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´╗┐Title: Margret Howth, a Story of To-day
Author: Davis, Rebecca Harding, 1831-1910
Language: English
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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 "Margret Howth, a Story of To-day" ***

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MARGRET HOWTH.

A STORY OF TO-DAY


by

Rebecca Harding Davis



"My matter hath no voice to alien ears."



TO MY MOTHER.



CHAPTER I.

Let me tell you a story of To-Day,--very homely and narrow in its scope
and aim.  Not of the To-Day whose significance in the history of
humanity only those shall read who will live when you and I are dead.
We can bear the pain in silence, if our hearts are strong enough, while
the nations of the earth stand afar off. I have no word of this To-Day
to speak.  I write from the border of the battlefield, and I find in it
no theme for shallow argument or flimsy rhymes.  The shadow of death
has fallen on us; it chills the very heaven.  No child laughs in my
face as I pass down the street.  Men have forgotten to hope, forgotten
to pray; only in the bitterness of endurance, they say "in the morning,
'Would God it were even!' and in the evening, 'Would God it were
morning!'"  Neither I nor you have the prophet's vision to see the age
as its meaning stands written before God.  Those who shall live when we
are dead may tell their children, perhaps, how, out of anguish and
darkness such as the world seldom has borne, the enduring morning
evolved of the true world and the true man. It is not clear to us.
Hands wet with a brother's blood for the Right, a slavery of
intolerance, the hackneyed cant of men, or the blood-thirstiness of
women, utter no prophecy to us of the great To-Morrow of content and
right that holds the world.  Yet the To-Morrow is there; if God lives,
it is there. The voice of the meek Nazarene, which we have deafened
down as ill-timed, unfit to teach the watchword of the hour, renews the
quiet promise of its coming in simple, humble things.  Let us go down
and look for it.  There is no need that we should feebly vaunt and
madden ourselves over our self-seen rights, whatever they may be,
forgetting what broken shadows they are of eternal truths in that calm
where He sits and with His quiet hand controls us.

Patriotism and Chivalry are powers in the tranquil, unlimited lives to
come, as well as here, I know; but there are less partial truths,
higher hierarchies who serve the God-man, that do not speak to us in
bayonets and victories,--Mercy and Love.  Let us not quite neglect
them, unpopular angels though they be.  Very humble their voices are,
just now: yet not altogether dead, I think.  Why, the very low glow of
the fire upon the hearth tells me something of recompense coming in the
hereafter,--Christmas-days, and heartsome warmth; in these bare hills
trampled down by armed men, the yellow clay is quick with pulsing
fibres, hints of the great heart of life and love throbbing within;
slanted sunlight would show me, in these sullen smoke-clouds from the
camp, walls of amethyst and jasper, outer ramparts of the Promised
Land.  Do not call us traitors, then, who choose to be cool and silent
through the fever of the hour,--who choose to search in common things
for auguries of the hopeful, helpful calm to come, finding even in
these poor sweet-peas, thrusting their tendrils through the brown
mould; a deeper, more healthful lesson for the eye and soul than
warring truths.  Do not call me a traitor, if I dare weakly to hint
that there are yet other characters besides that of Patriot in which a
man may appear creditably in the great masquerade, and not blush when
it is over; or if I tell you a story of To-Day, in which there shall be
no bloody glare,--only those homelier, subtiler lights which we have
overlooked.  If it prove to you that the sun of old times still shines,
and the God of old times still lives, is not that enough?


My story is very crude and homely, as I said,--only a rough sketch of
one or two of those people whom you see every day, and call "dregs,"
sometimes,--a dull, plain bit of prose, such as you might pick for
yourself out of any of these warehouses or back-streets.  I expect you
to call it stale and plebeian, for I know the glimpses of life it
pleases you best to find; idyls delicately tinted; passion-veined
hearts, cut bare for curious eyes; prophetic utterances, concrete and
clear; or some word of pathos or fun from the old friends who have
endenizened themselves in everybody's home. You want something, in
fact, to lift you out of this crowded, tobacco-stained commonplace, to
kindle and chafe and glow in you.  I want you to dig into this
commonplace, this vulgar American life, and see what is in it.
Sometimes I think it has a new and awful significance that we do not
see.

Your ears are openest to the war-trumpet now.  Ha! that is
spirit-stirring!--that wakes up the old Revolutionary blood! Your
manlier nature had been smothered under drudgery, the poor daily
necessity for bread and butter. I want you to go down into this common,
every-day drudgery, and consider if there might not be in it also a
great warfare.  Not a serfish war; not altogether ignoble, though even
its  only end may appear to be your daily food.  A great warfare, I
think, with a history as old as the world, and not without its pathos.
It has its slain.  Men and women, lean-jawed, crippled in the slow,
silent battle, are in your alleys, sit beside you at your table; its
martyrs sleep under every green hill-side.

You must fight in it; money will buy you no discharge from that war.
There is room in it, believe me, whether your post be on a judge's
bench, or over a wash-tub, for heroism, for knightly honour, for purer
triumph than his who falls foremost in the breach.  Your enemy, Self,
goes with you from the cradle to the coffin; it is a hand-to-hand
struggle all the sad, slow way, fought in solitude,--a battle that
began with the first heart-beat, and whose victory will come only when
the drops ooze out, and sudden halt in the veins,--a victory, if you
can gain it, that will drift you not a little way upon the coasts of
the wider, stronger range of being, beyond death.

Let me roughly outline for you one or two lives that I have known, and
how they conquered or were worsted in the fight.  Very common lives, I
know,--such as are swarming in yonder market-place; yet I dare to call
them voices of God,--all!

My reason for choosing this story to tell you is simple enough.

An old book, which I happened to find to-day, recalled it.  It was a
ledger, iron-bound, with the name of the firm on the outside,--Knowles
& Co.  You may have heard of the firm: they were large woollen
manufacturers: supplied the home market in Indiana for several years.
This ledger, you see by the writing, has been kept by a woman.  That is
not unusual in Western trading towns, especially in factories where the
operatives are chiefly women.  In such establishments, they can fill
every post successfully, but that of overseer: they are too hard with
the hands for that.

The writing here is curious: concise, square, not flowing,--very
legible, however, exactly suited to its purpose.  People who profess to
read character in chirography would decipher but little from these
cramped, quiet lines.  Only this, probably: that the woman, whoever she
was, had not the usual fancy of her sex for dramatizing her soul in her
writing, her dress, her face,--kept it locked up instead, intact; that
her words and looks, like her writing, were most likely simple, mere
absorbents by which she drew what she needed of the outer world to her,
not flaunting helps to fling herself, or the tragedy or comedy that lay
within, before careless passers-by.  The first page has the date, in
red letters, October 2, 1860, largely and  clearly written.  I am sure
the woman's hand trembled a little when she took up the pen; but there
is no sign of it here; for it was a new, desperate adventure to her,
and she was young, with no faith in herself.  She did not look
desperate, at all,--a quiet, dark girl, coarsely dressed in brown.

There was not much light in the office where she sat; for the factory
was in one of the close by-streets of the town, and the office they
gave her was only a small square closet in the seventh story.  It had
but one window, which overlooked a back-yard full of dyeing vats.  The
sunlight that did contrive to struggle in obliquely through the dusty
panes and cobwebs of the window, had a sleepy odour of copperas latent
in it.  You smelt it when you stirred. The manager, Pike, who brought
her up, had laid the day-books and this ledger open on the desk for
her.  As soon as he was gone, she shut the door, listening until his
heavy boots had thumped creaking down the rickety ladder leading to the
frame-rooms.  Then she climbed up on the high office-stool (climbed, I
said, for she was a little, lithe thing) and went to work, opening the
books, and copying from one to the other as steadily, monotonously, as
if she had been used to it all her life.  Here are the first pages: see
how sharp the angles are of the  blue and black lines, how even the
long columns: one would not think, that, as the steel pen traced them
out, it seemed to be lining out her life, narrow and black.  If any
such morbid fancy were in the girl's head, there was no tear to betray
it. The sordid, hard figures seemed to her types of the years coming,
but she wrote them down unflinchingly: perhaps life had nothing better
for her, so she did not care.  She finished soon: they had given her
only an hour or two's work for the first day.  She closed the books,
wiped the pens in a quaint, mechanical fashion, then got down and
examined her new home.

It was soon understood.  There were the walls with their broken
plaster, showing the laths underneath, with here and there, over them,
sketches with burnt coal, showing that her predecessor had been an
artist in his way,--his name, P. Teagarden, emblazoned on the ceiling
with the smoke of a candle; heaps of hanks of yarn in the dusty
corners; a half-used broom; other heaps of yarn on the old toppling
desk covered with dust; a raisin-box, with P. Teagarden done on the lid
in bas-relief, half full of ends of cigars, a pack of cards, and a
rotten apple.  That was all, except an impalpable sense of dust and
worn-outness pervading the whole.  One thing more, odd enough there: a
wire cage, hung on the wall, and in it a miserable pecking chicken,
peering dolefully with suspicious eyes out at her, and then down at the
mouldy bit of bread on the floor of his cage,--left there, I suppose,
by the departed Teagarden.  That was all, inside.  She looked out of
the window.  In it, as if set in a square black frame, was the dead
brick wall, and the opposite roof, with a cat sitting on the scuttle.
Going closer, two or three feet of sky appeared.  It looked as if it
smelt of copperas, and she drew suddenly back.

She sat down, waiting until it was time to go; quietly taking the dull
picture into her slow, unrevealing eyes; a sluggish, hackneyed
weariness creeping into her brain; a curious feeling, that all her life
before had been a silly dream, and this dust, these desks and ledgers,
were real,--all that was real.  It was her birthday; she was twenty.
As she happened to remember that, another fancy floated up before her,
oddly life-like: of the old seat she made under the currant-bushes at
home when she was a child, and the plans she laid for herself, when she
should be a woman, sitting there,--how she would dig down into the
middle of the world, and find the kingdom of the griffins, or would go
after Mercy and Christiana in their pilgrimage.  It was only a little
while ago  since these things were more alive to her than anything else
in the world.  The seat was under the currant-bushes still.  Very
little time ago; but she was a woman now,--and, look here!  A chance
ray of sunlight slanted in, falling barely on the dust, the hot heaps
of wool, waking a stronger smell of copperas; the chicken saw it, and
began to chirp a weak, dismal joy, more sorrowful than tears.  She went
to the cage, and put her finger in for it to peck at.  Standing there,
if the vacant life coming rose up before her in that hard blare of
sunlight, she looked at it with the same still, waiting eyes, that told
nothing.

The door opened at last, and a man came in,--Dr. Knowles, the principal
owner of the factory.  He nodded shortly to her, and, going to the
desk, turned over the books, peering suspiciously at her work.  An old
man, overgrown, looking like a huge misshapen mass of flesh, as he
stood erect, facing her.

"You can go now," he said, gruffly.  "Tomorrow you must wait for the
bell to ring, and go--with the rest of the hands."

A curious smile flickered over her face like a shadow; but she said
nothing.  He waited a moment.

"So!" he growled, "the Howth blood does not blush to go down into the
slime of the gutter? is sufficient to itself?"

A cool, attentive motion,--that was all.  Then she stooped to tie her
sandals.  The old man watched her, irritated.  She had been used to the
keen scrutiny of his eyes since she was a baby, so was cool under it
always.  The face watching her was one that repelled most men:
dominant, restless, flushing into red gusts of passion, a small,
intolerant eye, half hidden in folds of yellow fat,--the eye of a man
who would give to his master (whether God or Satan) the last drop of
his own blood, and exact the same of other men.

She had tied her bonnet and fastened her shawl, and stood ready to go.

"Is that all you want?" he demanded.  "Are you waiting to hear that
your work is well done?  Women go through life as babies learn to
walk,--a mouthful of pap every step, only they take it in praise or
love.  Pap is better.  Which do you want?  Praise, I fancy."

"Neither," she said, quietly brushing her shawl.  "The work is well
done, I know."

The old man's eye glittered for an instant, satisfied; then he turned
to the books.  He thought she had gone, but, hearing a slight clicking
sound, turned round.  She was taking the chicken out of the cage.

"Let it alone!" he broke out, sharply.  "Where are you going with it?"

"Home," she said, with a queer, quizzical face.  "Let it smell the
green fields, Doctor.  Ledgers and copperas are not good food for a
chicken's soul, or body either."

"Let it alone!" he growled.  "You take it for a type of yourself, eh?
It has another work to do than to grow fat and sleep about the
barnyard."

She opened the cage.

"I think I will take it."

"No," he said, quietly.  "It has a master here.  Not P. Teagarden. Why,
Margret," pushing his stubby finger between the tin bars "do you think
the God you believe in would have sent it here without a work to do?"

She looked up; there was a curious tremour in his flabby face, a shadow
in his rough voice.

"If it dies here, its life won't have been lost.  Nothing is lost. Let
it alone."

"Not lost?" she said, slowly, refastening the cage.  "Only I think"----

"What, child?"

She glanced furtively at him.

"It's a hard, scraping world where such a thing as that has work to do!"

He vouchsafed no answer.  She waited to see his lip curl bitterly, and
then, amused, went down the stairs.  She had paid him for his sneer.

The steps were but a long ladder set in the wall, not the great
staircase used by the hands: that was on the other side of the factory.
It was a huge, unwieldy building, such as crowd the suburbs of trading
towns.  This one went round the four sides of a square, with the yard
for the vats in the middle.  The ladders and passages she passed down
were on the inside, narrow and dimly lighted: she had to grope her way
sometimes.  The floors shook constantly with the incessant thud of the
great looms that filled each story, like heavy, monotonous thunder.  It
deafened her, made her dizzy, as she went down slowly.  It was no short
walk to reach the lower hall, but she was down at last.  Doors opened
from it into the ground-floor ware-rooms; glancing in, she saw vast,
dingy recesses of boxes piled up to the dark ceilings. There was a
crowd of porters and draymen cracking their whips, and lounging on the
trucks by the door, waiting for loads, talking politics, and smoking.
The smell of tobacco, copperas, and burning logwood was heavy to
clamminess here.  She stopped, uncertain.  One of the porters, a short,
sickly man, who stood aloof from the rest, pushed open a door for her
with his staff. Margret had a quick memory for faces; she thought she
had seen this one before as she passed,--a dark face, sullen,
heavy-lipped, the hair cut convict-fashion, close to the head. She
thought too, one of the men muttered "jail-bird," jeering him for his
forwardness.  "Load for Clinton! Western Railroad!" sung out a sharp
voice behind her, and, as she went into the street, a train of cars
rushed into the hall to be loaded, and men swarmed out of every
corner,--red-faced and pale, whiskey-bloated and heavy-brained, Irish,
Dutch, black, with souls half asleep somewhere, and the destiny of a
nation in their grasp,--hands, like herself, going through the slow,
heavy work, for, as Pike the manager would have told you, "three
dollars a week,--good wages these tight times."  For nothing more?
Some other meaning may have fallen from their faces into this girl's
subtile intuition in the instant's glance,--cheerfuller, remoter aims,
hidden in the most sensual face,--homeliest home-scenes, low climbing
ambitions, some delirium of pleasure to come,--whiskey, if nothing
better: aims in life like yours differing in degree. Needing only to
make them the same----did you say what?

She had reached the street now,--a back-street, a crooked sort of lane
rather, running between endless piles of warehouses.  She hurried down
it to gain the suburbs, for she lived out in the country.  It was a
long, tiresome walk through the outskirts of the town, where the
dwelling-houses were,--long rows of two-story bricks drabbled with
soot-stains.  It was two years since she had been in the town.
Remembering this, and the reason why she had shunned it, she quickened
her pace, her face growing stiller than before.  One might have fancied
her a slave putting on a mask, fearing to meet her master.  The town,
being unfamiliar to her, struck her newly.  She saw the expression on
its face better.  It was a large trading city, compactly built, shut in
by hills.  It had an anxious, harassed look, like a speculator
concluding a keen bargain; the very dwelling-houses smelt of trade,
having shops in the lower stories; in the outskirts, where there are
cottages in other cities, there were mills here; the trees, which some
deluded dreamer had planted on the flat pavements, had all grown up
into abrupt Lombardy poplars, knowing their best policy was to keep out
of the way; the boys, playing marbles under them, played sharply "for
keeps;" the bony old dray-horses, plodding through the dusty crowds,
had speculative eyes, that measured their oats at night with a
"you-don't-cheat-me" look.  Even the churches had not the grave repose
of the old brown house yonder in the hills, where the few
field-people--Arians, Calvinists, Churchmen--gathered every Sunday, and
air and sunshine  and God's charity made the day holy.  These churches
lifted their hard stone faces insolently, registering their yearly alms
in the morning journals.  To be sure the back-seats were free for the
poor; but the emblazoned crimson of the windows, the carving of the
arches, the very purity of the preacher's style, said plainly that it
was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man
in a red wamus to enter the kingdom of heaven through that gate.

Nature itself had turned her back on the town: the river turned aside,
and but half a river crept reluctantly by; the hills were but bare
banks of yellow clay.  There was a cinder-road leading through these.
Margret climbed it slowly.  The low town-hills, as I said, were bare,
covered at their bases with dingy stubble-fields. In the sides
bordering the road gaped the black mouths of the coal-pits that
burrowed under the hills, under the town. Trade everywhere,--on the
earth and under it.  No wonder the girl called it a hard, scraping
world.  But when the road had crept through these hills, it suddenly
shook off the cinders, and turned into the brown mould of the
meadows,--turned its back on trade and the smoky town, and speedily
left it out of sight contemptuously, never looking back once.  This was
the country now in earnest.

Margret slackened her step, drawing long breaths of the fresh cold air.
Far behind her, panting and puffing along, came a black, burly figure,
Dr. Knowles.  She had seen him behind her all the way, but they did not
speak.  Between the two there lay that repellent resemblance which made
them like close relations,--closer when they were silent.  You know
such people? When you speak to them, the little sharp points clash.
Yet they are the few whom you surely know you will meet in the life
beyond death, "saved" or not.  The Doctor came slowly along the quiet
country-road, watching the woman's figure going as slowly before him.
He had a curious interest in the girl,--a secret reason for the
interest, which as yet he kept darkly to himself.  For this reason he
tried to fancy how her new life would seem to her.  It should be hard
enough, her work,--he was determined on that; her strength and
endurance must be tested to the uttermost.  He must know what stuff was
in the weapon before he used it.  He had been reading the slow, cold
thing for years,--had not got into its secret yet.  But there was power
there, and it was the power he wanted.  Her history was simple enough:
she was going into the mill to support a helpless father and mother; it
was a common story; she had given up much for them;--other women did
the same. He gave her scanty praise.  Two years ago (he had keen,
watchful eyes, this man) he had fancied that the homely girl had a
dream, as most women have, of love and marriage: she had put it aside,
he thought, forever; it was too expensive a luxury; she had to begin
the life-long battle for bread and butter.  Her dream had been real and
pure, perhaps; for she accepted no sham love in its place: if it had
left an empty hunger in her heart, she had not tried to fill it.  Well,
well, it was the old story.  Yet he looked after her kindly as he
thought of it; as some people look sorrowfully at children, going back
to their own childhood.  For a moment he half relented in his purpose,
thinking, perhaps, her work for life was hard enough.  But no: this
woman had been planned and kept by God for higher uses than daughter or
wife or mother.  It was his part to put her work into her hands.

The road was creeping drowsily now between high grass-banks, out
through the hills.  A sleepy, quiet road.  The restless dust of the
town never had been heard of out there.  It went wandering lazily
through the corn-fields, down by the river, into the very depths of the
woods,--the low October sunshine slanting warmly down it all the way,
touching the grass-banks and the corn-fields with patches of russet
gold.  Nobody in such a road could be in a hurry.  The quiet was so
deep, the free air, the heavy trees, the sunshine, all so full and
certain and fixed, one could be sure of finding them the same a hundred
years from now.  Nobody ever was in a hurry.  The brown bees came along
there, when their work was over, and hummed into the great purple
thistles on the road-side in a voluptuous stupor of delight.  The cows
sauntered through the clover by the fences, until they wound up by
lying down in it and sleeping outright.  The country-people, jogging
along to the mill, walked their fat old nags through the stillness and
warmth so slowly that even Margret left them far behind.  As the road
went deeper into the hills, the quiet grew even more penetrating and
certain,--so certain in these grand old mountains that one called it
eternal, and, looking up to the peaks fixed in the clear blue, grew
surer of a world beyond this where there is neither change nor death.

It was growing late; the evening air more motionless and cool; the
russet gold of the sunshine mottled only the hill-tops now; in the
valleys there was a duskier brown, deepening every moment. Margret
turned from the road, and went down the fields.  One did not wonder,
feeling the silence of these hills and broad sweeps of meadow, that
this woman, coming down from among them, should be strangely still,
with dark questioning eyes dumb to their own secrets.

Looking into her face now, you could be sure of one thing: that she had
left the town, the factory, the dust far away, shaken the thought of
them off her brain.  No miles could measure the distance between her
home and them.  At a stile across the field an old man sat waiting.
She hurried now, her cheek colouring. Dr. Knowles could see them going
to the house beyond, talking earnestly.  He sat down in the darkening
twilight on the stile, and waited half an hour.  He did not care to
hear the story of Margret's first day at the mill, knowing how her
father and mother would writhe under it, soften it as she would.  It
was nothing to her, he knew.  So he waited.  After a while he heard the
old man's laugh, like that of a pleased child, and then went in and
took her place beside him.  She went out, but came back presently,
every grain of dust gone, in her clear dress of pearl gray.  The
neutral tint suited her well.  As she stood by the window, listening
gravely to them, the homely face and waiting figure came into full
relief.  Nature had made the woman in a freak of rare sincerity.  There
were no reflected lights about her; no gloss on her skin, no glitter in
her eyes, no varnish on her soul.  Simple and dark and pure, there she
was, for God and her master to conquer and understand.  Her flesh was
cold and colourless,--there were no surface tints on it,--it warmed
sometimes slowly from far within; her voice, quiet,--out of her heart;
her hair, the only beauty of the woman, was lustreless brown, lay in
unpolished folds of dark shadow.  I saw such hair once, only once.  It
had been cut from the head of a man, who, unconscious, simple as a
child, lived out the law of his nature, and set the world at
defiance,--Bysshe Shelley.

The Doctor, talking to her father, watched the girl furtively, took in
every point, as one might critically survey a Damascus blade which he
was going to carry into battle.  There was neither love nor scorn in
his look,--a mere fixedness of purpose to make use of her some day.  He
talked, meanwhile, glancing at her now and then, as if the subject they
discussed were indirectly linked with his plan for her.  If it were,
she was unconscious of it. She sat on the wooden step of the porch,
looking out on the melancholy sweep of meadow and hill range growing
cool and dimmer in the dun twilight, not hearing what they said, until
the sharpened, earnest tones roused her.

"You will fail, Knowles."

It was her father who spoke.

"Nothing can save such a scheme from failure.  Neither the French nor
German Socialists attempted to base their systems on the lowest class,
as you design."

"I know," said Knowles.  "That accounts for their partial success."

"Let me understand your plan practically," eagerly demanded her father.

She thought Knowles evaded the question,--wished to leave the subject.
Perhaps he did not regard the poor old school-master as a practical
judge of practical matters.  All his life he had called him thriftless
and unready.

"It never will do, Knowles," he went on in his slow way.  "Any plan,
Phalanstery or Community, call it what you please, founded on self
government, is based on a sham, the tawdriest of shams."

The old school-master shook his head as one who knows, and tried to
push the thin gray hairs out of his eyes in a groping way. Margret
lifted them back, so quietly that he did not feel her.

"You'll call the Republic a sham next!" said the Doctor, coolly
aggravating.

"The Republic!"  The old man quickened his tone, like a war-horse
scenting the battle near at hand.  "There never was a thinner-crusted
Devil's egg in the world than democracy.  I think I've told you that
before?"

"I think you have," said the other, dryly.

"You always were a Tory, Mr. Howth," said his wife, in her placid,
creamy way.  "It is in the blood, I think, Doctor.  The Howths fought
under Cornwallis, you know."

The school-master waited until his wife had ended.

"Very true, Mrs. Howth," he said, with a grave smile.  Then his thin
face grew hot again.

"No, Dr. Knowles.  Your scheme is but a sign of the mad age we live in.
Since the thirteenth century, when the anarchic element sprang
full-grown into the history of humanity, that history has been chaos.
And this republic is the culmination of chaos."

"Out of chaos came the new-born earth," suggested the Doctor.

"But its foundations were granite," rejoined the old man with nervous
eagerness,--"granite, not the slime of yesterday.  When you found
empires, go to work as God worked."

The Doctor did not answer; sat looking, instead, out into the dark
indifferently, as if the heresies which the old man hurled at him were
some old worn-out song.  Seeing, however, that the school-master's
flush of enthusiasm seemed on the point of dying out, he roused himself
to gibe it into life.

"Well, Mr. Howth, what will you have?  If the trodden rights of the
human soul are the slime of yesterday, how shall we found our empire to
last?  On despotism?  Civil or theocratic?"

"Any despotism is better than that of newly enfranchised serfs,"
replied the school-master.

The Doctor laughed.

"What a successful politician you would have made?  You would have had
such a winning way to the hearts of the great unwashed!"

Mrs. Howth laid down her knitting.

"My dear," she said, timidly, "I think that is treason."

The angry heat died out of his face instantly, as he turned to her,
without the glimmer of a covert smile at her simplicity. She was a
woman; and when he spoke to the Doctor, it was in a tone less sharp.

"What is it the boys used to declaim, their Yankee hearts throbbing
under their round-aborts?  'Happy, proud America!' Somehow in that way.
'Cursed, abased America!' better if they had said.  Look at her, in the
warm vigour of her youth, most vigorous in decay!  Look at the germs
and dregs of nations, creeds, religions, fermenting together!  As for
the theory of self-government, it will muddle down here, as in the
three great archetypes of the experiment, into a paling, miserable
failure!"

The Doctor did not hear.  Some sharper shadow seemed to haunt him than
the downfall of the Republic.  What help did he seek in this girl?  His
keen, deep eyes never left her unconscious face.

"No," Mr. Howth went on, having the field to himself,--"we left Order
back there in the ages you call dark, and Progress will trumpet the
world into the ditch."

"Comte!" growled the Doctor.

The school-master's cane beat an angry tattoo on the hearth.

"You sneer at Comte?  Because, having the clearest eye, the widest
sweeping eye ever given to man, he had no more?  It was to show how far
flesh can go alone.  Could he help it, if God refused the prophet's
vision?"

"I'm sure, Samuel," interrupted his wife with a sorrowful earnestness,
"your own eyes were as strong as a man's could be. It was ten years
after I wore spectacles that you began.  Only for that miserable fever,
you could read shorthand now."

Her own blue eyes filled with tears.  There was a sudden silence.
Margret shivered, as if some pain stung her.  Holding her father's bony
hand in hers, she patted it on her knee.  The hand trembled a little.
Knowles's sharp eyes darted from one to the other; then, with a
smothered growl, he shook himself, and rushed headlong into the old
battle which he and the school-master had been waging now, off and on,
some six years.  That was a fight, I can tell you!  None of your
shallow, polite clashing of modern theories,--no talk of your
Jeffersonian Democracy, your high-bred Federalism!  They took hold of
the matter by the roots, clear at the beginning.

Mrs. Howth's breath fairly left her, they went into the soul of the
matter in such a dangerous way.  What if Joel should hear? No doubt he
would report that his master was an infidel,--that would be the next
thing they would hear.  He was in the kitchen now: he finished his
wood-chopping an hour ago.  Asleep, doubtless; that was one comfort.
Well, if he were awake, he could not understand.  That class of
people----And Mrs. Howth (into whose kindly brain just enough of her
husband's creed had glimmered to make her say, "that class of people,"
in the tone with which Abraham would NOT have spoken of Dives over the
gulf) went tranquilly back to her knitting, wondering why Dr. Knowles
should come ten times now where he used to come once, to provoke Samuel
into these wearisome arguments.  Ever since their misfortune came on
them, he had been there every night, always at it.  She should think he
might be a little more considerate.  Mr. Howth surely had enough to
think of, what with his--his misfortune, and the starvation waiting for
them, and poor Margret's degradation, (she sighed here,) without
bothering his head about the theocratic principle, or the Battle of
Armageddon. She had hinted as much to Dr. Knowles one day, and he had
muttered out something about its being "the life of the dog, Ma'am."
She wondered what he meant by that!  She looked over at his bearish
figure, snuff-drabbled waistcoat, and shock of black hair.  Well, poor
man, he could not help it, if he were coarse, and an Abolitionist, and
a Fourierite, and----She was getting a little muddy now, she was
conscious, so turned her mind back to the repose of her stocking.
Margret took it very quietly, seeing her father flaming so.  But
Margret never had any opinions to express.  She was not like the
Parnells: they were noted for their clear judgment.  Mrs. Howth was a
Parnell.

     "The combat deepens,--on, ye brave!"

The Doctor's fat, leathery face was quite red now, and his sentences
were hurled out in a sarcastic bass, enough to wither the marrow of a
weak man.  But the school-master was no weak man. His foot was entirely
on his native heath, I assure you.  He knew every inch of the ground,
from the domination of the absolute faith in the ages of Fetichism, to
its pseudo-presentment in the tenth century, and its actual subversion
in the nineteenth. Every step.  Our politicians might have picked up an
idea or two there, I should think!  Then he was so cool about it, so
skilful! He fairly rubbed his hands with glee, enjoying the combat.
And he was so sure that the Doctor was savagely in earnest: why, any
one with half an ear could hear that!  He did not see how, in the very
heat of the fray, his eyes would wander off listlessly.  But Mr. Howth
did not wander; there was nothing careless or two-sided in the making
of this man,--no sham about him, or borrowing. They came down
gradually, or out,--for, as I told you, they dug into the very heart of
the matter at first,--they came out gradually to modern times.  Things
began to assume a more familiar aspect.  Spinoza, Fichte, Saint
Simon,--one heard about them now.  If you could but have heard the
school-master deal with these his enemies!  With what tender charity
for the man, what relentless vengeance for the belief, he pounced on
them, dragging the soul out of their systems, holding it up for slow
slaughter!  As for Humanity, (how Knowles lingered on that word, with a
tenderness curious in so uncouth a mass of flesh!)--as for Humanity, it
was a study to see it stripped and flouted and thrown out of doors like
a filthy rag by this poor old Howth, a man too child-hearted to kill a
spider.  It was pleasanter to hear him when he defended the great Past
in which his ideal truth had been faintly shadowed.  How he caught the
salient tints of the feudal life!  How the fine womanly nature of the
man rose exulting in the free picturesque glow of the day of crusader
and heroic deed!  How he crowded in traits of perfected manhood in the
conqueror, simple trust in the serf, to colour and weaken his argument,
not seeing that he weakened it!  How, when he thought he had cornered
the Doctor, he would colour and laugh like a boy, then suddenly check
himself, lest he might wound him!  A curious laugh, genial,
cheery,--bubbling out of his weak voice in a way that put you in mind
of some old and rare wine.  When he would check himself in one of these
triumphant glows, he would turn to the Doctor with a deprecatory
gravity, and for a few moments be almost submissive in his reply.  So
earnest and worn it looked then, the poor old face, in the dim light!
The black clothes he wore were so threadbare and shining at the knees
and elbows, the coarse leather shoes brought to so fine a polish!  The
Doctor idly wondered who had blacked them, glancing at Margret's
fingers.

There was a flower stuck in the button-hole of the school-master's
coat, a pale tea-rose.  If Dr. Knowles had been a man of fine
instincts, (which his opaque shining eyes would seem to deny,) he might
have thought it was not unapt or ill-placed even in the shabby, scuffed
coat.  A scholar, a gentleman, though in patched shoes and trousers a
world too short.  Old and gaunt, hunger-bitten even it may be, with
loose-jointed, bony limbs, and yellow face; clinging, loyal and brave,
to the quaint, delicate fancies of his youth, that were dust and ashes
to other men.  In the very haggard face you could find the quiet purity
of the child he had been, and the old child's smile, fresh and
credulous, on the mouth.

The Doctor had not spoken for a moment.  It might be that he was
careless of the poetic lights with which Mr. Howth tenderly decorated
his old faith, or it might be, that even he, with the terrible
intentness of a real life-purpose in his brain, was touched by the
picture of the far old chivalry, dead long ago. The master's voice grew
low and lingering now.  It was a labour of love, this.  Oh, it is so
easy to go back out of the broil of dust and meanness and barter into
the clear shadow of that old life where love and bravery stand eternal
verities,--never to be bought and sold in that dusty town yonder!  To
go back?  To dream back, rather.  To drag out of our own hearts, as the
hungry old master did, whatever is truest and highest there, and clothe
it with name and deed in the dim days of chivalry.  Make a poem of
it,--so much easier than to make a life!

Knowles shuffled uneasily, watching the girl keenly, to know how the
picture touched her.  Was, then, she thought, this grand, dead Past so
shallow to him?  These knights, pure, unstained, searching until death
for the Holy Grail, could he understand the life-long agony, the
triumph of their conflict over Self?  These women, content to live in
solitude forever because they once had loved, could any man understand
that?  Or the dead queen, dead that the man she loved might be free and
happy,--why, this WAS life,--this death!  But did pain, and martyrdom,
and victory lie back in the days of Galahad and Arthur alone?  The
homely face grew stiller than before, looking out into the dun sweep of
moorland,--cold, unrevealing.  It baffled the man that looked at it.
He shuffled, chewed tobacco vehemently, tilted his chair on two legs,
broke out in a thunder-gust at last.

"Dead days for dead men!  The world hears a bugle-call to-day more
noble than any of your piping troubadours.  We have something better to
fight for than a vacant tomb."

The old man drew himself up haughtily.

"I know what you would say,--Liberty for the low and vile.  It is a
good word.  That was a better which they hid in their hearts in the old
time,--Honour!"

Honour!  I think, Calvinist though he was, that word was his religion.
Men have had worse.  Perhaps the Doctor thought this; for he rose
abruptly, and, leaning on the old man's chair, said, gently,--

"It is better, even here.  Yet you poison this child's mind.  You make
her despise To-Day; make honour live for her now."

"It does not," the school-master said, bitterly.  "The world's a
failure.  All the great old dreams are dead.  Your own phantom, your
Republic, your experiment to prove that all men are born free and
equal,--what is it to-day?"

