She—beautiful and penniless, ambitious, and a devotee of pleasure—yet dependent for food and clothing upon her mother's life-interest in an estate, not one penny of which would revert to her children at her decease; without kindred and without society in the elegant suburb they had inhabited for four or five years, might have been elated at a less brilliant match than that she had made. The "best people" of the aforesaid suburb were exclusive; slow to form intimacies with their unaccredited neighbors, and very hasty in breaking them at the faintest whiff of a doubtful or tainted reputation. And of the second best the Dorrances had kept themselves clear. Having met and captivated her wealthy lover on a rarely fortunate summer jaunt, made in company with her eldest brother, his wife, and two relatives of the last-named, Clara did not repel him or disgust the best people of Roxbury by indiscreet raptures over, or exhibition of, her prize.
"I feel with you an invincible repugnance to throwing open our hearts to the inspection of the unsympathizing world, at the most sacred moment of our lives," she said, in stating her preference for a quiet morning-wedding, a family breakfast, and instant departure upon their bridal-trip. "If I begin to invite my friends and neighbors, our cottage—lawn and garden included—would not contain them, and after all were asked whom I could rememher, as many more would be mortally offended at being forgotten."
The bridegroom gladly acquiescing, with a compliment to her womanly delicacy, the ceremony was performed in the presence of the bride's nearest relatives; an elegant repast was served, at which the Dorrance plate made an imposing show, and Clara turned her back upon the scenes and reminiscences of her past life to commence the world anew.
Yes, she had done very well for herself—how wonderfully well she knew better than did any one else, and at this date she had fresh cause for self-gratulation. Through her, Herbert, her favorite brother, was likely to form an alliance which would be a timely and substantial stepping-stone to his aggrandizement and wealth. There were more reasons why she should hold her head higher—why the blood should clothe her cheek with a richer carmine, and a smile encircle the mouth, as one swift glance took in the spacious, luxurious room, thronged with well-dressed aristocrats, her husband the stateliest, most honored of them all, yet her fond thrall; the splendid apparel in which his wealth had bedecked her, the queen of the scene—more reasons, I say, for the ineffable thrill of pleasure that coursed, a rapid, intoxicating stream, through her veins, than grateful affection for the author of all these goods. With a Sybarite's dread of pain and loneliness, she seldom trusted herself to look at the dark curtain in the background, against which her latter-day glories shone the more dazzlingly. But to-night she felt safe upon her throne—sat, the lady of kingdoms, sultana in the realm of her spouse's heart and in his domain, and could stare full upon the past—could measure, without shuddering, the height of her actual and assumed estate above—
Mr. Aylett stepped forward in haste and concern at the deadly pallor that overspread her face—the look of horror, fear, loathing, before which smile and brightness fled, blasted into wretchedness. The revellers stopped in their giddy measure at the discordant jangle, preluding a dead silence.
Mabel, chancing in the evolutions of the set to be nearest the window, and noting the direction of the fainting woman's eyes, was quick enough to see a shadow flit across the yellcw square of light upon the snowy floor of the portico—a man's shape, as it appeared to her, crouching and slinking out of view into the darkness.
"She saw something, or somebody, through the window, and was frightened," she said, in a low voice, checking Tom Barksdale and another gentleman, who would have pressed with the inconsiderate crowd toward the senseless figure Mr. Aylett had laid upon the sofa. "Will you see what it was?"
The request cleared the room directly of all the men of the assembly, with the exception of Winston and Dr. Ritchie, a young physician, who was superintending the administration of restoratives to Mrs. Aylett.
She was reviving rapidly when the search party gave in their report. There were fresh tracks upon the piazza, and these they had traced to the back of the house, losing them there in the drifting snow, the wind blowing like a hurricane, and ploughing what had fallen and what was descending into constantly changing heaps. But the watch-dogs had been unchained, and four of the negro men detailed as sentinels, the gentlemen engaging to make the round of the premises again before bed-time.
The effect of this communication was the reverse of tranquillizing upon the patient. The wild, terrified look in her eye resembled the unreasoning fear of lunacy as she seized her husband's arm.
"Indeed, indeed they must not. It is not right or safe to make such a serious matter of my foolish nervousness. I am not sure there was any one there! It was probably an optical delusion. I was plunged in a reverie, thinking of happy, peaceful, lovely things"—with the sickly feint of a meaning smile into his face—"and, happening to look at the window, I fancied that I saw"—with all her self-command her voice failed here, and she put her hand before her eyes for a moment before she could go on—"I thought I saw—SOMETHING! It may have been a human face—it may have been the shadow of the curtains, or the reflection of the lights upon the glass; but it startled me, appearing so abruptly. Please say no more about it. If it was a living creature, it must have been one of the servants, tempted by curiosity to peep at the dancers."
"It will prove to be a costly indulgence to him, if I can discover who the rascal was," said Mr. Aylett, decisively. "I would not have had you so startled for the worth of all the lazy hounds on the premises."
His wife laid her hand upon his.
"It is Christmas night, my love, and the poor fellow is excusable. He showed excellent taste. It was a very pretty scene. I shall not soon forgive myself for throwing it into such 'admired disorder.' Miss Scott"—[to a musical spinster]—"may I tax your politeness so far as to ask you to take my seat at the piano? I must go to my room for a few minutes," raising her finger smilingly to her displaced ivy wreath. "If you would testify your tolerance of my folly, please go on with your amusement. I shall be encouraged to return when I hear the music."
Her collected, urbane self once more, she took her husband's arm, and passed through the opening ranks of her friends, bowing to this side and that, with apologetic banter and graceful words of regret—still very pale, but changed in no other respect.
"A singular episode in an evening's entertainment," said Mr. Dorrance, leading Mabel to her stand in the re-forming set. "I never knew Clara to succumb before to any type of syncope or asphyxia. She is a woman of remarkable nerve and courage. And, by the way, how preposterous is the common use of the word 'nervous.' The ablest lexicographers define it as 'strong, well-strung, full of nerve,' whereas, in ordinary parlance, it has come to signify the very opposite of these. When I speak of a nervous speaker or writer, for example, what do I mean?"
"One who imbibes unwholesomely large quantities of strong green tea, and sees hobgoblins peering at her through the window-panes!" said Rosa, sarcastically artless, tripping by in season to overhear this clause of his small-talk.
Mabel's imperturbable good-breeding prevented embarrassment or resentment at the interruption. At heart, she was vexed that Rosa should omit no opportunity of shooting privily and audaciously at her practical admirer, but to betray her appreciation of the impertinence would be to subject herself to imputations of sensitiveness on his account.
"I saw the hobgoblin without the aid of green tea," she rejoined. "There was really some one upon the porch, but why the apparition should scare Clara out of her wits, I cannot divine. The negro is an incurable Paul Pry, and, next to dancing a Christmas jig himself, is the pleasure of seeing others do it."
Mrs. Aylett verified her brother's encomium upon her nerve by reappearing in the saloon by the time another set was over, and just before the announcement of supper, radiant and self-possessed, prepared to do double social duty to atone for the fright she had caused, and the temporary damp her swoon had cast over the festivities.
The revel went joyously forward—Christmas-games and incantations, the dexterous introduction, by a jocose old gentleman, of a mistletoe-bough into the festoons draping the chandelier, and divers other tricks, all of which were taken in excellent part by the victims thereof, and vociferously applauded by the spectators. The great hall-clock had rung out twelve strokes, and two or three methodical seniors were beginning to whisper to one another their intention to take French leave of the indefatigable juniors and seek their couches, when a continued tumult arose from the yard—barking and shouts, and voices in angry or eager dispute.
Unmindful of the nipping air, the ladies flew to the windows and raised them, while the gentlemen, in a body, rushed out upon the porch, many to the lawn—the scene of the disturbance.
"They have caught him!"
"There are several of them—a gang of thieves, no doubt!"
"No! I see but one! They are bringing him to the house!" were morsels of information passed over the shoulders of the foremost rank of inquisitive fair ones to the rear, but none were able to answer the returning inquiries.
"Who is it?"
"What does he look like like?"
"Does he offer any resistance?"
"Do you suppose he is a burglar, or only a common vagrant?"
"I thought the Ridgeley grounds were never infested by prowling beggars, or other vagabonds," said a lady to Mrs. Aylett, who prudently remained near the fire, even then shivering with the cold, and casting uneasy looks at the windows.
"Mr. Aylett is a model to his brother magistrates in his treatment of such nuisances," remarked another "His name is a terror to strollers, whether they be organ-grinders, pedlers, or incendiaries."
Mrs. Aylett, excessively pale, applied her vinaigrette to her nose, and trembled yet more violently.
"I believe he is very strict," she assented. "But I am really afraid those ladies will take cold! The snow-air is piercing. And they are—most of them—heated with dancing. Cannot we prevail upon them to close the windows, now that the mysterious prowler is secured? We shall hear all about him when the gentlemen return, and they will not stay out of doors longer than is necessary."
They began to pour back into the room, while she was speaking, laughing, and talking, all together shaking the snow-powder from their hair and hands, and anathematizing the cold and their thin boots. The particulars of the midnight disturbance were quickly disseminated. The ebon sentinels had, directed by the barking of their canine associates, discovered, under a holly hedge on one side of the yard, a man lying upon the earth, and almost buried in the snow he seemed not to have strength to throw off. He was either drunk or so nearly frozen as to be incapable of answering coherently their demands as to what was his name and what his business upon the premises. The interrogations of the gentlemen and the ungentle shakings administered by his captors elicited nothing but groans and muttered oaths. He could not, or would not, walk without support, and to leave him where he was, or to turn him adrift into the public road, would be certain death. Therefore Mr. Aylett had ordered him to be confined for the night in a garret room. In the morning he might be examined to more purpose.
