A Subconscious Courtship
AT fifteen Milton F. Stimpson thought himself St. Francis of Assisi. At seventeen he began to merge into Henry David Thoreau. Then exclusiveness coming into apogee, nineteen found him envying St. Simeon Stylites. He was twenty-four before he began to be Milton F. Stimpson, and he was older still before he became appreciably himself.
An ascetic Ohio aunt had marooned him early in life upon a circumspect islet of abstraction. He never sowed so much as a single wild oat, for he had no field in which to sow. The ascetic aunt, with acid precept, had etched out high ideal on the tablets of his mind, and kept the product immune by isolation. His moral quarantine precluded boyish friendships. The ascetic aunt had a marvelous faculty for detecting evil in all men; and in boys, the fathers of men, her appraisals found crime and corruption in a universal ascendant. She close-herded the youthful Milton in a manner sadly despaired of by near-by motherhood whose dominion was described by the radius of an apron string. She felt that her sister, Milton’s mutely indulgent mother, had never been born to rear ; the very fact of her being his mother had made her prejudiced toward him, and prejudice was fatal to discipline. When Milton’s mother died, the aunt regretted her death, but she nevertheless saw design in it; and that design was that she should upbring the child, which was a perfect working out of affairs as she thought they should be.
The flaw in the matter was her own death. It was a neat and unemotional death. The funeral director could have arranged it no more faultlessly. She requested the nurse to call her nephew, and upon his closing the door quietly — lifting it on the hinge, so that it might latch without noise — she had said : “I wish you would have that door fixed, on my death; the under surface needs planing. Get Masters. No, he littered up the spare room so, last March. Try that German on Washington Street.”
“ Yes, aunt,” said Milton.
But the Book of Life had closed there. She might have wished it so. No visitor, not even Death, could ever have surprised her in an impractical mood or in a dressing sack.
Those who had watched the household over the box hedge waited, after the funeral, for the twenty-four-year-old Milton F. Stimpson to exemplify the inevitableness of reaction. By all their reasoning they saw him heir apparent to Dan Witmers, the town drunkard. They recognized the first step when it was known he had gone to a Lake Erie summer resort, where life assumed all the gayety an average expenditure of fifteen dollars a week could give it. Had they watched him there, they might have realized that good habits, when the product of breeding and development, are as strong as bad ones.
There were women folk there who were interesting. They blossomed on the piny verandas. The array of shirt waists was vertiginous to Milton. It was the same feeling he had on looking down from high places. The men folk interested him not. He did not golf, swim, or cocktail, nor did he dance. But there were the women. They were the most patent things in the landscape. One, he knew, was laughing at him. He was introduced forthwith. He whipped over pools of running conversation, awkward as a fisherman with his first rod, hoping vaguely for something to rise. She, older, wiser, did the same, and caught him. She knew how to choose her bait. The lure was himself. It was the one bait that is never out of season. He was instantly eloquent, she passively so. He first felt the delights of being listened to, and on such an interesting subject!
Besides, she listened with her eyes, which only clever women can do. He grew to refer to her by those eyes. They aided his own vision. Through them he became conscious he was not tailored as other men were. The shame of the discovery was as definite as a slap. The matter was remedied. Having adjusted himself to the clothes of the hour, young Stimpson began to live down to his externals. The Eyes had wrought the change.
One day, when the sun sent level rays over the bay and the shadows were prepossessing, some words were stammered into being. Stimpson spoke them on impulse. He was not used to speaking on impulse. He generally weighed words to the nicest scruple. But not then. They voiced themselves. The Eyes half responded. There had been many talks. This was one to remember. He and the Eyes, — had there ever been so memorable a dialogue ?
He would follow it up on the morrow, he thought. Declaration would finally predicate insinuation. The Eyes had answered, he thought. But he would extort the definiteness of speech. Eyes might lie, — even hers. He would outflank all vagueness, and he mapped out the usual campaign. He was a bold commander, a dashing general, whose tactical powers of reason he would, boylike, match against one of a sex the least of whom is born an experienced field marshal!
Milton F. Stimpson’s morrow never came. A letter did, however. It was from an attorney, and it told of many a thing. It necessitated a quick departure, and before any of the splendid tactics could be put into execution he must go. He explained hurriedly.
“ There is such a lot unsaid,” he added regretfully.
The Eyes were non-committal.
“ And — may I write ? ” He was fearful of the way the words sounded. “ Please,” he urged.
“ You have my card,” was the answer.
