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avenue. He will not turn out, like the singer by the portico, to be a
god; be sure of that."

The door closed before she could answer, and both women remained silent
a few minutes. Then Ethel went to the window, and Ruth asked if she was
going to Dora's.

"Yes," was the answer, but without interest.

"You are tired with all this shopping and worry?"

"It is not only that I am tired, I am troubled about Fred Mostyn."

"Why?"

"I do not know why. It is only a vague unrest as yet. But one thing I
know, I shall oppose anything like Fred making himself intimate with
Dora."

"I think you will do wisely in that."

But in a week Ethel realized that in opposing a lover like Fred Mostyn
she had a task beyond her ability. Fred had nothing to do as important
in his opinion as the cultivation of his friendship with Dora Denning.
He called it "friendship," but this misnomer deceived no one, not even
Dora. And when Dora encouraged his attentions, how was Ethel to prevent
them without some explanation which would give a sort of reality to what
was as yet a nameless suspicion?

Yet every day the familiarity increased. He seemed to divine their
engagements. If they went to their jeweler's, or to a bazaar, he was
sure to stroll in after them. When they came out of the milliner's or
modiste's, Fred was waiting. "He had secured a table at Sherry's; he had
ordered lunch, and all was ready." It was too great an effort to resist
his entreaty. Perhaps no one wished to do so. The girls were utterly
tired and hungry, and the thought of one of Fred's lunches was very
pleasant. Even if Basil Stanhope was with them, it appeared to be all
the better. Fred always included Dora's lover with a charming courtesy;
and, indeed, at such hours, was in his most delightful mood. Stanhope
appeared to inspire him. His mentality when the clergyman was present
took possession of every incident that came and went, and clothed it
in wit and pleasantry. Dora's plighted lover honestly thought Dora's
undeclared lover the cleverest and most delightful of men. And he had no
opportunity of noting, as Ethel did, the difference in Fred's attitude
when he was not present. Then Mostyn's merry mood became sentimental,
and his words were charged with soft meanings and looks of adoration,
and every tone and every movement made to express far more than the
tongue would have dared to utter.

As this flirtation progressed - for on Dora's part it was only vanity and
flirtation - Ethel grew more and more uneasy. She almost wished for some
trifling overt act which would give her an excuse for warning Dora; and
one day, after three weeks of such philandering, the opportunity came.

"I think you permit Fred Mostyn to take too much liberty with you,
Dora," she said as soon as they were in Dora's parlor, and as she spoke
she threw off her coat in a temper which effectively emphasized the
words.

"I have been expecting this ill-nature, Ethel. You were cross all the
time we were at lunch. You spoiled all our pleasure Pray, what have I
been doing wrong with Fred Mostyn?"

"It was Fred who did wrong. His compliments to you were outrageous.
He has no right to say such things, and you have no right to listen to
them."

"I am not to blame if he compliments me instead of you. He was simply
polite, but then it was to the wrong person."

"Of course it was. Such politeness he had no right to offer you."

"It would have been quite proper if offered you, I suppose?"

"It would not. It would have been a great impertinence. I have given
him neither claim nor privilege to address me as 'My lovely Ethel!' He
called you many times 'My lovely Dora!' You are not his lovely Dora.
When he put on your coat, he drew you closer than was proper; and I saw
him take your hand and hold it in a clasp - not necessary."

"Why do you listen and watch? It is vulgar. You told me so yourself. And
I am lovely. Basil says that as well as Fred. Do you want a man to lie
and say I am ugly?"

"You are fencing the real question. He had no business to use the word
'my.' You are engaged to Basil Stanhope, not to Fred Mostyn."

"I am Basil's lovely fiancee; I am Fred's lovely friend."

"Oh! I hope Fred understands the difference."

"Of course he does. Some people are always thinking evil."

"I was thinking of Mr. Stanhope's rights."

"Thank you, Ethel; but I can take care of Mr. Stanhope's rights without
your assistance. If you had said you were thinking of Ethel Rawdon's
rights you would have been nearer the truth."

