« AnkstesnisTęsti »
BY HJALMAR H. BOYESEN,
Author of "Gunnar," "Tales from Two Hemispheres," etc.
DURING the remainder of February and all the month of March, Quintus kept up a hypocritical show of activity, always starting at the accustomed hour for the office, and spending the day in cafés and reading-rooms, and in aimless wanderings about the city. He once even fell asleep on one of the benches in the Union Square park, and on being awakened by a policeman, had much difficulty in- persuading him that he was neither drunk nor a vagrant. Often he was seen trudging on through the dismal, chilly rain which New York rarely escapes during March, having apparently some serious purpose in view; but being utterly oblivious of the state of his clothes and the direction his feet were taking, he would sometimes find himself in the most dangerous and disreputable districts of the city. He attracted, however, no special attention. His tall hat looked shabby and weather-beaten, his coat was dripping wet, and he was shivering from head to foot-the normal condition of the inhabitants of these neighborhoods. He would have much preferred to remain at home, seated in his easy-chair in his comfortable library, but in that case Tita would have drawn her inference, and an explanation would have been inevitable.
Tita, in the meanwhile, was not blind to the striking change in Quintus's appearance and temperament. She noticed with increased apprehension the daily deepening of the lines about his mouth and eyes, the listless stoop in his shoulders, and the look of extreme weariness in his whole countenance. She dared no longer coax and question him in her playful manner, for she suspected that the cause of his grief was too serious to be dismissed with a playful retort. Moreover, he showed a disposition to irritability, which, in so amiable a man as he, was quite alarming, and Tita, with the superior knowledge of her sixteen years, began to prescribe for him, as for a moral invalid, substituting cocoa for coffee at breakfast, and fruit for pastries at dessert, and making various other dietary changes, in which Quintus, without a suspicion of their cause, unmurmuringly acquiesced. Tita, however,
failed to observe any beneficial effects from her remedies, and as Quintus continued to grow thinner and more hollow-cheeked she grew more and more anxious, and finally resolved upon a daring enterprise which she had long vaguely meditated. That Quintus was in love, there could be no reason to doubt. From the few novels she had read, she had learned that the symptoms of this ailment were very alarming and extraordinary. And further, as Quint knew no other ladies than herself and Miss Dimpleton, and whereas, if he were in love with herself, he would undoubtedly have told her so, there was no escape from the conclusion that he must be in love with Miss Dimpleton. Moreover, his melancholy had dated from the evening when the Homeric readings had ceased. What more probable, then, than that Miss Dimpleton had refused him that very night? Of course, after such an occurrence it would be embarrassing to continue the acquaintance. Thus reasoned the sage little Tita. And although in an obscure corner of her heart there had lurked a hope that Quint would some day love her as dearly as she loved him, she was resolved to be heroic and to do all in her power to restore his happiness. If Miss Dimpleton were aware what a noble fellow Quint was, she surely would not persist in her refusal to marry him. But, of course, she could not know; she did not know him as well as Tita did. Therefore, Tita concluded that it was her duty to go to Miss Dimpleton and enlighten her. She would, of course, have to choose a morning when Quint, as she supposed, would be at the office.
In this adventurous mood, Tita donned her walking costume and tripped demurely down toward the ferry-boat. She took a street-car up-town, and arrived without any mishap at the door of one of those great, featureless masses of brown stone in which the fashionable New-Yorker loves to dwell. She rang the bell, and was promptly admitted by the colored brigadier in blue and yellow, who, as Tita presently reflected, had been gotten up to match the furniture. She sent up her card, upon which she had written, with much trepidation at her own daring,
"Excuse me, but I do not remember having had the pleasure
"Miss Hulbert," and in a few minutes Miss | resolved, however embarrassing it might Dimpleton descended, held out her hand be, to speak plainly. "Quint has been hesitatingly, and, with an interrogatory very ill of late, ever since the evening when smile on her lips, said: you gave up your Homeric studies. I know that something must then have happened to him, although he has never told me what it was. Yet I know that it is you who must have done something to him that has wounded him very deeply. And, Miss. Dimpleton, it was this I came to tell you, that if there ever was a man in this world who is thoroughly noble, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, that man is Quintus Bodill. It is a great pity that he should care so much for your company that it should make him ill and wretched not to see you. For, though you are very beautiful, you are not as beautiful as Quint; nor are you so good as he is, since you like to wound and grieve those who are fond of you."
