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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLady Baltimore - Chapter 8. Midsummer-Night's Dream
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Lady Baltimore - Chapter 8. Midsummer-Night's Dream Post by :Venus Category :Long Stories Author :Owen Wister Date :May 2012 Read :3178

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Lady Baltimore - Chapter 8. Midsummer-Night's Dream

CHAPTER VIII. MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM

You may imagine in what state of wondering I went out of that place, and how little I could now do away with my curiosity. By the droll looks and head-turnings which followed me from strangers that passed me by in the street, I was made aware that I must be talking aloud to myself, and the words which I had evidently uttered were these: "But who in the world can he have smashed up?"

Of course, beneath the public stare and smile I kept the rest of my thoughts to myself; yet they so possessed and took me from my surroundings, that presently, while crossing Royal Street, I was nearly run down by an electric car. Nor did even this serve to disperse my preoccupation; my walk back to Court and Chancel streets is as if it had not been; I can remember nothing about it, and the first account that I took of external objects was to find myself sitting in my accustomed chair in the Library, with the accustomed row of books about the battle of Cowpens waiting on the table in front of me. How long we had thus been facing each other, the books and I, I've not a notion. And with such mysterious machinery are we human beings filled--machinery that is in motion all the while, whether we are aware of it or not--that now, with some part of my mind, and with my pencil assisting, I composed several stanzas to my kingly ancestor, the goal of my fruitless search; and yet during the whole process of my metrical exercise I was really thinking and wondering about John Mayrant, his battles and his loves.

ODE ON INTIMATIONS OF ROYALTY

I sing to thee, thou Great Unknown,
Who canst connect me with a throne
Through uncle, cousin, aunt, or sister,
But not, I trust, through bar sinister.

Chorus:
Gules! Gules! and a cuckoo peccant!

Such was the frivolous opening of my poem, which, as it progressed, grew even less edifying; I have quoted this fragment merely to show you how little reverence for the Selected Salic Scions was by this time left in my spirit, and not because the verses themselves are in the least meritorious; they should serve as a model for no serious-minded singer, and they afford a striking instance of that volatile mood, not to say that inclination to ribaldry, which will at seasons crop out in me, do what I will. It is my hope that age may help me to subdue this, although I have observed it in some very old men.

I did not send my poem to Aunt Carola, but I wrote her a letter, even there and then, couched in terms which I believe were altogether respectful. I deplored my lack of success in discovering the link that was missing between me and king's blood; I intimated my conviction that further effort on my part would still be met with failure; and I renounced with fitting expressions of disappointment my candidateship for the Scions thanking Aunt Carola for her generosity, by which I must now no longer profit. I added that I should remain in Kings Port for the present, as I was finding the climate of decided benefit to my health, and the courtesy of the people an education in itself.

Whatever pain at missing the glory of becoming a Scion may have lingered with me after this was much assuaged in a few days by my reading an article in a New York paper, which gave an account of a meeting of my Aunt's Society, held in that city. My attention was attracted to this article by the prominent heading given to it: THEY WORE THEIR CROWNS. This in very conspicuous Roman capitals, caused me to sit up. There must have been truth in some of it, because the food eaten by the Scions was mentioned as consisting of sandwiches, sherry and croquettes; yet I think that the statement that the members present addressed each other according to the royal families from which they severally traced descent, as, for example, Brother Guelph and Sister Plantagenet, can scarce have beers aught but an exaggeration; nevertheless, the article brought me undeniable consolation for my disappointment.

After finishing my letter to Aunt Carola I should have hastened out to post it and escape from Cowpens, had I not remembered that John Mayrant had more or less promised to meet me here. Now, there was but a slender chance that he boy would speak to me on the subject of his late encounter; this I must learn from other sources; but he might speak to me about something that would open a way for my hostile preparations against Miss Rieppe. So far he had not touched upon his impending marriage in any way, but this reserve concerning a fact generally known among the people whom I was seeing could hardly go on long without becoming ridiculous. If he should shun mention of it to-day, I would take this as a plain sign that he did not look forward to it with the enthusiasm which a lover ought to feel for his approaching bliss; and on such silence from him I would begin, if I could, to undermine his intention of keeping an engagement of the heart when the heart no longer entered into it.

