The Lady From Maine: In Two Parts
THE four-in-hand party returned only in time to dress for dinner. A hop was in order that night, and it was the custom on such occasions to dine in evening dress. Amy came down, cloud-like in white, wearing her diamonds, which were hardly more brilliant than her eyes. There was a wonderful radiance about her, altogether ; she seemed moved by some strong excitement, which betrayed itself only in that mantling color and bright glance.
Balfour did not appear at dinner, but not long after nine o’clock (for our hops were unfashionably early affairs) I saw him enter the ball-room with Amy on his arm. The first waltz was in progress, and they made their way very slowly through the moving crowd to my side.
“ I wished to sit by you, because you are so nice and comfortable, and will console me for not being able to waltz,” she said gayly, dropping down beside me on the sofa.
“ And do you not waltz ? ” said I.
“ Oh, yes, indeed; but Mr. Balfour does not. He belongs to the Aw-I-Don’tDawnce set. Have you ever heard of it ? It is very, very elegant and exclusive.”
As she spoke she looked up at him, and there was a laughing witchery in her face that would have taken the edge off the sharpest speech.
“ No more such taunts, or I shall break the cherished habit of years,” said Balfour.
“ But bad habits are best broken.”
“ And the spirit of reform is on me tonight.” He left the mantel, where he had been leaning, and offered her his arm. His face was not festal, and I should have thought some spirit other than that of reform possessed him.
I noticed that he did not waltz again, but throughout the evening his devotion to Amy was very marked. There was no lack of comment on his departure from a custom hitherto supposed to be invariable with him. It had been believed that the waltz was not numbered among his accomplishments. When it was found that he waltzed as well as he rode, there was a disposition to resent the discovery, as revealing also some ulterior motive for not having exhibited his proficiency before.
Had he followed up the first break by making another in favor of, say, Miss Bixbee, Miss De Land, or indeed any one of the many charming young ladies present, no exceptions might have been taken, but he had waltzed only once, and then with Miss Roberts. The offense was unpardonable. But it was Miss Roberts, not Mr. Balfour, who remained unpardoned.
To a casual observer—let us say to any observer less keenly alive than I to the “true inwardness” of the scene — the occasion must have seemed one of triumph to Amy. She herself evidently considered it so, for her eyes and cheeks glowed still brighter, and her manner grew sprightlier yet, as the hours wore on to midnight.
The train had brought down that day a large accession to our number. Noticeable among the new faces was that of a fast stock-broker, well if not favorably known in Wall Street. He had not been five minutes in the room when I saw him being presented by Mrs. Banks to Amy, who was smiling graciously as she looked up at him. No one but a Banks would have thought of introducing him to her. He was altogether outside the pale : respectable people knew of him, — they did not know him; and the distinction was significant. Amy waltzed with him three times. After the third waltz I missed her, and some one told me, with a disagreeable smile, that she had probably gone to show Mr. Dacres the pavilion. When they appeared again in the ball-room people were going out to supper, and I hoped to see her claimed by some prëengaged admirer; but no ! it was with Mr. Dacres she went away. Balfour was folding Mrs. Vincent’s light wrap about her. I saw Amy only once in the diningroom : that was just as I was leaving. She was standing up, laughing gayly. Gerald Banks was wiping off with a napkin something that had fallen on the front of her dress. Several gentlemen surrounded her, and Mr. Dacres was taking from her hand an empty wineglass.
Dancing was resumed. I saw Balfour moving through a quadrille with Mrs. Vincent in his usual impassive manner, and again I had a glimpse of Amy, archly holding out her hands to Dacres in some change of the cotillon, and with a more hilarious buoyance than I liked.
By and by some words of a conversation going on near me riveted my attention.
“ They say she is a little the worse for champagne.”
“ Is it possible ? ”
Oh, yes. Anything is possible with her. I have an idea she will not be tolerated much longer. She is running her course a little too fast. Mrs. De Land has her eye on her. You know her precious Jack is among the slain.”
There was a pause in the music; the dance was ended, the voices ceased. Not long after, I was sitting with Balfour, when Amy approached, leaning on Dacres’ arm. He seated her near us, and withdrew. The first notes of Die Tausend und Eine Nächte were sounding.
“ Amy,” said I, speaking quickly, as she turned toward us, “ I am going to the dressing-room. Will you come with me? Mr. Balfour will take us.”
“ Oh, certainly. I shall miss this waltz, but it does n’t much matter. I ’m engaged to Mr. Banks, with whom out of sight is out of mind.”
“ What’s that you ’re saying ? ” said the gentleman in question, coming up. In truth, the remark had been designed for him ; she was looking at him with a saucy smile.
“ I said out of sight was out of mind with you.”
“ You ’re a little wretch,” replied Mr. Banks chastely. “ If I did n’t know you knew better than that, I’d make a fuss about it.”
“ I am going to ask you to excuse me from waltzing. I am very tired.”
“ Tired, are you ? Then come and sit on the piazza.”
“ By and by. I am going up-stairs with Miss Lecky to rest a little.”
Mr. Banks glanced at me an instant with a pair of bold blue eyes, which unlimited potations had made even bolder and bluer than usual.
“ It is always ‘ by and by ’ with you,” he said, looking back to Amy. 44 You ’re always putting me off. By Jove ! if I was n’t the best natured fellah in the world ” —
“ I should n’t like you half so well,” she interpolated, with a little laugh.
