A Counterfeit Presentment: Comedy. In Three Parts. Part Third
BARTLETT and CUMMINGS.
Bartlett: “ Six weeks since you were here ? I should n’t have thought that.” Bartlett’s easel stands before the window, in the hotel parlor; he has laid a tint upon the canvas, and has retired a few paces for the effect, his palette and mahl-stick in hand, and his head carried at a critical angle. Cummings, who has been doing the duty of art-culture by the picture, regards it with renewed interest. Bartlett resumes his work: “ Pretty good, Cummings? ”
Cummings: “Capital! The blue of that distance ” —
Bartlett, with a burlesque sigh: “ Ah, I looked into my heart and painted, for that! Well, you find me still here, Cummings, and apparently more at home than ever. The landlord has devoted this parlor to the cause of art, — makes the transients use the lower parlor, now, — and we have this all to ourselves: Miss Wyatt sketches, you know. Her mother brings her sewing, and the general his bruises; he has n’t quite scrambled up, yet, from that little knock-down of his; a man doesn’t, at his time of life, I believe; and we make this our family-room; and a very queer family we are! Fine old fellow, the general; he’s behaved himself since his accident like a disabled angel, and has n’t sworn — well, anything worth speaking of. Yes. here I am. I suppose it’s all right, but for all I know it may be all wrong.” Bartlett sighs in unguarded sincerity. “I don’t know what I’m here for. Nature began shutting up shop a fortnight ago at a pretty lively rate, and edging loafers to the door with every sign of impatience; and yet, here I am, hanging round still. I suppose this glimpse of Indian summer is some excuse just now; it ’s a perfect blessing to the landlord, and he’s making hay —rowen crop — while the sun shines; I ’ve been with him so long, now, I take quite an interest in his prosperity, if eight dollars a week of it do come out of me! What is talked of in ‘ art-circles ’ down in Boston, brother Cummings ? ”
Cummings: “Your picture.”
Bartlett, inattentively, while be comes up to his easel, and bestows an infinitesimal portion of paint upon a destitute spot in the canvas: “ Don’t be sarcastic, Cummings.”
Cummings: “I’m not, I assure you.”
Bartlett, turning toward him incredulously: “ Do you mean to say that The First Gray Hair is liked ? ”
Cummings: “I do. There hasn’t been any pietui'e so much talked of this season.”
Bartlett: “ Then it’s the shameless slop of the name. I should think you ’d blush for vonr part in that swindle. But clergymen have no conscience, where they’ve a chance to do a fellow a kindness, I’ve observed.” He goes up to Cummings with his brush in his mouth, his palette on one hand, and his mahlstick in the other, and contrives to lay hold of his shoulders with a few disengaged lingers. As Cummings shrinks a little from his embrace : " Oh, don’t be afraid; I shan’t get any paint on you. You need a whole coat of whitewash, though, you unscrupulous saint!” He returns to his easel. “ So The Old Girl — that’s what I shall call the picture— is a success, is she? The admiring public ought to see the original elmtree now: she hasn’t got a hair, gray or green, on her head; she ’s perfectly bald. I say, Cummings, how would it do for me to paint a pendant, The Last Gray Hair ? I might look up a leaf or two on the elm, somewhere, — stick it on to the point of a twig; they would n't know any better.”
Cummings: “The leafless elm would make a good picture, whatever you called it.” Bartlett throws back his shaggy head and laughs up at the ceiling. “ The fact is, Bartlett, I’ve got a little surprise for you.”
Bartlett, looking at him askance : “ Somebody wanting to cliromo The Old Girl? No, no; it is n’t quite so bad as that! ”
Cummings, in a burst: “ They did want to ehromo it. But it’s sold. They ’ve got you two hundred dollars for it.” Bartlett lays down his brush, palette, and mahl-stick, dusts his fingers, puts them in his pockets, and comes and stands before Cummings, on whom, seated, he bends a curious look.
Bartlett: “And do you mean to tell me, you hardened atheist, that you don’t believe in the doctrine of future punishments? What are they going to do with you in the next world? And that picture dealer? And me? Two hund— It’s an outrage! It’s— The picture wasn’t worth titty, by a stretch of the most charitable imagination! Two hundred d— Why, Cummings, I’ll paint no end of Old Girls, First and Last Gray Hairs — I ’ll flood the market! Two— Good Lord!” Bartlett goes back to his easel and silently resumes his work. After a while: “ Who’s been offered up? ”
Cummings: “ What? ”
Bartlett: “Who’s the victim? My patron? The noble and discriminating and munificent purchaser of The Old Girl ? ”
Cummings: “ Oh! Mrs. Bellingham. She’s going to send it out to her daughter in Omaha.”
Bartlett: “ Ah! Mrs. Blake wishes to found an art-museum with that curiosity out there? Sorry for the Omaha-has.” Cummings makes a gesture of impatience. “Well, well; I won’t, then, old fellow! I’m truly obliged to you. I accept my good fortune with compunction, but with all the gratitude imaginable. I say, Cummings ! ”
Cummings : “ Well? ”
Bartlett: “ What do you think of my taking to high art, — mountains twelve hundred feet above the sea, like this portrait of Fonkwasset? ”
Cummings: “I’ve always told you that you had only to give yourself scope, — attempt something worthy of your powers ” —
Bartlett: “Ah, I thought so. Then you believe that a good big canvas and a good big subject would be the making of me? Well, I’ve come round to that idea myself. I used to think that if there was any greatness in me, I could get it into a small picture, like Meissonier or Corot. But I can’t. I must have room, like the Yellowstone and Yo-Semite fellows. Don’t you think Miss Wyatt is looking wonderfully improved?”
