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The Bassett Claim

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i Copyright by American Press Association. 1 [ CONTINUED. ] the worse, for autumn has its beauty as well as spring. FloreDce was Florence. It made Stevens dizzy to look at her. He despised himself. Bah! to bo a bachelor clerk the best years of youth with such beinga in the world; what a paltry, meager life was that! what poverty of sonl it showed! As for Lieut. Qnire, when he was introduced he fairly stared at her, forgetting his marmers in nature. "Oh, but isn't she a beauty!" he exclaimed to Sophia the first chance he could get. "Yes, she is very pretty," she replied coolly, "or would be if she had fino oyes." If she had fine eyes! Sophia was a fooi. Mrs. Ex was more enthusiastic. "Miss Bassett is lovely," she admitted to hei sister one day when they were alone, and she added, "Look out for youi beaux, Sophia." " 'Deed I'm a-looken!" retorted Sophia, in the negro dialect, and with a laugh. They were in the Mtchen and hard at work, though Mrs. Ex was not fit to be out of bed. But one of tho girls was sick and the other rebeüious; and now thero was a larger table to set, and strange ladies up stairs, and ono of them ah-eady instaüed belle of the house, queen of hearts, disturbing all plans, bringing pain, anger, strife and terror. Is this, then, the mission and office of beauty? "I think Mr. Quire is acting hatefully!" exclaimed Mrs. Ex, after a long pause. "Oh, I don't know," said Miss Sophia, with a toss of her well shaped head. "Miss Bassett is the new face, I soppose." "I hate a man flirt," exclaimed the matron, knocking the dishes about. "Oh, I don'fc care," said Spphia, and then to show her complete indifference she began to cry. It really was too bad. Here Miss Bassett had been now only four days in town, and Lieut. Qniro had taken her to the theatre, and the capítol, and to the art gallery, and the Smithsonian. Oh, he was so sly, too! The Bassett ladies were strangers and "company," and civility demanded some attention to be paid them. And really he was the only eligible escort. Windward was immersed in the claim, making famous progress, and could not possibly go sight seeing just that or the ne.xt day. Stevens was tied to his desk all the department day when if at all the sighta were to be seen. Sophia - plague take the servan ta-0as a prisoner in the ki tenen. But tho lieu tenant was f ree; free to be a slave. "Oh, he's so sly," thought Sophia bitterly. "Of course he asks Mrs. Bassett too. He knows enough to make love to the mother. And he is so sorry if she feels too tired to go. And he asks me te go - to the matinee, mind you - when he knows perf ectly well I can't leave the dinner. Well, if red cheeks are all he looks for in woman it's a lucky escape for me." And then, to testify her joy at her good luck, she began to cry again. And what was Stevens thinking of, down at the office, spoiling government stationery in government hours by drawing pen and ink lattice work? Were they designs for the close barred windows of a castle of despair? "Here 1 am," he mused, "tied to office, a serf, living a tedious little life, a nobody, and she taken hither and thither by that officer - just the one to fascínate a youn girl. I can see. she likes him; and why not? And why should she ever care for me?" As for Lieut. Quire, he was miserable too; or as near melancholy as his jovial, careless temperament permitted. The lieutenant f rom a boy had always been in love with somebody, and for that reason perhaps had never married anybody. But he was anything but sentimental, and had that very comfortable faculty, for one by profession a vagrant, of a short memory. A traveler should have the knack of making acquaintances and forgetting them. Lieut. Quire's ideáis, including his ideal of woman, were not high enough to make him unhappy. Ho was proud of his profession, liked life, which he regarded as decidedly worth living, and approved of Lieut. Quire, whoin he thought a very good f ellow. He was not at all surprised that the ladies acted as if they thought so also; and when they töld Viim as much he agreed with. them. But now the lieutenant was trouhled and cast down. Why he could not say. Perhaps he did not try to find out, for he was not much given to introspection. He knew, however, that he had never in all his travels met so fascinating a woman as Florence Bassett. It was not her physical beauty either, delicious though it was, that subdued him. No; her beauty was more than skin deep. Exactly what it was he could not teil, but he f ound himself dreaming of a fireplace and crane, and a purring cat by tho haarth, and the prattle of childish voices in the air. He now recalled with horror that only a fortnight ago he had applied for duty on a foreign station. Ah! what sorffof a life was ( this, wandering like the tides to and fro upon the seas? And Florence was also a little anxious and distressed; upon the whole they made a ratlier lugubrious group of pleasuro seekers. Florence was not disturbed by admiration, having been accustomed to praise from earliest chiklhood, when she was passed from one lap to another to be dandled, and when she was stopped in the street by strange ladies and kissed for her beauty. Such homago and tenderness she took as a matter of course and as her natural due and birthright. Moreover, she had had lovers, and had heard vows and sighs; arul such incidents she had come to regard as inevitable, and to be unconiplainingly borne. But the situation just now was rather novel and einbarrassing. She saw that Stevens lofrttñ üer; that for years he had, perhaps unconsciously to himself, hid her image in hiaheart, nonrishing one of those slow, secret, smoldering, pemicions fevers of hopeless love which at her coming blazed into an active passion. Thia would have been painful to a woman of Florence'e kind and sensitive nature tmder any circumstances, but as mattera stood it was doubly so, and