in the interest of his sales of stock and grain, and he found no difficulty in inventing a plausible reason for the journey. The train at the nearest railway station transported him in two or three hours to the commencement of the miles of hot, dusty, rattling pavements, and left him free to seek for the brick nest within which his love was sheltered.

Yet now, so near the point whence his new life was to commence, a singular unrest took possession of him. He distinctly felt the presence of two forces, acting against each other with nearly equal power, but without neutralizing their disturbing influence. He was developing faster than he guessed, yet, to a nature like his, the last knowledge that comes is the knowledge of self. Some occult instinct already whispered that his life thenceforth would be stronger, more independent, but also more disturbed; and this was what he had believed was wanting. If the consciousness of loving and being loved were not quite the same in experience as it had seemed to his ignorant fancy, it was yet a positive happiness, and wedlock would therefore be its unbroken continuance. Julia had prepared for his introduction into her family; he must learn to accept her parents and sister as his own ; and now the hour and the opportunity were at hand.

What was it, then, that struck upon his breast almost like a physical pressure, and mysteriously resisted his errand ? When he reached the crossstreet, in which, many squares to the northward, the house was to be found, he halted for some minutes, and then, instead of turning, kept directly onward toward the river. The sight of the water, the gliding sails, the lusty life and labor along the piers, suddenly refreshed him. Men were tramping up and down the gangways of the clipperships; derricks were slowly swinging over the sides the bales and boxes which had been brought up from the holds ; drays were clattering to and fro : wherever he turned he saw a picture of strength, courage, reality, solid work. The men that went and came took life simply as a succession of facts, and if these did not fit smoothly into each other, they either gave themselves no trouble about the rough edges, or drove them out of sight with a few sturdy blows. What Lucy Henderson had said about going to school was recalled to Joseph’s mind. Here was a class where he would be apt to stand at the foot for many days. Would any of those strapping forms comprehend the disturbance of his mind ? — they would probably advise him to go to the nearest apothecary-shop and purchase a few blue-pills. The longer he watched them, the more he felt the contagion of their unimaginative, face-to-face grapple with life ; the manly element in him, checked so long, began to push a vigorous shoot towards the light.

“ it is only the old cowardice, after all,” he thought. “ I am still shrinking from the encounter with new faces ! A lover, soon to be a husband, and still so much of a green youth ! It will never do. I must learn to handle my duty as that stevedore handles a barrel,—take hold with both hands, push and trundle and guide, till the weight becomes a mere plaything. There ! — he starts a fresh one, — now for mine ! ”

Therewith he turned about, walked sternly back to the cross-street, and entered it without pausing at the corner. It was still a long walk ; and the street, with its uniform brick houses, with white shutters, green interior blinds, and white marble steps, grew more silent and monotonous. There was a mixed odor of salt-fish, molasses, and decaying oranges at every corner; dark wenches lowered the nozzles of their jetting hose as he passed, and girls in draggled calico frocks turned to look at him from the entrances of gloomy tunnels leading into the back yards. A man with something in a cart uttered from time to time a piercing unintelligible cry; barefooted youngsters swore over their marbles on the sidewalk ; and, at rare intervals, a marvellous moving fabric of silks and colors and glosses floated past him. But he paused for none of these. His heart beat faster, and the strange resistance seemed to increase with the increasing numbers of houses, now rapidly approaching The One — then it came !

There was an entire block of narrow, three-storied dwellings, with crowded windows and flat roofs. If Joseph had been familiar with the city, he would have recognized the air of cheap gentility which exhaled from them, and which said, as plainly as if the words had been painted on their fronts,

“ Here we keep up appearances on a very small capital.” He noticed nothing, however, except the marble steps and the front doors, all of which were alike to him until he came upon a brass plate inscribed “B. Blessing.” As he looked up a mass of dark curls vanished with a start from the window. The door suddenly opened before he could touch the bell-pull, and two hands upon his own drew him into the diminutive hall.

The door instantly closed again, but softly : then two arms were Hung around his neck, and his willing lips received a subdued kiss. “Hush ! ” she said ; “it is delightful that you have arrived, though we didn’t expect you so immediately. Come into the drawing-room, and let us have a minute together before I call ma.”

