« PreviousContinue »
KING COPHETUA'S WIFE.
ball-room, plainly clad in mask and domino
of black satin. As I stood looking at the “Only a word, and was I who said it,
bright crowd a hand was slipped through And so it rings within my ear to-day; Only a word; a taunting gesture bred it,
my arm, and I turned quickly to find a Marie And—well, it had its way.”
Antoinette standing beside me.
“Mrs. Beldon, why have you come to I was Neil's friend-God knows that I me?” was his friend-and loved him too well, even “Hush! come to my rooms in five minthough in my disloyal heart loving his wife utes, please; I must and will see you alone.” a thousand times as much, to see him lose And five minutes later I stood, still masked, the respect of the strangers in the house, in the parlor. Mrs. Beldon was there with and become a gibe and jeer for them. I shining eyes and flushed cheeks. Her mask was exasperated, too, at the way in which he lay on the floor, and as I bent to pick it spoke to me, and still I was helpless. up she set her foot in its jeweled French
That evening when he came in to dress slipper on the satin trifle. for dinner, he came with a smile and a “Do not stoop for me, Mr. Eldridge. pleasant word, and I was content to forget You do not like me: you have never liked the angry words he had thrown at me in me; and why? I certainly have done more the afternoon. But after dinner we went to than is my wont to make you my friend, and the Beldons' parlor, where Mrs. Beldon was to give you an opportunity for finding out alone. We sat for an hour, and then I said: the best that is in me; but utter disapproval “Neil, come, I want you to go out with me." of me is written on your face at all times,
A quick glance from Mrs. Beldon's bright and you could not, even if you cared to, I eyes at my face, and she saw through my think, keep a certain glance of supercilious flimsy trick.
contempt out of your eyes when you look at “No, Mr. Barras, I want you here with me. You shall tell me why this is !" me."
It was not an easy thing to do, to tell this “Will you come?” I thundered savagely. woman what I had to tell her, and had I been
“No, thank you, I will stay with Mrs. the only one concerned, I should not have Beldon.”
spoken the truth-should have turned off the “Then go to the devil, both of you !” and whole matter with a polite society lie. But I left the room with a new rage making my it was the last chance, perhaps, to help the heart beat fast and loud.
man I loved; and I nerved myself to the The next morning Mrs. Beldon, when we task, slowly taking off my mask, and loosenmet, did not recognize me, and I could not ing the domino to make time for myself. blame her; yet I was glad that I had uttered “Be seated, please.” And Mrs. Beldon the ungentlemanlike words, and glad that she graciously pointed to a chair; but I preferred knew my feelings. Neil avoided me all day to stand before her, as she half sat, half relong; and so matters went until an evening clined on the sofa. when there was to be a masked party.
“You asked me a direct question, Mrs. I helped Neil into the shape-dress of a Beldon, and deserve and shall have as diharlequin (under which his great muscles rect an answer. showed with a curve and swell that would "You
that I do not like you. We will have delighted a sculptor of the Phidian let that pass for the present, if you are willage); then an hour later I descended to the ing; although I can and must say that, until
my incautious outburst the other evening, face and brilliant figure shining out of the I have never knowingly been rude to a brightly lighted room. woman in my life. Let me go to the root of I turned away with a sigh. Surely I had the trouble that is on my heart. You are done niy awkward best to help Neil; was I flirting with a man who is my friend, and to blame that I had failed? whom I respect and love. The whole social I retired to my own room before the party circle in which we move here is commenting had broken up, lighted my pipe, and was upon the matter, and giving it harder names sitting thinking—thinking hard—when Neil than a simple flirtation warrants.
came into the chamber. He made a magnot help amusing yourself with men; it is a nificent subject for artist or sculptor as he part of your nature: but Neil Barras does stood there before me, every muscle showing not-or will not- understand this. He through the tight costume that he wore, and thinks you are in earnest, appreciates to his face animated with suppressed and exthe full your beauty and grace, and is cited feeling. falling down before you in an admiration “You have been meddling with what does that is rapidly changing into a stronger, not concern you, Frank. I fail to see wherewarmer feeling. He has a wife who loves in my comings and goings need trouble and treasures the merest trifle that his hand your conscience-or whatever it is that is has touched. I ask you for the sake of his troubled by what I am doing here. I have wife, if not for his and your own good, to found a friend, and am enjoying her society. stop where you are. What is one man more Her husband looks on and finds no fault. or less in the train of your admirers ? You A few old-maid gossips in the hotel, who cannot grasp Neil's nature, nor comprehend have no better way of occupying their waste him in any way.
