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skillfully, in a few lines, the characters of Lucretia and La Marque, she had been thinking of her own possibly impending betrothal.
Wherein ?' asked Everett quietly, averting his eyes from Louise, as if fearful of reading a secret he would not have her betray.
We cannot expect to know what is passing in the hearts of others,' and Louise looked at Everett as if she were questioning whether or not he had this power.
There is no reason why we should not know, when we have lived for years in view of such things. We ought to be competent to understand the tokens and questionings when we see them.'
· But we cannot judge for each other what will satisfy each other. Lucretia sees a different man in La Marque from what you see.
'I know it, because she chooses to do so ; but you do n't accuse a woman like her of such stupidity as inability to see him for what he is, would argue. You will see, if you will wait, to what a towering height her pride will grow when the years come on that will give people occasion for pitying her, if she would only let them. . . But it won't be so with Ada.' The voice of the speaker seemed to indicate that he felt a certain relief in turning his thoughts to this younger of the sisters, yet it was with a deepening sadness of tone that he continued : “She has a great flow of spirits, you know, and so has Alexander. Perhaps you think they're well matched on that account. That's your mistake. Ada is refined and elegant with all her worldliness. She would have been in any condition. He is a handsome fellow, but vulgar and com. mon. What do you say to this? I think it wretched.' · The sketching?' asked Louise.
No, the fact.' • Your colors are too deep; put on too thickly.' • Do you think so ? The living heart is blood-red.'
Then Louise, to be rid of the subject, would have laughed off his seriousness.
It would be a city of maiden ladies, Everett, if you were allowed full sway.' But his earnestness deepened.
No, there should be such a dispensation of marriages as never was heard of before ; but people should n't be united helter-skelter, as they are now. The heart should have something to do with the matter. You, Louise, are an honest girl ; would you marry a man for the sake of being married ?
Louise hesitated, even for a moment seemed capable of receiving this from Everett as a home-thrust, and of growing indignant over it; but she was wiser, nobler than to do this. Before she answered, she had formed a momentous and an unchangeable resolution. Looking steadily upon him, she answered : 'No, Everett, I would not,'
The boy rose quickly from his chair when she replied ; his cheek flushed, his movements betrayed his agitation; some intimation he seemed to have received of the greatness and weight of that moment, that reply.
'I was sure of it,' he said, with a not quite firm command of his voice ; 'as sure as I am of myself. When you hear that I have a wife, Louise, you may be sure that my heart knew what it was about when it asked her companionship and sympathy and aid. Do you think yet that I have judged harshly?
No matter what I think, Everett. I credit your sincerity, and that's enough. Probably when I reflect upon it, your words won't seem so strange.'
* Precisely what I expected you to say. I ventured to hint some of my thoughts to Ada ; it was a sad failure, that experiment. She only called me a foolish boy ; but she was displeased, and she has n't forgiven me for it yet. She will ; but it makes me sad to think of that. It will be a long time yet, and we shall all be so much changed before it happens. I should not expect Lucretia to forgive me if I said such things to her ; they 'd grow on her memory. She is imperious enough to be the wife of a man like Julius Cæsar; if she could be tempered by a spirit as strong as her own, that was living to a higher purpose, she would be a regal woman. But she's only a dreadfully proud one.'
I do n't understand how you've contrived to make so cool a study of your friends,' said Louise, troubled and astonished, and expressing her feeling well in look and voice.
• They held me off at such a distance, that when I took an observation, I could but behold,' he said.
You 're not the happier for it, Everett. Upon my word, I'd rather see less of the man and more of the boy in you. You are too young to be troubling yourself with such thoughts. You are too grave, not nearly so happy as you might be — as I am — and I'm five years older than you.'
May-be not. I never thought of that.' Here Everett paused, and for a moment seemed lost in reflection; then he said quickly, looking up with sincere confidence, and fixing his eyes on his five years' senior :
The more prepared for happiness, perhaps, you will allow, if it ever comes to me in a larger and better form than it does now, as I suppose it will. More happiness and more vexation. I shall know how to avoid toads and vampires. O Louise ! the earth is covered with creeping things !
