On the long sunny piazza of the Hygeia Mrs. Brinkley and Miss Van Hook sat and talked in a community of interest which they had not discovered during the summer before at Campobello, and with an equality of hearing which the sound of the waves washing almost at their feet established between them. In this pleasant noise Miss Van Hook heard as well as any one, and Mrs. Brinkley gradually realised that it was the trouble of having to lift her voice that had kept her from cultivating a very agreeable acquaintance before. The ladies sat in a secluded corner, wearing light wraps that they had often found comfortable at Campobello in August, and from time to time attested to each other their astonishment that they needed no more at Old Point in early April.
They did this not only as a just tribute to the amiable climate, but as a relief from the topic which had been absorbing them, and to which they constantly returned.
"No," said Mrs. Brinkley, with a sort of finality, "I think it is the best thing that could possibly have happened to him. He is bearing it in a very manly way, but I fancy he has felt it deeply, poor fellow. He's never been in Boston since, and I don't believe he'd come here if he'd any idea how many Boston people there were in the hotel—we swarm! It would be very painful to him."
"Yes," said Miss Van Hook, "young people seem to feel those things."
"Of course he's going to get over it. That's what young people do too. At his age he can't help being caught with every pretty face and every pretty figure, even in the midst of his woe, and it's only a question of time till he seizes some pretty hand and gets drawn out of it altogether."
"I think that would be the case with my niece, too," said Miss Van Hook, "if she wasn't kept in it by a sense of loyalty. I don't believe she really dares much for Lieutenant Willing any more; but he sees no society where he's stationed, of course, and his constancy is a—a rebuke and a—a—an incentive to her. They were engaged a long time ago just after he left West Point—and we've always been in hopes that he would be removed to some post where he could meet other ladies and become interested in some one else. But he never has, and so the affair remains. It's most undesirable they should marry, and in the meantime she won't break it off, and it's spoiling her chances in life."
"It is too bad," sighed Mrs. Brinkley, "but of course you can do nothing. I see that."
"No, we can do nothing. We have tried everything. I used to think it was because she was so dull there at Yonkers with her family, and brooded upon the one idea all the time, that she could not get over it; and at first it did seem when she came to me that she would get over it. She is very fond of gaiety—of young men's society, and she's had plenty of little flirtations that didn't mean anything, and never amounted to anything. Every now and then a letter would come from the wilds where he was stationed, and spoil it all. She seemed to feel a sort of chivalrous obligation because he was so far off and helpless and lonely."
"Yes, I understand," said Mrs. Brinkley. "What a pity she couldn't be made to feel that that didn't deepen the obligation at all."
"I've tried to make her," said Miss Van Hook, "and I've been everywhere with her. One winter we were up the Nile, and another in Nice, and last winter we were in Rome. She met young men everywhere, and had offers upon offers; but it was of no use. She remained just the same, and till she met Mr. Mavering in Washington I don't believe—"
Miss Van Hook stopped, and Mrs. Brinkley said, "And yet she always seemed to me particularly practical and level-headed—as the men say."
"So she is. But she is really very romantic about some things; and when it comes to a matter of that kind, girls are about all alike, don't you think?"
"Oh yes," said Mrs. Brinkley hopelessly, and both ladies looked out over the water, where the waves came rolling in one after another to waste themselves on the shore as futilely as if they had been lives.
In the evening Miss Anderson got two letters from the clerk, at the hour when the ladies all flocked to his desk with the eagerness for letters which is so engaging in them. One she pulled open and glanced at with a sort of impassioned indifference; the other she read in one intense moment, and then ran it into her pocket, and with her hand still on it hurried vividly flushing to her room, and read and read it again with constantly mounting emotion.
"WORMLEY's HOTEL, Washington, April 7, 188-.
"DEAR MISS ANDERSON,—I have been acting on your parting advice to look out for that Mr. Lafflin of mine, and I have discovered that he is an unmitigated scamp. Consequently there is nothing more to keep me in Washington, and I should now like your advice about coming to Fortress Monroe. Do you find it malarial? On the boat your aunt asked me to come, but you said nothing about it, and I was left to suppose that you did not think it would agree with me. Do you still think so? or what do you think? I know you think it was uncalled for and in extremely bad taste for me to tell you what I did the other day; and I have thought so too. There is only one thing that could justify it—that is, I think it might justify it—if you thought so. But I do not feel sure that you would like to know it, or, if you knew it, would like it. I've been rather slow coming to the conclusion myself, and perhaps it's only the beginning of the end; and not the conclusion—if there is such a difference. But the question now is whether I may come and tell you what I think it is—justify myself, or make things worse than they are now. I don't know that they can be worse, but I think I should like to try. I think your presence would inspire me.
