Read CHAPTER XIV - MISS EDITH IS DISAPPOINTED of A Bicycle of Cathay, free online book, by Frank R. Stockton, on ReadCentral.com.

As soon as we had begun to walk under the apple-trees she turned to me and said:  “I don’t think you ought to take this letter and the bill to Mrs. Chester.  It would not be right.  There would be something cruel about it.”

“What do you mean?” I exclaimed.

“Of course I do not know exactly the state of the case,” she answered, “but I will tell you what I think about it as far as I know.  You must not be offended at what I say.  If I am a friend to anybody ­and I would be ashamed if I were not a friend to you ­I must tell him just what I think about things, and this is what I think about this thing:  I ought to take these papers to Mrs. Chester.  I know her well enough, and it is a woman who ought to go to her at such a time.”

“That message was intrusted to me,” I said.  “Of course it was,” she answered, “but the bear man did not know what he was doing.  He did not understand the circumstances.”

“What circumstances?” I asked.

She gave me a look as if she were going to take aim at me and wanted to be sure of my position.  Then she said:  “Percy told us he thought you were courting Mrs. Chester.  That was pure impertinence on his part, and perhaps what father said at the table was impertinence too, but I know he said it because he thought there might be something in Percy’s chatter, and that you ought to understand how things stood.  Now, you may think it impertinence on my part if you choose, but it really does seem to me that you are very much interested in Mrs. Chester.  Didn’t you intend to walk down to the Holly Sprig when you were starting out by yourself this morning?”

“Yes,” said I, “I did.”

“I thought so,” she replied.  “That, of course, was your own business, and what father said about her being unwilling to marry again need not have made any difference to you if you had chosen not to mind it.  But now, don’t you think, if you look at the matter fairly and squarely, it would be pretty hard on Mrs. Chester if you were to go down to her and make her understand that she really is a widow, and that now she is free to listen to you if you want to say anything to her?  This may sound a little hard and cruel, but don’t you think it is the way she would have to look at it?”

She stopped as she spoke, and I turned and stood silent, looking at her.

“My first thought was,” she said, “to advise you to tell father about all this, and take his advice about telling her, but I don’t think you would like that.  Now, would you like that?”

“No,” I answered, “I certainly would not.”

“And don’t you really think I ought to go to her with the message, and then come back and tell you how she took it and what she said?”

For nearly a minute I did not speak, but I knew she was right, and at last I admitted it.

“I am glad to hear you say so!” she exclaimed.  “As soon as dinner is over I shall drive to the Holly Sprig.”

We still walked on, and she proposed that we should go to the top of a hill beyond the orchard, where there was a pretty view.

“You may think me a strange sort of a girl,” she said, presently, “but I can’t help it.  I suppose I am strange.  I have often thought I would like very much to talk freely and honestly with a man about the reasons which people have for falling in love with each other.  Of course I could not ask my father or brother, because they would simply laugh at me and tell me that falling in love was very much like the springing up of weeds ­generally without reason and often objectionable.  But you would be more likely to tell me something which would be of advantage to me in my studies.”

“Your studies!” I exclaimed.  “What in the world are you studying?”

“Well, I am studying human nature ­not as a whole, of course, that’s too large a subject, but certain phases of it ­and I particularly want to know why such queer people come together and get married.  Now I have great advantages in such a study, much greater than most girls have.”

“What are they?” I asked.

“The principal one is that I never intend to marry.  I made up my mind to that a good while ago.  There is a great deal of work that I want to do in this world, and I could not do it properly if I were tied to a man.  I would either have to submit myself to his ways, or he would have to submit himself to my ways, and that would not suit me.  In the one case I should not respect him, and in the other I should not respect myself.”

“But suppose,” said I, “you should meet a man who should be in perfect harmony with you in all important points?”

“Ah,” she said, “that sort of thing never happens.  You might as well expect to pick up two pebbles exactly alike.  I don’t believe in it.  But if at any time during the rest of my life you show me any examples of such harmony, I will change my opinions.  I believe that if I can wait long enough, society will catch up with me.  Everything looks that way to me.”