She tripped lightly before him, and they were presently seated side by side, on the sofa.

“ What could have brought me to the window just at that moment? ” she whispered; “it must have been presentiment.”

Joseph’s face brightened with pleasure. “ And I was long on the way,” he answered. “What will you think of me, Julia? I was a little afraid.”

“ I know you were, Joseph,” she said. “It is only the cold, insensible hearts that are never agitated.”

Their eyes met, and he remarked, for the first time, their peculiar palebrown, almost tawny clearness. The next instant her long lashes slowly fell and Half concealed them; she drew away slightly from him, and said : “ I should like to be beautiful, for your sake ; I never cared about it before.”

Without giving him time to reply, she rose and moved towards the door, then looked back, smiled, and disappeared.

Joseph, left alone, also rose and walked softly up and down the room. To his eyes it seemed an elegant, if rather chilly apartment. It was long and narrow, with a small, delusive fireplace of white marble (intended only for hot air) in the middle, a carpet of many glaring colors on the floor, and a paper brilliant with lilac-bunches, on the walls. There was a centre-table, with some lukewarm literature cooling itself on the marble top ; an étagère, with a few nondescript cups and flagons, and a cottage piano, on which lay several sheets of music by Verdi and Balfe. The furniture, not very abundant, was swathed in a nankeen summer dress. There were two pictures on the walls, portraits of a gentleman and lady, and when once Joseph had caught the fixed stare of their lustreless eyes, he found it difficult to turn away. The imperfect light which came through the bowed window-shutters revealed a florid, puffy-faced young man, whose head was held up by a high black satin stock. He was leaning against a fluted pillar, apparently constructed of putty, behind which fell a superb crimson curtain, lifted up at one corner to disclose a patch of stormy sky. The long locks, tucked in at the temples, the carefullydelineated whiskers, and the huge signet-ring on the second finger of the one exposed hand, indicated that a certain “position” in society was either possessed or claimed of right by the painted person. Joseph could hardly doubt that this was a representation of “ B. Blessing,” as he appeared twenty or thirty years before.

He turned to the other picture. The lady was slender, and meant to be graceful, her head being inclined so that the curls on the left side rolled in studied disorder upon her shoulder. Her face was thin and long, with wellmarked and not unpleasant features. There was rather too positive a bloom upon her cheeks, and the fixed smile on the narrow mouth scarcely harmonized with the hard, serious stare of the eyes. She was royally attired in purple, and her bare white arm — much more plumply rounded than her face would have given reason to suspect — hung with a listless grace over the end of a sofa.

Joseph looked from one face to the other with a curious interest, which the painted eyes seemed also to reflect, as they followed him. They were strangers, out of a different sphere of life, yet they must become, nay, were already, a part of his own! The lady scrutinized him closely, in spite of her smile; but the indifference of the gentleman, blandly satisfied with himself, seemed less assuring to his prospects.

Footsteps in the hall interrupted his re very, and he had barely time to slip into his seat when the door opened and Julia entered, followed by the original of one of the portraits. He recognized her, although the curls had disappeared, the dark hair was sprinkled with gray, and deep lines about the mouth and eyes gave them an expression of care and discontent. In one respect she differed from her daughter: her eyes were gray.

She bent her head with a stately air, as Joseph rose, walked past Julia, and extended her hand, with the words, —

“ Mr. Asten, I am glad to see you. Pray be seated.”

When all had taken seats, she resumed : “ Excuse me if I begin by asking a question. You must consider that I have only known you through Julia, and her description could not, under the circumstances, be very clear. What is your age ? ”

“ I shall be twenty-three, next birthday,” Joseph replied.

“Indeed! I am happy to hear it. You do not look more than nineteen,

I have reason to dread very youthful attachments, and am therefore reassured to know that you are fully a man and competent to test your feelings. I trust that you have so tested them. Again I say, excuse me if the question seems to imply a want of confidence. A mother’s anxiety, you know — ”

Julia clasped her hands and bent down her head.

“ I am quite sure of myself,” Joseph said, “ and would try to make you as sure, if I knew how to do it.”

