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A Bicycle of Cathay by Frank R. Stockton

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The coat of the murdered man had fallen open, and a paper showed
itself in an inside pocket. The Italian waited only long enough to
snatch this paper. He wanted to have something which had belonged to
that poor, wrongly murdered man. After that he heard no more about the
great mistake he had committed. He could not read the newspapers, and
he asked nobody any questions. He put the paper away and kept it. He
often thought he ought to burn the paper, but he did not do it. He was
afraid. The paper had a name on it, and he was sure it was the name
of the man he had killed. He thought as long as he kept the paper
there was a chance for his forgiveness.

This was all four years ago. He worked hard, and after a while he
bought a bear. When his bear ate up the India-rubber on my bicycle he
was very much frightened, for he was afraid he might be sent to
prison. But that was not the fright that made him run away.

When he talked to the boy and asked him the name of the keeper of the
inn, and the boy told him what it was, the earth seemed to open and he
saw hell. The name was the name that was on the paper he had taken
from the man he had killed by mistake, and this was his wife whose
house he was staying at. He was seized with such a horror and such a
fear that everything might be found out, and that he would be
arrested, that he ran away to the railroad and took a train for New
York.

He did not want his bear. He did not want to be known as the man who
had been going about with a bear. One thing he wanted, and that was to
get back to Italy, where he would be safe. He was going back very soon
in a ship. He had changed his name. He could not be found any more.
But he knew his soul would never have any peace if he did not send
the paper to the wife of the man he had made a mistake about. But he
could not write a letter to her, so he sent it to me, for me to give
her the paper and to tell her what he had written in the letter. He
left America forever. Nobody in this country would ever see him again.
He was gone. He was lost to all people in this country, but his soul
felt better now that he had done that which would make the lady whose
husband he had killed know how it had happened. The bear he would give
to her. That was all that he could do for her.

There was no formal close to the letter; the writer had said what he
had to say and stopped.

Miss Edith and I looked at each other. Her eyes had grown large and
bright. "Now, shall we examine the paper?"

"I do not know that we have a right to do so," I said. I know my voice
was trembling, for I was very much agitated. "That belongs to--to
her!"

"I think," said Miss Edith, "that we ought to look at it. It is merely
a folded paper. I do not think we ought to thrust information upon
Mrs. Chester without knowing what it is. Perhaps the man made a
mistake in the name. We may do a great deal of mischief if we do not
know exactly what we are about." And so saying she took the paper and
opened it.

It was nothing but a grocery bill, but it was made out to--Godfrey
Chester, Dr. Evidently it was for goods supplied to the inn. It was
receipted.

For a few moments I said nothing, and then I exclaimed, in tones which
made my companion gaze very earnestly at me: "I must go to her
immediately! I must take these papers! She must know everything!"

"Excuse me," said Miss Edith, "but don't you think that something
ought to be done about apprehending this man--this Italian? Let us go
and question his messenger." We went out together, she carrying,
tightly clasped, both the letter and the bill.

The black man could tell us very little. An Italian he had never seen
before had given him the letter to take to Holly Sprig Inn, and give
to the gentleman who had had his tire eaten by a bear. If the
gentleman was not there, he was to ask to have it sent to him. That
was everything he knew.

"Did the Italian give you money to go back with?" asked Miss Edith,
and the man rather reluctantly admitted that he did.

"Well, you can keep that for yourself," said she, "and we'll pay your
passage back. But we would like you to wait here for a while. There
may be some sort of an answer."

The man laughed. "'Taint no use sendin' no answer," said he; "I
couldn't find that Dago again. They're all so much alike. He said he
was goin' away on a ship. You see it was yesterday he gave me that
letter. I 'spect he'll be a long way out to sea before I get back,
even if I did know who he was and what ship he was goin' on. But if
you want me to wait, I don't mind waitin'."

"Very good," said Miss Edith; "you can go into the kitchen and have
something to eat." And, calling a maid, she gave orders for the man's
entertainment.

"Now," said she, turning to me, "let us take a walk through the
orchard. I want to talk to you."

"No," said I, "I can't talk at present. I must go immediately to the
inn with those papers. It is right that not a moment should be lost in
delivering this most momentous message which has been intrusted to
me."

"But I must speak to you first," said she, and she walked rapidly
towards the orchard. As she still held the papers in her hand, I was
obliged to follow her.

CHAPTER XIV

MISS EDITH IS DISAPPOINTED

As soon as we had begun to walk under the apple-trees she turned to me
and said: "I don't think you ought to take this letter and the bill to
Mrs. Chester. It would not be right. There would be something cruel
about it."

"What do you mean?" I exclaimed.

"Of course I do not know exactly the state of the case," she answered,
"but I will tell you what I think about it as far as I know. You must
not be offended at what I say. If I am a friend to anybody--and I
would be ashamed if I were not a friend to you--I must tell him just
what I think about things, and this is what I think about this thing:
I ought to take these papers to Mrs. Chester. I know her well enough,
and it is a woman who ought to go to her at such a time."

"That message was intrusted to me," I said. "Of course it was," she
answered, "but the bear man did not know what he was doing. He did not
understand the circumstances."

[Illustration: "'I DON'T THINK YOU OUGHT TO TAKE THIS LETTER'"]

"What circumstances?" I asked.

She gave me a look as if she were going to take aim at me and wanted
to be sure of my position. Then she said: "Percy told us he thought
you were courting Mrs. Chester. That was pure impertinence on his
part, and perhaps what father said at the table was impertinence too,
but I know he said it because he thought there might be something in
Percy's chatter, and that you ought to understand how things stood.
Now, you may think it impertinence on my part if you choose, but it
really does seem to me that you are very much interested in Mrs.
Chester. Didn't you intend to walk down to the Holly Sprig when you
were starting out by yourself this morning?"

"Yes," said I, "I did."

"I thought so," she replied. "That, of course, was your own business,
and what father said about her being unwilling to marry again need not
have made any difference to you if you had chosen not to mind it. But
now, don't you think, if you look at the matter fairly and squarely,
it would be pretty hard on Mrs. Chester if you were to go down to her
and make her understand that she really is a widow, and that now she
is free to listen to you if you want to say anything to her? This may
sound a little hard and cruel, but don't you think it is the way she
would have to look at it?"

She stopped as she spoke, and I turned and stood silent, looking at
her.

"My first thought was," she said, "to advise you to tell father about
all this, and take his advice about telling her, but I don't think you
would like that. Now, would you like that?"

"No," I answered, "I certainly would not."

"And don't you really think I ought to go to her with the message, and
then come back and tell you how she took it and what she said?"

For nearly a minute I did not speak, but I knew she was right, and at
last I admitted it.

"I am glad to hear you say so!" she exclaimed. "As soon as dinner is
over I shall drive to the Holly Sprig."

We still walked on, and she proposed that we should go to the top of a
hill beyond the orchard, where there was a pretty view.

"You may think me a strange sort of a girl," she said, presently, "but
I can't help it. I suppose I am strange. I have often thought I would
like very much to talk freely and honestly with a man about the
reasons which people have for falling in love with each other. Of
course I could not ask my father or brother, because they would simply
laugh at me and tell me that falling in love was very much like the
springing up of weeds--generally without reason and often
objectionable. But you would be more likely to tell me something which
would be of advantage to me in my studies."

"Your studies!" I exclaimed. "What in the world are you studying?"

"Well, I am studying human nature--not as a whole, of course, that's
too large a subject, but certain phases of it--and I particularly want
to know why such queer people come together and get married. Now I
have great advantages in such a study, much greater than most girls
have."

"What are they?" I asked.

"The principal one is that I never intend to marry. I made up my mind
to that a good while ago. There is a great deal of work that I want to
do in this world, and I could not do it properly if I were tied to a
man. I would either have to submit myself to his ways, or he would
have to submit himself to my ways, and that would not suit me. In the
one case I should not respect him, and in the other I should not
respect myself."

"But suppose," said I, "you should meet a man who should be in perfect
harmony with you in all important points?"

"Ah," she said, "that sort of thing never happens. You might as well
expect to pick up two pebbles exactly alike. I don't believe in it.
But if at any time during the rest of my life you show me any examples
of such harmony, I will change my opinions. I believe that if I can
wait long enough, society will catch up with me. Everything looks that
way to me."

