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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crisis - BOOK I - Volume 2 - Chapter XIII. The Party
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The Crisis - BOOK I - Volume 2 - Chapter XIII. The Party Post by :bulkmailer007 Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :February 2011 Read :825

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The Crisis - BOOK I - Volume 2 - Chapter XIII. The Party

To gentle Miss Anne Brinsmade, to Puss Russell of the mischievous eyes,
and even to timid Eugenie Renault, the question that burned was: Would
he come, or would he not? And, secondarily, how would Virginia treat him
if he came? Put our friend Stephen for the subjective, and Miss Carvers
party for the objective in the above, and we have the clew. For very
young girls are given to making much out of a very little in such
matters. If Virginia had not gotten angry when she had been teased a
fortnight before, all would have been well.

Even Puss, who walked where angels feared to tread, did not dare to go
too far with Virginia. She had taken care before the day of the party
to beg forgiveness with considerable humility. It had been granted with
a queenly generosity. And after that none of the bevy had dared to
broach the subject to Virginia. Jack Brinsmade had. He told Puss
afterward that when Virginia got through with him, he felt as if he
had taken a rapid trip through the wheel-house of a large steamer.
Puss tried, by various ingenious devices, to learn whether Mr. Brice
had accepted his invitation. She failed.

These things added a zest to a party long looked forward to amongst
Virginia's intimates. In those days young ladies did not "come out" so
frankly as they do now. Mothers did not announce to the world that they
possessed marriageable daughters. The world was supposed to know that.
And then the matrimonial market was feverishly active. Young men
proposed as naturally as they now ask a young girl to go for a walk,
--and were refused quite as naturally. An offer of marriage was not
the fearful and wonderful thing--to be dealt with gingerly--which it has
since become. Seventeen was often the age at which they began. And one
of the big Catherwood boys had a habit of laying his heart and hand at
Virginia's feet once a month. Nor did his vanity suffer greatly when she
laughed at him.

It was with a flutter of excitement, therefore, that Miss Carvel's guests
flitted past Jackson, who held the door open obsequiously. The boldest
of them took a rapid survey of the big parlor, before they put foot on
the stairs to see whether Mr. Brice had yet arrived. And if their
curiosity held them too long, they were usually kissed by the Colonel.

Mr. Carvel shook hands heartily with the young mean and called them by
their first names, for he knew most of their fathers and grandfathers.
And if an older gentleman arrived, perhaps the two might be seen going
down the hall together, arm in arm. So came his beloved enemy, Judge
Whipple, who did not make an excursion to the rear regions of the house
with the Colonel; but they stood and discussed Mr. President Buchanan's
responsibility for the recent panic, until the band, which Mr. Hopper
had stationed under the stairs, drowned their voices.

As we enter the room, there stands Virginia under the rainbowed prisms of
the great chandelier, receiving. But here was suddenly a woman of
twenty-eight, where only this evening we knew a slip of a girl. It was
a trick she had, to become majestic in a ball-gown. She held her head
high, as a woman should, and at her slender throat glowed the pearls of
Dorothy Manners.

The result of all this was to strike a little awe into the souls of many
of her playmates. Little Eugenie nearly dropped a curtsey. Belle Cluyme
was so impressed that she forgot for a whole hour to be spiteful. But
Puss Russell kissed her on both cheeks, and asked her if she really
wasn't nervous.

"Nervous!" exclaimed Jinny, "why?"

Miss Russell glanced significantly towards the doorway. But she said
nothing to her hostess, for fear of marring an otherwise happy occasion.
She retired with Jack Brim made to a corner, where she recited:--

"Oh young Lochinvar is come out of the East;
Of millions of Yankees I love him the least."

"What a joke if he should come!" cried Jack.

Miss Russell gasped.

Just as Mr. Clarence Colfax, resplendent in new evening clothes just
arrived from New York, was pressing his claim for the first dance with
his cousin in opposition to numerous other claims, the chatter of the
guests died away. Virginia turned her head, and for an instant the
pearls trembled on her neck. There was a young man cordially and
unconcernedly shaking hands with her father and Captain Lige. Her memory
of that moment is, strangely, not of his face (she did not deign to look
at that), but of the muscle of his shoulder half revealed as he stretched
forth his arm.