“If you were one of us, — of the city, I mean, — I should be able to judge more promptly. It is many years since I have been outside of our own select circle, and I am therefore not so competent as once to judge of men in general. While I will never, without the most sufficient reason, influence my daughters in their choice, it is my duty to tell you that Julia is exceedingly susceptible on the side of her affections. A wound there would be incurable to her. We are alike in that; I know her nature through my own.”

Julia hid her face upon her mother’s shoulder : Joseph was moved, and vainly racked his brain for some form of assurance which might remove the maternal anxiety.

“There,” said Mrs. Blessing; “we will say no more about it now. Go and bring your sister ! ”

“There are some other points, Mr. Asten,” she continued, “ which have no doubt already occurred to your mind. Mr. Blessing will consult with you in relation to them. I make it a rule never to trespass upon his field of duty. As you were not positively expected to-day, he went to the CustomHouse as usual ; but it will soon be time for him to return. Official labors, you understand, cannot be postponed.

If you have ever served in a government capacity, you will appreciate his position. I have sometimes wished that we had not become identified with political life ; but, on the other hand, there are compensations.”

Joseph, impressed more by Mrs. Blessing’s important manner than the words she uttered, could only say, “ I beg that my visit may not interfere in any way with Mr. Blessing’s duties.”

“ Unfortunately,” she replied, “ they cannot be postponed. His advice is more required by the Collector than his special official services. But, as I said, he will confer with you in regard to the future of our little girl. I call her so, Mr. Asten, because she is the youngest, and I can hardly yet realize that she is old enough to leave me. Yes : the youngest, and the first to go. Had it been Clementina, I should have been better prepared for the change. But a mother should always be ready to sacrifice herself, where the happiness of a child isat stake.”

Mrs. Blessing gently pressed a small handkerchief to the corner of each eye, then heaved a sigh, and resumed her usual calm dignity of manner. The door opened, and Julia re-entered, followed by her sister.

“This is Miss Blessing,” said the mother.

The young lady bowed very formally, and therewith would have finished her greeting, but Joseph had already risen and extended his hand. She thereupon gave him the tips of four limp fingers, which he attempted to grasp and then let go.

Clementina was nearly a head taller than her sister, and amply proportioned. She had a small, petulant mouth, small gray eyes, a low, narrow forehead, and light brown hair. Her eyelids and cheeks had the same puffy character as her father’s, in his portrait on the wall; yet there was a bloom and brilliancy about her complexion which suggested beauty. A faint expression of curiosity passed over her face, on meeting Joseph, but she uttered no word of welcome. He looked at Julia, whose manner was suddenly subdued, and was quick enough to perceive a rivalry between the sisters. The stolidity of Clementina’s countenance indicated that indifference which is more offensive than enmity. He disliked her from the first moment.

Julia kept modestly silent, and the conversation, in spite of her mother’s capacity to carry it on, did not flourish. Clementina spoke only in monosyllables, which she let fall from time to time with a silver sweetness which startled Joseph, it seemecl so at variance with her face and manner. He felt very much relieved when, after more than one significant glance had been exchanged with her mother, the two arose and left the room. At the door Mrs. Blessing said: “ Of course you will stay and take a family tea with us, Mr. Asten. I will order it to be earlier served, as you are probably not accustomed to our city hours.”

Julia looked up brightly after the door had closed, and exclaimed: “Now! when ma says that, you may be satisfied. Her housekeeping is like the laws of the Medes and Persians. She probably seemed rather formal to you, and it is true that a certain amount of form has become natural to her; but it always gives way when she is strongly moved. Pa is to come yet, but I am sure you will get on very well with him; men always grow acquainted in a little while. I ’m afraid that Clementina did not impress you very — very genially; She is, I may confess it to you, a little peculiar.”

“She is very quiet,” said Joseph, “ and very unlike you.”

“ Every one notices that. And we seem to be unlike in character, as much so as if there were no relationship between us. But I must say for Clementina, that she is above personal likings and dislikings; she looks at people abstractly. You are only a future brother-in-law to her, and I don’t believe she can tell whether your hair is black or the beautiful golden brown that it is.”

Joseph laughed, not ill-pleased with Julia’s delicate flattery. “ I am all the more delighted,” he said, “ that you are different. I should not like you, Julia, to consider me an abstraction.

