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little; she was thinking of what had passed
during her recent talk with Meta. She felt
a great longing to help her new friend, and
she silently denied the truth of Meta's pro-
fessed conviction.

" Here we are at last," said Schuyler, as
they alighted from the car. " What a lovely
day for December ! "

The day was indeed exceptional. There
was no breeze whatever ; the sky hung thickly
shrouded in pearly vapor, where the sun made
a round of dull splendor as it sloped west-
ward. The leafless lengths of shrubbery took
from the bland atmosphere a mellowing
charm ; the wintry hardness of their outhnes
had so softened that you almost looked for


some vernal evidence of bud or sprig where
they flanked with woody tangles the firm, in-
elastic pathways. Here and there, upon the
close, faded verdure of the lawns, lay delicate
remnants of a recent light snowfall, whose
final traces had almost wholly vanished, but
whose pale residue gave threat of future rig-
ors, and touched the misty tenderness of the
scene with the pathos of perishability. But
seeing the denuded vines cling to the sculpt-
ured balustrades of bridges, the groves of
changeless firs lift their sombre ovals in the
dreamy light, the rough-wrought cedarn arbors
still hide inviting dusk below their rustic roof-
age, and the groups of dismantled trees melt-
ing their brown stems together in the far-off
tranquil haze, you felt as if the ghost of sum-
mer were walking one of her blighted king-
doms, and bringing back a phantasmal sem-
blance of her departed reign.

'* How charming all this must have been, a
few weeks ago ! " said Agnes, while she and
Schuyler moved slowly along.


" Yes. It 's unpleasantly popular, though.
You 've no idea what throngs of horrid people
come here."

" Oh, I can easily imagine that the Park is
a great blessing to the poorer classes."

" How delightfully democratic you are ! "

** I am human — I hope."

There was a silence. " I sometimes think
you are colder than you want to seem," said
Schuyler, in a voice of such unusual meaning
that Agnes almost started as she heard it.

She answered him in a rapid undertone.
*' Perhaps you are right. But I certainly do
not wish to seem cold now. . . . And yet I
fear that I may, for embarrassment always
draws me closer within myself, somehow."

" Embarrassment 1 " said Schuyler, in sur-


They had reached one of the stone bridges
whose fluted edge overlooked a lower roadway
that wound beneath its underlying arch. They


were walking very slowly. Agnes paused and
leaned against the solid, carven verge. Be-
yond, between the stripped tree-boughs, they
could see distant church-spires piercing the
still, thick air. On the road beneath them a
pale, sickly man was strolling with feeble
steps, while a little bright-haired child tripped
and prattled at his side.

Agnes turned a grave look upon her com-
panion's inquiring face. " Yes," she went on,
"embarrassment This world of ours is full
of unhappy people whom we cannot help, yet
I know two whom perhaps I could help, and I
long to do it. But my wish may be misinter-
preted — by one, at least. It may be called
senseless interference. . . . And that would
pain and distress me beyond measure."

Agnes had dropped her eyes before ending
her last sentence. Amid the slight ensuing
silence she heard the clatter of horses' hoofs
on the broad road near by, where countless
carriages were rolling. These sounds smote


upon the placid afternoon with an odd, hol-
low sharpness. It seemed to Agnes a long
time before Schuyler responded.

" Still," he presently said, '' you have made
up your mind to speak } "

" Yes," returned Agnes, very quickly, look-
ing round again. " I have made up my mind
to tell hiui that he can win the sweetest and
most charming of wives if he only chooses."

" How ? " asked Schuyler, who had turned

" By going to her and saying : * Meta, we
disbelieve in everything because we will not
let ourselves believe in each other. We live
idly and aimlessly because we will not seek
the energy and purpose that would spring from
mutual succor. We have both masked our
disappointment beneath an indolent worldli-
ness, and we parade this before one another's
gaze with a sort of despairing bravado. We
are both secretly unhappy, yet we strive for
the foolish triumph of casting dust into each


Other's eyes. Let us admit that the deception
has been equally successful on either side —
and end it. Let us both make the past a step-
ping-stone, and find our higher selves by meet-
ing on a loftier level. Let there be no recrim-
ination, no reproach. I deserve your pardon
as much as you deserve mine. The present
need not speak this in words ; the future will
speak it more eloquently by acts.' ... If you
should go to Meta Schuyler, and proffer rec-
onciliation on these terms, I think you would
be doing very wisely."

