Hearts Unfortified

by Annie Eliot Trumbull

THE observation train wound its way in clumsy writhings along the bank of the river, upon which the afternoon light fell in modified brilliancy as the west kindled towards the sunset. But if the sheen and sparkle of the earlier day had passed into something more subdued and less exhilarating, the difference was made up in the shifting action and color that moved and glowed and flashed on, above and beside the soft clearness of the stream. The sunlight caught the turn of the wet oars and outlined the brown muscular backs of the young athletes who were pulling the narrow shells. The Yale blue spread itself in blocks and patches along the train, and the Harvard crimson burned in vivid stretches by its side, and all the blue and crimson seemed instinct with animation as they floated, quivered, and waved in the thrilled interest of hundreds of men and women who followed with eager eyes the knife-blades of boats cleaving the water in a quick, silent ripple of foam. The crowd of launches, tugs, yachts, and steamers pushed up the river, keeping their distance with difficulty, and from them as well as from the banks sounded the fluctuating yet unbroken cheers of encouragement and exhortation, rising and falling in rhythmic measure, guided by public-spirited enthusiasts, or breaking out in purely individual tribute to the grand chorus of partisanship. It had been a close start, and the furor of excitement had spent itself, somewhat, during the first seconds, and now made itself felt more like the quick heart-beats of restrained emotion as the issue seemed to grow less doubtful, though reaching now and then climaxes of renewed expression.

"Alas for advancing age!" sighed a woman into the ear of her neighbor, as their eyes followed the crews, but without that fevered intensity which marked some other glances.

"By all means," he answered. "But why, particularly, just now? I was beginning to fancy myself young under the stress of present circumstances."

"Because even if one continues to keep one's emotions creditably—effervescent—one loses early the single-minded glow of contest."

"A single-minded glow is a thing that should be retained, even at considerable cost."

"And what is worse yet, one grows critical about language," she continued calmly, "and gives free rein to a naturally unpleasant disposition under cover of a refined and sensitive taste."

Ellis Arnold smiled tolerantly.

"They are pretty sure to keep their lead now," he said. "The other boat is more than a length behind, and losing. They are not pulling badly, either," he added. "You were saying?"—and he turned towards her for the first time since the start.

She was a handsome blonde-haired woman, perfectly dressed, with the seal of distinction set upon features, figure, and expression.

"That was what I was saying," she replied, "that the ones that are behind are not pulling badly."

"More sphinx-like than ever," he murmured. "I perceive that you speak in parables."

Miss Normaine laughed a little. The conversation was decidedly intermittent. They dropped it entirely at times, and then took it up as if there had been no pause. It was after a brief silence that she went on: "But you and I can see both boats—the success, and the disappointment too. And we can't, for the life of us, help feeling that it's hard on those who have put forth all their strength for defeat."

"But it isn't so bad as if it were our boat that was behind," he said sensibly.

"Oh, no; of course not. But I maintain that it injures the fine fleur of enjoyment to remember that there are two participants in a contest."

"I suppose it is useless to expect you to be logical—"

"Quite. I know enough to be entirely sure I'd rather be picturesque."

"But let me assure you, that in desiring that there should be but one participant in a contest, you are striking at the very root of all successful athletic exhibitions."

She shrugged her shoulders a little.

"Oh, well, if you like to air your powers of irony at the expense of such painful literalness!"

"The exuberance of my style has been pruned down to literalness by the relentless shears of a cold world. With you, of course,"—but he was interrupted by the shouts of the crowd, as the winning boat neared the goal. The former enthusiasm had been the soft breathings of approval compared to this outbreak of the victorious. Flags, hats, handkerchiefs rose in the air, and the university cheer echoed, re-echoed, and began again.

Arnold cheered also, with an energy not to be deduced from his hitherto calm exterior, standing up on the seat and shouting with undivided attention; and Miss Normaine waved her silk handkerchief and laughed in response to the bursts of youthful joy from the seat in front of her.

"Oh, well," said Arnold, sitting down again, "sport is sport for both sides, whoever wins—or else it isn't sport at all."

"Ah, how many crimes have been committed in thy name!" murmured Miss Normaine.

"Katharine, I think you have turned sentimentalist."

"No, it's age, I tell you. I'm thinking more now of the accessories than I am of the race. That's a sure sign of age, to have time to notice the accessories."

Arnold nodded.

"There's compensation in it, though. If we lose a little of the drama of conflict on these occasions, we gain something in recognizing the style of presentation."