There was more in this style. Then Mr. Banks walked away in assumed anger, taking her fan with him as hostage, he said, for her return ; and we went upstairs. It happened that we did not go down again. I pleaded a headache as an excuse for remaining in my room, and Amy said she would stay with me. Her own head ached, and then it would be quite as well to disappoint Mr. Banks; he would only think the more of her.
“No sacrifice is too great, so that it deepens his regard ; is that it ? ” said Balfour, with an unpleasant smile.
“ Mr. Balfour ! ” said Amy ; whereupon he bade us good-night, and went away.
“ You see he is jealous,” she said, as soon as we were alone.
“ Who ? ” said I, stupidly.
“ Why, Mr Balfour ! Did you not notice ? ”
“ Oh! ”
“Now don’t be dense, or you will provoke me,” she said, kissing both my cheeks, and making a wry face at me which was, if possible, more bewitching than the same face as nature had made it. “ You ’re such an old precious when you ’re not dense. Now did n’t you notice ? ”
“ I noticed that he was a little disagreeable.”
“Of course! And when a man is disagreeable he ’s jealous, nine times out of ten.”
“ Mr. Balfour may be the exception that proves the rule.”
“ Yes, he may be.” With this she sank into an easy-chair, and began taking off her diamonds. All the while her lips and eyes were smiling.
“ Do you consider Miss Bixbee pretty ? ” she said, after a little.
“ Rather. Her figure is good.”
“ Do you think so ? ” A pause. Then, carelessly, “ Do you think Mr. Balfour is in love with her ? ”
“ He is certainly devoted to her.”
I felt quite sure that I was expected to combat this statement, which was obviously untrue, but I did nothing of the kind. “ Mr. Balfour is devoted to a great many ladies,” I said. “ It is hardly possible that he should be in love with them all.”
“ Nor any one of them ? ” She jumped up, laughing, and kissed me again. “ Good-night, dear old wet-blanket ! I’m sure I hope he is n’t in love with anybody. It would be too bad.”
The next day an ominous thing happened. Mrs. De Land turned her back upon Amy Roberts. It was a direct cut, and so every one present understood it. Those who were not present soon heard of it. Amy Roberts had said, “ Mrs. De Land, won’t you testify in my behalf? Your son says I did not play that ball fairly.” Then the elder lady had turned her back without speaking. This was before lunch. Before dinner there was a report that Jack and his mother had quarreled. When the august lady entered the dining-room, she entered it unescorted, save by her daughter. Her son came in a little later, attending Miss Roberts, who was smiling and waving a large feather fan.
In the evening some tableaux were arranged impromptu. I was draping Balfour, who was to be a bandit, corsair, or something of the kind, with my red cashmere shawl, when Amy came up, saying breathlessly, “ Oh, Miss Lecky, you ’re so good, supplying every one! Can I have your white mantle ? Of course it’s dreadfully hackneyed, but we ’re going to have the Sleeping Beauty, and I ’m the Beauty.”
“ That will make a new thing of it,” said Balfour, smiling down at her over my two hands, three pins, and a knot of cashmere, all of which were under his chin at that moment.
The tableaux were a great success. Balfour, who had just emerged from an overwhelming triumph, which he shared with Mrs. Vincent, came into the audience, leading her by the hand. Both were bowing and smiling in response to prolonged applause.
“ I’m glad to settle down to private life,” said he, seating Mrs. Vincent next me. “ Now comes the Sleeping Beauty.”
There was a hush; the curtain rose, and we beheld Amy lying, still and white, on a right royal couch (the bedlounge skillfully disguised). Over her, with rapt gaze and clasped hands, bent Jack De Land, contriving to look truly prince-like in a white flannel tennis-suit, elaborately trimmed with odds and ends of blue satin ; silk stockings of the same hue, displaying a shapely pair of legs ; lace ruffles, a plumed hat (Miss Bixbee’s Rembrandt), and patent-leather pumps. Some one was playing softly on the piano, accompanying the low ecstatic plaint of a violin. Jack bent nearer and nearer the sleeping figure (I saw a curious expression on Balfour’s face), nearer, nearer yet. Had he kissed the Princess ? At all events, she awoke as in the old romance, and the curtain went down on a great clapping of hands. Being worldly-wise after my kind, however, I was not surprised to hear it whispered on all sides, when the clapping had ceased, that Miss Roberts had crowned her bad taste and impudence by this exhibition. I heard that Mrs. De Land had sat quite pale and rigid throughout the scene. She was not a person to be defied with impunity, and was this not the contrived defiance of an unfilial son and a designing woman ? It was felt that the end was not yet. What evil spirit possessed the girl ? She was always with Jack now. One saw them playing tennis together, swimming in the tanks, knocking the billiard balls about, driving about in Jack’s dog-cart, and strolling in the garden. One day I remonstrated with her. Indignation nerved me. I had just been an unwilling listener to some very dark insinuations and not a few sad truths. These I did not repeat, but I managed to speak plainly, and, as I thought, with kindness. She turned upon me like a young tigress. If I had not been very much in earnest, I should have felt an inclination to laugh when she said, drawing herself up to her full height which was nothing majestic, “ Miss Lecky ! You forget your position ! ”
Fancy the child addressing me with that Siddons stare and tone !
“My dear,” said I (do not people usually say “my dear” when they are going to be disagreeable?), “if I have forgotten the respect due one of your age and position from one of mine, I beg you will forgive me.”
