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start. A boy and a man saw her, and came up. The man
examined the harness, and said it wasn't any wonder; a
strap was broken, and the carriage was pressing on her
heels, and in a few minutes more she would have run no
doubt. Dorla shook all over at this piece of news, and
actually began to cry. The man was melted, and tried his
best to cheer her. His boy should take the pony back to
" Port," and have the trouble remedied ; while she should
wait at his house, and his wife should get her a cup of tea,
and make her comfortable. This accordingly was done.
The tea was very poor, but the good nature was very com-
forting. But, alas, for the flight of time. It was half-past
six when the boy started on his errand ; it was a quarter
to eight when he appeared in sight on his return. Every-
one knows what harness-makers and blacksmiths are, in the
matter of delays ; and perhaps the poor fellow got an unjust
scolding. But there was a travelling " show " across the
river, and it was his father's opinion he had spent full hulf
the time he had been gone in its vicinity. It is not quite
dark at a quarter to eight in August, but it is much nearer
to it than is sometimes pleasant.

"You're not afraid? "said the man, putting the reins
into her hands after she was seated.


" No-o," she said with her teeth chattering. <c You don't
think there's any danger, now the harness is all right ? w

" Not the least bit in. the world," he said most assur-

A.nd so she started on again. How fast it grew dark !
And how many noises she heard, in the loneliest parts of
the road ; people driving behind her a long, long way, and
then passing her very suddenly ; men, horrid strange men,
laughing and smoking, and looking back at her. She had
never before known how few houses there were between
Matamoras and Milford ; great stretches of lonely fields,
and of lonelier darker woods. Jenny, however, behaved
better, and had ceased all agsrre?ive action of her hind legs.
Dorla thought she woull nave liked a horse without those
horrible hind legs ; they came so near the carriage, and were
capable of so much.

It was as dark as midnight, when she drove into the
village ; the moon had not risen, and the sky was clouded.
It was very comforting to see lights streaming from houses,
and to hear people's voices, and to know you could make
somebody hear yours if there were any need. The things for
which she had left an order at the store, had to be called
for. This became a serious matter as she drew near that
place. For there was a dense crowd all about the open space,
between the stone building and the hotels, where the roads
cross ; and a great flaring light held high aloft, made quite
a startling spectacle. It was a vender of quack medicine,
who had adopted this method of attracting notice, and of
selling his wares, and getting his verses listened to. He
had counted wisely upon the unoccupied condition of the
minds in Milford ; gentle and simple, old and young, wise
ind foolish, had gone running out to swell the crowd about
aim. The hotel parlors were emptied, and the piazzas bare.

The effect, as has been said, was picturesque, the night
was dark, and the crowd gay in clothing and varied, and
Che great torch shed its waving light and smoke down OP


ihem, now doubtfully, now broadly. Dorla could neither
get up to the door of the store, nor past the crowd on hei
way home ; she tried to approach the store, but Jenny
could see nothing picturesque in the effect. On the con-
trary she was very much put about by what she saw, and
began to start and rear and justify Dorla in a very fright-
ened scream. Somebody from the edge of the crowd
started forward and seized her by the bridle ; and led her
to the side of the road in front of the store and quieted
her gradually. This time it was Felix, and not the stage-
driver ; which was more appropriate. Dorla shook all over,
and tried to get out of the carriage, but actually could not.
Another person came out of the crowd and offered her
assistance. And this one was young Davis.

" Mrs. Rothermel ! " he cried, " out at this hour alone !
What are you doing here, and what is there that I can do
for you ? "

" Get the clerk to bring out the things I ordered," was
all she could say, sinking back into her seat. Mr. Davis
went briskly into the store and gave the desired directions
and came back. During this time Felix stood by Jenny's
head, and engaged himself in keeping her quiet, not saying
a word to Dorla. Several others, having got enough of
ihe quack doctor's rhymes, and recognizing Dorla, came
ibout the carriage. For some reason, Harriet was not
among them ; Dorla caught sight of her a little way off,
with the pink and blue Dresden china beauty ; they both
seemed to watch her but did not approach. It was enough
for Dorla that she was there. She could not see anything
else. Felix had just left them, it was evident, and they
were waiting for his return. The torch of the quack
doctor seemed bent on illuminating her blonde hair if
nothing else. Dorla saw her and tried to look away and
saw her still, though all else seemed in darkness.

