Out of the Question: Comedy


THE scene three weeks after the events last represented is once more that hotel parlor which we know. Here sit Mrs. Bellingham and her sister-in-law, both with sewing, to which the latter abandons herself with an apparently exasperated energy, while the former lets her work lie in her lap, and listens with some lady-like trepidation to what Mrs. Murray is saying.

Mrs. Murray. “ From beginning to end it has been quite like a sensation play. Leslie must feel herself a heroine of melodrama. She is sojourning at a country inn, and she goes sketching in the woods, when two ruffians set upon her and try to rob her. Her screams reach the ear of the young man of humble life but noble heart, who professed to have gone away but who was still opportunely hanging about; he rushes on the scene and disperses the brigands, from whom he rends their prey. She seizes his hand to thank him for his sublime behavior, and discovers that his wrist has been broken by a blow from the bludgeon of one of the wicked ruffians. Very pretty, very charming, indeed; and so appropriate for a girl of Leslie’s training, family, and station in life. Upon my word I congratulate you, Marion. To think of being the mother of a heroine! It was fortunate that you let her snub Mr. Dudley. If she had married him probably nothing of the kind would have happened.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ I am glad the affair amuses you, but I don’t see how even you can hold the child responsible for what has happened.”

Mrs. Murray. “ Responsible! I should be the last to do that, I hope. No, indeed. I consider her the victim of circumstances, and since the hero has been thrown back upon our hands, I’m sure every one must say that her devotion is most exemplary. I don’t hold her responsible for that, even.” As Mrs. Murray continues, Mrs. Bellingham’s uneasiness increases, and she drops her hands with a baffled look upon the work in her lap. “ It ’s quite en règle that she should be anxious about him; it would be altogether out of character, otherwise. It’s a pity that be doesn’t lend himself more gracefully to being petted. When I saw her bringing him a pillow, that first day, after the doctor set hip wrist and she had got him to repose his exhausted frame on the sofa, I was almost melted to tears. Of course it can end only in one way.”

Mrs. Bellingham. ” Kate, I will not have any more of this. It ’s intolerable, and you have no right to torment me so. You know that I’m as much vexed as you can be. It annoys me beyond endurance, but I don’t see what, as a lady, I can do about it. Mr. Blake is here again by no fault of his own, certainly, and neither Leslie nor I can treat him with indifference.”

Mrs. Murray. “I don’t object to your treating him as kindly as you like, but you had better leave as little kindness as possible to Leslie. You must sooner or later recognize one thing, Marion, and take your measures accordingly. I advise you to do it sooner.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ What do you mean? ”

Mrs. Murray. “ I mean what you know well enough: that Leslie is interested in this Mr. Blake. I saw that she was, from the very first moment. He’s just the kind of man to fascinate a girl like Leslie; you know that. He’s handsome, and he ’s shown himself brave; and all that unconventionality which marks him of a different class gives him a charm to a girl’s fancy, even when she has recognized, herself, that he is n’t a gentleman. She soon forgets that, and sees merely that he is clever and good. She would very promptly teach a girl of his traditions her place, but a young man is different.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ I hope Leslie would treat even a woman with consideration.”

Mrs. Murray. “ Oh, consideration, consideration! You may thank yourself, Marion, and your impossible ideas, if this comes to the worst. You belong to one order of things or you belong to another. If you believe that several generations of wealth, breeding, and station distinguish a girl so that a new man, however good or wise or brave he is, can never be her equal, you must act on your belief, and in a case like this you can’t act too promptly.”

Mrs. Bellingham. ” What should you do? ”

Mrs. Murray. “ Do? I should fling away all absurd ideas of consideration, to begin with. I should deal frankly with Leslie, — I should appeal to her pride and her common sense; and I should speak so distinctly to this young man that he could n’t possibly mistake my meaning. I should tell him — I should advise him to try change of air for his wound, or whatever it is.”

Mrs. Bellingham, after a moment’s dreary reflection: “ That ’s quite impossible, Kate. I will speak to Leslie, but I never can offer offense to one we owe so much.”

Mrs. Murray. “ Do you wish me to speak to Him ? ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ No, I can’t permit that, either.”

Mrs. Murray. “ Very well; then you must abide by the result.” Mrs. Murray clutches her work together, stooping to recover dropping spools and scissors with an activity surprising in a lady of her massive person, and is about to leave the room, when the sound of steps and voices arrest her; a moment after, Blake and Miss Bellingham enter, so intent upon each other as not to observe the ladies in their corner.

Leslie. “ I’m afraid you ’ve let me tire you. I’m such an insatiable walker, and I never thought of your not being perfectly strong, yet.”

Blake, laughing: “ Why, Miss Bellingham, it is n’t one of my ankles that’s broken.”

Leslie, concessively: “ No; but if you ’d only let. me do something for you. I can both play and sing, and really not at all badly. Shall I play to you? ” She runs up and strikes some chords on the piano, and with her hand on the keys glances gravely round at Blake, who remains undecided. She turns about. “ Perhaps you ’d rather have me read to you ? ”

Blake. “ Do you really wish me to choose ?”

Leslie. “ I do. And ask something difficult and disagreeable.”

