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Title: Virginia
Author: Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson, 1873-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Virginia" ***

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                              VIRGINIA

                          By ELLEN GLASGOW


    GARDEN CITY    NEW YORK
    DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
    MCMXIII

    _Copyright, 1913, by_
    Doubleday, Page & Company

    _All rights reserved, including that of
    translation into Foreign Languages,
    including the Scandinavian._


    TO THE RADIANT SPIRIT WHO WAS MY SISTER CARY GLASGOW McCORMACK



CONTENTS


BOOK FIRST--THE DREAM

       I. The System

      II. Her Inheritance

     III. First Love

      IV. The Treadwells

       V. Oliver, the Romantic

      VI. A Treadwell in Revolt

     VII. The Artist in Philistia

    VIII. White Magic

      IX. The Great Man Moves

       X. Oliver Surrenders


BOOK SECOND--THE REALITY

       I. Virginia Prepares for the Future

      II. Virginia's Letters

     III. The Return

      IV. Her Children

       V. Failure

      VI. The Shadow

     VII. The Will to Live

    VIII. The Pang of Motherhood

      IX. The Problem of the South


BOOK THIRD--THE ADJUSTMENT

       I. The Changing Order

      II. The Price of Comfort

     III. Middle-age

      IV. Life's Cruelties

       V. Bitterness

      VI. The Future



BOOK FIRST

THE DREAM



CHAPTER I

THE SYSTEM


Toward the close of a May afternoon in the year 1884, Miss Priscilla
Batte, having learned by heart the lesson in physical geography she
would teach her senior class on the morrow, stood feeding her canary on
the little square porch of the Dinwiddie Academy for Young Ladies. The
day had been hot, and the fitful wind, which had risen in the direction
of the river, was just beginning to blow in soft gusts under the old
mulberry trees in the street, and to scatter the loosened petals of
syringa blossoms in a flowery snow over the grass. For a moment Miss
Priscilla turned her flushed face to the scented air, while her eyes
rested lovingly on the narrow walk, edged with pointed bricks and
bordered by cowslips and wallflowers, which led through the short garden
to the three stone steps and the tall iron gate. She was a shapeless yet
majestic woman of some fifty years, with a large mottled face in which a
steadfast expression of gentle obstinacy appeared to underly the more
evanescent ripples of thought or of emotion. Her severe black silk gown,
to which she had just changed from her morning dress of alpaca, was
softened under her full double chin by a knot of lace and a cameo brooch
bearing the helmeted profile of Pallas Athene. On her head she wore a
three-cornered cap trimmed with a ruching of organdie, and beneath it
her thin gray hair still showed a gleam of faded yellow in the sunlight.
She had never been handsome, but her prodigious size had endowed her
with an impressiveness which had passed in her youth, and among an
indulgent people, for beauty. Only in the last few years had her
fleshiness, due to rich food which she could not resist and to lack of
exercise for which she had an instinctive aversion, begun seriously to
inconvenience her.

Beyond the wire cage, in which the canary spent his involuntarily
celibate life, an ancient microphylla rose-bush, with a single imperfect
bud blooming ahead of summer amid its glossy foliage, clambered over a
green lattice to the gabled pediment of the porch, while the delicate
shadows of the leaves rippled like lace-work on the gravel below. In the
miniature garden, where the small spring blossoms strayed from the prim
beds into the long feathery grasses, there were syringa bushes, a little
overblown; crape-myrtles not yet in bud; a holly tree veiled in bright
green near the iron fence; a flowering almond shrub in late bloom
against the shaded side of the house; and where a west wing put out on
the left, a bower of red and white roses was steeped now in the faint
sunshine. At the foot of the three steps ran the sunken moss-edged
bricks of High Street, and across High Street there floated, like
wind-blown flowers, the figures of Susan Treadwell and Virginia
Pendleton.

Opening the rusty gate, the two girls tripped with carefully held
flounces up the stone steps and between the cowslips and wallflowers
that bordered the walk. Their white lawn dresses were made with the
close-fitting sleeves and the narrow waists of the period, and their
elaborately draped overskirts were looped on the left with graduated
bows of light blue ottoman ribbon. They wore no hats, and Virginia, who
was the shorter of the two, had fastened a Jacqueminot rose in the thick
dark braid which was wound in a wreath about her head. Above her arched
black eyebrows, which lent an expression of surprise and animation to
her vivid oval face, her hair was parted, after an earlier fashion,
under its plaited crown, and allowed to break in a mist of little curls
over her temples. Even in repose there was a joyousness in her look
which seemed less the effect of an inward gaiety of mind than of some
happy outward accident of form and colour. Her eyes, very far apart and
set in black lashes, were of a deep soft blue--the blue of wild
hyacinths after rain. By her eyes, and by an old-world charm of
personality which she exhaled like a perfume, it was easy to discern
that she embodied the feminine ideal of the ages. To look at her was to
think inevitably of love. For that end, obedient to the powers of Life,
the centuries had formed and coloured her, as they had formed and
coloured the wild rose with its whorl of delicate petals. The air of a
spoiled beauty which rested not ungracefully upon her was sweetened by
her expression of natural simplicity and goodness.

For an instant she stood listening in silence to the querulous pipes of
the bird and the earnest exhortations of the teacher on the joys of cage
life for both bird and lady. Then plucking the solitary early bud from
the microphylla rose-bush, she tossed it over the railing of the porch
on the large and placid bosom of Miss Priscilla.

"Do leave Dicky alone for a minute!" she called in a winning soprano
voice.

At the sound, Miss Priscilla dropped the bit of cake she held, and
turned to lean delightedly over the walk, while her face beamed like a
beneficent moon through the shining cloud of rose-leaves.

"Why, Jinny, I hadn't any idea that you and Susan were there!"

Her smile included Virginia's companion, a tall, rather heavy girl, with
intelligent grey eyes and fair hair cut in a straight fringe across her
forehead. She was the daughter of Cyrus Treadwell, the wealthiest and
therefore the most prominent citizen of the town, and she was also as
intellectual as the early eighties and the twenty-one thousand
inhabitants of Dinwiddie permitted a woman to be. Her friendship for
Virginia had been one of those swift and absorbing emotions which come
to women in their school-days. The stronger of the two, she dominated
the other, as she dominated every person or situation in life, not by
charm, but by the force of an energetic and capable mind. Though her
dress matched Virginia's in every detail, from the soft folds of tulle
at the neck to the fancy striped stockings under the _bouffant_
draperies, the different shapes of the wearers gave to the one gown an
air of decorous composure and to the other a quaint and appealing grace.
Flushed, ardent, expectant, both girls stood now at the beginning of
womanhood. Life was theirs; it belonged to them, this veiled, radiant
thing that was approaching. Nothing wonderful had come as yet--but
to-morrow, the day after, or next year, the miracle would happen, and
everything would be different! Experience floated in a luminous mystery
before them. The unknown, which had borrowed the sweetness and the
colour of their illusions, possessed them like a secret ecstasy and
shone, in spite of their shyness, in their startled and joyous look.

"Father asked me to take a message over to General Goode," explained
Virginia, with a little laugh as gay as the song of a bird, "but I
couldn't go by without thanking you for the cherry bounce. I made mother
drink some of it before dinner, and it almost gave her an appetite."

"I knew it was what she needed," answered Miss Priscilla, showing her
pleasure by an increasing beam. "It was made right here in the house,
and there's nothing better in the world, my poor mother used to say, to
keep you from running down in the spring. But why can't you and Susan
come in and sit a while?"

"We'll be straight back in a minute," replied Susan before Virginia
could answer. "I've got a piece of news I want to tell you before any
one else does. Oliver came home last night."

"Oliver?" repeated Miss Priscilla, a little perplexed. "You don't mean
the son of your uncle Henry, who went out to Australia? I thought your
father had washed his hands of him because he had started play-acting or
something?" Curiosity, that devouring passion of the middle-aged, worked
in her breast, and her placid face grew almost intense in expression.

"Yes, that's the one," replied Susan. "They went to Australia when
Oliver was ten years old, and he's now twenty-two. He lost both his
parents about three years ago," she added.

"I know. His mother was my cousin," returned Miss Priscilla. "I lost
sight of her after she left Dinwiddie, but somebody was telling me the
other day that Henry's investments all turned out badly and they came
down to real poverty. Sarah Jane was a pretty girl and I was always very
fond of her, but she was one of the improvident sort that couldn't make
two ends meet without tying them into a bow-knot."

"Then Oliver must be just like her. After his mother's death he went to
Germany to study, and he gave away the little money he had to some
student he found starving there in a garret."

"That was generous," commented Miss Priscilla thoughtfully, "but I
should hardly call it sensible. I hope some day, Jinny, that your father
will tell us in a sermon whether there is biblical sanction for
immoderate generosity or not."

"But what does he say?" asked Virginia softly, meaning not the rector,
but the immoderate young man.

"Oh, Oliver says that there wasn't enough for both and that the other
student is worth more to the world than he is," answered Susan. "Then,
of course, when he got so poor that he had to pawn his clothes or
starve, he wrote father an almost condescending letter and said that as
much as he hated business, he supposed he'd have to come back and go to
work. 'Only,' he added, 'for God's sake, don't make it tobacco!' Wasn't
that dreadful?"

"It was extremely impertinent," replied Miss Priscilla sternly, "and to
Cyrus of all persons! I am surprised that he allowed him to come into
the house."

"Oh, father doesn't take any of his talk seriously. He calls it
'starvation foolishness,' and says that Oliver will get over it as soon
as he has a nice little bank account. Perhaps he will--he is only
twenty-two, you know--but just now his head is full of all kinds of new
ideas he picked up somewhere abroad. He's as clever as he can be,
there's no doubt of that, and he'd be really good-looking, too, if he
didn't have the crooked nose of the Treadwells. Virginia has seen him
only once in the street, but she's more than half in love with him
already."

"Do come, Susan!" remonstrated Virginia, blushing as red as the rose in
her hair. "It's past six o'clock and the General will have gone if we
don't hurry." And turning away from the porch, she ran between the
flowering syringa bushes down the path to the gate.

