Part 3 out of 6
She fairly put us into chairs, and brought us cups of something--I don't
Aunt Marcia breathed a little sigh of relief.
"Helen," she said, "you haven't been standing too long?"
"It wasn't an instant! I could stand all day!"
Mrs. Van Dam smiled, and I felt _gauche_, like a schoolgirl. I am so
"It was all delightful!" cried Kitty; "and yet--while you were my chum,
Helen, I _did_ think you rather good-looking!"
"You find yourself mistaken?" the General inquired.
"Oh, no-o-o; not exactly; a beautiful girl, certainly; but--oh, I could
have made pincushions of some of those pudgy women, nibbling wafers, and
delivering themselves of lukewarm appreciations! 'Too tall'--'too short'--
'too dark'--'too light'; 'I like your height bettah, my deah.' Helen, you
dairymaid, powder! Plaster over that 'essentially improbable' colour."
Mrs. Van Dam broke out laughing at Kitty's mimicry. I wish the child
wouldn't let her hair straggle in front of her ears and look so harum-
"I doubt if we have had many harsh critics," said Miss Baker.
"Not a thing to criticise," cried Aunt Frank, entering just then and
catching the last word. "Everybody so interested in Nelly! Bake, if you'd
only come earlier, I'd have been perfectly satisfied."
They say that Uncle Timothy can never be coaxed home to one of his wife's
receptions, but he answered with great solemnity, as he loomed up behind
the little woman:--
"I am privileged to be here, even at the eleventh hour. I could not wholly
deny myself the sight of so much youth and bloom."
"Don't be hypocritical, Judge," said the General reprovingly. "You're too
big and honest to achieve graceful deceit. But before I go--I've seats for
the Opera Monday night in Mother's box. Miss Winship must come, and--" her
glance deliberated briefly--"and Milly."
Milly cried, "How delightful, Meg!" But my tongue tripped and my cheeks
flamed as I tried to say that I had never seen an opera and to thank my
Little she heeded my lack of words. Gazing at me once again as she had
upon first seeing me, she exclaimed:--
"You great, glorious creature! They sha'n't hive you in a schoolroom; you
must come out and show yourself; why, you'll set New York in a furore!"
I think she's splendid.
No sooner was she gone than I was summoned to the reception-room, and
Cadge rushed to meet me. She looked much smarter than Kitty, with her
black hair curled and her keen eyes shining with excitement.
"All over but the shouting?" she asked. "Meant to get here in season to
see you knock 'em in the Old Kent Road, but woman proposes, Big Tom
disposes. Shall I turn in a paragraph? Just--did you have music? What's
your dress--in the Sunday society slush, of course, not the daily; 'fraid
the _Star_ won't take over a stick--. Greek a little bit? M-m-m--not
modistic exactly, but--but--."
Her abrupt sentences grew slower, paused, dropped to an awestruck whisper,
as she looked upon me. She added in her gravest manner: "Say, you're the
loveliest ever happened! The--very--limit!"
But awe and Cadge could not long live together. In a moment her mouth took
a comically benevolent quirk.
"And 'among those present'--" she asked; "who was that leaving just as I
"Mrs. Robert Van Dam, schoolmate of my cousins. But you're not writing me
"Van Dam! How calmly the giddy child says it! Does your youngest cousin
make mud pies with duchesses? Say, she comes pretty near being one of the
'400.' But I'm off; a grist of copy to grind--talk of raving beauties,
you'll be the only one that won't rave!"
Of course Cadge wouldn't have talked just like that before the others, if
she had come earlier.
At bedtime Milly and Ethel ran to my room to talk things over, and my Aunt
came to shoo them off to bed, but she stayed and talked, too; and I've no
business to be writing at this shocking time of night, except, of course I
couldn't sleep and so I might as well.
"Everybody thinks you resemble your cousins," Aunt said; "and really there
_is_ a family likeness."
Poor Aunt! Ethel and Milly are washed out copies of me, in dress and hair,
if that constitutes resemblance; and they imitate even my mannerisms.
I should think Mr. Hynes would be too critical to admire Milly.
I had a partial engagement for Monday with John; but he'll let me off, to
go to the Opera.
IN THE INTERESTS OF MUSIC.
Tuesday morning, Jan. 14.
I am writing before breakfast. They told me to lie quietly in bed this
morning, but I'm not tired, not excited. Nothing more happened than I
might have expected. I couldn't have supposed that in my presence people
would be stocks and stones!
But oh, it was beautiful, terrible! How can I write it? If I could only
flash last night--every glorious minute of it--upon paper!
And I might have lost it--they didn't want to let me go! There was a full
family council beforehand. John had taken quietly enough the cancelling of
our half engagement for the evening, but he had strong objections to my
going to the Opera.
"If you prefer that--" he said; "but do you think it wise to appear in
such a public place with strangers?"
"But why not?"
I was impatient at so much discussion and discretion. My mind was made up.
"There's no reason why you shouldn't, I suppose." John drew a great sigh.
"But I shall feel easier if--I think I'll go too."
"We'll all go," cried Aunt Frank--it was so funny to have them sit there
debating in that way the problem of Her--"we'll enjoy it of all things--
the Judge and I, and especially Ethel."
And so, when the great night came, Milly and I left the others in the
midst of their preparations, and went off to dine with Mrs. Van Dam; we
were to go with her afterwards to see Mascagni's "Christofero Colombo."
It seems impossible now, but I was excited even about the dinner. I
thought it the beginning of recognition--and it was!--to be seized upon by
this splendid, masterful young General.
She lives not far from us--on Sixty-seventh Street near Fifth Avenue,
while we are on Seventy-second Street near Madison. The wall of her house
near the ground looks like that of a fortress; there are no high steps in
front, but Milly and I were shown into a hall, oak finished and English,
right on the street level; and then into a room off the hall that was
English, too--oak and red leather, with branching horns above the mantel
and on the floor a big fur rug; and, presently, into a little brocade-
lined elevator that took us to Mrs. Van Dam's sitting-room on the third
"You ought to see the whole house," Milly whispered, as we were slowly
I had eyes just then for nothing but the General herself, who met us, a
figure that abashed me, swishing a gleaming evening dress, her neck and
hair a-glitter with jewels, more dominant and possessive and---yes, even
more interested in me than when I had first seen her.
When we went down to dinner, I did see the house; for at a word from
Milly, partly in good nature and partly in pride, Mrs. Van Dam led the way
through stately rooms that kept me alternating between confusion and
delight, until she paused in a gilded salon, with stuccoed ceiling and
softest of soft rose hangings, where I scarcely dared set foot upon the
Less in jest than wonder, I asked if Marie Antoinette didn't walk there o'
"It's _Diane_, isn't it, who walks here this night?" she said,
linking her arm in mine and leading me to a tall mirror. Then she changed
colour a little, took her arm away hastily and walked from the great
glass. Kind and friendly as she was, she couldn't quite like to see her
own image reflected there--beside mine!
"_Diane_ and the Queen of Sheba!" exclaimed Milly, for beside our
simple frocks the General was indeed magnificent.
Her brow cleared at this, and she laughed with satisfaction. When I
blurted out something about having once run off to a shop parlour, before
I came to Aunt, for a peep at a full-length glass, she laughed again at
the confession and called me "a buttercup, a perfect _Diane_."
At dinner we met Mr. Van Dam--a small man who doesn't talk much; and it
seemed so exciting to have wine at table, though of course I did not taste
it, or coffee.
And it was delightful to lean back in the carriage, as we drove to the
Opera House, and remember how Kitty and I used to pin up our skirts under
our ulsters and jog about in street cars. Mrs. Van Dam wore a wonderful
hooded cloak of lace and fur, and her gloves fastened all the way to her
elbows with silk loops that passed over silver balls.
I had been so impatient during dinner, because they didn't sit down until
eight o'clock, and then dawdled as if there were no Opera to follow; but I
needn't have worried, for although the performance had begun when we
arrived, there were still many vacant places in the great house. I drew
closer about my face the scarf that Ethel had lent me until we had passed
through the dazzling lobby, up the stairway and through the corridors, and
until the red curtains of the box had parted, and I had slipped into the
least conspicuous chair. Muffled as I was, I trembled at the first glance
at the great, brilliantly lighted house, from which rose the stir of a
gathering audience and a rustle of low voices.
"Why, you're not nervous, are you?" the General asked. "I've brought you
here early on purpose; you'll be comfortably settled before anybody
And she good-naturedly pushed me into a front place. The music was all the
while going on, but no one seemed to pay much attention.
"Who'll notice me in this big building?" I asked with a shaky little
But just at first, as I looked out over the house, I clutched the lace
that was still around my throat. It was warm after the chill air without,
and my head swam. There was mystery in the swarming figures and the
murmur. The breath of the roses that lay over the box rails, the gleaming
of bared shoulders, the flash of jewels seemed to belong to some other
world--a world where I was native, and from which I had too long been
exiled. Surely in some other life I must have had my place among gaily-
dressed ladies who smiled and nodded, bending tiara-crowned heads above
gently waving fans. I felt kinship with them; I passionately longed to be
noticed by them, and feared it even more intensely.
Almost immediately after our arrival the curtain fell upon the first
scene. We had missed every word of it! Mrs. Van Dam left me for a few
minutes to myself, and as I became more composed, I put back my scarf and
looked about a little more boldly. The house was yet far from full, but
every moment people were coming in.
The boxes at each side of us were untenanted, but at no great distance I
saw Peggy Van Dam, seated beside a large woman--her mother, Mrs. Henry--
and chatting busily with a stout, good-natured-looking young man. Even
Peggy had not noticed our entrance and, quite reassured, I lifted my opera
glass and began studying the audience.
