While we are still young we feel a
kind of pride, a sort of fierce pleasure, in any important
experience, such as we have read of or heard of in
the lives of others, no matter how painful. It
was this pride, this pleasure, which Beaton now felt
in realizing that the toils of fate were about him,
that between him and a future of which Christine Dryfoos
must be the genius there was nothing but the will,
the mood, the fancy of a girl who had not given him
the hope that either could ever again be in his favor.
He had nothing to trust to, in fact, but his knowledge
that he had once had them all; she did not deny that;
but neither did she conceal that he had flung away
his power over them, and she had told him that they
never could be his again. A man knows that he
can love and wholly cease to love, not once merely,
but several times; he recognizes the fact in regard
to himself, both theoretically and practically; but
in regard to women he cherishes the superstition of
the romances that love is once for all, and forever.
It was because Beaton would not believe that Alma
Leighton, being a woman, could put him out of her heart
after suffering him to steal into it, that he now
hoped anything from her, and she had been so explicit
when they last spoke of that affair that he did not
hope much. He said to himself that he was going
to cast himself on her mercy, to take whatever chance
of life, love, and work there was in her having the
smallest pity on him. If she would have none,
then there was but one thing he could do: marry
Christine and go abroad. He did not see how he
could bring this alternative to bear upon Alma; even
if she knew what he would do in case of a final rejection,
he had grounds for fearing she would not care; but
he brought it to bear upon himself, and it nerved him
to a desperate courage. He could hardly wait for
evening to come, before he went to see her; when it
came, it seemed to have come too soon. He had
wrought himself thoroughly into the conviction that
he was in earnest, and that everything depended upon
her answer to him, but it was not till he found himself
in her presence, and alone with her, that he realized
the truth of his conviction. Then the influences
of her grace, her gayety, her arch beauty, above all,
her good sense, penetrated his soul like a subtle
intoxication, and he said to himself that he was right;
he could not live without her; these attributes of
hers were what he needed to win him, to cheer him,
to charm him, to guide him. He longed so to please
her, to ingratiate himself with her, that he attempted
to be light like her in his talk, but lapsed into
abysmal absences and gloomy recesses of introspection.
“What are you laughing at?”
he asked, suddenly starting from one of these.
“What you are thinking of.”
“It’s nothing to laugh at. Do you
know what I’m thinking of?”
“Don’t tell, if it’s dreadful.”
“Oh, I dare say you wouldn’t
think it’s dreadful,” he said, with bitterness.
“It’s simply the case of a man who has
made a fool of himself and sees no help of retrieval
“Can any one else help a man
unmake a fool of himself?” she asked, with a
“Yes. In a case like this.”
“Dear me! This is very interesting.”
She did not ask him what the case
was, but he was launched now, and he pressed on.
“I am the man who has made a fool of himself ”
“And you can help me out if
you will. Alma, I wish you could see me as I
“Do you, Mr. Beacon? Perhaps I do.”
“No; you don’t. You
formulated me in a certain way, and you won’t
allow for the change that takes place in every one.
You have changed; why shouldn’t I?”
“Has this to do with your having made a fool
“Oh! Then I don’t see how you have
She laughed, and he too, ruefully.
“You’re cruel. Not but what I deserve
your mockery. But the change was not from the
capacity of making a fool of myself. I suppose
I shall always do that more or less unless
you help me. Alma! Why can’t you have
a little compassion? You know that I must always
“Nothing makes me doubt that
like your saying it, Mr. Beaton. But now you’ve
broken your word ”
“You are to blame for that. You knew I
couldn’t keep it!”
“Yes, I’m to blame.
I was wrong to let you come after that.
And so I forgive you for speaking to me in that way
again. But it’s perfectly impossible and
perfectly useless for me to hear you any more on that
subject; and so-good-bye!”
She rose, and he perforce with her.
“And do you mean it?” he asked. “Forever?”
“Forever. This is truly
the last time I will ever see you if I can help it.
Oh, I feel sorry enough for you!” she said, with
a glance at his face. “I do believe you
are in earnest. But it’s too late now.
