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´╗┐Title: The Mettle of the Pasture
Author: Allen, James Lane, 1849-1925
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Mettle of the Pasture" ***


THE METTLE OF THE PASTURE

BY

JAMES LANE ALLEN

Author of "The Choir Invisible," "A Kentucky Cardinal," etc., etc.

New York, 1903



To My Sister



PART FIRST

I

She did not wish any supper and she sank forgetfully back into the
stately oak chair.  One of her hands lay palm upward on her white
lap; in the other, which drooped over the arm of the chair, she
clasped a young rose dark red amid its leaves--an inverted torch of
love.

Old-fashioned glass doors behind her reached from a high ceiling to
the floor; they had been thrown open and the curtains looped apart.
Stone steps outside led downward to the turf in the rear of the
house.  This turf covered a lawn unroughened by plant or weed; but
over it at majestic intervals grew clumps of gray pines and
dim-blue, ever wintry firs.  Beyond lawn and evergreens a flower
garden bloomed; and beyond the high fence enclosing this, tree-tops
and house-tops of the town could be seen; and beyond these--away in
the west--the sky was naming now with the falling sun.

A few bars of dusty gold hung poised across the darkening spaces of
the supper room.  Ripples of the evening air, entering through the
windows, flowed over her, lifting the thick curling locks at the
nape of her neck, creeping forward over her shoulders and passing
along her round arms under the thin fabric of her sleeves.

They aroused her, these vanishing beams of the day, these arriving
breezes of the night; they became secret invitations to escape from
the house into the privacy of the garden, where she could be alone
with thoughts of her great happiness now fast approaching.

A servant entered noiselessly, bringing a silver bowl of frozen
cream.  Beside this, at the head of the table before her
grandmother, he placed scarlet strawberries gathered that morning
under white dews.  She availed herself of the slight interruption
and rose with an apology; but even when love bade her go, love also
bade her linger; she could scarce bear to be with them, but she
could scarce bear to be alone.  She paused at her grandmother's
chair to stroke the dry bronze puffs on her temples--a unique
impulse; she hesitated compassionately a moment beside her aunt,
who had never married; then, passing around to the opposite side of
the table, she took between her palms the sunburnt cheeks of a
youth, her cousin, and buried her own tingling cheek in his hair.
Instinct at that moment drew her most to him because he was young
as she was young, having life and love before him as she had; only,
for him love stayed far in the future; for her it came to-night.

When she had crossed the room and reached the hall, she paused and
glanced back, held by the tension of cords which she dreaded to
break.  She felt that nothing would ever be the same again in the
home of her childhood.  Until marriage she would remain under its
dear honored roof, and there would be no outward interruption of
its familiar routine; but for her all the bonds of life would have
become loosened from old ties and united in him alone whom this
evening she was to choose as her lot and destiny.  Under the
influence of that fresh fondness, therefore, which wells up so
strangely within us at the thought of parting from home and home
people, even though we may not greatly care for them, she now stood
gazing at the picture they formed as though she were already
calling it back through the distances of memory and the changes of
future years.

They, too, had shifted their positions and were looking at her with
one undisguised expression of pride and love; and they smiled as
she smiled radiantly back at them, waving a last adieu with her
spray of rose and turning quickly in a dread of foolish tears.

"Isabel."

It was the youthful voice of her grandmother.  She faced them again
with a little frown of feigned impatience.

"If you are going into the garden, throw something around your
shoulders."

"Thank you, grandmother; I have my lace."

Crossing the hall, she went into the front parlor, took from a
damask sofa a rare shawl of white lace and, walking to a mirror,
threw it over her head, absently noting the effect in profile.  She
lifted this off and, breaking the rose from part of its stem,
pinned that on her breast.  Then, stepping aside to one of the
large lofty windows, she stood there under the droop of the
curtains, sunk into reverie again and looking out upon the yard and
the street beyond.

Hardly a sound disturbed the twilight stillness.  A lamplighter
passed, torching the grim lamps.  A sauntering carrier threw the
evening newspaper over the gate, with his unintelligible cry.  A
dog-cart rumbled by, and later, a brougham; people were not yet
returned from driving on the country turnpikes.  Once, some belated
girls clattered past on ponies.  But already little children,
bare-armed, bare-necked, swinging lanterns, and attended by proud
young mothers, were on their way to a summer-night festival in the
park.  Up and down the street family groups were forming on the
verandas.  The red disks of cigars could be seen, and the laughter
of happy women was wafted across the dividing fences and shrubbery,
and vines.

Breaking again through her reverie, which seemed to envelop her,
wherever she went, like a beautiful cloud, she left the window and
appeared at the front door.  Palms stood on each side of the
granite steps, and these arched their tropical leaves far over
toward her quiet feet as she passed down.  Along the pavement were
set huge green boxes, in which white oleanders grew, and flaming
pomegranates, and crepe myrtle thickly roofed with pink.  She was
used to hover about them at this hour, but she strolled past,
unmindful now, the daily habit obliterated, the dumb little tie
quite broken.  The twisted newspaper lay white on the shadowed
pavement before her eyes and she did not see that.  She walked on
until she reached the gate and, folding her hands about one of the
brass globes surmounting the iron spikes, leaned over and probed
with impatient eyes the long dusk of the street; as far as he could
be seen coming she wished to see him.

It was too early.  So she filled her eyes with pictures of the
daylight fading over woods and fields far out in the country.  But
the entire flock of wistful thoughts settled at last about a large
house situated on a wooded hill some miles from town.  A lawn
sloped upward to it from the turnpike, and there was a gravelled
driveway.  She unlatched the gate, approached the house, passed
through the wide hall, ascended the stairs, stood at the door of
his room--waiting.  Why did he not come?  How could he linger?

Dreamily she turned back; and following a narrow walk, passed to
the rear of the house and thence across the lawn of turf toward the
garden.

A shower had fallen early in the day and the grass had been cut
afterwards.  Afternoon sunshine had drunk the moisture, leaving the
fragrance released and floating.  The warmth of the cooling earth
reached her foot through the sole of her slipper.  On the plume of
a pine, a bird was sending its last call after the bright hours,
while out of the firs came the tumult of plainer kinds as they
mingled for common sleep.  The heavy cry of the bullbat fell from
far above, and looking up quickly for a sight of his winnowing
wings under the vast purpling vault she beheld the earliest stars.

Thus, everywhere, under her feet, over her head, and beyond the
reach of vision, because inhabiting that realm into which the
spirit alone can send its aspiration and its prayer, was one
influence, one spell: the warmth of the good wholesome earth, its
breath of sweetness, its voices of peace and love and rest, the
majesty of its flashing dome; and holding all these safe as in the
hollow of a hand the Eternal Guardianship of the world.

As she strolled around the garden under the cloudy flush of the
evening sky dressed in white, a shawl of white lace over one arm, a
rose on her breast, she had the exquisiteness of a long past,
during which women have been chosen in marriage for health and
beauty and children and the power to charm.  The very curve of her
neck implied generations of mothers who had valued grace.
Generations of forefathers had imparted to her walk and bearing
their courage and their pride.  The precision of the eyebrow, the
chiselled perfection of the nostril, the loveliness of the short
red lip; the well-arched feet, small, but sure of themselves; the
eyes that were kind and truthful and thoughtful; the sheen of her
hair, the fineness of her skin, her nobly cast figure,--all these
were evidences of descent from a people, that had reached in her
the purity, without having lost the vigor, of one of its highest
types.

She had supposed that when he came the servant would receive him
and announce his arrival, but in a little while the sound of a step
on the gravel reached her ear; she paused and listened.  It was
familiar, but it was unnatural--she remembered this afterwards.

She began to walk away from him, her beautiful head suddenly arched
far forward, her bosom rising and falling under her clasped hands,
her eyes filling with wonderful light.  Then regaining composure
because losing consciousness of herself in the thought of him, she
turned and with divine simplicity of soul advanced to meet him.

Near the centre of the garden there was an open spot where two
pathways crossed; and it was here, emerging from the shrubbery,
that they came in sight of each other.  Neither spoke.  Neither
made in advance a sign of greeting.  When they were a few yards
apart she paused, flushing through her whiteness; and he, dropping
his hat from his hand, stepped quickly forward, gathered her hands
into his and stood looking down on her in silence.  He was very
pale and barely controlled himself.

"Isabel!" It was all he could say.

"Rowan!" she answered at length.  She spoke under her breath and
stood before him with her head drooping, her eyes on the ground.
Then he released her and she led the way at once out of the garden.

When they had reached the front of the house, sounds of
conversation on the veranda warned them that there were guests, and
without concealing their desire to be alone they passed to a rustic
bench under one of the old trees, standing between the house and
the street; they were used to sitting there; they had known each
other all their lives.

A long time they forced themselves to talk of common and trivial
things, the one great meaning of the hour being avoided by each.
Meanwhile it was growing very late.  The children had long before
returned drowsily home held by the hand, their lanterns dropped on
the way or still clung to, torn and darkened.  No groups laughed on
the verandas; but gas-jets had been lighted and turned low as
people undressed for bed.  The guests of the family had gone.  Even
Isabel's grandmother had not been able further to put away sleep
from her plotting brain in order to send out to them a final
inquisitive thought--the last reconnoitring bee of all the
In-gathered hive.  Now, at length, as absolutely as he could have
wished, he was alone with her and secure from interruption.

The moon had sunk so low that its rays fell in a silvery stream on
her white figure; only a waving bough of the tree overhead still
brushed with shadow her neck and face.  As the evening waned, she
had less to say to him, growing always more silent in new dignity,
more mute with happiness.

He pushed himself abruptly away from her side and bending over
touched his lips reverently to the back of one of her hands, as
they lay on the shawl in her lap.

"Isabel," and then he hesitated.

"Yes," she answered sweetly.  She paused likewise, requiring
nothing more; it was enough that he should speak her name.

He changed his position and sat looking ahead.  Presently he began
again, choosing his words as a man might search among terrible
weapons for the least deadly.

"When I wrote and asked you to marry me, I said I should come
to-night and receive your answer from your own lips.  If your
answer had been different, I should never have spoken to you of my
past.  It would not have been my duty.  I should not have had the
right.  I repeat, Isabel, that until you had confessed your love
for me, I should have had no right to speak to you about my past.
But now there is something you ought to be told at once."

She glanced up quickly with a rebuking smile.  How could he wander
so far from the happiness of moments too soon to end?  What was his
past to her?

He went on more guardedly.

"Ever since I have loved you, I have realized what I should have to
tell you if you ever returned my love.  Sometimes duty has seemed
one thing, sometimes another.  This is why I have waited so
long--more than two years; the way was not clear.  Isabel, it will
never be clear.  I believe now it is wrong to tell you; I believe
It is wrong not to tell you.  I have thought and thought--it is
wrong either way.  But the least wrong to you and to myself--that
is what I have always tried to see, and as I understand my duty,
now that you are willing to unite your life with mine, there is
something you must know."

He added the last words as though he had reached a difficult
position and were announcing his purpose to hold it.  But he paused
gloomily again.

She had scarcely heard him through wonderment that he could so
change at such a moment.  Her happiness began to falter and darken
like departing sunbeams.  She remained for a space uncertain of
herself, knowing neither what was needed nor what was best; then
she spoke with resolute deprecation:

"Why discuss with me your past life?  Have I not known you always?"

These were not the words of girlhood.  She spoke from the emotions
of womanhood, beginning to-night in the plighting of her troth.

"You have trusted me too much, Isabel."

Repulsed a second time, she now fixed her large eyes upon him with
surprise.  The next moment she had crossed lightly once more the
widening chasm.

"Rowan," she said more gravely and with slight reproach, "I have
not waited so long and then not known the man whom I have chosen."

"Ah," he cried, with a gesture of distress.

Thus they sat: she silent with new thoughts; he speechless with his
old ones.  Again she was the first to speak.  More deeply moved by
the sight of his increasing excitement, she took one of his hands
into both of hers, pressing it with a delicate tenderness.

"What is it that troubles you, Rowan?  Tell me!  It is my duty to
listen.  I have the right to know."

He shrank from what he had never heard in her voice
before--disappointment in him.  And it was neither girlhood nor
womanhood which had spoken now: it was comradeship which is
possible to girlhood and to womanhood through wifehood alone: she
was taking their future for granted.  He caught her hand and lifted
it again and again to his lips; then he turned away from her.

Thus shut out from him again, she sat looking out into the night.

But in a woman's complete love of a man there is something deeper
than girlhood or womanhood or wifehood: it is the maternal--that
dependence on his strength when he is well and strong, that passion
of protection and defence when he is frail or stricken.  Into her
mood and feeling toward him even the maternal had forced its way.
She would have found some expression for it but he anticipated her.

"I am thinking of you, of my duty to you, of your happiness."

She realized at last some terrible hidden import in all that he had
been trying to confess.  A shrouded mysterious Shape of Evil was
suddenly disclosed as already standing on the threshold of the
House of Life which they were about to enter together.  The night
being warm, she had not used her shawl.  Now she threw it over her
head and gathered the weblike folds tightly under her throat as
though she were growing cold.  The next instant, with a swift
movement, she tore it from her head and pushed herself as far as
possible away from him out into the moonlight; and she sat there
looking at him, wild with distrust and fear.

He caught sight of her face.

"Oh, I am doing wrong," he cried miserably.  "I must not tell you
this!"

He sprang up and hurried over to the pavement and began to walk to
and fro.  He walked to and fro a long time; and after waiting for
him to return, she came quickly and stood in his path.  But when he
drew near her he put out his hand.

"I cannot!" he repeated, shaking his head and turning away.

Still she waited, and when he approached and was turning away
again, she stepped forward and laid on his arm her quivering
finger-tips.

"You must," she said.  "You _shall_ tell me!" and if there was
anger in her voice, if there was anguish in it, there was the
authority likewise of holy and sovereign rights.  But he thrust her
all but rudely away, and going to the lower end of the pavement,
walked there backward and forward with his hat pulled low over his
eyes--walked slowly, always more slowly.  Twice he laid his hand on
the gate as though he would have passed out.  At last he stopped
and looked back to where she waited in the light, her face set
immovably, commandingly, toward him.  Then he came back and stood
before her.

The moon, now sinking low, shone full on his face, pale, sad, very
quiet; and into his eyes, mournful as she had never known any eyes
to be.  He had taken off his hat and held it in his hand, and a
light wind blew his thick hair about his forehead and temples.
She, looking at him with senses preternaturally aroused, afterwards
remembered all this.

Before he began to speak he saw rush over her face a look of final
entreaty that he would not strike her too cruel a blow.  This, when
he had ceased speaking, was succeeded by the expression of one who
has received a shock beyond all imagination.  Thus they stood
looking into each other's eyes; then she shrank back and started
toward the house.

He sprang after her.

"You are leaving me!" he cried horribly.

She walked straight on, neither quickening nor slackening her pace
nor swerving, although his body began unsteadily to intercept hers.

He kept beside her.

"Don't!  Isabel!" he prayed out of his agony.  "Don't leave me like
this--!"

She walked on and reached the steps of the veranda.  Crying out in
his longing he threw his arms around her and held her close.

"You must not! You shall not!  Do you know what you are doing,
Isabel?"

She made not the least reply, not the least effort to extricate
herself.  But she closed her eyes and shuddered and twisted her
body away from him as a bird of the air bends its neck and head as
far as possible from a repulsive captor; and like the heart of such
a bird, he could feel the throbbing of her heart.

Her mute submission to his violence stung him: he let her go.  She
spread out her arms as though in a rising flight of her nature and
the shawl, tossed backward from her shoulders, fell to the ground:
it was as if she cast off the garment he had touched.  Then she
went quickly up the steps.  Before she could reach the door he
confronted her again; he pressed his back against it.  She
stretched out her hand and rang the bell.  He stepped aside very
quickly--proudly.  She entered, closing and locking noiselessly the
door that no sound might reach the servant she had summoned.  As
she did so she heard him try the knob and call to her in an
undertone of last reproach and last entreaty:

"_Isabel!--Isabel!--Isabel_!"

Hurrying through the hall, she ran silently up the stairs to her
room and shut herself in.

Her first feeling was joy that she was there safe from him and from
every one else for the night.  Her instant need was to be alone.
It was this feeling also that caused her to go on tiptoe around the
room and draw down the blinds, as though the glimmering windows
were large eyes peering at her with intrusive wounding stare.  Then
taking her position close to a front window, she listened.  He was
walking slowly backward and forward on the pavement reluctantly,
doubtfully; finally he passed through the gate.  As it clanged
heavily behind him, Isabel pressed her hands convulsively to her
heart as though it also had gates which had closed, never to reopen.

Then she lighted the gas-jets beside the bureau and when she caught
sight of herself the thought came how unchanged she looked.  She
stood there, just as she had stood before going down to supper,
nowhere a sign of all the deep displacement and destruction that
had gone on within.

But she said to herself that what he had told her would reveal
itself in time.  It would lie in the first furrows deepening down
her cheeks; it would be the earliest frost of years upon her hair.

A long while she sat on the edge of the couch in the middle of the
room under the brilliant gaslight, her hands forgotten in her lap,
her brows arched high, her eyes on the floor.  Then her head
beginning to ache, a new sensation for her, she thought she should
bind a wet handkerchief to it as she had often done for her aunt;
but the water which the maid had placed in the room had become
warm.  She must go down to the ewer in the hall.  As she did so,
she recollected her shawl.

It was lying on the wet grass where it had fallen.  There was a
half-framed accusing thought that he might have gone for it; but
she put the thought away; the time had passed for courtesies from
him.  When she stooped for the shawl, an owl flew viciously at her,
snapping its bill close to her face and stirring the air with its
wings.  Unnerved, she ran back into the porch, but stopped there
ashamed and looking kindly toward the tree in which it made its
home.

An old vine of darkest green had wreathed itself about the pillars
of the veranda on that side; and it was at a frame-like opening in
the massive foliage of this that the upper part of her pure white
figure now stood revealed in the last low, silvery, mystical light.
The sinking of the moon was like a great death on the horizon,
leaving the pall of darkness, the void of infinite loss.

She hung upon this far spectacle of nature with sad intensity,
figuring from it some counterpart of the tragedy taking place
within her own mind.



II

Isabel slept soundly, the regular habit of healthy years being too
firmly entrenched to give way at once.  Meanwhile deep changes were
wrought out in her.

When we fall asleep, we do not lay aside the thoughts of the day,
as the hand its physical work; nor upon awakening return to the
activity of these as it to the renewal of its toil, finding them
undisturbed.  Our most piercing insight yields no deeper conception
of life than that of perpetual building and unbuilding; and during
what we call our rest, it is often most active in executing its
inscrutable will.  All along the dark chimneys of the brain,
clinging like myriads of swallows deep-buried and slumbrous in
quiet and in soot, are the countless thoughts which lately winged
the wide heaven of conscious day.  Alike through dreaming and
through dreamless hours Life moves among these, handling and
considering each of the unredeemable multitude; and when morning
light strikes the dark chimneys again and they rush forth, some
that entered young have matured; some of the old have become
infirm; many of which have dropped in singly issue as companies;
and young broods flutter forth, unaccountable nestlings of a night,
which were not in yesterday's blue at all.  Then there are the
missing--those that went in with the rest at nightfall but were
struck from the walls forever.  So all are altered, for while we
have slept we have still been subject to that on-moving energy of
the world which incessantly renews us yet transmutes us--double
mystery of our permanence and our change.

It was thus that nature dealt with Isabel on this night: hours of
swift difficult transition from her former life to that upon which
she was now to enter.  She fell asleep overwhelmed amid the ruins
of the old; she awoke already engaged with the duties of the new.
At sundown she was a girl who had never confessed her love; at
sunrise she was a woman who had discarded the man she had just
accepted.  Rising at once and dressing with despatch, she entered
upon preparations for completing her spiritual separation from
Rowan in every material way.

The books he had lent her--these she made ready to return this
morning.  Other things, also, trifles in themselves but until now
so freighted with significance.  Then his letters and notes, how
many, how many they were!  Thus ever about her rooms she moved on
this mournful occupation until the last thing had been disposed of
as either to be sent back or to be destroyed.

And then while Isabel waited for breakfast to be announced, always
she was realizing how familiar seemed Rowan's terrible confession,
already lying far from her across the fields of memory--with a path
worn deep between it and herself as though she had been traversing
the distance for years; so old can sorrow grow during a little
sleep.  When she went down they were seated as she had left them
the evening before, grandmother, aunt, cousin; and they looked up
with the same pride and fondness.  But affection has so different a
quality in the morning.  Then the full soundless rides which come
in at nightfall have receded; and in their stead is the glittering
beach with thin waves that give no rest to the ear or to the
shore--thin noisy edge of the deeps of the soul.

This fresh morning mood now ruled them; no such wholesome relief
had come to her.  So that their laughter and high spirits jarred
upon her strangely.  She had said to herself upon leaving them the
evening before that never again could they be the same to her or
she the same to them.  But then she had expected to return isolated
by incommunicable happiness; now she had returned isolated by
incommunicable grief.  Nevertheless she glided Into her seat with
feigned cheerfulness, taking a natural part in their conversation;
and she rose at last, smiling with the rest.

But she immediately quitted the house, eager to be out of doors
surrounded by things that she loved but that could not observe her
or question her in return--alone with things that know not evil.

These were the last days of May.  The rush of Summer had already
carried it far northward over the boundaries of Spring, and on this
Sunday morning it filled the grounds of Isabel's home with early
warmth.  Quickened by the heat, summoned by the blue, drenched with
showers and dews, all things which have been made repositories of
the great presence of Life were engaged in realizing the utmost
that it meant to them.

It was in the midst of this splendor of light and air, fragrance,
colors, shapes, movements, melodies and joys that Isabel, the
loftiest receptacle of life among them all, soon sat in a secluded
spot, motionless and listless with her unstanched and desperate
wound.  Everything seemed happy but herself; the very brilliancy of
the day only deepened the shadow under which she brooded.  As she
had slipped away from the house, she would soon have escaped from
the garden had there been any further retreat.

It was not necessary long to wait for one.  Borne across the brown
roofs and red chimneys of the town and exploding in the crystal air
above her head like balls of mellow music, came the sounds of the
first church bells, the bells of Christ Church.

They had never conveyed other meaning to her than that proclaimed
by the town clock: they sounded the hour.  She had been too
untroubled during her young life to understand their aged argument
and invitation.

Held In the arms of her father, when a babe, she had been duly
christened.  His death had occurred soon afterwards, then her
mother's.  Under the nurture of a grandmother to whom religion was
a convenience and social form, she had received the strictest
ceremonial but in no wise any spiritual training.  The first
conscious awakening of this beautiful unearthly sense had not taken
place until the night of her confirmation--a wet April evening when
the early green of the earth was bowed to the ground, and the
lilies-of-the-valley in the yard had chilled her fingers as she had
plucked them (chosen flower of her consecration); she and they but
rising alike into their higher lives out of the same mysterious
Mother.

That night she had knelt among the others at the chancel and the
bishop who had been a friend of her father's, having approached her
in the long line of young and old, had laid his hands the more
softly for his memories upon her brow with the impersonal prayer:

"_Defend, O Lord, this thy child with thy heavenly grace, that she
may continue thine forever, and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit
more and more, until she come unto thy Everlasting Kingdom_."

For days afterwards a steady radiance seemed to Isabel to rest upon
her wherever she went, shed straight from Eternity.  She had
avoided her grandmother, secluded herself from the closest
companions, been very thoughtful.

Years had elapsed since.  But no experience of the soul is ever
wasted or effaceable; and as the sound of the bells now reached her
across the garden, they reawoke the spiritual impulses which had
stirred within her at confirmation.  First heard whispering then,
the sacred annunciation now more eloquently urged that in her
church, the hour of real need being come, she would find refuge,
help, more than earthly counsellor.

She returned unobserved to the house and after quick simple
preparation, was on her way.

When she slipped shrinkingly into her pew, scarce any one had
arrived.  Several women in mourning were there and two or three
aged men.  It is the sorrowful and the old who head the human host
in its march toward Paradise: Youth and Happiness loiter far behind
and are satisfied with the earth.  Isabel looked around with a
poignant realization of the broken company over into which she had
so swiftly crossed.

She had never before been in the church when it was empty.  How
hushed and solemn it waited in its noonday twilight--the Divine
already there, faithful keeper of the ancient compact; the human
not yet arrived.  Here indeed was the refuge she had craved; here
the wounded eye of the soul could open unhurt and unafraid; and she
sank to her knees with a quick prayer of the heart, scarce of the
lips, for Isabel knew nothing about prayer in her own words--that
she might have peace of mind during these guarded hours: there
would be so much time afterwards in which to remember--so many
years in which to remember!

How still it was!  At first she started at every sound: the barely
audible opening and shutting of a pew door by some careful hand;
the grating of wheels on the cobblestones outside as a carriage was
driven to the entrance; the love-calls of sparrows building in the
climbing oak around the Gothic windows.

Soon, however, her ear became sealed to all outward disturbance.
She had fled to the church, driven by many young impulses, but
among them was the keen hope that her new Sorrow, which had begun
to follow her everywhere since she awoke, would wait outside when
she entered those doors: so dark a spirit would surely not stalk
behind her into the very splendor of the Spotless.  But as she now
let her eyes wander down the isle to the chancel railing where she
had knelt at confirmation, where bridal couples knelt in receiving
the benediction, Isabel felt that this new Care faced her from
there as from its appointed shrine; she even fancied that in effect
it addressed to her a solemn warning:

"Isabel, think not to escape me in this place!  It is here that
Rowan must seem to you most unworthy and most false; to have
wronged you most cruelly.  For it was here, at this altar, that you
had expected to kneel beside him and be blessed in your marriage.
In years to come, sitting where you now sit, you may live to see
him kneel here with another, making her his wife.  But for you,
Isabel, this spot must ever mean the renunciation of marriage, the
bier of love.  Then do not think to escape me here, me, who am
Remembrance."

And Isabel, as though a command had been laid upon her, with her
eyes fixed on the altar over which the lights of the stained glass
windows were joyously playing, gave herself up to memories of all
the innocent years that she had known Rowan and of the blind years
that she had loved him.

She was not herself aware that marriage was the only sacrament of
religion that had ever possessed interest for her.  Recollection
told her no story of how even as a child she had liked to go to the
crowded church with other children and watch the procession of the
brides--all mysterious under their white veils, and following one
and another so closely during springs and autumns that in truth
they were almost a procession.  Or with what excitement she had
watched each walk out, leaning on the arm of the man she had chosen
and henceforth to be called his in ail things to the end while the
loud crash of the wedding march closed their separate pasts with a
single melody.

But there were mothers in the church who, attracted by the child's
expression, would say to each other a little sadly perhaps, that
love and marriage were destined to be the one overshadowing or
overshining experience in life to this most human and poetic soul.

After she had learned of Rowan's love for her and had begun to
return his love, the altar had thenceforth become the more personal
symbol of their destined happiness.  Every marriage that she
witnessed bound her more sacredly to him.  Only a few months before
this, at the wedding of the Osborns--Kate being her closest friend,
and George Osborn being Rowan's--he and she had been the only
attendants; and she knew how many persons in the church were
thinking that they might be the next to plight their vows; with
crimsoning cheeks she had thought it herself.

Now there returned before Isabel's eyes the once radiant procession
of the brides--but how changed!  And bitter questioning she
addressed to each!  Had any such confession been made to any one of
them--either before marriage or afterwards--by the man she had
loved?  Was it for some such reason that one had been content to
fold her hands over her breast before the birth of her child?  Was
this why another lived on, sad young wife, motherless?  Was this
why in the town there were women who refused to marry at all?  So
does a little knowledge of evil move backward and darken for us
even the bright years in which it had no place.

The congregation were assembling rapidly.  Among those who passed
further down were several of the girls of Isabel's set.  How fresh
and sweet they looked as they drifted gracefully down the aisles
this summer morning!  How light-hearted!  How far away from her in
her new wretchedness!  Some, after they were seated, glanced back
with a smile.  She avoided their eyes.

A little later the Osborns entered, the bride and groom of a few
months before.  Their pew was immediately in front of hers.  Kate
wore mourning for her mother.  As she seated herself, she lifted
her veil halfway, turned and slipped a hand over the pew into
Isabel's.  The tremulous pressure of the fingers spoke of present
trouble; and as Isabel returned it with a quick response of her
own, a tear fell from the hidden eyes.

The young groom's eyes were also red and swollen, but for other
reasons; and he sat in the opposite end of the pew as far as
possible from his wife's side.  When she a few moments later leaned
toward him with timidity and hesitation, offering him an open
prayer-book, he took it coldly and laid it between them on the
cushion.  Isabel shuddered: her new knowledge of evil so cruelly
opened her eyes to the full understanding of so much.

Little rime was left for sympathy with Kate.  Nearer the pulpit was
another pew from which her thoughts had never been wholly
withdrawn.  She had watched it with the fascination of abhorrence;
and once, feeling that she could not bear to see him come in with
his mother and younger brother, she had started to leave the
church.  But just then her grandmother had bustled richly in,
followed by her aunt; and more powerful with Isabel already than
any other feeling was the wish to bury her secret--Rowan's
secret--in the deepest vault of consciousness, to seal it up
forever from the knowledge of the world.

The next moment what she so dreaded took place.  He walked quietly
down the aisle as usual, opened the pew for his mother and brother
with the same courtesy, and the three bent their heads together in
prayer.

"Grandmother," she whispered quickly, "will you let me pass!  I am
not very well, I think I shall go home."

Her grandmother, not heeding and with her eyes fixed upon the same
pew, whispered in return;

"The Merediths are here," and continued her satisfying scrutiny of
persons seated around.

Isabel herself had no sooner suffered the words to escape than she
regretted them.  Resolved to control herself from this time on, she
unclasped her prayer-book, found the appointed reading, and
directed her thoughts to the service soon to begin.

It was part of the confession of David that reached her, sounding
across how many centuries.  Wrung from him who had been a young man
himself and knew what a young man is.  With time enough afterwards
to think of this as soldier, priest, prophet, care-worn king, and
fallible judge over men--with time enough to think of what his days
of nature had been when he tended sheep grazing the pastures of
Bethlehem or abided solitary with the flock by night, lowly
despised work, under the herded stars.  Thus converting a young
man's memories into an older man's remorses.

As she began to read, the first outcry gripped and cramped her
heart like physical pain; where all her life she had been repeating
mere words, she now with eyes tragically opened discerned forbidden
meanings:

"_Thou art about my path and about my bed . . .  the darkness is no
darkness to thee. . . .  Thine eyes did see my substance being yet
imperfect . . .  look well if there be any wickedness in me; and
lead me in the way everlasting . . .  haste thee unto me . . .
when I cry unto thee.  O let not my heart be inclined to an evil
thing_."

She was startled by a general movement throughout the congregation.
The minister had advanced to the reading desk and begun to read:

"_I will arise and go to my father and will say unto him: Father, I
have sinned against heaven and before thee and am no more worthy to
be called thy son_."

Ages stretched their human wastes between these words of the New
Testament and those other words of the Old; but the parable of
Christ really finished the prayer of David: in each there was the
same young prodigal--the ever-falling youth of humanity.

Another moment and the whole congregation knelt and began the
confession.  Isabel also from long custom sank upon her knees and
started to repeat the words, "We have erred and strayed from thy
ways like lost sheep."  Then she stopped.  She declined to make
that confession with Rowan or to join in any service that he shared
and appropriated.

The Commandments now remained and for the first time she shrank
from them as being so awful and so near.  All our lives we placidly
say over to ourselves that man is mortal; but not until death
knocks at the threshold and enters do we realize the terrors of our
mortality.  All our lives we repeat with dull indifference that man
is erring; but only when the soul most loved and trusted has gone
astray, do we begin to realize the tragedy of human imperfection.
So Isabel had been used to go through the service, with bowed head
murmuring at each response, "_Lord have mercy upon us and incline
our hearts to keep this law_."

But the laws themselves had been no more to her than pious archaic
statements, as far removed as the cherubim, the candlesticks and
the cedar of Solomon's temple.  If her thoughts had been forced to
the subject, she would have perhaps admitted the necessity of these
rules for men and women ages ago.  Some one of them might have
meant much to a girl in those dim days: to Rebecca pondering who
knows what temptation at the well; to Ruth tempted who knows how in
the corn and thinking of Boaz and the barn; to Judith plotting in
the camp; to Jephtha's daughter out on the wailing mountains.

But to-day, sitting in an Episcopal church in the closing years of
the nineteenth century, holding a copy of those old laws, and
thinking of Rowan as the breaker of the greatest of them, Isabel
for the first time awoke to realization of how close they are
still--those voices from the far land of Shinar; how all the men
and women around her in that church still waged their moral battles
over those few texts of righteousness; how the sad and sublime
wandering caravans of the whole race forever pitch their nightly
tents beneath that same mountain of command.

Thick and low sounded the response of the worshippers.  She could
hear her grandmother's sonorous voice, a mingling of worldly
triumph and indifference; her aunt's plaintive and aggrieved.  She
could hear Kate's needy and wounded.  In imagination she could hear
his proud, noble mother's; his younger brother's.  Against the
sound of his responses she closed all hearing; and there low on her
knees, in the ear of Heaven itself, she recorded against him her
unforgiveness and her dismissal forever.

An organ melody followed, thrillingly sweet; and borne outward on
it the beseeching of the All-Merciful:

  "'Art thou weary, art thou languid,
    Art thou sore distressed?
  Come to me!' saith one; 'and, coming,
    Be at rest!'"

It was this hymn that brought her in a passion to her feet.

With whatsoever other feelings she had sought the church, it was at
least with the hope that it had a message for her.  She had indeed
listened to a personal message, but it was a message delivered to
the wrong person; for at every stage of the worship she, the
innocent, had been forgotten and slighted; Rowan, the guilty, had
been considered and comforted.  David had his like in mind and
besought pardon for him; the prophet of old knew of a case like his
and blessed him; the apostle centuries afterward looked on and did
not condemn; Christ himself had in a way told the multitude the
same story that Rowan had told her,--counselling forgiveness.  The
very hymns of the church were on Rowan's side--every one gone in
search of the wanderer.  For on this day Religion, universal mother
of needy souls and a minister of all comforts, was in the mood to
deal only with youth and human frailty.

She rebelled.  It was like commanding her to dishonor a woman's
strongest and purest instincts.  It called upon her to sympathize
with the evil that had blighted her life.  And Rowan himself!--in
her anger and suffering she could think of him in no other way than
as enjoying this immortal chorus of anxiety on his account; as
hearing it all with complacency and self-approval.  It had to her
distorted imagination the effect of offering a reward to him for
having sinned; he would have received no such attention had he
remained innocent.

With one act of complete revulsion she spurned it all: the moral
casuistry that beguiled him, the church that cloaked him; spurned
psalm and prophet and apostle, Christ and parable and song.

"Grandmother," she whispered, "I shall not wait for the sermon."

A moment later she issued from the church doors and took her way
slowly homeward through the deserted streets, under the lonely blue
of the unanswering sky.



III

The Conyers homestead was situated in a quiet street on the
southern edge of the town.  All the houses in that block had been
built by people of English descent near the close of the eighteenth
or at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Each was set apart
from each by lawns, yards and gardens, and further screened by
shrubs and vines in accordance with old English custom. Where they
grew had once been the heart of a wilderness; and above each house
stood a few old forest trees, indifferent guardsmen of the camping
generations.

The architects had given to the buildings good strong characters;
the family living in each for a hundred years or more had long
since imparted reputation.  Out of the windows girlish brides had
looked on reddening springs and whitening winters until they had
become silver-haired grandmothers themselves; then had looked no
more; and succeeding eyes had watched the swift pageants of the
earth, and the swifter pageants of mortal hope and passion.  Out of
the front doors, sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons had gone away
to the cotton and sugar and rice plantations of the South, to new
farm lands of the West, to the professions in cities of the North.
The mirrors within held long vistas of wavering forms and vanishing
faces; against the walls of the rooms had beaten unremembered tides
of strong and of gentle voices.  In the parlors what scenes of
lights and music, sheen of satins, flashing of gems; in the dining
rooms what feastings as in hale England, with all the robust humors
of the warm land, of the warm heart.

Near the middle of the block and shaded by forest trees, stood with
its heirlooms and treasures the home of Isabel's grandmother. Known
to be heiress to this though rich in her own right was Isabel
herself, that grandmother's idol, the only one of its beautiful
women remaining yet to be married; and to celebrate with
magnificence in this house Isabel's marriage to Rowan Meredith had
long been planned by the grandmother as the last scene of her own
splendid social drama: having achieved that, she felt she should be
willing to retire from the stage--and to play only behind the
curtain.

It was the middle of the afternoon of the same Sunday.  In the
parlors extending along the eastern side of the house there was a
single sound: the audible but healthful breathing of a sleeper
lying on a sofa in the coolest corner.  It was Isabel's grandmother
nearing the end of her customary nap.

Sometimes there are households in which two members suggest the
single canvas of a mediaeval painter, depicting scenes that
represent a higher and a lower world: above may be peaks, clouds,
sublimity, the Transfiguration; underneath, the pursuits and
passions of local worldly life--some story of loaves and fishes and
of a being possessed by a devil.  Isabel and her grandmother were
related as parts of some such painting: the grandmother was the
bottom of the canvas.

In a little while she awoke and uncoiling her figure, rolled softly
over on her back and stretched like some drowsy feline of the
jungle; then sitting up with lithe grace she looked down at the
print of her head on the pillow and deftly smoothed it out.  The
action was characteristic: she was careful to hide the traces of
her behavior, and the habit was so strong that it extended to
things innocent as slumber.  Letting her hands drop to the sofa,
she yawned and shook her head from side to side with that short
laugh by which we express amusement at our own comfort and well-
being.

Beside the sofa, toe by toe and heel by heel, sat her slippers--the
pads of this leopardess of the parlors.  She peered over and worked
her nimble feet into these.  On a little table at the end of the
sofa lay her glasses, her fan, and a small bell.  She passed her
fingers along her temples in search of small disorders in the scant
tufts of her hair, put on her glasses, and took the fan.  Then she
glided across the room to one of the front windows, sat down and
raised the blind a few inches in order to peep out: so the
well-fed, well-fanged leopardess with lowered head gazes idly
through her green leaves.

It was very hot.  With her nostrils close to the opening In the
shutters, she inhaled the heated air of the yard of drying grass.
On the white window-sill just outside, a bronze wasp was whirling
excitedly, that cautious stinger which never arrives until summer
is sure.  The oleanders in the big green tubs looked wilted though
abundantly watered that morning.

She shot a furtive glance at the doors and windows of the houses
across the street.  All were closed; and she formed her own
pictures of how people inside were sleeping, lounging, idly reading
until evening coolness should invite them again to the verandas and
the streets.

No one passed but gay strolling negroes. She was seventy years old,
but her interest in life was insatiable; and it was in part,
perhaps, the secret of her amazing vitality and youthfulness that
her surroundings never bored her; she derived instant pleasure from
the nearest spectacle, always exercising her powers humorously upon
the world, never upon herself.  For lack of other entertainment she
now fell upon these vulnerable figures, and began to criticise and
to laugh at them: she did not have to descend far to reach this
level.  Her undimmed eyes swept everything--walk, imitative
manners, imitative dress.

Suddenly she withdrew her face from the blinds; young Meredith had
entered the gate and was coming up the pavement.  If anything could
greatly have increased her happiness at this moment it would have
been the sight of him.  He had been with Isabel until late the
night before; he had attended morning service and afterward gone
home with his mother and brother (she had watched the carriage as
it rolled away down the street); he had returned at this unusual
hour.  Such eagerness had her approval; and coupling it with
Isabel's demeanor upon leaving the table the previous evening,
never before so radiant with love, she felt that she had ground for
believing the final ambition of her life near its fulfilment.

As he advanced, the worldly passions other nature--the jungle
passions--she had no others--saluted him with enthusiasm.  His head
and neck and bearing, stature and figure, family and family
history, house and lands--she inventoried them all once more and
discovered no lack.   When he had rung the bell, she leaned back;
in her chair and eavesdropped with sparkling eyes.

"Is Miss Conyers at home?"

The maid replied apologetically:

"She wished to be excused to-day, Mr. Meredith."

A short silence followed.  Then he spoke as a man long conscious of
a peculiar footing:

"Will you tell her Mr. Meredith would like to see her," and without
waiting to be invited he walked into the library across the hall.

She heard the maid go upstairs with hesitating step.

Some time passed before she came down. She brought a note and
handed it to him, saying with some embarrassment:

"She asked me to give you this note, Mr. Meredith."

Listening with sudden tenseness of attention, Mrs. Conyers heard
him draw the sheet from the envelope and a moment later crush it.

She placed her eyes against the shutters and watched him as he
walked away; then she leaned back in her chair, thoughtful and
surprised.  What was the meaning of this? The events of the day
were rapidly reviewed: that Isabel had not spoken with her after
breakfast; that she had gone to service at an unusual hour and had
left the church before the sermon; that she had effaced herself at
dinner and at once thereafter had gone up to her rooms, where she
still remained.

Returning to the sofa she lay down, having first rung her bell.
When the maid appeared, she rubbed her eyelids and sat sleepily up
as though just awakened: she remembered that she had eavesdropped,
and the maid must be persuaded that she had not.  Guilt is a bad
logician.

"Where is your Miss Isabel?"

"She is in her room, Miss Henrietta."

"Go up and tell her that I say come down into the parlors: it is
cooler down here. And ask her whether she'd like some sherbet.  And
bring me some--bring it before you go."

A few moments later the maid reentered with the sherbet.  She
lifted the cut-glass dish from the silver waiter with soft purrings
of the palate, and began to attack the minute snow mountain around
the base and up the sides with eager jabs and stabs, depositing the
spoonfuls upon a tongue as fresh as a child's.  Momentarily she
forgot even her annoyance; food instantly absorbed and placated her
as it does the carnivora.

The maid reentered.

"She says she doesn't wish any sherbet, Miss Henrietta."

"Did she say she would come down?"

"She did not say, Miss Henrietta."

"Go back and tell her I'd like to see her: ask her to come down
into the parlors." Then she hurried hack to the sherbet.  She
wanted her granddaughter, but she wanted that first.

Her thoughts ascended meantime to Isabel in the room above.  She
finished the sherbet. She waited.  Impatience darkened to
uneasiness and anger.  Still she waited; and her finger nails began
to scratch audibly at the mahogany of her chair and a light to burn
in the tawny eyes.


In the room overhead Isabel's thoughts all this time were
descending to her grandmother.  Before the message was delivered
it had been her intention to go down.  Once she had even reached
the head of the staircase; but then had faltered and shrunk
back. When the message came, it rendered her less inclined to
risk the interview. Coming at such an hour, that message was
suspicious. She, moreover, naturally had learned to dread her
grandmother's words when they looked most innocent.  Thus she,
too, waited--lacking the resolution to descend.

As she walked homeward from church she realized that she must take
steps at once to discard Rowan as the duty of her social position.
And here tangible perplexities instantly wove themselves across her
path. Conscience had promptly arraigned him at the altar of
religion.  It was easy to condemn him there.  And no one had the
right to question that arraignment and that condemnation.  But
public severance of all relations with him in her social world--how
should she accomplish that and withhold her justification?

Her own kindred would wish to understand the reason.  The branches
of these scattered far and near were prominent each in its sphere,
and all were intimately bound together by the one passion of
clannish allegiance to the family past.  She knew that Rowan's
attentions had continued so long and had been so marked, that
her grandmother had accepted marriage between them as a foregone
conclusion, and in letters had disseminated these prophecies
through the family connection.  Other letters had even come back
to Isabel, containing evidence only too plain that Rowan had
been discussed and accepted in domestic councils.  Against all
inward protests of delicacy, she had been forced to receive
congratulations that in this marriage she would preserve the
traditions of the family by bringing into it a man of good blood
and of unspotted name; the two idols of all the far separated
hearthstones.

