A Stern Resolve
THE four weeks of the holidays passed quickly. Rex had gone about his wooing with energy. There were sleighing-parties to Mount Holly, where mine host of the Holly Inn gave them a warm reception, with hot oysters and coffee. There were skating-parties to "Pike's Pond," with a two-mile walk over the frozen fields, brisk and pleasant on the way out, but long and weary enough on the way home, were it not that a tired and drooping little form leaned more confidingly than perhaps it was aware on the strong arm that would have liked to give it even more decided support. There were long morning calls, too, when they translated Heine's poems together, or Rex read Tennyson while Eunice busied herself with a bit of dainty sewing; for Eunice could not quite reconcile it with her conscience to spend the precious morning hours without the excuse of some "improving" occupation.
But, after all, when the four weeks were over, and Mr. Rogers had returned, Eunice was not his affianced bride, as Rex had fondly hoped. And if Rogers had mused over the condescension of Rex's parting manner, be mused still more over the melancholy air with which he wrung his hand as he welcomed him back again.
Eunice had enjoyed the sleigh-rides, the skating, the morning readings, soothing any scruples she might have otherwise had, because of the perfect understanding she supposed existed between them, and that there was no danger of a return to Rex's question. But in drifting along so pleasantly, she suddenly awoke to a realization of the fact that her own peace was becoming seriously endangered.
It was one morning when Rex was reading aloud from Tennyson-a dangerous pastime for two young people to indulge in, for there is always sure to be some passage so wonderfully appropriate to themselves, and made doubly eloquent by a tone or a glance. Now as Rex read the tenderest lines the great poet ever wrote, King Arthur's farewell to Guinevere, and came to the words,
"My doom is, I love thee still;he looked up at Eunice with all his soul in his eyes, and made the words his own, an infinite meaning in the tender inflections of his voice. Then Eunice knew that she could not go on listening to those low, rich tones nor meet the eloquent glances of those dark, beautiful eyes.
She was more than ever sure that she could never marry him. There seemed less hope every day of a peaceable adjustment of the difficulties between the North and the South. If she could bring her own conscience to consent, she knew it would break her father's heart, whose weekly letters breathed ardent and long-drawn denunciations of the wicked and corrupt South, to which Eunice would have once subscribed most heartily, but which somehow hurt her a little now.
The reading had moved her greatly. Her heart was all melted and torn with pity for the beautiful Queen lying at the feet of Arthur, but more for the great King whose "vast pity almost made him die to see her laying there her golden head," and Rex's tone and look were the one touch she could not stand.
Eunice! The calm, self-restrained, unimpassioned Eunice was sobbing, her face buried in her work! Rex was bewildered, and his heart was in his mouth at the sight of her distress. He did not stop to reason. All the rigid self-control he had imposed upon himself vanished in a moment. He was beside her, holding her in his arms, kissing her hair, her forehead, the hands that covered her eyes, and whispering, "What is it, my darling, my love, my own Eunice?"
For the fraction of a minute Eunice's head rested on his shoulder, and she felt his kisses and heard his impassioned words, and a wild impulse seized her to trample on her conscience, defy her friends, and yield to this love that was so sweet. But in her heart she knew she could not, and freeing herself with a desperate effort, she looked up at him.
"Please go," she said, "and do not come back any more. I can never marry you, and I will not love you if I can help it!"
"Eunice," he said triumphantly, and trying once more to draw her to him, "you cannot help it-you do love me!"
But she eluded his arms, and with clasped hands and entreaty in her eyes and voice she said:
"Oh, I am afraid I do! But if I do, you must help me not to. It can bring us both nothing but anguish. I cannot break my father's heart nor trample on my own self-respect. I throw myself on your pity and generosity-help me not to love you, for I will never marry you!"
In the very midst of her distress there flashed into her mind a conviction that she was playing the tragedy queen quite as much as Mrs. Charlton had done on that October evening, and she felt humiliated and made a desperate effort to recover her usual composure. As for Rex, a slow conviction was pressing itself on his heart that this little Puritan maiden really meant what she said; that though she might love him, it would be against her will, and she would never yield herself to his love. With the conviction came a dull feeling of anger. He felt like one dashing himself helplessly against a stone wall. He resented her firmness-" obstinacy," he called it. For the first time in his life his own imperious will came in conflict with one not so imperious, but stronger.
"Eunice," he said angrily, "this is all nonsense! You either love me, or you do not. If you love me, there is no law of right or wrong in the universe that ought to separate us. You are mine; heaven has ordained it; what right has earth to deny it? If you will say to me truthfully and from your heart that you do not love me, then I will go and trouble you no more."
Eunice had regained her calmness with Rex's anger, and she answered steadily:
"I wish I could say truthfully that I do not love you. I cannot. I am not sure that I will not love you always, long after you shall have forgotten me. But that does not alter my decision. I know I am right when I say that I will not marry you." She hesitated a moment, and then went on with a slight trembling of her even tones: "It will be much better for us both if we see but little of each other, and I may never again speak to you alone. Dear friend, will you remember this of me: that always when I hear of you leading a noble, upright life, true to your own convictions of right, my heart will swell with pride in you and gratitude to God for having once given me the love of such a man? And the greatest sorrow that could ever come to me-but I am sure it never will come-would be to hear that you had gone backward, that you were no longer true to your own high and noble nature. And as long as we two shall live, Rex,"-she spoke his name softly,-" I will pray for you."
Eunice's voice had dropped lower and lower as she spoke, but every word fell with crystal clearness on Rex's heart. He had flung himself down sullenly in his chair when she began to speak, but as she went on he leaned forward his elbows resting on his knees, his head bowed in his hands; and so he sat for a few minutes after she had ceased speaking. Then he arose; the sullenness was all gone, and there was a look in his dark eyes that Eunice could hardly understand-half sad, half stern.
"It shall be as you wish," he said; "I will go."
He took her hand and looked long into her eyes, either with the hope that even yet she might relent, or with the feeling that it was for the last time.
"I shall not forget what you have said, and I shall not cease utterly to hope; for I believe that you love me, and some day you will see that you are wrong and I am right. Until that day I shall not trouble you; and if it is your wish we will meet as the merest acquaintances. Yet I do not want you to think that I am not loving you all the time. Every throb of my heart, while life lasts, is yours."
He clasped the hand he held with so fierce a grip that she would have cried out with pain but that she saw he was unconscious of hurting her, and was struggling with some strong impulse. Suddenly he almost flung it from him.
"No," he said sternly; "I will wait!" And then seeing her look of surprise and pain, he added more gently:
"I was going to ask you, Eunice, to kiss me, for this may be a long parting. But I have concluded that I do not want to run the risk of a refusal or of your compliance from mere pity. I will wait until, some day, you come to me and say, 'Rex, I love you, and I will be your wife.' "
Eunice was looking up at him in mute appeal. Her whole soul was longing to give him that kiss. Now that she felt this was the end of it all, even her stern conscience would not have felt it wrong so to consecrate the death and burial of this love. Rex understood her look and answered it.
"I must go at once, or I will break my resolve," he said; and then, with sudden heat and between his set teeth, "I will not have your kisses, Eunice Harlowe, until I can have you."
He whirled on his heel and, with no adieu but his customary low bow, quitted the room, leaving Eunice standing motionless, half shocked and frightened at his last words and tones and the fierce glow in his dark eyes.