While my thoughts continued to be busied over this lover and his concerns, I noticed the works of William Shakespeare close beside me upon a shelf; and although it was with no special purpose in mind that I took out one of the volumes and sat down with it to wait for John Mayrant, in a little while an inspiration came to me from its pages, so that I was more anxious than ever the boy should not fail to meet me here in the Library.

Was it the bruise on his forehead that had perturbed his manner just now when he entered the Exchange? No, this was not likely to be the reason, since he had been full as much embarrassed that first day of my seeing him there, when he had given his order for Lady Baltimore so lamely that the girl behind the counter had come to his aid. And what could it have been that he had begun to tell her to-day as I was leaving the place? Was the making of that cake again to be postponed on account of the General's precarious health? And what had been the nature of the insult which young John Mayrant had punished and was now commanded to shake hands over? Could it in truth be the owner of the Hermana whom he had thrashed so well as to lay him up in bed? That incident had damaged two people at least, the unknown vanquished combatant in his bodily welfare, and me in my character as an upstanding man in the fierce feminine estimation of Miss La Heu; but this injury it was my intention to set right; my confession to the girl behind the counter was merely delayed. As I sat with Shakespeare open in my lap, I added to my store of reasoning one little new straw of argument in favor of my opinion that John Mayrant was no longer at ease or happy about his love affair. I had never before met any young man in whose manner nature was so finely tempered with good bringing-up; forwardness and shyness were alike absent from him, and his bearing had a sort of polished unconsciousness as far removed from raw diffidence as it was from raw conceit; it was altogether a rare and charming address in a youth of such true youthfulness, but it had failed him upon two occasions which I have already mentioned. Both times that he had come to the Exchange he had stumbled in his usually prompt speech, lost his habitual ease, and betrayed, in short, all the signs of being disconcerted. The matter seemed suddenly quite plain to me: it was the nature of his errands to the Exchange. The first time he had been ordering the cake for his own wedding, and to-day it was something about the wedding again. Evidently the high mettle of his delicacy and breeding made him painfully conscious of the view which others must take of the part that Miss Rieppe was playing in all this--a view from which it was out of his power to shield her; and it was this consciousness that destroyed his composure. From what I was soon to learn of his fine and unmoved disregard for unfavorable opinion when he felt his course to be the right one, I know that it was no thought at all of his own scarcely heroic role during these days, but only the perception that outsiders must detect in his affianced lady some of those very same qualities which had chilled his too precipitate passion for her, and left him alone, without romance, without family sympathy, without social acclamations, with nothing indeed save his high-strung notion of honor to help him bravely face the wedding march. How appalling must the wedding march sound to a waiting bridegroom who sees the bride, that he no longer looks at except with distaste and estrangement, coming nearer and nearer to him up the aisle! A funeral march would be gayer than that music, I should think! The thought came to me to break out bluntly and say to him: "Countermand the cake! She's only playing with you while that yachtsman is making up his mind." But there could be but one outcome of such advice to John Mayrant: two people, instead of one, would be in bed suffering from contusions. As I mused on the boy and his attractive and appealing character, I became more rejoiced than ever that he had thrashed somebody, I cared not very much who nor yet very much why, so long as such thrashing had been thorough, which seemed quite evidently and happily the case. He stood now in my eyes, in some way that is too obscure for me to be able to explain to you, saved from some reproach whose subtlety likewise eludes my powers of analysis.

It was already five minutes after three o'clock, my dinner hour, when he at length appeared in the Library; and possibly I put some reproach into my greeting: "Won't you walk along with me to Mrs. Trevise's?" (That was my boarding house.)

"I could not get away from the Custom House sooner," he explained; and into his eyes there came for a moment that look of unrest and preoccupation which I had observed at times while we had discussed Newport and alcoholic girls. The two subjects seemed certainly far enough apart! But he immediately began upon a conversation briskly enough--so briskly that I suspected at once he had got his subject ready in advance; he didn't want me to speak first, lest I turn the talk into channels embarrassing, such as bruised foreheads or wedding cake. Well, this should not prevent me from dropping in his cup the wholesome bitters which I had prepared.

