- CHAPTER V FROM PAST TO PRESENT
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FROM PAST TO PRESENT
FOR two years now Hope had been the actual mistress of a cool half million, though legally, and by Hope's own irresistible decree, it stands in the name of Miss C. Chetwynde, and now, as always, there is perfect harmony between spinster and maiden, while the words mine and thine are seldom heard between them, and the confidence of each to each, as well as the freedom of each, is perfect.
But Felix Chetwynde, just back from school at the time of the appearance of the fairy maiden aunt, had the blood of a rover in his veins.
Much of his childhood had been passed away from his family, for at his mother's death he had been placed in the care of her only sister, and later--when father had romantically encountered the sweetheart of his boyhood, separated from him while both in their teens, and had married her after a brief courtship, Felix had continued for some time longer an inmate of his aunt's home; for his father had taken his old time sweetheart and new wife abroad for a year of travel.| | 64
When at last Felix came back to his father's house, there was a baby sister in it; and the two became warmly attached, in spite of the eight years' difference in their ages. But Felix was a high-spirited lad, and his aunt's tutelage had been unwise, and he learned to think that he owed only coldest respect, and no manner of obedience to his father's second wife, and after a time, during which peace was not a constant guest in the household, he was sent to a school for boys, where the three M's, manners, morals, and mind were ranked quite as high as the venerable R's, readin', ritin', and 'rithmetic.
From this school the lad had been recalled to a house of mourning, and he had just renewed his acquaintance with his affectionately remembered little sister, and she was learning to love him loyally, and to lean upon him, when Aunt Cassandra came into their lives, and stamped them with her own strong individuality.
For a few months the three lived in tolerable harmony, but Aunt Cass was not used to boy's ways, and Felix was at the unpleasant age when a boy is neither man nor child, but just a boisterous, high-spirited, and sometimes, alas! a disagreeable and cruel, young animal.
Like most maiden aunts Aunt Cass had "ideas" about the bringing up of a "man cub," and upon this rock the pair split, amid the wrath of the Mentor, the surly resistance and resentment of the "cub," and the tears and lamentations of the woman child.
Something had to be done, and when Felix angrily demanded to be sent back to his school, Aunt Cass hailed the idea as a way of deliverance.| | 65
"I dare say it's a genuine bear garden," she sniffed contemptuously, "but a bear garden is a very good place for young bears."
She showed herself unexpectedly liberal in the matter of pocket money, in view of the peaceful prospect when he should be gone; and, as soon as possible he was on his way to what, after his brief experience with "a cranky old maid and a crying young one," he looked forward to as "a good time with the boys, with easy lessons, lots of fun, and no women to nag a feller.'
Hope grieved for him, and missed him greatly. But, even at that tender age, the girl had a certain sensitive pride; she had made a stout stand for his sake, and to keep him with her; and now, since he was so ready to leave her, she would grieve no more, least not much. Besides, she had many consolations. Aunt Cass, from the first, had turned toward the tender and soft and motherly side of a somewhat complex nature, and the bond between them soon grew very sweet and strong.
Then, after two years of his school life, there came ill news of Felix, news which caused Hope to grieve, and Aunt Cass to prophesy.
Felix, now nearing his twentieth year, and almost at the end of his preparatory course, had run away with a comrade a year older than himself, and no trace of him could be found at the time.
No trace of him was found until a year had passed, and then Hope received a letter, which was short and to the point.
"Dear sister," the missive ran, "this is to tell you that I am living, safe and well. I did not write after | | 66 I ran away from the old 'cad'my, because I did not want to be hunted up. Now I shall be twenty-one so soon that it won't pay Aunt Cass to set the wires at work looking me out.
"Fact is, Hope'ey, I found out I was not cut out for a scholar, and I was advised by a very wise and good old man to 'go West,' so if you and Aunt Cass do not approve, just place the blame where it belongs, upon the shoulders of the late lamented H. Greely. He won't mind, now, and, personally, I'm greatly obliged to him.
"You see, I like the West, and although it has not enriched me, yet it has given me no end of fun, and--experience. I got a bit only the day before yesterday.
"You must know the Bike has struck the town, not numerously, but with fervour. I don't own one of the wheeled animals myself, but I have--or had, friend who owns, or owned a bike. Being my friend, it is strange that he should offer, nay, press the use of the cursed machine upon me, but he did, and I, like a fool, accepted it.