"It may be that you are right," I answered. "Society is getting on
famously. But what is it you want to ask me?"

"Simply this," she replied. "What is it which interests you so much in
Mrs. Chester?"

I looked at her in astonishment. "Truly," I exclaimed, "that is a
remarkable question."

"I know it," she replied, "and I suppose you are saying to yourself,
'Here is a girl who has known me less than three days, and yet she
asks me to tell her about my feeling towards another woman.' But,
really, it seems to me that as you have not known that other woman
three days, as much friendship and confidence might spring up in the
one case as affection in the other."

"Affection!" said I. "Have I said anything about affection?"

"No, you have not," she replied; "and if there isn't any affection, of
course that ends this special study on my part."

We reached the top of the hill, but I forgot to look out upon the
view. "I think you are a strange girl," I said, "but I like you, and I
have a mind to try to answer your question. I have not been able quite
to satisfy myself about my feelings towards Mrs. Chester, but now I
think I can say that I have an affection for her."

"Good!" she exclaimed. "I like that! That is an honest answer if ever
there was one. But tell me why it is that you have an affection for
her. It must have been almost a case of love at first sight."

"It isn't easy to give reasons for such feelings," I said. "They
spring up, as your father would say, very much like weeds."

"Indeed they do," she interpolated; "sometimes they grow in the middle
of a gravel path where they cannot expect to be allowed to stay."

I reflected a moment. "I don't mind talking about these things to
you," I said. "It seems almost like talking to myself."

"That is a compliment I appreciate," she said. "And now go on. Why do
you care for her?"

"Well," said I, "in the first place, she is very handsome. Don't you
think so?"

"Oh yes! In fact, I think she is almost what might be called exactly
beautiful."

"Then she has such charming manners," I continued. "And she is so
sensible--although you may not think I had much chance to find out
that. Moreover, there is a certain sympathetic cordiality about her--"

"Which, of course," interrupted my companion, "you suppose she would
not show to any man but you."

"Yes," said I. "I am speaking honestly now, and that's the way it
strikes me. Of course I may be a fool, but I did think that a sympathy
had arisen between us which would not arise between her and anybody
else."

Miss Edith laughed heartily. "I am getting to know a great deal about
one side of the subject," she said. "And now tell me--is that all? I
don't believe it is."

"No," I answered, "it is not. There is something more which makes her
attractive to me. I cannot exactly explain it except by saying that it
is her surrounding atmosphere--it is everything that pertains to her.
It is the life she lives, it is her home, it is the beauty and peace,
the sense of charm which infuses her and everything that belongs to
her."

"Beautiful!" said Miss Edith. "I expected an answer like that, but not
so well put. Now let me translate it into plain, simple language. What
you want is to give up your present life, which must be awfully
stupid, and go and help Mrs. Chester keep the Holly Sprig. That would
suit you exactly. A charming wife, charming surroundings, charming
sense of living, a life of absolute independence! But don't think,"
she added, quickly, "that I am imputing any sordid motives to you. I
meant nothing of the kind. You would do just as much to make the inn
popular as she would. I expect you would make her rich."

"Miss Edith Larramie," said I, "you are a heartless deceiver! It makes
my blood run cold to hear you speak in that way."

"Never mind that," she said, "but tell me, didn't you think it would
be just lovely to live with her in that delightful little inn?"

I could not help smiling at her earnestness, but I answered that I did
think so.

She nodded her head reflectively. "Yes," she said, "I was right. I
think you ought to admit that I am a good judge of human nature--at
least, in some people and under certain circumstances."

"You are," said I. "I admit that. Now answer me a question. What do
you think of it?"

"I don't like it," she said. "And don't you see," she added, with
animation, "what an advantage I possess in having determined never to
marry? Very few other girls would be willing to speak to you so
plainly. They would be afraid you would think that they wanted you,
but, as I don't want anybody, you and I can talk over things of this
kind like free and equal human beings. So I will say again that I
don't like your affection for Mrs. Chester. It disappoints me."

"Disappoints you!" I exclaimed.

"Yes," she said, "that is the word. You must remember that my
acquaintance with you began with a sort of a bump. A great deal
happened in an instant. I formed high ideas of you, and among them
were ideas of the future. You can't help that when you are thinking of
people who interest you. Your mind will run ahead. When I found out
about Mrs. Chester I was disappointed. It might be all very
delightful, but you ought to do better than that!"

[Illustration: "'DO YOU THINK YOU COULD HIT IT WITH AN APPLE?'"]

"How old are you?" I asked.

"Twenty-two last May," she replied.

"Isn't that the dinner-bell I hear in the distance?" I said.

"Yes," she answered, "and we will go down."

On the way she stopped, and we stood facing each other. "I am greatly
obliged to you," she said, "for giving me your confidence in this way,
and I want you to believe that I shall be thoroughly loyal to you, and
that I never will breathe anything you have said. But I also want you
to know that I do not change any of my opinions. Now we understand
each other, don't we?"

"Yes," I answered, "but I think I understand you better than you
understand me."

"Not a bit of it," she replied; "that's nonsense. Do you see that
flower-pot on the top of the stump by the little hill over there?
Percy has been firing at it with his air-gun. Do you think you could
hit it with an apple? Let's each take three apples and try."

It was late in the afternoon when Miss Edith returned from the Holly
Sprig, where she and Genevieve had driven in a pony-cart. I was with
the rest of the family on the golf links a short distance from the
house, and it was some time before she got a chance to speak to me,
but she managed at last.

"How did she take the news?" I eagerly asked.

The girl hesitated. "I don't think I ought to tell you all she said
and did. It was really a private interview between us two, and I know
she would not want me to say much about it. And I don't think you
would want to hear everything."

I hastened to assure her that I would not ask for the particulars of
the conversation. I only wished to know the general effect of the
message upon her. That was legitimate enough, as, in fact, she
received the message through me.

"Well, she was very much affected, and it would have teen dreadful if
you had gone. Oh the whole, however, I cannot help thinking that the
Italian's letter was a great relief to her, particularly because she
found that her husband had been killed by mistake. She said that one
of the greatest loads upon her soul had been the feeling that he had
had an enemy who hated him enough to kill him. But now the case is
very different, and it is a great comfort to her to know it."

"And about the murderer?" I said. "Did you ask her if she wanted steps
taken to apprehend him?"

"Yes," she said, "I did speak of it, and she is very anxious that
nothing shall be done in that direction. Even if the Italian should be
caught, she would not have the affair again publicly discussed and
dissected. She believes the man's story, and she never wants to hear
of him again. Indeed, I think that if it should be proved that the
Italian killed Mr. Chester on purpose, it would be the greatest blow
that could be inflicted upon her."

"Then," said I, "I might as well let the negro man go his way. I have
not paid him his passage-money to the city. I knew he would wait until
he got it, and it might be desirable to take him into custody."

"Oh no," she said. "Mrs. Chester spoke about that. She doesn't want
the man troubled in any way. He knew nothing of the message he
carried. Now I am going to tell father about it--she asked me to do
it."

That evening was a merry one. We had charades, and a good many other
things were going on. Miss Willoughby was an admirable actress, and
Miss Edith was not bad, although she could never get rid of her
personality. I was in a singular state of mind. I felt as if I had
been relieved from a weight. My spirits were actually buoyant.

"You should not be so unreasonably gay," said Miss Edith to me. "That
may be your way when you get better acquainted with people, but I am
afraid some of the family will think that you are in such good spirits
because Mrs. Chester now knows that she is a widow."

"Oh, there is no danger of their thinking anything of that sort," I
said. "Don't you suppose they will attribute my good spirits to the
fact that the man who took my bicycle to Waterton brought back my big
valise, so that I am enabled to look like a gentleman in the parlor?
And then, as he also brought word that my bicycle will be all ready
for me to-morrow, don't you think it is to be expected of me that I
should try to make myself as agreeable as possible on this my last
evening with all you good friends?"

She shook her head. "Those excuses will not pass. You are abnormally
cheerful. My study of you is extremely interesting, but not altogether
satisfactory."