And then the fat Mrs. Bellinger wished to know if the finals in the tennis tournament were played to-day.
His aunt’s lawyer had settled up the estate. Milton thought it was settled with a vengeance. It seemed the ascetic aunt had laid up store where thieves could not break through and steal, or moths corrupt. The result of it all was that young Stimpson left, a few months later, for Buffalo, where he found a place in a chemical works. The Eyes passed into the abstract, the city intervened. He realized as deep a sense of the personal seriousness of life as he had of its impersonal seriousness under the immediate sway of the ascetic aunt. He wrote no letters. A struggling young chemist had no right to follow up such a matter. The vital concerns were food and room rent. Eyes could play no part in the routine tragedy of a day’s work.
The new surroundings gradually drove Stimpson into himself once more. His cells were on the fifth floor of an apartment house which had an Indian name, and there he was an anchored anchorite. The necessities of life were closely compacted into two rooms, and there he tried to develop, but it was development inward.
He had no common grounds on which to meet his fellows with whom he was hurled into contact. He met no one with any interesting, uncommon grounds. He ate at Mrs. Watson’s, near by, and the experimental inquisitiveness of the young gentlemen was soon satisfied with the verdict of “ Stick ! ” pronounced by the jury which met him at daily dinner.
A law clerk, named Corcoran, from a country town, burst into his room one night, and the evening ended with an invitation to a “smoker” at a bicycle club the next Tuesday. Stimpson went. He heard doubtful songs sung in more than doubtful voices ; and when the club broke into general revelry and the shampooing of each other with beer, he left. He vastly preferred an evening with himself. He was more certain of the company. A Mac-somebody invited him to his room in the same building. This Mac-somebody was a bank clerk. His talk ranged from neckwear to handball through a mediate distance of soubrettes. Stimpson felt too ignorant of the subjects vital to this young man, so the acquaintance died at its birth. The others he met seemed of the same sort. And so time passed. He read German philosophy by choice, and was universally accounted a “ freak.” But he got along with himself famously.
It was when he fell out with himself that things began. He was in a way to fall in with other people. The truth of the matter was, he tired of himself. It happened because two young men grew confidential over a sirloin steak and a bottle, and this became his undoing or doing, — who can say ?
He dined at a café one night, beside two young fellows who were partly screened by an artificial palm. He heard everything they said. It seemed they had been great friends at college, and had first met that night since the old days.
“ What’s Trotter doing now ? ” asked one.
“ Traveling, I think,” said the other.
“ Heard of Perk lately ? ”
“ Not since ’96. He’s married, I hear. Who was it told me ? I’m sure I don’t know, though.”
“ And the Good Bill! I hear he’s teaching.”
“No, he went to the war. Had the fever, so Shep told me.”
So it went. And then, because of the general succulence of the steak and its liquid accompaniment, the tone changed from a reminiscence to a requiem.
A requiem for friendship dead. It was horrible not to know the most intimate detail of the lives of Trotter, Perk, and the Good Bill. Horrible indeed! What were the old pledges good for ? Monstrous ! What a wedge was toil! Hammered home by each year that drove apart the old friendships. To sacrifice a friend for cause, — that was in the nature of things; but the slow tubercular passing was frightful. What was it, then, — this friendship ? A lie that youth told, great-lipped with deceit. It was, after all, contingent on proximity. Not to know whether Atkins lived in Circleville, Ohio, or Atlanta, Georgia ! Instead of Perk, it is now Burton, of Parsons, Smith and Parsons office. Friendship, the creature of contingency ! Better a hasty word, a blow for a cause. Mort, but sixty a month and life in a cheap boarding house ? To his aid to-morrow ! But no; each to his own commercial way. When salaries are paid out of the glass window, friendships fly out of the door. Tells the tale of plastic youth, hotfoot after companionship, moulded into a stern, selfish, commercial being, — and that’s the tragedy of life.
The melted butter hardens in the plated platter for a symbol, and the friends to barter wealth and position for not so long ago have become the shadows of memories. They were immolated on the altar of mercantile preferment. No, friendship is not the feeling between two souls, created for mutual need, but the mere creation of juxtaposition. The friendship poets prate of, — we were not capable of it. It is not the product of an age or country such as this. Not even to know the mere abiding place of the Good Bill — Come, a cordial to spice away the vile confession! Life is too real, after all, and friendships, the supports of life, merely uphold a dream fabric.
Stimpson listened acutely, and after they had gone stirred his black coffee in a joyless way. It was sad, all of it. But how about it when one has no friendships to murder ? Where were the Mort, the Perk, the Good Bill, in his life ? His mind from that moment became a culture where little bitternesses brooded.