Instantly her tone changed.
“ That was a foolish speech,” she said. “ I know the respect is due from me to you, but I was angry. Let us forget it all, and not speak of it again.”
“ I will not speak of it again,” said I, more gently, “ but I can never forget that I have warned you, and entreated you to listen to me.”
She did not answer, but turned away with a proud, hard face.
Balfour in these days was neither less nor more attentive than he had been before. It is true, he did not play tennis with Amy so often, nor was the fourin-hand drive repeated, but he was sufficiently alive to her pleasure to refute any idea that may have been entertained of his resenting Jack’s devotion. There was in his manner none of the eagerness of a rival, none of the sulkiness of a man who feels himself ill-used.
My view of Balfour in affairs of a sentimental nature was colored by some knowledge of his past life. For this reason I often found myself dissenting from the opinion of others in regard to him. At one time it occurred to me that I might be serving a good end by telling Amy something of his earlier years. But I had been withheld by a feeling of loyalty to him. Need I feel it my duty to tell to a strange girl from Maine what he did not care to speak of ? After dwelling a little upon this question it took an absurd light. After all, of what vital interest was it to her ? But there came a day when I would have given worlds she should not know it, or that she had known it earlier from me.
Balfour had run up to town, and stayed over night on some matter of business. He returned in the morning. Amy and I, basking on a huge pile of rocks overlooking the sea, heard the whistle of the train as it entered the village. Half an hour later a tweed-clad figure was seen ascending the stony path to our perch. Amy sprang up, dropping sketch-book and pencil, and ran off down the slope with a simplicity of welcome which might have overpowered a less assured man than Balfour.
“ Did you bring me my candy ? ” was her greeting, uttered before she had reached him. They were at some distance from me, and I did not hear his reply, but I saw him catch her sailor hat, which had flown away and was scudding along in front of her. When they met he restored it to its former jaunty poise, and tied the broad strings under her chin. Then I saw him produce a white packet, which she fell upon eagerly and opened as they came on up the hill.
“ See I he has brought me these lovely marsh-mallows,” she cried to me.
“ I have brought Miss Lecky some, too,” he said, handing out another box. I fancied the value of the gift was not enhanced in her eyes by this kind impartiality.
“Now,” said Amy, when he had picked up the sketch-book and pencil, and had seated himself beside her, " tell me all about what you did yesterday.”
“ All about it ? Well, in the first place, I spent an hour or two at my office ” —
“ Have you an office ? ” she interrupted. “ Are you a lawyer, or — anything ? ”
“ Not a thing,” said he, gravely. “ I have an office because it affords me a convenient retreat from my house when that grows monotonous, and I keep the house as a retreat from the office. Besides, to have a den down town gives one a reputation for industry.”
“ And you have a house ! ” said Amy. It seems so funny to me that a bachelor should care to keep house. Is n’t it lonely ? Do you really stay there ? ”
“ Well, I roam around in it once or twice a day.”
“ What a forlorn picture ! I don’t believe you like your house.”
“ Not very much now,” said he, with a half sigh. There was no attempt at effect in his words. He looked seaward, as though unconscious of Amy’s largeeyed gaze, and speaking rather to himself than her.
“ My dear Amy,” said I, hurrying to break the pause, “ you have asked Mr. Balfour so many questions in the course of his narrative that he has been unable to make any headway. We have not got further than the first hour.”
“ That is true. Now, where did you go at night ? ”
I dined at my club, and spent the evening there.’'
How stupid ! I think it’s a shame to dine at a club when one has a house of one’s own. Do you know, Mr. Balfour ”— She hesitated a little, looking at him with laughing eyes over the marsh-mallow in her uplifted hand.
” Well ? ”
“ I think — well, I think it is a wonder you have not married.”
I felt myself grow cold. I was not conscious of sky, or sea, or air, and it was as though in a dream I heard my own voice saying, in a sprightly sort of way, “ Excuse me, but what time is it, Mr. Balfour ? ”
He turned a trifle on his elbow, and brought out his watch, which he just glanced at as it opened noiselessly in the hollow of his hand. But there was time for Amy’s bright eyes to catch a glimpse of color.
“ Oh, a picture ! ” she cried. “ May I see it ? ”
Without a word, without looking at her, he held out the watch, in whose case was the delicately painted head of a young and beautiful woman.
“ How pretty ! ” said Amy ; but her voice had changed. “ May I ask who it is ? ”
“ It is a picture of my wife.” Then there was the shortest possible pause before he said, turning carelessly to me, “ Half past eleven, Miss Lecky. You are not thinking of going down now ? ”
Some reply was on my lips, I know not what. I presume I should have said that I must go down immediately, but the words never found utterance. An inarticulate sound from Amy drew our eyes to her. She still held the watch in her hand, the chain was in Balfour’s ; her eyes were not bent on the pictured face, but on his, and as he looked at her she burst out, stammering, “ Why did n’t you tell me ? I would not have spoken so. You should tell people you are married — I am sorry ” —
Then, with a wild look at him, she dropped the watch, and hid her face on the rocks. Directly Balfour, who was nearest her, put an arm about her, and with his other hand grasped one of her own, which pressed against her face.
“Amy,” said he, in a quick, low tone, “ you have said nothing that you need feel sorry for. It is all right.”