You are very real, Joseph, and very individual,” she answered, with one of her loveliest smiles.

Not ten minutes afterwards, Julia, whose eyes and ears were keenly on the alert, notwithstanding her gay, unrestrained talk, heard the click of a latch-key. She sprang up, laid her forefinger on her lips, gave Joseph a swift, significant glance, and darted into the hall. A sound of whispering followed, and there was no mistaking the deep, hoarse murmur of one of the voices.

Mr. Blessing, without the fluted pillar and the crimson curtain, was less formidablc than Joseph had anticipated. The years had added to his body and taken away from his hair ; yet his face, since high stocks were no longer m fashion, had lost its rigid lift, and expressed the chronic cordiality of a popular politician. There was a redness about the rims of his eyes, and a fulness of the under lid, which also denoted political habits. However, despite wrinkles, redness, and a general roughening and coarsening of the features, the resemblance to the portrait was still strong; and Joseph, feeling as if the presentation had already been made, offered his hand as soon as Mr. Blessing entered the room.

“Very happy to see you, Mr. Asten,” said the latter. “ An unexpected pleasure, sir.”

He removed the glove from his left hand, pulled down his coat and vest, felt the tie of his cravat, twitched at his pantaloons, ran his fingers through his straggling gray locks, and then threw himself into a chair, exclaiming : “ After business, pleasure, sir ! My duties are over for the day. Mrs. Blessing probably informed you of my official capacity ; but you can have no conception of the vigilance required to prevent evasion of the revenue laws. We are the country’s watch-dogs, sir.”

“I can understand,” Joseph said, “that an official position carries with it much responsibility.”

“ Quite right, sir, and without adequate remuneration. Figuratively speaking, we handle millions, and we are paid by dimes. Were it not for the consciousness of serving and saving for the nation—but I will not pursue the subject. When we have become better acquainted, you can judge for yourself whether preferment always follows capacity. Our present business is to establish a mutual understanding,

— as we say in politics, to prepare a platform,—and I think you will agree with me that the circumstances of the case require frank dealing, as between man and man.”

“Certainly!” Joseph answered; “I only ask that, although I am a stranger to you, you will accept my word until you have the means of verifying it.”

“ I may safely do that with you, sir. My associations — duties, I may say - compel me to know many persons with whom it would not be safe. We will forget the disparity of age and experience between us. I can hardly ask you to imagine yourself placed in my situation, but perhaps we can make the case quite as clear if I state to you, without reserve, what I should be ready to do, if our present positions were reversed : Julia, will you look after the tea ? ”

“ Yes, pa,” said she, and slipped out of the drawing-room.

“ If I were a young man from the country, and had won the affections of a young lady of — well, I may say it to you — of an old family, whose parents were ignorant of my descent, means, and future prospects in life, I should consider it my first duty to enlighten those parents upon all these points. I should reflect that the lady must be removed from their sphere to mine; that, while the attachment was, in itself, vitally important to her and to me, those parents would naturally desire to compare the two spheres, and assure themselves that their daughter would lose no material advantages by the transfer. You catch my meaning ? ”

“I came here,” said Joseph, “with the single intention of satisfying you — at least, I came hoping that I shall be able to do so — in regard to myself. It will be easy for you to test my statements.”

“Very well. We will begin, then, with the subject of Family. Understand me, I mention this solely because, in our old communities, Family is the stamp of Character. An established name represents personal qualities, virtues. It is indifferent to me whether my original ancestor was a De Belsain (though beauty and health have always been family characteristics) ; but it is important that he transmitted certain traits which — which others, perhaps, can better describe. The name of Asten is not usual ; it has, in fact, rather a distinguished sound ; but I am not acquainted with its derivation.”

Joseph restrained a temptation to smile, and replied: “My great-grandfather came from England more than a hundred years ago : that is all I positively know. I have heard it said that the family was originally Danish.”