We were near the front of the house in the first tier on the left, and I
had in view almost the whole sweep of the great gold and crimson
horseshoe. Down in the orchestra some of the women were as gorgeous in
satins and brocades as those in the boxes, while others wore street
attire. Nearly all the men had donned evening dress, and I thought at
first--but soon saw how absurd that was--that I could pick out John by his
office suit. I could not repress a little glow of pride, as I looked down
upon those rows and rows of heads, to think that somewhere among them, or
above them, John was watching, rejoicing with me, fearing for me where for
himself he would never fear. He'd lift, if he could, every stone from my
path. Mr. Hynes, now, would carry you forward so fast that you'd never see
I had no thought that Mr. Hynes was in the house, but, amusing myself with
the idea, I lifted my glass--dear little pearl trinket with which the
General had provided me--and looked for him, wondering how often a poor
young lawyer attends the Opera. Of course I couldn't see anybody I knew,
nor could I read my libretto, for the words danced before my eyes; and
Mrs. Van Dam, smiling at my interest, began chattering about the people
around us, speaking as if I would soon be as familiar with the brilliant
world of fashion and society as herself.
"I wonder," she said in her energetic way, "what it feels like to be at
one's first opera."
Excitement was flashing from my eyes and burning on my cheeks as I
"It's--it's--oh, I can't tell you! But in the West," I added hastily, "we
"What a buttercup you are!" she said again.
Soon the curtain rose upon the second act--or scene. Whichever it was,
that was all that I was fated to see or hear of the Opera. And for the
little while I could consider it, I must say I was disappointed. The
scenery was superb, but the voices--
"You've spoiled us, Nelly," Milly whispered.
"Colombo's not bad."
I squeezed her hand ecstatically.
I find that I don't criticise men so shrewdly; but oh, the thin, shrill
pipe of Isabella, compared with what a woman's voice may be! Yet I admired
her skill, and did not wonder that the house applauded.
The second scene was just closing, and I was lost in dreams of the fine
things that I shall do for art and music when I'm a great society leader,
when the box door opened, and there entered an elderly couple, much
alike--tall, thin, rather stately and withered. I knew that they must be
Mrs. Marmaduke Van Dam, the General's mother-in-law, and her husband.
Impulsively I sprang up to allow them to come to the front places.
And then--the catastrophe!
I was conscious at first only of an instant's confusion, of a hurried
introduction in undertones. Then I found myself again sitting, my arm
tingling to the clutch of Milly's fingers. In her pale, pretty face her
light eyes glowed with a fright that was not all painful.
The blood seemed to flow back to my heart as I realised what I had done.
The sudden stir in our box had called attention, and I had been standing
in the glare of electric lights overhead and at my feet, my white dress
outlined against the blood-red curtains.
"Take this fan," Milly whispered from behind me. "Will you have my seat?"
Shame dyed my face. After such a heedless act I couldn't look at the
General. I knew that, in his surprise at my appearance, Mr. Marmaduke Van
Dam had fumbled noisily with his chair, and that Mrs. Marmaduke had
dropped her shoulder wrap--she was in evening dress; how can elderly women
do it?--I knew that in spite of their rigid politeness they found it hard
to keep their eyes from me. I hoped the General had been too busy to
appreciate my folly, and I drew a quivering breath of relief that it had
had no more serious consequences.
Yet I was queerly dissatisfied. The Metropolitan Opera House is a big
building, and the part of the audience to which I could have been
conspicuous was small. Yet some people must have seen; had they taken no
For some space--minutes or seconds--it seemed so.
Then a confused murmur, a shifting, restless movement, began near us in
the orchestra. A good many people down there, as well as in the boxes at
each side, had noticed me earlier. Now they began whispering to their
neighbours. Heads were turned our way; people were asking, answering,
almost pointing. I could see the knowledge of me spread from seat to seat,
from row to row, as ripples spread from a stone thrown into still water.
Opera glasses were levelled. Comment grew, swelled to a stir of surprise.
The curtain had dropped for the interval between scenes; our box became
for the moment the centre of interest, and the lights were high. Even the
orchestra was resting.
Then it was given me to see how in a great audience Panic may leap without
cause from Opportunity.
The stir grew, spread. Fascinated, I gazed down at the disturbance. I knew
that a frightened smile still curved my lips. I felt my eyes glow,
luminous and dilated. My heart almost stopped beating, gripped by triumph
and horror. Afterwards I realised that I had not availed myself of the
screen Milly offered; I hadn't lifted the fan to shield my face; I had not
stirred to hide myself.
"Bob!" whispered the General. "Quick! Don't you see?"
Robert Van Dam sprang to his feet, offering, as I thought, to exchange
places with me. Once more I started up, and chairs were moved to give me
While again I stood under the glare of the lights, and while for the
second time the movement in the box drew attention thither, somebody below
half rose to look at me. Two or three--a dozen--followed. As I dropped
into my seat at the back of the box, and cast the scarf again about my
head, twenty, thirty people were struggling out of their chairs.
From my shelter I watched as, farther and farther away, the heads began to
turn. From places where I had not been visible I heard the murmur
swelling, the scuffle of people rising. I had disappeared from sight, the
first to rise had dropped back into their seats as if ashamed, but others
increased the uneasy tumult of low, tense sounds.
My brain worked quickly. I understood the shuddering thrill that passed
over the audience. It was as if all my life I had seen such vast
assemblies, and knew the laws that rule their souls. Even before it came I
guessed it was coming; a voice--it was a man's--crying out:--
"What is it? Is it--fire?"
And from away across the house came the answering call--not a question
this time, not hesitant, but quick and sharp:--"Fire!"
What should I do? Why was not John or Mr. Hynes there to tell me? Wild
thoughts darted through my mind. Should I stand once more? Show myself?
Should I cry: "It was I, only I! They were looking at me. There is no
Crazy, crazy thought! For the thing was over as soon as it began.
Those who had started the confusion and who understood its cause, began
"Sit down! Sit down!"
From the topmost gallery a tremendous great voice came bellowing down:--
There was a little laugh, a hiss or two rebuked the disorder; then the
baton signalled the orchestra, and the music recommenced, smoothly and in
perfect time; the conductor had never turned his head. The curtain went
up; the incident was closed.
I drew a long, sighing breath of relief as one, then another, then all
together, as if by a single impulse, the people sat down in their places.
It had been but an instant. The painted stage, the glittering court
ladies, Isabella on her throne, the suppliant Colombo, were as if nothing
"First-rate orchestra," muttered Robert Van Dam.
The General turned in her chair and looked at me. She did not speak, but I
could see that she was excited; it seems to me now that her eyes were very
bright, and that her strong, square-chinned face looked curiously
"Let's go," I gasped; "I want to go home."
Choking with sobs, though not unhappy, I felt as if I wished to run, to
fly; but, as I tottered out of the box, I could scarcely stand. Mr. Van
Dam helped me, the General and Milly following. In the corridor we were
joined by Peggy and the florid young man whom I had seen with her.
"Why--why, you're not going? You are not going?" Peggy cried. She breathed
quickly, and her teeth and eyes alike seemed to twinkle. "Can--can't Mr.
Bellmer or I--do something?"
"Nothing at all," said the General in brisk staccato, fastening my wraps
with an air of proprietorship; "nobody's in voice to-night, do you think?
Miss Winship doesn't care to stay."
Before we reached the lobby, John came from somewhere, hurrying towards
us. I was walking between Mr. Bellmer and Robert Van Dam, but with
scarcely a look at them he tucked my hand under his arm, just as he would
have done in the old days at the State University. At the door Mr. Van Dam
looked for a cab.
"I'll take her home," said John grimly.
"I'll go with you; I must see her safe with Mrs. Baker," the General
replied, understanding at once. "Mr. Bellmer, tell Mother, please, that
Bob and I have gone with Miss Winship. Or--Bob, you won't be needed; you
explain to Mother."
The two men hurried away upon their errand, though I fancied they went
reluctantly. Peggy had not come down.
All the way home John's brows were black, and he looked straight ahead of
him. As we passed under the glow of electric lamps, Milly smiled bravely
at me across the carriage, respect and awe mingling with her sympathy. The
General sat at my side erect; her eyes glittered, and she looked oddly
pleased--not like a woman who had been at the focus of a scene, and had
been dragged away from the Opera before it was over, but like a General
indeed, planning great campaigns.
As for me, I felt that I must laugh--cry. Did ever such a ridiculous
thing, such a wonderful, glorious thing, such a perfectly awful thing,
happen to any other girl that ever lived?
I was living the scene again--seeing the mass of heads, the sea of
upturned faces. Again I was gazing into the one face that had been
distinct, the eyes that had drawn mine in all that blur and confusion,
that had looked back at me, as if in answer to my voiceless call for help,
with strength and good cheer. Even in the moment of my utmost terror, I
had been sustained by that message from Ned Hynes. How did I chance to see
him just at that crisis, when I didn't know of his presence? And why
didn't he come to us afterwards, as John did?
Mrs. Baker and Ethel saw us leave the box, and were at home with Uncle
almost as soon as we.
"Are you safe, Nelly?" Aunt cried, rushing at me; then, with the sharpness
of tense nerves, she rebuked the Judge: "Ba-ake, you hissed her!"
"Nay, my dear; in the interests of music, I frowned upon disorder." He
added, with waving of his antennae eyebrows: "It was Helen's first opera."
We all laughed hysterically, and then Mrs. Van Dam and John went away.
Could--_could_ Mr. Hynes have gone to the Opera just because he had
heard that I would be there?
A PLAGUE OF REPORTERS.
Saturday evening, Jan. 18.
Since Monday I have left the house but once. The Judge has given me a
microscope so that I may study at home instead of going to Barnard; and to
please him I make a pretence of cutting sections from the plants in Aunt's
conservatory; but oh, it's so dull, so dull! Or would be but for my happy
thoughts. It isn't interest in apical cell or primary meristem that makes
me fret to return to Prof. Darmstetter!
It's all on account of reporters that I am shut up like a state secret or
a crown jewel. From daylight until dark, men with pencils and notebooks,
cardboard-bearing artists and people with hand cameras have watched the
house; and it's so tiresome.
The siege had already begun when Mrs. Baker came to my room the morning
after the Opera, but I knew nothing about it. I couldn't understand why
she scolded with such vehemence upon finding me writing in this little
book instead of lying in bed; why she exclaimed so nervously over my
escape and the horrors of jumping from windows, or sliding down ropes, or
of being hurried along in fire panics until I was crushed to death.