“It may be that you are right,” I answered.  “Society is getting on famously.  But what is it you want to ask me?”

“Simply this,” she replied.  “What is it which interests you so much in Mrs. Chester?”

I looked at her in astonishment.  “Truly,” I exclaimed, “that is a remarkable question.”

“I know it,” she replied, “and I suppose you are saying to yourself, ’Here is a girl who has known me less than three days, and yet she asks me to tell her about my feeling towards another woman.’  But, really, it seems to me that as you have not known that other woman three days, as much friendship and confidence might spring up in the one case as affection in the other.”

“Affection!” said I.  “Have I said anything about affection?”

“No, you have not,” she replied; “and if there isn’t any affection, of course that ends this special study on my part.”

We reached the top of the hill, but I forgot to look out upon the view.  “I think you are a strange girl,” I said, “but I like you, and I have a mind to try to answer your question.  I have not been able quite to satisfy myself about my feelings towards Mrs. Chester, but now I think I can say that I have an affection for her.”

“Good!” she exclaimed.  “I like that!  That is an honest answer if ever there was one.  But tell me why it is that you have an affection for her.  It must have been almost a case of love at first sight.”

“It isn’t easy to give reasons for such feelings,” I said.  “They spring up, as your father would say, very much like weeds.”

“Indeed they do,” she interpolated; “sometimes they grow in the middle of a gravel path where they cannot expect to be allowed to stay.”

I reflected a moment.  “I don’t mind talking about these things to you,” I said.  “It seems almost like talking to myself.”

“That is a compliment I appreciate,” she said.  “And now go on.  Why do you care for her?”

“Well,” said I, “in the first place, she is very handsome.  Don’t you think so?”

“Oh yes!  In fact, I think she is almost what might be called exactly beautiful.”

“Then she has such charming manners,” I continued.  “And she is so sensible ­although you may not think I had much chance to find out that.  Moreover, there is a certain sympathetic cordiality about her ­”

“Which, of course,” interrupted my companion, “you suppose she would not show to any man but you.”

“Yes,” said I.  “I am speaking honestly now, and that’s the way it strikes me.  Of course I may be a fool, but I did think that a sympathy had arisen between us which would not arise between her and anybody else.”

Miss Edith laughed heartily.  “I am getting to know a great deal about one side of the subject,” she said.  “And now tell me ­is that all?  I don’t believe it is.”

“No,” I answered, “it is not.  There is something more which makes her attractive to me.  I cannot exactly explain it except by saying that it is her surrounding atmosphere ­it is everything that pertains to her.  It is the life she lives, it is her home, it is the beauty and peace, the sense of charm which infuses her and everything that belongs to her.”

“Beautiful!” said Miss Edith.  “I expected an answer like that, but not so well put.  Now let me translate it into plain, simple language.  What you want is to give up your present life, which must be awfully stupid, and go and help Mrs. Chester keep the Holly Sprig.  That would suit you exactly.  A charming wife, charming surroundings, charming sense of living, a life of absolute independence!  But don’t think,” she added, quickly, “that I am imputing any sordid motives to you.  I meant nothing of the kind.  You would do just as much to make the inn popular as she would.  I expect you would make her rich.”

“Miss Edith Larramie,” said I, “you are a heartless deceiver!  It makes my blood run cold to hear you speak in that way.”

“Never mind that,” she said, “but tell me, didn’t you think it would be just lovely to live with her in that delightful little inn?”

I could not help smiling at her earnestness, but I answered that I did think so.

She nodded her head reflectively.  “Yes,” she said, “I was right.  I think you ought to admit that I am a good judge of human nature ­at least, in some people and under certain circumstances.”

“You are,” said I.  “I admit that.  Now answer me a question.  What do you think of it?”

“I don’t like it,” she said.  “And don’t you see,” she added, with animation, “what an advantage I possess in having determined never to marry?  Very few other girls would be willing to speak to you so plainly.  They would be afraid you would think that they wanted you, but, as I don’t want anybody, you and I can talk over things of this kind like free and equal human beings.  So I will say again that I don’t like your affection for Mrs. Chester.  It disappoints me.”

