IN her leisure moments, of which she enjoyed some superfluity, Felicia meditated much on the unexpected interview in the Park, and in the course of the next week she evolved the idea that it would be desirable to draw out cousin Robert on the subject of the Kennetts, father and son. This astute design was frustrated. Hearing nothing from him or his wife, she undertook a pilgrimage to the Rectory. The fat old dog on the portico gave a gentle wheeze of recognition and a tap or two with his tail. As the bell clamored through the house, it had an indefinably hollow sound, and the maid appeared promptly at the door.
“ I’m thankful to see you, Miss Felicia!” she exclaimed. “I’m too lunsome to live, with nobody to speak to but the old dog. You did n’t know Mrs. Raymond was gone, yet alreatty ? Oh. yes’m, since Chewsday. She ’d a telegram that her uncle Lucian is sick up in the country at his house, where her maw is visitin’ him. An’ her maw is worn out nursin’ him. So Mrs. Raymond left right away alreatty. An’ yesterday, Mr. Raymond got another gentleman to take the church next Sunday, an’ went himselluf. They never wrote to you, ain’t it? Mebbe they forgot it; they was so confused in their minds.”
She looked at Felicia benignly from beneath her fluffy flaxen bangs, that innocently exaggerated the fashion, and almost obscured her blue eyes.
“ Ach — how be-eu-ti-ful yez are the day ! ” she cried, rapturously. From the Irish cool? at her last place she had secured certain choice idioms, which she had engrafted upon her German dialect with a unique effect that appealed delightfully to Felicia’s sense of humor.
Our young lady returned home in puzzled cogitation. She realized that it was possible for Hugh Kennett to make rapid strides in forming acquaintance; in a few more such interviews as their last meeting, similar progress would place him on a footing of close friendship. She desired much to know who he was, what was his place in life, what were his surroundings, his associations, — not so much because of any distinct interest in him as from the wish to relinquish no element of entertainment, and yet to conform to that Mede and Persian law which she had prescribed for her own guidance in such matters.
Shortly after this episode, the young architect, who had been a conspicuous guest on the occasion of the “ evening,” called at her brother’s house. Mrs. Hamilton, actuated by the unwritten but Stringent law which, in her own girlhood days, in her village home, conceded the unmarried guest to the entertainment of the young lady of the family, conscientiously conjured up a headache, and Felicia received the visitor alone. There was nothing particularly unacceptable in this young man, whose name was Grafton. He was a little didactic, and not a little conceited ; but he was a gentleman ; he had fair abilities, and had enjoyed good opportunities of cultivating them. His mistake was the not unusual mistake of intolerance. His misfortune was that he did not possess what might be called a sense of divination. He could not vicariously experience emotions, apprehend a train of unexpressed thought, or intuitively attribute the correct intention to a phraseology capable of more than one interpretation. Felicia also was intolerant; and, although she had plenty of imagination, her stock of patience was scanty. She thought it possible that she could construe Mr. Grafton’s deeper nature if she should give herself to the effort, but she did not deem it worth the trouble ; she preferred to translate him through the surface medium of manner and the casual chat of the evening. He seemed to her very unresponsive, self-absorbed, prone to misunderstandings, and almost morbidly appreciative of platitudes. An older woman, of equal mental qualities, or a coquette, might have found entertainment in drawing him out as an exponent of his class, or as a possible victim. Felicia had little interest in types of this sort, and was too proud — or, it may be, too vain — to be definitely and of set purpose a coquette. It must be confessed, however, that, although she would not attempt Alfred Grafton’s scalp to wear as a trophy, she did not fail to sharpen the knife, — in other words, she deemed it incumbent upon her to make his call agreeable ; this obligation, according to her code, she owed to herself. He could not in reason find fault with her graceful cordiality. At first, he was inclined unreasonably to object to it as insincere. Later, his self-love came to the rescue, and he wondered if this suavity might not be susceptible of a different explanation. Many a man of twenty-four would have thawed under the geniality of this suspicion ; but Grafton s nature was one of those which, accepting the most flattering concessions as tribute, do this with a certain grudging, a certain objection, as if on guard against being surprised into benignity, cajoled, got the better of, in some inscrutable way. It is impossible to say what Felicia would have thought, could she have divined how egregiously he mistook her smile over her big, pretty, gently swaying fan, her gracious eyes, her vivacity, her affability, — that he fancied she was trying to fascinate him. What she did think was something like this: “ It is a pity he is such a stick. He is rather good looking : his eyes are set too far back, but they are hazel and well cut; his face is somewhat narrow. Still, he looks refined and intelligent, and as if he ought not to be so terrifically tiresome.”
They talked a little of the weather, and Felicia inveighed against the dust.
“ It gives one a taste of martyrdom.” she declared. “ St. Simeon Sisanites of Syria need n’t have gone on the top of a column in order to be wretched enough to found a sect of Stylites, if he had lived here. And those watering-carts are only an aggravation. One expects so much of them and gets so little.”
“ I think the street-watering system is perhaps as good here as elsewhere,” he replied, looking at her with that expression by which a capable adept can thoroughly chill a conversation without being tangibly rude.
She wondered if she had said anything particularly objectionable; if he had any interest in the matter, — a contract, for instance, to supply the lumbering carts to the city, or the horses. She remembered that he was an architect; for all she knew, the city gave such contracts to architects. Cousin Robert might have mentioned other things she was afraid of learning, besides politics.
It was with a distinct intention of recompensing a possible slight that she smiled upon him now; under these circumstances her smile was very sweet.
“ At any rate, this place has many attractions,” she said, “ notwithstanding the dust. The parks are lovely, and the public buildings are so interesting. I suppose the architecture is very fine,” she added, vaguely.
“ The architecture is very bad,” he declared, unexpectedly, — “ atrociously bad.”
She raised her eyebrows. “ Indeed ? I had fancied the reverse the case. But I confess I know nothing about architecture. A young lady is lucky in not being expected to take, as Lord Bacon did, all knowledge for her province.”
“ Is not her education expected to teach her something about everything ? ” he asked ; and with him a question could be as didactic as an axiom.
“ Oh-h-h — but if it does that, she will be a bas bleu ! ” Felicia cried, making her eyes large, and intimating that this was a dreadful thing.
“ I feel assured,” he persisted, seriously, “ that it is a woman’s duty and privilege to be thoroughly well informed.”
Her eyes resumed their normal dimensions, and into them came a slight expression of weariness. It seemed to her that it would be difficult to conjure what she called esprit into this conversation.
“ I am one of those who hold that sex should be no disqualification in education,” he continued. “ I maintain that women should share higher education equally with men.”
“ I should think women would find it rather ennuyant,” said Felicia, with a smile.
“ Why do you use foreign words? ” he asked. He seemed sensible that she might object to this, for he went on, with some suggestion of the manner of conciliation, “ I think we have English words that express that idea.”
“ Oh, I will talk English, if you prefer, — or American, even ! ” exclaimed Felicia, with her light laughter, which was now a trifle forced.
