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Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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divined by Steve ; though he had far too large
a reverence for his mother to voice plainly his
opinion. He went into the quiet garden, and
paced up and down the gravelled walks, and
communed with his own heart in a way that was
far from bringing him stillness, or peace. In
fact, he was glad when he saw Alice coming
20



MATRIMONIAL PLANS

towards him. Her white dress fell in soft folds
to her feet ; she had a white parasol over her
uncovered head; and he said to himself: "She
is straight, and white, and pure as a lily. No
one but John is worthy of her."

"So you have had your talk with mother?"
she inquired.

"Yes a solemnly sweet talk. "

" She looks very frail. I wish she would go
out more."

" If she would only go about the house more ;
if we could see her at table if, indeed, she
could only make up her mind to serve us, as
well as pray for us, it might be better. I
don t think mother understands the power of
those indirect influences that distil from a holy,
loving life. They seem intangible, but they
may be more than effort. "

"I cannot bear to think of mother ruffling
her calm soul with the frets of the house
father s tempers and unkindness my little
vanities and social annoyances and the never-
ceasing worry, and unreasonableness of the ser
vants."

" I don t know about that, Alice. I remem
ber reading of a man who received as a precious
gift a block of sandal-wood. He was a fine
carver, and he resolved to make out of it a
lovely image of a saint. And he worked and

21



THE KING S HIGHWAY

worked, until the block was all cut away; and
his ideal was as far from being realised as when
he began. But one night a servant brought
in a block of oak-wood for the fire, and on this
homely wood he began to try again ; and as he
did so, his dream grew in beauty, and his knife
in skill ; and he made from the common wood
that grew at his door an image lovely and won
derful, though he had cut the priceless exotic
sandal-wood away in vain endeavour. The same
is a parable, Alice, if you can read it. I am
going away again in an hour or two."
" Will you not wait and see father? "
" For what good end? Father does not care
to see me, unless I am ready to say, Your will,
sir, and not mine. I am not ready to say that.
I must have liberty. "

"Is liberty, then, so great a good? Women
have to do without it."

" Life and liberty are both gifts of God ; lib
erty is the greatest of the two. The fetters of
women are small, uneasy things : they chiefly
affect the body; the fetters of business, arms,
government, which bind men, rust into the soul.
I am going to the sea for a few weeks."
" Are you still sick for the sea, then? "
" You can t tell how much so. Even here in
the green peace of the trees, I hear the waves
purring, softly with little treble sounds, against



MATRIMONIAL PLANS

the sides of the ship. This turf seems firm to
your little feet; but it is like the pulsing floor of
the sea to me, and my heart leaps, and I could
laugh outright, as I think of wave after wave
rolling in torrent rapture."

"When will you go to sea? "

" Next Saturday."

" You may not get work by Saturday. Have
you money? A desire like yours is a very
sickness I have some money left."

" I have a friend a sailor. I can go to sea
whenever I want to go."

" It is only Thursday. Where will you stay
until Saturday? "

" With John McAslin."

"Then you will see Jessie, also? "

" Yes, I shall see her. Alice, I wish you
could see her. She teaches music. Can t you
take some lessons? You don t play as well as
she does."

" Steve, why can t you learn to say pleasant,
flattering things? I don t play as well as this
Jessie McAslin. Is that the way to coax me?
You dear old stupid, you ! "

" Will you take some lessons, Alice?"

" I will think about it."

"Do. It will please me so much."

" Send me her professional card. I suppose
she has one."

23



THE KING S HIGHWAY

"Will you really, dear?"

" I will do any right, reasonable thing to
please you, Steve. You know that."

She looked at him as she spoke, and to her he
seemed very good and desirable. The rough,
restless life he had led for nearly three years
had not left traces that repelled her. It was the
hand of Nature that had tanned and marked
him; but as yet the vices of humanity had not
signed themselves on his open face. Doubtless
he had met them in his strange experiences,
perhaps he had entertained them as passing
guests ; but they had not become his familiars.
She sent him away with kisses and good wishes ;
and she was not jealous of Jessie McAslin,
though she knew he was longing to see her.
Alice loved her brother unselfishly; she had
already divined that Steve might be won by
a large, noble nature that controlled his own, to
lead a more useful life ; and if Jessie could thus
save and bless him, she was glad to hope in
such a salvation.

