S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Characteristics online

. (page 17 of 19)
Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellCharacteristics → online text (page 17 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"Tell me something," she said, "about the statues.
These Greeks. What a poem the group is ! "

"Yes. A Western city has ordered it for a memo-
rial of the dead it lost in the war."


She looked at the group in silence, and said pres-
ently, " Did you know my elder brother, the one who
feH at Antietam?"

"Yes ; I knew him well. I may say he was of earth's

She made no answer. Her eyes were full ; her face
flushed. I said nothing, but moved quietly away to
a corner as if to show her some rugs from Fez, and
talked volubly until, looking up, she said, "Thank you.
And now the statues. What is the one covered up?"

" It is a Roman lady. St. Clair does not uncover it."


"He is not pleased with it."

" But I might be. I shall ask Trim. Here he comes."

"No; do not. It is disagreeable."

"But I want to see it," she continued.

"You will not, must not. Pardon me."

"Must not?" And she looked at me steadily a mo-
ment. Then she turned to St. Clair. I was annoyed.
I did not want her to see the sensual, cruel abandon-
ment of the woman to the brute man's pose.

"What is your covered statue?" she said.

"A woman aping a man. A woman gladiator."

"And Dr. North does not like women to imitate
men. If I want to see it, will you not show it?"

"And why not?" cried St. Clair, gaily.

"I am satisfied," she said. "I do not want to see
it," and then to me, aside, "Was I very wicked?"

"No ; I did not think you would persist. Be satis-
fied with your victory."

"I am. Be generous, and never remind me of my


"It was strength, not weakness."

" I am half sorry already. Would you have thought
worse of me if I had persisted ?"


"You are very frank."

"And you do not like that? If you had been my
my sister, I should have been annoyed with St. Clair
and much more imperative."

"You have no sister?"

"No ; I am alone in the world. Come, I shall re-
ward you. Ask St. Clair to open the tent."

"And your lordship permits that ?"

"Please don't, Miss Leigh."

She regarded me with a briefly attentive glance, but
said no more until we were beside the sculptor.

"I should like to see your tent," she said.

"You can ask me nothing I shall not be glad to do,"
he returned. So saying, he cast loack the temVfolds,
as the crowd of laughing girls fell away a little.

"It is 'Saul in his Tent/ in his madness," I said.

"But, good gracious!" exclaimed Miss Primrose,
"it's a Jew!"

"And was he not a Jew?" said Miss Leigh.

"Oh, but in art! A Jew, you know. Why, the
painters don't dare to make Christ a Jew."

"But they should," said Alice Leigh. "A Prince of
the House of Judah. And this face is typical. And a
king too. One misses 'the ruby courageous of heart.'
If some one would only read us ' Saul.' "

We went on talking, not missing St. Clair.

"Hush!" said Miss Primrose, "what is that? Oh.
how too delicious a surprise ! ;; For now we heard the


sound of strange music, and St. Clair came from
behind the tent in sandals and a white burnoose.
Whether it was prearranged or not I do not know,
as he always declined to tell. But here was the boy
David, with a small, curious harp, his face all aglow
under the curling brown hair. The crowd fell back
surprised, and St. Clair dropped on one knee, and be-
gan to recite, or rather to chant, "Saul," with now and
then a strange accompaniment from the instrument.
The effect of the eager and strong young face matched
well the intensity of dramatic power that he threw into
the lines of that wonderful poem. As he ended, there
was silence, and then he cried out merrily to Miss
Leigh : " Was n't it absurd ? I was miles in the desert
already," and the applause was loud and long. As he
spoke, I watched Miss Leigh. She regarded him with
an intense interest, her face flushing. A few minutes
after it was over he came back to us in his own garb.

"How good it was that you liked it," he said to Miss

"And did I ? How do you know ?"

"I felt it. I saw. If you had not, I could not have
done it. You could always make me do things well."

"Indeed. You do me honor. You have made me
know that old friend better. But I see mama is sig-
naling. I must go. We dine out, and never shall I
venture on an afternoon tea again. It would spoil a
perfect memory. Good-by."

I stood an instant as if studying the " Saul." What
annoyed me? Every one went away laughing and
joyous. I heard Mrs. Leigh praising it all to St. Clair.
And then I went too.

SAW the Leighs now and then, and
heard from St. Clair that he was mak-
ing a bas-relief of Miss Alice. This
he told me at the Vincents', where
were the Leighs and Miss Primrose,
whom I took in to dinner, and who
was, as Vincent confided to me, the final young per-
son selected for me by Mrs. Vincent.