The next hour was, perhaps, the most laborious she had ever known ; it was not only the fact of uncongeniality, — it was the necessity to gracefully concede. She found it desirable to maintain a proposition to a certain point, and then relinquish it scientifically, — not too suddenly, — with the judicious amount of argument necessary to keep up the similitude of interest. This is exhausting intellectual exercise, and also a trial to the temper. She wondered why he did not go. The truth was, the reason their talk tired her was the reason it interested him ; then, that flattering suspicion afforded a certain agreeable titillation, notwithstanding his stern determination not to be subtly overreached. He did not grow genial, but he was satisfied. He was having what she would have called a good time.
It was abruptly terminated. There came by degrees the roll of rapidly advancing wheels. All at once they stopped in front of the house. There was a sound of quick, light steps, the bell was rung, and, when the front door was opened, a voice, asking for Miss Hamilton, invaded the silence of the hall.
Grafton noticed that, at the first tone of the voice, Felicia turned her head ; her color deepened ; her expression was expectant. In another moment a gentleman appeared on the threshold. For a second he stood motionless, as he glanced about him ; then his eye fell on the young lady, who had risen, smiling. He darted toward her, tucking, with incredible deftness and quickness, his crush hat under his arm, and holding out both hands.
“ My dear f-r-r-iend,” he cried, joyously, “ how enchanted I am to see you! ”
He was so swift, so vivacious, so unexpected, so foreign, that his entrance was as incongruous as if he were a flash of lightning; and a veritable flash of lightning could hardly have demolished more abruptly Mr. Grafton’s measured enjoyment of the evening and his flattering little theory of the young lady’s favor. Was it like this, he wondered, that she looked at the man she loved ? Her eyes, — how lucent they were, how dark with feeling; how smilingly her beautiful lips had curved ; what welcome her face expressed! He looked — and his neutral glance had at length become tinged with a distinct sentiment — at the visitor. He saw a man of thirty six or seven; rather under medium height, in full dress, with auburn hair and mustache, fair complexion, delicately cut features, brilliant blue eyes, a vivacious expression, and an alert and graceful figure. He acknowledged the introduction to Mr. Grafton with a suavity which was at once curiously empressée and perfunctory; then he dropped on a sofa beside Felicia.
“ And how did I discover you were here, eh ? The merest accident, ten minutes since, or I should not have dared to call at this unconscionable hour. Met your brother at the opera — went out after the second act to take a — a — smoke — saw Mr. Hamilton in the crowd — caught him — asked news of you — ‘ My dear fellow, don’t you know she is at my house ? ’ ” He vivaciously mimicked John Hamilton’s voice and manner, and Felicia burst into a peal of silvery laughter. “ So I asked the number of his house — called a carriage — ‘ Drive as if the furies were after you ! ’ — and me voici, eh ? ”
He gave a great wave of his hand to intimate the rapidity of the transition. He used many gestures. He was hardly still a moment; he shrugged his shoulders ; he threw up his eyebrows ; a turn of his flexible wrist would fill out a sentence; he glanced swiftly about the room, apparently taking in everything instantaneously, but casually. The expression of his eyes, coming back to the young lady’s face, and that recurrent “eh?” intimated a friendship that made the impassive Mr. Grafton, looking coldly on from his armchair, set his teeth together with an unwonted intensity of emotion.
He gathered that the stranger was a brother of a school friend of Miss Hamilton’s, on a flying business trip through the West. “ And a most annoying, disagreeable journey I have had, but for the lucky accident of meeting you. I assure you I am fully recompensed now. And there’s no chance of your going back to Madame Sevier, eh ? Ah-h-h, she is afflicted to give you up ! ‘ Lucille,’ she said to my sister, the day before I left, ‘ the place can never be the same without my dear Félicité.’ Ah-h, with tears! I assure you she wept. And you like the West, eh? I thought not,” triumphantly. Then he turned to make an amende to the Westerner, who, stiffly erect, sat regarding him as if he were an escaped wild beast,—not dangerous, but very objectionable. “You have a wonderful country, Mr. — er — Grafton. Progress, enterprise, all that, — the future of the nation, all that. But we don’t want to relinquish everything to you ; we must keep the approval of our own young ladies; we mustn’t be too generous. And when,” he continued, again addressing Felicia with his sudden swiftness, “ are you coming to see Lucille ? A visit, a little visit, eh, — you won’t deny us that ? She will be enchanted that I met you.”
Grafton thought Mr. Adolphe Devaux the most odious, insufferable, vain, shallow popinjay he had ever beheld. Mr. Devaux commiserated Felicia’s hard fate that she was compelled to play the agreeable to a conceited prig like that. Each attempted to outstay the other, and Grafton succeeded, for train-time is inexorable. The Frenchman, suddenly bethinking himself of the hour, vehemently apologized for looking at his watch ; despairingly tossed up his eyebrows and his shoulders at the result; explained comprehensively that he must get back to the hotel, change his dress, pack his traps, swallow some supper, and reach the train in half an hour from this present speaking; and tore himself away, after adieux which, although rapid, somehow expressed and embodied a vast deal of the genius of leave-taking. There were many messages given him to Lucille; and when Miss Hamilton reached Madame Sevier’s turn, her voice suddenly faltered, the color flared up in her cheeks, her violet eyes grew dewy, the hand she had given him trembled in his clasp.
“ Ah-h ! ” he cried, “ how glad Madame Sevier will be that you remember her so kindly! She was afraid you would forget her. No fear of that, eh? Adieu, adieu. Good-evening, Mr. Grafton. So happy to have met you.”
When Felicia’s remaining caller had also taken leave, she repaired to her own room, where she found her sisterin-law, her round, rosy face beaming with pleasure, awaiting her. This lady, shortly after her graduation from the Young Ladies’ Select Institute of her native village, had married John Hamilton, in the chrysalis stage of his career. His semi-rural home, his respectably large provincial business, his juvenile family, and her share in all these phases of life seemed to her to afford full measure of interest, until the wider pageant of cosmopolitan possibilities was presented by their removal to Chilounatti. Now her ideas were rapidly expanding. Her imagination had compassed ambitions, pleasures, pursuits, half realized heretofore. She developed an interest in the matter of entertainments ; she carefully read the fashion articles in the papers and the society columns; she collated scraps of information as to the appropriate menus for ladies’ luncheons and afternoon teas, for dinners and evening parties. On these subjects she obtruded none of her newly acquired wisdom, but listened and observed with great intentness, and held herself always in readiness to amend her code. She was becoming familiar with minutiæ of household management under altered conditions, and had bloomed into a modest splendor of dress on great occasions. Among other phases of this new life upon which she was entering with such zest, Felicia’s enjoyments and prospects offered a suggestive theme for congratulatory contemplation. How gay and eventful existence must be to her ! She was never a whole day without some agreeable episode, although the “ season ” was virtually over. Last week, the theatre twice, and the Melville reception ; and last Friday the “ evening ; ” and several trips down town this week ; and to-night two delightful callers; and— “ Oh, Felicia,” she cried, as the girl entered the room, “ who was he ? — the last one, I mean. I know Alfred Grafton came first. Oh, how delighted he seemed to see you ! Is he nice ? Is he handsome ? ”
“ Oh, yes, he is a dear little man,” replied Felicia, as she removed her earrings and carefully bestowed her big fan in its box, — “ a dear, dear little man.”
