Now I advise all serious, sensible individuals who never intend to do anything that is not exactly most reasonable and most prudent, and who always do exactly as they intend, not to follow my steps on the present occasion, for I am going to do exactly what is not to be recommended to young gentlemen in my situation, and certainly what is not at all prudent.

For if a young man finds himself without recall, hopelessly in love with one whose smiles are all for another, his best way is to keep out of her society, and in a course of engrossing business that will leave him as little time to think of her as possible.

I had every advantage for pursuing this course, for I had a press of writing upon me, finishing up a batch of literary job-work which I wished to get fairly out of the way so that I might give my whole energies to Bolton in our new enterprise. In fact, to go off philandering to a croquet party up the North River was a sheer piece of childish folly, and the only earthly reason I could really give for it was the presence of a woman there that I had resolved to avoid. In fact I felt that the thing was so altogether silly that I pretended to myself that I was impregnably resolved against it, and sat myself down in Bolton's room making abstracts from some of his books, knowing all the while that Jim would seek me out there and have his moral fish-hook fast in my coat collar, as in truth he did.

"Come, come, Hal," he said, bursting in, "I promised the divinest of her sex to bring you along."

"Oh nonsense, Jim! it's out of the question," said I. "I've got to get this article done."

"Oh, you be hanged with your article, come along! What's the use of a fellow's shutting himself up with books? I tell you, Hal, if you're going to write for folks you must see folks and folks must see you, and you must be around and into and a part of all that's going on. Come on! Why, you don't know the honor done you. Its a tip-top select party, and all the handsomest girls and all the nobby fellows will be there, and no end of fun. Sydney's place alone is worth going to see. Its the crack place on the river; and then they say the engagement is going to be declared, and everybody is wild to know whether it is or isn't to be, and the girls are furbishing up fancy suits to croquet in. Miss Alice treated me to a glimpse of hers as I met her on Tullegig's steps, and its calculated to drive a fellow crazy, and so come now," said Jim, pulling away my papers and laying hold of me, "let's go out and get some gloves and proceed to make ourselves up. We have the press to represent, and we must be nobby, so hang expense! here's for Jouvin's best, and let to-morrow take care of itself."

Now, seconding all these temptations was that perverse inclination that makes every man want to see a little more and taste a little more of what he has had too much already. Moreover I wanted to see Eva and Wat Sydney together. I wanted to be certain and satisfy myself with my own eyes, not only that they were engaged but that she was in love with him. If she be, said I to myself, she is certainly an exquisite coquette and a dangerous woman for me to keep up an acquaintance with.

In thinking over as I had done since Mrs. Van Arsdel's motherly conversation, all our intercourse and acquaintance with each other, her conduct sometimes seemed to me to be that of a veritable "Lady Clara Vere de Vere," bent on amusing herself, and diversifying the tedium of fashionable life by exciting feelings which she had no thought of returning. When I took this view of matters I felt angry and contemptuous and resolved to show the fair lady that I could be as indifferent as she. Sometimes I made myself supremely wretched by supposing that it was by her desire that Mrs. Van Arsdel had held the conversation with me, and that it was a sort of intimation that she had perceived my feelings, and resolved to put a decided check upon them. But of course nothing so straightforward and sensible as going to her for an explanation of all this was to be thought of. In fact our intercourse with one another ever since the memorable occasion I refer to had been daily lessening, and now was generally limited to passing the most ordinary common-places with each other. She had grown cold and dry, almost haughty, and I was conscious of a most unnatural rigidity and constraint. It seemed to me sometimes astonishing when I looked back a little, to reflect how perfectly easy and free and unconstrained we always had been up to a certain point, to find that now we met with so little enjoyment, talked and said so little to any purpose. It was as if some evil enchanter had touched us with his wand stiffening every nerve of pleasure. To look forward to meeting her in society was no longer, as it had been, to look forward to delightful hours; and yet for the life of me I could not help going where this most unsatisfactory, tantalizing intercourse was all I had to hope for.

But to-day, I said to myself, I would grasp the thorns of the situation so firmly as to break them down and take a firm hold on reality. If, indeed, her engagement were to-day to be declared, I would face the music like a man, walk up to her and present my congratulations in due form, and then the acquaintance would make a gallant finale in the glare of wedding lamps and the fanfaronade of wedding festivities, and away to fresh fields and pastures new.