To the pride of all these relatives she added her own pride--the
highest.  She was the last of the women in the direct line yet
unwedded, and she was sensitive that her choice should not in honor
and in worth fall short of the alliances that had preceded hers.
Involved in this sense of pride she felt that she owed a duty to
the generations who had borne her family name in this country and
to the still earlier generations who had given it distinction in
England--land of her womanly ideals.  To discard now without a word
of explanation the man whose suit she had long been understood to
favor would create wide disappointment and provoke keen question.

Further difficulties confronted her from Rowan's side.  His own
family and kindred were people strong and not to be trifled with,
proud and conservative like her own. Corresponding resentments
would be aroused among them, questions would be asked that had no
answers.  She felt that her life in its most private and sacred
relation would be publicly arraigned and have open judgment passed
upon it by conflicting interests and passions--and that the mystery
which contained her justification must also forever conceal it.

Nevertheless Rowan must be discarded; she must act quickly and for
the best.

On the very threshold one painful necessity faced her: the reserve
of years must be laid aside and her grandmother admitted to
confidence in her plans.  Anything that she might do could not
escape those watchful eyes long since grown impatient. Moreover
despite differences of character, she and her grandmother had
always lived together, and they must now stand together before
their world in regard to this step.


"Did you wish to see me about anything, grandmother?"

Mrs. Conyers had not heard Isabel's quiet entrance.  She was at the
window still: she turned softly in her chair and looked across the
darkened room to where Isabel sat facing her--a barely discernible
white figure.

From any other member other family she would roughly have demanded
the explanation she desired.  She was the mother of strong men
(they were living far from her now), and even in his manhood no one
of them had ever crossed her will without bearing away the scars of
her anger, and always of her revenge.  But before this grandchild,
whom she had reared from infancy, she felt the brute cowardice
which is often the only tribute that a debased nature can pay to
the incorruptible.  Her love must have its basis in some abject
emotion: it took its origin from fear.

An unforeseen incident, occurring when Isabel was yet a child and
all but daily putting forth new growths of nature, rendered very
clear even then the developing antagonism and prospective
relationship of these two characters.  In a company of ladies the
grandmother, drawing the conversation to herself, remarked with a
suggestive laugh that as there were no men present she would tell a
certain story.  "Grandmother," interposed Isabel, vaguely startled,
"please do not say anything that you would not say before a man;"
and for an instant, amid the hush, the child and the woman looked
at each other like two repellent intelligences, accidentally
meeting out of the heavens and the pit.

This had been the first of a long series of antagonism and recoils,
and as the child had matured, the purity and loftiness of her
nature had by this very contact grown chilled toward austerity.
Thus nature lends a gradual protective hardening to a tender
surface during abrasion with a coarser thing.  It left Isabel more
reserved with her grandmother than with any one else of all the
persons who entered into her life.

For this reason Mrs. Conyers now foresaw that this interview would
be specially difficult.  She had never enjoyed Isabel's confidence
in regard to her love affairs--and the girl had had her share of
these; every attempt to gain it had been met by rebuffs so
courteous but decisive that they had always wounded her pride and
sometimes had lashed her to secret fury.


"Did you wish to see me about anything, grandmother?"

The reply came very quickly: "I wanted to know whether you were
well."

"I am perfectly well.  Why did you think of asking?"

"You did not seem well in church."

"I had forgotten.  I was not well in church."

Mrs. Conyers bent over and drew a chair in front of her own.  She
wished to watch Isabel's face.  She had been a close student of
women's faces--and of many men's.

"Sit here.  There is a breeze through the window."

"Thank you.  I'd rather sit here."

Another pause ensued.

"Did you ever know the last of May to be so hot?"

"I cannot remember now."

"Can you imagine any one calling on such an afternoon?"

There was no reply.

"I am glad no one has been here.  While I was asleep I thought I
heard the bell."

There was no reply.

"You were wise not to stay for the sermon."  Mrs. Conyers' voice
trembled with anger as she passed on and on, seeking a penetrable
point for conversation.  "I do not believe in using the church to
teach young men that they should blame their fathers for their own
misdeeds.  If I have done any good in this world, I do not expect
my father and mother to be rewarded for it in the next; if I have
done wrong, I do not expect my children to be punished.  I shall
claim the reward and I shall stand the punishment, and that is the
end of it.  Teaching young men to blame their parents because they
are prodigals is nonsense, and injurious nonsense.  I hope you do
not imagine," she said, with a stroke of characteristic coarseness,
"that you get any of your faults from me."

"I have never held you responsible, grandmother."

Mrs. Conyers could wait no longer.

"Isabel," she asked sharply, "why did you not see Rowan when he
called a few minutes ago?"

"Grandmother, you know that I do not answer such questions."

How often in years gone by such had been Isabel's answer!  The
grandmother awaited it now.  To her surprise Isabel after some
moments of hesitation replied without resentment:

"I did not wish to see him."

There was a momentary pause; then this unexpected weakness was met
with a blow.

"You were eager enough to see him last night."

"I can only hope," murmured Isabel aloud though wholly to herself,
"that I did not make this plain to him."

"But what has happened since?"

Nothing was said for a while.  The two women had been unable to see
each other clearly.  A moment later Isabel crossed the room quickly
and taking the chair in front of her grandmother, searched that
treacherous face imploringly for something better in it than she
had ever seen there.  Could she trust the untrustworthy?  Would
falseness itself for once be true?

"Grandmother," she said, and her voice betrayed how she shrank from
her own words, "before you sent for me I was about to come down.  I
wished to speak with you about a very delicate matter, a very
serious matter.  You have often reproached me for not taking you
into my confidence.  I am going to give you my confidence now."

At any other moment the distrust and indignity contained in the
tone of this avowal would not have escaped Mrs. Conyers. But
surprise riveted her attention. Isabel gave her no time further:

"A thing has occurred in regard to which we must act together for
our own sakes--on account of the servants in the house--on account
of our friends, so that there may be no gossip, no scandal."

Nothing at times so startles us as our own words.  As the girl
uttered the word "scandal," she rose frightened as though it faced
her and began to walk excitedly backward and forward.  Scandal had
never touched her life.  She had never talked scandal; had never
thought scandal. Dwelling under the same roof with it as the master
passion of a life and forced to encounter it in so many repulsive
ways, she had needed little virtue to regard it with abhorrence.

Now she perceived that it might be perilously near herself.  When
all questions were asked and no reasons were given, would not the
seeds of gossip fly and sprout and bear their kinds about her path:
and the truth could never be told.  She must walk on through the
years, possibly misjudged, giving no sign.

After a while she returned to her seat.

"You must promise me one thing," she said with white and trembling
lips.  "I give you my confidence as far as I can; beyond that I
will not go.  And you shall not ask.  You are not to try to find
out from me or any one else more than I tell you.  You must give me
your word of honor!"

She bent forward and looked her grandmother wretchedly in the eyes.

Mrs. Conyers pushed her chair back as though a hand had struck her
rudely in the face.

"Isabel," she cried, "do you forget to whom you are speaking?"

"Ah, grandmother," exclaimed Isabel, reckless of her words by
reason of suffering, "it is too late for us to be sensitive about
our characters."

Mrs. Conyers rose with insulted pride: "Do not come to me with your
confidence until you can give it."

Isabel recrossed the room and sank into the seat she had quitted.
Mrs. Conyers remained standing a moment and furtively resumed hers.

Whatever her failings had been--one might well say her
crimes--Isabel had always treated her from the level of her own
high nature.  But Mrs. Conyers had accepted this dutiful demeanor
of the years as a tribute to her own virtues.  Now that Isabel, the
one person whose respect she most desired, had openly avowed deep
distrust of her, the shock was as real as anything life could have
dealt.

She glanced narrowly at Isabel: the girl had forgotten her.

Mrs. Conyers could shift as the wind shifts; and one of her
characteristic resources in life had been to conquer by feigning
defeat: she often scaled her mountains by seeming to take a path
which led to the valleys.  She now crossed over and sat down with a
peace-making laugh.  She attempted to take Isabel's hand, but it
was quickly withdrawn.  Fearing that this movement indicated a
receding confidence Mrs. Conyers ignored the rebuff and pressed her
inquiry in a new, entirely practical, and pleasant tone:

"What is the meaning of all this, Isabel?"

Isabel turned upon her again a silent, searching, wretched look of
appeal.

Mrs. Conyers realized that it could not be ignored: "You know that
I promise anything.  What did I ever refuse you?"

Isabel sat up but still remained silent. Mrs. Conyers noted the
indecision and shrugged her shoulders with a careless dismissal of
the whole subject:

"Let us drop the subject, then.  Do you think it will rain?"

"Grandmother, Rowan must not come here any more."  Isabel stopped
abruptly. "That is all."

. . . "I merely wanted you to understand this at once.  We must not
invite him here any more."

. . . "If we meet him at the houses of our friends, we must do what
we can not to be discourteous to them if he is their guest."

. . . "If we meet Rowan alone anywhere, we must let him know that
he is not on the list of our acquaintances any longer.  That is
all."

Isabel wrung her hands.

Mrs. Conyers had more than one of the traits of the jungle: she
knew when to lie silent and how to wait.  She waited longer now,
but Isabel had relapsed into her own thoughts.  For her the
interview was at an end; to Mrs. Conyers it was beginning. Isabel's
words and manner had revealed a situation far more serious than she
had believed to exist.  A sense of personal slights and wounds gave
way to apprehension.  The need of the moment was not passion and
resentment, but tact and coolness and apparent unconcern.

"What is the meaning of this, Isabel?" She spoke in a tone of frank
and cordial interest as though the way were clear at last for the
establishment of complete confidence between them.

"Grandmother, did you not give me your word?" said Isabel, sternly.
Mrs. Conyers grew indignant: "But remember in what a light you
place me!  I did not expect you to require me to be unreasonable
and unjust. Do you really wish me to be kept in the dark in a
matter like this?  Must I refuse to speak to Rowan and have no
reason? Close the house to him and not know why? Cut him in public
without his having offended me?  If he should ask why I treat him
in this way, what am I to tell him?"

"He will never ask," said Isabel with mournful abstraction.

"But tell _me_ why you wish me to act so strangely."

"Believe that I have reasons."

"But ought I not to know what these reasons are if I must act upon
them as though they were my own?"

Isabel saw the stirrings of a mind that brushed away honor as an
obstacle and that was not to be quieted until it had been
satisfied.  She sank back into her chair, saying very simply with
deep disappointment and with deeper sorrow:

"Ah, I might have known!"

Mrs. Conyers pressed forward with gathering determination:

"What happened last night?"

"I might have known that it was of no use," repeated Isabel.

Mrs. Conyers waited several moments and then suddenly changing her
course feigned the dismissal of the whole subject: "I shall pay no
attention to this.  I shall continue to treat Rowan as I have
always treated him."

Isabel started up: "Grandmother, if you do, you will regret it."
Her voice rang clear with hidden meaning and with hidden warning.

It fell upon the ear of the other with threatening import.  For her
there seemed to be in it indeed the ruin of a cherished plan, the
loss of years of hope and waiting. Before such a possibility tact
and coolness and apparent unconcern were swept away by passion,
brutal and unreckoning: "Do you mean that you have refused Rowan?
Or have you found out at last that he has no intention of marrying
you--has never had any?"

Isabel rose: "Excuse me," she said proudly and turned away.  She
reached the door and pausing there put out one of her hands against
the lintel as if with weakness and raised the other to her forehead
as though with bewilderment and indecision.

Then she came unsteadily back, sank upon her knees, and hid her
face in her grandmother's lap, murmuring through her fingers: "I
have been rude to you, grandmother!  Forgive me!  I do not know
what I have been saying.  But any little trouble between us is
nothing, nothing! And do as I beg you--let this be sacred and
secret!  And leave everything to me!"

She crept closer and lifting her face looked up into her
grandmother's.  She shrank back shuddering from what she saw there,
burying her face in her hands; then rising she hurried from the
room,

Mrs. Conyers sat motionless.

Was it true then that the desire and the work of years for this
marriage had come to nothing?  And was it true that this
grandchild, for whom she had planned and plotted, did not even
respect her and could tell her so to her face?

Those insulting words rang in her ears still: "_You must give me
your word of honor . . . it is too late to be sensitive about our
characters_."

She sat perfectly still: and in the parlors there might have been
heard at intervals the scratching of her sharp finger nails against
the wood of the chair.



IV

The hot day ended.  Toward sunset a thunder-shower drenched the
earth, and the night had begun cool and refreshing.

Mrs. Conyers was sitting on the front veranda, waiting for
her regular Sunday evening visitor.  She was no longer the
self-revealed woman of the afternoon, but seemingly an affable,
harmless old lady of the night on the boundary of her social world.
She was dressed with unfailing: elegance--and her taste lavished
itself especially on black silk and the richest lace.  The shade of
heliotrope satin harmonized with the yellowish folds of her hair.
Her small, warm, unwrinkled hands were without rings, being too
delicately beautiful.  In one she held a tiny fan, white and soft
like the wing of a moth; on her lap lay a handkerchief as light as
smoke or a web of gossamer.

She rocked softly.  She unfolded and folded the night-moth fan
softly.  She touched the handkerchief to her rosy youthful lips
softly.  The south wind blew in her face softly.  Everything about
her was softness, all her movements were delicate and refined.
Even the early soft beauty of her figure was not yet lost.  (When a
girl of nineteen, she had measured herself by the proportions of
the ideal Venus; and the ordeal had left her with a girdle of
golden reflections.)

But if some limner had been told the whole truth of what she was
and been requested to imagine a fitting body for such a soul, he
would never have painted Mrs. Conyers as she looked.  Nature is not
frank in her characterizations, lest we remain infants in
discernment.  She allows foul to appear fair, and bids us become
educated in the hardy virtues of insight and prudence.  Education
as yet had advanced but little; and the deepest students in the
botany of women have been able to describe so few kinds that no
man, walking through the perfumed enchanted wood, knows at what
moment he may step upon or take hold of some unknown deadly variety.

As the moments passed, she stopped rocking and peered toward the
front gate under the lamp-post, saying to herself:

"He is late."

At last the gate was gently opened and gently shut.

"Ah," she cried, leaning back in her chair smiling and satisfied.
Then she sat up rigid.  A change passed over her such as comes over
a bird of prey when it draws its feathers in flat against its body
to lessen friction in the swoop.  She unconsciously closed the
little fan, the little handkerchief disappeared somewhere.

As the gate had opened and closed, on the bricks of the pavement
was heard only the tap of his stout walking-stick; for he was gouty
and wore loose low shoes of the softest calfskin, and these made no
noise except the slurring sound of slippers.

Once he stopped, and planting his cane far out in the grass,
reached stiffly over and with undisguised ejaculations of
discomfort snipped off a piece of heliotrope in one of the tubs of
oleander.   He shook away the raindrops and drew it through his
buttonhole, and she could hear his low "Ah! ah!  ah!" as he thrust
his nose down into it.

"There's nothing like it," he said aloud as though he had
consenting listeners, "it outsmells creation."

He stopped at another tub of flowers where a humming-bird moth was
gathering honey and jabbed his stick sharply at it, taking care
that the stick did not reach perilously near.

"Get away, sir," he said; "you've had enough, sir.  Get away, sir."

Having reached a gravel walk that diverged from the pavement, he
turned off and went over to a rose-bush and walked around tapping
the roses on their heads as he counted them--cloth-of-gold roses.
"Very well done," he said, "a large family--a good sign."

Thus he loitered along his way with leisure to enjoy all the chance
trifles that gladdened it; for he was one of the old who return at
the end of life to the simple innocent things that pleased them as
children.

She had risen and advanced to the edge of the veranda.

"Did you come to see me or did you come to see my flowers?" she
called out charmingly.

"I came to see the flowers, madam," he called back.  "Most of all,
the century plant: how is she?"

She laughed delightedly: "Still harping on my age, I see."

"Still harping, but harping your praises.  Century plants are not
necessarily old: they are all young at the beginning!  I merely
meant you'd be blooming at a hundred."

"You are a sly old fox," she retorted with a spirit.  "You give a
woman a dig on her age and then try to make her think it a
compliment."

"I gave myself a dig that time: the remark had to be excavated," he
said aloud but as though confidentially to himself.  Open
disrespect marked his speech and manner with her always; and sooner
or later she exacted full punishment.

Meantime he had reached the steps.  There he stopped and taking off
his straw hat looked up and shook it reproachfully at the heavens.

"What a night, what a night!" he exclaimed.  "And what an injustice
to a man wading up to his knees in life's winters."

"How do you do," she said impatiently, always finding it hard to
put up with his lingerings and delays.  "Are you coming in?"

"Thank you, I believe I am.  But no, wait.  I'll not come in until
I have made a speech.  It never occurred to me before and it will
never again.  It's now or never.

"The life of man should last a single year.  He should have one
spring for birth and childhood, for play and growth, for the ending
of his dreams and the beginning of his love.  One summer for strife
and toil and passion.  One autumn in which to gather the fruits of
his deeds and to live upon them, be they sweet or bitter.  One
winter in which to come to an end and wrap himself with resignation
in the snows of nature.  Thus he should never know the pain of
seeing spring return when there was nothing within himself to bud
or be sown.  Summer would never rage and he have no conflicts nor
passions.  Autumn would not pass and he with idle hands neither
give nor gather.  And winter should not end without extinguishing
his tormenting fires, and leaving him the peace of eternal cold."

"Really," she cried, "I have never heard anything as fine as that
since I used to write compositions at boarding-school."

"It may be part of one of mine!" he replied.  "We forget ourselves,
you know, and then we think we are original."

"Second childhood," she suggested.  "Are you really coming in?"

"I am, madam," he replied.  "And guided by your suggestion, I come
as a second child."

When he had reached the top step, he laid his hat and cane on the
porch and took her hands in his--pressing them abstemiously.

"Excuse me if I do not press harder," he said, lowering his voice
as though he fancied they might be overheard.  "I know you are
sensitive in these little matters; but while I dislike to appear
lukewarm, really, you know it is too late to be ardent," and he
looked at her ardently.

She twisted her fingers out of his with coy shame.

"What an old fox," she repeated gayly.

"Well, you know what goes with the fox--the foxess, or the foxina."

She had placed his chair not quite beside hers yet designedly near,
where the light of the chandelier in the hall would fall out upon
him and passers could see that he was there: she liked to have him
appear devoted.  For his part he was too little devoted to care
whether he sat far or near, in front or behind.  As the light
streamed out upon him, it illumined his noble head of soft, silvery
hair, which fell over his ears and forehead, forgotten and
disordered, like a romping boy's.  His complexion was ruddy--too
ruddy with high living; his clean-shaven face beautiful with
candor, gayety, and sweetness; and his eyes, the eyes of a kind
heart--saddened.  He had on a big loose shirt collar such as men
wore in Thackeray's time and a snow-white lawn tie.  In the bosom
of his broad-pleated shirt, made glossy with paraffin starch, there
was set an old-fashioned cluster-diamond stud--so enormous that it
looked like a large family of young diamonds in a golden nest.

As he took his seat, he planted his big gold-headed ebony cane
between his knees, put his hat on the head of his cane, gave it a
twirl, and looking over sidewise at her, smiled with an equal
mixture of real liking and settled abhorrence.

For a good many years these two had been--not friends: she was
incapable of so true a passion; he was too capable to misapply it
so unerringly.  Their association had assumed the character of one
of those belated intimacies, which sometimes spring up in the lives
of aged men and women when each wants companionship but has been
left companionless.

Time was when he could not have believed that any tie whatsoever
would ever exist between them.  Her first husband had been his
first law partner; and from what he had been forced to observe
concerning his partner's fireside wretchedness during his few years
of married life, he had learned to fear and to hate her.  With his
quick temper and honest way he made no pretence of hiding his
feeling--declined her invitations--cut her openly in society--and
said why.  When his partner died, not killed indeed but
broken-spirited, he spoke his mind on the subject more publicly and
plainly still.

She brewed the poison of revenge and waited.

A year or two later when his engagement was announced her opportunity
came.  In a single day it was done--so quietly, so perfectly, that
no one knew by whom.  Scandal was set running--Scandal, which no
pursuing messengers of truth and justice can ever overtake and drag
backward along its path.  His engagement was broken; she whom he was
to wed in time married one of his friends; and for years his own life
all but went to pieces.

Time is naught, existence a span.  One evening when she was old
Mrs. Conyers, and he old Judge Morris, she sixty and he sixty-five,
they met at an evening party.  In all those years he had never
spoken to her, nurturing his original dislike and rather suspecting
that it was she who had so ruined him.  But on this night there had
been a great supper and with him a great supper was a great
weakness: there had been wine, and wine was not a weakness at all,
but a glass merely made him more than happy, more than kind.  Soon
after supper therefore he was strolling through the emptied rooms
in a rather lonesome way, his face like a red moon in a fog,
beseeching only that it might shed its rays impartially on any
approachable darkness.

Men with wives and children can well afford to turn hard cold faces
to the outside world: the warmth and tenderness of which they are
capable they can exercise within their own restricted enclosures.
No doubt some of them consciously enjoy the contrast in their two
selves--the one as seen abroad and the other as understood at home.
But a wifeless, childless man--wandering at large on the heart's
bleak common--has much the same reason to smile on all that he has
to smile on any: there is no domestic enclosure for him: his
affections must embrace humanity.

As he strolled through the rooms, then, in his appealing way,
seeking whom he could attach himself to, he came upon her seated in
a doorway connecting two rooms.  She sat alone on a short sofa,
possibly by design, her train so arranged that he must step over it
if he advanced--the only being in the world that he hated.  In the
embarrassment of turning his back upon her or of trampling her
train, he hesitated; smiling with lowered eyelids she motioned him
to a seat by her side.

"What a vivacious, agreeable old woman," he soliloquized with
enthusiasm as he was driven home that night, sitting in the middle
of the carriage cushions with one arm swung impartially through the
strap on each side.  "And she has invited me to Sunday evening
supper.  Me!--after all these years--in that house!  I'll not go."

But he went.

"I'll not go again," he declared as he reached home that night and
thought it over.  "She is a bad woman."

But the following Sunday evening he reached for his hat and cane:
"I must go somewhere," he complained resentfully.  "The saints of
my generation are enjoying the saint's rest.  Nobody is left but a
few long-lived sinners, of whom I am a great part.  They are the
best I can find, and I suppose they are the best I deserve."

Those who live long miss many.  Without exception his former
associates at the bar had been summoned to appear before the Judge
who accepts no bribe.

The ablest of the middle-aged lawyers often hurried over to consult
him in difficult cases.  All of them could occasionally listen
while he, praiser of a bygone time, recalled the great period of
practice when he was the favorite criminal lawyer of the first
families, defending their sons against the commonwealth which he
always insisted was the greater criminal.   The young men about
town knew him and were ready to chat with him on street
corners--but never very long at a time.  In his old law offices he
could spend part of every day, guiding or guying his nephew Barbee,
who had just begun to practice.  But when all his social resources
were reckoned, his days contained great voids and his nights were
lonelier still.  The society of women remained a necessity of his
life; and the only woman in town, always bright, always full of
ideas, and always glad to see him (the main difficulty) was Mrs.
Conyers.

So that for years now he had been going regularly on Sunday
evenings.  He kept up apologies to his conscience regularly also;
but it must have become clear that his conscience was not a fire to
make him boil; it was merely a few coals to keep him bubbling.

In this acceptance of her at the end of life there was of course
mournful evidence of his own deterioration.  During the years
between being a young man and being an old one he had so far
descended toward her level, that upon renewing acquaintance with
her he actually thought that she had improved.

Youth with its white-flaming ideals is the great separator; by
middle age most of us have become so shaken down, on life's rough
road, to a certain equality of bearing and forbearing, that
miscellaneous comradeship becomes easy and rather comforting; while
extremely aged people are as compatible and as miserable as
disabled old eagles, grouped with a few inches of each other's
beaks and claws on the sleek perches of a cage.

This evening therefore, as he took his seat and looked across at
her, so richly dressed, so youthful, soft, and rosy, he all but
thanked heaven out loud that she was at home.

"Madam," he cried, "you are a wonderful and bewitching old
lady"--it was on the tip of his tongue to say "beldam."

"I know it," she replied briskly, "have you been so long in finding
it out?"

"It is a fresh discovery every time I come."

"Then you forget me in the meanwhile."

"I never forget you unless I am thinking of Miss Isabel.  How is
she?"

"Not well."

"Then I'm not well! No one is well!  Everybody must suffer if she
is suffering.  The universe sympathizes."

"She is not ill.  She is in trouble."

"But she must not be in trouble!  She has done nothing to be in
trouble about.  Who troubles her?  What troubles her?"

"She will not tell."

"Ah!" he cried, checking himself gravely and dropping the subject.

She noted the decisive change of tone: it was not by this direct
route that she would be able to enter his confidence.

"What did you think of the sermon this morning?"

"The sermon on the prodigal?  Well, it is too late for such sermons
to be levelled at me; and I never listen to those aimed at other
people."

"At what other people do you suppose this one could have been
directed?"  She asked the question most carelessly, lifting her
imponderable handkerchief and letting it drop into her lap as a
sign of how little her interest weighed.

"It is not my duty to judge."

"We cannot help our thoughts, you know."

"I think we can, madam; and I also think we can hold our tongues,"
and he laughed at her very good-naturedly.  "Sometimes we can even
help to hold other people's--if they are long."

"Oh, what a rude speech to a lady!" she exclaimed gallantly.  "Did
you see the Osborns at church?  And did you notice him?  What an
unhappy marriage!  He is breaking Kate's heart.  And to think that
his character--or the lack of it--should have been discovered only
when it was too late!  How can you men so cloak yourselves before
marriage?  Why not tell women the truth then instead of leaving
them to find it out afterward?  Are he and Rowan as good friends as
ever?"  The question was asked with the air of guilelessness.

"I know nothing about that," he replied dryly.  "I never knew Rowan
to drop his friends because they had failings: it would break up
all friendships, I imagine."

"Well, I cannot help _my_ thoughts, and I think George Osborn was
the prodigal aimed at in the sermon.  Everybody thought so."

"How does she know what everybody thought?" commented the Judge to
himself.  He tapped the porch nervously with his cane, sniffed his
heliotrope and said irrelevantly:

"Ah me, what a beautiful night!  What a beautiful night!"

The implied rebuff provoked her.  Irritation winged a venomous
little shaft:

"At least no woman has ever held _you_ responsible for her
unhappiness."

"You are quite right, madam," he replied, "the only irreproachable
husband in this world is the man who has no wife."

"By the way," she continued, "in all these years you have not told
me why you never married.  Come now, confess!"

How well she knew!  How often as she had driven through the streets
and observed him sitting alone in the door of his office or walking
aimlessly about, she had leaned back and laughed.

"Madam," he replied, for he did not like the question, "neither
have you ever told me why you married three times.  Come now,
confess."

It would soon be time for him to leave; and still she had not
gained her point.

"Rowan was here this afternoon," she remarked carelessly.  He was
sitting so that the light fell sidewise on his face.  She noted how
alert it became, but he said nothing.

"Isabel refused to see him."

He wheeled round and faced her with pain and surprise.

"Refused to see him!"

"She has told me since that she never intends to see him."

"Never intends to see Rowan again!" he repeated the incredible
words, "not see Rowan again!"

"She says we are to drop him from the list of our acquaintances."

"Ah!" he cried with impetuous sadness, "they must not quarrel!
They _must_ not!"

"But they _have_ quarrelled," she replied, revealing her own
anxiety.  "Now they must be reconciled.   That is why I come to
you.  I am Isabel's guardian; you were Rowan's.  Each of us wishes
this marriage.  Isabel loves Rowan.  I know that; therefore it is
not her fault.  Therefore it is Rowan's fault.  Therefore he has
said something or he has done something to offend her deeply.
Therefore if you do not know what this Is, you must find out.  And
you must come and tell me.  May I depend upon you?"

He had become grave.  At length he said: "I shall go straight to
Rowan and ask him."

"No!" she cried, laying her hand heavily on his arm, "Isabel bound
me to secrecy.  She does not wish this to be known."

"Ah!" he exclaimed, angry at being entrapped into a broken
confidence, "then Miss Isabel binds me also: I shall honor her
wish," and he rose.

She kept her seat but yawned so that he might notice it.  "You are
not going?"

"Yes, I am going.  I have stayed too long already.  Good night!
Good night!"  He spoke curtly over his shoulders as he hurried down
the steps.

She had forgotten him before he reached the street, having no need
just then to keep him longer in mind.  She had threshed out the one
grain of wheat, the single compact little truth, that she wanted.
This was the certainty that Judge Morris, who was the old family
lawyer of the Merediths, and had been Rowan's guardian, and had
indeed known him intimately from childhood, was in ignorance of any
reason for the present trouble; otherwise he would not have said
that he should go to Rowan and ask the explanation.  She knew him
to be incapable of duplicity; in truth she rather despised him
because he had never cultivated a taste for the delights and
resources of hypocrisy.

Her next step must be to talk at once with the other person vitally
interested--Rowan's mother.  She felt no especial admiration for
that grave, earnest, and rather sombre lady; but neither did she
feel admiration for her sterling knife and fork: still she made
them serviceable for the ulterior ends of being.

Her plan then embraced a visit to Mrs. Meredith in the morning with
the view of discovering whether she was aware of the estrangement,
and if aware whether she would in any unintentional way throw light
upon the cause of it.  Moreover--and this was kept clearly in
view--there would be the chance of meeting Rowan himself, whom she
also determined to see as soon as possible: she might find him at
home, or she might encounter him on the road or riding over his
farm.  But this visit must be made without Isabel's knowledge.  It
must further be made to appear incidental to Mrs. Meredith
herself---or to Rowan.  She arranged therefore with that tortuous
and superfluous calculation of which hypocrisy is such a
master--and mistress--that she would at breakfast, in Isabel's
presence, order the carriage, and announce her intention of going
out to the farm of Ambrose Webb.  Ambrose Webb was a close neighbor
of the Merediths.  He owned a small estate, most of which was good
grass-land that was usually rented for pasture.  She had for years
kept her cows there when dry.  This arrangement furnished her the
opportunity for more trips to the farm than interest in her dairy
warranted; it made her Mrs. Meredith's most frequent incidental
visitor.

Having thus determined upon her immediate course for the prompt
unravelling of this mysterious matter, she dismissed it from her
mind, passed into her bedroom and was soon asleep: a smile played
over the sweet old face.


The Judge walked slowly across the town in the moonlight.

It was his rule to get home to his rooms by ten o'clock; and people
living on the several streets leading that way were used to hearing
him come tapping along before that hour.  If they sat in their
doorways and the night was dark, they gave him a pleasant greeting
through the darkness; if there was a moon or if he could be seen
under a lamp post, they added smiles.  No one loved him supremely,
but every one liked him a little--on the whole, a stable state for
a man.  For his part he accosted every one that he could see in a
bright cheery way and with a quick inquiring glance as though every
heart had its trouble and needed just a little kindness.  He was
reasonably sure that the old had their troubles already and that
the children would have theirs some day; so that it was merely the
difference between sympathizing with the present and sympathizing
with the future.  As he careened along night after night, then,
friendly little gusts of salutation blew the desolate drifting
figure over the homeward course.

His rooms were near the heart of the town, In a shady street well
filled with law offices: these were of red brick with green
shutters--green when not white with dust.  The fire department was
in the same block, though he himself did not need to be safeguarded
from conflagrations: the fires which had always troubled him could
not have been reached with ladder and hose.  There were two or
three livery stables also, the chairs of which he patronized
liberally, but not the vehicles.  And there was a grocery, where he
sometimes bought crystallized citron and Brazil nuts, a curious
kind of condiment of his own devising: a pound of citron to a pound
of nuts, if all were sound.  He used to keep little brown paper
bags of these locked in his drawer with legal papers and munched
them sometimes while preparing murder cases.

At the upper corner of the block, opposite each other, were a
saloon and the jail, two establishments which contributed little to
each other's support, though well inclined to do so.  The law
offices seemed of old to have started in a compact procession for
the jail, but at a certain point to have paused with the
understanding that none should seek undue advantage by greater
proximity.  Issuing from this street at one end and turning to the
left, you came to the courthouse--the bar of chancery; issuing from
it at the other end and turning to the right, you came to the
hotel--the bar of corn.  The lawyers were usually solicitors at
large and impartial practitioners at each bar.  In the court room
they sometimes tried to prove an alibi for their clients; at the
hotel they often succeeded in proving one for themselves.

These law offices were raised a foot or two above the level of the
street.  The front rooms could be used for clients who were so
important that they should be seen; the back rooms were for such as
brought business, but not necessarily fame.  Driving through this
street, the wives of the lawyers could lean forward in their
carriages and if their husbands were busy, they could smile and
bow; if their husbands were idle, they could look straight ahead.

He passed under the shadow of the old court-house where in his
prime he had fought his legal battles against the commonwealth.  He
had been a great lawyer and he knew it (if he had married he might
have been Chief Justice).  Then he turned the corner and entered
the street of jurisprudence and the gaol.  About midway he reached
the staircase opening from the sidewalk; to his rooms above.

He was not poor and he could have lived richly had he wished.  But
when a man does not marry there are so many other things that he
never espouses; and he was not wedded to luxury.  As he lighted the
chandelier over the centre-table in his sitting room, the light
revealed an establishment every article of which, if it had no
virtues, at least possessed habits: certainly everything had its
own way.  He put his hat and cane on the table, not caring to go
back to the hatrack in his little hall, and seated himself in his
olive morocco chair.  As he did so, everything in the room--the
chairs, the curtains, the rugs, the card-table, the punch-bowl, the
other walking-sticks, and the rubbers and umbrellas---seemed to say
in an affectionate chorus: "Well, now that you are in safe for the
night, we feel relieved.  So good night and pleasant dreams to you,
for we are going to sleep;" and to sleep they went.

The gas alone flared up and said, "I'll stay up with him."

He drew out and wiped his glasses and reached for the local Sunday
paper, his Sunday evening Bible.  He had read it in the morning,
but he always gleaned at night: he met so many of his friends by
reading their advertisements.  But to-night he spread it across his
knees and turning to the table lifted the top of a box of cigars,
an orderly responsive family; the paper slipped to the floor and
lay forgotten behind his heels.

He leaned back in the chair with his cigar in his mouth and his
eyes directed toward the opposite wall, where in an oval frame hung
the life-size portrait of an old bulldog.  The eyes were blue and
watery and as full of suffering as a seats; from the extremity of
the lower jaw a tooth stood up like a shoemaker's peg; and over the
entire face was stamped the majesty, the patience, and the manly
woes of a nature that had lived deeply and too long.  The Judge's
eyes rested on this comrade face.

The events of the day had left him troubled.  Any sermon on the
prodigal always touches men; even if it does not prick their
memories, it can always stir their imaginations.  Whenever he heard
one, his mind went back to the years when she who afterwards became
Rowan's mother had cast him off, so settling life for him.  For
after that experience he had put away the thought of marriage.  "To
be so treated once is enough," he had said sternly and proudly.
True, in after years she had come back to him as far as friendship
could bring her back, since she was then the wife of another; but
every year of knowing her thus had only served to deepen the sense
of his loss.  He had long since fallen into the habit of thinking
this over of Sunday evenings before going to bed, and as the end of
life closed in upon him, he dwelt upon it more and more.

These familiar thoughts swarmed back to-night, but with them were
mingled new depressing ones.  Nothing now perhaps could have caused
him such distress as the thought that Rowan and Isabel would never
marry.  All the love that he had any right to pour into any life,
he had always poured with passionate and useless yearnings into
Rowan's--son, of the only woman he had ever loved--the boy that
should have been his own.

There came an interruption.  A light quick step was heard mounting
the stairs.  A latch key was impatiently inserted in the hall door.
A bamboo cane was dropped loudly into the holder of the hat-rack; a
soft hat was thrown down carelessly somewhere--it sounded like a
wet mop flung into a corner; and there entered a young man
straight, slender, keen-faced, with red hair, a freckled skin,
large thin red ears, and a strong red mouth.  As he stepped forward
into the light, he paused, parting the haircut of his eyes and
blinking.

"Good evening, uncle," he said in a shrill key.

"Well, sir."

Barbee looked the Judge carefully over; he took the Judge's hat and
cane from the table and hung them in the hall; he walked over and
picked up the newspaper from between the Judge's legs and placed it
at his elbow; he set the ash tray near the edge of the table within
easy reach of the cigar.  Then he threw himself into a chair across
the room, lighted a cigarette, blew the smoke toward the ceiling
like the steam of a little whistle signalling to stop work.

"Well, uncle," he said in a tone in which a lawyer might announce
to his partner the settlement of a long-disputed point, "Marguerite
is in love with me!"

The Judge smoked on, his eyes resting on the wall.

"Yes, sir; in love with me.  The truth had to come out sometime,
and it came out to-night.  And now the joy of life is gone for me!
As soon as a woman falls in love with a man, his peace is at an
end.  But I am determined that it shall not interfere with my
practice."

"What practice?"

"The practice of my profession, sir!  The profession of yourself
and of the great men of the past: such places have to be filled."

"Filled, but not filled with the same thing."

"You should have seen the other hapless wretches there to-night!
Pining for a smile!  Moths begging the candle to scorch them!  And
the candle was as cold as the north star and as distant."

Barbee rose and took a turn across the room and returning to his
chair stood before it.

"If Marguerite had only waited, had concealed herself a little
longer!  Why did she not keep me in doubt until I had won some
great case!  Think of a scene like this: a crowded court room some
afternoon; people outside the doors and windows craning their necks
to see and hear me; the judge nervous and excited; the members of
the bar beside themselves with jealousy as I arise and confront the
criminal and jury.  Marguerite is seated just behind the jury; I
know why she chose that seat: she wished to study me to the best
advantage.  I try to catch her eye; she will not look at me.  For
three hours my eloquence storms.  The judge acknowledges to a tear,
the jurors reach for their handkerchiefs, the people in the court
room sob like the skies of autumn.  As I finish, the accused arises
and addresses the court: 'May it please your honor, in the face of
such a masterly prosecution, I can no longer pretend to be
innocent.  Sir (addressing me), I congratulate you upon your
magnificent service to the commonwealth.  Gentlemen of the jury,
you need not retire to bring in any verdict: I bring it in myself,
I am guilty, and my only wish is to be hanged.  I suggest that you
have it done at once in order that nothing may mar the success of
this occasion!'  That night Marguerite sends for me: that would
have been the time for declaration!  I have a notion that if I can
extricate myself without wounding this poor little innocent, to
forswear matrimony and march on to fame."

"March on to bed."

"Marguerite is going to give a ball, uncle, a brilliant ball merely
to celebrate this irrepressible efflux and panorama of her
emotions.  Watch me at that ball, uncle!  Mark the rising Romeo of
the firm when Marguerite, the youthful Juliet of this town--"

A hand waved him quietly toward his bedroom.

"Well, good night, sir, good night.  When the lark sings at
heaven's gate I'll greet thee, uncle.  My poor Marguerite!--Good
night, uncle, good night."

He was only nineteen.

The Judge returned to his thoughts.

He must have thought a long time: the clock not far away struck
twelve.  He took off his glasses, putting them negligently on the
edge of the ash tray which tipped over beneath their weight and
fell to the floor: he picked up his glasses, but let the ashes lie.
Then he stooped down to take off his shoes, not without sounds of
bodily discomfort.

Aroused by these sounds or for other reasons not to be discovered,
there emerged from under a table on which was piled "The Lives of
the Chief Justices" a bulldog, cylindrical and rigid with years.
Having reached a decorous position before the Judge, by the slow
action of the necessary machinery he lowered the posterior end of
the cylinder to the floor and watched him.

"Well, did I get them off about right?"

The dog with a private glance of sympathy up into the Judge's face
returned to his black goatskin rug under the Chief Justices; and
the Judge, turning off the burners in the chandelier and striking a
match, groped his way in his sock feet to his bedroom--to the bed
with its one pillow.



V

Out in the country next morning it was not yet break of dawn.  The
stars, thickly flung about, were flashing low and yellow as at
midnight, but on the horizon the great change had begun.  Not with
colors of rose or pearl but as the mysterious foreknowledge of the
morning, when a vast swift herald rushes up from the east and
sweeps onward across high space, bidding the earth be in readiness
for the drama of the sun.

The land, heavy with life, lay wrapped in silence, steeped in rest.
Not a bird in wet hedge or evergreen had drawn nimble head from
nimble wing.  In meadow and pasture fold and herd had sunk down
satisfied.  A black brook brawling through a distant wood sounded
loud in the stillness.  Under the forest trees around the home of
the Merediths only drops of dew might have been heard splashing
downward from leaf to leaf.  In the house all slept.  The mind,
wakefullest of happy or of suffering things, had lost consciousness
of joy and care save as these had been crowded down into the
chamber which lies beneath our sleep, whence they made themselves
audible through the thin flooring as the noise of dreams.

Among the parts of the day during which man may match the elements
of the world within him to the world without--his songs with its
sunrises, toil with noontide, prayer with nightfall, slumber with
dark--there is one to stir within him the greatest sense of
responsibility: the hour of dawn.

If he awaken then and be alone, he is earliest to enter the silent
empty theatre of the earth where the human drama is soon to
recommence.  Not a mummer has stalked forth; not an auditor sits
waiting.  He himself, as one of the characters in this ancient
miracle play of nature, pauses at the point of separation between
all that he has enacted and all that he will enact.  Yesterday he
was in the thick of action.  Between then and now lies the night,
stretching like a bar of verdure across wearying sands.  In that
verdure he has rested; he has drunk forgetfulness and self-renewal
from those deep wells of sleep.  Soon the play will be ordered on
again and he must take his place for parts that are new and
confusing to all.  The servitors of the morning have entered and
hung wall and ceiling with gorgeous draperies; the dust has been
sprinkled; fresh airs are blowing; and there is music, the living
orchestra of the living earth.  Well for the waker then if he can
look back upon the role he has played with a quiet conscience, and
as naturally as the earth greets the sun step forth upon the stage
to continue or to end his brief part in the long drama of destiny.

The horizon had hardly begun to turn red when a young man,
stretched on his bed by an open window, awoke from troubled sleep.
He lay for a few moments without moving, then he sat up on the edge
of the bed.  His hands rested listlessly on his kneecaps and his
eyes were fixed on the sky-line crimsoning above his distant woods.

After a while he went over and sat at one of the windows, his eyes
still fixed on the path of the coming sun; and a great tragedy of
men sat there within him: the tragedy that has wandered long and
that wanders ever, showing its face in all lands, retaining its
youth in all ages; the tragedy of love that heeds not law, and the
tragedy of law forever punishing heedless love.

Gradually the sounds of life began.  From the shrubs under his
window, from the orchard and the wet weeds of fence corners, the
birds reentered upon their lives.  Far off in the meadows the
cattle rose from their warm dry places, stretched themselves and
awoke the echoes of the wide rolling land with peaceful lowing.  A
brood mare in a grazing lot sent forth her quick nostril call to
the foal capering too wildly about her, and nozzled it with
rebuking affection.  On the rosy hillsides white lambs were leaping
and bleating, or running down out of sight under the white sea-fog
of the valleys.  A milk cart rattled along the turnpike toward the
town.

It had become broad day.

He started up and crossed the hall to the bedroom opposite, and
stood looking down at his younger brother.  How quiet Dent's sleep
was; how clear the current of his life had run and would run
always!  No tragedy would ever separate him and the woman he loved.

When he went downstairs the perfect orderliness of his mother's
housekeeping had been before him.  Doors and windows had been
opened to the morning freshness, sweeping and dusting had been
done, not a servant was in sight.  His setters lay waiting on the
porch and as he stepped out they hurried up with glistening eyes
and soft barkings and followed him as he passed around to the barn.
Work was in progress there: the play of currycombs, the whirl of
the cutting-box, the noise of the mangers, the bellowing of calves,
the rich streamy sounds of the milking.  He called his men to him
one after another, laying out the work of the day.

