Gambar halaman
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][subsumed]


[ocr errors]




YOUNG poet came to Whittier with a full heart and a scorching criticism of some verses he had written. Said the Friendpoet mildly, "Thee did not write for that man," implying that in spite of this rebuff, there might still be found elsewhere a favorable audience for his literary brother. But he might and he might not find his audience; perhaps his verses would be learned by heart, his songs set to music; 'or, on the other hand, it might be their fate to lie forgotten on the shelves of the booksellers, an occasional prying eye glancing up and down the uncut pages at random and deciding against the verses off-hand. The bugbear of the young author, the critical "general reader," would be out of sympathy with the subject.


So in life there are seasons when we sit behind closed doors. Few, perhaps none, attempt to invade our solitude. We are not on terms with the world, and the world leaves us severely alone. These are what have been called "the enforced pauses of life. Such a pause came to the man in the Gospel who was led "aside from the multitude" before the Ephphatha was spoken to him.

A warm, mellow day in October. The windows and doors of a house which was familiarly known as the House Beautiful by its habitués, and as Bishopthorpe by the world in general, stood wide. open; and the golden sunlight and fragrant breath of October poured into the broad halls and up the noble stairway, and through the open-hearted hospitable rooms. On a tête-à-tête stone balcony that opened out from a sitting-room on the second floor, were two persons, a man and a woman; the man middle-aged, care-worn, preoccupied, a stranger to us; the woman known to us already - Mrs. Langdon-still pretty with the moonlight prettiness I have spoken of before, perhaps with the difference that her color is now a little more fixed, her eyebrows a trifle darker, her smile a little more set. But a very pretty woman a woman who cultivated the art of pleasing, and who has had her successes: in spite of which she still remains Mrs. Langdon. She has an independent fortune, and, for all her dainty womanish ways, independent tastes. She made up her mind long ago that she would never marry again, unless by so doing she could better her condition. She kept her fancy under good control; she would never permit herself the luxury of a preference that would not ensure her worldly advantages. She had not given Moritz von Walden a second thought when, three or four years ago; he had sued for her love he at the outset of a career that might or might not fulfil its early promise. She might give him a different answer now. Fortune had smiled upon him; he had made money, reputation. To


a still greater degree had her present companion, who had moreover been half a century in building up the fabric of honors and dignities which he was offering to Mrs. Langdon's acceptance. She was weighing the pros and cons thoughtfully now. This was what she had been looking forward to for years; she had always felt in her the capacity to succeed as a queen of society. For this she had cultivated her tact, her grace of manner and person. For this she had persisted in a life that was a little above the ordinary frivolous life of a woman of pleasure; she had kept up her music, read a little history, a little poetry, a little French.

There was a drawback, however, to her marrying Mr. Dryfte. Parties just then were breaking up: old platforms were falling apart, and new ones were being constructed for the present emergency out of odds and ends. The platform on which Mr. Dryfte had for years harangued his constituents had gone by the board; it was a question whether a few planks could be rescued from the general wreck on which he could make a stand whilst he explained to his old friends. that he was the man for the crisis. In other words, power was changing hands; the cards of office were to be dealt around again, and it was doubtful whether he would be re-elected. Mrs. Langdon knew this perfectly well. She therefore did not wish to commit herself to a positive answer to Mr. Dryfte's proposal until before the elections next month. It would be one thing to accept him if he were re-elected to the United States Senate for another term of six years; it would be quite another to become the wife of a retired politician, disappointed, crusty, prematurely old. But she did not give him a hint of her method of reasoning. She had pulled a soft, lacy worsted thing over her soft brown hair, and as she laid her head against the rough stone wall of the house, she looked like a flower blooming against a rock; at least she suggested some such undeveloped poetical fancy to Mr. Dryfte. He compared his own life to that rough, weather-beaten stone. If only he could persuade this woman to soften it and to make it gracious. He had known few refining influences. Now that the possibility of a different phase of life had dawned upon him, his whole nature was stirred with the desire to win this dainty, lovely creature, who would transform and transfigure his work-a-day existence,



This is how Mrs. Langdon interpreted herself to her companion. "I am not quite sure," she said. "I wish I could be sure. It is an injustice to you. But I should be doing you a still greater injustice if I were to accept you now and then change my mind afterwards.' "I can afford to wait, on the hope of your finally accepting me.' "Ah, yes; but how can I be sure? At the end of the six months I might only have discovered that I did not love you. How strange it is that with me, a weak woman, should rest the responsibility of the future of both our lives!" She sighed. She put up her white, jewelled hand to her face. He looked down upon her, his brows contracted.. She looked up suddenly. "Will you give me one month's probation?" she said. "I will make up my mind in that time. After all, the choice is so momentous; I ought not to decide in a hurry."


Very well. So be it. A month! In that time, then, my future will be decided in more ways than one."

[ocr errors]

"What do you mean? Ah, yes!-those stupid politics. Ah me! I fear your heart is a divided empire.'