"But he ought to have a fire, and something hot and nourishing to drink!" exclaimed Mrs. Button, upon hearing the story. "He will freeze in that barn of a place—poor wretch!"
"I imagine he has no need of additional stimulants," said Mrs. Aylett, dryly, again resorting to her smelling-bottle. "From what the gentlemen say, I judge that he had laid in a supply of caloric sufficient to last through the night. And the first use he would make of fire would be to burn the house over our heads. His lodgings are certainly more comfortable than those selected by himself. There is little danger of his finding fault with them. What manner of looking creature is he?"
"An unkempt vagabond!" rejoined Randolph Harrison, rubbing his blue fingers before the fire. "His clothes are ragged, and frozen stiff. I suppose he has been out in the storm ever since it set in. There were icicles upon his beard and hair, his hat having fallen off. It is a miracle he did not freeze to death long ago. It is a bitter night."
"Did you say he was an old man?" inquired the hostess languidly, from the depths of her easy chair.
"He is not a young one, for his hair is grizzled. But we will form ourselves into a court of inquiry in the morning, with Mr. Aylett as presiding officer—have in the nocturnal wanderer, and hear what account he can give of himself. Who knows what romantic history we may hear—one that may become a Christmas legend in after years?"
"You will get nothing more sensational than the confessions of a hen-roost robber, I suspect," said Mrs. Aylett, more wearily than was consistent with her role of attentive hostess.
Her husband noticed the tokens of exhaustion, and interposed to spare her further exertion.
"Our friends will excuse you if you retire without delay, Clara. You still feel the effects of your agitation and faintness."
This was the signal for a general dispersion of the ladies—the gentlemen, or most of them, adjourning to the smoking-room.
Since the late extraordinary influx of visitors, Mabel had shared her aunt's chamber, but, instead of seeking this now, she went straight from the parlor to the supper-room, where she found, as she had expected, Mrs. Sutton in the height of business, directing the setting of the breakfast-table, clearing away the debris of the evening feast, and counting the silver with unusual care, lest a stray fork or spoon had, by some hocus-pocus known to the class, been slipped into the pocket of the supposititious burglar.
"Aunt," began Mabel, drawing her aside, "that poor wretch up-stairs must be cared for. It is the height of cruelty to lock him up in a fireless room, without provisions or dry clothing. If he should die, would we be guiltless?"
Mrs. Sutton's benevolent physiognomy was perplexed.
"Didn't I say as much in the other room, before everybody, my dear? And didn't SHE put me down with one of her magisterial sentences? She is mistress here—not you or I. Besides, Winston has the key of that east garret in his pocket, and I would not be the one to ask him for it, since he has had his wife's opinion upon the subject of humanity to prisoners."
"I shall not trouble him with my petition. I discovered by accident, when I was a child, that the key of the north room would open that door. If I order, upon my own responsibility, that a cup of hot coffee, and some bread and meat be taken up to him, you will not deny them to me, I suppose?"
"Certainly not, my child! but I dare not send a servant with them. Winston's orders were positive—they all tell me—that not a soul should attempt to hold communication with him. And what he says he means."
"Then," replied Winston's sister, with a spark of his spirit, "I will take the waiter up myself. I cannot sleep with this horror hanging over me—the fear lest, through my neglect or cowardice, a fellow-being—whose only offence against society, so far as we knows is his dropping down in a faint or stupor under a hedge on the Ridgeley plantation—should lose his life."
"Your feelings are only what I should expect from you, my love; but think twice before you go up-stairs yourself! It would be considered an outrageous impropriety, were it found out."
"Less outrageous than to let a stranger perish for want of such attention as one would vouchsafe to a stray dog?" questioned Mabel, with a queer smile. "Roger! pour me out a bowl of coffee at once. Put it on a waiter with a plate of bread and butter—or stay! oysters will be more warming and nourishing. I am very sure that Daphne is keeping a saucepanful hot for her supper and yours. Hurry!"
The waiter, whose wife was the cook, ducked his head with a grin confirmatory of his young mistress' shrewd suspicion, and vanished to obey her orders, never dreaming but she wanted the edibles for her private consumption. He enjoyed late and hot suppers, and why not she? Thanks to this persuasion, the coffee was strong, clear, and boiling, the oysters done to a turn, and smoking from the saucepan.
Taking the tray from him, with a gracious "Thank you! This is just as it should be," Mabel negatived his offer to carry it to her room, and started up-stairs.
Mrs. Sutton followed with a lighted candle.
"Winston or no Winston, you shall not face that desperado alone," she said, obstinately. "There is no telling what he may do—murder you, perhaps, or at least knock you down in order to escape. Winston talks as if he were the captain of the forty thieves."'
"He is pretty well hors de combat now, at any rate," smiled Mabel, but allowing her aunt to precede her with the light to the upper floor. "And should he offer violence—scalding coffee may defend me as effectually as Morgiana's boiling oil routed the gang. MY captain had to be carried up-stairs by four servants, who left him upon a pile of old mattresses in one corner of the room. Here we are!"
They were in a wide hall at the top of the house, the unceiled rafters above their heads, carpetless boards beneath their feet. Mabel set her waiter upon a worm-eaten, iron-bound chest, and went further down the passage to get the key of the north room. Her light footstep stirred dismal echoes in the dark corners; the wind screamed through every crack and keyhole, like a legion of piping devils; rumbled lugubriously over the steep roof. The one candle flickering in the draught showed Mabel's white bust and arms, like those of a phantom, beaming through a cloud of blackness, when she stooped to try the key in the lock of the prison-chamber.
After fitting it, she knocked before she turned it in the rusty wards—again, and more loudly—then spoke, putting her lips close to the key-hole:
"We are friends, and have brought you supper. Can we come in?"
There was no answer, and with a beating heart she unlocked the door, pushed it ajar, and motioned to Aunt Rachel to hold her candle up, that she might gain a view of the interior.
The wan, uncertain rays revealed the heap of mattresses, and upon them what looked like a mass of rough, wet clothing, without sound or motion.
"He is pretending to be asleep! Take care!" whispered Mrs. Sutton, trying to restrain Mabel as she pressed by her into the room.
"He is dead, I fear!" was the low answer.
Forgetful of her nephew's prohibition and her recent fears, the good widow entered, and leaned anxiously over the stranger's form. A tall, gaunt man, clad in threadbare garments, which hung loosely upon the shrunken breast and arms, black hair and beard, mottled with white, ragged, and unshorn, and dank from exposure to the snow and sleet; a chalky-white face, with closed and sunken eyes, sharpened nose, and prominent cheek-bones—this was what they beheld as the candle flamed up steadily in the comparatively still air of the ceiled apartment. The miserable coat was buttoned up to his chin, and the shreds of a coarse woollen comforter, torn from his throat at his capture, still hung about his shoulders. His clothes were sodden with wet, as Harrison had said, and the solitary pretence at rendering him comfortable for the night, had been the act of a negro, who contemptuously flung an old blanket across his nether limbs before leaving him to his lethargic slumbers. He had not moved since they tossed him, like a worthless sack, upon this sorry resting-place, but lay an unsightly huddle of arms, legs, and head, such as was never achieved, much less continued, by any one save a drunken man or a corpse. Mabel ended the awed silence.
"This is torpor—not sleep, nor yet death," she said, without recoiling from the pitiful wreck.
Indeed, as she spoke, she bent to feel his pulse; held the emaciated wrist in her warm fingers until she could determine whether the feeble stroke were a reality, or a trick of the imagination.
"Dr. Ritchie should see him immediately. He is in the smoking-room. If you call him out, it will excite less remark than if I were to do it. Don't let Winston guess why you want him," were her directions to her aunt, uttered quickly, but distinctly.
"Yon will not stay here! At least, go into the hall! What will the doctor think?"
"I shall remain where I am. The poor creature is too far gone to presume upon my condescension," with a faint sarcastic emphasis.
At Mrs. Sutton's return with the physician, she perceived that her niece had not awaited her coming in sentimental idleness. A thick woollen coverlet was wrapped about the prostrate figure, and Mabel, upon her knees on the dusty hearth, was applying the candle to a heap of waste paper and bits of board she had ferreted out in closets and cuddy-holes. It caught and blazed up hurriedly in season to facilitate the doctor's examination of the patient, thrown so oddly upon his care. Mrs. Sutton had not neglected, in her haste, to procure a warm shawl from her room, and she folded it about the girl's shoulders, whispering an entreaty that she would go to bed, and leave the man to her management and Dr. Ritchie.
Mabel waved her off impatiently.
"Presently! when I hear how he is!" moving toward the comfortless couch.
The physician looked around at the rustle of her dress, his pleasant face perturbed, and perhaps remorseful.
"This is a bad business! I wish I had examined him when he was brought in. There would have been more hope of doing something for him then. But, to tell the truth, I was one of the five or six prudent fellows who stayed upon the piazza, and witnessed the capture from a distance. I had no idea of the man's real situation. Mrs. Sutton! can I have brandy, hot water, and mustard at once! Miss Mabel! may I trouble you to call your brother? He ought to be advised of this unforeseen turn of affairs."
