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"MY DEAR MISS KING :--
"I have decided, somewhat suddenly, to return to America, despite the fact that my senior partners desire me to accept a permanent position abroad.
"I shall sail next week and without seeing you again. I hope you will not think me discourteous.
"But to be frank, Miss Dolores, I find our intimate acquaintance growing constantly more dangerous. I am not a marrying man, as you know; and I respect your views on the same subject. Even if I wished I could not change those views; and no greater mistake could bo made by two people who entertained our ideas, than to permit any combination of circumstances to bind them together for life. Yet, at the same time, it is impossible for two young unmarried persons like ourselves, neither of us owing allegiance to any third party, to continue long in this fraternal sort of comradeship, which now exists, between us. You are a beautiful and fascinating woman. I am by no means a second Plato. In spite of my wish to please you, and to be the perfect friend you are so kind as to call me, I find myself constantly irritated with your calm, emotionless demeanor toward me. I would not offend you by any word of love; yet I am obliged to be always on my guard when in your presence, and when I am absent from you, I feel a feverish desire to be near you. Your beauty and your brightness and your many agreeable qualities are an aggravation to me. I am aware that it is something more (or less) than a feeling of friendship which has taken possession of me, and, since it is so, the only wise course lies in flight. For,
He who loves and runs away
May live to love another day.
I shall always be your friend, and I hope you will continue to answer
my letters. You have been a revelation to me in many ways, and my experience
in your society can never be forgotten. I am sure I am better for it. Yet
I am only mortal, and I can but be rendered unhappy by a continuation of
what has been so pleasant. La Bruyere was right when he said, that friendship
was impossible between the sexes. I beg you to forgive the extreme frankness
of this letter, and to think of me as your weak, selfish, yet
He sealed and addressed the letter, and rang for a boy to post it. But at that moment a rap sounded at his door, and a telegram was placed in his hands. He tore it open and read :
"Mrs. Butler is dying; will you come to
Aside from the sorrow he felt at the news of Mrs. Butler's
illness, Percy read the telegram with an actual sense of relief. We all
remember to have experienced the feeling at some time in our lives, when
inclination warred with conscience, and Fate, constituting herself umpire,
decided in favor of inclination.
"There is no escaping Destiny. After all, whatever the Power that rules this world, we are
"Impotent pieces of the game he plays,
Upon the checker-board of nights and days,"
he said, as he placed the letter he had written in his pocket, and scribbled
a hasty reply to Dolores' telegram.
Arriving at Paris, he found Mrs. Butler in an extremely critical condition. She had been ill since the day following her arrival, and Dolores had scarcely slept or tasted food in her care and anxiety.
"Never since my uncle died," she said to Percy, "have I known such loneliness and dependence as I feel now. It seemed to me I must have some one near me, who would share my anxiety and personal interest in the patient. I hope you will forgive me for sending for you : but when I realized that she might die, I could not bear the suspense any longer alone."
Percy proved himself a hero in the emergency : he was brother, father, friend and messenger, all in one.
He performed all those innumerable outside duties necessitated by illness, and helped sustain Dolores' courage and strength, until at length the patient was pronounced on the highway to recovery.
Then there were long health-restoring drives, and pleasant afternoons when Percy read to the convalescent, while Dolores sat near with her sewing or drawing. But by and by there came a day when Percy realized that he must tear himself away, at once.
He had been reading aloud, and, among other things, he read a little poem entitled "The Farewell." It seemed particularly suited to his case.
'Tis not the untried soldier new to danger
Who fears to enter into active strife.
Amidst the roll of drums, the cannons' rattle,
He craves adventure, and thinks not of life.
But the scarred veteran knows the price of glory,
He does not court the conflict or the fray.
He has no longing to rehearse that gory
And most dramatic act, of war's dark play.
He who to love, has always been a stranger,
All unafraid may linger in your spell.
My heart has known the warfare, and its danger.
It craves no repetition--so farewell.
He laid down the book. Mrs. Butler was asleep, lulled by
his soothing voice. As he sat looking at Dolores, her beauty, her grace,
her intellect, and all her countless charms awoke an irritated sense of
injury in his heart.
What right had she to keep her attractions constantly before him, and yet deny him the right of possession? It was the cup of Tantalus. He rose suddenly.
"Dolores," he said, drawing a letter from his pocket, "I wrote this to you before I received you telegram calling me to you. I am going back to London day after to-morrow. I shall call to-morrow to say farewell. But I want you to read this letter, as it will explain to you my abrupt leave-taking better than I can explain it." And then he left her.
Dolores broke the seal, and began to read the letter, first with wondering curiosity, then with anger. Her eye flashed, her cheek flushed, her lip quivered.
"What right has he to address me--to think of me like this?" she cried bitterly. "I have never given him one liberty--" Then she paused, for over her swept the memory of that single moment on the ice-boat when her heart had rested against his--her head pillowed upon his shoulder. Even now, it thrilled her with an emotion as sweet as it was strange. Her anger gave place to a profound melancholy.