After Steve s departure, she sat all the after
noon making plans to bring about an acquaint
ance with this girl. She was sure that Steve
already loved her; and she would not believe that
there was any invincible reason for regarding the
marriage as hopeless. Her own faith in her
brother was perennial ; she had the conviction
24



MATRIMONIAL PLANS

that if Steve were surrounded by the proper
circumstances, he would be a man after any
good woman s heart. A home would be an
anchor to the restless spirit, and its obligations
would sweetly compel to industry of some
laudable kind.

As she sat in the summer sunshine, stitching
gold and silver threads into a square of pink
satin, she planned for Steve all kinds of domes
tic happiness. He must have a farm ; he must
have animals dependent on his care ; he must be
near the woods, and not far away from the sea.
He must have a home not too fine for daily use,
and yet fine enough to keep him bound to conven
tional decencies. He must have the right kind
of a wife above all things ; and she felt certain that
Jessie was the right kind. Steve said " she was
hard-headed and soft-hearted," and Alice con
sidered this an excellent combination for her
reckless, affectionate brother. Her want of
fortune was also an advantage ; money would
have given her special rights and privileges,
which would have irritated and made Steve re
bellious ; it was a necessity that he should have
a wife who would repose absolute confidence
and reliance on his love and exertions. As for
social equality, there could be no question on
that matter. Steve laughed at all such distinc
tions. He declared that he had found gentle-



THE KING S HIGHWAY

men and ladies in all classes, and that the
accident of birth, or education, or wealth, or
station, had little to do with their existence.
With the unselfishness that was so large a part
of her nature she began at once the work which
she fondly hoped was to regenerate her brother.
" I must give up my three months at Newport,"
she said with a sweet decision. " I must tell
father that I wish to stay at home to practise my
music. The expense will be so much less, and
I am sure there will be no objection."

Contrary to her expectation, there was a
serious objection. That very day Mr. Lloyd
had begun to plan for his daughter s future,
a thing which had hitherto never troubled his
speculations. He came home full of unusual
hopes, and looked at Alice with a critical re
gard, that gradually became a settled approval.

" I had no idea she was so beautiful, " he said
to himself as he dressed for dinner. Coming
downstairs he stepped slowly and with enforced
dignity, holding his head up to his thoughts,
which were of titles and coronets and courts.

Mrs. Lloyd had been an uncertain factor in
Alice s plans; she was unable to say how her
mother would regard them ; and she hoped to
strengthen her own opinions with her father s
approval before it was necessary to explain her
change of purpose.

26



For once Alice Lloyd was not sorry to see
her mother s place at the dinner-table vacant.
She felt that it would be easier to draw her father
into conversation, that he would be more amen
able to reason and less disposed to contradict
and oppose whatever others desired ; and this re
flection made her sigh, for she understood that
these moods were generally assumed for the
very purpose of annoying the woman whom he
had vowed to love and cherish.

This evening he came into the dining-parlour
with a singularly subdued excitement. He con
descended to praise the weather, he told Alice
that she was looking very well, he was willing
to allow that the soup was excellent and the
wine properly cooled, and in short, for once he
brought to his own table the urbanity and sat
isfaction that he usually reserved for strangers
and mere acquaintances. But the rare mood
rather frightened Alice ; she did not like to dis
turb it; if she made him angry, he would be
sure to point out reproachfully the fact that
whenever he tried to be good-natured at home
he was imposed upon. She involuntarily be
came silent and thoughtful, and was quite igno
rant that her father was observing with approba
tion the beauty of her downcast face and the
still grace of her reflective pensive mood.

Finally the servants left the room, and Alice
27



THE KING S HIGHWAY

felt that she might now change the conversation
proper before them to one more private and
personal. Mr. Lloyd had the same thought,
and was more prompt to realise it. Before
Alice could form her request, he had asked,
" Is Stephen in the house yet? "

The question, put without interest and with
out anger, grieved her. She involuntarily felt
this absence of anger to be a wrong. It argued
a want of feeling which would be far harder to
influence than the most bitter resentment. She
answered coldly,

" He has gone away again."

" He did not care to see me, I suppose? I
don t wonder. But I am astonished he had
such a proper sense of shame."

" He would have liked to see you, father, but
he thought you did not care to see him. He is
going to sea on Saturday."

