And Mrs. Somersham

“ Many are the thyrsus bearers, but few are the mystics.”

“WHO is staying here ? ” “ Walter.” “ Anybody else ? ” “ McElroy.”

“ Who else ? ” “ The Vintons, with Marian.” “ All the Vintons ? ” “ All six of them.” “ Is that all ? ”

“Two Jarvises, three female Careys, and ” —

“ And” — “ And Mrs. Somersham.”

“ Somersham ? ” “ Somersham.”

The questioner went seeking about in his mind for a hook to hang the lastnamed lady upon, but did n’t find it.

“ What Mrs. Somersham ? ” “I — don’t— know ! ” Having examined himself carefully between the words, in an effort to assist in the cataloguing of Mrs. Somersham, Bailly suddenly dropped from a rather high, questioning key plump into a decisive denial; and his last word, “ know,” was uttered like a final negation of there being anything to know about the lady. On the whole, it sounded derogatory. Perhaps that is why Bailly added, cordially, “ She’s all right, herself.”

“ You know her well?” “ Hm ! Yes ! No ! Finally, no ! She’s one of the persons whom you know and don’t know.”

This sort of remark is not calculated to dismiss a person peremptorily from one’s mind; so, after a minute’s pause, when Armitage asked, “ Is she baffling?” Bailly answered, without surprise, “ No ; she is n’t responsive. You don’t touch her, — that’s all.”

“ Who wants to ? ”

“ I don’t know of any one who does n’t rather wish it, or who might wish it. Those far-away women, who are young and handsome, rather pique you, don’t you know ? ”

Mr. Somersham ? ”

“ An Englishman, and, they say, a beast. His one redeeming trait is that he likes to keep out of her way. I dare say she appreciates it.”

A “ far-away,” beautiful woman, responsive to no one, may pique some men. Armitage was n’t piqued. At the end of a summer’s civil intercourse, that superficial contact of manners with manners which makes up our knowledge of most people, if he had noticed the impression made upon him by Mrs. Somersham, he might have echoed Bailly’s description, and found it fairly accurate, for Bailly, but have had something to add on his own account: as that she was n’t this, was n’t that; positive as to his impression, meanwhile, that it was agreeable, mainly because it was impression, and not knowledge. He had learned not to snatch, and was a bit of an epicure in women; dead bored, too, with the sequelæ of a rather fatiguing habit of overstating to himself spiritual significances in both men and women. He did not care whence Mrs. Somersham came, or whither she was going. She made no demand upon him, and he thought nothing of her, then. Afterward, perhaps, he felt that an opportunity had been lost.

The small household used to spend much time under the ash-trees, talking, reading, laughing, sewing, gossiping, killing time in the approved fashions. Armitage dodged what he could of it. He was accustomed to more highly spiced dishes. Mrs. Somersham usually went there by herself, when the other ladies were taking their naps. Somehow, the men did not stroll in that direction at that time. They knew very well that she was there, —took pains to see that she was there ; but they waited for invitations which did not come.

One day Armitage suddenly realized the implied prohibition with a bit of amused interest. He stood watching her openly, for a while. She looked very lovely, very serene, and — yes, there was something rather “faraway,” probably the abstraction that comes of reverie. At the first glance there was something distinctly repelling in the aspect. “ Don’t trespass,” was in the air. Armitage remembered that it was his last day, and that he had not, through the whole summer, had a tête-à-tête with Mrs. Somersham. So he trespassed, marching composedly across the lawn, and standing in front of her.

“ Mrs. Somersham,” said he, very politely, as if he had come on business, “ do you own the grounds about this hotel ? ”

“ I do not.”

“ Have you any arrangement with the landlord, giving you the sole right to this green spot at certain hours of the day ? ”

“ No such arrangement.”

“ Have you — excuse the liberty — but have you made up your mind that no one of the male sex shall invade these sacred purlieus at the said hours ? ”

“ Pray sit, Mr. Armitage. I am delighted to see you.”

“ Then you have such an intention. In that case, I wish to say that there are men in the world who never see a fence without longing to jump over it; and that eternal vigilance is the price of other things beside liberty.” He drew a chair to an easy distance, and seated himself, talking nonsense to smooth a possible interruption of her placidity. “ You see, there is a certain impression about the atmosphere of this place that it is n’t the thing to come over here when you are sitting alone. You must be responsible for it. Now I won’t tell you what I think of such usurpation, because— No matter for the reason.”

“ I protest ” —

“It won’t do any good. I find other impressions in regard to you, still more remarkable. Bailly says you have only to glance a man’s way, to know whether his motive in taking off his hat is pure or dubious.”

“ Mr. Bailly is your friend. I should n’t dare characterize his remark.”

“ Everybody says the same thing, but Bailly says it rather louder than anybody else. He also declares that nobody but very pretty-behaved and highly endowed people should venture within range of your piercing vision, for fear of being found out. Is this true, Mrs. Somersham ? ”

She smiled, and shook her head.

“ Bailly pays you immense deference, verbally ; but let me tell you that he talks treason, too. He says you could n’t make anything out of — imagine his impudence ! — he says you could n’t make anything out of me. Perhaps that sounds ambiguous to you. Then he tells me, in the next breath, to keep out of your way, for fear you will discover how wickedly weak and how weakly wicked I am. Do you really believe in mind reading, Mrs. Somersham ? ”

“ Not a bit.”

“ Then what shall I say next ? I came to talk about mind reading, and the subject is exhausted. Is n’t it curious how you give people impressions, and then say you do not? ”

A little panorama of deprecation, query, and comment, plainer than if expressed by words, passed over her face, and was emphasized by the lightest shrug of her shoulders and a rapid movement of the hands.

