Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

Girls of a feather : a novel online

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Xfbrars of popular fiction
*lo. 31















(Att riglitt reterved.)




" But men await the tale of love,
And weary of the tale of Troy."

NONE of the events of life seem to have such a
pronounced fatality as those which refer to
love and to death. Who among us has the
oracle of his grave ? Who can tell under what skies
it will be dug ; or at what time ? And the uncer
tainty of dying is not greater than that of loving. A
man may walk daily among the fairest women on
earth and never know the meaning of the word. He
may come to an age which fairly gives him warrant
to assure himself that he is proof against the witch
eries of women. He may even deplore his insensi
bility to them ; and yet find that the bitterly-sweet
experience has only been a little delayed that in an
hour undreamed-of without premonition or prepara-


8 Girls of a Feather.

tion, lie falls serenely and carelessly into the deepest
depths of that half-divine condition.

Perhaps no man in New York felt more certain of
his position in this respect than Dr. Robert Carter,
a physician of renown, a man of great wealth, very
handsome, and still unmarried though nearly forty
years old. He was accustomed to speculate on the
circumstance ; and specially so when the claims of
his profession took him to Adrian Van Buren's. He
had been there one afternoon, and as his carriage
joined the stream of vehicles coming down the
Avenue, he soon became thoughtful, and the enforced
slowness of his progress conduced to reflection :

" What a noble woman she is ! How strong, how
gentle and how wonderfully handsome ! Only, I do
not feel her beauty. My heart beats no faster in her
presence. I can forget her for weeks together. Yet
I wish I could love her. I like her father ; she has
no embarrassing female relatives ; and I ought to
marry. Will is always telling me so ; and Will is
right. But I know that there is such a thing as love.
Professionally, I have met cases of ' love unto death.'
Surely in the presence of Alida Van Buren a woman
who is even physically divine I ought to feel love
but I do not !"

Engrossed with such thoughts, he had nearly
reached his home, when he remembered that he had
promised to call upon a sick gentleman living in a
neighboring street. He knew him to be a reckless
speculator, and he had a very shrewd idea as to his
physical trouble.

" I will wager my fee that he is dying of gold on
the brain," he muttered as he went to the chamber
of his patient. And he told him so plainly.

Can You Doubt It?"

" What have you to do with the money-market,
Mr. Shepherd ?" he asked. " You, whose nervous
system is all on the outside, and whose feelings are
refined by prolonged culture. To men of your caliber,
the money-market is only a common form of suicide."
" What is the world but a money-market, doctor?"
" It is a great deal more. Men who make colossal
fortunes do not do so so much from choice as because
it is their raison d' fare. When Nature produces a
creature for the special purpose of making money,
she does not burden him with nerves and with wants
and desires that would scatter his forces."

" Money-makers are necessary to progress, doctor."
" Certainly they are. This is the industrial age,
and there must be men who are great reservoirs of
capital. How else could we build railroads and lay
ocean cables ! But consider the men who make great
sums of money, and you will see that in all business
matters they act with the steadiness and the cer
tainty of instincts. Culture impairs natural instincts,
makes them hesitating and considerate. You are too
cultured, Mr. Shepherd ; you will never succeed in
making millions ; and I tell you, if you continue the
effort, you will kill yourself. Go to the seaside to
the woods to the mountains go anywhere but to
the money-market."

The sick man sighed and turned his head wearily
to the wall. And Doctor Carter having done his
duty, went slowly down-stairs. He was buttoning:
his gloves and thinking of his dinner. As he passed
through the hall, he was arrested by the opening of
a door. A small, slight figure ; a woman's face,,
young and lovely ; a soft, eager voice made poten
tial reason for his delay.

IO Girls of a Feather.

" Doctor Carter, how is my father ? Is he very ill ?"