Knowles lifted his head, looking out into the brown twilight. Some word
of pregnant meaning flashed in his eye and trembled on his lip; but he
kept it back.  His face glowed, though, and the glow and strength gave
to the huge misshapen features a grand repose.

"You talk of To-Day," the old man continued, querulously.  "I am tired
of it.  Here is its type and history," touching a county newspaper,--"a
fair type, with its cant, and bigotry, and weight of uncomprehended
fact.  Bargain and sale,--it taints our religion, our brains, our
flags,--yours and mine, Knowles, with the rest.  Did you never hear of
those abject spirits who entered neither heaven nor hell, who were
neither faithful to God nor rebellious, caring only for themselves?"

He paused, fairly out of breath.  Margret looked up.  Knowles was
silent.  There was a smothered look of pain on the coarse face; the
school-master's words were sinking deeper than he knew.

"No, father," said Margret, hastily ending his quotation, "'io non
averei creduto, che [vita] tanta n' avesse disfatta.'"

Skilful Margret!  The broil must have been turbid in the old man's
brain which the grand, slow-stepping music of the Florentine could not
calm.  She had learned that long ago, and used it as a nurse does some
old song to quiet her pettish infant.  His face brightened instantly.

"Do not believe, then, child," he said, after a pause.  "It is a noble
doubt, in Dante or in you."

The Doctor had turned away; she could not see his face.  The angry
scorn was gone from the old master's countenance; it was bent with its
usual wistful eagerness on the floor.  A moment after he looked up with
a flickering smile.

"'Onorate l' altissmo poeta!'" he said, gently  lifting his finger to
his forehead in a military fashion.  "Where is my cane, Margret?  The
Doctor and I will go and walk on the porch before it grows dark."

The sun had gone down long before, and the stars were out; but no one
spoke of this.  Knowles lighted the school-master's pipe and his own
cigar, and then moved the chairs out of their way, stepping softly that
the old man might not hear him.  Margret, in the room, watched them as
they went, seeing how gentle the rough, burly man was with her father,
and how, every time they passed the sweet-brier, he bent the branches
aside, that they might not touch his face.  Slow, childish tears came
into her eyes as she saw it; for the school-master was blind.  This had
been their regular walk every evening, since it grew too cold for them
to go down under the lindens.  The Doctor had not missed a night since
her father gave up the school, a month ago: at first, under pretence of
attending to his eyes; but since the day he had told them there was no
hope of cure, he had never spoken of it again. Only, since then, he had
grown doubly quarrelsome,--standing ready armed to dispute with the old
man every inch of every subject in earth or air, keeping the old man in
a state of boyish excitement during the long, idle days, looking
forward to this nightly battle.

It was very still; for the house, with its half-dozen acres, lay in an
angle of the hills, looking out on the river, which shut out all
distant noises.  Only the men's footsteps broke the silence, passing
and repassing the window.  Without, the October starlight lay white and
frosty on the moors, the old barn, the sharp, dark hills, and the
river, which was half hidden by the orchard.  One could hear it, like
some huge giant moaning in his sleep, at times, and see broad patches
of steel blue glittering through the thick apple-trees and the bushes.
Her mother had fallen into a doze.  Margret looked at her, thinking how
sallow the plump, fair face had grown, and how faded the kindly blue
eyes were now.  Dim with crying,--she knew that, though she never saw
her shed a tear.  Always cheery, going placidly about the house in her
gray dress and Quaker cap, as if there were no such things in the world
as debt or blindness.  But Margret knew, though she said nothing.  When
her mother came in from those wonderful foraging expeditions in search
of late pease or corn, she could see the swollen circle round the eyes,
and hear her breath like that of a child which has sobbed itself tired.
Then, one night, when she had gone into her mother's room, after she
was in bed, the blue eyes were set in a wild, hopeless way, as if
staring down into years of starvation and misery.  The fire on the
hearth burned low and clear; the old worn furniture stood out
cheerfully in the red glow, and threw a maze of twisted shadow on the
floor.  But the glow was all that was cheerful.  To-morrow, when the
hard daylight should jeer away the screening shadows, it would unbare a
desolate, shabby home.  She knew; struck with the white leprosy of
poverty; the blank walls, the faded hangings, the old stone house
itself, looking vacantly out on the fields with a pitiful significance
of loss.  Upon the mantel-shelf there was a small marble figure, one of
the Dancing Graces: the other two were gone, gone in pledge.  This one
was left, twirling her foot, and stretching out her hands in a dreary
sort of ecstasy, with no one to respond.  For a moment, so empty and
bitter seemed her home and her life, that she thought the lonely dancer
with her flaunting joy mocked her,--taunted them with the slow, gray
desolation that had been creeping on them for years.  Only for a moment
the morbid fancy hurt her.

The red glow was healthier, suited her temperament better.  She chose
to fancy the house as it had been once,--should be again, please God.
She chose to see the old comfort and the old beauty which the poor
school-master had gathered about their home.  Gone now.  But it should
return.  It was well, perhaps, that he was blind, he knew so little of
what had come on them.  There, where the black marks were on the wall,
there had hung two pictures. Margret and her father religiously
believed them to be a Tintoret and Copley.  Well, they were gone now.
He had been used to dust them with a light brush every morning,
himself, but now he said always,--

"You can clean the pictures to-day, Margret.  Be careful, my child."

And Margret would remember the greasy Irishman who had tucked them
under his arm, and flung them into a cart, her blood growing hotter in
her veins.

It was the same through all the house; there was not a niche in the
bare rooms that did not recall a something gone,--something that should
return.  She willed that, that evening, standing by the dim fire.  What
women will, whose eyes are slow, attentive, still, as this Margret's,
usually comes to pass.

The red fire-glow suited her; another glow, warming her floating fancy,
mingled with it, giving her every-day purpose the trait of heroism.
The old spirit of the dead chivalry, of succour to the weak, life-long
self-denial,--did it need the sand waste of Palestine or a tournament
to call it into life?  Down in that trading town, in the thick of its
mills and drays, it could live, she thought.  That very night, perhaps,
in some of those fetid cellars or sunken shanties, there were vigils
kept of purpose as unselfish, prayer as heaven-commanding, as that of
the old aspirants for knighthood.  She, too,--her quiet face stirred
with a simple, childish smile, like her father's.

"Why, mother!" she said, stroking down the gray hair under the cap,
"shall you sleep here all night?" laughing.

A cheery, tender laugh, this woman's was,--seldom heard,--not far from
tears.

Mrs. Howth roused herself.  Just then, a broad, high-shouldered man, in
a gray flannel shirt, and shoes redolent of the stable, appeared at the
door.  Margret looked at him as if he were an accusing spirit,--coming
down, as woman must, from heights of self-renunciation or bold resolve,
to an undarned stocking or an uncooked meal.

"Kittle's b'ilin'," he announced, flinging in the information as a
general gratuity.

"That will do, Joel," said Mrs. Howth.

The tone of stately blandness which Mrs. Howth erected as a shield
between herself and "that class of people" was a study: a success; the
resume of her experience in the combat that had devoured half her life,
like that of other American house-keepers.  "Be gentle, but let them
know their place, my dear!"  The class having its type and exponent in
Joel, stopped at the door, and hitched up its suspenders.

"That will DO, Joel," with a stern suavity.

Some idea was in Joel's head under the brush of red hair,--probably the
"anarchic element."

"Uh was wishin' toh read the G'zette." Whereupon he advanced into the
teeth of the enemy and bore off the newspaper, going before Margret, as
she went to the kitchen, and seating himself beside a flaring
tallow-candle on the table.

Reading, with Joel, was not the idle pastime that more trivial minds
find it; a thing, on the contrary, to be gone into with slow spelling,
and face knitted up into savage sternness, especially now, when, as he
gravely explained to Margret, "in HIS opinion the crissis was jest at
hand, and ev'ry man must be seein' ef the gover'ment was carryin' out
the views of the people."

With which intent, Joel, in company with five thousand other
sovereigns, consulted, as definitive oracle, "The Daily Gazette" of
Towbridge.  The school-master need not have grumbled for the old time:
feodality in the days of Warwick and of "The Daily Gazette" was not so
widely different as he and Joel thought.

Now and then, partly as an escape-valve for his overcharged conviction,
partly in compassion to the ignorance of women in political economics,
he threw off to Margret divers commentaries on the text, as she passed
in and out.

If she had risen to the full level of Joel's views, she might have
considered these views tinctured with radicalism, as they consisted in
the propriety of the immediate "impinging of the President."  Besides,
(Joel was a good-natured man, too, merciful to his beast,) Nero-like,
he wished, with the tiger drop of blood that lies hid in everybody's
heart, that the few millions who differed with himself and the
"Gazette" had but one neck for their more convenient hanging, "It's all
that'll save the kentry," he said, and believed it, too.

If Margret fell suddenly from the peak of outlook on life to the homely
labor of cooking supper, some of the healthy heroic flush of the
knightly days and the hearth-fire went down with her, I think.  It
brightened and reddened the square kitchen with its cracked stove and
meagre array of tins; she bustled about in her quaint way, as if it had
been filled up and running over with comforts.  It brightened and
reddened her face when she came in to put the last dish on the
table,--a cosy, snug table, set for four.  Heroic dreams with poets, I
suppose, make them unfit for food other than some feast such as Eve set
for the angel. But then Margret was no poet.  So, with the kindling of
her hope, its healthful light struck out, and warmed and glorified
these common things.  Such common things!  Only a coarse white cloth,
redeemed by neither silver nor china, the amber coffee, (some that
Knowles had brought out to her father--"thrown on his hands; he
couldn't use it,--product of slave-labour!--never, Sir!") the delicate
brown fish that Joel had caught, the bread her mother had made, the
golden butter,--all of them touched her nerves with a quick sense of
beauty and pleasure.  And more, the gaunt face of the blind old man,
his bony hand trembling as he raised the cup to his lips, her mother
and the Doctor managing silently to place everything he liked best near
his plate.  Wasn't it all part of the fresh, hopeful glow burning in
her consciousness?  It brightened and deepened.  It blotted out the
hard, dusty path of the future, and showed warm and clear the success
at the end. Not much to show, you think.  Only the old home as it once
was, full of quiet laughter and content; only her mother's eyes clear
shining again; only that gaunt old head raised proudly, owing no man
anything but courtesy.  The glow deepened, as she thought of it.  It
was strange, too, that, with the deep, slow-moving nature of this girl,
she should have striven so eagerly to throw this light over the future.
Commoner natures have done more and hoped less.  It was a poor gift,
you think, this of the labour of a life for so plain a duty; hardly
heroic.  She knew it.  Yet, if there lay in this coming labour any
pain, any wearing effort, she clung to it desperately, as if this
should banish, it might be, worse loss.  She tried desperately, I say,
to clutch the far, uncertain hope at the end, to make happiness out of
it, to give it to her silent gnawing heart to feed on.  She thrust out
of sight all possible life that might have called her true self into
being, and clung to this present shallow duty and shallow reward.
Pitiful and vain so to cling!  It is the way of women.  As if any human
soul could bury that which might have been, in that which is!

The Doctor, peering into her thought with sharp, suspicious eyes,
heeded the transient flush of enthusiasm but little.  Even the pleasant
cheery talk that pleased her father so was but surface-deep, he knew.
The woman he must conquer for his great end lay beneath, dark and cold.
It was only for that end he cared for her.  Through what cold depths of
solitude her soul breathed faintly mattered  little.  Yet an idle fancy
touched him, what a triumph the man had gained, whoever he might be,
who had held the master-key to a nature so rare as this, who had the
kingly power in his hand to break its silence into electric shivers of
laughter and tears,--terrible subtile pain, or joy as terrible.  Did he
hold the power still?  He wondered.  Meanwhile she sat there, unread.



CHAPTER II.

The evening came on, slow and cold.  Life itself, the Doctor thought,
impatiently, was cool and tardy here among the hills. Even he fell into
the tranquil tone, and chafed under it. Nowhere else did the evening
gray and sombre into the mysterious night impalpably as here.  The
quiet, wide and deep, folded him in, forced his trivial heat into
silence and thought.  The world seemed to think there.  Quiet in the
dead seas of fog, that filled the valleys like restless vapour curdled
into silence; quiet in the listening air, stretching gray up to the
stars,--in the solemn mountains, that stood motionless, like
hoary-headed prophets, waiting with uplifted hands, day and night, to
hear the Voice, silent now for centuries; the very air, heavy with the
breath of the sleeping pine-forests, moved slowly and cold, like some
human voice weary with preaching to unbelieving hearts of a peace on
earth.  This man's heart was unbelieving; he chafed in the oppressive
quiet; it was unfeeling mockery to a sick and hungry world,--a dead
torpor of indifference.  Years of hot and turbid pain had dulled his
eyes to the eternal secret of the night; his soul was too sore with
stumbling, stung, inflamed with the needs and suffering of the
countless lives that hemmed him in, to accept the great prophetic calm.
He was blind to the prophecy written on the earth since the day God
first bade it tell thwarted man of the great To-Morrow.

He turned from the night in-doors.  Human hearts were his proper study.
The old house, he thought, slept with the rest.  One did not wonder
that the pendulum of the clock swung long and slow. The frantic,
nervous haste of town-clocks chorded better with the pulse of human
life.  Yet life in the veins of these people flowed slow and cool;
their sorrows and joys were few and life-long.  The enduring air suited
this woman, Margret Howth. Her blood could never ebb or flow with
sudden gusts of passion, like his own, throbbing, heating continually:
one current, absorbing, deep, would carry its tide from one eternity to
the other, one love or one hate.  Whatever power was in the tide should
be his, in its entirety.  It was his right.  Was not his aim high, the
highest?  It was his right.

Margret, looking up, saw the man's eye fixed on her.  She met it
coolly.  All her short life, this strange man, so tender to the weak,
had watched her with a sort of savage scorn, sneering at her childish,
dreamy apathy, driving her from effort to effort with a scourge of
contempt.  What did he want now with her?  Her duty was light; she took
it up,--she was glad to take it up; what more would he have?  She put
the whole matter away from her.

It grew late.  She sat down by the lamp and began to read to her
father, as usual.  Her mother put away her knitting; Joel came in
half-asleep; the Doctor put out his everlasting cigar, and listened, as
he did everything else, intently.  It was an old story that she
read,--the story of a man who walked the fields and crowded streets of
Galilee eighteen hundred years ago. Knowles, with his heated brain,
fancied that the silence without in the night grew deeper, that the
slow-moving air stopped in its course to listen.  Perhaps the simple
story carried a deeper meaning to these brooding mountains and solemn
sky than to the purblind hearts within.  It was a far-off story to
them,--very far off.  The old school-master heard it with a lowered
head, with the proud obedience with which a cavalier would receive his
leader's orders.  Was not the leader a knights the knight of truest
courage?  All that was high, chivalric in the old man sprang up to own
him Lord.  That he not only preached to, but ate and drank with
publicans and sinners, was a requirement of his mission; nowadays----.
Joel heard the "good word" with a bewildered consciousness of certain
rules of honesty to be observed next day, and a maze of crowns and
harps shining somewhere beyond.  As for any immediate connection
between the teachings of this book and "The Daily Gazette," it was pure
blasphemy to think of it.  The Lord held those old Jews in His hand, of
course; but as for the election next month, that was quite another
thing.  If Joel thrust the history out of the touch of common life, the
Doctor brought it down, and held it there on trial.  To him it was the
story of a Reformer who, eighteen centuries ago, had served his day.
Could he serve this day? Could he?  The need was desperate.  Was there
anything in this Christianity, freed from bigotry, to work out the
awful problem which the ages had left for America to solve? He doubted
it. People called this old Knowles an infidel, said his brain was as
unnatural and distorted as his body.  God, looking down into his heart
that night, saw the savage wrestling there, and judged him with other
eyes than theirs.

The story stood alive in his throbbing brain demanding hearing. All
things were real to this man, this uncouth mass of flesh that his
companions sneered at; most real of all, the unhelped pain of life, the
great seething mire of dumb wretchedness in streets and alleys, the cry
for aid from the starved souls of the world.  You and I have other work
to do than to listen,--pleasanter.  But he, coming out of the mire, his
veins thick with the blood of a despised race, had carried up their
pain and hunger with him: it was the most real thing on earth to
him,--more real than his own share in the unseen heaven or hell.  By
the reality, the peril of the world's instant need, he tried the
offered help from Calvary. It was the work of years, not of this night.
Perhaps, if they who preach Christ crucified had doubted him as this
man did, their work in the coming heaven might be higher,--and ours,
who hear them.  When the girl had finished reading, she went out into
the cool air.  The Doctor passed her without notice.  He went, in his
lumbering way, down the hill into the city; glad to go; the trustful,
waiting quiet oppressed, taunted him.  It sent him back more mad
against Destiny, his heart more bitter in its great pity.  Let him go
to the great city, with its stifling gambling-hells, its negro-pens,
its foul cellars;--his place and work.  If he stumble blindly against
unconquerable ills, and die, others have so stumbled and so died.  Do
you think their work is lost?

Margret stood looking down at the sloping moors and fog.  She, too, had
her place and work.  She thought that night she saw it clearly, and
kept her eyes fixed on it, as I said.  They plodded steadily down the
wide years opening before her.  Whatever slow, unending toil lay in
them, whatever hungry loneliness, or coarseness of deed, she saw it
all, shrinking from nothing.  She looked at the big blue-corded veins
in her wrist, full of untainted blood,--gauged herself coolly, her
lease of life, her power of endurance,--measured it out against the
work waiting for her.  No short task, she knew that.  She would be old
before it was finished, quite an old woman, hard, mechanical, worn out.
But the day would be so bright, when it came, it would atone for all:
the day would be bright, the home warm again; it would hold all that
life had promised her of good.

All?  Oh, Margret, Margret!  Was there no sullen doubt in the brave
resolve?  Was there no shadow just then, dark, ironical, blotting out
father and mother and home, creeping nearer, less alien to your soul
than these, than even your God?

If any such cold, masterful shadow rose out of years gone, and clutched
at the truest life of her heart, she stifled it, and thrust it down.
And yet, leaning on the gate, and thinking vacantly, she remembered a
time when through that shadow, she believed more in a God than she did
now.  When, by the help of that very dead hope, He of whom she read
to-night stood close, an infinitely tender Helper, that with the
differing human loves she knew, had loved His mother and Mary.
Therefore, a Helper.  Now, struggle as she would for warmth or healthy
hopes, the world was gray and silent.  Her defeated woman's nature
called it so, bitterly.  Christ was a dim, ideal power, heaven far-off.
She doubted if it held anything as real as that which she had lost.

As if to bring back the old times more vividly to her, there happened
one of those curious little coincidences with which Fate, we think, has
nothing to do.  She heard a quick step along the clay road, and a muddy
little terrier jumped up, barking, beside her.  She stopped with a
suddenness strange in her slow movements.  "TIGER!" she said, stroking
its head with passionate eagerness.  The dog licked her hand, smelt her
clothes to know if she were the same: it was two years since he had
seen her.  She sat there, softly stroking him.  Presently there was a
sound of wheels jogging down the road, and a voice singing snatches of
some song, one of those cheery street-songs that the boys whistle.  It
was a low, weak voice, but very pleasant.  Margret heard it through the
dark: she kissed the dog with a strange paleness on her face, and stood
up, quiet, attentive as before. Tiger still kept licking her hand, as
it hung by her side: it was cold, and trembled as he touched it.  She
waited a moment, then pushed him from her, as if his touch, even,
caused her to break some vow.  He whined, but she hurried away, not
waiting to know how he came, or with whom.  Perhaps, if Dr. Knowles had
seen her face as she looked back at him, he would have thought there
were depths in her nature which his probing eyes had never reached.

The wheels came close, and directly a cart stopped at the gate. It was
one of those little wagons that hucksters drive; only this seemed to be
a home-made affair, patched up with wicker-work and bits of board.  It
was piled up with baskets of vegetables, eggs, and chickens, and on a
broken bench in the middle sat the driver, a woman.  You could not help
laughing, when you looked at the whole turn-out, it had such a
make-shift look altogether.  The reins were twisted rope, the wheels
uneven.  It went jolting along in such a careless, jolly way, as if it
would not care in the least, should it go to pieces any minute just
there in the road.  The donkey that drew it was bony and blind of one
eye; but he winked the other knowingly at you, to ask if you saw the
joke of the thing.  Even the voice of the owner of the establishment,
chirruping some idle song, as I told you, was one of the cheeriest
sounds you ever heard.  Joel, up at the barn, forgot his dignity to
salute it with a prolonged "Hillo!" and presently appeared at the gate.

"I'm late, Joel," said the weak voice.  It sounded like a child's, near
at hand.

"We can trade in the dark, Lois, both bein' honest," he responded,
graciously, hoisting a basket of tomatoes into the cart, and taking out
a jug of vinegar.

"Is that Lois?" said Mrs. Howth, coming to the gate.  "Sit still,
child.  Don't get down."

But the child, as she called her, had scrambled off the cart, and stood
beside her, leaning on the wheel, for she was helplessly crippled.

"I thought you would be down to-night.  I put some coffee on the stove.
Bring it out, Joel."

Mrs. Howth never put up the shield between herself and this member of
"the class,"--because, perhaps, she was so wretchedly low in the social
scale.  However, I suppose she never gave a reason for it even to
herself.  Nobody could help being kind to Lois, even if he tried.  Joel
brought the coffee with more readiness than he would have waited on
Mrs. Howth.

"Barney will be jealous," he said, patting the bare ribs of the old
donkey, and glancing wistfully at his mistress.

"Give him his supper, surely," she said, taking the hint.

It was a real treat to see how Lois enjoyed her supper, sipping and
tasting the warm coffee, her face in a glow, like an epicure over some
rare Falernian.  You would be sure, from just that little thing, that
no sparkle of warmth or pleasure in the world slipped by her which she
did not catch and enjoy and be thankful for to the uttermost.  You
would think, perhaps, pitifully, that not much pleasure or warmth would
ever go down so low, within her reach.  Now that she stood on the
ground, she scarcely came up to the level of the wheel; some deformity
of her legs made her walk with a curious rolling jerk, very comical to
see.  She laughed at it, when other people did; if it vexed her at all,
she never showed it.  She had turned back her calico sun-bonnet, and
stood looking up at Mrs. Howth and Joel, laughing as they talked with
her.  The face would have startled you on so old and stunted a body.
It was a child's face, quick, eager, with that pitiful beauty you
always see in deformed people.  Her eyes, I think, were the kindliest,
the hopefullest I ever saw.  Nothing but the livid thickness of her
skin betrayed the fact that set Lois apart from even the poorest
poor,--the taint in her veins of black blood.

"Whoy! be n't this Tiger?" said Joel, as the dog ran yelping about him.
"How comed yoh with him, Lois?"

"Tiger an' his master's good friends o' mine,--you remember they allus
was.  An' he's back now, Mr. Holmes,--been back for a month."

Margret, walking in the porch with her father, stopped.

"Are you tired, father?  It is late."

"And you are worn out, poor child!  It was selfish in me to forget.
Good-night, dear!"

Margret kissed him, laughing cheerfully, as she led him to his
room-door.  He lingered, holding her dress.

"Perhaps it will be easier for you to-morrow than it was to-day?"
hesitating.

"I am sure it will.  To-morrow will be sure to be better than to-day."

She left him, and went away with a step that did not echo the promise
of her words.

Joel, meanwhile, consulted apart with his mistress.

"Of course," she said, emphatically.--"You must stay until morning,
Lois.  It is too late.  Joel will toss you up a bed in the loft."

The queer little body hesitated.

"I can stay," she said, at last.  "It's his watch at the mill to-night."

"Whose watch?" demanded Joel.

Her face brightened.

"Father's.  He's back, mum."

Joel caught himself in a whistle.

"He's very stiddy, Joel,--as stiddy as yoh."

"I am very glad he has come back, Lois," said Mrs. Howth, gravely.

At every place where Lois had been that day she had told her bit of
good news, and at every place it had been met with the same kindly
smile and "I'm glad he's back, Lois."

Yet Joe Yare, fresh from two years in the penitentiary, was not exactly
the person whom society usually welcomes with open arms. Lois had a
vague suspicion of this, perhaps; for, as she hobbled along the path,
she added to her own assurance of his "stiddiness" earnest explanations
to Joel of how he had a place in the Croft Street woollen-mills, and
how Dr. Knowles had said he was as ready a stoker as any in the
furnace-rooms.

The sound of her weak, eager voice was silent presently, and nothing
broke the solitary cold of the night.



CHAPTER III.

The morning, when it came long after, came quiet and cool,--the warm
red dawn helplessly smothered under great waves of gray cloud.
Margret, looking out into the thick fog, lay down wearily again,
closing her eyes.  What was the day to her?

Very slowly the night was driven back.  An hour after, when she lifted
her head again, the stars were still glittering through the foggy arch,
like sparks of brassy blue, and hills and valleys were one drifting,
slow-heaving mass of ashy damp.  Off in the east a stifled red film
groped through.  It was another day coming; she might as well get up,
and live the rest of her life out;--what else had she to do?

Whatever this night had been to the girl, it left one thought sharp,
alive, in the exhausted quiet of her brain: a cowardly dread of the
trial of the day, when she would see him again.  Was the old struggle
of years before coming back?  Was it all to go over again?  She was
worn out.  She had been quiet in these two years: what had gone before
she never looked back upon; but it made her thankful for even this
stupid quiet.  And now, when she had planned her life, busy, useful,
contented, why need God have sent the old thought to taunt her?  A
wild, sickening sense of what might have been struggled up: she thrust
it down,--she had kept it down all night; the old pain should not come
back,--it should not.  She did not think of the love she had given up
as a dream, as verse-makers or sham people do; she knew it to be the
quick seed of her soul.  She cried for it even now, with all the fierce
strength of her nature; it was the best she knew; through it she came
nearest to God.  Thinking of the day when she had given it up, she
remembered it with a vague consciousness of having fought a deadly
struggle with her fate, and that she had been conquered,--never had
lived again.  Let it be; she could not bear the struggle again.

She went on dressing herself in a dreary, mechanical way.  Once, a
bitter laugh came on her face, as she looked into the glass, and saw
the dead, dull eyes, and the wrinkle on her forehead. Was that the face
to be crowned with delicate caresses and love? She scorned herself for
the moment, grew sick of herself, balked, thwarted in her true life as
she was.  Other women whom God has loved enough to probe to the depths
of their nature have done the same,--saw themselves as others saw them:
their strength drying up within them, jeered at, utterly alone.  It is
a trial we laugh at.  I think the quick fagots at the stake were fitter
subjects for laughter than the slow gnawing hunger in the heart of many
a slighted woman or a selfish man.  They come out of the trial as out
of martyrdom, according to their faith: you see its marks sometimes in
a frivolous old age going down with tawdry hopes and starved eyes to
the grave; you see its victory in the freshest, fullest lives in the
earth.  This woman had accepted her trial, but she took it up as an
inflexible fate which she did not understand; it was new to her; its
solitude, its hopeless thirst were freshly bitter.  She loathed herself
as one whom God had thought unworthy of every woman's right,--to love
and be loved.

She went to the window, looking blankly out into the gray cold. Any one
with keen analytic eye, noting the thin muscles of this woman, the
protruding brain, the eyes deep, concealing, would have foretold that
she would conquer in the fight; force her soul down,--but that the
forcing down would leave the weak, flaccid body spent and dead.  One
thing was certain: no curious eyes would see the struggle; the body
might be nerveless or sickly, but it had the great power of reticence;
the calm with which she faced the closest gaze was natural to her,--no
mask.  When she left her room and went down, the same unaltered quiet
that had baffled Knowles steadied her step and cooled her eyes.

After you have made a sacrifice of yourself for others, did you ever
notice how apt you were to doubt, as soon as the deed was irrevocable,
whether, after all, it were worth while to have done it?  How mean
seems the good gained!  How new and unimagined the agony of empty hands
and stifled wish!  Very slow the angels are, sometimes, that are sent
to minister!

Margret, going down the stairs that morning, found none of the
chivalric unselfish glow of the night before in her home.  It was an
old, bare house in the midst of dreary stubble fields, in which her
life was slowly to be worn out: working for those who did not
comprehend her; thanked her little,--that was all.  It did not matter;
life was short: she could thank God for that at least.

She opened the house-door.  A draught of cold morning air struck her
face, sweeping from the west; it had driven the fog in great gray banks
upon the hills, or in shimmering swamps into the cleft hollows: a vague
twilight filled the space left bare.  Tiger, asleep in the hall, rushed
out into the meadow, barking, wild with the freshness and cold, then
back again to tear round her for a noisy good-morning.  The touch of
the dog seemed to bring her closer to his master; she put him away; she
dared not suffer even that treachery to her purpose: the very
circumstances that had forced her to give him up made it weak cowardice
to turn again.  It was a simple story, yet one which she dared not tell
to herself; for it was not altogether for her father's sake she had
made the sacrifice.  She knew, that, though she might be near to this
man Holmes as his own soul, she was a clog on him,--stood in his
way,--kept him back.  So she had quietly stood aside, taken up her own
solitary burden, and left him with his clear self-reliant life,--with
his Self, dearer to him than she had ever been.  Why should it not be
dearer?  She thought,--remembering the man as he was, a master among
men: fit to be a master.  She,--what was she compared to him?  He was
back again; she must see him.  So she stood there with this persistent
dread running through her brain.

Suddenly, in the lane by the house, she heard a voice talking to
Joel,--the huckster-girl.  What a weak, cheery sound it was in the cold
and fog!  It touched her curiously: broke through her morbid thought as
anything true and healthy should have done. "Poor Lois!" she thought,
with an eager pity, forgetting her own intolerable future for the
moment, as she gathered up some breakfast and went with it down the
lane.  Morning had come; great heavy bars of light fell from behind the
hills athwart the banks of gray and black fog; there was shifting,
uneasy, obstinate tumult among the shadows; they did not mean to yield
to the coming dawn.  The hills, the massed woods, the mist opposed
their immovable front, scornfully.  Margret did not notice the silent
contest until she reached the lane.  The girl Lois, sitting in her
cart, was looking, attentive, at the slow surge of the shadows, and the
slower lifting of the slanted rays.

"T' mornin' comes grand here, Miss Marg'et!" she said, lowering her
voice.

Margret said nothing in reply; the morning, she thought, was gray and
cold, like her own life.  She stood leaning on the low cart; some
strange sympathy drew her to this poor wretch, dwarfed, alone in the
world,--some tie of equality, which the odd childish face, nor the
quaint air of content about the creature, did not lessen.  Even when
Lois shook down the patched skirt of her flannel frock straight, and
settled the heaps of corn and tomatoes about her, preparatory for a
start, Margret kept her hand on the side of the cart, and walked slowly
by it down the road.  Once, looking at the girl, she thought with a
half smile how oddly clean she was.  The flannel skirt she arranged so
complacently had been washed until the colours had run madly into each
other in sheer desperation; her hair was knotted with relentless
tightness into a comb such as old women wear.  The very cart, patched
as it was, had a snug, cosy look; the masses of vegetables, green and
crimson and scarlet, were heaped with a certain reference to the glow
of colour, Margret noticed, wondering if it were accidental.  Looking
up, she saw the girl's brown eyes fixed on her face.  They were
singularly soft, brooding brown.

"Ye 'r' goin' to th' mill, Miss Marg'et?" she asked, in a half whisper.

"Yes.  You never go there now, Lois?"

"No, 'm."

The girl shuddered, and then tried to hide it in a laugh. Margret
walked on beside her, her hand on the cart's edge. Somehow this
creature, that Nature had thrown impatiently aside as a failure, so
marred, imperfect, that even the dogs were kind to her, came strangely
near to her, claimed recognition by some subtile instinct.

Partly for this, and partly striving to forget herself, she glanced
furtively at the childish face of the distorted little body, wondering
what impression the shifting dawn made on the unfinished soul that was
looking out so intently through the brown eyes.  What artist sense had
she,--what could she know--the ignorant huckster--of the eternal laws
of beauty or grandeur? Nothing.  Yet something in the girl's face made
her think that these hills, this air and sky, were in fact alive to
her,--real; that her soul, being lower, it might be, than ours, lay
closer to Nature, knew the language of the changing day, of these
earnest-faced hills, of the very worms crawling through the brown
mould.  It was an idle fancy; Margret laughed at herself for it, and
turned to watch the slow morning-struggle which Lois followed with such
eager eyes.

The light was conquering.  Up the gray arch the soft, dewy blue crept
gently, deepening, broadening; below it, the level bars of light struck
full on the sullen black of the west, and worked there undaunted,
tinging it with crimson and imperial purple. Two or three coy
mist-clouds, soon converted to the new allegiance, drifted giddily
about, mere flakes of rosy blushes. The victory of the day came slowly,
but sure, and then the full morning flushed out, fresh with moisture
and light and delicate perfume.  The bars of sunlight fell on the lower
earth from the steep hills like pointed swords; the foggy swamp of wet
vapour trembled and broke, so touched, rose at last, leaving patches of
damp brilliance on the fields, and floated majestically up in radiant
victor clouds, led by the conquering wind.  Victory: it was in the
cold, pure ether filling the heavens, in the solemn gladness of the
hills.  The great forests thrilling in the soft light, the very sleepy
river wakening under the mist, chorded with a grave bass in the rising
anthem of welcome to the new life which God had freshly given to the
world.  From the sun himself, come forth as a bridegroom from his
chamber, to the flickering raindrops on the road-side mullein, the
world seemed to rejoice, exultant in victory.  Homely, cheerier sounds
broke the outlined grandeur of the morning, on which Margret looked
wearily.  Lois lost none of them; no morbid shadow of her own balked
life kept their meaning from her.

The light played on the heaped vegetables in the old cart; the bony
legs of the donkey trotted on with fresh vigour.  There was not a
lowing cow in the distant barns, nor a chirping swallow on the
fence-bushes, that did not seem to include the eager face of the little
huckster in their morning greetings.  Not a golden dandelion on the
road-side, not a gurgle of the plashing brown water from the
well-troughs, which did not give a quicker pleasure to the glowing
face.  Its curious content stung the woman walking by her side.  What
secret of recompense had the poor wretch found?

"Your father is here, Lois," she said carelessly, to break the silence.
"I saw him at the mill yesterday."

Her face kindled instantly.

"He's home, Miss Marg'et,--yes.  An' it's all right wid him. Things
allus do come right, some time," she added, in a reflective tone,
brushing a fly off Barney's ear.