"Dora, I will not listen - - "

"Oh, you shall listen to me! I know that you expected Fred to fall in
love with you, but if he did not like to do so, am I to blame?" Ethel
was resuming her coat at this point in the conversation, and Dora
understood the proud silence with which the act was being accomplished.
Then a score of good reasons for preventing such a definite quarrel
flashed through her selfish little mind, and she threw her arms around
Ethel and begged a thousand pardons for her rudeness. And Ethel had
also reasons for avoiding dissension at this time. A break in their
friendship now would bring Dora forward to explain, and Dora had a
wonderful cleverness in presenting her own side of any question. Ethel
shrunk from her innuendoes concerning Fred, and she knew that Basil
would be made to consider her a meddling, jealous girl who willingly saw
evil in Dora's guileless enjoyment of a clever man's company.

To be misunderstood, to be blamed and pitied, to be made a pedestal
for Dora's superiority, was a situation not to be contemplated. It was
better to look over Dora's rudeness in the flush of Dora's pretended
sorrow for it. So they forgave each other, or said they did, and
then Dora explained herself. She declared that she had not the least
intention of any wrong. "You see, Ethel, what a fool the man is about
me. Somebody says we ought to treat a fool according to his folly. That
is all I was doing. I am sure Basil is so far above Fred Mostyn that I
could never put them in comparison - and Basil knows it. He trusts me."

"Very well, Dora. If Basil knows it, and trusts you, I have no more to
say. I am now sorry I named the subject."

"Never mind, we will forget that it was named. The fact is, Ethel, I
want all the fun I can get now. When I am Basil's wife I shall have to
be very sedate, and of course not even pretend to know if any other man
admires me. Little lunches with Fred, theater and opera parties, and
even dances will be over for me. Oh, dear, how much I am giving up for
Basil! And sometimes I think he never realizes how dreadful it must be
for me."

"You will have your lover all the time then. Surely his constant
companionship will atone for all you relinquish."

"Take off your coat and hat, Ethel, and sit down comfortably. I don't
know about Basil's constant companionship. Tete-a-tetes are tiresome
affairs sometimes."

"Yes," replied Ethel, as she half-reluctantly removed her coat, "they
were a bore undoubtedly even in Paradise. I wonder if Eve was tired of
Adam's conversation, and if that made her listen to - the other party."

"I am so glad you mentioned that circumstance, Ethel. I shall remember
it. Some day, no doubt, I shall have to remind Basil of the failure of
Adam to satisfy Eve's idea of perfect companionship." And Dora put her
pretty, jeweled hands up to her ears and laughed a low, musical laugh
with a childish note of malice running through it.

This pseudo-reconciliation was not conducive to pleasant intercourse.
After a short delay Ethel made an excuse for an early departure, and
Dora accepted it without her usual remonstrance. The day had been one
of continual friction, and Dora's irritable pettishness hard to bear,
because it had now lost that childish unreason which had always
induced Ethel's patience, for Dora had lately put away all her ignorant
immaturities. She had become a person of importance, and had realized
the fact. The young ladies of St. Jude's had made a pet of their revered
rector's love, and the elder ladies had also shown a marked interest in
her. The Dennings' fine house was now talked about and visited. Men of
high financial power respected Mr. Dan Denning, and advised the social
recognition of his family; and Mrs. Denning was not now found more
eccentric than many other of the new rich, who had been tolerated in
the ranks of the older plutocrats. Even Bryce had made the standing
he desired. He was seen with the richest and idlest young men, and was
invited to the best houses. Those fashionable women who had marriageable
daughters considered him not ineligible, and men temporarily
hampered for cash knew that they could find smiling assistance for a
consideration at Bryce's little office on William Street.

These and other points of reflection troubled Ethel, and she was
glad the long trial was nearing its end, for she knew quite well the
disagreement of that evening had done no good. Dora would certainly
repeat their conversation, in her own way of interpreting it, to both
Basil Stanhope and Fred Mostyn. More than likely both Bryce and Mrs.
Denning would also hear how her innocent kindness had been misconstrued;
and in each case she could imagine the conversation that took place, and
the subsequent bestowal of pitying, scornful or angry feeling that would
insensibly find its way to her consciousness without any bird of the air
to carry it.

