Edgar Fawcett.

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some a man.

" It is the calm before the storm," she said.
" Or at least so your sister leads me to think."

" You don't find yourself getting homesick,


" I have no home, now — it is all broken

" Good gracious ! how forlornly you say that !
You must recollect that you 've brought to
New York your Lares and . . . what 's the
name of the other fellows ? You 're going to
begin all over again."

Agnes shook her head, with a rather mourn-
ful smile. She looked round at the luxurious
room, glowing with rich draperies and costly
bric-a-brac. " I am afraid that I must leave
my household gods behind me," she said, with
more bitterness than she knew of. *'They are
too old-fashioned ; they don't correspond with
your modern embellishments."

"Pshaw," laughed Rivington, "we'll stow
them away in some corner for you."

Agnes again shook her head, " I don't be-
lieve in slighting old friends," she said, softly.

" But you 're going to make lots of new

She raised her brows a little ; it was a sort


of winsome mannerism with her. " Am I ? "
she said. " I wish that I thought so ! "

"You must n't be hard to please."

" Have you found me so } " she asked,

*'0h, we are cousins. We were ready-made
friends as soon as we met."

"That is nice and kind of you. I shall re-
member it." Agnes spoke very seriously,
now. "Tell me, cousin Rivington," she went
on, leaning a little toward him with graceful
appeal, " what is your idea of a friend ? "

Rivington was silent for a moment. " Oh,"
he said presently, in his mellow, agreeable
voice, " it 's a young lady who does n't mind
tobacco-smoke." And then he laughed his
gentlemanly, sweet-toned laugh. " It seems
odd to smoke here, among all these fineries,
does n't it } But Augusta always lets me.
Shall you mind } " He had taken out a dainty
little cigarette-case made of tortoise-shell.

" Oh, no, I shan't mind," said Agnes.


Several hours later Rivington saw his sister.
He had returned from the club ; Mrs. Leroy
was reading a novel by the rose-shaded lamp.
Rivington had had his nocturnal soda-and-
brandy ; he never exceeded two glasses ; at
his time of life it was not prudent ; this was
one of the continent virtues that made his
club-advocates declare him so "solid," "supe-
rior," and generally admirable.

" I had a chat with Agnes, to-night," he
said, jovially. " Now I tell you what it is,
Augusta, there 's a good deal in that girl, after

"Yes," said Mrs. Leroy, with caustic em-
phasis, looking up from her book, "there is a
good deal in that I wish was out."

Perhaps an hour previously, Agnes had
finished her letter to the Cliffes, begun on the
preceding night. One of her new sentences
ran thus : " I think that I have ' placed ' my
cousin Rivington."


HE days of Agnes's enforced quietude
went by. The indispensable ward-
robe appeared ; she was considered
ready to appear also. Mrs. Leroy had issued
cards for a gigantic afternoon reception. It
was to beo'in at three o'clock and end at six.

'' I have invited four young friends to re-
ceive with me," Mrs. Leroy had said to Agnes
at lunch, on this same day. " They will be
without bonnets, like ourselves. Try and be
down by about half past two, my dear. We
will all meet in the drawing-room. You are to
stand at my side and receive with me, you
know. If you don't always catch the names,
it will make no matter. There are a great
many of them that I shan't catch myself."


Agnes had partially lifted a morsel of cold
chicken to her lips ; she let it fall untasted
upon her plate. *'Do you really mean," she
said, " that you shall not know your own
guests ? "

" Oh, certainly, my dear. It is always that
way when one has been a long time out of
society, as I have been. I shall be quite sure
of everybody ; I shall know, of course, that
I have asked nobody who ought" not to have
been asked."

Agnes looked bewildered. " I do not see
how you will know it," she said.

*' Oh, it 's the easiest thing in the world.
You see, I manage it in this way. I want to
receive. I go to Mrs. Van Courtlandt Max-
well, who is my near relative. She has been
keeping the thing up ; she has actively enter-
tained. I borrow her list."

" Oh," said Agnes, " that is very simple."

" Not quite so simple as you suppose. Mrs.
Maxwell is a trifle democratic. Besides, she


has personal likings ; certain people have
courted her and elbowed themselves into her
favor. I scan her hst with a wary eye ; I
observe the new names ; I make inquiries.
More than this, I borrow another list."

" That makes the affair more complicated,"
said Agnes, resuming her cold chicken.

