He tried to make talk about other things. She responded vaguely, and when she had given herself time she said she believed she would go to Lottie; she was quite sure she could get down the stairs alone. He pursued her anxiously, politely, and at the head of her corridor took leave of her with a distinct sense of having merited his dismissal.
"I see what you mean, Lottie," she said, "about Mr. Breckon."
Lottie did not turn her head on the pillow. "Has it taken you the whole day to find it out?"
The father and the mother had witnessed with tempered satisfaction the interest which seemed to be growing up between Ellen and the young minister. By this time they had learned not to expect too much of any turn she might take; she reverted to a mood as suddenly as she left it. They could not quite make out Breckon himself; he was at least as great a puzzle to them as their own child was.
"It seems," said Mrs. Kenton, in their first review of the affair, after Boyne had done a brother's duty in trying to bring Ellen under their mother's censure, "that he was the gentleman who discussed the theatre with Boyne at the vaudeville last winter. Boyne just casually mentioned it. I was so provoked!"
"I don't see what bearing the fact has," the judge remarked.
"Why, Boyne liked him very much that night, but now he seems to feel very much as Lottie does about him. He thinks he laughs too much."
"I don't know that there's much harm in that," said the judge. "And I shouldn't value Boyne's opinion of character very highly."
"I value any one's intuitions—especially children's."
"Boyne's in that middle state where he isn't quite a child. And so is Lottie, for that matter."
"That is true," their mother assented. "And we ought to be glad of anything that takes Ellen's mind off herself. If I could only believe she was forgetting that wretch!"
"Does she ever speak of him?"
"She never hints of him, even. But her mind may be full of him all the time."
The judge laughed impatiently. "It strikes me that this young Mr. Breckon hasn't much advantage of Ellen in what Lottie calls closeness!"
"Ellen has always been very reserved. It would have been better for her if she hadn't. Oh, I scarcely dare to hope anything! Rufus, I feel that in everything of this kind we are very ignorant and inexperienced."
"Inexperienced!" Renton retorted. "I don't want any more experience of the kind Ellen has given us."
"I don't mean that. I mean—this Mr. Breckon. I can't tell what attracts him in the child. She must appear very crude and uncultivated to him. You needn't resent it so! I know she's read a great deal, and you've made her think herself intellectual—but the very simple- heartedness of the way she would show out her reading would make such a young man see that she wasn't like the girls he was used to. They would hide their intellectuality, if they had any. It's no use your trying to fight it Mr. Kenton. We are country people, and he knows it."
"Tuskingum isn't country!" the judge declared.
"It isn't city. And we don't know anything about the world, any of us. Oh, I suppose we can read and write! But we don't know the a, b, c of the things he, knows. He, belongs to a kind of society—of people— in New York that I had glimpses of in the winter, but that I never imagined before. They made me feel very belated and benighted—as if I hadn't, read or thought anything. They didn't mean to; but I couldn't help it, and they couldn't."
"You—you've been frightened out of your propriety by what you've seen in New York," said her husband.
"I've been frightened, certainly. And I wish you had been, too. I wish you wouldn't be so conceited about Ellen. It scares me to see you so. Poor, sick thing, her looks are all gone! You must see that. And she doesn't dress like the girls he's used to. I know we've got her things in New York; but she doesn't wear them like a New-Yorker. I hope she isn't going in for MORE unhappiness!"
At the thought of this the judge's crest fell. "Do you believe she's getting interested in him?" he asked, humbly.
"No, no; I don't say that. But promise me you won't encourage her in it. And don't, for pity's sake, brag about her to him."
"No, I won't," said the judge, and he tacitly repented having done so.
The weather had changed, and when he went up from this interview with his wife in their stateroom he found a good many people strung convalescently along the promenade on their steamer-chairs. These, so far as they were women, were of such sick plainness that when he came to Ellen his heart throbbed with a glad resentment of her mother's aspersion of her health and beauty. She looked not only very well, and very pretty, but in a gay red cap and a trig jacket she looked, to her father's uncritical eyes, very stylish. The glow left his heart at eight of the empty seat beside her.
"Where is Lottie?" he asked, though it was not Lottie's whereabouts that interested him.
"Oh, she's walking with Mr. Breckon somewhere," said Ellen.
"Then she's made up her mind to tolerate him, has she?" the father asked, more lightly than he felt.
Ellen smiled. "That wasn't anything very serious, I guess. At any rate, she's walking with him."
"What book is that?" he asked, of the volume she was tilting back and forth under her hand.
She showed it. "One of his. He brought it up to amuse me, he said."
"While he was amusing himself with Lottie," thought the judge, in his jealousy for her. "It is going the same old way. Well!" What he said aloud was, "And is it amusing you?"
"I haven't looked at it yet," said the girl. "It's amusing enough to watch the sea. Oh, poppa! I never thought I should care so much for it."
"And you're glad we came?"
"I don't want to think about that. I just want to know that I'm here." She pressed his arm gently, significantly, where he sat provisionally in the chair beside her, and he was afraid to speak lest he should scare away the hope her words gave him.
He merely said, "Well, well!" and waited for her to speak further. But her impulse had exhausted itself, as if her spirit were like one of those weak forms of life which spend their strength in a quick run or flight, and then rest to gather force for another. "Where's Boyne?" he asked, after waiting for her to speak.
"He was here a minute ago. He's been talking with some of the deck passengers that are going home because they couldn't get on in America. Doesn't that seem pitiful, poppa? I always thought we had work enough for the whole world."
"Perhaps these fellows didn't try very hard to find it," said the judge.
"Perhaps," she assented.
"I shouldn't want you to get to thinking that it's all like New York. Remember how comfortable everybody is in Tuskingum."
"Yes," she said, sadly. "How far off Tuskingum seems!"
"Well, don't forget about it; and remember that wherever life is simplest and purest and kindest, that is the highest civilization."
"How much like old times it seems to hear you talk that way, poppa! I should think I was in the library at home. And I made you leave it!" she sighed.
"Your mother was glad of any excuse. And it will do us all good, if we take it in the right way," said the judge, with a didactic severity that did not hide his pang from her.
"Poor poppa!" she said.
He went away, saying that he was going to look Lottie up. His simple design was to send Lottie to her mother, so that Breckon might come back to Ellen; but he did not own this to himself.
Lottie returned from another direction with Boyne, and Ellen said, "Poppa's gone to look for you."
"Has he?" asked Lottie, dropping decisively into her chair. "Well, there's one thing; I won't call him poppa any more."
"What will you call him?" Boyne demanded, demurely.
"I'll call him father, it you want to know; and I'm going to call momma, mother. I'm not going to have those English laughing at us, and I won't say papa and mamma. Everybody that knows anything says father and mother now."
Boyne kept looking from one sister to another during Lottie's declaration, and, with his eyes on Ellen, he said, "It's true, Ellen. All the Plumptons did." He was very serious.
Ellen smiled. "I'm too old to change. I'd rather seem queer in Europe than when I get back to Tuskingum."
"You wouldn't be queer there a great while," said Lottie. "They'll all be doing it in a week after I get home."
Upon the encouragement given him by Ellen, Boyne seized the chance of being of the opposition. "Yes," he taunted Lottie, "and you think they'll say woman and man, for lady and gentleman, I suppose."
"They will as soon as they know it's the thing."
"Well, I know I won't," said Boyne. "I won't call momma a woman."
"It doesn't matter what you do, Boyne dear," his sister serenely assured him.
While he stood searching his mind for a suitable retort, a young man, not apparently many years his senior, came round the corner of the music- room, and put himself conspicuously in view at a distance from the Kentons.
"There he is, now," said Boyne. "He wants to be introduced to Lottie." He referred the question to Ellen, but Lottie answered for her.
"Then why don't you introduce him?"
"Well, I would if he was an American. But you can't tell about these English." He resumed the dignity he had lost in making the explanation to Lottie, and ignored her in turning again to Ellen. "What do you think, Ellen?"
"Oh, don't know about such things, Boyne," she said, shrinking from the responsibility.
"Well; upon my word!" cried Lottie. "If Ellen can talk by the hour with that precious Mr. Breckon, and stay up here along with him, when everybody else is down below sick, I don't think she can have a great deal to say about a half-grown boy like that being introduced to me."
"He's as old as you are," said Boyne, hotly.
"Oh! I saw him associating with you, and I thought he was a boy, too. Pardon me!" Lottie turned from giving Boyne his coup-de-grace, to plant a little stab in Ellen's breast. "To be sure, now Mr. Breckon has found those friends of his, I suppose he won't want to flirt with Ellen any more."
"Ah, ha, ha!" Boyne broke in. "Lottie is mad because he stopped to speak to some ladies he knew. Women, I suppose she'd call them."
"Well, I shouldn't call him a gentleman, anyway," said Lottie.
