IT was ten o'clock the next morning when Eunice, hearing in her sleep a soft tap at her door, opened her eyes and said "Come in."
Cindie, the cook's little girl, entered, bearing carefully a tray on which a tempting little breakfast was arranged. She was called Cindie to distinguish her from her mother, whose name she bore; and now as she set her tray down on the table, and made her funny little curtsey, she said:
"Missie Charlton 'low youse better git up now and, have some brekfus'. I 'se jist took some to Miss Lucy."
Eunice was very much taken with the pretty child–sweet as a cherub, she thought, until she opened her lips to speak; and she answered smilingly:
"It is very kind of Mrs. Charlton to send me my breakfast, and thank you for bringing it, Cindie; but is breakfast all over?"
Cindie, emboldened by the kind tones, answered more familiarly, and with something of the condescension she had heard her mother use on similar occasions:
"Laws, yis, honey; brekfus' done long 'go; it's leben o'clock, mebbe."
It was not quite so late, really, but Cindie had very little idea of time, and she always wished to make her statements sufficiently strong to create a sensation. Eunice sprang up, dreadfully annoyed that she should have slept so late; and she had just bathed her face and hands a little, slipped on a wrapper, and thrust her feet into some bedroom slippers when Lucy appeared at the door with her little breakfast tray.
"May I come in and eat my breakfast with you?" she said, looking like the fair young Dawn, Eunice thought, arrayed in a pale-blue dressing-gown, her golden hair a little disordered, and her cheeks with the fresh morning roses blooming in them.
"Yes, come in–do, please; but I am so ashamed to have been so lazy. What will Mrs. Charlton think of me?"
"Mother wouldn't have liked it if you hadn't been, after being up so late for two nights; and Monday school begins, and this is your very last chance to be lazy for a whole week. Mother never likes to have us late Sunday mornings, so hereafter Saturdays will be your only chance to sleep in the morning."
"But I never sleep in the mornings at home. I am always up to breakfast, and I do not see why I should not be here."
"Even when you are out the night before, or up late?" asked Lucy.
"Now that I think of it," she said, "I don't think that I was ever up late. It seems to me I have been in bed by ten o'clock all my life."
"What did you do when you had callers, or went to parties? Did callers always leave at that early hour? And were your parties always over by that time?" persisted Lucy.
"I see, " said Eunice, "I may as well make a full confession. There were never any gentlemen to call, and I do not believe I have been to a party since I was a child until night before last."
The air of incredulous pity–almost horror–with which Lucy heard this statement amused Eunice, and she went on, still further, enlarging upon the manless state of existence which had so far been her lot, and assuring Lucy that she had not missed them very much.
"Then I am afraid you won't like it here," said Lucy, dubiously; "there are so many of them: the students, you know, and sometimes the officers, but not many of them; and they all seemed to like you so much last night and at the patronee party. I am afraid you will really be bored by them."
"Oh, no," said Eunice, smiling and blushing; "I like it very much. In fact, it is such a novelty to me, I shouldn't wonder if I enjoyed it more than you, who have been accustomed to it always."
"Oh, I am so glad," said Lucy, ardently; "I should have been so sorry if you had proved to be a New England man-hater. They do have them up there, don't they?" And hardly listening to Eunice's laughing denial of man-haters being indigenous to New England, she went on: "Do you know, I think it would be such fun never to have known any young gentlemen, and then suddenly come to where there were plenty of them. Why, I should think it would be right exciting!"
"It is," said Eunice, smiling at Lucy's earnestness; "but you must not let any of them know how unsophisticated I am. They might take advantage of my ignorance."
"Yes," said Lucy, taking her in simple earnest; "Rex McAllister would, I am sure. He is a dreadful flirt. You will have to beware of him." And then, not noticing that in spite of Eunice's efforts the smile had died away and the color was mounting steadily in her cheeks, she went on: "He flirts with everybody, especially if they happen to be new. But there is only one person that he really seems to care for, and that is Lydia McNair; and the funny part of it is that she seems to like him, too. I shouldn't wonder if it would be a match some day. "
There was no answer from Eunice, and Lucy prattled on:
"Tonight is choir rehearsal, and it meets here, and Mr. Rogers, the leader of the choir, asked me last night to invite you to join it. You sing, don't you?"
