XV.

A MAN’S ORDEAL.

THE season was now at its height. The President was in town, alternately making brief public appearances, and being spirited from house to house among the select few who had captured him, in a furtive and costly seclusion, as if he had been some influential malefactor whom it was desirable to keep out of the way. The fragments of a religious convention and those of a political reform convention, which had recently been held there, were still drifting about the place. Entertainments of the most brilliant sort were multiplied to distraction ; the lawn-tennis tournament was on the point of collecting upon the Casino lawn a dense parterre of beautiful women in ravishing costumes ; and in fine, the whirl of gay life, which was doomed to cease in two or three weeks more, made one think of a giant soapbubble whirling faster and faster, and gathering a wilder glow of color as the instant of bursting draws nearer.

The collapse of one adventurer like Raish Porter was a mere iucident in the general history of the season’s bubble ; but it created a widespread and intense astonishment, and, coming so soon after the runaway marriage, it swallowed up the excitement which had eddied for a little while around Justin and Vivian.

People were greatly surprised that Raish should have turned out as he had done. And it is noticeable that this matter of how individuals “ turn out ” is always a great mystery to the world. The reason is that the world occupies itself with exteriors, not interiors, of character; consequently, when that which is in a man comes in due time to the front, the crowd is puzzled because he has " turned out ” to public view what it might all along have known was there, had it taken the trouble to inquire within.

Mrs. Farley Blazer was a loser to a considerable extent by the downfall of her confidential friend, companion, and adviser. She was greatly incensed at his fiasco, and the rumor soon came into circulation that she had used very profane language — as was her wont on occasions of great excitement — when news of the arrest first reached her. The financial injury done to her, although not serious in proportion to the large income allowed her by her neglected and broken-down husband, was especially exasperating because she was always averse to parting with money in any way, and because she had made up her mind, immediately on Vivian’s elopement, to purchase Count Fitz-Stuart for her niece Ruth, by paying off his debts. That expense, which had already caused her much anticipatory anguish, yet was inevitable, now became a source of redoubled pain.

But it was Oliphant who, though not entangled in the wreck, felt its immediate effects in the most tangible way. Raish’s property was all promptly attached. including the yacht, his horses and equipages, and whatever belonged to him in the Craig cottage. The household came, as a matter of course, to a dead stop, and the servants prepared to leave. Oliphant, however, had an inspiration : he saw an opportunity to turn the situation to account in a way that captivated his heart. He engaged the servants to remain, and lost no time in striking a bargain with Mr. Craig, by which he agreed to pay the rent for a certain period, which Raish had left in arrear, and also to retain the house until the first of October, at an increased rate, on condition that part of the money was to go to Justin. This being settled, he went again to Tiverton, and threw himself upon the compassion of his young friends there. He was entirely alone, he said, and wanted some one to take charge of the house and banish the reminiscences of Raish which, otherwise, would haunt him there. Would they not come down and occupy it ? All he wanted for himself was his present room, and perhaps a breakfast: most of the time he should be elsewhere. He represented, modestly, that it would be a great favor to him, if they would come.

“ Ah,” said Justin, with a tremble of ready sentiment in his young voice, and putting his hands on Oliphant’s two shoulders, “ if you were n’t so much older than I, I should call you the most delicious, friendly fraud I ever knew. Of course we see through you—don’t we, Vivian ? ” and he turned to her for the quick corroboration of which he was sure. “ But as long as it’s a delightful plan, and you’ve been guilty of a deception, I should n’t wonder if we were to punish you by accepting it.”

They did accept. They came down that evening; and there in his old home, with his old piano, Justin made the keys warble like a choir of birds, and filled Oliphant with generous satisfaction at the pleasure he had been able to bestow and the gladness that was given him in return. How like a dream it seemed ! Only two months ago he had sat in the same place listening to Justin, and thinking of his apparently hopeless passion for Vivian Ware; and now she was here as Justin’s bride. It was a happy omen ; for at that time he had thought of Octavia, too, and at this moment he was thinking of her again !

It was several days since he had been able to see her, and he was resolved upon going to High Lawn on the morrow. He wanted to tell her how nicely the two young people were provided for; he wanted to tell her — but why go over it in advance ? He knew perfectly well what he wished to say ; and yet, on reflection, he did n’t know very clearly. It eluded him in the most singular manner. The only thing was to go and see if it would elude him in Octavia’s presence.

Before starting out, in the morning, he asked Vivian if she had any message for Octavia, in case he should see her; but doubtless the young wife would have guessed whither he had gone, without that. And when, all day, he did not make his appearance, she and Justin could not help thinking that the interview had resulted in something of unusual importance.

Oliphant went on foot, and every step seemed to make him lighter and more buoyant, instead of causing effort. The old song was humming itself in his brain, for the first time in a long interval : —

“ An’ I were as fair as she,
Or she were as kind as I; ” —

and it had a new significance now, though it carried him back to the day when he first saw Octavia. As he reached the small gate admitting to a side-path that led up to High Lawn, another sound greeted him, — a sound from without. It was the jangling chirr of the steel chains on Octavia’s fleet horses, and for a moment Oliphant was troubled by the idea that she was just leaving the house; but the next instant he perceived that the carriage was approaching from the road above. Though he could not see it through the intervening English beeches, he heard it enter the drive, and knew that it swept up to the door, leaving a reminiscence of silvery tones in the air, which blended a wintry suggestion of sleigh-bells with the summer landscape.

He was exultant that she should have returned so in the nick of time to meet him ; it flattered him with a fancy that some instinctive sense of his coming had called her home.