“ Come, now, Mrs. Somersham, this is n’t fair. Pantomime is n’t evidence. Here you are, telling me as plain as daylight that Bailly is a simpleton; yet I can never have the satisfaction of telling him you think so. He would maintain that such and such a gesture and expression meant that I was a simpleton, — an idea I could n’t entertain, out of politeness to you.”

“ What do you wish me to say at this point ? Excuse me if I do not quite see what we are talking about. You have dealt yourself all the cards. I am delighted to talk with you, if you will go slowly, and not dazzle me.”

“ Do you really not make a practice of reading people’s minds ? ”

“ I do not even know what it means.”

“ Nor I. Here we are, stopped again. However, I suppose it means that you have special skill in reading character. May be that is the same thing. I hope you believe in that.”

“ Oh, yes! But I do not advertise it.”

“ Ah, now we shall proceed ! Your inflection was a whole confession of faith. Tell me what you think of — Bailly.”

“ Very agreeable, indeed,” said the lady, demurely.

“ That means that I need n’t try to amuse myself at the expense of my neighbors. But of course you know that I only began with Bailly in order to introduce myself more effectively. Bailly needn’t think I am going to waste a golden opportunity in hearing his praises sung. Tell me—yes, tell me what you think of me. If that is n’t sufficiently audacious, I think I might reach the point of asking you to talk about yourself.”

Mrs. Somersham saved herself from appearing surprised by adroitly looking beyond Armitage, as if she saw something.

“ As bad as that sounds to you, it has depths which you do not fathom.”

“ Pray, explain.”

“ You see you can’t decline to say what you think of me, because it will imply that you think ill of me.”

“ That is unkind.”

“ To imply that you could think ill of me ? I don’t see how you could,” he cried, in a tone that made her laugh, “ especially in so short a time, and when I have been upon my good behavior! It takes a long while ” —

Mrs. Somersham raised her head, and looked straight and calmly at him for a moment, as if verifying something that was in her mind before. A portraitpainter looks at his subject in this manner. It was a grain disconcerting.

“ Then you have already done me that honor.”

“ I can’t help having impressions, of course.”

“ Of course not,” said Armitage, quickly, finding his point half carried, and only at that juncture realizing that he had a point. After a moment of silence, he went on, “It must be a very piquant occupation. Pray, what do you do with a man when you have added him up ? ”

“ You almost disturb me,” said Mrs. Somersham, with the kindest manner in the world.

“ Nothing was farther from my intention. I felt a little foolish at seeing that you really might have taken note of me, when ” —

“ When you had n’t taken note of me,” she interposed, with a little grimace.

“ Perhaps that was my revenge.”

“ I wish Badly were here.”

“ Imagine him here. It is an admirable habit.”

“I am sure I need moral support,” said Armitage, finding his idle mood answered at every point by something not quite so hollow as itself. “ There really is an impression in your mind in regard to me. Well, there is only one comfortable way out of this blunder of mine. If we amuse ourselves by knocking at people’s doors, we must not be surprised at finding somebody at home, once in a while.”

“ To carry out your figure, the inmate might discover that you were not in search of him, and might not answer the knock.”

“ Oh, I see ! I ’m another! Now I shall be jeered if I go, and execrated if I stay. And this is a Christian land ! ”

“ Once more, Mr. Armitage, what do you wish me to say ? You are, in a sense, my guest. I should like to make you comfortable.”

“ Say that you will excuse me for an ill-considered intrusion, and that you will return good for evil, by showing me some of those ‘impressions.’ ”

“ I’m very much obliged to you for coming. As to the impressions, they are all exceedingly favorable, and therefore you need n’t hear them in detail.”

“ That is, Badly and I are both ‘ very agreeable,’ ” said Armitage, perversely neglecting his opportunity of escape.

“ Begin, if you please.”

“ Are you serious ? ”

“ Solemnly serious. However, it is no more than fair for us to remember that women cannot understand men any more than men understand women.

This is a way of saying ‘ without prejudice.’ I take refuge in that.”

“ Nevertheless, you will always be best understood by women, whether you it. like it or not. I think you would be sorry not to be appreciated by them.”

“This makes Badly grin.”

“ You know that women are your natural counterparts. Well, I begin. The first thing that strikes me is that you are conspicuously a manly man. Next to that, I get an impression of — excuse me — of self-assertion.”

“ I am called the most aggressive man living.”

“ I do not mean that your temper is self-asserting, but that your character is so. You meet people not precisely with defiance, but with an instinctive estimate of their power in comparison with your own. You utter your opinions with the intention of maintaining them for their own sake. You would n’t mind setting the world right, for its own sake.”

Armitage made a wry face. “ I hope it is n’t so bad as that,” said he.

“ It can’t very well be otherwise with you. So much force was put into you in the beginning that you are yourself overmastered by it.”

“ That means that I am not accidentally, but inherently, disagreeable. Badly enjoys this immensely.”

“ A man can’t very well help feeling his own strength,” said Mrs. Somersham, in a matter-of-fact tone. “ I do not say that your elements are, in any sense, unworthy. I only say that they are so full of force as to press themselves upon your attention. Our own pulses sometimes make us deaf and blind. So must the forces of very strong natures make themselves felt inwardly as well as outwardly.”

“ Badly thinks you mean that I am my own hero.”

“ I shall not tell Mr. Bailly my impressions of himself.”

“ Do you often frighten people in this way ? ”

“ Very rarely.”

“ Then it is distinction, and I can bear Mrs. Somersham, do you think I am my own hero ? ” asked Armitage, in a wheedling tone.

“ You will always be your own hero. Probably you always have been that, in one sense.”

“ I will not bear that! ”

“ I said that you could n’t help it. If a man sees in himself double the capacity for heroism which he finds in others, measures himself constantly agaiust other people, and finds them less in stature, he has a strong cue toward finding his own ideal in himself, unless he is intellectually hypocritical.”