"Why, you talk as if there had _been_ a fire," I cried, kissing her.
Millions of fires have flamed and roared and sunk and died again; but
never before has there been a Me!
The dear fussy little woman said that John had been telephoning inquiries.
I could see that she wished to keep me in my room, and finally, at some
laboured excuse for withholding the morning papers, I understood that she
and John were hiding something; she is so transparent!
"You must be calm, Nelly, dear; you mustn't excite yourself," she chirped
"Unless I see the papers, I shall have a fever, a high fever," I
threatened; "I must--oh, I must see every word about last evening!"
At last the _Record_ and the _Messenger_ came upstairs already
opened to the critiques of the new opera. Mrs. Baker wished to read aloud,
but I almost snatched the papers from her; my eyes couldn't go fast enough
down the columns. But in neither sheet did I find more than a reference to
a "senseless alarm" that marred the rendition of "Christofero."
My cheeks flamed with annoyance. It was the reporters who were senseless;
they had seen men adoring the wonder of this century, and had not flashed
news of it--of me--to all the world!
Aunt couldn't understand. She thought to comfort me by saying that my
share in the disturbance would never be suspected; she unblushingly
averred that no one had seen me; she begged me to rest, to forget my
fright, not to be distressed by the newspapers.
Distressed? Not I! Events had been too startling for me to heed the
stupidity that whined over missing a few bars of a silly overture when
_I_ was in sight. Indeed I had been frightened; yet why should not
the world demand to look upon me? I thought only of hurrying to Prof.
Darmstetter that he might share my triumph. But Aunt wouldn't hear of my
leaving the house; scarcely of my coming down stairs. Fluttering into my
room she would bring me some fruit, a novel; then she would trot away
again with an air of preoccupation.
I was getting out of patience at all this mystery, when, during one of her
brief absences, Ethel tapped at my door, and a minute later Kitty Reid
dashed at me, while in the doorway appeared Cadge, scratching with one
hand in a black bag.
"Oh, Helen, Helen," cried Kitty, laughing and half crying, "_have_
you seen Cadge's exclusive?"
"Cadge! You were there? Cadge!"
"Sure," said that strange creature, her keen eyes glancing about my room;
"you don't deserve half I've done for you--not letting me know
"Or me!" Kitty broke in. "Oh, I've have given a--a tube of chrome yellow
to see you!"
"--but we've made the Row look like nineteen cents in a country where they
don't use money. See you've got the fossils." Cadge nodded towards the
papers I had been reading. "But the _Star's_ worth the whole--now
where the mischief--"
"Cadge! Show me!"
From the black bag she drew several sheets of paper, upon each of which
was pasted a cutting from a newspaper, with pencilled notes in the margin;
a handkerchief, a bunch of keys, six pointed pencils, a pen-knife, a
purse, rather lean, a photograph of two kittens.
"There," she said, relieved at sight of these, "knew I couldn't have lost
'em. Brooklyn woman left 'em $5,000 in her will. They'll stand me in a
good little old half column. Now--where--ah, here you are!"
She unfolded a _Star_ clipping and proudly spread it upon my knee.
"There, Princess! That's the real thing!"
I caught my breath at the staring headlines.
BEAUTY OF A WOMAN THREATENS A PANIC AT THE OPERA HOUSE.
PRESENCE OF MISS HELEN WINSHIP CREATES SENSATION THAT MIGHT HAVE RESULTED
IN A PERILOUS STAMPEDE.
_Alarm of Fire During the Third Scene of "Christofero Colombo"_
GREAT AUDIENCE AT THE METROPOLITAN ENDANGERED BY FRENZY OVER REMARKABLY
"Hot stuff, ain't it?" said Cadge, beaming with satisfaction. "I never
like that Opera assignment--dresses and society, second fiddle to the
music man--but I wouldn't have missed last night! Minute I saw you in the
Van Dam box I knew there'd be the biggest circus I ever--why--why,
The horror of it--the pitiful vulgarity! My father, the University folks--
all the world would know that I had been made notorious by a--that I--oh,
the tingling joy, the rapture--that I was the loveliest of women!
"Cadge! Oh, Cadge!"
I threw myself into her arms.
"Why, Helen, what's this? Can't stand for the headlines? Built in the
office and I know they're rather--"
"They're _quite_" interrupted Kitty. "Of course the Princess wouldn't
expect a first page scare. But cheer up, child; there's worse to come."
The girls were soothing me and fussing over me when Aunt Frank opened the
door. At her surprised look I brushed away my tears of joy. I understood
everything now--her uneasiness, the long telephonic conferences, my
confinement to the house.
"Aunt," I managed to say, "here is Kitty come to condole with me and
congratulate me; and this is my friend, Miss Bryant of the _Star_.
You remember? She was here at the tea."
"Oh, I had to know! Don't worry. Cadge, dear, did nobody but you see me?"
"The fossils never have anything they can't clip," said Cadge in the tone
of absorption that her work always commands. "I'm surprised myself at the
_Echo_, though it did notice that a 'Miss Winslow' fainted in the Van
Dam box. But haven't you had reporters here--regiments? Expected to find
you ordering Gatlings for the siege."
"We're bombarded!" said Aunt. "With--er--"
"Rapid fire questions," suggested Ethel.
"--but the servants have their orders. Of course," Aunt added uneasily,
"we're glad to see any friend of Nelly's."
"Oh, by the way, I'm interviewing you," Cadge announced; _Star_ wants
to follow up its beat. You haven't talked?"
"Why, no; but--do I have to be interviewed?"
Just at first the idea was a shock, I must confess.
"Do you _have_ to be interviewed? Wish all interviewees were as meek.
Why, of course, Helen, you'll want to make a statement. I 'phoned the
_Star_ photographer to meet me here, but he's failed to connect.
However, Kitty can sketch--"
"Oh, Miss Bryant!" wailed Aunt. "An interview! How frightful! Can't you
let her off?"
"Why, I don't exactly see how--though I might--" Cadge deliberated,
studying Aunt's face rather than mine, "--might wait and see the red
extras. I know how she feels, Mrs. Baker--they're always that way, at
first--and I'm anxious to spare her, but--I can't let the _Star_ be
beaten. If I were you--"
She turned to me, hesitated a moment, then burst out impulsively:--
"If I were you, I wouldn't say a word! Not--one--blessed--word! I'd pique
curiosity. There! That _is_ treason! Why, I'd give my eye teeth,
'most, for a nice signed statement. But I'll wait--that is, if you really,
"You're very kind," said Aunt Frank, with a sigh of bewildered relief.
"We'd give anything, of course--_anything_!--to avoid--"
"Mind," Cadge admonished me as she rose to go. "I'm running big risks,
letting you off; the office relied on me. If you do talk to anybody else,
or even see anybody, you'll let me know, quick? And if you don't want to
give up, look out for a little fat girl with blue eyes and a baby stare;
she'll be here sure, crying for pictures; generally gets 'em, first time,
too. Snuffles and dabs her eyes and says: 'If I go back without any
photograph, I'll lose my j-o-o-o-b! Wa-a-a-h! Wa-a-a-h! until you do
anything to get rid of her. Ought to be on the stage; tears in her voice.
I wouldn't do stunts like that, if I never--you will look out, won't you?"
Aunt is so funny, not to have guessed who wrote the _Star_ article.
But she never saw it. Her precautions had all been taken at John's
officious suggestion over the telephone. Busybody! An interview is nothing
so terrible. The world has a right to know about me; and I don't suppose
Aunt had an idea how grievously Cadge was disappointed.
No sooner had Cadge left us than Mr. Bellmer, pink and stammering in my
presence, and after him the General, called to inquire for me.
It was wonderful to see the change in the strong, self-confident girl's
manner. She beamed at my appearance, and her every word was caressing and
deferential. The night before had had a magical effect. I was no longer
"Diane," the ingenue whom she patronized as well as admired. I was a
powerful woman, a great lady.
"Did our Princess enjoy waking this morning to find herself famous?" she
asked, echoing Milly's word for me; and then, to Mrs. Baker's horror, she,
too, had a tale to tell about reporters; they had been besetting her for
information about her companion of the Opera.
"But I never see people of that sort, you know," she said, with an accent
that piqued me, though I couldn't help feeling glad that Cadge had gone.
She showered me with messages from Mrs. Marmaduke Van Dam and from Peggy
and Mrs. Henry. She had a dozen plans for my entertainment, but Mrs. Baker
opposed a flurried negative:--
"We'll run no more risks like last night's; Nelly must stay at home--till
folks get used to her."
"Then I can never go anywhere; never!" I cried in despair, yet laughing.
It's impossible sometimes not to laugh at Aunt. But Mrs. Van Dam gave me a
look that promised many things.
"You won't be left in hiding after such a debut; you'll electrify
society!" she said; and when she had gone, I wore away the day wondering
what she meant, until I could send for the afternoon papers.
I laughed until I cried when they came, and cried until I laughed. The red
extras reviewed the occurrence at the Opera from Alpha to Omega,
publishing "statements" from ushers who had shown us to our box; from
people in the audience and from the cab man who drove us home. And they
supplemented their accounts with pen and ink sketches of "Miss Helen
Winship at the Opera," evolved from the fallible inner consciousness of
When Uncle came home, he found me reading an interview with him which
contained the momentous information that he would say nothing.
"We shall not again forget," he said with a deep sigh of relief, "that
--the face that launched a thousand ships
And burned the topless towers of Ilion
--was Helen's. But the Metropolitan still stands. An argument not used on
heart-hardened Pharaoh was a plague of press representatives."
I'm afraid he'd had a trying day.
The worst of my day was still to come.
After dinner, when I happened to be alone a minute in the library, Mr.
Hynes came in. Oddly enough I'd been thinking about him. I had determined
that the next time he called I would for once be self-possessed; I would
act as if I had not seen how oddly he conducts himself--now gazing at me
as if he would travel round the earth to feast his eyes upon my beauty and
now actually shunning Milly's cousin. I was quite resolved to begin afresh
and treat him just as cordially as I would any other man:
But the moment he appeared away flew all my wits.
