YOUNG THORBURN AND OLD THORBURN.
PERRY discovered that there were compensations for his accident on the polo-field which would almost have persuaded him to undergo another like it. He made a languid state progress from his father’s enormous villa on the Cliffs to the Casino, the Club, the houses of his friends, carrying his arm in a sling, and accepting the solicitude, the admiration, and the fervent good wishes of many beautiful young ladies and sweetly judicious mammas. Not a bad fellow was this Perry, by nature ; but he had of course been spoiled as a boy, and it was quite delightful to him to find that he could now indulge himself with a complete relapse into unreasonableness, on the excuse of an injured arm. He enjoyed the affectionate abasement of his mother and the uncouth tenderness of his father, both of whom suffered from a belief (and yet were pleased by it) that they did not come up to his standard. He also enjoyed being taken out on the avenue by some of the best “ whips ” among the ladies, and resigning himself, like a wounded veteran, to their graceful management of the reins. Frequently he sailed over to Jamestown, to call on Josephine; and as the Thorburns had brought no yacht to Newport, Raish Porter quickly saw the advantage of placing his own boat at Perry’s disposal. All this time, however, Perry tortured his household with the most capricious moods, and took especial pains to make Quisbrough the victim of his pseudo-invalidism.
Quisbrough still exercised a feeble tutorial function, although Perry had reached the age of twenty-four. The young man had never been to college. As Quisbrough once confidentially remarked, “ At first, owing to Perry’s want of appreciation for the requirements, Harvard would n’t admit him; and afterwards, in retaliation, he refused to admit Harvard.” He was understood to be pursuing advanced studies in private, and even entertained notions of astonishing the world, some day ; but his instructor really had little to do, beyond certain duties as secretary to Thorburn senior and the submitting himself to Perry’s persecutions. He was obliged to go in the yacht to Jamestown, remaining fixed on board while the autocrat spent an hour or two with Josephine ; and afterwards he had to listen to his charge’s laudations of that young woman, his sentimental anxieties, and his peevish dissatisfaction because both his father and Mr. Hobart opposed a union with her: the former for the reason that he wanted his vast fortune to be joined, through his son’s marriage, with some other immense accumulation ; while Mr. Hobart strenuously demurred at the idea of losing his daughter’s care and companionship, in his increasing age and ill-health.
Returning from one of these trips, Perry insisted upon stretching himself, propped by a pillow, on a sofa in his father’s library, a long and wide, lowstudded apartment, fitted up with much grandeur of dark-hued wood ; rows of elegant, unread books in solid cases — which, viewing their dead and useless contents, one might have considered the catacombs of literature — and as many other appliances for display as the architect and furnisher had allowed. The windows were of plain glass, but were heavily leaded in a pattern somewhat resembling a spider-web. The proprietor of this lordly place was seated at an immense desk — the high altar of his religion — bestowed in a capacious alcove ; one that could be shut off at will from the main apartment, and had a vaulted ceiling on which the web design reappeared. He was extracting benefit from his seaside leisure by reading some cipher dispatches which had just come from New York through his private wire. The click of the instrument, in charge of a private operator, could be heard through an open door leading from the library; and there was so much privacy altogether about the arrangement that to any one but Perry it would have been sacred. The only tribute, however, that he paid to the established cult was the incense of a cigar which he proceeded to light.
“ Why do you come in here, boy ? ” asked his father, turning his head for an instant towards Perry. Thorburn was so heavy a man, his head was so cumbrous, that he seemed hardly capable of looking at any one; but the aspect of shrewd and searching intelligence marked upon the bulky, almost brutish features was distinct, and became, by contrast with their dull weight, rather unpleasant — in fact, terrifying at times, like the sudden projection of a tree or a rock at night, which transiently takes on the appearance of a monster’s head. “ Have n’t you got rooms enough of your own ?” he continued. “ I ’m busy.”
“ That’s the reason I came,” said his son. “I like to see you doing business.”
Old Thorburn settled himself into his former position, as a sign of his displeasure, and was soon absorbed again. Perry, having waited for this, resumed: “ Besides, I’ve got something to speak about.”
“ Can’t hear it,” said his father, without moving.
“ Well, it’s just as you like,” Perry answered, imperturbably. “ I thought it would be fair to tell you, but I ’ll go ahead any way, without consulting you.”
“ What is it ? ” Mr. Thorburn asked, in a voice as heavy as his features, — as heavy as a sponge full of water. “ Business ? ”
“ No. More important than that. I ’m going to marry Josephine Hobart.”
“ What! ” exclaimed Mr. Thorburn, dropping his papers and facing round. “ After my stating expressly that I disapprove of it?” He rose, walked across the room, and closed the door of the private telegraph-office. “ Have you spoken to her? ”
“ No,” said Perry, in a very comfortable manner, speaking with his cigar in his mouth. “ But I ’m going to, soon.”
At this point, Mr. Thorburn noticed that Quisbrough had remained in the room. “ You may leave us,” he said to the tutor-secretary. “ This is private,” and with a short, arbitrary gesture, he indicated the surroundings, himself, and Perry.
But Perry, seeing an opportunity to embarrass Quisbrough, said: “ No, Quiz, I’d rather have you stay. He knows all about it,” he added, to his father.
Quisbrough, without looking at either of them, continued the perusal of a small book which he had taken from his pocket, and did not move.