Mrs. Bishop kissed her and talked to her a good deal;
Miss Gray son and Miss Davis made much lamentation thai


they never saw her now. (She was no longer a rival and
they were quite affectionate.) Miss Whymple even had
jome to Christian sentiments about her, and begged she
would come down and play croquet sometimes. And worst
of all, Mr. Davis had quite an easy semi-flirtatious manner,
as if he knew she would be only too glad of some attention
from him now. It was all like a dream to her; she hoped
afterwards that she had answered questions properly and
not said or done anything unwise, but she could remember
very little but that after the packages were stored away
under the seat, young Davis had said quite confidently,
" Now I'm going to drive you home," and Mrs. Bishop had
said, " Yes, my dear, I shall insist upon it," and Mr. Davis
had stepped into the carriage without more permission and
Felix had lifted his hat and walked away to join his sister
and .her companion.

It was a great relief to see the reins in a man's hands,
and not be afraid of everything they passed ; but she was
so full of annoyance and regret at the meeting with Felix,
she could not much enjoy the sweets of protection. It was
bitter to feel he must be angry with her, and despise her
too ; be angry with her for driving out alone at night when
he had been so vehement against it ; and despise her for
permitting young Davis' familiar ways. To be letting him
drive her home alone at night. She knew that he would
boast of it like a young simpleton as he was, and that
he would make it understood he was always most welcome
at the farm-house. And Felix would think that she was
jealous, and that this was her way of revenge. When if he
only knew how she had brought herself to feel about it
Ihat she prayed for him all the time, that she had almost
felt thankful for her bitter mistake about him, since it had
humbled her so utterly ; and had left him unharmed, and
ready for his present happiness. If it only had not come so
soon I These and other thoughts like it, were filling her
while young Davis' unmeaning prattle hurtled about


her ears. When they reached the farm-housej they wer*
met by Tim and two men with lanterns, and dear old Mrs,
Rothermel in misery of spirit. Dorla reassured her, and
explained a few of her misfortunes GO her. Young Davii
came in, as she knew he would, and stayed till half-past ten
o'clock. The weariness of it. What could he have found
to entertain him ?

He had his full reward, however, as in making hia
entrance to the hotel at five minutes before eleven, he met
Felix, pacing moodily up and down the flags, with his cigai ,
He was sure, from his manner, that Felix was annoyed, and
this was as nectar to his youthful spirit.

HARRIET VARIAN, the next morning, was just
bustling out of the hotel, with an armful of books
and music and work, to go over to the cottage,
when she was confronted by Dorla, whom she did not see
till within a few inches of her.

" O," she said, pulling herself up, a little confused.
" How are you ? Coming to see us ? "

" Yes," said Dorla, " and Miss Florence Estabrook."

" O," cried Harriet, rather more embarrassed. " That is
very good of you, Dorla, I am sure. We're all over at the
lottage. You'd better come straight over with me now."

While they walked across the dusty road, Harriet talked
a great deal, even more than usual, but Dorla did not even
hear her. She was approaching this dreaded moment with
ths sort of feeling young martyrs carry to the stake. A
morning call, in a many-flounced white muslin dress ; but
she might have had a halo round her head. She was sub-
mitting humbly to the order of the poor tyrant to whom
she owed obedience ; she was going to pay her homage t
the woman who had supplanted her, and to touch her hand
wad to give her friendship if she would have it, and her


prayers always, always, whether she cared for them or not
All this was the highest idea of duty that she could form
She hoped it would be accepted as an atonement for her sin
which looked darker and more shameful than ever to her
She desired to humble herself to the very earth ; to punish
herself with a real punishment ; and it was in accomplish
ment of this desire that she walked beside Harriet acrosa
Ihe dusty street towards the shady, shabby little cottage.

Harriet was manifestly ill at ease ; but the manifestation
was losb to Dorla ; she heard not a word that she was say-
ing, but followed her silently through the little gate.