The pretty, smooth-faced, fresh-faced young fellow whom their varying debate had kept in abeyance, looked round at them over his shoulder as he leaned on the rail, and seemed to discover Boyne for the first time. He came promptly towards the Kentons.
"Now," said Lottie, rapidly, "you'll just HAVE to."
The young fellow touched his cap to the whole group, but he ventured to address only Boyne.
"Every one seems to be about this morning," he said, with the cheery English-rising infection.
"Yes," answered Boyne, with such snubbing coldness that Ellen's heart was touched.
"It's so pleasant," she said, "after that dark weather."
"Isn't it?" cried the young fellow, gratefully. "One doesn't often get such sunshine as this at sea, you know."
"My sister, Miss Kenton, Mr. Pogis," Boyne solemnly intervened. "And Miss Lottie Kenton."
The pretty boy bowed to each in turn, but he made no pretence of being there to talk with Ellen. "Have you been ill, too?" he actively addressed himself to Lottie.
"No, just mad," she said. "I wasn't very sick, and that made it all the worse being down in a poky state-room when I wanted to walk."
"And I suppose you've been making up for lost time this morning?"
"Not half," said Lottie.
"Oh, do finish the half with me!"
Lottie instantly rose, and flung her sister the wrap she had been holding ready to shed from the moment the young man had come up. "Keep that for me, Nell. Are you good at catching?" she asked him.
"Yes! People," she explained, and at a sudden twist of the ship she made a clutch at his shoulder.
"Oh! I think I can catch you."
As they moved off together, Boyne said, "Well, upon my word!" but Ellen did not say anything in comment on Lottie. After a while she asked, "Who were the ladies that Mr. Breckon met?"
"I didn't hear their names. They were somebody he hadn't seen before since the ship started. They looked like a young lady and her mother. It made Lottie mad when he stopped to speak with them, and she wouldn't wait till he could get through. Ran right away, and made me come, too."
Breckon had not seen the former interest between himself and Ellen lapse to commonplace acquaintance without due sense of loss. He suffered justly, but he did not suffer passively, or without several attempts to regain the higher ground. In spite of these he was aware of being distinctly kept to the level which he accused himself of having chosen, by a gentle acquiescence in his choice more fatal than snubbing. The advances that he made across the table, while he still met Miss Kenton alone there, did not carry beyond the rack supporting her plate. She talked on whatever subject he started with that angelic sincerity which now seemed so far from him, but she started none herself; she did not appeal to him for his opinion upon any question more psychological than the barometer; and,
"In a tumultuous privacy of storm,"
he found himself as much estranged from her as if a fair-weather crowd had surrounded them. He did not believe that she resented the levity he had shown; but he had reason to fear that she had finally accepted it as his normal mood, and in her efforts to meet him in it, as if he had no other, he read a tolerance that was worse than contempt. When he tried to make her think differently, if that was what she thought of him, he fancied her rising to the notion he wished to give her, and then shrinking from it, as if it must bring her the disappointment of some trivial joke.
It was what he had taught her to expect of him, and he had himself to blame. Now that he had thrown that precious chance away, he might well have overvalued it. She had certain provincialisms which he could not ignore. She did not know the right use of will and shall, and would and should, and she pronounced the letter 'r' with a hard mid-Western twist. Her voice was weak and thin, and she could not govern it from being at times a gasp and at times a drawl. She did not dress with the authority of women who know more of their clothes than the people they buy them of; she did not carry herself like a pretty girl; she had not the definite stamp of young-ladyism. Yet she was undoubtedly a lady in every instinct; she wore with pensive grace the clothes which she had not subjected to her personal taste; and if she did not carry herself like a pretty girl, she had a beauty which touched and entreated.
More and more Breckon found himself studying her beauty—her soft, brown brows, her gentle, dark eyes, a little sunken, and with the lids pinched by suffering; the cheeks somewhat thin, but not colorless; the long chin, the clear forehead, and the massed brown hair, that seemed too heavy for the drooping neck. It was not the modern athletic type; it was rather of the earlier period, when beauty was associated with the fragility despised by a tanned and golfing generation. Ellen Kenton's wrists were thin, and her hands long and narrow. As he looked at her across the racks during those two days of storm, he had sometimes the wish to take her long, narrow hands in his, and beg her to believe that he was worthier her serious friendship than he had shown himself. What he was sure of at all times now was that he wished to know the secret of that patient pathos of hers. She was not merely, or primarily, an invalid. Her family had treated her as an invalid, but, except Lottie, whose rigor might have been meant sanatively, they treated her more with the tenderness people use with a wounded spirit; and Breckon fancied moments of something like humility in her, when she seemed to cower from his notice. These were not so imaginable after her family took to their berths and left her alone with him, but the touching mystery remained, a sort of bewilderment, as he guessed it, a surprise such as a child might show at some incomprehensible harm. It was this grief which he had refused not merely to know—he still doubted his right to know it—but to share; he had denied not only his curiosity but his sympathy, and had exiled himself to a region where, when her family came back with the fair weather, he felt himself farther from her than before their acquaintance began.
He had made an overture to its renewal in the book he lent her, and then Mrs. Rasmith and her daughter had appeared on deck, and borne down upon him when he was walking with Lottie Kenton and trying to begin his self- retrieval through her. She had left him; but they had not, and in the bonds of a prophet and his followers he found himself bound with them for much more conversation than he had often held with them ashore. The parochial duties of an ethical teacher were not strenuous, and Breckon had not been made to feel them so definitely before. Mrs. Rasmith held that they now included promising to sit at her table for the rest of the voyage; but her daughter succeeded in releasing him from the obligation; and it was she who smilingly detached the clinging hold of the elder lady. "We mustn't keep Mr. Breckon from his friends, mother," she said, brightly, and then he said he should like the pleasure of introducing them, and both of the ladies declared that they would be delighted.
He bowed himself off, and half the ship's-length away he was aware, from meeting Lottie with her little Englishman, that it was she and not Ellen whom he was seeking. As the couple paused in whirring past Breckon long enough to let Lottie make her hat fast against the wind, he heard the Englishman shout:
"I say, that sister of yours is a fine girl, isn't she?"
"She's a pretty good—looker," Lottie answered back. "What's the matter with HER sister?"
"Oh, I say!" her companion returned, in a transport with her slangy pertness, which Breckon could not altogether refuse to share.
He thought that he ought to condemn it, and he did condemn Mrs. Kenton for allowing it in one of her daughters, when he came up to her sitting beside another whom he felt inexpressibly incapable of it. Mrs. Kenton could have answered his censure, if she had known it, that daughters, like sons, were not what their mothers but what their environments made them, and that the same environment sometimes made them different, as he saw. She could have told him that Lottie, with her slangy pertness, had the truest and best of the men she knew at her feet, and that Ellen, with her meekness, had been the prey of the commonest and cheapest spirit in her world, and so left him to make an inference as creditable to his sex as he could. But this bold defence was as far from the poor lady as any spoken reproach was from him. Her daughter had to check in her a mechanical offer to rise, as if to give Breckon her place, the theory and practice of Tuskingum being that their elders ought to leave young people alone together.
"Don't go, momma," Ellen whispered. "I don't want you to go."
Breckon, when he arrived before them, remained talking on foot, and, unlike Lottie's company, he talked to the mother. This had happened before from him, but she had not got used to it, and now she deprecated in everything but words his polite questions about her sufferings from the rough weather, and his rejoicing that the worst was probably over. She ventured the hope that it was so, for she said that Mr. Kenton had about decided to keep on to Holland, and it seemed to her that they had had enough of storms. He said he was glad that they were going right on; and then she modestly recurred to the earlier opinion he had given her husband that it would be better to spend the rest of the summer in Holland than to go to Italy, as if she wished to conform herself in the wisdom of Mr. Kenton's decision. He repeated his conviction, and he said that if he were in their place he should go to The Hague as soon as they had seen Rotterdam, and make it their headquarters for the exploration of the whole country.
"You can't realize how little it is; you can get anywhere in an hour; the difficulty is to keep inside of Holland when you leave any given point. I envy you going there."
Mrs. Kenton inferred that he was going to stop in France, but if it were part of his closeness not to tell, it was part of her pride not to ask. She relented when he asked if he might get a map of his and prove the littleness of Holland from it, and in his absence she could not well avoid saying to Ellen, "He seems very pleasant."
"Yes; why not?" the girl asked.
"I don't know. Lottie is so against him."
"He was very kind when you were all sick."
"Well, you ought to know better than Lottie; you've seen him so much more." Ellen was silent, and her mother advanced cautiously, "I suppose he is very cultivated."
"How can I tell? I'm not."
"Why, Ellen, I think you are. Very few girls have read so much."
"Yes, but he wouldn't care if I were cultivated, Ha is like all the rest. He would like to joke and laugh. Well, I think that is nice, too, and I wish I could do it. But I never could, and now I can't try. I suppose he wonders what makes me such a dead weight on you all."