His emissaries were prompt. In less than ten minutes, all the appliances the household could furnish for the restoration of the failing life were at his command. An immense fire roared in the long-disused chimney; warm blankets, bottles of hot water and mustard-poultices were prepared by a corps of officious servants; the master of the mansion, with three or four friends at his heels, and a half-smoked cigar in his hand, had looked in for a moment, to hope that Dr. Ritchie would not hesitate to order whatever was needed, and to predict a favorable result as the meed of his skill.
Half an hour after her brother's visit, Mabel tapped at the door to inquire how the patient was, and whether she could be of use in any way. She still wore her evening dress, and the fire of excitement had not gone out in her eyes and complexion.
"Don't sit up longer," said the doctor, with the authority of an old friend. "It will not benefit your protege for you to have a headache, pale cheeks, and heavy eyes to-morrow, while it will render others, whose claims upon you are stronger, very miserable."
She thanked him laconically for his thoughtfulness, and bade him "good-night," without a responsive gleam of playfulness. Her heart was weighed down with sick horror. The almost certainty of which he spoke with professional coolness, was to her, who had never within her recollection stood beside a death-bed, a thing too frightful to be anticipated without dread, however its terrors might be alleviated by affection and wealth. As the finale of their Christmas frolic—perhaps the consequence of wilful neglect in those who should have known better than to abandon the wanderer to the ravages of hunger, cold, and intoxication—the idea was ghastly beyond description.
She was about to diverge from the main hall on the second floor into the lateral passage leading to Mrs. Sutton's room in the wing, when her name was called in a gentle, guarded key by her sister-in-law.
HE DEPARTETH IN DARKNESS.
"COME in! I want to talk to you!" said Mrs. Aylett, beckoning Mabel into her chamber, from the door of which she had hailed her. "Sit down, my poor girl! You are white as a sheet with fatigue. I cannot see why you should have been suffered to know anything about this very disagreeable occurrence. And Emmeline has been telling me that Mrs. Sutton actually let you go up into that Arctic room."
"It was my choice. Aunt Rachel went along to carry the light and to keep me company. She would have dissuaded me from the enterprise if she could," responded Mabel, sinking into the low, cushioned chair before the fire, which the mistress of the luxurious apartment had just wheeled forward for her, and confessing to herself, for the first time, that she was chilly and very tired.
"But where were the servants, my dear? Surely you are not required, in your brother's house, to perform such menial services as taking food and medicine to a sick vagrant."
"Winston had forbidden them to go near the room. I wish I had gone up earlier. I might have been the means of saving a life which, however worthless it may seem to us, must be of value to some one."
"Is he so far gone?"
The inquiry was hoarsely whispered, and the speaker leaned back in her fauteuil, a spark of fierce eagerness in her dilated eyes, Mabel, in her own anxiety, did not consider overstrained solicitude in behalf of a disreputable stranger. She had more sympathy with it than with the relapse into apparent nonchalance that succeeded her repetition of the doctor's report.
"He does not think the unfortunate wretch will revive, even temporarily, then?" commented the lady, conventionally compassionate, playing with her ringed fingers, turning her diamond solitaire in various directions to catch the firelight. "How unlucky he should have strayed upon our grounds! Was he on his way to the village?"
"Who can say? Not he, assuredly. He has not spoken a coherent word. Dr. Ritchie thinks he will never be conscious again."
"I am afraid the event will mar our holiday gayeties to some extent, stranger though he is!" deplored the hostess. "Some people are superstitious about such things. His must have been the spectral visage I saw at the window. I was sure it was that of a white man although Winston tried, to persuade me to the contrary."
"It is dreadful!" ejaculated Mabel energetically. "He, poor homeless wayfarer, perishing with cold and want in the very light of our summer-like rooms; getting his only glimpse of the fires that would have brought back vitality to his freezing body through closed windows! Then to be hunted down by dogs, and locked up by more unfeeling men, as if he were a ravenous beast, instead of a suffering fellow-mortal! I shall always feel as if I were, in some measure, chargeable with his death—should he die. Heaven forgive us our selfish thoughtlessness, our criminal disregard of our brother's life!"
"I understood you to say there was no hope!" interrupted Mrs. Aylett.
"So Dr. Ritchie declares. But I cannot bear to believe it!"
She pressed her fingers upon her eyeballs as if she would exclude some horrid vision.
"My dear sister! your nerves have been cruelly tried. To-morrow, you will see this matter—and everything else—through a different medium. As for the object of your amiable pity, he is, without doubt, some low, dissipated creature, of whom the world will be well rid."
"I am not certain of that. There are traces of something like refinement and gentle breeding about him in all his squalor and unconsciousness. I noticed his hands particularly. They are slender and long, and his features in youth and health must have been handsome. Dr. Ritchie thought the same. Who can tell that his wife is not mourning his absence to-night, as the fondest woman under this roof would regret her husband's disappearance? And she may never learn when and how he died—never visit his grave!"
"I have lived in this wicked world longer than you have, my sweet Mabel; so you must not quarrel with me if these fancy pictures do not move me as they do your guileless heart," said Mrs. Aylett, the sinister shadow of a mocking smile playing about her mouth. "Nor must you be offended with me for suggesting as a pendant to your crayon sketch of widowhood and desolation the probability that the decease of a drunken thief or beggar cannot be a serious bereavement, even to his nearest of kin. Women who are beaten and trampled under foot by those who should be their comfort and protection are generally relieved when they take to vagrancy as a profession. It may be that this man's wife, if she were cognizant of his condition, would not lift a finger, or take a step to prolong his life for one hour. Such things have been."
"More shame to human nature that they have!" was the impetuous rejoinder. "In every true woman's heart there must be tender memories of buried loves, let their death have been natural or violent."
"So says your gentler nature. There are women—and I believe they are in the majority in this crooked lower sphere—in whose hearts the monument to departed affection—when love is indeed no more—is a hatred that can never die. But we have wandered an immense distance from the unlucky chicken-thief or burglar overhead. Dr. Ritchie's sudden and ostentatious attack of philanthropy will hardly beguile him into watching over his charge—a guardian angel in dress-coat and white silk neck-tie—until morning?"
"Mammy is to relieve him so soon as he is convinced that human skill can do nothing for his relief," said Mabel very gravely.
Her sister-in-law's high spirits and jocular tone jarred upon her most disagreeably, but she tried to bear in mind in what dissimilar circumstances they had passed the last hour. If Clara appeared unfeeling, and her remarks were distinguished by less taste than was customary in one so thoroughly bred, it was because the exhilaration of the evening was yet upon her, and she had not seen the death's-head prone upon the pillows in the cheerless attic. Thoughts of poverty and dying beds were unseemly in this apartment when the very warmth and fragrance of the air told of fostering and sheltering love. The heavy curtains did not sway in the blast that hurled its whole fury against the windows; the furniture was handsome, and in perfect harmony with the dark, yet glowing hues of the carpet, and with the tinted walls. A tall dressing mirror let into a recess reflected the picture, brilliant with firelight that colored the shadows themselves; lengthened into a deep perspective the apparent extent of the chamber and showed, like a fine old painting, the central figure in the vista.
Mrs. Aylett had exchanged her evening dress for a cashmere wrapper, the dark-blue ground of which was enlivened by a Grecian pattern of gold and scarlet; her unbound hair draped her shoulders, and framed her arch face, as she threaded the bronze ripples with her fingers. She looked contented, restful, complacent in herself and her belongings—one whom Time had touched lovingly as he swept by, and whom sorrow had forgotten.
"Not asleep yet!" was her husband's exclamation, entering before anything further passed between the two women; and when his sister started up, with an apology for being found there at so late an hour, he added, more reproachfully than he ever spoke to his wife, "You should not have kept her up, Mabel! Her strength has been too much taxed already to-night. I hoped and believed that she had been in bed and asleep for an hour."
"Don't blame her!" said Mrs. Aylett, hastily. "I called her in as she was proceeding to bed in the most decorous manner possible. I may as well own the truth of my weakness. I was nervously wakeful—the effect, in part, of the ultra-strong coffee Dr. Ritchie advised me to drink at supper-tine—in part, of the silly sensation I got up to terrify my friends. So I maneuvered to secure a fireside companion until you should have dispatched your cigar. Gossip is as pleasant a sedative to ladies as is a prime Havana to their lords."
"And what is the latest morceau?" inquired Mr Aylett, indulgently, when Mabel had gone.
He was standing by his wife's chair, and she leaned her head against him, her bright eyes uplifted to his, her hair falling in a long, burnished fringe over his arm—a fond, sparkling siren, whom no man, with living blood in his veins, could help stooping to kiss before her lips had shaped a reply.
"You wouldn't think it an appetizing morsel! But I listened with interest to our unsophisticated Mabel's account of her Quixotic expedition to what will, I foresee, be the haunted chamber of Ridgeley in the next generation. Her penchant for adventure has, I suspect, embellished her portrait of the hapless house-breaker."
"A common-looking tramp!" returned Winston, disdainfully. "As villanous a dog in physiognomy and dress as I ever saw! Such an one as generally draws his last breath where he drew the first—in a ditch or jail; and too seldom, for the peace and safety of society, finds his noblest earthly elevation upon a gallows. It is a nuisance, though, having him pay this trifling debt of Nature—nobody but Nature would trust him—in my house. There must be an inquest and a commotion. The whole thing is an insufferable bore. Ritchie has given him up, and gone to bed, leaving old Phillis on the watch, with unlimited rations of whiskey, and a pile of fire-wood higher than herself. But I did not mean that you should hear anything about this dirty business. It is not fit for my darling's ears. Mabel showed even less than her usual discretion in detailing the incidents of her adventure to you."
