Major Barrington's Marriage

by George Parsons Lathrop

I.

Major Barrington before the acquisition of his military title was a rather shapely gentleman, with a fine, carrot-tinted complexion and strong, reddish whiskers, corresponding well with it, and branching out on either side of his chin with a valiant air.

Nor did his appearance greatly alter, immediately after passing from the condition of plain citizen to that of a defender of his country. His chin (which was shaven, and had a pretty little dent in the bottom of it) came for a time more prominently before the public, being carried somewhat higher in the air; but otherwise you would hardly have known what a great man he was.

It happened thus: The War of the Rebellion had been going on for about a year, and Mr. Zadoc S. Barrington was a boarder in the respectable but shabby mansion of one Mrs. Douce, in East Thirtieth Street, New York—a short, pale, dusty-looking woman, who had under her threadbare wing a maiden relative, Natalia by name. Natalia was alternately visitor and boarder, according as her slender income gave out or held out, and the consequence of this variable status was an equally variable disposition on the part of the aunt toward the niece. Mrs. Douce had naturally a dry heat of temper, which was possibly the source of that pulverous look about the face already noticed; and it was only by turning on periodical smiles, like the spray from a watering-cart, that she was able to allay the gritty particles of her irritability in the presence of paying boarders. It was to be expected, therefore, that during Natalia's impecunious seasons her aunt should relapse into unmitigated dustiness, and puff her discontent, so to speak, in dreary little gusts at the forlorn maiden.

Being forlorn, was it strange that Natalia should look to Barrington for sympathy? Not at all. By degrees he thus came—without any movement on his own part—to take an important place in her daily experience. A variety of little hopes and illusions, of which her life had been pretty well divested before, and which she alone could not have revived, sprung up spontaneously under the most casual glance of Zadoc S. For example, though she had no appetite for Mrs. Douce's feeble dinners, she could get up a fictitious enjoyment of them by looking at the robust Barrington, whose bold coloring and hearty appearance deceived her as to the real measure of his relish for that dreary cookery.

Barrington was not dangerously youthful, but neither was Natalia. Financially he was not prosperous, but she was decidedly not so. Heaven only knows how, during the years of his residence in New York, he had contrived to subsist. It was not on any scientific principle of survival that he persisted; but rather on the principle of the fallen sparrow. Still, he was a portly sparrow, and must have needed a good deal to keep him on his feet. But he remained on his feet—he never soared. And yet, such as he was, Natalia—let us confess it with a becoming amount of maiden timidity—yes, Natalia had begun to love him.

II.

But she did not tell her love. She let concealment feed upon her cheek—which, to be accurate, was not damask, but rather of the quality of sarsnet. However, before her appearance had had time to suffer by this process, an unexpected proceeding on the part of Barrington led her to reveal her sentiment—to surprise and, one might say, surround him. Did capture follow? Let us see.

At this period his affairs were very low. He was a prospective patentee, a filer of caveats for little inventions, which no one could have been hired to infringe, the most ingenious point of which was their perfect adaptability for not making money. He was also by turns an agent for books, subscription engravings, sewing-machines, and what not. He did everything but succeed. Finally he conceived the idea of a new vegetable lamp-oil that could be made from floating oily matter to be found in any swamp. He had made close computation of the swampy land in the whole State of New York, which could be bought for a trifle, and turned into sources of boundless wealth. For a time he fed the flame of hope with this visionary fluid; but a serious lamp explosion, resulting from one of his experiments, deprived him at once of half his whiskers and all his expectations. There was indeed one resource left him, the nature of which we may discover presently; but he hesitated to avail himself of it, because it might compromise his independence. In fact, a certain steady effort to be a man and to keep his self-respect, in spite of his many failures, was Barrington's finest trait, and always gave me a liking for him, notwithstanding his weakness.

By the time his singed whiskers had regained their pristine vigor, and when the war had passed through its first year, there drove up to Mrs. Douce's door, one day, an express wagon with a trunk in it. The startling thing about this was that the trunk (which was made of sole-leather) was quite new, and had painted on it, with terrific distinctness, this legend:

Capt. Z. S. Barrington, U. S. A.

The painted end of the trunk happened to be nearest the house. Now, Mrs. Douce was at that very moment in her reception-room on the ground floor—a sort of little bin or wine-cooler of a room, where (having nothing better to cool) she kept callers, and sometimes herself—and from there she spied the appalling arrival. She did not know, which was the fact, that Barrington, tired of his sparrow's life on the pavements of the metropolis, had been in correspondence with friends at Washington, who had secured him the promise of a commission on his applying for it. He had not at once made such application, but had gone off with much high beating of the heart, and ordered the trunk, as a preliminary, feeling perhaps that the final step would be easier to take after committing himself thus far.

Mrs. Douce, I say, not knowing this, opened the door for the expressman in a great flurry of excitement. "Now, indeed," thought she, melodramatically, "I begin to feel what war is!"

Then she ran up-stairs herself, to inform Barrington that the trunk had come. But he was equal to the emergency. With an unshaken demeanor the hero rose from the table at which he had been conducting a busy and wholly useless correspondence, and looked at Mrs. Douce with a magnificent calm, which gave her a strange sensation of having penetrated some great general's headquarters. Then he proceeded down-stairs to parley with the expressman, who for a moment seemed to take the place of a flag-of-truce bearer, or some kind of military ambassador.

