HABIT, more than reason or impulse, is the governing influence of mankind; hence it was difficult for Richard Hazlehurst fully to adjust his consciousness to the fact of his changed relations with Irene Van Voorst. But then he had been engaged to her for two years, and even before that time had associated her intimately in every thought and intention. She had embroidered his slippers ever since she was thirteen, and he had bought her Christmas presents for some nine years with unfailing regularity. Irene had become, besides his habit, so to speak, his conscience. She possessed, in truth, that unfaltering integrity of character, combined with divine calm of self-assertion, which results in an irresistible habit of decision. She governed her coterie; and Hazlehurst, in particular, had rested his actions so confidently upon her imperious mandates that, without her, he at first felt himself unequal to the task of making up his mind about the most trivial question. For a week after their engagement was broken he nursed a gentle melancholy and rigidly adhered to the routine Irene had long since marked out for him. At the end of that time he began to experience a vague wonder as to whether his habitual dullness betrayed a radical incapacity for pleasure. Just to test the matter he joined some friends and went to the the-
atre, had a supper afterwards, and did not return to his rooms until three o’clock in the morning. The next day a close observer might have seen that his shackles were broken and one by one were falling, and in a week his emancipation was entire. It must be confessed that when he first saw himself in process of deterioration he felt the joy of successful rebellion, for his subjection had been long and complete; but when his full enfranchisement from feminine tyranny was established, he began to look back upon his old servitude with tender regrets. Irene had, it is true, taken the measure of his liberty with a trifle too much precision, but the dear girl’s views had no doubt been admirable. Her tastes were all formed upon the best standards, and although good taste is a fallible guide at times, Irene’s was far more infallible than his own. He felt an older and a sadder man now that he could carry around the scent of eigars unrebuked, and wear, unnoticed, signs of dissipation about his eyes. It was too early in the season for social engagements; he had long since renounced the frivolity of evening visits save at one well-known house in Thirty-Fifth Street, and time was heavy on his hands. He used to sit over the fire at his club thinking sentimentally about Irene. She did not approve of clubs, nor of the talk and habits of men when congregated together; she had no lofty idea of their standards when unredeemed by woman’s presence; she pronounced billiards, except in a private parlor, an unworthy pursuit; she had spoken more than once somewhat peremptorily concerning the enormity of dropping in promiscuously at theatres and gaining a nice discrimination about a certain class of actresses not altogether in the highest line of the profession. Yes, Hazlehurst sighed when he told himself that he had nobody to look after him now, and he took a sort of morbid interest in his own facile descent into the pleasant Avernus of bachelor life. It was in one of these moments of regretful reminiscence of his former censor that he sat down and wrote a long letter to Miss Van Voorst in Paris. It was a very pretty letter indeed, with much honest and unaffected humility and sorrow in it, and an implied confession that without her he was on his way to the dogs. Hazlehurst was proud of his production; some of it sounded really poetical, and reminded him of Byron in his darkest vein of poisoned regret; he had no idea he could have done anything so well up to high literary mark. Having thus spent his suffering in song, he no longer felt wholly discouraged with himself; in fact, after dispatching the letter he was in the best of spirits.
Copyright, 1878, by HOUGHTON, OSGOOD & Co.
The next morning he chanced to drop into the office of his elder brother, Thomas Hazlehurst, a banker on Wall Street.
“ I was in hopes you would come in, Dick,” said Thomas Hazlehurst, looking up from his paper, “ for I want you to do me a favor.”
“ All right.”
“ You know I am expecting poor little Flossy Weir by the Russia, which will probably be in before to - morrow morning. I am obliged to be in Philadelphia to-night; hence I cannot be here to meet the child. Now, I want you to call at the Brevoort to-morrow, where Flossy will be with the Worths, who are to stop in town for twenty-four hours, and take her over to her aunt’s in New Jersey. Mrs. Wylie and I are joint guardians.” “ I remember. Poor little girl! ”
“ She is a poor little girl. Her father hardly left her sixpence, beggarly bankrupt that he was! ”
“ Lost everything in ’73, did he not? ” " He was among the downhills long before that; the grand smash-up merely gave him an opportunity of coming to grief in good company. We got him this position abroad, but he was thoroughly broken down, and it was one of the poorest consulates in Europe. Why on earth he made me guardian of his little girl, I don’t comprehend! Her aunt has been in twice to see me about the matter; she is a disagreeable old woman, but will give her niece a home for the present, and then we will have her with us. She will be considerably cut up, no doubt, about her father, — an only child, and no mother; there was probably a close tie between them, and you must be sympathizing and all that sort of thing.”
“I’ll do my best,” said Richard. “ She must be fifteen or so. I remember something about her. We all dined once with Weir when he lived in Gramercy Park, and some pretty little girl, probably Florence herself, came in at dessert and amused us by singing songs and dancing a minuet on the dinner-table. I can think what a charming child she was,” added Dick, reflectively, “and she wore gray kid boots which set like a glove.”
“ How old was she then? ”
“ Four or five, and that is ten years ago, at least.”
“I supposed she was younger. But never mind, her age makes no difference, and I will be much obliged if you will meet her and take her out to New Jersey.”
Accordingly, the following morning Hazlehurst entered the Brevoort at eleven o’clock and sent up his card to Miss Weir. He had no special interest in the matter; he was commiserative towards Florence — no more. Hard lines for the girl, no doubt, that her father had had so many failures, but— He was about to finish this meditation with a sigh, when he caught sight of a face opposite, the very reflection of what seemed to him a joyous reveille, an awakening call to the sweetest emotion he had ever felt. Was this Florence Weir? It could be no body else, — this pale girl whom the mirror had betrayed loitering timidly outside the door, and who now came in with that pitiful smile she had summoned upon her face. She was more than fourteen, or even fifteen. She was tall, slender, with the most wonderful face Hazlehurst had ever met, although hard sorrow had written unmistakable lines upon it of late. He started to his feet, strode forward and seized both her hands in his.
“ Poor little Flossy!” said he, in the kindest voice. “ Poor little Flossy! ”
The tears welled up to her dark eyes, and her red lips curved down.
“ Don’t cry, don't! ” murmured Dick, holding her hands tightly and looking down into her face with the muscles of his own twitching. “ I know it all; it is terrible,—terrible! But you have cried too much already, my poor child. You have got over the worst, and here you are among old friends who will do all they can for you.”
“ I know,” she responded, conquering her tears and looking up at him with a gleam of momentary comfort; for indeed the face above hers was one to inspire comfort,—it was so noble and so good, with such real sympathy in its kind eyes. “The worst of it is over,” she went on. “ It was dreary to be on shipboard. The nights almost killed me — they were so endless — so lonely; the sounds were so strange, and gave me such horrible thoughts of that awful sea! The days were a little better, but although the friends you sent me were very kind, very considerate for me, they had not known papa, nor loved him. Now, you knew him, Mr. Hazlehurst, — you knew papa and loved him.”
“Yes,” muttered Dick, “I can appreciate your loss. I knew your good father. But you must bear up; such losses come to all.” He was not fluent at consolation, and being familiar with the play of Hamlet perhaps unconsciously rendered the king’s words to the orphan in a sort of paraphrase. Florence was more grateful than was ever the prince, and rejoiced in such sympathy without discovering his source of inspiration, She gave him a sweet, longing glance.
“ Oh, Mr. Hazlehurst,” she said tenderly, “you cannot think what it is to me to find such real kindness when I was feeling so lonely in the world!” And Dick, still holding her hands, gathered both into one of his and smoothed them with the other. He was powerless to say a word, but be looked volumes.
“ It is all settled. I suppose, that I am to go to aunt Lucy’s until I find something to do,” she went on in that subdued spent voice which in certain intonations was thrillingly sweet; then, as the stress of feeling came upon her, her utterance grew strained and hoarse. “ Yon know how poor papa left me. I have just two hundred and seven dollars now. I have tried to be very economical, but have spent as much more. I made all my new dresses myself, — every one. I do not think I am helpless and need be dependent. I can speak four languages, I paint tolerably in watercolors, and I can do anything with my hands which other women can do. Do you not think I can find work to support myself, Mr. Hazlehurst? ”
“ I am sure of it,” answered Dick; ‘1 but it is too soon to speak of such things. I am to take you to Mrs. Wylie’s at three o’clock.”
She shivered slightly.