“ You must look into the matter, sir : a good pedigree is a bond for good behavior. The Danes, I have been told, were of the same blood as the Normans. But we will let that pass. Julia informs me you are the owner of a handsome farm, yet I am so ignorant of values in the country, — and my official duties oblige me to measure property by such a different standard, — that, really, unless you could make the farm evident to me in figures, I — ”

He paused, but Joseph was quite ready with the desired intelligence. “ I have two hundred acres,” he said, “and a moderate valuation of the place would be a hundred and thirty dollars an acre. There is a mortgage of five thousand dollars on the place, the term of which has not yet expired; but I have nearly an equal amount invested, so that the farm fairly represents what I own.”

“ H’m,” mused Mr. Blessing, thrusting his thumbs into the arm-holes of his waistcoat, “ that is not a great deal here in the city, but I dare say it is a handsome competence in the country. It doubtless represents a certain annual income ? ”

“It is a very comfortable home, in the first place,” said Joseph; “ the farm ought to yield, after supplying nearly all the wants of a family, an annual return of a thousand to fifteen hundred dollars, according to the season.”

“ Twenty - six thousand dollars ! — and five per cent ! ” Mr. Blessing exclaimed. “If you had the farm in money, and knew how to operate with it, you might pocket ten — fifteen — twenty per cent. Many a man, with less than that to set him afloat, has become a millionnaire in five years’ time. But it takes pluck and experience, sir ! ”

“ More of both than I can lay claim to,” Joseph remarked ; “ but what there is of my income is certain. If Julia were not so fond of the country, and already so familiar with our ways, I might hesitate to offer her such a plain, quiet home, but — ”

“ O, I know ! ” Mr. Blessing interrupted. “We have heard of nothing but cows and spring-houses and willow-trees since she came back. I hope, for your sake, it may last; for I see that you are determined to suit each other. I have no inclination to act the obdurate parent. You have met me like a man, sir: here’s my hand ; I feel sure that, as my son-inlaw. you will keep up the reputation of the family ! ”

CHAPTER VIII.

THE family tea was served in a small dining-room in the rear. Mr. Blessing, who had become more and more cordial with Joseph after formally accepting him, led the way thither, and managed to convey a rapid signal to his wife before the family took their seats at the table. Joseph was the only one who did not perceive the silent communication of intelligence ; but its consequences were such as to make him speedily feel at ease in the Blessing mansion.

Even Clementina relented sufficiently to say, in her most silvery tones,

“ May I offer you the butter, Mr. Asten ? ”

The table, it is true, was very unlike the substantial suppers of the country There was a variety of diminutive dishes, containing slices so delicate that they mocked rather than excited the appetite ; yet Julia (of course it was she!) had managed to give the repast an air of elegance which was at least agreeable to a kindred sense. Joseph took the little cup, the thin tea, the five drops of milk, and the fragment of sugar, without asking himself whether the beverage were palatable : he divided a leaf-like piece of flesh and consumed several wafers of bread, blissfully unconscious whether his stomach were satisfied. He felt that he had been received into The Family. Mr. Blessing was magnificently bland, Mrs. Blessing was maternally interested, Clementina recognized his existence, and Julia, — he needed but one look at her sparkling eyes, her softly flushed cheeks, her bewitching excitement of manner, to guess the relief of her heart. He forgot the vague distress which had preceded his coming, and the embarrassment of his first reception, in the knowledge that Julia was so happy, and through the acquiescence of her parents, in his love.

It was settled that he should pass the night there. Mrs. Blessing would take no denial; he must now consider their house as his home. She would also call him “Joseph,” but not now, — not until she was entitled to name him “son.” It had come suddenly upon her, but it was her duty to be glad, and In a little while she would become accustomed to the change.

All this was so simply and cordially said, that Joseph quite warmed to the stately woman, and unconsciously decided to accept his fortune, whatever features it might wear. Until the one important event, at least; after that it would be in his own hands — and Julia’s.

After tea, two or three hours passed away rather slowly. Mr. Blessing sat in the pit of a back yard and smoked until dusk; then the family collected in the “drawing-room,” and there was a little music, and a variety of gossip, with occasional pauses of silence, until Mrs Blessing said: “ Perhaps you had better show Mr. Asten to his room, Mr. Blessing. We may have already passed over his accustomed hour for retiring. If so, I know he will excuse us; we shall soon become familiar with each other’s habits.”