As Barrington descended he heard Natalia in the drawing-room conducting to its close an extensive piece of music, with a copious rumbling of low notes and a twittering of high ones, which was apparently reluctant to be brought to a close at all. The sound touched his heart, somehow; but he went on. It also touched Mrs. Douce, who had followed; but she did not go on.

III.

She stopped in the narrow passage, just by a niche containing a tall and bilious-complexioned alabaster vase, with scraggly arms, which had always impressed her as giving the house a great advantage over other boarding-houses. (That vase, by the way, had levied its tax in many a bill.) But now it seemed gloomily symbolic; everything had begun to seem unnatural and suggestive since that trunk appeared. She fancied the vase was like a "storied urn," containing the ashes of some valiant warrior who should no more wield the humble breakfast-knife at her devastated table. Overcome with emotion, she passed on and pushed open the drawing-room door.

"Natalia," she exclaimed, impressively, "guess what has happened!" As the expressman, with fate-like footsteps, tramped up-stairs, carrying the trunk on his shoulder, Barrington, who came after him, noticed that the rumbling and twittering of the piano had ceased, and that his landlady had disappeared. The two women were, in fact, conversing in agitated whispers on the other side of the closed parlor door.

"Well, never did I think to lose him!" exclaimed Mrs. Douce.

"Poor aunt!" said Natalia; "and so late in the season, too."

"It isn't that so much," interrupted the other, severely; "but it hurts me that he should have been so sudden and so secret."

"Perhaps he thought we—" Natalia paused, and blushed. "But why should he think we'd urge him to stay?"

"Hark! is he coming down again?" said her aunt. No; it was merely the expressman. He thumped his way down to the street door. They heard the wagon drive off, and for a moment afterward they held their breath, as if a battle had been raging near them, and the heavy current of the fight had now swept by, leaving them in suspense, lest it should return. Then the dignified step of Barrington resounded on the staircase. He came to the door, and opened it. "I ought," he began, stepping in with a smile, "to explain matters a little."

Mrs. Douce's mood was like that of elderly matrons at the wedding of a young friend. She hardly knew whether to laugh or cry. "Oh," she returned, in the breathless, short-of-supplies manner usual with her in awkward situations, "oh—no—explanation is needed, Mr. Barrington!" and, after a short pause, simpering, "I'm sure."

Natalia, meanwhile, stood in a shrinking, drooping attitude near the battered rosewood piece of furniture from which she had been drawing music, and looked a good deal like one of those young ladies in old colored prints who devote themselves to standing mournfully under weeping willows, among headstones.

"Well, you see," proceeded Barrington, who took Mrs. Douce's denial at its worth, "I didn't say anything, because—well, it wasn't quite settled."

"Then you're not sure of going to the war?" Natalia burst forth, with pathetic eagerness. (Barrington noticed that her heightened color was becoming to her.)

"Sure?" answered he, cruelly; "oh, yes; humanly speaking, I suppose it's sure enough. I—good gracious!—I only—"

These incoherent phrases were drawn out by the effect his statement had produced. Natalia's eyelids fell at his words. She was trying to repress a tendency to sob. By the time the hero had discovered this a tear had found its way into sight beneath her eyelashes.

"There!" cried Mrs. Douce, sternly. "Any one might have known it. We aren't made of sole-leather, Mr. Barrington. [He said to himself it was lucky she had told him this.] Common humanity and friendship ought to have shown you what this suddenness would lead to."

"I can't help it," murmured her niece, referring to the tears now hurrying down her face, and misled by the matron's angry tone and her own confusion into the idea that she was being scolded. (She was at this time without money.)

"Of course you can't, dear," said the aunt, soothingly. "As if any one with any considerateness, or average humanity, I may say, would suppose you could! I am not the woman to blame you for giving way under the circumstances, Natalia. It only shows you've got a heart, while some people—Mr. Barrington, excuse me, but I must speak out." However, she didn't speak out any further, but wound up with: "Anyway, it can't be worse than it is [though nobody had intimated that it could be]. You've decided to leave me. Well, that's what I must expect, I suppose." And she dropped into a chair, and patted her thumbs together, as if there were some crushing sarcasm in the action, which satisfied her wounded feelings.

Barrington succumbed to remorse. Besides, Natalia's unhappiness aroused his sympathy, and he became angry—without knowing whether he had a right to be so—at Mrs. Douce's taking the part of a comforter. He fancied he could do this even better than she. "Of course," he said, stiffly, "I don't expect to leave you without compensation for not giving notice. I shall pay you for two or three weeks extra."

He felt a dreadful sinking of the pocket as he spoke; but dignity required the sacrifice. The landlady did not respond for an instant; her eyes wandered about with a pained, prophetic air. "What have I done," she cried, "to bring this upon me? Mr. Barrington, have I ever asked you more than we agreed upon? Have I treated my family meanly? You have been in this house two years, and I know you can't point to anything. What have I done to be insulted so?" she demanded of the faded window-curtains.

