Accidentally Overheard


MR. GEORGE BARROW was walking rapidly up Broadway one October afternoon. He had an appointment to keep, and so, to judge by their anxious haste, had most of his neighbors, who pushed by each other, or dexterously evaded the opposite current of sidewalk travel. The chief interruption to the hurrying stream lay in the slower movement of impotent folk, children, and women who were charmingly unconscious of blocking the way, and babbled of whatever came into their heads as freely as if they were in a country lane. Two ladies in the middle of the stream were so very leisurely in their movements that they seemed constantly to be dropping behind in the tide of travel. Successive companies passed them, and Mr. George Barrow, in his turn, overtook them and slackened his pace. He was too much preoccupied to notice who they were, but in a momentary dislocation of the crowd he had an opportunity to pass. By a common accident at such times, one of the pair retreated a pace, and he stood for a moment by the side of her companion. He was impatient to push on, but was detained by the press in front of him just long enough to hear from his neighbor the words, —

“ Mr. George Barrow ? My dear Helen, I confess to being in love with that gentleman.”

At the mention of his name, he instinctively raised his hat and turned his head, but before he could look on his neighbor he had caught the rest of the sentence, and darted forward; a suppressed note of dismay told him that he had been discovered, and he pressed on more rapidly, as if he might thus obliterate the incident. His errand took him shortly down a side street, and walking at a more leisurely pace he was able to reflect.

He was still blushing a little ; he was also smiling to himself. The accident seemed so odd, so entirely independent of his will, that he could consider it without in the slightest degree apologizing to himself. It was plain that the candid young lady who uttered the confession supposed herself making it to her friend; he had himself more than once made a like blunder when walking in a crowded street, but he could not remember ever having divulged any important or tender secret, least of all to the person from whom he would most carefully have guarded it. At this, he readily admitted to himself that the confession he had heard could scarcely be an unreserved one. Whatever theories might be held as to the solitude of a great city, he could not assent to one which would make it reasonable for a young lady to utter such a confidence on Broadway, if it were anything more than an extravagant mode of stating an ordinary interest in him. Still, the most modest man is open to subtle flattery in unguarded moments ; and he blushed again, as he asked who among his acquaintances and friends could possibly have delivered herself of even so much truth as lay at the bottom of this extraordinary declaration. He had not noticed the dress or the figures of the two ladies ; he recalled perfectly the pleasant voice in which the words were spoken, but he tried in vain to associate it with any one whom he knew. Besides the voice, the only clue which he had was in the name of the friend ; and here again he was obliged to confess that amongst his somewhat limited range of acquaintance there was no one whom he knew as Helen. Helen herself was naturally of less interest to him than Helen’s confiding friend, and he returned to the voice and the words, as if they might yet yield the secret. There was a half-jesting tone in the sentence,—of that he was sure; but he would fain believe that the other half was of sincerity.

It was the sincerity, or, more exactly, the possibility of sincerity, in the tone and words that gave him a little sense of guiltiness in attempting to discover the person who had uttered the words. Whoever she was, she certainly would not have chosen to have him overhear her ; and the unpleasant fact was not so much in his having overheard her as in the consciousness on his part of being known by her to have overheard. She knew that he overheard; he knew that she knew it; worst of all, she knew that he knew that she knew it. There could scarcely be a doubt of this, and he was not the one to build on the doubt.

It will readily be seen how painful to a sensitive and honorable young man would be this accidental participation in a secret which concerned himself so nearly, and the embarrassment in Barrow’s case was the greater that be was not wholly free to accept the deliberate confession of this unknown young lady. If it were possible that in the darkness of night, say, upon a lonely, remote heath, he should whisper a like secret to some trusted friend, it might properly adopt the same phrase, — “ I confess to being in love with — Miss Cameron.” Yet he had so indefinitely made this statement to himself that it would be very unreasonable to suppose him prepared to make it to another, under the most favoring circumstances. He was in love with Miss Cameron, after the shy fashion which dreads nothing so much as exposure to the object of love. He hovered about her, he watched her at concerts and in society, and bestowed a mute homage upon her which half intoxicated him without apparently bringing him any nearer to the person herself. There is with some lovers a sort of hasheesh experience, when the exploits of their own imagination seem almost more delightful than the real pleasure at which they aim. At any rate, Barrow’s regard for the beautiful Miss Cameron had been thus far so delicious that he was in danger of substituting the shadow for the reality. The sudden discovery that he was lumself an object of interest to an unknown lady acted as a touch-stone to his concealed passion, and showed him how disagreeable was the possibility of a divided regard. There was something distressing to him in the thought that he might perchance have awakened an interest in himself just when he had disposed to another of any reversionary rights he might have ; moreover, he seemed to see himself by this turning of the glass, and to disclose the weakness of his own love-making. A resolution seized him. He would have done with this toying with love. Yet even as he declared this to himself, he could not help feeling something more than curiosity respecting the unknown lady. He pitied her confusion from the bottom of his heart. He wished that it were possible to undo the mischief. There came a glow of modest pride at being thus selected. At that moment he fancied he knew a little how a woman might feel when she discovered herself to be loved. Would that he had already disclosed himself to Miss Cameron !