"I think Milly'll be here in a minute," I stammered, and then I stopped,
tongue-tied and blushing.
He came towards me, saying abruptly: "May I tell you what I thought when I
saw you above us--" I didn't need to ask when or where. "--I thought: The
Queen has come to her coronation."
One's own stupid self is so perverse! Of course I meant to thank him for
his silent help the night before, but I asked with a rush of nervous
"You--were you there?"
I could have suffered torture sooner than own that I had seen him.
"Were you there, Ned?" repeated Milly, blundering into the room. "Why, we
didn't see you."
Of all vexatious interruptions! Behind her came John and most of the
"The servant of The Presence would fain know if The Presence is well,"
John said, coming quickly to my side and peering down at me with a dark,
worn look upon his face, as if he hadn't slept, and a catch in his voice
that irritated me, in spite of his playful words. I knew well enough that
his anxiety had been on my account, but it was so unnecessary!
"The child bears up wonderfully," cried my Aunt, before I could answer;
"but to-morrow'll tell the story; to-morrow she'll feel the strain."
Then they all broke out talking at once. John drew a big chair for me to
the fire, and there was such an ado, adjusting lights and fending me with
"You _are_ well?" John asked, obstinately planting himself between me
and the others.
"Perfectly. How absurd you are!"
It was so ridiculous that I should be coddled after the triumph of my
life, as if something awful had happened to me.
I had felt annoyed all day, so far as anything can now annoy me, by John's
too solicitous guardianship, and it vexed me anew when he began to pile up
cautions against this and against that--to warn me against going out alone
upon the street, and to urge care even in my intercourse with Cadge. He is
quicker than my Aunt; he divined the source of the _Star_ article,
and he almost forbade me to cleave to such an indiscreet friend.
"Oh, last night won't happen again," I said carelessly; "and you don't
know Cadge; she's as good as the wheat."
I wasn't listening to him. I was twisting his ring impatiently on my
finger and watching in the play of the fire a vision of the great Opera
House, the lights, the jewels, the perfumes, the white, wondering faces.
"Can't you see, Nelly," replied John, with irritation, "that this Bryant
woman's article practically accuses you of risking lives to gratify a whim
"Why, John Burke, how can you say such a thing?" exclaimed Aunt Frank,
overhearing his words and as usual answering only the last half dozen.
"Risking lives! Poor Nelly!"
"I didn't say it," John patiently explained; "but other people--"
"Nobody else will talk about Nelly's vanity. Why, she hasn't a particle.
As for the papers, I won't have one in the house--"
"Except the _Evening Post_?" suggested Aunt Marcia.
"Which Cadge says isn't a newspaper," I contributed.
"--so we needn't care what they say."
I was ready to laugh at John's discomfiture, but the possible truth of his
words struck me, and I cried out:
"People won't really believe I did it on purpose, whatever the papers
say--that I went there just to be looked at! Oh, that would be horrible!
"Of course not," John said with curt inconsistency to bring me comfort;
but I had a reply more sincere--a fleeting glance only, but it said: "The
Queen can do no wrong."
"Oh, I hope you are right; I hope no one thought that," I said confusedly
in answer to the glance. And then I bent over the Caesar that Boy laid
upon my lap, while Uncle asked:--
"Well, my son, is there mutiny again in the camp of our Great and Good
Friend, Divitiacus the Aeduan?"
A few minutes later John said good-night with a ludicrous expression of
pained, absent-minded patience. I didn't go to the door with him; I
scarcely looked up from Boy's ablative absolutes.
Oh I treated him shabbily. And yet--why did he use every effort that day
to keep me ignorant of my own rightful affairs, only to come at me himself
with a club, gibbering of newspapers?
Why, John's absurd! He would have liked to find me--not ill, of course,
but overcome by the Opera experience, dependent on him, ready to be
shielded, hidden, petted, comforted. He can not see me as I am--a strong,
splendid woman, ready to accept the responsibilities of my beauty.
LOVE IS NOTHING!
Monday, Jan. 20.
Dear me! Beauty is a responsibility! Such troubles, such trials about
nothing! It's photographs this time!
Last Wednesday--the day after the papers published so much about me--a
strange man called in Mrs. Baker's absence and begged me to let him take
my photograph--as a service to Art. If Aunt had been at home I wouldn't
have been permitted to see him. But the man was pleasant and gentlemanly,
and so sincere in his admiration that he won the way to my heart. I'm
afraid devotion is still so new to me that it's the surest road to my good
graces. He hesitated and stammered, blinking before my shining loveliness
as if blinded, as he offered to take the pictures for nothing, if he might
exhibit them afterwards; and at last I went to his studio, though I said
that his work must be for me only, and that I must pay for it.
I wonder at myself for yielding, for I didn't mean to have any photographs
until the experiment was quite finished--to mortify me in future with
their record of imperfection; but I'm so nearly perfect now that, really,
it's time I had something to tell me how I do look. Of course, as fast as
I can lay hands on them, I'm destroying every likeness of the old Nelly.
At the studio it was such a revelation--the care and intelligence the man
displayed, the skill of the posing--that when I got home full of the
subject and found Cadge waiting, I had to tell her all about it.
"H'm!" she said after I had finished; "what sort of looking chap?"
When I had described him, she sat silent at least a third of a minute,
establishing for herself a new record. Then she said:--
"Princess, I'll have to take back every word I said yesterday about
letting you off from being interviewed. I agreed to wait, but it's up to
you. Every rag in town'll have some kind of feature about you next Sunday,
and you wouldn't ask me to see the _Star_ beaten? You'd better come
right now to the _Star_ photographer, or--see last night's papers?--
you'll wish you'd never been born. I tell you the situation's out of my
"Well, come on then, before Aunt Frank gets back."
So we started out again. The sun and air made me so drunken with pure joy
of living that I didn't mind the scolding sure to follow--though it
certainly has proved an annoyance ever since to have Aunt's fidgetty
oversight of me redoubled, and to be shut up, as I have been, closer than
ever, like a Princess in a fairy book, just as my splendid triumphs were
Worst of all, almost, Mrs. Baker told the tale of my misdeeds to John.
"Why, Helen," he said at once, "no photographer of standing goes about
soliciting patronage; the man who came here wants pictures of you to
"Like the great ladies' photographs in England?" I asked flippantly,
though I was really a little disturbed.
"Just what I told her!" groaned Aunt Frank. "Bake must see the man; or--
Mr. Burke, why can't you find out about him? Perhaps it's all right," she
added weakly; "from her accounts he didn't flatter Nelly one bit; simply
raved over her."
"Yes, I'll run in and converse with the art lover," John grimly agreed;
but just then in came Milly with the General, and the subject was changed.
Indeed, though I don't know just how she managed it, from the moment the
brilliant woman of the world entered the room, poor clumsy John was made
to seem clumsier than ever, and before long, without quite knowing why, he
went away. I'm pretty sure that Mrs. Van Dam dislikes to see us together.
John was wrong and yet not wrong about the photographer; his threatened
interposition came to nothing, for the very next morning--only yesterday,
long ago as it seems--I was enlightened as to the cheap and silly trick
that had been played upon me.
"Thee, Cothin Nelly; pwetty, pwetty!" cried Joy, running towards me and
holding up a huge poster picture from the Sunday _Echo_.
"Isn't it--why--give it to me!" I almost snatched the sheet from her baby
My portrait! I knew it in spite of crude colour and cheap paper. It was my
portrait, and it was labelled: "HELEN WINSHIP, MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE
WORLD. POSED BY MISS WINSHIP ESPECIALLY FOR--"
And then--the insolence of the man!--there followed the name of the
bashful stranger whose devotion to Art had drawn him to my door! The
fellow had practised upon my credulity to obtain my likeness for
I threw down the sheet, quivering with anger. I felt that I should never
again dare look at a paper; but half an hour later I sent Boy out to buy
them all, and, locked into my room, I shook all about me a snowstorm of
bulky supplements and magazines.
Having posed for Cadge, I knew, of course, that the _Star_ would
print my picture, perhaps several of them. But at any other time I should
have been overcome to find a "special section" of four pages filled with
half-tone likenesses of me, cemented together by an essay on "Beauty,"
signed by a novelist of repute, and by articles from painters, sculptors,
dressmakers and gymnasts, all from their respective standpoints extolling
my perfections. Cadge had written an interview headed "How It Feels to be
But the _Echo!_ Besides the poster which Joy had shown me, it
published two pages of portraits framed in medallion miniatures of
celebrated beauties with whom it compared me, making me surpass the
loveliest women of history and legend, from Helen of Troy to the reigning
music hall performer. And, with a shock of surprise, I not only saw in the
pictures the dress I had worn and the theatrical things the deferential
artist had loaned me to pose in, but in the article appeared every word I
had said to him; and the skill with which fact, fiction, clever conjecture
and picturesque description had been stirred into the sweetened batter
that Cadge calls a "first-rate delirious yellow style" was maddening.
This is the beginning of the stuff:--
A PRAIRIE BUD.
So fair that, had you Beauty's picture took,
It must like her or not like Beauty look.
--ALEYN'S HENRY VII.
A Western Wild Rose!
As sweet! As perfect!
By all who have seen her, Helen Winship is pronounced the most beautiful
Last Monday night, at the Opera House, a great audience paid her such
spontaneous tribute as never before was offered human being.
At the sight of a young girl, trembling and blushing, staid citizens were
lifted to their feet by an irresistible wave of enthusiasm.
Not for anything this girl has done, though Science will hear from her;
not for her voice, though no nightingale sings so melodiously; but for a
face more glorious than that other Helen's, "Whose beauty summoned Greece
to arms and drew a thousand ships to Tenedos."
This modern Helen is a niece of Judge Timothy Baker, at whose residence,
No. -- East Seventy-second Street, she is staying.
The Judge and his family are reticent concerning their lovely guest, of
whom the _Echo_ presents the first authentic picture.
Miss Winship cannot be described.
Artists say that by their stern canons she is a perfect woman. Her beauty
is that of flawless health and a hitherto unknown physical perfection.
She is cast in Goddess mould. The loose, flowing robe of her daily wear is
of classic grace and dignity.