Having lost his bit of cake, the bird began to pipe shrilly, while Miss
Priscilla drew a straight wicker chair (she never used rockers) beside
the cage, and, stretching out her feet in their large cloth shoes with
elastic sides, counted the stitches in an afghan she was knitting in
narrow blue and orange strips. In front of her, the street trailed
between cool, dim houses which were filled with quiet, and from the hall
at her back there came a whispering sound as the breeze moved like a
ghostly footstep through an alcove window. With that strange power of
reflecting the variable moods of humanity which one sometimes finds in
inanimate objects, the face of the old house had borrowed from the face
of its mistress the look of cheerful fortitude with which her generation
had survived the agony of defeat and the humiliation of reconstruction.
After nineteen years, the Academy still bore the scars of war on its
battered front. Once it had watched the spectre of famine stalk over the
grass-grown pavement, and had heard the rattle of musketry and the roar
of cannon borne on the southern breeze that now wafted the sounds of the
saw and the hammer from an adjacent street. Once it had seen the flight
of refugees, the overflow of the wounded from hospitals and churches,
the panic of liberated slaves, the steady conquering march of the army
of invasion. And though it would never have occurred to Miss Priscilla
that either she or her house had borne any relation to history (which
she regarded strictly as a branch of study and visualized as a list of
dates or as a king wearing his crown), she had, in fact, played a modest
yet effective part in the rapidly changing civilization of her age. But
events were powerless against the genial heroism in which she was
armoured, and it was characteristic of her, as well as of her race,
that, while she sat now in the midst of encircling battlefields, with
her eyes on the walk over which she had seen the blood of the wounded
drip when they were lifted into her door, she should be brooding not
over the tremendous tragedies through which she had passed, but over the
lesson in physical geography she must teach in the morning. Her lips
moved gently, and a listener, had there been one, might have heard her
murmur: "The four great alluvial plains of Asia--those of China and of
the Amoo Daria in temperate regions; of the Euphrates and Tigris in the
warm temperate; of the Indus and Ganges under the Tropic--with the Nile
valley in Africa, were the theatres of the most ancient civilizations
known to history or tradition----"

As she ended, a sigh escaped her, for the instruction of the young was
for her a matter not of choice, but of necessity. With the majority of
maiden ladies left destitute in Dinwiddie after the war, she had turned
naturally to teaching as the only nice and respectable occupation which
required neither preparation of mind nor considerable outlay of money.
The fact that she was the single surviving child of a gallant
Confederate general, who, having distinguished himself and his
descendants, fell at last in the Battle of Gettysburg, was sufficient
recommendation of her abilities in the eyes of her fellow citizens. Had
she chosen to paint portraits or to write poems, they would have rallied
quite as loyally to her support. Few, indeed, were the girls born in
Dinwiddie since the war who had not learned reading, penmanship ("up to
the right, down to the left, my dear"), geography, history, arithmetic,
deportment, and the fine arts, in the Academy for Young Ladies. The
brilliant military record of the General still shed a legendary lustre
upon the school, and it was earnestly believed that no girl, after
leaving there with a diploma for good conduct, could possibly go wrong
or become eccentric in her later years. To be sure, she might remain a
trifle weak in her spelling (Miss Priscilla having, as she confessed, a
poor head for that branch of study), but, after all, as the rector had
once remarked, good spelling was by no means a necessary accomplishment
for a lady; and, for the rest, it was certain that the moral education
of a pupil of the Academy would be firmly rooted in such fundamental
verities as the superiority of man and the aristocratic supremacy of the
Episcopal Church. From charming Sally Goode, now married to Tom
Peachey, known familiarly as "honest Tom," the editor of the Dinwiddie
_Bee_, to lovely Virginia Pendleton, the mark of Miss Priscilla was
ineffaceably impressed upon the daughters of the leading families.

Remembering this now, as she was disposed to do whenever she was
knitting without company, Miss Priscilla dropped her long wooden needles
in her lap, and leaning forward in her chair, gazed out upon the town
with an expression of child-like confidence, of touching innocence. This
innocence, which belonged to the very essence of her soul, had survived
both the fugitive joys and the brutal disillusionments of life.
Experience could not shatter it, for it was the product of a courage
that feared nothing except opinions. Just as the town had battled for a
principle without understanding it, so she was capable of dying for an
idea, but not of conceiving one. She had suffered everything from the
war except the necessity of thinking independently about it, and, though
in later years memory had become so sacred to her that she rarely
indulged in it, she still clung passionately to the habits of her
ancestors under the impression that she was clinging to their ideals.
Little things filled her days--the trivial details of the classroom and
of the market, the small domestic disturbances of her neighbours, the
moral or mental delinquencies of her two coloured servants--and even her
religious veneration for the Episcopal Church had crystallized at last
into a worship of customs.

To-day, at the beginning of the industrial awakening of the South, she
(who was but the embodied spirit of her race) stood firmly rooted in all
that was static, in all that was obsolete and outgrown in the Virginia
of the eighties. Though she felt as yet merely the vague uneasiness with
which her mind recoiled from the first stirrings of change, she was
beginning dimly to realize that the car of progress would move through
the quiet streets before the decade was over. The smoke of factories was
already succeeding the smoke of the battlefields, and out of the ashes
of a vanquished idealism the spirit of commercial materialism was born.
What was left of the old was fighting valiantly, but hopelessly, against
what had come of the new. The two forces filled the streets of
Dinwiddie. They were embodied in classes, in individuals, in articles of
faith, in ideals of manners. The symbol of the one spirit was the
memorial wreaths on the battlefields; of the other it was the prophetic
smoke of the factories. From where she stood in High Street, she could
see this incense to Mammon rising above the spires of the churches,
above the houses and the hovels, above the charm and the provincialism
which made the Dinwiddie of the eighties. And this charm, as well as
this provincialism, appeared to her to be so inalienable a part of the
old order, with its intrepid faith in itself, with its militant
enthusiasm, with its courageous battle against industrial evolution,
with its strength, its narrowness, its nobility, its blindness, that,
looking ahead, she could discern only the arid stretch of a civilization
from which the last remnant of beauty was banished forever. Already she
felt the breaking of those bonds of sympathy which had held the
twenty-one thousand inhabitants of Dinwiddie, as they had held the
entire South, solidly knit together in a passive yet effectual
resistance to the spirit of change. Of the world beyond the borders of
Virginia, Dinwiddians knew merely that it was either Yankee or foreign,
and therefore to be pitied or condemned according to the Evangelical or
the Calvinistic convictions of the observer. Philosophy, they regarded
with the distrust of a people whose notable achievements have not been
in the direction of the contemplative virtues; and having lived
comfortably and created a civilization without the aid of science, they
could afford not unreasonably to despise it. It was a quarter of a
century since "The Origin of Species" had changed the course of the
world's thought, yet it had never reached them. To be sure, there was an
old gentleman in Tabb Street whose title, "the professor," had been
conferred in public recognition of peaceful pursuits; but since he never
went to church, his learning was chiefly effective when used to point a
moral from the pulpit. There was, also, a tradition that General Goode
had been seen reading Plato before the Battle of Seven Pines; and this
picturesque incident had contributed the distinction of the scholar to
the more effulgent glory of the soldier. But for purely abstract
thought--for the thought that did not construct an heroic attitude or a
concrete image--there was as little room in the newer industrial system
as there had been in the aristocratic society which preceded it. The
world still clung to the belief that the business of humanity was
confined to the preservation of the institutions which existed in the
present moment of history--and Dinwiddie was only a quiet backwater into
which opinions, like fashions, were borne on the current of some
tributary stream of thought. Human nature in this town of twenty-one
thousand inhabitants differed from human nature in London or in the
Desert of Sahara mainly in the things that it ate and the manner in
which it carried its clothes. The same passions stirred its heart, the
same instincts moved its body, the same contentment with things as they
are, and the same terror of things as they might be, warped its mind.

The canary fluted on, and from beyond the mulberry trees there floated
the droning voice of an aged negress, in tatters and a red bandanna
turban, who persuasively offered strawberries to the silent houses.

"I'se got sw-eet straw-ber'-ies! I'se got swe-e-t str-aw-ber'-ies!
Yes'm, I'se got sw-e-et straw-ber'ies des f'om de coun-try!"

Then, suddenly, out of nothing, it seemed to Miss Priscilla, a miracle
occurred! The immemorial calm of High Street was broken by the sound of
rapidly moving wheels (not the jingling rattle of market wagons nor the
comfortable roll of doctors' buggies), and a strange new vehicle,
belonging to the Dinwiddie Livery Stables, and containing a young man
with longish hair and a flowing tie, turned the corner by Saint James'
Church, and passed over the earthen roadbed in front of the green
lattice. As the young man went by, he looked up quickly, smiled with the
engaging frankness of a genial nature, and lifting his hat with a
charming bow, revealed to Miss Priscilla's eyes the fact that his hair
was thick and dark as well as long and wavy. While he looked at her, she
noticed, also, that he had a thin, high-coloured face, lighted by a pair
of eager dark eyes which lent a glow of impetuous energy to his
features. The Treadwell nose, she recognized, but beneath the Treadwell
nose there was a clean-shaven, boyish mouth which belied the Treadwell
nature in every sensitive curve and outline.

"I'd have known him anywhere from Susan's description," she thought, and
added suspiciously, "I wonder why he peered so long around that corner?
It wouldn't surprise me a bit if those girls were coming back that way."

Impelled by her mounting excitement, she leaned forward until the ball
of orange-coloured yarn rolled from her short lap and over the polished
floor of the porch. Before she could stoop to pick it up, she was
arrested by the reappearance of the two girls at the corner beyond which
Oliver had gazed so intently. Then, as they drew nearer, she saw that
Virginia's face was pink and her eyes starry under their lowered lashes.
An inward radiance shone in the girl's look, and appeared to shape her
soul and body to its secret influence. Miss Priscilla, who had known her
since the first day she came to school (with her lunch, from which she
refused to be parted, tightly tied up in a red and white napkin), felt
suddenly that she was a stranger. A quality which she had never realized
her pupil possessed had risen supreme in an instant over the familiar
attributes of her character. So quickly does emotion separate the
individual from the inherent soul of the race.

Susan, who was a little in advance, came rapidly up the walk, and the
older woman greeted her with the words:

"My dear, I have seen him!"

"Yes, he just passed us at the corner, and I wondered if you were
looking. Do tell us what you think of him."

She sat down in a low chair by the teacher's side, while Virginia went
over to the cage and stood gazing thoughtfully at the singing bird.

"Well, I don't think his nose spoils him," replied Miss Priscilla after
a minute, "but there's something foreign looking about him, and I hope
Cyrus isn't thinking seriously about putting him into the bank."

"That was the first thing that occurred to father," answered Susan, "but
Oliver told me last night while we were unpacking his books--he has a
quantity of books and he kept them even when he had to sell his
clothes--that he didn't see to save his life how he was going to stand
it."

"Stand what?" inquired Miss Priscilla, a trifle tartly, for after the
vicissitudes of her life it was but natural that she should hesitate to
regard so stable an institution as the Dinwiddie Bank as something to be
"stood." "Why, I thought a young man couldn't do better than get a place
in the bank. Jinny's father was telling me in the market last Saturday
that he wanted his nephew John Henry to start right in there if they
could find room for him."

"Oh, of course, it's just what John Henry would like," said Virginia,
speaking for the first time.

"Then if it's good enough for John Henry, it's good enough for Oliver, I
reckon," rejoined Miss Priscilla. "Anybody who has mixed with beggars
oughtn't to turn up his nose at a respectable bank."

"But he says it's because the bank is so respectable that he doesn't
think he could stand it," answered Susan.

Virginia, who had been looking with her rapt gaze down the deserted
street, quivered at the words as if they had stabbed her.

"But he wants to be a writer, Susan," she protested. "A great many very
nice people are writers."

"Then why doesn't he go about it in a proper way, if he isn't ashamed of
it?" asked the teacher, and she added reflectively after a pause, "I
wish he'd write a good history of the war--one that doesn't deal so much
with the North. I've almost had to stop teaching United States history
because there is hardly one written now that I would let come inside my
doors."

"He doesn't want to write histories," replied Susan. "Father suggested
to him at supper last night that if he would try his hand at a history
of Virginia, and be careful not to put in anything that might offend
anybody, he could get it taught in every private school in the State.
But he said he'd be shot first."

"Perhaps he's a genius," said Virginia in a startled voice. "Geniuses
are always different from other people, aren't they?"

"I don't know," answered Susan doubtfully. "He talks of things I never
heard of before, and he seems to think that they are the most important
things in the world."

"What things?" asked Virginia breathlessly.

"Oh, I can't tell you because they are so new, but he seems on fire when
he talks of them. He talks for hours about art and its service to
humanity and about going down to the people and uplifting the masses."

"I hope he doesn't mean the negroes," commented Miss Priscilla
suspiciously.

