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She had met him the previous summer on the Rhine, and now “if theyaren’t engaged they might as well be,” said her friends, “for he is her shadow wherever she goes.” There was something characteristically inaccurate about that statement, for Miss Allison was rather undersized in one way and oversized in another; at least that, too, is what her friends said. She was not more than five feet in height nor less than five feet in breadth “measured from tip to tip of her wings,” as her brother said. Miss Allison had wings, not because she was an angel, but because it was the fashion,—wings that sprouted at her fair, plump, shapely shoulders and billowed out like balloons. Her brother Cary, above referred to, a sixteen-year-old specimen of Young American impudence and independence, said further of her, in the spring of ‘94, that if Floy’s sleeves were only inflated with gas she could float on air as easily as she did on water, and on water Miss Allison was buoyancy personified. On water, too, and in her dainty bathing-dress, Miss Allison’s wings were discarded and her true proportions more accurately defined. She was anything but slender. She was simply deliciously, exquisitely rounded now; but the question which so disturbed her feminine friends as to call for perennial repetition was, What would she be a few years hence? This, however, was a matter that seemed to give the lady in question no uneasiness whatever. Certainly it resulted in no loss of flesh. Perhaps it might have been better for her future figure if it had. With her perfect health, digestion, and disposition, there was absolutely no way of worrying off a pound or two a week. She was the soul of good nature and content. She had an indulgent father, a luxurious home, abundant wealth, an unimpeachable complexion, character, and social position. She had a swarm of enviously devoted girl friends on the one hand and selfishly devoted male admirers on the other, or on both if she chose. She was absolutely without a mean or unkind thought of anybody. She was full of every generous impulse. She was lazy and energetic by turns, had been a romping idler in her earlier school-days, and had been polished off and finished in an expensive Eastern establishment without finishing anything herself. She had lived an almost unshadowed life, had laughed off a dozen lovers when she went abroad in ‘93, and had then fallen in with her fate across the water.
There was really no excuse for her falling in love with Mr. Floyd Forrest. An utter dissimilarity to her other admirers, a romantic and somewhat absurd adventure, and, above all, proximity, were what did it. He must have been over ten years her senior; she was barely twenty when they met. He was tall, slender, and strong, with deep burning brown eyes and heavy brows and lashes. She was short and plump and distractingly fair and fresh and blue-eyed,—big melting blue eyes, too, they were. His lips were well-nigh hidden by a heavy moustache; hers were well-nigh faultless in their sweet, warm, rosy curves, faultless as the white, even teeth that gleamed in her merry laughter. He was reserved and taciturn, even gloomy at times, facts which, through no fault or connivance of hers, were presently explained and only served to heighten the interest she had begun to feel in him. She was frankness, almost loquacity itself,—a girl who could no more keep a secret than she could harbor a grudge. He was studious, thoughtful, forever reading. She loved air, sunshine, action, travel, tennis, dancing, music (of the waltz variety), and, beyond her Bible and her Baedeker, read nothing at all, and not too much of them! She was with her aunt and some American friends when first she met him. It was the morning they hove in sight of England, and the steamer was pitching through a head sea. Her party were wretchedly ill; she was aggressively well. She had risen early and gone up to the promenade deck in hopes of getting the first glimpse of Bishop’s Rock, and found the spray dashing high over the bows, drenching her accustomed perch on the forward deck and keeping people within-doors.