The appointment which he was hastening to keep was nothing more serious than the obedience to a command from his cousin and familiar friend, Anna Tester, who had sent for him to come to her that afternoon, as she needed his help.

He found her sitting before her writing-desk, and she jumped from her seat and welcomed him with an excess of gratitude.

“ George Barrow, you are a man of honor. The clock is striking four, and you are here at the moment. Now, what do you think I want of you ? ”

“ To help you at your German, and save you the trouble of using a dictionary ? ”

“ Nonsense. It is not the trouble ; but your definitions and explanations are more intelligible than the dictionary’s. No ; you write a beautiful hand ” —

“ More accomplishments charged to me,” he murmured,— “ more useful accomplishments ? ”

“ And I want you to write some invitations for me. Besides, you express yourself so cleverly; you are so — so concise, I think the word is.”

“Anna, Anna, when shall I convince you that I am not to be flattered into doing what you want me to do? ”

“ Never, so long as you do it like a good boy, as now, for example,” and she gently forced him into her chair. “ Here you have paper, pen, ink, everything but ideas. I have the idea ; you shall find the words. Listen. I mean to invite a few friends for the evening. Everybody says that society is frivolous, and everybody else complains that people indulge in foolish and conventional phrases. A few persons, G. B. among them, demand that Woman shall reform society by the establishment of intellectual coteries. George, I am that Woman. I will be a Madame de Sévigné, is it ? — somebody whom you quote to me. Don’t shake your head. You don’t believe in my reformatory powers ? Wait till you are one of my convicts. You are not to put all this into the invitations. I don’t want my friends to know they ’re to be reformed. All reformers begin by pretending to amuse. My guests are to be invited to a gathering where no one is to speak ” —

“ But, Anna ” —

“ You are not to speak, sir. Listen to me. You despise the average young man because he describes everything as 'gay' or ‘jolly,’and the average young woman because she finds everything ‘ so nice,’ or ‘heavenly,’ or what not. You say these people have no discrimination in their style, and besides that they talk about the weather and other seuseless topics. Now it is no better if they are made to talk French or German all the evening. One can be silly in a foreign language, and then that is so like a boarding-school. No, my guests are to pass the evening without articulate speech. They may bring slates, especially pretty little porcelain slates, or pencil and paper, and they may talk with the deaf-mute alphabet, but above all they may talk with signs. You are a good mimic; be so good, sir, as to say, ‘What a pleasant gathering Miss Lester has ! ’ without opening your lips.” Barrow laughed, but laid aside his pen which he had been holding, and stood up before his cousin. He looked about the room at an imaginary company ; his smile broadened ; he looked significantly at Miss Lester, and bowed intelligently to a bust of Clytie that answered the purpose of a young lady for the moment ; he clasped his hands in a subdued ecstasy.

“ Excellent! ” cried Miss Lester. “ I understood it perfectly, though your glance at me was a trifle too mysterious, as if I were the keeper of a company of lunatics. Never mind, you will do well enough when you have a real person to look at, — Miss Nelly Cameron, for instance. Clytie cannot smile back.” Barrow was a trifle dismayed. He had sedulously refrained from mentioning Miss Cameron to his cousin.

“ There, there, George,” said she, “ keep that look for the evening. You could do wonders with it. It is far more eloquent than speech. Now do you not see how much vivacity could be given to an evening, and how much could be taught of the art of expression? Why, young men will learn what to do with their arms and hands, and the fan will resume its old place. Oh, don’t quote Addison to me, unless you can do it in pantomime. Then, if people get nonplused, you know they can write, and they won’t dare to write such silly, incoherent things as they say. One thing more : I propose that each person may be permitted to ask and to answer one question, viva voce, during the evening. The occasional explosion of a solitary sentence will give it the appearance, at least, of originality. Now you understand my plan. I want you to frame the invitations so as to convey an accurate notion. It won’t do to have any one come with visible speech.”

Barrow found the task a somewhat difficult one, and scribbled over a good many sheets of paper before he had anything to show to his cousin.

“ You might let the first invitation be addressed to Miss Cameron,” said she, as she stood patiently behind his chair.

“ Do you mean to invite her ? ”

“ Certainly; she has wit as well as voice, and I think she knows how to write legibly.”

“ Well, Anna, will this do ? ” and he read her what he had finally written : —

Miss Lester begs the pleasure of Miss Cameron’s company as one of a party of amateur deaf-mutes on Thursday evening.To guard against misunderstanding, a copy of Restrictions is inclosed.

GRAMERCY PARK, October 16th.

“ You see, Anna, I call them Restrictions, to avoid anything so formal and formidable as Rules and Regulations.”

“ Well,” said Miss Lester, a little doubtfully, “ perhaps that is as good a way as any. I had intended to include it all in the invitation. But let me hear the Restrictions.”


