A Face Illumined

Author: Edward Payson Roe

Chapter IV. A Parthian Arrow.

As, in the quiet June evening, Harold Van Berg glided through the shadows of the Highlands, there came a slight change over his spirit of philosophical and artistic experiment. The season comported with his early manhood, and the witching hour and the scenery were not conducive to cold philosophy. He who prided himself on his steady pulse and a devotion to art so absorbing that it even prompted his impulses and gave character to his recreation, was led to feel, on this occasion, that his mistress was vague and shadowy, and to half wish for that companionship which the most self-reliant natures have craved at times, ever since man first felt, and God knew, that it was "not good for him to be alone." If he could turn from the beauty of the sun-tipped hills and rocks and the gloaming shadows to an appreciative and sympathetic face, such as he could at least imagine the visage of Ida Mayhew might become, would not his enjoyment of the beauty he saw be doubly enhanced? In his deepest consciousness he was compelled to admit that it would. He caught a glimpse of the truth that he would never attain in his highest manhood until he had allied himself to a womanhood which he should come to believe supremely true and beautiful.

The ringing of the bell announced his landing, and in the hurry and bustle of looking after his luggage and obtaining a ticket which he had forgotten to procure, he speedily became again, in the world’s estimation, and perhaps in his own, a practical, sensible man. An hour or two’s ride among he hills brought him at last to the Lake House, where he selected a room that had a fine prospect of the mountains, the far distant river, and the adjacent open country, engaging it only for a brief time so that he might depart when he chose, in case the object of his pursuit should not appear, or he should weary of the effort, or despair of its success.

A few days passed, but the face which had so haunted his fancy presented no actual appearance. The scenery, however, was beautiful, the weather so perfect, and he enjoyed his rambles among the hills and his excursions on the water so thoroughly that he was already growing slightly forgetful of his purpose and satisfied that he could enjoy himself a few weeks without the zest of artistically redeeming the face of Ida Mayhew. But one day, while at dinner, he overheard some gossip concerning a "great belle" who was to come that evening, and he at once surmised that it was the fair stranger he had seen at the concert.

At the time, therefore, of the arrival of the evening stage he observantly puffed his cigar in a corner of the piazza, and was soon rewarded by seeing the object of his contemplated experiment step out of the vehicle, with the airy grace and confidence of one who regards each new abiding-place as a scene of coming pleasures and conquests, and who feels sure every glance toward her is one of admiration. There were eyes, however, that noted disapprovingly her jaunty self-assurance and self-assertion, and when she met those eyes her complacency seemed disturbed at once, for she flushed and promptly turned her back upon them. In fact, from the time she had first seen Van Berg’s frowning face it had been a disagreeable memory, and now here it was again and frowning still. Although he sat at a distance from the landing-place, her eyes seemed drawn towards his as if by some fascination, and she already had the feeling that whenever he was present she would be conscious of his cool, critical observation.

Van Berg had scarcely time to note a rather stout and overdressed person emerge from the stage, how was evidently the young lady’s mother, when Ik Stanton, with his bays and a light country wagon, dashed up to the main entrance. Stanton was an element in the artistic problem that Van Berg had not bargained for, and what influence he would have, friendly or adverse, only time could show.

While Stanton was accompanying his aunt and cousin to the register, as the gentleman of the party, the young lady said to him:

"That horrid artist friend of yours is here. I wish he hadn’t come. Did you tell him we were coming here?"

"No, ’pon my honor."

"I have believe you did. If so I’ll never forgive you, for the very sight of him spoils everything."

"Come now, Coz, be reasonable. From all the indications I have seen, Van Berg is the last man to follow you here or anywhere else, even though he knew of your prospective movements. He is here, as scores of others are, for his own pleasure. So follow your mother to your room, smooth your ruffled plumage and come down to supper."

Even Miss Mayhew’s egotism could find no fault with so reasonable an explanation, and she went pouting up the stairway in anything but a complacent mood.

Stanton stepped out upon the piazza to greet his friend, saying:

"Why, Van, it is an unexpected pleasure to find you here."

"I was equally and quite as agreeably surprised to see you drive to the door. If you cousin had not come I might have helped you exercise your bays. I am doing some sketching in the vicinity."

"My cousin shall not keep you from many an idle hour behind the bays—that is, if you will not carry your antipathy so far as to cut me on account of my relationship."

"I’m not conscious of any antipathy for Miss Mayhew," replied Van Berg, with a slight shrug.

"Oh, only indifference! Well, if you will both maintain that attitude there will be no trouble about the bays or anything else. I’ll smoke with you after supper."

"She evidently has an antipathy for me," mused Van Berg. "Stanton, no doubt, has told her of my uncomplimentary remarks, and possibly of the fact that I declined an introduction. That’s awkward, for if I should now ask to be presented to her, she would very naturally decline, and so we might drift into something as closely resembling a quarrel as is possible in the case of two people who have never spoken to each other."

He concluded that it would be best to leave to chance the occasion which should place them on speaking terms, and tried to persuade himself that her unpromising attitude towards him was not wholly unfavorable to his purpose. He never could hope to accomplish anything without at first piquing her pride and wounding her vanity. His only fear was that this had been done too effectually, and that from first to last she would simply detest him.

In his preoccupation he forgot that the supper hour was passing, but at last started hastily for his room. As he rapidly turned a sharp corner he nearly ran into two ladies who were coming from an opposite direction, and looking up saw Mrs. Mayhew and the flushed, resentful face of her daughter. In spite of himself our even-pulsed philosopher flushed also, but instantly removing his hat he ejaculated:

"I beg your pardon," and passed on.