He is not like other men, time than to discuss those who are younger but takes all things for granted and as real. and therefore capable of appreciating life What profit is his enslavement to you?” more than they, do perhaps canvass what I
Mrs. Beldon rose from the sofa and walked have done. I expected better of you than back and forth across the parlor. At last that you should join their ranks. If I were she stood facing me.
a dissipated man-about-town, it would be dif“Do you realize how you have insulted ferent; but you as my friend have never beme? Do you know that you have spoken to fore had cause to cavil at my ways, and have me as no man ever dared speak to me before? not now, except such cause as your poetical If you are a friend to Mr. Barras, and to his imagination affords. wife as well, you should have had sufficient “Let me tell you this: it was never well tact to approach me in a different manner. to oppose me; suspicion or watching always Mr. Barras is nothing to me, but I deny your drove me, even when a child, to do what I right to interfere, and I shall carry on this would not have thought to do if let alone; flirtation—as you call it—to what extent I and I am not changed in disposition since please. You have lost your cause by your I was a child.” awkwardness; and take my advice in this: “No, I can readily believe that," I answerthe next time you fancy yourself called to ed. “It is not my conscience but my heart interfere in a matter of this kind, be more that is troubled, Neil. True, I have no gentle, more lenient, or you may, as now, right to advise or caution you; if I am inarouse all the obstinacy of a woman's nature, terfering with what does not concern me, it and find-as you will find—that it is a hard is not because anything that you may do thing to combat against.
will make or mar my life. It is for your “I am satisfied, and you may go. We sake, and yours only, that I plead-yes, and will not know each other in future, if you for the sake of your wife; but I can say no please. Good evening." And I found more. I will not quarrel with you, and no myself outside the door, with that mocking more harsh words shall pass between us:
I leave all to your own heart; it has been so The face that he turned towards me was warm and generous to me, I cannot believe red, his eyes had tears in them, and I could that it will set you to deliberately ruin the see that, beneath a trifling shamefacedness, life of the woman you promised to love and he felt relieved. honor."
“Yes, I will go home on Monday, Frank. Neil threw himself down upon the floor God bless you, boy! It will be better so, I before me, while I relighted my pipe to cover am sure; you do not know how much better the nervousness that I felt was showing in for both Madge and me. I am so obstinate, my face and hands; for the hands are such it is so hard for me to talk of things that I subtle betrayers of nervous expression, that do or do not do—this will be the better way, they need occupation to conceal what they I know.” would specially tell. I had said my say, and So I went back to Boston the next day. would leave my friend to work out his own As Neil left me in the train he said, with moral problem; and yet there were few things my hand held tight in his: "Forgive me the I would not have done or said if they could uneasiness that I have caused you, Frank, have had the effect my heart desired. and forget as much of all this affair as you
When the morning mail came in, there can. I have been in the wrong, perhaps; was another letter from Madge—a repetition but I believe that there is a devil in me of what she had said before, and of what I sometimes when I am so unyielding, som had said. There was a note of bitterness whatever you please to call it.” And then running through the written words, too, that he went, and the train bore me on toward stung and troubled Neil, I saw; but he said Boston and my friend's wife. very little about it to me, yet I noticed that A hard task had been set me, to go to he kept away from Mrs. Beldon, and went this woman and smooth the way for her husout by himself for a walk, from which he did band's return to her. She was not a virago, not return until dinner-time. After dinner a female tyrant, whom I had to talk with he came to me and drew me into a retired (it might have been easier for me if she had corner of the smoking-room.
