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A Most Extraordinary Case by Henry James

 

LATE in the spring of the year 1865, just as the war had come to a close, a young invalid officer lay in bed in one of the uppermost chambers of one of the great New York hotels. His meditations were interrupted by the entrance of a waiter, who handed him a card superscribed Mrs. Samuel Mason, and bearing on its reverse the following words in pencil: “Dear Colonel Mason, I have only just heard .of your being here, ill and alone. Its too dreadful. Do you remember me? Will you see me? If you do, I think you will remember me. I insist on coming up. M. M.”

Mason was undressed, unshaven, weak, and feverish. His ugly little hotel chamber was in a state of confusion which had not even the merit of being picturesque. Mrs. Masons card was at once a puzzle and a heavenly intimation of comfort. But all that it represented was so dim to the young man's enfeebled perception that it took him some moments to collect his thoughts.

“It's a lady, sir,” said the waiter, by way of assisting him.

“Is she young or old?” asked Mason.

“Well, sir, she s a little of both.”

“I can't ask a lady to come up here,” groaned the invalid.

“Upon my word, sir, you look beautiful,” said the waiter. “They like a sick man. And I see she's of your own name,” continued Michael, in whom constant service had bred great frankness of speech; “the more shame to her for not coming before.”

Colonel Mason concluded that, as the visit had been of Mrs. Masons own seeking, he would receive her without more ado. “If she doesn't mind it, I'm sure I needn't,” said the poor fellow, who hadn't the strength to be over-punctilious. So in a very few moments his visitor was ushered up to his bedside. He saw before him a handsome, middle-aged blond woman, stout of figure, and dressed in the height of the fashion, who displayed no other embarrassment than such as was easily explained by the loss of breath consequent on the ascent of six flights of stairs.

“Do you remember me?” she asked, taking the young man's hand.

He lay back on his pillow, and looked at her. “You used to be my aunt,—-my aunt Maria,” he said.

“I'm your aunt Maria, still,” she answered. “It's very good of you not to have forgotten me.”

“It's very good of you not to have forgotten me,” said Mason, in a tone which betrayed a deeper feeling than the wish to return a civil speech.

“Dear me, you've had the war and a hundred dreadful things. I've been living in Europe, you know. Since my return I've been living in the country, in your uncles old house on the river, of which the lease had just expired when I came home. I came to town yesterday on business, and accidentally heard of your condition and your whereabouts. I knew you d gone into the army, and I had been wondering a dozen times what had become of you, and whether you wouldn't turn up now that the war's at last over. Of course I didn't lose a moment in coming to you. I'm so sorry for you.” Mrs. Mason looked about her for a seat. The chairs were encumbered with odds and ends belonging to her nephews wardrobe and to his equipment, and with the remnants of his last repast The good lady surveyed the scene with the beautiful mute irony of compassion.

The young man lay watching her comely face in delicious submission to whatever form of utterance this feeling might take. “You re the first woman to call a woman—-I've seen in I don't know how many months,” he said, contrasting her appearance with that of his room, and reading her thoughts.

“I should suppose so. I mean to be as good as a dozen.” She disembarrassed one of the chairs, and brought it to the bed. Then, seating herself, she ungloved one of her hands, and laid it softly on the young man's wrist. “What a great full-grown young fellow you've become!” she pursued. “Now, tell me, are you very ill?”

“You must ask the doctor,” said Mason. “I actually don't know. I'm extremely uncomfortable, but I suppose it's partly my circumstances.”

“I've no doubt it's more than half your circumstances. I've seen the doctor. Mrs. Van Zandt is an old friend of mine; and when I come to town, I always go to see her. It was from her I learned this morning that you were here in this state. We had begun by rejoicing over the new prospects of peace; and from that, of course, we had got to lamenting the numbers of young men who are to enter upon it with lost limbs and shattered health. It happened that Mrs. Van Zandt mentioned several of her husbands patients as examples, and yourself among the number. You were an excellent young man, miserably sick, without family or friends, and with no asylum but a suffocating little closet in a noisy hotel. You may imagine that I pricked up my ears, and asked your baptismal name. Dr. Van Zandt came in, and told me. Your name is luckily an uncommon one: It's absurd to suppose that there could be two Ferdinand Masons. In short, I felt that you were my husbands brothers child, and that at last I too might have my little turn at hero-nursing. The little that, the Doctor knew of your history agreed with the little that I knew, though I confess I was sorry to hear that you had never spoken of our relationship. But why should you? At all events you've got to acknowledge it now. I regret your not having said something about it before, only because the Doctor might have brought us together a month ago, and you would now have been well.”

“It will take me more than a month to get well,” said Mason, feeling that, if Mrs. Mason was meaning to exert herself on his behalf, she should know the real state of the case. “I never spoke of you, because I had quite lost sight of you. I fancied you were still in Europe; and indeed, he added, after a moments hesitation, I heard that you had married again.”

“Of course you did,” said Mrs. Mason, placidly. “I used to hear it once a month myself. But I had a much better right to fancy you married. Thank Heaven, however, there's nothing of that sort between us. We can each do as we please. I promise to cure you in a month, in spite of yourself.”

“What's your remedy?” asked the young man, with a smile very courteous, considering how sceptical it was.

“My first remedy is to take you out of this horrible hole. I talked it all over with Dr. Van Zandt. He say's you must get into the country. Why, my dear boy, this is enough to kill you outright, one Broadway outside of your window and another outside of your door! Listen to me. My house is directly on the river, and only two hours journey by rail You know I've no children. My only companion is my niece, Caroline Hofmann. You shall come and stay with us until you are as strong as you need be, if it takes a dozen years. You shall have sweet, cool air, and proper food, and decent attendance, and the devotion of a sensible woman. I shall not listen to a word of objection. You shall do as you please, get up when you please, dine when you please, go to bed when you please, and say what you please. I shall ask nothing of you but to let yourself be very dearly cared for. Do you remember how, when you were a boy at school, after your fathers death, you were taken with measles, and your uncle had you brought to our own house? I helped to nurse you myself, and I remember what nice manners you had in the very midst of your measles. Your uncle was very fond of you; and if he had had any considerable property of his own, I know he would have remembered you in his will. But of course he could not leave away his wife's money. What I wish to do for you is a very small part of what he would have done, if he had only lived, and heard. of your gallantry and your sufferings. So it's settled. I shall go home this afternoon. Tomorrow morning I shall despatch my man-servant to you with instructions. He s an Englishman. He thoroughly knows his business, and he will put up your things, and save you every particle of trouble. You've only to let yourself be dressed, and driven to the train. I shall, of course, meet you at your journeys end. Now don't tell me you re not strong enough.”

“I feel stronger at this moment than I've felt in a dozen weeks,” said Mason. “It's useless for me to attempt to thank you.”

“Quite useless. I shouldn't listen to you. And I suppose,” added Mrs. Mason, looking over the bare walls and. scanty furniture of the room, “you pay a fabulous price for this bower of bliss. Do you need money?”

The young man shook his head.

“Very well then,” resumed Mrs. Mason, conclusively, “from this moment you re in my hands.”

The young man lay speechless from the very fullness of his heart; but he strove by the pressure of his fingers to give her some assurance of his gratitude. His companion rose, and lingered beside him, drawing on her glove, and smiling quietly with the look of a long-baffled philanthropist who has at last discovered a subject of infinite capacity. Poor Ferdinand's weary visage reflected her smile. Finally, after the lapse of years, he too was being cared for. He let his head sink into the pillow, and silently inhaled the perfume of her sober elegance and her cordial good-nature. He felt like taking her dress in his hand, and asking her not to leave him,—-now that solitude would be bitter. His eyes, I suppose, betrayed this touching apprehension, doubly touching in a war-wasted young officer. As she prepared to bid him farewell, Mrs. Mason stooped, and kissed his forehead. He listened to the rustle of her dress across the carpet, to the gentle closing of the door, and to her retreating footsteps. And then, giving way to his weakness, he put his hands to his face, and cried like a homesick school-boy. He had been reminded of the exquisite side of life.

Matters went forward as Mrs. Mason had arranged them. At six o'clock on the following evening Ferdinand found himself deposited at one of the way stations of the Hudson River Railroad, exhausted by his journey, and yet excited at the prospect of its drawing to a close. Mrs. Mason was in waiting in a low basket-phaeton, with a magazine of cushions and wrappings. Ferdinand transferred himself to her side, and they drove rapidly homeward. Mrs. Masons house was a cottage of liberal make, with a circular lawn, a sinuous avenue, and a well-grown plantation of shrubbery. As the phaeton drew up before the porch, a young lady appeared in the doorway. Mason will be forgiven if he considered himself presented ex officio, as I may say, to this young lady. Before he really knew it, and in the absence of the servant, who, under Mrs. Masons directions, was busy in the background with his trunk, he had availed himself of her proffered arm, and had allowed her to assist him through the porch, across the hall, and into the parlour, where she graciously consigned him to a sofa which, for his especial use, she had caused to be wheeled up before a fire kindled for his especial comfort. He was unable, however, to take advantage of her good offices. Prudence dictated that without further delay he should betake himself to his room.