"Washington is a wilderness since Miss—Van Hook left. It is not a howling wilderness simply because it has not enough left in it to howl; but it has all the other merits of a wilderness.
"D. F. MAVERING."
After a second perusal of this note, Miss Anderson recurred to the other letter which she had neglected for it, and read it with eyes from which the tears slowly fell upon it. Then she sat a long time at her table with both letters before her, and did not move, except to take her handkerchief out of her pocket and dry her eyes, from which the tears began at once to drip again. At last she started forward, and caught pen and paper toward her, biting her lip and frowning as if to keep herself firm, and she said to the central figure in the photograph case which stood at the back of the table, "I will, I will! You are a man, anyway."
She sat down, and by a series of impulses she wrote a letter, with which she gave herself no pause till she put it in the clerk's hands, to whom she ran downstairs with it, kicking her skirt into wild whirls as she ran, and catching her foot in it and stumbling.
"Will it go—go to-night?" she demanded tragically.
"Just in time," said the clerk, without looking up, and apparently not thinking that her tone betrayed any unusual amount of emotion in a lady posting a letter; he was used to intensity on such occasions.
The letter ran—
"DEAR MR. MAVERING,—We shall now be here so short a time that I do not think it advisable for you to come.
"Your letter was rather enigmatical, and I do not know whether I understood it exactly. I suppose you told me what you did for good reasons of your own, and I did not think much about it. I believe the question of taste did not come up in my mind.
"My aunt joins me in kindest regards.
"Yours very sincerely,
"JULIA V. H. ANDERSON.
"P.S.—I think that I ought to return your letter. I know that you would not object to my keeping it, but it does not seem right. I wish to ask your congratulations. I have been engaged for several years to Lieutenant Willing, of the Army. He has been transferred from his post in Montana to Fort Hamilton at New York, and we are to be married in June."
The next morning Mrs. Brinkley came up from breakfast in a sort of duplex excitement, which she tried to impart to her husband; he stood with his back toward the door, bending forward to the glass for a more accurate view of his face, from which he had scraped half the lather in shaving.
She had two cards in her hand: "Miss Van Hook and Miss Anderson have gone. They went this morning. I found their P. P. C.'s by my plate."
Mr. Brinkley made an inarticulate noise for comment, and assumed the contemptuous sneer which some men find convenient for shaving the lower lip.
"And guess who's come, of all people in the world?"
"I don't know," said Brinkley, seizing his chance to speak.
"The Pasmers!—Alice and her mother! Isn't it awful?"
Mr. Brinkley had entered upon a very difficult spot at the corner of his left jaw. He finished it before he said, "I don't see anything awful about it, so long as Pasmer hasn't come too."
"But Dan Mavering! He's in Washington, and he may come down here any day. Just think how shocking that would be!"
"Isn't that rather a theory?" asked Mr. Brinkley, finding such opportunities for conversation as he could. "I dare say Mrs. Pasmer would be very glad to see him."
"I've no doubt she would," said Mrs. Brinkley. "But it's the worst thing that could happen—for him. And I feel like writing him not to come—telegraphing him."
"You know how the man made a fortune in Chicago," said her husband, drying his razor tenderly on a towel before beginning to strop it. "I advise you to let the whole thing alone. It doesn't concern us in any way whatever."
"Then," said Mrs. Brinkley, "there ought to be a committee to take it in hand and warn him."
"I dare say you could make one up among the ladies. But don't be the first to move in the matter."
"I really believe," said his wife, with her mind taken off the point by the attractiveness of a surmise which had just occurred to her, "that Mrs. Pasmer would be capable of following him down if she knew he was in Washington."
"Yes, if she know. But she probably doesn't."
"Yes," said Mrs. Brinkley disappointedly. "I think the sudden departure of the Van Hooks must have had something to do with Dan Mavering."
"Seems a very influential young man," said her husband. "He attracts and repels people right and left. Did you speak to the Pasmers?"
"No; you'd better, when you go down. They've just come into the dining-room. The girl looks like death."
"Well, I'll talk to her about Mavering. That'll cheer her up."
Mrs. Brinkley looked at him for an instant as if she really thought him capable of it. Then she joined him in his laugh.
Mrs. Brinkley had theorised Alice Pasmer as simply and primitively selfish, like the rest of the Pasmers in whom the family traits prevailed.
When Mavering stopped coming to her house after his engagement she justly suspected that it was because Alice had forbidden him, and she had rejoiced at the broken engagement as an escape for Dan; she had frankly said so, and she had received him back into full favour at the first moment in Washington. She liked Miss Anderson, and she had hoped, with the interest which women feel in every such affair, that her flirtation with him might become serious. But now this had apparently not happened. Julia Anderson was gone with mystifying precipitation, and Alice Pasmer had come with an unexpectedness which had the aspect of fatality.