CHAPTER XV

MISS WILLOUGHBY

It was decreed the next day that I should not leave until after
dinner. They would send me over to Blackburn Station by a cross-road,
and I could then reach Waterton in less than an hour. "There is
another good thing about this arrangement," said Miss Edith, for it
was she who announced it to me, "and that is that you can take charge
of Amy."

I gazed at her mystified, and she said, "Don't you know that Miss
Willoughby is going in the same train with you?"

"What!" I exclaimed, far too forcibly.

"Yes. Her visit ends to-day. She lives in Waterton. But why should
that affect you so wonderfully? I am sure you cannot object to an hour
in the train with Amy Willoughby. She may talk a good deal, but you
must admit that she talks well."

"Object!" I said. "Of course I don't object. She talks very well
indeed, and I shall be glad to have the pleasure of her company."

"No one would have thought so," she said, looking at me with a
criticising eye, "who had seen you when you heard she was going."

"It was the suddenness," I said.

"Oh yes," she replied, "and your delicate nerves."

In my soul I cried out to myself: "Am I ever to break free from young
women! Is there to be a railroad accident between here and Waterton!
If so, I shall save the nearest old gentleman!"

I believe the Larramies were truly sorry to have me go. Each one of
them in turn told me so. Mrs. Larramie again said to me, with tears in
her eyes, that it made her shudder to think what that home might be if
it had not been for me.

Mr. Larramie and Walter promised to get up some fine excursions if I
would stay a little longer, and Genevieve made me sit down beside her
under a tree.

"I am awfully sorry you are going," she said. "I always wanted a
gentleman friend, and I believe if you'd stay a little longer you'd be
one. You see, Walter is really too old for me to confide in, and Percy
thinks he's too old--and that's a great deal worse. But you're just
the age I like. There are so many things I would say to you if you
lived here."

Little Clara, cried when she heard I was going, and I felt myself
obliged to commit the shameful deception of talking about baby bears
and my possible return to this place.

Miss Edith accompanied us to the station, and when I took leave of her
on the platform she gave me a good, hearty handshake. "I believe that
we shall see each other again," she said, "and when we meet I want you
to make a report, and I hope it will be a good one!"

"About what?" I asked.

She smiled in gentle derision, and the conductor cried, "All aboard!"

I found a vacant seat, and, side by side, Miss Willoughby and I sped
on towards Waterton.

For some time I had noticed that Miss Willoughby had ceased to look
past me when she spoke to me, and now she fixed her eyes fully upon me
and said:

"I am always sorry when I go away from that house, for I think the
people who live there are the dearest in the world, excepting my own
mother and aunt, who are nearer to me than anybody else, although, if
I needed a mother, Mrs. Larramie would take me to her heart, I am
sure, just as if I were her own daughter, and I am not related to them
in any way, although I have always looked upon Edith as a sister, and
I don't believe that if I had a real sister she could possibly have
been as dear a girl as Edith, who is so lovable and tender and
forgiving--whenever there is anything to forgive--and who, although
she is a girl of such strong character and such a very peculiar way of
thinking about things, has never said a hard word to me in all her
life, even when she found that our opinions were different, which was
something she often did find, for she looks upon everything in this
world in her own way, and bases all her judgments upon her own
observations and convictions, while I am very willing to let those
whom I think I ought to look up to and respect judge for me--at least
in a great many things, but of course not in all matters, for there
are some things which we must decide for ourselves without reference
to other people's opinions, though I should be sorry indeed if I had
so many things to decide as Edith has, or rather chooses to have, for
if she would depend more upon other people I think it would not only
be easier for her, but really make her happier, for if you could hear
some of the wonderful things which she has discussed with me after
we have gone to bed at night it would really make your head ache--that
is, if you are subject to that sort of thing, which I am if I am kept
awake too long, but I am proud to say that I don't think I ever
allowed Edith to suppose that I was tired of hearing her talk, for
when any one is as lovely as she is I think she ought to be allowed to
talk about what she pleases and just along as she pleases."

[Illustration: "TALKING ABOUT BABY BEARS"]

Surprising as it may appear, nothing happened on that railroad
journey. No cow of Cathay blundered in front of the locomotive; no
freight train came around a curve going in the opposite direction upon
the same track; everything went smoothly and according to schedule.
Miss Willoughby did not talk all the time. She was not the greatest
talker I ever knew; she was not even the fastest; she was always
willing to wait until her turn came, but she had wonderful endurance
for a steady stretch. She never made a bad start, she never broke, she
went steadily over the track until the heat had been run.

When the time came for me to speak she listened with great interest,
and sometimes at my words her eyes sparkled almost as much as they
did when she was speaking herself. She knew a great many things, and
I was pleased to find out that she was especially interested in the
good qualities of the people she knew. I never heard so many gracious
sentiments in so short a time.

Miss Willoughby's residence was but a short distance from the station
at Waterton; and as she thought it entirely unnecessary to take a cab,
I attended to her baggage, and offered to walk with her to her home
and carry her little bag. I was about to leave her at the door, but
this she positively forbade. I must step in for a minute or two to see
her mother and her aunt They had heard of me, and would never forgive
her if she let me go without their seeing me. As the door opened
immediately, we went in.

Miss Willoughby's mother and aunt were two most charming elderly
ladies, immaculately dainty in their dress, cordial of manner, bright
of eye, and diminutive of hand, producing the impression of gentle
goodness set off by soft white muslin, folded tenderly.

They had heard of me. In the few days in which I had been with the
Larramies, Miss Willoughby had written of me. They insisted that I
should stay to supper, for what good reason could there be for my
taking that meal at the hotel--not a very good one--when they would be
so glad to have me sup with them and talk about our mutual friends?

I had no reasonable objection to offer, and, returning to the station,
I took my baggage to the hotel, where I prepared to sup with the
Willoughby family.

They were now a little family of three, although there was a brother
who had started away the day before on a bicycling tour very like my
own, and they were both so delighted to have Amy visit the Larramies,
and they were both so delighted to have her come back.

The supper was a delicate one, suitable for canary birds, but at an
early stage of the meal a savory little sirloin steak was brought on
which had been cooked especially for me. Of course I could not be
expected to be satisfied with thin dainties, no matter how tasteful
they might be.

This house was the abode of intelligence, cultivated taste, and
opulence. It was probably the finest mansion of the town. In every
room there were things to see, and after supper we looked at them,
and, as I wandered from pictures to vases and carved ivory, the
remarks of the two elder ladies and Miss Willoughby seemed like a
harmonized chorus accompanying the rest of the performance. Each spoke
at the right time, each in her turn said the thing she ought to say.
It was a rare exhibition of hospitable enthusiasm, tempered by
sympathetic consideration for me and for each other.

I soon discovered that many of the water-color drawings on the walls
were the work of Miss Willoughby, and when she saw I was interested in
them she produced a portfolio of her sketches. I liked her coloring
very much. It was sometimes better than her drawing. It was dainty,
delicate, and suggestive. One picture attracted me the moment my eyes
fell upon it; it was one of the most carefully executed, and it
represented the Holly Sprig Inn.

"You recognize that!" said Miss Willoughby, evidently pleased. "You
see that light-colored spot in the portico? That's Mrs. Chester; she
stood there when I was making the drawing. It is nothing but two or
three little dabs, but that is the way she looked at a distance.
Around on this side is the corner of the yard where the bear tried to
eat up the tire of your bicycle."

I gazed and gazed at the little light-colored spot in the portico. I
gave it form, light, feeling. I could see perfect features, blue
eyes which looked out at me, a form of simple grace.

[Illustration: "'I HELD THAT PICTURE A GOOD WHILE'"]

I held that picture a good while, saying little, and scarcely
listening to Miss Willoughby's words. At last I felt obliged to
replace it in the portfolio. If the artist had been a poor girl, I
would have offered to buy it; if I had known her better, I would have
asked her to give it to me; but I could do nothing but put it back.

Glancing at the clock I saw that it was time for me to go, but when I
announced this fact the ladies very much demurred. Why should I go to
that uncomfortable hotel? They would send for my baggage. There was
not the least reason in the world why I should spend the night in that
second-rate establishment.