On the morning after his arrival he got up early, and made an attempt to be present at breakfast; but his strength failed him, and he was obliged to dress at his leisure, and content himself with a simple transition from his bed to his arm-chair. The chamber assigned him was designedly on the ground-floor, so that he was spared the trouble of measuring his strength with the staircase,—-a charming room, brightly carpeted and upholstered, and marked by a certain fastidious freshness which betrayed the uncontested dominion of women. It had a broad high window, draped in chintz and crisp muslin and opening upon the greensward of the lawn. At this window, wrapped in his dressing-gown, and lost in the embrace of the most unresisting of arm-chairs, he slowly discussed his simple repast. Before long his hostess made her appearance on the lawn outside the window. As this quarter of the house was covered with warm sunshine, Mason ventured to open the window and talk to her, while she stood out on the grass beneath her parasol.

“It's time to think of your physician,” she said. “You shall choose for yourself. The great physician here is Dr. Gregory, a gentleman of the old school. We have had him but once, for my niece and I have the health of a couple of dairy-maids. On that one occasion he—-well, he made a fool of himself. His practice is among the old families, and he only knows how to treat certain old-fashioned, obsolete complaints. Anything brought about by the war would be quite out of his range. And then he vacillates, and talks about his own maladies a lui. And, to tell the truth, we had a little repartee which makes our relations somewhat ambiguous.”

“I see he would never do,” said Mason, laughing. “But he's not your only physician?”

“No: there is a young man, a newcomer, a Dr. Knight, whom I don't know, but of whom I've heard very good things. I confess that I have a prejudice in favour of the young men. Dr. Knight has a position to establish, and I suppose he s likely to be especially attentive and careful. I believe, moreover, that he s been an army surgeon.”

“I knew a man of his name,” said Mason. “I wonder if this is he. His name was Horace Knight,—-a light-haired, near-sighted man.”

“I don't know,” said Mrs. Mason; “perhaps Caroline knows.” She retreated a few steps, and called to an upper window: “Caroline, what s Dr. Knights first name?”

Mason listened to Miss Hofmann's answer,—-"I have not the least idea.”

“Is it Horace?”

“I don't know.”

“Is he light or dark?”

“I've never seen him.”

“Is he near-sighted?”

“How in the world should I know?”

“I fancy he's as good as anyone,” said Ferdinand. “With you, my dear aunt, what does the doctor matter?”

Mrs. Mason accordingly sent for Dr. Knight, who, on arrival, turned out to be her nephews old acquaintance. Although the young men had been united by no greater intimacy than the superficial comradeship resulting from a winter in neighbouring quarters, they were very well pleased to come together again. Horace Knight was a young man of good birth, good looks ,good faculties, and good intentions, who, after a three years practice of surgery in the army, had undertaken to push his fortune in Mrs. Masons neighbourhood. His mother, a widow with a small income, had recently removed to the country for economy, and her son had been unwilling to leave her to live alone. The adjacent country, moreover, offered a promising field for a man of energy, a field well stocked with large families of easy income and of those conservative habits which lead people to make much of the cares of a physician. The local practitioner had survived the glory of his prime, and was not, perhaps, entirely guiltless of Mrs. Masons charge, that he had not kept up with the progress of the new diseases. The world, in fact, was getting too new for him, as well as for his old patients. He had had money invested in the South, precious sources of revenue, which the war had swallowed up at a gulp; he had grown frightened and nervous and querulous; he had lost his presence of mind and his spectacles in several important conjunctures; he had been repeatedly and distinctly fallible; a vague dissatisfaction pervaded the breasts of his patrons; he was without competitors: in short, fortune was propitious to Dr. Knight. Mason remembered the young physician only as a good-humoured, intelligent companion; but he soon had reason to believe that his medical skill would leave nothing to be desired. He arrived rapidly at a clear understanding of Ferdinand's case; he asked intelligent questions, and gave simple and definite instructions. The disorder was deeply seated and virulent, but there was no apparent reason why unflinching care and prudence should not subdue it.

“Your strength is very much reduced,” he said, as he took his hat and gloves to go; “but I should say you had an excellent constitution. It seems to me, however,—-if you will pardon me for saying so,—-to be partly your own fault that you have fallen so low. You have opposed no resistance; you haven't cared to get well.”

“I confess that I haven't, particularly. But I don't see how you should know it.”

“Why, it's obvious.”

“Well, it was natural enough. Until Mrs. Mason discovered me, I hadn't a friend in the world. I had become demoralized by solitude. I had almost forgotten the difference between sickness and health. I had nothing before my eyes to remind me in tangible form of that great mass of common human interests for the sake of which under whatever name he may disguise the impulse a man continues in health and recovers from disease. I had forgotten that I ever cared for books or ideas, or anything but the preservation of my miserable carcass. My carcass had become quite too miserable to be an object worth living for. I was losing time and money at an appalling rate; I was getting worse rather than better; and I therefore gave up resistance. It seemed better to die easy than to die hard. I put it all in the past tense, because within these three days I've become quite another man.”

“I wish to Heaven I could have heard of you,” said Knight. “I would have made you come home with me, if I could have done nothing else. It was certainly not a rose-coloured prospect; but what do you say now?” he continued, looking around the room. “I should say that at the present moment rose-colour was the prevailing hue.”

Mason assented with an eloquent smile.

“I congratulate you from my heart. Mrs. Mason—-if you don't mind my speaking of her—-is so thoroughly (and, I should suppose, incorrigibly) good-natured, that it's quite a surprise to find her extremely sensible.”

“Yes; and so resolute and sensible in her better moments,” said Ferdinand, “that it's quite a surprise to find her good-natured. She s a fine woman.”

“But I should say that your especial blessing was your servant. He looks as if he had come out of an English novel.”

“My especial blessing!. You haven't seen Miss Hofmann, then?”

“Yes: I met her in the hall. She looks as if she had come out of an American novel. I don't know that that's great praise; but, at all events, I make her come out of it.”

“You're bound in honour, then,” said Mason, laughing, “to put her into another.”

Masons conviction of his newly made happiness needed no enforcement at the Doctors hands. He felt that it would be his own fault if these were not among the most delightful days of his life. He resolved to give himself up without stint to his impressions,—-utterly to vegetate. His illness alone would have been a sufficient excuse for a long term of intellectual laxity; but Mason had other good reasons besides. For the past three years he had been stretched without intermission on the rack of duty. Although constantly exposed to hard service, it had been his fortune never to receive a serious wound; and, until his health broke down, he had taken fewer holidays than any officer I ever heard of. With an abundance of a certain kind of equanimity and self-control, a faculty of ready self-adaptation to the accomplished fact, in any direction, he was yet in his innermost soul a singularly nervous, over-scrupulous person. On the few occasions when he had been absent from the scene of his military duties, although duly authorized and warranted in the act, he had suffered so acutely from the apprehension that something was happening, or was about to happen, which not to have witnessed or to have had a hand in would be matter of eternal mortification, that he can be barely said to have enjoyed his recreation. The sense of lost time was, moreover, his perpetual bugbear, the feeling that precious hours were now fleeting uncounted, which in more congenial labours would suffice almost for the building of a monument more lasting than brass. This feeling he strove to propitiate as much as possible by assiduous reading and study in the intervals of his actual occupations. I cite the fact merely as an evidence of the uninterrupted austerity of his life for a long time before he fell sick. I might triple this period, indeed, by a glance at his college years, and at certain busy months which intervened between this close of his youth and the opening of the war. Mason had always worked. He was fond of work to begin with; and, in addition, the complete absence of family ties had allowed him to follow his tastes without obstruction or diversion. This circumstance had been at once a great gain to him and a serious loss. He reached his twenty-seventh year a very accomplished scholar, as scholars go, but a great dunce in certain social matters. He was quite ignorant of all those lighter and more evanescent forms of conviviality attached to being somebody's son, brother, or cousin. At last, however, as he reminded himself, he was to discover what it was to be the nephew of somebody's husband. Mrs. Mason was to teach him the meaning of the adjective domestic. It would have been hard to learn it in a pleasanter way. Mason felt that he was to learn something from his very idleness, and that he would leave the house a wiser as well as a better man. It became probable, thanks to that quickening of the faculties which accompanies the dawning of a sincere and rational attachment, that in this last respect he would not he disappointed. Very few days sufficed to reveal to him the many excellent qualities of his hostess, her warm capacious heart, her fairness of mind, her good temper, her good taste, her vast fund of experience and of reminiscence, and, indeed, more than all, a certain passionate devotedness, to which fortune, in leaving her a childless widow, had done but scant justice. The two accordingly established a friendship, a friendship that promised as well for the happiness of each as any that ever undertook to meddle with happiness. If I were telling my story from Mrs. Masons point of view, I take it that I might make a very good thing of the statement that this lady had deliberately and solemnly conferred her affection upon my hero; but I am compelled to let it stand in this simple shape. Excellent, charming person that she was, she had every right to the rich satisfaction which belonged to a liberal yet not too liberal estimate of her guest. She had divined him,—-so much the better for her. That it was very much the better for him is obviously one of the elementary facts of my narrative; a fact of which Mason became so rapidly and profoundly sensible, that he was soon able to dismiss it from his thoughts to his life, its proper sphere.

