List Of Contents | Contents of Their Pilgrimage, by Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Farquhar was in a mocking mood all the way.  She liked to go to the Old
Sweet, she said, because it was so intolerably dull; it was a sensation.
She thought, too, that it might please Miss Benson, there was such a
fitness in the thing--the old sweet to the Old Sweet.  "And he is not so
very old either," she added; "just the age young girls like.  I should
think Miss Benson in danger--seriously, now--if she were three or four
years younger."

The Old Sweet is, in fact, a delightful old-fashioned resort, respectable
and dull, with a pretty park, and a crystal pond that stimulates the
bather like a glass of champagne, and perhaps has the property of
restoring youth.  King tried the spring, which he heard Mrs. Farquhar
soberly commending to Mr. Meigs; and after dinner he manoeuvred for a
half-hour alone with Irene.  But the fates and the women were against
him.  He had the mortification to see her stroll away with Mr. Meigs to a
distant part of the grounds, where they remained in confidential
discourse until it was time to return.

In the rearrangement of seats Mrs. Farquhar exchanged with Irene.  Mrs.
Farquhar said that it was very much like going to a funeral each way.
As for Irene, she was in high, even feverish spirits, and rattled away in
a manner that convinced King that she was almost too happy to contain

Notwithstanding the general chaff, the singing, and the gayety of Irene,
the drive seemed to him intolerably long.  At the half-way house, where
in the moonlight the horses drank from a shallow stream, Mr. Meigs came
forward to the carriage and inquired if Miss Benson was sufficiently
protected against the chilliness of the night.  King had an impulse to
offer to change seats with him; but no, he would not surrender in the
face of the enemy.  It would be more dignified to quietly leave the
Springs the next day.

It was late at night when the party returned.  The carriage drove to the
Benson cottage; King helped Irene to alight, coolly bade her good-night,
and went to his barracks.  But it was not a good night to sleep.
He tossed about, he counted every step of the late night birds on his
gallery; he got up and lighted a cigar, and tried dispassionately to
think the matter over.  But thinking was of no use.  He took pen and
paper; he would write a chill letter of farewell; he would write a manly
avowal of his passion; he would make such an appeal that no woman could
resist it.  She must know, she did know--what was the use of writing?
He sat staring at the blank prospect.  Great heavens!  what would become
of his life if he lost the only woman in the world?  Probably the world
would go on much the same.  Why, listen to it!  The band was playing on
the lawn at four o'clock in the morning.  A party was breaking up after a
night of german and a supper, and the revelers were dispersing.  The
lively tunes of "Dixie," "Marching through Georgia," and "Home, Sweet
Home," awoke the echoes in all the galleries and corridors, and filled
the whole encampment with a sad gayety.  Dawn was approaching.  Good-
nights and farewells and laughter were heard, and the voice of a wanderer
explaining to the trees, with more or less broken melody, his fixed
purpose not to go home till morning.

Stanhope King might have had a better though still a sleepless night if
he had known that Mr. Meigs was packing his trunks at that hour to the
tune of "Home, Sweet Home," and if he had been aware of the scene at the
Benson cottage after he bade Irene good-night.  Mrs. Benson had a light
burning, and the noise of the carriage awakened her.  Irene entered the
room, saw that her mother was awake, shut the door carefully, sat down on
the foot of the bed, said, "It's all over, mother," and burst into the
tears of a long-repressed nervous excitement.

"What's over, child?" cried Mrs. Benson, sitting bolt-upright in bed.

"Mr. Meigs.  I had to tell him that it couldn't be.  And he is one of the
best men I ever knew."

"You don't tell me you've gone and refused him, Irene?"

"Please don't scold me.  It was no use.  He ought to have seen that I did
not care for him, except as a friend.  I'm so sorry!"

"You are the strangest girl I ever saw."  And Mrs. Benson dropped back on
the pillow again, crying herself now, and muttering, "I'm sure I don't
know what you do want."

When King came out to breakfast he encountered Mr. Benson, who told him
that their friend Mr. Meigs had gone off that morning--had a sudden
business call to Boston.  Mr. Benson did not seem to be depressed about
it.  Irene did not appear, and King idled away the hours with his equally
industrious companion under the trees.  There was no german that morning,
and the hotel band was going through its repertoire for the benefit of a
champagne party on the lawn.  There was nothing melancholy about this
party; and King couldn't help saying to Mrs. Farquhar that it hardly
represented his idea of the destitution and depression resulting from the
war; but she replied that they must do something to keep up their

"And I think," said the artist, who had been watching, from the little
distance at which they sat, the table of the revelers, "that they will
succeed.  Twenty-six bottles of champagne, and not many more guests!
What a happy people, to be able to enjoy champagne before twelve

"Oh, you never will understand us!" said Mrs. Farquhar; "there is nothing
spontaneous in you."