"Do you ride a bike, Sis? I don't suppose you do for they've not struck the swell crowd yet, and if you haven't, don't. I've ridden bucking broncoes, kicking mules, trotters, and--rails, and the bike can make you ridiculous in more languages, sore in more places, and dismount you quicker than any animal that lives.
"To be made ridiculous in the eyes of a western crowd of hustlers means things you little dream of, and calls for heroism outranking that of Casabianca, and this is sure to happen when you ride for the first time, for you're sure to dismount hastily, and with- | | 67 out forethought. It is sad, sister, even when alone, with only boundless nature for a witness, but when you are observed by a crowd of western observers, wild and woolly, then indeed must one suffer and be silent, if he can. It's a diabolical experience, and I ought to know, for I am lying to-day, a mere thing upon which to deposit plasters, bandages, and ointments, and to pour lotions, liniments, and--ridicule. I'm a bundle of black and purple, my eyes are not becoming. I'm a thing of bumps, scratches, contusions, and sprains, with a long scar caused by a jagged and too familiar stone, halfway across my manly chest. I shall always have this last, the doctors tell me, six inches long, and of a pleasing crimson hue. If it were the souvenir of an Indian dressed in war paint and a hatchet, I could be proud of it; but as the relic of a first and last bicycle ride! how horrible! But it is my last; for never, never, no NEVER, let the wheel become the only means of locomotion, and the kingly steed nil. No matter, I have bestridden the two-wheeled, evilly disposed demon for the first and last time! And the only thing decent it has accomplished is this--the act of writing to you, my sweet little girl sister. I have meant to do it often, and now, being for the first time laid by, the heels, I find a moment to take up my pen."
Here followed expressions of remembrance and regard, apologies, messages, descriptions of the country, and the final assurance that as soon as he is able to travel he shall set out, "with his pard," for he new mining country.
Hope read this letter with tears and smiles alternating. Aunt Cass heard it with ill-suppressed impa- | | 68 tience and prophesied anew, while Hope folded the letter tenderly.
"He will come to grief out there I As sure as I'm a spinster the boy'll come to grief! Horace Greely indeed!" Hope silently thrust the letter in her bosom.
A year later Hope received a second letter, written, evidently, with a shaky and nervous hand. It was very brief, and informed her simply that he was about to join the "regulars," and become "a guardian of the country, and a target for the red-skin," adding, at the end--
"Don't worry about me, Hope. I'm not going alone; my friend and pard is with me, and we look after each other."
Hope sighed upon reading this, and her face was full of anxiety.
"I'm afraid he is in trouble of some sort," she said, "or he would never have done this, or he may have been ill. His handwriting is very weak--and unsteady."
"Been on a spree it's more likely!" grumbled frank Aunt Cass. "It's the way half of them enlist. Well, he will get a taste of discipline now, at all events." And she was right. It was after a prolonged spree that the two "pards" from "down east" had joined the army.
A few more years have passed, and Hope and her aunt still live in amity. Miss Chetwynde, the elder, is the owner of a handsome house in town, and Hope is the mistress of the pretty country house by the Lakeside.| | 69
Just six months before the day on which our dramatis persona first appeared to us, on the Manhattan Beach Cycle course, Felix Chetwynde, heralded by a modest letter or two, has made his appearance before his sister and his aunt, and, in spite of the past and of his aunt's former prejudice against him, be at once wins his way into favour.
His story, briefly told--and he is very reticent concerning his adventures in the far west--pictures him first, as a cow-boy, next a miner, and last as a soldier. The story of the discharge of himself and friend from the army, and the subsequent death of that friend causes him to turn away from the life they have known and enjoyed together. His thoughts have been drawn back toward the east, and then he has found himself unfit for the life his sister, he knows, is leading. He has saved a little money, how he does not explain, and he turns his face eastward, resolved to "polish up a bit," and then to seek his sister.
