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BY HJALMAR H. BOYESEN,
Author of "Gunnar," "Tales from Two Hemispheres," etc.
ABOUT the first of October, the Dimpletons returned to the city. Mr. Dibble and the indefatigable Count also began to find. the sea-shore unpleasant about the same date, and might have been seen at any time of the day, during the month of October, lounging at the windows or in the billiardroom of a certain club for fashionable idlers. It was rumored that the Dimpletons were going to give a magnificent party for Tita, in order, as it were, to introduce her publicly as a recognized member of their social world and a proper recipient of invitations. Her success at Newport had made her a conspicuous personage, and there was much conjecture afloat regarding her origin. Whence she came and who she was, no one could tell with certainty, and Miss Dimpleton, whenever she was directly appealed to, always answered, placidly "She is a dear friend of ours, whom we expect to spend the winter with us."
That was hardly sufficient to check curiosity; but, as no further information could be elicited, and as Tita, moreover, was a young lady of fine bearing and social accomplishments, their circle of society in the city (as at Newport) was only too glad to accept her for what she was, without reference to her antecedents.
Miss Dimpleton, who had been much chagrined by Tita's supercilious treatment of her most eligible adorers, had resolved to maneuver more actively in Tita's behalf than she had ventured to do during the summer. She exerted herself earnestly to gain her friendship and confidence, embraced her (a little awkwardly, perhaps) at bed-time, and showed an affectionate solicitude for her comfort which puzzled Tita the more because she could not more than half reciprocate. To her Miss Dimpleton always remained a formidable phenomenon. She told herself a hundred times a day that Miss Dimpleton was as kind as she could be, and whenever a disloyal thought would knock for admission to her mind, she would make an effort to brush it away as one does a cobweb. But cobwebs have a way of entangling themselves in one's fingers the
more one tries to get rid of them, and she was greatly tempted to unburden her heart to Quintus, who came regularly twice a week to see her, and then usually staid to dine with the family. But some curious, dim apprehension always checked her tongue, and, at all events, the open-hearted and innocent Quint would never suspect any human being of double-dealing, and far less of a complicated intrigue. She wondered what had happened to her, or what transformation she had undergone, since she left Quint. Instead of flinging herself on his neck at their first meeting after her return, as she had anticipated doing and as she still longed to do, she had greeted him with a formal, dutiful caress, and then seated herself to converse with him as if he had been an accidental acquaintance. Quintus, too, somehow seemed ill at ease; he sat gazing at her with an anxious smile, asked her how she had enjoyed herself, whether she would like to go back, etc. But it was evident that he was quite overawed by the splendor of her toilet, the perfection of her manner, and the whole newness of her personality. Tita felt the awkwardness of the situation acutely, and would have given worlds to know what Quintus was thinking about her. Never had he seemed to her dearer than in this moment. That good and noble face, those honest blue eyes, and the kind smile which lighted up his features so wondrously-she could never be tired of gazing at them. She excused herself immediately after dinner that night, and when Miss Jessie came up, an hour later, she found her lying on the tiger-skin rug before the fire-place, and sobbing like a heart-broken child. On inquiring, Miss Dimpleton learned that she, Tita, was not at all nice; that, in fact, she was horrid, and that no one liked her except a ridiculous foreign Count and another man who hadn't two coherent ideas in his head. Against this species of unreason Miss Jessie felt herself utterly helpless. Nevertheless, from a sense of duty, she sat down calmly to refute Tita's assertions, beginning with her imputation against Mr. Dibble's intellect. Tita, however, refused to be comforted.
Scenes like this became more frequent as the months progressed, especially after Miss Jessie and Quintus had decided to resume their Homeric readings; and when they talked at the dinner-table about the Greek ideal, as expressed in Hector rather than in Achilles, and compared these gentlemen with Siegfried, in the "Nibelungen Lay," poor Tita felt as if they had entered into a conspiracy against her happiness, and her tiny brain sometimes seemed about to explode with indignation. That Quintus could be so heartless as to sit and talk for fifteen minutes about topics which he knew were beyond her reach, when he must be well aware that Miss Jessie had introduced them merely for the purpose of making him feel her superiority to Tita-that was the drop which made her cup of woe run over. to see his face light up with responsive ardor whenever Miss Jessie made a happy remark, as frequently she did, it was more than mortal heart could bear. It never occurred to her that it might be Homer and not Miss Dimpleton who was her rival. She was too offended and indignant to make such nice discriminations, and she inflicted much unnecessary suffering upon herself by the rashness with which she jumped at mortifying conclusions. Another source of annoyance was Mr. Dibble's unwearied attentions. Apparently he was conducting a carefully plotted campaign against Tita's heart. One week he assaulted her with bonbons in exquisite boxes of ingenious shapes, and when that had no effect, he caused a floral shower to descend upon her at the most unexpected hours. Another week he beguiled her, with Miss Dimpleton as chaperon, to ride with him in the park, in a turn-out and with a span of roans which would have appealed, in their possessor's behalf, to a heart of stone. Horseback rides, too, were proposed, but Tita could not be induced to make the venture, ostensibly because she had no confidence in her equestrian skill. Mr. Dibble's splendid bays (accompanied by a groom in buckskin trowsers) stood pawing the pavement in vain in front of the Dimpleton mansion, while Tita, hidden behind the curtain in her bedroom, stood battling with temptation, one moment on the point of surrendering to the charms of the horses, and in the next yielding to her fear of Quint's disapproval, if she encouraged a man whom she knew it would be impossible for her to marry.