Eunice did sing; she was leading soprano in their little church at home, and she was entirely too truthful to say no. But she hesitated to accept the invitation.
"Who is in the choir?" she asked doubtfully; and then Lucy mentioned the names, and did not mention Rex McAllister.
"Oh, you must surely join us," she urged, "we need sopranos so much. We have plenty of tenor and bass and good strong alto, but half the time I am the only soprano besides Miss Allen, who plays the melodeon and always helps me out when I am alone, for I have only a little bit of a voice. And then the rehearsals are such fun, I am sure you will like it."
And Eunice said she was sure she should, and she would join the choir and help all she could.
They had finished their breakfast, and Lucy rose to go to her own room to dress; but she put her head back in the door as she was leaving the room to say: "Rex McAllister does not belong to the choir, but he usually attends rehearsals to escort somebody, and I have no doubt he will be here tonight. "
"I am glad of it, " thought Eunice, grimly, as the door closed on Lucy. "It will give me a chance to show him I am not the soft bit of rustic innocence he has taken me for."
Her cheeks burned now with a very different emotion as she recalled the soft insinuations and tender glances of the night before. "Little Lucy, with her face of baby-like innocence and fully two years younger than I in everything else, is twice as wise where men are concerned," she thought impatiently.
"Little Lucy" was wiser even than Eunice thought. Willie Dayton had said to her the night before:
"Does it strike you that Rex is making a dead set for Miss Harlowe? There is nothing he likes better, you know, than a new face, and I hope she won't take him seriously. She impresses me as one of those dreadfully matter-of-fact people who take every word you say in dead earnest."
And Lucy, who was just a little out of humor with Willie, and was pleased by nothing he could say, had answered indignantly:
"Miss Harlowe is not 'dreadfully' anything. She is perfectly lovely! If she takes people seriously–why, people ought to be honest enough to be taken that way always! But I don't believe you need have any fears for her; she is quite able to take care of herself–and Mr. McAllister too, if necessary."
And Willie, who was determined not to quarrel, had answered:
"Oh, come now, Cousin Lucy, don't be hard on a fellow; you know I did not mean it that way. I like Miss Harlowe. She is a mighty sweet young lady, I reckon, and I don't want her to have any trouble with Rex."
But though Lucy had rejected Willie's warning at the time, it had returned to her with great force when Eunice made her confession of never having known any men, and it was responsible for her innocent disclosure.
The little melodeon had been moved out from its corner in the back parlor to the position of honor under the chandelier in the front parlor. The possibility of using the piano for the practice of "sacred music" would, never have occurred to any one; or if it had would have been rejected at once, as savoring of the sacrilegious.
Around the melodeon in little groups were the members of the choir, waiting for some tardy arrivals, but employing the interval in lively interchange of talk seasoned with much laughter. It all looked so easy to Eunice, and yet she was finding it difficult to keep up her share in it. To have been brought up all her life to think and talk seriously in an atmosphere where even smiling seemed to have been indulged in rather under protest, and now to be suddenly transported to a clime where lively talk and joyous laughter were the order of the day and night; where people smiled and chatted as easily as they ate and drank, gave her an uncomfortable sense of her own rigidity, against which she was making desperate struggles.
Much of the conversation of these pretty girls and gallant young fellows seemed to her silly and meaning less, but she envied them the ease and grace of their silliness, and she thought she would have been quite ready to exchange for it some of her more solid attainments. Fortunately for her comfort, it was the most dignified man in the room who was now gravely discussing with her the respective merits of "China" and "Peterboro," "Ortonville" and "Dundee." Eunice was well up in all the music between the covers of the old "Lute of Zion," and he found her excellent aid in selecting the tunes best suited to the little list of hymns he held in his hand, which they had been looking out in the hymn-book and reading over together.