When he presented himself, the maid, with a confidence that augured well, said, “ I think she is in; ” then merely knocked at the half-open drawing-room door and announced his name. Octavia was within : she had just taken off her small, compact pansy bonnet, and held it in one hand by the strings, like a conventional shepherdess’s flower-basket.

“ Oh, then yon did n’t go away ! ” she exclaimed, coming forward with a dazzling welcome in her face, and what seemed to Oliphant a genuine air of relief. She shook hands with him cordially. “ I had heard of Mr. Porter’s downfall, and arrest, and all that,” she said to him, rapidly; “and somehow I did n’t feel sure that you would stay, don’t you know ? I thought his affairs might in some way affect you, — might make it necessary for you to go to New York.”

“ No, not at all,” he returned, with unconscious dignity. “ I had no connection with them but the accident of being in the house. And I certainly should n’t have gone without letting you know.”

How much or how little meaning he put into those last words was best known to Octavia. She slightly withdrew, as she heard them, and seated herself by the table, where she laid the minute basket-bonnet.

“ I came near missing you,” she proceeded, with a more subdued demeanor. “ I have just this moment got back. Did you see me driving up ? I went early to see Mrs. Chauncey Ware.” The whole truth was that she had heard of Oliphant’s taking the train the day before, and part of her errand this morning had been to find out casually, if she could, whether he had gone to New York or not. Put of this she naturally said nothing. “ You know,” she continued, “ the Wares were very indignant with —with both you and me — because they thought we had helped them to run away; I mean Vivian and Justin. So I determined to go down there and explain.”

“ Do you think it was worth while, if they choose to do us injustice ? ” asked Oliphant.

Octavia looked down, and blushed slightly. “ I did n’t care so much for myself,” she answered with hesitation. “ I thought you would hardly care to speak for yourself, but that I might speak of you. Are you sorry ? ”

“ No ; I can’t be, since you were taking that trouble on my account.” If she had glanced up she would have seen that Oliphant was looking at her very gently.

“And I told Mrs. Ware that wo certainly sympathized with the young people,” she went on, eagerly, “and had hoped we should see them united.”

“ She ’ll be convinced of that,” Oliphant remarked, rather defiantly, “when she hears what I have done.” He went on, then, to tell her about it.

Octavia gave him an arch look ; there was a sparkle of approbation in her eye, and her lips were touched with a mirthfid sympathy. “ Oh, yes,” she cried, “now you’ve injured yourself with Mrs. Ware, beyond recovery ! I ’m so glad !”

“Oh, that’s cruel — rejoicing in my misfortune,” said Oliphant.

“ I did n’t mean that,” Octavia answered. “ You know: for the sake of Vivian and Justin.” And she laughed at her mistake, so brightly and gayly that Oliphant felt he had never until then been upon such safe and easy terms with her.

“ Then I’m not irretrievably ruined with you and Mrs. Craig,” he said contentedly. “ By the way, Vivian sent her love to you.”

He failed in trying to utter this carelessly. A deeper chord stirred in his voice, and Octavia felt that it was the forerunner of something momentous.

“ Thanks ; and please give her mine, Mr. Oliphant,” she returned, with downcast eyes. There was still a pure, fine color in her cheeks. She turned half away, to touch and smell some flowers upon the table ; and it seemed as if while she inhaled their fragrance the glow of their beauty was reflected in her face.

He was about to speak, when that sense of knowing her so well and being on easy terms, which had just encouraged him, departed; and he felt that he hardly knew her at all. He beheld her loveliness ; he could sit there and carry on ordinary conversation, as her acquaintance or friend ; but what presumption had brought him to suppose that he could ever go below that fair surface? He experienced the terror which is not fear, but awe, that all finely strung natures are subject to, the moment they surrender to a great emotion.

“ Mrs. Gifford,” he began, after trying to steady himself against it, “ do you know what has happened to me, while we have been watching those two young hearts — those friends of ours?”

If a clear glance, free from all flaw of suspicion, could have disarmed him, he would have been disconcerted then ; for she responded with just that sort of glance, and the unperturbed expectancy of a child.

Perhaps it was not very certain in Oliphant’s mind whether or not she made any definite answer; but the chance was his again to speak.

“ I have grown to love you,” he said, swiftly, with suppressed fervor. And all the while the strange awe of that master-passion was upon him and controlled him.

Did she, too, feel it? For an instant she covered her face with her hands. When she took them away, she was pale ; the magic of the roses had vanished from her cheeks, and her apparent calm was maintained with difficulty.

“You, Mr. Oliphant?” There was a trembling hesitancy, a bewitching seductiveness, in her tone. “ Ah, why ? And how was I to know ? ”

“ One does n’t find a reason for love, Mrs. Gifford. I only know that it is here in me. and is stronger than I am, and that you created it. May I not bring hack to you what you have created ? ”

Like a woman luxuriating in some delicious melody, familiar but long unheard, Octavia reclined slightly in her fastidiously patterned chair, drinking in what he said.

“ Is it possible,” she murmured softly, “ that I have been the cause of this

— in so short a time, Mr. Oliphant ? ”

“ But consider how rapidly we came to know each other,” he urged, “ and how much has happened in that time.”

“ Yes, yes,” she mused aloud, sympathetically. “ It has been very swift, and strange.”

“ More than that,” he returned. “ It has changed the whole current of my life : I know what it is, again, to be happy. We have had the same thoughts and the same interests, and everything has seemed to bring us into closer relation, all the time. Have n’t you found something in all this, too, Mrs. Gilford

— and something that makes what I tell you now only natural ? ”

“ Our friendship has given me a great deal of pleasure,” said Octavia, still enjoying the luxury of receptiveness.

