Ida here shot a quick and vengeful glance at the speaker.
"Please do not present me as a general reformer, Mr. Van Berg," protested Miss Burton, with a light laugh; "I have my hands full in mending my own ways."
"And so might we all, no doubt," said Stanton; "only most of us leave our ways unmended. but I am curious to know, Miss Burton, how you would make the best of a flirtation; since this is emphatically a part of the world as we find it, especially at a summer hotel."
"The best that we can do with many things that exist," she replied, "is to leave them alone. Italy is pre-eminently the land of garlic and art; but fortunately we shall not find it necessary to indulge in both and in equal proportions when we are so happy as to go abroad."
"A great many people prefer the garlic," said Stanton.
"Oh, certainly," she answered; "it's a matter of taste."
"So then garlic and flirtation are corresponding terms in your vocabulary?"
"I cannot say which term outranks the other, but it seems to me that if a woman regards her love as a sacred thing, she cannot permit an indefinite number of commonplace people even to attempt to stain it with their soiling touch."
"I think gentlemen show just as much of a disposition to flirt as ladies," said Ida, with resentment in her tone.
"I will not dispute that statement," replied Miss Burton, with a laugh; "indeed, I'm inclined to think they are very human."
"Humane, you mean," interposed Stanton. "Yes, I often wonder at our patient endurance."
"Which shall be taxed no longer to-night by me. Good-evening, Miss Mayhew. Good-evening, patient martyrs."
"Humane, indeed!" said Stanton. "Are you that way inclined, Van?"
"I have no occasion to be otherwise."
"Well, I feel savage enough to scalp some one."
"So I should judge," remarked Ida.
"Perhaps then, as my mood contrasts somewhat favorably with your cousin's, you will venture to walk with me for awhile?" said Van Berg.
"Indeed, sir," she replied, taking his arm, "there are times when any change is a relief."
"I cannot be very greatly elated over that view of the case, certainly," remarked Van Berg, with a laugh.
She did not reply at once, but after a moment said: "I suppose you regard me as a hopeless case at best."
"what suggests that thought to you, Miss Mayhew?"
"You are not so dull as to need to ask that question, and you only ask it to draw me out. For one thing, you probably think that I instigated Mr. and Mrs. Chints to act as they did. This is not true."
"I'm very glad to hear it."
"I'm no more to blame than Mr. Burleigh was. He knew about it as well as I did, but Mrs. Chints was bound to carry out her project."
"Will you permit a suggestion?"
"I suppose you wish to insinuate that I acted like a heathen, instead of saying that I am one plainly, as does Cousin Ik?"
"I think you acted a little thoughtlessly. If Miss Burton had been in your place, she would have tried to prevent the disagreeable scene."
"Oh, certainly! she is perfect."
"No; she is kind."
"Would it be possible to speak upon some agreeable subject, Mr. Van Berg? I have had enough mortifications for one day."
He was puzzled. What topic could he introduce that would interest this spoiled and petulant beauty.
He touched on art, but she was only artful in her small way, and could not follow him. He tried literature, and here they had even less in common. He would not and indeed could not read the thin society novels which reflected modes of life as trivial as her own, and his books might have been written in another language, so slight was her acquaintance with them. The various political, social, or scientific questions of the day had never puzzled her brain. Van Berg cautiously felt his way towards his companion's knowledge of two or three of the most popular of them. Her answers, however, were so superficial and irrelevant, and also so evidently embarrassed, that he saw his only resources to be society chit-chat, gossip about mutual acquaintances, the latest modes, the attractions of pleasure resorts in the city, and of summer resorts in the country. But he gave his mind to these unwonted themes, and labored hard to be entertaining; for now that he had gained the vantage-ground he sought, he was determined to discover whether there was a sleeping mind or a vacuum behind Miss Mayhew's shapely forehead. Granting that there was a womanly intelligence there, as yet unquickened, he was not so irrational as to imagine he could jostle it into illumining activity in one short hour, or day, or week. But it seemed to him that if any mind existed worth the name, it would give such encouraging signs of life before many days passed as would promise success of his experiment. He felt that his first aim must be to establish an intimacy that would permit as full and frank an exchange of thought as was possible between people so dissimilar.
While he tried to bring himself down to the littleness of her daily life, he determined to show his disapproval of every phrase of its meanness as far as he could without offending her. He had made her feel that he condemned her course towards Miss Burton that evening, and he had meant to do so.
She resented this disapproval, and at the same time respected him for it. Indeed he puzzled her. He evidently sought and wished for her society; and yet as they walked back and forth, even though she did not look at him when the light gave her the opportunity to do so, she felt intuitively that he did not enjoy her company. She saw that he was laboring hard to make himself agreeable; but his small talk had not the familiar flippancy and fluency of one speaking in his native tongue; nor was his manner that of one who, infatuated with her beauty, had thrown aside all other considerations.
She felt that the man at her side measured her, and understood her littleness thoroughly.
And she herself had a growing consciousness of insignificance that was as painful as it was novel. Adding to all the humiliations of this day here was a man, not so very much older than herself, trying to come down to her level, as he would accommodate his language to a child. No labored argument could have revealed her ignorance to her so clearly, as her conscious inability to follow him into his ordinary range of thought. Unwittingly he had demonstrated his superiority in a way that she could not deny, however much she might be inclined to resent it. And yet he treated her with a sort of respect, and occasionally she saw that he bent his eyes upon her face as if in search of something.
After a transient effort to ignore everything and talk in her usual superficial manner, she became more and more silent and oppressed, and, at last said, somewhat abruptly:
"Mr. Van Berg, I am weary, and I imagine you are too. I think I will say good-night."
"I scarcely wonder that you are fatigued. You have had a trying day."
"It has been a horrid day," she said, emphatically.
"It might have ended much worse, nevertheless."
"Possibly," she admitted with a shrug.
"You have more reason to congratulate yourself than you imagine, Miss Mayhew. Even that disagreeable souvenir of our morning peril, your lameness, has disappeared, and you might have been maimed for life."
"My lameness, like my courage, was chiefly a fraud to begin with, and soon disappeared; but I have other souvenirs of that occasion that I cannot get rid of so easily."
"If I am one of them, you are right, Miss Mayhew; I shall hold you to our agreement this morning. You put me on my good behavior—have I not behaved well?"
"Yes, better than I have. I was not referring to you personally, but to certain memories."
"We agreed to let by-gones be by-gones."
"But others are not parties to this agreement, and every reference to the affair is odious to me."
"I shall make no further reference to it, and you must be fair enough not to punish me for the acts of others."
"You also despise me in your heart of my course towards Miss Burton this evening."
"If I despised you would I have sought your society this evening?"
"I do not know. I don't understand you, if you will permit my bluntness."
"Possibly you don't understand yourself, Miss Mayhew."
"I understand that I have had a miserable day, and I hope I may never see another like it. Good-night, sir."
Chapter XIII. Nature's Broken Promise.
Van Berg had been left to himself but a little time before Stanton and Mr. Burleigh came out upon the piazza, and the three gentlemen sat down for a quiet chat.
"Well," remarked mine host, with a sigh of relief such as a pilot might heave after taking his ship round a perilous point; "well, thanks to Miss Burton's good sense, the affair has ended without any trouble. In a house like this, 'Satan is finding mischief still' whenever my back is turned, and sometimes he threatens to get up a row right under my nose, as in this instance. I was a 'blarsted fool,' as our English friends have it, not to know that Mrs. Chint's drama, although beginning in comedy, might end in tragedy of my losing some good paying boarders. Still further did I demonstrate the length of my ears by even imagining it possible that Miss Burton would take five hundred, or five hundred thousand dollars in any such circumstances. But the whole thing was done in a jiffy, and Mrs. Chints was possessed to have her 'tableau vivant.' Lively picture wasn't it? Still, if Miss Mayhew, when appealed to by Mrs. Chints, had confirmed my doubts, I would have tried to stop the nonsense at any cost."
"Did Miss Mayhew advise the step?" asked Stanton.
"Oh, no! She was non-committal. She acted as if it were none of her affair, save as it might afford her a little amusement. But these rows are no light matters to us poor publicans, who must please every one and keep the whole menagerie in order. Mr. Chints was swearing up and down his room that he had been made a fool of. Mrs. Chints was for leaving to-morrow morning, declaring that she would not endure such airs from a school-teacher. They are rich and have a number of friends who are coming soon, and so my mind was full of 'strange oaths' also, at my prospective loss, when this blessed little woman appears, taps at their door, enters like the angel into the lion's den, and shuts their mouths by some magic all her own. And now they're going to stay; Mr. Chints will give the five hundred to the Children's Aid Society, all is serene and I'm happy, so much so that I'll smoke another of your good cigars, Mr. Stanton."
"Certainly, half-a-dozen if you wish. How do you imagine she quieted the unruly beasts?"