Young Mr. Colfax bent over to her ear.

"Virginia," he whispered earnestly, almost fiercely, Virginia, who
invited him here?"

"I did," said Virginia, calmly, "of course. Who invites any one here?"

"But!" cried Clarence, "do you know who he is?"

"Yes," she answered, "I know. And is that any reason why he should not
come here as a guest? Would you bar any gentleman from your house on
account of his convictions?"

Ah, Virginia, who had thought to hear that argument from your lips?
What would frank Captain Lige say of the consistency of women, if he
heard you now? And how give an account of yourself to Anne Brinsmade?
What contrariness has set you so intense against your own argument?

Before one can answer this, before Mr. Clarence can recover from his
astonishment and remind her of her vehement words on the subject at
Bellegarde, Mr. Stephen is making thither with the air of one who
conquers. Again the natural contrariness of women. What bare-faced
impudence! Has he no shame that lie should hold his head so high?
She feels her color mounting, even as her resentment rises at his self-
possession, and yet she would have despised him had he shown self-
consciousness in gait or manner in the sight of her assembled guests.
Nearly as tall as the Colonel himself, he is plainly seen, and Miss Puss
in her corner does not have to stand on tiptoe. Mr. Carvel does the
honors of the introduction.

But a daughter of the Carvels was not to fail before such a paltry
situation as this. Shall it be confessed that curiosity stepped into the
breach? As she gave him her hand she was wondering how he would act.

As a matter of fact he acted detestably. He said nothing whatever, but
stood regarding her with a clear eye and a face by far too severe. The
thought that he was meditating on the incident of the auction sale
crossed through her mind, and made her blood simmer. How dared he behave
so! The occasion called for a little small talk. An evil spirit took
possession of Virginia. She turned.

"Mr. Brice, do you know my cousin, Mr. Colfax?" she said.

Mr. Brice bowed. "I know Mr. Colfax by sight," he replied.

Then Mr. Colfax made a stiff bow. To this new phase his sense of humor
did not rise. Mr. Brice was a Yankee and no gentleman, inasmuch as he
had overbid a lady for Hester.

"Have you come here to live, Mr. Brice?" he asked.

The Colonel eyed his nephew sharply. But Stephen smiled.

"Yes," he said, "if I can presently make enough to keep me alive." Then
turning to Virginia, he said, "Will you dance, Miss Carvel?"

The effrontery of this demand quite drew the breath from the impatient
young gentlemen who had been waiting their turn. Several of them spoke
up in remonstrance. And for the moment (let one confess it who knows),
Virginia was almost tempted to lay her arm in his. Then she made a bow
that would have been quite as effective the length of the room.

"Thank you, Mr. Brice," she said, "but I am engaged to Mr. Colfax."

Abstractedly he watched her glide away in her cousin's arms. Stephen had
a way of being preoccupied at such times. When he grew older he would
walk the length of Olive Street, look into face after face of
acquaintances, not a quiver of recognition in his eyes. But most
probably the next week he would win a brilliant case in the Supreme
Court. And so now, indifferent to the amusement of some about him, he
stood staring after Virginia and Clarence. Where had he seen Colfax's
face before he came West? Ah, he knew. Many, many years before he had
stood with his father in the mellow light of the long gallery at
Hollingdean, Kent, before a portrait of the Stuarts' time. The face was
that of one of Lord Northwell's ancestors, a sporting nobleman of the
time of the second Charles. It was a head which compelled one to pause
before it. Strangely enough,--it was the head likewise of Clarence

The image of it Stephen had carried undimmed in the eye of his memory.
White-haired Northwell's story, also. It was not a story that Mr. Brice
had expected his small son to grasp. As a matter of fact Stephen had not
grasped it then--but years afterward. It was not a pleasant story,--and
yet there was much of credit in it to the young rake its subject,--of
dash and courage and princely generosity beside the profligacy and

The face had impressed him, with its story. He had often dreamed of it,
and of the lace collar over the dull-gold velvet that became it so well.
And here it was at last, in a city west of the Mississippi River. Here
were the same delicately chiselled features, with their pallor, and
satiety engraved there at one and twenty. Here was the same lazy scorn
in the eyes, and the look which sleeplessness gives to the lids: the
hair, straight and fine and black; the wilful indulgence--not of one
life, but of generations--about the mouth; the pointed chin. And yet
it was a fact to dare anything, and to do anything.

