« AnkstesnisTęsti »
SUPPOSE," said Major Hardeservice a mirror and tossing her bright curls vainly, one day to his wife, when their daughter Eleanor, seven years old, was looking into
"that Nellie will marry a rich man."
"Oh, yes, indeed," said little Mrs. Harde
service with a touch of pride. "Nellie will be very handsome, like you, Frank-straight and tall and fair."
Major Hardeservice had been straight and fair, and he was still handsome, with a firm and almost dashing carriage; but several years of service on the frontier under a burning sun, where in summer the hot air, from whatever direction it blew, came over a dazzling white plain, had turned a fair complexion to a permanent red. The Major's uniform, too, measured several inches more around the belt than when, as a slender lieutenant, he had assisted Miss Elizabeth Marwin to change her name. No doubt if a blush could have vied with his high color, his wife would have seen that the Major was pleased, for he was proud of his good looks, and Eleanor might have inherited her father's vanity.
"But Bess," said the big soldier, pulling a little dark-eyed creature up to his broad knee, and pressing a heavy mustache against the soft cheek," will marry for love, dear. And she 'll make a good wife for a fortuneless soldier like me. She is like her mother."
The hot winds of the desert, and the blinding glitter of snow on crusted fields, had not spoiled the delicacy of Mrs. Hardeservice's cheek, and her blush was evident enough. It was such a pretty blush that the Major heightened it with his lips, and then went stalking out so heavily that the weight of his boots on the board walk could be heard until he reached the parade-ground.
In this way it came about that the family always thought and spoke of Eleanor as the future wife of some man whose fortune could be measured only by the beauty of his wife. That such a man would be worthy there never was any doubt.
But this was almost twenty years before the summer when Colonel and Mrs. Hardeservice and the Misses Hardeservice were spending the summer at Bar Harbor.
The pretty Eleanor, when she was fifteen years old (she did not deny three months later that she was sixteen), had been sent East to her Aunt Helen to receive in New York the social education befitting a rich man's wife. At that time she was as vain and as coquettish as any young girl who is pretty and fully aware of her beauty.
When little Bess, out on the withered stretches of Colorado, read her sister's letters about New York, she thought Eleanor a very fine lady, for Bess's big eyes had seen as yet only forts, and soldiers, and army officers who petted her, and big, square houses as hideous as dull-red paint could make them.
On the night when Miss Eleanor was "to come out," there was an additional military VOL. XLIV.-67.
erectness to the Major's figure over two thousand miles away from New York. Mrs. Hardeservice was in as much of a flutter as if she herself were that night to make a pretty courtesy to full-fledged society. Bess, now fourteen, was in an ecstatic dream in which magnificent gowns, and wonderful music, and oppressively fragrant flowers set her head in a wild whirl. The sentry who paced out the dark night near the Major's quarters wondered at the lateness of the hour when the last light in the officer's house went out.
After this came long letters of afternoon teas, receptions, dinner-parties, cotillons, and countless other entertainments, so that Bess lay awake at night and pictured dukes and royal princes kneeling before Nell, while glittering palaces and fairy gardens danced before her eyes. She was a little disappointed when she received a photograph on the back of which was written, "To my dearest Bess, from her sister in her coming-out gown." Bess had expected to see a crown on the grand lady's head, whereas she was dressed very simply in white. But she was a very beautiful woman, and Mrs. Hardeservice looked at the picture many times that day.
Bess had gone to bed when Mrs. Hardeservice, looking at the Major as she spoke to him of Eleanor, saw that he was dozing. His hand was clenched around a newspaper so that the edges had split. She went up to him with tears in her eyes, and threw her arms around his neck.
"Frank," she said, half sobbing, "I want her."
The Major sprang to his feet. His arm shot out, his finger pointing steadily.
"I can march it in thirteen hours!" he cried, and then rubbed his eyes. "Nell, dear," he added with a short laugh, as if he were ashamed, "I have been fighting Indians again." He looked regretful to find himself in post instead of in the field. She was crying softly to herself when she went up-stairs.
Eleanor was twenty, and her father was a colonel, when his horse, carrying him over the plain at a hard gallop, plunged a leg into a prairie-dog's hole. The heavy Colonel was carried home white and limp, and Cæsar, the horse, was shot to end his suffering. The Colonel lay in bed for three months, and then went on the retired list. The family moved East, and after living in New York for a few months found a quiet little home in Mount Vernon, where the Colonel read the military publications, and army and navy notes in the newspapers-and fretted.