Tall as the Venus of Milo, she incarnates that noble figure with a
lightness and a purity virginal and modern.
She is neither blonde nor brunette; of a type essentially American, she
has glorious eyes and for her smile a man would lose his head.
It is a fact for students of heredity and environment to consider that
Miss Winship is not a product of the cities. Jasper M. Winship, her
father, is a bonanza farmer. Mrs. Winship was in her youth the belle of
prairie dances, and still has remarkable beauty.
Born of pioneer stock, baby Helen was reared to a life of freedom;
learning what she knew of grandeur from the sky and of luxury from the lap
of Mother Earth. Child of the sunshine and sweet air, she danced with the
butterflies, as innocent as they of cramping clothing that would distort
her body, or of city conventionalities that might warp her mind.
Year by year she grew, a brown-faced cherub, strong-limbed and supple.
Springtime after springtime her marvellous beauty budded, unnoted save by
the passing traveller, who put aside the bright, wind-blown hair to gaze
long into her fathomless eyes.
Roystering farm-hands checked their drunken songs at the little maid's
approach, but no wild thing feared her. Birds and squirrels came at her
call and fed from her hand.
And so it went. Chapters II and III described with brilliant inaccuracy my
University life and made me a piquant mixture of devotee of science and
favourite of fashion. Ah, well, it was all as accurate as Pa's name or
Mother's beauty or her love of dancing--she thinks it's as wicked as
Before I had read half the papers, between dread of Father and John and
the absurdity of it all, I was in a gale of tears and laughter. More than
once Milly crept to the door, or I heard in the hall the uneven step of
lame little Ethel. But I wouldn't open. I was swept by a passion of----
Not grief, not anger, not concern, not fear of anything on earth; but--
Joy in my beauty, about which a million men and women had that morning
read for the first time! Joy in the fame of my beauty which should last
forever! Joy in my full and rapturous life!
What did I care for the spelling of a name or the bald prose about my
college course? What concern was it of mine how my photographs had been
obtained? Trifles; trifles all! Here were the essential facts set broadly
forth, speeding to every part of the country--why, to every part of the
world! Cadge or Pros. Reid now--any one who knows how such things are
done--might note the hours as they passed, and say: "Now two millions have
seen her beauty, have read of her; now three; now five; now ten millions."
And the story would spread! In ever widening circles, men warned by
telegraph of the new wonder would tear open the damp sheets; and pen and
pencil and printing press would hurry to reproduce those marvellous
lines--to-morrow in Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Montreal; next day
in Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta; and so on to Denver, Galveston and the
The picture--_mine_;--_my picture_!--would be spread on tables
in the low cabins of pilot boats and fishing smacks; it would be nailed to
the log walls of Klondike mining huts; soldiers in the steaming trenches
around Manila would pass the torn sheets from hand to hand, and for a
moment forget their sweethearts while they read of me.
And the ships! The swiftest of them all would carry these pages to London,
Paris, Vienna, there to be multiplied a thousand fold and sent out again
in many tongues. Blue-eyed Gretchen, Giuseppina, with her bare locks and
rainbow-barred apron, slant-eyed O Mimosa San, all in good time would
dream over the fair face on the heralding page; women shut in the zenanas
of the unchanging East would gossip from housetop to housetop of the
wonderful Feringhe beauty; whipped slaves in midmost Africa would carry my
picture in their packs into regions where white men have never trod, and
dying whalers in the far North would look at my face and forget for a
little while their dooming ice floes.
The wealth of all the earth was at my command. Railroad train and ocean
grayhound, stage and pony cart, spurring horseman and naked brown runner
sweating through jungle paths under his mail bags, would bear the news of
me East and West, until they met in the antipodes and put a girdle of my
loveliness right round the world!
Never before had I realised what a great thing a newspaper is!
My heart was beating with a terrible joy. And so--prosaic detail--I threw
the papers down in a heap on the floor, combed my hair in a great loose
knot, put a rose at my belt, and went down to smile at my Aunt's
anxieties. I even went with my cousins to supper with Aunt Marcia. And in
the early evening Mr. Hynes came to walk with us home. I knew his step,
and my heart jumped with fright. What would he, so fastidious as he was,
think of that poster?
But his look leaped to mine as he entered, and I--oh, it seemed as if
there had never been such a night; never the snow, the delight of the cold
and dark and the far, wise stars! I couldn't tell what joy elf possessed
me as we walked homeward. I wanted to run like a child. Yet I couldn't
bear to reach the house.
"Why, Helen," said Ethel; "you're not wearing your veil."
"Will the reporters git me ef I don't--watch--out?" I laughed. How could I
muffle myself like a grandmother?
"We'll keep away the goblins," he said; and--it's a little thing to write
down--he walked beside me instead of Milly. We would pass through the
shadows of the trees, and then under the glare of an electric lamp, and
then again into blackness; and I felt in his quickened breath an instant
response to my mood; as if newspapers had never existed, and we were
playing at goblins.
I hope he didn't think me childish.
Of course John had come before we reached home, and of course he had been
all day fuming over the papers, as if that would do any good; but I had
drunk too deep of the intoxicating air to be disturbed by his surprised
look when Mr. Hynes and I entered the library; can't I go without his
guarding even to Aunt Marcia's?
I like the library--bookshelves, not too high, all about it, and the glow
of the open fire and the smiling faces. Sometimes I grow impatient of
Aunt's fussy kindness, and of the slavish worship of limp and
characterless Milly and Ethel; but last night I was glad to be walled
about with cousins, barricaded from the big, curious world. I could have
hugged Boy, who lay curled on the hearth, deep in the adventures of Mowgli
and the Wolf Brethren. I did hug little Joy, who climbed into my lap,
lisping, as she does every night: "Thing, Cothin Nelly."
I looked shyly at Mr. Hynes, who had stooped to pat the cat that purred
against his leg, muttering something about a "fine animal." I knew--I
begin to understand him so well--just how he felt the charm of everything.
"Thing," Joy insisted, putting up a baby hand until it touched my cheek
and twined itself in my hair, "Thing, Cothin Nelly." And I crooned while
breathlessly all in the room listened:--
"Sweet and low, sweet and low,
Wind of the Western sea--
"He'll be a bad man, won't he, Joy," I broke off, as John came to my
corner, "if he scolds a poor girl who has had to stand on the floor all
day for the scholars to look at, and get no good mark on her deportment
"I am no longer a schoolmaster, Nelly," said John so icily that Aunt
looked up at him, surprised. "Come, Joy," she said, "Cousin Nelly can't
be troubled with a great big girl. Why, Mr. Burke, she's cried herself
ill, fairly, over those dreadful newspapers. I do so hope they'll leave
her in peace now. But of course we tell her it's all meant as a tribute."
"Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon and blow--
Blow him again to me,
While my little Joy, while my pretty Joy sleeps."
"Thing more about your little Joy! More about me."
The sleepy child cuddled closer and, as I continued to sing, I knew that
at least one person in the room understood that a creature so blessed as I
could never cry herself ill.
"Father will come to his babe in the nest,
Silver sails all out of the West--"
"Milly and I have tributes, too," laughed Ethel. "The _Trumpet_ says
we're just as charming girls as our wonderful cousin. And the
_Record_ prints snapshots at Joy and her nursemaid. Aren't newspapers
"Some one of us should be running for office," said Uncle Timothy. "It
seems gratuitous to subject an unambitious private family to the treatment
expected by a candidate or a multi-millionaire. Yet I have seldom had
occasion to complain of the press. In its own perhaps headlong manner, it
pursues such matters as are of greatest public importance. A household, to
avoid its attentions, should be provided with good, plain, durable
countenances. The difficulty with this family is its excess of
He patted Aunt's hand affectionately, while I sang:--
"--Under the silver moon
Sleep, my little Joy, sleep, my pretty Joy, sleep--"
"--but, Uncle, what shall I do?"
"Nothing. In a shorter time than now seems possible, another topic will
supersede you. Then, as one of our Presidents has aptly said, you will
sink into 'innocuous desuetude.'"
But of course I sha'n't!
As I rose to carry Joy to her bed, I felt from all in the room a look that
said I was like a great, glorious Madonna, and I bent lower over the
sleeping child's still face; it is good to have everybody admire me.
Oh, I do wish John were more reasonable. Not satisfied with seeing me
Saturday and yesterday, he came again to-day and asked me to marry him at
once. He's so ridiculous!
"Perhaps I'm selfish to wish to mould your brilliant life to my plodding
one," he said wistfully, as if he were reading my thoughts. "But I don't
mean to be selfish. I love you--and--you're drifting away from me."
"What a goose you are, John!" I said, laughing impatiently. "I'm just the
same that I always was; the trouble is, I'm not a bit sentimental."
John _is_ selfish. He'd hide me somewhere outside the city, he'd bury
alive the most lovely of women. He prosed to me about a "home"; as if I
could now endure a Darby and Joan existence!
To-night his ring distracts--torments me. I pull it off and put it back
and it galls my finger, as if it rubbed a wound. I used to go to sleep
with it against my lips--I love the opal, gem of the beautiful women. I
wonder if it's really unlucky.
I suppose John's talk to-day annoyed me because I'm in such a restless
mood--waiting for the barriers to fall, for the glorious life ahead of me
to open. How could he expect me to feel as in the days when we were boy
and girl, when we dreamed foolish dreams about each other, and were
romantic, and young? I have changed since then, I have a thousand things
to think about in which he doesn't sympathize; if I answered his words at
random it was because I couldn't fix my mind upon them. I drew a long
breath when he left me--when I escaped the tender, perplexed question of
It's true; I'm not a bit sentimental. I used to think I was, but now I
feel sure that I could never love any one as John loves me.
But I mustn't drift away from him. I remember so many things that tie us
together, here in this strange, stormy city. What happy times we used to
have! He'll understand better by and by, and be less exacting.
But I can't marry; I must be free to enjoy the victories of my beauty; I
told him at Christmas that I can't marry for a long, long time.
LOVE is ALL!
Thursday, Jan. 30.
I've been trying to read, but I can't. Pale heroines in books are so dull!