Schuyler was looking downward, now ; she
was watching his face intently; she had so
watched it since she first began to speak ; she
was sure, some little time before the end, that
she had not offended him.

He lifted his eyes and met her own. He
put out his hand, and Agnes let hers rest in it
for a moment. His dark face was full of
troubled sternness ; but she had never heard
him use so kindly a voice.


" Thanks," he said. " I feel honored by
your counsel." There was no trace of his old
sarcasm left.

" And you will avail yourself of it ? " ques-
tioned Agnes.

He put both arms on the massive balus-
trade and stared straight down at the earthy
bend of road.

"I don't know," he said. ... "I don't

Agnes touched his arm for an instant,
promptly withdrawing her hand. " Tell me,"
she said, her voice growing persuasively mu-
sical ; " are you not in love with Meta Schuy-
ler } "

He turned a sudden look upon her face, in-
stantlv avertins: his eves as^ain. " What a
waste of thunder for you if I were not ! " he
exclaimed, in his old, ironical voice.

'' Ah," broke forth Agnes, in angry reproach,
"you have been jesting with me ! "

" No, no," he said, growing instantly serious


again. " But I could not help feeling slightly
amused by the magnificent way in which you
take things for granted."

Agnes bit her lip. She had set herself upon
winning a victory, and now she seemed to see
the laurel slipping from her reach. " I wanted
you to be anything but amused," she said,
with great seriousness. " I wanted you to be
impressed — aroused — stimulated. But you
have not answered my question ; do you not
mean to answer it } "

" You have already assumed my answer.
You have already disposed of me, so to

" Have I been wrong .? "

Schuyler's dark, composed eyes w^ere riveted
on her face at this moment. "You might not
have been wrong two weeks ago," he said.

Agnes started. " I do not understand you."

He shrugged his shoulders, and looked all
about him in a rapid, disturbed way. " I hardly
understand myself," he exclaimed, meeting her
perplexed look again.


" But I am so anxious that you should
understand yourself," pleaded Agnes, softly.
" You do love Meta Schuyler," she went on,
speaking the words quite tremulously.

" Meta Schuyler is not the only woman in
the world," he said, with swift, peculiar force.

" She is the only woman in the world for
you," said Agnes, with a plaintive emphasis.

" Perhaps there is one other," said Schuyler,
leaning nearer to his companion, and employ-
ing the same tone as before.

She drew a little away from him ; he had
never seen her look so sorrowful as now.

" / do not know of any other," she said.

"Ah, how right I was when I called you
cold ! "

"It is growing late," said Agnes, drawing
slowly from the balustrade. ... " It is time
for us to go." She still looked very sad ; a
deepened color lit her cheeks, and her lip was

Schuyler turned and followed her as she


moved along. "Are you sure that you are so
cold, after all ? " he questioned.

She faced him with a sort of distressed
fierceness. " Oh, Mr. Schuyler," she cried, " I
am afraid you are right ! I have been wasting
my thunder ! "

He laughed, in a strange flurried manner.
** Why are you so fond of Meta Schuyler ? "
he asked.

" I am fond of doing good — if I can."

" There are more ways than one of doing
good," he murmured. " I think you have it in
your power to bring me consolation — if you
chose — if you would listen to me. Yes,
Agnes," he repeated, in a voice that she had
never heard him use before and that it pierced
her with regret to hear him use now, " if you
would only listen to me."

She met his faint smile of appeal with a
glittering hardness in her blue eyes. " I would
rather not listen to you," she said, and her
voice had a positively icy ring.


After that she quickened her pace a Httle.
Schuyler walked beside her with head some-
what drooped. Not another word was spoken
between them till they had almost left the
Park. A damp northerly breeze had sprung
up ; the vapor-blurred sun drooped westward, a
ball of opaque crimson. " It has grown chilly,"
said Agnes, at length. '^ This is treacherous

" Yes, it has grown decidedly chilly," said
Schuyler, in an odd voice.