"Oh, I suppose she got around them through the child—somewhat as she won over my wife this afternoon by means of our cross baby. It's teething, you know—and yet how should you young chaps know anything about babies! No matter, your time will come. This promenading the piazza with lovely creatures who have been half the afternoon at their toilets is all very nice; but wait till you have weathered innumerable squalls in the dead of night—then you'll learn that teething-time in a household is like going around Cape Horn. Well, to return from your future to my present. When so good-natured a man as I am gets into a sympathetic mood with old King Herod, you can imagine what a state the mother's nerves must be in who has to stand it night and day. But as Miss Burton had been commended to my care, I felt that I was in duty bound to introduce her to my wife and show her some attention. So I said to my wife, this afternoon, 'I'm going to bring a young lady in to see you.' 'Do you think I'm in a condition to entertain company?' she asked, with a faint suggestion of hard cider in her tone. 'Well, my dear,' I expostulated, 'it was just the same yesterday, and will be a little more so to-morrow, and I feel that I shall be remiss if I delay any longer.' 'Oh, very well,' she said, as if it were a tooth that must come out sooner or later, 'since the matter must be attended to, let us have it over at once.' But bless you, it wasn't over till supper-time. As I brought the young lady in, the baby waked out of a five-minutes' nap that had cost about an hour's rocking, and I thought the roof would come off. My wife looked cross and worried—well, it was prose, gentlemen, prose—not the poetry of life; and I said to myself, 'I suppose I have about made it certain that this young woman will live and die an old maid by giving her this glimpse behind the scenes. I thought the ladies could get on better without me than with me, so I bowed myself out, glad to escape the din; and I supposed Miss Burton would say a few pleasant things in the direction of Mrs. Burleigh, which she, poor woman, might not be able to hear, and then she would bow herself out, also glad to escape. An hour and a half later I went back to see if I could not coax my wife away for a drive, and what do you suppose I saw?"
"The baby in convulsions," said Stanton.
"Give it up," added Van Berg.
"Sweet transformation scene; deep hush; my wife asleep in her rocking-chair, the baby asleep in the arms of Miss Burton, who held up a warning finger at me to be quiet. But the mischief was done; my wife started up and was mortified beyond measure that she had treated her guest so rudely. The good fairy, however, was so genuinely delighted that she had quieted the baby and given the tired mother a little rest, that we had to come to the conclusion that she found pleasure in ways that are a trifle uncommon. By some miracle or other she kept the baby asleep, and then my wife and I tried to entertain her a little, but we were the ones that were entertained. Before we knew it, the supper-bell rang, and then I'm blessed if the little chap didn't wake up and grin at us all. To think then that I should reward her by letting Mr. Chints slap her face with a five-hundred-dollar check! I guess we'll all know better next time."
"Did she tell you anything further about her history or her connections?" asked Stanton.
Mr. Burleigh stroked his beard and looked rather blank for a moment.
"Now I think of it," he ejaculated, "I be hanged if she said a word about herself. And now I think further of it, she somehow or other got Mrs. Burleigh and myself a-talking, and seemed so interested in us and what we said, that I be hanged again if we didn't tell her all we know about ourselves."
"She impresses every one as being remarkably frank, and yet I think it will be found that she is peculiarly reticent in regard to herself," remarked Van Berg musingly. "Well, it's not often I take people on trust, but I have given this lady my entire respect and confidence."
"I assure you that there is no trust in this business," said Mr. Burleigh, emphatically. "I can't afford to indulge in sentiment, gentlemen; besides, it couldn't be any more becoming in me than in Tom Chints. I wouldn't take an unprotected, unknown female into my house if she came with a pair of wings. But Miss Burton brings letters that establish her character as a lady as truly as that of any other woman in the house. I ought to have prevented this Chints business, but then five hundred is a nice little plum, and before I pulled my slow wits together the thing was done."
"By the way, Mr. Burleigh," remarked Stanton, "I hear that the parties who are now at my friend Van Berg's table are soon to leave for the sea-shore. Can you give me three seats there after their departure?"
"Certainly; put you down right alongside of Miss Burton."
"Perhaps Van Berg feels that he has the first claim to so good a position?"
"No, Stanton, I shall not place a straw in your way."
"You never were a man of straw, Van. If I were seeking more than to enjoy the society of this young lady, who seems to be embodied sunshine, I would be sorry to have you place yourself in the way."
"Sunshine brought to a focus kindles even green wood," remarked Van Berg, with a significant nod at his friend.
"Well," said Mr. Burleigh, rising, "if I had not found my mate, I'd be a burr that that little woman wouldn't get rid of very easily. Good-night, gentlemen. I'll give either one of you my blessing."
"Good-night, Van," said Stanton, also. "I'm not going to stay and listen to your absurd predictions. Neither shall I permit you to enjoy all by yourself the delicate wine of that woman's wit. When good things are passing round, I propose to have my share. My presence can't hurt your prospects."
"And if it did, Ik, do you think me such a churl as to try to crowd you away?"
"That's magnanimous. I suppose you and my cousin can manage to keep the peace between you."
"I think the change will be far more disagreeable to Miss Mayhew than to me."
"You are very polite to say so. Good-night."
"Well," mused Van Berg, when left to himself; "I've made progress to-day after a fashion. We have been quite thoroughly introduced—in fact 'thrown together,' as fate and all her friends will have it. I might have been weeks in gaining as much insight into her character as circumstances have given me in a few brief hours. But what a miserable revelation she has made of herself—cowardice this morning—fraud this afternoon, and cold selfishness, that can amuse itself with the mortification and misfortunes of others, this evening. This is the moral side of the picture. But when I came to 'speer' around to see whether she had any mind or real culture, the exhibition was still more pitiable. Ye gods! that a girl can live to her age and know so little that is worth knowing! She knows how to dress—that is, how to enhance her physical beauty; and that, I admit, is a great deal. As far as it goes it is well. But of the taste of a beautiful and, at the same time, intellectual and highly cultivated woman, she has no conception; with her it is a question of flesh and blood only."
"I wonder if it will ever be otherwise? I wonder if her marvellous beauty, which is now like a budding rose, that partly conceals the worm in its heart, will soon, like the overblown flower, reveal so clearly what mars its life that scarcely anything else will be noticed. What a fate for a man—to be tied for life to a woman who will, with sure gradation, pass from at least outward beauty to utter hideousness! Beauty, in a case like this, is but a mask which time or the loathsome fingers of disease would surely strip off; and then what an object would confront the disenchanted lover! It would be like marrying a disguised death's-head. Never before did I realize how essential is mental and moral culture to give value to mere external beauty.
"And yet she seems to have a kind of quickness and aptness. She is not wanting in womanly intuition. I still am inclined to believe she has been dwarfed by circumstances and her wretched associations. Her mind has been given no better means of development than the knowledge of her beauty, the general and superficial homage that it always receives, the little round of thought that centres about self, and the daily question of dress. That's narrowing the world down to a cage large enough only for a poll-parrot. If the bird within has a parrot's nature, what is the use of opening the door and showing it larks singing in the sky? I fear that's what I'm trying to do, and that I shall go back to my fall work with a meagre portfolio and a grudge against nature, for mocking me with the fairest broken promise ever made."
Chapter XIV. A Revelation.
The next day threatened to be a dreary one, for the rain fell so steadily as to make all sunny, out-of-door pleasures impossible. Many looked abroad with faces as dismal and cloudy as the sky; for the number of those who rise above their circumstances with a cheery courage are but few. Human faces can shine, although the sun be clouded; but, as a rule, the shadow falls on the face also, and the regal spirit succumbs like a clod of earth.
The people came straggling down late to breakfast in the dark morning, and, with a childish egotism that considers only self and immediate desires, the lowering weather which meant renewed beauty and wealth to all the land, was berated as if it were a small spite against the handful of people at the Lake House. Van Berg heard Ida Mayhew exclaiming against the clouds as if this spite were aimed at herself only.
"Some of her friends might not venture from the city," she said.
"They youths are not venturesome, then," remarked Stanton, who never lost an opportunity to tease.
"Of course they don't wish to get wet," she pouted.
"And yet I'll wager any amount that they are not of the 'salt of the earth' in any scriptural sense. Well, they had better stay in town, for this would be an instance of 'much ventured, nothing gained.'"
"You remind me of a certain fox who could not say enough hard things about the grapes that were out of reach. But mark my words, Mr. Sibley will come, if it pours."
"He wouldn't risk the spoiling of his clothes for any woman living."
"You judge him by yourself. Oh, dear, how shall I get through this long, horrible day! You men can smoke like bad chimneys through a storm, but for me there is no resource to-day, but a dull novel that I've read once before. Let me see, I'll read an hour and sleep three, and then it will be time to dress for dinner. Oh, good-morning, Mr. Van Berg," she says to the artist who had been listening to her while apparently giving close attention to Mrs. Mayhew's interminable tirade against rainy days; "I have just been envying you gentlemen who can kill stupid hours by smoking."
"I admit that it is almost as bad as sleeping."
"I see that you have a homily prepared on improving the time, so I shall escape at once."
On the stairs she met Miss Burton, who was descending with a breezy swiftness as if she were making a charge on the general gloom and sullenness of the day.
"Good-morning, Miss Mayhew," she said; "I'm glad to see you looking so well after the severe shaking up you had yesterday. You would almost tempt one to believe that rough usage is sometimes good for us."
"I have no such belief, I assure you. Yesterday was bad enough, but to-day promises to be worse. I was going to make up a boating party, but what can one do when the water is overhead instead of under the keel?"
"Scores of things," was the cheery reply. "I'm going to have a good time."
"I'm going to sleep," said Ida, passing on.
"Miss Burton," said Stanton, joining her at the foot of the stairs, "I perceive, even from your manner of descending to our lower world, that you are destined to vanquish the dullness of this rainy day. Don't you wish an ally?"
"Would you be an ally, Mr. Stanton, if you saw I was destined to be vanquished?"
"Of course I would."
"Look in the parlor then. There are at least a dozen ladies already vanquished. They are oppressed by the foul-fiend, 'ennui.' Transfer your chivalric offer to them and deliver them."
"Stanton," laughed Van Berg, "you are in honor bound to devote yourself to those oppressed ladies."