Cummings: “ Wonderfully! And how beautiful she is! She looked lovely that first day, iu spite of her ghostliness; but now " —
Bartlett: “ Yes; a phantom of delight is good enough in its way, but a well woman is the prettiest, after all. Miss Wyatt sketches, I think I told you.”
Cummings: “ Yes,you mentioned it.”
Bartlett: “Of course. Otherwise, I could n't possibly have thought of her while I was at work on a great picture like this. She sketches " —Bartlett puts his nose almost on the canvas in the process of bestowing a delicate touch — “ she sketches about as badly as any woman I ever saw, and that ’s saying a good deal. But she looks uncommonly well while she ’s at it. The fact is, Cummings,” — Bartlett retires some feet from the canvas and squints at it,— “this very picture which you approve of so highly is—Miss Wyatt’s. I could n’t attempt anything of the size of Ponkwasset! But she allows me to paint at it a little when she’s away.” Bartlett steals a look of joy at his friend’s vexation, and then continues seriously: “ I’ve been having a curious time, Cummings.” The other remains silent. “ Don't you want to ask me about it? ”
Cummings: “ I don’t know that I do.”
Bartlett: “ Why, my dear old fellow, you ’re hurt! It was a silly joke, and I honestly ask your pardon.” He lays down his brush and palette, and leaves the easel. “ Cummings, I don’t know what to do. I’m in a perfect deuce of a state. I’m hit — awfully hard; and I don’t know what to do about it. I wish I bad gone at oiice — the first day. But I had to stay — I had to stay.” He turns and walks away from Cummings, whose eyes follow him with pardon and sympathy.
Cummings: “ Do you really mean it, Bartlett? I did n’t dream of such a thing. I thought you were still brooding over that affair with Miss Harlan.”
Bartlett: " Oh, child’s play! A prehistoric illusion! A solar myth! The thing never was.” He rejects the obsolete superstition with A wave of his left hand. “ I ’m in love with this girl, and I feel like a sneak and a brute about it. At the very best it would he preposterous. Who am I, a poor devil of a painter, the particular pet of Poverty, to think of a young lady whose family and position could command her the best? But putting that aside, — putting that insuperable obstacle lightly aside, as a mere trifle, — the thing remains an atrocity. It’s enormously indelicate to think of loving a woman who would never have looked twice at me if I had n’t resembled an infernal scoundrel who tried to break her heart; and I’ve nothing else to commend me. I ’ve the perfect certainty that she does n’t and can’t care anything for me in myself; and it grinds me into the dust to realize on what terms she tolerates me. I could carry it off as a joke, at first; but when it became serious, I had to look it in the face; and that’s what it amounts to, and if you know of any more hopeless and humiliating tangle, I don’t.” Bartlett, who has approached his friend during this speech, walks away again; and there is an interval of silence.
Cummings, at last, musingly: “ You in love with Miss Wyatt? I can’t imagine it! ”
Bartlett, fiercely: “You can’t imagine it? What’s the reason you can’t imagine it? Don’t he offensive, Cummings!” He stops in his walk and lowers upon his friend. “ Why should n’t I be in love with Miss Wyatt? ”
Cummings: “ Oh, nothing. Only you were saying " —
Bartlett: “ I was saying! Don’t tell me what I was saying. Say something yourself. ”
Cummings: “ Really, Bartlett, you can’t expect me to stand this sort of thing. You ’re preposterous.”
Bartlett: “ I know it! But don’t blame me. I beg your pardon. Is it because of the circumstances that you can’t imagine my being in love with her? ”
Cummings: “ Oh, no; I was n’t thinking of the circumstances; but it seemed so out of character for you ” —
Bartlett, impatiently: “ Oh, love’s always out of character, just as it’s always out of reason. I admit freely that I ’m an ass. And then? ”
Cummings: “ Well, then, I don’t believe you have any more reason to be in despair than you have to be in love. If she tolerates you, as you say, it can’t be because you look like the man who jilted her. ”
Bartlett: “ Ah! But if she still loves him?”
Cummings: “You don’t know that. That strikes me as a craze of jealousy. What makes you think she tolerates you for that reason or no-reason? ”
Bartlett: “What makes me think it? From the very first she interpreted me by what she knew of him. She expected me to be this and not to be that; to have one habit and not another; and I could see that every time the fact was different, it was a miserable disappointment to her, a sort, of shock. Every little difference between me and that other rascal wave her a start; and whenever I looked up I found her wistful eyes on me as if they were trying to puzzle me out; they used to follow me round the room like the eyes of a family portrait. You wouldn’t have liked it yourself, Cummings. For the first three weeks I simply existed on false pretenses,—involuntary false pretenses, at that. I wanted to explode; I wanted to roar out,
‘ If you think I ’m at all like that abandoned scoundrel of yours in anything but looks, I’m not!’ But I was bound by everything that was sacred, by everything that was decent, to hold my tongue, and let my soul be rasped out of me in silence and apparent unconsciousness. That was your fault. If you had n’t told me all about the thing I could have done something outrageous and stopped it. But I was tied hand and foot by what I knew. I bad to let it go on.”
Cummings: “I’m very sorry, Bartlett; but ” —
Bartlett : “ Oh, I dare say you would n’t have done it if you had n’t bad a wild ass of the desert to deal with. Well, the old people got used to some little individuality in me, by and by, and beyond a suppressed whoop or two from the mother when I came suddenly into the room, they didn’t do anything to annoy me directly. But they were anxious every minute for the effect on her; and it worried me as much to have them watching her as to have her watching me. Of course I knew that she talked this confounded resemblance over with her mother every time I left them, and avoided talking it over with her father.”