A moment of silence followed this outburst; then she swept out of the room, with a thin rustle of her black dress, and left the prospective captain and Natalia alone.

IV.

Miss Douce put away her handkerchief in a business-like manner, and looked at Barrington with soft appeal. "Ah, why didn't you tell?"

"Tell? My dear Miss Douce, I had no idea—"

"Thoughtless man, not to foresee!"

"I didn't suppose your aunt would be so much annoyed."

"Oh, I didn't mean that!" said Natalia, growing judiciously pettish.

"What then?"

"Not her," said the maiden, significantly.

"Really, Miss Douce," said Barrington, "you have surprised me—I had no idea—"

"Don't, for pity's sake, tell me again that you had no idea!" exclaimed Natalia.

"I beg your pardon, I meant to say something."

"What good can it do to say anything, when you have done your best to break our hearts?" she demanded. And here she brought out the handkerchief again, and began to look dangerously tearful.

"Goodness!" said the unfortunate man. "I'm sure I didn't mean to. I would a good deal rather stay at home than have you feel this way."

"You have caused me great suffering, whether you meant to or not," declared Miss Douce, with a quaver in her voice. Then, replying to his devotion: "Will you give up going, to prove your words? Will you stay at home?"

Barrington felt the glory upon his horizon beginning to fade. He braced himself by a chair with one hand; with the other he took Natalia's. "Do you ask this as a personal favor?" he said.

Miss Douce was weeping slightly again. "I don't want you to go," she answered, shyly, turning away her head. "Yes, for my sake, stay!"

At this crisis Rawsden, one of the junior boarders, who had just returned from business and had been met at the reception-bin by Mrs. Douce with news of the dread trunk, passed up-stairs and caught a glimpse of the tableau, from the hall. "Aha," he muttered (for he was a cynical youth)—"Hector and Andromache!" And then he glided on and up to his remote chamber.

Zadoc S. still hesitated a moment. "I shall not go immediately, in any case," he said, gently. "I shall be here some days yet."

"But why go at all?" urged the Andromache. "Is it irrevocable?"

"No," he answered, unguardedly. "I—I haven't got my commission yet. I'm only expecting it."

There was a sudden revulsion of feeling on this announcement. Barrington became aware that his position was not so heroic as it had been, and Natalia began to blush violently at having betrayed her feelings on a sham emergency. But, as it happened, neither of them thought of getting out of the trouble by laughing.

"You see, now, why I kept it to myself," he proceeded, awkwardly, after some delay.

Miss Douce had released her hand, and now rose abruptly. "Oh, yes," she said; "I suppose it was all very foolish of me—but—you will forgive me?"

"I assure you, I feel honored," cried Zadoc, warmly, "by your solicitude. And, if I dared—if you would allow me—"

Let me here confess that I haven't the slightest notion what Barrington, in that moment of impulse, was going to say. But explanation is made unnecessary by the fact that Miss Douce didn't allow him to finish.

"Don't say any more," she begged. "It is too painful. I must go and find my aunt, Mr. Barrington, to tell her there's a hope of your staying. For if your commission shouldn't come—"

"I should wait, of course," he responded, captivated by her glance.

Naturally, after this, he went up to the room which Mrs. Douce's fancy had transformed into a headquarters, and wrote to his Washington friends not to get the commission. Of course, too, Mrs. Douce came gently rapping at his door, in the evening, with a face as solemn as an obituary notice, and with his bill in her pocket, whereon she had obediently registered the item of compensatory payment, which she had so scornfully rejected in the afternoon. Quite of course he said, with dignity: "You may leave the bill, but I have decided not to go." And then, by sequence, she affirmed—her face irradiated with joy—that she had brought the bill very reluctantly, in the first place, and, if he would excuse her, she thought she would not leave it.

As a further matter of course, Miss Natalia, being informed of the abandonment of warlike measures, pretended not to care anything about the episode, and to feel that it was rather an impertinence than otherwise to bring it to her notice.

On the other hand, little Rawsden had been cracking his joke about Hector, etc., to a Miss Sneef, a rather pretty young boarder, whom he honored by confiding to her his more successful sarcasms; and, when she imparted to him, next day, the news of Barrington's capitulation, he had the presence of mind to smile pallidly and look as if he had known all about it from an early period of his existence. Without changing his tone, he muttered, dryly: "Antony and Cleopatra!"

V.

The two parties most concerned said nothing about it to each other for days. But the interval was not unemployed. Mrs. Douce, having now discovered her niece's inclination (if she had not known it before), was allured by a calculation, based on the fact that Barrington had always managed to pay his bills, and on the hope that if Natalia were to become Mrs. Barrington two permanent paying boarders might be secured, with possibly, in time, a half price besides. "One of these days, after all," she said to Barrington, whom she took an early opportunity of seeing alone, "you will be going off and leaving me, I fear."

"Oh, no," said he; "I've really given up the war!"

"But there are other things than war."

"Other things to carry me away, do you mean? Or other disasters?"

"Well, not exactly disasters," said Mrs. Douce, hastily; "I mean marriage."

"You don't call that a disaster, then?" Barrington inquired, wickedly. "But what on earth has put this into your head?"