She felt, too, that reprisals of any kind were out of the question. They
were not only impolitic, they were difficult. Her father had an aversion
to Dora, and was likely to seize the first opportunity for requesting
Ethel to drop the girl's acquaintance. Ruth also had urged her to
withdraw from any active part in the wedding, strengthening her advice
with the assurance that when a friendship began to decline it ought to
be abandoned at once. There was only her grandmother to go to, and at
first she did not find her at all interested in the trouble. She had
just had a dispute with her milkman, was inclined to give him all her
suspicions and all her angry words - "an impertinent, cheating creature,"
she said; and then Ethel had to hear the history of the month's cream
and of the milkman's extortion, with the old lady's characteristic
declaration:

"I told him plain what I thought of his ways, but I paid him every cent
I owed him. Thank God, I am not unreasonable!"

Neither was she unreasonable when Ethel finally got her to listen to her
own serious grievance with Dora.

"If you will have a woman for a friend, Ethel, you must put up with
womanly ways; and it is best to keep your mouth shut concerning such
ways. I hate to see you whimpering and whining about wrongs you have
been cordially inviting for weeks and months and years."

"Grandmother!"

"Yes, you have been sowing thorns for yourself, and then you go unshod
over them. I mean that Dora has this fine clergyman, and Fred Mostyn,
and her brother, and mother, and father all on her side; all of them
sure that Dora can do no wrong, all of them sure that Ethel, poor girl,
must be mistaken, or prudish, or jealous, or envious."

"Oh, grandmother, you are too cruel."

"Why didn't you have a few friends on your own side?"

"Father and Ruth never liked Dora. And Fred - I told you how Fred acted
as soon as he saw her!"

"There was Royal Wheelock, James Clifton, or that handsome Dick Potter.
Why didn't you ask them to join you at your lunches and dances? You
ought to have pillared your own side. A girl without her beaux is always
on the wrong side if the girl with beaux is against her."

"It was the great time of Dora's life. I wished her to have all the
glory of it."

"All her own share - that was right. All of your share, also - that was as
wrong as it could be."

"Clifton is yachting, Royal and I had a little misunderstanding, and
Dick Potter is too effusive."

"But Dick's effusiveness would have been a good thing for Fred's
effusiveness. Two men can't go on a complimentary ran-tan at the same
table. They freeze one another out. That goes without saying. But Dora's
indiscretions are none of your business while she is under her father's
roof; and I don't know if she hadn't a friend in the world, if they
would be your business. I have always been against people trying to do
the work of THEM that are above us. We are told THEY seek and THEY
save, and it's likely they will look after Dora in spite of her being so
unknowing of herself as to marry a priest in a surplice, when a fool in
motley would have been more like the thing."

"I don't want to quarrel with Dora. After all, I like her. We have been
friends a long time."

"Well, then, don't make an enemy of her. One hundred friends are too few
against one enemy. One hundred friends will wish you well, and one enemy
will DO you ill. God love you, child! Take the world as you find it.
Only God can make it any better. When is this blessed wedding to come
off?"

"In two weeks. You got cards, did you not?"

"I believe I did. They don't matter. Let Dora and her flirtations alone,
unless you set your own against them. Like cures like. If the priest
sees nothing wrong - - "

"He thinks all she does is perfect."

"I dare say. Priests are a soft lot, they'll believe anything. He's
love-blind at present. Some day, like the prophet of Pethor, [1] he will
get his eyes opened. As for Fred Mostyn, I shall have a good deal to say
about him by and by, so I'll say nothing now."

[Footnote 1: One of the Hebrew prophets.]

"You promised, grandmother, not to talk to me any more about Fred."

"It was a very inconsiderate promise, a very irrational promise! I am
sorry I made it - and I don't intend to keep it."

"Well, it takes two to hold a conversation, grandmother."

"To be sure it does. But if I talk to you, I hope to goodness you will
have the decency to answer me. I wouldn't believe anything different."
And she looked into Ethel's face with such a smiling confidence in her
good will and obedience, that Ethel could only laugh and give her twenty
kisses as she stood up to put on her hat and coat.

"You always get your way, Granny," she said; and the old lady, as she
walked with her to the door, answered, "I have had my way for nearly
eighty years, dearie, and I've found it a very good way. I'm not likely
to change it now."

"And none of us want you to change it, dear. Granny's way is always a
wise way." And she kissed her again ere she ran down the steps to her
carriage. Yet as the old lady stepped slowly back to the parlor, she
muttered, "Fred Mostyn is a fool! If he had any sense when he left
England, he has lost it since he came here."