Cummings; “ But you say the trouble’s over, now.”
Bartlett: “Oh — over! No; it isn’t over. When she’s with me a while she comes to see that I’m not a mere doppelgdnger. She respites me to that extent. But I have still some small rags of selfesteem dangling about me; and now suppose I should presume to set up for somebody on my own account; the first hint of my caring for her as I do, if she could conceive of anything so atrocious, would tear open all the old sorrows— Ah! I can’t think of it. Besides, I tell you, it is n’t all over. It’s only not so bad as it was. She’s subject to relapses, when it’s much worse than ever. Why” — Bartlett stands facing his friend, with a half-whimsical, half-desperate smile, as if about to illustrate his point, when Constance and her mother cuter the parlor.
CONSTANCE, MRS. WYATT, BARTLETT, and CUMMINGS.
Constance, with a quick, violent arrest: “Ah! Oh!”
Mrs. Wyatt: “ Constance, Constance, darling! What’s the matter? ”
Constance: “Oh, nothing,—nothing!” She laughs, nervously. “I thought there was nobody — here; and it — startled me. How do you do, Mr. Cummings?” She goes quickly up to that gentleman, and gives him her hand. “ Don’t you think it wonderful to find such a day as this, up here, at this time of year? ” She struggles to control the panting breath in which she speaks.
Cummings: “Yes; I supposed I had come quite too late for anything of the sort. You must make haste with your Ponkwasset, Miss Wyatt, or you ’ll have to paint him with his winter cap on.”
Constance: “Ah, yes! My picture. Mr. Bartlett has been telling you.” Her eyes have already wandered away from Cummings, and they now dwell, with a furtive light of reparation and imploring upon Bartlett’s disheartened patience: “ Good morning.” It is a delicately tentative salutation, in a low voice, still fluttered by her nervous agitation.
Bartlett, in a dull despair: “ Good morning,”
Constance: “ How is the light on the mountain this morning? ” She drifts deprecatingly up to the picture, near which Bartlett has stolidly kept his place.
Bartlett, in apathetic inattention: “ Oh, very well, very well indeed, thank you. ”
Constance, after a hesitating glance at him : “ Did you like what I had done on it yesterday ? ”
Bartlett, very much as before: “ Oh, yes; why not? ”
Constance, with meek subtlety: “ I was afraid I had vexed you — by it.” She bends an appealing glance upon him, to which Bartlett remains impervious, and she drops her eyes with a faint sigh. Then she lifts them again: “I was afraid I had—made the distance too blue.”
Bartlett: “ Oh, no; not at all.”
Constance: “ Do you think I had better try to finish it? ”
Bartlett: “ Oh, certainly. Why not? If it amuses you!”
Constance, perplexedly: “ Of course.” Then with a sad significance: “ But I know I am trying your patience too far. You have been so kind, so good, I can’t forgive myself for annoying you.”
Bartlett: “ it does n’t annoy me. I’m very glad to be useful to you.”
Constance, demurely: “I did n’t mean painting; I meant — screaming.” She lifts her eyes to Bartlett’s face, with a pathetic, inquiring attempt at lightness, the slightest imaginable experimental archness in her self-reproach, which dies out as Bartlett frowns and bites the corner of his mustache in unresponsive silence. “ I ought to be well enough now to stop it; I ’m quite well enough to be ashamed of it.” She breaks off a miserable little laugh.
Bartlett, with cold indifference : “There’s no reason why you should stop it — if it amuses you.” She looks at him in surprise at this rudeness. “ Do you wish to try your hand at Ponkwasset this morning? ”
Constance, with a flash of resentment: “ No; thanks.” Then with a lapse into her morbid self-abasement: “ I shall not touch it again. Mamma! ”
Mrs. Wyatt: “ Yes, Constance.” Mrs. Wyatt and Cummings, both intent on Bartlett and Constance, have been heroically feigning a. polite interest in each other, from which pretense they now eagerly release themselves.
Constance: “Oh — nothing. I can get it of Mary. I won’t trouble you.” She goes toward the door.
Mrs. Wyatt: “ Mary is n’t up from her breakfast, yet. If you want anything, let me go with you, dear.”She turns to follow Constance. “ Good morning, Mr. Cummings; we shall see you at dinner. Good morning,” — with an inquiring glance at Bartlett. Constance slightly inclines towards the two gentlemen without looking at them, in going out with her mother; and Cummings moves away to the piano, and affects to examine the sheet-music scattered over it. Bartlett remains in Ins place near the easel.
BARTLETT and CUMMINGS.
Bartlett, harshly, after a certain silence which his friend is apparently resolved not to break: “ Sail in, Cummings ! ”
Cummings: “ Oh, I’ve got nothing to say.”
Bartlett : “ Yes, you have. You think I’m a greater fool and a greater brute than you ever supposed in your most sanguine moments. Well, I am! What then ? ”
Cummings, turning about from the music at which he has been pretending to look, and facing Bartlett, with a slight shrug: “ If you choose to characterize your own behavior in that way, I shall not dispute you, at any rate.”
Bartlett: “ Go on! ”
Cummings : “ Go on ? You saw yourself, I suppose, how she hung upon every syllable you spoke, every look, every gesture? ”
Bartlett: “Yes, I saw it.”
