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[Illustration: "My uncle followed his words with a brightening face,
and when they grew particularly mixed, he would exclaim, softly, 'It
is a great gift! a great gift!'"
The Victims of Dreams. Page 34.]
NOT PRETTY, BUT PRECIOUS, AND OTHER SHORT STORIES.
John Hay, Clara F. Guernsey, Margaret Hosmer, Harriet Prescott
Spofford, Lucy Hamilton Hooper, Etc.
Not Pretty, but Precious, _Margret Field_.
The Victims of Dreams, _Margaret Hosmer_.
The Cold Hand, _Clara F. Guernsey_.
The Blood Seedling, _John Hay_.
The Marquis, _Chauncey Hickox_.
Under False Colors, _Lucy Hamilton Hooper_.
The Hungry Heart, _J.W. De Forrest_.
"How Mother Did It," _J.R. Hadermann_.
The Red Fox, _Clara F. Guernsey_.
Louie, _Harriet Prescott Spofford_.
Old Sadler'S Resurrection, _R.D. Minor_.
Not Pretty, But Precious.
_Mille modi veneris!_
Mr. Norval: It is now four weeks since your accident. I have made inquiry
of your physician whether news or business communications, however
important, brought to your attention, would be detrimental to you, cause
an accession of feverish symptoms or otherwise harm you. He assures me, On
the contrary, he is sure you have not been for years so free from disease
of any sort, with the sole exception of the broken bones, as now. This
being so, I venture to approach you upon a subject which I doubt not you
are quite as willing to have definitely arranged, and at once, as myself.
I can say what I mean, and as I mean it, so much better on paper than in
conversation--as I have so little self-possession, and am so readily put
out in the matter of argument--that I have determined to write to you,
thinking thus to be better able to make you understand and appreciate my
reasons and motives, since you can read them when and how you choose.
I have been your wife three weeks. The horrible strangeness of these words
is quite beyond me to compass; nevertheless, realize it or not, it is a
fact. I am your wife--you, my husband. Why I am your wife I wish simply to
rehearse here. Not that we do not both know why, but that we may know it
in the same way. You, a handsome, cultivated man, whose dictum is
considered law in the world of fashion in which you move and reign, with
an assured social position, a handsome fortune, and a popularity that
would have obtained for you the hand of any beautiful or wealthy woman
whom you sought, have deliberately chosen to make me, a poor, plain,
brown-faced little school-teacher, your wife. Not because you wanted _me_,
not because you thought or cared about _me_, one way or the other, but
simply because, in a time of urgent necessity, I was literally the only
available woman near you. It chanced, from many points of view and by a
chain of circumstances, that I was particularly available. So you married
me. The reasons for such a sacrifice of yourself were--you had behaved
badly, very badly, to a lady, compromising her name and causing a
separation between herself and her husband. Within a few months, her
husband having died, both herself and her father had determined to force
you to make her reparation by marriage. Going to work very warily, they
had taken an opportunity, after a very luxuriant and fast opera-supper,
when you were excited by your surroundings and flushed by the wine you had
been drinking, your head very light, your judgment very heavy, to draw
from you a promise of marriage at the expiration of the year of mourning
for her husband. As soon as you became aware of what you had done, you
ignominiously fled, and after a Western tour were about to sail for Europe
when this unfortunate accident overtook you. Your narrow escape from
death, upon having been thrown from the carriage of a distinguished
gentleman while driving with him behind a pair of celebrated racers, gave
such publicity to your adventure that your _amorata_ was at once aware of
your whereabouts. The fear of this had taken possession of you as soon as
you were able to think of anything, and the dread that she would follow
and marry you while you lay helpless was made a certainty by this telegram
from an intimate friend in New York, received the sixth day of your
"It's all up with you, old fellow. The R. has heard you're fast with a
broken leg, and she starts on Monday for Boston. Have the clergy ready,
for it's marriage."
Then in your bitter need you remembered having talked with me in this
hotel-parlor the very day of your accident. I had been a school-friend of
your dead sister, and for her sake, on the rare occasions of your seeing
me, you have always been polite and kindly patronized me. Now, lying
helpless and unable to extricate yourself from your dilemma, you recalled
the evident pleasure upon my foolish, tell-tale face at seeing you, the
delight I had betrayed in the attention you had shown me, such as finding
a seat at dinner for myself and my old lady friend, although some elegant
and fashionable girls were waiting with ill-suppressed eagerness for your
escort. Remembering all this, knowing as you did that I was poor, wearing
out my life in teaching, in your sore need you suddenly thought, "I wonder
if the girl wouldn't marry me? She'd make a good nurse, could look after
my traps, and, though she is as ugly as sin and a nobody, wouldn't be the
deuced disgrace to a fellow this Rollins woman will be. At all events,
she'll save me from that fate if she takes up with my offer. It's a choice
of evils, and this would be the least; and I'll try it." This, in plain,
unadorned speech, was what you thought. Then you sent for me, began very
pathetically to talk of your desolate state, your family all dead, and so
on; that it had been sadly brought home to you how alone you were while
lying sick, hour after hour, in this great hotel, with only your valet to
attend to you and take an interest in your well-being; and that, day after
day, as you lay thinking of your fate, my face had come before you,
recalling tender memories of your lost and dearly-loved sister. Then you
had remembered that as girl and boy we had been lovers, and really cared
very much for each other. As you got this far toward your _grande
denouement_, something in my face, I suppose, made you realize that if you
were to compass your ends with me it must be by honesty only. Then you
blurted it all out--in, as I could not help thinking as I listened, as
school-boyish and abashed a way as if you had--well, as if you had not
been a consummate man of the world, rather noted for your _aplomb_.
It came across me (as I heard you in dumb amazement, with crimson face and
trembling frame) that even the best polish of years' laying on will crack
somewhere under very hard pressure. Well, you were honest and told me all,
never pretending, as you had at first essayed to do, that it was out of
any lingering regard for myself as your sister's friend that you sought me
now, but simply on account of my availability. Had there been some bright
young beauty with wealth and station at hand, no thought of me would ever
have entered your mind: all this I understood at once from your half
confessions--all this, I was glad to find, you had at least enough honor
to let me know, although you risked what to you in your actual situation
was very perilous--a refusal.
I asked until the next day to consider the matter--whether it would be
better to take service with you, exchange for my boarding, clothing and
incidental expenses the daily care of your comfort and pleasure, or earn
my bread in the old wearing way. And the second day after that we were
married. That is all. I believe that to be a simple statement of the facts
in your case: I am right, am I not?
The day after our marriage your lady-love and her paternal ancestor came.
At my own suggestion and with your eager consent I received them, and the
result you know.
Now for my own reasons for this strange marriage. You are aware that my
father was a professor of mathematics in various schools and colleges of
the city where he lived, teaching in the school, among others, in which
your sister and myself were pupils. I believe you know that when a young
man he had eloped with and married one of his scholars, the daughter of a
rich and proud family, who discarded her. For years she was a stranger to
them, until her husband had won a name and handsome fortune for himself:
then she was taken into favor again, her husband's distinction in the
scientific world being supposed to add lustre to the family name. Alas for
us! it was a favor that has cost us dear. I was their only child. When my
sweet, pretty mother lay dying she left to me, her sixteen-year-old child,
my dreamy, unworldly father as a legacy. "Take care of him: he knows no
guile, and your uncles will wrong him if they can," she said. And they
did, or one of them. Ere the bitter agony of my mother's death had enabled
him to return to his duties, it was discovered that one of her brothers
had forged his name and literally stripped him of everything.
Of course, then he went to work again to earn our daily bread--not with
his old love or ability, but in an inert, feeble way that was pitiful to
see. I think from the day my mother was buried he was dying. Some people,
you know, die hard--some part with life lightly, as if it was a faded robe
they shook off to don a brighter one. Others--my father was one, and I am
like him--see one by one their trusts, their hopes, their loves die: then
with a deathly throe sunder themselves from life. But pardon my
When I was twenty my father died. Since then, spite of expressions of
disapproval and offers of support from my mother's family, I have
maintained myself by teaching in the schools where my father had been
known, preferring to do without assistance so long as I had health. One of
my uncles desired to take me into his family, and thus wipe out the wrong
done my father by his brother, and my aunts proffered me an income out of
their private means. I mention this to do them every justice, but I think
even a man of fashion like yourself will acknowledge the impossibility of
my accepting, while I could avoid it, a life of dependence. I could not
accept favors from those who had treated my dear parents unkindly; so I
have e'en gone my own way for these last ten years, and led a not unhappy
life, if a busy and rather wearing one.
My gay cousins, all of whom you know well--the Wilber girls, Leta and
Jennie, pretty little Lou Barton, and another set of Wilbers whom I think
you do not know so well, who are married now--my gay cousins, then, most
of them beauties, all of them rich and fashionable, are somewhat ashamed
of me, and have let me feel it in every petty way that we women know so
well how to find. I am ugly and poor, my earning my own living is a spot
upon their gentility, and I have unfortunately, and quite against my will,
more than once given them cause for serious annoyance and apprehension.
Then, one of our uncles, who is a bachelor and very rich, has insisted
that I am never to be slighted--always to be invited to everything in the
shape of a party given by the family. If it lay with me, of course I would
never accept these invitations, but I have had it explained to me over and
over again that my not doing so is visited upon the party-givers in one
way or another by our masterful uncle Rufus. So, occasionally, very much
against my inclination, I leave my little third-story room, with its cozy
fire and humble adornments, and sit in the corner of their great rooms, a
"looker-on in Vienna" in every sense.
I have many kind friends: it would be strange if in all these years I had
not found some who did not care for outward advantages. I have dreamed my
sweet love-dream, and it is over, and the roses have grown above my buried
Since then I have let one idea fill my life to the exclusion of everything
else, putting away from me all desires and thoughts of other needs; and
that too has left me. I call it an "idea" for lack of a better name. I had
put away all thought of marriage with my bright youth, but took into my
heart instead what I deemed would serve as well--a friendship for another
woman. For ten years we knew no separate life--I thought no separate
hopes. She had loved, been on the eve of marriage, her lover had died:
that was her heart's history, and henceforth the idea of love had fallen
out of both our lives--not the idea only, but the possibility of love. I
thought so--she _said_ so.
I trusted her and loved her with a perfect love. I wound my hopes about
her: I gave up all my life to her as if she had been my lover. I never
cared to form other friendships. I deprived myself of all possibilities of
making other ties of any sort, and with the first opportunity she whistled
me down the wind, and cared no more for me than if she had never professed
to love me. She had been my one bright thing--she was sweet and
winsome--the one golden gleam in my sombre life. My future was bound up in
her so completely that when she severed the fine, close cords (brittle,
yet so strong) which had bound us together for years, she cut into my
heart--nay more, wrested from me all my sweet trusts and faiths. If she is
false, who else in all God's earth is true? I pity myself very much. You,
of course, will not see why her marrying should make a difference if we
loved, and will call me selfish. Not so, not so! She might have married as
soon as it pleased her, and I should have been glad. It would have made a
difference, of course: she must in some sort have been parted from me, but
that I could have borne if it made her happy. But from her acceptance of
her lover--about whom we will say nothing, save that he was the sort of
man she had always held in abhorrence--she has coolly ignored my right to
any part or lot in her fate. She had told me (or I, poor fool! thought so)
every hope and fear of her life: now she told me what she chose, and was
astonished that I expected more--hurt that I seemed changed and did not
find my friendship flourish on crumbs after being nourished for years from
full loaves--was quite unhappy that I cared so little for the minor
concerns of her life, when, good lack! I did not know what I might or
might not ask and not be snubbed; for once she told me there were things
due to the man one is going to marry (at that time she had not got to the
extent of saying whom one loves) that could not be spoken of to me. Of
course she had only to mention the fact to me to make it perfectly plain,
and henceforth he and his doings, his belongings and himself, all of them
of the tamest sort at best, were a sealed book to me. And again she
quenched a feeble effort of mine to get back to my old place, by telling
me such topics she could discuss only with her sister, "her shadow sister"
she prettily called her. So I am desolate!
