THE Reverend Robert Raymond prided himself, in a seemly and clerical fashion, on his tact. So innocent and candid was this endowment as he possessed it that it was distinctly apparent, and the disaffected of the congregation construed him as a scheming man, unduly versed in the ways of the world for a clergyman. Among the persons who interpreted him more justly was a young girl, who sat near him, one summer morning, in a large parlor on the shady side of the house. The welcome watering-carts rambled up and down the street, giving to the air the taste of sudden showers; the breeze waved the curtains, stirred the plants in the balcony, and wafted freshly into the room the odors of heliotrope and geranium.
Mr. Raymond looked with some admiration at the brilliant face, with its background of fluttering lace and flowers. He was one of those men whose attitude toward women is something of the paternal, at once protective and indulgent; he found a certain charm in their caprices, and just now the evident petulance of his wife’s young cousin induced not so much tolerance as approval.
“ Oh, it’s all very well for you to preach, cousin Robert ” — she cried.
“ So some people think,” he interpolated, with a laugh.
— “ about duty and obedience, and all that; but what is my duty ? — that’s what I want to know.”
If he had told her the exact truth, he would have said that in his opinion it was her duty to be charming, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the tints on that rosebud against the gray stone there. But it will not do even for a clergyman always to speak his whole mind, so he sedately replied that her duties would probably define themselves distinctly enough as the years went by, and he did not doubt she would be very faithful in their performance.
“I do hope I shall know what they are,” she declared, with animation. “ Now, what am I to do ? Nothing pleases papa. He was determined, he said, that his only daughter should have all the advantages that money could command, and he gave them to me, and I fully availed myself of them. Now,” culminatively, “he is not satisfied.”
The Reverend Robert Raymond said to himself that the old Judge must be hard to please if he were indeed dissatisfied with the result of his investment. To speak disrespectfully of the Chancellor behind his back was a privilege claimed by many people besides the lawyers whom a hard fate compelled to practice in his court. A notable metropolitan school, the regimen of regular hours, diet, and exercise, and a carefully devised curriculum had returned to him, as a finished product of feminine education, this young woman of twenty-two, of fine mind, manners, health, and morals, sufficiently well grounded in useful branches, moderately accomplished in the modern languages, music, and painting, with an exceedingly lively and cultivated imagination, and with keen appreciation and consummate tact in all matters pertaining to dress and personal adornment. The possession of this last talent was manifest in her fresh and well-chosen morning toilette, — white, sparsely trimmed with delicately fine embroideries and a few knots of purple ribbon. There was a distinct arrogation of simplicity, but the minuteness and perfection of detail showed that a taste for the ornate in decoration was only held in subjection by the laws of the appropriate. She was very pretty. A flush on her face accented the fairness of her complexion ; her eyes, so deeply blue that they were almost purple, were downcast and shaded by dark lashes ; her parted lips — the upper one particularly delicate, sensitive, and well cut, curving downward — showed a line of small white teeth; her nose was straight and noticeably narrow from the point to the line of the nostril, —this, with the oval of her face, gave her a look of much refinement; her hair, a red-brown, almost auburn, was brushed back, but close about her brow the heat had curled sundry tendrils that had a tinge of gold ; when she looked up and laughed, dimples were apparent in the soft rose of each cheek.
“I am growing very cynical,” she cried. “I am sour and disappointed.” Then she looked down again and pouted. She understood human nature well enough to know that she might pout as much as she chose in cousin Robert’s presence.
“ In what, may I ask, are you disappointed? ” he demanded, with due gravity.
“ In life,” replied Miss Felicia Hamilton, sententiously.
“ That’s sad,” said cousin Robert.
“ In life,” she repeated, this time vivaciously. “ It promises one thing, and it offers another. I am educated to one set of views, and when I have developed what mind I have according to them, suddenly I am expected to conform to another set, entirely different. This was the way of it, cousin Robert.” She bent upon him a smile calculated to win to partisanship a more obdurate heart than his, and continued with a delightful show of confidence : —
“ You see, when I was young— quite young, I mean, ten years ago — I was a little bookworm; very intellectual, I assure you, though you might not think it now. I read everything ; I was very precocious. I cared nothing for the other young girls and their amusements, or pretty things to wear, or music,—only for books, books. Papa said that was all wrong. He did not want me to grow up shy, and absorbed, and awkward. He wanted me to shine in society, to be elaborately educated, and have fine manners. So he sent me to Madame Sevier, and there I remained ten years, even during the vacations. She and the rest of them did their duty, and I tried to do mine. Now, what do you think papa says ? That I am frivolous and spoiled; that I care too much for dress and society, and am not domestic at all!” — with much exclamatory emphasis of pretty eyes and lips, — “and don’t love home. Frivolous, —that’s what he calls me! ”
Two tears rose to the violet eyes that rested on cousin Robert’s face, and his heart was hot within him against the absent Judge.
“ Your father expects you to be ‘ domestic’ after ten years with Madame Sevier?” sarcastically commented this wise clerical confidant and spiritual pastor.
“ And we saw a great deal of very fashionable society with Madame Sevier,” resumed the young lady suddenly, and with much vivacity. “ And in summer she had directions to take me to the mountains and the seashore,— Newport, Saratoga, the White Mountains. We went—everywhere. She knew — everybody ; that is, everybody worth knowing. Now, is that the kind of training to fit a girl for a sleepy little Southern country town like Blankburg ? ”
“ Any young men ? ” inquired cousin Robert, demurely.
She looked at him expressively.
“ Such sticks ! ” she said, concisely.
Cousin Robert’s face betrayed no amusement. It was a long, thin face, with bright gray eyes, a hooked nose, some premature wrinkles, a straggling mustache, fine teeth, a large mouth, and occasionally a brilliant smile. His lank figure was disposed in a comfortable attitude in an easy-chair, and his white hands, with their slim, nervous fingers, rested on its arms. His hat and cane ornamented a table near by, and his wife’s parasol was on the sofa. This was not a pastoral call, merely a prolonged cousinly visit.
“ Why are they sticks ? ” he asked.
“ Divinity students,” she replied, with a certain scorn. Then, with an abrupt resumption of her smooth manner, “ Don’t you think, cousin Robert, that such men are very young ? I don’t mean in years, — some of them are not very young in years, — but in experience. They are rather — well, raw, you know, or perhaps crude.”
“ I think ‘ raw ’ is the word you want,” he said. “ They are apt to be raw till some such young lady as you takes them in hand, when they generally get done very brown indeed.”
She did not reply directly to this. Men like cousin Robert have only themselves to thank if their feminine acquaintance regard them as chiefly useful in preventing conversation from degenerating into monologue.
“ Papa considers it very unseemly that I do not rate those young men more highly. He says they are well read, and cultivated, and all that. Of course they are. It is their métier to be cultivated. But they know books, and nothing else. They don’t know life; they don’t know human nature. Those young men talk books until I am ready to perish : Herbert Spencer, and systems, and refutations, and everything in books, from Pliny up and down. Now, I am tired of Pliny. I have heard all I want to hear about Pliny. I used to read about Pliny myself, a long time ago, — when I was young. Papa can’t understand all that. He thinks a town with a flourishing theological school is the very place to please a young woman with a cultivated understanding. And among them all I find it dull in Blankburg, — dull as the grave.”
“ I hope you do not find society in this city so dull as in Blankburg,” said cousin Robert, sympathetically.
“ So far as I can judge, being a stranger,” she replied, demurely, her manner conveying an intimation that a visitor’s verdict must of necessity be favorable, “ society here may be very pleasant. Now, you must understand, cousin Robert,” she added, with a sudden return of liveliness, and bending upon him convincing eyes, “ I am not a missish young woman, eager to meet an Adonis with a dark mustache. I don’t want to fall in love, and I don’t want to marry any one ” —
“Very, very magnanimous,” murmured cousin Robert.
— “but I want to see some interesting people ; men who know life, and politics, and the world, and society.” She seemed conscious of a little vagueness, for she added, after a moment’s reflection, “ I can’t explain exactly what I mean. I think I mean men who are intellectual and not eager to display the fact, and polished but not priggish, and who observe instead of expecting others to observe them. I don’t care if they are young or old, married or single, American or foreign. I only want them to be interesting. That does n’t seem too much to ask of human nature, does it ? ”
Cousin Robert admitted that it did not, and added that if the congregation of St. Paul’s offered any of the material she approved as entertainment, he might venture to promise that it was at her disposal.
She glanced at him archly.