“ But it is time for it to end ! ” he declared, boldly. “ With me it has ended, because love has begun. Oh, I know, MrsGilford, I have little enough to offer. I’m not rich, and I’m not brilliant or distinguished ; but if I were, those things, after all, would n’t be the chief. I could only offer you myself and my honest devotion, as I do now.”

While he spoke he had risen ; and there he stood with hands clasped tight together — a figure so much stronger than his words, so frank and determined yet reverent, that Octavia became aware of having underestimated the force of which he was capable. .She nerved herself.

“ You make too little of your merit, Mr. Oliphant. It is not a small thing to offer sincerely what you do. But why choose me ? Why am I more worthy of it than some one else ? ”

“Why?” echoed Oliphant, with an intonation that bordered on a wondering laugh. “ Because there can’t be any one else, beside you! How can you think so for a moment ? ”

“ I could scarcely help the question,” she answered. “ I was only thinking how easily there might be some spirit much younger and fresher than mine — some one who could give you all that your devotion would deserve. Consider, Mr. Oliphant: is there no one like that, whom you know?” Josephine was in her mind ; and, while she flattered herself that she was giving Josephine a chance, she was really extracting the last drop of satisfaction from Oliphant’s homage.

“It is a torture to me even to have you suggest such a thing,” he declared, with vehemence. “ Do you imagine that I have looked about me deliberately, and made my choice by a cold calculation ? My sentiment for you is spontaneous, and I had hoped that you might have the same towards me. But you hesitate and reflect and question. ... If it is not spontaneous, if it requires an effort ”...

“ You misunderstand me,” Octavia hastened to assure him, though speaking quite low. Her hold upon her own purpose was weakening; she feared that he might drift away from her. “ I like you very much — as a friend.”

It did not surprise her, nor seem at all ridiculous, to see him drop on one knee before her. “ You will care for me in the other way! ” he cried, taking her hand. “ I’m not ashamed to ask your compassion. You know my wretched loneliness, the emptiness of my life ; but I have held myself together and existed — I never knew for what, until I met you. But now that I have allowed myself this hope of you, if it is taken away my loneliness and wretchedness will be twice what they were before. I am dependent on you.”

“ You are sure you have not deceived yourself ? ” she asked in long-drawn tones, that intimated a refinement of yearning rather than any doubt or reluctance.

“ No, a thousand times ! ” he exclaimed, with joyous energy. “ I ask you to be my wife, my veritable wife — the woman I love with a strength beyond anything I ever felt before ! You will consent, Octavia?”

For the first time he had uttered, without prefix or addition, her name ; that strange, arbitrary, yet coveted password to the closest intimacy, which is so easily seized, but so inoperative unless held by the right person.

He fixed his eyes upon her, and she gave back his gaze unfalteringly. I don’t think she was certain, even then, whether she would accept or reject him. For a moment she permitted him all the sweetness of a realized conquest : he believed that he had won her. He saw the unwonted flaming in her eyes ; a warm light that alternately advanced and retreated. As it came forward — that singular light—and was concentrated on him, it seemed to he the glow of love. When it retreated, it grew uncertain ; it was something else.

He rose, drawing her hand along with his, as if to lift her also and clasp her to him. She, too, began to rise, but as she did so she released her hand; the brilliance in her eyes retired, and yet filled them with an illumination the whole character of which was changed. She had recalled her determination. She remembered the hour when, in that very room, amid all those soft colors and those dainty surroundings, she had undergone an agony of which Oliphant had been the immediate agent.

Unaccountable, unnatural, though we may think it, the impulse of revenge which that crisis had excited had gone on persisting through her mutations of feeling about Oliphant, and revived at this instant, overcoming every other consideration. There the mood was, at any rate ; and Oliphant had to take its consequences, no matter how little logic or mercy it had in it.

“ No ! ” she said, abruptly. “ I don’t consent. I cannot.”

“ Not consent ? How can you say that, now ? And why ? What has happened, to change you from a moment ago ? ”

“ I’m not changed : I am steadfast,” answered Octavia, almost fiercely, tossing her head slightly as though to shake off some imaginary restraining touch. “ I never meant to take you ! I have given no promise — not the least word.”

“ Then why did you let me go so far ? Why have you gone so far yourself ? ” Oliphant demanded, in sudden, fiery remonstrance. “ Why could n’t you have told me so at once ? ”

“ I might have,” she retorted, with a light, icy laugh. “ But it would have cut short an agreeable acquaintance. It was n’t I who made any advance, Mr. Oliphant. You were the active one. And might I inquire why you have gone so far, if you don’t like the inevitable result? ”

“ Because,” Oliphant flung back, stingingly — “ because I trusted you. Because I was unsuspicious, and took it for granted that you had a sense of honor. Because I was candid with you from the start, and placed myself, just as I was, unreservedly in your hands.”

“ At your time of life you should have known better,” said Octavia, with a mocking compassion. “ Is it for a woman always to take care of a man, or of all men, and protect them from distress, as well as herself? I thought you would understand, of course, that I might be drawn on by the charm of such perfect attention as yours; naturally, I might continue to receive it as long as you thought it worth while to give it.”

“ Then you have done everything deliberately ? ” he replied, inferentially.

“ Why not, Mr. Oliphant ? ” She made a lazy, waving gesture with one hand. “It gave me pleasure. Didn’t it you, too ? ”

“ O my God! O Octavia! ” he moaned, unthinkingly bringing together in speech the two powers — one divine, the other how sadly human ! — that controlled his fate at this juncture. “ And is this the end ? ” He appeared dazed, for an instant ; then a fresh glow of hope came to him. “ I don’t know why it is,” he said, half distraught, “ but it seems to me that you are hardly in earnest. You will reconsider. You had some reason for wanting to test me ; but you don’t mean all that you have said. For Heaven’s sake, tell me that you don’t! You saw what was coming; you could so easily have sent me away; but you did not do it, and you gave me so much encouragement.”

