[Eva Van Arsdel to Isabel Convers.]

My dearest Belle:—Since I last wrote you wondrous things have taken place, and of course I must keep you au courant.

In the first place Mr. Sydney came back to our horizon like a comet in a blaze of glory. The first harbinger of his return was not himself in propriâ, but cards for a croquet fête up at Clairmont got up with the last degree of elegance.

Mr. Sydney, it appears, understands the effect of a gilded frame to set off a picture, and so resolved to manifest himself to us in all his surroundings at Clairmont.

The party was to be very select and recherché, and of course everybody was just wild to go, and the Elmores in particular were on the qui vive to know if we had invitations before them. Sophia Elmore called down for nothing but to see. We had all the satisfaction there was to be got in showing her our cards and letting her know that they had come two days sooner than theirs. Aunt Maria contrived to give them to understand that Mr. Sydney gave the entertainment mostly on my account, which I think was assuming quite too much in the case. I am positively tired of these mean little rivalries and these races that are run between families.

It is thought that Sophia Elmore is quite fascinated by Mr. Sydney. Sophia is a nice, spirited girl, with a good, generous heart as I believe, and it's a thousand pities she shouldn't have him if she cares for him.

But, to my story. You may imagine the fuss at Tullegig's. Of course we belong to the class who live in the enjoyment of "nothing to wear," and the first result of a projected entertainment is to throw us all on our knees before Tullegig, who queens it over us accordingly.

I was just dying to find out if a certain person was to be there. Of late our intercourse has been so very stately and diplomatic that it really becomes exciting. He has avoided every appearance of intimacy, every approach to our old confidential standing, and yet apparently for the life of him cannot keep from taking views of me at safe distance; so, as I said, it was something to see if he would be there.

As to Clairmont, I think in the course of my life I have seen fine grounds, fine houses, fine furniture, and fine fêtes before. Nevertheless I must do Sydney the justice to say that he gave a most charming and beautiful entertainment where everything was just as lovely as could be. We went up on a splendid boat to the sound of music. We had a magnificent lunch under the trees, and there were arrangements for four games to go on at once, which made a gay and animated tableau. All the girls wore the prettiest costumes you can imagine, each one seeming prettier than the other; and when they were all moving about in the game it made a bright, cheerful effect. Mr. Henderson was there and distinguished himself to such a degree that he was appointed one of the four who were to play a match-game, in conclusion, for a prize. Curiously enough he played with Sophia against Sydney and myself. How we did fight! Sophie is one of these girls that feel everything to the tips of their fingers, and I am another, and if we didn't make those men bestir themselves! I fancy they found women rulers were of a kind to keep men pretty busy.

I can imagine the excitement we women would make of an election if we should ever get into politics. Would we not croquet our adversaries' balls, and make stunning split-shots in parties, and wire ourselves artfully behind wickets, and do all sorts of perplexing things? I confess if the excitement should get to be half as great as in playing croquet, I should tremble to think of it.

Well, it was some excitement at all events to play against each other, he and I. Didn't I seek out his ball, didn't I pursue it, beat it back from wickets, come on it with most surprising and unexpected shots? Sophie fought with desperation on the other side, and at last they seemed to have carried the day, there was but one stroke wanting to put them out; they had killed Sydney at the stake and banished me to the farthest extremity of the ground. Mamma always said I had the genius for emergencies, and if you'll believe me I struck quite across the ground and hit Sophie's ball and sent it out, and then I took his back to make my two last wickets with, and finally with an imposing coup de théâtre I croqueted him to the other end of the ground, and went out amid thunders of applause. He took it with great presence of mind, knelt down and laid the mallet handsomely at my feet, and professed to deliver himself captive, and I imposed it on him as a task to write a ballad descriptive of the encounter. So he was shut up for about half an hour in the library, and came out with a very fine and funny ballad in Chevy Chase measure describing our exploits, which was read under the trees, and cheered and encored in the liveliest manner possible.

On the whole, Mr. Henderson may be said to have had quite a society success yesterday, as I heard him very much admired, and the Elmores overwhelmed him with pressing invitations to call, to come to their soirées, etc., etc. You see these Elmores have everything money can buy, and so they are distracted to be literary, or at least to have literary people in their train, and they have always been wanting to get Henderson and Jim Fellows to their receptions. So I heard Mrs. Elmore overwhelming him with compliments on his poem in a way that quite amused me, for I knew enough of him to know exactly how all this seemed to him. He is of all persons one of the most difficult to flatter, and has the keenest sense of the ridiculous; and Mrs. Elmore's style is as if one should empty a bushel basket of peaches or grapes on your head instead of passing the fruit dish.