Mrs. Brinkley felt bound, of course, since there was no open enmity between them, to meet the Pasmers on the neutral ground of the Hygeia with conventional amiability. She was really touched by the absent wanness of the girls look, and by the later-coming recognition which shaped her mouth into a pathetic snide. Alice did not look like death quite, as Mrs. Brinkley had told her husband, with the necessity her sex has for putting its superlatives before its positives; but she was pale and thin, and she moved with a languid step when they all met at night after Mrs. Brinkley had kept out of the Pasmers' way during the day.
"She has been ill all the latter part of the winter," said Mrs. Pasmer to Mrs. Brinkley that night in the corner of the spreading hotel parlours, where they found themselves. Mrs. Pasmer did not look well herself; she spoke with her eyes fixed anxiously on the door Alice had just passed out of. "She is going to bed, but I know I shall find her awake whenever I go."
"Perhaps," suggested Mrs. Brinkley, "this soft, heavy sea air will put her to sleep." She tried to speak drily and indifferently, but she could not; she was, in fact, very much interested by the situation, and she was touched, in spite of her distaste for them both, by the evident unhappiness of mother and daughter. She knew what it came from, and she said to herself that they deserved it; but this did not altogether fortify her against their pathos. "I can hardly keep awake myself," she added gruffly.
"I hope it may help her," said Mrs. Pasmer; "the doctor strongly urged our coming."
"Mr. Pasmer isn't with you," said Mrs. Brinkley, feeling that it was decent to say something about him.
"No; he was detained." Mrs. Pasmer did not explain the cause of his detention, and the two ladies slowly waved their fans a moment in silence. "Are there many Boston People in the house?" Mrs. Pasmer asked.
"It's full of them," cried Mrs. Brinkley.
"I had scarcely noticed," sighed Mrs. Pasmer; and Mrs. Brinkley knew that this was not true. "Alice takes up all my thoughts," she added; and this might be true enough. She leaned a little forward and asked, in a low, entreating voice over her fan, "Mrs. Brinkley, have you seen Mr. Mavering lately?"
Mrs. Brinkley considered this a little too bold, a little too brazen. Had they actually come South in pursuit of him? It was shameless, and she let Mrs. Pasmer know something of her feeling in the shortness with which she answered, "I saw him in Washington the other day—for a moment." She shortened the time she had spent in Dan's company so as to cut Mrs. Pasmer off from as much comfort as possible, and she stared at her in open astonishment.
Mrs. Pasmer dropped her eyes and fingered the edge of her fan with a submissiveness that seemed to Mrs. Brinkley the perfection of duplicity; she wanted to shake her. "I knew," sighed Mrs. Pasmer, "that you had always been such a friend of his."
It is the last straw which breaks the camel's back; Mrs. Brinkley felt her moral vertebrae give way; she almost heard them crack; but if there was really a detonation, the drowned the noise with a harsh laugh. "Oh, he had other friends in Washington. I met him everywhere with Miss Anderson." This statement conflicted with the theory of her single instant with Dan, but she felt that in such a cause, in the cause of giving pain to a woman like Mrs. Pasmer, the deflection from exact truth was justifiable. She hurried on: "I rather expected he might run down here, but now that they're gone, I don't suppose he'll come. You remember Miss Anderson's aunt, Miss Van Hook?"
"Oh yes," said Mrs. Pasmer.
"She was here with her."
"Miss Van Hook was such a New York type—of a certain kind," said Mrs. Pasmer. She rose, with a smile at once so conventional, so heroic, and so pitiful that Mrs. Brinkley felt the remorse of a generous victor.
She went to her room, hardening her heart, and she burst in with a flood of voluble exasperation that threatened all the neighbouring rooms with overflow.
"Well," she cried, "they have shown their hands completely. They have come here to hound Dan Mavering down, and get him into their toils again. Why, the woman actually said as much! But I fancy I have given her a fit of insomnia that will enable her to share her daughter's vigils. Really such impudence I never heard of!"
"Do you want everybody in the corridor to hear of it?" asked Brinkley, from behind a newspaper.
"I know one thing," continued Mrs. Brinkley, dropping her voice a couple of octaves. "They will never get him here if I can help it. He won't come, anyway, now Miss Anderson is gone; but I'll make assurance doubly sure by writing him not to come; I'll tell him they've gone; and than we are going too."
"You had better remember the man in Chicago," said her husband.