The white, anxious face lifted to his face was very
beautiful, but that was not the charm. It was the
face for which he had been waiting ; it was the voice,
which seemed to have half-forgotten echoes in his
memory. No other woman had ever touched him
in just the same way. He felt a right in her, and a
determination to compass that right the moment she
spoke to him. An unusual tenderness came into his
heart, and the sick man acquired a sudden interest
through the sick man's daughter. He sat down by
her side and entered into explanations and directions
not before thought necessary. He could have re
mained with her all day. Her eyes drew him like
magnets ; and when she gave him her hand at part
ing he hardly knew how to escape from its clasp.
When all had been said, he still held it ; and for a
moment they looked silently at each other. In that
moment her face was imprinted upon his heart. He
knew that he must evermore carry the sweet im

Robert Carter was nearing forty years old, and ac
customed to diagnosticate both mental and physical
symptoms. He knew what had happened to him.
i " I have fallen in love at last," he mused. " I was
taken so absolutely unawares. However, in real life,"
he said decidedly to himself, " love is the most man
ageable passion in the world."

Then he wondered if he should tell his brother.
He would, and then he would not ; and yet he knew
his indecision was all a pretense of indifference. In
his heart he was longing to describe the loveliness
and sorrow which had subjugated him.

There was indeed between Robert and Will Carter

"Can You Doubt It?" n

a brotherly affection which could not endure reserva
tions, although no two men could have been more
dissimilar in many respects. Robert lacked all sen
timent and poetic tastes and was without spiritual
discernments. No obstinate questions of "Why?"
or " Where ?" ever troubled him, and no mere mat
ter of feeling was ever likely to interfere with his
" getting on " in the world. Will Carter cared very
little for the world, but much for the unfathomable
inner side of life. He was a lover of nature, a fine
musician, a man who inhabited only his head and
his heart and who put all fleshly desires under his

Yet, in spite of these radical oppositions in taste
and in character, the brothers had a strong attach
ment for each other. Accustomed to give all affairs
of their lives a mutual confidence and discussion,
they derived from the habit something of that moral
discipline which a priest derives from " manifesting
his conscience." And though Robert's many duties
separated them from morning' to night, as soon as
they were together again Will usually opened the
conversation by asking :

" What has happened to you to-day, Robert?"
The answers to this question had a certain mo
notony and yet a constant variety. Will saw the
world through them. He had almost a child's curi
osity in their recurrence, for was there not always
the possibility of something wonderful to tell ? He
seldom admitted that this wonderful element must
be love, yet the thought and dream were always
present. He had little unspoken disappointments in
his brother's indifference to women ; for though his
modest self-depreciation forbade any personal hope

1 2 Girls of a Feather.

of marriage, he continually imagined for Robert
some exquisite girl-wife, who would be good, pure
and lovely as the angels in heaven.

It grieved him when Robert smiled away such
hopes. It grieved him still more to hear women
slightingly spoken of. He never hesitated to rebuke
such words and to remind his brother of the dead
mother and sister whose memory still sweetened
their pleasant home. But as year after year went
by, he began to let the idea of Robert's marriage slip
away a little. It grew fainter and fainter until the
girl-wife, whom he had almost seen going through
the house, filling it with love and sunshine, became
a pale shadow of his first hope. He had even ceased
to speak much to Robert on the subject.

" We shall both wither away in the rooms our
father built, and there will be none to come after
us," he thought.

For it seems a part of fruition that hope must
first have been abandoned. Destiny loves surprises.
Will was not that night even watching for his broth
er. He was holding " large discourse " at the organ,
In those abrupt shocks of startling melody which
prelude the " Messiah " and arrest and inspire the
mind with majestic contemplation. Will was quite
voider their spell. He did not hear his brother enter
the room, and he did not see him standing at the
window, looking first at his own iridescent finger
nails and then at the moving picture trampling down
the avenue.

Nor did Robert interrupt his brother. He had
some sweet thoughts for entertainment, and it was
near six o'clock. In a few minutes, he knew, the
butler would have no hesitation in saying, no mat-

Can You Doubt It?"

ter what immortal melody was ringing through the
room : " Mr. Will, the dinner is served, sir." And
even as he remembered this certain interruption it
was accomplished ; and Will, with the look of a man
suddenly awakened from sleep, came down from the
clouds to the dining-room.

He went to his brother's side with something of
the affectionate confidence of a child, and as soon as
they were alone he asked his usual question :

" What has happened to you to-day, Robert ?"

" I have made calls and delivered my lecture.
And you? What have you been doing, Will ?"

