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nite importance; to see in softening eyes how complete was my triumph.
Now I have outgrown the self of that time, and wonder at my blindness. But now was not then. My sincerity was equal to my delusion. He led me to talk, for love made him sympathetic; I would lay my heart and mind open to the dimmest comers (and some were very dim indeed), hardly noticing that his answers were too often by the eyes alone. There comes a time in the history of some natures—call it a kind of refined egotism—when they must speak of doubt and essay, hope and failure. One confides on paper to the publio; I to the one who loved to listen, and who fully understood me, I believed. What man ever comprehends the woman nearest his heart f He guesses at her, accepts, admires, but never knows "one-half the reason why she smiles or sighs."
I soon recovered from my absurd belief in George's superhuman apprehension, but not until I had promised to marry him. The tremendous question had come at last, that had been silently asked and answered every day for the last two months. I think, even then, he would never have brought the matter to the touoh had it not been for Mr. Nixon. I saw some delicate finessing on that gentleman's part. He took it into his head to covet my attention again, and often interrupted and perplexed George in the midst of some confidential statement. A feeling of uneasiness gave the lagging mind decision. I had promised to marry him; there was the unalterable fact. I could not avoid it, shrink as I might. Six months of delicious confusion had passed— now the turmoil was over; I resumed old employments with zest; circumstances ceased to hinge on him. I took the dimensions of my hero. Because I could criticize, was I no longer in love f In vain I tried to swing back to the old feelings—they had died out; there was nothing but the ashes of a flimsy passion.
The suspense that had kept him a little better than himself was over; his mind, at rest forever, sunk to its level. My duty lay plain; by whatever wretched mistaking of myself I had given an unconditional promise, I was bound to keep to it.
He came, with his shawl over his arm, to bid me good-bye. It was our first separation—the beginning of a series; for, until that fortune was made I was to share, we would be much apart. He looked at me from his height, so handsome, so miserable, so tender, that the test words I had resolved to speak half died away.
"George," I began, my voice trembling in spite of my care, "do you think we feel for one another as we used? Had we not better, after all, call it a college flirtation, and—"
Holding both my hands—"I expected something like this, Rose," he interrupted, "but you gave me your word-. You know I can never release you; that bond cannot be cancelled. You promised me, Rose."
I bent my head.
'' Yen expect too much of yourself; you have read too many romances; I always thought your ideas high-flown. Don't think how yon ought to feel, but just keep firm. I know yon love me, but if you hated me I could be happy with you; but you don't."
Oh, how very young we both were I
"O no, no I" I hastened to answer.
"Rosy, if you could change, it would be the ruin of me. My life and hopes are in your keeping." His eyes were cloudy with tears.
Is it not cruel treachery to bring a man's nature under yours so, by every thrall make him doubly your own, and when there is no escape for him, find out for yourself that you have made a mistake i Should not such an error be expiated by pain?
"Very well, George, if you are satisfied—"
"Satisfied! I should rather think I was. Never speak so again, Rosey, unless you want to drive me crazy."
So the bonds were clenched.
Was it a sigh of relief I drew as I tossed my trouble, for the nonce, into the future, and turned to the figures coming up the avenue f Sallie Venarr, swinging her parasol, and talking, according to custom, to Mr. Nixon. She had just met Mr. Buckingham, with such a doleful face, and couldn't help coming to have a peep at mine. Was horror-stricken at my composure.
"Miss Carhampton never looks as one might expect, I 've noticed," said Mr. Nixon.
"Do I?" asked Sallie, who never lost the least chance of gaining information about herself.
"Always Euphrosyne—always gay and smiling," he explained, as she did not understand his allusion.
Sallie pulled on a sober mask. "I believe I am sober only in church,'' said she.
"How do you know ?" she retorted. "If you were minding your prayers, you would not."
"Perhaps I pray to one fair saint, and therefore look at her. Let me see how the new expression suits."
"Rose looks much more like a saint than I do," deprecated the young lady.
"I think so, most emphatically, Miss Venarr; you are a very pretty sinner, though." Still keeping his eyes on her.
I was angry for her. How could she allow any man to address her in that tone of half sarcastic compliment, and look down into her eyes till they drooped from a feminine instinct! I half envied her insouciance. Like an insect angel, she sported all day long. I never saw her hands at work, never knew her to be in a hurry; day after day she came with the same swinging walk and happy idleness of demeanor. She affected Fan, and brought Nixon too often, to torture me and carry on her pretty warfare.
"Don't forget my party, Thursday night, Rose," was her injunction. "I'm sorry Mr. Buckingham could not be with you; you will have such a stupid time."
"Explain the reason," Nixon demanded.
"Why," she answered, with a charming moue, "because engaged girls always do have. Nobody wants to dance with them. There's no fan in it, at all.'!
"Indeed," said Mr. Nixon, with an odd intonation in his tone.