Margret smiled.

"Always?  Who brings them right for you, Lois?"

"The Master," she said, turning with an answering smile.

Margret was touched.  The owner of the mill was not a more real verity
to this girl than the Master of whom she spoke with such quiet
knowledge.

"Are things right in the mill?" she said, testing her.

A shadow came on her face; her eyes wandered uncertainly, as if her
weak brain were confused,--only for a moment.


"They'll come right!" she said, bravely.  "The Master'll see to it!"

But the light was gone from her eyes; some old pain seemed to be
surging through her narrow thought; and when she began to talk, it was
in a bewildered, doubtful way.

"It's a black place, th' mill," she said, in a low voice.  "It was a
good while I was there: frum seven year old till sixteen. 'T seemed
longer t' me 'n 't was.  'T seemed as if I'd been there allus,--jes'
forever, yoh know.  'Fore I went in, I had the rickets, they say:
that's what ails me.  'T hurt my head, they've told me,--made me
different frum other folks."

She stopped a moment, with a dumb, hungry look in her eyes. After a
while she looked at Margret furtively, with a pitiful eagerness.

"Miss Marg'et, I think there BE something wrong in my head.  Did YOH
ever notice it?"

Margret put her hand kindly on the broad, misshapen forehead.

"Something is wrong everywhere, Lois," she said, absently.

She did not see the slow sigh with which the girl smothered down
whatever hope had risen just then, listened half-attentive as the
huckster maundered on.

"It was th' mill," she said at last.  "I kind o' grew into that place
in them years: seemed  to me like as I was part o' th' engines,
somehow.  Th' air used to be thick in my mouth, black wi' smoke 'n'
wool 'n' smells.

"In them years I got dazed in my head, I think.  'T was th' air 'n' th'
work.  I was weak allus.  'T got so that th' noise o' th' looms went on
in my head night 'n' day,--allus thud, thud.  'N' hot days, when th'
hands was chaffin' 'n' singin', th' black wheels 'n' rollers was alive,
starin' down at me, 'n' th' shadders o' th' looms was like snakes
creepin',--creepin' anear all th' time.  They was very good to me, th'
hands was,--very good.  Ther' 's lots o' th' Master's people down
there, though they never heard His name: preachers don't go there.  But
He'll see to 't.  He'll not min' their cursin' o' Him, seein' they
don't know His face, 'n' thinkin' He belongs to th' gentry.  I knew it
wud come right wi' me, when times was th' most bad.  I knew"----

The girl's hands were working together, her eyes set, all the slow
years of ruin that had eaten into her brain rising before her, all the
tainted blood in her veins of centuries of slavery and heathenism
struggling to drag her down.  But above all, the Hope rose clear,
simple: the trust in the Master: and shone in her scarred
face,--through her marred senses.

"I knew it wud come right, allus.  I was alone then: mother was dead,
and father was gone, 'n' th' Lord thought 't was time to see to
me,--special as th' overseer was gettin' me an enter to th' poor-house.
So He sent Mr. Holmes along.  Then it come right!"

Margret did not speak.  Even this mill-girl could talk of him, pray for
him; but she never must take his name on her lips!

"He got th' cart fur me, 'n' this blessed old donkey, 'n' my room.  Did
yoh ever see my room, Miss Marg'et?"

Her face lighted suddenly with its peculiar childlike smile.

"No?  Yoh'll come some day, surely?  It's a pore place, yoh'll think;
but it's got th' air,--th' air."

She stopped to breathe the cold morning wind, as if she thought to find
in its fierce freshness the life and brains she had lost.

"Ther' 's places in them alleys 'n' dark holes, Miss Marg'et, like th'
openin's to hell, with th' thick smells 'n' th' sights yoh'd see."

She went back with a terrible clinging pity to the Gehenna from which
she had escaped.  The ill of life was real enough to her,--a hungry
devil down in those alleys and dens.  Margret listened, waked
reluctantly to the sense of a different pain in the world from her
own,--lower deeps from which women like herself draw delicately back,
lifting their gauzy dresses.

"Miss Marg'et!"

Her face flashed.

"Well, Lois?"

"Th' Master has His people 'mong them very lowest, that's not for such
as yoh to speak to.  He knows 'em: men 'n' women starved 'n' drunk into
jails 'n' work-houses, that 'd scorn to be cowardly or mean,--that
shows God's kindness, through th' whiskey 'n' thievin', to th' orphints
or--such as me.  Ther' 's things th' Master likes in them, 'n' it'll
come right, it'll come right at last; they'll have a chance--somewhere."

Margret did not speak; let the poor girl sob herself into quiet. What
had she to do with this gulf of pain and wrong?  Her own higher life
was starved, thwarted.  Could it be that the blood of these her
brothers called against HER from the ground?  No wonder that the
huckster-girl sobbed, she thought, or talked heresy.  It was not an
easy thing to see a mother drink herself into the grave.  And yet--was
she to blame?  Her Virginian blood was cool, high-bred; she had learned
conservatism in her cradle.  Her life in the West had not yet quickened
her pulse.  So she put aside whatever social mystery or wrong faced her
in this girl, just as you or I would have done.  She had her own pain
to bear.  Was she her brother's keeper? It was true, there was wrong;
this woman's soul lay shattered by it; it was the fault of her blood,
of her birth, and Society had finished the work.  Where was the help?
She was free,--and liberty, Dr. Knowles said, was the cure for all the
soul's diseases, and----

Well, Lois was quiet now,--ready to be drawn into a dissertation on
Barney's vices and virtues, or her room, where "th' air was so strong,
'n' the fruit 'n' vegetables allus stayed fresh,--best in THIS town,"
she said, with a bustling pride.

They went on down the road, through the corn-fields sometimes, or on
the river-bank, or sometimes skirting the orchards or barn-yards of the
farms.  The fences were well built, she noticed,--the barns wide and
snug-looking: for this county in Indiana is settled by New England
people, as a general thing, or Pennsylvanians.  They both leave their
mark on barns or fields, I can tell you!  The two women were talking
all the way.  In all his life Dr. Knowles had never heard from this
silent girl words as open and eager as she gave to the huckster about
paltry, common things,--partly, as I said, from a hope to forget
herself, and partly from a vague curiosity to know the strange world
which opened before her in this disjointed talk.  There were no morbid
shadows in this Lois's life, she saw.  Her pains and pleasures were
intensely real, like those of her class.  If there were latent powers
in her distorted brain, smothered by hereditary vice of blood, or foul
air and life, she knew nothing of it.  She never probed her own soul
with fierce self-scorn, as this quiet woman by her side did;--accepted,
instead, the passing moment, with keen enjoyment.  For the rest,
childishly trusted "the Master."

This very drive, now, for instance,--although she and the cart and
Barney went through the same routine every day, you would have thought
it was a new treat for a special holiday, if you had seen the perfect
abandon with which they all threw themselves into the fun of the thing.
Not only did the very heaps of ruby tomatoes, and corn in delicate
green casings, tremble and shine as though they enjoyed the fresh light
and dew, but the old donkey cocked his ears, and curved his scraggy
neck, and tried to look as like a high-spirited charger as he could.
Then everybody along the road knew Lois, and she knew everybody, and
there was a mutual liking and perpetual joking, not very refined,
perhaps, but hearty and kind.  It was a new side of life for Margret.
She had no time for thoughts of self-sacrifice, or chivalry, ancient or
modern, watching it.  It was a very busy ride,--something to do at
every farm-house: a basket of eggs to be taken in, or some egg-plants,
maybe, which Lois laid side by side, Margret noticed,--the pearly white
balls close to the heap of royal purple.  No matter how small the
basket was that she stopped for, it brought out two or three to put it
in; for Lois and her cart were the event of the day for the lonely
farm-houses.  The wife would come out, her face ablaze from the oven,
with an anxious charge about that butter; the old man would hail her
from the barn to know "ef she'd thought toh look in th' mail yes'rday;"
and one or the other was sure to add, "Jes' time for breakfast, Lois."
If she had no baskets to stop for, she had "a bit o' business," which
turned out to be a paper she had brought for the grandfather, or some
fresh mint for the baby, or "jes' to inquire fur th' fam'ly."

As to the amount that cart carried, it was a perpetual mystery to Lois.
Every day since she and the cart went into partnership, she had gone
into town with a dead certainty in the minds of lookers-on that it
would break down in five minutes, and a triumphant faith in hers in its
unlimited endurance.  "This cart 'll be right side up fur years to
come," she would assert, shaking her head.  "It 's got no more notion
o' givin' up than me nor Barney,--not a bit."  Margret had her
doubts,--and so would you, if you had heard how it creaked under the
load,--how they piled in great straw panniers of apples: black apples
with yellow hearts, scarlet veined,--golden pippin apples, that held
the warmth and light longest,--russet apples with a hot blush on their
rough brown skins,--plums shining coldly in their delicate purple
bloom,--peaches with the crimson velvet of their cheeks aglow with the
prisoned heat of a hundred summer days.

I wish with all my heart somebody would paint me Lois and her cart!
Mr. Kitts, the artist in the city then, used to see it going past his
room out by the coal-pits every day, and thought about it seriously.
But he had his grand battle-piece on hand then,--and after that he went
the way of all geniuses, and died down into colourer for a
photographer.  He met them, that day, out by the stone quarry, and
touched his hat as he returned Lois's "Good-morning," and took a couple
of great pawpaws from her.  She was a woman, you see, and he had some
of the school-master's old-fashioned notions about women.  He was a
sickly-looking soul.  One day Lois had heard him say that there were
pawpaws on his mother's place in Ohio; so after that she always brought
him some every day.  She was one of those people who must give, if it
is nothing better than a Kentucky banana.

After they passed the stone quarry, they left the country behind them,
going down the stubble-covered hills that fenced in the town.  Even in
the narrow streets, and through the warehouses, the strong, dewy air
had quite blown down and off the fog and dust.  Morning (town morning,
to be sure, but still morning) was shining in the red window-panes, in
the tossing smoke up in the frosty air, in the very glowing faces of
people hurrying from market with their noses nipped blue and their eyes
watering with cold.  Lois and her cart, fresh with country breath
hanging about them, were not so out of place, after all.  House-maids
left the steps half-scrubbed, and helped her measure out the corn and
beans, gossiping eagerly; the newsboys "Hi-d!" at her in a friendly,
patronizing way; women in rusty black, with sharp, pale faces, hoisted
their baskets, in which usually lay a scraggy bit of flitch, on to the
wheel, their whispered bargaining ending oftenest in a low "Thank ye,
Lois!"--for she sold cheaper to some people than they did in the market.

Lois was Lois in town or country.  Some subtile power lay in the
coarse, distorted body, in the pleading child's face, to rouse,
wherever they went, the same curious, kindly smile.  Not, I think, that
dumb, pathetic eye, common to deformity, that cries, "Have mercy upon
me, O my friend, for the hand of God hath touched me!"--a deeper,
mightier charm, rather: a trust down in the fouled fragments of her
brain, even in the bitterest hour of her bare life,--a faith faith in
God, faith in her fellow-man, faith in herself.  No human soul refused
to answer its summons. Down in the dark alleys, in the very vilest of
the black and white wretches that crowded sometimes about her cart,
there was an undefined sense of pride in protecting this wretch whose
portion of life was more meagre and low than theirs.  Something in them
struggled up to meet the trust in the pitiful eyes,--something which
scorned to betray the trust,--some Christ-like power in their souls,
smothered, dying, under the filth of their life and the terror of hell.
A something in them never to be lost.  If the Great Spirit of love and
trust lives, not lost!

Even in the cold and quiet of the woman walking by her side the homely
power of the poor huckster was wholesome to strengthen. Margret left
her, turning into the crowded street leading to the part of the town
where the factories lay.  The throng of anxious-faced men and women
jostled and pushed, but she passed through them with a different heart
from yesterday's.  Somehow, the morbid fancies were gone: she was
keenly alive; the coarse real life of this huckster fired her, touched
her blood with a more vital stimulus than any tale of crusader.  As she
went down the crooked maze of dingy lanes, she could hear Lois's little
cracked bell far off: it sounded like a Christmas song to her. She half
smiled, remembering how sometimes in her distempered brain the world
had seemed a gray, dismal Dance of Death.  How actual it was
to-day,--hearty, vigorous, alive with honest work and tears and
pleasure!  A broad, good world to live and work in, to suffer or die,
if God so willed it,--God, the good!



CHAPTER IV.

She entered the vast, dingy factory; the woollen dust, the clammy air
of copperas were easier to breathe in; the cramped, sordid office, the
work, mere trifles to laugh at; and she bent over the ledger with its
hard lines in earnest good-will, through the slow creeping hours of the
long day.  She noticed that the unfortunate chicken was making its
heart glad over a piece of fresh earth covered with damp moss.  Dr.
Knowles stopped to look at it when he came, passing her with a surly
nod.

"So your master's not forgotten you," he snarled, while the blind old
hen cocked her one eye up at him.

Pike, the manager, had brought in some bills.

"Who's its master?" he said, curiously, stopping by the door.

"Holmes,--he feeds it every morning."

The Doctor drawled out the words with a covert sneer, watching the cold
face bending over the desk, meantime.

Pike laughed.

"Bah! it's the first thing he ever fed, then, besides himself. Chickens
must lie nearer his heart than men."

Knowles scowled at him; he had no fancy for Pike's scurrilous gossip.

The quiet face was unmoved.  When he heard the manager's foot on the
ladder without, he tested it again.  He had a vague suspicion which he
was determined to verify.

"Holmes," he said, carelessly, "has an affinity for animals.  No
wonder.  Adam must have been some such man as he, when the Lord gave
him 'dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air.'"

The hand paused courteously a moment, then resumed its quick, cool
movement over the page.  He was not baffled.

"If there were such a reality as mastership, that man was born to rule.
Pike will find him harder to cheat than me, when he takes possession
here."

She looked up now.

"He came here to take my place in the mills,--buy me out,--articles
will be signed in a day or two.  I know what you think,--no,--not worth
a dollar.  Only brains and a soul, and he 's sold them at a high
figure,--threw his heart in,--the purchaser being a lady.  It was
light, I fancy,--starved out, long ago."

The old man's words were spurted out in the bitterness of scorn. The
girl listened with a cool incredulity in her eyes, and went back to her
work.

"Miss Herne is the lady,--my partner's daughter.  Herne and Holmes
they'll call the firm.  He is here every day, counting future profit."

Nothing could be read on the face; so he left her, cursing, as he went,
men who put themselves up at auction,--worse than Orleans slaves.
Margret laughed to herself at his passion; as for the story he hinted,
it was absurd.  She forgot it in a moment.

Two or three gentlemen down in one of the counting-rooms, just then,
looked at the story from another point of view.  They were talking low,
out of hearing from the clerks.

"It's a good thing for Holmes," said one, a burly, farmer-like man, who
was choosing specimens of wool.

"Cheap.  And long credit.  Just half the concern he takes."

"There is a lady in the case?" suggested a young doctor, who, by virtue
of having spent six months in the South, dropped his r-s, and talked of
"niggahs" in a way to make a Georgian's hair stand on end.

"A lady in the case?"

"Of course.  Only child of Herne's.  HE comes down with the dust as
dowry.  Good thing for Holmes.  'Stonishin' how he's made his way up.
If money 's what he wants in this world, he's making a long stride now
to 't."

The young doctor lighted his cigar, asserting that--

"Ba George, some low people did get on, re-markably!  Mary Herne, now,
was best catch in town."

"Do you think money is what he wants?"  said a quiet little man,
sitting lazily on a barrel,--a clergyman, Vandyke; whom his clerical
brothers shook their heads when they named, but never argued with, and
bowed to with uncommon deference.

The wool-buyer hesitated with a puzzled look.

"No," he said, slowly; "Stephen Holmes is not miserly.  I've knowed him
since a boy.  To buy place, power, perhaps, eh?  Yet not that,
neither," he added, hastily.  "We think a sight of him out our way,
(self-made, you see,) and would have had him the best office in the
State before this, only he was so cursedly indifferent."

"Indifferent, yes.  No man cares much for stepping-stones in
themselves," said Vandyke, half to himself.

"Great fault of American society, especially in the West," said the
young aristocrat.  "Stepping-stones lie low, as my reverend friend
suggests; impudence ascends; merit and refinement scorn such dirty
paths,"--with a mournful remembrance of the last dime in his
waistcoat-pocket.

"But do you," exclaimed the farmer, with sudden solemnity, "do you
understand this scheme of Knowles's?  Every dollar he owns is in this
mill, and every dollar of it is going into some castle in the air that
no sane man can comprehend."

"Mad as a March hare," contemptuously muttered the doctor.

His reverend friend gave him a look,--after which he was silent.

"I wish to the Lord some one would persuade him out of it," persisted
the wool-man, earnestly looking at the attentive face of his listener.
"We can't spare old Knowles's brain or heart while he ruins himself.
It's something of a Communist fraternity: I don't know the name, but I
know the thing."

Very hard common-sense shone out of his eyes just then at the
clergyman, whom he suspected of being one of Knowles's abettors.

"There's two ways for 'em to end.  If they're made out of the top of
society, they get so refined, so idealized, that every particle flies
off on its own special path to the sun, and the Community 's broke; and
if they're made of the lower mud, they keep going down, down
together,--they live to drink and eat, and make themselves as near the
brutes as they can.  It isn't easy to believe, Sir, but it's true.  I
have seen it.  I've seen every one of them the United States can
produce.  It's FACTS, Sir; and facts, as Lord Bacon says, 'are the
basis of every sound speculation.'"

The last sentence was slowly brought out, as quotations were not
exactly his forte, but, as he said afterwards,--"You see, that nailed
the parson."

The parson nodded gravely.

"You'll find no such experiment in the Bible," threw in the young
doctor, alluding to "serious things" as a peace-offering to his
reverend friend.

"One, I believe," dryly.

"Well," broke in the farmer, folding up his wool, "that's neither here
nor there.  This experiment of Knowles's is like nothing known since
the Creation.  Plan of his own.  He spends his days now hunting out the
gallows-birds out of the dens in town here, and they're all to be
transported into the country to start a new Arcadia.  A few men and
women like himself, but the bulk is from the dens, I tell you.  All
start fair, level ground, perpetual celibacy, mutual trust, honour,
rise according to the stuff that's in them,--pah! it makes me sick!"

"Knowles's inclination to that sort of people is easily explained,"
spitefully lisped the doctor.  "Blood, Sir.  His mother was a
half-breed Creek, with all the propensities of the redskins to
fire-water and 'itching palms.' Blood will out."

"Here he is," maliciously whispered the woolman.  "No, it's Holmes," he
added, after the doctor had started into a more respectful posture, and
glanced around frightened.

He, the doctor, rose to meet Holmes's coming footstep,--"a low fellah,
but always sure to be the upper dog in the fight, goin' to marry the
best catch," etc., etc.  The others, on the contrary, put on their hats
and sauntered away into the street.

The day broadened hotly; the shadows of the Lombardy poplars curdling
up into a sluggish pool of black at their roots along the dry gutters.
The old school-master in the shade of the great horse-chestnuts
(brought from the homestead in the Piedmont country, every one) husked
corn for his wife, composing, meanwhile, a page of his essay on the
"Sirventes de Bertrand de Born."  Joel, up in the barn by himself,
worked through the long day in the old fashion,--pondering gravely
(being of a religious turn) upon a sermon by the Reverend Mr. Clinche,
reported in the "Gazette;" wherein that disciple of the meek Teacher
invoked, as he did once a week, the curses of the law upon
slaveholders, praying the Lord to sweep them immediately from the face
of the earth.  Which rendering of Christian doctrine was so much
relished by Joel, and the other leading members of Mr. Clinche's
church, that they hinted to him it might be as well to continue
choosing his texts from Moses and the Prophets until the excitement of
the day was over.  The New Testament was,--well,--hardly suited for
the--emergency; did not, somehow, chime in with the lesson of the hour.
I may remark, in passing, that this course of conduct so disgusted the
High Church rector of the parish, that he not only ignored all new
devils, (as Mr. Carlyle might have called them,) but talked as if the
millennium were un fait accompli, and he had leisure to go and hammer
at the poor dead old troubles of Luther's time.  One thing, though,
about Joel: while he was joining in Mr. Clinche's petition for the
"wiping out" of some few thousands, he was using up all the fragments
of the hot day in fixing a stall for a half-dead old horse he had found
by the road-side.

Perhaps, even if the listening angel did not grant the prayer, he
marked down the stall at least, as a something done for eternity.

Margret, through the stifling air, worked steadily alone in the dusty
office, her face bent over the books, never changing but once.  It was
a trifle then; yet, when she looked back afterwards, the trifle was all
that gave the day a name.  The room shook, as I said, with the
thunderous, incessant sound of the engines and the looms; she scarcely
heard it, being used to it.  Once, however, another sound came
between,--an iron tread, passing through the long wooden corridor,--so
firm and measured that it sounded like the monotonous beatings of a
clock.  She heard it through the noise in the far distance; it came
slowly nearer, up to the door without,--passed it, going down the
echoing plank walk.  The girl sat quietly, looking out at the dead
brick wall.  The slow step fell on her brain like the sceptre of her
master; if Knowles had looked in her face then, he would have seen
bared the secret of her life.  Holmes had gone by, unconscious of who
was within the door.  She had not seen him; it was nothing but a step
she heard.  Yet a power, the power of the girl's life, shook off all
outward masks, all surface cloudy fancies, and stood up in her with a
terrible passion at the sound; her blood burned fiercely; her soul
looked out, her soul as it was, as God knew it,--God and this man.  No
longer a cold, clear face; you would have thought, looking at it, what
a strong spirit the soul of this woman would be, if set free in heaven
or in hell.  The man who held it in his grasp went on carelessly, not
knowing that the mere sound of his step had raised it as from the dead.
She, and her right, and her pain, were nothing to him now, she
remembered, staring out at the taunting hot sky.  Yet so vacant was the
sudden life opened before her when he was gone, that, in the
desperation of her weakness, her mad longing to see him but once again,
she would have thrown herself at his feet, and let the cold, heavy step
crush her life out,--as he would have done, she thought, choking down
the icy smother in her throat, if it had served his purpose, though it
cost his own heart's life to do it.  He would trample her down, if she
kept him back from his end; but be false to her, false to himself, that
he would never be!

The red bricks, the dusty desk covered with wool, the miserable chicken
peering out, grew sharper and more real.  Life was no morbid nightmare
now; her weak woman's heart found it near, cruel.  There was not a pain
nor a want, from the dumb question in the dog's eyes that passed her on
the street, to her father's hopeless fancies, that did not touch her
sharply through her own loss, with a keen pity, a wild wish to help to
do something to save others with this poor life left in her hands.

So the day wore on in the town and country; the old sun glaring down
like some fierce old judge, intolerant of weakness or shams,--baking
the hard earth in the streets harder for the horses' feet, drying up
the bits of grass that grew between the boulders of the gutter, scaling
off the paint from the brazen faces of the interminable brick houses.
He looked down in that city as in every American town, as in these
where you and I live, on the same countless maze of human faces going
day by day through the same monotonous routine.  Knowles, passing
through the restless crowds, read with keen eye among them strange
meanings by this common light of the sun,--meanings such as you and I
might read, if our eyes were clear as his,--or morbid, it may be, you
think?  A commonplace crowd like this in the street without: women with
cold, fastidious faces, heavy-brained, bilious men, dapper 'prentices,
draymen, prize-fighters, negroes.  Knowles looked about him as into a
seething caldron, in which the people I tell you of were atoms, where
the blood of uncounted races was fused, but not mingled,--where creeds,
philosophies, centuries old,  grappled hand to hand in their
death-struggle,--where innumerable aims and beliefs and powers of
intellect, smothered rights and triumphant wrongs, warred together,
struggling for victory.

Vulgar American life?  He thought it a life more potent, more tragic in
its history and prophecy, than any that has gone before.  People called
him a fanatic.  It may be that he was one: yet the uncouth old man,
sick in soul from some pain that I dare not tell you of; in his own
life, looked into the depths of human loss with a mad desire to set it
right.  On the very faces of those who sneered at him he found some
trace of failure, something that his heart carried up to God with a
loud and exceeding bitter cry.  The voice of the world, he thought,
went up to heaven a discord, unintelligible, hopeless,--the great blind
world, astray since the first ages! Was there no hope, no help?

The sun shone down, as it had done for six thousand years; it shone on
open problems in the lives of these men and women, of these dogs and
horses who walked the streets, problems whose end and beginning no eye
could read.  There were places where it did not shine: down in the
fetid cellars, in the slimy cells of the prison yonder: what riddles of
life lay there he dared not think of.  God knows how the man groped for
the light,--for any voice to make earth and heaven clear to him.

There was another light by which the world was seen that day, rarer
than the sunshine, and purer.  It fell on the dense crowds,--upon the
just and the unjust.  It went into the fogs of the fetid dens from
which the coarser light was barred, into the deepest mires of body
where a soul could wallow, and made them clear.  It lighted the depths
of the hearts whose outer pain and passion men were keen to read in the
unpitying sunshine, and bared in those depths the feeble gropings for
the right, the loving hope, the unuttered prayer.  No kind thought, no
pure desire, no weakest faith in a God and heaven somewhere, could be
so smothered under guilt that this subtile light did not search it out,
glow about it, shine under it, hold it up in full view of God and the
angels,--lighting the world other than the sun had done for six
thousand years.  I have no name for the light: it has a name,--yonder.
Not many eyes were clear to see its--shining that day; and if they did,
it was as through a glass, darkly.  Yet it belonged to us also, in the
old time, the time when men could "hear the voice of the Lord God in
the garden in the cool of the day."  It is God's light now alone.

Yet Lois caught faint glimpses, I think, sometimes,  of its heavenly
clearness.  I think it was this light that made the burning of
Christmas fires warmer for her than for others, that showed her all the
love and outspoken honesty and hearty frolic which her eyes saw
perpetually in the old warm-hearted world. That evening, as she sat on
the step of her frame-shanty, knitting at a great blue stocking, her
scarred face and misshapen body very pitiful to the passers-by, it was
this that gave to her face its homely, cheery smile.  It made her eyes
quick to know the message in the depths of colour in the evening sky,
or even the flickering tints of the green creeper on the wall with its
crimson cornucopias filled with hot shining.  She liked clear, vital
colours, this girl,--the crimsons and blues.  They answered her,
somehow.  They could speak.  There were things in the world that like
herself were marred,--did not understand,--were hungry to know: the
gray sky, the mud streets, the tawny lichens.  She cried sometimes,
looking at them, hardly knowing why: she could not help it, with a
vague sense of loss.  It seemed at those times so dreary for them to be
alive,--or for her.  Other things her eyes were quicker to see than
ours: delicate or grand lines, which she perpetually sought for
unconsciously,--in the homeliest things, the very soft curling of the
woollen yarn in her fingers, as in the eternal sculpture of the
mountains.  Was it the disease of her injured brain that made all
things alive to her,--that made her watch, in her ignorant way, the
grave hills, the flashing, victorious rivers, look pitifully into the
face of some starved hound, or dingy mushroom trodden in the mud before
it scarce had lived, just as we should look into human faces to know
what they would say to us?  Was it weakness and ignorance that made
everything she saw or touched nearer, more human to her than to you or
me?  She never got used to living as other people do; these sights and
sounds did not come to her common, hackneyed. Why, sometimes, out in
the hills, in the torrid quiet of summer noons, she had knelt by the
shaded pools, and buried her hands in the great slumberous beds of
water-lilies, her blood curdling in a feverish languor, a passioned
trance, from which she roused herself, weak and tired.

She had no self-poised artist sense, this Lois,--knew nothing of
Nature's laws, as you do.  Yet sometimes, watching the dun sea of the
prairie rise and fall in the crimson light of early morning, or, in the
farms, breathing the blue air trembling up to heaven exultant with the
life of bird and forest, she forgot the poor vile thing she was, some
coarse weight fell off, and something within, not the sickly Lois of
the mill, went out, free, like an exile dreaming of home.

You tell me, that, doubtless, in the wreck of the creature's brain,
there were fragments of some artistic insight that made her thus rise
above the level of her daily life, drunk with the mere beauty of form
and colour.  I do not know,--not knowing how sham or real a thing you
mean by artistic insight.  But I do know that the clear light I told
you of shone for this girl dimly through this beauty of form and
colour; alive.  The Life, rather; and ignorant, with no words for her
thoughts, she believed in it as the Highest that she knew.  I think it
came to her thus in imperfect language, (not an outward show of tints
and lines, as to artists,)--a language, the same that Moses heard when
he stood alone, with nothing between his naked soul and God, but the
desert and the mountain and the bush that burned with fire.  I think
the weak soul of the girl staggered from its dungeon, and groped
through these heavy-browed hills, these colour-dreams, through the
faces of dog or man upon the street, to find the God that lay behind.
So she saw the world, and its beauty and warmth being divine as near to
her, the warmth and beauty became real in her, found their homely
reflection in her daily life.  So she knew, too, the Master in whom she
believed,  saw Him in everything that lived, more real than all beside.
The waiting earth, the prophetic sky, the very worm in the gutter was
but a part of this man, something come to tell her of Him,--she dimly
felt; though, as I said, she had no words for such a thought. Yet even
more real than this.  There was no pain nor temptation down in those
dark cellars where she went that He had not borne,--not one.  Nor was
there the least pleasure came to her or the others, not even a cheerful
fire, or kind words, or a warm, hearty laugh, that she did not know He
sent it and was glad to do it.  She knew that well!  So it was that He
took part in her humble daily life, and became more real to her day by
day.  Very homely shadows her life gave of His light, for it was His:
homely, because of her poor way of living, and of the depth to which
the heavy foot of the world had crushed her.  Yet they were there all
the time, in her cheery patience, if nothing more. To-night, for
instance, how differently the surging crowd seemed to her from what it
did to Knowles!  She looked down on it from her high wood-steps with an
eager interest, ready with her weak, timid laugh to answer every
friendly call from below.  She had no power to see them as types of
great classes; they were just so many living people, whom she knew, and
who, most of them, had been kind to her.  Whatever good there was in
the vilest face, (and there was always something,) she was sure to see
it.  The light made her poor eyes strong for that.

She liked to sit there in the evenings, being alone, yet never growing
lonesome; there was so much that was pleasant to watch and listen to,
as the cool brown twilight came on.  If, as Knowles thought, the world
was a dreary discord, she knew nothing of it.  People were going from
their work now,--they had time to talk and joke by the way,--stopping,
or walking slowly down the cool shadows of the pavement; while here and
there a lingering red sunbeam burnished a window, or struck athwart the
gray boulder-paved street.  From the houses near you could catch a
faint smell of supper: very friendly people those were in these houses;
she knew them all well.  The children came out with their faces washed,
to play, now the sun was down: the oldest of them generally came to sit
with her and hear a story.

After it grew darker, you would see the girls in their neat blue
calicoes go sauntering down the street with their sweethearts for a
walk.  There was old Polston and his son Sam coming home from the
coal-pits, as black as ink, with their little tin lanterns on their
caps.  After a while Sam would come out in his suit of Kentucky jean,
his face shining with the soap, and go sheepishly down to Jenny Ball's,
and the old man would bring his pipe and chair out on the pavement, and
his wife would sit on the steps. Most likely they would call Lois down,
or come over themselves, for they were the most sociable, cosiest old
couple you ever knew.  There was a great stopping at Lois's door, as
the girls walked past, for a bunch of the flowers she brought from the
country, or posies, as they called them, (Sam never would take any to
Jenny but "old man" and pinks,) and she always had them ready in broken
jugs inside.  They were good, kind girls, every one of them,--had taken
it in turn to sit up with Lois last winter all the time she had the
rheumatism.  She never forgot that time,--never once.

Later in the evening you would see a man coming along, close by the
wall, with his head down, the same Margret had seen in the mill,--a
dark man, with gray, thin hair,--Joe Yare, Lois's old father.  No one
spoke to him,--people always were looking away as he passed; and if old
Mr. or Mrs. Polston were on the steps when he came up, they would say,
"Good-evening, Mr. Yare," very formally, and go away presently.  It
hurt Lois more than anything else they could have done.  But she
bustled about noisily, so that he would not notice it.  If they saw the
marks of the ill life he had lived on his old face, she did not; his
sad, uncertain eyes may have been dishonest to them, but they were
nothing but kind to the misshapen little soul that he kissed so warmly
with a "Why, Lo, my little girl!"  Nobody else in the world ever called
her by a pet name.

Sometimes he was gloomy and silent, but generally he told her of all
that had happened in the mill, particularly any little word of notice
or praise he might have received, watching her anxiously until she
laughed at it, and then rubbing his hands cheerfully.  He need not have
doubted Lois's faith in him. Whatever the rest did, she believed in
him; she always had believed in him, through all the dark years, when
he was at home, and in the penitentiary.  They were gone now, never to
come back. It had come right.  If the others wronged him, and it hurt
her bitterly that they did, that would come right some day too, she
would think, as she looked at the tired, sullen face of the old man
bent to the window-pane, afraid to go out.  But they had very cheerful
little suppers there by themselves in the odd, bare little room, as
homely and clean as Lois herself.

Sometimes, late at night, when he had gone to bed, she sat alone in the
door, while the  moonlight fell in broad patches over the square, and
the great poplars stood like giants whispering together.  Still the far
sounds of the town came up cheerfully, while she folded up her
knitting, it being dark, thinking how happy an ending this was to a
happy day.  When it grew quiet, she could hear the solemn whisper of
the poplars, and sometimes broken strains of music from the cathedral
in the city floated through the cold and moonlight past her, far off
into the blue beyond the hills.  All the keen pleasure of the day, the
warm, bright sights and sounds, coarse and homely though they were,
seemed to fade into the deep music, and make a part of it.

Yet, sitting there, looking out into the listening night, the poor
child's face grew slowly pale as she heard it.  It humbled her.  It
made her meanness, her low, weak life so plain to her! There was no
pain nor hunger she had known that did not find a voice in its
articulate cry.  SHE! what was she?  The pain and wants of the world
must be going up to God in that sound, she thought.  There was
something more in it,--an unknown meaning of a great content that her
shattered brain struggled to grasp.  She could not.  Her heart ached
with a wild, restless longing.  She had no words for the vague,
insatiate hunger to understand.  It was because she was ignorant and
low, perhaps; others could know. She thought her Master was speaking.
She thought that unknown Joy linked all earth and heaven together, and
made it plain.  So she hid her face in her hands, and listened, while
the low harmony shivered through the air, unheeded by others, with the
message of God to man.  Not comprehending, it may be,--the poor
girl,--hungry still to know.  Yet, when she looked up, there were warm
tears in her eyes, and her scarred face was bright with a sad, deep
content and love.