Mrs. Hamilton’s face fell. This did not seem exactly on the plane of the status she had conjured up.
“ And is he very devoted ? Is he in love with you, too ? ” she asked.
Felicia stared at her. “Adolphe Devaux ! ” she exclaimed. “ Why, he’s been married ten years, at least.”
“ Oh-h-h! ” said Mrs. Hamilton, disappointed.
And here was John Hamilton, pretty tired, a little out of humor, and, as he expressed it, frantic to go to sleep.
“ I suppose, Felicia, you saw that howling swell, Devaux ? Rushed at me as if he were crazy. It takes a foreigner to make a fool of himself. Everybody looked at me. I felt like braining him. The opera? Was it good? I don’t know. Everybody said so. I did n’t pay much attention. Gale asked me to meet some fellows — friends of his from Minnesota— at dinner at the club, and nothing would satisfy him but the opera afterward.”
As he tramped out of the room, his step sounded as if he were indeed very sleepy.
To-night Felicia took stock, in a manner. So much time, — such elements for filling it. She said to herself that she was, perhaps, abnormally dependent on the personality of those about her : their natures were her bane or her blessing; their manners could afflict or delight her. The expression of kindly feeling or the divination of approval was like the breath of her life,—was like the sunshine to a plant. She said she had no idea how much she valued cordiality until Adolphe Devaux, whom she had esteemed slightly enough heretofore, was contrasted with Mr. Grafton. And, as she considered these matters, she said to herself, with a certain satisfaction, that she had shown good judgment in not rejecting the acquaintance of Hugh Kennett, who had manifested some capacity to understand her; whose ideas were congenial with hers ; who had intellectual qualities she could respect, and manners she could approve. She admitted to herself that she was pleased that she had met him, and would be pleased to meet him again. Thus Alfred Grafton’s call had the perfectly illogical result of strengthening Hugh Kennett’s claim upon Miss Hamilton’s acquaintance.
However the routine of the Hamilton household might be interrupted, there was one weekly festival that came with unimpaired regularity, — Fred’s holiday on Saturdays ; and he was very rigorous in exacting all the rights and privileges which he deemed appropriate to the recurrent occasion. Since Felicia, in an unguarded moment, had promised to drive with him on those afternoons, he had held her to the compact with extreme pertinacity, and apparently took as much pride in the fact of the regularity of these drives as if he withstood some strong temptation to forego them. The slight cloud which had obscured the geniality of the last excursion cleared away during the week, and on the following Saturday they rolled off in high spirits and complete amity.
They found this drive the most agreeable they had yet had. Fred detailed many of his plans, and described his friends and his enemies incoherently. Felicia told him, with point and vivacity, several stories, in which he came out, unexpectedly, the hero of escapades which had considerately slipped from his memory. She mimicked him in the dismay or agitation of these dénoûments with such genial humor that he laughed uproariously at the figure he presented to his own imagination. Her eyes sparkled ; the dimples did not leave her cheeks.
“ You ’re a bully girl! ” declared Fred, in high good humor. “ You’re always jolly.”
The consciousness of her various mental exercitations regarding Mr. Ivennett had a certain disagreeable effect on which she had not counted. As she saw him advancing along one of the picturesque footpaths of the Park which intersected the principal drives, she became aware that she was coloring violently. This startled and disconcerted her, and she did not realize that a crisis of another sort impended until it was imminent.
It chanced that Fred, who insisted on driving, to her exclusion, also recognized Kennett. He had not shown any especial enthusiasm in claiming the acquaintance on the previous Saturday, but now, with the inconsequence of the small boy, he saluted the pedestrian with a loud, eager acclaim, signaled him to stop, pulled the horse sharply across the road, and drew up at its margin. This manæuvre was so sudden that the driver of a great watering-cart, which was just behind the phaeton, taken entirely by surprise, went through a wild contortion in his effort to keep his team from running down the slight vehicle. His struggles seemed for a moment about to be crowned with success, as he, too, turned his horses into the middle of the road ; but his utmost skill did not avail to prevent the wheels of the big, burly cart from sharply colliding with the wheels of the phaeton. There was a sudden crash, a grinding, splintering sound, and an abrupt shock. Henry Clay, disapproving of the noise and the jar, plunged violently, and would have bolted but for the restraining hand of a gardener who was fortunately passing, with his barrow and tools, at the moment. Kennett hastened his steps into a run, and helped Felicia from the phaeton : and she stood looking ruefully at the broken wheel, as Fred and the driver of the watering - cart also descended from their respective perches and surveyed the damage. Each of the Jehus indulged in wild criminations, which, after a time, evolved themselves into a participation in the pending discussion as to what was to be done for the broken vehicle, in this emergency.
“ I ’ll tell ye what it is, miss,” said the gardener in an evil moment. “ There’s a blacksmith shop about two blocks from the north entrance. Why can’t the little bye jist get on the horse, an’ ride over there an’ tell ’m to sind here for the phaeton ter mend it ? I can’t leave here, or I ’d go meself ! ”
Fred accepted this suggestion with enthusiasm. Felicia remonstrated on the score of safety.
“ Can’t ride Henry Clay ! ” sneered Fred, indignantly, as he hurriedly unhitched the traces. “ Why can’t I, I’d like ter know ? Harness ! what’s harness got ter do with it ? I ’ll show you I can ride him, if he has got his harness on him ! ” He led the horse out of the shafts.
Kennett, too, remonstrated, infusing as much authority as he might into his manner. Fred looked at him in surly surprise, and for reply scrambled upon the horse’s back with great expedition and agility. The gardener, realizing his mistake, glanced, crestfallen, from one to the other. Felicia fired her last shot with all the skill she possessed.
“ Oh, Fred, do you think it is right,” she cried, “ to leave me to go home without you ? I shall have to walk to the street cars alone, — three miles, at least.”
Fred hesitated. His sense of his own importance was very great, especially his idea of his importance to Felicia. This appeal for herself touched him on his strong suit. But the counter temptation was also strong. He thought that it was something of a feat for him to ride Henry Clay, and he knew it would not be permitted by his parents unless his father were one of the party. Then he prefigured the scene of interest and excitement that would ensue at the shop when he should gallop up on the harnessed horse, with the news of the damaged vehicle. It is to be feared that it was Fred’s unexpressed intention to figure as the hero of a sensational story. Under the stress of opposing influences, Fred attempted, as wiser people do in emergencies, to evolve a compromise. He looked over his shoulder at her with serious eyes. “ You jus’ walk ter where the street cars start from,” he said, imperatively. “ There’s plank sidewalks part of the way. You get in the car an’ wait, an’ I ’ll be along jus’ as soon as I tell them men ter come after this phaeton.”