"It's much easier to get into my head than war. If you could think of such an unnatural thing as going to war, you might easily decide to marry," was the landlady's equivocal conclusion.

"What, I?" exclaimed Barrington, trying not to grow red, but doing so. "I see I've made you suspicious."

At this juncture a faint ghostly voice was heard rising from the basement, where the cook had long been buried, to the third-story banister, where they were talking. "Mrs. Douce, Mrs. Douce!" And Mrs. Douce, giving him an arch look, observed, with a dry laugh: "I don't know what you're plotting." Then she obeyed the voice.

Whether this talk was the cause, or whether it was owing to the interest which Miss Natalia Douce's behavior with regard to the military trunk excited, Barrington's attention was more closely directed to her now, and he observed in her from day to day a deepening melancholy. She became listless, and fell into reveries. She played more than usual on the piano in the dowdy parlor, behind the bilious-looking but aristocratic vase; but there was less rumbling and twittering in her music than formerly, and there were more pensive strains. She played "Make me no Gaudy Chaplet" and nocturnes by sundry composers; she sang "The Three Fishers." All this was the more interesting, in that there was no apparent personal application in the music she choose, since no one had insisted upon her accepting a gaudy chaplet, and she was not wedded as yet to a fisherman. But one evening Barrington, coming down a few minutes before dinner, entered the parlor as she was wrenching from the key-board the last phrases of a funeral march in the "Songs without Words." He listened attentively until she had finished; then, after a moment's reflection, called out from the arm-chair he had taken: "But why do you play such mournful things, nowadays, Miss Natalia, especially before dinner? No wonder you have no appetite."

Natalia didn't answer, but got up in silence and made for the door. On the way, however, she turned toward him with a look of indignation and a terrible flash of the eye. The next instant she was gone. She did not appear at dinner.

"What do you suppose is the matter with your niece?" Barrington blandly asked the aunt, at table. "I made a casual remark about her playing, just now, and she left the room without a word."

Mrs. Douce did not answer the question until the next day, when she came to Barrington's room. "I've found out all about it, now," she said. "The idea of asking me what was the matter, when you had been speaking to her in that way!"

"Good Lord!" cried Harrington, nettled. "What way? It was innocent enough; and I really don't like those tunes."

"After all that has happened!" continued the landlady, casting up her eyes.

"Well, what has happened?" he demanded.

"Why, your thinking of going to the war—and—and Natalia's feeling badly, and—well, you understand, though I can't explain myself, you've put me out so with your abruptness."

"It's always my abruptness or my suddenness," complained Barrington. "No; I don't understand you."

Mrs. Douce's dusty face hardened and dried till it became a very desert of physiognomy. "Well," she said, "you are not a boy, and I—well, I am old enough, I suppose," with a catch of the breath, "to be your mother. So we may as well speak plainly. You see that Natalia is deeply interested in you; you consented for her sake to give up going to the front; and now you coolly abandon her. Not content with that, you begin to taunt her with her melancholy. I little expected this, Mr. Barrington. I little expected it."

"Oh, you're unjust!" said Zadoc S.

"At least, you'll admit you've wounded her feelings and ought to apologize," was the rejoinder.

"Perhaps so," he confessed, feeling sorry for Natalia.

"Go and see her," urged his landlady, gently, though still with something of the desert atmosphere in her voice. "Speak to her about it."

"I will."

"But, remember there's only one thing can make your conduct consistent and restore her happiness."

"You mean," said Barrington, exploring the dent in his chin with his forefinger—"you mean, propose?" Then, as if this were quite out of the question, he shook his head vigorously, smiling. "Of course not that; but I don't see what else you can mean."

"Nothing else," said the voice of the desert.

"It's impossible," he rejoined, quietly.

"You must," responded the voice.

Then Barrington delivered a crushing blow. "I have promised to marry some one else," he said, with great composure.

To Mrs. Douce's gasping, broken, indignant queries he replied that the lady's name was Magill, and that she was a widow possessed of ample means. There had long been an understanding between them, he declared, but he had been unwilling to marry without an independent property of his own. Unable to acquire this, he had hoped at least to gain distinction in the army. That hope he had sacrificed out of pure sympathy for Miss Natalia Douce's distress; and now he had concluded to marry without further delay.

VI.

I pass over the period of internal convulsion in the Douce hearts, widowed and maiden, which followed Barrington's disclosure. For a time their disconcertment was so obvious that Rawsden had it all his own way in making contemptuous remarks about them to Miss Sneef; and to judge from the conversation of these two singular young people, you would have supposed that nothing could give them such exquisite delight as to prove that all human beings are unspeakably false and absurd, and that if they could but have succeeded in showing each other—Miss Sneef on her part, and Rawsden on his—how they two were the falsest and absurdest of all, their happiness would have been complete.

But Natalia soon rallied from the shock of Barrington's engagement to Mrs. Magill, at least far enough to begin an exasperating warfare of innuendo, which, though it stabbed her own heart as well, brought a balm of revenge to her own wounds, but left Barrington quivering under the petty blows. She made frequent allusions to that neglected trunk belonging to the non-existent Captain Barrington, U.S.A.; affected to believe that he kept in it a complete set of defunct accoutrements, which she begged him to put on some time and show to the "family;" and in general taunted him most unfairly with his abandonment of his whilom noble resolve to seek the martial field.

