- CHAPTER VI A DAY OF FATE
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A DAY OF FATE
IT begins with a letter from Hope Chetwynde to Felix:
Let us put business before pleasure, and so have an end of it.
"Yours anent financial matters is before me. It is quite right that you should wish to take possession of your own, and I have wondered why you did not speak of it while awaiting your pleasure in the matter. All of papa's affairs remain still in the hands of his old lawyer and friend, Mr. Carter; your money with the rest.
"It was like you in your old boyish days, like your independence rather, never once, amid all your roving, to have called upon any of us for what was your own. As a result, however, you have now quite a nice accumulation of interest at hand, together with the principal. Besides this you will remember that Aunt Cass suggested my giving you my own share.
"I have long since learned to accept, with love | | 74 and thankful joy, the bounty which it is her greatest happiness to bestow; and, being the sharer of her wealth, I gladly leave to you all that was mine through our dear father, and I will come home at once in order to place it in your hands, wishing, for your sake, that it were much more.
"As to auntie you know her eccentricities, and I love her for all of them, and her belief that a man should be the maker of his own destiny, in spite of which I think that you will not be forgotten in that time far in the future I hope and trust, when she will no longer need nor care for 'vile pelf.'
"And now about the Hiltons. I am glad if their nearness adds to your happiness, and, since it is clear that you mean to give me a sister, I will make your mind at ease by assuring you that I quite believe in the fair lady of your choice, and shall be ready to welcome her--yes, and to be her twin soul. Fee, how dare you come in between these twin souls? I'm sure it's dangerous, so I'll give them both a sister's welcome.
"And now what shall I say? Are you a wizard, or are you playing upon my credulity? Aunt Cass on wheels! Aunt Cass wearing an abbreviated skirt and curving her erect spine over one of those two-wheeled monstrosities that fly in the face of the centre of gravity and make womankind forswear her allegiance to the line of grace. Fee, why can't a man, or woman, scorch and still keep his, or her, ears above his or her shoulders.
"You have made me quite eager to see the water and lofty pathway through the woods and fields beyond Redlands. But alas, even this, it appears, | | 75 has been turned from its natural uses and made a bicycle byway. No, Fee, I will never, never ride one of the ugly machines.
"And now goodbye, fond lover. For your sake, and for yours only, I return at once, and leave the happy shores of the Hudson. So, until we meet, adieu to you, mon frère."HOPE."
This letter is received in the morning, and Felix Chetwynde, reading it, smiles, frowns, and sighs, and, at last, folding it away, begins a carefully careless outing toilet.
"It might have been worse," he says, as he adjusts his soft cycling cap, "and--it might have been better, and now for some fun."
He closes his door, taking care to lock it, and, dropping the key in his pocket, runs lightly down the broad stairs.
Standing in the doorway of the broad entrance hall is Aunt Cass, her plump little figure encased in a cycling suit of dark blue. There is a look of discontent upon her face, and an air of uncertainty about her every movement as she fidgets now out upon the wide piazza, where a handsomely-mounted ladies' wheel stands, now within to pace the length of the long hall restlessly, impatiently.
"It looks silly; just as I feel!" quoth she, giving the unoffending wheel a poke with a well-shod toe. "I wish Hope would come home! I--I begin to think I've got softening of the brain. I wish that boy would come, if he's coming! Oh"--as Felix appears--"here you are--at last!"
"Aunt Cassie, good morning! I am on time-- | | 76 to the minute." He took her hand, which she seemed to yield reluctantly, and looked down, scanning her costume with a swift glance, and then, as he slowly released her hand while letting his eyes rest upon her face, somehow the effect was that of releasing one hold only to grasp another and stronger one.
"Ready for the lesson, Auntie?" His voice was gay, his face smiling, but the eyes wore still their same intent, fixed look, and they never swerved from her face.
Again that frowning uncertain look crossed herd face, and she made a slight backward movement, as if in half-hearted rebellion against some vaguely-felt constraint, and then Felix, slipping his slim strong brown hand beneath her arm, led her, with a playful assumption of leading forth a dédbutante, down the piazza steps, and, as they went, the woman's face slowly relaxed, a smile replaced the frown, and she watched him bring forward her wheel with evident pleasure, and presently mounted and guided by her mentor, wheeled slowly down the smooth drive.
At last Aunt Cass has forgotten all scruples, all prejudice; she is now an enthusiast on wheels, that is, when she is not testing the elasticity of terra firma.
This happened, however, only often enough to show her how valuable is the aid, how sage the instruction, of her mentor. For the most part they go on side by side; and, his eyes resting upon hers, his hand and voice directing, she sits her wheel with singular confidence, and, in this mood, is quite safe from too frequent falls.| | 77
The carriage road curves gently from the gate at the north corner of the grounds, to that of the southern; and the house stands well back, midway between the two entrances.
There is singularly little said, during the lesson, when one considers the eminently social natures of these two; but as they approach the house, having traversed the drive half a dozen times in swift succession, Felix Chetwynde turns his gaze from his pupil to the white road skirting the lake, and lets it rest intently there. They have been pedalling along, side by side, at a fair speed, and close together, but now, suddenly, the lady's wheel lurches, she gasps in affright, and goes over. This time it is a veritable header, and Felix, with a muttered exclamation, bends to lift her up, the gleam in his eye betraying the sympathy upon his lips.