She did not speak, and he went on, bending his head nearer to hers, and speaking lower still: “ She is dead. That is the reason I have found it hard to speak of her. I am to blame for the awkwardness of such a disclosure at this late day. My dear little girl, it is nothing to cry for. Look up and laugh at it.”
I knew quite well that it was only to spare her that he made so light of it all. The scene had been painful, and was so yet. I felt de trop, and should have run away if the sole avenue of escape had not been blocked by their recumbent figures. To step over them would have been undignified and rather marked. So I stayed and suffered. I do not know how long it was I sat there. I tried to interest myself in the sea-view and the gulls, but my mind wandered hopelessly.
The thought of what despair and mortification must be in her heart made my own bleed for her. It was a scene that could never be explained away. Kindly and lightly as he spoke of it, one knew that it could not but make a curious impression on him ; and the misery of it was, the impression was quite likely to be a correct one. I need not tell how this scene concluded. It came to an end somehow, and we found ourselves walking back to the hotel, talking and laughing, as though the sky had not fallen.
I expected an attack from Amy as soon as we should be alone together, and was actually preparing my defense when she entered my rooms before luncheon. But all she said was, “ I think you might have told me before. There is certainly nothing disgraceful in losing one’s wife, and I don’t see any reason for concealing it, as though one had murdered her. You know he did n’t say she was dead, at first; and I was forced into the unpleasant reflection that I had been flirting with a married man! ” Then she added, sinking into a low chair, and crossing her wrists with a mock-virtuous expression, “ Something I never do ! ”
I was not deceived by this airy nonsense. If I had seen her groveling atmy feet, I could not have been more certain that the memory of the scene on the rocks was torture to her. It was not long after this that she took occasion to say to me, when we found ourselves alone a moment on the croquet-ground, — and her tone was wonderfully cold, — “I suppose I need not ask why you never told me that Mrs. Vincent was a widow, or a divorcée rather. I have had it on the tip of my tongue several times to ask her why her husband never ran down for a day or two.”
The picture presented to my mental vision by these words was so irresistibly droll that I burst out laughing, and, after pouting a little, Amy laughed too.
She avoided Balfour now, and was more than ever with Jack De Land. There was an added recklessness in her imprudence.
One night, as she was sitting with me in my parlor, Balfour dropped in. He had been driving all the afternoon with Mrs. Vincent, and had but just come up from a late dinner. It was a sultry evening. The long windows were open, and not a breath stirred the curtains. Faint, sweet odors came up from the garden; the very stars seemed too languid to blink.
“ This still weather bodes a storm, ” he remarked, descending into my easiest chair with the air of one at peace with the world and indifferent to the elements.
“ I hope not,” said Amy. There was something — what shall I say ? — electric in her level voice and motionless figure. Like the still atmosphere, it suggested the possibility of a flash.
“ Why ? Are you timid ? ” I asked.
“ Oh, no. I have promised Mr. Banks to go over to the skating-rink to-night; that is all.”
“ The skating-rink ? ” exclaimed Balfour ; and his accent implied, “ What the devil is the skating-rink ? ”
“ Yes. Have you never seen it ? ”
A new expression was gathering on his face, and it deepened as she spoke. “ No,” he answered, “ but I have heard of such a place.”
“Amy!” said I. “It is over at Ross’s Hotel, and I don’t believe — I don’t believe it is very nice.”
“ That will account for Mr. Balfour’s never having been there,” she replied, in the same level tone.
The girl horrified me. I knew not what to say. But after an instant’s pause Balfour observed quietly, “ I hope it does not also account for Miss Roberts’s desire to go there.”
Looking closely at Amy in the dusky light, I saw that she was trembling from head to foot. After a moment she rose, and, moving toward the door, said to me, not to Balfour, — and her voice was quite gentle, — “ Good-night. Schlaf wohl! ”
And so she went with Gerald Banks to that miserable two-penny rink at Boss’s Hotel. The story was all over the house next day.
“What sort of place is Ross’s Hotel ? ” I inquired, moved by a faint hope to sound the depths of Dicky Brown’s unholy lore.
“ Why, a regular gin-hole,” responded the remorseless Dicky, with a happy laugh. “ I don’t suppose she drank gin, nor perhaps saw any, but it’s that sort of place, you understand. The élite don’t go there.” Then he laughed again, and added in his neat vernacular, “ Scarcely.”
All that morning Amy had been driving with Jack De Land. When she came in to luncheon she wore a jaunty boating suit which I had not seen before.
“ What now ? ” I asked.
“Mr. De Land is going to take me for a row.”
All that afternoon they rowed.
By night there were signs of a storm other than that portended by Balfour. Half an hour before dinner Dick Brown said to me, “ Have you heard the latest from the seat of war ? ”
“ Is your evening edition out so early ? ” I inquired, savagely ; but Dicky was an obtuse youth.
“ Why, Mrs. De Land has told Walker that he must take his choice between her and Roberts. If Roberts stays, she goes. That’s rather hard on Walker. The De Lands have six rooms, besides three servants and a lot of horses. But you can stake your last red on Jack’s curling under to his mamma. He ’ll have to do it. She ’s a perfect cyclone.”
While he was still talking, Balfour came up. He did not appear to hear what was said, nor did he once glance at the offending Dicky, who, after a few moments, as though conscious of a cold audience, withdrew.
“ What do you suppose it will all come to ? Can we do anything to help her ? ” I asked in despair.