“ Will you warrant them ignorant of Pliny ? ” she asked, mischievously. Then she turned again to the window.
Her companion had observed that her attention had very slightly wandered during the last few seconds, as her eyes had rested on some object apparently advancing down the sidewalk. He leaned forward, looked out, and suddenly drew back, with palpable annoyance expressed on his face.
Two ladies, who had been discussing in the back parlor a supposed cabal of the disaffected against the Reverend Robert’s tenure of office, — their conference gaining much of confidential effect from the employment of a mysterious undertone and acquiescent nods when words failed, — now entered the front room. Mrs. John Hamilton, a plump little lady, with a brilliant complexion and round, intent eyes, might have seemed always listening, so serious was her expression and so marked her general air of attention and responsibility. Mrs. Raymond, on the contrary, seemed irresponsible, inattentive, and inconsequent. She was much younger than her husband, and was fair-haired, blue-eyed, and childish and indefinite in manner. She looked about vaguely for her parasol, and when she had secured it strolled to her husband’s armchair, and leaned against it, with her elbows on its back.
“ Is n’t it time for us to go home, dear ? ” she suggested.
And now came the emergency which drew on cousin Robert’s store of tact.
Her attitude gave her a glimpse of the street, and of a gentleman at this moment traversing the crossing.
“ Why, Robert, there is Hugh Kennett ! ” she exclaimed, suddenly.
The gentleman on the crossing raised his eyes; they gravely met those of Miss Hamilton ; in another instant he had passed out of sight, and she looked back into the room. Mr. Raymond had at length relinquished the armchair, and was standing with his back to the window, in such a position that, as he rose to his feet, he must have prevented the passer from recognizing either him or his wife. This fact, his neglect of Mrs. Raymond’s question, and a swift, significant glance he gave her did not escape the attention of our observant young lady ; she recognized cousin Robert’s adroitness. She speculated a little on the subject. “ Did he want me not to see that they know that gentleman ? ” she said to herself. Cousin Robert was not the sort of man to manæuvre causelessly in trifling social emergencies ; yet he had clumsily attempted to ignore the existence of his friend. " That was an odd thing.” thought Felicia, puzzled.
Shortly after this the visitors took their departure, and as they walked up the street Mr. Raymond gave his wife a little warning.
“ Amy, be careful how you mention Kennett before your cousin. She is very young and impressionable, and it is undesirable that she should become interested in him. She knows very few pleasant people here, and he is an extremely agreeable sort of fellow, and ” —
“ That is an excellent reason why he should be mentioned,” said little Mrs. Amy, with the air of seeing both sides of a question.
“ Oh, good gracious ! ” exclaimed the Reverend Mr. Raymond, like any other exclamatory miserable sinner, “ think of the old Judge.”
“ I forgot the Judge,” said Amy, quickly and apprehensively. “ I will be careful.”
People thus unexpectedly reminded of the Judge were apt to hurriedly concede the point, and to wear for some time an anxious and depressed air.
For a number of mornings previous to the one herein commemorated, Miss Hamilton, whose habit it was to sit, with some slight resource in the way of fancy-work, near one of the windows which looked out upon the quiet suburban avenue, had observed a tall, sedate stranger advance along the opposite sidewalk, cross the street, and disappear from view. Perhaps her attention was attracted because of the regularity of this episode; perhaps because his appearance approximated her somewhat exacting ideal; perhaps because the first time she saw him he was looking at the window with a certain expectancy. Among the accomplishments she had acquired under Madame Sevier’s tutelage was not the grace of humility. The idea was instantly suggested that he had before seen her here, and was on the lookout for her. This flattered her and piqued her curiosity, — all the more because of the regular recurrence about the same hour of the phenomenon. He was a grave man, twenty-five or thirty years of age; handsome in a certain sense, but not in the style that usually attracts the favorable regards of young girls. He had deeply set gray eyes, an aquiline nose, a large, firm chin, a finely chiseled month with flexible lips, about which were lines that showed a capacity for varying expression. The heavy lower jaw and broad, high forehead gave the face a certain squareness. He was clean - shaven, and his light brown hair was clipped close to a massive head. He wore a well-fitting suit of light cloth and a straw hat. He was tall, well proportioned, and, an experienced observer could easily have seen, in good training from the standpoint of athletics. He walked slowly, but at an even pace, looking neither to the right nor the left; and there was nothing, apparently, which broke the monotony of his methodical progress down the street except the momentary interest with which he glanced at the front window of the corner house.
Now, if there had been any recognizable betrayal of such interest at this stage of the affair, or any attempt to inaugurate an acquaintance, the matter would have abruptly terminated, and Mr. Hugh Kennett would have had only the view of John Hamilton’s closed window-blinds for his pains ; for the young lady, with all her caprice, her somewhat exaggerated self-esteem, — to put it mildly, — and her love of excitement, was fastidious, and a devotee to externals. It pleased her that he should look with covert eagerness toward the house, that he should distantly and respectfully admire her, and that she should subtly divine his admiration. Since, however, the vanity which receives homage as due is more exacting than the vanity which asserts a claim, the affair was not likely to go further but for the interposition of accident.
The accident was of an obvious and simple nature, — merely an afternoon call.
“ I think I should like to take the phaeton and go over to see Amy.” remarked Miss Hamilton to her sister-inlaw, one day, " provided I can secure the society of the festive Frederick.”
It was the habit in the Hamilton family to allude to the eight-year-old son of the house with a sort of caressing mockery, in phrases of doubtful value as witticisms, but of humorous intent.
Mrs. Hamilton replied that it was a pleasant day for the trip, and that the horse and phaeton were entirely at their service.
The " festive Frederick ” was four feet high and fractious. To find him was a matter of difficulty. When found, he declared tumultuously that he had rather die than go to call at cousin Amy’s, — a reckless assertion, since he was mounted on a bicycle, and destruction seemed to menace him in every yard of his tottering progress. There was a swift exchange of argument and counter-argument. The nephew deftly reclined on his tall steed against a convenient tree-box, his distorted shadow stretching along the sidewalk among the dappling simulacra of the maple leaves. A golden haze was in the air; down the vista of the street might be seen a vast spread of clustering roofs; spires caught the light and glittered.
“ Very well,” said Felicia at last. “ I dare say I can go alone. Sometimes there are cows on the streets; probably I shall meet some; and if cousin Robert is not at his house, or too busy to drive me home, I may have to come back by myself.”
There was a pause. The boy on the bicycle wore a troubled and thoughtful air.
“ They have a good many fires in this city,” continued the young lady, discursively, “ and when the engines bang a gong and tear along they always frighten me. However, perhaps I can take care of myself.”
She turned away resignedly.
The heart that beat so ambitiously on the giddy mount was a chivalric heart enough, after all. There was a short scuffle of descent, and the two set out in amity.
The Reverend Robert Raymond lived in a portion of the city so secluded that it had a village-like aspect. Farther west were miles of staring, new, red brick dwellings and corner groceries, drug stores, livery stables, all important and busy with neighborhood trade ; but this retired region the march of improvement, in some inexplicable freak, had spared. Grass and trees surrounded most of the houses, which were oldfashioned, roomy, not altogether convenient according to exacting modern standards, but sufficiently comfortable. Among them was a large, square, two-story brick dwelling, with a wide veranda in front. The shadows were long on the grass, streaked with the yellow rays of the afternoon sun, as Miss Hamilton and her youthful escort took their way up the gravel walk.
A man like the rector of St. Paul’s usually has some hobby. His hobby was the art of gardening. He never accomplished anything very remarkable; the aid of professionals was the sole reliance before the season was well advanced. But when he pridefully surveyed the result of their joint efforts, his calm arrogation to himself singly of the entire merit of his garden was a thing to behold ; and every spring his faith that his own work would supply the family with green peas and Hubbard squash was as consummate as his faitli in the Creed. Experience taught him nothing, for cousin Robert was one of those lucky souls who believe the thing that they wish to believe. Felicia saw him now in the kitchen garden at the side of the house, plying his rake among the lettuce ; apparently a painful operation, for he was a long man, and the rake was a particularly short rake, being, in fact, his wife’s implement for use among the verbenas. Felicia’s was not a temperament to sympathize with this sort of pursuit. “Always pottering,” she said to herself, with half-affectionate, half-contemptuous indignation. “And if he must potter, why will he break his back with Amy’s little old rake ? ”
Her disapproval was not, however, sufficient to mar the cordiality of her look and gesture, — for she was fond of cousin Robert, — as she passed through the garden gate and went swiftly toward him, both hands outstretched and a gay greeting on her lips. Those dewy red lips were smiling; her eyes were softly bright; a rich bloom mantled her delicate cheek; her musical laughter rang out. To the man lounging on the green bench in the grape-arbor near at hand, half concealed by the swaying branches, she seemed the embodiment of the gracious season; as joyous, as brilliant, as expressive of life and light, hope and promise, as the early summer-time itself. For, serious and unimpressionable as he looked, Hugh Kennett had an imagination. His Pegasus had, to be sure, been bitted, and bridled, and trained to run for the cup, but on occasion it might bolt like many a less experienced racer. Thus it was that Mr. Kennett evolved a personation instead of seeing merely a beautiful young woman, moving with ease and grace, speaking with a refined accent, and dressed, with a certain individuality of taste, in a light gray costume, embroidered elaborately and delicately with purple pansies that matched well her dark eyes. Being a man of taste as well as imagination, and particularly alert as to the minutiæ of effect, her attitude, the harmonies of the colors she wore, the dainty details, appealed as strongly, though less poetically, to his cultivated perceptions.
