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An Old Meerschaum by David Christie Murray

This our young Barndale would not have believed


Miss

Leland relieved his embarrassment by taking away her brother for a conference respecting the package of certain treasures purchased a day or two before in Venice. The lone one smoked, and lounged, and waited. He tried to read, and gave it up. He strayed down to the harbour, and, finding his servant solemnly mounting guard over his luggage on board the boat, he himself went aboard and in-spected his berth, and chatted with the steward, in whom he discovered an old acquaintance.

But the time went drearily; and Barndale, who was naturally a man to be happy under all sorts of circumstances, suffered all the restlessness, chagrin, and envy with which love in certain of its stages has power to disturb the spirit. He had made up a most heroic mind on this question of Miss Leland some three months ago, and had quite decided that she did not care for him. He wasn't going to break his heart for a woman who didn't care for him. Not he.

If she be not fair for me, What care I how fair she be?

She had made fun of him in her own demure way. He ventured once on a little touch of sentiment, which she never neglected to repeat, when opportunity offered, in his presence. She repeated it with so serious an air, so precisely as if it were an original notion which had just then occurred to her, that Barndale winced under it every time she used it. His mind was quite made up on this matter.

He would go away and forget her. He believed she liked him, in a friendly sisterly sort of way, and that made him feel more hopeless. There were evidences enough to convince you or me, had we been there to watch them, that this young lady was caught in the toils of love quite as inextricably as this young gentleman; but, with the pigheaded obstinacy and stupidity incident to his condition, he declined to see it, and voluntarily betook himself to misery, after the manner of young men in love from time immemorial. A maiden who can be caught without chasing is pretty generally not worth catching; and cynics have been known to say that the pleasure of stalking your bride is perhaps the best part of matrimony. This our young Barndale would not have believed. He believed, rather, that the tender hopes and chilling fears of love were among the chief pains of life, and would have laughed grimly if anyone had prophesied that he would ever look back to them with longing regret. We, who are wiser, will not commiserate but envy this young gentleman, remembering the time when those tender hopes and chilling fears were ours--when we were happier in our miseries than we have now the power to be in our joys.

The Lelands came at last, and Barndale had got the particular form of love's misery which he most coveted. The old gentleman was cordial, the old lady was effusive, the awakener was what he had always been, and Lilian was what she had always been to Barndale--a bewildering maddening witchery, namely, which set him fairly beside himself. Let it not be prejudicial to him in your judgment that you see him for the first time under these foolish circumstances. Under other conditions you would find much to admire in him. Even now, if you have any taste for live statuary, you shall admire this upright six feet two inches of finely-modelled bone and muscle. If manly good-nature can make a handsome sun-browned face pleasant to you, then shall Barndale's countenance find favour in your eyes. Of his manly ways, his good and honest heart, this story will tell you something, though perchance not much. If you do not like Barndale before you part with him, believe me, it is my fault, who tell his story clumsily, and not his. For the lady of his love there might be more to say, if I were one of those clever people who read women. As it is, you shall make your own reading of her, and shall dislike her on your own personal responsibility, or love her for her transparent merits, and for the sake of no stupid analysis of mine.


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