Octavia watched him as impassively as she might have done if he had been a curious automaton. One arm rested on the holly mantel, and her head leaned towards it: from her pallid face the eyes shone with a still coldness only less hard than that of her diamond ear-drops, which Oliphant now thought of always as the petrifaction of tears; and her long dress had swept round her in heavy folds that suggested a serpentine coil, so that she suddenly portrayed herself to him as a sorceress rising in the shape of woman from a lower half that was monstrous.

“ You have deceived yourself, Mr. Oliphant,” she answered, sweetly and calmly. “ A few weeks ago we were strangers, but peculiar circumstances brought us together. You are trying to take advantage of them — that’s all.”

She saw an acute pain leap out and flood his face, as it were, altering it instantaneously. There is such a thing as spiritual bloodshed. A changed light of suffering flows out over the countenance of one who has been stabbed by words, as distinctly and with an effect as terrible as that of the scarlet life-tide which gushes from a physical wound.

“ I must apologize humbly for my mistake,” Oliphant said. “ It was a great oversight.” He cast about him briefly, with a despair that accelerated into frenzy. “ How dreadful it must be for you,” be cried, “ to be afflicted with this sort of mistake ! But if you have done as I begin to think you have; if you have only trifled ; if you have gone on purposely to inflict punishment on a sincere affection, then I can tell you this, Mrs. Gifford — you never loved, and you don’t know what love is ! But, no matter what yon have done, I love you still, with a senseless infatuation, and, as I began by being frank, I can say to you now, if it gives you any satisfaction, that the blow you have given me is bitter—bitterer than death!”

He turned to go to the door.

Octavia did uot yet relent. “ Yes, it may be bitter,” she said, keenly ; “ but other men have been rejected before now, and it was bitter to them, too, I suppose.”

Instantly, the whole scheme of her vengeance became plain to him, then. He flashed one look at her, that told her so, and made her aware of her littleness.

This, and her woman’s desire still to be thought well of — to do a wrong, yet somehow be assured that she was in the right — dissolved her firmness. She started from her contemplative attitude.

“ What have I done ? Oh, what have I said, Mr. Oliphant, that I ought not to ? If I have caused you pain, will you not forgive me ? ”

Perhaps the dumb animal that we strike, in our power, forgives ; but its piteous eyes accuse us still. For two or three moments, Oliphant remained mute ; and the sight of him as he was then filled Octavia with horror of herself. His lips were steady, and not a muscle of his face moved, yet every heart-beat seemed to send a pulsation of anguish across it.

“Forgive?” he repeated at length, with something like contempt for an idle question. “ Your request does me honor, Mrs. Gifford. Of course, it’s a man’s: proudest prerogative to forgive.”

A grim, curt laugh escaped him, and he made his way quickly out of the house.

XVI.

LITTLE EFFIE.

Oliphant’s most poignant anguish assailed him after he had left Octavia. He smarted with exasperation at the absolute rebuff he had received ; but, beyond that, and still more sharply, he writhed under a sense of the weakness which had made it possible to expose himself to such humiliation and despair, for the sake of a mere fatuous illusion, a baseless dream, that had cost him all his peace of mind and his slowly acquired resignation to circumstances.

He was not resigned, now, you may believe. There was a snapping and a tingling in his veins, all over his body ; his brain was tortured by an insufferable heat. It is no exaggeration to say that invisible furies seemed to accompany him and lash him with their whips, as he went along; for this Oliphant, beneath the peaceful, proper, and eminently modern blankness of his outward man, carried capacities for the utmost stress of emotion.

When he reached the gate of the drive he found it impossible to go towards the town. A wrathful, unqualified disgust for Newport had taken possession of him : he felt that his whole sympathy with the place had been a factitious and temporary one, and had suddenly fallen away from him. There was something false in the life ; there was something false in Octavia : it all hung together. He walked away blindly towards the long, rolling moorland that lay between High Lawn and the ocean ; he leaped a fence, and strode on through the midst of a light, gathering fog, — alone and miserable, yet glad to have his misery to himself. It was a region of low, rough-featured hills, or gradual swells, with ridges of gray rock pricking their way through the surface here and there, and showing in their spiny course like the dorsal fins of some impossible subterrene sort of fish. It was a region bleak, barren, and forsaken, the sight of which accorded with his wretched state of mind. Wandering on, he came at last to where he could look out upon the ocean, close by that spot where he and Octavia had gone down together to the Pirate’s Cave ; and there he heard the strange variations of an alarum from the steam fog-horn at Beaver Tail, which blew its colossal goblin tones mysteriously through the pale, shrouding vapor that overhung everything around him. Though meant as a warning, to him it brought temptation : it was like the unearthly voice of an evil spirit, calling him on to he knew not what. Then, abruptly, the fog lifted a little, and revealed the patient, waiting sea : the thought of refuge and surcease from grief filled his mind. Yes, that was the meaning of the temptation : the weird voice through the mist was inviting him to suicide. Oliphant was not a swimmer, and one plunge from that rocky ledge by the cave, where he had held his earlier memorable conversation with Octavia, would have meant, for him, speedy and painless death. Although naturally religious, he was not formally so, and had no scruple on that account against voluntary death ; but he despised the weak violence of suicide, in a healthy being, both as a cowardly thing and as an unfit interference with natural laws, more shocking than the most hideous result of those laws. All the greater was his horror now, when the desire to end his life began to fasten itself upon him. He struggled hard with the fearful thought; but he did not dare stay where it assailed him in such palpable shape. He faced about, and walked swiftly across the rough downs again, this time making for the town ; while the horn, which quavered incessantly up and down upon two hoarse and lamentable tones, hooted after him in evil derision.

