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DR. BUTTS CALLS ON EUTHYMIA.
The doctor was troubled in thinking over his interview with the young lady. She was fully possessed with the idea that she had discovered the secret which had defied the most sagacious heads of the village. It was of no use to oppose her while her mind was in an excited state. But he felt it his duty to guard her against any possible results of indiscretion into which her eagerness and her theory of the equality, almost the identity, of the sexes might betray her. Too much of the woman in a daughter of our race leads her to forget danger. Too little of the woman prompts her to defy it. Fortunately for this last class of women, they are not quite so likely to be perilously seductive as their more emphatically feminine sisters.
Dr. Butts had known Lurida and her friend from the days of their infancy. He had watched the development of Lurida's intelligence from its precocious nursery-life to the full vigor of its trained faculties. He had looked with admiration on the childish beauty of Euthymia, and had seen her grow up to womanhood, every year making her more attractive. He knew that if anything was to be done with his self-willed young scholar and friend, it would be more easily effected through the medium of Euthymia than by direct advice to the young lady herself. So the thoughtful doctor made up his mind to have a good talk with Euthymia, and put her on her guard, if Lurida showed any tendency to forget the conventionalities in her eager pursuit of knowledge.
For the doctor's horse and chaise to stop at the door of Miss Euthymia Tower's parental home was an event strange enough to set all the tongues in the village going. This was one of those families where illness was hardly looked for among the possibilities of life. There were other families where a call from the doctor was hardly more thought of than a call from the baker. But here he was a stranger, at least on his professional rounds, and when he asked for Miss Euthymia the servant, who knew his face well, stared as if he had held in his hand a warrant for her apprehension.
Euthymia did not keep the doctor waiting very long while she made ready to meet him. One look at her glass to make sure that a lock had not run astray, or a ribbon got out of place, and her toilet for a morning call was finished. Perhaps if Mr. Maurice Kirkwood had been announced, she might have taken a second look, but with the good middle-aged, married doctor one was enough for a young lady who had the gift of making all the dresses she wore look well, and had no occasion to treat her chamber like the laboratory where an actress compounds herself.
Euthymia welcomed the doctor very heartily. She could not help suspecting his errand, and she was very glad to have a chance to talk over her friend's schemes and fancies with him.
The doctor began without any roundabout prelude.
"I want to confer with you about our friend Lurida. Does she tell you all her plans and projects?"
"Why, as to that, doctor, I can hardly say, positively, but I do not believe she keeps back anything of importance from me. I know what she has been busy with lately, and the queer idea she has got into her head. What do you think of the Tarantula business? She has shown you the paper, she has written, I suppose."
"Indeed she has. It is a very curious case she has got hold of, and I do not wonder at all that she should have felt convinced that she had come at the true solution of the village riddle. It may be that this young man is the same person as the boy mentioned in the Italian medical journal. But it is very far from clear that he is so. You know all her reasons, of course, as you have read the story. The times seem to agree well enough. It is easy to conceive that Ch might be substituted for K in the report. The singular solitary habits of this young man entirely coincide with the story. If we could only find out whether he has any of those feelings with reference to certain colors, we might guess with more chance of guessing right than we have at present. But I don't see exactly how we are going to submit him to examination on this point. If he were only a chemical compound, we could analyze him. If he were only a bird or a quadruped, we could find out his likes and dislikes. But being, as he is, a young man, with ways of his own, and a will of his own, which he may not choose to have interfered with, the problem becomes more complicated. I hear that a newspaper correspondent has visited him so as to make a report to his paper,--do you know what he found out?"
"Certainly I do, very well. My brother has heard his own story, which was this: He found out he had got hold of the wrong person to interview. The young gentleman, he says, interviewed him, so that he did not learn much about the Sphinx. But the newspaper man told Willy about the Sphinx's library and a cabinet of coins he had; and said he should make an article out of him, anyhow. I wish the man would take himself off. I am afraid Lurida's love of knowledge will get her into trouble!"
"Which of the men do you wish would take himself off?"
"I was thinking of the newspaper man."
She blushed a little as she said, "I can't help feeling a strange sort of interest about the other, Mr. Kirkwood. Do you know that I met him this morning, and had a good look at him, full in the face?"
"Well, to be sure! That was an interesting experience. And how did you like his looks?"
"I thought his face a very remarkable one. But he looked very pale as he passed me, and I noticed that he put his hand to his left side as if he had a twinge of pain, or something of that sort,--spasm or neuralgia,--I don't know what. I wondered whether he had what you call angina pectoris. It was the same kind of look and movement, I remember, as you trust, too, in my uncle who died with that complaint."
The doctor was silent for a moment. Then he asked, "Were you dressed as you are now?"
"Yes, I was, except that I had a thin mantle over my shoulders. I was out early, and I have always remembered your caution."
"What color was your mantle?"
"It was black. I have been over all this with Lucinda. A black mantle on a white dress. A straw hat with an old faded ribbon. There can't be much in those colors to trouble him, I should think, for his man wears a black coat and white linen,--more or less white, as you must have noticed, and he must have seen ribbons of all colors often enough. But Lurida believes it was the ribbon, or something in the combination of colors. Her head is full of Tarantulas and Tarantism. I fear that she will never be easy until the question is settled by actual trial. And will you believe it? the girl is determined in some way to test her supposition!"
"Believe it, Euthymia? I can believe almost anything of Lurida. She is the most irrepressible creature I ever knew. You know as well as I do what a complete possession any ruling idea takes of her whole nature. I have had some fears lest her zeal might run away with her discretion. It is a great deal easier to get into a false position than to get out of it."
"I know it well enough. I want you to tell me what you think about the whole business. I don't like the look of it at all, and yet I can do nothing with the girl except let her follow her fancy, until I can show her plainly that she will get herself into trouble in some way or other. But she is ingenious,--full of all sorts of devices, innocent enough in themselves, but liable to be misconstrued. You remember how she won us the boat-race?"
"To be sure I do. It was rather sharp practice, but she felt she was paying off an old score. The classical story of Atalanta, told, like that of Eve, as illustrating the weakness of woman, provoked her to make trial of the powers of resistance in the other sex. But it was audacious. I hope her audacity will not go too far. You must watch her. Keep an eye on her correspondence."
The doctor had great confidence in the good sense of Lurida's friend. He felt sure that she would not let Lurida commit herself by writing foolish letters to the subject of her speculations, or similar indiscreet performances. The boldness of young girls, who think no evil, in opening correspondence with idealized personages is something quite astonishing to those who have had an opportunity of knowing the facts. Lurida had passed the most dangerous age, but her theory of the equality of the sexes made her indifferent to the by-laws of social usage. She required watching, and her two guardians were ready to check her, in case of need.
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