Don’t let us talk about it any more! But
we shall, if we meet, and so, ”
“And so good-bye! Well,
I’ve nothing more to say, and I might as well
say that. I think you’ve been very good
to me. It seems to me as if you had been shall
I say it? trying to give me a chance.
Is that so?” She dropped her eyes and did not
“You found it was no use!
Well, I thank you for trying. It’s curious
to think that I once had your trust, your regard,
and now I haven’t it. You don’t mind
my remembering that I had? It’ll be some
little consolation, and I believe it will be some
help. I know I can’t retrieve the past now.
It is too late. It seems too preposterous perfectly
lurid that I could have been going to tell
you what a tangle I’d got myself in, and to ask
you to help untangle me. I must choke in the infernal
coil, but I’d like to have the sweetness of
your pity in it whatever it is.”
She put out her hand. “Whatever
it is, I do pity you; I said that.”
“Thank you.” He kissed the band she
gave him and went.
He had gone on some such terms before;
was it now for the last time? She believed it
was. She felt in herself a satiety, a fatigue,
in which his good looks, his invented airs and poses,
his real trouble, were all alike repulsive. She
did not acquit herself of the wrong of having let him
think she might yet have liked him as she once did;
but she had been honestly willing to see whether she
could. It had mystified her to find that when
they first met in New York, after their summer in St.
Barnaby, she cared nothing for him; she had expected
to punish him for his neglect, and then fancy him
as before, but she did not. More and more she
saw him selfish and mean, weak-willed, narrow-minded,
and hard-hearted; and aimless, with all his talent.
She admired his talent in proportion as she learned
more of artists, and perceived how uncommon it was;
but she said to herself that if she were going to
devote herself to art, she would do it at first-hand.
She was perfectly serene and happy in her final rejection
of Beaton; he had worn out not only her fancy, but
her sympathy, too.
This was what her mother would not
believe when Alma reported the interview to her; she
would not believe it was the last time they should
meet; death itself can hardly convince us that it is
the last time of anything, of everything between ourselves
and the dead. “Well, Alma,” she said,
“I hope you’ll never regret what you’ve
“You may be sure I shall not
regret it. If ever I’m low-spirited about
anything, I’ll think of giving Mr. Beaton his
freedom, and that will cheer me up.”
“And don’t you expect
to get married? Do you intend to be an old maid?”
demanded her mother, in the bonds of the superstition
women have so long been under to the effect that every
woman must wish to get married, if for no other purpose
than to avoid being an old maid.
“Well, mamma,” said Alma,
“I intend being a young one for a few years
yet; and then I’ll see. If I meet the right
person, all well and good; if not, not. But I
shall pick and choose, as a man does; I won’t
merely be picked and chosen.”
“You can’t help yourself;
you may be very glad if you are picked and chosen.”
“What nonsense, mamma!
A girl can get any man she wants, if she goes about
it the right way. And when my ‘fated fairy
prince’ comes along, I shall just simply make
furious love to him and grab him. Of course, I
shall make a decent pretence of talking in my sleep.
I believe it’s done that way more than half
the time. The fated fairy prince wouldn’t
see the princess in nine cases out of ten if she didn’t
say something; he would go mooning along after the
maids of honor.”
Mrs. Leighton tried to look unspeakable
horror; but she broke down and laughed. “Well,
you are a strange girl, Alma.”
“I don’t know about that.
But one thing I do know, mamma, and that is that Prince
Beaton isn’t the F. F. P. for me. How strange
you are, mamma! Don’t you think it would
be perfectly disgusting to accept a person you didn’t
care for, and let him go on and love you and marry
you? It’s sickening.”
“Why, certainly, Alma.
It’s only because I know you did care for him
“And now I don’t.
And he didn’t care for me once, and now he does.
And so we’re quits.”
“If I could believe ”
“You had better brace up and
try, mamma; for as Mr. Fulkerson says, it’s
as sure as guns. From the crown of his head to
the sole of his foot, he’s loathsome to me;
and he keeps getting loathsomer. Ugh! Goodnight!”