Knowing this, you may understand in some degree what could induce a little
waif like me to accept such an offer as yours. I think no one in all God's
earth is more desolate than I. In my heart I bear always that unforgotten
love in my life. I have only a barren waste to show. It is as if I had
started from a lovely, radiant garden in the fair morning of my life, in
which I had left the bright, sweet rose of my love, and walking along a
narrow, dark path, had clasped hands with, and drawn my light and warmth
from, a figure walking close beside me; and though from all sides as I
walked forms had come to me, offering me fair fruits and sweet flowers, I
declined them all without ever a word of thanks, being so content with my
one companion. And suddenly, when all my youth, all my prospects of other
things, had gone, this idealized one had withdrawn its hand-clasp, and
turning on me a face I did not know, faded into darkness, leaving me
nothing but my broken hopes, a wreath of withered flowers,
"Tangled down in chains about my feet."
You do not of course realize how the old French _emigre_ blood in my
veins, inherited from my father, makes this a very vital matter to me. We
cling to our hopes very tenaciously while they abide--then we are
distraught. We loved, my father and I, very few, but those with a clinging
oneness that is wellnigh pain: he loved my mother and myself--that was
all. Likewise I had my two: they having failed me, my life is a blank. I
have heard of empty-hearted people: I know now what the phrase means. I am
empty-hearted: I have not one hope, one particle of faith, one real,
honest desire, except to "drie my weir," as the Scotch say, doing my duty
as best I may, as it comes to me. But I have a woman's hatred of pity: my
cousins have long accorded me a contemptuous pity for being an old maid. I
laughed their pity to scorn while I had Esther Hooper. What more did I
need? We could enact over again the sweet old life of the Ladies of
We had planned our lives a thousand times. Poor we both were, yet we would
put something away every year for our old age, and work cheerily on until
we could work no more, then creep to our nest like a couple of old
kittens, and cuddle down by our warm, pleasant fire--together, and
therefore content. Well, you see it was not to be: she had grown
affrighted, I suppose, at the thought of all that weary life with only me,
and has married a man who outrages all her delicate instincts and
traditions of an accordant husband. But why speak of him? He supports her,
and she has escaped the obloquy of old-maidism. She has married a
maintenance. She says she loves him, so of course she does.
For myself, my health, which has always been very rugged, has failed me
utterly this last year; but as my bread depends upon my ability to endure
daily and constant fatigue, I have forced myself to endeavor to get up the
amount of strength required for my winter's work by the present
expedition, planned for me by a friend. Bah! what do I talk of friendship
for? An old lady who was once a teacher in the school from which my father
had married my mother, and who, I think, had cared with more than
friendship for him, has in these last few years fallen heir to a small
property--not a very great deal, but enough to enable her to live in
comfort, and exercise her kindly heart in deeds of charity occasionally.
She has chosen for years to occupy rooms beneath my own, and has always
been a sort of mother to me. Most of the pretty things that have fallen
into my life, and most of its pleasures, have come to me through her. She
has many troublesome faults, as we all have, but she is old, and I have
always had Esther to talk them over and laugh them off with, so have borne
them easily. This year, because she saw I was dying, she took me with her
to the mountains of Vermont, and I have got a new lease of life, and new
capacities for suffering as well.
On our way back she was suddenly attacked with the illness which detained
us at this Boston hotel. Here your accident laid you up, and the rest came
as I have told.
You have married me to rid yourself of a union with a woman you detest,
being utterly indifferent to me. I have married you because I cannot bring
myself to go back to that old teaching-life, now so cold and gray. I think
I can earn my board in taking care of your belongings, and the having
saved you from a dreadful fate must compensate to you for the little of my
presence you will for the future be compelled to endure. It need not be
much or long continued if we start with a fair comprehension of each
This brings me to the reason of all this long history. I have always
looked upon marriage without love as nothing more or less than legalized
vice. I think you, who are so intrinsically a man of the world, will have
imbibed the (so-called) sensible and popular views upon such subjects, and
will at once coincide with me that in such a union as ours--a literal
_mariage de convenance_ on both sides--my ideas are not unwise. Since upon
you will henceforth depend my maintenance (as I of course understand that
a wife who worked for her own support would be a disgrace to you: indeed,
I doubt whether the having married a girl who has already done so is not a
cause of shame), I ask that now, when Mrs. Keller is about to leave me,
and my arrangements as your wife must be finally made--when, in fact, her
giving up her room necessitates my coming to yours, her leaving compelling
me either to go with her, or come, as of course I must, to you--we may
have a definite understanding as to our future relations.
You have been kind enough to approve of the little I have been able to do
for you since our marriage--to say to Mrs. Keller you did not know what it
was to be taken care of in sickness; and to myself you have more than once
laughingly spoken of a wife as a good institution, adding, that had you
known how comfortable it was to have some one about you to think of and
care for you, you would have invested in the article before; and so on. I
am glad of this: I am pleased that my society has not proved repugnant to
you; for since it has been no annoyance in its first trial, I think we can
manage that it shall not be so in the future. I would ask, as an especial
piece of mercy to "your handmaiden," that you will grant her some favors
at the outset of our somewhat tangled fate. Please let me be your sister.
It is for your well-being the world should know me as your wife, and, the
Lord helping me, I will be a willing, faithful helpmeet to you, caring
most for your comfort and happiness, spending and being spent in your
service; never demanding or desiring your attention, except so much as is
due me in outward seeming; interfering with none of your pleasures or
pursuits, or thrusting my needs or feelings never before you. I have no
expectation of winning your love: it has been an understood thing from the
first--that is something neither expects from the other--therefore any
show of caressing fondness upon your part would be quite out of keeping
with our position. I have watched with some amusement, and a little pain
that you should imagine it requisite, your attempts at petting me during
these last two weeks. Poor, helpless man! it was a little hard to have to
pretend an interest and tenderness you did not feel. Will you let this
cease, with every other demonstration of affection, in our private
For the rest, claiming nothing from you, giving you nothing but the
services for which you render me a full equivalent, I grant you, as far as
I have a right to do so, the largest liberty of action. We are only
jealous of those we love: therefore all women will be as free to you as
they have hitherto been or their will accords, save that you have debarred
yourself for a time from offering any one of them marriage. I hope to be
so little trouble to you, and so serviceable to you in many ways, that you
shall realize to the full that if an unloving union could be so much more
comfortable than a bachelor's life, a life passed with a loving and
beloved wife would be bliss indeed, and so when my life has ended you will
not be sorry that I stopped in your path a few years. For I shall not
trouble you very long. I am a poor little perfumeless flower, having no
sweetness or beauty with which to charm the eye or senses, only fit to
grow among the kitchen herbs--rue and thyme, and such old-fashioned
things. But I need a great deal of sunshine, spite of my plainness, to
keep life in me. And now that all the heat and passion of love, all the
sunny hopes and glow of friendship, have left me, I shall just fade and
fade until some day you will find the poor little weed has dropped to
earth for ever.
I am but two years younger than yourself, and women, especially women with
a great sorrow, age cruelly fast. I look and feel older than I am--you
wear your years like a crown, and appear younger than you are. I have made
my little venture on life's ocean--made and failed: my barque, freighted
with a few cherished hopes, has been wrecked, and though I have reached a
rock to which I can cling for a time, yet I am terribly hurt, the waves
have buffeted me cruelly, and in a little while I shall let go my hold and
float out--out into the ocean of eternity. Ah! there is comfort after all:
life _is_ hard, but afterward there is peace and rest!
I am nearly through this long tirade. Pardon its length: it is my first,
and shall be my last, heart-outpouring to you; and if it make you
comprehend me, I shall not have written or you have read in vain.
Your income will not support the establishment your position in society
would require if we went to housekeeping; besides, you would feel as if
you must then be more stationary, more in your own home, than is at
present your custom, therefore in a degree in bondage. And a hotel-life is
very expensive and very cheerless. You have kindly said you intended
dividing your income with me, giving me half. At first I was indignant at
the idea, but now I think I see that it will be in every way the best. One
of my cousins has been occupying a very elegantly-appointed suite of rooms
on Twenty-fourth street. Harry writes me he is going very suddenly to
Europe. His rooms will of course be vacant: he talks of renting them
furnished. I have thought, if you would not object to it, we might take
them off his hands. I have calculated that the part of your means you
intend for me will meet all our expenses of every sort if you permit me to
have the arranging, of our daily affairs. I will pay the rent and meet all
the expenses of our living out of this sum, leaving you your reserved
funds to meet your ordinary requirements and pleasures. By this
arrangement, you see, I shall get my living free, and I am sure shall have
a surplus over and above our expenses, as I am a good manager and used to
making the most of everything.
There is one sacrifice which, do we enter into this arrangement, I must
ask of you--that when we return to New York you give up your valet. For
more than one reason: I cannot have a spy upon the mode of life we are to
lead. I am foolishly sensitive of the position of a neglected wife, and I
feel assured your gentlemanly instincts will prevent your ever offering
any observable slight to the woman who bears your name. Besides, in the
apartments I propose our taking there will be no room for a man-servant,
and one of the maids connected with the house will be all the assistant I
shall require. When you are away on your frequent excursions to all parts
of the world it will be very easy to provide yourself a servant. Will you
try for a few weeks how well I can supply, or have the place supplied, of
this man, whom you intend in any case to dismiss? This is all. Next week,
the doctor thinks, you may be moved to a lounge, and perhaps the week
after be able to travel, or at farthest the week following.
I acknowledge to the womanish feeling of being exultant at the idea of the
envy I shall awaken in the breasts of your adoring circle of lady
friends--my lady cousins among them--in having, spite of my
unattractiveness, secured the husband they have long striven by every wile
to win. Ah! they little know, and I trust never may, why I, without
seeking, have ensnared their _rara avis_ to be my legal bondsman. Rather a
contradiction in terms!
The pretty fiction of our sudden marriage being a renewal of an old
love-affair is more of an untruth than I am used to letting pass, and yet
has enough truth in it to make it reality, since you were the hero of my
girlish dreams. So we will let the explanation thus worded, which you have
written to my uncles and stated verbally to Mrs. Keller, stand; also, that
the undue haste was caused by your pressing need of me during your
accident. I think, indeed, from my cousin Harry's letter yesterday, and
one from Shelton last week, they have taken the idea that we have been
spending the summer together, and that you were following me home when you
were stayed in your mad career by a broken leg.