Blake. “ I’d rather have you talk to me than either.”

Leslie. “ Is that your idea of something difficult and disagreeable? ”

Blake. “ I hope you won't find it so.”

Leslie. “ But I shan’t feel that it’s anything, then! Shall I begin to talk to you here? Or where? ”

Blake. “ This is a good place, but if I ’m to choose again, I should say the gallery would be better.”

Leslie. “ Oh, you’re choosing that because I said I wondered how people could come into the country and sit all their time in stuffy rooms!”

Blake, going to the window and looking out: “ There are no seats.” He returns, and putting the backs of two chairs together, lifts them with his left hand to carry them to the gallery.

Leslie, advancing tragically upon him and reproachfully possessing herself of the chairs: “ Never! Do you think I have no sense of shame? ” She lifts a chair in either hand and carries them out, while Blake in a charmed embarrassment follows her, and they are heard speaking without: “ There! Or no! That’s in a draught, You must n’t sit in a draught.”

Blake. “ It won’t hurt me. I ’m not a young lady.”

Leslie. “ That’s the very reason it will hurt you. If you were a young lady you could stand anything. Anything you liked.”There are indistinct murmurs of further feigned dispute, broken by more or less conscious laughter, to which Mrs. Bellingham listens with alarm and Mrs. Murray with the selfrighteousness of those who have told you so, and who, having thus washed their hands of an affair, propose to give you a shower-bath of the water.

Mrs. Murray. “ Well, Marion! ”

Mrs. Bellingham, rising, with a sigh: “ Yes, it’s quite as bad as you could wish.”

Mrs. Murray. “ As bad as I could wish? This is too much, Marion. What are you going to do? ” Mrs. Bellingham is gathering up her work as if to quit the room, and Mrs. Murray’s demand is pitched in a tone of falling indignation and rising amazement.

Mrs. Bellingham. “ We can’t remain to overhear their talk. I am going to my room.”

Mrs. Murray. “ Why, Marion, the child is your own daughter! ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ That is the very reason why I don’t wish to feel that she has cause to be ashamed of me; and I certainly should if I stayed to eavesdrop.”

Mrs. Murray. “ How in the world should she ever know it? ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ I should tell her. But that is n’t the point, quite.”

Mrs. Murray. “ This is fantastic! Well, let her marry her — Caliban! Why don’t you go out and join them? That need n’t give her cause to blush for you. Remember, Marion, that Leslie is an ignorant, inexperienced child, and that it’s your duty to save her from her silliness.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ My daughter is a lady, and will remember herself.”

Mrs. Murray. “ But she’s a woman, Marion, and will forget herself!”

Mrs. Bellingham, who hesitates in a brief perplexity, but abruptly finishes her preparations for going out: “ At any rate, I can’t dog her steps, nor play the spy upon her. I wish to know only what she will freely tell me.”

Mrs. Murray. “ And are you actually going? Well, Marion, I suppose I must n’t say what I think of you.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ It is n’t necessary that you should.”

Mrs. Murray. “If I were to speak, I should say that your logic was worthy of Bedlam, and your morality of — of — the millennium! ” She whirls furiously out of the parlor, and Mrs. Bellingham, with a lingering glance at the door opening upon the balcony, follows her amply eddying skirts. At the moment of their disappearance, Leslie comes to the gallery door and looks exploringly into the parlor.

Leslie, speaking to Blake without: “ I was sure I heard voices. But there ’s nobody.” She turns, and glancing at the hills which show their irregular mass through the open window, sinks down into a ehuir beside the low gallery rail. “ Ah, this is a better point still,” and as Blake appears with his chair and plants it vis-à-vis with her: “ Why old Ponkwasset, I wonder? But people always say old of mountains: old Wachusett, old Agamenticus, old Monadnock, old Ponkwasset. Perhaps the young mountains have gone West and settled down on the prairies, with all the other young people of the neighborhood. Would n’t that explain it? ” She looks with mock seriousness at Blake, who supports in his left hand the elbow of his hurt arm. “ I ’m sure it ’s paining you.”

Blake. “ No, no; not the least. The fact is ” — he laughs lightly — “ I ’m afraid I was n't thinking about the mountains just now, when you spoke.”

Leslie. “ Oh, well, neither was I — very much.” They both laugh. “ But why do you put your hand under your arm, if it doesn’t pain you? ”

Blake. “ Oh! — I happened to think of the scamp who broke it for me.”

Leslie, shuddering: “ Don’t speak of it! Or yes, do! Tell me about it; I ’ve wanted to ask you. I ought to know about it.”

Blake. “ Why, those things are better imagined than described, Miss Bellingham.”

Leslie. “ But I want it described. I must hear it, no matter how terrible it is.”

Blake. “ Oh, it was n’t terrible; there was very little of it, one way or the other. The big fellow would n’t give up your watch; and I had to — urge him; and the little Irishman came dancing up, and made a pass at us with his stick, and my wrist caught it. That’s all.”

Leslie, with effusion: “All? You risked your life to get me back my watch, and I asked about that first, and never mentioned you.”

Blake. “ I had n’t done anything worth mentioning.”