“ Very well, sir,” continued Thorburn, addressing Perry, “ let us have an explanation. You must be crazy ! Why, you have n’t finished your education yet.”
“ No, I have n’t,” the young man returned ; “ but, for all that, I know a good deal more than you do about some things.”
Quisbrough, leaning against the base of a book-case, glanced up with a little quirk in his thick beard, that apparently resulted from a smile. “ Perry flatters me,” he observed, “ beyond my deserts.”
“ You know a lot more about infernal impudence,” Thorburn proceeded, to his only child, “ than I could afford at your age ; and that ’s about all you have learned. It’s pretty near time for me to give you a lesson or two myself, and I ’m damned if I don’t do it.”
The heir of the estate smiled blandly, and leaned back on his pillow. “ There,” said he, “ is where you ’re considerably off your chump, if you think you can teach me. I don’t see the use of getting excited: I only thought it would make things pleasanter and smoother if I gave you fair notice that I ’m going to marry Josephine ; and that’s all there is to it.”
Old Thorburn glowered at him for a moment. The millionaire had a big face, with long and copious side-whiskers that inclosed a huge shaven area about the coarsely moulded lips and chin ; and the big eyes above his well-fed and well-wined cheeks disclosed, even in his genial moments, a semi-indignant expression, as if they were outraged by the unfortunate spectacle of the lower face over which they were compelled to take their observations. At present they were more indignant than usual. “ Look here, Perry,” he inquired finally, “ do you suppose I’m going to submit to this ? Do you really mean to tell me that without resources of your own — no business, no opportunities — nothing but the hundred thousand or so that I ’e given you, you ’re going to undertake a marriage against my will ? You can’t be such a fool ! ”
Perry exhaled a meditative wreath of smoke. “ Well,” he replied, gently, “ I should relax my features ; I should murmur ever so sweetly.”
“ What does the cub mean,” Thorburn asked, turning helplessly to Quisbrough, “ by those idiotic phrases ? Does he mean yes or no ? ”
“ On the whole,” said Quisbrough gravely, “ I should say he meant yes.”
“ Right you are,” declared Perry, nodding his head.
“ Then, all I ’ve got to say,” his father exclaimed, growing redder in the face and squaring his big body at the reclining athlete, “ is this : I forbid it! I won’t have it, I tell you ! And I ’ll find ways to stop it, if I want; you may be sure of that. Why, old Hobart is opposed to it, too — he told me so ; and I ’ll make it for his interest to be still more opposed. Or if that won’t do, I ’ll buy the girl off, herself.”
Perry leaped from the couch at one bound. “ Stop that, sir ! ” he cried. “ There ’s one thing you can’t do, any way ; and that is, insult the lady I mean to marry. By thunder, if it comes to that, I walk straight out of this house and stay out. Take your choice.” In his excitement, he tore the lame arm free from its bandage.
The magnate was cowed, for an instant. The owner of railroads and parts of railroads and masses of the national debt; the great operator in stocks ; the man who had bought up a line of Newport steamers merely as a diversion, and was running them in sumptuous style, with bands of music to give a concert on every trip ; the owner of sundry revered trotting-horses ; the dealer in legislatures below par ; — this individual, I say, was frightened by a few manly words from his useless and indolent son. Nevertheless, he growled, after a pause, though not without a strain of conciliation in the gruff, guttural speech : “ It’s strange that I can’t have my own way in a matter like this — a matter right in my own family. I’ve bought things a deuced sight more important than the obedience of a boy or the refusal of a girl.” Here a humorous contraction of the muscles rolled his lips back in a grim smile. “ But filial affection, I suppose, is a luxury that I ought to appreciate, even if I get it for nothing.” He was pleased with his sarcasm, but, growing angry again, he continued : “ All the same, I won’t have this thing. Mind now, I’m opposed to it, first and last; and if you persist, I ’ll disinherit you — at least for your mother’s life — and cut you down to the lowest figure, any way you can fix it.”
“ Oh, I know you ’re a hard customer, when you’ve made your mouth up,” said Perry, returning to slang. This indirect allusion to the unfortunate feature in his father’s physiognomy was by no means soothing. “ Still, I’ve got some capacity, too, for going ahead, when I want to. I’m not afraid.”
“ Will you allow me one word ? ” Quisbrough now interposed, seemingly fatigued to the point of somnolence. “ It strikes me, Mr. Thorburn, that you ’re forgetting just for the moment our American principles of free action, and so forth. What you propose to do would be all very well in the old country, but it does n’t suit the genius of our institutions. You see, you have n’t got any background for it.”
“ Background ! ” roared Thorburn. “ What do you call this ? ” He waved his arm, and as it were swept the whole vista of the opulent room at his critic: the paneled wood ceiling, the luxurious chairs, the sham old armor, and the spider-web tracery of the leaded windows. “ What do you call my business interests ? If all that is n’t background enough, I don’t know where you ’ll find it.”
“ It’s as good as possible, in its way,” said the secretary, whose sedate manner of treating the question in a philosophic mood filled Perry with satirical joy; “ but what I refer to is the social system of the country. We need two or three centuries of a well-defined money aristocracy, with entail and a fixed principle of parental authority, before a man can expect to control his son’s matrimonial choice.”
Thorburn did not fail to see that his adroit employee, although assuming the position of a futile theorizer, had really opened for him the best way out of the dispute. Besides, he was rapidly sketching, in the close-barred retirement of his own mind, where there was neither secretary nor private wire, a delectable scheme for impressing his unruly offspring, and getting him into a “ tight place ; ” and, sharp though his irritation remained, the first move in that scheme must, he was aware, be to conciliate Perry.