She was losing much of her constrained feeling, and beginning to enjoy herself in the sense she had of being on familiar ground, when she became aware that Rex McAllister was entering the room. Her eyes were fastened on the page before her and she did not lift them, but she saw him quite as distinctly as if she had. He was accompanying the organist, Miss Allen, for whom they had been waiting, and Eunice was conscious that after speaking a moment to Lucy he started toward her. She still did not lift her eyes, and was trying to go on with what she was saying to Mr. Rogers calmly and indifferently; but she must have got it very much mixed, for Mr. Rogers looked puzzled and begged her to repeat it.
By that time there was no ignoring the fact that McAllister was standing directly in front of her, in an attitude of mingled condescension and deference; the condescension being natural, and due to an inner feeling that a very fine Southern. gentleman was making his bow to a bit of Northern simplicity, and the deference assumed as the manner likely to be most effective with so dignified and intellectual a young lady. It would be putting it very mildly to say that he was abashed when Eunice lifted her calm eyes, and with a formal "Good evening, Mr. McAllister," ignored entirely his extended hand and turned At once to Mr. Rogers. The hot blood rushed to the South Carolinian's face, his eyes flashed, and his hand dropped to his side, while he made an extremely low bow of ironical deference, and then passed on, making the circuit of the room and stopping to talk for a few minutes with each young lady present. Witnesses to his discomfiture had not been wanting. Willie Dayton and Lucy had both been furtively watching the greeting with much interest, and Mr. Rogers had seen it and wondered. That made it of course so much the more galling, and Rex was fiercely brooding on revenge while he was uttering his pretty speeches. As for Willie and Lucy, they were amazed, and Lucy blushed a deep crimson for what seemed to her Eunice's unpardonable rudeness. She could see no reason for it at all, and it did not occur to her that her little remarks about Rex and his flirtations could have been responsible.
Eunice had acted deliberately in what had seemed to her the very best way to show to McAllister that she was no unsophisticated maiden, ready to listen to and accept all the sweet things he might find it pleasant to utter. She had wished to prove to him that she was quite a woman of the world, taking at its true valuation what he had already said, but unwilling to listen any further to his insincerities. She did not remember that she had no pretext for being offended, and that without such pretext to refuse to take a man's hand in a room full of his friends was to say in effect, "I consider you, sir, unworthy to touch my hand." She was really so unsophisticated that she had no conception of the rudeness of which she had been guilty, and was feeling now a glow of triumph at having effectually humbled the complacent Lothario, instead of any remorse at having overstepped the bounds of good breeding. She hardly thought of it even in the light of having administered a reproof to McAllister; it was more as of having asserted her own position as a young woman who understood both herself and him.
There was a latent feeling of anticipatory delight, also, in the humble attitude she fancied he would assume until finally she might forgive him for his attempt to play with her ignorance and receive him back on terms of friendship. But for this latent feeling, there would have been too much of the alloy of pain mingled with the triumph; for in spite of her attempts to persuade herself differently, his efforts at winning her interest had not been in vain.
Even if she had had more experience with men in her own part of the country, she would have hardly been able to comprehend the fierce passions that her little act had aroused. In the heart of a Massachusetts man it might have produced a feeling of cold contempt or indifference toward the young lady who had been capable of such an offense; but in the heart of the proud and fiery South Carolinian it set the match at once to the volcanic passions that were always but lightly slumbering and ready to burst into eruption at a touch. It was a boiling and seething crater that he was at this moment carrying in his bosom, inwardly cursing his fate that the "Little Yankee" was not a man whom he might have knocked down at a blow and called out afterward. But since she was not, he was swiftly arranging in his mind a line, of revenge that would be quite as effective and devilish enough to satisfy his worst impulses. He was quick enough to perceive that her action did not denote indifference, but was probably incited by a feeling that she was yielding too easily to his influence, and was as much a determined resistance to it as scorn of him personally. None the less did he decide to make her suffer for the humiliation she had subjected him to–and before Rogers!–the last man he would have been willing to have witness it; for Rogers was a straightforward, honest Pennsylvanian who had more than once not hesitated to express his disapproval of the Carolinian, who though far from being the blackleg and toper that Rogers considered him, had none of the Northerner's prejudices against wine and cards.
