REX had said, "Good-by," to Willie at the station, and Willie had seen a softer look in the black eyes than he had ever seen there before, while his own were so dim that he could hardly see Rex waving adieux to him while the Valley train moved slowly down Main Street until he was quite out of sight. Then Rex went back to his cheerless room, where the ashes of last night's fire lay dead on the hearth, and flung himself into his big chair and gave himself up to a gloomy reverie.
"I am a fool to stay here," he said at last aloud; "'and I shall write to father to-day to release me from my promise."
He rose as he spoke and stretched his legs, shivering. He was stiff from sitting so long in the cold room, and he set himself to building a fire. He was not skilful at it, for Willie had always had the fire started before lazy Rex turned out in the morning, and he mentally resolved that he would engage "Judge" to come in daily and make it for him, now that Willie was gone.
After three or four futile attempts, the fire at last consented to burn, and the cheerful crackle and the warm glow put Rex in a happier frame of mind. Old Sykes would come for Willie's furniture after breakfast, and "Judge" would be in to put his room in order, two doleful ceremonies that Rex would rather not be present at if possible. He decided to go over to Dr. Charlton's immediately after breakfast, break the news of Willie's departure, and deliver his messages of farewell to the doctor and his wife.
It was the first day of the holidays and the Charltons were having a lazy eight-o'clock breakfast; so it happened that they had just sat down to the table when Rex's name was announced.
"Ask him to come right down to the dining-room, said Mrs. Charlton, her hospitable instincts delighted with the thought of welcoming an unexpected guest to her breakfast-table.
And so Rex, ushered by Charles Cook, junior, into the warm room fragrant with Mocha and beefsteak, made his most courtly bow at the door, and then went around the table, shaking hands with everybody, beginning with Mrs. Charlton and ending with little Millie, who, in response to his "Howdy, Miss Millie?" put her small hand in his and said gravely, "I am pretty well, I thank you, sir. How do you do?" Not quite everybody, either. He embraced the four boys in a general wave of his hand and a "Howdy, young gentlemen?" and then, his punctilious greetings ended, Mrs. Charlton insisted on his taking a seat at the table. He demurred at first, but Charles Cook, junior, obedient to her signal, placed a chair for him between Lucy and the doctor and opposite Eunice, and the temptation of having a cup of Mrs. Charlton's delicious coffee and sitting vis-à-vis with Eunice was not to be resisted.
Rex was a keen observer, and so it had not escaped him that Lucy was looking pale and that her hand trembled as he took it, and he knew she divined his errand. It had not escaped him, either, that the little tongue of color that he had learned to recognize as a token of either embarrassment or emotion was burning brightly in Eunice's cheek, and that her hand was colder than it should have been in that warm room.
He did not disclose his errand at once, but when, taking advantage of a turn in the conversation that seemed to lead up to it, he announced that Willie was gone, the surprise and consternation depicted on the individual countenances quite delighted his love of effect. The doctor was surprised into a "Tut; tut!" the homely form of reproof he sometimes addressed to his boys when they grew too obstreperous or noisy at the table. "Tut! tut! Willie Dayton gone home!" And then, a suspicion suddenly striking him: "Did he go alone?"
"I am all that is left of the South Carolina delegation, sir," said Rex, a little twinkle in the tail of his eye at sight of the doctor's dismay. "Fifteen boys went off with Willie on the six-o'clock train."
The doctor saw the twinkle, and his manner changed at once.
"What do you mean, sir," he said sternly, "by informing me of this only when it is too late to prevent their going? You are aware, I suppose, that I have instructions from the parents of every one of them to keep them here until they should be sent for. "
The doctor was greatly excited, or he would never have spoken so to Rex, and in the presence of his family. The most genial of men, he was at times also the most severe, and the students stood in wholesome awe of him; but he was never unjust, and Rex flushed deeply at the doctor's implication.
Mrs. Charlton sprang to the rescue.
"My dear," she said gently, "you could hardly expect Mr. McAllister to play the part of an informer. It strikes me you are lashing the others over his shoulders, instead of giving him the praise he deserves for not having gone off with them."
His wife's words brought the doctor to himself, and he apologized to Rex instantly, adding also a courteous commendation of Rex himself. But he was still very much annoyed that he should have "failed so signally," as he said, in the trust reposed in him. He rubbed his head in whimsical perplexity:
"Dear! dear! how do you suppose the younesters managed it?" with a keen glance at Rex. "I have been keeping them all on short allowance to prevent this very thing."