When he returned to the house he saw his mother walking on the
front pavement; she held flowers freshly plucked for the breakfast
table: a woman of large mould, grave, proud, noble; an ideal of her
place and time.

"Is the lord of the manor ready for his breakfast?" she asked as
she came forward, smiling.

"I am ready, mother," he replied without smiling, touching his lips
to her cheek.

She linked her arm in his as they ascended the steps.  At the top
she drew him gently around until they faced the landscape rolling
wide before them.

"It is so beautiful!" she exclaimed with a deep narrow love of her
land.  "I never see it without thinking of it as it will be years
hence.  I can see you riding over it then and your children playing
around the house and some one sitting here where we stand, watching
them at their play and watching you in the distance at your work.
But I have been waiting a long time for her to take my place--and
to take her own," and she leaned heavily on his arm as a sign of
her dependence but out of weakness also (for she did not tell him
all).  "I am impatient to hear the voice of your children, Rowan.
Do you never wish to hear them yourself?"

As they stood silent, footsteps approached through the hall and
turning they saw Dent with a book in his hand.

"Are you grand people never coming to breakfast?" he asked,
frowning with pretended impatience, "so that a laboring man may go
to his work?"

He was of short but well-knit figure.  Spectacles and a thoughtful
face of great refinement gave him the student's stamp.  His
undergraduate course at college would end in a few weeks.
Postgraduate work was to begin during the summer.  An assistant
professorship, then a full professorship--these were successive
stations already marked by him on the clear track of life; and he
was now moving toward them with straight and steady aim.  Sometimes
we encounter personalities which seem to move through the discords
of this life as though guided by laws of harmony; they know neither
outward check nor inward swerving, and are endowed with that
peaceful passion for toil which does the world's work and is one of
the marks of genius.

He was one of these--a growth of the new time not comprehended by
his mother.  She could neither understand it nor him.  The pain
which this had given him at first he had soon outgrown; and what
might have been a tragedy to another nature melted away in the
steady sunlight of his entire reasonableness.  Perhaps he realized
that the scientific son can never be the idol of a household until
he is born of scientific parents.

As mother and elder son now turned to greet him, the mother was not
herself aware that she still leaned upon the arm of Rowan and that
Dent walked into the breakfast room alone.

Less than usual was said during the meal.  They were a reserved
household, inclined to the small nobilities of silence.  (It is
questionable whether talkative families ever have much to say.)
This morning each had especial reason for self-communing.

When they had finished breakfast and came out into the hall.  Dent
paused at one of the parlor doors.

"Mother" he said simply, "come into the parlor a moment, will you?
And Rowan, I should like to see you also."

They followed him with surprise and all seated themselves.

"Mother," he said, addressing Her with a clear beautiful light in
his gray eyes, yet not without the reserve which he always felt and
always inspired, "I wish to tell you that I am engaged to Pansy
Vaughan.  And to tell you also, Rowan.  You know that I finish
college this year; she does also.  We came to an understanding
yesterday afternoon and I wish you both to know it at once.  We
expect to be married in the autumn as soon as I am of age and a man
in my own right.  Mother, Pansy is coming to see you; and Rowan, I
hope you will go to see Pansy.  Both of you will like her and be
proud of her when you know her."

He rose as though he had rounded his communication to a perfect
shape.  "Now I must get to my work.  Good morning," and with a
smile for each he walked quietly out of the room.  He knew that he
could not expect their congratulations at that moment and that
further conference would be awkward for all.  He could merely tell
them the truth and leave the rest to the argument of time.


"But I cannot believe it, Rowan!  I cannot!"

Mrs. Meredith sat regarding' her elder son with incredulity and
distress.  The shock of the news was for certain reasons even
greater to him; so that he could not yet command himself
sufficiently to comfort her.  After a few moments she resumed: "I
did not know that Dent had begun to think about girls.  He never
said so.  He has never cared for society.  He has seemed absorbed
in his studies.  And now--Dent in love.  Dent engaged, Dent to be
married in the autumn--why, Rowan, am I dreaming, am I in my
senses?  And to this girl!  She has entrapped him--poor, innocent,
unsuspecting Dent!  My poor, little, short-sighted bookworm."
Tears sprang to her eyes, but she laughed also.  She had a mother's
hope that this trouble would turn to comedy.  She went on quickly:
"Did you know anything about this?  Has he ever spoken to you about
it?"

"No, I am just as much surprised.  But then Dent never speaks in
advance."

She looked at him a little timidly: "I thought perhaps it was this
that has been troubling you.  You have been trying to hide it from
me."

He dropped his eyes quickly and made no reply.

"And do you suppose he is in earnest, Rowan?"

"He would never jest on such a subject."

"I mean, do you think he knows his own mind?"

"He always does."

"But would he marry against my wishes?"

"He takes it for granted that you will be pleased: he said so."

"But how can he think I'll be pleased?  I have never spoken to this
girl in my life.  I have never seen her except when we have passed
them on the turnpike.  I never spoke to her father but once and
that was years ago when he came here one cold winter afternoon to
buy a shock of fodder from your father."

She was a white character; but even the whiteness of ermine gains
by being necked with blackness.  "How can he treat me with so
little consideration?  It is just as if he had said: 'Good morning,
mother.  I am going to disgrace the family by my marriage, but I
know you will be delighted---good morning.'"

"You forget that Dent does not think he will disgrace the family.
He said you would be proud of her."

"Well, when the day comes for me to be proud of this, there will
not be much left to be ashamed of.  Rowan, for once I shall
interfere."

"How can you interfere?"

"Then you must: you are his guardian."

"I shall not be his guardian by the autumn.  Dent has arranged this
perfectly, mother, as he always arranges everything."

She returned to her point.  "But he _must_ be kept from making such
a mistake!  Talk to him as a man.  Advise him, show him that he
will tie a millstone around his neck, ruin his whole life.  I am
willing to leave myself out and to forget what is due me, what is
due you, what is due the memory of his father and of my father: for
his own sake he must not marry this girl."

He shook his head slowly.  "It is settled, mother," he added
consolingly, "and I have so much confidence in Dent that I believe
what he says: we shall be proud of her when we know her."

She sat awhile in despair.  Then she said with fresh access of
conviction: "This is what comes of so much science: it always tends
to make a man common in his social tastes.  You need not smile at
me in that pitying way, for it is true: it destroys aristocratic
feeling; and there is more need of aristocratic feeling in a
democracy than anywhere else: because it is the only thing that can
be aristocratic.  That is what science has done for Dent!  And this
girl I--the public school has tried to make her uncommon, and the
Girl's College has attempted, to make her more uncommon; and now I
suppose she actually thinks she _is_ uncommon: otherwise she would
never have imagined that she could marry a son of mine.  Smile on,
I know I amuse you!  You think I am not abreast of the times.  I am
glad I am not.  I prefer my own.  Dent should have studied for the
church--with his love of books, and his splendid mind, and his
grave, beautiful character.  Then he would never have thought of
marrying beneath him socially; he would have realized that if he
did, he could never rise.  Once in the church and with the right
kind of wife, he might some day have become a bishop: I have always
wanted a bishop in the family.  But he set his heart upon a
professorship, and I suppose a professor does not have to be
particular about whom he marries."

"A professor has to be particular only to please himself--and the
woman.  His choice is not regulated by salaries and congregations."

She returned to her point: "You breed fine cattle and fine sheep,
and you try to improve the strain of your setters.  You know how
you do it.  What right has Dent to injure his children in the race
for life by giving them an inferior mother?  Are not children to be
as much regarded in their rights of descent as rams and poodles?"

"You forget that the first families in all civilizations have kept
themselves alive and at the summit by intermarriage with good,
clean, rich blood of people whom they have considered beneath them."

"But certainly my family is not among these.  It is certainly alive
and it is certainly not dying out.  I cannot discuss the subject
with you, if you once begin that argument.  Are you going to call
on her?"

"Certainly.  It was Dent's wish and it is right that I should."

"Then I think I shall go with you, Rowan.  Dent said she was coming
to see me; but I think I should rather go to see her.  Whenever I
wished to leave, I could get away, but if she came here, I
couldn't."

"When should you like to go?"

"Oh, don't hurry me! I shall need time--a great deal of time!  Do
you suppose they have a parlor?  I am afraid I shall not shine in
the kitchen in comparison with the tins."

She had a wry face; then her brow cleared and she added with relief:

"But I must put this whole trouble out of my mind at present!  It
is too close to me, I cannot even see it.  I shall call on the girl
with you and then I shall talk quietly with Dent.  Until then I
must try to forget it.  Besides, I got up this morning with
something else on my mind.  It is not Dent's unwisdom that
distresses me."

Her tone indicated that she had passed to a more important topic.
If any one had told her that her sons were not equally dear, the
wound of such injustice would never have healed.  In all that she
could do for both there had never been maternal discrimination; but
the heart of a woman cannot help feeling things that the heart of a
mother does not; and she discriminated as a woman.  This was
evident now as she waived her young son's affairs.

"It is not Dent that I have been thinking of this morning," she
repeated.  "Why is it not you that come to tell me of your
engagement?  Why have you not set Dent an example as to the kind of
woman he ought to marry?  How many more years must he and I wait?"

They were seated opposite each other.  He was ready for riding out
on the farm, his hat on his crossed knees, gloves and whip in hand.
Her heart yearned over him as he pulled at his gloves, his head
dropped forward so that his face was hidden.

"Now that the subject has come up in this unexpected way, I want to
tell you how long I have wished to see you married.  I have never
spoken because my idea is that a mother should not advise unless
she believes it necessary.  And in your case it has not been
necessary.  I have known your choice, and long before it became
yours, it became mine.  She is my ideal among them all.  I know
women, Rowan, and I know she is worthy of you and I could not say
more.  She is-high-minded and that quality is so rare in either
sex.  Without it what is any wife worth to a high-minded man?  And
I have watched her.  With all her pride and modesty I have
discovered her secret--she loves you.  Then why have you waited?
Why do you still wait?"

He did not answer and she continued with deeper feeling:

"Life is so uncertain to all of us and of course to me!  I want to
see you wedded to her, see her brought here as mistress of this
house, and live to hear the laughter of your children."  She
finished with solemn emotion: "It has been my prayer, Rowan."

She became silent with her recollections of her own early life for
a moment and then resumed:

"Nothing ever makes up for the loss of such years--the first years
of happy marriage.  If we have had these, no matter what happens
afterward, we have not lived for nothing.  It becomes easier for us
to be kind and good afterward, to take an interest in life, to
believe in our fellow-creatures, and in God."

He sprang up.

"Mother, I cannot speak with you about this now."  He turned
quickly and stood with his back to her, looking out of doors; and
he spoke over his shoulder and his voice was broken: "You have had
one disappointment this morning: it is enough.  But do not think of
my marrying--of my ever marrying.  Dent must take my place at the
head of the house.  It is all over with me!  But I cannot speak
with you about this now," and he started quickly to leave the
parlors.  She rose and put her arm around his waist, walking beside
him.

"You do not mind my speaking to, you about this, Rowan?" she said,
sore at having touched some trouble which she felt that he had long
been hiding from her, and with full respect for the privacies of
his life.

"No, no, no!" he cried, choking with emotion.  "Ah, mother,
mother!"--and he gently disengaged himself from her arms.

She watched him as he rode out of sight.  Then she returned and sat
in the chair which he had, quitted, folding her hands in her lap.

For her it was one of the moments when we are reminded that our
lives are not in our keeping, and that whatsoever is to befall us
originates in sources beyond our power.  Our wills may indeed reach
the length of our arms or as far as our voices can penetrate space;
but without us and within us moves one universe that saves us or
ruins us only for its own purposes; and we are no more free amid
its laws than the leaves of the forest are free to decide their own
shapes and season of unfolding, to order the showers by which they
are to be nourished and the storms which shall scatter them at last.

Above every other she had cherished the wish for a marriage between
Rowan and Isabel Conyers; now for reasons unknown to her it seemed
that this desire was never to be realized.  She did not know the
meaning of what Rowan had just said to her; but she did not doubt
there was meaning behind it, grave meaning.  Her next most serious
concern would have been that in time Dent likewise should choose a
wife wisely; now he had announced to her his intention to wed
prematurely and most foolishly; she could not altogether shake off
the conviction that he would do what he had said he should.

As for Dent it was well-nigh the first anxiety that he had ever
caused her.  If her affection for him was less poignant, being
tenderness stored rather than tenderness exercised, this resulted
from the very absence of his demand for it.  He had always needed
her so little, had always needed every one so little, unfolding his
life from the first and drawing from the impersonal universe
whatever it required with the quietude and efficiency of a
prospering plant.  She lacked imagination, or she might have
thought of Dent as a filial sunflower, which turned the blossom of
its life always faithfully and beautifully toward her, but stood
rooted in the soil of knowledge that she could not supply.

What she had always believed she could see in him was the
perpetuation under a new form of his father and the men of his
father's line.

These had for generations been grave mental workers: ministers,
lawyers, professors in theological seminaries; narrow-minded,
strong-minded; upright, unbending; black-browed, black-coated; with
a passion always for dealing in justice and dealing out justice,
human or heavenly; most of all, gratified when in theological
seminaries, when they could assert themselves as inerrant
interpreters of the Most High.  The portraits of two of them hung
in the dining room now, placed there as if to watch the table and
see that grace was never left unsaid, that there be no levity at
meat nor heresy taken in with the pudding.  Other portraits were
also in other rooms--they always had themselves painted for
posterity, seldom or never their wives.

Some of the books they had written were in the library, lucid
explanations of the First Cause and of how the Judge of all the
earth should be looked at from without and from within.  Some that
they had most loved to read were likewise there: "Pollock's Course
of Time"; the slow outpourings of Young, sad sectary; Milton, with
the passages on Hell approvingly underscored--not as great poetry,
but as great doctrine; nowhere in the bookcases a sign of the
"Areopagitica," of "Comus," and "L'Allegro"; but most prominent the
writings of Jonathan Edwards, hoarsest of the whole flock of New
World theological ravens.

Her marriage into this family had caused universal surprise.  It
had followed closely upon the scandals in regard to the wild young
Ravenel Morris, the man she loved, the man she had promised to
marry.  These scandals had driven her to the opposite extreme from
her first choice by one of life's familiar reactions; and in her
wounded flight she had thrown herself into the arms of a man whom
people called irreproachable.  He was a grave lawyer, one of the
best of his kind; nevertheless he and she, when joined for the one
voyage of two human spirits, were like a funeral barge lashed to
some dancing boat, golden-oared, white-sailed, decked with flowers.
Hope at the helm and Pleasure at the prow.

For she herself had sprung from a radically different stock: from
sanguine, hot-blooded men; congressmen shaping the worldly history
of their fellow-beings and leaving the non-worldly to take care of
itself; soldiers illustrious in the army and navy; hale country
gentlemen who took the lead in the country's hardy sports and
pleasures; all sowing their wild oats early in life with hands that
no power could stay; not always living to reap, but always leaving
enough reaping to be done by the sad innocent who never sow;
fathers of large families; and even when breaking the hearts of
their wives, never losing their love; for with their large open
frailties being men without crime and cowardice, tyrannies,
meannesses.

With these two unlike hereditary strains before her she had, during
the years, slowly devised the maternal philosophy of her sons.

Out of those grave mental workers had come Dent--her student.  She
loved to believe that in the making of him her own blood asserted
itself by drawing him away from the tyrannical interpretation of
God to the neutral investigation of the earth, from black theology
to sunlit science--so leaving him at work and at peace, the
ancestral antagonisms becoming neutralized by being blended.

But Rowan! while he was yet a little fellow, and she and her young
husband would sit watching him at play, characteristics revealed
themselves which led her to shake her head rebukingly and say: "He
gets these traits from you."  At other times contradictory
characteristics appeared and the father, looking silently at her,
would in effect inquire: "Whence does he derive these?"  On both
accounts she began to look with apprehension toward this son's
maturing years.  And always, as the years passed, evidence was
forced more plainly upon her that in him the two natures he
inherited were antagonistic still; each alternately uppermost; both
in unceasing warfare; thus endowing him with a double nature which
might in time lead him to a double life.  So that even then she had
begun to take upon herself the burden of dreading lest she should
not only be the mother of his life, but the mother of his
tragedies.  She went over this again and again: "Am I to be the
mother of his tragedies?"

As she sat this young summer morning after he had left her so
strangely, all at once the world became autumn to her remembrance.

An autumn morning: the rays of the sun shining upon the silvery
mists swathing the trees outside, upon the wet and many-colored
leaves; a little frost on the dark grass here and there; the first
fires lighted within; the carriage already waiting at the door; the
breakfast hurriedly choked down--in silence; the mournful noise of
his trunk being brought downstairs--his first trunk.  Then the
going out upon the veranda and the saying good-by to him; and
then--the carriage disappearing in the silver mists, with a few red
and yellow leaves whirled high from the wheels.

That was the last of the first Rowan,--youth at the threshold of
manhood.  Now off for college, to his university in New England.
As his father and she stood side by side (he being too frail to
take that chill morning ride with his son) he waved his hand
protectingly after him, crying out: "He is a good boy."  And
she, having some wide vision of other mothers of the land who
during these same autumn days were bidding God-speed to their
idols--picked youth of the republic--she with some wide vision of
this large fact stood a proud mother among them all, feeling sure
that he would take foremost place in his college for good honest
work and for high character and gentle manners and gallant
bearing--with not a dark spot in him.

It was toward the close of the first session, after she had learned
the one kind of letter he always wrote, that his letters changed.
She could not have explained how they were changed, could not have
held the pages up to the inspection of any one else and have said,
"See! it is here."  But she knew it was there, and it stayed there.
She waited for his father to notice it; but if he ever noticed it,
he never told her: nor did she ever confide her discovery to him.

When vacation came, it brought a request from Rowan that he might
be allowed to spend the summer with college friends farther
north--camping, fishing, hunting, sailing, seeing more of his
country.  His father's consent was more ready than her own.  The
second session passed and with the second vacation the request was
renewed.  "Why does he not come home?  Why does he not wish to come
home?" she said, wandering restlessly over the house with his
letter in her hands; going up to his bedroom and sitting down in
the silence of it and looking at his bed--which seemed so strangely
white that day--looking at all the preparations she had made for
his comfort.  "Why does he not come?"

Near the close of the third session he came quickly enough,
summoned by his father's short fatal illness.

Some time passed before she observed anything in him but natural
changes after so long an absence and grief over his great loss.  He
shut himself in his room for some days, having it out alone with
himself, a young man's first solemn accounting to a father who has
become a memory.  Gradually there began to emerge his new care of
her, and tenderness, a boy's no more.  And he stepped forward
easily into his place as the head of affairs, as his brother's
guardian.  But as time wore on and she grew used to him as so much
older in mere course of nature, and as graver by his loss and his
fresh responsibilities, she made allowances for all these and
brushed them away and beheld constantly beneath them that other
change.

Often while she sat near him when they were reading, she would look
up and note that unaware a shadow had stolen out on his face.  She
studied that shadow.  And one consolation she drew: that whatsoever
the cause, it was nothing by which he felt dishonored.  At such
moments her love broke over him with intolerable longings.  She
remembered things that her mother had told her about her father;
she recalled the lives of her brothers, his uncles.  She yearned to
say: "What is it, Rowan?  You can tell me anything, anything.  I
know so much more than you believe."

But some restraint dissuaded her from bridging that reserve.  She
may have had the feeling that she spared him a good deal by her not
knowing.

For more than a year after his return he had kept aloof from
society--going into town only when business demanded, and accepting
no invitations to the gayeties of the neighborhood.  He liked
rather to have his friends come out to stay with him: sometimes he
was off with them for days during the fishing and hunting seasons.
Care of the farm and its stock occupied a good deal of his leisure,
and there were times when he worked hard in the fields--she thought
so unnecessarily.  Incessant activity of some kind had become his
craving--the only ease.

She became uneasy, she disapproved.  For a while she allowed things
to have their way, but later she interfered--though as always with
her silent strength and irresistible gentleness.  Making no comment
upon his changed habits and altered tastes, giving no sign of her
own purposes, she began the second year of his home-coming to
accept invitations for herself and formally reentered her social
world; reassumed her own leadership there; demanded him as her
escort; often filled the house with young guests; made it for his
generation what the home of her girlhood had been to her--in all
sacrificing for him the gravity and love of seclusion which had
settled over her during the solemn years, years which she knew to
be parts of a still more solemn future.

She succeeded.  She saw him again more nearly what he had been
before the college days--more nearly developing that type of life
which belonged to him and to his position.

Finally she saw him in love as she wished; and at this point she
gradually withdrew from society again, feeling that he needed her
no more.



VI

The noise of wheels on the gravel driveway of the lawn brought the
reflections of Mrs. Meredith to an abrupt close.  The sound was
extremely unpleasant to her; she did not feel in a mood to
entertain callers this morning.  Rising with regret, she looked
out.  The brougham of Mrs. Conyers, flashing in the sun, was being
driven toward the house--was being driven rapidly, as though speed
meant an urgency.

If Mrs. Meredith desired no visitor at all, she particularly
disliked the appearance of this one.  Rowan's words to her were
full of meaning that she did not understand; but they rendered it
clear at least that his love affair had been interrupted, if not
been ended.  She could not believe this due to any fault of his;
and friendly relations with the Conyers family was for her
instantly at an end with any wrong done to him.

She summoned a maid and instructed her regarding the room in which
the visitor was to be received (not in the parlors; they were too
full of solemn memories this morning).  Then she passed down the
long hall to her bedchamber.

The intimacy between these ladies was susceptible of exact
analysis; every element comprising it could have been valued as
upon a quantitative scale.  It did not involve any of those
incalculable forces which constitute friendship--a noble mystery
remaining forever beyond unravelling.

They found the first basis of their intimacy in a common wish for
the union of their offsprings.  This subject had never been
mentioned between them.  Mrs. Conyers would have discussed it had
she dared; but she knew at least the attitude of the other.
Furthermore, Mrs. Meredith brought to this association a beautiful
weakness: she was endowed with all but preternatural insight into
what is fine in human nature, but had slight power of discovering
what is base; she seemed endowed with far-sightedness in high,
clear, luminous atmospheres, but was short-sighted in moral
twilights.  She was, therefore, no judge of the character of her
intimate.  As for that lady's reputation, this was well known to
her; but she screened herself against this reputation behind what
she believed to be her own personal discovery of unsuspected
virtues in the misjudged.  She probably experienced as much pride
in publicly declaring the misjudged a better woman than she was
reputed, as that lady would have felt in secretly declaring her to
be a worse one.

On the part of Mrs. Conyers, the motives which she brought to the
association presented nothing that must be captured and brought
down from the heights, she was usually to be explained by mining
rather than mounting.  Whatever else she might not have been, she
was always ore; never rainbows.

Throughout bird and animal and insect life there runs what is
recognized as the law of protective assimilation.  It represents
the necessity under which a creature lives to pretend to be
something else as a condition of continuing to be itself.  The
rose-colored flamingo, curving its long neck in volutions that
suggest the petals of a corolla, burying its head under its wing
and lifting one leg out of sight, becomes a rank, marvellous
flower, blooming on too slight a stalk in its marshes.  An insect
turns itself into one of the dried twigs of a dead stick.  On the
margin of a shadowed pool the frog is hued like moss--greenness
beside greenness.  Mrs. Conyers availed herself of a kind of
protective assimilation when she exposed herself to the environment
of Mrs. Meredith, adopting devices by which she would be taken for
any object in nature but herself.  Two familiar devices were
applied to her habiliments and her conversations.  Mrs. Meredith
always dressed well to the natural limit of her bountiful years;
Mrs. Conyers usually dressed more than well and more than a
generation behind hers.  On occasions when she visited Rowan's
unconcealed mother, she allowed time to make regarding herself
almost an honest declaration.  Ordinarily she Was a rose nearly
ready to drop, which is bound with a thread of its own color to
look as much as possible like a bud that is nearly ready to open.

Her conversations were even more assiduously tinged and fashioned
by the needs of accommodation.  Sometimes she sat in Mrs.
Meredith's parlors as a soul sick of the world's vanities, an urban
spirit that hungered for country righteousness.  During a walk one
day through the gardens she paused under the boughs of a weeping
willow and recited, "Cromwell, I charge thee fling away ambition--"
She uniformly imparted to Mrs. Meredith the assurance that with her
alone she could lay aside all disguises.

This morning she alighted from her carriage at the end of the
pavement behind some tall evergreens.  As she walked toward the
house, though absorbed with a serious purpose, she continued to be
as observant of everything as usual.  Had an eye been observant of
her, it would have been noticed that Mrs. Conyers in all her
self-concealment did not conceal one thing--her walk.  This one
element of her conduct had its curious psychology.  She had never
been able to forget that certain scandals set going many years
before, had altered the course of Mrs. Meredith's life and of the
lives of some others.  After a lapse of so long a time she had no
fear now that she should be discovered.  Nevertheless it was
impossible for her ever to approach this house without "coming
delicately."  She "came delicately" in the same sense that Agag,
king of Amalek, walked when he was on his way to Saul, who was
about to hew him to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

She approached the house now, observant of everything as she
tripped.  Had a shutter been hung awry; if a window shade had been
drawn too low or a pane of glass had not sparkled, or there had
been loose paper on the ground or moulted feathers on the bricks,
she would have discovered this with the victorious satisfaction of
finding fault.  But orderliness prevailed.  No; the mat at the
front door had been displaced by Rowan's foot as he had hurried
from the house.  (The impulse was irresistible: she adjusted it
with her toe and planted herself on it with a sense of triumph.)

As she took out her own and Isabel's cards, she turned and looked
out across the old estate.  This was the home she had designed for
Isabel: the land, the house, the silver, the glass, the memories,
the distinction--they must all be Isabel's.

Some time passed before Mrs. Meredith appeared.  Always a woman of
dignity and reserve, she had never before in her life perhaps worn
a demeanor so dignified and reserved.  Her nature called for peace;
but if Rowan had been wronged, then there was no peace--and a
sacred war is a cruel one.  The instant that the two ladies
confronted each other, each realized that each concealed something
from the other.  This discovery instantly made Mrs. Meredith cooler
still; it rendered Mrs. Conyers more cordial.

"Isabel regretted that she could not come."

"I am sorry."  The tone called for the dismissal of the subject.

"This is scarcely a visit to you," Mrs. Conyers went on; "I have
been paying one of my usual pastoral calls: I have been to Ambrose
Webb's to see if my cows are ready to return to town.  Strawberries
are ripe and strawberries call for more cream, and more cream calls
for more calves, and more calves call for--well, we have all heard
them!  I do not understand how a man who looks like Ambrose can so
stimulate cattle.  Of course my cows are not as fine and fat as
Rowan's--that is not to be expected.  The country is looking very
beautiful.  I never come for a drive without regretting that I live
in town."  (She would have found the country intolerable for the
same reason that causes criminals to flock to cities.)

Constraint deepened as the visit was prolonged.  Mrs. Conyers
begged Mrs. Meredith for a recipe that she knew to be bad; and when
Mrs. Meredith had left the room for it, she rose and looked eagerly
out of the windows for any sign of Rowan.  When Mrs. Meredith
returned, for the same reason she asked to be taken into the
garden, which was in its splendor of bloom.  Mrs. Meredith culled
for her a few of the most resplendent blossoms--she could not have
offered to any one anything less.  Mrs. Conyers was careful not to
pin any one of these on; she had discovered that she possessed a
peculiarity known to some florists and concealed by those women who
suffer from it--that flowers soon wilt when worn by them.

Meanwhile as they walked she talked of flowers, of housekeeping;
she discussed Marguerite's coming ball and Dent's brilliant
graduation.  She enlarged upon this, praising Dent to the
disparagement of her own grandson Victor, now in retreat from
college on account of an injury received as centre-rush in his
football team.  Victor, she protested, was above education; his
college was a kind of dormitory to athletics.

When we are most earnest ourselves, we are surest to feel the lack
of earnestness in others; sincerity stirred to the depths will
tolerate nothing less.  It thus becomes a new test of a companion.
So a weak solution may not reveal a poison when a strong one will.
Mrs. Meredith felt this morning as never before the real nature of
the woman over whom for years she had tried to throw a concealing
charity; and Mrs. Conyers saw as never before in what an impossible
soil she had tried to plant poison oak and call it castle ivy.

The ladies parted with coldness.  When she was once more seated in
her carriage, Mrs. Conyers thrust her head through the window and
told the coachman to drive slowly.  She tossed the recipe into a
pine tree and took in her head.  Then she caught hold of a brown
silk cord attached to a little brown silk curtain in the front of
the brougham opposite her face.  It sprang aside, revealing a
little toilette mirror.  On the cushion beside her lay something
under a spread newspaper.  She quickly drew off her sombre visiting
gloves; and lifting the newspaper, revealed under it a fresh pair
of gloves, pearl-colored.  She worked her tinted hands nimbly into
these.  Then she took out a rose-colored scarf or shawl as light as
a summer cloud.  This she threw round her shoulders; it added no
warmth, it added color, meaning.  There were a few other youthward
changes and additions; and then the brown silk curtain closed over
the mirror.

Another woman leaned back in a corner of the brougham.  By a trick
of the face she had juggled away a generation of her years.  The
hands were moved backward on the horologe of mortality as we move
backward the pointers on the dial of a clock: her face ticked at
the hour of two in the afternoon of life instead of half-past five.

There was still time enough left to be malicious.



VII

One morning about a week later she entered her carriage and was
driven rapidly away.  A soft-faced, middle-aged woman with gray
ringlets and nervous eyes stepped timorously upon the veranda and
watched her departure with an expression of relief--Miss Harriet
Crane, the unredeemed daughter of the household.

She had been the only fruit of her mother's first marriage and she
still remained attached to the parental stem despite the most
vigorous wavings and shakings of that stem to shed its own product.
Nearly fifty years of wintry neglect and summer scorching had not
availed to disjoin Harriet from organic dependence upon her mother.
And of all conceivable failings in a child of hers that mother
could have found none so hard to forgive as the failure to attract
a man in a world full of men nearly all bent upon being attracted.

It was by no choice of Harriet's that she was born of a woman who
valued children as a kind of social collateral, high-class
investments to mature after long periods with at least reasonable
profits for the original investors.  Nor was it by any volition of
hers that she had commended herself to her mother in the beginning
by being a beautiful and healthful child: initial pledge that she
could be relied upon to turn out lucrative in the end.  The parent
herself was secretly astounded that she had given birth to a child
of so seraphic a disposition.

Trouble and disappointment began with education, for education is
long stout resistance.  You cannot polish highly a stone that is
not hard enough to resist being highly polished.  Harriet's soft
nature gave way before the advance of the serried phalanxes of
knowledge: learning passed her by; and she like the many "passed
through school."

By this time her mother had grown alarmed and she brought Harriet
out prematurely, that she might be wedded before, so to speak, she
was discovered.  Meantime Mrs. Crane herself had married a second
and a third time, with daughters by the last husband who were
little younger than her eldest; and she laughingly protested that
nothing is more confusing to a woman than to have in the house
children by two husbands.  Hence further reason for desiring
immediate nuptials: she could remove from the parlors the trace of
bi-marital collaboration.

At first only the most brilliant matches were planned for Harriet;
these one by one unaccountably came to naught.  Later the mother
began to fall back: upon those young men who should be glad to
embrace such an opportunity; but these less desirable young men
failed to take that peculiar view of their destinies.  In the
meanwhile the Misses Conyers had come on as debutantes and were
soon bespoken.  At the marriage of the youngest, Harriet's mother
had her act as first bridesmaid and dressed her, already fading, as
though she were the very spirit of April.

The other sisters were long since gone, scattered north and south
with half-grown families; and the big house was almost empty save
when they came in troops to visit it.

Harriet's downward career as an article of human merchandise had
passed through what are perhaps not wholly unrecognizable stages.
At first she had been displayed near the entrance for immediate
purchase by the unwary.  Then she had been marked down as something
that might be secured at a reduced price; but intending buyers
preferred to pay more.  By and by even this label was taken off and
she became a remnant of stock for which there was no convenient
space--being moved from shelf to shelf, always a little more
shop-worn, a little more out of style.  What was really needed was
an auction.

Mrs. Conyers did not take much to heart the teachings of her Bible;
but it had at least defined for her one point of view: all
creatures worth saving had been saved in pairs.

Bitter as were those years for Harriet, others more humiliating
followed.  The maternal attempts having been discontinued, she,
desperate with slights and insults, had put forth some efforts of
her own.  But it was as though one had been placed in a boat
without oars and told to row for life: the little boat under the
influence of cosmic tides had merely drifted into shallows and now
lay there--forgotten.

This morning as she sat idly rocking on the veranda, she felt that
negative happiness which consists in the disappearance of a
positively disagreeable thing.  Then she began to study how she
should spend the forenoon most agreeably.  Isabel was upstairs; she
would have been perfectly satisfied to talk with her; but for
several mornings Isabel had shown unmistakable preference to be let
alone; and in the school of life Harriet had attained the highest
proficiency in one branch of knowledge at least--never to get in
anybody's way.  Victor Fielding lay under the trees with a pipe and
a book, but she never ventured near him.

So Harriet bethought herself of a certain friend of hers on the
other side of town, Miss Anna Hardage, who lived with her brother,
Professor Hardage--two people to trust.

She put on her hat which unfortunately she had chosen to trim
herself, tied a white veil across the upper part of her face and
got out her second-best pair of gloves: Harriet kept her best
gloves for her enemies.  In the front yard she pulled a handful of
white lilacs (there was some defect here or she would never have
carried white lilacs in soiled white gloves); and passed out of the
gate.  Her eyes were lighted up with anticipations, but ill must
have overtaken her in transit; for when she was seated with Miss
Anna in a little side porch looking out on the little green yard,
they were dimmed with tears.

"The same old story," she complained vehemently.  "The same
ridicule that has been dinned into my ears since I was a child."

"Ah, now, somebody has been teasing her about being an old maid,"
said Miss Anna to herself, recognizing the signs.

"This world is a very unprincipled place to live in," continued
Harriet, her rage curdling into philosophy.

"Ah, but it is the best there is just yet," maintained Miss Anna,
stoutly.  "By and by we may all be able to do better--those of us
who get the chance."

"What shall I care then?" said Harriet, scouting eternity as a
palliative of contemporary woes.

"Wait! you are tired and you have lost your temper from thirst:
children always do.  I'll bring something to cure you, fresh from
the country, fresh from Ambrose Webb's farm.  Besides, you have a
dark shade of the blues, my dear; and this remedy is capital for
the blues.  You have but to sip a glass slowly--and where are
they?"  And she hastened into the house.

She returned with two glasses of cool buttermilk.

The words and the deed were characteristic of one of the most
wholesome women that ever helped to straighten out a crooked and to
cool a feverish world.  Miss Anna's very appearance allayed
irritation and became a provocation to good health, to good sense.
Her mission in life seemed not so much to distribute honey as to
sprinkle salt, to render things salubrious, to enable them to keep
their tonic naturalness.  Not within the range of womankind could
so marked a contrast have been found for Harriet as in this maiden
lady of her own age, who was her most patient friend and who
supported her clinging nature (which still could not resist the
attempt to bloom) as an autumn cornstalk supports a frost-nipped
morning-glory.

If words of love had ever been whispered into Miss Anna's ear, no
human being knew it now: but perhaps her heart also had its under
chamber sealed with tears.  Women not even behind her back jested
at her spinsterhood; and when that is true, a miracle takes place
indeed.  No doubt Miss Anna was a miracle, not belonging to any
country, race, or age; being one of those offerings to the world
which nature now and then draws from the deeps of womanhood: a pure
gift of God.

The two old maids drained their rectifying beverage in the shady
porch.  Whether from Miss Anna's faith in it or from the simple
health-giving of her presence, Harriet passed through a process of
healing; and as she handed back the empty glass, she smiled
gratefully into Miss Anna's sparkling brown eyes.  Nature had been
merciful to her in this, that she was as easily healed as wounded.
She now returned to the subject which had so irritated her, as we
rub pleasantly a spot from which a thorn has been extracted.

"What do I care?" she said, straightening her hat as if to complete
her recovery.  "But if there is one thing that can make me angry,
Anna, it is the middle-aged, able-bodied unmarried men of this
town.  They are perfectly, _perfectly_ contemptible."

"Oh, come now!" cried Miss Anna, "I am too old to talk about such
silly things myself; but what does a woman care whether she is
married or not if she has had offers?  And you have had plenty of
good offers, my dear."

"No, I haven't!" said Harriet, who would tell the truth about this
rankling misfortune.

"Well, then, it was because the men knew you wouldn't have them."

"No, it wasn't!" said Harriet, "it was because they knew I would."

"Nonsense!" cried Miss Anna, impatiently.  "You mustn't try to palm
off so much mock modesty on me, Harriet."

"Ah, I am too old to fib about it, Anna!  I leave _that_ to my many
sisters in misfortune."

Harriet looked at her friend's work curiously: she was darning
Professor Hardage's socks.

"Why do you do that, Anna?  Socks are dirt cheap.  You might as
well go out into the country and darn sheep."

"Ah, you have never had a brother--my brother! so you cannot
understand.  I can feel his heels pressing against my stitches when
he is walking a mile away.   And I know whenever his fingers touch
the buttons I have put back.  Besides, don't you like to see people
make bad things good, and things with holes in them whole again?
Why, that is half the work of the world, Harriet!  It is not his
feet that make these holes," continued Miss Anna, nicely, "it is
his shoes, his big, coarse shoes.  And his clothes wear out so
soon.  He has a tailor who misfits him so exactly from year to year
that there is never the slightest deviation in the botch.  I know
beforehand exactly where all the creases will begin.  So I darn and
mend.  The idea of his big, soft, strong feet making holes in
anything! but, then, you have never tucked him in bed at night, my
dear, so you know nothing about his feet."

"Not I!" said Harriet, embarrassed but not shocked.

Miss Anna continued fondly in a lowered voice: "You should have
heard him the other day when he pulled open a drawer: 'Why, Anna,'
he cried, 'where on earth did I get all these new socks?  The
pair I left in here must have been alive: they've bred like
rabbits.'--'Why, you've forgotten,' I said.  'It's your birthday;
and I have made you over, so that you are as good as new--_me_!'"

"I never have to be reminded of my birthday," remarked Harriet,
reflectively.  "Anna, do you know that I have lived about
one-eighth of the time since Columbus discovered America: doesn't
that sound awful!"

"Ah, but you don't look it," said Miss Anna, artistically, "and
that's the main object."

"Oh, I don't feel it," retorted Harriet, "and that's the main
object too.  I'm as young as I ever was when I'm away from home;
but I declare, Anna, there are times when my mother can make me
feel I'm about the oldest thing alive."

"Oh, come now! you mustn't begin to talk that way, or I'll have to
give you more of the antidote.  You are threatened with a relapse."

"No more," ordered Harriet with a forbidding hand, "and I repeat
what I said.  Of course you know I never gossip, Anna; but when I
talk to you, I do not feel as though I were talking to anybody."

"Why, of course not," said Miss Anna, trying to make the most of
the compliment, "I am nobody at all, just a mere nonentity,
Harriet."

"Anna," said Harriet, after a pause of unusual length, "if it had
not been for my mother, I should have been married long ago.
Thousands of worse-looking women, and of actually worse women,
marry every year in this world and marry reasonably well.  It was
because she tried to marry me off: that was the bottom of the
deviltry--the men saw through her."

"I am afraid they did," admitted Miss Anna, affably, looking down
into a hole.

"Of course I know I am not brilliant," conceded Harriet, "but then
I am never commonplace."

"I should like to catch any one saying such a thing."

"Even if I were, commonplace women always make the best wives: do
they not?"

"Oh, don't ask that question in this porch," exclaimed Miss Anna a
little resentfully.  "What do I know about it!"

"My mother thinks I am a weak woman," continued Harriet, musingly.
"If my day ever comes, she will know that I am, strong, Anna,
_strong_."

"Ah, now, you must forgive your mother," cried Miss Anna, having
reached a familiar turn in this familiar dialogue.  "Whatever she
did, she did for the best.  Certainly it was no fault of yours.
But you could get married to-morrow if you wished and you know it,
Harriet." (Miss Anna offered up the usual little prayer to be
forgiven.)

The balm of those words worked through Harriet's veins like a
poison of joy.  So long as a single human being expresses faith in
us, what matters an unbelieving world?  Harriet regularly visited
Miss Anna to hear these maddening syllables.  She called for them
as for the refilling of a prescription, which she preferred to get
fresh every time rather than take home once for all and use as
directed.

Among a primitive folk who seemed to have more moral troubles than
any other and to feel greater need of dismissing them by artificial
means, there grew up the custom of using a curious expedient.  They
chose a beast of the field and upon its head symbolically piled all
the moral hard-headedness of the several tribes; after which the
unoffending brute was banished to the wilderness and the guilty
multitude felt relieved.  However crude that ancient method of
transferring mental and moral burdens, it had at least this
redeeming feature: the early Hebrews heaped their sins upon a
creature which they did not care for and sent it away.  In modern
times we pile our burdens upon our dearest fellow-creatures and
keep them permanently near us for further use.  What human being
but has some other upon whom he nightly hangs his troubles as he
hangs his different garments upon hooks and nails in the walls
around him?  Have we ever suspected that when once the habit of
transferring our troubles has become pleasant to us, we thereafter
hunt for troubles in order that we may have them to transfer, that
we magnify the little ones in order to win the credit of having
large ones, and that we are wonderfully refreshed by making other
people despondent about us?  Mercifully those upon whom the burdens
are hung often become the better for their loads; they may not live
so long, but they are more useful.  Thus in turn the weak develop
the strong.

For years Miss Anna had sacrificially demeaned herself in the
service of Harriet, who would now have felt herself a recreant
friend unless she had promptly detailed every annoyance of her
life.  She would go home, having left behind her the infinite
little swarm of stinging things--having transferred them to the
head of Miss Anna, around which they buzzed until they died.

There was this further peculiarity in Harriet's visits: that the
most important moments were the last; Just as a doctor, after he
has listened to the old story of his patient's symptoms, and has
prescribed and bandaged and patted and soothed, and has reached the
door, turns, and noting a light in the patient's eye hears him make
a remark which shows that all the time he has really been thinking
about something else.

Harriet now showed what was at the bottom of her own mind this
morning:

"What I came to tell you about, Anna, is that for a week life at
home has been unendurable.  There is some trouble, some terrible
trouble; and no matter what goes wrong, my mother always holds me
responsible.  Positively there are times when I wonder whether I,
without my knowing it, may not be the Origin of Evil."

Miss Anna made no comment, having closed the personal subject, and
Harriet continued:

"It has scarcely been possible for me to stay in the house.
Fortunately mother has been there very little herself.  She goes
and goes and drives and drives.  Strange things have been
happening.  You know that Judge Morris has not missed coming on
Sunday evening for years.  Last night mother sat on the veranda
waiting for him and he did not come.  I know, for I watched.  What
have I to do but watch other people's affairs?--I have none of my
own.  I believe the trouble is all between Isabel and Rowan."

Miss Anna dropped her work and looked at Harriet with sudden
gravity.

"I can give you no idea of the real situation because it is very
dramatic; and you know, Anna, I am not dramatic: I am merely
historical: I tell my little tales.  But at any rate Rowan has not
been at the house for a week.  He called last Sunday afternoon and
Isabel refused to see him.  I know; because what have I to do but
to interest myself in people who have affairs of interest?  Then
Isabel had his picture in her room: it has been taken down.  She
had some of his books: they are gone.  The house has virtually been
closed to company.  Isabel has excused herself to callers.  Mother
was to give a tea; the invitations were cancelled.  At table Isabel
and mother barely speak; but when I am not near, they talk a great
deal to each other.  And Isabel walks and walks and walks--in the
garden, in her rooms.  I have waked up two or three times at night
and have seen her sitting at her window.  She has always been very
kind to me, Anna," Harriet's voice faltered, "she and you: and I
cannot bear to see her so unhappy.  You would never believe that a
few days would make such a change in her.  The other morning I went
up to her room with a little bunch of violets which I had gathered
for her myself.  When she opened the door, I saw that she was
packing her trunks.  And the dress she had ordered for Marguerite's
ball was lying on the bed ready to be put in.  As I gave her the
flowers she stood looking at them a long time; then she kissed me
without a word and quickly closed the door."