When Mr. Blessing returned, he first opened the rear window, drew an armchair near it, took off his coat, seated himself, and lit another cigar. His wife closed the front shutters, slipped the night-bolts of the door, and then seated herself beside him. Julia whirled around on her music-stool to face the coming consultation, and Clementina gracefully posed herself in the nearest corner of the sofa.

“ How do you like him, Eliza? ” Mr. Blessing asked, after several silent, luxurious whiffs.

“ He is handsome, and seems amiable, but younger than I expected. Are you sure of his — his feelings, Julia ? ”

“ O ma ! ” Julia exclaimed ; “what a question ! I can only judge them by my own.”

Clementina curled her lip in a singular fashion, but said nothing.

“ It seems like losing Julia entirely,” Mrs. Blessing resumed. “ I don’t know how she will be able to retain her place in our circle, unless they spend a part of the winter in the city, and whether he has means enough — ”

She paused, and looked inquisitively at her husband.

“You always look at the establishment,” said he, “and never consider the chances. Marriage is a deal, a throw, a sort of kite-flying, in fact (except in our case, my dear), and, after all I’ve learned of our future sonin-law, I must say that Julia has n’t a bad hand.”

“ I knew you 'd like him, pa ! ” cried the delighted Julia.

Mr. Blessing looked at her steadily a moment, and then winked ; but she took no notice of it.

“There is another thing,” said his wife. “ If the wedding comes off this fall, we have but two months to prepare ; and how will you manage about the — the money ? We can save afterwards, to be sure, but there will be an immediate and fearful expense. I 've thought, perhaps, that a simple and private ceremony, — married in travelling-dress, you know, just before the train leaves, and no cards, — it is sometimes done in the highest circles.”

“ It won’t do ! ” exclaimed Mr. Blessing, waving his right hand. “Julia’s husband must have an opportunity of learning our standing in society. I will invite the Collector, and the Surveyor, and the Appraiser. The money must be raised. I should be willing to pawn — ”

He looked around the room, inspecting the well-worn carpet, the nankeencovered chairs, the old piano, and finally the two pictures.

“ — Your portrait, my dear ; but, unless it were a Stuart, I could n’t get ten dollars on it. We must take your set of diamonds, and Julia’s rubies, and Clementina’s pearls.”

He leaned back, and laughed with great glee. The ladies became rigid and grave.

“ It is wicked, Benjamin,” Mrs. Blessing severely remarked, “ to jest over our troubles at such a time as this. I see nothing else to do, but to inform Mr. Asten, frankly, of our condition. He is yet too young, I think, to be repelled by poverty.”

“ Ma, it would break my heart,” said Julia. “ I could not bear to be humiliated in his eyes.”

“ Decidedly the best thing to do,” warbled Clementina, speaking for the first time.

“ That’s the way with women, — flying from one extreme to the other. If you can’t have white, you turn around and say there’s no other color than black. When all devices are exhausted, a man of pluck and character goes to work and constructs a new one. Upon my soul, I don’t know where the money is to come from; but give me ten days, and Julia shall have her white satin. Now, girls, you had better go to bed.”

Mr. Blessing smoked silently until the sound of his daughters’ footsteps had ceased on the stairs ; then, bringing down his hand emphatically upon his thigh, he exclaimed, “By Jove, Eliza, if I were as sharp as that girl, I 'd have had the Collectorship before this ! ”

“ What do you mean ? She seems to be strongly attached to him.”

“ O, no doubt! But she has a wonderful talent for reading character. The young fellow is pretty green wood still; what he ’ll season into depends on her. Honest as the day, — there’s nothing like a country life for that. But it’s a pity that such a fund for operations should lie idle ; he has a nest-egg that might hatch out millions ! ”

“ I hope, Benjamin, that after all your unfortunate experience — ”

“ Pray don’t lament in advance, and especially now, when a bit of luck comes to us. Julia has done well, and I ’ll trust her to improve her opportunities. Besides, this will help Clementina’s chances ; where there is one marriage in a family, there is generally another. Poor girl ! she has waited a long while. At thirty-three, the market gets v-e-r-y flat.”

“And yet Julia is thirty,” said Mrs. Blessing; “and Clementina’s complexion and manners have been considered superior.”

