The Senior Proctor's Wooing:



I was positively blinded. I could hardly read the note, a neatly written

little square sheet of paper; and the words seemed to swim before my

eyes. It was in the very thick of summer term, and I, Cyril Payne, M.A.,

Senior Proctor of the University of Oxford, was calmly asked to

undertake the sole charge for a week of a wild American girl, travelling
br />
alone, and probably expecting me to run about with her just as foolishly

as I had done at Nice. There it lay before me, that awful note, in its

overwhelming conciseness, without hope of respite or interference. It

was simply crushing.


"I am coming to Oxford, as you advised me. I shall arrive to-morrow

by the 10.15 a.m. train, and mean to stop at the Randolph. I hope

you will kindly show me all the lions.

"Yours very sincerely,


It was dated Tuesday, and this was Wednesday morning. I hadn't opened my

letters before seeing last night's charges at nine o'clock; and it was

now just ten. In a moment the full terror of the situation flashed upon

me. She had started; she was already almost here; there was no

possibility of telegraphing to stop her; before I could do anything, she

would have arrived, have taken rooms at the Randolph, and have come

round in her queer American manner to call upon me. There was not a

moment to be lost. I must rush down to the station and meet her--in full

academicals, velvet sleeves and all, for a Proctor must never be seen in

the morning in mufti. If there had been half an hour more, I could have

driven round by the Parks and called for my sister Annie, who was

married to the Rev. Theophilus Sheepshanks, Professor of Comparative

Osteology, and who might have helped me out of the scrape. But as things

stood, I was compelled to burst down the High just as I was, hail a

hansom opposite Queen's, and drive furiously to the station in bare time

to meet the 10.15 train. At all hazards, Ida Van Rensselaer must not go

to the Randolph, and must be carried off to Annie's, whether she would

or not. On the way down I had time to arrange my plan of action; and

before I reached the station, I thought I saw my way dimly out of the

awful scrape which this mad Yankee girl had so inconsiderately got me


I had met Ida Van Rensselaer the winter before at Nice. We stopped

together at a pension on the Promenade des Anglais; and as I was away

from Oxford--for even a Proctor must unbend sometimes--and as she was a

pleasant, lively young person with remarkably fine eyes, travelling by

herself, I had taken the trouble to instruct her in European scenery and

European art. She had a fancy for being original, so I took her to see

Eza, and Roccabrunna, and St. Pons, and all the other queer picturesque

little places in the Nice district which no American had ever dreamt of

going to see before: and when Ida went on to Florence, I happened--quite

accidentally, of course--to turn up at the very same pension three days

later, where I gave her further lessons in the art of admiring the early

mediaeval masters and the other treasures of Giotto's city. I was a bit

of a collector myself, and in my rooms at Magdalen I flatter myself that

I have got the only one genuine Botticelli in a private collection in

England. In spite of her untamed American savagery, Ida had a certain

taste for these things, and evidently my lessons gave her the first

glimpse she had ever had of that real interior Europe whose culture she

had not previously suspected. It is pleasant to teach a pretty pupil,

and in the impulse of a weak moment--it was in a gondola at Venice--I

even told her that she should not leave for America without having seen

Oxford. Of course I fancied that she would bring a chaperon. Now she had

taken me at my word, but she had come alone. I had brought it all upon

myself, undoubtedly; though how the dickens I was ever to get out of it

I could not imagine.

As I reached the station, the 10.15 was just coming in. I cast a wild

glance right and left, and saw at least a dozen undergraduates, without

cap or gown, loitering on the platform in obvious disregard of

university law. But I felt far too guilty to proctorize them, and I was

terribly conscious that all their eyes were fixed upon me, as I moved up

and down the carriages looking for my American friend. She caught my eye

in a moment, peering out of a second-class window--she had told me that

she was not well off--and I thought I should have sunk in the ground

when she jumped lightly out, seized my hand warmly, and cried out quite

audibly, in her pretty faintly American voice, "My dear Mr. Payne, I am

so glad you've come to meet me. Will you see after my baggage--no,

luggage you call it in England, don't you?--and get it sent up to the

Randolph, please, at once?"