As if afraid of more remonstrances, he “ gave his noble steed the rein,” and went off at a gallop and with a wild halloo.
Nothing short of an earthquake could have more thoroughly disconcerted Felicia. The annoyance of being stranded here in the Park was greatly aggravated by the prospect of a walk of three miles, at least, through a region unfamiliar to her. Her swift speculation as to the improbability of procuring a carriage in any reasonable time was interrupted by Kennett’s voice. He apparently shared none of her anxiety. He turned to her with a smile. For a moment she almost resented his expression ; it held a sort of friendly reliance, seeming to say in effect, “ I am very glad to arrange this for you, and I have no doubt you will be glad to let me arrange it.”
“ It is very fortunate that I came down from town on the river,” he declared. “ I can save you a dusty walk. The boat-house is just outside the gate, and if you have quite recovered from the shock we will go over and get the boat. I can row you up to the streetcar terminus by the time Fred reaches there.”
She hesitated. She had found it necessary to amend her theories as to les convenances very radically, in view of the difference between Madame Sevier’s rule and the more lenient systems prevalent outside those scholastic walls. She had been greatly surprised and a trifle doubtful that people — we are aware that she did not consider all the human race “people” — should permit their young ladies to ride and walk alone with gentlemen, but had realized that the custom of the region makes the law in social matters. This case, however, held certain other elements of difficulty. She had a reluctance to be placed under a distinct obligation, and an obligation to a stranger. But was he a stranger ? Robert’s cousin, closely connected by marriage with her cousin Amy and with Mrs. Emily Stanley-Brant. And what else could she do ? He glanced at her expectantly, with, she fancied, a trifle of surprise. She had but a moment for cogitation. She rapidly decided that in a matter of the sort ultrafastidiousness is absurd; that to refuse to row with him, and then to plod with him three miles on a dusty turnpike road, — for he would insist on seeing her safely to the cars, at least, — would make her ridiculous, and would be quite as unsuitable as rowing on the liver, if either were not convenable, according to the Chilounatti code. She conceded the point gracefully, putting up her parasol, giving one last glance at the disabled phaeton, and turning with Kennett toward the south entrance.
As they walked on in the soft sunshine and the alternating spaces of cool shadow. Felicia was subacutely surprised that her annoyance should diminish so swiftly. There was something singularly restful about him : in the expression of his contemplative eyes, now turning upon her as their desultory talk progressed, now dwelling on the green slopes or the fanciful flower-beds by the roadside ; in the tones of his even voice ; in the steadiness of his movements ; in his candid and natural manner. His manner had, too, a certainty, a definite quality, which had the effect of placing a sort of appropriateness on what he proposed or did. It began to seem a simple and suitable thing thus to stroll with him along these verdure - bordered ways, through the golden afternoon sunshine, toward the Park gates; already in sight they were, as well as the broad, low boathouse beyond.
They mentioned the weather, the beauty of the Park, Fred’s singular idea of the duty of an escort.
“ Fred thinks I am a necessary annoyance in every expedition, like the sermon in a church which has a show choir,” declared Felicia.
“ By the way, you know that Robert and his wife have left town ? ”
“ I discovered that fact only yesterday. Will they be long absent ? ”
“ Some weeks. He will take his vacation now, while the church is under repair. I believe I have his note with me.”
He extracted several missives from his breast pocket, selected one and handed it to her.
“ Your cousin is more considerate than mine,” remarked Felicia, feeling aggrieved. “ Amy has not vouchsafed me a scrape of a pen.”
The note was very short, very familiar, very careless, very fraternal. The Reverend Robert stated that he was just about to start for the train. Amy left some days since. Mr. Lucian Stanley quite ill. Could n’t say when they would return, — the repairs in the church were more extensive than had been anticipated ; not for some weeks, probably. Sorry not to see you again. Good-by, and God bless you.
As she replaced the note in its envelope, Felicia noticed that it was directed to one of the hotels.
“ I had an idea you lived up town,” she remarked. Surely some slight personality might be considered in order, since he was not only cousin Robert’s relative, but apparently his Damon as well.
“No doubt you had that impression because I pass the house so frequently. I am the most methodical of men. I walk the same distance at the same time every day. I have discovered that serenity is necessary, if a man wishes to put in his best licks, — if you will excuse the expression, — to accomplish his highest possibilities. And serenity is facilitated by long, contemplative walks. It is a good habit; one has time to think. Living in the midst of such a rush as I necessarily do, it is well for a man to take a little time to think.”
They had reached the confines of the Park, had crossed the road, and were soon standing upon the river-bank. Belts of blue, of orange, of purple, of a dazzling white, alternated upon the surface of the water. It was ruffled into waves by the breeze, bearing woodland odors from the Park, and sparkled with myriads of prismatic scintillations, as the sun, slowly tending westward, shot athwart the stream. The boat, which had been fastened to the pier, was rocking gently to and fro. Kennett assisted Felicia to a seat, and took the oars. With one long, smooth stroke the little craft shot out far into mid-stream.
“ How strong you are ! ” cried Felicia. “ I should never have thought it! ”
The ease, the dexterity, the grace, delighted her. She looked at Hugh Kennett with shining eyes.
It may be suggested that no man, however well balanced, who is capable of athletic achievement, is ever insensible to such a tribute. This man had his foibles and pet vanities well in hand, but he certainly felt a momentary thrill, a glow of ingenuous pleasure, a strong, subtle, delicately intoxicating elation. He flushed a little.
“ I find it to my advantage to keep in training, to a degree. It is a good point for me. Besides, I am fond of all athletic pursuits, although my preference is for the oars rather than the gloves, or even the foils.”
“There is a class for ladies at the gymnasium,” remarked Felicia.
“ I hardly think ladies need that sort of thing.”
“ I don’t need it. I am very strong,” declared Felicia. “I have no doubt I could surprise you, if I should condescend to row, as much as you surprised me.”
But when he rose and offered her the oars with a great show of insistence, she laughed and crimsoned, and leaned back in her place, eagerly declining.
“ It is not because I can’t,” she maintained, as he resumed his seat. “ I don’t want to make you uncomfortable by excelling you.”
“ Now, that is too kind,” he retorted.
She had ceased to wonder that they knew each other so well; it had begun to seem that they had been good friends always. Apparently he had felt this from the first. She had no care what she should say to him ; she knew he would be satisfied with whatever she might say ; he would share her mood, he would understand it. She did not feel it necessary to agree with him ; she felt at liberty to argue, even to contradict, if occasion should offer. Occasion did not offer, however. The two natures were vibrant, and when a chord was struck the response was instantaneous and in tune. As the boat glided over the water, sometimes, after a silence which was curiously unconstrained, both would speak at once, and would laugh to discover that they had shared the thought which was uttered.
“ The sky is like an Italian sky,” she observed, looking up at the delicately yet intensely blue vault.
“ I was just about to say that,” he declared. “ All day the air has been so soft that I have been reminded of days in Italy.”
“ I was abroad a very short time,” remarked Felicia. “ I should like to go again.”