Frequently he paused, or sat down on some knoll or rock, and lost himself in undefined revery, or sheer vacancy of numbness and desolation. He never knew quite how he passed the day ; but he found that it was near dark when he came along Bellevue Avenue, on the way home. Just by Touro Park he suddenly encountered Roger Deering, and was surprised by it because he had not known that his cousin wars in Newport. They both stopped for a rapid exchange of greetings, but both were too preoccupied to notice at the time what recurred to them later. Roger was red-faced, short-haired, restless as usual, but there was something about him that made him look a changed man ; and he afterwards had a curious impression that Oliphant’s hair had grown gray, but discovered that it was only that Oliphant looked so much older.

“ When did you come ? ” asked Oliphant.

Only to-day. Little Effie is very ill. I ’ve just been again to look for the doctor.”

“All,” said Oliphant vaguely. “ What is the matter ? ”

“ Diphtheria,” said Roger. The reply left no defnite effect on Oliphant’s mind ; and the two men parted nervously, in haste, taking opposite directions.

Justin and his wife were waiting dinner for their friend ; and, among other blissful little diversions of talk, they chatted about Oliphant. His long absence convinced them that he had made his offer, which they were expecting, to Octavia, and had been successful; but they allowed themselves some good-natured laughter at having, in their own case, got so far ahead of those older lovers. At last, when they heard the click of Oliphant’s key in the hall door, Justin hurried out to meet him, but shrank back on seeing how haggard the widower was.

“ You look ill,” Justin said, anxiously. “ You have tired yourself out, some way, have n’t you ? What can we do ? ”

Oliphant laid down his hat, and seemed unable to speak, for a moment. He moved unsteadily. “A glass of wine, please,” he presently answered. “I am exhausted — have had nothing to eat since morning.”

The wine refreshed him, and he soon joined the young couple, at dinner; but he was very grave and absent-minded. The ouly thing of importance that he said was, “ I fear I shall have to leave you very shortly, Craig. I must go to New York — yes, complications have arisen that make it necessary. I will explain it all, by and by. Nothing to be alarmed at. Meanwhile, you understand, I shall keep everything going here, just the same, of course ; and it will oblige me if you and Mrs. Craig will keep an eye on it for me.”

He could not inform them definitely when he should leave ; iu fact, he had not yet really formed any clear plan. But the events of the following two or three days settled this for him.

The next morning he was at first uncertain whether he had dreamed of meeting Roger, or had actually seen him ; but as the fact became clear to him, he remembered that something had been said of Eflie’s illness : so he went down to the Deerings’ small cottage, to make inquiry about it. Great were the astonishment and concern with which he learned that the child was very dangerously attacked, and that the doctor already considered her situation critical.

“ I’m more sorry than I can tell you,” said Oliphant to Roger. “ But at least it’s fortunate that you are here.”

“ I was called by telegraph,” Roger answered, in an inert, hopeless tone. “ But what can I do, now I’m here ? It is these fatal unsanitary conditions that have done the harm; and as for us, we are helpless — at the mercy of the disease, if it has any mercy. Ah, if we had only not come to Newport! ”

Oliphant started at the reproduction, in those words, of the thought which was passing through his own mind with regard to himself.

“ Well, old man, let’s try to keep up hope,” he said, forlornly seeking to throw some cheer into his words, yet knowing that he failed dismally.

“ Yes,” said Roger. He looked wanly at his cousin, with an effort to express gratitude by his look. “ But somehow, Eugene, I feel pretty sure that I shall never feel those little arms around my neck again.”

Roger moved suddenly towards the window, leaned one arm upon the sash, and bent his head low, as if gazing attentively out of the window. He was really sobbing.

Oliphant recalled how, not many days before, he had been with Mary Deeriug and her baby daughter, when Effie was commanded, for some reason, to go out of the room. “ What because? ” asked the little toddling girl, beginning to pucker her lips ; and he had laughed at the phrase, which was a frequent one with her; and the mother, being equally smitten by it, had caught up Effie, cuddled and embraced her, and sent her away with a smile of perfect contentment on her tiny, roseate features. “ What because?” He fancied he heard the words at this instant, pronounced in her sweet, wavering treble, with just a suspicion of innocent protest in it; and it was strange how they answered to the sad wonderment in himself, at the misery that had befallen him and the awful suspense in which he beheld his cousins placed. But there was no watchful motherly power that could come to the relief of any of them, and dissipate their woes.

“ Of course she is conscious,” he hazarded, hoping in some way to relieve the father. “ She knew you when you arrived, did n’t she ? ”

Roger roused himself, and spoke firmly, though his eyes were moist:

“ Oh, yes ; she said ’ Papa,’ once. I believe they are always conscious.”

That word “ they,” relegating her to a general class, in a region somewhere beyond the reach of human help ; recognizing her as already caught up into the arms of God — to be borne away or restored, who could tell? — made Oliphant quiver with a new consciousness of the poor fellow’s terrible position. “ I do hope, Roger,” he said, “ if there’s anything I can do, you ’ll let me know. Mary must n’t wear herself out.”

“She will never leave Effie, Eugene,” Roger replied. “ Did I tell you she was up all night ? Never mind, my dear fellow. It is hard for you that you can’t help us, I know; but— I will send for you if—if there is anything of importance.”