One thing more ere we have done with that which no man may explain.
Had he dreamed, too, of the girl? Of Virginia? Stephen might not tell,
but thrice had the Colonel spoken to him before he answered.

"You must meet some of these young ladies, sir."

It was little wonder that Puss Russell thought him dull on that first
occasion. Out of whom condescension is to flow is a matter of which
Heaven takes no cognizance. To use her own words, Puss thought him
"stuck up," when he should have been grateful. We know that Stephen
was not stuck up, and later Miss Russell learned that likewise. Very
naturally she took preoccupation for indifference. It is a matter worth
recording, however, that she did not tease him, because she did not dare.
He did not ask her to dance, which was rude. So she passed him back to
Mr. Carvel, who introduced him to Miss Renault and Miss Saint Cyr, and
other young ladies of the best French families. And finally, drifting
hither and thither with his eyes on Virginia, in an evil moment he was
presented to Mrs. Colfax. Perhaps it has been guessed that Mrs. Colfax
was a very great lady indeed, albeit the daughter of an overseer. She
bore Addison Colfax's name, spent his fortune, and retained her good
looks. On this particular occasion she was enjoying herself quite as
much as any young girl in the room, and, while resting from a waltz, was
regaling a number of gentlemen with a humorous account of a scandal at
the Virginia Spring's.

None but a great lady could have meted out the punishment administered to
poor Stephen. None but a great lady could have concerned it. And he,
who had never been snubbed before, fell headlong into her trap. How was
the boy to know that there was no heart in the smile with which she
greeted him? It was all over in an instant. She continued to talk about
Virginia Springs, "Oh, Mr. Brice, of course you have been there. Of
course you know the Edmunds. No? You haven't been there? You don't
know the Edmunds? I thought every body had been there. Charles, you
look as if you were just dying to waltz. Let's have a turn before the
music stops."

And so she whirled away, leaving Stephen forlorn, a little too angry to
be amused just then. In that state he spied a gentleman coming towards
him--a gentleman the sight of whom he soon came to associate with all
that is good and kindly in this world, Mr. Brinsmade. And now he put his
hand on Stephen's shoulder. Whether he had seen the incident just past,
who can tell?

"My son," said he, "I am delighted to see you here. Now that we are such
near neighbors, we must be nearer friends. You must know my wife, and my
son Jack, and my daughter Anne."

Mrs. Brinsmade was a pleasant little body, but plainly not a fit mate for
her husband. Jack gave Stephen a warm grasp of the hand, and an amused
look. As for Anne, she was more like her father; she was Stephen's
friend from that hour.

"I have seen you quite often, going in at your gate, Mr. Brice. And I
have seen your mother, too. I like her," said Anne. "She has such a
wonderful face." And the girl raised her truthful blue eyes to his.

"My mother would be delighted to know you," he ventured, not knowing what
else to say. It was an effort for him to reflect upon their new
situation as poor tenants to a wealthy family.

"Oh, do you think so?" cried Anne. "I shall call on her to-morrow, with
mother. Do you know, Mr. Brice," she continued, "do you know that your
mother is just the person I should go to if I were in trouble, whether I
knew her or not?"

"I have found her a good person in trouble," said Stephen, simply. He
might have said the same of Anne.

Anne was enchanted. She had thought him cold, but these words belied
that. She had wrapped him in that diaphanous substance with which young
ladies (and sometimes older ones) are wont to deck their heroes. She had
approached a mystery--to find it human, as are many mysteries. But thank
heaven that she found a dignity, a seriousness,--and these more than
satisfied her. Likewise, she discovered something she had not looked
for, an occasional way of saying things that made her laugh. She danced
with him, and passed him back to Miss Puss Russell, who was better
pleased this time; she passed him on to her sister, who also danced with
him, and sent him upstairs for her handkerchief.