At the sound of her voice, Mr. Raymond turned, with a start. She was a little chilled by a suggestion of constraint in his tones and manner, apparent when he greeted her, and still more when he introduced his companion, whom until now she had not seen. Hugh Kennett had risen ; he had a cigar in his hand. He was looking at her with attention; their eyes met.
Madame Sevier’s training did not comprehend every emergency. Notwithstanding her habit of society, the young lady was for a moment embarrassed; she flushed deeply, and her perceptible timidity contrasted agreeably with her manner an instant ago.
“ You are always busy, cousin Robert,” she said, glancing down at the lettuce, and conscious of the extreme flatness of her remark.
“Say, cousin Robert,” exclaimed Fred, who had delayed, to exchange greetings with a very old, very fat, very dignified pointer on the portico, and who now came up with the eagerness of the small boy to participate in the conversation, — “ say, why n’t ye sen’ yer peas, an’ squashes, an’ apples, ter the fair, nex’ fall ? I jus’ know yer ‘d git the prize. Say, won’t yer sen’ some ov ’em this year ? ”
“ Well, I don’t know about that,” said cousin Robert, leading the way to the house.
“ Oh, you bet I would, if I was a man an’ had a garden ! " cried the boy, attempting to possess himself of the rake of the reverend gentleman, who in turn attempted to playfully elude him, and succeeded in making it apparent that no juvenile amateur gardening was desired.
By the time the party reached the portico, where two ladies in white dresses were profuse in hospitable greetings and offers of the cane chairs that were grouped about in the shadow of the vines, Felicia’s unwonted embarrassment had worn away, and she was mischievously amused by the look of anxious inquiry which Amy cast upon Robert and the shade of discomfort on his face. In her youthful self-sufficiency she suddenly arrived, as she fancied, at an explanation of their disquiet. “ Cousin Robert seemed to find the introduction a trial,” she reflected, rapidly. “ And the other day he wished to prevent me from seeing that they know his friend, whom he apparently desires to keep in jeweler’s cotton. Does he consider me so dangerous as all that, — such an ogre that they are afraid for their precious Hugh Kennett ? I think, I really think, Felicia,” she concluded, gleefully apostrophizing herself, “you must give your cousin Robert something to be uneasy about.”
By way of accomplishing this purpose she proceeded per ambages. Mr. Raymond, accustomed to her vivacity, it may even be admitted her loquacity, was thrown off his guard. Madame Sevier, a very wise person in a certain sense, had numerous theories as to the elements which go to make that finished expression of society, a charming woman, and one of these was apropos of the unloveliness of talk. “ Talk,” she would declare, “is not conversation. The greatest enemy a woman of mind must contend against is her own tongue. It is not what she has to say that matters; it is what she is. If a beautiful girl’s faculties are absorbed in expressing her ideas, which in the nature of things are not valuable, she loses what is both valuable and artistic, — the charm of her individuality. A certain phase of intellectual adolescence is interesting because of its possibilities and its divinations, but this must disappear as soon as the assumptions of the thinker come to be considered, — especially when they are urged with the fatally didactic manner which seems to be inseparable from every woman who has ‘ views.’ ”
Perhaps her favorite pupil had profited by these axioms ; perhaps she was silent only because she had become interested in the talk of the others ; certainly, to those who knew her best she had never appeared to such advantage. She was a conspicuous figure in her circle, and it was the habit of her friends to discuss her much, comparing her to herself on different, occasions, — what she wore, how she looked, what she said. This afternoon there was a sort of still brilliance upon her ; though she spoke seldom, her smile held the charm of an indefinite, delightful promise ; a certain eloquence of expression shone in her bright, dark eyes.
Sundry theories were not included in cousin Robert’s philosophy. It did not occur to him that the young lady talked to him much because she considered him little ; he took heart of grace. “A dashing girl like Felicia would never give a second thought to such a sedate fellow as Kennett,” he assured himself.
Deprived of Miss Hamilton’s conversational aptitude, the party on Mr. Raymond’s portico presented, however, no aspect of Carthusian or Trappist gathering. His mother-in-law, Mrs. Emily Stanley-Brant, was visiting the young couple, and she had no theories as to the unloveliness of talk. She kindly entertained the company.
Now, everybody knows, or ought to know, that it was a great blessing to have been born one of the Stanleys. The reasons why this was a blessing are so apparent as to need no explanation ; the Stanleys being so highly reputable and estimable a family, well endowed with this world’s goods, and holding additional prominence because possessing certain political and legal magnates. It was particularly appropriate that this representative of the Stanleys should have added lustre to the family by her marriage to a certain notable Ex-Governor Brant. Although he was greatly her senior, it seemed as much a lovematch as so ambitious a woman might achieve. A man who had gone so often to Congress, and who had sat for many years on the judicial bench, fulfilled the most exacting ideal of which she could conceive, even had his personal character been less valuable than that of the unexceptionable but prosaic old gentleman she survived. He had been long since gathered to his fathers, but still lived in the reverential, if discursive, reminiscences of his relict. How he rose by degrees to eminence; how he was elected by overwhelming majorities to the state legislature, to Congress, to the United States Senate ; his friends, his enemies, the causes he espoused, the policies he deprecated, — Mrs. Emily Stanley-Brant’s acquaintances sometimes heard of these things. The gentleman whose triumphs were thus celebrated had been a respectable enough politician of the old school, and it is very creditable to human nature that it was possible for wifely pride to transform him into a hero.
Her faith in him served the double purpose of keeping his memory green, and of warding off from the endangered company cousin Robert’s account — which he was aching to give — of the steps he had taken last autumn with the strawberries, and the extremely satisfactory result attained by planting in hills and ruthlessly cutting away all runners. The nethermost abysses were not immediately reached. The conversation was not agricultural, and the worst that the party was called upon for a time to endure were the mellow contralto and the reminiscences of Mrs. Brant.
The ex-governor as a theme was not forced upon the company. She was not malapropos ; indeed, he was merely introduced en passant, in an allusion to Hugh Kennett’s father, — in a tributary manner, as it were, to the personal conversation.
“ Your name is very familiar to me, Mr. Kennett,” she said, smiling upon him across the portico, as she sat by Felicia’s side. “ I remember your father well. I saw him a number of times when I was first in Washington. He was quite a young man, but already notable in his profession. My husband had then just been elected to Congress on the Whig ticket, — ah, such a hardfought contest, Mr. Kennett! Party feeling ran high in those times. People had no lukewarm blood in their veins then. Only Governor Brant’s personal popularity carried him through. He had his own views of political measures, and the event justified him, — yes, indeed, always justified him.”
She spoke in an even, agreeable voice; the very tone embodied so entire a faith in her own words that it imposed concurrence. She had a handsome face, of a somewhat imperial type: dark, expressive eyes; a small, finely shaped head, held well back: glossy chestnut hair, — showing an occasional gleam of gray in its abundance, — which was brushed in waving masses on each side of her broad, high brow, and arranged in a heavy coil at the back of her head. She was tall and imposing, and moved with a majestic grace; her manner expressed kindness, consideration, even deference, and yet instilled, in some brilliant, subtle way, the idea that she could well afford to be so polite, being Mrs. Emily Stanley-Brant.
Some very thin-skinned people interpreted this manner of conciliation and subcurrent of satisfaction as condescension, which Felicia Hamilton, in the exercise of a talent that she possessed, the talent of vicariously experiencing, divined that this stranger in especial must find rather marked. Mrs. Brant was almost offensively gracious to Mr. Kennett: she selected him to the exclusion of the others as the recipient of her remarks ; she bent upon him her most amiable smile.