“I seem to care about nothing yet,” she said, after a little pause, with a sort of sob, speaking up to that kind face as if she had not spoken to a loving heart for a long, cruel time, and thus was starved for want of speech. " Every sort of effort seems too violent and strange. I hope aunt Lucy will not expect too touch of me at first. I do not understand my own dullness. I have had to realize so much that many outside thoughts are an utter blank. I feel at times, when people talk to me about things they are seeing and hearing, and which I ought equally to see and hear, as if I were blind and deaf. Do you think this stupefaction will wear off naturally, Mr. Hazlehurst, or must I rouse myself and try to get rid of it? I wish you would advise me just as if I were your own little girl. It hardly seems possible, you look so young; but I know that you have daughters almost my own age. Papa was so glad of that.”
Dick had suddenly grown scarlet, and she released her hands from his with the reflection of his embarrassment on her own face.
“ You take me for my oldest brother,” he said, gravely. “I have had neither time nor thought to tell you that Thomas begged me to come here in his place, for he was unavoidably called to Philadelphia. Had I kept my senses about me, I should have told you at first, but—I pitied you so ” —
“ You really did know papa ? ” faltered Florence, in a trembling voice. “ You were not merely pretending to be your brother ?’’
“ Know your father ? Of course I did. I knew you too, Miss Weir. I can perfectly well remember dining at your house in Gramercy Park; that you came in and danced on the table afterwards, even that you wore pretty gray kid boots! ” cried Hazlehurst, so desperately in earnest to prove himself a veritable old friend that his vehemence made her smile a little.
She had sat down by the window and her chill little hands that he had warmed so tenderly in his own were crossed on her black lap. “ I have lived in a great many places,” she observed. “ We left our home in Gramercy Park when I was little more than five. Now I am almost eighteen.”
“ I supposed you were considerably younger,” rejoined Dick, also sitting down, but continuing to stare at her. He had enjoyed it more standing before her bolding her bands, His own, indeed, had a curious feeling, as if they missed the clasp of lost treasure; but he resolutely put all nonsense from his mind, and attacked the practical part of his duties, having acquitted himself of his sentimental ones.
He inquired about her luggage, and made a memorandum concerning it. He showed her a time-table, and decided that she must eat a substantial lunch before setting out for the country. This little trip had suddenly assumed the proportions of an excursion into paradise, and when he finally undertook it the journey more than redeemed all his anticipations. They had lunch together. They had a drive together in a close carriage to the piers. They crossed the river together, and, as if the two had been sailing over distant seas into strange and storied kingdoms, the waters were blue around them, and on the sky overhead enchanted clouds floated across the luminous azure. Many a journey had Hazlehurst taken, in pursuit of careless pleasure, up and down the earth, with less delight than he now experienced in the few moments that he stood on the deck with Florence’s hand drawn tight under his arm and the fresh wind in their faces. He seemed to be traveling into the wonders of a glorified world with this young girl. At his suggestion she had put aside that heavy veil of crape; the rough wind, chopping about, blew it across his eyes, and she looked up and laughed with the light laughter illuminating all her face. Oh, heavens! Clearly this must not be the end of his taking her about the world and finding every moment new pleasures.
His journey back was different. Such gloom could be brightened only by the prospect of seeing her again shortly. He did not like the looks of that grim Mrs. Wylie, and dreaded lest this terrible aunt should not be tender with his beautiful Florence. He remembered that his brother had said that the old lady had lost half of her little property by her brother’s failure, and it was abominable to the young man to reflect upon the feminine spite which might sling its envenomed arrows at the innocent orphan. Here was be, young, rich, alone in the world; here was, too, a tender-hearted, beautiful creature alone in the world! Then he remembered what chill, fluttering birds her hands were until he took them in his own— But we must not disclose the feverish dreams of an ardent young man whose real warmth of feeling was suddenly aroused for the first time. As soon as Thomas Hazlehurst returned to town he went out to see his ward, and came back enthusiastic over her beauty and doubtful about his wisdom in sending her to her aunt’s.
“Mrs. Wylie has not the soul of an ant, to say nothing of an aunt,” said he. “ She has told the poor child over and over that her father defrauded her out of her fortune. Florence begged me to get her something to do at once. She says she can work ; she minds little how hard she works if only she can be independent. ”
These words put Dick at fever heat, He was no philosopher, and it seemed to him the reverse of right that any one, particularly a young and beautiful woman, should have misfortune to endure, He hankered not only after happiness for himself, but happiness for the beautiful young woman as well. This hidden fire which consumed him had played small part in his engagement to Irene, and now, after the prose of a conventional betrothal, awoke to give him considerable trouble about Miss Weir. He thought of her so incessantly that the babble about unimportant matters which went on among the men and women he met was an interruption, and accordingly he dropped out of his place at the clubs and other social haunts. If he tried to read, by some singular fatality before he had reached the bottom of his first page a word or sentence was sure to strike the electric chain of association, and he would drop the book to go on thinking about her. Then when he slept, such dreams as visited him were not the visions to cool an awakened fancy; and when a young man becomes addicted to this sort of folly, it is well to make some earnest effort to get rid of these unprofitable painted bubbles of imagined reality, and to put substance in their place.
When Dick decided that it was of no use trying to endure this state of inaction any longer, he calmly went down and consulted Mr. Thomas Hazlehurst upon the propriety of his going into the country and offering himself to Florence that very afternoon. “ Good heavens! ” ejaculated brother Tom. “ You have hardly got over being engaged to Irene Van Voorst.”
“ Begging your pardon, the thing was over and done with two months ago.”
“ How many times have you seen Florence ? ”
“ Five times, —no, seven times.”
“Seven times? How many weeks has she been in this country? ”
“ Almost four weeks,” said Richard, gravely.
“Well,” remarked Thomas Hazlehurst dryly, “ all that I can say is this: if you have come to such a pass that you go out to New Jersey to see a girl seven times in three weeks, you had better take the trip once more and conclude the matter. Besides, Mrs. Wylie is not the woman to allow such proceedings without some pointed feminine observations and decided opinions which might make Florence uncomfortable. I never approve of a man’s paying such particular attentions that his intentions become a matter of remark before they arc declared. As Miss Weir’s guardian, sir,” here he frowned majestically, “ I must request you either to offer marriage or to withdraw at once.”
Thomas Hazlehurst went back to his papers with a grim smile, and Dick at once set off to make his proposal, glad that whatever obstacles he need encounter lay behind the mystery of dark, wonderful eyes and the maddening sweetness of a smile frank as awaking child’s. He arrived at Mrs. Wylie’s house at a propitious moment; the old lady had set ceremoniously forth upon a round of visits, and Florence was alone. With the briefest possible prelude he enlightened her upon the object of his preceding errands, and acquainted her with the secret of his present quest. He was wildly in love, and in any intoxication one expects some little inspiration; he told his story well. His confession was absolute, and as interesting to Florence as such confessions may be when listened to with eyes drooping, ears thrilling, hearts beating.
“ I think,” she faltered, when after a time he grew silent and seemed to be taking her answer for granted, “ I think —I am afraid — it is too soon.”
Dick laughed irrepressibly. “ How much do you know about it? ” he asked. “ What is your usual habit under present circumstances? ”
“ But,” cried Florence, “ people wait a long time, usually, before — before — I am sure I have heard so,” she added, lucidly.
“It seems to me,” observed Dick, drawing her towards him, “ that I have already waited a life-time; ” and it was evident that no doubt existed in his own mind about their being engaged. He experienced a deep, soul-felt rapture as he looked into her exquisite face and met her rich, softly-withdrawing eyes.
This sort of engagement differed in some essentials from his former one. Irene was very piquant, very bewitching, but her blue eyes had never fallen helplessly beneath his, nor had her hands ever learned this trick of fluttering into his, like strayed birds back to their mother’s wing. Irene had a dispassionate conviction regarding the uselessness of caresses in general, and an over-just sense of the absurdity of his kissing her in particular. Somehow, this bewildering charm of coy girlhood was as new to Hazlehurst as if he were twenty instead of twenty-eight:. He knew nothing about Florence except that she was divinely fair and that he loved her irresistibly. Indeed, it is doubtful whether there was anything more subtile about her than the fact that she was preëminently beautiful and good, and that in loving she had the charm of giving her heart without reserve and becoming what love might make of her. She told her simple history, full of heart-breaks, and he poured out his own confessions impetuously, his handsome face flushed and excited in his new-found joy.
“ I did not dream that you had been engaged before,” murmured Florence, pensively. " Has it been over long? ” “Nine weeks,” returned Dick, half laughing, half grave.