Oliphant could not trust himself to stay any longer, then. “ I shall come again this evening,” he said hurriedly, and took his departure.

The voiceless contest went on at the little cottage all day. Even Clarence was subdued; he crept unobtrusively about the house, and did not know what to make of the situation, except that the world began to appear to him a very different sort of place from what he had supposed it. During the afternoon hours the usual crush and sparkle of the driving throng filled Bellevue Avenue. In the quiet of this interior, Mary could hear the genteel rumble and patter of the horses and carriages not far away: the parade of Anglomaniacs and distorted grooms, of beaming beauties and insolently handsome young men and high-stepping steeds, was in full progress. But to the anxious mother the thought of that spectacle had lost all its glamour ; the whole concourse, indeed, assumed to her fancy the likeness of a grotesquely pompous funeral train.

Night came, and still there was the same scene in the room where Effie lay: a childish form prostrate on the bed, feverish and suffering, with golden hair spreading at random over the pillow — the face already grown singularly mature with a knowledge of the awful possibilities of pain ; and three figures — the mother, the father, and the nurse — that went and came often, with noiseless, imperceptible movements, ministering continually, and uttering words of soothing that could not be replied to. For the little thing was now scarcely able to speak, and had all that she could do to breathe.

Atlee had called during the day, and had been informed, at the door, of the illness. Now he came again, early in the evening; but he saw no one excepting the servant, who reported his coming, after he had gone, to Roger and Mary, just then resting for a few minutes in another room. On the mention of his name, husband and wife gazed silently at each other, and significantly. As yet, no discussion had been raised between them regarding Atlee, and of course they said not a word at this juncture ; but Mary Deering sent up a brief, disconnected, unspoken prayer to heaven, for pardon of the folly which seemed now almost too senseless to require pardon. She understood so little of Providence that she considered her present trial as a direct personal punishment for the apparent wrong she had done Roger ; and she imagined that a passionate inward avowal of her misdemeanor might be answered by the saving of her child.

Oliphant and Justin arrived later; and the former settled himself to wait below throughout the night, in case he should be needed. Hour after hour, in the room above, the scene continued unchanged, except that for a long time the doctor was there, observing, thinking, issuing a few directions, and at last going away without imparting any hope. A medicinal pastil was burning slowly on a little side-table; the air of the room could not be freed from a certain deadly closeness; the three figures continued at their post, with a still, concentrated energy, a peculiar exaltation of devotedness, as if they were athletes engaged in a struggle too intense to admit of words. Effie remained nearly motionless ; the dry crepitation of her tortured breath emphasized the hush of the room, by its regular iteration. And hour after hour the plain little interior grew more sacred as a centre of parental love, while the man and woman to whom that imperiled life was dear watched its fading, and inhaled the poisonous atmosphere around them without fear of the danger that it threatened to them.

Once, when Effie was to take a prescribed potion, she roused herself, and looked around as if searching for aid, or for some explanation of the awful combat in which she was forced to engage. The voice which had been so long nearly stifled found its way through the choking barrier in her throat, and she gasped painfully, “ What because ? ”

At length, near the morning, she rose on her couch, and called clearly for her mother. The final moment had come, though Roger and Mary, misled by the last bright flicker of the vital flame, fancied at first that she was reviving. Suddenly, the signs of dissolution set in. The child continued sitting up, and the father and mother each held one of her hands, looking anxiously towards her, striving still to give her some comfort. She turned her eyes, large and bright with a new intelligence, first to one and then to the other : but presently their lustre began to dim ; her strength waned; there passed from her fingers to each of the hands in which they rested three quick, fluttering pulsations, that did not stir the surface, but seemed to thrill electrically from the interior sources of the little life. The father and mother instinctively met one another’s gaze, and without a syllable, recognized that they had received the last greeting of a spirit about to depart. In the midst of their agony, this mysterious communication gave them one instant of supreme perception—a perception that afterwards lived in their memories tinged by emotion which, paradoxically, was like a holy joy.

Then Effiec sank back, breathless, quiet; calm, calm forever; rigid in lifelessness, yet lying as light upon the bed as a drift of newly fallen snow. The white truce upon her face proclaimed surrender and peace.

All night the wind had been sweeping to and fro, bringing together the elements of a storm. When Roger, in the weird, gray gleam of the dawn-light, slipped noiseless as a ghost into the narrow parlor where Oliphant waited, the storm burst in a torrent of rain; and the trees before the house, bending in the wind, swayed their dark-draped branches with gestures of grief and abandonment.

XVII.

REPENTANCE.

Now that the fatal blow had fallen upon Roger and Mary, which their friends would so gladly have strained every faculty to prevent, Oliphant and Justin found that they could help. It is tl 10 sad privilege,of human beings, at such times, to come when all is over and prove their own essential uselessness by performing every possible act of practical and tender aid in those details that cover up the death in our hearts, as dust is made to cover the actual dead. Yet in seasons of the greatest grief at a personal loss, the things we most prize are the seemingly useless ones — sweet, ineffectual flowers, a few helpless words, expressing the sorrow of those whom we love, that they cannot do anything for us.

Vivian was quick in seconding her husband and his friend to give what assistance they could ; for, although she had hardly known Mary Deering, her loyalty to the friendship of Oliphant brought into action her natural fervor of sympathy as a young wife for the stricken mother. Josephine, too, brought flowers to the door of the house of mourning. Oliphant was there at the time, and when the box was opened an impulse led him to hurry to the porch, whence he saw Josephine herself moving quickly away down the shaded street. It touched him that she had chosen to bring the flowers in her own hands.