"You know you're not that, Ellen! You musn't let yourself be morbid. It hurts me to have you say such things."
"Well, I should like to tell him why, and see what he would say."
"Why not? If he is a minister he must have thought about all kinds of things. Do you suppose he ever knew of a girl before who had been through what I have? Yes, I would like to know what he would really say."
"I know what he ought to say! If he knew, he would say that no girl had ever behaved more angelically."
"Do you think he would? Perhaps he would say that if I hadn't been so proud and silly—Here he comes! Shall we ask him?"
Breckon approached with his map, and her mother gasped, thinking how terrible such a thing would be if it could be; Ellen smiled brightly up at him. "Will you take my chair? And then you can show momma your map. I am going down," and while he was still protesting she was gone.
"Miss Kenton seems so much better than she did the first day," he said, as he spread the map out on his knees, and gave Mrs. Kenton one end to hold.
"Yes," the mother assented, as she bent over to look at it.
She followed his explanation with a surface sense, while her nether mind was full of the worry of the question which Ellen had planted in it. What would such a man think of what she had been through? Or, rather, how would he say to her the only things that in Mrs. Kenton's belief he could say? How could the poor child ever be made to see it in the light of some mind not colored with her family's affection for her? An immense, an impossible longing possessed itself of the mother's heart, which became the more insistent the more frantic it appeared. She uttered "Yes" and "No" and "Indeed" to what he was saying, but all the time she was rehearsing Ellen's story in her inner sense. In the end she remembered so little what had actually passed that her dramatic reverie seemed the reality, and when she left him she got herself down to her state-room, giddy with the shame and fear of her imaginary self-betrayal. She wished to test the enormity, and yet not find it so monstrous, by submitting the case to her husband, and she could scarcely keep back her impatience at seeing Ellen instead of her father.
"Momma, what have you been saying to Mr. Breckon about me?"
"Nothing," said Mrs. Kenton, aghast at first, and then astonished to realize that she was speaking the simple truth. "He said how much better you were looking; but I don't believe I spoke a single word. We were looking at the map."
"Very well," Ellen resumed. "I have been thinking it all over, and now I have made up my mind."
She paused, and her mother asked, tremulously, "About what, Ellen?"
"You know, momma. I see all now. You needn't be afraid that I care anything about him now," and her mother knew that she meant Bittridge, "or that I ever shall. That's gone forever. But it's gone," she added, and her mother quaked inwardly to hear her reason, "because the wrong and the shame was all for me—for us. That's why I can forgive it, and forget. If we had done anything, the least thing in the world, to revenge ourselves, or to hurt him, then—Don't you see, momma?"
"I think I see, Ellen."
"Then I should have to keep thinking about it, and what we had made him suffer, and whether we hadn't given him some claim. I don't wish ever to think of him again. You and poppa were so patient and forbearing, all through; and I thank goodness now for everything you put up with; only I wish I could have borne everything myself."
"You had enough to bear," Mrs. Kenton said, in tender evasion.
"I'm glad that I had to bear so much, for bearing it is what makes me free now." She went up to her mother and kissed her, and gazed into her face with joyful, tearful looks that made her heart sink.
Mrs. Kenton did not rest till she had made sure from Lottie and Boyne that neither of them had dropped any hint to Ellen of what happened to Bittridge after his return to Tuskingum. She did not explain to them why she was so very anxious to know, but only charged them the more solemnly not to let the secret, which they had all been keeping from Ellen, escape them.
They promised, but Lottie said, "She's got to know it some time, and I should think the sooner the better."
"I will be judge of that, Lottie," said her mother, and Boyne seized his chance of inculpating her with his friend, Mr. Pogis. He said she was carrying on awfully with him already; and an Englishman could not understand, and Boyne hinted that he would presume upon her American freedom.
"Well, if he does, I'll get you to cowhide him, Boyne," she retorted, and left him fuming helplessly, while she went to give the young Englishman an opportunity of resuming the flirtation which her mother had interrupted.
With her husband Mrs. Kenton found it practicable to be more explicit. "I haven't had such a load lifted off my heart since I don't know when. It shows me what I've thought all along: that Ellen hasn't really cared anything for that miserable thing since he first began going with Mrs. Uphill a year ago. When he wrote that letter to her in New York she wanted to be sure she didn't, and when he offered himself and misbehaved so to both of you, she was afraid that she and you were somehow to blame. Now she's worked it out that no one else was wronged, and she is satisfied. It's made her feel free, as she says. But, oh, dear me!" Mrs. Kenton broke off, "I talk as if there was nothing to bind her; and yet there is what poor Richard did! What would she say if she knew that? I have been cautioning Lottie and Boyne, but I know it will come out somehow. Do you think it's wise to keep it from her? Hadn't we better tell her? Or shall we wait and see—"
Kenton would not allow to her or to himself that his hopes ran with hers; love is not business with a man as it is with a woman; he feels it indecorous and indelicate to count upon it openly, where she thinks it simply a chance of life, to be considered like another. All that Kenton would say was, "I see no reason for telling her just yet. She will have to know in due time. But let her enjoy her freedom now."
"Yes," Mrs. Kenton doubtfully assented.
The judge was thoughtfully silent. Then he said: "Few girls could have worked out her problem as Ellen has. Think how differently Lottie would have done it!"
"Lottie has her good points, too," said Mrs. Kenton. "And, of course, I don't blame Richard. There are all kinds of girls, and Lottie means no more harm than Ellen does. She's the kind that can't help attracting; but I always knew that Ellen was attractive, too, if she would only find it out. And I knew that as soon as anything worth while took up her mind she would never give that wretch another thought."
Kenton followed her devious ratiocinations to a conclusion which he could not grasp. "What do you mean, Sarah?"
"If I only," she explained, in terms that did not explain, "felt as sure of him as I do about him!"
Her husband looked densely at her. "Bittridge?"
"No. Mr. Breckon. He is very nice, Rufus. Yes, he is! He's been showing me the map of Holland, and we've had a long talk. He isn't the way we thought—or I did. He is not at all clerical, or worldly. And he appreciates Ellen. I don't suppose he cares so much for her being cultivated; I suppose she doesn't seem so to him. But he sees how wise she is—how good. And he couldn't do that without being good himself! Rufus! If we could only hope such a thing. But, of course, there are thousands after him!"
"There are not thousands of Ellens after him," said the judge, before he could take time to protest. "And I don't want him to suppose that she is after him at all. If he will only interest her and help her to keep her mind off herself, it's all I will ask of him. I am not anxious to part with her, now that she's all ours again."
"Of course," Mrs. Kenton soothingly assented. "And I don't say that she dreams of him in any such way. She can't help admiring his mind. But what I mean is that when you see how he appreciates her, you can't help wishing he could know just how wise, and just how good she is. It did seem to me as if I would give almost anything to have him know what she had been through with that—rapscallion!"
"Oh, you may Sarah me! But I can tell you what, Mr. Kenton: I believe that you could tell him every word of it, and only make him appreciate her the more. Till you know that about Ellen, you don't know what a character she is. I just ached to tell him!"
"I don't understand you, my dear," said Kenton. "But if you mean to tell him—"
"Why, who could imagine doing such a thing? Don't you see that it is impossible? Such a thing would never have come into my head if it hadn't been for some morbid talk of Ellen's."
"Oh, about wanting to disgust him by telling him why she was such a burden to us."
"She isn't a burden!"
"I am saying what she said. And it made me think that if such a person could only know the high-minded way she had found to get out of her trouble! I would like somebody who is capable of valuing her to value her in all her preciousness. Wouldn't you be glad if such a man as he is could know how and why she feels free at last?"
"I don't think it's necessary," said Kenton, haughtily, "There's only one thing that could give him the right to know it, and we'll wait for that first. I thought you said that he was frivolous."
"Boyne said that, and Lottie. I took it for granted, till I talked with him to-day. He is light-hearted and gay; he likes to laugh and joke; but he can be very serious when he wants to."
"According to all precedent," said the judge, glumly, "such a man ought to be hanging round Lottie. Everybody was that amounted to anything in Tuskingum."
"Oh, in Tuskingum! And who were the men there that amounted to anything? A lot of young lawyers, and two students of medicine, and some railroad clerks. There wasn't one that would compare with Mr. Breckon for a moment."
"All the more reason why he can't really care for Ellen. Now see here, Sarah! You know I don't interfere with you and the children, but I'm afraid you're in a craze about this young fellow. He's got these friends of his who have just turned up, and we'll wait and see what he does with them. I guess he appreciates the young lady as much as he does Ellen."
Mrs. Kenton's heart went down. "She doesn't compare with Ellen!" she piteously declared.
"That's what we think. He may think differently."
