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Chapter 14

Mrs. Kenton did not rest till she had made sure from Lottie and Boyne that neither of them had dropped any hint to Ellen of what happened to Bittridge after his return to Tuskingum. She did not explain to them why she was so very anxious to know, but only charged them the more solemnly not to let the secret, which they had all been keeping from Ellen, escape them.

They promised, but Lottie said, "She's got to know it some time, and I should think the sooner the better."

"I will be judge of that, Lottie," said her mother, and Boyne seized his chance of inculpating her with his friend, Mr. Pogis. He said she was carrying on awfully with him already; and an Englishman could not understand, and Boyne hinted that he would presume upon her American freedom.

"Well, if he does, I'll get you to cowhide him, Boyne," she retorted, and left him fuming helplessly, while she went to give the young Englishman an opportunity of resuming the flirtation which her mother had interrupted.

With her husband Mrs. Kenton found it practicable to be more explicit. "I haven't had such a load lifted off my heart since I don't know when. It shows me what I've thought all along: that Ellen hasn't really cared anything for that miserable thing since he first began going with Mrs. Uphill a year ago. When he wrote that letter to her in New York she wanted to be sure she didn't, and when he offered himself and misbehaved so to both of you, she was afraid that she and you were somehow to blame. Now she's worked it out that no one else was wronged, and she is satisfied. It's made her feel free, as she says. But, oh, dear me!" Mrs. Kenton broke off, "I talk as if there was nothing to bind her; and yet there is what poor Richard did! What would she say if she knew that? I have been cautioning Lottie and Boyne, but I know it will come out somehow. Do you think it's wise to keep it from her? Hadn't we better tell her? Or shall we wait and see—"

Kenton would not allow to her or to himself that his hopes ran with hers; love is not business with a man as it is with a woman; he feels it indecorous and indelicate to count upon it openly, where she thinks it simply a chance of life, to be considered like another. All that Kenton would say was, "I see no reason for telling her just yet. She will have to know in due time. But let her enjoy her freedom now."

"Yes," Mrs. Kenton doubtfully assented.

The judge was thoughtfully silent. Then he said: "Few girls could have worked out her problem as Ellen has. Think how differently Lottie would have done it!"

"Lottie has her good points, too," said Mrs. Kenton. "And, of course, I don't blame Richard. There are all kinds of girls, and Lottie means no more harm than Ellen does. She's the kind that can't help attracting; but I always knew that Ellen was attractive, too, if she would only find it out. And I knew that as soon as anything worth while took up her mind she would never give that wretch another thought."

Kenton followed her devious ratiocinations to a conclusion which he could not grasp. "What do you mean, Sarah?"

"If I only," she explained, in terms that did not explain, "felt as sure of him as I do about him!"

Her husband looked densely at her. "Bittridge?"

"No. Mr. Breckon. He is very nice, Rufus. Yes, he is! He's been showing me the map of Holland, and we've had a long talk. He isn't the way we thought—or I did. He is not at all clerical, or worldly. And he appreciates Ellen. I don't suppose he cares so much for her being cultivated; I suppose she doesn't seem so to him. But he sees how wise she is—how good. And he couldn't do that without being good himself! Rufus! If we could only hope such a thing. But, of course, there are thousands after him!"

"There are not thousands of Ellens after him," said the judge, before he could take time to protest. "And I don't want him to suppose that she is after him at all. If he will only interest her and help her to keep her mind off herself, it's all I will ask of him. I am not anxious to part with her, now that she's all ours again."

"Of course," Mrs. Kenton soothingly assented. "And I don't say that she dreams of him in any such way. She can't help admiring his mind. But what I mean is that when you see how he appreciates her, you can't help wishing he could know just how wise, and just how good she is. It did seem to me as if I would give almost anything to have him know what she had been through with that—rapscallion!"

"Sarah!"

"Oh, you may Sarah me! But I can tell you what, Mr. Kenton: I believe that you could tell him every word of it, and only make him appreciate her the more. Till you know that about Ellen, you don't know what a character she is. I just ached to tell him!"

"I don't understand you, my dear," said Kenton. "But if you mean to tell him—"

"Why, who could imagine doing such a thing? Don't you see that it is impossible? Such a thing would never have come into my head if it hadn't been for some morbid talk of Ellen's."

"Of Ellen's?"

"Oh, about wanting to disgust him by telling him why she was such a burden to us."

"She isn't a burden!"

"I am saying what she said. And it made me think that if such a person could only know the high-minded way she had found to get out of her trouble! I would like somebody who is capable of valuing her to value her in all her preciousness. Wouldn't you be glad if such a man as he is could know how and why she feels free at last?"