Solitude, he had said, was the asepsis of purpose. But what was the end ? He was in a fair way to solve the ordinary problems of life, those upon which depend food and clothing; and if solitude is something to be worshiped, surely it needs two worshipers, worshiping together. The next night he scorned the cold friendship of books. He lowered his rear window and looked at the city, close-nested in its own effluvia. The sky line was sordidly broken with regular angles. The darkness was spattered by arc lights, and a light rain streaked slantingly the murky air. A realizing sense of a lack supplied inertia for a need. The city sung loneliness; the drone of the gutter pipe was attuned to his own song. Need grew dominant. He was athirst for a friend. As he turned from the window he saw life from a new viewpoint.
The next night he noticed Corcoran and that Mac-somebody. They were evidently friends of a sort. They were tied by many “ a grouse in the gunroom.” To each his need. Clearly filling that of each other, neither could fill his. They merely made his need apparent. His friend would be no subterfuge. He would be no dependent on contingency or the result of juxtaposition. He would be a mental complement, — strong where he was weak, and weak where he was strong. He would forgive apathy toward German philosophy, but he must like Thomas Hardy. He must also be fond of Gothic architecture and — But what folly ! Were not such things the mere high seasonings of friendship ? It must be elemental, and have for its tests “ common or garden ” grounds. Thus it would be resilient and vital.
He would be such a help. He would broaden him. “ Such a man exists,” argued Stimpson. In a few days Stimpson knew almost every nook and cranny of his character. He knew his past history and his present hopes. He knew his tastes in art and literature ; he knew his tastes in dress.
Stimpson bought a necktie one day. It was nothing modish. The haberdasher had been thwarted in trying to foist a gay creation on him. Stimpson was back the next day. He got a tie a bit more brilliant. “ A friend tells me I’m too conservative, and thinks more color would do better,” he said. His friend’s judgment thereafter effected a compromise with his own on matters of apparel.
Matters were not well with him in the little suite. The infection worked its way. He was undeniably lonesome. He marshaled his sparse array of acquaintance, weighed each over and over, only to return to the conclusion he never had a friend. The ascetic aunt was bitterly reproached for her methods of upbringing. He saw it: he had never been a boy; he was a product.
The Eyes returned, to be seen through a haze. If the importunate lawyer had delayed a bit— But then, that was folly. He wanted a friend, not a love, hardly realizing he might be fortunate enough to have both.
So he came to think over the directness, the daring, the manliness, of the friend he should have had, had the gods been kind. He would sit loungingly opposite him, and laugh at his chimeras. He would advise him to take bodily comfort. He saw himself expand under the genial raillery. He could almost see him, feet on the table edge, puffing smoke at him. The next day Stimpson bought a pipe, and made great blue clouds which heightened the illusion. He played at “ make-believe,” which noble game few people outgrow, and there was almost solace in it. Then the hollowness of it all came over him, and he felt the game was tedious to play.
A direct inspiration came one night. He would write a letter to him ! The game took on another aspect. It became glorious! The inspiration was immediately acted upon, as all inspirations should be. The sanity of it could be neither denied nor questioned, which classed it as a true inspiration. The name was at his pen’s end in a twinkling, and the box of letter paper, so rarely used, was got, some ink borrowed of Corcoran, and the work begun.
So he wrote, and this is the writing:
MY DEAR MR. BELDING, — To begin a letter like this unduly apologetic will cause it to miss its mission. A glance at the signature suffixed may convey no meaning, as I write at a hazard, trusting to chance. But I have been greatly interested in you through a mutual friend, who has so often said, “You ought to know Belding ; you would like him so,” that I merely determined that if I did n’t know you it would not be my fault.
This is admitting the hypothesis of our friend that I ought to know you ; and really I do, for I know so much of you. Who knows people the best, anyway, — their intimates or the others ? Having granted you are so well worth knowing, I really should, I know, prove that I am ; else what would be the use of writing ? But I really am not. I will make no pretense. You would find it out if I did. Of course it seems foolish to write at all; and I would n’t, only I know you are isolated off in your logging camp, but not as much as I am in my city. You may have a spare evening; mine are exceedingly spare !
I have not tried to prove it worth your while in any way. In all this intercourse between two persons, one has got to gain while the other gives up. Friendship implies a passive and active agent, does it not ? I could only be the passive ; for if an epistolary clearing house were established between us, what could I bring ? Very little, I ’m afraid.