Mrs. Kenton was silenced, but all the more she was determined to make sure that Mr. Breckon was not interested in Miss Rasmith in any measure or manner detrimental to Ellen. As for Miss Rasmith herself, Mrs. Kenton would have had greater reason to be anxious about her behavior with Boyne than Mr. Breckon. From the moment that the minister had made his two groups of friends acquainted, the young lady had fixed upon Boyne as that member of the Kenton group who could best repay a more intimate friendship. She was polite to them all, but to Boyne she was flattering, and he was too little used to deference from ladies ten years his senior not to be very sensible of her worth in offering it. To be unremittingly treated as a grown-up person was an experience so dazzling that his vision was blinded to any possibilities in the behavior that formed it; and before the day ended Boyne had possessed Miss Rasmith of all that it was important for any fellow-being to know of his character and history. He opened his heart to eyes that had looked into others before his, less for the sake of exploiting than of informing himself. In the rare intelligence of Miss Rasmith he had found that serious patience with his problems which no one else, not Ellen herself, had shown, and after trying her sincerity the greater part of the day he put it to the supreme test, one evening, with a book which he had been reading. Boyne's literature was largely entomological and zoological, but this was a work of fiction treating of the fortunes of a young American adventurer, who had turned his military education to account in the service of a German princess. Her Highness's dominions were not in any map of Europe, and perhaps it was her condition of political incognito that rendered her the more fittingly the prey of a passion for the American head of her armies. Boyne's belief was that this character veiled a real identity, and he wished to submit to Miss Rasmith the question whether in the exclusive circles of New York society any young millionaire was known to have taken service abroad after leaving west Point. He put it in the form of a scoffing incredulity which it was a comfort to have her take as if almost hurt by his doubt. She said that such a thing might very well be, and with rich American girls marrying all sorts of titles abroad, it was not impossible for some brilliant young fellow to make his way to the steps of a throne. Boyne declared that she was laughing at him, and she protested that it was the last thing she should think of doing; she was too much afraid of him. Then he began to argue against the case supposed in the romance; he proved from the book itself that the thing could not happen; such a princess would not be allowed to marry the American, no matter how rich he was. She owned that she had not heard of just such an instance, and he might think her very romantic; and perhaps she was; but if the princess was an absolute princess, such as she was shown in that story, she held that no power on earth could keep her from marrying the young American. For herself she did not see, though, how the princess could be in love with that type of American. If she had been in the princess's place she should have fancied something quite different. She made Boyne agree with her that Eastern Americans were all, more or less, Europeanized, and it stood to reason, she held, that a European princess would want something as un-European as possible if she was falling in love to please herself. They had some contention upon the point that the princess would want a Western American; and then Miss Rasmith, with a delicate audacity, painted an heroic portrait of Boyne himself which he could not recognize openly enough to disown; but he perceived resemblances in it which went to his head when she demurely rose, with a soft "Good-night, Mr. Kenton. I suppose I mustn't call you Boyne?"
"Oh yes, do!" he entreated. "I'm-I'm not grown up yet, you know."
"Then it will be safe," she sighed. "But I should never have thought of that. I had got so absorbed in our argument. You are so logical, Mr. Kenton—Boyne, I mean—thank you. You must get it from your father. How lovely your sister is!"
"Well, no. I meant the other one. But Miss Kenton is beautiful, too. You must be so happy together, all of you." She added, with a rueful smile, "There's only one of me! Good-night."
Boyne did not know whether he ought not in humanity, if not gallantry, to say he would be a brother to her, but while he stood considering, she put out a hand to him so covered with rings that he was afraid she had hurt herself in pressing his so hard, and had left him before he could decide.
Lottie, walking the deck, had not thought of bidding Mr. Pogis good- night. She had asked him half a dozen times how late it was, and when he answered, had said as often that she knew better, and she was going below in another minute. But she stayed, and the flow of her conversation supplied him with occasion for the remarks of which he seldom varied the formula. When she said something too audacious for silent emotion, he called out, "Oh, I say!" If she advanced an opinion too obviously acceptable, or asked a question upon some point where it seemed to him there could not be two minds, he was ready with the ironical note, "Well, rather!" At times she pressed her studies of his character and her observations on his manner and appearance so far that he was forced to protest, "You are so personal!" But these moments were rare; for the most part, "Oh I say!" and "Well, rather!" perfectly covered the ground. He did not generally mind her parody of his poverty of phrase, but once, after she had repeated "Well rather!" and "Oh, I say!" steadily at everything he said for the whole round of the promenade they were making, he intimated that there were occasions when, in his belief, a woman's abuse of the freedom generously allowed her sex passed the point of words.
"And when it passes the point of words" she taunted him, "what do you do?"
"You will see," he said, "if it ever does," and Lottie felt justified by her inference that he was threatening to kiss her, in answering:
"And if I ever SEE, I will box your ears."
"Oh, I say!" he retorted. "I should like to have you try."
He had ideas of the rightful mastery of a man in all things, which she promptly pronounced brutal, and when he declared that his father's conduct towards his wife and children was based upon these ideas, she affirmed the superiority of her own father's principles and behavior. Mr. Pogis was too declared an admirer of Judge Kenton to question his motives or method in anything, and he could only generalize, "The Americans spoil their women."
"Well, their women are worth it," said Lottie, and after allowing the paradox time to penetrate his intelligence, he cried out, in a glad transport:
"Oh, I SAY!"
At the moment Boyne's intellectual seance with Miss Rasmith was coming to an end. Lottie had tacitly invited Mr. Pogis to prolong the comparison of English and American family life by stopping in front of a couple of steamer-chairs, and confessing that she was tired to death. They sat down, and he told her about his mother, whom, although his father's subordinate, he seemed to be rather fonder of. He had some elder brothers, most of them in the colonies, and he had himself been out to America looking at something his father had found for him in Buffalo.
"You ought to come to Tuskingum," said Lottie.
"Is that a large place?" Mr. Pogis asked. "As large as Buffalo?"
"Well, no," Lottie admitted. "But it's a growing place. And we have the best kind of times."
"What kind?" The young man easily consented to turn the commercial into a social inquiry.
"Oh, picnics, and river parties, and buggy-rides, and dances."
"I'm keen on dancing," said Mr. Pogis. "I hope they'll give us a dance on board. Will you put me down for the first dance?"
"I don't care. Will you send me some flowers? The steward must have some left in the refrigerator."
"Well, rather! I'll send you a spray, if he's got enough."
"A spray? What's a spray?"
"Oh, I say! My sister always wears one. It's a long chain of flowers reachin' from your shoulder diagonally down to your waist."
Does your sister always have her sprays sent to her?"
"Well, rather! Don't they send flowers to girls for dances in the States?"
"Well, rather! Didn't I just ask you?"
This was very true, and after a moment of baffle Mr. Pogis said, in generalization, "If you go with a young lady in a party to the theatre you send her a box of chocolates."
"Only when you go to theatre! I couldn't get enough, then, unless you asked me every night," said Lottie, and while Mr. Pogis was trying to choose between "Oh, I say!" and something specific, like, "I should like to ask you every night," she added, "And what would happen if you sent a girl a spray for the theatre and chocolates for a dance? Wouldn't it jar her?"
Now, indeed, there was nothing for him but to answer, "Oh, I say!"
"Well, say, then! Here comes Boyne, and I must go. Well, Boyne," she called, from the dark nook where she sat, to her brother as he stumbled near, with his eyes to the stars, "has the old lady retired?"
He gave himself away finely. "What old lady!"
"Well, maybe at your age you don't consider her very old. But I don't think a boy ought to sit up mooning at his grandmother all night. I know Miss Rasmith's no relation, if that's what you're going to say!"
"Oh, I say!" Mr. Pogis chuckled. "You are so personal."
"Well, rather!" said Lottie, punishing his presumption. "But I don't think it's nice for a kid, even if she isn't."
"Kid!" Boyne ground, through his clenched teeth.
By this time Lottie was up out of her chair and beyond repartee in her flight down the gangway stairs. She left the two youngsters confronted.
"What do you say to a lemon-squash?" asked Mr. Pogis, respecting his friend's wounded dignity, and ignoring Lottie and her offence.
"I don't care if I do," said Boyne in gloomy acquiescence.