Was ever Proctor so tried on this earth? But I made an effort to smile

it off. "My sister is so sorry she could not come to meet you, Miss Van

Rensselaer," I said in my loudest voice, for I saw all those twelve

sinister undergraduates watching afar off with eager curiosity; "but she

has sent me down to carry you off in her stead, and she begs you won't

think of going to the Randolph, but will come and make her house your

home as long as you stay in Oxford." I flattered myself that the twelve

odious young men, who were now forming a sort of irregular circle around

us, would be completely crushed by that masterly stroke: though what on

earth Annie would say at being saddled with this Yankee girl for a week

I hardly dared to fancy. For Annie was a Professor's wife: and the

dignity of a Professor's wife is almost as serious a matter as that of a

Senior Proctor himself.

Imagine my horror, then, when Ida answered, with her frank smile and

sunny voice, "Your sister! I didn't know you had a sister. And anyhow, I

haven't come to see your sister, but yourself. And I'd better go to the

Randolph straight, I'm sure, because I shall feel more at home there.

You can come round and see me whenever you like, there; and I mean you

to show me all Oxford, now I've come here, that's certain."

I glanced furtively at the open-eared undergraduates, and felt that the

game was really up. I could never face them again. I must resign

everything, take orders, and fly to a country rectory. At least, I

thought so on the spur of the moment.

But something must clearly be done. I couldn't stand and argue out the

case with Ida before those twelve young fiends, now reinforced by a

group of porters; and I determined to act strategically--that is to say,

tell a white lie. "You can go to the Randolph, of course, if you wish,

Miss Van Rensselaer," I said; "will you come and show me which is your

luggage? Here, you, sir," to one of the porters,--a little angrily, I

fear,--"come and get this lady's boxes, will you?"

In a minute I had secured the boxes, and went out for a cab. There was

nothing left but a single hansom. Demoralized as I was, I took it, and

put Ida inside. "Drive to Lechlade Villa, the Parks," I whispered to the

cabby--that was Annie's address--and I jumped in beside my torturer. As

we drove up by the Corn-market, I could see the porters and scouts of

Balliol and John's all looking eagerly out at the unwonted sight of a

Senior Proctor in full academicals, driving through the streets of

Oxford in a hansom cab, with a lady by his side. As for Ida, she

remained happily unconscious, though I blamed her none the less for it.

In her native wilds I knew that such vagaries were permitted by the

rules of society; but she ought surely to have known that in Europe they

were not admissible.

"Now, Miss Van Rensselaer," I said as we turned the corner of Carfax, "I

am taking you to my sister's. Excuse my frankness if I tell you that,

according to English, and especially to Oxford etiquette, it would never

do for you to go to an hotel. People's sense of decorum would be

scandalized if they learnt that a lady had come alone to visit the

Senior Proctor, and was stopping at the Randolph. Don't you see yourself

how very odd it looks?"

"Well, no," said Ida promptly; "I think you are a dreadfully suspicious

people: you seem always to credit everybody with the worst motives. In

America, we think people mean no harm, and don't look after them so

sharply as you do. But I really can't go to your sister's. I don't know

her, and I haven't been invited. Does she know I'm coming?"

"Well, I can't say she does," I answered hesitatingly. "You see, your

letter only reached me half an hour ago, and I had no time to see her

before I went to meet you."

"Then I certainly won't go, Mr. Payne, that's certain."

"But my dear Miss Van Rensselaer----"

"Not the slightest use, I assure you. I can't go to a house where

they don't even know I'm coming. Driver, will you go to the Randolph

Hotel, please?"

I sank back paralyzed and unmanned. This girl was one too many for me.

"Miss Van Rensselaer," I cried, in a last despairing fit, "do you know

that as Senior Proctor of the University I have the power to order you

away from Oxford; and that if I told them at the Randolph not to take

you in, they wouldn't dare to do it?"

"Well really, Mr. Payne, I dare say you have some extraordinary mediaeval

customs here, but you can hardly mean to send me away again by main

force. I shall go to the Randolph."

And she went. I had to draw up solemnly at the door, to accompany her to

the office, and to see her safely provided with a couple of rooms before

I could get away hastily to the Ancient House of Convocation, where

public business was being delayed by my absence. As I hurried through

the Schools Quadrangle, I felt like a convicted malefactor going to face

his judges, and self-condemned by his very face.