" He is a mental and physical tramp. I sup
pose your mother has been crying and praying
over him all the day." He drank a glass of
wine hastily, and then turned to Alice, who had
risen from the table, and asked, " When do you
go to Newport? "

" I do not want to go this summer, father. I
wish if you have no objections to take some
lessons, and perfect myself in music."

"What new fad is this?"
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MATRIMONIAL PLANS

" It is not a new fad. I have often told you I
would like to be proficient in some one thing."
" I want you to go to Newport. I have a
particular reason for it, and I may as well tell
you now as again. To-day I have been able
to oblige, in a very essential way, a young Eng
lish nobleman. He is going to Newport. Can
you not see that this circumstance may contri
bute considerably to your eclat there? I intend
to bring him out here on Saturday, and intro
duce him to you. The rest is in your own
hands."

" I will not pretend that I do not understand
you, father, but "

" That is right ! That is right ! I knew you
were a sensible girl. If your brother had only
a thimbleful of your intelligence he might, at
least, learn how to spend the money I make for
him. The fact is, Alice, this young nobleman
is of the best blood in England; you have, or
will have, lots of solid American gold. He can
take you to courts, give you a title, rank, pres
tige, and what not ! You can give him the
means to keep up the splendour of his nat
ural position. I own that I should like to be
father-in-law to an earl, and I am willing to pay
for it."

During this speech Alice had been thinking
rapidly, and she concluded that it was not yet
29



THE KING S HIGHWAY

the time for opposition. She felt strong in her
ability to temporise, until she had carried out
her plans for Steve afterwards afterwards
well, afterwards was perhaps a long way off;
she need not, at any rate, go to meet " after
wards." So when her father ceased speaking
she asked gravely, but yet with a show of
interest,

" What is your opinion of this nobleman,
father?"

" He is gentlemanly looking, I hear people
say that he is handsome. I am no judge of
Apollos."

" And yet you are yourself a very handsome
man, father."

"Am I, little girl? Well, at least I have a
very handsome daughter." He was much
pleased with the genuine compliment, and also
with the bright smile that answered his reply to
it. For once they were ready to begin a dispute
in a thoroughly good-natured mood ; and Alice
opened it by saying :

" You would not wish me to marry a man
who did not love me, or for whom I had neither
love nor respect? "

"Have I said such a thing?" Then he
added scornfully, " Love is supposed, in all
marriages."

" At Newport a girl has great disadvantages.
3



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All the beauties of the Continent are gathered
there. It takes a fortune to dress yourself.
The simplicity style will not pass now. It is
dowdy. No matter how much a man is in love,
he cannot offend the conventionalities ; he can
not devote himself. There are more engage
ments broken off in Newport than there arc
made. And this young Earl will be the idol of
the season. Plenty of girls quite as pretty and
as rich as I am will offer him sacrifices that
Alice Lloyd could not think of. If you really
wish me to marry this noble Englishman, father,
you must let me have a fairer field than New
port for his conquest, " said Alice, smiling.

"Where then?"

" This house is beautiful. The surroundings
are romantic. Everything here is my ally.
I have no contingents to bother me. This is
the kind of home a man desires after the buzz
and babble and hollowness of Newport ; he will
come here and find that out."

" You may be right. I will bring him here
on Saturday. Women understand the tactics
of matrimony better than men. You have no
other lover, Alice? You are not in love with
any other man?"

" I am not in love with any man. I have no
lover. I never had one. You forget that I am
just out of college."



THE KING S HIGHWAY

" College ! That has nothing to do with it.
Love rather affects a gown and cap now. He
is become a B. A. ; " and he laughed good-hum-
oredly at his own idea.

" Perhaps he has, father," said Alice. " At
any rate, if you do not object, I should like to
become a Doctor of Music. I only need a good
teacher to do so."

" Very well ; but mind this, I will have no
foreign, long-haired woman s darling coming
to teach you. Get a sensible, commonplace
American, who wears a necktie and gets his
hair cut."

" I thought of a young lady who has been
highly recommended to me, a Miss Jessie
McAslin."

Alice had determined to name the McAslins
very carefully; and then, without intent or con
sideration, the word slipped off her tongue.
She watched its effect breathlessly. For a mo
ment it appeared to awaken no memory ; then,
swift as light, it penetrated the dust and forget-
fulness of years; and the man s face paled, and
the glass in his hand trembled, and he said, as if
to himself:

" McAslin ! McAslin ! Where have I heard
the name? Jessie! Jessie! Jessie McAslin !"

