« AnkstesnisTęsti »
judgment, and if I do not know the constitutions of my own children, I should like to know who does or can. Alice is not at all well. She does not know I send for you, but do come soon. Of course, it is a drawback to have a single man, but then you are a relative, and no longer young. [I was just thirty-seven.] Come soon, etc.
I dropped the note as I stood; picked it up; read it again, and went at once to Mrs. Vincent's, although it was as late as 11 P. M. Mrs. Vincent had just left her husband. After we had exchanged warm greetings, I said, "Won't you ask Mrs. Vincent to come downstairs? And, Fred, let me see her alone a moment; I want a little advice."
"Really," he said, "I ought to charge for these consultations. St. Clair was at it last week. Mrs. Vincent makes a good average for all easy-tongued women by secretiveness quite exasperating."
"After the consultation," I said, "I will consider the fee."
"It ought to be large. What do you get for being rung up at midnight?"
"When you are through perhaps you will ask Mrs. Vincent if she has gone to bed."
"She has not," cried Mrs. Vincent, entering. "I heard your voice, and really, I only came down to say how glad and thankful I am. You look tired, but then-it was a fine thing to do. I was proud of you. I could not do it; my friend could, and oh, I liked-liked it well, and so did Fred. He has bored me to death about you, and now you are back, and -and I thank God."
She had my two hands while she spoke, and was a little tearful as she ended, being nothing. if not enthusiastic as concerned her friends.
"I cannot weep," said Fred, "but you are very welcome."
"You men are horrid. I shall leave you." No; it is Fred who will go, and you will stay."
"A consultation, Anne. You will find me in the library."
"And now," said Mrs. Vincent, "this is altogether too delightful. What can I do for you? It is so pleasant to know that I can give you anything. But tell me about Charleston. No, not now; another time. What is it that I can do?" Now that I was into this grave consultation, I began to distrust the doctor and myself. I reflected that I had not enough considered the matter; that, in short, I was a fool. As a result, I put off the fatal moment.
"Presently we will talk," I said; "but first tell me all about everybody-all my friends." "Mr. Clayborne has been as fidgety as a fish on a bank. I think he loves you best of any one on earth-better even than Clayborne. What is your trick of capturing people?"
"How can you ask? I am your friend; you must know. And St. Clair? Of all his crazes, this is the queerest. To love a man who does everything you don't expect, and nothing that you do expect - alas! it is hard on men, and on a woman harder. But I suppose the fancy for Miss Leigh is over, or has it gone to wreck? How has it ended?"
"How cool you are," she replied; "and how easy to call it a fancy, and what has come of it. You may know as well as I."
"No, no; but I must not invite you to violate a professional confidence." "Indeed, it is useless."
"Oh, then you do know?"
"I did not say so. And is all this because you came here to tell me something, and now repent a little?"
"Good gracious! what a woman! How is Fred?"
Ah, Mrs. Leigh wants your advice about Alice. I am so glad. I advised her to send this very morning. You know I cannot have you myself, but I want every one else to have you, and now I shall be easy, quite easy, about Alice. It is only that she is looking pale."
"But I do not mean to go. You know I am only willing to go in consultation. I do not want practice. I—"
"But this! Oh, this is different."
"Very. And you who got me into this scrape must get me out of it. I do not know how you will do it, but you must manage it, because I do not intend to go.'
"You cannot mean that?" "Yes. Tell Mrs. Leigh that I chanced in, and that I do not take cases outside of my house. Anything you like.”
"But it is not true; and after all, it is I who ask you to go, and imagine my making an excuse so ludicrous as that to a woman of the world like Mrs. Leigh. I am quite willing to do anything sane for you; but this! What is your real reason? You do have a reason for most actions."
"Oh, I don't like that hard old woman. Surely one may choose one's patients." "Assuredly. But write and say so. Why come to me?"
"Then I shall fall ill. I simply will not go." "I am sorry; I am more than that—and after I took so much trouble. I am—well, just a little hurt."
"But I would not annoy you for the world." "Well, that is a strong phrase. Why do you?"
"Yes; it is Miss Leigh. Cannot you understand?"
"I? No. What do you mean?" "Mean! Cannot you see that I love Alice Leigh?"
"What a fool I am! Oh, you dear, delightful man! The thing I have dreamed about. And now I see it all. All. And how long has it been? And does she know ?"
"I think I am sure not. And one favor I must ask. It is that neither by word nor sign do you betray me."
"And I must not help you?" "No."
"And as to Mrs. Leigh, you are quite too tired to see patients. You are not well. You wished to leave it to me to explain, rather than to have to say abruptly in a note that you cannot come. And that was so nice of you. But you will dine here with Alice to-morrow?" "Indeed, I will not."