Painfully earnest the conversation had become. Louise broke away from it at this point with a gay tone, indulging him, however, so far as to keep to the subject, since it seemed so much to interest him ; but the lugubrious aspect it had assumed was enlivened by the playful and coaxing voice saying :
· Everett, just tell me now what sort of a paragon you are thinking of for your own wife. You seem to have come to some certain opinions on the subject.'
The boy entered into her spirit, caught her tone, and replied quickly :
My wife, Louise ; you shall have a full-length portrait. She shall be a strong, happy, holy girl ; her eyes shall be to me at least the
sweetest eyes were ever seen,' as Camöens' lady's were. She shall have beautiful hair, dark or light; she shall be tall or short, plump or thin, as it suits her, but she must have a forehead and a mouth that can be trusted. Her head may fall short of universal knowledge, but her heart shall be warm and true, a temperate zone. I shall love her more and more every year of my life ; for every year shall prove her worth more and more. I shall grow mighty just thinking of her, and she shall never stop growing. When she dies, I shall have nothing more to live for. Do you see her, Louise ??
Softly he had spoken ; it was a man's voice, though low-speaking, albeit it proceeded from that young slight figure.
Do you see her, Louise ?' he repeated. “Yes, I see her, and, cousin Everett, you will be sure to find her,' she replied, scarcely less moved by the hearing of his words than he had been in their utterance.
"Yes, I am sure of that,' he said ; ‘more certain than of any thing else, because it is what I shall need most ; what we need most, that we always find.'
The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of one of the younger children, and presently her little mate came following after, and then Everett went for the guitar, and in the lessening light of the departing day the sisters and brother listened to, or joined in with Louise, in her songs.
But before dinner, Louise took the opportunity to return to her lodgings; and as she was accustomed to come and go at her own pleasure, her disappearance excited no surprise, only some disappointment among the younger members of the family when they met at table.
Louise went home because she was not equal to a show of cheerfulness or gayety that night. The question which Everett had proposed to her, and to which she had responded truthfully, had to do with her life ; she had not merely responded to a question. In the courage of the moment, when Everett's criticism on others had led her to see her own affairs in a little clearer light than before, she had been strong to say that nothing could tempt her into a marriage of expediency; and she had now to reflect on herself as on the verge of such a marriage ; for there was no possibility of her mistaking the nature of the rich widower's attentions.
When she had returned to her room in the school where she taught, she sat down to a deliberate survey of her position. It did not seem to her quite the same thing it was a few hours before. Modifying circumstances were taken into consideration. Her position did not seem to admit of quite the same rendering that her cousins' did. A marriage of convenience was not the same thing with her it was with them. She was lonely; she felt the constant want of home relations. She was an orphan, and poor, but she could imagine a fairer fortune than that prospect of unquestioned respectability which the widower had it in his power to confer upon her. Had Everett helped her in any way to this discovery? and how?
While she sat thinking of these things, the moment was hasting when she should speculate no longer, but take up the old decision and reïterate it in another hearing than her cousin's.
The widower in question, who lived on his handsome place a short distance from the town, had come to spend the Sabbath among the churches, or with Louise, as it might chance ; for he brought his heart in his hand to her. She was called down from her unlighted chamber to the common reception-room of the house to see him.
And, as they were alone there, and the house was still, the pupils being in their several rooms, and the faculty in their departments, and there was nothing to deter his explicit expression of the object of his visit, he explained to Louise, more fully than he had done before, the extent of his fortune, the domestic arrangements of his place, his own peculiarities of taste and disposition, and frankly came to the point, which all these statements indicated, by placing all he had and was at her disposal. The quietness with which Louise instantly declined the gift, led him to suppose, that from some unaccountable reason, she had misunderstood him ; for he had flattered himself into a state of certainty with regard to her, and naturally enough had done so, and therefore he repeated himself, with some very urgent pleading and ill-concealed surprise, and still the same answer was returned.
Then he waxed angry, for his disappointment was great, and he reproached her with trifling, and said that all her conduct had led him to believe that she not only understood the nature of his attentions, but that the attentions, on account of their nature, were agreeable to her.