“ Why was it over — Richard? ”
All, such rare delight in hearing her pronounce his name with rising blushes! “ I could hardly make you understand, Florence. It was the aggregate result of a thousand accumulated troubles. We were never intended for each other, — in fact, the thing was broken off because a happy fate had you in store for me, m.y beautiful darling! ”
“ But what happened finally? ” Florence coaxed.
Dick looked foolish. “ She was embroidering,” said he, a little embarrassed, “ and asked my opinion about a leaf. I told her I hated those stiff preRaphaelite patterns, everything vertical and horizontal, without a natural feature to any flower. Then she quoted something at me out of a book, and I shrugged my shoulders. . . . After that she decided we were better apart. Her aunt was going to Europe the day following, and she joined the party.”
“ You could never have cared for each other,” said Florence, gazing at him with a beautiful, tender smile. “ I suppose you both had made a mistake. Fancy, now, our separating because you did not like my embroidery! ”
This was delicious; yet Hazlehurst wished that he had not told Florence about his former love affair; not that he would have kept a thought of his heart a secret from her, but because this suggestion of Irene had descended upon his fresh rapture, his delicious repose of soul, startling him into uneasy reminiscences and alarming him with dim presentiment. Of late he had not thought of Irene at all, and why now, after parting in the tenderest manner from Florence,—why, I say, was Irene still the background of all his thoughts, while he exhausted his brain in mental arguments to sustain himself in his infidelity to his old engagement? This was the more curious because he had really, for the last few weeks, entirely forgotten Miss Van Voorst. He had sent off that sentimental little note from the club, and with it his final sigh of regret; the next morning he had met Florence, and life after that experience had been too engrossing to allow him useless memories. Why, then, at this climax of his joy, should the apparition of Irene suddenly arise? He tried to rid himself of this pertinacious spectre by dwelling upon the joys of a married future with Florence for his wife. Alas, the thought of the girl to whom he had but just plighted his troth became fainter and fainter, and instead of Florence it was Irene who usurped imperious sway over his dreams. It was the brilliant little creature to whom he had bade good-by nine weeks before who now seemed to stand beside him, calm, authoritative, witty, smiling as of old. When he reached his rooms on Thirty-Sixth Street, he was so taken possession of by her image that it was no surprise to encounter a note from her at once, although he supposed that she was in Paris. He read it, growing paler and paler, and then flung himself into a chair.
“ By Jove! ” said he, “ I thought the devil was in it somehow! ”
He sank into gloomy reverie, from which he emerged only when the clock struck half past five; he then started, picked up the note, and read it again.
“ What am I to do?” groaned Hazlehurst. It was by this time quarter to six. Whatever else he did, he must not let a girl sit three blocks off expecting him while he sulked at home deciding upon some sufficiently cold-blooded course of action. He was under the shock of too overwhelming a surprise to feel dejection; all he experienced was a growing wonder how he should act in this emergency. His newly gained bliss was at that moment hardly blissful to him. With Irene’s note lying in sight, and with the certainty of Irene, exquisitely dressed, waiting for him in the familiar place at her brother’s house in the next street, the thought of Florence became legendary and dream-like. Physical inclination always yearns back towards the old familiar custom, and positively, when he had put on his dress clothes, taken his overcoat on his arm, and was turning around two Fifth Avenue corners, he was more occupied in thinking of Irene than of any woman on earth. She had a heart, after all, he was saying to himself; indeed, she must love him to distraction, or she would hardly have given up her European travel for him! When he reached the house he ran lightly up the once familiar steps and rang the bell; then, when Edward opened the door, said, “ How are you, Edward? The ladies in the drawing-room yet?” And that functionary answered, " Mrs. Van Voorst is not down, sir, but Miss Irene is there,” just in the old way. And almost before Edward was out of sight in his pantry, two little hands pounced upon Hazlehurst and drew him into the great dim parlors, and a little blonde head was pressed against a dinner waistcoat, and a broken little voice was murmuring, “ Oh, forgive — forgive — dear old Dick — dear old darling — so unhappy — so glad — so wretched ” —
And what response was Hazlehurst to make ? He was the most chivalrous of men, and with a grain of chivalry about him what could he do but kiss her twice or thrice at every plea for forgiveness?
“Naughty boy!” said Irene, recovering herself. “ As soon as I saw that letter dated from that wicked club, I knew that nothing would answer except my coming home to take care of you. Glad to see me ? ’ ’
He kissed her again. There are times when kisses mean more than words; again, they may mean less. “ Confess that you needed me to keep you in order,” she said, with a pouting, mutinous glance. Although not beautiful, she was a charmingly pretty creature. Then she always ' wore French dresses, her waist was narrow, her form delicious, and she took costume like a successful comedy actress. As for her face, it was bright, determined, imperious, shadowed by golden hair miraculously crimped and fluffed; her eyes were blue and sparkling, her nose saucy, and her lips coral in color and of a pretty, rebellious pattern. “ You shall kiss me no more! ” she declared magnificently. “ I do not know where you learned such free and easy manners. Never from me, Dick, —never from me.”
“ You were never so bewitching before! ” cried poor Hazlehurst, feeling the old half-sweet, half-torturing thralldom creeping over him.
“ You are looking well, too,” mused Irene, scanning him with a charming smile; “at least, as well as a man can look in a mustache. I noticed at my first glimpse of you that you had the air of a criminal.” Dick laughed, as if he were amused. “I thought,” she went on more softly, “ that I could live without you, but we both found that we reckoned without knowing. Just as I was applauding myself for stoicism, your letter came. All my interest in Paris vanished like a dream. I felt a demon of jealousy gnawing at my heart ” —
“ You were jealous ? ” Dick ejaculated, aghast.
“ Jealous of your club, of your amusements, and of all your distractions, you naughty boy! So I shot home like an arrow. And here I am, dreadfully ashamed of my foolish doings, but oh, so glad, — so awfully glad to see you.”
“ My dear, good little girl,” gasped Dick.
Then, to put Hazlehurst on his guard against accepting her little bursts of temper as having any foundation, she unfolded to him the real story of their quarrel, The recital was long, and there were plenty of digressions, for she based every argument upon the incontestable fact of her loving him so well that his indifference to many things she was interested in put her in a passion. “ But you may be sure,” she added, “that if I seem to hate you, it is only because I love you too much.”
“I am not worthy of you!” said Dick.
“ Bah! it’s I who am not good enough for you, — that is, when you are at your best. I will confess to you that I suspect you of backsliding without me, but when I am in New York promise me that you will not go near that horrid club.”
“With all my heart. A club is a mere pis aller. If women only knew how easily men at clubs learn to detest each other, they would soon cease talking against them. You all envy us our life; you think us butterflies, — we are mere grubs.”
“ That must come off,” said Irene, with a gesture of her fairy hand towards his short upper lip.
“My mustache?” cried Hazlehufst, the instinct of self-preservation aroused. “ Never. Am I to lose the only comfort I have had the last few weeks? ” (Ah, Dick Hazleliurst, no wonder yon blushed at that naughty asseveration.) “ Have I endured that wretched time when I was afraid to look at my own reflection in the glass, but dreaded a thousand times more to meet any of the fellows abroad? It has taken fully two months to become the thing of beauty it is, and I intended it should be a joy forever. Confess you like it, Irene; you know it is becoming,”
“It may be becoming,” said Irene, tartly, “but I never like a mustache. Please, Dick, cut it off at once.”
He bemoaned himself gently; he told her what a blessing this resource had been when he found himself at the end of his engagement,—something to live for.
She consoled and petted him. “I shall like you so much better without it. A man with a mustache is like a popinjay, or rather like a high-class ape. When I see one I think no more research is required for the connecting link between the races. Don’t twirl the odious thing, Dick. If you care anything for me, Dick, you will cut it off at once.” Hazlehurst quailed; he always did quail before Irene. “ All right,” he returned, with a forced laugh. ” All right, Irene. I may keep it on during dinner, may I not? Here comes Mrs. Van Voorst. How do you do, Mrs. Van Voorst? Got your invitation to dinner, and came around at once. I had no idea Irene was back again. Delightful surprise, is it not? ”
Mrs. Van Voorst was a large woman, with a handsome face and figure, an abstracted look, and a sweet, drawling voice. “ Yaas. I was startled out of my senses when I came in to lunch from shopping and found her here. Had she not returned, I suppose you would never have come near the house again, Mr. Hazlehurst.”