So the hot, long day was over for them all,--passed as thousands of
days have done for us, gone down, forgotten: as that long, hot day we
call life will be over some time, and go down into the gray and cold.
Surely, whatever of sorrow or pain may have made darkness in that day
for you or me, there were countless openings where we might have seen
glimpses of that other light than sunshine: the light of that great
To-Morrow, of the land where all wrongs shall be righted.  If we had
but chosen to see it,--if we only had chosen!



CHAPTER V.

Now that I have come to the love part of my story, I am suddenly
conscious of dingy common colors on the palette with which I have been
painting.  I wish I had some brilliant dyes.  I wish, with all my
heart, I could take you back to that "Once upon a time" in which the
souls of our grandmothers delighted,--the time which Dr. Johnson sat up
all night to read about in "Evelina,"--the time when all the celestial
virtues, all the earthly graces were revealed in a condensed state to
man through the blue eyes and sumptuous linens of some Belinda Portman
or Lord Mortimer.  None of your good-hearted, sorely-tempted villains
then!  It made your hair stand on end only to read of them,--going
about perpetually seeking innocent maidens and unsophisticated old men
to devour. That was the time for holding up virtue and vice; no trouble
then in seeing which were sheep and which were goats!  A person could
write a story with a moral to it, then, I should hope! People that were
born in those days had no fancy for going through the world with
half-and-half characters, such as we put up with; so Nature turned out
complete specimens of each class, with all the appendages of dress,
fortune, et cetera, chording decently.  The heroine glides into life
full-charged with rank, virtues, a name three-syllabled, and a white
dress that never needs washing, ready to sail through dangers dire into
a triumphant haven of matrimony;--all the aristocrats have high
foreheads and cold blue eyes; all the peasants are old women,
miraculously grateful, in neat check aprons, or sullen-browed
insurgents planning revolts in caves.

Of course, I do not mean that these times are gone: they are alive (in
a modern fashion) in many places in the world; some of my friends have
described them in prose and verse.  I only mean to say that I never was
there; I was born unlucky.  I am willing to do my best, but I live in
the commonplace.  Once or twice I have rashly tried my hand at dark
conspiracies, and women rare and radiant in Italian bowers; but I have
a friend who is sure to say, "Try and tell us about the butcher next
door, my dear."  If I look up from my paper now, I shall be just as apt
to see our dog and his kennel as the white sky stained with blood and
Tyrian purple.  I never saw a full-blooded saint or sinner in my life.
The coldest villain I ever knew was the only son of his mother, and she
a widow,--and a kinder son never lived.  Doubtless there are people
capable of a love terrible in its strength; but I never knew such a
case that some one did not consider its expediency as "a match" in the
light of dollars and cents.  As for heroines, of course I have seen
beautiful women, and good as fair.  The most beautiful is delicate and
pure enough for a type of the Madonna, and has a heart almost as warm
and holy.  (Very pure blood is in her veins, too, if you care about
blood.) But at home they call her Tode for a nickname; all we can do,
she will sing, and sing through her nose; and on washing-days she often
cooks the dinner, and scolds wholesomely, if the tea-napkins are not in
order.  Now, what is anybody to do with a heroine like that?  I have
known old maids in abundance, with pathos and sunshine in their lives;
but the old maid of novels I never have met, who abandoned her soul to
gossip,--nor yet the other type, a life-long martyr of unselfishness.
They are mixed generally, and not unlike their married sisters, so far
as I can see.  Then as to men, certainly I know heroes.  One man, I
knew, as high a chevalier in heart as any Bayard of them all; one of
those souls simple and gentle as a woman, tender in knightly honour.
He was an old man, with a rusty brown coat and rustier wig, who spent
his life in a dingy village office.  You poets would have laughed at
him.  Well, well, his history never will be written.  The kind, sad,
blue eyes are shut now.  There is a little farm-graveyard overgrown
with privet and wild grape-vines, and a flattened grave where he was
laid to rest; and only a few who knew him when they were children care
to go there, and think of what he was to them.  But it was not in the
far days of Chivalry alone, I think, that true and proud souls have
stood in the world unwelcome, and, hurt to the quick, have turned away
and dumbly died.  Let it be.  Their lives are not lost, thank God!

I meant only to ask you, How can I help it, if the people in my story
seem coarse to you,--if the hero, unlike all other heroes, stopped to
count the cost before he fell in love,--if it made his fingers thrill
with pleasure to touch a full pocket-book as well as his mistress's
hand,--not being withal, this Stephen Holmes, a man to be despised?  A
hero, rather, of a peculiar type,--a man, more than other men: the very
mould of man, doubt it who will, that women love longest and most
madly.  Of course, if I could, I would have blotted out every meanness
before I showed him to you; I would have told you Margret was an
impetuous, whole-souled woman, glad to throw her life down for her
father, without one bitter thought of the wife and mother she might
have been; I would have painted her mother tender, (as she was,)
forgetting how pettish she grew on busy days: but what can I do?  I
must show you men and women as they are in that especial State of the
Union where I live.  In all the others, of course, it is very
different.  Now, being prepared for disappointment, will you see my
hero?

He had sauntered out from the city for a morning walk,--not through the
hills, as Margret went, going home, but on the other side, to the
river, over which you could see the Prairie.  We are in Indiana,
remember.  The sunlight was pure that morning, powerful, tintless, the
true wine of life for body or spirit. Stephen Holmes knew that, being a
man of delicate animal instincts, and so used it, just as he had used
the dumb-bells in the morning.  All things were made for man, weren't
they?  He was leaning against the door of the school-house,--a red,
flaunting house, the daub on the landscape: but, having his back to it,
he could not see it, so through his half-shut eyes he suffered the
beauty of the scene to act on him.  Suffered: in a man, according to
his creed, the will being dominant, and all influences, such as beauty,
pain, religion, permitted to act under orders.  Of course.

It was a peculiar landscape,--like the man who looked at it, of a
thoroughly American type.  A range of sharp, dark hills, with a sombre
depth of green shadow in the clefts, and on the sides massed forests of
scarlet and flame and crimson.  Above, the sharp peaks of stone rose
into the wan blue, wan and pale themselves, and wearing a certain air
of fixed calm, the type of an eternal quiet.  At the base of the hills
lay the city, a dirty mass of bricks and smoke and dust, and at its far
edge flowed the river,--deep here, tinted with green, writhing and
gurgling and curdling on the banks over shelving ledges of lichen and
mud-covered rock.  Beyond it yawned the opening to the great West,--the
Prairies.  Not the dreary deadness here, as farther west.  A plain,
dark russet in hue,--for the grass was sun-scorched,--stretching away
into the vague distance, intolerable, silent, broken by hillocks and
puny streams that only made the vastness and silence more wide and
heavy.  Its limitless torpor weighed on the brain; the eyes ached,
stretching to find some break before the dull russet faded into the
amber of the horizon and was lost.  An American landscape: of few
features, simple, grand in outline as a face of one of the early gods.
It lay utterly motionless before him, not a fleck of cloud in the pure
blue above, even where the mist rose from the river; it only had
glorified the clear blue into clearer violet.

Holmes stood quietly looking; he could have created a picture like
this, if he never had seen one; therefore he was able to recognize it,
accepted it into his soul, and let it do what it would there.

Suddenly a low wind from the far Pacific coast struck from the amber
line where the sun went down.  A faint tremble passed over the great
hills, the broad sweeps of colour darkened from base to summit, then
flashed again,--while below, the prairie rose and fell like a dun sea,
and rolled in long, slow, solemn waves.

The wind struck so broad and fiercely in Holmes's face that he caught
his breath.  It was a savage freedom, he thought, in the West there,
whose breath blew on him,--the freedom of the primitive man, the
untamed animal man, self-reliant and self-assertant, having conquered
Nature.  Well, this fierce, masterful freedom was good for the soul,
sometimes, doubtless. It was old Knowles's vital air.  He wondered if
the old man would succeed in his hobby, if he could make the slavish
beggars and thieves in the alleys yonder comprehend this fierce
freedom. They craved leave to live on sufferance now, not knowing their
possible divinity.   It was a desperate remedy, this sense of unchecked
liberty; but their disease was desperate.  As for himself, he did not
need it; that element was not lacking.  In a mere bodily sense, to be
sure.  He felt his arm.  Yes, the cold rigor of this new life had
already worn off much of the clogging weight of flesh, strengthened the
muscles.  Six months more in the West would toughen the fibres to iron.
He raised an iron weight that lay on the steps, carelessly testing
them.  For the rest, he was going back here; something of the cold,
loose freshness got into his brain, he believed.  In the two years of
absence his power of concentration had been stronger, his perceptions
more free from prejudice, gaining every day delicate point, acuteness
of analysis.  He drew a long breath of the icy air, coarse with the
wild perfume of the prairie.  No, his temperament needed a subtiler
atmosphere than this, rarer essence than mere brutal freedom The East,
the Old World, was his proper sphere for self-development.  He would go
as soon as he could command the means, leaving all clogs behind.  ALL?
His idle thought balked here, suddenly; the sallow forehead contracted
sharply, and his gray eyes grew in an instant shallow, careless,
formal, as a man who holds back his thought.  There was a fierce
warring in his brain for a moment.  Then he brushed his Kossuth hat
with his arm, and put it on, looking out at the landscape again.
Somehow its meaning was dulled to him.  Just then a muddy terrier came
up, and rubbed itself against his knee.  "Why, Tige, old boy!" he said,
stooping to pat it kindly.  The hard, shallow look faded out; he half
smiled, looking in the dog's eyes.  A curious smile, unspeakably tender
and sad.  It was the idiosyncrasy of the man's face, rarely seen there.
He might have looked with it at a criminal, condemning him to death.
But he would have condemned him, and, if no hangman could be found,
would have put the rope on with his own hands, and then most probably
would have sat down pale and trembling, and analyzed his sensations on
paper,--being sincere in all.

He sat down on the school-house step, which the boys had hacked and
whittled rough, and waited; for he was there by appointment, to meet
Dr. Knowles.

Knowles had gone out early in the morning to look at the ground he was
going to buy for his Phalanstery, or whatever he chose to call it.  He
was to bring the deed of sale of the mill out with him for Holmes.  The
next day it was to be signed.  Holmes saw him at last lumbering across
the prairie, wiping the perspiration from his forehead.  Summer or
winter, he contrived to be always hot.  There was a cart drawn by an
old donkey coming along beside him.  Knowles was talking to the driver.
The old man clapped his hands as stage-coachmen do, and drew in long
draughts of air, as if there were keen life and promise in every
breath.  They came up at last, the cart empty, and drying for the day's
work after its morning's scrubbing, Lois's pock-marked face all in a
glow with trying to keep Barney awake.  She grew quite red with
pleasure at seeing Holmes, but went on quickly as the men began to
talk.  Tige followed her, of course; but when she had gone a little way
across the prairie, they saw her stop, and presently the dog came back
with something in his mouth, which he laid down beside his master, and
bolted off.  It was only a rough wicker-basket which she had filled
with damp plushy moss, and half-buried in it clusters of plumy fern,
delicate brown and ashen lichens, masses of forest-leaves all shaded
green with a few crimson tints.  It had a clear woody smell, like
far-off myrrh.  The Doctor laughed as Holmes took it up.

"An artist's gift, if it is from a mulatto," he said.  "A born
colourist."

The men were not at ease,--for some reason; they seized on every trifle
to keep off the subject which had brought them together.

"That girl's artist-sense is pure, and her religion, down under the
perversion and ignorance of her brain.  Curious, eh?"

"Look at the top of her head, when you see her," said Holmes. "It is
necessity for such brains to worship.  They let the fire lick their
blood, if they happen to be born Parsees.  This girl, if she had been a
Jew when Christ was born, would have known him as Simeon did."

Knowles said nothing,--only glanced at the massive head of the speaker,
with its overhanging brow, square development at the sides, and lowered
crown, and smiled significantly.

"Exactly," laughed Holmes, putting his hand on his head. "Crippled
there by my Yorkshire blood,--my mother.  Never mind; outside of this
life, blood or circumstance matters nothing."

They walked on slowly towards town.  Surely there was nothing in the
bill-of-sale which the old man had in his pocket but a mere matter of
business; yet they were strangely silent about it, as if it brought
shame to some one.  There was an embarrassed pause. The Doctor went
back to Lois for relief.

"I think it is the pain and want of such as she that makes them
susceptible to religion.  The self in them is so starved and humbled
that it cannot obscure their eyes; they see God clearly."

"Say rather," said Holmes, "that the soul is so starved and blind that
it cannot recognize itself as God."

The Doctor's intolerant eye kindled.

"Humph!  So that's your creed!  Not Pantheism.  Ego sum.  Of course you
go on with the conjugation: I have been, I shall be. I,--that covers
the whole ground, creation, redemption, and commands the hereafter?"

"It does so," said Holmes, coolly.

"And this wretched huckster carries her deity about her,--her
self-existent soul?  How, in God's name, is her life to set it free?"

Holmes said nothing.  The coarse sneer could not be answered. Men with
pale faces and heavy jaws like his do not carry their religion on their
tongue's end; their creeds leave them only in the slow oozing
life-blood, false as the creeds may be.

Knowles went on hotly, half to himself, seizing on the new idea
fiercely, as men and women do who are yet groping for the truth of life.

"What is it your Novalis says?  'The true Shechinah is man.'  You know
no higher God?  Pooh! the idea is old enough; it began with Eve.  It
works slowly, Holmes.  In six thousand years, taking humanity as one,
this self-existent soul should have clothed itself with a freer,
royaller garment than poor Lois's body,--or mine," he added, bitterly.

"It works slowly," said the other, quietly.  "Faster soon, in America.
There are yet many ills of life for the divinity within to conquer."

"And Lois and the swarming mass yonder in those dens?  It is late for
them to begin the fight?"

"Endurance is enough for them here, and their religions teach them
that.  They could not bear the truth.  One does not put a weapon into
the hands of a man dying of the fetor and hunger of the siege."

"But what will this life, or the lives to come, give to you, champions
who know the truth?"

"Nothing but victory," he said, in a low tone, looking away.

Knowles looked at the pale strength of the iron face.

"God help you, Stephen!" he broke out, his shallow jeering falling off.
"For there IS a God higher than we.  The ills of life you mean to
conquer will teach it to you, Holmes.  You'll find the Something above
yourself, if it's only to curse Him and die."

Holmes did not smile at the old man's heat,--walked gravely, steadily.

There was a short silence.  Knowles put his hand gently on the other's
arm.

"Stephen," he hesitated, "you're a stronger man than I.  I know what
you are; I've watched you from a boy.  But you're wrong here.  I'm an
old man.  There's not much I know in life,--enough to madden me.  But I
do know there's something stronger,--some God outside of the mean devil
they call 'Me.' You'll learn it, boy.  There's an old story of a man
like you and the rest of your sect, and of the vile, mean, crawling
things that God sent to bring him down.  There are such things yet.
Mean passions in your divine soul, low, selfish things, that will get
the better of you, show you what you are.  You'll do all that man can
do. But they are coming, Stephen Holmes! they're coming!"

He stopped, startled.  For Holmes had turned abruptly, glancing over at
the city with a strange wistfulness.  It was over in a moment.  He
resumed the slow, controlling walk beside him.  They went on in silence
into town, and when they did speak, it was on indifferent subjects, not
referring to the last.  The Doctor's heat, as it usually did, boiled
out in spasms on trifles.  Once he stumped his toe, and, I am sorry to
say, swore roundly about it, just as he would have done in the new
Arcadia, if one of the jail-birds comprising that colony had been
ungrateful for his advantages.  Philanthropists, for some curious
reason, are not the most amiable members of small families.

He gave Holmes the roll of parchment he had in his pocket, looking
keenly at him, as he did so, but only saying, that, if he meant to sign
it, it would be done to-morrow.  As Holmes took it, they stopped at the
great door of the factory.  He went in alone, Knowles going down the
street.  One trifle, strange in its way, he remembered afterwards.
Holding the roll of paper in his hand that would make the mill his, he
went, in his slow, grave way, down the long passage to the loom-rooms.
There was a crowd of porters and firemen there, as usual, and he
thought one of them hastily passed him in the dark passage, hiding
behind an engine. As the shadow fell on him, his teeth chattered with a
chilly shudder.  He smiled, thinking how superstitious people would say
that some one trod on his grave just then, or that Death looked at him,
and went on.  Afterwards he thought of it.  Going through the office,
the fat old book-keeper, Huff, stopped him with a story he had been
keeping for him all day.  He liked to tell a story to Holmes; he could
see into a joke; it did a man good to hear a fellow laugh like that.
Holmes did laugh, for the story was a good one, and stood a moment,
then went in, leaving the old fellow chuckling over his desk.  Huff did
not know how, lately, after every laugh, this man felt a vague scorn of
himself, as if jokes and laughter belonged to a self that ought to have
been dead long ago.  Perhaps, if the fat old book-keeper had known it,
he would have said that the man was better than he knew.  But
then,--poor Huff!  He passed slowly through the alleys between the
great looms.  Overhead the ceiling looked like a heavy maze of iron
cylinders and black swinging bars and wheels, all in swift, ponderous
motion.  It was enough to make a brain dizzy with the clanging thunder
of the engines, the whizzing spindles of red and yellow, and the hot
daylight glaring over all.  The looms were watched by women, most of
them bold, tawdry girls of fifteen or sixteen, or lean-jawed women from
the hills, wives of the coal-diggers.  There was a breathless odour of
copperas.  As he went from one room to another up through the ascending
stories, he had a vague sensation of being followed.  Some shadow
lurked at times behind the engines, or stole after him in the dark
entries.  Were there ghosts, then, in mills in broad daylight?  None
but the ghosts of Want and Hunger and Crime, he might have known, that
do not wait for night to walk our streets: the ghosts that poor old
Knowles hoped to lay forever.

Holmes had a room fitted up in the mill, where he slept.  He went up to
it slowly, holding the paper tightly in one hand, glancing at the
operatives, the work, through his furtive half-shut eye. Nothing
escaped him.  Passing the windows, he did not once look out at the
prophetic dream of beauty he had left without.  In the mill he was of
the mill.  Yet he went slowly, as if he shrank from the task waiting
for him.  Why should he?  It was a simple matter of business, this
transfer of Knowles's share in the mill to himself; to-day he was to
decide whether he would conclude the bargain.  If any dark history of
wrong lay underneath, if this simple decision of his was to be the
struggle for life and death with him, his cold, firm face told nothing
of it.  Let us be just to him, stand by him, if we can, in the midst of
his desolate home and desolate life, and look through his cold,
sorrowful eyes at the deed he was going to do.  Dreary enough he
looked, going through the great mill, despite the power in his quiet
face.  A man who had strength for solitude; yet, I think, with all his
strength, his mother could not have borne to look back from the dead
that day, to see her boy so utterly alone.  The day was the crisis of
his life, looked forward to for years; he held in his hand a sure
passport to fortune.  Yet he thrust the hour off, perversely, trifling
with idle fancies, pushing from him the one question which all the
years past and to come had left for this day to decide.

Some such idle fancy it may have been that made the man turn from the
usual way down a narrow passage into which opened doors from small
offices.  Margret Howth, he had learned to-day, was in the first one.
He hesitated before he did it, his sallow face turning a trifle paler;
then he went on in his hard, grave way, wondering dimly if she
remembered his step, if she cared to see him now.  She used to know
it,--she was the only one in the world who ever had cared to know
it,--silly child! Doubtless she was wiser now.  He remembered he used
to think, that, when this woman loved, it would be as he himself would,
with a simple trust which the wrong of years could not touch.  And once
he had thought---- Well, well, he was mistaken.  Poor Margret! Better
as it was. They were nothing to each other.  She had put him from her,
and he had suffered himself to be put away.  Why, he would have given
up every prospect of life, if he had done otherwise!  Yet he wondered
bitterly if she had thought him selfish,--if she thought it was money
he cared for, as the others did.  It mattered nothing what they
thought, but it wounded him intolerably that she should wrong him.
Yet, with all this, whenever he looked forward to death, it was with
the certainty that he should find her there beyond.  There would be no
secrets then; she would know then how he had loved her always.  Loved
her?  Yes; he need not hide it from himself, surely.

He was now by the door of the office;--she was within.  Little Margret,
poor little Margret! struggling there day after day for the old father
and mother.  What a pale, cold little child she used to be! such a
child! yet kindling at his look or touch, as if her veins were filled
with subtile flame.  Her soul was--like his own, he thought.  He knew
what it was,--he only.  Even now he glowed with a man's triumph to know
he held the secret life of this woman bare in his hand.  No other human
power could ever come near her; he was secure in possession.  She had
put him from her;--it was better for both, perhaps.  Their paths were
separate here; for she had some unreal notions of duty, and he had too
much to do in the world to clog himself with cares, or to idle an hour
in the rare ecstasy of even love like this.

He passed the office, not pausing in his slow step.  Some sudden
impulse made him put his hand on the door as he brushed against it:
just a quick, light touch; but it had all the fierce passion of a
caress.  He drew it back as quickly, and went on, wiping a clammy sweat
from his face.

The room he had fitted up for himself was whitewashed and barely
furnished; it made one's bones ache to look at the iron bedstead and
chairs.  Holmes's natural taste was more glowing, however smothered,
than that of any saffron-robed Sybarite.  It needed correction, he
knew; here was discipline.  Besides, he had set apart the coming three
or four years of his life to make money in, enough for the time to
come.  He would devote his whole strength to that work, and so be
sooner done with it.  Money, or place, or even power, was nothing but a
means to him: other men valued them because of their influence on
others.  As his work in the world was only the development of himself,
it was different, of course.  What would it matter to his soul the day
after death, if millions called his name aloud in blame or praise?
Would he hear or answer then?  What would it matter to him then, if he
had starved with them, or ruled over them?  People talked of
benevolence.  What would it matter to him then, the misery or happiness
of those yet working in this paltry life of ours?  In so far as the
exercise of kindly emotions or self-denial developed the higher part of
his nature, it was to be commended; as for its effect on others, that
he had nothing to do with.  He practised self-denial constantly to
strengthen the benevolent instincts.  That very morning he had given
his last dollar to Joe Byers, a half-starved cripple.  "Chucked it at
me," Joe said, "like as he'd give a bone to a dog, and be damned to
him!  Who thanks him?"  To tell the truth, you will find no fairer
exponent than this Stephen Holmes of the great idea of American
sociology,--that the object of life is TO GROW.  Circumstances had
forced it on him, partly.  Sitting now in his room, where he was
counting the cost of becoming a merchant prince, he could look back to
the time of a boyhood passed in the depths of ignorance and vice.  He
knew what this Self within him was; he knew how it had forced him to
grope his way up, to give this hungry, insatiate soul air and freedom
and knowledge.  All men around him were doing the same,--thrusting and
jostling and struggling, up, up.  It was the American motto, Go ahead;
mothers taught it to their children; the whole system was a scale of
glittering prizes.  He at least saw the higher meaning of the truth; he
had no low ambitions.  To lift this self up into a higher range of
being when it had done with the uses of this,--that was his work.
Self-salvation, self-elevation,--the ideas that give birth to, and
destroy half of our Christianity, half of our philanthropy! Sometimes,
sleeping instincts in the man  struggled up to assert a divinity more
terrible than this growing self-existent soul that he purified and
analyzed day by day: a depth of tender pity for outer pain; a fierce
longing for rest, on something, in something, he cared not what.  He
stifled such rebellious promptings,--called them morbid.  He called it
morbid, too, the passion now that chilled his strong blood, and wrung
out these clammy drops on his forehead, at the mere thought of this
girl below.

He shut the door of his room tightly: he had no time to-day for
lounging visitors.  For Holmes, quiet and steady, was sought for, if
not popular, even in the free-and-easy West; one of those men who are
unwillingly masters among men.  Just and mild, always; with a peculiar
gift that made men talk their best thoughts to him, knowing they would
be understood; if any core of eternal flint lay under the simple,
truthful manner of the man, nobody saw it.

He laid the bill of sale on the table; it was an altogether practical
matter on which he sat in judgment, but he was going to do nothing
rashly.  A plain business document: he took Dr. Knowles's share in the
factory; the payments made with short intervals; John Herne was to be
his endorser: it needed only the names to make it valid.  Plain enough;
no hint there of the tacit understanding that the purchase-money was a
wedding dowry; even between Herne and himself it never was openly put
into words.  If he did not marry Miss Herne, the mill was her father's;
that of course must be spoken of, arranged to-morrow.  If he took it,
then? if he married her?  Holmes had been poor, was miserably poor yet,
with the position and habits of a man, of refinement. God knows it was
not to gratify those tastes that he clutched at this money.  All the
slow years of work trailed up before him, that were gone,--of hard,
wearing work for daily bread, when his brain had been starving for
knowledge, and his soul dulled, debased with sordid trading.  Was this
to be always?  Were these few golden moments of life to be traded for
the bread and meat he ate?  To eat and drink,--was that what he was
here for?

As he paced the floor mechanically, some vague recollection crossed his
brain of a childish story of the man standing where the two great roads
of life parted.  They were open before him now.  Money, money,--he took
the word into his heart as a miser might do.  With it, he was free from
these carking cares that were making his mind foul and muddy.  If he
had money!  Slow, cool visions of triumphs rose before him outlined on
the years to come, practical, if Utopian.  Slow and sure successes of
science and art, where his brain could work, helpful and growing.  Far
off, yet surely to come,--surely for him,--a day when a pure social
system should be universal, should have thrust out its fibres of light,
knitting into one the nations of the earth, when the lowest slave
should find its true place and rightful work, and stand up, knowing
itself divine.  "To insure to every man the freest development of his
faculties:" he said over the hackneyed dogma again and again, while the
heavy, hateful years of poverty rose before him that had trampled him
down.  "To insure to him the freest development," he did not need to
wait for St. Simon, or the golden year, he thought with a dreary gibe;
money was enough, and--Miss Herne.

It was curious, that, when this woman, whom he saw every day, came up
in his mind, it was always in one posture, one costume. You have
noticed that peculiarity in your remembrance of some persons?  Perhaps
you would find, if you looked closely, that in that look or indelible
gesture which your memory has caught there lies some subtile hint of
the tie between your soul and theirs. Now, when Holmes had resolved
coolly to weigh this woman, brain, heart, and flesh, to know how much
of a hindrance she would be, he could only see her, with his artist's
sense, as delicate a bloom of colouring as eye could crave, in one
immovable posture,--as he had seen her once in some masquerade or
tableau vivant.  June, I think it was, she chose to represent that
evening,--and with her usual success; for no woman ever knew more
thoroughly her material of shape or colour, or how to work it up. Not
an ill-chosen fancy, either, that of the moist, warm month. Some
tranced summer's day might have drowsed down into such a human form by
a dank pool, or on the thick grass-crusted meadows. There was the full
contour of the limbs hid under warm green folds, the white flesh that
glowed when you touched it as if some smothered heat lay beneath, the
snaring eyes, the sleeping face, the amber hair uncoiled in a languid
quiet, while yellow jasmines deepened its hue into molten sunshine, and
a great tiger-lily laid its sultry head on her breast.  June?  Could
June become incarnate with higher poetic meaning than that which this
woman gave it?  Mr. Kitts, the artist I told you of, thought not, and
fell in love with June and her on the spot, which passion became quite
unbearable after she had graciously permitted him to sketch her,--for
the benefit of Art.  Three medical students and one attorney, Miss
Herne numbered as having been driven into a state of dogged despair on
that triumphal occasion.  Mr. Holmes may have quarrelled with the
rendering, doubting to himself if her lip were not too thick, her eye
too brassy and pale a blue for the queen of months; though I do not
believe he thought at all about it.  Yet the picture clung to his
memory.

As he slowly paced the room to-day, thinking of this woman as his wife,
light blue eyes and yellow hair and the unclean sweetness of
jasmine-flowers mixed with the hot sunshine and smells of the mill.  He
could think of her in no other light.  He might have done so; for the
poor girl had her other sides for view.  She had one of those sharp,
tawdry intellects whose possessors are always reckoned "brilliant
women, fine talkers."  She was (aside from the necessary sarcasm to
keep up this reputation) a good-humoured soul enough,--when no one
stood in her way.  But if her shallow virtues or vices were palpable at
all to him, they became one with the torpid beauty of the oppressive
summer day, and weighed on him alike with a vague disgust.  The woman
luxuriated in perfume; some heavy odour always hung about her.  Holmes,
thinking of her now, fancied he felt it stifling the air, and opened
the window for breath.  Patchouli or copperas,--what was the
difference?  The mill and his future wife came to him together; it was
scarcely his fault, if he thought of them as one, or muttered,
"Damnable clog!" as he sat down to write, his cold eye growing colder.
But he did not argue the question any longer; decision had come keenly
in one moment, fixed, unalterable.

If, through the long day, the starved heart of the man called feebly
for its natural food, he called it a paltry weakness; or if the old
thought of the quiet, pure little girl in the office below came back to
him, he--he wished her well, he hoped she might succeed in her work, he
would always be ready to lend her a helping hand.  So many years (he
was ashamed to think how many) he had built the thought of this girl as
his wife into the future, put his soul's strength into the hope, as if
love and the homely duties of husband and father were what life was
given for! A boyish fancy, he thought.  He had not learned then that
all dreams must yield to self-reverence and self-growth.  As for taking
up this life of poverty and soul-starvation for the sake of a little
love, it would be an ignoble martyrdom, the sacrifice of a grand
unmeasured life to a shallow pleasure.  He was no longer a young man
now; he had no time to waste.  Poor Margret! he wondered if it hurt her?

He signed the deed, and left it in the slow, quiet way natural to him,
and after a while  stooped to pat the dog softly, who was trying to
lick his hand,--with the hard fingers shaking a little, and a smothered
fierceness in the half-closed eye, like a man who is tortured and alone.

There is a miserable drama acted in other homes than the Tuileries,
when men have found a woman's heart in their way to success, and
trampled it down under an iron heel.  Men like Napoleon must live out
the law of their natures, I suppose,--on a throne, or in a mill.

So many trifles that day roused the undercurrent of old thoughts and
old hopes that taunted him,--trifles, too, that he would not have
heeded at another time.  Pike came in on business, a bunch of bills in
his hand.  A wily, keen eye he had, looking over them,--a lean face,
emphasized only by cunning.  No wonder Dr. Knowles cursed him for a
"slippery customer," and was cheated by him the next hour.  While he
and Holmes were counting out the bills, a little white-headed girl
crept shyly in at the door, and came up to the table,--oddly dressed,
in a frock fastened with great horn buttons, and with an old-fashioned
anxious pair of eyes, the color of blue Delft.  Holmes smoothed her
hair, as she stood beside them; for he never could help caressing
children or dogs.  Pike looked up sharply,--then half smiled, as he
went on counting.

"Ninety, ninety-five, AND one hundred, all right,"--tying a bit of tape
about the papers.  "My Sophy, Mr. Holmes.  Good girl, Sophy is.  Bring
her up to the mill sometimes," he said, apologetically, "on 'count of
not leaving her alone.  She gets lonesome at th' house."

Holmes glanced at Pike's felt hat lying on the table: there was a rusty
strip of crape on it.

"Yes," said Pike, in a lower tone, "I'm father and mother, both, to
Sophy now."

"I had not heard," said Holmes, kindly.  "How about the boys, now?"

"Pete and John 's both gone West," the man said, his eyes kindling
eagerly.  "'S fine boys as ever turned out of Indiana. Good eddications
I give 'em both.  I've felt the want of that all my life..  Good
eddications.  Says I, 'Now, boys, you've got your fortunes, nothing to
hinder your bein' President.  Let's see what stuff 's in ye,' says I.
So they're doin' well.  Wrote fur me to come out in the fall.  But I'd
rather scratch on, and gather up a little for Sophy here, before I stop
work."

He patted Sophy's tanned little hand on the table, as if beating some
soft tune.  Holmes folded up the bills.  Even this man could spare time
out of his hard, stingy life to love, and be loved, and to be generous!
But then he had no higher aim, knew nothing better.

"Well," said Pike, rising, "in case you take th' mill, Mr. Holmes, I
hope we'll be agreeable.  I'll strive to do my best,"--in the old
fawning manner, to which Holmes nodded a curt reply.

The man stopped for Sophy to gather up her bits of broken "chayney"
with which she was making a tea-party on the table, and went
down-stairs.

Towards evening Holmes went out,--not going through the narrow passage
that led to the offices, but avoiding it by a circuitous route.  If it
cost him any pain to think why he did it, he showed none in his calm,
observant face.  Buttoning up his coat as he went: the October sunset
looked as if it ought to be warm, but he was deathly cold.  On the
street the young doctor beset him again with bows and news: Cox was his
name, I believe; the one, you remember, who had such a Talleyrand nose
for ferreting out successful men.  He had to bear with him but for a
few moments, however.  They met a crowd of workmen at the corner, one
of whom, an old man freshly washed, with honest eyes looking out of
horn spectacles, waited for them by a fire-plug.  It was Polston, the
coal-digger,--an acquaintance, a far-off kinsman of Holmes, in fact.

"Curious person making signs to you, yonder," said Cox; "hand, I
presume."

"My cousin Polston.  If you do not know him, you'll excuse me?"

Cox sniffed the air down the street, and twirled his rattan, as he
went.  The coal-digger was abrupt and distant in his greeting, going
straight to business.

"I will keep yoh only a minute, Mr. Holmes"----

"Stephen," corrected Holmes.

The old man's face warmed.

"Stephen, then," holding out his hand, "sence old times dawn't shame
yoh, Stephen.  That's hearty, now.  It's only a wured I want, but it's
immediate.  Concernin' Joe Yare,--Lois's father, yoh know?  He's back."

"Back?  I saw him to-day, following me in the mill.  His hair is gray?
I think it was he."

"No doubt.  Yes, he's aged fast, down in the lock-up; goin' fast to the
end.  Feeble, pore-like.  It's a bad life, Joe Yare's; I wish 'n' 't
would be better to the end"----

He stopped with a wistful look at Holmes, who stood outwardly
attentive, but with little thought to waste on Joe Yare.  The old
coal-digger drummed on the fire-plug uneasily.