The group within the parlor gave no idea of the paradise
that Dorla had been picturing ; but that, too, was lost to
her. She was in a sort of trance, as nearly as that state
can be reached by intense exitement long continued, arri-
ving at its climax. Felix sat in a lounging attitude, at the
door, which opened upon the little porch. He had a paper
in his hand, but looked moody and uninterested. At the
piano, opposite the door, sat Miss Estabrook with a very
discontented face, and at the farthest window was Mrs.
Varian, with a lap full of gay colored embroidery, but with
a novel in her hand.

Everyone was startled, and changed attitude and expres-
sion sharply, as Dorla entered. She passed Felix with a
movement of her head that showed she knew he was there,
but she did not look at him, and crossed over and spoke to
Mrs. Varian, who said, flurriedly,

" My dear ! This is unexpected. You haven't been here
in such a time, you know ! " Then, without answering, she
went across to Miss Estabrook, who had arisen and whose
face was a little flushed. She answered Dorla's salutation
and took her hand, but in a manner that was missish and
pert, in contrast with the action of the other. She hardly
knew what she said. There was not much to say, and she
tad not meant to say much. But she had hoped to sets
gomething in the face of this fancied rival that she could


love that would show her capable of understanding that
she offered her her friendship. But that something was not
there, that undsrstanding did not dawn. With all her long
ing she could only nee a very pretty woman, young, but not
soft and tender, rather hard and superficial, and withal ill
at ease and almost defiant.

All this she could not comprehend. And Felix sat beside
the door, with his moody now almost fiery eyes fixed upon
the group. Miss Estabrook sitting even on the piano stool,
looked petite and unimpressive opposite her visitor modish,
overdressed, contrasted with her. Dorla looked taller than
ever, and not so slight, in her soft white ruffled dress. The
Low room had seemed suffocating to her as she came into it,
and she had taken off her hat and held it by her side as she
sat on the old haircloth sofa, opposite her rival.

Slightly bending forward towards her, Felix saw her in
profile ; no color about her, even her hat was one of those
white chip affairs covered with tarlatan and without a flower
or ribbon. Her face was colorless, she was probably much
less beautiful than usual

Harriet felt the thunder in the air when she glanced from
her to Felix; Madame even felt that something must be
done. Before the end of the short visit, and before Dorla
had arisen, Harriet had hurriedly reviewed the situation,
and resolving desperately to get Felix off, had said to him
iotto voce something about some bill or some business at the
hotel which she wished he could see about before she wrote
her letters. It is not certain exactly what he said to her in
answer ; the answer was sotto voce too. But it was some-
that made her redden very much and look as much
as she could look. She had done her little possible,
aad now the ship might go foundering on, she felt she could
not be responsible.

Dorla, strangely, saw and felt none of this murky and elec-
tri3 atmosphere, being too much absorbed in her own false
new of things. %


AB she rose to go, Mrs. Varian rose also and said, hastily

" Felix, I see James crossing over towards the stables,
will you just step over and speak to him about that harness,
wid show him what you mean to have him do about it ? Ho
will be off to the blacksmith's, and no getting hold of hiic
again all the morning."

That was very weak ; but even sensible women do weak
things when they are driven into such a corner. "Mrs.
Rothermel will excuse you, I am sure," she added, flurriedly.

" I am sure she would if it were necessary," Felix said,
having risen also. " But there will be ample time to speak
to James when he comes back for his dinner."

" At any rate," said Mrs. Varian, desperately, " tell him
I want to speak to him if you please. There have been no
arrangements made about the afternoon ; we shall be disap-
pointed in our drive. You know we want the horses fully
an hour earlier than usual."

'* Certainly," returned Felix, touching sharply a bell be-
side him, and almost before the reverberation died away, the
inaid appeared. " Tell James, Mrs. Varian wants to speak
to him." By this time Dorla had begun to feel the sur-
charged atmosphere; she had said good-bye to Miss Esta
brook, and looked frightened into Mrs. Variants face, and
then put out her hand to Harriet.

" O," said the latter, hurriedly, " I'll go over with you to
the pony. Where was it that you left her? "

" Don't trouble yourself to do that, the SUE is very hot,"
said Felix, " I will put Mrs. Eothermel in hei carriage."