"See," said Mrs. Willoughby, opening the door of a room in the rear of
the parlor, "if you will stay with us to-night we will lodge you in
the chamber of the favored guest. All the pictures on the walls were
done by my daughter."

I looked into the room. It was the most charming and luxurious bedroom
I had ever seen. It was lighted, and the harmony of its furnishings
was a treat to the eye.

But I stood firm in my purpose to depart. I would not spend the night
in that house. There would be a fire, burglars, I knew not what!
Against all kind entreaties I urged the absolute necessity of my
starting away by the very break of day, and I could not disturb a
private family by any such proceeding. They saw that I was determined
to go, and they allowed me to depart.

CHAPTER XVI

AN ICICLE

My room at the hotel was as dreary as a stubble-field upon a November
evening. The whole house was new, varnished, and hard. My bedroom was
small. A piece of new ingrain carpet covered part of the hard
varnished floor. Four hard walls and a ceiling, deadly white,
surrounded me. The hard varnished bedstead (the mattress felt as if it
were varnished) nearly filled the little room. Two stiff chairs, and a
yellow window-shade which looked as if it were made of varnished wood,
glittered in the feeble light of a glass lamp, while the ghastly
grayish pallor of the ewer and basin on the wash-stand was thrown into
bold relief by the intenser whiteness of the wall behind it.

I put out my light as soon as possible and resolutely closed my eyes,
for a street lamp opposite my window would not allow the room to fade
into obscurity, and, as long as the hardness of the bed prevented me
from sleeping, my thoughts ran back to the chamber of the favored
guest, but my conscience stood by me. Cathay is a country where it is
necessary to be very careful.

I did not leave Waterton until after nine o'clock the next day, for,
although I was early at the shop to which my bicycle had been sent, it
was not quite ready for me, and I had to wait. Fortunately no
Willoughby came that way.

But when at last I mounted my wheel I sped away rapidly towards the
north. I had ordered my baggage expressed to a town fifty miles away,
and I hoped that if I rode steadily and kept my eyes straight in front
of me I might safely get out of Cathay, for the boundaries of that
fateful territory could not extend themselves indefinitely.

Towards the close of the afternoon I saw a female in front of me, her
back to me, walking, and pushing a bicycle.

"Now," said I to myself, "she is doing that because she likes it, and
it is none of my business." I gazed over the fields on the other side
of the road, but as I passed her I could not help giving a glance at
her machine. The air was gone from the tire of the hind wheel.

"Ah," said I to myself, "perhaps her pump is out of order, or it may
be that she does not know how to work it. It is getting late. She may
have to go a long distance. I could pump it up for her in no time.
Even if there is a hole in it I could mend it." But I did not stop. I
had steeled my heart against any more adventures in Cathay.

But my conscience did not stand by me. I could not forget that poor
woman plodding along the weary road and darkness not far away. I went
slower and slower, and at last I turned.

"It would not take me five minutes to help her," I said. "I must be
careful, but I need not be a churl." And I rode rapidly back.

I came in sight of her just as she was turning into the gateway of a
pretty house yard. Doubtless she lived there. I turned again and spun
away faster than I had gone that day.

For more than a month I journeyed and sojourned in a beautiful river
valley and among the low foot-hills of the mountains. The weather was
fair, the scenery was pleasing, and at last I came to believe that I
had passed the boundaries of Cathay. I took no tablets from my little
box. I did not feel that I had need of them.

In the course of time I ceased to travel north-ward. My vacation was
not very near its end, but I chose to turn my face towards the scene
of my coming duties. I made a wide circuit, I rode slowly, and I
stopped often.

One day I passed through a village, and at the outer edge of it a
little girl, about four years old, tried to cross the road. Tripping,
she fell down almost in front of me. It was only by a powerful and
sudden exertion that I prevented myself from going over her, and as I
wheeled across the road my machine came within two feet of her. She
lay there yelling in the dust. I dismounted, and, picking her up I
carried her to the other side of the road. There I left her to toddle
homeward while I went on my way. I could not but sigh as I thought
that I was again in Cathay.

Two days after this I entered Waterton. There was another road, said
to be a very pleasant one, which lay to the westward, and which would
have taken me to Walford through a country new to me, but I wished to
make no further explorations in Cathay, and if one journeys back upon
a road by which he came he will find the scenery very different.

I spent the night at the hotel, and after breakfast I very reluctantly
went to call upon the Willoughbys. I forced myself to do this, for,
considering the cordiality they had shown me, it would have required
more incivility than I possessed to pass through the town without
paying my respects. But to my great joy none of the ladies was at
home. I hastened from the house with a buoyant step, and was soon
speeding away, and away, and away.

The road was dry and hard, the sun was bright, but there was a fresh
breeze in my face, and I rolled along at a swift and steady rate. On,
on I went, until, before the sun had reached its highest point, I
wheeled out of the main road, rolled up a gravel path, and dismounted
in front of the Holly Sprig Inn.

I leaned my bicycle against a tree and went in-doors. The place did
not seem so quiet as when I first saw it. I had noticed a lady sitting
under a tree in front of the house. There was a nurse-maid attending a
child who was playing on the grass. Entering the hall, I glanced into
the large room which I had called the "office," and saw a man there
writing at a table.

Presently a maid-servant came into the hall. She was not one I had
noticed before. I asked if I could see Mrs. Chester, and she said she
would go and look for her. There were chairs in the hall, and I might
have waited for her there, but I did not. I entered the parlor, and
was pleased to find it unoccupied. I went to the upper end of the
room, as far as possible from the door.

In a few minutes I heard a step in the hall. I knew it, and it was
strange how soon I had learned to know it. She stopped in front of the
office, then she went on towards the porch, and turning she came into
the parlor, first looking towards the front of the room and then
towards the place where I stood.

The light from a window near me fell directly upon her as she
approached me, and I could see that there was a slight flush on her
face, but before she reached me it had disappeared. She did not greet
me. She did not offer me her hand. In fact, from what afterwards
happened, I believe that she did not consider me at that moment a fit
subject for ordinary greeting. She stood up in front of me. She gazed
steadfastly into my face. Her features wore something of their
ordinary pleasant expression, but to this there was added a certain
determination which I had never seen there before. She gave her head a
little quick shake.

"No, sir!" she said.

This reception amazed me. I had been greatly agitated as I heard her
approach, turning over in my mind what I should first say to her, but
now I forgot everything I had prepared. "No what?" I exclaimed.

[Illustration: "'NO, SIR,' SHE SAID"]

"'No' means that I will not marry you."

I stood speechless. "Of course you are thinking," she continued, "that
you have never asked me to marry you. But that isn't at all necessary.
As soon as I saw you standing there, back two weeks before your
vacation is over, and when I got a good look at your face, I knew
exactly what you had come for. I was afraid when you left here that
you would come back for that, so I was not altogether unprepared. I
spoke promptly so as to spare you and to make it easier for me."

"Easier!" I repeated. "What do you mean?"

"Easier, because the sooner you know that I will not marry you the
better it will be for you and for me."

Now I could restrain myself no longer. "Why can't I marry you?" I
asked, speaking very rapidly, and, I am afraid, with imprudent energy.
"Is it any sort of condition or circumstance which prevents? Do you
think that I am forcing myself upon you at a time when I ought not to
do it? If so, you have mistaken me. Ever since I left here I have
thought of scarcely anything but you, and I have returned thus early
simply to tell you that I love you! I had to do that! I could not
wait! But as to all else, I can wait, and wait, and wait, as long as
you please. You can tell me to go away and come back at whatever time
you think it will be right for you to give me an answer."

"This is the right time," she said, "and I have given you your answer.
But, unfortunately, I did not prevent you from saying what you came to
say. So now I will tell you that the conditions and circumstances to
which you allude have nothing to do with the matter. I have a reason
for my decision which is of so much more importance than any other
reason that it is the only one which need be considered."

"What is that?" I asked, quickly.

"It is because I keep a tavern," she answered. "It would be wrong and
wicked for you to marry a woman who keeps a tavern."

Now my face flushed. I could feel it burning. "Keep a tavern!" I
exclaimed. "That is a horrible way to put it! But why should you think
for an instant that I cared for that? Do you suppose I consider that a
dishonorable calling? I would be only too glad to adopt it myself and
help you keep a tavern, as you call it."