That afternoon, as soon as I had gulped down a choking lunch, I bolted

down to the Parks and saw Annie. At first I thought it was a hopeless

task to convince her that Ida Van Rensselaer's conduct was, from an

American point of view, nothing extraordinary. She persisted in

declaring that such goings-on were not respectable, and that I was

bound, as an officer of the University, to remove the young woman at

once from the eight-mile radius over which my jurisdiction extended. I

pleaded in vain that ladies in America always travelled alone, and that

nobody thought anything of it. Annie pertinently remarked that that

would be excellent logic in New York, but that it was quite

un-Aristotelian in Oxford. "When your American friends come to Rome,"

she said coldly--as though I were in the habit of importing Yankee girls

wholesale--"they must do as Rome does." But when I at last pointed out

that Ida, as an American citizen, could appeal to her minister if I

attempted to turn her out, and that we might find ourselves the centre

of an international quarrel--possibly even a casus belli--she finally

yielded with a struggle. "For the sake of respectability," she said

solemnly, "I'll go and call on this girl with you; but remember, Cyril,

I shall never undertake to help you out of such a disgraceful scrape a

second time." I sneaked out into the garden to wait for her, and felt

that the burden of a Proctorship was really more than I could endure.

We called duly upon Ida, that very hour, and Ida certainly behaved

herself remarkably well. She was so charmingly frank and pretty, she

apologized so simply to Annie for her ignorance of English etiquette,

and she was so obviously guileless and innocent-hearted in all her talk,

that even Annie herself--who is, I must confess, a typical don's

wife--was gradually mollified. To my great surprise, Annie even asked

her to dinner en famille the same evening, and suggested that I should

make an arrangement with the Junior Proctor to take my work, and join

the party. I consented, not without serious misgivings; but I felt that

if Ida was really going to stop a week, it would be well to put the best

face upon it, and to show her up in company with Annie as often as

possible. That might just conceivably take the edge off the keen blade

of University scandal.

To cut a long story short, Ida did stop her week, and I got through it

very creditably after all. Annie behaved like a brick, as soon as the

first chill was over; for though she is married to a professor of dry

bones (Comparative Osteology sounds very well, but means no more than

that, when you come to think of it), she is a woman at heart in spite of

it all. Ida had the most winning, charming, confiding manner; and she

was so pleased with Oxford, with the colleges, the libraries, the

gardens, the river, the boats, the mediaeval air, the whole place, that

she quite gained Annie over to her side. Nay, my sister even discovered

incidentally that Ida had a little fortune of her own, amounting to some

L300 a year, which, though it doesn't count for much in America, would

be a neat little sum to a man like myself, in England; and she shrewdly

observed, in her sensible business-like manner, that it would quite make

up for the possible loss of my Magdalen fellowship. I am not exactly

what you call a marrying man--at least, I know I had never got married

before; but as the week wore on, and I continued boating, flirting, and

acting showman to Ida, Annie of course always assisting for propriety's

sake, I began to feel that the Proctor was being conquered by the man. I

fell most seriously and undoubtedly in love. Ida admired my rooms, was

charmed with the pretty view from my windows over Magdalen Bridge and

the beautiful gardens, and criticized my Botticelli with real sympathy.

I was interested in her; she was so fresh, so real, and so genuinely

delighted with the new world which opened before her. It was almost her

first glimpse of the true interior Europe, and she was fascinated with

it, as all better American minds invariably are when they feel the charm

of its contrast with their own hurrying, bustling, mushroom world. The

week passed easily and pleasantly enough; and when it was drawing to an

end, I had half made up my mind to propose to Ida Van Rensselaer.

The day before she was to leave she told us she would not go out in the

afternoon; so I determined to stroll down the river to Iffley by myself

in a "tub dingey"--a small boat with room in it for two, if occasion

demands. When I reached the Iffley Lock, imagine my horror at seeing Ida

in the middle of the stream, quietly engaged in paddling herself down

the river in a canoe. I ran my dingey close beside her, drove her

remorselessly against the bank, and handed her out on to the meadow,

before she could imagine what I was driving at.

"Now, Miss Van Rensselaer," I said sternly, "this will never do. By

herculean efforts Annie and I have got over this week without serious

scandal; and at the last moment you endeavour to wreck our plans by

canoeing down the open river by yourself before the eyes of the whole

University. Everybody will talk about the Senior Proctor's visitor

having been seen indecorously paddling about in broad daylight in a boat

of her own."

"I didn't know there was any harm in it," said Ida penitently; for she

was beginning to understand the real seriousness of University


"Well," I answered, "it can't be helped now. You must get into my boat

at once--I'll send one of Salter's men down to fetch your canoe--and we

must row straight back to Oxford immediately."

She obeyed me mechanically, and I began to pull away for very life.

"There's nothing for it now," I said pensively, "except to propose to

you. I half meant to do it before, and now I've quite made up my mind.

Will you have me?"

