Henry Sydnor Harrison.

V. V.'s Eyes online

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stood when she went out for the sail. She was not even going to have
chills ...

She decided to dismiss it all from her mind and go to sleep, but her
mind for a time refused to come into this agreement. Though that was
exactly what she had meant not to do, the girl presently found herself
thinking back over the whole occurrence, from the moment when she first
saw Dalhousie in the water. In time vague doubts gathered and clouded
her perfect brow. She became a little oppressed by the recollection of
certain variations between what she had said and really intended to say
to her mother upstairs, and what her mother appeared to have said to
Rumor downstairs. For instance, she had never said that Dalhousie
_literally_ upset her boat, or even that he was exactly _in_ the boat
when it upset; and _never_ said that she had screamed again and again
for his help when she found herself in the water. No, she had
particularly avoided saying those things, for justly angry and excited
though she was, she hadn't considered it right to say anything that
wasn't strictly true. Mamma just jumped right on ahead, though, paying
no attention to what you said.

The whole thing had happened very unfortunately, she saw that clearly
now. Of course, she couldn't tell mamma that she and Jack Dalhousie had
quarrelled terribly in the boat and he had looked as if he meant to
strike her, for then mamma would have asked, How could you have had such
a terrible quarrel with a man that somebody barely introduced to you
once, a long time ago? And if she had said pointblank, No, I don't think
I screamed, mamma would have asked, Why under heaven didn't you
scream? - and all this would have meant stopping for a long explanation
right there, just when there was so much else to think about, and mamma
almost bursting a blood-vessel as it was.

Still, she wished now that it had all been started differently. In the
excitement, of course, she had not had time to think out every single
thing carefully and definitely. It occurred to her now, after some
meditation, that she might simply have said to mamma: "He had frightened
me so by getting into my boat, that when I upset and I knew I wasn't
going to drown, I didn't want to call him back"....

Darkness crept into the white-and-cherry bedroom. Till now, what with
nearly drowning and mamma and everything, she had really thought very
little about it from Dalhousie's point of view. Now it came over her,
rather dubiously, that what everybody seemed to be saying of him
downstairs did put him in quite a disagreeable position. But then, of
course, everybody was a little worked up and excited just now. In a day
or two they would forget about it, and the whole thing would blow over.
Besides, he deserved the severest punishment for the way he had treated
her; and as for anything he might say now (though as a gentleman he
would hardly say anything and try to blacken a lady's character), of
course nobody would listen to him for a minute.

And as far as that went, nobody would listen to her either. People never
did. She regretted the whole occurrence as much as any one, but you
could _never_ correct flying gossip; everybody knows that. People always
arrange the little details as they want them arranged, according to what
makes the most exciting story, and they never pay the smallest attention
when you come in with a just, mathematical face and say: "You haven't
got it quite right _there_. There's a little mistake _here_...."

Worry, clearly, was out of place. It never does any good, as all
philosophers agree; and besides, it brings wrinkles in or near the
forehead. Carlisle turned on her other side and snuggled with more
relaxation beneath the pale-blue quilt. Drowsiness stole over her,
seducing thought. Presently she slept, and dreamed of Mr. Canning.




IV

Mr. Hugo Canning, of the well-known Pursuing-Sex; how the
Great Young Man pursued Miss Heth to a Summer-house, and what
stopped his Thundering Feet.


Nor were the figments of sweet sleep too fanciful or far-flown. About
eight-thirty o'clock, when Mrs. and Miss Heth stepped from a descending
lift into the glaring publicity of the main floor, the first object that
their eyes fell upon was Mr. Hugo Canning in the flesh. The second was
Cousin Willie Kerr, even more in the flesh, trotting loyally at his
side. At this precise instant, in short, the celebrated transient
quitted the dining-room for the relaxations of his evening.

The coincidence of the moment was pure: one hundred per cent, as they
say commercially. One takes it to mean that Destiny, having handled a
favorite child somewhat roughly for a time, now turned back its smiling
mother-face. The ladies Heth, having dined refinedly in their
sitting-room, descended in search of cooling breezes, or for any other
reason why. Over the spaces of the great court, half lobby, half parlor,
Miss Heth had seen the masculine apparitions an instant before they saw
her: or just in time, that is to say, to be showing them now her
flawless profile....

