Mr. Incoul's Misadventureскачать книгу бесплатно
When Miss Barhyte was one year younger she had gone with her mother to pass the summer at Mt. Desert; and there, the morning of her arrival, on the monster angle of Rodick’s porch, Lenox Leigh had caused himself to be presented.
A week later Miss Barhyte and her new acquaintance were as much gossiped about as was possible in that once unconventional resort.
Lenox Leigh was by birth a Baltimorean, and by profession a gentleman of leisure, yet as the exercise of that profession is considered less profitable in Baltimore than in New York, he had, for some time past, been domiciled in the latter city. From the onset he was well received; one of the Amsterdams had married a Leigh, his only sister had charmed the heart of Nicholas Manhattan, and being in this wise connected with two of the reigning families, he found the doors open as a matter of course. But even in the absence of potent relatives, there was no reason why he should not have been cordially welcomed. He was, it is true, better read than nineteen men out of twenty; when he went to the opera he preferred listening to the music to wandering from box to box; he declined to figure in cotillons and at no dinner, at no supper had he been known to drink anything stronger than claret and water.
But as an offset to these defects he was one of the most admirably disorganized young men that ever trod Fifth avenue. He was without beliefs and without prejudices; added to this he was indulgent to the failings of others, or perhaps it would be better to say that he was indifferent. It may be that the worst thing about him was that he was not bad enough; his wickedness, such as there was of it, was purely negative. A poet of the decadence of that period in fact when Rome had begun to weary of debauchery without yet acquiring a taste for virtue, a pre-medi?val Epicurean, let us say, could not have pushed a creedless refinement to a greater height than he. There were men who thought him a prig, and who said so when his back was turned.
It was in the company of this patrician of a later day that Miss Barhyte participated in the enjoyments of Mt. Desert. Leigh was then in his twenty-fifth year, and Miss Barhyte was just grazing the twenties. He was attractive in appearance, possessed of those features which now and then permit a man to do without beard or moustache, and his hair, which was black, clung so closely to his head that at a distance it might have been taken for the casque of a Saracen. To Miss Barhyte, as already noted, a full share of beauty had been allotted. Together they formed one of the most charming couples that it has ever been the historian’s privilege to admire. And being a charming couple, and constantly together, they excited much interest in the minds of certain ladies who hailed from recondite Massachusettsian regions.
To this interest they were indifferent. At first, during the early evenings when the stars were put out by the Northern Lights, they rowed to the outermost shore of a neighboring island and lingered there for hours in an enchanted silence.
Later, in the midsummer nights, when the harvest-moon was round and mellow, they wandered through the open fields back into the Dantesque forests and strayed in the clinging shadows and inviting solitudes of the pines.
From one such excursion they returned to the hotel at an hour which startled the night porter, who, in that capricious resort, should have lost his ability to be startled at anything.
That afternoon Mrs. Bunker Hill – one of the ladies to whom allusion has been made – approached Miss Barhyte on the porch. “And are you to be here much longer?” she asked, after a moment or two of desultory conversation.
“The holidays are almost over,” the girl answered, with her radiant smile.
“Holidays do you call them? Holidays did I understand you to say? I should have called them fast days.” And, with that elaborate witticism, Mrs. Bunker Hill shook out her skirts and sailed away.
Meanwhile an enveloping intimacy had sprung up between the two young people. Their conversation need not be chronicled. There was in it nothing unusual and nothing particularly brilliant; it was but a strain from that archaic duo in which we have all taken part and which at each repetition seems an original theme.
For the first time Miss Barhyte learned the intoxication of love. She gave her heart ungrudgingly, without calculation, without forethought, wholly, as a heart should be given and freely as had the gift been consecrated in the nave of a cathedral. If she were generous why should she be blamed? In the giving she found that mite of happiness, that one unclouded day that is fair as June roses and dawns but once.
In September Miss Barhyte went with her mother on a visit in the Berkshire Hills. Leigh journeyed South. A matter of business claimed his attention in Baltimore, and when, early in November, he reached New York the girl had already returned.
Since the death of Barhyte p?re she had lived with her mother in a small house in Irving Place, which they rented, furnished, by the year. But on this particular autumn affairs had gone so badly, some stock had depreciated, some railroad had been mismanaged, or some trustee had speculated – something, in fact, had happened of which no one save those personally interested ever know or ever care, and, as a result, the house in Irving Place was given up, and the mother and daughter moved into a boarding-house.