Journeying on eastward he has fallen in with two young men, students, who have been doing the west during their vacation; the three become very good friends, and, as one result of the encounter, Felix goes with them to their college, is entered for a year's special course, having proved himself well grounded and quite able to enter. Here he passes a year, spending his vacations in the society of his new friends, and, at the end of the year's course, he presents himself before his aunt and sister neither wild, surly, nor western, but a young man properly shaved, polished, suave, handsome, a most desirable member of society, as Aunt Cass admits--to herself | | 70 --and a real boon to a manless household: so she welcomes him kindly, and Hope rejoices over him; and at the end of six months all three are mutually content, or seem to be, a charming and harmonious household. Miss C. Chetwynde looks--yes, and feels--younger than when she came, alone and in doubt, to seek for the last time companionship and a home; younger and happier, she has found an interest in life; something to love--in Hope and now in Felix--something to combat, to study, and sometimes to be jealous of, even while she admits--but only to herself--that he is vastly improved, in some things, and changed, except in looks, changed utterly.
Hope? The girl of twelve is a maiden of twenty summers now. As a child she was plain, intelligent, and winning; as a maiden she is beautiful Hope Chetwynde; intelligent still, winning still; fair, stately, gracious, and strong.
And Felix. To Hope he is still the same Felix, the indulgent big brother, and comrade, bigger now, handsomer, travelled, accomplished, brilliant, in truth; with a strong bent toward literature, and a taste for music. A man to charm a woman, to win friends, and to have his way.
It is usually a charming way, however, refined, correct, and pleasant to walk in. Usually, too, it is Hope's way, quite as much as his. Not that they are always of the same mind; Hope is never an echo, even of those she loves; but, in most things, she is amiably willing to be convinced.
As to their tastes, their pursuits, and their friends, the two agree usually without need of argument, but as they lounge upon the broad piazza to-day, they | | 71 do not agree, for once; and to Felix the fact seems strange, even unaccountable; for why should she not be glad, even to rejoicing, at the thought of having the Hiltons, Lorna and Loyd, with their stately step-mama, as neighbours across the bay at Redlands? Why indeed?
"If you had ever known them, Sis," he says insistently. "Your prejudice would seem more reasonable. Lorna Hilton is a lovely girl, and--"
"Oh, I am sure of that!" Hope breaks in, smiling roguishly. "Your taste is very refined and correct, monsieur, when a lady's in the case."
"And Loyd is the best of fellows."
"Granted;" with grave indifference."
"Mrs. Hilton and Aunt Cassie would hit it off perfectly. I know--"
"No doubt?" with a provoking rising inflection.
"I thought you would welcome Lorna--if only to break the monotony of my society, and--"
"Felix, a bright, jolly, sensible girl would be a genuine boon to me, here and now; but Miss Lorna Hilton is only half of a personality, and I prefer--"
"Half?" these young people interrupt one another, by mutual consent. "Oh, you mean that they are twins?"
"As if that were not enough! Have you forgotten the Gorton twins? And how they laughed and cried by mutual consent; and always wanted the same things?"
Felix laughs. "And so you fear an intimacy with twin who may transfer her share in you to her other self, until you find yourself en rapport with both, instead of one, eh?"| | 72
"It is you who should fear that. If these two are soul twins one might have cause to fear. It's a nice question to consider, whether, given a difference of opinion upon a vital question, one's sweetheart would decide for the heart's love or the soul's double, or could she decide if she would?"
Was it a chance speech, or a prophecy ? The words fell lightly from Hope Chetwynde's lips, but in after days they came back to her with terrible distinctness and freighted with a sad new meaning.
Felix Chetwynde starts at the strange suggestion, and is silent a moment; then he says, with his handsome face turned toward the lake--
"You are whimsical, Hope, and yet you feign to scoff at haunted houses and the belief in spirits in visible form. You need to know a merry spirit like Lorna's, and a closer study into the metaphysics of twinship may open your eyes to new things. Unless you distinctly command me to forbear shall most certainly write and tell Loyd and Lorna about Redlands."
"There is no such word as forbid between you and me, Fee. Let's drop the subject, please."
And the subject is dropped. Nevertheless, that night, when the full moon shines white upon the walls of Redlands and the spirit of midnight brooded over the silent lake and woodland, and Hope Chetwynde sleeps, Felix writes a long letter to Lorna Hilton, and in sealing it and sending it sealed also his own fate all unknowing. Just as you, dear reader, and a thousand others, by the commission of some seemingly trivial act, may be doing to-day, to-morrow-at this very moment, perhaps.
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