Few witnesses of the fact that Julia Rasmith and her mother had found themselves on the same steamer with the Rev. Hugh Breckon would have been of such a simple mind as to think they were there by accident, if they had also been witnesses of their earlier history. The ladies could have urged that in returning from California only a few days before the Amstel sailed, and getting a state-room which had been unexpectedly given up, they had some claim to a charitable interpretation of their behavior, but this plea could not have availed them with any connoisseur of women. Besides, it had been a matter of notoriety among such of Mr. Breckon's variegated congregation as knew one another that Mrs. Rasmith had set her heart on him, it Julia had not set her cap for him. In that pied flock, where every shade and dapple of doubt, from heterodox Jew to agnostic Christian, foregathered, as it has been said, in the misgiving of a blessed immortality, the devotion of Mrs. Rasmith to the minister had been almost a scandal. Nothing had saved the appearance from this character but Mr. Breckon's open acceptance of her flatteries and hospitalities; this was so frank, and the behavior of Julia herself so judicious under the circumstances, that envy and virtue were, if not equally silenced, equally baffled. So far from pretending not to see her mother's manoeuvres, Julia invited public recognition of them; in the way of joking, which she kept within the limits of filial fondness, she made fun of her mother's infatuation to Breckon himself, and warned him against the moment when her wiles might be too much for him. Before other people she did not hesitate to save him from her mother, so that even those who believed her in the conspiracy owned that no girl could have managed with more cleverness in a situation where not every one would have refused to be placed. In this situation Julia Rasmith had the service of a very clear head, and as was believed by some, a cool heart; if she and her mother had joint designs upon the minister, hers was the ambition, and her mother's the affection that prompted them. She was a long, undulant girl, of a mixed blondness that left you in doubt, after you had left her, whether her hair or her complexion were not of one tint; but her features were good, and there could be no question of her captivating laugh, and her charming mouth, which she was always pulling down with demure irony. She was like her mother in her looks, but her indolent, droning temperament must have been from her father, whose memory was lost in that antiquity which swallows up the record of so many widows' husbands, and who could not have left her what was left of her mother's money, for none of it had ever been his. It was still her mother's, and it was supposed to be the daughter's chief attraction. There must, therefore, have been a good deal of it, for those who were harshest with the minister did not believe that a little money would attract him. Not that they really thought him mercenary; some of his people considered him gay to the verge of triviality, but there were none that accused him of insincerity. They would have liked a little more seriousness in him, especially when they had not much of their own, and would have had him make up in severity of behavior for what he lacked, and what they wished him to lack, in austerity of doctrine.
The Amstel had lost so much time in the rough weather of her first days out that she could not make it up with her old-fashioned single screw. She was at best a ten-day boat, counting from Sandy Hook to Boulogne, and she had not been four days out when she promised to break her record for slowness. Three days later Miss Rasmith said to Breckon, as he took the chair which her mother agilely abandoned to him beside her: "The head steward says it will be a twelve-day trip, end our bedroom steward thinks more. What is the consensus of opinion in the smoking-room? Where are you going, mother? Are you planning to leave Mr. Breckon and me alone again? It isn't necessary. We couldn't get away from each other if we tried, and all we ask—Well, I suppose age must he indulged in its little fancies," she called after Mrs. Rasmith.
Breckon took up the question she had asked him. "The odds are so heavily in favor of a fifteen-days' run that there are no takers."
"Now you are joking again," she said. "I thought a sea-voyage might make you serious."
"It has been tried before. Besides, it's you that I want to be serious."
"What about? Besides, I doubt it."
"Oh! I thought you were going to say some one else."
"No, I think that is very well settled."
"You'll never persuade my mother," said Miss Rasmith, with a low, comfortable laugh.
"But if you are satisfied—"
"She will have to resign herself? Well, perhaps. But why do you wish me to be serious about Boyne?"
"I have no doubt he amuses you. But that doesn't seem a very good reason why you should amuse yourself with him."
"No? Why not?"
"Well, because the poor boy is in earnest; and you're not exactly— contemporaries."
"Why, how old is Boyne?" she asked, with affected surprise.
"About fifteen, I think," said Breckon, gravely.
"And I'm but a very few months past thirty. I don't see the great disparity. But he is merely a brother to me—an elder brother—and he gives me the best kind of advice."
"I dare say you need it, but all the same, I am afraid you are putting ideas into his head."
"Well, if he began it? If he put them in mine first?"
She was evidently willing that he should go further, and create the common ground between them that grows up when one gives a reproof and the other accepts it; but Breckon, whether he thought that he had now done his duty, and need say no more, or because he was vexed with her, left the subject.
"Mrs. Rasmith says you are going to Switzerland for the rest of the summer."
"Yes, to Montreux. Are you going to spend it in Paris?"
"I'm going to Paris to see. I have had some thoughts of Etretat; I have cousins there."
"I wish that I could go to the sea-side. But this happens to be one of the summers when nothing but mountains can save my mother's life. Shall you get down to Rome before you go back?"
"I don't know. If I sail from Naples I shall probably pass through Rome."
"You had better stop off. We shall be there in November, and they say Rome is worth seeing," she laughed demurely. "That is what Boyne understands. He's promised to use his influence with his family to let him run down to see us there, if he can't get them all to come. You might offer to personally conduct them."
"Yes." said Breckon, with the effect of cloture. "Have you made many acquaintances an board?"
"What! Two lone women? You haven't introduced us to any but the Kentons. But I dare say they are the best. The judge is a dear, and Mrs. Kenton is everything that is motherly and matronly. Boyne says she is very well informed, and knows all about the reigning families. If he decides to marry into them, she can be of great use in saving him from a mesalliance. I can't say very much for Miss Lottie. Miss Lottie seems to me distinctly of the minx type. But that poor, pale girl is adorable. I wish she liked me!"
"What makes you think she doesn't like you?" Breckon asked.
"What? Women don't require anything to convince them that other women can't bear them. They simply know it. I wonder what has happened to her?"
"Why do you think anything has happened to her?"
"Why? Well, girls don't have that air of melanholy absence for nothing. She is brooding upon something, you may be sure. But you have had so many more opportunities than I! Do you mean that you haven't suspected a tragical past far her?"
"I don't know," said Breckon, a little restively, "that I have allowed myself to speculate about her past."
"That is, you oughtn't to have allowed yourself to do so. Well, there I agree with you. But a woman may do so without impertinence, and I am sure that Miss Kenton has a story. I have watched her, and her face has told me everything but the story."
Breckon would not say that some such revelation had been made to him, and in the absence of an answer from him Miss Rasmith asked, "Is she cultivated, too?"
"Like her mother."
"Oh! I should say she had read a good dial. And she's bookish, yes, in a simple-hearted kind of way."
"She asks you if you have read 'the book of the year,' and whether you don't think the heroine is a beautiful character?"
"Not quite so bad as that. But if you care to be serious about her!"
"Oh, I do!"
"I doubt it. Then, I should say that she seems to have grown up in a place where the interests are so material that a girl who was disposed to be thoughtful would be thrown back upon reading for her society more than in more intellectual centres—if there are such things. She has been so much with books that she does not feel odd in speaking of them as if they were the usual topics of conversation. It gives her a certain quaintness."
"And that is what constitutes her charm?"
"I didn't know that we were speaking of her charm."
"No, that is true. But I was thinking of it. She fascinates me. Are they going to get off at Boulogne?"
"No, they are going on to Rotterdam."
"To be sure! Boyne told me. And are you going on with them?"
"I thought we talked of my going to Paris." Breckon looked round at her, and she made a gesture of deprecation.
"Why, of course! How could I forget? But I'm so much interested in Miss Kenton that I can't think of anything else."
"Not even of Miss Rasmith?"
"Not even of Miss Rasmith. I know that she has a history, and that it's a sad one." She paused in ironical hesitation. "You've been so good as to caution me about her brother—and I never can be grateful enough—and that makes me almost free to suggest—"
She stopped again, and he asked, hardily, "What?"
"Oh, nothing. It isn't for me to remind my pastor, my ghostly adviser"— she pulled down her mouth and glanced at him demurely—" and I will only offer the generalization that a girl is never so much in danger of having her heart broken as when she's had it broken—Oh, are you leaving me?" she cried, as Breckon rose from his chair.
"Well, then, send Boyne to me." She broke into a laugh as he faltered. "Are you going to sit down again? That is right. And I won't talk any more about Miss Kenton."
"I don't mind talking of her," said Breckon. "Perhaps it will even be well to do so if you are in earnest. Though it strikes me that you have rather renounced the right to criticise me."
"Now, is that logical? It seems to me that in putting myself in the attitude of a final friend at the start, and refusing to be anything more, I leave established my right to criticise you on the firmest basis. I can't possibly be suspected of interested motives. Besides, you've just been criticizing me, if you want a woman's reason!"
"Well, go on."
"Why, I had finished. That's the amusing part. I should have supposed that I could go on forever about Miss Kenton, but I have nothing to go upon. She has kept her secret very well, and so have the rest of them. You think I might have got it out of Boyne? Perhaps I might, but you know I have my little scruples. I don't think it would he quite fair, or quite nice."
"You are scrupulous. And I give you credit for having been more delicate than I've been."
"You don't mean you've been trying to find it out!"
"Ah, now I'm not sure about the superior delicacy!"
"Oh, how good!" said Miss Rasmith. "What a pity you should be wasted in a calling that limits you so much."
"You call it limiting? I didn't know but I had gone too far."
"Not at all! You know there's nothing I like so much as those little digs."