"Yes," and she glanced down at her niece, whose pretty eyes were making short work of the sunburned, broad-shouldered, smooth-faced, handsome boy, who was entirely willing to close the festivities of Commencement week subjected to the ravages of a grand, even if a hopeless, passion.

From her she looked out upon the now darkening river. There had been some delay before the train could begin to move back, and the summer twilight had fallen; for the race had been at the last available moment. Though it was far from quiet, the relief from the tension of the previous moments added to the placidity of the scene. The opposite banks were dim and shadowy, and the water was growing vague; there were lights on some of the craft; a star came out, and then another; there were no hard suggestions, no sordid reminders. It was a beautiful world, filled with happy people, united in a common healthy interest; the outlines of separation were softened into ambiguity and the differences veiled by good breeding.

"It is only a mimic struggle, after all," she said at last. "The stage is well set, and now that the curtain is down, there is no special bitterness at the way the play ended."

"There you exaggerate, as usual," he replied, "and of course in another direction from that in which you exaggerated last time."

"The pursuit of literature has made you not only precise but didactic," she observed.

"There is a good deal, if not of bitterness, of very real disappointment, and some depression."

"Which will be all gone long before the curtain goes up for the next performance."

"Ah, yes, to be sure; but nevertheless you underrate the disappointments of youth,—because they are not tragic you think they are not bitter,—you have always underrated them."

She met his eyes calmly, though he had spoken with a certain emphasis.

"We are talking in a circle," she replied. "That was what I said in the first place—that as we grow older we have more sympathy with defeat."

"You are incorrigible," he said, smiling; "you will accept neither consolation nor reproof."

"Life brings enough of both," she answered; "it does not need to be supplemented by one's friends."

The train was moving very slowly; people were laughing and talking gayly all about them; more lights had come out on the water, and a gentle breeze had suddenly sprung up.

"Just what do you mean by that, I wonder?" he said slowly.

"Not much," she answered lightly. "But I do mean," she added, as he looked away from her, "that, whether it be the consequence of the altruism of the day, or of advancing age, as I said at first, it has grown to be provokingly difficult to ignore those who lose more serious things than a college championship. Verestchagin and such people have spoiled history for us. Who cares who won a great battle now?—it is such a small thing to our consciousness compared to the number of people who were killed—and on one side as well as the other."

"Except, of course, where there is a great principle, not great possessions, at stake?"

"Yes," she assented, but somewhat doubtfully, "yes, of course."

"But it shows a terrible dearth of interest when we get down to principles."

"Yes," she said again, laughing. Meanwhile Miss Normaine's niece was pursuing her own ends with that directness which, though lacking the evasive subtlety of maturer years, is at once effective and commendable.

"It was nothing but a box of chocolate peppermints," she insisted. "I'd never be so reckless as to wager anything more without thinking it over. I have an allowance, and I'm obliged to be careful what I spend."

He looked her over with approval.

"You spend it well," he asserted.

"I have to," she returned, "or else boys like you would never look at me twice."

"I don't know about that." He spoke as one who, though convinced, is not a bigot.

"It's fortunate that I do," she replied decidedly. "I'm mortifyingly dependent on my clothes. There's my Aunt Katharine now,—she has an air in anything."

"I like you better than your aunt," he confessed.

"Of course you do. I've taken pains to have you. But it was just as much as ever that you looked at me twice last night."

"I was afraid of making you too conspicuous."

"A lot you were!" she retorted rudely. "Who was that girl you danced with?"

He smiled wearily.

"Tommy Renwick's cousin from the West."

"She is pretty."

"Very good goods."

"Is she as nice as Tommy?"

"No. There are not many girls as nearly right as Tommy."

"Except me."

"Well, perhaps, except you."

"But then, I'm not many."

"No, separate wrapper, only one in a box," he admitted handsomely.

Miss Normaine's niece had dark eyes, brown hair that curled in small inadvertent rings, and a rich warm complexion through which the crimson glowed in her round cheeks. She was so pretty that she ought to have been suppressed, and had a way of speaking that made her charming all over again.

"It was not chocolate peppermints, and you know quite well it wasn't," he said, with the finished boldness compatible with hair parted exactly in the middle and a wide experience. Miss Normaine's niece opened her eyes wide.

"What was it?"

"Nothing but your heart."

She considered the matter seriously.

"Was it really?"

"It was really."

"And I've lost," she pondered aloud.

"And you've lost."

She raised her eyes with a glance in which he could read perfect faith, glad acknowledgment, and entire surrender.