Last night came the Van Dams' dance and my triumph--and a greater triumph
still; for to-day I have a wonderful, beautiful chapter to add to my own
book, to the story of the only woman whose life is worth while.
I see the vista of my future, and--ah, little book, my eyes are dazzled! A
rich woman would be a beggar, a clever woman a fool, an empress would
leave her throne to exchange with me. Nothing, nothing is impossible to
the most beautiful woman that ever lived, whose life is crowned by love.
Love is all; all! In a palace without Ned I'd weep myself blind; with him
a desert would be Eden. Love is all!
That blessed dance!
The General invited me ten days ago, the afternoon when--when John Burke--
poor John!---scolded me about the photographs.
"Just a 'small and early,'" she said, broaching her errand as soon as she
had fairly driven John off the field--there was just the faintest
suggestion of relief in her tone--"Peggy's mother's giving it--Mrs. Henry
She looked at Aunt with an assurance as calm as if there were no interdict
upon social experiments.
"Impossible!" gasped Aunt, glancing despairingly in the direction in which
her ally had disappeared. "Why, Nelly doesn't leave the house; I've
stopped her attendance even at Barnard."
"And quite right; but a private house isn't a big school, nor yet the
Opera. Of course you say yes, don't you, Helen?"
"Yes, yes! A dance! Oh, I'm going to a dance! Play for me, Milly; play for
Humming a bar of a waltz, I caught Aunt Frank in my arms, and whirled her
about the room until she begged for mercy.
"Oh, you dear people, I'm so happy!" I cried as I stopped, my cheeks
glowing, and, falling all about me, a flood of glistening hair; while the
General, whose creed is to wonder at nothing, gazed at me in delighted
"You splen--did creature!" she cried.
"I--I would like to go; Aunt Frank, you will let me?" I said meekly, as
too late I realised how differently a New York girl _bien elevee_
would have received the invitation. But, indeed, my heart jumped with
Without John, Mrs. Baker really didn't know how to refuse me.
"But--but--but--" she stammered.
"Surround her with a bodyguard, if you like," said the General. "You'll
have Judge Baker and Hynes, of course; and that--what's the name of that
shy young man who's just gone? He looks presentable."
"But--but--" protested Aunt; "Bake'd never go; and--Nelly--has--do you
suppose Mr. Burke has evening clothes?"
"Naturally," I said with nonchalance, though my quick temper was fired. I
was as sure he hadn't as I was that Mrs. Van Dam knew his name, and that
he would oppose the dance even more strongly than did Aunt; and I wished
that I could go without him. But it was useless to think of this, with
even the General suggesting a bodyguard. I resolved that he should at
least consult a decent tailor.
"Why not have detectives as guards--as if I wore a fortune in diamonds?" I
"Let us at least have Mr. Burke. Now, Helen, what do _you_ propose to
wear?" concluded the General.
Mrs. Van Dam took an extraordinary interest in my toilette. She even came
to see my new evening dress fitted, and put little Mrs. Edgar into such a
flutter that she prodded me with pins. I'll simply have to ask Father to
increase my allowance; cheap white silk, clouded with tulle, was the best
I could manage.
"H'm--Empire; simple and graceful," pronounced Oracle. "Square neck,
Helen, or round?"
"Why--I've never worn a low dress--not really low," I said, longing but
dubious. "Pa says--"
"A shame!" chimed Mrs. Edgar.
And it would have been a shame to hide my neck and arms. I laughed when
they cut away their interfering linings from the white column of my
throat, and left across my shoulders only wisps of tulle. And last night,
when I came to dress, I laughed again, and kissed the entrancing flesh, so
firm and soft and gleaming faintly pink, and then I blushed because Aunt
Marcia saw me do it. I worship the miracle of my own fairness. I could
scarcely bear to put gloves on, even.
Miss Baker gathered all my shining hair into the loose knot that suits me,
and put roses at my girdle and into the misty tulle about my shoulders.
Ethel fitted on my slippers, and brought her fan and her lace
handkerchief, and when I had smiled for one last time at the parted
scarlet lips and the brilliant eyes that smiled back at me from the
mirror, and had turned reluctantly from my dressing table, I was still
joyous at remembrance of the light, the grace, the marvel of the vision I
had seen reflected, that had seemed fairly to float in the dancing rose
light of its own happiness.
Down in the hall the family were waiting, with John and Mr. Hynes; and, as
I glided into sight on the stairway, Milly behind me, the Judge looked up
at us, quoting with heavy playfulness:--
"She seizes hearts, not waiting for consent,
Like sudden death that snatches unprepared.
"How many conquests will satisfy you to-night, fair Princesses? Milly,
will two young men answer instead of one old one?" He had been exempted
from serving on my bodyguard.
"Bake! Death! How can you," sputtered Aunt. "Come, girls, the carriage is
"Wish I could dance," whispered Ethel, reaching up to touch my flowers--a
pathetic little figure poised on her best foot.
"Oh, I wish you could! I wish you were going," I replied hastily, bending
to kiss the little creature, the better to hide my sudden consciousness of
my bared shoulders.
All in the room were looking at me as if never before had they beheld my
beauty. John's strained eyes seemed to plead with me for an answering
glance of affection, and I knew that Ned--though I wasn't conscious of
looking at him at all--was alternately white and red as I was myself. I
felt his glance so confused and passionate and withal so impetuous that,
as Aunt Marcia lifted my wrap and I went down to the carriage, my heart
beat violently, and I sank back into my corner in a frightful, blissful
maze of fear and ecstasy.
But even then I didn't know what had happened to me.
We had but a few blocks to go, and before I had recovered, a man in livery
was opening the carriage door at the mouth of a canvas tunnel which seemed
to dive under a great house that towered so far above the street as to
look almost narrow. We passed through the tunnel, another man opened a
door almost at the street level, and we advanced into a hall extending the
entire width of the house, so brilliantly lighted and so spacious that I
caught my breath at thought of our errand, seeing that the size of the
place and its splendour so far exceeded what I had supposed.
I clutched at Aunt's hand as if to stop her in front of the huge
fireplace, where logs, crackling on tall "firedogs" of twisted iron, gave
out a yellow blaze; but then quickly such a different terror and wonder
and joy came again upon me that I lost consciousness of everything but
Ned; and the masses of ferns and palms through which we were moving--the
doll-like servants in silk stockings and knee breeches, their scarlet
coats emblazoned with the monogram of the Van Dams--faded out of sight.
Yet I never once glanced in his direction.
We had to go to the third floor for the dressing rooms; but in spite of
those minutes of grace, when a maid had removed my wraps--she started with
amazement as she did so--my cheeks were still aflame.
Mrs. Baker and Milly fussed with my dress, and Aunt became incoherent in
her efforts to soothe and encourage me; for she feared the ordeal before
us, and thought that I feared it also. And I was afraid, but not of
meeting any person in that house, save one. I quivered at the thought that
outside the door Ned was waiting, that we must go out to him, that I might
even be obliged to speak to him. And yet I longed to see him again, to be
with him--somewhere, away from them all.
Perhaps at last I was beginning to understand.
The General had been sent for, and I kept close to her and to Peggy, when
they went down with our party to the parlours on the second floor. There,
at our entrance, groups of people seemed to divide with an eager buzz that
at any other time would have been ravishing music. Last night I didn't
know that I heard it, though now I remember how splendidly apparelled
women and sombre-coated men turned their heads as we passed. Of course
word had spread that the beautiful Miss Winship was expected.
It was almost in a dream that I stood before Mrs. Henry Van Dam--a short,
heavy woman, in purple velvet, flashing with diamonds. Without a vestige
of awkwardness or timidity I answered her effusive welcome, and the
greetings of her grayish wisp of a husband, and of Mr. and Mrs. Marmaduke
Van Dam--both thin and grave; her neck cords standing out under her
diamond collar. And of little Mr. Robert Van Dam. And of Mr. Bellmer--a
pink, young, plump thing, all white waistcoat and bald head, just as I
remembered him at the Opera.
I held a reception of my own. I did it easily. After the first moments
Ned's presence excited me. I was always conscious of his nearness; I felt
that whether I talked or was silent--though I was never allowed to be
that--to whatever part of the room he went, his glowing eyes never left
me. And there came to me a thrilling confidence that he understood. He
knew that to me all these people were so much lace, so many blotches of
white complexion, so many pincushions of silk or lustrous satin stuck
through with jewels. He knew that I cared for no one of them; for nothing;
not even for my beauty, except that--thank God!--it pleasured him.
I knew that perfect beauty had come to me last night--had come because I
loved and was loved; and because Love was not the pale shadow I had called
by its name, but a rapture that was in my heart and in my face and in the
faces 'round me and in the music that swelled from the great ballroom!
I had no idea of time, but perhaps it wasn't long before the General
manoeuvred me from the sitting-out rooms and across the hall to join the
dancers. Mrs. Baker and John were with us; Ned was not, but I knew that he
It was a big apartment that we entered, occupying the entire end of the
second floor towards the street, perhaps thirty feet by forty and twenty
high; for an instant I was dazzled by the gleam of white and gold, the
rise of pilasters at door and window, the shimmer of soft, bright hangings
and everywhere the cheat of mirrors. I breathed delight at sight of the
lovely ceiling all luminous--no lights showed anywhere, yet the air was
transfused by a rosy glow. The next minute I had forgotten this in the
pulse of the music and the blur of moving figures; my favourite waltz was
sounding, and the scene was one of fairyland.
"Shall we dance?" asked John, and I came to myself in a panic. Dance with
John--there? I hadn't thought of that. Of course I must, but--why, his
step is abominable! It always was!
"As you please," I said with the best grace I could muster, glancing
nervously up at him. He looked well in his new evening clothes, but his
face was set in grim lines of endurance, and I went on with guilty haste
to forestall question or reproach:--
"I hope you waltz better than you used."
"I'm afraid I don't," said he dryly.
And he didn't. I simply couldn't dance with him. He never thought about
what he was doing or where he was going. I looked back despairingly at the
General, grimacing involuntarily as I gathered my skirts from under his
feet; and I had an odd notion that she smiled with malicious satisfaction.
