The next day was splendid, as Felix had prophesied; if the winter had suddenl_eaped into spring, the spring had for the moment as quickly leaped int_ummer. This was an observation made by a young girl who came out of a larg_quare house in the country, and strolled about in the spacious garden whic_eparated it from a muddy road. The flowering shrubs and the neatly-dispose_lants were basking in the abundant light and warmth; the transparent shade o_he great elms—they were magnificent trees—seemed to thicken by the hour; an_he intensely habitual stillness offered a submissive medium to the sound of _istant church-bell. The young girl listened to the church-bell; but she wa_ot dressed for church. She was bare-headed; she wore a white muslin waist, with an embroidered border, and the skirt of her dress was of colored muslin.
She was a young lady of some two or three and twenty years of age, and thoug_ young person of her sex walking bare-headed in a garden, of a Sunday mornin_n spring-time, can, in the nature of things, never be a displeasing object, you would not have pronounced this innocent Sabbath-breaker especially pretty.
She was tall and pale, thin and a little awkward; her hair was fair an_erfectly straight; her eyes were dark, and they had the singularity o_eeming at once dull and restless—differing herein, as you see, fatally fro_he ideal "fine eyes," which we always imagine to be both brilliant an_ranquil. The doors and windows of the large square house were all wide open, to admit the purifying sunshine, which lay in generous patches upon the floo_f a wide, high, covered piazza adjusted to two sides of the mansion—a piazz_n which several straw-bottomed rocking-chairs and half a dozen of those smal_ylindrical stools in green and blue porcelain, which suggest an affiliatio_etween the residents and the Eastern trade, were symmetrically disposed. I_as an ancient house—ancient in the sense of being eighty years old; it wa_uilt of wood, painted a clean, clear, faded gray, and adorned along th_ront, at intervals, with flat wooden pilasters, painted white. Thes_ilasters appeared to support a kind of classic pediment, which was decorate_n the middle by a large triple window in a boldly carved frame, and in eac_f its smaller angles by a glazed circular aperture. A large white door, furnished with a highly-polished brass knocker, presented itself to the rural- looking road, with which it was connected by a spacious pathway, paved wit_orn and cracked, but very clean, bricks. Behind it there were meadows an_rchards, a barn and a pond; and facing it, a short distance along the road, on the opposite side, stood a smaller house, painted white, with externa_hutters painted green, a little garden on one hand and an orchard on th_ther. All this was shining in the morning air, through which the simpl_etails of the picture addressed themselves to the eye as distinctly as th_tems of a "sum" in addition.
A second young lady presently came out of the house, across the piazza, descended into the garden and approached the young girl of whom I have spoken.
This second young lady was also thin and pale; but she was older than th_ther; she was shorter; she had dark, smooth hair. Her eyes, unlike th_ther's, were quick and bright; but they were not at all restless. She wore _traw bonnet with white ribbons, and a long, red, India scarf, which, on th_ront of her dress, reached to her feet. In her hand she carried a little key.
"Gertrude," she said, "are you very sure you had better not go to church?"
Gertrude looked at her a moment, plucked a small sprig from a lilac-bush, smelled it and threw it away. "I am not very sure of anything!" she answered.
The other young lady looked straight past her, at the distant pond, which la_hining between the long banks of fir-trees. Then she said in a very sof_oice, "This is the key of the dining-room closet. I think you had better hav_t, if any one should want anything."
"Who is there to want anything?" Gertrude demanded. "I shall be all alone i_he house."
"Some one may come," said her companion.
"Do you mean Mr. Brand?"
"Yes, Gertrude. He may like a piece of cake."
"I don't like men that are always eating cake!" Gertrude declared, giving _ull at the lilac-bush.
Her companion glanced at her, and then looked down on the ground. "I thin_ather expected you would come to church," she said. "What shall I say t_im?"
"Say I have a bad headache."
"Would that be true?" asked the elder lady, looking straight at the pon_gain.
"No, Charlotte," said the younger one simply.
Charlotte transferred her quiet eyes to her companion's face. "I am afraid yo_re feeling restless."
"I am feeling as I always feel," Gertrude replied, in the same tone.
Charlotte turned away; but she stood there a moment. Presently she looked dow_t the front of her dress. "Does n't it seem to you, somehow, as if my scar_ere too long?" she asked.
Gertrude walked half round her, looking at the scarf. "I don't think you wea_t right," she said.
"How should I wear it, dear?"
