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thing ; she had never heard of people presum-
ing to talk at the opera. In a little while she
had made up her mind what course to take.
" Miss Brown," she said, leaning across the
partition which separated the boxes.

Her voice was just audible to the young
lady whom she addressed, and no more. Miss
Brown turned her ornate head, an instant
later, and discovered Agnes.

" Oh, Miss Wolverton," she said, and looked
inquiringly at her neighbor.

''I must ask you to do me a favor," said
Agnes, with a sort of civil decisiveness in her
lowered voice. " Will you please not talk
while the opera is going on } I need hardly
explain why I make this request."


" Oh, certainly not," said Miss Brown,
flushing. " I will keep silent, if you desire

Agnes turned her eyes once more upon the
stage. The quiet that now ensued in Miss
Brown's quarter was refreshingly observable.
About ten minutes elapsed, and then Schuy-
ler leaned down and whispered in Agnes's
ear :

*' What on earth have you been saying to
Olivia Brown ? She looks furious."

Agnes raised one finger admonishingly, but
did not turn her head. She was listening
with great inward delight to an aria, which she
considered a much more important matter,
just at this moment, than any possible remark
from Mr. Schuyler could be. It was not by
any means that she meant a rudeness ; her
impulse was only the quick, unrepressed de-
sire to prevent a painful interruption.

When the act was ended, Agnes found that
Schuyler had vacated his seat. She remem-


bered what he had told her about Miss
Brown's wrath, and turned toward her neigh-
bor. The white anatomy of the young girl's
shoulders met her gaze, in a full rear view.
" Miss Brown," she said, softly.

Immediately the averted flaxen head changed
itself into a profile ; the arched nose looked
higher than usual, and the prim mouth wore
a sort of pursed smile. " Yes," responded
Miss Brown, stiffly monosyllabic.

" I hope my request did not offend you,"
said Agnes, sweetly. " I meant no offense, I
am sure."

Miss Brown gave a little treble ripple of
laughter. " Oh, not at all," she said. The
color mounted into her thin face as she
spoke ; she was really very aggrieved, and
thought herself the recipient of an unwarrant-
able impertinence. " I trust that I now have
your permission to talk } " she continued.

" Oh, yes," answered Agnes, with straight-
forward good-humor, " you may talk as loudly


as you please, now. But I am afraid you are
still angry," she proceeded, " and if so I ask
your pardon."

Miss Brown bowed slowly, with the sugges-
tion of approving and accepting the apology.
Far from feeling nettled by her superb con-
descension, Agnes had a strong sense of its
drollery. Perhaps for no very egotistical
reasons it occurred to her that Miss Brown
was not a person worth wasting any resent-
ment upon.

Almost immediately afterward, Mrs. Leroy
leaned down to her and said, " My dear Ag-
nes, I fear you have done something to hurt
Oscar Schuyler's feelings."

" I, cousin Augusta } "

^' Yes, my dear, and I think I know what
it was. You would not speak to him at all
during the last act ; you preferred listening
to the music, and showed this very plainly."

"That is true enough," returned Agnes.

"One can listen and talk at the same time,


you know — that is, say a few words now and

" I have no such faculty," said Agnes, with

"But, my dear," persisted her cousin, ''ev-
erybody does it."

"Oh," said Agnes.

" I hope that if you have any more visitors
this evening," Mrs. Leroy went on, "you will
treat them politely."

" I have treated no one impolitely," said
Agnes, in mild but firm contradiction.

Just then two smart male figures appeared
at the door of the box; they were two of
Agnes's new acquaintances, and they now
presented themselves with the intention of
acknowledging her cousin's recent hospitality.
One of them remained, through the whole of
the next act, in Rivington's seat, for Rivington
had found it attractive to pass a great deal of
time with some friends in a certain capacious


Agnes felt martyred. Her new companion
kept up an incessant flow of conversation that
ran no less shallow than rapid. She had not
the least doubt that Miss Brown heard him
very distinctly. Perhaps she regarded him as
a providential stroke of punishment. Agnes
could not help wishing that Miss Brown might
have the power and inclination to take this
tormentor off her hands. After Mrs. Leroy's
rebuke, she felt compelled to give him a fair
share of her attention. He soon impressed
her as the incarnation of frivolity. Poor Ag-
nes began to think that fate had served her
a very ill turn in commingling Gounod's in-
spirations with the whispered commonplaces
that now assailed her distressed nerves almost
like hisses of pure malignity. Her present
devotee was anything but malignant, however ;
he had a long, inane face, dull, kindly eyes,
and an amazing ability to say nothing redun-
dantly. He left at the end of the act, but a
confederate in persecution promptly succeeded


him. To the intense relief of Agnes, Riving-
ton returned and reoccupied his seat during
the final stirring passages of the opera.

