MCALLISTER turned to Eunice with the air of expressing the deepest devotion as he said:
"Permit me, Miss Harlowe, to relieve you of your bandbox," He was grateful to her for refusing. He had considered it imperative to ask her, but to the fastidious fellow, who never carried the smallest package on the streets, it was sufficiently heroic to be carrying her heavy bag; he felt he never could have stood the guying of his fellow-students if any of them had happened to meet him carrying both bag and bandbox.
They were at the Iron Gate, and a choice of two ways lay before them. They could turn and walk up the long Pavement, partly shaded from the broiling sun by the elms overhanging the campus wall, or they could enter the Iron Gate, and follow a little path running parallel with the pavement under arching trees whose heavy foliage excluded every unwelcome ray of sunshine. Rex recommended the latter, and as the heavy gate swung behind them–a sound destined to become very familiar to her ears–Eunice uttered a little exclamation of delight. They had left the hot glare of brick and mortar behind them. A soft, fragrant tan-bark walk was beneath their feet, a wide expanse of vivid green turf dotted with cool groves and cut by avenues shaded with stately trees was before them, and the light fell so softly through the high, leafy arches over the little path into which they had turned, she could think only of dim cathedral aisles. It seemed to her as if her lines had fallen in pleasant places, and she was always hereafter to be walking through beautiful dusky groves with soft zephyrs playing about her and a stately cavalier at her side. She found herself listening in a kind of dreamlike reverie to McAllister, who was saying:
"They call this path 'Lovers' Lane,' Miss Harlowe, because it is so secluded, I suppose. Don't you think our Bellaire lovers are rather lucky to have such a perfect spot in which to breathe their vows?"
His words embarrassed her. Who had ever before spoken to her of "lovers' vows"? Yet mingling with her embarrassment was a swift, vague, and tremulous premonition that she might, some day, be listening to them there herself.
Rex McAllister wondered to see the bright color flame up in her cheeks again. He had not found the "Yankee schoolma'am" very brilliant as a conversationalist; but there was something fascinating in watching the play of color in the cheek half-turned from him, and in compelling an occasional timid glance from the large gray eyes. He was a man who enjoyed making an impression, and he felt he wasdoing that now; and as for the rest, he had sufficient confidence in his conversational powers to be quite willing to bear the burden of the talk. He was not sure, upon the whole, that he did not prefer a quiet woman, even if she were a little "stiff," to Miss Lydia's loud-voiced ways. He was very well satisfied with his companion, therefore, when he had conducted her through the little gate that led into the president's private grounds, and along the winding path to the house, and up the high steps to the piazza, where Mrs. Charlton and Lucy, with all the younger children in a timid group behind them, were waiting to receive her. It was a trying ordeal to Eunice, but she was able to veil all timidity and agitation under her calm Northern manner. And Mrs. Charlton, who greeted her warmly with a kind kiss, for which Eunice was so totally unprepared as to be unable to respond to it in time, thought her a typical New Englander, very self-possessed certainly, but almost too cold.
She had no idea how her motherly greeting had touched Eunice's heart. Her own mother seldom kissed her, and Eunice hardly knew how to perform the affectionate ceremony properly. But as Mrs. Charlton presented her to her daughter Lucy, she determined to do her best, and met Lucy's shy but friendly greeting with the voluntary proffer of a kiss–and was immediately sure she had done the wrong thing again, and Lucy had not expected it. While Lucy was presenting her to her brothers and little sister, Mrs. Charlton was saying to Rex:
"But where is Mr. Charlton? How do you happen to be bringing Miss Harlowe to us?"
And when Rex explained that he had met them on the street, and the doctor had said that he had forgotten to execute a commission for Mrs. Charlton, and had asked him to bring Miss Harlowe to the house, she exclaimed:
"My letter! Of course he forgot it! but what a shame he should have gone back for it! I asked him to mail it on the train, because I thought it would be no trouble for him, and it would reach its destination sooner. But it was not of the slightest importance; it is really too bad he should have gone back for it."
And then Eunice heard McAllister saying, "I am sorry for the doctor, but his misfortune was my opportunity, it was a very great pleasure to make Miss Harlowe's acquaintance so agreeably."