"Aunt Cass, that was my fault! I left you too much to yourself! Let us sit here a moment."
He places the wheels against the piazza railing, and sits down beside her upon the lowest step, where she has allowed him to place her. "What is it?" he questions, for she is looking at him sharply.
"I--was thinking--" her voice is slow, as if memory was aroused at the cost of strong physical effort. "Of--your--first--ride on a wheel."
"Of mine?" he questions.
"Yes. Of your tumble. You vowed then that you'd never ride a 'bike' again. That letter made Hope laugh heartily." Her eyes are turned towards the north gate as she speaks; but his are upon her face anxious, questioning.| | 78
"My letter? Oh--oh yes, yes. I had forgotten for the moment. I did swear off after that first tumble. A fellow is apt to, you know. What is it!" noting her intent gaze.
"The boy with the mail, and--a man--"
Felix turns quickly. The boy who does the numerous errands of the household is just entering the grounds upon the stubby pony allotted to his use; and, some ways behind him, a solitary wheel-man is following.
"It's Glynne!" Felix ejaculates, his tone not altogether a pleased one.
"Terry Glynne. Now whatever--" He broke off to rise to his feet, take off his white flannel cap, and wave it to the approaching rider, who by now has overtaken the boy and his pony.
As the new-comer approaches, Felix, cap in hand, stands awaiting him, glancing carelessly about the while.
Then he stoops, and puts out a hand to Miss Cassandra.
"Auntie, there is a pony-carriage coming around the lake drive," he says, in a low tone; "they are Mrs. Hilton's ponies, I am sure--is she coming here?"
"I think--so. She spoke of coming over some morning soon, when we met last--at the Patton's picnic--Saturday." She moves slowly to the top of the steps, where she stands awaiting the approach of the boy; Felix meantime going forward to meet his friend with extended hand.
"Give me the mail, Bob!"
The boy places in her hands the bundle of letters | | 79 and papers, and she shakes her head over their meagreness. There is one letter for Felix, and none for herself; and she awaits his approach, and, when she has greeted Terence Glynne, places it in his hand, says a few polite words to the caller, and goes slowly indoors, with her hands full of newspapers and late magazines.
Meanwhile the two young men mount the steps of the broad piazza, and seat themselves side by side, while Felix produces his cigar-case.
As Terence Glynne lights his weed with the burning match proffered him by his host, the eyes of the two young men meet, and there is a question in each. Possibly it is the feeling that this question is too apparent in his frank, blue orbs, which prompts Glynne to assume the look of a mentor, and to shake his head sagely at the other, while he says--
"Felix, old man, I fear you have not forgotten all of your old tricks;" and he laughs again, as if at some amusing remembrance. "Have you become an expert? Or has your 'control' left you? I should think a lady of certain age and fixed views of life would be a difficult subject."
"Hush! Confound you!" Felix turns and looks across his shoulder toward the entrance; but the little figure in the bicycle costume has drawn suddenly back from the doorway, toward which she had turned back, upon hospitable thoughts intent, and, seeing no one, Felix adds, "You always talk nonsense, Terry! What in the name of goodness made you suppose I was trying that?"| | 80
"Merely your attitude, my boy, and the look upon your face; and--you know I have uncommon good eyes, don't you--and in hers."
"You saw with your imagination, not your eyes," retorts Felix, somewhat impatiently; "and you surely didn't call this morning--the best of mornings for a spin--to discuss what you used to call my 'fad!' eh?" His face is smiling once more, and, he seems cordially at his ease.
"No." Glynne is instantly grave now, and the cigar is slowly withdrawn from between his lips. "It was a matter even more personal to you--and I me--than that," he said slowly. "Are we quite alone here?"
"Quite. Miss Chetwynde always sits in the morning-room at the other end of the hall, and my sister is absent. What's the worry, Terry?"
"The worry! Well, one might call it that; and who would endure a 'worry' when a straight question might set it at rest? Felix, we have been good friends, and we must remain so."
"We must indeed! And why shall we not?"
"Because--some might say--we both want the same thing."
"Ah!" Felix starts and pales visibly. "And--that thing?"
"I think you can guess, Felix. Even brothers have fought, before now, over the woman they both loved."
For a moment Felix Chetwynde turns away his face; then he faces his friend again, and his hand is extended.
"We shall never do that, Terry! You mean, of course, Lorna Hilton?"| | 81
Terence bows silently.
"Have you--addressed her?"
"How could I--knowing your feelings, or, at least, believing you cared for her-until I had seen you? All must be fair between us, Felix; and--I'm afraid the chances are all in your favour."
Felix Chetwynde is silent for a moment, then, passing by the other's words without comment, he asks slowly--
"What do you--want me to--do--Terry?"
"I want an end of suspense, or--have you ended it--for yourself?"
"I have not offered myself, if you mean that."
"But--you will ?"