"That is the trouble!" she exclaimed. "That is the greatest trouble. I
believe you would. I believe that you think that the life would just
suit you."

"Then sweep away the tavern!" I exclaimed. "Banish it. Leave it. Put
it out of all thought or consideration. I can wait for you. I can make
a place and a position for you. I can--"

"No, you cannot," she interrupted. "At least, not for a long time,
unless one of your scholars dies and leaves you a legacy. It is the
future that I am thinking about. No matter what you might sweep away,
and to what position you might attain, it could always be said, 'He
married a woman who used to keep a tavern.' Now, every one who is a
friend to you, who knows what is before you, if you choose to try for
it, should do everything that can be done to prevent such a thing ever
being said of you. I am a friend to you, and I am going to prevent
it."

I stood unable to say one word. Her voice, her eyes, even the manner
in which she stood before me, assured me that she meant everything she
said. It was almost impossible to believe that such an amiable
creature could turn into such an icicle.

"I do not want you to feel worse than you can help," she said, "but it
was necessary for me to speak as firmly and decidedly as I could, and
now it is all settled."

I knew it was all settled. I knew it as well as if it had been settled
for years. But, with my eyes still ardently fixed on her, I remembered
the little flush when she came into the room.

"Tell me one thing," said I, "and I will go. If it were not for what
you say about your position in life, and all that--if there had not
been such a place as this inn--then could you--"

She moved away from me. "You are as great a bear as the other one!"
she exclaimed, and turning she left the room by a door in the rear.
But in the next moment she ran back, holding out her hand. "Good-bye!"
she said.

I took her hand, but held it not a second. Then she was gone. I stood
looking at the door which she had closed behind her, and then I left
the house. There was no reason why I should stay in that place another
minute.

As I was about to mount my bicycle the boy came around the corner of
the inn. Upon his face was a diabolical grin. The thought rushed into
my mind that he might have been standing beneath the parlor window.
Instinctively I made a movement towards him, but he did not run. I
turned my eyes away from him and mounted. I could not kill a boy in
the presence of a nurse-maid.

CHAPTER XVII

A FORECASTER OF HUMAN PROBABILITIES

I was about to turn in the direction of Walford, but then into my
trouble-tossed mind there came the recollection that I had intended,
no matter what happened, to call on the Larramies before I went home.
I owed it to them, and at this moment their house seemed like a port
of refuge.

The Larramies received me with wide-opened eyes and outstretched
hands. They were amazed to see me before the end of my vacation, for
no member of that family had ever come back from a vacation before it
was over; but they showed that they were delighted to have me with
them, be it sooner or later than they had expected, and I had not been
in the house ten minutes before I received three separate invitations
to make that house my home until school began again.

The house was even livelier than when I left it. There was a married
couple visiting there, enthusiastic devotees of golf; one of Mr.
Walter's college friends was with him; and, to my surprise, Miss Amy
Willoughby was there again.

Genevieve received me with the greatest warmth, and I could see that
her hopes of a gentleman friend revived. Little Clara demanded to be
kissed as soon as she saw me, and I think she now looked upon me as a
permanent uncle or something of that kind. As soon as possible I was
escorted by the greater part of the family to see the bear.

Miss Edith had welcomed me as if I had been an old friend. It warmed
my heart to receive the frank and cordial handshake she gave me. She
said very little, but there was a certain interrogation in her eyes
which assured me that she had much to ask when the time came. As for
me, I was in no hurry for that time to come. I did not feel like
answering questions, and with as much animation as I could assume I
talked to everybody as we went to see the bear.

This animal had grown very fat and super-contented, but I found that
the family were in the condition of Gentleman Waife in Bulwer's novel,
and were now wondering what they would do with it.

"You see," cried Percy, who was the principal showman, "the neighbors
are all on pins and needles about him. Ever since the McKenna sisters
spread the story that Orso was in the habit of getting under beds,
there isn't a person within five miles of here who can go to bed
without looking under it to see if there is a bear there. There are
two houses for sale about a mile down the road, and we don't know any
reason why people should want to go away except it's the bear. Nearly
all the dogs around here are kept chained up for fear that Orso will
get hold of them, and there is a general commotion, I can tell you. At
first it was great fun, but it is getting a little tiresome now. We
have been talking about shooting him, and then I shall have his bones,
which I am going to set up as a skeleton, and it is my opinion that
you ought to have the skin."

Several demurrers now arose, for nobody seemed to think that I would
want such an ugly skin as that.

"Ugly!" cried Percy, who was evidently very anxious to pursue his
study of comparative anatomy. "It's a magnificent skin. Look at that
long, heavy fur. Why, if you take that skin and have it all cleaned,
and combed out, and dyed some nice color, it will be fit to put into
any room."

Genevieve was in favor of combing and cleaning, oiling and dyeing the
hide of the bear without taking it off.

"If you would do that," she declared, "he would be a beautiful bear,
and we would give him away. They would be glad to have him at Central
Park."

The Larramies would not listen to my leaving that day. There were a
good many people in the house, but there was room enough for me, and,
when we had left the bear without solving the problem of his final
disposition, there were so many things to be done and so many things
to be said that it was late in the afternoon before Miss Edith found
the opportunity of speaking to me for which she had been waiting so
long.

"Well," said she, as we walked together away from the golf links, but
not towards the house, "what have you to report?"

"Report?" I repeated, evasively.

"Yes, you promised to do that, and I always expect people to fulfil
their promises to me. You came here by the way of the Holly Sprig Inn,
didn't you?"

I assented. "A very roundabout way," she said. "It would have been
seven miles nearer if you had come by the cross-road. But I suppose
you thought you must go there first."

"That is what I thought," I answered.

"Have you been thinking about her all the time you have been away?"

"Nearly all the time."

"And actually cut off a big slice of your vacation in order to see
her?"

I replied that this was precisely the state of the case.

"But, after all, you weren't successful. You need not tell me anything
about that--I knew it as soon as I saw you this morning. But I will
ask you to answer one thing: Is the decision final?"

I sighed--I could not help it, but she did not even smile. "Yes," I
said, "the affair is settled definitely."

For a minute or so we walked on silently, and then she said: "I do not
want you to think I am hard-hearted, but I must say what is in me. I
congratulate you, and, at the same time, I am sorry for her."

At this amazing speech I turned suddenly towards her, and we both
stopped.

"Yes," said she, standing before me with her clear eyes fixed upon my
face, "you are to be congratulated. I think it is likely she is the
most charming young woman you are ever likely to meet--and I know a
great deal more about her than you do, for I have known her for a long
time, and your acquaintance is a very short one--she has qualities you
do not know anything about; she is lovely! But for all that it would
be very wrong for you to marry her, and I am glad she had sense enough
not to let you do it."

"Why do you say that?" I asked, a little sharply.

"Of course you don't like it," she replied, "but it is true. She may
be as lovely as you think her--and I am sure she is. She may be of
good family, finely educated, and a great many more things, but all
that goes for nothing beside the fact that for over five years she has
been the landlady of a little hotel."

"I do not care a snap for that!" I exclaimed. "I like her all the
better for it. I--"

"That makes it worse," she interrupted, and as she spoke I could not
but recollect that a similar remark had been made to me before. "I
have not the slightest doubt that you would have been perfectly
willing to settle down as the landlord of a little hotel. But if you
had not--even if you had gone on in the course which father has
marked out for you, and you ought to hear him talk about you--you
might have become famous, rich, nobody knows what, perhaps President
of a college, but still everybody would have known that your wife was
the young woman who used to keep the Holly Sprig Inn, and asked the
people who came there if they objected to a back room, and if they
wanted tea or coffee for their breakfast. Of course Mrs. Chester
thought too much of you to let you consider any such foolishness."

I made no answer to this remark. I thought the young woman was taking
a great deal upon herself.

"Of course," she continued, "it would have been a great thing for Mrs.
Chester, and I honor her that she stood up stiffly and did the thing
she ought to do. I do not know what she said when she gave you her
final answer, but whatever it was it was the finest compliment she
could have paid you."

I smiled grimly. "She likened me to a bear," I said. "Do you call that
a compliment?"