Cummings : “ You saw how completely crushed she was by your tone and manner. You ’re not blind. Upon my word, Bartlett, if I did n’t know what a good, kind-hearted fellow you are, I should say you were the greatest ruffian alive.”
Bartlett, with a groan: “Goon! That is something like.”
Cummings: “I could n’t hear what was going on — I’ll own I tried —but I could see; and to see the delicate amende she was trying to offer you, in such a way that it should not seem an amende, — a perfect study of a woman’s gracious, unconscious art, — and then to see your sour refusal of it all, it made me sick. ”
Bartlett, with a desperate clutch at his face, like a man oppressed by some stifling vapor: “Yes, yes! I saw it all, too! And if it had been for me, I would have given anything for such happiness. Oh, gracious powers! How dear she is! I would rather have suffered any anguish than give her pain, and yet I gave her pain! I knew how it entered her heart: I felt it in my own. But what could 1 do? If I am to be myself, if I am not to steal the tenderness meant for another man, the love she shows to me because I ’m like somebody else, I must play the brute. But have a little mercy on me. At least, I’m a baited brute. I don’t know which way to turn, I don’t know what to do. She ’s so dear to me, — so dear in every tone of her voice, every look of her eyes, every aspiration or desire of her transparent soul, — that it seems to me my whole being is nothing but a thought of her. I loved her helplessness, her pallor, her sorrow; judge how I adore her return to something like life! Oh, you blame me! You simplify this infernal perplexity of mine and label it brutality, and scold me for it. Great Heaven! And yet, you saw, you heard how she entered tins room. In that instant the old illusion was back on her, and I was nothing. All that I had been striving and longing to be to her, and hoping and despairing to seem, was swept out of existence; I was reduced to a body without a soul, to a shadow, a counterfeit! You think I resented it? Poor girl, I pitied her so; and my own heart all the time like lead in my breast, — a dull lump of ache! I swear, I wonder I don’t go mad. I suppose — why, I suppose I am insane. No man in his senses was ever bedeviled by such a maniacal hallucination. Look here, Cummings: tell me that this damnable coil is n’t simply a matter of my own fancy. It ’ll be some little relief to know that it’s real.”
Cummings : “ It’s real enough, my dear fellow. And it is a trial,—more than I could have believed such a fantastic thing could be.”
Bartlett: “Trial? Ordeal by fire! Torment ! I can’t: stand it any longer.”
Cummings, musingly : “ She is beautiful, isn't she, with that faint dawn of red in her cheeks, — not a color, but a colored light like the light that hangs round a rose-tree’s boughs in tire early spring! And what a magnificent movement, what a stately grace! The girl must have been a goddess! ”
Bartlett: “And now she’s a saint for sweetness and patience! You think she’s had nothing to bear before from me? You know me better! Well, I ’m going away.”
Cummings: “Perhaps it will be the best,. You can go back with me to-morrow.”
Bartlett: “ To-morrow ? Go back with you to-morrow? What are you talking about, man?” Cummings smiles. “I can’t go to-morrow. I can’t leave her hating me.”
Cummings : “I knew you never meant to go. Well, what will you do? ”
Bartlett: “Don’t be so cold-blooded! What would you do? ”
Cummings : “I would have it out, somehow.”
Bartlett: “ Oh, you talk! How ? ”
Cummings: “ I am not in love with Miss Wyatt.”
Bartlett: “ Oh, don’t try to play the cynic with me! It does n’t become you. I know I’ve used you badly at times, Cummings. I behaved abominably in leaving you to take the brunt of meeting General Wvatt that first day ; I said so then, and I shall always say it. But I thought you had forgiven that.”
Cummings, with a laugh: “You make it hard to treat you seriously, Bartlett. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to go to Miss Wyatt, and explain your case to her? ”
Barllelt, angrily: “ No! ”
Cummings: “Perhaps to Mrs. Wyatt? ”
Bartlett, infuriate: “ No! ”
Cummings : “To the general? ”
Bartlett, with sudden quiet: “You had better go away from here, Cummings — while you can.”
Cummings : “I see you don’t wish me to do anything, and you ’re quite right. Nobody can do anything but yourself.”
Bartlett : “ And what would you advise me to do? ”
Cummings: “I ’ve told you that I would have it out. You can’t make matters worse. You can’t go on in this way indefinitely. It ’s just possible you might find yourself mistaken, — that Miss Wyatt cared for you in your own proper identity.”
Bartlett: “For shame! ”
Cummings: “ Oh, if you like! ”
Bartlett, after a pause: “ Would you — would you see the general? ”
Cummings: “If I wanted to marry the general. Come, Bartlett; don’t be ridiculous. You know you don’t want my advice, and I have n’t any to give. I must go to my room a moment.”