I am done; are you not thankful? There have been some things in this
letter very hard to say, which, if I were braver or knew you better, I
should have liked to be more outspoken about. But enough has, I think,
been said to make you appreciate my earnest desires and my reasons for
them. I am most truly,
And he, prone upon his back this warm September day, read this long
epistle from his new wife, then laid it down and closing his eyes murmured
softly, "What a strange little puss it is!" Lying in the dim light her
hand had created for him, he thought of his own troubles and hers, just as
she had stated them. The blood would flush up to his brow as her cool
ignoring of his surpassing attractions, to which all other women accorded
their full meed of praise, rose up before him. He of whom it had been said
if he beckoned with his finger women left their duties, gave up their very
life to do his pleasure!--he to have the girl he had honored by making his
wife, a little brown woman, plain and almost _passe_ (he was man enough
not to care for her poverty), show she cared no more for his love than he
did for hers I--was as indifferent to him as he to her! Indifference from
a woman was a new experience to him, and annoyed him.
Yet her quaint, frank letter touched him. What did she mean by dying soon
and letting him be free again? Poor little midge! was she dying of a
broken heart because a treacherous woman had fooled her out of a part of
her life? Poor little robin! she was his wife now, and he could heal the
worst heartache in any woman's breast. He had tried that thing before, and
succeeded, even if he broke the heart afterward. Die, indeed! Not if he
knew it: even Death should not have a little woman he meant to be good to.
And as he remembered all her faithfulness to him during these weary weeks
of pain, he thought, "By Jove! beauty's not all, for no woman, had her
face been like that of Phryne of Thebes, or her charms as entrancing as
the bewitching Dudu's, could have been more lovely in her kindness to me.
How brave and strong she has been! What a faithful little soul it is!
Always ready, day and night, to do just what I want done and in the way I
want it, never knocking things about or fidgeting round, but just
ready-handed, neat and bright. God knows, a handsome woman wouldn't have
risked the spoiling her beauty by all these weary, sleepless nights,
especially for a man she did not love." And then to think she was actually
willing to work and slave for him, and support him out of her share of the
booty, and let him fool away his own on other women! "Wonder what the
little dame means to buy her own fine things with, for even robins must
get clothing? I'll ask her that. Bless the little woman's soul! she makes
me think of her so much that I believe I'm half in love with her. Um!" and
he stopped: "I'm getting sentimental and poetic, I swear! But if it were
in me to love anything that was not beautiful, I believe I could love this
little girl, who has come into my life so strangely. She owns up to having
loved, and is done with all the stale farce. Some fools," and he felt very
indignant, "slighted her because she had no beauty, though, upon my soul,
now I think of it, I'm not so certain about that. There's a something in
her face takes a man's breath--something that one would rather die than
lose if he once loved it, and which once loved would be better than any
beauty. What's that Spenser says?--
'A sweet, attractive kind of grace,...
The lineaments of gospel books,'
That's just it: it's a look that makes one think about one's prayers, if
one only knew them. But whether the man slighted her or not, he missed
it--confound him!--in losing such a love. I'll make her tell me his name.
And as for being my sister, that's all nonsense, of course, as she's my
wife." Then more thoughtfully, "Well, maybe not: a household where there
is no love is cruel--I knew that in my early home--and children are a
beastly trouble, and as expensive as a man's wines. She's a brick, this
wife of mine, and as sensible as steel. I'll put myself in her hands for
better or for worse, I vow I will!
"The jolly way she manged that Rollins affair was proof poz of her
ability. Her cool assumption of wifely dignity--her actually bringing them
up to see me without announcing their coming to me, and never letting them
have one bout at me, was beyond anything! It's like a dip in the sea to
recall it all. Her breezy voice coming in before them was all the warning
I had: 'Oh certainly, you can come up and look at him, but not talk to
him: he's nervous and feverish, and I cannot permit even such old friends
as you doubtless are to say anything to him. You know, of course, the
doctor thought he needed constant attention, and caused us to hurry our
marriage in a most Gretna-Green style; but I could not nurse him unless we
were married. And it did not matter so much, after all, since we had
loved'--and she hesitated with the prettiest affectation of having said
something she ought not--'we had cared for each other since we were quite
children. Ross's sister Bell was my school-friend.' Then she brought them
straight to the bed, and stooping down gave me the only kiss with which
she has honored me--her show kiss, I call it--saying, 'My darling' (how
soft she said it, too, with a little trilling cadence upon the sweet old
word!)--'My darling, you are not to speak, or even look, save this once:
now I must cover up my dearie's eyes;' and she laid her cool hand over my
eyes and held it there while they stayed. 'These are some kind New York
friends, Mr. Rollins and his good wife'--and a faint pressure on my face
emphasized the joke--'who are come to see you. I cannot understand all
they mean, except that you have been behaving badly, making these good
people's daughter believe you meant to marry her, when of course you were
only going to marry your little, ugly Percy. Oh, my bad boy, what shall I
ever do with you? Oh the hearts you have broken while you have been
waiting for me! Ah! dear, bad boy!'--and, as if overcome with tenderness,
she laid her cheek down on mine. I clasped my arms about her--the first
and last time I've had a chance, by George!--but she sprang away with a
laugh: 'No, you shall not be petted for being bad. Why, Ross, these dear
people came to take you and marry you to their beautiful daughter, for I
know she's a beauty, since her mother is still so handsome.'
"Oh, it was gorgeous, to see the Rollins standing there in all her
Cleopatra-like splendor, utterly upset and put down by my little brown
berry! And the impossibility of correcting such a mistake without putting
herself in an absurd position actually stopped the Rollins speech,
and--Lord help me!--I thought that mouth could only be closed by bon-bons
and a man's kisses--any man's, _par exemple_. And her poor old catspaw of
a _pater_ stood helpless before my little hurricane--a very reed shaken by
the wind. Then my sea-breeze spoke again: 'But the doctor will shed vials
of wrath upon me for letting you see strangers.' (It must have cut the
Rollins sore to be called a stranger to me!) 'But these kind friends could
not realize your being ill, so I was fain to let them see my Apollo in his
box; but we will go now if you please;' and she positively ushered them
out in wordless dismay, bidding them good-bye at once, and seeing them no
more. I thought she would have rushed back to laugh the scene over with
me, but that shows how little I know her. When, in the course of an hour,
she did come, it was with such an utter ignoring of having done a smart
thing, waving aside my admiration of her _finesse_, that I was taken
aback. She said sadly, 'I am unused to falsehood, and _finesse_ of any
sort is distasteful to me. I quenched this woman this time, but, in spite
of her bad, hard face, I pity her very much. You, and such men as you,
have, I suppose, made her what she is, God help her!' So by this good
little girl's management I am rid of my troubles. I declare I'll do just
what she wishes, and be thankful my follies have worked me no more harm."
Then he began to wish she'd come in, and to feel aggrieved and neglected
because she did not come--to feel an eager desire to see her and talk the
matter of the letter over with her. But he had read it through again twice
ere she appeared, and then, to his dismay, equipped for a journey, and
saying, in the most matter-of-fact, nonchalant manner possible, "Ross,
Mrs. Keller has come to say good-bye. I am going with her to Newport,
where she makes the only perilous part of the trip--the, to her, dreadful
change from cars to boat. So I shall be away all night, of course."
Then Mrs. Keller came forward with--"I hope you don't mind my taking her
off, Mr. Norval?"
"But I do mind it deucedly, madam," he said. "Why, Percy, I don't like
your traveling alone this way at all. Why can't James go with Mrs.
"Not for the world, Ross, thank you. I'm used to taking care of myself,
and of Mrs. Keller too, for that matter. I'm not much of a traveler,
because I have not had much of a chance--none, indeed, except what she's
given me--but somehow I always manage to come out right. You are very kind
to offer to spare James, but he's your necessity. I have told him about
the medicines, and how to loosen the bandages at night. So I expect to
find you better than usual when I get back. He knows your ways so much
better than I, and I sha'n't be here to interfere;" and she went about
arranging little matters as she spoke, and not looking at him.
But Mrs. Keller saw the look of annoyance upon his face, and said, "But,
Percy, Mr. Norval dislikes your going, and you're bound to stay."
"Oh, nonsense, Mrs. Keller! Of course he don't care particularly, as I am
going to be away but one night, and he's got to spend all my life with
me;" and her face saddened, he thought. "I'm sure to come back to-morrow:
my cousin Shelton says, 'Percy always manages to be at hand when she's
wanted.' Am I to write to Harry that we will take the rooms? I must do it
at once, or he may let some one have them;" and she came and stood beside
He answered, sullenly, "Do just as you like about it: it's no concern of
"Of course I shall do nothing of the kind. If you had liked the idea, been
very much pleased with it, it would have been different. I only threw out
the suggestion as a mere suggestion. But we will think of it no more." All
this in her quick, bright way, without a shade of annoyance visible, and
she began talking of something else as if the matter was settled: "The
hotel-keeper will put a sofa-bed into your dressing-room for me to-morrow,
so I shall be quite out of the way when your callers are here. I have told
them about bringing my trunk in there from Mrs. Keller's room: James will
attend to it all for me. So, as long as you are a 'prisoner of hope' in
here, I'll reign supreme in the dressing-room. Now say 'Good-bye,' Mrs.
Keller: James will put you in the coach while I finish my adieux."
"But, Percy, you mistake," he said, quite humbly, when her old friend was
gone: "you do talk a fellow down so confoundedly," with a laugh. "I like
your idea about the rooms most heartily: indeed, I like all your ideas,
all your letter, except where you are so deucedly severe upon me; but even
that is true, and I like it when you tell me of it. I think your
management the best in everything, and I expect to be as happy as a king,
or rather a good subject, with my little queen to rule over me and keep me
in order in our new domain."
She clasped her hands in a quick, passionate sort of way at his words, as
if they gave her a pang. He saw that, but her calm face and voice made him
half doubt if it meant anything. "Are you quite sure, or are you only
saying it because you think I have a wish to go there? I thought you did
not seem to like it just now, and indeed I do not care: I shall be quite
content with whatever you arrange when you are well."
"No, Percy: write and say we will take the rooms from the time he leaves
them. I"--with a half-abashed laugh--"I was only cross because you are
going away. I shall miss you sorely, dear, and I'm sorry you're going and
are so glad to go--that's all."
Her face turned crimson to the very temples, and she said, "I'm sorry I
made my arrangements without consulting you: I will not do so in future. I
did not think you would care one way or the other."
"You've been so good to me, little one, and I'm so unused to being cared
for except as a society ornament, that I think I shall never be able to
get along without you again."
Her eyes filled with tears which she would not let fall, and she said,
"You are very kind to say so: I will be more careful in future. But I must
go now." He waited in quite an eager expectancy to see if she would kiss
him. "Take good care of yourself, and be sure I shall come by the first
train;" and she started to leave the bedside.
He caught her dress and drew her toward him, holding her hands: "Is that
all, Percy? Is there nothing else?"
"I think not, Ross," she said, doubtingly, but coloring painfully.
"Kiss me good-bye, Percy." She held down her face instantly, and when he
had kissed her, drew herself away without a word; but he clasped his arm
about her: "You have not kissed me after all, my darling."
"My kisses are nothing worth now, Ross: their sweetness died out years
ago. Yours are good enough for both;" and she laughed and left him.