When Harriet had gone.  Miss Anna sat awhile in her porch with a
troubled face.  Then she went softly into the library, the windows
of which opened out upon the porch.  Professor Hardage was standing
on a short step-ladder before a bookcase, having just completed the
arrangement of the top shelf.

"Are you never going to get down?" she asked, looking up at him
fondly.

He closed the book with a snap and a sigh and descended.  Her
anxious look recalled his attention,

"Did I not hear Harriet harrowing you up again with her troubles?"
he asked.  "You poor, kind soul that try to bear everybody's!"

"Never mind about what I bear!  What can you bear for dinner?"

"It is an outrage, Anna!  What right has she to make herself
happier by making you miserable, lengthening her life by shortening
yours?  For these worries always clip the thread of life at the
end: that is where all the small debts are collected as one."

"Now you must not be down on Harriet!  It makes her happier; and as
to the end of my life, I shall be there to attend to that."

"Suppose I moved away with you to some other college entirely out
of her reach?"

"I shall not suppose it because you will never do it.  If you did,
Harriet would simply find somebody else to confide in; she _must_
tell _everything_ to _somebody_.  But if she told any one else, a
good many of these stories would be all over town.  She tells me
and they get no further."

"What right have you to listen to scandal in order to suppress it?"

"I don't even listen always: I merely stop the stream at its
source."

"I object to your offering your mind as the banks to such a stream.
Still I'm glad that I live near the banks," and he kissed his hand
to her.

"When one woman tells another anything and the other woman does not
tell, remember it is not scandal--it is confidence."

"Then there is no such thing as confidence," he replied, laughing.

He turned toward his shelves.

"Now do rest," she pleaded, "you look worn out."

She had a secret notion that books instead of putting life into
people took it out of them.  At best they performed the function of
grindstones: they made you sharper, but they made you thinner--gave
you more edge and left you less substance.

"I wish every one of those books had a lock and I had the bunch of
keys."

"Each has a lock and key; but the key cannot be put into your
pocket, Anna, my dear; it is the unlocking mind.  And you are not
to speak of books as a collection of locks and keys; they make up
the living tree of knowledge, though of course there is very little
of the tree in this particular bookcase."

"I don't see any of it," she remarked with wholesome literalness.

"Well, here at the bottom are lexicons--think of them as roots and
soil.  Above them lie maps and atlases: consider them the surface.
Then all books are history of course.  But here is a great central
trunk rising out of the surface which is called History in
especial.  On each side of that, running to the right and to the
left, are main branches.  Here for instance is the large limb of
Philosophy--a very weighty limb indeed.  Here is the branch of
Criticism.  Here is a bough consisting principally of leaves on
which live unnamed venomous little insects that poison them and die
on them: their appointed place in creation."

"And so there is no positive fruit anywhere," she insisted with her
practical taste for the substantial.

"It is all food, Anna, edible and nourishing to different mouths
and stomachs.  Some very great men have lived on the roots of
knowledge, the simplest roots.  And here is poetry for dates and
wild honey; and novels for cocoanuts and mushrooms.  And here is
Religion: that is for manna."

"What is at the very top?"

His eyes rested upon the highest row of books.

"These are some of the loftiest growths, new buds of the mind
opening toward the unknown.  Each in its way shows the best that
man, the earth-animal, has been able to accomplish.  Here is a
little volume for instance which tells what he ought to be--and
never is.  This small volume deals with the noblest ideals of the
greatest civilizations.  Here is what one of the finest of the
world's teachers had to say about justice.  Aspiration is at that
end.  This little book is on the sad loveliness of Greek girls; and
the volume beside it is about the brief human chaplets that Horace
and some other Romans wore--and then trod on.  Thus the long story
of light and shadow girdles the globe.  If you were nothing but a
spirit, Anna, and could float in here some night, perhaps you would
see a mysterious radiance streaming upward from this shelf of books
like the northern lights from behind the world--starting no one
knows where, sweeping away we know not whither--search-light of the
mortal, turned on dark eternity."

She stood a little behind him and watched him in silence, hiding
her tenderness.

"If I were a book," she said thoughtlessly, "where should I be?"

He drew the fingers of one hand lingeringly across the New
Testament.

"Ah, now don't do that," she cried, "or you shall have no dinner.
Here, turn round! look at the dust! look at this cravat on one end!
look at these hands!  March upstairs."

He laid his head over against hers.

"Stand up!" she exclaimed, and ran out of the room.

Some minutes later she came back and took a seat near the door.
There was flour on her elbow; and she held a spoon in her hand.

"Now you look like yourself," she said, regarding him with approval
as he sat reading before the bookcase.  "I started to tell you what
Harriet told me."

He looked over the top of his book at her.

"I thought you said you stopped the stream at its source.  Now you
propose to let it run down to me--or up to me: how do you know it
will not run past me?"

"Now don't talk in that way," she said, "this is something you will
want to know," and she related what Harriet had chronicled.



VIII

When she had left the room, he put back into its place the volume
he was reading: its power over him was gone.  All the voices of all
his books, speaking to him from lands and ages, grew simultaneously
hushed.  He crossed the library to a front window opening upon the
narrow rocky street and sat with his elbow on the window-sill, the
large fingers of one large hand unconsciously searching his
brow--that habit of men of thoughtful years, the smoothing out of
the inner problems.

The home of Professor Hardage was not in one of the best parts of
the town.  There was no wealth here, no society as it impressively
calls itself; there were merely well-to-do human beings of ordinary
intelligence and of kindly and unkindly natures.  The houses,
constructed of frame or of brick, were crowded wall against wall
along the sidewalk; in the rear were little gardens of flowers and
of vegetables.  The street itself was well shaded; and one forest
tree, the roots of which bulged up through the mossy bricks of the
pavement, hung its boughs before his windows.  Throughout life he
had found so many companions in the world outside of mere people,
and this tree was one.  From the month of leaves to the month of no
leaves--the period of long hot vacations--when his eyes were tired
and his brain and heart a little tired also, many a time it
refreshed him by all that it was and all that it stood for--this
green tent of the woods arching itself before his treasured
shelves.  In it for him were thoughts of cool solitudes and of
far-away greenness; with tormenting visions also of old lands, the
crystal-aired, purpling mountains of which, and valleys full of
fable, he was used to trace out upon the map, but knew that he
should never see or press with responsive feet.

For travel was impossible to him.  Part of his small salary went to
the family of a brother; part disappeared each year in the buying
of books--at once his need and his passion; there were the expenses
of living; and Miss Anna always exacted appropriations.

"I know we have not much, but then my little boys and girls have
nothing; and the poor must help the poorer."

"Very well," he would reply, "but some day you will be a beggar
yourself, Anna."

"Oh, well then, if I am, I do not doubt that I shall be a thrifty
old mendicant.  And I'll beg for _you_!  So don't you be uneasy;
and give me what I want."

She always looked like a middle-aged Madonna in the garb of a
housekeeper.  Indeed, he was wont to call her the Madonna of the
Dishes; but at these times, and in truth for all deeper ways, he
thought of her as the Madonna of the Motherless.  Nevertheless he
was resolute that out of this many-portioned salary something must
yet be saved.

"The time will come," he threatened, "when some younger man will
want my professorship--and will deserve it.  I shall either be put
out or I shall go out; and then--decrepitude, uselessness, penury,
unless something has been hoarded.  So, Anna, out of the frail
uncertain little basketful of the apples of life which the college
authorities present to me once a year, we must save a few for what
may prove a long hard winter."

Professor Hardage was a man somewhat past fifty, of ordinary
stature and heavy figure, topped with an immense head.  His was not
what we call rather vaguely the American face.  In Germany had he
been seen issuing from the lecture rooms of a university, he would
have been thought at home and his general status had been assumed:
there being that about him which bespoke the scholar, one of those
quiet self-effacing minds that have long since passed with entire
humility into the service of vast themes.  In social life the
character of a noble master will in time stamp itself upon the look
and manners of a domestic; and in time the student acquires the
lofty hall-mark of what he serves.

It was this perhaps that immediately distinguished him and set him
apart in every company.  The appreciative observer said at once:
"Here is a man who may not himself be great; but he is at least
great enough to understand greatness; he is used to greatness."

As so often is the case with the strong American, he was
self-made--that glory of our boasting.  But we sometimes forget
that an early life of hardship, while it may bring out what is best
in a man, so often wastes up his strength and burns his ambition to
ashes in the fierce fight against odds too great.  So that the
powers which should have carried him far carry him only a little
distance or leave him standing exhausted where he began.

When Alfred Hardage was eighteen, he had turned his eyes toward a
professorship in one of the great universities of his country;
before he was thirty he had won a professorship in the small but
respectable college of his native town; and now, when past fifty,
he had never won anything more.  For him ambition was like the
deserted martin box in the corner of his yard: returning summers
brought no more birds.  Had his abilities been even more
extraordinary, the result could not have been far otherwise.  He
had been compelled to forego for himself as a student the highest
university training, and afterward to win such position as the
world accorded him without the prestige of study abroad.

It became his duty in his place to teach the Greek language and its
literature; sometimes were added classes in Latin.  This was the
easier problem.  The more difficult problem grew out of the demand,
that he should live intimately in a world of much littleness and
not himself become little; feel interested in trivial minds at
street corners, yet remain companion and critic of some of the
greatest intellects of human kind; contend with occasional malice
and jealousy in the college faculty, yet hold himself above these
carrion passions; retain his intellectual manhood, yet have his
courses of study narrowed and made superficial for him; be free yet
submit to be patronized by some of his fellow-citizens, because
they did him the honor to employ him for so much as a year as sage
and moral exampler to their sons.

Usually one of two fates overtakes the obscure professional scholar
in this country: either he shrinks to the dimensions of a true
villager and deserts the vastness of his library; or he repudiates
the village and becomes a cosmopolitan recluse--lonely toiler among
his books.  Few possess the breadth and equipoise which will enable
them to pass from day to day along mental paths, which have the
Forum of Augustus or the Groves of the Academy at one end and the
babbling square of a modern town at the other; remaining equally at
home amid ancient ideals and everyday realities.

It was the fate of the recluse that threatened him.  He had been
born with the scholar's temperament--this furnished the direction;
before he had reached the age of twenty-five he had lost his wife
and two sons--that furrowed the tendency.  During the years
immediately following he had tried to fill an immense void of the
heart with immense labors of the intellect.  The void remained; yet
undoubtedly compensation for loneliness had been found in the
fixing of his affections upon what can never die--the inexhaustible
delight of learning.

Thus the life of the book-worm awaited him but for an interference
excellent and salutary and irresistible.  This was the constant
companionship of a sister whose nature enabled her to find its
complete universe in the only world that she had ever known: she
walking ever broad-minded through the narrowness of her little
town; remaining white though often threading its soiling ways; and
from every life which touched hers, however crippled and confined,
extracting its significance instead of its insignificance, shy
harmonies instead of the easy discords which can so palpably be
struck by any passing hand.

It was due to her influence, therefore, that his life achieved the
twofold development which left him normal in the middle years; the
fresh pursuing scholar still but a man practically welded to the
people among whom he lived--receiving their best and giving his
best.

But we cannot send our hearts out to play at large among our kind,
without their coming to choose sooner or later playfellows to be
loved more than the rest.

Two intimacies entered into the life of Professor Hardage.  The
first of these had been formed many years before with Judge Ravenel
Morris.  They had discovered each other by drifting as lonely men
do in the world; each being without family ties, each loving
literature, each having empty hours.  The bond between them had
strengthened, until it had become to each a bond of strength
indeed, mighty and uplifting.

The other intimacy was one of those for which human speech will
never, perhaps, be called upon to body forth its describing word.
In the psychology of feeling there are states which we gladly
choose to leave unlanguaged.  Vast and deep-sounding as is the
orchestra of words, there are scores which we never fling upon such
instruments--realities that lie outside the possibility and the
desirability of utterance as there are rays of the sun that fall
outside the visible spectrum of solar light.

What description can be given in words of that bond between two,
when the woman stands near the foot of the upward slope of life,
and the man is already passing down on the sunset side, with
lengthening afternoon shadows on the gray of his temples--between
them the cold separating peaks of a generation?

Such a generation of toiling years separated Professor Hardage from
Isabel Conyers.  When, at the age of twenty, she returned after
years of absence in an eastern college--it was a tradition of her
family that its women should be brilliantly educated--he verged
upon fifty.  To his youthful desires that interval was nothing; but
to his disciplined judgment it was everything.

"Even though it could be," he said to himself, "it should not be,
and therefore it shall not."

His was an idealism that often leaves its holder poor indeed save
in the possession of its own incorruptible wealth.  No doubt also
the life-long study of the ideals of classic time came to his
guidance now with their admonitions of exquisite balance, their
moderation and essential justness.

But after he had given up all hope of her, he did not hesitate to
draw her to him in other ways; and there was that which drew her
unfathomably to him--all the more securely since in her mind there
was no thought that the bond between them would ever involve the
possibility of love and marriage.

His library became another home to her.  One winter she read Greek
with him--authors not in her college course.  Afterward he read
much more Greek to her.  Then they laid Greek aside, and he took
her through the history of its literature and through that other
noble one, its deathless twin.

When she was not actually present, he yet took her with him through
the wide regions of his studies---set her figure in old Greek
landscapes and surrounded it with dim shapes of loveliness--saw her
sometimes as the perfection that went into marble--made her a
portion of legend and story, linking her with Nausicaa and
Andromache and the lost others.  Then quitting antiquity with her
altogether, he passed downward with her into the days of chivalry,
brought her to Arthur's court, and invested her with one character
after another, trying her by the ladies of knightly ideals--reading
her between the lines in all the king's idyls.

But last and best, seeing her in the clear white light of her own
country and time--as the spirit of American girlhood, pure,
refined, faultlessly proportioned in mental and physical health,
full of kindness, full of happiness, made for love, made for
motherhood.  All this he did in his hopeless and idealizing worship
of her; and all this and more he hid away: for he too had his crypt.

So watching her and watching vainly over her, he was the first to
see that she was loved and that her nature was turning away from
him, from all that he could offer--subdued by that one other call.

"Now, Fates," he said, "by whatsoever names men have blindly prayed
to you; you that love to strike at perfection, and pass over a
multitude of the ordinary to reach the rare, stand off for a few
years!  Let them be happy together in their love, their marriage,
and their young children.  Let the threads run freely and be
joyously interwoven.  Have mercy at least for a few years!"

A carriage turned a corner of the street and was driven to the
door.  Isabel got out, and entered the hall without ringing.

He met her there and as she laid her hands in his without a word,
he held them and looked at her without a word.  He could scarcely
believe that in a few days her life could so have drooped as under
a dreadful blight.

"I have come to say good-by," and with a quiver of the lips she
turned her face aside and brushed past him, entering the library.

He drew his own chair close to hers when she had seated herself.

"I thought you and your grandmother were going later: is not this
unexpected?"

"Yes, it is very unexpected."

"But of course she is going with you?"

"No, I am going alone."

"For the summer?"

"Yes, for the summer.  I suppose for a long time."

She continued to sit with her cheek leaning against the back of the
chair, her eyes directed outward through the windows.  He asked
reluctantly:

"Is there any trouble?"

"Yes, there is trouble."

"Can you tell me what it is?"

"No, I cannot tell you what it is.  I cannot tell any one what it
is."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"No, there is nothing you can do.  There is nothing any one can do."

Silence followed for some time.  He smiled at her sadly:

"Shall I tell you what the trouble is?"

"You do not know what it is.  I believe I wish you did know.  But I
cannot tell you."

"Is it not Rowan?"

She waited awhile without change of posture and answered at length
without change of tone:

"Yes, it is Rowan."

The stillness of the room became intense and prolonged; the
rustling of the leaves about the window sounded like noise.

"Are you not going to marry him, Isabel?"

"No, I am not going to marry him.  I am never going to marry him."

She stretched out her hand helplessly to him.  He would not take it
and it fell to her side: at that moment he did not dare.  But of
what use is it to have kept faith with high ideals through trying
years if they do not reward us at last with strength in the crises
of character?  No doubt they rewarded him now: later he reached
down and took her hand and held it tenderly.

"You must not go away.  You must be reconciled, to him.  Otherwise
it will sadden your whole summer.  And it will sadden his."

"Sadden, the whole summer," she repeated, "a summer?  It will
sadden a life.  If there is eternity, it will sadden eternity."

"Is it so serious?"

"Yes, it is as serious as anything, could be."

After a while she sat up wearily and turned her face to him for the
first time.

"Cannot you help me?" she asked.  "I do not believe I can bear
this.  I do not believe I can bear it."

Perhaps it is the doctors who hear that tone oftenest--little
wonder that they are men so often with sad or with calloused faces.

"What can I do?"

"I do not know what you can do.  But cannot you do something?  You
were the only person in the world that I could go to.  I did not
think I could ever come to you; but I had to come.  Help me."

He perceived that commonplace counsel would be better than no
counsel at all.

"Isabel," he asked, "are you suffering because you have wronged
Rowan or because you think he has wronged you?"

"No, no, no," she cried, covering her face with her hands, "I have
not wronged him!  I have not wronged any one!  He has wronged me!"

"Did he ever wrong you before?"

"No, he never wronged me before.  But this covers everything--the
whole past."

"Have you ever had any great trouble before, Isabel?"

"No, I have never had any great trouble before.  At times in my
life I may have thought I had, but now I know."

"You do not need to be told that sooner or later all of us have
troubles that we think we cannot bear."

She shook her head wearily: "It does not do any good to think of
that!  It does not help me in the least!"

"But it does help if there is any one to whom we can tell our
troubles."

"I cannot tell mine."

"Cannot you tell me?"

"No, I believe I wish you knew, but I could not tell you.  No, I do
not even wish you to know."

"Have you seen Kate?"

She covered her face with her hands again: "No, no, no," she cried,
"not Kate!"  Then she looked up at him with eyes suddenly kindling:
"Have you heard what Kate's life has been since her marriage?"

"We have all heard, I suppose."

"She has never spoken a word against him--not even to me from whom
she never had a secret.  How could I go to her about Rowan?  Even
if she had confided in me, I could not tell her this."

"If you are going away, change of scene will help you to forget it."

"No, it will help me to remember."

"There is prayer, Isabel."

"I know there is prayer.  But prayer does not do any good.  It has
nothing to do with this."

"Enter as soon as possible into the pleasures of the people you are
to visit."

"I cannot!  I do not wish for pleasure,"

"Isabel," he said at last, "forgive him."

"I cannot forgive him."

"Have you tried?"

"No, I cannot try.  If I forgave him, it would only be a change in
me: it would not change him: it would not undo what he has done."

"Do you know the necessity of self-sacrifice?"

"But how can I sacrifice what is best in me without lowering
myself?  Is it a virtue in a woman to throw away what she holds to
be as highest?"

"Remember," he said, returning to the point, "that, if you forgive
him, you become changed yourself.  You no longer see what he has
done as you see it now.  That is the beauty of forgiveness: it
enables us better to understand those whom we have forgiven.
Perhaps it will enable you to put yourself in his place."

She put her hands to her eyes with a shudder: "You do not know what
you are saying," she cried, and rose.

"Then trust it all to time," he said finally, "that is best!  Time
alone solves so much.  Wait!  Do not act!  Think and feel as little
as possible.  Give time its merciful chance.  I'll come to see you."

They had moved toward the door.  She drew off her glove which she
was putting on and laid her hand once more in his.

"Time can change nothing.  I have decided."

As she was going down the steps to the carriage, she turned and
came back.

"Do not come to see me!  I shall come to you to say good-by.  It is
better for you not to come to the house just now.  I might not be
able to see you."

Isabel had the carriage driven to the Osborns'.

The house was situated in a pleasant street of delightful
residences.  It had been newly built on an old foundation as a
bridal present to Kate from her father.  She had furnished it with
a young wife's pride and delight and she had lined it throughout
with thoughts of incommunicable tenderness about the life history
just beginning.  Now, people driving past (and there were few in
town who did not know) looked at it as already a prison and a doom.

Kate was sitting in the hall with some work in her lap.  Seeing
Isabel she sprang up and met her at the door, greeting her as
though she herself were the happiest of wives.

"Do you know how long it has been since you were here?" she
exclaimed chidingly.  "I had not realized how soon young married
people can be forgotten and pushed aside."

"Forget you, dearest!  I have never thought of you so much as since
I was here last."

"Ah," thought Kate to herself, "she has heard.  She has begun to
feel sorry for me and has begun to stay away as people avoid the
unhappy."

But the two friends, each smiling into the other's eyes, their arms
around each other, passed into the parlors.

"Now that you are here at last, I shall keep you," said Kate,
rising from the seat they had taken.  "I will send the carriage
home.  George cannot be here to lunch and we shall have it all to
ourselves as we used to when we were girls together."

"No," exclaimed Isabel, drawing her down into the seat again, "I
cannot stay.  I had only a few moments and drove by just to speak
to you, just to tell you how much I love you."

Kate's face changed and she dropped her eyes.  "Is so little of me
so much nowadays?" she asked, feeling as though the friendship of a
lifetime were indeed beginning to fail her along with other things.

"No, no, no," cried Isabel.  "I wish we could never be separated."

She rose quickly and went over to the piano and began to turn over
the music.  "It seems so long since I heard any music.  What has
become of it?  Has it all gone out of life?   I feel as though
there were none any more."

Kate came over and looked at one piece of music after another
irresolutely.

"I have not touched the piano for weeks."

She sat down and her fingers wandered forcedly through a few
chords.  Isabel stepped quickly to her side and laid restraining
hands softly upon hers: "No; not to-day."

Kate rose with averted face: "No; not any music to-day!"

The friends returned to their seat, on which Kate left her work.
She took it up and for a few moments Isabel watched her in silence.

"When did you see Rowan?"

"You know he lives in the country," replied Isabel, with an air of
defensive gayety.

"And does he never come to town?"

"How should I know?"

Kate took this seriously and her head sank lower over her work:
"Ah," she thought to herself, "she will not confide in me any
longer.  She keeps her secrets from me--me who shared them all my
life."

"What is it you are making?"

Isabel stretched out her hand, but Kate with a cry threw her breast
downward upon her work.  With laughter they struggled over it; Kate
released it and Isabel rising held it up before her.  Then she
allowed it to drop to the floor.

"Isabel!" exclaimed Kate, her face grown cold and hard.  She
stooped with dignity and picked up the garment.

"Oh, forgive me," implored Isabel, throwing her arms around her
neck.  "I did not know what I was doing!" and she buried her face
on the young wife's shoulder.  "I was thinking of myself: I cannot
tell you why!"

Kate released herself gently.  Her face remained grave.  She had
felt the first wound of motherhood: it could not be healed at once.
The friends could not look at each other.  Isabel began to draw on
her gloves and Kate did not seek to keep her longer.

"I must go.  Dear friend, have you forgiven me?  I cannot tell you
what was in my heart.  Some day you will understand.  Try to
forgive till you do understand."

Kate's mouth trembled: "Isabel, why are you so changed toward me?"

"Ah, I have not changed toward you!  I shall never change toward
you!"

"Are you too happy to care for me any longer?"

"Ah, Kate, I am not too happy for anything.  Some day you will
understand."

She leaned far out and waved her hand as she drove away, and then
she threw herself back into the carriage.  "Dear injured friend!
Brave loyal woman'" she cried, "the men we loved have ruined both
our lives; and we who never had a secret from each other meet and
part as hypocrites to shield them.  Drive home," she said to the
driver.  "If any one motions to stop, pay no attention.  Drive
fast."

Mrs. Osborn watched the carriage out of sight and then walked
slowly back to her work.  She folded the soft white fabric over the
cushions and then laid her cheek against it and gave it its first
christening--the christening of tears.



IX

The court-house clock in the centre of the town clanged the hour of
ten--hammered it out lavishly and cheerily as a lusty blacksmith
strikes with prodigal arm his customary anvil.  Another clock in a
dignified church tower also struck ten, but with far greater
solemnity, as though reminding the town clock that time is not to
be measured out to man as a mere matter of business, but intoned
savingly and warningly as the chief commodity of salvation.  Then
another clock: in a more attenuated cobwebbed steeple also struck
ten, reaffirming the gloomy view of its resounding brother and
insisting that the town clock had treated the subject with sinful
levity.

Nevertheless the town clock seemed to have the best of the argument
on this particular day; for the sun was shining, cool, breezes were
blowing, and the streets were thronged with people intent on making
bargains.  Possibly the most appalling idea in most men's notions
of eternity is the dread that there will be no more bargaining
there.

A bird's-eye view of the little town as it lay outspread on its
high fertile plateau, surrounded by green woods and waving fields,
would have revealed near one edge of it a large verdurous spot
which looked like an overrun oasis.  This oasis was enclosed by a
high fence on the inside of which ran a hedge of lilacs, privet,
and osage orange.  Somewhere in it was an old one-story manor
house of rambling ells and verandas.  Elsewhere was a little
summer-house, rose-covered; still elsewhere an arbor vine-hung; at
various other places secluded nooks with seats, where the bushes
could hide you and not hear you--a virtue quite above anything
human.   Marguerite lived in this labyrinth.

As the dissenting clocks finished striking, had you been standing
outside the fence near a little side gate used by grocers' and
bakers' carts, you might have seen Marguerite herself.  There came
a soft push against the gate from within; and as it swung part of
the way open, you might have observed that the push was delivered
by the toe of a little foot.  A second push sent it still farther.
Then there was a pause and then it flew open and stayed open.  At
first there appeared what looked like an inverted snowy flagstaff
but turned out to be a long, closed white parasol; then Marguerite
herself appeared, bending her head low under the privet leaves and
holding her skirts close in, so that they might not be touched by
the whitewash on each edge.  Once outside, she straightened herself
up with the lithe grace of a young willow, released her skirts, and
balancing herself on the point of her parasol, closed the gate with
her toe: she was too dainty to touch it.

The sun shone hot and Marguerite quickly raised her parasol.  It
made you think of some silken white myriad-fluted mushroom of the
dark May woods; and Marguerite did not so much seem to have come
out of the house as out of the garden--to have slept there on its
green moss with the new moon on her eyelids--indeed to have been
born there, in some wise compounded of violets and hyacinths; and
as the finishing touch to have had squeezed into her nature a few
drops of wildwood spritishness.

She started toward the town with a movement somewhat like that of a
tall thin lily stalk swayed by zephyrs--with a lilt, a cadence, an
ever changing rhythm of joy: plain walking on the solid earth was
not for her.  At friendly houses along the way she peeped into open
windows, calling to friends; she stooped over baby carriages on the
sidewalk, noting but not measuring their mysteries; she bowed to
the right and to the left at passing carriages; and people leaned
far out to bow and smile at her.  Her passage through the town was
somewhat like that of a butterfly crossing a field.

"Will he be there?" she asked.  "I did not tell him I was coming,
but he heard me say I should be there at half-past ten o'clock.  It
is his duty to notice my least remark."

When she reached her destination, the old town library, she mounted
the lowest step and glanced rather guiltily up and down the street.
Three ladies were going up and two men were going down: no one was
coming toward Marguerite.

"Now, why is he not here?  He shall be punished for this."

She paced slowly backward and forward yet a little while.  Then she
started resolutely in the direction of a street where most of the
law offices were situated.  Turning a corner, she came full upon
Judge, Morris.

"Ah, good morning, good morning," he cried, putting his gold-headed
cane under his arm and holding out both hands.  "Where did you
sleep last night?  On rose leaves?"

"I was in grandmother's bed when I left off," said Marguerite,
looking up at the rim of her hat.

"And where were you when you began again?"

"Still in grandmother's bed.  I think I must have been there all
the time.  I know all about your old Blackstone and all that kind
of thing," she continued, glancing at a yellow book under his arm
and speaking with a threat as though he had adjudged her ignorant.

"Ah, then you will make a good lawyer's wife."

"I supposed I'd make a good wife of any kind.  Are you coming to my
ball?"

"Well, you know I am too old to make engagements far ahead.  But I
expect to be there.  If I am not, my ghost shall attend."

"How shall I recognize it?  Does it dance?  I don't want to mistake
it for Barbee."

"Barbee shall not come if I can keep him at home."

"And why, please?"

"I am afraid he is falling in love with you."

"But why shouldn't he?"

"I don't wish my nephew to be flirted."

"But how do you know I'd flirt him?"

"Ah, I knew your mother when she was young and your grandmother
when she was young: you're all alike."

"We, are so glad we are," said Marguerite, as she danced away from
him under her parasol.

Farther down the street she met Professor Hardage.

"I know all about your old Odyssey--your old Horace and all those
things," she said threateningly.  "I am not as ignorant as you
think."

"I wish Horace had known you."

"Would it have been nice?"

"He might have written an ode _Ad Margaritam_ instead of _Ad
Lalagem_."

"Then I might have been able to read it," she said.  "In school I
couldn't read the other one.  But you mustn't think that I did not
read a great deal of Latin.  The professor used to say that I read
my Latin b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l-l-y, but that I didn't get much English
out of it.  I told him I got as much English out of it as the
Romans did, and that they certainly ought to have known what it was
meant for."

"That must have taught him a lesson!"

"Oh, he said I'd do: I was called the girl who read Latin
perfectly, regardless of English.  And, then, I won a prize for an
essay on the three most important things that the United States has
contributed to the civilizations of the Old World.  I said they
were tobacco, wild turkeys and idle curiosity.  Of course every one
knew about tobacco and turkeys; but wasn't it clever of me to think
of idle curiosity?  Now, wasn't it?  I made a long list of things
and then I selected these from my list."

"I'd like to know what the other things were!"

"Oh, I've forgotten now!  But they were very important at the time.
Are you coming to my ball?"

"I hope to come."

"And is Miss Anna coming?"

"Miss Anna is coming.  She is coming as a man; and she is going to
bring a lady."

"How is she going to dress as a man?" said Marguerite, as she
danced away from him under her parasol.

She strolled slowly on until she reached the street of justice and
the jail; turning into this, she passed up the side opposite the
law offices.  Her parasol rested far back on one shoulder; to any
lateral observer there could have been no mistake regarding the
face in front of it.  She passed through a group of firemen sitting
in their shirtsleeves in front of the engine-house, disappeared
around the corner, and went to a confectioner's.  Presently she
reentered the street, and this time walked along the side where the
law offices were grouped.  She disappeared around the corner and
entered a dry-goods store.  A few moments later she reentered the
street for the third and last time.  Just as she passed a certain
law office, she dropped her packages.  No one came out to pick them
up.  Marguerite did this herself--very slowly.  Still no one
appeared.  She gave three sharp little raps on the woodwork of the
door.

From the rear office a red head was thrust suddenly out like a
surprised woodpecker's.  Barbee hurried to the entrance and looked
up the street.  He saw a good many people.  He looked down the
street and noticed a parasol moving away.

"I supposed you were in the courthouse," she said, glancing at him
with surprise.  "Haven't you any cases?"

"One," he answered, "a case of life and death."

"You need not walk against me, Barbee; I am not a vine to need
propping.  And you need not walk with me.  I am quite used to
walking alone: my nurse taught me years ago."

"But now you have to learn _not_ to walk alone, Marguerite."

"It will be very difficult."

"It will be easy when the right man steps forward: am I the right
man?"

"I am going to the library.  Good morning."

"So am I going to the library."

"Aren't all your authorities in your office?"

"All except one."

They turned into the quiet shady street: they were not the first to
do this.

When they reached the steps, Marguerite sank down.

"Why do I get so tired when I walk with you, Barbee?  You exhaust
me _very_ rapidly."

He sat down not very near her, but soon edged a little closer.

Marguerite leaned over and looked intently at his big, thin ear.

"What a lovely red your ear is, seen against a clear sky.  It would
make a beautiful lamp-shade."

"You may have both of them--and all the fixtures--solid brass--an
antique some day."

He edged a little closer.

Marguerite coughed and pointed across the street: "Aren't those
trees beautiful?"

"Oh, don't talk to me about trees!  What do I care about _wood_!
You're the tree that I want to dig up, and take home, and plant,
and live under, and be buried by."

"That's a great deal--all in one sentence."

"Are you never going to love me a little, Marguerite?"

"How can I tell?"

"Don't torture me."

"What am I doing?"

"You are not doing anything, that's the trouble.   The other night
I was sure you loved me."

"I didn't say so."

"But you looked it."

"Then I looked all wrong: I shall change my looks."

"Will you name the day?"

"What day?"

"_The_ day."

"I'll name them all: Monday, Tuesday--"

"Ah, Lord--"

"Barbee, I'm going to sing you a love song--an old, old, old love
song.  Did you ever hear one?"

"I have been hearing mine for some time."

"This goes back to grandmother's time.  But it's the man's song:
you ought to be singing it to me."

"I shall continue to sing my own."

Marguerite began to sing close to Barbee's ear:

  "I'll give to you a paper of pins,
  If that's the way that love begins,
  If you will marry me, me, me,
  If you will marry me."

"Pins!" said Barbee; "why, that old-time minstrel must have been
singing when pins were just invented.  You can have--"

Marguerite quieted him with a finger on his elbow:

  "I'll give to you a dress of red,
  Bound all around with golden thread,
  If you will marry me, me, me,
  If you will marry me."

"How about a dress not simply bound with golden thread but made of
it, made of nothing else! and then hung all over with golden
ornaments and the heaviest golden utensils?"

Marguerite sang on:

  "I'll give to you a coach and six,
  Every horse as black as pitch,
  If you will marry me, me, me,
  If you will marry me."

"I'll make it two coaches and twelve white ponies."

Marguerite sang on, this time very tenderly:

  "I'll give to you the key of my heart,
  That we may love and never part,
  If you will marry me, me, me,
  If you will marry me."

"No man can give anything better," said Barbee, moving closer (as
close as possible) and looking questioningly full into Marguerite's
eyes.

Marguerite glanced up and down the street.  The moment was
opportune, the disposition of the universe seemed kind.  The big
parasol slipped a little lower.

"Marguerite. . .  Please, Marguerite. . .  _Marguerite_."

The parasol was suddenly pulled down low and remained very still a
moment: then a quiver ran round the fringe.  It was still again,
and there was another quiver.  It swayed to and fro and round and
round, and then stood very, very still indeed, and there was a
violent quiver.

Then Marguerite ran into the library as out of a sudden shower; and
Barbee with long slow strides returned to his office.


"Anna," said Professor Hardage, laying his book across his knee as
they sat that afternoon in the shady side porch, "I saw Marguerite
this morning and she sent her compliments.  They were very pretty
compliments.  I sometimes wonder where Marguerite came from--out of
what lands she has wandered."

"Well, now that you have stopped reading," said Miss Anna, laying
down her work and smoothing her brow (she never spoke to him until
he did stop--perfect woman), "that Is what I have been waiting to
talk to you about: do you wish to go with Harriet to Marguerite's
ball?"

"I most certainly do not wish to go with Harriet to Marguerite's
ball," he said, laughing, "I am going with you."

"Well, you most certainly are not going with me: I am going with
Harriet."

"Anna!"

"If I do not, who will?  Now what I want you to do is to pay
Harriet some attention after I arrive with her.  I shall take her
into supper, because if you took her in, she would never get any.
But suppose that after supper you strolled carelessly up to us--you
know how men do--and asked her to take a turn with you."

"What kind of a turn in Heaven's name?"

"Well, suppose you took her out into the yard--to one of those
little rustic seats of Marguerite's--and sat there with her for
half an hour--in the darkest place you could possibly find.  And I
want you to try to hold her hand."

"Why, Anna, what on earth--"

"Now don't you suppose Harriet would let you do it," she said
indignantly.  "But what I want her to have is the pleasure of
refusing: it would be such a triumph.  It would make her happy for
days: it might lengthen her life a little."

"What effect do you suppose it would have on mine?"

His face softened as he mused on the kind of woman his sister was.

"Now don't you try to do anything else," she added severely.  "I
don't like your expression."

He laughed outright: "What do you suppose I'd do?"

"I don't suppose you'd do anything; but don't you do it!"

Miss Anna's invitation to Harriet had been written some days before.

She had sent down to the book-store for ten cents' worth of tinted
note paper and to the drugstore for some of Harriet's favorite
sachet powder.  Then she put a few sheets of the paper in a dinner
plate and sprinkled the powder over them and set the plate where
the powder could perfume the paper but not the house.  Miss Anna
was averse to all odor-bearing things natural or artificial.  The
perfect triumph of her nose was to perceive absolutely nothing.
The only trial to her in cooking was the fact that so often she
could not make things taste good without making them smell good.

In the course of time, bending over a sheet of this note paper,
with an expression of high nasal disapproval.  Miss Anna had
written the following note:

"A. Hardage, Esq., presents the compliments of the season to Miss
Crane and begs the pleasure of her company to the ball.  The
aforesaid Hardage, on account of long intimacy with the specified
Crane, hopes that she (Crane) will not object to riding alone at
night in a one-horse rockaway with no side curtains.  Crane to be
hugged on the way if Hardage so desires--and Hardage certainly will
desire.  Hardage and Crane to dance at the ball together while
their strength lasts."

Having posted this letter, Miss Anna went off to her orphan and
foundling asylum where she was virgin mother to the motherless,
drawing the mantle of her spotless life around little waifs
straying into the world from hidden paths of shame.



X

It was past one o'clock on the night of the ball.

When dew and twilight had fallen on the green labyrinths of
Marguerite's yard, the faintest, slenderest moon might have been
seen bending over toward the spot out of drapery of violet cloud.
It descended through the secluded windows of Marguerite's room and
attended her while she dressed, weaving about her and leaving with
her the fragrance of its divine youth passing away.  Then it
withdrew, having appointed a million stars for torches.

Matching the stars were globe-like lamps, all of one color, all
of one shape, which Marguerite had had swung amid the interlaced
greenery of trees and vines: as lanterns around the gray bark huts
of slow-winged owls; as sun-tanned grapes under the arches of the
vine-covered summer-house; as love's lighthouses above the reefs
of tumbling rose-bushes: all to illumine the paths which led to
nooks and seats.  For the night would be very warm; and then
Marguerite--but was she the only one?

The three Marguerites,--grandmother, mother, and
daughter,--standing side by side and dressed each like each as
nearly as was fitting, had awaited their guests.  Three high-born
fragile natures, solitary each on the stem of its generation; not
made for blasts and rudeness.  They had received their guests with
the graciousness of sincere souls and not without antique
distinction; for in their veins flowed blood which had helped to
make manners gentle in France centuries ago.

The eldest Marguerite introduced some of her aged friends, who had
ventured forth to witness the launching of the frail life-boat, to
the youngest; the youngest Marguerite introduced some of hers to
the eldest; the Marguerite linked between made some of hers known
to her mother and to her child.

Mrs. Conyers arrived early, leaning on the arm of her grandson,
Victor Fielding.  To-night she was ennobled with jewels--the old
family jewels of her last husband's family, not of her own.

When the three Marguerites beheld her, a shadow fell on their
faces.  The change was like the assumption of a mask behind which
they could efface themselves as ladies and receive as hostesses.
While she lingered, they forebore even to exchange glances lest
feelings injurious to a guest should be thus revealed: so pure in
them was the strain of courtesy that went with proffered
hospitality.  (They were not of the kind who invite you to their
houses and having you thus in their power try to pierce you with
little insults which they would never dare offer openly in the
street: verbal Borgias at their own tables and firesides.)  The
moment she left them, the three faces became effulgent again.

A little later, strolling across the rooms toward them alone, came
Judge Morris, a sprig of wet heliotrope in his button-hole, plucked
from one of Marguerite's plants.  The paraffin starch on his shirt
front and collar and cuffs gave to them the appearance and
consistency of celluloid--it being the intention of his old
laundress to make him indeed the stiffest and most highly polished
gentleman of his high world.  His noble face as always a sermon on
kindness, sincerity, and peace; yet having this contradiction, that
the happier it seemed, the sadder it was to look at: as though all
his virtues only framed his great wrong; so that the more clearly
you beheld the bright frame, the more deeply you felt the dark
picture.

As soon as they discovered him, the Marguerites with a common
impulse linked their arms endearingly.  Six little white feet came
regimentally forward; each of six little white hands made
individual forward movements to be the first to lie within his
palm; six velvet eyes softened and glistened.

Miss Anna came with Harriet; Professor Hardage came alone;
Barbee--burgeoning Alcibiades of the ballroom--came with
Self-Confidence.  He strolled indifferently toward the eldest
Marguerite, from whom he passed superiorly to the central one; by
that time the third had vanished.

Isabel came with the Osborns: George soon to be taken secretly home
by Rowan; Kate (who had forced herself to accompany him despite her
bereavement), lacerated but giving no sign even to Isabel, who
relieved the situation by attaching herself momentarily to her
hostesses.

"Mamma," protested Marguerite, with indignant eyes, "do you wish
Isabel to stand here and eclipse your daughter?  Station her on the
far side of grandmother, and let the men pass this way first!"

The Merediths were late.  As they advanced to pay their respects,
Isabel maintained her composure.  An observer, who had been told to
watch, might have noticed that when Rowan held out his hand, she
did not place hers in it; and that while she did not turn her face
away from his face, her eyes never met his eyes.  She stood a
little apart from the receiving group at the moment and spoke to
him quickly and awkwardly:

"As soon as you can, will you come and walk with me through the
parlors?  Please do not pay me any more attention.  When the
evening is nearly over, will you find me and take me to some place
where we may not be interrupted?  I will explain."

Without waiting for his assent, she left him, and returned with a
laugh to the side of Marguerite, who was shaking a finger
threateningly at her.

It was now past one o'clock: guests were already leaving.

When Rowan went for Isabel, she was sitting with Professor Hardage.
They were not talking; and her eyes had a look of strained
expectancy.  As soon as she saw him, she rose and held out her hand
to Professor Hardage; then without speaking and still without
looking at him, she placed the tips of her fingers on the elbow of
his sleeve.  As they walked away, she renewed her request in a low
voice: "Take me where we shall be undisturbed."

They left the rooms.  It was an interval between the dances: the
verandas were crowded.  They passed out into the yard.  Along the
cool paths, college boys and college girls strolled by in couples,
not caring who listened to their words and with that laughter of
youth, the whole meaning of which is never realized save by those
who hear it after they have lost it.  Older couples sat here and
there in quiet nooks--with talk not meant to be heard and with
occasional laughter so different.

They moved on, seeking greater privacy.  Marguerite's lamps were
burnt out--brief flames as measured by human passion.  But overhead
burnt the million torches of the stars.  How brief all human
passion measured by that long, long light!

He stopped at last:

"Here?"

She placed herself as far as possible from him.

The seat was at the terminus of a path in the wildest part of
Marguerite's garden.  Overhead against the trunk of a tree a
solitary lantern was flickering fitfully.  It soon went out.  The
dazzling lights of the ballroom, glimmering through boughs and
vines, shot a few rays into their faces.  Music, languorous,
torturing the heart, swelled and died on the air, mingled with the
murmurings of eager voices.  Close around them in the darkness was
the heavy fragrance of perishing blossoms--earth dials of
yesterday; close around them the clean sweetness of fresh
ones--breath of the coming morn.  It was an hour when the heart,
surrounded by what can live no more and by what never before has
lived, grows faint and sick with yearnings for its own past and
forlorn with the inevitableness of change--the cruelty of all
change.

For a while silence lasted.  He waited for her to speak; she tried
repeatedly to do so.  At length with apparent fear that he might
misunderstand, she interposed an agitated command:

"Do not say anything."

A few minutes later she began to speak to him, still struggling for
her self-control.

"I do not forget that to-night I have been acting a part, and that
I have asked you to act a part with me.  I have walked with you and
I have talked with you, and I am with you now to create an
impression that is false; to pretend before those who see us that
nothing is changed.  I do not forget that I have been doing this
thing which is unworthy of me.  But it is the first time--try not
to believe it to be my character.  I am compelled to tell you that
it is one of the humiliations you have forced upon me."