"But I must tell Fred?" "No."
"Then good night. I hate you, and I am so glad."
When I went to see Mrs. Vincent it was only with a sense of my own difficulties, and a desire to find a way out, but with no clear idea of how it was to be done. The note had of a sudden set me face to face with a grave fact in my life. I cared deeply for a woman, and had never meant to do so again. At first this selfknowledge humiliated me, and seemed disloyal to an ideal I had loved and lost. I am sure that most deep affection is of gradual growth. I am as sure that the discovery of it as something victorious over memory, prejudices, resolutions is often sudden and surprising. It was so to me. I recoiled from the practical issue of becoming this woman's physician, and in the recoil, and in the swift self-examination which followed, I knew that I loved her.
I walked away but half pleased with myself. It was plain that I had not dealt fairly as to my friend, or perhaps with him, and yet I had meant to do so. I had had, as the Indians say, two hearts about it, or, as we say, had been halfhearted. I laughed as I thought that half a heart had been an organ incompetent to carry on the nutrition either of love or friendship.
At last I reached my home, and sat down with a counseling cigar to think it all over. Emotion had clouded my mind. Now it became more or less clear to me. St. Clair had seen through me as I had not seen through myself. My cigar went out. I relighted it. It was rank to the taste. I threw it away. It was like some other things in life.
As I rose to go to bed I turned over the let
ters on the table. There was one from the citizens of Charleston; warm thanks for a great service- Alice Leigh would like that. Beneath it was a letter from Paris in St. Clair's wellknown and careless hand. I read it as I stood:
DEAR OWEN: Sorry to have missed you. I am busy here with my new studio and the statue group for Cleveland. I want you to pay the arrears due for rent in my old den in Blank street, and have what is worth keeping stowed somewhere. My remembrances to the Leighs. I left Miss Leigh's rilievo in the front room. Keep it. I am not sure that the eyes are quite correct. The upper lids drop straight, or rather in a gentle curve, from the brows; it gives a look of great purity to the upper part of the face; the peculiarity is quite rare, but is to be seen in Luini's frescos. In fact, the type is medieval. The slight forward droop of the neck is pretty, but not classically perfect as to form. Also, the head of my charming model is rather large for the shoulders, which are a trifle out of proportion to the weight of the head. Write me soon and often. I shall not answer, but I shall intend to do so. Love to the Vincents and to the historic giant. From your friend, VICTOR.
For a moment I stood in thought with the letter in my hand. Then I read it again with care. Had St. Clair deliberately sacrificed himself to me? Was his devotion to Alice Leigh only the expression of his adoration of an unusual type of human beauty? I had before seen brief attacks of this passionate idolatry. Had he become satisfied that marriage was a contract he could not honestly enter upon? That would have been unlike the man. I was exceedingly perplexed.
THE next day I called on Clayborne, but found him absent, and toward noon wrote to Mrs. Vincent that I hoped to find her alone that evening.
The enigma of last night was no clearer in the morning. A hasty note bade me feel sure that she would be at home about ten, and of course she would take care that we should not be interrupted. After that, and until I could talk to Mrs. Vincent, I resolutely put my problem in a corner, and tried to forget it. But despite my control it turned every now and then like a bad child and made faces at me, so that I had an uneasy and very restless day.
I found Mrs. Vincent alone, and quickly saw that this gracious actress was on for a large rôle, but just what was not clear to me. The room had a rather unusual look. The easychairs were not in their places. A crimson mass of velvet heavy with Eastern phantasies of color hung in stately folds over the far end of the grand piano. I knew it well as one of St.
Clair's wildest and most extravagant purchases, the fruitful text of sad sermons by the friend whom the naughty poet called the Rev. Dr. Clayborne. St. Clair had sent it to Mrs. Vincent the night he left-a royal gift. I glanced from it with a full heart to the roses which were everywhere in bowls and tall vases, each, as I well knew, sedulously arranged as the woman's perfect sense of harmony in color dictated. She herself was dressed with unusual splendor, a style not after her ordinary habit, which rather inclined to a certain extravagance as to stuffs, and to great simplicity in outline and forms. Also, she wore two or three jewels, and these especially flashed a warning to me as to there being some surprise in store.
As I entered, the house rang with the triumphant notes of a love-song of Schumann.
"Ah, this is good of you," she cried, rising. "And now that we shall have a nice talk, I am so happy. Did you hear how my piano was rejoicing with me?"
That was so like her, and I said as much. "Yes," she went on, as I looked about me; "we are en fête to-night. And you look so grave, Owen." Once in a great while she used my first name, being, despite our extreme and long intimacy, little apt to be familiar in certain ways.
