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- Dr. Heidenhoff's Process - 3/18 -


"Good-night."

"One word more. I have a favour to ask," he said. "May I take you to the picnic?"

"Why, I think no escort will be necessary," she replied; "we go in broad daylight; and there are no bears or Indians at Hemlock Hollow."

"But your basket. You'll need somebody to carry your basket."

"Oh yes, to be sure, my basket," she exclaimed, with an ironical accent. "It will weigh at least two pounds, and I couldn't possibly carry it myself, of course. By all means come, and much obliged for your thoughtfulness."

But as she turned to go in she gave him a glance which had just enough sweetness in it to neutralize the irony of her words. In the treatment of her lovers, Madeline always punctured the skin before applying a drop of sweetness, and perhaps this accounted for the potent effect it had to inflame the blood, compared with more profuse but superficial applications of less sharp-tongued maidens.

Henry waited until the graceful figure had a moment revealed its charming outline against the lamp-lit interior, as she half turned to close the door. Love has occasional metaphysical turns, and it was an odd feeling that came over him as he walked away, being nothing less than a rush of thankfulness and self-congratulation that he was not Madeline. For, if he had been she, he would have lost the ecstasy of loving her, of worshipping her. Ah, how much she lost, how much all those lose, who, fated to be the incarnations of beauty, goodness, and grace, are precluded from being their own worshippers! Well, it was a consolation that she didn't know it, that she actually thought that, with her little coquetries and exactions, she was enjoying the chief usufruct of her beauty. God make up to the haughty, wilful darling in some other way for missing the passing sweetness of the thrall she held her lovers in!

When Burr reached home, he found his sister Laura standing at the gate in a patch of moonlight.

"How pretty you look to-night!" he said, pinching her round cheek.

The young lady merely shrugged her shoulders, and replied dryly--

"So she let you go home with her."

"How do you know that?" he asked, laughing at her shrewd guess.

"Because you're so sweet, you goosey, of course."

But, in truth, any such mode of accounting for Henry's favourable comment on her appearance was quite unnecessary. Laura, with her petite, plump figure, sloe-black eyes, quick in moving, curly head, and dark, clear cheeks, carnation-tinted, would have been thought by many quite as charming a specimen of American girlhood as the stately pale brunette who swayed her brother's affections.

"Come for a walk, chicken! It is much too pretty a night to go indoors," he said.

"Yes, and furnish ears for Madeline's praises, with a few more reflected compliments for pay, perhaps," she replied, contemptuously. "Besides," she added, "I must go into the house and keep father company. I only came out to cool off after baking the cake. You'd better come in too. These moonlight nights always make him specially sad, you know."

The brother and sister had been left motherless not long before, and Laura, in trying to fill her mother's place in the household, so far as she might, was always looking out that her father should have as little opportunity as possible to brood alone over his companionless condition.

CHAPTER II.

That same night toward morning Henry suddenly awoke from a sound sleep. Drowsiness, by some strange influence, had been completely banished from his eyes, and in its stead he became sensible of a profound depression of spirits. Physically, he was entirely comfortable, nor could he trace to any sensation from without either this sudden awakening or the mental condition in which he found himself. It was not that he thought of anything in particular that was gloomy or discouraging, but that all the ends and aims, not only of his own individual life, but of life in general, had assumed an aspect so empty, vain, and colourless, that he felt he would not rise from his bed for anything existence had to offer. He recalled his usual frame of mind, in which these things seemed attractive, with a dull wonderment that so baseless a delusion should be so strong and so general. He wondered if it were possible that it should ever again come over him.