Of all this Lenox Leigh was made duly aware. Had he been able, and could such a thing have been proper and conventional, he would have been glad indeed to offer assistance; he was not selfish, but then he was not rich, a condition which always makes unselfishness easy. Matrimony was out of the question; his income was large enough to permit him to live without running into debt, but beyond that its flexibility did not extend, and in money matters, and in money matters alone, Lenox Leigh was the most scrupulous of men. Beside, as the phrase goes, he was not a marrying man – marriage, he was accustomed to assert, means one woman more and one man less, and beyond that definition he steadfastly declined to look, except to announce that, like some other institutions, matrimony was going out of fashion.
That winter Miss Barhyte was more circumspect. It was not that her affection had faltered, but in the monochromes of a great city the primal glamour that was born of the fields and of the sea lost its lustre. Then, too, Lenox in the correctness of evening dress was not the same adorer who had lounged in flannels at her side, and the change from the open country to the boarding-house parlor affected their spirits unconsciously.
And so the months wore away. There were dinners and routs which the young people attended in common, there were long walks on avenues unfrequented by fashion, and there were evenings prearranged which they passed together and during which the girl’s mother sat up stairs and thought her own thoughts.
Mrs. Barhyte had been a pretty woman and inconsequential, as pretty woman are apt to be. Her girlhood had been of the happiest, without a noteworthy grief. She married one whose perfection had seemed to her impeccable, and then suddenly without a monition the tide of disaster set in. After the birth of a second child, Maida, her husband began to drink, and drank, after each debauch with a face paler than before, until disgrace came and with it a plunge into the North River. Her elder child, a son, on whom she placed her remaining hopes, had barely skirted manhood before he was taken from her to die of small-pox in a hospital. Then came a depreciation in the securities which she held and in its train the small miseries of the shabby genteel. Finally, the few annual thousands that were left to her seemed to evaporate, and as she sat in her room alone her thoughts were bitter. The pretty inconsequential girl had developed into a woman, hardened yet unresigned. At forty-five her hair was white, her face was colorless as her widow’s cap, her heart was dead.
On the night when her daughter, under the chaperonage of Mrs. Hildred, one of her few surviving relatives – returned from the reception, she was still sitting up. At Mrs. Hildred’s suggestion a position, to which allusion has been made, had been offered to her daughter, and that position – the bringing up or rather the bringing out of a child of the West – she determined that her daughter should accept. Afterwards – well, perhaps for Maida there were other things in store, as for herself she expected little. She would betake herself to some Connecticut village and there wait for death.
When her daughter entered the room she was sitting in the erect impassibility of a statue. Her eyes indeed were restless, but her face was dumb, and in the presence of that silent desolation, the girl’s tender heart was touched.
“Mother!” she exclaimed, “why did you wait up for me?” And she found a seat on the sofa near her mother and took her hand caressingly in her own. “Why are you up so late,” she continued, “are you not tired? Oh, mother,” the girl cried, impetuously, “if you only knew what happened to-night – what do you suppose?”
But Mrs. Barhyte shook her head, she had no thoughts left for suppositions. And quickly, for the mere sake of telling something that would arouse her mother if ever so little from her apathy, Maida related Mr. Incoul’s offer. Her success was greater, if other, than she anticipated. It was as though she had poured into a parching throat the very waters of life. It was the post tenebras, lux. And what a light! The incandescence of unexpected hope. A cataract of gold pieces could not have been more dazzling; it was blinding after the shadows in which she had groped. The color came to her cheeks, her hand grew moist. “Yes, yes,” she cried, urging the girl’s narrative with a motion of the head like to that of a jockey speeding to the post; “yes, yes,” she repeated, and her restless eyes flamed with the heat of fever.
“Wasn’t it odd?” Maida concluded abruptly.
“But you accepted him?” the mother asked hoarsely, almost fiercely.
“Accepted him? No, of course not – he – why, mother, what is the matter?”
Engrossed in the telling of her story, the girl had not noticed her mother’s agitation, but at her last words, at the answer to the question, her wrist had been caught as in a vise, and eyes that she no longer recognized – eyes dilated with anger, desperation and revulsion of feeling – were staring into her own. Instinctively she drew back – “Oh, mother, what is it?” And the mother bending forward, even as the daughter retreated, hissed, “You shall accept him – I say you shall!”
“Mother, mother,” the girl moaned, helplessly.
“You shall accept him, do you hear me?”
“But, mother, how can I?” The tears were rolling down her cheeks, she was frightened – the acute, agonizing fright of a child pursued. She tried to free herself, but the hands on her wrist only tightened, and her mother’s face, livid now, was close to her own.
“You shall accept him,” she repeated with the insistence of a monomaniac. And the girl, with bended head, through the paroxysms of her sobs, could only murmur in piteous, beseeching tones, “Mother! mother!”
But to the plaint the woman was as deaf as her heart was dumb. She indeed loosened her hold and the girl fell back on the lounge from which they had both arisen, but it was only to summon from the reservoirs of her being some new strength wherewith to vanquish. For a moment she stood motionless, watching the girl quiver in her emotion, and as the sobbing subsided, she stretched forth her hand again, and caught her by the shoulder.
“Look up at me,” she said, and the girl, obedient, rose from her seat and gazed imploringly in her mother’s face. No Neapolitan fish-wife was ever more eager to barter her daughter than was this lady of acknowledged piety and refinement, and the face into which her daughter looked and shrank from bore no trace of pity or compassion. “Tell me if you dare,” she continued, “tell me why it is that you refuse? What more do you want? Are you a princess of the blood? Perhaps you will say you don’t love him! And what if you don’t? I loved your father and look at me now! Beside, you have had enough of that – there, don’t stare at me in that way. I know, and so do you. Now take your choice – accept this offer or get to your lover – and this very night. As for me, I disown you, I – ”
But the flood of words was interrupted – the girl had fainted. The simulachre of death had extended its kindly arms, and into them she had fallen as into a grateful release.
By the morrow her spirit was broken. Two days later Mr. Incoul called with what success the reader has been already informed, and on that same evening in obedience to the note, came Lenox Leigh.
AN EVENING CALL
When Leigh entered the drawing-room he found Miss Barhyte already there. “It is good of you to come,” she said, by way of greeting.
The young man advanced to where she stood, and in a tender, proprietary manner, took her hand in his; he would have kissed her, but she turned her face aside.
“What is it?” he asked; “you are pale as Ophelia.”
“And you, my prince, as inquisitive as Hamlet.”
She led him to a seat and found one for herself. Her eyes rested in his own, and for a moment both were silent.
“Lenox,” she asked at last, “do you know Mr. Incoul?”
“Yes, of course; every one does.”
“I mean do you know him well?”
“I never said ten words to him, nor he to me.”
“So much the better. What do you suppose he did the other evening after you went away?”
“Really, I have no idea, but if you wish me to draw on my imagination, I suppose he went away too.”
“He offered himself.”
“Maida, that mummy! You are joking.”
“No, I am not joking, nor was he.”
“Well, what then?”
“Then, as you say, he went away.”
“And what did you do?”
“I went away too.”
“Be serious; tell me about it.”
“He came here this afternoon, and I – well – I am to be Mrs. Incoul.”
Lenox bit his lip. Into his face there came an expression of angered resentment. He stood up from his seat; the girl put out her hand as though to stay him: “Lenox, I had to,” she cried. But he paid no attention to her words and crossed the room.
On the mantel before him was a clock that ticked with a low, dolent moan, and for some time he stood looking at it as were it an object of peculiar interest which he had never before enjoyed the leisure to examine. But the clock might have swooned from internal pain, he neither saw nor heard it; his thoughts circled through episodes of the winter back to the forest and the fringes of the summer sea. And slowly the anger gave way to wonder, and presently the wonder faded and in its place there came a sentiment like that of sorrow, a doubled sorrow in whose component parts there was both pity and distress.
It is said that the rich are without appreciation of their wealth until it is lost or endangered, and it was not until that evening that Lenox Leigh appreciated at its worth the loveliness that was slipping from him. He knew then that he might tread the highroads and faubourgs of two worlds with the insistence of the Wandering Jew, and yet find no one so delicious as she. And in the first flood of his anger he felt as were he being robbed, as though the one thing that had lifted him out of the brutal commonplaces of the every day was being caught up and carried beyond the limits of vision. And into this resentment there came the suspicion that he was not alone being robbed, that he was being cheated to boot, that the love which he had thought to receive as he had seemed to give love before, was an illusory representation, a phantom constructed of phrases.
