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within the hampers, were forced to i thunder-claps had almost been of quit their task and join the other por- slight volume. tion of the party, dryly ensconced be- * That struck somewhere near l'exneath those rocky coverts whose over- claimed Willard, as the hollow reverjutting ridges afforded ample shelter. berations were yet rolling boomingly Eloise, nervous from the first approach · away. And indeed, not many yards of the storm, uttered more than one i distant, a large hickory, standing territied cry as vivid lightning-flashes somewhat alone and far overtopping illumined the almost solid sheets of all adjacent foliage, showed to every down-rushing rain, and were promptly eye a great splintered gash through its followed by furious roars of thunder. midst and an utter ruin of several Reginald and Beatrice were on either stalwart branches. Eloise, however, side of the frightened girl, and to Regi- should be excepted from those who nald there was something like a direct really witnessed the effect of this termockery of his own position in the in- rible bolt; for her condition had at tensity of contrast between the se- once become wildly hysterical, and her parate demeanours of Eloise and her
moaning screams resounded with shrill companion. One face wore a childish sharpness, while she clutched Beatrice terror that well suited the occasional | in an actual agony of tearful alarm. plaintive cries issuing from its lips; The storm at once permanently dethe other face was a trifle paler than creased, and both peals and flashes usual, perhaps, but full of sweet, seri- showed signs of its pacified condition; ous composure, suggesting a natural but Eloise, her noisy spasms having awe restrained by a gentle though firm ceased, now seemed overcome by a sufficiency of self-possession.
complete prostration, like a vaguelyThe lightning at length abated, and conscious swoon. Beatrice not only both rain and wind palpably lessened. bathed her temples with a rainThere was even manifest a certain drenched handkerchief and performed brightening of the sky, too, when sud- every attentive office which the occadenly a fresh mass of yet blacker cloud sion would allow, but repeatedly asbrought a deeper dimness, and new sured Alfred Austin, in low placid peals of thunder alternated with fresh words that she felt convinced the attack and intensely brilliant flashes. Eloise's would soon pass over, that Eloise had fears, diminished by what she believed before suffered in much the same way, to be the end of the storm, were now and that there was no occasion for the re-awakened with more than their least anxiety. Austin was the only first force. She threw her arms about one of the party who exhibited any Beatrice, uttering wretched little cries, | marked worriment at the sufferer's and buried her face impetuously i condition, and his nervousness and against the other’s bosom. Many soft pallor were both plainly evident. words of comforting assurance were Reginald remained watchful, making spoken by Beatrice, in tones so full of no comment. Wallace Willard, ready womanly strength, of unconscious pla- in whatever suggestions of relief occid superiority, that once more the curred to him, seemed to partake of same mockery of contrast struck with the same tranquil coolness that marked telling effect upon Reginald.
i Beatrice. And now there occurred, after a In a quarter of an hour the storm momentary lull in the tempest, one had wholly departed, and the sun was flash of such livid luridness that once more shining upon drenched foevery eye which met it involun- liage and sodden country. All were tarily closed, while with simultaneous | so confident that Mrs. Ross would rapidity there pealed forth a great
have caused a vehicle to be sent after crashing outburst to which the other the party as soon as the weather per
paths of the lawn in the early winter starlight. It was not till now that Reginald gave his companion the least clue regarding what was to be the subject of their conversation.
Wallace,' he rather measuredly began, looking straight before him, 'I hope you won't attempt to contradict me when I tell you that I am the weakest man of your acquaintance.'
'I shall require proof, however,' was the slow and rather dry answer.
* Proof l'exclaimed Reginald, looking all about him for a second as though to make sure of there being no unseen listener.
• Good heavens, my condition fairly teems with proof! You know I had been away for a little time before the accident from which you found me recovering last summer.'
· You had been fishing, I think you said-yes.
'I had been falling in love.'
'I had been falling in love-well, let me say it all—with two women.'
· That is serious. Was one a fisherman's wife and the other his -?'
· Don't jest, please. I was never more serious than now.
Six months had passed, and the same party, after a continued period of separation, were again to be found in Mrs. Ross's country-house. They had assembled there to spend Christmas. The spaciously comfortable mansion had been decorated with a charming collection of greens throughout nearly all of its attractive chambers. Good cheer reigned everywhere, with a sweet sovereignty. It was Christmas day, briskly cold out of doors, but free from the snowy accompaniments common to this period. The household had met at a sumptuous-looking six o'clock dinner, which was still in progress. Reginald had scarcely spent six weeks at home during the months since we last saw him. It was somehow understood that he had been passing most of his time in New York, though he had been oddly reticent regarding his frequent and prolonged departures. For three days past, since the two guests, Austin and Willard had arrived, his manner had seemed to everyone unusually taciturn and preoccupied. To-day, during dinner, he scarcely spoke ten sentences. The occupants of the dining-room were all rising from dessert, when he whispered in Willard's ear :
'I want to have a short talk with you, Wallace."