Flattery of his sister had never been a failing with him, but, since his marriage, the occasions were manifold in which her inferiority to his wife was so glaring as to elicit a verbal expression of disapproval. It was remarkable that Clara's advocacy of Mabel's cause, at these times, so frequently failed to alter his purpose of censure or to mitigate it, since, in all other respects, her influence over him was more firmly established each day and hour.
Old Phillis, Mabel's nurse and the doctress of the plantation—albeit a less zealous devotee than her master had intimated of the potent beverages left within her reach, ostensibly for the use of her patient should he revive sufficiently to swallow a few drops—was yet too drowsy from the fatigues of the day, sundry cups of Christmas egg-nogg, and the obesity of age, to maintain alert vigil over one she, in common with her fellow-servitors, scorned as an aggravated specimen of the always and ever-to-be despicable genus, "poor white folks." There was next to nothing for her to do when the fire had been replenished, the bottles of hot water renewed at the feet and heart, and fresh mustard draughts wound about the almost pulseless limbs of the dying stranger. She did contrive to keep Somnus at arm's length for a while longer, by a minute examination of his upper clothing, which, by Dr. Ritchie's directions, had been removed, that the remedies might be more conveniently applied, and the heated blankets the sooner infuse a vital glow through the storm-beaten frame. The ancient crone took them up with the tips of her fingers—ragged coat, vest, and pantaloons—rummaged in the same contemptuous fashion every pocket, and kicked over the worn, soaked boots with the toe of her leather brogan, sniffing her disappointment at the worthlessness of the habiliments and the result of her search.
"Fit fur nothin' but to bury his poor carcuss in!" she grunted, and had recourse to her own plethoric pocket for a clay pipe and a bag of tobacco.
This lighted by a coal from the hearth, she tied a second handkerchief over that she wore, turban-wise, on her head, mumbling something about "cold ears" and "rheumatiz;" settled herself in a rush-bottomed chair, put her feet upon the rounds of another, and was regularly on duty, prepared for any emergency, and to be alarmed at nothing that might occur.
So strict was the discipline she established over herself in fifteen minutes, that she did not stir at the creaking of the bolt, or the shriller warning of the unoiled hinges, as the door moved cautiously back, and a cloaked form became dimly visible in the opening. A survey of the inside of the chamber, the unmoving nurse and her senseless charge, with the fumes of brandy and tobacco, reassured the visitant. Her stockingless feet were thrust into wadded slippers; over her white night-dress was a dark-blue wrapper, and, in addition to this protection against the cold, she was enveloped in a great shawl, disposed like a cowl about her head. Without rustle or incautious mis-step she gained the side of the improvised bed, and leaned over it. The face of the occupant was turned slightly toward the left shoulder, and away from the light. The apparition raised herself, with a gesture of impatience, caught the candle from the rickety table at the head of the mattress, snuffed it hurriedly, and again stooped toward the recumbent figure, with it in her hand.
It was then that the vigilant watcher unclosed her flabby lids, slowly, and without start or exclamation, much as a dozing cat blinks when a redder sparkle from the fire dazzles her out of dreams. One hard wink, one bewildered stare, and Pbillis was awake and wary. Her chin sank yet lower upon her chest, but the black eyes were rolled upward until they bore directly upon the strange tableau. The shawl had dropped from the lady's head, and the candle shone broadly upon her features, as upon the sick man's profile. Apparently dissatisfied with this view, she slipped her disengaged hand under the cheek which was downward, and drew his face around into full sight.
"And bless your soul, honey!" Aunt Phillis told her young mistress, long afterward, "you never see sech a look as was on hern—while her eyes was thar bright and big, they was jist like live coals sot in a lump of dough—she growed so white!"
Nevertheless the spy could return the candle to its place upon the table without perceptible tremor of lip or limb, and after bestowing one scrutinizing glance upon the nurse, who was fast asleep beneath it, she went to the heap of damp clothing. These she lifted—one by one—less gingerly than Phillis had done, and ransacked every likely hiding-place of papers or valuables, going through the operation with a rapid dexterity that astounded the old woman's weak mind, and made her ashamed of her own clumsiness. Anticipating the final stealthy look in her direction, the heavy lids fell once again, and were not raised until the rusty bolt passed gratingly into the socket, and she felt that the place was deserted by all save herself and the dying stroller.
She was in no danger of dozing upon her post after this visitation. For the few hours of darkness that yet remained, she sat in her chair, her elbows upon her knees, smoking, and pondering upon what she had witnessed, varying her occupations by feeding the fire and such care of the patient as she considered advisable; likening, in her rude, yet excitable imagination, the rumbling of the gale in the chimney and across the roof-tree, to the roll of the chariot-wheels which were to carry away the parting soul; the tap and rattle of sleet and wind at the windows to the summons of demons, impatient at Death's delay.
"The Lord send him an easy death, and let him go up, instead of down!" she groaned aloud, once.
But the dubious shake of the head accompanying the benevolent petition betokened her disbelief in the possibility of a favorable reply. In her articles of faith it was only by a miracle that a "no-account white man," picked up out of the highway, and whose pockets were barren as were those she had examined, could get an impetus in that direction.
The stormy dawn was revealing, with dreary distinctness, the shabby disorder of the lumber-room, when Dr. Ritchie appeared in his dressing-gown, rubbing his eyes, and yawning audibly.
"Gone—hey?" was his comment upon the negress' movements.
She had bound a strip of linen about the lank jaws; combed back the grizzled hair from the forehead into sleek respectability; crossed the hands at the wrists, as only dead hands are ever laid; straightened the limbs, and was in the act of spreading a clean sheet over her finished work.
"Nigh upon an hour since, sir," she responded, respectfully.
"He did not revive at all after I left him?"
"Not a breath or a motion, sir. He went off at the last jist as easy as a lamb. Never tried to say nothin', nor opened his eyes after you went down. 'Twould a' been a pity ef you had a' lost more sleep a-settin' up with him. Ah, well, poor soul! 'taint for us to say whar he is now. I would hope he is in glory, ef I could. I 'spose the Almighty knows, and that's enough."
The doctor arrested her hand when she would have covered the face.
"He must have been a fine-looking fellow in his day!" he said, more to himself than to her. "But he has lived fast, burned himself up alive with liquor."
"I didn't call nobody, sir, to help me, 'cause nobody couldn't do no good, and I was afeared of wakin' the gentlemen and ladies, a trottin' up and downstairs," continued Phillis, bent upon exculpating herself from all blame in the affair, and mistaking his momentary pensiveness for displeasure.
"You were quite right, old lady! All the doctors and medicines in the world could not have pulled him through after the drink and the snow had had their way with him for so many hours—poor devil! Well! I'll go back to bed now, and finish my morning nap."
He was at the threshold when he bethought himself of a final injunction.
"You had better keep an eye upon these things, Aunty!" pointing to the coat and other garments she had ranged upon chairs to dry in front of the fire. "There will be a coroner's inquest, I suppose, and there may be papers in his pockets which will tell who he was and where he belonged. When you are through in here, lock the door and take out the key—and if you can help it, don't let a whisper of this get abroad before breakfast. It will spoil the ladies' appetites. If anybody asks how he is, say 'a little better.' He can't be worse off than he was in life, let him be where he may."
"Yes, sir," answered Phillis, in meek obedience. "But I don't think he was the kind his folks would care to keep track on, nor the sort that carries valeyble papers 'round with 'em."
"I reckon you are not far out of the way there!" laughed the doctor, subduedly, lest the echo in the empty hall might reach the sleepers on the second floor, and he ran lightly down the garret steps.
The inquest sat that afternoon. It was a leisure season with planters, and a jury was easily collected by special messengers—twelve jolly neighbors, who were not averse to the prospect of a glass of Mrs. Sutton's famous egg-nogg, and a social smoke around the fire in the great dining-room, even though these were prefaced by ten minutes' solemn discussion over the remains of the nameless wayfarer.
His shirt was marked with some illegible characters, done in faded ink, which four of the jury spelled out as "James Knowlton," three others made up into "Jonas Lamson," and the remaining five declined deciphering at all. Upon one sock were the letters "R. M." upon the fellow, "G. B." With these unavailable exceptions, there was literally no clue to his name, profession, or residence, to be gathered from his person or apparel. The intelligent jury brought in a unanimous verdict—"Name unknown. Died from the effects of drink and exposure;" the foreman pulled the sheet again over the blank, chalky face, and the shivering dozen wound their way to the warmer regions, where the expected confection awaited them.
Their decorous carousal was at its height, and the ladies, one and all, had sought their respective rooms to recuperate their wearied energies by a loll, if not a siesta, that they might be in trim for the evening's enjoyment (Christmas lasted a whole week at Ridgeley) when four strapping field hands, barefooted, that their tramp might not break the epicurean slumbers, brought down from the desolate upper chamber a rough pine coffin, manufactured and screwed tight by the plantation carpenter, and after halting a minute in the back porch to pull on their boots, took their way across the lawn and fields to the servants' burial-place. This was in a pine grove, two furlongs or more from the garden fence, forming the lower enclosure of the mansion grounds. The intervening dell was knee-deep in drifted snow, the hillside bare in spots, and ridged high in others, where the wind-currents had swirled from base to summit. The passage was a toilsome one, and the stalwart bearers halted several times to shift their light burden before they laid it down upon the mound of mixed snow and red clay at the mouth of the grave. Half-a-dozen others were waiting there to assist in the interment, and at the head of the pit stood a white-headed negro, shaking with palsy and cold—the colored chaplain of the region, who, more out of custom and superstition than a sense of religious responsibility—least of all motives, through respect for the dead—had braved the inclement weather to say a prayer over the wanderer's last home.