It was too early for those who had been her beaux and gallants on the swift spring run; a late session in the smoking-room the night before had kept them below. Only one man was visible at the rail under the bridge,—the tall, dark, military-looking American who seemed to divide his time between reading and tramping on the promenade deck, pacing the planks with long, swinging stride and never seeming to care for other society than his own thoughts. He was on deck and keenly enjoying the strong, salt wind and its whistling load of spray; and, clinging to the stanchions at the saloon door, wistfully did Miss Allison regard him, but only as the means to an end. She wanted to get there, and did not see a way without a helping hand, and just here old Neptune seemed to tender it. A huge, foam-crested billow came sweeping straight from the invisible shores of Albion, burst in magnificent deluge upon the port bow, lifted high in air one instant the heaving black mass of the stem, then let it down with stomach-stirring swish deep into the hollow beyond,—deep, deep into the green mountain that followed, careening the laboring steamer far over to starboard, and shooting Miss Allison, as plump and pleasing a projectile as was ever catapulted, straight from the brass-bound door-way, across the slippery deck and into the stranger’s welcoming arms. Springing suddenly back from under the bridge to avoid the coming torrent, Mr. Forrest was spun along the rail until nearly opposite the companion-way, and just in the nick of time.
“I think I’d have gone overboard if it hadn’t been for you,” said Miss Allison, all smiles and salt water, as she clung to the rail a moment later, while Mr. Forrest’s steamer-cap, bumped off in the collision, rode helplessly astern on the crest of the hissing wave. “But I couldn’t swim like your cap. Do take my Tam,” she cried, tearing off her knitted head-gear and letting her soft, fair curls whip out into so many briny strings.
“I’ll use this,” he shouted, turning up the capote of his ulster, while the cape thrashed furiously in the wind. “Will you pardon my saying you are a trifle venturesome?”
“Oh, I love the ocean and the wind and the sea,” she cried, enthusiastically. “Don’t you pity people who are too ill or too lazy to get up and see this?” And she stretched forward one white, dimpled, dainty hand over the seething waters. “Dare we get over on the other side?”
“You couldn’t stand there,” he said, briefly, “and would be drenched if you could. Best stay here.” And stay they did until breakfast, by which time she had told him a great deal about herself and learned next to nothing about him.
“Remember,” she said, “you are to give me your address, and I’m to send you a new steamer-cap to replace the one I knocked overboard.” And he merely smiled, thanked her, said it was entirely unnecessary, but did not present the expected card at all. “Perhaps he hadn’t any,” suggested Aunt Lawrence, after they got into sheltered waters off the Start Point. “He doesn’t look like a society man. There are so many of these commercial people travelling now.”
“Oh, he didn’t talk at all like a drummer,” said Miss Allison in prompt defence of her new protector. “In fact, I don’t think he talked at all.”
“Not if you had first innings, Flo,” drawled Master Cary, from the shelter of his steamer-rug. “He ain’t a drummer, but like’s not he’s been one. He’s an army officer. Hubbard said so.” Hubbard was one of the belated admirers.
Whether soldier or not, however, Mr. Forrest did not prosecute the chance acquaintance. He lifted the successor to the shipwrecked cap on passing Miss Allison’s party later in the day, but never approached them nearer, never seemed to see the invitation in Miss Allison’s shining blue eyes. “Really, Cary,” said she, as they neared Southampton, “you must go and get his address and the size of the steamer-cap.” But Cary was the type of the traditional younger brother, a spoiled one at that, and Cary wouldn’t. It was Mr. Hubbard who went on the mission and came back with the man.
“Pray don’t think of getting me a cap,” said Mr. Forrest, bowing and smiling rather gravely. “I’d much rather you did not. Indeed, it wouldn’t find me, as I make no stay in England at all. I—I wish you a very pleasant sojourn,” he finished, somewhat abruptly, and with a comprehensive bow to the party backed away.
But just two months later they ran upon him on the Rhine. The express steamer had picked them up at Bonn and paddled them up the crowded stream to Coblentz, and there at the dock, chatting with two immensely swell Prussian officers, was Mr. Forrest.
“Here’s your drummer again, Flo,” said Cary, turning disdainfully from the contemplation of the battlements of Ehrenbreitstein. “Just catch on to the cut of those Dutch trousers, will you?” indicating by a nod of his sapient head the tight-fitting, creaseless garments in which were encased the martial lower limbs visible below the long, voluminous skirts of their double-breasted frock-coats. Flo gazed with frank animation in her eyes, but Forrest never saw her until after he had waved adieu to his German friends, standing in statuesque and superb precision at the salute beyond the foaming wake of the Deutscher Kaiser.
