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excitement and divide the shame of excess, and have each other's countenance in youthful wickedness.'
• I do not know the nature of your friendships. It must be very difficult for gentlemen to be really and at all times friends, since they are forced to be rivals so often. We are capable of a friendship in which there can be no jealousy. You know that woman seems born to be sympathizing with something or somebody. Indeed, although it is not flattering to believe it, I am sure that some men seek our society merely for the sake of the repose which they find in our companionship. There is no trial of the strength of different minds permitted among us, and there is a boundless power of appreciation which we delight in exercising; for it is our instinct to find out and take to heart whatever is excellent. Beside all this, we never let a friendship languish because we do not happen to be in the mood.'
Across the fields from the black forest which skirted the fading distance came the breathings of the night-wind, ever and anon heavily tossing back the waving hair which lay, damp with dew, upon her temples.
Still with her sweet voice and child-like manner she pleaded for the beauty and holiness of a friendship between the sexes. She spoke of the elevating influence of woman; an influence which I could not help conceding, although resolved not to be the object of its particular exercise. She seemed to think that it worked the miracle which we see it performing throughout the world, by indirect means, and that mankind did not become better for it because each individual man was, more or less, in love with some one woman, but because every man grew accustomed to respect all women. I had the strength of mind to insist that the respect which we pretend for the whole sex is merely the kindly effect of our vanity; our conviction that, by taking a little pains, we can inspire any one of them with a consuming affection. We look benevolently upon the gentle creatures who are liable, at a word, to become victims of a hopeless passion for us; we strive to make their lives pleasant to them ere they are blighted forever; we are tender of our worshippers as we are of flowers ; for the sake of the incense, which they send up
before the lord of creation; the numberless graces which they lay at his feet.
• The teachings of La Rochefoucault have ruined you, I perceive,' she answered, laughing merrily.
* They told me that you were odd and cynical, and were hurrying to become a misanthrope in your youth. But you shall not spoil the whole race for me, because one man has a good opinion of himself and a bad of opinion of the rest of his fellow creatures.
Yet I am sure that you have not a bad heart.'
And her bright eyes fixed on me, shone into my soul; lighting up the dark recesses there in which I had put away the good in me because it was common-place, and casting into shadow my worse nature, which I generally made prominent. I was seized with a wild impulse to throw myself on her mercy and beg her to be my friend, my counsellor, the beacon of my life, pure, steadfast and high as the northern star above us.
A sudden recollection of that elderly gen
tleman's fate, which she had by good fortune described in the early part of our interview, benumbed my soul. The moonlight kissed her hands, which were clasped together, and wrapping each arm in its shining fold, crept with a warmer gleam under the wide oriental sleeve. The same cold light glittered in her eyes. Its spectral brightness and black shadow gave her form an indistinct, unearthly look.
Will you grant me a favor ?" I whispered, in spite of myself; • I have no sister. There is no woman in the world upon pathy I have the slightest claim. I have not a male friend whom I would trust with a single strong feeling. Let the kindness of your heart, and the faith which you must have in my sincerity and my respect
you, let our intercourse hitherto, plead for me. think me presumptuous, if I ask your friendship? I will exert every faculty to become worthy of it.'
•Perhaps,' I added, very earnestly, the future course of my life depends on your answer.
* I think that I can trust you,' she replied gravely, after a thoughtful silence: 'I grant your request, frankly and truly, as I believe it to have been made.'
The moon, I remember, shone cold as ever; but the stars twinkled mischievously; and the night wind sighed around me, as it sighs around a solitary frost-bitten leaf, which is about to be swept from its high estate of single blessedness, and be trodden, as its fellows were, into common mould.
THE QUESTION SETTLED.
Three weeks, perhaps more, had passed by, since the evening when I precipitated myself into a solemn league with a girl of seventeen, and contracted for her friendship.
Now we met at a solitary spot among the trees, in a rocky dell, where a brook ran, and there was a sequestered seat.
By her request we were not this day to walk thither as usual together, but to set out from the house by different ways. She had something of importance, she said, to communicate; and as this was the first time, during our intercourse, that she had taken the least precaution to avoid the notice of others, I pondered over the circumstance while strolling toward the spot, but to no purpose.