" My second list," continued Mrs. Leroy,
with explanatory frankness, "was Mrs. Will-
iam J. Brown's. It sounds like a very usual
sort of name, does it not } But Mrs. WilHam
J. Brown is immensely particular. She has to
be ; she began with nothing except money,
and has only won her way by the most adroit
nicety of selection. If I find anybody on Mrs.
Maxwell's list who is not on Mrs. Brown's, I
become a trifle suspicious. I have the utmost
confidence in Mrs. Brown's horror of new peo-
ple ; she is a new person herself. She tells
me just who the strugglers are."

" It is a very remorseless proceeding," said
Agnes, "isn't it.? It is like the roll-call at


the French Conciergerie — only in a reversed
way. You chop off the heads of all the poor

" I draw my pencil through their names."

*' That is a more honorable death ; they die
by lead."

"Of course," proceeded Mrs. Leroy, "there
is the old steady stock whom one knows about.
There is always that in our society, no matter
what is said to the contrary. The mushrooms
will spring up, but there is sure to be the good
solid soil beneath them."

Agnes looked at her plate. " I have heard
that mushrooms are usually found in barren
soil," she said, slyly. " But that may be only
a botanical myth."

Just then Rivington appeared at the lunch-
table, looking a little handsomer than usual.
He wore a close-fitting frock-coat discreetly
faced with silk, and a delicate rosebud in his
button-hole ; he was attired for the reception.

" I am all dressed for the coming crush,"


he announced, looking pleasantly at Agnes.
" How do you like me ? "

" I should not like you to be crushed," said
Agnes ; "it would be a great pity."

''Yes," said Rivington ; " especially for my
rose. Don't you think it nice '^. I had a good
deal of difficulty in choosing it. I wanted a
very young bud, you know, — something ap-
propriate to your first appearance in society.
You must glance at it while you 're receiving
with Augusta ; it will remind you of your im-

"But I shall be expected to talk," said
Agnes, lightly, ''and a rose is the symbol of

" Is it .? " said Rivington. " Oh," he added,
" I am sure you '11 find plenty to say. I am
beginning to think that you always do."

Mrs. Leroy insisted upon lending Agnes
her maid, Fran^oise, for the making of her
cousin's toilet. Frangoise had a shrewd eye
as to deficiencies in costume, and deft fingers


for working their remedy. Agnes took all her
suggestions complaisantly. When there were
no more to be offered she went down-stairs
into the drawing-rooms.

"Do I satisfy you ? " she asked of Mrs. Le-
roy, who glided forward to meet her.

" Perfectly," was the answer. Into a few
brief moments her cousin had condensed a
prodigious amount of severe critical scrutiny.
She now came closer to Agnes, and took her
gloved hand : she wore the famous black satin
of which we have heard Madame Fourbellini
speak, and its glassy shimmer gave her slender
figure a serpentine litheness. Her cold-cut
face was glowing. " You are an immense
success, my dear!" she exclaimed. And then
she kissed Agnes on the cheek. " Come,"
she went on, "let me show you your bouquets.
You have received five."

She led her cousin to a small table, that was
overloaded with flowers. " Here is a big bunch
of violets," she began, " from my cousin Livvy


Maxwell. Was n't it nice of him to send it
you ? Then Rivington gives you these yel-
low roses, and the red ones are from another
cousin of mine, a Mrs. Alexander Van Tassel;
and these lilies-of-the-valley are a little gift
from myself. And the white roses ; I had
forgotten those, — they are from Mr. Oscar
Schityler, an old friend of my late husband."

Agnes looked down at the resplendent, odor-
ous mass with glistening eyes. She said noth-
ing ; she had forgotten to speak. But pres-
ently she looked up, saying quickly : " It is too
bad to leave them like that. They must be
put in water."

Mrs. Leroy laughed a little. '* They must be
held in your hand, my dear," she said. "That
is always the custom. The more you have the
better. Five will make a very pretty little par-
terre for you to bow over."

*^ But I would rather not spoil such rare,
beautiful flowers."

** They are meant to be spoiled. It would


be an incivility to all the senders if you put
them in water."

Agnes placed her head slightly on one side.
She was still staring down at the flowers ;
their balmy glories seemed to enthrall her.
" I am half tempted to be uncivil," she said.

A little later the four young ladies who were
to receive with Agnes and Mrs. Leroy entered
the room. They came flocking in together to
meet the debutante, with IMrs. Leroy moving in
front of them. They were all in misty, float-
ing garments, and carried bouquets. The first
to whom Agnes gave her hand was enchant-
ingly pretty ; she had a mirthful, plump face,
of almost perfect modeling ; she wore little
clusters of pansies all about her dress ; she
was something like a pansy herself. Her name
was Miss Marie Van Tassel.