(1.) Guests are expected to refrain absolutely from speech, except that each is allowed to ask and to answer aloud one question during the evening.

(2.) The deaf-mute alphabet, pantomime, and writing, whether on paper or slate, to be the sole modes of communication.

(3.) The Restrictions to be observed only in the drawing-room. Free speech allowed in the dressing-rooms.

“ Oh, but that will never do !” cried Miss Lester. “ The drawing-room would be deserted immediately.”

“ Not at all,” said Barrow. “ Do you not see that as the gentlemen and ladies have separate dressing-rooms, there will be no inducement to them to desert the drawing-room, where they will be together ? ”

“ But they will evade it; they will all go into the halls or on the staircase. Some of the girls always sit on the stairs. And then they will say that they can talk in the supper-room.”

“ Oh, we must not draw the rule so that a coach and four can drive through it. How will this do ?

“ (3.) This restriction does not apply to the dressing-rooms, where free speech will be allowed.”

“ That seems to shut the door,” said Miss Lester, looking at it critically. “ George, I hope they won’t go wild, and go home ! ”

“ Oh, never fear. You will have dancing of course ? ”

“ To be sure. You restore my courage. We are like two conspirators. I was Lady Macbeth at first, and I am like her now when the deed was done.”

“ Excuse me, Anna; don’t wrench me into Macbeth, if you please. Shall I write the invitations ? ”

“ Do. Here is the list, and I will help you. You may write to all the ladies, including Miss Cameron, and I will write to the gentlemen.”

“Including Mr. Jenness.”

“ Nonsense. You never saw Mr. Jenness.”

“ Put that indignant tone into your face Thursday evening, Anna. Nobody will mistake it.”

“ George Barrow ! I shall have to begin a course of flattery on you again.”


The days between the issuing of the invitation and Thursday evening were pretty fully occupied by Miss Lester in receiving her puzzled friends, and explaining to them with tiresome iteration the details of her scheme. She thought that her form of invitation and accompanying code of Restrictions were comprehensive enough, but she found it necessary to answer very elementary questions, and to state definitely what was not as well as what was expected. The ingenuity of her guests in discovering difficulties amazed her. As she put it briefly to her cousin, George Barrow, the way of reformers is hard. Miss Cameron was one of the few who did not call, and this was set down to her credit. She, as Miss Lester said pointedly to Barrow, could see through a ladder.

Nevertheless, in spite of the difficulties which every one found, every one accepted. It was to be like a masquerade, they declared to one another, and in the dressing-rooms there were affecting leave-takings before the perils of the drawing-room were essayed.

“ Good-by, Clara,” said one. “ I shall miss that pretty lisp of yours. It is impossible to lisp in pantomime.”

“At least,” was the retort, “we are not forbidden to laugh, and I shall know your charming little cackle. It will have a positively brilliant effect in the general stillness.”

“ I do not believe it will be still at all,” said a third. “ I shall make my one question so long and parenthetical that it will last until supper time, and my answer will last all the rest of the evening.” It was evident that there was a latent spirit of mutiny present, and that there were some who were mischievously bent on evading the Restrictions by some ingenious device or other.

“ We can vary the entertainment by Dumb Crambo,” suggested one ; “ only the guessers will have to act their guesses, and the players will have to guess the guesses.”

The gentlemen from their dressingroom flung winged words across the entry, as their last opportunity for Christian intercourse; but once they stepped over the threshold and began their descent, a giggling silence possessed the company, each faintly expressing his or her sentiments by feebly conceived pantomime. It was plain that the noble art of expression had suffered by too free a use of the tongue. It was amusing, too, to see the distraction which prevailed, since each was, as it were, trying to oversee his neighbor, overhearing being impossible. The novelty of the experiment made some lose their self-possession, but it had the curious effect upon the more bashful and reticent of loosening their powers of expression. Indeed, it was not long before the scene became exceedingly animated. As very few were found to shine in this form of conversation, a general confidence returned, and the fun of the thing removed embarrassment. Bursts of laughter and checked exclamations were heard on all sides. Miss Lester was regarded as a sort of umpire, and was frequently appealed to to know if this or that half-articulate expression was justifiable. Amongst the company was a professor in a deaf-mute college, who had been invited somewhat as a professional musician who has to be coaxed into entertaining the company, and Miss Lester plied her arts to draw out this gentleman. He was amused and slightly scornful at the infantile attempts in an art which he was accustomed to see exercised with grace and fluency. It was not very hard to persuade him to tell the story of Joseph and his Brethren to an admiring eircle, who had been privately and separately notified what the story was to be, and who were thus able to follow the text, with only such difficulty as their defective memories supplied.