“ Good heavens, how hateful ! ” cried Armitage. “ Do you find any modesty or merit at all in human beings? Because if you do, I shall feel that I had better be caged.”

“ I ought to have said in the beginning that you are made on a large scale. I supposed you knew it, and knew that I knew it.”

A pause followed, full of meaning, Armitage thought.

“ How do you know I have been worshiping myself all my life ? ”

Mrs. Somersham laid her hand against the stalwart trunk of the tree that shaded them, and said, “ This must have been growing here some time.”

Armitage really felt wounded.

“ Next, I perceive that you have the power of antagonism very strongly developed.”

“ You probably mean ill-nature.”

“ It might become that; or, rather, it might appear to be that, in particular cases.”

“ Undeniably, a monster. How long is your list ? I hope you are enjoying this. Let me thank you for doing me the honor to find me entertaining, if you do find me so. Do not limit yourself,” he said, with a crushing haughtiness of manner, all the more blighting that it was filtered through a perfect composure and politeness.

Mrs. Somersham looked up from her work at him — or, rather, at his anger—with a half smile, the sweetness of which a man might like to appropriate to himself, if he could but be humble enough to accept the gentle chiding lying in it; such a smile as fits a caressing word or touch for a dissenting friend, but is tempered to gracious insistence for a stranger. There was no brilliancy or coquetry in it, but a whole gospel of peace. It made Armitage feel, somehow, as if the air were softer than he had thought, and he half relaxed the muscles of his fingers, and let them lie upon the arm of the chair instead of grasping it.

“ Dear me ! ” he cried. “ You look as if you had jurisdiction both as to law and fact, with an attested catalogue of my sins. Nothing short of a fac-simile of the recording angel’s book warrants your charge and your composure.”

She continued looking at him, with a delicately shifting expression, and said, with an intonation that made the words seem to drop one by one, and melt on the air. “ I am the book.”

“ I certainly get an impression of accusing angels and recording angels,” said Armitage, taking refuge from himself and her in a sufficiently cheap compliment, as one makes an insignificant move at chess because it is his turn, and his real play waits for his adversary’s move. But his companion said nothing, and he continued : “ I begin to feel as if I were being dissected. How do you know anything of me ? Do you know anything of me ? Am I to call for the rocks to cover me ? You say you are ‘ the book.’ What does that mean ? Is it fair to interpret a man’s deeds when ” —

“ You forget,” she began promptly, “ that we are not old acquaintances, and that we know nothing of each other’s history. The composition of your mind, and not the course of your life, is what I speak of. Perhaps I had better not go on. You are not pleased.”

“ I am rather hurt; but still I want to hear what you will say. I need n’t believe it.”

“ Have patience. The rest is all pleasant. But let me say one word in the interest of my own power of reading character, which you a little doubt. You are sure to have had, if not an eventful, yet a full life, because you are, first of all, a man of action. A great deal that would come within your experience, and seem to be characteristic, would be purely factitious. I separate all that from yourself. One of these days you will do the same thing, and come to see that a great deal which you lived can be slipped from you like a garment, and forgotten like one.”

“ You prophesy, too.”

“ So much.” She waited a moment, half hesitating where to begin. Armitage partly turned, and instinctively put himself into an attitude of listening, with his eyes fixed upon the ground. Mrs. Somers ham smiled at the suggestiveness of the action, and said: “ You are an unusual man. That strikes one at once. You are exceptional in that you are strong and fine together. I do not say that you are gentle or kind, though you may be both. Your own friends will tell you that. But your nature has been both energetic and plastic. You have stamped yourself upon yourself, sealed yourself with your own signet, in a very remarkable manner. Fortune has favored you, — one does not need to be told that, — and yet I suppose you would not have been greatly hindered by circumstances. Speaking of you as an ‘ interesting specimen,’ I should rejoice in the conditions which have made it easy for you to be wholly yourself, though I might have to say that you were made less useful to the world thereby. I mean that you have been able to live your own life. It seems to me that the forces at work must have been uncommonly strong, fine, and noble.”

She seemed to have at command the power of conveying with her words the spirit in which they were to be received. Praise is harder to bear than blame; but something in this took away the perfunctory modesty and selfdisparagement of sophisticated life, and left Armitage the pure, surprised delight of feeling himself admirable. He heard his praises chanted with a pleasure possible only to a man of ideals, who sets a high value upon himself in a proud way, is morbidly sensitive to praise and blame, used to being somewhat undervalued in his finer qualities, and not unaccustomed to hostilities.

“ I have said that you are strong. You are also extraordinarily sensitive ; and as you have a fair share of pride, you probably harden yourself to censure, or disapproval. I am afraid you will do yourself harm, in time, and I am afraid, too, that you will not become calmly and placidly happy with years. You ask too much of life. There is n’t happiness enough to go round, you know, and the quality is not all of the best.”

A very flicker of a smile, hovering for an instant about her eyes and lips, told of an inward echo of her words, and touched Armitage profoundly. He remembered the “ beast of a husband.”

“ But then, I can’t imagine any of your griefs being ignoble ; and in noble sorrows or disappointments, especially if they have dramatic characteristics, you will always find a certain bitter relish.”

“ I forgive you.”

“ You care less for God than for gods. The protesting spirit in you rises against whatever makes pretensions. Nevertheless, you are passionately reverential. You like to prostrate yourself in adoration before your own ideals. In that way you come to know the significance of adoration, and to desire — let us say, homage. But this is not vanity. Remember, I state explicitly that yon cling to ideals in all these transactions. The incense burned upon your altar you would magnanimously resign to other deities. However, I must say that I believe you to have an appetite for incense.”

“ I renounce it.”