" I dare say you have seen the name very often,
without consciously putting it into your mem-
3 2



MATRIMONIAL PLANS

ory, " answered Alice. " Miss McAslin has a
brother, a clever young man, who writes for the
reviews and newspapers."

" Now I remember ; very sensible articles they
are; just my views on the gold standard."

" Then you have no objection to my employ
ing Miss McAslin? "

" No. If you are right about Newport, she
may help to pass the summer profitably. I wish
it was over, for my part."

The conversation was dropped without any
answer to this remark. Alice did not think it
wise to ask for reasons, which would give op
portunity for saying disagreeable things; she
handed her father his newspaper, and went into
the next room and played softly a pretty noc
turne. The music did not offend him, as it too
often did ; he let the sweet dreamy notes sink
into his consciousness ; and memory set herself
to them. He was twenty-two again. The bloom
of young desire, the purple light of love, were
his own ; and pretty Jessie Allison was walk
ing hand in hand with him, through the sweet
clover of the home meadow. He had hopes
then, sweet innocent hopes ; now, he had only
their memories.

Anon he began to wonder about the Mc-
Aslins. Jessie had married a man of that name ;
could these young people be her children? He
3 33



THE KING S HIGHWAY

felt an unusual interest in this question. Why
should he care? He told himself that he did
not care; and yet faces and voices long for
gotten came back to his inward eye and ear ;
and he grew nervous at last under the unusual
companionship. As the shadows deepened, he
rose up and called for lights and the evening
papers, and in their astonishing records of
struggling, sinning, game-playing humanity
found an habitual and congenial atmosphere.
He was at once his own man in it; and the
wraith of his youth with its dreams and hopes
passed away from him.

In the morning, early, Alice wrote to Jessie
McAslin. She wished her to receive the note
before Steve went to sea: for she judged it
likely he would hear about it, and so under
stand that his sister was disposed to sympathise
with his wishes and friendships. It was of course
a formal little note; and yet somehow, notes do
carry the spirit in which they are written. Un-
thoughtful of this occult influence, Jessie was
yet sensitive to it. " What a nice note ! " she
said to herself as she read it. It found her also
in an hour favourable for consideration. She
was sitting alone with Steve, when the sharp
whistle of the postman penetrated the room.
Mrs. McAslin was busy about her household
affairs, and her husband sat reading and talking
34



MATRIMONIAL PLANS

beside her. Flora and her lover had gone for a
walk. John had been invited to some Trade s
Hall, to discuss with its members questions re
lating to their position. Steve, who was gen
erally delighted to go with John to such meet
ings, had this night declined to do so.

He had placed himself in a comfortable posi
tion at one open window of the parlour; Jessie
sat at the other. She had a book and pencil in
her hand, and appeared to be making notes, or
entries ; really she was speculating about Steve,
and the book and pencil were only a pretence.
She was weary of it, when the postman s whistle
blew a fresh interest into the room. Steve in
sisted on going downstairs for what had been
left, and Jessie made no objections. He brought
up two letters, one for John, and one for Jessie.
Jessie took her letter with a little curiosity : its
appearance was unfamiliar. In a moment or
two she was possessed of its contents, and she
rose up in an excited manner, and went to her
father and mother. Steve sat down again in his
seat by the window. He knew the letter was
from Alice, and he expected to hear it dis
cussed. He was quite prepared when she re
turned to the room with her mother, both of
them in a glow of pride and pleasure.

" Steve, " cried Mrs. McAslin, " what do you
think? Jessie has a note from Miss Lloyd
35



THE KING S HIGHWAY

Nicholas Lloyd s daughter asking Jessie to
give her music lessons. Do you remember our
conversation about the Lloyds? You said you
knew the son at school?"

" I did."

" What kind of a boy was he? "

"In some ways he wasn t a bad boy. He
couldn t learn anything useful, or up-to-date."

" That does not matter, mother, " interrupted
Jessie. " The boy might be very stupid and
disagreeable, and the girl clever and delightful.
The thing that puzzles me is, who told Miss
Lloyd about my playing and teaching? I know
no one who visits in her set."