"I don't think it's necessary," said Kenton, haughtily, "There's only one thing that could give him the right to know it, and we'll wait for that first. I thought you said that he was frivolous."

"Boyne said that, and Lottie. I took it for granted, till I talked with him to-day. He is light-hearted and gay; he likes to laugh and joke; but he can be very serious when he wants to."

"According to all precedent," said the judge, glumly, "such a man ought to be hanging round Lottie. Everybody was that amounted to anything in Tuskingum."

"Oh, in Tuskingum! And who were the men there that amounted to anything? A lot of young lawyers, and two students of medicine, and some railroad clerks. There wasn't one that would compare with Mr. Breckon for a moment."

"All the more reason why he can't really care for Ellen. Now see here, Sarah! You know I don't interfere with you and the children, but I'm afraid you're in a craze about this young fellow. He's got these friends of his who have just turned up, and we'll wait and see what he does with them. I guess he appreciates the young lady as much as he does Ellen."

Mrs. Kenton's heart went down. "She doesn't compare with Ellen!" she piteously declared.

"That's what we think. He may think differently."

Mrs. Kenton was silenced, but all the more she was determined to make sure that Mr. Breckon was not interested in Miss Rasmith in any measure or manner detrimental to Ellen. As for Miss Rasmith herself, Mrs. Kenton would have had greater reason to be anxious about her behavior with Boyne than Mr. Breckon. From the moment that the minister had made his two groups of friends acquainted, the young lady had fixed upon Boyne as that member of the Kenton group who could best repay a more intimate friendship. She was polite to them all, but to Boyne she was flattering, and he was too little used to deference from ladies ten years his senior not to be very sensible of her worth in offering it. To be unremittingly treated as a grown-up person was an experience so dazzling that his vision was blinded to any possibilities in the behavior that formed it; and before the day ended Boyne had possessed Miss Rasmith of all that it was important for any fellow-being to know of his character and history. He opened his heart to eyes that had looked into others before his, less for the sake of exploiting than of informing himself. In the rare intelligence of Miss Rasmith he had found that serious patience with his problems which no one else, not Ellen herself, had shown, and after trying her sincerity the greater part of the day he put it to the supreme test, one evening, with a book which he had been reading. Boyne's literature was largely entomological and zoological, but this was a work of fiction treating of the fortunes of a young American adventurer, who had turned his military education to account in the service of a German princess. Her Highness's dominions were not in any map of Europe, and perhaps it was her condition of political incognito that rendered her the more fittingly the prey of a passion for the American head of her armies. Boyne's belief was that this character veiled a real identity, and he wished to submit to Miss Rasmith the question whether in the exclusive circles of New York society any young millionaire was known to have taken service abroad after leaving west Point. He put it in the form of a scoffing incredulity which it was a comfort to have her take as if almost hurt by his doubt. She said that such a thing might very well be, and with rich American girls marrying all sorts of titles abroad, it was not impossible for some brilliant young fellow to make his way to the steps of a throne. Boyne declared that she was laughing at him, and she protested that it was the last thing she should think of doing; she was too much afraid of him. Then he began to argue against the case supposed in the romance; he proved from the book itself that the thing could not happen; such a princess would not be allowed to marry the American, no matter how rich he was. She owned that she had not heard of just such an instance, and he might think her very romantic; and perhaps she was; but if the princess was an absolute princess, such as she was shown in that story, she held that no power on earth could keep her from marrying the young American. For herself she did not see, though, how the princess could be in love with that type of American. If she had been in the princess's place she should have fancied something quite different. She made Boyne agree with her that Eastern Americans were all, more or less, Europeanized, and it stood to reason, she held, that a European princess would want something as un-European as possible if she was falling in love to please herself. They had some contention upon the point that the princess would want a Western American; and then Miss Rasmith, with a delicate audacity, painted an heroic portrait of Boyne himself which he could not recognize openly enough to disown; but he perceived resemblances in it which went to his head when she demurely rose, with a soft "Good-night, Mr. Kenton. I suppose I mustn't call you Boyne?"

"Oh yes, do!" he entreated. "I'm-I'm not grown up yet, you know."

"Then it will be safe," she sighed. "But I should never have thought of that. I had got so absorbed in our argument. You are so logical, Mr. Kenton—Boyne, I mean—thank you. You must get it from your father. How lovely your sister is!"

"Ellen?"

"Well, no. I meant the other one. But Miss Kenton is beautiful, too. You must be so happy together, all of you." She added, with a rueful smile, "There's only one of me! Good-night."

Boyne did not know whether he ought not in humanity, if not gallantry, to say he would be a brother to her, but while he stood considering, she put out a hand to him so covered with rings that he was afraid she had hurt herself in pressing his so hard, and had left him before he could decide.