Ida looked at me without surprise, but with a little pleasure in her

face. "What nonsense!" she said quietly. "I knew you were going to

propose to me this afternoon, and so I came out alone to keep out of

your way. You haven't had time to make up your mind properly yet."

As I looked at her beautiful calm face and lovely eyes I forgot

everything. In a moment, I was over head and ears in love again, and

conscious of nothing else. "Ida," I cried, looking at her steadily,


"Now, please stop," said Ida, before I could get any further. "I know

exactly what you're going to say. You're going to say, 'Ida, I love

you.' Don't desecrate the verb to love by draggling it more than it

has already been draggled through all the grammars of every European

language. I've conjugated to love, myself, in English, French,

German, and Italian; and you've conjugated it in Latin and Greek, and

for aught I know in Anglo-Saxon and Coptic and Assyrian as well; so now

let's have done with it for ever, and conjugate some other verb more

worthy the attention of two rational and original human beings. Can't

you strike out a line for yourself?"

"You're quite mistaken," I answered curtly, for I wasn't going to be

browbeaten in that way; "I meant to say nothing of the sort. What I did

mean to say--and I'll trouble you to listen to it attentively--was just

this. You seem to me about as well suited to my abstract requirements as

any other young woman I have ever met: and if you're inclined to take

me, we might possibly arrange an engagement."

"What a funny man you are!" she went on innocently. "You don't propose

at all en regle. I've had twelve men propose to me separately in a

boat in America, and you make up the baker's dozen: but all the others

leaned forward lackadaisically, dropped the oars when they were

beginning to get serious, and looked at me sentimentally; while you go

on rowing all the time as if there was nothing unusual in it."

"Probably," I suggested, "your twelve American admirers attached more

importance to the ceremony than I do. But you haven't answered my

question yet."

"Let me ask you one instead," she said, more seriously. "Do you think

I'm at all the kind of person for a Senior Proctor's wife? You say I

suit your abstract requirements, but one can't get married in the

abstract, you know. Viewed concretely, don't you fancy I'm about the

most unsuitable helpmate you could possibly light upon?"

"The profound consciousness of that indubitable fact," I replied

carelessly, "has made me struggle in a hopeless sort of way against the

irresistible impulse to propose to you ever since I saw you first. But I

suppose Senior Proctors are much the same as other men. They fly like

moths about the candle, and can't overcome the temptation of singeing

their wings."

"If I had any notion of accepting you," said Ida reflectively, "I should

at least have the consolation of knowing that you didn't make anything

by your bargain; for my fifteen hundred dollars would just amount to the

three hundred a year which you would have to give up with your


"Quite so," I answered; "I see you come of a business-like nation; and

I, as former bursar of my college, am a man of business myself. So I

have no reason for concealing from you the fact that I have a private

income of about four hundred a year, besides University appointments

worth five hundred more, which would not go with the fellowship."

"Do you really think me sordid enough to care for such considerations?"

"If I did, I wouldn't have taken the trouble to tell you them. I merely

mentioned the facts for their general interest, and not as bearing on

the question in hand."

"Well, then, Mr. Payne, you shall have my answer.--No."

"Is it final?"

"Is anything human final, except one's twenty-ninth birthday? I choose

it to be final for the present, and 'the subject then dropped,' as the

papers say about debates in Congress. Let us have done now with this

troublesome verb altogether, and conjugate our return to Oxford instead.

See what bunches of fritillaries again! I never saw anything prettier,

except the orange-lilies in New Hampshire. If you like, you may come to

America next season. You would enjoy our woodlands."

"Where shall I find you?"

"At Saratoga."


"Any day from July the first."

"Good," I said, after a moment's reflection. "If I stick to my fancy for

flying into the candle, you will see me there. If I change my mind, it

won't matter much to either of us."

So we paddled back to Oxford, talking all the way of indifferent

subjects, of England and our English villages, and enjoying the peaceful

greenness of the trees and banks. It was half-past six when we got to

Salter's barge, and I walked with Ida as far as the Randolph. Then I

returned to college, feeling very much like an undetected sheep-stealer,

and had a furtive sort of dinner served up in my own room. Next morning,

I confess it was with a sigh of relief that Annie and I saw Ida Van

Rensselaer start from the station en route for Liverpool. It was quite

a fortnight before I could face my own bulldogs unabashed, and I bowed

with a wan and guilty smile upon my face whenever any one of those

twelve undergraduates capped me in the High till the end of term. I

believe they never missed an opportunity of meeting me if they saw a

chance open. I was glad indeed when long vacation came to ease me of my

office and my troubles.


Congress Hall in Saratoga is really one of the most comfortable hotels

at which I ever stopped. Of course it holds a thousand guests, and

covers an unknown extent of area: it measures its passages by the mile

and its carpets by the acre. All that goes unsaid, for it is a big

American hotel; but it is also a very pleasant and luxurious one, even

for America. I was not sorry, on the second of July, to find myself

comfortably quartered (by elevator) in room No. 547 on the fifth floor,

with a gay look-out on Broadway and the Columbia Spring. After ten days

of dismal rolling on the mid-Atlantic, and a week of hurry and bustle in

New York, I found it extremely delightful to sit down at my ease in

summer quarters, on a broad balcony overlooking the leafy promenade, to

sip my iced cobbler like a prince, and to watch that strange, new, and

wonderfully holiday life which was unfolding itself before my eyes. Such

a phantasmagoria of brightly-dressed women in light but costly silks, of

lounging young men in tweed suits and panama hats, of sulkies,

carriages, trotting horses, string bands, ice-creams, effervescing

drinks, cool fruits, green trees, waving bunting, lilac blossoms, roses,

and golden sunshine I had never seen till then, and shall never see

again, I doubt me, until I can pay a second visit to Saratoga. It was a

midsummer saturnalia of strawberries and acacia flowers, gone mad with

excessive mint julep.

"After all," said I to myself, "even if I don't happen to run up against

Ida Van Rensselaer, I shall have taken as pleasant a holiday as I could

easily have found in old Europe. Everybody is tired of Switzerland and

Italy, so, happy thought, try Saratoga. On the other hand, if Ida keeps

her tryst, I shall have one more shot at her in the shape of a proposal;

and then if she really means no, I shall be none the worse off than if I

had stayed in England." In which happy-go-lucky and philosophic frame of

mind I sat watching the crowd in the Broadway after dinner, in utrumque

paratus, ready either to marry Ida if she would have me, or to go home

again in the autumn, a joyous bachelor, if she did not turn up according

to her promise. A very cold-blooded attitude that to assume towards the

tender passion, no doubt; but after all, why should a sensible man of

thirty-five think it necessary to go wild for a year or two like a

hobbledehoy, and convert himself into a perambulating statue of

melancholy, simply because one particular young woman out of the nine

hundred million estimated to inhabit this insignificant planet has

refused to print his individual name upon her visiting cards? Ida would

make as good a Mrs. Cyril Payne as any other girl of my acquaintance--no

doubt; indeed, I am inclined to say, a vast deal a better one; but there

are more women than five in the world, and if you strike an average I

dare say most of them are pretty much alike.

As I sat and looked, I could not help noticing the extraordinary

magnificence of all the toilettes in the promenade. Nowhere in Europe

can you behold such a republican dead level of reckless extravagance.

Every woman was dressed like a princess, nothing more and nothing less.

I began to wonder how poor little Ida, with her simple and tasteful

travelling gowns, would feel when she found herself cast in the midst of

these gorgeous silks and these costly satin grenadines. Look, for

example, at that pair now strolling along from Spring Avenue: a New York

exquisite in the very coolest of American summer suits, and a New York

elegante (their own word, I assure you) in a splendid but graceful

grey silk dress, gold bracelet, diamond ear-rings, and every other item

in her costume of the finest and costliest. What would Ida do in a crowd

of such women as that?... Why ... gracious heavens! ... can it be?...

No, it can't.... Yes, it must.... Well, to be sure, it positively

is--Ida herself!

My first impulse was to lean over the balcony and call out to her, as I

would have called out to a friend whom I chanced to see passing in

Magdalen quad. Not an unnatural impulse either, seeing that (in spite of

my own prevarications to myself) I had after all really come across the

Atlantic on purpose to see her. But on second thoughts it struck me that

even Ida might perhaps find such a proceeding a trifle unconventional,

especially now that she was habited in such passing splendour. Besides,

what did it all mean? The only rational answer I could give myself, when

I fairly squared the question, was that Ida must have got suddenly

married to a wealthy fellow-countryman, and that the exquisite in the

cool suit was in fact none other than her newly-acquired husband. I had

thought my philosophy proof against any such small defeats to my

calculation: but when it actually came to the point, I began to perceive

that I was after all very unphilosophically in love with Ida Van

Rensselaer. The merest undergraduate could not have felt a sillier

flutter than that which agitated both auricles and ventricles of my

central vascular organ--as a Senior Proctor I must really draw the line

at speaking outright of my heart. I seized my hat, rushed down the broad

staircase, and walked rapidly along Broadway in the direction the pair

had taken. But I could see nothing of them, and I returned to Congress

Hall in despair.