The Count, too, continued his visits at the house, and had long interviews with Miss
Dimpleton, from which both departed with prodigiously solemn countenances. Tita was beginning to congratulate herself on her freedom from further persecution, when certain ominous events happened which could· not but cause apprehension. The Count sent her a superbly bound and illuminated copy of Thomas à Kempis's "Imitation of Christ" (a gift from his mother at his confirmation), and added a high-flown inscription of his own which made Tita shiver. To her it seemed a piece of impertinence to send such a valuable gift to a comparatively strange lady, and she would have promptly returned it if Miss Dimpleton had not peremptorily interfered. A very fortunate occurrence, however, soon turned the tide of affairs in an unforeseen direction. On a Sunday in October, the Count had, according to his custom, met Miss Dimpleton and Tita at church, and the former had invited him to accompany them home and stay to dinner. As they were walking down the avenue, conversing of indifferent things, the Count suddenly stopped to gaze at a newly repaired church, and exclaimed:
Oh, vat a peautiful shpeetle!" "Yes, it is certainly very handsome," replied Miss Dimpleton, gravely.
But Tita, the unhappy Tita,—although she knew perfectly how rude she was, began to shake internally, and the more she tried to rid herself of the "peautiful shpeetle" the more irresistibly comical it appeared to her, and after several moments of ineffectual struggle, she burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. She was about to apologize for her rudeness when the Count, who had ignored her amusement as long as possible, now stiffly raised his hat and said: "Ladies, I have the honor to bid you good-day."
That was the end of Count von Markenstein's courtship, and Miss Dimpleton now concentrated all her hopes on Mr. Dibble, who was of the slow and faithful kind, and had not sufficient confidence in his own irresistibility to risk a premature proposal. It was exceedingly provoking to be obliged to strike a name like that of Count von Markenstein from the list of one's visitors, but as there was now no help for it, it had to be borne with philosophy. Moreover, Miss Jessie was not the ordinary type of snob who runs after great names whose only distinction is their antiquity. She was, perhaps, rather an intellectual snob, who would have felt prouder of a call from
Browning or Herbert Spencer than of one from the Prince of Wales. She would have liked to rebuke Tita severely for her rudeness to the Count, but fearing that it would be impolitic, and might send the sensitive girl flying back into Quintus's arms, she restrained her indignation and merely remarked that she regretted the unfortunate
happened, for very different and loftier reasons, to be equally desirable to Miss Dimpleton; and she must be influenced to see that such a desire, on her part, was preposterous.
TITA's party was fixed for the sixth of December. All day long during the preceding week the phaeton was in requisition, and the stores were ransacked in search of the choicest products which the market could afford. Tita's costume was planned with a seriousness as if the fate of the nation depended upon the disposition of this ribbon, or that bit of lace. Months before, artistes of international reputation had been consulted, and had submitted their designs, which were again submitted to others for criticism. Miss Dimpleton descended from her Homeric altitudes of thought, and discussed millinery, not enthusiastically and vehemently, as the majority of women do, but weightily and soberly, and with a minute attention to details which she never had displayed in her own behalf. She wished to make Tita so completely intoxicated with her success that a return to Quint's narrow world and sober concerns would seem an utter impossibility; and, judging by the ardor with which Tita frequently, when she was in the mood for it, entered into social enjoyments, she could not be far wrong in supposing that the relapse into her former obscurity was no longer contemplated with unalloyed pleasure. To be Mrs. Dibble, with a million or more, would certainly, to any properly constructed young lady, appear preferable, especially when Mr. Dibble was inoffensive and pliable-a mere unobtrusive appendage to his wealth. Miss Dimpleton was proudly conscious of being herself superior to this kind of allurements, but then she had the wealth already, and what she needed to give dignity to these sordidly accumulated possessions was exceptional refinement and intellectual culture. She wished above all things to be exceptional, and the possession of moderate wealth was by no means a claim to distinction in New York. Tita, however, could not be expected to appreciate or to cherish such complicated ambitions. She had only blindly desired what
It was an amusing spectacle to see Tita, on the evening of December 6th, standing in the middle of her room with her elbows uplifted, and surrounded by an admiring circle of dress-makers and servants. A French modiste, with pins in her mouth and a determined frown (not of wrath, but of energy) on her brow, was kneeling behind her, bestowing her attention on some obscure fastenings about the skirt of the dress, and a maid was frisking about with flowers, and hand-glasses, and crimpingirons, and what not, in her hands, and bursting every now and then into ecstatic exclamations at Tita's loveliness. Tita, whose vanity had been persistently fed during the last eight months, could almost feel herself grow taller as she contemplated the effect of this rich and marvelous attire in the pier-glass. She walked like a queen, and heard with delight the silken rustle of her train.