"The prospect is so dark and depressing that I shall at least cheer myself first with the light of a cigar."
"And so your chivalry will end in smoke," she said.
"Yes, Miss Burton, the smoke of battle, where you are concerned."
"I fear your wit is readier than your sword. The soldier that boasts how he would overwhelm some other foe than the one before him loses credit to the degree that he protests."
"You are more exacting, Miss Burton, than the lady who threw her glove down among the lions. What chance would Hercules himself have of lifting those twelve heavy females out of the dumps?"
"It's not what we do, but what we attempt, that shows our spirit."
"Then I shall expect to see you attempt great things."
"I'm only a woman."
"And I'm only a man."
"Only a man! what greater vantage-ground could one have than to be a man?"
"The advantage is not so uncommon that one need be unduly elated," state Stanton with a shrug. "I forget how many hundred millions of us there are. But I'm curious to see how you will set about rendering the hues of this leaden day prismatic."
"Only by being the innocent cause of your highly colored language, I imagine."
"Oh, dear," exclaimed a little boy petulantly, as he strolled through the hall and looked out at the steady downfall of rain. "Oh dear! Why can't it stop raining?"
"There's the philosophy of our time for you in a nutshell," said Van Berg. "When a human atom wants anything, what business has the universe to stand in its way?"
"But you have no better philosophy to offer the disconsolate little fellow, Mr. Ban Berg?" Miss Burton asked.
"Now, Van, it's your turn. Remember, Miss Burton, he has the same vantage-ground that I have. Indeed he's half an inch taller."
"The world long ago learned better than to measure men by inches, Mr. Stanton."
"Alas, Miss Burton," said Van Berg; "the best philosophy I have is this: when it rains, let it rain."
"And thus I'm privileged to meet representatives of those two ancient and honorable schools, the Stoic and Epicurean, and you both think, I fear, that if Xanthippe had founded a school, my philosophy would also be defined. But perhaps you will think better of me if I tell that little fellow a story to pass the time for him. What's the matter, little folk?" she asked, for two or three more small clouded faces had gathered at the door.
"Matter enough," said the boy. "This horrid old rain keeps us in the house, where we can't do anything or stay anywhere. We mustn't play in the parlor, we mustn't make a noise in the halls, we mustn't run on the piazzas. I'd like to live in a world where there was some place for boys."
"Poor child," said Miss Burton; "this rain is as bad for you as the deluge to Noah's dove, it has left you no refuge for the sole of your foot. Will you come with me? No one has said you must not hear a jolly story."
"You won't tell me about any good little boys who died when they were as big as I am?"
"I'll keep my word—it shall be a jolly story."
"May we hear it too?" asked the other children.
"Yes, all of you."
"Where shall we go?"
"We won't disturb any one in the far corner of the parlor by the piano. If you know of any other little people, you can bring them there, too," and they each darted off in search of especial cronies.
"May we not hear the story also?" asked Stanton.
"No, indeed, I may be able to interest children, but not philosophers."
"Then we will go and meditate," said Van Berg.
"Yes," she added, "and in accordance with a New York custom of great antiquity, made familiar to you, no doubt, by that grave historian Diedrich Knickerbocker, who gives several graphic accounts of such cloudy ruminations on the part of your city's great-grandfathers."
"I fear you think that the worshipful Peter Stuyvensant's counsellors indulged in more tobacco than thought, and that the majority of them had as few ideas as one of Mr. Burleigh's chimneys," said Van Berg. "And you regard us as the direct descendants of these men, whose lives were crowned with smoke-wreaths only."
"Now, Mr. Van Berg, you prove yourself to be a philosopher of a modern school, you draw your inductions so far and wide from your diminutive premise."
"Well, Miss Burton, you stand in very favorable contrast with us poor mortals. We are going out to add to the clouds that lower over the world, while you are trying to banish them."
"And if, after helping the children towards the close of this dismal day, your heart should relent towards us," added Stanton, "you will find two worthy objects of your charity."
"Oh what a falling off is here!" she exclaimed, following the impatient children. "Knights at first, then philosophers, and now objects of charity."
Miss Burton evidently kept her word, and told a "jolly story," for the friends saw through the parlor windows that the circle around her grew larger and more hilarious continually. Then would follow moments of rapt and eager attention, showing that the tale gained in excitement and interest what it lost in humor. Young people, who did not like to be classed with children, one by one yielded to the temptation. There was life and enjoyment in that corner and dulness elsewhere, and nothing is so attractive in the world as genuine and joyous life.
Even elderly ladies looked wistfully up at the occasional bursts of contagious merriment, and then sighed that they had lost the power of laughing so easily.
At last the marvelous legend came to an end amid a round of prolonged applause.
"Another, another!" was the general outcry.
But Miss Burton had observed that the ladies and gentlemen present seemed inclined to be friendly towards the young people's fun, and therefore she broached another scheme of pleasure that would vary the entertainment.
"Perhaps," she said, "your papas and mammas and the other good people will not object to an old-fashioned Virginia reel."
A shout of welcome greeted this proposition.
Miss Burton raised her finger so impressively that there was an instant hush. Indeed she seemed to have gained entire control of the large and miscellaneous group which surrounded her.
"We will draw up a petition," she said; "for we best enjoy our own rights and pleasures when respecting those of others. This little boy and girl shall take the petition around to all the ladies and gentlemen in the room, and this shall be the petition:
"'Dear lady and kind sir: Please don't object to our dancing a Virginia reel in the parlor.'"
"All who wish to dance can sign it. Now we will go to the office and draw up the petition." And away they all started, the younger children, wild with glee, capering in advance.
Stanton threw away his cigar and met her at the office register.
"Gentle shepherdess," he asked, "whither are you leading your flock?"
"How behind the age you are!" she replied. "Can you not see that the flock is leading me?"
"If I were a wolf I would not trouble the flock but would carry off the shepherdess—to a game of billiards."
"What, then, would become of the flock?"
"that's a question that never troubles a wolf."
"A wolfish answer truly. I think, however, you have reversed the parable, and are but a well-meaning sheep that has donned a wolf's skin, and so we will put you to the test. We young people will give you a chance to draw up our petition, which, if you would save your character, you must do at once with sheep-like docility, asking no questions and causing no delay. There, that will answer; very sheepishly done, but no sheep's eyes, if you please," she added, as Stanton pretended to look up to her for inspiration, while writing. "Now, all sign. I think I can trust you, sir, on the outskirts of the flock. Here, my little man and woman, go to each of the ladies and gentlemen, make a bow and a courtesy, and present the petition."
"May I not gambol with the shepherdess in the coming pastoral?" asked Stanton.
"No, indeed! You are much too old; besides, I am going to play. You may look gravely on."
Every one in the parlor smiling assented to the odd little couple that bobbed up and down before them, and moved out of the way for the dancers. The petitioners therefore soon returned and were welcomed with applause.
"Now go to the inner office and present the petition to Mr. Burleigh," said Miss Burton.
"Hollo!" cried that gentleman, looking around with a great show of savagery, as the little girl pulled the skirt of his coat to attract his attention; "where's King Herod?"
"We wish to try another method with the children," answered Miss Burton. "Will it please you therefore graciously to read the petition. All in the parlor have assented."
"My goodness gracious—-"
"No swearing, sir, if you please."
"Woman has been too many for man ever since she got him into trouble by eating green apples," ejaculated Mr. Burleigh with a despairing gesture. "Why do you mock me with petitions? THERE is the power behind the throne," pointing to Miss Burton.
"Take your places, small ladies and gentlemen," she cried. "That's Mr. Burleigh's way of saying yes. While you are forming, I'll play a few bars to give you the time."
Did she bewitch the piano that it responded so wonderfully to her touch? Where had she found such quaint, dainty music, simple as the old-fashioned dance itself, so that the little ones could keep time to it, and yet pleasing Van Berg's fastidious ear with its unhackneyed and refined melody. But the marked and marvellous feature in her playing was an airy rolicksomeness that was as irresistible as a panic. Old ladies' heads began to bob over their fancy work most absurdly. Two quartets of elderly gentlemen at whist were evidently beginning to play badly, their feet meantime tapping the floor in a most unwonted manner.
"Were I as dead as Julius Caesar I could not resist that quickstep," cried Stanton; and he rushed over to his aunt, Mrs. Mayhew, and dragged her into line.
"What in the name of all the witches of Salem has got into that piano!" cried Mr. Burleigh, bursting into the parlor from the office, with his pen stuck behind his ear, and his hair brushed up perpendicularly. "There's sorcery in the air. I'm practised upon—Keep still? No, not if I was nailed up in one of the soldier's 'wooden overcoats.' The world is transformed, transfigured, transmogrified, and 'things are not what they seem!' Here's a blooming girl who'll dance with me," and he seized the hand of a white-haired old lady who yielded to the contagion so far as to take a place in the line beside her granddaughter.
Indeed, in a few moments, all who had been familiar with the pastime in their youth, caught the joyous infection, and lengthened out the lines, each new accession being greeted with shouts and laughter.
The scene approached in character that described by Hawthorne as occurring in the grounds of the Villa Borghese when Donatello, with a simple "tambourine," produced music of such "indescribably potency" that sallow, haggard, half-starved peasants, French soldiers, scarlet-costumed contadinas, Swiss guards, German artists, English lords, and herdsmen from the Campagna, all "joined hands in the dance" which the musician himself led with the frisky, frolicsome step of the mythical faun.