I found her seated upon a low moss-grown rock, one of many dropped singly here and there, or tumbled in groups along the valley, like dice after a night of hard play:
The trees bowed over her, fluttering in the mountain wind, and long beams of sunshine twinkled through the leaves. The brook hard by slid over shelving rocks, murmuring softly and dreamily; or gurgled half awake, among the round pebbles and died away in a faint rushing sound far down the glen. My friend was not aware of my approach; even when I took my accustomed place by her side she was lost in thought. Her head was bowed down; her cheek was slightly flushed; her hands lay in listless beauty, folded in her lap.
I thought that her face wore a look of trouble. Wishing to make my presence known, I gently roused her from her reverie. She started and recognised me with her own glad smile; then hastily withdrew her hand, and casting down her eyes, was silent.
You are not like yourself to-day, Julia.'
Do you know, Mr. S,' she answered sadly, averting her face, that we cannot be friends any longer ?'
I was stunned. Not a solitary misunderstanding had hitherto perplexed our intimacy; not a word had been breathed to chill it.
Have I in any way offended you 1 ?' • Indeed
have not.' May I ask then why we cannot be friends ?' She struggled to speak.
You have a right to know. I wished to tell you of this when we met here; but it is very difficult. Oh! I am very miserable.”
I sat quietly gazing at her. I had no suspicion of the cause of her distress, but knew well that it was far better policy to refrain from questioning her. Beside this, her beauty was just then of the kind which absorbs the intellect. The color died away and rose again in her cheek, as the shadow of thought after thought drifted like clouds over her soul. Her lips quivered; her eyes had a fixed lustrous gaze, and in them burned a dull, feverish light.
* We have been very much together lately,' she said, at last, nervously interlocking and loosening the clasp of her slender fingers.
• Not by any means so much as I could have wished,' said I ; ' for the hours of our companionship are the only hours of the day which have any
sunshine for me. The rest are dreary and full of autumn.' As I spoke there came before me, one by one, the incidents of our brief acquaintanceship; the lonely walks in the woodland, where the autumn leaves were dropping; the evening conversation, so absorbing that midnight came unwelcome, and found us more wakeful than morning. Every spot we were wont to visit was alive with some bright thought of her; all my recollections were musical with her sweet voice; all radiant with the beauty of her presence. The golden scene thus gathering, became bleak and desolate at the thought of resigning her friendship. I was alarmed at the strength of my feelings, and arousing my pride with a great effort, I strove to hide them from her and even from myself.
• I submit to the sentence of banishment without complaint,' I continued, after a pause : 'I am grateful for the past. You have taught me to unlearn much evil, which I bad previously got by heart, intending it for use in society and the world. You remember how the stars, of which we are told in Revelations, fell to the earth and became wormwood. You reversed the text and restored to its high place some part of my nature, which had fallen and turned to bitterness. You have sometimes put to flight the twin demons of distrust and unbelief which torment me. A few frank words from you have fallen on my soul like the drops of holy water on the brow of the possessed. I have caught from you a little enthusiasm and a little faith.' "I gave you my friendship sincerely, believe me,' she said, with
my fickleness ?
earnestness. "You have treated me with more than the care and delicacy of a brother.
There is not a thought of blame or unkindness toward you
heart.' • I see how it is. I have wearied you by intruding my society continually. I knew once that the best friends cannot with safety be often brought in contact, and I once practised the maxim.'
* You mistake me altogether,' she replied, coloring deeply: If I must confess it, my last remark was not exactly made in good faith, for I had never detected a sign which betrayed that my presence was irksome, and my vanity is quick-sighted, and never slum. bers.
I repented the pitiful impulse to try the gentle girl, which had prompted me; and I hastened to atone, by leading the way to an explanation.
I am about to speak frankly with you,' said I; 'perhaps I misunderstand the cause of your embarrassment; but if not, my course will save you pain. You tell me that we can be friends no longer. I can imagine a reason for this sudden change in your views. It is that our intimacy has given rise to remarks which have troubled
and your womanly feelings have taken the alarm.'