"Well, this is my business—or I'll make it my business!" cried Mrs. Brinkley. She went on talking rapidly, rising with great excitement in her voice at times, and then remembering to speak lower; and her husband apparently read on through most of her talk, though now and then he made some comment that seemed of almost inspired aptness.
"The way they both made up to me was disgusting. But I know the girl is just a tool in her mother's hands. Her mother seemed actually passive in comparison. For skilful wheedling I could fall down and worship that woman; I really admire her. As long as the girl was with us she kept herself in the background and put the girl at me. It was simply a masterpiece."
"How do you know she put her at you?" asked Brinkley.
"How? By the way she seemed not to do it! And because from what I know of that stupid Pasmer pride it would be perfectly impossible for any one who was a Pasmer to take her deprecatory manner toward me of herself. You ought to have seen it! It was simply perfect."
"Perhaps," said Brinkley, with a remote dreaminess, "she was truly sorry."
"Truly stuff! No, indeed; she hates me as much as ever—more!"
"Well, then, may be she's doing it because she hates you—doing it for her soul's good—sort of penance, sort of atonement to Mavering."
Mrs. Brinkley turned round from her dressing-table to see what her husband meant, but the newspaper hid him. We all know that our own natures are mixed and contradictory, but we each attribute to others a logical consistency which we never find in any one out of the novels. Alice Pasmer was cold and reticent, and Mrs. Brinkley, who had lived half a century in a world full of paradoxes, could not imagine her subject to gusts of passionate frankness; she knew the girl to be proud and distant, and she could not conceive of an abject humility and longing for sympathy in her heart. If Alice felt, when she saw Mrs. Brinkley, that she had a providential opportunity to punish herself for her injustice to Dan, the fact could not be established upon Mrs. Brinkley's theory of her. If the ascetic impulse is the most purely selfish impulse in human nature, Mrs. Brinkley might not have been mistaken in suspecting her of an ignoble motive, though it might have had for the girl the last sublimity of self-sacrifice. The woman who disliked her and pitied her knew that she had no arts, and rather than adopt so simple a theory of her behaviour as her husband had advanced she held all the more strenuously to her own theory that Alice was practising her mother's arts. This was inevitable, partly from the sense of Mrs. Pasmer's artfulness which everybody had, and partly from the allegiance which we pay—and women especially like to pay—to the tradition of the playwrights and the novelists, that social results of all kinds are the work of deep, and more or less darkling, design on the part of other women—such other women as Mrs. Pasmer.
Mrs. Brinkley continued to talk, but the god spoke no more from behind the newspaper; and afterward Mrs. Brinkley lay a long time awake; hardening her heart. But she was haunted to the verge of her dreams by that girl's sick look, by her languid walk, and by the effect which she had seen her own words take upon Mrs. Pasmer—an effect so admirably disowned, so perfectly obvious. Before she could get to sleep she was obliged to make a compromise with her heart, in pursuance of which, when she found Mrs. Pasmer at breakfast alone in the morning, she went up to her, and said, holding her hand a moment, "I hope your daughter slept well last night."
"No," said Mrs. Pasmer, slipping her hand away, "I can't say that she did." There was probably no resentment expressed in the way she withdrew her hand, but the other thought there was.
"I wish I could do something for her," she cried.
"Oh, thank you," said Mrs. Pasmer. "It's very good of you." And Mrs. Brinkley fancied she smiled rather bitterly.
Mrs. Brinkley went out upon the seaward verandah of the hotel with this bitterness of Mrs. Pasmer's smile in her thoughts; and it disposed her to feel more keenly the quality of Miss Pasmer's smile. She found the girl standing there at a remote point of that long stretch of planking, and looking out over the water; she held with both hands across her breast the soft chuddah shawl which the wind caught and fluttered away from her waist. She was alone, said as Mrs. Brinkley's compunctions goaded her nearer, she fancied that the saw Alice master a primary dislike in her face, and put on a look of pathetic propitiation. She did not come forward to meet Mrs. Brinkley, who liked better her waiting to be approached; but she smiled gratefully when Mrs. Brinkley put out her hand, and she took it with a very cold one.
"You must find it chilly here," said the elder woman.
"I had better be out in the air all I could, the doctor said," answered Alice.
"Well, then, come with me round the corner; there's a sort of recess there, and you won't be blown to pierces," said Mrs. Brinkley, with authority. They sat down together in the recess, and she added: "I used to sit here with Miss Van Hook; she could hear better in the noise the waves made. I hope it isn't too much for you."
"Oh no," said Alice. "Mamma said you told her they were here." Mrs. Brinkley reassured herself from this; Miss Van Hook's name had rather slipped out; but of course Mrs. Pasmer had not repeated what she had said about Dan in this connection. "I wish I could have seen Julia," Alice went on. "It would have been quite like Campobello again."