" I have read and written and walked. But it is
hard to walk in the city now. I want to go to the
woods. I want solitude. I want it a hundred miles
thick on every side. I saw a starling shoot through
the square, swift, straight and resolute. I knew he
was going to the country. I made a rendezvous
with him there."

" To-day I also made a rendezvous in the country.
But it was with a young lady."

" Robert ! You made a rendezvous with a young;
lady ! Who is she ? What is her name ? Where is.
her habitation ?"

"She is Mr. Ambrose Shepherd's daughter. I do
not know her personal name yet. She lives in the
next street. Ambrose Shepherd is very ill. I have
advised his removal into the country, and his daugh
ter asked me if I would visit her father there. I
said I would."

" But then ? That is not all !"

" Not quite."

" For you never go out of town to see patients.
Robert, I ant amazed ! I have no proper words to

14 Girls of a Feather.

express my amazement. I can only use the inartic
ulate formula in ' Little Dorrit :' ' It du ! It really
du ! ! It du, indeed! / /' Is Miss Shepherd pretty ?"

" She has a captivating face and manner. I am
afraid, Will, she has almost persuaded me to fall in
love with her."

" Robert ! Do fall in love with her ! I hope you
cannot help falling in love ! ' I du ! I really du ! I
du, indeed !' "

" Sensible people can always help folly, Will. Do
you suppose I shall allow myself to fall in love on
unknown ground ? And if I do fall in love, I need
not therefore marry."

"You are talking uncommon nonsense, Robert.
If Miss Shepherd should take it into her head to
marry you ? Then where would you be ?"

" Just where I am, I suppose."

" Oh, no, indeed ! In such a case you would be as
certain to marry Miss Shepherd as you would be to
arrive at Washington if you got into a train going
to Washington. And just think, Robert, how charm
ing it would be to have a lovely woman going about
these rooms ! How charming to hear her calling
your name ! To see her, exquisitely dressed, sitting
at your side at this very table ! What excellent din
ners we should have ! And how perfectly the house
would then be ordered ! For one of the miracles
about women even young girls is that they make
the most outrageous servants behave themselves and
do their duty. You know that both of us are afraid
of the servants. Yes, we are, Robert. Do fall in
love, then ! It would be such happiness for both of
us !"

" Tell me, Will, why should a man sacrifice every

11 Can You Doubt It?" 15

other consideration to one single condition of happi
ness ? And it is by no means sure that domestic life
is the highest form of human bliss and aspiration."

" As far as women are concerned, perhaps not.
The woman of to-day is such a miracle. If John
Milton wrote now, he would be compelled to make
man, and not woman, ' the defect of nature.' Women
are so much in advance of us now. What degrees
they take ! What books they write ! How eloquent
they are for the best side of everything !"

" If Miss Shepherd is one of these miracles, I shall
not go to the country to see her. I greatly disap
prove of women who lecture and write books. I
could not love a woman who always met me at intel
lectual sword-point. I like a girl to have the bloom
of womanhood upon her."

" Does the girl who writes a book lose .any more
' bloom ' than the girl who reads what is written ?
The highest education for women "

" Is the education that best fits them for married
life. Marriage is a woman's highest destiny."

" Very good, Robert. The men ought to hold a
similar doctrine of predestination about their own
destiny : Man's highest education is that which best
fits him for married life. The one theory supposes
the other."

" Will, why do you not fall in love ? You seem to
have progressive ideas on the subject."

" I have been very near it often. I would dare the
experience gladly if I could find a suitable com
panion to dare it with me. I am not handsome. I
am very different to you, Robert."

" You are rich."

" Love is not bought in the market-place."

1 6 Girls of a Feather.

"Oh! Oh! O'h! That is just where you are
wrong, Will."

" A wedding-ring may be bought ; but love ? No !
Love has no earthly equivalent. May God send
those together who would fain be loved !"

With these words he rose from the table and be
gan to light his cigar ; but he accompanied his move
ment to a murmur of songs, which had such a swing
of march and melody that Robert felt it impossible
to resist the curious interest with which it inspired

"What are you singing, Will?" he asked. "It
sounds like some incantation. Whatever are you
doing with your syllables ?"

