November 28, 2020

Anne Part 86

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

Gregory Dexter had a longing to knock him down

On the other hand, Heathcote would have been much surprised to learn that any one longed to take him out and knock him down, simply as an insufferable object. Yet Gregory Dexter had that longing at times so strongly that his hand fairly quivered.

Heathcote was slightly above middle height, and well built, but his gait was indolent and careless. Good features unlighted by animation, a brown skin, brown eyes ordinarily rather lethargic, thick brown hair and mustache, and heavy eyebrows standing out prominently from the face in profile view, were the items ordinarily given in a general description.  He had a low-toned voice and slow manner, in which, however, there was no affectation. What was the use of doing anything with any particular effort? He had no antipathy for persons of other habits; the world was large. It was noticed, however (or rather it was not noticed), that he generally got away from them as soon as he quietly could. He had lived to be thirty-two years old, and had on the whole enjoyed life so far, although he was neither especially important, handsome, nor rich. The secret of this lay in one fact: women liked him.

What was it that they found to like in him?  This was the question asked often in irritation by his brother man. And naturally. For the women themselves could not give a reasonable reason. The corresponding side of life is not the same, since men admire with a reason; the woman is plainly beautiful, or brilliant, or fascinating round whom they gather. At Carly’s seven or eight men were handsomer than Heathcote; a number were more brilliant; many were richer. Yet almost all of these had discovered, at one time or another, that the eyes they were talking to were following Heathcote furtively; and they had seen attempts that made them tingle with anger—all the more so because they were so infinitesimally delicate and fine, as became the actions of well-bred women. One or two, who had married, had had explained to them elaborately by their wives what it was they (in their free days, of course) had liked in Heathcote—elaborately, if not clearly. The husbands gathered generally that it was only a way he had, a manner; the liking was half imaginative, after all. Now Heathcote was not in the least imaginative.  But the women were.

Manly qualities, good hearts, handsome faces, and greater wealth held their own in fact against him. Marriages took place in his circle, wedding chimes pealed, and brides were happy under their veils in spite of him. Yet, as histories of lives go, there was a decided balance in his favor of feminine regard, and no one could deny it.

He had now but a small income, and had been obliged to come down to a very simple manner of life. Those who disliked him said that of course he would marry money. As yet, however, he had shown no signs of fulfilling his destiny in this respect. He seldom took the trouble to express his opinions, and therefore passed as having none; but those who were clear-sighted knew better. Dexter was one of these, and this entire absence of self-assertion in Ward Heathcote stung him.  For Dexter always asserted himself; he could not help it. He came in at this moment, and noted Heathcote’s position near Anne. Obeying   an   impulse, he   crossed   the   room   immediately, and   began a counter- conversation with Miss Vanhorn, the chaperon.

“Trying to interest that child,” he thought, as he listened to the grandaunt with the air of deferential attention she liked so well. With eyes that apparently never once glanced in their direction, he kept close watch of the two beyond. “She is no match for him,” he thought, with indignation; “she has had no experience. It ought not to be allowed.”

But Dexter always mistook Heathcote; he gave him credit for plans and theories of which Heathcote never dreamed.  In fact, he judged him by himself. Heathcote was merely talking to Anne now in the absence of other entertainment, having felt some slight curiosity about her because she had looked so bright and contented on the mud- bank under the bridge. He tried to recall his impression of her on New-Year’s Day, and determined to refresh his memory by Blum; but, in the mean time, outwardly, his manner was as though, silently of course, but none the less deeply, he had dwelt upon her image ever since. It was this impalpable manner, which made Dexter indignant. He knew it so well! He said to himself that it was a lie. And, generally speaking, it was. But possibly in this case (as in others) it was not so much the falsity of the manner as its success, which annoyed the other man.

He could not hear what was said; and the words, in truth, were not many or brilliant. But he knew the sort of quiet glance with which they were being accompanied. Yet Dexter, quick and suspicious as he was, would never have discovered that glance unaided.

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