"PAUL!" The young man started, and a delicate flush mantled his handsome face, as he turned to the lady who had pronounced his name in a tone slightly indicative of surprise.
"Ah! Mrs. Denison," was his simple response.
"You seem unusually absent-minded this evening," remarked the lady.
"You have been observing me?"
"I could not help it; for every time my eyes have wandered in this direction, they encountered you, standing in the same position, and looking quite as much like a statue as a living man."
"How long is it since I first attracted your attention?" inquired the person thus addressed, assuming an indifference of manner which it was plain he did not feel.
"If I were to say half an hour, it would not be far wide of the truth."
"Oh, no! It can't be five minutes since I came to this part of the room," said the young man, whose name was Paul Hendrickson. He seemed a little annoyed.
"Not a second less than twenty minutes," replied the lady. "Your thoughts must have been very busy thus to have removed nearly all ideas of time."
"They were busy," was the simple reply. But the low tones were full of meaning.
Mrs. Denison looked earnestly into her companion's face for several moments before venturing to speak farther. She then said, in a manner that showed her to be a privileged and warmly interested friend--
"Busy on what subject, Paul?"
The young man offered Mrs. Denison his arm, remarking as he did so--
"The other parlor is less crowded."
Threading their course amid the groups standing in gay conversation, or moving about the rooms, Paul Hendrickson and his almost maternal friend (sic) souhgt a more retired position near a heavily curtained window.
"You are hardly yourself to-night, Paul. How is it that your evenly balanced mind has suffered a disturbance. There must be something wrong within. You know my theory--that all disturbing causes are in the heart."
"I am not much interested in mental theories to-night--am in no philosophic mood. I feel too deeply for analysis."
"On what subject, Paul?"
A little while the young man sat with his eyes upon the floor; then lifting them to the face of Mrs. Denison, he replied.
"You are not ignorant of the fact that Jessie Loring has interested me more than any maiden I have yet seen?"
"I am not, for you have already confided to me your secret."
"The first time I met her, it seemed to me as if I had come into the presence of one whose spirit claimed some hidden affinities with my own. I have never felt so strangely in the presence of a woman as I have felt and always feel in the presence of Miss Loring."
"She has a spirit of finer mould than most women," said Mrs. Denison. "I do not know her very intimately; but I have seen enough to give me a clue to her character. Her tastes are pure, her mind evenly balanced, and her intellect well cultivated."
"But she is only a woman."
Mr. Hendrickson sighed as he spoke.
"Only a woman! I scarcely understand you," said Mrs. Denison, gravely. "I am a woman."
"Yes, and a true woman! Forgive my words. They have only a conventional meaning," replied the young man earnestly.
"You must explain that meaning, as referring to Jessie Loring."
"It is this, only. She can be deceived by appearances. Her eyes are not penetrating enough to look through the tinsel and glitter with which wealth conceals the worthlessness of the man."
"Ah! you are jealous. There is a rival."
"You, alone, can use those words, and not excite my anger," said Hendrickson.
"Forgive me if they have fallen upon your ears unpleasantly."
"A rival, Mrs. Denison!" the young man spoke proudly. "That is something I will never have. The woman's heart that can warm under the smile of another man, is nothing to me."
"You are somewhat romantic, Paul, in your notions about matrimony. You forget that women are 'only' women."
"But I do not forget, Mrs. Denison, that as you have so often said to me, there are true marriages in which the parties are drawn towards each other by sexual affinities peculiar to themselves; and that a union in such cases, is the true union by which they become, in the language of inspiration, 'one flesh.' I can enter into none other. When I first met Jessie Loring, a spirit whispered to me--was it a lying spirit?--a spirit whispered to me--'the beautiful complement of your life!' I believed on the instant. In that I may have been romantic."
"Perhaps not!" said Mrs. Denison.
Hendrickson looked into her face steadily for some moments, and then said--
"It was an illusion."
"Why do you say this, Paul? Why are you so disturbed? Speak your heart more freely."
"Leon Dexter is rich. I am--poor!"
"You are richer than Leon Dexter in the eyes of a true woman--richer a thousandfold, though he counted his wealth by millions." There were flashes of light in the eyes of Mrs. Denison.
Hendrickson bent his glance to the floor and did not reply.
"If Miss Loring prefers Dexter to you, let her move on in her way without a thought. She is not worthy to disturb, by even the shadow of her passing form, the placid current of your life. But I am by no means certain that he is preferred to you."
"He has been at her side all the evening," said the young man.
"That proves nothing. A forward, self-confident, agreeable young gentleman has it in his power thus to monopolize almost any lady. The really excellent, usually too modest, but superior young men, often permit themselves to be elbowed into the shade by these shallow, rippling, made up specimens of humanity, as you have probably done to-night."
"I don't know how that may be, Mrs. Denison; but this I know. I had gained a place by her side, early in the evening. She seemed pleased, I thought, at our meeting; but was reserved in conversation--too reserved it struck me. I tried to lead her out, but she answered my remarks briefly, and with what I thought an embarrassed manner. I could not hold her eyes--they fell beneath mine whenever I looked into her face. She was evidently ill at ease. Thus it was, when this self-confident Leon Dexter came sweeping up to us with his grand air, and carried her off to the piano. If I read her face and manner aright, she blessed her stars at getting rid of me so opportunely."
"I doubt if you read them aright," said Mrs. Denison, as her young friend paused. "You are too easily discouraged. If she is a prize, she is worth striving for. Don't forget the old adage--'Faint heart never won fair lady.'"
