Edgar Fawcett.

A hopeless case online

. (page 5 of 11)
Online LibraryEdgar FawcettA hopeless case → online text (page 5 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

seated himself beside her. " I will pray for a
slight punishment," she said, smiling, " and an
early repentance."


A general laugh followed these words, and
before it had subsided one of the doors was
thrown open by the dignified butler, and a
gentleman entered the room. His coming pro-
duced an immediate effect of discord among
these patrician figures, all clad so differently
from his own. He seemed startled, though
not embarrassed, and looked about him as
though in search of a familiar face.

Agnes at once rose. " Mr. Speed ! " she

GNES looked at Mrs. Leroy as she
moved forward to welcome her friend.
The latter instantly understood, and
followed her. When Agnes had shaken hands
with Mr. Speed, she turned toward her cousin
and spoke the necessary words of introduction.
Mrs. Leroy courteously extended her hand.
There was a sofa very near Agnes, and she
pointed to it, saying, "Let us sit here." Mr.
Speed sat down beside her, and Mrs. Leroy
withdrew to the opposite side of the room.

"You see I kept my promise," said Mr.

''That was very good of you," answered
Agnes. She looked at her friend and thought
what a widely different world he represented


from that of the people among whom he had
just found her. He was tall of stature, and
rather ungainly in build. He looked about
thirty years old ; his head was massive, and
over its prominent brow drooped thick folds of
straight black hair. His piercing black eyes
and ruggedly-cut features made him seem a
person of intellectual force. He wore a close-
buttoned frock-coat that fitted him rather ill,
and a pair of dark brown gloves that seemed
an inconvenience to his large, restless hands.

" I hope that I am not taking you away
from any of your new friends," he said to
Agnes, in a voice of such strong bass depths
that it seemed quite incapable of any mild

" Oh, they are by no means friends," said
Agnes. " They are only some of my cousin's
fashionable acquaintances."

Mr. Speed looked across the room, some-
what furtively, for a moment. " They appear to
be very fashionable," he said, seriously. Then


he turned his eyes upon Agnes so that she
saw he was taking silent notes of her festal
costume. "And you appear the same," he
continued ; " I hardly recognized you in those
splendid garments."

" I am not surprised by that," was her an-
swer. " But there is no other change, Mr.
Speed ; it is all on the outside."

" I am very glad to hear you say so," he
responded, with hearty directness. ''Does
your new life please you V he went on.

'' It surprises me," said Agnes.

Mr. Speed looked once more at the little
group across the room. All its members
seemed engrossed in animated talk. Mr. Gas-
coigne was making exaggerated gestures and
speaking with great volubility, while Mrs. Le-
roy and Oscar Schuyler were both leaning
forward, apparently to contradict what the
gentleman was saying.

'' Does it satisfy you } " asked Mr. Speed,
doubtfully. '' That was the great point, you


know. You were hoping for a congenial at-
mosphere when you left Brooklyn."

Agnes looked down at the tangled roses on
the carpet. " Was I "i " she murmured. " Oh,
yes, I remember that I was." She lifted her
head abruptly. " Tell me what you have been
doing since we met," she proceeded, in much
brisker tones. " Have you been working hard 1
Have you finished your book .? "

"I have been working, as usual," he said.
"All day I have been driving at things I dis-
like to do, and in the evenings I have snatched
an hour or so for congenial labor."

Just then Agnes heard her name pro-
nounced. She glanced across the room, and
saw Mr. Gascoigne coming toward her. He
had got his forehead all into little creases,
and his bristly yellow moustache had gone up
under his nose, leaving the teeth to flash be-
neath it ; he looked irresistibly droll. '' Miss
Wolverton," he said, "is this the division that
so often follows conquest } Your cousin has


just been telling me not to come over and
disturb you ; but I am very much disturbed,
myself, by the thought of this permanent sep-
aration. We are all disturbed, in fact."

Mr. Gascoigne spoke with an immense,
flowing ease. He was like a gentleman in
some genteel modern comedy. Agnes had a
sense that he had been instantly disapproved
of by' Mr. Speed. Flippancy was one of her
friend's aversions, as a matter of course ;
whatever Mr. Speed was or was not, his direst
enemy could not have called him flippant.
She wondered, indeed, what the visitor at her
side could be thinking of Mr. Gascoigne ; he
must seem to Bartholomew Speed as a new
species will seem to a naturalist.

There was now nothing for Agnes to do but
to make the two gentlemen acquainted ; and
this was precisely what Mr. Gascoigne had
intended should be done. Mr. Gascoigne was
enormously civil in his greetings ; his civility
began to prick Agnes in an uncomfortable
way as she witnessed it.


"I suppose that you have followed Miss
Wolverton over from Brooklyn," he said. " I
should n't blame you if you had followed her
from a much greater distance, Mr. Speed, —
upon my word, I should n't. I am beginning
to think that I have neglected Brooklyn most
culpably. It must be a very remarkable city,
if it turns out such charming young ladies."
Here the speaker loudened his voice notice-
ably, and looked across the room. '' I should
like to show you some of our New York
ladies," he said ; " we have two brilliant rep-
resentatives here at present. Miss Wolver-
ton, will you allow Mr. Speed to join our little
group } "

Agnes felt that matters were being carried
by storm. She would have preferred that Mr.
Speed should not cross the room, but her ac-
quiescence had now become a necessity ; Mr.
Gascoigne's daring affability had made it so.
She presently found herself and Mr. Speed
seated amid the small assemblage of her


cousins' friends. Closer contact with their
dainty, felicitous manners made Mr. Speed's
angular roughness a more striking fact than
before. She had a feeling that the people
about him were regarding him as a curiosity
that had no rightful place in their midst, and
yet that they were hiding the impudence of
this conviction under marks of the most im-
penetrable good-breeding. But Agnes per-
ceived the impudence clearly enough ; she
wondered whether Mr. Speed had caught a
hint of it. Possibly not, she concluded, since
he was a person with a very decided opinion
of himself.

'' Do you come to New York often, Mr.
Speed } " asked Rivington with stately suavity.

"No, sir," was the reply, " I do not. I
have very little to bring me here."

" Oh, don't say that," objected Schuyler,
u'ith a glance at Agnes, ''or you may offend
Miss Wolverton."

Mr. Speed colored a little as he turned to-


ward Agnes. Like Schuyler, he was a man
who rarely colored, but for widely opposite
reasons. "I never found that Miss Wolver-
ton was quick to take offense," he said.

" Oh, I dare say you know a great deal more
about her than we do," exclaimed Mr. Gas-
coigne. "And you are to be envied accord-

" Then you are not engaged in any business
in New York, Mr. Speed } " said Rivington.

"No, sir. I 'm a journalist by profession.
That is to say, I do work for one of the Brook-
lyn dailies. But besides this, I have a few pu-
pils whom I instruct in Greek and Latin."

" I am very sorry you told that to Mr. Gas-
coigne here," said Schuyler, in his soft, loiter-
ing way. " He knows a little Greek, and has
Li weakness for airing it. He '11 be trying to
trip you up on Homer, in a minute."

" Do examine him, Mr. Speed," said Meta
Schuyler. " We all suspect that he has been
imposing on us for years past."


" Oh, Mr. Speed wants to cut the shop when
he 's out in company," declared Mr. Gas-
coigne. '' Don't you, Mr. Speed .? "

" Pray tell us about your writing for the pa-
pers," said Mrs. Leroy. It seemed to Agnes
that her cousin's eyelids drooped more than
usual, and that the corners of her mouth had
a supercilious touch. " I have always won-
dered how people could write all those clever
things that one sees. You must have to rack
your brains dreadfully; do you not .'' "

"No, I do not," said Mr. Speed. "It is
hard work, sometimes, and I don't always like
it ; for I often go to it when I 'm tired with
other duties. But I 'm usually a good deal in
earnest, and have some ideas that I think I
ought to express."

" Oh, you 're a reformer," said Mr. Gas-

"Well, I can't say that."

" You leave it for others to say," observed


Mr. Speed fixed his keen black eyes full on
Schuyler's face. " I wish I deserved to have
it said of me," he answered.

" Mr. Schuyler and you are kindred souls,"
broke in Mr. Gascoigne, with tripping volu-
bility. " He, too, has made a reform. He
once invented a salad that caused seven grate-
ful fellow-diners to shower their blessings upon

Mr. Speed laughed ; his laugh was always
peculiarly harsh and forced, as though humor
were almost an unknown trait in his sombre,
studious nature. " My reformatory attempts,"
he said, " are generally concerned with people
who know nothing about salads ; they have
hard enough times getting meat."

" Dear me," said Mr. Gascoigne, pretending
to look frightened, '' I hope you 're not going
to tell us that you 're a communist."
• "■ No," said Mr. Speed, with inexorable se-
riousness, "I 'm not a communist; but I think
that Fourier " (he pronounced the word in a


very English way) " was a great mind, and de-
serves more recognition than he has received."