"We do not begin to be spontaneous till after dinner," said King.

"And then it is all calculated.  Think of Mr. Forbes counting the
bottles!  Such a dreadfully mercenary spirit!  Oh, I have been North.
Because you are not so open as we are, you set up for being more

"And you mean," said King, "that frankness and impulse cover a multitude

"I don't mean anything of the sort.  I just mean that conventionality
isn't virtue.  You yourself confessed that you like the Southern openness
right much, and you like to come here, and you like the Southern people
as they are at home."


"And now will you tell me, Mr. Prim, why it is that almost all Northern
people who come South to live become more Southern than the Southerners
themselves; and that almost all Southern people who go North to live
remain just as Southern as ever?"

"No.  Nor do I understand any more than Dr. Johnson did why the Scotch,
who couldn't scratch a living at home, and came up to London, always kept
on bragging about their native land and abused the metropolis."

This sort of sparring went on daily, with the result of increasing
friendship between the representatives of the two geographical sections,
and commonly ended with the declaration on Mrs. Farquhar's part that she
should never know that King was not born in the South except for his
accent; and on his part that if Mrs. Farquhar would conceal her
delightful Virginia inflection she would pass everywhere at the North for
a Northern woman.

"I hear," she said, later, as they sat alone, "that Mr. Meigs has beat a
retreat, saving nothing but his personal baggage.  I think Miss Benson is
a great goose.  Such a chance for an establishment and a position!
You didn't half appreciate him."

"I'm afraid I did not."

"Well, it is none of my business; but I hope you understand the
responsibility of the situation.  If you do not, I want to warn you about
one thing: don't go strolling off before sunset in the Lovers' Walk.
It is the most dangerous place.  It is a fatal place.  I suppose every
turn in it, every tree that has a knoll at the foot where two persons can
sit, has witnessed a tragedy, or, what is worse, a comedy.  There are
legends enough about it to fill a book.  Maybe there is not a Southern
woman living who has not been engaged there once at least.  I'll tell you
a little story for a warning.  Some years ago there was a famous belle
here who had the Springs at her feet, and half a dozen determined
suitors.  One of them, who had been unable to make the least impression
on her heart, resolved to win her by a stratagem.  Walking one evening on
the hill with her, the two stopped just at a turn in the walk--I can show
you the exact spot, with a chaperon--and he fell into earnest discourse
with her.  She was as cool and repellant as usual.  Just then he heard a
party approaching; his chance had come.  The moment the party came in
sight he suddenly kissed her.  Everybody saw it.  The witnesses
discreetly turned back.  The girl was indignant.  But the deed was done.
In half an hour the whole Springs would know it.  She was compromised.
No explanations could do away with the fact that she had been kissed in
Lovers' Walk.  But the girl was game, and that evening the engagement was
announced in the drawing-room.  Isn't that a pretty story?"

However much Stanhope might have been alarmed at this recital, he
betrayed nothing of his fear that evening when, after walking to the
spring with Irene, the two sauntered along and unconsciously, as it
seemed, turned up the hill into that winding path which has been trodden
by generations of lovers with loitering steps--steps easy to take and so
hard to retrace!  It is a delightful forest, the walk winding about on
the edge of the hill, and giving charming prospects of intervales,
stream, and mountains.  To one in the mood for a quiet hour with nature,
no scene could be more attractive.

The couple walked on, attempting little conversation, both apparently
prepossessed and constrained.  The sunset was spoken of, and when Irene
at length suggested turning back, that was declared to be King's object
in ascending the hill to a particular point; but whether either of them
saw the sunset, or would have known it from a sunrise, I cannot say.
The drive to the Old Sweet was pleasant.  Yes, but rather tiresome.
Mr. Meigs had gone away suddenly.  Yes; Irene was sorry his business
should have called him away.  Was she very sorry?  She wouldn't lie awake
at night over it, but he was a good friend.  The time passed very quickly
here.  Yes; one couldn't tell how it went; the days just melted away; the

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: