Chapter III. Confidential
 

Martin Jocelyn awoke with a shiver. He did not remember that he had been dreaming, but a dull pain in his head and a foreboding of heart had at last so asserted themselves as to banish the unconsciousness of sleep. His prospects had even a more sombre hue than the cold gray of the morning. All the false prismatic colors of the previous evening had faded, and no serene, steady light had taken their place. The forced elation was followed--as is ever the case--by a deeper despondency. The face of his sleeping wife was so peaceful, so expressive of her utter unconsciousness of impending disaster, that he could not endure its sight. He felt himself to be in no condition to meet her waking eyes and explain the cause of his fears. A sense of shame that he had been so weak the evening before also oppressed him, and he yielded to the impulse to gain a day before meeting her trusting or questioning gaze. Something might occur which would give a better aspect to his affairs, and at any rate, if the worst must come, he could explain with better grace in the evening than in his present wretched mood, that would prove too sharp a contrast with his recent gayety.

He therefore dressed silently and hastily, and left a note saying that a business engagement required his early departure. "She will have at least one more serene day before the storm," he muttered.

"Now wasn't that kind and thoughtful of papa to let us all sleep late after the company!" said Mrs. Jocelyn to Mildred. "He went away, too, without his breakfast," and in her gentle solicitude she scarcely ate any herself.

But weakly hiding trouble for a day was not kindness. The wife and daughter, who should have helped to take in sail in preparation for the threatened storm, were left unconscious of its approach. They might have noticed that Mr. Jocelyn had been more than usually anxious throughout the spring, but they knew so little of business and its risks, that they did not realize their danger. "Men always worry about their affairs," said Mrs. Jocelyn. "It's a way they have."

Mr. Arnold's visits and manner were much more congenial topics, and as a result of the entire confidence existing between mother and daughter, they dwelt at length on these subjects.

"Mamma," said Mildred, "you must not breathe of it to a soul--not even to papa yet. It would hurt me cruelly to have it known that I think so much of one who has not spoken plainly--that is, in words. I should be blind indeed if I did not understand the language of his eyes, his tones, and manner. And yet, and yet--mamma, it isn't wrong for me to love--to think so much of him before he speaks, is it? Dearly as I--well, not for the world would I seem or even be more forward than a girl should. I fear his people are too proud and rich to recognize us; and--and--he says so little about them. I can never talk to him or any one without making many references to you and papa. I have thought that he even avoided speaking of his family."

"We have not yet been made acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Arnold," said Mrs. Jocelyn meditatively. "It is true we attend the same church, and it was there that Vinton saw you, and was led to seek an introduction. I'm sure we have not angled for him in any indelicate way. You met him in the mission school and in other ways, as did the other young ladies of the church. He seemed to single you out, and asked permission to call. He has been very gentlemanly, but you equally have been the self-respecting lady. I do not think you have once overstepped the line of a proper reserve. It isn't your nature to do such a thing, if I do say it. She is a silly girl who ever does, for men don't like it, and I don't blame them. Your father was a great hunter in the South, Millie, and he has often said since that I was the shyest game he ever followed. But," she added, with a low, sweet laugh, "how I did want to be caught! I can see now," she continued, with a dreamy look back into the past," that it was just the way to be caught, for if I had turned in pursuit of him he would have run away in good earnest. There are some girls who have set their caps for your handsome Mr. Arnold who don't know this. I am glad to say, however, that you take the course you do, not because you know better, but because you are better--because you have not lost in city life the shy, pure nature of the wild flowers that were your early playmates. Vinton Arnold is the man to discover and appreciate this truth, and you have lost nothing by compelling him to seek you in your own home, or by being so reserved when abroad."

While her mother's words greatly reassured Mildred, her fair face still retained its look of anxious perplexity.

"I have rarely met Mrs. Arnold and her daughters," she said; "but even in a passing moment, it seemed as if they tried to inform me by their manner that I did not belong to their world. Perhaps they were only oblivious--I don't know."

"I think that is all," said Mrs. Jocelyn musingly. "We have attended their church only since we came up town. They sit on the further side, in a very expensive pew, while papa thinks we can afford only a side seat near the door. It is evident that they are proud people, but in the matter of birth and good breeding, my dear, I am sure we are their equals. Even when poorer than we are now we were welcomed to the best society of the South. Have no fears, darling. When they come to know you they will be as proud of you as I am."

"Oh, mother, what a sweet prophetess you are! The life you suggest is so beautiful, and I do not think I could live without beauty. He is so handsome and refined, and his taste is so perfect that every association he awakens is refined and high-toned. It seems as if my--as if he might take out of my future all that is hard and coarse--all that I shrink from even in thought. But, mamma, I wish he were a wee bit stronger. His hands are almost as white and small as mine; and then sometimes he is so very pale."

"Well, Millie, we can't have everything. City life and luxury are hard on young men. It would be better for them if they tramped the woods more with a gun, as your father did. There was a time when papa could walk his thirty miles a day and ride fifty. But manly qualities may be those of the mind as well as of muscle. I gather from what Mr. Arnold says that his health never has been very good; but you are the one of all the world to pet him. and take care of him. Most of the fashionable girls of his set would want to go here and there all the time, and would wear him out with their restlessness. You would be happier at home."

"Indeed I would, mamma. Home, and heaven, are words that to me are near akin."

"I'm glad you are in such a fair way to win the home, but not heaven I trust for a long time yet. Let us think of the home first. While I would not for the world wish you to do a thing which the strictest womanly delicacy did not permit, there are some things which we can do that are very proper indeed. Mr. Arnold has an eye for beauty as well as yourself, and he is accustomed to see ladies well dressed. He noticed your toilet last night as well as your face, and his big brown eyes informed me that he thought it very pretty. I intend that you shall appear as well as the best of them at Saratoga, and what we cannot afford in expensive fabrics we must make up in skill and taste. Luckily, men don't know much about the cost of material. They see the general effect only. A lady is to them a finished picture, and they never think of inventorying the frame, canvas, and colors as a woman does. For quarter of the money I'll make you appear better than his sisters. So get your things, and we'll begin shopping at once, for such nice work requires time."

They were soon in the temples of fashion on Broadway, bent upon carrying out their guileless conspiracy. Nevertheless their seemingly innocent and harmless action was wretched folly. They did not know that it raised one more barrier between them and all they sought and hoped, for they were spending the little money that might save them from sudden and utter poverty.