THAT night seemed afterward to Felicia like the beginning of a terrible dream. It opened with a hitter experience, — for the first time in her life she received a cruel look, directed point-blank into her eyes. To he admired, quoted, commended lavishly and injudiciously. — this had been her lot so far; and to her half-brother — who was almost double her age — she was indebted for more than a fair share of praise and petting. To receive from him a prolonged stare, keen, critical, — no, was it not more ? even angry, bitterly angry, — it was like receiving a blow in the face.
As there was no visitor this evening, she had shared with Sophie the diversion of getting the baby to bed. She was sitting on the floor, with the child in her arms, when Hamilton’s step and voice sounded in the hall below, and his wife tossed aside the garments she held and ran downstairs.
When they entered the room, Felicia called out gayly, without rising, “ See how strong the baby is, John ! See how she has learned to stand alone while you were away ! Stand alone-y, precious, for your auntie.”
She looked up, startled, as her brother spoke; his voice was cold and hard.
“ Go to your room, Felicia,” he said, “ and pack your clothes. We shall start for the East to-morrow, and you will go with us.”
She rose to her feet in surprise, the child still in her arms.
“ Going East to-morrow ? ” she repeated, faintly.
Then it was he bent upon her that cruel look.
“You don’t seem pleased,” he said, with a short laugh. “ I thought you would be delighted to get back to your beloved Madame Sevier again.”
“I — I don’t want to go now — it’s so — so hot,” said Felicia, hesitating.
“ We ‘ll hunt a cool resort; Mount Desert, perhaps. Or may be we ‘ll try Long Branch, Cape May, Saratoga. I don’t know where we ’ll go. We ‘11 have an outing. You and Sophie have been penned in this dull hole all summer.” Again he laughed, his eyes still fixed on hers.
For a moment she did not reply ; then she faltered, “ This is very strange. It is not proper for me to go off on a pleasure trip so soon after the death of a near connection of my mother’s. Papa will be very angry.”
“ This trip is my affair. I propose to account to father for your movements,” returned Hamilton, significantly.
She did not, as might have been expected of one so indulged and so spirited, resent his tone. She was amazed and startled, and she quailed a little. She lifted her eyes with a propitiatory look. “ You are not angry with me, brother ? ” she said, almost meekly. She usually addressed him by his name ; he softened a moment, then hardened again.
“ Why should I be angry with you ? ” he demanded. “ Give the baby to Julia, and go to your packing. We leave in the morning at five o’clock.”
Felicia went to her room. She stood meditative and motionless, near the win dow, her eyes upon the scene without. The moonlight alternated with parallelograms of black shadow; very quiet was the street; the stars burned faintly; the wind had died; fireflies gleamed fitfully among the foliage of the shade trees along the sidewalk, whence she was wont to catch the advancing red glow of Hugh Kennett’s cigar. She walked slowly to her desk, seated herself, and began to write. Her brother, lounging on the balcony of his own room, watched her curiously through the vista of doors, left open that any welcome vagrant breeze might enter. He saw that she hesitated as she wrote ; that she made more than one beginning ; that she read over the few lines hurriedly, placed the sheet in an envelope, and directed it with a precipitancy that contrasted with her previous deliberation. He saw her hand it to the maid, who had been packing the trunks, with the injunction to run across the street and place it in the letter-box.
“ To-night. Miss Felicia ? ” asked the girl, in surprise.
“Yes, now,” she replied.
John Hamilton rose, entered from the balcony, and walked downstairs composedly. When the servant had laid aside the articles in her hands and descended with the note, she came upon him pacing up and down the hall, his hands in his pockets, and a cigar, which he had just lighted, in his mouth.
“ What’s that ? ” he demanded, glancing at the envelope she held.
It is a note Miss Felicia wanted me to post,” the servant answered.
He held out his hand silently for the note, and as he read, “ Mr. Hugh Kennett, Lawrence Hotel,” he turned the envelope so that his wife, who chanced to be coming downstairs, could see the address; then he handed it back to the maid, who passed out of the open door into the moonlit street.
“ When I asked you, Sophie,” he said bitterly to his wife, “ how far this affair had gone, you said it would not amount to anything. I thought then you were mistaken, and I think so now more than ever.”
Mrs. Hamilton made no reply. She had a scared, anxious look ; all her little complacence, so satisfactorily growing and putting forth new shoots, had wilted in an hour. She had never seen so stern an expression on her husband’s face. Much bronzed his face was by his trip ; his hair and mustache had grown luxuriant ; he was stouter than when he left home. Big, strong, and prosperous, his was the very face and figure for placid satisfaction ; but his eyebrows had met in a heavy frown ; he gnawed his lip under his flowing mustache. “We are going to have the devil and all of a time with that girl,” he prophesied, grimly.
The sunrise was hardly more than a rosy glow over the landscape when the Hamiltons started on their “ outing,”and the neighborhood was greatly amazed because of the suddenness of the flitting. Heretofore Felicia had been an excellent traveler, always ready, well, entertained, good-humored. The new faces, the variety of incident, even the rapidity of motion, gave her that keen sense of delight impossible to one less healthy, young, and joyous. Now the zest was lacking to the journey. She did not look with interest at the people about her, and busy her imagination with their histories, the comedies and tragedies of their lives ; the landscape slipped by unheeded. Once she would have found Fred and his idiosyncrasies under these new circumstances great fun ; now his eager talk tired her; the warmth of the weather oppressed her; she was irritated by the sound of the train, the bustle, the confusion, the swarms of people.
When the party reached New York, and later Boston, she had the shock of a painful surprise. Among the letters which had been sent on from Chilounatti, there was no reply to the note she had written Hugh Kennett the evening before she left town. It had been a simple little note, merely telling him of the unexpected departure and wishing him good-by. But she had confidently expected a reply, and his silence bewildered, pained, and cruelly mortified her. The complication of feelings developed gradually into the first deep depression of spirit she had ever known. There was little opportunity for distraction in outside interests. John Hamilton’s idea of summer pleasuring seemed to be expressed by a swift transit from place to place ; to see all that was to be seen and to buy all that was desired in as short a time as possible. His plan was to take the cities first, then the watering-places. There was much of isolation in this style of enjoyment. Felicia’s New York friends had all left town. The party met few acquaintances, and found but scant entertainment in the spectacle of metropolitan life out of season, — a dismal spectacle enough ; like a moulting bird, an absurd caricature of itself.