“I knew we’d see you again,” said Miss Allison, smiling sunshine up into his face, “and I’ve brought your cap. It’s in one of those trunks now,” she concluded, indicating the pile of luggage on the deck abaft the wheel. Hubbard and other admirers, who had besieged her on the steamer, were no longer in attendance. In their stead was a wellgroomed, sedate, prosperous-looking man referred to as “my father” when Mr. Forrest was presented a moment later, and with him, conversing eagerly and fluently in a high-pitched, querulous voice, was a younger man whose English was as pure as his accent was foreign. “Mr. Elmendorf,” said Miss Allison, but she did not explain, as perhaps she might have done, “Cary’s tutor.” Forrest bowed civilly to both, but looked hard at the latter, and Miss Allison presently went on to explain. “Father joined us nearly a week ago. He couldn’t come before. I wish I could have stayed to see the World’s Fair, but auntie was so miserable the doctor said she must get away from Chicago at once, and so we had to come. Then Cary’s a perfect hoodlum at home,—one scrape after another as fast as he can get in and father can get him out. They sent him with us,” she continued, in the flow of her boundless confidences.
“Herr Max is a very highly educated young man, but I don’t think he’s doing Cary any good.” That night at Mainz there was an episode. Mr. Allison senior, fatigued, had gone to bed as soon as they reached their hotel. Mrs. Lawrence,—”auntie,” that is,—Miss Allison, and their maid were billeted in very comfortable rooms under Herr Schnorr’s hospitable roof. Elmendorf stepped in to write letters, and Cary sneaked out for a smoke. It was after ten. The shops were closed. Cigarettes had been strictly forbidden, and the boy’s small stock of contraband had been discovered and seized that morning at Bonn. Herr Max wrote currente calamo, and as he turned off page after page he lost all thought of his charge. Among Cary’s treasured possessions was a calibre 32 Smith & Wesson, and with this pellet-propeller in his hippocket the boy fancied himself as dangerous as an anarchist. Twice had it been captured by paterfamilias and twice recovered, the last time at Cologne. Carrying concealed weapons was as much against the law in Cologne as it is in Chicago, and much more of an offence, but nothing had there occurred to impel him to draw it. The boatlanding was not five hundred yards away. There under the arching lights of its beautiful bridge, sparkling with the reflection of myriad stars, silently flowed the Rhine, and there lay the Deutscher Kaiser, with her well-stocked larder and wine-room. Thither went the boy in quest of forbidden fruit. A waiter to whom he had confided his desire had promised to have the cigarettes on hand, and kept his promise. For one small package he demanded a four-mark piece,—a silver coin of about the size and rather more than the value of the American dollar. Cary responded with “What you giving us?” which the Teutonic kellner couldn’t understand. The boy proffered a mark, the German equivalent for the American quarter, and sought vainly through the misty memories of his lessons for the German equivalent of “Size me up for a chump?” The waiter had friends and fellow-conspirators, the boy had none, and when a grab was made for his portemonnaie he backed against the stone wall and whipped out his pygmy six-shooter. Miss Allison, looking out from her casement over the moonlit beauty of the scene before her, had recognized her brother’s form and later his uplifted voice. She knew there was trouble, and felt that worse would follow unless prompt measures were taken. She was not dressed for promenade, being already in peignoir, slippers, and dishevelled hair; but the sudden sound of a shot and a scream banished her scruples. She darted into the corridor and on towards the head of the stairs just in time to collide once again with her Atlantic protector, but was not received with open arms. Forrest bade her run back to her room while he sped on to the boy. German police are slow, if sure, but the waiter’s associates were quick enough. They had scattered before the police could converge, and Forrest was first at the scene. Just as he supposed, the boy had peppered himself.