"Well, sir! Well, sir!" such was his hearty preface. "I wonder if you're feeling ashamed of yourself?"

"Never when I read Shakespeare," I answered restoring the plume to its place.

He looked at the title. "Which one?"

"One of the unsuitable love affairs that was prevented in time."

"Romeo and Juliet?"

"No; Bottom and Titania--and Romeo and Juliet were not prevented in time. They had their bliss once and to the full, and died before they caused each other anything but ecstasy. No weariness of routine, no tears of disenchantment; complete love, completely realized--and finis! It's the happiest ending of all the plays."

He looked at me hard. "Sometimes I believe you're ironic!"

I smiled at him. "A sign of the highest civilization, then. But please to think of Juliet after ten years of Romeo and his pin-headed intelligence and his preordained infidelities. Do you imagine that her predecessor, Rosamond, would have had no successors? Juliet would have been compelled to divorce Romeo, if only for the children's sake.

"The children!" cried John Mayrant. "Why, it's for their sake deserted women abstain from divorce!"

"Juliet would see deeper than such mothers. She could not have her little sons and daughters grow up and comprehend their father's absences, and see their mother's submission to his returns for such discovery would scorch the marrow of any hearts they had."

At this, as we came out of the Library, he made an astonishing rejoinder, and one which I cannot in the least account for: "South Carolina does not allow divorce."

"Then I should think," I said to him, "that all you people here would be doubly careful as to what manner of husbands and wives you chose for yourselves."

Such a remark was sailing, you may say, almost within three points of the wind; and his own accidental allusion to Romeo had brought it about with an aptness and a celerity which were better for my purpose than anything I had privately developed from the text of Bottom and Titania; none the less, however, did I intend to press into my service that fond couple also as basis for a moral, in spite of the sharp turn which those last words of mine now caused him at once to give to our conversation. His quick reversion to the beginning of the talk seemed like a dodging of remarks that hit too near home for him to relish hearing pursued.

"Well, sir," he resumed with the same initial briskness, "I was ashamed if you were not."

"I still don't make out what impropriety we have jointly committed."

"What do you think of the views you expressed about our country?"

"Oh! When we sat on the gravestones."

"What do you think about it to-day?"

I turned to him as we slowly walked toward Worship Street. "Did you say anything then that you would take back now?"

He pondered, wrinkling his forehead. "Well, but all the same, didn't we give the present hour a pretty black eye?"

"The present hour deserves a black eye, and two of them!"

He surveyed me squarely. "I believe you're a pessimist!"

"That is the first trashy thing I've heard you say."

"Thank you! At least admit you're scarcely an optimist."

"Optimist! Pessimist! Why, you're talking just like a newspaper!"

He laughed. "Oh, don't compare a gentleman to a newspaper."

"Then keep your vocabulary clean of bargain-counter words. A while ago the journalists had a furious run upon the adjective 'un-American.' Anybody or anything that displeased them was 'un-American.' They ran it into the ground, and in its place they have lately set up 'pessimist,' which certainly has a threatening appearance. They don't know its meaning, and in their mouths it merely signifies that what a man says snakes them feel personally uncomfortable. The word has become a dusty rag of slang. The arrested burglar very likely calls the policeman a pessimist; and, speaking reverently and with no intention to shock you, the scribes and Pharisees would undoubtedly have called Christ a pessimist when He called them hypocrites, had they been acquainted with the word."

Once more my remarks drew from the boy an unexpected rejoinder. We had turned into Worship Street, and, as we passed the churchyard, he stopped and laid his hand upon the railing of the pate.

"You don't shock me," he said; and then: "But you would shock my aunts." He paused, gazing into the churchyard, before he continued more slowly: "And so should I--if they knew it--shock them."

"If they knew what?" I asked.

His hand indicated a sculptured crucifix near by.

"Do you believe everything still?" he answered. "Can you?"

As he looked at me, I suppose that he read negation in my eyes.

