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tinue them, try as you will, and no one can efface them from your memory against your wish. But youth will be foolish. And I walked with her in the garden. How intimately we chatted! I have told you that she was distant when I first saw her in the barge. What intoxicated me now was that it should be so different. The jessamine breathed very sweetly to us as we strolled there, and the music sounded from the bright windows of the great house with a softened melody. The warm pressure of her arm in mine seemed to me like something in itself beyond all the marvels of thought. Yes, I took myself very seriously, and my infernal soul turned over within me and would have cried out, but that she was so serene at my side.
After a time we went in. But there was no peace for me. You have felt that? Silly, is it not? What, will you still be offended at me? No matter. The other guests went. Her carriage was to call for her, but it did not come. The hall emptied; but still I stood there with her. She leaned gently against the lowest baluster of the stair, the light from the chandelier reflected in her eyes. The door stood ajar to the warm summer air, and the fragrance of the garden floated in about her.
"You are a thing of utter beauty," I said softly. Eh? Are you surprised that I said that, or that I should tell you about it? Why not do either, or both, if that is your meaning? I have learned something in this life.
She caught her breath for an instant, but that composure did not leave her. "You must not say that," and she tapped my arm gently with her fan.
"And why not," I answered her, "if I love you?"
Then she looked into my eyes. Ah, that old hall, and the memory that it holds!....
Her carriage came. "Eternally," I whispered, and she pressed my hand and was gone in the scent of the jessamine. Some one was coming down the stair-case. I looked up. It was my mother.
We faced each other. Some of the candles had guttered out in the chandelier. The door had closed.
"This is impossible," she said, coolly. I did not answer her; I had lost myself.
"Thomas, you have deceived me.
But I will let that pass.
What do you mean by this, to-night?"
I was too serious with myself to hear that calmly. I do not know what I looked like when I answered her; you can imagine it. "What do you mean by listening then?"
She was perfectly impassive. "I am not accustomed to hearing my son question me. But I may tell you that I was not listening. If you choose to conduct your conversations in the hall, you must run the risk of being overheard."
She did not understand me very well. Mothers who live that slightly faded life of society do not very often understand their sons. She was magnifying my madness; I flared out hotly upon her.
"You have nothing to do with this!" I cried. “It is an affair of my own." It had happened too recently for moderation.
"Yes," she responded, "and a very silly one at that. But from now on it has ceased to be your own. I'll hear no more of it."
She seemed about to go, as if that were final. Of course, I was furious. This was to have been the greatest thing in my life. I was being treated like a school-boy. I would not endure that. Of course I wouldn't.
"It makes no difference whether you will hear of it or not!"
She turned abruptly. "Thomas," she said, "you are eighteen years old. The girl may be sixteen. This is sheer nonsense at your ages. I shall not consider the thing seriously for an instant."
"But it is serious. You can pooh-pooh me all you like. That doesn't change it!" This was very undignified. But I did not realize that.
"You are persistent?"
"Mother, we are engaged!"
She stopped at this. An engagement was something more important. "Thomas, you have been as foolish as that?" I stared at her defiantly. At least, I half-unconsciously described the way I was looking as defiant. Whether it was or not, I don't know. She considered. "This is not only wicked of you towards me, but it is foolish. Have you thought of the girl?"
"We are one," I said. It must have been dramatic.
She sighed. "You must write to her to-morrow, and explain that the thing is quite impossible.
"I have given my word!"
"You are too young to give your word in a thing like this. You will take it back again to-morrow or I shall do it for you."
The affair was going by this time into extravagant heroics. I don't see quite how she could have mis-read the signs so far. But you know how reckless a Southerner is. Two of my friends, no older than myself, had been shot in that same summer in duels. Oh, we were solemn children. I was blazing angry by this time.
“I shall marry her the first thing in the morning," I cried. Then it was that the first look of pain crossed her face. Dear lady! I was slipping from under her hand. She did not know how to hold me. We had never talked to each other like this before. She was frightened, though she controlled her face. But when one is frightened, one cannot carry on a nice diplomacy, so she took refuge in the old weapon, the discipline that is supposed to hold young Americans of the Southern States.
"Thomas, you are more wild than I ever thought. Why do you say such things as that? What will you marry her on?” That, of course, had not occurred to me. "Your father will disinherit you, for a thing like that." I felt that it was true. If she wanted him to, he would.