No, Miss Dimpleton," said Tita, as Miss Dimpleton showed no disposition to continue," you have never met me before, but— but-please allow me to sit down and collect my thoughts a little, Miss Dimpleton."
She felt an alarming inclination to burst into tears; she was puzzled and frightened at the rashness of her undertaking. Miss Dimpleton seemed very formidable, too, with her clear gray eyes, and her smooth hair, and her rich and stately attire. She stood looking at poor Tita, as if she were deciphering her very soul.
"Yes, certainly, do sit down," she was saying, gazing with sudden intentness at Tita's card, which she was yet holding in her hand. "Your name, it appears, is Miss Hulbert. May I ask, were you not the lady whom I saw with Mr. Bodill in the theater about six or seven weeks ago?"
"Yes, probably I was."
"Then pardon me if I ask you embarrassing questions; but it is of some importance to me to know. Ought not your name to be Miss Bodill?"
"You mean that I ought to marry Quint?" exclaimed Tita, in hypocritical astonishment, while the tears trembled through her words. "Oh, not at all, I assure you. Of course, I love Quint very much, because he is so good and kind and lovely-oh, you don't know how good Quint is, Miss Dimpleton."
Somehow, there was something very touching to her, just then, in Quint's goodness, and the tears refused to be held in check any longer, but coursed down her cheeks, while she yet bravely gazed into her rival's eye.
"I have no doubt Mr. Bodill is very good to you," replied Miss Dimpleton, a little stiffly, although she had to admit to herself that the impulsive and child-like manner of this young girl was very winning. Evidently, Mr. Bodill had kept her in ignorance of his true relation to her, and under such circumstances it would hardly be kind to burden her with a knowledge which would necessarily give her pain. But," she added, "pardon my frankness—but how does Mr. Bodill's goodness concern me?"
"It concerns you very much indeed, Miss Dimpleton, if you only knew it," said Tita,
Miss Dimpleton, instead of smiling at this intrepid arraignment, delivered in a tearchoked voice, grew suddenly very serious, and sat gazing with a look of earnest scrutiny into Tita's face.
"Listen to me, Miss Hulbert," she said, half unconsciously seizing Tita's hand. "You think I am cold and cruel, and that Mr. Bodill is a saint. Supposing it was I who was cruelly wounded, and that it was Mr. Bodill who had inflicted the wound. Unfortunately, I cannot make you understand what I mean. But when a man creates an ideal of purity and nobleness in a woman's mind, and then carefully conceals the fact that he is himself far from worshiping at the altar which he erects for her; thenthen "-Miss Dimpleton groped for a moment for the proper phrase "there is no forgiveness for that man—and in all likelihood he would not even care to be forgiven. Suppose, too, that a woman had held aloof from society, and refused to squander her strength and blunt her sensibilities in fashionable dissipations; suppose she had hungered for a life of nobler aims and loftier interests, and fancied that this man held the key to the Eden she had dreamed of, and imagine then her indignation when she discovered that he, too, had soiled his hands in the moral filth in which the baser crowd of humanity grovel. Can you, with your sixteen years, imagine the bitterness which such an experience leaves behind it, and the dreariness and hopelessness which must follow ?"