“ Do not. I should like it in you. It is your way of wanting to be liked. And then, you are willing to restore fourfold. I think, too, that you thirst for admiration only from those whom you have first found to be admirable.”

“ How you turn everything to good ! ” “ You know that I am a soothsayer.”

“ I wonder in what terms you would state this to — say, to Bailly.”

Much more favorably, though less inferentially. In this particular, for instance, that you would be the last man to desire praise not due you.”

“ Alas, alas ! I am afraid you have made a mistake.”

“ No, indeed. Look well into your mind, some time, and you will see that in the first thrill of pleasure from hearing yourself praised the predominant emotion is gratitude to something outside of yourself, to which you immediately ascribe the excellence attributed to you. I dare assert that you are never so humble, never so reverential, as when you have been highly commended. Your gratification comes from feeling that you may be a part of what you admire, and not that you admire what you are.”

“ Mrs. Somersham, I am a shabbier man than you think, — I am afflicted at thinking what a shabby man I am, — but nothing of all this ever occurred to my mind before. You do this. I could n’t go about to account for myself in this strain. I hardly know how to listen to it.”

“ What accuses you ? ”

Armitage felt rather silly. “ I beg you to excuse me,” he said, after a minute. “ That was what Matthew Arnold calls a ‘ note of provincialism.’ I thought I was better mannered.”

At this moment a sudden small whirlwind descended upon the tree overshadowing them, and rustled the leaves loudly, as if searching for something hidden among them. They looked up, and listened to the rushing, and then about in the dead calm around them, with a sense as if something had been added to the presence. One spiral finger reached down, and, lifting Mrs. Somersham’s work from the bench where she had laid it, deposited it at Armitage’s feet. He restored it to its place, while she was still watching the swaying branches.

Presently she continued, as if half listening, “ I should say that you would be constantly finding disappointment in people. It must be so. You have certain contradictory phases of character which make it impossible that you should often he satisfied in any one person. I should expect you to be meeting constantly with one or another person having some strong capacity of feeling, which you would seize upon eagerly, and with which you would try to quench your thirst. But for it to have attracted you, this capability must be strong, and is pretty certain to be single ; and as the tendency of any strong feeling, not reinforced by other feelings, or by character, is nearly always toward deterioration, you will meet with constant disappointment.”

“ Perhaps at this point I ought to say, ‘ Fee, faw, fum ! ’ But I will restrain myself and only ask meekly if the monster is not fed and pacified for the time being.”

“ Only intoxicated, and with the usual after-effect of satiety and disgust. Remember, however, as a tribute to the vanity of your victims, that they, also, are intoxicated, with similar sad effect. However, this is only one phase of your character. You can always escape from it into another phase — for a while.”

“ A man of moods ? ”

“ No, not a man of moods, because that seems accidental and rather petty, but a man of tides. You are a good deal like the ocean, with wide sway, depth, and force, and with apparent freedom of action ; only apparent, because a nature so full, so many-sided, so nearly rounded, presents more faces to the laws that lurk everywhere about us. The sphere floats free in air, but chooses not its own path. The more symmetrical the nature and the wider the intelligence, the less is the actual freedom.”

“ All this is very elevating, but somewhat chilling. I assure you that I have an honest desire and an honest purpose to be of use to my fellow-men. I do not at all care about living on a pedestal.”

“ I hope you will never have to fight the world in order to benefit it. You are sure to get the worst of it. You can strike very hard, — perhaps you are not aware how very hard you are striking, sometimes; but mean men (and the majority of men are mean) can hurt you ten times where you can hurt them once, because they will stoop to low ways. You are precisely the sort of man whom mean men like to bait.”

“ The world is always helped, in despite of itself.”

“ Be assured that you can never be a reformer, because you are in no sense representative ; nor a benefactor, unless you will accept with it the mortification of being a martyr.”

“ Then, can you not discover in the composition of my mind something that will enable me to find my happiness in the elevation of my motives ? ” asked Armitage, smiling rather satirically, but with a bit of interest in the answer.

“ No! ” said Mrs. Somersham, quite promptly and positively. Armitage felt distinctly resentful. She looked up as if he had spoken. “ No ! ” she repeated, with a lingering inflection, carrying the negation beyond the point of bare assertion, and seeming to feel something like regret. “ You will never find happiness in good intentions. It might make you unhappy or dissatisfied to feel that your motives were not good ; but you probably do not and could not rest long in the contemplation of your own merits, any more than you could find yourself happy because you are a gentleman. That is an inalienable part of you, and so is the integrity of your motives.”

Armitage began to feel that he had better get upon rather higher ground. He put aside the trifling temper in which he had listened before, and mentally straightened himself.

“ I am profoundly grateful to you for discovering so much. I should like to let myself take a modest satisfaction in the praise you imply.”

“ If you mean to take the bitter honestly, you can afford to taste the sweet fearlessly.”

“ There was something more on that point ? ”

“Yes. I was going to add that, while you may harden yourself to the opposition of men, you really cannot do without their appreciation and affection, and be happy. Your feelings are keen upon this point. I am not sure if they are a little intensified by abstract considerations. I believe not. I should think — I should prefer to think — that in this respect you are intensely human.”

“ Yes ! ” said Armitage, eagerly ; “ I am insatiable on that point. It leads me into extraordinary complications ” —

“ Yes ; you are full of apparent con tradictions.”

Armitage did not know whether this was tact or not. It indicated the in creased content of his mind that he did not resent the possibility of its being tact.