Leslie. “ Then getting my watch was n’t worth mentioning! ”

Blake. “ Where is it? I have n’t seen you wear it. ”

Leslie. “ I broke something in it when I threw it down. It does n’t go. Besides, I thought perhaps you would n’t like to see it. ”

Blake. “ Oh, yes, I should.”

Leslie, starting up: “ I ’ll go get it.”

Blake. “ Not now! ” They are both silent; Leslie falters and then sits down again, and folds one hand over the other on the balcony rail, letting her fan dangle idly by its chain from her waist. He leans forward a little, and taking the fan, opens and shuts it, while she looks down upon him with a slight smile; he relinquishes it with a glance at her, and leans hack again in his chair.

Leslie. “ Well, what were you thinking about that hideous little wretch who hurt you? ”

Blake. “ Why, I was thinking, for one thing, that he did n’t mean to do it.”

Leslie. “ Oh! Why did he do it, then? ”

Blake. “ I believe he meant to hit his partner, though I can’t exactly say why. It went through my mind. And I was thinking that a good deal might be said for tramps.”

Leslie. “ For tramps that steal watches and break wrists? My philanthropy does n’t rise to those giddy heights, quite. No, decidedly, Mr. Blake, I draw the line at tramps. They never look clean, and why don’t they go to work? ” Blake. “ Well, they could n’t find work just now, if they wanted it, and generally I suppose they don’t want it. A man who’s been out of work three months is Mad to get it, but if he’s idle a year he does n’t want it. When I see one of your big cotton-mills standing idle, I know that it means just so much tramping, so much starving and stealing, so much misery and murder. We’re all part of the tangle; we’re all of us to blame, we ’re none of ns to blame.”

Leslie. “ Oh, that’s very well. But if you pity such wretches, what becomes of the deserving poor ? ’ ’

Blake. “ I’m not sure there are any deserving poor, as you call them, any more than there are deserving rich. So I don’t draw the line at tramps. The fact is, Miss Bellingham, I had just been doing those fellows a charity before they attacked you, — giving them some tobacco. You don’t approve of that? ”

Leslie. “ Oh, I like smoking! ”

Blake, laughing: “ And I got their idea of a gentleman.”

Leslie, after a moment: “ Yes? What was that? ”

Blake. “ A man who gives you tobacco, and does n’t ask you why you don’t go to work. A real gentleman has matches about him to light your pipe with afterwards. Is that your notion of a gentleman ? ”

Leslie, consciously: “ I don’t know; not exactly.”

Blake. “ It made me think of the notion of a gentleman I once heard from a very nice fellow years ago: he believed that you could n’t be a gentleman unless you began with your grandfather. I was younger then, and I remember shivering over it, for it left me quite out in the cold, though I could n’t help liking the man; he was a gentleman in spite of what he said, — a splendid fellow, if you made allowance for him. You have to make allowances for everybody, especially for men who have had all the advantages. It’s apt to put them wrong for life; they get to thinking that the start is the race. I used to look down on that sort of men, once — in theory. But what I saw of them in the war taught me better; they only wanted an emergency, and they could show themselves as good as anybody. It is n’t safe to judge people by their circumstances; besides, I’ve known too many men who had all the disadvantages and never came to anything. Still I prefer the tramp’s idea — perhaps because it’s more flattering — that you are a gentleman if you choose to be so. What do you think? ”

Leslie. “ I don’t know. I think it’s a very unpleasant subject. Why don’t you talk of something else? ”

Blake. “ Oh, I was n’t to talk at all, as I understood. I was to be talked to.”

Leslie. “ Well, what shall I talk to you about? You must choose that, too.”

Blake. “ Let us talk about yourself, then.”

Leslie. “ There is nothing about me. I’m just like every other girl. Get Miss Wallace to tell you about herself, some day, and then you’ll know my whole history. I’ve done everything that she’s done. We had the same dancing, singing, piano, French, German, and Italian lessons; we went to the same schools and the same lectures; we have both been abroad, and can sketch, and paint on tiles. We ’re as nearly alike as the same experiences and associations could make us, and we ’re just like all the other girls we know. Is n’t it rather monotonous ? ”

Blake. “I don’t know all the other girls that you know. If I can judge from Miss Wallace, I don’t believe you ’re like them; but they may be like you.”

Leslie, laughing: “ That’s too fine a distinction for me. And you have n’t answered my question.”

Blake, gravely: “ No, it is n’t monotonous to me; it’s all very good, I think. I’m rather old-fashioned about women; I like everything in their lives to be regular and ordered by old usage.”

Leslie. “ Then you don’t approve of originality? ”

Blake. “ I don’t like eccentricity.”

Leslie. “ Oh, I do. I should like to do all sorts of odd things, if I dared.”

Blake. “ Well, your not daring is the great point. If I had a sister, I should want her to be like all the other girls that are like you.”

Leslie. “ You compliment! She could n’t be like me.”

Blake. “ Why?”

Leslie. “ Why? Oh, I don’t know.” She hesitates, and then with a quick glance at him: “ She would have dark eyes and hair, for one thing.” They both laugh.

