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“I don't know. Religious communities are the most available machinery I know of for devoting one's self to the noblest work on earth. But it takes an enthusiasm and self-devotion that only a few women, like Sister Agnes, are equal to.”
"I am totally out of sympathy with a life that is against Nature.”
“Nevertheless you are a man who would be in sympathy with any ideal.” Von Walden was insensibly flattered at being made the subject of an analysis, even were it a mistaken one. “And in the world, how many of us attain to our ideals? Now I have the ideal of a life a life like a stainless white column, an apart life ; one with a blessing on it, like the blessing on the head of Joseph who was separate from his brethren."
"And which I, a man of the world, testify that I have seen lived in the world."
“But not as a general rule? Is not the fulfilment more like this ?” and she handed hiin a book in her lap. He read: “What is the use of the cloister in the midst of society, if it is not a focus and a centre of morality and religion, diffusing and planting deeply in the minds of the people ideas of honesty, justice and virtue, in order to temper and hold in balance the brutal force of the passions, which threaten continually to absorb all the thoughts and affections of men.' Your author? Ah !- the Padre Marchese, a friar of San Marco.” He turned over the leaves of the book, then as he closed it he said abruptly, looking at her fresh, fair, serious face, with a half-smile : "I find you still Reine, still Marguerite; and yet you have ceased to bloom as your namesakes do, finding your reward in the blooming of the flower.''
"Marguerites are spring-flowers,” she answered, with a touch of bitterness in her tones. A keener sweep of air from the open window near her made her pull up her scarlet shawl around her. "That had a suggestion of winter. I detest winter."
"You agree with Musset that 'l'hiver est une maladie.' So you are no longer in sympathy with Nature in all her moods and tenses?"
"O faithful Nature !”— relaxing, as she turned her head, and the glorious autumn landscape greeted her. “After all, it is this season which is filled with the new wine of the year'- don't you think so ?”
“Yes — there is a loving feeling in the air. And those mapleleaves are the very color of Catawba grapes, and we are wasting the time indoors! Let me pull you up the river in Mary's boat, to a place I know of where as late as last week there were growing tremendous daisies, like those you used to trim your hat with at Blue Ridge."
So she pulled her scarlet shawl all the way up to her ears, and on her way out of the house tilted a chance garden-hat over her eyes, and followed Colonel von Walden to the boat-house, where he made his preparations for the voyage. They were gone the rest of the morning; in fact they did not make their reappearance at the lunchtable at all. Had this anything to do with Mrs. Langdon's sulky silence at this meal? “Poor thing! you are bored to death,” cried Nannie Churchill, whose especial charge she was. “ But never mind, you will have a good time to-night. You are perishing of ennui; no one to flirt with even. Moritz is so absorbed in Marga who looks straight over his head at the heavenly bodies, for all thanks — that he has no eyes for any one else.”
“How shockingly that Miss Fleming dresses !” Mrs. Langdon permitted herself the luxury of remarking. She was a sensible woman, also, to this extent, that she considered taste in dress one of the cardinal social virtues.
Mary Churchill looked unhappy, but had nothing to say; however, she inwardly resolved to preside at Reine's Marguerite's toilette on that night, when they were to be “at home” to their friends. But alas! the resources of Reine Marguerite's wardrobe were limited indeed. That black Hernani of hers was the only approach to any. thing like “store-clothes.” So provoking! Just from Europe too. But then the Flemings always had been the same, spending the little money they had on everything before they thought of clothes.
After a while she saw Marga and Von Walden saunter homewards, Marga with a huge and gorgeous bunch of autumn-leaves in her hands, Von Walden with one white daisy in his button-hole. True to Mary's prophetic vision, Marga arrayed herself for the evening in the identical Hernani. But she pinned a flaming bit of sumach about her heavy coil of golden hair, and made other glowing bits of sumach and maple a bouquet de corsage for her square-necked dress. And so attired she was very simple, stately and beautiful. A bouquet of roses was brought to her door as she was about to go down stairs, accompanied by Colonel von Walden's card, which she carried, looking as fresh and as dewy as they herself.
The rooms were filling fast. Marga sat apart, and began to turn over the leaves of a photograph-album. Mrs. Langdon was promenading up and down with Colonel von Walden, and enjoying the success of her little manœuvre to engross him.