"Yes," I said; "I am as you say, because I am troubled."
As I spoke, Vincent entered. "Ah, North," he cried, "how welcome you are!" and cast a glance of faint amusement over the room and his wife's costume. "I have been away since morning, or I should have called. I met Clayborne on the steps."
The historian carried a book and a stiff bouquet, which he deposited on the table. "Here," he said, "are the essays, pretty obvious stuff, and some flowers."
Mrs. Vincent thanked him profusely. "So good of you," she said. "What lovely gardenias!" And presently she set one in her belt, saying, "A thousand thanks."
"Why not one?" laughed Vincent. "Why is that noun only plural? It ought to have a definite value-one thank. Then one could grade one's gratitude. Why not thirty-seven, or half a thank on occasions?"
"Quite true, quite true," said Clayborne. "The nouns which are only plural must be rare. Hum" and he fell into a reverie.
"How absurd you are, Fred," remarked his wife.
"Well, the surroundings account for that. Do you entertain Haroun al Raschid to-night, Anne?"
"I entertain myself," she replied, and I detected a little ocular telegraphy meant for Vincent alone. Then Clayborne looked up.
"I can recall no other," he said. “And in French it is the same, and in Arabic. I must look it up."
"Mrs. Leigh told me to-day that you had been to see her," said Mrs. Vincent.
"Yes; we are old acquaintances. You know I was Leigh's executor. That girl must have a pretty fortune. There has been a long minority. Why did not you marry her to St. Clair ?" "I did my best," returned Mrs. Vincent, gaily. "And there is the mama. Now what could be more fitting for you?"
"I! What! Me!" cried Clayborne.
"You might let me mention it to the widow." "Heavens!" he exclaimed, “I believe you are capable of that, or-or of anything. Let us go and look at the dictionaries, Vincent. Mrs. Leigh! Ye gods of sorrow!"
"Well, think it over," cried Mrs. Vincent, delighted, as the historian rose.
"I leave you to your patient, Mrs. Vincent," said the husband. "Is the case a bad one?"
"Prognosis favorable," returned the wife, laughing and striking a few gay notes on the piano. "Diagnosis certain. Am I professionally correct, Dr. North?"
"I never interfere with other folks's cases," said, and we were alone again.
"And now," she said, "what is it? And do look happier. Fred says I am crazy to-day, and you would not let me tell him. But what is wrong? Surely-"
"Oh, everything is wrong," I said. "I have been a fool, and I have helped to break up St. Clair's life, and I must talk about it to some one."
"Of course. And perhaps I can help you. Only women know women."
"It is not the woman, it is the man, that troubles me. To have won a possible happiness at the cost of a friend, I— I—”
"But perhaps the happiness is not possible," she answered.
"That were no better. I should be doubly punished. Do you think he loved her?"
"I do not know. St. Clair is seemingly so transparent, and then of a sudden you become aware that they are only surface reflections that reach you. There are curious depths in that man's nature. Presently, as Fred says, one is off soundings. I understand you, I think, and I am sorry for you. And now what is it ? " "Read this letter," I said.
As she read I saw a faint smile of pleased surprise gather upon her face. She re-read it. Then slowly she folded it up, gave it back to me, and took a perfect white rosebud from the jar near by, and put it on the table beside me. I took it up mechanically.
"It is sweet," she said, "and pure, and there is no canker at the core. The rose is my dear
"Am I indeed? May I show that letter to me heir to the talk." Alice?"
What! You must indeed think me a fool." "I shall not answer you according to your folly. And people say you are a student of character and see through women! It is past belief; but trust a woman's insight for once. Ah, certainly I am at home. Show Miss Leigh up. Here comes the answer to my enigma.'
"O Mrs. Vincent! This is one of your little-"
"Hush! Isn't this joyous?" And she struck the keys again until the glad notes of the lovesong rang through my brain."
"My dear Alice, how good of you to come!" she cried. "You must have left your dinner-party early. Why, it is only ten. Dr. North has just chanced in, and now we shall have a quiet talk. You have not seen Dr. North since he came back. My room is en fête to welcome him."
"When you give me a chance I shall tell him how glad all his friends are to see him safe back again." Her words were quite formally spoken.
"It was worth the price, such as it was," I said, "to come home and find one has been thought about." Her formality affected me, and I struck automatically the same note in reply. "And now tell us about it," said Mrs. Vincent. "You were detained by Dr. Roy's illness?"
"Yes; I had to be nurse and physician." "Well, I want to hear it all- everything; but pardon me a moment, and talk of something else. I must answer Susan Primrose and two invitations for Fred."