In the latter instance it was a contagious, mad excitement easily possible among hot-blooded people and wandering pleasure-seekers, the primal laws of whose being are impulse and passion. That the joyous exhilaration which filled Mr. Burleigh's parlor was akin to the wild, half pagan frenzy that the great master of fiction imagined as seizing upon the loiterers near the Villa Borghese cannot be denied. Both phases of excitement would spring naturally from the universal craving for pleasurable life and activity. The one, however, was a rank growth from a rank soil—the passionate ebullition of passion-swayed natures; the other was inspired by the magnetic spirit of a New England maiden, who, by some law of her nature or consecration of her life, devoted every power of her being to the vivifying of others, and the frolic she had instigated was as free from the grosser elements as the tossing wild flowers of her native hills. With the exception perhaps of Van Berg, she had impressed every one as possessing a peculiarly sunny temperament. Be this as it may, it certainly appeared true that she found her happiness in enlivening others; and it is difficult even to imagine how much a gifted mind can accomplish in this respect when every faculty is devoted to the ministry of kindness.
This view of Miss Burton's character would account in part, but not wholly, for the power she exercised over others. Van Berg thought he at times detected a suppressed excitement in her manner. A light sometimes flickered in her deep blue eyes that might have been caused by a consuming and hidden fire, rather than by genial and joyous thoughts.
As he watched her now through the parlor window, her eyes were burning, her face reminded him of a delicate flame, and her whole being appeared concentrated into the present moment. In its vivid life it seemed one of the most remarkable faces he ever saw; but the thought occurred again and again—"If the features of Ida Mayhew could be lighted up like that I'd give years of my lifetime to be able to paint the beauty that would result."
Just at this moment he saw that young lady approach the parlor entrance with an expression of wonder on her face. He immediately joined her, and she said:
"Mr. Van Berg, what miracle has caused this scene?"
"Come with me and I'll show you," he answered and he led her to the window opposite to Miss Burton, where she sat at the piano. "There," he said, "is the miracle,—a gifted, magnetic, unselfish woman devoting herself wholly to the enjoyment of others. She has created more sunshine this dismal day than we have had in the house since I've been here. Is not that face there a revelation?"
"A revelation of what?" she asked with rising color.
"Of the possibilities of the human face to grow in beauty and power, if kindled by a noble and animating mind. Ye gods!" cried the artist, expressing the excitement which he felt in common with others in accordance with the law of his own ruling passion, "but I would give much to reproduce that face on canvas;" and then he added with a despairing gesture, "but who can paint flame and spirit?"
After a moment he exclaimed, with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes: "It appears to me that if kindled by such a mind as that which is burning in yonder face, I could attempt anything and accomplish everything. Limitations melt away before a growing sense of power. What an inspiration a woman can be to a man, or what a mill-stone about his neck, according to what she is! Ah!—-"
The cause of this exclamation cannot be explained in the brief time that it occurred. Stanton had happened at that moment to catch a glimpse of Van Berg and his cousin, and he called quite loudly:
"Harold, bring Miss Mayhew in and join us."
At the same instant Mr. Burleigh's heavy step passing near the piano, jarred down a picture that was hung insecurely, and it fell with a crash at Miss Burton's side. Was it the shock of the falling picture upon unprepared and overstrained nerves, or what was it that produced the instantaneous change in the joyous-appearing maiden? Her hands dropped nerveless from the keys. So great was the pallor that swept over her face that it suggested to he artist the sudden extinguishment of a lamp. She bowed her head and trembled a moment and then escaped by a side door.
Van Berg walked hastily to the main entrance, thinking she was ill, but only saw her vanishing up the stairway with hasty steps. Many of the dancers, in their kindly solicitude, had tried to intercept her, but had been too late. It would seem that all ascribed her indisposition to a nervous shock.
"It is evident," said the lady who had been conversing with her when she had acted in a like manner on the first day of her arrival, "that she possesses a highly sensitive organism, which suddenly gives way when subjected to a strain too severe;" and she remained Van Berg of her former manifestation of weakness.
He accepted this view as the most natural explanation that could be given.
Chapter XV. Contrasts.
Genuine and genial were the words of sympathy that were expressed on every side for the young lady who had been transforming the dull day into one of exceptional jollity. A deputation of ladies called upon her, but from within her locked door she confirmed the impression that it was a nervous shock, and that a few hours of perfect quiet would restore her.
And it would seem that she was right, for she came down to supper apparently as genial and smiling as ever. Beyond a slight pallor and a little fulness about her eyes, Van Berg could detect no trace of her sudden indisposition.
The remainder of the day was passed more quietly by the guests of the Lake House, but the force of Miss Burton's example did not spend itself at once, and on the part of some there was developed quite a marked disposition to make kindly efforts to promote the enjoyment of others. The unwonted exhilaration with which she had inspired her fellow guests was something they could scarcely account for, and yet the means employed had been so simple and were so plainly within the reach of all, as to suggest that a genial manner and an unselfish regard for others were the only conditions required to enable each one to do something to brighten every cloudy day.
After Miss Burton's departure, the young people had the dance to themselves, their elders resuming the avocations and soberer pleasures from which they had been swept by an impulse evoked from their half-forgotten youth.
When Van Berg joined Miss Mayhew again, he found her mother and Stanton trying to explain how it all came about.
"There is no use of multiplying words," concluded Stanton; "Miss Burton is gifted with a mind, and she uses it for the benefit of others instead of tasking it solely on her own account, which is the general rule."
At this moment a letter was handed to Mrs. Mayhew, which she read with a slight frown and passed to her daughter. It was from Mr. Mayhew, and contained but a brief sentence to the effect that his absence would probably be a relief, and therefore he would not spend the coming Sabbath with them.
Ida did not show the superficial vexation that her mother manifested, and which was more assumed than real. Her cheek paled a little, and she instinctively glanced at Van Berg as if her sudden sense of guilt were apparent to his keen eyes. He was looking at he searchingly, and she turned away with a quick flush, nor did she give him a chance to speak with her again that day; but his words—"what a millstone about a man's neck a woman can be!"—haunted her continually. Still oftener rose before her Miss Burton's flushed and kindled face, and the artist's emphatic assertion of the power of mind and character to add to native beauty. Had she not been a millstone about her father's neck? Was there not a fatal flaw in the beauty of which she was so proud, that spoiled it for eyes that were critical and unblinded?
Oppressed by these thoughts and being in no mood for her cousin's banter, or the artist's society which always seemed to render her more uncomfortable, she was glad to escape to the solitude of her own room.
Another "revelation" was slowly dawning upon her mind, namely—just what she, Ida Mayhew, was. A woman is an "inspiration" or a "millstone according to what she is," this stranger, this disturber of her peace, from whom it seemed she could not escape, had not only asserted but proved by showing her a lady she would have passed as plain and insignificant, but who nevertheless possessed some sweet potency that won and cheered all hearts, and who, she was compelled to admit, was positively beautiful as she sat at the piano, radiant with her purpose to cause gladness in others. Miss Burton had created sunshine enough to enliven the dismal day, and had quickened a hundred pulses with pleasure. She had been a burden even to herself.
Everything, from the artist's first disturbing frown to the present hour, had been preparing the way for the sharp and painful contrast that circumstances had forced upon her attention to-day.
But the thought that troubled her most, was that he saw this contrast more plainly than it was possible for her to see it.
Vaguely, and yet with some approach to the truth, her intuition began to reveal to her the attitude of his mind towards her. She believed that he was attracted, but also saw that he was not blinded by her beauty. She was already beginning to revise her first impression that he was shutting his eyes to every other consideration, as she had seen so many do in their brief infatuation. His manner was not that of one who is taking counsel of passion only. Those ominous words—"according to what she is"—indicated that he was looking into her mind, her character. With a sense of dismay, she was awakening to a knowledge of the dwarfed ugliness her beauty but partially concealed, and she felt that he, from the first, had been discovering those defects of which she had been scarcely conscious herself. She began to fear that her cousin's words would prove true, and that he would not fall helplessly in love with her. Therefore the opportunity to retaliate and to punish him for all the mortifications that he had occasioned her, would never come. On the contrary, he might inflict upon her, any day, the crowning humiliation of declaring, be indifference of manner, that he had found her out so thoroughly, as to entertain for her only feelings of disgust and repugnance.
"Well," she concluded, recklessly, "why should I care what he thinks? I have lived thus far without his good opinion, and I can live a little longer, I imagine. I have had a good time for eighteen years after my own fashion, and I will just ignore him and have a good time still. Indeed I'll shock him to-night and to-morrow so thoroughly, that he won't come near me again; for I'm sick of his superior airs. I'm sick of his learned talk about books, pictures, and politics, as if a young society girl were expected to know about these things; and as for his small talk, it reminded me of an elephant trying to dance a jig;" and she sprang up with a snatch of song from the "opera bouffe," and began her toilet for dinner.
In a few moments, however, she dropped her hairbrush absently, and forgot to look at her fair face in the mirror.
"I wonder," she mused, "if he and Miss Burton ever met before they came here? It has been a strange coincidence that she should have felt such a sudden indisposition in each instance at the same moment that his name was casually mentioned. True, on both occasions, events occurred that might account for the sudden giving way of her nerves, but I cannot help thinking that she has some association with him that the rest of us know nothing about. She certainly seems more interested in him than in any one else in the house, for I have several times noticed peculiar and furtive glances towards him; besides, they are evidently growing to be very good friends. As for Ik, he seems quite inclined to enter upon a serious flirtation with her. But what do I care for either of them! Mr. Sibley will be here to-night, and I'll enable this artist to bring his investigations to a close at once. I am what I am, and that's the end of it, and I won't mope and have a stupid time for anybody, and certainly not for him. Let him marry the school-ma'am. She can talk books, art, and all the 'isms' going, to his heart's content. I, as well as Miss Burton, have my opinion of flirting, and know from some little experience that it is jolly good fun.