“How silent Miss Fleming is !” she said, with a half-veiled sneer, glancing towards Marga ; "her only —
Conversation in her eyes,
The golden silence of the Greek.'' “They are very beautiful, eloquent eyes, certainly," Von Walden answered, carelessly; and then he asked Mrs. Langdon to waltz.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hope and Eva Churchill had joined Marga. “Looking at photographs?” Eva said. “That is an old book of Moritz's which he unearthed at our request. Such queer old pictures!"
“I wonder why he keeps them,” Mr. Hope said. “Old-fashioned cartes-de-visite have such an outré look."
“Moritz says he has a very tender feeling for all these funny people. Old friends, you see.
says he never throws away a picture of a friend that has been given him. Rather sentimental, I tell him. He has one of you somewhere here, Marga; awfully queer-looking.”
They came to it presently -- yellowed, out of date. A girl with great eyes, and heavy hair braided down her back. “ Was that ever I?" Réine Marguerite said, laughing.
“We told him the other day it was a libel on you,” Eva continued, “and I asked him why he did not tear it up. He said that you gave it to him yourself, and he seemed to think that the very best of reasons. Then all these old women with spectacles and caps, right in the front of the book —"
Marga was still staring at her own carte. She remembered per. fectly the day she had given it to Moritz. How he had looked at it and then at her critically, and had thanked her and told her that he meant to make a sketch of her with that as a suggestion. It had been a day of “long, blue, solemn," summer-hours. She had been fluttered, happy; he, careless, courteous, admiring. How long ago it all was ! Pshaw ! how silly she had been! She wondered if he still remembered how silly.
“We are examining your collection of Shems, Hams, and Japhets, Moritz,” Eva said, as her cousin came up, presently.
He evidently only half liked the joke. He had the German sensitiveness to ridicule. “I see you have found your own 'counterfeit presentment' in the ark, Miss Fleming,” he said to Marga ; whereupon, she scribbled on the back of the photograph, and passed it to him :
“ Beneath the rose I say to you —
I am not sure if I be I. Here Mary brought up one or two aspirants for the honor of her acquaintance. She danced, she promenaded; she made so many new friends that she had very little time left to bestow upon her old friends. Colonel von Walden was crossing the hall on a message he had been charged with by his cousin Mary to the band-leader, when Mrs. Langdon reached to him the daisy he had been wearing during the evening in his button-hole, and which had finally fallen out.
"I respect the follies of the heart," she said, with a deepening of dimples and a raising of eyebrows --"and so I restore you your little faded flower.'
He stopped, pinned it in again carefully. “You are adrift, as usual,” he assured her, nevertheless, with easy impertinence. But she flushed in displeasure, although for the nonce she could think of nothing more annihilating than, “Really, Colonel von Walden ;" a reto which is, however, as an impromptu, as withering as any in the feminine armory.
The evening wore away. The guests scattered. Reine Marguerite finally concluded a stroll in the hall with Von Walden by a tête-àtête in a bow-window, from which there was a glorious view of the moon on the river. She had found her way here, first with one, then with another, half-a-dozen times already, in the course of the evening. Standing here now, her foot struck against something on the floor. Von Walden and she both stooped simultaneously, but it was she who picked up the bouquet of roses he had given her. She looked conscience-stricken. “Nay," he said, "leave them ; you had dropped them, forgotten them. Do not wrong them by an after-thought of compassion."
She looked at him in surprise — surprise that he should show so
much feeling about such a trifle. Then “You are hopelessly sentimental," she said sedately; "nevertheless, I have my sentiment too. I shall take the bouquet up stairs, which a friend brought me, and put it in water.”
While she was doing so, she could not help recalling again the look on his face. Did he still think she was the foolish, susceptible, credulous girl she used to be? At all events, since those days,
“ She had tried in a crucible
To what speeches, like gold, are reducible.” Although, alas, alas ! her schooling had made her no happier, even if it had made her wiser.
She knelt down by the window and looked out. The setting moon, the countless throbbing stars. Thank Heaven for these faithful witnesses of the Divine constancy and unchangingness! Man pursued his fickle way — death came friendship faltered — love altered and that same moon, those same stars, looked down on it all.