That night I thought about many things, and slept very little. It came

home to me somewhat vividly that if Ida was really married I should

probably feel more grieved and disappointed than a good pessimist

philosopher ought ever to feel at the ordinary vexatiousness of the

universe. Next morning, however, I rose early, and breakfasted, not

without a most unpoetical appetite, on white fish, buckwheat pancakes,

and excellent watermelon. After breakfast, refreshed by the meal, I

sallied forth, like a true knight-errant, under the shade of a white

cotton sun-umbrella instead of a shield, to search for the lady of my

choice. Naturally, I turned my steps first towards the Springs; and at

the very second of them all, I luckily came upon Ida and the man in the

tweed suit, lounging as before, and drinking the waters lazily.

Ida stepped up as if she had fully expected to meet me, extended her

daintily-gloved hand with the gold bracelet, and said as unconcernedly

as possible, "You have come two days late, Mr. Payne."

"So it seems," I answered. "C'est monsieur votre mari?" And I waved my

hand interrogatively towards the stranger, for I hardly knew how to word

the question in English.

"A Dieu ne plaise!" she cried heartily, in an undertone, and I felt my

vascular system once more the theatre of a most unacademical though more

pleasing palpitation. "Allow me to introduce you. Mr. Payne of Oxford;

my cousin, Mr. Jefferson Hitchcock."

I charitably inferred that Mr. Hitchcock's early education in modern

languages had been unfortunately neglected, or else his companion's

energetic mode of denying her supposed conjugal relation with him could

hardly have appeared flattering to his vanity.

"My cousin has spoken of you to me, sir," said Mr. Hitchcock solemnly.

"I understand that you are one of the most distinguished luminaries of

Oxford College, and I am proud to welcome you as such to our country."

I bowed and laughed--I never feel capable of making any other reply than

a bow and a laugh to the style of oratory peculiar to American

gentlemen--and then I turned to Ida. She was looking as pretty, as

piquante, and as fresh as ever; but what her dress could mean was a

complete puzzle to me. As she stood, diamonds and all, a jeweller's

assistant couldn't have valued her at a penny less than six hundred

pounds. In England such a display in morning dress would have been out

of taste; but in Saratoga it seemed to be the height of the fashion.

We walked along towards the Grand Union Hotel, where Ida and her cousin

were staying, and my astonishment grew upon me at every step. However,

we had so much to say to one another about everything in general, and

Ida was so unaffectedly pleased at my keeping my engagement, made half

in joke, that I found no time to unravel the mystery. When we reached

the great doorway, Ida took leave of me for the time, but made me

promise to call for her again early the next morning. "Unhappily," she

said, "I have to go this afternoon to a most tedious party--a set of

Boston people; you know the style; the best European culture, bottled

and corked as imported, and let out again by driblets with about as much

spontaneousness as champagne the second day. But I must fulfil my social

duties here; no canoeing on the Isis at Saratoga. However, we must see a

great deal of you now that you've come; so I expect you to call, and

drive me down to the lake at ten o'clock to-morrow."

"Is that proceeding within the expansive limits of American

proprieties?" I asked dubiously.

"Sir," said Mr. Hitchcock, answering for her, "this is a land of

freedom, and every lady can go where she chooses, unmolested by those

frivolous bonds of conventionality which bind the feet of your European

women as closely as the cramped shoes of the Chinese bind the feet of

the celestial females."

Ida smiled at me with a peculiar smile, waved her hand graciously, and

ran lightly up the stairs. I was left on the piazza with Mr. Jefferson

Hitchcock. His conversation scarcely struck me as in itself enticing,

but I was anxious to find out the meaning of Ida's sudden accession to

wealth, and so I determined to make the best of his companionship for

half an hour. As a sure high road to the American bosom and safe

recommendation to the American confidence, I ordered a couple of

delectable summer beverages (Mr. Hitchcock advised an "eye-opener,"

which proved worthy of the commendation he bestowed upon it); and we sat

down on the piazza in two convenient rocking-chairs, under the shade of

the elms, smoking our havanas and sipping our iced drink. After a little

preliminary talk, I struck out upon the subject of Ida.

"When I met Miss Van Rensselaer at Nice," I said, "she was stopping at

a very quiet little pension. It is quite a different thing living in a

palace like this."

"We are a republican nation, sir," answered Mr. Hitchcock, "and we

expect to be all treated on the equal level of a sovereign people. The

splendour that you in Europe restrict to princes, we in our country

lavish upon the humblest American citizen. Miss Van Rensselaer's wealth,

however, entitles her to mix in the highest circles of even your most

polished society."

"Indeed?" I said; "I had no idea that she was wealthy."

"No, sir, probably not. Miss Van Rensselaer is a woman of that striking

originality only to be met with in our emancipated country. She has

shaken off the trammels of female servitude, and prefers to travel in

all the simplicity of a humble income. She went to Europe, if I may so

speak, incognita, and desired to hide her opulence from the prying

gaze of your aristocracy. She did not wish your penniless peers to buzz

about her fortune. But she is in reality one of our richest heiresses.

The man who secures that woman as a property, sir, will find himself in

possession of an income worth as much as one hundred thousand dollars."

Twenty thousand sterling a year! The idea took my breath away, and

reduced me once more to a state of helpless incapacity. I couldn't talk

much more small-talk to Mr. Hitchcock, so I managed to make some small

excuse and returned listlessly to Congress Hall. There, over a luncheon

of Saddle-Rock oysters (you see I never allow my feelings to interfere

with my appetite), I decided that I must give up all idea of Ida Van


I have no abstract objection to an income of L20,000 a year; but I could

not consent to take it from any woman, or to endure the chance of her

supposing that I had been fortune-hunting. It may be and doubtless is a

plebeian feeling, which, as Mr. Hitchcock justly hinted, is never shared

by the younger sons of our old nobility; but I hate the notion of

living off somebody else's money, especially if that somebody were my

own wife. So I came to the reluctant conclusion that I must give up the

idea for ever; and as it would not be fair to stop any longer at

Saratoga under the circumstances, I made up my mind to start for Niagara

on the next day but one, after fulfilling my driving engagement with Ida

the following morning.

Punctually at ten o'clock the next day I found myself in a handsome

carriage waiting at the doors of the Grand Union. Ida came down to meet

me splendidly dressed, and looked like a queen as she sat by my side.

"We will drive to the lake," she said, as she took her seat, "and you

will take me for a row as you did on the Isis at Oxford." So we whirled

along comfortably enough over the six miles of splendid avenue leading

to the lake; and then we took our places in one of the canopied boats

which wait for hire at the little quay.

I rowed out into the middle of the lake, admiring the pretty wooded

banks and sandstone cliffs, talking of Saratoga and American society,

but keeping to my determination in steering clear of all allusions to my

Oxford proposal. Ida was as charming as ever--more provokingly charming,

indeed, than even of old, now that I had decided she could not be mine.

But I stood by my resolution like a man. Clearly Ida was surprised at my

reticence; and when I told her that my time in America being limited, I

must start almost at once for Niagara, she was obviously astonished. "It

is possible to be even too original," she observed shortly. I turned

the boat and rowed back toward the shore.

As I had nearly reached the bank, Ida jumped up from her seat, and asked

me suddenly to let her pull for a dozen strokes. I changed places and

gave her the oars. To my surprise, she headed the boat around, and

pulled once more for the middle of the lake. When we had reached a point

at some distance from the shore, she dropped the oars on the thole-pins

(they use no rowlocks on American lake or river craft), and looked for a

moment full in my face. Then she said abruptly:--

"If you are really going to leave for Niagara to-morrow, Mr. Payne,

hadn't we better finish this bit of business out of hand?"

"I was not aware," I answered, "that we had any business transactions to


"Why," she said, "I mean this matter of proposing."

I gazed back at her as straight as I dared. "Ida," I said, with an

attempt at firmness, "I don't mean to propose to you again at all. At

least, I didn't mean to when I started this morning. I think I thought I

had decided not."

"Then why did you come to Saratoga?" she asked quickly. "You oughtn't to

have come if you meant nothing by it."

"When I left England I did mean something," I answered, "but I learned a

fact yesterday which has altered my intentions." And then I told her

about Mr. Hitchcock's revelations, and the reflections to which they had

given rise.

Ida listened patiently to all my faint arguments, for I felt my courage

quailing under her pretty sympathetic glance, and then she said

decisively, "You are quite right and yet quite wrong."

"Explain yourself, O Sphinx," I answered, much relieved by her words.