It was only a flesh-wound, something to scare and distress and confine Young America to his bed for ten days, and so to be bragged about prodigiously later on. But the injury to German institutions, the affront to the majesty of German law, was not so slight. It took some days of consular and diplomatic correspondence and a week of official espionage to satisfy the local authorities that no deep-rooted conspiracy was at the bottom of this discovery of murderous weapons in the hands of the Amerikaner. In the care of the patient and in all the formalities attendant upon the case, Mr. Forrest proved of infinitely more value than the accomplished tutor. The former, an officer reared with deep regard for established law and order, accepted the situation as a fact, the laws as incontrovertible, and considered himself and friends, although involuntarily, as the offenders. The German-American scholar, on the contrary, spent fruitless hours in striving to argue the officials out of their stand and in preaching a crusade against the laws they were sworn to obey. Forrest won their regard and Elmendorf their distrust, if not disgust, and from the moment Forrest reappeared bearing the limp and lamenting Cary in his arms, Miss Allison had chosen to look upon him as in some sense the family’s good angel. They were much together for a week about young Cary’s bedside, and the boy swore that if he had “a feller like him for a toot” he wouldn’t mind trying to obey. Then, when Forrest had to go his way, she found that she missed him as she never before had missed mortal man. It was the first shadow on her life since her mother’s death, five years before.
In September, most unexpectedly, they met him again at Geneva. Cary had been feeding the swans in the blue waters about the little isle of J.J. Rousseau, and was figuring how much he’d have to pay in costs and fines if he yielded to his consuming desire to “drop a donick” on the head of one of them that had spit at him, when Flo suddenly gasped, “Oh! there’s——” and stopped short. Loungers and passers-by looked up and shrugged their Gallic shoulders and exchanged glances of commiseration at sight of a sixteen-year-old boy rushing yelling after a cab. But the boy was fleet, despite his recent flesh-wound, and presently reappeared, dragging a man by the arm, who bared his brown head and bowed low over a frankly extended hand. He looked a trifle dusty and travel-stained to Cary’s critical eye, and the boy meant to comment on the foreign cut of his Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, provided a chance were afforded him to enter a remark edgewise, but Florence, with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes, was pouring forth a volume of welcome and explanation all in one. Forrest was on his way to the station en route to Montreux.“Oh, don’t go by rail! Wait and take the boat with us; it’s so much lovelier!”
Over at the quay lay moored the Major Davel, and thither Forrest bade the cabman take his luggage. It was indeed lovelier,—the evening voyage up that beautiful Alp-locked lake,—and while auntie, fatigued with her day’s shopping and sight-seeing, snoozed placidly in the salon, and Cary, on honor not to smoke cigarettes again until his next birthday, was puffing a Swiss “penny-grab” at the bow, Mr. Forrest and this fair, joyous girl sat and talked while the sun went down over the Jura and turned to purple and gold and crimson the dazzling summits of Mont Blanc and the far-away peaks up the valley of the Rhone. Elmendorf was enjoying a week’s leave, Mr. Allison was sampling the waters at Carlsbad, and auntie and Florence had Cary on their hands. The boy adored Forrest by this time. Couldn’t Forrest spend a day or two? They would take him to Chillon and up to the Rochers de Naye. There was a view worth seeing! “I can stand on that point up yonder,” said Cary, “a mile and a quarter high, and fire a stone down the chimney of the hotel at Territet.” And they did take him, for Forrest remained four days. Mr. Elmendorf wrote that, on the advice of his physician, he had asked for a week more to spend in quiet at his home in the shades of his alma mater in a placid old German town. Stopping at Berne a few hours after leaving his friends on Lac Leman, Mr. Forrest found the quaint old capital crowded. A congress of Socialists had been called, and from all over Europe the exponents of the Order were gathered, and almost the first voice to catch his ear as Forrest strolled through the throng in the open platz near the station was high-pitched, querulous, and oddly familiar. Turning sharply the officer came face to face with Mr. Elmendorf, still presumably recuperating in the shades of the university at Jena; and that night Mr. Elmendorf called upon him at his hotel.