The cheek of Louise Raymond flushed and paled as she listened to the half-angry, half-entreating words of the widower. She seemed struggling with herself, and nerving herself with an effort to speak, and to speech she came at length:
You are right,' she said, your reproaches are just. I did encourage you ; it was my fault, and I will not add to it by denying it; if it is any comfort for you to see me humiliated, look at me. I owe it to you to say that I did understand your attentions. They were very kind in their nature, and delicate in their offering. I could not fail to understand your meaning. I have had a struggle with myself on your account. You shall know it; for I will not have you think me capable of the vanity or wickedness of trifling with you. I know you thought that I would make you a good wife, and I said to myself that I'd do so. My conduct has led you to suppose that such was my intention ; I own it. I made way with the objections that arose in my mind on account of the disparity of ages, and the habits of our minds, and it is not these, but a higher objection that now deters me from closing the bargain with you. It would be nothing better than a bargain. I thought, when I thought about it at all, and your attentions compelled me to think, that I respected you so thoroughly, and I was alone and unprotected, and had no prospect but to labor. Would you have been willing to take me, knowing this ? — that I was considering myself a marketable thing, Sir?'
Surprised beyond measure at the nature of this rapidly-spoken confession, and not yet knowing how to take it, because of its strangeness, the widower was slow to make reply, and Louise went on:
Within the last few hours, I have had this kind of iniquity shown up to me by one who knew not how closely his words hit, and nothing can induce me now, since I have been compelled or enabled to see the facts as they are, to do myself or you the injury to enter into an engagement. I have said all I should ; as much as I owe to you and to my
self. Do not argue with me about it; my mind cannot be changed ; and for the rest, I am a reproach to myself for having misled you : forgive me for it.
There the young girl stood, noble in her truthfulness, before the widower, waiting his forgiveness. Her words had succeeded by this time in bringing him up to a level with herself, and he was equal to her, and to the demand of the moment. He was but an ordinary man, but the exigencies of this occasion made him for the time, according to all his subsequent contemplations on the subject, a rather extraordinary character ; for he said, after a manner of speech that had never escaped him before:
'I can understand you, I think. I can appreciate you, if this admiration, and respect, and love in my heart, which is something different from any thing I have ever felt toward any one before, say any thing in favor of my appreciation ; and in view of these things, and of all that has passed, I say again, but it is as if for the first time, I love you. All things that I have are as trifles compared with the thought of you. I shall be a better and wiser man, and a happy man, if you will take me. Indeed you have made me better and wiser, yes, and happier, already. In many ways I have felt your influence. Think of what I ask again. You asked me if I would be willing to take you in consideration of the confession you made. Do you think I would stop to reflect about it? I entreat you be kind to me. All that you have said but enhances your worth a thousand-fold in my eyes.'
'I will be kind to you. There, Sir, I give you my hand on it; I will be too kind to sin against you; for some day you would see that it was a sin if I gave myself to you with this feeling I have about it.'
She gave him her hand ; the widower took it cordially, in silence.
After that, Louise went back to her room, and lighted her lamp, and tuned her guitar, and read a little, and wrote a little, and went to bed.
And the widower walked away to the public reading-room of the town, and looked over the evening paper, and went to his hotel, and made some calculations. He was a shrewd man of business, cool, calm, and ready to make the best of opportunity, but impetuous where his affections were concerned. He reflected and calculated much that night, and he had all Sunday for deliberation, and therefore must be said to have known quite certainly what he was about. His mind was made up, and he had nothing to perplex him but a little arrangement of detail, and on Monday, when he went to his lawyer's office, that perplexity was over, and without outward fuss or any inward sense of folly, he dictated his will whereby one-half his fortune was settled on Louise Raymond.
After this matter of her conscience was settled, with the strength which results always from the doing of a righteous deed, Louise went on in her humble way of life, and forgot that it had ever entered her heart to imagine that she might some day stand on an equality with her cousins in the matter of worldly fortunes. When such a notion of what she had done as they were capable of receiving, reached her aunt and uncle, and her elder cousins, they were unanimous in the sentence