CHUYLER left Agnes at her cousin's
door. Fragmentary and almost spas-
modic scraps of talk had passed be-
tween them during the homeward journey.
Agnes was no longer excited or angry ; a
grievous disheartenment had succeeded every
other feeling. After all, Meta had seen more
clearly than she had seen. Why had she not
profited by the warning } Why had she blun-
dered headlong into this awkward, fatal dis-
covery .? . . . When Schuyler bade her good-
by she felt a kind of dreary relief. She was
absolutely without one thrill of self-gratulation
as she reviewed the recent turn of events.
Her generous, disinterested impulse had risen
high and pure ; no prompting of mere flat-


tered vanity could either soil or displace it.
Agnes was neither more nor less than fem-
inine, and perhaps under different circumstan-
tial conditions the surprise of the afternoon
might have made self-esteem tingle if it waked
no stronger emotion. But any such result was
now impossible : she simply deplored, from
the depths of her heart, what seemed to show
her, in cruel colors, the certainty of Meta
Schuyler's unchanged future.

She had scarcely reached her own apart-
ment before a knock sounded at the door, and
presently Mrs. Leroy entered, holding a sealed

" Here is a telegram, Agnes," said her
cousin. '' It came a quarter of an hour ago."

'' A telegram ! " faltered Agnes. She reached
out her hand for the envelope, in pale alarm,
and tore it open with trembling fingers. Her
thoughts had flown to the Cliffes, and a hun-
dred fears besieged her palpitating heart. In
a few seconds she had read these lines : —


" Yotcr atuit is very ill. Come to its as soon
as yo2L can. She zvisJics greatly to see yojc.

Robert Cliffe."

'' Agnes, what is it ? " exclaimed Mrs.
Leroy. " You are as pale as death ! "

Agnes handed the paper to her cousin.
Then she sank into a chair and covered her
face for a moment. A little later she rose
again, speaking in firm, determined tones.

"I must start to-night if possible."

"Not to-night, surely," said Mrs. Leroy.
" To-morrow, if you must, but not to-night."

Agnes scarcely heard these words. " I must
learn about the trains," she said.

Mrs. Leroy walked toward the door. " Riv-
ington is at home," she told Agnes. " I will
bring him here at once."

She left the room, soon returning with her
brother. She had taken the telegram with
her, and Rivington appeared holding it in his
hand. They found Agnes pacing the floor,
with nervous steps and colorless face.


" I will make inquiries at the nearest ho-
tel," said Rivington, "and find out just when
you can start."

" Thanks," said Agnes. She laid her hand
on Rivington's arm ; her eyes burned keenly.
" Pray be as quick as you can."

*' Yes," said Rivington, with a brief pitying
look. He turned toward the door.

As he disappeared Agnes again dropped
into a seat, staring fixedly at the carpet.

Mrs. Leroy went up to her and sat down at
her side. " My dear," she said, " I am very
sorry for you. You have never spoken much
to me of Mrs. Cliffe. I suppose you are quite
fond of her."

The words had for Agnes, in her then
mood, a sort of oily artificiality. "Fond of
my aunt ! " she cried. " I love her dearly —
dearly"! " And then she burst into tears.

Mrs. Leroy watched her for a moment in
silence. "It will be a long journey," she at
length said ; " I don't know that you ought to


take it alone. Perhaps Frangoise had better
go with you. It is almost comj^romising for
a young girl like yourself to travel alone."

"I deserve this punishment!" exclaimed
Agnes, wildly. '* I should never have let them
go without me ! They insisted — but I should
have rebelled ! "

Mrs. Leroy stared. This despairing aban-
donment made Agnes seem to her like a new
person. She felt as if a sudden light were be-
ing thrown upon her cousin's nature ; she
felt, too, that the coming of Agnes within her
own household was being presented in a novel
aspect ; and the aspect by no means pleased

" Really," she said, in constrained tones, " I
thought that you wanted to come."

" Wanted to come ! " echoed Agnes, utterly
forgetful of everything save her own self-re-
proach. " It almost broke my heart to leave
them. I have been homesick ever since ; for
they were my home ! Aunt Louisa, Uncle


Robert, and Marianna — they were all that I
had in the world to love. And they were so
fond of me! It cost them such suffering to
give me up ! Oh, I see my folly now — when
it is too late ! "

The last words ended in passionate sobbing.
But Mrs. Leroy looked utterly untouched.
She might have pitied the grief beside her
if it had not stung her pride ; and with this
woman pride was the soonest stung because
easiest reached ; it ensheathed her character
as the husk ensheathes the ear.

She sat perfectly silent, watching Agnes's
tears till their paroxysmal force had partially
subsided. A little afterward Rivington reen-
tered the room. He had an air of ruffled maj-
esty ; he had probably been in a hurry for
one of the very few times during his elegant,
inert life.