"No more can I," he murmured. Again he looked in among the tombstones and flowers, where the old custodian saw us and took off his hat. "Howdy, Daddy Ben!" John Mayrant returned pleasantly, and then resuming to me: "No more can I believe everything." Then he gave a brief, comical laugh. "And I hope my aunts won't find that out! They would think me gone to perdition indeed. But I always go to church here" (he pointed to the quiet building, which, for all its modest size and simplicity, had a stately and inexpressible charm), "because I like to kneel where my mother said her prayers, you know." He flushed a little over this confidence into which he had fallen, but he continued: "I like the words of the service, too, and I don't ask myself over-curiously what I do believe; but there's a permanent something within us--a Greater Self--don't you think?"

"A permanent something," I assented, "which has created all the religions all over the earth from the beginning, and of which Christianity itself is merely one of the present temples."

He made an exclamation at my word "present."

"Do you think anything in this world is final?" I asked him.

"But--" he began, somewhat at a loss.

"Haven't you found out yet that human nature is the one indestructible reality that we know?"

"But--" he began again.

"Don't we have the 'latest thing' all the time, and never the ultimate thing, never, never? The latest thing in women's hats is that huge-brimmed affair with the veil as voluminous as a double-bed mosquito netting. That hat will look improbable next spring. The latest thing in science is radium. Radium has exploded the conservation of energy theory--turned it into a last year's hat. Answer me, if Christianity is the same as when it wore among its savage ornaments a devil with horns and a flaming Hell! Forever and forever the human race reaches out its hand and shapes some system, some creed, some government, and declares: 'This is at length the final thing, the cure-all,' and lo and behold, something flowing and eternal in the race itself presently splits the creed and the government to pieces! Truth is a very marvelous thing. We feel it; it can fill our eyes with tears, our hearts with joy, it can make us die for it; but once our human lips attempt to formulate and thus imprison it, it becomes a lie. You cannot shut truth up in any words."

"But it shall prevail!" the boy exclaimed with a sort of passion.

"Everything prevails," I answered him.

"I don't like that," he said.

"Neither do I," I returned. "But Jacob got Esau's inheritance by a mean trick."

"Jacob was punished for it."

"Did that help Esau much?"

"You are a pessimist!"

"Just because I see Jacob and Esau to-day, alive and kicking in Wall Street, Washington, Newport, everywhere?"

"You're no optimist, anyhow!"

"I hope I'm blind in neither eye."

"You don't give us credit--"

"For what?"

"For what we've accomplished since Jacob."

"Printing, steam, and electricity, for instance? They spread the Bible and the yellow journal with equal velocity."

"I don't mean science. Take our institutions."

"Well, we've accomplished hospitals and the stock market--a pretty even set-off between God and the devil."

He laughed. "You don't take a high view of us!"

"Nor a low one. I don't play ostrich with any of the staring permanences of human nature. We're just as noble to-day as David was sometimes, and just as bestial to-day as David was sometimes, and we've every possibility inside us all the time, whether we paint our naked skins, or wear steel armor or starched shirts."

"Well, I believe good is the guiding power in the world."

"Oh, John Mayrant! Good and evil draw us on like a span of horses, sometimes like a tandem, taking turns in the lead. Order has melted into disorder, and disorder into new order--how many times?"

"But better each time."

"How can you know, who never lived in any age but your own?"

"I know we have a higher ideal."

"Have we? The Greek was taught to love his neighbor as himself. He gave his great teacher a cup of poison. We gave ours the cross."

Again he looked away from me into the sweet old churchyard. "I can't answer you, but I don't believe it."

This brought me to gayety. "That's unanswerable, anyhow!"

He still stared at the graves. "Those people in there didn't think all these uncomfortable things."

"Ah! no! They belonged in the first volume of the history of our national soul, before the bloom was off us."

"That's an odd notion! And pray what volume are we in now?"

"Only the second."

"Since when?"

"Since that momentous picnic, the Spanish War!"

"I don't see how that took the bloom off us."

"It didn't. It merely waked Europe up to the facts."

"Our battleships, you mean?"

"Our steel rails, our gold coffers, our roaring affluence."

"And our very accurate shooting!" he insisted; for he was a Southerner, and man's gallantry appealed to him more than man's industry.

