GOOD-BYE—good-bye, Rosina!” cried Jack, giving one last violent wave to his handkerchief. And then he put it back in his pocket, because the crowd upon the deck of the departing Liner had now become a mere blur in the distance, and distant blurs seemed to his practical nature unworthy any further outlay of personal energy. “But oh!” he added, as he and Carter turned to quit the dock, “how the family are just agoing to revel in peace for these next few months! The Milennium!—well, I don’t know!”
“I do not see how you and your Uncle John ever came to let her go off all alone like that,” Carter said, with a gloom that did not try to mask a terrible reproach; “she’ll be so awfully liable to meet some foreigner over there and—and just marry him.” He threw up his cane as he spoke, intending to rap on the boarding by which they were that instant passing.
Jack thrust his own cane out quickly and barred the other with an excellent fencing fente.
“No rapping on wood!” he cried sharply; “not after that speech!—you know!”
Carter turned two astonished eyes friend-ward.
“What do you mean?” he asked; “do you mean to say that you’d stand her marrying any one over there for one minute?”
“Stand it!” said Jack, “would we stand it, did you say? My dear fellow, how plainly you betray the fact that you are in love with Rosina. We,—myself and the family,—on the contrary, live with her. The difference in the two propositions is too tremendous to be quickly grasped by you even, but it is just about the same distance as that between theory and practice.”
“Nonsense!” said Carter, with an air of deep annoyance.
“I’ll tell you how I personally regard Rosina,” Jack went on, paying no attention to the other’s exclamation; “I look upon her as very likely to marry abroad, because I don’t know of but one man at home clever enough to be able to marry her.”
They boarded the ferry then, and went from Hoboken straight back to civilization.
The “Kronprinz” meanwhile was slowly wending her way down the river, past the skyscrapers, and out towards the open sea.
Rosina, already established in her chair, with a mother-of-pearl lorgnette upon her lap and a pair of field-glasses swinging from the card-holder, felt more placidly happy than she had in years. If those left behind who supposed that she was going abroad to get a second husband could but have gazed into her heart, they would have comprehended the utter and complete falsity of their views.
Her year and a half of widowhood had been one long-continued period of quiet ecstasy.
Standing alone in her own room the morning after the funeral, she had made a vow to never marry again.
“Enough is as good as a feast,” she had said, surveying her crape-draped self with a deep sense of satisfaction; “it never approached anything like a feast, but it certainly has taught me to know when I have had enough.”
And then new orders had been issued to every department of her establishment, and a peace approaching Paradise reigned in her heart.
When Carter, in a moment of daring courage, found words in which to unfold the facts of his case, she listened in a spirit of intense wonder that he could really be stupid enough to suppose that she would consider such an idea for a minute.
Carter, his heart jumping wildly about behind his shirt-bosom, thought that her look of amazement was a look of appreciation, and wound himself up to a tension that was quite a strain on the situation.
“I’m going abroad in May,” was her sole response when he had quite finished.
“Oh, my God! don’t go and marry some one over there!” he cried out, in the sudden awful stress of the moment.
“I shall marry no one,” she declared with freezing emphasis. “The very idea! you all seem to think that I am anxious to render myself miserable again; but I assure you that such is very far from being the case.”
Poor Carter was stricken dumb under her lash, but he loved her none the less, for it must be said that there was a certain passionate sweetness in both the bow and quiver of Rosina’s mouth which always took the worst of the sting out of all of her many cruel speeches. And yet that very same bow and quiver were bound to breed a fearful doubt as to the degree of faith which one might be justified in holding in regard to the impregnability of her position. Very likely she herself did firmly intend remaining a widow forever; and yet—
Oh, the thought was unendurable!
Carter refused to endure it anyhow, but for all that the days had moved right along until that worst of days came into being, leaving him on the dock and sending the “Kronprinz” out to sea.
And, if the truth must be told, it is to be feared that if Rosina’s unhappy suitor could have caught a glimpse of her as night fell over that same day’s ending, his sickest doubts would have found food for reflection and consequent misery in her situation, for when Ottillie, the Swiss maid, came up on deck with a great, furred wrap, the most personable man aboard was already installed at her mistress’s side, thanks to a convenient college acquaintance with her dearest of cousins; and the way that the personable man grabbed the cloak from Ottillie and heaped it gently around its owner would have stirred the feelings of any casual lover whose bad luck it might be to happen along just then.