To Felicia it was very tiresome to wander through the picture-galleries, and gaze vacantly at the works of art designated by the catalogues for intelligent admiration; still more tiresome to force herself to take interest in the endless discussions concerning carpets, glass, and china at the various fashionable stores, where the party came to be well known, and where John Hamilton’s liberality and his wife’s taste extorted high commendation. Perhaps something was extorted on the other side, but as the Hamiltons were satisfied with their purchases we need make no moan.
Felicia’s unhappiness was very evident, and now it was that John Hamilton should have taken the field in force with a bountiful supply of ammunition in the way of tact. If Felicia had been the recipient of the customary kind consideration from her sister-in-law and of his half-jocular, half-tender petting, she would naturally have turned to their affection, and the impressions of the last few weeks might have loosed their hold. But Hamilton proved himself grievously lacking in discernment, in adroitness, even in common policy. He was a man of strong will and high temper; when he was displeased, he was very likely to make the fact more patent than the occasion required.
There was something hard in John Hamilton. Many of those who knew him best never suspected it. The expression of his florid face, his jolly laughter, his free, frank, hearty manner, afforded no suggestion of the underlying iron in his nature. His habit of success had given him an imperiousness of intention and expectation. He would not contemplate adverse circumstance; he would not tolerate opposing will. He was at no time disposed to subject his thoughts and feelings to scrutiny. He did not reason on the matter in hand. It was not his intention to break his sister’s spirit; he was simply displeased, and it was his instinct to sweep out of existence whatever displeased him.
This silent, bitter antagonism was an unfortunate course to pursue with Felicia. In many respects she and her brother were alike : in her nature, too, there was hard metal ; she, too, was intolerant and imperious. When she first became aware of that inexplicable antagonism, pervading the moral atmosphere like a pending thunderstorm, she made some effort to place affairs on a less sombre footing. Her attempts at conversation and vivacity were met with anxious uncertainty on Sophie’s part, and a cold unresponsiveness from her brother. Disconcerted and abashed, she fell again into her absorbed musings, with the changed manner of her companions for a new theme. Under these circumstances traveling was not unalloyed pleasure. She would have given up the trip and returned home, but that she had received a letter from her father to the effect that the house was shut up; that he was off on the circuit, and expected to have no vacation until the early part of September, when he would meet the party in New York, and take her home with him. Obviously no radical change was possible, but a new element of feeling was unexpectedly infused into the situation.
During the early portion of the journey she saw but little of her brother. In the cities they visited he had his own engagements. While in transit he occupied himself in playing with the baby or reading the newspapers, or he was absorbed with a note-book and pencil and abstruse calculations. One day, however, when he chanced to be seated beside her, she broke a long silence by saying, with a sigh, she supposed they would receive no more letters until they should again become stationary for a time.
He looked at her quickly, keenly, suspiciously. She did not understand it, — she did not understand him, — and she spoke on the impulse of the moment.
“ Are you displeased with me ? ” she asked, suddenly.
“ Why should I be displeased with you, Felicia ? ” he demanded, curtly. He was rising as he spoke ; he had taken out a cigar; in his other hand he had a match. He looked down at her, and his face held so tyrannical an expression — an expression at once angry, cold, and overbearing — that the smouldering fire of her pride kindled in an instant.
“ I am sure I don’t know,” she retorted, with spirit. Their eyes met. Perhaps there came to him at this moment some belated inspiration of policy, for, after a second of hesitation, he turned on his heel and made his way into the smoking-car.
Felicia’s pride, once ablaze, did not again smoulder. The infusion of animation into her manner was genuine enough, after this, but it was not the light-hearted joyousness of old. She was on the alert at last, on the defensive ; she was even ready to engage the skulking antagonisms. Nothing was expressed ; nothing was so tangible that explanations were in order: her resentment only shone in her eyes, vibrated in the ring of her voice, curved with her upper lip, which had drooped lately, and given her a certain pathos to enhance the pallor of her face. She was not always pale now; she flushed easily and brilliantly ; she carried herself proudly ; she became somewhat addicted to sarcasm. Hamilton interpreted all this, perhaps correctly enough, as defiance. “ Did n’t I tell you, Sophie,” he said to his wife, in the privacy of their own room, “ that we were going to have a devil of a time with Felicia? I suppose you see how rebellious she is ? ”
“ Perhaps, dear, if you would be a little more gentle with her,” suggested Mrs. Hamilton, meekly.
“ Gentle! Blankity blank ! ” exclaimed John Hamilton, hotly. The good lady cowered whenever he fell into expletive.
It would, perhaps, have been lucky for the termination of this affair, looked at from his own standpoint, if Hamilton had married a termagant instead of his acquiescent Sophie. It is well enough for a man to be afraid of no man ; it is not a bad thing for him to be afraid — in reason — of some woman. John Hamilton was afraid of nobody, least of all of Felicia. He met her tacit defiance with tacit counter-defiance.
He did not dream how unhappy she was ; perhaps he would not have altered his course if he had realized it, so incapable of concession was his nature. She was too intense, too untamed, too young, to accept wretchedness save with passionate protest. Sometimes, after a day made up of the weary daze of shopping and sight-seeing, or the laborious idleness of watering-place life, when shut at last into her own room, she would sob for hours in the light of the summer moon or the white stars.