"Oh, quite," said Mrs. Brinkley, with a short breath, and not knowing whither this tended. Alice did not leave her in doubt.
"I should like to have seen her, and begged her for the way I treated her the last part of the time there. I feel as if I could make my whole life a reparation," she added passionately.
Mrs. Brinkley believed that this was the mere frenzy of sentimentality, the exaltation of a selfish asceticism; but at the break in the girl's voice and the aversion of her face she could not help a thrill of motherly tenderness for her. She wanted to tell her she was an unconscious humbug, bent now as always on her own advantage, and really indifferent to others she also wanted to comfort her, and tell her that she exaggerated, and was not to blame. She did neither, but when Alice turned her face back she seemed encouraged by Mrs. Brinkley's look to go on: "I didn't appreciate her then; she was very generous and high-minded—too high-minded for me to understand, even. But we don't seem to know how good others are till we wrong them."
"Yes, that is very true," said Mrs. Brinkley. She knew that Alice was obviously referring to the breach between herself and Miss Anderson following the night of the Trevor theatricals, and the dislike for her that she had shown with a frankness some of the ladies had thought brutal. Mrs. Brinkley also believed that her words had a tacit meaning, and she would have liked to have the hardness to say she had seen an unnamed victim of Alice doing his best to console the other she had specified. But she merely said drily, "Yes, perhaps that's the reason why we're allowed to injure people."
"It must be," said Alice simply. "Did Miss Anderson ever speak of me?"
"No; I can't remember that she ever did." Mrs. Brinkley did not feel bound to say that she and Miss Van Hook had discussed her at large, and agreed perfectly about her.
"I should like to see her; I should like to write to her."
Mrs. Brinkley felt that she ought not to suffer this intimate tendency in the talk:
"You must find a great many other acquaintances in the hotel, Miss Pasmer."
"Some of the Frankland girds are here, and the two Bellinghams. I have hardly spoken to them yet. Do you think that where you have even been in the right, if you have been harsh, if you have been hasty, if you haven't made allowances, you ought to offer some atonement?"
"Really, I can't say," said Mrs. Brinkley, with a smile of distaste. "I'm afraid your question isn't quite in my line of thinking; it's more in Miss Cotton's way. You'd better ask her some time."
"No," said Alice sadly; "she would flatter me."
"Ah! I always supposed she was very conscientious."
"She's conscientious, but she likes me too well."
"Oh!" commented Mrs. Brinkley to herself, "then you know I don't like you, and you'll use me in one way, if you can't in another. Very well!" But she found the girl's trust touching somehow, though the sentimentality of her appeal seemed as tawdry as ever.
"I knew you would be just," added Alice wistfully.
"Oh, I don't know about atonements!" said Mrs. Brinkley, with an effect of carelessness. "It seems to me that we usually make them for our own sake."
"I have thought of that," said Alice, with a look of expectation.
"And we usually astonish other people when we offer them."
"Either they don't like it, or else they don't feel so much injured as we had supposed."
"Oh, but there's no question—"
"If Miss Anderson—"
"Miss Anderson? Oh—oh yes!"
"If Miss Anderson for example," pursued Mrs. Brinkley, "felt aggrieved with you. But really I've no right to enter into your affairs, Miss Pasmer."
"Oh Yes, yes!—do! I asked you to," the girl implored.
"I doubt if it will help matters for her to know that you regret anything; and if she shouldn't happen to have thought that you were unjust to her, it would make her uncomfortable for nothing."
"Do you think so?" asked the girl, with a disappointment that betrayed itself in her voice and eyes.
"I never feel I myself competent to advise," said Mrs. Brinkley. "I can criticise—anybody can—and I do, pretty freely; but advice is a more serious matter. Each of us must act from herself—from what she thinks is right."
"Yes, I see. Thank you so much, Mrs. Brinkley."
"After all, we have a right to do ourselves good, even when we pretend that it's good to others, if we don't do them any harm."
"Yes, I see." Alice looked away, and then seemed about to speak again; but one of Mrs. Brinkley's acquaintance came up, and the girl rose with a frightened air and went away.
"Alice's talk with you this morning did her so much good!" said Mrs. Pasmer, later. "She has always felt so badly about Miss Anderson!"
Mrs. Brinkley saw that Mrs. Pasmer wished to confine the meaning of their talk to Miss Anderson, and she assented, with a penetration of which she saw that Mrs. Pasmer was gratefully aware.