And Harriet, self-willed as she was, could do nothing but
Btand back and say disjointedly, " Well, if you can, that is,
\ won't go, of course, if you mean to ; I suppose it is warm.
Crood-bye then, Dorla, you must come again."

" Thank you," said Dorla, faintly, as she followed Felix
through the gate.

Come again ! O, if she had not come this time. What
Dad she done. What strangely mo\ ing, changing nv orld wa


she standing in. Why must she make such terrible mistakes,
What did it all mean? Something was very very wrong.
They crossed the dusty, hot little street in silence, Dorla
not lifting her white dress, Felix not putting up the um-
brella in his hand. I am afraid they were not thinking much
about such things. When they reached the sidewalk oppo-
site, Felix said, in a constrained voice,

" I hope you got home safely last night ? "

Dorla rather caught her breath and said. " Yes, and oh,
that is what I wanted to say to you. It was an accident my
being out so late. T should have been at home by half-past
six, but something happened to the harness. It was not my
fault at all. I hope you will not think I meant that is I
never mean to do what isn't right. I was afraid myself. I
did not want to be out any more than you could want I
don't mean that you care but as you spoke to me I though*
you would think it very strange that I should do it just the
same at once."

Poor Dorla ! It would have been a great deal better if
she had not come. What troubles these people, all conscience
and emotion, do get into. She did not know exactly what,
she had done, but she felt a strange unsettling of everything,
and a sense of danger. There was a silence. They had
nearly reached the hotel steps.

" Won't you let me drive you home ? " said Felix, in a
low tone, but such a tone. Then Dorla knew that the work
was all undone, that the battle was all to be fought over,
and that she had fallen back in the cruel toils again. How
much a tone can say how inconsiderable the words. Felix
said to her under cover of those seven trifling words, that he
had thrown away his mask, that the last few days had been
all deceit, that he was hungering for a word from her, for a
moment with her. That he never could forget, and never
meant to let her forget, what those few short gay days had
taught them. That he entreated her for this one respite ;


that he pleaded for this one morning's heaven. Poor Dorla !
She was in no danger of not understanding.

" Tim is driving me," she said, when she could command
her voice.

The pony carriage stood a little distance down the street,
under the shade of some trees. They both saw it, and
walked down towards it without speaking again. But what
a thick, hot silence ; what a struggle that was not interpreted
by words. Tim was nodding over the reins, but he sprang
up when they came up by him, and turned the pony off that
Dorla might get in. She did not take Felix's hand when
she got in, but put her own on the side of the seat, and
stepped in quickly, and without looking at him. She said
something that might have been good-bye, as they drove off.
But Felix was not dissatisfied. On the contrary, he was
madly full of assurance, and of triumph.

And now began an epoch in his life, that his admiring
historian surely would suppress. He had, till this time,
kept before himself some idea of duty, some sentiment of re-
spect for what the world might think of her, if not of him.
lie had striven to veil the feelings with which she had in-
spired him, with mistiness and vagueness in his own mind.
He had been very wretched, very moody ; but he had not
been definite. Now he was definite. Now he knew what
he craved. Now he stood on the border of the land that he
meant to enter. He knew that this woman loved him ; that
she could not escape from. He had never existed before, it
peemed to him. His whole life looked pale, and faint, and
Uke a play, compared to this. He put aside every con-
sideration of duty, of self-respect, of honor. He asked only
her. He knew all that stood between them. Not the pal-
try man, whom he disdained to' associate in his thoughts
with her; not the ostracism of society that looked like
nothing to him at his mad heigh* of passion. Not the la*
of God. Alas, that had nover had great weight in his decis-
ion*. Nothing but this woman's conscience, her religion,


This was standing between them, and this alone, as he
looked at it. How to overcome it ; how to reach her
through that panoply. He knew she was not a strong
woman, as strength is counted. She was very inexperi-
enced ; she was timid, she was very young. She had before
now allowed hersalf to be led, to be guided; she had made
great mistakes. He was too insane to care what he gave
up, what disgrace he brought upon himself by his pursuit,
either successful or a failure, and too selfish to reflect upon
the fatal injury it would do to her, in any case. He was
not new at selfishness. He had been taught all his life that
it was the thing he ought to be, and though he had resisted
it in small things, from a good nature and from amiability,
still it had governed him openly in the great matters of his
life. It would have been asking too much, that it should
not have been at the helm now.

A week followed this, a week of chagrin and alarm to
Harriet and Mrs. Yarian, of scandal and eager gossip
among the lookers-on ; of terror and suffering to poor
Dorla. Florence Estabrook had been thrown over as reck-
lessly as she had been taken up. Felix made no disguise of
his indifference to her. Harriet dared not remonstrate, she
was afraid of him. One interview had been enough for her.
" This wretched complication " was what she called it when
she talked about it with her mother. She might have felt a
little remorse if she had been in the habit of the sentiment..
But she wasn't, and only felt out of patience with Dorla, as
the cause of all the trouble to their peace.

" What did she marry that fool of a fellow for ! " she
pettishly exclaimed. " If she had only waited another year
till Felix came back, she might have; had him and welcome.
/ don't care how he marries if he is moderately respect-

" And doesn't interfere with you in any way," said the
tnother, whose heart, what there was of it, was always witt
her so i.


' Very likely he wouldn't have wanted her if he could
have had her though," Harriet went on.

v er y likely not. But that doesn't alter matters now."

" I only wish this Estabrook girl was off our hands. H
has treated her abominably ; what will people say."

" She brought it on herself. Who asked her to come
Here ? " said the hard old woman. But for Dorla, she was
a little sorry ; the poor child was so pretty, and so gentle,
she had always liked her, and she knew very well that all
the fault was on the part of Felix. It was rather a chagrin
to think what a daughter she might have had in her. For
worldly as she was, she knew very well how comfortable and
sweet, good pious women make the home in which they
happen to abide. " A miserable complication," that was all
she could say about it. " Miserable and so unnecessary."

The week was drawing to a close, and Felix worn out and
baffled by his ill success in even seeing Dorla, was humbler
by many degrees, and less assured than when he parted
from her at the step of the pony carriage, in the hot little
village street. By this time, George came to his aid. He
had been away, and Dorla had been ill. But now he was at
home, and now Dorla was creeping about the house, pale and
dull, but still able to be out of bed. There were tickets ar-
rived for theatricals at one of the hotels. George said that
bhey must go. It was made a matter of obedience, and
Dorla went.

The evening was warm and damp, the room in which the
Uitertainment was held, was low and close. A great many
people were packed into it. In fifteen minutes after the
play began, Dorla was faint and frightened at herself. It is
^ery unpleasant to feel you are going to die, at any time, but
most of all, when you are the central atom of a closely
wedged multitude of people. And the weaker you grow the
nore impossible seems the feat of getting pasfc them, or
jioving them out of their inertia. Dorla wasn't thinking of
Felix, or of what the people would think about her if she


fainted, or died outright in their midst. She was ignomird-
ously and grovellingly thinking of herself, and of her horrible
sensations ; of the way in which her heart seemed stopping,
of the suffocating feeling of her chest; the cold sweat that
was breaking out around her mouth and forehead. She
began to feel a good deal worse, when she found that George
had moved away, and was beyond the reach of her voice,
And that ?he was surrounded by strangers. It was beyond
bearing to die this way, and she surely thought she was going
to die. (She was young, and had never fainted before.)

About this time some one forced open a window near her,
and the fresh air saved her for the time. The lady next her
offered her sal-volatile, seeing her look pale, and that did her
good for a little while. Beyond that, nobody took much
notice of her. They had come late and were in rather an ob-
scure part of the room, (if any part of it could be called
other than obscure.) At any rate they had taken seats
somewhat in the rear of the people who lived at the hotels
and were on the ground before them. The play was about
as vivacious as such plays generally are. Most people, look-
ing at it in cold blood, would have thought it rather an ill
measure, to pay two dollars, and sit for an hour and a half
in this stifling atmosphere, for the privilege of seeing Miss
Grayson with her back hair down, and being definitely as-
sured that Miss Whymple's ankles were very neatly turned.
Of course Mr. Davis was in tights and Mr. Oliver in a

Online LibraryMiriam Coles HarrisA perfect Adonis → online text (page 16 of 29)