He affected to ponder Quisbrough’s words. “ Perhaps you are right,” he said, throwing into his reply a careful reluctance. “ If I wanted any traditions badly enough, I guess I could make ’em for myself; still, you may be right, Quisbrough. It may be better to float with the current in this particular case. Well, Perry, my boy,” — his demeanor softened into something like that of a trained bear, —“ I don ’t like it, but I shall try to make the best of it, if it’s bound to happen. 4 First catch your hare,’ though : you’ve got to get the young lady’s consent.”
“ I ‘ll attend to that,” replied the other, serenely.
“ Then suppose we drop the subject. I shall have something to say to you by and by ; some hints that may be useful. But not now : I’m busy.” Saying which, Thorburn reseated himself at his desk.
“ All right. Come along, Quiz,” said Perry. “ I want you to fix up this sling for me.” He began chuckling, after they left the room. “ By Jove, the old man was bowled over pretty easily, eh ? Had n’t any idea he ’d give in. Now we’ve got to settle Hobart, and I don’t see how to do it. Do you ? ”
His companion professed a total inability to assist, but at once began to cogitate upon methods of doing so. It was not long before circumstances placed in his hands a complete outline of the measures to be adopted. Raish Porter, having lent his yacht to Perry for the excursions to Jamestown, found opportunities to carry him off now and then, on brief cruises up the bay or along the outer shore; and in the course of these miniature voyages he allowed particulars to be drawn from him respecting the important enterprises of the Orbicular Manufacturing Company. With the diffidence of a man who is sure in the ownership of a property that must naturally excite the envy of others, he let fall significant items about the new patents for cotton-roving machines which he controlled ; he also alluded to valuable railroad appliances to be produced by the Orbicular Company, the monopoly of which alone would bring in a princely revenue. By and by he allowed him to learn that Mr. Hobart was a heavy investor in the concern ; a fact which stimulated Perry’s attention to a wonderful degree.
“ I presume,” said Raish heartily, — “ since it’s no secret, — that you know of the attacks which have been made on the company and myself, during the last few weeks. They were started by one of those blackmailing commercial papers — no account — and have been taken up by a few others. But look at the great dailies. The Luminary, of course, is down on us — down on everything, if it thinks there’s half a chance. The Trumpeter writes one way first, and then the other, so’s to be 4 independent.’ But all the rest steer clear, and there has n’t been a particle of evidence produced yet. The best answer to these slanders is the big factory we ’re putting up out in Jersey : it ’ll cost us a quarter of a million. You can’t imagine, though, how annoying this irresponsible onslaught is. Some of the best men are stockholders, but we have really been slightly impeded by this thing; capital, you know, is so sensitive. Still, you remember, it has been said that 4 half the failures in life arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping ; ’ and I don’t propose to pull mine in just now. Not by a long sight!” Raish laughed with great good cheer, in conclusion.
Quisbrough waited for Perry to broach the topic, when they were alone, and then he gradually admitted, with an apologetic air, that since Porter was evidently prepared to accept a new subscriber for Orbicular stock, and also had great influence with Hobart, his energies might be enlisted to break down the old gentleman’s objection to the match with Josephine, if Perry should put money into the new company. Such a manœuvre strongly commended itself to the millionaire’s son, who fancied that he saw in it the means of outwitting his father, and at the same time conducting a profitable business operation for himself. Within a day or two, accordingly, he arrived at an understanding with Porter, and agreed to take a large number of shares in the Orbicular.
Meanwhile, he crossed the bay again, to see Josephine. She was staying with her father at a barren old farm-house, which stood out in the green fields, surrounded by a few stunted trees ; and as Perry approached, he found the small covered piazza in sole possession of the old gentleman, assisted by a brood of dauntless chickens who were wandering all over it. “ What a frightful place for her to be in ! ” thought the gallant suitor, as he had often thought before.
Small Mr. Hobart, white-bearded, rednosed, fussy, laid down his paper, and presented to the visitor a countenance barred by a pair of gold spectacles, which appeared to restrain and imprison the choleric wearer, compelling him to observe an artificial civility. He greeted Perry much more cordially than usual. “ Glad to see you,” he said. “ It shows you have some sense, to get away occasionally from that ridiculous merry-goround on the other side of the water, and come over here. I’ve heard some news about you, too : it seems you ’re beginning to make a business man of yourself.”
Perry blushed, as well as he could with his sunburned complexion ; in part from modesty, but still more from pride at the first sign of success attending his machination.
“Well, yes,” he said, “I’ve been talking with Mr. Porter a little about your new company. It’s a good thing, is n’t it ? ”
“ Splendid, sir ! ” exclaimed Mr. Hobart, in a cracked voice, taking a pull at the short brier pipe he was smoking. “ You can’t do better, as a beginning. Lucky chance for you : there ain’t many men Porter would think of letting in ; but I’m glad he’s inclined to give you a block, I swear. You did n’t come here to talk business, though,” the retired merchant continued, giving a wretched imitation of hilarity in the form of a shattered laugh. “ Josie is n’t in the house; she’s just walked up the road, there. I guess you ’ll overtake her, though, if you follow.”