*' Take care, Gascoigne," said Schuyler, with
his broadest drawl; "you 're getting into deep
water. You '11 go to the bottom presently."

" Corks never do that," said Meta Schuyler,
who had a caprice, this evening, for torment-
ing Mr. Gascoigne, — probably because it in-
creased his volubility and made him more

Agnes felt relieved, a little later, when Meta
had risen to go, and a general disarrangement
of the group had permitted a resumption of
private converse with Mr. Speed. Schuyler
also accompanied his cousin, and Mr. Gas-
coigne, though he remained, became occupied
with Mrs. Leroy and Rivington in another
portion of the drawing-room.

" I am afraid that you have found your visit
rather dull, so far," said Agnes.

" Dull "i " answered her visitor, with sober
surprise. " I don't think that is at all the


right word. It has been about as lively as
anything I ever experienced."

Agnes laughed. "What is your opinion ? "
she said, with ambiguous brevity.

Mr. Speed echoed the laugh, in his hard
fashion. "I've had no time to form any,"
he said.

Agnes looked steadily at him. " I think you
have formed one," she softly contradicted.
"I am sure that I see one in your face."

"It is an impression, then, not an opinion,"
he answered.

" Well, an impression, if you choose. Shall
I tell you what the impression is.'' "

" Can you tell me .'' "

"You hold that you have been wasting your

He stared down at his bony, gloved hands.
" I have been seeing other people waste theirs,"
he said. He looked up at her, quite suddenly.
'' You must be a very disappointed young
woman ! "


Agnes kept silent for a moment. She was
making perilous little creases with her fingers
in the lap of her costly dress.

'' I can't help wondering what you mean to
do," Mr. Speed went on. Still Agnes gave
him no answer. He drew a little closer to
her. " Unless I am greatly mistaken," he
now said, "you will not put up with this much

She answered him without lifting her eyes.
"Perhaps you are mistaken, Mr. Speed."

A shade of bitterness, touched also with
dismay, crossed his grave face. " Oh," he
murmured, '' you mean that you will get used
to it and like it. They flatter you here. I
suppose all women love flattery, — even the

She raised her eyes, then. " They like
civility," she said.

"Well, I spoke unfairly. I take it back.
But that bald man with the little yellow mous-
tache is an abominable flatterer."


"I agree with you."

''Do you think he means all the strange
things that he says ? "

" Oh, certainly not. They none of them
mean anything that they say. It is out of
fashion here."

" And what they say does n't often seem to
have much meaning," observed Agnes's com-
panion, with the grim hesitancy of a man who
almost never jokes.

"We must pay them their due," said Agnes.
"They are sometimes funny. They some-
times have a flash of actual wit. They give
me an odd fancy that they have all been drink-
ing something which deadens them and en-
livens them, both at the same time. I fear
that is not a very clear simile."

" It is perfectly clear. . . . And you are
going to make these people )'Our constant
associates in the future } Shall you not feel
out of place here } Why will you not confess
that much.? I don't understand your reticence
on this point."


** There are things that it is useless to say,"
replied Agnes.

" True. I suppose you have written to the
Cliffes. I should have liked to see your letters.
They must have been rather homesick."

Mr. Speed shifted uneasily in his seat.
'* Upon my word," he said, with nervous ab-
ruptness, " I wish you would tell me what you
are going to do. I am sure you have made up
your mind."

" Yes," said Agnes, very deliberately, " I
have made up my mind."

"You are going to join the Cliffes," he said.
His deep voice had a tremor in it, though the
tones were lower than any he had yet used.
''I'm sorry for that — I'm sorrier than you
think about — or care about, possibly."

Agnes had colored a little. She was in-
wardly thrilled with surprise. Those few
broken words had seemed like a sharp revela-

" It was bad enough to have you leave


Brooklyn," said Mr. Speed. "What shall I
do if you put hundreds of miles between us ? "

She smiled brightly, but more coldly than
she knew. Her answer might have shaped
itself the next instant, if Mr. Gascoigne had
not been seen crossing the room in their di-
rection. He joined them immediately after-
ward, and was at once followed by Mrs. Leroy
and Rivington.

" I suppose you and Mr. Speed have been
talking of old times," said Mr. Gascoigne.
" Pray go on ; I adore reminiscences."

" Oh, come now, Gascoigne," said Riving-
ton, clapping him socially on the shoulder,
*'you 've a good many that it would be just as
well to forget."