It is easily surmised that Miss Heth's manner in action was contained,
her habit the very reverse of forward. One seeing her now would be
cheaply cynical, indeed, to say or dream that, with reference to some
such conjuncture as the present, this girl had left a happy home many
hours before. Her presence shamed every unworthy surmise. With a lovely
unconsciousness she was spied walking her innocent ways toward the
piazza with mamma, even now girlishly unaware that an opposite and
uproarious sex was in headlong pursuit....

If this pursuit - to be doggedly literal - appeared to lag for a moment,
if it did not seem to start with that instant _élan_ which one had a
right to expect, be sure that there was a complication of sound reasons
for that. Kerr, in the circumstances, was the appointed leader of the
chase; and Kerr hesitated. Canning's desire to avoid the local society
and be left free to outdoor exercise and sleep was, in truth, only too
well known to him. And to-night, worse luck, the distinguished visitor
appeared even less socially inclined than usual: annoyed when the select
little party he had expected from northerly haunts had been found
represented at the Beach by a telegram instead; increasingly bored by
the desolate air of the all but empty hostelry. "When's the next train
out of this hell-hole?" - such was Mr. Canning's last recorded remark up
to this not uninteresting moment.

Kerr, when he saw Mrs. and Miss Heth over the distance, merely made a
genial exclamation, and then gazed. He was nearing forty, was Willie,
short and slightly bald, with an increasing appreciation of the world's
good things and as much good nature as his round figure called for.
Canning's acquaintance he had by the chance of a lifelong friendship
with Mrs. Allison Payne. By reason of a native clannishness and certain
small obligations of a more material nature, he was more than ready to
share his privileges with his brilliant cousins. But....

"So that's the drowned lady," said Canning's voice, rather moodily, at
his elbow.... "Well, then, I know her."

"Dandy girl, Carlisle," exclaimed Willie, instantly. "Great little piece
of work...."

One hundred feet away, opportunity unconsciously receded toward the
piazza. Willie, having hesitated through no unfaithfulness, plunged with
no want of tact.

"Got to speak to 'em a minute - make inquiries - cousins, y' know. D' ye
mind?"

"My dear chap, why should I?"

"Awright - just stop and say howdedo," said the plump diplomatist. "Won't
take a minute...."

And Canning, perceiving then that Kerr expected to make this stop in his
company, said with an assurance not unbecoming to his lordly bearing:
"If you please. And don't start anything, for pity's sake. I'm for bed
in fifteen minutes."

So it all fell out, according to the book. So it was that the pursuing
feet were free to thunder. So Mrs. Heth heard the voice of the leal one,
subdued from a distance: "_Howdedo, Cousin Isabel! How're you an'
Carlisle this evening_?..."

And so the maid turned, startled from her other-worldly dreams....

He was the greatest parti that had ever crossed her path, that was ever
likely to cross her path. But Miss Heth faced him with no want of
confidence; received his greeting with a charming bright negligence. One
saw readily that such a matter as "making an impression" was far indeed
from this maid's mind. If doubts, a vague uneasiness relative to the
afternoon, still fretted the hinterlands of her mind (and they did), she
was much too well trained, too resolute withal, to let them appear
troublously upon the surface. Moreover, the nap of forty minutes, not
winks, had been like the turning of a new leaf; and she was fortified,
woman-wise, with the knowledge that she looked her best. Over her
shoulders there clung a shimmering scarf, a pretty trifle all made of
the scales of a silver mermaid. It was observed, however, that the gray
crêpe-de-chine quite justified its choice....

The meeting of four had been effected in one end of the wide garish
space: among the loungers of the lobby, all eyes were turned in that
direction. There were salutations; the introduction of Mr. Canning to
Mrs. Heth; inquiries after Miss Heth's health. Quite easily the square
party resolved itself into two conversational halves. Mrs. Heth, it was
clear from the outset, preferred Willie Kerr's talk above any other
obtainable at that time and place. She was, and remained, absolutely
fascinated by it....

"It seems quite unnecessary," Mr. Canning was saying - but he pronounced
it "unne's'ry" - "to ask if you are any the worse for the ducking...."

"Oh, no - I'm quite well, thank you. We've suffered nothing worse than
the spoiling of all our plans in coming here!"

The man's look politely interrogated her. "Oh, really? I'm sorry."

"We came, you see, to be very quiet. And we were never so frightfully
noisy in our lives."

He smiled; made his small distinguished bow.