Of course nothing good came of this irritable interference. Meddling
with the conscience of another person is a delicate and difficult
affair, and Ruth had already warned Ethel of its certain futility. But
the days were rapidly wearing away to the great day, for which so
many other days had been wasted in fatiguing worry, and incredible
extravagance of health and temper and money - and after it? There would
certainly be a break in associations. Temptation would be removed, and
Basil Stanhope, relieved for a time from all the duties of his office,
would have continual opportunities for making eternally secure the
affection of the woman he had chosen.

It was to be a white wedding, and for twenty hours previous to its
celebration it seemed as if all the florists in New York were at work in
the Denning house and in St. Jude's church. The sacred place was radiant
with white lilies. White lilies everywhere; and the perfume would have
been overpowering, had not the weather been so exquisite that open
windows were possible and even pleasant. To the softest strains of music
Dora entered leaning on her father's arm and her beauty and splendor
evoked from the crowd present an involuntary, simultaneous stir of
wonder and delight. She had hesitated many days between the simplicity
of white chiffon and lilies of the valley, and the magnificence of
brocaded satin in which a glittering thread of silver was interwoven.
The satin had won the day, and the sunshine fell upon its beauty, as
she knelt at the altar, like sunshine falling upon snow. It shone
and gleamed and glistened as if it were an angel's robe; and this
scintillating effect was much increased by the sparkling of the diamonds
in her hair, and at her throat and waist and hands and feet. Nor was
her brilliant youth affected by the overshadowing tulle usually so
unbecoming. It veiled her from head to feet, and was held in place by
a diamond coronal. All her eight maids, though lovely girls, looked wan
and of the earth beside her. For her sake they had been content with
the simplicity of chiffon and white lace hats, and she stood among them
lustrous as some angelic being. Stanhope was entranced by her beauty,
and no one on this day wondered at his infatuation or thought remarkable
the ecstasy of reverent rapture with which he received the hand of his
bride. His sense of the gift was ravishing. She was now his love, his
wife forever, and when Ethel slipped forward to part and throw backward
the concealing veil, he very gently restrained her, and with his own
hands uncovered the blushing beauty, and kissed her there at the altar.
Then amid a murmur and stir of delighted sympathy he took his wife upon
his arm, and turned with her to the life they were to face together.

Two hours later all was a past dream. Bride and bridegroom had slipped
quietly away, and the wedding guests had arrived at that rather noisy
indifference which presages the end of an entertainment. Then flushed
and tired with hurrying congratulations and good wishes that stumbled
over each other, carriage after carriage departed; and Ethel and her
companions went to Dora's parlor to rest awhile and discuss the event of
the day. But Dora's parlor was in a state of confusion. It had, too, an
air of loss, and felt like a gilded cage from which the bird had flown.
They looked dismally at its discomfort and went downstairs. Men were
removing the faded flowers or sitting at the abandoned table eating
and drinking. Everywhere there was disorder and waste, and from the
servants' quarter came a noisy sense of riotous feasting.

"Where is Mrs. Denning?" Ethel asked a footman who was gathering
together the silver with the easy unconcern of a man whose ideas were
rosy with champagne. He looked up with a provoking familiarity at the
question, and sputtered out, "She's lying down crying and making a fuss.
Miss Day is with her, soothing of her."

"Let us go home," said Ethel.

And so, weary with pleasure, and heart-heavy with feelings that had no
longer any reason to exist, pale with fatigue, untidy with crush, their
pretty white gowns sullied and passe, each went her way; in every heart
a wonder whether the few hilarious hours of strange emotions were worth
all they claimed as their right and due.

Ruth had gone home earlier, and Ethel found her resting in her room. "I
am worn out, Ruth," was her first remark. "I am going to bed for three
or four days. It was a dreadful ordeal."

"One to which you may have to submit."

"Certainly not. My marriage will be a religious ceremony, with half a
dozen of my nearest relatives as witnesses."

"I noticed Fred slip away before Dora went. He looked ill."

"I dare say he is ill - and no wonder. Good night, Ruth. I am going to
sleep. Tell father all about the wedding. I don't want to hear it named
again - not as long as I live."



CHAPTER VI

THREE days passed and Ethel had regained her health and spirits, but
Fred Mostyn had not called since the wedding. Ruth thought some inquiry
ought to be made, and Judge Rawdon called at the Holland House. There
he was told that Mr. Mostyn had not been well, and the young man's
countenance painfully confessed the same thing.