*I am grateful to you,' she said, looking up, 'very grateful. I was struggling to make this explanation, but I could never have done so without your help; and what opinion would you have formed of
They say,' she added, in a lower tone, that we are engaged.'
Why do you not retort courageously that we are, and have been from the beginning, merely friends ; that such is our agreement, our treaty with each other?'
• Indeed, I am too young to brave the whole world! You know that I have not a mother to advise me. I would trust your advice implicitly; but
you are not a woman. It is my instinct, which tells me that we must part.'
. Then,' said I, becoming quite hopeless, believe your instinct.'
But after this magnanimous speech I fell into a miserable revery, and gradually recalling the pains I had taken with the girl, I lost my temper and became rather inconsistent.
• Perhaps,' I said bitterly, as I rose from my seat, it would have been kinder, more friendly, to have given me warning or a hint of this. It is judicious, however, to inflict on me this mortification. The irksome recollection will distract me from the keener suffering of our sudden parting. Our lives here take different paths, and will meet again no more forever.'
The sense of pique, the pleasure of giving pain, raised me to a heroic attitude, and then crumbled away before the look of intense distress which settled upon her face and swam in her tearful eyes. I slunk meekly back to my place by her side ; my heart full to overflowing with contrition and tenderness.
Can you forgive me, Julia ?? I whispered. •I cannot forgive myself,' she answered, and I do not feel entitled to much consideration from others.'
• Remember, it is not a sunny prospect for me,' said I, “to look into the gulf now opening between us, which shall never be passed. Shall I no more be
subject to the
influence that surrounds you; never more worship in you the beauty and nobility of womanhood / Must our sympathies, which have become interwoven, be torn suddenly apart ? Shall I never more feel the pressure of
hand in welcome, or exchange a parting word ?'
I paused, and, restraining myself, proceeded : You should know that during our brief acquaintance some graceful trait of yourself has become associated with each of my opinions ; so that I can scarcely fall into any mood without remembering you. Now I must sift you out and separate you from my memories, as they sift the gold dust from the sand. Every tone of your voice, the look and gesture, the gentle counsel and gentler reproof, which haunt me, must be silenced and obliterated. You see that the task may be painful.'
• Will you make it your business to forget me?' said she, sorrowfully.
• Yes. I will try to remember you as a pleasant dream, and not regret you as a substantial thing.'
How the noontide glared upon the distant fields, and the everlasting rustling of leaves around us grated on my ear! The singing of the grasshopper in the sunshine was an intolerable burden.
• Oh, if I could have foreseen all this !' she exclaimed, clasping her little hands together until the blue veins rose and you could trace them as they wandered shining through the transparent skin.
. And now,' said I, growing more and more bewildered,' as this is the last hour of the friendship between us, I ask your forgiveness if I have ever given you pain in any way.' And I extended my hand, thinking to part with her before it became too difficult; but she had covered her face with both hands and was weeping silently.
A thought flashed across me, at which my heart leaped as if the earth at my feet had received a sudden jar.
Julia, you tell me that they say we are engaged ?'
She made no answer, nor do I well see how she could have answered me. All language died away in my throat, round which, like a bow-string, a horrible embarrassment was tightening its folds. With an instinctive impulse I drew her hand from before her eyes and pressed it to my lips. There was a moment of suspense. The hand remained passive in my own; a radiant blush kindled in her cheek, as the sunset breaks through a summer shower. Slowly her head sank upon my shoulder, there resting for an instant, and for an instant I held her to my breast. Thus we made another treaty, which should be unbroken for life. But I lost
• friend.' • Do you still believe,' I asked, at the close of the long interview which followed, that men and women can be truly friends ?'
• No, indeed !' she smiled and looked down; the thought was a snare and a delusion !'
The brook, which had paused to hear her answer, raised a peal of laughing little voices, and tumbled down the glen; the trees whispered among themselves ; a stir of buoyant life went through the forest, and the landscape stretched out before us, glad as if it had just been decreed that there should be everlasting spring.