Nevertheless, Stephen was troubled. As the evening wore on, he was more
and more aware of an uncompromising attitude in his young hostess, whom
he had seen whispering to various young ladies from behind her fan as
they passed her. He had not felt equal to asking her to dance a second
time. Honest Captain Lige Breast, who seemed to have taken a fancy to
him, bandied him on his lack of courage with humor that was a little
rough. And, to Stephen's amazement, even Judge Whipple had pricked him

It was on his way upstairs after Emily Russell's handkerchief that he ran
across another acquaintance. Mr. Eliphalet Hopper, in Sunday broadcloth,
was seated on the landing, his head lowered to the level of the top of
the high door of the parlor. Stephen caught a glimpse of the picture
whereon his eyes were fixed. Perhaps it is needless to add that Miss
Virginia Carvel formed the central figure of it.

"Enjoy in' yourself?" asked Mr. Hopper.

Stephen countered.

"Are you?" he asked.

"So so," said Mr. Hopper, and added darkly: "I ain't in no hurry. Just
now they callate I'm about good enough to manage the business end of an
affair like this here. I guess I can wait. But some day," said he,
suddenly barring Stephen's way, "some day I'll give a party. And hark to
me when I tell you that these here aristocrats 'll be glad enough to get

Stephen pushed past coldly. This time the man made him shiver. The
incident was all that was needed to dishearten and disgust him. Kindly
as he had been treated by others, far back in his soul was a thing that
rankled. Shall it be told crudely why he went that night? Stephen
Brice, who would not lie to others, lied to himself. And when he came
downstairs again and presented Miss Emily with her handkerchief, his next
move was in his mind. And that was to say good-night to the Colonel, and
more frigidly to Miss Carvel herself. But music has upset many a man's

The strains of the Jenny Lind waltz were beginning to float through the
rooms. There was Miss Virginia in a corner of the big parlor, for the
moment alone with her cousin. And thither Stephen sternly strode. Not
a sign did she give of being aware of his presence until he stood before
her. Even then she did not lift her eyes. But she said: "So you have
come at last to try again, Mr. Brice?"

And Mr. Brice said: "If you will do me the honor, Miss Carvel."

She did not reply at once. Clarence Colfax got to his feet. Then she
looked up at the two men as they stood side by side, and perhaps swept
them both in an instant's comparison.

The New Englander's face must have reminded her more of her own father,
Colonel Carvel. It possessed, from generations known, the power to
control itself. She afterwards admitted that she accepted him to tease
Clarence. Miss Russell, whose intuitions are usually correct, does not
believe this.

"I will dance with you," said Virginia.

But, once in his arms, she seemed like a wild thing, resisting. Although
her gown brushed his coat, the space between them was infinite, and her
hand lay limp in his, unresponsive of his own pressure. Not so her feet;
they caught the step and moved with the rhythm of the music, and round
the room they swung. More than one pair paused in the dance to watch
them. Then, as they glided past the door, Stephen was disagreeably
conscious of some one gazing down from above, and he recalled Eliphalet
Hopper and his position. The sneer from Eliphalet's seemed to penetrate
like a chilly draught.

All at once, Virginia felt her partner gathering up his strength, and by
some compelling force, more of wild than of muscle, draw her nearer.
Unwillingly her hand tightened under his, and her blood beat faster and
her color came and went as they two moved as one. Anger--helpless anger
--took possession of her as she saw the smiles on the faces of her
friends, and Puss Russell mockingly throwing a kiss as she passed her.
And then, strange in the telling, a thrill as of power rose within her
which she strove against in vain. A knowledge of him who guided her so
swiftly, so unerringly, which she had felt with no other man. Faster and
faster they stepped, each forgetful of self and place, until the waltz
came suddenly to a stop.

"By gum!" said Captain Lige to Judge Whipple, "you can whollop me on my
own forecastle if they ain't the handsomest couple I ever did see."



Naturally she took preoccupation for indifference
Principle in law not to volunteer information

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