"You've reason to feel annoyed on all scores then. At any rate, it's
charming to find you as our fellow guest."

And his eyes flitted from her toward Kerr, and then turned briefly upon
mamma, and her strange little downy mustache.

Carlisle now perceived the disinterestedness, if not the faint
weariness, in Mr. Canning's manner; she saw that he had forgotten the
five minutes at the Country Club. The strong probability was, moreover,
that he thought the worse of her for allowing herself to be nearly
drowned in so vulgarly public a way. However, she was untroubled; she
thought him, for her part, adorable to look at and of a splendid manner
and conceit; and aloud she inquired, with her air of shining
indifference, if Mr. Canning was not delighted with the Beach
in October.

"Well, you know, I think I've been here before" - he said _bean_, most
deliciously - "only I can't be quite sure. It seems to me a most
agreeable place. Only, if it isn't indiscreet to inquire, what does one
do in the evening?"

"Usually, I believe, one goes to bed directly after dinner. If one does
this, and dines extremely late, the evening slips by quite nicely,
we find."

"But the afternoons? Wouldn't they perhaps loom a thought long at times,
waiting on for dinner?"

"There's napping provided for the afternoon, you see. And many other
diversions, such as reading, walking, and thinking."

"Perhaps one should arrange to spend only afternoons at the Beach. You
make them sound simply uproarious."

"We're a simple people here, Mr. Canning, with simple joys and sorrows,
easily amused."

Mr. Canning looked down at her. However, Carlisle did not meet his gaze.
Having already, in a quiet way, given him two looks where they would do
the most good, she was now glancing maidenly at mamma, who conversed
vice-presidentially of her Associated Charities policies.

"They must be brought to help themselves!" Mrs. Heth was saying.
"Wholesale, thoughtless generosity is demoralizing to poverty. It is
sheer ruination to their moral fibre."

"Promiscuous charity! - ruination! Just what I always say," chirped
Willie. "Look at ancient Rome, ma'am. Began giving away corn to the
poor, and, by gad! - she fell!"...

"Delightful! I see I shall like it here," Mr. Canning was observing - and
was there perceptible the slightest thawing in his somewhat formidable
manner?... "I too," said he, "have dwelt in Arcady."

The girl looked over the spaces, a little smile in her eyes.

"Ah, then you didn't need to be told that the sandman comes early
there."

"But not, I think, when the moon shines bright - and the simple
amusements you speak of seem to be waiting? Surely games in the evening
are not altogether forbidden, or does my memory of the place
deceive me?"

"You seem to remember it perfectly. But I thought your complaint was
that there was nothing at all amusing to do in Arcady."

"Ah," said Mr. Canning, "but I'm having my second thoughts now."

She had given him a third, uptilting look with her speech; and now it
was as if the great eligible had seen her for the first time. If the
gaze of his handsome eyes became somewhat frank, this girl had been
fashioned to stand all scrutiny victoriously. A mode which defined the
figure with some truthfulness held no terrors for her; rather the
contrary. Her skin was fine and fair as a lily, with an undertone of
warmth, dawn pink on the cheek; the whiteness of her neck showed an
engaging tracery of blue. Her mass of hair, of an ashy dull gold, would
have been too showy above a plain face; but the case was otherwise with
her. Her mouth, which was not quite flawless but something better, in
especial allured the gaze; so did her eyes, of a dusky blue, oddly
shaped, and fringed with the gayest lashes ...

"Besides," added the man, looking down at her with a certain lightening
in his gaze, "as I remember, I did not say that there was nothing
amusing to do. I merely, as a stranger, came to you begging some
guidance on the point."

"I see. But I very much doubt my ability to guide you in that way, Mr.
Canning - "

"I can only observe that you've thrown out a number of perfectly ripping
suggestions already - walking on the piazza, for example. Mightn't we
steal that diversion from afternoon temporarily, don't you think?
Perhaps Mrs. Heth would agree to pursue the missing breeze so far?"

"That would be nice," said Carlisle.

You could distinctly hear his thundering feet now....

Strolling for four was agreed upon, and that simple afternoon amusement
started. But, arriving at the piazza, the dowager discovered that, after
all, the night air was just a little cool for her, and turned back, not
without some beaming. She mentioned the Blue Parlor as her port of call,
where smoking was forbidden. Willie, doing his duty as he saw it,
dropped his cigar into a brass repository. He had faults like the rest
of us, had Willie, but his deathless loyalty deserved a monument in
a park.