Blake. “ Was that what you meant to say?”

Leslie. “ Is n’t it enough to say what you mean, without being obliged to say what you meant? ”

Blake. “ Half a loaf is better than no bread; beggars must n’t be choosers.”

Leslie. “ Oh, if you put it so meekly as that you humiliate me. I must tell you, now: I meant a question,”

Blake. “ What is it? ”

Leslie. “ But I can’t ask it, yet. Not till I’ve got rid of some part of my obligations.”

Blake. “ I suppose you mean what I — what happened.”

Leslie. “ Yes.”

Blake. “I’m sorry that it happened, then; and I had been feeling rather glad of it, on the whole. I shall hate it if it’s an annoyance to you.”

Leslie. “ Oh, — not annoyance, exactly.”

Blake. “ What then? Should you like a receipt in full for all gratitude due me ? ”

Leslie. “ I should like to feel that we had done something for you in return.”

Blake. “ You can cancel it all by giving me leave to enjoy being just what and where I am.”

Leslie, demurely, after a little pause: “Is a broken wrist such a pleasure, then? ”

Blake. “I take the broken wrist for what it brings. If it were not for that I should be in New York breaking my heart over some people I ’m connected with in business there, and wondering how to push a little invention of mine without their help. Instead of that ” —

Leslie, hastily: “ Oh! Invention? Are you an inventor, too, Mr. Blake? Do tell me what it is.”

Blake. “ It’s an improved locomotive driving-wheel. But you’d better let me alone about that, Miss Bellingham; I never stop when I get on my drivingwheel. That’s what makes my friends doubtful about it; they don’t see how any brake can check it. They say the Westinghouse would exhaust the atmosphere of the planet on it without the slightest effect. You sec I am rather sanguine about it. ” He laughs nervously.

Leslie. “ But what have those New York people to do with it? ”

Blake. “ Nothing, at present. That’s the worst of it. They were partners of mine, and they got me to come on all the way from Omaha, and then I found out that they had no means to get the thing going. ”

Leslie. “ Oh! How could they do it? ” Blake. “ Well, I used language to that effect myself, but they did n’t seem to know; and I ran up here to cool off and think the matter over for a fresh start. You see, if I succeed it will be an everlasting fortune to me; and if I fail, — well, it will be an everlasting misfortune. But I’m not going to fail. There; I’m started! If I went on a moment longer, no power on earth could stop me. I suppose you’re not much used to talking about driving-wheels, Miss Bellingham ? ” Leslie. “ We don’t often speak of them. But they must be very interesting to those that understand them.”

Blake. “ I can’t honestly say they are. They ’re like railroads; they ’re good to get you there.”

Leslie. “ Where? ”

Blake. “ Well, in my cape, away from a good deal of drudgery I don’t like, and a life I don’t altogether fancy, and a kind of world I know too well. I should go to Europe, I suppose, if the wheel succeeded. I’ve a curiosity to see what the apple is like on the other side; whether it’s riper or only rottener. And I always believed I should quiet down somewhere, and read all the books I wanted to, and make up for lost time in several ways. I don't think I should look at any sort of machine for a year.” Leslie, earnestly: “ And would all that happen if you had the money to get the driving-wheel going? ”

Blake, with a smile at her earnestness: “ I’m not such a driving-wheel fanatic as that. The thing has to be fully tested, and even after it’s tested, the roads may refuse to take hold of it.”

Leslie, confidently: “ They can’t — when they see that it’s better.”

Blake. “ I wish I could think so. But roads are human, Miss Bellingham. They prefer a thing that’s just as well to something that’s much better — if it costs much to change.”

Leslie. “ Well, then, if you don’t believe the roads will take hold of it, why do you want to test it? Why don’t you give it up at once? ”

Blake. “ It won’t give me up. I do believe in it, you know, and I can’t stop where I am with it. I must go on.”

Leslie. “ Yes. I should do just the same. I should never, never give it up. I know you’ll be helped. Mr. Blake, if this wheel ” —

Blake. “ Really, Miss Bellingham, I feel ashamed for letting you bother yourself so long with that ridiculous wheel. But you would n’t stick to the subject: we were talking about you.”

Leslie, dreamily: “ About me?” Then abruptly: “ Mamma will wonder what in the world has become of me.” She rises, and Blake, with an air of slight surprise, follows her example. She leads the way into the parlor, and lingeringly drawing near the piano, she strikes some chords, and as she stands over the instrument, she carelessly plays an air with one hand. Then, without looking up: “ Was that the air you were trying to remember? ”

Blake, joyfully: “Oh yes, that’s it; that’s it, at last! ”

Leslie, seating herself at the piano and running over the keys again: “ I think I can play it for you; it’s rather old-fashioned, now.” She plays and sings, and then rests with her hands on the keys, looking up at Blake where he stands leaning one elbow on the corner of the piano.

Blake. “ I ’m very much obliged.”

Leslie, laughing: “ And I ’m very much surprised.”

Blake. “ Why?”

Leslie. “ I should think the inventor of a driving-wheel would want something a great deal more stirring than this German sentimentality and those languid, melancholy things from Tennyson that you liked.”