On leaving the Academy, they were at once
driven to Mrs. Huntingdon's ball. Mrs. Hun-
tingdon lived in a spacious old house in the
lower portion of Fifth Avenue. She was a
little yellow old woman, who had seen forty
years of New York society under conditions
of more or less active participation. It was
her weakness to entertain, and she entertained
with great state. She always had some excuse
for her festivities ; she had a number of grand-
children whom it was her pleasure to "bring
out." This evening a frail girl, with timid
blue eyes and a splendid burden of bouquets,
stood bowing and smiling at her side. Agnes
felt a keen sympathy with this delicate-looking
debutante y as she was presented to her and
passed on with Mrs. Leroy among the bright-
clad assemblage. She was soon separated
from her cousin. Several of the


with whom yesterday's reception had made
her acquainted, flocked about her in courteous
devotion. She was glad to find Livingston
Maxwell among this number, and presently
they were moving arm-in-arm together through
the crowded room.

"This is your first ball," said her compan-
ion; "isn't it.?"

"Yes," answered Agnes.

"Well, it is a fine beginning," said Maxwell,
in his cheery way. "This is a noble old house
— a sort of Knickerbocker house, you know.
The Huntingdons, or their near relations,
have lived here for an age. Have you ob-
served the ancient mahogany doors, and the
prevailing air of antiquity .'' Their modem
upholstery can't hide that. One doesn't oft-
en see such spacious drawing-rooms in New
York. This house was built before property
'went up,' as they say. It was once out in
the country, you know. I think it immensely
nice ; don't you } "


"Indeed, yes," said Agnes. She looked
into Livingston Maxwell's handsome, beaming
face ; she thought how rare and superfine
was his beauty, and how evening-dress became
it. " You find everything immensely nice,"
she added ; " I have not forgotten that."

" Oh, don't chaff me about my good spirits,"
he said, with a hearty laugh that showed how
white his teeth were. "I can't help them,

" I should be very sorry if you tried," said
Agnes, eagerly.

He gave a quick glance at her, as they
moved along, ''Well, that is pleasant, surely.
You mean that you like me just as I am?'

" I don't see how any one could help liking
you," said Agnes, with magnificent frankness.

Maxwell shook his head. " Ah, you puzzle
me very much," he declared. *' I can't make
you out. Sometimes you seem to mean noth-
ing that you say, and then you seem to mean
so much more than other people do. I have


been bothering myself a good deal about you
since yesterday. You won't believe it, per-
haps, but I have ! "

" I am not worth bothering oneself about,"
said Agnes.

They were now on the threshold of a dim,
odorous conservatory, where huge-leaved trop-
ical plants were massed in delicious profu-
sion. They entered this charming place, and
presently sat down below the embowering
greenery. A band was playing some dreamy
waltz melody off in the distance. Something
brushed Agnes's cheek ; she looked round and
saw that it was a great waxen-leaved camellia,
orbed purely amid the glossy darkness of its

" It is too bad that you do not dance," said
Maxwell. " Shall you stay through the Ger-
man .? "

" No," said Agnes ; '' my cousin has decided
not. The German is the chief event of the
evening, I suppose } "


" Oh, yes. I think it a fine invention. A
good many people do not ; but I never could
understand their prejudice. Mrs. Huntingdon
asked me to lead it, this evening; so I shall
be very affaire after supper. I shall have my
hands full, marshaling my forces."

" Mrs. Leroy tells me that you nearly always
lead it, wherever you go," said Agnes.

" People ask me a good deal," said Maxwell.
'' They see that I like the fun and don't mind
the trouble."

" But it is thought an honor to be asked, is
it not } " said Agnes.

" Well, yes," admitted Maxwell, with a sort
of modest reluctance ; '' I suppose it is. I cer-
tainly want to consider it so."

" Perhaps that is one of the reasons they
call upon you," said Agnes, reflectively. A
new idea suddenly struck her. " Of course
you know Miss Brown," she went on ; " pray
tell me what you think of her."

