Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

plated from this point of view by those who have the natural outlet of verse to relieve them is rarely followed by a casualty. It may rather be considered as implying a more than average chance for longevity; as those who meditate an imposing finish naturally save themselves for it, and are therefore careful of their health until the time comes, and this is apt to be indefinitely postponed so long as there is a poem to write or a proof to be corrected.

CHAPTER XX. The second Meeting.

“Miss EveLETH requests the pleasure of Mr. Lindsay's company to meet a few friends on the evening of the Feast of St. Ambrose, December 7th, Wednesday.

“The Parsonage, December 6th.”

It was the luckiest thing in the world. They always made a little festival of that evening at the Rev. Ambrose Eveleth's, in honor of his canonized namesake, and because they liked to have a good time. It came this year just at the right moment, for here was a distinguished stranger visiting in the place. Oxbow Village seemed to be running over with its one extra young man, – as may be seen sometimes in larger villages, and even in cities of moderate dimensions.

Mr. William Murray Bradshaw had called on Clement the very day of his arrival. He had already met the Deacon in the street, and asked some questions about his transient boarder.

A very interesting young man, the Deacon said, much given to the reading of pious books. Up late at night after he came, reading Scott's Commentary. Appeared to be as fond of serious works as other young folks were of their novels and romances and other immoral publications. He, the Deacon, thought of having a few religious friends to meet the young gentleman, if he felt so disposed; and should like to have him, Mr. Bradshaw, come in and take a part in the exercises.

—Mr. Bradshaw was unfortunately enged. He thought the young gentleman could hardly find time for such a meeting during his brief visit. Mr. Bradshaw expected naturally to see a youth of imperfect constitution, and cachectic or dyspeptic tendencies, who was in training to furnish one of those biographies beginning with the statement that, from his infancy, the subject of it showed no inclination for boyish amusements, and so on, until he dies out, for the simple reason that there was not enough of him to live. Very interesting, no doubt, Master Byles Gridley would have said, but had no more to do with good, hearty, sound life than the history of those very little people to be seen in museums, preserved in jars of alcohol, like brandy peaches. When Mr. Clement Lindsay presented himself, Mr. Bradshaw was a good deal surprised to see a young fellow of such a mould. He pleased himself with the idea that he knew a man of mark at sight, and he set down Clement in that category at his first glance. The young man met his penetrating and questioning look with a frank, ingenuous, open aspect, before which he felt himself disarmed, as it were, and thrown upon other means of analysis. He would try him a little in talk. “I hope you like these people you are with. What sort of a man do you find my old friend the Deacon 2" Clement laughed. “A very queer old character. Loves his joke as well, and is as sly in making it, as if he had studied Joe Miller instead of the Catechism.” Mr. Bradshaw looked at the young man to know what he meant. Mr. Lindsay talked in a very easy way for a serious young person. He was puzzled. He did not see to the bottom of this description of the Deacon. With a lawyer's instinct, he kept his doubts to himself and tried his witness with a new question. “Did you talk about books at all with the old man?”

“To be sure I did. Would you believe it, that aged saint is a great novel-reader. So he tells me. What is more, he brings up his children to that sort of reading, from the time when they first begin to spell. If anybody else had told me such a story about an old country deacon, I would n’t have believed it; but he said so himself, to me, at breakfast this morning.” Mr. Bradshaw felt as if either he or Mr. Lindsay must certainly be in the first stage of mild insanity, and he did not think that he himself could be out of his wits. He must try one more question. He had become so mystified that he forgot himself, and began putting his interrogation in legal form. “Will you state, if you please — I beg your pardon—may I ask who is your own favorite author P’’ “I think just now I like to read Scott better than almost anybody.” “Do you mean the Rev. Thomas Scott, author of the Commentary?” Clement stared at Mr. Bradshaw, and wondered whether he was trying to make a fool of him. The young lawyer hardly looked as if he could be a fool himself. “I mean Sir Walter Scott,” he said, dryly. “Oh 1” said Mr. Bradshaw. He saw that there had been a slight misunderstanding between the young man and his worthy host, but it was none of his business, and there were other subjects of interest to talk about. “You know one of our charming young ladies very well, I believe, Mr. Lindsay. I think you are an old acquaintance of Miss Posey, whom we all consider so pretty.” Poor Clement The question pierced to the very marrow of his soul, but it was put with the utmost suavity and courtesy, and honeyed with a compliment to the young lady, too, so that there was no avoiding a direct and pleasant answer to it. “Yes,” he said, “I have known the young lady you speak of for a long time, and very well,—in fact, as you must have heard, we are something