Blake. “ Ah, that’s just what I don’t want. I’ve got stir enough of my own.”

Leslie. “ I wish I could understand you.”

Blake. “ Am I such a puzzle? I always thought myself a very simple affair.’ ’

Leslie. “ That’s the difficulty. I wish ” —

Blake. “ What?”

Leslie. “ That I could say something wrong in just the right way ! ”

Blake, laughing: “ How do you know it ’s wrong? ”

Leslie. “ It is n’t, if you don’t think so.”

Blake. “ I don’t, so far.”

Leslie. “ Ah, don't joke. It’s a very serious matter.”

Blake. “ Why should I think it was wrong? ”

Leslie. “ I don’t know that you will. Mr. Blake” —

Blake. “ Well?”

Leslie. “ Did you know — Now, if I begin to say something, and feel like stopping before I’ve said it, you won’t ask questions to make me go on? ” Very seriously.

Blake, with a smile of joyous amusement, looking down at her as be lounges at the corner of the piano: “ I won’t even ask you to begin.” Leslie passes her hand over the edges of the keys, without making them sound; then she drops it into her lap and there clasps it with the other hand, and looks up at Blake.

Leslie. “ Did you know I was rich, Mr. Blake?”

Blake. “ No, Miss Bellingham, I did n’t.” His smile changes from amusement to surprise, and he colors faintly.

Leslie, blushing violently: “ Well, I am, — if being rich is having a great deal more money to do what you please than you know what to do with.” Blake listens with a look of deepening mystification, as she hurries desperately on: “ I have this money in my own right; it’s what my uncle left me, and I can give it all away if I choose.” She pauses again, as if waiting for Blake to ask her to go on, but he remains loyally silent; his smile has died away, and an embarrassment increases upon both of them. She looks up at him again, and implores: “ What will you think of what I’m going to say ? ”

Blake, bursting into a troubled laugh: “ I can’t imagine what you’re going to say.”

Leslie. “ Don’t laugh! I know you won’t — Oh, Mr. Blake, you said you liked girls to be just like everybody else, and old-established, and that; and I know this is as eccentric as it can be. It is n’t at all the thing, I know, for a young lady to say to a gentleman; but you ’re not like the others, and — Oh, it does n’t seem possible that I should have begun it! It seems perfectly monstrous! But I know you won’t misinterpret — I must, I must go on, and the bluntest and straight forwardest way will be the best way.” She keeps wistfully scanning Blake’s face as she speaks, but apparently gathers no courage or comfort from it, “ Mr, Blake! ”

Blake, passively: “ Well? ”

Leslie, with desperate vehemence: “ I want — Oh, what will you think of me! But no, you ’re too good yourself not to see it in just the right way. I ’m sure that you won’t think it — unladylike — for me to propose such a thing, merely because — because most people would n’t do it; but I shall respect your reasons — I shall know you ’re right — even if you refuse me; and — Oh, Mr. Blake, I want to go into partnership with you!”

Blake, recoiling a pace or two from the corner of the piano, as Leslie rises from the stool and stands confronting him: “ To — to — go into ” —

Leslie. “ Yes, yes! But how dreadfully you take it; and you promised — Oh, I knew you would n’t like it. I know it seems dreadfully queer, and not at all delicate. But I thought — I thought — from what you said — You said those people had no money to push your invention, and here I have all this money doing nobody any good — and you’ve done nothing but heap one kindness after another on us — and why should n't you take it, as much as you want, and use it to perfect your driving-wheel ? I ’m sure I believe in it; and ” — She has followed him the pace or two of his withdrawal; but now, at some changing expression of his face, she hesitates, falters, and remains silent and motionless, as if fixed and stricken mute by the sight of some hideous apparition. Then with a wild incredulity: “ Oh!” and indignation, “ Oh!” and passionate reproach and disappointment, “Oh! How cruel, how shameless, how horrid!” She drops her face into her hands, and sinks upon the piano-stool, throwing her burdened arms upon the keys with a melodious crash.

Blake. “ Don’t, don’t! For pity’s sake, don’t, my — Miss Bellingham!” He stands over her in helpless misery and abject self-reproach. “ Good heavens, I didn’t — It was all ” —

Leslie, springing erect: “ Don’t speak to me. Your presence, your being alive in the same world after that is an insufferable insult! ”

Blake. “ I wish to God I had died first.”

Leslie. “ For you to dare! Ah! No woman could say what you thought. No lady ” —

Blake. “ Wait!” He turns pale, and speaks low and steadily: “ You must listen to me now; you must hear what I never dreamt I should dare to say. I loved you! If that had not bewildered me I could not have thought — what is impossible. It was a delusion dearer than life; but I was ashamed of the hope it gave me even while it lasted. Don’t mistake me, Miss Bellingham; I could have died to win your love, but if your words had said what they seemed to say, I would not have taken what they seemed to offer. But that’s past. And now that I have to answer your meaning, I must do it without thanks. You place me in the position of having told my story to hint for your help” —

Leslie, in vehement protest: “ Oh, no, no, no! I never dreamt of such a thing! I could n’t! ”

Blake. “ Thank you at least for that; and — Good-by! ” He bows and moves away toward the door.