Before long the entire "family" of boarders had joined more or less actively in this guerilla attack; and the worst of it was, that they always kept just beyond the pseudo-captain's range. He couldn't retort upon them without losing his dignity. At last he hit upon a masterly defence. One day he said to Natalia, carelessly, at the table: "Oh, as to my uniform that you've been asking about, I'll show it to you to-night! I am going to drill."

The effect was gratifying. Natalia grew pale at the thought that her cruel sneers had actually driven Barrington (whom she continued to adore in spite of his desertion) back to the cannon's mouth, so to speak. The other boarders were also deeply impressed, in their several degrees. These emotions were considerably modified, yet not wholly effaced, when the military aspirant finally appeared in his trappings; for he did not wear the United States uniform. He was clothed in the splendors of a militia major. He revealed to the little group of fellow-boarders, who had assembled with a sort of hushed solemnity to inspect him, that for some time he had been getting up a new, independent cavalry company, of which he was now the commander.

"And you're all organized?" asked one gentleman, gazing at the major as if he were an entire company in himself.

"Yes; first drill to-night," said Barrington, with a business-like air, lighting a cigar, and looking quite terrific.

"Thought a company was commanded by a captain, and not a major," observed Rawsden, rescuing himself from a secret feeling almost of admiration, and becoming cynical again, just in time to retain the approval of Miss Sneef, who gave him a sagacious glance.

"Yes, that's the common way," said the officer, with superior indifference; "but in consideration of my zeal and expense in getting up the company, which is very large, I rank as Major of the National Guard of the State." Then, with striking precision, he executed a brilliant retreat from the parlor, slammed the street-door, as he went out below, with a report like a cannon, and left the awe-struck boarders to spend a miserably peaceful evening, in a state of deep humility, while he reaped the first honors of his new career.

VII.

There was much question among them as to where he had got the money for this great undertaking; but Mrs. Douce shrewdly suspected that the widow's gold had something to do with it. She was right. Mrs. Magill's money had gilded the major's uniform and the spurs whereby he was now hoping to leap into the saddle of fame.

Still, there was no immediate sign of the threatened marriage for some time after this. Barrington took part in sundry parades, and he and his company were freely mentioned in the papers. But the widow remained so entirely in the background that Natalia almost believed she was a myth; and there was no change in Zadoc's military life, except that the letters U. S. A. on the trunk were replaced with N. Y. S. N. G. Then came the tremendous day when Barrington's cavalry were ordered out, with other militia, to resit the rebel invasion of Pennsylvania. I will spare the reader the hardships of that campaign. It is enough that the gallant major should have undergone them; and, to tell the truth, he was not slow to make the most thereof. He never went into a fight, and hardly so much as heard the snapping of a cap or the drawing of a sabre while his company was at the front; for they were kept marching and counter-marching, for strategic purposes, guarding supply-trains or small batches of prisoners; but he was a hero, for all that, when he returned. He had been obliged to forego shaving during his fortnight's absence, and this gave him a suitably battered and realistic look. I'm sorry to say he was in no hurry about shaving after he came back. He deliberately made capital of that stubby growth on his chin and upper lip, and it lent great effect to his tales of suffering with mud and rains, and beds of hard wood in barns, and to the agony he expressed at not having met the craven foe.

Rawsden and Miss Sneef attempted to turn these narratives to ridicule, but the effort failed signally. Barrington was a success. He had always been trying to be one, on some solid basis or other. Now he had become so on no basis at all.

VIII.

Mrs. Magill was satisfied with her investment, but she wished now to make it permanent. In short, she thought in time that the major should fulfil his promise of marriage. It is scarcely necessary to say that, meanwhile, his resplendent military renown had redoubled his fascinations for the pensive Natalia; and that maiden's faithful admiration and devout sympathy with him in the dangers to which he had lately been exposed had begun to make an impression on his simple, pompous and sanguine middle-aged heart. In all this time the two women who divided his affections and interests had not once met. Being charged with their rival influences, it almost seemed as if the major, while uniting them in his mind, had possessed a sort of chemical power of keeping them apart. But now he became extremely anxious to bring them into each other's society. The pretext he found was that of private theatricals. He proposed to Mrs. Magill that an entertainment in this line should be gotten up at the drill-room of the company, which was a sort of riding-school arena, easily transformed into a theatre. She consented at length, but only on the understanding that this was to be Barrington's last grand frolic before settling down to married life.

"Yes," said Barrington, in vague terms; "I sha'n't want to remain single any longer." But he was a good deal alarmed to find himself wondering, at that very moment, which lady it was that he intended to marry.

Mrs. Magill and Natalia were made acquainted, and among them the three soon completed their plans for the performance. The piece selected was Boucicault's farce, "Wanted—a Widow." The major had pressed Mrs. Magill to take a part, but, with a becoming distaste for publicity, she declined, and Natalia was induced to play in her stead. Considering the title of the farce, the widow's abstention was certainly judicious; but I think she would have been better pleased to see Natalia in the rôle of Lady Blanche Mountjoy, rather than that of the successful widow, Mrs. Lovebird. Lady Blanche was taken by Miss Sneef, who, being young and pretty, yet withal sceptical by nature, made a success of the part. Mrs. Magill, whose eyes began to survey Natalia in the appalling light of a rival, after the first interview, took care to be present at all the rehearsals, as you may believe; and a little real drama, for which no rehearsal was needed, began to move within the fictitious one.