Underlying the pained bewilderment and indignation induced by the latent domestic discord was the complication of emotions caused by Hugh Kennett’s inexplicable silence. Often she said to herself she would be reasonable about this matter. Did she not know him well enough, she asked herself, to decide if it were consonant with his character to inflict a slight upon any human being ? He was very tender-hearted, — she had often noticed that; he was almost weak in that respect; it was a little absurd to be so ultra-careful of the feelings of other people; and would he, who would not wound Fred, who spoke with consideration to the servants, to the very beggars on the street, put an affront upon any one, — upon her? For a time this train of thought would comfort her ; but when again alone, the reverse side of the question would present itself. He would not put a slight upon her, — of course he would not; but her note was a matter of such little moment to him that he could not imagine it was important to her. He had forgotten her note, — that was all. Her ingenuity in self-torture was as uncharacteristic as her self-depreciation. As to what she had fancied he was about to say that last day, — she had been misled by her vanity. This reflection made her humble enough. In an evil moment an elaboration of this theory occurred to her. Perhaps he, too, had reviewed those words of his, which seemed to hold a momentous meaning, a meaning he did not intend ; and if that were the case, what of encouragement did her note imply ? Did it seem to lure him further when he had said nothing, — when he had nothing to say? And his silence: was he silent in scorn, divining her misinterpretation ; in mercy, that she might have no opportunity to commit herself further? So warped was her judgment, so morbid had she grown, that this wild theory came to be an actual fact to her mind, and all the pangs that had gone before were as nothing to the poignant anguish of her writhing pride.
Toward the end of August, John Hamilton’s party found themselves for a few days in Philadelphia. One warm afternoon, the choice was presented to Felicia to go with Sophie to select lace curtains, or with Fred to the Academy of Sciences. She yielded to her nephew’s ardent insistence, thinking that it would be cool in the Academy building, and she need not talk ; it was not even necessary to go through the form of replying to Fred.
The building was lonely. In all the half million — plus — of inhabitants in the city there seemed to be nobody but themselves disposed toward science. The big halls responded with hollow echoes to the sound of their steps. Fred’s raptures, when they reached the skeleton of the Megatherium, were difficult to control; he met the gigantic bones as if he had found a long-lost brother. Felicia, tired of his noisy comments and his monotonous accent, as he laboriously read the valuable paragraphs devoted by the catalogue to the admired object, strolled away. As she stood at some distance, looking absently about her, she was surprised at hearing her own name. She turned her head quickly. A gentleman was standing near her, his hat in his hand, a smile of greeting on his lips.
Absorbed in her own reflections, she had not noticed an approach, and Alfred Grafton was now so foreign to her thoughts that for an instant she had a trifle of difficulty in recognizing him. That supremacy in small crises conferred by her training came to her aid, and the hesitation with which she extended her hand was not perceptible. He stood in a bar of sunshine that lighted him up with unwonted effectiveness ; his dark hazel eyes had yellow gleams in them; he was smiling; for once his face had an entirely simple expression, — the expression of unaffected pleasure; the summer suit he wore was becoming ; he looked very well.
After a few conventional inquiries as to the health of the family, “ I suppose,” he said, with an indefinite wave of his hand at the materialized learning in the cabinets about them, “ you find all this very interesting? ”
“ The bones ? No, to be quite candid, I don’t enjoy them ; I don’t care anything about them.”
His momentary geniality had already disappeared. He replied with an intonation of objection, —not strong enough to be resented as a rebuke, but which irritated by its suggestion that he esteemed his own views the exactly appropriate sentiments.
“ I should think a lady of your intellect might find much to instruct and entertain her here.”
“ I am not a lady of intellect,” returned Felicia, perversely. “ I am a very frivolous person. I can entertain myself, and I don’t want to be instructed.”
They were walking together down the long hall. She swung her parasol lightly, and glanced about her indifferently. Grafton may have been vaguely conscious of her strong subcurrent of painful emotion, and, aware that his words were in some way repugnant to her, have yielded to an infrequent impulse of magnanimity ; he may have been only desirous to propitiate her. At any rate, he made the one approach to an apology of which his record can boast.
“ I hope I did n’t offend you,” he said, almost with deprecation.
“ Oh, dear, no,” declared Felicia, heartlessly. “ I did n’t care.”
He could not complain now that her suavity was too pronounced for sincerity. The tone in which she said this was hardly civil, but for a certain tense vibration which, notwithstanding his stilted code and contracted horizon, he had sufficient discernment to interpret as the manifestation of acute mental disquiet. He turned his bright, deep-set eyes upon her, as they walked on, side by side. Her face had lost somewhat in color, in roundness of line, in animation; it had acquired something he did not understand, — something not joyous, but replete with meaning ; it seemed to him to have become susceptible of taking on subtle and complex expressions. As the momentary irritation faded, there came in its stead a certain dignity, and that ethereal look which much thought or much feeling can confer. Added to the fascination of her smile which he had known — she glanced at him and smiled presently, as if in reparation, and her voice had gentle intonations—was a new fascination which he could not analyze.
He was cordially welcomed by both Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, when he appeared at the hotel that evening. They, as well as Felicia, had found their method of pleasuring rather dismal. “ To go about among strangers all the time is poor enjoyment, no matter how many new things one buys,” declared Mrs. Hamilton. He was a somewhat cool subject for Hamilton’s camaraderie, but was, as that gentleman remarked, “ a confounded sight better than nobody.” The young man hung about them while they remained in Philadelphia, and a few days after they reached the seaside he joined them. He explained, with some embarrassment, that he was awaiting the arrival of his mother, who expected to place his sister at boarding-school in New York, and would return home to Chilounatti with him.