Tita, who, without precisely understanding the nature of Miss Dimpleton's grievance,
vaguely felt that Quintus's honor was being assailed, bristled all over with eagerness to rush to his defense. Her interlocutor, however, although she observed her impatience, was resolved to finish her indictment-not because she would condescend to demand sympathy, but merely to give vent to the righteous wrath and scorn which had accumulated within her. Now, at last, came Tita's chance to retort.
Well, madam," she broke forth, forgetting entirely her benevolent purposes, "if "if you mean to insinuate that Quintus Bodill is the kind of man you have just been describing,-I understand what you mean, and you needn't look pityingly at me,then I can only say that-that you don't know him, and that you are unworthy of the honor of knowing him."
And, with a disdainful bow, Tita swept out of the room, whereupon the formidable blue-and-yellow negro opened the door. As she descended the steps, she met an elderly gentleman, who had just emerged from his coupé, and was running up the steps with an eagerness quite out of keeping with his years. She could not look him in the face for her tears; but as she heard his latch-key in the door, Tita sagely concluded that it must be Mr. Dimpleton.
"TELL Miss Jessie I want to see her, as soon as possible," said Mr. Dimpleton, to the servant.
"Miss Dimpleton is in the pa'lo', sah," was the reply.
The publisher, with a look of suppressed excitement, entered the room, and, without any preliminary, handed his daughter an opened letter. Miss Jessie, who was too absorbed with her own reflections to notice her father's manner, received the letter rather listlessly, and, supposing it to be an invitation, put it into her pocket.
"Why, my dear, I wish you to read it at once," said he; "it is a matter of great importance."
She sank into an easy-chair, unfolded the paper, and had hardly read the words, when she started up again, and stared hard at her father.
"Where, where did this " she cried. "Read it, read it," he demanded," and then tell me what we ought to do. Of course we owe him reparation."
The letter read as follows:
"Messrs. J. C. DIMPLETON & Co.
"GENTLEMEN: We have been informed that you have in your employ a gentleman, about thirty years of age, named Quintus Bodill. A young man of that name crossed in one of our steamers about twelve years ago, and made himself the voluntary guardian of a little girl, then four years old, whose mother had died during the voyage. We made careful inquiries at the time, in the hope of discovering some friend or relative of the deceased, but all our efforts were in vain. As in all probability Mr. Bodill would have informed us of the child's death, and we have that she must be alive, and yet under Mr. Bodill's received no intelligence to that effect, we conclude protection.
"The occasion for our troubling you with this affair is the fact that a sum of $455 was collected among the passengers for the benefit of the orphaned girl, which sum was deposited with us, and invested in United States six per cent. bonds. Capital and interest are at Mr. Bodill's disposal whenever he will present himself, with proper identification, at our office. A messenger, whom we sent to your place of business to inquire for him, failed to find him, and we therefore beg of you to have the kindness to communicate to him the contents of this letter. We have the honor to remain, gentlemen, Very respectfully yours,
"BALLARD, RUSH & Co., Transatlantic Steam-ship Co."
"If he had only not been so deucedly proud," said Mr. Dimpleton, in a dispirited sort of fashion-" if he had only deigned to offer me an explanation, all this trouble might have been avoided."
"How could he, father?" retorted Miss Jessie, passionately, letting the letter drop. into her lap. "After what you said to him, there was but one thing for a man of honor to do, and that was exactly what he did."
"And who was it that prompted me to act so rashly as I did on such very slight premises?" asked he, with a remote approach to indignation.
"It was I, father, and I ought to suffer for it. for it. But oh, if I had only known five minutes ago what I know now, I might, at all events, have avoided adding insult to injury. The young lady you met on the steps was the orphan referred to in this letter, and she came, evidently without his knowledge, to upbraid me, as I deserve to be upbraided, for my hasty condemnation, and for my whole ignoble conduct toward him."