Carlisle and Mr. Canning strolled on alone. She walked outwardly serene
as the high-riding moon, but inwardly with a quickening sense of
triumph, hardly clouded at all now. As she and mamma had planned it, so
it had fallen out....

Many eyes had followed this shining pair as they quitted the common
gathering-place. She, as we have seen, was inviting as a spectacle. He,
to the nobodies, was simply one of the sights of the place, like the
Fort. And his distinguished House was still a small one, at that, not
yet arrived where another generation would unfailingly put it. If the
grandfather of Hugo Canning had founded the family, financially
speaking, it was his renowned father who had raised it so fast and far,
doubling and redoubling the Canning fortune with a velocity by no means
unprecedented in the eighties and nineties. To-day there were not many
names better known in the world of affairs, in the rarer social
altitudes, even in the shore-hotels of the provinces....

And the son and heir of the name and fortune, who now trod the Beach
piazza with Miss Carlisle Heth, was obviously more than many sons of
wealth, much more than a mere trousered incident to millions. This one
saw in the first glance at his Olympian bearing; but Carlisle Heth knew
more than that. Upon this young man the enterprising vehicles of modern
history had, long since, conferred an individual celebrity. Often had
the Sunday editors told their "public" of his exploits in the sporting
and social realms, as they called them; not rarely had journals of a
more gossipy character paragraphed him smartly, using their asterisks to
remove all doubt as to who was meant. Before such an evening as this had
ever crossed her maiden's dreams, Carlisle Heth had read of Hugo
Canning....

It was a bad throat, a God-given touch of bronchitis or whatnot, that
had sent the great young man south. This was known through Willie Kerr,
and other private sources. Also, that he would remain with his Payne
cousins through the following week; and in December might possibly
return from the Carolinas or Florida for a few days' riding with the
Hunt Club. Meantime he was here: and it was but Saturday, mid-evening,
and a whole beautiful Sunday lay ahead....

From the piazza, after a turn or two, Miss Heth and Mr. Canning
sauntered on to a little summer-house, which stood on the hotel
front-lawn, not far from the piazza end. She had hesitated when he
commended the pretty bower; but it was really the discreetest spot
imaginable, under the public eye in all directions, and undoubtedly
commanding a perfect view of the moonlight on the water, precisely as he
pointed out.

In this retreat, "What a heavenly night!" exclaimed Miss Heth.

Canning, still standing, looked abroad upon a scene of dim beauty,
gentle airs, and faint bright light. "Now that you say it," he replied,
"it is. But depend on it, I should never have admitted it quarter of an
hour ago."

"Oh! But isn't it rather tedious to deny what's so beautifully plain?"

"Should you say that tedious is the word? A better man than I denied his
Lord."

"Yes," said Carlisle, not absolutely dead-sure of the allusion, "but he
was frightened, wasn't he, or something?"

"And I was lonely. Loneliness beats fear hollow for making the world
look out of whack."

"Doesn't it? And is there a lonesomer place on the globe than a summer
resort out of season?"

"But we were speaking of fifteen minutes ago, were we not?" said
Canning, and sat down beside her on the rustic bench.

The walls of this little summer-house were largely myth, and lattice for
the rest. Through the interstices the dim brightness of the moon misted
in, and the multitudinous rays from the hotel. There reached them the
murmur of voices, the languorous lap of water. A serene and reassuring
scene it surely was; there was no menace in the night's silvern
calmness, no shadow of stalking trouble....

Carlisle imagined Mr. Canning to be capable of a rapid advance at his
desire, and was opposed on principle to such a course of events. Still,
she was saying, a moment or two later:

"And in the Payne fort on the Three Winds Road - I suppose you never feel
lonely there?"

"Why fort, if one might know?"

"I've been told that you were awfully well barricaded there, prepared to
stand any sort of siege."

Canning seemed quite amused. He declared, on the contrary, that neglect
and unpopularity were his portion in a strange land.

"I'm an invalid on sick-leave," said he, "and my orders are to go to
bed. Please don't smile, for it's all quite true ..."

He appeared to develop a certain interest in the moonlit talk. He
proceeded in a voice and manner no longer purely civil:

"And, to bare my soul to you, I'm no fonder of being lonely than another
man.... Do you know that, but for Kerr, you're my one acquaintance in
all this part of the world? What shall we say of that? I sit at dinner,
consumed by blue devils. I emerge, and behold, you walk across the
lobby. Haven't I some right to feel that the gods are with me even at
the Beach?"