"He can go his way, I'll go mine; E'en though he frowns, the sun will shine."
And with a careless gesture she affected to dismiss him from her thoughts.
To judge from her manner that evening and the following day, one might suppose that she succeeded very fully. Sibley, with an unwonted venturesomeness, did risk his one immaculate possession, his clothes, and came from the city through the storm. Ida and himself, between them, brought about the nearest approach to a "ball" possible in the circumstances.
The dancing, under their auspices, differed from that of the morning, not merely in name and form, but in its subtle character. In the one instance it had been an innocent pastime, occasioned by childlike and joyous impulses. The people's manner might have reminded one of a bit of darkened landscape that had been rapidly filled with light, and almost ecstatic life by the advent of a May morning.
In the evening, however, everything was artificial and in keeping with the gaslight. The ladies were conscious of their toilets, conscious of themselves, looking for admiration rather than hearty enjoyment. Even the older boys and girls, who had been joyous children in the morning, were now small parodies of fashionable men and women! A band of hired performers twanged out the hackneyed dancing music then in vogue, going over their small "repertoire" with wearisome repetition. People danced at first because it was the thing to do, and not from any inspiration from the melody. As the evening wore on, Sibley, who had been drinking quite freely, tried to introduce, as far as possible, the excitement of a revel, calling chiefly for swift waltzes and gallops through which he and Ida whirled in a way that made people's heads dizzy.
Miss Burton, after going through a quadrille with Stanton early in the evening, had declined to dance any more. She did not feel very well, she explained to Van Berg as he sought her for the next form; but he imagined that she early foresaw that Sibley and others, and among them even Stanton, were inclined to give the evening a character that was not to her taste.
As Ida had made herself somewhat prominent in inaugurating the "ball," as Sibley took pains to term it on all occasions, Van Berg, as a part of his tactics to win the beauty's good-will, tried at first to make the affair successful. He danced with others, and twice sought her hand; but in each case she rather indifferently told him that she was engaged. He would not have sought her as a partner after his first rebuff had he not imagined, from occasional and furtive glances, that she was not as indifferent as she seemed.
Early in the evening it occurred to him that her slightly reckless manner was assumed, but he saw that she was abandoning herself to the growing excitement of the dance, as Sibley, her most frequent partner, and others, were to the stronger excitement of liquor. Observant mothers called away their daughters. Ladies, in whom the instincts of true refined womanhood were in the ascendancy, looked significantly at each other, and declined further invitations.
Van Berg had also withdrawn, but with his disposition to watch manifestations of character in general, and of one present in particular, he still stood at a parlor window looking on. The band had just struck up a livelier waltz than usual, and Ida and Sibley were whirling through the wide apartment as if treading on air; but when, a few moments later, they circled near where he stood, he saw upon the young man's face an expression of earthiness and grossness that was anything but ethereal. Indeed so unmistakably wanton was the look which Sibley bent upon his companion, whose heaving bosom he clasped against his won, that the artist frowned darkly at him, and felt his hand tingling to strike the fellow a blow.
She, looking up, caught his frown, and in her egotism and excitement, thought it meant only jealousy of the man she had so favored during the evening.
"Perhaps he is more deeply smitten than I imagined, and I can punish him yet," was the hope that entered her mind; and this prospect added to the elation and excitement which had mastered her.
"Can she know how that scoundrel is looking at her? If I believed it I'd leave her marvellous features to their fate," was the thought that passed through his mind.
In his perturbation he walked down the long piazza. Happening to glance into one of the small private parlors, he witnessed a scene that made a very sharp contrast with the one he had just left. An old white-haired, white-bearded man, a well-known guest of the house, reclined in an easy-chair with an expression of real enjoyment on his face. His aged wife sat near, knitting away as tranquilly as if at home, while under the gas-jet was Miss Burton, reading a newspaper, with two or three others upon her lap. She had evidently found the old gentleman trying to glean, with his feeble sight, the evening journals that had been brought from the city, and was lending him her young eyes and mellow voice for an hour. The picture struck him so pleasantly that he took out his notebook and indicated the fortunate grouping within, for a future sketch.
"It would make some difference in a man's future," he muttered, "whether this maiden or the one in yonder roue's embrace were installed as the mistress of his home."
Going back into the main hallway he met Stanton coming down the stairs with his face unusually flushed.
"Oh, Van," he cried, "where have you been keeping yourself? Come with me and have some of the best brandy you ever tasted."
"Where is it?"
"In Sibley's room. He brought up a couple of bottles of the prime old article, and has invited all his friends to make free with it."
"I'm not one of his friends."
"Oh well, you're my friend! What's the odds? A swig of such brandy will do you good, so come along."
"Come out on the piazza, Stanton. I want to show you something."
"Can't you wait a few moments? I want to have a whirl in this jolly waltz before it's over."
"No; then it will be too late. I won't keep you long," and Stanton reluctantly followed him.
Van Berg understood his friend sufficiently well to know that any ordinary remonstrance would have no influence in his present condition, and so sought to use a little strategy. Taking him to the window of the small private parlor, he showed and explained to him the pretty and quiet scene within.
Stanton's manner changed instantly, and he seemed in no haste to return to the waltz.
"I thought it would strike you as a pretty picture, as it did me," remarked Van Berg, quietly; "and I also thought that after seeing it you would not want any more of Sibley's brandy. It would choke me."
"You are right, Van. I fear I've taken too much of it already. I'm glad you showed me this quiet picture—it makes me wish I were a better man."
"I like that, Ik; I always knew you had plenty of good metal in you. Now I don't want to be officious, but I would not let a cousin of mine dance with Sibley any longer if I could prevent it without attracting attention. However generous he may have been with his brandy, he has had more than his share himself."
"Thank you, Van; I understand you. By Jove, I'll try the same tactics with her that you have with me. I'll bring her here and show her a scene that has been to me like a quieting and restraining hand."
A few moments later the waltz ceased, and Miss Mayhew came out on the cool, dusky piazza, leaning on Sibley's arm. Stanton joined her and said:
"Ida, come with me; I wish to speak with you a moment. Mr. Sibley, please excuse us."
"Indeed, Mr. Stanton," said Sibley in tones of maudlin sentiment, "you are cruel to deprive me of your cousin's society even for a moment. I'll forgive you this once, but never again." And then he availed himself of the opportunity to pay another visit to his brandy.
"Ida," said Stanton, "I want to show you a little picture that has done me good."
But the young lady was in no mood for pictures or moralizing. Her blood was coursing feverishly through her veins, her spirit had been made reckless by the wilful violence that she was doing her conscience, and also by her deep and growing dissatisfaction with herself, that was like an irritating wound. She was therefore prepared to resent any interruption to the whirl of excitement, which gave her a kind of pleasure in the place of the happiness that was impossible to one in her condition.
"You call that a pretty picture!" she said disdainfully; "Miss Burton reading a newspaper to two stupid old people who ought to be abed! A more humdrum scene I never saw. Truly, both your breath and your words show that you have been drinking too much. But you need not expect me to share in your tipsy sentiment over Miss Burton. Did Mr. Van Berg ask you to show me this matter-of-fact group which, in his artistic jargon, you call a picture?"
"If he had, he showed you a greater kindness than you deserved."
"Yes, and a greater one than I asked or wished from him."
"Then you are going back to dance with Sibley?"
"Yes, I am."
"The prospects are, that you and Mrs. Chints and a couple of half-tipsy men will soon have it all to yourselves. I suppose the old adage about 'birds of a feather' swill still hold good. I was in hopes, however, that even if you had no appreciation of what was beautiful, refined, and unselfish in another woman's action, you still had some self-respect, or at least some fear of ridicule, left. Since you won't listen to me, I shall warn your mother. If Sibley and two or three others drink much more, Burleigh will interfere for the credit of his house."
"You have been drinking as well as Mr. Sibley."
"Well, thanks to Van Berg, I stopped before I lost my head."
"From your maudlin sentiment over Miss Burton, I think you have lost your head and heart both."
"Go; dance with Sibley, then," he said in sudden irritation; "dance with him till you and Mrs. Chints between you have to hold him on his feet. Dance with him till Burleigh sends a couple of colored waiters to take him from your embrace and carry him off to bed."
She made a gesture of rage and disgust, and went straight to her room.
Sibley, in the mean time, paid a lengthened visit to his brandy, and having already passed the point of discretion, drank recklessly. When he descended the stairs again to look for his partner, his step was uncertain and his utterance thick.
Stanton gave Mr. Burleigh a hint that the young man needed looking after, and the adroit host, skilled in managing all kinds of people and in every condition, induced him to return to his room, under the pretence of wishing to taste his fine old brandy, and then kept him there until the lethargic stage set in as the result of his excess. And so an affair, which might have created much scandal, was smuggled out of sight and knowledge as far as possible. Mrs. Mayhew had been so occupied with whist that she had not observed that anything was amiss, and merely remarked that "Mr. Sibley's ball had ended earlier than usual."
Chapter XVI. Out Among Shadows.
The expression of Ida Mayhew's face was cold and defiant on the following day. She did not attend church with her mother, but remained all the morning in her room. She not only avoided opportunities of speaking to Van Berg when coming down to dinner and during the afternoon, but she would not even look towards him; and her manner towards her cousin also was decidedly icy.