Bartlett: “Well, go! You’re of no advantage here. You’d have it out, would you? Well, then, I would n’t. I’m a brute, I know, and a fool, but I ’m not such a brute and fool as that! ” Cummings listens with smiling patience, and then goes without reply, while Bartlett drops into the chair near the easel, and sulkily glares at the picture. Through the window at his back shows the mellow Indian summer landscape. The trees have all dropped their leaves, save the oaks, which show their dark crimson banners among the deep green of the pines and hemlocks on the hills; the meadows, verdant as in June, slope away toward the fringe of birches and young maples along the borders of the pond; the low-blackberry trails like a running fire over the long grass limp from the first frosts, which have silenced all the insect voices. No sound of sylvan life is heard but the harsh challenge of a jay, answered from many trees of the nearest wood-lot. The far-off hill-tops are molten in the soft azure haze of the season; the nearer slopes and crests sleep under a grayer and thinner veil. It is to this scene that the painter turns from the easel, with the sullen unconsciousness in which he has dwelt upon the picture. Its beauty seems at last to penetrate his mood; he rises and looks upon it; then he goes out on the gallery, and, hidden by the fall of one of the curtains, stands leaning upon the rail and rapt in the common revery of the dreaming world. While he lingers there, Cummings appears at the door, and looks in; then with an air of some surprise, as if wondering not to see Bartlett, vanishes again, to give place to General Wyatt, who after a like research retires silently and apparently disconcerted. A few moments later Mrs. Wyatt comes to the threshold, and calling gently into the room, “Constance!” waits briefly and goes away. At last, the young girl herself appears, and falters in the doorway an instant, but finally comes forward and drifts softly and indirectly up to the picture, at which she glances with a little sigh. At the same moment Bartlett’s voice, trolling a snatch of song, comes from the gallery without: —
This way you wend, that way I;
Speak one word before you go :
Do not, do not leave mo so !
Tell me quick ; I cannot stay ;
Quick ! I am not good at guessing:
Night is near, and time is pressing.
I will tell you what I'd do:
Rather than be baffled so,
I would never, never go ! ”
As the song ends, Bartlett reappears at the gallery door giving into the parlor, and encounters Constance turning at his tread from the picture on which she has been pensively gazing while he sang. He puts up a hand on either side of the door.
BARTLETT and CONSTANCE.
Bartlett: “I did n’t know you were here.”
Constance: “Neither did I — know you were, till I heard you singing.”
Bartlett, smiling ironically: “ Oh, you did n’t suppose I sang!”
Constance, confusedly: “I — I don't know ” —
Bartlett: “Ah, you thought I did! I don’t. I was indulging in a sort of modulated howling which I flatter myself is at least one peculiarity that’s entirely my own. I was baying the landscape merely for my private amusement, and I ’d not have done it, if I d known you were in hearing. However, if it’s helped to settle the fact one way or other, concerning any little idiosyncrasy of mine, I shan’t regret it. I hope not to disappoint you in anything, by and by. ’ He drops his hands from the door-posts and steps into the room, while Constance, in shrinking abeyance, stands trembling at his harshness.
Constance, in faltering reproach: " Mr. Bartlett! ”
Constance, struggling to assert herself, but breaking feebly in her attempt at hauteur: “Constance? What does this mean. Mr. Bartlett? ”
Bartlett, with a sudden burst: “ What does it mean? It means that I’m sick of this nightmare masquerade! It means that I want to be Something to you — all the world to you — in and for myself. It means that I can’t play another man’s part any longer and live. It means that I love you, love you, love you, Constance!” He starts involuntarily toward her with outstretched arms, from which she recoils with a convulsive cry.
Constance: “You love me? Me ? Oh, no. no! How can you be so merciless as to talk to me of love? ” She drops her glowing face into her hands.
Bartlett: “ Because I ’m a man. Because love is more than mercy, —better, higher, wiser. Listen to me, Constance! — yes, I will call you so now, if never again: you are so dear to me that I must say it at last if it killed you. If loving you is cruel, I ’in pitiless! Give me some hope, tell me to breathe, my girl! ”
Constance: “ Oh go, while I can still forgive you.”
Bartlett: “ I won’t go; I won’t have your forgiveness; I will have all or nothing; I want your love! ”
Constance, uncovering her face and turning its desolation upon him: “ My love? I have no love to give. My heart is dead.”
Bartlett: “No, no! That’s part of the ugly trance that we ’ve both been living in so long. Look! You ’re better now than when you came here; yon ’re stronger, braver, more beautiful. My angel, you’re turned a woman again! Oh, you can love me if you will; and you will! Look at me, darling! ” He takes her listless right hand in his left, and gently draws her toward him.
Constance, starting away: “ You ’re wrong, you ’re all wrong! You don’t understand; you don’t know— Oh, listen to me! ”
Bartlett, still holding her cold hapd fast: “ Yes, a thousand years. But you must tell me first that I may love you. That first! ”
Constance: “No! That never! And since you speak to me of love, listen to what it’s my right you should hear.”
Bartlett, releasing her: “ I don’t care to hear. Nothing can ever change me. But if you bid me, I will go! ”
Constance: “ You shall not go now till you know what despised and hated and forsaken thing you ’ve offered your love to.”
Bartlett, beseechingly: “ Constance, let me go while I can forgive myself. Nothing you can say will make me love you less; remember that; but I implore you to spare yourself. Don’t speak, my love.”
Constance: “Spare myself? Not speak? Not speak what has been on my tongue and heart and brain, a burning fire, so long?— Oh, I was a happy girl once! The days were not long enough for my happiness, — I woke at night to think of it. I was proud in my happiness and believed myself, poor fool, one to favor those I smiled on; and I had my vain and crazy dreams of being the happiness of some one who should come to ask for — what you ask now. Some one came. At first I didn’t care for him, but he knew how to make me. He knew how to make my thoughts of him part of my happiness and pride and vanity till he was all in all, and I had no wish, no hope, no life but him; and then he — left me!” She buries her face in her hands again, and breaks into a low, piteous sobbing.
Bartlett, with a groan of helpless fury and compassion: " The fool, the sot, the slave! Constance, I knew all this, — I knew it from the first.”