"I have understood this," he said hastily, breaking the silence she
had imposed upon him.

"Then let it pass," she cried nervously.  "It is enough that I have
been obliged to observe my own hypocrisies, and that I have asked
you to countenance and to conceal them."

He offered no response.  And in a little while she went on:

"I ought to tell you one thing more.  Last week I made all my
arrangements to go away at once, for the summer, for a long time.
I did not expect to see you again.  Two or three times I started to
the station.  I have stayed until now because it seemed best after
all to speak to you once more.  This is my reason for being here
to-night; and it is the only apology I can offer to myself or to
you for what I am doing."

There was a sad and bitter vehemence in her words; she quivered
with passion.

"Isabel," he said more urgently, "there is nothing I am not
prepared to tell you."

When she spoke again, it was with difficulty and everything seemed
to hang upon her question:

"Does any one else know?"

His reply was immediate:

"No one else knows."

"Have you every reason to believe this?"

"I have every reason to believe this."

"You kept your secret well," she said with mournful irony.  "You
reserved it for the one person whom it could most injure: my
privilege is too great!"

"It is true," he said.

She turned and looked at him.  She felt the depth of conviction
with which he spoke, yet it hurt her.  She liked his dignity and
his self-control, and would not have had them less; yet she
gathered fresh bitterness from the fact that he did not lose them.
But to her each moment disclosed its new and uncontrollable
emotions; as words came, her mind quickly filled again with the
things she could not say.  She now went on:

"I am forced to ask these questions, although I have no right to
ask them and certainly I have no wish.  I have wanted to know
whether I could carry out the plan that has seemed to me best for
each of us.  If others shared your secret, I could not do this.  I
am going away--I am going in the morning.  I shall remain away a
long time.  Since we have been seen together here to-night as
usual, no one suspects now that for us everything has become
nothing.  While I am away, no one can have the means of finding
this out.  Before I return, there will be changes--there may be
many changes.  If we meet with indifference then, it will be
thought that we have become indifferent, one of us, or both of us:
I suppose it will be thought to be you.  There will be comment,
comment that will be hard to stand; but this will be the quietest
way to end everything--as far as anything can ever be ended."

"Whatever you wish!  I leave it all to you."

She did not pause to heed his words:

"This will spare me the linking of my name with yours any further
just now; it will spare me all that I should suffer if the matter
which estranges us should be discovered and be discussed.  It will
save me hereafter, perhaps, from being pointed out as a woman who
so trusted and was so deceived.  It may shield my life altogether
from some notoriety: I could be grateful for that!"

She was thinking of her family name, and of the many proud eyes
that were turned upon her in the present and out of the past.
There was a sting for her in the remembrance and the sting passed
into her concluding words:

"I do not forget that when I ask you to do all this, I, who am not
given to practising deception, am asking you to go on practising
yours.  I am urging you to shirk the consequences of your
wrong-doing--to enjoy in the world an untarnished name after you
have tarnished your life.  Do not think I forget that!  Still I beg
you to do as I say.  This is another of the humiliations you have
led me to: that although I am separated from you by all that once
united us, I must remain partner with you in the concealment of a
thing that would ruin you if it were known."

She turned to him as though she experienced full relief through her
hard and cruel words:

"Do I understand, then, that this is to be buried away by you--and
by me--from the knowledge of the world?"

"No one else has any right to know it.  I have told you that."

"Then that is all!"

She gave a quick dismissal to the subject, so putting an end to the
interview.

She started to rise from her seat; but impulses, new at the
instant, checked her: all the past checked her, all that she was
herself and all that he had been to her.

Perhaps what at each moment had angered her most was the fact that
she was speaking, not he.  She knew him to be of the blood of
silent men and to have inherited their silence.  This very trait of
his had rendered association with him so endearing.  Love had been
so divinely apart from speech, either his or her own: most intimate
for having been most mute.  But she knew also that he was capable
of speech, full and strong and quick enough upon occasion; and her
heart had cried out that in a lifetime this was the one hour when
he should not have given way to her or allowed her to say a
word--when he should have borne her down with uncontrollable
pleading.

It was her own work that confronted her and she did not recognize
it.  She had exhausted resources to convince him of her
determination to cast him off at once; to render it plain that
further parley would to her be further insult.  She had made him
feel this on the night of his confession; in the note of direct
repulse she sent him by the hand of a servant in her own house the
following afternoon; by returning to him everything that he had
ever given her; by her refusal to acknowledge his presence this
evening beyond laying upon him a command; and by every word that
she had just spoken.  And in all this she had thought only of what
she suffered, not of what he must be suffering.

Perhaps some late instantaneous recognition of this flashed upon
her as she started to leave him--as she looked at him sitting
there, his face turned toward her in stoical acceptance of his
fate.  There was something in the controlled strength of it that
touched her newly.  She may have realized that if he had not been
silent, if he had argued, defended himself, pleaded, she would have
risen and walked back to the house without a word.  It turned her
nature toward him a little, that he placed too high a value upon
her dismissal of him not to believe it irrevocable.

Yet it hurt her: she was but one woman in the world; could the
thought of this have made it easier for him to let her go away now
without a protest?

The air of the summer night grew unbearable for sweetness about
her.  The faint music of the ballroom had no pity for her.  There
young eyes found joy in answering eyes, passed on and found joy in
others and in others.  Palm met palm and then palms as soft and
then palms yet softer.  Some minutes before, the laughter of
Marguerite in the shrubbery quite close by had startled Isabel.
She had distinguished a voice.  Now Marguerite's laughter reached
her again--and there was a different voice with hers.  Change!
change! one put away, the place so perfectly filled by another.

A white moth of the night wandered into Rowan's face searching its
features; then it flitted over to her and searched hers, its wings
fanning and clinging to her lips; and then it passed on, pursuing
amid mistakes and inconstancies its life-quest lasting through a
few darknesses.

Fear suddenly reached down into her heart and drew up one question;
and she asked that question in a voice low and cold and guarded:

"Sometime, when you ask another woman to marry you, will you think
it your duty to tell her?"

"I will never ask any other woman."

"I did not inquire for your intention; I asked what you would
believe to be your duty."

"It will never become my duty.  But if it should, I would never
marry without being true to the woman; and to be true is to tell
the truth."

"You mean that you would tell her?"

"I mean that I would tell her."

After a little silence she stirred in her seat and spoke, all her
anger gone:

"I am going to ask you, if you ever do, not to tell her as you have
told me--after it is too late.  If you cannot find some way of
letting her know the truth before she loves you, then do not tell
her afterward, when you have won her life away from her.  If there
is deception at all, then it is not worse to go on deceiving her
than it was to begin to deceive her.  Tell her, if you must, while
she is indifferent and will not care, not after she has given
herself to you and will then have to give you up.  But what can
you, a man, know what it means to a woman to tell her this!  How
can you know, how can you ever, ever know!"

She covered her face with her hands and her voice broke with tears.

"Isabel--"

"You have no right to call me by my name, and I have no right to
hear it, as though nothing were changed between us."

"I have not changed."

"How could you tell me!  Why did you ever tell me!" she cried
abruptly, grief breaking her down.

"There was a time when I did not expect to tell you.  I expected to
do as other men do."

"Ah, you would have deceived me!" she exclaimed, turning upon him
with fresh suffering.  "You would have taken advantage of my
ignorance and have married me and never have let me know!  And you
would have called that deception love and you would have called
yourself a true man!"

"But I did not do this!  It was yourself who helped me to see that
the beginning of morality is to stop lying and deception."

"But if you had this on your conscience already, what right had you
ever to come near me?"

"I had come to love you!"

"Did your love of me give you the right to win mine?"

"It gave me the temptation."

"And what did you expect when you determined to tell me this?  What
did you suppose such a confession would mean to me?  Did you
imagine that while it was still fresh on your lips, I would smile
in your face and tell you it made no difference?  Was I to hear you
speak of one whose youth and innocence you took away through her
frailties, and then step joyously into her place?  Was this the
unfeeling, the degraded soul you thought to be mine?  Would I have
been worthy even of the poor love you could give me, if I had done
that?"

"I expected you to marry me!  I expected you to forgive.   I have
this at least to remember: I lost you honestly when I could have
won you falsely."

"Ah, you have no right to seek any happiness in what is all sadness
to me!  And all the sadness, the ruin of everything, comes from
your wrong-doing."

"Remember that my wrong-doing did not begin with me.  I bear my
share: it is enough: I will bear no more."

A long silence followed.  She spoke at last, checking her tears:

"And so this is the end of my dream!  This is what life has brought
me to!  And what have I done to deserve it?  To leave home, to shun
friends, to dread scandal, to be misjudged, to bear the burden of
your secret and share with you its shame, to see my years stretch
out before me with no love in them, no ambitions, no ties--this is
what life has brought me, and what have I done to deserve it?"

As her tears ceased, her eyes seemed to be looking into a future
that lacked the relief of tears.  As though she were already passed
far on into it and were looking back to this moment, she went on,
speaking very slowly and sadly:

"We shall not see each other again in a long time, and whenever we
do, we shall be nothing to each other and we shall never speak of
this.  There is one thing I wish to tell you.  Some day you may
have false thoughts of me.  You may think that I had no deep
feeling, no constancy, no mercy, no forgiveness; that it was easy
to give you up, because I never loved you.  I shall have enough to
bear and I cannot bear that.  So I want to tell you that you will
never know what my love for you was.  A woman cannot speak till she
has the right; and before you gave me the right, you took it away.
For some little happiness it may bring me hereafter let me tell you
that you were everything to me, everything!  If I had taught myself
to make allowances for you, if I had seen things to forgive in you,
what you told me would have been only one thing more and I might
have forgiven.  But all that I saw in you I loved.  Rowan, and I
believed that I saw everything.  Remember this, if false thoughts
of me ever come to you!  I expect to live a long time: the memory
of my love of you will be the sorrow that will keep me alive."

After a few moments of silent struggle she moved nearer.

"Do not touch me," she said; "remember that what love makes dear,
it makes sacred."

She put out a hand in the darkness and, closing her eyes over
welling tears, passed it for long remembrance over his features:
letting the palm lie close against his forehead with her fingers in
his hair; afterward pressing it softly over his eyes and passing it
around his neck.  Then she took her hand away as though fearful of
an impulse.  Then she put her hand out again and laid her fingers
across his lips.  Then she took her hand away, and leaning over,
laid her lips on his lips:

"Good-by!" she murmured against his face, "good-by! good-by!
good-by!"


Mrs. Conyers had seen Rowan and Isabel together in the parlors
early in the evening.  She had seen them, late in the evening, quit
the house.  She had counted the minutes till they returned and she
had marked their agitation as they parted.  The closest association
lasting from childhood until now had convinced her of the
straightforwardness of Isabel's character; and the events of the
night were naturally accepted by her as evidences of the renewal of
relationship with Rowan, if not as yet of complete reconciliation.

She herself had encountered during the evening unexpected slights
and repulses.  Her hostesses had been cool, but she expected them
to be cool: they did not like her nor she them.  But Judge Morris
had avoided her; the Hardages had avoided her; each member of the
Meredith family had avoided her; Isabel had avoided her; even
Harriet, when once she crossed the rooms to her, had with an
incomprehensible flare of temper turned her back and sought refuge
with Miss Anna.  She was very angry.

But overbalancing the indignities of the evening was now this
supreme joy of Isabel's return to what she believed to be Isabel's
destiny.  She sent her grandson home that she might have the drive
with the girl alone.  When Isabel, upon entering the carriage, her
head and eyes closely muffled in her shawl, had withdrawn as far as
possible into one corner and remained silent on the way, she
refrained from intrusion, believing that she understood the
emotions dominating her behavior.

The carriage drew up at the door.  She got out quickly and passed
to her room--with a motive of her own.

Isabel lingered.  She ascended the steps without conscious will.
At the top she missed her shawl: it had become entangled in the
fringe of a window strap, had slipped from her bare shoulders as
she set her foot on the pavement, and now lay in the track of the
carriage wheels.  As she picked it up, an owl flew viciously close
to her face.  What memories, what memories came back to her!  With
a shiver she went over to a frame-like opening in the foliage on
one side of the veranda and stood looking toward the horizon where
the moon had sunk on that other night--that first night of her
sorrow.  How long it was since then!

At any other time she would have dreaded the parting which must
take place with her grandmother: now what a little matter it seemed!

As she tapped and opened the door, she put her hand quickly before
her eyes, blinded by the flood of light which streamed out into the
dark hall.  Every gas-jet was turned on--around the walls, in the
chandelier; and under the chandelier stood her grandmother,
waiting, her eyes fixed expectantly on the door, her countenance
softened with returning affection, the fire of triumph in her eyes.

She had unclasped from around her neck the diamond necklace of old
family jewels, and held it in the pool of her rosy palms, as though
it were a mass of clear separate raindrops rainbow-kindled.  It was
looped about the tips of her two upright thumbs; part of it had
slipped through the palms and flashed like a pendent arc of light
below.

The necklace was an heirloom; it had started to grow in England of
old; it had grown through the generations of the family in the New
World.

It had begun as a ring--given with the plighting of troth; it had
become ear-rings; it had become a pendant; it had become a tiara;
it had become part of a necklace; it had become a necklace--completed
circlet of many hopes.

As Isabel entered Mrs. Conyers started forward, smiling, to clasp
it around her neck as the expression of her love and pleasure; then
she caught sight of Isabel's face, and with parted lips she stood
still.

Isabel, white, listless, had sunk into the nearest chair, and now
said, quietly and wearily, noticing nothing:

"Grandmother, do not get up to see me off in the morning.  My trunk
is packed; the others are already at the station.  All my
arrangements are made.  I'll say good-by to you now," and she stood
up.

Mrs. Conyers stood looking at her.  Gradually a change passed over
her face; her eyes grew dull, the eyelids narrowed upon the balls;
the round jaws relaxed; and instead of the smile, hatred came
mysteriously out and spread itself rapidly over her features: true
horrible revelation.  Her fingers tightened and loosened about the
necklace until it was forced out through them, until it glided,
crawled, as though it were alive and were being strangled and were
writhing.  She spoke with entire quietness:

"After all that I have seen to-night, are you not going to marry
Rowan?"

Isabel stirred listlessly as with remembrance of a duty:

"I had forgotten, grandmother, that I owe you an explanation.  I
found, after all, that I should have to see Rowan again: there was
a matter about which I was compelled to speak with him.  That is
all I meant by being with him to-night: everything now is ended
between us."

"And you are going away without giving me the reason of all this?"

Isabel gathered her gloves and shawl together and said with simple
distaste:

"Yes."

As she did so, Mrs. Conyers, suddenly beside herself with aimless
rage, raised one arm and hurled the necklace against the opposite
wall of the room.  It leaped a tangled braid through the air and as
it struck burst asunder, and the stones scattered and rattled along
the floor and rolled far out on the carpet.

She turned and putting up a little white arm, which shook as though
palsied, began to extinguish the lights.  Isabel watched her a
moment remorsefully:

"Good night, grandmother, and good-by.  I am sorry to go away and
leave you angry."

As she entered her room, gray light was already creeping in through
the windows, left open to the summer night.  She went mournfully to
her trunk.  The tray had been lifted out and placed upon a chair
near by.  The little tops to the divisions of the tray were all
thrown back, and she could see that the last thing had been packed
into its place.  Her hand satchel was open on her bureau, and she
could see the edge of a handkerchief and the little brown wicker
neck of a cologne bottle.  Beside the hand satchel were her purse,
baggage checks, and travelling ticket: everything was in readiness.
She looked at it all a long time:

"How can I go away?  How can I, how can I?"

She went over to her bed.  The sheet had been turned down, the
pillow dented for her face.  Beside the pillow was a tiny
reading-stand and on this was a candle and a book--with thought of
her old habit of reading after she had come home from pleasures
like those of to-night--when they were pleasures.  Beside the book
her maid had set a little cut-glass vase of blossoms which had
opened since she put them there--were just opening now.

"How can I read?  How can I sleep?"

She crossed to a large window opening on the lawn in the rear of
the house--and looked for the last time out at the gray old pines
and dim blue, ever wintry firs.  Beyond were house-tops and
tree-tops of the town; and beyond these lay the country--stretching
away to his home.  Soon the morning light would be crimsoning the
horizon before his window.

"How can I stay?" she said.  "How can I bear to stay?"

She recalled her last words to him as they parted:

"Remember that you are forgotten!"

She recalled his reply:

"Forget that you are remembered!"

She sank down on the floor and crossed her arms on the window sill
and buried her face on her arms.  The white dawn approached,
touched her, and passed, and she did not heed.



PART SECOND

I

The home of the Merediths lay in a region of fertile lands adapted
alike to tillage and to pasturage.  The immediate neighborhood was
old, as civilization reckons age in the United States, and was well
conserved, It held in high esteem its traditions of itself,
approved its own customs, was proud of its prides: a characteristic
community of country gentlemen at the side of each of whom a
characteristic lady lived and had her peculiar being.

The ownership of the soil had long since passed into the hands of
capable families--with this exception, that here and there between
the borders of large estates little farms were to be found
representing all that remained from slow processes of partition and
absorption.  These scant freeholds had thus their pathos, marking
as they did the losing fight of successive holders against more
fortunate, more powerful neighbors.  Nothing in its way records
more surely the clash and struggle and ranking of men than the
boundaries of land.  There you see extinction and survival, the
perpetual going under of the weak, the perpetual overriding of the
strong.

Two such fragmentary farms lay on opposite sides of the Meredith
estate.  One was the property of Ambrose Webb, a married but
childless man who, thus exempt from necessity of raking the earth
for swarming progeny, had sown nearly all his land in grass and
rented it as pasturage: no crops of children, no crops of grain.

The other farm was of less importance.  Had you ridden from the
front door of the Merediths northward for nearly a mile, you would
have reached the summit of a slope sweeping a wide horizon.
Standing on this summit any one of these bright summer days, you
could have seen at the foot of the slope, less than a quarter of a
mile away on the steep opposite side, a rectangle of land covering
some fifty acres.  It lay crumpled into a rough depression in the
landscape.  A rivulet of clear water by virtue of indomitable crook
and turn made its way across this valley; a woodland stood in one
corner, nearly all its timber felled; there were a few patches of
grain so small that they made you think of the variegated peasant
strips of agricultural France; and a few lots smaller still around
a stable.  The buildings huddled confusedly into this valley seemed
to have backed toward each other like a flock of sheep, encompassed
by peril and making a last stand in futile defence of their right
to exist at all.

What held the preeminence of castle in the collection of structures
was a small brick house with one upper bedroom.  The front entrance
had no porch; and beneath the door, as stepping-stones of entrance,
lay two circular slabs of wood resembling sausage blocks, one half
superposed.  Over the door was a trellis of gourd vines now
profusely, blooming and bee-visited.  Grouped around this castle in
still lower feudal and vital dependence was a log cabin of one room
and of many more gourd vines, an ice-house, a house for fowls, a
stable, a rick for hay, and a sagging shed for farm implements.

If the appearance of the place suggested the struggles of a family
on the verge of extinction, this idea was further borne out by what
looked like its determination to stand a long final siege at least
in the matter of rations, for it swarmed with life.  In the quiet
crystalline air from dawn till after sunset the sounds arising from
it were the clamor of a sincere, outspoken multitude of what man
calls the dumb creatures.  Evidently some mind, full of energy and
forethought, had made its appearance late in the history of these
failing generations and had begun a fight to reverse failure and
turn back the tide of aggression.  As the first step in
self-recovery this rugged island of poverty  must  be made
self-sustaining.  Therefore it had been made to teem with animal
and vegetable plenty.

On one side of the house lay an orderly garden of vegetables and
berry-bearing shrubs; the yard itself was in reality an orchard of
fruit trees, some warmed by the very walls; under the shed there
were beegums alive with the nectar builders; along the garden walks
were frames for freighted grape-vines.  The work of regeneration
had been pushed beyond the limits of utilitarianism over into a
certain crude domain of aesthetics.  On one front window-sill what
had been the annual Christmas box of raisins had been turned into a
little hot-bed of flowering plants; and under the panes of glass a
dense forest of them, sun-drawn, looked like a harvest field swept
by a storm.  On the opposite window ledge an empty drum of figs was
now topped with hardy jump-up-johnnies.  It bore some resemblance
to an enormous yellow muffin stuffed with blueberries.  In the
garden big-headed peonies here and there fell over upon the young
onions.  The entire demesne lay white and green with tidiness under
yellow sun and azure sky; for fences and outhouses, even the trunks
of trees several feet up from the ground, glistened with whitewash.
So that everywhere was seen the impress and guidance of a spirit
evoking abundance, order, even beauty, out of what could so easily
have been squalor and despondent wretchedness.

This was the home of Pansy Vaughan; and Pansy was the explanation
of everything beautiful and fruitful, the peaceful Joan of Arc of
that valley, seeing rapt visions of the glory of her people.

In the plain upper room of the plain brick house, on her hard white
bed with her hard white thoughts, lay Pansy--sleepless throughout
the night of Marguerite's ball.  The youngest of the children slept
beside her; two others lay in a trundle-bed across the room; and
the three were getting out of sleep all that there is in it for
tired, healthy children.  In the room below, her father and the
eldest boy were resting; and through the rafters of the flooring
she could hear them both: her father a large, fluent, well-seasoned,
self-comforting bassoon; and her brother a sappy, inexperienced
bassoon trying to imitate it.  Wakefulness was a novel state for
Pansy herself, who was always tired when bedtime came and as full
of wild vitality as one of her young guineas in the summer wheat;
so that she sank into slumber as a rock sinks into the sea,
descending till it reaches the unstirred bottom.

What kept her awake to-night was mortification that she had not
been invited to the ball.  She knew perfectly well that she was not
entitled to an invitation, since the three Marguerites had never
heard of her.  She had never been to a fashionable party even in
the country.  But her engagement to Dent Meredith already linked
her to him socially and she felt the tugging of those links: what
were soon to become her rights had begun to be her rights already.
Another little thing troubled her: she had no flower to send him
for his button-hole, to accompany her note wishing him a pleasant
evening.   She could not bear to give him anything common; and
Pansy believed that no one was needed to tell her what a common
thing is.

For a third reason slumber refused to descend and weigh down her
eyelids: on the morrow she was to call upon Dent's mother, and the
thought of this call preoccupied her with terror.  She was one of
the bravest of souls; but the terror which shook her was the terror
that shakes them all--terror lest they be not loved.

All her life she had looked with awe upward out of her valley
toward that great house.  Its lawns with stately clumps of
evergreens, its many servants, its distant lights often seen
twinkling in the windows at night, the tales that reached her of
wonderful music and faery dancing; the flashing family carriages
which had so often whirled past her on the turnpike with scornful
footman and driver--all these recollections revisited her to-night.
In the morning she was to cross the boundary of this inaccessible
world as one who was to hold a high position in it.

How pictures came crowding back!  One of the earliest recollections
of childhood was hearing the scream of the Meredith peacocks as
they drew their gorgeous plumage across the silent summer lawns; at
home they had nothing better than fussing guineas.  She had never
come nearer to one of those proud birds than handling a set of tail
feathers which Mrs. Meredith had presented to her mother for a
family fly brush.  Pansy had good reason to remember because she
had often been required to stand beside the table and, one little
bare foot set alternately on the other little bare foot, wield the
brush over the dishes till arms and eyelids ached.

Another of those dim recollections was pressing her face against
the window-panes when the first snow began to fall on the scraggy
cedars in the yard; and as she began to sing softly to herself one
of the ancient ditties of the children of the poor, "Old Woman,
picking Geese," she would dream of the magical flowers which they
told her bloomed all winter in a glass house at the Merediths'
while there was ice on the pines outside.  Big red roses and
icicles separated only by a thin glass--she could hardly believe
it; and she would cast her eye toward their own garden where a few
black withered stalks marked the early death-beds of the pinks and
jonquils.

But even in those young years Pansy had little time to look out of
windows and to dream of anything.  She must help, she must work;
for she was the oldest of five children, and the others followed so
closely that they pushed her out of her garments.  A hardy,
self-helpful child life, bravened by necessities, never undermined
by luxuries.  For very dolls Pansy used small dried gourds, taking
the big round end of the gourd for the head of the doll and all the
rest of the gourd for all the rest of the body.

One morning when she was fourteen, the other children were clinging
with tears to her in a poor, darkened room--she to be little mother
to them henceforth: they never clung in vain.

That same autumn when woods were turning red and wild grapes
turning black and corn turning yellow, a cherished rockaway drawn
by a venerated horse, that tried to stop for conversation on the
highroad whenever he passed a neighbor's vehicle, rattled out on
the turnpike with five children in it and headed for town: Pansy
driving, taking herself and the rest to the public school.  For
years thereafter, through dark and bright days, she conveyed that
nest of hungry fledglings back and forth over bitter and weary
miles, getting their ravenous minds fed at one end of the route,
and their ravenous bodies fed at the other.  If the harness broke,
Pansy got out with a string.  If the horse dropped a shoe, or
dropped himself, Pansy picked up what she could.  In town she drove
to the blacksmith shop and to all other shops whither business
called her.  Her friends were the blacksmith and the tollgate
keeper, her teachers--all who knew her and they were few: she had
no time for friendships.  At home the only frequent visitor was
Ambrose Webb, and Pansy did not care for Ambrose.  The first time
she remembered seeing him at dinner, she--a very little girl--had
watched his throat with gloomy fascination.  Afterward her mother
told her he had an Adam's apple; and Pansy, working obscurely at
some problem of theology, had secretly taken down the Bible and
read the story of Adam and the fearful fruit.   Ambrose became
associated in her mind with the Fall of Man; she disliked the
proximity.

No time for friendships.  Besides the labors at school, there was
the nightly care of her father on her return, the mending of his
clothes; there was the lonely burning of her candle far into the
night as she toiled over lessons.  When she had learned all that
could be taught her at the school, she left the younger children
there and victoriously transferred herself for a finishing course
to a seminary of the town, where she was now proceeding to graduate.

This was Pansy, child of plain, poor, farmer folk, immemorially
dwelling close to the soil; unlettered, unambitious, long-lived,
abounding in children, without physical beauty, but marking the
track of their generations by a path lustrous with right-doing.
For more than a hundred years on this spot the land had lessened
around them; but the soil had worked upward into their veins, as
into the stalks of plants, the trunks of trees; and that clean,
thrilling sap of the earth, that vitality of the exhaustless mother
which never goes for nothing, had produced one heavenly flower at
last--shooting forth with irrepressible energy a soul unspoiled and
morally sublime.  When the top decays, as it always does in the
lapse of time, whence shall come regeneration if not from below?
It is the plain people who are the eternal breeding grounds of high
destinies.

In the long economy of nature, this, perhaps, was the meaning and
the mission of this lofty child who now lay sleepless, shaken to
the core with thoughts of the splendid world over into which she
was to journey to-morrow.


At ten o'clock next morning she set out.

It had been a question with her whether she should go straight
across the fields and climb the fences, or walk around by the
turnpike and open the gates.  Her preference was for fields and
fences, because that was the short and direct way, and Pansy was
used to the short and direct way of getting to the end of her
desires.  But, as has been said, she had already fallen into the
habit of considering what was due her and becoming to her as a
young Mrs. Meredith; and it struck her that this lady would not
climb field fences, at least by preference and with facility.
Therefore she chose the highroad, gates, dust, and dignity.

It could scarcely be said that she was becomingly raimented.  Pansy
made her own dresses, and the dresses declared the handiwork of
their maker.  The one she wore this morning was chiefly
characterized by a pair of sleeves designed by herself; from the
elbow to the wrist there hung green pouches that looked like long
pea-pods not well filled.  Her only ornament was a large oval pin
at her throat which had somewhat the relation to a cameo as that
borne by Wedgwood china.  It represented a white horse drinking at
a white roadside well; beside the shoulder of the horse stood a
white angel, many times taller, with an arm thrown caressingly
around the horse's neck; while a stunted forest tree extended a
solitary branch over the horse's tail.

She had been oppressed with dread that she should not arrive in
time.  No time had been set, no one knew that she was coming, and
the forenoons were long.  Nevertheless impatience consumed her to
encounter Mrs. Meredith; and once on the way, inasmuch as Pansy
usually walked as though she had been told to go for the doctor,
but not to run, she was not long in arriving.

When she reached the top of the drive in front of the Meredith
homestead, her face, naturally colorless, was a consistent red; and
her heart, of whose existence she had never in her life been
reminded, was beating audibly.  Although she said to herself that
it was bad manners, she shook out her handkerchief, which she had
herself starched and ironed with much care; and gathering her
skirts aside, first to the right and then to the left, dusted her
shoes, lifting each a little into the air, and she pulled some
grass from around the buttons.  With the other half of her
handkerchief she wiped her brow; but a fresh bead of perspiration
instantly appeared; a few drops even stood on her dilated
nostrils--raindrops on the eaves.  Even had the day been cool she
must have been warm, for she wore more layers of clothing than
usual, having deposited some fresh strata in honor of her wealthy
mother-in-law.

As Pansy stepped from behind the pines, with one long, quivering
breath of final self-adjustment, she suddenly stood still, arrested
by the vision of so glorious a hue and shape that, for the moment,
everything else was forgotten.  On the pavement just before her, as
though to intercept her should she attempt to cross the Meredith
threshold, stood a peacock, expanding to the utmost its great fan
of pride and love.  It confronted her with its high-born composure
and insolent grace, all its jewelled feathers flashing in the sun;
then with a little backward movement of its royal head and
convulsion of its breast, it threw out its cry,--the cry she had
heard in the distance through dreaming years,--warning all who
heard that she was there, the intruder.  Then lowering its tail and
drawing its plumage in fastidiously against the body, it crossed
her path in an evasive circle and disappeared behind the pines.

"Oh, Dent, why did you ever ask me to marry you!" thought Pansy, in
a moment of soul failure.

Mrs. Meredith was sitting on the veranda and was partly concealed
by a running rose.  She was not expecting visitors; she had much to
think of this morning, and she rose wonderingly and reluctantly as
Pansy came forward: she did not know who it was, and she did not
advance.

Pansy ascended the steps and paused, looking with wistful eyes at
the great lady who was to be her mother, but who did not even greet
her.

"Good morning, Mrs. Meredith," she said, in a shrill treble,
holding herself somewhat in the attitude of a wooden soldier, "I
suppose I shall have to introduce myself: it is Pansy."

The surprise faded from Mrs. Meredith's face, the reserve melted.
With outstretched hands she advanced smiling.

"How do you do.  Pansy," she said with motherly gentleness; "it is
very kind of you to come and see me, and I am very glad to know
you.  Shall we go in where it is cooler?"

They entered the long hall.  Near the door stood a marble bust:
each wall was lined with portraits.  She passed between Dent's
ancestors into the large darkened parlors.

"Sit here, won't you?" said Mrs. Meredith, and she even pushed
gently forward the most luxurious chair within her reach.  To Pansy
it seemed large enough to hold all the children.  At home she was
used to chairs that were not only small, but hard.  Wherever the
bottom of a chair seemed to be in that household, there it was--if
it was anywhere.  Actuated now by this lifelong faith in literal
furniture, she sat down with the utmost determination where she was
bid; but the bottom offered no resistance to her descending weight
and she sank.  She threw out her hands and her hat tilted over her
eyes.  It seemed to her that she was enclosed up to her neck in
what might have been a large morocco bath-tub--which came to an end
at her knees.  She pushed back her hat, crimson.

"That was a surprise," she said, frankly admitting the fault, "but
there'll never be another such."

"I am afraid you found it warm walking, Pansy," said Mrs. Meredith,
opening her fan and handing it to her.

"Oh, no, Mrs. Meredith, I never fan!" said Pansy, declining
breathlessly.  "I have too much use for my hands.  I'd rather
suffer and do something else.  Besides, you know I am used to
walking in the sun.  I am very fond of botany, and I am out of
doors for hours at a time when I can find the chance."

Mrs. Meredith was delighted at the opportunity to make easy vague
comment on a harmless subject.

"What a beautiful study it must be," she said with authority.

"Must be!" exclaimed Pansy; "why, Mrs. Meredith, don't you _know_?
Don't you understand botany?"

Pansy had an idea that in Dent's home botany was as familiarly
apprehended as peas and turnips in hers.

"I am afraid not," replied Mrs. Meredith, a little coolly.  Her
mission had been to adorn and people the earth, not to study it.
And among persons of her acquaintance it was the prime duty of each
not to lay bare the others' ignorance, but to make a little
knowledge appear as great as possible.  It was discomfiting to have
Pansy charge upon what after all was only a vacant spot in her
mind.   She added, as defensively intimating that the subject had
another dangerous side:

"When I was a girl, young ladies at school did not learn much
botany; but they paid a great deal of attention to their manners."

"Why did not they learn it after they had left school and after
they had learned manners?" inquired Pansy, with ruthless
enthusiasm.  "It is such a mistake to stop learning everything
simply because you have stopped school.  Don't you think so?"

"When a girl marries, my dear, she soon has other studies to take
up.  She has a house and husband.  The girls of my day, I am
afraid, gave up their botanies for their duties: it may be
different now."

"No matter how many children I may have," said Pansy, positively,
"I shall never--give--up--botany!  Besides, you know, Mrs.
Meredith, that we study botany only during the summer months, and I
do hope--" she broke off suddenly.

Mrs. Meredith smoothed her dress nervously and sought to find her
chair comfortable.

"Your mother named you Pansy," she remarked, taking a gloomy view of
the present moment and of the whole future of this acquaintanceship.

That this should be the name of a woman was to her a mistake, a
crime.  Her sense of fitness demanded that names should be given to
infants with reference to their adult characters and eventual
positions in life.  She liked her own name "Caroline"; and she
liked "Margaret" and all such womanly, motherly, dignified, stately
appellatives.  As for "Pansy," it had been the name of one of her
husband's shorthorns, a premium animal at the county fairs; the
silver cup was on the sideboard in the dining room now.

"Yes, Mrs. Meredith," replied Pansy, "that was the name my mother
gave me.  I think she must have had a great love of flowers.  She
named me for the best she had.  I hope I shall never forget that,"
and Pansy looked at Mrs. Meredith with a face of such gravity and
pride that silence lasted in the parlors for a while.

Buried in Pansy's heart was one secret, one sorrow: that her mother
had been poor.  Her father wore his yoke ungalled; he loved rough
work, drew his religion from privations, accepted hardship as the
chastening that insures reward.  But that her mother's hands should
have been folded and have returned to universal clay without ever
having fondled the finer things of life--this to Pansy was
remembrance to start tears on the brightest day.

"I think she named you beautifully," said Mrs. Meredith, breaking
that silence, "and I am glad you told me, Pansy." She lingered with
quick approval on the name.

But she turned the conversation at once to less personal channels.
The beauty of the country at this season seemed to offer her an
inoffensive escape.  She felt that she could handle it at least
with tolerable discretion.  She realized that she was not deep on
the subject, but she did feel fluent.

"I suppose you take the same pride that we all do in such a
beautiful country."

Sunlight instantly shone out on Pansy's face.  Dent was a
geologist; and since she conceived herself to be on trial before
Mrs. Meredith this morning, it was of the first importance that she
demonstrate her sympathy and intelligent appreciation of his field
of work.

"Indeed I do feel the greatest pride in it, Mrs. Meredith," she
replied.   "I study it a great deal.  But of course you know
perfectly the whole formation of this region."

Mrs. Meredith coughed with frank discouragement.

"I do not know it," she admitted dryly.  "I suppose I ought to know
it, but I do not.  I believe school-teachers understand these
things.  I am afraid I am a very ignorant woman.  No one of my
acquaintances is very learned.  We are not used to scholarship."

"I know all the strata," said Pansy.  "I tell the children stories
of how the Mastodon once virtually lived in our stable, and that
millions of years ago there were Pterodactyls under their bed."

"I think it a misfortune for a young woman to have much to say to
children about Pterodactyls under their bed--is that the name?
Such things never seem to have troubled Solomon, and I believe he
was reputed wise."  She did not care for the old-fashioned
reference herself, but she thought it would affect Pansy.

"The children in the public schools know things that Solomon never
heard of," said Pansy, contemptuously.

"I do not doubt it in the least, my dear.  I believe it was not his
knowledge that made him rather celebrated, but his wisdom.  But I
am not up in Solomon!" she admitted hastily, retreating from the
subject in new dismay.

The time had arrived for Pansy to depart; but she reclined in her
morocco alcove with somewhat the stiffness of a tilted bottle and
somewhat the contour.  She felt extreme dissatisfaction with her
visit and reluctance to terminate it.

Her idea of the difference between people in society and other
people was that it hinged ornamentally upon inexhaustible and
scanty knowledge.  If Mrs. Meredith was a social leader, and she
herself had no social standing at all, it was mainly because that
lady was publicly recognized as a learned woman, and the world had
not yet found out that she herself was anything but ignorant.
Being ignorant was to her mind the quintessence of being common;
and as she had undertaken this morning to prove to Dent's mother
that she was not common, she had only to prove that she was
learned.  For days she had prepared for this interview with that
conception of its meaning.  She had converted her mind into a kind
of rapid-firing gun; she had condensed her knowledge into
conversational cartridges.  No sooner had she taken up a mental
position before Mrs. Meredith than the parlors resounded with
light, rapid detonations of information.  That lady had but to
release the poorest, most lifeless, little clay pigeon of a remark
and Pansy shattered it in mid air and refixed suspicious eyes on
the trap.

But the pigeons soon began to fly less frequently.  And finally
they gave out.  And now she must take nearly all her cartridges
home!  Mrs. Meredith would think her ignorant, therefore she would
think her common.  If Pansy had only known what divine dulness,
what ambrosial stupidity, often reclines on those Olympian heights
called society!

As last she rose.  Neither had mentioned Dent's name, though each
had been thinking of him all the time.  Not a word had been spoken
to indicate the recognition of a relationship which one of them so
desired and the other so dreaded.  Pansy might merely have hurried
over to ask Mrs. Meredith for the loan of an ice-cream freezer or
for a setting of eggs.  On the mother's part this silence was
kindly meant: she did not think it right to take for granted what
might never come to pass.  Uppermost in her mind was the cruelty of
accepting Pansy as her daughter-in-law this morning with the
possibility of rejecting her afterward.

As Pansy walked reluctantly out into the hall, she stopped with a
deep wish in her candid eyes.

"Oh, Mrs. Meredith, I should so much like to see the portrait of
Dent's father: he has often spoken to me about It."

Mrs. Meredith led her away in silence to where the portrait hung,
and the two stood looking at it side by side.  She resisted a
slight impulse to put her arm around the child.  When they returned
to the front of the house, Pansy turned:

"Do you think you will ever love me?"

The carriage was at the door.  "You must not walk," said Mrs.
Meredith, "the sun is too hot now."

As Pansy stepped into the carriage, she cast a suspicious glance at
the cushions: Meredith upholstery was not to be trusted, and she
seated herself warily.

Mrs. Meredith put her hand through the window: "You must come to
see me soon again, Pansy.  I am a poor visitor, but I shall try to
call on you in a few days."

She went back to her seat on the veranda.

It has been said that her insight into goodness was her strength;
she usually had a way of knowing at once, as regards the character
of people, what she was ever to know at all.  Her impressions of
Pansy unrolled themselves disconnectedly:

"She makes mistakes, but she does not know how to do wrong.  Guile
is not in her.  She is so innocent that she does not realize
sometimes the peril of her own words.  She is proud--a great deal
prouder than Dent.  To her, life means work and duty; more than
that, it means love.  She is ambitious, and ambition, in her case,
would be indispensable.  She did not claim Dent: I appreciate that.
She is a perfectly brave girl, and it is cowardice that makes so
many women hypocrites.  She will improve--she improved while she
was here.  But oh, everything else!  No figure, no beauty, no
grace, no tact, no voice, no hands, no anything that is so much
needed!  Dent says there are cold bodies which he calls planets
without atmosphere: he has found one to revolve about him.  If she
only had some clouds!  A mist here and there, so that everything
would not be so plain, so exposed, so terribly open!  But neither
has _he_ any clouds, any mists, any atmosphere.  And if she only
would not so try to expose other people!  If she had not so
trampled upon me in my ignorance; and with such a sense of triumph!
I was never so educated in my life by a visitor.  The amount of
information she imparted in half an hour--how many months it would
have served the purpose of a well-bred woman!  And her pride in her
family--were there ever such little brothers and sisters outside a
royal family!  And her devotion to her father, and remembrance of
her mother.  I shall go to see her, and be received, I suppose,
somewhere between the griddle and the churn."

As Pansy was driven home, feeling under herself for the first time
the elasticity of a perfect carriage, she experimented with her
posture.  "This carriage is not to be sat in in the usual way," she
said.  And indeed it was not.  In the family rockaway there was
constant need of muscular adjustment to different shocks at
successive moments; here muscular surrender was required: a
comfortable collapse--and there you were!

Trouble awaited her at home.  Owing to preoccupation with her visit
she had, before setting out, neglected much of her morning work.
She had especially forgotten the hungry multitude of her
dependants.  The children, taking advantage of her absence, had fed
only themselves.  As a consequence, the trustful lives around the
house had suffered a great wrong, and they were attempting to
describe it to each other.  The instant Pansy descended from the
carriage the ducks, massed around the doorsteps, discovered her,
and with frantic outcry and outstretched necks ran to find out what
it all meant.  The signal was taken up by other species and genera.
In the stable lot the calves responded as the French horn end of
the orchestra; and the youngest of her little brothers, who had
climbed into a fruit tree as a lookout for her return, in
scrambling hurriedly down, dropped to the earth with the boneless
thud of an opossum.

Pansy walked straight up to her room, heeding nothing, leaving a
wailing wake.  She locked herself in.  It was an hour before dinner
and she needed all those moments for herself.

She sat on the edge of her bed and new light brought new
wretchedness.  It was not, after all, quantity of information that
made the chief difference between herself and Dent's mother.  The
other things, all the other things--would she ever, ever acquire
them!  Finally the picture rose before her of how the footman had
looked as he had held the carriage door open for her, and the ducks
had sprawled over his feet; and she threw herself on the bed, hat
and all, and burst out crying with rage and grief and mortification.

"She will think I am common," she moaned, "and I am not common!
Why did I say such things?  It is not my way of talking.  Why did I
criticise the way the portrait was hung?  And she will think this
is what I really am, and it is not what I am!  She will think I do
not even know how to sit in a chair, and she will tell Dent, and
Dent will believe her, and what will become of me?"


"Pansy," said Dent next afternoon, as they were in the woods
together, "you have won my mother's heart."

"Oh, Dent," she exclaimed, tears starting, "I was afraid she would
not like me.  How could she like me, knowing me no better?"

"She doesn't yet know that she likes you," he replied, with his
honest thinking and his honest speech, "but I can see that she
trusts you and respects you; and with my mother everything else
follows in time."

"I was embarrassed.  I did myself such injustice."

"It is something you never did any one else."

He had been at work in his quarry on the vestiges of creation; the
quarry lay at an outcrop of that northern hill overlooking the
valley in which she lived.  Near by was a woodland, and she had
come out for some work of her own in which he guided her.  They lay
on the grass now side by side.

"I am working on the plan of our house, Pansy.  I expect to begin
to build in the autumn.  I have chosen this spot for the site.  How
do you like it?"

"I like it very well.  For one reason, I can always see the old
place from it."

"My father left his estate to be equally divided between Rowan and
me.  Of course he could not divide the house; that goes to Rowan:
it is a good custom for this country as it was a good custom for
our forefathers in England.  But I get an equivalent and am to
build for myself on this part of the land: my portion is over here.
You see we have always been divided only by a few fences and they
do not divide at all."

"The same plants grow on each side, Dent."