What attracted him was soon apparent enough. He made no attempt at subterfuge after that simulacrum of an explanation of his presence. He was always at Felicia’s side. He brought her books and flowers. He arranged sailing expeditions. They often rode down the avenues, kaleidoscopic with the pageantry of vehicles and equestrians that defiled between the palpitating sea and the long line of big hotels, with their fluttering flags, and clanging bands, and flower-like groups of women and children bedecking the piazzas. She wondered at his persistence. She had not intentionally given him reason to persist. When, however, a man interprets himself as the expression of his highest ideal, the translation acquires so much dignity that it is not very difficult to believe his version is accepted by others. Felicia found it less annoying to maintain a state of seeming acquiescence than to give herself the luxury of indulging her irritability. To make sarcastic speeches to him involved the necessity of reparation, retraction, and this sort of tact required rapid and fatiguing thought. After some experimenting, she discovered that it was not impossible to induce him to talk much on subjects that interested him. He was a man of taste, to a certain degree, and would not intentionally have indulged in monologue; but she was adroit, and so managed that he was not consciously egotistic. She found, too, that she could give him a modicum of attention, enough to apprehend his talk, — the surface of her mind, so to speak, while along the deeper current swept her own absorbing reflections. How was he to suspect this dual process ? Her violet eyes would rest softly on his face ; her lips would part now and then with her enchanting smile; she would occasionally utter some pertinent comment, or a judicious word of acquiescence or dissent; and he was satisfied. He told stories of his college days, — generally stories of intellectual triumph; for he had been a shining light, and was proud of his record. There were even a few animated contes of “rushes” and hazing; but he evidently looked on this as youthful frivolity, and unworthy, from his present plane of development. Sometimes he chose deeper themes, and instructed her on subjects of national and scientific importance; and then Felicia found it necessary to rouse herself from her mental trance, and lure him from what she might have termed “ Pliny ” to his own immediate personal interests. This pleased him, as it might have pleased a wiser man.
Strangers looked on as at the presentation of a romance. The two were the noticeable couple of the place, that summer : she with her delicate yet brilliant beauty; he with his cold, narrow, intelligent face, his clear eyes, his formal manner, his evident devotion. After all, this world is very sentimental. It was a presidential election year ; there was a war in Europe; the races were in progress: but during the stay of the Hamilton party, all other themes yielded in interest to the conduct of the love affair.
John Hamilton was puzzled. “ Is she in earnest, or just giving Grafton a chance to make an idiot of himself ? ” he asked his wife. There was complacence in his face and in his heart, though he tried to moderate it. “ That girl looks well in a boat, and well when she dances, and well when she drives, and well on a horse. I taught her myself to ride, and I’m proud of the job. She was always a plucky little thing from the first time I tossed her in a saddle, the day she was four years old. When they started, just now, her horse shied, and Grafton’s heart was in his mouth, but she, — she was as calm as a May morning. Grafton is not a bad match, and he’s a right good fellow, too. May be we were mistaken about the other affair, Sophie.”
“ I dare say we were,” said Sophie, hopefully. Her conscience was all right. She believed exactly what her husband wished to believe.
“ She is rather sharp to Grafton, now and then,” continued Hamilton, meditatively, — “sarcastic and that sort of thing,”
“ Sometimes a girl treats a man that way when she likes him,” said wise Mrs. Sophie.”
He turned this over in his mind a moment, as he sat tilted back in his chair and pulled his long yellow mustache ; his straw hat, pushed far back, revealed his bald head, and his blue eyes were fixed on that section of the big blue sea where a shadowy white sail defined itself daintily against the soft horizon.
“ I think you mean when she is sure he likes her,” quoth John Hamilton, astutely. He was disposed to be particularly complacent to Felicia now, but his incipient benignity received a sudden check. On the evening before the day set for the departure of the Hamilton party, the two young people strolled out on the broad deserted piazza. The salt breeze blew crisp and fresh from the ocean ; the band was playing, — the rhythmic beat of a waltz fell on the air ; a lane of molten gold lay on the surface of the water, and was lost in vague shadows far away; a big, red, distorted moon was tilted above the illimitable palpitating waste.
“ A waning moon is so melancholy,” said Felicia, looking at it with wide, soft eyes that had grown melancholy, too. “ I wonder why ? ”
“ I don’t see that it is melancholy,” Grafton declared.
“ No, I suppose not,” she rejoined. “ I dare say you see a planet which sug gests to you apogee, or perigee, or nodes, or something wise. I see only the rising moon, and it seems to me particularly ominous to-night. I am afraid. Something unexpected — perhaps something terrible —is going to happen.”
She affected to shiver with fear ; then, as the breeze freshened, she shivered a little in reality, and drew about her head the fleecy wrap she had brought out with her. He rose from his chair and deftly arranged it. “ That will do.” she said, shrinking from him. He thought this a little shyness. He had been flattered, as he often was, by her allusion to his superior intellectual gifts and culture ; he could not discern the mockery. It was his nature, however, even in satisfaction and complacence, to lay down the law, to dictate, to assert his supremacy.
“You seem a little superstitious,” he suggested.
“ Oh, yes, very,” replied Felicia, as if admitting something creditable.
“ Pardon me,” he said, with the precision of intonation, indicative of displeasure, which she especially disliked,
— “ pardon me if I do not accept that assurance. No well-regulated mind is capable of such weakness as superstition.”
“ I have told you before that I have n’t a well-regulated mind,” replied Felicia, composedly. “ On the contrary, I am rather goosey in my mind.”
He deemed this tone inexcusably frivolous. But then she was so pretty, — so pretty, as she sat in a peculiarly graceful attitude, thrown back at her ease, one arm hanging over the side of the cane chair, the other hand holding the white wrap about her throat; the outlines of her rounded yet slight figure, in its dress of some soft white woolen fabric, definite against the shadows. He had never seen her so unconstrained; their interview seemed all at once peculiarly informal. He had supposed that he particularly approved of a certain ceremoniousness in her manner, a matter of attitude, of gesture, of intonation, indefinable yet definite, like the perfume of a flower ; now he had a swift realization how potent must be her charm in the untrammeled intercourse of daily life. This sudden sense of closeness quickened his pulse, but he did not lose his head. Alfred Grafton in love was still — Alfred Grafton.
“You do yourself injustice,” he said. " I am sure you have a very well-regulated mind. Otherwise I could not feel toward you as I do.”
She roused herself from her easy attitude, and turned her eyes upon him. He was perfectly self-possessed and confident, even expectant. She was sitting upright now; she opened her fan; she looked back at the moon. The delightful vague sense of familiarity with which the previous moment had been filled had suddenly vanished.
“ I suppose I ought to pretend that I don’t understand what you mean,” she said, with coldness.