Nothing has ever touched my heart until within the last few weeks. And if you refuse me, nothing will ever touch it again. Perhaps, if I had known you earlier, it would have been easier for you to like me; I might have been worthier of you. It is difficult for me now to shake off the outward husk of hardness and coldness." "Oh! but indeed, Mr. Dryfte, I do like you. And as for the worthiness, it is just the other way- She looked up with her studied, gentle eagerness. Here a quick step came up the broad .sweep that led to the house from the road. A man with clear, keen hazel eyes, bright brown hair, erect, military carriage, raised his hat to Mrs. Langdon. Mrs. Langdon leaned forward and dropped a white rose, which she had been wearing, to the new-comer, Moritz von Walden, who picked it up, bowed again in recognition of the gift, and passed under the balcony into the house. Mary Churchill was singing at the piano in the drawing-room. He had been into the village of Ritewell for the mail, which he now handed over to his cousin, Bishop Churchill's housekeeper and eldest daughter. "Ah," Mary said, tearing open an envelope with a New York post-mark, "this is from Marga Fleming. She is coming, Moritz; she will be here to-night. We will wait dinner for her-and, Moritz, you will meet her? Didn't you tell me you used to know her? So that you will be sure to recognise each other."

"Yes, I used to know her," and Moritz travelled back in fancy to a certain summer not so many years ago, when he had had a poetical admiration for a tall, fair, simple-mannered Margaret Fleming; but at the same time he had had a romantic attachment for Mrs. Langdon, and had implored her to marry him. He had bravely outgrown the latter: would it be proved that the former fancy had been equally a delusion? Perhaps the Reine Marguerite of his memory used cosmetics now, and was inaccurate in her statements, and rolled her eyes. Perhaps she had always done so, only he had not been. sufficiently well-instructed to separate the cause from the effect. Upon the whole, he was sorry she was coming. He had had enough of foolish wisdom or wise folly of late.

Like a good cousin, however, he did not require to be twice reminded of the hour of the coming train; he was walking up and down the platform when the locomotive tore shrieking into Ritewell. Ten minutes later he had reined the Bishop's ponies in front of the House Beautiful, and Mary Churchill was, with outstretched arms, usurping his place and assisting his self-possessed, serene companion out of the phaeton. Nannie and Eva Churchill drifted down the sweep also to welcome the stranger, looking like clouds of evening in their white dresses and rose-colored ribbons. The Bishop stood in the doorway, with cordial hand-shake of welcome; and twenty minutes later, at the dinner-table, Mrs. Langdon renewed her former acquaintance with Miss Fleming, who was also made known to the two other guests, Mr. Dryfte, and the young rector of the parish, Mr. Hope, whom Eva Churchill was going to marry.

Even by gas-light, Von Walden fully made up his mind that Miss


Fleming's smooth, fresh skin had never known cosmetics; he also argued to himself that those calm, "regnant" eyes of hers were not the kind that rolled. He even went so far as to classify her with the good women whom, during "the chances and changes of this mortal life," it had been his good fortune to single out of the evil world as being above the necessity of artifice and subterfuge. For the rest, she had changed. An Alruna-Maiden, a Pallas-Athênê: how was it that a Reine Marguerite had developed into these?

Perhaps it was because he desired to gratify his curiosity in this respect that he cultivated Miss Fleming's acquaintance assiduously during the next few days. He neglected, thereby, the avowed object of his visit to Bishopthorpe; he had run down there for a week's shooting, for which the neighborhood was famous, and of which he had availed himself for the last few years, since, in fact, he had made the acquaintance of these cousins of his mother, who had been an American woman. Mr. Dryfte left Bishopthorpe the day after Reine Marguerite's arrival, consequently it devolved upon Moritz to supply his place, as far as it in him lay, to Mrs. Langdon; but he did not view his duty in that light. He had a kindly feeling for Mrs. Langdon; in fact, he conceived that he owed her a debt of gratitude for having decided more wisely for them both in the past than he had been disposed to do; but he had not the slightest disposition to embark upon one of those long, beguiling voyages of sentiment to which this Lureley was in the habit of alluring her swains. He had not been a man of society of late; but whenever he had put on white kid-gloves and a white cravat and presented himself at this German or that reception, it had been his fortune to witness the progress of first one and then another of Mrs. Langdon's flirtations. Perhaps his opportunities of studying her had set him on his guard. Month by month she had smiled more and more sweetly upon him; month by month he had ignored the meaning in those soft eyes of hers. Colonel von Walden was a rising man by this time, a man whom it was the fashion to court. He had made money; he had been successful in his profession of civil-engineering; he had made, also, several ventures in public life that had been applauded. He was a very different person from the soldier of fortune of a few years back.

Reine Marguerite is sitting in the broad window-seat of the library, reading a letter from her Aunt Mary which came in the morning's mail. Colonel von Walden, comes to the door of the lofty scarlet and walnut room, sees Reine Marguerite in one of the alcoves and comes towards her. "From your sister?" he asks, as Reine Marguerite folds up her letter composedly.

"From Edith. She is Mrs. Sullivan now, living at the Norfolk Navy-yard. Aunt Mary is with her."

"And your other sister ?"

"When I came here, and Aunt Mary went to Edith for a month, Sister Agnes pleased herself in her own way. She is working for a

while with the Sisters of St. Barnabas in New York."

Moritz von Walden looked the genuine compassion which most men feel when they hear of a woman's having embraced the religious ⚫life.

"That seems to me such a lamentable waste of life and youth."

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »