University of Virginia Library

Search this document 



Page 332


I have said that I still felt but little inclination to mingle
in society, although I might easily have found opportunities.
I fancy, however, that this reluctance was more
imaginary than real: it belonged to the soberer rôle which
I had chosen in the great drama. I could not quite justify
my participation in the gayeties of the season to that spirit
of stern indifference which I ought, logically, to have preserved.
My nature, however, was not so profound as I
supposed, and when once I was led to forget myself in the
presence of others, I speedily developed a lively capacity
for enjoyment. More than once I went slowly and moodily
to a scene, whence I returned with buoyant, dancing spirits.
Whenever I thought of Amanda Bratton, a feeling of congratulation
at my escape tempered the bitterness of the
memory, and I began to believe again (hardly admitting to
myself that I did so) in the purity of woman and the honor
of man.

The remembered expression of Miss Haworth's eyes
troubled me, and I longed for an opportunity of presenting
myself to her in a more correct light. It was some time
before such an opportunity occurred. I passed her once
on Broadway, on a sunny afternoon, and sometimes saw
her through the window of a carriage, but nearly three
months elapsed before I was able to speak to her again.
Mr. Deering, with whom I had made a slight acquaintance
during the dinner at Delmonico's, invited me to call “very


Page 333
sociably” at his house in Fourteenth Street, on a certain
evening. I accepted, mainly because I expected to find
Penrose there, and, as my duties required me to leave
early, made my appearance precisely at the appointed hour.
In this respect I was misled by the words “very sociably,”
for no other guests had yet arrived, and the rooms were
decorated as if for a ball. I experienced a foolish sensation
for a moment, as I stood alone in the strong light of
gas and the glitter of gilding, but Mrs. Deering did not
leave me long in waiting. With her entered, to my surprise,
Miss Haworth.

Mrs. Deering was a frail-looking woman, with large dark
eyes, and pale, melancholy, interesting face. She received
me with perfect grace, and a kindly, winning air, which
seemed — I knew not why — to ask for sympathy. At any
rate, I gave it, and still I knew not why. In greeting Miss
Haworth I offered her my hand, forgetting that my slight
acquaintance hardly warranted me in assuming the signs
of familiarity; but she took it with a natural, simple courtesy,
in which there was no trace of mere conventional
politeness. We seated ourselves at the bottom of the
apartment, and I had ample time to overcome the first formal
stages of conversation before the next arrival. The
hostess and Miss Haworth were evidently familiar, if not
intimate friends; they called each other “Fanny” and
“Isabel,” and frequently referred to mutual experiences
and mutual impressions. I saw that both were amiable,
cultivated, refined women. The point of difference seemed
to be in character — in a certain gentle, reliant, hesitating
quality in Mrs. Deering, and its latent opposite in Miss
Haworth — for I did not think the latter old enough for
marked development. Nevertheless, through all her maidenly
sweetness and simplicity, I felt the existence of a firm,
heroic spirit. Her pure, liquid voice could under no circumstances
become shrill or hard, but its music might express
a changeless resolution. Some sense within me,


Page 334
underlying the surface of my talk, continually contrasted
her with Amanda Bratton. The consciousness of it annoyed
me, but I could not escape from the perverse spirit.

Finally, Mrs. Deering rose and advanced to receive the
coming guests, and we were left alone. My thoughts went
back to our conversation at the dinner, and I longed for the
tact to bring it up naturally. I introduced Matilda Shanks,
— a subject soon exhausted; then Penrose, and here a
happy thought came to my aid. I had become not only
unembarrassed, but frank, and, almost before I knew it,
had described the manner in which we had discovered our

“I had hardly liked him before that,” I said. “I had
thought him haughty, cold, and almost incapable of affection
— but this was only the outside. He was truly happy
to find that we were kin, although I was at that time a raw
country-boy, far below him in everything. Since then, we
have learned to know each other tolerably well. He is so
handsome that I am very glad I can honestly esteem him.”

I saw a light like a smile in Miss Haworth's eyes, but it
did not reach her lips. “He is strikingly handsome,” she
said, “but it is not a face that one can read easily.”

“I think I like it all the better for that,” I answered.
“It keeps up one's interest; there are so many surprises,
as you discover new traits.”