And Perry did overtake her. Exactly what occurred need not be recited here in detail; but half an hour later, Quisbrough beheld his overgrown pupil striding down to the water’s edge at an impatient pace. He came out in a boat to the yacht, and boarded her without uttering a syllable; he maintained a rigorous silence, in fact, all the way home. But it was not the silence of satisfaction ; and at length scattered ejaculations, like the first drops of a storm, began to fall upon Quisbrough, making known to him the result of the interview. Josephine had not refused Perry ; but she had put him off, had asked him to wait. Over and over there recurred to his mind with galling persistence the excuses, the delays, the remonstrances, she had made.
“ I am almost sure of gaining your father over,” he had said; “ and, even without that, I should still ask you to marry me. I want to take you away from this broken-up, unhappy sort of life you lead with him, and to place you where you belong. Fortunately, I shall have all the means for giving you surroundings that would bo worthy of you, Josephine. It will be pleasure enough for my whole life, only to do that. But if I were miserably poor, I should love you just the same, and have just the same ambition for you. Is that nothing to you ? ”
“ Ah no, no ; you do really love me, I am certain,” she replied, regarding him calmly, dreamily, with her dark, restful eyes ; “ and to know it, I will tell you fairly, is a great deal to me, whether I will or not. But ” —
“ Oh, you mean you can’t return my sentiments,” he interrupted, hotly. “Is that it ? ”
“ Don’t force me to say so, Mr. Thorburn,” she admonished him. Her bearing was as serene, as unaffected and yet queenly, standing there with one elbow leaned on the roadside stone-wall, and with open, wind-swept fields stretching out on every side, as it would have been if they had met in the most formal drawing-room of Newport.
“ I only want to know the hard fact,” he declared, obstinately. “ Whatever it may be, I warn you I shall try to overcome it: I can’t help trying. But only let me know. Oh ! ” he suddenly exclaimed, clapping one hand to his temple with unmerciful sharpness. 44 Perhaps that ’s it, but I never thought of it. I might have known, though : you — you are thinking of some one else ! ”
Josephine desisted from her unfaltering gaze, and the long eyelashes swept downward as she answered, almost repeating her former appeal, “ Don’t ask me. I can’t say that, either.”
“ Then, if it is n’t so,” he implored, “ what is the reason ? What can be the difficulty ? ”
She bent her glance, as it happened, towards the bay; she turned towards the spot where distant Newport lay in a confused mass of huddled gray roofs on the dim opposite shore. There was a strange expectancy in her mien, as if she awaited an impossible relief from that quarter. 44 Mr. Thorburn,” she said, in honest distress, “ I beg you won’t go on. I can’t explain ; truly, I can’t. I respect your devotion and your kindness, and I don’t want to inflict any hurt upon you; but oh, indeed, you must n’t ask me any more ! ”
Nothing had availed to wring from her any utterance more satisfactory than this ; and so poor Perry, who had counted with such assurance upon his factitious advantages and his unqualified affection, was left to reconcile himself to the baffling situation as well or ill as he could. He promptly adopted the expedient of becoming reckless. As may well be guessed, nothing was revealed to his father concerniug the set-back he had encountered; but the wily old manipulator noted in him signs of a desperation which, however, was still temperate, if one may say so. Perry avoided the society of ladies, now, and hung about the clubs, drinking and smoking a good deal; he also dropped in at the secret and luxurious gambling - place, politely supposed not to exist, where Stillman Ware often sought diversion. One day old Thorburu summoned him, being ready to ignite the train he had laid.
44 I see you are restless,” he said, “ and I think I can guess why. Of course it’s natural you should feel the responsibilities of the line you are taking. You need more money than you’ve got, and you don’t know how to make it.”
“ No, I suppose I don’t know much about that,” said Perry, amused to think what a surprise he would give the old gentleman with his manufacturing-stock, by and by.
“ Well, this is what I referred to, the other day — hints I wanted to give. You have n’t considered my feelings nor obeyed my wish about Miss Hobart; but I shall do you a good turn, notwithstanding. Do you know how Transcontinental Telegraph stands now ? ”
As this was one of the most uncertain among the great speculative stocks, Perry could not say precisely ; and his father gave him the quotation. 44 My ticker,” he said, 44 showed it at seventyone and three quarters, about ten minutes ago. I advise you to buy in for a rise.” Thorburu was exceedingly amiable, at this moment, but contrived also to make his advice as impressive as a command.
“ Is there going to be a 4 deal ’ ? ” his son inquired, eying him intelligently.
44 If there were,” said his father, “ it would n’t do for me to tell you anything about it. Now, I don’t want you to ask questions : I only advise you to buy. After you have jumped in, you must rely on your own swimming. I sha’n’t explain to you what you ’re to do ; but I feel confident we shall see Transcontinental at ninety-five, or par, before many weeks are over. And by the way, my boy, don’t mention this to any one, unless it be two or three of your intimate friends.”