"I don't know; differently from that. You should draw it differently over you_houlders, round your elbows; you should look differently behind."
"How should I look?" Charlotte inquired.
"I don't think I can tell you," said Gertrude, plucking out the scarf a littl_ehind. "I could do it myself, but I don't think I can explain it."
Charlotte, by a movement of her elbows, corrected the laxity that had com_rom her companion's touch. "Well, some day you must do it for me. It does n'_atter now. Indeed, I don't think it matters," she added, "how one look_ehind."
"I should say it mattered more," said Gertrude. "Then you don't know who ma_e observing you. You are not on your guard. You can't try to look pretty."
Charlotte received this declaration with extreme gravity. "I don't think on_hould ever try to look pretty," she rejoined, earnestly.
Her companion was silent. Then she said, "Well, perhaps it 's not of muc_se."
Charlotte looked at her a little, and then kissed her. "I hope you will b_etter when we come back."
"My dear sister, I am very well!" said Gertrude.
Charlotte went down the large brick walk to the garden gate; her companio_trolled slowly toward the house. At the gate Charlotte met a young man, wh_as coming in—a tall, fair young man, wearing a high hat and a pair of threa_loves. He was handsome, but rather too stout. He had a pleasant smile. "Oh, Mr. Brand!" exclaimed the young lady.
"I came to see whether your sister was not going to church," said the youn_an.
"She says she is not going; but I am very glad you have come. I think if yo_ere to talk to her a little"… . And Charlotte lowered her voice. "It seems a_f she were restless."
Mr. Brand smiled down on the young lady from his great height. "I shall b_ery glad to talk to her. For that I should be willing to absent myself fro_lmost any occasion of worship, however attractive."
"Well, I suppose you know," said Charlotte, softly, as if positive acceptanc_f this proposition might be dangerous. "But I am afraid I shall be late."
"I hope you will have a pleasant sermon," said the young man.
"Oh, Mr. Gilman is always pleasant," Charlotte answered. And she went on he_ay.
Mr. Brand went into the garden, where Gertrude, hearing the gate close behin_im, turned and looked at him. For a moment she watched him coming; then sh_urned away. But almost immediately she corrected this movement, and stoo_till, facing him. He took off his hat and wiped his forehead as h_pproached. Then he put on his hat again and held out his hand. His hat bein_emoved, you would have perceived that his forehead was very large and smooth, and his hair abundant but rather colorless. His nose was too large, and hi_outh and eyes were too small; but for all this he was, as I have said, _oung man of striking appearance. The expression of his little clean-colore_lue eyes was irresistibly gentle and serious; he looked, as the phrase is, a_ood as gold. The young girl, standing in the garden path, glanced, as he cam_p, at his thread gloves.
"I hoped you were going to church," he said. "I wanted to walk with you."
"I am very much obliged to you," Gertrude answered. "I am not going t_hurch."
She had shaken hands with him; he held her hand a moment. "Have you an_pecial reason for not going?"
"Yes, Mr. Brand," said the young girl.
"May I ask what it is?"
She looked at him smiling; and in her smile, as I have intimated, there was _ertain dullness. But mingled with this dullness was something sweet an_uggestive. "Because the sky is so blue!" she said.
He looked at the sky, which was magnificent, and then said, smiling too, "_ave heard of young ladies staying at home for bad weather, but never fo_ood. Your sister, whom I met at the gate, tells me you are depressed," h_dded.
"Depressed? I am never depressed."
"Oh, surely, sometimes," replied Mr. Brand, as if he thought this _egrettable account of one's self.
"I am never depressed," Gertrude repeated. "But I am sometimes wicked. When _m wicked I am in high spirits. I was wicked just now to my sister."
"What did you do to her?"
"I said things that puzzled her—on purpose."
"Why did you do that, Miss Gertrude?" asked the young man.
She began to smile again. "Because the sky is so blue!"
"You say things that puzzle me," Mr. Brand declared.
"I always know when I do it," proceeded Gertrude. "But people puzzle me more, I think. And they don't seem to know!"
"This is very interesting," Mr. Brand observed, smiling.
"You told me to tell you about my—my struggles," the young girl went on.
"Let us talk about them. I have so many things to say."
Gertrude turned away a moment; and then, turning back, "You had better go t_hurch," she said.
"You know," the young man urged, "that I have always one thing to say."
Gertrude looked at him a moment. "Please don't say it now!"
"We are all alone," he continued, taking off his hat; "all alone in thi_eautiful Sunday stillness."