“If they were always agreeable surprises.”

“I have found them so, in his case.”

“You are fortunate, then,” said she. Her tone was calm
and passionless, and I detected no reason for my suspicion
that she did not like Penrose. It almost seemed as if we
had changed characters, — as if now the faith were on my
side and the distrust on hers. I presently shook off this
impression as absurd, and attempted to introduce my explanation
before the new guests should interrupt us.

“I think my cousin frequently does injustice to himself,”
I said. “He is fond of proclaiming a hard, unsympathetic


Page 335
view of life, which does not correspond with his practice.
I was at one time in danger of imitating him, because everything
did not go according to my wishes. I can't quite
recall the words I used in my talk with you at the dinner,”
(this was false — I knew them every one,) “but I am sure
they did not express my true sentiments. I had rather be
thought inconsistent than cynical.”

“So would I!” she exclaimed, with a merry laugh.
“Consistency is a jewel, you know, but the color of it don't
happen to suit my complexion. I am heterodox enough to
dislike the word; to me it signifies something excessively
stiff, prim, and tiresome.”

I was relieved, but a little surprised, at such an unexpected
latitude of opinion in Miss Haworth.

“It dates from my school-days in Troy,” she continued,
by way of explanation. “Our teacher in Moral Philosophy
had a habit of saying, — `Be consistent, girls!' on every
possible occasion. We all decided that if she was an example
of it, consistency was a disagreeable quality, and I
am afraid that we tried to get rid of what little we had,
instead of cultivating it. I like a character upon which
one can depend, but we may honestly change our views.”

“Then,” said I, “there are also such differences in our
moods of feeling. We change like the scenery of land or
sea, through green, gray, blue and gold, according to the sun
and the clouds. You are right; the same tints forever
would be very tiresome; but we should not half possess
our opinions, if we were always conscious that we might
soon change them for others.”

“I wish Mrs. Deering had heard you say that. We were
looking at a new dress of hers just before you came. There
was a mixture of colors in it, which, I knew, had only
caught her eye by its novelty, and the effect would soon
wear off. But when I said so, she put her hand on my
mouth, and pleaded, — `Please don't say a word against it;
let me like it as long as I can.' I laughed and called her
a child, as she is in her frankness and gentleness.”


Page 336

“She is a very lovely woman,” I said, “but there is something
about her which seems to call for help or sympathy.
I do not understand it.”

“Is it so palpable?” asked Miss Haworth, in a low voice,
as if speaking to herself. The approach of other guests
interrupted our conversation, and I had no chance of resuming
it during the evening, although we frequently crossed
each other's paths, and exchanged a few words. The “very
sociable” entertainment was something more than a reception
and something less than a ball. Most of the guests
came in full dress, and I was very glad that I had profited
by a hint which Brandagee had once let fall. “In New
York,” said he, “it is always safer to over-dress than to
under-dress. The former is looked upon as a compliment
to the hosts, and no excuse is ever accepted for the latter.”
The young ladies were all decolletées, and their bright heads
rose out of wonderful folds and cloudy convolutions of white
mist, which followed with soft rustling noises the gliding
swing of their forms. I was leaning on the narrow end of
the grand piano, listlessly watching them as they moved
through the figures of a quadrille, when Mrs. Deering suddenly
addressed me with, —

“Don't you dance, Mr. Godfrey?”

“Sometimes,” I answered; “but I think I enjoy seeing
dancing even more. Somebody says, if one would stop his
ears and shut out the music, one would find the movements
of the dancers simply ridiculous. I can imagine that this
might be true of the gentlemen, — but, certainly, not of the

“Are we so much more graceful?” she asked.

“No,” said I, with plump sincerity; “it is rather the advantage
of dress, — the difference between drapery, which
falls into flowing and undulating lines, and a close shell,
like that of a tortoise. Besides the shell is black, which
robs it of light and shade. Suppose the gentlemen wore
Roman togas, — white, with a border of purple, or blue and


Page 337
silver, or crimson and gold, — don't you think the effect
would be immensely improved?”

“I must confess the idea never entered my head. You
must give me time to think about it, before I can answer.
It is something new to hear a gentleman speak for the
beauty of his sex; we are generally allowed the monopoly
of that.”