Leslie, wildly: “ Oh, don’t go, don’t go! What have I done, what shall I do?”

Blake, pausing, and going abruptly back to her: “ You can forgive me, Miss Bellingham; and let everything be as it was. ”

Leslie, after a moment of silent anguish: “ No, no. That’s impossible. It can never be the same again. It must all end. I can forgive you easily enough; it was nothing; the wrong was all mine. I’ve been cruelly to blame, letting you — go on. Oh, yes, very, very much. But I did n’t know it; and I did n’t mean anything by anything. No, I could n’t. Good-by. You are right to go. You must n’t see me any more. I shall never forget, your goodness and patience.” Eagerly: “ You would n’t want me to forget it, would you? ”

Blake, brokenly: “ Whatever you do will be right. God bless you, and goodby.” He takes up her right hand in his left, and raises it to his lips, she trembling, and as he stands holding it Mrs. Bellingham enters with an open letter.

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Leslie ” —

Leslie, who withdraws her hand, and after a momentary suspense turns unashamed to her mother: “ Mr. Blake is going away, mamma” —

Mrs. Bellingham faintly acknowledges his parting bow. Leslie watches him go, and then turns away with a suppressed sob.


Leslie. “ Well, mamma, what will you say to me now? ” Without the inspiration of Blake’s presence, she stands drearily confronting her mother in Mrs. Bellingham’s own room, where the latter, seated in her easy-chair, looks up into her daughter’s face.

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Nothing, Leslie. I am waiting for you to speak.”

Leslie. “ Oh, I can’t speak unless you ask me.” She drops into a chair, and hiding her face in her handkerchief weeps silently. Her mother waits till her passion is spent and she has wiped her tears, and sits mutely staring toward the window.

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Is he coming back again. Leslie? ”

Leslie. “ No.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Was it necessary that you should let him take leave of you in that way ? ”

Leslie, sighing: “ No, it wasn’t necessary. But — it was inevitable.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ What had made it inevitable? Remember, Leslie, that you asked me to question you. ”

Leslie. “ I know it, mamma.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ And you need n’t answer if you don’t like.”

Leslie. “ I don’t like, but I will answer, all the same, for you have a right to know. I had been saying something silly to him.”

Mrs. Bellingham, with patient hopelessness: “ Yes?”

Leslie. “ It seems so, now; but I know that I spoke from a right motive, — a motive that you would n’t disapprove of yourself, mamma.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ I ’m sure of that, my dear.”

Leslie. “ Well, you see — Could n’t you go on and ask me, mamma? ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ I don’t know what to ask, Leslie.”

Leslie. “ It’s so hard to tell, without.” Desperately: “ Why, you see, mamma, Mr. Blake had told me about a thing he had invented, and how some people in New York had promised him money to get it along, — push it, he said, — and when he came on all the way from Omaha, he found that they had no money; and so — and so — I — I offered him some.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Oh, Leslie!”

Leslie. “ Yes, yes, it seems horrid, now, — perfectly hideous. But I did so long to do something for him because he had done so much for us, and I think he is so modest and noble, and I felt so sorry that he should have been so cruelly deceived. Was n’t that a good motive, mamma? ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Oh, yes, my poor headlong child ! But what a thing for a young lady to propose! I can’t imagine how you could approach the matter.”

Leslie. “ That’s the worst of it, — the very worst. Of course, I never could have approached such a thing with any other young man; but I thought there was such a difference between us, don’t you know, in everything, that it would be safe; and I thought it would be better — he would like it better — if there was no beating about the bush; and so I said — I said — that I wanted to go into partnership with him.”

Mrs. Bellingham, with great trouble in her voice, but steadily: “ What answer did he make you, Leslie?”

Leslie. “ Oh, I was justly punished for looking down upon him. At first he blushed in a strange sort of way, and then he turned pale and looked grieved and angry, and at last repeated my words in a kind of daze, and I blundered on, and all at once I saw what he thought I had meant; he thought — Oh, dear, dear — he thought ” —she hides her face again, and sobs out the words behind her handkerchief — “that I w-w-anted to — to — to marry him! Oh, how shall I ever endure it? It was a thousand times worse than the tramps, — a thousand times.” Mrs. Bellingham remains silently regarding her daughter, who continues to bemoan herself, and then lifts her tear-stained face: “ Don’t you think it was ungratefully, horridly, cruelly vulgar? ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Mr. Blake can’t have the refinement of feeling that you ’ve been used to in the gentlemen of your acquaintance; I’m glad that you’ve found that out for yourself, though you ’ve had to reach it through such a bitter mortification. If such a man misunderstood you ” —

Leslie, indignantly: “Mr. Blake is quite as good as the gentlemen of my acquaintance, mamma; he could n’t help thinking what he did, I blundered so; and when I flew out at him, and upbraided him for his — ungenerosity, and hurt his feelings all I could, he excused himself in a perfectly satisfactory way. He said ” —

Mrs. Bellingham. “ What, Leslie?”