Lottie, walking the deck, had not thought of bidding Mr. Pogis good-night. She had asked him half a dozen times how late it was, and when he answered, had said as often that she knew better, and she was going below in another minute. But she stayed, and the flow of her conversation supplied him with occasion for the remarks of which he seldom varied the formula. When she said something too audacious for silent emotion, he called out, "Oh, I say!" If she advanced an opinion too obviously acceptable, or asked a question upon some point where it seemed to him there could not be two minds, he was ready with the ironical note, "Well, rather!" At times she pressed her studies of his character and her observations on his manner and appearance so far that he was forced to protest, "You are so personal!" But these moments were rare; for the most part, "Oh I say!" and "Well, rather!" perfectly covered the ground. He did not generally mind her parody of his poverty of phrase, but once, after she had repeated "Well rather!" and "Oh, I say!" steadily at everything he said for the whole round of the promenade they were making, he intimated that there were occasions when, in his belief, a woman's abuse of the freedom generously allowed her sex passed the point of words.

"And when it passes the point of words" she taunted him, "what do you do?"

"You will see," he said, "if it ever does," and Lottie felt justified by her inference that he was threatening to kiss her, in answering:

"And if I ever SEE, I will box your ears."

"Oh, I say!" he retorted. "I should like to have you try."

He had ideas of the rightful mastery of a man in all things, which she promptly pronounced brutal, and when he declared that his father's conduct towards his wife and children was based upon these ideas, she affirmed the superiority of her own father's principles and behavior. Mr. Pogis was too declared an admirer of Judge Kenton to question his motives or method in anything, and he could only generalize, "The Americans spoil their women."

"Well, their women are worth it," said Lottie, and after allowing the paradox time to penetrate his intelligence, he cried out, in a glad transport:

"Oh, I SAY!"

At the moment Boyne's intellectual seance with Miss Rasmith was coming to an end. Lottie had tacitly invited Mr. Pogis to prolong the comparison of English and American family life by stopping in front of a couple of steamer-chairs, and confessing that she was tired to death. They sat down, and he told her about his mother, whom, although his father's subordinate, he seemed to be rather fonder of. He had some elder brothers, most of them in the colonies, and he had himself been out to America looking at something his father had found for him in Buffalo.

"You ought to come to Tuskingum," said Lottie.

"Is that a large place?" Mr. Pogis asked. "As large as Buffalo?"

"Well, no," Lottie admitted. "But it's a growing place. And we have the best kind of times."

"What kind?" The young man easily consented to turn the commercial into a social inquiry.

"Oh, picnics, and river parties, and buggy-rides, and dances."

"I'm keen on dancing," said Mr. Pogis. "I hope they'll give us a dance on board. Will you put me down for the first dance?"

"I don't care. Will you send me some flowers? The steward must have some left in the refrigerator."

"Well, rather! I'll send you a spray, if he's got enough."

"A spray? What's a spray?"

"Oh, I say! My sister always wears one. It's a long chain of flowers reachin' from your shoulder diagonally down to your waist."

"Does your sister always have her sprays sent to her?"

"Well, rather! Don't they send flowers to girls for dances in the States?"

"Well, rather! Didn't I just ask you?"

This was very true, and after a moment of baffle Mr. Pogis said, in generalization, "If you go with a young lady in a party to the theatre you send her a box of chocolates."

"Only when you go to theatre! I couldn't get enough, then, unless you asked me every night," said Lottie, and while Mr. Pogis was trying to choose between "Oh, I say!" and something specific, like, "I should like to ask you every night," she added, "And what would happen if you sent a girl a spray for the theatre and chocolates for a dance? Wouldn't it jar her?"

Now, indeed, there was nothing for him but to answer, "Oh, I say!"

"Well, say, then! Here comes Boyne, and I must go. Well, Boyne," she called, from the dark nook where she sat, to her brother as he stumbled near, with his eyes to the stars, "has the old lady retired?"

He gave himself away finely. "What old lady!"

"Well, maybe at your age you don't consider her very old. But I don't think a boy ought to sit up mooning at his grandmother all night. I know Miss Rasmith's no relation, if that's what you're going to say!"

"Oh, I say!" Mr. Pogis chuckled. "You are so personal."

"Well, rather!" said Lottie, punishing his presumption. "But I don't think it's nice for a kid, even if she isn't."

"Kid!" Boyne ground, through his clenched teeth.

By this time Lottie was up out of her chair and beyond repartee in her flight down the gangway stairs. She left the two youngsters confronted.

"What do you say to a lemon-squash?" asked Mr. Pogis, respecting his friend's wounded dignity, and ignoring Lottie and her offence.

"I don't care if I do," said Boyne in gloomy acquiescence.

William Dean Howells

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