“I found myself so much better,” said he, “that I decided to push ahead, and, still availing myself of my leave, to stop and see some of these most interesting old Helvetic cities. My coming here to-day was fortuitous, yet possibly unfortunate. Mr. Allison has a deeprooted prejudice against anything of this kind,—against anything, I may say, that has a tendency to improve the condition of the laboring man,—and, while I have nothing to shrink from in the matter, I prefer not to offend the sensibilities, whether right or wrong, of my employer, and therefore should, on his account, ask that you make no mention, should you write, of having seen me here.” And Elmendorf waited a moment.“I shall not be apt to write,” said Forrest, coldly, after a pause. “Well—in case you—you see any of the family again. If it’s all the same to you——”
“I shall not volunteer any information, Mr. Elmendorf; but should I ever be asked the direct question, since you have nothing to shrink from in the matter, there need be, I presume, no hesitancy in my saying that I saw you here.”
“Oh, not at all,—not at all,” was the answer, though in tone by no means cheery or confident; and Elmendorf departed with the conviction that Forrest did not like him,—which was simply a case of reciprocity. There was yet another meeting, as unexpected as its predecessors, between the Allisons and Mr. Forrest, and this was of all perhaps the most decisive. Forrest’s leave was soon to expire. He was returning from Vienna to Paris, and met Allison senior at Basle. The Bohemian waters, or the rest and regimen, or both combined, had greatly benefited the merchant. His manner was brisk and buoyant, his face shone with health and content. He was cordiality itself to the man whom he had greeted with but cool civility on the Rhine. “I feel ready for anything,” said he, “and am going back at once. Cary and Elmendorf go with me, but Flo and her aunt want to stay awhile in Paris. Look them up, will you, if you go there?—Hôtel Lafond.” Forrest promised. He was going to Metz and Luxembourg on the way, and purposed spending only a few days in the capital. He found the ladies packing and almost ready to start. Once again he crossed the Atlantic in Miss Allison’s company, and this time, though there might have been Hubbards and other gallants aboard, she had no use for them. It was Mr. Forrest’s figure her eye sought the moment she came on deck, Forrest’s arm on which she leaned in the joyous, exhilarating tramps on the breezy promenade. Every woman on board except Aunt Lawrence believed her engaged to him before they were half-way over, and would have sworn to it at Sandy Hook. Anything more blissful, gladsome, confident than her manner at first could hardly be described, but when it presently began to give way to something half shy, half appealing, almost tender,—when long silences and down-drooping lashes replaced the ceaseless prattle and frankly uplifted eyes,—then there was little room for doubt in Aunt Lawrence’s mind that Flo had flung herself away.
“Well, I wash my hands of it,” said the pious lady. “It was Fate and her father. He deliberately threw them together again after my warning. Now I suppose he’ll have to do something for him, for if Flo loves the man she’ll marry him if he hasn’t a penny beyond his pay,—which he probably hasn’t. There ought to be a law against such things.”
But never a confession or confidence did Flo have to offer. The ladies spent a week in New York before going West. Mr. Forrest went on about his business. It was when he met them at Chicago and calmly escorted them from their state-room on the Limited to their waiting carriage that Aunt Lawrence felt the time had come for her to speak; and speak she did the moment Mr. Forrest had closed the carriage door, raised his hat, and was left behind.“Has that young man asked you to marry him, Florence?” And Florence burst into tears.