She grew more tolerant of both the Pasmers as the danger of greater intimacy from them, which seemed to threaten at first seemed to pass away. She had not responded to their advances, but there was no reason why she should not be civil to them; there had never been any open quarrel with them. She often found herself in talk with them, and was amused to note that she was the only Bostonian whom they did not keep aloof from.
It could not be said that she came to like either of them better. She still suspected Mrs. Pasmer of design, though she developed none beyond manoeuvring Alice out of the way of people whom she wished to avoid; and she still found the girl, as she always thought her, as egotist, whose best impulses toward others had a final aim in herself. She thought her very crude in her ideas—cruder than she had seemed at Campobello, where she had perhaps been softened by her affinition with the gentler and kindlier nature of Dan Mavering. Mrs. Brinkley was never tired of saying that he had made the most fortunate escape in the world, and though Brinkley owned he was tired of hearing it, she continued to say it with a great variety of speculation. She recognised that in most girls of Alice's age many traits are in solution, waiting their precipitation into character by the chemical contact which time and chances must bring, and that it was not fair to judge her by the present ferment of hereditary tendencies; but she rejoiced all the same that it was not Dan Mavering's character which was to give fixity to hers. The more she saw of the girl the more she was convinced that two such people could only make each other unhappy; from day to day, almost from hour to hour, she resolved to write to Mavering and tell him not to come.
She was sure that the Pasmers wished to have the affair on again, and part of her fascination with a girl whom she neither liked nor approved was her belief that Alice's health had broken under the strain of her regrets and her despair. She did not get better from the change of air; she grew more listless and languid, and more dependent upon Mrs. Brinkley's chary sympathy. The older woman asked herself again and again what made the girl cling to her? Was she going to ask her finally to intercede with Dan? or was it really a despairing atonement to him, the most disagreeable sacrifice she could offer, as Mr. Brinkley had stupidly suggested? She believed that Alice's selfishness and morbid sentiment were equal to either.
Brinkley generally took the girl's part against his wife, and in a heavy jocose way tried to cheer her up. He did little things for her; fetched and carried chairs and cushions and rugs, and gave his attentions the air of pleasantries. One of his offices was to get the ladies' letters for them in the evening, and one night he came in beaming with a letter for each of them where they sat together in the parlour. He distributed them into their laps.
"Hello! I've made a mistake," he said, putting down his head to take back the letter he had dropped in Miss Pasmer's lap. "I've given you my wife's letter."
The girl glanced at it, gave a moaning kind of cry, and fell beak in her chair, hiding her face in her hands.
Mrs. Brinkley, possessed herself of the other letter, and, though past the age when ladies wish to kill their husbands for their stupidity, she gave Brinkley a look of massacre which mystified even more than it murdered his innocence. He had to learn later from his wife's more elicit fury what the women had all known instantly.
He showed his usefulness in gathering Alice up and getting her to her mother's room.
"Oh, Mrs. Brinkley," implored Mrs. Pasmer, following her to the door, "is Mr. Mavering coming here?"
"I don't know—I can't say—I haven't read the letter yet."
"Oh, do let me know when you've read it, won't you? I don't know what we shall do."
Mrs. Brinkley read the letter in her own room. "You go down," she said to her husband, with unabated ferocity; "and telegraph Dan Mavering at Wormley's not to came. Say we're going away at once."
Then she sent Mrs. Pasmer a slip of paper on which she had written, "Not coming."
It has been the experience of every one to have some alien concern come into his life and torment him with more anxiety than any affair of his own. This is, perhaps, a hint from the infinite sympathy which feels for us all that none of us can hope to free himself from the troubles of others, that we are each bound to each by ties which, for the most part, we cannot perceive, but which, at the moment their stress comes, we cannot break.
Mrs. Brinkley lay awake and raged impotently against her complicity with the unhappiness of that distasteful girl and her more than distasteful mother. In her revolt against it she renounced the interest she had felt in that silly boy, and his ridiculous love business, so really unimportant to her whatever turn it took. She asked herself what it mattered to her whether those children marred their lives one way or another way. There was a lurid moment before she slept when she wished Brinkley to go down and recall her telegram; but he refused to be a fool at so much inconvenience to himself.
Mrs. Brinkley came to breakfast feeling so much more haggard than she found either of the Pasmers looking, that she was able to throw off her lingering remorse for having told Mavering not to come. She had the advantage also of doubt as to her precise motive in having done so; she had either done so because she had judged it best for him not to see Miss Pasmer again, or else she had done so to relieve the girl from the pain of an encounter which her mother evidently dreaded for her. If one motive seemed at moments outrageously meddling and presumptuous, the other was so nobly good and kind that it more than counterbalanced it in Mrs. Brinkley's mind, who knew very well in spite of her doubt that she had, acted from a mixture of both. With this conviction, it was both a comfort and a pang to find by the register of the hotel, which she furtively consulted, that Dan had not arrived by the morning boat, as she groundlessly feared and hoped he might have done.