I felt embarrassed, and there was an unpleasant sense of
heat in my face, which increased as I encountered Miss
Haworth's laughing, expectant eyes. She was standing near,
and must have heard the whole conversation.

“If I thought myself handsome,” I said, at last, “I
should never lay myself open to such a charge; but it gives
me pleasure to see beauty, Mrs. Deering, whether in woman
or man, and I do not understand why custom requires that
one sex should help it with all possible accessories and the
other disguise it.”

“Oh, you men don't really need it,” began Mrs. Deering.
“You have courage and energy and genius.” — Here she
stopped, turned pale, and after a little pause, added with a
gayety not altogether natural; “Shall I find you a partner
for the next quadrille?”

I assented, thinking of Miss Haworth, but Mr. Deering
came up at that moment and secured her. Mrs. Deering
laid her hand on my arm, and we began to thread the disentangling
groups as the music ceased. The elegant young
gentlemen were already dodging to and fro, and taking their
places in anticipation of the next dance: the blooming,
girlish faces were snatched away as we approached them,
and Mrs. Deering, with a little laugh at our ill-fortune,
said, “I must pick out the best of the wall-flowers, after
all, — ah! here is one chance yet!”

A moment after, I found myself face to face with — Miss

“Mr. Godfrey wishes for the pleasure,” — Mrs. Deering
began to say, by way of presentation and request.


Page 338

“Now, Mr. Godfrey!” exclaimed Miss Levi, jumping up
and giving me a smart rap with her sandal-wood fan, — “you
know you don't deserve it! You would never have seen
me without Mrs. Deering's help, — and if I accept you, it 's
for her sake only. He 's as false and heartless as he can
be, Mrs. Deering!”

If my thought had been expressed in words, I am afraid
there would have been a profane verb before Miss Levi's
name. I was exasperated by the unexpected encounter,
and less than ever disposed to hear her flippant, affected
chatter, to which I had responded so often that I was powerless
to check it now. As we took our places on the floor,
and she spread the scarlet leaves of her fan over the
lower part of her face, her jet-black eyes and hair shining
at me above them, I thought of the poppy-flower, and the
dark, devilish spirit of the drug which feeds it. I tried to
shake off the baleful, narcotic influence which streamed
from her, and which seemed to increase in proportion as I
resisted it. By a singular chance, Mr. Deering and Miss
Haworth were our vis-à-vis. I had scarcely noticed this,
when the preliminary chords of the quadrille were struck,
and the first figure commenced.

“Confess to me, now, Mr. Godfrey,” said Miss Levi, when
our turn came to rest, “that you are as false in literature as
you are in love. You have not been at Mrs. Yorkton's for
ever so long.”

“I am false to neither,” I answered, desperately, “for I
believe in neither.”

“Oh, I shall become afraid of you.” I knew her eyes
were upon my face, but I steadily looked away. “You are
getting to be misanthropic, — Byronic. Of course there
is a cause for it. It is she who is false; pardon my heartless
jesting; I shall never do so again. But you never thought
it serious, did you? I always believed in your truth as I do
in your genius.”

The last sentences were uttered in a low, gentle, confidential


Page 339
tone, and the fingers that lay upon my arm closed
tenderly around it. I could not help myself: I turned my
head and received the subdued, sympathetic light of the
large eyes.

“You are mistaken, Miss Levi,” I said; “there is no
`she' in the case, and there will not be.”

“Never?” It was only a whisper, but I despair of representing
its peculiar intonation. It set my pulses trembling
with a mixture of sensations, in which fear was predominant.
I dimly felt that I must somehow disguise my
true nature from this woman's view, or become her slave.
I must prevaricate, lie, — anything to make her believe me
other than my actual self.

The commencement of the second figure relieved me
from the necessity of answering her question. When we
had walked through it, and I was standing beside her, she
turned to me and said, —


“Well?” I echoed.

“You have not answered my question.”

I summoned all the powers of dissimulation I possessed,
looked her full in the face with an expression of innocence
and surprise, and answered, “What question?”

Her dark brows drew together for an instant, and a rapid
glance hurled itself against my face, as if determined to
probe me. I bore it with preternatural composure, and,
finding she did not speak, repeated, “What question?”

She turned away, unaware that something very like a
scowl expressed itself on her profile, and muttered, —

“It is of no consequence, since you have forgotten it.”