Her thoughts travelled back to the grave in her past. She could think of it steadily now, without tears, if with the old dull heart-ache still. Suddenly a wild longing to go back to the old life in Italy, the old love there, seized her, with a bitter discontent with her present chilled life, empty, unsatisfied.
Then a rebellious, wild desire came over her to put an end to it all. Death! Oh if she could only die ! Death - oblivion remembrance, no more disappointment.
But — there was said to be a life after death. In that moment of sharp conflict, she felt an assurance that there was. The grave was simply a gate into a different life ; but still life. This was the world of the Living God. There was no appeal from the law of being which had called her into existence.
Years ago, Sister Agnes had said to her: “Death may or may not bring peace; but peace certainly is to be found in life. It consists in submission to the will of God.” This was a Pentecostal moment with Reine Marguerite. She saw now how this might be. She saw this in a flash of light, which it might be years before she could weave into the tissue of her life. But à miraculous tranquillity stole over her, as entire and as soothing as the passionate despair of a while ago had been overwhelming; a foretaste of the blessed resignation which is, if often the latest, perhaps the most precious gift and grace.
The next morning Colonel von Walden was walking up and down the piazza that ran along the side of the house, when Mrs. Langdon joined him. “That cigar is a protest against companionship, but it will be a charity to talk to me. Have you seen the morning papers ? Mr. Dryfte has been making a speech in Chicago ; but I am afraid things are going against his party. It will go awfully hard with him if he is defeated. His re-election is the only thing he cares for."
Except Mrs. Langdon.” “That is nonsense ; Mr. Dryfte no more cares for me than he cares for the statue on the top of the Washington Capitol. Not as much, as she is the Goddess of Liberty. No more thinks of me than I do of him, and that is saying a great deal.”
Ah, is it? Let me say that I had formed a different opinion as to you both. Besides, you, a woman of the world, even if it were a question of selling your birthright, think for what a very substantial mess of pottage.”
“If I marry again I shall consult the dictates of my heart. I shall never make a marriage of ambition."
Perhaps not a mere marriage of ambition."
“You misjudge me; you always misjudge me.' There was genuine emotion in her voice. Von Walden thought it expedient to waive the subject, but Mrs. Langdon hurried on. “No doubt this is one of Time's revenges.
Once I did not know you, did not estimate you as I do now.
She put up her handkerchief to her eyes. Reine Marguerite coming to the door, saw them apparently deep in conversation, and withdrew. "Not at the last chapter of that love-affair yet?" she soliloquised, as she strolled off again, into the dining room this time, where Mary was putting up a basket of chicken-broth and wine-jelly to take to a sick woman in Ritewell. It was Eva's morning in the parish school, and she was to carry the basket. She was engaged now in making out a list of grievances to her father against the school-teacher, who rapped the children over the knuckles, and did not know the rivers of Asia by heart, so Eva said; and the Bishop was benevolently condoning Miss Smith's shortcomings. “Visitors," cries Eva, as the front door bell rings. “You will have to excuse me, Mary; I am late as it is," and she hurries away. In fact, the morning tidal-wave of visitors to the House Beautiful has set in. These good and handsome Churchills, with their peach-bloom complexions, velvety, dark eyes, and constant hearts, are very much beloved. This time the Misses Singleton have called. “That gawky Miss Singleton who was here last night,” announces Mrs. Langdon to Von Walden as the lady in question comes round the sweep.
" And that little sister of hers she keeps in short dresses. Miss Singleton told me last night she herself was just nineteen.”
She will never see thirty again.”
The other one is pretty now; I hope she will not grow like her sister.”
“I hope she will be more truthful,” Von Walden said, discontentedly. What cared he for these Singletons? However, he hears through the open window, presently, Miss Fleming's voice in the drawing-room. Don't
you think it would be more polite for us to go in to these people?” he proposes, with a sudden access of consideration. To which his companion rather sulkily accedes.
Mrs. Langdon has been a month already at Bishopthorpe, and yet she still postpones the day of her departure from day to day. She has an undefined intention of returning to the city with Colonel von Walden when he returns; and he also lingers and lingers. He makes no secret to his cousins of the secret of the fascination of Bishopthorpe for him. Mrs. Langdon also unwillingly admits that Marga Fleming is the magnet. Reine Marguerite herself is the only person who does not dream that such is the case. Devotion-interest has not Von Walden shown these to her once before; has he