He was bitterly chagrined: it seemed a little thing to make him feel so
mortified. That she should leave him willingly, that doing so she should
refuse to grant him so small a favor, when almost all other women--her own
pretty cousins among them--had denied nothing he chose to ask, it was
"By Jove! I never cared so much for a little thing in my life as her
leaving me and not caring to kiss me. I swear, I'm a perfect baby about
her! Little, truthful, honest soul! I believe she could make another
creature of me if she cared enough for me to try. There is something
restful in truth and honest purity, after all: one feels safe, and
grounded on a sure place. It's good to have a little fairy lying close in
one's bosom; and I vow I'll have my little brownie there yet, though I
have to go as suitor on a regular courting expedition to my own wife
before I win her heart. Curse this old lover of hers, who bars her heart
against me! And curse my own past follies, which make a good woman fear to
trust me! Marriage is a sell generally, even when a vast amount of
so-called love is brought to the sacrificial altar; so perhaps I shall not
make a bad thing of it if I win my wife's heart after she knows me _au
fond_, instead of in the glamour of gas-light flirtations. Poor little
heart! What a pitiful story it is! How quaintly she writes her pathetic,
desolate history! What a ready pen the little woman holds!" and he took
out her letter again. "I declare, the child has better attractions than
beauty--a lovely, faithful soul."
But though he was tender of her in his thoughts, he was a hard master that
night: everything went wrong, nothing pleased or contented him, and the
sullen, much-tried servant at last announced that with the morning he
would leave his master to his own devices.
"Go, and be damned to you!" was the savage reply; and the man took him at
his word, decamping, after making a few necessary arrangements, as soon
after breakfast as he could.
"And I have been as good to that fellow the year he has lived with me as I
could," thought Ross Norval as hour after hour he lay alone wanting
everything--water, the papers, a handkerchief. There was nothing he did
not want, and he could reach nothing but those nauseous medicines.
"Service cannot be bought: in very truth, love and patience must be a free
gift. However, now even love and patience seem to have fled from me. I
want my wife--I want her awfully."
Percy, with her sad little heart lying as heavy as a plummet in her
breast, was just as bright and useful and entertaining to her cranky old
friend as if life was a boon instead of a bane to her. You know from her
letter how bitter life was to her; and I think if you have ever known
sorrow and a great disappointment, you will comprehend how it was possible
for her, with the fear of God before her, and a desire to be His faithful
child, to make this match for herself. Anything was better than the dull
stagnation into which she had fallen: she had felt this year, unless some
great change came to her to take her out of this weary groove in which she
was set, she must go melancholy mad. She had laid out a hundred schemes,
all of them, she knew, impracticable; and now, in a strange, providential
way, this chance to change every thought and action of her whole life had
come to her. Do you wonder much she accepted it? I think it was not
That night after his offer (the night she had asked for in which to
decide, although she said to herself, with a bitter little shrug as she
made the request, "A woman who hesitates is lost"), as she lay awake
pondering the whole matter, she thought: "It can't be worse than it is,
and it won't be very long either way, I think. I can be faithful to him,
make and mend, dig and delve, if needs be, for his benefit, in return for
the honor he does me in giving me his name and protection. I shall expect
nothing, literally nothing, from him that wives usually demand. I, who
have borne for years with the caprice of school-girls, can surely bear the
humors of one man, especially when his name shields me from other sorts of
ills. I have rather plumed myself these last few months upon having
learned the depth of meaning and force of truth there is in that
expression from _Sartor Resartus_ I used to think so wicked: 'Say to
happiness, I can do without you--in self-renunciation life begins,' I can
try it now. I need not be a spaniel or fawn upon my lord, and yet I can
obey and honor, if he will let me, this man to whom I shall vow myself for
life. For life! Can I endure it all the years I may have to live an
unloved wife--so near and yet so far from him to whom I am bound? Will it
not be a death in life? Will it be better than this dead, cold monotony I
now bear? Better or worse? Ah, there's the rub! I can never hope to win
his faithful, abiding love. Even did use make me acceptable to him, I
could not trust its continuance. And yet who knows whether, if I try to
keep a pure life and an honest purpose to walk before him worthily every
day, I may not win from him at last a sort of respect and friendship that
will be next to love? I will some time let him know of the friends my
literary efforts have brought me. I know he will be proud of the judgment
that scholarly men, whose opinions he honors, have placed upon the
heirloom of intellectual ability that has been my sole dower from my dear
father and his learned ancestors. And when I am Ross Norval's wife I will
reveal myself to these letter-friends of my inner life, and, meeting them
no longer in the spirit only, let them see eye to eye their hidden sister,
their 'nebulous child,' as they have half playfully, half angrily, called
me. A husband's hand shall rive the rock in which their crystal has been
for years embedded.
"Oh, Ross, I shall be glad to come to my inheritance through you; to
gather my band of chosen ones into my actual, as I have long held them in
my inner, life; to know those at last whom my unprotected woman's state
has hitherto forbidden me to know. And if I take him, if I give myself to
him, I shall at last have the desire of my life. Ah, Ross! you will never
know that your boyish flattering, which meant nothing to you, and should
have meant nothing to me, did really mean so much that it simply broke my
heart, leaving me at sixteen so utterly incapable of loving any man but
yourself that since then no hand has ever touched the seal which closed
the fountain of love and passion in my heart for ever. Ah! I wonder what
penalty there is for those who carelessly destroy our hopes and blot out
all possibilities of love from us? What would you say, Ross Norval, if you
knew that the last kiss I ever gave to any man was given you that cold,
dark day they buried my father? You came with a note from Bell--she was
dying, she said; after to-day no one but her family would be admitted to
her: would I come and say good-bye to her, even from my father's grave? I
went with you, and stayed an hour with her. Then you brought me, more dead
than alive, back to my desolate home, and taking me in your arms carried
me from the carriage to my bed. As you laid me down you said, 'My sister's
little friend, I am glad to have seen you once again. Bell tells me all
these years I have been absent you have been pleasant friends to each
other. You are dear and sweet because she loved you. I shall never see you
again perhaps, for when she dies I shall have no ties here and shall go
elsewhere. Kiss me good-bye,' and I did.
"For a year after that I was alone: then Esther Hooper came, and I was not
wretched. I have had my share of lovers and friends--what girl has
not?--have had rare treats of music, of books and paintings, and shared
their pleasant harmonies with an appreciative soul; and I have been very
"But now I am desolate again, and out of the darkness you have come and
beckoned me to follow you and stand near you all the rest of my life. It
will be happiness enough, as much as is good for me, to live with you,
even if I am nothing to you, for, oh, I love you very faithfully!"
And so, you know, they were married, with only the doctor and Mrs. Keller
to witness the ceremony; and at once, with her little decided way, the
sort of certainty that years of self-dependence give, she became his
nurse, attending to him as persistently and indefatigably as if the sole
purpose for which she had been born was that. From the first service she
rendered him--bathing his head and face through an intense August day with
iced water delicately perfumed, arranging the curtains so that the air,
when there was a breeze, blew freely to him, though the glare of the sun
was gone, and his room in dim, soothing shadow--she seemed a blessing to
him. Some hours after she came with her bright, quick ways, arranging his
disordered room, bringing order out of chaos on his dressing-table, never
peeping into things, and yet getting them into beautiful order, and,
wonderful to relate, keeping them so: the air seemed to grow cooler, his
medicine less bitter, the time shorter, and his broken leg and weary back
to ache less acutely.
One day she said in a shy way, "Mr. Norval, if you will let James lay out
your things, I will see what mending they need, and will sit here and do
them, so you sha'n't spend so many hours alone. Mrs. Keller has made some
friends in the house, and they kindly sit with her so much that she does
not need me."
"But, Percy, what's the use of James having a hand in it? Here are my
keys," with a laugh as he handed them to her: "you know they are a part of
the worldly goods with which I did thee endow; and the keys always belong
to the female department by right, don't they?"
She took them with a vivid blush. "Shall I look over your trunks and
bureau, then?" she asked.
"Certainly, while I go to sleep and dream what a jolly thing it is to have
you here." Then, pretending to sleep, he watched her with careful hands
examine his belongings, with a contemptuous little smile at this piece of
bungling mending or an anxious frown over that frayed place. Then how
neatly she folded and laid back all the good, and seated herself with a
pile before her and began to sew! When he opened his eyes she handed him
"No, Percy, keep them: I make all right and title to them over to you," he
From that day he seemed to feel delight in her companionship, reading to
her hour after hour while she sewed, always choosing some poetical or
light bit of reading--"To suit my capacity," she thought.
So they had gone on week after week--with the single exception of the
Rollins episode--without any change. He was a rare favorite in society,
and every day received a host of calls from gentlemen, baskets of fruits
and flowers from ladies. Always, when a card was sent up, she would gather
all her womanish "traps" together and go to Mrs. Keller--this, too, in
spite of his earnest invitation to her to remain.
"No: you can have a pleasanter call with no ladies present, and Mrs.
Keller needs me. I'll be back in time for your medicine."
Once or twice some one, more intimate or free than usual, would run up
unannounced and catch her there. Her acceptation of the situation was, he
thought, perfect. Without a shadow of embarrassment she acknowledged the
introduction, "My wife," did the honors of the occasion, said a few words
regarding his state, and with some such words as "I will be back in an
hour or so, Ross," would leave the room.
Thus he was utterly unaware of what her abilities were. Whether she was
capable of holding a conversation, or could hold her own in society, he
could not opine; and it annoyed him keenly, for he was, like most
society-men, very punctilious regarding the manners of the particular
woman who belonged to him. That she was, in fact, an elegant
conversationalist, quick and brilliant at repartee, a fine linguist and an
intelligent thinker for a woman, he did not dream.
Nevertheless, the mere having her about him day after day, with her dainty
little ways, grew to be a pleasure to him: the making her grave little
face, with its haunting look of sorrow, break into smiles, the light come
into her soft gray eyes, became a real delight to him. Then the color
flushed over her cheek at his lightest word, and he found a real interest
in watching it glow and fade from her pale face.
"She's the sort of _brune_ that colors well," he thought. "Old Sir John's
'Her cheek was like a Cathrine pear,
The side that's next the sun'--
suits her exactly. And her hair, with the glint of gold in the chestnut
hue, would be a glory in a beautiful woman. Every motion of her heart
shows in her face. She'd never make a woman of the world: she cannot hide
her feelings, but lets one read them like an open book." Which was all he
knew about it, since, spite of her treacherous color, those years of hard
duty had trained her into the most perfect self-control on all needful and
great occasions and matters.
How he missed her light step! how he had wanted her all these two days!
for, though it was scarcely past noon, and she had gone late the day
before, he was sure it was that--"And seems like six, by George!" But, as
he lay feverish and famished for a drink, a very ill-used man, she opened
the door, and the air seemed lightened of its troubles at once.
"Shall we go to Niagara for our wedding-trip?" Mr. Norval asked when the
doctor had taken his last fee, pronouncing his patient cured.
"Unless you care particularly about it, I would rather go straight to New
York. I have canceled all my school-engagements by letter, having taken a
new service"--and she bowed to him--"and Mrs. Keller promised to see to my
little rooms and their belongings; but I should like to see Harry before
"Want to make him promise to be a good boy while he's away?" said he with
"Something like it," she answered, laughingly. "But Harry's not a bad
fellow, at all."