Upon which she retired to a desk in the corner, and we fell into talk. At last I said, "I did not keep my engagement. To-day month, I said when we parted, and now it is—" "Nearly two," she replied.
"Oh, quite two," ejaculated our lady manager from the corner, rising with notes in her hand. "Excuse me, I so want to hear that I cannot write; I have made two horrid blunders, and I must ask Fred if he will dine with the Carltons. I shall be back in ten minutes," and she was gone. Then I began to understand the drama, and was instantly on guard. At the door she turned back. " Do make that man
I interrupted: "Yes, very."
"I am sorry, and you look so tired. I can understand that one might suffer long in mind and body after what you have been through. Seriously, I do not suppose Anne Vincent would have spoken so lightly about anything that I might not talk of. You once said that we were friends. Perhaps you do not know by this time that I take life gravely, even its friendships. Can I help you as a friend?" "No," I said, grimly.
"Then pardon me. I did not mean to be indiscreet, or—or—
"You are not. You are only and always kind. But Mrs. Vincent is sometimes carried away by her moods."
"And you think we should always be responsible for our moods? I wish I were. It is so pleasant to coddle them, and I do try not to." Then her eyes fell on the crimson and gold embroidery. "Have you heard from St. Clair ? He is very apropos of moods, is n't he?"
"Yes; I had a letter to-day. He is in Paris." "I wish I had his sense of irresponsibility," she returned. "It must be so nice to have a heart and no conscience. You must miss him, or you will, I am sure. Every one must." "Yes, I shall. I am fond of him." "Anne says he will return in the autumn." "I do not know."
"Do you think he knows?" "Who can say ?"
"I have been wanting so much to see you to talk again of my plans. Do you not think—"
"I don't think," I said. "I prefer not to discuss the matter. Ask some one else. I am useless."
"How short you are with me. Don't you know friends are for use?”
"I suppose so. Mine fail me at times."
Now, do you mean?"
"Well, I must turn you over to Anne Vincent. I don't wonder she considers you difficult."
"You are certainly the last person to whom I should go." The situation was fast getting out of my control.
All this was said with unusual rapidity of speech, and she rose as she spoke. "One moment,” I said.
"Not one," she said with a nervous laugh, taking up the bud I had left on the table and plucking it to pieces leaf by leaf. “Oh, not a minute," she repeated. "Please to ring."
"Alice Leigh," I said, and, speaking, caught her wrist, and felt as I did so the slight start of troubled maidenhood, "let the poor rose alone. Try to think it is my life you are busy with. What will you do with it—with me?
As I spoke, she regarded me a moment with large eyes, and then sat down as if suddenly weak, her fan falling on the floor. Some strong emotion was troubling the pure lines of her face. What was it? Pity or love? Then, looking down, she said, as if to herself, "And is this
"That is a question you have no right to the end?" ask."
"I am his friend."
"Then his friend is unwise, and permit me to say -"
Stop," I said. "Do not hurt me more than you must. What I ask profoundly concerns my life, my-"
"I would rather you said no more. I beg of you to say no more."
"I cannot pause here. I must speak. If you love him, I have been false to him. I have misunderstood. I have trodden roughly on sacred ground. What I thought it right to say to him I said without seeing where I stood."
"But now," she said, "I must understand all this. I confess I do not. You ask me if I love Mr. St. Clair, your friend."
"That was what I said."
"And it was more, so much more, than you ought to have said. But now I will answer you. I do not think many women would — I will. I do not. You have gone to the limit of friendship, and perhaps beyond. And now please to ask Mrs. Vincent to come; I must go away. had only a few minutes."
"Of what?" I said faintly.
"Of me, of my life, of it. Why did you speak? Am I wrong? Am I right? Why were you so cruel as to speak-to speak now? You might have seen; you might have known. I have duties before me; I have a life. I-I am not fit for-for anything else. I mean to be. Oh, I wish I were not a woman. Then, then I should know how to do what is best, what is right.” And upon this, to my bewilderment, she burst into tears and sobbed like a child.
"Alice," I said, "I love you."
"I know, I know," she cried. "And the worst of it is I-I-O Owen North, be very good to me. I meant to have done so much." Are you sorry?"
"Yes. No; a thousand times no."
"Oh, here is Anne Vincent."
"WHEN ON THE MARGE OF EVENING."
THEN on the marge of evening the last blue light is broken,
And winds of dreamy odor are loosened from afar;
Or when my lattice opens before the lark has spoken,
On dim laburnum-blossoms and morning's dying star;
I think of thee (O mine the more if other eyes be sleeping!)
Louise Imogen Guiney.