"I had forgotten. Then you won't mind my saying that this surveillance seems to me rather more than I have any right to from you."
"How exquisitely you put it! Who else could have told me to mind my own business so delightfully? Well, it isn't my business. I acknowledge that, and I spoke only because I knew you would be sorry if you had gone too far. I remembered our promise to be friends."
She threw a touch of real feeling into her tone, and he responded, "Yes, and I thank you for it, though it isn't easy."
She put out her hand to him, and, as he questioningly took it, she pressed his with animation. "Of course it isn't! Or it wouldn't be for any other man. But don't you suppose I appreciate that supreme courage of yours? There is nobody else-nobody!—who could stand up to an impertinence and turn it to praise by such humility."
"Don't go too far, or I shall be turning your praise to impertinence by my humility. You're quite right, though, about the main matter. I needn't suppose anything so preposterous as you suggest, to feel that people are best left alone to outlive their troubles, unless they are of the most obvious kind."
"Now, if I thought I had done anything to stop you from offering that sort of helpfulness which makes you a blessing to everybody, I should never forgive myself."
"Nothing so dire as that, I believe. But if you've made me question the propriety of applying the blessing in all cases, you have done a very good thing."
Miss Rasmith was silent and apparently serious. After a moment she said, "And I, for my part, promise to let poor little Boyne alone."
Breckon laughed. "Don't burlesque it! Besides, I haven't promised anything."
"That is very true," said Miss Rasmith, and she laughed, too.
In one of those dramatic reveries which we all hold with ourselves when fortune has pressingly placed us, Ellen Kenton had imagined it possible for her to tell her story to the man who had so gently and truly tried to be her friend. It was mostly in the way of explaining to him how she was unworthy of his friendship that the story was told, and she fancied telling it without being scandalized at violating the conventions that should have kept her from even dreaming of such a thing. It was all exalted to a plane where there was no question of fit or unfit in doing it, but only the occasion; and he would never hear of the unworthiness which she wished to ascribe to herself. Sometimes he mournfully left her when she persisted, left her forever, and sometimes he refused, and retained with her in a sublime kindness, a noble amity, lofty and serene, which did not seek to become anything else. In this case she would break from her reveries with self-accusing cries, under her breath, of "Silly, silly! Oh, how disgusting!" and if at that moment Breckon were really coming up to sit by her, she would blush to her hair, and wish to run away, and failing the force for this, would sit cold and blank to his civilities, and have to be skilfully and gradually talked back to self- respect and self-tolerance.
The recurrence of these reveries and their consequence in her made it difficult for him to put in effect the promise he had given himself in Miss Rasmith's presence. If Ellen had been eager to welcome his coming, it would have been very simple to keep away from her, but as she appeared anxious to escape him, and had to be entreated, as it were, to suffer his society, something better than his curiosity was piqued, though that was piqued, too. He believed that he saw her lapsing again into that morbid state from which he had seemed once able to save her, and he could not help trying again. He was the more bound to do so by the ironical observance of Miss Rasmith, who had to be defied first, and then propitiated; certainly, when she saw him apparently breaking faith with her, she had a right to some sort of explanation, but certainly also she had no right to a blind and unreasoning submission from him. His embarrassment was heightened by her interest in Miss Kenton, whom, with an admirable show of now finding her safe from Breckon's attractions, she was always wishing to study from his observation. What was she really like? The girl had a perfect fascination for her; she envied him his opportunities of knowing her, and his privileges of making that melancholy face light up with that heart-breaking smile, and of banishing that delicious shyness with which she always seemed to meet him. Miss Rasmith had noticed it; how could she help noticing it?
Breckon wished to himself that she had been able to help noticing it, or were more capable of minding her own business than she showed herself, and his heart closed about Ellen with a tenderness that was dangerously indignant. At the same time he felt himself withheld by Miss Rasmith's witness from being all to the girl that he wished to be, and that he now seemed to have been in those first days of storm, while Miss Rasmith and her mother were still keeping their cabin. He foresaw that it would end in Miss Rasmith's sympathetic nature not being able to withhold itself from Ellen's need of cheerful companionship, and he was surprised, as little as he was pleased, one morning, when he came to take the chair beside her to find Miss Rasmith in it, talking and laughing to the girl, who perversely showed herself amused. Miss Rasmith made as if to offer him the seat, but he had to go away disappointed, after standing long enough before them to be aware that they were suspending some topic while he stayed.
He naturally supposed the topic to be himself, but it was not so, or at least not directly so. It was only himself as related to the scolding he had given Miss Rasmith for trifling with the innocence of Boyne, which she wished Miss Kenton to understand as the effect of a real affection for her brother. She loved all boys, and Boyne was simply the most delightful creature in the world. She went on to explain how delightful he was, and showed a such an appreciation of the infantile sweetness mingled with the mature severity of Boyne's character that Ellen could not help being pleased and won. She told some little stories of Boyne that threw a light also their home life in Tuskingum, and Miss Rasmith declared herself perfectly fascinated, and wished that she could go and live in Tuskingum. She protested that she should not find it dull; Boyne alone would be entertainment enough; and she figured a circumstance so idyllic from the hints she had gathered, that Ellen's brow darkened in silent denial, and Miss Rasmith felt herself, as the children say in the game, very hot in her proximity to the girl's secret. She would have liked to know it, but whether she felt that she could know it when she liked enough, or whether she should not be so safe with Breckon in knowing it, she veered suddenly away, and said that she was so glad to have Boyne's family know the peculiar nature of her devotion, which did not necessarily mean running away with him, though it might come to that. She supposed she was a little morbid about it from what Mr. Breckon had been saying; he had a conscience that would break the peace of a whole community, though he was the greatest possible favorite, not only with his own congregation, which simply worshipped him, but with the best society, where he was in constant request.
It was not her fault if she did not overdo these history, but perhaps it was all true about the number of girls who were ready and willing to marry him. It might even be true, though she had no direct authority for saying it, that he had made up his mind never to marry, and that was the reason why he felt himself so safe in being the nicest sort of friend. He was safe, Miss Rasmith philosophized, but whether other people were so safe was a different question. There were girls who were said to be dying for him; but of course those things were always said about a handsome young minister. She had frankly taken him on his own ground, from the beginning, and she believed that this was what he liked. At any rate, they had agreed that they were never to be anything but the best of friends, and they always had been.
Mrs. Kenton came and shyly took the chair on Miss Rasmith's other side, and Miss Rasmith said they had been talking about Mr. Breckon, and she repeated what she had been saying to Ellen. Mrs. Kenton assented more openly than Ellen could to her praises, but when she went away, and her daughter sat passive, without comment or apparent interest, the mother drew a long, involuntary sigh.
"Do you like her, Ellen?"
"She tries to be pleasant, I think."
"Do you think she really knows much about Mr. Breckon?"
"Oh yes. Why not? She belongs to his church."
"He doesn't seem to me like a person who would have a parcel of girls tagging after him."
"That is what they do in the East, Boyne says."
"I wish she would let Boyne alone. She is making a fool of the child. He's round with her every moment. I think she ought to be ashamed, such an old thing!"
Ellen chose to protest, or thought it fair to do so. "I don't believe she is doing him any harm. She just lets him talk out, and everybody else checks him up so. It was nice of her to come and talk with me, when we had all been keeping away from her. Perhaps he sent her, though. She says they have always been such good friends because she wouldn't be anything else from the beginning."
"I don't see why she need have told you that."
"Oh, it was just to show he was run after. I wonder if he thinks we are running after him? Momma, I am tired of him! I wish he wouldn't speak to me any more."
"Why! do you really dislike him, Ellen?"
"No, not dislike him. But it tires me to have him trying to amuse me. Don't you understand?"
Mrs. Kenton said yes, she understood, but she was clear only of the fact that Ellen seemed flushed and weak at that moment. She believed that it was Miss Rasmith and not Mr. Breckon who was to blame, but she said: "Well, you needn't worry about it long. It will only be a day or two now till we get to Boulogne, and then he will leave us. Hadn't you better go down now, and rest awhile in your berth? I will bring your things."
Ellen rose, pulling her wraps from her skirts to give them to her mother. A voice from behind said between their meeting shoulders: "Oh, are you going down? I was just coming to beg Miss Kenton to take a little walk with me," and they looked round together and met Breckon's smiling face.
"I'm afraid," Mrs. Kenton began, and then, like a well-trained American mother, she stopped and left the affair to her daughter.
"Do you think you can get down with them, momma?" the girl asked, and somehow her mother's heart was lightened by her evasion, not to call it uncandor. It was at least not morbid, it was at least like other girls, and Mrs. Kenton imparted what comfort there was in it to the judge, when he asked where she had left Ellen.
"Not that it's any use," she sighed, when she had seen him share it with a certain shamefacedness. "That woman has got her grip on him, and she doesn't mean to let go."