The storm had abated at noon, and the snow no longer fell, but there had been no sunshine through all the gloomy day, and the clouds were now mustering thickly again to battle, while the rising gale in the pine-tops was hoarse and wrathful. Far as the eye could reach were untrodden fields of snow; gently-rolling hills, studded with shrubs and tinged in patches by russet bristles of broom-straw; the river swollen into blackness between the white banks, and the dark horizon of forest seeming to uphold the gray firmament. To the right of the spectator, who stood on the eminence occupied by the cemetery, lay Ridgeley, with its environing outhouses, crowning the most ambitious height of the chain, the smoke from its chimneys and those of the village of cabins beating laboriously upward, to be borne down at last by the lowering mass of chilled vapor.
The coffin was deposited in its place with scant show of reverence, and without removing their hats, the bystanders leaned on their spades, and looked to the preacher for the ceremony that was to authorize them to hurry through with their distasteful task. That the gloom of the hour and scene, and the utter forlornness of all the accompaniments of what was meant for Christian burial, had stamped themselves upon the mind and heart of the unlettered slave, was evident from the brief sentences he quavered out—joining his withered hands and raising his bleared eyes toward the threatening heavens:
"Lord! what is man, that thou art mindful of him! For that which befalleth man befalleth beasts—even one thing befalleth them. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Man cometh in with vanity and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. The dead know not anything, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy is now perished, neither have they a portion for ever in anything that is done under the sun.
"Lord! teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Oh, spare ME, that I may recover strength, ere I go hence and be no more!
"In the name of the FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST—dust to dust, and ashes to ashes! Amen!"
"By the way, Mr. Aylett, the poor wretch up-stairs should be buried at the expense of the county," remarked the coroner, before taking leave of Ridgeley and the egg-nogg bowl. "I will take the poor-house on my way home, and tell the overseer to send a coffin and a cart over in the morning. You don't care to have the corpse in the house longer than necessary, I take it? The sooner he is in the Potter's Field, the more agreeable for you and everybody else."
Mr. Aylett pointed through the back window at the winding path across the fields.
A short line of black dots was seen coming along it, in the direction of the house. As they neared it they were discovered to be men, each with a hoe or shovel upon his shoulder.
"The deed is done!" said the master, smiling. "My good fellows there have spared the county the expense, and the overseer the trouble of this little matter. As for the Potter's Field, a place in my servants' burying-ground is quite as respectable, and more convenient in this weather."
The jurors were grouped about the fire in the baronial hall, buttoning up overcoats and splatterdashes, and drawing on their riding-gloves, all having come on horseback. In the midst of the general bepraisement of their host's gentlemanly and liberal conduct, Mrs. Aylett swam down the staircase, resplendent in silver- gray satin, pearl necklace and bracelets, orange flowers and camelias in her hair—semi-bridal attire, that became her as nothing else ever had done.
"My dear madam," said the foreman of the inquest—a courtly disciple of the old school of manner, and phraseology—as the august body of freeholders parted to either side to leave her a passage-way to the fireplace—"your husband is a happy man, and his wife should be a happy woman in having won the affection of such a model of chivalry"—stating succinctly the late proof the "model" had offered to an admiring world of his chivalric principles.
The delicate hand stole to its resting-place upon her lord's arm, as the lady answered, her ingenuous eyes suffused with the emotion that gave but the more sweetness to her smile.
"I AM a happy woman, Mr. Nelson! I think there is not a prouder or more blessed wife in all the land than I am this evening."
Laugh, jest, and dance ruled the fleeting hours in the halls of the old country-house that night, and the presiding genius of the revel was still the beautiful hostess—never more beautiful, never so winning before. No one noticed that, by her orders, or her husband's, the window through which she had beheld the goblin visage was closely curtained. Or, this may have been an accidental disposition of the drapery, since no trace of her momentary alarm remained in her countenance or demeanor.
In the kitchen a double allowance of toddy was served out, by their master's orders, to the men who had taken part in the interment on the hill-top. And, in their noisy talk over their potations the vagrant was scarcely mentioned.
Only the pines, hoarser in their sough, by reason of the falling snow that clogged their boughs, chanted a requiem above the rough hillock at their feet.
"Man cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name is covered with darkness!"
"THAT is a new appearance."
"Who can she be?"
"Unique—is she not?" were queries bandied from one to another of the various parties of guests scattered through the extensive parlors of the most fashionable of Washington hotels, at the entrance of a company of five or six late arrivals. All the persons composing it were well dressed, and had the carriage of people of means and breeding. Beyond this there was nothing noteworthy about any of them, excepting the youngest of the three ladies of what seemed to be a family group. When they stopped for consultation upon their plans for this, their first evening in the capital, directly beneath the central chandelier of the largest drawing-room, she stood, unintentionally, perhaps, upon the outside of the little circle, and not exerting herself to feign interest in the parley, sought amusement in a keen, but polite survey of the assembly, apparently in no wise disconcerted at the volley of glances she encountered in return.
If she were always in the same looks she wore just now, she must have been pretty well inured to batteries of admiration by this date in her sunny life. She was below the medium of woman's stature, round and pliant in form and limbs; in complexion dark as a gypsy but with a clear skin that let the rise and fall of the blood beneath be marked as distinctly as in that of the fairest blonde. Her eyes were brown or black, it was hard to say which, so changeful were their lights and shades; and her other features, however unclassic in mould, if criticised separately, taken as a whole, formed a picture of surpassing fascination. If her eyes and cleft chin meant mischief, her mouth engaged to make amends by smiles and seductive words, more sweet than honey, because their flavor would never clog upon him who tasted thereof. Her attire was striking—it would have been bizarre upon any other lady in the room, but it enhanced the small stranger's beauty. A black robe—India silk or silk grenadine, or some other light and lustrous material—was bespangled with butterflies, gilded, green, and crimson, the many folds of the skirt flowing to the carpet in a train designed to add to apparent height, and, in front, allowing an enchanting glimpse of a tiny slipper, high in the instep, and tapering prettily toward the toe. In her hair were glints of a curiously-wrought chain, wound under and among the bandeaux; on her wrists, plump and dimpled as a baby's, more chain-work of the like precious metal, ending in tinkling fringe that swung, glittering, to and fro, with the restless motion of the elfin hands, she never ceased to clasp and chafe and fret one with the other, while she thus stood and awaited the decision of her companions. But instead of detracting from the charm of her appearance, the seemingly unconscious gesture only heightened it. It was the overflow of the exuberant vitality that throbbed redly in her cheeks, flashed in her eye, and made buoyant her step.
"What an artless sprite it is!" said one old gentleman, who had stared at her from the instant of her entrance, in mute enjoyment, to the great amusement of his more knowing nephews.
"All but the artless!" rejoined one of the sophisticated youngsters. "She is gotten up too well for that. Ten to one she is an experienced stager, who calculates to a nicety the capabilities of every twist of her silky hair and twinkle of an eyelash. Hallo! that IS gushing—nicely done, if it isn't almost equal to the genuine thing, in fact."
The ambiguous compliment was provoked by a change of scene and a new actor, that opened other optics than his lazy ones to their extremest extent. A gentleman had come in alone and quietly—a tall, manly personage, whose serious countenance had just time to soften into a smile of recognition before the black-robed fairy flew up to him—both hands extended—her face one glad sunbeam of surprise and welcome.
"YOU here!" she exclaimed, in a low, thrilling tone, shedding into his the unclouded rays of her glorious eyes, while one of her hands lingered in his friendly hold. "This is almost too good to be true! When did you come? How long are you going to stay? and what did you come for? Yours is the only familiar physiognomy I have beheld since our arrival, and my eyes were becoming ravenous for a sight of remembered things. Which reminds me"—coloring bewitchingly, with an odd mixture of mirth and chagrin in smile and voice—"that I have been getting up quite a little show on my own account, forgetful of les regles, and I suppose the horrified lookers-on think of les moeurs. May I atone for my inadvertence by presenting you, in good and regular form, to my somewhat shocked, but very respectable, relatives? Did you know that I was in Congress this year—that is, Mr. Mason, my aunt's husband, is an Honorable, and I am here with them?"
The gentleman gave her his arm, and they strolled leisurely in the direction of the party she had deserted so unceremoniously.
"I did not know it, bat I am glad to learn that you are to make a long visit to the city. I have business that may detain me here for a week—perhaps a fort-night," was his answer to the first question she suffered him thus to honor.
Then the introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Mason, their married daughter, Mrs. Cunningham, and her husband, was performed. The Member's wife was a portly, good-natured Virginia matron, whose ruling desire to make all about her comfortable as herself, sometimes led to contretemps that were trying to the subjects of her kindness, and would have been distressing to her, had she ever, by any chance, guessed what she had done.
She opened the social game now, by saying, agreeably: "Your name is not a strange one to us, Mr. Chilton. We have often heard you spoken of in the most affectionate terms by our friends, but not near neighbors, the Ayletts, of Ridgeley,——county. Is it long since you met or heard from them?"
"Some months, madam. I hope they were in their usual health when you last saw them?"