“ You resemble your father,” she said ; “ yes, very much. And I am told you inherit his talents. The tones of your voice in speaking remind me of him. Very remarkable man, and very successful. — yes, indeed. My husband at once predicted his success. ‘ Emily,’ he said to me, ‘ that young man, that young Kennett, will rise high, mark my words.’ And the prediction was verified,— yes, indeed. Your father held a high place in his calling, — no doubt about that.”
Her politeness was so extreme that it was flavored with the sentiment of noblesse oblige. " How does our gentleman like to be patted on the back in that style ? ” thought Felicia, in secret amusement. She glanced at him, but his face told her nothing. It seemed now a singularly inexpressive face, or he held it in singularly strong control. His gray eyes were fixed on Mrs. Brant’s handsome countenance, he made the proper murmur of assent and reply, and this was all, and it baffled Felicia. “ Perhaps he is only stupid,” she thought, in disgust.
“ Your father had a very full, rotund voice,” pursued Mrs. Brant. “ I should judge that he sang well.”
“ He only sang a little for his own pleasure,” answered the visitor. “ He never studied.”
“ The talent for music should always be cultivated,” continued Mrs. Brant, never dropping that soupçon of condescension. “ A beautiful art, Mr. Kennett. And it is such a pity that so much money is spent upon it to so little purpose. Now, there’s my Amy. I said, ‘ Now, my child, Nature has done her part,’ —a lovely natural voice, Mr. Kennett, high and sweet; you would be surprised. I sent her North, I secured the best professors. And the result is ” — she held up her soft white hands expressively, palms outward, as if to show the company that nothing was in them — “ the result is — all wasted ! She has n’t opened a piano a dozen times since her marriage ! ”
Four pairs of eyes turned upon the abashed Amy, who seemed very youthful as she looked deprecatingly up from under her fair hair. Mr. Kennett’s voice took on something of the reassuring tone with which one encourages a timid child.
“ Why do you give up your singing, cousin Amy ? ” he asked.
“ Oh,” she hesitated, “ Robert does n’t care for music.”
He glanced at Raymond with a smile. Then his eyes met Felicia’s.
“ You and Amy are cousins ? ” she asked, in surprise. “ I did n’t know that.”
“ Robert and I are cousins,” he explained.
“ Oh ! ” she said.
Was it inadvertence, was it coquetry? While his eyes were still on her face, her lips curved softly into a smile ; those dainty dimples appeared on her cheeks; her purple eyes, so dark, yet so bright, were smiling, too. She looked straight at him.
“ Do I understand this ? ” she said, innocently. “ If you are Robert’s cousin, of course you are Amy’s cousin, and Amy is my cousin, — and are you my cousin, too ? ” She raised her delicate black eyebrows inquiringly.
Mrs. Stanley-Brant gasped a little. Mr. Raymond frowned. Amy had the air of cowering back into the recesses of her big cane armchair. Hugh Kennett’s eyes were steadily fixed on Miss Hamilton’s face. He did not quite interpret her. He was not sure if this were naïveté or intention. He only knew that a very beautiful woman was looking at him with the most delightful expression he had ever seen. He had had a wide experience of life, sometimes sordid, sometimes imbued with a certain brilliance ; he thought he had forgotten, among more tangible aims and emotions, the thrill and vague complexity of feeling which stirred him for an instant. A dark flush mounted slowly to his face. He said gravely that to be even a distant relative of hers would be a great privilege.
The training of Madame Sevier’s pupil, if nothing more, made her abundantly aware that her freak was inexcusable, but it must be confessed that she experienced no penitence. She was pleased with the stiffness of his reply; she was mischievously delighted with the discomfiture of the others, although it had begun to greatly puzzle her.
Cousin Robert was not destined to remain in disastrous eclipse. In the somewhat awkward pause that ensued, it chanced that the breeze stirred suddenly with an audible murmur the foliage about the portico. It seemed to him very adroit to call attention to the honeysuckle vines intertwined in cables about the posts, and tell how they should be planted, pruned, and trained. This led, by one of those easy digressions which come so deftly to men of his profession, to the subject of horticulture generally, and he elaborated at some length his theory of the proper system in the case of the tomato plant: that it should be trained against trellises, carefully fertilized with the best South American guano; that the principal stalk should be allowed to branch out laterally ; that all other branches should be ruthlessly suppressed; that half the blooms should be pinched off while yet in the bud, — what did cousin Robert care for Irishisms on a theme like this ? that it should be sprinkled generously before sunrise and after sunset in dry weather. “ And in six weeks,” he declared, triumphantly, “ I shall be able to give you tomatoes, cultivated on this principle, luscious as strawberries, red as blood, and big as my hat.”
And while he thus held forth, the twilight advanced apace. The afterglow of the sunset sifted through the leaves on Felicia Hamilton’s face, all etherealized by the poetic light, and touched with a soft gleam her violet eyes, as they rested on the shadowflecked turf outside. Far away, the rumbling of an occasional horse-car, or the lighter roll of buggies carrying suburban residents homeward, invaded the stillness. There was a lakelet, or perhaps only a miasmatic pool, in the neighborhood, from which frogs croaked in strophe and antistrophe, — the sound mellowed by the distance. The air was imbued with that primal enchantment of summer which belittles all coming later, — the delicious fragrance of honeysuckle ; it seemed to have lured two humming-birds from their downy domiciles, and they were evidently gayly bent upon making a night of it, as they quaffed the sweet wine of the flowers in the lingering flush of the red sunset.
“ Them hum’n’-birds ain’t no good.” remarked Fred. “They can’t sing, an’ they ’re so little an’ teen-ty.”
He gazed up at the fluttering things, as airy, as alluring, as vaguely glancing, as a fancy, a fascination, a dream, the impulse of a poem yet unwritten.
“ Swans ! ” he continued, enthusiastically, — " they ’re the fellers fur my money. Them swans at the Pawk, eh, aunt F’lish ? ”
He rolled over on his side, as he lay at her feet on the floor, and changed the position of his head, which he had pillowed on the old pointer, who moaned and wheezed in meek objection.
“ It is my privilege,” said Miss Hamilton, rising, “ to drive with this young man to the Park every Saturday afternoon, the one meagre holiday that falls to his toilsome scholastic lot. If he does n’t go home and get some sleep, he may not be able to make the trip to-morrow. So we must tear ourselves away.”
Fred rose nimbly. " An’ we have most bully drives ter the Pawk, you bet! ” he exclaimed, vivaciously. “An’ we ain’t missed a Sat’day since she’s been in town.”
Mr. Raymond accompanied them to the gate, and assisted Felicia into the phaeton. Soon the clatter of hoofs and the roll of wheels arose, as they disappeared down the street into the purple shadows of the coming twilight.
About four o’clock on warm afternoons, there was an interval of quiet, almost of somnolence, in the Lawrence Hotel. The rush of lunch was over; that of dinner had not begun; no trains were due or departing; the glare was tempered to a cool half-light; decorous officials lounged behind their desks. When a voice fell upon the air from the direction of the bar-room, it seemed peculiarly loud and assertive, being rotund and penetrating in quality, and invading the stillness argumentatively. It was interrupted by another, a deep bass, embroidered, so to speak, by several bursts of rich laughter. Then the marble floor resounded with rapid footfalls, and the sleepy clerks roused themselves. One of the men who entered hurriedly was a slim, wiry, active fellow, perhaps thirty-five years of age ; he was much flushed, his steps were unsteady, and he betrayed a tendency to emphatic gesticulation. His features were irregular and very mobile ; his eyes were gray and deep-set; heavy wrinkles about his mouth and brow made him seem older than he was. His suit of blue flannel needed brushing, and his straw hat, set far back on his head, also gave evidence of careless wear. His companion was younger, tall, brunette, slim, debonair, point-device as to his perfectly fitting light gray suit, and joyous as to spirits. These two emerged into the office as Hugh Kennett entered from the street. At sight of him the younger pushed in advance of his companion.
“ Hello, Kennett ! ” he cried, in his deep, gay voice. “ You ’re just in time. Look at Abbott; he’s trying to shirk his just obligations in the shabbiest way,” and his full, rich laughter vibrated on the air.
“ It’s all right!” exclaimed Abbott, coming to a sudden stop, and confronting Kennett with a grave, flushed face and an argumentative eye. “ Fell’r don’t want t’ be swindled, ye know. Don’t propose to pay more ’n ought to pay, — matter princ’ple, ye see.”
