WHEN Paul Hendrickson left the house of Mrs. Loring, his mind was in a state of painful excitement. The inopportune appearance of Dexter had so annoyed him, that he had found it impossible to assume the easy, cheerful air of a visitor. He was conscious, therefore, of having shown himself in the eyes of Miss Loring to very poor advantage. Her manner at parting had, however, reassured him. As they stood for a moment in the vestibule he saw her in a new light. The aspect of her countenance was changed, the eyes, that fell beneath his earnest gaze, burned with a softened light, and he read there a volume of tender interest at a single glance.
"I shall be pleased to see you again, Mr. Hendrickson." There was more than a parting compliment in her tones as she said these words. "I have never thought you stupid." What pleasure he derived from repeating these sentences over and over again! Early in the evening he called upon his friend Mrs. Denison.
"I have come to talk with you again about Miss Loring," said he. "I can't get her out of my thoughts. Her presence haunts me like a destiny."
Mrs. Denison smiled as she answered a little playfully:
"A genuine case of love; the infection taken at first sight. Isn't it so, Paul?"
"That I love this girl, in spite of myself, is, I fear, a solemn fact," said the young man, with an expression of face that did not indicate a very agreeable self-consciousness.
"Fear? In spite of yourself? A solemn fact? What a contradiction you are, Paul!" said Mrs. Denison.
"A man in love is an enigma. I have often heard it remarked, and I now perceive the saying to be true. I am an enigma. Yes, I love this girl in spite of myself; and the fact is a solemn one. Why? Because I have too good reason for believing that she does not love me in return. And yet, even while I say this, tones and words of hers, heard only to-day, come sighing to my ears, giving to every heart-beat a quicker impulse."
"Ah! Then you have seen Miss Loring to-day?"
"Yes," answered Hendrickson, in a quick, and suddenly excited manner. "I called upon her this morning, and while I sat in the parlor awaiting her appearance, who should intrude himself but that fellow Dexter. I felt like annihilating him. The look I gave him he will remember."
"That was bad taste, Paul," said Mrs. Denison.
"I know it. But his appearance was so untimely; and then, I had not forgotten last evening. The fellow has a world of assurance; and he carries it off with such an air--such a self-possession and easy grace! You cannot disturb the dead level of his self-esteem. To have him intruding at such a time, was more than I could bear. It completely unsettled me. Of course, when Miss Loring appeared, I was constrained, cold, embarrassed, distant--everything that was repulsive; while Dexter was as bland as a June morning--full of graceful compliments--attractive--winning. When I attempted some frozen speech, I could see a change in Miss Loring's manner, as if she had suddenly approached an iceberg; but, as often, Dexter would melt the ice away by one of his sunny smiles, and her face would grow radiant again."
"You exaggerate," said Mrs. Denison.
"The case admits of no exaggeration. I was too keenly alive to my own position; and saw only what was."
"The medium was distorted. Excited feelings are the eyes' magnifying glasses."
"It may be so." There was a modification in Hendrickson's manner. "I was excited. How could I help being so?"
"There existed no cause for it, Paul. Mr. Dexter had an equal right with yourself to visit Miss Loring."
"And an equal right to choose his own time."
"I will not deny it."
"Therefore, there was no reason in the abstract, why his complimentary call upon the lady should create in your mind unpleasant feelings towards the man. You had no more right to complain of his presence there, than he had to complain of yours."
"I confess it."
"There is one thing," pursued Mrs. Denison, "in which you disappoint me, Paul. You seem to lack a manly confidence in yourself. You are as good as Leon Dexter--aye, a better, truer man in every sense of the word--a man to please a woman at all worth pleasing, far better than he. And yet you permit him to elbow you aside, as it were, and to thrust you into a false position, if not into obscurity. If Miss Loring is the woman God has created for you, in the name of all that is holy, do not let another man usurp your rights. Do not let one like Dexter bear her off to gild a heartless home. Remember that Jessie is young, inexperienced, and unskilled in the ways of the world. She is not schooled in the lore of love; cannot understand all its signs; and, above all, can no more look into your heart, than you can look into hers. How is she to know that you love her, if you stand coldly--I might say cynically--observant at a far distance. Paul! Paul! Women are not won in this way, as many a man has found to his sorrow, and as you will find in the present case, unless you act with more self-confidence and decision. Go to Miss Loring then, and show her, by signs not to be mistaken, that she has found favor in your eyes. Give her a chance to show you what her real feelings are; and my word for it, you will not find her as indifferent as you fear. If you gain any encouragement, make farther advances; and let her comprehend fully that you are an admirer. She will not play you false. Don't fear for a moment. She is above guile."
Mrs. Denison ceased. Her words had inspired Hendrickson with new feelings.
"As I parted from her to-day," he remarked, "she said, 'I shall be pleased to see you again.' I I felt that there was meaning in the words beyond a graceful speech. 'Not if I show myself as stupid as I have been this morning,' was my answer. Very quickly, and with some earnestness, she returned: 'I have never thought you stupid, Mr. Hendrickson.'"
"Well? And what then? Did you compliment her in return; or say something to fill her ears with music and make her heart tremble? You could have asked no better opportunity for giving the parting word that lingers longest and is oftenest conned over. What did you say to that, Paul?"
"I blundered out some meaningless things, and left her abruptly," said Hendrickson, with an impatient sweep of his hand. "I felt that her eyes were upon me, but had not the courage to lift my own and read their revelation."
"Too bad! Too bad! The old adage is true always--'Faint heart never won fair lady'--and if you are not a little braver at heart, my young friend, you will lose this fair lady, whose hand may be had for the asking. So, I pray you, be warned in time. Go to her this very evening. You will probably find her alone. Dexter will hardly call twice in the same day; so you will be free from his intrusion. Let her see by tone, look, manner, word, that she has charmed your fancy. Show yourself an admirer. Then act as the signs indicate."
"I will," replied Hendrickson, speaking with enthusiasm.
"Go and heaven speed you! I have no fear as to the issue. But, Paul, let me warn you to repress your too sensitive feelings. Your conduct, heretofore, has not been such as to give Miss Loring any opportunity to judge of your real sentiments towards her. Your manner has been distant or constrained. She does not, therefore, understand you; and if her heart is really interested, she will be under constraint when she meets you to-night. Don't mind this. Be open, frank, at ease yourself. Keep your thoughts clear, and let not a pulse beat quicker than now."
"That last injunction goes too far, my good friend; for my heart gives a bound the moment my eyes rest upon her. So you see that mine is a desperate case."
"The more need of skill and coolness. A blunder may prove fatal."
Mr. Hendrickson rose, saying,
"Time passes. A good work were well done quickly. I will not linger when minutes are so precious."
"God speed you!" whispered Mrs. Denison, as they parted, a few minutes later at the door.
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