In the space of ten days, then, most of the nebulous impressions evoked by change of scene had gathered into substantial form. Others, however, were still in the nebulous state, diffusing a gentle light upon Ferdinand's path. Chief among these was the mild radiance of which Miss Hofmann was the centre. For three days after his arrival Mason had been confined to his room by the aggravation of his condition consequent upon his journey. It was not till the fourth day, therefore, that he was able to renew the acquaintance so auspiciously commenced. When at last, at dinner-time, he reappeared in the drawing-room, Miss Hofmann greeted him almost as an old friend. Mason had already discovered that she was young and gracious; he now rapidly advanced to the conclusion that she was uncommonly pretty. Before dinner was over, he had made up his mind that she was neither more nor less than beautiful. Mrs. Mason had found time to give him a full account of her life. She had lost her mother in infancy, and had been adopted by her aunt in the early years of this lady's widowhood. Her father was a man of evil habits,—-a drunkard ,a gambler, and a rake, outlawed from decent society. His only dealings with his daughter were to write her every month or two a begging letter, she being in possession of her mothers property. Mrs. Mason had taken her niece to Europe, and given her every advantage. She had had. an expensive education she had travelled; she had gone into the world; she had been presented, like a good republican, to no less than three European sovereigns; she had been admired; she had had half a dozen offers of marriage to her aunt's knowledge, and others, perhaps, of which she was ignorant, and had refused them all. She was now twenty-six years of age, beautiful, accomplished, and au mieux with her bankers. She was an excellent girl, with a will of her own. “I'm very fond of her,” Mrs. Mason declared, with her habitual frankness; “and I suppose she s equally fond of me; but we long ago gave up all idea of playing at mother and daughter. We have never had a disagreement since she was fifteen years old; but we have never had an agreement either. Caroline is no sentimentalist. She's honest, good-tempered, and perfectly discerning. She foresaw that we were still to spend a number of years together, and she wisely declined at the outset to affect a range of feelings that wouldn't stand the wear and tear of time. She knew that she would make a poor daughter, and she contented herself with being a good niece. A capital niece she is. In fact we're almost sisters. There are moments when I feel as if she were ten years older than I, and as if it were absurd in me to attempt to interfere with her life. I never do. She has it quite in her own hands. My attitude is little more than a state of affectionate curiosity as to what she will do with it. Of course she'll marry, sooner or later; but I'm curious to see the man of her choice. In Europe, you know, girls have no acquaintances but such as they share with their parents and guardians; and in that way I know most of the gentlemen who have tried to make themselves acceptable to my niece. There were some excellent young men in the number; but there was not one or, rather, there was but one for whom Caroline cared a straw. That one she loved, I believe; but they had a quarrel, and she lost him. She s very discreet and conciliating. I'm sure no girl ever before got rid of half a dozen suitors with so little offence. Ah, she's a dear, good girl!” Mrs. Mason pursued. “She's saved me a world of trouble in my day. And when I think what she might have been, with her beauty, and what not! She has kept all her suitors as friends. There are two of them who write to her still. She doesn't answer their letters but once in a while she meets them, and thanks them for writing, and that contents them. The others are married, and Caroline remains single. I take for granted it won't last forever. Still, although she's not a sentimentalist, she'll not marry a man she doesn't care for, merely because she's growing old. Indeed, It's only the sentimental girls, to my belief, that do that. They covet a man for his money or his looks, and then give the feeling some fine name. But there s one thing, Mr. Ferdinand,” added Mrs. Mason, at the close of these remarks, “you will be so good as not to fall in love with my niece. I can assure you that she'll not fall in love with you, and a hopeless passion will not hasten your recovery. Caroline is a charming girl. You can live with her very well without that. She's good for common daylight, and you'll have no need of wax-candles and ecstasies.”

“Be reassured,” said Ferdinand, laughing. “I'm quite too attentive to myself at present to think of anyone else. Miss Hofmann might be dying for a glance of my eye, and I shouldn't hesitate to sacrifice her. It takes more than half a man to fall in love.”

At the end of ten days summer had fairly set in; and Mason found it possible, and indeed profitable, to spend a large portion of his time in the open air. He was unable either to ride or to walk; and the only form of exercise which he found practicable was an occasional drive in Mrs. Masons phaeton. On these occasions Mrs. Mason was his habitual companion. The neighbourhood offered an interminable succession of beautiful drives; and poor Ferdinand took a truly exquisite pleasure in reclining idly upon a pile of cushions, warmly clad, empty-handed, silent, with only his eyes in motion, and rolling rapidly between fragrant hedges and springing crops, and beside the outskirts of woods, and along the heights which overlooked the river. Detested war was over, and all nature had ratified the peace. Mason used to gaze up into the cloudless sky until his eyes began to water, and you would have actually supposed he was shedding sentimental tears. Besides these comfortable drives with his hostess, Mason had adopted another method of inhaling the sunshine. He used frequently to spend several hours at a time on a veranda beside the house, sheltered from the observation of visitors. Here, with an arm-chair and a footstool, a cigar and half a dozen volumes of novels, to say nothing of the society of either of the ladies, and sometimes of both, he suffered the mornings to pass unmeasured and uncounted. The chief incident of these mornings was the Doctors visit, in which, of course, there was a strong clement of prose,—-and very good prose, as I may add, for the Doctor was turning out an excellent fellow. But, for the rest, time unrolled itself like a gentle strain of music. Mason knew so little, from direct observation, of the vie intime of elegant, intelligent women, that their habits, their manners, their household motions, their principles, possessed in his view all the charm of a spectacle, a spectacle which he contemplated with the indolence of an invalid, the sympathy of a man, of taste, and a little of the awkwardness which women gladly allow, and indeed provoke, in a soldier, for the pleasure of forgiving it. It was a very simple matter to Miss Hofmann that she should be dressed in fresh crisp muslin, that her hands should be white and her attitudes felicitous; she had long since made her peace with these things. But to Mason, who was familiar only with books and men, they were objects of constant, half-dreamy contemplation. He would sit for half an hour at once, with a book on his knees and the pages unturned, scrutinizing with ingenious indirectness the simple mass of colours and contours which made up the physical personality of Miss Hofmann. There was no question as to her beauty, or as to its being a warm, sympathetic beauty, and not the cold perfection of poetry. She was the least bit taller than most women, and neither stout nor the reverse. Her hair was of a dark and lustrous brown, turning almost to black, and lending itself readily to those multitudinous ringlets which were then in fashion. Her forehead was broad, open, and serene; and her eyes of that deep and clear sea-green that you may observe of a summers afternoon, when the declining sun shines through the rising of a wave. Her complexion was the colour of perfect health. These, with her full, mild lips, her generous and flexible figure, her magnificent hands, were charms enough to occupy Mason's attention, and it was but seldom that he allowed it to be diverted. Mrs. Mason was frequently called away by her household cares, but Miss Hofmann's time was apparently quite her own. Nevertheless, it came into Ferdinand's head one day, that she gave him her company only from a sense of duty, and when, according to his wont, he had allowed this impression to ripen in his mind, he ventured to assure her that, much as he valued her society, he should be sorry to believe that her gracious bestowal of it interfered with more profitable occupations. “I'm no companion,” he said. “I don't pretend to be one. I sit here deaf and dumb, and blind and halt, patiently waiting to be healed,—-waiting till this vagabond Nature of ours strolls my way, and brushes me with the hem of her garment.”

“I find you very good company,” Miss Hofmann replied on this occasion. “What do you take me for? The hero of a hundred fights, a young man who has been reduced to a shadow in the service of his country, I should be very fastidious if I asked for anything better.”

“O, if it's on theory!” said Mason. And, in spite of Miss Hofmann's protest, he continued to assume that it was on theory that he was not intolerable. But she remained true to her post, and with a sort of placid inveteracy which seemed to the young man to betray either a great deal of indifference or a great deal of self-command. “She thinks I'm stupid,” he said to himself. “Of course she thinks I'm stupid. How should she think otherwise? She and her aunt have talked me over. Mrs. Mason has enumerated my virtues, and Miss Hofmann has added them up: total, a well-meaning bore. She has armed herself with patience. I must say it becomes her very well.” Nothing was more natural, however, than that Mason should exaggerate the effect of his social incapacity. His remarks were desultory, but not infrequent; often trivial, but always good-humoured and informal. The intervals of silence, indeed, which enlivened his conversation with Miss Hofmann, might easily have been taken for the confident pauses in the talk of old friends.

Once in a while Miss Hofmann would sit down at the piano and play to him. The veranda communicated with the little sitting-room by means of a long window, one side of which stood open. Mason would move his chair to this aperture, so that he might see the music as well as hear it. Seated at the instrument, at the farther end of the half-darkened room, with her figure in half-profile, and her features, her movements, the colour of her dress, but half defined in the cool obscurity, Miss Hofmann would discourse infinite melody. Masons eyes rested awhile on the vague white folds of her dress, on the heavy convolutions of her hair, and the gentle movement of her head in sympathy with the music. Then a single glance in the other direction revealed another picture, the dazzling midday sky, the close-cropped lawn, lying almost black in its light, and the patient, round-backed gardener, in white shirtsleeves, clipping the hedge or rolling the gravel. One morning, what with the music, the light, the heat, and the fragrance of the flowers, from the perfect equilibrium of his senses, as it were, Mason manfully went to sleep. On waking he found that he had slept an hour, and that the sun had invaded the veranda. The music had ceased; but on looking into the parlour he saw Miss Hofmann still at the piano. A gentleman was leaning on the instrument with his back toward the window, intercepting her face. Mason sat for some moments, hardly sensible, at first, of his transition to consciousness, languidly guessing at her companions identity. In a short time his observation was quickened by the fact that the picture before him was animated by no sound of voices. The silence was unnatural, or, at the least, disagreeable. Mason moved his chair, and the gentleman looked round. The gentleman was Horace Knight. The Doctor called out, “Good morning!” from his place, and finished his conversation with Miss Hofmann before coming out to his patient. When he moved away from the piano, Mason saw the reason of his friends silence. Miss Hofmann had been trying to decipher a difficult piece of music, the Doctor had been trying to assist her, and they had both been brought to a stop.

“What a clever fellow he is!” thought Mason. “There he stands, rattling off musical terms as if he had never thought of anything else. And yet, when he talks medicine, It's impossible to talk more to the point.” Mason continued to be very well satisfied with Knights intelligence of his case, and with his treatment of it. He had been in the country now for three weeks, and he would hesitate indeed to affirm that he felt materially better; but he felt more comfortable. There were moments when he feared to push the inquiry as to his real improvement, because he had a sickening apprehension that he would discover that in one or two important particulars he was worse. In the course of time he imparted these fears to his physician. “But I may be mistaken,” he added, “and for this reason. During the last fortnight I have become much more sensible of my condition than while I was in town. I then accepted each additional symptom as a matter of course. The more the better, I thought. But now I expect them to give an account of themselves. Now I have a positive wish to recover.”

Dr. Knight looked at his patient for a moment curiously. “You are right,” he said; “a little impatience is a very good thing.”

“O, I'm not impatient. I'm patient to a most ridiculous extent. I allow myself a good six months, at the very least.”

“That is certainly not unreasonable,” said Knight. “And will you allow me a question? Do you intend to spend those six months in this place?”

“I am unable to answer you. I suppose I shall finish the summer here, unless the summer finishes me. Mrs. Mason will hear of nothing else. In September I hope to be well enough to go back to town, even if I'm not well enough to think of work. What do you advise?”

“I advise you to put away all thoughts of work. That is imperative. Haven't you been at work all your life long? Can't you spare a pitiful little twelve-month to health and idleness and pleasure.”

“Ah, pleasure, pleasure!” said Mason, ironically.

“Yes, pleasure,” said the Doctor. “What has she done to you that you should speak of her in that manner?”

“O, she bothers me,” said Mason.

“You are very fastidious. It's better to be bothered by pleasure than by pain.”

“I don't deny it. But there is a way of being indifferent to pain. I don't mean to say that I have found it out, but in the course of my illness I have caught a glimpse of it. But it's beyond my strength to be indifferent to pleasure. In two words, I'm afraid of dying of kindness.”

“O, nonsense!”

“Yes, It's nonsense; and yet it's not. There would be nothing miraculous in my not getting well.”

“It will be your fault if you don't. It will prove that you re fonder of sickness than health, and that you're not fit company for sensible mortals. Shall I tell you?” continued the Doctor, after a moments hesitation. “When I knew you in the army, I always found you a step beyond my comprehension. You took things too hard. You had scruples and doubts about everything. And on top of it all you were devoured with the mania of appearing to take things easily and to be perfectly indifferent. You played your part very well, but you must do me the justice to confess that it was a part.”

“I hardly know whether that s a compliment or an impertinence. I hope, at least, that you don't mean to accuse me of playing a part at the present moment.”

“On the contrary. I'm your physician; you're frank.”

“It's not because you re my physician that I'm frank,” said Mason. “I shouldn't think of burdening you in that capacity with my miserable caprices and fancies;” and Ferdinand paused a moment. “You're a man!” he pursued, laying his hand on his companion s arm. “There s nothing here but women, Heaven reward them! I'm saturated with whispers and perfumes and smiles, and the rustling of dresses. It takes a man to understand a man.”

“It takes more than a man to understand you, my dear Mason,” said Knight, with a kindly smile. “But I listen.”

Mason remained silent, leaning back in his chair, with his eyes wandering slowly over the wide patch of sky disclosed by the window, and his hands languidly folded on his knees. The Doctor examined him with a look half amused, half perplexed. But at last his face grew quite sober, and he contracted his brow. He placed his hand on Masons arm and shook it gently, while Ferdinand met his gaze. The Doctor frowned, and, as he did so, his companions mouth expanded into a placid smile. “If you don't get well,” said Knight, “if you don't get well—-" and he paused.

“What will be the consequences?” asked Ferdinand, still smiling.

“I shall hate you,” said Knight, half smiling too.

Mason broke into a laugh. “What shall I care for that?”

“I shall tell people that you were a poor, spiritless fellow, that you are no loss.”

“I give you leave,” said Ferdinand.

The Doctor got up. “I don't like obstinate patients,” he said.

Ferdinand burst into a long loud laugh, which ended in a fit of coughing.

“I'm getting too amusing,” said Knight; “I must go.”

“Nay, laugh and grow fat,” cried Ferdinand. “I promise to get well.” But that evening, at least, he was no better, as it turned out, for his momentary exhilaration. Before turning in for the night, he went into the drawing-room to spend half an hour with the ladies. The room was empty, but the lamp was lighted, and he sat down by the table and read a chapter in a novel. He felt excited, light-headed, light-hearted, half-intoxicated, as if he had been drinking strong coffee. He put down his book, and went over to the mantelpiece, above which hung a mirror, and looked at the reflection of his face. For almost the first time in his life he examined his features, and wondered if he were good-looking. He was able to conclude only that he looked very thin and pale, and utterly unfit for the business of life. At last he heard an opening of doors overhead, and a rustling of voluminous skirts on the stairs. Mrs. Mason came in, fresh from the hands of her maid, and dressed for a party.

“And is Miss Hofmann going?” asked Mason. He felt that his heart was beating, and that he hoped Mrs. Mason would say no. His momentary sense of strength, the mellow lamplight, the open piano, and the absence, of the excellent woman before him, struck him as so many reasons for her remaining at home. But the sound of the young lady's descent upon the stairs was an affirmative to his question. She forthwith appeared upon the threshold, dressed in crape of a kind of violent blue, with desultory clusters of white roses. For some ten minutes Mason had the pleasure of being witness of that series of pretty movements and preparations with which women in full dress beguile the interval before their carriage is announced; their glances at the mirror, their slow assumption of their gloves, their mutual revisions and felicitations.

“Isn't she lovely?” said Miss Hofmann to the young man, nodding at her aunt, who looked every inch the handsome woman that she was.

“Lovely, lovely, lovely!” said Ferdinand, so emphatically, that Miss Hofmann transferred her glance to him; while Mrs. Mason good-humouredly turned her back, and Caroline saw that Mason was engaged in a survey of her own person.

Miss Hofmann smiled discreetly. “I wish very much you might come,” she said.

“I shall go to bed,” answered Ferdinand, simply.

“Well, that s much better. We shall go to bed at two o'clock. Meanwhile I shall caper about the rooms to the sound of a piano and fiddle, and Aunt Maria will sit against the wall with her toes tucked under a chair. Such is life!”

“You'll dance then,” said Mason.

“I shall dance. Dr. Knight has invited me.”

“Does he dance well, Caroline?” asked Mrs. Mason.

“That remains to be seen. I have a strong impression that he does not.”

“Why?” asked Ferdinand.

“He does so many other things well.”

“That s no reason,” said Mrs. Mason. “Do you dance, Ferdinand?”

Ferdinand shook his head.

“I like a man to dance,” said Caroline, “ and yet I like him not to dance.”

“That s a very womanish speech, my dear,” said Mr. Mason.

“I suppose it is. It's inspired by my white gloves and my low dress, and my roses. When once a woman gets on such things, Colonel Mason, expect nothing but nonsense. Aunt Maria,” the young lady continued, “will you button my glove?”

“Let me do it,” said Ferdinand. “Your aunt has her gloves on.”

“Thank you.” And Miss Hofmann extended a long white arm, and drew back with her other hand the bracelet from her wrist. Her glove had three buttons, and Mason performed the operation with great deliberation and neatness.

“And now,” said he, gravely, “I hear the carriage. You want me to put on your shawl.”

“If you please,” Miss Hofmann passed her full white drapery into his hands, and then turned about her fair shoulders. Mason solemnly covered them, while the waiting-maid, who had come in, performed the same service for the elder lady.

“Good by,” said the latter, giving him her hand. “You're not to come out into the air.” And Mrs. Mason, attended by her maid, transferred herself to the carriage. Miss Hofmann gathered up her loveliness, and prepared to follow. Ferdinand stood leaning against the parlour door, watching her; and as she rustled past him she nodded farewell with a silent smile. A characteristic smile, Mason thought it, a smile in which there was no expectation of triumph and no affectation of reluctance, but just the faintest suggestion of perfectly good-humoured resignation. Mason went to the window and saw the carriage roll away with its lighted lamps, and then stood looking out into the darkness. The sky was cloudy. As he turned away the maidservant came in, and took from the table a pair of rejected gloves. “I hope you re feeling better, sir,” she said, politely.