Receiving her affirmative reply with a courteous bow, and the assurance that he was "happy to hear it," Mr. Chilton turned to Rosa, and engaged her in conversation upon divers popular topics of the day, all of which she was careful should conduct them in the opposite direction from Ridgeley, and his affectionate intimates, the Ayletts. He appreciated and was grateful for her tact and delicacy. Her unaffected pleasure at meeting him had been as pleasant as it was unlooked-for, aware as he was, from Mabel's letter immediately preceding the rapture of their engagement, that Rosa must have been staying with her when it occurred. The slander that had blackened him in the esteem of his betrothed had, he naturally supposed, injured his reputation beyond hope of retrieval with her acquaintances. Rosa, her bosom companion, could not but have heard the whole history, yet met him with undiminished cordiality, as a valued friend. Either the Ayletts had been unnaturally discreet, or the faith of the interesting girl in his integrity was firmer and better worth preserving than he had imagined in the past. Perhaps, too, since he was but mortal man, although one whose heritage in the school of experience had been of the sternest, he was not entirely insensible to the privilege of promenading the long suite of apartments with the prettiest girl of the season hanging upon his arm, and granting her undivided attention to all that he said, indifferent to, or unmindful of, the flattering notice she attracted.
Over and above all these recommendations to his peculiar regard was her association with the happy days of his early love. Not an intonation, not a look of hers, but reminded him of Ridgeley and of Mabel. It was a perilous indulgence—this recurrence to a dream he had vowed to forget, but the temptation had befallen him suddenly, and he surrendered himself to the intoxication.
Yes! she was going to the President's levee that evening, Rosa said. A sort of raree-show—was it not? with the Chief Magistrate for head mountebank. He was worse off in one respect than the poorest cottager in the nation he was commonly reported to govern, inasmuch as he had not the right to invite whom he pleased to his house, and when the mob overran his premises he must treat all with equal affability. She pitied his wife! She would rather, if the choice were offered her, be one of the revolving wax dummies used in shop-windows for showing the latest style of evening costume and hair-dressing—for the dolls had no wits of their own to begin with, and were not expected to say clever things, as the President's consort was, after she had lost hers in the crush of the aforesaid mob, who eyed her freely as an appendage to their chattel, the man they had bought by their votes, and put in the highest seat in the Republic. No! she was not provided with an escort to the White House. She did not know three people in Washington beside her relatives, and, looking forward to creeping into the palatial East Room at her uncle's back, or in the shadow of her cousin's husband, the vision of enjoyment had not been exactly enrapturing—BUT, her companion's proposal to join their party and help elbow the crowd away from her, lent a different coloring to the horizon.
BUT—again—flushing prettily—was he certain that the expedition would not bore him? Doubtless he had had some other engagement in prospect for the evening, before he stumbled over her. He ought to know her well enough not to disguise his real wishes by gallant phrases.
"I have never been otherwise than sincere with you," Frederic said, honestly; "I had thought of going to the levee alone, as a possible method of whiling away an idle evening. If you will allow me to accompany you thither, I shall be gratified—shall derive actual pleasure from the motley scene. It will not be the only time you and I have studied varieties of physiognomy and character in a mixed assembly. Do you recollect the hops at the Rockbridge Alum Springs?"
"I do," replied Rosa, laconically and very soberly.
He thought she suppressed a sigh in saying it. She was a warm-hearted little creature with all her vagaries, and he was less inclined to reject her unobtrusive sympathy than if a more sedate or prudent person had proffered it.
It was certain he could not have selected a more entertaining associate for that evening. She amused him in spite of the painful recollections revived by their intercourse. She did not pass unobserved in the dense crowd that packed the lower floor of the White House. Her face, all glee and sparkle, the varied music of her soft Southern tongue, her becoming attire—were, in turn, the subject of eulogistic comment among the most distinguished connoisseurs present. It was not probable that these should all be unheard by her cavalier, or that he should listen to them with profound indifference.
He was astonished, therefore, when she protested that she had had "enough of it," and proposed that they should extricate themselves from the press and go home. It was contrary to the commonly received tenets of his sex respecting the insatiable nature of feminine vanity, that she should weary so soon of adulation which would have rendered a light head dizzy. Mrs. Mason was not ready to leave the halls of mirth. She had met scores of old friends, and was having a "nice, sociable time" in a corner, while Mrs. Cunningham had "not begun to enjoy herself, looking at the queer people and the superb dresses."
Of course, they had no objection to their wilful relative doing as she liked, but did not conceal their amazement at her bad taste.
"Take the carriage, dear! You'll find it around out there somewhere," drawled the easy-tempered aunt. "And let Thomas come back for us. He will be in time an hour from this."
"Would it be an unpardonable infraction of etiquette if we were to walk home?" questioned Rosa of Mr. Chilton, when they were out of Mr. Mason's hearing. "The night is very mild."
"But your feet. Are they not too lightly shod for the pavement?"
"I left a pair of thick gaiters in the dressing-room, which I wore in the carriage."
"Then I will be answerable for the breach of etiquette, should it ever be found out," was the reply, and Rosa disappeared into the tiring-roem to equip herself for the walk.
It was a lovely night for December—moonlighted and bland as October, and neither manifested a disposition to accelerate the saunter into which they had fallen at their first step beyond the portico. Rosa dropped her rattling tone, and began to talk seriously and sensibly of the scene they had left, the flatness of fashionable society after the freshness of novelty had passed from it, and her preference for home life and tried friends.
"Yet I always rate these the more truly after a peep at a different sphere," she said. "Our Old Virginia country-house is never so dear and fair at any other time as when I return to it after playing at fine lady abroad for a month or six weeks. I used to fret at the monotony of my daily existence; think my simple plsasures tame. I am thankful that I go back to them, as I grow older, as one does to pure, cold water, after drinking strong wine."
"You are blessed in having this fountain to which you may resort in your heart-drought," answered Frederic, sadly. "The gods do not often deny the gift of home and domestic affections to woman. It is an exception to a universal rule when a man who has reached thirty without building a nest for himself, has a pleasant shelter spared, or offered to him elsewhere."
"Yet you would weary, in a week, of the indolent, aimless life led by most of our youthful heirs expectant and apparent," returned Rosa. "I remember once telling you how I envied you for having work and a career. I was youthful then myself—and foolish as immature."
"I recollect!" and there was no more talk for several squares.
Rosa was getting alarmed at the thought of her temerity in reverting to this incident in their former intercourse, and meditating the expediency of entering upon an apology, which might, after all, augment, rather than correct the mischief she had done, when Frederic accosted her as if there had been no hiatus in the dialogue.
"I recollect!" he repeated, just as before. "It was upon the back piazza at Ridgeley, after breakfast on that warm September morning, when the air was a silvery haze, and there was no dew upon the roses. I, too, have grown older—I trust, wiser and stronger since I talked so largely of my career—what I hoped to be and to do. When did you see her—Miss Aylett," abruptly, and with a total change of manner.
"The Rubicon is forded," thought Rosa, complacently, the while her compassion for him was sincere and strong. "He can never shut his heart inexorably against me after this."
Aloud, she replied after an instant's hesitation designed to prepare him for what was to follow—"I was with Mabel for several days last May. We have not met since."
"She is alive—and well?" he asked, anxiously.
An inexplicable something in her manner warned him that all was not right.
"She is—or was, when I last heard news of her; we do not correspond. She does not live at Ridgeley now."
There she stopped, before adding the apex to the nicely graduated climax.
"Not live with her brother! I do not understand."
"Have you not heard of her marriage?"
He did not reel or tremble, but she felt that the bolt had pierced a vital part, and wisely forbore to offer consolation he could not hear.
But when he would have parted with her at the door of her uncle's parlor, she saw how deadly pale he was, and put her hands into his, beseechingly.
"Come in! I cannot let you go until you have said that you forgive me!"
There were tears in her eyes, and in her coaxing accents, and he yielded to the gentle face that sought to lead him into the room. It was fearful agony that contracted his forehead and lips when he would have spoken reassuringly, and they were drops of genuine commiseration that drenched the girl's cheeks while she listened.
"I have nothing to forgive you! You have been all kindness and consideration—I ought not to have asked questions, but I believed myself when I boasted of my strength. I thought the bitterness of the heart's death had passed. Now, I know I never despaired before! Great Heavens! how I loved that woman! and this is the end!"
He walked to the other side of the room.
Rosa durst not follow him even with her eyes. She sat, her face concealed by her handkerchief, weeping many tears for him—more for herself, until she heard his step close beside her, and he seated himself upon her sofa.
"Rosa! dear friend! my sympathizing little sister! I shall not readily gain my own pardon for having distressed you so sorely. When you can do it with comparative ease to yourself, I want you to tell me one or two things more, and then we will never allude to irreparable bygones again."
"I am ready!" removing her soaked cambric, and forcing a fluttering smile that might show how composed she was; "don't think of me! I was only grieved for your sake, and sorry because I had unwittingly hurt you. I was in hopes—I imagined—"
"That I had ontlived my disappointment? You said, that same September day, that women hid their green wounds in sewing rooms and oratories. Mine should have been cauterized long ago, by other and harsher means, you think. It seldom bleeds—but tonight, I had not time to ward off the point of the knife and it touched a raw spot. Don't let me frighten you! now that the worst is upon me, I must be calmer presently. You were at Ridgeley, in September, a year since, when she who was then Miss Aylett"—compelling himself to the articulation of the sentence that signified the later change—"received her brother's command to reject me?"
"He would never tell me upon what evil report his prohibition was based. He was more communicative with his sister, I suppose?"