“It is better to be perfectly frank,” he rejoined, with his air of laying down valuable moral axioms.
“ Well, then, frankly,” returned Felicia, “ I do know what you mean, and I think you had better say no more about it.”
There was dead silence. When she glanced at him, she was startled by the change in his face. All this time, absorbed in her own suffering, she had taken no thought of his capacity for suffering.
“ Do you understand ” — he uttered the words slowly — “ that I ask you to marry me ? You have long known that I love you.”
There was another silence.
“ It can never be,” said Felicia.
As she again met his eyes, she saw that he was not only bitterly wounded, but very angry. She was surprised to find how deprecatory she felt. At his first word of blame, however, her self-reproach vanished.
“ If your own conscience does not accuse you,” he said, — his face was white, and set, and stern ; he articulated with difficulty, — “I need urge nothing.”
“ Accuse me ? Of what ? ” she demanded, in a voice that trembled a little.
“ Of trifling with me. In courtesy, I will not say will-fully deceiving me, but I did not expect this answer.”
“ You do me great injustice ! ” cried Felicia. “ I have accepted your attention as I would that of any other friend, especially if thrown together in this way, — so far from home. I did not think of anything like — like this, till to-night. I had other things to — to think of. Whatever I have done, I have not encouraged you ! ”
“You have encouraged some one, then ? ” he said, quickly.
She looked at him angrily, but checked the reply on her lips, and turned her eyes again to the quivering, shining sea.
“ Pardon me, I have no right to ask,”he resumed, with sarcastic humility. “ I have no right to do anything but endure, when a woman lets me dangle around her for weeks, and then calmly tells me that she did not imagine anything like this. I supposed my meaning was distinct enough. I think it probable that most people have apprehended it.”
Felicia made a mistake.
“ And if I had understood,” she cried, “ how could I have altered matters ? I cannot be expected to refuse a man before he has offered himself.”
“ A sophism is ample justification for a social triumph, such as it is,” he said, sarcastically. “ To my mind it is a poor enough triumph, but no doubt a young lady estimates such matters differently.”
“ I did not think of it in that way,” she declared.
There was another long silence. All at once she looked at him with an almost piteous appeal in her face; tears stood in her eyes; a tremulous smile was on her lips.
“ Don’t let us quarrel,” she said, coaxingly. “Let us be friends again.”
Even Alfred Grafton was not proof against that look. He faltered ; he was mollified ; he took her soft little hand and held it closely. But he was not the man to be cajoled into accepting half a loaf for a whole one.
“ You and I cannot be ‘ friends,’ ” he replied. “ It is everything or nothing. Now let us look at this matter calmly. I love you dearly. I can safely promise to make you happy. Our tastes are similar ; my people would be very fond of you ; I think your brother would not object.”
“ And I should not care if he did object! ” cried Felicia, fierily, suddenly drawing away her hand. “ He is welcome to object as much as he chooses. He shall not interfere with my affairs.”
Grafton looked hard at her. Her tears had risen again, but they were angry tears. She brushed them away with an impatient gesture; he saw them glisten, in the moonlight, on her filmy handkerchief. His white heat of rage had returned. “ I see,” he said slowly, “ there is some one else.”
Felicia rose. “It is growing cold,” she declared. “ I must go in.” They walked down the piazza toward the parlor. He stopped her before they reached the open door, and looked down into her uplifted eyes.
“ I shall never forgive you,” he said, deliberately. “ I shall always believe you did it intentionally.”
“ You will think better of that some day,” replied Felicia, appalled by the strength of a feeling that had seemed to her a slight thing, that had hardly sufficiently attracted her notice to secure intelligent contemplation.
“ I shall never forgive you,” he repeated.
Late that night, John Hamilton, coming from the billiard-room where he had been enjoying the unwonted luxury of a game with an old friend, — a man like himself adrift in this sea of strangers, who almost wept for joy at sight of that familiar roseate face and rotund figure, — late that night, Hamilton, coming thus from the billiard-room, flushed with success, perfumed with sherry cobbler and cigar smoke, suddenly met Alfred Grafton. The younger gentleman was evidently ready for a journey. He was wearing his traveling gear; his name was conspicuous on a trunk among other luggage awaiting the baggage wagon. A bell-boy had preceded him with a satchel. He looked annoyed at sight of his friend, but faced the situation with composure.
“ Hello ! Where are you going, Grafton ? ” inquired Hamilton, with round eyes.
“ To Philadelphia,” replied Grafton.
John Hamilton reflected rapidly.
“ Anything the matter ? ” he asked, tersely.
Grafton, strange as it may seem, shared our common human weakness. He craved sympathy with the eager craving of less gifted mortals. He realized, too, that there was no use in attempting subterfuges with Hamilton, who would no doubt soon be perfectly well aware, without explanation, of the state of the case.
“ The matter ! ” he repeated, bitterly. “ She has thrown me over, — that’s all.”
“ The devil she did ! ” exclaimed the brother, with lively sympathy.
“ Did n’t suspect my feelings — hopes we shall be friends — all very proper and pretty,” returned Grafton, sardonically. “ I ventured to suggest, by way of inducement, which my case seemed to need, that my people would be delighted, and that I thought you would not object. She said, very angrily, that she did not care if you did object. I fancy there is some man to whom you do object. Stop ! ” he cried, as Hamilton was about to speak excitedly. “ I have no right to know. I have no right to revert to that, — it is none of my affair. My affair is overboard, and I have no more to say or hear on the subject.”
When John Hamilton repaired to his own apartment, it was all his wife could do to prevent his arousing Felicia from her bed, in the small hours, to give her what he termed a “solid talk.” It was owing, too, to Sophie that this was warded off the following day, on their railway trip to New York. She made pretext after pretext to detain him by her side; whenever she saw him look with a scowling intention across the car to where Felicia and Fred sat together, she evolved some immediate and absorbing subject of interest. Here was a letter about which she had spoken to him,—or indeed had she remembered to mention it? — from the carpet manufactory people; he must read it, and help her decide. And again, oh, had he seen the baby kiss her hand ? She did it this morning. “ Kiss your hand, darling, to papa.”