In short, whatever a man is secretly inclined to do there are always a hundred sensible incontrovertible reasons to be found for doing, and so I found myself one of the gay and festive throng on board the steamer. A party of well-dressed people floating up the North River of a bright Spring day is about as ideal a picture of travel as can be desired. In point of natural scenery the Rhine is nothing compared with the Hudson, and our American steamboats certainly are as far ahead of any that ever appeared on the Rhine as Aladdin's palace is ahead of an ordinary dwelling. The most superb boat on the river had been retained for the occasion, and a band of music added liveliness to the scene as we moved off from the wharf in triumph, as gay, glittering, festive a company as heart could wish.

Wat Sydney as host and entertainer was everywhere present, making himself agreeable by the most devoted attentions to the comfort of the bright band of tropical birds, fluttering in silks and feathers and ribbons, whom he had charge of for the day. I was presented to him by Jim Fellows, and had an opportunity to see that apart from his immense wealth he had no very striking personal points to distinguish him from a hundred other young men about him. His dress was scrupulously adjusted, with a care and nicety which showed that he was by no means without consideration of the personal impression he made. Every article was the choicest and best that the most orthodox fashionable emporiums pronounced the latest thing, or as Jim Fellows phrased it, decidedly "nobby." He was of a medium height, with very light hair and eyes, and the thin complexion which usually attends that style, and which, under the kind of exposure incident to a man's life, generally tends to too much redness of face.

Altogether, my first running commentary on the man as I shook hands with him was, that if Eva were in love with him it was not for his beauty; yet I could see glances falling on him on all sides from undeniably handsome eyes that would have excused any man for having a favorable conceit of his own personal presence.

Mr. Sydney was well accustomed to being the cynosure of female eyes, and walked the deck with the assured step of a man certain of pleasing. A rich good-humored young man who manifests himself daily in splendid turn-outs, who rains down flowers and confectionery among his feminine acquaintances, and sends diamonds and pearls as philopœna presents, certainly does not need a romantic style of beauty or any particular degree of mental culture to make his society more than acceptable. Prudent mammas were generally of opinion that the height of felicity for a daughter would be the position that should enable her to be the mistress and dictatrix of his ample fortune. Mr. Sydney was perfectly well aware of this state of things. He was a man a little blasé with the kind attentions of matrons, and tolerably secure of the good-will of very charming young ladies. He had the prestige of success, and had generally carried his points in the world of men and things. Miss Eva Van Arsdel had been the first young lady who had given him the novel sensation of a repulse, and thenceforth became an object of absorbing interest in his eyes. Under the careless good-humor of his general appearance Sydney had a constitutional pertinacity, a persistence in his own way that had been a source of many of his brilliant successes in business. He was one of those whom obstacles and difficulties only stimulate, and whose tenacity of purpose increases with resistance. He was cautious, sagacious, ready to wait and watch and renew the attack at intervals, but never to give up. To succeed was a tribute to his own self-esteem, and whatever was difficult of attainment was the more valuable.

A little observation during the course of the first hour convinced me that there was as yet no announcement of an engagement. Mrs. Van Arsdel and Aunt Maria Wouvermans, to be sure, were on most balmy and confidential terms with Mr. Sydney, addressing him with every appearance of mysterious intimacy, and quite willing to produce the impression that the whole fête was in some manner a tribute to the family, but these appearances were not carried out by any coöperative movements on the part of Eva herself. She appeared radiant in a fanciful blue croquet suit which threw out to advantage the golden shade of her hair, and the pink sea-shell delicacy of her cheek, and as usual she had her court around her and was managing her circle with the address of a practiced habituée of society.

"Favors to none, to all, she smiles extends,

Oft she rejects, but never once offends.

Bright as the sun, her beams the gazers strike,

And like the sun, they smile on all alike."

Unlike many of her sex, Eva had the faculty of carrying the full cup of bellehood without spilling an unseemly drop, and as she was one of those who seem to have quite as much gift in charming her feminine as her masculine acquaintances, she generally sat surrounded by an admiring body-guard of girls who laughed at her jests and echoed her bon mots and kept up a sort of radiant atmosphere of life and motion and gayety around her. Her constitutional good-nature, her readiness to admire other people, and to help each in due season to some small portion of the applause and admiration which is lying about loose for general circulation in society, all contributed to her popularity. As I approached the circle they were discussing with great animation the preliminaries of a match game of croquet that was proposed to be played at Clairmont to-day.