Leslie, with a drooping head: “ He said — he used words more refined and considerate than I ever dreamt of — he said he was always thinking of me in that way without knowing it, and hoping against hope, or he could never have misunderstood me in the world. And then he let me know that he would n’t have taken me, no matter how much he liked me, if what he thought for only an instant had been true; and he could never have taken my money, for that would have made him seem like begging, by what he had told me. And he talked splendidly, mamma, and he put me down, as I deserved, and he was going away, and I called him back, and we agreed that we must never see each other again; and — and I could n't help his kissing my hand.” She puts up her handkerchief and sobs, and there is an interval before her mother speaks in a tone of compassion, yet of relief.

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Well, Leslie, I’m glad that you could agree upon so wise a course. This has all been a terribly perplexing and painful affair; and I have had my fears, my dear, that perhaps it had gone so far with you that ” —

Leslie, vehemently: “ Why, so it had ! I did n’t know I liked him so, but I do; and I give him up — I gave him up — because you all hate him, yes all ; and you shut your eyes, and won’t see how kind and brave and good he is; and I can’t hold out against you. Yes, he must go; but he takes my broken heart with him.”

Mrs. Bellingham, sternly: “Leslie, this is absurd. You know yourself that he ’s out of the question.”

Leslie, flinging herself down and laying her head in her mother’s lap with a desolate cry: “ Oh, mamma, mamma, don’t speak so harshly to me, or I shall die. I know he ’s out of the question ; yes, yes, I do. But how? How, mamma? How is he out of the question? That’s what I can’t understand! ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Why, to begin with, we know nothing about him, Leslie.”

Leslie, eagerly: “ Oh, yes, I do. He’s told me all about himself. He’s an inventor. He ’s a genius. Yes, he knows everything, indeed he does; and in the war he was an engineer. If you could only hear him talk as I do ”—

Mrs. Bellingham. “I dare say. A civil engineer ” —

Leslie. “ A civil engineer! I should hope not. I should he ashamed of a man who had been a civilian during the war. He always had this great taste for mechanics, and he studied the business of a machinist — I don’t know what it is, exactly; but he knows all about steam, and he can build a whole engine, himself; and he happened to lie a private soldier going somewhere on a Mississippi gunboat when the engineer was killed, and he took charge of the engine at once, and was in the great battles with the boat afterwards. He ’s a military engineer.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ He’s a steamboat engineer, Leslie, and you might as well marry a locomotive-driver, as far as profession goes.”

Leslie, aghast: “ Do you mean that when Mr. Blake was an engineer, he did n’t wear any coat, and had his sleeves rolled up, and went about with a stringy wad of oily cotton in his hand? ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Yes.”

Leslie. “ Oh!” SIie excludes the horrible vision by clasping both hands over her eyes.

Mrs. Bellingham, very gravely: “ Now listen to me, Leslie. You know that I am not like your aunt Kate, — that I never talk in that vulgar way about classes and stations, don’t you? ”

Leslie. “ Oh, yes, mamma. I’ve always been a great deal worse than you, myself.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Well, my dear, then I hope that you will acquit me of anything low or snobbish in what I have to say. There is a fitness in all things, and I speak out of respect to that. It is simply impossible that a girl of your breeding and ideas and associations should marry a man of his. Recollect that no one belongs entirely to themselves. You are part of the circle in which you have always moved, and he is part of the circumstances of his life. Do yon see? ”

Leslie. “ Yes.” She lapses from a kneeling to a crouching posture, and resting one elbow on her mother’s knee poises her chin on her hand, and listens drearily.

Mrs. Bellingham. “ We may say that it is no matter what a man has been; that we are only concerned with what Mr. Blake is now. But the trouble is that every one of us is what they have been. If Mr. Blake’s early associations have been rude and his business coarse, you may be sure they have left their mark upon him, no matter how good he may he naturally. I think he is of a very high and sweet nature; he seems so” —

Leslie. “ Oh, he is, he is! ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ But he can’t outlive his own life. Is n’t that reasonable ? ”

Leslie, hopelessly; “ Yes, it seems so.”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ You can’t safely marry any man whose history you despise. Marriage is a terrible thing, my dear; young girls can never understand how it searches out the heart and tries and tests in every way. You must n’t have a husband whom you can imagine with a wad of greasy cotton in his hand. There will be wicked moments in which you will taunt and torment each other.”

Leslie. “ Oh, mamma, mamma!”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Yes, it is so! The truest love can come to that. And in those moments it is better that all your past and present should be of the same level as his; for you would n’t hesitate to throw any scorn in his teeth; you would be mad, and you must not have deadly weapons within reach. I speak very plainly.”

Leslie. “ Terribly!”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ But that is the worst. There are a thousand lighter trials, which you must meet. Where would you live, if you married him? You have a fortune, and you might go to Europe ” —

Leslie. “ I never would sneak away to Europe with him! ” Mrs. Bellingham. “ I should hope not. But if you remained at home, how would you introduce him to your friends? Invention is n’t a profession; would you tell them that he was a machinist or a steamboat engineer by trade? And if they found it out without your telling? ”

Leslie, evasively: “ There are plenty of girls who marry men of genius, and it does n't matter what the men have done, — how humble they have been. If they ’re geniuses ” —

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Oh, Leslie, such men have won all the honors and distinctions before they marry. Girls like you, my dear, don’t marry geniuses in their poverty and obscurity. Those men spend years and years of toil and study, and struggle through a thousand difficulties and privations, and set the world talking about them, before they can even be asked to meet the ordinary people of our set in society. Wait till Mr. Blake has shown ” —

Leslie. “ But he ’d be an old man by that time, and then I should n't want him. If I know now that he’s going to he great ” —

Mrs. Bellingham. “ My dear, you know nothing whatever about him, except that his past life has been shabby and common.”