Edith Larramie looked at me, her eyes sparkling. "Tell me one thing,"
she said. "When she spoke to you in that way weren't you trying to
find out how she felt about the matter exclusive of the inn?"

I could not help smiling again as I assented.

"There!" she exclaimed. "I am beginning to have the highest respect
for my abilities as a forecaster of human probabilities. It was like
you to try to find out that, and it was like her to snub you. But
let's walk on. Would you like me to give you some advice."

"I am afraid your advice is not worth very much," I answered, "but I
will hear it."

"Well, then," she said, "I advise you to fall in love with somebody
else just as soon as you can. That is the best way to get this affair
out of your mind, and until you do that you won't be worth anything."

I felt that I now knew this girl so well that I could say anything to
her. "Very well, then," said I; "suppose I fall in love with you?"

"That isn't a very nice speech," she said. "There is a little bit of
spitefulness in it. But it doesn't mean anything, anyway. I am out of
the competition, and that is the reason I can speak to you so freely.
Moreover, that is the reason I know so much about the matter. I am not
biassed. But you need have no trouble--there's Amy."

"Don't say Amy to me, I beg of you!" I exclaimed.

"Why not?" she persisted. "She is very pretty. She is as good as she
can be. She is rich. And if she were your wife you would want her to
talk more than she does, you would be so glad to listen to her. I
might say more about Amy, but I won't."

"Would it be very impolite," said I, "if I whistled?"

"I don't know," she said, "but you needn't do it. I will consider it
done. Now I will speak of Bertha Putney. I was bound to mention Amy
first, because she is my dear friend, but Miss Putney is a grand girl.
And I do not mind telling you that she takes a great interest in you."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"I have seen her since you were here--she lunched with us. As soon as
she heard your name mentioned--and that was bound to happen, for this
family has been talking about you ever since they first knew you--she
began to ask questions. Of course the bear came up, and she wanted to
know every blessed thing that happened. But when she found out that
you got the bear at the Holly Sprig her manner changed, and she
talked no more about you at the table.

"But in the afternoon she had a great deal to say to me. I did not
know exactly what she was driving at, and I may have told her too
much. We said a great many things--some of which I remember and some I
do not--but I am sure that I never knew a woman to take more interest
in a man than she takes in you. So it is my opinion that if you would
stop at the Putneys' on your way home you might do a great deal to
help you get rid of the trouble you are now in. It makes me feel
something like a spy in a camp to talk this way, but I told you I was
your friend, and I am going to be one. Spies are all right when they
are loyal to their own side."

I was very glad to have such a girl on my side, but this did not seem
to be a very good time to talk about the advantages of a call upon
Miss Putney.

In spite of all the entreaties of the Larramie family, I persisted in
my intention of going on to Walford the next morning, and, in reply to
their assurances that I would find it dreadfully dull in that little
village during the rest of my vacation, I told them that I should be
very much occupied and should have no time to be dull. I was going
seriously to work to prepare myself for my profession. For a year or
two I had been deferring this important matter, waiting until I had
laid by enough money to enable me to give up school-teaching and to
apply myself entirely to the studies which would be necessary. All
this would give me enough to do, and vacation was the time in which I
ought to do it. The distractions of the school session were very much
in the way of a proper contemplation of my own affairs.

"That sounds very well," said Miss Edith, when there was no one by,
"but if you cannot get the Holly Sprig Inn out of your mind, I do not
believe you will do very much 'proper contemplation.' Take my advice
and stop at the Putneys'. It can do you no harm, and it might help to
free your mind of distractions a great deal worse than those of the
school."

"By filling it with other distractions, I suppose you mean," I
answered. "A fickle-minded person you must think me. But it pleases me
so much to have you take an interest in me that I do not resent any of
your advice."

She laughed. "I like to give advice," she said, "but I must admit that
I sometimes think better of a person if he does not take it. But I
will say--and this is all the advice I am going to give you at
present--that if you want to be successful in making love, you must
change your methods. You cannot expect to step up in front of a girl
and stop her short as if she were a runaway horse. A horse doesn't
like that sort of thing, and a girl doesn't like it. You must take
more time about it. A runaway girl doesn't hurt anybody, and, if you
are active enough, you can jump in behind and take the reins and stop
her gradually without hurting her feelings, and then, most likely, you
can drive her for all the rest of your life."

"You ought to have that speech engraved in uncial characters on a slab
of stone," said I. "Any museum would be glad to have it."

I had two reasons besides the one I gave for wishing to leave this
hospitable house. In the first place, Edith Larramie troubled me. I
did not like to have any one know so much about my mental interior--or
to think she knew so much. I did not like to feel that I was being
managed. I had a strong belief that if anybody jumped into a vehicle
she was pulling he would find that she was doing her own driving and
would allow no interferences. I liked her very much, but I was sure
that away from her I would feel freer in mind.

The other reason for my leaving was Amy Willoughby. During my little
visit to her house my acquaintance with her had grown with great
rapidity. Now I seemed to know her very well, and the more I knew her
the better I liked her. It may be vanity, but I think she wanted me to
like her, and one reason for believing this was the fact that when she
was with me--and I saw a great deal of her during the afternoon and
evening I spent with the Larramies--she did not talk so much, and when
she did speak she invariably said something I wanted to hear.

Remembering the remarks which had been made about her by her friend
Edith, I could not but admit that she was a very fine girl, combining
a great many attractive qualities, but I rebelled against every
conviction I had in regard to her. I did not want to think about her
admirable qualities. I did not want to believe that in time they would
impress me more forcibly than they did now. I did not want people to
imagine that I would come to be so impressed. If I stayed there I
might almost look upon her in the light of a duty.

The family farewell the next morning was a tumultuous one. Invitations
to ride up again during my vacation, to come and spend Saturdays and
Sundays, were intermingled with earnest injunctions from Genevieve in
regard to a correspondence which she wished to open with me for the
benefit of her mind, and declarations from Percy that he would let me
know all about the bear as soon as it was decided what would be the
best thing to happen to him, and entreaties from little Clara that I
would not go away without kissing her good-bye.

But amid the confusion Miss Edith found a chance to say a final word
to me. "Don't you try," she said, as I was about to mount my bicycle,
"to keep those holly sprigs in your brain until Christmas. They are
awfully stickery, they will not last, and, besides, there will not be
any Christmas."

"And how about New-Year's Day?" I asked.

"That is the way to talk," skid she. "Keep your mind on that and you
will be all right."

As I rode along I could not forget that it would be necessary for me
to pass the inn. I had made inquiries, but there were no byways which
would serve my purpose. There was nothing for me to do but keep on,
and on I kept. I should pass so noiselessly and so swiftly that I did
not believe any one would notice me, unless, indeed, it should be the
boy. I earnestly hoped that I should not see the boy.

Whether or not I was seen from the inn as I passed it I do not know.
In fact, I did not know when I passed it. No shout of immature
diabolism caught my ear, no scent of lemon came into my nostrils, and
I saw nothing but the line of road directly in front of me.

CHAPTER XVIII

REPENTANCE AVAILS NOT

When I was positively certain that I had left the little inn far
behind me, I slackened my speed, and, perceiving a spreading tree by
the road-side, I dismounted and sat down in the shade. It was a hot
day, and unconsciously I had been working very hard. Several persons
on wheels passed along the road, and every time I saw one approaching
I was afraid that it might be somebody I knew, who might stop and sit
by me in the shade. I was now near enough to Walford to meet with
people from that neighborhood, and I did not want to meet with any one
just now. I had a great many things to think about and just then I was
busy trying to make up my mind whether or not it would be well for me
to stop at the Putneys'.

If I should pass without stopping, some one in the lodge would
probably see me, and the family would know of my discourtesy, but,
although it would have been a very simple thing to do, and a very
proper thing, I did not feel sure that I wanted to stop. If Edith
Larramie had never said anything about it, I think I would surely have
made a morning call upon the Putneys.

After I had cooled off a little I rose to remount; I had not decided
anything, but it was of no use to sit there any longer. Glancing along
the road towards Walford, I saw in the distance some one approaching
on a wheel. Involuntarily I stood still and watched the on-coming
cyclist, who I saw was a woman. She moved steadily and rapidly on the
other side of the road. Very soon I recognized her. It was Miss
Putney.