IX.

Mrs. Magill was a short and rather fleshy person, with a bland countenance, in which the experiences of her forty years—good and bad alike—had agreed to get under shelter of a placid and non-committal tinge of pink, there to make what pretence they could of not being experiences at all. There was the same discreet, uncommunicative look about her hair, which she wore stamped down along her forehead, with the severe simplicity of a butter-pat. Natalia's face, on the contrary, showed whatever she had been through. Thus, the widow and the unmarried woman trenched on each other's provinces, and promptly took a dislike one to another.

The farce in hand, as all my readers may not remember, turns upon the fact that Henry Revel (Barrington), having been jilted by a lady who became Mrs. Lovebird, has taken to reckless courses, and finally becomes a heavy debtor, in hiding from the sheriff. In this dilemma he gayly advertises for a rich widow, "with immediate possessions," and his whereabouts thus come to the knowledge of Amy Lovebird, now widowed, who deserted him originally only to marry a rich man who could save her father from ruin. She seeks Harry at once, in order to explain and to draw him back to herself. When he receives her response to his advertisement, however, pride and resentment make him unwilling to profit by her wealth. Meanwhile, Amy's friend, Lady Blanche, plans a stratagem to test him, so that it may appear whether he receives his former flame's advances out of mercenary policy, or with the old-time affection. She persuades Amy to appear before him as if in great poverty, while she herself (Lady Blanche) writes him a letter, stating her fortune and a fictitious age, and requesting a meeting to consider the matrimonial project. When Harry meets Amy and hears this made-up story of her poverty, although his early love remains unabated, he decides to see the other widow, Lady Blanche, whose letter he has just received, to marry her, and to use the money thus acquired for the relief of Mrs. Lovebird. This decision, of course, makes him appear for a time false to Amy; and the motive of the piece is, accordingly, that of the hero's struggle between the powers of love and of money. Since he finally marries Mrs. Lovebird, the superficial moral of the play was favorable to Mrs. Magill, considered with reference to Barrington's vacillations, because the major's affair with her antedated the first springing up of a sentiment for Natalia, and, moreover, she was rich. So the widow had no fear as to the moral influence of the drama upon his mind. But the deeper lesson of this amusing composition is that of fidelity to love without money; so, as a matter of fact, it had a powerful effect in attaching the major to Natalia. At first he thought little about it. But, as the rehearsals went on, he found that theatricals, being an art, and having the magic of art, sometimes give one a strange, new interest in the real person, exhibited under subtly novel circumstances; and he began to think it would be pleasant to follow up his imaginary devotion to Natalia with a real passion.

X.

In proportion as this feeling of the major's grew, Mrs. Magill tired of seeing him perpetually going through the farce with Natalia, and coming out as her tried and trusted lover. She resolved to hasten the date of the performance, perhaps also hoping, furtively, that Natalia wouldn't be ready, and would therefore fail disgracefully.

On his part, Barrington, to whom the new partiality for Natalia had made the rehearsals increasingly pleasant, found also that the conflict between this and his promise to Mrs. Magill brought in an element of painfulness. He became exceedingly blue, and even treated the widow morosely.

"Zadie," said she, one evening, as they walked home from the drill-room, "what ails you? I thought you were going to get so much amusement out of these theatricals."

"I wish I'd never gone into them!" he answered, gloomily.

"How unkind to say that, after the condition we made about them!" This allusion didn't improve his temper.

"I don't forget my promise, though I am sorry," he said, dubiously.

"Sorry about the promise, you mean?" asked the widow, with an archness that failed for want of a street-lamp to light it up.

"You wouldn't like it if I should says yes," he retorted.

"Oh, if you're sorry," she exclaimed, haughtily, "we'll give up the"—here the major became attentive and eager—"the theatricals altogether!" she concluded.

"The theatricals," muttered he, disappointed; "I thought you were going to say—But no! We'll play the farce out, and, when it's done, we'll have the wedding. Does that satisfy you?"

"It's very wrong of you to talk of it that way," said Mrs. Magill, too sagacious to lose her temper. "But I know you'll regret it." And so, holding him firmly by the arm, she carried him off to the door, where they parted.

XI.

At length, the evening of the performance came, and all the independent cavalry, and their friends, assembled to look at it. Rawsden was unusually cynical that day, and came near disabling Miss Sneef for her part by the number and variety of his pessimistic remarks. But this was due merely to his own inward trepidation on her behalf; and it was with a strange whirl of by no means cynical emotion, raging underneath his calm dress-coat and well-starched shirt-bosom, that he left her at the dressing-room, and took his own place in the audience. As for Barrington, the contradiction of moods into which he had fallen excited him to great energy, and he consequently achieved a brilliant success in the first part of the piece. Mrs. Magill sat refulgent and diamond-flashing in her place, drinking in the praise of the major, which was murmured on all sides; these bright moments compensated her for all the pain of the rehearsals. But between the first and second scenes the curtain fell, to allow the arranging of a new "set." The shadow of that descending curtain was destined to darken seriously the widow's fair prospect.