" I am singing four lines from the ' Eve of Venus.'
I wonder if it is near her advent ? Listen, Robert,
to the commands of the great goddess :

" ' Lovers become ; and begin to-morrow,
You that have notever loved before.
Aye, and to-morrow again be lovers,

You that have lovedand love no more. 1 "

The music was sharp and poignant to the very last
note, and when it had rung itself out, Robert also
rose. He went to the window and flung it open.
The words and melody affected him strangely. They
were fastened in his memory like a nail in a sure
place. He wished to change the subject entirely,
and he asked his brother :

" When do you go to the country, Will ?"
" In a day or two. It is very warm and the city is
already empty."

" Perhaps ; but the country is still emptier.'

"You do not like the country, Robert?"

" No ! I do not like the country, and life is too

"Can You Doubt It?" 17

short to spend any part of it in a place that is dis-
agreeable to you. I like the city. I like the greet-
ings in the market-place and the jargon of the clubs
and the gossip in the wide office of the Fifth Avenue
Hotel. I like the questing and the guessing and the
eager, angry, imperious struggles of life."

"And so you wear your heart and nerves and
brain away."

" Precisely but I live. Did you hear that Calvert
has fled with a lot of money ?"

" What folly to steal when it is so much more
lucrative to cheat."

" But when a man lends himself half a million at
once ?"

" He is a poor fellow. Suppose you advise Am
brose Shepherd to go to Stromberg. I am going
there, and I could look after him a little. I should
like to know his daughter."

" Stromberg is as good a place as any other. He
simply wants to get beyond the jingle of gold and
the financial slang of the Street. But that is the

" There ought to be a Lotus-land for our worn-out
financiers, Robert. A land in which it should be
always afternoon, without any afternoon newspaper."

" What nonsense ! How could you make mild-
eyed, melancholy lotus-eaters out of New York stock
jobbers? If you took them to a veritable land of
Tennyson, they would scramble up those 'three
silent pinnacles of snow ;' they would measure the
height of each peak and build a hut at the limits of
the snow-line. Very soon they would organize a
joint-stock hotel company, put up a monster building
and incite the lazy inhabitants to be^cine guides and

1 8 Girls of a Feather.

keepers of livery-stables. And there would be a
morning paper, of course, full of financial schemes
and real-estate booms. In short, Lotus-land would
soon become a miniature New York."

" Lovers of nature

" I tell you, Will, lovers of nature are born so.
They are a ready-made article. I am always bored
to death in the country."

" How can a man be bored anywhere, with all the
resources of our high civilization ?"

" I assure you, Will, that a capacity for being bored
is a proof of our high civilization. The degree in
which you feel ennui is the actual measure of your
active power running to waste. A country boor full
of beer and bacon is not bored. He is happy enough
if he may sit still and convert beer and bacon into
flesh and blood."

They pursued this conversation, until Will arrived
at the millennium. Robert threw no impediments
in his way there. He found apparent listening a
good opportunity for giving his thoughts their free
will ; and he regarded the fact with some interest,
that they had instantly flown to the girl he had seen
for the first time that afternoon. He did not analyze
her beauty ; he preferred to realize it in its entirety.
To consider her features, her form, her air, her voice,
separately, was like pulling a rose to pieces, to count
its petals or to find out to what botanical family it
belonged. All in all, the maiden was sweet and
lovely ; and Robert Carter, as he sat in the gloam
ing, half listening to his brother's theories and quite
absorbed in love's delicious dreaming, was inclined
to let his heart lead him.

But even philosophical philanthropists get tired

"Can You Doubt It?" 19

eventually of their eloquence ; and when Will Carter
had traced the growth of brotherly love until it
brought forth the millennium, he said :

" I may as well stop, Robert. I do not think you
are as interested in the millennium as you ought
to be."

" It was a kind of Northwest passage there, Will.
And, after all, the millennium is so far away, while
the probabilities of our ever reaching it seem to grow
less and less every year. However, nothing pre
vents our going to sleep and dreaming it is here."