been), but a woman whose only fault, if it “Frank, I must go home. Madge feels were a fault, was that she loved the man to unpleasantly about my staying here, and I whom she was married. And I stood in her must go home to her. But I do not like to presence on the following day very awkgo and face her as she is feeling now about wardly, and wishing very heartily that I had this matter. It is hard for me to explain not come. such things at any time: it will be harder “You have come home, Frank, and Neil now when there is really so little to explain, not with you? I did not think he would and so much that she may imagine if she stab me like this?” And she sat down becares to be suspicious, as you see she al- fore the fire and looked into the glowing ready is. What shall I do? I wish”—and coals with tears rolling over her cheeks. he turned his face away a trifle and lowered “Let us be practical and sensible, Madge,” his eyes—“I wish that you could see her I answered. “Neil did not mean to wound first and ease her mind before I go home.” you; and I am only a few hours ahead of
I pitied him—pitied him for his weakness; him at the most, for he will be here to-morbut I was friend enough to the man to sup- row.” press the indignant exclamation that rose to
“Why did he not come back with you? my lips, and after a minute I said: “Very A few hours more in the society of Mrs. well; to-morrow will be Saturday. I will Beldon was, I suppose, the inducement for leave for Boston in the morning, and go to him to remain.” see your wife on Sunday, if you will give me “There, let us drop that at once, or else your word that you will surely start on Mon- talk it all over and out before he does come. day for home. Will you?"
For surely it will be the better way to have
no words with your husband about the mat- sake, but for yours, my two friends. I am a ter. He is coming home, and that will selfish man, and care much for the bits of probably be the end of his intimacy with fame and comfort that I am able to reach Mrs. Beldon. Do not, if you wish to hold out and grasp for myself; I do not like to him closely to you, let him see that you are come in contact with the woes and distresses jealous or suspicious. The lighter the of other persons, and I fight shy of all unchains lie about his neck, the more firmly pleasant things: but I should be sorrier than they will keep him at your side. He boast- I can make you understand if I let anything ed to me last summer that his wife never go undone that could prevent a barrier ris'nagged' him, and I am sure that it will not ing up between you and Neil; and for that pay to begin now.”
reason I have come as I have, not to be in“Nag' him! Is it 'nagging' a man to trusive, for nothing but to assure you that find fault that he turns from his faithful wife your husband is coming back to you as pure to a married woman who can be nothing to and heart-whole as he went away, and to him that is loyal and honorable? Is it ‘nag- ask you to sacrifice your pride and the anger ging' to sit here, as I have done, with such that has magnified its cause by unremitting a pain about the heart that I had to press thought, and to meet Neil as though nothing my hand hard against it in order to endure had happened; and all will be well.” the anguish; to go to the piano and try to Then I went away, and the next day Neil sing, and break down because of the tears came home. that choked me? You are a man, Frank Eldridge, and cannot understand a woman. To you I seem to be making a mountain
CHAPTER VI. out of a mole-hill, an occasion for great grief out of a trivial incident. O, yes! I "Bon voyage, comrade, for we drift apart, know how true you have in your friendship
The distance widens as the current flows, been to Neil and me: but you are a man,
And I, who yesterday could feel your heart,
To-day can hardly see your eyes disclose and can no more easily comprehend the Their blue, so fast the space between us grows." workings of a woman's heart than you can understand the pitiful sorrow that some of You know how warmly the sun shines the stories you write bring to the sentiment- down on the sidewalk of Park Street in the al school-girl who reads and cries over middle of the afternoon; how bright the them—a pitiful sorrow, I say, because, after light is that comes streaming across the all, she must one day come to realize that it snow-covered Common, making the bare was but seeing her own future, her woman's branches of the trees stand out in all their lot, drawn out by a cunning hand and set skeleton meagerness, and showing up so before her. I believe, certainly, that you plainly the English sparrows which fit from would have saved me from this experience, twig to twig that you could count them, if and thank you for your goodness; but, Frank, you had the time and patience to spare: I do not think that I can ever be rid of this yes, and even resting almost tenderly on new, hard feeling that is come to me. My the straight and unadorned envelope that husband brought it to me, and he should be hides the Brewer fountain from the storms the last to blame if it reaches even to him and cold winds of winter. and brings him hurt."