But this suspicion faded; he knew untold that the girl’s whole heart was his, had been his, was yet his and probably would be his for all of time, till the grave opened and closed again. And then the wonder came. He knew, none better, the purity of her heart, and knowing, too, her gentleness, the sweetness of her nature, her abnegation of self, he began to understand that some tragedy had been enacted which he had not been called upon to witness. Of her circumstances he had been necessarily informed. But in the sensitiveness of her refinement the girl had shrunk from unveiling to a lover’s eyes the increasing miseries of her position, and of the poignancy of those miseries he had now, uninformed, an inkling. If she sold herself, surely it was because the sale was imperative. The white impassible face of the girl’s mother rose before him and then, at once, he understood her cry, “Lenox, I had to.”
As he moved from her, Maida had seen the anger, and knowing the anger to be as just as justice ever is, she shook her head in helpless grief, yet her eyes were tearless as had she no tears left to shed. She had seen the anger, but ignorant of the phases of thought by which it had been transfigured she stole up to where he stood and touched his arm with a shrinking caress.
He turned and would have caught her to him, but she drew back, elusively, as might a swan. “No, not that, Lenox. Only say that you do not hate me. Lenox, if you only knew. To me it is bitterer than death. You are the whole world to me, yet never must I see you again. If I could but tell you all. If I could but tell him all, if there were anything that I could do or say, but there is nothing, nothing,” she added pensively, “except submission.”
Her voice had sunk into a whisper: she was pleading as much with herself as with him. Her arms were pendant and her eyes downcast. On the mantel the clock kept up its low, dolorous moan, as though in sympathy with her woe. “Nothing,” she repeated.
“But surely it need not be. Things cannot be so bad as that – Maida, I cannot lose you. If nothing else can be done, let us go away; at its best New York is tiresome; we could both leave it without a regret or a wish to return. And then, there is Italy; we have but to choose. Why, I could take a palace on the Grand Canal for less than I pay for my rooms at the Cumberland. And you would love Venice; and in winter there is Capri and Sorrento and Palermo. I have known days in Palermo when I seemed to be living in a haze of turquoise and gold. And the nights! You should see the nights! The stars are large as lilies! See, it would be so easy; in a fortnight we could be in Genoa, and before we got there we would have been forgotten.”
He was bending forward speaking rapidly, persuasively, half hoping, half fearing, she would accept. She did not interrupt him, and he continued impetuously, as though intoxicated on his own words.
“When we are tired of the South, there are the lakes and that lovely Tyrol; there will be so much to do, so much to see. After New York, we shall really seem to live; and then, beyond, is Munich – you are sure to love that city.” He hated Munich; he hated Germany. The entire land, and everything that was in it, was odious to him; but for the moment he forgot. He would have said more, even to praises of Berlin, but the girl raised her ringless hand and shook her head wearily.
“No, Lenox, it may not be. Did I go with you, in a year – six months, perhaps – we would both regret. It would be not only expatriation; it would, for me at least, be isolation as well, and, though I would bear willingly with both, you would not. You think so now, perhaps, I do not doubt” – and a phantom of a smile crossed her face – “and I thank you for so thinking, but it may not be.”
Her hand fell to her side, and she turned listlessly away. “You must forget me, Lenox – but not too soon, will you?”
“Never, sweetheart – never!”
“Ah, but you must. And I must learn to forget you. It will be difficult. No one can be to me what you have been. You have been my youth, Lenox; my girlhood has been yours. I have nothing left. Nothing except regrets – regrets that youth should pass so quickly and that girlhood comes but once.”
Her lips were tremulous, but she was trying to be brave.
“But surely, Maida, it cannot be that we are to part forever. Afterwards – ” the word was vague, but they both understood – “afterwards I may see you. Such things often are. Because you feel yourself compelled to this step, there is no reason why I, of all others, should be shut out of your life.”
“It is the fact of your being the one of all others that makes the shutting needful.”
“It shall not be.”
“Lenox,” she pleaded, “it is harder for me than for you.”
“But how can you ask me, how can you think that I will give you up? The affair is wretched enough as it is, and now, by insisting that I am not to see you again, you would make it even worse. People think it easy to love, but it is not; I know nothing more difficult. You are the only one for whom I have ever cared. It was not difficult to do so, I admit, but the fact remains. I have loved you, I have loved you more and more every day, and now, when I love you most, when I love you as I can never love again, you find it the easiest matter in the world to come to me and say, ‘It’s ended; bon jour.’”скачать книгу бесплатно
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