“ If she can be induced to leave before she is obliged to, it might improve matters,” said he. There was not the faintest echo of sympathy or concern in his voice. A moment after, seeing my melancholy look, he said more gently, “ That Latin proverb about the grain of salt applies to all of Dicky’s stories. Don’t let them worry you too much.”
Amy was radiant at dinner. It was evident that the evil rumor had not yet reached her. Never before had she seemed to me so thoroughly bewitching. Her smile and pretty talk were to-night the perfection of good form ; no suggestion of too high spirits, nor conscious graces, nor switching of hideous rainbow draperies, spoiled the natural charm of her face and figure. She was all in white; not a bit of color but the wonderful pink of her cheeks and lips, the gold of her short curling hair, and the lumi nous blue of her eyes. “ Amy,” said I, smiling across at her, “ I can’t refrain from telling you that you are lovely.”
“ But must I refrain ? ” asked Balfour.
Amy laughed. My own spirits rose. After all, might not everything come right in time ? How often a smile, a cheerful word, a glimpse of the sun after a rainy day, any trifle, so it be a pleasant one, will make us suddenly and unreasonably joyous ! The troubles of an hour ago seem a figment of the imagination.
When I left the dining-room I had put aside Dicky Brown’s tale of horror and my own dim forebodings, and was in the best of spirits. There was to be a little hop that night; something quite informal. The preliminary squeaking of a violin drew us to the ball-room, though it was still much too early for dancing to begin.
“ Oh, delicious ! ” said Amy. making a little gliding run over the canvased floor. The immense room was empty save for the three musicians about the piano, who looked up, smiling, at the beautiful girl gyrating so airily all by herself.
“ Shall I give you a tune to dance by ? ” said the head man good-naturedly. And in a moment the trio of instruments burst forth in one of Schulhoff’s melting waltzes.
“ Oh, thank you ! ” said Amy. “ That is lovely.”
Balfour held out his arms to her, and they went circling down the long room, under the gas-light and flowers.
“ We have opened the ball and have had it all to ourselves,” he said, as he brought her to me after a turn or two. “ I am going to be bold and designing enough to ask if I may have the first waltz at the ball proper.”
“Yes, I think you may,” said Amy. She thanked the fat pianist again, who protested that he had been only too happy, and we wandered away through the rooms beyond.
“ I must go up-stairs for a little while,” said Amy.
“May I come and take you both down by and by ? ” Balfour asked.
We were approaching the staircase as he spoke. Amy’s face was turned toward him, and she was uttering some words of reply, when a sound of scuffling and loud voices in the bar-room, just before us, arrested them.
There was an oath, the noise of an overturning chair. Then, as we stood in amazement, a struggling body was thrown violently against the door.
“ I hope he won’t come through,” said Amy, trying to laugh. At that moment our host, Mr. Walker, rushed by, and, with his shoulder against the panels, forced an entrance. We heard him say, “ For God’s sake, gentlemen ” — The lock clicked behind him, but there had been time for us to see two men battling, and one had blood on his face. It was Jack De Land, and the powerful figure with which he struggled was that of Gerald Banks.
Hardly had the door closed, when quick and sharp above the din came the single report of a pistol.
A shrill scream burst from Amy. She started impetuously towards the door, but was caught back by Balfour.
“ Be quiet! This is no place for you,” he said, under his breath. “ Go up-stairs with Miss Leeky. I will come by and by and tell you everything.”
Fortunate it was that his voice controlled her, for no sooner had we reached the first landing than the hall was swarming with curious faces. I was surprised at the rapidity with which she recovered herself. When, on reaching my room, I asked her to come in and stay with me, it was in quite an even tone that she replied, “ Thank you, I must go first and get my gloves and fan. I will join you in a few minutes.”
But the minutes slipped into hours before I saw her again. Balfour came up and gave me the particulars of the affray. Of course a woman was at the bottom of it, and Amy was the woman, — small doubt of that. Do Land had assaulted Banks; the latter grappled with him, and was getting decidedly the best of it when Jack managed to whip out a pistol. Banks struck it out of his hand, and the bullet lodged in the ceiling.
“ They are trying to hush it up,” said Balfour. “ Walker is very much cut up about it.”
“ And Amy ? ” said I.
“ Ay, there’s the rub ! It is she who will suffer.”
We had talked for some time before it occurred to me to wonder why Amy did not appear; and then, it occurring to me also that she might not wish to be disturbed, I decided to let her consult her own pleasure in returning to me.
“ She will hardly care to dance, after what has happened,” I said.
“ I hope not, — I hope not,” said Balfour. “ But she has done so many things one had thought she would not care to do.”
“Morris,” said I, impulsively, and with more of the confidence of our old bon camaraderie than I had shown for months, “ I have thought, sometimes — that you might marry again.”
“ Well, in temporary aberration of mind I once cherished the same thought.”
“ And was the derangement only temporary ? ”
“ Quite so. I think it might have been classed under the head of emotional insanity. That is a rather prevalent complaint nowadays, and harmless —to the person affected.”