more than friends. My visit here is principally on her account.” “You must give the rest of us a chance to see something of you during your visit, Mr. Lindsay. I hope you are invited to Miss Eveleth's this evening?” “Yes, I got a note this morning. Tell me, Mr. Bradshaw, who is there that I shall meet this evening if I go 2 I have no doubt there are girls here I should like to see, and perhaps some young fellows that I should like to talk with. You know all that's prettiest and pleasantest, of course.” “O, we’re a little place, Mr. Lindsay. A few nice people, the rest comme sa, you know. High-bush blackberries and low-bush blackberries, –you understand, --just so everywhere, — highbush here and there, low-bush plenty. You must see the two parsons' daughters, – Saint Ambrose's and Saint Joseph's, -and another girl I want particularly to introduce you to. You shall form your own opinion of her. I call her handsome and stylish, but you have got spoiled, you know. Our young poet, too, one we raised in this place, Mr. Lindsay, and a superior article of poet, as we think,--that is, some of us, for the rest of us are jealous of him, because the girls are all dying for him and want his autograph. —And Cyp, —yes, you must talk to Cyp, — he has ideas. But don't forget to get hold of old Byles— Master Gridley I mean—before you go. Big head. Brains enough for a cabinet minister, and fit out a college faculty with what was left over. Be sure you see old Byles. Set him talking about his book, -'Thoughts on the Universe.” Didn't sell much, but has got knowing things in it. I’ll show you a copy, and then you can tell him you know it, and he will take to you. Come in and get your dinner with me tomorrow. We will dine late, as the city folks do, and after that we will go over to the Rector's. I should like to show you some of our village people.” Mr. Bradshaw liked the thought of showing the young man to some of his friends there. As Clement was already “done for,” or “bowled out,” as the young lawyer would have expressed the fact of his being pledged in the matrimonial direction, there was nothing to be apprehended on the score of rivalry. And although Clement was particularly good-looking, and would have been called a distinguishable youth anywhere, Mr. Bradshaw considered himself far more than his match, in all probability, in social accomplishments. He expected, therefore, a certain amount of reflex credit for bringing such a fine young fellow in his company, and a second instalment of reputation from outshining him in conversation. This was rather nice calculating, but Murray Bradshaw always calculated. With most men life is like backgammon, half skill and half luck, but with him it was like chess. He never pushed a pawn without reckoning the cost, and when his mind was least busy it was sure to be half a dozen moves ahead of the game as it was standing. Mr. Bradshaw gave Clement a pretty dinner enough for such a place as Oxbow Village. He offered him some good wine, and would have made him talk so as to show his lining, to use one of his own expressions, but Clement had apparently been through that trifling experience, and could not be coaxed into saying more than he meant to say. Murray Bradshaw was very curious to find out how it was that he had become the victim of such a rudimentary miss as Susan Posey. Could she be an heiress in disguise ? Why no, of course not; had not he made all proper inquiries about that when Susan came to town 2 A small inheritance from an aunt or uncle, or some such relative, enough to make her a desirable party in the eyes of certain villagers perhaps, but nothing to allure a man like this, whose face and figure as marketable possessions were worth say a hundred thousand in the girl's own right, as Mr. Bradshaw put it roughly, with another hundred thousand if his talent is what some say, and if his connection is a desirable one, a fancy price, —anything he would fetch. Of course