“Thank you, I think I am.”

“It's a pity you couldn't have gone with the ladies.”

“I'm not well enough yet to think of such things,” said Mason, trying to smile. But as he walked across the floor he felt himself attacked by a sudden sensation, which cannot be better described than as a general collapse. He felt dizzy, faint, and sick. His head swam and his knees trembled. “I'm ill,” he said, sitting down on the sofa; “you must call William.”

William speedily arrived, and conducted the young man to his room. “What on earth had you been doing, sir?” asked this most irreproachable of serving-men, as he helped him to undress.

Ferdinand was silent a moment. “I had been putting on Miss Hofmann's shawl,” he said.

“Is that all, sir?”

“And I had been buttoning her glove.”

“Well, sir, you must be very prudent.”

“So it appears,” said Ferdinand.

He slept soundly, however, and the next morning was the better for it.

“I'm certainly better,” he said to himself, as he slowly proceeded to his toilet. “A month ago such an attack as that of last evening would have effectually banished sleep. Courage, then. The Devil isn't dead, but he's dying.”

In the afternoon he received a visit from Horace Knight. “So you danced last evening at Mrs. Bradshaw's,” he said to his friend.

“Yes, I danced. It's a great piece of frivolity for a man in my position; but I thought there would be no harm in doing it just once, to show them I know how. My abstinence in future will tell the better. Your ladies were there. I danced with Miss Hofmann. She was dressed in blue, and she was the most beautiful woman in the room. Every one was talking about it.”

“I saw her,” said Mason, “before she went off.”

“You should have seen her there,” said Knight. “The music, the excitement, the spectators, and all that, bring out a woman's beauty.”

“So I suppose,” said Ferdinand.

“What strikes me,” pursued the Doctor, “is her—-what shall I call it?—-her vitality, her quiet buoyancy. Of course, you didn't see her when she came home? If you had, you would have noticed, unless I'm very much mistaken, that she was as fresh and elastic at two o'clock as she had been at ten. While all the other women looked tired and jaded and used up, she alone showed no signs of exhaustion. She was neither pale nor flushed, but still light-footed, rosy, and erect. She's solid. You see I can't help looking at such things as a physician. She has a magnificent organization. Among all those other poor girls she seemed to have something of the inviolable strength of a goddess;” and Knight smiled frankly as he entered the region of eloquence. “She wears her artificial roses and dew-drops as if she had gathered them on the mountain-tops, instead of buying them in Broadway. She moves with long steps, her dress rustles, and to a man of fancy it's the sound of Diana on the forest-leaves.”

Ferdinand nodded assent. “So you re a man of fancy,” he said.

“Of course I am,” said the Doctor.

Ferdinand was not inclined to question his friends estimate of Miss Hofmann, nor to weigh his words. They only served to confirm an impression which was already strong in his own mind. Day by day he had felt the growth of this impression. “He must be a strong man who would approach her,” he said to himself. “He must be as vigorous and elastic as she herself; or in the progress of courtship she will leave him far behind. He must be able to forget his lungs and his liver and his digestion. To have broken down in his country's defence, even, will avail him nothing. What is that to her? She needs a man who has defended his country without breaking down,—-a being complete, intact, well seasoned, invulnerable. Then,—-then,” thought Ferdinand, “perhaps she will consider him. Perhaps it will be to refuse him.. Perhaps, like Diana, to whom Knight compares her, she is meant to live alone. It's certain, at least, that she is able to wait. She will be young at forty-five. Women who are young at forty-five are perhaps not the most interesting women. They are likely to have felt for nobody and for nothing. But it's often less their own fault than that of the men and women about them. This one at least can feel; the thing is to move her. Her soul is an instrument of a hundred strings, only it takes a strong hand to draw sound. Once really touched, they will reverberate for ever and ever.”

In fine, Mason was in love. It will be seen that his passion was not arrogant nor uncompromising; but, on the contrary, patient, discreet, and modest, almost timid. For ten long days, the most memorable days of his life, days which, if he had kept a journal, would have been left blank, he held his tongue. He would have suffered anything rather than reveal his emotions, or allow them to come accidentally to Miss Hofmann's knowledge. He would cherish them in silence until he should feel in all his sinews that he was himself again, and then he would open his heart. Meanwhile he would be patient; he would be the most irreproachable, the most austere, the most insignificant of convalescents. He was as yet unfit to touch her, to look at her, to speak to her. A man was not to go a wooing in his dressing-gown and slippers.

There came a day, however, when, in spite of his high resolves, Ferdinand came near losing his balance. Mrs. Mason had arranged with him to drive in the phaeton after dinner. But it befell that, an hour before the appointed time, she was sent for by a neighbour who had been taken ill.

“But it's out of the question that you should lose your drive,” said Miss Hofmann, who brought him her aunts apologies. “If you are still disposed to go, I shall be happy to take the reins. I shall not be as good company as Aunt Maria, but perhaps I shall be as good company as Thomas.” It was settled, accordingly, that Miss Hofmann should act as her aunts substitute, and at five o'clock the phaeton left the door. The first half of their drive was passed in silence; and almost the first words they exchanged were as they finally drew near to a space of enclosed ground, beyond which, through the trees at its farther extremity, they caught a glimpse of a turn in the river. Miss Hofmann involuntarily pulled up.

The sun had sunk low, and the cloudless western sky glowed with rosy yellow. The trees which concealed the view flung over the grass a great screen of shadow, which reached out into the road. Between their scattered stems gleamed the broad white current of the Hudson. Our friends both knew the spot. Mason had seen it from a boat, when one morning a gentleman in the neighbourhood, thinking to do him a kindness, had invited him to take a short sail; and with Miss Hofmann it had long been a frequent resort.

“How beautiful!” she said, as the phaeton stopped.

“Yes, if it wasn't for those trees,” said Ferdinand. “They conceal the best part of the view.”

“I should rather say they indicate it,” answered his companion. “From here they conceal it; but they suggest to you to make your way in, and lose yourself behind them, and enjoy the prospect in privacy.”

“But you can't take a vehicle in.”

“No: there is only a footpath, although I have ridden in. One of these days, when you re stronger, you must drive to this point, and get out, and walk over to the bank.”

Mason was silent a moment, a moment during which he felt in his limbs the tremor of a bold resolution. “I noticed the place the day I went out on the water with Mr. McCarthy. I immediately marked it as my own. The bank is quite high, and the trees make a little amphitheatre on its summit. I think there s a bench.”

“Yes, there are two benches,” said Caroline.

“Suppose, then, we try it now, “ said Mason, with an effort.

“But you can never walk over that meadow. You see it's broken ground. And, at all events, I can't consent to your going alone. “

“That, madam,” said Ferdinand, rising to his feet in the phaeton, “is a piece of folly I should never think of proposing. Yonder is a house, and in it there are people. Can't we drive thither, and place the horse in their custody?”

“Nothing is more easy, if you insist upon it. The house is occupied by a German family with a couple of children, who are old friends of mine. When I come here on horseback they always clamour for coppers. From their little garden the walk is shorter.”

So Miss Hofmann turned the horse toward the cottage, which stood at the head of a lane, a few yards from the road. A little boy and girl, with bare heads and bare feet,—-the former members very white and the latter very black,—-came out to meet her. Caroline greeted them good-humouredly in German. The girl, who was the elder, consented to watch the horse, while the boy volunteered to show the visitors the shortest way to the river. Mason reached the point in question without great fatigue, and found a prospect which would have repaid even greater trouble. To the right and to the left, a hundred feet below them, stretched the broad channel of the seaward-shifting waters. In the distance rose the gentle masses of the Catskills with all the intervening region vague and neutral in the gathering twilight. A faint odour of coolness came up to their faces from the stream below.

“You can sit down,” said the little boy, doing the honours.

“Yes, Colonel, sit down,” said Caroline. “You've already been on your feet too much.”

Ferdinand obediently seated himself unable to deny that he was glad to do so. Miss Hofmann released from her grasp the skirts which she had gathered up in her passage from the phaeton, and strolled to the edge of the cliff, where she stood for some moments talking with her little guide. Mason could only hear that she was speaking German. After the lapse of a few moments Miss Hofmann turned back, still talking—-or rather listening—-to the child.

“He's very pretty,” she said in French, as she stopped before Ferdinand.

Mason broke into a laugh. “To think,” said he, “that that little youngster should forbid us the use of two languages! Do you speak French, my child?”

“No,” said the boy, sturdily, “I speak German.”

“Ah, there I can't follow you!”

The child stared a moment, and then replied, with pardonable irrelevancy, “I'll show you the way down to the water.”

“There I can't follow you either. I hope you'll not go, Miss Hofmann" added the young man, observing a movement on Caroline's part.

“Is it hard?” she asked of the child.

“No, its easy.”

“Will I tear my dress?”

The child shook his head; and Caroline descended the bank under his guidance.

As some moments elapsed before she reappeared, Ferdinand ventured to the edge of the cliff; and looked down. She was sitting on a rock on the narrow margin of sand, with her hat in her lap, twisting the feather in her fingers. In a few moments it seemed to Ferdinand that he caught the tones of her voice, wafted upward as if she were gently singing. He listened intently, and at last succeeded in distinguishing several words; they were German. “Confound her German!” thought the young man. Suddenly Miss Hofmann rose from her seat, and, after a short interval, reappeared on the platform. “What did you find down there?” asked Ferdinand, almost savagely.

“Nothing, a little strip of a beach and a pile of stones.”

“You have torn your dress,” said Mason.

Miss Hofmann surveyed her drapery. “Where, if you please?”

“There, in front.” And Mason extended his walking-stick, and inserted it into the injured fold of muslin. There was a certain graceless brusquerie in the movement which attracted Miss Hofmann's attention. She looked at her companion, and, seeing that his face was discomposed, fancied that he was annoyed at having been compelled to wait.

“Thank you,” she said; “It's easily mended. And now suppose we go back.”

“No, not yet,” said Ferdinand. “We have plenty of time.”

“Plenty of time to catch cold,” said Miss Hofmann, kindly.

Mason had planted his stick where he had let it fall on withdrawing it from contact with his companion's skirts, and stood leaning against it, with his eyes on the young girls face. “What if I do catch cold?” he asked abruptly.

“Come, don't talk nonsense,” said Miss Hofmann.

“I never was more serious in my life.” And, pausing a moment, he drew a couple of steps nearer. She had gathered her shawl closely about her, and stood with her arms lost in it, holding her elbows. “I don't mean that quite literally,” Mason continued. “I wish to get well, on the whole. But there are moments when this perpetual self-coddling seems beneath the dignity of man, and I'm tempted to purchase one short hour of enjoyment, of happiness, at the cost well, at the cost of my life if necessary.”

This was a franker speech than Ferdinand had yet made the reader may estimate his habitual reserve. Miss Hofmann must have been somewhat surprised, and even slightly puzzled. But it was plain that he expected a rejoinder.

“I don't know what temptation you may have had,” she answered, smiling; “but I confess that I can think of none in your present circumstances likely to involve the great sacrifice you speak of. What you say, Colonel Mason, is half—-”

“Half what?”

“Half ungrateful. Aunt Maria flatters herself that she has made existence as easy and as peaceful for you—-as stupid, if you like as it can possibly he for a—-a clever man. And now, after all, to accuse her of introducing temptations.”

“Your aunt Maria is the best of women, Miss Hofmann,” said Mason. “But I'm not a clever man. I'm deplorably weak-minded. Very little things excite me. Very small pleasures are gigantic temptations. I would give a great deal, for instance, to stay here with you for half an hour.”

It is a delicate question whether Miss Hofmann now ceased to he perplexed; whether she discerned in the young mans accents it was his tone, his attitude, his eyes that were fully significant, rather than his words an intimation of that sublime and simple truth in the presence of which a wise woman puts off coquetry and prudery, and stands invested with perfect charity. But charity is nothing if not discreet; and Miss Hofmann may very well have effected the little transaction I speak of, and yet have remained, as she did remain, gracefully wrapped in her shawl, with the same serious smile on her face. Ferdinand's heart was thumping under his waistcoat; the words in which he might tell her that he loved her were fluttering there like frightened birds in a storm-shaken cage. Whether his lips would form them or not depended on the next words she uttered. On the faintest sign of defiance or of impatience he would really give her something to coquet withal. I repeat that I do not undertake to follow Miss Hofmann's feelings; I only know that her words were those of a woman of great instincts. “My dear Colonel Mason,” she said, “I wish we might remain here the whole evening. The moments are quite too pleasant to be wantonly sacrificed. I simply put you on your conscience. If you believe that you can safely do so, that you'll not have some dreadful chill in consequence, let us by all means stay awhile. If you do not so believe, let us go back to the carriage. There is no good reason, that I see, for our behaving like children.”

If Miss Hofmann apprehended a scene, I do not assert that she did, she was saved. Mason extracted from her words a delicate assurance that he could afford to wait. “You're an angel, Miss Hofmann,” he said, as a sign that this kindly assurance had been taken. “I think we had better go back.”

Miss Hofmann accordingly led the way along the path, and Ferdinand slowly followed. A man who has submitted to a woman's wisdom generally feels bound to persuade himself that he has surrendered at discretion. I suppose it was in this spirit that Mason said to himself as he walked along, “Well, I got what I wanted.”

The next morning he was again an invalid. He woke up with symptoms which as yet he had scarcely felt at all; and he was obliged to acknowledge the bitter truth that, small as it was, his adventure had exceeded his strength. The walk, the evening air, the dampness of the spot, had combined to produce a violent attack of fever. As soon as it became plain that, in vulgar terms, he was in for it, he took his heart in his hands and succumbed. As his condition grew worse, he was fortunately relieved from the custody of this valuable organ, with all it contained of hopes delayed and broken projects, by several intervals of prolonged unconsciousness.

For three weeks he was a very sick man. For a couple of days his recovery was doubted of. Mrs. Mason attended him with inexhaustible patience and with the solicitude of real affection. She was resolved that greedy Death should not possess himself, through any fault of hers, of a career so full of bright possibilities and of that active gratitude which a good-natured elderly woman would relish, as she felt that of her protégé to be. Her vigils were finally rewarded. One fine morning poor long-silent Ferdinand found words to tell her that he was better. His recovery was very slow, however, and it ceased several degrees below the level from which he had originally fallen. He was thus twice a convalescent,—-a sufficiently miserable fellow. He professed to be very much surprised to find himself still among the living. He remained silent and grave, with a newly contracted fold in his forehead, like a man honestly perplexed at the vagaries of destiny. “It must be,” he said to Mrs. Mason, “it must be that I am reserved for great things.”

In order to insure absolute quiet in the house, Ferdinand learned Miss Hofmann had removed herself to the house of a friend, at a distance of some five miles. On the first day that the young man was well enough to sit in his arm-chair Mrs. Mason spoke of her nieces return, which was fixed for the morrow. “She will want very much to see you,” she said. “When she comes, may I bring her into your room?”

“Good heavens, no!” said Ferdinand, to whom the idea was very disagreeable. He met her accordingly at dinner, three days later. He left his room at the dinner hour, in company with Dr. Knight, who was taking his departure. In the hall they encountered Mrs. Mason, who invited the Doctor to remain, in honour of his patients reappearance in society. The Doctor hesitated a moment, and, as he did so, Ferdinand heard Miss Hofmann's step descending the stair. He turned towards her just in time to catch on her face the vanishing of a glance of intelligence. As Mrs. Masons back was against the staircase, her glance was evidently meant for Knight. He excused himself on the plea of an engagement, to Masons regret, while the latter greeted the younger lady. Mrs. Mason proposed another day, the following Sunday; the Doctor assented, and it was not till some time later that Ferdinand found himself wondering why Miss Hofmann should have forbidden him to remain. He rapidly perceived that during the period of their separation this young lady had lost none of her charms; on the contrary, they were more irresistible than ever. It seemed to Mason, moreover, that they were bound together by a certain pensive gentleness, a tender, submissive look, which he had hitherto failed to observe. Mrs. Masons own remarks assured him that he was not the victim of an illusion.

“I wonder what is the matter with Caroline,” she said. “If it were not that she tells me that she never was better, I should believe she is feeling unwell. I've never seen her so simple and gentle. She looks like a person who has a great fright, a fright not altogether unpleasant.”

“She has been staying in a house full of people,” said Mason. “She has been excited, and amused, and preoccupied; she returns to you and me (excuse the juxtaposition, it exists) a kind of reaction asserts itself.” Ferdinand's explanation was ingenious rather than plausible.

Mrs. Mason had a better one. “I have an impression,” she said, “George Stapleton, the second of the sons, is an old admirer of Caroline's. It's hard to believe that he could have been in the house with her for a fortnight without renewing his suit, in some form or other.”

Ferdinand was not made uneasy, for he had seen and talked with Mr. George Stapleton, a young man very good-looking, very good-natured, very clever, very rich, and very unworthy, as he conceived, of Miss Hofmann. “You don't mean to say that your niece has listened to him,” he answered, calmly enough.

“Listened, yes. He has made himself agreeable, and he has succeeded in making an impression, a temporary impression,” added Mrs. Mason with a business-like air.

“I can't believe it,” said Ferdinand.

“Why not? He s a very nice fellow.”

“Yes,—-yes,” said Mason, “very nice indeed. He s very rich too.” And here the talk was interrupted by Caroline's entrance.

On Sunday the two ladies went to church. It was not till after they had gone that Ferdinand left his room. He came into the little parlour, took up a book, and felt something of the stir of his old intellectual life. Would he ever again know what it was to work?

In the course of an hour the ladies came in, radiant with devotional millinery. Mrs. Mason soon went out again, leaving the others together. Miss Hofmann asked Ferdinand what he had been reading; and he was thus led to declare that he really believed he should, after all, get the use of his head again. She listened with all the respect which an intelligent woman who leads an idle life necessarily feels for a clever man when he consents to make her in some degree the confidant of his intellectual purposes. Quickened by her delicious sympathy, her grave attention, and her intelligent questions, he was led to unbosom himself of several of his dearest convictions and projects. It was easy that from this point the conversation should advance to matters of belief and hope in general. Before he knew it, it had done so; and he had thus the great satisfaction of discussing with the woman on whom of all others his selfish and personal happiness was most dependent those great themes in whose expansive magnitude persons and pleasures and passions are absorbed and extinguished, and in whose austere effulgence the brightest divinities of earth remit their shining. Serious passions are a good preparation for the highest kinds of speculation. Although Ferdinand was urging no suit whatever upon his companion, and consciously, at least, making use in no degree of the emotion which accompanied her presence, it is certain that, as they formed themselves, his conceptions were the clearer for being the conceptions of a man in love. And, as for Miss Hofmann, her attention could not, to all appearances, have been more lively, nor her perception more delicate, if the atmosphere of her own intellect had been purified by the sacred fires of a responsive passion.

Knight duly made his appearance at dinner, and proved himself once more the entertaining gentleman whom our friends had long since learned to appreciate. But Mason, fresh from his contest with morals and metaphysics, was forcibly struck with the fact that he was one of those men from whom these sturdy beggars receive more kicks than halfpence. He was nevertheless obliged to admit, that, if he was not a man of principles, he was thoroughly a man of honour. After dinner the company adjourned to the piazza, where, in the course of half an hour; the Doctor proposed to Miss Hofmann to take a turn in the grounds. All around the lawn there wound a narrow footpath, concealed from view in spots by clusters of shrubbery. Ferdinand and his hostess sat watching their retreating figures as they slowly measured the sinuous strip of gravel; Miss Hofmann's light dress and the Doctors white waistcoat gleaming at intervals through the dark verdure. At the end of twenty minutes they returned to the house. The Doctor came back only to make his bow and to take his departure; and, when he had gone, Miss Hofmann retired to her own room. The next morning she mounted her horse, and rode over to see the friend with whom she had stayed during Masons fever. Ferdinand saw her pass his window, erect in the saddle, with her horse scattering the gravel with his nervous steps. Shortly afterwards Mrs. Mason came into the room, sat down by the young man, made her habitual inquiries as to his condition, and then paused in such a way as that he instantly felt that she had something to tell him. “You've something to tell me,” he said; “what is it?”

Mrs. Mason blushed a little, and laughed. “I was first made to promise to keep it a secret,” she said. “If I'm so transparent now that I have leave to tell it, what should I be if I hadn't? Guess.”

Ferdinand shook his head peremptorily. “I give it up.”

“Caroline is engaged.”

“To whom?”

“Not to Mr. Stapleton, to Dr. Knight.”

Ferdinand was silent a moment; but he neither changed colour nor dropped his eyes. Then, at last, “Did she wish you not to tell me?” he asked.

“She wished me to tell no one. But I prevailed upon her to let me tell you.”

“Thank you,” said Ferdinand with a little bow and an immense irony.

“It's a great surprise,” continued Mrs. Mason. “I never suspected it. And there I was talking about Mr. Stapleton! I don't see how they have managed it. Well, I suppose it's for the best. But it seems odd that Caroline should have refused so many superior offers, to put up at last with Dr. Knight.”

Ferdinand had felt for an instant as if the power of speech was deserting him; but volition nailed it down with a great muffled hammer-blow.

“She might do worse,” he said mechanically.

Mrs. Mason glanced at him as if struck by the sound of his voice. “You re not surprised, then?”

“I hardly know. I never fancied there was anything between them, and yet, now that I look back, there has been nothing against it. They have talked of each other neither too much nor too little. Upon my soul, they re an accomplished couple!” Glancing back at his friends constant reserve and self-possession, Ferdinand—-strange as it may seem—-could not repress a certain impulse of sympathetic admiration. He had had no vulgar rival. “Yes,” he repeated gravely, “she might do worse.”

“I suppose she might. He's poor, but he's clever; and I'm sure I hope to Heaven he loves her!”

Ferdinand said nothing.

“May I ask,” he resumed at length, “whether they became engaged yesterday, on that walk around the lawn?”

“No; it would be fine if they had, under our very noses! It was all done while Caroline was at the Stapleton's. It was agreed between them yesterday that she should tell me at once.”

“And when are they to be married?”

“In September, if possible. Caroline told me to tell you that she counts upon your staying for the wedding.”

“Staying where?” asked Mason, with a little nervous laugh.

“Staying here, of course, in the house.”

Ferdinand looked his hostess full in the eyes, taking her hand as he did so. “The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.”

“Ah, hold your tongue!” cried Mrs. Mason, pressing his hand. “How can you be so horrible? When Caroline leaves me, Ferdinand, I shall be quite alone. The tie which binds us together will be very much slackened by her marriage. I can't help thinking that it was never very close, when I consider that I've had no part in the most important step of her life. I don't complain. I suppose it's natural enough. Perhaps it's the fashion, come in with striped petticoats and pea-jackets. Only it makes me feel like an old woman. It removes me twenty years at a bound from my own engagement, and the day I burst out crying on my mothers neck because your uncle had told a young girl I knew, that he thought I had beautiful eyes. Now-a-days I suppose they tell the young ladies themselves, and have them cry on their own necks. It's a great saving of time. But I shall miss Caroline all the same; and then, Ferdinand, I shall make a great deal of you.”

“The more the better,” said Ferdinand, with the same laugh; and at this moment Mrs. Mason was called away.

Ferdinand had not been a soldier for nothing. He had received a heavy blow, and he resolved to bear it like a man. He refused to allow himself a single moment of self-compassion. On the contrary, he spared himself none of the hard names offered by his passionate vocabulary. For not guessing Caroline's secret, he was perhaps excusable. Women were all inscrutable, and this one especially so. But Knight was a man like himself, a man whom he esteemed, but whom he was loath to credit with a deeper and more noiseless current of feeling than his own, for his own was no babbling brook, betraying its course through green leaves. Knight had loved modestly and decently, but frankly and heartily, like a man who was not ashamed of what he was doing, and if he had not found it out it was his own fault. What else had he to do? He had been a besotted daydreamer, while his friend had simply been a genuine lover. He deserved his injury, and he would bear it in silence. He had been unable to get well on an illusion; he would now try getting well on a truth. This was stern treatment, the reader will admit, likely to kill if it did at cure.

Miss Hofmann was absent for several hours. At dinner-time she had not returned, and Mrs. Mason and the young man accordingly sat down without her. After dinner Ferdinand went into the little parlour, quite indifferent as to how soon he met her. Seeing or not seeing her, time hung equally heavy. Shortly after her companions had risen from table, she rode up to the door, dismounted, tired and hungry, passed directly into the dining-room, and sat down to eat in her habit. In half an hour she came out, and, crossing the hall on her way up stairs, saw Mason in the parlour. She turned round, and, gathering up her long skirts with one hand, while she held a little sweet-cake to her lips with the other, stopped at the door to bid him good day. He left his chair, and went towards her. Her face wore a somewhat weary smile.

“So you re going to be married,” he began abruptly.

Miss Hofmann assented with a slight movement of her head.

“I congratulate you. Excuse me if I don't do it with the last grace. I feel all I dare to feel.”

“Don't be afraid,” said Caroline, smiling, and taking a bite from her cake.

“I'm not sure that it's not more unexpected than even such things have a right to be. There's no doubt about it?”

“None whatever.”

“Well, Knight's a very good fellow. I haven't seen him yet,” he pursued, as Caroline was silent. “I don't know that I'm in any hurry to see him. But I mean to talk to him. I mean to tell him that if he doesn't do his duty by you, I shall—-”

“Well?”

“I shall remind him of it.”

“O, I shall do that,” said Miss Hofmann.

Ferdinand looked at her gravely. “By Heaven you know,” he cried with intensity, “it must be either one thing or the other.”

“I don't understand you.”

“O, I understand myself. You're not a woman to be thrown away, Miss Hofmann.”

Caroline made a gesture of impatience. “I don't understand you,” she repeated. “You must excuse me. I'm very tired.” And she went rapidly upstairs.

On the following day Ferdinand had an opportunity to make his compliments to the Doctor. “I don't congratulate you on doing it, “ he said, “so much as on the way you've done it.”

“What do you know about the way?” asked Knight.

“Nothing whatever. That's just it. You took good care of that. And you re to be married in the autumn?”

“I hope so. Very quietly, I suppose. The parson to do it, and Mrs. Mason and my mother and you to see it's done properly.” And the Doctor put his hand on Ferdinand's shoulder.

“O, I'm the last person to choose,” said Mason. “If he were to omit anything I should take care not to cry out.” It is often said, that, next to great joy, no state of mind is so frolicsome as great distress. It was in virtue of this truth, I suppose, that Ferdinand was able to be facetious. He kept his spirits. He talked and smiled and lounged about with the same deferential languor as before. During the interval before the time appointed for the wedding it was agreed between the parties interested that Miss Hofmann should go over and spend a few days with her future mother-in-law, where she might partake more freely and privately than at home of the pleasure of her lovers company. She was absent a week; a week during which Ferdinand was thrown entirely upon his hostess for entertainment and diversion, things he had a very keen sense of needing. There were moments when it seemed to him that he was living by mere force of will, and that, if he loosened the screws for a single instant, he would sink back upon his bed again, and never leave it. He had forbidden himself to think of Caroline, and had prescribed a course of meditation upon that other mistress, his first love, with whom he had long since exchanged pledges, she of a hundred names, work, letters, philosophy, fame. But, after Caroline had gone, it was supremely difficult not to think of her. Even in absence she was supremely conspicuous. The most that Ferdinand could do was to take refuge in books,—-an immense number of which he now read, fiercely, passionately, voraciously, in conversation with Mrs. Mason, and in such society as he found in his path. Mrs. Mason was a great gossip, a gossip on a scale so magnificent as to transform the foible into a virtue. A gossip, moreover, of imagination, dealing with the future as well as the present and the past,—-with a host of delightful half-possibilities, as well as with stale hyper-verities. With her, then, Ferdinand talked of his own future, into which she entered with the most outspoken and intelligent sympathy. A man, he declared, couldn't do better; and a man certainly would do worse. Mrs. Mason arranged a European tour and residence for her nephew, in the manner of one who knew her ground. Caroline once married, she herself would go abroad, and fix herself in one of the several capitals in which an American widow with an easy income may contrive to support existence. She would make her dwelling a base of supplies a pied à terre for Ferdinand, who should take his time to it, and visit every accessible spot in Europe and the East. She would leave him free to go and come as he pleased, and to live as he listed; and I may say that, thanks to Mrs. Masons observation of Continental manners, this broad allowance covered in her view quite as much as it did in poor Ferdinand's, who had never been out of his own country. All that she would ask of him would be to show himself say twice a year in her drawing-room, and to tell her stories of what he had seen; that drawing-room which she already saw in her minds eye,—-a compact little entresol with tapestry hangings in the doorways and a coach-house in the court attached. Mrs. Mason was not a severe moralist; but she was quite too sensible a woman to wish to demoralize her nephew, and to persuade him to trifle with his future, that future of which the war had already made light, in its own grim fashion. Nay, she loved him; she thought him the cleverest, the most promising, of young men. She looked to the day when his name would be on men's lips, and it would be a great piece of good fortune to have very innocently married his uncle. Herself a great observer of men and manners, she wished to give him advantages which had been sterile in her own case.

In the way of society, Ferdinand made calls with his hostess, went out twice to dine, and caused Mrs. Mason herself to entertain company at dinner. He presided on these occasions with distinguished good grace. It happened, moreover, that invitations had been out some days for a party at the Stapleton's, Miss Hofmann's friends, and that, as there was to he no dancing, Ferdinand boldly announced his intention of going thither. “Who knows?” he said; “it may do me more good than. harm. We can go late, and come away early.” Mrs. Mason doubted of the wisdom of the act; but she finally assented, and prepared herself. It was late when they left home, and when they arrived the rooms—-rooms of exceptional vastness were at their fullest. Mason received on this his first appearance in society a most flattering welcome, and in a very few moments found himself in exclusive possession of Miss Edith Stapleton, Caroline's particular friend. This young lady has had no part in our story, because our story is perforce short, and condemned to pick and choose its constituent elements. With the least bit wider compass we might long since have whispered to the reader, that Miss Stapleton who was a charming girl had conceived a decided preference for our Ferdinand over all other men whomsoever. That Ferdinand was utterly ignorant of the circumstance is our excuse for passing it by; and we linger upon it, therefore, only long enough to suggest that the young girl must have been very happy at this particular moment.

“Is Miss Hofmann here? ” Mason asked as he accompanied her into an adjoining room.

“Do you call that being here? ” said Miss Stapleton, looking across the apartment. Mason, too, looked across.

There he beheld Miss Hofmann, full-robed in white, standing fronted by a semicircle of no less than five gentlemen,—-all good-looking and splendid. Her head and shoulders rose serene from the bouillonnement of her beautiful dress, and she looked and listened with that half-abstracted air which is pardonable in a woman beset by half a dozen admirers. When Caroline's eyes fell upon her friend, she stared a moment, surprised, and then made him the most gracious bow in the world,—-a bow so gracious that her little circle half divided itself to let it pass, and looked around to see where the deuce it was going. Taking advantage of this circumstance, Miss Hofmann advanced several steps. Ferdinand went towards her, and there, in sight of a hundred men and as many women, she gave him her hand, and smiled upon him with extraordinary sweetness. They went back together to Miss Stapleton, and Caroline made him sit down, she and her friend placing themselves on either side. For half an hour Ferdinand had the honour of engrossing the attention of the two most charming girls present, and, thanks to this distinction, indeed the attention of the whole company. After which the two young ladies had him introduced successively to every maiden and matron in the assembly in the least remarkable for loveliness or wit. Ferdinand rose to the level of the occasion, and conducted himself with unprecedented gallantry. Upon others he made, of course, the best impression, but to himself he was an object almost of awe. I am compelled to add, however, that he was obliged to fortify himself with repeated draughts of wine; and that even with the aid of this artificial stimulant he was unable to conceal from Mrs. Mason and his physician that he was looking far too much like an invalid to be properly where he was.

“Was there ever anything like the avidity of these dreadful girls?” said Mrs. Mason to the Doctor. “They'll let a man swoon at their feet sooner than abridge a tête-à-tête that amuses them. Then they'll have up another. Look at little Miss McCarthy, yonder, with Ferdinand and George Stapleton before her. She s got them contradicting each other, and she looks like a Roman fast lady at the circus. What does she care so long as she makes her evening? They like a man to look as if he were going to die, It's interesting.”

Knight went over to his friend, and told him sternly that it was high time he should be at home and in bed. “You're looking horribly,” he added shrewdly, as Ferdinand resisted.

“You're not looking horribly, Colonel Mason,” said Miss McCarthy, a very audacious little person, overhearing this speech.

“It isn't a matter of taste, madam,” said the Doctor, angrily; “It's a fact.” And he led away his patient.

Ferdinand insisted that he had not hurt himself that, on the contrary, he was feeling uncommonly well; but his face contradicted him. He continued for two or three days more to play at feeling well, with a courage worthy of a better cause. Then at last he let disease have its way. He settled himself on his pillows, and fingered his watch, and began to wonder how many revolutions he would still witness of those exquisite little needles. The Doctor came, and gave him a sound rating for what he called his imprudence. Ferdinand heard him out patiently; and then assured him that prudence or imprudence had nothing to do with it; that death had taken fast hold of him, and that now his only concern was to make easy terms with his captor. In the course of the same day he sent for a lawyer and altered his will. He had no known relatives, and his modest patrimony stood bequeathed to a gentleman of his acquaintance who had no real need of it. He now divided it into two unequal portions, the smaller of which he devised to William Bowles, Mrs. Masons man-servant and his personal attendant; and the larger—-which represented a considerable sum—-to Horace Knight. He informed Mrs. Mason of these arrangements, and was pleased to have her approval.

From this moment his strength began rapidly to ebb, and the shattered fragments of his long-resisting will floated down its shallow current into dissolution. It was useless to attempt to talk, to beguile the interval, to watch the signs, or to count the hours. A constant attendant was established at his side, and Mrs. Mason appeared only at infrequent moments. The poor woman felt that her heart was broken, and spent a great deal of time in weeping. Miss Hofmann remained, naturally, at Mrs. Knights. “As far as I can judge,” Horace had said, “it will be a matter of a week. But it's the most extraordinary case I ever heard of. The man was steadily getting well.” On the fifth day he had driven Miss Hofmann home, at her suggestion that it was no more than decent that she should give the young man some little sign of sympathy. Horace went up to Ferdinand's bedside, and found the poor fellow in the languid middle condition between sleeping and waking in which he had passed the last forty-eight hours. “Colonel,” he asked gently, “do you think you could see Caroline?”

For all answer, Ferdinand opened his eyes. Horace went out, and led his companion back into the darkened room. She came softly up to the bedside, stood looking down for a moment at the sick man, and then stooped over him.

“I thought I'd come and make you a little visit,” she said. “Does it disturb you?”

“Not in the least,” said Mason, looking her steadily in the eyes. “Not half as much as it would have done a week ago. Sit down.”

“Thank you. Horace won't let me. I'll come again.”

“You'll not have another chance,” said Ferdinand. “I'm not good for more than two days yet. Tell them to go out. I wish to see you alone. I wouldn't have sent for you, but, now that you re here, I might as well take advantage of it.”

“Have you anything particular to say?” asked Knight, kindly.

“O, come,” said Mason, with a smile which he meant to be good-natured, but which was only ghastly; “you re not going to be jealous of me at this time of day.”

Knight looked at Miss Hofmann for permission, and then left the room with the nurse. But a minute had hardly elapsed before Miss Hofmann hurried into the adjoining apartment, with her face pale and discomposed.

“Go to him! ” she exclaimed, “He's dying!”

When they reached him he was dead.

In the course of a few days his will was opened, and Knight came to the knowledge of his legacy. “He was a good, generous fellow,” he said to Mrs. Mason and Miss Hofmann, “and I shall never be satisfied that he mightn't have recovered. It was a most extraordinary case.” He was considerate enough of his audience to abstain from adding that he would give a great deal to have been able to make an autopsy. Miss Hofmann's wedding was, of course, not deferred. She was married in September, very quietly. It seemed to her lover, in the interval, that she was very silent and thoughtful. But this was certainly natural under the circumstances.

 
 
 

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