There was more frolic in the pantomime than in the slow process of correspondence, but the ladies all came prepared with materials for conversation. Miss Lester’s wishes were easily gratified. The instinctive taste of her guests had furnished them with the prettiest and most engaging little tablets and slates, which often formed unique and picturesque additions to dress. Nor was it long before the incompleteness of the pantomime and the repression of many witty or effective sentiments which required written speech for expression led to a general use of writing materials. Groups began to form, chiefly by twos, and the room had almost the appearance of containing a class in drawing or writing. Some of the more conscientious, upon abandoning acted speech, felt it incumbent upon them to make the transition to written words through picture-writing, and a rapid system of hieroglyphs was developed. Once in a while, two persons, in despair of making themselves understood, and choked with their inarticulate thoughts, would fly from the drawingroom and fire their sentences across to one another from the sanctuaries of the dressing-rooms. For it was noticeable that during the earlier part of the evening no one ventured to speak aloud. Even the young lady who threatened to project her one question into supper time lost either the desire or the courage. In fact, each one, being limited to a single question, was loath to throw away the precious privilege too cheaply, and in the general stillness there was an alarming dilemma for any one who should speak. Either the question asked must be significant, in consideration of its unique value, when it became every one’s property, or it must be indifferent, because it was to be common property, when it would thereby be worthless to the questioner. At any rate, for one reason or another, almost every one was disposed to hoard the one opportunity of speech ; and the longer it was hoarded the more necessary did it become that it should be worth its price. Only now and then did some impatient person, in despair of satisfactorily answering on slate or paper, indulge in a long, rambling answer, reluctant to bring it to a close, and laughingly interweaving all possible facts and sentiments that could legitimately be construed as belonging to the answer. Traps were set by ingenious conversationists to make it impossible for their adversaries to answer except by word of mouth, and these independent, isolated sentences shot into the general ear — for it seemed as if even whispers were loud — sometimes covered the unfortunate speech-maker with confusion.

Mr. George Barrow was an amused spectator much of the time. He did not know many of the guests, and was frequently by the side of his cousin, ready to perform any little service she might desire. Yet he was not so preoccupied that his eyes failed to follow Miss Cameron’s movements, which Miss Lester, with her usual penetration, was quick to discover.

‘ You will confuse Miss Cameron,” she suddenly wrote on her tablet. “ She will think she is awkward.”

“ Heaven forbid ! ” exclaimed Mr. Barrow with his eyebrows.

“ Then come with me,” motioned Miss Lester; and she took his arm to cross the room. The matter of introduction was one which she had gayly performed many times in the evening when it was entirely unnecessary, simply because it was so graceful and intelligible a piece of pantomime. She had used it as a device for breaking up sets and bringing together people who she felt sure would play at each other skillfully, and secretly enjoyed the use of a weapon which she could scarcely have used so freely had she been at liberty to speak. To offer to be escorted whither the escort did not know enabled her to form new combinations, which were apt to be surprises to two people at least; and it was somewhat like a game for her, as she moved her pieces from one place to another on the board. Barrow, of course, was not unprepared, as his companion guided him to where Miss Cameron sat talking with the professor in the deaf-mute manual, which displayed gracefully her nimble fingers. The needlessness of speech was for the moment agreeable to him, as Miss Lester disengaged the two who were talking, and presented Mr. Barrow to Miss Cameron as if he were a figure in a wax-work shown The lady who received him shot a glance at Miss Lester, as if she saw something significant in her gesture of introduction, and then turned and asked him with her fingers, —

“ Do you speak deaf-mute, Mr. Barrow ? ”

Barrow, who did not know the manual, made a happy guess at the question, and answered, — the one answer he was to be allowed in the evening, — “ No, I do not speak deaf-mute.” Miss Cameron laughed, and had recourse at once to her slate.

“ Why do you waste your one answer on seven words ? ” she wrote.

“ Oh, it is off my mind now, and I can resign myself to utter silence.”

“ You can ask a question.”

“Yes; but I cannot think of one important enough to ask the whole company.”

“ For my part,” wrote Miss Cameron, “if I were confined to writing, I should learn short-hand; for I think conversation would degenerate into epigrams if we had to write out everything we said. I feel as if I were charged so much a word over ten words. You sit there and look at me as I write this, and I know you are wondering what wise thing Miss H. C. is writing.”

“ Your slate is nearly full,” rejoined Barrow. “ Let us use my block. This gives us the advantage of both talking together. While you are answering the question I now write, I can be writing something else.” She accepted one of the layers of paper from his block, but looking up described an interrogation mark with her forefinger.

“ Oh, I forgot,” wrote Barrow. “ I meant to ask a personal question, and here is where writing comes in to help a timid man. You wrote H. C. just now. I know what C. is, but I should have written E. C., — not, of course, N. C. Now, pray, how do you spell it with an H ? ”

“ This is not conversation,” she wrote back, as she saw him continuing to write after he had handed her a slip. “ You must listen to me while I am talking, or we shall get very much confused. Can you not spell my name with a rough breathing? You see I have just begun to study Greek, and am airing my learning.” While Miss Cameron was writing this, Barrow was scribbling upon his paper: —