" Miss Olivia Brown } " said Maxwell. He


broke into a laugh. " I am afraid she is a tri-
fle unpopular ; she distributes her smiles very
unequally ; but she is young yet, and really, I
should prophesy that she will improve as she
sees more of society. That girl has not had
just the best sort of training, you know. But
I get on famously with her ; I humor her little
faiUngs ; it is not such hard work, after all.
And I think that she has a good heart ; her
nonsense is only on the surface."

Agnes kept silent for several minutes ; she
was drawing a comparison between Schuyler's
pitiless comments and the sunny charity of
what she had just heard. It had begun to be
very plain to her why Livingston Maxwell was
a reigning favorite.

Mrs. Leroy had made arrangements to leave
at the beginning of the cotillon ; but while she
and Agnes were seated together eating ices in
the supper-room, Schuyler appeared and held
a little low-voiced conversation with his old
friend. ''Just as you please," Agnes at length


heard her cousin say; and then Schuyler
turned toward herself.

As their eyes met she noticed something
peculiarly grave in Schuyler's expression.
" Do you talk and eat ices at the same time .'' "
he asked, without the shadow of a smile.

Agnes understood the stealthy sarcasm, and
wanted to laugh. But she kept her counte-
nance, and answered soberly :

"It is always hard to do two things properly
at once. Still, I will make an effort in your
favor. By the way, has anything offended
you } "

''I have been mortally offended," he replied,
not quickening his drawl the least in the
world. " I don't like being wickedly snubbed ;
what man ever did } But I have concluded to
forgive you. Think of that. I hope my
magnanimity bewilders you."

" Very much indeed," laughed Agnes, " since
I have not an idea what should call it forth."

" Still unrepentant ? " said Schuyler. " Well,


I will try to tame this haughty spirit by
heaping a few more coals of fire upon your
head. We neither of us dance, and so I have
asked your cousin to let you watch two or
three figures of the German with me. She
consents. Will you ? "

Agnes gave a very ready consent. Shortly
afterward the cotillon began, and Schuyler
found two retired seats which commanded an
excellent view of it. A great many young
ladies and gentlemen had seated themselves
in a circle that ran completely along the four
walls of one large drawing-room. Living-
ston Maxwell and Mrs. Huntingdon's grand-
daughter were at one end of this circle, beside
an immense basket of flowers which was in
reality made of innumerable smaller bouquets,
to be distributed hereafter, during the dance.
Maxwell was saying something to his partner,
with his shapely head gallantly lowered to-
ward her. Whatever he said made the young
girl laugh joyfully. Agnes wondered if the


fragile, timorous-looking maiden had laughed
like that once before during the evening.

Presently Maxwell rose with his companion,
and four other couples rose also. They danced
for a brief space, and then they all separated,
every gentleman choosing a lady and every
lady a gentleman from the encompassing ring
of sitters. A pretty and fanciful figure was
now formed in the centre of the floor, till at
length a gentle clap of [Maxwell's hands dis-
persed it, and sent its participants waltzing
away in many diverse directions.

" That will go on, four couples at a time, till
everv'body in the circle has danced," said
Schuyler, explainingly.

'' It must be very agreeable."

" Sometimes it is very disagreeable," he
said. "The German is a terrible tyrant in its

" A tyrant I I don't understand," said Ag-
nes. "' How can it be anything of that sort .^ "

*' Observe, and vou will see. Do vou no-


tice that merry little Hebe, Marie Van Tassel ?
She has already been taken out twice. It is
great fun for her ; she is a favorite, besides
dancing well. Her seat is down at the other
end' of the cotilloji ; her regular turn to dance
will not come for a quarter of an hour yet.
Meanwhile she will enjoy herself vastly. But
a number of other young ladies will be less
fortunate ; they will languish for an extra turn,
but it will not come. Let us select some less
popular pleasure-seeker. I have found one."

" Is it Miss Brown .? " asked Agnes, w^ith
twinkling eyes. "I see that she is sitting
there at the right, with that preternaturally
tall gentleman."

" Horrid creature ! " muttered Schuyler,
viciously. " No, it is not she. Miss Brown
will have a fine time, this evening ; her parents
are social powers ; there are Browns and
Browns, you know ; besides, her ridiculous airs
charm some of the tender striplings, who think
them aristocratic."


"Will it be Miss Juliet Lothrop ? " contin
ued Agnes, who began to find this unmerciful
scrutiny curiously diverting. *' I see her lisp-
ing something to her partner, there by that
gilded cabinet."