A clerk from the bar-room, a freshfaced young man, evidently inexperienced and oppressed by a sense of conflicting duties, the propitiation of patrons and the responsibility to his employers, had followed the two with hesitation. He also quickened his steps at sight of Kennett, and, addressing him by name, explained, with some vague effort to make light of the matter, that this gentleman had “ treated ” a number of his friends the previous evening, and now complained of the amount of his bill.
“ Could n’t have drunk all that champagne, Kennett,” declared Abbott, looking with tipsy solemnity into the other’s eyes, “ if we’d all been damned fishes, w’ales, ye know; give y’ m’ word we could n’t.”
The young man in the gray suit again burst into laughter; it was rather loud. He was contradictorily gentlemanly and prononcé ; he was too dashing for good style, yet he had ease and smoothness. He made a comical grimace, which was at once irresistible and reprehensible.
“ The thing’s impossible. They ’re trying to swindle you,” he said.
“ Don’t you think, Preston, you carry a joke to extremes ? ” demanded Kennett, glancing with annoyance at the group attracted by the loud voices, and wearing faces in which curiosity and contemptuous amusement were blended. Then he turned to Abbott. “ You will be late, if you don’t look out.”
“ Nev’r fear, old fell’r. Made a hit last night; goin’t’ make a ten strike tonight, — see ’f I don’t. Goin’t’ fly high, — bet all ye ’re worth on that. Goin’ t’ float with wind an’ tide, — see ’f I don’t. Goin’t’ make my fortune.”
He uttered this string of incompatible similes with an airy wave of the hand which, if he had been sober, might have been eminently graceful.
“ You have made your fortune already. You had better take a carriage now and go home. He is not fit for anything, Preston. Why don’t you get him away ? ”
But Abbott laid his hand on Kennett’s shoulder. “You’re my bes’ friend, Kennett,” he declared. “You saw what I could do. You understood me. You pushed me. Old Hoax’em never would have found out what was in me if you had n’t put him up to it. You ‘re my bes’ — bes’ friend.”
He began to show alarming lachrymose symptoms. There was a touch of real feeling in his voice, but also no little of the pathos of alcohol in various forms. The spectators grinned. Kennett shook him off impatiently. Preston again burst into laughter, and, catching Abbott’s arm, dragged him to the door, while Kennett walked back to the barroom with the custodian of liquid treasures.
“ Sorry to trouble you, sir.” said the anxious, fresh-faced young clerk, as Kennett paid the residue of the bill, which Abbott, in his wisdom, had seen fit to eliminate.
“ It will be all right when he gets sober.”
“ That fellow seems considerable of a scamp,” observed an old gentleman standing near, who took his straight.
Kennett loyally denied it. " He is a good fellow and very talented,” he declared, “ but he has some friends who like to see him make a fool of himself. ”
By the time he returned to the office it had resumed the normal quiet of the hour. He threw himself into one of the red velvet armchairs, lighted a cigar, and took up a newspaper. He glanced at it a few moments, then let it fall on his knee. The noises on the street were languid and intermittent; nobody came or went. He took his cigar from his lips, eyed it meditatively, then, suddenly, “ Why not?” he said,— “ why not ? ” and rose to his feet. He replaced his cigar, threw aside his paper, and walked, not briskly, — he never walked briskly, — but with a certain definiteness of intention, to the door. The jangling of an approaching streetcar bell grew momently louder, as he waited under the striped awning. He walked out into the blinding sunshine, stepped upon the platform, and was borne with sufficient expedition toward the suburbs.
In the week that had elapsed since he met Miss Hamilton he had seen her once or twice at the windows of her brother’s house, and once in the perspective of the side yard, where, among the ornamental shrubbery, there were garden-seats and a hammock that swung in the shade. A lady was with her, and several children. He recognized Fred’s voice, half unintelligible because of overweening enthusiasm. It seemed a vivacious family group. For the past day or so, however, she had not been visible. He thought she had probably left town. Last evening this conjecture was disproved. He passed the house about eleven o’clock. It was brilliantly lighted, but the blinds were drawn, except in one of the parlor windows. He heard the murmur of voices and laughter. For one instant there were visible, through the square of the window, the head and shoulders of the young lady as she crossed the room. In the swift transit something pink which she was wearing poetically took on the similitude of a rosy cloud, from which her face shone like a star. A gentleman was beside her — blonde, handsome, young. They made a pretty picture for the instant that they might be seen. She is having a fine time,” said Hugh Kennett. “ I suppose that’s the favored suitor.” He laughed at himself, a moment later. “ I seem to have a grudge against that youngster,” he said, “because she sits at the window—sometimes.” And he went on in the light of the summer moon.
To paraphrase a well-known apothegm, if you do not entertain your frivolous young lady, she will entertain herself. Up to this time Miss Hamilton had had every faculty of an alert, receptive, retentive intellect trained to its utmost possibility in an entirely personal direction. Affairs of general moment, every phase of outside life, of thought, of culture, had been presented to her intellectual consciousness as instinct with but one vital element, — their effect upon Felicia Hamilton’s identity. She had acquired habits of industry and an eager mental activity which, so far, had found scope enough in the scheme of acquisition devised for her, and which, now that the limits of this scheme were reached, gave a certain poignancy to this moment, while her life stood expectant, and demanded of the future, What next ? There seemed a vagueness in all possible reply. Her mental discipline had tended to no practical end; her carefully cultivated social qualifications had no field. If so intense a nature and so alert an intellect had been in the passionate possession of a definite ambition ; if, on the other hand, so worldly a woman had commanded a full measure of worldly interests and absorptions, there could have ensued no sense of vacuity. In either case, she would not probably have given as yet half a dozen moments to the thought of Hugh Kennett. The episode of casually meeting him would have slipped into the past with many slight episodes. But in the simply ordered routine of her days there was little to occupy her attention ; she was strangely lonely, one would say, seeing her surrounded by the family group. That was the trouble. It was eminently the domestic atmosphere she was called upon to breathe, and her lungs were not trained to this air. She found a certain monotony in a life of which the most lively incidents were preserving fruit or putting away blankets in camphor for the summer, especially as her interest in the matter was that of the entirely disinterested spectator. She was fond of her sister-in-law and the children ; their society, however, did not absorb all her faculties. To be sure, this was very objectionable. A woman of fine mind and feeling should be able to discover resources in simple pleasures and an uneventful routine; but que vonlez-vous ? Promise a richly spiced diet of daily excitement, and does not the nutritious oatmeal become insipid ?
John Hamilton and his wife were happily and sturdily unaware how limited were their resources for entertainment as measured from their visitor’s standpoint. They accorded, as they supposed, all due consideration to the amusement of their young guest. They took her several times to the theatre; they drove her through the parks ; they showed her the notable pictures; they gave her an “ evening.” This " evening ” bored Felicia to the verge of coma.
John Hamilton would have laughed to scorn the idea that society could be anything of a serious affair; that the best results are attained by experts who pursue it with acumen and diligence, and with mental exercises that have some analogy to the careful vaticinations of chances and of elements which a man of business gives to the stock fluctuations on ’Change. Social life he regarded with that peculiar sort of half-amused nonchalance characteristic of a rural magnate, who had found it an exceedingly simple matter in his village home and in the large provincial city contiguous, where he and his family were as well known as the court-house or the university at which he had received his collegiate education. To his mind, people who were not aware that this favored region was the most delightful on earth, its educational facilities were the most superior, and its society was the most agreeable, were people much to be pitied. He was a man of inherited fortune, independent of his expectations from his father. He had of late years greatly increased his business ventures, and, having nerve and money and luck on his side, he was rapidly making a large fortune. In extending his operations, the advantageous field offered by Chilounatti had been pressed upon his attention, and some six months earlier he had removed thither; taking with him a certain dash and an enterprise that instantly began to make itself felt in financial circles, and taking also his imperative personality, his breezy, good-humored manner, and his disregard of conventionality in its more exacting sense. It was owing to various cumulative and ramifying effects of some of these circumstances and traits of character that the “evening” presented some features which might distinguish it from many similar entertainments.