As she came nearer and nearer I was greatly impressed with her
appearance. Her costume was as suitable and becoming for the occasion
as if it had been an evening dress for a ball, and she wheeled better
than any woman cyclist I ever saw. Her head was erect, her eyes
straight before her, and her motion was rhythm of action.

With my hand on my wheel I moved a few steps towards the middle of the
road. I was about to take off my cap when she turned her eyes upon me.
She even moved her head a little so as to gaze upon me a few seconds
longer. Her face was quiet and serene, her eyes were large, clear, and
observant. In them was not one gleam of recognition. Turning them
again upon the road in front of her, she sped on and away.

[Illustration: "CUT LIKE THAT"]

For some minutes I stood looking after her, utterly astonished. I do
not think in all my life I had ever been cut like that. What did it
mean? Could she care enough about me to resent my stopping at the
Holly Sprig? Was it possible that she could have known what had been
likely to happen there, and what had happened there? All this was very
improbable, but in Cathay people seemed to know a great many things.
Anyway, she had solved my problem for me. I need give no further
thought to a stop at her father's mansion.

I mounted and rode on, but not rapidly. I was very much moved. My soul
grew warm as I thought of the steady gaze of the eyes which that girl
had fixed upon me. For a mile or so I moved steadily and quietly in a
mood of incensed dignity. I pressed the pedals with a hard and cruel
tread. I did not understand. I could scarcely believe.

Soon, however, I began to move a little faster. Somehow or other I
became conscious that there was a bicycle at some distance behind me.
I pushed on a little faster. I did not wish to be overtaken by
anybody. Now I was sure there was a wheel behind me. I could not hear
it, but I knew it was there.

Presently I became certain that my instincts had not deceived me, for
I heard the quick sound of a bicycle bell. This was odd, for surely no
one would ring for me to get out of the way. Then there was another
tinkle, a little nearer.

Now I sped faster and faster. I heard the bell violently ringing. Then
I thought, but I am not sure, that I heard a voice. I struck out with
the thrust of a steam-engine, and the earth slipped backward beneath
me like the water of a mill-race. I passed wagons as if they had been
puffs of smoke, and people on wheels as though they were flying
cinders.

In some ten minutes I slackened speed and looked back. For a long
distance behind me not a bicycle was in sight. I now pursued my
homeward way with a warm body and a lacerated heart. I hated this
region which I had called Cathay. Its inhabitants were not barbarians,
but I was suffering from their barbarities. I had come among them
clean, whole, with an upright bearing. I was going away torn, bloody,
and downcast.

If the last words of the lady of the Holly Sprig meant the sweet thing
I thought they meant, then did they make the words which preceded them
all the more bitter. The more friendly and honest the counsels of
Edith Larramie had grown, the deeper they had cut into my heart. Even
the more than regard with which my soul prompted me to look back to
Amy Willoughby was a pain to me. My judgment would enrage me if it
should try to compel me to feel as I did not want to feel.

But none of these wounds would have so pained and disturbed me had it
not been for the merciless gaze which that dark-eyed girl had fixed
upon me as she passed me standing in the road. And if she had gone too
far and had done more than her own nature could endure, and if it were
she who had been pursuing me, then the wound was more cruel and the
smart deeper. If she believed me a man who would stop at the ringing
of her bell, then was I ashamed of myself for having given her that
impression.

CHAPTER XIX

BEAUTY, PURITY, AND PEACE

I now proposed to wheel my way in one long stretch to Walford. I took
no interest in rest or in refreshment. Simply to feel that I had done
with this cycle of Cathay would be to me rest, refreshment, and,
perhaps, the beginning of peace.

The sun was high in the heavens, and its rays were hot, but still I
kept steadily on until I saw a female figure by the road-side waving a
handkerchief. I had not yet reached her, but she had stopped, was
looking at me, and was waving energetically. I could not be mistaken.
I turned and wheeled up in front of her. It was Mrs. Burton, the
mother of the young lady who had injured her ankle on the day when I
set out for my journey through Cathay.

"I am so glad to see you," she said, as she shook hands with me. "I
knew you as soon as my eyes first fell upon you. You know I have
often seen you on the road before we became acquainted with you. We
have frequently talked about you since you were here, and we did not
expect you would be coming back so soon. Mr. Burton has been hoping
that he would have a chance to know you better. He is very fond of
school-masters. He was an intimate friend of Godfrey Chester, who had
the school at Walford some years before you came--when the boys and
girls used to go to school together--and of the man who came
afterwards. He was a little too elderly, perhaps, but Mr. Burton liked
him too, and now he hopes that he is going to know you. But excuse me
for keeping you standing so long in the road. You must come in. We
shall have dinner in ten minutes. I was just coming home from a
neighbor's when I caught sight of you."

I declined with earnestness. Mr. Burton might be a very agreeable man,
but I wanted to make no new acquaintances then. I must keep on to
Walford.

But the good lady would listen to no refusals of her hospitality. I
was just in time. I must need a mid-day rest and something to eat. She
was very sorry that Mr. Burton was not at home. He nearly always was
at home, but to-day he had gone to Waterton. But if I would be
contented to take dinner with her daughter and herself, they would be
delighted to have me do so. She made a motion to open the gate for me,
but I opened it for her, and we both went in. The daughter met us at
the top of the garden walk. She came towards me as a cool summer
breeze comes upon a hot and dusty world. There was, no flush upon her
face, but her eyes and lips told me that she was glad to see me before
she spoke a word or placed her soft, white hand in mine. At the first
touch of that hand I felt glad that Mrs. Burton had stopped me in the
road. Here was peace.

That dinner was the most soothing meal of which I had ever partaken. I
did the carving, my companions did the questioning, and nearly all the
conversation was about myself. Ordinarily I would not have liked this,
but every word which was said by these two fair ladies--for the
sweetness of the mother was merely more seasoned than that of the
daughter--was so filled with friendly interest that it gratified me to
make my answers.

They seemed to have heard a great deal about me during my wanderings
through Cathay. They knew, of course, that I had stopped with the
Putneys, for I had told them that, but they had also heard that I had
spent a night at the Holly Sprig, and had afterwards stayed with the
Larramies. But of anything which had happened which in the slightest
degree had jarred upon my feelings they did not appear to have heard
the slightest mention.

I might have supposed that only good and happy news thought it worth
while to stop at that abode of peace. As I looked upon the serene and
tender countenance of Mrs. Burton I wondered how a cloud rising from
want of sympathy with early peas ever could have settled over this
little family circle; but it was the man who had caused the cloud. I
knew it. It is so often the man.

When we had finished dinner and had gone out to sit in the cool
shadows of the piazza, I let my gaze rest as often as I might upon the
fair face of that young girl. Several times her eyes met mine, but
their lids never drooped, their tender light did not brighten. I felt
that she was so truly glad to see me that her pleasure in the meeting
was not affected one way or the other by the slight incident of my
looking at her.

If ever a countenance told of innocence, purity, and truth, her
countenance told of them. I believe that if she had thought it
pleased me to look at her, it would have pleased her to know that it
gave me pleasure.

As I talked with her and looked at her, and as I looked at her mother
and talked with her, it was impressed upon me that if there is one
thing in this world which is better than all else, it is peace, that
peace which comprises so many forms of happiness and deep content.
That the thoughts which came to me could come to a heart so lacerated,
so torn, so full of pain as mine had been that morning, seemed
wonderful, and yet they came.

Once or twice I tried to banish these thoughts. It seemed
disrespectful to myself to entertain them so soon after other thoughts
which I now wished to banish utterly. I am not a hero of romance. I am
only a plain human being, and such is the constitution of my nature
that the more troubled and disturbed is my soul, the more welcome is
purity, truth, and peace.

But, after all, my feelings were not quite natural, and the change in
them was too sudden. It was the consequence of too violent a reaction,
but, such as it was, it was complete. I would not be hasty. I would
not be deficient in self-respect. But if at that moment I had known
that this was the time to declare what I wished to have, I would
unhesitatingly have asked for beauty, purity, and peace.

A maid came out upon the piazza who wanted something. Mrs. Burton half
rose, but her daughter forestalled her. "I will go," said she. "Excuse
me one minute."