Constance, recoiling in wild reproach: “ You knew it? ”
Bartlett, desperately: “Yes, I knew it—in spite of myself, through my own stubborn fury I knew it, that first day, when I had obliged my friend to tell me what your father had told him, before I would hear reason. I would have given anything not to have known it then, when it was too late, for I had at least the grace to feel the wrong, the outrage of my knowing it. You can never pardon it, I see; but you must feel what a hateful burden I had to bear, when I found that I had somehow purloined the presence, the looks, the voice of another man — a man whom I would have joyfully changed myself to any monstrous shape not to resemble, though I knew that my likeness to him, bewildering you in a continual dream of him, was all that ever made you look at me or think of me. I lived in the hope— Heaven only knows why I should have had the hope! — that I might yet be myself to you; that you might wake from your dream of him and look on me in the daylight, and see that I was at least an honest man, and pity me and may be love me at last, as I loved you at first, from the moment I saw your dear, pale face, and heard your dear, sad voice.” He follows up her slow retreat, and again possesses himself of her hand: “ Don’t cast me off! It was monstrous, out of all decency, to know your sorrow; but I never tried to know it; I tried not to know it.” He keeps fast hold of her hand, while she remains with averted head. “ I love you, Constance; I loved you; and when once you had bidden me stay, I was helpless to go away, or I would never be here now to offend you with the confession of that shameful knowledge. Do you think it was no trial to me ? It gave me the conscience of an eavesdropper and a spy; but all I knew was sacred to me.”
Constance, turning and looking steadfastly into his face: “ And you could care for so poor a creature as I — so abject, so obtuse as never to know what had made her intolerable to the man that cast her off ? ”
Bartlett: “Man? He was no man! He” —
Constance, suddenly : “ Oh, wait! I — I love him yet.”
Bartlett, dropping her hand: “ You ”—
Constance: “Yes, yes! As much as I live, I love him! But when he left me, I seemed to die; and now it’s as if I were some wretched ghost clinging for all existence to the thought of my lost happiness. If that slips from me, then I cease to be.”
Bartlett: “Why, this is still your dream. But I won’t despair. You ’ll wake yet, and care for me; I know you will. ”
Constance, tenderly: “ Oh, poor soul, I'm not dreaming now. I know that you are not he. You are everything that is kind and good, and some day you will be very happy.”
Bartlett, desolately: “ I shall never be happy without your love.” After a pause: “ It will be a barren, bitter comfort, but let me have it if you can: if I had met yon first, could you have loved me?”
Constance : “I might have loved you if — I had—lived.” She turns from him again, and moves softly toward the door; his hollow voice arrests her.
Bartlett: “ If you are dead, then I have lived too long. Your loss takes the smile out of life for me.” A moment later: “ You are-cruel, Constance.”
Constance, abruptly facing him: “ I cruel? To you ? ”
Bartlett: “ Yes; you have put me to shame before myself. You might have spared me! A treacherous villain is false in time to save you from a life of betrayal, and you say your heart is dead. But that is n’t enough. You tell me that you cannot care for me because you love that treacherous villain still. That’s my disgrace, that’s my humiliation, that’s my killing shame. I could have borne all else. Yon might have cast me off however you would, driven me away with any scorn, whipped me from you with the sharpest rebuke that such presumption as mine could merit; but to drag a decent man’s self-respect through such mire as that poor rascal’s memory for six long weeks, and then tell him that you prefer the mire ” —
Constance: “ Oh, hush! I can’t let you reproach him! He was pitilessly false to me, but I will be true to him forever. How do I know — I must find some reason for that, or there is no reason in anything! — how do I know that he did not break his word to me at. my father’s bidding? My father never liked him.”
Bartlett, shaking his head with a melancholy smile: “Ah, Constance, do you think I would break my word to you at your father’s bidding? ”
Constance, in abject despair: “Well, then I go back to what I always knew: I was too slight, too foolish, too tiresome for his life-long love. He saw it in time. I don’t blame him. You would see it, too.”
Bartlett: “ What devil’s vantage enabled that infernal scoundrel to blight your spirit with his treason ? Constance, is this my last answer? ”
Constance : “ Yes, go! I am so sorry for you, —sorrier than I ever thought I could be for anything again.”
Bartlett: “ Then if you pity me, give me a little hope that sometime, somehow " —
Constance: “ Oh, I have no hope, for you, for me, for any one. Good-by,
good, kind friend! Try — you won’t have to try hard—to forget me. Unless some miracle should happen to show me that it was all his fault and none of mine, we are parting now forever. It has been a strange dream, and nothing is so strange as that it should be ending so. Are you the ghost, or I, I wonder! It confuses me as it did at first; but if you are he, or only you— Ah, don’t look at me so, or I must believe he has never left me, and implore you to stay!”
Bartlett, quietly : “Thanks. I would not stay a moment longer in his disguise, if you begged me on your knees. I shall always love you, Constance, but if the world is wide enough, please Heaven. I will never see you again. There are some things dearer to me than your presence. No, I won’t take your hand; it can't heal the hurt your words have made, and nothing can help me, now I know from your own lips that but for my likeness to him I would never have been anything to you. Good-by! ”
Constance : " Oh! " She sinks with a long cry into the arm-chair beside the table, and drops her head into her arms upon it. At the door towards which he turns Bartlett meets General Wyatt, and a moment later Mrs. Wyatt enters by the other. Bartlett recoils under the concentrated reproach and inquiry of their gaze.
GENERAL WYATT, MRS. WYATT, CONSTANCE, and BARTLETT.
Mrs. Wyatt, hastening to bow herself over Constance’s fallen head: “ Oh, what is it, Constance? ” As Constance makes no reply, she lifts her eyes again to Bartlett’s face.