"I don't care a rap," I flung out. "I can earn my own money." The candles were burning out and it was getting quite dim in the hall. She could not have seen my face very clearly.
"We have had enough of this nonsense, Thomas. Will you write to her to-morrow and tell her that you yielded to a moment's foolishness ?"
"You will, or you will leave this house."
"I shall not remain in this house another night, then."
She believed that she was disciplining me for the best, but it was not easy for her.
"Such a marriage is unthinkable. Marriages made in this way are always disastrous. And Miss Chesley is hardly the lady to rule after me."
"Mother," I said, and I certainly meant it, "I am engaged to be married to Miss Chesley. If you try to prevent it, I shall not sleep under this roof again!" Oh, but I had the high heart of youth. I did not realize that I was hurting her, hurting her,
perhaps, more than she had ever been hurt before.
Because she believed what I said. She paused, making her decision. "It will be disastrous," she murmured, more to herself than to me. Standing at the foot of the stair-case, where the girl had been but a few minutes before, she tapped her foot on the polished flooring. She was very straight and unyielding. "Thomas, you must give this up. For her sake, and for mine."
"Never!" I was resisting her with all my power.
"Then, for your own good, you must be made to. It was not what I had hoped."
"You cannot make me."
She half closed those brilliant eyes of hers. It was in resignation, but I was too young and too angry to appreciate that.
"Thomas, you have heard what I said. To-morrow you will write to her." And she turned and went slowly up the long stair, up, and around, and out of sight. The candles flickered above my head. I wrenched open the door, and ran into the garden. There I was met by the warm odor of the jessamine. These little things of love and hurt pride and egotism-how tremendous they are to young folk who still have souls! I went away.. . . .
It was a quest. Not for money only; I was looking for something within myself that had nothing to do with money. I think that you will understand that very well? Undoubtedly, you, too, are to go back some day and prove them all wrong? Is it not always the same story? Sitting up here with you now, above all these little lights twinkling in the dusk, it is as if I were sitting beside my own self, come back through all the years of life. And they have been full years, too, full of great moments and of many beautiful pictures. None more so, perhaps, than in that time just after I set out on this quest, for I was new to the world then, and all that it holds came upon me with a strange brilliancy. There are many memories-but why recount them all? They live in my mind in snatches; fresh, bright days on the Caribbean when the rail dragged through the white smother to leeward and the fluffy clouds drove by above the straining sails; nights when the stars marched overhead and the phosphorescence flashed beneath the bows; scenes of shore-side quays piled with kegs of rum and dye-wood and bags of raw sugar with negroes sleeping
on them in the sun; curious, slovenly little sea-ports sprawled out beneath the shadow of an old Spanish cathedral, where the palms waved the day long on the white beaches, and where the wine-shops awoke in the cool evening to droning song and perhaps the clashing of a tambourine; the gleam of lantern light on the wet backs of men unloading boxes of muskets through the surf in some lonely little rock-bound cove in the night time; all the snatches here and there of a marvellous life. Yes, I found it hard to make wealth, but not to make adventure. I was a sailor for a time and then a trader and then a gun-runner in the South American wars, and finally, full of high ambitions, I became a soldier fighting in the cause of liberty. And in those wars I found some measure of the truth.
Have you ever heard a bullet clip the bark from a branch overhead, or seen the light that comes into a man's eyes as he drives home the bayonet? Then you might not realize how the mirages of idealism fade away in a rough campaign. Living from day to day on the thinnest threads of chance, trusting yourself to your saddle-leather and your pistol, watching good men whom you have led dying before you, while the powder and dust is still rank in your own mouth, you cannot hold to much beside the moment. I fought and sweated through those American jungles, sleeping at night under the stars, or turning out in the fresh darkness of the very early mornings to stake my life in a quick cavalry raid, and somehow the vision of that girl beneath the stairway grew less bright in my mind, and this toy of liberty or what not with which I was to prove myself before her seemed very little beside the burning necessity for success. Because on the other side of success was death.
The campaign went on, and we won. There was a little town, I have forgotten the name, that our ragged army entered in the heat of a brilliant noon-day. We rode into the public square, under the tower of the cathedral, and the tired horses and men drooped in the empty sunlight. My general drew rein beside me.
"My friend," he said, "we have come so far. You have been admirable. So I am going to let you rest. For I have one more step to take. You will keep this place for me, and before long I shall send for you, and we will drink to the new liberty in the plaza of the Capital."