"Is n't she charming?" said my hostess in a quiet
aside. Her dinner was prospering, and she now found
time to turn to me. "I knew you would like her."

"Like!" I said. "She is adorable. The prettiest
girl I know, and so intelligent, and so well, so full
of tact." I saw in Mrs. Vincent eyes signs of dis-
tressed failure.

" Fred has been talking. I never have a fair chance,
and you are getting old, too."

"Will she be like 'the rath primrose,' etc., think you ?
Oh, well, I will try again, but just now De Witt is
coaching her about pigeon-shooting."

"Look at St. Clair and my dear Alice. Was there
ever a more charming couple 1 Between us, now do
not you think really "

" I f " I ejaculated. " Do you sincerely want to marry
her to that dear fellow ? And you who care for both,
and know him."


"You are possessed, I think, about our poet. He
wants just such a person to make him as staid as
well, as you, and I really cannot see why you are
called upon to interfere."

"Dear Mrs. Vincent, did I say I would interfere?
And how could I ? And what is she to me ? A mere
acquaintance, and he my friend."

"Very true ; but you can be so irritating sometimes.
I fancy Mrs. Leigh is quite hurt that you have not
been near them for so long. She says Alice talks
less of the doctor business j but then St. Clair gives
her little leisure. What between sittings, and visits,
and dinners, the man has become madly delighted with
society, and dance I thought they would never stop
at the last assembly."

It was all true. I rarely saw St. Clair. I asked him
one day if he were writing verse. He said no, he was
living poetry. After dinner I declined Vincent's cigar,
and went up to join the women. I made my peace
with Mrs. Leigh very easily.

"Ah," she said, "dear Alice is quite tranquil now-
adays ; and by the way, Doctor, we are of kin, you
know, and I may ask you, entirely in confidence,
you won't consider it a liberty, what kind of person
is Mr. St. Clair ? Of course he is a genius, and wears
strange clothes, but not always ; and occasionally does
surprise one."

"He is my friend."

"Oh, of course, and that is why I ask. You see, I
am alone, and have to be father and mother, and it is
always well to look ahead. It may come to nothing.
Are his habits good?"


"Really," I said, "you must ask some one else."

"Oh, then, you mean he is n't a man you can talk

"I could talk about him all night. He is to me as
a brother. Ah, Mrs. Vincent," I added "No; no
coffee," and, rising, gave her my seat. "Ask Mrs.
Vincent," I said, and strolled to the corner where Miss
Leigh was looking over some prints.

"You are a stranger of late," she said. "And all
that pleasant friendliness we began with alas ! it is
squandered, as they say in the South."

"I am a busy man," I said, "and Mrs. Vincent tells
me you are as busy a woman." And then, feeling cross
and vicious, I added : "And what has become of those
grave views of life ? Is it still so unsatisfying ?"

She regarded me with a trace of surprised curiosity,
and then said: "No; I am as I was, and some day
you will let me tell you my side. I listened pretty
patiently to yours. I suppose that you men who live
amidst life's most serious troubles get a little well,
stolid as to so small a thing as how a woman of your
society, a mere girl, is disturbed about her days, and
what to make of life, or whether just to let it alone
and drift."

"And is not happiness everything, and are not you
happy now?"

" Happy ? That is my temperament ; and what has
that to do with it?"

"Indeed," I said, "I do not know."

"Then why talk so?" she added, almost sharply.
"I do not understand you. You seemed so fair, and
now "


"How comes on the rilievo?" I said, abruptly turn-
ing the talk.

"Oh, well enough."

"And my friend, St. Clair; is he not charming?"

"I do not know. The phrase is rather strong. He
is interesting. I like him. You should have seen his
face when I told him I meant to be a doctor. He
looked at me a moment, and then said, Good heavens !
and would I cut my hair short, and might he send for
me if he were ill, and would I be expensive as a medi-
cal attendant? He was certainly very amusing, but
it takes two to make a joke as well as a quarrel, and I
do not like to be laughed at by a man who " and she

"Well," I said, "who"

"In some ways I am more of a man than he. He is
undecided, easily led, and expects every one to indulge

"I assure you that a more delightful friend no one
could have."

"Friend? Yes, certainly."