"Oh, here comes Mr. Henderson! let's ask him," she said, as I approached the circle.

"Don't you think it will be a nice thing?" she said. "Mr. Sydney has arranged that after playing the first games as a trial the four best players shall be elected to play a match game, two on each side."

"I think it will vary the usual monotony of croquet," said I.

"Hear him," she said, gaily, "talk of the usual monotony of croquet! For my part I think there is a constant variety to it, no two games are ever alike."

"To me," I said, "it seems that after a certain amount of practice the result is likely to be the same thing, game after game."

"Girls," she said, "I perceive that Mr. Henderson is used to carrying all before him. He is probably a champion player who will walk through all the wickets as a matter of course."

"Not at all," I said. "On the contrary I shouldn't wonder if I should 'booby' hopelessly at the very first wicket."

"And none the worse for that," said Sydney. "I've boobied three times running, in the first of a game, and yet beaten; it gets one's blood up, and one will beat."

"For my part," said Miss Alice, "the more my blood is up the less I can do; if I get excited I lose my aim, my hand trembles, and I miss the very simplest move."

"I think there is nothing varies so much as one's luck in croquet," said Eva. "Sometimes for weeks together I am sure to hit every aim and to carry every wicket, and then all of a sudden, without rhyme or reason, I make the most absurd failures, and generally when I pique myself on success."

"I think, Miss Eva, I remember you as the best player in Newport last Summer," said Mr. Sydney.

"And likely as not I shall fail ingloriously to-day," said she.

"Well, we shall all have a time for bringing our hands in," said Mr. Sydney. "I have arranged four croquet grounds, and the fifth one is laid out for the trial game with longer intervals and special difficulties in the arrangement, to make it as exciting as possible. The victorious side is to have a prize."

"Oh, how splendid! What is the prize to be? was the general exclamation."

"Behold, then!" said Mr. Sydney, drawing from his pocket a velvet case which when opened displayed a tiny croquet mallet wrought in gold and set as a lady's pin. Depending from it by four gold chains were four little balls of emerald, ruby, amethyst, and topaz.

"How perfectly lovely! how divine! how beautiful!" were the sounds that arose from the brilliant little circle that were in a moment precipitated upon the treasure.

"You will really set them all by the ears, Mr. Sydney," said Mrs. Van Arsdel. "Croquet of itself is exciting enough; one is apt to lose one's temper."

"You ought to see mamma and Mrs. Van Duzen and Aunt Maria play," said Eva, "if you want to see an edifying game, it's too funny. They are all so polite and so dreadfully courtly and grieved to do anything disagreeable to each other, and you know croquet is such a perfectly selfish, savage, unchristian game; so when poor Mrs. Van Duzen is told that she ought to croquet mamma's ball away from the wicket, the dear lady, is quite ready to cry and declares that it would be such a pity to disappoint her, that she croquets her through her wicket, and looks round apologizing for her virtues with such a pitiful face! 'Indeed, my dear, I couldn't help it!'"

"Well," said Mrs. Van Arsdel, "I really think it is too bad when a poor body has been battering and laboring at a difficult wicket to be croqueted back a dozen times."

"It's meant for the culture of Christian patience, mamma," said Eva. "Croquet is the game of life, you see."

"Certainly," said Mr. Sydney, rubbing his hands, "and it teaches you just how to manage, use your friends to help yourself along, and then croquet them into good positions; use your enemies as long as you want them, and then send them to——."

"The devil," said Jim Fellows, who never hesitated to fill up an emphatic blank in the conversation.

"I didn't say that," said Mr. Sydney.

"But you meant it, all the same; and that's the long and the short of the philosophy of the game of life," said Jim.

"And" said I, "one may read all sorts of life-histories in the game. Some go on with a steady aim and true stroke, and make wickets, and hit balls, yet are croqueted back ingloriously or hopelessly wired and lose the game, while others blunder advantageously and are croqueted along by skillful partners into all the best places."

"There are few of us girls that make our own wickets in life," said Eva. "We are all croqueted along by papas and mammas."

"And many a man is croqueted along by a smart wife," said Sydney.

"But more women by smart husbands," said Mrs. Van Arsdel.

On that there was a general exclamation, and the conversation forthwith whisked into one of those animated whirlwinds that always arise when the comparative merits of the sexes are moved. There was a flutter of ribbons and a rustle of fans and a laughing cross-fire of sharp sayings, till the whole was broken up by the announcement that we were drawing near the landing.

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