Just as the audience were getting impatient for the second scene, an audible disturbance arose on the stage, in the midst of which the green cloth was rolled up, revealing a pictured street. No one "came on," however; and as a moment elapsed, and the disturbance increased, Mrs. Magill suspected something wrong. Then Natalia burst out on the astonished spectators, through the right entrance, with a distracted air, crying out, with apparent unconsciousness of the lifted curtain, "What! Major Barrington has cut his head open? Where?"

Some of the audience began to laugh, several ladies screamed, and the cavalrymen were divided between a wish to comfort their frightened guests and the duty of running to their commander's aid, when Barrington appeared from the sides, moving mechanically, and with a distinct wound on his forehead. At this sight Natalia, who had but half crossed the stage, paused, screamed sharply and spread out her hands, seeking support. Meanwhile the stage-manager had got the curtain started down, and it dropped silently upon the unexpected tableaux.

By the time it had touched the boards Mrs. Douce had reached the dressing-room. She now stood leaning over her niece, who had fainted, and was lying in a chair. Mrs. Magill, being of inferior velocity, was much longer in making her way to the stage through the crowd of excited people now hurrying to and fro. A hack had already been ordered for Barrington, who was sitting behind the street in Lady Blanche's drawing-room, with his head bound up, and looking rather pale. The hero of a hundred failures, he had at last managed to get a genuine hurt.

"Oh, horrible, horrible!" cried Mrs. Magill. "Speak to me, Zadie; how did it happen? Can no one tell me?"

"We were just getting up Lady Blanche's chandelier in great style," exclaimed the manager, "when Major Barrington came along, and—"

"No more, no more, for mercy's sake!" entreated the widow, with a shudder.

"Yes," continued the manager, with severe accuracy; "he hit his head against it."

"Mrs. Douce," cried Mrs. Magill, "run out and get my things for me—at once—please."

"I'm sorry," said the landlady, rather sharply, "but I can't leave Natalia." Here some one came forward, and said the hack had arrived.

"You see," protested the widow, "I must have my things." But Mrs. Douce devoted herself to Natalia, obliviously.

Barrington had by this time been got on his feet, and was walking slowly toward the stage-door, the arm of a fellow-officer under his own.

"Major," cried the exasperated widow, "stop!" And, as she spoke, she stepped in front of him.

Barrington did stop; but he looked feebly peevish, and in a tone of disgust said, plainly, "Do let me alone, can't you?" There could be no doubt as to his words.

The conflict over his remains, which seemed likely a moment before to become obstinate received a check in this utterance from, as it were, the very dead. Mrs. Magill fell back in horror, and the major was triumphantly borne away with Natalia.

XII.

The farce was never finished; but the assembled company set about the dance which had been planned to succeed it. Rawsden and Miss Sneef enjoyed this very much, in their superior way, and, in fact, the breakdown of the histrionic effort made those youthful misanthropists thoroughly hilarious. The events of the next few days, after the "caving in" of the Major's head (as Rawsden described it), furnished him with still further material for entertainment.

Mrs. Magill resumed the field early the next morning, seeking to visit her poor major. This Mrs. Douce prevented her from doing by powerful and imaginative descriptions of Barrington's condition, and citations from medical authority.

Mrs. Magill then proposed to hire a room in the house. But Mrs. Douce solemnly averred she had no room to spare. Still, the next day Mrs. Magill came, with a carriage full of things, including light bedding, to occupy the enemy's country, and declared she would bivouac in the parlor.

"But the parlor belongs to my boarders," said Mrs. Douce. "Use of parlor included, those are the terms."

"Then I'll take the reception-room."

"The door is very narrow," said Mrs. Douce, scrutinizing the massive form of the invader so insinuatingly as to make the non-committal pink in Mrs. Magill's cheeks give place to an angry red.

Mrs. Magill turned, and called out of the open door to the carriage-driver to bring in the bedding, etc. "Recollect," she said, severely, to Mrs. Douce, "he is my husband that is to be."

The landlady looked inquiringly at the driver, and then, as if correcting her impression, said: "Oh, the major? That makes no difference. Those things shall not come in! Besides, it isn't at all certain that he is."

"Not certain? How can you dare?"

"He says so himself."

"Then he's out of his mind," said Mrs. Magill, calmly.

"He was," replied Mrs. Douce.

"I won't converse with you," said Mrs. Magill.

"Then please order your man not to bring in those things."

But Mrs. Magill refusing, "I will tell him," announced Mrs. Douce, stepping out to do so.

Mrs. Magill, with great presence of mind, instantly shut the spring-lock door and began to walk up-stairs. There was a furious rattling at the door-handle, from the outside, followed by violent ringing. But no one came to open, until the widow had gained the first landing. Mrs. Douce, being admitted at last, swiftly mounted after her. It was a fearful chase; but there was no way of heading off the intruder now.