Sallie's house was within sight, and before I left the piazza Mr. Nixon came back and talked to me till I felt like writing a poem. It was one of the old time interviews photographed. I wondered for the thousandth time what had so strangely changed him, for I could not believe the opinions I had uttered of him, after all. Suddenly he chinked the current coin.
"You have concluded to forgive me, I conclnde," said he, in a livelier tone.
"Forgive you 1 For what?"
"I thought you knew; your manner has kept me off for months. It is only since your engagement has become a settled fact that you have dispensed kinder influences. I am back in your good graces, I hope, if I cannot stand where I did before you made Buckingham so happy."
I did not stop to puzzle over his meaning. "I am conscious of no grievance, given or received."
"Coldness is as subtle as the plague," quoth he, "and about as effective. There is no use now in begging an explanation of some misty points on which I have lost all right to ponder. Accept me now as your friend's friend."
"I accept you as my own," I said, frankly, a sort of enthusiasm hurrying my words, for who could resist Nixon's grace, when he chose to exert it f "Be as you used to be."
"That is impossible," said he. "There is always a great deal lost or gained by estrangement; one cannot come back to the same old spot."
"You have been at other experiences, meanwhile," I said, glancing at a bit of Sallie's flounce in his buttonhole. I met his eyes; mine accused him.
"Miss Carhampton," said he, smiling, "it is the easiest connection in the world. You know how one can follow in a belle's wake without proffering more than the pleasant admiration of the hour. We are knights for the nonce. We rescue them from the giant ennui, we wear their favors; but, let us do as we like, we can't marry them all! it is not expected. Do you know how I saw her first? Picking cherries. Standing under the broad noon light, a great bough pulled down for her convenience made an arch over her. She looked like an illumination of some Byzantine manuscript."
"That was out on the farm?"
"Yes, last summer"—and he looked retrospective. "She was a gorgeous little figure. I've never seen her so pretty since. Goodmorning." He turned to go; then stopped as if he had thought of something. "I may not see you before Thursday night. May I engage you for the first and last dances?"
"If Igo, I shall be happy to dance with you." He bowed, and walked off as if he had been losing time. My cheeks began to grow hot; I walked into the house, and emphasized the door.
I went to the party. Mr. Nixon resigned a laughing nymph to the arm of an admirer, and came towards me. I returned his salutation with the distant courtesy of a court.
"You are late," was his remark, as we took our places in the danoe; '' but it is good policy.''
"Why didn't you wonderingly ask the reason f I had a pretty answer ready for you."
"Keep it for other ears; I am not used to pretty answers."
"I have been to New York since I saw you last; I have seen your friend."
"I had a letter from him to-day. Mr. Nixon, I should not have come here to-night if he had not bade me thank you for your kindness, and the success with which you have used it in his behalf."
His color rose. "He told you that? He promised not to speak of it."
"He was too grateful, I suppose." My words sounded hard and cold to my own ears.
"He overrates the matter. I knew he ought
to do better than his friends resolved for him. It is slow work, climbing that mercantile ladder from the lowest round. I merely mentioned his name to my uncle; his merits did the rest."
I knew better, and said so.
"Well, thank me, then," said he, drawing my arm through his with an impulsive gesture, "but not for George's sake. What I did was for your sake. I had no mind to see your roses fading ungathered."
They fled from cheek and lip at these words. Then I knew whom I loved, with a hopeless, sndden pang. I stood still. He saw how white I was.
"What have I done ?" said he.
That night I fought the battle over again with myself. I saw now the whole of strange mistaking. How vanity and impulse had led me wrong, and how I had been slowly groping to this. My way was plain, I thought, but harder than I could follow. I must keep that solemn promise. I was as good as married to him; every hope of his clustered around me; all hopes and happy household fanoies gathered round that dim spot in the future he hoped to call his wedding-day.
I hoped Nixon would marry Sallie Venarr, as the gossips of society declared he would. But that mutual flirtation seemed disturbed; Sallie came to me one day with chagrin, not heart deep enough to conceal. She told me the story, and then asked, with querulous great eyes: "What is the matter, do you suppose?"
"Overwork and the languid weather," said I.
"He hardly ever comes to our house now," she repeated- "I think it is too bad of him, and if you ask him the reason, he makes one of his queer speeches, that I never can tell if they are jests or earnest."
Her limpid nature was disturbed. It seemed useless for one to whom feeling was action, and thought expression, to attempt to conceal her mind, and appear in a state of ladylike indifference. She took the wrong way to win him back, I thought, for, he coming in just then, she assailed him in her pretty pouting way.
"Was he angry with her?"
"Could he look at her and be so?"
"Why hadn't he been to see her for ever so long?"
"Was it not well for Ulysses to leave the isle of Calypso 1"
"She wished he wouldn't talk so. Was he never coming again?"