"He means the whole world, I believe," responded Susan. "He quotes all
the time from writers I've never heard of, and he laughs at every book
he sees in the house. Yesterday he picked up one of Mrs. Southworth's
novels on mother's bureau and asked her how she could allow such immoral
stuff in her room. She had got it out of the bookcase to lend to Miss
Willy Whitlow, who was there making my dress, but he scolded her so
about it that at last Miss Willy went off with Mill's 'Essay on
Liberty,' and mother burned all of Mrs. Southworth's that she had in the
house. Oliver has been so nice to mother that I believe she would make a
bonfire of her furniture if he asked her to do it."

"Is he really trying to unsettle Miss Willy's mind?" questioned the
teacher anxiously. "How on earth could she go out sewing by the day if
she didn't have her religious convictions?"

"That's just what I asked him," returned Susan, who, besides being
dangerously clever, had a remarkably level head to keep her balanced.
"But he answered that until people got unsettled they would never move,
and when I wanted to find out where he thought poor little Miss Willy
could possibly move to, he only got impatient and said that I was trying
to bury the principle under the facts. We very nearly quarrelled over
Miss Willy, but of course she took the book to please Oliver and
couldn't worry through a line of it to save her soul."

"Did he say anything about his work? What he wants to do, I mean?" asked
Virginia, and her voice was so charged with feeling that it gave an
emotional quality to the question.

"He wants to write," replied Susan. "His whole heart is in it, and when
he isn't talking about reaching the people, he talks about what he calls
'technique.'"

"Are you sure it isn't poetry?" inquired Miss Priscilla, humming back
like a bee to the tempting sweets of conjecture. "I've always heard that
poetry was the ruination of Poe."

"No, it isn't poetry--not exactly at least--it's plays," answered Susan.
"He talked to me till twelve o'clock last night while we were arranging
his books, and he told me that he meant to write really great dramas,
but that America wasn't ready for them yet and that was why he had had
to sell his clothes. He looked positively starved, but he says he
doesn't mind starving a while if he can only live up to his ideal."

"Well, I wonder what his ideal is?" remarked Miss Priscilla grimly.

"It has something to do with his belief that art can grow only out of
sacrifice," said Susan. "I never heard anybody--not even Jinny's father
in church--talk so much about sacrifice."

"But the rector doesn't talk about sacrifice for the theatre," retorted
the teacher, and she added with crushing finality, "I don't believe
there is a particle of sense in it. If he is going to write, why on
earth doesn't he sit straight down and do it? Why, when little Miss
Amanda Sheppard was left at sixty without a roof over her head, she
began at once, without saying a word to anybody, to write historical
novels."

"It does seem funny until you talk with him," admitted Susan. "But he is
so much in earnest that when you listen to him, you can't help believing
in him. He is so full of convictions that he convinces you in spite of
yourself."

"Convictions about what?" demanded Miss Priscilla. "I don't see how a
young man who refuses to be confirmed can have any convictions."

"Well, he has, and he feels just as strongly about them as we do about
ours."

"But how can he possibly feel as strongly about a wrong conviction as we
do about a right one?" insisted the older woman stubbornly, for she
realized vaguely that they were approaching dangerous ground and set out
to check their advance in true Dinwiddie fashion, which was strictly
prohibitive.

"I like a man who has opinions of his own and isn't ashamed to stand up
for them," said Virginia with a resolution that made her appear suddenly
taller.

"Not _false_ opinions, Jinny!" rejoined Miss Priscilla, and her manner
carried them with a bound back to the schoolroom, for her mental vision
saw in a flash the beribboned diploma for good conduct which her
favourite pupil had borne away from the Academy on Commencement day two
years ago, and a shudder seized her lest she should have left a single
unprotected breach in the girl's mind through which an unauthorized idea
might enter. Had she trusted too confidently to the fact that Virginia's
father was a clergyman, and therefore spiritually armed for the defence
and guidance of his daughter? Virginia, in spite of her gaiety, had been
what Miss Priscilla called "a docile pupil," meaning one who
deferentially submitted her opinions to her superiors, and to go through
life perpetually submitting her opinions was, in the eyes of her parents
and her teacher, the divinely appointed task of woman. Her education
was founded upon the simple theory that the less a girl knew about life,
the better prepared she would be to contend with it. Knowledge of any
sort (except the rudiments of reading and writing, the geography of
countries she would never visit, and the dates of battles she would
never mention) was kept from her as rigorously as if it contained the
germs of a contagious disease. And this ignorance of anything that could
possibly be useful to her was supposed in some mysterious way to add to
her value as a woman and to make her a more desirable companion to a man
who, either by experience or by instinct, was expected "to know his
world." Unlike Susan (who, in a community which offered few
opportunities to women outside of the nursery or the kitchen, had been
born with the inquiring spirit and would ask questions), Virginia had
until to-day accepted with humility the doctrine that a natural
curiosity about the universe is the beginning of infidelity. The chief
object of her upbringing, which differed in no essential particular from
that of every other well-born and well-bred Southern woman of her day,
was to paralyze her reasoning faculties so completely that all danger of
mental "unsettling" or even movement was eliminated from her future. To
solidify the forces of mind into the inherited mould of fixed beliefs
was, in the opinion of the age, to achieve the definite end of all
education. When the child ceased to wonder before the veil of
appearances, the battle of orthodoxy with speculation was over, and Miss
Priscilla felt that she could rest on her victory. With Susan she had
failed, because the daughter of Cyrus Treadwell was one of those
inexplicable variations from ancestral stock over which the naturalists
were still waging their merry war; but Virginia, with a line of earnest
theologians and of saintly self-effacing women at her back, offered as
little resistance as some exquisite plastic material in the teacher's
hands.

Now, as if the same lightning flash which had illuminated the beribboned
diploma in Miss Priscilla's mind had passed to Virginia also, the girl
bit back a retort that was trembling on her lips. "I wonder if she can
be getting to know things?" thought the older woman as she watched her,
and she added half resentfully, "I've sometimes suspected that Gabriel
Pendleton was almost too mild and easy going for a clergyman. If the
Lord hadn't made him a saint, Heaven knows what would have become of
him!"

"Don't try to put notions into Jinny's head, Susan," she said after a
thoughtful pause. "If Oliver were the right kind of young man, he'd give
up this nonsense and settle down to some sober work. The first time I
get a chance I'm going to tell him so."

"I don't believe it will be any use," responded Susan. "Father tried to
reason with him last night, and they almost quarrelled."

"Quarrelled with Cyrus!" gasped the teacher.

"At one time I thought he'd walk out of the house and never come back,"
pursued Susan. "He told father that his sordid commercialism would end
by destroying all that was charming in Dinwiddie. Afterward he
apologized for his rudeness, but when he did so, he said, 'I meant every
word of it.'"

"Well, I never!" was Miss Priscilla's feeble rejoinder. "The idea of
his daring to talk that way when Cyrus had to pay his fare down from New
York."

"Of course father brought it on," returned Susan judicially. "You know
he doesn't like anybody to disagree with him, and when Oliver began to
argue about its being unscrupulous to write history the way people
wanted it, he lost his temper and said some angry things about the
theatre and actors."

"I suppose a great man like your father may expect his family to bow to
his opinions," replied the teacher, for so obscure was her mental
connection between the construction of the future and the destruction of
the past, that she could honestly admire Cyrus Treadwell for possessing
the qualities her soul abhorred. The simple awe of financial success,
which occupies in the American mind the vacant space of the monarchical
cult, had begun already to generate the myth of greatness around Cyrus,
and, like all other myths, this owed its origin less to the wilful
conspiracy of the few than it did to the confiding superstition of the
many.

"I hope Oliver won't do anything rash," said Susan, ignoring Miss
Priscilla's tribute. "He is so impulsive and headstrong that I don't see
how he can get on with father."

At this Virginia broke her quivering silence. "Can't you make him
careful, Susan?" she asked, and without waiting for an answer, bent over
and kissed Miss Priscilla on the cheek. "I must be going now or mother
will worry," she added before she tripped ahead of Susan down the steps
and along the palely shining path to the gate.

Rising from her chair, Miss Priscilla leaned over the railing of the
porch, and gazed wistfully after the girls' vanishing figures.

"If there was ever a girl who looked as if she were cut out for
happiness, it is Jinny Pendleton," she said aloud after a minute. A tear
welled in her eye, and rolling over her cheek, dropped on her bosom.
From some obscure corner of her memory, undevastated by war or by ruin,
her own youth appeared to take the place of Virginia's. She saw herself,
as she had seen the other an instant before, standing flushed and
expectant before the untrodden road of the future. She heard again the
wings of happiness rustling unseen about her, and she felt again the
great hope which is the challenge that youth flings to destiny. Life
rose before her, not as she had found it, but as she had once believed
it to be. The days when little things had not filled her thoughts
returned in the fugitive glow of her memory--for she, also, middle-aged,
obese, cumbered with trivial cares, had had her dream of a love that
would change and glorify the reality. The heritage of woman was hers as
well as Virginia's. And for the first time, standing there, she grew
dimly conscious of the portion of suffering which Nature had allotted to
them both from the beginning. Was it all waiting--waiting, as it had
been while battles were fought and armies were marching? Did the future
hold this for Virginia also? Would life yield nothing more to that
radiant girl than it had yielded to her or to the other women whom she
had known? Strange how the terrible innocence of youth had moved her
placid middle-age as if it were sadness!



CHAPTER II

HER INHERITANCE


A block away, near the head of High Street, stood the old church of
Saint James, and at its back, separated by a white paling fence from the
squat pinkish tower and the solitary grave in the churchyard (which was
that of a Southern soldier who had fallen in the Battle of Dinwiddie),
was the oblong wooden rectory in which Gabriel Pendleton had lived since
he had exchanged his sword for a prayer-book and his worn Confederate
uniform for a surplice. The church, which was redeemed from
architectural damnation by its sacred cruciform and its low ivied
buttresses where innumerable sparrows nested, cast its shadow, on clear
days, over the beds of bleeding hearts and lilies-of-the-valley in the
neglected garden, to the quaint old house, with its spreading wings, its
outside chimneys, and its sloping shingled roof, from which five
dormer-windows stared in a row over the slender columns of the porch.
The garden had been planned in the days when it was easy to put a dozen
slaves to uprooting weeds or trimming flower beds, and had passed in
later years to the breathless ministrations of negro infants, whose
experience varied from the doubtful innocence of the crawling age to the
complete sophistication of six or seven years. Dandelion and wire-grass
rioted, in spite of their earnest efforts, over the crooked path from
the porch, and periwinkle, once an intruder from the churchyard, spread
now in rank disorder down the terraced hillside on the left, where a
steep flight of steps fell clear to the narrow cross street descending
gradually into the crowded quarters of the town. Directly in front of
the porch on either side of the path grew two giant paulownia trees,
royal at this season in a mantle of violet blossoms, and it was under
their arching boughs that the girls stopped when they had entered the
garden. Ever since Virginia could remember, she had heard threats of
cutting down the paulownias because of the litter the falling petals
made in the spring, and ever since she could lisp at all she had begged
her father to spare them for the sake of the enormous roots, into which
she had loved to cuddle and hide.

"If I were ever to go away, I believe they would cut down these trees,"
she said now a little wistfully, but she was not thinking of the
paulownias.

"Why should they when they give such splendid shade? And, besides, they
wouldn't do anything you didn't like for worlds."

"Oh, of course they wouldn't, but as soon as I was out of sight they
might persuade themselves that I liked it," answered Virginia, with a
tender laugh. Though she was not by nature discerning, there were
moments when she surprised Susan by her penetrating insight into the
character of her parents, and this insight, which was emotional rather
than intellectual, had enabled her to dominate them almost from infancy.

