Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 30

Chapter 30

Hope and Uncle Eb and I went away in a coach with Mrs Fuller. There was a great crowd in the church that covered, with sweeping arches, an interior more vast than any I had ever entered. Hope was gowned in white silk, a crescent of diamonds in her hair - a birthday gift from Mrs Fuller; her neck and a part of her full breast unadorned by anything save the gifts of God - their snowy whiteness, their lovely curves.

First Henry Cooper came on with his violin - a great master as I now remember him. Then Hope ascended to the platform, her dainty kid slippers showing under her gown, and the odious Livingstone escorting her. I was never so madly in love or so insanely jealous. I must confess it for I am trying to tell the whole truth of myself'I was a fool. And it is the greater folly that one says ever 'I was,'and never 'I am'in that plea. I could even see it myself then and there, but I was so great a fool I smiled and spoke fairly to the young man although I could have wrung his neck with rage. There was a little stir and a passing whisper in the crowd as she stood waiting for the prelude. Then she sang the ballad of Auld Robin Grey - not better than I had heard her sing it before, but so charmingly there were murmurs of delight going far and wide in the audience when she had finished. Then she sang the fine melody of 'Angels ever Bright and Fair , and again the old ballad she and I had heard first from the violin of poor Nick Goodall.

By yon bonnie bank an'by yon bonnie bonnie brae The sun shines bright on Loch Lomond Where me an'me true love were ever won't if gae On the bonnie, bonnie bank o'Loch Lomond.

Great baskets of roses were handed to her as she came down from the platform and my confusion was multiplied by their number for I had not thought to bring any myself.

I turned to Uncle Eb who, now and then, had furtively wiped his eyes. 'My stars!'he whispered, 'ain't itreemarkable grand! Never heard ner seen nothin'like thet in all my born days. An't'think it's my little Hope.

He could go no further. His handkerchief was in his hand while he took refuge in silence.

Going home the flowers were heaped upon our laps and I, with Hope beside me, felt some restoration of comfort.

'Did you see Trumbull?'Mrs Fuller asked. 'He sat back of us and did seem to enjoy it so much - your singing. He was almost cheerful.

'Tell me about Mr Trumbull,'I said. 'He is interesting.

'Speculator,'said Mrs Fuller. 'A strange man, successful, silent, unmarried and, I think, in love. Has beautiful rooms they say on Gramercy Park. Lives alone with an old servant. We got to know him through the accident. Mr Fuller and he have done business together - a great deal of it since then. Operates in the stock market.

A supper was waiting for us at home and we sat a long time at the table. I was burning for a talk with Hope but how was I to manage it? We rose with the others and went and sat down together in a corner of the great parlour. We talked of that night at the White Church in Faraway when we heard Nick Goodall play and she had felt the beginning of a new life.

'I've heard how well you did last year,'she said, 'and how nice you were to the girls. A friend wrote me all about it. How attentive you were to that little Miss Brown!

'But decently polite,'I answered. 'One has to have somebody or - or be a monk.

'One has to have somebody!'she said, quickly, as she picked at thc flower on her bosom and looked down at it soberly. 'That is true one has to have somebody and, you know, I haven t had any lack of company myself. By the way, I have news to tell you.

She spoke slowly and in a low voice with a touch of sadness in it. I felt the colour mounting to my face.

'News!'I repeated. 'What news, I-lope?

'I am going away to England,'she said, 'with Mrs Fuller if - if mother will let me. I wish you would write and ask her to let me go.

I was unhorsed. What to say I knew not, what it meant I could vaguely imagine. There was a moment of awkward silence.

'Of course I will ask her if you wish to go,'I said. 'When do you sail?

'They haven t fixed the day yet.

She sat looking down at her fan, a beautiful, filmy thing between braces of ivory. Her knees were crossed, one dainty foot showing under ruffles of lace. I looked at her a moment dumb with admiration.

'What a big man you have grown to be Will,'she said presently. 'I am almost afraid of you now.

She was still looking down at the fan and that little foot was moving nervously. Now was my time. I began framing an avowal. I felt a wild impulse to throw my strong arms about her and draw her close to me and feel the pink velvet of her fair face upon mine. ff1 had only done it! But what with the strangeness and grandeur of that big room, the voices of the others who were sitting in the library, near by, the mystery of the spreading crinoline that was pressing upon my knees, I had not half the courage of a lover.

'My friend writes me that you are in love,'she said, opening her fan and moving it slowly, as she looked up at me.

'She is right I must confess it,'I said, 'I am madly, hopelessly in love. It is time you knew it Hope and I want your counsel.

She rose quickly and turned her face away.

'Do not tell me - do not speak of it again - I forbid you,'she answered coldly.

Then she stood silent. I rose to take her hand and ask her to tell me why, a pretty rankling in my heart, Soft footsteps and the swish of a gown were approaching. Before I could speak Mrs Fuller had come through the doorway.

'Come Hope,'she said, 'I cannot let you sit up late - you are worn out, my dear.

Then Hope bade us both good-night and went away to her room. If I had known as much about women then, as now, I should have had it out, with short delay, to some understanding between us. But in that subject one loves and learns. And one thing I have learned is this, that jealousy throws its illusions on every word and look and act. I went to my room and sat down for a bit of reckoning. Hope had ceased to love me, I felt sure, and how was I to win her back?

After all my castle building what was I come to?

I heard my door open presently, and then I lifted my head. Uncle Eb stood near me in his stocking feet and shirt-sleeves.

'In trouble,'he whispered.

'In trouble,'I said.

''Bout Hope?

'It's about Hope.

'Don't be hasty. Hope ll never go back on you,'he whispered. 'She doesn't love me,'I said impulsively. 'She doesn't care the snap of her finger for me.

'Don't believe it,'he answered calmly. 'Not a single word of it. Thet woman - she's tryin't'keep her away from ye - but 'twon't make no differ nce. Not a bit.

'I must try to win her back - someway - somehow,'I whispered.

'Gi n ye the mitten?'he asked.

'That's about it,'I answered, going possibly too far in the depth of my feeling.

'Whew w!'he softly whistled. 'Wall, it takes two mittens t'make a pair - ye ll hey t'ask her ag in.

'Yes I cannot give her up,'I said decisively, 'I must try to win her back. It isn t fair. I have no claim upon her. But I must do it.

'Consarn it! women like t'be chased,'he said. 'It's their natur . What do they fix up so fer - di mon's an'silks an'satins - if 'tain't t'set men a chasm'uv 'em? You d otter enjoy it. Stick to her - jes'like a puppy to a root. Thet's my advice. 'Hope has got too far ahead of me,'I said. 'She can many a rich man if she wishes to, and I don't see why she shouldn t. What am I, anyhow, but a poor devil just out of college and everything to win? It makes me miserable to think here in this great house how small I am.

'There's things goin' if happen,'Uncle Eb whispered. 'I can't tell ye what er when but they re goin' if happen an' they re goin' if change everything.

We sat thinking a while then. I knew what he meant - that I was to conquer the world, somehow, and the idea seemed to me so absurd I could hardly help laughing as melancholy as I felt.

'Now you go if bed,'he said, rising and gently touching my head with his hand. 'There's things goin't'happen, boy - take my word fer it.

I got in bed late at night but there was no sleep for me. In the still hours I lay quietly, planning my future, for now I must make myself worth having and as soon as possible.

Some will say my determination was worthy of a better lover but, bless you! I have my own way of doing things and it has not been always so unsuccessful.