Kenton understood Miss Rasmith by that woman; but he would not allow himself to be so easily cast down. This was one of the things that provoked Mrs. Kenton with him; when he had once taken hope he would not abandon it without reason. "I don't see any evidence of her having her grip on him. I've noticed him, and he doesn't seem attentive to her. I should say he tried to avoid her. He certainly doesn't avoid Ellen."
"What are you thinking of, Rufus?"
"What are you? You know we'd both be glad if he fancied her."
"Well, suppose we would? I don't deny it. He is one of the most agreeable gentlemen I ever saw; one of the kindest and nicest."
"He's more than that," said the judge. "I've been sounding him on various points, and I don't see where he's wrong. Of course, I don't know much about his religious persuasion, if it is one, but I think I'm a pretty fair judge of character, and that young man has character. He isn't a light person, though he likes joking and laughing, and he appreciates Ellen."
"Yes, so do we. And there's about as much prospect of his marrying her. Rufus, it's pretty hard! She's just in the mood to be taken with him, but she won't let herself, because she knows it's of no use. That Miss Rasmith has been telling her how much he is run after, and I could see that that settled it for Ellen as plainly as if she said so. More plainly, for there's enough of the girl in her to make her say one thing when she means another. She was just saying she was sick of him, and never wanted to speak to him again, when he came up and asked her to walk, and she went with him instantly. I knew what she meant. She wasn't going to let him suppose that anything Miss Rasmith had said was going to change her."
"Well, then," said the judge, "I don't see what you're scared at."
I'm not SCARED. But, oh, Rufus! It can't come to anything! There isn't time!" An hysterical hope trembled in her asseveration of despair that made him smile.
"I guess if time's all that's wanted—"
"He is going to get off at Boulogne."
"Well, we can get off there, too."
"Rufus, if you dare to think of such a thing!"
"I don't. But Europe isn't so big but what he can find us again if he wants to."
"Ah, if he wants to!"
Ellen seemed to have let her mother take her languor below along with the shawls she had given her. Buttoned into a close jacket, and skirted short for the sea, she pushed against the breeze at Breckon's elbow with a vigor that made him look his surprise at her. Girl-like, she took it that something was wrong with her dress, and ran herself over with an uneasy eye.
Then he explained: "I was just thinking how much you were like Miss Lottie-if you'll excuse my being so personal. And it never struck me before."
"I didn't suppose we looked alike," said Ellen.
"No, certainly. I shouldn't have taken you for sisters. And yet, just now, I felt that you were like her. You seem so much stronger this morning—perhaps it's that the voyage is doing you good. Shall you be sorry to have it end?"
"Shall you? That's the way Lottie would answer."
Breckon laughed. "Yes, it is. I shall be very sorry. I should be willing to have it rough again, it that would make it longer. I liked it's being rough. We had it to ourselves." He had not thought how that sounded, but if it sounded particular, she did not notice it.
She merely said, "I was surprised not to be seasick, too."
"And should you be willing to have it rough again?"
"You wouldn't see anything more of your friends, then."
"Ah, yes; Miss Rasmith. She is a great talker, Did you find her interesting?"
"She was very interesting."
"Yes? What did she talk about?"
Ellen realized the fact too late to withhold "Why, about you."
"And was that what made her interesting?"
"Now, what would Lottie say to such a thing as that?" asked Ellen, gayly.
"Something terribly cutting, I'm afraid. But don't you! From you I don't want to believe I deserve it, no matter what Miss Rasmith said me."
"Oh, she didn't say anything very bad. Unless you mind being a universal favorite."
"Well, it makes a man out rather silly."
"But you can't help that."
"Now you remind me of Miss Lottie again!"
"But I didn't mean that," said Ellen, blushing and laughing. "I hope you wouldn't think I could be so pert."
"I wouldn't think anything that wasn't to your praise," said Breckon, and a pause ensued, after which the words he added seemed tame and flat. "I suspect Miss Rasmith has been idealizing the situation. At any rate, I shouldn't advise you to trust her report implicitly. I'm at the head of a society, you know, ethical or sociological, or altruistic, whatever you choose to call it, which hasn't any very definite object of worship, and yet meets every Sunday for a sort of worship; and I have to be in the pulpit. So you see?"
Ellen said, "I think I understand," with a temptation to smile at the ruefulness of his appeal.
Breckon laughed for her. "That's the mischief and the absurdity of it. But it isn't so bad as it seems. They're really most of them hard-headed people; and those that are not couldn't make a fool of a man that nature hadn't begun with. Still, I'm not very well satisfied with my work among them—that is, I'm not satisfied with myself." He was talking soberly enough, and he did not find that she was listening too seriously. "I'm going away to see whether I shall come back." He looked at her to make sure that she had taken his meaning, and seemed satisfied that she had. "I'm not sure that I'm fit for any sort of ministry, and I may find the winter in England trying to find out. I was at school in England, you know."
Ellen confessed that she had not known that.
"Yes; I suppose that's what made me seem 'so Englishy' the first day to Miss Lottie, as she called it. But I'm straight enough American as far as parentage goes. Do you think you will be in England-later?"
"I don't know. If poppa gets too homesick we will go back in the fall."
"Miss Kenton," said the young man, abruptly, "will you let me tell you how much I admire and revere your father?"
Tears came into her eyes and her throat swelled. "But you don't know," she begun; and then she stopped.
"I have been wanting to submit something to his judgment; but I've been afraid. I might seem to be fishing for his favor."
"Poppa wouldn't think anything that was unjust," said Ellen, gravely.
"Ah," Breckon laughed, "I suspect that I should rather have him unjust. I wish you'd tell me what he would think."
"But I don't know what it is," she protested, with a reflected smile.
"I was in hopes Miss Rasmith might have told you. Well, it is simply this, and you will see that I'm not quite the universal favorite she's been making you fancy me. There is a rift in my lute, a schism in my little society, which is so little that I could not have supposed there was enough of it to break in two. There are some who think their lecturer—for that's what I amount to—ought to be an older, if not a graver man. They are in the minority, but they're in the right, I'm afraid; and that's why I happen to be here telling you all this. It's a question of whether I ought to go back to New York or stay in London, where there's been a faint call for me." He saw the girl listening devoutly, with that flattered look which a serious girl cannot keep out of her face when a man confides a serious matter to her. "I might safely promise to be older, but could I keep my word if I promised to be graver? That's the point. If I were a Calvinist I might hold fast by faith, and fight it out with that; or if I were a Catholic I could cast myself upon the strength of the Church, and triumph in spite of temperament. Then it wouldn't matter whether I was grave or gay; it might be even better if I were gay. But," he went on, in terms which, doubtless, were not then for the first time formulated in his mind, "being merely the leader of a sort of forlorn hope in the Divine Goodness, perhaps I have no right to be so cheerful."
The note of a sad irony in his words appealed to such indignation for him in Ellen as she never felt for herself. But she only said, "I don't believe Poppa could take that in the wrong way if you told him."
Breckon stared. "Yes your father! What would he say?"
"I can't tell you. But I'm sure he would know what you meant."
"And you," he pursued, "what should YOU say?"
"I? I never thought about such a thing. You mustn't ask me, if you're serious; and if you're not—"
"But I am; I am deeply serious. I would like, to know how the case strikes you. I shall be so grateful if you will tell me."
"I'm sorry I can't, Mr. Breckon. Why don't you ask poppa?"
"No, I see now I sha'n't be able. I feel too much, after telling you, as if I had been posing. The reality has gone out of it all. And I'm ashamed."
"You mustn't be," she said, quietly; and she added, "I suppose it would be like a kind of defeat if you didn't go back?"
"I shouldn't care for the appearance of defeat," he said, courageously. "The great question is, whether somebody else wouldn't be of more use in my place."
"Nobody could be," said she, in a sort of impassioned absence, and then coming to herself, "I mean, they wouldn't think so, I don't believe."
"Then you advise—"
"No, no! I can't; I don't. I'm not fit to have an opinion about such a thing; it would be crazy. But poppa—"
They were at the door of the gangway, and she slipped within and left him. His nerves tingled, and there was a glow in his breast. It was sweet to have surprised that praise from her, though he could not have said why he should value the praise or a girl of her open ignorance and inexperience in everything that would have qualified her to judge him. But he found himself valuing it supremely, and wonderingly wishing to be worthy of it.
Ellen discovered her father with a book in a distant corner of the dining-saloon, which he preferred to the deck or the library for his reading, in such intervals as the stewards, laying and cleaning the tables, left him unmolested in it. She advanced precipitately upon him, and stood before him in an excitement which, though he lifted his dazed eyes to it from his page, he was not entirely aware of till afterwards. Then he realized that her cheeks were full of color, and her eyes of light, and that she panted as if she had been running when she spoke.
"Poppa," she said, "there is something that Mr. Breckon wants to speak to you—to ask you about. He has asked me, but I want you to see him, for I think he had better tell you himself."