"I am afraid you think I have been aiding and abetting them, doctor," said Rex, with a smile; "but I haven't. I gave my word to my father, a month ago, that whatever happened I would stay here until he sent for me, and do my best to keep Willie. And of course," he added proudly, "I have kept my word."
Rex was not as great a favorite with the doctor as with Mrs. Charlton. Perhaps his old reputation for being wild and reckless had alienated him from the one as much as it had endeared him to the other. Mrs. Charlton always loved most where she thought it was most needed; but the doctor had appreciated his recent efforts at reform and had felt much more kindly toward him, and now it was with a genuine glow of admiration that he turned to him and said warmly: "You have acted the part of a man of honor, and I esteem you for it."
Words of approbation from the doctor were a new thing to Rex, and they embarrassed him. He hastened to add:
"I hope you will not think Willie has been dishonorable, sir. He broke no promise, for he would not give one; and I am inclined to think his was the wiser way."
Now the doctor admired Rex all the more for his defense of his absent cousin. He was beginning to feel a real liking for the young man who was showing himself in such a generous light; but he was not going to spoil him by too much commendation, especially before the ladies, the presence of one of whom, he shrewdly suspected, would add greatly to its weight in Rex's eyes. So he only said:
"Perhaps so, perhaps so. I am not sure but if I had been a young fellow from the South, I should have done exactly as they have done, and should have considered myself a patriot and a man of honor in doing it."
And then Rex flushed a little again, for he was feeling very sensitively that everybody would be likely to consider theirs the brave and manly course, and that the least taint of cowardice should cling to him was intolerable to his haughty spirit. He had regretted his promise a hundred times, but never so keenly as at this moment.
"Heaven knows," he said with sudden fire, "that I would give the world to be with them at this minute! I feel like a poltroon to stay behind. But I hope to be released from my promise soon, and then I shall follow them."
His fine head, with its dark curls, was flung proudly back, and his eyes flashed as he spoke. He looked very grand to Eunice, who stole a glance at him and, as her eyes met his, dropped hers suddenly to her plate. But Rex had caught the look of admiration in them before they fell, and it put him in a good humor for the rest of the meal. His steak was juicy and tender, his coffee was all that his boarding-house coffee was not, and it had been an hour since his own breakfast-quite time enough at his age to get up an appetite for another. And more than that, Eunice was sitting opposite, looking, he believed, prettier than he had ever seen her, in her morning-gown of soft gray with creamy lace at the throat tied with a knot of scarlet ribbon, the delicate color coming and going at his glance and a shy pleasure in the calm gray eyes. Altogether, he was very happy in spite of thefact that he had not gone to South Carolina with the boys.
He had not seen Eunice for two weeks. He had been keeping away, with some quixotic idea of giving Rogers a chance, for he had been seized with a sudden suspicion that Eunice loved him, and in a spasm of jealousy and generosity had determined to give him a free field. But his spasm had passed. Rogers would probably be home for the next four weeks, and the free field would be Rex's, and he had just about made up his mind to go in seriously and win-for as to the winning he had but little doubt. Rex was not given to distrusting his powers in affairs of the heart.
And it was all very pleasant: the bright and animated breakfast-table, its gracious lady at the head, in a becoming morning-cap of lace and ribbon, beaming brightly on the long table, surrounded by the shining morning faces. Very pleasant, when breakfast was over, to gather in a broad semicircle around the open fire of glowing coals while the good doctor read from the big Bible, and did not forget in the prayer that followed to pray for "the dear friend" with them. And very pleasant afterward to linger for more cheerful talk about the fire, and to see Eunice with a deprecating blush draw her tatting from her pocket, and watch her white fingers fly swiftly back and forth in the graceful occupation. Very pleasant-when Charles Cook, junior, had carried out the breakfast and the heavier dishes, and collected the glass and silver and more delicate china in neat piles, and brought in his great japanned waiter with the hot water and towels–to have Mrs. Charlton say:
"Now, Mr. Charlton, you and Eunice and Mr. McAllister go up to the parlor, and Lucy and I will do the silver and china."
And pleasantest of all, when they were cozily seated about the parlor fire, to have Dr. Charlton excuse himself on the plea of work to be attended to in his office and leave Rex alone with Eunice.