But such was not the dream Robert Carter be
spoke ; for as he went loitering and thoughtfully
about the room, preparing himself for rest, he was
softly humming the invocation of a far older lover :

"Come, Sleep ! But, mind you, if you come without
The little girl that I would dream about,
By Jove ! I would not give you half a crown
For all your poppy-heads and all your down !"

And when the great mystery of sleep wrappeth a
man like a garment, how shall he order what is to
befall him in that condition? For though Robert
entered it full of pleasant hopes and plans, he awoke
weary and sad, with a heart aching with a nameless
apprehension. He spoke to his brother jestingly of
the matter.

" It was the /#//, Will. There could have been no
other reason. I was thinking of Miss Shepherd all
the evening. What fools we mortals be, sleeping or

" We may be fools, waking, Robert ; but in sleep,
we get very close to the truth about ourselves. One-
fourth of our time is spent in sleeping and dream
ing ; is it likely, then, that the whole matter is of no

2O Girls of a Feather.

consequence ? Besides, our dreams are as individual
as our thoughts."

" You could not prove such an assertion as that,

" Oh, but I can ! You told me last week one of
your horrible dreams after vivisection ; and at the
very same hour I was dreaming of wandering in a
great wood and listening to the green finches, who
were laughing and talking back to each other. We
are such stuff as our dreams are made of, Robert."

" All right. I see Horace Key is going to Con
gress. At least the Herald says so."

" And truth is absolute in the pages of the Herald.
Why should Horace go to Congress ? Such a gay-
hearted fellow !"

" Congress is generally considered a good thing."

" But it is not a cheerful thing. Multitudes of
people go to sleep there."

" All business is, I suppose, rather dull."

" I think so. If I call on Fred Lenox, I feel the
weight of his office on my heart for days afterward
the files of big books, the desks of awful height,
the bills and papers, the silent men writing, writing,
writing are a kind of nightmare."

" And yet, what thought, decision and action are
recorded in those dull books ! Every line is the
work of a considering brain and a patient hand. If
one could read between the figures, what romances
there are in those dull books ! What records of ad
venture and hard labor !"

" You speak as if work was a man's highest con

"Is it not?"

" No. If you had listened to my theory of the

"Can You Doubt It?" 21

millennium, you would understand that the great
point of the labor question will be solved in it ; that
is, men and women will have time to work for their
souls as well as their bodies. Work, for the sake of
gold, is the superstition of an age infatuated with
money. It kills every way. Look at Ambrose Shep
herd ! Are you going there this morning ?"

" No."

The negative was sharp and final in sound, and
Robert Carter thought it expressed his fixed deter
mination. He was in that depressed condition which
often precedes some great change, and whose domi
nant symptom is a dread of change. To hold fast to
life just as it was, in every petty detail, appeared to
him at that hour the chief part of wisdom.

But as the day went on and he began to take his
part in its duty and struggle, the other-worldness was
driven away, as the mist is driven away before the
advancing sun. Then some pleasant thing hap
pened, and he had the mental tonic necessary. About
noon he called himself "coward " for running away
from an obvious duty, because there was a woman
in the way. So that he finally rang the Shepherds'
door-bell in a state of virtuous control, which he be
lieved to be invincible.

He saw no one in the hall but the servant who ad
mitted him. An air of silence and loneliness per
vaded the house. It had a certain effect on him,
and he went softly upstairs. He knew his patient's
room and he pushed aside the door. There was a
decided and intentional gloom there, and at first he
could see nothing. But in a few moments the in
terior was clear enough. Shepherd was in a deep
sleep on his bed, and his daughter sat motionless at

22 Girls of a Feather.

his side. A closed book, was in her hand, and her
head was thrown back against the white-linen cover
of the large chair in which she sat.

Robert looked steadily at the sleeping man, and
then put out his hand to the girl. She took it, and
he led her out of the room. They went silently
down the stairs together. His feet moved with her
feet, and every step sent him deeper and deeper into
that abyss of delicious foolishness which is often the
heart's highest wisdom. He had frequently held
women's hands before, but never yet had any hand
so wondrously thrilled his being, so soft, so warm,
so natural in his own it seemed. Holding it, he
found a link which hitherto he had not missed but
which now he could never endure to lose again a

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrGirls of a feather : a novel → online text (page 1 of 23)