Perry was quite captivated by his father’s conversion and kindness. He at once sent an order to Roger Deering, in New York, to make a considerable purchase of Transcontinental for his account. That proceeding was followed by a creditable impulse to show Raish some gratitude for his service with regard to Mr. Hobart; for although matters did not yet advance any farther in Perry’s wooing of Josephine, Raish’s arguments had been effectual at all events in gaining her father’s assent. He had represented to Mr. Hobart that the cash assets, of which just then their company stood most indigently in need, would be furnished by young Thorburn, provided Josephine were not trammeled by parental opposition. Nothing could have been more natural than that, by way of returning this favor, Perry should have bethought him of imparting to Raish the priceless suggestion which his father had thrown out. To disregard a hint from this source would have seemed to Porter a folly for which he would never be able to pardon himself : moreover, the prospect of a swift and colossal profit was one that, in the temporary embarrassment of his manufacturing project, was peculiarly acceptable. He, too, began buying; and somehow many other people, in Newport, in New York, in other cities, or in simple, uncovetous country regions, were seized with a like inspiration at the same time. They winged their way to the brokers for Transcontinental, even as bees fare to the garden for honey. As a consequence, the stock went up several points in a few days. Meanwhile, old Thorburn, to whose industry this cheering circumstance was due, continued to officiate at his altar-like desk in the little chancel or alcove off the library ; and the tangled mouldings above his head continued to figure the meshes of a web. The special wire ran out from the house like a thread prolonged from those meshes; it tingled and grew alive with the quick, secret current of thought pulsating through it from the owner’s brain ; and the owner himself remained physically inert within, as deceptively quiet as if he had actually been ati enlarged and improved species of spider watchfully presiding over those complicated filaments.
OLIPHANT, OCTAVIA, AND JOSEPHINE.
At this time Oliphant felt all the romance of his youth returning to him. He was thoroughly and beyond recall in love with Octavia ; nothing that he could remember, nothing that be could fear or forecast, had any power to restrain him from his one great hope of making her his wife. When he recalled his first passion for Alice Davenant — which had thus far been the single mastering emotion of his life-time — it was only to wonder at the dim insubstantiality into which it now faded: he was completely puzzled, and remained unable to reconcile the two sentiments. Invariably he came back to the simple truth that it was Octavia to whom he looked for a realization of perfect happiness ; she it was for whom he wished to exist. Certainly, he was troubled by a lingering tradition of loyalty to Alice ; and the belief that Octavia also was haunted by a theory of dedicating herself forever to her lost husband constantly intervened to make him hesitate about bringing his hopes to another and a final test. But then, too, the consideration would come up that Alice, so far as the evidence went, had not found in him the adequate companion that, for some reason, we human beings believe ourselves entitled to. Had she, by a sardonic coincidence, made a fatal error in refusing Gifford; while he, too late, had met this appointed counterpart in Octavia ? The conflict between these doubts and the one certainty did not, as we should at first imagine, depress him. No ; it stimulated him ; the tide of vitality flowed stronger and more buoyant in him on account of them. At moments he suffered intensely, but be rejoiced in his suffering. At other times his spirits rose to a point of volatile gayety which they had not attained in years. He had rapidly gained standing in the most attractive and wellfounded society of the town, as a favorite against whom no objection was heard ; and to escape the anxieties he felt respecting his fate with Octavia, he insensibly gave himself up more and more to the intoxicating festivities which offered on every side. He had been in the deep places of sorrow long enough ; surely it was permissible for him to float on the surface, now, as much as he liked. The object of Newport was pleasure, and pleasure suited him perfectly. And so he came into a better sympathy with the so-called frivolous world than he had ever experi enced until then.
“Yes,” he replied to one of Raish’s burly strictures, “ fashionable life here is hollow ; but since all of us are more or less hollow, why object to that ? Fashion is not the fruit, it’s merely the passing flower, of human desires ; and the special beauty of a flower is that it is n’t solid.”
Mary Deering asked him if he was not convinced that she had done wisely in counseling him to come thither, and he said vigorously, “ Indeed you did ! Do you know how it strikes me ? I feel as if I were one of those figures on a drop-curtain. No matter what tragedies have happened, or are to come, on the stage, the drop-curtain population is always serene and soothing, and lives in a softly colored landscape. It’s so here, too.”
It was while Perry was still laboring under depression that Oliphant strolled one day into the billiard-room of the old Club, and found him there. Perry was playing with De Peyster ; and, although it was early in the afternoon, he had just ordered a second bottle of champagne when our friend entered. “ Here, I ’ll pay up now,” he said to the waiter. “ How much is it? ” And he pulled out from his trousers-pocket a handkerchief, which dragged with it gold and silver pieces that fell on the floor. Without noticing tins mishap, he dived into his pocket again, and produced a handful of the precious metals, while the waiter was collecting the crumbs of wealth already fallen. In fact, everything he did betrayed a disdainful heat of temper. He stalked around the table as if it were something he had a contempt for ; he spoke little with De Peyster; and he did n’t recognize the existence of Quisbrough, who sat in one of the cushioned chairs fixed in a row at the side of the room ; except that now and then he sent him a glass of wine. The tutor always drank it in silence, and went on smoking cigarettes imperturbably, his face subdued to a self-contained, dryly sagacious expression. Oliphant took a place beside him. They had before now established a pleasant and easy-going acquaintance, and Quisbrough had shown a willingness to accept Oliphant on terms almost of intimacy, for he evidently trusted him.
“ You are continuing your course of instruction, I see,” Oliphant observed.
“ Yes,” said Quiz. “ It’s decidedly arduous. I have to cover so many branches. Just think of a man undertaking to be an Alma Mater, and all by himself ! That’s what I have to do. I ’m a walking college, which has to go wherever Perry does ; and, what’s worse, I have to be professor at the same time. Just at present I ’m occupying the chair of billiards, you notice. Very arduous, very! ”
After a while, Perry continuing his proud moroseness, the two onlookers strayed out together on the roofless platform at the side of the club-house. “ Your undergraduate seems to he in a troubled state of mind,” said Oliphant.
