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   Chapter 12 TWO MISTAKES.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 11939

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


At the singing-school and at the church August waited as impatiently as possible for some sign of recognition from Julia. He little knew the fear that beset her. Having seen her hysterical mother prostrated for weeks by the excitement of a dispute with her father, it seemed to her that if she turned one look of love and longing toward young Wehle, whose sweet German voice rang out above the rest in the hymns, she might kill her mother as quickly as by plunging a knife into her heart. The steam-doctor, who was the family physician, had warned her and her father separately of the danger of exciting Mrs. Anderson's most excitable temper, and now Julia was the slave of her mother's disease. That lucky hysteria, which the steam-doctor thought a fearful heart-disease, had given Mrs. Abigail the whip-hand of husband and daughter, and she was not slow to know her advantage, using her heart in a most heartless way.

August could not blame Julia for not writing, for he had tried to break the blockade by a letter sent through Jonas and Cynthy Ann, but the latter had found herself so well watched that the note oppressed her conscience and gave a hangdog look to her face for two weeks before she got it out of her pocket, and then she put it under the pillow of Julia's bed, and had reason to believe that the suspicious Mrs. Anderson confiscated it within five minutes. For the severity of maternal government was visibly increased thereafter, and Julia received many reminders of her ingratitude and of her determination to kill her self-sacrificing mother by her stubbornness.

"Well," Mrs. Anderson would say, "it's all one to me whether the world comes to an end or not. I should like to live to see the day of judgment. But I shan't. No affectionate mother can stand such treatment as I receive from my own daughter. If Norman was only at home!"

It is proper to explain here that Norman was her son, in whom she took a great deal of comfort when he was away, and whom she would have utterly spoiled by indulgence if he had not been born past spoiling. He was the only person to whom she was indulgent, and she was indulgent to him chiefly because he was so weak of will that there was not much glory in conquering him, and because her indulgence to him was a rod of affliction to the rest of her family.

Failing to open communication through Jonas and Cynthy Ann, August found himself in a desperate strait, and with an impatience common to young men he unhappily had recourse to Betsey Malcolm. She often visited Julia, and twice, when Julia was not at meeting, he went home with the ingenuous Betsey, who always pretended to have something to tell him "about Jule," and who yet, for the pure love of mischief-making, tried to make him think as poorly as possible of Julia's sincerity, and who, from pure love of flirtation, puckered her red lips, and flashed at him with her sensuous eyes, and sighed and blushed, or rather flushed, while she sympathized with him in a way that might have been perilous if he had been an American instead of a constant-hearted "Dutchman," wholly absorbed with the image of Julia. But, so far as carrying messages was concerned, Betsey was certainly a non-conductor. She professed never to be able to run the blockade with any communication of his. She said to herself that she wasn't going to help Jule Anderson to keep all the beaus. She meant to capture one or the other of them if she could. And, indeed, she did not dream how grievous was the wrong she did. For she could appreciate no other feeling in the matter than vanity, and she could not see any particular harm in "taking Jule Anderson down a peg." And so she assured the anxious and already suspicious August that if she was in his place she should want that singing-master out of the way. "Some girls can't stand people that wear jewelry and mustaches and straps and such things. And Mr. Humphreys is very careful of her, won't let her sit too late on the porch, and is very comforting in his way of talking to her. And she seems to like it. I tell you what it is, Gus "--and she looked at him so bewitchingly that the pure and sensitive August blushed, he could hardly tell why--"I tell you Jule's a nice girl, and got a nice property back of her, and I hope she won't act like her mother. And, indeed, I can't hardly believe she will, though the way she eyes that Humphreys makes me mad." She had suggested the old doubt. A doubt is dangerous when its face grows familiar, and one recognizes the "Monsieur Tonson come again."

And all the message the disinterested and benevolent Betsey bore to Julia was to tell her exultingly that Gus had twice walked home with her. And they had had such a nice time! And Julia, girl that she was, declared indignantly that she didn't care whom he went with; though she did care, and her eyes and face said so. Thus the tongue sometimes lies--or seems to lie--when the whole person is telling the truth. The only excuse for the tongue is that it will not be believed, and it knows that it will not be believed! It only speaks diplomatically, maybe. But diplomatic talking is bad. Better the truth. If Jule had known that her words would be reported to August, she would have bitten out her tongue rather than to have let it utter words that were only the cry of her wounded pride. Of course Betsey met August in the road the next morning, in a quiet hollow by the brook, and told him, sympathizingly, almost affectionately, that she had begun to talk to Julia about him, and that Jule had said she didn't care. So while Julia uttered a lie she spoke the truth, and while. Betsey uttered the truth she spoke a lie, willful, malicious, and wicked.