These tactics were kept up after taking the boat. He escaped, however, just before reaching New York, and joined Felicia, as she stood with her eyes fixed on the vast spectacle of the great city ; its innumerable spires glittering in the sunshine, its hovering smoke a shadow in the distance against the intense blue of the sky, its forest of shipping also only a dainty shadow. The breeze swept over the intervenient spaces of the sea, and brought briny odors ; it flushed Felicia’s cheeks, and blew backward the draperies of her trim traveling dress, and waved the brown feather in the jaunty hat that surmounted her brown hair. She glanced up as her brother placed himself beside her. He had pushed his hat back, and an expanse of bald forehead was aggressively visible ; his hands were in his trousers pocket; he wore a natty suit in shaded gray checks, which was very becoming to his richly tinted face.
“ What did you do to Grafton, Felicia ? ” he demanded, curtly.
“ Has he a black eye ? I suppose I must have given it to him.”
“ I am astonished at you,” her brother continued, severely. “ Leading a fellow on and flirting. I had no idea that you were such a flirt.”
As a matter of course she resented this. “ How dare you say that to me ! ” she exclaimed, her eyes flashing, her cheeks aflame.
“ I understand how all this comes about,” persisted the misguided brother; “ it is all on account of that fellow Kennett.”
“ You shall not speak of him to me! ” she cried, turning from her brother.
“ See here, young lady,” persisted Hamilton, laying his hand on her shoulder, “ father is going to meet us in New York, and we shall see what he will say to these vagaries. He will take your case in hand.”
She drew herself away, and walked proudly to the other end of the boat. These unlucky strictures completed an estrangement already sufficiently bitter. She felt that she could never forgive him. She was placed before the beginning of a contest with her father in the mental attitude of resistance. She promised herself she would not be cowed. And yet, a contest about what ? About her acquaintance with a man whose friendship she could hardly claim, who had forgotten her, who had ignored her letter. Her heart was bruised, sore, unendurably heavy; she had much ado to refrain from tears, — from crying out in her pain, humiliation, and despair, — as they disembarked, entered a carriage, and rolled along the interminable streets to their hotel.
It was in this frame of mind that Felicia came upon the turning-point of her life.
The rooms had been engaged by telegraph some days before. As she entered the one assigned her, she noticed a quantity of mail matter on the bureau. One of the letters was directed in a handwriting she did not recognize. The envelope was covered with addresses : it had been sent first to her own home, thence to her brother’s house in Chilounatti, and had afterward evidently followed her from place to place. Still in her hat and wraps, she sat down with it in her hand.
Before she opened it she divined who was the writer; by some strange clairvoyance she even knew its contents. She attempted to collect her startled faculties. For some moments she remained motionless. Then she opened and read the letter. It was dated six weeks before.
Hugh Kennett began by explaining that he had been greatly troubled by her sudden departure; all the more because he was very anxious to say to her what he had attempted to say the afternoon before she left, — that he loved her, and desired to ask her to be his wife. He feared his effort was somewhat premature, in view of their short acquaintance, but he would be only too happy to submit to any term of probation she might require. He would ask nothing except the opportunity to make himself acceptable to her. He hoped for a reply, and gave an address in Chilouunatti, as well as in New York, to which latter city he was going in a few weeks. He added that he should send this letter to her home, as he had not been able to obtain her present address. There was little of protestation. The phrasing was extremely simple; it was almost business-like. Felicia thought it a verystrong and manly way to write a loveletter ; she fancied she detected a ring of tense feeling in the few terse sentences ; she said to herself that it was perfectly in character, — like everything he did.
With the sudden revulsion of feeling an extreme tranquillity had come upon her. It amazed her now that she had not divined the exact state of the case ; that she had not had more patience, more confidence, more strength. She took herself to task for not comprehending him better. The memory of the anguish of soul induced by those weeks of domestic discord she dismissed from consideration with a contemptuous indifference, which argued ill enough for the influence, in a possible contest, of the natural strong ties of kindred and association.
“ Was I insane,” she demanded of herself, “that I should have cared an instant for anything John and Sophie could do, or think, or say?”
Only one influence prevailed with her now. She gave herself up to it; she sank into a vague, delicious reverie. She recalled as heretofore she had not dared to do all the incidents of those happy weeks in the early summer, — the introduction at Robert’s, the rowing on the sunset-tinted river, the long talks on the quiet moonlit steps, the tones of his voice, the look in his eyes, the words he had spoken. Hie strange that she remembered them so well! They were not such wonderfully wise and witty words, she said to herself, with a happy laugh ; she knew in her heart she believed them to be both. And she could write to him. She would see him soon. Possibly he was in New York, somewhere near to her, now. In a few days — it might be a few hours — and then — and then —
Sophie, coming to her door after a time, was greatly surprised to see her sitting motionless in her traveling attire ; but she sank into a chair, and waited while Felicia hurriedly rearranged her hair and changed her dress. Mrs. Hamilton’s face was flushed and her manner discomposed.
u Oh, Felicia, I am so annoyed ! ” she exclaimed. “All my plans are in confusion ; and it is John’s fault. You know the Graftons are here, at this hotel.”
The brush, gliding along Felicia’s bronze tresses, was arrested; she met her sister-in-law’s eyes in the mirror with an inquiring stare.
“ You know, " continued the speaker, “Alfred was to meet them here, but — but” — she stumbled — “but for some reason he has gone to Philadelphia, and telegraphed to his mother to join him there next week. Well, Mrs. Grafton is a good deal put out, naturally, you see.”
“ Really, Sophie,” said Felicia, with a hard laugh, “ you have a large contract on your hands, if you undertake to become responsible for all of Alfred Grafton’s movements, perfect as he is.”
“Of course that’s not it. But while she was sitting in our parlor fretting about it, Nellie, her daughter, happened to say she should not have cared except that Alfred had promised to take her to some operatic matinée this afternoon. She is to be left with Madame Sevier on Monday, and she seems to think this is her last chance to go to any place of amusement.”