Silence fell between them, while they gazed through the veil of twilight
at the marble shaft above the grave of the Confederate soldier. Then
suddenly Susan spoke in a constrained voice, without turning her head.

"Jinny, Oliver isn't one bit of a hero--not the kind of hero we used to
talk about." It was with difficulty, urged by a vigorous and
uncompromising conscience, that she had uttered the words.

"And besides," retorted Virginia merrily, "he is in love with Abby
Goode."

"I don't believe that. They stayed in the same boarding-house once, and
you know how Abby is about men."

"Yes, I know, and it's just the way men are about Abby."

"Well, Oliver isn't, I'm sure. I don't believe he's ever given her more
than a thought, and he told me last night that he couldn't abide a
bouncing woman."

"Does Abby bounce?"

"You know she does--dreadfully. But it wasn't because of Abby that I
said what I did."

Something quivered softly between them, and a petal from the Jacqueminot
rose in Virginia's hair fluttered like a crimson moth out into the
twilight. "Was it because of him, then?" she asked in a whisper.

For a moment Susan did not answer. Her gaze was on the flight of steps,
and drawing Virginia with her, she began to walk slowly toward the
terraced side of the garden. An old lamplighter, carrying his ladder to
a lamp-post at the corner, smiled up at them with his sunken toothless
mouth as he went by.

"Partly, darling," said Susan. "He is so--I don't know how to make you
understand--so unsettled. No, that isn't exactly what I mean."

Her fine, serious face showed clear and pale in the twilight. From the
high forehead, under the girlish fringe of fair hair, to the thin, firm
lips, which were too straight and colourless for beauty, it was the
face of a woman who could feel strongly, but whose affections would
never blur the definite forms or outlines of life. She looked out upon
the world with level, dispassionate eyes in which there was none of
Virginia's uncritical, emotional softness. Temperamentally she was
uncompromisingly honest in her attitude toward the universe, which
appeared to her, not as it did to Virginia, in mere formless masses of
colour out of which people and objects emerged like figures painted on
air, but as distinct, impersonal, and final as a geometrical problem.
She was one of those women who are called "sensible" by their
acquaintances--meaning that they are born already disciplined and
confirmed in the quieter and more orderly processes of life. Her natural
intelligence having overcome the defects of her education, she thought
not vaguely, but with clearness and precision, and something of this
clearness and precision was revealed in her manner and in her
appearance, as if she had escaped at twenty years from the impulsive
judgments and the troublous solicitudes of youth. At forty, she would
probably begin to grow young again, and at fifty, it is not unlikely
that she would turn her back upon old age forever. Just now she was too
tremendously earnest about life, which she treated quite in the large
manner, to take a serious interest in living.

"Promise me, Jinny, that you'll never let anybody take my place," she
said, turning when they had reached the head of the steps.

"You silly Susan! Why, of course, they shan't," replied Virginia, and
they kissed ecstatically.

"Nobody will ever love you as I do."

"And I you, darling."

With arms interlaced they stood gazing down into the street, where the
shadow of the old lamplighter glided like a ghost under the row of pale
flickering lights. From a honeysuckle-trellis on the other side of the
porch, a penetrating sweetness came in breaths, now rising, now dying
away. In Virginia's heart, Love stirred suddenly, and blind, wingless,
imprisoned, struggled for freedom.

"It is late, I must be going," said Susan. "I wish we lived nearer each
other."

"Isn't it too dark for you to go alone? John Henry will stop on his way
from work, and he'll take you--if you really won't stay to supper."

"No, I don't mind in the least going by myself. It isn't night, anyway,
and people are sitting out on their porches."

A minute afterwards they parted, Susan going swiftly down High Street,
while Virginia went back along the path to the porch, and passing under
the paulownias, stopped beside the honeysuckle-trellis, which extended
to the ruined kitchen garden at the rear of the house. Once vegetables
were grown here, but except for a square bed of mint which spread
hardily beneath the back windows of the dining-room, the place was left
now a prey to such barbarian invaders as burdock and moth mullein. On
the brow of the hill, where the garden ended, there was a gnarled and
twisted ailanthus tree, and from its roots the ground fell sharply to a
distant view of rear enclosures and grim smoking factories. Some clothes
fluttered on a line that stretched from a bough of the tree, and turning
away as if they offended her, Virginia closed her eyes and breathed in
the sweetness of the honeysuckle, which mingled deliciously with the
strange new sense of approaching happiness in her heart. The awakening
of her imagination--an event more tumultuous in its effects than the
mere awakening of emotion--had changed not only her inner life, but the
ordinary details of the world in which she lived. Because a young man,
who differed in no appreciable manner from dozens of other young men,
had gazed into her eyes for an instant, the whole universe was altered.
What had been until to-day a vague, wind-driven longing for happiness,
the reaching out of the dream toward the reality, had assumed suddenly a
fixed and definite purpose. Her bright girlish visions had wrapped
themselves in a garment of flesh. A miracle more wonderful than any she
had read of had occurred in the streets of Dinwiddie--in the very spot
where she had walked, with blind eyes and deaf ears, every day since she
could remember. Her soul blossomed in the twilight, as a flower
blossoms, and shed its virginal sweetness. For the first time in her
twenty years she felt that an unexplored region of happiness surrounded
her. Life appeared so beautiful that she wanted to grasp and hold each
fugitive sensation before it escaped her. "This is different from
anything I've ever known. I never imagined it would be like this," she
thought, and the next minute: "I wonder why no one has ever told me that
it would happen? I wonder if it has ever really happened before, just
like this, since the world began? Of all the ways I've dreamed of his
coming, I never thought of this way--no, not for an instant. That I
should see him first in the street like any stranger--that he should be
Susan's cousin--that we should not have spoken a word before I knew it
was he!" Everything about him, his smile, his clothes, the way he held
his head and brushed his hair straight back from his forehead, his
manner of reclining with a slight slouch on the seat of the cart, the
picturesque blue dotted tie he wore, his hands, his way of bowing, the
red-brown of his face, and above all the eager, impetuous look in his
dark eyes--these things possessed a glowing quality of interest which
irradiated a delicious excitement over the bare round of living. It was
enough merely to be alive and conscious that some day--to-morrow, next
week, or the next hour, perhaps, she might meet again the look that had
caused this mixture of ecstasy and terror in her heart. The knowledge
that he was in the same town with her, watching the same lights,
thinking the same thoughts, breathing the same fragrance of
honeysuckle--this knowledge was a fact of such tremendous importance
that it dwarfed to insignificance all the proud historic past of
Dinwiddie. Her imagination, seizing upon this bit of actuality, spun
around it the iridescent gossamer web of her fancy. She felt that it was
sufficient happiness just to stand motionless for hours and let this
thought take possession of her. Nothing else mattered as long as this
one thing was blissfully true.

Lights came out softly like stars in the houses beyond the church-tower,
and in the parlour of the rectory a lamp flared up and then burned dimly
under a red shade. Looking through the low window, she could see the
prim set of mahogany and horsehair furniture, with its deep, heavily
carved sofa midway of the opposite wall and the twelve chairs which
custom demanded arranged stiffly at equal distances on the faded
Axminster carpet.

For a moment her gaze rested on the claw-footed mahogany table, bearing
a family Bible and a photograph album bound in morocco; on the engraving
of the "Burial of Latane" between the long windows at the back of the
room; on the cloudy, gilt-framed mirror above the mantel, with the two
standing candelabra reflected in its surface--and all these familiar
objects appeared to her as vividly as if she had not lived with them
from her infancy. A new light had fallen over them, and it seemed to her
that this light released an inner meaning, a hidden soul, even in the
claw-footed table and the threadbare Axminster carpet. Then the door
into the hall opened and her mother entered, wearing the patched black
silk dress which she had bought before the war and had turned and darned
ever since with untiring fingers. Shrinking back into the dusk, Virginia
watched the thin, slightly stooping figure as it stood arrested there in
the subdued glow of the lamplight. She saw the pale oval face, so
transparent that it was like the face of a ghost, the fine brown hair
parted smoothly under the small net cap, the soft faded eyes in their
hollowed and faintly bluish sockets, and the sweet, patient lips, with
their expression of anxious sympathy, as of one who had lived not in her
own joys and sorrows, but in those of others. Vaguely, the girl realized
that her mother had had what is called "a hard life," but this knowledge
brought no tremor of apprehension for herself, no shadow of disbelief in
her own unquestionable right to happiness. A glorious certainty
possessed her that her own life would be different from anything that
had ever been in the past.

The front door opened and shut; there was a step on the soft grass under
the honeysuckle-trellis, and her father came towards her, with his long
black coat flapping about him. He always wore clothes several sizes too
large for him under the impression that it was a point of economy and
that they would last longer if there was no "strain" put upon them. He
was a small, wiry man, with an amazing amount of strength for his build,
and a keen, humorous face, ornamented by a pointed chin beard which he
called his "goatee." His eyes were light grey with a twinkle which
rarely left them except at the altar, and the skin of his cheeks had
never lost the drawn and parchment-like look acquired during the last
years of the war. One of the many martial Christians of the Confederacy,
he had laid aside his surplice at the first call for troops to defend
the borders, and had resumed it immediately after the surrender at
Appomattox. It was still an open question in Dinwiddie whether Gabriel
Pendleton, who was admitted to have been born a saint, had achieved
greater distinction as a fighter or a clergyman; though he himself had
accepted the opposite vocations with equal humility. Only in the dead of
sweltering summer nights did he sometimes arouse his wife with a groan
and the halting words, "Lucy, I can't sleep for thinking of those men I
killed in the war." But with the earliest breeze of dawn, his remorse
usually left him, and he would rise and go about his parochial duties
with the serene and child-like trust in Providence that had once carried
him into battle. A militant idealism had ennobled his fighting as it now
exalted his preaching. He had never in his life seen things as they are
because he had seen them always by the white flame of a soul on fire
with righteousness. To reach his mind, impressions of persons or objects
had first to pass through a refining atmosphere in which all baser
substances were eliminated, and no fact had ever penetrated this medium
except in the flattering disguise of a sentiment. Having married at
twenty an idealist only less ignorant of the world than himself, he had,
inspired by her example, immediately directed his energies towards the
whitewashing of the actuality. Both cherished the naïve conviction that
to acknowledge an evil is in a manner to countenance its existence, and
both clung fervently to the belief that a pretty sham has a more
intimate relation to morality than has an ugly truth. Yet so unconscious
were they of weaving this elaborate tissue of illusion around the world
they inhabited that they called the mental process by which they
distorted the reality, "taking a true view of life." To "take a true
view" was to believe what was pleasant against what was painful in spite
of evidence: to grant honesty to all men (with the possible exception of
the Yankee army and a few local scalawags known as Readjusters); to deny
virtue to no woman, not even to the New England Abolitionist; to regard
the period before the war in Virginia as attained perfection, and the
present as falling short of that perfection only inasmuch as it had
occurred since the surrender. As life in a small place, among a simple
and guileless class of gentlefolk, all passionately cherishing the same
opinions, had never shaken these illusions, it was but natural that they
should have done their best to hand them down as sacred heirlooms to
their only child. Even Gabriel's four years of hard fighting and scant
rations were enkindled by so much of the disinterested idealism that
had sent his State into the Confederacy, that he had emerged from them
with an impoverished body, but an enriched spirit. Combined with his
inherent inability to face the facts of life, there was an almost
superhuman capacity for cheerful recovery from the shocks of adversity.
Since he had married by accident the one woman who was made for him, he
had managed to preserve untarnished his innocent assumption that
marriages were arranged in Heaven--for the domestic infelicities of many
of his parishioners were powerless to affect a belief that was founded
upon a solitary personal experience. Unhappy marriages, like all other
misfortunes of society, he was inclined to regard as entirely modern and
due mainly to the decay of antebellum institutions. "I don't remember
that I ever heard of a discontented servant or an unhappy marriage in my
boyhood," he would say when he was forced against his will to consider
either of these disturbing problems. Not progress, but a return to the
"ideals of our ancestors," was his sole hope for the future; and in
Virginia's childhood she had grown to regard this phrase as second in
reverence only to that other familiar invocation: "If it be the will of
God."