"There is one thing I have to tell you.  If you are coming into our
family, you ought to know it beforehand.  There is a shadow over
our house.  It grows deeper every year and we do not know what it
means.  That is, my mother and I do not know.  It is some secret in
Rowan's life.  He has never offered to tell us, and of course we
have never asked him, and in fact mother and I have never even
spoken to each other on the subject."

It was the first time she had even seen sadness in his eyes; and
she impulsively clasped his hand.  He returned the pressure and
then their palms separated.  No franker sign of their love had ever
passed between them.

He went on very gravely: "Rowan was the most open nature I ever saw
when he was a boy.  I remember this now.  I did not think of it
then.  I believe he was the happiest.  You know we are all
pantheists of some kind nowadays.  I could never see much
difference between a living thing that stands rooted in the earth
like a tree and a living thing whose destiny it is to move the foot
perpetually over the earth, as man.  The union is as close in one
case as in the other.  Do you remember the blind man of the New
Testament who saw men as trees walking?  Rowan seemed to me, as I
recall him now, to have risen out of the earth through my father
and mother--a growth of wild nature, with the seasons in his face,
with the blood of the planet rising into his veins as intimately as
it pours into a spring oak or into an autumn grape-vine.  I often
heard Professor Hardage call him the earth-born.  He never called
any one else that.  He was wild with happiness until he went to
college.  He came back all changed; and life has been uphill with
him ever since.  Lately things have grown worse.  The other day I
was working on the plan of our house; he came in and looked over my
shoulder: 'Don't build, Dent,' he said, 'bring your wife here,' and
he walked quickly out of the room.  I knew what that meant: he has
been unfortunate in his love affair and is ready to throw up the
whole idea of marrying.  This is our trouble, Pansy.  It may
explain anything that may have been lacking in my mother's
treatment of you; she is not herself at all." He spoke with great
tenderness and he looked disturbed.

"Can I do anything?"  What had she been all her life but
burden-bearer, sorrow-sharer?

"Nothing."

"If I ever can, will you tell me?"

"This is the only secret I have kept from you, Pansy.  I am sure
you have kept none from me.  I believe that if I could read
everything in you, I should find nothing I did not wish to know."

She did not reply for a while.  Then she said solemnly: "I have one
secret.  There is something I try to hide from every human being
and I always shall.  It is not a bad secret, Dent.  But I do not
wish to tell you what it is, and I feel sure you will never ask me."

He turned his eyes to her clear with unshakable confidence: "I
never will."

Pansy was thinking of her mother's poverty.

They sat awhile in silence.

He had pulled some stems of seeding grass and drew them slowly
across his palm, pondering Life.  Then he began to talk to her in
the way that made them so much at home with one another.

"Pansy, men used to speak of the secrets of Nature: there is not
the slightest evidence that Nature has a secret.  They used to
speak of the mysteries of the Creator.  I am not one of those who
claim to be authorities on the traits of the Creator.  Some of my
ancestors considered themselves such.  But I do say that men are
coming more and more to think of Him as having no mysteries.  We
have no evidence, as the old hymn declares, that He loves to move
in a mysterious way.  The entire openness of Nature and of the
Creator--these are the new ways of thinking.  They will be the only
ways of thinking in the future unless civilization sinks again into
darkness.  What we call secrets and mysteries of the universe are
the limitations of our powers and our knowledge.  The little that
we actually do know about Nature, how open it is, how unsecretive!
There is nowhere a sign that the Creator wishes to hide from us
even what is Life.  If we ever discover what Life is, no doubt we
shall then realize that it contained no mystery."

She loved to listen, feeling that he was drawing her to his way of
thinking for the coming years.

"It was the folly and the crime of all ancient religions that their
priesthoods veiled them; whenever the veil was rent, like the veil
of Isis, it was not God that men found behind it: it was nothing.
The religions of the future will have no veils.  As far as they can
set before their worshippers truth at all, it will be truth as open
as the day.  The Great Teacher in the New Testament--what an
eternal lesson on light itself: that is the beauty of his Gospel.
And his Apostles--where do you find him saying to them, 'Preach my
word to all men as the secrets of a priesthood and the mysteries of
the Father'?

"It is the tragedy of man alone that he has his secrets.  No doubt
the time will come when I shall have mine and when I shall have to
hide things from you, Pansy, as Rowan has his and hides things from
us.  Life is full of things that we cannot tell because they would
injure us; and of things that we cannot tell because they would
injure others.  But surely we should all like to live in a time
when a man's private life will be his only life."

After a silence he came back to her with a quiet laugh: "Here I am
talking about the future of the human race, and we have never
agreed upon our marriage ceremony!  What a lover!"

"I want the most beautiful ceremony in the world."

"The ceremony of your church?" he asked with great respect, though
wincing.

"My church has no ceremony: every minister in it has his own; and
rather than have one of them write mine, I think I should rather
write it myself: shouldn't you?"

"I think I should," he said, laughing.

He drew a little book out of his breast pocket: "Perhaps you will
like this: a great many people have been married by it."

"I want the same ceremony that is used for kings and queens, for
the greatest and the best people of the earth.  I will marry you by
no other!"

"A good many of them have used this," and he read to her the
ceremony of his church.

When he finished neither spoke.

It was a clear summer afternoon.  Under them was the strength of
rocks; around them the noiseless growth of needful things; above
them the upward-drawing light: two working children of the New
World, two pieces of Nature's quietism.



II

It was the second morning after Marguerite's ball.

Marguerite, to herself a girl no longer, lay in the middle
of a great, fragrant, drowsy bed of carved walnut, once her
grandmother's.  She had been dreaming; she had just awakened.  The
sun, long since risen above the trees of the yard, was slanting
through the leaves and roses that formed an outside lattice to her
window-blinds.

These blinds were very old.  They had been her grandmother's when
she was Marguerite's age; and one day, not long before this,
Marguerite, pillaging the attic, had found them and brought them
down, with adoring eyes, and put them up before her own windows.
They were of thin muslin, and on them were painted scenes
representing the River of Life, with hills and castles, valleys and
streams, in a long series; at the end there was a faint vision of a
crystal dome in the air--the Celestial City--nearly washed away.
You looked at these scenes through the arches of a ruined castle.
A young man (on one blind) has just said farewell to his parents on
the steps of the castle and is rowing away down the River of Life.
At the prow of his boat is the figurehead of a winged woman holding
an hour-glass.

Marguerite lay on her side, sleepily contemplating the whole scene
between her thick, bosky lashes.  She liked everything but the
winged woman holding the hour-glass.  Had she been that woman, she
would have dropped the hour-glass into the blue, burying water, and
have reached up her hand for the young man to draw her into the
boat with him.  And she would have taken off her wings and cast
them away upon the hurrying river.  To have been alone with him, no
hour-glass, no wings, rowing away on Life's long voyage, past
castles and valleys, and never ending woods and streams!  As to the
Celestial City, she would have liked her blinds better if the rains
of her grandmother's youth had washed it away altogether.  It was
not the desirable end of such a journey: she did not care to land
_there_.

Marguerite slipped drowsily over to the edge of the bed in order to
be nearer the blinds; and she began to study what was left of the
face of the young man just starting on his adventures from the
house of his fathers.  Who was he?  Of whom did he cause her to
think?  She sat up in bed and propped her face in the palms of her
hands--the April face with its October eyes--and lapsed into what
had been her dreams of the night.  The laces of her nightgown
dropped from her wrists to her elbows; the masses of her hair, like
sunlit autumn maize, fell down over her neck and shoulders into the
purity of the bed.

Until the evening of her party the world had been to Marguerite
something that arranged all her happiness and never interfered
with it.  Only soundness and loveliness of nature, inborn,
undestroyable, could have withstood such luxury, indulgence,
surfeit as she had always known.

On that night which was designed to end for her the life of
childhood, she had, for the first time, beheld the symbol of the
world's diviner beauty--a cross.  All her guests had individually
greeted her as though each were happier in her happiness.  Except
one--he did not care.  He had spoken to her upon entering with the
manner of one who wished himself elsewhere, he alone brought no
tribute to her of any kind, in his eyes, by his smile, through the
pressure of his hand.

The slight wounded her at the moment; she had not expected to have
a guest to whom she would be nothing and to whom it would seem no
unkindness to let her know this.  The slight left its trail of pain
as the evening wore on and he did not come near her.  Several
times, while standing close to him, she had looked her surprise,
had shadowed her face with coldness for him to see.  For the first
time in her life she felt herself rejected, suffered the
fascination of that pain.  Afterward she had intentionally pressed
so close to him in the throng of her guests that her arm brushed
his sleeve.  At last she had disengaged herself from all others and
had even gone to him with the inquiries of a hostess; and he had
forced himself to smile at her and had forgotten her while he spoke
to her--as though she were a child.  All her nature was exquisitely
loosened that night, and quivering; it was not a time to be so
wounded and to forget.

She did not forget as she sat in her room after all had gone.  She
took the kindnesses and caresses, the congratulations and triumphs,
of those full-fruited hours, pressed them together and derived
merely one clear drop of bitterness--the languorous poison of one
haunting desire.  It followed her into her sleep and through the
next day; and not until night came again and she had passed through
the gateway of dreams was she happy: for in those dreams it was he
who was setting out from the house of his fathers on a voyage down
the River of Life; and he had paused and turned and called her to
come to him and be with him always.

Marguerite lifted her face from her palms, as she finished her
revery.  She slipped to the floor out of the big walnut bed, and
crossing to the blinds laid her fingers on the young man's
shoulder.  It was the movement with which one says: "I have come."

With a sigh she drew one of the blinds aside and looked out upon
the leaves and roses of her yard and at the dazzling sunlight.
Within a few feet of her a bird was singing.  "How can you?" she
said.  "If you loved, you would be silent.  Your wings would droop.
You could neither sing nor fly."  She turned dreamily back into her
room and wandered over to a little table on which her violin lay in
its box.  She lifted the top and thrummed the strings.  "How could
I ever have loved you?"

She dressed absent-mindedly.  How should she spend the forenoon?
Some of her friends would be coming to talk over the party; there
would be callers; there was the summer-house, her hammock, her
phaeton; there were nooks and seats, cool, fragrant; there were her
mother and grandmother to prattle to and caress.  "No," she said,
"not any of them.  One person only.  I must see _him_."

She thought of the places where she could probably see him if he
should be in town that day.  There was only one--the library.
Often, when there, she had seen him pass in and out.  He had no
need to come for books or periodicals, all these he could have at
home; but she had heard the librarian and him at work; over the
files of old papers containing accounts of early agricultural
affairs and the first cattle-shows of the state.  She resolved to
go to the library: what desire had she ever known that she had not
gratified?

When Marguerite, about eleven o'clock, approached the library a
little fearfully, she saw Barbee pacing to and fro on the sidewalk
before the steps.  She felt inclined to turn back; he was the last
person she cared to meet this morning.  Play with him had suddenly
ended as a picnic in a spring grove is interrupted by a tempest.

"I ought to tell him at once," she said; and she went forward.

He came to meet her--with a countenance dissatisfied and
reproachful.  It struck her that his thin large ears looked
yellowish instead of red and that his freckles had apparently
spread and thickened.  She asked herself why she had never before
realized how boyish he was.

"Marguerite," he said at once, as though the matter were to be
taken firmly in hand, "you treated me shabbily the night of your
party.  It was unworthy of you.  And I will not stand it.  You
ought not be such a child!"

Her breath was taken away.  She blanched and her eyes dilated as
she looked at him: the lash of words had never been laid on her.

"Are you calling me to account?" she asked.  "Then I shall call you
to an account.  When you came up to speak to grandmother and to
mamma and me, you spoke to us as though you were an indifferent
suitor of mine--as though I were a suitor of yours.  As soon as you
were gone, mamma said to me: 'What have you been doing, Marguerite,
that he should think you are in love with him--that he should treat
us as though we all wished to catch him?'"

"That was a mistake of your mother's.  But after what had passed
between us--"

"No matter what had passed between us, I do not think that a _man_
would virtually tell a girl's mother on her: a boy might."

He grew ashen; and he took his hand out of his pockets and
straightened himself from his slouchy lounging posture, and stood
before her, his head in the air on his long neck like a young stag
affronted and enraged.

"It is true, I have sometimes been too much like a boy with you,"
he said.  "Have you made it possible for me to be anything else?"

"Then I'll make it possible for you now: to begin, I am too old to
be called to account for my actions--except by those who have the
right."

"You mean, that I have no right--after what has passed--"

"Nothing has passed between us!"

"Marguerite," he said, "do you mean that you do not love me?"

"Can you not see?"

She was standing on the steps above him.  The many-fluted parasol
with its long silken fringes rested on one shoulder.  Her face in
the dazzling sunlight, under her hat, had lost its gayety.  Her
eyes rested upon his with perfect quietness.

"I do not believe that you yourself know whether you love me," he
said, laughing pitifully.  His big mouth twitched and his love had
come back into his eyes quickly enough.

"Let me tell you how I know," she said, with more kindness.  "If I
loved you, I could not stand here and speak of it to you in this
way.  I could not tell you you are not a man.   Everything in me
would go down before you.  You could do with my life what you
pleased.  No one in comparison with you would mean anything to
me--not even mamma.  As long as I was with you, I should never wish
to sleep; if you were away from me, I should never wish to waken.
If you were poor, if you were in trouble, you would be all the
dearer to me--if you only loved me, only loved me!"

Who is it that can mark down the moment when we ceased to be
children?  Gazing backward in after years, we sometimes attempt
dimly to fix the time.  "It probably occurred on that day," we
declare; "it may have taken place during that night.  It coincided
with that hardship, or with that mastery of life."  But a child can
suffer and can triumph as a man or a woman, yet remain a child.
Like man and woman it can hate, envy, malign, cheat, lie,
tyrannize; or bless, cheer, defend, drop its pitying tears, pour
out its heroic spirit.  Love alone among the passions parts the two
eternities of a lifetime.  The instant it is born, the child which
was its parent is dead.

As Marguerite suddenly ceased speaking, frightened by the secret
import of her own words, her skin, which had the satinlike fineness
and sheen of white poppy leaves, became dyed from brow to breast
with a surging flame of rose.  She turned partly away from Barbee,
and she waited for him to go.

He looked at her a moment with torment in his eyes; then, lifting
his hat without a word, he turned and walked proudly down the
street toward his office.

Marguerite did not send a glance after him.  What can make us so
cruel to those who vainly love us as our vain love of some one
else?  What do we care for their suffering?  We see it in their
faces, hear it in their speech, feel it as the tragedy of their
lives.  But we turn away from them unmoved and cry out at the
heartlessness of those whom our own faces and words and sorrow do
not touch.

She lowered her parasol, and pressing her palm against one cheek
and then the other, to force back the betraying blood, hurried
agitated and elated into the library.  A new kind of excitement
filled her: she had confessed her secret, had proved her fidelity
to him she loved by turning off the playmate of childhood.  Who
does not know the relief of confessing to some one who does not
understand?

The interior of the library was an immense rectangular room.  Book
shelves projected from each side toward the middle, forming
alcoves.  Seated in one of these alcoves, you could be seen only by
persons who should chance to pass.  The library was never crowded
and it was nearly empty now.  Marguerite lingered to speak with the
librarian, meantime looking carefully around the room; and then
moved on toward the shelves where she remembered having once seen a
certain book of which she was now thinking.  It had not interested
her then; she had heard it spoken of since, but it had not
interested her since.  Only to-day something new within herself
drew her toward it.

No one was in the alcove she entered.  After a while she found her
book and seated herself in a nook of the walls with her face turned
in the one direction from which she could be discovered by any one
passing.  While she read, she wished to watch: might he not pass?

It was a very old volume, thumbed by generations of readers.  Pages
were gone, the halves of pages worn away or tattered.  It was
printed in an old style of uncertain spelling so that the period of
its authorship could in this way be but doubtfully indicated.
Ostensibly it came down from the ruder, plainer speech of old
English times, which may have found leisure for such "A Booke of
Folly."

Marguerite's eyes settled first on the complete title: "Lady
Bluefields' First Principles of Courting for Ye Use of Ye Ladies;
but Plainly Set Down for Ye Good of Ye Beginners."

"I am not a beginner," thought Marguerite, who had been in love
three days; and she began to read:

"_Now of all artes ye most ancient is ye lovely arte of courting.
It is ye earliest form of ye chase.  It is older than hawking or
hunting ye wilde bore.  It is older than ye flint age or ye stone
aye, being as old as ye bones in ye man his body and in ye woman
her body.  It began in ye Garden of Eden and is as old as ye old
devil himself_."

Marguerite laughed: she thought Lady Bluefields delightful.

"_Now ye only purpose in all God His world of ye arte of courting
is to create love where love is not, or to make it grow where it
has begun.  But whether ye wish to create love or to blow ye little
coal into ye big blaze, ye principles are ye same; for ye bellows
that will fan nothing into something will easily roast ye spark
into ye roaring fire; and ye grander ye fire, ye grander ye arte_."

Marguerite laughed again.  Then she stopped reading and tested the
passage in the light of her experience.  A bellows and--nothing to
begin.  Then something.  Then a spark.  Then a name.  She returned
to the book with the conclusion that Lady Bluefields was a woman of
experience.

"_This little booke will not contain any but ye first principles:
if is enough for ye stingy price ye pay.  But ye woman who buys ye
first principles and fails, must then get ye larger work on ye Last
Principles of Courting, with ye true account of ye mysteries which
set ye principles to going: it is ye infallible guide to ye
irresistible love.  Ye pay more for ye Big Booke, and God knows it
is worth ye price: it is written for ye women who are ye difficult
cases--ye floating derelicts in ye ocean of love, ye hidden snags,
terror of ye seafaring men_."

This did not so much interest Marguerite.  She skipped two or three
pages which seemed to go unnecessarily into the subject of
derelicts and snags.  "I am not quite sure as to what a derelict
is: I do not think I am one; out certainly I am not a snag."

"_Now ye only reason for ye lovely arts of courtinge is ye purpose
to marry.  If ye do not expect to marry, positively ye must not
court: flirting is ye dishonest arte.  Courting is ye honest arte;
if ye woman knows in ye woman her heart that she will not make ye
man a good wife, let her not try to Cage ye man: let her keep ye
cat or cage ye canary: that is enough for her_."

"I shall dispose of my canary at once.  It goes to Miss Harriet
Crane."

"_Now of all men there is one ye woman must not court: ye married
man.  Positively ye must not court such a man.  If he wishes to
court ye, ye must make resistance to him with all ye soul; if you
wish to court him, ye must resist yourself.  If he is a married man
and happy, let him alone.  If he is married and unhappy, let him
bear his lot and beat his wife_."

Marguerite's eyes flashed.  "It is well the writer did not live in
this age," she thought.

"_Ye men to court are three kinds: first ye swain; second ye old
bachelor; third ye widower.  Ye old bachelor is like ye green
chimney of ye new house--hard to kindle.  But ye widower is like ye
familiar fireplace.  Ye must court according to ye kind.  Ye
bachelor and ye widower are treated in ye big booke_."

"The swain is left," said Marguerite.  "How and when is the swain
to be courted?"

"_Now ye beauty of ye swain is that ye can court him at all seasons
of ye year.  Ye female bird will signal for ye mate only when ye
woods are green; but even ye old maid can go to ye icy spinnet and
drum wildly in ye dead of winter with ye aching fingers and ye
swain mate will sometimes come to her out of ye cold_."

Marguerite was beginning to think that nearly every one treated in
Lady Bluefields' book was too advanced in years: it was too
charitable to the problems of spinsters.  "Where do the young come
in?" she asked impatiently.

"_Ye must not court ye young swain with ye food or ye wine.  That
is for ye old bachelors and ye widowers to whom ye food and wine
are dear, but ye woman who gives them not dear enough.  Ye woman
gives them meat and drink and they give ye woman hope: it is ye
bargain: let each be content with what each gets.  But if ye swain
be bashful and ye know that he cannot speak ye word that he has
tried to speak, a glass of ye wine will sometimes give him that
missing word.  Ye wine passes ye word to him and he passes ye word
to you: and ye keep it!  When ye man is soaked with wine he does
not know what he loves nor cares: he will hug ye iron post in ye
street or ye sack of feathers in ye man his bed and talk to it as
though nothing else were dear to him in all ye world.  It is not ye
love that makes him do this; it is ye wine and ye man his own
devilish nature.  No; ye must marry with wine, but ye must court
with water.  Ye love that will not begin with water will not last
with wine_."

This did not go to the heart of the matter.  Marguerite turned over
several pages.

"_In ye arte of courting, it is often ye woman her eyes that settle
ye man his fate, But if ye woman her eyes are not beautiful, she
must not court with them but with other members of ye woman her
body.  Ye greatest use of ye ugly eyes is to see but not be seen.
If ye try to court with ye ugly eyes, ye scare ye man away or make
him to feel sick; and ye will be sorry.  Ye eyes must be beautiful
and ye eyes must have some mystery.  They must not be like ye
windows of ye house in summer when ye curtains are taken down and
ye shutters are taken off.  As ye man stands outside he must want
to see all that is within, but he must not be able.  What ye man
loves ye woman for is ye mystery in her; if ye woman contain no
mystery, let her marry if she must; but not aspire to court.  (This
is enough for ye stingy price ye pay: if ye had paid more money, ye
would have received more instruction.)_"

Marguerite thought it very little instruction for any money.  She
felt disappointed and provoked.  She passed on to "Clothes." "What
can she teach me on that subject?" she thought.

"_When ye court with ye clothes, ye must not lift ye dress above ye
ankle bone_."

"Then I know what kind of ankle bone _she_ had," said Marguerite,
bitter for revenge on Lady Bluefields.

"_Ye clothes play a greate part in ye arte of courtinge_."


Marguerite turned the leaf; but she found that the other pages on
the theme were too thumbed and faint to be legible.

She looked into the subject of "Hands": learning where the palms
should be turned up and when turned down; the meaning of a crooked
forefinger, and of full moons rising on the horizons of the finger
nails; why women with freckled hands should court bachelors.  Also
how the feet, if of such and such sizes and configurations, must be
kept as "_ye two dead secrets_."  Similarly how dimples must be
born and not made--with a caution against "_ye dimple under ye
nose_" (reference to "Big Booke"--well worth the money, etc.).

When she reached the subject of the kiss, Marguerite thought
guiltily of the library steps.

"_Ye kiss is ye last and ye greatest act in all ye lovely arte of
courtinge.  Ye eyes, ye hair, ye feet, ye dimple, ye whole trunk,
are of no account if they do not lead up to ye kiss.  There are two
kinds of ye kiss: ye kiss that ye give and ye kiss that ye take.
Ye kiss that ye take is ye one ye want.  Ye woman often wishes to
give ye man one but cannot; and ye man often wishes to take one (or
more) from ye woman but cannot; and between her not being able to
give and his not being able to take, there is suffering enough in
this ill-begotten and ill-sorted world.  Ye greatest enemy of ye
kiss that ye earth has ever known is ye sun; ye greatest friend is
ye night_.

"_Ye most cases where ye woman can take ye kiss are put down in ye
'Big Booke_.'

"_When ye man lies sick in ye hospital and ye woman bends over him
and he is too weak to raise his head, she can let her head fall
down on his; it is only the law of gravitation.  But not while she
is giving him ye physick.  If ye woman is riding in ye carriage and
ye horses run away; and ye man she loves is standing in ye bushes
and rushes out and seizes ye horses but is dragged, when he lies in
ye road in ye swoon, ye woman can send ye driver around behind ye
carriage and kiss him then--as she always does in ye women their
novels but never does in ye life.  There is one time when any woman
can freely kiss ye man she loves: in ye dreame.  It is ye safest
way, and ye best.  No one knows; and it does not disappoint as it
often does disappoint when ye are awake_.

"_Lastly when ye beautiful swain that ye woman loved is dead, she
way go into ye room where he lies white and cold and kiss him then:
but she waited too long_."

Marguerite let the book fall as though an arrow had pierced her.
At the same time she heard the librarian approaching.  She quickly
restored the volume to its place and drew out another book.  The
librarian entered the alcove, smiled at Marguerite, peeped over her
shoulder into the book she was reading, searched for another, and
took it away.  When she disappeared, Marguerite rose and looked;
Lady Bluefields was gone.

She could not banish those heart-breaking words: "_When ye
beautiful swain that ye woman loved is dead_."  The longing of the
past days, the sadness, the languor that was ecstasy and pain,
swept back over her as she sat listening now, hoping for another
footstep.  Would he not come?  She did not ask to speak with him.
If she might only see him, only feel him near for a few moments.

She quitted the library slowly at last, trying to escape notice;
and passed up the street with an unconscious slight drooping of
that aerial figure.  When she reached her yard, the tree-tops
within were swaying and showing the pale gray under-surfaces of
their leaves.  A storm was coming.  She turned at the gate, her hat
in her hand, and looked toward the cloud with red lightnings
darting from it: a still white figure confronting that noonday
darkness of the skies.

"Grandmother never loved but once," she said.  "Mamma never loved
but once: it is our fate."



III

"Anna," said Professor Hardage that same morning, coming out of his
library into the side porch where Miss Anna, sitting in a green
chair and wearing a pink apron and holding a yellow bowl with a
blue border, was seeding scarlet cherries for a brown roll, "see
what somebody has sent _me_."  He held up a many-colored bouquet
tied with a brilliant ribbon; to the ribbon was pinned an
old-fashioned card.

"Ah, now, that is what comes of your being at the ball," said Miss
Anna, delighted and brimming with pride.  "Somebody fell in love
with you.  I told you you looked handsome that night," and she
beckoned impatiently for the bouquet.

He surrendered it with a dubious look.  She did not consider the
little tumulus of Flora, but devoured the name of the builder.  Her
face turned crimson; and leaning over to one side, she dropped the
bouquet into the basket for cherry seed.  Then she continued her
dutiful pastime, her head bent so low that he could see nothing but
the part dividing the soft brown hair of her fine head.

He sat down and laughed at her: "I knew you'd get me into trouble."

It was some moments before she asked in a guilty voice: "What did
you _do_?"

"What did you tell me to do?"

"I asked you to be kind to Harriet," she murmured mournfully.

"You told me to take her out into the darkest place I could find
and to sit there with her and hold her hand."

"I did not tell you to hold her hand.  I told you to _try_ to hold
her hand."

"Well!  I builded better than you knew: give me my flowers."

"What did you do?" she asked again, in a voice that admitted the
worst.

"How do I know?  I was thinking of something else!  But here comes
Harriet," he said, quickly standing up and gazing down the street.

"Go in," said Miss Anna, "I want to see Harriet alone."

"_You_ go in.  The porch isn't dark; but I'll stay here with her!"

"Please."

When he had gone, Miss Anna leaned over and lifting the bouquet
from the sticking cherry seed tossed it into the yard--tossed it
_far_.

Harriet came out into the porch looking wonderfully fresh.  "How do
you do, Anna?" she said with an accent of new cordiality,
established cordiality.

The accent struck Miss Anna's ear as the voice of the bouquet.  She
had at once discovered also that Harriet was beautifully
dressed--even to the point of wearing her best gloves.

"Oh, good morning, Harriet," she replied, giving the yellow bowl an
unnecessary shake and speaking quite incidentally as though the
visit were not of the slightest consequence.  She did not invite
Harriet to be seated.  Harriet seated herself.

"Aren't you well, Anna?" she inquired with blank surprise.

"I am always well."

"Is any one ill, Anna?"

"Not to my knowledge."

Harriet knew Miss Anna to have the sweetest nature of all women.
She realized that she herself was often a care to her friend.  A
certain impulse inspired her now to give assurance that she had not
come this morning to weigh her down with more troubles.

"Do you know, Anna, I never felt so well!  Marguerite's ball really
brought me out.  I have turned over a new leaf of destiny and I am
going out more after this.  What right has a woman to give up life
so soon?  I shall go out more, and I shall read more, and be a
different woman, and cease worrying you.  Aren't women reading
history now?   But then they are doing everything.  Still that is
no reason why I should not read a little, because my mind is really
a blank on the subject of the antiquities.  Of course I can get the
ancient Hebrews out of the Bible; but I ought to know more about
the Greeks and Romans.  Now oughtn't I?"

"You don't want to know anything about the Greeks and the Romans,
Harriet," said Miss Anna.  "Content yourself with the earliest
Hebrews.  You have gotten along very well without the Greeks and
the Romans--for--a--long--time."

Harriet understood at last; there was no mistaking now.  She was a
very delicate instrument and much used to being rudely played upon.
Her friend's reception of her to-day had been so unaccountable that
at one moment she had suspected that her appearance might be at
fault.  Harriet had known women to turn cold at the sight of a new
gown; and it had really become a life principle not to dress even
as well as she could, because she needed the kindness that flows
out so copiously from new clothes to old clothes.  But it was
embarrassment that caused her now to say rather aimlessly:

"I believe I feel overdressed.  What possessed me?"

"Don't overdress again," enjoined Miss Anna in stern confidence.
"Never try to change yourself in anyway.  I like you better as you
are--a--great--deal--better."

"Then you shall have me as you like me, Anna dear," replied
Harriet, faithfully and earnestly, with a faltering voice; and she
looked out into the yard with a return of an expression very old
and very weary.  Fortunately she was short-sighted and was thus
unable to see her bouquet which made such a burning blot on the
green grass, with the ribbon trailing beside it and the card still
holding on as though determined to see the strange adventure
through to the end.

"Good-by, Anna," she said, rising tremblingly, though at the
beginning of her visit.

"Oh, good-by, Harriet," replied Miss Anna, giving a cheerful shake
to the yellow bowl.

As Harriet walked slowly down the street, a more courageously
dressed woman than she had been for years, her chin quivered and
she shook with sobs heroically choked back.

Miss Anna went into the library and sat down near the door.  Her
face which had been very white was scarlet again: "What was it you
did--tell me quickly.  I cannot stand it."

He came over and taking her cheeks between his palms turned her
face up and looked down into her eyes.  But she shut them quickly.
"What do you suppose I did?  Harriet and I sat for half an hour in
another room.  I don't remember what I did; but it could not have
been anything very bad: others were all around us."

She opened her eyes and pushed him away harshly: "I have wounded
Harriet in her most sensitive spot; and then I insulted her after I
wounded her," and she went upstairs.

Later he found the bouquet on his library table with the card stuck
in the top.  The flowers stayed there freshly watered till the
petals strewed his table: they were not even dusted away.

As for Harriet herself, the wound of the morning must have
penetrated till it struck some deep flint in her composition; for
she came back the next day in high spirits and severely
underdressed--in what might be called toilet reduced to its lowest
terms, like a common fraction.  She had restored herself to the
footing of an undervalued intercourse.  At the sight of her Miss
Anna sprang up, kissed her all over the face, was atoningly cordial
with her arms, tried in every way to say: "See, Harriet, I bare my
heart!  Behold the dagger of remorse!"

Harriet saw; and she walked up and took the dagger by the handle
and twisted it to the right and to the left and drove it in deeper
and was glad.

"How do you like this dress, Anna?" she inquired with the sweetest
solicitude.  "Ah, there is no one like a friend to bring you to
your senses!  You were right.  I am too old to change, too old to
dress, too old even to read: thank you, Anna, as always."

Many a wound of friendship heals, but the wounder and the wounded
are never the same to each other afterward.  So that the two
comrades were ill at ease and welcomed a diversion in the form of a
visitor.  It happened to be the day of the week when Miss Anna
received her supply of dairy products from the farm of Ambrose
Webb.  He came round to the side entrance now with two shining tin
buckets and two lustreless eyes.

The old maids stood on the edge of the porch with their arms
wrapped around each other, and talked to him with nervous gayety.
He looked up with a face of dumb yearning at one and then at the
other, almost impartially.

"Aren't you well, Mr. Webb?" inquired Miss Anna, bending over
toward him with a healing smile.

"Certainly I am well," he replied resentfully.  "There is nothing
the matter with me.  I am a sound man."

"But you were certainly groaning," insisted Miss Anna, "for I heard
you; and you must have been groaning about _something_."

He dropped his eyes, palpably crestfallen, and scraped the bricks
with one foot.

Harriet nudged Miss Anna not to press the point and threw herself
gallantly into the breach of silence.

"I am coming out to see you sometime, Mr. Webb," she said
threateningly; "I want to find out whether you are taking good care
of my calf.  Is she growing?"

"Calves always grow till they stop," said Ambrose, axiomatically.

"How high is she?"

He held his hand up over an imaginary back.

"Why, that is _high_!  When she stops growing, Anna, I am going to
sell her, sell her by the pound.  She is my beef trust.  Now don't
forget, Mr. Webb, that I am coming out some day."

"I'll be there," he said, and he gave her a peculiar look.

"You know, Anna," said Harriet, when they were alone again, "that
his wife treats him shamefully.  I have heard mother talking about
it.  She says his wife is the kind of woman that fills a house as
straw fills a barn: you can see it through every crack.  That
accounts for his heavy expression, and for his dull eyes, and for
the groaning.  They say that most of the time he sits on the fences
when it is clear, and goes into the stable when it rains."

"Why, I'll have to be kinder to him than ever," said Miss Anna.
"But how do you happen to have a calf, Harriet?" she added, struck
by the practical fact.

"It was the gift of my darling mother, my dear, the only present
she has made me that I can remember.  It was an orphan, and you
wouldn't have it in your asylum, and my mother was in a peculiar
mood, I suppose.  She amused herself with the idea of making me
such a present.  But Anna, watch that calf, and see if thereby does
not hang a tale.  I am sure, in some mysterious way, my destiny is
bound up with it.  Calves do have destinies, don't they, Anna?"

"Oh, don't ask _me_, Harriet!  Inquire of their Creator; or try the
market-house."

It was at the end of this visit that Harriet as usual imparted to
Miss Anna the freshest information regarding affairs at home: that
Isabel had gone to spend the summer with friends at the seashore,
and was to linger with other friends in the mountains during
autumn; that her mother had changed her own plans, and was to keep
the house open, and had written for the Fieldings--Victor's mother
and brothers and sisters--to come and help fill the house; that
everything was to be very gay.

"I cannot fathom what is under it all," said Harriet, with her
hand on the side gate at leaving.  "But I know that mother and
Isabel have quarrelled.  I believe mother has transferred her
affections--and perhaps her property.  She has rewritten her will
since Isabel went away.  What have I to do, Anna, but interest
myself in other people's affairs?  I have none of my own.  And she
never calls Isabel's name, but pets Victor from morning till night.
And her expression sometimes!  I tell you, Anna, that when I see
it, if I were a bird and could fly, gunshot could not catch me.  I
see a summer before me!  If there is ever a chance of my doing
_anything_, don't be shocked if I do it;" and in Harriet's eyes
there were two mysterious sparks of hope--two little rising suns.

"What did she mean?" pondered Miss Anna.



IV

"Barbee," said Judge Morris one morning a fortnight later, "what
has become of Marguerite?  One night not long ago you complained of
her as an obstacle in the path of your career: does she still annoy
you with her attentions?  You could sue out a writ of habeas corpus
in your own behalf if she persists.  I'd take the case.  I believe
you asked me to mark your demeanor on the evening of that party.  I
tried to mark it; but I did not discover a great deal of demeanor
to mark."

The two were sitting in the front office.  The Judge, with nothing
to do, was facing the street, his snow-white cambric handkerchief
thrown across one knee, his hands grasping the arms of his chair,
the newspaper behind his heels, his straw hat and cane on the floor
at his side, and beside them the bulldog--his nose thrust against
the hat.

Barbee was leaning over his desk with his fingers plunged in his
hair and his eyes fixed on the law book before him--unopened.  He
turned and remarked with dry candor:

"Marguerite has dropped me."

"If she has, it's a blessed thing."

"There was more depth to her than I thought."

"There always is.  Wait until you get older."

"I shall have to work and climb to win her."

"You might look up meantime the twentieth verse of the twenty-ninth
chapter of Genesis."

Barbee rose and took down a Bible from among the law books: it had
been one of the Judge's authorities, a great stand-by for reference
and eloquence in his old days of pleading.  He sat down and read
the verse and laid the volume aside with the mere comment: "All
this time I have been thinking her too much of a child; I find that
she has been thinking the same of me."

"Then she has been a sound thinker."

"The result is she has wandered away after some one else.  I know
the man; and I know that he is after some one else.  Why do people
desire the impossible person?  If I had been a Greek sculptor and
had been commissioned to design as my masterwork the world's Frieze
of Love, it should have been one long array of marble shapes, each
in pursuit of some one fleeing.  But some day Marguerite will be
found sitting pensive on a stone--pursuing no longer; and when I
appear upon the scene, having overtaken her at last, she will sigh,
but she will give me her hand and go with me: and I'll have to
stand it.  That is the worst of it.  I shall have to stand it--that
she preferred the other man."

The Judge did not care to hear Barbee on American themes with Greek
imagery.  He yawned and struggled to his feet with difficulty.
"I'll take a stroll," he said; "it is all I can take."

Barbee sprang forward and picked up for him his hat and cane.  The
dog, by what seemed the slow action of a mental jackscrew, elevated
his cylinder to the tops of his legs; and presently the two stiff
old bodies turned the corner of the street, one slanting, one
prone: one dotting the bricks with his three legs, the other with
his four.

Formerly the man and the brute had gone each his own way, meeting
only at meal time and at irregular hours of the night in the
Judge's chambers.  The Judge had his stories regarding the origin
of their intimacy.  He varied these somewhat according to the
sensibilities of the persons to whom they were related--and there
were not many habitues of the sidewalks who did not hear them
sooner or later.  "No one could disentangle fact and fiction and
affection in them.

"Some years ago," he said one day to Professor Hardage, "I was a
good deal gayer than I am now and so was he.  We cemented a
friendship in a certain way, no matter what: that is a story I'm
not going to tell.  And he came to live with me on that footing of
friendship.  Of course he was greatly interested in the life of his
own species at that time; he loved part of it, he hated part; but
he was no friend to either.  By and by he grew older.  Age removed
a good deal of his vanity, and I suppose it forced him to part with
some portion of his self-esteem.  But I was growing older myself
and no doubt getting physically a little helpless.  I suppose I
made senile noises when I dressed and undressed, expressive of my
decorative labors.  This may have been the reason; possibly not;
but at any rate about this time he conceived it his duty to give up
his friendship as an equal and to enter my employ as a servant.  He
became my valet--without wages--and I changed his name to 'Brown.'

"Of course you don't think this true; well, then, don't think it
true.  But you have never seen him of winter mornings get up before
I do and try to keep me out of the bath-tub.  He'll station himself
at the bath-room door; and as I approach he will look at me with an
air of saying; 'Now don't climb into that cold water!  Stand on the
edge of it and lap it if you wish!  But don't get into it.  Drink
it, man, don't wallow in it.'  He waits until I finish, and then he
speaks his mind plainly again: 'Now see how wet you are!  And
to-morrow you will do the same thing.'  And he will stalk away,
suspicious of the grade of my intelligence.

"He helps me to dress and undress.  You'd know this if you studied
his face when I struggle to brush the dust off of my back and
shoulders: the mortification, the sense of injustice done him, in
his having been made a quadruped.  When I stoop over to take off my
shoes, if I do it without any noise and he lies anywhere near, very
well; but if I am noisy about it, he always comes and takes a seat
before me and assists.  Then he makes his same speech: 'What a
shame that you should have to do this for yourself, when I am here
to do it for you, but have no hands.'

"You know his portrait in my sitting room.  When it was brought
home and he discovered it on the wall, he looked at it from
different angles, and then came across to me with a wound and a
grievance: 'Why have you put that thing there?  How can you, who
have me, tolerate such a looking object as that?  See the meanness
in his face!  See how used up he is and how sick of life!  See what
a history is written all over him--his crimes and disgraces!  And
you can care for him when you have _me_, your Brown.'  After I am
dead, I expect him to publish a memorial volume entitled
'Reminiscences of the late Judge Ravenel Morris, By his former
Friend, afterward his Valet, _Taurus-Canis_.'"

The long drowsing days of summer had come.  Business was almost
suspended; heat made energy impossible.  Court was not in session,
farmers were busy with crops.  From early morning to late afternoon
the streets were well-nigh deserted.

Ravenel Morris found life more active for him during this idlest
season of his native town.   Having no business to prefer, people
were left more at leisure to talk with him; more acquaintances sat
fanning on their doorsteps and bade him good night as he passed
homeward.  There were festivals in the park; and he could rest on
one of the benches and listen to the band playing tunes.  He had
the common human heart in its love of tunes.  When tunes stopped,
music stopped for him.  If anything were played in which there was
no traceable melody, when the instruments encountered a tumult of
chords and dissonances, he would exclaim though with regretful
toleration:

"What are they trying to do now?  What is it all about?  Why can't
music be simple and sweet?  Do noise and confusion make it better
or greater?"

One night Barbee had him serenaded.  He gave the musicians
instruction as to the tunes, how they were to be played, in what
succession, at what hour of the night.  The melodists grouped
themselves in the middle of the street, and the Judge came out on a
little veranda under one of his doors and stood there, a great
silver-haired figure, looking down.  The moonlight shone upon him.
He remained for a while motionless, wrapped loosely in what looked
like a white toga.  Then with a slight gesture of the hand full of
mournful dignity he withdrew.

It was during these days that Barbee, who always watched over him
with a most reverent worship and affection, made a discovery.  The
Judge was breaking; that brave life was beginning to sink and
totter toward its fall and dissolution.  There were moments when
the cheerfulness, which had never failed him in the midst of trial,
failed him now when there was none; when the ancient springs of
strength ceased to run and he was discovered to be feeble.
Sometimes he no longer read his morning newspaper; he would sit for
long periods in the front door of his office, looking out into the
street and caring not who passed, not even returning salutations:
what was the use of saluting the human race impartially?  Or going
into the rear office, he would reread pages and chapters of what at
different times in his life had been his favorite books: "Rabelais"
and "The Decameron" when he was young; "Don Quixote" later, and
"Faust"; "Clarissa" and "Tom Jones" now and then; and Shakespeare
always; and those poems of Burns that tell sad truths; and the
account of the man in Thackeray who went through so much that was
large and at the end of life was brought down to so much that was
low.  He seemed more and more to feel the need of grasping through
books the hand of erring humanity.  And from day to day his
conversations with Barbee began to take more the form of counsels
about life and duty, about the ideals and mistakes and virtues and
weaknesses in men.  He had a good deal to say about the ethics of
character in the court room and in the street.

One afternoon Barbee very thoughtfully asked him a question:
"Uncle, I have wanted to know why you always defended and never
prosecuted.  The State is supposed to stand for justice, and the
State is the accuser; in always defending the accused and so in
working against the State, have you not always worked against
justice?"

The Judge sat with his face turned away and spoke as he sat--very
gravely and quietly: "I always defended because the State can
punish only the accused, and the accused is never the only
criminal.  In every crime there are three criminals.  The first
criminal is the Origin of Evil.  I don't know what the Origin of
Evil is, or who he is; but if I could have dragged the Origin of
Evil into the court room, I should have been glad to try to have it
hanged, or have him hanged.  I should have liked to argue the
greatest of all possible criminal cases: the case of the Common
People vs. the Devil--so nominated.  The second criminal is all
that coworked with the accused as involved in his nature, in his
temptation, and in his act.  If I could have arraigned all the
other men and women who have been forerunners or copartners of the
accused as furthering influences in the line of his offence, I
should gladly have prosecuted them for their share of the guilt.
But most of the living who are accessory can no more be discovered
and summoned than can the dead who also were accessory.  You have
left the third criminal; and the State is forced to single him out
and let the full punishment fall upon him alone.  Thus it does not
punish the guilty--it punishes the last of the guilty.  It does not
even punish him for his share of the guilt: it can never know what
that share is.  This is merely a feeling of mine, I do not uphold
it.  Of course I often declined to defend also."