Miss Jessie was in the contrite mood when there was a satisfaction in feeling the cut of the lash, and she would have bowed her head humbly under the application of the severest adjectives. And yet, through all this luxurious humility, there thrilled a sense of triumph at the thought that she had, after all, not bestowed her admiration, and perhaps something even more precious,
upon one who was unworthy. She need no longer blush at her own want of insight and discrimination, and she need no longer writhe under the degradation of having opened the inner chambers of her soul to profane eyes. It will be seen that she was occupied chiefly with herself. She felt vaguely sorry for the suffering she had caused him, but her uppermost feeling was joy at being rehabilitated in her own sight. There was some satisfaction, however, in knowing that Bodill had taken her displeasure to heart, although, of course, she could not ascertain how much of his wretchedness was due to the loss of his position.
"Well, my dear," said her father, who was ever ready to do his daughter's bidding, "what do you propose to do now?"
"Order the carriage for me at four, please," she answered, after a moment's hesitation, "and we will both make Mr. Bodill a call and offer him our apologies. I believe he lives somewhere on the Jersey side ?"
"Yes, we have his address at the office."
naturally supposed that some one was making a mistake. When she beheld the stately forms of Miss Dimpleton and her father, she cast an anxious glance about the room (which, very likely, to feminine eyes, presented a disorderly appearance), then made a distant and dignified bow, and requested the visitors to be seated.
"The weather has been extremely capricious of late," remarked Mr. Dimpleton, gazing with a profound interest at the cornice of one of the tall book-cases which covered two walls of the room.
Hearing heavy footsteps, Tita imagined that it was Quint, who was returning from the office a little earlier than usual. Presently there was a knock at the door, accompanied by an ominous rustle of silk. Tita, with her heart in her throat, seized hold of the knob, and, without a thought of her toilet, turned it. It had never yet happened that any one had called upon her, and she
"Yes, I believe it has," said Tita, blushing to the edge of her hair, and feeling strangely agitated. She could not get rid of the impression that Mr. and Miss Dimpleton had come here on some errand of revenge, possibly to punish her for her insolence during the morning. In the next moment, however, she felt ashamed of these suspicions, and with an energetic effort set herself to the task of entertaining her guests. But unhappily she feared that she knew but little of social etiquette, and she had never felt so completely at sea with any one as with these two grave and apparently critical strangers.
"Mr. Bodill seems to be a good deal of a scholar," began Mr. Dimpleton again, just as Tita was meditating her first tentative remark.
TITA glanced with some uneasiness toward the door, and hastily secreted about a square foot of embroidery in a drawer, the key of which she put, with a triumphant little nod, into her pocket. She was making Quint an elaborate Turkish smokingcap to go with his dressing-gown and slippers, so that, while indulging in the oriental luxury of smoking, he might be in charac-six." ter, as it were-entirely à la Turque. But it was, of course, of the utmost importance that Quint should have no suspicion of her deep design until April 5th, when he would be thirty-two years old. On his birthday she was, moreover, in the habit of making him presents of all the things which she conceived that he was in need of; and the bills were, of course, duly presented, one by one, with many days' interval, at times when he was incapable of being anything but amiable.
Yes, sir," she hastened to answer; "he takes great pleasure in his books, and he has some very rare ones, too. I am so sorry that he has not yet returned from the office, but he rarely returns until half-past five or
"The office?" repeated Mr. Dimpleton, in an interrogatory tone. "Is Mr. Bodill in business again ?”
"He has never been out of business, as far as I know," retorted Tita; then, with a sudden clearance of vision, and anxiety in her voice, she added: "I supposed he was in business with you, sir. At all events, I never heard that he had separated from you."
"We-we are no longer together," replied Mr. Dimpleton, in a good deal of confusion. "We separated about six weeks ago."
Six weeks ago!" exclaimed Tita; "and he has been going to the office every morning, and has returned every night at the usual hour."
"He has not been with me, I can assure you," asserted the publisher, severely. He was not finely enough organized to divine
the motive for such a prolonged deception, and was inclined to judge Bodill by his own standard.
"Mr. Bodill evidently wished to spare you the pain of knowing that he was out of employment," said his daughter, whom Tita's mournful face had moved to compassion. Tita was having the most horrible compunctions in regard to a blue parasol with a lizard carved on its ivory handle; she had bought it with Quint's permission, but she well remembered the expression of his face when she told him the price.
Miss Dimpleton, too, by the way, had been indulging a remorseful reverie, and had, like Tita, arrived at the most uncomplimentary conclusions regarding herself. This plainly furnished room, with the long, serious rows of books along the walls, and the great, well-worn dictionaries on the revolving shelves at the writing-desk, was an eloquent commentary on the life of the man whom she had misjudged. She felt here the spirit of the man, and she felt that it was a noble spirit. Her own splendid upholstery, upon which she had spent so much time and study, was, for the moment, almost repugnant to her, and she would willingly (on a certain condition) have exchanged her luxury and ease for the moderate prosperity and scholarly interests to which these books and engravings bore witness. Mr. Bodill's tender regard for the feelings of his ward (not to speak of Tita's extravagant eulogies) also gave her a new clew to his character, and as the picture grew toward completeness at every fresh touch which her memory furnished, her own conduct appeared to grow blacker in proportion as his grew more noble.
While the two ladies were thus tormenting themselves, and while Mr. Dimpleton was examining Webster's Unabridged, which was lying open on the writing-desk, with an air of curious interest, as if it were the latest literary novelty, footsteps were heard in the hall, and Bodill entered. He looked worn and weary; the lines of his face indicated suffering; and the loving eyes of Tita read at once in these lines the painful history of his generous deception. The twilight, however, had imperceptibly been creeping into the room, so that Miss Dimpleton, who was less skilled in this kind of psychological divination, saw nothing but a tall, handsome man, who seemed to be very tired.
"Miss Dimpleton !" he exclaimed, starting back in surprise.
Yes, it is I, Mr. Bodill," she answered, in her clear, calm voice. "My father and I have come to beg your forgiveness for a grievous wrong we have done you."
"Yes. The fact is, Mr. Bodill," interposed Mr. Dimpleton, in a hurried and embarrassed way," the fact is, it was a sad mistake-a very sad mistake, sir."
"It was more than that," insisted the daughter; "it was a cruel injustice and a grievous wrong."
"Mr. Bodill," she said, rising and advancing to meet him, "we have come
Quintus, instead of answering, glanced with anxious tenderness toward Tita, who stood with mouth, eyes, and ears intent upon discoveries.
"Couldn't you please go down, Pussy dear, and tell Mrs. Hanson to postpone our supper until half-past?" he said, with visible uneasiness. "Tell her we have visitors."
When Tita, with a look of intelligent sympathy and yet with evident reluctance, had left the room, he said:
"Now, Miss Dimpleton, I am at your and your father's disposal. Do, pray, be seated. The subject to which you refer is to me a very painful one, and, as it appears to me, it is of no use to tear open a healing wound."
"We have very weighty reasons for doing what we do," said Miss Dimpleton. "We owe it to ourselves as well as to you. I need hardly say that my father has come to offer you the only reparation which you can accept and he offer with justice to himself and to you. He begs you, as a favor, to resume your former relations with the firm."
"Yes, Mr. Bodill, we are anxious to have you resume your former relations with us," echoed Mr. Dimpleton, whose conversation in his daughter's presence was but a slightly modified version of her remarks. "We can do nothing less, in justice to ourselves and to you. I hope, sir, that that will be satisfactory to you."
"It is not a favor we offer," explained the young lady, with much earnestness, as Quintus sat leaning his head on his hand in meditative silence; "it is a favor we beg you to confer."
"It is very kind of you to put it in that way," answered Bodill, without looking up. "Nevertheless, I cannot quite dismiss the thought that, if Mr. Dimpleton had valued me highly as a member of the firm, he would not have accepted my resignation so promptly, and listened so readily to rumors affecting my character."