“ I give you my word,” said Dick, “ I have been coming more than twenty times, but I did not feel sure what was the correct thing to do when” —
“ We did not throw you over, even if Irene was so foolish,” drawled Mrs. Van Voorst. “ Well, the key is found, the problem solved, is it? ” she asked, turning her calm, large gaze from Irene to Dick, and from Dick to Irene.
“ Oh, yes,” returned Irene, decisively; " that nonsense is all over. It was only I who behaved badly. Dick was as good as gold. I wonder you wanted me back, Dick; you will have a dreadful wife unless I reform.”
“ I hate reformed people,” said Dick, with a ghastly smile. “ I like you very well now.”
Then Van Voorst came in and greeted his future brother-in-law with hilarity, and they all went down to dinner. It was a good dinner. Van Voorst did that sort of thing as well as any man in New York, and while Hazlehurst ate and drank, a sort of sweetness and serenity stole over his tortured soul. Besides tumultuous emotions of pleasure, he had been called upon to experience a marring sense of doubt, embarrassment, and dread, but now be became conscious of a gradual evaporation of his doubts and dilemmas; halting indecision died the most natural of deaths with Irene just across the table, more charmingly piquant than ever, telling him all the droll things that had happened to their party in Paris.
When they went up-stairs, the action was so natural that Hazlehurst gave it not a second’s thought: he drew Irene into the little back parlor which had already seen three years of his love-making, and dropping down beside her on the crimson velvet sofa put his arm about her waist.
“ No, Dick, you are not going to be sentimental,” said Irene, promptly withdrawing to the other end of the sofa. “I was only too good-natured before dinner, and now you must behave yourself. Here have I been telling you everything I have done and seen and said and thought since we parted, yet not a word have you given me in return about your own occupations. I want to hear everything.”
“ Really, I don’t know what I could tell you likely to interest you,” answered Dick, stretching out his long legs with an easy air which successfully covered his guilty consciousness. " Evenings, particularly, I have had a dull time.”
“ Have you not paid visits? ”
“ No. Whom on earth did I want to see in New York? ”
“ Poor, darling Dick!”
He slid closer to her.
“ Did you not go to the theatres? ”
“ To Wallaek’s and the Fifth Avenue and Union Square, I suppose? ”
“ Ye-es,—yes,” said Dick.
“ I hope you had none of those horrid late suppers afterwards? ”
“ Don’t ask embarrassing questions, dear,” replied Dick, blandly, “ and then you will not embarrass me.”
“ But you might think of my wishes, Dick.”
“You were —you were in Europe, Irene. The fact is, I did just what the other fellows did. I don’t set up to be better than my neighbors, but on my soul I don’t call myself worse. I tried staying home at first. I give you my word that for a week after our — after you went to Europe, I mean, I used to put on my slippers when I came in after dinner, and pile about a hundred books on my table, and read and read until ” —
“ Until you fell asleep, I suspect, you dear old goose! ”
“ Precisely. It was dreary work. My own society palls upon me in the long run.”
“ What did you read? ”
“ Oh, I read part of Daniel Deronda. You know you were thoroughly vexed with me for putting it off so long; accordingly, I went through the first volume and began the second.”
“ Why did you not finish it? ”
“ I could n’t stand Mordecai. I really could n’t, you know. Does he die before the end of the book? ”
“ In that case I will finish it. I want to know what becomes of Gwendolen, — poor little Gwendolen! But Mordceai is a superfluity and a bore.”
“ Mordeeai is a lofty-souled enthusiast. ’ ’
“ Just so. Well, I don’t like loftysouled enthusiasts. I feel sorry for anybody far gone in pulmonary consumption, but for all that if he tried to join our club we would blackball him remorselessly. So unpleasant for Deronda. I can’t abide the fellow; still, I confess to a profound pity for any man in the clutches of such an ancient mariner, — holding him with his glittering eye and " —
“ You don’t like Deronda? ” cried Irene, her face scarlet, her eyes like two flames.
“ Of course I don’t like Deronda. Do you ? ”
“Like him?” shrieked Irene. “I worship him! I would kiss the ground he trod on! He is my purest and loftiest ideal of a man.”
Hazlehurst laughed bitterly. “ I dare say. But I assure you your loftiest and purest ideal is a confounded prig.”
‘ ‘ A prig ! ’ ’
“ A prig. What else is a prig save a man who sets up with fine, pragmatical discourse to be better than the rest of the world ? Then, as if it were not enough to be a pragmatical prig, I hear he finally turns out to be a Jew. A pragmatical prig with a long nose and a pronunciation resembling a man’s with a cold in his head! ”
Irene was white with wrath. 1 ‘ Daniel Deronda is a true, noble man,” she said, glaring pale at Dick. “I do not wonder you men try to laugh at him,” she went on, with withering scorn, “ for you are all jealous of such traits; his grandeur dwarfs you into pigmies. Compared with you all, with your love of ease, your groveling standards, your petty vices, he is like a Greek god chiseled in purest marble.”
“ No doubt, — no doubt.”
“ He is like Guido’s Archangel Michael,—such unruffled strength; such power without efforL; such all-sustaining force, yet not a muscle strained.”
“ I give in.”
“ He is,” pursued Irene, every word a lash, every glance a sword - thrust, “ an ideal man; not the ideal of an imagination belittled by a knowledge of men as they are, but the ideal which is an impulse of a fresh, untried soul. One could kneel to such a man; one could adore him! ”
“ Could one marry him, Irene? ”
“No! ” retorted Irene, freezing; “ he is not a sort of man with whom I could fall in love.”
“ 0h,” said Dick, and smiled sweetly. “ I yield, dearest; undoubtedly he is all you believe him to be. I yield to everything you say.”
“’T is n’t enough for you to yield when I convince you. I want you to have an instinctive perception of the good, the true, the beautiful.”
“I have an instinctive perception where a good, true, beautiful woman is concerned,” said Dick, establishing himself very close to her. . . . “Come, now, there goes out the gas in the front parlor. I know that signal. I must be off.”
He sprang up, and she followed him into the hall. “ Edith tells me there will be a Philharmonic to-morrow afternoon,” she observed, “ and that they will practice some of Götterdamerung. Come around to lunch, and we will go together. Edith has six tickets.” “ Let me off from Wagner,” implored Hazlehurst. “ I ’m not up to liking Wagner.”
“ Neither were you up to liking Beethoven,” said Irene, icily, “ until I made you go with me to Thomas’s symphony concerts. I long since learned what your excuses for incompetence are, — an apology for indolence, and a disguise for indifference. What more interesting engagement have you for to-morrow? ”
“None, I assure you, — none!” ejaculated Hazlehurst, eagerly. “ What time is lunch? One o’clock? I will be here, and then for the music of the future.” He kissed Miss Van Voorst. Then his hand fumbled in his overcoat pocket, but meeting her glance he withdrew it as if he had found a live scorpion there.
“ Oh, Dick!” she cried, “ have you been so foolish as to take up smoking again ? ”
“Only a cigar now and then,” he pleaded. “ That is nothing for a man.”
“It is suicide! Every doctor who dares be candid declares that tobacco tends to deaden thought and perception, to paralyze all healthy intellectual action. I saw a difference in you the moment you came in,—a kind of absentmindedness, and it was the result of that odious smoking. Promise me to give it up again.”
“I promise,” said Dick, in a spent voice. “ There are the cigars, — six of ’em. Take ’em, keep ’em for me, dear. But, by Jove, if you want to make a saint of me, you must lay hold and shield me from temptation.”
“Am I not trying to?” she asked, with irresistible sweetness, and lifting herself on her tiptoes she put up her lips to kiss him. “ Take off that mustache,” she said afterwards, “and come to-morrow at a quarter before one. Perhaps you had better read over Götterdummerung, that you may be prepared to appreciate it.”
When be was finally in the street, the door closed upon him, Hazlehurst drew a long breath. “By Jove!” said he, and jammed his hat down over his eyes; “ by Jove!” and thrust his hands into his pockets. He stood irresolute. Should he go to his club, or home to his rooms and face his trouble out? The longer he postponed his return to the grim spectre awaiting him at his fireside, the shorter his wrestle and vigil would be. A few games of cards or billiards would pass the time until he could, with any show of reason, seek his bed. But billiards did not amuse him, nor did five consecutive eigars promote mental paralysis, as Irene bad predicted. It was twelve when he went home. Never had life seemed so insupportably dreary as when he entered his rooms, although his fire was in exquisite order, and his slippers and dressing-gown were warmed to a nicety. He sank into his easy-ebair, and stared at the blazing coals for an hour without moving a muscle. Then, as the clock struck one, he rose with a sigh and drew off his boots, and was about to assume his slippers, when an .overwhelming realization of his miserable dilemma struck him and roused him to pain like a red-hot iron.