“ There’s just her mistake. A better copy of Mrs. Halibut’s airs and attitudes was never produced, and it was all very well so long as Mrs. Halibut gave the tone to society; but since she went to Europe, and Mrs. Bass has somehow crept into her place, Clementina is quite—I may say — obsolete.

I don’t object to her complexion, because that is a standing fashion, but she is expected to be chatty, and witty, and instead of that she stands about like a Venus of Milo. She looks like me, and she can’t lack intelligence and tact. Why could n’t she unbend a little more to Asten, whether she likes him or not ? ”

“ You know I never seemed to manage Clementina,” his wife replied ; “if she were to dispute my opinion sometimes, I might, perhaps, gain a little influence over her: but she won’t enter into a discussion.”

“Mrs. Halibut’s way. It was new, then, and, with her husband’s money to back it, her 'grace ’ and ‘composure ’ and ‘serenity ’ carried all before her. Give me fifty thousand a year, and I 'll put Clementina in the same place ! But, come, — to the main question. I suppose we shall need five hundred dollars ? ”

“ Three hundred, I think, will be ample,” said Mrs. Blessing.

“Three or five, it’s as hard to raise one sum as the other. I ’ll try for five, and if I have luck with the two hundred over — small, careful operations, you know, which always succeed—I may have the whole amount on hand, long before it’s due.”

Mrs. Blessing smiled in a melancholy, hopeless way, and the consultation came to an end.

When Joseph was left alone in his chamber, he felt no inclination to sleep. He sat at the open window, and looked down into the dim, melancholy street, the solitude of which was broken about once every quarter of an hour by a forlorn pedestrian, who approached through gloom and lamplight, was foreshortened to his hat, and then lengthened away on the other side. The new acquaintances he had just made remained all the more vividly in his thoughts from their nearness ; he was still within their atmosphere. They were unlike any persons he knew, and therefore he felt that he might do them injustice by a hasty estimate of their character. Clementina, however, was excluded from this charitable resolution. Concentrating his dislike on her, he found that her parents had received him with as much consideration as a total stranger could expect. Moreover, whatever they might be, Julia was the same here, in her own home, as when she was a guest in the country. As playful, as winning, and as natural; and he began to suspect that her present life was not congenial to such a nature. If so, her happiness was all the more assured by their union.

This thought led him into a pictured labyrinth of anticipation, in which his mind wandered with delight. He was so absorbed in planning the new household, that he did not hear the sisters entering the rear room on the same floor, which was only separated by a thin partition from his own.

“White satin!” he suddenly heard Clementina say: “of course I shall have the same. It will become me better than you.”

“ I should think you might be satisfied with a light silk,” Julia said ; “the expenses will be very heavy.”

“We’ll see,” Clementina answered shortly, pacing up and down the room.

After a long pause, he heard Julia’s voice again. “ Never mind,” she said, “ I shall soon be out of your way.”

“ I wonder how much he knows about you ! ” Clementina exclaimed. “ Your arts were new there, and you played an easy game.” Here she lowered her voice, and Joseph only distinguished a detached word now and then. He rose, indignant at this unsisterly assault, and wishing to hear no more; but it seemed that the movement was not noticed, for Julia replied, in smothered, excited tones, with some remark about “ complexion.”

“Well, there is one thing,” Clementina continued, — “one thing you will keep very secret, and that is your birthday. Are you going to tell him that you are — ”

Joseph had seized the back of a chair, and with a sudden impulse, tilted it and let it fall on the floor. Then he walked to the window, closed it, and prepared to go to rest, — all with more noise than was habitual with him. There were whispers and hushed movements in the next room, but not another audible word was spoken. Before sleeping he came to the conclusion that he was more than Julia’s lover: he was her deliverer. The idea was not unwelcome : it gave a new value and significance to his life.

However curious Julia might have been to discover how much he had overheard, she made no effort to ascertain the fact. She met him next morning with a sweet unconsciousness of what she had endured, which convinced him that such painful scenes must have been frequent, or she could not have forgotten so easily. His greeting to Clementina was brief and cold, but she did not seem to notice it in the least.

It was decided, before he left, that the wedding should take place in October.