Eunice's rebuff bad not in the least shaken his confidence in his powers of fascination. He believed thoroughly that the citadel of no woman's heart could hold out if he laid siege to it in earnest–and that was what he resolved upon the instant to do. He should leave no wile unemployed until this cold little Yankee heart was absolutely under his sway; and then, when he had won it, he would fling it back at her with scorn and remind her of the time when she had dared to humiliate him openly.
Rex McAllister had never considered himself a bad fellow. Heretofore his flirtations, if not perfectly harmless, had been without any purpose of harm. He had been as much beguiled as beguiling. Also, he would have been ready to challenge any man who dared to breathe that he was not the soul of honor. But if it had been suggested to him that this was not an honorable line of action he was laying out for himself, he would have defended himself with the plea that "all is fair in love and war," and "revenge is always noble."
As for Eunice, she was rather happy than otherwise. Her little act of self-assertion gave her a novel sensation of power, and she was beginning to enjoy the complex emotions of this new life which made the old seem tame and vapid by contrast. And she did not dream of the net of difficulties and entanglements she had woven for herself.
It was not until Mr. Rogers had called his choir together and Eunice had taken her place with the sopranos that Rex chose a seat for himself . Then he took one, a deep easy-chair which permitted an indolent, half-lounging attitude, well suited to express either easy indifference or romantic dejection (and he had not quite determined which it should be), and so placed that it not only commanded an uninterrupted view of Eunice, but made it almost impossible also that her glance should not, frequently fall on him.
Eunice's voice was what her face would have led you to expect: a cool, clear soprano, without much magnetic quality, strong and a little prim in its deliverance, while an odd way she had of accenting the music with little movements of her body struck Rex as amusingly suggestive of the Yankee schoolma'am. It was a habit contracted, no doubt, from having been for several years leader of the choir at home, and took with her the place of a baton as a means of setting the time for the rest. She was not without her own little conceits, also. She believed that she sang well, and Lucy, whom she unconsciously regarded as a mere child with a sweet little voice, was the only other soprano, and she felt the responsibility of her position. She liked to sing; she read music well, and was prompt in her time and unfaltering as a leader. Mr. Rogers, who stood beside her, evidently perceived her ability and rejoiced in it, and she was enjoying herself thoroughly when her glance fell upon Rex.
It had been part of her enjoyment in singing, the consciousness that Rex was listening to her, and she never doubted his admiration and perhaps surprise at her possession of such an accomplishment. Now to discover upon his face that look of half-cynical amusement was a mortifying disappointment. Her elation in her newly acquired power vanished at once; she became confused and miserably uncertain of herself. She felt that she must have made some mistake in her treatment of this man, who was neither awed nor admiring, but only amused. And feeling no longer sure of herself in any respect, she began to lose confidence in her singing, and for a few moments Mr. Rogers feared his leading soprano was not going to prove perfectly reliable.