“ She will see more opera in one term with Madame Sevier than with Alfred Grafton in ten million years,” declared Felicia, hyperbolically. “ I wonder that he encouraged the frivolity of one matinée. She ought to be reading about the cosmos force.”
“ She seems to think Madame Sevier’s is a sort of nunnery. And John, instead of leaving well enough alone, sent a bell-boy off and bought tickets, and said she should n’t be disappointed.”
“ Lucky for Miss Nellie,” remarked Felicia, coolly. “ I don’t perceive the hitch.”
“ Why, Felicia, can’t you understand ? I can’t go with them. I must see West and Ware about the drawing-room lambrequins that we ordered when we were here before. A most frightful mistake has been made. They are half an inch too short. I have just received a note about it. Oh, if I had it all to do over, I would buy every solitary thing at home. Such a forlorn, toilsome summer I have had. And just think how perverse John is! As soon as he found that I could n’t go he managed to call me into the other room, and swore — most frightfully, too — that he would n’t go to a matinée this afternoon to save his life. Oh, Felicia, dear, don’t you think you and Fred will do ? Won’t it be appropriate enough if you and Fred represent the family ? I must see about my lambrequins. If my lambrequins are spoiled, my heart will break.” She rose from her chair and walked precipitately about the room. Domestic tragedy has its opportunity.
Felicia was disconcerted. She had not intended to answer the letter to-day, but she wanted to think it over, to get used to it; it was so sudden, so momentous.
With the cessation of her own anxieties, however, gentleness and tolerance had come to her. “ Sweet are the uses of adversity.” That sounds well, but it is a mistake. We are beneficent when we are lucky. Felicia sacrified her preference with a generosity possible only to the happy.
“ Well, well, Sophie,” she said, with a sigh, “ I will take charge of Mrs. Grafton and her daughter, and I ‘ll excuse you gracefully.”
Mrs. Grafton was a mouse. To be sure, a mouse accustomed only to the best houses, to velvet carpets, to fine china and linen and glass, to sweetbreads and cake crumbs, — a mouse of the first quality, but still and always a mouse. She was swift, daring, timorous, cringing, bullying, indefinite, by turns and as occasion justified. You never knew exactly where to find her, — like a mouse, — yet you were very sure she would have a distinct personality when you did come across her. Sometimes you would be positive she was in your immediate vicinity, and she was as far from you in effect as at one of the poles. When you lost sight of her and well-nigh forgot her existence, here she was, — again just like a mouse, — startling you out of your senses. You were always absorbed in amazement that anything so insignificant could be so aggravating. She even looked like a mouse, as she sat on a sofa, in a dove-colored dress and a lace cap ornamented with dove-colored ribbons; and her acknowledgment of the introduction to Felicia was the perfection of furtive meekness. There was in her glance something as well of analytic scrutiny, and this in her daughter — an awkward girl, at once shy and forward — had developed into downright curiosity, as she stared at Felicia with hard black eyes. Our young lady had a sudden rush of indignation, divining that the son of the house had written of his pretensions much as if they were un fait accompli. She controlled her irritation, however, and entered with what zest she might into the afternoon’s festivities, making Sophie’s excuses with such tact that the two ladies willingly overlooked the informality of Mrs. Hamilton’s absence; and after lunch the party set out, with Fred as escort.
“ Fred will be entirely au fait by the time he gets home,” remarked Felicia. “ He learned all about natural science at Philadelphia, and navigation at the seashore, and hunting in the Adirondacks, and now he is to become a connoisseur in music and acting.”
“ I ’d a big sight ruther go ter the dime museum,” grumbled Fred, “an’ see the tattooed man an’ the threeheaded lady.”
Felicia’s silvery laughter had an infectious joyousness it had not known for many a day. Mrs. Grafton wondered if she were not a little flippant for Alfred, who was so difficult to please.
“ It is always well to learn, Fred,” observed the old lady, meekly, smoothing one gloved hand with the other; “ we can learn something almost anywhere.”
“ So I tell him,” said Felicia, commanding her countenance with an effort, at the sound of Fred’s unintelligible muttered reply.
That afternoon, contrary to her anticipation, afforded her keen delight. She had expected to be bored ; she was, instead, in a sort of exaltation. The sudden removal of trouble, in itself cause for happiness, supplemented more tangible cause, so deep, so strong, that she dared not dwell definitely upon it; she only felt herself vaguely, blissfully, drifting like a leaf upon the current. The large assemblage of unknown, unnumbered faces strangely exhilarated her, but she did not, according to her mental habit, disintegrate the crowd. Ordinarily, she knew in five minutes — or thought she did — those whom she was wont to call “ interesting,” those who were mere human animals, those who had been lifted from that plane by some drama of their circumstances. The young man at the end of the next row, she would have said, would be a commonplace banker or lawyer but for some daily heart tragedy, — a broken ambition, a wretched home. And there is a woman with a face like sunshine, — one feels sure she has a nature to match. That old gentleman has little capacity save for the exercise of piling cent per cent on brain and heart. And there is another old gentleman, sixty in years and twenty-five of soul, with a benignant smile and a buttonhole bouquet. She made no deductions now. She saw them as if she saw them net; she had appropriate words and smiles for her companions ; in her deeper consciousness she ignored their existence. She looked about her with dreamy, brilliant, happy eyes ; she sat very still ; her voice was soft; her lips wore those gentle curves which are so much more expressive of a still and blissful content than a smile.
Mrs. Grafton, scanning her furtively, admitted to herself that Alfred’s choice was very satisfactory, so far as appearances went. Felicia was pretty and ladylike, and perfectly dressed; and if Madame Sevier had taught her those attitudes and that poise of head, — as easily erect as a flower on a stem, — it was well to have selected that institute for Nellie, who would lounge, and would n’t hold up her shoulders. As for Nellie, she gazed at Felicia with the definite intention of discovering the charm of a young lady who had secured the ultimate object, in her opinion, of a woman’s creation,—a lover. Nellie’s vanity was sufficiently stalwart. She did not comprehend how Felicia managed to be fascinating, but she was fully persuaded that in time she herself would discover the secret and use it as successfully.