But then, there’s our friend : he says I should know you, and so he must bear the burden.
Anyway, I think he is right. What do you think ? This is all frightfully stilted and unnatural, but how could it be otherwise ? And now I have subdued temerity, I will await results.
MILTON F. STIMPSON.
The letter was written, dried by frantic flapping, and sealed. Then it was addressed.
To any Arthur Belding ? Not at all. The inspiration was rose-tinted. It was to Milton F. Stimpson, at his own address. A game like this, if well played, is worth its while. Stimpson went out into the sombre street, and pulled down the red lip of a post box with decision. He dropped the letter in, and walked back to his room with the air of a man of affairs, and slept content.
He worked with an unusual vim the next day. He scolded his assistant for laxity, and when he went home and washed for dinner, he hummed to himself. There was a letter for him under the door, and he crowded it into a pocket. At dinner he opened it nonchalantly, — the others frequently read letters at mealtime, — and read it with great interest. There were red areas on his cheeks, — that was all.
And that night he answered it. He set himself briskly to the task, and made slashes across the tops of his t’s and brave dashes for commas. He wrote this : —
MY DEAR STIMPSON, — You kind of interest me. I know a good deal how you feel. You did n’t state who the friend was, but I have a guess. You ’re not altogether unknown to me. I’ve heard your praises sung — you ’re all that I’m not, you know. “ Why can’t you be thorough like Stimpson ? ” I ought to dislike you, I think.
That cousin of mine is a great press agent. I know just about what he said. He thinks I’m all sorts of things I am not. And I might as well play confessant to you ; I’ve needed a father confessor for some time. But I know how you feel in a city. Personality has so much to contend with there. But there is so much to contend for, too. There is a certain capillarity about a city that sucks one’s self up into the general. I know it — but I don’t mind it. Here in the camp I’m much more myself. Individuality has a chance here. That’s why I like the small college. The big men, it seems to me, always got big in a small place ; and when they went to a large one, they stayed big — out of habit.
I rather like your suggestion. We are n’t hampered by knowing each other, and although we may pose all the more because of it — still it’s not a bad idea. I won’t have to tell you the news, anyway. You seem an ideal correspondent. I know all about the others, and they all about me. Let’s try it on for a while. It may do good. When minded, write me. You might be a good person to pass judgment on some ideas I have — but it’s too early for that — is n’t it ?
This was mailed, and of course answered ; and so it all started. Belding became everything but incarnate. Once started, the game played itself.
The letters were evidence enough to fix habit. There were fierce contentions over moot points of manners and ethics. The very famous quarrel over the question of the War of 1812 — Belding arguing it was quite right, and Stimpson contending it arose from a political ruse — aroused a feeling which bordered on the bitter. Stimpson did a lot of research, and on unearthing a choice parry he hastened from the library to a hotel, where he thrust it home at once. But Belding prevailed, as he generally did. Belding taught Stimpson to drink. One day he sent him a bottle of Scotch whiskey, with his earnest recommendation. Stimpson drank very sparingly ; but Belding seemed, from his letters, frequently to use the product to a greater extent. For all of that, the bottle lasted some time, when Belding, without warning, swore off. So Stimpson followed suit.
Stimpson kept track of Belding’s successes with keen interest. He considered him lucky, but principally because he knew how to get in luck’s path. Quite often he referred to Belding at the dinner table, which bored Corcoran exceedingly. Belding was too much of a paragon for the mental ease of the boarding house, where, if there was anybody approaching a paragon, the world and the boarding house failed to note him.
A telegram came from Belding one night, and Stimpson read it at the dinner table. Soon he said: “ By the way, my friend Belding will stop off here to morrow. He’s the chap ” —
But Corcoran intervened. “We know him. He’s your marvel, who’s done everything and is doing more,” he said.
This hurt Stimpson. He was extremely loyal.
But Belding never came. He went to New York by way of Pittsburg, to investigate something in the glass-making line. The boarding house was relieved. Stimpson reproached Belding bitterly for this. “ I wanted to see you, as there is no need telling you, and I did want you to see my fellow creatures, those with whom I am cast daily,” he wrote.
So the game went on and on. Had any one known the details, he could have sworn the projected Belding was the more real. The days when letters signed “ Belding ” were written, Stimpson was light-hearted, taller, and almost masterful. They noticed it at the works, and Stimpson reaped. He rapidly became a person of importance.