" Oh, dear, no," said Schuyler, under his
breath. " She is, absolutely, the most perfect
fool I ever met, but she is worth several dis-
tinct millions in her own right. It is just as
though she had been the object of an absurd
conspiracy on the part of countless deceased
relatives ; they have all left her something
handsome ; nobody quite knows the sum total.
That girl will be engaged before the end of
the season; and she will marry rich; they
always do."

Agnes looked shocked at this frigid, even
brutal way of putting things ; but she could
not resist a smile ; Schuyler employed the
vtaiivaise langiie to such atrocious and dar-
ing perfection. " Whom have you shadowed
with your unhappy omen t " she said.


"That pale girl in pink, there at our left.
She is considered of no importance what-
ever ; I don't specially know why, but she
is n't. Perhaps it is because she dances
badly ; perhaps because her parents do not
entertain ; perhaps because she cannot talk.
One thing is sure ; she always has a stupid
time everywhere, and she is lucky if she
secures a partner for the German. You see,
she has no bouquet ; that is a sign that she
has not been engaged beforehand ; she is
never engaged beforehand. This is her third
season ; she has been keeping it up hero-
ically ; next year she will begin to drop off ;
human patience cannot be expected to do

" Dignity might do a great deal less," an-
swered Agnes. " Mr. Livingston Maxwell
is dancing all the time. Is that because he
is the leader } "

'' Oh, not at all. Livvy is simply the best
fellow in the world. There is a certain kind


of merit that everybody acknowledges and
values. There are probably ten girls waiting
now, with the fixed intention of taking him
out when their turn comes. I never heard
of anybody disliking Livvy; it would be an
impossibility ; he overflows with kindliness ;
he disarms enmity."

" What is the secret of his success } "
"Not caring to succeed. He has but one
social aim — to treat everybody with fault-
less courtesy. What a wonderful little gen-
tleman he is ! I never saw the bel air so
admirably personified. Pray watch him as
he approaches those next four couples who
are now to take the floor. Louis Qua-
torze could not have bowed better than that
— I have my doubts if he knew how to
bow half as well. That boy is the ideal of
good breeding. (I call him a boy because
he is ten years my own junior.) They tell
us that good breeding is on the surface.
Not a bit of it, and there is the refutation.


It is a clear conscience, a pure heart, and a
loving spirit. . . . Pardon my platitudes."

" No, I will not pardon them," said Agnes,
turning toward Schuyler with kindling eyes.
" I like you better for having one enthusi-
asm — for believing in somebody."

" Take care," he said, " or I shall confess
to another article of faith."

" Pray do," said Agnes, impenetrably.

" You might resent the personality."
• She laughed, gathering her brows a little.
" I certainly should," she said. '* It is so
painful to be falsely estimated."


RS. LEROY was in excellent spirits
as she and Agnes drove home to-
gether, after the Huntingdons' ball.
If Agnes noticed any change in her cousin,
she was far from tracing such change to its
actual cause. Mrs. Leroy was in reality agree-
ably disappointed ; it was no small matter
for a man like Oscar Schuyler to have sat
through a cotillon in the society of Agnes.
It had a distinct and weighty meaning; it
''placed" the young debutante at once. Mrs.
Leroy knew that it had been no friendly
favor shown toward herself ; Schuyler was
not the man to perform such a disinterested
sacrifice. No, Agnes must have had the
good fortune to please him — as she had


evidently pleased Livvy Maxwell also. The
thing was very gratifying. There had seemed
a great deal of peril in the fact of Agnes
being a non-dancer and making a firm pro-
test, as well, against learning to dance. " I
don't know what I am going to do with
her," Mrs. Leroy had reflected, not long
ago. " She will never get on unless she
dances, and I begin to suspect that she
will not get on in any case." But now the
lady's fears had vanished, and her ominous
prophecies were proven delightfully false.
She took it for granted that Agnes was in
a triumphant state ; Schuyler had the art
of pleasing women so thoroughly when he
tried ; of course Agnes had been captivated.

*' My dear," said Mrs. Leroy, as the carriage
rolled through the still, lamplit streets, " I am
curious to know what you and Oscar Schuyler
found to talk about. I thought you had rather
annoyed him at the opera."

** To tell the truth," said Agnes, " he rather
annoyed me."


" How ? " asked Mrs. Leroy, surprisedly.

" By expecting me to give him my attention
when I was Hstening to the music."