A little after nine o'clock, the guests began to arrive. When the bell rang for the first time, Tita's heart shot up into her throat. She ran (or, rather, she would have run, had her dress permitted it) toward the parlor door where Miss Jessie was standing, and took her station at her side in the prescribed attitude. She ran rapidly over all her instructions in her head, and got her mouth into position to say what she had been told was proper to say, raised her eyes slowly, when, lo and behold-Quint! That was too much for Tita's composure. She was about to yield to her mirth in her usual hearty fashion, when Miss Dimpleton, foreseeing accidents, said, grimly: "Remember your dress, please," and Tita immediately sobered. Quintus still stood bowing in front of her, and wondered what there was in his appearance that was so ridiculous.
"I wanted to be the first to see Queen Titania in her glory," he said, with a curious look, which was both diffident and searching. "I wanted to see her before the glare of the light shall have paled her loveliness never so little, and before the jostlings of the crowd shall have rubbed the flower-dust off her butterfly wings."
"I suspect that metaphor is intended as a rebuke to me," said Miss Dimpleton, with a tentative smile. "It was I who
undertook to guard Tita against such ca- | lamities."
"It was not my intention to reproach any one," said Quintus, as he pressed Miss Dimpleton's hand and turned to give place to the next arrival. Just then, Tita caught a glimpse of his back, and suddenly observed that his dress-coat was very oldfashioned. The sleeves were too tight and the skirts too long, and the lapels smaller than the fashion of the day required. Should she allow him to go about in that costume, which certainly would make him conspicuous in a very undesirable manner, and render him ridiculous in the eyes of the people? No; she would rather take the risk of displeasing him. He, of course, would never detect what sort of figure he cut, but, during these months, she had grown to be acutely sensitive to the world's opinion of him.
"Quint," she said, touching his arm gently, "pardon me if I venture to be impertinent, but you know it is an old privilege of mine. Would you, as a favor to me,
take a cab and drive down to a tailor on Broadway, whose address I will give you? He makes a business of hiring out dresscoats to gentlemen, and yours, dear Quint, is not exactly stylish."
"Why," exclaimed Quint, in astonishment, "it was made for my graduation, and I haven't worn it much since."
This seemed to Quint's unworldly intellect a striking proof that his coat must be strictly comme il faut. He had worn it on so important an occasion as his graduation, and in the presence of a select audience; and as he had rarely worn it since, it was evident that its stylishness had remained. unimpaired.
"You know you don't understand those things, Quint," said Tita, with an appealing look. "And now I can't explain them to you. But, pray, do what I ask of you." "Well, anything to please your majesty," he answered, with a puzzled smile, which to Tita was quite pathetic. She followed him with her eyes as he mounted the stairs, and saw him look at the sleeves of his coat with an air as if to say:
“Well, I should like to know what it is that isn't right about you."
When he returned, an hour later, with an irreproachable coat, the large salon was crowded, and the red-and-white awning which led from the carriages to the front door was crowded with rustling and perfumed couples. Tita still stood at the door,
bowing and hand-shaking; but her smile was perhaps a little forced, and her flushed cheeks seemed to indicate that something was laboring within her. The fact was that, since Quint's departure, Tita did not feel at all so sure that she had done right in criticising his remarkable dress-coat The mere suggestion of a criticism on her part must have appeared like black ingratitude to him, and, moreover, there is always a hint of patronage or superiority in even the mildest comment on clothes and personal appearance. When she saw Quint trying to wedge his way unnoticed into the back parlor, she held up her fan, and after a moment's hesitation he came toward her.
"Have you forgiven me, Quint?" she asked, remorsefully, while she pressed his hand warmly. "You know it would make me very unhappy to think that I had displeased you."
"You did right, my dear," he answered, kindly, "to give me a hint which no one could have given me but you."