As for Eleanor, she had grown a wonderfully beautiful woman, and her triumphs were many. She was then tall and slender, with shoulders
which marked her spirit and pride. She held them up and back, and when she shrugged them it was like the gesture of a woman who ruled a people. Her throat and neck were marvelously beautiful. They were soft, and yet there was strength in them. Her head was firmly poised, and the hues of her hair were radiant. When she was pleased her eyes, and lips, and every curve of her features, smiled. When she was indifferent her face was like white marble.
Her winters were spent in New York with her aunt, and though no one doubted that she was, as the newspapers spoke of her, a "reigning belle," she did not get married. Not that she had no opportunities. There were hints without end in the publications that balance the accounts of society's ledgers. The smart young men who dawdled on the outer circles of her admirers could tell who was going to marry her. Sometimes they let slip the secret; sometimes they declared that they could not betray honorable confidences. There were mothers of daughters who frowned when desirable men followed in the haughty Miss Hardeservice's train. There were mothers of light-headed young men, possessed of ample fortunes, who trembled at the same time. And yet Miss Hardeservice did not get married. There was only one family that did not wonder at this. The Colonel was a little worried, for he was poor, but his serenity of mind never deserted him about his elder daughter's judgment. Mrs. Hardeservice was content to have her daughter, if only during the summers, and Bess loyally scoffed at every man who offered his name and fortune to her sister. Bess saw a little of Eleanor's world. She stayed in it for one winter. She was not abashed, but after that she chose to remain at home, and while her sister danced gaily or impassively in the social whirl, got her name in the "society" columns daily, and gracefully repulsed young men who swore that they would shoot themselves if she did not marry them, Bess read the "Army and Navy Journal" to her soldier father while he indulged in stolen naps, unmindful of social strife or Indian wars.
When Miss Hardeservice confessed to the Colonel one day, as her fingers played with his gray locks, that she was weary of it all, and begged him to take her to Bar Harbor on a family trip, where they could amuse one another, the Colonel, as he always did to every proposal of hers, cheerfully consented. He went to his desk, looked at his slender surplus in bank, wrinkled his brows a little, and made one more plunge into his account.
It was at Bar Harbor that Colonel Hardeservice began and brilliantly closed his last campaign. While the family adhered strictly
to their plan of enjoying themselves very quietly and simply, it was not surprising that Eleanor should find at Bar Harbor friends who were unwilling to allow her to keep in the social background. But when it was proved after argument, pleadings, and protestations that she was determined in her resolve, her ardent friends did not force their admiration to the point of driving themselves into sympathetic retirement. Her father, valiant soldier that he was, stood before Eleanor. Her friends began to know him. They had not seen his like before. His candor, his freshness, his freedom from conventional restraint, and his fine, open self-reliance, nourished and ripened on frontier posts, caught the spirits of all who met him. It was then that the Colonel became a lion. He danced, he told stories of Western life, he promenaded the long verandas, débutantes leaning on his arm. Colonel Hardeservice was the central figure of Bar Harbor, and in defending his daughter from her admirers and suitors he gave back to society not only Miss Hardeservice, but her father.
The Colonel saw at first glance wherein Eleanor had been at fault. It was not true that there were no men who were her equals. There were many-too many. Only an old campaigner could pick from the flower of this army the most gallant and worthy captain. So while the Colonel conducted armies of young pedestrians up Newport Mountain, led dashing cavalry troops in buckboards over the island of Mount Desert, and watched social manoeuvers with a critical eye, he searched carefully for his chief aide. In the flush of his victories he went beyond military operations. He planned a naval invasion of the dark-hued island which lay before his hotel. Seated in a fickle canoe managed by a young woman whose color was as fresh as the sea air,-the Colonel had never touched an oar or a paddle in his life, he saw his fleet ground on the shore of the invaded. land, and, standing up in his treacherous craft, gaily waved his straw hat and proclaimed the island a province of Mount Desert.
Those were joyous days for the Colonel. The eyes of the fashionable world were upon him. But he did not allow himself to forget his duty to Eleanor. His keen eye was always on the alert. The man whom he sought he soon found. At the same time he made a discovery which caused him, a father whose whole thoughts were devoted to the interest of his daughter, no little mental turmoil.
There were two men toward whom the Colonel's attention was drawn. He liked them both, and their admiration for him was shown in many ways. They were both wholly unlike the Colonel and wholly unlike each other. What made it hard for the Colonel to do his duty was