“ I think Anna Lester is mistaken if she fancies she can cure us of frivolity by setting us to writing. I have myself written more foolish things this evening than I have uttered during the past forty-eight hours. It is extraordinary what rude things I am capable of writing, — things I should blush to say aloud. For instance, I accidentally overheard ” — At this point, discovering that Miss Cameron had come to a stop, he held out his hand for her paper, and at the same moment she took his. They read their papers, and it suddenly flashed over Barrow’s mind, — This is Miss Helen Cameron! Perhaps she is the Helen whose place I unwittingly took. He looked at her with a sudden curiosity. What was his amazement to find her covered with confusion! He glanced at his paper to see what he had written that should make her blush. Now, he had not finished the sentence which he was writing, nor had he the remotest intention of writing his Broadway experience ; it was merely a trifling incident of the evening which he had meant to tell, to point a remark. The situation oonfounded him with its awkwardness. He was apparently about to tell Miss Helen Cameron what no man of honor would disclose. She could not know that he had not recognized her as one of the two behind whom he had walked, and whose place he had for a moment taken, to hear from her companion a confession which, even if said in fun, no lady would wish to have had overheard, far less repeated in coarse jest. And this, moreover, was the woman whom he loved, and whose good opinion was worth the world to him. What could she think of him ! What did she think ! She showed plainly enough that she had no wish to continue the conversation, for she got up abruptly and went across the room.

In the occupation of his mind this evening with Miss Helen Cameron, he had quite forgotten the incident of a few days back, but now it returned vividly to him, and hr was agitated by the recollection. True, Miss Helen Cameron might not have been the Helen for whom the confession was intended ; yet why then should she be so disturbed at his words? At the time he had not associated her with that unknown and indeed unseen lady. He had heard her named by his cousin only with her familiar name, and he remembered well how inappropriate to her stateliness and fine bearing the name Nelly had seemed. And now returned the wavering in his mind between his mute regard for Miss Cameron and his half-romantic, chivalric feeling toward the unknown lady whose voice only he had heard. Could it be possible, then, that the two ladies whom he had passed that Saturday afternoon were in the balances before him He blushed at the temerity of his position; yet even as he blushed he felt a singular attraction toward the one who had so openly proclaimed her liking for him. As he stood thus, a tablet was suddenly thrust before him. He looked up. Anna Lester looked mischievously at him, and his eyes fell on what she had written: —

“ My dear, romantic cousin : Do you know that you have been standing motionless for nearly three minutes, thinking, in all probability, of Miss Nelly Cameron? Your face is a sorry telltale. It is quite as significant as speaking aloud. Now, come with me. I have a friend who asked to have you introduced early in the evening. I suspect she is an admirer of yours. Your affectionate, base flatterer.

“ P. s. Her name is Miss Elwell, and she has a charming voice. You must ask her a question which will require a spoken answer.”

Barrow gave his arm to his cousin. He was so possessed with the romance in his mind that it was only another confirmation when Miss Lester, guiding him to a distant part of the room, left him confronting not Miss Elwell alone, but Miss Cameron, who had been busy writing, and who held, he could see, the unfortunate paper which he had left in her hands. Miss Elwell acknowledged the introduction with a profound courtesy and a certain plenitude of manner which had all the appearance of being donned for the occasion.

“ Miss Cameron has told her,” sighed Barrow to himself. “It is useless for me to attempt to explain. I should only get into deeper trouble. The best I can do is to ignore it all.” It was easier to sigh this to himself than to meet Miss Cameron’s somewhat accusing face. He took his block, and wrote hastily to Miss Elwell: —

“ Pray pardon my impertinence ; impertinence, I find, comes easy to me on paper. I had the pleasure of addressing my cousin’s—Miss Lester’s — notes of invitation ; yet your name was not among them.” Miss Elwell looked over his hand as he wrote, and at this point took the paper from him.

“ I accidentally overheard of the party from my friend, Miss Cameron, whom I am visiting, and she easily begged a special invitation for me.” The phrase was so evidently unnecessary and obtrusive that it had a significance at once. Barrow was nettled. It seemed as if she was bent on undeceiving him, if he really fancied her confession to have any sincerity in it. He wrote carelessly : —

“ How long have you been visiting Miss Cameron ? ”

“ Several weeks,” was the reply. “ I think I have not had the pleasure of meeting you before, though I have often seen you. You know a few glimpses sometimes will serve in place of a long acquaintance.”

“ I find that my acquaintance with people,” Barrow wrote boldly, “ is often marked more by the voice than anything else. I remember voices as some people remember faces, and I have even fancied that I knew people by their voice better than by their face. If, for instance, I had ever heard your voice, I think I should not have forgotten it; your face I wish I could politely say I had seen before, yet I must have seen it sometimes when you have been with Miss Cameron.”

“ Either my face or my back,” she wrote quickly. “ Unfortunately, this is the last place in the world for hearing any one’s voice. I am afraid, Mr. Barrow, if you care to remember me at all, you will have to make an effort and remember my face.”