"My dear Fred, why did you not send us word you were ill?" asked the
Judge.

"I had fever, sir, and I feared it might be typhoid. Nothing of the
kind, however. I shall be all right in a day or two."

The truth was far from typhoid, and Fred knew it. He had left the
wedding breakfast because he had reached the limit of his endurance.
Words, stinging as whips, burned like hot coals in his mouth, and he
felt that he could not restrain them much longer. Hastening to his
hotel, he locked himself in his rooms, and passed the night in a frenzy
of passion. The very remembrance of the bridegroom's confident transport
put mur-der in his heart - murder which he could only practice by his
wishes, impotent to compass their desires.

"I wish the fellow shot! I wish him hanged! I would kill him twenty
times in twenty different ways! And Dora! Dora! Dora! What did she see
in him? What could she see? Love her? He knows nothing of love - such
love as tortures me." Backwards and forwards he paced the floor to such
imprecations and ejaculations as welled up from the whirlpool of rage in
his heart, hour following hour, till in the blackness of his misery he
could no longer speak. His brain had become stupefied by the iteration
of inevitable loss, and so refused any longer to voice a woe beyond
remedy. Then he stood still and called will and reason to council him.
"This way madness lies," he thought. "I must be quiet - I must sleep - I
must forget."

But it was not until the third day that a dismal, sullen stillness
succeeded the storm of rage and grief, and he awoke from a sleep of
exhaustion feeling as if he were withered at his heart. He knew that
life had to be taken up again, and that in all its farces he must play
his part. At first the thought of Mostyn Hall presented itself as an
asylum. It stood amid thick woods, and there were miles of wind-blown
wolds and hills around it. He was lord and master there, no one could
intrude upon his sorrow; he could nurse it in those lonely rooms to
his heart's content. Every day, however, this gloomy resolution grew
fainter, and one morning he awoke and laughed it to scorn.

"Frederick's himself again," he quoted, "and he must have been very far
off himself when he thought of giving up or of running away. No, Fred
Mostyn, you will stay here. 'Tis a country where the impossible does not
exist, and the unlikely is sure to happen - a country where marriage is
not for life or death, and where the roads to divorce are manifold and
easy. There are a score of ways and means. I will stay and think them
over; 'twill be odd if I cannot force Fate to change her mind."

A week after Dora's marriage he found himself able to walk up the
avenue to the Rawdon house; but he arrived there weary and wan enough
to instantly win the sympathy of Ruth and Ethel, and he was immensely
strengthened by the sense of home and kindred, and of genuine kindness
to which he felt a sort of right. He asked Ruth if he might eat dinner
with them. He said he was hungry, and the hotel fare did not tempt him.
And when Judge Rawdon returned he welcomed him in the same generous
spirit, and the evening passed delightfully away. At its close, however,
as Mostyn stood gloved and hatted, and the carriage waited for him, he
said a few words to Judge Rawdon which changed the mental and social
atmosphere. "I wish to have a little talk with you, sir, on a business
matter of some importance. At what hour can I see you to-morrow?"

"I am engaged all day until three in the afternoon, Fred. Suppose I call
on you about four or half-past?"

"Very well, sir."

But both Ethel and Ruth wondered if it was "very well." A shadow,
fleeting as thought, had passed over Judge Rawdon's face when he
heard the request for a business interview, and after the young man's
departure he lost himself in a reverie which was evidently not a happy
one. But he said nothing to the girls, and they were not accustomed to
question him.

The next morning, instead of going direct to his office, he stopped at
Madam, his moth-er's house in Gramercy Park. A visit at such an early
hour was unusual, and the old lady looked at him in alarm.

"We are well, mother," he said as she rose. "I called to talk to you
about a little business." Whereupon Madam sat down, and became suddenly
about twenty years younger, for "business" was a word like a watch-cry;
she called all her senses together when it was uttered in her presence.

"Business!" she ejaculated sharply. "Whose business?"

"I think I may say the business of the whole family."

"Nay, I am not in it. My business is just as I want it, and I am not
going to talk about it - one way or the other."

"Is not Rawdon Court of some interest to you? It has been the home and
seat of the family for many centuries. A good many. Mostyn women have


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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe Man Between, an International Romance → online text (page 5 of 14)