A new-comer into any society, with the definite claims of money and family, is apt to be the recipient of its respectful attentions, and when Hamilton desired to ask a few people to meet his sister he was at no loss for material. He cast about and invited somewhat at haphazard among various families who had been especially polite to him and his wife. It did not occur to him, however, that while his guests were heavy weights financially and socially, most of them were equally ponderous mentally, and that he had not secured a sufficient quantity of a lighter and more vivacious element to leaven the entertainment, and render it altogether congenial to a person of the fair beneficiary’s age and temperament. The majority of the company, substantial business potentates, stolidly partook of the conversation and the viands, and lent as much of animation to the occasion as did their wives or the armchairs. There was a sprinkling of beaux: a young lawyer, heavy and monosyllabic, with an unresponsive and suspicious eye; a rising architect, whose reputation for talent he was apparently conscious needed constant vindication ; he vindicated it by a haughty inclination to silence, and when he did speak as much of covert sarcasm as was admissible. There were also two young collegians, Seniors in a locally celebrated university, — one blonde and rather shy, the other a trifle flippant. Both of these seemed very distrustful of Felicia; indeed, all the unmarried men apparently thought it necessary to be on their guard against her, — perhaps as vaguely dangerous, perhaps lest a chance word of theirs might minister, contrary to their intention, to her self-approval, which they divined and irrationally resented. The married men regarded her with mild indifference. The young ladies, who were somewhat mature (it is a recognized anomaly that while the married lady is still young, her compeer, yet unmarried, is distinctly passée),— these ladies appreciated her sparkle, her grace, her poise, her gracious little coquetry, which they had the insight to perceive she wore like her flowers, as embellishment to herself and in compliment to the guests and the festivity; not by way of tribute to her interlocutor, as the young architect, the lawyer, and the collegians fancied one moment, and half angrily doubted the next. These young men had the “touchy” vanity peculiar to immature years and inexperience, when, unfortunately, it is not neutralized by geniality or frivolity. They took themselves, Felicia, and the occasion with the utmost seriousness, not to say tragically.
Mrs. Hamilton’s friends had heard much of her sister-in-law, who was, in her way, something of a social celebrity. It was with very genuine curiosity that they looked at the young lady dressed in faint pink, with a wonderful contrast of darkly red roses on her bosom and in her hand. She held a large pink fan with a full-blown rose and bud painted with such realism that she seemed to have robbed her dress for it; she waved it slowly back and forth ; occasionally she opened and shut it. She had great ease of manner. However many were about her, she bestowed some words on each, and a gracious smile; she listened with an appearance of deep interest to whatever was said, and replied aptly and spiritedly. More than one of our young gentlemen esteemed this uncandid, — she could n’t be so pleased as that with bald-headed old Harcourt, you know, or that blushing fool, young Osborne. She looked at them softly and brightly. The mature young ladies thought she “made eyes” at the gentlemen; it must be admitted she made them very impartially.
The burden of the entertainment devolved upon the guest of the evening, and the manner in which she acquitted herself of the responsibility extorted more appreciation than she supposed. She had her reward, however, such as it was, when the guests took leave, to see that there was a trifle of animation and even gayety among them, and in the approval of John Hamilton and his wife.
“ What a brilliant, brilliant evening ! ” cried Mrs. Hamilton, as the door shut on the last guest. “Oh, Felicia, how exquisite you look, and how delightfully you made it go off ! What pleasure it is going to give me to entertain often in this lovely way ! ”
Felicia hardly knew whether to laugh or to cry. After she shut herself into her own room she decided upon the latter course, and shed a few tears of vexation and fatigue. How was it, she asked herself, that she could not come across any agreeable people ? Were she and cousin Robert the only conversable human beings in this great city? Perhaps it was because she knew so few, so very few. Perhaps — she had not noticed before — it is necessary to meet two or three hundred people in order to winnow the mass, and extract the infrequent half dozen or so pleasant friends who make life endurable. How dull the whole affair had been, this evening, and how unendurable was life ! With her temperament and at her age one has no future; the temporary disappointment curtained her horizon with as distinct a cloud as a real sorrow. What better could John have done ? she said. He could not help it if he knew nobody interesting. She believed there was nobody that was interesting in the place. She could not remember a face with a spark of intelligence, except that of the silent man she met at cousin Robert’s.
She supposed he had some brains ; he looked as if he had. With his face the last image in her mind, she fell asleep.
The next morning she again remembered Hugh Kennett, and at breakfast, after a full discussion of the festivity of the previous evening, she asked her brother if he knew a cousin of cousin Robert’s, — a man named Kennett.
“ Never heard of him,” said John Hamilton, buttering his roll with quick strokes. He was eating in a hurry, for breakfast was late, as is meet after a party. He was in a good humor, however: the “evening ” had gone off very well, his wife was pleased, and he supposed his sister was delighted.
“ He passes here every day, about eleven,” persisted Felicia. “A tall man, who has no mustache or beard, and usually wears a sort of fawn-colored suit, — sometimes blue, sometimes a gray suit.”
“ Don’t recognize the description, — passes here every day at eleven ? ” He brushed away with his napkin the crumbs adhering to the long, fair mustache that swept across his full, florid cheek, and fixed his blue eyes on his sister’s face. “ Felicia,” he said, with mock gravity, “ don’t have anything to say to any fellow — even if he is Raymond’s cousin— who doesn’t go down town till eleven o’clock. He must be president of a bank, — a faro-bank.”
He burst into a loud laugh at his own witticism, and catching up his Derby hat put it on his head, where it fortunately concealed an expanse of premature baldness, and revealed only a fringe of close-clipped brown hair. He was light on his feet for a heavy man, and in another instant his rapid step resounded down the hall; the door closed with a bang ; he dashed into a passing car, and was instantly absorbed in abstruse calculations concerning the possible corner in wheat, as oblivious to the fact of a girl’s vague and delicate complications of feeling as though no such subtle and imperative force were in existence.
When Fred reminded his aunt, that afternoon, of her promise to drive with him to the Park, he was disgusted to perceive that she seemed disposed to shirk her obligation. She was tired, she said ; she felt languid. — perhaps it was a touch of malaria. Besides, did n’t he see what she was doing ? This was the baby’s flannel petticoat she was embroidering as a surprise for his mother. Would n’t he be pleased to see his little sister wear a petticoat with such deep embroidery ? And what a pretty design ! — roses and lilies, — so appropriate. But Fred said he would n’t be pleased at all. “ I ain’t goin’ ter let you off fur nothin’, — just trine ter cheat me out’n my trip, because you know mamma won’t lemme go by myself, when ther ain’t one bit of danger, nohow,” whined Fred.
He raised his stormy freckled face, almost as red with to-day’s varied experiences as if it had been parboiled. Expostulation, surly disfavor, impending outbreak, and entreaty were oddly blended in his eloquent blue eyes; his hat was pushed far back on his disheveled flaxen hair, which was beaded with moisture, and stood upright from his brow in damp wisps. His complication of expressions moved Felicia; she began to fold her work.
“An’ I think a smart girl like you,” continued Fred, with his own inimitable patronage, “ might find somethin’ nicer ter do than workin’ old flow’rs in an old baby’s petticoat, when she don’t know a rose from a tadpole.”
“No doubt you are right about that,” said Felicia, with a laugh.
She might have had for her drive more improving and intellectual companionship, but it would have been difficult to surpass Fred on the score of animation. He chatted without cessation, in high feather; now and again his cackling juvenile laughter split the air. Felicia, too, was well pleased. The afternoon was soft, yet fresh ; the horse was gentle and spirited, and very fast; the roads were excellent; from the crests of the many slight elevations were fine views of purple hills and green and yellow fields ; now and then were visible the silver curves of the river, all softened by the distance and the transmuting afternoon sunshine. She appreciated intensely that quaint combination of ingenuousness, conceit, generosity, and selfishness which characterizes callow male human nature, and she had not been sufficiently long an intimate of Fred’s to wear threadbare the interest she took in his peculiarities. It was her habit to conduct herself toward him with a certain camaraderie, serious or mirthful according to circumstances; and he accepted her tone in all good faith, nothing doubting that his consequence was as definite as her manner implied.
Thus they bowled cheerily along the broad thoroughfare, overtaking and passing many other pleasure-seekers in vehicles and on horseback; past handsome suburban residences, with lawns and gardens, growing gradually more extensive ; past vacant lots, with big placards inscribed “ For Sale ” conspicuously displayed; past now and then a field, which was some day to be divided into lots and also placarded, and perhaps in the good time coming to be built up, when the “ City of Splendid Promises” should redeem some of its pledges to futurity and extend thus far; past here and there sparse strips of woodland. And all at once more houses, although it seemed a moment ago that the country was almost reached, — plenty of them, too; city houses, showy, expensive, and modern. And here was the broad, impressive entrance to the Park, crowded with vehicles coming and going, presided over by members of the Park police, and by a great equestrian statue, looking down silent and inscrutable. It was not disagreeable, after a time, to turn from the wide, much-frequented graveled drives down one of the quiet woodland ways. The sunshine and shadows flecked the road before them; vistas of greenery, upon which were imposed the brown boles of oak and hickory trees, stretched on each side; now and again the ground fell away in gentle grassy slopes ; here they caught sight of a great burst of yellow sunshine flooding an open space in the distance, and here were steep banks and a stream gliding far below; the shadows were thick ; the vegetation crowded close about the water; the horse’s hoofs fell with a hollow sound as they pulled him into a walk, and they crossed the bridge slowly; and now on the opposite banks and away, the ground flying beneath the feet of the good Kentucky trotter.