“Yes; he’s luxuriating in a sentiment, I believe,” Quiz returned.
“ My friend Porter has told me something about it,” Oliphant at once explained. “ He’s an extraordinary fellow for finding out things. I infer that Perry has confided a good deal to him, and I knew already of the attachment to Miss Hobart. What a curious thing all this love-making is, and the misery people create for themselves out of it! ”
“ Very odd,” Quiz agreed, with sedate humor. “It’s not a part of the prescribed course for Perry — only an elective ; but as he has chosen it, I’ve been obliged to read the subject up, and I don’t mind saying that I fail to master it. If it’s a science, it’s the science of unreason ; but if it’s an art, it’s the art of helpless nature. Then, there are the different conceptions of love in various ages and countries : no one can say exactly what the essence is, common to all the ideas of it. Nowadays we ’re governed mainly by what Hegel calls the Romantic view. Would you like to hear how he states it ? ” Straightway, Quiz hauled forth a note-book and began reading: “‘The highest phase of love is the devotion of the subject or person to an individual of the opposite sex,’ — profound, is n’t it ? — ‘ the surrender of his independent consciousness, and of his individual, isolated being-forhimself, which feels itself to have become thoroughly penetrated with its own knowledge of itself, for the first time, in the consciousness of another.’ Now, does that make it any clearer ?” He went on mumbling out words like “ abstract . . . concrete . . . individualized . . . my entire subjectivity,” until Oliphant laughingly stopped him.
“That’ll do for the philosophy of it,” he said.
“ Oh, well, I’m crammed with the poetry of the thing, too,” responded Quiz, ruffling the leaves of his little book. “ The sum and substance of the poetical doctrine is that the less you can tell why you love, and the more you can glory in your ignorance, the better. Turn to index of authors, under L. John Lilly : ‘ Affection is a fire, which kindleth as well in the bramble as in the oak ; and catcheth hold where it first lighteth, — not where it may best burn.’ Under M., Milton, thusly : —
Strength, comeliness of shape, or amplest merit,
That woman’s love can win or long inherit.’
And, not to bore you, so it goes on ; but they all agree that there’s something very fine about love. It’s a sort of superstition — like religion.”
Oliphant became grave. “ I’ve been a man of the world, Quisbrough,” said he, “ but I hold on to my religion, and it is n’t superstitious; so I can’t quite accept your remark. Love, like religion, appears to me to he a result of faith. Our belief in the good and noble traits of humanity is apt to be disappointed in most cases, and by the flaws and meannesses we discover in ourselves, too. But when a man falls in love, he concentrates his general belief in the fine qualities of mankind on one person ; he has faith that she is mainly composed of those qualities; and that faith — as we see often enough — will carry him serenely through life, in face of the most glaring contradictions. Even when he detects the woman’s faults, he is fond of them, he comes near being proud of them, because — well, simply because he loves her.”
“ Ah, you see,” Quisbrough retorted, “you come back, as I do, to the ‘because,’ which does n’t explain anything. And as to your faith — there ’s so much selfishness, after all, in love! It’s a mutual agreement to be kind and generous, and to believe, on the distinct ground that a full equivalent shall be given in return. You know how easily love turns to hate; well, that proves it to be selfish. But this is just the quality that makes it so delightful to people: the passion is merely selfishness in an etherealized form, which intoxicates the partaker, inverts his ideas, and makes him think — or her think — that this emotion which is dilating the bosom, and so on, is a magnanimous self-surrender.”
“ But are n’t there instances of persons who love long after they have ceased to receive any return ? ”
“ Yes ; you ’re right ; but they ’re rare, I imagine. Any way, that belongs to the higher branches : Perry will need a post-graduate course to get so far.”
At this moment Mr. Farley Blazer appeared on the balcony. He liked to worry himself by coming down to Newport sometimes and living in a separate apartment, whence he could watch his wife following her path of glory by means of his wealth. On this occasion he was very much under the influence of liquor, and was humming a song, —
Without a cravat;
He had no coat,
And a hole in that,"—
which perhaps symbolized to him his own mental condition. He invited the two talkers to drink, but they declined ; and, after a few companionable remarks of a luridly humorous nature, he withdrew his wild beard and dull eyes from their sight.
“ There’s an example, now,” Quiz resumed. “ That man still loves his wife, though she does n’t care a rap for him ; and he’s paying her the costly tribute of drinking himself to death, because there is n’t any other way to show his regard.”
Oliphant had a sudden thought of Roger Deering; for ugly rumors about Mary and Atlee had been flying rather thick of late. And then, passing from these two instances of badly damaged conjugal affection, his mind reverted to the milk-and-water of Hawkstane’s kindness, which was now rapidly turning its current towards Tilly Blazer. How could that feeble sentiment be classed with Craig’s devouring passion for Vivian ? And then, again, could the name of love be applied to the instinctive calculations of the various smiling, talkative little rosebuds and the statelier belles of society, who were able to gauge their heart-throbs by a bank account and prospects of “ position ; ” or to the moth-flights of Dana Sweetser ?
“ There are about as many degrees in these matters,” he said, “ as there are individuals. According to your notion, though, I suppose the giving of devotion with absolutely nothing in exchange would be the perfect phase of love.”