I laughed. "Yes, indeed! We may say that the Spanish War closed our first volume with a bang. And now in the second we bid good-by to the virgin wilderness, for it's explored; to the Indian, for he's conquered; to the pioneer, for he's dead; we've finished our wild, romantic adolescence and we find ourselves a recognized world power of eighty million people, and of general commercial endlessness, and playtime over."

I think, John Mayrant now asserted, "that it is going too far to say the bloom is off us."

"Oh, you'll find snow in the woods away into April and May. The freedom-loving American, the embattled farmer, is not yet extinct in the far recesses. But the great cities grow like a creeping paralysis over freedom, and the man from the country is walking into them all the time because the poor, restless fellow believes wealth awaits him on their pavements. And when he doesn't go to them, they come to him. The Wall Street bucket-shop goes fishing in the woods with wires a thousand miles long; and so we exchange the solid trailblazing enterprise of Volume One for Volume Two's electric unrest. In Volume One our wagon was hitched to the star of liberty. Capital and labor have cut the traces. The labor union forbids the workingman to labor as his own virile energy and skill prompt him. If he disobeys, he is expelled and called a 'scab.' Don't let us call ourselves the land of the free while such things go on. We're all thinking a deal too much about our pockets nowadays. Eternal vigilance cannot watch liberty and the ticker at the same time.

"Well," said John Mayrant, "we're not thinking about our pockets in Kings Port, because" (and here there came into his voice and face that sudden humor which made him so delightful)--"because we haven't got any pockets to think of!"

This brought me down to cheerfulness from my flight among the cold clouds.

He continued: "Any more lamentations, Mr. Jeremiah?"

"Those who begin to call names, John Mayrant--but never mind! I could lament you sick if I chose to go on about our corporations and corruption that I see with my pessimistic eye; but the other eye sees the American man himself--the type that our eighty millions on the whole melt into and to which my heart warms each time I land again from more polished and colder shores--my optimistic eye sees that American dealing adequately with these political diseases. For stronger even than his kindness, his ability, and his dishonesty is his self-preservation. He's going to stand up for the 'open shop' and sit down on the 'trust'; and I assure you that I don't in the least resemble the Evening Post."

A look of inquiry was in John Mayrant's features.

"The New York Evening Post," I repeated with surprise. Still the inquiry of his face remained.

"Oh, fortunate youth!" I cried. "To have escaped the New York Evening Post!"

"Is it so heinous?"

"Well!... well!... how exactly describe it?... make you see it?... It's partially tongue-tied, a sad victim of its own excesses. Habitual over-indulgence in blaming has given it a painful stutter when attempting praise; it's the sprucely written sheet of the supercilious; it's the after-dinner pill of the American who prefers Europe; it's our Republic's common scold, the Xantippe of journalism, the paper without a country."

"The paper without a country! That's very good!"

"Oh, no! I'll tell you something much better, but it is not mine. A clever New Yorker said that what with The Sun--"

"I know that paper."

"--what with The Sun making vice so attractive in the morning and the Post making virtue so odious in the evening, it was very hard for a man to be good in New York."

"I fear I should subscribe to The Sun," said John Mayrant. He took his hand from the church-gate railing, and we had turned to stroll down Worship Street when he was unexpectedly addressed.

For some minutes, while John Mayrant and I had been talking, I had grown aware, without taking any definite note of it, that the old custodian of the churchyard, Daddy Ben, had come slowly near us from the distant corner of his demesne, where he had been (to all appearances) engaged in some trifling activity among the flowers--perhaps picking off the faded blossoms. It now came home to me that the venerable negro had really been, in a surreptitious way, watching John Mayrant, and waiting for something--either for the right moment to utter what he now uttered, or his own delayed decision to utter it at all.

"Mas' John!" he called quite softly. His tone was fairly padded with caution, and I saw that in the pause which followed, his eye shot a swift look at the bruise on Mayrant's forehead, and another look, equally swift, at me.

"Well, Daddy Ben, what is it?"

The custodian shunted close to the gate which separated him from us. "Mas' John, I speck de President he dun' know de cullud people like we knows 'um, else he nebber bin 'pint dat ar boss in de Cussum House, no, sah."