Gertrude looked around her, at the breaking buds, the shining distance, th_lue sky to which she had referred as a pretext for her irregularities. "That
's the reason," she said, "why I don't want you to speak. Do me a favor; go t_hurch."
"May I speak when I come back?" asked Mr. Brand.
"If you are still disposed," she answered.
"I don't know whether you are wicked," he said, "but you are certainl_uzzling."
She had turned away; she raised her hands to her ears. He looked at her _oment, and then he slowly walked to church.
She wandered for a while about the garden, vaguely and without purpose. Th_hurch-bell had stopped ringing; the stillness was complete. This young lad_elished highly, on occasions, the sense of being alone—the absence of th_hole family and the emptiness of the house. To-day, apparently, the servant_ad also gone to church; there was never a figure at the open windows; behin_he house there was no stout negress in a red turban, lowering the bucket int_he great shingle-hooded well. And the front door of the big, unguarded hom_tood open, with the trustfulness of the golden age; or what is more to th_urpose, with that of New England's silvery prime. Gertrude slowly passe_hrough it, and went from one of the empty rooms to the other—large, clear- colored rooms, with white wainscots, ornamented with thin-legged mahogan_urniture, and, on the walls, with old-fashioned engravings, chiefly o_criptural subjects, hung very high. This agreeable sense of solitude, o_aving the house to herself, of which I have spoken, always excited Gertrude'_magination; she could not have told you why, and neither can her humbl_istorian. It always seemed to her that she must do something particular—tha_he must honor the occasion; and while she roamed about, wondering what sh_ould do, the occasion usually came to an end. To-day she wondered more tha_ver. At last she took down a book; there was no library in the house, bu_here were books in all the rooms. None of them were forbidden books, an_ertrude had not stopped at home for the sake of a chance to climb to th_naccessible shelves. She possessed herself of a very obvious volume—one o_he series of the Arabian Nights—and she brought it out into the portico an_at down with it in her lap. There, for a quarter of an hour, she read th_istory of the loves of the Prince Camaralzaman and the Princess Badoura. A_ast, looking up, she beheld, as it seemed to her, the Prince Camaralzama_tanding before her. A beautiful young man was making her a very low bow—_agnificent bow, such as she had never seen before. He appeared to hav_ropped from the clouds; he was wonderfully handsome; he smiled—smiled as i_e were smiling on purpose. Extreme surprise, for a moment, kept Gertrud_itting still; then she rose, without even keeping her finger in her book. Th_oung man, with his hat in his hand, still looked at her, smiling and smiling.
It was very strange.
"Will you kindly tell me," said the mysterious visitor, at last, "whether _ave the honor of speaking to Miss Went-worth?"
"My name is Gertrude Wentworth," murmured the young woman.
"Then—then—I have the honor—the pleasure—of being your cousin."
The young man had so much the character of an apparition that thi_nnouncement seemed to complete his unreality. "What cousin? Who are you?"
He stepped back a few paces and looked up at the house; then glanced round hi_t the garden and the distant view. After this he burst out laughing. "I se_t must seem to you very strange," he said. There was, after all, somethin_ubstantial in his laughter. Gertrude looked at him from head to foot. Yes, h_as remarkably handsome; but his smile was almost a grimace. "It is ver_till," he went on, coming nearer again. And as she only looked at him, fo_eply, he added, "Are you all alone?"
"Every one has gone to church," said Gertrude.
"I was afraid of that!" the young man exclaimed. "But I hope you are no_fraid of me."
"You ought to tell me who you are," Gertrude answered.
"I am afraid of you!" said the young man. "I had a different plan. I expecte_he servant would take in my card, and that you would put your heads together, before admitting me, and make out my identity."
Gertrude had been wondering with a quick intensity which brought its result; and the result seemed an answer—a wondrous, delightful answer—to her vagu_ish that something would befall her. "I know—I know," she said. "You com_rom Europe."
"We came two days ago. You have heard of us, then—you believe in us?"
"We have known, vaguely," said Gertrude, "that we had relations in France."
"And have you ever wanted to see us?" asked the young man.
Gertrude was silent a moment. "I have wanted to see you."
"I am glad, then, it is you I have found. We wanted to see you, so we came."
"On purpose?" asked Gertrude.
The young man looked round him, smiling still. "Well, yes; on purpose. Doe_hat sound as if we should bore you?" he added. "I don't think we shall—_eally don't think we shall. We are rather fond of wandering, too; and we wer_lad of a pretext."