In any case, however, and at the end of all the ends, she had that girl on her hands more than ever; and believing as she did that Dan and Alice had only to meet in order to be reconciled, she felt that the girl whom she had balked of her prey was her innocent victim. What right had she to interfere? Was he not her natural prey? If he liked being a prey, who was lawfully to forbid him? He was not perfect; he would know how to take care of himself probably; in marriage things equalised themselves. She looked at the girl's thin cheeks and lack-lustre eyes, and pitied and hated her with that strange mixture of feeling which our victims aspire in us.
She walked out on the verandah with the Pasmers after breakfast, and chatted a while about indifferent things; and Alice made an effort to ignore the event of the night before with a pathos which wrung Mrs. Brinkley's heart, and with a gay resolution which ought to have been a great pleasure to such a veteran dissembler as her mother. She said she had never found the air so delicious; she really believed it would begin to do her good now; but it was a little fresh just there, and with her eyes she invited her mother to come with her round the corner into that sheltered recess, and invited Mrs. Brinkley not to come.
It was that effect of resentment which is lighter even than a touch, the waft of the arrow's feather; but it could wound a guilty heart, and Mrs. Brinkley sat down where she was, realising with a pang that the time when she might have been everything to this unhappy girl had just passed for ever, and henceforth she could be nothing. She remained musing sadly upon the contradictions she had felt in the girl's character, the confusion of good and evil, the potentialities of misery and harm, the potentialities of bliss and good; and she felt less and less satisfied with herself. She had really presumed to interfere with Fate; perhaps she had interfered with Providence. She would have given anything to recall her act; and then with a flash she realised that it was quite possible to recall it. She could telegraph Mavering to come; and she rose, humbly and gratefully, as if from an answered prayer, to go and do so.
She was not at all a young woman, and many things had come and gone in her life that ought to have fortified her against surprise; but she wanted to scream like a little frightened girl as Dan Mavering stepped out of the parlour door toward her. The habit of not screaming, however, prevailed, and she made a tolerably successful effort to treat him with decent composure. She gave him a rigid hand. "Where in the world did you come from? Did you get my telegram?"
"No. Did you get my letter?"
"Well, I took a notion to come right on after I wrote, and I started on the same train with it. But they said it was no use trying to get into the Hygeia, and I stopped last night at the little hotel in Hampton. I've just walked over, and Mr. Brinkley told me you were out here somewhere. That's the whole story, I believe." He gave his nervous laugh, but it seemed to Mrs. Brinkley that it had not much joy in it.
"Hush!" she said involuntarily, receding to her chair and sinking back into it again. He looked surprised. "You know the Van Hooks are gone?"
He laughed harshly. "I should think they were dead from your manner, Mrs. Brinkley. But I didn't come to see the Van Hooks. What made you think I did?"
He gave her a look which she found so dishonest, so really insincere, that she resolved to abandon him to Providence as soon as she could. "Oh, I didn't know but there had been some little understanding at Washington."
"Perhaps on their part. They were people who seemed to take a good many things for granted, but they could hardly expect to control other people's movements."
He looked sharply at Mrs. Brinkley, as if to question how much she knew; but she had now measured him, and she said, "Oh! then the visit's to me?"
"Entirely," cried Dan. The old sweetness came into his laughing eyes again, and went to Mrs. Brinkley's heart. She wished him to be happy, somehow; she would have done anything for him; she wished she knew what to do. Ought she to tell him the Pasmers were there? Ought she to make up some excuse and get him away before he met them? She felt herself getting more and more bewildered and helpless. Those women might come round that corner any moment and then she know the first sight of Alice's face would do or undo everything with Dan. Did she wish them reconciled? Did she wish them for ever parted? She no longer knew what she wished; she only knew that she had no right to wish anything. She continued to talk on with Dan, who grew more and more at ease, and did most of the talking, while Mrs. Brinkley's whole being narrowed itself to the question. Would the Pasmers come back that way, or would they go round the further corner, and get into the hotel by another door?
The suspense seemed interminable; they must have already gone that other way. Suddenly she heard the pushing back of chairs in that recess. She could not bear it. She jumped to her feet.
"Just wait a moment, Mr. Mavering! I'll join you again. Mr. Brinkley is expecting—I must—"
One morning of the following June Mrs. Brinkley sat well forward in the beautiful church where Dan and Alice were to be married. The lovely day became a still lovelier day within, enriched by the dyes of the stained windows through which it streamed; the still place was dim yet bright with it; the figures painted on the walls had a soft distinctness; a body of light seemed to irradiate from the depths of the dome like lamp-light.