And Rosa, following the example of other women—and men—who vaunt their principles more highly than she did hers, made a frank disclosure of part of the truth and held her tongue as to the rest.
"I couldn't help seeing that something was wrong, for Mabel, who, up to the receipt of her brother's letter and one from you that came by the same mail, had been very cheerful and talkative, suddenly grew more serious and reserved than was her habit at any time; but she told me nothing whatever, never mentioned your name again in my hearing. Mrs. Sutton did hint to me her fear that Mr. Aylett had heard something prejudicial to your character, which had greatly displeased him and shocked Mabel, but even she was unaccountably reticent. Intense as was my anxiety to learn the particulars of the story, and upon what evidence they were induced to believe it, I dared not press my inquiry into what it was plain they intended to guard as a family secret."
His reply was just what she had foreseen and guarded against.
"It would have been a kind and worthy deed, had you written to warn me of my danger, and advised me to make my defence in person. As it was, I was thrown off roughly and pitilessly—my demand upon the brother for the particulars of the accusation against me—my appeal to the sister—loving and earnest as words could make it—for permission to visit her and learn from her own lips that she trusted or disowned me, were alike disregarded. Mr. Aylett's response was a second letter, more coldly insulting than the first—hers, the return of my last, after she had opened and read it, then the surrender of my gifts, letters, notes, everything that could remind her that we had ever met and loved. Mrs. Sutton, too, my father's old and firm friend, deserted me in my extremity. And she must have been acquainted with the character and extent of the charges preferred against me. I had hoped better things from her, if only because I bear her dead husband's name. Did she never speak in your hearing of writing to me?"
"She did—but said, in the next breath, that it would be useless, since the minds of the others were fully made up. I knew she thought Winston arbitrary, and Mabel credulous; but she was afraid to interfere. As for myself, what could I have told you that you had not already heard? I could only hope that the cloud was not heavy, and would soon blow over. From the hour in which it cast the first shadow upon her, Mabel was estranged from me—the decline of our intimacy commenced. The Ayletts take pride in keeping their own counsel. Winston, who never liked me, and whom I detested, was as confidential with me in this affair as my old playfellow and school- mate. Believe me when I declare that if my intercession could have availed aught with her, I would have run the risk of her displeasure and Winston's anathemas by offering it."
"I do believe you! Nor need you expatiate to me upon the obduracy of the Aylett pride. Surely, no one living has more reason than I to comprehend how unreasoning and implacable I find it is. I looked for injustice at Winston Aylett's hands. I read him truly in our only private interview. Insolent, vain, despotic—wedded to his dogmas, and intolerant of others' opinion, he disliked me because I refused to play the obedient vassal to his will and requirements; stood upright as one man should in the presence of a brother-mortal, instead of cringing at his lordship's footstool. But he was powerless to do more than annoy me without his sister's co-operation."
"She stood in great, almost slavish, awe of him," urged Rosa, in extenuation of Mabel's infidelity.
"Aye!" savagely. "And love was not strong enough to cast out fear! She was justifiable if she hesitated to entrust herself and her happiness to the keeping of one she had known but two months. It was prudent—not false—in her to weigh, to the finest grain, the evidence furnished by her brother to prove my unfitness to be her husband. But having done all this, she should have remembered that I had rights also. It was infamous, cowardly, cruel beyond degree, to cast her vote against me without giving me a chance of self-exculpation. Her hand—not his—struck the dagger into my back!"
Again Rosa's fingers involuntarily (?) stole into his, to recall him to a knowledge of where he was, and there were fresh tears, ready to fall from her gazelle eyes, when his agitation began to subside.
"My poor child!" he said, penitently. "I am behaving like a madman, you like a pitying angel! We will have no more scenes, and you must oblige me by forgetting this one, as fast as may be. From to-night Mabel Aylett is to me as if she had never been. To nobody except yourself have I betrayed the secret of my hurt. After this, when yon think of it, believe that it is a hurt no longer."
Rosa "had out" her fit of crying when he went away, betaking herself to her chamber and locking the door that her aunt might not surprise her while the traces of tears disfigured her cheeks. But she was anything but broken-hearted, and only slightly sore in spirit in the retrospect of what had ensued upon her communication to the discarded lover. He had, indeed, given more evidence of his unconquered passion for Mabel than she had expected. His undisguised pleasure in renewed companionship with herself; his excellent spirits during the greater part of the evening; his unembarrassed reply to her aunt's malapropos observation, and fluent chat upon other themes, had misled her into the hope that the ungenerous and uncivil conduct of the Ayletts had disgusted and alienated him from sister, no less than from brother. It was a disappointment to discover that it cost him a terrible effort to pronounce Mabel's name, while the abrupt intelligence of her marriage had distracted him to incoherent ravings, which had nearly amounted to curses upon the authors of his pain.
"And all for a woman who could bring herself, after being engaged to Frederic Chilton, to marry that dolt of a Dorrance!" she said, indignantly. "I wonder if he would have been consoled or chagrined had I painted the portrait of the man who had superseded him. It is as well that I did not make the experiment. He would be magnanimous enough when he cooled down—which he will do by to-morrow morning—to pity her, and that is next to the last thing I want him to do. Thank goodness! the denouement is over, and the topic an interdicted one from this time forth. Now for the verification or refutation of the saying that a heart is most easily caught in the rebound. There was some jargon we learned at school about the angle of incidence being equal to that of reflection. You see, my dearly beloved self," nodding with returning sauciness at her image in the mirror before which she was combing her hair, "I undertake this business in the spirit of philosophical investigation."
She needed to keep her courage up by these and the like whimsical conceits, when the forenoon of the next day passed away without a glimpse of Mr. Chilton. He had not yet left his card for the Masons, nor called to inquire after her health, when the summons sounded to the five o'clock dinner. A horrible apprehension seized and devoured her heart by the time the dessert was brought on, and there were no signs of his appearance. He had, ashamed to meet her after last night's exposure of his weakness, or dreading the power of the reminiscences the sight of her would awaken, left the city without coming to say "Farewell." That is, she had driven him from her forever!
The room went around with her in a dizzy waltz, as the notion crossed her brain.
"The sight and smell of all these sweets make me sick, Aunt Mary," she said, rising from the table. "My head aches awfully! May I go to my room and lie down?"
"Try some of this nice lemon-ice, my love!" prescribed the plump matron. "The acid will set you all straight. No? You don't think you are going to have a chill, do you? Father!" nudging her husband who was burying his spoon in a Charlotte Russe, "this dear child doesn't want any dessert. Won't you pilot her through the crowd?"
"Only to the door, uncle! Then come back to your dinner!" Rosa made answer to his disconcerted stare. "I can find my way to my chamber without help."
She could have done it, had she been in possession of her accustomed faculties. But between the harrowing suspicion that engrossed her mind and the nervous moisture that gathered in her eyes with each step, she mounted a story too high, and did not perceive her blunder until, happening to think that her apartment must lie somewhere in the region she had gained, she consulted the numbers upon the adjacent doors, and saw that she had wandered a hundred rooms out of her way, She stopped short to consider which of the corridors, stretching in gas-lit vistas on either hand, would conduct her soonest to the desired haven, when a gentleman emerging from a chamber close by stepped directly upon her train.
IN THE REBOUND.
"I beg your pardon!" said a deep, familiar voice. Then the formality vanished from face and address. "Is this YOU?" holding out his hand in hearty friendliness that instantly dispelled Rosa's forebodings." What or whom are you seeking in these wilds?"
The crystal beads glistened upon her lashes in the fulness and joy of her deliverance from doubt and fear, and before she could twinkle them back, broke into smaller brilliants upon her cheeks and the bosom of her dress. It was very babyish and foolish, but it is to be questioned whether she could have contrived a more telling situation had she studied it for a month.
"What is it!" inquired Frederic, kindly, not releasing the fingers that twitched, more than struggled, in his. "Have you been frightened?"
"Yes," with grieved, but fearless simplicity, "I was frightened because I thought I had offended you—perhaps driven you away—and that I should never be able to ask your forgiveness for my cruel abruptness last night! In thinking about and worrying over this, I somehow lost my way, and was just trying to remember by what route I reached this strange neighborhood, when your appearance startled me."
"You did not know, then, that this is Bachelor's Hall—the haunt of unmated Benedicts, wifeless visitors to the city, and celibate M. C.'s?" he rejoined, pleasantly. "Let me be your guide to more desirable as well as more accessible quarters!"
On the stairs he bent to scan her blushing countenance.
"How am I to punish you for your naughty distrust of my friendship and common sense? I have been too busy all day to spare a minute for social pleasure. I dined at two o'clock, having an appointment at three, returned at half-past five, and was just coming down to your parlor to look you up. Another bit of unimportant news, with which I should not have annoyed you if you had not merited a little vexation by your preposterous fancies, is, that, instead of taking an early train to Philadelphia, I have to-day entered into engagements that will oblige me to prolong my stay in this place until the first of February."
He looked bright and cheerful, ready for sport or badinage. Rosa caught herself wondering many times during that evening, and the succeeding days of the three weeks they passed under the same roof, if she had dreamed of—not beheld with her bodily optics—that one stormy burst of passion which had been his farewell to the hope of a final reconciliation with Mabel Aylett.