She knew, of course, the words meant nothing, but she was so unused to anything of the kind she could not help the stir of her pulses as she heard them. And then Mrs. Charlton shook her head at McAllister with an arch smile, as much as to say:
"Oh, you rogue! I know you. But you must beware; I will have no poaching on my preserves."
It was that ready sympathy of comprehension that made the doctor's wife such a great favorite with all the young people, and particularly were the students of the college her stanch admirers. She had been a Southern beauty when she fell in love with the Northern scholar and married him, and she had kept some of the pretty imperious ways natural to Southern women. The doctor adored her, and she venerated and idolized him; but it was perhaps due to that pretty imperiousness that he would not for the world have failed to execute her smallest commission, and was as much under love's tyranny as in the days of his courtship.
Just then the doctor himself came through the big gate that led out to the street, and McAllister, catching sight of him, explained that he was due at the doctor's lecture-room and took a hurried leave; and the doctor, coming up past the piazza with his long, rapid stride, waved his hand to Eunice and called up: "I am glad to see you have arrived, Miss Harlowe; I will see you at dinner." And then to his wife: "Your letter is all right, my love"–an old-fashioned way he had of addressing her, even sometimes in semi-public–and, without giving any one a chance to reply to him, passed through a tiny gate placed in the high cedar hedge that separated his private grounds from the campus.
"And now, my dear," said Mrs. Charlton, turning to Eunice, " you must come right in and have some breakfast. Did you tell Alcinda to put it on, Millie?" addressing a little brown-haired girl, who had been gazing in round-eyed admiration at Eunice from the moment of her arrival.
"No, 'm, I forgot; but I will now," and the child flew down the long hall with eager feet to atone for her tardiness.
Eunice tried to tell Airs. Charlton that she did not need breakfast, but Mrs. Charlton would not listen to her.
"Oh, I shall only give you a bite: it is too near dinner-time for anything more; but you will feel better for eating a little, and after you have had your breakfast, I want you to lie down until dinner-time, and sleep if possible. I shall wake you up for dinner, for Mr. Charlton would feel so disappointed not to find you at the table, and it will be better for you not to sleep too long; you can go to bed early to-night, you know, and get fully rested."
Eunice had supposed she was not hungry, but when she found herself in the pleasant dining-room opening by glass doors upon a side-porch and lawn, and a black boy of about fifteen bringing in a small pot of steaming coffee in one hand and in the other a tiny platter with a beautiful golden-brown omelet on it, she found also that she was quite ready for both.
And while she was at the table "Judge" brought her trunk, carried it up-stairs and unstrapped it, and so she found it awaiting her when she went back to her room. Eunice, who was swift and deft in all her movements, very quickly had her limited number of dresses hanging in the deep closet, her morning-gown with its pretty fixings laid over the back of a chair, the dust shaken and brushed from her traveling-dress, and herself arrayed in a loose dressing-gown. She looked around the big, high-ceilinged room, with its old mahogany furniture, a vase of scarlet salvia on the light blue cover of her writing-table, and the cool white muslin curtains at the windows tied back with blue ribbons; and as she looked she sighed. It was a sigh of full content–it was all so fresh and dainty and homelike.
Outside the strident droning of locusts gave the impression of simmering heat. Her windows opened to the south, and were both raised, but the green outside shutters were bowed, making a soft, pleasant light in the room, and allowing only cool little zephyrs to wander through their half-turned slats. Looking through them, she saw that her windows were further shaded by a great linden, whose branches sometimes brushed the shutters as they swayed in the breeze and gave her an added sense of coolness as she looked into their green depths. She lay down on the soft white bed, put her head on the fragrant linen pillow-case, and closed her tired eyes with a delicious feeling of languor and a delightful sense of being "in the lap of luxury," which had come to her through the new experience of being waited upon by colored servants. All sordid dish-washing cares and kitchen drudgeries seemed now to her as things of a remote past, and she fell asleep with a little sigh upon her lips for her own dear, hard-working mother, for whom there was no such luxurious emancipation possible.
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