Mrs. Leroy bit her lip in the darkness.
" Oh," she said, " as I told you to-night, every-
body talks at the opera."

"I know it," said Agnes, a little regretfully;
'' I found it out to my cost."

Mrs. Leroy leaned back in the carriage.
She was smiling to herself. " Positively, Ag-
nes," she exclaimed, "you have a good many
things to unlearn. But you are doing very
well, my dear. All in all, I should say that
you were doing remarkably well."

" I am glad if my progress pleases you,
cousin Augusta. I wish that it pleased my-
self a little more."

But Mrs. Leroy was not to be pricked out
of her patronizing geniality to-night ; she ap-
proved too thoroughly of Agnes's recent suc-

" I hope you and Oscar have not quarreled


again," she said. " I saw no signs of it when
he put us in the carriage. But you have not
told me what you and he talked about."

" I did very little talking," said Agnes.

" And he t " said Mrs. Leroy.

" He sneered profusely at nearly everybody,"
returned Agnes. " I never knew such an un-
compromising pessimist."

Mrs. Leroy gave a slight, sharp laugh. She
was by no means pleased ; this unimpassioned
criticism sliocked her, when she considered
that grateful satisfaction would have been
much more natural, not to say appropriate.
*'Dear, dear," she said; **you have the most
downright opinions on all subjects, and no
hesitation about expressing them."

** Oh, you are mistaken there," replied Ag-
nes, quickly. " I keep a great many opinions
to myself."

" I think that Oscar likes you," Mrs. Leroy
now said. " And it i's useless not to suppose,
Agnes, that his preference is an important


matter in a case like your own. He has in-
fluence and distinction, you know."

" I wish he had more charity," said Agnes,

Rivington was seated in one of the lower
rooms when the ladies returned. He had
waited up to receive them, though he had de-
clined going to the ball. His ball-going days,
he affirmed, were over; he still had a voracious
appetite for all the social gossip, however, and
lay in wait for its chance tidbits with eager

Agnes went up-stairs almost immediately
on her return. Mrs. Leroy seated herself, for
a few minutes, in her brother's company.

" Well, how did she get on 1 " asked Riving-

Mrs. Leroy shook her head. She was gaz-
ing straight into the near fireplace, whose
crumbled lumps of coal made a dreamy debris
of scarlet.

'' I don't understand that girl," was her re-
ply. " She puzzles me to death."


" What has she been doing now ? "

" She has been having a remarkably nice
time — or ought to have been. Oscar Schuy-
ler was simply devoted to her ; she was alone
scarcely a moment. And yet she treats her
success with the most matter-of-course com-
placency. . . . One thing, Rivington — she is
a very clever girl."

"Yes, she is very clever," said Rivington.
"By Jove, Augusta, now that I think of it,
she 's tremendously clever. And I 'm not
sure, on the whole, that I understand her any
better than you do."

Rivington was making himself a cigarette.
Mrs. Leroy looked up, and her eyes swept
his profile. A smile of disdainful amusement
flashed across her lips ; it was a smile that
she would not at all have liked her brother to

The next morning, shortly after breakfast,
Mrs. Leroy made an unexpected announce-
ment to Agnes. "My dear," she said, "you


are asked to a luncheon to-day. You will go
with Meta Schuyler ; she has promised to call
for you at one o'clock."

" And are you not going .? " inquired Agnes.

" No, I am not invited. It is entirely an
affair for girls. It is given by Juliet Lothrop
— the heiress, you know ; you met her at our

" Yes," said Agnes, " I remember her. She
is the young lady who lisps."

At one o'clock Meta called for Agnes.
They were driven together to the Lothrops'
residence, in Meta's coupe. " It is going to
be a bore," said Agnes's companion, during
the ride. " These things always are."

" Why do you go, then .? "

Meta screened a yawn with one of her lav-
ender-gloved hands. She looked enchant-
ingly lovely to-day ; her bonnet was a tangle
of daisies and green knot-grass.

'' Don't ask me," she said ; *' I have n't the
least idea why I do go — unless it is to escape
from myself."


''Do you care for reading? " asked Agnes,
after a slight silence.

'' Reading ? I don't know how to read.
I can't enjoy the books that I know are best
for me. I used to like French novels ; I de-
voured them once ; my aunt always has a lot
of them in the house. But they fail to enter-
tain me now ; their improprieties have such a
monotonous kind of badness, and their sen-

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Online LibraryEdgar FawcettA hopeless case → online text (page 6 of 11)