Rosina nestled back into the soft fur folds and smiled a smile of luxurious content.
“I am so thoroughly imbued with utter bliss,” she said; “only to think that I am going where-ever I please, to do what-ever I please, just when-ever I please,—indefinitely.”
“It sounds like Paradise, surely,” said the man, dropping into his own seat and tucking himself up with two deft blows administered to the right and left of his legs; “what do you suppose you’ll do first?”
“I think that I shall do almost everything first,” she answered laughing, and then, taking a long look out upon the twinkles of Fire Island, she sighed deeply and joyfully, and added, “Ah, but I’m going to have a beautiful time!”
The man plunged a hand into his breast-pocket.
“Did you ever smoke a cigarette?” he asked.
“Never!” she exclaimed delightedly; “never till this minute. But will you teach me now?”
He looked at her and laughed, his silver case in his hand.
“You must not go too fast at first, you know. Are you sure that it will not make you ill?”
“Perhaps it isn’t really the first time,” he suggested.
“No, it isn’t really the first time, but it will be the first time in just about one minute.”
He laughed again and held out the case; she took one from it and looked at it in a way that proved her ignorance.
“Does it make any difference which end?”
“Not with that kind.”
“Have I anything to bite, or to pinch, or to poke?”
“No, only something to light.”
“Very well, light the match.”
“I’m so original,” said the man; “you see I say nothing about your eyes.”
“I noticed your thoughtful consideration,” she replied with a smile. “Many thanks. And now the match, please.”
He scratched it somewhere and offered it. The cigarette lit easily, being of a good kind, and the same light did him equal service.
“How do you find it?” he asked presently.
“I find it horrible,” she gasped; “but my husband never would have allowed it, and so I shall go through with it to the bitter—the awfully bitter—other end.”
“Yes,” said Rosina, “I—I was just thinking of that.”
“Are you apt to be seasick?”
“Sometimes I have to lie still a day or two.”
“In your chair?”
“In my berth.”
“Please throw it away at once; I don’t want you to be lying still in your berth a day or two on this voyage, you know.”
There was a very earnest note in his voice; she took the cigarette from between her lips and looked at it meditatively.
“Do throw it overboard immediately,” he begged.
“Oh, I couldn’t.”
“But I entreat!”
Then she began to laugh.
“It isn’t the cigarette that I can’t manage,—it’s the throw!”
He sprang to his feet with one vast and comprehensive untuck.
“A thousand pardons! Give it to me.”
She held it out and he took it to the rail. The offshore breeze was growing into a wind that blew the stars out as fast as they appeared and caused the bosom of the ocean to appear unduly agitated.
“Let us walk about a bit,” he suggested, coming back, and noting a certain vagueness in her expression; “come, it’s the best thing for us both,—exercise, you know.”
She smiled faintly.
“I think so too; if you’ll just unswathe me, please.”
He extricated her, and they made the tour of the deck three times.
“Do you get off at Plymouth?” he asked, when they finally came to a standstill beside their own chairs again.
“No, at Cherbourg.”
“And then Paris?”
“Anywhere I want to.”
“I’m going to Hamburg and then to Berlin; with me it’s a case of business first and pleasure afterwards.”
“Berlin’s a nice place,” she said thoughtfully; “I’ve been there twice.”
“Wouldn’t you enjoy going there again?”
“No.” She shook her head. “No, I don’t believe that I should. You see I went to Berlin both times with my husband, and my present state of mind is such that if I think Berlin will recall my husband to me, I’d rather remain permanently in Cherbourg.”
She stooped and gathered up her rugs preparatory to building a new nest.
“Did you travel much with your husband,” he asked, taking the nest materials from her and sorting them over his arm.
“Yes, I did.” She sat down in the chair. “I travelled a great deal with him; but I intend to travel a great deal more now that I’m without him.”
The man was busy with her cloak and pillows and rugs. They were quite a combination, and the combining was rather a dangerous occupation, the lateness of the hour considered. He lost his head just a little bit.
“You might some day have another,” he suggested in a tone low enough to be thrilling to the thrillable.
Rosina squared herself smilelessly, and the electric deck-light which faced her seat showed up her sobriety in unmistakable colors.
“Watch me!” she said briefly, and her enunciation was clear and very distinct.
Categories: English Literature