"There is no quicker way for you to go,"
he said, addressing Agnes, " than by starting
to-morrow morning at seven o'clock. I have



made full inquiries, and I find that you will
gain no time by leaving earlier, on account of
the non-connection between trains."

A new idea suddenly struck Agnes. " But
I must telegraph back to them," she said,
brokenly. She hurried toward her writing-
table, took paper and a pencil, and began to
scrawl a message, with shaking hand. The
message ran thus : —

" / ivill start as soon as possible. God bless
all of y OIL I Agnes."

She hastily rose, holding the scrap of paper
on which these words were written ; she was
the picture of misery and perplexity. "You
will have this sent for me, will you not t " she
appealed to Mrs. Leroy.

Rivington was abruptly heard, at this point,
addressing a servant who stood in the open
doorway. But Agnes immediately turned, and
perhaps her eyes were quicker than his. She
saw that the servant held an envelope. " Is it
for me } " she cried. And then, as the girl ex-


tended her hand toward Agnes, the latter
quickly recoiled, as though in terrified fore

A bitter moan left her lips. '' Oh, she is
dead — I know it ! Aunt Louisa is dead ! "
swept piteously through the room.

Rivington took the envelope. He at once
saw that it was another telegram. "Let me
open it," he said to Agnes, who stood watch-
ing him with parted lips.

She moved her head, in speechless acqui-
escence. Rivington understood her ; a mo-
ment afterward he was running his eye over
the new message. "Ah," he exclaimed, "good
news ! "

A light seemed to flash across the face of
Agnes. She sprang to Rivington's side ; he
held the paper for her while she read these
words : —

" Your aunt is viiich better. The danger is
passed. Marianna will ivrite very soon. Do
not come, and forgive ns for alarming y 021.

Robert Cliffe."


Agnes burst into tears once more, while
Rivington handed the message to his sister.
The next instant she laughed with hysterical
sharpness, throwing up her hands like an ex-
ultant child, while the tears were still stream-
ing from her eyes. Mrs. Leroy and Riving-
ton exchanged glances.

" I shall see my dear aunt again ! " she now
cried, with the strange pathos of mingled grief
and joy. " I have not been so severely pun-
ished, after all ! Oh, thank Heaven that she
has been spared ! If she had died I — I
should never have forgiven myself. But what
am I saying .? Die } No, no, she is better ;
perhaps she has not been so very ill, after all.
Uncle Robert is absurdly fond of her ; he grew
frightened and sent for me. Yes — yes, it was
only that ! Oh, I am so happy — so very
happy ! "

" My dear Agnes, you must try to compose
yourself," said Mrs. Leroy.

But more than an hour passed before Ag-


nes regained her composure. By this time
dinner was served, but she dined, at Mrs.
Leroy's suggestion, within her own apartment.
Shortly afterward she began a long letter to
the Cliffes. It was a letter full of passionate
love ; and it contained a certain resolve openly

Just as Agnes had finished sealing and di-
recting it, Mrs. Leroy made her appearance.
" You are better, my dear } " she asked.

" Oh, I am quite well," answered Agnes.
" You have seen my first case of hysteria,"
she added, smiUng. " I hope it will be my

" You had a severe shock," said Mrs. Leroy.
" There was every reason why it should affect
your nerves." After a little pause she went
on : " Your friend, Mr. Speed, has called to
see you. Shall you be able to receive him } "

" Yes," said Agnes, promptly rising. " Can
I ask you to let one of the servants post this
as soon as possible } " she continued, giving


Mrs. Leroy the letter which she had just

She found Mr. Speed alone in the drawing-
room. His visif, at such an hour, was in-
tensely welcome to her. She unconsciously
pressed his hand for an instant. " Oh, Mr.
Speed," she began, '' I have something most
important to tell you. It begins sadly, but it
ends hopefully." And then she narrated the
story of the two telegrams.

" So now your fears arc quieted, of course,"
said Mr. Speed when she had finished.

"No, indeed," said Agnes; "how is that
possible .^ You can't think what anxiety I
still feel. I so long to end it — to join them
there in the West, for good and all ! "

" For good and all ! " . . . Mr. Speed re-
peated the words in a dismayed monotone.
Agnes had not noticed till then that his face
was leaner and deeper-lined beneath its large
over-jutting forehead, where the heavy black
hair hung loose and straight. The dark fixity
of his look now embarrassed her.


" Yes," she said, gravely, " I have made up
my mind to go. To-day has decided me. I
shall leave the day after to-morrow. I" . . .

