“Bart is sensitive about it,” answered the Major, “and don’t speak of it. Why, I was on my way up from Ravenna, the next day after it happened, and called at his school-house for half an hour; the desk had not been put up then, and I asked him what had happened to it, and he said the boys had torn it down in a scuffle. He never said a word of the fracas to me, and I only heard of it when I got up to Parker’s. There I found young Johnson, who had just come from there.”
“Why, how you talk! What is the reason for that, do you suppose?”
“I don’t know. He was at home a few days after, and seemed hurt and sad over it; and when I asked him how many innocents he had slaughtered since, he said one in two days, and at that rate they would just last him through.”
“It is funny,” said Mrs. Ford.
“As I have observed, Barton is not much inclined to talk about what he does,” said Mrs. Markham; “and, do you know, Major, he has not given me a chance to speak to him since his return.”
“He thinks, possibly, that he is under a cloud,” answered the Major.
“He chooses to think so, then,” said Mrs. Markham; and the music closed, and the dancers looked for seats, and the Major went away to meet an engagement for the next dance.
A little commotion about the door—a little mob of young men and boys—and a little spreading buzz and whisper—some hand-shakings—two or three introductions—then another buzz—and Bart made his way forward, with an air of being annoyed and bored and pushed forward as if to escape. He was under the inspiration of one of those sudden impulses upon which he acted, so sudden, often, as to seem not the result of mental process.
He discovered Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Markham, with Julia, Miss Walters, and several others, about them, whom he at once approached with the modest assurance of a thorough-bred gentleman, safe in the certainty of a gracious reception, and conscious of power to please. A happy word to the two or three who made way for him, and he stood bowing and smiling, and turning and bowing to each with the nice discriminating tact that rendered to all their due.
Mrs. Ford graciously extended her hand, which he took, and bowed very low over; she was nearest him. Mrs. Markham, in a pleased surprise, gave him hers, and its reception was, to her nice perception, even more profoundly acknowledged. To Miss Markham and Miss Walters precisely the same, with a little of the chivalrous devotion of a knight to acknowledged beauty.
“The fall and winter style prevails, I presume,” he said, in gay banter, as if anticipating that their gloved hands were not to be touched.
“Your memory is good, Mr. Ridgeley,” said Julia, with a little laugh and a little flush.
“Forgetfulness is not my weakness,” he replied.