“ You will, some day,” he returned.
“ Why do you say that ? ” she demanded, with a sort of pleased credulity.
“ You are one of those lucky people who get what they desire. Life is going to be very good to you.”
“ It is delightful to think that,” she said. Her face, above the smoke-colored dress she wore, and shaded by the long gray plumes of her hat, was so radiant that he was again reminded of a star in the rift of a summer cloud.
“ It is your birthright.” he added. “ There is even a prophecy in your name.”
“ I hope it is a prophecy,” she said, more gravely, “ for I am morbidly afraid of unhappiness. But it was my mother’s name. She was very happy, but she died young.”
“ You are the youngest child ? ” he asked. He was rowing slowly, his steady gray eyes fixed on hers. The exercise had brought a glow to his face; his lips were slightly parted over the white line of his teeth; his attitude revealed the depth of his chest ; through his light cloth coat the play of his muscles was visible ; the ease of his movements gave suggestions of covert strength.
“ I was her only child. My brother John is my half-brother.”
“ Oh,” he said. Then, after a pause, “ I imagined — I don’t know why — that in your own home you had a mother who was very fond of you, who read all your letters many times, and sent you pretty things to wear.” He glanced at her soft gray dress, accented here and there with an indistinct shadowy pattern, which added to its cloudy effect.
“ You fancied that because you think I am spoiled. Every one thinks I am spoiled.” She would not listen to his protest. “ Oh, you can’t excuse yourself. You almost said it; you implied it. I never forget and I never forgive. I am very vindictive. Beware ; Nemesis is on your path ! ” She broke into a peal of laughter. It was pleasant to hear; she was pleasant to see, — so young so happy, so genuine, so freshly and piquantly beautiful. Nature and art had combined their forces very judicious, ly, he thought. It was charming that she should be spontaneous, even childish, ingenuous, and natural; it was delightfully incongruous that she should have that finish of manner which comes only of elaborate training.
When their mood was graver, they talked discursively of life, of character, of aims. Felicia admitted that once she had been ambitious. That was long ago, when she was very young.
“ I pined to do something grand with my life. I did not know exactly what I wanted ; to write great books, or to paint great pictures, or even to delve into science, like Mrs. Somerville or Caroline Herschel. I wanted to accomplish something important. I knew it would require hard work, but I believed I was capable of hard work.”
“ Well ? ” said Hugh Kennett, expectantly, looking at her with a smile.
“ Well, papa thought that was all nonsense. He said that if a woman has capacities she can find ample scope for them in making herself generally cultivated, and that to be a charming woman is as much a career as any other.”
“ I think he is right,” said Kennett, heartily.
“ Sometimes I doubt it,” returned Felicia, pensively. “ How would you like it if there seemed to be no real use for those things which you had spent your life in acquiring ? ”
“ Well, not very much. However, there is this difference: a woman may be learned or not, as she pleases, if only she is charming; but a man must be one thing, or he is nothing.”
“ And that ? ”
“ Why, a success.”
“ Ah, you have had ambitions, —that is evident,” said Felicia.
He laughed as his eyes rested on the emerald banks. “ When I was young, — a long time ago,” he said, repeating her phrase. “ My ambitions have been like the bag of gold said to be buried at the foot of the rainbow, — when I reach the spot, it is just a little further on.”
“ That is because you have high ideals,” said Felicia, maturely. She sometimes spoke with weight, as of years and experience, and he did not resent her pretty patronage. “ That is different from not attaining, from failing. It would break my heart to fail; but pride is my besetting sin.”
He would not admit that pride is a sin ; he evolved a theory on the spot.
“ Pride has the same relation,” he submitted, “ to the moral nature that imagination has to the intellectual; they are the only qualities that soar.”
As the boat glided over the glassy surface, she more than once pointed out some fleeting effect of the scene that escaped him: the flare of a clump of trumpet flowers growing about the bole of a dead tree; the fantastic similitude of a whirlpool on the shining water ; the metallic gleam that edged a spray of leaves, definite against the rough gray rocks on the bank, — it might be cast in bronze, she remarked.
“ How quick your perceptions are, — how sensitive you must be ! ” he said.
I don’t want to be sensitive,” she declared.
“ That depends. Some emotions one need not fear, and others are like vitriol ; they spoil everything they touch. Did you ever notice carefully any large collection of people ? I have often observed that almost every face — I could point them out, one by one — is burnt by envy, or hatred, or ill temper, or anxiety ; most, no doubt, by unnecessary cares, easier, and pleasanter, and more natural to throw aside than to cherish.
“ That is rank pessimism,” said Felicia. “ People don’t spoil themselves for pleasure.”
“ They don’t realize it.”
“ You talk like a very happy man,” said Felicia, with her former sedateness. “ How would you endure some blow, some bitter disappointment or grief ? Don’t you suppose the vitriol would burn you, too ? ”
“ You call sorrow vitriol ? That does not burn. Sorrow is the pen of the prophet : it writes on the human palimpsest first a mandate, then a history ; but it does not necessarily destroy the page. I don’t hope to escape that.
He rowed for a time in silence. The clouds were tinged with rose ; the waves scintillated with gleams of green and yellow; the willows on shore rustled, as the breeze swept through.
“ When a man does see a woman’s face,” said Hugh Kennett, with a long sigh, “ on which no unworthy feeling has left a belittling touch, which is bright with hope like the morning, and strong with intellect, and gentle, and soft, and all womanly, he should thank God for the favor vouchsafed ; for he has beheld the face of Eve in Paradise.”
The shadows of the trees, ever lengthening, had fallen over the water. And now the trees were fewer, for the suburbs were reached. Scattered residences surrounded with shrubbery had appeared upon the banks; and already here was the boat-house, craning over the water as if curious to look at its own reflection. And on the slope of the hill beyond there might be seen an ungainly flat surface, suggesting the broad back of some waddling animal, but which was recognizable as the top of the street car.
Kennett was pulling in to the shore. “ Layard, and Schliemann, and Di Cesnola made valuable researches,” he remarked, as he helped her from the boat.
“ They knew where Nineveh, and Troy, and Salamis were, no doubt; but one other rather notable place they don’t exactly locate.” He laughed, musingly.
“ Who could have imagined it was so far west! ” he exclaimed.
“ What is all that ? ” asked Felicia, curiously.
But he only laughed again, and said that it was not worth repeating and explaining.
As they reached the car they descried Fred, coming in a violent hurry, flushed and panting. He said that the “boss” at the blacksmith shop had sent a man after the phaeton, who would take the horse home and explain the accident. “ He’s got there by this time, with Henry Clay, and told papa all about it,” said Fred, with a certain satisfaction. Felicia thought Fred manifested considerable acumen in denying himself the pleasure of more equestrian exercise, and the glory of relating his sensational story in the paternal presence. She pictured to herself, with some amusement, his serious, anxious, sunburned face, when he warned the emissary — as no doubt he did — to say nothing of his ride on Henry Clay through the Park, and when he magnified the older charioteer’s share in the accident,
The three started in a sufficiently amicable frame of mind. But when Fred learned that Felicia and Kennett had been upon the water, his sky was abruptly overcast; it was difficult to appease him ; he wanted to begin the afternoon over again; he wanted a new deal; he would fain, like Joshua, command the sun to stand still. He bitterly and illogically upbraided them with having gone on the river without him. “ Always trine ter beat me out’n my fun,” he whined. “ An’ what do I want with this old knife, ennyhow? I met that boy again, an’ went an’ traded my two good whangs o’ leather fur it. An I ain’t been on that river fur a month o’ Sundays.”
