“I’ve not seen her,” was the solemn reply, and his comrades tittered.
“Yes!” called Constance and Miranda, “she’s out!”
“Miss Anna,” murmured Hilary with a meekness it would have avenged Charlie to hear, “I’ve only given you the right you claim for every woman.”
“Oh, Captain Kincaid, I didn’t say every woman! I took particular—I—I mean I—”
“If it’s any one’s right it’s yours.”
“I don’t want it!—I mean—I mean—”
“You mean, do you not? that I’ve no right to say what can only distress you.”
“Do you think you have?—Oh, Lieutenant, it’s been a perfectly lovely trip! I don’t know when the stars have seemed so bright!”
“They’re not like us dull men, Miss Callender,” was the sailor’s unlucky reply, “they can rise to any occasion a lady can make.”
“Ladies don’t make occasions, Lieutenant.”
“Oh, don’t they!” laughed the sea-dog to Hilary. But duty called. “No, no, Miss Val—! Don’t try that plank alone! Captain Kincaid, will you give—? That’s right, sir.... Now, Captain Irby, you and Miss Callender—steady!”
Seventh and last went the frail old lady, led by Kincaid. She would have none other. She kept his arm with definite design while all seven waved the departing vessel good-by. Then for the walk to the house she shared Irby with Anna and gave Flora to Hilary, with Miranda and Constance in front outmanoeuvred by a sleight of hand so fleeting and affable that even you or I would not have seen it.
THE CUP OF TANTALUS
Queer world. Can you be sure the next pair you meet walking together of a summer eve are as starry as they look? Lo, Constance and Miranda. Did the bride herself realize what a hunger of loneliness was hers? Or Anna and Irby, with Madame between them. Could you, maybe, have guessed the veritable tempest beneath the maiden’s serenity, or his inward gnashings against whatever it was that had blighted his hour with the elusive Flora?
Or can any one say, in these lives of a thousand concealments and restraints, when things are happening and when not, within us or without, or how near we are now to the unexpected—to fate? See, Flora and Hilary. He gave no outward show that he was burning to flee the spot and swing his fists and howl and tear the ground.
Yet Flora knew; knew by herself; by a cold rage in her own fair bosom, where every faculty stood gayly alert for each least turn of incident, to foil or use it, while they talked lightly of Virginia’s great step, or of the night’s loveliness, counting the stars. “How small they look,” she said, “how calm how still.”
“Yes, and then to think what they really are! so fearfully far from small—or cold—or still!”
“Like ourselves,” she prompted.