"Well, then, let's start for home to-morrow;" and they made their
arrangements to that effect, though he was disappointed, for in an
unwonted moment of confidence she had told him of the pictures of travel
to be taken, the glories to be first seen together, never apart, both in
Europe and America, that had been among the happiest dreams and made up a
large part of the talks between herself and her lost friend, Esther
Hooper. He felt that her indifference to seeing the glories of Niagara and
the sublimities of the White Mountains was caused by his companionship not
being her heart's choice (which was all he knew about it!), and the idea
gave him angry pain and a passionate desire to win her in spite of all.
As they stood the next morning ready equipped for their journey, he put
his arm around her, saying, "I've been very happy, little wife, here with
you. Are you glad you happened to be here that August day, and that I saw
"I have had no cause to regret it," she said quietly.
"But you are not glad," he said, taking his arm away.
"As glad, Ross, as I can be for anything--more glad than I am for most
He looked at her with a sigh. "My father--and I am like him--loved only
once." Her words came constantly into his mind. "I came too late," he
thought; and it seemed to him this little plain woman, looking wan and
pale in the early morning light, was better worth winning than any other
earthly thing he had ever known. He had left her side, and was standing
looking with a frown out of the window as they awaited the summons to
breakfast. After a while she came and stood beside him, leaning her head
against his arm. He turned slightly toward her, but took no further notice
of the action. She stayed so for a while, then said, softly stealing her
hand in his as it lay upon the window-ledge, "Dear Ross, I _am_ glad: I am
happier than I ever dreamed it possible for me to be. I would not undo the
deed we have done so long as you are content. I like being with you
dearly, and I like to think that so long as I live I shall be your
wife--your little girl to whom you are so very tender and good."
"My Preciosa"--and he drew her into his arms--"so long as we both shall
live, you mean. I want no life without you now." Then turning her, face
up, he scanned it hastily: "You are so white, my pet, so deathly pale! Are
you ill, my Percy?"
"No, no," she said quickly. "I think I need my breakfast: I have been up a
couple of hours, and I did not sleep very much all night."
"My poor little girl; when I get you safely home in those famous rooms of
ours, perhaps you'll get some rest. But you talk in this strange way of
dying: just now you did, and once before in your letter. What makes you do
it? Is there anything the matter of which you have not told me?"
"Nothing--only my life seemed ended, Ross, as if all my places were filled
and I was no more needed, so that I had got in the way of hoping for death
as a boon which God would send me soon."
"But you do not now?--you don't want to die and leave me desolate?"
"No, dear! indeed, no! though I don't think you'd care really." He clasped
her in a closer embrace and kissed her reproachfully. "Well, yes, just at
first, perhaps. Yet so long as you want me, I want to stay and be your
willing, working wife. I've got a new reason and aim now: I have you, dear
"Oh, Percy, I _do_ care. God knows even the thought of it gives me a
bitter agony, I know you cannot trust me yet, because I married you so
carelessly, and because you think I can't be true to one woman with my
battered old heart. But that's because you judge me by what my long,
unloved life has made me. No good woman ever made me love her before. I
never knew how beautiful a pure life was, my darling, until I knew it
through watching yours. When I think of all you have saved me from, which
would have caused my undying gratitude had I learned to hate you--as if I
ever could!" and he paused to kiss her--"when I think of all the new and
better hopes you have awakened in my heart, I feel--God knows I do--as if
He had sent my angel, and let her drag me out of a hell into which I was
plunged, and year after year sinking deeper. Stay with me, dear: I will be
true. I never cared for any woman in the way--in the deep, absorbing
way--I do for you. I wish you would believe me."
"I do, Ross--you are so good to me, so good! Oh, Ross, Ross!" and she held
up her face to his, "you are so good to me!" She clung to him one moment,
then suddenly, as soon as she could trust her voice, said gayly, "But it's
breakfast-time, and your wife is so unromantically hungry;" and with a
sigh that nothing more ever came of their talks he took her down.
When they reached New York the next afternoon, they drove at once to the
rooms they had engaged. Percy's cousin, Harry Barton, was there to welcome
them, having come round from his hotel for the purpose.
"Why, Norval," said he--they were old acquaintances--"you've won our bone
of contention, after all. I wonder what we shall do, now that Percy's
safely landed out of our reach? You're a brave man to dare our rage."
"Don't, Harry!" said Percy, putting her hand on his arm.
"I won't, dear, if you say not;" and he covered her hand with his own. "I
always did do your lightest bidding, little girl, didn't I?"
"Yes, you're a dear old cousin. Ross knows how much I appreciate your
kindness to me always. Why, I gave up what he calls my 'bridal tour,'
partly because I wanted to come back and say 'good-bye' to you."
His face flushed crimson at her words, and, all his careless, fashionable
manner gone, he said, "Did you, Percy? You always were good."
"That, and because--because I shall be so sorry if you join this African
"Don't ask me not to, Percy--don't ask me to stay now you have broken my
hope for ever. I shall go to the dogs, dear, if I stay here now."
"I don't want you to, Harry. Only your mother is so delicate and getting
old, and she loves you beyond all the rest of the world, though you think
she don't because she has been cruel to me. It will break her heart if you
join this dangerous enterprise. Stay in Europe, go to Heidelberg and
finish the course you so foolishly broke up. They'll blame me, Harry, for
all the evil that comes to you."
"Well, I'll think about it, dear." Then to Ross; "Does she kiss you,
"Well, I can't say she does," said that gentleman, who had been a
surprised listener to their talk, and it annoyed him to have to confess
she did not.
"Nor let you kiss her, either?"
"Well, yes," with a laugh. "She can't very well help that, you know."
"Don't you believe it: if she didn't want you to, you'd never kiss her, I
know. Why, we three cousins, Sheldon, Mac and I, have tried every way to
get her to kiss us for years, and never succeeded. You're a lucky dog!"
"He's my husband, Harry;" and she laid her head down on Ross's arm.
"Don't, Percy!" said her cousin with a quick motion of his hand: "I'll be
gone soon;" then hurriedly and gayly: "Let me do the honors of your new
domains. And, Norval, I have a great favor to ask of you. My little
cousin's _amour propre_ won't be touched, or herself involved now she's a
married woman, by taking an honest gift from me, and all brides take
bridal gifts, you know. I want you to let me give her all the traps I've
left in the rooms. It isn't much grace to ask, old fellow, seeing you're
to have her always and I not at all."
"Why, certainly, Barton, I have no objections if she has none."
"Percy, you've never let me give you anything all these years, you proud
little soul, nor any of the rest of us: you've come scot-free from all our
endeavors to snare you through all your hard-working life. You won't go
quite empty-handed to your husband's arms, just to plague me, will you?"
"No, indeed! I'm delighted to have all your pretty things. I saw them
once, you know, when you gave your mother her birth-night party;" and they
began their round of inspection. "But, Harry, you've refurnished the whole
"You didn't think I was going to make you and Norval (I can't call you
Cousin Ross yet, old fellow--I hate you too bad, you know) cast your lines
among my smoke-and-wine-scented traps, did you?"
As she saw how exquisitely he had chosen everything, how delicately he had
regarded every one of her tastes in his selection, and thought how little
reason he had to be good to her, she turned quickly and put her arms about
him. With a shuddering sob he held his own out as if to clasp her, saying,
"May I, Ross?" The answering nod was scarcely given ere he had gathered
her to his breast, murmuring, "Percy! Percy! my lost darling!"
As he held her thus, she said softly, "Promise me, Harry--dear old
Hal--promise me this!"
"Anything, everything, Percy," he said.
"That you will give up Africa and go to Heidelberg."
"I will, I will, since you wish it."
She drew his face down and kissed him on his mouth, two long, sweet
kisses, saying, "Good-bye, and God bless you, cousin!"
He stood like a blind man as she gently drew herself from his embrace,
then wringing Ross's hand in a grasp that made him wince, he strode out of
the house without a word.
Percy, going to where her husband sat, said humbly, "I was so sorry for
him, I could not help it. You do not care--very much?"
"Harry Barton loved you and wanted to marry you?"
"Yes, Ross. I've been very unhappy about it for years, he's wasted his
life so, and angered his family. Indeed, it was not my fault: I never gave
"Yet you married me without a pretence of love, and he's richer and
handsomer and a better man than I, every way? I don't understand it,
"Yes, I married you, knowing you did not love me." His arms almost crushed
her at that truth. "He may be richer: he is no better, I think,
and"--holding his face between her hands with a quizzical survey for an
instant--"it's barefaced scandal to assert that he is as handsome, by one
half. Poor, handsome Ross, to think that all your manifold charms should
have purchased you only ugly little me!" and she laughed a merry, mocking
laugh at his protesting hug. "It's true, though--it's the very climax of
opposites, a perfection of contrasts." Then, her light manner gone, she
added: "You are very, very good to me, Ross. He would never have been so
patient of my old griefs and lost loves. I told you my masculine cousins
were always crying for the grapes that hung out of their reach, you know."
Then suddenly growing grave: "Oh, Ross, it was not my fault: I could not
help it. I think the boys got to pitying me because they thought my life
was hard, and because their sisters treated me very cruelly sometimes.
Then my uncles very foolishly ordained that I should teach their sons
their Latin and help them with their studies. So out of school-hours my
time was mostly spent with one or the other, or all of them. Sheldon
Wilber and I are of the same age, and having been my father's constant
companion, I was better up in all his studies than he was himself; so I
used to do his college lessons with him, until he got to thinking, as he
used to say, I was his very breath. Then afterward I gave the other two
the benefit of what we had studied, got them out of scrapes, and indeed,
being with them so much, kept them out. Don't let's talk about them any
more, Ross: I have 'fessed' all now."
"Not all, my sweet: you have not told me who it is that has shut your
heart from us all."
"Don't, Ross!" and she shrank away from him as if he had struck her a
"Ah, well, my wife, keep your secret: I'll not touch your sacred past.
I'll try to learn to be content with my little sister, thankful I have so
"Oh, Ross, my good, kind Ross!" and she clasped her arms around his neck
in passionate, longing regret, "if I might tell you all--if I might!"
"Tell me nothing, dear, you would rather keep. I am infinitely content to
even have you thus, and know you love me somewhat. Yes, I know, sweet," he
said with a sad smile as she kissed his hand in passionate regret--"the
very best you can, with all the heart you have. I know, I know!"
Quite late in the evening, Sheldon Wilber came. After sitting an hour or
so, talking gayly, he rose to go. When they were standing he said, "Percy,
I had just left the Flemmings before I came in here."
"Had you? I hope they are all well, especially Miss Lizzie, who is so
"They're all well enough. She--Miss Lizzie the pretty--is going to be
"To be married!--to whom?" she asked.
"To my honorable self: don't you congratulate her?"--with a bitter laugh.
"I asked her to-night if she'd have me, and she said 'Yes.'"
"I am so glad, Sheldon--so very glad!" and she held out her hand.
"Are you? It's more than anyone else is but my mother. Well, no--I suppose
the Flemmings are, to get another daughter off their hands, and she to
have a safe man to pay her bills. And of course all our cousins and
sisters will be glad to have another house to dance the German in; so it
is rather a jubilee occasion, taking it all in all."