They returned to this subject another afternoon as the two sat
together a few days later:

"There was sometimes another reason why I felt unwilling to
prosecute: I refer to cases in which I might be taking advantage of
the inability of a fellow-creature to establish his own innocence.
I want you to remember this--nothing that I have ever said to you
is of more importance: a good many years ago I was in Paris.  One
afternoon I was walking through the most famous streets in the
company of a French scholar and journalist, a deep student of the
genius of French civilization.  As we passed along, he pointed out
various buildings with reference to the history that had been made
and unmade within them.  At one point he stopped and pointed to a
certain structure with a high wall in front of it and to a hole in
that wall.  'Do you know what that is?' he asked.  He told me.  Any
person can drop a letter into that box, containing any kind of
accusation against any other person; it is received by the
authorities and it becomes their duty to act upon its contents.  Do
you know what that means?  Can you for a moment realize what is
involved?  A man's enemy, even his so-called religious enemy, any
assassin, any slanderer, any liar, even the mercenary who agrees to
hire out his honor itself for the wages of a slave, can deposit an
anonymous accusation against any one whom he hates or wishes to
ruin; and it becomes the duty of the authorities to respect his
communication as much as though it came before a court of highest
equity.  An innocent man may thus become an object of suspicion,
may be watched, followed, arrested and thrown into prison,
disgraced, ruined in his business, ruined in his family; and if in
the end he is released, he is never even told what he has been
charged with, has no power of facing his accuser, of bringing him
to justice, of recovering damages from the State.  While he himself
is kept in close confinement, his enemy may manufacture evidence
which he alone would be able to disprove; and the chance is never
given him to disprove it."

The Judge turned and looked at Barbee in simple silence.

Barbee sprang to his feet: "It is a damned shame!" he cried.  "Damn
the French! damn such a civilization."

"Why damn the French code?  In our own country the same thing goes
on, not as part of our system of jurisprudence, but as part of our
system of--well, we'll say--morals.  In this country any man's
secret personal enemy, his so-called religious enemy for instance,
may fabricate any accusation against him.  He does not drop it into
the dark crevice of a dead wall, but into the blacker hole of a
living ear.  A perfectly innocent man by such anonymous or
untraceable slander can be as grossly injured in reputation, in
business, in his family, out of a prison in this country as in a
prison in France.  Slander may circulate about him and he will
never even know what it is, never be confronted by his accuser,
never have power of redress.

"Now what I wish you to remember is this: that in the very nature
of the case a man is often unable to prove his innocence.  All over
the world useful careers come to nothing and lives are wrecked,
because men may be ignorantly or malignantly accused of things of
which they cannot stand up and prove that they are innocent.  Never
forget that it is impossible for a man finally to demonstrate his
possession of a single great virtue.  A man cannot so prove his
bravery.  He cannot so prove his honesty or his benevolence or his
sobriety or his chastity, or anything else.  As to courage, all
that he can prove is that in a given case or in all tested cases he
was not a coward.  As to honesty, all that he can prove is that in
any alleged instance he was not a thief.  A man cannot even
directly prove his health, mental or physical: all that he can
prove is that he shows no unmistakable evidences of disease.  But
an enemy may secretly circulate the charge that these evidences
exist; and all the evidences to the contrary that the man himself
may furnish will never disperse that impression.  It is so for
every great virtue.  His final possession of a single virtue can be
proved by no man.

"This was another reason why I was sometimes unwilling to prosecute
a fellow-creature; it might be a case in which he alone would
actually know whether he were innocent, but his simple word would
not be taken, and his simple word would be the only proof that he
could give.  I ask you, as you care for my memory, never to take
advantage of the truth that the man before you, as the accused, may
in the nature of things be unable to prove his innocence.  Some day
you are going to be a judge.  Remember you are always a judge; and
remember that a greater Judge than you will ever be gave you the
rule: 'Judge as you would be judged.'  The great root of the matter
is this: that all human conduct is judged; but a very small part of
human conduct is ever brought to trial."

He had many visitors at his office during these idle summer days.
He belonged to a generation of men who loved conversation--when
they conversed.  All the lawyers dropped in.  The report of his
failing strength brought these and many others.

He saw a great deal of Professor Hardage.  One morning as the two
met, he said with more feeling than he usually allowed himself to
show: "Hardage, I am a lonesome old man; don't you want me to come
and see you every Sunday evening?  I always try to get home by ten
o'clock, so that you couldn't get tired of me; and as I never fall
asleep before that time, you wouldn't have to put me to bed.  I
want to hear you talk, Hardage.  My time is limited; and you have
no right to shut out from me so much that you know--your learning,
your wisdom, yourself.  And I know a few things that I have picked
up in a lifetime.  Surely we ought to have something to say to each
other."

But when he came, Professor Hardage was glad to let him find relief
in his monologues--fragments of self-revelation.  This last phase
of their friendship had this added significance: that the Judge no
longer spent his Sunday evenings with Mrs. Conyers.  The last
social link binding him to womankind had been broken.  It was a
final loosening and he felt it, felt the desolation in which it
left him.  His cup of life had indeed been drained, and he turned
away from the dregs.

One afternoon Professor Hardage found him sitting with his familiar
Shakespeare on his knees.  As he looked up, he stretched out his
hand in eager welcome and said: "Listen once more;" and he read the
great kindling speech of King Henry to his English yeomen on the
eve of battle.

He laid the book aside.

"Of course you have noticed how Shakespeare likes this word
'mettle,' how he likes the _thing_.  The word can be seen from afar
over the vast territory of his plays like the same battle-flag set
up in different parts of a field.  It is conspicuous in the heroic
English plays, and in the Roman and in the Greek; it waves alike
over comedy and tragedy as a rallying signal to human nature.  I
imagine I can see his face as he writes of the mettle of
children--the mettle of a boy--the quick mettle of a schoolboy--a
lad of mettle--the mettle of a gentleman--the mettle of the
sex--the mettle of a woman, Lady Macbeth--the mettle of a king--the
mettle of a speech--even the mettle of a rascal--mettle in death.
I love to think of him, a man who had known trouble, writing the
words: 'The insuppressive mettle of our spirits.'

"But this particular phrase--the mettle of the pasture--belongs
rather to our century than to his, more to Darwin than to the
theatre of that time.  What most men are thinking of now, if they
think at all, is of our earth, a small grass-grown planet hung in
space.  And, unaccountably making his appearance on it, is man, a
pasturing animal, deriving his mettle from his pasture.  The old
question comes newly up to us: Is anything ever added to him?  Is
anything ever lost to him?  Evolution--is it anything more than
change?  Civilizations--are they anything but different
arrangements of the elements of man's nature with reference to the
preeminence of some elements and the subsidence of others?

"Suppose you take the great passions: what new one has been added,
what old one has been lost?  Take all the passions you find in
Greek literature, in the Roman.  Have you not seen them reappear in
American life in your own generation?  I believe I have met them in
my office.  You may think I have not seen Paris and Helen, but I
have.  And I have seen Orestes and Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and
Oedipus.  Do you suppose I have not met Tarquin and Virginia and
Lucretia and Shylock--to come down to nearer times--and seen Lear
and studied Macbeth in the flesh?  I knew Juliet once, and behind
locked doors I have talked with Romeo.  They are all here in any
American commonwealth at the close of our century: the great
tragedies are numbered--the oldest are the newest.  So that
sometimes I fix my eyes only on the old.  I see merely the planet
with its middle green belt of pasture and its poles of snow and
ice; and wandering over that green belt for a little while man the
pasturing animal--with the mystery of his ever being there and the
mystery of his dust--with nothing ever added to him, nothing ever
lost out of him--his only power being but the power to vary the
uses of his powers.

"Then there is the other side, the side of the new.  I like to
think of the marvels that the pasturing animal has accomplished in
our own country.  He has had new thoughts, he has done things never
seen elsewhere or before.  But after all the question remains, what
is our characteristic mettle?  What is the mettle of the American?
He has had new ideas; but has he developed a new virtue or carried
any old virtue forward to characteristic development?  Has he added
to the civilizations of Europe the spectacle of a single virtue
transcendently exercised?  We are not braver than other brave
people, we are not more polite, we are not more honest or more
truthful or more sincere or kind.  I wish to God that some virtue,
say the virtue of truthfulness, could be known throughout the world
as the unfailing mark of the American--the mettle of his pasture.
Not to lie in business, not to lie in love, not to lie in
religion--to be honest with one's fellow-men, with women, with
God--suppose the rest of mankind would agree that this virtue
constituted the characteristic of the American!  That would be fame
for ages.

"I believe that we shall sometime become celebrated for preeminence
in some virtue.  Why, I have known young fellows in my office that
I have believed unmatched for some fine trait or noble quality.
You have met them in your classes."

He broke off abruptly and remained silent for a while.

"Have you seen Rowan lately?" he asked, with frank uneasiness: and
receiving the reply which he dreaded, he soon afterward arose and
passed brokenly down the street.

For some weeks now he had been missing Rowan; and this was the
second cause of his restlessness and increasing loneliness.  The
failure of Rowan's love affair was a blow to him: it had so linked
him to the life of the young--was the last link.  And since then he
had looked for Rowan in vain; he had waited for him of mornings at
his office, had searched for him on the streets, scanning all young
men on horseback or in buggies; had tried to find him in the
library, at the livery stable, at the bank where he was a depositor
and director.  There was no ground for actual uneasiness concerning
Rowan's health, for Rowan's neighbors assured him in response to
his inquiries that he was well and at work on the farm.

"If he is in trouble, why does he not come and tell me?  Am I not
worth coming to see?  Has he not yet understood what he is to me?
But how can he know, how can the young ever know how the old love
them?  And the old are too proud to tell."  He wrote letters and
tore them up.

As we stand on the rear platform of a train and see the mountains
away from which we are rushing rise and impend as if to overwhelm
us, so in moving farther from his past very rapidly now, it seemed
to follow him as a landscape growing always nearer and clearer.
His mind dwelt more on the years when hatred had so ruined him,
costing him the only woman he had ever asked to be his wife,
costing him a fuller life, greater honors, children to leave behind.

He was sitting alone in his rear office the middle of one
afternoon, alone among his books.  He had outspread before him
several that are full of youth.  Barbee was away, the street was
very quiet.  No one dropped in--perhaps all were tired of hearing
him talk.  It was not yet the hour for Professor Hardage to walk
in.  A watering-cart creaked slowly past the door and the gush of
the drops of water sounded like a shower and the smell of the dust
was strong.  Far away in some direction were heard the cries of
school children at play in the street.  A bell was tolling; a green
fly, entering through the rear door, sang loud on the dusty
window-panes and then flew out and alighted on a plant of
nightshade springing up rank at the doorstep.

He was not reading and his thoughts were the same old thoughts.  At
length on the quiet air, coming nearer, were heard the easy roll of
wheels and the slow measured step of carriage horses.  The sound
caught his ear and he listened with quick eagerness.  Then he rose
trembling and waited.  The carriage had stopped at the door; a
moment later there was a soft low knock on the lintel and Mrs.
Meredith entered.  He met her but she said: "May I go in there?"
and entered the private office.

She brought with her such grace and sweetness of full womanly years
that as she seated herself opposite him and lifted her veil away
from the purity of her face, it was like the revelation of a shrine
and the office became as a place of worship.  She lifted the veil
from the dignity and seclusion of her life.  She did not speak at
once but looked about her.  Many years had passed since she had
entered that office, for it had long ago seemed best to each of
them that they should never meet.  He had gone back to his seat at
the desk with the opened books lying about him as though he had
been searching one after another for the lost fountain of youth.
He sat there looking at her, his white hair falling over his
leonine head and neck, over his clear mournful eyes.  The sweetness
of his face, the kindness of it, the shy, embarrassed, almost
guilty look on it from the old pain of being misunderstood--the
terrible pathos of it all, she saw these; but whatever her
emotions, she was not a woman to betray them at such a moment, in
such a place.

"I do not come on business," she said.  "All the business seems to
have been attended to; life seems very easy, too easy: I have so
little to do.  But I am here, Ravenel, and I suppose I must try to
say what brought me."

She waited for some time, unable to speak.

"Ravenel," she said at length, "I cannot go on any longer without
telling you that my great sorrow in life has been the wrong I did
you."

He closed his eyes quickly and stretched out his hand against her,
as though to shut out the vision of things that rose before him--as
though to stop words that would unman him.

"But I was a young girl!  And what does a young girl understand
about her duty in things like that?  I know it changed your whole
life; you will never know what it has meant in mine."

"Caroline," he said, and he looked at her with brimming eyes, "if
you had married me, I'd have been a great man.  I was not great
enough to be great without you.  The single road led the wrong
way--to the wrong things!"

"I know," she said, "I know it all.  And I know that tears do not
efface mistakes, and that our prayers do not atone for our wrongs."

She suddenly dropped her veil and rose,

"Do not come out to help me," she said as he struggled up also.

He did not wish to go, and he held out his hand and she folded her
soft pure hands about it; then her large noble figure moved to the
side of his and through her veil--her love and sorrow hidden from
him--she lifted her face and kissed him.



V

And during these days when Judge Morris was speaking his mind about
old tragedies that never change, and new virtues--about scandal and
guilt and innocence--it was during these days that the scandal
started and spread and did its work on the boy he loved--and no one
had told him.

The summer was drawing to an end.  During the last days of it Kate
wrote to Isabel:

"I could not have believed, dearest friend, that so long a time
would pass without my writing.  Since you went away it has been
eternity.  And many things have occurred which no one foresaw or
imagined.  I cannot tell you how often I have resisted the impulse
to write.  Perhaps I should resist now; but there are some matters
which you ought to understand; and I do not believe that any one
else has told you or will tell you.  If I, your closest friend,
have shrunk, how could any one else be expected to perform the duty?

"A week or two after you left I understood why you went away
mysteriously, and why during that last visit to me you were unlike
yourself.  I did not know then that your gayety was assumed, and
that you were broken-hearted beneath your brave disguises.  But I
remember your saying that some day I should know.  The whole truth
has come out as to why you broke your engagement with Rowan, and
why you left home.  You can form no idea what a sensation the news
produced.  For a while nothing else was talked of, and I am glad
for your sake that you were not here.

"I say the truth came out; but even now the town is full of
different stories, and different people believe different things.
But every friend of yours feels perfectly sure that Rowan was
unworthy of you, and that you did right in discarding him.  It is
safe to say that he has few friends left among yours.  He seldom
comes to town, and I hear that he works on the farm like a common
hand as he should.  One day not long after you left I met him on
the street.  He was coming straight up to speak to me as usual.
But I had the pleasure of staring him in the eyes and of walking
deliberately past him as though he were a stranger--except that I
gave him one explaining look.  I shall never speak to him.

"His mother has the greatest sympathy of every one.  They say that
no one has told her the truth: how could any one tell her such
things about her own son?  Of course she must know that you dropped
him and that we have all dropped him.  They say that she is greatly
saddened and that her health seems to be giving way.

"I do not know whether you have heard the other sensation regarding
the Meredith family.  You refused Rowan; and now Dent is going to
marry a common girl in the neighborhood.  Of course Dent Meredith
was always noted for being a quiet little bookworm, near-sighted,
and without any knowledge of girls.  So it doesn't seem very
unnatural for him to have collected the first specimen that he came
across as he walked about over the country.  This marriage which is
to take place in the autumn is the second shock to his mother.

"You will want to hear of other people.  And this reminds me that a
few of your friends have turned against you and insist that these
stories about Rowan are false, and even accuse you of starting
them.  This brings me to Marguerite.

"Soon after her ball she had typhoid fever.  In her delirium of
whom do you suppose she incessantly and pitifully talked?  Every
one had supposed that she and Barbee were sweethearts--and had been
for years.  But Barbee's name was never on her lips.  It was all
Rowan, Rowan, Rowan.  Poor child, she chided him for being so cold
to her; and she talked to him about the river of life and about his
starting on the long voyage from the house of his fathers; and
begged to be taken with him, and said that in their family the
women never loved but once.  When she grew convalescent, there was
a consultation of the grandmother and the mother and the doctors:
one passion now seemed to constitute all that was left of
Marguerite's life; and that was like a flame burning her strength
away.

"They did as the doctor said had to be done.  Mrs. Meredith had
been very kind during her illness, had often been to the house.
They kept from her of course all knowledge of what Marguerite had
disclosed in her delirium.  So when Marguerite by imperceptible
degrees grew stronger, Mrs. Meredith begged that she might be moved
out to the country for the change and the coolness and the quiet;
and the doctors availed themselves of this plan as a solution of
their difficulty--to lessen Marguerite's consuming desire by
gratifying it.  So she and her mother went out to the Merediths'.
The change proved beneficial.  I have not been driving myself,
although the summer has been so long and hot; and during the
afternoons I have so longed to see the cool green lanes with the
sun setting over the fields.  But of course people drive a great
deal and they often meet Mrs. Meredith with Marguerite in the
carriage beside her.  At first it was Marguerite's mother and
Marguerite.  Then it was Mrs. Meredith and Marguerite; and now it
is Rowan and Marguerite.  They drive alone and she sits with her
face turned toward him--in open idolatry.  She is to stay out there
until she is quite well.  How curiously things work around!  If he
ever proposes, scandal will make no difference to Marguerite.

"How my letter wanders!  But so do my thoughts wander.  If you only
knew, while I write these things, how I am really thinking of other
things.  But I must go on in my round-about way.  What I started
out to say was that when the scandals, I mean the truth, spread
over the town about Rowan, the three Marguerites stood by him.  You
could never have believed that the child had such fire and strength
and devotion in her nature.  I called on them one day and was
coldly treated simply because I am your closest friend.  Marguerite
pointedly expressed her opinion of a woman who deserts a man
because he has his faults.  Think of this child's sitting in moral
condemnation upon you!

"The Hardages also--of course you have no stancher friends than
they are--have stood up stubbornly for Rowan.  Professor Hardage
became very active in trying to bring the truth out of what he
believes to be gossip and misunderstanding.  And Miss Anna has also
remained loyal to him, and in her sunny, common-sense way flouts
the idea of there being any truth in these reports.

"I must not forget to tell you that Judge Morris now spends his
Sunday evenings with Professor Hardage.  No one has told him: they
have spared him.  Of course every one knows that he was once
engaged to Rowan's mother and that scandal broke the engagement and
separated them for life.  Only in his case it was long afterward
found out that the tales were not true.

"I have forgotten Barbee.  He and Marguerite had quarrelled before
her illness--no one knows why, unless she was already under the
influence of her fatal infatuation for Rowan.  Barbee has gone to
work.  A few weeks ago he won his first serious case in court and
attracted attention.  They say his speech was so full of dignity
and unnecessary rage that some one declared he was simply trying to
recover his self-esteem for Marguerite's having called him trivial
and not yet altogether grown up.

"Of course you must have had letters of your own, telling you of
the arrival of the Fieldings--Victor's mother and sisters; and the
house is continually gay with suppers and parties.

"How my letter wanders!  It is a sick letter, Isabel, a dead
letter.  I must not close without going back to the Merediths once
more.  People have been driving out to see the little farm and the
curious little house of Dent Meredith's bride elect--a girl called
Pansy Something.  It lies near enough to the turnpike to be in full
view--too full view.  They say it is like a poultry farm and that
the bride is a kind of American goose girl: it will be a marriage
between geology and the geese.  The geese will have the best of it.

"Dearest friend, what shall I tell you of my own life--of my
nights, of the mornings when I wake, of these long, lonesome,
summer afternoons?  Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing!  I should
rather write to you how, my thoughts go back to the years of our
girlhood together when we were so happy, Isabel, so happy, so
happy!  What ideals we formed as to our marriages and our futures!

"KATE.

"P.S.--I meant to tell you that of course I shall do everything in
my power to break up the old friendship between George and Rowan.
Indeed, I have already done it."



VI

This letter brought Isabel home at once through three days of
continuous travel.  From the station she had herself driven
straight to Mrs. Osborn's house, and she held the letter in her
hand as she went.

Her visit lasted for some time and it was not pleasant.  When Mrs.
Osborn hastened down, surprised at Isabel's return and prepared to
greet her with the old warmth, her greeting was repelled and she
herself recoiled, hurt and disposed to demand an explanation.

"Isabel," she said reproachfully, "is this the way you come back to
me?"

Isabel did not heed but spoke: "As soon as I received this letter,
I determined to come home.  I wished to know at once what these
things are that are being said about Rowan.  What are they?"

Mrs. Osborn hesitated: "I should rather not tell you."

"But you must tell me: my name has been brought into this, and I
must know."

While she listened her eyes flashed and when she spoke her voice
trembled with excitement and anger.  "These things are not true,"
she said.  "Only Rowan and I know what passed between us.  I told
no one, he told no one, and it is no one's right to know.  A great
wrong has been done him and a great wrong has been done me; and I
shall stay here until these wrongs are righted."

"And is it your feeling that you must begin with me?" said Mrs.
Osborn, bitterly.

"Yes, Kate; you should not have believed these things.  You
remember our once saying to each other that we would try never to
believe slander or speak slander or think slander?  It is unworthy
of you to have done so now."

"Do you realize to whom you are speaking, and that what I have done
has been through friendship for you?"

Isabel shook her head resolvedly.  "Your friendship for me cannot
exact of you that you should be untrue to yourself and false to
others.  You say that you refuse to speak to Rowan on the street.
You say that you have broken up the friendship between Mr. Osborn
and him.  Rowan is the truest friend Mr. Osborn has ever had; you
know this.  But in breaking off that friendship, you have done more
than you have realized: you have ended my friendship with you."

"And this is gratitude for my devotion to you and my willingness to
fight your battles!" said Mrs. Osborn, rising.

"You cannot fight my battles without fighting Rowan's.  My wish to
marry him or not to marry him is one thing; my willingness to see
him ruined is another."

Isabel drove home.  She rang the bell as though she were a
stranger.  When her maid met her at the door, overjoyed at her
return, she asked for her grandmother and passed at once into her
parlors.  As she did so, Mrs. Conyers came through the hall,
dressed to go out.  At the sound of Isabel's voice, she, who having
once taken hold of a thing never let it go, dropped her parasol;
and as she stooped to pick it up, the blood rushed to her face.

"I wish to speak to you," said Isabel, coming quickly out into the
hall as though to prevent her grandmother's exit.  Her voice was
low and full of shame and indignation.

"I am at your service for a little while," said Mrs. Conyers,
carelessly; "later I am compelled to go out."  She entered the
parlors, followed by Isabel, and, seating herself in the nearest
chair, finished buttoning her glove.

Isabel sat silent a moment, shocked by her reception.  She had not
realized that she was no longer the idol of that household and of
its central mind; and we are all loath to give up faith in our
being loved still, where we have been loved ever.  She was not
aware that since she had left home she had been disinherited.  She
would not have cared had she known; but she was now facing what was
involved in the disinheritance--dislike; and in the beginning of
dislike there was the ending of the old awe with which the
grandmother had once regarded the grandchild.

But she came quickly back to the grave matter uppermost in her
mind.  "Grandmother," she said, "I received a few days ago a letter
from Kate Osborn.  In it she told me that there were stories in
circulation about Rowan.  I have come home to find out what these
stories are.  On the way from the station I stopped at Mrs.
Osborn's, and she told me.  Grandmother, this is your work."

Mrs. Conyers pushed down the thumb of her glove.

"Have I denied it?  But why do you attempt to deny that it is also
your work?"

Isabel sat regarding her with speechless, deepening horror.  She
was not prepared for this revelation.  Mrs. Conyers did not wait,
but pressed on with a certain debonair enjoyment of her advantage.

"You refused to recognize my right to understand a matter that
affected me and affected other members of the family as well as
yourself.  You showed no regard for the love I had cherished for
you many a year.  You put me aside as though I had no claim upon
your confidence--I believe you said I was not worthy of it; but my
memory is failing--perhaps I wrong you."

"It is _true_!" said Isabel, with triumphant joy in reaffirming it
on present grounds.  "It is _true_!"

"Very well," said Mrs. Conyers, "we shall let that pass.  It was of
consequence then; it is of no consequence now: these little
personal matters are very trivial.  But there was a serious matter
that you left on my hands; the world always demands an explanation
of what it is compelled to see and cannot understand.   If no
explanation is given, it creates an explanation.  It was my duty to
see that it did not create an explanation in this case.  Whatever
it may have been that took place between you and Rowan, I did not
intend that the responsibility should rest upon you, even though
you may have been willing that it should rest there.  You discarded
Rowan; I was compelled to prevent people from thinking that Rowan
discarded you.  Your reason for discarding him you refused to
confide to me; I was compelled therefore to decide for myself what
it probably was.  Ordinarily when a man is dropped by a girl under
such circumstances, it is for this," she tapped the tips of her
fingers one by one as she went on, "or for this, or for this, or
for this; you can supply the omitted words--nearly any one can--the
world always does.  You see, it becomes interesting.  As I had not
your authority for stating which one of these was the real reason,
I was compelled to leave people at liberty to choose for
themselves.  I could only say that I myself did not know; but that
certainly it was for some one of these reasons, or two of them, or
for all of them."

"You have tried to ruin him!" Isabel cried, white with suffering.

"On the contrary, I received my whole idea of this from you.
Nothing that I said to others about him was quite so bad as what
you said to me; for you knew the real reason of your discarding
him, and the reason was so bad--or so good--that you could not even
confide it to me, your natural confidant.  You remember saying that
we must drop him from the list of our acquaintances, must not
receive him at the house, or recognize him in society, or speak, to
him in public.  I protested that this would be very unjust to him,
and that he might ask me at least the grounds for so insulting him;
you assured me that he would never dare ask.  And now you affect to
be displeased with me for believing what you said, and trying to
defend you from criticism, and trying to protect the good name of
the family."

"Ah," cried Isabel, "you can give fair reasons for foul deeds.  You
always could.  We often do, we women.  The blacker our conduct, the
better the names with which we cover it.  If you would only glory
openly in what you have done and stand by it!  Not a word of what
you have said is true, as you have said it.  When I left home not a
human being but yourself knew that there had been trouble between
Rowan and me.  It need never have become public, had you let the
matter be as I asked you to do, and as you solemnly promised that
you would.  It is you who have deliberately made the trouble and
scattered the gossip and spread the scandal.  Why do you not avow
that your motive was revenge, and that your passion was not
justice, but malice.  Ah, you are too deep a woman to try to seem
so shallow!"

"Can I be of any further service to you?" said Mrs. Conyers with
perfect politeness, rising.  "I am sorry that the hour of my
engagement has come.  Are you to be in town long?"

"I shall be here until I have undone what you have done," cried
Isabel, rising also and shaking with rage.  "The decencies of life
compel me to shield you still, and for that reason I shall stay in
this house.  I am not obliged to ask this as a privilege; it is my
right."

"Then I shall have the pleasure of seeing you often."

Isabel went up to her room as usual and summoned her maid, and
ordered her carriage to be ready in half an hour.

Half an hour later she came down and drove to the Hardages'.  She
showed no pleasure in seeing him again, and he no surprise in
seeing her.

"I have been expecting you," he said; "I thought you would be
brought back by all this."

"Then you have heard what they are saying about Rowan?"

"I suppose we have all heard," he replied, looking at her
sorrowfully.

"You have not believed these things?"

"I have denied them as far as I could.  I should have denied that
anything had occurred; but you remember I could not do that after
what you told me.  You said something had occurred."

"Yes, I know," she said.  "But you now have my authority at least
to say that these things are not true.  What I planned for the best
has been misused and turned against him and against me.  Have you
seen him?"

"He has been in town, but I have not seen him."

"Then you must see him at once.  Tell me one thing: have you heard
it said that I am responsible for the circulation of these stories?"

"Yes."

"Do you suppose he has heard that?  And could he believe it?  Yet
might he not believe it?  But how could he, how could he!"

"You must come here and stay with us.  Anna will want you."   He
could not tell her his reason for understanding that she would not
wish to stay at home.

"No, I should like to come; but it is better for me to stay at
home.  But I wish Rowan to come to see me here.  Judge Morris--has
he done nothing?"

"He does not know.  No one has told him."

Her expression showed that she did not understand.

"Years ago, when he was about Rowan's age, scandals like these were
circulated about him.  We know how much his life is wrapped up In
Rowan.  He has not been well this summer: we spared him."

"But you must tell him at once.  Say that I beg him to write to
Rowan to come to see him.  I want Rowan to tell him everything--and
to tell you everything."


All the next day Judge Morris stayed in his rooms.  The end of life
seemed suddenly to have been bent around until it touched the
beginning.  At last he understood.

"It was _she_ then," he said.  "I always suspected her; but I had
no proof of her guilt; and if she had not been guilty, she could
never have proved her innocence.  And now for years she has smiled
at me, clasped my hands, whispered into my ear, laughed in my eyes,
seemed to be everything to me that was true.  Well, she has been
everything that is false.  And now she has fallen upon the son of
the woman whom she tore from me.  And the vultures of scandal are
tearing at his heart.  And he will never be able to prove his
innocence!"

He stayed in his rooms all that day.  Rowan, in answer to his
summons, had said that he should come about the middle of the
afternoon; and it was near the middle of the afternoon now.  As he
counted the minutes, Judge Morris was unable to shut out from his
mind the gloomier possibilities of the case.

"There is some truth behind all this," he said.  "She broke her
engagement with him,--at least, she severed all relations with him;
and she would not do that without grave reason."  He was compelled
to believe that she must have learned from Rowan himself the things
that had compelled her painful course.  Why had Rowan never
confided these things to him?  His mind, while remaining the mind
of a friend, almost the mind of a father toward a son, became also
the mind of a lawyer, a criminal lawyer, with the old, fixed, human
bloodhound passion for the scent of crime and the footsteps of
guilt.

It was with both attitudes that he himself answered Rowan's ring;
he opened the door half warmly and half coldly.  In former years
when working up his great cases involving life and death, it had
been an occasional custom of his to receive his clients, if they
were socially his friends, not in his private office, but in his
rooms; it was part of his nature to show them at such crises his
unshaken trust in their characters.  He received Rowan in his rooms
now.  It was a clear day; the rooms had large windows; and the
light streaming in took from them all the comfort which they
acquired under gaslight: the carpets were faded, the rugs were worn
out and lay in the wrong places.  It was seen to be a desolate
place for a desolated life.

"How are you, Rowan?" he said, speaking as though he had seen him
the day before, and taking no note of changes in his appearance.
Without further words he led the way into his sitting room and
seated himself in his leather chair.

"Will you smoke?"

They had often smoked as they sat thus when business was before
them, or if no business, questions to be intimately discussed about
life and character and good and bad.  Rowan did not heed the
invitation, and the Judge lighted a cigar for himself.  He was a
long time in lighting it, and burned two or three matches at the
end of it after it was lighted, keeping a cloud of smoke before his
eyes and keeping his eyes closed.  When the smoke rose and he lay
back in his chair, he looked across at the young man with the eyes
of an old lawyer who had drawn the truth out of the breast of many
a criminal by no other command than their manly light.  Rowan sat
before him without an effort at composure.  There was something
about him that suggested a young officer out of uniform, come home
with a browned face to try to get himself court-martialled.  He
spoke first:

"I have had Isabel's letter, and I have come to tell you."

"I need not say to you, tell me the whole truth."

"No, you need not say that to me.  I should have told you long ago,
if it had been a duty.  But it was not a duty.  You had not the
right to know; there was no reason why you should know.  This was a
matter which concerned only the woman whom I was to marry."  His
manner had the firm and quiet courtesy that was his birthright.

A little after dark, Rowan emerged into the street.  His carriage
was waiting for him and he entered it and went home.  Some minutes
later, Judge Morris came down and walked to the Hardages'.  He rang
and asked for Professor Hardage and waited for him on the
door-step.  When Professor Hardage appeared, he said to him very
solemnly: "Get your hat."

The two men walked away, the Judge directing their course toward
the edge of the town.  "Let us get to a quiet place," he said,
"where we can talk without being overheard."  It was a pleasant
summer night and the moon was shining, and they stepped off the
sidewalk and took the middle of the pike.  The Judge spoke at last,
looking straight ahead.

"He had a child, and when he asked Isabel to marry him he told her."

They walked on for a while without anything further being said.
When Professor Hardage spoke, his tone was reflective:

"It was this that made it impossible for her to marry him.  Her
love for him was everything to her; he destroyed himself for her
when he destroyed himself as an ideal.  Did he tell you the story?"

"Told everything."

By and by the Judge resumed: "It was a student's love affair, and
he would have married her.  She said that if she married him, there
would never be any happiness for her in life; she was not in his
social class, and, moreover, their marriage would never be
understood as anything but a refuge from their shame, and neither
of them would be able to deny this.  She disappeared sometime after
the birth of the child.  More than a year later, maybe it was two
years, he received a letter from her stating that she was married
to a man in her own class and that her husband suspected nothing,
and that she expected to live a faithful wife to him and be the
mother of his children.  The child had been adopted, the traces of
its parentage had been wiped out, those who had adopted it could do
more for its life and honor than he could.  She begged him not to
try to find her or ruin her by communicating the past to her
husband.  That's about all."

"The old tragedy--old except to them."

"Old enough.  Were we not speaking the other day of how the old
tragedies are the new ones?  I get something new out of this; you
get the old.  What strikes me about it is that the man has declined
to shirk--that he has felt called upon not to injure any other life
by his silence.  I wish I had a right to call it the mettle of a
young American, his truthfulness.  As he put the case to me, what
he got out of it was this: Here was a girl deceiving her husband
about her past--otherwise he would never have married her.  As the
world values such things, what it expected of Rowan was that he
should go off and marry a girl and conceal his past.  He said that
he would not lie to a classmate in college, he would not cheat a
professor; was it any better silently to lie to and cheat the woman
that he loved and expected to make the mother of his children?
Whatever he might have done with any one else, there was something
in the nature of the girl whom he did come to love that made it
impossible: she drove untruthfulness out of him as health drives
away disease.  He saved his honor with her, but he lost her."

"She saved her honor through giving up him.  But it is high ground,
it is a sad hilltop, that each has climbed to."

"Hardage, we can climb so high that we freeze."

They turned back.  The Judge spoke again with a certain sad pride:

"I like their mettle, it is Shakespearean mettle, it is American
mettle.  We lie in business, and we lie in religion, and we lie to
women.  Perhaps if a man stopped lying to a woman, by and by he
might begin to stop lying for money, and at last stop lying with
his Maker.  But this boy, what can you and I do for him?  We can
never tell the truth about this; and as we can try to clear him,
unless we ourselves lie, we shall leave him the victim of a flock
of lies."

Isabel remained at home a week.

During her first meeting with Rowan, she effaced all evidences that
there had ever been a love affair between them.  They resumed their
social relations temporarily and for a definite purpose--this was
what she made him understand at the outset and to the end.  All
that she said to him, all that she did, had no further significance
than her general interest in his welfare and her determination to
silence the scandal for which she herself was in a way innocently
responsible.  Their old life without reference to it was assumed to
be ended; and she put all her interest into what she assumed to be
his new life; this she spoke of as a certainty, keeping herself out
of it as related to it in any way.  She forced him to talk about
his work, his plans, his ambitions; made him feel always not only
that she did not wish to see him suffer, but that she expected to
see him succeed.

They were seen walking together and driving together.  He demurred,
but she insisted.  "I will not accept such a sacrifice," he said,
but she overruled him by her reply: "It is not a sacrifice; it is a
vindication of myself, that you cannot oppose."  But he knew that
there was more in it than what she called vindication of herself;
there was the fighting friendship of a comrade.

During these days, Isabel met cold faces.  She found herself a
fresh target for criticism, a further source of misunderstanding.
And there was fresh suffering, too, which no one could have
foreseen.  Late one twilight when she and Rowan were driving, they
passed Marguerite driving also, she being still a guest at the
Merediths', and getting well.  Each carriage was driving slowly,
and the road was not wide, and the wheels almost locked, and there
was time enough for everything to be seen.  And the next day,
Marguerite went home from the Merediths' and passed into a second
long illness.

The day came for Isabel to leave--she was going away to remain a
long time, a year, two years.  They had had their last drive and
twilight was falling when they returned to the Hardages'.  She was
standing on the steps as she gave him both her hands.

"Good-by," she said, in the voice of one who had finished her work.
"I hardly know what to say--I have said everything.  Perhaps I
ought to tell you my last feeling is, that you will make life a
success, that nothing will pull you down.  I suppose that the life
of each of us, if it is worth while, is not made up of one great
effort and of one failure or of one success, but of many efforts,
many failures, partial successes.  But I am afraid we all try at
first to realize our dreams.  Good-by!"

"Marry me," he said, tightening his grasp on her hands and speaking
as though he had the right.

She stepped quickly back from him.  She felt a shock, a delicate
wound, and she said with a proud tear: "I did not think you would
so misjudge me in all that I have been trying to do."

She went quickly in.



VII

It was a morning in the middle of October when Dent and Pansy were
married.

The night before had been cool and clear after a rain and a
long-speared frost had fallen.  Even before the sun lifted itself
above the white land, a full red rose of the sky behind the rotting
barn, those early abroad foresaw what the day would be.  Nature had
taken personal interest in this union of her two children, who
worshipped her in their work and guarded her laws in their
characters, and had arranged that she herself should be present in
bridal livery.

The two prim little evergreens which grew one on each side of the
door-step waited at respectful attention like heavily powdered
festal lackeys.  The scraggy aged cedars of the yard stood about in
green velvet and brocade incrusted with gems.  The doorsteps
themselves were softly piled with the white flowers of the frost,
and the bricks of the pavement strewn with multitudinous shells and
stars of dew and air.  Every poor stub of grass, so economically
cropped by the geese, wore something to make it shine.  In the back
yard a clothes-line stretched between a damson and a peach tree,
and on it hung forgotten some of Pansy's father's underclothes; but
Nature did what she could to make the toiler's raiment look like
diamonded banners, flung bravely to the breeze in honor of his new
son-in-law.  Everything--the duck troughs, the roof of the stable,
the cart shafts, the dry-goods box used as a kennel--had ugliness
hidden away under that prodigal revelling ermine of decoration.
The sun itself had not long risen before Nature even drew over that
a bridal veil of silver mist, so that the whole earth was left
wrapped in whiteness that became holiness.

Pansy had said that she desired a quiet wedding, so that she
herself had shut up the ducks that they might not get to Mrs.
Meredith.  And then she had made the rounds and fed everything; and
now a certain lethargy and stupor of food quieted all creatures and
gave to the valley the dignity of a vocal solitude.

The botanist bride was not in the least abashed during the
ceremony.  Nor proud: Mrs. Meredith more gratefully noticed this.
And she watched closely and discovered with relief that Pansy did
not once glance at her with uneasiness or for approval.  The mother
looked at Dent with eyes growing dim.  "She will never seem to be
the wife of my son," she said, "but she will make her children look
like his children."

And so it was all over and they were gone--slipped away through the
hiding white mists without a doubt of themselves, without a doubt
of each other, mating as naturally as the wild creatures who never
know the problems of human selection, or the problems that
civilization leaves to be settled after selection has been made.

Mrs. Meredith and Rowan and the clergyman were left with the father
and the children, and with an unexampled wedding collation--one of
Pansy's underived masterpieces.  The clergyman frightened the
younger children; they had never seen his like either with respect
to his professional robes or his superhuman clerical voice--their
imaginations balancing unsteadily between the impossibility of his
being a man in a nightgown and the impossibility of his being a
woman with a mustache.

After his departure their fright and apprehensions settled on Mrs.
Meredith.  They ranged themselves on chairs side by side against a
wall, and sat confronting her like a class in the public school
fated to be examined in deadly branches.  None moved except when
she spoke, and then all writhed together but each in a different
way; the most comforting word from her produced a family spasm with
individual proclivities.   Rowan tried to talk with the father
about crops: they were frankly embarrassed.  What can a young man
with two thousand acres of the best land say to an old man with
fifty of the poorest?

The mother and son drove home in silence.  She drew one of his
hands into her lap and held it with close pressure.  They did not
look at each other.

As the carriage rolled easily over the curved driveway, through the
noble forest trees they caught glimpses of the house now standing
clear in afternoon sunshine.  Each had the same thought of how
empty it waited there without Dent--henceforth less than a son, yet
how much more; more than brother, but how much less.  How a brief
ceremony can bind separated lives and tear bound ones apart!

"Rowan," she said, as they walked slowly from the carriage to the
porch, she having clasped his arm more intimately, "there is
something I have wanted to do and have been trying to do for a long
time.  It must not be put off any longer.  We must go over the
house this afternoon.  There are a great many things that I wish to
show you and speak to you about--things that have to be divided
between you and Dent."

"Not to-day! not to-day!" he cried, turning to her with quick
appeal.  But she shook her head slowly, with brave cheerfulness.

"Yes; to-day.  Now; and then we shall be over with it.  Wait for me
here."  She passed down the long hall to her bedroom, and as she
disappeared he rushed into the parlors and threw himself on a couch
with his hands before his face; then he sprang up and came out into
the hall again and waited with a quiet face.

When she returned, smiling, she brought with her a large bunch of
keys, and she took his arm dependently as they went up the wide
staircase.  She led him to the upper bedrooms first--in earlier
years so crowded and gay with guests, but unused during later ones.
The shutters were closed, and the afternoon sun shot yellow shafts
against floors and walls.  There was a perfume of lavender, of rose
leaves.

"Somewhere in one of these closets there is a roll of linen."  She
opened one after another, looking into each.  "No; it is not here.
Then it must be in there.  Yes; here it is.  This linen was spun
and woven from flax grown on your great-great-grandfather's land.
Look at it!  It is beautifully made.  Each generation of the family
has inherited part and left the rest for generations yet to come.
Half of it is yours, half is Dent's.  When it has been divided
until there is no longer enough to divide, that will be the last of
the home-made linen of the old time.  It was a good time, Rowan; it
produced masterful men and masterful women, not mannish women.
Perhaps the golden age of our nation will some day prove to have
been the period of the home-spun Americans."

As they passed on she spoke to him with an increasing, almost
unnatural gayety.  He had a new appreciation of what her charm must
have been when she was a girl.  The rooms were full of memories to
her; many of the articles that she caressed with her fingers, and
lingered over with reluctant eyes, connected themselves with days
and nights of revelry and the joy of living; also with prides and
deeds which ennobled her recollection.

"You and Dent know that your father divided equally all that he
had.  But everything in the house is mine, and I have made no will
and shall not make any.  What is mine belongs to you two alike.
Still, I have made a list of things that I think he would rather
have, and a list of things for you--merely because I wish to give
something to each of you directly."

In a room on a lower floor she unlocked a closet, the walls of
which were lined with shelves.  She peeped in; then she withdrew
her head and started to lock the door again; but she changed her
mind and laughed.

"Do you know what these things are?" She touched a large box, and
he carried it over to the bed and she lifted the top off, exposing
the contents.  "Did you ever see anything so _black_?   This was
the clerical robe in which one of your ancestors used to read his
sermons.  He is the one who wrote the treatise on 'God Properly and
Unproperly Understood.'  He was the great seminarian in your
father's family--the portrait in the hall, you know.  I shall not
decide whether you or Dent must inherit this; decide for
yourselves; I imagine you will end it in the quarrel.  How black it
is, and what black sermons flew out of it--ravens, instead of white
doves, of the Holy Spirit.  He was the friend of Jonathan Edwards."
She made a wry face as he put the box back into the closet; and she
laughed again as she locked it in.

"Here are some things from my side of the family."  And she drew
open a long drawer and spoke with proud reticence.  They stood
looking down at part of the uniform of an officer of the
Revolution.  She lifted one corner of it and disclosed a sword
beneath.  She lifted another corner of the coat and exposed a roll
of parchment.  "I suppose I should have had this parchment framed
and hung up downstairs, so that it would be the first thing seen by
any one entering the front door; and this sword should have been
suspended over the fireplace, or have been exposed under a glass
case in the parlors; and the uniform should have been fitted on a
tailor's manikin; and we should have lectured to our guests on our
worship of our ancestors--in the new American way, in the
Chino-American way.  But I'm afraid we go to the other extreme,
Rowan; perhaps we are proud of the fact that we are not boastful.
Instead of concerning ourselves with those who shed glory on us, we
have concerned ourselves with the question whether we are shedding
glory on them.  Still, I wonder whether our ancestors may not
possibly be offended that we say so little about them!"