As Ida joined her cousin at the supper-table she whispered exultantly:

"He has spoken to me."

"Who has spoken to you?"

"Your artist-bear."

"How did that happen?"

"Well, he nearly ran over me—horrid thing! I suppose that’s another of his peculiar ways."

"Did he embrace you?"

"Embrace me! Good heavens, what an escape I have had! So this too is characteristic of your friend?"

"You said he was a bear. If so, he should have given you a hug on the first opportunity."

"He didn’t have an opportunity, and he never will."

"Poor fellow! It will make him sick if I tell him so. Well, since it is another case of beauty and the beast, what did the beast say?"

"He said that it was very proper he should say to me after all his hatefulness. He said, ’I beg your pardon.’"

"And then I suppose you kissed and made up."

"Hush, you horrid thing. I noticed him no more than I would a chair that I might have stumbled over."

"Thus displaying that sweet trait of yours—Charity. But I thought it was he that stumbled over you?"

"A musty, miserable pun! It was he, and I’m delighted it so happened, that the first time he ever spoke to me he had to ask my pardon."

"Well, well! I’m glad it so happened, too, and that the ice is broken between you, for Van Berg is a good friend of mine, and it would be confoundedly disagreeable to have you two lowering at each other across a bloody chasm of dark, revengeful thoughts."

"The ice isn’t broken at all. He has begged my pardon as he ought to do a hundred times; but I haven’t granted it, and I never will. What’s more, I’ll never speak to him in all my life; never, never!"

"Swear it by the ’inconstant moon’!"

"Hush, here he comes. Ah, ’peste!’ his table is right opposite ours."

"Who is that tall and rather distinguished-looking gentleman that just entered?" asked Mrs. Mayhew, suddenly emerging from a pre-occupation with her supper which a good appetite had induced.

"He IS distinguished, or will be. He’s a particular friend of Ida’s, and is as rich as Croesus."

"Three items in his favor," said Mrs. Mayhew complacently; "but Ida has so many friends, or beaux, rather, that I can’t keep track of them. Her friends speedily become furnace-like lovers, or else escape for their lives into the dim and remote region of mere bowing acquaintanceship. I once tried to keep a list of the various and variegated gentlemen with red whiskers and black whiskers, with whiskers sandy, brown, and occasionally almost white, but borrowing a golden hue from their purses, that appeared and disappeared so rapidly, as to almost make me dizzy. I was about as bewildered as the poor Indian who sought to take the census of London by notching a stick for every passer-by he met. And now before we are through supper on the first evening of our arrival, another appears, who is evidently an eligible ’parti’ and twice as good as the minx deserves; but in a few days he, too, will vanish into thin air, and another and different style of man will take his place. Mark my words, Ida, you will be through the woods before long, and I expect you will take up with the crookedest of crooked sticks on the farther side," and the voluble Mrs. Mayhew resumed her supper with a zest which this dismal prospect did not by any means impair.

"If I were in search of a crabbed, crooked stick, I would not have to look farther than yonder table," said the young lady, petulantly. "What you suppose about that dabbler in paint is about as far from the truth as your sketch of those who are my friends. That man never was my friend, and never shall be. I don’t want you to get acquainted with him or speak to him. You must not introduce him to me, for if you do, I shall be rude to him."

"Hoity-toity! what’s the matter?"

"I don’t like him. Only Ik thinks he’s wonderful. He has probably blinded our cousin to his faults by painting a flattering likeness of the vain youth here."

"But in suggesting another portrait that was not altogether pleasing, he sinned beyond hope," whispered Stanton.

Ida bit her lip and frowned, recalling the obnoxious artist’s portrait of herself as giggling and flirting through one of Beethoven’s symphonies; and she said spitefully:

"He can never hope for anything from me."

"Poor, hopeless wretch!" groaned Stanton. "How can he sip his tea yonder so complacently oblivious of his doom?"

"Mother, I’m in earnest," resumed the daughter. "I have reasons for disliking that man, and I do not wish the annoyance of his acquaintance."

"Well, well," said Mrs. Mayhew; "as long as the wind blows from that cool quarter, we can keep cool till it changes. If I mistake not, he is the same gentleman who met us in the corridor. I’m sure he has fine manners."

"If it is fine manners in a man to nearly run over two ladies, he is perfect. But I am sick of hearing about him, and especially of seeing him. I insist, Ik, that you have our table changed to yonder corner, and then arrange it so that I can sit with my back towards him."

"I am your Caliban, but would hint, my amiable Coz, that you should not bite off your own pretty nose in spite. Must all your kin join in this bitter feud? May I not smoke with my ancient familiar?"

"Oh, be off, and if you and your friend disappear like your cigars, the world will survive."

"I fear it is because my friend will never dissolve in sighs that you are so willing he should end in smoke."

Having winged this Parthian arrow over his shoulder, Stanton strolled out on the piazza whither Van Berg had preceded him.


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Chicago: Edward Payson Roe, "Chapter IV. A Parthian Arrow.," A Face Illumined, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 and trans. Boswell, Robert Bruce in A Face Illumined (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed December 8, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=49R1HSBJXQ9T19Z.

MLA: Roe, Edward Payson. "Chapter IV. A Parthian Arrow." A Face Illumined, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, and translated by Boswell, Robert Bruce, in A Face Illumined, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 8 Dec. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=49R1HSBJXQ9T19Z.

Harvard: Roe, EP, 'Chapter IV. A Parthian Arrow.' in A Face Illumined, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, A Face Illumined, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 8 December 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=49R1HSBJXQ9T19Z.