"Do you want me to keep telling you?" she demanded with adorable petulance.

"There is Henry Donald!" exclaimed Miss Normaine. "I didn't see him before. He has grown stout, hasn't he?"

"Yes, and bald."

"Isn't he young to be bald and stout too? Do tell me that he is," urged Miss Normaine with pathos. "He seems just out of college to me, and I don't like to think that I've lost all sense of proportion."

"Oh, no, you haven't," said Arnold, consolingly. "It's only he that has lost his. He doesn't take exercise enough. He's coming this way to speak to you. You had better think of something more flattering to say."

"I never thought Harry Donald would get stout and bald," went on Miss Normaine, to herself. "There was a period when I let my fancy play about him, most of the time too, but I never thought of that."

"Who's that man squeezing through the crowd to speak to Aunt Katharine?" asked Alice.

"That? Oh, that's one of the old boys."

"I can see that for myself."

"He's a Judge Donald of Wisconsin. He's pretty well on, but he's a Jim-dandy after-dinner speaker. Made a smooth speech at his class reunion."

"They still like to come to the race and things, don't they?"

"Oh, yes, and they're right into it all while they're here too."

Unhappily unconscious of the kindly feeling being extended to him from the bench in front, Judge Donald seated himself by Katharine, just as they drew slowly into the station.

"You haven't been on for some years, have you?" she asked him.

"No," he answered, "I've been busy."

"Oh, we know you've been busy," she interpolated, smiling.

"You're the same Katharine Normaine," he rejoined. "I thought you were, by the looks, and now I'm sure. You don't really know that I've ever had a case, but you make me feel that my name echoes through two worlds at the very least."

"And you are still Harry Donald, suspicious of the gifts that are tossed into your lap," and they both laughed.

"This is the man of the class," went on Judge Donald, turning to Ellis, who had taken a seat above them. "Your books have gotten out to Wisconsin, and that's fame enough for any man."

"Have they really?" said Arnold. "I supposed they only wrote notices of them in the papers."

"Oh, yes," murmured Miss Normaine. "Ellis has turned out clever,—one never knows."

"I guess they're good, too," went on Donald; "I tell 'em I used to think you wrote well in college."

"I thought I did, too," answered Arnold. "I don't believe we're either of us quite so sure I write well now."

They had delayed their steps to keep out of the crowd, for the people were leaving the train, some hurrying to catch other trains, some stopping to greet friends and acquaintances; there was a general rushing to and fro, the clamor of well-bred voices, the calling out of names in surprised accost, the frou-frou of gowns and the fragrance of flowers, in the bare and untidy station.

At last the party of which Miss Normaine was one left the car, and with the two men she made her way down the platform, through the midst of the hubbub, which waxed more insistent every moment.

"It is with a somewhat fevered anxiety that I am keeping my eye on Alice," she said.

"She is with a young man," said Judge Donald.

"That statement has not the merit of affording information. She has been with a young man ever since we left home."

"It isn't the same one, either," supplemented Arnold.

"It never is the same one," said Miss Normaine, somewhat impatiently. "I am under no obligation to look after or even differentiate the young men. I simply have to see that the child doesn't get lost with any one of them."

"She won't get lost with one," said Arnold, reassuringly, as they were separated by a cross-current of determined humanity. "She has three now, and they are all shaking hands at a terrible rate."

Judge Donald departed on a tour of investigation, and returned to say that there was no chance just at present of their getting away. It was a scene of confusion which only patience and time could elucidate. The omniscience of officials had given place to a less satisfactory if more human ignorance; last come was first served, and a seat in a train seemed by no means to insure transportation. It was as well to wait for a while outside as in; so with many others they strolled up and down, until their car should be more easily accessible.

"Alice is an example of the profound truths we have been enunciating, Ellis," said Miss Normaine. "She has an ardent admirer on the defeated crew. At one time I did not know but his devotion might shake her lifelong allegiance to the other university; but now that victory has fairly perched, you observe she has small thought for the bearers of captured banners. We were saying, Mr. Arnold and I," she explained to Donald, "that it is at our time of life that people begin to remember that when somebody beats, there is somebody else beaten."

Donald grew grave,—as grave as a man can be with the feathers of an unconscious girl tickling one ear and a fleeting chorus of the latest "catchy" song penetrating the other.

"Arnold and I can appreciate it better than you, I guess," he said, "because there have been times when we thought it highly probable we might get beaten ourselves."