You have seen the water go slipping and “But, Madge, listen. For your own good gurgling in narrow rivulets down the hill and
peace do not let Neil see that this feel- from the melting snow that lies heaped in ing has sprung up in your soul. God in grimy hillocks on Beacon Street, and perhaps heaven knows that I did not come to you have noticed how often an old man stands willingly; that I stand here pleading for on the sun-warmed bricks and holds out a belief and confidence in Neil, not for my bunch-a large, odorous, nodding bunch
of roses with long, leaf-covered stems to greens, the airy, changeful blue of its sky, the passers-by. At any rate, you have seen and the apple-blossoms seeming to tremble
that small old Italian woman with her in a light breeze that had blown open half rounded back, and her seamy, furrowed face the door to a rickety old barn where the that is puckered up into more wrinkles than straight, unshadowed shaft of sunlight shone many human faces come to have, who sits on the floor with its wisps of scattered hay, on a camp-stool and grinds forth from an among which a solitary hen was slowly wanantique hand-organ strains that are so faint dering about. you scarce can hear them, unless you stand I laid my roses in Mrs. Jaquith's lap and still and bend your ear down to the instru- stood leaning against her chair. ment. You know the street and its fre- “Ah, Mr. Eldridge! between this picture quenters, do you not?
and the roses I feel quite as if I had shaken I was passing down the hill toward off all knowledge of winter, and was living Tremont Street one afternoon, ten days or for the moment right in the beauty of spring. so after coming from New York. The old I came into Boston only yesterday, and woman ground out a few brisk but weak already your cold sea-air has struck terror to and cracked chords from her hand-organ, my heart and lungs. I hardly ever dare to and I felt rather than saw the dark frown come East at this time of the year, but Adam that followed me because I did not take my had business here, and I so much wanted to lazy hand from my overcoat pocket and see a few of my friends in the city that I drop a coin into the battered cigar-box on mustered up courage to take the trip. the top of her unmusical means of liveli- “I sent my card to you this morning, and hood. The old man held his roses toward we were quite sure you would come around me, and they were so sweet and summer-like to the hotel to-night. I shall be in town a in the afternoon sunlight, that I stopped very few days, and my son has promised and bought a handful for the mere pleasure that I shall go to your house, for I have a that lay in seeing the fragrant, lovely things. desire to see the pretty things that I am told And a little farther on a lady tripped on the you have gathered about you, and the little step of the carriage from which she was 'den' that must be peopled by all the fancidescending, and fell heavily against my ful images you have created in it. shoulder. It was Adam Jaquith's mother, old lady, and so quite free to lay aside the forone of those stately, delicate old ladies who malities of social etiquette, you know, and to seem to have somehow caught up all the call upon young gentlemen—if they kindly grace and refinement that a youth passed in permit me the privilege." the most cultured society can give, and to “Indeed, I shall be grateful to you if you have carried it on into their later years, and Adam will come to my lonely house, adding thereto a charm that nothing but which seems so dreary and barren to me delightful old age can give: an indefinable since my mother went away that I shrink breath of attractiveness that is as elusive yet from inviting visitors, fearing it may be as as decisive as a melody or a perfume. dismal and lonely for them as for me. I
She was about to go into a picture gallery will call upon you this evening; and will you when our abrupt meeting occurred, and I be kind enough to hold yourself and Adam went in with her.
bound to me for a tea-party to-morrow? A The slight accident of her fall had made small tea-party, you understand, just a homeher a trifle nervous, and she sat down in a like coming together; for I never entertain chair to rest before one of those bright but in a homely way, and when my friends pictures by Appleton Brown, a painting that are friends amongst themselves, and quite was like a morsel of spring-time taken bod- unstudied and unfettered in their sociability. ily out of its season, and hung up on the Will you consider yourselves engaged to wall, with all its melting and marvelous me?”