The cold, grey light of earliest morning, that light which is rather the fading of night than the coming of day, filled the room with a faint hue, more cheerless than pitchiest darkness. A distant bell, with slow and heavy strokes, struck three. It was the dead point in the daily revolution of the earth's life, that point just before dawn, when men oftenest die; when surely, but for the force of momentum, the course of nature would stop, and at which doubtless it will one day pause eternally, when the clock is run down. The long-drawn reverberations of the bell, turning remoteness into music, full of the pathos of a sad and infinite patience, died away with an effect unspeakably dreary. His spirit, drawn forth after the vanishing vibrations, seemed to traverse waste spaces without beginning or ending, and aeons of monotonous duration. A sense of utter loneliness--loneliness inevitable, crushing, eternal, the loneliness of existence, encompassed by the infinite void of unconsciousness--enfolded him as a pall. Life lay like an incubus on his bosom. He shuddered at the thought that death might overlook him, and deny him its refuge. Even Madeline's face, as he conjured it up, seemed wan and pale, moving to unutterable pity, powerless to cheer, and all the illusions and passions of love were dim as ball-room candles in the grey light of dawn.

Gradually the moon passed, and he slept again.

As early as half-past eight the following forenoon, groups of men with very serious faces were to be seen standing at the corners of the streets, conversing in hushed tones, and women with awed voices were talking across the fences which divided adjoining yards. Even the children, as they went to school, forgot to play, and talked in whispers together, or lingered near the groups of men to catch a word or two of their conversation, or, maybe, walked silently along with a puzzled, solemn look upon their bright faces.

For a tragedy had occurred at dead of night which never had been paralleled in the history of the village. That morning the sun, as it peered through the closed shutters of an upper chamber, had relieved the darkness of a thing it had been afraid of. George Bayley sat there in a chair, his head sunk on his breast, a small, blue hole in his temple, whence a drop or two of blood had oozed, quite dead.

This, then, was what he meant when he said that he had made arrangements for leaving the village. The doctor thought that the fatal shot must have been fired about three o'clock that morning, and, when Henry heard this, he knew that it was the breath of the angel of death as he flew by that had chilled the genial current in his veins.

Bayley's family lived elsewhere, and his father, a stern, cold, haughty-looking man, was the only relative present at the funeral. When Mr. Lewis undertook to tell him, for his comfort, that there was reason to believe that George was out of his head when he took his life, Mr. Bayley interrupted him.

"Don't say that," he said. "He knew what he was doing. I should not wish any one to think otherwise. I am prouder of him than I had ever expected to be again."

A choir of girls with glistening eyes sang sweet, sad songs at the funeral, songs which, while they lasted, took away the ache of bereavement, like a cool sponge pressed upon a smarting spot. It seemed almost cruel that they must ever cease. And, after the funeral, the young men and girls who had known George, not feeling like returning that day to their ordinary thoughts and occupations, gathered at the house of one of them and passed the hours till dusk, talking tenderly of the departed, and recalling his generous traits and gracious ways.

The funeral had taken place on the day fixed for the picnic. The latter, in consideration of the saddened temper of the young people, was put off a fortnight.

CHAPTER III.

About half-past eight on the morning of the day set for the postponed picnic, Henry knocked at Widow Brand's door. He had by no means forgotten Madeline's consent to allow him to carry her basket, although two weeks had intervened.

She came to the door herself. He had never seen her in anything that set off her dark eyes and olive complexion more richly than the simple picnic dress of white, trimmed with a little crimson braid about the neck and sleeves, which she wore to-day. It was gathered up at the bottom for wandering in the woods, just enough to show the little boots. She looked surprised at seeing him, and exclaimed--

"You haven't come to tell me that the picnic is put off again, or Laura's sick?"

"The picnic is all right, and Laura too. I've come to carry your basket for you."

"Why, you're really very kind," said she, as if she thought him slightly officious.

"Don't you remember you told me I might do so?" he said, getting a little red under her cool inspection.

"When did I?"

"Two weeks ago, that evening poor George spoke in meeting."

"Oh!" she answered, smiling, "so long ago as that? What a terrible memory you have! Come in just a moment, please; I'm nearly ready."

Whether she merely took his word for it, or whether she had remembered her promise perfectly well all the time, and only wanted to make him ask twice for the favour, lest he should feel too presumptuous, I don't pretend to know. Mrs. Brand set a chair for him with much cordiality. She


Dr. Heidenhoff's Process - 3/18

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