He never spoke of her again, or referred, in the most distant manner, to his visit at Ridgeley. The omission was an agreeable one to Rosa for several reasons. Silence, she believed, was to oblivion as a means to an end. Judging from herself, she adopted the theory that people were apt to forget what they never talked of themselves, nor heard mentioned by others. Furthermore, she was relieved from the necessity of concocting diplomatic evasions, dexterously skirting the truth, to say nothing of plump falsehoods. These last cost her conscience some unpleasant twinges. To avoid narrating in full what had happened was a work of art. A downright lie was a stroke of heavy business, unsuited to her airy genius—and when the Aylett-Chilton complication was upon the tapis, it was difficult to avoid undertaking such.
For three weeks, then, Mr. Frederic Chilton and the Virginian belle visited concert, theatre, and assembly-room in company, sat side by side in the spectators' gallery of House and Senate chamber, walked in daylight along the broad avenues from one magnificent distance to another, and on home-evenings—which were not many—chatted together familiarly, the well-pleased Masons thought confidentially, by the fireside in the family parlor. It must not be inferred from their constant intercourse that he had the field entirely to himself. Gallants of divers pretensions—first-class, mediocre, and contemptible—considered with a practical eye to "settlement," hovered about the fascinating witch as moths about a gas-burner, and had no citable cause of complaint of non-appreciation, inasmuch as she shed equal light upon all, save one. "My very old friend, Mr. Chilton," she was wont to denominate him in conversation with those who inwardly called themselves fools for their jealousy of a man of whom she spoke thus frankly, with never a stammer or blush; yet they acknowledged to themselves all the while that they were both suspicious and envious of his superior advantages. However backward Frederic may have been in the beginning to monopolize the notice and time of his "sisterly friend," he was not an insensate block, who could not perceive and value the compliment paid him by her partiality—ever apparent, but never unmaidenly. Impute it to whatever motive he might, the distinction titillated his vanity, touched, at least, the outermost covering of his heart. It might be pity, it might be pleasant, mournful memories of other days—it was most likely of all a sincere platonic affection, for one with tastes and feelings akin to hers that gave lustre to her eyes, and gentle meaning to her smile when he drew near. At any rate, it would be churlish not to accept the preference these conveyed, and to like her and his position as her chosen knight better every day; it was inevitable that he should marvel—not without melancholy-at the flight of time that brought so soon the day of parting.
The Masons, with himself, were engaged to attend a large party on the last evening of January. Without analyzing the impulse that constrained him to do so, he had refrained from reminding Rosa that his stay in Washington was so nearly over, and, with masculine consistency, he was half disposed to be affronted that she had forgotten what he had said to her of its extent. He had never seen her more lively—in more radiant spirits and looks—than she was upon the night of the 30th. He had dropped into her aunt's parlor about ten o'clock, and detected Rosa in the act of dragging her new ball-dress from the box in which the mantua maker had sent it home.
"Conceive, if you can—but you can't, being a man—what I have undergone for an hour and more!" she cried, at seeing him. "My treasure—the darlingest love of a dress I have ever ordered—was brought in exactly two seconds before a brace of honorables— lumbering machines that they are! knocked at the door. So, lest they should brand me as a frivolous doll (as if anybody with a soul, and an infinitesimal degree of love for the beautiful, COULD help admiring the divine thing!), I pushed the poor box under the sofa, and there it has lain in ignominious neglect, like a pearl of purest ray serene smothered in an oyster, all the time they were here. I was purposely cross and stupid, too, in the hope of getting rid of them the sooner. If you despise what most of your undiscriminating sex call fancy articles, consider a woman's fondness for a ravishing robe despicable and irrational, Mr. Chilton, you need not look this way. You could hardly have a severer—certainly not a more appropriate—punishment."
"You depreciate my aesthetic proclivities," he rejoined, catching her tone. "You would not trust my bungling fingers to help excavate the gem, I know; but I may surely use my eyes—admire, as we bid children do—with my hands behind my back."
Notwithstanding his boast of knowingness in the mysteries of feminine apparel, he could not have told of what material the divine robe was made—except that it was some shiny white stuff, with wide embroidery upon the flounces. But Rosa, her aunt, and cousin had gone into ecstacies over it, and instigated by kind-hearted Mrs. Mason, the enraptured owner had rushed off to Mrs. Mason's chamber to try it on, returning presently in full array, elate at the "perfect fit," and insisting upon a unanimous declaration that she "had never before worn anything one-thousandth part as becoming."
"It is a winsome, fantastic, enchanting little being!" remarked Mr. Chilton, in soliloquy at his dressing-table, the next evening. "I hope she will enjoy the gathering to-night, as she hopes to do. Will she miss me at the next she attends?"
Then—laughing at the sentimental visage portrayed upon the mirror—"It would be the acme of ludicrous folly for me to disturb myself on that score. We have had a pleasant time together—she and I—and tomorrow it will be over. There is the whole story—except that, in a month I shall cease to think of her, unless her name is accidentally uttered in my hearing—I wish I could forget some other things as easily!—and she will probably be the affianced darling of one of the lumbering Honorables—the elder and homelier of the brace, I fancy, since he is the wealthier, and the humming-bird should have a fitting cage."
Expressing in his composed lineaments and firm stride nothing like disconsolateness at the programme, he flung his cloak over his arm, took his white gloves in his hand, cast a passing glance at the glass to see that his whiskers and hair were in order, and ran down the two flights of stairs lying between Bachelor's Hall and the Masons' private parlor.
"Come in!" said a plaintive voice, in answer to his knock.
Rosa was alone in the cosy apartment. She was curled up in a great padded chair, set upon the hearth-rug. Her dress was a plain black silk; she wore a scarlet shawl, and her head-gear was some odd, but distractingly pretty construction of white lace, a square folded in two unequal triangles, and knotted loosely, handkerchief-wise, the points in front, under her chin.
"Not ready!" exclaimed Frederic, in merry reproach. "You, the model of punctual women!"
"I am not going!" sighed the humming-bird, dolorously. "I have had a horrid sore throat all day—and—a—headache—and Aunt Mary got frightened, and forbade me to put my head out of doors."
"That is a heart-rending affliction! And could you not send the incomparable dress as your representative?"
"Don't laugh!" she said, jerking away her head. "I cannot bear it to-night—not that I care the millionth part of a fig for all the parties in christendom; and as for the dress, you think that I haven't a soul above such frippery and gewgaws: but I wish I had never seen it. I shall never wear it as long as I live!"
And out came the laced cambric to absorb the gathering dew.
"There is something in this I do not understand," said Frederic, setting a chair for himself close to hers. "Are you really suffering? I imagined that yours was a case of simple cold, and that Mrs. Mason advised you to remain indoors chiefly on account of the weather. It is raining hard!"
"I am glad it is!" she replied, with the manner of one bereft of human sympathy, and extracting gloomy delight from the unison of nature with her morbid broodings. "And my throat isn't nearly so painful as I made Aunt Mary believe. I did not want to go out. Parties are an awful bore when one is sad-hearted."
"You really must forgive me!" said Frederic, as she twitched her face away again at the laugh he could not suppress. "But sadness and you should not be thought of in the same week. Honestly, now! is not the inimitable fabric you sported for five minutes last night, at the bottom of what appears to you a fathomless abyss of woe? Have you tried the efficacy of rational consolation in the thought of how many more parties there will be this winter to which you can wear it? The Secretary of State is to give one in ten days, which is to be the sensation of the season. That of to-night is, in comparison, as a caucus to a general convention."
"I shall never put on the hateful thing again. If Julia Cunningham chooses to bedizen herself in it, she is welcome to it—flounces and all. Yet I did like it! I had hoped—but no matter what! You had better be going, Mr. Chilton. Aunt and the rest of them wenl three-quarters of an hour ago."
"Does a dress go out of fashion in so short a time?" persisted innocent Frederic, bent upon mitigating her sorrow. "If my memory serves me aright, I have seen ladies wear the same ball-dress several times in the same winter."
"You will never see this on me," snapped Rosa, her eyes ominously fiery again. "Did you hear me advise you of the lateness of the hour?"
"Suppose I decline appearing at all in the festal scene?" said the gentleman. "I shall not be missed. I will just run down and dismiss the carriage—then, with your permission, will return and spend the evening here."
Her cheeks looked as if they had been touched with wet vermilion, when he resumed his place near her, and the folds of the handkerchief in her hand hung more limply.
"I ought not to allow this sacrifice!" she faltered gratefully. "Because I have the vapors, I have no right to keep you within reach of the infection. It is shamefully, wickedly selfish!"
"It is no such thing!" he contradicted. "If you would know the truth, I was, myself, averse to attending this 'crush.' But for your indisposition, I should hail with unmixed pleasure the chance that releases me from the obligation to form a part of the throng. It is far more in consonance with my feelings to pass this, our last evening together, as we have spent so many others, in quiet talk at this fireside. I had not supposed it possible that I could ever feel so much at home in a hotel—a Washington caravansary especially—as I have within the last three weeks. Do you know, or have you not burdened your memory with such unimportant memoranda as the fact, that I must set my face Philadelphia-ward to-morrow?"
"I had not dreamed that the time was so near at hand—it seemed such a little while since the evening of our arrival—until I happened, last night, after you left us, to take up Mrs. Rogers' invitation-card for this evening. THEN, I recollected!"
Her listless resignation had in it something piteous, and the lever of compassion impelled him to further efforts of cheer.
"I have to thank you for all the enjoyment of my visit to this, heretofore to me, dismal city. If you should ever visit Philadelphia—as I earnestly hope you will—you must acquaint me with your whereabouts immediately upon your arrival. I should be sorry to think that our friendship is to end here and now."