As he stood now in the square of lamplight that streamed from the
drawing-room window, she looked into his thin, humorous face, so
spiritualized by poverty and self-sacrifice that it had become merely
the veil for his soul, and the thought came to her that she had never
really seen him as he was until to-day.

"You're out late, daughter. Isn't it time for supper?" he asked, putting
his arm about her. Beneath the simple words she felt the profound
affection which he rarely expressed, but of which she was conscious
whenever he looked at her or spoke to her. Two days ago this affection,
of which she never thought because it belonged to her by right like the
air she breathed, had been sufficient to fill her life to overflowing;
and now, in less than a moment, the simplest accident had pushed it into
the background. In the place where it had been there was a restless
longing which seemed at one instant a part of the universal stirring of
the spring, and became the next an importunate desire for the coming of
the lover to whom she had been taught to look as to the fulfilment of
her womanhood. At times this lover appeared to have no connection with
Oliver Treadwell; then the memory of his eager and searching look would
flush the world with a magic enchantment. "He might pass here at any
minute," she thought, and immediately every simple detail of her life
was illuminated as if a quivering rosy light had fallen aslant it. His
drive down High Street in the afternoon had left a trail of glory over
the earthen roadbed.

"Yes, I was just going in," she replied to the rector's question, and
added: "How sweet the honeysuckle smells! I never knew it to be so
fragrant."

"The end of the trellis needs propping up. I noticed it this morning,"
he returned, keeping his arm around her as they passed over the short
grassy walk and up the steps to the porch. Then the door of the rectory
opened, and the silhouette of Mrs. Pendleton, in her threadbare black
silk dress with her cameo-like profile softened by the dark bands of her
hair, showed motionless against the lighted space of the hall.

"We're here, Lucy," said the rector, kissing her; and a minute later
they entered the dining-room, which was on the right of the staircase.
The old mahogany table, scarred by a century of service, was laid with
a simple supper of bread, tea, and sliced ham on a willow dish. At one
end there was a bowl of freshly gathered strawberries, with the dew
still on them, and Mrs. Pendleton hastened to explain that they were a
present from Tom Peachey, who had driven out into the country in order
to get them. "Well, I hope his wife has some, also," commented the
rector. "Tom's a good fellow, but he could never keep a closed fist,
there's no use denying it."

Mrs. Pendleton, who had never denied anything in her life, except the
biblical sanction for the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution,
shook her head gently and began to talk in the inattentive and anxious
manner she had acquired at scantily furnished tables. Ever since the
war, with the exception of the Reconstruction period, when she had lived
practically on charity, she had managed to exist with serenity, and
numerous negro dependents, on the rector's salary of a thousand dollars
a year. Simple and wholesome food she had supplied to her family and her
followers, and for their desserts, as she called the sweet things of
life, she had relied with touching confidence upon her neighbours. What
they would be for the day, she did not know, but since poverty, not
prosperity, breeds the generous heart, she was perfectly assured that
when Miss Priscilla was putting up raspberries, or Mrs. Goode was making
lemon pie, she should not be forgotten. During the terrible war years,
it had become the custom of Dinwiddie housekeepers to remember the wife
of the rector who had plucked off his surplice for the Confederacy, and
among the older generation the habit still persisted, like all other
links that bound them to a past which they cherished the more
passionately because it guarded a defeated cause. Like the soft
apologetic murmur of Mrs. Pendleton's voice, which was meant to distract
attention rather than to impart information, this impassioned memory of
the thing that was dead sweetened the less romantic fact of the things
that were living. The young were ignorant of it, but the old _knew_.
Mrs. Pendleton, who was born a great lady, remained one when the props
and the background of a great lady had crumbled around her; and though
the part she filled was a narrow part--a mere niche in the world's
history--she filled it superbly. From the dignity of possessions she had
passed to the finer dignity of a poverty that can do without. All the
intellect in her (for she was not clever) had been transmuted into
character by this fiery passage from romance into reality, and though
life had done its worst with her, some fine invincible blade in the
depths of her being she had never surrendered. She would have gone to
the stake for a principle as cheerfully as she had descended from her
aristocratic niche into unceasing poverty and self-denial, but she would
have gone wearing garlands on her head and with her faint, grave smile,
in which there was almost every quality except that of humour, touching
her lips. Her hands, which were once lovely, were now knotted and worn;
for she had toiled when it was necessary, though she had toiled always
with the manner of a lady. Even to-day it was a part of her triumph that
this dignity was so vital a factor in her life that there was none of
her husband's laughter at circumstances to lighten her burden. To her
the daily struggle of keeping an open house on starvation fare was not a
pathetic comedy, as with Gabriel, but a desperately smiling tragedy.
What to Gabriel had been merely the discomfort of being poor when
everybody you respected was poor with you, had been to his wife the slow
agony of crucifixion. It was she, not he, who had lain awake to wonder
where to-morrow's dinner could be got without begging; it was she, also,
who had feared to doze at dawn lest she should oversleep herself and not
be downstairs in time to scrub the floors and the furniture before the
neighbours were stirring. Uncle Isam, whose knees were crippled with
rheumatism, and Docia, who had a "stitch" in her side whenever she
stooped, were the only servants that remained with her, and the nursing
of these was usually added to the pitiless drudgery of her winter. But
the bitter edge to all her suffering was the feeling which her husband
spoke of in the pulpit as "false pride"--the feeling she prayed over
fervently yet without avail in church every Sunday--and this was the
ignoble terror of being seen on her knees in her old black calico dress
before she had gone upstairs again, washed her hands with cornmeal,
powdered her face with her pink flannel starchbag, and descended in her
breakfast gown of black cashmere or lawn, with a net scarf tied daintily
around her thin throat, and a pair of exquisitely darned lace ruffles
hiding her wrists.

As she sat now, smiling and calm, at the head of her table, there was no
hint in her face of the gnawing anxiety behind the delicate blue-veined
hollows in her forehead. "I thought John Henry would come to supper,"
she observed, while her hands worked lovingly among the old white and
gold teacups which had belonged to her mother, "so I gathered a few
flowers."

In the centre of the table there was a handful of garden flowers
arranged, with a generous disregard of colour, in a cut-glass bowl, as
though all blossoms were intended by their Creator to go peaceably
together. Only on formal occasions was such a decoration used on the
table of the rectory, since the happiest adornment for a meal was
supposed to be a bountiful supply of visible viands; but the hopelessly
mended mats had pierced Mrs. Pendleton's heart, and the cut-glass bowl,
like her endless prattle, was but a pitiful subterfuge.

"Oh, I like them!" Virginia had started to answer, when a hearty voice
called, "May I come in?" from the darkness, and a large, carelessly
dressed young man, with an amiable and rather heavy countenance, entered
the hall and passed on into the dining-room. In reply to Mrs.
Pendleton's offer of tea, he answered that he had stopped at the
Treadwells' on his way up from work. "I could hardly break away from
Oliver," he added, "but I remembered that I'd promised Aunt Lucy to take
her down to Tin Pot Alley after supper, so I made a bolt while he was
convincing me that it's better to be poor with an idea, as he calls it,
than rich without one." Then turning to Virginia, he asked suddenly:
"What's the matter, little cousin? Been about too much in the sun?"

"Oh, it's only the rose in my hair," responded Virginia, and she felt
that there was a fierce joy in blushing like this even while she told
herself that she would give everything she possessed if she could only
stop it.

"If you aren't well, you'd better not go with us, Jinny," said Mrs.
Pendleton. "It was so sweet of John Henry to remember that I'd promised
to take Aunt Ailsey some of the bitters we used to make before the war."
Everything was "so sweet" to her, the weather, her husband's sermons,
the little trays that came continually from her neighbours, and she
lived in a perpetual state of thankfulness for favours so insignificant
that a less impressionable soul would have accepted them as undeserving
of more than the barest acknowledgment.

"I am perfectly well," insisted Virginia, a little angry with John Henry
because he had been the first to notice her blushes.

Rising hurriedly from the table, she went to the door and stood looking
out into the spangled dusk under the paulownias, while her mother
wrapped the bottle in a piece of white tissue paper and remarked with an
animation which served to hide her fatigue from the unobservant eyes of
her husband, that a walk would do her good on such a "perfectly lovely
night."

Gabriel, who loved her as much as a man can love a wife who has
sacrificed herself to him wisely and unwisely for nearly thirty years,
had grown so used to seeing her suffer with a smile that he had drifted
at last into the belief that it was the only form of activity she really
enjoyed. From the day of his marriage he had never been able to deny her
anything she had set her heart upon--not even the privilege of working
herself to death for his sake when the opportunity offered.

"Well, well, if you feel like it, of course you must go, my dear," he
replied. "I'll step over and sit a minute with Miss Priscilla while you
are away. Never could bear the house without you, Lucy."

While this protest was still on his lips, he followed her from the
house, and turned with Virginia and John Henry in the direction of the
Young Ladies' Academy. From the darkness beyond the iron gate there came
the soothing flow of Miss Priscilla's voice entertaining an evening
caller, and when the rector left them, as if irresistibly drawn toward
the honeyed sound of gossip, Virginia walked on in silence between John
Henry and her mother. At each corner a flickering street lamp burned
with a thin yellow flame, and in the midst of the narrow orbit of its
light several shining moths circled swiftly like white moons revolving
about a sun. In the centre of the blocks, where the darkness was broken
only by small flower-like flakes of light that fell in clusters through
boughs of mulberry or linden trees, there was the sound of whispering
voices and of rustling palm-leaf fans on the crowded porches behind
screens of roses or honeysuckle. Mrs. Pendleton, whose instinct prompted
her to efface herself whenever she made a third at the meeting of maid
and man (even though the man was only her nephew John Henry), began to
talk at last after waiting modestly for her daughter to begin the
conversation. The story of Aunt Ailsey, of her great age, and her
dictatorial temper, which made living with other servants impossible to
her, started valiantly on its familiar road, and tripped but little when
the poor lady realized that neither John Henry nor Virginia was
listening. She was so used to talking for the sake of the sound she made
rather than the impression she produced that her silvery ripple had
become almost as lacking in self-consciousness as the song of a canary.

But Virginia, walking so quietly at her side, was inhabiting at the
moment a separate universe--a universe smelling of honeysuckle and
filled with starry pathways to happiness. In this universe Aunt Ailsey
and her peculiarities, her mother's innocent prattle, and the solid body
of John Henry touching her arm, were all as remote and trivial as the
night moths circling around the lamps. Looking at John Henry from under
her lowered lashes, she felt a sudden pity for him because he was so
far--so very far indeed from being the right man. She saw him too
clearly as he was--he stood before her in all the hard brightness of the
reality, and first love, like beauty, depends less upon the truth of an
outline than it does upon the softening quality of an atmosphere. There
was no mystery for her in the simple fact of his being. There was
nothing left to discover about his great stature, his excellent heart,
and his safe, slow mind that had been compelled to forego even the sort
of education she had derived from Miss Priscilla. She knew that he had
left school at the age of eight in order to become the support of a
widowed mother, and she was pitifully aware of the tireless efforts he
had made after reaching manhood to remedy his ignorance of the
elementary studies he had missed. Never had she heard a complaint from
him, never a regret for the sacrifice, never so much as an idle wonder
why it should have been necessary. If the texture of his soul was not
finely wrought, the proportions of it were heroic. In him the Pendleton
idealism had left the skies and been transmuted into the common
substance of clay. He was of a practical bent of mind and had developed
a talent for his branch of business, which, to the bitter humiliation of
his mother, was that of hardware, with a successful specialty in
bathtubs. Until to-day Virginia had always believed that John Henry
interested her, but now she wondered how she had ever spent so many
hours listening to his talk about business. And with the thought her
whole existence appeared to her as dull and commonplace as those hours.
A single instant of experience seemed longer to her than all the years
she had lived, and this instant had drained the colour and the sweetness
from the rest of life. The shape of her universe had trembled suddenly
and altered. Dimly she was beginning to realize that sensation, not
time, is the true measure of life. Nothing and everything had happened
to her since yesterday.