" Rivington," exclaimed Mr. Gascoigne, " I
did n't expect that from you ! It 's the bale-
ful influence of Schuyler. His impertinence
has affected the atmosphere."

Mr. Speed unbuttoned his coat and took out
a large silver watch. After glancing at it, he


"Dear me!" cried Mr. Gascoigne, "I hope
we have n't driven you away ! "

"Oh, no," said Mr. Speed. "It's getting
late, and I 've a long journey before I reach

" Yes," said Rivington, " you 've got to
cross in the ferry-boat. It must be a bore."

" I am immensely glad to have met you, Mr.
Speed," said Mr. Gascoigne, putting out his
hand. " I trust there will be an early repeti-
tion of the pleasure."

Agnes bit her lip. Everybody had risen.
"Good night, sir," said Mr. Speed, shaking
hands with Mr. Gascoigne.

Mr. Speed then turned to Agnes. His large
kid-sheathed fingers pressed her palm with
momentary force. Then he wished Mrs. Le-
roy good evening. Rivington accompanied
him to the door with gracious urbanity, and
disappeared at his side into the outer hall.

" Shall you be monopolized every evening
after this distressing fashion V said Mr. Gas-


coigne to Agnes, lifting his shoulders and
spreading out both his arms.

" Oh, Brooklyn is too far off for Mr. Speed
to come every night," said Mrs. Leroy, with
one of her fresh, chilly smiles.

"And then he is a very busy person, I
should judge," said Mr. Gascoigne. " He
seems quite without the air of taking any rec-
reation whatever. I don't doubt that he is a
monstrously clever fellow, with that remark-
able head. But I am afraid we spoiled his

" That would be too bad," said Mrs. Leroy ;
'*he might never come again."

Agnes looked straight at her cousin. " Oh,
yes," she said, mildly, " I think he will come

A moment afterward she rose. She held
out her hand to Mr. Gascoigne, with a smile.
" I begin to feel a little tired," she said. " I
must ask you to let me go up-stairs."


Y dear," said Mrs. Leroy to Agnes,
on the following morning, ** we shall
go to the opera this evening, and
afterward to a ball at Mrs. Huntingdon's."

" I have never been to the opera," said Ag-
nes. " I shall enjoy it, above all things."

They were sitting at breakfast. The butler
had departed, and the two ladies were alone
together. Rivington, who always breakfasted
an hour later than his sister, had not yet ap-
peared. Mrs. Leroy began to stir her second
cup of coffee with uncharacteristic haste.

"My dear Agnes," she said, "pray let me
ask a favor of you. Do not mention, I beg,
that this is your first visit to the opera. At
your age one is expected to have been there.


Such a confession would simply cause need-
less surprise in those who heard it."

" Now that you have warned me," replied
Agnes, " I shall not think of making the con-
fession. I shall guard the truth like some
hidden disgrace."

Though Agnes had never been to the opera,
she had a keen musical sense, and played
some of the best composers' work fairly, if
not brilliantly. That evening the opera was
"Faust," and Nilsson took the role of Mar-
guerite. Agnes felt a childish delight as she
and Mrs. Leroy entered their box, while Riv-
ington followed, in courtly attendance. The
Academy was thronged ; it was what we call
a magnificent house, with " standing room
only," and very little of that. All through
the first act Agnes sat entranced and enrapt-
ured. She thought Nilsson unearthly in her
loveliness, as so many women have thought ;
the fantastic freshness of Gounod's melodies
thrilled her beyond words ; as the curtain fell


for the first time she remained quite still,
without turning toward Mrs. Leroy, who was
seated close at her side. A moment later she
heard her cousin say " Good evening," and
on looking round she perceived that Mrs. Le-
roy was shaking hands w4th Oscar Schuyler.
Soon afterward Schuyler had taken a seat just
behind Agnes. The sound of his low, even
voice struck her at this moment as falsely dis-
cordant. What he said to her seemed thin
and factitious. " I am under the spell of Nils-
son," she presently told him. " I have not yet
descended to earth."

"Please don't let me drag you down," said
Schuyler. " I should have it on my conscience
if I did."

There was a great flutter all about them.
Gentlemen with spotless ovals of shirt-bosom
and snowy neckties were leaning over the
edges of boxes, opening their little doors and
entering, while the feminine occupants, in rich
attire, bowed, smiled, and talked abundantly.