In a moment, Mrs. Somersham continued, “ You see, the strong side of your nature is fitted to deal with the strongest and roughest of humankind; while the fine side is addressed only to the very finest and most fastidious. So, while you can give a great deal, you will get very little back. I should say that, as a rule, men will not be fond of you. Don’t be surprised to find that out, some day. Remember that many of them will have a silent grievance against you, the more bitter that they cannot speak of it even to themselves. You cheapen them, and in ways they cannot forgive. You have superiority of mind, education, birth, fortune, person ; but, worst of all, you will take views of action too honorable to make you comfortable to the majority of men. And I cannot deny that there is a since of despotism in you, enough to season some of your qualities, aud make them not precisely conciliatory. You must take the full responsibility of this, and I venture to hope you will watch it as time goes by. It is capable of doing you harm.”

“ I beg you to tell me how.”

“May I? Well, then, the tendency of a character like yours is to harden. I am afraid you are not, even now, conspicuously merciful. But this could be amended. Still, I think you will always have to content yourself with a small constituency. That gives you a little pang this minute.”

“ It does give me a pang. But you are right. I had begun to perceive that I do not know the way to men’s hearts. However, forewarned is forearmed.”

“ Don’t hope it. You cannot be anything but yourself, and you will only grow more intensely like yourself.”

“ That means that I am good for nothing ? ”

Si fait! ” “ To point a moral ? ” Mrs. Somersham made no reply.

Armitage had expanded to the warmth of her commendation, and the silence struck rather chill upon him. All this praise, and no tenderness, for his feeling! He felt suddenly cut off from something seductive. The sense of cold, dispassionate criticism came upon him, took his pride in a great grasp, and wrung it numb for a moment. Perhaps it caught fibres of feeling which were entangled with the pride, infinitesimal, but not beyond the power of aching. Certainly the effect was not so much the smart of wounded vanity as the dull sickness of a deeper hurt. He said, in a really pained voice,— “ You are cruel. You deny me both happiness and usefulness. I shall always feel that you have taken something away from me.”

Mrs. Somersham seemed to be listening to some interior voice, — the trick of a person given to self-communion. She was saying to herself what she could hardly say to Armitage, that his crowning grace was the intimate blending of feeling, reason, imagination, all so closely interwoven that a touch upon one string was immediately answered by the full chord of his whole being. Presently she began in a new place : —

“ The strength of your intellect — forgive me if I say your pride of intellect— ought to make you a materialist. But too much apprehension has been added, too much keen and fine perception, to stop at that. You are probably at a great remove from that blind barrier. I doubt if one life, or a prospect of anything short of everlasting life, would suit your demands at all. In fact, with rules and formulas, with prescribed times and seasons, with fetters of any pattern, and with boundaries no matter how wise, you have nothing to do. The laws of your own being will probably always be your code, and you will give rather scant and not very hearty allegiance to anything outside. A thing may be said of you (and of some other men, — I have believed it to be true of men like and unlike you) which it would not do to proclaim from the house-tops: that the laws of your own being are enough for you; that the moral law was made for you, and not you for the moral law; that there will always be that in you which cannot be corrupted; aud that you might even touch pitch without being defiled.”

“ I am afraid the Sunday-school interest would be somewhat scandalized,” said Armitage, not knowing whether to be most amused or most surprised at her boldness.

“ There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, you know.”

“Yes! ” said he, quite interrupting, in the mortal fear that she was going to “ preach.” “ There is a way in which a man might break the moral law at every point, and yet be a cleaner man than his neighbor who has never transgressed the letter, or what he can comprehend of the spirit, of the law. For the dull man kills the spirit of the law as effectually as the vicious man kills the letter; and he who, by height of apprehension, magnifies the spirit of the law honors it more in the breach than the dull man in the observance.”

If Mrs. Somersham felt this to be suspiciously glib, she did not betray her impression.

“ Yes,” said she. “ There is a moral benefit of clergy,’ I suppose.” Then she made another change : “ I am glad you do not love music.”

“ How do you know that ? ”

“ You told me. In that circumstance, and in the fact that you have rather cold blue eyes, I take satisfaction. You love harmony, you love eloquence ; and that is enough for a man. To be greatly moved by music is feminine; and to certain minds the arts themselves are an intrusion.”

“ May I know why you find any significance in these two apparently trifling circumstances ? ”

“ Some of your traits lie on the side next the boundary line between men and women. They leave off at a safe distance, however. But delicacy and sensitiveness might, through some ‘ apparently trifling ’ trait, like a passion for music, shade into softness, and ” —

“ And take me out of the range of your sympathies. Thank Heaven, there is a pretty sharp edge to my nature! You could n’t have pleased me better than by noticing this. I almost feared you were ‘shading’ me too much.”

“ I think it far worse for a man to be womanish than for a woman to be mannish. Your delicacy and fineness are those of a man, and only a very strong man could be as fine as you are. But to beauty of form and color, and to grace of motion, you are passionately alive.”

“ Does that indicate any particular color of eyes ? ” asked Armitage, smiling.

“ If I had been told of you, I should have guessed you to have dark eyes. I see how crude the inference would have been.”

Introduced so abruptly to the idea that things could be said of him from which inferences could be made, Armitage suddenly felt rather unprotected, He shrank, visibly.

“ You have no confidence in me. Is it because you have no confidence in yourself?” asked Mrs. Somersham, tranquilly.

He looked about him. How fair was the day, and how lovely the scene it shone upon ! Was there anything fairer than the woman who sat so calm and strong and beautiful before him, a part of the strength and sweetness of the scene, — its embodiment, indeed ; lovely as the day itself, and with another and inward calm that doubled its peace and blessing? Why should a man distrust the day, and why should he keep his spirit in arms against the mild inquisition of that gentle glance? His eye ran over the soft colors and outlines, the slow, gentle movement, the cessation of motion which was more eloquent than motion itself, the seriousness which could not harbor malice or guile. A spell fell upon him. He resigned himself to the day and to her.

“ I trust you better than I trust myself. I know that you will be merciful.