While he still stared at her she was as suddenly gone as she had come, and he remained with his book, which the meaning had as suddenly left. There was no meaning in her words, except as he put it into them, and after he had got it in he struggled with it in a sort of perfunctory incredulity. It was not impossible; it chiefly seemed so because it seemed too good to be true; and the more he pondered it the more possible, if not probable, it became. He could not be safe with it till he had submitted it to his wife; and he went to her while he was sure of repeating Ellen's words without varying from them a syllable.
To his astonishment, Mrs. Kenton was instantly convinced. "Why, of course," she said, "it can't possibly mean anything else. Why should it be so very surprising? The time hasn't been very long, but they've been together almost every moment; and he was taken with her from the very beginning—I could see that. Put on your other coat," she said, as she dusted the collar of the coat the judge was wearing. "He'll be looking you up, at once. I can't say that it's unexpected," and she claimed a prescience in the matter which all her words had hitherto denied.
Kenton did not notice her inconsistency. "If it were not so exactly what I wished," he said, "I don't know that I should be surprised at it myself. Sarah, if I had been trying to imagine any one for Ellen, I couldn't have dreamed of a person better suited to her than this young man. He's everything that I could wish him to be. I've seen the pleasure and comfort she took in his way from the first moment. He seemed to make her forget—Do you suppose she has forgotten that miserable wretch Do you think—"
"If she hadn't, could she be letting him come to speak to you? I don't believe she ever really cared for Bittridge—or not after he began flirting with Mrs. Uphill." She had no shrinking from the names which Kenton avoided with disgust. "The only question for you is to consider what you shall say to Mr. Breckon."
"Say to him? Why, of course, if Ellen has made up her mind, there's only one thing I can say."
"Indeed there is! He ought to know all about that disgusting Bittridge business, and you have got to tell him."
"Sarah, I couldn't. It is too humiliating. How would it do to refer him to—You could manage that part so much better. I don't see how I could keep it from seeming an indelicate betrayal of the poor child—"
"Perhaps she's told him herself," Mrs. Kenton provisionally suggested.
The judge eagerly caught at the notion. "Do you think so? It would be like her! Ellen would wish him to know everything."
He stopped, and his wife could see that he was trembling with excitement. "We must find out. I will speak to Ellen—"
"And—you don't think I'd better have the talk with him first?"
"Why, Rufus! You were not going to look him up?"
"No," he hesitated; but she could see that some such thing had been on his mind.
"Surely," she said, "you must be crazy!" But she had not the heart to blight his joy with sarcasm, and perhaps no sarcasm would have blighted it.
"I merely wondered what I had better say in case he spoke to me before you saw Ellen—that's all. Sarah! I couldn't have believed that anything could please me so much. But it does seem as if it were the assurance of Ellen's happiness; and she has deserved it, poor child! If ever there was a dutiful and loving daughter—at least before that wretched affair—she was one."
"She has been a good girl," Mrs. Kenton stoically admitted.
"And they are very well matched. Ellen is a cultivated woman. He never could have cause to blush for her, either her mind or her manners, in any circle of society; she would do him credit under any and all circumstances. If it were Lottie—"
"Lottie is all right," said her mother, in resentment of his preference; but she could not help smiling at it. "Don't you be foolish about Ellen. I approve of Mr. Breckon as much as you do. But it's her prettiness and sweetness that's taken his fancy, and not her wisdom, if she's got him."
"If she's got him?"
"Well, you know what I mean. I'm not saying she hasn't. Dear knows, I don't want to! I feel just as you do about it. I think it's the greatest piece of good fortune, coming on top of all our trouble with her. I couldn't have imagined such a thing."
He was instantly appeased. "Are you going to speak with Ellen" he radiantly inquired.
"I will see. There's no especial hurry, is there?"
"Only, if he should happen to meet me—"
"You can keep out of his way, I reckon. Or You can put him off, somehow."
"Yes," Kenton returned, doubtfully. "Don't," he added, "be too blunt with Ellen. You know she didn't say anything explicit to me."
"I think I will know how to manage, Mr. Kenton."
"Yes, of course, Sarah. I'm not saying that."
Breckon did not apparently try to find the judge before lunch, and at table he did not seem especially devoted to Ellen in her father's jealous eyes. He joked Lottie, and exchanged those passages or repartee with her in which she did not mind using a bludgeon when she had not a rapier at hand; it is doubtful if she was very sensible of the difference. Ellen sat by in passive content, smiling now and then, and Boyne carried on a dignified conversation with Mr. Pogis, whom he had asked to lunch at his table, and who listened with one ear to the vigorous retorts of Lottie in her combat with Breckon.
The judge witnessed it all with a grave displeasure, more and more painfully apparent to his wife. She could see the impatience, the gathering misgiving, in his face, and she perceived that she must not let this come to conscious dissatisfaction with Breckon; she knew her husband capable of indignation with trifling which would complicate the situation, if it came to that. She decided to speak with Ellen as soon as possible, and she meant to follow her to her state-room when they left the table. But fate assorted the pieces in the game differently. Boyne walked over to the place where Miss Rasmith was sitting with her mother; Lottie and Mr. Pogis went off to practise duets together, terrible, four- -handed torments under which the piano presently clamored; and Ellen stood for a moment talked to by Mr. Breckon, who challenged her then for a walk on deck, and with whom she went away smiling.
Mrs. Kenton appealed with the reflection of the girl's happiness in her face to the frowning censure in her husband's; but Kenton spoke first. "What does he mean?" he demanded, darkly. "If he is making a fool of her he'll find that that game can't be played twice, with impunity. Sarah, I believe I should choke him."
"Mr. Kenton!" she gasped, and she trembled in fear of him, even while she kept herself with difficulty from shaking him for his folly. "Don't say such a thing! Can't you see that they want to talk it over? If he hasn't spoken to you it's because he wants to know how you took what she said." Seeing the effect of these arguments, she pursued: "Will you never have any sense? I will speak to Ellen the very minute I get her alone, and you have just got to wait. Don't you suppose it's hard for me, too? Have I got nothing to bear?"
Kenton went silently back to his book, which he took with him to the reading-room, where from time to time his wife came to him and reported that Ellen and Breckon were still walking up and down together, or that they were sitting down talking, or were forward, looking over at the prow, or were watching the deck-passengers dancing. Her husband received her successive advices with relaxing interest, and when she had brought the last she was aware that the affair was entirely in her hands with all the responsibility. After the gay parting between Ellen and Breckon, which took place late in the afternoon, she suffered an interval to elapse before she followed the girl down to her state-room. She found her lying in her berth, with shining eyes and glad, red cheeks; she was smiling to herself.
"That is right, Ellen," her mother said. "You need rest after your long tramp."
"I'm not tired. We were sitting down a good deal. I didn't think how late it was. I'm ever so much better. Where's Lottie?"
"Off somewhere with that young Englishman," said Mrs. Kenton, as if that were of no sort of consequence. "Ellen," she added, abruptly, trying within a tremulous smile to hide her eagerness, "what is this that Mr. Breckon wants to talk with your father about?"
"Mr. Breckon? With poppa?"
"Yes, certainly. You told him this morning that Mr. Breckon—"
"Oh! Oh yes!" said Ellen, as if recollecting something that had slipped her mind. "He wants poppa to advise him whether to go back to his congregation in New York or not."
Mrs. Kenton sat in the corner of the sofa next the door, looking into the girl's face on the pillow as she lay with her arms under her head. Tears of defeat and shame came into her eyes, and she could not see the girl's light nonchalance in adding:
"But he hasn't got up his courage yet. He thinks he'll ask him after dinner. He says he doesn't want poppa to think he's posing. I don't know what he means."
Mrs. Kenton did not speak at once. Her bitterest mortification was not for herself, but for the simple and tender father-soul which had been so tried already. She did not know how he would bear it, the disappointment, and the cruel hurt to his pride. But she wanted to fall on her knees in thankfulness that he had betrayed himself only to her.
She started in sudden alarm with the thought. "Where is he now— Mr. Breckon?"
"He's gone with Boyne down into the baggage-room."
Mrs. Kenton sank back in her corner, aware now that she would not have had the strength to go to her husband even to save him from the awful disgrace of giving himself away to Breckon. "And was that all?" she faltered.
"That he wanted to speak to your father about?"
She must make irrefragably sure, for Kenton's sake, that she was not misunderstanding.
"Why, of course! What else? Why, momma! what are you crying about?"
"I'm not crying, child. Just some foolishness of your father's. He understood—he thought—" Mrs. Kenton began to laugh hysterically. "But you know how ridiculous he is; and he supposed—No, I won't tell you!"
It was not necessary. The girl's mind, perhaps because it was imbued already with the subject, had possessed itself of what filled her mother's. She dropped from the elbow on which she had lifted herself, and turned her face into the pillow, with a long wail of shame.