But nothing was heard from Octavia ; she made no sign ; so far as Oliphant could tell, she might have been totally in ignorance of the catastrophe.

Yet how could she do anything ? She had thrown Oliphant aside in such a way as to preclude every relation, henceforth, except that of the most distant recognition. She had had but very slight intercourse with Mary Deering, and it would have been mainly because of her constant association with Oliphant during the season that she would have made, if at all, any demonstration of condolence. Therefore, she was entirely debarred from showing her sympathy. She felt a great sympathy, nevertheless. I do not care to analyze the sources of it, because injustice would certainly be done in trying to formulate a state of mind requiring so delicate a balance to weigh it, as hers did. But I am sure that genuine womanly compassion and kindness were uppermost in her mood. In presence of this tragedy, too, a sharp light fell upon her recent conduct, which brought out with terrifying distinctness its ugliness and cruelty. She began to be remorseful.

She did form a plan of sending some flowers to Mrs. Deering, anonymously ; but the conclusion soon followed that such a course would be cowardly, and merely an attempt to narcotize her conscience. Then, hearing that funeral services were to be held over poor little Effie at old Trinity, she resolved to go thither and attend them. But from this as well she was restrained, by a conviction that she had no right to do it. “ Why should I take advantage of this dreadful sorrow,” she said to herself, “ under the pretense that a generous feeling of pity makes me set aside my personal affair with Mr. Oliphant ? ”

And so she sat wretchedly alone at High Lawn, unable to take any step, and suddenly deserted by those who had lately been nearest to her. Josephine did not approach her, and Perry Thorburn had not come to see her, for some time past. It did not need these things, however, to give her a true comprehension of her pitiful error. Just then when she sprang forward and asked Oliphant to forgive her, before he left the house, the first seed of repentance had sprung up in her mind, stirred to life though it was by a false impulse of vanity and conceit. But repentance bad multiplied in her, since, from a hundred other germs ; and before she heard of Effie’s illness at all, her heart was aching for Oliphant. She was disgusted with herself; she utterly repudiated what she had done at the prompting of a vindictive whim, that now appeared hardly less than insane.

Tragic events often come in such a way that, while they seem to bring about certain moral changes in us, and we therefore refer such changes to what we call a mere “ accident,” those events are really only the afterclap, or the tangible symbol, of what has already taken place in our minds.

Of course I do not know why Effie died just at that time ; but! am perfectly clear that Octavia’s repentance, which was emphasized and stimulated by this disaster, was in no manner a consequence of it.

The day came for the services at Trinity. The storm had cleared; there was an exultant, cool vigor in the air. Very few people, naturally, attended; but it had been an ardent wish of Justin’s that, if any obsequy were held in Newport, it should be where he could offer his farewell to the lost spirit of the child, in music. And he played the Raindrop Prelude, which stole gently through the church with a sweet, dewy freshness and simplicity, yet fell plaintively upon the listeners, and made them think of gentle tears shed in a loving resignation. Oliphant remembered too well how he had heard that melody before ; and as it had brought to his mind then the refreshing showers of summer, it now suggested the sad drops of autumn, that patter down a requiem for dead hope.

The coffin was carried out. Oliphant waited for a brief space, and as he made his way to the street he met Josephine Hobart. “ Mr. Oliphant,” she said, “ I want to say to you —though it may seem unusual, coming from a stranger almost, as I am — how much I feel for your cousins. Their loss has gone to my heart more than anything that has happened for many a day. It must have been a great blow to you, too.”

“ Yes,” he answered ; “ I don’t know why, but it is to me like losing a child of my own.”

I suppose she must have read the secret of his other loss. Her large, soft, unrevealing eyes were filled with a stilly, comprehensive look of fellowship.

“ You are going with them to New York ?" she asked.

“ Oh, yes.”

“ And sha’n’t we see you in Newport again ? ”

Oliphant’s face grew vague and listless, for an instant. “I’m afraid not: I don’t believe I shall come back,” he said.

He had not admitted this to the Craigs.

Before he left her he thanked her for her gracious act of bringing the flowers. They shook hands, and the unconscious trembling of her touch roused in him, transiently, an undefined wonder at the stress of her sensibility, which he attributed wholly to the death of Effie Deering. But as he went to join his cousins at the New York boat, his mind was on Octavia and the dreariness of the fact that she was not with him, sharing the piteous solemnity of this hour, in which even the glad young love of Justin and Vivian had participated.

Oliphant’s care had smoothed the way for Roger and Mary, by putting out of sight the rougher details of the journey ; but the night-voyage to New York was a melancholy one for them all. They glided away, however, and were lost in a moment to the gay, pleasure-seeking little world in which they had lately been active. Octavia heard the great boat go by, with its throbbing hum of strong paddle-wheels, and knew that it was taking her honest, defeated lover away from her — perhaps forever ; but it was too late to recall him, then. In a few minutes the sound of the departing steamer ceased to vibrate upon her ear : she was left to the desert silence which she had made for herself.

Change and catastrophe had overtaken several of the people about whom this story centres; but it must not be supposed for an instant that such disturbances of mere feeling or fortune affected in the least the dazzling monotony of festal existence in the society around them. It is true, Dana Sweetser seized upon the untimely demise of the Deerings’ child as a potent case in point to fortify his position regarding drainage. Sundry physicians insisted that the fatal malady was directly due to the absence of good hygienic conditions. Sundry others, supported by a large number of people who had not yet died, disputed the proposition. Every one agreed that it was very sad for the Deerings ; and industrious correspondents, who habitually wrote and telegraphed catalogues of visitors and distinguished dining-room tattle to leading journals, dropped a sentence or two of rose-water pathos on Effie’s bier. All the proprieties were observed, and nothing was done to better the drainage ; so Dana Sweetser fell back temporarily on the Alaska and British Columbia Inlet Excavation.

