University of Virginia Library


I had a sort of candle-light acquaintance with Mr. Philip
McRueit when we were in college. I mean to say that I had a
daylight repugnance to him, and never walked with him or talked
with him, or rode with him, or sat with him; and, indeed, seldom
saw him—except as one of a club oyster-party of six. He was a
short, sharp, satirical man (nicknamed “my cruet,” by his cronies
—rather descriptively!) but as plausible and vindictive as
Mephistopheles before and after the ruin of a soul. In some
other state of existence I had probably known and suffered by
Phil. McRueit—for I knew him like the sleeve of an old coat,
the first day I laid eyes on him; though other people seemed to
have no such instinct. Oh, we were not new acquaintances—
from whatever star he had been transported, for his sins, to this
planet of dirt. I think he was of the same opinion, himself. He
chose between open warfare and conciliation in the first five minutes—after
seeing me as a stranger—chose the latter.

Six or seven years after leaving college, I was following my
candle up to bed rather musingly, one night at the Astor, and
on turning a corner, I was obliged to walk round a short gentleman


Page 315
who stood at the head of the stairs in an attitude of
fixed contemplation. As I weathered the top of his hat rather
closely, I caught the direction of his eye, and saw that he was
regarding, very fixedly, a pair of rather dusty kid slippers, which
had been set outside the door, probably for cleaning, by the occupant
of the chamber opposite. As the gentleman did not move,
I turned on the half landing of the next flight of stairs, and
looked back, breaking in, by my sudden pause, upon his fit of
abstraction. It was McRueit, and on recognizing me, he immediately
beckoned me to his side.

“Does it strike you,” said he, “that there is anything peculiar
in that pair of shoes?”

“No—except that they certify to two very small feet on the
other side of the door.”

“Not merely `small,' my dear fellow! Do you see where the
pressure has been in those slender shoes, how straight the inside
line, how arched the instep, how confidingly flat the pressure downward
of the little great toe! It's a woman of sweet and relying character
who wore that shoe to-day, and I must know her. More, sir,
I must marry her! Ah, you laugh—but I will! There's a magnetism
in that pair of shoes addressed to me only. Beg your
pardon—good night—I'll go town stairs and find out her number
—`74!' I'll be well acquainted with `74' by this time to-morrow!”

For the unconscious young lady asleep in that room, I lay awake
half the night, troubled with foreboding pity. I knew the man
so well, I was so certain that he would leave nothing possible undone
to carry out this whimsical purpose. I knew that from that
moment was levelled, point-blank, at the lady, whoever she might
be (if single) a battery of devilish and pertinacious ingenuity,
which would carry most any small fort of a heart, most any way


Page 316
barricaded and defended. He was well off, he was well-looking
enough; he was deep and crafty. But if he did win her, she
was gone! gone, I knew, from happiness, like a stone from a
sling. He was a tyrant—subtle in his cruelties to all people dependent
on him—and her life would be one of refined torture,
neglect, betrayal and tears.

A fit of intermittent disgust for strangers, to which all persons
living in hotels are more or less liable, confined my travels, for
some days after this rencontre, to the silence-and-slop thoroughfare
of the back-stairs. “Coming to my feed” of society one
rainy morning, I went into the drawing-room after breakfast, and
was not surprised to see McRueit in a posture of absorbed attention
beside a lady. His stick stood on the floor, and with his left
cheek resting on the gold head, he was gazing into her face, and
evidently keeping her perfectly at her ease as to the wants and
gaps of conversation, as he knew how to do—for he was the readiest
man with his brick and mortar whom I ever had encountered.

“Who is that lady?” I asked of an omni-acquainted old bachelor
friend of mine.

“Miss Jonthee Twitt—and what can be the secret of that
rather exclusive gentleman's attention to her, I cannot fancy.”

I pulled a newspaper from my pocket, and seating myself in
one of the deep windows, commenced rather a compassionate
study of Miss Twitt—intending fully, if I should find her interesting,
to save her from the clutches of my detestable classmate.

She was a slight, hollow-chested, consumptive-looking girl, with
a cast of features that any casual observer would be certain to
describe as “interesting.” With the first two minutes' gaze
upon her, my sympathies were active enough for a crusade
against a whole army of connubial tyrants. I suddenly paused,


Page 317
however. Something McRueit said made a change in the lady's
countenance. She sat just as still; she did not move her head
from its negligent posture; her eyebrows did not contract; her
lips did not stir; but the dull, sickly-colored lids descended
calmly and fixedly till they hid from sight the upper edges of
the pupils! and by this slight but infallible sign I knew—but the
story will tell what I knew. Napoleon was nearly, but not quite
right, when he said that there was no reliance to be placed on
peculiarities of feature or expression.