I looked at her. A little flush like a faint, rosy sun-
set cloud was slowly moving over her cheek. A signal
of something. Was it doubt, or annoyance, or what ?
I began to feel a renewed interest in the woman before
me. It faded when I ceased to see her. It grew up
again when we met and talked. As the idea crossed
my mind that Mrs. Vincent's schemes might this time
be successful I had a sense of discomfort which I did
not stay to analyze, but said at once :

"Are there not men who are incomplete without
women? I most honestly think that some noble-


minded woman could be the complement of this man's
nature. She should be one fixed as to character, reso-
lute, tender, and absolutely conscientious. If she were
beautiful, and well, if she loved him, he would be at
his best always. It would be not the poor task of
saving a worthless man, but the nobler one of helping
one well worth the helping."
"Ah," she laughed :

" If he be not in word and deed
A Mng of nature's highest creed,
To be the chancellor of his soul
Were any but a happy r&le.

Some women love and learn. Some learn and, learn-
ing, love. It seems to me hard to understand how a
\/ woman could with knowledge aforethought undertake
such a task. Would you ?"

"Oh, I am not a woman."

"Well, it is a pretty problem. Imagine yourself
that woman."

"I cannot. But men and women may marry with
clear ideas of the imperfections of the being they
marry, believing that to love all things are possible."

"I see. But though one might love a man with a
bad temper, or morose, or despotic, one might with
more doubt face the qualities which come out of lower
forms of moral weakness. But how serious we are.
Why not invite Susan Primrose to the post of con-
science-bearer ? Ah, here come the men you deserted."

St. Clair joined us, and presently I took my de-

Mrs. Vincent detained me a moment. "Really,"


she said in an undertone, "I think our friend is well,
and my gentle Alice you laughed at me about it at
dinner, but now it is serious, I think, and how nice it
would be. If Mrs. Leigh speaks to you, do be careful."

"She has spoken," I said.

"And of course I know what you must have said."

" Said ! I referred her to you."

"Ah, indeed ! She must think that odd."

"I do not see why," I answered shortly. "But I am
rather tired of the subject. I must go. Grood night."

" One moment," she said. "I seem to have annoyed
you j I certainly do not want to do so. I am unlucky
of late. I can see no reason why you should object to
being asked questions as to your friend by Mrs. Leigh.
It is plain to us all that St. Clair is in love with Miss
Leigh, and what more natural than her mother's desire
to know something definite as to the man."

"And how can I tell her that St. Clair, with all his
fine qualities, is unfit to be a husband?"

"Then why shift the responsibility of an answer
upon me?"

"Because you think otherwise. I shall tell him ex-
actly what passed."

"Perhaps that is best. It may really be of use to
him. His character "

"Oh, confound his character ! I beg pardon, I did
not mean that ; I was rude. I must speak out frankly
to Mrs. Leigh, or not speak at all, and I prefer the
latter course. I would rather not discuss it further."

"Well, as you please. Good night. You are very
cross and most unreasonable."



HAD never before been so vexed
with Mrs. Vincent. She was apt to
meddle gently with the affairs of
other folks's hearts, and sometimes
to retreat bewildered or dismayed at
the consequences. Moreover, she was
subject to acute attacks of social remorse, and suf-
fered out of all proportion to the greatness of the
crime. I must say that I am not an easy quarreler.
I am troubled deeply by a cold phrase, or a hasty word,
and lie awake repentant upon the rack of self-exami-
nation. Therefore it was that our two notes of self-
accusation and apology crossed each other next day.
She said :

MY DEAR FRIEND : I was persistent, and perhaps yes, I
was unreasonable last night. I mean unreasonably persistent.
And it may be that I am quite wrong. Fred says I am, which
will perhaps comfort you. For although I hate to be wrong,
I hate more to be told I am, even by Fred. I do not under-
stand you, but that does not make me grieve less at having
annoyed or hurt you. As to Alice and St. Clair, I shall never
say another word, and if I were not afraid of a pledge, I would
vow never to be kind to man or woman again unless the man
is the friend to whom now I excuse myself. And if it only were


There was also a package, which was a first edition
of "The Urn Burial/' and inside was written " I am so
sorry. 12.30P.M. A. V."

And as for me, I had written: "I was rude last
night. Pardon me."

Then, the day being Sunday, I sulked over my mis-
deeds, and went to see St. Clair. I found him idling
in his studio before the bas-relief of Miss Leigh's head.

"Oh, come in," he said. "Jolly cold, clear day, is n't
it? Had two hours on the ice at six this morning.
Is n't this a success ?"

It was, and I said so shortly.