After this effort he wiped his forehead and breathed hard.

To my astonishment, the effort brought immediately a stern change over John Mayrant's face; then he answered in the kindest tones, "Thank you, Daddy Ben."

This answer interpreted for me the whole thing, which otherwise would have been obscure enough: the old man held it to be an indignity that his young "Mas' John" should, by the President's act, find himself the subordinate of a member of the black race, and he had just now, in his perspiring effort, expressed his sympathy! Why he had chosen this particular moment (after quite obvious debate with himself) I did not see until somewhat later.

He now left us standing at the gate; and it was not for some moments that John Mayrant spoke again, evidently closing, for our two selves, this delicate subject.

"I wish we had not got into that second volume of yours."

"That's not progressive."

"I hate progress."

"What's the use? Better grow old gracefully!

"'Qui no pas l'esprit de son age De son age a tout le malheur.'"

"Well, I'm personally not growing old, just yet."

"Neither is the United States."

"Well, I don't know. It's too easy for sick or worthless people to survive nowadays. They are clotting up our square miles very fast. Philanthropists don't seem to remember that you can beget children a great deal faster than you can educate them; and at this rate I believe universal suffrage will kill us off before our time."

"Do not believe it! We are going to find out that universal suffrage is like the appendix--useful at an early stage of the race's evolution but to-day merely a threat to life."

He thought this over. "But a surgical operation is pretty serious, you know."

"It'll be done by absorption. Why, you've begun it yourselves, and so has Massachusetts. The appendix will be removed, black and white--and I shouldn't much fear surgery. We're not nearly civilized enough yet to have lost the power Of recuperation, and in spite of our express-train speed, I doubt if we shall travel from crudity to rottenness without a pause at maturity."

"That is the old, old story," he said.

"Yes; is there anything new under the sun?"

He was gloomy. "Nothing, I suppose." Then the gloom lightened. "Nothing new under the sun--except the fashionable families of Newport!"

This again brought us from the clouds of speculation down to Worship Street, where we were walking toward South Place. It also unexpectedly furnished me with the means to lead back our talk so gently, without a jolt or a jerk, to my moral and the delicate topic of matrimony from which he had dodged away, that he never awoke to what was coming until it had come. He began pointing out, as we passed them, certain houses which were now, or had at some period been, the dwellings of his many relatives: "My cousin Julia So-and-so lives there," he would say; or, "My great-uncle, known as Regent Tom, owned that before the War"; and once, "The Rev. Joseph Priedieu, my great-grandfather, built that house to marry his fifth wife in, but the grave claimed him first."

So I asked him a riddle. "What is the difference between Kings Port and Newport?"

This he, of course, gave up.

"Here you are all connected by marriage, and there they are all connected by divorce."

"That's true!" he cried, "that's very true. I met the most embarrassingly cater-cornered families."

"Oh, they weren't embarrassed!" I interjected.

"No, but I was," said John.

"And you told me you weren't innocent!" I exclaimed. "They are going to institute a divorce march," I continued. "'Lohengrin' or 'Midsummer-Night's Dream' played backward. They have not settled which it is to be taught in the nursery with the other kindergarten melodies."

He was still unsuspectingly diverted; and we walked along until we turned in the direction of my boarding-house.

"Did you ever notice," I now said, "what a perpetual allegory 'Midsummer-Night's Dream' contains?"

"I thought it was just a fairy sort of thing."

"Yes, but when a great poet sets his hand to a fairy sort of thing, you get--well, you get poor Titania."

"She fell in love with a jackass," he remarked. "Puck bewitched her."

"Precisely. A lovely woman with her arms around a jackass. Does that never happen in Kings Port?"

He began smiling to himself. "I'm afraid Puck isn't all dead yet."

I was now in a position to begin dropping my bitters. "Shakespeare was probably too gallant to put it the other way, and make Oberon fall in love with a female jackass. But what an allegory!"

"Yes," he muttered. "Yes."

I followed with another drop. "Titania got out of it. It is not always solved so easily."

"No," he muttered. "No." It was quite evident that the flavor of my bitters reached him.