The curtain rose after a little, and the audience went for a time into that strange, delightful world where destinies round themselves in an hour or two; where trials accent triumphs ; where virtue is lovely and prevails, and vice is odious and is defeated; where retribution and reward come up smiling in the nick of time, and life is dignified, picturesque, consistent, and grand, and very much more worth living, ideally speaking, than our poor little affair, which it modestly proposes to portray.
The troupe was good, but not preëminently excellent; the music was well within the compass of the singers ; the stage-setting, costumes, and the chorus were admirable. Felicia, in her absorption, was vaguely responsive to the music, which pervaded her consciousness as the perfume of violets pervades a May afternoon. Like most clever amateurs, she had not been scientifically trained ; she experienced no want which these melodious numbers could not satisfy ; she did not partake of the musician’s intellectual and somewhat strenuous enjoyment; she merely absorbed the representation with more or less vividness through her senses.
As the building was greatly crowded, it was some little time before they made their way out. Nellie, who between the acts had become somewhat well acquainted with her new friend, commented on the performance with her own inimitable admixture of forwardness and shyness.
“Oh, my, was n’t it lovely!”' she exclaimed, with a fidgety giggle of delight and embarrassment, as they passed out upon the sidewalk, already dusky with deepening twilight and enveloped with the gloom of low-hanging clouds. “ Oh, was n’t that last duet too beautiful ! And the tenor, — oh, Miss Hamilton, I’m dead in love with that tenor, ain’t you ? ”
“ Yes,” returned Felicia, entering gayly into the spirit of her prattle, “ I am infatuated with the tenor.”
As she said this she chanced to raise her eyes. They encountered those of a gentleman who was standing in the brilliant radiance of the electric light. He lifted his hat, and she recognized Hugh Kennett. She returned his salutation. She observed that his face was very grave. The agitation which she had unconsciously held in abeyance all day was upon her with such intensity that she could not distinguish if it were pleasure or pain. When they reached the hotel, and her companions had repaired to their own rooms, she opened the door of the private parlor her brother had taken. It was empty. She entered, sank into a chair, and attempted to rally her self-control, so strangely and suddenly vanished. Her breath was coming quick through her halfparted lips ; her face was suffused with a deep blush; she removed her hat, — its weight was all at once unendurably oppressive; she fixed her feverishly bright eyes on the dark, moonless, starless sky. As she thus sat motionless in the centre of the lighted room, there was a knock upon the door, and a servant entered with a card. She looked at it in silence for a moment, then said, “ You can show the gentleman in.”
When Kennett was ushered into the room, she rose, and advanced hesitatingly a few steps. She was turning the card nervously in her fingers ; the gesture was in marked contrast with her usual self-possessed manner; her face betrayed some of the agitation which she sought to control.
“ I am glad to see you,” she murmured.
Kennett took her hand. “ That gives me courage,” he said. “ Did you receive my letter? ”
“ I received it only this morning,” she replied.
“ Only this morning ! ” he cried, in dismay.
“ It had been to a great many places,” said Felicia. “ It had been following us for weeks.”
He was both infinitely disappointed and relieved. “ I could not believe you would intentionally keep me in suspense,” he declared.
“ And you were in suspense, too! " cried Felicia, impulsively, with a sudden delighted realization of the fact.
“ Were you ? ” he exclaimed, quickly. “ Did you want to hear from me, to see me again ? It is asking a great deal, I know, Felicia, but won’t you give me an answer to my letter now ? I love you with all my soul. I have undergone the torments of — of — well — a great deal of unhappiness since I saw you. Can’t you — don’t you care for me ? ”
He was still holding her hand ; she fixed her fast-filling eyes on his eyes; her sensitive lips were quivering.
“And I have been unhappy,” she said. For all her tears, which presently ceased to flow, she felt that there could, in the nature of things, never again be unhappiness for her. She recovered her tranquillity; words came to her; her silvery laughter rang out. Soon she was questioning him as to his proceedings when he had no reply to his letter ; she rejoiced to hear him say that he too had been unhappy. In this she differed from him; her assertion had given him a keen pang. She brought him back more than once to this point.
“ So you were worried when you had no letter ? ” she said, with a flattered laugh that was all he could reasonably desire as protestation or admission.
“ Worried ! ” he exclaimed. “ I was nearly out of my mind. I wrote again and again to Robert, and — I cannot possibly account for it — I have never received a reply from him. Finally I went to your brother’s office, in Third Street.”
“ For what ? ” she demanded.
“To discover if they had your address.”
“Away down there, — among the bulls, and bears, and puts, and calls, and other wild animals! ” she cried, with her happy laughter. “ That was romantic and thrilling.”
“ It was not very congruous, I admit, but it was my only chance. Your brother’s partner declined to give me your address.”
She stared at him : his eve glittered ; his lips were compressed ; his face, with the expression it wore at this moment, had a certain ferocity. He was evidently very angry, and controlled himself only by a strenuous effort.
“Mr. Gale did that?” said Felicia, in amazement.
“ He was very polite in manner, but very firm. He said he had your brother’s express instructions that in case I should ask I should be refused.”
Her checks were aflame. “ How insulting ! ” she cried, angrily. After a moment’s reflection she asked, “ Why should John do such a thing as that? ” She was remembering her brother’s bitter antagonism, and divined that she was coming upon an explanation.
“ I can only account for it upon the hypothesis that he has very strong objections to my profession. Some people have, you know.”
She looked at him with a sudden smile. “I don’t know,” she declared, “ because I don’t know what your profession is.”
His face showed that he was startled. “ How can that be ? ” he said.
“ I never heard you speak of it,” she replied, growing more grave.
“Is that possible?” he rejoined, reflectively. “ But surely Robert must have mentioned it? ”
“Never,” she returned. “ And if you don’t object to terminating my suspense, I should be glad to know it now.”
There was a pause, in which the sounds in the street invaded the silence of the room.
Fanny N. D. Murfree.