All the way home he was malcontent and morose, and meditated bitterly on his grievances, commercial and social.
It was only the lumbering, ungraceful summer car, drawn by two big mules. No, no; rather, it was an enchanted chariot, rolling through the warm, sunset-tinted twilight, carrying Happiness and Hope, attended by Love and Constancy and all the Graces. Far away, the city stretched in shadowy uncertainty ; already the purple vistas were enriched by lines of yellow gleams, that crossed each other in a tangled maze, like a swarm of fireflies; ruby points, advancing and receding, gemmed the dusky streets ; the tinkle of bells was borne faintly on the air; the silver sphere of the full moon, slowly appearing above the eastern roofs, outlined them against the darkly blue sky with shining white gleams.
When the trio of pleasure-seekers approached John Hamilton’s house, they saw him smoking a cigar, as he leaned in a sufficiently graceful attitude against one of the big fluted pillars at the head of the flight of steps. The lingering daylight showed the flowers in the grassplot, and the vines about the walls. The windows were open, and through the lace curtains streamed the subdued radiance of a shaded gas-jet.
“ That is like a stage-setting,” remarked Hugh Kennett. “ In another moment you will see advancing down the right centre the first lady, or the villain, or the heavy father.”
“ There’s the heavy father, is n’t he, Fred ? ” said Felicia.
Fred only mumbled that he didn’t know, an’ did n’t care, an’ did n’t want nuthin’ ter say ter her, — always trine ter cheat somebody out’n their fun.
John Hamilton was a cordial soul. When Felicia introduced her companion, though he wondered greatly whether she had met him at Madame Sevier’s or at home, he received the stranger like a suddenly found friend, ardently shook hands, and warmly invited him indoors.
Kennett replied that he was sorry he could not come in, but he had not time ; he was due down town now.
“ We shall be glad to see you at any time,” said the master of the house.
The heartiness of tone seemed to awaken reciprocal warmth. Kennett replied, with the air of very amicably receiving an advance, that next week he should be at leisure, and should be glad to avail himself of the invitation. He expected to spend his vacation in Chilounatti. It was an agreeable prospect. He had been knocking about from pillar to post for so long, he thought he should enjoy a rest. Delightful weather just now. And then he lifted his hat and said good-evening.
“ Glad to have met you, Mr. Kennett,” declared John Hamilton, unreservedly ; and as the sound of the stranger’s footsteps died away, he turned to his sister.
“Who is that fellow, Felicia?” he asked, with vivacious curiosity.
“ That is the Mr. Kennett I mentioned to you. He is a cousin of cousin Robert’s,” she replied, as they entered the hall together.
“ Did you meet him at Raymond’s house?”
“ Oh, yes. He was there one day when Fred and I happened in.”
“ What is his business? ” asked John Hamilton, somewhat indifferently, now that his curiosity was satisfied.
“ I don’t know. I never heard him mention business except what he said to you a moment since. I have met him only three times. He was in the Park last Saturday, and, while I was waiting for Fred, he came up and talked to me. He met us again this afternoon, and I rowed with him from the Park as far as the street railroad.”
She said to herself that there should be nothing clandestine about the affair. If any objections were to be made, now was the time to make them.
John Hamilton was apparently disposed to advance none.
“ Seems an agreeable sort of fellow,” he remarked, casually.
This year, the summer was very long and hot. From early morning till the reluctant sun sank slowly below the horizon, the heated city rarely felt the thrill of a breeze. Sometimes sudden, short, angry thunderstorms passed tumultuously, and left the air warm as ever, but permeated with a heavy moisture. People plied their palm-leaf fans, declared that it was intolerable, and left town in great numbers.
Hugh Kennett, who had promptly availed himself of John Hamilton’s invitation to call, was before long a frequent visitor at the house; indeed, almost the only visitor, so general had been the exodus. The method of entertaining him might have been deemed monotonous, but was in a certain sense flattering. He was allowed to slip into the little circle on the footing of a family friend. He came to be received in the sittingroom, and the fancy-work went on undisturbed by his presence. He was invited more than once to dinner, quite informally. He fell into the habit of walking by the house late in the afternoon, and there was usually a plausible excuse to stop and chat with the group disposed on the front steps, after the custom in Southern and quasi-Southern cities : he had brought a book they had had under discussion, or the illustrated papers, with the last political cartoon; some one would give him a hassock ; the dusk would deepen; the few moments would multiply ; the perfume of heliotrope and roses would burden the warm, languorous air; the gentle voices of the women would rise and fall; the moonbeams would slip down on their hair.
It was Mrs. Hamilton’s habit, at a regular hour every evening, to repair to the front room upstairs, to put the baby to bed. This conscientious lady would not attempt to overhear the conversation of the young people ; she only undressed the baby near the window, and their voices would float up to her. His was resonant and carried well, and was far more distinct than Felicia’s. There seemed to be nothing very important said. Sometimes his laughter rang out: it was a pleasant laugh, peculiarly rich, full, and musical; it had an appreciative suggestion. Occasionally there were long pauses, and no wind stirred the vines, and the flowers gave out a faint, sweet breath, and the white blocks of moonlight on the streets and sidewalks were unbroken by a passing shadow. The discreet matron made the job of undressing the baby a long and elaborate job, and came down, with an innocent face and the consciousness of duty well performed, to take her share in the talk, — for the most part trivial chat concerning the incidents of the day, or the weather, or that unfailing theme, the dullness of town.
“ I should have found it unendurable but for my calls here,” he once said, frankly. “ I have not had much of the home atmosphere in my life. I had no idea that I should appreciate the home atmosphere so thoroughly as I do.”
They grew to know him very well; but he was not a difficult person to know. He was transparent, and in fact sometimes lacked tact. He was not sensitive, — in the interpretation of being on the alert for slights ; either from pronounced self-esteem or because of reliance on the intention of others, he was apt to place a kindly construction on anything that was apparently equivocal. He seemed to be tolerant in judgment, and generous. There was but slight suggestion of a fiercer stratum underlying the smooth surface of his character. Fred, it is true, had a lurid theory.
He’s got a orful high temper,” the boy remarked one day, when the new friend was under discussion in the family circle. “ Yer oughter heard him givin’ fits ter the man that come so near runnin’ over me on Sixth Street with his team yestiddy, when I was jus’ crossin’ the street, an’ warn’t thinkin’ bout nuthin’, nor lookin’. An’ Mr. Kennett, he happened to be passin’, an’ he jus’ jumped off the sidewalk, an’ caught the horses by the reins, an’ hollered ter the man ter mind what he was about. An’ he was mighty mad, Mr. Kennett was, an’ — swore.”
