* * * * *
All the afternoon long, Bart was sad and silent, and spite of himself, his thoughts would hover about that bright place in the maple woods, sweet with one face of indescribable beauty; one form, one low, many-toned voice which haunted—would haunt him.
He came in to a latish supper, with a grave face. The spring was not in his step; the ring was not in his voice, or the sparkle in his words.
The two guests were in high spirits, and talked gushingly of the young ladies they had met, and they wondered that it did not provoke even a sarcasm from him.
“It would compensate you for not going,” said Ranney, kindly, “if we were to tell you what was said of you in your absence.”
“And who said it,” added Henry. Not a word, nor a look even.
“One might be willing to be called a genius, for such words, and from such a young lady,” ventured Ranney.
“I am not sure but that I would even venture upon poetry, under such inspiration,” said Henry.
To the youth these remarks sounded like sarcasm, and he felt too poor even to retort.
“Oh, boys!” finally said Bart, “it is good exercise for us all; persiflage is not your ‘best holt,’ as the wrestlers would say, and you need practice, while I want to accustom myself to irony and sarcasm without replying. If by any possibility you can, between you, get off a good thing at my expense, it would confer a lasting obligation; but I don’t expect it.”
“Upon my word—” began Ranney.
“We all speak kindly of our own dead,” said Bart, “and should hardly expect the dead to hear what we said. Mother said you had determined to leave us in the morning;” to Ranney—“Our brother the Major will be home in the morning, and would be glad to make your acquaintance, and show you some attention.” And so he escaped.
When Ranney took leave the next morning, he kindly remarked to Bart that he would at any time find a place in his office, and should have his best endeavor to advance his studies. It was sincere, and that was one of the charms of his character. Bart was pleased with it, and it almost compensated for the unintentional wounds of the night before.
Morris came, and the brothers were together, and the two elder went around to many of their old acquaintance—many not named here, as not necessary to the incidents of this story. For some reason Barton did not accompany them. If anything was said between them about him, no mention of it was made to him. Henry came to regard him with more interest, and to treat him with marked tenderness and consideration, which Bart took as a kindly effort to efface from his mind the pain that he supposed Henry must be aware he had given him. Had he supposed that it arose from an impression that he was suffering from any other cause, he would have coldly shrunk from it.