Rex leaned back luxuriously in his deep chair when the doctor had closed the door behind him, and for a few moments gave himself up to silent enjoyment. Crimson damask draperies at the windows had been added to the light lace ones of the summer, and gave the room a cozy, shut-in effect; they hung from heavy, gilded cornices and were looped back with silk ropes far enough to admit the bright December sun and give glimpses of the shining ice-world outside. He could not divest himself of a feeling that they two were sitting at their own fireside, and he said to himself, "Just as she looks this morning, shall I see her every day in my Southern home." And as he looked at the slender figure, with its inalienable air of quaint primness, the drooping curls and softly falling dress, so different from the crinolined belles of the day, he decided in his own mind that in no particular would he have her different; he would not even have her give up her swiftly flying shuttle that had once so annoyed him.
Eunice felt his long scrutiny and was painfully embarrassed under it. She had wondered at his absence of two weeks, and had discovered in the interval that she had missed his gay, cheery presence. There had been no reason for his sudden defection, she thought, and she had fully intended to punish him for it by receiving him with great coolness when he should return. She assured herself that the discomfort she felt in his absence was chiefly owing to a fear that he might be returning to his former ways, from which she honestly longed to save him; and the anxiety she felt at the thought that Miss Lydia might have regained her influence over him she did not for a moment attribute to jealousy.
Now that they were alone, she expected momentarily that he would begin his explanations, which she intended to receive with reserve. She did not attempt to break the silence, which Rex was enjoying and she was finding trying, but with eyes on her shuttle waited for him to begin. It was startling, therefore, to have him suddenly abandon his lazy lounging and, bending toward her, say:
"I have not heard what you think Miss Eunice, of South Carolina's going out."
Eunice's eyes were on her work, but she was conscious of the look that was in those dark ones resting on her, and her fingers flew faster than ever as she answered:
"I think it was not only a wicked thing to do, but an extremely foolish one."
As he did not reply immediately, she added with a nervous little laugh, and glancing up froin her work for a moment:
"I presume you do not agree with me."
Rex met her glance with a smile, and there was such a subtle quality of perfect confidence and all-pervading warmth in the smile that Eunice's calm pulses began to flutter as her eyes fell on her work again.
"No, of course not, " said Rex, half-musingly; "but I was not thinking so much of that as of what you said that evening when Mrs. Charlton was so aroused about John Brown. Do you remember it?"
"I do not remember saying anything worth remembering," said Eunice, her pulses growing calm again at his unexpected answer.
Rex leaned a little nearer and tried to look under the lids that were persistently dropped.
"Don't you remember saying," he said softly, "that you thought a wife's country should be her husband's-that she should leave home, friends, and native land for him?"
Eunice's shuttle flew with incredible swiftness, but she answered with outward calmness:
"I am not sure, but I may have made some such remark. I have always believed that marriage cancels all other obligations, and that a wife should let no difference of opinion that she can reconcile with her conscience creep in to destroy the unity of the marriage relation."
Rex smiled at the, quaint formality of the little speech, but its coldness was more than atoned for by the color that came and went in her cheek and the tremulous quiver of the sensitive chin. He was still nearer now, so that the faint aroma of fine cigars peculiar to him, and that, in spite of Eunice's prejudices, affected her like an exquisite perfume, was plainly perceptible. He boldly took the swiftly flying hands in his, and laid the shuttle in her lap.
"I like to watch you at your work, Eunice," he said, "it is so pretty and graceful; but not now, my darling. I want you to look at me and tell me that you love me and that you will go with me to my Southern home; that you will leave friends and native land all-for your husband."
There was no fear in his tone, nothing but joyous love and tenderness. For one moment Eunice raised her eyes to his and saw the glowing look of love and the handsome face illumined and ennobled by his strong feeling, until it seemed to her surpassing even the face of her girlish dreams in its manly beauty. For one moment she longed to yield to the delight of being loved by such a lover, so grand did he seem to her. Her colder nature longed for the ardent love that should infold it in such an atmosphere of luxuriant warmth. He saw the moment of hesitation, and his warm hands, still holding her cold ones, drew her gently toward him. Then swiftly it came to her-all that this love meant. She knew him really so slightly, she distrusted him so much, and in her ardent patriotism, she felt that all South Carolinians were traitors. Marry a traitor! Impossible! She drew back frigidly and struggled to release her hands.
