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Chapter 5

V.

The implication of any such study as this is that the subject of it is continuously if not exclusively occupied with the matter which is supposed to make him interesting. But of course it was not so with Hewson, who perhaps did not think of his apparition once in a fortnight, or oftener, say, than he thought of the odd girl with whom for no reason, except contemporaneity in his acquaintance, he associated with it. If he never thought of the apparition without subconsciously expecting its return, he equally expected when he thought of Miss Hernshaw that the chances of society would bring them together again, and it was with no more surprise than if the vision had intimated its second approach that he one night found her name in the minute envelope which the footman presented him at a house where he was going to dine, and realized that he was appointed to take her out. It was a house where he rather liked to go, for in that New York of his where so few houses had any distinctive character, this one had a temperament of its own in so far that you might expect to meet people of temperament there, if anywhere. They were indeed held in a social solution where many other people of no temperament at all floated largely and loosely about, but they were there, all the same, and it was worth coming on the chance of meeting them, though the indiscriminate hospitality of the hostess might let the evening pass without promoting the chance. Now, however, she had unwittingly put into Hewson's keeping, for two hours at least, the very temperament that had kept his fancy for the last half-year and more. He fairly laughed at sight of the name on the little card, and hurried into the drawing-room, where the first thing after greeting his hostess, he caught the wandering look and vague smile of Mrs. Rock. The look and the smile became personal to him, and she welcomed him with a curious resumption of the confidential terms in which they had seemed to part that afternoon at St. Johnswort. He thought that she was going to begin talking to him where she had left off, about Rosalie, as she had called her, and he was disappointed in the commonplaces that actually ensued. At the end of these, however, she did say: "Miss Hernshaw is here with me. Have you seen her?"

"Oh, yes," Hewson returned, for he had caught sight of the girl in a distant group, on his way up to Mrs. Rock, but in view of the affluent opportunity before him had richly forborne trying even to make her bow to him, though he believed she had seen him. "I am to have the happiness of going out with her."

"Oh, indeed," said Mrs. Rock, "that is nice," and then the people began assorting themselves, and the man who was appointed to take Mrs. Rock out, came and bowed Hewson away.

He hastened to that corner of the room where Miss Hernshaw was waiting, and if he had been suddenly confronted with his apparition he could not have experienced a deeper and stranger satisfaction than he felt as the girl lifted up her innocent fierce face upon him.

It brought back that whole day at St. Johnswort, of which she, with his vision, formed the supreme interest and equally the mystery; and it went warmly to his heart to have her peremptorily abolish all banalities by saying, "I was wondering if they were going to give me you, as soon as you came in."

She put her slim hand on his arm as she spoke, and he thought she must have felt him quiver at her touch. "Then you were not afraid they were going to give you me?" he bantered.

"No," she said, "I wanted to talk with you. I wanted you to tell me what
Mrs. Rock said about me!"

"Just now? She said you were here."

"No, I mean that day at St. Johnswort."

Hewson laughed out for pleasure in her frankness, and then he felt a gathering up of his coat-sleeve under her nervous fingers, as if (such a thing being imaginable) she were going unwittingly to pinch him for his teasing. "She said she wanted to explain you a little."

"And then what!"

"And then nothing. She seemed to catch your eye, and she stopped."

The fingers relaxed their hold upon that gathering up of his coat-sleeve. "I won't be explained, and I have told her so. If I choose to act myself, and show out my real thoughts and feelings, how is it any worse than if I acted somebody else!"

"I should think it was very much better," said Hewson, inwardly warned to keep his face straight.

William Dean Howells

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