As they turned into Short Market Street, Mrs. Pendleton's voice trailed
off at last into silence, and she did not speak again while they passed
hurriedly between the crumbling houses and the dilapidated shops which
rose darkly on either side of the narrow cinder-strewn walks. The scent
of honeysuckle did not reach here, and when they stopped presently at
the beginning of Tin Pot Alley, there floated out to them the sharp
acrid odour of huddled negroes. In these squalid alleys, where the lamps
burned at longer distances, the more primitive forms of life appeared to
swarm like distorted images under the transparent civilization of the
town. The sound of banjo strumming came faintly from the dimness beyond,
while at their feet the Problem of the South sprawled innocently amid
tomato cans and rotting cabbage leaves.

"Wait here just a minute and I'll run up and speak to Aunt Ailsey,"
remarked Mrs. Pendleton with the dignity of a soul that is superior to
smells; and without noticing her daughter's reproachful nod of
acquiescence, she entered the alley and disappeared through the doorway
of the nearest hovel. A minute later her serene face looked down at them
over a patchwork quilt which hung airing at half length from the window
above. "But this is not life--it has nothing to do with life," thought
Virginia, while the Pendleton blood in her rose in a fierce rebellion
against all that was ugly and sordid in existence. Then her mother's
tread was heard descending the short flight of steps, and the sensation
vanished as quickly and as inexplicably as it had come.

"I tried not to keep you waiting, dear," said Mrs. Pendleton, hastening
toward them while she fanned herself rapidly with the small black fan
she carried. Her face looked tired and worn, and before moving on, she
paused a moment and held her hand to her thin fluttering breast, while
deep bluish circles appeared to start out under the expression of
pathetic cheerfulness in her eyes. This pathetic cheerfulness, so
characteristic of the women of her generation, was the first thing,
perhaps, that a stranger would have noticed about her face; yet it was a
trait which neither her husband nor her child had ever observed. There
was a fine moisture on her forehead, and this added so greatly to the
natural transparency of her features that, standing there in the wan
light, she might have been mistaken for the phantom of her daughter's
vivid flesh and blood beauty. "I wonder if you would mind going on to
Bolingbroke Street, so I may speak to Belinda Treadwell a minute?" she
asked, as soon as she had recovered her breath. "I want to find out if
she has engaged Miss Willy Whitlow for the whole week, or if there is
any use my sending a message to her over in Botetourt. If she doesn't
begin at once, Jinny, you won't have a dress to wear to Abby Goode's
party."

Virginia's heart gave a single bound of joy and lay quiet. Not for
worlds would she have asked to go to the Treadwells', yet ever since
they had started, she had longed unceasingly to have her mother suggest
it. The very stars, she felt, had worked together to bring about her
desire.

"But aren't you tired, mother? It really doesn't matter about my dress,"
she murmured, for it was not in vain that she had wrested a diploma for
deportment from Miss Priscilla.

"Why can't I take the message for you, Aunt Lucy? You look tired to
death," urged John Henry.

"Oh, I shan't mind the walk as soon as we get out into the breeze,"
replied Mrs. Pendleton. "It's a lovely night, only a little close in
this alley." And as she spoke she looked gently down on the Problem of
the South as the Southern woman had looked down on it for generations
and would continue to look down on it for generations still to
come--without seeing that it was a problem.

"Well, it's good to get a breath of air, anyway!" exclaimed John Henry
with fervour, when they had passed out of the alley into the lighted
street. Around them the town seemed to beat with a single heart, as if
it waited, like Virginia, in breathless suspense for some secret that
must come out of the darkness. Sometimes the sidewalks over which they
passed were of flag-stones, sometimes they were of gravel or of strewn
cinders. Now and then an old stone house, which had once sheltered
crinoline and lace ruffles, or had served as a trading station with the
Indians before Dinwiddie had become a city, would loom between two small
shops where the owners, coatless and covered with sweat, were selling
flat beer to jaded and miserable customers. Up Bolingbroke Street a
faint breeze blew, lifting the moist satin-like hair on Mrs. Pendleton's
forehead. Already its ancient dignity had deserted the quarter in which
the Treadwells lived, and it had begun to wear a forsaken and injured
look, as though it resented the degradation of commerce into which it
had descended.

"I can't understand why Cyrus Treadwell doesn't move over to Sycamore
Street," remarked John Henry after a moment of reflection in which he
had appeared to weigh this simple sentence with scrupulous exactness.
"He's rich enough, I suppose, to buy anything he wants."

"I've heard Susan say that it was her mother's old home and she didn't
care to leave it," said Mrs. Pendleton.

"I don't believe it's that a bit," broke in Virginia with characteristic
impulsiveness. "The only reason is that Mr. Treadwell is stingy. With
all his money, I know Mrs. Treadwell and Susan hardly ever have a dollar
they can spend on themselves."

Though she spoke with her accustomed energy, she was conscious all the
time that the words she uttered were not the ones in her thoughts. What
did Cyrus Treadwell's stinginess matter when his only relation to life
consisted in his being the uncle of Oliver? It was as if a single shape
moved alive through a universe peopled with shadows. Only a borrowed
radiance attached itself now to the persons and objects that had
illumined the world for her yesterday. Yet she approached the crisis of
her life so silently that those around her did not recognize it beneath
the cover of ordinary circumstances. Like most great moments it had come
unheralded; and though the rustling of its wings filled her soul,
neither her mother nor John Henry heard a stir in the quiet air that
surrounded them. Walking between the two who loved her, she felt that
she was separated from them both by an eternity of experience.

There were several blocks of Bolingbroke Street to walk before the
Treadwells' house was reached, and as they sauntered slowly past decayed
dwellings, Virginia's imagination ran joyously ahead of her to the
meeting. Would it happen this time as it had happened before when he
looked at her that something would pass between them which would make
her feel that she belonged to him? So little resistance did she offer to
the purpose of Life that she seemed to have existed from the beginning
merely as an exquisite medium for a single emotion. It was as if the
dreams of all the dead women of her race, who had lived only in loving,
were concentrated into a single shining centre of bliss--for the
accumulated vibrations of centuries were in her soul when she trembled
for the first time beneath the eyes of a lover. And yet all this
blissful violence was powerless to change the most insignificant
external fact in the universe. Though it was the greatest thing that
could ever happen to her, it was nothing to the other twenty-one
thousand human beings among whom she lived; it left no mark upon that
procession of unimportant details which they called life.

They were in sight of the small old-fashioned brick house of the
Treadwells, with its narrow windows set discreetly between outside
shutters, and she saw that the little marble porch was deserted except
for the two pink oleander trees, which stood in green tubs on either
side of the curved iron railings. A minute later John Henry's
imperative ring brought a young coloured maid to the door, and Virginia,
who had lingered on the pavement, heard almost immediately an effusive
duet from her mother and Mrs. Treadwell.

"Oh, do come in, Lucy, just for a minute!"

"I can't possibly, my dear; I only wanted to ask you if you have engaged
Miss Willy Whitlow for the entire week or if you could let me have her
for Friday and Saturday? Jinny hasn't a rag to wear to Abby Goode's lawn
party and I don't know anybody who does quite so well for her as poor
Miss Willy. Oh, that's so sweet of you! I can't thank you enough! And
you'll tell her without my sending all the way over to Botetourt!"

By this time Susan had joined Virginia on the sidewalk, and the liquid
honey of Mrs. Pendleton's voice dropped softly into indistinctness.

"Oh, Jinny, if I'd only known you were coming!" said Susan. "Oliver
wanted me to take him to see you, and when I couldn't, he went over to
call on Abby."

So this was the end of her walk winged with expectancy! A disappointment
as sharp as her joy had been pierced her through as she stood there
smiling into Susan's discomfited face. With the tragic power of youth to
create its own torment, she told herself that life could never be the
same after this first taste of its bitterness.



CHAPTER III

FIRST LOVE


The next morning, so indestructible is the happiness of youth, she awoke
with her hope as fresh as if it had not been blighted the evening
before. As she lay in bed, with her loosened hair making a cloud over
the pillows, and her eyes shining like blue flowers in the band of
sunlight that fell through the dormer-window, she quivered to the early
sweetness of honeysuckle as though it were the charmed sweetness of love
of which she had dreamed in the night. She was only one of the many
millions of women who were awaking at the same hour to the same miracle
of Nature, yet she might have been the first woman seeking the first man
through the vastness and the mystery of an uninhabited earth. Impossible
to believe that an experience so wonderful was as common as the bursting
of the spring buds or the humming of the thirsty bees around the
honeysuckle arbour!

Slipping out of bed, she threw her dressing-gown over her shoulders, and
kneeling beside the window, drank in the flower-scented air of the May
morning. During the night, the paulownia trees had shed a rain of violet
blossoms over the wet grass, where little wings of sunshine, like golden
moths, hovered above them. Beyond the border of lilies-of-the-valley she
saw the squat pinkish tower of the church, and beneath it, in the
narrow churchyard, rose the gleaming shaft above the grave of the
Confederate soldier. On her right, in the centre of the crooked path,
three negro infants were prodding earnestly at roots of wire-grass and
dandelion; and brushing carelessly their huddled figures, her gaze
descended the twelve steps of the almost obliterated terrace, and
followed the steep street down which a mulatto vegetable vendor was
urging his slow-footed mule.

A wave of joy rose in her breast, and she felt that her heart melted in
gratitude for the divine beauty of life. The world showed to her as a
place filled with shining vistas of happiness, and at the end of each of
these vistas there awaited the unknown enchanting thing which she called
in her thoughts "the future." The fact that it was the same world in
which Miss Priscilla and her mother lived their narrow and prosaic lives
did not alter by a breath her unshakable conviction that she herself was
predestined for something more wonderful than they had ever dreamed of.
"He may come this evening!" she thought, and immediately the light of
magic suffused the room, the street outside, and every scarred roof in
Dinwiddie.

At the head of her bed, wedged in between the candle stand and the
window, there was a cheap little bookcase of walnut which contained the
only volumes she had ever been permitted to own--the poems of Mrs.
Hemans and of Adelaide Anne Procter, a carefully expurgated edition of
Shakespeare, with an inscription in the rector's handwriting on the
flyleaf; Miss Strickland's "Lives of the Queens of England"; and several
works of fiction belonging to the class which Mrs. Pendleton vaguely
characterized as "sweet stories." Among the more prominent of these
were "Thaddeus of Warsaw," a complete set of Miss Yonge's novels, with a
conspicuously tear-stained volume of "The Heir of Redclyffe," and a
romance or two by obscure but innocuous authors. That any book which
told, however mildly, the truth about life should have entered their
daughter's bedroom would have seemed little short of profanation to both
the rector and Mrs. Pendleton. The sacred shelves of that bookcase
(which had been ceremoniously presented to her on her fourteenth
birthday) had never suffered the contaminating presence of realism. The
solitary purpose of art was, in Mrs. Pendleton's eyes, to be "sweet,"
and she scrupulously judged all literature by its success or failure in
this particular quality. It seemed to her as wholesome to feed her
daughter's growing fancy on an imaginary line of pious heroes, as it
appeared to her moral to screen her from all suspicion of the existence
of immorality. She did not honestly believe that any living man
resembled the "Heir of Redclyffe," any more than she believed that the
path of self-sacrifice leads inevitably to happiness; but there was no
doubt in her mind that she advanced the cause of righteousness when she
taught these sanctified fallacies to Virginia.