In this portion of the Park little in the way of landscape gardening had been done, the attractions of the place being judiciously entrusted to well-tended smooth “ dirt roads,” and forest trees growing as Nature chose along the hillsides and about the levels. But upon emerging suddenly from the shaded ways into the sunshine, the more conventional aspect of flower-beds, fountains, lakelets, grottoes, and fanciful pagoda-like structures was presented. A stone basin by the roadside, through which a stream of water was flowing, all at once reminded Fred that he might introduce the element of variety into the expedition.
“ We ain’t give Henry Clay one drop of water since we started !" he exclaimed, reining up suddenly.
“ He can’t be thirsty. Don’t stop,” protested Felicia.
If, however, one makes it a habit to place a boy of eight on a plane of consequence and dignity, it is not improbable that he will indorse the status in a manner and to a degree not always convenient. Fred, willful under all circumstances, was particularly resentful of authority where Felicia was concerned. She had herself to blame for the state of mind in which he composedly descended, paying not the slightest attention to her words, stood on tiptoe, laboriously unfastened the check-rein, and led the horse to the trough. The animal was evidently not thirsty, but he thrust his nozzle into the water and went through the motions of drinking, now and then turning his intelligent eyes contemplatively on the round, rosy face of the boy at his head. The sunshine was bright on his glossy bay coat that shone like satin; the wind whispered through the leaves; a thrush was singing in the clump of lilacs near by ; some few belated blooms sent up on the air their delicate fragrance. Felicia sat in the phaeton waiting, the reins in her hands.
At this moment, unluckily, a boy, a year or two older than Fred, came cantering down the road on a black pony. He stopped upon seeing the party at the trough, and the two boys greeted each other as Damon and Pythias might have done after a separation of years, if both had been suffering from the infirmity of deafness. Fred dropped the check-rein which he had been holding, and ran to the side of the pony. Suddenly, to Felicia’s amazement and horror, she saw him, after a short conference, — loud enough, but unintelligible to her, — put his foot into the stirrup and scramble up behind his friend. In reply to her eager remonstrance, he turned upon her an excited eye and a grave, sunburned face. “ You just wait here for me,” he said, peremptorily. “ I’ve got to go to this boy’s an’ see his new rabbit-house. He lives just outside the Pawk. I ’ll be back d’rec’ly. You just wait.”
Objection was useless. Felicia had merely time to open her lips for the purpose, when the two equestrians were off like the wind, clattering toward the southern gates, leaving the wrathful young lady sitting in the phaeton, and Henry Clay looking after them in dignified surprise, until he bethought himself of the trough and occupied himself with pretending to drink.
The moments passed wearily. Now and again, Felicia, hearing the sound of rapid hoof-beats, would turn her head expectantly, to see only strangers gallop by. At length, tired and restless, she descended from the phaeton, slipped the hitching-rein through a ring on a post that stood in convenient proximity, and addressed herself to systematically waiting for the truant rabbit-fancier. She strolled up and down the walks; she gathered a few clover blooms and offered them to Henry Clay, who accepted them languidly, looking at her, she fancied, with a touch of contemptuous commiseration ; she bethought herself of a book which had been placed in the phaeton, in order that she and Fred could take it, on their way home, to a friend of Mrs. Hamilton’s. She returned to the phaeton, secured the volume, and placed herself on one of the benches that stood on the grassy margin of the lake. She did not read, however; the breeze fluttered the leaves, and brought to her many perfumes from the fantastically shaped beds of flowers near by ; the expanse of water dimpled in the sunshine ; a boat, filled with children and with its pennons flying, was making its way toward the island ; some swans, slowly sailing about, arched their necks, and approached, and receded, until one, bolder than the rest, waddled up the bank toward the young lady, with sharp, unmusical cries of insistence. It seemed all at once to realize that it had mistaken her for some human friend in the habit of bringing a supply of cake or cracker; it paused, gazed at her intently, its head inquiringly on one side, its long neck stretched laterally toward her; it turned as suddenly, waddled off, glided into the water, and gracefully floated away.
Felicia’s smile was still on her lips, when, observing that a shadow had fallen across her page, she looked up.
“ That seemed a case of mistaken identity,” said Hugh Kennett, referring to the bird’s noticeable manæuvre. He was lifting his hat; the gesture was ceremonious, but he was smiling as he looked at her, — smiling like an old friend.
“ It was disappointed,” said Felicia.
“ I believe you drive out to this park rather frequently with your little brother.”
“ My little nephew,” corrected Felicia. “ Yes, every Saturday. He does n’t deserve to come again. I can appreciate Ariadne’s despair. He left me here, while he has gone to look at another boy’s rabbit-house.”
She was in the habit of being much attended, and she deprecated that she should be sitting here alone, seeming, she fancied, rather forlorn, but she attempted to carry off the matter as jauntily as possible. “ I am very angry with him, but I suppose I shall forgive him before his next holiday. He considers me pledged for Saturdays.”
“ They have music here on some of the other afternoons.”
“ But there is such a crowd,”
“ You dislike a crowd ? ” " It is not an interesting sort of crowd,” said Miss Hamilton, exactingly ; “ it is a rabble, with a few nice people sprinkled in.”
“ After all, human nature is human nature,” said Hugh Kennett.
So far he had been standing in the middle of the wide walk. He had replaced his straw hat; he held a little cane motionless with both hands behind him. The attitude showed his sinewy and admirably proportioned figure to much advantage. The fawn-colored suit he wore fitted well, and its soft tone accorded with his peculiar coloring. His complexion, neither noticeably fair nor dark, had a certain warmth, and its delicacy of texture suggested an indoor pursuit. He had the look of a man who conserves an enviable physical trim. Well in health, well fed, well dressed, with nerves, mind, and heart under full control, — this was the impression given by his personal appearance. His eye, now that she saw it close and in a bright light, was full and clear ; there were composure and strength in its expression.
Before Felicia replied she hesitated a moment. That moment meant a great deal to her. She was about many things somewhat exacting. Matters of social usage and form were important in her eyes ; perhaps she even exaggerated the importance of her own dignity. She knew that he desired her to ask him to take the vacant place beside her, — it was what he was waiting for. She knew that to do so would confer upon him the favor of her acquaintance. She would not confer it merely because he desired it. She deliberately weighed, in that short pause, the reasons for and against this course. That he was Robert’s cousin, and that she had met him, a guest, at the Rectory, on friendly terms with the clergyman and his wife, — to say nothing of Mrs. Emily Stanley-Brant, —went a good way, to be sure. But the meeting was accidental, and not necessarily an official indorsement, so to speak. Mr. Raymond had not introduced him to her brother or his wife, and had not brought him to call. On the other hand, the Raymonds were not very ceremonious about such matters, and this omission might have been merely negligence, not intention. Perhaps he was himself a stranger in Chilounatti ; and again she was reminded how very little she knew of him personally. Although by no means so thoroughly versed in the ways of the world as she deemed herself, she had experience enough to understand the difficulty in gracefully getting rid of superfluous acquaintances. But was she justified, she argued, in relegating to this circle of the excluded a man whom the most punctilious of men received on intimate terms into his own family, and whose manners and appearance were evidently those of a gentleman ? She said to herself that she was as competent to judge a gentleman as her brother, who was dense in some respects, or cousin Robert, who was flighty. This reflection turned the scale. She raised her eyes to his.
“ Will you sit down ? ” she said, gravely.
“Thank you,” he returned, as gravely, and placed himself beside her on the painted bench.
It had been a momentous pause ; each realized it, and each knew that the other realized it.
There was silence for a moment; then she replied to what he had said.
“ Human nature may be human nature,” she admitted, “ but all people are not human. I know a terrier who has a tailor, — an excellent one, — and eyeglasses, and a mustache. Did you never see a woman like a bird, hopping and perching about, and surprising you every time she handles a fan or a parasol because her fingers are not claws ? Why, a moment ago a man passed here whose fat little eyes were exactly like a pig’s. Oh, no, some human beings are not exactly human, — I ’m sure of that.”