Perchance she might have given him some information there, but instead
she laughed musically.

"The god of the pretty speeches, at any rate! Must I tell you that you
didn't look quite overjoyed when dear Willie came dragging you up?"

"I've no doubt I looked all sorts of ways, for I'd never felt more unfit
for any society, including my own. The more is my debt to you for
chasing my devils away.... But perhaps I owe you no thanks after all, as
one guesses that you do these little services for others without any
particular effort."

Carlisle glanced at him, smiling a little from her dusky eyes.

"Your experience is that most people find it a great effort to speak
pleasantly to you, I suppose?"

"Again I point out to you that our talk is not of most people, but of
you."

"Oh! And is there something particularly original about me? This grows
exciting."

"I, for one, think that beauty is always original," said Canning, with
sufficient impersonality, but no more.... "Still, we know, of course,
that unaided it cannot drive the blues of others very far."

"After the sugar-coating comes the pill. Tell me in what way I have been
deficient."

"Ah, that's yet to learn. To be charming by habit is an agreeable thing;
but you haven't convinced me yet, you know, that you know how to
be kind."

Her lashes fell before his masculine gaze; she did not answer. About
them was the sweet hush of the night. She was aware that he had moved
nearer upon their bench; aware, too, of a faster beating of her heart.
And then, quite suddenly, a new voice spoke, so close that both started
sharply; a rather shy voice, yet one possessed of a certain vivid
quality of life.

"I beg your pardon - but _is_ this Miss Heth?"

They turned as upon one string. At the door of the summer-house stood
the blurred figure of a man, bareheaded and tall. The light being
chiefly behind him, he showed only in thin silhouette, undistinguishable
as to age, character, and personal pulchritude. Stares passed between
the dim trio.

"I am Miss Heth."

"Could you possibly let me speak to you - for a moment, Miss Heth? I
realize, of course, that it's a great intrusion but - "

Canning started up, annoyed. Carlisle, without knowing why, was
instantly conscious of a subtle sinking of the heart: some deep instinct
rang a warning in the recesses of her being, as if crying out: "This man
means trouble." She glanced at Mr. Canning with a kind of little shrug,
suggesting doubt, and some helplessness; and he, taking this for
sufficient authority, assumed forthwith the male's protectorship.

"Yes? What is it that you wish?"

The tall stranger was observed to bow slightly.

"As I say, I beg the favor of speaking to Miss Heth a few
moments - privately. Of course I shouldn't venture to trespass so, if the
matter weren't vitally important - "

"Who are you?" demanded the great young man with rather more impatience
than seemed necessary. "And what do you wish to speak to her about?
Speak plainly, I beg, and be brief!"

The two men stood facing each other in the faint light. Ten feet of
summer-house floor was between them, yet something in their position was
indefinably suggestive of a conflict.

"I should explain," said the intruder, dim in the doorway, "that
I come as a friend of poor Dalhousie - the boy who got into all
the trouble ... Ah...."

The involuntary ejaculation, briefly arresting his speech, was his
perfect tribute to the girl's beauty now suddenly revealed to him. For
Carlisle had unconsciously leaned forward out of the shadows of the
bench just then, a cold hand laid along her heart.

"This afternoon," the man recovered, with a somewhat embarrassed rush.
"I - I appreciate, I needn't say, that it seems a great liberty, to - "

"Liberty is scarcely the word," said Hugo Canning, fighting the lady's
battle with lordly assurance. "Miss Heth declines to hear...."

But the stranger's vivid voice bore him down: "_Do you, Miss Heth?_...
The situation is terribly serious, you see. I don't want to alarm you
unnecessarily, but - I - I'm afraid he may take matters into his
own hands - "

Canning took an impatient step forward.

"Nevertheless, it's pure impudence for him to send to this lady,
sneaking for favors now. Let's - "

"Mr. Canning, I - I'm afraid I _ought_ to speak to him!"

"_What?_" said Mr. Canning, wheeling at the voice, as if stung.

"_Oh!... That's kind of you!_"

Carlisle felt, under Mr. Canning's incredulous gaze, that this sudden
upwhirl of misfortune was the further refinement of cruelty. She hardly
knew what to do. Scarcely thinkable as it was to dismiss Hugo Canning



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