"Myself, 't was for Lois's sake I thowt on it.  To speak plain,--yoh'll
mind that Stokes affair, th' note Yare forged? Yes?  Ther' 's none
knows o' that but yoh an' me.  He's safe, Yare is, only fur yoh an' me.
Yoh speak the wured an' back he goes to the lock-up.  Fur life.  D' yoh
see?"

"I see."

"He's tryin' to do right, Yare is."

The old man went on, trying not to be eager, and watching Holmes's face.

"He's tryin'.  Sendin' him back--yoh know how THAT'll end.  Seems like
as we'd his soul in our hands.  S'pose,--what d' yoh think, if we give
him a chance?  It's yoh he fears.  I see him a-watchin' yoh; what d'
yoh think, if we give him a chance?" catching Holmes's sleeve.  "He's
old, an' he's tryin'.  Heh?"

Holmes smiled.

"We didn't make the law he broke.  Justice before mercy.  Haven't I
heard you talk to Sam in that way, long ago?"

The old man loosened his hold of Holmes's arm, looked up and down the
street, uncertain, disappointed.

"The law.  Yes.  That's right!  Yoh're just man, Stephen Holmes."

"And yet?"----

"Yes.  I dun'no'.  Law's right, but Yare's had a bad chance, an' he's
tryin'.  An' we're sendin' him to hell.  Somethin' 's wrong. But I
think yoh're a just man," looking keenly in Holmes's face.

"A hard one, people say," said Holmes, after a pause, as they walked on.

He had spoken half to himself, and received no answer.  Some blacker
shadow troubled him than old Yare's fate.

"My mother was a hard woman,--you knew her?" he said, abruptly.

"She was just, like yoh.  She was one o' th' elect, she said. Mercy's
fur them,--an' outside, justice.  It's a narrer showin', I'm thinkin'."

"My father was outside," said Holmes, some old bitterness rising up in
his tone, his gray eye lighting with some unrevenged wrong.

Polston did not speak for a moment.

"Dunnot bear malice agin her.  They're dead, now.  It wasn't left fur
her to judge him out yonder.  Yoh've yer father's Stephen, 'times.
Hungry, pitiful, like women's.  His got desper't' 't th' last.  Drunk
hard,--died of 't, yoh know.  But SHE killed him,--th' sin was writ
down fur her.  Never was a boy I loved like him, when we was boys."

There was a short silence.

"Yoh're like yer mother," said Polston, striving for a lighter tone.
"Here,"--motioning to the heavy iron jaws.  "She never--let go.
Somehow, too, she'd the law on her side in outward showin', an' th'
right.  But I hated  religion, knowin' her.  Well, ther' 's a day of
makin' things clear, comin'."

They had reached the corner now, and Polston turned down the lane.

"Yoh 'll think o' Yare's case?" he said.

"Yes.  But how can I help it," Holmes said, lightly, "if I am like my
mother, here?"--putting his hand to his mouth.

"God help us, how can yoh?  It's hard to think father and mother leave
their souls fightin' in their childern, cos th' love was wantin' to
make them one here."

Something glittered along the street as he spoke: the silver mountings
of a low-hung phaeton drawn by a pair of Mexican ponies.  One or two
gentlemen on horseback were alongside, attendant on a lady within, Miss
Herne.  She turned her fair face, and pale, greedy eyes, as she passed,
and lifted her hand languidly in recognition of Holmes.  Polston's face
coloured.

"I've heered," he said, holding out his grimy hand.  "I wish yoh well,
Stephen, boy.  So'll the old 'oman.  Yoh'll come an' see us, soon?
Ye'r' lookin' fagged, an' yer eyes is gettin' more like yer father's.
I'm glad things is takin' a good turn with yoh; an' yoh'll never be
like him, starvin' fur th' kind wured, an' havin' to die without it.
I'm glad yoh've got true love.  She'd a fair face, I think.  I wish yoh
well, Stephen."

Holmes shook the grimy hand, and then stood a moment looking back to
the mill, from which the hands were just coming, and then down at the
phaeton moving idly down the road.  How cold it was growing!  People
passing by had a sickly look, as if they were struck by the plague.  He
pushed the damp hair back, wiping his forehead, with another glance at
the mill-women coming out of the gate, and then followed the phaeton
down the hill.



CHAPTER VI.

An hour after, the evening came on sultry, the air murky, opaque, with
yellow trails of colour dragging in the west: a sullen stillness in the
woods and farms; only, in fact, that dark, inexplicable hush that
precedes a storm.  But Lois, coming down the hill-road, singing to
herself, and keeping time with her whip-end on the wooden measure,
stopped when she grew conscious of it.  It seemed to her blurred fancy
more than a deadening sky: a something solemn and unknown, hinting of
evil to come.  The dwarf-pines on the road-side scowled weakly at her
through the gray; the very silver minnows in the pools she passed,
flashed frightened away, and darkened into the muddy niches.  There was
a vague dread in the sudden silence.  She called to the old donkey, and
went faster down the hill, as if escaping from some overhanging peril,
unseen.  She saw Margret coming up the road. There was a phaeton behind
Lois, and some horsemen: she jolted the cart off into the stones to let
them pass, seeing Mr. Holmes's face in the carriage as she did so.  He
did not look at her; had his head turned towards the gray distance.
Lois's vivid eye caught the full meaning of the woman beside him.  The
face hurt her: not fair, as Polston called it: vapid and cruel.  She
was dressed in yellow: the colour seemed jeering and mocking to the
girl's sensitive instinct, keenly alive to every trifle.  She did not
know that it is the colour of shams, and that women like this are the
most deadly of shams.  As the phaeton went slowly down, Margret came
nearer, meeting it on the road-side, the dust from the wheels stifling
the air.  Lois saw her look up, and then suddenly stand still, holding
to the fence, as they met her. Holmes's cold, wandering eye turned on
the little dusty figure standing there, poor and despised.  Polston
called his eyes hungry: it was a savage hunger that sprang into them
now; a gray shadow creeping over his set face, as he looked at her, in
that flashing moment.  The phaeton was gone in an instant, leaving her
alone in the road.  One of the men looked back, and then whispered
something to the lady with a laugh.  She turned to Holmes, when he had
finished, fixing her light, confusing eyes on his face, and softening
her voice.

"Fred swears that woman we passed was your first love.  Were you, then,
so chivalric? Was it to have been a second romaunt of 'King Cophetua
and the Beggar Maid?'"

He met her look, and saw the fierce demand through the softness and
persiflage.  He gave it no answer, but, turning to her, kindled into
the man whom she was so proud to show as her capture,--a man far off
from Stephen Holmes.  Brilliant she called him,--frank, winning,
generous.  She thought she knew him well; held him a slave to her
fluttering hand.  Being proud of her slave, she let the hand flutter
down now somehow with some flowers it held until it touched his hard
fingers, her cheek flushing into rose.  The nerveless, spongy
hand,--what a death-grip it had on his life!  He did not look back once
at the motionless, dusty figure on the road.  What was that Polston had
said about starving to death for a kind word?  LOVE?  He was sick of
the sickly talk,--crushed it out of his heart with a savage scorn.  He
remembered his father, the night he died, had said in his weak ravings
that God was love.  Was He?  No wonder, then, He was the God of women,
and children, and unsuccessful men.  For him, he was done with it.  He
was here with stronger purpose than to yield to weaknesses of the
flesh.  He had made his choice,--a straight, hard path upwards; he was
deaf now and forever to any word of kindness or pity.  As for this
woman beside him, he would be just to her, in justice to himself: she
never should know the loathing in his heart: just to her as to all
living creatures. Some little, mean doubt kept up a sullen whisper of
bought and sold,--sold,--but he laughed it down.  He sat there with his
head steadily turned towards her: a kingly face, she called it, and she
was right,--it was a kingly face: with the same shallow, fixed smile on
his mouth,--no weary cry went up to God that day so terrible in its
pathos, I think: with the same dull consciousness that this was the
trial night of his life,--that with the homely figure on the road-side
he had turned his back on love and kindly happiness and warmth, on all
that was weak and useless in the world.  He had made his choice; he
would abide by it,--he would abide by it.  He said that over and over
again, dulling down the death-gnawing of his outraged heart.

Miss Herne was quite contented, sitting by him, with herself, and the
admiring world.  She had no notion of trial nights in life. Not many
temptations pierced through her callous, flabby temperament to sting
her to defeat or triumph.  There was for her no under-current of
conflict, in these people whom she passed, between self and the unseen
power that Holmes sneered at, whose name was love; they were nothing
but movables, pleasant or ugly to look at, well- or ill-dressed.  There
were no dark iron bars across her life for her soul to clutch and shake
madly,--nothing "in the world amiss, to be unriddled by and by."
Little Margret, sitting by the muddy road, digging her fingers dully
into the clover-roots, while she looked at the spot where the wheels
had passed, looked at life differently, it may be;--or old Joe Yare by
the furnace-fire, his black face and gray hair bent over a torn old
spelling-book Lois had given him.  The night, perhaps, was going to be
more to them than so many rainy hours for sleeping,--the time to be
looked back on through coming lives as the hour when good and ill came
to them, and they made their choice, and, as Holmes said, did abide by
it.

It grew cool and darker.  Holmes left the phaeton before they entered
town, and turned back.  He was going to see this Margret Howth, tell
her what he meant to do.  Because he was going to leave a clean record.
No one should accuse him of want of honour.  This girl alone of all
living beings had a right to see him as he stood, justified to himself.
Why she had this right, I do not think he answered to himself.
Besides, he must see her, if only on business.  She must keep her place
at the mill: he would not begin his new life by an act of injustice,
taking the bread out of Margret's mouth.  LITTLE MARGRET!  He stopped
suddenly, looking down into a deep pool of water by the road-side.
What madness of weariness crossed his brain just then I do not know.
He shook it off.  Was he mad?  Life was worth more to him than to other
men, he thought; and perhaps he was right.  He went slowly through the
cool dusk, looking across the fields, up at the pale, frightened face
of the moon hooded in clouds: he did not dare to look, with all his
iron nerve, at the dark figure beyond him on the road.  She was sitting
there just where he had left her: he knew she would be.  When he came
closer, she got up, not looking towards him; but he saw her clasp her
hands behind her, the fingers plucking weakly at each other. It was an
old, childish fashion of hers, when she was frightened or hurt.  It
would only need a word, and he could be quiet and firm,--she was such a
child compared to him: he always had thought of her so.  He went on up
to her slowly, and stopped; when she looked at him, he untied the linen
bonnet that hid her face, and threw it back.  How thin and tired the
little face had grown!  Poor child!  He put his strong arm kindly about
her, and stooped to kiss her hand, but she drew it away.  God! what did
she do that for?  Did not she know that he could put his head beneath
her foot then, he was so mad with pity for the woman he had wronged?
Not love, he thought, controlling himself,--it was only justice to be
kind to her.

"You have been ill, Margret, these two years, while I was gone?"

He could not hear her answer; only saw that she looked up with a white,
pitiful smile.  Only a word it needed, he thought,--very kind and firm:
and he must be quick,--he could not bear this long.  But he held the
little worn fingers, stroking them with an unutterable tenderness.

"You must let these fingers work for me, Margret," he said, at last,
"when I am master in the mill."

"It is true, then, Stephen?"

"It is true,--yes."

She lifted her hand to her head, uncertainly: he held it tightly, and
then let it go.  What right had he to touch the dust upon her
shoes,--he, bought and sold?  She did not speak for a time; when she
did, it was a weak and sick voice.

"I am glad.  I saw her, you know.  She is very beautiful."

The fingers were plucking at each other again; and a strange, vacant
smile on her face, trying to look glad.

"You love her, Stephen?"

He was quiet and firm enough now.

"I do not.  Her money will help me to become what I ought to be. She
does not care for love.  You want me to succeed, Margret?  No one ever
understood me as you did, child though you were."

Her whole face glowed.

"I know!  I know!  I did understand you!"

She said, lower, after a little while,--

"I knew you did not love her."

"There is no such thing as love in real life," he said, in his steeled
voice.  "You will know that, when you grow older.  I used to believe in
it once, myself."

She did not speak, only watched the slow motion of his lips, not
looking into his eyes,--as she used to do in the old time. Whatever
secret account lay between the souls of this man and woman came out
now, and stood bare on their faces.

"I used to think that I, too, loved," he went on, in his low, hard
tone.  "But it kept me back, Margret, and"----

He was silent.

"I know, Stephen.  It kept you back"----

"And I put it away.  I put it away to-night, forever."

She did not speak; stood quite quiet, her head bent on her breast.  His
conscience was clear now.  But he almost wished he had not said it, she
was such a weak, sickly thing.  She sat down at last, burying her face
in her hands, with a shivering sob.  He dared not trust him self to
speak again.

"I am not proud,--as a woman ought to be," she said, wearily, when he
wiped her clammy forehead.

"You loved me, then?" he whispered.

Her face flashed at the unmanly triumph; her puny frame started up,
away from him.

"I did love you, Stephen.  I did love you,--as you might be, not as you
are,--not with those inhuman eyes.  I do understand you,--I do.  I know
you for a better man than you know yourself this night."

She turned to go.  He put his hand on her arm; something we have never
seen on his face struggled up,--the better soul that she knew.

"Come back," he said, hoarsely; "don't leave me with myself. Come back,
Margret."

She did not come; stood leaning, her sudden strength gone, against the
broken wall.  There was a heavy silence.  The night throbbed slow about
them.  Some late bird rose from the sedges of the pool, and with a
frightened cry flapped its tired wings, and drifted into the dark.  His
eyes, through the gathering shadow, devoured the weak, trembling body,
met the soul that looked at him, strong as his own.  Was it because it
knew and trusted him that all that was pure and strongest in his
crushed nature struggled madly to be free?  He thrust it down; the
self-learned lesson of years was not to be conquered in a moment.

"There have been times," he said, in a smothered, restless voice, "when
I thought you belonged to me.  Not here, but before this life.  My soul
and body thirst and hunger for you, then, Margret."

She did not answer; her hands worked feebly together, the dull blood
fainting in her veins.

Knowing only that the night yawned intolerable about her, that she was
alone,--going mad with being alone.  No thought of heaven or God in her
soul: her craving eyes seeing him only.  The strong, living man that
she loved: her tired-out heart goading, aching to lie down on his
brawny breast for one minute, and die there,--that was all.

She did not move: underneath the pain there was power, as Knowles
thought.

He came nearer, and held up his arms to where she stood,--the heavy,
masterful face pale and wet.

"I need you, Margret.  I shall be nothing without you, now. Come,
Margret, little Margret!"

She came to him, then, and put her hands in his.

"No, Stephen," she said.

If there were any pain in her tone, she kept it down, for his sake.

"Never, I could never help you,--as you are.  It might have been, once.
Good-by, Stephen."

Her childish way put him in mind of the old days when this girl was
dearer to him than his own soul.  She was so yet.  He held her close to
his breast, looking down into her eyes.  She moved uneasily; she dared
not trust herself.

"You will come?" he said.  "It might have been,--it shall be again."

"It may be," she said, humbly.  "God is good.  And I believe in you,
Stephen.  I will be yours some time: we cannot help it, if we would:
but not as you are."

"You do not love me?" he said, flinging her off, his face whitening.

She said nothing, gathered her damp shawl around her, and turned to go.
Just a moment they stood, looking at each other.  If the dark square
figure standing there had been an iron fate trampling her young life
down into hopeless wretchedness, she forgot it now.  Women like Margret
are apt to forget.  His eye never abated in its fierce question.

"I will wait for you yonder, if I die first," she whispered.

He came closer, waiting for an answer.

"And--I love you, Stephen."

He gathered her in his arms, and put his cold lips to hers, without a
word; then turned, and left her slowly.

She made no sign, shed no tear, as she stood, watching him go. It was
all over: she had willed it, herself, and yet--he could not go! God
would not suffer it!  Oh, he could not leave her,--he could not!--He
went down the hill, slowly.  If it were a trial of life and death for
her, did he know or care?--He did not look back.  What if he did not?
his heart was true; he suffered in going; even now he walked wearily.
God forgive her, if she had wronged him!--What did it matter, if he
were hard in this life, and it hurt her a little?  It would come
right,--beyond, some time.  But life was long.--She would not sit down,
sick as she was: he might turn, and it would vex him to see her
suffer.--He walked slowly; once he stopped to pick up something.  She
saw the deep-cut face and half-shut eyes.  How often those eyes had
looked into her soul, and it had answered!  They never would look so
any more.--There was a tree by the place where the road turned into
town.  If he came back, he would be sure to turn there.--How tired he
walked, and slow!--If he was sick, that beautiful woman could be near
him,--help him.--SHE never would touch his hand again,--never  again,
never,--unless he came back now.--He was near the tree: she closed her
eyes, turning away.  When she looked again, only the bare road lay
there, yellow and wet.  It was over, now.

How long she sat there she did not know.  She tried once or twice to go
to the house, but the lights seemed so far off that she gave it up and
sat quiet, unconscious, except of the damp stone-wall her head leaned
on, and the stretch of muddy road. Some time, she knew not when, there
was a heavy step beside her, and a rough hand shook hers where she
stooped, feebly tracing out the lines of mortar between the stones.  It
was Knowles.  She looked up, bewildered.

"Hunting catarrhs, eh?" he growled, eying her keenly.  "Got your father
on the Bourbons, so took the chance to come and find you. He'll not
miss ME for an hour.  That man has a natural hankering after treason
against the people.  Lord, Margret! what a stiff old head he'd have
carried to the guillotine!  How he'd have looked at the canaille!"

He helped her up gently enough.

"Your bonnet's like a wet rag,"--with a furtive glance at the worn-out
face.  A hungry face always, with her life unfed by its stingy few
crumbs of good; but to-night it was vacant with utter loss.

She got up, trying to laugh cheerfully, and went beside him down the
road.

"You saw that painted Jezebel to-night, and"----stopping abruptly.

She had not heard him, and he followed her doggedly, with an occasional
snort or grunt or other inarticulate damn at the obstinate mud.  She
stopped at last, with a quick gasp.  Looking at her, he chafed her limp
hands,--his huge, uncouth face growing pale.  When she was better, he
said, gravely,--

"I want you, Margret.  Not at home, child.  I want to show you
something."

He turned with her suddenly off the main road into a by-path, helping
her along, watching her stealthily, but going on with his disjointed,
bearish growls.  If it stung her from her pain, vexing her, he did not
care.

"I want to show you a bit of hell: outskirt.  You're in a fit state:
it'll do you good.  I'm minister there.  The clergy can't attend to it
just now: they're too busy measuring God's truth by the States'--Rights
doctrine, or the Chicago Platform. Consequence, religion yields to
majorities.  Are you able?  It's only a step."

She went on indifferently.  The night was breathless and dark. Black,
wet gusts dragged now and then through the skyless fog, striking her
face with a chill.  The Doctor quit talking, hurrying her, watching her
anxiously.  They came at last to the railway-track, with long trains of
empty freight-cars.

"We are nearly there," he whispered.  "It's time you knew your work,
and forgot your weakness.  The curse of pampered generations.  'High
Norman blood,'--pah!"

There was a broken gap in the fence.  He led her through it into a
muddy yard.  Inside was one of those taverns you will find in the
suburbs of large cities, haunts of the lowest vice.  This one was a
smoky frame, standing on piles over an open space where hogs were
rooting.  Half a dozen drunken Irishmen were playing poker with a pack
of greasy cards in an out-house.  He led her up the rickety ladder to
the one room, where a flaring tallow-dip threw a saffron glare into the
darkness.  A putrid odour met them at the door.  She drew back,
trembling.

"Come here!" he said, fiercely, clutching her hand.  "Women as fair and
pure as you have come into dens like this,--and never gone away.  Does
it make your delicate breath faint?  And you a follower of the meek and
lowly Jesus!  Look here! and here!"

The room was swarming with human life.  Women, idle trampers,
whiskey-bloated, filthy, lay half-asleep, or smoking, on the floor, and
set up a chorus of whining begging when they entered. Half-naked
children crawled about in rags.  On the damp, mildewed walls there was
hung a picture of the Benicia Boy, and close by, Pio Nono, crook in
hand, with the usual inscription, "Feed my sheep."  The Doctor looked
at it.

"'Tu es Petrus, et super hanc'----  Good God! what IS truth?" he
muttered, bitterly.

He dragged her closer to the women, through the darkness and foul smell.

"Look in their faces," he whispered.  "There is not one of them that is
not a living lie.  Can they help it?  Think of the centuries of serfdom
and superstition through which their blood has crawled.  Come
closer,--here."

In the corner slept a heap of half-clothed blacks.  Going on the
underground railroad to Canada.  Stolid, sensual wretches, with here
and there a broad, melancholy brow, and desperate jaws.  One little
pickaninny rubbed its sleepy eyes, and laughed at them.

"So much flesh and blood out of the market, unweighed!"

Margret took up the child, kissing its brown face.  Knowles looked at
her.

"Would you touch her?  I forgot you were born down South.  Put it down,
and come on."

They went out of the door.  Margret stopped, looking back.

"Did I call it a bit of hell?  It 's only a glimpse of the under-life
of America,--God help us!--where all men are born free and equal."

The air in the passage grew fouler.  She leaned back faint and
shuddering.  He did not heed her.  The passion of the man, the terrible
pity for these people, came out of his soul now, writhing his face, and
dulling his eyes.

"And you," he said, savagely, "you sit by the road-side, with help in
your hands, and Christ in your heart, and call your life lost, quarrel
with your God, because that mass of selfishness has left you,--because
you are balked in your puny hope!  Look at these women.  What is their
loss, do you think? Go back, will you, and drone out your life
whimpering over your lost dream, and go to Shakspeare for tragedy when
you want it?  Tragedy!  Come here,--let me hear what you call this."

He led her through the passage, up a narrow flight of stairs.  An old
woman in a flaring cap sat at the top, nodding,--wakening now and then,
to rock herself to and fro, and give the shrill Irish keen.

"You know that stoker who was killed in the mill a month ago?  Of
course not,--what are such people to you?  There was a girl who loved
him,--you know what that is?  She's dead now, here.  She drank herself
to death,--a most unpicturesque suicide.  I want you to look at her.
You need not blush for her life of shame, now; she's dead.--Is Hetty
here?"

The woman got up.

"She is, Zur.  She is, Mem.  She's lookin' foine in her Sunday suit.
Shrouds is gone out, Mem, they say."

She went tipping over the floor to something white that lay on a board,
a candle at the head, and drew off the sheet.  A girl of fifteen,
almost a child, lay underneath, dead,--her lithe, delicate figure
decked out in a dirty plaid skirt, and stained velvet bodice,--her neck
and arms bare.  The small face was purely cut, haggard, patient in its
sleep,--the soft, fair hair gathered off the tired forehead.  Margret
leaned over her, shuddering, pinning her handkerchief about the child's
dead neck.

"How young she is!" muttered Knowles.  "Merciful God, how young she
is!--What is that you say?" sharply, seeing Margret's lips move.

"'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.'"

"Ah, child, that is old-time philosophy.  Put your hand here, on her
dead face.  Is your loss like hers?" he said lower, looking into the
dull pain in her eyes.  Selfish pain he called it.

"Let me go," she said.  "I am tired."

He took her out into the cool, open road, leading her tenderly
enough,--for the girl suffered, he saw.

"What will you do?" he asked her then.  "It is not too late,--will you
help me save these people?"

She wrung her hands helplessly.

"What do you want with me?" she cried.  "I have enough to bear."

The burly black figure before her seemed to tower and strengthen; the
man's face in the wall light showed a terrible life-purpose coming out
bare.

"I want you to do your work.  It is hard, it will wear out your
strength and brain and heart.  Give yourself to these people. God calls
you to it.  There is none to help them.  Give up love, and the petty
hopes of women.  Help me.  God calls you to the work."

She went, on blindly: he followed her.  For years he had set apart this
girl to help him in his scheme: he would not be balked now.  He had
great hopes from his plan: he meant to give all he had: it was the
noblest of aims.  He thought some day it would work like leaven through
the festering mass under the country he loved so well, and raise it to
a new life.  If it failed,--if it failed, and saved one life, his work
was not lost.  But it could not fail.

"Home!" he said, stopping her as she reached the stile,--"oh, Margret,
what is home?  There is a cry going up night and day from homes like
that den yonder, for help,--and no man listens."

She was weak; her brain faltered.

"Does God call me to this work?  Does He call me?" she moaned.

He watched her eagerly.

"He calls you.  He waits for your answer.  Swear to me that you will
help His people.  Give up father and mother and love, and go down as
Christ did.  Help me to give liberty and truth and Jesus' love to these
wretches on the brink of hell.  Live with them, raise them with you."

She looked up, white; she was a weak, weak woman, sick for her natural
food of love.

"Is it my work?"

"It is your work.  Listen to me, Margret," softly.  "Who cares for you?
You stand alone to-night.  There is not a single human heart that calls
you nearest and best.  Shiver, if you will,--it is true.  The man you
wasted your soul on left you in the night and cold to go to his
bride,--is sitting by her now, holding her hand in his."

He waited a moment, looking down at her, until she should understand.

"Do you think you deserved this of God? I know that yonder on the muddy
road you looked up to Him, and knew it was not just; that you had done
right, and this was your reward.  I know that for these two years you
have trusted in the Christ you worship to make it right, to give you
your heart's desire.  Did He do it? Did He hear your prayer?  Does He
care for your weak love, when the nations of the earth are going down?
What is your poor hope to Him, when the very land you live in is a
wine-press that will be trodden some day by the fierceness and wrath of
Almighty God? O Christ!--if there be a Christ,--help me to save it!"

He looked up,--his face white with pain.  After a time he said to her,--

"Help me, Margret!  Your prayer was selfish; it was not heard. Give up
your idle hope that Christ will aid you.  Swear to me, this night when
you have lost all, to give yourself to this work."

The storm had been dark and windy: it cleared now slowly, the warm
summer rain falling softly, the fresh blue stealing broadly from behind
the gray.  It seemed to Margret like a blessing; for her brain rose up
stronger, more healthful.

"I will not swear," she said, weakly.  "I think He heard my prayer.  I
think He will answer it.  He was a man, and loved as we do.  My love is
not selfish; it is the best gift God has given me."

Knowles went slowly with her to the house.  He was not baffled. He knew
that the struggle was yet to come; that, when she was alone, her faith
in the far-off Christ would falter; that she would grasp at this work,
to fill her empty hands and starved heart, if for no other reason,--to
stifle by a sense of duty her unutterable feeling of loss.  He was
keenly read in woman's heart, this Knowles.  He left her silently, and
she passed through the dark passage to her own room.

Putting her damp shawl off, she sat down on the floor, leaning her head
on a low chair,--one her father had given her for a Christmas gift when
she was little.  How fond Holmes and her father used to be of each
other!  Every Christmas he spent with them.  She remembered them all
now.  "He was sitting by her now, holding her hand in his."  She said
that over to herself, though it was not hard to understand.

After a long time, her mother came with a candle to the door.

"Good-night, Margret.  Why, your hair is wet, child!"

For Margret, kissing her good-night, had laid her head down a minute on
her breast.  She stroked the hair a moment, and then turned away.

"Mother, could you stay with me to-night?"

"Why, no, Maggie,--your father wants me to read to him."

"Oh, I know.  Did he miss me to-night,--father?"

"Not much; we were talking old times over,--in Virginia, you know."

"I know; good-night."

She went back to the chair.  Tige was there,--for he used to spend half
of his time on the farm.  She put her arm about his head.  God knows
how lonely the poor child was when she drew the dog so warmly to her
heart: not for his master's sake alone; but it was all she had.  He
grew tired at last, and whined, trying to get out.

"Will you go, Tige?" she said, and opened the window.

He jumped out, and she watched him going towards town.  Such a little
thing, it was! But not even a dog "called her nearest and best."

Let us be silent; the story of the night is not for us to read. Do you
think that He, who in the far, dim Life holds the worlds in His hand,
knew or cared how alone the child was?  What if she wrung her thin
hands, grew sick with the slow, mad, solitary tears?--was not the world
to save, as Knowles said?

He, too, had been alone; He had come unto His own, and His own received
him not: so, while the struggling world rested, unconscious, in
infinite calm of right, He came close to her with human eyes that had
loved, and not been loved, and had suffered with that pain.  And,
trusting Him, she only said, "Show me my work!  Thou that takest away
the pain of the world, have mercy upon me!"



CHAPTER VII.

For that night, at least, Holmes swept his soul clean of doubt and
indecision; one of his natures was conquered,--finally, he thought.
Polston, if he had seen his face as he paced the street slowly home to
the mill, would have remembered his mother's the day she died.  How the
stern old woman met death half-way! why should she fear? she was as
strong as he.  Wherein had she failed of duty? her hands were clean:
she was going to meet her just reward.

It was different with Holmes, of course, with his self-existent soul.
It was life he accepted to-night, he thought,--a life of growth,
labour, achievement,--eternal.

"Ohne Hast, aber ohne Rast,"--favourite words with him.  He liked to
study the nature of the man who spoke them; because, I think, it was
like his own,--a Titan strength of endurance, an infinite capability of
love, and hate, and suffering, and over all, (the peculiar identity of
the man,) a cold, speculative eye of reason, that looked down into the
passion and depths of his growing self, and calmly noted them, a lesson
for all time.


"Ohne Hast." Going slowly through the night, he strengthened himself by
marking how all things in Nature accomplish a perfected life through
slow, narrow fixedness of purpose,--each life complete in itself: why
not his own, then?  The windless gray, the stars, the stone under his
feet, stood alone in the universe, each working out its own soul into
deed.  If there were any all-embracing harmony, one soul through all,
he did not see it.  Knowles--that old sceptic--believed in it, and
called it Love.  Even Goethe himself, what was it he said? "Der
Allumfasser, der Allerhalter, fasst und  erhalt er nicht, dich, mich,
sich selbst?"

There was a curious power in the words, as he lingered over them, like
half-comprehended music,--as simple and tender as if they had come from
the depths of a woman's heart: it touched him deeper than his power of
control.  Pah! it was a dream of Faust's; he, too, had his Margaret; he
fell, through that love.

He went on slowly to the mill.  If the name or the words woke a subtile
remorse or longing, he buried them under restful composure.  Whether
they should ever rise like angry ghosts of what might have been, to
taunt the man, only the future could tell.

Going through the gas-lit streets, Holmes met some cordial greeting at
every turn.  What a just, clever fellow he was! people said: one of
those men improved by success: just to the defrauding of himself: saw
the true worth of everybody, the very lowest: hadn't one spark of
self-esteem: despised all humbug and show, one could see, though he
never said it: when he was a boy, he was moody, with passionate likes
and dislikes; but success had improved him, vastly.  So Holmes was
popular, though the beggars shunned him, and the lazy Italian
organ-grinders never held their tambourines up to him.

The mill street was dark; the building threw its great shadow over the
square.  It was empty, he supposed; only one hand generally remained to
keep in the furnace-fires.  Going through one of the lower passages, he
heard voices, and turned aside to examine.  The management was not
strict, and in case of a fire the mill was not insured: like Knowles's
carelessness.

It was Lois and her father,--Joe Yare being feeder that night. They
were in one of the great furnace-rooms in the cellar,--a very
comfortable place that stormy night.  Two or three doors of the wide
brick ovens were open, and the fire threw a ruddy glow over the stone
floor, and shimmered into the dark recesses of the shadows, very
home-like after the rain and mud without.  Lois seemed to think so, at
any rate, for she had made a table of a store-box, put a white cloth on
it, and was busy getting up a regular supper for her father,--down on
her knees before the red coals, turning something on an iron plate,
while some slices of ham sent up a cloud of juicy, hungry smell.

The old stoker had just finished slaking the out-fires, and was putting
some blue plates on the table, gravely straightening them.  He had
grown old, as Polston said,--Holmes saw, stooped much, with a low,
hacking cough; his coarse clothes were curiously clean: that was to
please Lois, of course.  She put the ham on the table, and some
bubbling coffee, and then, from a hickory board in front of the fire,
took off, with a jerk, brown, flaky slices of Virginia johnny-cake.

"Ther' yoh are, father, hot 'n' hot," with her face on
fire,--"ther'--yoh--are,--coaxin' to be eatin'.--Why, Mr. Holmes!
Father!  Now, ef yoh jes' hedn't hed yer supper?"

She came up, coaxingly.  What brooding brown eyes the poor cripple had!
Not many years ago he would have sat down with the two poor souls, and
made a hearty meal of it: he had no heart for such follies now.

Old Yare stood in the background, his hat in his hand, stooping in his
submissive negro fashion, with a frightened watch on Holmes.

"Do you stay here, Lois?" he asked, kindly, turning his back on the old
man.

"On'y to bring his supper.  I couldn't bide all night 'n th' mill," the
old shadow coming on her face,--"I couldn't, yoh know. HE doesn't mind
it."

She glanced quickly from one to the other in silence, seeing the fear
on her father's face.

"Yoh know father, Mr. Holmes?  He's back now.  This is him."

The old man came forward, humbly.

"It's me, Marster Stephen."

The sullen, stealthy face disgusted Holmes.  He nodded, shortly.

"Yoh've been kind to my little girl while I was gone," he said,
catching his breath.  "I thank yoh, Marster."

"You need not.  It was for Lois."

"'T was fur her I comed back hyur. 'T was a resk,"--with a dumb look of
entreaty at Holmes,--"but fur her I thort I'd try it.  I know't was a
resk; but I thort them as cared fur Lo wud be merciful.  She's a good
girl, Lo.  She's all I hev."

Lois brought a box over, lugging it heavily.

"We hev n't chairs; but yoh'll sit down, Mr.  Holmes?" laughing as she
covered it with a cloth.  "It'd a warm place, here. Father studies 'n
his watch, 'n' I'm teacher,"--showing the torn old spelling-book.

The old man came eagerly forward, seeing the smile flicker on Holmes's
face.

"It's slow work, Marster,--slow.  But Lo's a good teacher, 'n' I'm
tryin',--I'm tryin' hard."

"It's not slow, Sir, seein' father hed n't 'dvantages, like me. He was
a"----

She stopped, lowering her voice, a hot flush of shame on her face.

"I know."

"Be n't that'll 'xcuse, Marster, seein' I knowed noght at the
beginnin'?  Thenk o' that, Marster.  I'm tryin' to be a different man.
Fur Lo.  I AM tryin'."