“ Yes,” said I, with meaning, “ but it may do a great deal of harm to others.”Then, curiosity getting the better of me, “ Have I seen the destroyer of your reason ? Did it happen recently, — quite recently ? ”
Balfour threw hack his handsome head with a laugh of genuine enjoyment. “ Bless your heart! ” said he. “ The little girl from Maine ? No, no ! I was never mad enough for that! ”
At this point in the conversation my maid — one of those dear, good souls whose conscientiousness is a positive affliction to every one around them — beckoned me into my chamber, the door of which I left ajar as I followed her. Would I excuse the interruption, but she had given Pocahontas (the cockatoo) her soaked bread, and had shrouded the cage in gauze, as I directed ; had I any further orders ? None for the present ; she might amuse herself as she liked till twelve. She departed, radiant (being not too conscientious for a mild flirtation with Mrs. Bixbee’s man, Thomas), and I was turning down the gas preparatory to rejoining Balfour, when suddenly — so suddenly that I stood like one who wakes from a dream to he knows not what of horror — there came a rushing sound, inarticulate cries, the quick roll of a chair on casters, a man’s voice, low and rapid, Balfour’s voice ; and yes ! the other was Amy’s. The first shock over, my senses restored, as it were, I heard every word plainly, or as plainly as one might hear what was strangled and broken with agitation. The girl seemed beside herself, past all reach of reason or entreaty. I made out that she had encountered Mrs. De Land since leaving me, — where I never learned, nor did Balfour, — and that there had been a terrible scene, in which the distracted mother had freely emptied the vials of her wrath.
“ She said I must go away — that I killed him — that even you would n’t help me, or care for me any more ” —
“ Amy! For God’s sake ” — broke in Balfour, but she went on, more wildly yet: —
“ You will help me, won’t you ? You will tell her that you will ? I did n’t kill him ! Say that you don’t think I killed him! ”
“ He’s not dead. Amy, listen to me ; he’s not even hurt.”
“ She said I killed him, and one might better be dead who would look at me, or even touch me—even touch me!” Her voice broke, and spent itself in a convulsive shuddering more terrible than tears.
“ My dearest child ! You are excited. Now hear me. No one has been killed, or in the least injured.”
“ I am killed! ” she burst out frantically.
“ My darling — my darling,” he remonstrated ; but there was nothing impassioned in the phrase.
“ They said I must go away. What can I do when I have gone away like that ? I will never go — never ! ”
“ It is better that you should go. You would n’t care to stay here ? ” She did not answer him, or could not, and he urged her gently, “ Would you ? ”
“ Oh, no ! no ! ” she cried then, sobbing. “ I will go away, I will do anything you tell me, but I will not go to grandfather. He shall never know that I have been a disgrace to him.”
“ My child ! Don’t use that word. I am sure he is not such a terrible grandfather that he won’t forgive a little indiscretion. See ! that is quite a different thing from disgrace. You are exaggerating everything.”
“ But you told me to go away ! you told me ! ” — always that passionate, despairing strain answering the man’s smooth kindliness. “ If I — if there was no disgrace, you would not tell me I must go. . . . You said dreadful things to me — that I liked things that were not nice — but you were not kind enough to tell me — to tell me the truth ! ”
“ Amy ! listen, dear. If I have said anything unkind, let it all go now. I dare say I was very disagreeable.”
“ No ! no ! you were always good ! Don’t mind what I say — I will be quiet. . . . I will do what you tell me . . . but let me stay with you. ... I can’t go back to grandfather. . . . You said — you said you could never see me suffer. ... If you leave me I shall die . . . you — you help — you . . . Morris ! . . . Oh, please . . . Oh, God ! ” —
My heart seemed turning to ice where I stood. I had not known what to do at first. To escape my unfortunate position I should have to pass, as my maid had done, through a small apartment which had an archway communicating with the parlor. I should be in as full view from that room as though I had stalked directly into it. So, in distress and confusion, I had stayed where I was, and now retreat was impossible. Were I to go at this crisis it would be more awkward than ever. I had the consolation of knowing that Balfour was aware of my proximity, and, understanding my predicament, would not think me a willful eavesdropper.
“ Amy ! Amy ! ” I heard him say, still in that low voice, but it was a shocked and pitiful one as well. “You must n’t give way like this. Don’t talk any more.”
There followed murmured words of soothing, and even of endearment, — much may be pardoned a man in a moment like that, — words that I need not repeat, that I should feel it a sort of sacrilege to repeat.
The pity of it was more than I could endure. As though it were before my bodily eyes, I saw the whole scene. She was clinging to him ; he was trying to be kind, yet not too kind.
What depths of misery, what despair, must she not have reached before such words could have been wrung from her! I buried my head in the window-curtains, in a vain endeavor to shut it all out. By and by he was saying (and she was quite still now ; deathly still, it would have seemed to me, but for the quick breath that came at intervals), —
“You have said you would do as I told you. This is what I would have you do. Go to Miss Lecky, and be advised by her.”
“ I can’t! — you — you ” — She was unable to go on, but there was a piteous emphasis on the you which could not be misunderstood.
“You are better guided by some one else than me,” he resumed, with a gentle firmness for which I admired him. “ Whatever she tells you will be sure to be right. Promise me that you will listen to her.” Silence. “Amy, promise me.” There was still no word from her, and he continued with added gentleness, “ I must be leaving you very soon. Won’t you promise me before I go? ”
“ Go ? ” said she in a dazed way.
“ Yes. You must rest to-night. You are all worn out. Don’t you know that you are ? ”
But she was as silent as before. She seemed, indeed, half dead, or like a poor mad soul with only one idea.