“ It seems,” said he, bursting into impassioned, although inaudible soliloquy, “it seems like some farce, some damnable entanglement for gods and men to laugh over. Was ever a respectable man in such a position as mine? Poor, darling Florence, who trusted me so absolutely at four o’clock to-day! ” As he thought of those quivering red lips, those dewy eyes raised to his, ungovernable pain and fury got the better of him, and he stamped about in his stocking-feet, conscious of nothing but misery.
“ Who would have believed it?” he began again, after exhausting his energies, and, suddenly becoming aware of his unslippered feet, putting on the slippers which Irene’s own white fingers had embroidered for him. “ Why should I not have supposed Irene’s decision was absolute? Was I to guess that she would melt at my foolish letter and come flying back to me ? Could I have dreamed that any obstacle, the smallest impediment, lay in the way of my marrying another woman?” He gazed at the fire for twenty minutes in a state of utter mental chaos.
“ How could I help loving Flossy ? ” he asked himself. Then, a clear idea suddenly usurping supremacy, “I loved her the first moment I saw her, as I never loved a woman before. If I could marry her! ” he sighed, heavily. “ Yet, how can I marry her ? ” Chaos reigned again.
“ But Irene is a trump,” was the next defined thought which came to him in his extremity, “ and in her way she is a devilish pretty woman, and not a girl in town can equal her for style. How clever she is! ” A profound sigh. “ I doubt if there are a dozen men on this continent who would not be overmatched by her iu conversation. I always wondered at my good luck in getting engaged to her, for I can’t hold a candle to her; yet she likes me, in spite of her cool airs and her affectations of prudery, — she likes' me! I’m no coxcomb, but I ’ll be hanged if she is not right up and down fond of me.”
A more genial look flitted across his features; he almost smiled at some delicious recollection, but caught himself at it, and pulling himself up in time he sighed again.
“ What am I to do? ” he asked, this time audibly, while he gazed defiantly at the fire. “ What is to become of me? Both such devilish pretty girls, too! ” he sighed, luxuriously. “ They say,” he reflected, after a season of vague and aimless reverie, “ that no man ever got lost upon a straight road, but I would like to know whose crooked ways brought me here; not mine, I ’ll swear, — not mine.” The clock struck three, obtrusively, and he glared at it angrily. “ A man may be engaged to two women,” mused Hazlehurst, feeling unmistakably the wear and tear of his day and evening, “ without coming to grief, perhaps, but he can’t safely marry two women. I have got to end the matter on one side or the other; which shall it be? I think I see myself telling Irene that she has taken too much for granted in coming back! Poor little Irene! she is the proudest woman alive; it would be base, unmanly, brutal, to undeceive her. She measures my constancy by her own, —good, single - hearted little girl, — never guessing that the moment she left me I took advantage of my freedom by falling impctously in love with another and a very different woman. She thinks me unstable as water now; what would she think if she knew all! ” he questioned that inward monitor whose monitions had failed to keep him faithful, hut with little result.
“I would die before I let her know how I have betrayed her trust,” he said to himself, bringing down his hands on the arm of his chair. “ She has the best right to me, no doubt. She has liked me ever since she was a little girl, God bless her.” The tears rushed to his eyes; he covered his face with his hands, a picture of utter wretchedness.
“ But how can I enlighten Florence? ” he went on, goaded by his fatal extremity. “ Can I, a being who pretends to walk upright upon the earth instead of crawling,— can I tell a young, gentle, beautiful girl, unused to the world, ignorant of all possibility of mistake, that I won her first pure, fond kisses under a false pretense? that I— By Jove, no, — I could no more do it than I could thrust a knife into her warm white throat.”
He rose to his feet and flung up his arms. “I shall go mad,” he told himself, “ unless I end this. Yet I must sleep.”
He put aside irresolution, argument, and the necessity for decision for the present, and prepared for bed. It is easy to doff habiliments worn by day, and assume those congenial to unbending and repose; it is easy to put out one’s light and create a darkness which seems thick enough to hide all the troubles of the world; it is easy to put one’s head upon a pillow, even to close one’s eyes; and these are to most moderately fortunate people the sure preliminaries of peaceful and blameless slumber. But when Hazlehurst’s head was on his pillow, his firelight screened, his gas turned out, his mental vision became only the more keen. His horizons widened, and instead of seeing only himself and his individual interests, with mere vague and conjectural results for others unhappily connected with him, the full consequences of his predicament glared in upon him. When the clock struck five, there emerged from the bedroom, into the firelighted dusk of his sitting-room, a wrappered and slippered figure. He drew a match and flashed the light across his gas-jet, which llamed high and burned with a roar. He went to his writingdesk, and without a moment’s indecision snipped off two equal slips of paper from a blank sheet; he wrote a single word on each, put them on the table face downwards, and turned them around with his eyes fast shut. Then, reversing his position, he extended his hand behind him, drew one of the papers, and read the name. While he looked at it his face wore a look of poignant anguish. The meaning of these occult proceedings was that he had cast lots to see whether he should give up Florence or Irene. The name he had drawn had been Florence. She was to be the modern Iphigenia sacrificed that Irene’s fortunate winds might blow.
Hazlehurst rose that morning at eight, with a belief that he had not once closed his eyes, but had he been closely questioned his reminiscences of the hour preceding and succeeding dawn would have been of the faintest. It is a fact that no man ever lay awake all night without feeling proud of his achievement, and Dick experienced a melancholy pleasure in measuring the tortures of the ordeal he had passed through. He was faint and worn out, and, since his trial by lot, had succumbed from his mental struggle. Florence was to be given up, but the details of his coming explanation to her he had not yet grappled with. He trusted a good deal to her intuitions, for a woman’s intuitions are proverbially known to be more incisive and unerring than man’s reason. The moment he spoke, her swift feminine divination would supply his meaning, just as the chorus of a Greek tragedy fills up the deficiencies of the lofty dialogue. Such convictions of the ease with which the troublesome affair was to be concluded inspired relief, and he had not yet thought of the part his own infatuation would play in the coming interview. The fact was that after yesterday’s excitements his capacity for feeling was for the moment exhausted: what he called his stoicism was merely the result of his enfeebled powers.
Before nine o’clock he was in the street; twenty minutes later he was in a stage well down Broadway, on his way to take the 9,15 train into the country. All his friends who caught a glimpse of him asked each other to whose funeral Hazlehurst was going, he had such a woe-begone face. He sat on the east side of the stage, pale, rigid, his lifeless eyes fixed on vacancy. Now and then a sort of spasm crossed his features, as a dumb longing tugged at his consciousness, but in general he felt nothing but icy calm, and realized to the full the imperativeness of the motives which urged him towards the girl he loved, to undo the sweet promises of yesterday.
Suddenly, however, as he neared Ninth Street, the color flamed to his temples, his eyes lighted up, he smiled exultingly; and pulling the check he rushed from the omnibus, and before the horses had fairly stopped he was on the curb-stone, his eager hands grasping a little hand in a black kid glove, and his eyes gazing into the dark splendors of the eyes that blinded him to everything else on earth. Resolutions, scruples, dreads, these were gone, —
To look into this girl’s face and resolve in cold blood to renounce her! Nobody could renounce her unless he was a stock, a stone.
“ Was ever anything so lucky?” he was saving. “ I was just on my way to you.”
“ So early? ” she asked, archly. “ I thought you might be out on the train which brought you yesterday. " Here he pressed the hand he held, and she blushed deeper than ever. “ I am going back at that time, and it occurred to me that it would be no end of a surprise for you to find me on the boat.”
“I prefer this. What are you doing now? ”
“ I am shopping for aunt Lucy. I was just about to cross to Stewart’s.”
Was ever an experience so novel and delicious as this taking her across the crowded thoroughfare, which she encountered bravely enough clinging to his arm? How beautiful she was! She was glowing as only eighteen years can glow; her heavy crapes threw out the more clearly her pure, well-cut features, the whiteness of her skin, the redness of her lips, and the richness of her lowbraided hair. Nothing and nobody could help loving her. The very ruff about her milky throat seemed to he there tenderly, even worshipingly. As Hazlehurst followed her from counter to counter, he gazed at her with silent rapture, He answered her little appeals to his judgment and good taste with an easy decision which was habitual to him with her, because she believed in him so devoutly. There was a subtle consciousness behind all these half-finished questions and answers which made up their conversation, these glances from eyes to eyes, these tremors and changes of color, that rendered this low prose of small shopping a rare phase of highly poetic intercourse.
