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- Dr. Heidenhoff's Process - 2/18 -

and happy lives again. Men would be redeemed from their sins in fact, and not merely in name. The figurative promises of the Gospel would become literally true. But this is idle dreaming. I will not keep you," and, checking himself abruptly, he sat down.

The moment he did so, Mr. Lewis rose and pronounced the benediction, dismissing the meeting without the usual closing hymn. He was afraid that something might be said by Deacon Tuttle or Deacon Miller, who were good men, but not very subtile in their spiritual insight, which would still further alienate the unfortunate young man. His own intention of finding opportunity for a little private talk with him after the meeting was, however, disappointed by the promptness with which Bayley left the room. He did not seem to notice the sympathetic faces and out-stretched hands around him. There was a set smile on his face, and his eyes seemed to look through people without seeing them. There was a buzz of conversation as the people began to talk together of the decided novelty in the line of conference-meeting exhortations to which they had just listened. The tone of almost all was sympathetic, though many were shocked and pained, and others declared that they did not understand what he had meant. Many insisted that he must be a little out of his head, calling attention to the fact that he looked so pale. None of these good hearts were half so much offended by anything heretical in the utterances of the young man as they were stirred with sympathy for his evident discouragement. Mr. Lewis was perhaps the only one who had received a very distinct impression of the line of thought underlying his words, and he came walking down the aisle with his head bent and a very grave face, not joining any of the groups which were engaged in talk. Henry Burr was standing near the door, his hat in his hand, watching Madeline out of the corners of his eyes, as she closed the melodeon and adjusted her shawl.

"Good-evening, Henry," said Mr. Lewis, pausing beside the young man. "Do you know whether anything unpleasant has happened to George lately to account for what he said to-night?"

"I do not, sir," replied Henry.

"I had a fancy that he might have been slighted by some one, or given the cold shoulder. He is very sensitive."

"I don't think any one in the village would slight him," said Henry.

"I should have said so too," remarked the minister, reflectively. "Poor boy, poor boy! He seems to feel very badly, and it is hard to know how to cheer him."

"Yes, sir----that is--certainly," replied Henry incoherently, for Madeline was now coming down the aisle.

In his own preoccupation not noticing the young man's, Mr. Lewis passed out.

As she approached the door Madeline was talking animatedly with another young lady.

"Good-evening," said Henry.

"Poor fellow!" continued Madeline to her companion, "he seemed quite hopeless."

"Good-evening," repeated Henry.

Looking around, she appeared to observe him for the first time. "Good-evening," she said.

"May I escort you home?" he asked, becoming slightly red in the face.

She looked at him for a moment as if she could scarcely believe her ears that such an audacious proposal had been made to her. Then she said, with a bewitching smile--

"I shall be much obliged."

As he drew her arm beneath his own the contact diffused an ecstatic sensation of security through his stalwart but tremulous limbs. He had got her, and his tribulations were forgotten. For a while they walked silently along the dark streets, both too much impressed by the tragic suggestions of poor Bayley's outbreak to drop at once into trivialities. For it must be understood that Madeline's little touch of coquetry had been merely instinctive, a sort of unconscious reflex action of the feminine nervous system, quite consistent with very lugubrious engrossments.

To Henry there was something strangely sweet in sharing with her for the first time a mood of solemnity, seeing that their intercourse had always before been in the vein of pleasantry and badinage common to the first stages of courtships. This new experience appeared to dignify their relation, and weave them together with a new strand. At length she said--

"Why didn't you go after poor George and cheer him up instead of going home with me? Anybody could have done that."

"No doubt," replied Henry, seriously; "but, if I'd left anybody else to do it, I should have needed cheering up as much as George does."

"Dear me," she exclaimed, as a little smile, not exactly of vexation, curved her lips under cover of the darkness, "you take a most unwarrantable liberty in being jealous of me. I never gave you nor anybody else any right to be, and I won't have it!"

"Very well. It shall be just as you say," he replied. The sarcastic humility of his tone made her laugh in spite of herself, and she immediately changed the subject, demanding--

"Where is Laura to-night?"