"Oh, Sheldon, how hard and bitter you are! She loves you, I know, and the
rest think you will be happier with a good wife to care for."
"Yes, the wife I cared for would have made me supremely happy, but _vive
la bagatelle!_ I want to know when I am to tie this knot?"
"Whenever she wishes, of course," she answered.
"By the Lord, no! If she gets me, she's got to take me when _I_ choose."
Percy went up to him and put her hands in his: "She'll be a good wife,
and, dear Sheldon, you'll be a good husband to her."
He looked at her curiously, then answered, "I'll try: I'll begin by
letting her set the hanging--no, I mean the wedding--day. Norval, I know
you'll be good to our little girl--better, likely as not, than the rest of
us would have been had we got possession of her. Only remember, old
fellow, the shadows must never come to her through you, or some of us will
make a shadow of you. Would you mind my coming around sometimes to see the
little woman? If you'll let me come and spend an evening now and then with
you both, it will keep me from getting utterly down-hearted, and maybe
will make me a better husband to the future Mrs. Sheldon Wilber. I'll
never come without sending word to know if I may." And the poor fellow
took himself away.
"How they love you, dear! It's strange you took me, and I thought I was
conferring a favor on you! I'm ashamed to remember it now, but it was so."
"Yes, I know"--and she laughed--"but it's not strange, Ross. Any woman
would have chosen you: I have always heard of your successes with women.
And you know it was take or lose when you gave me my chance. I had but one
choice; it was not likely you would drop your handkerchief before me a
second time; so I took you quick, before some other woman caught you."
She kept a light, gay tone thus far, standing the other side of the grate
from him, but when he came near as if to draw her toward him, she said
hurriedly, "These boys have been too much for me, and tried me terribly.
If you will not care, Ross, I think I'll say 'Good-night,' though it's
early. Don't stay in, if you would like to go to your club or anywhere,
because it is our first evening. You see, I am going to desert you first.
It's part of the compact, you know, that I am never to be in your way."
"Oh, Percy," he said, in a very boyishly aggrieved tone, "I don't want to
go anywhere where you are not."
"You will soon get tired of that, Ross. But I'm glad you don't want to go
to-night: I doubt your being quite able to walk much in the evening. Yet I
feel as if I must say 'Good-night' and get myself in the dark. Why? I'm
unstrung. The newness of my life with you, the traveling, this coming home
with you to a place where I am to know either joy or woe, and all this
talk with Harry and Sheldon, have been almost more than I could bear;" and
her lip quivered. "It's all I have been able to do this last hour to keep
from crying, and I do hate to cry before people." The long-suppressed
emotion of all these weeks had broken bounds and she shook with sobs,
while every nerve seemed quivering, and all she said was, "Ross, Ross!
please forgive me! I am so sorry to be so foolish!" And though he strove
by every tender method to comfort and soothe her, it was in vain; and at
length, really frightened, he carried her to the little room she had
appropriated for herself, and as tenderly as a mother, though as shyly as
a girl, put his poor little done-out wife in her bed, too weak to resist
his kind services, indeed, scarcely noticing them.
The next day, when he returned from what he and his friends, by an
agreeable fiction, called an "office," where he generally spent as many
hours as served to give him a flavor of business and a figurative title as
a businessman--where were to be found the best cigars and choicest wines,
and generally a pleasant circle of good fellows congregated--he found
Percy with the most charming little dinner awaiting him; the table
exquisite in the finest, whitest napery, gleaming with silver, sparkling
in glass, and every dish cooked and served in quite Parisian style, and
the little lady herself in the brightest toilette, with such a matronly
air that he could hardly realize the scene of the last night's misery.
"Tears all gone, Ross, tragedy played out, and the little woman who keeps
house for you is herself again, and has been as busy as a nailer. Are
nailers busier than other men, I wonder? All your boxes came. Such bliss
as it was to us poor women to feast our eyes upon all that heritage of
linen and silver, and china and glass! Your mother must have been a famous
manager, Ross, to leave you such a store. I'm so glad we've got that old
place on the Harlem stored with all this beautiful array. Do you know,
Ross, I think I've discovered my especial calling to-day? It's
housekeeping, and I elect myself to go some time to that lovely old
mansion and expend myself in hospitality. I'll invite you to come and
Flying about the room, then making him seat himself in the cozy chair
which was placed for him at the table--"the side that's next the fire,"
she said--rattling gayly on of all her day's employment, she caught the
look upon his face and came to his side. "What were you thinking of,
Ross?" she asked, anxiously.
"What a little tornado you were, for the first thing, and how I liked
seeing you busy among our household gods; also and moreover, that you had
not given me a chance to say a word; and worst of all, that you had never
given me my kiss of welcome, my rightful perquisite." Instantly she held
up her face. "Ah, pet, you are always submissive; but never aggressive:
still, this is sweet. And I was wondering what had become of the weeping
willow I left."
"Wasn't I a silly goose, Ross?" she said, a little breathlessly.
"Well, no, dear: you were very nervous and worn-out."
"I hate nervous, fidgety women so: they're detestable with their whims."
"I did not find you so, but I'm glad you're over it, all the same."
"And so am I. You could not make me cry like that again, Ross, if you were
to pinch me."
"But I did not make you cry."
"Yes you did, though. In truth, I was unstrung, and you were so kind and
unlike what any one had ever been to me before, so different from what I
had expected when we were married "--and her lips quivered--"that it
touched me to the quick."
"Why, darling, did you think I was going to be a brute to you?"
"I thought you would be nothing to me, one way or the other--simply forget
me, and be utterly indifferent so long as I kept your clothes made and
mended, and did not bother you about my wants or tastes or opinions."
A flush came over his face at the truth of her words. It would have been
just so had he found her what he expected her to be; but he said, "I don't
think any one could treat you like that, little girl." Then, while they
ate their dinner, he told her of his day's doings and of his determination
for the future: "I have a good opening--no man better. I mean to attend to
my practice hereafter, make a name and fortune for my sweetheart, and in a
few years we'll go to Europe and see the sights. Ah, Percy, such a vista,
such a new life, such a bright future, as I see opening before me! But,
first of all, I am going shopping with you, young lady, to-morrow. I have
ordered a carriage at eleven, and we'll buy all those pretty fixings you
women doat on. Do you know, little bride, I think all my vanity is going
to take the form of having you more prettily dressed than your cousins,
mine ancient flames when I was a bad boy?"
"Oh, Ross," with a little laugh, "you can't do it: you can't make a rival
specimen out of your bad bargain. Nothing will make me a beauty."
"Don't, Percy! I do like beauty. I have run after and made a fool of
myself for years over pretty women, but I like your face, just as it is,
better than any other woman's face I ever knew. If I could change you any
way, I would not do it. Your face is beautiful to me, though I know it is
not a pretty one: you are like sunlight to me." His voice shook, and he
strained her slight form to him with a clasp that was positive pain. "I
said I would not change you, but I would if I might put that old love out
of your heart for ever. Why, in those far-off years when we were childish
friends, did I not know my truest life lay in winning you? It is strange!
I have never failed to gain the love I wanted until now, when I want the
only one that would complete my life. Dear Percy, love me all you can. If
there are things in me--and I know there are many--which turn you from me,
tell me of them and I will change them if I can."
"Oh, Ross, don't, don't! I am not worthy of such words."
"Oh, little Preciosa, I am glad to have even a little of your heart: the
half of your love has come to be more to me than the love of all the world
Do you think it was not agony for her to hear such words as these and make
no response to them, fearing lest with assurance should come satiety? And
yet the knowledge of his growing love was very sweet to her, and worth the
They settled down in their new home, and were purposely "out" to all
callers during the next month--then returned the cards that had been left
for them. As they grew accustomed to their new life, she thought to see
his pleasure and interest in it wane as the novelty wore away, but it was
not so. That love of home which is, after all, the truest test of a really
manly nature, seemed to grow upon him. It was always so bright and cheery
by their cozy fire, the glare of public rooms, the noise and glitter of
theatres and concert-rooms, struck him with a feeling akin to disgust,
after the soft, subdued light of his home, and his wife's merry, breezy
voice. He sang and played for her, never giving a thought to her having
any musical ability, since she never touched the instrument. He read to
her hour after hour, having at last discovered her taste and ability to
understand the kind of books he relished, perfectly content if she would
favor him by sitting near enough to him to let him pull down that wealth
of "tresses brown," a glossy cloud about her.
Of course this Arcadian life could not continue in the very heart of
Sodom. Society was not going to lose Ross Norval if he _had_ made a fool
of himself and married a little nobody. So callers flowed in upon them,
and Ross, having in boyish glee arrayed himself in purple and fine linen,
took her in state to see his friends.
Of course her cousins and their friends hated her: she had won their
_bonne louche_, and the crimson of her plainness and poverty, of the
having to "have Percy always around to please Uncle Rufus," was pink to
the enormity of her being Ross Norval's wife. And "why he married her,"
and "of course he's dead tired of her by this time," were their politest
One morning they paid a cousinly visit--a triple call. "And, by Jove!"
thought Ross as he watched her haughty little face and _nonchalant_
manner, "she's no milk-and-water nature, though she's always so
sweet-tempered with me. She's got all the temper a true nature ought to
"To think of your ever getting married, Percy, and to Mr. Norval, of all
men!" said Miss Leta Wilber. "Why, we thought him engaged to the beauty
and belle of last winter, Miss Agnes Lorton."
"Well, yes, Leta, old girls like you and I are rather off the cards: we
don't expect to catch the prizes generally--we leave that for these
younger ones, like Jennie and Lucille," said Percy, coolly.
"A Roland for your Oliver, Leta!" laughed Jennie Wayne. "I never venture
to break a lance with Percy: she always has an arrow in reserve to pierce
you with. I suppose you've found that out, Mr. Norval?"
"Found what out? I fear I don't follow you, Miss Jennie," said he.
"That she's very able to take her own part, this little cousin of ours,"
said she, her beautiful face scarlet at his manner.
"Is she, though? Well, I like that amazingly, do you know?"
"Like ill-tempered people?" said Miss Leta, snappishly. "Is it possible?"
"Ill-tempered people?" with a wellbred stare. (Is there such a thing?)
"No, indeed! Why, birdie"--and he leaned over, and, taking her hand,
raised it to his lips--"to think of any one calling you ill-tempered!"
"You silly boy!" laughed she. "I'll take my hand if you please, and don't
you believe but what you've married a termagant."
The girls said afterward, in recounting the scene, it was simply
disgusting. Leta vowed, "The little baggage must be a witch and throw
spells over people. Look what fools she's made of our boys for years, and
Ross Norval, with all his splendid endowments, is just as bad."
"And he did use to admire your form, Leta," said Jennie, maliciously.
"I've seen him waltz you until it was hard to tell which face that long
blonde moustache belonged to."
"Ditto, cousin, and worse, if gossips speak the truth. But don't let's say
ugly things to each other. We both hoped to win him once, and we have both
lost him. The little wretch will watch him like a hawk, and never let him
come near a body."
"Oh dear!" said her sister Laura, "if I only knew I was to do a German
with him to-night, I'd be happy: he holds one better than any man I know;
and if Percy will let him dance with a body occasionally, I'd as leave she
should have him as the rest of you."