Nearly two years had passed since the night on which Belding had sprung armed from Stimpson’s head, when a letter came from him that gave Stimpson a shiver of apprehension. It contained a paragraph which ran this way, in Belding’s blunt, lateral hand : —
“ There is one other matter we have touched on, but never dallied with, — marriage. I can see your attitude. You place so high an appraisal on its sacredness you would shrink from incurring the risk so long as you thought it a risk, and you would insist that it was a risk unless you had a complete foreknowledge. Now I think love the only clairvoyant thing there is. Such a love as would fall to us is prescient, is it not ? I hope you will answer this frankly.”
Stimpson knew it. Belding was subject to a new alliance. He had felt it. His friend was thinking of the only manner in which the friendship could be shattered. The thought struck him with a sting. The lash of it raised a red weal.
This is part of his answer : —
“ Be frank, old man, confess. I know it and knew it. Your tenor has been a high treble, and in spite of yourself you have anticipated. You are in love, and deeply in love, and the doom of our friendship is writ. It had little basis, anyway. It never took on corporeity. It lacked the physical, and friendship must be grounded on the physical. The mental is too slender a tie. We have not our ‘grouse in the gunroom.’ I am sorry for myself, but glad in your gladness. When you are married, as marry you must, I will fall bade on myself.”
Belding stormed “ Nonsense ! ” back at him, but in vain. Stimpson replied that he knew more about it than Belding did. He waived his own claims, and wanted an inventory of the lady’s charms. Belding confessed a part, but refused to catalogue charms.
“ I can’t reduce Her to the Common Denominator of adjectives. It would be both a profanation and an impossibility. She is beloved of me, not you, remember, and that is why I refuse to describe. You would have chosen the immediately spiritual ” (“ Idiot! ” snorted Stimpson), “ and you might seek for a feminine complement. I am ruled by the great law of desire. Desire is the stressing of the affections, the curve they take from hindered possession. And Desire has imperially usurped the Throne of Reason, and I rejoice in it. Reason is now bondslave to a recognized master, and I am happy in it. The reign of an absolute monarch is what I needed, anyway.
“ All this is rot, you say, but what happy rot! I don’t like to pry into the unknowable, and unknowledge is the wisdom of the Book of Love. If you think me idiotic, I can only produce Her who made me so.”
Stimpson sniffed. Belding wrote inanities. It might be well, though. He would lose a friend, but Belding had gained a love. He would be content. It would be worse than ever for him, for Belding married was an impossible correspondent. But he was unselfish enough, thank God, to rejoice at the greater happiness of Belding.
So spun matters for a month. Belding visited the town where the girl lived ; wrote rather sporadically, it is true, but Stimpson had foreseen that. He said he had won the girl “ on a bluff.” He had become intoxicated with her, and the intoxication gave him courage. He had dashed into her affections as Paul Jones descended on Whitehaven ; gave her no time to weigh, to refine on, her own thoughts. He owned up later, when his domineering had wrung a confessed reciprocity, and she had been quicker to forgive than she had been easy to domineer over.
Stimpson envied this man. Had he only a tithe of his assertion he had done great things. His cursed reticence, his deliberation which weighed while time elapsed, and conclusions reached after circumstance had impressed conclusions all its own, gave the reason for his failure. Belding was a battering ram, and battering rams have their own way.
The lady’s name ? Stimpson asked. He would send her a token. Had he, Belding, never told him ? What was a name, anyway ? Bathos, quite often. Had a sprite a need for a name ? As a matter of record, hers happened to be Kate Parker, which of course was absurd.
Kate Parker !
Stimpson bagged limply. Impossible ! Kate Parker was the name of the girl who owned the Eyes ! She was the girl, had not circumstance intervened, to whom he might have said things! Stimpson spent the rest of the evening chin on hand.
The next night he walked. The hot hush of the summer’s night, the smell of the pave after a slight and sudden rain, the arc lights through the maples, conjured up the Eyes again, more magic than ever. They could so easily have been thaumaturge, and wrought a finished man out of the welter of introspection cast on the world by the ascetic aunt.
The evening, an interval between business and business, brought pleasure crowds out. They solemnly persisted in seeking pleasure, these sidewalk crowds, but never got it. Yet they made Stimpson feel the obviousness of his new isolation as he had never felt it before.
The irony of it, —to lose Belding, and in such a manner, to such a person ! He saw the stern solace of even an unrequited affection. Belding had taken from him, not the woman that might have loved him, but the woman he might have loved. A momentary impulse to fight it out with Belding struck him. He at least would declare himself, and tragically accept his fate. He was no rival to the impetuous Belding. He had never declared himself. But he would ! He would use craft against Belding ! He would give him a fight, anyway.