“ I had no idea you were such a cynic,” he said, looking at her with a half laugh. It was the glance and laugh of an old friend.
She was disposed for a moment to resent this, to consider it a liberty that there should be so distinct an undercurrent of sympathy, already glimpsed, or rather felt, through the crust of formality which characterized their short acquaintance. She arrogated to herself the privilege of any lapse from convention. As she glanced at him in uncertainty, she met his fine, calm eye ; it had so evident a reliance on a reciprocity of feelings, whatever they might be, so simple and candid an enjoyment of the moment, that she was disarmed.
“ A little cynicism is not a bad thing,” he suggested; “ it prevents one from wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve.”
“If one has a heart,” she returned, with a little laugh.
“ I am afraid we are all provided with that discomfort. Even the rabble, who have such bad manners.”
“ Bad manners are wicked.” said Felicia, with that willful air which cousin Robert could never resist, and which Hugh Kennett also seemed to approve.
“ In these cities that have such a rapid growth, other matters take precedence,” he remarked. “ Many people make money too fast here to care much about manners.”
“ Manners are more important than money,” quoth the pupil of Madame Sevier.
He laughed at this.
“ Just as the people about us are more important than the things about us,” she persisted.
“ I should never have thought you would feel that,” he said, suddenly serious. “ I supposed environment meant a great deal to you.”
He spoke with evident interest; he looked at her expectantly as to what she might reply. He seemed determined to make the conversation very personal. This time she did not relent.
“ I was speaking merely abstractly,” she declared, indifferently, turning her eyes with a casual glance upon the scintillating surface of the lake, already enriched with gleams of gold and lines of crimson beneath the red and gilded brilliance deepening athwart the soft azure sky.
He was slightly taken aback for a moment. “ Ah, well,” he said, “ an abstract truth merges itself sooner or later into a personal application. In my case, I admit environment means very little. A few close friends, an object in life, good health, and a quiet conscience, — that is a world a man can carry about with him as a snail carries its world.”
“ A man can do that,” said Felicia.
“ And a woman cannot ? Why not ? ”
“ For several reasons. We have no close friends; we can’t go into the world and select those that suit us. And we have no object in life, — no definite object, I mean. And health, — you mentioned health, did n’t you ? — if we have health our occupation is gone ; we can’t coddle ourselves. As to conscience,” — she laughed gleefully, — “ we have n’t that, either! ”
Kennett laughed, too. “ I am well aware of that fact,” he replied ; “ I discovered long ago that you have no consciences.”
She looked very arch and pretty at this moment: her eyes were bright; her parted scarlet lips showed her milkwhite teeth ; she had flushed a little. Her toilette, always so felicitously devised as to convey the impression that it was the most becoming she had yet worn, was noticeably simple; to-day she seemed to owe nothing to the embellishments of art. Her white dress was very fine in texture and very plainly fashioned ; long black kid gloves, that fitted conscientiously, so to speak, gave her little hands additional daintiness; a straw hat demurely shaded her delicately tinted, brilliant face : she might have stepped from the frame of some old picture, but for the anachronism of a very modern lace-covered parasol with a long amber handle, which she revolved upon her shoulder as she talked. He was a man whom no detail escaped. He noticed, when she raised her eyes, that the iris was a veritable purple ; that the whites were clear and tinged with blue ; that the gold-tipped brown lashes were long and curled upward.
The wind stirred the leaves; the water of the fountain, falling, falling, in the midst of the rippling lake, was monotonously agreeable ; the closely clipped turf was vividly green with the welcome brilliance of the season ; striking athwart the emerald expanse was a wide bar of yellow sunshine, and as a trio of young girls in light dresses passed through the gilded radiance, the red feather which one of them wore in her hat had a suddenly splendid effect, — it was a moment for enchantments. The trill of a lettuce bird vibrated on the air; the swans floated, and paused, and floated again, their snowy plumage gleaming in the sun.
“ Do you read a great deal ? ” asked Mr. Kennett, glancing at the volume open on her knee.
“ Very little.”
“You don’t care for reading?” he pursued, with the accent of surprise.
“ Very much. And that is why I rarely indulge myself.”
Again he looked at her, with that smile which, beneath its geniality, was charged with a more definite sympathetic quality.
“ What unexpected material for martyrdom ! ” he exclaimed.
“ I am not so heroic,” she returned, with a laugh. “ It seems to me I have no time to read.”
“ I had an idea — to be sure, I may be mistaken — but I had an idea that people like you have all the time.”
She explained. “ Once I read a great deal, — long ago, when I was young; and it became impressed upon me that I had no time to spend upon any books but text-books. One who intends to live has no time to read.”
He gave this a moment of cogitation. “ I cannot say I am quite ready to accept that doctrine,” he declared.
“ If you read, you take the views of the writers; you think their thoughts : you live a life made up of their theories mixed with your own circumstances. It is all incoherent.”
“ You want to conserve originality, I see,” he remarked.
“ Cousin Robert says Amy and I never look at a newspaper because we are afraid of learning something about politics,” she said, with her sudden laughter. “ And he is right, — we detest them.”
“ Robert does not show his usual acumen in attributing the same views to you and his wife. You are not at all like your cousin.”
“ I don’t know that you are at all like your cousin,” remarked Felicia.
“We used to be considered alike,” he returned, — “ not so much in appearance, perhaps, as in temperament and character, and all that. The influences have been so different of late years that we may have drifted apart.”
Certainly the talk had become very personal, but she said to herself that, under the circumstances, it was hardly matter for surprise.
“ You have known him always, then ? ” she asked.
“Always. In fact, he was from his early childhood a member of my father’s family, until he took that — well, excuse me — that freak to make a clergyman of himself. I must say I regret his choosing the ministry. You see, I am not much of a churchman,” he added, deprecatingly, as her face grew grave.
Among the privileges she arrogated to herself was that of any depreciation of religious matters, and she was severe in condemnation of similar dereliction in others. He saw that he was in deep water, but was not sufficiently adroit to know exactly how to emerge.
“ I think it does not altogether suit Robert to be a clergyman,” he went on, uncertainly.
“ He is a very valuable and useful one,” she said, stiffly.
“ Oh, no doubt,” he rejoined, humbly.
“ And very eloquent,” continued Felicia.
“ He has a great advantage in his voice and his fine elocution. He owes much of that to my father.”
She was interested, remembering what Mrs. Stanley-Brant had said about Mr. Kennett’s father. Was he too a clergyman ? she wondered.
“ My father was very fond of Robert.” continued Kennett, “ and looked after his education with great attention ; but he did that for all of us, — my sisters and I received our most valuable training from him. He had untiring patience and gentleness, and the most complete sympathy. Only those who knew him well could realize how fully he could enter into the ineffectual little efforts of others.”
He spoke very simply and naturally, always with that candid confidence in her sympathy, as if to an old friend. His quiet gray eyes were fixed absently on the party-colored flower-beds that in the distance suggested huge bouquets ; his face held an expression not so much of grief as of remembrance from which the bitterness of sorrow has been refined away, — a sort of calm and tender reflectiveness. Felicia divined that in the years that had passed the dead had come at last to seem only gone from sight and hearing, and not cruelly and incomprehensibly swept out of existence. She did not know exactly what to say; it was strange to be thus taken into the confidence of a man who was three hours ago so far removed from her by all those strong conventions which she felt were so important; yet his evident unconsciousness of anything unusual in his words made them seem more a matter of course.
“He thinks cousin Robert has talked of him and of his father also,” was her conclusion.
The western sky was crimson now ; the surface of the lake was richly aglow. The red gold of the sunset was sifting through the air. The shadows were growing long. The breeze freshened. Suddenly the distant peal of the Angelus — that apotheosis of eventide effects — rang out, caught and tossed from side to side, as many a church and chapel repeated the mellow clang.
Adown the leafy vista of the road Fred and several of his friends might be seen advancing on foot, apparently engaged in some commercial transaction. One of them was holding out temptingly a big pocket-knife, which Fred evidently declined to receive; he had two strips of leather in his hand; their voices were loud in argument.
Felicia rose, and joined her nephew. Kennett assisted her into the phaeton. As Fred drove off, she bowed in adieu to her new acquaintance, and she was again impressed by the formality, even the ceremoniousness, of his salutation, and its singular contrast with his extreme frankness.
Fanny N. D. Murfree.