"Unless he'd chosen yourself, Laura, I suppose?"
"Well, yes, that would have made a difference, even to my laziness,
especially if she'd have made dear old Harry stay at home by marrying
That's the way they talked, yet in a couple of weeks after each house had
sent her an invitation to a large party--"for you and Mr. Norval, dear
Percy"--and the invitation-cards stated the fact.
"It's my Viking they want," laughed she: "they take his mouse in for the
sake of securing him. He's such a credit to the family!"
"Well, it's your Viking they won't get," said he.
"Now, Ross, don't be a bother, dear, and complicate matters. They will
say--and be glad of the chance--that it's my fault. You've such a passion
for dancing, they will say I prevented your coming. And besides, as I
dance so little, you'll ask them as much as ever?"
"How do you know I am so fond of it, Percy?"
"I've watched you too many years not to know that. You forget that, though
a flower unnoticed and unseen--a very wall-flower in fact--I have been a
looker-on in Vienna. I might have made a point of that, Ross, if I'd
thought in time, and 'hung i' the walls of Venice, a sightly flower.' You
were the bright particular star, or sun, in whose light all the fairest
flowers disported themselves. Why, I could tell you every woman--that is,
of your own set--you've been what Jennie calls 'bad about,' for years." He
held up his hand deprecatingly: she laughed gayly. "Never fear. I don't
intend to name them: I have not time to go over such a thing of shreds and
patches. Ah! the hopes I've watched you raise to heaven and then dash to
"Oh, Percy, I don't wonder that you are afraid to trust me now: I am
paying the penalty of my years of folly."
"That's nonsense, Ross. I don't believe in fashionable women's hearts. You
were too good for them, and they led you on always," she said, almost
"That's my good darling trying to excuse her sinner. But how was it you
never danced at any of those parties? Harry and Mac are both good dancers,
and Sheldon's the best waltzer I ever saw. How is it you never danced with
"With them, indeed! Why, that would have been an aggravation past enduring
to my rich relations. Sheldon had actually the insolence to tell his
sister Leta that I was the best waltzer in society. Think of the prize
you've got, young man!"
"I do always, sweetheart," he said, answering her gay tone with a grave
one. "Did you waltz much with Sheldon and the others?"
"I never waltzed with any of them in my life. Why, Ross, I never let them
speak to me at parties, except by turns to take me out to supper and
"But how have you managed to keep up your waltzing then?"
"Oh, Mr. Vanity, men are not all. Esther and I waltzed constantly: then I
used to help Lucille, who is my favorite cousin, 'along in her paces;' and
the children at our school-parties doat on me as a partner. Would you like
to know who was the last man, and indeed almost the only one, I ever went
round a room with?" and her face turned crimson, though she laughed.
"Indeed I should--curse him!" he said under his breath.
"Your honorable self, at Madame's school-party;" and she sprang away from
his outstretched hands with a mocking laugh.
The day of the party she wrote a few little violet-perfumed notes, and
sent them off. This is a specimen:
"DEAR DOCTOR: You have so often wanted to know your 'nebulous child,'
and been indignant that she hid her face from you behind her veil of
clouds, you will be pleased to know that the sunshine has dispelled the
clouds, and made her at last able to meet the starry train of which you
are the sun. Will you greet Ross Norval's bride at the Wilber party
to-night as the child you have trained and been so good to in the past,
and who, ever honoring you, is still your loving child for the future?
If you'll ask me prettily to-night, I'll sing the foolish words I made
for the sweet, tripping Languedoc air you sent me last year. I am, now
In consequence of these notes, when Ross led his wife into the room,
arrayed in a crimson cloud of his choosing, which made even her brown face
a picture, all her bronze hair, her husband's glory, floating round her
far below her waist, confined lightly here and there by diamond clusters,
which sparkled like stars amidst its creped luxuriance--"Daring to dress
in the very height of the fashion," said Leta, "and all those diamonds on
her--his mother's, of course;" and of course they were--the consequence, I
say, was, that first one distinguished man and then another met her with a
warm greeting--"deucedly warm," thought the jealous fellow, who was so
uncertain of her yet, and wanted all of her--and were introduced to "my
husband." Taking for granted that "my husband" was glad to get her off his
hands, they took possession of her, to his infinite disgust.
These were the men with whom she could talk, whose minds struck diamond
flashes from her own, whose thoughts she had followed for years, and who
looked upon her as their peer, and deferred to her opinion on many things.
And she, knowing Ross was her amazed listener, was stirred to do her best
before him--glad her triumph over her relatives should be in his presence
and brought to her through his means. It may not have been a lovely thing
in her to desire or enjoy a victory, but ah! it is so natural, and my
little heroine had had hard lines meted out to her for years. Besides, no
woman is free, you know, from vanity: only men are that.
She stood near the door of the dancing-room. Ross came to her after every
dance, but it was always, "Not me yet, Ross--Leta, or Jennie," or whoever
stood nearest her. Even the girl to whom report had given him (with
reason) the year before was, at her open entreaty, which he could not
evade, his partner; but half the time he stood beside her, forgetful of
the dance in listening to the conversation in which she bore so large a
A lull in the music after supper announced the suspension of dancing
hostilities for a time, that due strength might be gathered for the last
waltz, and then the German. The time was occupied by a very weak tenor,
who came to an ignominious end in the middle of "Spirito Gentil." Miss
Jennie Barton and her cousin Laura gave a sweet duo, in rather a tearing
style, Jennie being a fast young lady everyhow; another lady sang a
Scottish ballad as if it had been manipulated by Verdi; then one of the
gentlemen said, "Mr. Norval, I hope you will lay your commands on your
wife to sing for us."
"_I_ hope that will not be needed," he said, bowing (thinking with a pang,
"They all know her better than I do"). "I am sure she will do equally well
if we all beg the favor of her."
"She has promised me to sing," said Dr. B----, "my pretty Languedoc air,
which she has--"
"Now that's enough, you foolish old doctor!" and she went to the piano.
"Foolish old doctor!" He was the great gun of the scientific world: the
people about looked aghast at such impertinence, but the "great gun" only
laughed and said, "I am mute if you command."
How her hands trembled as she began! This was her last and greatest card:
by it she had always felt she must hold him to her for ever, or lose her
husband's love in time. She had never touched the piano before him or sung
a note, but much of her leisure since their return to New York had been
taken up, when he was out, in keeping herself in practice against the time
when she should have a chance to play for him and sing to him. She played
the sweet air, with its Mozart-like, mournful cadences, entirely through
ere she felt nerved enough to begin. Then she sang in such a voice as made
the most indifferent pause--a voice that was like purple velvet for
richness, as sweet as the breath of an heliotrope to which the sun had
just said adieu, as clear as the notes of an English skylark--this little
"See, love! the rosy radiance gleams
Athwart the sunset sky:
List, love! and hear the bird's sweet notes
In lingering cadence die.
Clasp, love, thy clinging hands in mine,
And, holding fast by me,
Trust, love! I will be true, my dove,
Be ever true to thee--
So true, sweetheart, I'll be,
Sweetheart, to thee!
"Come, love! I waiting pine so long,
And weary watch for thee:
Dear love! amidst my darkest night
Thy star-like face I see.
Heart's love! ah, come thou close to me:
I'll shelter thee from harms,
From every foe or secret woe,
Close clasped within my arms:
Lie safe from all alarms,
Sweetheart, with me."
While they listened to her, those careless men and women, they thought
they began to understand why this little, plain girl had won Ross Norval.
While everybody praised her, he stood utterly silent, too moved for words
she saw, and refusing to sing again, she went up to him as the band began
to play. "My waltz, Ross," she said. He put his arm around her with a
loving gesture that made those about them smile, and whirled her off.
"He's the hardest hit man I've seen for years," said one.
"And that such a thing should come to pass, as Ross Norval in love with
his own wife, is beyond belief--after making love to everybody else's!"
"That's it! He was always the darling of fortune: the choicest fruit
always dropped his side the wall."
But Ross, as he held her in that "tight hold" which was so much admired by
his partners, said only, "Percy! Percy! I do not know you at all. How
cruel you are to me! Everybody knows you and your gifts but me."
When the German had commenced he came to her and whispered, "Do you care
"The German, Ross? Indeed no: I am tired too, and was just coming to ask
you if I might let old Mr. L---- take me home: he says it will be no
"And you would not have asked me to take you?" he said, reproachfully.
"Take you away from the German, Ross! Such an unheard-of thing as that!
You must think me very selfish. Indeed; I am not where your pleasure is
concerned: I only want you to enjoy yourself."
"Then, for Charity's sake, let's go home," he said.
"With all my heart if you really wish it!" and she started; then pausing:
"Are you going because you think I want to go? I do not indeed: I will
"I am going because I want to--because I am dead tired, and long, with a
perfect passion, for our cozy room, the dim firelight, and my darling
toasting her pretty slippers."
"You dear, foolish Ross!" and she was gone like the wind. On their way
out, Sheldon Wilber met them in the hall, and, handing her something,
said, "To-night, little girl: if you have ever doubted, doubt no more. And
remember, a trusting heart is a priceless one;" and he was gone.
When they were home and comfortable, Ross said, "My wife, it was cruel to
let me learn your wonderful gifts through strangers: it has hurt me
"Oh, Ross, don't say so! Hurt you! I hurt you, my love, my love! I had
hoped no pang of the lightest sort would ever reach you through me, and
now I've grieved you sorely! It's all due to my morbid fancies, dear. I
could not ask to sing to you lest you should not like my singing: I think
I should have gone mad if you had not liked my voice, Ross I have so hoped
it would be pleasant to your ear! Do you like it, Ross? Is my voice sweet
to you?" and she held his face between her hands and looked eagerly and
steadfastly into his eyes.
"The sweetest thing I ever heard. It thrills my blood yet, that love-song
She gave a little cooing laugh: "That is _your_ love-song, dear--your very
own." Then she said, gravely, "I must tell you _all_ about myself now,
Ross, so you shall never be able to reproach me with having given you
pain. No matter, dear: it was, true," she said in answer to his caressing
protest, "and I feel the hurt through you. I am your wife. The reason
those gentlemen are so fond of me is because--Wait;" and she slid from his
embrace and brought a pile of books: "this and this are mine; these two I
translated from the German, others from the old Provencal tongue, with
which my father made me familiar." Then she told him how lovingly she did
this work, how kind scholarly men had been to her, and how eagerly they
had sought to know her otherwise than by letter--"Until, to-night, I bade
them find Ross Norval's wife, and know the little girl who, shielded by
his name, feared nothing any more."
"Percy," he said, quite humbly, "you must bear with me, dear. I lose all
hope of winning you when I learn these things of you."
"But you are not sorry, Ross? I will not write any more if you dislike
But he stopped her: "Dislike it! I am proud as a king of all your
endowments. But, sweetheart, you said a word just now that is worth all
else that you have told me--a word, I know, you said only half meaning it.
Oh, my little girl, will there ever come a time when, meaning it and out
of a full heart, you will say, My love! my love!"