I feel that you are reading my soul, and I am not afraid. Bat do not push me too far, or I shall be saying my prayers to you. I seem to understand why they pray to saints. Open, book, and accuse, or excuse me ! My soul says ‘ Amen ! ’ at every pause, — as a culprit should before his judge,” he added, feeling that he had been rather fervid.

“ I have been bold enough. You know it was written over the inner door,

‘ Be not too bold.’ I open no inner doors. I neither dare, nor desire, nor need. I tell you what any stranger may tell ; what is patent to any one with the right kind of eyes.”

“ Have you done ? ”

“Nearly. Only a very intimate friend could say much more.”

“Am I, then, so easy to read?”

“Everything is possible within the limits I have indicated. I might find you inscrutable, upon better acquaintance ; as it is, you are transparent. No,

I did n’t say shallow. In spite of the most admirable composure, your mood reveals itself to an observing person. For instance, as I talk to you, your mind is busy with a running commentary on what I say, with a keen observation and criticism of myself in various aspects ; you are aware of the scenery about us ; you arrange what materials there are for a dramatic situation swiftly, and with a due regard to your own position in the tableau, — we all do that; you analyze your own impressions, and guess at mine; you half form poetic phrases that could be made use of in other connections ; you are reminded of other persons and scenes, and find time to remember, to regret, to half resolve. You study the literary capabilities of the situation ; you look for the philosophical and psychological meaning of everything you see, hear, perceive ; and you are half unconsciously seeking now (as always) for some significance in men, women, and things, in events and conditions, beyond the obvious, easy meaning they bear to others. And all the time you are listening to what I say with interest and proper attention. That is not all.

I can perceive the changing atmosphere which surrounds all this mental activity, — brightening or clouding, as you are alternately pleased or surprised at what I am saying. It is like the flicker of light and shade falling upon troops marching through a forest, with waving banners and shifting arms.”

“You make me feel — bashful! If you come to any rags, don’t mention ’em. I could n’t bear it now ; not after that military procession. What next ? ”

Mrs. Somersham hesitated. “ I fear to trespass.”

“Take courage. I will kiss the rod.

I kiss the dust. Go on! ”

“ I was going to praise you a little,” she said, a rapid flash of diffidence that came and went over her face before it could be plainly marked, “ but you won’t care about it.”

“ Heaven knows the weakness and folly of my heart, Mrs. Somersham ! At this moment I care unspeakably for praise, if what you have said is not praise.”

“ I think of no other man who could have been safely taken from the hands of his Maker and put into the dangerous mill of prosperous conventional existence. I do not see a point from which culture or training has worn away the grain of your character, or left you less free in the exercise of your noblest qualities. You are full of matter and full of grace. You have not been made less a man that you are essentially a gentleman.”

“ I cannot even try to thank you.”

A pretty long pause followed, marking distinctly the termination of the character reading. Then Mrs. Somersham began in a low tone, and talked quietly of impersonal matters, going on for a longtime, without making any reply necessary. Armitage would gladly have had the silence prolonged, that he might keep in his nerves the fine vibration of that delight, — the keenest he had experienced for many a day. It had moved him a good deal. Perhaps no one had ever looked with such keen and kind eyes into his nature. Certainly, he had rarely been so variously stirred, every separate quality appearing to have answered to the roll-call, and to he rousing into attention. The whole man was awake, in all his perceptions, all his senses. He listened with new ears, saw with new eyes ; it was a new world. The air was more exquisite at every minute; the clouds almost stooped from the sky. The wind stirred leaf and twig and grass with the lightest finger-tips, at random touches, as one plays a chord upon a harp in the pauses of a reverie. The shadows appeared to brood and forecast. A spirit of sentiency seemed to inclose these two, as if the very air were becoming charged with consciousness and vibrated with thought.

Their talk was light, but always touching upon spiritual things. Armitage said little himself; it sufficed to listen to his companion. It was curious to note that, while taking courteous and even friendly cognizance of him, superficially, she was as if building wholly upon herself ; her interest increasing, apparently, from the widening of her own thought, and not through any direct inspiration from what she heard. It struck Armitage that what they were saying had a greater significance in her mind than in his own, as if she were initiated into some mystery of which their conversation was accidentally illustrative, He began to experience that curious and unusual sensation of the actual contact of one mind with another, as if mind were palpable substance with sense of touch.

Through the simple mesh of their talk he began to weave the bright colors of fancy, and presently of a nascent emotion. It seemed to him like a web, that glowed and shone with new meanings, and he felt as if fibre after fibre of sympathy were carried by some mysterious current from his awakening consciousness to catch upon her attention. She began to be a little intent, to pause slightly over what she was saying ; and, at last, appearing to recognize some inward call, he imagined that he saw in her the slow evolution of a new power, like a spirit rising within her. She turned her regards more particularly upon himself. He felt as though his thoughts were known to her, and had a curious impression that she was reading his own words to him. Beyond his interest in the novelty of what she was saying, which seemed to appeal to a separate sense, was the satisfaction of assent to what was familiar to himself, but never before shared with any human being. Gradually was added a third impression, as if he were a dual being, one part communing with another, and the duality existed only through the in terposition of Mrs. Somersham’s mind, as light sees itself parted into colors by the intervention of the prism.

But he did not lose his literal perception of himself, or of the situation. In fact, it was out of the physical impressions of sight and sound, and of the intellectual and æsthetic perceptions arising from them, that something in him was elaborating the wonderful series of sensations opening about him, each of which appeared to wrap within itself mysteries of meaning, presently to he unfolded. As the effect continued, he had a fantastic feeling that his thoughts took the form of spirits, and hovered about him.. There was no agitation and no strangeness, but a deepening calm, that spread to the last fibre of nerve and the last pulse of thought. His mind seemed to be rising above the perception of pain and evil. Yet, let it be repeated, he never lost his hold upon the actual. That occupied the foreground of his thoughts, and the other phases ministered to it. He had never felt such expansion, such life, such farreaching apprehension. Far, wide, deep, silent, strong, and full, the tide of conscious being stretched itself, until nothing seemed alien, or antagonistic, or out of reach. Hate, restlessness, eagerness, those rocks against which we chafe at a low tide of being, were submerged. It came to him that something like this the gods must have felt.