Could she have reckoned upon weaning me from him by a display of his
awkwardness? I felt nettled at both of them.
"Helen," he said abruptly, as we laboured along the crowded floor, "do you
remember our last dance--at the Commencement ball?"
The night of our betrothal! What a time to remind me of it! I had just
seen Ned and Milly join the group we had left; and as they, too, began to
dance, I felt a stab of pain that made me answer angrily--we were barely
escaping collision with another couple:--
"If it's only at Commencement that you care to dance--"
He tightened his grip upon me almost roughly, then took me back to my Aunt
without a word.
I tried to reason myself out of my pettishness, to atone to John, poor
fellow! But my eyes followed Ned and Milly among the graceful, flying
figures, and my feet tapped the floor impatiently until, presently, the
music stopped and they came to us. Then Ned's parted lips said something,
and then--as the music recommenced, I was in his arms and, almost without
my own knowledge or volition, was moving around the room.
Moving, not dancing--floating in a rosy light, away and away from them
all, into endless space, my hand in his, his breath on my cheek; always to
go on, I felt; on and on, to the dim borderland between this earth and
Presently his eyes told me that something was happening. The dancers had
been too busily engaged to pay much heed to my first brief adventure, but
in the intermission of the music I had been noticed, and now I saw that
there was an open space about us. Here and there a couple stood as they
had risen from their seats, while others, who had begun to dance, had come
to a pause. Slender girls in clouds of gauze and fat matrons panting in
satins were gazing in our direction. In the doorway were gathered people
from the parlours.
"Are they looking at us? We must stop," I whispered.
"Looking at you, not us. But don't stop; not yet--Helen!"
"Helen!" He had called my name! My eyes must have shown with bliss and
terror. I had an almost overmastering desire to whisper his name also, to
answer the entreaty of his voice, the clasp of his fingers. But I forced
myself to remember how many eyes were watching.
"I--we must stop," I said.
"Not yet; unless--we shall dance together again?"
I scarcely heard the "yes" I breathed. I shouldn't have known what I had
said but for the sudden light in his eyes, the firmer pressure of his arm.
My feet didn't seem to touch the floor, as he gently constrained me when I
would have ceased to dance, and kept me circling round with him until we
came opposite my seat; then he put me into it as naturally as if I had
Tired! Our faces told--they must have told our story. But the others were
blind--blind! John had risen as if to meet us, but if he took note at all
of my flushed face, he doubtless thought me frightened.
It was exultation, not fright. I did not heed the following eyes, when, as
gliding figures began to cover the floor again, John took me back to the
parlours. I went with him submissively; I thought of nothing but the joy
of my life, the love of my lover. I shall think of nothing else to the end
of my days.
Ned went with me, confused and impulsive and ardent as John was attentive
and curiously formal. But I wasn't allowed to remain with either of them.
I didn't wish to do so. I was glad that people crowded about me--men in
black coats all alike, whose talk was as monotonous as their broad
expanses of shirt front or their cat's eye finger rings. But I tried to
listen and answer that I might hide from John my tumult.
Before long I danced again--this time with some black coat; then with
another and another and another; and, at last, once more with Ned.
We scarcely spoke, but he did not hide from me the fervour of his look,
nor I from him the wild joy of mine. There was no need of words when all
was understood, but as he put his arm around me, the tinkling music
receded until I could hardly hear it, the figures about us grew
indistinct--and in all the world there were left only he and I.
"Once there was another Helen," he said. His voice caressed my name.
"There have been many; which Helen?"
I so loved the word as he had spoken it that I must repeat it after him.
"_The_ Helen; there was never another--until you. She was terrible as
an army with banners; fair as the sea or the sunset. Men fought for her;
died for her. She had hair that meshed hearts and eyes that smote.
Sometimes I think--do you believe in soul transmigration?"
My heart beat until it choked me. Some voice far in the depths of my soul
warned me that I must check him--we must wait until I--he--Milly--
"Sometimes; who does not? But Prof. Darmstetter would say that it was
nonsense," I whispered, and waited without power to say another word.
"It is true; Helen is alive again, and all men worship her."
His eyes were so tenderly regardful that--I could not help it. Once more I
raised mine and we read each other's souls. And the music seized us and
swept us away with its rapture and its mystery.
The rest of the evening comes to me like a dream, through which I floated
in the breath of flowers and the far murmur of unheeded talk. I saw
little, heard little, yet was faintly conscious that I was the lodestar of
all glances and exulting in my triumph. It was marvellous!
I didn't dance much. People don't at New York balls. But whether I danced
or talked with tiresome men, my heart beat violently because he would see
the admiration I won--he would know that I, who was Helen, a Queen to
these others, lived only for him, was his slave.
There was supper, served at an endless number of little tables; there was
a cotillon which I danced with Mr. Bellmer. John stayed in the parlours
with Aunt, and Ned danced with Milly, but I was not jealous.
Jealous of Milly, with her thin shoulders rising out of her white dress,
her colourless eyes and her dull hair dressed like mine with roses?
Jealous, when his glance ever sought me; when, as often as we approached
in a figure, if I spoke, his eyes answered; if I turned away my face, his
grew heavy with pain?
Once in the dance I gave a hand to each of them. His burned like my own;
hers was cold.
"Tired, Milly?" I asked, and indeed I meant kindly.
"No," she said sulkily, turning to the next dancer.
I couldn't even pity her, I was so happy.
I couldn't bear to have the beautiful evening end, and yet I was glad to
go home--to be alone.
When John lifted me from the carriage, his clasp almost crushed my hand;
poor John, how he will feel the blow! I didn't wait to say good-night to
Aunt; I didn't look at Milly, but ran away to my room.
Oh, indeed, the child doesn't love him! Milly knows no more about Love
than I did two months ago. She's bloodless, cold; I do not wrong her. Some
day she will learn what Love is, as I have learned, and will thank me for
saving her from a great mistake. I hope she will!
I have saved myself from the error of my life. I'm not the same woman I
was yesterday. It makes me blush to think how I looked forward to the
adulation of the nobodies at that dance. I care for no praise but his.
Why, I'll go in rags, I'll work, slave--I'll hide myself from every eye
but his, if that will make him love me better. Or I will be Empress of
beautiful women, if that is his pleasure, and give him all an Empress's
I couldn't sleep last night. I know that he could not. I know that he has
been watching, waiting, as I have, for to-day, when he must come to me.
A LITTLE BELTED EARL.
Five wasted days; and nothing more to tell, though some women mightn't
think so; nothing but--another triumph!
I've been to the Charity Ball. I've danced with a Lord--such a little
fellow to be a belted Earl! I have scored over brilliant women of Society.
It isn't the simple country girl of a few weeks ago whom Ned loves, but a
wonderful woman--a Personage; and I am glad, glad, glad! Though no woman
could be good enough for him. I'm not; I am only beautiful enough. And oh,
so feverishly happy, except that waiting is hard, so hard. I'm so restless
that I scarcely know myself.
If I might tell him that I love him--as other Queens do! I am afraid of
his glance when he is here, because he knows. But when he's not here, I
imagine that he does not know, that he will never come again unless he
learns the truth, and I say it over and over: "I love him! I love him!"
and am glad and panic-stricken as if he had heard.
I have never had any other secret, but the Bacillus, I would sooner die
than tell that, to Ned. My love I would cry aloud, but I cannot until he
speaks, and he cannot speak until--has Milly no pride?
I thought--I thought that the very day after the dance--why, I could have
rubbed my eyes, when I went down to a late breakfast, to find Mrs. Baker
chirping with sleepy amiability, and Milly doling out complacent gossip to
Ethel. The very sky had fallen for me to gather rainbow gold--and here we
were living prose again, just as before.
I had struggled with my joy through all the short night, for I had
imagined them suffering and angry; but I do believe that on the whole
Milly had enjoyed the dance, and liked to shine even by her reflected
importance as the beautiful Miss Winship's cousin. She had been vexed by
Ned's admiration for me; and yet--and yet she didn't understand. The
stupid! Didn't see that his love is mine.
There may have been a pause as I came, dazzling them like a great rosy
light; but then my aunt stifled a yawn as she said, "Here's Nelly," and
the chatter went on as before.
But I didn't hear it. Gliding confusedly into a seat, I had opened a note
from John. "--Called West on business; start to-day," it said; and then
indeed I began to feel the tangle, the terrible tangle--my cousins blind,
John gone, when I was counting the minutes until I could see him. Oh, I
must be free! It is his right to know the truth, and--what can Ned say
while I'm affianced? I am Milly's cousin, and he John's friend.
I hurried to escape. I longed to be by myself that I might recall Ned's
every look and word. Without reason--against reason--I felt that at any
minute Ned might come, and waves of happiness and dread and impatience
swept over me, and kept me smiling and singing and running anxiously to my
Ned loves my beauty; I pulled down my hair and reknotted it and pulled it
down again, fearful--so foolish have I grown--lest I might fail to please
him; and frowned over my dresses and rummaged bureau drawers for ribbons,
until Milly, who had tapped at my door and entered almost without my
notice, asked abruptly:--
"No one; John--no, he's out of town."
I flushed to see her regard the litter about me with calm deliberateness.
"Oh, you don't have to take pains for John," she said with a short laugh.
"But come; Meg's down stairs."
The General had followed Milly up; she whisked into the room, showering me
with congratulations on my success at the dance, she claimed me for a
dinner, a concert--half a dozen engagements.
"Oh, by the way," she said, checking her flood of gossip. "Who d'you
suppose is to be at the Charity Ball? Lord Strathay. You'll talk with a
real Earl, Nelly--for of course he'll ask to be introduced."
"Another dance!" groaned my aunt, who had trotted panting in the General's
wake; "I'm sure I wish I'd never said she might go; I'm as nervous as a
witch after last evening."
Poor Aunt; she looked tired. She's really becoming the great objector.
Such a day as it was! I started at every footstep; my heart gave an absurd
jump at every movement of the door hangings. Of course I knew that Ned
couldn't--that we mustn't see each other until--but Ned is mine; it's so
wonderful that he loves me. If I were Milly, I wouldn't remain an hour--
not a minute!--in such a false position.