"I don't know what is the matter with Ida," her mother remarked to Stanton; "she has acted so strangely of late."
"It's the old complaint, I imagine," he replied with a shrug.
"Oh, well! she's no worse than other pretty, fashionable girls," said Miss Mayhew, carelessly.
Stanton, in his anger on the previous evening, had not spoken of his cousin to Van Berg in a very complimentary way; but the artist remembered that the young man himself was not in a condition to form either a correct or charitable judgment; while the fact that Ida, as a result of his remonstrance, had gone directly to her room, was in her favor. He still resolved to suspend his final opinion and not to give over his project until satisfied that her nature contained too much alloy to permit of its success. He paid no heed therefore to her coldness of manner; and when at last meeting her face to face on the piazza Sunday evening, he lifted his hat as politely as possible.
Sibley did not appear until the arrival of the dinner hour. He was under the impression that he had gone a little too far the night before, and tried to make amends by an immaculate toilet and an urbane yet dignified courtesy towards all whom he knew. Society very readily winks at the indiscretions of wealthy young men. Moreover, he had been inveigled back to his room before his condition had been observed to any extent. There fore he found himself so well received in the main, that he soon fully recovered his wonted self-assurance.
Mrs. Mayhew was particularly gracious; and Ida, who at first had been somewhat distant towards him as well as all others, concluded that she had not sufficient cause to be ashamed of him, and so it came about that they spent much of the afternoon and evening together. She did not fail to note, however, that when he approached Van Berg he received a cold and curt reception. Was jealousy the cause of this? In her elation and excitement on the previous evening, she had been inclined to think so, but now she feared that it was because the artist despised the man; and in her secret soul she was compelled to admit that he had reason to despise him—yes, to despise them both. She felt, with bitter humiliation, that his superiority was not assumed but real.
More than once before the day closed, she found herself contrasting the two men. The one had not had a shred of true worth about him. Stanton, to teaze her and to justify his interference, had told her that Mr. Burleigh had been compelled to take charge of her companion in order to prevent him from disgracing himself and the house. Although too proud to acknowledge it, she still saw plainly that it was her cousin's interference, and indirectly the intervention of the artist that had kept her from being involved in that disgrace.
Even her perverted mind recognized that one was a gentleman, and the other—well, "a fashionable young man," as she would phrase it. The one, as a friend, would shield her from every detracting breath; the other, if given a chance, would inevitably tumble into some slough of infamy himself, and drag her after him with reckless selfishness.
Still, with something like self-loathing, she saw that Sibley was her natural ally and companion, and that she had far more in common with him than with the artist. She could easily maintain with him the inane chatter of their frivolous life, but she could not talk with the artist, nor he with her, without an effort that was as humiliating as it was apparent.
What was more, she saw that all others classed her with Sibley, and that the people in the house who were akin to the artist in character and high breeding, stood courteously but coolly aloof from both herself and her mother. She also felt that she could not lay all the blame of this upon her poor father. Indeed, since the previous miserable Sunday on which Van Berg had tried to win Mr. Mayhew from his evil habit for one day at least, and she had thwarted his kindly intention, she had begun to feel that she and her mother were the chief causes of his increasing degradation. Others, she feared, and especially Van Berg, took the same view.
With such thoughts surging up in her mind and clouding her brow, Sibley did not find her altogether the same girl that she had been the evening before. Still, as has been said, he was her natural ally, and she tried to second his efforts to re-establish a good character and to keep up the appearance of fashionable respect.
Stanton was in something of a dilemma. He did not like Sibley, and was ashamed of his recent excess; but having drank with him, and so, in a sense, having accepted his hospitality, felt himself obliged to be rather affable. He managed the matter by keeping out of the way as far as possible, and was glad to remember that the young man would depart in the morning. While scarcely acknowledging the fact to himself, he was on the alert most of the day to find an opportunity of enjoying a conversation with Miss Burton; but she kept herself very much secluded. After attending church at a neighboring village in the morning, she spent most of the afternoon with Mrs. Burleigh, assisting her in the care of the cross baby.
Van Berg, much to Stanton's envy, found her as genial and cheery as ever when they met at the table. He learned, from her manner more than from anything she said, that the day and its associations were sacred to her. She affected no solemnity and seemed under no constraint, only her thought and bearing had a somewhat soberer coloring, like the shading of a picture. To his mind it was but another example of her entire reticence in regard to herself, while her smiling face seemed as open as the light.
But as she came out from supper the children pounced upon her, clamorous for a story. She assented on condition that Mr. Burleigh would give them the use of one of the private parlors—a stipulation speedily complied with; and soon she had nearly all the small folk in the hotel gathered round her.
"I shall stand without, like the 'Peri at the gate,'" Stanton found a chance to say.
"The resemblance is very striking," was her smiling reply; but for some reason he winced under it and wished he had not spoken.
When she dismissed her little audience there were traces of tears on some of the children's faces, proving that she could tell a pathetic, as well as a jolly story; and Van Berg observed with interest how the power of her magnetism kept them lingering near her even after she entered the parlor and sought a quiet nook near the old gentleman and lady to whom she had been reading the previous evening.
Mrs. Chints, who liked to be prominent on all occasions, very proudly felt that sacred music would be the right thing on Sabbath evening, and, with a few of hew own ilk, was giving a florid and imperfect rendering of that peculiar style of composition that suggests a poor opera while making a rather shocking and irreverent use of words taken from Scriptures.
Van Berg and Stanton, who were out on the piazza, were ready to grate their teeth in anguish, finding the narcotic influence of the strongest cigar no match for Mrs. Chints's voice.
Suddenly that irrepressible lady spied Miss Burton, and she swooped down upon her in a characteristic manner, exclaiming:
"You can't decline; you needn't say you don't; I've heard you. If you sing half as well for us as you did to Mrs. Burleigh's baby this afternoon, we'll be more than satisfied. Now come; one sweet solo—just one."
Stanton craned his neck from where he sat to see the result of this onslaught, but Miss Burton shook her head.
"Well, then, won't you join in with us?" persisted Mrs. Chints. "Sacred music is so lovely and appropriate on Sunday night."
"You are right in that respect, Mrs. Chints. If it is the wish of those present I think some simple hymns in which we can all join might be generally enjoyed."
"Now, my dear, you have just hit it," said the old lady at her side. "I, for one, would very much like to hear some simple music like that we had when I was young."
The old lady's preference was taken up and echoed on every side. Indeed the majority were ready for any change from Mrs. Chints's strident tones.
"Well, my dear," said the lady, "it shall be as you say." Then she added, "sotto voce," with a complacent nod, "I suppose the music we were giving is beyond the masses, but if you could once hear Madame Skaronni render it in our choir at the Church of the (something that sounded like 'pica-ninny,' as by Mrs. Chints pronounced) you would wish for no other. Will you play, my dear?"
"Ah, yes, please do," exclaimed some of the children who had gathered around her.
"In mercy to us poor mortals for whom there is no escape save going to bed, please comply," whispered the old lady in her ear.
The light in Miss Burton's eyes was mirthful rather than sacred as she rose and went to the piano, and at once an air of breezy and interested expectancy took the place of the previous bored expression.
"Come, Van," said Stanton, throwing away his cigar, "we'll need your tenor voice. We must stand by that little woman. The Chints tribe have incited to profanity long enough, and shall make the night hideous no more. If we could only drown them instead of their voices, what a mercy it would be!" and the young men went around and stood in the open door near the piano.
"You are to sing," said Miss Burton, with a decided little nod at them.
"We intend to," replied Stanton, "since you are to accompany us."
She started "Coronation," that spirited and always inspiriting battle song of the church—jubilant and militant—a melody that is also admirably adapted for blending rough and inharmonious voices.
For a moment her own voice was like that of a singing lark, mounting from its daisy covert; or rather, like the flow of a silver rill whose music was soon lost, however, in the tumultuous rush of other tributary streams of sound; still, the general effect was good, and the people enjoyed it. By the time the second stanza was reached the majority were singing with hearty good-will, the children gathering near and joining in with delight.
Other familiar and old-fashioned hymns followed, and then one and another began to ask for their favorites. Fortunately Mrs. Chints's knowledge of sacred music was limited, and so she retired on the laurels of having called Miss Burton out, informing half the company of the fact with an important nod; and in remembrance of this fact they were inclined to forgive her the anguish she had personally caused them.
Mrs. Burleigh, who had stolen into the parlor for a little while that she might enjoy the singing, remembered that she had a pile of note-books that had grown dusty on a shelf since the baby had furnished the music of the household. These were brought, and higher and fuller musical themes were attempted, until the singers dwindled to a quartet composed of a lady who had a fair soprano voice, Miss Burton, Stanton and Van Berg. Their selections, however, continued truly sacred in character, thus differing radically from the florid style that Mrs. Chints had introduced.
The sweet and penetrating power of Miss Burton's voice could now be distinguished. For some reason it thrilled and touched its hearers in a way that they could not account for. The majority present at once realized that she was not, and never could become, a great singer. But within the compass of her voice, she could pronounce sacred words in a manner that send them home to the hears of the listeners like rays that could both cheer and melt.
At last she rose from the piano, remarking that there were other musicians present; and no amount of persuasion could induce her to remain there any longer.
"Perhaps you gentlemen play," she said, turning to the young men who were about to depart. "A man's touch and leadership is so much more decisive and vigorous than a lady's!"
"Mr. Van Berg plays very well indeed, considering his youth and diffidence!" remarked Stanton.