awkward as well. Sho liked Sterens well enongh, and would have enjoyed bis society had there been no bar of reserve between them. As she told her mother, from wioni she kept only her very choicest secrete, Stevens was a very respectable, agreeabltf young gentleman, sensible, moral, competent, and all that; no doubt a good and true friend to Windward, and a man of worth. But he was not interesting, he made no impression, did not appeal to the imagination. She liked him as she liked tweirty other commonplace, respectable young men, bnt he met no ideal, satisfied no longing, filled no heroic role. To marry him would siinply be to move into one of a block of houses, and live a dreary life with a man not nmch unlike the husbands who lived next door and across the street and around the corner. "He is very good, of conree," she explained to Mrs. Bassett. "He is not the kind of man to make a fuss, or say ugly things, or annoy ono. But now and then trying little times liko ttris come. I alloded yesterday to his college oration, just to say something, and jokingiy askeil hit" how the conntry was getting on. 'You drew such a dreadf ui picture that day of the "Dangers of Representative Institutions" that I was quite alanned!' That was my piece, wasn't itf he exclaimed, 'I declare I'd forgotten all about it. The only tiring I remembei about that speech waa" the bouquet at the end of it.' He tried to anrile as he spoke, but his voice faltered; he's in love as plain as day, and Pm very, very sorry." "Of course," she added, "I don't want to do anything to lead him on, and y et we are much together, and I want to b friendly and obliging. It is real trying, and I almost wish I hadn't comeT' "Almost." Just in the little compasa of that word lurked one of those very choicest secrets which were kept back. "Almost" translated meant, "except for Lieut. Quire." To this young woman, fresh from nature, fond of ideáis, and already a little weary of the humdrum, comfortable life of a lady of leisure, the lieutenant carne as a new type of man, and a most delightful type. That he had faults was evident, but that is the lot of man. Sc had civilians. He had his faults, but the beauty of it was, he had some positive, definite and charming merits. He was a military officer, wearing the uniform of his country. Moreover, he had already won distinction in the service for bravery, having been complimented in a genera] order for saving a saüor's life who had fallen overboard. Florence had traveled on the Long Island Sound boats at night, and at such times it had been hei favorite amusement to look down iuto the foamy wake of the snip and thinli how dreadful it would be if anything happened. Yet here was a man laughing and chatting and idling time away with her, who at the cali of honor had plunged into those black depths and calmly and strongly fought for a stranger's life, careless of his own, til] succor came. He did it and made light of it, and wonld do it again. What would not snch a man do for one he loved? Then his conversation was delightful. He had gone around the world, and that, too, in unbeaten paths. His vocabulary was different, his stories new; to hear him talk was like reading a novel. To be sure his adventures, apart from the gallant act jast mentioned, had not been very thrilüng. So f ar from "hairbreadth escapes in the imminent deadly breach," he had never smelled hostile gunpöwder, and though he had seen in tho tropics large numbers of anthropophagi they were sharks. The modern Othello, in these matter-of-fact days of peace and easy travel, finds it harder and harder to scare his Desdemona into love. Lieut. Quire had indeed circumnavigated the globe in ships of war and vessels of trade, going to and from distant stations, and in doing so had visited many strange lands, and still "the dangers he had seen" might be summed up thus: Missed a washont on the Union Pacific railroad by only twelve hours; lost a hat overboard in the Pacific ocean; tipped out backward from a jinrickisha in Yokohama; saw a cobra with a snakt1 charmer in Bombay; attacked by fleasin Egypt; caught cold in Eome, and passed the New York custom house. Still, even such adventures shone on a background of Washington tattlo, and made the narrator an object of inbereet to a young lady whose greatest desire, as she of ten said, was to 6ee a volcano. Then, again, Mr. Quire's social position was secure. He had but simply to live, and rank, f ame, ease and wealth would be his. A naval officer, no matter how near the bottom of the list, is an admiral in embryo, and even a penniless and obscure youngster known to have such "great expectations" can generally get his claims discounted by society. Then physically he pleased women, being a large, fobust, handsome man, witli graceful, domineering masculine manners, not at all "reserved and sheepish;'' he was "sensible, good natured," and finally "young, handsome." These two qualities, we remember, old Mr. Hardcastle put last, but possibly Florence, like even so sensible and womanly a young person as Miss Hardcastle, put them foremost. But, however that may be, it is certain that Florence noticed all these perfections in the lieutenant, and caught herself thinking about him to a ridiculous extent, and somehow was much in his company. And the oftener she met him the oftener still she wanted to- a sure symptom of love, which is like salt water, the more you drink tho thirstier you grow. So,on her own account.she was not quite at rest, and sho was sorry for Stevens; and then, asruin. she was auxious about Windward, for she didn't ltke the Willis grd at all. "From what iittle I've seen of her,", she said to her mother - this being once more within the limit of communicatie secreta- "I don't think she is nice or ladylike, and I shotüd certainly hate to have her for a sister. And Mrs. Bassett agreed with her. Upon the whole, this was pleasure aeeking under difficnlties, [ TO BE COMTINUKD. ]


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