“ I should call it the highest,” was Quisbrough’s reply. “ What is heroism but a generalized, intense love of others, who, perhaps, don’t know that we exist ? Men lay down their lives for total strangers whom they see in peril.”
“ But that’s a case of honor, or duty, or enthusiasm. There’s no passion in it ; is there ? ”
“ It strikes me there’s passion of the finest kind in such deeds,” Quisbrough declared. “ If they ’re not prompted by a sublimated, unselfish power of love, I can see no motive in them at all.”
“ I never looked at it in that way,” Oliphant now said, yieldingly. “ But I should n’t wonder if you had hit the truth. Of course love must be an idea, as well as a passion ; and probably most of us don’t come within a thousand miles of comprehending the whole idea.”
No doubt he meant what he said; but, as he walked away from the club, he told himself that a man like Quisbrough could not really know anything about it. His own love for Octavia, he was firmly convinced, rose to the highest mark: he knew that he would do anything for her ; he would sacrifice himself for her, if need were ; and, should she be unwilling to share her life with him, he was still capable of making his own minister to hers wherever an opportunity offered. That night he walked out towards her house. In the high slope of the roof one window was still glowing, which he tried to suppose was hers, at the same time that he argued against its being so. He wandered up and down the neighboring roads in the rich, soft silence, feeling the moist seabreeze on his face, and gazing now and then at a bank of white, inchoate cloudshapes that throbbed with a dim uncertainty of silver light above the tardy moon. Remote, intangible, and fair as those were the hopes that shone down into his midnight reverie; but he resolved soon to attempt to realize them.
He was to see Octavia the next day ; for they had made an appointment with Craig, who wanted them to hear him practice on the organ in the old church. Olipliant called for her at the hour agreed upon, and they drove to Trinity together. She was rather pale that morning; the reason of which was that she had in fact been sitting up when Oliphant made his nocturnal reconnaissance, and had been thinking a good deal about him. He was sensible of a new reserve in her manner, which, instead of warning him away, drew him — he could not tell how — nearer, and thrilled him with a vague exultation. On the way she talked of nothing but Craig and Vivian, who were still at odds; and it seemed that Vivian had been doing all sorts of vexatious things to increase Justin’s discouragement: she was flirting desperately, and defying the conventionalities more than ever. She had even committed the indiscretion of sharing in a game of polo played entirely by ladies, which had been conducted with great secrecy, but had nevertheless come to everybody’s knowledge and been commented on severely.
“ I have decided,” said Oliphant, “ to send Justin to Germany, and he will go before the season’s out. We must get up a reconciliation by that time.”
“ Oh, yes ; and sooner,” Octavia rejoined. “ I have n’t yet told you how anxious Dana Sweetser is to have Justin give a concert for the Drainage Association. We ’ll persuade Vivian to get his consent. Won’t that be nice ? And do you know what else I ’ve done? I’m afraid it shows dreadful duplicity in me, but I could n’t help it: I — I told her we were all going to be at the church to-day! ”
Octavia looked at him (they were in the carriage) with mingled mischief and contrition, and the effect of her glance was greatly heightened by the bonnet she wore, which was made entirely of pansies, and crowned her with a simple grace worthy of some mythical woodnymph. Were I to tell what Oliphant thought of this piece of head-gear, and how he worshiped it, I should make him appear ridiculous to every one excepting such ladies as may have had a bonnet just like it; but the alluring light in her eyes, the trustful reliance that he would respond to her mood, and her sunshiny liveliness — faintly shadowed always by that reserve I have mentioned — were of far more importance to him. What could all these mean, unless that she resented nothing of what he had said at the Pirate’s Cave, and that she might be induced to listen to him again ? And so, blithely and sympathetically, they entered the empty church, took places in one of the pews where they could see Justin as well as hear his playing, and had great enjoyment of the music together. It was delightful to know that one identical strain of harmony was sweeping through them both at the same time; and they exchanged many swift looks of approval and pleasure at particular passages. And then, as they were preparing to go away, Octavia, fancying that she heard a light step in the vestibule below, hurried to a window in the gallery. Justin was putting in the organ-stops; she beckoned Oliphant to come to her side ; and, standing there, he saw Vivian in the path leading out of the old graveyard. She had of course been listening, unseen, to the music. She happened to turn at the moment, glanced up, and saw them ; and they hastily drew hack, though not before Octavia had shaken her finger jestingly at her friend.
“ You see, I knew what would be the effect of telling her,” she whispered to Oliphant. “ Shall we let Justin know ? ”
“ Not yet. I will, afterward,” he said.
“ Very well : that shall he your part.” Octavia was as full of repressed glee over the little secret as a child. She laid her shut fan against her lips and then touched it to his shoulder, in her haste to caution him that they should say no more, because Justin was about coming towards them. This, to be sure, was a trifle ; but it would be singular if she did not perceive what influence such trifles must have upon Oliphant. At any rate, the effect was clear to others when Octavia invited Oliphant, Vivian, and Craig to dinner one evening. The younger couple made some approach to composing their quarrel, and did not stay very late; but Oliphant irresolutely hung back from going, and finally remained longer. He did not dare as yet to come to the climax of a full avowal, but they dropped into reflections more or less personal, which led very close to it.