"And you have just arrived?"
"In Boston, two days ago. At the inn I asked for Mr. Wentworth. He must b_our father. They found out for me where he lived; they seemed often to hav_eard of him. I determined to come, without ceremony. So, this lovely morning, they set my face in the right direction, and told me to walk straight befor_e, out of town. I came on foot because I wanted to see the country. I walke_nd walked, and here I am! It 's a good many miles."
"It is seven miles and a half," said Gertrude, softly. Now that this handsom_oung man was proving himself a reality she found herself vaguely trembling; she was deeply excited. She had never in her life spoken to a foreigner, an_he had often thought it would be delightful to do so. Here was one who ha_uddenly been engendered by the Sabbath stillness for her private use; an_uch a brilliant, polite, smiling one! She found time and means to compos_erself, however: to remind herself that she must exercise a sort of officia_ospitality. "We are very—very glad to see you," she said. "Won't you com_nto the house?" And she moved toward the open door.
"You are not afraid of me, then?" asked the young man again, with his ligh_augh.
She wondered a moment, and then, "We are not afraid—here," she said.
"Ah, comme vous devez avoir raison!" cried the young man, looking all roun_im, appreciatively. It was the first time that Gertrude had heard so man_ords of French spoken. They gave her something of a sensation. Her companio_ollowed her, watching, with a certain excitement of his own, this tall, interesting-looking girl, dressed in her clear, crisp muslin. He paused in th_all, where there was a broad white staircase with a white balustrade. "What _leasant house!" he said. "It 's lighter inside than it is out."
"It 's pleasanter here," said Gertrude, and she led the way into the parlor,—_igh, clean, rather empty-looking room. Here they stood looking at eac_ther,—the young man smiling more than ever; Gertrude, very serious, trying t_mile.
"I don't believe you know my name," he said. "I am called Felix Young. You_ather is my uncle. My mother was his half sister, and older than he."
"Yes," said Gertrude, "and she turned Roman Catholic and married in Europe."
"I see you know," said the young man. "She married and she died. Your father'_amily did n't like her husband. They called him a foreigner; but he was not.
My poor father was born in Sicily, but his parents were American."
"In Sicily?" Gertrude murmured.
"It is true," said Felix Young, "that they had spent their lives in Europe.
But they were very patriotic. And so are we."
"And you are Sicilian," said Gertrude.
"Sicilian, no! Let 's see. I was born at a little place—a dear little place—i_rance. My sister was born at Vienna."
"So you are French," said Gertrude.
"Heaven forbid!" cried the young man. Gertrude's eyes were fixed upon hi_lmost insistently. He began to laugh again. "I can easily be French, if tha_ill please you."
"You are a foreigner of some sort," said Gertrude.
"Of some sort—yes; I suppose so. But who can say of what sort? I don't thin_e have ever had occasion to settle the question. You know there are peopl_ike that. About their country, their religion, their profession, they can'_ell."
Gertrude stood there gazing; she had not asked him to sit down. She had neve_eard of people like that; she wanted to hear. "Where do you live?" she asked.
"They can't tell that, either!" said Felix. "I am afraid you will think the_re little better than vagabonds. I have lived anywhere—everywhere. I reall_hink I have lived in every city in Europe." Gertrude gave a little long sof_xhalation. It made the young man smile at her again; and his smile made he_lush a little. To take refuge from blushing she asked him if, after his lon_alk, he was not hungry or thirsty. Her hand was in her pocket; she wa_umbling with the little key that her sister had given her. "Ah, my dear youn_ady," he said, clasping his hands a little, "if you could give me, i_harity, a glass of wine!"
Gertrude gave a smile and a little nod, and went quickly out of the room.
Presently she came back with a very large decanter in one hand and a plate i_he other, on which was placed a big, round cake with a frosted top. Gertrude, in taking the cake from the closet, had had a moment of acute consciousnes_hat it composed the refection of which her sister had thought that Mr. Bran_ould like to partake. Her kinsman from across the seas was looking at th_ale, high-hung engravings. When she came in he turned and smiled at her, a_f they had been old friends meeting after a separation. "You wait upon m_ourself?" he asked. "I am served like the gods!" She had waited upon a grea_any people, but none of them had ever told her that. The observation added _ertain lightness to the step with which she went to a little table wher_here were some curious red glasses—glasses covered with little gold sprigs, which Charlotte used to dust every morning with her own hands. Gertrud_hought the glasses very handsome, and it was a pleasure to her to know tha_he wine was good; it was her father's famous madeira. Felix Young thought i_xcellent; he wondered why he had been told that there was no wine in America.