"What 's the matter?" he queried of a sudden.
"You look as you do when I have been in mischief.
By all the gods, I have been a good boy of late. I
gave Clayborne money to invest for me last week. I
have n't been to a beer-garden for days. I have even
paid my dinner-calls, idiotic custom. What is it?"

"Nothing. I have to say something unpleasant."

"Then get it over. I loathe suspense, as the fellow
said when he was about to be hanged."

"Mrs. Leigh has asked me to give her some idea
of your character. Oh, confound it ! how stiff that
sounds. She thinks, as we all do, that you are in love
with Miss Alice, and, like a straightforward mama,
says, 'Is this a good man? Will he be the husband
she ought to have?'"

"Well, old man, what then?"

"Oh, simply this: Do you want to marry Miss
Leigh ? If so, I must go on. If not, you are doing
her a wrong, and I need say no more than that."

"Is n't she noble-looking?" he replied. "Just look


at that head ; the color of the hair ; the tranquil kind-
liness of the face; and the proud prettiness of the

"Do you love her?" I said, abruptly.

"Oh, how do I know?"

"Are you really a child, St. Clair ? Yes or no. How
is it with you ? "

Then I looked from him steadily at the medallion.
I could not tell why it so touched me, but, as I looked,
my eyes filled. I was puzzled at my own causeless emo-
tion. Meanwhile, for this brief moment, he was silent,
and then his face, as I turned to it, took on a look I well
knew of peculiar sweetness as he said gently, "Would
you like me to love her?"

"No," I said.

"And why not ?" he went on, touching the clay here
and there.

"Because you would make a bad husband. You
would in a year break her heart. You would not want
to. She is a woman resolute, proud, and firm as to her
beliefs, and the duties to which they bind her. You
have no creed. You are amoral, not immoral. You
would hurt her all the time, and at last lose her love
and and "

"Her respect. Do Hose yours sometimes? Yes, I
know I do ; and you mean that you can fail to respect
me and yet cherish my friendship, but that with her
love must go with respect. Is that it?"

"Yes," I said, astonished.

"And you could not, would not, tell her mother all
this, and you came to say so to me?"

"That is it*


"Am I a bad boy?"

" Oh, don't," I said. " It all hurts me. I see trouble

"And you like her. She is your friend, and so am
I. I would have been a weak fool under like circum-
stances, and praised you through thick and thin, right
or wrong. Pretty head, is n't it 1 Would you like a
copy of it ? I '11 send you one."

"My dear St. Clair, what are you talking about?
How can you trifle so? How do you suppose she
would like that, or Mrs. Leigh?"

"Hang Mrs. Leigh."

"With all my heart 5 but let us have no nonsense
about this matter I mean, as to this head. As to
the rest, I have done my duty as to a friend. Go on,
or stop. It does not concern me. I am free of re-
sponsibility." I was vexed with his indecision, and
dissatisfied with the role I was playing.

"And what do you advise? Now, really."

"How childish you are, St. Clair." I shrank from
saying : " Give her up. You are unfit for her. Women
do not resist you. You were made to please for the
hour, not the year." I went on at last quickly: "If
you are honestly in love, I have no more to say. Go
on, and God help her and you. Perhaps he may, and
time may show what a fool I have been."

"Frankly, Owen," he returned, "is it of me or of her
you think?"

"Of both."

"Of whom most?"

"Oh, what matters it? I have said enough."

" Too much or too li ttle. But do not think I am not


thankful, and more thoughtful than you suppose. Let
us drop it. I hear that you may go to Charleston
about this yellow fever."

"Yes; I am asked to go South on a Government
commission to study the outbreak they have had. I
think I shall go. I saw it once before, and, for vari-
ous reasons, no one else is quite as well fitted for this
not over-pleasant task."

"It is risky."


"I would n't go. What 's the use ?"

"It is a simple duty. I should like to go away for a
while, and it fits in nicely."

"Darn duty."

I laughed, "Ah, if darning duty mended matters,
how easy a place were this world to live in," and we


iT I had said was true. I was out
of spirits. My work bored me, and,
as has been seen, I was peevish and

The next evening I was at Mrs.
Leigh's. They were alone or rather
Miss Alice was for a time.
"Good evening," I said. "I am very busy, but I
have come in just for a little talk, and to say good-by."
" Yes ; Mr. St. Clair told us this morning. He thinks
it quite needless your going, I mean."

"Needless? He knows nothing at all about it. A
man of experience is wanted, and I, unmarried and
without ties, am of the otherwise available men the
most fit for it."