Everybody seemed to be talking abundantly.
Agnes wondered whether they were making
" Faust " the subject of their profuse loquacity ;
it appeared to her almost inevitable that they
should do so. She now discovered that Miss
Olivia Brown, with her flaxen tresses braided
and curled into the most elaborate complexity,
and with yesterday's pearl necklace wound
about her fleshless neck, was seated immedi-
ately at her own left, while only the velvet-
topped barrier between the two boxes inter-
vened. Miss Brown was speaking to a gen-
tleman who had ensconced himself on an in-
visible stool between herself and another lady,
and whose glossy blond head, seamed with a
white parting of marvelous exactitude, scarcely
reached above her waist. Agnes listened for
an instant to what Miss Brown was saying.
*' I suppose that you are going afterward to
Mrs. Huntingdon's," she heard ; " everybody
seems to be going there." . . . Agnes drew a
rapid deduction that the harmonious charms


of " Faust " were perhaps not being universally
discussed in her neighborhood.

She turned to Schuyler, while Mrs. Leroy
was occupying herself in close converse with
a gentleman who had just taken the seat va-
cated by Rivington. Remembering her aunt's
injunction of the morning, Agnes said: "I
have never seen this opera before. It is like
a revelation to me. And I have never seen
Nilsson before. So you can understand why
I am transported."

" Upon my word, I can't," replied Schuyler.
" Nilsson can act, but she is such a masculine
Marguerite. I can only endure her in the last
part of the opera."

Agnes remained silent. " Now I have
shocked you," said Schuyler ; " I see it in
your face."

''Yes," admitted Agnes, "I am shocked."
She fixed her light, clear eyes upon him. " It
is like hearing some one call ' Hamlet ' a silly
play," she said. "I don't know that I could


put it stronger," she added, with a bright,
hard smile.

Schuyler made a little grimace. " I don't
know that you could," he said. " How in ear-
nest you are about nearly everything ! I de-
clared, last evening, if you remember, that you
would change in a little while. I think differ-
ently now. The virtue cannot perish so easily."

"You are very good to call it a virtue."
Agnes lowered her voice a great deal. " Here
is Miss Brown, at my elbow," she said. " She
is one of the neophytes, I believe. Is she to
undergo a radical change during the next
year .? "

Schuyler stole a furtive glance into the next
box. " I wish you had n't put her into my
mind," he said ; '' I don't like to think about
her ; she irritates me. Change ? Why, good
Heavens ! that girl has been steeped in snob-
bery since her babyhood. There is no change
in her possible ; she has n't an idea outside of
her mother's ' list ; ' she is all of one piece ;


you see her to-night and you see her always.
I used to think her mother the most deplor-
able snob in the world, but Olivia is worse.
Now there is something to admire about Mrs.
Brown ; she has pushed her way into notice
with masterly diplomacy ; she should have had
beforehand all that she has taken half a life-
time to secure ; she is delightful company ;
she 's as sharp as a Spanish rapier and as sup-
ple as one ; I never feel quite sure whether
she is not making a fool of me, but I like her
wit and shrewdness all the same. Olivia, how-
ever, has n't a vestige of her mother's brains.
She has never struggled for anything ; she
simply hugs what prestige her parents have
given her. She is narrow and cruel. Just at
present she represents my reigning aversion,
and I think I have more of those than most

"But is she to blame, after all, for her
faults } " asked Agnes, musing. " Is she not
merely the melancholy result of a bad system }
She embodies the sins of her parents."


"With none of their good qualities."

" Still, I think that I could endure the
daughter better than the mother," said Agnes,
dryly. " Folly is always pardonable in a fool.
Its commission is so much worse in those
from whom we have a right to expect wis-

" Is that one of your home-thrusts 1 " asked
Schuyler, looking across the house through
a little black lorgnette. " I begin to fancy
that you are always waiting a chance to pink
me, as they say in fencing."

Agnes did not answer. The orchestra had
recommenced playing, and its initial notes
absorbed her attention. Schuyler remained
in the box. Presently the curtain rose, and
from that instant Agnes was lost to every-
thing save the progress of the opera. She
soon found herself greatly annoyed, however,
by the low-toned yet distinct chat of Miss
Brown, whose blond admirer still preserved
his posture of cosy devotion. To Agnes this


inattention was actual sacrilege. Her own
enjoyment was being sadly marred by it, but
even that fact did not increase her indigna-
tion, for the petty insolence seemed thrown
at Gounod's genius and all the fine art of his
present interpreters. She had no idea that
Miss Brown was doing an exceedingly usual

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryEdgar FawcettA hopeless case → online text (page 5 of 11)