“ Amy, promise me that you will be directed by her. I thought you loved her.” At this she began moaning in such distress that he hastened to say, “ Well, well, we won’t speak of it any more. To-morrow it will all look much brighter to you. You are very nervous to-night. I can’t undertake to waltz with a little girl who trembles like this. Now I want to say a parting word. No one is shot, no one is hurt; not even you. You will be all right and quite a heroine in a day or two, and I shall see you laughing many times again. Now goodnight.”
The good-night was not responded to in words. There was a moment, several moments, of silence. Then Balfour’s voice said, with a new tenderness, “ Don’t! little one, don’t! It will all come right.”
In a few minutes I heard the outer door close softly behind him. I went in, and saw her kneeling, with, her arms flung across the chair where he had sat. She did not stir, nor speak, and I noiselessly withdrew. When I went in to her again she was still kneeling there, as motionless as before. I spoke to her, once, twice, and then she looked up. Such a face ! It was like nothing I had ever seen, — so wild and stricken.
“ My dear child,” sail! I, “ stay with me ; you are half sick. Let me pet you and take care of you to-night.”
“ No ! no ! ” she said, staggering up on her feet, and she actually laughed. “I don’t want to be petted. I — you are so kind and good — always so kind and good ; and I have been ungrateful. Let me alone to-night. To-morrow you can pet me. I thank you just the same.”
Her suffering seemed to plead for a refuge where no one should see it. I pitied her too much to wish to retain her against her will, and so we kissed each other and parted, but it was only at her own door that I left her.
The long-gathering storm broke at midnight. All through the small hours of the morning I lay awake, listening to the rain against my windows and the thunderous roll of the sea.
When I came down to breakfast every one was discussing the weather. The De Land-Banks affray, though so recent and startling, was spoken of only sub rosa.
“ Have you seen the swell ? ” said Dicky, speaking across to me from his table.
“ The swell? ” I repeated, vague visions of another Dicky floating through my mind.
“ Oh, ho ! Not a fellah, not a man ! ” said he, laughing, and showing his handsome teeth ; “ the ocean swell. It’s tremendous ! They Say there’s a steamer ashore ten miles below here.”
“ Dear ! dear ! ” I exclaimed. “ The old story of those who go down to the sea in ships. I suppose every one will he wanting to drive over and see it.”
But the day was too inclement for that. Though it had ceased raining, there was a sullen look in the sky ; the wet roads glistened; at intervals heavy tremors ran through the house.
“ It’s the sea breaking,” observed Dicky, with a cheerful air, as he finished his last egg. “ Every one is goingdown to see it. Won’t you let me pilot you ? ”
Donning my water-proof and hood, I placed myself under Dicky’s manly wing. Many others were wending their way to the beach, and there was much laughing and struggling with skirts and scarfs. As we neared the shore a brisk wind struck us, — a zephyr compared with the demon that had howled all night. Hats flew away, draperies fluttered. The feminine part of the line presented the curious appearance of being very trim indeed on one side, and very much inflated on the other. We were all in high spirits. The leaping, heaving waste before us was a superb joke, gotten up expressly for our diversion. Ten miles away, on this same shore, was a laboring ship, drifting to destruction. If we thought of it at all, it was with curiosity, some vague commiseration. A wreck was a hideous thing, — how much we should like to see one !
“ I tell you,” said Dicky, “ this is grand! It makes a fellah feel small, now, does n’t it ? ”
“ And well it may ! ” I returned, profoundly. Poor, prating fools ! I have thought of it often since.
I don’t know how long we had been there, — some time undoubtedly, for we had wandered far along the wet sands in search of adventure, signs of the storm in battered fishing-boats, flotsam, and clinging weeds, — when Miss Bixbee, who was gazing through an ivory and gold opera-glass, cried out in delight, “ Oh, I see something ! ” A moment after she said, in a slightly shocked tone, “ How queer ! Can it be ? Mr. Brown, will you look ? ”
She handed him her glass, and Dicky arranged the focus to suit his germander eye.
“ Why, ’pon my soul! ” said he. “ Will you look, Mr. Walker ? ”
Then Mr. Walker looked; and now every one was looking, and there was a strange hush. At the farther end of the pier something was rising and falling with the water, as it dashed against the huge piles.
“ It is a body,” said Mr. Walker.
“ Of what ? ” asked Miss Bixbee.
“ Can it be from the steamer ? ” inquired another.
But Mr. Walker, whose woes sat heavily upon him, and who was, moreover, at all times a man of few words, deigned no reply.
“ Hale,” said he to the bath superintendent, who was standing near, “ we must recover it. Can it be done in this sea ? ”
Hale had seen many drowned people, and many high seas. While we stood in awe and fear, he said, in a matter-offact tone, “ Manage that easy enough, sir. I can go out with a rope around me, or we might try fishing for it from above. But I guess that won’t work. It’s a woman; don’t you see the dress ? She must have been killed when she struck the water, or something hit her. More ’n likely she was hit; there’s things floating around to-day that ’ud knock the breath out of a whale. I’ve known ’em that way when they jumped from a spring-board and struck on their head. Perhaps she missed it there; though it don’t seem likely a woman would be for taking a swim in a gale like this.”