He said this in a slightly awed voice, and looked seriously at his mother, doubtful, but impressed. She rose to the occasion.
“ You shock me,” she said. “ How could Mr. Kennett do so ungentlemanly a thing as swear ! ”
Felicia glanced up quickly, as Fred left the room.
“ Why shouldn’t Mr. Kennett swear, if he likes ? ” she demanded, aggressively.
“ According to Fred’s account there was no reason,” replied Mrs. Hamilton, with a mild giggle.
Notwithstanding her partisanship, something in this episode grated on our fastidious young lady’s ideas of the fitness of things, and it might have been with a lurking intention as to the effect of a subtle, unrecognized influence that she contrived, at the first opportunity, to steer the conversation into the subject of self-command, and to lay down some impersonal, and it might even be said elementary, propositions touching the triviality of character suggested by an incapacity to control the temper. “ It is as ludicrous and weak for a man to stamp about, and break things, and swear because he is in a rage as it is for a woman to mope and cry because she feels nervous,” said the young Mentor, didactically.
And Mrs. Hamilton, who happened to overhear this, noticed that Mr. Kennett wore a bland and innocent unconsciousness, which induced in the matron the reflection that, if Felicia were ambitious of a missionary career, the heathen offered a more promising field than the one she seemed to have in contemplation.
He was mild mannered and peaceable enough, however, so far as they knew of their own knowledge, and Fred’s story might require a grain or two of salt.
In their long interviews he was somewhat given to silence ; he talked little about himself, and was little inclined to reminiscence. Once he spoke of his mother, who had died when he was growing into manhood. She was very strict, he said, very stern and uncompromising ; she was the most devoted of mothers; she had no happiness but in the welfare of her children. His father he mentioned occasionally, with that tenderness which Felicia had earlier divined had survived a bitter and longfelt grief. Of his sisters, the elder, three years his junior, had died at twenty-two. That loss had broken his father’s heart; he did not live long afterward. The younger sister had married about a year ago, and had been abroad ever since. He said he had been disappointed ; he thought she deserved well of fate ; she was very beautiful and talented. Her husband was a good fellow, but commonplace.
This, in effect, was all that was revealed, in those summer evenings, of Hugh Kennett’s past. To Mrs. Hamilton, afterward, it seemed very meagre, though at the time sne felt no lack. And as for him, — when a man is happy he thinks little of his past. He was doing what few can do in a lifetime, — he was living his present; he was interpreting that problem which eludes us when it is attainable, and mocks us when it has slipped by, at once the simplest and the most complex element of existence, that tantalizing mystery, Now. His past was narrowed to what was said and glanced yesterday evening; his future was bounded by the possibilities of tomorrow.
Felicia, too, was alive in every sensitive susceptibility to the influences which permeated the intense momentous present of these radiant summer days. Life had come to be enchantment to her; the prosaic episodes of the daily routine were transfigured and dignified ; monotony, — it was an unrealized and a forgotten force ; thought was reverie. She, too, had no longer need for memory or anticipation. Her beauty had acquired a new softness ; there was a sort of tender appeal about her, and yet the delicate and ethereal exaltation which possessed her had a less poetic element. She was prosaically good humored ; annoyances that would once have tried her sorely had become merely unexpected opportunity for mirth ; she had developed sympathy and tact; she was gentle and amenable, and easily pleased. “ A girl in love is a very agreeable visitor in the house,” was Mrs. Hamilton’s comment, — a mental comment, for she was a prudent woman, and in silence smilingly watched the little drama, in which the actors were too deeply absorbed to remember the spectator.
All this time John Hamilton was absent from home. The day after the evening on which he met Hugh Kennett, he had been called away to certain famous Dakota wheat-fields. He was going into very heavy enterprises; he proposed to himself that his operations in the near future should be still heavier ; he aspired to be the Napoleon of the next great “deal.” Fortune, so far, had favored him. He was liberal as well as ambitious. He was ready to give appropriate exponents to his increasing prosperity, and had bought a particularly eligible corner lot, on which he was building a fine house. One of Mrs. Hamilton’s reasons for liking Hugh Kennett was the fact that he had so much taste and acumen in the matter of the new house, and she frequently consulted him.
“ Don’t you think the walls of that east room should be Pompeian red, Mr. Kennett ? ” she said one day, fixing her eyes on his face as if she would read his very soul. She was constantly growing more assured as to manner, and her increasing prosperity expressed itself more distinctly, still with circumspection, in her dress. She was not less eager, however, to avail herself of the advice and experience of others, and kept her own views in a condition to be instantly modified by circumstances. “ Pompeian red, with panels, — those large panels, with arabesques in shaded reds. I showed you the design.”
“Well, to be perfectly candid,” he replied, “ it seems to me those panels are too pronounced, too theatrical.”
“ Do you think so ? ” she said, and meditated deeply on this view.
They were going, this afternoon, to look over the new house. Mrs. Hamilton — her plump little figure encased in a gray and white India silk, which seemed refreshingly light and cool — walked in front with Kennett. Her face, flushed with heat and exercise, under the soft brown hair that waved on each side of her candid brow, was a study of anxiety and complacence. Her round, gentle, inquiring eyes took in all the details about the ambitious mansions they passed. Her little remarks were not sufficiently absorbing to prevent his hearing every word uttered by Felicia, who, with Fred as escort, made up the party.
It chanced that, in the course of the expedition, Mrs. Hamilton was upstairs in consultation with the architect, Fred had strolled off, and the other two found themselves in the great unfurnished drawing-rooms. Felicia had been much exercised about various points, and had given her opinion with frankness and vivacity. “ When those changes about the sliding - doors upstairs have been made and the frescoing finished, it will be almost perfect; don’t you think so ? ” she said, appealing to Kennett.
He did not reply. He was leaning against the window-frame, his eyes fixed on her, as she stood in the middle of the floor. She had come at a moment’s notice, in the lawn morning - dress — white flecked with pink — she was wearing. Nothing could be simpler. She was without gloves. Her garden hat shaded her face. She seemed to him fair and fresh as a flower.
“ Do you know,” she exclaimed, suddenly. “ this is the first time I ever saw you out of spirits. You look dismal. What is the matter ? ”
“ I was thinking,” he returned, a trifle embarrassed.
“ So I perceived ; but of what ? ”
“ Well, to be candid, I was thinking that you ought to have a house like this, — a house of your own.”
“Oh,” cried Felicia, “I shouldn’t like it! ”
“ You seem very fond of all this sort of thing,” he persisted. “ You were describing with actual enthusiasm the upholstery they have selected for this room.”
“ I am interested — for other people.”
“ Frankly, now, would n’t you like it for yourself ? ”
She glanced about her critically, — at the big rooms opposite, the big hall, the sweep of the balustrade, the carved newel-post, which had cost Mrs. Hamilton several nights’ rest lest it should not be exactly what was desired. She tried to imagine it all when finished, — the rich and accordant coloring, the pictures, the deep, soft carpets, the sheen of mirrors. Then she turned her eyes on him with a smile.