Rex had not intended to be caught with that look upon his face, and for a moment he was inclined to be vexed with himself, but noting, its effect upon her, he keenly concluded that it might prove just as well, after all. By destroying her confidence in herself, he was preparing the way for repentance and humility on her part. When next her glance fell upon him, there should be upon his face either rapt admiration of her singing, which would soothe her wounded vanity, or deep and dejected reproach that would arouse her pity and remorse. He decided to use both–the admiration first and the reproach afterward. It was a long time before Eunice looked at him again, and she would not have looked then if she could have helped it. She dreaded to meet that smile that was half a sneer, but there was some compelling power in his steady gaze, and she did look at last, half defiantly. What she saw restored her at once to her self-esteem, and relieved her horrible sense of being ridiculed. Rex had contrived to throw a great deal of admiration into his eyes, and much of it was genuine. He liked music, he thought singing a most ladylike accomplishment, and, except for her little mannerisms, Eunice sang more than fairly well. Then, when he saw that the admiration had produced its effect, he pretended to be taken by surprise again, and rapidly changed his expression to one of mute reproach and question. Eunice had no weapons with which to meet his arts. She had been warned about him, but to be swiftly whirled from elation to self-abasement, back again to gratified vanity, and then to awakening pity and regret, left her with a dizzy sense of helplessness. She began to feel heartily sorry for her discourtesy, and to hope for some opportunity of apologizing during the evening. There would be none, of course, during the rehearsal, but that came to an end at last. They had tried over all the hymns and practised the opening anthem, her own selection, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord," until Mr. Rogers said it would do, and dismissed them from further practice. At the clamor of merry voices the doctor and his wife came down to the parlor and mingled with the young people; they would have considered it very discourteous to their daughter's friends to have done otherwise, and the young people themselves would have missed their cordial presence.
But in the pleasant half-hour that followed no opportunity presented itself for her apology. Rex did not come near her, and Mr. Rogers, who had missed the bright animation of his coadjutor in the early part of the evening, rather devoted himself to her as feeling himself somewhat to blame. The company broke up finally and she had only a distant and very formal bow from Rex as he left the room with Miss Allen.
Eunice was quite miserable by this time, and when she went upstairs she found, from a little cold reserve in Lucy's manner, that she too did not approve of her. They had grown into a warm friendship in these four days, and now Lucy went to her own room at once, without coming into Eunice's to talk over the evening, and she began to feel with acute mortification that she had probably sinned unpardonably against the conventions, and there is perhaps no kind of sin that can make one feel more thoroughly uncomfortable, or dye the cheek with a deeper hue of shame.
Lucy did disapprove of Eunice, and for that reason had not followed her to her room; but her ardent little heart would not let her cherish such a feeling in silence, and she very soon concluded to go to Eunice and "have it out."
Eunice answered her knock with a quick beating of the heart, but she coldly waited for Lucy to begin, and she did not have to wait long. After one or two indifferent remarks on the evening, Lucy burst forth:
"Eunice, how could you treat Rex McAllister so? Has he done anything dreadful? I never saw anything so marked in my life."
Eunice's face was a picture of dreariness as she answered:
"Oh, I don't know; it 's all the fault of my never having known any young gentlemen, I suppose. I am afraid I will always be getting into trouble here, and it would be better for me to go home."
Lucy was touched by the hopelessness of the tone, and it accomplished what the tears of another girl might not have done. She put her arms around Eunice and said with quick relenting:
"Why, you poor girl, I suppose you really didn't know that you could offer no graver insult to a man like Rex, than to refuse to take his hand. But it doesn't make a bit of difference; it isn't worth being unhappy over. I am sorry I spoke of it."
"I wish you would tell me, Lucy, what to do," said Eunice, trying to feel at home in Lucy's encircling arms, and feeling bitterly that her miserable undemonstrativeness would not let her do what she was really longing to do–give Lucy a warm kiss and hug to show her she appreciated her sympathy. "I see now that I have been very rude; do you think I ought to write him an apology?"
Lucy thought a minute, with a pretty pucker between her eyes that showed her perplexity.
"No, " she said slowly; "I think I wouldn't–to Rex McAllister. There is no telling what use he might make of it. If it were Willie Dayton, now, it would be different; he would never do any but the most generous and considerate thing. I would wait a few days, anyway; you may have a chance to make a verbal apology; and if you don't, the worst that can happen will be that he will be perfectly furious, and find some means of taking his revenge, but it won't be anything very dreadful, I reckon."
Eunice did not quite like the way Lucy spoke of Rex. The balance was surging up now in the other direction, and Rex was in the ascending scale. She thought if Lucy had beheld the tender reproach she had seen in his eyes that evening, she would not talk of fury and revenge.