"But you have friends, and sometimes those ties are
"Yes, very."

"And is is the risk great? You have never had
the fever. Is there no one who has had it who can

"No one. And I want a change, too. At times life

wearies one. You ask why, and I cannot tell. A fresh

duty, and absence, winds one up, and we go on again."

"And is your life wearisome ? You, who live for


others, who are dear to so many, the rich, the poor.
Ah, you smile, but you know we are friends, and I
manage to learn all about my friends."

A sudden impulse mastered me. "If you were I,
would you go?"

" Go ! n she exclaimed. "Without a doubt"

"And you advise me to go ?"

"I am only a girl," she replied.

"You are my friend."

"Thank you; would one say to a soldier, 'Stay at
home ? ' Yours is a nobler calling. I do not think the
world has bonds would hold you back."

"That was kindly said and true. But you overrate
me, I mean as to what you said a moment ago,
and to be overestimated always humiliates me. I shall
think of what you have said, and, please God, will come
home safe and happier."

"You ought to be happy. It seems strange to me
that you are not. You cannot be compassed about
with doubts as I am, and see duties you must not ac-
cept, or a path you may not tread."

"And are you still tormented?"

"And why not go on?"

"It may appear to you odd, but only one statement
of yours really disturbed my resolution."

"And that?"

"The idea that that a woman might lose in the
work I look to certain of those nameless graces, those
tendernesses, which seem to me so much of her honest

"I think so, and I have seen you often. We have


come to be friends. Now, suppose that you promise
me you will not go on in this matter till I come back.
I have much to say about it, and no time in which to
say it. I leave to-morrow."


"Yes; but one word more. If I never come back,
of course it releases you."

"It releases me ? It releases me ?"

" Yes. Ah, Mrs. Leigh, good evening," I said, rising.
"I came to say good-by."

"Yes; I saw it in the paper, and Mr. St. Clair told
us. I suppose it is not very dangerous, and then, if
it is, you are a doctor, and it is a matter of business
after all. If you see the Temples, remember me to
them. But they must have gone, of course."

"When do you return?" said Miss Alice, who had
been watching her mother with a grave face.

"In a month, I hope."

"If you see any nice feather fans," said Mrs. Leigh,
"do spend a few dollars for me. There are red ones,
really charming."

"Charming? What is?" said Mrs. Vincent, enter-
ing with her husband. "We missed your call, and
Fred and I have been to see you. You leave to-mor-
row, your note said. I do not call that charming."

"Oh, it was fans," said Mrs. Leigh. "Dr. North is
to bring me some nice feather fans."

"Indeed! Bring me nothing but yourself. I am
horribly troubled about you. It recalls our talk about
fear. Are you ever afraid of disease ?"

" I ? No yes. I have always had a slight, a vague
dread of this especial malady. I think I said so. I


find that physicians often have some such single pet

"Like a soldier's," said Miss Leigh, looking up at
me. "That alone would make you go." Mrs. Vin-
cent glanced at her curiously.

"We won't talk of it," said Vincent. "Write soon
and as often as you can."

"Oh, not to me ! " said Mrs. Leigh. "Is n't it dan-

"No," I said, laughing. "And now good-by. And
this day month, Miss Alice. Good night."


F my really perilous commission I
have nothing to say except that it
brought some empty honors, and
cost my colleague a sharp attack of
the fever. This detained me longer
in Charleston, and I got home early
in May, tired out with nursing and anxiety. I had
heard often from home, but, until a week before my
departure, nothing of moment. Clayborne from time
to time sent me large sums to be used among the poor
of the pest-stricken city. He wrote that of course it
was all due to bad hygiene and carelessness, but that
I might like to spend some of his spare cash, and thus
excused in his cynical way acts of unusual generosity.
A week before my return came a letter from Mrs.

Our friend St. Clair [she wrote] has been at his wicked worst
of late. He told Fred last month that he had been gambling
in stocks, and was in debt. The speculations, Fred says, were
simply absurd. I asked him why he did it, and he replied that
it amused him. I cannot make him out of late. I ought to say
that Mr. Clayborne at once paid some thousands for him, re-
marking that it was so comfortable to make a fool of one's self
now and then. I said that St. Clair puzzled me. He has shut
up his studio, declined recklessly to complete his contracts, and
really told Mrs. Leigh, to her disgust, that he could not finish
the relief of Alice's face, because work bored him. I do not
think he has been near the Leighs since you left. It is too an-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19

Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellCharacteristics → online text (page 17 of 19)