Yet the next day passed just like that day, and the next and the next and
the next; every morning a note from John, scrawled on a railway train, and
begging for a line from me. I wrote, poor fellow; so that's settled, and
I'm very sorry for him.
I got rid of one morning by calling on Prof. Darmstetter. It was three
weeks since I had seen him, and he was testy.
"I see much in t'e newspapers about t'e beautiful Mees Veensheep, but v'y
does she neglect our experiment?" he demanded, following me across the
laboratory to my old table. "V'ere are my records, my opportunities for
observation? Has t'e beautiful Mees Veensheep no regard for science?"
"You've always said she hadn't, and pretended to be glad of it; I won't
contradict," I returned. "But hurry up with your records; it doesn't need
science or the newspapers, does it, to tell you that the beautiful Miss
Winship cannot go about very freely?"
"Ach, no," said he humbly; for he could not look upon my face and hold his
anger. "If I haf not alreaty gifen to Mees Veensheep t'e perfect beauty
t'at I promised, I cannot conceive greater perfection. You are satisfied
vit' our vork--vit' me?"
"Yes, I'm satisfied," I said coolly.
Just as soon as I could, I left him. Oh, I ought to be grateful, more than
ever grateful now that the Bacillus has won for me the most blessed of
earth's gifts--the gift of love. But I'm not; I wish I might never again
see Prof. Darmstetter; he reminds me--he makes me feel unreal. As for his
records, the experiment is finished. We have succeeded, and I want to
enjoy our success and forget its processes. And why not? He knows in his
heart that we have no further need of each other.
My real records now are public; the Charity Ball last night added a
The Charity Ball! How calmly I write that! I hope it may be the last
triumph I need to win in public without Ned; but I enjoyed it. There was
no awkward John to spoil my dancing, no jealous Milly, no over-anxious
Aunt. I had Mrs. Marmaduke Van Dam for my chaperon--more the great lady,
with all her thin rigidity, than Mrs. Henry; and for companion the
General, almost as young and light-hearted as I.
And I was mistress of myself, strong and self-contained. Instead of being
confused when all eyes were bent upon me, I had a new feeling of glad
self-command. I felt the rhythm of my flawless beauty, my pure harmonies
of face and form, and found it natural that fine toilets should be foils
to my cheap white dress, and that I should be the centre around which the
great assembly revolved. I'm really getting used to myself.
I danced constantly, danced myself tired, holding warm at my heart this
one thought: that in the morning Ned would read of my triumphs and be
proud of them, and rejoice because she about whom the whole city is
talking thinks only of him.
My partner in the march was "Hughy" Bellmer, as the General calls him; I
begin to know him well. He's harmless, with his drawl and his round pink
face that shines with admiration. Deliciously he patronized the ball.
"Aw, Miss Winship," he said, "too large, too public. People prefer to
dawnce in their own houses."--The ball was at the Waldorf-Astoria.--"The
smaller a dawnce is, the greater it is, don't ye see."
"But aren't any great people here?" I asked demurely. "I am just a country
mouse, and I've really counted on seeing one or two great people, Mr.
Bellmer--besides you, of course."
"The Charity Ball is--aw, y'know, Miss Winship, an institution," he
explained, fairly strutting in his complacency at my deference; "and as an
institution, not as a Society event, ye understand, it is patronized by
the most prominent ladies in the city."
"How good of them!" I cried, laughing.
He was so funny! But he was useful, too; he knew about everybody.
Some of the women I shall remember--Mrs. Sloane Schuyler, leader of the
smallest and most exclusive of Society's many sets--a handsome woman with
well-arched eyebrows; and Mrs. Fredericks, of the same group; sallow, with
great black eyes, talking with tremendous animation; and Mrs. Terry--of
the newly rich; Mr. Bellmer's aunt; dumpy, diamonded and disagreeable-
"But where are the famous beauties?" I asked eagerly. "Won't they dance,
even for charity, except in their own houses?"
Some of them were there; tall, pale, stylish girls, or women whose
darkened eyes and faces mealy with powder told of a bitter fight with
time. Why, I haven't seen a woman whom I thought beautiful since--since I
"Aw, Miss Winship, really, y'know, you have no rivals," said my partner.
I hadn't supposed him clever enough to guess what I was thinking.
"Oh, yes I have--one," I said; "isn't there somewhere here a real live
But just then we joined Meg, and it was she who pointed out to me "The
Earl of Strathay--the Twelfth Earl of Strathay," in a whisper of comical
respect and deference.
He wasn't very impressive--just a thin, pale young fellow with a bulbous
head, big above and small below; but I was glad to do Meg a service; for
of course she wished to meet him, and of course Lord Strathay was
presented to the beautiful Miss Winship and her chaperons.
Then I danced with him. I felt as if I were amusing a nice boy; he hardly
came to my shoulder. I asked him if he liked America.
He wasn't too much of a boy to reply:--
"Like is a feeble word to voice one's impressions of the land of lovely
And then he looked at me. Oh, he did admire me immensely, and I took quite
a fancy to him in turn, though it seemed pathetic that such a poor little
fellow--I don't believe he's twenty-one--should carry the weight of his
title. I danced with his cousin, too, a Mr. Poultney; and wherever I went
Strathay's eyes followed me wistfully.
Meg danced with Strathay and amused me by her elation. She hadn't really
recovered from it to-day.
To-day! Blessed to-day! Lord Strathay's only an Earl; to-day there came to
me--Ned! Oh, this has been the gladdest, most provoking day of my life,
for I had only a moment with him.
It was Mrs. Baker's "afternoon," and we had a good many callers; the fame
of my beauty has spread. They gazed furtively at me as they talked and
sipped their tea, and it was all very stupid until--oh, I didn't know how
perturbed, how unhappy I'd been, until--I glanced up for a word with the
General, who came late, and behind her I saw--Him. He came to me as if
there were no one else in the room.
Ah, I have been unhappy! I have known that he would try to keep away from
me. Useless! Useless to fight with love! It's too strong for us. At sight
of him joy like a fire flashed through my veins.
But there were my cousins; there was Meg--she looked at him impatiently, I
fancied, as she has sometimes looked at John. Poor John, it didn't need
her surveillance to break his feeble hold upon my heart. And there they
stayed. They wouldn't go. They stayed, and talked, while I shivered and
grew hot with fear and gladness and the excitement of his presence; they
talked--of all senseless topics--about the ball.
"Why, Mr. Hynes, we've missed you," said Ethel carelessly, at sight of
him. "Oh, Meg, tell us about last night, won't you? Helen's said nothing;
almost nothing at all."
"Oh, what is there to tell?"
It made me impatient. How could I chatter nothings when Ned was by my
side, smiling down at me so confusedly?
"Most girls would find enough! You should have heard the dowagers cluck,
Ethel!" exclaimed the General, her face losing its vexed look at the
thought. "It was bad weather for their broods. You never saw such a
scurrying, pin feathers sticking every which way. The proudest hour of
Hughy Bellmer's life was when the march started, and he walked beside
Helen--same parade as always--through that wide hall between the Astor
gallery and the big ball room; committeemen and patronesses at the head
and the line tailing. You may believe the plumes drooped and the war paint
trickled. Nelly was the only girl looked at. Milly, you should have been
there? Headache? You look pale beside Helen."
"Oh, I don't hope to rival Nelly's colour; she looks like--like somebody's
'_Femme Peinte par Elle-meme_.'" said Milly with a laugh that might
have been innocent. Since Ned's entrance she had grown white and my cheeks
had burned, until there was reason for her jest.
"Is Mr. Bellmer handsome--handsome enough to be Nelly's partner?"
persisted Ethel, impatient for her gossip--to her it's all there is of
gayety. "And is Lord Strathay--nice?"
"Mr. Bellmer's an overgrown cherub with a monocle," I laughed. Ned shall
not think me one of those odious, fortune-hunting girls.
"Hughy's pretty good-looking, Ethie," said Meg, amiably; "and the best
fellow in the world; but probably not of a calibre to interest a college
girl. And Lord Strathay"--the name rolled slowly from her tongue, as if
she were loth to let it go--"is a charming fellow. Just succeeded to the
title. He's travelling with his cousin, the Hon. Stephen Allardyce
Poultney. Nelly danced with him. And did she tell you that Mrs. Sloane
Schuyler begged to have her presented? Sister to a Duchess, you know.
We'll have Helen in London next. Nobody there to compare with her. Just
what Strathay said, I do assure you."
London! Men of title, and great ladies and the glitter of a court! Once I
may have dreamed of power and place and the rustle of trailing robes, and
being admired of all men and hated of all women, but now in my annoyance I
longed to cry out: "Why can't you talk sense? Why babble of such silly
To make matters worse, Uncle came just in time to hear the General's last
"I do not think our Princess would leave us," he said, "even if--
'at her feet were laid
The sceptres of the earth exposed on heaps
To choose where she would reign.'"
It was scarcely to be borne. I knew he was thinking of John, and I caught
myself looking down at my hand, praying that Ned might see that I no
longer wore the opal ring.
Then came Aunt Frank with a headache, looking ill enough, indeed; and I
was glad to jump up and serve her some tea.
"Milly has a headache, too," I said; and she looked from Milly's vexed,
cold face to mine, almost peevishly replying:--
"Nothing ever seems to ail you, child."
After all the weary waiting, Ned and I exchanged only a word. But the word
was a delight and a comfort.
More than once the Judge has suggested for me a short absence from the
city to win a respite from the newspapers; and this morning, when he saw
that the _Echo_ had smuggled an East Side girl into the ballroom last
night to tell the Bowery, in Boweryese, how the other half lives, her
descriptions of me so incensed him that he almost insisted upon Aunt's
packing for Bermuda at once. Ned must have heard of that.
"You will not go away?" he said when he took leave of me.
"You know that Uncle--"
"You will not?"
I couldn't speak steadily. The low, passionate entreaty told me that he
had come to receive that pledge, and I gave it.
Oh, now, now, I cannot be unhappy! I know that he has tried to stay away
from me, and why he has not succeeded. Love has been too mighty for us