The next words faltered bn Agnes's lips.
She saw that the man beside her was greatly
agitated. She could not fail to understand
why. He was making the truth too nakedly

Mr. Speed slowly rose. He came very close
to Agnes ; he stretched out both hands toward
her ; his face wore an immense solemnity.
"Will you not stay.?" he said. "Will you not
stay and be my wdfe } "

Agnes flushed crimson, dropping her eyes
for a moment. '' I cannot,", she murmured,
very faintly.

" I love you," he said. " I shall never care
for any woman but you. It has been this way
almost since the first hour that we met. It
will be this way always. Will you not think
it over } Will you not let me go now, and see
you at some other time, when you have re-



fleeted, deliberated ? I am not so poor ; my
outlook is growing better as time passes. I
will work for you, and treasure you beyond
price. You know my aims, my hopes — we
have talked together so often. Will you not
share these .-^ Do not answer w^ith haste. I
shall not press you for an answer. I will
come again."

"I would let you come again," said Agnes,
"if it could profit either of us." She was per-
fectly calm now ; the flush had quite faded
from her face, though her eyes sparkled un-
wontedly. " But I cannot marry you, Mr.
Speed. I honor you, but I cannot be your

" You have no love for me .^" His question
rang with the solemnity of anguish.

" No," said Agnes, using the cruelty of in-
evitable candor, " I do not love you."

Mr. Speed held out his hand — the big
hand in the brown glove. " Good-by," he
said. " Good-by, and God bless you ! "



Agnes gave him her own hand, rising.
"Oh, Mr. Speed," she whispered, ''I am so
sorry ! "

He turned and left the room without an-
other word.


GNES went to her room a little while
after Mr. Speed's departure. It was
still early in the evening. She seated
herself before her writing-table and leaned her
head upon her hand, thinking. At length she
began to write ; her pen hurried over the
paper with swift impetuosity ; she was com-
posing a letter to Mr. Speed.

She poured into her letter the warm full-
ness of a devout friendship. She wrote with
tender eloquence and unmistakable sorrow.
She expressed the most heartfelt wishes for
his future happiness and success. She blamed
herself that she should have been subject-
ed, however transiently, to the misfortune of
clouding so earnest, rare, and capable a life.


She declared her sincere hope that they
should meet again at some day when his
present trouble had passed, as she was con-
fident that it would pass, and when the inti-
macy from which she had reaped so many
precious results might be renewed amid cir-
cumstances of a clearer mutual understand-

After she had finished writing her letter,
she read it throusfh. After she had finished
reading it, she tore it into fragments.

"Of what use could it be?" she thought.
"It could only freshen his sufferings. Let
him think me cruel, if he must ; that may
help -to heal his wound the quicker."

Shortly afterward a knock sounded at the
closed door, and Agnes rose to admit Mrs.

" So Mr. Speed has gone } " said her cousin.
" I had no idea of it ; I supposed that you
were with him in the drawino;-room. He
made a very short visit."


"Yes," said Agnes.

Mrs. Leroy seated herself, and Agnes did
the same. The former was robed in one of
Madame Fourbellini's most triumphant ef-
forts ; this artist might have told you that
it was meant to express the dawn of resig-
nation in a bereaved spirit ; its only touches
of color were sombre purple, and these had
been veiled under dark films of tulle, while
a single spray of purple nestled amid the
wearer's blond tresses.

"My dear Agnes," said Mrs. Leroy, in
smooth semitone, " I wonder if you will feel
offended at a little proposition of mine. It
concerns your friend, Mr. Speed. Frankly,
do you not find him a trifle tiresome } "

"I have never found him so," said Agnes,
while a sort of tingling indignation seemed
to creep through her veins.

"But, my dear," resumed Mrs. Leroy, put-
ting her graceful head a little on one side.
and lowering her eyelids till their droop well


contrasted with the slight, cold smile that
she wore, " you must have observed that this
Mr. Speed is curiously different from the
people by whom you are at present sur-

" Oh, I have observed that," said Agnes.
" Excuse me, cousin Augusta," she went on,
after a momentary silence, "but have you
not forgotten the proposition of which you
just spoke } I should like to hear it."

" Oh, you quite frighten me out of making
it," said Mrs. Leroy, with a short, frigid
laugh. " I am afraid that I have put my
head into a hornets'-nest, really ! You are
so evidently prepared to do battle for your

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Online LibraryEdgar FawcettA hopeless case → online text (page 9 of 11)