There was a subdued murmur of voices among the people in the pews: they were in a sacred edifice without being exactly at church, and they might talk; now and then a muffled, nervous laugh escaped. A delicate scent of flowers from the masses in the chancel mixed with the light and the prevailing silence. There was a soft, continuous rustle of drapery as the ladies advanced up the thickly carpeted aisles on the arms of the young ushers and compressed themselves into place in the pews.
Two or three people whom she did not know were put into the pew with Mrs. Brinkley, but she kept her seat next the aisle; presently an usher brought up a lady who sat down beside her, and then for a moment or two seemed to sink and rise, as if on the springs of an intense excitement.
It was Miss Cotton, who, while this process of quiescing lasted, appeared not to know Mrs. Brinkley. When she became aware of her, all was lost again. "Mrs. Brinkley!" she cried, as well as one can cry in whisper. "Is it possible?"
"I have my doubts," Mrs. Brinkley whispered back. "But we'll suppose the case."
"Oh, it's all too good to be true! How I envy you being the means of bringing them together, Mrs. Brinkley!"
"Yes—they owe it all to you; you needn't try to deny it; he's told every one!"
"I was sure she hadn't," said Mrs. Brinkley, remembering how Alice had marked an increasing ignorance of any part she might have had in the affair from the first moment of her reconciliation with Dan; she had the effect of feeling that she had sacrificed enough to Mrs. Brinkley; and Mrs. Brinkley had been restored to all the original strength of her conviction that she was a solemn little unconscious egotist, and Dan was as unselfish and good as he was unequal to her exactions.
"Oh no?" said Miss Cotton. "She couldn't!" implying that Alice would be too delicate to speak of it.
"Do you see any of his family here?" asked Mrs. Brinkley.
"Yes; over there—up front." Miss Cotton motioned, with her eyes toward a pew in which Mrs. Brinkley distinguished an elderly gentleman's down-misted bald head and the back of a young lady's bonnet. "His father and sister; the other's a bridemaid; mother bed-ridden and couldn't come."
"They might have brought her in an-arm-chair," suggested Mrs. Brinkley ironically, "on such an occasion. But perhaps they don't take much interest in such a patched-up affair."
"Oh yes, they do!" exclaimed Miss Cotton. "They idolise Alice."
"And Mrs. Pasmer and Mister, too?"
"I don't suppose that so much matters."
"They know how to acquiesce, I've no doubt."
"Oh yes! You've heard? The young people are going abroad first with her family for a year, and then they come back to live with his—where the Works are."
"Poor fellow!" said Mrs. Brinkley.
"Why, Mrs. Brinkley, do you still feel that way?" asked Miss Cotton, with a certain distress. "It seems to me that if ever two young people had the promise of happiness, they have. Just see what their love has done for them already!"
"And you still think that in these cases love can do everything?"
Miss Cotton was about to reply, when she observed that the people about her had stopped talking. The bridegroom, with his best man, in whom his few acquaintances there recognised Boardman with some surprise, came over the chancel from one side.
Miss Cotton bent close to Mrs. Brinkley and whispered rapidly: "Alice found out Mr. Mavering wished it, and insisted on his having him. It was a great concession, but she's perfectly magnanimous. Poor fellow! how he does look!"
Alice, on her father's arm, with her bridemaids, of whom the first was Minnie Mavering, mounted the chancel steps, where Mr. Pasmer remained standing till he advanced to give away the bride. He behaved with great dignity, but seemed deeply affected; the ladies in the front pews said they could see his face twitch; but he never looked handsomer.
The five clergymen came from the back of the chancel in their white surplices. The ceremony proceeded to the end.
The young couple drove at once to the station, where they were to take the train for New York, and wait there a day or two for Mrs. and Mr. Pasmer before they all sailed.
As they drove along, Alice held Dan's wrist in the cold clutch of her trembling little ungloved hand, on which her wedding ring shone. "O dearest! let us be good!" she said. "I will try my best. I will try not to be exacting and unreasonable, and I know I can. I won't even make any conditions, if you will always be frank and open with me, and tell me everything."
He leaned over and kissed her behind the drawn curtains. "I will, Alice! I will indeed! I won't keep anything from you after this."
He resolved to tell her all about Julia Anderson at the right moment, when Alice was in the mood, and as soon as he thoroughly understood what he had really meant himself.
If he had been different she would not have asked him to be frank and open; if she had been different, he might have been frank and open. This was the beginning of their married life.
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