She held him tight a long, long moment, then with one lingering love-kiss
on his lips--her very first--she said faintly, putting him away from her,
"Ross, not now--wait, my dearest. Sheldon gave me this to give to you
to-night;" and she held out a little worn letter, then buried her face
upon his breast and tremblingly waited while he read it. It ran thus:
"Sheldon, my cousin, it can never be: give up all hope for ever. I kill
it now, because it is best you should know the truth. I almost give up
my life, my cousin, when I make my heritage of woe known to you. You
will pity me, Sheldon, when you realize what agony the confession you
thus wring from me gives my heart. But if it cures your passion it is
not borne in vain. I love with an undying love, a faith that knows no
change, an endurance that years of neglect have not weakened, that years
of cruelty could never change, a man who would laugh to scorn my very
name. I love--and have loved since I was sixteen years old, until
now--Ross Norval. Keep my secret.
It was dated four years back.
"Ross, Ross! you know it now! Oh, my love! my love!"
* * * * *
I will attempt no painting of the effect that confession had upon him. But
after a long, long time she whispered, "I will sing the last verse of your
song, dear, which only you shall ever hear." And lying on his breast, she
"Dear love I thy face above me gleaming
A sunset radiance gives:
Ah, love! thy tones' sweet cadence dying
Sings in my heart and lives.
Clasped, love, close to thy heart, thy birdling
Foldeth her wings in peace--
Trusts, love! feeling nor cold nor shadow,
Finding at last her ease,
From fear a safe release,
Heart's love, with thee."
The Victims of Dreams.
My friend Bessie Haines had no mother, but her father was such a very
large man that I remember thinking, when I was quite a child, that a kind
Providence had intended to make up her loss in that way. She and I did not
live in the same city, but managed to keep up a lively friendship through
the medium of correspondence and half-yearly visits.
I was a complete orphan, and my uncle, with whom I lived, was her father's
attached friend. She had a very happy home, and I was glad to enjoy it
with her, particularly when my uncle accompanied me, for then her father
and he became absorbed in each other, and left us to our own devices--not
very evil ones, but too childish and trifling to claim the sympathy of
such very grave men as they were.
We had both become tall, womanly girls, but Uncle Pennyman and Mr. Haines
called us children, and treated us as such; and Bessie was just writing to
me about her father's telling her she must begin to think of serious
things, when my uncle remarked to me that the time was approaching when I
should prepare myself to assume the duties and responsibilities of a
rational female. Just as if we had waited to be told this, when in fact
Bessie and I had been consulting about our bonnets and dresses in the most
grave and mature manner for years past, and arranging our future on plans
that for variety and agreeability could not have been surpassed had we
been brought up on the _Arabian Nights_ and Moore's _Poems_, instead of
Baxter's _Saint's Rest_ and Pollok's _Course of Time_.
"There are several questions of vital importance that have been growing
daily stronger in my mind," said my uncle Pennyman. "My friend Thomas
Haines has a gift in clearing points and expounding meanings; so that I
feel it to be for my mind's edifying and my soul's profit to go to him for
I was delighted to hear this. I wanted to see Bessie, and I blessed the
bond that united these good brothers in Israel and drew us together so
often. Mr. Haines was good at texts, and my uncle was wonderfully expert
at dreams. Mr. Haines was a great dreamer, and my uncle constantly
stumbled over passages needing elucidation. So we lived in harmonious
intercourse, and Bessie and I talked of all our plans and delights while
they got themselves entangled in obscurities with a commentary under each
It would have appeared, from Mr. Haines' dreams, that Bessie's mother had
been a most fussy and bothering lady, though I was told by the
housekeeper, who knew her well, that she was the mildest and most timid of
little wives while living.
According to these visions, she was constantly troubled in her spiritual
state on the greatest variety of small subjects; and my expert uncle, in
expounding her communications, was always able to draw from them strong
religious lessons, and to administer much strengthening comfort to his
friend the dreamer.
"I was hoping papa would soon have a vision," said Bessie when we were
settled together all comfortably, and she had told me how glad she was to
see me again. "Mrs. Tanner said last week that she was sure he was going
to have another, because the spire which he felt he was directed in his
last dream to put on the little chapel was all complete, and the
missionary outfit which he had believed himself called upon to provide was
ready and gone to the South Seas, and he naturally looked for more work.
When he said last week, 'Bessie, I have sent for Brother Pennyman
concerning a visitation in the night,' I was so glad, for, Winnie
dear--would you believe it?--I have been dreaming too, and I want you to
tell me if I have read my dream aright."
Now, this was the most wonderful thing that Bessie Haines could have told
me--the most startling and least to be expected altogether; for if ever
there was a wide-awake girl, it was she.
I suppose my perfectly frank stare said as much, for she blushed a little,
and continued with a very suspicious flutter, which I had learnt, in the
case of young engaged persons I knew, to look on as a bad symptom:
"I do not mean dreaming with my eyes shut, you know, but having deep,
serious thoughts, unlike the gay fancies that have held me captive all my
"Dress trimmings and poetry?" I suggested.
"Yes, yes--all the useless, perishable fancies of thoughtless youth," she
This sounded more like an Essay on Vanity than Bessie Haines, and I really
was astonished, and had nothing to say for a little while, during which
she, being full of her subject, went on:
"I can scarcely trace the beginning of the--the awakening, shall I call
"You called it a dream before."
"Yes, dear Winnie, but it is so hard to know how to classify new emotions,
and this is such a peculiar one that it seems nameless. You know papa
feels bound, ever since that water-dream he had, to go down to the
Mariners' Chapel on Sunday afternoon, and I used to read solemn poetry
when it was too warm or too cold to go with him. Well, about two months
ago it was fearfully warm, and papa had come home a fortnight earlier from
the shore, on account of a suspicion he had that he had dreamed something
and had forgotten it as soon as he awoke. This indistinct warning made him
think we had better go home at all events, and home we came the first week
in September, to the roasting, dusty city. But I did not then know that I
was perhaps drawn back for a purpose; and oh, dear Winnie, there may be
something in papa's visions, after all."
"He has had a good many of them," I said.
"So he has," assented Bessie; "and I was inclined to be impatient at this
one, since it brought me home in the heat, and the house seemed so lonely,
because Mrs. Tanner was still in the country with her married daughter."
"She having received no spectral warning," I hinted.
"Oh dear! no. Mrs. Tanner never dreams: she's opposed to it. Well, the
first Sunday was so warm that I took up _Solemn Thoughts in Verse_ instead
of the Mariners'; and after I had read eight pages, it really seemed as if
I had better have tried the heat out of doors, it was getting so gloomy
within. So I got up and dressed, meaning to walk out and meet papa, and
return with him. I don't know whether it was the _Solemn Thoughts_ that
confused me, or whether I was not paying attention, but I actually lost my
way by turning at the wrong corner, and so came down Barton street toward
a little chapel that I had often noticed before. Two dreadfully red-faced
and short-haired little boys were at the entrance by the small iron gate.
They had disagreed about something, I suppose, just as I came up, and they
instantly began to fight, with the wickedest determination visible in
their freckled little faces. At first, they kicked at each other, and
growled out some awful words without the least sense, but with a great
deal of profanity in them, and then they laid down their little books and
tracts, and apparently tried to pull each other's head off. Of course it
made me quite wretched to see them hurt each other in that shocking way,
and so I interfered and tried to reconcile them, but the naughty little
souls must have had a certain amount of kicking and scratching on hand to
dispose of, for they united in bestowing it all on me the moment I came
"I was just trying to save my dress and lace sacque from their boots and
claws, when a reverend gentleman appeared at the door, and the bad boys
became sneaking cowards at sight of him. I picked up their little tracts,
while he tried to apologize for them; and it was so sad, Winnie, to think
that those dear children had not profited by their lessons: one was called
'Love One Another,' and the other, 'Be Meek and Lowly.'
"While we were talking a lady joined us, and I went into the school at
"Winnie, do you know anything practical about Sunday-school?"
"I went to one, and was for years in the class of an elderly maiden lady
who urged us all to learn Scripture and hymns. I was so expert and high in
favor that I could repeat forty verses at a time as glibly as a parrot."
"But I don't quite mean that sort of thing," said Bessie. "I mean a real,
earnest teaching-place, where children are gathered in and told all about
Christ's love and mercy--where they are softened and won to better
thoughts and kinder actions, and their poor little minds filled with
shining truth, instead of street dirt and abuse."
"I never thought about it before, but such an institution could not help
being a popular one, and a very useful one too," I confessed.
"Oh, I am so glad, so very glad, that you approve, dear, for I am engaged
in that work; and I did not want to write it to you, for somehow it seemed
so strange for such a thoughtless, silly girl as I have been to attempt
such a serious thing."
"As teaching in a Sunday-school?"
"Yes, in a sort of mission school for little scholars of the lower
classes. Miss Mary Pepper and I have at this time nearly two hundred boys
and girls of all ages, and some of them are very interesting and lovable,
while others are--"
"Like the two gladiators who introduced you to the scene?"
"Yes. I am afraid there are quite a number of that kind; but, Winnie, you
must like Miss Mary Pepper. Oh, she is one of the most excellent women I
ever knew, so truly, so nobly, so devotedly good. You cannot imagine what
a comfort it is to me to be with her--to feel that I am under her
influence, and may learn from her to be a little like her."
"Miss Mary Pepper?" I repeated: "then she is a young lady?"
"No--not young: indeed, she is rather elderly."
"An old maid," I remarked, coldly. "She is pretty and sweet, though faded,
"Why, no--not to look at: her nature is beautiful, but her manner and
figure are rather--rather unprepossessing at first."
"A stiff, hard, straight-laced old maid," I said, contemptuously. "Well,
really, I cannot see the fascination--"
Bessie's face flushed painfully: "I confess that dear Miss Pepper's person
is not so beautiful as her nature, but, Winnie, it is the cause of doing
good and trying to be good that draws us together so closely; and of
course I do not love her as I love you, my dear, precious first friend."
These last words were full of balm, for of course it was the sting of
jealousy that had made my heart resent the venerable Pepper's powerful
influence over my dear Bessie. Being once assured that it was a
second-rate power, and that I still held my supremacy, I entered into the
Sunday-school question like a second Raikes, and volunteered to help, and
try to learn the way to the young hearts that beat under the pugilistic
exterior of the juveniles of Canon lane, where the mission chapel was.
Then, having become one on this serious subject, we began to wonder what
Mr. Haines' dream might portend this time, and prepare our minds for the
verse from the prophecies over which dear Uncle Pennyman had made his
"Mrs. Tanner thinks it was something about a journey, and she is quite out
of sorts on the subject: for, as she says, the house can't be shut up
without worriment, and as to staying in it alone she really has not got
"I do not think that Uncle Pennyman will interpret it that way, because he
cannot go too, as he is at present very deep in the minor prophets, and
has fallen out of humor with all the commentaries."
"I am so glad!" said Bessie, placidly--"so glad, I mean, that we need not
go: I think every one must find his life-work at home."
I stared a little at this, because I knew that only a few months before
Bessie Haines had wanted very much to find style and fashion abroad; but I
remembered the Sunday-school, and tried to be as serious and convinced as
I could; and to that end I talked a good deal of church interests, and the
prophecies, and _Light in Obscurity_, a new work which had utterly
confused me at the first chapter, but which I had read through to Uncle
Pennyman one warm July day when he stayed at home to keep Tom's birth-day.