Paul shook his head.
"I am too proud to enter the lists in any such contest," he answered. "Do you think I could beg for a lady's favorable regard? No! I would hang myself first!"
"How is a lady to know that you have a preference for her, if you do not manifest it in some way?" asked Mrs. Denison. "This is being a little too proud, my friend. It is throwing rather too much upon the lady, who must be wooed if she would be won."
"A lady has eyes," said Paul.
"And a lady's eyes can speak as well as her lips. If she likes the man who approaches her, let her say so with her eyes. She will not be misunderstood."
"You are a man," replied Mrs. Denison, a little impatiently; "and, from the beginning, man has not been able to comprehend woman! If you wait for a woman worth having to tell you, even with her eyes, that she likes you, and this before you have given a sign, you will wait until the day of doom. A true woman holds herself at a higher price!"
There was silence between the parties for the space of nearly a minute. Then Paul Hendrickson said--
"Few women can resist the attraction of gold. Creatures of taste--lovers of the beautiful--fond of dress, equipage, elegance--I do not wonder that we who have little beyond ourselves to offer them, find simple manhood light in the balance."
And he sighed heavily.
"It is because true men are not true to themselves and the true women Heaven wills to cross their paths in spring-time, that so many of them fail to secure the best for life-companions!" answered Mrs. Denison. "Worth is too retiring or too proud. Either diffidence or self-esteem holds it back in shadow. I confess myself to be sorely puzzled at times with the phenomenon. Why should the real man shrink away, and let the meretricious fop and the man 'made of money' win the beautiful and the best? Women are not such fools as to prefer tinsel to gold--the outside making up to the inner manhood! Neither are they so dim-sighted that they cannot perceive who is the man and who the 'fellow.' My word for it, if Miss Loring's mind was known, you have a higher place therein than Dexter."
Just then the two persons of whom they were speaking passed near to them, Miss Loring on the arm of Dexter, her face radiant with smiles. He was saying something to which she was listening, evidently pleased with his remarks. The sight chafed the mind of Hendrickson, and he said, sarcastically--
"Like all the rest, Mrs. Denison! Gold is the magnet."
"You are in a strange humor to-night, Paul," answered his friend, "and your humor makes you unjust. It is not fair to judge Miss Loring in this superficial way. Because she is cheerful and social in a company like this, are you to draw narrow conclusions touching her heart-preferences?"
"Why was she not as cheerful and as social with me, as she is now with that fellow?" said the young man, a measure of indignation in the tones of his voice. "Answer me that, if you please."
"The true reason is, no doubt, wide of your conclusions," answered Mrs. Denison. "Genuine love, when it first springs to life in a maiden's heart, has in it a high degree of reverence. The object rises into something of superiority, and she draws near to it with repressed emotions, resting in its shadow, subdued, reserved, almost shy, but happy. She is not as we saw Miss Loring just now, but more like the maiden you describe as treating you not long ago with a strange reserve, which you imagined coldness."
"Woman is an enigma," exclaimed Hendrickson, his thoughts thrown into confusion.
"And you must study, if you would comprehend her," said Mrs. Denison. "Of one thing let me again assure you, my young friend, if you expect to get a wife worth having, you have got to show yourself in earnest. Other men, not half so worthy as you may be, have eyes quite as easily attracted by feminine loveliness, and they will press forward and rob you of the prize unless you put in a claim. A woman desires to be loved. Love is what her heart feeds upon, and the man who appears to love her best, even if in all things he is not her ideal of manhood, will be most apt to win her for his bride. You can win Miss Loring if you will."
"It may be so," replied the young man, almost gloomily. "But, for all you say, I must confess myself at fault. I look for a kind of spontaneity in love. It seems to me, that hearts, created to become one, should instinctively respond to each other. For this reason, the idea of wooing, and contending, and all that, is painfully repugnant."
"It may be," said Mrs. (sic) Dunham, "that your pride is as much at fault in the case, as your manhood. You cannot bend to solicit love."
"I cannot--I will not!" The gesture that accompanied this was as passionate as the surroundings would admit.
"It was pride that banished Lucifer from Heaven," said Mrs. Denison, "and I am afraid it will keep you out of the heaven of a true marriage here. Beware, my young friend! you are treading on dangerous ground. And there is, moreover, a consideration beyond your own case. The woman who can be happy in marriage with you, cannot be happy with another man. Let us, just to make the thing clear, suppose that Jessie Loring is the woman whose inner life is most in harmony with yours. If your lives blend in a true marriage, then will she find true happiness; but, if, through your failure to woo and win, she be drawn aside into a marriage with one whose life is inharmonious, to what a sad, weary, hopeless existence may she not be doomed. Paul! Paul! There are two aspects in which this question is to be viewed. I pray to Heaven that you may see it right."
Further conversation was prevented by the near approach of others.
"Let me see you, and early, Paul," said Mrs. Denison. It was some hours later, and the company were separating. "I must talk with you again about Miss Loring."
Hendrickson promised to call in a day or two. As he turned from Mrs. Denison, his eyes encountered those of the young lady whose name had just been uttered. She was standing beside Mr. Dexter, who was officiously attentive to her up to the last moment. He was holding her shawl ready to throw it over her shoulders as she stepped from the door to the carriage that awaited her. For a moment or two the eyes of both were fixed, and neither had the power to move them. Then, each with a slight confusion of manner, turned from the other. Hendrickson retired into the nearly deserted parlors, while Miss Loring, attended by Dexter, entered the carriage, and was driven away.
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