"Highly," assented Arnold.

"But you, Miss Normaine, you've never had any difficulty in getting in on the first floor," went on the other. "You've quaffed the foam of the beaker and eaten the peach from the sunniest side of the wall right along—I'm quite sure of it just to look at you."

"The Scripture moveth us in sundry places," said Katharine, with a lightness that did not entirely veil something serious, "not to put too much faith in appearances. Even I am not above learning a lesson now and then."

He looked at her curiously.

"I'd like to know by what right you haven't changed more," he said.

"Did you expect to find me in ruins, after—let me see, how many years?" she laughed. "The hand of Time is heavy, but not necessarily obliterating. What has become of Alice?"

"She can't have gone far," said Arnold. "She was with us a moment ago."

"There she is with some of the rest of your party—I caught a glimpse of her just now," added Donald. "She's quite safe."

Alice stood talking with a girl of her own age and two or three undergraduates, on the outskirts of the crowd. One of the youths wore in his buttonhole the losing color, but he bore himself with a proud dignity that forbade casual condolences. Alice's eyes were bright, and her pretty laugh rippled forth with readily communicated mirth, while the very roses of her hat nodded with the spirit of unthinking gayety.

"There's the car that belongs to our fellows," said, half to himself, the person of sympathies alien to those of his present companions. "They must be about—yes, they're getting on," he added, as a car which had been propelled from a neighboring switch stopped at the farther end of the station. Alice's head turned with a swiftness of motion that set the roses vibrating as if a sudden breeze had ruffled their petals.

"The crew?" she asked.

"Yes," assented the young man.

She turned more definitely towards him, away from the rest of the group, whose attention was called in another direction.

"Will you do something for me, Mr. Francis?"

"Why, of course."

Alice had not anticipated refusal, and her directions were prompt and lucid.

"Please go into that car and ask Mr. Herbert to come out to the platform, at the other end, to speak to me. There isn't much time to lose, so please be quick."

As he lifted his hat and moved away, she joined in the conversation of the others, which seemed to be largely metaphorical.

"So he got it that time," one of the young men was explaining, "where Katy wore the beads."

"Well, it served him quite right," said Alice, with the generosity of ignorance. Her whole attention was apparently given to the matter in hand, but she was standing so that she could see the somewhat vague vestibule of the brilliant but curtained car.

"Oh, yes, but it wasn't on the tintype that the other fellow should have been there at all."

"No, to be sure, but that made it all the better," said Alice's friend, with sympathetic vision.

"Why, there's Eugene Herbert!" exclaimed Alice. "I really must go and tell him that he pulled beautifully, if he didn't win, and comforting things like that! Don't go off without me."

Before comment could be framed upon their lips, she had left her companions and was slipping quickly down the platform.

"She knows him very well," said the other girl; "she'll be back in a minute."

"She must have sharp eyes," said another of the group, as he looked after her. But too many people were about for fixed attention to be bestowed upon a single figure. There was but one light under the roof of that part of the station where a young man was standing, looking rather sulkily up and down. Alice was a little breathless with her rapid walk when she reached him.

"I thought Francis was giving me a song and dance," he said, as he grasped the hand she held out.

"No, I sent him," she explained hurriedly. "And I wanted to say—" She paused an instant as she looked up at him.

He was serious, and wore a look of fatigue, in spite of the superb physical health of his whole appearance. The light fell across her face under the dark brim of her hat, and touched its beauty into something vividly apart from the shadows and sordidness of the place, yet paler than its sunlit brilliancy.

"I wanted to say," she went on bravely, "that I've changed my mind. At least, I didn't really have any mind at all. And if you still want me to—" she paused again, but something in his eyes reassured her—"I will—I'd really like to, you know, and please be quiet, there isn't but a minute to say it in—and I'd never have told you—at least not for years and years—if you had won the race. Now let go of my hand—there are hundreds of people all about—and you can come and see me to-morrow."

It was all over in a moment. She had snatched her hand away, and was speeding back with a clear-eyed look of conscious rectitude, and he had responded to the exhortations of divers occupants of the car, backed by a disinterested brakeman, and stepped aboard.

"Oh, well, there's another race next year," he said to somebody who spoke to him as he sat down in the end seat. It was early for such optimism, and they thought Herbert had a disgustingly cheerful temperament.

Alice returned just as Miss Normaine and Arnold came up, and they all went back together, collecting the rest of the party as they went to their train. It was a vivacious progress along the homeward route. Pæans of victory and the flash of Roman candles filled the air. At one time, when some particular demonstration was absorbing the attention of the men, Miss Normaine found her niece at her side.