As she rose from her knees, Virginia glanced at her white dress, which
was too crumpled for her to wear again before it was smoothed, and
thought regretfully of Aunt Docia's heart, which invariably gave warning
whenever there was extra work to be done. "I shall have to wear either
my blue lawn or my green organdie this evening," she thought. "I wish I
could have the sleeves changed. I wonder if mother could run a tuck in
them?"

It did not occur to her that she might smooth the dress herself, because
she knew that the iron would be wrested from her by her mother's hands,
which were so knotted and worn that tears came to Virginia's eyes when
she looked at them. She let her mother slave over her because she had
been born into a world where the slaving of mothers was a part of the
natural order, and she had not as yet become independent enough to
question the morality of the commonplace. At any minute she would gladly
have worked, too, but the phrase "spare Virginia" had been uttered so
often in her hearing that it had acquired at last almost a religious
significance. To have been forced to train her daughter in any
profitable occupation which might have lifted her out of the class of
unskilled labour in which indigent gentlewomen by right belonged, would
have been the final dregs of humiliation in Mrs. Pendleton's cup. On one
of Aunt Docia's bad days, when Jinny had begged to be allowed to do part
of the washing, she had met an almost passionate refusal from her
mother. "It will be time enough to spoil your hands after you are
married, darling!" And again, "Don't do that rough sewing, Jinny. Give
it to me." From the cradle she had borne her part in this racial custom
of the sacrifice of generation to generation--of the perpetual
immolation of age on the flowery altars of youth. Like most customs in
which we are nurtured, it had seemed natural and pleasant enough until
she had watched the hollows deepen in her mother's temples and the
tireless knotted hands stumble at their work. Then a pang had seized her
and she had pleaded earnestly to be permitted to help.

"If you only knew how unhappy it makes me to see you ruining your pretty
fingers, Jinny. My child, the one comfort I have is the thought that I
am sparing you."

Sparing her! Always that from the first! Even Gabriel chimed in when it
became a matter of Jinny. "Let me wash the dishes, Lucy," he would
implore. "What? Will you trust me with other people's souls, but not
with your china?"

"It's not a man's work, Mr. Pendleton. What would the neighbours think?"

"They would think, I hope, my dear, that I was doing my duty."

"But it would not be dignified for a clergyman. No, I cannot bear the
sight of you with a dishcloth."

In the end she invariably had her way with them, for she was the
strongest. Jinny must be spared, and Gabriel must do nothing
undignified. About herself it made no difference unless the neighbours
were looking; she had not thought of herself, except in the indomitable
failing of her "false pride," since her marriage, which had taken place
in her twentieth year. A clergyman's wife might do menial tasks in
secret, and nobody minded, but they were not for a clergyman.

For a minute, while she was dressing, Virginia thought of these
things--of how hard life had been to her mother, of how pretty she must
have been in her youth. What she did not think of was that her mother,
like herself, was but one of the endless procession of women who pass
perpetually from the sphere of pleasure into the sphere of service. It
was as impossible for her to picture her mother as a girl of twenty as
it was for her to imagine herself ever becoming a woman of fifty.

When she had finished dressing she closed the door softly after her as
if she were afraid of disturbing the silence, and ran downstairs to the
dining-room, where the rector and Mrs. Pendleton greeted her with
subdued murmurs of joy.

"I was afraid I'd miss you, daughter," from the rector, as he drew her
chair nearer.

"I was just going to carry up your tray, Jinny," from her mother. "I
kept a nice breast of chicken for you which one of the neighbours sent
me."

"I'd so much rather you'd eat it, mother," protested Jinny, on the point
of tears.

"But I couldn't, darling, I really couldn't manage it. A cup of coffee
and a bit of toast is all I can possibly stand in the morning. I was up
early, for Docia was threatened with one of her heart attacks, and it
always gives me a little headache to miss my morning nap."

"Then you can't go to market, Lucy; it is out of the question," insisted
the rector. "After thirty years you might as well make up your mind to
trust me, my dear."

"But the last time you went you gave away our shoulder of lamb to a
beggar," replied his wife, and she hastened to add tenderly, lest he
should accept the remark as a reproof, "it's sweet of you, dearest, but
a little walk will be good for my head if I am careful to keep on the
shady side of the street. I can easily find a boy to bring home the
things, and I am sure it won't hurt me a bit."

"Why can't I go, mother?" implored Virginia. "Susan always markets for
Mrs. Treadwell." And she felt that even the task of marketing was
irradiated by this inner glow which had changed the common aspect of
life.

"Oh, Jinny, you know how you hate to feel the chickens, and one can
never tell how plump they are by the feathers."

"Well, I'll feel them, mother, if you'll let me try."

"No, darling, but you may go with me and carry my sunshade. I'm so sorry
Docia can't smooth your dress. Was it much crumpled?"

"Oh, dreadfully! And I did so want to wear it this evening. Do you think
Aunt Docia could show me how to iron?"

Docia, who stood like an ebony image of Bellona behind her mistress's
chair, waving a variegated tissue paper fly screen over the coffee-urn,
was heard to think aloud that "dish yer stitch ain' helt up er blessed
minute sence befo' daylight." Not unnaturally, perhaps, since she was
the most prominent figure in her own vision of the universe, she had
come at last to regard her recurrent "stitch" as an event of greater
consequence than Virginia's appearance in immaculate white muslin. An
uncertain heart combined with a certain temper had elevated her from a
servile position to one of absolute autocracy in the household.
Everybody feared her, so nobody had ever dared ask her to leave. As she
had rebelled long ago against the badge of a cap and an apron, she
appeared in the dining-room clad in garments of various hues, and her
dress on this particular morning was a purple calico crowned
majestically by a pink cotton turban. There was a tradition still afloat
that Docia had been an excellent servant before the war; but this
amiable superstition had, perhaps, as much reason to support it as had
Gabriel's innocent conviction that there were no faithless husbands when
there were no divorces.

"I'm afraid Docia can't do it," sighed Mrs. Pendleton, for her ears had
caught the faint thunder of the war goddess behind her chair, and her
soul, which feared neither armies nor adversities, trembled before her
former slaves. "But it won't take me a minute if you'll have it ready
right after dinner."

"Oh, mother, of course I couldn't let you for anything. I only thought
Aunt Docia might be able to teach me how to iron."

At this, Docia muttered audibly that she "ain' got no time ter be
sho'in' nobody nuttin'."

"There, now, Docia, you mustn't lose your temper," observed Gabriel as
he rose from his chair. It was at such moments that the remembered joys
of slavery left a bitter after taste on his lips. Clearly it was
impossible to turn into the streets a servant who had once belonged to
you!

When they were in the hall together, Mrs. Pendleton whispered nervously
to her husband that it must be "poor Docia's heart that made her so
disagreeable and that she would feel better to-morrow."

"Wouldn't it be possible, my dear?" inquired the rector in his pulpit
manner, to which his wife's only answer was a startled "Sh-sh-ush."

An hour later the door of Gabriel's study opened softly, and Mrs.
Pendleton entered with the humble and apologetic manner in which she
always intruded upon her husband's pursuits. There was an accepted
theory in the family, shared even by Uncle Isam and Aunt Docia, that
whenever Gabriel was left alone for an instant, his thoughts naturally
deflected into spiritual paths. In the early days of his marriage he had
tried honestly to live up to this exalted idea of his character; then
finding the effort beyond him, and being a man with an innate
detestation of hypocrisy, he had earnestly endeavoured to disabuse his
wife's imagination of the mistaken belief in his divinity. But a notion
once firmly fixed in Mrs. Pendleton's mind might as well have been
embedded in rock. By virtue of that gentle obstinacy which enabled her
to believe in an illusion the more intensely because it had vanished,
she had triumphed not only over circumstances, but over truth itself. By
virtue of this quality, she had created the world in which she moved and
had wrought beauty out of chaos.

"Are you busy with your sermon, dear?" she asked, pausing in the
doorway, and gazing reverently at her husband over the small black silk
bag she carried. Like the other women of Dinwiddie who had lost
relatives by the war, she had never laid aside her mourning since the
surrender; and the frame of crape to her face gave her the pensive look
of one who has stepped out of the pageant of life into the sacred
shadows of memory.

"No, no, Lucy, I'm ready to start out with you," replied the rector
apologetically, putting a box of fishing tackle he had been sorting back
into the drawer of his desk. He was as fond as a child of a day's sport,
and never quite so happy as when he set out with his rod and an old
tomato can filled with worms, which he had dug out of the back garden,
in his hands; but owing to the many calls upon him and his wife's
conception of his clerical dignity, he was seldom able to gratify his
natural tastes.

"Oh, father, please hurry!" called Virginia from the porch, and rising
obediently, he followed Mrs. Pendleton through the hall and out into the
May sunshine, where the little negroes stopped an excited chase of a
black and orange butterfly to return doggedly to their weeding.

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather I'd go to market, Lucy?"

"Quite sure, dear," replied his wife, sniffing the scent of
lilies-of-the-valley with her delicate, slightly pinched nostrils. "I
thought you were going to see Mr. Treadwell about putting John Henry
into the bank," she added. "It is such a pity to keep the poor boy
selling bathtubs. His mother felt it so terribly."

"Ah, so I was--so I was," reflected Gabriel, who, though both of them
would have been indignant at the suggestion, was as putty in the hands
of his wife. "Well, I'll look into the bank on Cyrus after I've paid my
sick calls."

With that they parted, Gabriel going on to visit a bedridden widow in
the Old Ladies' Home, while Mrs. Pendleton and Virginia turned down a
cross street that led toward the market. At every corner, it seemed to
Virginia, middle-aged ladies, stout or thin, wearing crape veils and
holding small black silk bags in their hands, sprang out of the shadows
of mulberry trees, and barred their leisurely progress. And though
nothing had happened in Dinwiddie since the war, and Mrs. Pendleton had
seen many of these ladies the day before, she stopped for a sympathetic
chat with each one of them, while Virginia, standing a little apart,
patiently prodded the cinders of the walk with the end of her sunshade.
All her life the girl had been taught to regard time as the thing of
least importance in the universe; but occasionally, while she listened
in silence to the liquid murmur of her mother's voice, she wondered
vaguely how the day's work was ever finished in Dinwiddie. The story of
Docia's impertinence was told and retold a dozen times before they
reached the market. "And you really mean that you can't get rid of her?
Why, my dear Lucy, I wouldn't stand it a day! Now, there was my Mandy.
Such an excellent servant until she got her head turned----" This from
Mrs. Tom Peachey, an energetic little woman, with a rosy face and a
straight gray "bang" cut short over her eyebrows. "But, Lucy, my child,
are you doing right to submit to impertinence? In the old days, I
remember, before the war----" This from Mrs. William Goode, who had been
Sally Peterson, the beauty of Dinwiddie, and who was still superbly
handsome in a tragic fashion, with a haunted look in her eyes and masses
of snow-white hair under her mourning bonnet. Years ago Virginia had
imagined her as dwelling perpetually with the memory of her young
husband, who had fallen in his twenty-fifth year in the Battle of Cold
Harbor, but she knew now that the haunted eyes, like all things human,
were under the despotism of trifles. To the girl, who saw in this
universal acquiescence in littleness merely the pitiful surrender of
feeble souls, there was a passionate triumph in the thought that her own
dreams were larger than the actuality that surrounded her. Youth's scorn
of the narrow details of life left no room in her mind for an
understanding of the compromise which middle-age makes with necessity.
The pathos of resignation--of that inevitable submission to the petty
powers which the years bring--was lost upon the wistful ignorance of
inexperience. While she waited dutifully, with her absent gaze fixed on
the old mulberry trees, which whitened as the wind blew over them and
then slowly darkened again, she wondered if servants and gossip were the
only things that Oliver had heard of in his travels? Then she remembered
that even in Dinwiddie men were less interested in such matters than
they were in the industries of peanuts and tobacco. Was it only women,
after all, who were in subjection to particulars?