Hazlehurst dismissed self - questionings. All his thoughts, all his contrivances, were to enjoy the fleeting morning hours. If his consciousness did once or twice revert to his dilemma, he told himself that whatever happened he could never give up Florence. Come what might, this sweet and shy divinity must be his; he loved her more dearly every moment, and their joy in each other was like that of two fond children who had strayed apart, but now had met once more, and felt the rapture of clasping longing hands again. Any inward debate to which Hazlehurst listened for a moment was about the feasibility of dropping his engagement to accompany Irene to the rehearsal, and after he had telegraphed to her that unavoidable business called him out of town for the day he abandoned himself wholly to the pleasure of the moment. The circumstances through which ho was passing with Florence had occurred to him before, but with a difference, and showed him while he was with her that no other love could be permissible to him. Susceptibilities, which aroused hitherto had merely made him hesitate before action, now, instead of passive insight, became prime movers of passionate action and supreme result. In quality and breadth his love for her was like the unforeseen inheritance of a fortune, which put everything, hitherto unattainable, within his reach. Come what might, he swore for the hundredth time he would never resign Florence, nor this wild tumult of fancies which simultaneously soothed him with the sweetest hopes and stung him with longing.
He took her home, of course, but by six o’clock he was again at his chambers in town. While with Florence be bad been in the highest spirits; there had been an interval of violent happiness when he had sat alone with the young girl at her aunt’s and placed a diamond ring on her linger, whispering that it was soon to be followed by a prettier ring yet, — the prettiest ring in the world, — a wedding-ring! His joy had been the fiercer, perhaps, because he knew that he would have to suffer for it. There was no doubt about his present suffering; his only uncertainty was whether any bliss would not be over-dearly bought by such tortures.
Yet supreme agony is not always incompatible with a nice regard for appearances, and as Hazlehurst was going out to dinner he bestowed some pains upon the adjustment of his necktie and chose his gloves with discrimination. He had promised twenty-four hours before to make one of a small dinner-party at Mrs. Van Voorst’s, and to go afterwards with the rest of the company to a gay wedding and reception, and he not once thought of faltering before the performance of his duty. He had no dread of meeting Irene under these circumstances; he was almost too wretched to dread anything, and in a roomful of people would have every motive for self - control. Thus kept up to the mark, he believed that in intercourse with Miss Van Voorst, let him but have his senses about him, some loop-hole of explanation and escape must occur to him. Then, too, she was a shrewd little woman of the world, and feminine intuitions must work their traditional miracles.
“ I used to suppose,” he mused as he went out, “ that a sort of chasm, which nothing but a tremendous fall could bridge over, divided an honorable man from a scamp. I see, now, there is a gradual descent of shallow but slippery stairs.” He could never, he argued, have taken a step deliberately which should give him pleasure, but cause suffering to any woman alive; yet here he was entangled by circumstances which, unless he soon extricated himself from them, proved him to be a coward and a traitor. He was not a man to be coerced by events even into wrong thinking. Self-accusation was the worst form of accusation for him, and he could have borne hard trouble better than this sickening, vitiating sense of remorse for the part he seemed to be playing, in spite of his own good intentions.
“ Irene must be told,” he said to himself as he went on to the dinner-party.
“ By Jove, I must not be what Hamlet tells about, ; a pipe for Fortune’s finger to sound what stop she please.’ ” This morsel of Shakespearean wisdom pleased him so well that he repeated this statement of his succinct resolve not to be played on any more some half dozen times before he rang Van Voorst’s doorbell.
There were already eight people in the room; henee Irene merely put up her gold eyeglass when he came in, nodded, and extended a tiny gloved hand. Hazlehurst bowed over it, and crossed to the fire-place, against which he leaned for the next fifteen minutes without vouchsafing a word after his greetings, He looked haughty and impassive, as it is easy enough for a tall man with good legs, broad shoulders, and a mustache to look, but he was merely absorbed in watching Irene, who sat opposite, at her ease, with her usual air of supremacy exacting a tribute of completer admiration than any woman present. Florence was more beautiful, and the gems lost in Irene’s blonde hair would flash along the dusky braids of her rival like stars along the midnight sky; but for all that, something about Irene was in its way peerless. She was always a centre, imperious, yet with an irresistible archness; with an exquisite relish, a delicate appreciation, of every nice social point; she shone and sparkled as few women ever can. Tonight she was in a ravishing toilette of ciel blue velvet and silk; there was a sort of electrical life and inspiration in her eyes and smile, and the very flutter of her fan; her careless little gestures had a positively magnetic effect upon Hazlehurst. He admired her easy caprice, her brilliance, her audacity; yet, trying to be faithful to some one, — not to have an utterly faithless heart, — he asked pardon, mentally, of Florence for allowing her sumptuous young beauty to be even momentarily effaced in his memory by the presence of this gay, sunnyhaired Irene in her laces, velvets, and jewels. His face wore a look of struggle, and Miss Van Voorst was not slow to perceive it. She was at the helm of conversation, as usual, but was not too much engrossed to look at him twice or thrice with questioning gravity, and she finally went over and whispered to her sister-in-law.
“You are to take Irene out, please,” drawled Mrs. Van Voorst in Dick’s ear, a moment afterwards; and Dick, nothing loath, went over to Irene and offered her his arm.
“ Luckier than I expected,” he muttered. “ I feared it might be a duty night for me.”
“ It ought to have been,” said Irene, scanning him closely, “ but you poor, dear fellow, you look ill, and I decided to let you have a good time. I had a terrible scolding ready for your not taking me to the Philharmonic ! To tell the candid truth, I did not altogether believe in your telegram. Did you really go out of town ? ”
“ I really did,” answered Dick, flushing to his hair. “ Awfully sorry about the Philharmonic.”
“ What ails you? ” demanded Irene, raising her keen blue eyes to his face. “ You change color every moment, and your eyes have an unnatural brightness. I am afraid you are going to be ill.’’
“ If I could only tell,” thought the wretched man to himself; then he said aloud, “ I have a confounded headache.”
“ The effect of that horrid tobacco,” said Irene, tartly. “ How many cigars have you smoked to-day ? ”
“ Not one! ” retorted Hazlehurst, triumphantly. “ I have not touched a cigar since last night.”
“ You smoked five then, sir! I heard about you. Had you gone straight home and to bed you would have no headache to-night.”
“ Who told you about me? ” cried Dick, furious with the babbler. “ I did not suppose ” —
“ Tout doucement. ’T was nothing. Nobody meant to tell tales; but do you fancy, sir, I do not listen eagerly to anything I may hear abotit you?” and as they went down the staircase she looked up to him with the sweetest smile and the dearest little blush in the world.
Hazlehurst beamed and pressed her hand gently against his waistcoat. What less could he do under the circumstances ? He must act his part to-night, he told himself, let what would come afterwards. He put by exaggerated fears, and with Irene to help him on fairly shone at dinner. His very dejection seemed to be le fagot de son esprit. But afterwards, thrown with Irene at the reception, he upbraided himself for his course towards her. Once or twice the confession was actually on his lips; then his heart failed him. He thus lost a half hour of golden opportunity, as they loitered in a dim conservatory together. Although one has a tongue and muscles to move it, even words at command, articulation is sometimes so difficult.
“ You seem to be always beginning a sentence,” said Irene, incisive as usual, “ then turning it into something else. I believe there is something you want to say to me.”
“ There is, Irene,” responded Dick, with a sudden*and powerful tremor. “ You always understand me; you seem to divine my most hidden thoughts.”
He wished within his heart that she only would.
“ My intuitions may be good for something when once aroused,” she answered with some diffidence, “ but I cannot undertake to penetrate the secrets of a man’s heart. So tell me; you make me curious.”
Hazlehurst looked at her with a wildly beating heart, his face crimson.
“Irene,” he began, “Irene” . . . He leaned persuasively down towards her ear.
“ There is nothing so real in the world as love between man and woman, is there? ” he asked, feeling that by grasping generalities firmly he could more easily reduce them to particulars.
She gave him a charming glance. “So I thought, Dick, when I rushed back to you from Paris.”
“ Oh, Lord,” thought Hazlehurst, “ I don’t believe a word about women’s being brighter than men.”
He answered her smile with a wavering, hysterical one.
“ A man ought to marry a woman he really loves,” said he in a melancholy tone. “ You women know little about the scrapes we get into first and last.”