“Disappoints you!” I exclaimed.

“Yes,” she said, “that is the word.  You must remember that my acquaintance with you began with a sort of a bump.  A great deal happened in an instant.  I formed high ideas of you, and among them were ideas of the future.  You can’t help that when you are thinking of people who interest you.  Your mind will run ahead.  When I found out about Mrs. Chester I was disappointed.  It might be all very delightful, but you ought to do better than that!”

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Twenty-two last May,” she replied.

“Isn’t that the dinner-bell I hear in the distance?” I said.

“Yes,” she answered, “and we will go down.”

On the way she stopped, and we stood facing each other.  “I am greatly obliged to you,” she said, “for giving me your confidence in this way, and I want you to believe that I shall be thoroughly loyal to you, and that I never will breathe anything you have said.  But I also want you to know that I do not change any of my opinions.  Now we understand each other, don’t we?”

“Yes,” I answered, “but I think I understand you better than you understand me.”

“Not a bit of it,” she replied; “that’s nonsense.  Do you see that flower-pot on the top of the stump by the little hill over there?  Percy has been firing at it with his air-gun.  Do you think you could hit it with an apple?  Let’s each take three apples and try.”

It was late in the afternoon when Miss Edith returned from the Holly Sprig, where she and Genevieve had driven in a pony-cart.  I was with the rest of the family on the golf links a short distance from the house, and it was some time before she got a chance to speak to me, but she managed at last.

“How did she take the news?” I eagerly asked.

The girl hesitated.  “I don’t think I ought to tell you all she said and did.  It was really a private interview between us two, and I know she would not want me to say much about it.  And I don’t think you would want to hear everything.”

I hastened to assure her that I would not ask for the particulars of the conversation.  I only wished to know the general effect of the message upon her.  That was legitimate enough, as, in fact, she received the message through me.

“Well, she was very much affected, and it would have teen dreadful if you had gone.  Oh the whole, however, I cannot help thinking that the Italian’s letter was a great relief to her, particularly because she found that her husband had been killed by mistake.  She said that one of the greatest loads upon her soul had been the feeling that he had had an enemy who hated him enough to kill him.  But now the case is very different, and it is a great comfort to her to know it.”

“And about the murderer?” I said.  “Did you ask her if she wanted steps taken to apprehend him?”

“Yes,” she said, “I did speak of it, and she is very anxious that nothing shall be done in that direction.  Even if the Italian should be caught, she would not have the affair again publicly discussed and dissected.  She believes the man’s story, and she never wants to hear of him again.  Indeed, I think that if it should be proved that the Italian killed Mr. Chester on purpose, it would be the greatest blow that could be inflicted upon her.”

“Then,” said I, “I might as well let the negro man go his way.  I have not paid him his passage-money to the city.  I knew he would wait until he got it, and it might be desirable to take him into custody.”

“Oh no,” she said.  “Mrs. Chester spoke about that.  She doesn’t want the man troubled in any way.  He knew nothing of the message he carried.  Now I am going to tell father about it ­she asked me to do it.”

That evening was a merry one.  We had charades, and a good many other things were going on.  Miss Willoughby was an admirable actress, and Miss Edith was not bad, although she could never get rid of her personality.  I was in a singular state of mind.  I felt as if I had been relieved from a weight.  My spirits were actually buoyant.

“You should not be so unreasonably gay,” said Miss Edith to me.  “That may be your way when you get better acquainted with people, but I am afraid some of the family will think that you are in such good spirits because Mrs. Chester now knows that she is a widow.”

“Oh, there is no danger of their thinking anything of that sort,” I said.  “Don’t you suppose they will attribute my good spirits to the fact that the man who took my bicycle to Waterton brought back my big valise, so that I am enabled to look like a gentleman in the parlor?  And then, as he also brought word that my bicycle will be all ready for me to-morrow, don’t you think it is to be expected of me that I should try to make myself as agreeable as possible on this my last evening with all you good friends?”

She shook her head.  “Those excuses will not pass.  You are abnormally cheerful.  My study of you is extremely interesting, but not altogether satisfactory.”