General Wyatt, peremptorily: “Well, sir! ”
Bartlett, with bitter desperation: " Oh, you shall know! ”
Constance, interposing: “I will tell! You shall be spared that at least.” She has risen, and with her face still hidden in her handkerchief she seeks her father with an outstretched hand. He tenderly gathers her to his arms, and she droops a moment upon his shoulder; then with an electrical revolt against her own weakness she lifts her head and dries her tears with a passionate energy, “He— Oh, speak for me! ” Her head falls again on her father’s shoulder.
Bartlett, with grave irony and selfscorn: “It’s a simple matter, sir. I have been telling Miss Wyatt that I love her, and offering to share with her my obscurity and poverty. I” —
General Wyatt, impatiently: “ Curse your poverty, sir ! I’m poor myself. Well!”
Bartlett: “ Oh, that’s merely the beginning; I have had the indecency to do this, knowing that what alone rendered me sufferable to her it was a cruel shame for me to know, and an atrocity for me to presume upon. I ” —
General Wyatt: “I authorized this knowledge on your part when I spoke to your friend, and before he went away he told me all he had said to you.”
Bartlett, in the first stages of petrifaction: “ Cummings? ”
General Wyatt: “Yes.”
Bartlett: “Told you that I knew whom I was like ? ”
General Wyatt: “Yes.”
Bartlett, very gently: “ Then I think that man will be lost for keeping his conscience too clean. Cummings has invented a new sin.”
Mrs. Wyatt: “James, James! You told me that Mr. Bartlett did n’t know.”
General Wyatt, contritely: “I did, Margaret; I didn’t know what else to do.”
Mrs. Wyatt: “ Oh, James!”
Constance : “ Oh, papa! ” She turns with bowed head from her father’s arms, and takes refuge in her mother’s embrace. General Wyatt, released, fetches a compass round about the parlor, with a face of intense dismay. He pauses in front of his wife.
General Wyatt: “ Margaret, you must know the worst, now.”
Mrs. Wyatt, in gentle reproach, while she. softly caresses Constance’s hair: “ Oh, is there anything worse, James?”
General Wyatt, hopelessly: “Yes; I’m afraid I have been to blame.”
Bartlett.: “ General Wyatt, let me retire. I” —
General Wyatt: “No, sir. This concerns yon, too, now. Your destiny has entangled you with our sad fortunes, and now you must know them all.”
Constance, from her mother’s shoulder: “Yes, stay, —whatever it is. If you care for me, nothing can hurt you any more, now.”
General Wyatt: " Margaret, — Constance! If I have been mistaken in what I have done, you must try somehow to forgive me; it was my tenderness for you both misled me, if I erred. Sir, let me address my defense to you. You can see the whole matter with clearer eyes than we. ” At an imploring gesture from Bartlett, he turns again to Mrs. Wyatt. “ Perhaps you are right, sir. Margaret, when I had made up my mind that the wretch who had stolen our child’s heart was utterly unfit and unworthy ” —
Constance, starting away from her mother with a cry: “ Ah, you did drive him from me, then! I knew, I knew it! And after all these days and weeks and months that seem years and centuries of agony, you tell me that it was you broke my heart! No, no, I never will forgive you, father! Where is he? Tell me that! Where is my husband — the husband you robbed me of? Did you kill him, when you chose to crush my life ? Is he dead? If he’s living I will find him wherever he is. No distance and no danger shall keep me from him. I’ll find him and fall down before him, and implore him to forgive you, for I never can! Was this your tenderness forme — to drive him away, and leave me to the pitiless confusion and humiliation of believing myself deserted ? Oh, great tenderness! ”
General Wyatt, confronting her storm with perfect quiet: “ No. I will give you better proof of my tenderness than that,” He takes from his pocket-book a folded paper which he hands to his wife: “Margaret, do you know that writing? ”
Mrs. Wyatt, glancing at the superscription: “ Oh, too well! This is to you, James.”
General Wyatt: “ It’s for you, now. Read it.”
Mrs. Wyatt, wonderingly unfolding the paper and then reading: "' I confess myself guilty of forging Major Cummings’s signature, and in consideration of his and your own forbearance I promise never to see Miss Wyatt again. I shall always he grateful for your mercy; and’— James, James! It isn’t possible!”
Constance, who has crept nearer and nearer while her mother has been reading, as if drawn by a resistless fascination : “ No. it is n’t possible! It’s false; it’s a fraud! I will see it! ” She swiftly possesses herself of the paper and scans it with a fierce intentness. Then she flings it wildly away. “ Yes, yes, it’s true! It’s his hand. It’s true; it’s the only true thing in this world of lies!” She totters away toward the sofa. Bartlett makes a movement to support her, but she repulses him and throws herself upon the cushions.
General Wyatt: “ Sir, I am sorry to make you the victim of a scene. It has been your fate, and no part of my intention. Will you look at this paper? Yon don’t know all that is in it yet.” He touches it with his foot.
Bartlett, in dull dejection: “No, I won’t look at it. If it were a radiant message from heaven, I don’t see how it could help me now.”
Mrs. Wyatt: “I’m afraid you’ve made a terrible mistake, James.”
General Wyatt: “Margaret! Don’t say that! ”
Mrs. Wyatt.: “Yes, it would have been better to show us this paper at once, — better than to keep us all these days in this terrible suffering.”