From having been a bitter opponent of the possibility, Mrs. Lawrence from this moment veered squarely around. A month agone she would have resented his daring to speak of such a thing. Now she raged at his daring not to. Here they were home again at Chicago with all Florence’s friends crowding about and rejoicing in her return, and here, said Aunt Lawrence, was this extraordinary young man detained on some mysterious duty on the staff of the general commanding, working in his office at the Pullman building by day and meeting Flo at dinners, dances, theatres, and operas by night, coming occasionally to the house, welcomed by her brother, the millionaire, with whom the young man often sat now and had long talks about the questions of the hour, welcomed shyly but unmistakably by Florence, adored by Cary, who took to paying long visits to the lieutenant’s workshop and meeting those swells his brother officers, and looked upon with distrust only by Elmendorf and herself. Never before had the lady fancied the tutor or shown a disposition to listen to his dissertations, which were long. Now she rejoiced his soul by encouraging him. It was an easy step to discreet confidences with Forrest as the subject. Mr. Elmendorf became a seeker for truth. Other officers whom Florence met in society came to the house to call, and presently to dine. Mr. Elmendorf and his pupil were seldom absent from the table, and Mr. Elmendorf made martial acquaintances which, as a member of the Allison household, he was welcome to cultivate. One day he came in big with news, and that evening, after a long conference with Elmendorf, Mrs. Lawrence decided on another warning talk with her charming niece. “Florence,” she said, finally, “I am the last woman on earth to pry into any one else’s affairs” (a conviction with regard to herself which is cherished by almost every woman), “but I have felt it my duty to learn something about Mr. Forrest’s past life. I own I did object to him as a possible suitor, but better that than a man insincere in his intentions. What would you say were I to tell you what I have heard recently?”
Miss Allison turned and faced her aunt unflinchingly, “That he was engaged to Miss Hosmer,—now Mrs. Stuyvesant,—that she broke it off, and that he has never cared for any one since? I know all about it, auntie,—mainly from his own lips.”“Then all I’ve got to say is, you are the most extraordinary persons I ever met,— both of you.” CHAPTER II.
There are many excellent people in this bright world who, like Mrs. Lawrence, are prone to assert that all they’ve got to say on a given subject is so and so, and then to stultify themselves by proceeding to talk a whole torrent. Mrs. Lawrence said a great deal in the course of this initial interview, and followed it up with a very great deal more. She considered Mr. Forrest’s conduct worse than incomprehensible. What business had he to tell a girl his heart was buried in the past and pay her all lover-like attentions in the present? “He hasn’t,” said Miss Allison, promptly and flatly. “He has simply been kind and friendly. He would have been discourteous, un-American, had he done anything less.” It wasn’t he who told her he never had cared or would care for any one after Miss Hosmer; Kate Lenox told her that, and so did other girls here. When, then, did Mr. Forrest inform her of his broken engagement? asked Aunt Lawrence. “On the steamer coming home,” said Florence. “He couldn’t help himself. I met Mrs. Stuyvesant in Washington last winter,—such a lovely woman,—and some one said she was once engaged to an army officer and it was broken off; she found she didn’t love him enough to leave her luxurious home to live on the frontier among Indians. I don’t know how her name came up, or what prompted me to talk as I did. I was saying that I thought her cruel, heartless, and that she should have considered all that before ever she engaged herself to him; and then he simply put up his hand, saying, ‘Do not speak of it, Miss Allison: I was the man.’ It fairly took my breath away,” said Florence,—which her aunt could hardly believe,—”and I didn’t know what to say; and then he went on quietly to speak of her in the most beautiful way, and assured me there were other and graver reasons which led to her decision, some of which, at least, he could not gainsay, and Mr. Stuyvesant’s wealth and social position had very little to do with the fact of her finally marrying him, as she did, and not until several years after the engagement was broken.”
Indeed, Miss Allison waxed tearfully eloquent in defence of Mr. Forrest, whom she declared high-minded and honorable and manly. He wasn’t in love with her, nor she with him,—not a bit; but she honored him and respected him and liked him better than any man she knew, and papa thought him such a superior man, and Cary was devoted to him, and he had been of infinite service to them abroad, and was welcome now and should be welcome any time—any time—to their doors, and if Aunt Lawrence or anybody spoke ill of him to her she’d defend him to the bitter end, and as for hinting or insinuating that he was trifling with her, it was simply outrageous— outrageous, and if Aunt Lawrence dared to let him suppose it was his duty to propose to her now she’d never forgive her,—never. And so Aunt Lawrence discovered that her blithe, merry, joyous niece of the years gone by had developed a fine temper of her own and a capacity for independent thought and action that was simply appalling.
