Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

smoker be an awkward person, it furnishes employment for his hands; if there is any embarrassment in the interview, it covers it. Could the thing have been, barring the impoliteness of it, and could Frank have had Miss Elton at his side while he smoked his cigar, he would have dared and known his fate long ago.

Some consciousness of this peculiarity of the cigar appeared to pass through the mind of Harry. Perhaps he did not fully know himself why he smoked on the present occasion, and contrary to his advice and habit. He turned his cigar over several times in his mouth, as if trying to get the smoke out of it, although there was no occasion for such endeavours, it being a perfectly good one.

He then puffed away rapidly, almost as much so as Frank had done, with a nervous uneasiness, and scarcely had the ashes begun to appear,

when he knocked them off with a smart blow of his little finger.

At length he said, after emitting one or two clouds, not with the measured self-enjoyment of a smoker who feels the charm of what he is doing, but with an abrupt air, “ Frank! what's all this fun about you and Fanny Elton ?"

Nothing,” said Frank, “ but Mary's nonsense.” “Do you tell me, on your honour, that you have no attachment for her ?"

"On my honour ? Who said anything about honour ?" “ I ask you in earnest.”

Then, in earnest,” said Frank, with another blush, such as is sometimes seen in a lieutenant, but is rarely known to exist in any higher rank, “yes, I do love her.”

“ And you mean to marry her ?” "Certainly-if she'll have me." “ Does she love you ?" “Ah! my dear fellow, that's cutting rather close !" 6. No matter : answer me." “I think-I hope she does.” “ Hás she said so ?” “No, not exactly said so." “ Have you ever spoken to her on the subject ?" “ Never.” “Have you good reasons for your hopes ?" “ Yes-no-certainly." Harry paused, but went on smoking at rather a rapid rate. “Very well; that's enough. I thought it but fair to ask

66

you this. The whole family seemed to think so, and you ought not to deceive them or the young lady herself. I congratulate you, my dear fellow. She's a noble girl, and I hope you may win her well and wear her long."

Where are you going ?" asked Frank.
“ I've business in the office."

Stop one moment. I have answered all your ques. tions, Harry, have I not ?" “ Certainly."

Well, now then, if you please, you must answer one of mine.”

• What do you mean ?”

“Confidence, Harry, begets confidence, and no one puts such broad questions as you have asked me, without laying himself open to be cross-examined in his turn." “ Well, there is truth in that,” said Harry.

6 I have no objection to answer you anything, I'm sure, but you

would nevertheless oblige me greatly by not asking."

“ That is a favour I can't grant. You must tell me, now, do you

love Miss Elton ?" "No. I cannot love a woman who loves another." Have you ever loved her ?” There was a pause. “ Yes. I once fancied so."

“ And have you had reason to suppose she loved you ?" continued Frank; and the blush had now given place to a very unmilitary white.

Never; on the contrary-a year ago, for a short time, I nourished a sort of foolish idea, but it has entirely vanished of itself, and I have always found her cold and shy."

you think she knows you loved her ?” “ No, I don't think she has the remotest idea of it. On the contrary, she thinks I despise her, and so,” he added, bitterly, "I almost do."

“ Despise Fanny Elton? And why?" “ I think her capricious-a coquette."

“ There is only one excuse for such a sentiment,” said Frank.

" And what is that?"

“Love! disappointed, perhaps, or imagining itself disappointed, imbittering your criticism, and blinding your judgment. I see how it is. You too love her.” “No, by Heaven, no. If she were kneeling at my feet,

B?

[ocr errors]

I would not marry her. I avoid her presence,

and shut my heart against her beauty. If she marry you and make you a good wife, that may reconcile me to respect her in time : nothing else can.”

“ Softly, my good Harry. What cause have you to hate and despise her, unless a cause growing out, not only of love, but of an idea that you had made some progress in her affection. No, it is clear to me you love her, and doubtless she loves you. I am glad you have disclosed this to me before I made a fool of myself by going any farther. I wonder I never thought of it before. She has been in the constant habit of seeing you since I have been at West Point. It would be strange if she did not love you. But better late than never. Now go, Harry, I have no more questions. I shall take my course.”

“And what do you propose to do ?”

“ Leave here at once and forever. Set out to-morrow morning for Prairie du Chien, and bury the rest of my life in the West."