"And he has been taking advantage of a defenceless woman all this time! Mr. Van Berg, if you do not wish to lose your character utterly, you must take my place at the piano."
"I admit," he replied, "that I have taken more pleasure than you will believe in your in your contribution to our evening's enjoyment, but rather than lose your good opinion I will attempt to play or sing anything you dictate, even though I put every one in the parlor to flight, with their fingers in their ears."
"And you fear my taste will impose on you some such blood-curdling combination of sounds? Thank you."
"Now, Van, you have taught us what unconditional surrender means. Miss Burton, ask him to play and sing some selections from the Oratorio of the Messiah."
"Are you familiar with that?" she asked, with a sudden lighting up of her face.
"Somewhat so, only as an amateur can be; but I see, from your expression, that you are."
"I've contributed my share this evening," she said, decisively. "Please give us some selections from the Oratorio."
"Lay your command, then, on Stanton also. There's a part that we have sung together as a duet occasionally, although it is not 'so nominated in the bond,' or score, rather."
"If Mr. Stanton does not stand by his friend, then he should be left to stand by himself."
"In the corner, I suppose you mean. But do not leave, Miss Burton. If you do not stand by Mr. Van Berg and sing with him the duet that begins with the words—
'O death! where is thy sting?'
you will deprive us all of the chief pleasure of the evening, and it's not in your nature to do that."
"Please, please do, Miss Burton," cried a score of voices.
"You know nothing about my nature, sir. I assure you that I can be a veritable dragon. But out of regard for Mr. Van Berg's 'youth and diffidence' I will sustain him."
Van Berg's voice was not strong, but he sang with taste and good expression. It suggested refinement and culture rather than deep, repressed feeling, as had been the case in Miss Burton's singing. His style would be admired, and would not give much occasion for criticism, but, as a general thing, it would not stir and move the heart. Still, the audience gave close and pleased attention.
Ida Mayhew, who all this time had been out on the piazza and but half listening to Mr. Sibley's compliments in her attention to the scenes at the piano, now rose and came to one of the open windows, where, while hidden from the singer, she could hear more distinctly. Her features did not indicate that she shared in the pleasure expressed on the other faces within, and her gathering frown was deepened by the shadow of the window frame.
"You do not enjoy it!" said Mr. Sibley, complacently.
"No," she answered, laconically; but for reasons he little understood.
"Now you show your taste, Miss Mayhew."
"I fear I do. Hush!" But when Van Berg's solo ended, she breathed a deep sigh.
Then Stanton's rich, but uncultivated bass voice joined in the melody. Still the effect was better tahn would have been expected from amateurs. After a few moments, Stanton stood back and Miss Burton and Van Berg sang together; then every one leaned forward and listened with a breathless hush. Her voice seemed to pervade his with sould and feeling that had been lacking hitherto.
As the last rich chords died away, the strongest expression of pleasure were heard on every side; but Ida Mayhew stepped abruptly out into the dusk of the piazza with clenched hands and compressed lips.
"'Peste!'" she exclaimed under her breath. "What a contrast between Sibley and myself last evening and these two people to-night! What a worse contrast there might have been if Ik had not interfered in time! I have a good voice, but the guests of the house have not even thought of me in connection with this evening's entertainment. I am associated only with the Sibley style of amusements."
Chapter XVII. New Forces Developing.
After Mr. Van Berg and Miss Burton finished the selection from the Oratorio mentioned in the previous chapter, the old white-haired gentleman at whose side the latter had been sitting in the earlier part of the evening rose and said:
"I want to thank all the singers, and especially the young lady and gentleman now at the piano, not only for the pleasure they have given us all, but also for the comforting and sustaining thoughts that the sacred words have suggested. My enjoyments in this world are but few, and are fast diminishing; and I know that they will not refuse an old man's request that they close this service of song by each singing along some hymn that will strengthen our faith in the unseen Friend who watches over us all."
Van Berg looked at Miss Burton.
"We cannot refuse such an appeal," she said.
"I fear that I shall seem a hypocrite in complying," Van Berg answered, in a low tone. "How can I make a distinctly recognized effort to strengthen faith in others when lacking faith myself."
Her eyes flashed up to his, in sudden and strong approval. "I like that," she said. "It always gives me a sense of security and safety when I meet downright honesty. In no way can you better strengthen our faith than by being perfectly true. You give me a good example of sincerity," she added slowly, "and perhaps my hymn will teach submission more than faith. While I am singing it you may find something that will not express more than you feel."
In her sweet, low, yet penetrating voice, that now had a pathos which melted every heart, she sang the following words, which, like the perfume of crushed violets, have risen in prayer from many bruised and broken sprits:
"My God, my father, while I stray Far from my home on life's rough way, Oh teach me from my heart to say, Thy will be done.
What though in lonely grief I sigh For friends beloved no longer nigh; Submissive still would I reply, Thy will be done.
Renew my will from day to day; Blend it with Thine, and take away Whate'er now makes it hard to say, Thy will be done.
Then when on earth I breathe no more, The prayer oft mixed with tears before, I'll sing upon a happier shore, Thy will be done."
Stanton, warm-hearted and genuine with all his faults, retired well into the shadow of the hallway and looked at the singer through the lenses of sympathetic tears.
"Poor orphan girl," he muttered. "What a villain a man would be who could purpose harm to you!"
Van Berg, in accordance with his cooler and less demonstrative nature, kept his position at her side, but he regarded her with an expression of respect and interest that caused Ida Mayhew, who was watching from her covert near, a sense of pain and envy that surprised her by its keenness.
With a sudden longing which indicated that the wish came direct from from her heart, she sighed:
"What would I not give to see him look at me with that expression on his face!"
Then, startled by her own thought, so vivid had it been, she looked around as if in fear it was apparent to her companion.
His eyes were in truth bent upon her, and in the dusk they seemed like livid coals. A moment later, as with a shrinking sense of fear she furtively looked at him again, his eyes suggested those of some animal of prey that is possessed only with the wolfish desire to devour, caring for the victim only as it may gratify the ravenous appetite.
He leaned forward and whispered in her ear:
"Miss Ida, you do not know how strangely, how temptingly beautiful you are to-night. One might well peril his soul for such beauty as yours."
"Hush," she said imperiously, and with a repelling gesture, she stepped further into the light towards the singers.
"Then, when on earth I breathe no more," sang Miss Burton.
The thought was to the heart of the unhappy listener like the touch of ice to the hand. There was a kindling light of hope in Miss Burton's face, and something in her tone that indicated the courage of an unfaltering trust as she sang the closing lines:
"I'll sing upon a happier shore, Thy will be done."
But the words brought a deeper despondency to Ida Mayhew. In bitterness she asked herself, "What chance is there for me to reach 'that happier shore,' with the tempter at my side and everything in the present and past combining to drag me down?"
"There, thank heaven 'meetin's over,'" whispered Sibley, as Miss Burton rose from the piano. "I'm sick of all this pious twaddle, and would a thousand-fold rather listen to the music of your voice out under the trees."
"You 'thank heaven'!" she repeated with a reckless laugh. "I'm inclined to think, Mr. Sibley, from the nature of your words, you named the wrong locality."
The answering look he gave her indicated that she puzzled him. She had not seemed to-day like the shallow girl who had hitherto accepted of his more innocent compliments as if they were sugar-plums, and merely raised her finger in mock warning at such as contained a spice of wickedness and boldness. There seemed a current of thought in her mind which he could not fathom, and whether it were carrying her away or toward him he was not sure. He understood and welcomed the element of recklessness, but did not like the way in which she looked at Van Berg, nor did it suit his purposes that she should hear so much of what he characterized as "pious twaddle." He whispered again bolder words than he had ever spoken to her before.
"I wish no better heaven than the touch of your hand and the light of your eyes. See, the moon is rising; come with me, for this is the very witching hour for a ramble."
She turned upon him a startled look, for he seemed the very embodiment of temptation. But she only said coldly:
"Hush! Mr. Van Berg is about to sing," and she stepped so far into the lighted room that the artist saw her.
When Miss Burton rose from the piano she did not return to her seat in the parlor, but stood in the shadow of the door-way leading into the hall. The thought of her hymn had come so directly from her heart, that her eyes were slightly moist with an emotion that was more plainly manifest on many other faces. The old gentleman who had asked her to sing had taken off his spectacles and was openly wiping his eyes.
Stanton, ashamed to have her see the feeling she had evoked, turned his back upon her and slowly walked down the corridor. She misunderstood his act and thought it caused by indifference or dislike for the sentiment she had expressed. He had seemed to her thus far only a superficial man of the world, and this act struck her as characteristic. But beyond this passing impression she did not give him a thought, and turned, with genuine interest, to listen to Van Berg who had said to her:
"I remember a few simple verses which have no merit save that they express what I wish rather than what I am."
With much more feeling, and therefore power, than was his custom, he sang as follows:
"I would I knew Thee better— That trust could banish doubt; I wish that from 'the letter' Thy Spirit might shine out.
I wish that heaven were nearer— That earth were more akin To the home that should be dearer Than the one so marred by sin.
I wish that deserts dreary Might blossom as the rose, That souls, despairing, weary, Might smile and find repose."
Before singing the next stanza he could not forbear looking to see if Miss Mayhew were listening, and thus it happened that his glance gave peculiar emphasis to the thought expressed. She was looking at him with an intensity of expression that he did not understand. Nothing that he did escaped her, and the quick flash of his eyes in her direction unintentionally gave the following words the force and pointedness of an open rebuke;
"I wish that outward beauty Were the mirror of the heart, That purity and duty Supplanted wily art."