Next came a tall girl, with an arched nose
and flaxen hair ; she was extremely thin, and
wore several ropes of pearls for a necklace,
that produced an effect of artistic conceal-


ment. Agnes thought her an alarmingly aris-
tocratic figure. She was presented as Miss
Olivia Brown, a daughter of the Mrs. William
J. Brown of whom Agnes had already heard.

Next followed a slight girl, with a remarka-
bly small head, and features that would have
made a pretty combination if they had not all
seemed a few inches too near together. She
had a look of vacant amiability, and she ap-
peared a trifle ill at ease. This was Miss Ju-
liet Lothrop, a celebrated heiress, whose pos-
sessions were spoken of as something very
nearly incalculable.

Finally a young lady came forward and
shook hands with Agnes, mentioning her own
name as Miss Meta Schuyler before i\Irs. Le-
roy had a chance of doing so. She had the
air of being considerably older than any of
her companions ; you would have said that
she was possibly six-and-twenty. She was ir-
resistibly lovely ; her oval face was lit with
warm brown eyes, and her large figure had


a delicious, exuberant symmetry. But she
struck Agnes as faultily self-possessed. It
was the repose of weariness. It had a kind
of graceful, pathetic mechanism. You felt
that she had entered hundreds of other rooms
just as she entered this one ; her youth and
beauty wore too worldly a touch ; the dew was
gone from the flower, though all its best tints
yet remained.

Conversation at once began among the va-
rious ladies who now stood about Agnes. It
was not specially general conversation ; there
were fluent little bursts of dialogue on all
sides. Asfnes felt that she herself had al-
most nothing to talk about, but everybody
else seemed to find talking a very easy proc-
ess. Her new acquaintances had all roused
her interest, as most human beings with whom
she came in contact were apt to rouse it. As
yet the impulse could have no concern with
sympathy ; it was only an active curiosity to-
ward closer personal observation.


"This is your first appearance in public,
is n't it, Miss Wolverton ? " said Miss Marie
Van Tassel, the young lady with the pansies,
in a tone of rattling buoyancy. "Well, we
have all of us just come out into society, you
know, except Meta Schuyler, there. Take my
advice, and don't feel a bit frightened. I
did n't care a feather last week, when I came
out, and now it seems like several seasons

"Nothing ever frightens you, Marie," said
Miss Olivia Brown, the thin girl with the high
nose and pearl necklace. She spoke with a
mincing calmness. She was looking at Ag-
nes, or rather at Agnes's toilet. Mrs. Leroy's
cousin felt that the gaze was somehow a ran-
sacking one, and that the smallest detail of
her wardrobe was being mercilessly scanned.
" For my part," she went on, in her neat, ex-
act semitone, " I think it very disagreeable to
be stared at for three or four hours."

"Yes," said Agnes, "the staring must be


" I love it ! " exclaimed Marie Van Tassel,
smelling her bouquet. " If people choose to
look you out of countenance, why, let them.
But I got a stiff neck at home last week from
bowing so much. And then the dowagers that
' my dear you,' and zvill hold your hand, and
remember you when you were a baby, and all
that. They were a frightful bore ! "

" I shall be saved any such trial," said Ag-
nes. " Nobody is going to remember me
when I was a baby — or at any time what-
ever. It is a comforting reflection for me to
consider what a novelty I shall be."

Miss Brown lifted her eyebrows. Agnes
was convinced that she had shocked her a
little; it had somehow been written by fate
that she should produce this effect on Miss
Brown ; she had seen it coming.

" I think that the dowagers whom one
meets are mostly charming," said Miss Brown.
" They make us remember that society here
in America has something solid about it. I


should like, though, if we had titles here, as
they have abroad. Titles are so nice and dig-

" I have heard that they do not always dig
nify," said Agnes, with one of her smiles.

" Titles ! " exclaimed Marie Van Tassel.
'' Oh, I adore them ! I mean to marry one, if
I can. They say American girls are all crazy
about them. I 'm sure that I am. I love a
handle to one's name. It makes it so much
easier to carry."

''Ah," said Agnes, "you forget that the
handle is not of much account if the pitcher

Marie Van Tassel and Olivia Brown both
looked father puzzled for a moment. Then
the first young lady broke into a gay laugh.
But the other remained perfectly grave. " She
has made up her mind to disapprove of
me," thought Agnes, with inward amusement.
Marie Van Tassel wheeled suddenly about
like a sportive child, raising both of her fat.


pink shoulders. " I hope you are going to
have dancing," she said to Agnes, after this
coquettish gyration was completed. " Recep-
tions are so dull without it."

" I have not heard whether we shall have
it," said Agnes.

"Dancing has its disadvantages," said Miss
Brown, primly. "You are sometimes forced
to dance with gentlemen whom you do not

''/never am," said Marie. ''I do just as I
please about that. I tell all sorts of bold fibs.
I say ' Oh, please excuse me — I 'm so tired,'
and dance with somebody else a moment aft-

"That is not etiquette," said Miss Brown.

'' Oh, bother etiquette," laughed Marie. " I
mean to enjoy myself."

"Yes, Marie always manages to do that,"
said Miss Juliet Lothrop, the heiress, wreath-
ing her little pinched-up face in a transient
smile. She looked at Agnes almost plaint-


ively. " Miss Van Tassel has so much small-
talk," she continued. " I envy people with a
great deal of small-talk ; don't you, Miss Wol-
verton ? "

" I should n't want it to be my most envi-
able point," said Agnes, evasively.

'' But you have to have it, you know," said
Juliet Lothrop, very seriously. '' It saves
you from being a wall-flower." She spoke
with a strong lisp, and her voice had a piping
note in it that was not unhke the bleat of a
lamb. *' They tell me that I must n't be a
wall-flower, whatever I do."

" Not even if you are a well-trained one ? "
asked Agnes.

^'Tm anight-blooming cereus ! " cried Ma-
rie Van Tassel, merrily ; " except at recep-
tions, and then I 'm a four-o'clock ! "

Agnes found herself beginning to have an
odd pity for Juliet Lothrop. It seemed to
her as though this young girl were laboring
under a gentle resentment for some sort of


unmerited abuse. "Are you not fond of fash-
ionable life ? " she questioned.

Miss Lothrop gave a thin, joyless little
smile. " I am trying to be," she said. " Mam-
ma says I shall like it better after a while.
I 'm very timid ; I can't help it. I 've always
been nervous ; they say that is because I 'm
not very strong. When I was younger I
was ever so ill ; they did n't expect me to

Agnes could not help fancying, on general
principles, that the decline had only been ar-
rested midway. Still, she had taken a com-
passionate liking for Miss Lothrop ; she even
felt a certain congeniality toward the girl.
" Perhaps it is because we are both a little
out of our element," she inwardly decided.

Very soon afterward there sounded a por-
tentous rolling of carriages in the street out-
side, and before many moments the arrivals
came thick and fast. Agnes received her ^ve
bouquets from Mrs. Leroy, and was whisper-



ingly directed how to hold them. Then she
took her place near the main door, at her
cousin's side, and the reception began in full


HE drawing-rooms filled rapidly; Ag-
nes found herself bowing once a min-
ute, or perhaps oftener. Ladies and
gentlemen both streamed through the spacious
doorway, but ladies were in marked predomi-
nance. The former mostly wore costumes of
great elegance ; with some, the dainty bonnets,
profusely beflowered and of lightest tints, car-
ried but faint suggestion of street habiliment.
It seemed to Agnes that nobody had any wish
to talk with her. They all smiled with prodi-
gal amiability as Mrs. Leroy murmured her
name, and then, after a rather exaggerated
courtesy of salutation, passed on. Everybody
appeared anxious to pass on. There was al-
ways some new arrival, for at least the space


of an hour, that had to be made way for.
Delicious orchestral music was perpetually
sounding from somewhere in the adjacent
hall. Agnes by no means caught all the
names which Mrs. Leroy repeated to her, and
it soon became very apparent that Mrs. Leroy
in turn was far from catching all the names
which her guests themselves repeated as they
entered the room. But this made no differ-
ence. '' My cousin, Miss Wolverton," was pro-
nounced exactly the same by the hostess, for
an astonishing number of times. Mrs. Leroy
sometimes chatted for a moment with certain
new-comers, and in tones of such sociability
that her companion suspected it had been a
relief to find them people whom she really
knew. '' Are you tired } " she at length asked,
very much under her breath, during a slight
pause in the genteel rush.

" A little," said Agnes.

" I am horribly so. But it will be over soon,
and then we can move about. Recollect that
you know everybody now."