“ I hope it is not discreditable to me,” she replied, — “an irresponsible, Bohemian way of looking at things, — but, frankly, I should n’t care to have a house like this. Sophie is going to find it a white elephant; a good thing in its way, but a great responsibility.”
His face was less grave, but he shook his head. “ I am afraid you don’t understand relative values,” he said.
“ Why, you are doing me injustice ! ” cried Felicia, crimsoning suddenly. “ This is the first time I ever knew you to do any one injustice. You must think me very frivolous to care so much for things, — mere things.”
“ No, no ; you misunderstand me,” he protested. “ I was only a little curious as to how you feel about such matters. What do you care for most, if not for ‘ things ’ ? ”
“ Well,” began Felicia, appeased, — she was easily appeased, — “I believe I care most for people, agreeable, bright, cheerful people; not glum individuals, who stand in a window and pick a quarrel for nothing. Then I like change and variety. I am fond of things, too, — pretty things ; but principally X like people. I have seen so much deadly dullness in the best houses. That is what I hate, — dullness.”
All the light had come back to his face.
“ What you like,” he said, recapitulating, “ is brightness, and what you hate is dullness.”
“Yes,” said Felicia, with her sunny smile. She had perched on one of the carpenter’s saw-horses, and leaned her elbow among the shavings scattered about the big, rough work-bench; she supported her head on her hand ; her feet did not touch the floor, and as they dangled her dainty boots were visible. She had been running up and down stairs; the expression of her eyes showed that she was tired.
“ And it would not be a bitterness, a trial, to you to give up — I have often thought it a great sacrifice a man situated as I am would ask you to make, if he should tell you — that he — that — that I ” —
He was agitated ; he hesitated, yet he glanced around in intense impatience because of an interruption, as Mrs. Hamilton came suddenly into the room.
“ Felicia,” she began, with excitement, “ don’t you see that carriage stopping in front of the door ? Who can it be ? ” She had rustled to the window. “ Why, it is Mr. Raymond ! ” she exclaimed.
A gentleman had alighted from the vehicle, and was advancing up the pavement. He saw the group at the window, and as they emerged into the hall to meet him he entered at the front door. His face was grave.
“ They told me at the other house you were here,” he said hurriedly, as he greeted Mrs. Hamilton. “ I have bad news. Mr. Stanley died last night, very unexpectedly. The physicians had pronounced him convalescent. I must ask you and Felicia to give some orders for my wife and Mrs. Brant, and ” —
He paused abruptly as he caught sight of his cousin ; there was much surprise in his face as they shook hands. “ Have you been in town all summer, Hugh ? ” he asked.
“ All summer,” replied Kennett.
Raymond looked hard at him, the troubled perplexity deepening on his face. Nothing further was said, however. He turned to Mrs. Hamilton to reply to her interrogations and remarks touching the news he had brought, and gave Felicia a note from his wife, — hasty and blotted with tears. There were tears in her sympathetic eyes as she read it.
“ You can go with me now? ” asked Mr. Raymond. “ The stores will be closed in an hour or two.”
Felicia assented, and started toward the door.
“ Won’t you have time, Felicia, to put on a street dress ? ” cried Mrs. Hamilton, in dismay. She had adopted not a little of the young lady’s exacting code of externals.
“ Oh, what does it matter at such a time ! ” exclaimed Felicia ; and Hugh Kennett thought loyally how petty, how trivial minded, were the best of women — Mrs. Hamilton was one of the best of women — in comparison with a supremely lovely nature like this. He did not accompany the trio.
“ I would only be in your way,” he said, as he stood on the sidewalk, by the carriage door. “ I will take Fred home before I go down town.”
As they drove away, Mr. Raymond remarked, “ You seem to know Kennett pretty well.”
“ Oh, yes, indeed ; he has been such a pleasant friend,” said Mrs. Hamilton, enthusiastically. “ He is so agreeable, and high minded, and well informed, and such a gentleman.”
Felicia’s shining eyes—dewy and dark with feeling — were fixed on the speaker; her lips wore that curve which expresses more happiness than a smile. Robert Raymond thought he had never seen her so childlike, so beautiful, so unconstrained, as she sat opposite him, in her simple dress, with her soft, ungloved hands lying lightly in her lap. “ How her face reveals her heart ! ” he thought.
“ Yes,” he said, “ Kennett is an agreeable fellow. Does Hamilton know him ? ”
“ They were introduced to each other the evening before John received the telegram calling him to Dakota. By the way, I am looking for John every day, now.”
“ He is just back,” announced Raymond, suddenly. “ We met on the train to-day.”
“ Oh, dear, perhaps I ought to go home ! ” cried Mrs. Hamilton, in a flutter.
“ No ; he knew I should see you, and he asked me to tell you that he could not leave the office until late, — there is so much to arrange.”
“ Oh, well, then,” said Mrs. Hamilton, settling back contentedly. To be sure, the opportunity was a melancholy one, but even the duty of ordering a friend’s mourning is its own recompense, and spending money on so sad an occasion affords the Mrs. Hamiltons of this world a gloomy joy.
It was evident that the time for the purchases was very short, yet as the two ladies were about to enter the store at which the carriage stopped Raymond detained them. He was greatly disquieted ; his eye was anxious and wandering ; he began more than one sentence, and broke off in its midst.
“ There is still something I must see about,” he said, uncertainly. “ I will come back here and say good-by — or — no — I shall not have time. Perhaps, Mrs. Hamilton, you will drive down to the depot. I will meet you there.”
He left them abruptly, and Mrs. Hamilton stared at him as he went. “ How funny he is! ” she said, wonderingly.
The truth was, the Reverend Robert’s conscience was after him, and it pursued him in a lively fashion till he reached the office of Hamilton and Gale — Commission Merchants. He was very nearly left by the train, this afternoon. Mrs. Hamilton and Felicia, still sitting in the carriage, had waited half an hour; the locomotive had pulled into the building; the crowd of passengers was pouring past and boarding the cars before they saw his face framed by the window of a hack that was driven furiously to the depot. He had barely time for hasty adieux. “ Good-by, good-by ! ” he exclaimed. “ It is very kind of you to take so much trouble.”
He looked hard at Felicia; she did not understand his expression. It was tender; it curiously blended a sort of compassion and a sort of entreaty. After he had started hurriedly from them, he turned back suddenly, took her hand, and held it in a strong clasp. “ God bless you, my dear child,” he said.
“ He is very, very odd, to-day,” said Mrs. Hamilton, again gazing vaguely after his receding figure. “ How strange, his coming back to bid you good-by again, Felicia, and how strangely he looked at you ! ”
“ I suppose it is because Amy is so fond of me,” said Felicia. “ Now that she is grieved he feels very kindly to any one she loves.”
But she did not quite accept her own explanation, and pondered on that pitiful expression of his in pained bewilderment.
Fanny N . D. Murfree.