One result of the discussion was that the Deerings were elevated to a social importance, in the way of talk, which they themselves had never enjoyed. They were utilized with soup, at dinners, as an introductory topic, or as a relish with the hors d’œuvres ; by dessert, however, they ceased to be mentioned ; and in two or three days their misfortune was dismissed entirely.

But Octavia could not so easily get rid of the things which had lately happened. Her time was in demand for many engagements, day and night, and she moved in the thickest of the whirl. Oliphant being out of the way, moreover, various discouraged gentlemen, who had stood at a distance while he was present, began to crowd round her again. Perry Thorburn likewise suddenly returned to her society, and asked her to drive with him, every day, although he hardly spoke to her of Josephine, any longer. Notwithstanding all this, and the sparkling exterior which she maintained, her inward distress deepened. When alone, she was moody and dispirited ; no employment sufficed to calm her restless thoughts ; she spent hours reviewing her association with Oliphant and her conduct towards him. At last she paid her intended visit to Vivian, which she had been deferring out of dread at meeting the keen eyes of Oliphant’s friends, who would be so quick to detect the change that had come over her, and her responsibility for the change in him. At first she tried to discover when Oliphant was likely to return ; but before she left Vivian, she had made a partial confession of the true state of things, though with important reservations. She admitted that Oliphant had proposed for her hand, and that she had sent him away without hope; but she did not tell of the poisonous thrusts she had given him.

“ I ’m so sorry,” said Vivian, looking up from a little drawing she was making for Justin — “so sorry for poor Mr. Oliphant; ” then she added, her blue eyes scanning the widow’s face for an instant with complete but kindly insight, “ and sorry for you, too, Octavia.”

“ For me ?” Octavia blushed faintly, and moved her head so that only the dainty profile of her face came within Vivian’s range.

“ Yes,” answered the bride. “ I can’t help saying so. He is such a sterling man. Of course I don’t attempt to judge for you, but I think you may regret, some time, what you have done.”

“ But do you approve of second marriages?” Octavia rejoined, quickly. “ Would you be willing” . . .

“ No,” said Vivian, promptly. “ At least,” she continued, putting another touch to her sketch, “ I can’t conceive of myself in that position, and somehow I have a feeling against it. But then, true love is too great a thing to be bounded by my feeling, I am sure. It comes in so many different ways . . . And when it comes, one is in the hands of a higher power, which one ought to be very careful about trifling with.”

Nothing more was said, for a few moments. Afterwards, they passed to the alienation of Vivian’s mother and brother, which still continued. But while Octavia stood by the piano, making a final remark or two, Vivian casually resumed the subject of Oliphant. “ It troubles me,” she said, “ that Mr. Oliphant does n’t come back. Let’s see : it’s three — no, four days, now. Justin wrote him a long letter, but we’ve only received one little note from him. He’s staying at the Van Voort House, and I’m afraid he’s too comfortable to be in a hurry about coming here again.”

She laughed lightly, with an air of directing a sarcasm against her own housekeeping; but Octavia understood her. They kissed each other, as they parted.

Octavia went home and spent much of the day composing a short letter to Oliphant: —

MY DEAR MR. OLIPHANT, — I shall not wonder if you are surprised at hearing from me, for I feel that there would be no propriety in my writing to you, after what has happened between us — nor should I wish to do so — were it not for a single thing which no one but myself can tell you. And even I have discovered it only since you went from here.

That is, that I now see how wrong I was in my treatment of you, and how much injustice I did you by some of the things I said the last time we met. What led me on, it is hard to say exactly. I am not sure that I myself understand ; but even if it were possible for me to unravel it all, perhaps you would rather spare me the mortification, if you had the choice.

Lou have been called away; it seems to be uncertain whether you will return here, and if you did so we should not be likely to meet, I suppose. This is why I consider it best to acknowledge my fault by writing. I do not ask you, Mr. Oliphant, to forgive — as I selfishl did, that day — but only to pardon me for not seeing sooner what I was drifting to, and preventing it. I cannot hope that you will think of me otherwise than with censure, or that I can ever recover the friendship I have sacrificed ; but it is my duty to admit my mistake, and to assure you of my lasting respect. Sincerely,

OCTAVIA GIFFORD.

After dispatching this, she was more at peace with herself. Ever since Oliphant’s departure, she had been undergoing one very peculiar form of nervous disturbance. The rotary beat of the steamer’s wheels, with the transient pause and renewed throb as the engines turned them, kept sounding in her ears at the most inopportune times; and every morning, early, just before dawn, woke the sky, sleep deserted her, and she lay waiting intently for the same sound to assure her that the boat from New York was returning.

At first it would steal to her from a distance, through the dusk, like a deep, unsteady breathing ; gradually, and then more swiftly, it became defined as a regular and mighty pulsation, coming nearer, increasing in volume: it was what one might imagine to be the voice of a vast shadow. Finally, it developed into a systematic concussion, the nature of which was unmistakable. Octavia would rise, go to the window, and watch the vague white shape as it rounded Fort Adams like a floating town, with mysterious colored lights strung up at stem and stern and at various other points, or shining from the windows. There was something spectral about it, and the palpitation of the huge paddle-wheels was like a shudder. Involuntarily Octavia would shudder, too, and creep back to bed.

But to-night, since her letter had gone, she did not shudder when she woke and saw the boat. A soft warmth enveloped her heart, as if that spectral shape had been the forerunner of some great happiness destined to come to her in its wake.

George Parsons Lathrop.