He was walking slowly, with his head down, and frowning hard. We had now come to the steps of my boarding-house, and I dropped my last drop. "But a disenchanted woman has the best of it--before marriage, at least."

He looked up quickly. "How?"

I evinced surprise. "Why, she can always break off honorably, and we never can, I suppose."

For the third time this day he made me an astonishing rejoinder: "Would you like to take orders from a negro?"

It reduced me to stammering. "I have never--such a juncture has never--"

"Of course you wouldn't. Even a Northerner!"

His face, as he said this, was a single glittering piece of fierceness. I was still so much taken aback that I said rather flatly: "But who has to?"

"I have to." With this he abruptly turned on his heel and left me standing on the steps. For a moment I stared after him; and then, as I rang the bell, he was back again; and with that formality which at times overtook him he began: "I will ask you to excuse my hasty--"

"Oh, John Mayrant! What a notion!"

But he was by no means to be put off, and he proceeded with stiffer formality: "I feel that I have not acted politely just now, and I beg to assure you that I intended no slight."

My first impulse was to lay a hand upon his shoulder and say to him: "My dear fellow, stuff and nonsense!" Thus I should have treated any Northern friend; but here was no Northerner. I am glad that I had the sense to feel that any careless, good-natured putting away of his deliberate and definitely tendered apology would seem to him a "slight" on my part. His punctilious value for certain observances between man and man reached me suddenly and deeply, and took me far from the familiarity which breeds contempt.

"Why, John Mayrant," I said, "you could never offend me unless I thought that you wished to, and how should I possibly think that?"

"Thank you," he replied very simply.

I rang the bell a second time. "If we can get into the house," I suggested, "won't you stop and dine with me?"

He was going to accept. "I shall be--" he had begun, in tones of gratification, when in one instant his face was stricken with complete dismay. "I had forgotten," he said; and this time he was gone indeed, and in a hurry most apparent. It resembled a flight.

What was the matter now? You will naturally think that it was an appointment with his ladylove which he had forgotten; this was certainly my supposition as I turned again to the front door. There stood one of the waitresses, glaring with her white eyes half out of her black face at the already distant back of John Mayrant.

"Oh!" I thought; but, before I could think any more, the tall, dreadful boarder--the lady whom I secretly called Juno--swept up the steps, and by me into the house, with a dignity that one might term deafening.

The waitress now muttered, or rather sang, a series of pious apostrophes. "Oh, Lawd, de rampages and de ructions! Oh, Lawd, sinner is in my way, Daniel!" She was strongly, but I think pleasurably, excited; and she next turned to me with a most natural grin, and saying, "Chick'n's mos' gone, sah," she went back to the dining room.

This admonition sent me upstairs to make as hasty a toilet as I could.

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Lady Baltimore - Chapter 9. Juno Lady Baltimore - Chapter 9. Juno

Lady Baltimore - Chapter 9. Juno
CHAPTER IX. JUNOEach recent remarkable occurrence had obliterated its predecessor, and it was with difficulty that I made a straight parting in my hair. Had it been Miss Rieppe that John so suddenly ran away to? It seemed now more as if the boy had been running away from somebody. The waitress had stared at him with extraordinary interest; she had seen his bruise; perhaps she knew how he had got it. Her excitement--had he smashed up his official superior at the custom house? That would be an impossible thing, I told myself instantly; as well might a nobleman cross swords
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Lady Baltimore - Chapter 7. The Girl Behind The Counter--2 Lady Baltimore - Chapter 7. The Girl Behind The Counter--2

Lady Baltimore - Chapter 7. The Girl Behind The Counter--2
CHAPTER VII. THE GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER--II"Which of them is idealizing?" This was the question that I asked myself, next morning, in my boarding-house, as I dressed for breakfast; the next morning is--at least I have always found it so--an excellent time for searching questions; and to-day I had waked up no longer beneath the strong, gentle spell of the churchyard. A bright sun was shining over the eastern waters of the town, I could see from my upper veranda the thousand flashes of the waves; the steam yacht rode placidly and competently among them, while a coastwise steamer was sailing
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