But while this flood was of himself, his own strength, his own capacity of feeling and knowing, he was fully aware that it lifted itself to meet the level of this other mind, with which it had connection too deep to be fathomed. Or was it, rather, that his spirit rose to the attraction of hers, shining down upon him from another sphere? In either case, he was himself for the first time in his life, through her.

While he had, in his ordinary self, outwardly, that is intellectually, taken note of her, found her fair, sweet, and wise, felt her to he true and kind, his sympathies had scarcely kept pace with his larger cognitions, because these had pressed inward upon his attention. He had been aware of himself with his new power ; now he became aware of her. And if she had seemed fair and wise and kind before, in his intensely vivified perception, she appeared to have gathered to herself the very spirit of these qualities, and to be the source from which alone they could flow.

To the joyful consciousness of his own being was added the intoxicating perception of another, higher and better, which could lift him and shine upon him, and toward which it was impossible that he should not reach ; for strength has its last perfect expression in beauty. As if light were rising over his soul, he turned toward the source of light, and felt the whole wide landscape of his mind gradually revealed and illuminated. Wherever his thoughts turned for a moment, there peace and strength gathered and abounded. The first delicious thrill of union with another spirit, short-lived and never repeated, trembled through him, and —

But after a little space rose the inevitable interrogation, the expectation of an answering consciousness, which is not a demand, but which, being unanswered, becomes a demand. The bubble was becoming iridescent. It was beginning to feel the laws of expansion ; its hulk was answering to other bulk. Being drawn, it must desire to draw in return. It would soon strain to unite with the stronger force outside ; and as no kind power could suck back the breath which stretched its frail sides, it must go on to destruction.

The bliss of being is followed sharply by the pain of being. For Armilage, it was but a step from the charm of feeling his spirit leaning toward hers, to the desire to know if she shared, in any degree, his expansion of mind, or was aware of him in any elevated sense. Nothing met this question as it rose. For the first moment in this singular spiritual evolution, he felt a pause, almost a check. Then the question recurred with a little insistence. Alas ! the currents of his mood had begun to set toward one channel, and the tide was turning.

When his expanding energies had risen above their hanks, he had told himself that something like this the gods must have felt. But the gods are sufficient to themselves. It is man who finds that outside of himself with which he longs to he united ; and it was as a man that Armitage, still with a sense of enormously widened faculties, began to he agitated by a stronger and stronger wish to reach past the space which separated his mind from Mrs. Somersham’s, and find there something which would bind them together, if ever so slightly. Perhaps it was in one way an instinct of self-preservation, a struggle for life, — such a life as he might have desired for himself in another state of existence, which he seemed to have received from her, and which, if no connection existed between them, must cease with this occasion. But it was, of course, impossible for him wholly to separate from the mysterious influence the woman who wielded it. If the influence could have existed without her, would he have desired it as ardently ? As a god, yes ! As a man, probably, no! His wish that she should in some way recognize his mood show’s this. Nevertheless, his interest was as much beyond the ordinary passing spell of a beautiful and good woman over a chivalrous man as his present mood was beyond that halfapathetic, half-curious temper in which he had challenged her understanding of himself. It was the hunger of the higher nature, the cry of a soul for a soul.

Still, while the outward and visible token of the soul is the body, the sundering of bodies will always typify to us the sundering of souls ; and to Armitage the separation of their two beings translated itself into a sudden sense of the appalling distance between them as individual units of society, bursting the bubble of his mental exaltation, and plunging him into an agitation as extreme as his late composure was unnatural. A piercing realization of their utter strangeness to each other, in spite of the mystery which had seemed almost to make them one, returned upon him, and he felt suddenly thrust away to immeasurable distance. Between them rolled that ocean of circumstance which can part a body from its soul, a soul from its God, and which a life-time can scarcely bridge. She was so far away ! Yet she drew him so irresistibly that, for a moment, he felt a wild desire to plunge into the distance between them, and make it less. Vividly before his imagination rose the past, the present, the thousand “ must nets ” of a half spent life, the million “dare nots ” of education and society; but as a prisoner beats against his bars, his impulse (coming from God knows where) began to rage against them. Why were such things, if they must be as if they were not ? Why was a force put into a man, that would rise at an apparent accident, and overturn the solid structure of belief, experience, habit, education, character, — all that he is, and all that he accumulates, — if that force is not to be his guide and master at a supreme moment like this ? A sickening hatred of everything in his life not connected with her took possession of him. He was desperate to fling off ties, associations, obligations, memory itself, and almost thought itself, that it might range away from the passion of the moment, losing in pain and fear the chance which might, could he but expand to all its influence — do what? Carry him ■— where ?

Of course there is no sequence, no logic, no beginning, no end, in the chaos of such a mood. There is only the anguish which sees crowded into one moment of time all the dreams, the possessions, the passions, and possibilities of this life and all other lives ; feels that moment slipping inexorably past, and struggles madly to hurl itself after. It is the mortal agony that lurks everywhere in the universe where what might be is not. Who knows what sick and despairing longing may seize the stars themselves to dash from their wearisome orbits, and plunge into the warmth and splendor of passing worlds?