If my face expressed the sentiment, "Oh, that the mother had gone!" I
did not intend that it should do so. Mrs. Burton then began to talk
about her daughter.

"She is like her father," she said, "in so many ways. For one thing,
she is very fond of school-masters. I do not know exactly why this
should be, but her teachers always seem to be her friends. In fact,
she is to marry a school-master--that is, an assistant professor at
Yale. He is in Europe now, but we expect him back early in the fall."

A short time after this, when the daughter had returned and I rose to
go, the young girl put her soft, white hand into mine exactly as she
had done when I arrived, and the light in her eyes showed me, just as
it had showed me before, the pleasure she had taken in my visit. But
the mother's farewell was different from her greeting. I could see in
her kind air a certain considerate sympathy which was not there
before. She had been very prompt to tell me of her daughter's
engagement.

That young angel of peace and truth would not have deemed it necessary
to say a word about the matter, even to a young man who was a
school-master, and between whom and her family a mutual interest was
rapidly growing. But with the mother it was otherwise. She had seen
the shadows pass away from my countenance as I sat and talked upon
that cool piazza, my eyes bent upon her daughter. Mothers know.

CHAPTER XX

BACK FROM CATHAY

The next morning, being again settled in my rooms in Walford, I went
to call upon the Doctor and his daughter. The Doctor was not at home,
but his daughter was glad to see me.

"And how do you like your cycle of Cathay?" she asked.

"I do not like it at all," I answered. "It has taken me upon a dreary
round. I am going to change it for another as soon as I have an
opportunity."

"Then it has not been a wheel of fortune to you?" she remarked. "And
as for that country which you figuratively called Cathay, did you find
that pleasant?"

"In some ways, yes, but in others not. You see, I came back before my
vacation was over, and I do not care to go there any more."

She now wanted me to tell her where I had really been and what had
happened to me, and I gave her a sketch of my adventures. Of course I
could not enter deeply into particulars, for that would make too long
a story, but I told her where I had stopped, and my accounts of the
bear and the horse were deeply interesting.

"It seems to me," she said, when I had finished, "that if things had
been a little different, you might have had an extremely pleasant
tour. For instance, if Mr. Godfrey Chester had been living, I think
you would have liked him very much, and it is probable that you would
have been glad to stay at his inn for several days. It is a beautiful
country thereabout."

"Did you know him?" I asked.

"Oh yes," she said; "he was my teacher during part of my school-days
here. And then there is Mr. Burton; father is very fond of him. He is
a man of great intelligence. It was unfortunate that you did not see
more of him."

"Perhaps you know Mr. Putney?" I said.

"No," she answered. "I have heard a great deal about him. He seems to
be a stiff sort of a man. But as to Mr. Larramie, everybody likes him.
He is a great favorite throughout the county, and his son Walter is a
rising young man. I am glad you made the acquaintance of the
Larramies."

"So am I," I said, "very glad indeed. And, by-the-way, do you know a
young man named Willoughby? I never heard his first name, but he lives
at Waterton."

"Oh, the Willoughbys of Waterton," she said. "I have heard a great
deal about them. Father used to know the old gentleman. He was a great
collector of rare books, but he is dead now. If you had met him you
would have found him a man of your own tastes."

When I was going away she stopped me for a moment. "I forgot to ask
you," she said; "did you take any of those capsules I gave you when
you were starting off on your cycle?"

"Yes," said I, "I took some of them." But I could not well explain the
capricious way in which I had endeavored to guard against the germs of
malaria, and to call my own attention to the threatening germs of
erratic fancy.

"Then you do not think they did you any good?" she said.

"I am not sure," I replied. "I cannot say anything about that. But of
one thing I am certain, and that is, that if any germs of any kind
entered my system, it is perfectly free from them now."

"I am glad to hear that," she said.

It was about a week after this that I received a letter from Percy
Larramie. "I thought you would like to know about the bear," he wrote.
"Somebody must have forgotten to feed him, and he broke his chain and
got away. He went straight over to the Holly Sprig Inn, and I expect
he did that because the inn was the last place he had seen his master.
I did not know bears cared so much for masters. He didn't stay long at
the inn, but he stayed long enough to bite a boy. Then he went into
the woods.

"As soon as we heard of it we all set off on a bear-hunt. It was jolly
fun, although I did not so much as catch a sight of him. Father shot
him at a three-hundred-foot range. It was a Winchester rifle with a
thirty-two cartridge. It was a beautiful shot, Walter said, and I wish
I had made it.

"We took his skin off and tore it only in two or three places, which
can be mended. Would you like to have the skin, and do you care
particularly about the head? If you don't, I would like to have it,
because without it the skeleton will not be perfect."

I wrote to Percy that I did not desire so much as a single hair of the
beast. I did not tell him so, but I despised the bears of Cathay.

It was just before the Christmas holidays when I finally made up my
mind that of all the women in the world the Doctor's daughter was the
one for me, and when I told her so she did not try to conceal that
this was also her own opinion. I had seen the most charming qualities
in other women, and my somewhat rapid and enthusiastic study of them
had so familiarized me with them that I was enabled readily to
perceive their existence in others. I found them all in the Doctor's
daughter.

Her father was very well pleased when he heard of our compact. It was
plain that he had been waiting to hear of it. When he furthermore
heard that I had decided to abandon all thought of the law, and to
study medicine instead, his satisfaction was complete. He arranged
everything with affectionate prudence. I should read with him,
beginning immediately, even before I gave up my school. I should
attend the necessary medical courses, and we need be in no hurry to
marry. We were both young, and when I was ready to become his
assistant it would be time enough for him to give me his daughter.

We were sitting together in the Doctor's library and had been looking
over some of the papers of the Walford Literary Society, of which we
were both officers, when I said, looking at her signature:
"By-the-way, I wish you would tell me one thing. What does the initial
'E.' stand for in your name? I never knew any one to use it."

"No," she said; "I do not like it. It was given to me by my mother's
sister, who was a romantic young lady. It is Europa. And I only hope,"
she added, quickly, "that you may have fifty years of it."

* * * * *

Three years of the fifty have now passed, and each one of the young
women I met in Cathay has married. The first one to go off was Edith
Larramie. She married the college friend of her brother who was at the
house when I visited them. When I met her in Walford shortly after I
heard of her engagement, she took me aside in her old way and told me
she wanted me always to look upon her as my friend, no matter how
circumstances might change with her or me.

"You do not know how much of a friend I was to you," she said, "and it
is not at all necessary you should know. But I will say that when I
saw you getting into such a dreadful snarl in our part of the
country, I determined, if there were no other way to save you, I would
marry you myself! But I did not do it, and you ought to be very glad
of it, for you would have found that a little of me, now and then,
would be a great deal more to your taste than to have me always."

[Illustration: EUROPA]

Mrs. Chester married the man who had courted her before she fell in
love with her school-master. It appeared that the fact of her having
been the landlady of the Holly Sprig made no difference in his case.
He was too rich to have any prospects which might be interfered with.

Amy Willoughby married Walter Larramie. That was a thing which might
well have been expected. I was very glad to hear it, for I shall never
fail to be interested in the Larramies.

About a year ago there was a grand wedding at the Putney city mansion.
The daughter of the family was married to an Italian gentleman with a
title. I read of the affair in the newspapers, and having heard, in
addition, a great many details of the match from the gossips of
Walford, I supposed myself to be fully informed in regard to this
grand alliance, and was therefore very much surprised to receive,
personally, an announcement of the marriage upon a very large and
stiff card, on which were given, in full, the various titles and
dignities of the noble bridegroom. I did not believe Mr. Putney had
sent me this card, nor that his wife had done so; certainly the Count
did not send it. But no matter how it came to me, I was very sure I
owed it to the determination, on the part of some one, that by no
mischance should I fail to know exactly what had happened. I heard
recently that the noble lady and her husband expect to spend the
summer at her father's country-house, and some people believe that
they intend to make it their permanent home.

The Doctor strongly advises that Europa and I should go before long
and settle in the Cathay region. He thinks that it will be a most
excellent field for me to begin my labors in, and he knows many
families there who would doubtless give me their practice.

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