Agnes wondered if there were many whose
names she really knew. Just then two gentle-
men crossed the threshold. One was a small,
jaunty man, who shook hands quite cordially
with Mrs. Leroy, and then turned to his as-
sociate, who lingered several paces behind
him. "Allow me to present Lord Heathering-
ton," said the jaunty man, with extreme cere-

Lord Heatherington was a slight person,
with an aerial yellow beard, bland blue eyes,
and an aspect of excessive good breeding.
Mrs. Leroy bowed much lower than Agnes
had yet seen her bow, while she extended her
hand. "My cousin. Miss Wolverton," was
now rather slow in coming, for she first took
occasion to exchange several sentences with
his lordship that the music and the surround-
ing babble made it impossible for Agnes to
hear. But the words were spoken with a
smile and an eager bending forward of the
head, which revealed that her cousin's re-


sources of amiability had not yet put forth
their most elaborate efforts.

Then Lord Heatherington and his friend
were made to know Agnes, and afterward
they were swallowed up in the throng.

"A young English earl," whispered Mrs.
Leroy, rather excitedly for her, '^ I am very
glad to have got him. He had been promised
to me for to-day, but I had begun to feel

"You speak of him as if he were a piece
of spun sugar," said Agnes.

"He is," replied Mrs. Leroy, good-humored-
ly ; " he is my centre-piece. All the rest of
us are side-dishes." She made a motion to a
gentleman who was not far away. The gentle-
man glided up to her with graceful speed. He
was of middle stature, with golden curling
hair, worn very short, and a crisp amber mous-
tache ; his dark-blue eyes were softly express-
ive, and his features had the delicacy of a
cameo. Agnes thought him a notably hand-


some creature ; he did not seem to her like an
ordinary flesh-and-blood man ; not that he im-
pressed her as being of any superior species,
but simply that he looked of airier and finer
physical make. It was like seeing a slim-
throated Parian urn contrasted with heavy

" Livvy," said Airs. Leroy, " ]\Iiss Wolverton
thinks she has had enousfh of receiving for the
present. Won't you take her where she can
get a little champagne and water, and sit down
quietly, you know .? " Then Mrs. Leroy turned
toward Agnes. " This is my cousin, Mr. Liv-
ingston Maxwell," she proceeded. " You have
more than once heard me speak of him."

Mr. Maxwell at once gave Agnes his arm.
" You must be very tired," he said, looking at
her with his deep, sympathetic eyes.

" I think I am more dazed than fatigued,"
answered Agnes. " But still my bewilderment
shall not prevent me from remembering, Mr.
Maxwell, that you sent me these charming


'' Oh, how good of you to remember which
bouquet it was," he said, with simple careless-
ness. " Here is a nice retired seat," he went
on, "where you can remain unmolested till I
get you something. What shall it be } "

" Only a glass of water, if you please," said
Agnes. "I do not care for anything else."

"You are sure you don't want a drop of
wine in it } Or could n't you manage a bit of
ice-cream .? "

"Yes, I should like some ice-cream. You
have reminded me of just what I do want."

Livingston Maxwell slipped away, leaving a
pleasant sense with Agnes that after those
few words they had somehow begun to be
actually intimate. She had felt something in
his presence that was like the potency of a
spell. Her analytic tendencies at once be-
came busy during his absence. Where was
the charm } Did it lie most in voice or ap-
pearance, or was it equally in both } She
quickly found herself baffled, as more than


one of her sex had been before now by this
same strangely attractive personality. And
as yet Agnes was quite ignorant that she had
talked with the favorite of social favorites,
the reigning fashionable star, the young gen-
tleman of whom some one had once said that
untold flattery could only make him more de-
lightfully worthy of receiving it.

He presently returned; he had got a plate
of cream for himself also, and dropped into an
opportune seat at Agnes's side, a little lower
than her own. " I am not going to ask you
how you like society," he said. " I am sure
it 's quite too early for that question. You
are tremendously confused in your impres-
sions, are you not ? You feel as if you were
looking through a kaleidoscope that somebody
else was turning much too rapidly."

" Yes," said Agnes, " but I hope it will all
prove something better than bits of painted

Her companion threw back his head and


laughed like a boy. "Why distress oneself
about that ? Our cousin Augusta says that
you sometimes say very severe things." He
raised one finger, and shook it in jocose ad-
monition. " This will never do, I assure you.
We must begin all over again ; we must re-

*'I am afraid I am too old a sinner," said

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Online LibraryEdgar FawcettA hopeless case → online text (page 3 of 11)