Holmes did not notice him.

"Good-night, Lois," he said, kindly, as she lighted his lamp.

He put some money on the table.

"You must take it," as she looked uneasy.  "For Tiger's board, say.  I
never see him now.  A bright new frock, remember."

She thanked him, her eyes brightening, looking at her father's patched
coat.

The old man followed Holmes out.

"Marster Holmes"----

"Have done with this," said Holmes, sternly.  "Whoever breaks law
abides by it.  It is no affair of mine."

The old man clutched his hands together fiercely, struggling to be
quiet.

"Ther' 's none knows it but yoh," he said, in a smothered voice. "Fur
God's sake be merciful!  It'll kill my girl,--it 'll kill her.  Gev me
a chance, Marster."

"You trouble me.  I must do what is just."

"It's not just," he said, savagely.  "What good'll it do me to go back
ther'?  I was goin' down, down, an' bringin' th' others with me.  What
good'll it do you or the rest to hev me ther'?  To make me afraid?
It's poor learnin' frum fear.  Who taught me what was right?  Who
cared?  No man cared fur my soul, till I thieved 'n' robbed; 'n' then
judge 'n' jury 'n' jailers was glad to pounce on me.  Will yoh gev me a
chance? will yoh?"

It was a desperate face before him; but Holmes never knew fear.

"Stand aside," he said, quietly.  "To-morrow I will see you.  You need
not try to escape."

He passed him, and went slowly up through the vacant mill to his
chamber.

The man sat down on the lower step a few moments, quite quiet, crushing
his hat up in a slow, steady way, looking up at the mouldy cobwebs on
the wall.  He got up at last, and went in to Lois.  Had she heard?  The
old scarred face of the girl looked years older, he thought,--but it
might be fancy.  She did not say anything for a while, moving slowly,
with a new gentleness, about him; her very voice was changed, older.
He tried to be cheerful, eating his supper: she need not know until
to-morrow.  He would get out of the town to-night, or----  There were
different ways to escape.  When he had done, he told her to go; but she
would not.

"Let me stay til' night," she said.  "I be n't afraid o' th' mill."

"Why, Lo," he said, laughing, "yoh used to say yer death was hid here,
somewheres."

"I know.  But ther' 's worse nor death.  But it'll come right," she
said, persistently, muttering to herself, as she leaned her face on her
knees, watching,--"it'll come right."

The glimmering shadows changed and faded for an hour.  The man sat
quiet.  There was not much in the years gone to soften his thought, as
it grew desperate and cruel: there was oppression and vice heaped on
him, and flung back out of his bitter heart.  Nor much in the future: a
blank stretch of punishment to the end.  He was an old man: was it easy
to bear?  What if he were black? what if he were born a thief?  what if
all the sullen revenge of his nature had made him an outcast from the
poorest poor?  Was there no latent good in this soul for which Christ
died, that a kind hand might not have brought to life?

None?  Something, I think, struggled up in the touch of his hand,
catching the skirt of his child's dress, when it came near him, with
the timid tenderness of a mother touching her dead baby's hair,--as
something holy, far off, yet very near: something in his old
crime-marked face,--a look like this dog's, putting his head on my
knee,--a dumb, unhelpful love in his eyes, and the slow memory of a
wrong done to his soul in a day long past.  A wrong to both, you say,
perhaps; but if so, irreparable, and never to be recompensed.  Never?

"Yoh must go, my little girl," he said at last.

Whatever he did must be done quickly.  She came up, combing the thin
gray hairs through her fingers.

"Father, I dunnot understan' what it is, rightly.  But stay with
me,--stay, father!"

"Yoh've a many frien's, Lo," he said, with a keen flash of jealousy.
"Ther' 's none like yoh,--none."

"Father, look here."

She put her misshapen head and scarred face down on his hand, where he
could see them.  If it had ever hurt her to be as she was, if she had
ever compared herself bitterly with fair, beloved women, she was glad
now, and thankful, for every fault and deformity that brought her
nearer to him, and made her dearer.

"They're kind, but ther' 's not many loves me with true love, like yoh.
Stay, father!  Bear it out, whatever it be.  Th' good time 'll come,
father."

He kissed her, saying nothing, and went with her down the street. When
he left her, she waited, and, creeping back, hid near the mill.  God
knows what vague dread was in her brain; but she came back to watch and
help.

Old Yare wandered through the great loom rooms of the mill with but one
fact clear in his cloudy, faltering perception,--that above him the man
lay quietly sleeping who would bring worse than death on him to-morrow.
Up and down, aimlessly, with his stoker's torch in hand, going over the
years gone and the years to come, with the dead hatred through all of
the pitiless man above him,--with now and then, perhaps, a pleasanter
thought of things that had been warm and cheerful in his life,--of the
corn-huskings long ago, when he was a boy, down in "th' Alabam',"--of
the scow his young master gave him once, the first thing he really
owned: he was almost as proud of it as he was of Lois when she was
born.  Most of all remembering the good times in his life, he went back
to Lois.  It was all good, there, to go back to.  What a little chub
she used to be!  Remembering, with bitter remorse, how all his life he
had meant to try and do better, on her account, but had kept putting
off and putting off until now.  And now---- Did nothing lie before him
but to go back and rot yonder?  Was that the end, because he never had
learned better, and was a "dam' nigger"?

"I'll NOT leave my girl!" he muttered, going up and down,--"I'll NOT
leave my girl!"

If Holmes did sleep above him, the trial of the day, of which we have
seen nothing, came back sharper in sleep.  While the strong self in the
man lay torpid, whatever holier power was in him came out, undaunted by
defeat, and unwearied, and took the form of dreams, those slighted
messengers of God, to soothe and charm and win him out into fuller,
kindlier life.  Let us hope that they did so win him; let us hope that
even in that unreal world the better nature of the man triumphed at
last, and claimed its reward before the terrible reality broke upon him.

Lois, over in the damp, fresh-smelling lumber-yard, sat coiled up in
one of the creviced houses made by the jutting boards.  She remembered
how she used to play in them, before she went into the mill.  The
mill,--even now, with the vague dread of some uncertain evil to come,
the mill absorbed all fear in its old hated shadow.  Whatever danger
was coming to them lay in it, came from it, she knew, in her confused,
blurred way of thinking.  It loomed up now, with the square patch of
ashen sky above, black, heavy with years of remembered agony and loss.
In Lois's hopeful, warm life this was the one uncomprehended monster.
Her crushed brain, her unwakened powers, resented their wrong dimly to
the mass of iron and work and impure smells, unconscious of any
remorseless power that wielded it.  It was a monster, she thought,
through the sleepy, dreading night,--a monster that kept her wakeful
with a dull, mysterious terror.

When the night grew sultry and deepest, she started from her half-doze
to see her father come stealthily out and go down the street.  She must
have slept, she thought, rubbing her eyes, and watching him out of
sight,--and then, creeping out, turned to glance at the mill.  She
cried out, shrill with horror.  It was a live monster now,--in one
swift instant, alive with fire,--quick, greedy fire, leaping like
serpents' tongues out of its hundred jaws, hungry sheets of flame
maddening and writhing towards her, and under all a dull and hollow
roar that shook the night.  Did it call her to her death?  She turned
to fly, and then----He was alone, dying!  He had been so kind to her!
She wrung her hands, standing there a moment.  It was a brave hope that
was in her heart, and a prayer on her lips never left unanswered, as
she hobbled, in her lame, slow way, up to the open black door, and,
with one backward look, went in.



CHAPTER VIII.

There was a dull smell of camphor; a farther sense of coolness and
prickling wet on Holmes's hot, cracking face and hands; then silence
and sleep again.  Sometime--when, he never knew--a gray light stinging
his eyes like pain, and again a slow sinking into warm, unsounded
darkness and unconsciousness.  It might be years, it might be ages.
Even in after-life, looking back, he never broke that time into weeks
or days: people might so divide it for him, but he was uncertain,
always: it was a vague vacuum in his memory: he had drifted out of
coarse, measured life into some out-coast of eternity, and slept in its
calm.  When, by long degrees, the shock of outer life jarred and woke
him, it was feebly done: he came back reluctant, weak: the quiet
clinging to him, as if he had been drowned in Lethe, and had brought
its calming mist with him out of the shades.

The low chatter of voices, the occasional lifting of his head on the
pillow, the very soothing  draught, came to him unreal at first: parts
only of the dull, lifeless pleasure.  There was a sharper memory
pierced it sometimes, making him moan and try to sleep,--a remembrance
of great, cleaving pain, of falling giddily, of owing life to some one,
and being angry that he owed it, in the pain.  Was it he that had borne
it?  He did not know,--nor care: it made him tired to think.  Even when
he heard the name, Stephen Holmes, it had but a far-off meaning: he
never woke enough to know if it were his or not.  He learned, long
after, to watch the red light curling among the shavings in the grate
when they made a fire in the evenings, to listen to the voices of the
women by the bed, to know that the pleasantest belonged to the one with
the low, shapeless figure, and to call her Lois, when he wanted a
drink, long before he knew himself.

They were very long, pleasant days in early December.  The sunshine was
pale, but it suited his hurt eyes better: it crept slowly in the
mornings over the snuff-coloured carpet on the floor, up the brown
foot-board of the bed, and, when the wind shook the window-curtains,
made little crimson pools of mottled light over the ceiling,--curdling
pools, that he liked to watch: going off, from the clean gray walls,
and rustling curtain, and transparent crimson, into sleeps that lasted
all day.

He was not conscious how he knew he was in a hospital: but he did know
it, vaguely; thought sometimes of the long halls outside of the door,
with ranges of rooms opening into them, like this, and of very barns of
rooms on the other side of the building with rows of white cots where
the poorer patients lay: a stretch of travel from which his brain came
back to his snug fireplace, quite tired, and to Lois sitting knitting
by it.  He called the little Welsh-woman, "Sister," too, who used to
come in a stuff dress, and white bands about her face, to give his
medicine, and gossip with Lois in the evening: she had a comical voice,
like a cricket chirping.  There was another with a real Scotch brogue,
who came and listened sometimes, bringing a basket of undarned
stockings: the doctor told him one day how fearless and skilful she
was, every summer going to New Orleans when the yellow fever came.  She
died there the next June: but Holmes never, somehow, could realize a
martyr in the cheery, freckled-faced woman whom he always remembered
darning stockings in the quiet fire-light. It was very quiet; the
voices about him were pleasant and low. If he had drifted from any
shock of pain into a sleep like death, some of the stillness hung about
him yet; but the outer life was homely and fresh and natural.

The doctor used to talk to him a little; and sometimes one or two of
the patients from the eye-ward would grow tired of sitting about in the
garden-alleys, and would loiter in, if Lois would give them leave; but
their talk wearied him, jarred him as strangely as if one had begun on
politics and price-currents to the silent souls in Hades.  It was
enough thought for him to listen to the whispered stories of the
sisters in the long evenings, and, half-heard, try and make an end to
them; to look drowsily down into the garden, where the afternoon
sunshine was still so summer-like that a few holly-hocks persisted in
showing their honest red faces along the walls, and the very leaves
that filled the paths would not wither, but kept up a wholesome ruddy
brown.  One of the sisters had a poultry-yard in it, which he could
see: the wall around it was of stone covered with a brown feathery
lichen, which every rooster in that yard was determined to stand on, or
perish in the attempt; and Holmes would watch, through the quiet,
bright mornings, the frantic ambition of the successful aspirant with
an amused smile.

"One 'd thenk," said Lois, sagely, "a chicken never stood on a wall
before, to hear 'em, or a hen laid an egg."

Nor did Holmes smile once because the chicken burlesqued man: his
thought was too single for that yet.  It was long, too, before he
thought of the people who came in quietly to see him as anything but
shadows, or wished for them to come again.  Lois, perhaps, was the most
real thing in life then to him: growing conscious, day by day, as he
watched her, of his old life over the gulf. Very slowly conscious: with
a weak groping to comprehend the sudden, awful change that had come on
him, and then forgetting his old life, and the change, and the pity he
felt for himself, in the vague content of the fire-lit room, and his
nurse with her interminable knitting through the long afternoons, while
the sky without would thicken and gray, and a few still flakes of snow
would come drifting down to whiten the brown fields,--with no chilly
thought of winter, but only to make the quiet autumn more quiet.
Whatever honest, commonplace affection was in the man came out in a
simple way to this Lois, who ruled his sick whims and crotchets in such
a quiet, sturdy fashion.  Not because she had risked her life to save
his; even when he understood that, he recalled it with an uneasy, heavy
gratitude; but the drinks she made him, and the plot they laid to
smuggle in some oysters in defiance of all rules, and the cheerful,
pock-marked face, he never forgot.

Doctor Knowles came sometimes, but seldom: never talked, when he did
come: late in the evening generally: and then would punch his skin, and
look at his tongue, and shake the bottles on the mantel-shelf with a
grunt that terrified Lois into the belief that the other doctor was a
quack, and her patient was totally undone.  He would sit, grum enough,
with his feet higher than his head, chewing an unlighted cigar, and
leave them both thankful when he saw proper to go.

The truth is, Knowles was thoroughly out of place in these little
mending-shops called sick-chambers, where bodies are taken to pieces,
and souls set right.  He had no faith in your slow, impalpable cures:
all reforms were to be accomplished by a wrench, from the abolition of
slavery to the pulling of a tooth.

He had no especial sympathy with Holmes, either: the men were started
in life from opposite poles: and with all the real tenderness under his
surly, rugged habit, it would have been hard to touch him with the
sudden doom fallen on this man, thrown crippled and penniless upon the
world, helpless, it might be, for life.  He would have been apt to tell
you, savagely, that "he wrought for it."

Besides, it made him out of temper to meet the sisters.  Knowles could
have sketched for you with a fine decision of touch the role played by
the Papal power in the progress of humanity,--how far it served as a
stepping-stone, and the exact period when it became a wearisome clog.
The world was done with it now,--utterly. Its breath was only poisoned,
with coming death.  So the homely live charity of these women, their
work, which no other hands were ready to take, jarred against his
abstract theory, and irritated him, as an obstinate fact always does
run into the hand of a man who is determined to clutch the very heart
of a matter.  Truth will not underlie all facts, in this muddle of a
world, in spite of the Positive Philosophy, you know.

Don't sneer at Knowles.  Your own clear, tolerant brain, that reflects
all men and creeds alike, like colourless water, drawing the truth from
all, is very different, doubtless, from this narrow, solitary soul, who
thought the world waited for him to fight down his one evil before it
went on its slow way.  An intolerant fanatic, of course.  But the truth
he did know was so terribly real to him, there was such sick, throbbing
pity in his heart for men who suffered as he had done!  And then,
fanatics must make history for conservative men to learn from, I
suppose.

If Knowles shunned the hospital, there was another place he shunned
more,--the place where his Communist buildings were to have stood.  He
went out there once, as one might go alone to bury his dead out of his
sight, the day after the mill was burnt,--looking first at the smoking
mass of hot bricks and charred shingles, so as clearly to understand
how utterly dead his life-long scheme was.  He stalked gravely around
it, his hands in his pockets; the hodmen who were raking out their
winter's firewood from the ashes remarking, that "old Knowles didn't
seem a bit cut up about it."  Then he went out to the farm he had meant
to buy, as I told you, and looked at it in the same stolid way.  It was
a dull day in October.  The river crawled moodily past his feet, the
dingy prairie stretched drearily away on the other side, while the
heavy-browed Indiana hills stood solemnly looking down the plateau
where the buildings were to have risen.

Well, most men have some plan of life, into which all the strength and
the keen, fine feeling of their nature enter; but generally they try to
make it real in early youth, and, balked then, laugh ever afterwards at
their own folly.  This poor old Knowles had begun to block out his
dream when he was a gaunt, gray-haired man of sixty.  I have known men
so build their heart's blood, and brains into their work, that, when it
tumbled down, their lives went with it.  His fell that dull day in
October; but if it hurt him, no man knew it.  He sat there, looking at
the broad plateau, whistling softly to himself, a long time.  He had
meant that a great many hearts should be made better and happier there;
he had dreamed----God knows what he had dreamed, of which this reality
was the foundation,--of how much world-freedom, or beauty, or kindly
life this was the heart or seed.  It was all over now.  All the
afternoon the muddy sky hung low over the hills and dull prairie, while
he sat there looking at the dingy gloom: just as you and I have done,
perhaps, some time, thwarted in some true hope,--sore and bitter
against God, because He did not see how much His universe needed our
pet reform.

He got up at last, and without a sigh went slowly away, leaving the
courage and self-reliance of his life behind him, buried with that one
beautiful, fair dream of life.  He never came back again.  People said
Knowles was quieter since his loss; but I think only God saw the depth
of the difference.  When he was leaving the plateau, that day, he
looked back at it, as if to say good-bye,--not to the dingy fields and
river, but to the Something he had nursed so long in his rugged heart,
and given up now forever.  As he looked, the warm, red sun came out,
lighting up with a heartsome warmth the whole gray day.  Some blessing
power seemed to look at him from this grave yard of his hopes, from the
gloomy hills, the prairie, and the river, which he never was to see
again.  His hope accomplished could not have looked at him with surer
content and fulfilment.  He turned away, ungrateful and moody.  Long
afterwards he remembered the calm and brightness which his hand had not
been raised to make, and understood the meaning of its promise.

He went to work now in earnest: he had to work for his
bread-and-butter, you understand?  Restless, impatient at first; but we
will forgive him that: you yourself were not altogether submissive,
perhaps, when the slow-built expectation of life was destroyed by some
chance, as you called it, no more controllable than this paltry burning
of a mill.  Yet, now that the great hope was gone on which his brain
had worked with rigid, fierce intentness, now that his hands were
powerless to redeem a perishing class, he had time to fall into
careless, kindly habit: he thought it wasted time, remorsefully, of
course.  He was seized with a curiosity to know what plan in living
these people had who crossed his way on the streets; if they were
disappointed, like him.  Humbled, he hardly knew why: vague, uncertain
in action.  Quit dogging old Huff with his advice; trotted about the
streets with a cowed look, that, if one could have seen into the jaded
old heart under his snuffy waistcoat, would have seemed pitiful enough.
He went sometimes to read the papers to old Tim Poole, who was
bed-ridden, and did not pish or pshaw once at his maundering about
secession, or the misery in his back.  Went to church sometimes: the
sermons were bigotry, always, to his notion, sitting on a back seat,
squirting tobacco-juice about him; but the simple, old-fashioned hymns
brought the tears to his eyes:--"They sounded to him like his mother's
voice, singing in Paradise:" he hoped she could not see how things had
gone on here,--how all that was honest and strong in his life had
fallen in that infernal mill.  Once or twice he went down Crane Alley,
and lumbered up three pair of stairs to the garret where Kitts had his
studio,--got him orders, in fact, for two portraits; and when that
pale-eyed young man, in a fit of confidence, one night, with a very red
face drew back the curtain from his grand "Fall of Chapultepec," and
watched him with a lean and hungry look, Knowles, who knew no more
about painting than a gorilla, walked about, looking through his fist
at it, saying, "how fine the chiaroscuro was, and that it was a
devilish good thing altogether."  "Well, well," he soothed his
conscience, going downstairs, "maybe that bit of canvas is as much to
that poor chap as the Phalanstery was once to another fool."  And so
went on through the gas-lit streets into his parishes in cellars and
alleys, with a sorer heart, but cheerfuller words, now that he had
nothing but words to give.

The only place where he hardened his heart was in the hospital with
Holmes.  After he had wakened to full consciousness, Knowles thought
the man a beast to sit there uncomplaining day after day, cold and
grave, as if the lifeful warmth of the late autumn were enough for him.
Did he understand the iron fate laid on him? Where was the strength of
the self-existent soul now?  Did he know that it was a balked, defeated
life, that waited for him, vacant of the triumphs he had planned?  "The
self-existent soul! stopped in its growth by chance, this omnipotent
deity,--the chance burning of a mill!"  Knowles muttered to himself,
looking at Holmes.  With a dim flash of doubt, as he said it, whether
there might not, after all, be a Something,--some deep of calm, of
eternal order, where he and Holmes, these coarse chances, these
wrestling souls, these creeds, Catholic or Humanitarian, even that
namby-pamby Kitts and his picture, might be unconsciously working out
their part.  Looking out of the hospital-window, he saw the deep of the
stainless blue, impenetrable, with the stars unconscious in their
silence of the maddest raging of the petty world.  There was such calm!
such infinite love and justice! it was around, above him; it held him,
it held the world,--all Wrong, all Right!  For an instant the turbid
heart of the man cowered, awestruck, as yours or mine has done when
some swift touch of music or human love gave us a cleaving glimpse of
the great I AM.  The next, he opened the newspaper in his hand.  What
part in the eternal order could THAT hold? or slavery, or secession, or
civil war?  No harmony could be infinite enough to hold such discords,
he thought, pushing the whole matter from him in despair.  Why, the
experiment of self-government, the problem of the ages, was crumbling
in ruin! So he despaired, just as Tige did the night the mill fell
about his ears, in full confidence that the world had come to an end
now, without hope of salvation,--crawling out of his cellar in dumb
amazement, when the sun rose as usual the next morning.

Knowles sat, peering at Holmes over his paper,  watching the languid
breath that showed how deep the hurt had been, the maimed body, the
face outwardly cool, watchful, reticent as before.  He fancied the
slough of disappointment into which God had crushed the soul of this
man: would he struggle out?  Would he take Miss Herne as the first step
in his stair-way, or be content to be flung down in vigorous manhood to
the depth of impotent poverty? He could not tell if the quiet on
Holmes's face were stolid defiance or submission: the dumb kings might
have looked thus beneath the feet of Pharaoh.  When he walked over the
floor, too, weak as he was it was with the old iron tread.  He asked
Knowles presently what business he had gone into.

"My old hobby in an humble way,--the House of Refuge."

They both laughed.

"Yes, it is true.  The janitor points me out to visitors as
'under-superintendent, a philanthropist in decayed circumstances.'
Perhaps it is my life-work,"--growing sad and earnest.

"If you can inoculate these infant beggars and thieves with your
theory, it will be practice when you are dead."

"I think that," said Knowles, gravely, his eye kindling,--"I think
that."

"As thankless a task as that of Moses," said the other, watching him
curiously.  "For YOU will not see the pleasant land,--YOU will not go
over."

The old man's flabby face darkened.

"I know," he said.

He glanced involuntarily out at the blue, and the clear-shining,
eternal stars.

"I suppose," he said, after a while, cheerfully, "I must content myself
with Lois's creed, here,--'It'll come right some time.'"

Lois looked up from the saucepan she was stirring, her face growing
quite red, nodding emphatically some half-dozen times.

"After all," said Holmes, kindly, "this chance may have forced you on
the true road to success for your new system of Sociology. Only
untainted natures could be fitted for self-government.  Do you find the
fallow field easily worked?"

Knowles fidgeted uneasily.

"No.  Fact is, I'm beginning to think there 's a good deal of an
obstacle in blood.  I find difficulty, much difficulty, Sir, in giving
to the youngest child true ideas of absolute freedom, and unselfish
heroism."

"You teach them these by reason alone?" said Holmes, gravely.

"Well,--of course,--that is the true theory; reason is the only yoke
that should be laid upon a free-born soul; but I--I find it necessary
to have them whipped, Mr. Holmes."

Holmes stooped suddenly to pat Tiger, hiding a furtive smile. The old
man went on, anxiously,--

"Old Mr. Howth says that is the end of all self-governments: from
anarchy to despotism, he says.  Brute force must come in.  Old people
are apt to be set in their ways, you know.  Honestly, we do not find
unlimited freedom answer in the House.  I hope much from a woman's
assistance: I have destined her for this work always: she has great
latent power of sympathy and endurance, such as can bring the Christian
teaching home to these wretches."

"The Christian?" said Holmes.

"Well, yes.  I am not a believer myself, you know; but I find that it
takes hold of these people more vitally than more abstract faiths: I
suppose because of the humanity of Jesus.  In Utopia, of course, we
shall live from scientific principles; but they do not answer in the
House."

"Who is the woman?" asked Holmes, carelessly.

The other watched him keenly.

"She is coming for five years.  Margret Howth."

He patted the dog with the same hard, unmoved touch.

"It is a religious duty with her.  Besides, she must do something.
They have been almost starving since the mill was burnt."

Holmes's face was bent; he could not see it.  When he looked up,
Knowles thought it more rigid, immovable than before.

When Knowles was going away, Holmes said to him,--

"When does Margret Howth go into that devils' den?"

"The House?  On New-Year's."  The scorn in him was too savage to be
silent.  "It is the best time to begin a new life.  Yourself, now, you
will have fulfilled your design by that time,--of marriage?"

Holmes was leaning on the mantel-shelf; his very lips were pale.

"Yes, I shall, I shall,"--in his low, hard tone.

Some sudden dream of warmth and beauty flashed before his gray eyes,
lighting them as Knowles never had seen before.

"Miss Herne is beautiful,--let me congratulate you, in Western fashion."

The old man did not hide his sneer.

Holmes bowed.

"I thank you, for her."

Lois held the candle to light the Doctor out of the long passages.

"Yoh hev n't seen Barney out 't Mr. Howth's, Doctor?  He's ther' now."

"No.  When shall you have done waiting on this--man, Lois?  God help
you, child!"

Lois's quick instinct answered,--

"He's very kind.  He's like a woman fur kindness to such as me. When I
come to die, I'd like eyes such as his to look at, tender, pitiful."

"Women are fools alike," grumbled the Doctor.  "Never mind. 'When you
come to die?' What put that into your head?  Look up."

The child sheltered the flaring candle with her hand.

"I've no tho't o' dyin'," she said, laughing.

There was a gray shadow about her eyes, a peaked look to the face, he
never saw before, looking at her now with a physician's eyes.

"Does anything hurt you here?" touching her chest.

"It's better now.  It was that night o' th' fire.  Th' breath o' th'
mill, I thenk,--but it's nothin'."

"Burning copperas?  Of course it's better!  Oh, that's nothing!" he
said, cheerfully.

When they reached the door, he held out his hand, the first time he
ever had done it to her, and then waited, patting her on the head.

"I think it'll come right, Lois," he said, dreamily, looking out into
the night.  "You're a good girl.  I think it'll all come right.  For
you and me.  Some time.  Good-night, child."

After he was a long way down the street, he turned to nod good-night
again to the comical little figure in the door-way.



CHAPTER IX.

If Knowles hated anybody that night, he hated the man he had left
standing there with pale, heavy jaws, and heart of iron; he could have
cursed him, standing there.  He did not see how, after he was left
alone, the man lay with his face to the wall, holding his bony hand to
his forehead, with a look in his eyes that if you had seen, you would
have thought his soul had entered on that path whose steps take hold on
hell.

There was no struggle in his face; whatever was the resolve he had
reached in the solitary hours when he had stood so close upon the
borders of death, it was unshaken now; but the heart, crushed and
stifled before, was taking its dire revenge.  If ever it had hungered,
through the cold, selfish days, for God's help, or a woman's love, it
hungered now, with a craving like death.  If ever he had thought how
bare and vacant the years would be, going down to the grave with lips
that never had known a true wife's kiss, he remembered it now, when it
was too late, with bitterness such as wrings a man's heart but once in
a lifetime.  If ever he had denied to his own soul this Margret, called
her alien or foreign, it called her now, when it was too late, to her
rightful place; there was not a thought nor a hope in the darkest
depths of his nature that did not cry out for her help that night,--for
her, a part of himself,--now, when it was too late.  He went over all
the years gone, and pictured the years to come; he remembered the money
that was to help his divine soul upward; he thought of it with a curse,
getting up and pacing the floor of the narrow room, slowly and quietly.
Looking out into the still starlight and the quaint garden, he tried to
fancy this woman as he knew her, after the restless power of her soul
should have been chilled and starved into a narrow, lifeless duty.  He
fancied her old, and stern, and sick of life, she that might have been
what might they not have been, together? And he had driven her to this
for money,--money!

It was of no use to repent of it now.  He had frozen the love out of
her heart, long ago.  He remembered (all that he did remember of the
blank night after he was hurt) that he had seen her white, worn-out
face looking down at him; that she did not touch him; and that, when
one of the sisters told her she might take her place, and sponge his
forehead, she said, bitterly, she had no right to do it, that he was no
friend of hers.  He saw and heard that, unconscious to all else; he
would have known it, if he had been dead, lying there.  It was too late
now: why need he think of what might have been?  Yet he did think of it
through the long winter's night,--each moment his thought of the life
to come, or of her, growing more tender and more bitter.  Do you wonder
at the remorse of this man?  Wait, then, until you lie alone, as he had
done, through days as slow, revealing as ages, face to face with God
and death.  Wait until you go down so close to eternity that the life
you have lived stands out before you in the dreadful bareness in which
God sees it,--as you shall see it some day from heaven or hell: money,
and hate, and love will stand in their true light then.  Yet, coming
back to life again, he held whatever resolve he had reached down there
with his old iron will: all the pain he bore in looking back to the
false life before, or the ceaseless remembrance that it was too late
now to atone for that false life, made him the stronger to abide by
that resolve, to go on the path self-chosen, let the end be what it
might.  Whatever the resolve was, it did not still the gnawing hunger
in his heart that night, which every trifle made more fresh and strong.

There was a wicker-basket that Lois had left by the fire, piled up with
bits of cloth and leather out of which she was manufacturing Christmas
gifts; a pair of great woollen socks, which one of the sisters had told
him privately Lois meant for him, lying on top.  As with all of her
people, Christmas was the great day of the year to her.  Holmes could
not but smile, looking at them.  Poor Lois!--Christmas would be here
soon, then? And sitting by the covered fire, he went back to
Christmases gone, the thought of all others that brought Margret
nearest and warmest to him: since he was a boy they had been together
on that day.  With his hand over his eyes, he sat quiet by the fire
until morning.  He heard some boy going by in the gray dawn call to
another that they would have holiday on Christmas week.  It was coming,
he thought, rousing himself,--but never as it had been: that could
never be again.  Yet it was strange how this thought of Christmas took
hold of him, after this,--famished his heart. As it approached in the
slow-coming winter, the days growing shorter, and the nights longer and
more solitary, so Margret became more real to him,--not rejected and
lost, but as the wife she might have been, with the simple, passionate
love she gave him once.  The thought grew intolerable to him; yet there
was not a homely pleasure of those years gone, when the old
school-master kept high holiday on Christmas, that he did not recall
and linger over with a boyish yearning, now that these things were over
forever.  He chafed under his weakness.  If the day would but come when
he could go out and conquer his fate, as a man ought to do!  On
Christmas eve he would put an end to these torturing taunts, be done
with them, let the sacrifice be what it might. For I fear that even now
Stephen Holmes thought of his own need and his own hunger.

He watched Lois knitting and patching her poor little gifts, with a
vague feeling that every stitch made the time a moment shorter until he
should be free, with his life in his hand again.  She left the hospital
at last, sorrowfully enough, but he made her go: he fancied the close
air was hurting her, seeing at night the strange shadow growing on her
face.  I do not think he ever said to her that he knew all she had done
for him, or thanked her; but no dog or woman that Stephen Holmes loved
could look into his eyes, and doubt that love.  Sad, masterful eyes,
such as are seen but once or twice in a lifetime: no woman but would
wish, like Lois, for such eyes to be near her when she came to die, for
her to remember the world's love in.  She came hobbling back every day
to see him after she had gone, and would stay to make his soup, telling
him, child-like, how many days it was until Christmas.  He knew that,
as well as she, waiting through the cold, slow hours, in his solitary
room.  He thought sometimes she had some eager petition to offer him,
when she stood watching him wistfully, twisting her hands together; but
she always smothered it with a sigh, and, tying her little woollen cap,
went away, walking more slowly, he thought, every day.

Do you remember how Christmas came that year? how there was a waiting
pause, when the States stood still, and from the peoples came the first
awful murmurs of the storm that was to shake the earth? how men's
hearts failed them for fear, how women turned pale, and held their
children closer to their breasts, while they heard a far cry of
lamentation for their country that had fallen? Do you remember how,
amidst the fury of men's anger, the storehouses of God were opened for
that land? how the very sunshine gathered new splendours, the rains
more fruitful moisture, until the earth poured forth an unknown fulness
of life and beauty?  Was there no promise there, no prophecy?  Do you
remember, while the very life of the people hung in doubt before them,
while the angel of death came again to pass over the land, and there
was no blood on any door-post to keep him from that house, how serenely
the old earth folded in her harvest, dead, till it should waken to a
stronger life? how quietly, as the time came near for the birth of
Christ, this old earth made ready for his coming, heedless of the
clamour of men? how the air grew fresher above, day by day, and the
gray deep silently opened for the snow to go down and screen and whiten
and make holy that fouled earth?  I think the slow-falling snow did not
fail in its quiet warning; for I remember that men, too, in a feeble
way tried to make ready for the birth of Christ.  There was a healthier
glow than terror stirred in their hearts; because of the vague, great
dread without, it may be, they drew closer together round household
fires, were kindlier in the good old-fashioned way; old friendships
were wakened, old times talked over, fathers and mothers and children
planned homely ways to show the love in their hearts and to welcome in
Christmas.  Who knew but it might be the last?  Let us be thankful for
that happy Christmas-day.  What if it were the last?  What if, when
another comes, and another, one voice, the kindest and cheerfullest
then, shall never say "Happy Christmas" to us again?  Let us be
thankful for that day the more,--accept it the more as a sign of that
which will surely come.

Holmes, even, in his dreary room and drearier thought, felt the warmth
and expectant stir creeping through the land as the day drew near.
Even in the hospital, the sisters were in a busy flutter, decking their
little chapel with flowers, and preparing a fete for their patients.
The doctor, as he bandaged his broken arm, hinted at faint rumours in
the city of masquerades and concerts.  Even Knowles, who had not
visited the hospital for weeks, relented and came back, moody and grum.
He brought Kitts with him, and started him on talking of how they kept
Christmas in Ohio on his mother's farm; and the poor soul, encouraged
by the silence of two of his auditors, and the intense interest of Lois
in the background, mazed on about Santa-Claus trees and Virginia reels
until the clock struck twelve, and Knowles began to snore.