When she was once more alone, Octavia began to wonder what was going to be the result of such trifles, upon her. She still felt an unreasoning resentment against Oliphant, yet her moments of relenting were becoming more frequent. Just now, as she sat by her window, trying to read, a microscopic insect — a winged life no bigger than a pin-head — fluttered in, and began executing the craziest spirals around her lamp, always dropping upon the page, on what served it as a back; whereat it went instantly into a frantic spasm, closing with a general wriggle of legs and wings that brought it upright again. There was something so irrational about this tiny creature that it acquired a likeness to humanity, which amused Octavia. She stopped reading, to watch it; but her thoughts returned to Oliphant. “Why should I care what he feels ? ” she mused. “ He asked if I forgave him, and I said, ‘You could n’t have done differently.’ Well, I suppose he could n’t: another man might have. If he is punished, will it be my fault ? ” At length, noticing the insect again, she brushed it away carelessly, and ended its existence.
Whether it were the insect or Oliphant that oppressed her conscience, she slept ill that night, and woke with an unappeased questioning at her heart, still. There is, in one sense, no untruth : what seems so is merely the shadow from some cloud of personal temperament, floating between our deeper selves and the sun of truth. The shadows could not he without the light; but light does not depend for its existence on shadow. This nullity of untruth is what makes it difficult for us, when groping through the gradations of shadow in our own minds, to know just the degree of error that obscures our sight. And so Octavia was unable to make out whether she was quite veracious or not.
The general talk, however, of those who kept the run of such matters was that the affair had arrived at a point where an engagement must soon follow. Mrs. Farley Blazer let it be known that she was delighted with the romantic conjunction. Mrs. Richards said to Mary Deering that the wedding ought to come off during the Newport season ; and that, as Octavia was a widow, she would probably have to be “ married in a bonnet ” (and, incidentally, in a church). Mrs. Deering, in reply, observed that there was the best sort of promise for happiness in the match: “ Because, you know, Mrs. Gifford had such a devoted husband; and when widows have had one good husband they are generally kinder the second time — to make up for past faults and get even with their consciences. Eugene will appreciate this in Octavia, because he did n’t have much happiness from his marriage.”
Views of this sort having been circulated, Josephine came to Octavia and asked her, “ Do you know what everybody is saying ? ”
“ ‘ I decline to be interviewed,’ ” said Octavia, parting her lips in a perverse little laugh.
“ Seriously, my dear,” insisted her friend, “you ought to think about it — you ought to think what you are doing.”
“ Well; and perhaps I have thought,” Octavia retorted.
“ Oh, you are in earnest, then ? ”
“ Did I say I was ? ”
“ No,” answered Josephine. “ But surely ” — She finished by a fixed gaze of melancholy intentness, which made Octavia nervous. I may add that this quietude verging on sadness, characteristic of Josephine, had been growing upon her of late. Even Oliphant had made observation of it in the fleeting glimpses he had had of her when she came over to a ball, or a strolling play at the Casino Theatre ; and it had resulted that she rose upon his reveries, now and then, mildly radiant and serious like the evening star. “ I ’ll tell you how it seems to me,” she slowly recommenced, to Octavia. “ Of course I did n’t need other people to show me that you have been drawing him on: I’ve seen that for some time. But I don’t think you mean to marry him.”
“ What right have you to say that ? ” exclaimed Octavia, growing fiery.
“ Why, it would be inconsistent with all your principles — everything you’ve ever said to me about marrying again.” This was Josephine’s response, and she too gave signs of a rising temperature.
“ Ah, Josephine,” Octavia was swift in retorting, “how can you let yourself criticise me so? Suppose I had reconsidered my principle?”
Josephine did not glide into easy acquiescence. “ This is too bad,” she said forlornly. “ I can’t believe you’ve changed your mind. And yet, and yet — oh, is it true, Octavia? You ’re deceiving that man ! ”
“I deceiving?” echoed the other woman. “ What do we all do, at times ? If I was sure I was very fond of him, and kept back the truth, that would n’t be deceit, I suppose. And if I dislike him for any reason, and yet treat him well, that is n’t any more deceitful. But did you ever hear what De Musset makes a character say in one of his plays ? — ‘ Are you sure that everything in a woman lies, when her tongue does?’ Why should I tell you this: can’t you guess how hard it is to know one’s own mind ? ”
“ Yes, I understand it well ! ” cried Josephine, starting up. The evening star had lost her pensive repose : her face was tumultuous, now, with feeling, which she tried hard to suppress. “ But you have gone too far to be uncertain. It is not right: I cannot stand by and see this, much as I have loved you, Octavia. Mr. Oliphant does n’t deserve to be jilted. I came to you. hoping to persuade you ; but, if that won’t do, I shall look for some other way to save him. He must be told what you ’re preparing for him! ”
Octavia’s face lighted with a singular sort of triumph. “ Then, you love him ! ” she said, significantly. “ Poor child, you have been so hasty that you have betrayed yourself! ” Josephine turned away, blushing in mortification. “ Have you told Perry Thorburn so ? If you are going to warn Mr. Oliphant of anything, how will it do for me to warn Perry ? Tell me, Josephine.”
There was an instant of struggle, of effort on the part of Josephine to assume a silent pride ; but the attempt failed, and she clutched at Octavia’s hand with her own, which missed its grasp and fastened only upon a fold of the widow’s dress. “ Oh, you don’t know,” she said, in a detached, uncertain way. “ You must n’t think that about me. And I — won’t think anything about you, except that I hope you’ll be good to him. And don’t — don’t speak to Perry ! ”
George Parsons Lathrop.