“ We know nothing about them,” cried Irene fiercely, “ because we despise the apologetic ingenuity of men iu laying their misdeeds upon their” —
“You—you don’t understand me,” gasped Hazlehurst. “ Suppose I — suppose a fellow — suppose now ” —
“ Suppose what?” demanded Irene, with flashing eyes. “ Whenever I hear of men’s predicaments I think of Horace Walpole’s saying, ‘ There is no use in warning a man of folly if you do not cure him of being foolish.’ ”
“ That is a very clever saying,” observed Hazlehurst, with a just air.
“ But what were you going to tell me? I really believe you had something vital to communicate,” said Irene, looking at him with suspicious conjecture, and evidently regarding his postponed revelations as not to his advantage. There was by this time a melancholy absence of anything like resolve in Hazlehurst’s mind concerning the necessity of confession. His present anxiety was merely to bridge over this emergency and allay surmise, for against the shafts of Irene’s freely expressed opinions and the clear, straight glances of her blue eyes he was powerless.
“ I was thinking,” said he boldly, “ about Brooke and what a lucky fellow he is to-night. He was not engaged until long after we were, yet here he is married and happy as a king. Why people who love each other should put off the consummation of their engagement is more than I can understand. Why ” —
“ Don’t scold me any more!” cried Irene, whose face had grown every instant more and more scarlet. “ If that is what you are trying to say, say it frankly. I am not altogether so silly as I used to be.”
Dick’s heart almost ceased to beat. He looked at her until she withdrew her eyes in consuming embarrassment.
“ We will talk about this to-morrow, Irene,” said he gently, forcing himself to speak by a horrible effort. He felt sick body and soul, but he went on talking kindly to the girl at his side, who thought he wanted to hasten their marriage. Once or twice something in his tone struck her as unaccustomed, and she asked if his head ached. Yes, he told her, it ached abominably.
The next morning Hazlehurst was worn out. He no longer believed in any possible peaceful solution; he yearned for some appalling retribution. He felt sick and was determined to be sick, and only got out of bed to write two notes, which he dispatched to the letter-box by the woman who brought his breakfast. One of these communications was answered in three hours by a note, a parcel of books, and three small phials containing white pellets; they were of course from Miss Van Voorst, and her words ran thus: — MY DEAR RICHARD, - I knew that you were sick last night, for you were in many ways so unlike yourself. There is no doubt but that you have an influenza cold coming on, and I send you the proper medicine. If there is a feeling like a tight band about your head, take belladonna and mereurias alternately every two hours, as the labels give directions. If your headache is a dull one, just between the eyes, alternate mercurias with the pulsatilla. Naturally, as soon as you are well enough you will come over here, and we will take care of you. It goes without saying that you are not to smoke, nor to touch wine or to drink coffee, while you are taking these remedies. I send you these books. I observed last night, at dinner, that you were not well read up on the Eastern Question, and this is a good time for you to post yourself. I have a busy day before me, but be sure that wherever I am I shall think of my poor, dear, suffering Dick.
Irene’s influence, thus directly exerted, ruled Hazlehurst so imperiously all that day that his only thought of Florence was one of poignant sadness, as of some exquisite possession irremediably lost. The following morning, however, a fresh force, nicely adjusted to certain requirements of his soul, caused Miss Van Voorst’s image first to grow pale, then faint, finally to vanish for a time at least. In short, a note came from Florence. Perhaps there was rarely in the annals of love a billet-doux more cold and stiff, more prolix over unimportant details and cursory as to essentials; nevertheless it inspired its recipient with a wild joy. It was so delicious to Hazlehurst that she could not gather courage to address him by his Christian name, that she should bungle over the smallest allusion to their mutual understanding, that she should sign herself primly, “Yours,” and nothing more. The unwontedness in love-making she disclosed so unconsciously in her maidenly shame at the first stirrings of an imperious sentiment made him prize her scanty rev elations of her pretty tumults of mind with a full recognition of their worth. He was about to answer her letter; then, as he sat wrapped in his dressing-gown before the fire, smoking his well -colored meerschaum and reading a novel of Balzac’s, it occurred to him that he might be better employed in completing his convalescence by a short trip into the country. Instead of writing these rankling little speeches he was meditating, he might make them to her with his own lips, watching the light in her eyes, the wavering flushes on her cheeks, and the laughter dimpling about her mouth as he scolded her for all the little enormities of omission and commission which he had discovered in her note. He forgot that he had decided to keep himself hors du combat until his feelings had time to cool; he forgot that he was sick; the temptation was too irresistible. Of course his conscience thundered at him; but what is conscience against inclination ? —particularly when we can argue that in following the bent of our inclinations we are acting upon principle. The duty of an engaged man is to show tender devotion towards his fiancée. Hazlehurst was engaged, — very much engaged, as we have seen; hence, urged by duty, he put aside his slippered ease, shaved, dressed, and went out. Never had he felt more eager, more alert. It was a pleasure merely to be in the streets again, after his imprisonment. He was going into the country to see Florence, and he felt that true lover’s longing to carry a gift to his beloved. She had confessed to him, with adorable simplicity, when he put the engagement ring on her finger, that she had the most foolish taste for ornament, and that she had always striven against it as a weakness. Hazlehurst thought such a weakness natural to a woman, and delicious to a man if he were but able to gratify it. He had considerable knowledge of jewels, and particularly fancied a certain kind of dogcollar necklace which would, he knew, admirably set off the long lithe whiteness of that beautiful throat. He passed from the street into a great jeweler’s establishment and made his wants known, and was obligingly confronted with every expensive style of feminine adornment. He had bought jewels before, yet never with such necessity for critical nicety in selection: the thing must be elegant, but not over-superb; it must be at once beautiful, chaste, and sufficiently subdued in tone to suit mourning habiliments.
“Pearls,” mused he, thoughtfully, “pearls and black enamel. Yes, pearls and black enamel are just what I want.”
“Pearls and black enamel?” murmured a voice in his ear. “ I cannot wear pearls and black enamel! ”
He turned, growing pale to his lips. It was as if a spectre had suddenly confronted him, yet it was only Miss Van Voorst, exquisitely dressed, who had approached from the corner of the store, where Mrs. Van Voorst was having the screw of her watch tightened. They had both seen him come in, and had now advanced upon him unawares. Irene looked at first mischievous, then puzzled. Mrs. Van Voorst restrained her conjectures behind her usual air of passivity, Hazlehurst was a picture of detected guilt, and the man behind the counter displayed curiosity and interest. Hazlehurst’s face had stiffened so that the muscles about his mouth seemed of the rigidity of ice, but he managed to go through some form of greeting, and gave Irene a look which aroused her sympathy and made her act for him.
“ How pretty these are! " said she, turning the necklaces over. “ Are you buying one, and may we help you in your choice? ” She looked up in his face kindly and reassuringly, and gave his hand a little pressure as he clasped hers for an instant. “Are you better to-day? ” she asked him, soberly.
“ A little better,” muttered the wretched man.
“ Buying a necklace? ” said Mrs. Van Voorst. “ That is in our line, but not in yours, and you must take our advice. It ought to be for a lady in mourning,” she added, fastening her dreamy eyes on Dick, “ for I heard you say it must be of pearls and black enamel.”
He nodded. “ This is pretty,” continued Mrs. Van Voorst, entering into the spirit of the affair, for she was never so happy as when she was buying some' thing. “ Don’t you think this the prettiest,, Irene ? ”
“ I like that better,” returned Irene. “I advise you to take it,” she added, with a queer little smile at Dick, who met it with a look of supreme torture.
“ Shall I have it sent, sir?” asked the clerk, who felt an event in the air, but could not quite find the key to it.
Hazlehurst nodded again.
“ While you are giving him the address,” said Irene, with gracious tact, “Edith and I will go upstairs and look at some vases. We have a wedding present to buy, and if you have leisure you will find us looking at the porcelain.” The ladies swept on, leaving the young man alone with his necklace.
“ What address, sir? ” inquired the clerk.