My success emboldened me to go a step further, and not
merely defend myself, but experiment a little in offensive

“Oh, about being false to literature?” I said. “You
probably thought I was pledged to it. That is not so;
what I have done has been merely a diversion. Having


Page 340
attempted, of course it would not be pleasant to fail; but
there is no great satisfaction in success. With your knowledge
of authors, Miss Levi, you must be aware that they
cannot be called either a happy or a fortunate class of

Again she scrutinized my face, — this time over her fan.
I was wonderfully calm and earnest: there is no hypocrisy
equal to that of a man naturally frank.

“I am afraid it is true,” she answered, at last. “But
there are some exceptions, and, with your genius, you might
be one of them, Mr. Godfrey.”

“If my `genius,' as you are pleased to call it,” I said,
“can give me a house like this, and large deposits in the
banks, I shall be very much obliged to it. I should much
rather have splendor than renown: would n't you?”

Looking across the floor I met Miss Haworth's eyes, and
although she turned them away at once, I caught a glimpse
of the quiet, serious observance with which they had rested
upon me. I rejoiced that she could not have heard my
words. The game I had been playing suddenly became
distasteful. Miss Levi's answer showed that she had fallen
into the snare; that her enthusiasm for literature and literary
men was a shallow affectation, which I might easily
have developed further, but I took advantage of the movements
of the dance to change the subject. When the
quadrille was finished, I conducted her to a seat, bowed,
and left her almost too precipitately for courtesy.

In the mean time Penrose had arrived. I had not seen
him for some weeks, and we were having a pleasant talk in
a corner of the room when Mrs. Deering, in her arbitrary
character of hostess, interrupted us, by claiming him for
presentation to some of her friends.

“The partnership is social as well as commercial, is it?”
said he. “Then I must go, John.”

An imp of mischief prompted me to say to Mrs. Deering,
“Introduce him to Miss Levi. Dance with her, if you


Page 341
can, Alexander; I want to hear your impression of her

“Oh, ho!” he exclaimed, “is she the elected one? By
all means. I shall try to find her bewitching, for your

“Alexander!” I cried. But the twain were already
moving away, Mrs. Deering looking back to me with a gay,
significant smile. I was provoked at myself, and at Penrose.
I had honestly wished, for my own satisfaction, to
subject Miss Levi to the test of his greater knowledge of
the world, his sharp, merciless dissection of character. Perhaps
I thought he could analyze the uncanny, mysterious
power which she possessed. But the interpretation he had
put upon my words spoiled the plan. And Mrs. Deering,
I feared, had accepted that interpretation only too readily.
Could she really believe that I was attracted towards Miss
Levi? If so, and she mentioned the discovery to Miss
Haworth, what must the latter think of me? She, too, had
noticed the intimate character of our conversation during
the dance; yet she could not, must not be allowed to misunderstand
me so shockingly. I worried myself, I have no
doubt, a great deal more than was necessary. My surmises
involved no compliment to the good sense of the two ladies,
and the excitement they occasioned in my mind was inconsistent
with the character I had determined to assume.

I looked around for Miss Haworth before leaving the
parlor. She was seated at the piano, playing one of
Strauss's airy waltzes, while the plain, weary-looking governess,
who had been performing for the two previous
hours, was taking a rest and an ice on the sofa. Among
the couples which revolved past me were Penrose and Miss
Levi, and there was a bright expression of mischief in the
former's eye as it met mine.

I went down town to my midnight duties in the office of
the Wonder, very much dissatisfied with myself. It seemed
that I had stupidly blundered during the whole evening,


Page 342
and had made my position worse than it was before in the
eyes of the only woman whom I was anxious to please. The
latter fact was now apparent to my consciousness, and when
I asked myself “Why?” there was no difficulty in finding
reasons. She was handsome; she resembled St. Agnes; I
believed her to be a pure, true, noble-hearted girl.

Then I asked myself again, “Anything more?”

And as I stepped over the booming vaults, in which the
great iron presses of the Wonder revolved at the rate
of twenty thousand copies per hour, and mounted to the
stifling room where the reports on yellow transfer-paper
awaited me, I shook my head and made answer unto myself,
“No; nothing more!”