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- From Jest to Earnest - 30/79 -


To a certain extent, God gives to the prayerful control of Himself, as it were, and becomes their willing agent; and when all mysteries shall be solved, and the record of all lives be truthfully revealed, it will probably be seen that not those who astonished the world with their own powers, but those who quietly, through prayer, used God's power, were the ones who made the world move forward.

While Hemstead would never be a Mystic or a Quietest in his faith, he still recognized most clearly that human effort would go but little way in awakening spiritual life, unless seconded by the Divine power. Therefore in his strong and growing wish that he might bring the beautiful girl, who seemed like a revelation to him, into sympathy with the truth that he believed and loved, he had based no hope on what he alone could do or say.

But her manner on the previous morning had chilled him, and he had half purposed to be a little distant and indifferent also.

It did not occur to him that he was growing sensitive in regard to her treatment of himself, as well as of the truth.

He readily assented to Lottie's request that he should accept Mrs. Byram's invitation, and found a strange pleasure in her graciousness and vivacity at the supper-table.

His simple toilet was soon made, and he sought the parlor and a book to pass the time while waiting for the Others. Lottie was a veteran at the dressing-table, and by dint of exacting much help from Bel, and resting content with nature's bountiful gifts,--that needed but little enhancing from art,--she, too, was ready considerably in advance of the others, and, in the full UNdress which society permits, thought to dazzle the plain Western student, as a preliminary to other conquests during the evening.

And he was both dazzled and startled as she suddenly stood before him under the chandelier in all the wealth of her radiant beauty.

Her hair was arranged in a style peculiarly her own, and powdered. A necklace of pearls sustained a diamond cross that was ablaze with light upon her white bosom. Her arms were bare, and her dress cut as low as fashion would sanction. In momentary triumph she saw his eye kindle into almost wondering admiration; and yet it was but momentary, for almost instantly his face began to darken with disapproval.

She at once surmised the cause; and at first it amused her very much, as she regarded it as an evidence of his delightful ignorance of society and ministerial prudishness.

"I gather from your face, Mr. Hemstead, that I am not dressed to suit your fastidious taste."

"I think you are incurring a great risk in so exposing yourself this cold night, Miss Marsden."

"That is not all your thought, Mr. Hemstead."

"You are right," he said gravely, and with heightened color.

"But it's the style; and fashion, you know, is a despot with us ladies."

"And, like all despots, very unreasonable; and wrong at times, I perceive."

"When you have seen more of society, Mr. Hemstead," she said, a little patronizingly, "you will modify your views. Ideas imported in the Mayflower are scarcely in vogue now."

He was a little nettled by her tone, and said with a tinge of dignity, "My ideas on this subject were not imported in the Mayflower. They are older than the world, and will survive the world."

Lottie became provoked, for she was not one to take criticism of her personal appearance kindly, and then it was vexatious that the one whom she chiefly expected to dazzle should at once begin to find fault; and she said with some irritation, "And what are your long-lived ideas."

"I fear they would not have much weight with you were I able to express them plainly. I can only suggest them, but in such a way that you can understand me in a sentence. I should not like a sister of mine to appear in company as you are dressed."

Lottie flushed deeply and resentfully, but said, in a frigid tone, "I think we had better change the subject I consider myself a better judge of these matters than you are."

He quietly bowed and resumed his book. She shot an angry glance at him and left the room.

This was a new experience to her,--the very reverse of what she had anticipated. This was a harsh and discordant break in the honeyed strains of flattery to which she had always been accustomed, and it nettled her greatly. Moreover, the criticism she received had a delicate point, and touched her to the very quick; and to her it seemed unjust and uncalled for. What undoubtedly is wrong in itself, and what to Hemstead, unfamiliar with society and its arbitrary customs, seemed strangely indelicate, was to her but a prevailing mode among the ultra-fashionable, in which class it was her ambition to shine.

"The great, verdant boor!" she said in her anger, as she paced restlessly up and down the hall. "What a fool I am to care what he thinks, with his backwoods ideas! Nor shall I any more. He shall learn to-night that I belong to a different world."

De Forrest joined her soon and somewhat re-assured her by his profuse compliments. Not that she valued them as coming from him, but she felt that he as a society man was giving the verdict of society in distinction from Hemstead's outlandish ideas. She had learned from her mother--indeed it was the faith of her childhood, earliest taught and thoroughly accepted--that the dictum of their wealthy circle was final authority, from which there was no appeal.

Hemstead suffered in her estimation. She tried to think of him as uncouth, ill-bred, and so ignorant of fashionable life--which to her was the only life worth naming--that she could dismiss him from her mind from that, time forth. And in her resentment she thought she could and would. She was very gracious to De Forrest, and he in consequence was in superb spirits.

As they gathered in the parlor, before starting, De Forrest looked Hemstead over critically, and then turned to Lottie and raised his eye-brows significantly. The answering smile was in harmony with the exquisite's implied satire. Lottie gave the student another quick look and saw that he had observed their meaning glances, and that in consequence his lip had curled slightly; and she flushed again, partly with anger and vexation.

"Why should his adverse opinion so nettle me? He is nobody," she thought, as she turned coldly away.

Though Hemstead's manner was quiet and distant, he was conscious of a strange and unaccountable disappointment and sadness. It was as if a beautiful picture were becoming blurred before his eyes. It was more than that,--more than he understood. He had a sense of personal loss.

He saw and sincerely regretted his cousin Addie's faults; but when Lottie failed in any respect in fulfilling the fair promise of their first acquaintance, there was something more than regret.

At first he thought he would remain at home, and not expose himself to their criticism and possible ridicule; but a. moment later determined to go and, if possible, thoroughly solve the mystery of Lottie Marsden's character; for she was more of a mystery now than ever.

CHAPTER XV.

HEMSTEAD SEES "OUR SET."

They soon reached Mrs. Byram's elegant country which gleamed afar, ablaze with light. The obsequious footman threw open the door, and they entered a tropical atmosphere laden with the perfumes of exotics. Already the music was striking up for the chief feature of the evening. Bel reluctantly accepted of Hemstead's escort, as sh; had no other resource.

"He will be so awkward!" she had said to Lottie, in irritable protest.

And at first she was quite right, for Hemstead found himself anything but at home in the fashionable revel. Bel, in her efforts to get him into the presence of the lady of the house, that they might pay their respects, reminded one of a little steam yacht trying to manage a ship of the line.

Not only were Lottie and De Forrest smiling at the scene, but also other elegant people, among whom Hemstead towered in proportions too vast and ill-managed to escape notice; and to Addie her cousin's lack of ease and grace was worse than a crime.

Bel soon found some city acquaintances, and she and her escort parted with mutual relief. Hemstead drifted into the hall, where he would be out of the way of the dancers, but through the open doors could watch the scene.

And this he did with a curious and observant eye. The party he came with expected him to be either dazzled and quite carried away by the scenes of the evening, or else shocked and very solemn over their dissipation. But he was rather inclined to be philosophical, and to study this new phase of life. He would see the creme tie la cremet who only would be present, as he was given to understand. He would discover if they were made of different clay from the people of Scrub Oaks. He would breathe the social atmosphere which to Addie, to his aunt, and even to Lottie, he was compelled to fear was as the breath of life. These were the side issues; but his chief purpose was to study Lottie herself. He would discover


From Jest to Earnest - 30/79

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