Sober enough we all were now. Miss Bixbee was standing, quite pale, with the lorgnette in her hand, when Balfour came up. She did not greet him, but said, with a simple eloquence of horror, handing him the glass, “ It’s a woman ! ”
Balfour looked long and steadily. 44 Ugh! ” he exclaimed, with a little shudder. “ How she strikes the piles ! Don’t look any more ; we shall have to be giving you wine.” There was this protecting fondness in Balfour’s manner to all women. I thought with a pang of certain accents I had heard not long ago. 44 Where is Miss Roberts ? ” he inquired then, addressing me. “ I wonder she is not here. She is so fond of the sea. And this is a sight to remember a lifetime.”
44 Yes,” replied I, feeling dull and cold. I knew Balfour’s lightness covered a real concern for the poor little girl who had clung to him last night, and in piteous shamelessness revealed to him that she loved him. I knew that there was no moral reason why he should look like an image of grief, or speak with the voice of one from the tomb; yet the well-bred composure of his face, the elegant ease of his person, his fine raiment, the very cat’s-eye on his finger, irritated me. I was impressed momentarily by an absurd idea (not uncommon with weak human kind) that no one had a right to be gracious or elegant while I was suffering from lofty meditations on the infinite. 44I have not seen Amy,” I said, with an effort. " I sent to inquire, but she had not come down when I left the house. We are keeping too early hours for her.”
Having played our little part, we turned our attention once more to that sad figure, rising and falling with the water. As we talked we had strolled along the beach, and were now quite near the pier. Hale, partially stripped, was fixing a rope under his arms. A bare-legged fisherman or two stood about, waiting to lend assistance ; there were groups of rough men, groups of roundeyed children, groups of dainty ladies and fine gentlemen, with more of simple gravity in their faces than perhaps was often seen there.
All the while the great waves were beating against the piles, and the limp body went with them, striking and falling back, pitching and rising. Sometimes, with a horrible inertness, it turned slowly over, and tilted for a moment to and fro, before it was borne down again and dashed upon the reeking wood-work.
The sight was too terrible. I turned away, and wandered along the shore. When I had walked some distance I looked back. Hale was just laying his burden on the beach. A knot of gentlemen had gathered about him ; the ladies stood apart. I returned rapidly, and spoke to Miss Bixbee : —
44 Who is it ? What is it ? Do they know ? ”
She looked at me, speechless.
Balfour was handing a white handkerchief to Hale, which the latter quickly laid on the dead face.
44 Let us ask,” I said.
We went forward hand in hand, and were quite near before any of the group about the still figure noticed our approach. Balfour was the first to see us. There was a sudden closing in of the circle as he left it and came to us.
“ You must go away,” he said, in such a strange, harsh tone that something — we hardly knew what — leaped to our minds on the instant.
“ Morris, what is it ? ” I asked, in a half whisper.
“ It is no sight for you ! ” he answered, brokenly, almost savagely. “ Don’t ask me ! You must go away.”
It was only as we turned, trembling, to obey him, that he said, —
“ It is Amy ! ”
Dead years ago ! The sun is shining into my balcony, where I write. Pocahontas, the cockatoo, grown old and more than ever irascible, is screaming hoarsely in her cage. Perhaps she, too, has memories which stir in their dim chamber, and after long silence importune her, — as mine do me.
It is not often that I give myself up to retrospection. Here in this foreign city which I have made my home, where new faces, new friends, new interests, engross me, there has been little to recall that, far-away time of which I have written. But a month ago, at Nice, I saw Morris Balfour, and how it all rushed back!
I was no longer surrounded by a babble of polyglot tongues. The band had ceased playing. We were lying in the tall grass on the summit of Stoke Hill; knocking the croquet balls about in the Castle garden. It was a moonlight night; horses were trampling before the piazza steps ; there were gay voices, and capped and habited figures. Other memories there were : a time of darkness and hushed tones, when there was no croquet, and the children played quietly on the gravel walks. They had been told not to disturb the poor old man, who had white hair, and was in such great grief for his granddaughter. They were vaguely sorry for the old man, but they were glad to play unmolested with the dog Gyp, whose mistress had gone away. She would not come back to scold them for pulling his ears. . . .
“ You are looking very well,” Balfour was saying. “ I saw the Browns in Paris not long ago. They were hoping they might run across you somewhere, but it seems that pleasure has been reserved for me. Dicky is married, you know, and the father of a family.”
“ Dicky — a father ? a husband ? ”
“ Yes, indeed. Upon my word, it made me feel quite shabby.”
“ So you are still ” — I paused.
“ Yes, still,” he said, laughing. “ It’s a selfish life. Have I grown old ? ”
I looked at him, smiling a little. He had certainly grown older ; a trifle stouter, too. There was even a suggestion of high living in the deepened color of his face and neck, — a suggestion of walnuts and wine ; but he was as handsome as ever.
“ Seven years do not count with men,” I said, gayly, “ but they do with women — and cockatoos.”
“ Ah, Pocahontas ! tuneful bird ! How it recalls those old days! ” He was lounging easily in his chair; one hand trifled with his watch-chain, the other was thrust between his crossed knees ; his eyes rested pleasantly on a pretty waitress in a cap. “ That was a happy time, was it not ? ”
“ Very happy,” I answered. “ And — very unhappy, too.”
“ Ah, yes ! yes ! Will you have an ice ? Poor Amy ! ”
“ Poor Amy, indeed ! Hers is the one figure of them all which is clear in my memory to-day. So sweet! so young ! I shall never forget her.”
“Nor I. She was wonderfully pretty. (Will you really take nothing ?) Do you know, it has occurred to me since that I — upon my soul! — if she had lived ” —