General Wyatt: “I was afraid of greater suffering for you both. I chose sorrow for Constance rather than the ignominy of knowing that she had set her heart on so base a scoundrel. When he crawled in the dust there before me, and whined for pity, I revolted from telling you or her how vile he was; the thought of it seemed to dishonor you; and I had hoped something, everything, from my girl’s self-respect, her obedience, her faith in me. I never dreamed that it must come to this.”
Mrs. Wyatt, sadly shaking her head: “I know how well you meant; but oh, it was a fatal mistake ! ”
Constance, abandoning her refuge among the cushions, and coming forward to her father: “No, mamma, it was no mistake! I see now how wise and kind and merciful you have been, papa. You can never love me again, I’ve behaved so badly, but if you ’ll let me, I will try to live my gratitude for your mercy at a time when the whole truth would have killed me. Oh, papa! What shall I say, what shall I do, to show how sorry and ashamed I am? Let me go down on my knees to thank you.” Her father catches her to his heart, and fondly kisses her again and again. “ I don’t deserve it, papa! You ought to hate me, arid drive me from you, and never let me see your dear face again.” She starts away from him as if to execute upon herself tins terrible doom, when her eye fallsupon the letter where she had thrown it. on the floor. “ To think how long I have been the fool, the slave, of that felon!” She stoops upon the paper with a hawk-like fierceness; she tears it into shreds, and strews the fragments about the room. “ Oh, if I could only tear out of my heart all thoughts of him, all memory, all likeness!” In her wild scorn she has whirled unheedingly away toward Bartlett, whom, suddenly confronting, she apparently addresses in this aspiration; he opens wide his folded arms.
Bartlett: “ And what would you do, then, with this extraordinary resemblance? " The closing circle of his arms involves her and clasps her to his heart, from which beneficent shelter she presently exiles herself a pace or two and stands with cither hand pressed against his breast, while her eyes dwell with rapture on his face.
Constance : “ Oh, you 're not like him, and you never were! ”
Bartlett, with light irony: “ Ah!”
Constance: “ If I had not been blind, blind, blind, I never could have seen the slightest similarity. Like him ? Never!’
Bartlett: “Ah! Then perhaps the resemblance which we have noticed from time to time, and which has been the cause of some annoyance and embarrassment all round, was simply a disguise which I had assumed for the time being to accomplish a purpose of my own?”
Constance: “ Oh, don’t jest it away! It’s your soul that I see now, your true and brave and generous heart; and if you pardoned me for mistaking you a single moment for one who had neither soul nor heart, I could never look you in the face again! ”
Bartlett: “ You seem to be taking a good provisional glare at me beforehand, then, Miss Wyatt; I’ve never been so nearly looked out of countenance in my life. But you need n’t be afraid; I shall not pardon your crime.” Constance abruptly drops her head upon his breast, and again instantly repels herself.
Constance : “ No, you must not if you could. But you can’t — you can’t care for me after hearing what I could say to my father” —
Bartlett: “ That was in a moment of great excitement.”
Constance: “After hearing me rave about a man so unworthy of — any one — you cared for. No, your self-respect —everything — demands that you should cast me off.”
Bartlett: “ It does. But I am inexorable,—you must have observed the trait before. In this case I will not yield even to my own colossal self-respect.” Earnestly: “ Ah, Constance, do you think I could love you the less because your heart was too true to swerve even from a traitor till he was proved as false to honor as to you ? ” Lightly again: “ Come, I like your fidelity to worthless people ; I 'm rather a deep and darkling villain myself.”
Constance, devoutly: “You? Oh, you are as nobly frank and open as — as — as papa! ”
Bartlett: “No, Constance, you are wrong, for once. Hear my dreadful secret: I ’m not what I seem, — the light and joyous creature I look, — I’m an emotional wreck. Three short years ago I was frightfully jilted ” — they all turn upon him in surprise— “ by a young person who, 1 ’m sorry to say, has n’t yet consoled me by turning out a scamp.”
Constance, drifting to his side with a radiant smile: “ Oh, I 'm so glad.”
Bartlett, with affected dryness: “Are you? I did n’t know it was such a laughing matter. I was always disposed to take those things seriously. ”
Constance : “ Yes, yes! But don’t you see? It places us on more of an equality.” She looks at him with a smile of rapture and logic exquisitely compact.
Bartlett: “ Does it ? But you’re not half as happy as I am.”
Constance: " Oh, yes, I am! Twice.”
Bartlett: “Then that makes us just even, for so am I.” They stand ridiculously blest, holding each other’s hand a moment, and then Constance, still clinging to one of his hands, goes and rests her other arm upon her mother’s shoulder.
Constance: “Mamma, how wretched I have made you, all these months! ”
Mrs. Wyatt: “If your trouble’s over now, my child,” — she tenderly kisses her cheek, — “there’s no trouble for your mother in the world.”
Constance : “ But I 'm not happy, mamma. I can’t be happy, thinking how wickedly unhappy I’ve been. No, no! I had better go back to the old wretched state again; it’s all I fin fit for. I 'm so ashamed of myself. Send him away! ” She renews her hold upon his hand.
Bartlett: “ Nothing of the kind, I was requested to remain here six weeks ago, by a young lady. Besides, this is a public house. Come, I have n’t finished the catalogue of my disagreeable qualities yet: I 'm jealous. I want you to put that arm on my shoulder.” He gently effects the desired transfer, and then, chancing to look up, he discovers the Rev. Arthur Cummings on the threshold in the act of modestly retreating. He detains him with a great melodramatic start. “ Hah ! A clergyman ! This is indeed ominous ! ”
W. D. Howells.