Christmas was coming.  As he stood, day after day, looking out of the
gray window, he could see the signs of its coming even in the
shop-windows glittering with miraculous toys, in the market-carts with
their red-faced drivers and heaps of ducks and turkeys, in every
stage-coach or omnibus that went by crowded with boys home for the
holidays, hallooing for Bell or Lincoln, forgetful that the election
was over, and Carolina out.

Pike came to see him one day, his arms full of a bundle, which turned
out to be an accordion for Sophy.

"Christmas, you know," he said, taking off the brown paper, while he
was cursing the Cotton States the hardest, and gravely kneading at the
keys, and stretching it until he made as much discord as five
Congressmen.  "I think Sophy will like that," he said, looking at it
sideways, and tying it up carefully.

"I am sure she will," said Holmes,--and did not think the man a fool
for one moment.

Always going back, this Holmes, when he was alone, to the certainty
that home-comings or children's kisses or Christmas feasts were not for
such as he,--never could be, though he sought for the old time in
bitterness of heart; and so, dully remembering his resolve, and waiting
for Christmas eve, when he might end it all.  Not one of the myriads of
happy children listened more intently to the clock clanging off hour
after hour than the silent, stern man who had no hope in that day that
was coming.

He learned to watch even for poor Lois coming up the corridor every
day,--being the only tie that bound the solitary man to the inner world
of love and warmth.  The deformed little body was quite alive with
Christmas now, and brought its glow with her, in her weak way.
Different from the others, he saw with a curious interest.  The day was
more real to her than to them.  Not because, only, the care she had of
everybody, and everybody had of her seemed to reach its culmination of
kindly thought for the Christmas time; not because, as she sat talking
slowly, stopping for breath, her great fear seemed to be that she would
not have gifts enough to go round; but deeper than that,--the day was
real to her.  As if it were actually true that the Master in whom she
believed was freshly born into the world once a year, to waken all that
was genial and noble and pure in the turbid, worn-out hearts; as if new
honour and pride and love did flash into the realms below heaven with
the breaking of Christmas morn.  It was a beautiful faith; he almost
wished it were his.  A beautiful faith! it gave a meaning to the old
custom of gifts and kind words.  LOVE coming into the world!--the idea
pleased his artistic taste, being simple and sublime.  Lois used to
tell him, while she feebly tried to set his room in order, of all her
plans,--of how Sam Polston was to be married on New-Year's,--but most
of all of the Christmas coming out at the old school-master's: how the
old house had been scrubbed from top to bottom, was fairly glowing with
shining paint and hot fires,--how Margret and her mother worked, in
terror lest the old man should find out how poor and bare it was,--how
he and Joel had some secret enterprise on foot at the far end of the
plantation out in the swamp, and were gone nearly all day.

She ceased coming at last.  One of the sisters went out to see her, and
told him she was too weak to walk, but meant to be better soon,--quite
well by the holidays.  He wished the poor thing had told him what she
wanted of him,--wished it anxiously, with a dull presentiment of evil.

The days went by, cold and slow.  He watched grimly the preparations
the hospital physician was silently making in his case, for fever,
inflammation.

"I must be strong enough to go out cured on Christmas eve," he said to
him one day, coolly.

The old doctor glanced up shrewdly.  He was an old Alsatian, very
plain-spoken.

"You say so?" he mumbled.  "Chut!  Then you will go.  There are
some--bull-dog, men.  They do what they please,--they never die unless
they choose, begar!  We know them in our practice, Herr Holmes!"

Holmes laughed.  Some acumen there, he thought, in medicine or mind: as
for himself, it was true enough; whatever success he had gained in life
had been by no flush of enthusiasm or hope; a dogged persistence of
"holding on," rather.

A long time; but Christmas eve came at last: bright, still, frosty.
"Whatever he had to do, let it be done quickly;" but not till the set
hour came.  So he laid his watch on the table beside him, waiting until
it should mark the time he had chosen: the ruling passion of
self-control as strong in this turn of life's tide as it would be in
its ebb, at the last.  The old doctor found him alone in the dreary
room, coming in with the frosty breath of the eager street about him.
A grim, chilling sight enough, as solitary and impenetrable as the
Sphinx.  He did not like such faces in this genial and gracious time,
so hurried over his examination.  The eye was cool, the pulse steady,
the man's body, battered though it was, strong in its steely composure.
"Ja wohl!--ja wohl!" he went on chuffily, summing up: latent
fever,--the very lips were blue, dry as husks; "he would
go,--oui?--then go!"--with a chuckle.  "All right, gluck Zu!" And so
shuffled out.  Latent fever?  Doubtless, yet hardly from broken bones,
the doctor thought,--with no suspicion  of the subtile, intolerable
passion smouldering in every drop of this man's phlegmatic blood.

Evening came at last.  He stopped until the cracked bell of the chapel
had done striking the Angelus, and then put on his overcoat, and went
out.  Passing down the garden walk a miserable chicken staggered up to
him, chirping a drunken recognition.  For a moment, he breathed again
the hot smoke of the mill, remembering how Lois had found him in
Margret's office, not forgetting the cage: chary of this low life, even
in the peril of his own.  So, going out on the street, he tested his
own nature by this trifle in his old fashion.  "The ruling passion
strong in death," eh?  It had not been self-love; something deeper: an
instinct rather than reason.  Was he glad to think this of himself?  He
looked out more watchful of the face which the coming Christmas bore.
The air was cold and pungent.  The crowded city seemed wakening to some
keen enjoyment; even his own weak, deliberate step rang on the icy
pavement as if it wished to rejoice with the rest.  I said it was a
trading city: so it was, but the very trade to-day had a jolly
Christmas face on; the surly old banks and pawnbrokers' shops had grown
ashamed of their doings, and shut their doors, and covered their
windows with frosty trees, and cathedrals, and castles; the shops
opened their inmost hearts; some child's angel had touched them, and
they flushed out into a magic splendour of Christmas trees, and lights,
and toys; Santa Claus might have made his head-quarters in any one of
them.  As for children, you stumbled over them at every step, quite
weighed down with the heaviness of their joy, and the money burning
their pockets; the acrid old brokers and pettifoggers, that you met
with a chill on other days, had turned into jolly fathers of families,
and lounged laughing along with half a dozen little hands pulling them
into candy-stores or toy-shops; all of the churches whose rules
permitted them to show their deep rejoicing in a simple way, had
covered their cold stone walls with evergreens, and wreaths of glowing
fire-berries: the child's angel had touched them too, perhaps,--not
unwisely.

He passed crowds of thin-clad women looking in through open doors, with
red cheeks and hungry eyes, at red-hot stoves within, and a placard,
"Christmas dinners for the poor, gratis;" out of every window on the
streets came a ruddy light, and a spicy smell; the very sunset sky had
caught the reflection of the countless Christmas fires, and flamed up
to the zenith, blood-red as cinnabar.

Holmes turned down one of the back streets: he was going to see Lois,
first of all.  I hardly know why: the child's angel may have touched
him, too; or his heart, full of a yearning pity for the poor cripple,
who, he believed now, had given her own life for his, may have plead
for indulgence, as men remember their childish prayers, before going
into battle.  He came at last, in the quiet lane where she lived, to
her little brown frame-shanty, to which you mounted by a flight of
wooden steps: there were two narrow windows at the top, hung with red
curtains; he could hear her feeble voice singing within.  As he turned
to go up the steps, he caught sight of something crouched underneath
them in the dark, hiding from him: whether a man or a dog he could not
see.  He touched it.

"What d' ye want, Mas'r?" said a stifled voice.

He touched it again with his stick.  The man stood upright, back in the
shadow: it was old Yare.

"Had ye any word wi' me, Mas'r?"

He saw the negro's face grow gray with fear.

"Come out, Yare," he said, quietly.  "Any word?  What word is arson,
eh?"

The man did not move.  Holmes touched him with the stick.

"Come out," he said.

He came out, looking gaunt, as with famine.

"I'll not flurr myself," he said, crunching his ragged hat in his
hands,--"I'll not."

He drove the hat down upon his head, and looked up with a sullen
fierceness.

"Yoh've got me, an' I'm glad of 't.  I'm tired, fearin'.  I was born
for hangin', they say," with a laugh.  "But I'll see my girl.  I've
waited hyur, runnin' the resk,--not darin' to see her, on 'count o'
yoh.  I thort I was safe on Christmas-day,--but what's Christmas to yoh
or me?"

Holmes's quiet motion drove him up the steps before him.  He stopped at
the top, his cowardly nature getting the better of him, and sat down
whining on the upper step.

"Be marciful, Mas'r!  I wanted to see my girl,--that's all. She's all I
hev."

Holmes passed him and went in.  Was Christmas nothing to him? How did
this foul wretch know that they stood alone, apart from the world?

It was a low, cheerful little room that he came into, stooping his tall
head: a tea-kettle humming and singing on the wood-fire, that lighted
up the coarse carpet and the gray walls, but spent its warmest heat on
the low settee where Lois lay sewing, and singing to herself.  She was
wrapped up in a shawl, but the hands, he saw, were worn to skin and
bone; the gray shadow was heavier on her face, and the brooding brown
eyes were like a tired child's.  She tried to jump up when she saw him,
and not being able, leaned on one elbow, half-crying as she laughed.

"It's the best Christmas gift of all!  I can hardly b'lieve
it!"--touching the strong hand humbly that was held out to her.

Holmes had a gentle touch, I told you, for dogs and children and women:
so, sitting quietly by her, he listened for a long time with untiring
patience to her long story; looked at the heap of worthless trifles she
had patched up for gifts, wondering secretly at the delicate sense of
colour and grace betrayed in the bits of flannel and leather; and took,
with a grave look of wonder, his own package, out of which a bit of
woollen thread peeped forth.

"Don't look till to-morrow mornin'," she said, anxiously, as she lay
back trembling and exhausted.

The breath of the mill!  The fires of the world's want and crime had
finished their work on her life,--so!  She caught the meaning of his
face quickly.

"It's nothin'," she said, eagerly.  "I'll be strong by New-Year's; it's
only a day or two rest I need.  I've no tho't o' givin' up."

And to show how strong she was, she got up and hobbled about to make
the tea.  He had not the heart to stop her; she did not want to
die,--why should she? the world was a great, warm, beautiful nest for
the little cripple,--why need he show her the cold without?  He saw her
at last go near the door where old Yare sat outside, then heard her
breathless cry, and a sob.  A moment after the old man came into the
room, carrying her, and, laying her down on the settee, chafed her
hands, and misshapen head.

"What ails her?" he said, looking up, bewildered, to Holmes. "We've
killed her among us."

She laughed, though the great eyes were growing dim, and drew his
coarse gray hair into her hand.

"Yoh wur long comin'," she said, weakly.  "I hunted fur yoh every
day,--every day."

The old man had pushed her hair back, and was reading the sunken face
with a wild fear.

"What ails her?" he cried.  "Ther' 's somethin' gone wi' my girl. Was
it my fault?  Lo, was it my fault?"

"Be quiet!" said Holmes, sternly.

"Is it THAT?" he gasped, shrilly.  "My God! not that!  I can't bear it!"

Lois soothed him, patting his face childishly.

"Am I dyin' now?" she asked, with a frightened look at Holmes.

He told her no, cheerfully.

"I've no tho't o' dyin'.  I dunnot thenk o' dyin'.  Don't mind, dear!
Yoh'll stay with me, fur good?"

The man's paroxysm of fear for her over, his spite and cowardice came
uppermost.

"It's him," he yelped, looking fiercely at Holmes.  "He's got my life
in his hands.  He kin take it.  What does he keer fur me or my girl?
I'll not stay wi' yoh no longer, Lo.  Mornin' he'll send me t' th'
lock-up, an' after"----

"I care for you, child," said Holmes, stooping suddenly close to the
girl's livid face.

"To-morrow?" she muttered.  "My Christmas-day?"

He wet her face while he looked over at the wretch whose life he held
in his hands.  It was the iron rule of Holmes's nature to be just; but
to-night dim perceptions of a deeper justice than law opened before
him,--problems he had no time to solve: the sternest fortress is liable
to be taken by assault,--and the dew of the coming morn was on his
heart.

"So as I've hunted fur him!" she whispered, weakly.  "I didn't thenk it
wud come to this.  So as I loved him!  Oh, Mr. Holmes, he's hed a pore
chance in livin',--forgive him this!  Him that'll come to-morrow 'd say
to forgive him this."

She caught the old man's head in her arms with an agony of tears, and
held it tight.

"I hev hed a pore chance," he said, looking up,--"that's God's truth,
Lo!  I dunnot keer fur that: it's too late goin' back. But Lo--Mas'r,"
he mumbled, servilely, "it's on'y a little time t' th' end: let me stay
with Lo.  She loves me,--Lo does."

A look of disgust crept over Holmes's face.

"Stay, then," he muttered,--"I wash my hands of you, you old scoundrel!"

He bent over Lois with his rare, pitiful smile.

"Have I his life in my hands?  I put it into yours,--so, child! Now put
it all out of your head, and look up here to wish me good-bye."

She looked up cheerfully, hardly conscious how deep the danger had
been; but the flush had gone from her face, leaving it sad and still.

"I must go to keep Christmas, Lois," he said, playfully.

"Yoh're keepin' it here, Sir."  She held her weak grip on his hand
still, with the vague outlook in her eyes that came there sometimes.

"Was it fur me yoh done it?"

"Yes, for you."

"And fur Him that's comin', Sir?" smiling.

Holmes's face grew graver.

"No, Lois."  She looked into his eyes bewildered.  "For the poor child
that loved me" he said, half to himself, smoothing her hair.

Perhaps in that day when the under-currents of the soul's life will be
bared, this man will know the subtile instincts that drew him out of
his self-reliance by the hand of the child that loved him to the Love
beyond, that was man and died for him, as well as she.  He did not see
it now.

The clear evening light fell on Holmes, as he stood there looking down
at the dying little lamiter: a powerful figure, with a face supreme,
masterful, but tender: you will find no higher type of manhood.  Did
God make him of the same blood as the vicious, cringing wretch
crouching to hide his black face at the other side of the bed?  Some
such thought came into Lois's brain, and vexed her, bringing the tears
to her eyes: he was her father, you know.  She drew their hands
together, as if she would have joined them, then stopped, closing her
eyes wearily.

"It's all wrong," she muttered,--"oh, it's far wrong!  Ther' 's One
could make them 'like.  Not me."

She stroked her father's hand once, and then let it go.  There was a
long silence.  Holmes glanced out, and saw the sun was down.

"Lois," he said, "I want you to wish me a happy Christmas, as people
do."

Holmes had a curious vein of superstition: he knew no lips so pure as
this girl's, and he wanted them to wish him good-luck that night.  She
did it, looking up laughing and growing red: riddles of life did not
trouble her childish fancy long.  And so he left her, with a dull
feeling, as I said before, that it was good to say a prayer before the
battle came on.  For men who believed in prayers: for him, it was the
same thing to make one day for Lois happier.



CHAPTER X.

It was later than Holmes thought: a gray, cold evening.  The streets in
that suburb were lonely: he went down them, the new-fallen snow dulling
his step.  It had covered the peaked roofs of the houses too, and they
stood in listening rows, white and still.  Here and there a pale
flicker from the gas-lamps struggled with the ashy twilight.  He met no
one: people had gone home early on Christmas eve.  He had no home to go
to: pah! there were plenty of hotels, he remembered, smiling grimly.
It was bitter cold: he buttoned up his coat tightly, as he walked
slowly along as if waiting for some one,--wondering dully if the gray
air were any colder or stiller than the heart hardly beating under the
coat.  Well, men had conquered Fate, conquered life and love, before
now.  It grew darker: he was pacing now slowly in the shadow of a long
low wall surrounding the grounds of some building.  When he came near
the gate, he would stop and listen: he could have heard a sparrow on
the snow, it was so still. After a while he did hear footsteps,
crunching the snow heavily; the gate clicked as they came out: it was
Knowles, and the clergyman whom Dr. Cox did not like; Vandyke was his
name.

"Don't bolt the gate," said Knowles; "Miss Howth will be out presently."

They sat down on a pile of lumber near by, waiting, apparently. Holmes
went up and joined them, standing in the shadow of the lumber, talking
to Vandyke.  He did not meet him, perhaps, once in six months; but he
believed in the man, thoroughly.

"I've just helped Knowles build a Christmas-tree in yonder,--the House
of Refuge: you know.  He could not tell an oak from an arbor-vitae, I
believe."

Knowles was in no mood for quizzing.

"There are other things I don't know," he said, gloomily, recurring to
some subject Holmes had interrupted.  "The House is going to the Devil,
Charley, headlong."

"There's no use in saying no," said the other; "you'll call me a lying
diviner."

Knowles did not listen.

"Seems as if I am to go groping and stumbling through the world like
some forsaken Cyclops with his eye out, dragging down whatever I touch.
If there were anything to hold by, anything certain!"

Vandyke looked at him gravely, but did not answer; rose and walked
indolently up and down to keep himself warm.  A lithe, slow figure, a
clear face with delicate lips, and careless eyes that saw everything:
the face of a man quick to learn, and slow to teach.

"There she comes!" said Knowles, as the lock of the gate rasped.

Holmes had heard the slow step in the snow long before.  A small woman
came out, and went down the silent street into the road beyond.  Holmes
kept his back turned to her, lighting his cigar; the other men watched
her eagerly.

"What do you think, Vandyke?" demanded Knowles.  "How will she do?"

"Do for what?"--resuming his lazy walk.  "You talk as if she were a
machine.  It is the way with modern reformers.  Men are so many ploughs
and harrows to work on 'the classes.' Do for what?"

Knowles flushed hotly.

"The work the Lord has left for her.  Do you mean to say there is none
to do,--you, pledged to Missionary labour?"

The young man's face coloured.

"I know this street needs paving terribly, Knowles; but I don't see a
boulder in your hands.  Yet the great Task-master does not despise the
pavers.  He did not give you the spirit and understanding for paving,
eh, is that it?  How do you know He gave this Margret Howth the spirit
and understanding of a reformer?  There may be higher work for her to
do."

"Higher!"  The old man stood aghast.  "I know your creed, then,--that
the true work for a man or a woman is that which develops their highest
nature?"

Vandyke laughed.

"You have a creed-mania, Knowles.  You have a confession of faith
ready-made for everybody, but yourself.  I only meant for you to take
care what you do.  That woman looks as the Prodigal Son might have done
when he began to be in want, and would fain have fed himself with the
husks that the swine did eat."

Knowles got up moodily.

"Whose work is it, then?" he muttered, following the men down the
street; for they walked on.  "The world has waited six thousand years
for help.  It comes slowly,--slowly, Vandyke; even through your
religion."

The young man did not answer: looked up, with quiet, rapt eyes, through
the silent city, and the clear gray beyond.  They passed a little
church lighted up for evening service: as if to give a meaning to the
old man's words, they were chanting the one anthem of the world, the
Gloria in Excelsis.  Hearing the deep organ-roll, the men stopped
outside to listen: it heaved and sobbed through the night, as if
bearing up to God the wrong of countless aching hearts, then was
silent, and a single voice swept over the moors in a long, lamentable
cry:--"Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us!"

The men stood silent, until the hush was broken by a low murmur:--"For
Thou only art holy."  Holmes had taken off his hat, unconscious that he
did it; he put it on slowly, and walked on. What was it that Knowles
had said to him once about mean and selfish taints on his divine soul?
"For Thou only art holy:" if there were truth in that!

"How quiet it is!" he said, as they stopped to leave him.  It was,--a
breathless quiet; the great streets of the town behind them were
shrouded in snow; the hills, the moors, the prairie swept off into the
skyless dark, a gray and motionless sea lit by a low watery moon.  "The
very earth listens," he said.

"Listens for what?" said the literal old Doctor.

"I think it listens always," said Vandyke, his eye on fire.  "For its
King--that shall be.  Not as He came before.  It has not long to wait
now: the New Year is not far off."

"I've no faith in holding your hands, waiting for it; nor have you
either, Charley," growled Knowles.  "There's an infernal lot of work to
be done before it comes, I fancy.  Here, let me light my cigar."

Holmes bade them good-night, laughing, and struck into the by-road
through the hills.  He shook hands with Vandyke before he went,--a
thing he scarce ever did with anybody.  Knowles noticed it, and, after
he was out of hearing, mumbled out some sarcasm at "a minister of the
gospel consorting with a cold, silent scoundrel like that!"  Vandyke
listened to his scolding in his usual lazy way, and they went back into
town.

The road Holmes took was rutted deep with wagon-wheels, not easily
travelled; he walked slowly therefore, being weak, stopping now and
then to gather strength.  He had not counted the hours until this day,
to be balked now by a little loss of blood. The moon was nearly down
before he reached the Cloughton hills: he turned there into a narrow
path which he remembered well.  Now and then he saw the mark of a
little shoe in the snow,--looking down at it with a hot panting in his
veins, and a strange flash in his eye, as he walked on steadily.

There was a turn in the path at the top of the hill, a sunken wall,
with a broad stone from which the wind had blown the snow. This was the
place.  He sat down on the stone, resting.  Just there she had stood,
clutching her little fingers behind her, when he came up and threw back
her hood to look in her face: how pale and worn it was, even then!  He
had not looked at her to-night: he would not, if he had been dying,
with those men standing there.  He stood alone in the world with this
little Margret.  How those men had carped, and criticised her,
chattered of the duties of her soul!  Why, it was his, it was his own,
softer and fresher.  There was not a glance with which they followed
the weak little body in its poor dress that he had not seen, and
savagely resented.  They measured her strength? counted how long the
bones and blood would last in their House of Refuge? There was not a
morsel of her flesh that was not pure and holy in his eyes.  His
Margret?  He chafed with an intolerable fever to make her his, but for
one instant, as she had been once.  Now, when it was too late.  For he
went back over every word he had spoken that night, forcing himself to
go through with it,--every cold, poisoned word.  It was a fitting
penance.  "There is no such thing as love in real life:" he had told
her that!  How he had stood, with all the power of his "divine soul" in
his will, and told her,--he,--a man,--that he put away her love from
him then, forever!  He spared himself nothing,--slurred over nothing;
spurned himself, as it were, for the meanness, in which he had wallowed
that night.  How firm he had been! how kind! how masterful!--pluming
himself on his man's strength, while he held her in his power as one
might hold an insect, played with her shrinking woman's nature, and
trampled it under his feet, coldly and quietly!  She was in his way,
and he had put her aside.  How the fine subtile spirit had risen up out
of its agony of shame, and scorned him!  How it had flashed from the
puny frame standing there in the muddy road despised and jeered at, and
calmly judged him!  He might go from her as he would, toss her off like
a worn-out plaything, but he could not blind her: let him put on what
face he would to the world, whether they called him a master among men,
or a miser, or, as Knowles did to-night after he turned away, a
scoundrel, this girl laid her little hand on his soul with an utter
recognition: she alone.  "She knew him for a better man than he knew
himself that night:" he remembered the words.

The night was growing murky and bitingly cold: there was no prospect on
the  snow-covered hills, or the rough road at his feet with its pools
of ice-water, to bring content into his face, or the dewy light into
his eyes; but they came there, slowly, while he sat thinking.  Some old
thought was stealing into his brain, perhaps, fresh and warm, like a
soft spring air,--some hope of the future, in which this child-woman
came close to him, and near.  It was an idle dream, only would taunt
him when it was over, but he opened his arms to it: it was an old
friend; it had made him once a purer and better man than he could ever
be again. A warm, happy dream, whatever it may have been: the rugged,
sinister face grew calm and sad, as the faces of the dead change when
loving tears fall on them.

He sighed wearily: the homely little hope was fanning into life
stagnant depths of desire and purpose, stirring his resolute ambition.
Too late?  Was it too late?  Living or dead she was his, though he
should never see her face, by some subtile power that had made them
one, he knew not when nor how.  He did not reason now,--abandoned
himself, as morbid men only do, to this delirious hope of a home, and
cheerful warmth, and this woman's love fresh and eternal: a pleasant
dream at first, to be put away at pleasure.  But it grew bolder,
touched under-deeps in his nature of longing and intense passion; all
that he knew or felt of power or will, of craving effort, of success in
the world, drifted into this dream, and became one with it.  He stood
up, his vigorous frame starting into a nobler manhood, with the
consciousness of right,--with a willed assurance, that, the first
victory gained, the others should follow.

It was late; he must go on; he had not meant to sit idling by the
road-side.  He went through the fields, his heavy step crushing the
snow, a dry heat in his blood, his eye intent, still, until he came
within sight of the farm-house; then he went on, cool and grave, in his
ordinary port.

The house was quite dark; only a light in one of the lower
windows,--the library, he thought.  The broad field he was crossing
sloped down to the house, so that, as he came nearer, he saw the little
room quite plainly in the red glow of the fire within, the curtains
being undrawn.  He had a keen eye; did not fail to see the marks of
poverty about the place, the gateless fences, even the bare room with
its worn and patched carpet: noted it all with a triumphant gleam of
satisfaction.  There was a black shadow passing and repassing the
windows: he waited a moment looking at it, then came more slowly
towards them, intenser heats smouldering in his face.  He would not
surprise her; she should be as ready as he was for the meeting.  If she
ever put her pure hand in his again, it should be freely done, and of
her own good-will.

She saw him as he came up on the porch, and stopped, looking out, as if
bewildered,--then resumed her walk, mechanically.  What it cost her to
see him again he could not tell: her face did not alter.  It was
lifeless and schooled, the eyes looking straight forward always,
indifferently.  Was this his work?  If he had killed her outright, it
would have been better than this.

The windows were low: it had been his old habit to go in through them,
and he now went up to one unconsciously.  As he opened it, he saw her
turn away for an instant; then she waited for him, entirely tranquil,
the clear fire shedding a still glow over the room, no cry or shiver of
pain to show how his coming broke open the old wound.  She smiled even,
when he leaned against the window, with a careless welcome.

Holmes stopped, confounded.  It did not suit him,--this.  If you know a
man's nature, you comprehend why.  The bitterest reproach, or a proud
contempt would have been less galling than this gentle indifference.
His hold had slipped from off the woman, he believed.  A moment before
he had remembered how he had held her in his arms, touched her cold
lips, and then flung her off,--he had remembered it, every nerve
shrinking with remorse and unutterable tenderness: now----!  The utter
quiet of her face told more than words could do.  She did not love him;
he was nothing to her.  Then love was a lie.  A moment before he could
have humbled himself in her eyes as low as he lay in his own, and
accepted her pardon as a necessity of her enduring, faithful nature:
now, the whole strength of the man sprang into rage, and mad desire of
conquest.

He came gravely across the room, holding out his hand with his old
quiet control.  She might be cold and grave as he, but underneath he
knew there was a thwarted, hungry spirit,--a strong, fine spirit as
dainty Ariel.  He would sting it to life, and tame it: it was his.

"I thought you would come, Stephen," she said, simply, motioning him to
a chair.

Could this automaton be Margret?  He leaned on the mantel-shelf,
looking down with a cynical sneer.

"Is that the welcome?  Why, there are a thousand greetings for this
time of love and good words you might have chosen.  Besides, I have
come back ill and poor,--a beggar perhaps.  How do women receive
such,--generous women?  Is there no etiquette? no hand-shaking? nothing
more? remembering that I was once--not indifferent to you."

He laughed.  She stood still and grave as before.

"Why, Margret, I have been down near death since that night."

He thought her lips grew gray, but she looked up clear and steady.

"I am glad you did not die.  Yes, I can say that.  As for hand-shaking,
my ideas may be peculiar as your own."

"She measures her words," he said, as to himself; "her very eye-light
is ruled by decorum; she is a machine, for work.  She has swept her
child's heart clean of anger and revenge, even scorn for the wretch
that sold himself for money.  There was nothing else to sweep out, was
there?"--bitterly,--"no friendships, such as weak women nurse and
coddle into being,--or love, that they live in, and die for sometimes,
in a silly way?"

"Unmanly!"

"No, not unmanly.  Margret, let us be serious and calm.  It is no time
to trifle or wear masks.  That has passed between us which leaves no
room for sham courtesies."

"There needs none,"--meeting his eye unflinchingly.  "I am ready to
meet you and hear your good-bye.  Dr. Knowles told me your marriage was
near at hand.  I knew you would come, Stephen.  You did before."

He winced,--the more that her voice was so clear of pain.

"Why should I come?  To show you what sort of a heart I have sold for
money?  Why, you think you know, little Margret.  You can reckon up its
deformity, its worthlessness, on your cool fingers. You could tell the
serene and gracious lady who is chaffering for it what a bargain she
has made,--that there is not in it one spark of manly honour or true
love.  Don't venture too near it in your coldness and prudence.  It has
tiger passions I will not answer for.  Give me your hand, and feel how
it pants like a hungry fiend.  It will have food, Margret."

She drew away the hand he grasped, and stood back in the shadow.

"What is it to me?"--in the same measured voice.

Holmes wiped the cold drops from his forehead, a sort of shudder in his
powerful frame.  He stood a moment looking into the fire, his head
dropped on his arm.

"Let it be so," he said at last, quietly.  "The worn old heart can gnaw
on itself a little longer.  I have no mind to whimper over pain."

Something that she saw on the dark sardonic face, as the red gleams
lighted it, made her start convulsively, as if she would go to him;
then controlling herself, she stood silent.  He had not seen the
movement,--or, if he saw, did not heed it.  He did not care to tame her
now.  The firelight flashed and darkened, the crackling wood breaking
the dead silence of the room.

"It does not matter," he said, raising his head, laying his arm over
his strong chest unconsciously, as if to shut in all complaint.  "I had
an idle fancy that it would be good on this Christmas night to bare the
secrets hidden in here to you,--to suffer your pure eyes to probe the
sorest depths: I thought perhaps they would have a blessing power.  It
was an idle fancy. What is my want or crime to you?"

The answer came slowly, but it did come.

"Nothing to me."

She tried to meet the gaunt face looking down on her with its proud
sadness,--did meet it at last with her meek eyes.

"No, nothing to you.  There is no need that I should stay longer, is
there?  You made ready to meet me, and have gone through your part
well."

"It is no part.  I speak God's truth to you as I can."

"I know.  There is nothing more for us to say to each other in this
world, then, except good-night.  Words--polite words--are bitterer than
death, sometimes.  If ever we happen to meet, that courteous smile on
your face will be enough to speak--God's truth for you.  Shall we say
good-night now?"

"If you will."

She drew farther into the shadow, leaning on a chair.

He stopped, some sudden thought striking him.

"I have a whim," he said, dreamily, "that I would like to satisfy.  It
would be a trifle to you: will you grant it?--for the sake of some old
happy day, long ago?"

She put her hand up to her throat; then it fell again.

"Anything you wish, Stephen," she said, gravely.

"Yes.  Come nearer, then, and let me see what I have lost.  A heart so
cold and strong as yours need not fear inspection.  I have a fancy to
look into it, for the last time."

She stood motionless and silent.

"Come,"--softly,--"there is no hurt in your heart that fears detection?"

She came out into the full light, and stood before him, pushing back
the hair from her forehead, that he might see every wrinkle, and the
faded, lifeless eyes.  It was a true woman's motion, remembering even
then to scorn deception.  The light glowed brightly in her face, as the
slow minutes ebbed without a sound: she only saw his face in shadow,
with the fitful gleam of intolerable meaning in his eyes.  Her own
quailed and fell.

"Does it hurt you that I should even look at you?" he said, drawing
back.  "Why, even the sainted dead suffer us to come near them after
they have died to us,--to touch their hands, to kiss their lips, to
find what look they left in their faces for us. Be patient, for the
sake of the old time.  My whim is not satisfied yet."

"I am patient."

"Tell me something of yourself, to take with me when I go, for the last
time.  Shall I think of you as happy in these days?"

"I am contented,"--the words oozing from her white lips in the
bitterness of truth.  "I asked God, that night, to show me my work; and
I think He has shown it to me.  I do not complain.  It is a great work."

"Is that all?" he demanded, fiercely.

"No, not all.  It pleases me to feel I have a warm home, and to help
keep it cheerful.  When my father kisses me at night, or my mother
says, 'God bless you, child,' I know that is enough, that I ought to be
happy."

The old clock in the corner hummed and ticked through the deep silence,
like the humble voice of the home she toiled to keep warm, thanking
her, comforting her.

"Once more," as the light grew stronger on her face,--"will you look
down into your heart that you have given to this great work, and tell
me what you see there?  Dare you do it, Margret?"

"I dare do it,"--but her whisper was husky.

"Go on."

He watched her more as a judge would a criminal, as she sat before him:
she struggled weakly under the power of his eye, not meeting it.  He
waited relentless, seeing her face slowly whiten, her limbs shiver, her
bosom heave.

"Let me speak for you," he said at last.  "I know who once filled your
heart to the exclusion of all others: it is no time for mock shame.  I
know it was my hand that held the very secret of your being.  Whatever
I may have been, you loved me, Margret.  Will you say that now?"

"I loved you,--once."

Whether it were truth that nerved her, or self-delusion, she was strong
now to utter it all.

"You love me no longer, then?"

"I love you no longer."

She did not look at him; she was conscious only of the hot fire wearing
her eyes, and the vexing click of the clock.  After a while he bent
over her silently,--a manly, tender presence.

"When love goes once," he said, "it never returns.  Did you say it was
gone, Margret?"

One effort more, and Duty would be satisfied.

"It is gone."

In the slow darkness that came to her she covered her face, knowing and
hearing nothing.  When she looked up, Holmes was standing by the
window, with his face toward the gray fields.  It was a long time
before he turned and came to her.

"You have spoken honestly: it is an old fashion of yours.  You believed
what you said.  Let me also tell you what you call God's truth, for a
moment, Margret.  It will not do you harm."--He spoke gravely,
solemnly.--"When you loved me long ago, selfish, erring as I was, you
fulfilled the law of your nature; when you put that love out of your
heart, you make your duty a tawdry sham, and your life a lie.  Listen
to me.  I am calm."

It was calmness that made her tremble as she had not done before, with
a strange suspicion of the truth flashing on her.  That she, casing
herself in her pride, her conscious righteousness, hugging her
new-found philanthropy close, had sunk to a depth of niggardly
selfishness, of which this man knew nothing.  Nobler than she; half
angry as she felt that, sitting at his feet, looking up.  He knew it,
too; the grave judging voice told it; he had taken his rightful place.
Just, as only a man can be, in his judgment of himself and her: her
love that she had prided herself with, seemed weak and drifting,
brought into contact with this cool integrity of meaning.  I think she
was glad to be humbled before him.  Women have strange fancies,
sometimes.