not. Must have got caught when he was a child. Why the diavolo did n’t he break it off, then P There was no fault to find with the modest entertainment at the Parsonage. A splendid banquet in a great house is an admirable thing, provided always its getting up did not cost the entertainer an inward conflict, nor its recollection a twinge of economical regret, nor its bills a cramp of anxiety. A simple evening party in the smallest village is just as admirable in its degree, when the parlor is cheerfully lighted, and the board prettily spread, and the guests are made to feel comfortable without being reminded that anybody is making a painful effort. We know several of the young people who were there, and need not trouble ourselves for the others. Myrtle Hazard had promised to come. She had her own way of late as never before; in fact, the women were afraid of her. Miss Silence felt that she could not be responsible for her any longer. She had hopes for a time that Myrtle would go through the customary spiritual paroxysm under the influence of the Rev. Mr. Stoker's assiduous exhortations; but since she had broken off with him, Miss Silence had looked upon her as little better than a backslider. And now that the girl was beginning to show the tendencies which seemed to come straight down to her from the belle of the last century, (whose rich physical developments seemed to the under-vitalized spinster as in themselves a kind of offence against propriety,) the forlorn woman folded her thin hands and looked on hopelessly, hardly venturing a remonstrance for fear of some new explosion. As for Cynthia, she was comparatively easy since she had, through Mr. Byles Gridley, upset the minister's questionable apparatus of religious intimacy. She had, in fact, in a quiet way, given Mr. Bradshaw to understand that he would probably meet Myrtle at the Parsonage if he dropped in at their small gathering. Clement walked over to Mrs. Hopkins's after his dinner with the young lawyer, and asked if Susan was ready to go with him. At the sound of his voice, Gifted Hopkins smote his forehead, and called himself, in subdued tones, a miserable being. His imagination wavered uncertain for a while between pictures of various modes of ridding himself of existence, and fearful deeds involving the life of others. He had no fell purpose of actually doing either, but there was a gloomy pleasure in contemplating them as possibilities, and in mentally sketching the “Lines written in Despair” which would be found in what was but an hour before the pocket of the youthful bard, G. H., victim of a hopeless passion. All this emotion was in the nature of a surprise to the young man. He had fully believed himself desperately in love with Myrtle Hazard; and it was not until Clement came into the family circle with the right of eminent domain over the realm of Susan's affections, that this unfortunate discovered that Susan's pretty ways and morning dress and love of poetry and liking for his company had been too much for him, and that he was henceforth to be wretched during the remainder of his natural life, except so far as he could unburden himself in song. Mr. William Murray Bradshaw had asked the privilege of waiting upon Myrtle to the little party at the Eveleths. Myrtle was not insensible to the attractions of the young lawyer, though she had never thought of herself except as a child in her relations with any of these older persons. But she was not the same girl that she had been but a few months before. She had achieved her independence by her audacious and most dangerous enterprise. She had gone through strange nervous trials and spiritual experiences, which had matured her more rapidly than years of common life would have done. She had got back her health, bringing with it a riper wealth of womanhood. She had found her destiny in the consciousness that she inherited the beauty belonging to her blood, and which, after sleeping for a generation or two as if to