He looked up, half unconsciously, as he read this, and bashfully withdrew his eyes from her smiling face. The excess of manner which she had put on when they met was gone, and in place he saw a frank, mirthful girl who watched him half roguishly. Miss Cameron had left them, and just now he discovered that the room was becoming deserted by the movement of the company into the supper-room. He offered his arm to Miss Elwell, and they walked after the rest. “ It must be,” he said to himself, “ that she only uttered an extravagant expression of no value.” His pride suffered a little at this disillusion, and there still remained a hurt feeling that he should have so laid himself open to Miss Cameron. “ Miss Elwell meant nothing,” he reasoned ; “ yet I, like a brute, seemed to be vain of the words and ready to repeat them to the next person.” Suddenly he remembered Anna Lester’s words ; hie turned to Miss Elwell and led her to the piano. “ Will you not sing just one song before we go into supper?” he asked, with his one question. Miss Elwell bowed, and drew off her gloves, as she sat down at the instrument. She hesitated a moment, and then, looking curiously at her companion, sang: —

“ What were the words she said, she said ?
What were the words she said ?
She shot the words from her curvèd lips,
And my little heart lay dead.
“ She spake the words in jest, in jest!
She spake the words in jest!
Up sprang my heart from its little grave,
For the riddle love had guessed.”

Miss Elwell sang the song demurely, with a rich, contralto voice, and then, rising, took Barrow’s arm again. He was perplexed in the extreme. Trying to make allowances for the difference of the voice in singing and in speech, he persuaded himself there was kinship in the voice that sang this song with the voice which he had heard on Broadway. He wrote on Miss Elwell’s slate,—

“ Thank you for the song and the voice; but unless I am always to hear you sing, how can I remember you by your voice when I meet you again ? Pray say something ; or, stay, I will ask you a question.”

“ That is useless,” she interrupted him. “I recklessly threw away both question and answer as soon as I entered the drawing-room. I hesitated at the piano, but I thought that singing would not be a breach of contract.”

He was forced to be content with this reply, and indeed the lively scene of the supper-room prevented any very sustained conversation. Young men were performing miracles of dumb show, as they flourished their plates and cups about in heroic attempts to understand and be understood when their fingers were so abundantly engrossed. One ingenious young man was engaged in a corner cutting an alphabet out of cake, while his companion vainly endeavored to explain to him both that she was hungry and that a single alphabet would be entirely inadequate toward expressing anything. Miss Lester had provided a supply of mottoes, which were drawn with great eagerness by her guests, each hoping to find these somewhat arid compositions more expressive than formerly.

“ This is the hard-tack,” explained Miss Lester to Miss Cameron, with whom she was hobnobbing, which our shipwrecked conversationists are snatching at in my desert island. Nelly, when I am at liberty to open my mouth, I intend to scold you roundly. I find pencil and paper very ineffectual for scolding purposes.”

“ Write your scolding, Anna. I have no objection to writing mine. Poor Mr. Jenness has been trying in vain to make out some severe words which you wrote him. I do not know what they were, hut I have caught him eying them and you all the evening.”

“ Poor Mr. Jenness should not try to make out too much meaning in them,” replied Miss Lester. “My dear, I have a great mind to repeat them here for you, but I won’t, because — because they were silly.” The last four words were scratched out before they reached Miss Cameron, and she tried hard to decipher them.

“ It ’s no use, Nelly,” wrote Bliss Lester again; “my scolding, however, shall be perfectly legible. Why did you get up and leave my poor cousin so abruptly ? ”

“ Because ” —rejoined Miss Cameron, and the four words that gave her reason were maliciously scribbled over before they reached Miss Lester’s eyes.

“ Well,” continued that young lady, “ when I get you under my tongue, you will not be able to scratch out anything. Writing is one thing ; speech, thank goodness, is another. For scolding purposes and for purposes of confession, give me speech.”

Miss Anna Lester was in fact, if the truth must he told, rather more restless under her experiment than were her guests. They had so entered into the fun of the thing that there was a rivalry of pantomime and a determination not to break into speech. Dancing, on which she had counted as a great resort, was repeatedly broken up by the merry retreat of the dancers to more lively conversation. After supper, however, dancing became more general. Barrow found himself in the same set with Miss Elwell and Miss Cameron, and as he passed to one and the other it was with a perplexity that showed itself somewhat plainly in his face. He looked seriously at each in turn, — far more seriously than the exigencies of the quadrille demanded, — and encountered Miss Elwell’s laughing eyes and sober mouth, Miss Cameron’s more unquiet look.

The evening at length came to an end. Each guest, bidding Miss Lester goodnight, expressed in the most effective manner his or her delight over the frolic. Bursts of laughter came from the rooms up-stairs, as confidences were rapidly exchanged ; but true to the last, the several couples as they passed down the staircase preserved a demure silence of lips, until they had stepped over the threshold of the porch. Barrow was one of the last to leave, and as he entered the gentlemen’s room above he caught sight of two figures about to issue from the opposite room, cloaked and hooded.

“ Helen,” he heard one of them say, " say what you please, I am mortified and disappointed.”

There could be no mistaking that voice. He had heard it once before, and only once.


If Miss Lester were in earnest in wishing to scold Bliss Cameron, she had an early opportunity of doing so, for she received a call from that lady the next day after the deaf-mute party. Miss Cameron came without her friend, and this gave additional reason for Miss Lester to administer her rebuke. But either she had forgotten her intention, or feared to bring down retaliation upon herself. She had enough to do to discuss the amusing episodes of the night before.

“ And how did your friend, Miss Elwell, like George Barrow ? ” she finally asked.

“ I really cannot tell,” said Miss Cameron. “ She provokes me sometimes by her half-mocking ways, and I tell her that I never am quite sure what she thinks of any one until she has cried over him and laughed over him.”

“ Well, has she cried over my gallant cousin ? ”

I can’t say what she may have done in private. Before me she has indulged in a series of laughs which make me almost afraid to bring them together.”

“ Why, do you mean to bring them together ? ”

“ She insists that I am to give a teaparty, to which you and he are to be invited.”

“ Well, Nelly, I shall not decline such a gracious and hearty invitation, and when George understands that he is invited to meet a young lady whom he excites to uncontrollable laughter I can scarcely imagine the alacrity with which he will accept.”

“ Anna Lester, you are not quite fair. Why will you force me to say ” —

“ To say what ? ”

“ Let us begin over again. My friend is very mischievous, though she looks so demure. I do not know your cousin well. You must remember that I never spoke to him until last night, if one can call that speaking. Of course, I have my ideas about him. Have I not heard you praise him? Does not everybody praise him ? Have not I myself foolishly praised him before I knew him, simply repeating what everybody says and — and what he looked, before I talked with him at all ? It is too bad, Anna Lester, for you to sit there and hear me say these things ; but I tell you plainly, your cousin is not what I supposed him to be, — but I have no right to say that.”

“ No, indeed, you have no right to say it! ” said Miss Lester indignantly. “ Why do you come to me with such speeches, Helen Cameron ? As if George Barrow were not a good deal more than I ever saw in him! ”

“ I am very penitent, Anna, and very miserable, or else I should not be coming to you with this. Mr. Barrow tells you everything, does n’t he ? ”

“ He never mentioned your name to me, Helen Cameron.”

“ Never ? — not since last Saturday ? ”

“ No. Stop. It was last Saturday that he wrote my invitations for me. He did n’t exactly mention you. Indeed, I “believe I mentioned you first,” and Miss Lester smiled a little grimly.

“Was it in the afternoon ?”

“ Yes ; it was about four o’clock that he was here. My dear Nelly, what in the world is it ? I am dying of curiosity.”

“ I don’t know that I want to tell now,” said Miss Cameron, looking a little more composed.

“ Oh, do tell. I don’t tell George everything.”

“ Do you tell Henry Jenness everything ? ”

“ Nell, you are getting spiteful, and it does n’t become you.”

“ I have partly got over my misery, Anna, — that is all. Well,” suddenly, “ I will tell you. But surely you will receive it in confidence ? ”

“Wild horses shall.not drag it from me.”

“ I don’t care about the horses.”

“Well, not a Barrow shall wheel it away.”

“ You must know, then, that last Saturday ” —

“ This is truly exciting,” said Miss Lester, pressing forward eagerly, with her hands on her knees.

“ Helen Elwell and I had been in Brooklyn as far as the Park, and there we met an old school friend, and you may imagine how much gossip we talked. We named over every one who had been at school with us, and, as Helen said, a cloud as big as a man’s hand seemed to rest on every one of them. It was perfectly ridiculous, and we did not escape the contagion, you may be sure. Our friend came with us nearly to the ferry, chattering all the way, and when we left her we kept up the edifying conversation, going over again all the names, and speculating about them. Helen was as absurd as possible. She began to pretend all manner of attachments, and I was nearly as silly. Oh, Anna, what a confession I am making! Let me stop here.”

“ Stop here ! Why, my dear Nelly, you are at the most interesting point.”

“Well, we were walking slowly up Broadway, for we were quite tired, and Helen had begun to appropriate various friends of mine whom she had met or had heard me speak of. It amused me and I humored her, but it got to be a little provoking, and I suppose I was cross and rather ashamed of her and myself, for all at once she mentioned your cousin as her latest and most valuable — captive, she called him. This was too much ; I knew she had never spoken a word to him, and had only seen him once or twice, and I protested.” Miss Cameron was silent.

“ And very proper, my dear ; but I don't see anything in that to throw you on the verge of hysterics.”

“ Oh, but Anna, you cannot understand. At that very moment who should pass uS but — but Mr. George Barrow himself.”

“ How extraordinary ! ”

“ Oh, not extraordinary at all. It was a just punishment,” and Miss Cameron hid her face, and laughed and cried. Anna Lester looked at her in amazement.

“ Well, my dear,” she said finally, “ I must really think that you make too fine a point of it. What was there so very dreadful in that ? If you had told George that you were in love with him, that would have been another thing.”