"No!" she said; "it can never be. How could I go and live in South Carolina, when I think South Carolina has acted so wickedly, and Sonth Carolinians are little better than-," she faltered a little over the word-" traitors?" He did not relinquish her hands, and his tone hardly lost any of its joyousness.
"Have you forgotten," he said softly, "that the wife is to think as her husband? Your country will be mine, my darling, and you will not think me a traitor, but a patriot."
"But I am not your wife," she faltered; and then, with an effort at recovering her calmness: "Please let go my hands, Mr. McAllister; it would be impossible, I think, even if you were not a South Carolinian. I do not believe I could make you happy. Our lives have been so different, and we are so different."
"No," he said, in answer to her struggles to release her hands; "they are mine; I shall not let them go until you tell me that you do not love me. You have not told me that," looking at her with a confident smile; "and no difference of life, of education or country, can make any difference, if you love me."
The ardor of his tones, his glowing glances, were almost more than Eunice could resist. She felt herself half yielding in spite of her convictions. His words thrilled her to the heart, but they roused her, too, to make a stronger resistance to the magnetism of his pleading.
"Mr. McAllister, I appeal to your chivalrous nature, to your honor as a Southern gentleman, not to try me beyond my powers of resistance. I do not think I love you. If I were sure I did, I would not marry you; and I am almost sure I do not."
Eunice had made the one appeal Rex could not be deaf to. Up to this time he had been joyous, almost laughing, so sure was he that she loved him and would yield at last. Now he laid her hands gently in her lap, but kept hold of one of them while he spoke very gravely:
"As long as you are not certain that you do not love me, Eunice, you must give me the benefit of the uncertainty. I am sure you will love me sometime. You were made for me. I have felt it almost from the first moment I saw you. You must love me. What does anything else in the world mean, if we love each other? All these troubles between the South and the North will soon be over. Perhaps South Carolina will be back in the Union. I have no doubt she will, if the North will yield her claims. If she is not, what difference will it make? You would marry me if I were an Englishman or a Frenchman, if you loved me, and you would go with me to the ends of the earth. I will be no more of a foreigner, if I am a South Carolinian, and you will not have to go so far away."
"Oh, Mr. McAllister," said Eunice, desperately, "can you not see? Of course it would make no difference to you. You would not have to leave your friends. You would not have to be false to your country; but I should feel myself a traitor if I married you, and I cannot-I will not. Have pity on me and do not ask me."
There were actual tears in those calm gray eyes that Rek had sometimes thought too cold for tears. Her tone was so imploring and her distress so evident that Rex could not resist her appeal.
"Eunice, darling," he said, "I love you too much to be willing to distress you. I will not ask you now to marry me. I am sure time will remove all these obstacles that seem so insuperable to you. But you have not told me that you love me. Give me that assurance, and I will wait for the rest."
Eunice waited a long moment before she answered slowly and timidly:
"You will always be a dear friend to me, Mr. McAllister; but I do not believe I love you as you want me to, and I would rather you would not think of me in that way."
"I will never cease to think of you 'in that way,' Eunice," said Rex, with a little smile; "but I am not going to reject your friendship. Let me be your 'dear friend' until you are willing to receive me as your dear lover. I am sure you will, some day. A dear friend may kiss your hand just once, may he not?" And, without waiting for her consent, he lifted it to his lips.
There was such an air of mingled gallantry and deference, of restrained passion and protecting tenderness, in the little act, and such high-bred grace in the manner of it, that perhaps Eunice was nearer yielding than she had been when he was pleading most ardently. At that moment the bell rang and Mr. Rogers was announced,-come, he said, to make his adieus to the family,-he was to leave on the next train. Rex lingered to chat with him a few moments, engaging him at once in an animated conversation on the exodus of the morning, until Eunice had had time to recover her usual calm exterior, and then he took his leave, promising to see Rogers off at the station.
He was not discouraged. It fretted him a little that he could not immediately have the full fruition of his hopes-for, his mind once made up that he wanted Eunice for a wife, he was impatient for her promise; but he was sure it would come in time, and he determined to make such good use of the next four weeks that Rogers's return should find Eunice his affianced bride. He could afford to feel goodnatured toward Rogers; and, aside from his real liking for him, he began to feel a little sorry for him, too, so that his "Good-by" at the station was unconsciously tinged with a slight air of pity and condescension that Mr. Rogers found difficult to understand as he mused over it on his homeward way.