“ You can do as you like,” said Harry; “but you must understand me better than to supposé me capable of taking advantage of your departure to seek the affections of Miss Elton. It was not my intention, when I entered the room, to say anything of my own feelings. On the contrary, I thought, and I still think, your union with her would give me pleasure. You have become possessed of my secret by accident; but, since you have discovered it, let me prevent your supposing it other than it is. I will therefore tell in perfect frankness, the whole of it, that you may see how the land lies. I really did think Miss Elton liked me, till one day, about a year ago, I commenced telling her so, and she did not appear to be offended. We were interrupted, I don't remember how—a door opened or shut, or something of that sort, in the next room, and she ran off. I hoped for an opportunity to finish the matter ; but no, I've never been able to find one.

From that time till now, my young lady has kept from being alone with me an instant, and when with me in company, she's altogether a different person from what she used to be-polite, gay, but no more confidence, no more- -you understand me. Of course, when I saw how matters were going, I withdrew. Ha! ha! ha! I abdicated. I'm not a man to be extinguished by a tender passion, nor have Į time to waste in studying Miss Elton's

you,

character and caprices; so for the last six months I've had nothing to say to her more than simple politeness required. On the whole, I've come to the conclusion that she never did really like me, or if she did, she's changed, that's all, as she certainly had full right to do, and devilish lucky it is for me that it happened before matters went any farther. There--now you know all.”

"I'm glad you've told me this,” said Frank: “I also shall abdicate.” “No, you will not make that resolution.” •Why not ?" “Because I don't see the necessity of it. I have already made a similar one, which I certainly. sha'n't break. Beșides, I have more cause than you to suppose her affection either never existed or has ceased to exist. It is possible, in her girlish inexperience, she might have fancied she liked me, and afterward discovered her mistake. She may have been inspired with that sentiment by another—by you, perhaps. Go forward-win her hand; it will relieve me from all farther unhappiness. Marry her, Frank, for Heaven's sake, and make all three of us happy."

" And do you think,” said Frank,“ that I will be excelled in generosity ?"

What's to be done then ?” said Harry.

Why, I see only one way to settle the difficulty," said Frank, ingenuously, "and that is to try our fortune, both of us. There can, after all, be no real conflict of interest here. Fanny Elton wouldn't marry either of us unless she loved. She must know her own mind, and, if she ever mean to do so, she must already have felt a preference for

In fact, after all, I don't see how we can interfere with each other.”

True--quite true,” said Harry, in spite of himself showing the relief he felt at the turn the conversation was now taking.

“We have, then,” continued Frank,“ only to try; we must each take our chance. The decision of the question does not depend upon us, and we have it not in our power, after all our professed readiness for self-sacrifice, to make her accept any one not agreeable to her. The present state of her heart is probably unalterable, as far as regards us.

I have thought myself certain, but, when I look back, I see I might easily have mistaken the familiarity of indifference

one.

86

for that of affection, while you may have thought the shy. ness of love the coldness of dislike. You are, and always were, as delicate and doubting in such matters, as I have been, I fear, rash and sanguine. Let us enter the arena, then, fairly and kindly. I confess I could never see the sense of quarrels between lovers of the same mistress, unless by supposing the woman a fool.” “ I agree,” said Harry, “because I believe that

my

fail. ure will lead to your success.”

“ And he who succeeds will be the sufferer,” said Frank, because his happiness will be dashed with the thought that it is reached over the heart of the other."

“ No, not so," said Harry. “My heart is not so easily shaken, or, at least, broken."

“Well, I will not argue. Who shall make the first trial ?"

“ You. But no, I think the advantage will be with the second. Should the first be rejected, the other has his own time, and perhaps what is now simple friendship, time may ripen into love."

“ Let chance decide,” said Frank. “A game of whista throw of the dice."

No," said Harry, “we will not gamble for such a prize. Nothing so common shall interpose between us, but something as frail as my hopes, as idle, and as bright. Look yonder!"

A large butterfly had just lighted upon the rosebush in the window, and stood stirring his broad, powdered wings, spotted with black velvet and gold, as if drinking in at every pore the sweetness of the balmy June air.

“ If he fly," continued Harry, “ before the expiration of a minute, by the second-hand of my watch, I will take the first chance; if not, you."

Agreed.”

Agreed," murmured both ; and the two brothers drew cautiously near to watch the soft, golden creature, on the caprice of whose airy mind they supposed they had staked their earthly happiness ; for beneath their restrained and sometimes apparently gay demeanour, each felt an agitation which amounted to pain. Their mutual affection was sincere, and, in their ordinary moods, each would have been willing to surrender for the other life and happiness. But the struggle for, what almost seemed to them, in this moment, the love of Fanny Elton, filled them with mixed emo

« ZurückWeiter »