A few moments afterwards he and Wallace had quitted the house by a rear door and were strolling side-andside along one of the more retired
If Willard had not seen it before, the look that Reginald here turned upon him was, indeed, well calculated to settle all doubt. "No matter how long I was away, Wallace,' he went on, and no matter what opportunities I have had of fully observing these two women.
Some of the facts are these : I have seen enough of both to understand their natures pretty thoroughly. Both are my social equals; both are unmarried. I love one'-he paused now, and laid his hand heavily on Willard's shoulder, while his restless eyes dwelt for a moment on the other's face in solemn and appealing fixity—'I loveone, Wallace, with my heart, and one with my soul. This has a very high flown sound to you, no doubt, but it is the only lucid way to put the matter, after all.'
A silence, during which the two ; with the sweetest charities, looking at friends walked slowly along, in the life with the broad-sightedness of some crisp, keen air.
Willard suddenly deeply thoughtful man, yet mingling slipped his arm into that of Reginald. with her view a sympathetic intuition · Describe to me,' he said, “your feel. , exquisitely feminine.
exquisitely feminine. I feel that if I ings towards her whom you say that married her I should be a wretch not you love with the heart.
to become the happiest of men! And * They are not complicated,' was
yet the deliberative answer, touched with "And yet you would probably be a sort of dignified melancholy. When the most miserable.' we are together I am simply very 'No, no! I did not say that. I much pleased. A strong attractive do not think it' force has me in its grasp. If I at- Before answering, Willard brought tempt to find a reason for this charm his friend to a dead stand still. There I usually finish by profound and re- was a half-smile on his lean, worldlygretful self-contempt. There is be- wise sort of face, and a few tiny tween us no congeniality of intellect. wrinkles seemed, in the bluish dimI will even admit to you that the ness where he stood, to have come woman is common-place, whimsical, of into sudden view beneath either eye. a small nature. I am like one be- He drew his arm from Reginald's and witched, yet fully cognizant of the began to speak, with placid distinctspell-power binding him. If I marry this woman my happiness must last, • It is fair to suppose, my dear felonly so long as that spell-power con- | low, that you have not put this confitinues unchanged. Should it cease,
dence in me without a certain feeling there will be no barrier against my- i that my advice may be of some value. self-contempt assuming wider than But if I am wrong, here, at least this personal limits. Only, I believe that advice can do no harm, and I am going it will last. I believe that the influ- to give it. The woman of these two ence of this woman over me is an in- whom you love is evidently she whom destructible fact, and founded upon no you mentioned first.
What you defleeting impression of the senses. I scribed to me regarding your sentican safely tell you that satiety will : ments toward her was undoubtedly never make headway against it, though the description of a passion. on this point you will probably feel tify this passion may be an imprulike presenting objections.'
dence which your after-life will heartiWillard offered no reply for some ly repent; I don't pretend, on such a little space, as
point, to prophesy affirmatively or walked onward. His head remained negatively. I have seen too many meditatively drooped, while Reginald marriages of this sort turn out well, turned more than one swift inquiring and too many turn out ill, not to conglance at his half-hidden face.
fess that the dissimilarity of both tem. And the other ?' he at length perament and intellect between a wedquestioned
ded pair is one of those questions as Reginald's voice had loudened when yet quite defiant of inductive reasonhis prompt answer now found utter- ing. The accumulation of instances ance, and its melancholy of tone had does not seem to give much help of an a deepened likewise. Through all that posteriori kind to the social observer. he said there seemed to surge a steady Perhaps when pure science has made undercurrent of self-reproach, even of more psychological headway we shall confessional self-abasement.
be able to match men and women one • She is a woman in ten thousand with another as accurately as we now clever, capable, courageous, brimming match certain meats and certain sauces.
But I don't want to seem flippant, as ish hestitation, at other equally fair your look informs me that you think experiences in the sweet grandeur of me. All that I would suggest is this: Beatrice Sedgwick's character. Wileither marry or do not marry
lard had been confident enough in his man whom you have told me that you prophecy of future unhappiness relove. But by no means dream of mar- sulting from any such union, yet Wilrying the beautiful-souled creature lard was after all but a fallible seer. whom you respect so emphatically and And as regarded this abnormal fascinaesteem with such a chivalrous warmth tion exerted by Eloise, how did he of admiration. No man ever falls in know but that rigid spiritual disdain love through his conscience, or from a of it might accomplish wonders heresense of advisability. And least of after? His reflections, indeed, ran on all, my dear Reginald, a man of your into angry syllogism, and he declared somewhat peculiar nature.'
that all men could crush out a passion · Nature!' exclaimed Reginald, unworthy of their moral natures, that with a touch of such absolute despair he was a man, and that therefore the in face and voice that a pang of in- hope of ultimate victory must not be voluntary pity shot through Willard's thought delusive; though whether any heart. What is my nature, for Hea- marked flaw existed or no in the poor ven's sake? I sometimes think I am fellow's major premise may be a mata man born without any!'
ter of doubt to some who read these chronicled meditations. Granted, he
went on, that his love for Eloise was The twilight had become darkness a weakness ludicrously disproportionwhen Wallace Willard rejoined the ate to much else within him that was little group within doors. Reginald sound and healthful. There he would did not accompany him.