“ Miss Van Voorst, West Thirty-Fifth Street,” answered Hazlehurst, after one moment of miserable hesitation. He paid his bill, then went up and joined Irene, who was expatiating eloquently upon the beauty of some specimens of Limoges faïence. Now it is easier to find powers of articulation upon the subject of pottery than that of jewels, when the destination of the jewels may be predicted with infallible accuracy to be some young and pretty woman, but what particular young and pretty woman is unknown; accordingly Dick once more found his tongue. But he had, of course, to contend with embarrassment, and to struggle against the melancholy embitterment which possessed him. He knew himself not to be in the most honorable position in the world, but the deeper he found himself involved in duplicity the more necessary it seemed to him that he should acquit himself satisfactorily before the world; so he talked volubly about faïence, which was one of Irene’s hobbies. That he should bungle and forget the marks and the dates was only to be expected, for, as Miss Van Voorst remarked, with her pretty scorn, he always bungled and forgot marks and dates, and could never perceive any appreciable difference between pottery and porcelain. After the Limoges vases were chosen, Hazlehurst took the vacant seat in the carriage, and went with the ladies to look at some new pictures, then to lunch with Mrs. Van Voorst’s mother in Washington Square, and finally to a kettle-drum. It was all customary, facile, agreeable, but his one little torch went out, and all his brightness was spent. He was sore at heart. Irene’s careless affection stung him with shame; her every look inspired poisoned regret. He could not tell what he wanted, nor which way his inclination turned; any chord will twang after too much tension. He could think with pleasure neither of Irene nor of Florence. His only joy was in despising himself.
When his social duties were over and he had accompanied the ladies home, he stopped a few moments in the fire-light with Irene.
“ I am going with cousin Rebecca’s party to Wallack’s to-night,” she said. “ They have a box; I do not know which one, but you had better drop in.”
He kept a constrained silence.
“ Have you another engagement, Dick?”
“ No, Irene, no other engagement to-night. ”
“ Come, then.”
“ Perhaps I will, dear.”
His tone of voice melted her whole soul. “ Richard,” she said, clinging to him, “tell me what ails you. Whatever it may be, I can help you to bear it. No matter if it hurts me, no matter if it lowers you in my sight; I have faith and belief in you, and to spare. I often am sharp and harsh with you, but at my heart there is no coldness; you must feel that, Dick.”
If he could have spoken before, it was no longer possible for him to use the gross barbarity of answering her tenderness with his miserable explanation. He remained silent, she all the time looking into his face with her strong clear gaze. She was incapable of suspicious interpretation or coarse misrepresentation of his silence, and the penitential misery of his look touched her indescribably.
“ Tell me one thing, Dick,” she said quietly; “tell me if my sudden return has led you into any complications,— if you are making any mistake out of consideration for me.”
“ I can tell you nothing, Irene! ” he cried, hastily. “Nothing to-night, at least. I dare say nothing, I dare do nothing, until my proper course of action is clear to me. But I must declare this: that I never in all my life have loved you as I love you at this moment. I never before began to appreciate you. You are an angel, and I am unworthy to touch even the hem of your garment.” He kissed her passionately, removed her hands from his arm, — for she would have detained him, —and went out.
After another twenty - four hours of wretchedness, the solution of Hazlehurst’s dilemma was hastened by the receipt of a note from Irene: —
DEAR RICHARD,—I want you to come over quietly at half past eight and spend the evening with me. Edith will take Philip to a concert, and we can be quite alone. I am wiser about you than I was last evening, and think that I can promise you a prospect of pleasanter days than you have spent since my return. IRENE.
He set out before eight, for the moments crept in his suspense, but when he reached the door and placed his hand upon the knob his heart failed him. Three times he went up the steps, then descended, and passed and repassed the house. It was, however, but little after the appointed time when he was admitted and ushered into the presence of Irene. She was waiting for him, with a calm, grave face, and received him kindly. There was a softness about her which, would once have filled him with delight; now it merely inspired compunctions.
“I received your note,” he said, looking at her with a pale face as he took her hand.
“ So I conclude,” she returned, answering his gaze without the ghost of a smile.
“ May I kiss you, Irene? ” he asked.
She half laughed. " I really think you had better not, Dick,” she replied, and, drawing her fingers from his, she went over and sat upon her favorite sofa. He continued to stand before the fire. " I found that necklace when I went to my room last evening,” she went on calmly. " It was very good in you to send it, and perhaps it was ungrateful for me not to keep it; but I preferred that it should arrive safely at its proper destination, so I took it over to-day.”
He went towards her swiftly. " What do you mean, Irene? ”
She smiled her old mutinous smile. " I confess,” said she, " that I was not fairly honest about the matter. I gave it to Miss Weir as a wedding present from myself. I told her you and I were old friends, —old and dear friends, Dick, — that I had a warm and tender interest in the girl who was to make your happiness, so ventured to bring her a trifle which should remind you both of Irene Van Voorst.”
Hazlehurst caught her hand. “You torture me, Irene! ” said he, in a hoarse, strained voice. “ You know everything, and knowing everything you must despise me.”
“ Well, no, Dick, I don’t despise you. When once I understood, I was not so dull as I had been ” —
“ How did you find out?” he asked, still in the extremity of anguish.
“I went down and questioned Mr. Thomas Hazlehurst,” she replied, coolly. " Afterwards, I went over to call upon his ward and your promised wife.”
“Believe me, Irene, when she gave me that promise, I had no more idea that you were coming back to me than that an angel out of heaven was to descend into my arms.”
“I fully recognize my mistake,” she said, flushing scarlet. “ I thought your letter meant more than it did. I rushed back, presumptuous in my belief that I could open our book just at the page where I had turned down the leaf and closed it two months before. I did not dream how much deeper you would have read,—that a new heaven and a new earth had been revealed, that I was no longer all the world to you.”
“I was faithful at first; I really was. ”
I“ Yes, until you fell in love, Dick.” He groaned.
“ I was not philosophical at once,” she went on, her tone a little clearer, her effort in speaking more evident. “I had my moment of bitterness, but after I had seen that lovely young girl, the most beautiful creature I ever met” — He gazed at her with a sudden change of color. She was conscious of a new gleam in his eyes, and broke off. It was not his fault, perhaps, that he thus opened to her instantaneously a vista of the higher hopes, the more ardent aspirations, which this new love of his had brought to him; that she thus tardily recognized in his face the effective magic of a real passion. He loved Florence with transport; he had never loved her in this way, and Irene was heavy at heart. But she put by her trouble, and went on. “ She is not only beautiful, Dick,” she said, generously, “ but she is good. Her face is like an antique; then, too, she has a warm, loving, girlish heart.”
“Is she not beautiful? Is she not good? ” cried Hazlehurst. “ I swear to you, Irene, that after I met her I was no longer master of myself.”
Irene smiled another of her pathetic little smiles. “ She told me how good you had been to her from the first. She was shy with me to begin with, because she knew that you and I were once more than friends, Dick; but after I had told her that it was over, absolutely over, she took pleasure in being frank with me, for, poor child, she had had no friend to confide in.”
The tears rushed to Hazlehurst’s eyes; he paced violently up and down the room a moment, then flung himself on his knees before Irene, took her hand, and kissed it as a Catholic kisses a relic of his saint.
“ If you knew all, Irene,” said he, “ you would know that I have struggled — that my actions ” —
“ That your actions got ahead of your intentions, as usual,” she retorted, laugh-
ing. But Hazlehurst did not laugh. “I have heard Florence’s side of the story,” said she, kindly; “ now tell me yours.”
He was but too ready to tell it. he had gathered feeling as she went on, until now he experienced this chance of disburdening himself of his emotion as a relief. He poured out his confession unchecked: his love for Florence, his joy in winning her; then his rebound of feeling, his yielding to the satisfyingness of his old easy customs of intercourse with Irene. Words which he could hardly have spoken except under passionate stress of feeling rushed freely to his lips, and the girl who listened, with a smiling face but a sickening heart, knew every moment more clearly that she was to bear her life henceforth robbed of its sweetest conditions.
“ I told Florence,” she observed, when finally he paused, “ that you would be with her early to-morrow, Dick, and you must keep the promise I made, for she has missed you. If, as you seem to think, you have anything to be grateful for, you may easily requite the debt. I wish you would never, either now or in any of the coming years you will spend together, let her know that — that — that there has been any mistake between you and me about our relations the past few days. It would be kind to neither of us to make the disclosure to her; she has a tender heart which could easily be wounded, and I — I am a foolishly proud woman, Dick.”
“I feel the most ungrateful fellow alive, as if — as if ” — Hazlehurst gazed into her face, distractedly. “You are the best and sweetest girl in the world, Irene.”
“ Except one.”
“ I except none. I adore Florence, I love her madly,—but you — but you, Irene, had you kept me, you might have made the better man of me.”
She smiled skeptically, and shook her head. Still, in her heart she believed him.
E. W. Olney.