"Chetwynde," Terry bends forward and puts a hand upon the other's knee, "I'll be perfectly frank with you; it's your right. You know that Loyd and I are very good friends?"
"The best, I should say. If he had the casting vote--and I'm not sure but that he has--"
"No--he has not. We have spoken of this thing, not of intent, but by chance. He cannot in this matter read his sister's feelings, and she will not let him sound them. Loyd has been very frank with me. And he wants me to go to her boldly and without delay, and to speak for myself--"
"And--" Felix draws himself suddenly erect--"and you are going--you are on your way now?"
"No I you are wrong. I am at the end of my present journey, and I ask you to put an end to this state of things. Try your fate soon, so that I may know my own. If you succeed, I shall wish you, | | 82 and her, every happiness, even if it is with a heavy heart; then I can go away, and try to live down the blow. Now I can only wait in suspense and wretchedness. Help me, Felix, by ending it!"
Felix Chetwynde rises and stands directly before his friend.
"Terry," he says, in his softest, mellowest tones, "this is just my position. I cannot do otherwise than make it plain to you, now. And, first, concerning myself, while I have been eager for the moment when I might try my fate, I have yet waited hoping to offer her, soon, a more definite and better financial prospect; for, while my fortune left me by my father is intact, and sufficient for modest wants, it does not equal hers now, though soon it may, and will, I trust. And, so, while I have let her see my own heart, as a man may, I have not questioned hers, although, to be entirely honest, I must add that I have thought for some time that she, knowing my mind, has willingly and most delicately let me see a little way into her own heart."
"You mean--!" panted Glynne, "that she loves you?"
"Honestly, Terry, I do believe it, little as I may deserve her regard. And now, here is what I propose. Give me one week, it is not much, and I may know by then just what I shall have to offer. I can't bear to appear before her as a beggar; comparatively speaking, your fortune rids you of that dread, at least."
"It will never weigh with Lorna Hilton's."
"I know that! It weighs with me, as I have said. | | 83 Give me the week, Terry, and a clean field, and if, at the end of that time, I am not her accepted suitor, I will go away and leave you to woo and win."
"And in the meantime?"
"In the meantime, you must refrain from call or visit. It might be well to go away for a few days, as thus she would not wonder at your absence, nor fancy herself forgotten or neglected."
"It will be a long week," Terence Glynne sighs, as he turns his gaze towards Redlands. "But I would be unreasonable were I to ask more, and now I must go. If I am to depart it shall be at once, to-night, or in the morning at the latest. And--I must see Loyd to-day. It is an engagement."
And so they parted--forever.
As Terence Glynne rides away from the villa, Felix, standing upon the upper piazza step, beckons the boy Bob, who is killing time, working hard he would have called it, upon the lawn--and then turns back to gaze after the swiftly receding figure of his friend.
"So, Terry Glynne," he mutters, as he gazes, "this thing has come to an issue between us! Well--the fight's on, I've offered him fair play, and--I don't think he will follow me--hallo!" turning at a sound close beside him. "Bob, why don't you speak when you approach a man? Were you listening?"
"Who--me! Lawks, Mr. Felix, who would I be listenin' to?"
"Oh well-never mind. I want you to go over to Harlow's and see if my wheel is repaired. I must have it at one o'clock sharp, tell him."
"Yes, sir."| | 84
And now, as the boy moves across the lawn, Felix, for the first time, recalls the letter he so hastily thrust in his pocket at the coming of Terence Glynne.
He had thrust it away without a glance at the superscription, but now one look at the plain business-like envelope causes him to start, as if at an electric shock; and, after a moment of indecision, to tear it open with ruthless haste.
It is in a woman's hand, or a child's possibly, unformed and characterless, but the few lines it contains are sufficiently to the point to set this strong young man trembling; and while, the cold sweat slowly oozes out from his pallid temples, and he stands palsied and uncertain, like a man in a maze, from which every possible path of egress is also a path of danger.
"God!" he mutters, clutching the letter tightly in his hand, and beginning to walk up and down across the piazza. "That this should come now! But I will not be balked! I will not be beaten like this!" He throws out his hand with an angry gesture, and the crumpled letter falls from it to the porch floor and is blown, a moment later, from thence into the matted rose bush which climbs about the trellis on either side the broad piazza steps.
A moment later he seems to rouse himself and turns with suddenly awakened energy, looking about him in search of the dropped letter. But he is still far from calm, for he catches up the envelope which has fallen at the opening of the letter, and thrusting this into his breast pocket hurries away across the lawn. Half way to the stables he pauses | | 85 and lights a cigar, and meeting the gardener near stops to chat, with an attempt to seem at ease; and, while the old man, once set going, descants upon his roses, ad lib. Felix, with a fine air of interest in the subject, combined with actual abstraction, slowly draws the envelope from his pocket and, while his eyes follow the gestures of the old rose grower, holds it to the fire at the end of his cigar and puffs it into a blaze which soon dies out in a fall of ashes, and, at this very moment a plump, nervous hand is drawing a crumpled letter from the grasp of the climbing brier rose-bush, at the expense of two or three thorny stabs and scratches on the soft, white fingers.
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