"You have deceived yourself," he said: "when you try to fill your heart
with this work, you serve neither your God nor your fellow-man.  You
tell me," stooping close to her, "that I am nothing to you: you believe
it, poor child! There is not a line on your face that does not prove it
false.  I have keen eyes, Margret!"-- He laughed.--"You have wrung this
love out of your heart?  If it were easy to do, did it need to wring
with it every sparkle of pleasure and grace out of your life!  Your
very hair is gathered out of your sight: you feared to remember how my
hand had touched it?  Your dress is stingy and hard; your step, your
eyes, your mouth under rule.  So hard it was to force yourself into an
old worn-out woman!  Oh, Margret!  Margret!"

She moaned under her breath.

"I notice trifles, child!  Yonder, in that corner, used to stand the
desk where I helped you with your Latin.  How you hated it! Do you
remember?"

"I remember."

"It always stood there: it is gone now.  Outside of the gate there was
that elm I planted, and you promised to water while I was gone.  It is
cut down now by the roots."

"I had it done, Stephen."

"I know.  Do you know why?  Because you love me: because you do not
dare to think of me, you dare not trust yourself to look at the tree
that I had planted."

She started up with a cry, and stood there in the old way, her fingers
catching at each other.

"It is cruel,--let me go!"

"It is not cruel."--He came up closer to her.--"You think you do not
love me, and see what I have made you!  Look at the torpor of this
face,--the dead, frozen eyes!  It is a 'nightmare death in life.'  Good
God, to think that I have done this!  To think of the countless days of
agony, the nights, the years of solitude that have brought her to
this,--little Margret!"

He paced the floor, slowly.  She sat down on a low stool, leaning her
head on her hands.  The little figure, the bent head, the quivering
chin brought up her childhood to him.  She used to sit so when he had
tormented her, waiting to be coaxed back to love and smiles again.  The
hard man's eyes filled with tears, as he thought of it.  He watched the
deep, tearless sobs that shook her breast: he had wounded her to
death,--his bonny Margret!  She was like a dead thing now: what need to
torture her longer?  Let him be manly and go out to his solitary life,
taking the remembrance of what he had done with him for company.  He
rose uncertainly,--then came to her: was that the way to leave her?

"I am going, Margret," he whispered, "but let me tell you a story
before I go,--a Christmas story, say.  It will not touch you,--it is
too late to hope for that,--but it is right that you should hear it."

She looked up wearily.

"As you will, Stephen."

Whatever impulse drove the man to speak words that he knew were
useless, made him stand back from her, as though she were something he
was unfit to touch: the words dragged from him slowly.

"I had a curious dream to-night, Margret,--a waking dream: only a clear
vision of what had been once.  Do you remember--the old time?"

What disconnected rambling was this?  Yet the girl understood it,
looked into the low fire with sad, listening eyes.

"Long ago.  That was a free, strong life that opened before us then,
little one,--before you and me?  Do you remember the Christmas before I
went away?  I had a strong arm and a hungry brain to go out into the
world with, then.  Something better, too, I had.  A purer self than was
born with me came late in life, and nestled in my heart.  Margret,
there was no fresh loving thought in my brain for God or man that did
not grow from my love of you; there was nothing noble or kindly in my
nature that did not flow into that love, and deepen there.  I was your
master, too.  I held my own soul by no diviner right than I held your
love and owed you mine.  I understand it, now, when it is too
late."--He wiped the cold drops from his face.--"Now do you know
whether it is remorse I feel, when I think how I put this purer self
away,--how I went out triumphant in my inhuman, greedy brain,--how I
resolved to know, to be, to trample under foot all weak love or homely
pleasures? I have been punished.  Let those years go.  I think,
sometimes, I came near to the nature of the damned who dare not love: I
would not.  It was then I hurt you, Margret,--to the death: your true
life lay in me, as mine in you."

He had gone on drearily, as though holding colloquy with himself, as
though great years of meaning surged up and filled the broken words.
It may have been thus with the girl, for her face deepened as she
listened.  For the first time for many long days tears welled up into
her eyes, and rolled between her fingers unheeded.

"I came through the streets to-night baffled in life,--a mean man that
might have been noble,--all the years wasted that had gone
before,--disappointed,--with nothing to hope for but time to work
humbly and atone for the wrongs I had done.  When I lay yonder, my soul
on the coast of eternity, I resolved to atone for every selfish deed.
I had no thought of happiness; God knows I had no hope of it.  I had
wronged you most: I could not die with that wrong unforgiven."

"Unforgiven, Stephen?" she sobbed; "I forgave it long ago."

He looked at her a moment, then by some effort choked down the word he
would have spoken, and went on with his bitter confession.

"I came through the crowded town, a homeless, solitary man, on the
Christmas eve when love comes to every man.  If ever I had grown sick
for a word or touch from the one soul to whom alone mine was open, I
thirsted for it then.  The better part of my nature was crushed out,
and flung away with you, Margret.  I cried for it,--I wanted help to be
a better, purer man.  I need it now.  And so," he said, with a smile
that hurt her more than tears, "I came to my good angel, to tell her I
had sinned and repented, that I had made humble plans for the future,
and ask her---- God knows what I would have asked her then!  She had
forgotten me,--she had another work to do!"

She wrung her hands with a helpless cry.  Holmes went to the window:
the dull waste of snow looked to him as hopeless and vague as his own
life.

"I have deserved it," he muttered to himself. "It is too late to amend."

Some light touch thrilled his arm.

"Is it too late, Stephen?" whispered a childish voice.

The strong man trembled, looking at the little dark figure standing
near him.

"We were both wrong: I have been untrue, selfish.  More than you.
Stephen, help me to be a better girl; let us be friends again."

She went back unconsciously to the old words of their quarrels long
ago.  He drew back.

"Do not mock me," he gasped.  "I suffer, Margret.  Do not mock me with
more courtesy."

"I do not; let us be friends again."

She was crying like a penitent child; her face was turned away; love,
pure and deep, was in her eyes.

The red fire-light grew stronger; the clock hushed its noisy ticking to
hear the story.  Holmes's pale lip worked: what was this coming to him?
His breast heaved, a dry heat panted in his veins, his deep eyes
flashed fire.

"If my little friend comes to me," he said, in a smothered voice,
"there is but one place for her,--her soul with my soul, her heart on
my heart."--He opened his arms.--"She must rest her head here.  My
little friend must be--my wife."

She looked into the strong, haggard face,--a smile crept out on her
own, arch and debonair like that of old time.

"I am tired, Stephen," she whispered, and softly laid her head down on
his breast.

The red fire-light flashed into a glory of crimson through the room,
about the two figures standing motionless there,--shimmered down into
awe-struck shadow: who heeded it?  The old clock ticked away furiously,
as if rejoicing that weary days were over for the pet and darling of
the house: nothing else broke the silence. Without, the deep night
paused, gray, impenetrable.  Did it hope that far angel-voices would
break its breathless hush, as once on the fields of Judea, to usher in
Christmas morn?  A hush, in air, and earth, and sky, of waiting hope,
of a promised joy.  Down there in the farm-window two human hearts had
given the joy a name; the hope throbbed into being; the hearts touching
each other beat in a slow, full chord of love as pure in God's eyes as
the song the angels sang, and as sure a promise of the Christ that is
to come.  Forever,--not even death would part them; he knew that,
holding her closer, looking down into her face.

What a pale little face it was!  Through the intensest heat of his
passion the sting touched him.  Some instinct made her glance up at
him, with a keen insight, seeing the morbid gloom that was the man's
sin, in his face.  She lifted her head from his breast, and when he
stooped to touch her lips, shook herself free, laughing carelessly.
Alas, Stephen Holmes! you will have little time for morbid questionings
in those years to come: her cheerful work has begun: no more
self-devouring reveries: your very pauses of silent content and love
will be rare and well-earned.  No more tranced raptures for
to-night,--let to-morrow bring what it would.

"You do not seem to find your purer self altogether perfect?" she
demanded.  "I think the pale skin hurts your artistic eye, or the
frozen eyes,--which is it?"

"They have thawed into brilliant fire,--something looks at me
half-yielding and half-defiant,--you know that, you vain child! But,
Margret, nothing can atone"----

He stopped.

"Yes, stop.  That is right, Stephen.  Remorse grows maudlin when it
goes into words," laughing again at his astounded look.

He took her hand,--a dewy, healthy hand,--the very touch of it meant
action and life.

"What if I say, then," he said, earnestly, "that I do not find my angel
perfect, be the fault mine or hers?  The child Margret, with her sudden
tears, and laughter, and angry heats, is gone,--I killed her, I
think,--gone long ago.  I will not take in place of her this worn, pale
ghost, who wears clothes as chilly as if she came from the dead, and
stands alone, as ghosts do."

She stood a little way off, her great brown eyes flashing with tears.
It was so strange a joy to find herself cared for, when she had
believed she was old and hard: the very idle jesting made her youth and
happiness real to her.  Holmes saw that with his quick tact.  He flung
playfully a crimson shawl that lay there about her white neck.

"My wife must suffer her life to flush out in gleams of colour and
light: her cheeks must hint at a glow within, as yours do now.  I will
have no hard angles, no pallor, no uncertain memory of pain in her
life: it shall be perpetual summer."

He loosened her hair, and it rolled down about the bright, tearful
face, shining in the red fire-light like a mist of tawny gold.

"I need warmth and freshness and light: my wife shall bring them to me.
She shall be no strong-willed reformer, standing alone: a sovereign
lady with kind words for the world, who gives her hand only to that man
whom she trusts, and keeps her heart and its secrets for me alone."

She paid no heed to him other than by a deepening colour; the clock,
however, grew tired of the long soliloquy, and broke in with an
asthmatic warning as to the time of night.

"There is midnight," she said.  "You shall go, now, Stephen
Holmes,--quick! before your sovereign lady fades, like Cinderella, into
grayness and frozen eyes!"

When he was gone, she knelt down by her window, remembering that night
long ago,--free to sob and weep out her joy,--very sure that her Master
had not forgotten to hear even a woman's prayer, and to give her her
true work,--very sure,--never to doubt again. There was a dark, sturdy
figure pacing up and down the road, that she did not see.  It was there
when the night was over, and morning began to dawn.  Christmas morning!
he remembered,--it was something to him now!  Never again a homeless,
solitary man!  You would think the man weak, if I were to tell yon how
this word "home" had taken possession of him,--how he had planned out
work through the long night: success to come, but with his wife nearest
his heart, and the homely farm-house, and the old school-master in the
centre of the picture.  Such an humble castle in the air! Christmas
morning was surely something to him. Yet, as the night passed, he went
back to the years that had been wasted, with an unavailing bitterness.
He would not turn from the truth, that, with his strength of body and
brain to command happiness and growth, his life had been a failure.  I
think it was first on that night that the story of the despised
Nazarene came to him with a new meaning,--One who came to gather up
these broken fragments of lives and save them with His own.  But
vaguely, though: Christmas-day as yet was to him the day when love came
into the world.  He knew the meaning of that.  So he watched with an
eagerness new to him the day-breaking.  He could see Margret's window,
and a dim light in it: she would be awake, praying for him, no doubt.
He pondered on that.  Would you think Holmes weak, if he forsook the
faith of Fichte, sometime, led by a woman's hand?  Think of the apostle
of the positive philosophers, and say no more.  He could see a
flickering light at dawn crossing the hall: he remembered the old
school-master's habit well,--calling "Happy Christmas" at every door:
he meant to go down there for breakfast, as he used to do, imagining
how the old man would wring his hands, with a "Holloa! you're welcome
home, Stephen, boy!" and Mrs. Howth would bring out the jars of
pine-apple preserve which her sister sent her every year from the West
Indies.  And then---- Never mind what then.  Stephen Holmes was very
much in love, and this Christmas-day had much to bring him.  Yet it was
with a solemn shadow on his face that he watched the dawn, showing that
he grasped the awful meaning of this day that "brought love into the
world."  Through the clear, frosty night he could hear a low chime of
distant bells shiver the air, hurrying faint and far to tell the glad
tidings.  He fancied that the dawn flushed warm to hear the
story,--that the very earth should rejoice in its frozen depths, if it
were true.  If it were true!--if this passion in his heart were but a
part of an all-embracing power, in whose clear depths the world
struggled vainly!--if it were true that this Christ did come to make
that love clear to us!  There would be some meaning then in the old
school-master's joy, in the bells wakening the city yonder, in even
poor Lois's thorough content in this day,--for it would be, he knew, a
thrice happy day to her.  A strange story that of the Child coming into
the world,--simple!  He thought of it, watching, through his cold, gray
eyes, how all the fresh morning told it,--it was in the very air;
thinking how its echo stole through the whole world,--how innumerable
children's voices told it in eager laughter,--how even the lowest slave
half-smiled, on waking, to think it was Christmas-day, the day that
Christ was born.  He could hear from the church on the hill that they
were singing again the old song of the angels.  Did this matter to him?
Did not he care, with the new throb in his heart, who was born this
day?  There is no smile on his face as he listens to the words, "Glory
to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men;" it
bends lower,--lower only.  But in his soul-lit eyes there are warm
tears, and on his worn face a sad and solemn joy.



CHAPTER XI.

I am going to end my story now.  There are phases more vivid in the
commonplace lives of these men and women, I do not doubt: love, as
poignant as pain in its joy; crime, weak and foul and foolish, like all
crime; silent self-sacrifices: but I leave them for you to paint; you
will find colours enough in your own house and heart.

As for Christmas-day, neither you nor I need try to do justice to that
theme: how the old school-master went about, bustling, his thin face
quite hot with enthusiasm, and muttering, "God bless my soul!"--hardly
recovered from the sudden delight of finding his old pupil waiting for
him when he went down in the morning; how he insisted on being led by
him, and nobody else, all day, and before half an hour had confided,
under solemn pledges of secrecy, the great project of the book about
Bertrand de Born; how even easy Mrs. Howth found her hospitable
Virginian blood in a glow at the unexpected breakfast-guest,--settling
into more confident pleasure as dinner came on, for which success was
surer; how cold it was, outside; how Joel piled on great fires, and
went off on some mysterious errand, having "other chores to do than
idling and duddering;" how the day rose into a climax of perfection at
dinner-time, to Mrs. Howth's mind,--the turkey being done to a
delicious brown, the plum-pudding quivering like luscious jelly (a
Christian dinner to-day, if we starve the rest of the year!).  Even Dr.
Knowles, who brought a great bouquet out for the school-master, was in
an unwonted good-humour; and Mr. Holmes, of whom she stood a little in
dread, enjoyed it all with such zest, and was so attentive to them all,
but Margret.  They hardly spoke to each other all day; it quite fretted
the old lady; indeed, she gave the girl a good scolding about it out in
the pantry, until she was ready to cry.  She had looked that way all
day, however.

Knowles was hurt deep enough when he saw Holmes, and suspected the
worst, under all his good-humour.  It was a bitter disappointment to
give up the girl; for, beside the great work, he loved her in an
uncouth fashion, and hated Holmes.  He met her alone in the morning;
but when he saw how pale she grew, expecting his outbreak, and how she
glanced timidly in at the room where Stephen was, he relented.
Something in the wet brown eye perhaps recalled a forgotten dream of
his boyhood; for he sighed sharply, and did not swear as he meant to.
All he said was, that "women will be women, and that she had a worse
job on her hands than the House of Refuge,"--which she put down to the
account of his ill-temper, and only laughed, and made him shake hands.

Lois and her father came out in the old cart in high state across the
bleak, snowy hills, quite aglow with all they had seen at the
farm-houses on the road.  Margret had arranged a settle for the sick
girl by the kitchen-fire, but they all came out to speak to her.

As for the dinner, it was the essence of all Christmas dinners: Dickens
himself, the priest of the genial day, would have been contented.  The
old school-master and his wife had hearts big and warm enough to do the
perpetual honours of a baronial castle; so you may know how the little
room and the faces about the homely table glowed and brightened.  Even
Knowles began to think that Holmes might not be so bad, after all,
recalling the chicken in the mill, and,--"Well, it was better to think
well of all men, poor devils!"

I am sorry to say there was a short thunderstorm in the very midst of
the dinner.  Knowles and Mr. Howth, in their anxiety to keep off from
ancient subjects of dispute, came, for a wonder, on modern politics,
and of course there was a terrible collision, which made Mrs. Howth
quite breathless: it was over in a minute, however, and it was hard to
tell which was the most repentant. Knowles, as you know, was a disciple
of Garrison, and the old school-master was a States'-rights man, as you
might suppose from his antecedents,--suspected, indeed, of being a
contributor to "DeBow's Review."  I may as well come out with the whole
truth, and acknowledge that at the present writing the old gentleman is
the very hottest Secessionist I know.  If it hurts the type, write it
down a vice of blood, O printers of New England!

The dinner, perhaps, was fresher and heartier after that.  Then Knowles
went back to town; and in the middle of the afternoon, as it grew dusk,
Lois started, knowing how many would come into her little shanty in the
evening to wish her Happy Christmas, although it was over.  They piled
up comforts and blankets in the cart, and she lay on them quite snugly,
her scarred child's-face looking out from a great woollen hood Mrs.
Howth gave her.  Old Yare held Barney, with his hat in his hand,
looking as if he deserved hanging, but very proud of the kindness they
all showed his girl.  Holmes gave him some money for a Christmas gift,
and he took it, eagerly enough.  For some unexpressed reason, they
stood a long time in the snow bidding Lois good-bye; and for the same
reason, it may be, she was loath to go, looking at each one earnestly
as she laughed and grew red and pale answering them, kissing Mrs.
Howth's hand when she gave it to her.  When the cart did drive away,
she watched them standing there until she was out of sight, and waved
her scrap of a handkerchief; and when the road turned down the hill,
lay down and softly cried to herself.

Now that they were alone they gathered close about the fire, while the
day without grew gray and colder,--Margret in her old place by her
father's knee.  Some dim instinct had troubled the old man all day; it
did now: whenever Margret spoke, he listened eagerly, and forgot to
answer sometimes, he was so lost in thought.  At last he put his hand
on her head, and whispered, "What ails my little girl?"  And then his
little girl sobbed and cried, as she had been ready to do all day, and
kissed his trembling hand, and went and hid on her mother's neck, and
left Stephen to say everything for her.  And I think you and I had
better come away.

It was quite dark before they had done talking,--quite dark; the
wood-fire had charred down into a great bed of crimson; the tea stood
till it grew cold, and no one drank it.

The old man got up at last, and Holmes led him to the library, where he
smoked every evening.  He held Maggie, as he called her, in his arms a
long time, and wrung Holmes's hand.  "God bless you, Stephen!" he
said,--"this is a very happy Christmas-day to me."  And yet, sitting
alone, the tears ran over his wrinkled face as he smoked; and when his
pipe went out, he did not know it, but sat motionless.  Mrs. Howth,
fairly confounded by the shock, went up-stairs, and stayed there a long
time.  When she came down, the old lady's blue eyes were tenderer, if
that were possible, and her face very pale.  She went into the library
and asked her husband if she didn't prophesy this two years ago, and he
said she did, and after a while asked her if she remembered the
barbecue-night at Judge Clapp's thirty years ago.  She blushed at that,
and then went up and kissed him.  She had heard Joel's horse clattering
up to the kitchen-door, so concluded she would go out and scold him.
Under the circumstances it would be a relief.

If Mrs. Howth's nerves had been weak, she might have supposed that
free-born serving-man seized with sudden insanity, from the sight that
met her, going into the kitchen.  His dinner, set on the dresser, was
flung contemptuously on the ashes; a horrible cloud of burning grease
rushed from a dirty pint-pot on the table, and before this Joel was
capering and snorting like some red-headed Hottentot before his fetich,
occasionally sticking his fingers into the nauseous stuff, and snuffing
it up as if it were roses.  He was a church-member: he could NOT be
drunk?  At the sight of her, he tried to regain the austere dignity
usual to him when women were concerned, but lapsed into an occasional
giggle, which spoiled the effect.

"Where have you been," she inquired, severely, "scouring the country
like a heathen on this blessed day?  And what is that you have burning?
You're disgracing the house, and strangers in it."

Joel's good-humour was proof against even this.

"I've scoured to some purpose, then.  Dun't tell the mester: it'll
muddle his brains t'-night.  Wait till mornin'.  Squire More'll be down
his-self t' 'xplain."

He rubbed the greasy fingers into his hair, while Mrs.  Howth's eyes
were fixed in dumb perplexity.

"Ye see,"--slowly, determined to make it clear to her now and
forever,--"it's water: no, t' a'n't water: it's troubled me an' Mester
Howth some time in Poke Run, atop o' 't.  I hed my suspicions,--so'd
he; lay low, though, frum all women-folks.  So 's I tuk a bottle down,
unbeknown, to Squire More, an' it's oil!"--jumping like a wild
Indian,--"thank the Lord fur his marcies, it's oil!"

"Well, Joel," she said, calmly, "very disagreeably smelling oil it is,
I must say."

"Good save the woman!" he broke out, sotto voce, "she's a born natural!
Did ye never hear of a shaft? or millions o' gallons a day? It's better
nor a California ranch, I tell ye.  Mebbe," charitably, "ye didn't know
Poke Run's the mester's?"

"I certainly do.  But I do not see what this green ditch-water is to
me.  And I think, Joel,"----

"It's more to ye nor all yer States'-rights as I'm sick o' hearin' of.
It's carpets, an' bunnets, an' slithers of railroad-stock, an' some
colour on Margot's cheeks,--ye 'ed best think o' that!  That's what it
is to ye!  I'm goin' to take stock myself.  I'm glad that gell 'll git
rest frum her mills an' her Houses o' Deviltry,--she's got gumption fur
a dozen women."

He went on muttering, as he gathered up his pint-pot and bottle,--

"I'm goin' to send my Tim to college soon's the thing's in runnin'
order.  Lord! what a lawyer that boy'll make!"

Mrs. Howth's brain was still muddled.


"You are better pleased than you were at Lincoln's election," she
observed, placidly.

"Lincoln be darned!" he broke out, forgetting the teachings of Mr.
Clinche.  "Now, Mem, dun't ye muddle the mester's brain t'-night wi'
't, I say.  I'm goin' t' 'xperiment myself a bit."

Which he did, accordingly,--shutting himself up in the smoke-house and
burning the compound in divers sconces and Wide-Awake torches, giving
up the entire night to his diabolical orgies.

Mrs. Howth did not tell the master; for one reason: it took a long time
for so stupendous an idea to penetrate the good lady's brain; and for
another: her motherly heart was touched by another story than this
Aladdin's lamp of Joel's wherein burned petroleum.  She watched from
her window until she saw Holmes crossing the icy road: there was a
little bitterness, I confess, in the thought that he had taken her
child from her; but the prayer that rose for them both took her whole
woman's heart with it.

The road was rough over the hills; the wind that struck Holmes's face
bitingly keen: perhaps the life coming for him would be as cold a
struggle, having not only poverty to conquer, but himself. But he is a
strong man,--no stronger puts his foot down with cool, resolute tread;
and to-night there is a thrill on his lips that never rested there
before,--a kiss, dewy and warm. Something, some new belief, too, stirs
in his heart, like a subtile atom of pure fire, that he hugs
closely,--his for all time.  No poverty or death shall ever drive it
away.  Perhaps he entertains an angel unaware.

After that night Lois never left her little shanty.  The days that
followed were like one long Christmas; for her poor neighbors, black
and white, had some plot among themselves, and worked zealously to make
them seem so to her.  It was easy to make these last days happy for the
simple little soul who had always gathered up every fragment of
pleasure in her featureless life, and made much of it, and rejoiced
over it.  She grew bewildered, sometimes, lying on her wooden settle by
the fire; people lead always been friendly, taken care of her, but now
they were eager in their kindness, as though the time were short.  She
did not understand the reason, at first; she did not want to die: yet
if it hurt her, when it grew clear at last, no one knew it; it was not
her way to speak of pain.  Only, as she grew weaker, day by day, she
began to set her house in order, as one might say, in a quaint, almost
comical fashion, giving away everything she owned, down to her
treasures of colored bottles and needle-books, mending her father's
clothes, and laying them out in her drawers; lastly, she had Barney
brought in from the country, and every day would creep to the window to
see him fed and chirrup to him, whereat the poor old beast would look
up with his dim eye, and try to neigh a feeble answer.  Kitts used to
come every day to see her, though he never said much when he was there:
he lugged his great copy of the Venus del Pardo along with him one day,
and left it, thinking she would like to look at it; Knowles called it
trash, when he came.  The Doctor came always in the morning; he told
her he would read to her one day, and did it always afterwards, putting
on his horn spectacles, and holding her old Bible close up to his
rugged, anxious face.  He used to read most from the Gospel of St.
John.  She liked better to hear him than any of the others, even than
Margret, whose voice was so low and tender: something in the man's
half-savage nature was akin to the child's.

As the day drew near when she was to go, every pleasant trifle seemed
to gather a deeper, solemn meaning.  Jenny Balls came in one night, and
old Mrs. Polston.

"We thought you'd like to see her weddin'-dress, Lois," said the old
woman, taking off Jenny's cloak, "seein' as the weddin' was to hev been
to-morrow, and was put off on 'count of you."

Lois did like to see it; sat up, her face quite flushed to see how
nicely it fitted, and stroked back Jenny's soft hair under the veil.
And Jenny, being a warm-hearted little thing, broke into a sobbing fit,
saying that it spoiled it all to have Lois gone.

"Don't muss your veil, child," said Mrs. Polston.

But Jenny cried on, hiding her face in Lois's skinny hand, until Sam
Polston came in, when she grew quiet and shy.  The poor deformed girl
lay watching them, as they talked.  Very pretty Jenny looked, with her
blue eyes and damp pink cheeks; and it was a manly, grave love in Sam's
face, when it turned to her.  A different love from any she had known:
better, she thought.  It could not be helped; but it WAS better.

After they were gone, she lay a long time quiet, with her hand over her
eyes.  Forgive her! she, too, was a woman.  Ah, it may be there are
more wrongs that shall be righted yonder in the To-Morrow than are set
down in your theology!

And so it was, that, as she drew nearer to this To-Morrow, the brain of
the girl grew clearer,--struggling, one would think, to shake off
whatever weight had been put on it by blood or vice or poverty, and
become itself again.  Perhaps, even in her cheerful, patient life,
there had been hours when she had known the wrongs that had been done
her, known how cruelly the world had thwarted her; her very keen
insight into whatever was beautiful or helpful may have made her see
her own mischance, the blank she had drawn in life, more bitterly.  She
did not see it bitterly now.  Death is honest; all things grew clear to
her, going down into the valley of the shadow; so, wakening to the
consciousness of stifled powers and ungiven happiness, she saw that the
fault was not hers, nor His who had appointed her lot; He had helped
her to bear it,--bearing worse himself.  She did not say once, "I might
have been," but day by day, more surely, "I shall be."  There was not a
tear on the homely faces turning from her bed, not a tint of colour in
the flowers they brought her, not a shiver of light in the ashy sky,
that did not make her more sure of that which was to come.  More loving
she grew, as she went away from them, the touch of her hand more
pitiful, her voice more tender, if such a thing could be,--with a look
in her eyes never seen there before.  Old Yare pointed it out to Mrs.
Polston one day.

"My girl's far off frum us," he said, sobbing in the kitchen,--"my
girl's far off now."

It was the last night of the year that she died.  She was so much
better that they all were quite cheerful.  Kitts went away as it grew
dark, and she bade him wrap up his throat with such a motherly
dogmatism that they all laughed at her; she, too, with the rest.

"I'll make you a New-Year's call," he said, going out; and she called
out that she should be sure to expect him.

She seemed so strong that Holmes and Mrs. Polston and Margret, who were
there, were going home; besides, old Yare said, "I'd like to take care
o' my girl alone to-night, ef yoh'd let me,"--for they had not trusted
him before.  But Lois asked them not to go until the Old Year was over;
so they waited down-stairs.

The old man fell asleep, and it was near midnight when he wakened with
a cold touch on his hand.

"It's come, father!"

He started up with a cry, looking at the new smile in her eyes, grown
strangely still.

"Call them all, quick, father!"

Whatever was the mystery of death that met her now, her heart clung to
the old love that had been true to her so long.

He did not move.

"Let me hev yoh to myself, Lo, 't th' last; yoh're all I hev; let me
hev yoh 't th' last."

It was a bitter disappointment, but she roused herself even then to
smile, and tell him yes, cheerfully.  You call it a trifle, nothing? It
may be; yet I think the angels looking down had tears in their eyes,
when they saw the last trial of the unselfish, solitary heart, and kept
for her a different crown from his who conquers a city.

The fire-light grew warmer and redder; her eyes followed it, as if all
that had been bright and kindly in her life were coming back in it.
She put her hand on her father, trying vainly to smooth his gray hair.
The old man's heart smote him for something, for his sobs grew louder,
and he left her a moment; then she saw them all, faces very dear to her
even then.  She laughed and nodded to them all in the old childish way;
then her lips moved.  "It's come right!" she tried to say; but the weak
voice would never speak again on earth.

"It's the turn o' the night," said Mrs.  Polston, solemnly; "lift her
head; the Old Year's 'goin' out."

Margret lifted her head, and held it on her breast.  She could hear
cries and sobs; the faces, white now, and wet, pressed nearer, yet
fading slowly: it was the Old Year going out, the worn-out year of her
life.  Holmes opened the window: the cold night-wind rushed in, bearing
with it snatches of broken harmony: some idle musician down in the
city, playing fragments of some old, sweet air, heavy with love and
regret.  It may have been chance: yet, let us think it was not chance;
let us believe that He, who had made the world warm and happy for her,
chose that this best voice of all should bid her good-bye at the last.

So the Old Year went out in that music.  The dull eyes, loving to the
end, wandered vaguely as the sounds died away, as if losing
something,--losing all, suddenly.  She sighed as the clock struck, and
then a strange calm, unknown before, stole over her face; her eyes
flashed open with a living joy.  Margret stooped to close them, kissing
the cold lids; and Tiger, who had climbed upon the bed, whined and
crept down.

"It is the New Year," said Holmes, bending his head.

The cripple was dead; but LOIS, free, loving, and beloved, trembled
from her prison to her Master's side in the To-Morrow.

I can show you her grave out there in the hills,--a short, stunted
grave, like a child's.  No one goes there, although there are many
firesides where they speak of "Lois" softly,  as of something holy and
dear: but they think of her always as not there; as gone home; even old
Yare looks up, when he talks of "my girl."  Yet, knowing that nothing
in God's just universe is lost, or fails to meet the late fulfilment of
its hope, I like to think of her poor body lying there: I like to
believe that the great mother was glad to receive the form that want
and crime of men had thwarted,--took her uncouth child home again, that
had been so cruelly wronged,--folded it in her warm bosom with tender,
palpitating love.

It pleased me in the winter months to think that the worn-out limbs,
the old scarred face of Lois rested, slept: crumbled into fresh atoms,
woke at last with a strange sentience, and, when God smiled permission
through the summer sun, flashed forth in a wild ecstasy of the true
beauty that she loved so well.  In no questioning, sad pallor of sombre
leaves or gray lichens: throbbed out rather in answering crimsons, in
lilies, white, exultant in a chordant life!

Yet, more than this: I strive to grope, with dull, earthy sense, at her
freed life in that earnest land where souls forget to hunger or to
hope, and learn to be.  And so thinking, the certainty of her aim and
work and love yonder comes with a new, vital reality, beside which the
story  of the yet living men and women of whom I have told you grows
vague and incomplete, like unguessed riddles.  I have no key to solve
them with,--no right to solve them.

My story is but a mere groping hint?  It lacks determined truth, a
certain yea and nay? It has no conduit of God's justice running through
it, awarding apparent good and ill?  I know: it is a story of To-Day.
The Old Year is on us yet.  Poor old Knowles will tell you it is a dark
day; bewildered at the inexplicable failure of the cause for which his
old blood ran like water that dull morning at Ball's Bluff.  He doubts
everything in the bitterness of wasted effort; doubts sometimes, even,
if the very flag he fights for, be not the symbol of a gigantic
selfishness: if the Wrong he calls his enemy, have not caught a certain
truth to give it strength.  A dark day, he tells you: that the air is
filled with the cry of the slave, and of nations going down into
darkness, their message untold, their work undone: that now, as
eighteen centuries ago, the Helper stands unwelcome in the world; that
your own heart, as well as the great humanity, asks an unrendered
justice.  Does he utter all the problems of To-Day? Vandyke, standing
higher, perhaps, or, at any rate, born with hopefuller brain, would
show you how, by the very instant peril of the hour, is lifted clearer
into view the eternal prophecy of coming content: could tell you that
the unquiet earth, and the unanswering heaven are instinct with it:
that the ungranted prayer of your own life should teach it to you: that
in that Book wherein God has not scorned to write the history of
America, he finds the quiet surety that the rescue of the world is near
at hand.

Holmes, like most men who make destiny, does not pause in his cool,
slow work for their prophecy or lamentation.  "Such men will mould the
age," old Knowles says, drearily, for he does not like Holmes: follows
him unwillingly, even knowing him nearer the truth than he.  "Born for
mastership, as I told you long ago: they strike the blow, while----.
I'm tired of theorists, exponents of the abstract right: your Hamlets,
and your Sewards, that let occasion slip until circumstance or--mobs
drift them as they will."

But Knowles's growls are unheeded, as usual.

What is this To-Day to Margret?  She has no prophetic insight, cares
for none, I am afraid: the common things of every-day wear their old
faces to her, dear and real.  Her haste is too eager to allay the pain
about her, her husband's touch too strong and tender, the Master beside
her too actual a presence, for her to waste her life in visions.
Something of Lois's live, universal sympathy has come into her narrow,
intenser nature; through its one love, it may be.  What is To-Morrow
until it comes?  This moment the evening air thrills with a purple of
which no painter as yet has caught the tint, no poet the meaning; no
silent face passes her on the street on which a human voice might not
have charm to call out love and power: the Helper yet waits near her.
Here is work, life: the Old Year you despise holds beauty, pain,
content yet unmastered: let us leave Margret to master them.

It does not satisfy you?  Child-souls, you tell me, like that of Lois,
may find it enough to hold no past and no future, to accept the work of
each moment, and think it no wrong to drink every drop of its beauty
and joy: we, who are wiser, laugh at them.  It may be: yet I say unto
you, their angels only do always behold the face of our Father in the
New Year.





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