"Why," she said, "you are quite right to hesitate, quite wrong to

decide. I know you don't want my money; I know you don't like it, even:

but I ask you to take me in spite of it. Of course that is dreadfully

unwomanly and unconventional, and so forth, but it is what I ought to

do.... Listen to me, Cyril (may I call you Cyril?). I will tell you why

I want you to marry me. Before I went to Europe, I was dissatisfied with

all these rich American young men. I hated their wealth, and their

selfishness, and their cheap cynicism, and their trotting horses, and

their narrow views, and their monotonous tall-talk, all cast in a

stereotyped American mould, so that whenever I said A, I knew every one

of them would answer B.

"I went to Europe and I met your English young men, with their drawls,

and their pigeon-shooting, and their shaggy ulsters, and their

conventional wit, and their commonplace chaff, and their utter contempt

for women, as though we were all a herd of marketable animals from whom

they could pick and choose whichever pleased them best, according to

their lordly fancy. I would no more give myself up to one of them than I

would marry my cousin, Jefferson Hitchcock. But when I met you first at

Nice, I saw you were a different sort of person. You could think and act

for yourself, and you could appreciate a real living woman who could

think and act too. You taught me what Europe was like. I only knew the

outside, you showed me how to get within the husk. You made me admire

Eza, and Roccabrunna, and Iffley Church. You roused something within me

that I never felt before--a wish to be a different being, a longing for

something more worth living for than diamonds and Saratoga. I know I am

not good enough for you: I don't know enough or read enough or feel

enough; but I don't want to fall back and sink to the level of New York

society. So I have a right to ask you to marry me if you will. I don't

want to be a blue; but I want not to feel myself a social doll. You know

yourself--I see you know it--that I oughtn't to throw away my chance of

making the best of what nature I may have in me. I am only a beginner. I

scarcely half understand your world yet. I can't properly admire your

Botticellis and your Pinturiccios, I know; but I want to admire, I

should like to, and I will try. I want you to take me, because I know

you understand me and would help me forward instead of letting me sink

down to the petty interests of this American desert. You liked me at

Nice, you did more than like me at Oxford; but I wouldn't take you then,

though I longed to say yes, because I wasn't quite sure whether you

really meant it. I knew you liked me for myself, not my money, but I

left you to come to Saratoga for two things. I wanted to make sure you

were in earnest, not to take you at a moment of weakness. I said, 'If he

really cares for me, if he thinks I might become worthy of him, he will

come and look for me; if not, I must let the dream go.' And then I

wanted to know what effect my fortune would have upon you. Now you know

my whole reasons. Why should my money stand in our way? Why should we

both make ourselves unhappy on account of it? You would have married me

if I was poor: what good reason have you for rejecting me only because I

am rich? Whatever my money may do for you (and you have enough of your

own), it will be nothing to what you can do for me. Will you tell me to

go and make myself an animated peg for hanging jewellery upon, with such

a conscious automaton as Jefferson Hitchcock to keep me company through


As she finished, flushed, proud, ashamed, but every inch a woman, I

caught her hand in mine. The utter meanness and selfishness of my life

burst upon me like a thunderbolt. "Oh, Ida," I cried, "how terribly you

make me feel my own pettiness and egotism. You are cutting me to the

heart like a knife. I cannot marry you; I dare not marry you; I must not

marry you. I am not worthy of such a wife as you. How had I ever the

audacity to ask you? My life has been too narrow and egoistic and

self-indulgent to deserve such confidence as yours. I am not good enough

for you. I really dare not accept it."

"No," she said, a little more calmly, "I hope we are just good enough

for one another, and that is why we ought to marry. And as for the

hundred thousand dollars, perhaps we might manage to be happy in spite

of them."

We had drifted into a little bay, under shelter of a high rocky point. I

felt a sudden access of insane boldness, and taking both Ida's hands in

mine, I ventured to kiss her open forehead. She took the kiss quietly,

but with a certain queenly sense of homage due. "And now," she said,

shaking off my hands and smiling archly, "let us row back toward

Saratoga, for you know you have to pack up for Niagara."

"No," I answered, "I may as well put off my visit to the Falls till you

can accompany me."

"Very well," said Ida quietly, "and then we shall go back to England and

live near Oxford. I don't want you to give up the dear old University. I

want you to teach me the way you look at things, and show me how to look

at them myself. I'm not going to learn any Latin or Greek or stupid

nonsense of that sort; and I'm not going to join the Women's Suffrage

Association; but I like your English culture, and I should love to live

in its midst."

"So you shall, Ida," I answered; "and you shall teach me, too, how to be

a little less narrow and self-centred than we Oxford bachelors are apt

to become in our foolish isolation."

So we expect to spend our honeymoon at Niagara.