But no. It was too late. Even the opportunity of rivalry was taken from him. He had nothing left. Ah, but he had ! Just one thing. The declaration that was never made he could yet make. Then he would suffer in silence. He would throw conscience and the thought of Belding betrayed to the four winds. He would have something to suffer for, at least. He could rest after telling the girl that he loved her. But did he love her ? Did he ? Ask the fiercely jealous feeling that came with Belding’s letter. He had always loved her, but had been too near-sighted to see it.
Kate Parker about to wed Belding possessed wonderful attractions. That they were so much more intense than they had been before was only natural, and she must know, and know at once. And so, long after the sidewalk crowds had thinned and disappeared, he found himself in the tiny rooms, writing.
This is what he wrote : —
MY DEAR MISS PARKER, — You will pardon this, I know, if you realize the extremity out of which it is born. And Arthur Belding is a friend of mine; so that if you thought it best for him to know, he would pardon, too, for he is a true man and a rare.
But I wanted you to know — it is hard to tell what; and if the telling of it is hard, it is because confessions always are. Now that you are to marry another, I feel I can speak ; yes, speak what I might have spoken once in another vein.
Confused as my thoughts are, they scatter only to concentrate on this: Miss Parker, that summer I met you, saw so much of you, I grew to love you. It is written now, and I am easier. I could not tell you then. I was called away, and I had yet a way to make ; my means of subsistence were unassured. And now that the time has come when this barrier is nearly removed, you are lost to me.
Yet I wanted you to know. Why, it is hard to say. It seems strange I should write the word, when the writing of it can only cause me pain, and can scarcely cause you anything less ; for you are not the woman to account an honest love which cannot be returned a personal triumph. But why go into such matters ? I did not speak when I might have, and perhaps this saved me from the greater pain of a refusal. I have often meant to write, yet hardly dared, from that cursed reticence which has always kept me so apart from the rest of the world.
But now I write it, — I loved you. You perhaps can understand why I write. I can’t. I did wish you to know, Kate. (Forgive that once, — the first and last time ; I know you will.) It was hopeless ever, had I spoken. Yet — But never mind the “ yets ; ” my life has had too many of them.
Belding is worthy of you, — as worthy of you as you are of him. Love has already arranged best. You will be happy, I know. .
Accept this unwelcome note as it is written, from the extremity of a poor, useless, lonesome, indecisive man; and yet he loves you still, and can never love save her who is destined for his best friend. But things are usually so in his life. Never mind; he is eased now. Has he not written what he so often longed to ? Yes, and he writes again, knowing too well its present import. I love you, Kate, I love you. You need not answer. I wish to leave that part to your imagination. It’s all I have left. So good-by, and bless you, — bless you both.
MILTON F. STIMPSON.
He sealed the letter, and on the envelope he wrote “ Miss Kate Parker, 437 Frontenac Street, Detroit, Michigan.” He mailed it as a man about to die sends his last message home.
The obtrusion of a new actor had thrown Stimpson out of the rut. He no longer played the game with himself ; it had got beyond him. He was playing with reality unrealizing, for the address had been on the card given him the last day at the resort.
Stimpson neglected to write Belding. He hardly knew why. But he was closehugging his new sorrow, which Belding could not share. And then a letter came. It took him three minutes to read, and three hours to comprehend it. It ran:
MY DEAR MR. STIMPSON, — Until I am assured your letter is not a joke, how can I answer it ? But it really can’t be a joke, and yet I can account for it in no other way. I have never heard of any one named Belding, and I am engaged to no one.
Your letter was wrung from you under the impression I was, and what is a poor girl to do in such a case ?
This is the natural place to stop, but I can’t exactly do it. Do tell me where you heard all this. And you, poor fellow, to have written as you did under such a supposition ! Of course it would be most unmaidenly to write anything more. I positively refuse to write a word more until you tell me all about it.
As to the rest of their correspondence, is it not their affair, too sacred for the profanation of print ?
Not so many months later a couple sat on the deck of a steamer. The woman said : “ Do you know that I never can get used to writing my name ‘ Mrs. Stimpson ’ ? And really, from what I ’ve seen of you, I am inclined to think I ought to write ‘ Mrs. Belding ’ instead.”
He looked over and smiled. “ As far as that is concerned,” he said, “ perhaps you had. I really hope so, don’t you ? ”
But the bass of a whistle drowned her answer.
Eugene Richard White.