“ Oh, but I did, Anna, I did ; that is just what I did, and for which I never, never, never shall forgive myself, — no, nor him either. How could he — how could he listen, and then taunt me with it afterward! ”

“ Come, come, Helen. Abuse yourself as much as you please, but don’t you bring a railing accusation against George Barrow.”

“ Oh, I know ; it was all my own fault,” admitted Miss Cameron, again penitent. “ Anna, you shall hear the worst. Helen had just been audaciously setting up a special claim for him, and I was provoked to answer, ‘ I am in love with Mr. George Barrow,’ when at that very moment I discovered that Helen had stepped behind, and a gentleman was receiving my confidence. That gentleman was Mr. George Barrow.”

Miss Lester covered her face, and laughed and laughed.

“ Oh, my poor cousin, my poor cousin ! ” she exclaimed at length.

“ And pray where is his poverty ? ” asked Miss Cameron, with some asperity at getting no commiseration for herself.

“ Excuse me, Nelly, but I can only faintly imagine his discomfiture at the situation.”

“ I doubt his being discomfited,” said Miss Cameron, dryly. “At any rate, he recognized us by raising his hat. He meant, we should know that he heard.”

“ I do not believe that,” said Miss Lester. “ George is the soul of honor. If he overheard anything thus accidentally, he would keep it to himself. And he is so romantic he would build an entire air castle from this little incident. Are you sure he recognized you ? ”

“ He recognized his name, but he did not turn about to look at my face.”

“ Of course he did not! ” said Miss Lester, indignantly.

“ But he must have been behind us. Do you think he could have known our backs ? ”

“ Well, Nelly, if he had been looking hard, I think he would have known yours. I suspect he knows you at every angle ” —

“ Be still, Anna; you distress me.”

“ But I do not believe he would have known Miss Elwell.”

“ He intimated last night that he knew me.”

“ What! ” Hereupon Miss Cameron produced the paper which contained Barrow’s unfinished sentence. Miss Lester studied it attentively.

“ The most I can say, Helen, is that if he were about to refer to that incident — and I do not believe he was — lie had not the remotest notion that you were the one.”

“ He said very directly to Helen Elwell that he had a quick ear for voices and recognized people by them.”

“ Did he ever hear yours ? ”

“ Never but that once, that I know of.”

“ I confess I am puzzled. I wish I could have heard him talking with you and Miss Elwell. I knew something was going wrong with him all the evening.”

“ I have his conversation with Helen,” said Miss Cameron, meekly producing the scraps of paper.

“ Ah ! that is one of the advantages of the new method,” said Miss Lester, sagaciously. " Let me read it, my dear.” She read the sentences slowly; then she jumped up, then sat down again.

“ Helen, Helen ! ” she exclaimed, “ I have it, — I am sure I have it. He has a suspicion. He thinks it was Helen EIwell who made the pretty little speech.”

“ Do you really think so ? ”

“ I do ; my intellect is working with extraordinary clearness. Now, Nelly, can you remember the very words you used when you were accidentally overheard ? ”

“ Oh, I remember them too distinctly. I have said them over and over again ; they stick to me like burs. I have tried hard to believe I said something else.”

“ First, does he know that Miss Elwell’s name is Helen ? ”

“ No, I do not see why he should.”

“ And does he know that yours is ? ”

“ Yes; he asked me last night, and looked very much surprised when he found that it was.”

“ Well, now, exactly what did you say on that momentous Saturday afternoon ? ” Miss Cameron hesitated and colored. Then, as if it was nothing to be ashamed of, she repeated with some emphasis, —

“ Mr. George Barrow ? My dear Helen, I confess to being in love with that gentleman.”

Perhaps the excitement made her raise her voice a little. Be this as it may, Mr. George Barrow, who had entered at the other end of the room, heard for a second time distinctly the extraordinary words which had caused him already so much pleasurable pain. He did what any man of honor under the circumstances must needs do : he turned and fled like a coward. Yet, noiseless as he thought he was, he could not pass through the hall without being heard as he went by the other entrance to the parlor. At that moment, Anna Lester threw the door open, thinking a visitor had come, for she had heard the bell, which Miss Cameron had not. Her cousin stood before her in all the guiltiness of innocence.

“ You heard me again ! ” cried Miss Cameron, passionately and convulsively. Mr. Barrow had the courage of his convictions, at all events. Miss Lester had her own instantaneous grasp of the situation. She went through the open door into the hall and rushed wildly up-stairs at the same moment that George Barrow, pushing by her, entered the parlor. He stood before the woeping girl.

“ Yes, I accidentally overheard you,” he said. There was something in the mournful tones of his voice which led her to look up. His face was singularly telltale. Nor was it long before he confirmed its story of ingenious pleading by words which at any rate we should not be justified in overhearing, — certainly not in overhearing with cool calculation. Whatever mystery still remained to him he was content to hear afterward. Miss Helen Elwell’s voice, agreeable as it was in music, had a teasing quality about it in speech which could by no possibility be mistaken for Miss Helen Cameron’s.

Horace E. Scudder.