But I am so busy traducing my neighbors that I forgot to say I won the croquet prize, which was duly presented. It was a gold croquet mallet set as a pin with four balls of emerald, amethyst, ruby, and topaz depending from it. It had quite an Etruscan effect and was very pretty, but when I saw how much Sophia really took the defeat to heart, my soul was moved for her and I made a peace-offering by getting her to accept it. It was not easy at first, but I made a point of it and insisted upon it with all my logic, telling her that in point of skill she had really won the game, that my last stroke was only a lucky accident, and you know I can generally talk people into almost anything I set my heart on, and so as Sophie was flattered by my estimate of her skill and as the bauble is a pretty one, I prevailed on her to take it. I am tired and sick of this fuss between the Elmores and us, and don't mean to have more of it, for Sophie really is a nice girl, and not a bit more spoiled than any of the rest of us, notwithstanding all the nonsense of her family, and she and I have agreed to be fast friends for the future, whatever may come.

I had one other motive in this move. I never have accepted jewelry from Sydney, and I was quite willing to be rid of this. If I could only croquet his heart down to Sophie to use, it might be a nice thing. I fancy she would like it.

I managed my cards quite adroitly all day to avoid a tête-à-tête interview with Sydney. I was careful always to be in the center of a group of two or three, and when he asked me to walk through the conservatories with him I said, "Come, Amy and Jane," and took them along.

As to somebody else, he made no attempt of the kind, though I could see that he saw me wherever I went. Do these creatures suppose we don't see their eyes, and fancy that they conceal their feelings? I am perfectly certain that whatever the matter is, he thinks as much of me as ever he did.

Well, it was moonlight and music all the way home, the band playing the most heart-breaking, entrancing harmonies from Beethoven and melodies from Schubert, and then Wat Sydney annoyed me beyond measure by keeping up a distracting chit-chat when I wanted to be quiet and listen. He cares nothing for music, and people who don't are like flies, they have no mercy and never will leave you a quiet moment. The other one went off and sat by himself, gazed at the moon and heard the music all in the most proper and romantic style, and looked like a handsome tenor at an opera.

So far, my dear, the history of our affairs. But something more surprising than ever you heard has just happened, and I must hasten to jot it down.

Yesterday afternoon, being worried and wearied with the day before, I left your letter, as you see, and teased Ida to go out driving with me in the Park. She had promised Effie St. Clere to sketch some patterns of arbors and garden seats that are there, for her new place at Fern Valley, and I had resolved on a lonely ramble to clear my heart and brain.

Moreover, the last time I was there I saw from one of the bridges a very pretty cascade falling into a charming little wooded lake in the distance. I resolved to go in search of this same cascade which is deep in a shady labyrinth of paths.

Well, it was a most lovely perfect day, and we left our carriage at the terrace and started off for our ramble, Ida with her sketch-book in hand. She was very soon hard at work at a rustic summer-house while I plunged into a woody tangle of paths guided only by the distant sound of the cascades. It was toward evening and the paths seemed quite solitary, for I met not a creature. I might really have thought I was among the ferns and white birches up in Conway, or anywhere in the mountains, it was so perfectly mossy and wild and solitary. A flock of wild geese seemed to be making an odd sort of outlandish noise, far in a deep, dark tangle of bushes, and it appeared to me to produce the impression of utter solitude more than anything else. Evidently it was a sort of wild lair seldom invaded. I still heard the noise of the cascade through a thicket of leaves, but could not get a sight of it. Sometimes it seemed near and sometimes far off, but at last I thought I hit upon a winding path that seemed to promise to take me to it. It wound round a declivity and I could tell by the sound I was approaching the water. I was quite animated and ran forward till a sudden turn brought me to the head of the cascade where there was a railing and one seat, and as I came running down I saw suddenly a man with a book in his hand sitting on this seat, and it was Mr. Henderson.

He rose up when he saw me and looked pale, but an expression of perfectly rapturous delight passed over his face as I checked myself astonished.

"Miss Van Arsdel!" he said. "To what happy fate do I owe this good fortune!"

I recovered myself and said that "I was not aware of any particular good fortune in the case."

"Not to you, perhaps," he said, "but to me. I have seen nothing of you for so long," he added, rather piteously.

"There has been nothing that I am aware of to prevent your seeing me," I said. "If Mr. Henderson chooses to make himself strange to his friends it is his own affair." He looked confused and murmured something about "many engagements and business."

"Mr. Henderson, you will excuse me," said I, resolved not to have this sort of thing go on any longer. "You have always been treated at our house as an intimate and valued friend; of late you seem to prefer to act like a ceremonious stranger."

"Indeed, you mistake me, entirely, Miss Van Arsdel," he said, eagerly. "You must know my feelings; you must appreciate my reasons; you see why I cannot and ought not."

"I am quite in the dark as to both," I said. "I cannot see any reason why we should not be on the old footing, I am sure. You have acted of late as if you were afraid to meet me; it is all perfectly unaccountable to me. Why should you do so? What reason can there be?"

"Because," he said, with a sort of desperation, "because I love you, Miss Van Arsdel. Because I always shall love you too well to associate with you as the wife or betrothed bride of another man."

"There is no occasion you should, Mr. Henderson. I am not, so far as I understand, either wife or betrothed to any man," I said.

He looked perfectly thunderstruck.

"Yet I heard it from the best authority."

"From what authority?" said I, "for I deny it."

"Your mother."

"My mother?" I was thunderstruck in my turn; here it was to be sure. Poor mamma! I saw through the whole mystery.

"Your mother told me," he went on, "that there was a tacit engagement which was to be declared on Mr. Sydney's return, and cautioned me against an undue intimacy."

"My mother," I said, "has done her utmost to persuade me to this engagement. I refused Mr. Sydney out and out in the beginning. She persuaded me to allow him to continue his attentions in hope of changing my mind, but it never has changed."

He grew agitated and spoke very quickly.

"Oh, tell me, Miss Van Arsdel, if I may hope for success in making the same effort?"

"I shouldn't be surprised if you might," said I.

There followed a sort of electric flash and a confusion of wild words after this—really my dear I cannot remember half what he said—only the next I knew, somehow, we were walking arm in arm together.

"What a talk we had, and what a walk up and down those tangled alleys! going over everything and explaining everything. It was a bright long twilight and the great silver moon rose upon us while yet we were talking. After a while I heard Ida calling up and down the paths for me. She came up and met us with her sketch-book under her arm."

"Ida, we're engaged, Harry and I," I said.

"So I thought," she said, looking at us kindly and stretching out both hands.

I took one and he the other.

"Do you think I have any chance with your parents?" asked Harry.

"I think," said Ida, "that you will find trouble at first, but you may rely on Eva, she will never change; but we must go home."

"Yes," said I, "it would not do to introduce the matter by getting up a domestic alarm and sending a party to drag the lake for us; we must drive home in a peaceable, orderly manner," and so, it being agreed among us that I should try my diplomatic powers on mamma first, and Harry should speak to papa afterward, we drove home.

Well, now Belle, it is all over—the mystery I mean; and the struggle with the powers, that bids to begin. How odd it is that marriage, which is a thing of all others most personal and individual, is a thing where all your friends want you to act to please them!

Mamma probably in her day felt toward papa just as I feel, but I am sure she will be drowned in despair that I cannot see Wat Sydney with her eyes, and that I do choose to see Harry with mine. But it isn't mamma that is to live with him, it is I; it is my fearful venture for life, not hers. I am to give the right to have and to hold me till life's end. When I think of that I wonder I am not afraid to risk it with any man, but with him I am not. I know him so intimately and trust him so entirely.

What a laugh I gave him last night, telling him how foolishly he had acted; he likes to have me take him off, and seemed perfectly astonished that I had had the perspicuity to read his feelings. These men, my dear, have a kind of innocent stupidity in matters of this kind that is refreshing!

Well, if I am not mistaken, there was one blissful individual sent home in New York last night, notwithstanding the terrors of the 'stern parents,' that are yet to be encountered.

How I do chatter on! Well, my dear Belle, you see I have kept my word. I always told you that I would let you know when I was engaged, the very first of any one, and now here it is. You may make the most of it and tell whom you please, for I shall never change. I am as firm as Ben Lomond.

Ever your loving


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