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- From Jest to Earnest - 5/79 -
He looked up quickly and gratefully, but only remarked, "It's a change we all welcome."
"Not I, for one," said Mr. Harcourt. "Give me a clear, steady cold. Thaws and spring are synonymous with the sloppy season or sentimental stage."
"I, too, think steady cold is better in the season of it," remarked Mr. Dimmerly, sententiously.
"But how about it out of season, uncle?" asked Lottie.
"Your hint, perhaps, is seasonable, Lottie," quietly remarked her aunt, though with somewhat heightened color. "I trust we shall keep the steady cold out of doors, and that ALL our guests will find only summer warmth within."
"Really, auntie, you put me in quite a melting mood."
"No need of that, Lottie, for you are the month of June all the year round," said her aunt.
"The month of April, rather," suggested Bel.
"I should say July or August," added Mr. Dimmerly, laughing.
"Would you not say November?" asked Lottie of Mr. Hemstead.
"Yes, I think so," he replied, with a blush, "for Thanksgiving comes in that month."
There was a general laugh, and Mr. Dimmerly chuckled, "Very good, you are getting even, Frank."
"I hardly understand your compliment, if it is one," said Lottie, demurely. "Is it because you are so fond of sermons or dinners that Thanksgiving glorifies the dreary month of November?"
"Neither a sermon nor a dinner is always a just cause for Thanksgiving," he replied, with a pleasant light in his gray eyes.
"Then where is the force of your allusion?" she said, with a face innocently blank.
"Well," replied he, hesitatingly, and blushing deeply, "perhaps my thought was that you might be an occasion for Thanksgiving if both sermon and dinner were wanting."
Again there was a general laugh, but his aunt said, "Frank, Frank, have you learned to flatter?"
Lottie shot a quick glance of pleased surprise at him, and was much amused at his evident confusion and flaming cheeks. To be sure his words were part of the old complimentary tune that she knew by heart, but his offering was like a flower that had upon it the morning dew. She recognized his grateful effort to repay her for supposed kindness, and saw that, though ill at ease in society, he was not a fool.
"Would it not be better to wait till in possession before keeping a Thanksgiving?" said De Forrest, satirically.
"Not necessarily," retorted Hemstead, quickly, for the remark was like the light touch of a spur. "I was grateful for the opportunity of seeing a fine picture at Cleveland, on my way here, that I never expect to own."
Lottie smiled. The victim was not helpless. But she turned, and with a spice of coquetry said, "Still I think you are right, Mr. De Forrest."
Then she noted that Mr. Hemstead's eyes were dancing with mirth at her hint to one who was evidently anxious to keep "Thanksgiving" over her any month in the year.
"I'm sure I am," remarked De Forrest. "I could never be satisfied to admire at a distance. I could not join in a prayer I once heard, 'Lord, we thank thee for this and all other worlds.'"
"Could you?" asked Lottie of Hemstead.
"That is no answer."
Hemstead was growing more at ease, and when he only had to use his brains was not half so much at a loss as when he must also manage his hands and feet, and he replied laughingly: "Well, not to put too fine a point upon it, this world is quite useful to me at present. I should be sorry to have it vanish and find myself whirling in space, if I am a rather large body. But as I am soon to get through with this world, though never through with life, I may have a chance to enjoy a good many other worlds--perhaps all of them--before eternity is over, and so be grateful that they exist and are in waiting."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Lottie. "What a traveller you propose to be. I should be satisfied with a trip to Europe."
"To Paris, you mean," said Bel.
"Yes," replied Mr. Hemstead, "until the trip was over."
"Then I trust she will be content with New York," insinuated De Forrest; "for Mr. Hemstead speaks as if the stars were created for his especial benefit."
"You are enjoying some honey, Mr. De Forrest?" said Hemstead, quietly.
"Did the flowers grow and the bees gather for your especial benefit?"
"I admit I'm answered."
"But," said sceptical Mr. Harcourt, "when you've got through with this world how do you know but that you will drop off into space?"
"Come," said Addie, rising from the table, "I protest against a sermon before Sunday."
They now returned to the parlor, Hemstead making the transition in safety, but with no little trepidation.
PUZZLED AND INTERESTED.
On the way to the parlor Lottie hovered near Mr. Hemstead. Unlike Micawber, she was not one to wait, but purposed that something SHOULD "turn up." The two other young ladies, and Harcourt and De Forrest, sat down to a game of whist. In pursuance of instructions from Lottie, De Forrest was not to be over-attentive, though it was evident that he would give more thought to her than to his game. Her demure mischief amused him vastly, and, knowing what she was, the novelty of her Puritan style had a double fascination. Making personal enjoyment the object of his life, he felicitated himself on soon possessing the beautiful and piquant creature, who, when she came to devote herself to him, would spice his days with endless variety. The thought that this high-spirited, positive, strong-minded American girl might crave better and more important work than that of an Eastern houri or a Queen Scheherezade, never occurred to him. He blundered, with many other men, in supposing that, if once married, the wayward belle would become subservient to his tastes and modes as a matter of course. In his matrimonial creed all his difficulty consisted in getting the noose finally around the fair one's neck: this accomplished, she would become a ministering captive. Many a one has had a rude awakening from this dream.
Although from Addie Marchmont's description he believed that he had little cause to fear a rival in Hemstead, still he awaited his coming with a trace of anxiety. But when the seemingly overgrown, awkward student stepped upon the scene, all his fears vanished. The fastidious Lottie, whose eye had grown so nice and critical that she could refuse the suit of many who from their wealth and position thought it impossible to sue in vain, could never look upon this Western giant in a way other than she proposed,--the ridiculous subject of a practical joke. True, he had proved himself no fool in their table-talk, but mere intellectuality and moral excellence counted for little in De Forrest's estimation when not combined with wealth and external elegance. The thought that the "giant" might have a heart, and that Lottie's clever seeming might win it, and the consequent mortification and suffering, did not occasion a moment's care. Unconsciously De Forrest belonged to that lordly class which has furnished our Neros, Napoleons, and tyrants of less degree, even down to Pat who beats his wife. These, from their throne of selfishness, view the pain and troubles of others with perfect unconcern. Therefore, believing that his personal interests were not endangered by so unpromising a man as Hemstead, even Lottie did not look forward to the carrying out of the practical joke with more zest than he. If the unsuspicious victim could only be inveigled into something like love, its awkward display might become comical in the extreme. Therefore, he gave but careless heed to his game, and keen glances to Lottie's side-play. But as the other conspirators were acting in much the same manner he was able to hold his own.
Hemstead looked grave, as cards were brought out, but without remark he sat down with his aunt at a table on the opposite side of the hearth. Lottie perched on a chair a little back of them, so that while she saw their side faces they must turn somewhat to see her. When they did so she was quietly stitching at her fancy-work, but the rest of the time was telegraphing with her brilliant eyes all sorts of funny messages to the party opposite, so that they were in a state of perpetual giggle, not in keeping with whist.
Mr. Dimmerly soon bustled in, and, looking wistfully at the game in progress, was about to propose that they form one likewise at their table, for an evening without cards was to him a mild form
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