Now, in the mean time, Julia, on her side, had tried to open communication through the only channel that offered itself. She did not attempt it by means of Betsey, because, being a woman, she felt instinctively that Betsey was not to be trusted. But there was

only one other to whom she was allowed to speak, except under a supervision as complete as it was unacknowledged. That other was Mr. Humphreys. He evinced a constant interest in her affairs, avowing that he always did have a romantic desire to effect the union of suitable people, even though it might pain his heart a little to see another more fortunate than himself. Julia had given up all hope of communicating by letter, and she could not bring herself to make any confessions to a man who had such a smile and such eyes, but to a generous proposition of Mr. Humphreys that he should see August and open the way for any communication between them, she consented, scarcely concealing her eagerness.

August was not in a mood to receive Humphreys kindly. He hated him by intuition, and a liking for him had not been begotten by Betsey's assurances that he was making headway with Julia. August was riding astride a bag of corn on his way to mill, when Humphreys, taking a walk, met him.

"A pleasant day, Mr. Wehle!"

"Yes," said August, with a courtesy as mechanical as Humphreys's smile.

The singing-master was rather pleased than otherwise to see that August disliked him. It suited his purpose, just now to gall Wehle into saying what he would not otherwise have said.

"I hear you are in trouble," he proceeded.

"How so?"

"Oh! I hear that Mrs. Anderson doesn't like Dutchmen." The smile now seemed to have something of a sneer in it.

"I don't know that that is your affair," said August, all his suspicions, by a sort of "resolution of force," changing into anger.

"Oh! I beg pardon," with a tone half-mocking. "I did not know but I might help settle matters. I think I have Mrs. Anderson's confidence; and I know that I have Miss Anderson's confidence in an unusual degree. I think a great deal of her. And she thinks me her friend at least. I thought that there might be some little matters yet unsettled between you two, and she suggested that maybe there might be something you would like to say, and that if you would say it to me, it would be all the same as if it were said to her. She considers that in the relation I bear to her and the family, a message delivered to me is the same in effect as if given to her. I told her I did not think you would, as a gentleman, wish to hold her to any promises that might be irksome to her now."

These words were spoken with a coolness and maliciousness of good-nature quite devilish, and August's fist involuntarily doubled itself to strike him, if only to make him cease smiling in that villainous rectangular way. But he checked himself.

"You are a puppy. Tell that to Jule, if you choose. I shall send her a release from all obligations, but not by the hand of a rascal!"

Like all desperadoes, Humphreys was a coward. He could shoot, but he could not fight, and just now he was affecting the pious or at least the high moral role, and had left his pistols, brandy-flasks, and the other necessary appurtenances of a gentleman, locked in his trunk. Besides it would not at all have suited his purpose to shoot. So in lieu of shooting he only smiled, as August rode off, that same old geometric smile, the elements of which were all calculated. He seemed incapable of any other facial contortion. It expressed one emotion, indeed, about as well as another, and was therefore as convenient as those pocket-knives which affect to contain a chest of tools in one.

"TELL THAT TO JULE."

Julia was already stung to jealousy by Betsey Malcolm's mischief-making, and it did not require much more to put her into a frenzy. As they walked home from meeting the next night--they had meeting all nights now, the world would soon end and there was so much to be done--as they walked home Humphreys contrived to separate Julia from the rest, and to tell her that he had had a conversation with young Wehle.

"It was painful, very painful," he said, "I think I had better not say any more about it."

"Why?" asked Julia in terror.

"Well, I feel that your grief is mine. I have never felt so much interest in any one before, and I must say that I was grievously disappointed. This young man is not at all worthy of you."

"What do you mean?" And there was a trace of indignation in her tone.

"It does seem to me that the man who has your love should be the happiest in the world; but he refused to send you any message, and says that he will soon send you an entire release from all engagement to him. He showed no tenderness and made no inquiry."

The weakest woman and the strongest can faint. It is a woman's last resort. When all else is gone, that remains. Julia drew a sharp quick breath, and was just about to become unconscious. Humphreys stretched his arms to catch her, but the sudden recollection that in case she fainted he would carry her into the house, produced a reaction. She released herself from his grasp, and hurried in alone, locking her door, and refusing admittance to her mother. From Humphreys, who had put himself into a delicate minor key, Mrs. Anderson got such an account of the conversation as he thought best to give. She then opened and read a note placed into her hand by a neighbor as she came out from meeting. It was addressed to Julia, and ran:

"If all they say is true, you have quickly changed. I do not hold you by any promises you wish to break.

"AUGUST WEHLE."

Mrs. Anderson had no pity. She hesitated not an instant. Julia's door was fast. But she went out upon the front upper porch, and pushing up the window of her daughter's room as remorselessly as she had committed the burglary on her private letter, she looked at her a moment, sobbing on the bed, and then threw the letter into the room, saying: "It's good for you. Read that, and see what a fellow your Dutchman is."

Then Mrs. Anderson sought her couch, and slept with a serene sense, of having done her duty as a mother, whatever might be the result.

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