They went up another flight. But Mrs. Douce over-reached her opponent by calling out, in a loud voice: "You can't see him, Mrs. Magill! Mrs. Magill! Mrs. Magill!"

Immediately after this they heard the lock working in Barrington's door. The major was safe in his intrenchments.

Nothing daunted, however, Mrs. Magill strode forward and knocked. There was no answer except a slight cough, probably caused by the officer's sudden exertion in locking his door. "Major," said the widow, in a gentle tone, "do you hear me?" Echoless silence received her words. She began again, with a considerably increased alertness of voice: "Major! Are you engaged or not?"

"Very much so," answered Zadoc from within, and with a startlingly robust and comfortable voice for an invalid.

"I mean, to me," explained Mrs. Magill, with annoyance. "Mrs. Douce, here, has the face to declare that you are not. I wish the question answered in her presence. Are you engaged to be married?"

"I am sorry not to be able to open the door," responded the evasive Barrington. "It fatigues me to talk in this way, so I hope you'll be satisfied with my answering this one question."

"Well," said the widow, more affably, "say you are—"

"I are engaged to be married," promptly struck in the major, with untimely jocoseness.

"Am, you mean," Mrs. Magill corrected. But silence had resumed its reign on the other side of the door.

"Very well, that will do," she concluded, somewhat as a prose Portia finishing a cross-examination in a modern law-court might have done. She shot upon Mrs. Douce a glance of scorn, saying, "I shall come again to-morrow," and then proudly departed.

XIII.

But she did not come on the morrow. Barrington sent her a note, which effectually prevented her doing so.

"Dear madam," it said, "our remarkable—not exactly interview, but conversation, this morning, may have misled you. My reference to an engagement of marriage was to another than the one you had in mind—in point of fact, my very recent engagement to marry Miss Natalia Douce.

"You will pardon the mental reservation in my reply, when you reflect that I made it out of regard to your feelings. Those feelings I am sorry to disturb in any way, and I believe you will see that it is the truest consideration for them that leads me to give up the design we once cherished. Our understanding, too, was that when the farce was finished we would marry. The farce was never finished; the condition was not fulfilled; and therefore our agreement is dissolved. I have just sent in my resignation to the company, and shall dispose of the horse according as you may desire. The uniform I will retain (since it would not fit any one else), as also the respect for you, which has long been entertained by

"Your friend,
"Zadoc S. Harrington."

To this note the major never got any reply. In due time, therefore, his marriage with Natalia, being unimpeded, took place very quietly, and, after going off for a small wedding journey, the husband and wife came back to a pair of Mrs. Douce's small rooms, and began to live in them.

Yes; this corpulent, middle-aged sparrow of a major had decided in favor of idealism—prosaic though the form in which it was presented to him—as against money and ease without honest affection. He threw aside the only success he had ever achieved, which was due to the opulent siren, Mrs. Magill, and fell back to his old shabby independence, with a poverty-stricken little wife to share it. I don't say it was good political economy; I dare say it was very bad sociology; and perhaps I ought to show how some dire catastrophe came upon him in consequence. The only obstacle in the way is, that it didn't. He remained reasonably happy ever after.

By this it is not to be understood that he prospered materially. As a matter of fact, he had a terribly hard time. There were the old struggles, the old uncertainties of fortune to be faced, with new anxieties added. His own opinions and his wife's were at times far from being in unison.

After a time, too, he found himself a father; and, though I don't doubt his little infant girl brought him compensations, he grew visibly older. His once courageous complexion, which I have described as carrot-tinted, lapsed slowly toward the hue of turnips when in a boiled state; and—melancholy change!—his dainty martial chin, with the dent in the bottom of it, was hidden by a practical red beard, while his hair became proportionately thin on top of his head. If Mrs. Magill cared for revenge she probably took it now, in the contemplation of his hard career and the alterations in his appearance. He felt this a little, I know; for, as we were walking together one day near Worth's monument, he suddenly changed our course, with a hasty, "May as well go this way;" and I perceived the wealthy widow coming toward us.

We were not quick enough to escape her, and Barrington winced at her expression. Yet I am equally certain that he never regretted his choice.

Luckily for Rawsden's slight remaining toleration of mankind, he left Mrs. Douce's before the baby was added to the other household ornaments. Now that I think of it, Miss Sneef had previously left the house, and Rawsden's critical mood grew upon him so rapidly that he, too, found a change necessary. In fact, he followed Miss Sneef.

Yet he continued to bestow a share of his amused contempt upon Mr. and Mrs. Barrington from a distance.

"Barrington got a taste for the drama that time," he once said to me, recalling the private theatricals, "and he keeps it up well. I think his piece will have a long run."

"What piece?"

"The Ex-Bachelor and his Baby!" said the little wretch. "A tragic-comedy—by the whole strength of the company."

I think I should have kicked Rawsden for this, but that something in his manner hinted an inconsistent envy of the major. And he presently went on to say that as for Miss Sneef and himself, although not believing at all in the necessity of sentiment and all that sort of thing, they had concluded—since they didn't seem to be able as yet to get tired of each other—that they would try marriage, and see what that would do for them.

Such was the distorted little tribute of this nil admirari youth to the element of real manliness he could not fail to see in Barrington's marriage.