Mr. Dibble now came to claim Tita's partnership for a waltz which she had been rash enough to promise him, and excusing herself to Bodill, she presently swung out upon the floor, encircled by Mr. Dibble's arm. Quintus, who so often in spirit had anticipated his unselfish delight at witnessing just such a spectacle, felt a horrible pang darting through him, and would have liked to strangle Mr. Dibble for presuming to touch her. Hardly had the young millionaire conducted her to her seat, before a dozen other gentlemen surrounded her, and displayed an extraordinary eagerness to scrawl their names on her card. Quintus observed, with a certain contemptuous admiration, that their hair, their mustaches, and their clothes were in that state of absolute perfection which is unattainable in any one who does not make the study of his toilet an absorbing business. He discovered for the first time his own inferiority in point of sartorial and tonsorial finish, and, strive as he might, he did not quite succeed in feeling proud of it.
During the rest of the evening and half the night, Tita was in incessant demand. Men who imagined that manliness required them to take a cynical view of women stood in groups about the supper-table and raved about her. Even upstairs in the billiardroom, where a dozen disenchanted bachelors in the thirties and forties were lounging and discoursing social ethics over fragrant cigars,
While making these lugubrious reflections, Bodill had been seated in a corner of the billiard-room, smoking and listening to the intermittent and fragmentary remarks of the players. When he had finished his cigar, his uneasy curiosity about Tita prompted him to descend once more to the first floor, whence a subdued hum of music rose, and burst into sudden distinctness whenever the door was opened. He had just reached the first landing of the stairs when he was suddenly arrested by the sound of two voices talking earnestly together, and, looking down, he saw Tita and Mr. Dibble, engaged in a hushed but excited conversation.
it was frankly admitted that the man who should catch her might be considered a lucky dog. A foreign embassador, whose acquaintance the Dimpletons had made at Newport, and who was the great light of the evening, put the stamp of his approval upon Tita, and thereby made it "good form" to be enthusiastic about her. He declared that she was ravissante, and that she would be sure to make a sensation in the great salons of the Old World. He thereupon danced a dignified quadrille with her, and came near making her famous by kissing her hand at parting.
Quintus, who had been roaming from room to room like an uneasy ghost, could not help perceiving that Tita's party was a success, and that she herself was exciting universal admiration. This was exactly the situation he had dreamed of in his early aspirations for her-she fêted and worshiped and he standing by blissfully enjoying her triumph-at all events, he endeavored to persuade himself that the latter half of his prophetic hope was as fully realized as the former. He attributed all his present discontent to the trifling episode of the dress-coat, which, he thought, had somehow untuned him for the evening. He would have entertained a perfect contempt for himself if he had been forced to recognize the fact that, so far from being that unselfish and fatherly individual which he had fondly imagined himself to be, he was, on the contrary, at the present moment in a rage of jealousy. Every one who touched Tita or whispered a flattering platitude in her ear became, that very instant, his natural enemy, and he began, in a dim and general fashion, to cherish murderous designs against him. These sleek, well-tailored young gentlemen with well-bred smiles and welltrained mustaches became positively odious to him, and he would have liked, on philanthropic grounds, to exterminate the whole species. What empty and meaningless lives they must lead! and what vapid thoughts must move within their well-trimmed craniums! Surely Tita was worthy of something better than this shallow and frivolous fate. Why did Miss Dimpleton, who had herself so many nobler interests, exert herself to make Tita value the things which she herself professed to despise? To be sure, he had himself given his consent to have her introduced to society, and as this was society, it was evident that he had no cause for complaint.
"I tell you, it is impossible, Mr. Dibble," Tita was saying. "We are not at all suited for each other; and then I don't love you at all; so, of course, it is out of the question."
"But I love you enough to make up for it," persisted Mr. Dibble. "If you will only marry me, I am willing to take my chances afterward."
Quintus, who had made his shoes creak loudly at every step he took, now interrupted the interview and passed down the stairs. Tita looked up, a little startled, but, seeing who it was, she jumped up and seized his arm with something of her old vehemence.
"Oh, Quint," she said, gazing affectionately up into his eyes," how glad I am that I have found you! Dear Quint, there is no one like you."
In her joy at having escaped from Mr. Dibble's embarrassing importunities, she felt an irrational impulse to embrace Quintus, as something dear and familiar amid all the perplexing novelties which surrounded her. In his felicity at having her near him, he quite forgot to answer, and before they reached the ground floor they were joined by Miss Dimpleton, who was making a visible effort to be amiable. Tita, to whom Quintus's silence appeared enigmatical, supposed that he intended to repel her, and ascribed his changed conduct toward her to the increased frequency, of late, of the Homeric lucubrations. Therefore, with the impulsiveness which characterized all her actions, she let go his arm, made him a sweeping bow, and accepted the escort of a downy-bearded young gentleman, who, with a card in his hand, stood expecting her. Quintus opened his eyes wide in astonishment, and then looked questioningly at his hostess, as if he hoped that she would offer him an explanation.