"He should be wretched if he thought so," etc.
Until Sallie, as near vexation as she ever
attained, seized her hat by the string, and utterly refusing the gentleman's escort, left our door for her father's.
Nixon, who had gravely submitted to her decree, much to her disappointment, seated himself again, his lips quivering with a smile.
"What ails her?" I asked.
"Some strait circumstance of a toilet, or a pimple on her chin."
"Nonsense 1 You should not quarrel. Yon can make your peace in five minutes at this stage of proceedings; do go and try."
"Not I," said the conqueror, coolly. "If you send me off, I '11 go to my room and smoke myself into a state of Mahometan contentment."
"Why have you dropped her 1 For the same reason you discarded me, once on a time?" I daringly asked.
He looked at me with those wise blue eyes as if he would tell how much meaning my question held.
"From very different reasons, Miss Carhampton." But he did not explain.
A week later we three met again.
"I have followed your suggestion," Nixon said to me, as I arranged the lights on the piano. "You see I am reinstated; I thought it was best to end handsomely."
A superficial finger flight drowned his words, as he indicated Sallie, who was radiant and overflowing with such andacious gayety, alone enough to convince me she had gained her point. I called her up to sing with him, and then sat and watched them. Nixon always looked his best at the piano; his attitnde was one of perfect grace, his face almost colorless, the whole countenance lighted up by some inward excitement. When his eyes met mine they intensified, till mine fell beneath them. He did not care to look at Sallie, who was the image of glowing youth and beauty; her satiny hair, rolled into its scarlet net, set off the round outline of the face—its shining eyes, its piquant features. I caught my own reflection, and wondered no longer that men follow the fairest, for good looks wear a spell. When the clock struck ten Sallie beclonded herself for home. I went to the door with them.
"Come, too," said Nixon; "the air is mild as June's, though the moon is October's."
We saw Sallie safely housed, and then turned back. Nixon drew my hand through his arm as though it belonged to him.
"I have something to tell yon," he began; "an unexpected piece of fortune has come to me—a gauntlet with a gift in't. You know ', as the r«et of the world, how I've been hangin ^ about here reading law, because certain auxiliaries have made that profession a surer success; but you only know wbat kind of a life I 've longed for. Now the rook has opened; the fortune that seemed needful has come, and on those conditions I would have been too happy to feel forced on me. To stndy abroad for a professorship has been my day-dream. But you are cold; I am keeping you out too long. You tremble like a leaf."
"Nevermind; goon. When are you going?"
"I should leave next week, unless—no, that is the folly of a coward. Yes, I am to leave America next week."
There was a pause I could not have broken to save my secret; I dared not speak—I knew my voice was strange.
"Must I be dumb, Rose?" he asked, and stopped in his rapid walking to look at me. What stony look my face wore, what agony of entreaty, I know not.
"What a brute I ami" be exclaimed, half beside himself, and putting his arm around me.
I sprang forward towards the house; "I must get in," I exclaimed.
"Don't fly from me; can't you touch me?" he begged.
"Can I?" was my question; but Iwalked passively by his side. He stopped at the door.
"May I come in? Give me credit for some valor; see how well 1 will play my part. You may rely on my firmness."
"Come in," said I; "I trust yon."
He walked after me to the drawing-room. The professor shut his glasses between the leaves of Tyndall's Glaciers. In a moment they were bristling with the news; the professor was delighted with his favorite's fortune, and they were soon plunged into a discussion of routes and universities, while Fanny looked at me.
The week of departure came. Nixon, resolved to show me how he conld control himself, came and went as usual. The very eve of his voyage came, and we all spent a lively evening in talk and music. No one guessed the hidden fires that made this merry night a piece of consummate acting on the part of the principal personages. I left the drawing-room to get a breath of cool air, and rid myself for a moment of the lights and voices. Nixon followed me out.
"1 am going in a few moments, Rose. Shall I see you to-morrow, or say good-bye now?"
He stood a moment, irresolute, by the table, played with a paper-cutter, dropped % turned
from me, then, with a sndden step, reached me. I held out my hand, and tried to smile; he took them both, and I felt the warm drops, the heroes of old did not disdain to shed, as he bent his face to them. Oh, what could I do • I longed to say one word of love—to send him away forever with no word or look of all that was beating in my heart. I was not more than mortal. I bent my cheek to his, and as he turned to me, holding me for one short moment, I begged of him to go.
"J078 like winged dreama fly fiist;
I woke one day to find Fan and George beside me; she holding my nerveless band in hers, he, leaning on the back of her chair, watching me with anxious eyes. 1 turned wearily away. "Doesn't she know me ?" George whispered. Fanny hushed him, and said I was too weak to speak. I was too weak to think what it all meant, or understand how ill I had been ; but it came to me at last, and, as strength began to increase, it was silently sapped by the inward concealed misery; but I got well ia spite of myself, and George went back to his work. Spring came, with new promise in leaflet and floretted bough. The professor, bound on a scientific tour, looked at my languid face, and adopted Fan's idea. "Rosey," said he, "put some things in a bag, and come witk me; I believe we can get back a little of the sweethrier bloom to your cheeks if we get you out of your young lady life."
I was too indifferent to combat their resolve; the odd life suited me; I was wakened. The professor came back a most successful empiric, and for me, living was easier—I had turned over the hardest pages.
Fall came round again, and George and I were sitting in the back drawing-room together; he, in an easy-chair, such as his soul delighted in, stretched out his legs, with the evening paper spread out before him, but his eyes lazily fixed on the cheerful blaze; Fan and the professor had charitably left us alone. Conversation flagged; I took no pains to break the silence; George had nothing to say when we were together—no adventures, rencontres, bright thoughts, or criticisms; his lover's lore was long since exhausted. It was my fault, I know; I could have kept him above the average, I believed.
"George," said I, "what are you thinking about so steadily?"
He turned his head, and answered me with a puzzled expression.
"Some very gloomy subject. What is it?"
"I was thinking of you, Rose," he answered, with a little hesitancy.
"And what of me? Are you getting tired of me at last?"
Instead of the disclaimer I expected, he exclaimed, not very elegantly—but cultivated expression was not his forte—
"I 've been very selfish about you ; I 've kept yon dangling along till you are actually growing old over it. I seem never to get above my book-keeper's salary, always too poor to marry, and I 've spoilt dozens of matches for you, I expect."
"Am I growing old, George?"
"There 's no shuffling the truth, Rose; there are two little lines, almost wrinkles, between your eyes; this morning I saw a white hair. If I 'd let you gone five years ago, and called it a flirtation, as you said; but I was bewitched. I knew Nixon was dead in love with you; nothing but knowing how I felt towards you prevented him from offering himself. I knew there was no chance for him, and told him so. But then you might have learned to love him; and he had money."
"What unusual consideration!" I exclaimed. "Do you mean to say that Mr. Nixon and you agreed who should have the first chance?"
"Not exactly. I was confoundedly jealous of him, and told him where I expected to stand. You remember how he dropped you until we were engaged; 'twas to leave me a free coast." He drew a deep sigh.
"George," said I, looking at his face as it appeared over the side of the chair, "you never would have arrived at all these conclusions about me if somebody had not been showing how a woman can love. Inclination only is wanting to marry on hundred a year."
I saw his countenance alter with a new embarrassment, and knew I was right. Slowly I drew off the ring of bondage, and dropped it in his hand.
"Well, tell me all about it." But words were out of his reach just then.
"Come, speak; you wish to release me? You love somebody else?"
"Oh, Rose!" He dropped his head like a whipped dog.
"How long has this been kept from me?"
"Over a year."
"Yon should have told me at first," I began, with a sudden spasm at the heart, remembering he was not the only one who had not been honest. I waited in silence until George ejaculated this summary:—
"And so we 've been engaged five years for nothing."
For nothing, indeed! My bloom and lightheartedness had long gone ; all these years had been consumed in a painful adherence to a now useless point of honor.
"Don't be angry, Rose; don't hate me, for I can't stand that."
I assured him of my placidity, and burst into tears. He became dreadfully distressed, called me everything oaressing and consolatory, got down on the knees of his best pantaloons, then thinking of hysterics consequent on woman's emotion, and the preventive salts, flew for the aromatic vinegar, upsetting Fan's workbasket, full of small accumulations, stepped back, aghast, on Zeph's tail, and set him off howling. I began to laugh, when in walked Fan and her husband.
"Julius Caesar!" exclaimed the professor, "what's all this?"
And, as it might as well be then as at any other time, we told him the whole story.
"And Rose is crying for joy, I believe," said George.
I believe I was.
One year passed; ten years passed; my mates were married and settled. One after another the birds had been plucked from the garland; I was the last of the coterie. Still" waiting?
No, those who are hopeless do not wait; I had long ago grown calm, "and accepted my discipline. The Buckinghams were making us their yearly visit. I had fulfilled a promise made to George, and had become one of Dickens' good aunts. Little Tom Buckingham and I were ont in the garden; I had been walking dreamily up and down the walk to be suddenly recalled by perceiving the small marauder had gathered every tulip bud, and had filled his toy barrow with the professor's favorite hopes; rank on rank of the straight green stems stood headless, as I paused in reproach before the nnconscions plunderer. "Tom," I began, but stopped, with his baby hand in mine. Who was this coming towards us ? He came nearer; I gave him my hand, and gazed steadfastly in the face I thought never to see again. Those were Nixon's eyes, that drank mine with their thirsty gaze.
"I know the whole," said he. "Oh, my darling, I love you I"