"Aunt Katharine, you know I've always adored you," she said, with a repose of manner that disguised a trifle of apprehension.

"Yes, I know, Alice, but I really can't promise to take you anywhere to-morrow. I—"

"I don't want you to—I only want to confide in you."

"Oh, dear, what have you been doing now?"

"I think," replied Alice, while the chorus of sound about them swelled almost to sublimity, "that I've been getting engaged—to Eugene Herbert, you know."

"Only to Eugene Herbert," breathed Miss Normaine. "I'm glad it occurred to you to mention it. But why didn't you say so before?"

"It didn't—it wasn't—before," said Alice, faltering an instant under the calmly judicial eye of her aunt. "You see," she went on quickly, "it was because they lost the race. It wouldn't have been at all—not anyway for a long time,"—and again her mental glance swept the vista of the years she had mentioned to Herbert himself,—"if it hadn't been for that; but I couldn't let him go back without either the race or—or me," she concluded ingenuously.

Arnold had been talking with a man of his own age, and hearing things that were very pleasant to hear about his latest work, and yet, as he leaned back in his chair and looked across at Katharine Normaine, whose own expression was a little pensive, he sighed. It was a great deal—he told himself it was nearly everything—to have what he had now in the line of effort which he loved and had chosen. It was not so good as the work itself, of course, but the recognition was grateful. And as his eyes dwelt again upon the distinction of Miss Normaine's profile, with the knot of blonde hair at the back of her well-held head, he sighed again, as he rose and went over to her. She looked up at him, and her eyes were not quite so calm as usual.

"I am sitting," she said, "among the ruins."

"Indeed?" he said. "Is there room upon a fallen column or a broken plinth for me?"

"Oh, yes," she answered, "but it is not for a successful man like you, whose name is upon the public lips, to gaze with me upon demolished theories."

"I have taken my time in gazing upon them before now," he observed.

"Everybody is talking about your book," she said.

"Oh, no, only a very few people. But about your theories—which of them has proved itself unable to bear the weight of experience?"

"You may remember I dwelt somewhat at length upon the indifference of happy youth to the stings of outrageous fortune when supported by some one else?"

"I remember. I regard it as the lesson for the day."

"It's early to mention it, but I am obliged to give you the evidence of my error—honor demands it—and Alice will not mind, even if she sees fit to contradict it to-morrow;" and she told him what had just been told her.

He smiled as she concluded her statement, and she, meeting his glance in all seriousness, broke down into a moment's laughter.

"'She does not know anything but that her side is beating,'" he quoted meditatively.

"I thought my generosity in confession might at least forestall sarcasm," she said severely.

"It ought to do so," he admitted.

There was a moment's pause.

"Has youth itself changed with the times, I wonder?" he speculated. "Certainly you did not sympathize overmuch with defeat at Alice's age."

She did not answer, and she was looking away from him through the glass, beyond which the darkness was pierced now and then by a shaft of illumination. The pensiveness that had rested on her face, when he had looked across the car at her, had deepened almost into sadness.

"And now," he went on, "you have called me successful—which shuts me out from your more mature sympathy."

Still she did not answer. He bent a little nearer to her.

"Believe me, Katharine," he said, "my success is not so very intoxicating after all. I need sympathy of a certain kind as much as I did twenty years ago."

She glanced at him.

"Is that all you want?" she asked with a swift smile.

"No," he returned boldly; and she looked away again, out into the darkness through which they were rushing.

"I had hoped," he went on, "that my so-called success might be something to offer you after all this time—something you would care for—and now I find that your ideals are all reversed. I have not won much, but I have won a little, and you tell me to-day that it is only extreme youth that cares for the winners."

"And that I have found out that I was mistaken." Her voice was low, but quite clear. "Have I not told you that, too?"

"And about experience of life making us care the more for those who fail in everything?"—he waited a moment. "You have not mentioned that that was a mistake also. I wish you'd stop looking out of that confounded window," he added irritably, "and look at me. Heaven knows I've failed in some things!"

She laughed a little at his tone, but she did not follow his suggestion.

"Oh, no," she said, "you have succeeded."

"And that means—what?"

"I told you I was sitting among the ruins of my theories," she said, while a faint color, which he saw with sudden pleasure, rose in her cheek.

"That adverse theory—has that gone too?"

"I have had enough of theories," she declared softly. "What I really care for is success."