She cut him an immense triangle out of the cake, and again she thought of Mr.
Brand. Felix sat there, with his glass in one hand and his huge morsel of cak_n the other—eating, drinking, smiling, talking. "I am very hungry," he said.
"I am not at all tired; I am never tired. But I am very hungry."
"You must stay to dinner," said Gertrude. "At two o'clock. They will all hav_ome back from church; you will see the others."
"Who are the others?" asked the young man. "Describe them all."
"You will see for yourself. It is you that must tell me; now, about you_ister."
"My sister is the Baroness Munster," said Felix.
On hearing that his sister was a Baroness, Gertrude got up and walked abou_lowly, in front of him. She was silent a moment. She was thinking of it. "Wh_id n't she come, too?" she asked.
"She did come; she is in Boston, at the hotel."
"We will go and see her," said Gertrude, looking at him.
"She begs you will not!" the young man replied. "She sends you her love; sh_ent me to announce her. She will come and pay her respects to your father."
Gertrude felt herself trembling again. A Baroness Munster, who sent _rilliant young man to "announce" her; who was coming, as the Queen of Sheb_ame to Solomon, to pay her "respects" to quiet Mr. Wentworth—such a personag_resented herself to Gertrude's vision with a most effective unexpectedness.
For a moment she hardly knew what to say. "When will she come?" she asked a_ast.
"As soon as you will allow her—to-morrow. She is very impatient," answere_elix, who wished to be agreeable.
"To-morrow, yes," said Gertrude. She wished to ask more about her; but sh_ardly knew what could be predicated of a Baroness Munster. "Is she—i_he—married?"
Felix had finished his cake and wine; he got up, fixing upon the young gir_is bright, expressive eyes. "She is married to a German prince—Prince Adolf, of Silberstadt-Schreckenstein. He is not the reigning prince; he is a younge_rother."
Gertrude gazed at her informant; her lips were slightly parted. "Is she a—_rincess?" she asked at last.
"Oh, no," said the young man; "her position is rather a singular one. It 's _organatic marriage."
"Morganatic?" These were new names and new words to poor Gertrude.
"That 's what they call a marriage, you know, contracted between a scion of _uling house and—and a common mortal. They made Eugenia a Baroness, poo_oman; but that was all they could do. Now they want to dissolve the marriage.
Prince Adolf, between ourselves, is a ninny; but his brother, who is a cleve_an, has plans for him. Eugenia, naturally enough, makes difficulties; not, however, that I think she cares much—she 's a very clever woman; I 'm sure you
'll like her—but she wants to bother them. Just now everything is en l'air."
The cheerful, off-hand tone in which her visitor related this darkly romanti_ale seemed to Gertrude very strange; but it seemed also to convey a certai_lattery to herself, a recognition of her wisdom and dignity. She felt a doze_mpressions stirring within her, and presently the one that was uppermos_ound words. "They want to dissolve her marriage?" she asked.
"So it appears."
"And against her will?"
"Against her right."
"She must be very unhappy!" said Gertrude.
Her visitor looked at her, smiling; he raised his hand to the back of his hea_nd held it there a moment. "So she says," he answered. "That 's her story.
She told me to tell it you."
"Tell me more," said Gertrude.
"No, I will leave that to her; she does it better."
Gertrude gave her little excited sigh again. "Well, if she is unhappy," sh_aid, "I am glad she has come to us."
She had been so interested that she failed to notice the sound of a footste_n the portico; and yet it was a footstep that she always recognized. Sh_eard it in the hall, and then she looked out of the window. They were al_oming back from church—her father, her sister and brother, and their cousins, who always came to dinner on Sunday. Mr. Brand had come in first; he was i_dvance of the others, because, apparently, he was still disposed to say wha_he had not wished him to say an hour before. He came into the parlor, lookin_or Gertrude. He had two little books in his hand. On seeing Gertrude'_ompanion he slowly stopped, looking at him.
"Is this a cousin?" asked Felix.
Then Gertrude saw that she must introduce him; but her ears, and, by sympathy, her lips, were full of all that he had been telling her. "This is the Prince,"
she said, "the Prince of Silberstadt-Schreckenstein!"
Felix burst out laughing, and Mr. Brand stood staring, while the others, wh_ad passed into the house, appeared behind him in the open door-way.