Through this tumult Armitage suddenly became aware of the outward situatiun. Before, to right, and to left, ladies were gently and lingeringly approaching. Servants were bringing chairs; in the background other servants were laboriously conveying a long narrow table, that could have but one function, — to bear a tea-urn and cakes. He was intruding upon an afternoon tea. He was an interloper among invited guests, in the most awkward position possible, and heaping confusion upon the hostess, Mrs. Somersham.

To be wakened out of a blissful dream to a sudden consciousness of being a nuisance is not reassuring, but may be endured with the help of philosophy ; but that, in a moment of supreme agitation and suffering, a man should be summoned to muster his senses and pick up the fragments of a shattered conveuance is surely the last turn of the screw.

Like a man whose step all at once makes no sound, and his motion no resistance, in the air, Armitage walked to within a few paces of Mrs. Somersham, with an odd feeling upon him that he might not know how to measure distance with his eye, and was in danger of walking over her. All his senses were throbbing with the strain they had undergone, and his voice had a dull sound in his ears.

“ I am really very much obliged to you,” he said mechanically. You have made quite a hit, — a remarkable hit, I may say.”

She made no reply beyond signifying slightly by her expression that the word was not precisely acceptable. He looked at her with a strong indisposition to speak, but with a strong disposition to continue looking at her. It seemed as If a tremendous, momentous question rose between them, that must be answered, but which no form of words known to him would express. Yet as he could not go on staring blankly at her forever, he amended his last remark. “ It was, perhaps, something more than guess-work ? ”

“ Oh, yes,” she said, very quickly ; “ it is like any other reading.”

“ That means that I am like other ‘ specimens ’ ! ”

She returned his glance with a look as long and steady as his own, and there was, it may be, the faintest remnant of a consciousness that had been suddenly crushed out.

“ You are almost unique ; I have told you as much.” She seemed to search for something which might safely be said, and not to find it. He waited rather pointedly, and then she added, as if compelled, “ I never met just such a person before. You are — you are a man to be remembered.” For one instant the expression chimed with the words.

“ Will you tell me,” said Armitage, venturing more than he was aware,— “ will you tell me what I am good for ? ”

“ No, indeed ! ” was the instant reply. “ I am not the woman to tell you that.” Then she assumed a wholly changed air, the superficial cordiality of slight acquaintance, and said, “ I have had a charming afternoon. I thank you, extremely.”

Armitage bowed, and was about turning away ; but at that instant Mrs. Somersham herself turned. That he could not bear. He wheeled about abruptly, forcing her to turn toward him.

“ Farewell,” he said. “ Fare much better than well.”

She bowed without any reply, and waited for him to go.

When he came down-stairs late next morning, Mrs. Somersham had gone away finally. The tea-party had been a parting symposium. After several empty hours had passed, during which Armitage had waited as one waits to turn the key in a deserted house, he walked across the lawn to the shade of the ash-trees, and sat upon the green bench, trying to understand himself and yesterday’s experience. He could only recall words, tones, impressions, fragmentary and confused. He found in his mind only the unanswered question : Did she understand ? Was she a conscious part of his mood? Was he a part of hers ? In fine, had he reacted upon her at all ?

Of course it goes without saying that he had ; how much is: Mrs. Somersbam’s secret. But that the mood could have lasted, or that it could return, is a chance so small as to be out of human computation. It was so subtle, so rare; it came of such complex and unusual conditions (which who shall analyze ?) ; it dawned from so distant a sphere and shone upon so transient a state, that not in all the motley history of the infinite winding and weaving and tangling of human emotions could such a conjunction repeat itself. When yesterday’s sunbeam returns to shine in yesterday’s dewdrop, we may look again for that trembling unison of being, so fleeting, and yet so perfect while it lasts, that we only know its completeness when it has passed and left us to the surprise of our own unfinished, discordant souls. Armitage was in no mood to realize this, and be spent the afternoon, heavy with disappointment, blindly groping in his mind for the key to this new power which could raise him so near to heaven.

But was it new? And what was it? Was it some elemental power of his nature, underlying what had served for his life so far, just awakened at the contact of a life outside ordinary human experience ? Did it really touch at any point upon occult existence, or have relation to influences too subtle for fleshly perceptions ?

Could it be, on the other hand, only the sudden combustion of fragmentary imaginings and emotions, waste material of the mind and heart, instincts not satisfied, aspirations dwarfed, unused impulses, all kindled into a short-lived blaze by a spark from the torch of another life, and fanned by a chance breath of sympathy ?

We say of such an experience that it is abnormal; that it tells nothing of the mind, soul, or powers of people in general, proves nothing of so-called sympathies or affinities, but shows only the highly excited sensibilities of a highly strung man ; that Armitage’s nerves being of delicate organization, he was able to charge them from his imagination with impressions as vivid as would come to him from without; and that, in fact, he was only sending double messages both ways at once over the wires, with the natural effect of much humming and some bewilderment. At times the unpliilosophical and unscientific mind seems to perceive that this explanation does not so much explain as restate the case, since it remains to be shown what is the meaning of highly-strung, sensitive organizations, and wherein the fineness of a delicate instrument consists, if it has nothing to report except what may as well he reported by cruder, duller capabilities.

Some of us will say that Armitage was upon the point of falling in love with Mrs. Somersham, and others that the affair was purely pathological, the man being under some undue strain, having overwrought, overeaten, or the like ; that the same thing would have happened with Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Anybody; and that he was saved from an attack of vertigo, or worse, by having the cerebral excitement diffused into emotion, not unlike hysteria.

Armitage himself has propounded no theory, He carries about with him a feeling that there is something within which must he guarded from surprise. In moments of great expansion of mind, under strong excitement of pleasurable emotion, the outer circle of his consciousness seems to break upon the shore of that former mood, and then he puts the pleasure aside, and tells himself, with a sigh, that he has known something better.

“ For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.”

Agnes Paton.