"She's at home, making cake for the picnic," he said.

"The good girl! and I ought to be making some, too. I wonder if poor George will be at the picnic?"

"I doubt it," said Henry. "You know he never goes to any sort of party. The last time I saw him at such a place was at Mr. Bradford's. He was playing whist, and they were joking about cheating. Somebody said--Mr. Bradford it was--'I can trust my wife's honesty. She doesn't know enough to cheat, but I don't know about George.' George was her partner. Bradford didn't mean any harm; he forgot, you see. He'd have bitten his tongue off otherwise sooner than have said it. But everybody saw the application, and there was a dead silence. George got red as fire, and then pale as death. I don't know how they finished the hand, but presently somebody made an excuse, and the game was broken off."

"Oh, dear! dear! That was cruel! cruel! How could Mr. Bradford do it? I should think he would never forgive himself! never!" exclaimed Madeline, with an accent of poignant sympathy, involuntarily pressing Henry's arm, and thereby causing him instantly to forget all about George and his misfortunes, and setting his heart to beating so tumultuously that he was afraid she would notice it and be offended. But she did not seem to be conscious of the intoxicating effluence she was giving forth, and presently added, in a tone of sweetest pity--

"He used to be so frank and dashing in his manner, and now when he meets one of us girls on the street he seems so embarrassed, and looks away or at the ground, as if he thought we should not like to bow to him, or meant to cut him. I'm sure we'd cut our heads off sooner. It's enough to make one cry, such times, to see how wretched he is, and so sensitive that no one can say a word to cheer him. Did you notice what he said about leaving town? I hadn't heard anything about it before, had you?"

"No," said Henry, "not a word. Wonder where he's going. Perhaps he thinks it will be easier for him in some place where they don't know him."

They walked on in silence a few moments, and then Madeline said, in a musing tone--

"How strange it would seem if one really could have unpleasant things blotted out of their memories! What dreadful thing would you forget now, if you could? Confess."

"I would blot out the recollection that you went boat-riding with Will Taylor last Wednesday afternoon, and what I've felt about it ever since."

"Dear me, Mr. Henry Burr," said Madeline, with an air of excessive disdain, "how long is it since I authorized you to concern yourself with my affairs? If it wouldn't please you too much, I'd certainly box your ears.

"I think you're rather unreasonable," he protested, in a hurt tone. "You said a minute ago that you wouldn't permit me to be jealous of you, and just because I'm so anxious to obey you that I want to forget that I ever was, you are vexed."

A small noise, expressive of scorn, and not to be represented by letters of the alphabet, was all the reply she deigned to this more ingenious than ingenuous plea.

"I've made my confession, and it's only fair you should make yours," he said next. "What remorseful deed have you done that you'd like to forget?"

"You needn't speak in that babying tone. I fancy I could commit sins as well as you, with all your big moustache, if I wanted to. I don't believe you'd hurt a fly, although you do look so like a pirate. You've probably got a goody little conscience, so white and soft that you'd die of shame to have people see it."

"Excuse me, Lady Macbeth," he said, laughing; "I don't wish to underrate your powers of depravity, but which of your soul-destroying sins would you prefer to forget, if indeed any of them are shocking enough to trouble your excessively hardened conscience?

"Well, I must admit," said Madeline, seriously, "that I wouldn't care to forget anything I've done, not even my faults and follies. I should be afraid if they were taken away that I shouldn't have any character left."

"Don't put it on that ground," said Henry, "it's sheer vanity that makes you say so. You know your faults are just big enough to be beauty-spots, and that's why you'd rather keep 'em."

She reflected a moment, and then said, decisively--

"That's a compliment. I don't believe I like 'em from you. Don't make me any more."

Perhaps she did not take the trouble to analyse the sentiment that prompted her words. Had she done so, she would doubtless have found it in a consciousness when in his presence of being surrounded with so fine and delicate an atmosphere of unspoken devotion that words of flattery sounded almost gross.

They paused before a gate. Pushing it open and passing within, she said,

Dr. Heidenhoff's Process - 2/18

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