Florence went dancing down into the parlor with flushed cheeks and briny, indignant eyes and the mien of an offended five-foot goddess, leaving Aunt Lawrence to the contemplation of the field of her disastrous defeat and the card of the unworthy object of their discussion:Mr. Benton Floyd Forrest, —th Regiment of Infantry, U.S.A.
“What on earth brings him here at this time of day?” quoth she, irate and ruffled. “For a man who is neither lover nor fiancé, he assumes the airs and, for aught I know, the rights of both. The girl is as illbalanced as her mother.” And not all women, it must be owned, think too well of an only brother’s wife. “The manners of these army men are simply uncouth. Who ever heard of calls at ten A.M.?”
It was but a few minutes before Miss Allison returned. In fact, she did not return to the scene of the late struggle,—a lovely boudoir overlooking the flashing blue waters of the lake from high over the intervening boulevard. Miss Allison went direct to her own rooms on the opposite side of the broad hall-way, and not until evening was Mrs. Lawrence favored with explanation.“Why are you not dressed?” she somewhat caustically inquired, as her niece came down arrayed for dinner.
For answer Miss Allison contemplated her pretty white arms, and took a backward and downward glance at the fall of the trailing skirt of heavy silk, then—must it be recorded?—she calmly asked, “What’s the matter with this?”
“This,” said Aunt Lawrence, with marked emphasis, “may do for home dinners, but won’t for an opera-party. Here it is seven. You can’t change your dress before eight, and you simply can’t go to the Langdons’ box in that.”“I’m not going to the Langdons’ box.” “You were, and Mr. Forrest was to dine here and take you.” “Mr. Forrest left for the West on sudden orders at noon, and came at ten to tell me.”
Mrs. Lawrence’s hands and eyes went up in mad dismay. “You don’t mean to tell me you’ve given up going because that man’s ordered off? Child, child, you are simply bent on ruining yourself socially. I don’t wonder people say you’re daft about him.” “Who says I’m daft about him?” queried Miss Allison, flushing instantly, but looking dangerous.
“Well, not just that, perhaps,” returned Mrs. Lawrence. “But that’s what they will say now. Surely Mrs. Langdon could ask somebody in his place who could have escorted you,—or else I could.”
“Mrs. Langdon did invite somebody else,—two somebody elses, in fact, as my letter urged her to do. Fanny Tracy was wild to go, and Captain Farwell wild to take her. I did a charitable thing in suggesting them.”
“Then the result of that piece of charity will be that all Chicago will say you are so much in love with that man you couldn’t go ‘Faust’ when he went away.”
“Chicago has too many other things to think of, and—— Where’s papa?” said Miss Allison, turning abruptly from her aunt and moving with quick, impetuous step towards the heavy portière that hung between the parlor and Mr. Allison’s library. But she stopped short at the threshold, for there, just within the rich folds of the hanging barrier, apparently searching for some particular book among the shelves nearest the parlor and farthest from the library lights, and humming musically to himself as he did so, was Cary’s tutor.“I did not know you were here, Mr. Elmendorf,” said Miss Allison, coldly. “I supposed you were in the study with my brother.” “I was until a moment ago. We needed a book, and I came down for it.”
Mr. Allison’s easy-chair and reading-lamp with the evening papers were all arranged as usual, awaiting, at the other end of the room, the coming of the master of the house. It was his custom to read there some hours each evening, and the library was the one room in which he reigned supreme. His books, papers, desks, and tables were sacred to his use, and might not at any time be disturbed by other hands. Even Mrs. Lawrence, who had her own books in her own little snuggery up-stairs, rarely ventured to touch her brother’s library shelves. As for Florence, she never cared to. It was well known that Mr. Elmendorf had more than once been sharply rebuked for having helped himself without first seeking the owner’s permission. Yet here he was again. The odd thing about it was that this end of the library was dark. The books on these shelves were huge folios, the size of some Brobdingnagian atlas, any one of which required all Mr. Elmendorf’s strength to lift from its place. Miss Allison was not over-shrewd. She was frankness, guilelessness itself. She rarely saw through the meanness of man or the duplicity of woman. This, however, was not the first, but the second or third time that Mr. Elmendorf had been revealed behind those curtains when she was in conversation in the parlor, and it dawned upon her at last that Cary’s tutor was as good a listener as talker, and there were times when Mr. Elmendorf was fluency itself. He was a shrewd fellow, too, and he read his sentence in her face.
“Miss Allison,” said he, quitting his search and stepping boldly forward, “it would be idle in me to disguise, that I have unwittingly heard a portion of the conversation between your aunt and yourself; and, as your brother’s friend and tutor, your father’s trusted adviser in many a way, both professional and personal,—indeed, if I may say so without offence, as one who would gladly be your friend,—I feel bound to support Mrs. Lawrence in the view she takes of this— pardon me—unfortunate matter.”“Mr. Elmendorf!” interrupted Miss Allison, with eyes and cheeks aflame.
“Bear with me one moment,” persisted Mr. Elmendorf, with deprecatory gesture. “I am aware that I have not possessed your friendship in the past; indeed, I may say I have been conscious of a distinctly hostile influence; but my devotion to your father and your brother and the interests of the family and all that may affect its good name make it mandatory upon me to speak. I appeal to Mrs. Lawrence to support me in my assertion that I am prompted only by the worthiest motives in thus apparently intrusively, officiously if you will, claiming your attention.” Mrs. Lawrence bowed grave assent. She had many a time expressed her disapprobation of Mr. Elmendorf’s propensity to interfere in domestic matters wherein he had no concern, but here was a case where unlooked-for support was accorded her side of an unfinished argument. Mrs. Lawrence considered all comment of Mr. Elmendorf on her affairs as utterly unwarrantable, but poor Flo really laid herself open to criticism.
It was Miss Allison who brought matters to a climax. “I refuse to listen,” said she, with something very like a stamp of her plump little foot. “Mr. Elmendorf forgets himself entirely when he attempts to— to criticise my conduct.”
“Pardon me, Miss Allison, it is not your conduct, it is, on the contrary, Mr. Forrest’s, that I consider deserving criticism,—more than criticism. It is of him, not of yourself, that I feel it my duty to speak. I should be disloyal to my employer, to my friends, to my own sense of honor and propriety, were I to keep silence. I know whereof I speak when I say that he is unfit to step within these doors, to presume to address you even as an acquaintance; and if you will but listen——”
“But I won’t listen. I forbid your ever daring to speak to me in any such way or on any such subject again.” And, so saying, Miss Allison swept angrily from the room.
Elmendorf shrugged his shoulders. “You see,” he said, in the highpitched, querulous tone that so closely resembled a whine, “you see the hopelessness of arguing with a woman in love. I have only succeeded in making another enemy, and my position here will become all the more embarrassing.”
“In so far as I can uphold you, Mr. Elmendorf,” said Mrs. Lawrence, promptly, “you may count upon me. Flo is stubborn and hotheaded. She looks upon Mr. Forrest as a hero, whereas he is really a detriment to her social future. I rejoice in his being ordered West, and hope the duty will keep him a long time away from Chicago.” “Ah! did he say he was ordered away on any special duty?” asked Mr. Elmendorf.“I certainly so understood Florence.”
Mr. Elmendorf elevated his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders anew. “That is very unlike the story that was told me at headquarters,” said he, significantly.“What was that?” asked Mrs. Lawrence, with prompt and pardonable curiosity. “That he was ordered away—under a cloud—in order to put an end to probable scandal.”