He did not see that with a sudden flame of scarlet in her face she stepped back on the dusky piazza as abruptly as if she had received a blow. Had he done so, he might not have sung as effectively the remaining verses. After the first confused moment of shame and resentment passed, she paused only long enough to note with a sense of relief that others had not seen or made any such application of his words as she believed he had intended, and then she took Mr. Sibley's arm and walked away, leaving the remaning two verses unheard—
"I wish that all were better And nearer to their God— That evil's broken fetter Were buried with His rod;
That love might last forever, And we, in future, find There is no power to sever The strong and true in mind."
As he sang the last verse there was also a rapid change in the expression of Miss Burton's face. There was something of her old pallor that has been mentioned before. She looked at him questioningly a moment as if to see if he were consciously making an allusion that touched her very nearly, and then, seemingly overcome by some sudden emotion that she would gladly hide, she quickly vanished down the dimly lighted hallway, and was seen no more until she came down to breakfast the following morning, as smiling and cheery as ever.
"Confound you, Van," said Stanton, as the artist escaped from the thanks of the audience into the hall, "What did you put in that last verse for? You made her think of seeing her dead friends again, and so she was in no mood to speak to us poor mortals who are still plodding on in this 'vale of tears.' I'd give my ears for a quiet chat with her to-night. By Jove, I never was so stirred up before, and could turn Christian, Mohammedan, Buddhist, or anything else, if she asked me to."
"In either case, Ik," said Van Berg, "your worship would be the same, I imagine, and would never rise higher than the priestess."
"Curse it all," exclaimed Stanton impetuously, "I feel to-night as if that were higher than I can ever rise. I never was afraid of a woman before; but no 'divinity' ever 'hedged a king' like that which fills me with an indescribable awe when I approach this unassuming little woman who usually seems no more formidable than a flickering sunbeam. I agree with you now. She has evidently had some deep experience in the past that gives to her character a power and depth that we only half understand. I wish I knew her better."
"Good-night," said Van Berg, a little abruptly; "I think that after this evening's experience, neither of us is in the mood for further talk."
Stanton looked after him with a lowering brow and muttered: "Is he so sensitive on this subject? By Jove. I'm sorry! I fear we must become rivals, Van. And yet," he added with a despairing gesture, "what chance would I have with him against me?"
"I could not hear distinctly," Sibley had remarked as Ida took his arm and walked away from her post of observation. "Were you disgusted with his pious wail on general principles, or did something in his theology offend you?"
"It's enough that I was not pleased," she replied briefly.
"Little wonder. I'm surprised you stood it so long. Van Berg and Stanton are nice fellows to lead a conventicle. I think I'll take a hand at it myself next Sunday evening, and certainly would with your support. I'll say nothing of the singer, but if you will go with me to the rustic seat in yonder shady walk, I'll sing you a song that I know will be more to your taste than any you have heard this evening."
"Please excuse me, Mr. Sibley; I'm afraid of the night air."
"You are unusually prudent," he said, a little tauntingly.
"Which proves that I possess at least one good quality," she replied.
"Perhaps if Mr. Van Berg asked you to go you would take the risk."
"Perhaps I might," she admitted, half unconsciously and from the mere force of habit, giving the natural answer of a coquette.
"He had better not cross my path," said Sibley, with sudden vindictiveness.
"Come, come!" replied Miss Mayhew, with a careless laugh, "let's have no high tragedy. I'm in no mood for it to-night, and you have no occasion for alarm. If he crosses your path he will step daintily over it at right angles."
At that moment Van Berg came out on the piazza. Although he could not hear her words, her laugh and tones jarred unpleasantly on his ear.
"Yonder is a genuine affinity," he muttered, "which I was a fool to think I could break up;" and with a slight contemptuous gesture he turned on his heel and went to his room.
"I cannot altogether understand you this evening, Miss Mayhew," said Sibley, with some resentment in his tone.
"You are not to blame for that, Mr. Sibley, for I do not understand myself. I have not felt well to-day, and so had better say good-night."
But before she could leave him he seized her hand and exclaimed, in his soft, insinuating tones:
"That then is the only trouble between us. Next Saturday evening I shall find you your old charming self?"
"Perhaps," was her unsatisfactory answer.
With a step that grew slower and heavier every moment, she went to her room, turned up the light, and looked fixedly at herself in the glass,
"I wish that outward beauty Were the mirror of the heart,"
she repeated inaudibly, and the her exquisite lip curled in self-contempt.
"Ida, what IS the matter with you?" drawled her mother, looking through the open door-way of her adjacent room. "You act as if you were demented."
"Why did you make me what I am?" she exclaimed, turning upon her mother in a sudden passion.
"Good gracious! what are you?" ejaculated that matter-of-fact lady.
"I'm as good as you are—as good as our set averages, I suppose," she answered in a weary, careless tone. "Good night;" and she closed and locked her door.
"Oh, pshaw!" said Mrs. Mayhew, petulantly; "those hymns have made her out of sorts with herself and everything. They used to stir me up in the same way. Why can't people learn to perform their religious duties properly and then let the matter rest;" and with a yawn she retired at peace with herself and all the world.
Ida threw herself on a lounge and looked straight before her with that fixed, vacant stare which indicates that nothing is seen save by the eye of the mind.
"Father's drunk to-night," she moaned; "I know it as surely as if I saw him. I also know that I'm in part to blame for it. Could outward beauty mask a blacker heart than mine? It does not mask it from him who sang those words," and she buried her face in her hands and sobbed, until, exhausted and disheartened, she sough such poor rest and respite as a few hours of troubled sleep could bring.
Chapter XVIII. Love Put to Work.
On the following day there was the usual bustle of change and departure that is characteristic of a large summer resort on Monday morning. Stanton found Mrs. Mayhew very ready to occupy the seats he had obtained, and all the more so from his statement of the fact that several others had spoken for them.
"Ida, my dear," called her mother; "come here, I've good news for you. Ik has got us out of that odious corner of the dining-room, and secured seats for us at Mr. Van Berg's table."
"I wish no seat there," she said decisively.
"Oh, its all arranged, my dear; and a good many others want the seats, but Ik was too prompt."
"I'll stay where I am," said Ida, sullenly.
"And have every one in the house asking why?" added Stanton, provokingly. "Mr. Van Berg treats you as a gentleman should. Why cannot you act like a lady toward him? If I were you I would not carry my preferences for the Sibley style of fellows so far that I could not be civil to a man like my friend."
"You misjudge me," cried Ida, passionately.
"You have a strange way of proving it. All that is asked of you is to sit at the same table with a gentleman who has won the respect and admiration of every one in the hotel, whose society is peculiarly agreeable to your mother and myself, and who has also shown unusual courtesy towards you ever since he learned who you were. What else can I think—what else can others think, than that your taste leans so decidedly to the Sibley style that you cannot even be polite to a man of high culture and genuine worth?"
"You are too severe, Ik," said Mrs. Mayhew. "For some reason that I cannot fathom, Ida does not like this artist; and yet I think myself that she would subject herself to very unpleasant remarks if she made any trouble about sitting at the same table with him."
"Can you not see," retorted Ida, irritably, "that Ik has not considered us at all, but only himself? He wishes to be near Miss Burton, and without giving us any chance to object, has made all the arrangements so that we must either comply or else be the talk of the house. It's just a piece of his selfishness," she concluded with tears of vexation in her eyes.
"Oh, come Ida!" said her mother coaxingly, "I can see only a mole-hill in this matter, and I wouldn't make a mountain out of it. As far as I am concerned, I should enjoy the change very much, and, as you say, the affair has gone too far now to make objection. I do not intend that either you or myself shall be the subject of unpleasant remark."
And so the matter was settled, but Ida's coldness and constraint, when they all met at dinner, very clearly indicated that the change had been made without her consent. Van Berg addressed her affably two or three times, but received brief and discouraging answers.
"Your cousin evidently is not pleased with the new arrangement you have brought about. I cannot see what I have done of late to vex her."
"I'll tell you the trouble. You offend her by not being the counterpart of Mr. Sibley," said Stanton, irritably.
Van Berg's brow darkened. "Do you think," he asked in a meaning tone, "that she understands what kind of a man he is?"
"Oh, she knows that he can dance, flirt, and talk nonsense, and she asks for nothing more and thinks of nothing further. I'm out of patience with her."
Stanton's words contained the most plausible explanation of Ida's conduct that occurred to Van Berg. The episode in the stage had made them acquainted, and her preconceived prejudice and hostility had been so far removed as to permit a certain degree of social companionship, whose result would now seem only increased dislike and distaste. As he supposed she would express herself, "he was not of her style." Had she not spent the greater part of Sunday afternoon and evening with Sibley? What other conclusion was there save that he was "of her style," congenial both in thought and character! And yet he still refused to entertain the belief that she recognized in him more than a fashionable man of the world.
If only as the result of the pique originating on the evening of the concert, Ida Mayhew had stood aloof from him, he could hope to remove this early prejudice by better acquaintance. But if fuller acquaintance increased her aversion, then he must believe that the defects in her character were radical, inwrought through the whole web and woof of her nature. He could not assume the "Sibley style" if he would, and would not if he could, were her beauty a hundred-fold greater, were that possible.
He was fast coming to the conclusion, therefore, that he must abandon the project which had so fascinated him, and whose success had so strongly kindled his imagination. And yet he did so reluctantly, very regretfully, chafing as only the strong-willed do, when confronted and thwarted by that which is only apparently impossible, and which they still feel might and ought to be accomplished.