rest from the glare of the pageant that follows beauty through its long career of triumph, had come to the light again in her life, and was to repeat the legends of the olden time in her own history. Myrtle's wardrobe had very little of ornament, such as the modistes of the town would have thought essential to render a young girl like her presentable. There were a few heirlooms of old date, however, which she had kept as curiosities until now, and which she looked over until she found some lace and other convertible material, with which she enlivened her costume a little for the evening. As she clasped the antique bracelet around her wrist, she felt as if it were an amulet that gave her the power of charming which had been so long obsolete in her lineage. At the bottom of her heart she cherished a secret longing to try her fascinations on the young lawyer. Who could blame her ? It was not an inwardly expressed intention, — it was the mere blind instinctive movement to subjugate the strongest of the other sex who had come in her way, which, as already said, is as natural to a woman as it is to a man to be captivated by the loveliest of those to whom he dares to aspire. Before William Murray Bradshaw and Myrtle Hazard had reached the Parsonage, the girl's cheeks were flushed and her dark eyes were flashing with a new excitement. The young man had not made love to her directly, but he had interested her in herself by a delicate and tender flattery of manner, and so set her fancies working that she was taken with him as never before, and wishing that the Parsonage had been a mile farther from The Poplars. It was impossible for a young girl like Myrtle to conceal the pleasure she received from listening to her seductive admirer, who was trying all his trained skill upon his artless companion. Murray Bradshaw felt sure that the game was in his hands if he played it with only common prudence. There was no need of hurrying this child,—it might startle her to make downright love abruptly; and now that he had an ally in her own household, and was to have access to her with a freedom he had never before enjoyed, there was a refined pleasure in playing his fish, – this gamest of golden-scaled creatures, – which had risen to his fly, and which he wished to hook, but not to land, until he was sure it would be worth his while. They entered the little parlor at the Parsonage looking so beaming, that Olive and Bathsheba exchanged glances which implied so much that it would take a full page to tell it with all the potentialities involved. “How magnificent Myrtle is this evening, Bathsheba!” said Cyprian Eveleth, pensively. “What a handsome pair they are, Cyprian : " said Bathsheba cheerfully. Cyprian sighed. “She always fascinates me whenever I look upon her. Is n’t she the very picture of what a poet's love should be, –a poem herself, - a glorious lyric, - all light and music! See what a smile the creature has And her voice When did you ever hear such tones? And when was it ever so full of life before ?” Bathsheba sighed. “I do not know any poets but Gifted Hopkins. Does not Myrtle look more in her place by the side of Murray Bradshaw than she would with Gifted hitched on her arm * * Just then the poet made his appearance. He looked depressed, as if it had cost him an effort to come. He was, however, charged with a message which he must deliver to the hostess of the evening. “They 're coming presently,” he said. “That young man and Susan. Wants you to introduce him, Mr. Bradshaw.” The bell rang presently, and Murray Bradshaw slipped out into the entry to meet the two lovers. “How are you, my fortunate friend?” he said, as he met them at the door. “Of course you’re well and happy as mortal man can be in this vale of tears. Charming, ravishing, quite delicious, that way of dressing your hair, Miss

Posey! Nice girls here this evening, Mr. Lindsay. Looked lovely when I came out of the parlor. Can't say how they will show after this young lady puts in an appearance.” In reply to which florid speeches Susan blushed, not knowing what else to do, and Clement smiled as naturally as if he had been sitting for his photograph. He felt, in a vague way, that he and Susan were being patronized, which is not a pleasant feeling to persons with a certain pride of character There was no expression of contempt about Mr. Bradshaw's manner or language at which he could take offence. Only he had the air of a man who praises his neighbor without stint, with a calm consciousness that he himself is out of reach of comparison in the possessions or qualities which he is admiring in the other. Clement was right in his obscure perception of Mr. Bradshaw's feeling while he was making his phrases. That gentleman was, in another moment, to have the tingling delight of showing the grand creature he had just begun to tame. He was going to extinguish the pallid light of Susan's prettiness in the brightness of Myrtle's beauty. He would bring this young man, neutralized and rendered entirely harmless by his irrevocable pledge to a slight girl, face to face with a masterpiece of young womanhood, and say to him, not in words, but as plainly as speech could have told him, “Behold my captive 1° It was a proud moment for Murray Bradshaw. He had seen, or thought that he had seen, the assured evidence of a 'speedy triumph over all the obstacles of Myrtle's youth and his own present seeming slight excess of maturity. Unless he were very greatly mistaken, he could now walk the course; the plate was his, no matter what might be the entries. And this youth, this handsome, spirited-looking, noble-aired young fellow, whose artist-eye could not miss a line of Myrtle’s proud and almost defiant beauty, was to be the witness of his power, and to look in admiration upon his prize l He intro

« ElőzőTovább »