Leslie, with sudden spirit: “ Well, then, mamma, at least I don’t know anything horrid of him, as some girls must know of the young men they marry, — and the old men, too. Just think of Violet Emmons’s match with that count there in Paris! And Aggy Lawson’s, with that dreadful old Mr. Lancaster, that everybody says has been so wicked!

I’d rather marry Mr. Blake, a thousand times, if he had been a — I don’t know what! ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ You have no right to take things at their worst, Leslie. Remember all the girls you know, and the accomplished men they have married in their own set; men who are quite their equals in goodness as well as station and wealth and breeding. That’s what I want you to do.”

Leslie. “ Do you want me to marry somebody I don’t like ? ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Be fair, Leslie. I merely want you to like somebody you ought to marry, — when the proper time comes. How do you know that Mr. Blake is n’t quite as bad as the count or Mr. Lancaster? ”

Leslie, with a burst of tears: “ Oh, mamma, you just now said yourself that you believed he was good and sweet, and you have seen the beautiful delicacy he behaves towards women with. Well, well,”— she rises, and catches in her hand a long coil of her hair which has come loose from the mass, and stands holding it while she turns tragically toward her mother, — “let it all go. I will never marry at all, and then at least I can t displease you. I give him up, and I hope it will make you happy, mamma.”

Mrs. Bellingham, rising: “ Leslie, is this the way you reward my anxiety and patience? I have reasoned with you as a woman of sense, and the return you make is to behave like a petulant child. I will never try to control you in such a matter as this, but you know now what I think, and you can have your own way if you like it better or believe it is wiser than mine. Oh, my poor child! ” clasping Leslie’s head between her hands and tenderly kissing the girl’s hair, “ don’t you suppose your mother’s heart aches for you? Marry him if you will, Leslie, and I shall always love you. I hope I may never have to pity you more than I do now. All that I ask of you, after all, is to make sure of yourself.”

Leslie. “ I will, mamma, I will. He must go; oh, yes, he must go. I see that it would n’t do. It would be too unequal, — I’m so far beneath him in everything but the things I ought to despise. No, I ’m not his equal, and I never can be, and so I must not think of him any more. If he were rich, and had been brought up like me, and I were some poor girl with nothing but her love for him, he would never let the world outweigh her love, as I do his. Don’t praise me, mother; don’t thank me. It is n’t for you I do it; it is n’t for anything worthy, or true, or good; it’s because I ’m a coward, and afraid of the opinions of people I despise. You’ve shown me what I am. I thought I was hrave and strong; but I am weak and timid, and I shall never respect myself any more. Send him away; tell him what an abject creature I am! It will kill me to have him think meanly of me, but oh, it will be a thousand times better that he should have a right to scorn me now, than that I should ever come to despise myself for having been ashamed of him, when — when — That I could n't bear!” She drops into a chair near the table and lets fall her face into her hands upon it, sobbing.

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Leslie, Leslie! Be yourself! How strangely you act! ”

Leslie, lifting her face, to let it gleam a moment upon her mother: “ Oh, yes, I feel very strangely. But now I won’t distress you any more, mother,” lifting her face again and impetuously drying her eyes with her handkerchief; “ I will be firm, now, and no one shall ever hear a murmur from me, — not a murmur. I think that’s due to you, mamma; you have been so patient with me. I ’ve no right to grieve you by going on in this silly way, and I won’t. I will be firm, firm, firm! ” She casts herself into her mother’s arms, and as she hangs upon her neck in a passion of grief, Mrs. Murray appears in the door-way, and, in spite of Mrs. Bellingham’s gesticulated entreaties to retire, advances into the room.

Mrs. Murray. “ Why, what in the world does all this mean? ”

Leslie, raising her head and turning fiercely upon her: “ It means that I’m now all you wish me to be, — quite your own ideal of ingratitude and selfishness, and I wish you joy of your success! ” She dashes tempestuously from the room, and leaves Mrs. Murray planted.

Mrs. Murray. “ Has she dismissed him? Has she broken with him? ”

Mrs. Bellingham, coldly: “ I think she meant you to understand that.”

Mrs. Murray. “ Very well, then, Charles can’t come a moment too soon. If things are at this pass, and Leslie’s in this mood, it’s the most dangerous moment of the whole affair. If she should meet him now, everything would be lost. ”

Mrs. Bellingham. “ Don’t be troubled. She won’t meet him; he ’s gone.”

Mrs. Murray. “I shall believe that when I see him going. A man like that would never leave her, in the world, because she bade him, — and I should think him a great fool if he did.”

W. D. Howells.