She led him up and down halls and from floor to floor.

"Of course you know this room--the nursery.  Here is where you
began to be a bad boy; and you began before you can remember.  Did
you never see these things before?  They were your first
soldiers--I have left them to Dent.  And here are some of Dent's
things that I have left to you.  For one thing, his castanets.  His
father and I never knew why he cried for castanets.  He said that
Dent by all the laws of spiritual inheritance from his side should
be wanting the timbrel and harp--Biblical influence, you
understand; but that my influence interfered and turned timbrel and
harp into castanets.  Do you remember the day when you ran away
with Dent and took him to a prize fight?  After that you wanted
boxing-gloves, and Dent was crazy for a sponge.  You fought him,
and he sponged you.  Here is the sponge; I do not know where the
gloves are.  And here are some things that belong to both of you;
they are mine; they go with me."  She laid her hand on a little box
wrapped and tied, then quickly shut the closet.

In a room especially fragrant with lavender she opened a press in
the wall and turned her face away from him for a moment.

"This is my bridal dress.  This was my bridal veil; it has been the
bridal veil of girls in my family for a good many generations.
These were my slippers; you see I had a large foot; but it was well
shaped--it was a woman's foot.  That was my vanity--not to have a
little foot.  I leave these things to you both.  I hope each of you
may have a daughter to wear the dress and the veil."  For the first
time she dashed some tears from her eyes.  "I look to my sons for
sons and daughters."

It was near sunset when they stood again at the foot of the
staircase.  She was white and tired, but her spirit refused to be
conquered.

"I think I shall He down now," she said, "so I shall say good night
to you here, Rowan.  Fix the tray for me yourself, pour me out some
tea, and butter me a roll."  They stood looking into each other's
eyes.  She saw things in his which caused her suddenly to draw his
forehead over and press her lips to one and then to the other,
again and again.

The sun streamed through the windows, level and red, lighting up
the darkened hall, lighting up the head and shoulders of his mother.

An hour later he sat at the head of his table alone--a table
arranged for two instead of three.  At the back of his chair waited
the aged servitor of the household, gray-haired, discreet, knowing
many things about earlier days on which rested the seal of
incorruptible silence.  A younger servant performed the duties.

He sat at the head of his table and excused the absence of his
mother and forced himself with the pride and dignity of his race to
give no sign of what had passed that day.  His mother's maid
entered, bringing him in a crystal vase a dark red flower for his
coat.  She had always given him that same dark red flower after he
had turned into manhood.  "It is your kind," she said; "I
understand."

He arranged the tray for her, pouring out her tea, buttering the
rolls.  Then he forced himself to eat his supper as usual.  From
old candlesticks on the table a silver radiance was shed on the
massive silver, on the gem-like glass.  Candelabra on the
mantelpiece and the sideboard lighted up the browned oak of the
walls.

He left the table at last, giving and hearing a good night.  The
servants efficiently ended their duties and put out the lights.  In
the front hall lamps were left burning; there were lamps and
candles in the library.  He went off to a room on the ground floor
in one ell of the house; it was his sitting room, smoking room, the
lounging place of his friends.  In one corner stood a large desk,
holding old family papers; here also were articles that he himself
had lately been engaged on--topics relating to scientific
agriculture, soils, and stock-raising.  It was the road by which
some of the country gentlemen who had been his forefathers passed
into a larger life of practical affairs--going into the Legislature
of the state or into the Senate; and he had thought of this as a
future for himself.  For an hour or two he looked through family
papers.

Then he put them aside and squarely faced the meaning of the day.
His thoughts traversed the whole track of Dent's life--one straight
track upward.  No deviations, no pitfalls there, no rising and
falling.  And now early marriage and safety from so many problems;
with work and honors and wifely love and children: work and rest
and duty to the end.  Dent had called him into his room that
morning after he was dressed for his wedding and had started to
thank him for his love and care and guardianship and then had
broken down and they had locked their arms around each other,
trying not to say what could not be said.

He lived again through that long afternoon with his mother.  What
had the whole day been to her and how she had risen to meet with
nobility all its sadnesses!  Her smile lived before him; and her
eyes, shining with increasing brightness as she dwelt upon things
that meant fading sunlight: she fondling the playthings of his
infancy, keeping some of them to be folded away with her at last;
touching her bridal dress and speaking her reliance on her sons for
sons and daughters; at the close of the long trying day standing at
the foot of the staircase white with weariness and pain, but so
brave, so sweet, so unconquerable.  He knew that she was not
sleeping now, that she was thinking of him, that she had borne
everything and would bear everything not only because it was due to
herself, but because it was due to him.

He turned out the lights and sat at a window opening upon the
night.  The voices of the land came in to him, the voices of the
vanished life of its strong men.

He remembered the kind of day it was when he first saw through its
autumn trees the scattered buildings of his university.  What
impressions it had made upon him as it awaited him there, gray with
stateliness, hoary with its honors, pervaded with the very breath
and spirit of his country.  He recalled his meeting with his
professors, the choosing of his studies, the selection of a place
in which to live.  Then had followed what had been the great
spectacle and experience of his life--the assembling of picked
young men, all eager like greyhounds at the slips to show what was
in them, of what stuff they were made, what strength and hardihood
and robust virtues, and gifts and grace for manly intercourse.  He
had been caught up and swept off his feet by that influence.
Looking back as he did to that great plateau which was his home,
for the first time he had felt that he was not only a youth of an
American commonwealth, but a youth of his whole country.   They
were all American youths there, as opposed to English youths and
German youths and Russian youths.  There flamed up in him the
fierce passion, which he believed to be burning in them all, to
show his mettle--the mettle of his state, the mettle of his nation.
To him, newly come into this camp of young men, it lay around the
walls of the university like a white spiritual host, chosen youths
to be made into chosen men.  And he remembered how little he then
knew that about this white host hung the red host of those
camp-followers, who beleaguer in outer darkness every army of men.

Then had followed warfare, double warfare: the ardent attack on
work and study; athletic play, good fellowship, visits late at
night to the chambers of new friends--chambers rich in furniture
and pictures, friends richer in old names and fine manners and
beautiful boyish gallant ways; his club and his secret society, and
the whole bewildering maddening enchantment of student life, where
work and duty and lights and wine and poverty and want and flesh
and spirit strive together each for its own.  At this point he put
these memories away, locked them from himself in their long silence.

Near midnight he made his way quietly back into the main hall.  He
turned out the lamps and lighted his bedroom candle and started
toward the stairway, holding it in front of him a little above his
head, a low-moving star through the gloom.  As he passed between
two portraits, he paused with sudden impulse and, going over to
one, held his candle up before the face and studied it once more.
A man, black-browed, black-robed, black-bearded, looked down into
his eyes as one who had authority to speak.  He looked far down
upon his offspring, and he said to him: "You may be one of those
who through the flesh are chosen to be damned.  But if He chooses
to damn you, then be damned, but do not question His mercy or His
justice: it is not for you to alter the fixed and the eternal."

He crossed with his candle to the opposite wall and held it up
before another face: a man full of red blood out to the skin;
full-lipped, red-lipped; audacious about the forehead and brows,
and beautiful over his thick careless hair through which a girl's
fingers seemed lately to have wandered.  He looked level out at his
offspring as though he still stood throbbing on the earth and he
spoke to him: "I am not alive to speak to you with my voice, but I
have spoken to you through my blood.  When the cup of life is
filled, drain it deep.  Why does nature fill it if not to have you
empty it?"

He blew his candle out in the eyes of that passionate face, and
holding it in his hand, a smoking torch, walked slowly backward and
forward in the darkness of the hall with only a little pale
moonlight struggling in through a window here and there.

Then with a second impulse he went over and stood close to the dark
image who had descended into him through the mysteries of nature.
"You," he said, "who helped to make me what I am, you had the
conscience and not the temptation.  And you," he said, turning to
the hidden face across the hall, "who helped to make me what I am,
you had the temptation and not the conscience.  What does either of
you know of me who had both?

"And what do I know about either of you," he went on, taking up
again the lonely vigil of his walk and questioning; "you who
preached against the Scarlet Woman, how do I know you were not the
scarlet man?  I may have derived both from you--both conscience and
sin--without hypocrisy.  All those years during which your face was
hardening, your one sincere prayer to God may have been that He
would send you to your appointed place before you were found out by
men on earth.  And you with your fresh red face, you may have lain
down beside the wife of your youth, and have lived with her all
your years, as chaste as she."

He resumed his walk, back and forth, back and forth; and his
thoughts changed:

"What right have I to question them, or judge them, or bring them
forward in my life as being responsible for my nature?  If I roll
back the responsibility to them, had they not fathers? and had not
their fathers fathers? and if a man rolls back his deeds upon those
who are his past, then where will responsibility be found at all,
and of what poor cowardly stuff is each of us?"

How silent the night was, how silent the great house!  Only his
slow footsteps sounded there like the beating of a heavy heart
resolved not to fail.

At last they died away from the front of the house, passing inward
down a long hallway and growing more muffled; then the sound of
them ceased altogether: he stood noiselessly before his mother's
door.

He stood there, listening if he might hear in the intense stillness
a sleeper's breathing.  "Disappointed mother," he said as silently
as a spirit might speak to a spirit.

Then he came back and slowly began to mount the staircase.

"Is it then wrong for a man to do right?  Is it ever right to do
wrong?" he said finally.  "Should I have had my fling and never
have cared and never have spoken?  Is there a true place for
deception in the world?  May our hypocrisy with each other be a
virtue?  If you have done evil, shall you live the whited
sepulchre?  Ah, Isabel, how easily I could have deceived you!  Does
a woman care what a man may have done, if he be not found out?  Is
not her highest ideal for him a profitable reputation, not a
spotless character?  No, I will not wrong you by these thoughts.
It was you who said to me that you once loved all that you saw in
me, and believed that you saw everything.  All that you asked of me
was truthfulness that had no sorrow."

He reached the top of the stairs and began to feel his way toward
his room.

"To have one chance in life, in eternity, for a white name, and to
lose it!"



VIII

Autumn and winter had passed.  Another spring was nearly gone.  One
Monday morning of that May, the month of new growths and of old
growths with new starting-points on them, Ambrose Webb was walking
to and fro across the fresh oilcloth in his short hall; the front
door and the back door stood wide open, as though to indicate the
receptivity of his nature in opposite directions; all the windows
were wide open, as though to bring out of doors into his house: he
was much more used to the former; during married life the open had
been more friendly than the interior.  But he was now also master
of the interior and had been for nearly a year.

Some men succeed best as partial automata, as dogs for instance
that can be highly trained to pull little domestic carts.  Ambrose
had grown used to pulling his cart: he had expected to pull it for
the rest of his days; and now the cart had suddenly broken down
behind him and he was left standing in the middle of the long
life-road.  But liberty was too large a destiny for a mind of that
order; the rod of empire does not fit such hands; it was
intolerable to Ambrose that he was in a world where he could do as
he pleased.

On this courageous Monday, therefore,--whatsoever he was to do
during the week he always decided on Mondays,--after months of
irresolution he finally determined to make a second dash for
slavery.  But he meant to be canny; this time he would choose a
woman who, if she ruled him, would not misrule him; what he could
stand was a sovereign, not a despot, and he believed that he had
found this exceptionally gifted and exceptionally moderated being:
it was Miss Anna Hardage.

From the day of Miss Anna's discovery that Ambrose had a dominating
consort, she had been, she had declared she should be, much kinder
to him.  When his wife died, Miss Anna had been kinder still.
Affliction present, affliction past, her sympathy had not failed
him.

He had fallen into the habit of lingering a little whenever he took
his dairy products around to the side porch.  Every true man yearns
for the eyes of some woman; and Ambrose developed the feeling that
he should like to live with Miss Anna's.  He had no gift for
judging human conduct except by common human standards; and so at
bottom he believed that Miss Anna in her own way had been telling
him that if the time ever came, she could be counted on to do the
right thing by him.

So Ambrose paced the sticky oilcloth this morning as a man who has
reached the hill of decision.  He had bought him a new buggy and
new harness.  Hitched to the one and wearing the other was his
favorite roan mare with a Roman nose and a white eye, now dozing at
the stiles in the front yard.  He had curried her and had combed
her mane and tail and had had her newly shod, and altogether she
may have felt too comfortable to keep awake.  He himself seemed to
have received a coating of the same varnish as his buggy.  Had you
pinned a young beetle in the back of his coat or on either leg of
his trousers, as a mere study in shades of blackness, it must have
been lost to view at the distance of a few yards through sheer
harmony with its background.  Under his Adam's apple there was a
green tie--the bough to the fruit.  His eyes sparkled as though
they had lately been reset and polished by a jeweller.

What now delayed and excited him at this last moment before setting
out was uncertainty as to the offering he should bear Miss Anna.
Fundamental instincts vaguely warned him that love's altar must be
approached with gifts.  He knew that some brought fortune, some
warlike deeds, some fame, some the beauty of their strength and
youth.  He had none of these to offer; but he was a plain farmer,
and he could give her what he had so often sold her--a pound of
butter.

He had awaited the result of the morning churning; but the butter
had tasted of turnips, and Ambrose did not think that the taste of
turnips represented the flavor of his emotion.  Nevertheless, there
was one thing that she preferred even to butter; he would ensnare
her in her own weakness, catch her in her own net: he would take
her a jar of cream.

Miss Anna was in her usual high spirits that morning.  She was
trying a new recipe for some dinner comfort for Professor Hardage,
when her old cook, who also answered the doorbell, returned to the
kitchen with word that Mr. Webb was in the parlor.

"Why, I paid him for his milk," exclaimed Miss Anna, without
ceasing to beat and stir.  "And what is he doing in the parlor?
Why didn't he come around to the side door?  I'll be back in a
moment."  She took off her apron from an old habit of doing so
whenever she entered the parlor.

She gave her dairyman the customary hearty greeting, hurried back
to get him a glass of water, inquired dispassionately about grass,
inundated him with a bounteous overflow of her impersonal humanity.
But he did not state his business, and she grew impatient to return
to her confection.

"Do I owe you for anything, Mr. Webb?" she suddenly asked, groping
for some clew to this lengthening labyrinthine visit.

He rose and going to the piano raked heavily off of the top of it a
glass jar and brought it over to her and resumed his seat with a
speaking countenance.

"Cream!" cried Miss Anna, delighted, running her practised eye
downward along the bottle to discover where the contents usually
began to get blue: it was yellow to the bottom.  "How much is it?
I'm afraid we are too poor to buy so much cream all at once."

"It has no price; it is above price."

"How much is it, Mr. Webb?" she insisted with impatience.

"It is a free gift."

"Oh, what a beautiful present!" exclaimed Miss Anna, holding it up
to the light admiringly.   "How can I ever thank you."

"Don't thank me: you could have the dairy!  You could have the
cows, the farm."

"O dear, no!" cried Miss Anna, "that would be altogether too much!
One bottle goes far beyond all that I ever hoped for."

"I wish ail women were like you."

"O dear, no! that would not do at all!  I am an old maid, and women
must marry, must, must!  What would become of the world?"

"You need not be an old maid unless you wish."

"Now, I had never thought of that!" observed Miss Anna, in a very
peculiar tone.  "But we'll not talk about myself; let us talk about
yourself.  You are looking extremely well--now aren't you?"

"No one has a better right.  It is due you to let you know this.
There's good timber in me yet."

"Due _me_!  I am not interested in timber."

"Anna," he said, throwing his arms around one of his knees, "our
hour has come--we need not wait any longer."

"Wait for _what_?" inquired Miss Anna, bending toward him with the
scrutiny of a near-sighted person trying to make out some looming
horror.

"Our marriage."

Miss Anna rose as by an inward explosion.

"Go, _buzzard_!"

He kept his seat and stared at her with a dropped jaw.  Habit was
powerful in him; and there was something in her anger, in that
complete sweeping of him out other way, that recalled the domestic
usages of former years and brought to his lips an involuntary
time-worn expression:

"I meant nothing offensive."

"I do not know what you meant, and I do not care: go!"

He rose and stood before her, and with a flash of sincere anger he
spoke his honest mind: "It was you who put the notion in my head.
You encouraged me, encouraged me systematically; and now you are
pretending.  You are a bad woman."

"I think I am a bad woman after what has happened to me this
morning," said Miss Anna, dazed and ready to break down.

He hesitated when he reached the door, smarting with his honest
hurt; and he paused there and made a request.

"At least I hope that you will never mention this; it might injure
me."  He did not explain how, but he seemed to know.

"Do you suppose I'd tell my Maker if He did not already know it?"
She swept past him into the kitchen.

"As soon as you have done your work, go clean the parlor," she said
to the cook.  "Give it a good airing.  And throw that cream away,
throw the bottle away."

A few moments later she hurried with her bowl into the pantry;
there she left it unfinished and crept noiselessly up the
backstairs to her room.

That evening as Professor Hardage sat opposite to her, reading,
while she was doing some needlework, he laid his book down with the
idea of asking her some question.  But he caught sight of her
expression and studied it a few moments.  It was so ludicrous a
commingling of mortification and rage that he laughed outright.

"Why, Anna, what on earth is the matter?"

At the first sound of his voice she burst into hysterical sobs.

He came over and tried to draw her fingers away from her eyes.
"Tell me all about it."

She shook her head frantically.

"Yes, tell me," he urged.  "Is there anything in all these years
that you have not told me?"

"I cannot," she sobbed excitedly.  "I am disgraced."

He laughed.  "What has disgraced you?"

"A man."

"Good heavens!" he cried, "has somebody been making love to you?"

"Yes."

His face flushed.  "Come," he said seriously, "what is the meaning
of this, Anna?"

She told him.

"Why aren't you angry with him?" she complained, drying her eyes.
"You sit there and don't say a word!"

"Do you expect me to be angry with any soul for loving you and
wishing to be loved by you?  He cast his mite into the treasury,
Anna."

"I didn't mind the mite," she replied.  "But he said I encouraged
him, that I encouraged him _systematically_."

"Did you expect him to be a philosopher?"

"I did not expect him to be a--"  She hesitated at the harsh word.

"I'm afraid you expected him to be a philosopher.  Haven't you been
kind to him?"

"Why, of course."

"Systematically kind?"

"Why, of course."

"Did you have any motive?"

"You know I had no motive--aren't you ashamed!"

"But did you expect him to be genius enough to understand that?
Did you suppose that he could understand such a thing as kindness
without a motive?  Don't be harsh with him, Anna, don't be hard on
him: he is an ordinary man and judged you by the ordinary standard.
You broke your alabaster box at his feet, and he secretly suspected
that you were working for something more valuable than the box of
ointment.  The world is full of people who are kind without a
motive; but few of those to whom they are kind believe this."

Before Miss Anna fell asleep that night, she had resolved to tell
Harriet.  Every proposal of marriage is known at least to three
people.  The distinction in Miss Anna's conduct was not in telling,
but in not telling until she had actually been asked.

Two mornings later Ambrose was again walking through his hall.
There is one compensation for us all in the large miseries of
life--we no longer feel the little ones.  His experience in his
suit for Miss Anna's hand already seemed a trifle to Ambrose, who
had grown used to bearing worse things from womankind.  Miss Anna
was not the only woman in the world, he averred, by way of swift
indemnification.  Indeed, in the very act of deciding upon her, he
had been thinking of some one else.  The road of life had divided
equally before him: he had chosen Miss Anna as a traveller chooses
the right fork; the left fork remained and he was now preparing to
follow that: it led to Miss Harriet Crane.

As Ambrose now paced his hallway, revolving certain details
connected with his next venture and adventure, the noise of an
approaching carriage fell upon his ear, and going to the front door
he recognized the brougham of Mrs. Conyers.  But it was Miss
Harriet Crane who leaned forward at the window and bowed smilingly
to him as he hurried out.

"How do you do, Mr. Webb?" she said, putting out her hand and
shaking his cordially, at the same time giving him a glance of
new-born interest.  "You know I have been threatening to come out
for a long time.  I must owe you an enormous bill for pasturage,"
she picked up her purse as she spoke, "and I have come to pay my
debts.  And then I wish to see my calf," and she looked into his
eyes very pleasantly.

"You don't owe me anything," replied Ambrose.  "What is grass?
What do I care for grass?  My mind is set on other things."

He noticed gratefully how gentle and mild she looked; there was
such a beautiful softness about her and he had had hardness enough.
He liked her ringlets: they were a novelty; and there hung around
her, in the interior of the carriage, a perfume that was unusual to
his sense and that impressed him as a reminder of her high social
position.  But Ambrose reasoned that if a daughter of his neighbor
could wed a Meredith, surely he ought to be able to marry a Crane.

"If you want to see the calf," he said, but very reluctantly, "I'll
saddle my horse and we'll go over to the back pasture."

"Don't saddle your horse," objected Harriet, opening the carriage
door and moving over to the far cushion, "ride with me."

He had never ridden in a brougham, and as he got in very nervously
and awkwardly, he reversed his figure and tried to sit on the
little front seat on which lay Harriet's handkerchief and parasol.

"Don't ride backwards, Mr. Webb," suggested Harriet.  "Unless you
are used to it, you are apt to have a headache," and she tapped the
cushion beside her as an invitation to him.  "Now tell me about my
calf," she said after they were seated side by side.

As she introduced this subject, Ambrose suddenly looked out of the
window.   She caught sight of his uneasy profile.

"Now, don't tell me that there's any bad hews about it!" she cried.
"It is the only pet I have."

"Miss Harriet," he said, turning his face farther away, "you forget
how long your calf has been out here; it isn't a calf any longer:
it has had a calf."

He spoke so sternly that Harriet, who all her life had winced
before sternness, felt herself in some wise to be blamed.  And
coolness was settling down upon them when she desired only a
melting and radiant warmth.

"Well," she objected apologetically, "isn't it customary?  What's
the trouble?  What's the objection?  This is a free country!
Whatever is natural is right!  Why are you so displeased?"

About the same hour the next Monday morning Ambrose was again
pacing his hallway and thinking of Harriet.  At least she was no
tyrant: the image of her softness rose before him again.  "I make
no mistake this time."

His uncertainty at the present moment was concerned solely with the
problem of what his offering should be in this case: under what
image should love present itself?  The right thought came to him by
and by; and taking from his storeroom an ornamental basket with a
top to it, he went out to his pigeon house and selected two blue
squabs.  They were tender and soft and round; without harshness,
cruelty, or deception.  Whatever they seemed to be, that they were;
and all that they were was good.

But as Ambrose walked back to the house, he lifted the top of the
basket and could but admit that they did look bare.  Might they
not, as a love token, be--unrefined?  He crossed to a flower bed,
and, pulling a few rose-geranium leaves, tucked them here and there
about the youngsters.

It was not his intention to present these to Harriet in person: he
had accompanied the cream--he would follow the birds; they should
precede him twenty-four hours and the amative poison would have a
chance to work.

During that forenoon his shining buggy drawn by his roan mare,
herself symbolic of softness, drew up before the entrance of the
Conyers homestead.  Ambrose alighted; he lifted the top of the
basket--all was well.

"These pets are for your Miss Harriet," he said to the maid who
answered his ring.

As the maid took the basket through the hall after having watched
him drive away, incredulous as to her senses, she met Mrs. Conyers,
who had entered the hall from a rear veranda.

"Who rang?" she asked; "and what is that?"

The maid delivered her instructions.  Mrs. Conyers took the basket
and looked in.

"Have them broiled for my supper," she said with a little click of
the teeth, and handing the basket to the maid, passed on into her
bedroom.

Harriet had been spending the day away from home.  She returned
late.  The maid met her at the front door and a few moments of
conversation followed.  She hurried into the supper room; Mrs.
Conyers sat alone.

"Mother," exclaimed Harriet with horror, "have you _eaten_ my
squabs?"

Mrs. Conyers stabbed at a little pile of bones on the side plate.
"This is what is left of them," she said, touching a napkin to her
gustatory lips.  "There are your leaves," she added, pointing to a
little vase in front of Harriet's plate.  "When is he going to send
you some more?  But tell him we have geraniums."

The next day Ambrose received a note:

"Dear Mr. Webb: I have been thinking how pleasant my visit to you
was that morning.  It has not been possible for me to get the
carriage since or I should have been out to thank you for your
beautiful present.  The squabs appealed to me.  A man who loves
them must have tender feeling; and that is what all my life I have
been saying: Give me a man with a heart!  Sometime when you are in
town, I may meet you on the street somewhere and then I can thank
you more fully than I do now.  I shall always cherish the memory of
your kind deed.  You must give me the chance to thank you very
soon, or I shall fear that you do not care for my thanks.  I take a
walk about eleven o'clock.

  "Sincerely yours,

    "HARRIET CRANE."

Ambrose must have received the note.  A few weeks later Miss Anna
one morning received one herself delivered by a boy who had ridden
in from the farm; the boy waited with a large basket while she read:

"Dearest Anna: It is a matter of very little importance to mention
to you of course, but I am married.  My husband and I were married
at ------ yesterday afternoon.  He met me at an appointed place and
we drove quietly out of town.  What I want you to do at once is,
send me some clothes, for I left all the Conyers apparel where it
belonged.  Send me something of everything.  And as soon as I am
pinned in, I shall invite you out.  Of course I shall now give
orders for whatever I desire; and then I shall return to Mrs.
Conyers the things I used on my bridal trip.

"This is a very hurried note, and of course I have not very much to
say as yet about my new life.  As for my husband, I can at least
declare with perfect sincerity that he is mine.  I have made one
discovery already, Anna: he cannot be bent except where he has
already been broken.  I am discovering the broken places and shall
govern him accordingly.

"Do try to marry, Anna!  You have no idea how a married woman feels
toward one of her sex who is single.

"I want you to be sure to stand at the windows about five o'clock
this afternoon and see the Conyers' cows all come travelling home:
they graze no more these heavenly pastures.  It will be the first
intimation that Mrs. Conyers receives that I am no longer the
unredeemed daughter of her household.  Her curiosity will, of
course, bring her out here as fast as the horse can travel.  But,
oh, Anna, my day has come at last!  At last she shall realize that
I am strong, _strong_!  I shall receive her with the front door
locked and talk to her out of the window; and I expect to talk to
her a long, _long_ time.  I shall have the flowers moved from the
porch to keep them from freezing during that interview.

"As soon as I am settled, as one has so much more time in the
country than in town, I may, after all, take up that course of
reading: would you object?

"It's a wise saying that every new experience brings some new
trouble: I longed for youth before I married; but to marry after
you are old--that, Anna, is sorrow indeed.

  "Your devoted friend,

    "HARRIET CRANE WEBB.

"P.S. Don't send any but the _plainest_ things; for I remember,
noble friend, how it pains you to see me _overdressed_."



IX

It was raining steadily and the night was cold.  Miss Anna came
hurriedly down into the library soon after supper.  She had on an
old waterproof; and in one hand she carried a man's cotton
umbrella--her own--and in the other a pair of rubbers.  As she sat
down and drew these over her coarse walking shoes, she talked in
the cheery tone of one who has on hand some congenial business.

"I may get back late and I may not get back at all; it depends upon
how the child is.  But I wish it would not rain when poor little
children are sick at night--it is the one thing that gives me the
blues.  And I wish infants could speak out and tell their symptoms.
When I see grown people getting well as soon as they can minutely
narrate to you all their ailments, my heart goes out to babies.
Think how they would crow and gurgle, if they could only say what
it is all about.  But I don't see why people at large should not be
licensed to bring in a bill when their friends insist upon
describing their maladies to them: doctors do.  But I must be
going.  Good night."

She rose and stamped her feet into the rubbers to make them fit
securely; and then she came across to the lamp-lit table beside
which he sat watching her fondly--his book dropped the while upon
his lap.  He grasped her large strong hand in his large strong
hand; and she leaned her side against his shoulder and put her arm
around his neck.

"You are getting younger, Anna," he said, looking up into her face
and drawing her closer.

"Why not?" she answered with a voice of splendid joy.  "Harriet is
married; what troubles have I, then?  And she patronizes--or
matronizes--me and tyrannizes over Ambrose: so the world is really
succeeding at last.  But I wish her husband had not asked me
_first_; that is her thorn."

"And the thorn will grow!"

"Now, don't sit up late!" she pleaded.  "I turned your bed down and
arranged the pillows wrong end out as you will have them; and I put
out your favorite night-shirt--the one with the sleeves torn off
above the elbows and the ravellings hanging down just as you
require.  Aren't you tired of books yet?  Are you never going to
get tired?  And the same books!  Why, I get fresh babies every few
years--a complete change."

"How many generations of babies do you suppose there have been
since this immortal infant was born?" he asked, laying his hand
reverently over the book on his lap as if upon the head of a divine
child.

"I don't know and I don't care," she replied.  "I wish the immortal
infant would let you alone."  She stooped and kissed his brow, and
wrung his hand silently, and went out into the storm.  He heard her
close the street door and heard the rusty click of her cotton
umbrella as she raised it.  Then he turned to the table at his
elbow and kindled his deep-bowled pipe and drew over his legs the
skirts of his long gown, coarse, austere, sombre.

He looked comfortable.  A rainy night may depress a woman nursing a
sick child that is not her own--a child already fighting for its
feeble, unclaimed, repudiated life, in a world of weeping clouds;
but such a night diffuses cheer when the raindrops are heard
tapping the roof above beloved bookshelves, tapping the
window-panes; when there is low music in the gutter on the back
porch; when a student lamp, throwing its shadow over the ceiling
and the walls, reserves its exclusive lustre for lustrous
pages--pages over which men for centuries have gladly burnt out the
oil of their brief lamps, their iron and bronze, their silver and
gold and jewelled lamps--many-colored eyes of the nights of ages.

It was now middle September of another year and Professor Hardage
had entered upon the work of another session.  The interval had
left no outward mark on him.  The mind stays young a long time when
nourished by a body such as his; and the body stays young a long
time when mastered by such a mind.  Day by day faithfully to do
one's work and to be restless for no more; without bitterness to
accept obscurity for ambition; to possess all vital passions and to
govern them; to stand on the world's thoroughfare and see the young
generations hurrying by, and to put into the hands of a youth here
and there a light which will burn long after our own personal taper
is extinguished; to look back upon the years already gone as not
without usefulness and honor, and forward to what may remain as
safe at least from failure or any form of shame, and thus for one's
self to feel the humility of the part before the greatness of the
whole of life, and yet the privileges and duties of the individual
to the race--this brings blessedness if it does not always bring
happiness, and it had brought both to him.

He sat at peace beside his lamp.  The interval had brought changes
to his towns-people.  As he had walked home this afternoon, he had
paused and looked across at some windows of the second story of a
familiar corner.   The green shutters, tightly closed, were gray
with cobweb and with dust.  One sagged from a loosened hinge and
flapped in the rising autumn wind, showing inside a window sash
also dust-covered and with a newspaper crammed through a broken
pane.  Where did Ravenel Morris live now?  Did he live at all?

Accustomed as he was to look through the distances of human
history, to traverse the areas of its religions and see how its
great conflicting faiths have each claimed the unique name of
revelation for itself, he could not anywhere discover what to him
was clear proof either of the separate existence of the soul or of
its immortal life hereafter.  The security of that belief was
denied him.  He had wished for it, had tried to make it his.  But
while it never became a conviction, it remained a force.  Under all
that reason could affirm or could deny, there dwelt unaccountable
confidence that the light of human life, leaping from headland to
headland,--the long transmitted radiance of thought,--was not to go
out with the inevitable physical extinction of the species on this
planet.  Somewhere in the universe he expected to meet his own, all
whom he had loved, and to see this friend.  Meantime, he accepted
the fact of death in the world with that uncomplaining submission
to nature which is in the strength and sanity of genius.  As
acquaintances left him, one after another, memory but kindled
another lamp; hope but disclosed another white flower on its
mysterious stem.

He sat at peace.  The walls of the library showed their changes.
There were valuable maps on Caesar's campaigns which had been sent
him from Berlin; there were other maps from Athens; there was
something from the city of Hannibal, and something from Tiber.
Indeed, there were not many places in Isabel's wandering from which
she had not sent home to him some proof that he was remembered.
And always she sent letters which were more than maps or books,
being in themselves charts to the movements of her spirit.  They
were regular; they were frank; they assured him how increasingly
she needed his friendship.  When she returned, she declared she
would settle down to be near him for the rest of life.  Few names
were mentioned in these letters: never Rowan's; never Mrs.
Osborn's--that lifelong friendship having been broken; and in truth
since last March young Mrs. Osborn's eyes had been sealed to the
reading of all letters.  But beneath everything else, he could
always trace the presence of one unspoken certainty--that she was
passing through the deeps without herself knowing what height or
what heath her feet would reach at last, there to abide.

As he had walked homeward this afternoon through the dust,
something else had drawn his attention: he was passing the Conyers
homestead, and already lights were beginning to twinkle in the many
windows; there was to be a ball that night, and he thought of the
unconquerable woman ruling within, apparently gaining still in
vitality and youth.  "Unjailed malefactors often attain great
ages," he said to himself, as he turned away and thought of the
lives she had helped to blight and shorten.

As the night advanced, he fell under the influence of his book, was
drawn out of his poor house, away from his obscure town, his
unknown college, quitted his country and his age, passing backward
until there fell around him the glorious dawn of the race before
the sunrise of written history: the immortal still trod the earth;
the human soldier could look away from his earthly battle-field and
see, standing on a mountain crest, the figure and the authority of
his Divine Commander.  Once more it was the flower-dyed plain,
blood-dyed as well; the ships drawn up by the gray, the wrinkled
sea; over on the other side, well-built Troy; and the crisis of the
long struggle was coming.  Hector, of the glancing plume, had come
back to the city for the last time, mindful of his end.

He read once more through the old scene that is never old, and then
put his book aside and sat thoughtful.  "_I know not if the gods
will not overthrow me. . . .   I have very sore shame if, like a
coward, I shrink away from battle; moreover mine own soul
forbiddeth me. . . .  Destiny . . .  no man hast escaped, be he
coward or be he valiant, when once he hath been born_."

His eyes had never rested on any spot in human history, however
separated in time and place, where the force of those words did not
seem to reign.  Whatsoever the names under which men have conceived
and worshipped their gods or their God, however much they have
believed that it was these or it was He who overthrew them and made
their destinies inescapable, after all, it is the high compulsion
of the soul itself, the final mystery of personal choice, that
sends us forth at last to our struggles and to our peace: "_mine
own soul forbiddeth me_"--there for each is right and wrong, the
eternal beauty of virtue.

He did not notice the sound of approaching wheels, and that the
sound ceased at his door.

A moment later and Isabel with light footsteps stood before him.
He sprang up with a cry and put his arms around her and held her.

"You shall never go away again."

"No, I am never going away again; I have come back to marry Rowan."

These were her first words to him as they sat face to face.  And
she quickly went on:

"How is he?"

He shook his head reproachfully at her: "When I saw him at least he
seemed better than you seem."

"I knew he was not well--I have known it for a long time.  But you
saw him--in town--on the street--with his friends--attending to
business?"

"Yes--in town--on the street--with his friends--attending to
business."

"May I stay here?  I ordered my luggage to be sent here."

"Your room is ready and has always been ready and waiting since the
day you left.  I think Anna has been putting fresh flowers in it
all autumn.  You will find some there to-night.  She has insisted
of late that you would soon be coming home."

An hour later she came down into the library again.  She had
removed the traces of travel, and she had travelled slowly and was
not tired.  All this enabled him to see how changed she was; and
without looking older, how strangely oldened and grown how quiet of
spirit.  She had now indeed become sister for him to those images
of beauty that were always haunting him--those far, dim images of
the girlhood of her sex, with their faces turned away from the sun
and their eyes looking downward, pensive in shadow, too freighted
with thoughts of their brief fate and their immortality.

"I must have a long talk with you before I try to sleep.  I must
empty my heart to you once."

He knew that she needed the relief, and that what she asked of him
during these hours would be silence.

"I have tried everything, and everything has failed.  I have tried
absence, but absence has not separated me from him.  I have tried
silence, but through the silence I have never ceased speaking to
him.  Nothing has really ever separated us; nothing ever can.  It
is more than will or purpose, it is my life.  It is more than life
to me, it is love."

She spoke very quietly, and at first she seemed unable to progress
very far from the beginning.  After every start, she soon came back
to that one beginning.

"It is of no use to weigh the right and the wrong of it: I tried
that at first, and I suppose that is why I made sad mistakes.  You
must not think that I am acting now from a sense of duty to him or
to myself.  Duty does not enter into my feeling: it is love; all
that I am forbids me to do anything else."

But after a while she went back and bared before him in a way the
history of her heart.  "The morning after he told me, I went to
church.  I remember the lessons of the day and the hymns, and how I
left the church before the sermon, because everything seemed to be
on his side, and no one was on mine.  He had done wrong and was
guilty; and I had been wrong and was innocent; and the church
comforted him and overlooked me; and I was angry and walked out of
it.

"And do you remember the day I came to see you and you proposed
everything to me, and I rejected everything?  You told me to go
away for a while, to throw myself into the pleasures of other
people; you reminded me of prayer and of the duty of forgiveness;
you told me to try to put myself in his place, and reminded me of
self-sacrifice, and then said at last that I must leave it to time,
which sooner or later settles everything.  I rejected everything
that you suggested.  But I have accepted everything since, and have
learned a lesson and a service from each: the meaning of prayer and
of forgiveness and of self-sacrifice; and what the lapse of time
can do to bring us to ourselves and show us what we wish.  I say, I
have lived through all these, and I have gotten something out of
them all; but however much they may mean, they never constitute
love; and it is my love that brings me back to him now."

Later on she recurred to the idea of self-sacrifice: much other
deepest feeling seemed to gather about that.

"I am afraid that you do not realize what it means to a woman when
a principle like this is involved.  Can any man ever know?  Does he
dream what it means to us women to sacrifice ourselves as they
often require us to do?  I have been travelling in old lands--so
old that the history of each goes back until we can follow it with
our eyes no longer.  But as far as we can see, we see this
sorrow--the sorrow of women who have wished to be first in the love
of the men they have loved.  You, who read everything!  Cannot you
see them standing all through history, the sad figures of girls who
have only asked for what they gave, love in its purity and its
singleness--have only asked that there should have been no other
before them?  And cannot you see what a girl feels when she
consents to accept anything less,--that she is lowered to herself
from that time on,--has lost her own ideal of herself, as well as
her ideal of the man she loves?  And cannot you see how she lowers
herself in his eyes also and ceases to be his ideal, through her
willingness to live with him on a lower plane?  That is our wound.
That is our trouble and our sorrow: I have found it wherever I have
gone."

Long before she said this to him, she had questioned him closely
about Rowan.  He withheld from her knowledge of some things which
he thought she could better bear to learn later and by degrees.

"I knew he was not well," she said; "I feared it might be worse.
Let me tell you this: no one knows him as I do.  I must speak
plainly.  First, there was his trouble; that shadowed for
him one ideal in his life.  Then this drove him to a kind of
self-concealment; and that wounded another ideal--his love of
candor.  Then he asked me to marry him, and he told me the truth
about himself and I turned him off.  Then came the scandals that
tried to take away his good name, and I suppose have taken it away.
And then, through all this, were the sufferings he was causing
others around him, and the loss of his mother.  I have lived
through all these things with him while I have been away, and I
understand; they sap life.  I am going up to write to him now,
and will you post the letter to-night?  I wish him to come to
see me at once, and our marriage must take place as soon as
possible--here--very quietly."


Rowan came the next afternoon.   She was in the library; and he
went in and shut the door, and they were left alone.

Professor Hardage and Miss Anna sat in an upper room.  He had no
book and she had no work; they were thinking only of the two
downstairs.  And they spoke to each other in undertones, breaking
the silence with brief sentences, as persons speak when awaiting
news from sick-rooms.

Daylight faded.  Outside the lamplighter passed, torching the grimy
lamps.  Miss Anna spoke almost in a whisper: "Shall I have some
light sent in?"

"No, Anna."

"Did you tell him what the doctors have said about his health?"

"No; there was bad news enough without that for one day.  And then
happiness might bring back health to him.  The trouble that
threatens him will have to be put down as one of the consequences
of all that has occurred to him--as part of what he is and of what
he has done.  The origin of disease may lie in our troubles--our
nervous shocks, our remorses, and better strivings."

The supper hour came.

"I do not wish any supper, Anna."

"Nor I.  How long they stay together!"

"They have a great deal to say to each other, Anna."

"I know, I know.  Poor children!"

"I believe he is only twenty-five."

"When Isabel comes up, do you think I ought to go to her room and
see whether she wants anything?"

"No, Anna."

"And she must not know that we have been sitting up, as though we
felt sorry for them and could not go on with our own work."

"I met Marguerite and Barbee this afternoon walking together.  I
suppose she will come back to him at last.  But she has had her
storm, and he knows it, and he knows there will never be any storm
for him.  She is another one of those girls of mine--not sad, but
with half the sun shining on them.  But half a sun shining
steadily, as it will always shine on her, is a great deal."

"Hush!" said Miss Anna, in a whisper, "he is gone!  Isabel is
coming up the steps."

They heard her and then they did not hear her, and then again and
then not again.

Miss Anna started up:

"She needs me!"

He held her back:

"No, Anna! Not to help is to help."



X

One afternoon late in the autumn of the following year, when a
waiting stillness lay on the land and shimmering sunlight opened up
the lonely spaces of woods and fields, the Reaper who comes to all
men and reaps what they have sown, approached the home of the
Merediths and announced his arrival to the young master of the
house: he would await his pleasure.

Rowan had been sitting up, propped by his pillows.  It was the room
of his grandfather as it had been that of the man preceding; the
bed had been their bed; and the first to place it where it stood
may have had in mind a large window, through which as he woke from
his nightly sleep he might look far out upon the land, upon rolling
stately acres.

Rowan looked out now: past the evergreens just outside to the
shining lawn beyond; and farther away, upon fields of brown
shocks--guiltless harvest; then toward a pasture on the horizon.
He could see his cattle winding slowly along the edge of a russet
woodland on which the slanting sunlight fell.  Against the blue sky
in the silvery air a few crows were flying: all went in the same
direction but each went without companions.  He watched their wings
curiously with lonely, following eyes.  Whither home passed they?
And by whose summons?  And with what guidance?

A deep yearning stirred him, and he summoned his wife and the nurse
with his infant son.  He greeted her; then raising himself on one
elbow and leaning over the edge of the bed, he looked a long time
at the boy slumbering on the nurse's lap.

The lesson of his brief span of years gathered into his gaze.

"Life of my life," he said, with that lesson on his lips, "sign of
my love, of what was best in me, this is my prayer for you: may you
find one to love you such as your father found; when you come to
ask her to unite her life with yours, may you be prepared to tell
her the truth about yourself, and have nothing to tell that would
break her heart and break the hearts of others.  May it be said of
you that you are a better man than your father."

He had the child lifted and he kissed his forehead and his eyes.
"By the purity of your own life guard the purity of your sons for
the long honor of our manhood."  Then he made a sign that the nurse
should withdraw.

When she had withdrawn, he put his face down on the edge of the
pillow where his wife knelt, her face hidden.  His hair fell over
and mingled with her hair.  He passed his arm around her neck and
held her close.

"All your troubles came to you because you were true to the
highest.  You asked only the highest from me, and the highest was
more than I could give.  But be kind to my memory.  Try to forget
what is best forgotten, but remember what is worth remembering.
Judge me for what I was; but judge me also for what I wished to be.
Teach my son to honor my name; and when he is old enough to
understand, tell him the truth about his father.  Tell him what it
was that saddened our lives.  As he looks into his mother's face,
it will steady him."

He put both arms around her neck.

"I am tired of it all," he said.  "I want rest.  Love has been more
cruel to me than death."

A few days later, an afternoon of the same autumnal stillness, they
bore him across his threshold with that gentleness which so often
comes too late--slowly through his many-colored woods, some leaves
drifting down upon the sable plumes and lodging in them---along the
turnpike lined with dusty thistles--through the watching town, a
long procession, to the place of the unreturning.

They laid him along with his fathers.





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