He was yet
be the hospital for his own disease, walking about the lawns, having been and perhaps with an ultimately curaleft alone at his own suggestion. tive effect-or the private asylum, to
Reliance upon the soundness of put it a little more strongly, for his Willard's views and belief in the ex- own distressing insanity! c-llence of his friend's rarely-proffered Having reached this stoic stage in acivice had grown almost a second his musings, Reginald passed into the nature with him during the years of house. The idea now occurred to him their long acquaintance ; but he could of entering the library, a certain room not now bring himself to place trust on the ground floor, richly stored with in either. That the declaration of his bookshelves of his literary preferences love to Eloise should have come so and antipathies, and of taking down near being sanctioned by a man of some favourite author with whom to Willard's keenly perceptive judgment, spend, as a sort of desperate, though
a roused in him a passionate yearning unsocial makeshift, an hour or two of to make the words he had just heard the evening. He had nearly reached an excuse for giving sentiment fresh the doorway of this room, when the liberty and revelling in its unrestrained sound of a voice—a woman's voice, gratification. But co-existent with speaking with much vibrant clearness this yearning arose an indignant un- --- told him, to his sharp surprise, that willingness, which seemed to cry out the library had other occupants.
A at the commission of a sacrilege. His second later he was aware that the memory perpetually reverted to past voice belonged to Beatrice ; and while events, and that satire of contrast so in doubt whether to turn away or plainly observable between these two to make his presence known, he had women was like a reproachful index- become a listener to the following finger, pointing, across months of fool
• I can say
consciencequalms, that until I met you I had no experience of what it is to love as doubtless every woman has loved once in her lifetime. And yet, since you have made perfect candour between us the order of the evening, I ... I think I had best repose
you a confession.' . By all means do so.'
Wallace Willard's voice ! Is it possible that no thought of his objectionable situation occurred to Reginald at this moment. Astonishment was alone uppermost within him, as Beatrice now proceeded, rather hesitatingly :
During several weeks before you came here, Reginald, as you have heard, was suffering from the effects of an accident. We were constantly thrown in each other's society. . . Often I would spend hours at his side, talking with him, or reading aloud. His mother had often hinted to me, in a hundred ways more or less pointed, that if we two should ever care for each other, such an occurrence would prove the gratification of a very dear wish. Until then I had never believed that Reginald felt for me other than a most ordinary regard ; but repeatedly, during those days of his convalescence, I fancied that I discovered in him signs of an actual passion. And it was great pain for me to believe that I had inspired any such intenser feeling ; for
let me say it most solemnly. . I had none to bestow in return. But my love for Mrs. Ross, my deep respect for her wishes .
uly strong sense of duty toward a friend who.
'I know,' the other voice broke in, with soft and sympathizing tones ; 'I understand perfectly. You would have accepted Reginald at that time if he had asked you to marry him? Or did he ask, and did you refuse?'
Those were the last words of this conversation to which Reginald listened. Gliding away, he paced up and down the hall for a long time. There was no suspicion in his soul that Wallace Willard, by his recent advice,
had played false, having guessed the concealed truth. Unjust as such a suspicion would have been, many a man, under circumstances like the present, would have been prone to foster it. But no thought of the kind troubled Reginald. He simply felt an excited over-glowing sense of liberty. The inexorable finger of duty no longer pointed toward a certain path. If his mind reverted at all toward Willard it was only that he felt for his friend a genial instinctive gratitude. Willard had forever settled the tormenting problem. By falling in love with Beatrice and winning her love in return, this man had freed himself, Reginald, from all future excuses for doing otherwise than his emotional part had long so powerfully prompted. His course was clear now, and it seemed literally paved with self-justification, Toward Beatrice fate had lastingly sealed his lips; and not the most rigid casuist, knowing every struggle through which he had fought his way, could have blamed him now for letting this residual need profit by which his spiritual demand had irrevocably lost. Perhaps ten minutes later Reginald heard the door of the sitting-room, which was situated considerably further toward the outer entrance of the hall, slowly unclose. He chanced, at this time, to be considerably distant from the opening door, having sunk into an easy chair midway between library and sitting-room. But now he saw Eloise come forth, and a single glance at her face showed him its unwontedly flushed condition.
Reginald's heart gave a quick bound. A sudden colour showed itself on his face, and his eyes took a rich, softening light. It occurred to him that Eloise had never looked prettier than now, as she came and stood before him, with her blonde hair waved in crisp disorder about her fresh young face, and wearing a great pink rose in the bosom of her white-muslin dress.
• Are you alone ?' he asked. I mean, has Austin left you ?'