Dimly, and with a sensation approaching terror, she began to understand Percy's own feelings, and the danger of his position. She could not blame him--she could only blame herself.
"It is my own fault," she said to her aching heart. "I expected too much. There is no possibility of an enduring friendship between man and woman in this world. That, too, is as transient and unreliable as love. And yet--and yet--how can I give up my friend--how can I?" and, burying her face in her hands, she sobbed aloud.
When Percy called the following day, Mrs. Butler was informed, for the first time, of his intended return to America the succeeding week.
"Then we must be ready to accompany you," she said. "I am convinced that I have only a short time to live. I want to die in my own land. Dolores, we can be ready--can we not--by the time Percy goes?"
"It is not necessary," Dolores replied, blushing painfully. "We could go the next week as well. We need not trouble Mr. Durand to act as our escort on this voyage, Mrs. Butler."
"Why, what in the world has come over you?" cried Mrs. Butler, staring with wondering eyes at Dolores. "You speak as if Percy were a stranger, instead of our almost brother and son. I am sure he will wait for us, if we cannot go next week. I have an unaccountable dread of making the voyage unattended. I shall feel far safer with our friend by my side; and, somehow, I am sure we shall need him."
So again Percy's earnest desire to fly from an embarrassing position was circumvented, and he was once more to be the companion of Dolores.
Mrs. Butler seemed to rally with a feverish excitement as they made their preparations for departure. Dolores watched her with anxious eyes.
"I fear you are not strong enough to take the sea-voyage at this time of year," she urged. "Will you not wait until later in the season, dear Mrs. Butler?"
But Mrs. Butler would not listen. "I can scarcely wait until next week;" she said, "I could not possibly delay my departure another month. It would make me ill, I know. Once on the ocean I shall grow stronger.''
But instead she drooped, and failed; and on the fifth day of the stormy voyage, Percy and Dolores stood beside her shrouded form listening to the solemn service for the dead at sea.
They were standing on the deck, quite alone, the evening before they reached harbor. . . . .
Dolores drew a long shivering sigh. "Oh," she said, "I dread the sight of land! It seems to me, I am going into some arid desert, where I shall faint, and die, from very loneliness. I have lost my friend who was almost like an own mother to me. And now I am to lose you. Life is cruel to me. I think it is wicked for parents to bring children into this world of trouble and sorrow. Oh, why was I ever born to swell the tide of miserable suffering humanity?"
Percy laid his hand gently on her arm.
' You do not lose my friendship," he said. "Remember, I shall always be your loyal friend, ready to do you any favor. But the close companionship and intimate association of the last year becomes every day more impossible. You must realize it yourself."
"I do, I do," she said, and then she put her hands over her face, and her tears fell through the slender fingers.
"I wish I had been buried in the sea, too;" she sobbed. "I would not have been so much alone as I am upon this dreary earth, where every thing dear is taken from me."
He turned and took her hands down from her tear wet face, and drew them closely in his own.
His face was very pale. His voice trembled with the intensity of his emotions.
"Listen to me Dolores," he said, in a low, and almost stern tone. "I think we understand and respect each other's views perfectly. I think, if in a moment of profound sorrow like this, we disregarded the settled convictions of a life-time, that we should in calmer and brighter hours regret it. But I think also, that when two people have become so necessary to each other's lives as we have become,--when such perfect sympathy exists, as exists between us,--I think then, Dolores, that it is wicked to throw aside the happiness which might be theirs. George Eliot and Mr. Lewes did not throw it away; Shelley and Mary Godwin did not; Mary Wollstonecraft and Imlay did not. It is simply a question whether a woman cares more for the forms of Society, and the laws made by men, than she cares for the love and companionship of one man. I have found more happiness in this year of association with you, than I supposed it possible for life to afford me. You are to me an ideal comrade : I can picture years of such companionship; happy wanderings, sweet homecomings, quiet evenings, cosy suppers, and all with the perfect knowledge that it might cease at any time either or both wearied of it; all with the knowledge that the individual liberty of each was absolutely untrammeled; and that, when love ceased to exist--there were no bonds to fetter. It seems to me that happiness, as perfect as it ever exists in this world, might bless such an union of two lives. Dolores, will you accept the love and protection I offer you?"
Her hands had rested passive in his, while she listened. Her face was turned from him, her eyes gazing out over the expanse of sea. Not a sail was in sight. One solitary gull flapped lonesome wings above the inhospitable waves. It seemed to her that her life was like that gull's--the world stretched before her, like a great waste of water, shoreless and desolate. She thought of the monotonous years awaiting her, homeless and alone as she was; of the ghastly emptiness of every pleasure, if she no more saw his face, no more heard his voice. She shivered slightly, and his hands tightened their clasp upon her own. His touch thrilled her with a sweet inexplicable joy. She ceased to reason or think.
Turning her white, beautiful, strangely calm face up to his, she answered solemnly and distinctly :
And just then a star shot down from heaven, and sank into the dark and troubled waters of the sea below.
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