" Sets run over and into each other in New
York, and inquiries are made from all kinds of
people, " answered Steve. " I suppose you will
give her lessons, Jessie? "

" I will go to see her to-morrow. She has
sent me a marked time-table, and if I let her
know what train I will take, she says the car
riage will meet me. I will telegraph her
to-night. I wonder which will be the most
convenient train?"

" Ten-thirty, " said Steve, promptly.

" How do you know? "

" I have acquaintances up the river. I always
take that train. It is an express. Shall I go
and telegraph for you? "
36



MATRIMONIAL PLANS

" I wish you would, Steve."

He went at once to obey her wish, and
Jessie discussed the affair and laid out her best
walking-suit, and retouched her black hat for
the expedition. In this way she wearied her
enthusiasm a little, and Steve found her on his
return sitting in the parlour, silent and depressed.
" Steve was going away." Her heart iterated
this complaint, and refused to be consoled by
any mere financial good fortune, for Steve had
become a large part of Jessie s thoughts and
imaginings. He constantly surprised and puz
zled her. John said he was a fine classical
scholar, and he did not appear to be in need of
money. His good breeding was evident, and
when he attempted to use slang or popular
language, he could not do so as one born to
its peculiarities.

Steve, Jessie reflected, had the carriage of a
gentleman, and that air of distinction only
attained by a childhood passed among refined
people and surroundings. Yet he was going to
sea as a steward s assistant. He would have to
obey orders, write out menus, make lists of
stores, and do work which she could not fancy
a man of fine instincts and habits being willing
to do. He even hoped to exchange this work
at Liverpool for that of a man before the mast ;
and he spoke of such employments as if they
37



THE KING S HIGHWAY

were natural and native to him. What was he?
Or rather, who was he? Even to John, he said
nothing of his antecedents ; or if he had done
so, John was as reticent as Steve could possibly
desire.

These circumstances of mystery made a fav
ourable atmosphere for the growth of love ; and
before Jessie was aware of the fact, she was
more interested in Steve than she would have
admitted, even to her own consciousness. She
realised one thing, however that she had a
heartache about his going away. In less than
two weeks he had made himself a part of her
happiness ; already she felt the loneliness of the
house without him. How good-hearted he was !
How ready to help ! How self-contained !
How gentlemanly in the best sense of the word !
How handsome ! She hesitated at this declara
tion of her heart. She was not prepared to say
Steve was handsome, but he was certainly clever ;
and in some directions John thought him well
educated, and John s opinion was final with
Jessie.

As she was considering this list of his excel
lencies, Steve returned. He had sent the tele
gram, and Jessie was now under an obligation
to take the ten-thirty train for Lloyd s Station.
" I am so sorry, " she said, " for I intended to
see you sail in the morning, and now I cannot
38



MATRIMONIAL PLANS

do so. I am half inclined to send another tele
gram. I am so sorry, Steve ! "

" Jessie, those words are very pleasant to
me. Did you really intend to go down to the
steamer?" His eyes, glowing with tender fire,
sought hers, and he took her hands within his
clasp. She saw the love words on his lips ;
another moment of such feeling and he must
have made them audible. Alas ! he did not
venture on that moment. With a great sigh he
turned away, letting her hands fall from his
with a hopelessness which Jessie could not but
feel and understand. The silence following was
embarrassing, and Steve made no effort to break
it. Jessie was wounded by the advance and re
treat ; and her pride taught her to affect igno
rance and indifference. " John likes you so
much," she said, " that I am sorry you are
going away. Do you know where John is speak
ing to-night? I wish I could hear him."

" Nothing can be easier. It is a lovely night,
and the hall is but twelve blocks away. Put on
your hat and we will go there."

There was something in Steve s voice she
liked to obey. They went out together and
loitered down Second avenue. The broad way
was yet busy; men and women touched them
on either hand, and the children singing to their
games on the sidewalks gave an air of happiness
39



THE KING S HIGHWAY

and holiday to the scene. The park invited
them to its green shadows, and they strolled to
a bench and sat down. Jessie was nervously
anxious to talk, silence revealed too much,
and she could think of no subject but the sea.

"It is strange you love it so much ; were you
born near it?" she asked.

" I was born on Twenty-third Street. But my


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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe king's highway. [microform] → online text (page 2 of 19)