When they turned into Old Street, John Henry hailed them from the
doorway of a shop, where he stood flanked by a row of spotless bathtubs.
He wore a loose pongee coat, which sagged at the shoulders, his straight
flaxen hair had been freshly cut, and his crimson necktie had got a
stain on it at breakfast; but to Virginia's astonishment, he appeared
sublimely unconscious both of his bathtubs and his appearance. He was
doubtless under the delusion that a pongee coat, being worn for comfort,
was entirely successful when it achieved that end; and as for his
business, it was beyond his comprehension that a Pendleton could have
reason to blush for a bathtub or for any other object that afforded him
an honest livelihood.

He called to them at sight, and Mrs. Pendleton, following her instinct
of fitness, left the conversation to youth.

"John Henry, father is going to see Mr. Treadwell about the place in the
bank. Won't it be lovely if he gives it to you!"

"He won't," replied John Henry. "I'll bet you anything he's keeping it
for his nephew."

Virginia's blush came quickly, and turning her head away, she gazed
earnestly down the street to the octagonal market, which stood on the
spot where slaves were offered for sale when she was born.

"Mr. Treadwell is crossing the street now," she said after a minute. "I
wonder why he keeps his mouth shut so tight when he is alone?"

A covered cart, which had been passing slowly, moved up the hill, and
from beyond it there appeared the tall spare figure of a man with
iron-gray hair, curling a little on the temples, a sallow skin,
splotched with red over the nose, and narrow colourless lips that looked
as if they were cut out of steel. As he walked quickly up the street,
every person whom he passed turned to glance after him.

"I wonder if it is true that he hasn't made his money honestly?" asked
Virginia.

"Oh, I hope not!" exclaimed Mrs. Pendleton, who in her natural desire to
believe only good about people was occasionally led into believing the
truth.

"Well, I don't care," retorted Virginia, "he's mean. I know just by the
way his wife dresses."

"Oh, Jinny!" gasped Mrs. Pendleton, and glanced in embarrassment at her
nephew, whose face, to her surprise, was beaming with enjoyment. The
truth was that John Henry, who would have condemned so unreasonable an
accusation had it been uttered by a full-grown male, was enraptured by
the piquancy of hearing it on the lovely lips of his cousin. To demand
that a pretty woman should possess the mental responsibility of a human
being would have seemed an affront to his inherited ideas of gallantry.
His slow wit was enslaved by Jinny's audacity as completely as his kind
ox-like eyes were enthralled by the young red and white of her beauty.

"But he's a great man. You can't deny that," he said with the playful
manner in which he might have prodded a kitten in order to make it claw.

"A great man! Just because he has made money!"

"Well, he couldn't have got rich, you know, if he hadn't had the sense
to see how to do it," replied the young man with enthusiasm. Like most
Southerners who had been forced without preparation into the hard school
of industry, he had found that his standards followed inevitably the
changing measure of his circumstances. From his altered point of view,
the part of owing property appeared so easy, and the part of winning it
so difficult, that his respect for culture had yielded almost
unconsciously to his admiration for commerce. When the South came again
to the front, he felt instinctively that it would come, shorn of its
traditional plumage, a victor from the hard-fought industrial
battlefields of the century; and because Cyrus Treadwell led the way
toward this triumph, he was ready to follow him. Of the whole town, this
grim, half legendary figure (passionately revered and as passionately
hated) appeared to him to stand alone not for the decaying past, but for
the growing future. The stories of the too rapid development of the
Treadwell fortune he cast scornfully aside as the malicious slanders of
failure. What did all this tittle-tattle about a great man prove anyhow
except his greatness? Suppose he _had_ used his railroad to make a
fortune--well, but for him where would the Dinwiddie and Central be
to-day if not in the junk shop? Where would the lumber market be? the
cotton market? the tobacco market? For around Cyrus, standing alone and
solitary on his height, there had gathered the great illusion that
makes theft honest and falsehood truth--the illusion of Success; and
simple John Henry Pendleton, who, after nineteen years of poverty and
memory, was bereft alike of classical pedantry and of physical comforts,
had grown a little weary of the endless lip-worship of a single moment
in history. Granted even that it was the greatest moment the world had
seen, still why couldn't one be satisfied to have it take its place
beside the wars of the Spartans and of the ancient Britons? Perpetual
mourning was well enough for ladies in crape veils and heroic gentlemen
on crutches; but when your bread and meat depended not upon the graves
you had decorated, but upon the bathtubs you had sold, surely something
could be said for the Treadwell point of view.

As Virginia could find no answer to this remark, the three stood in
silence, gazing dreamily, with three pairs of Pendleton eyes, down
toward the site of the old slave market. Directly in their line of
vision, an over-laden mule with a sore shoulder was straining painfully
under the lash, but none of them saw it, because each of them was
morally incapable of looking an unpleasant fact in the face if there was
any honourable manner of avoiding it. What they beheld, indeed, was the
most interesting street in the world, filled with the most interesting
people, who drove happy animals that enjoyed their servitude and needed
the sound of the lash to add cheer and liveliness to their labours.
Never had the Pendleton idealism achieved a more absolute triumph over
the actuality.

"Well, we must go on," murmured Mrs. Pendleton, withdrawing her
visionary gaze from the hot street littered with fruit rinds and
blood-stained papers from a neighbouring butcher shop. "It was lovely
to have this glimpse of you, John Henry. What nice bathtubs you have!"
Smiling her still lovely smile into the young man's eyes, she proceeded
on her leisurely way, while Virginia raised the black silk sunshade over
her head. In front of them they could see long rows of fish-carts and
vegetable stalls around which hovered an army of eager housekeepers. The
social hours in Dinwiddie at that period were the early morning ones in
the old market, and Virginia knew that she should hear Docia's story
repeated again for the benefit of the curious or sympathetic listeners
that would soon gather about her mother. Mrs. Pendleton's marketing,
unlike the hurried and irresponsible sort of to-day, was an affair of
time and ceremony. Among the greetings and the condolences from other
marketers there would ensue lengthy conversations with the vendors of
poultry, of fish, or of vegetables. Every vegetable must be carefully
selected by her own hands and laid aside into her special basket, which
was in the anxious charge of a small coloured urchin. While she felt the
plump breasts of Mr. Dewlap's chickens, she would inquire with
flattering condescension after the members of Mr. Dewlap's family. Not
only did she remember each one of them by name, but she never forgot
either the dates of their birthdays or the number of turkeys Mrs. Dewlap
had raised in a season. If marketing is ever to be elevated from an
occupation to an art, it will be by a return to Mrs. Pendleton's method.

"Mother, please buy some strawberries," begged Virginia.

"Darling, you know we never buy fruit, or desserts. Somebody will
certainly send us something. I saw Mrs. Carrington whipping syllabub on
her back porch as we passed."

"But they're only five cents a basket."

"Well, put a basket with my marketing, Mr. Dewlap. Yes, I'll take that
white pullet if you're sure that she is plumper than the red one."

She moved on a step or two, while the white pullet was handed over by
its feet to the small coloured urchin and to destruction. If Mrs.
Pendleton had ever reflected on the tragic fate of pullets, she would
probably have concluded that it was "best" for them to be fried and
eaten, or Providence, whose merciful wisdom she never questioned, would
not have permitted it. So, in the old days, she had known where the
slave market stood, without realizing in the least that men and women
were sold there. "Poor things, it does seem dreadful, but I suppose it
is better for them to have a change sometimes," she would doubtless have
reasoned had the horror of the custom ever occurred to her--for her
heart was so sensitive to pain that she could exist at all only by
inventing a world of exquisite fiction around her.

"Aren't you nearly through, mother?" pleaded Virginia at last. "The sun
will be so hot going home that it will make your head worse."

Mrs. Pendleton, who was splitting a pea-shell with her thumb in order to
ascertain the size and quality of the peas, murmured soothingly, "Just a
minute, dear"; and the girl, finding it impossible to share her mother's
enthusiasm for slaughtered animals, fell back again into the narrow
shade of the stalls. She revolted with a feeling of outrage against the
side of life that confronted her--against the dirty floor, strewn with
withered vegetables above which flies swarmed incessantly, and against
the pathos of the small bleeding forms which seemed related neither to
the lamb in the fields nor to the Sunday roast on the table. That divine
gift of evasion, which enabled Mrs. Pendleton to see only the thing she
wanted to see in every occurrence, was but partially developed as yet in
Virginia; and while she stood there in the midst of her unromantic
surroundings, the girl shuddered lest Oliver Treadwell should know that
she had ever waited, hot, perspiring, with a draggled skirt, and a bag
of tomatoes grasped in her hands, while her mother wandered from stall
to stall in a tireless search for peas a few cents cheaper than those of
Mr. Dewlap. Youth, with its ingenuous belief that love dwells in
external circumstances, was protesting against the bland assumption of
age that love creates its own peculiar circumstances out of itself. It
was absurd, she knew, to imagine that her father's affection for her
mother would alter because she haggled over the price of peas; yet the
emotion with which she endowed Oliver Treadwell was so delicate and
elusive that she felt that the sight of a soiled skirt and a perspiring
face would blast it forever. It appeared imperative that he should see
her in white muslin, and she resolved that if it cost Docia her life she
would have the flounces of her dress smoothed before evening. She, who
was by nature almost morbidly sensitive to suffering, became, in the
hands of this new and implacable power, as ruthless as Fate.

"Now I'm ready, Jinny dear. Are you tired waiting?" asked Mrs.
Pendleton, coming toward her with the coloured urchin in her train.
"Why, there's Susan Treadwell. Have you spoken to her?"

The next instant, before the startled girl could turn, a voice cried out
triumphantly: "O Jinny!" and in front of her, looking over Susan's
shoulder, she saw the eager eyes and the thin, high-coloured face of
Oliver Treadwell. For a moment she told herself that he had read her
thoughts with his penetrating gaze, which seemed to pierce through her;
and she blushed pink while her eyes burned under her trembling lashes.
Then the paper bag, containing the tomatoes, burst in her hands, and its
contents rolled, one by one, over the littered floor to his feet. Both
stooped at once to recover it, and while their hands touched amid wilted
cabbage leaves, the girl felt that love had taken gilded wings and
departed forever!

"Put them in the basket, dear," Mrs. Pendleton could be heard saying
calmly in the midst of her daughter's agony--for, having lived through
the brief illumination of romance, she had come at last into that steady
glow which encompasses the commonplace.

"This is my cousin Oliver, Virginia," remarked Susan as casually as if
the meeting of the two had not been planned from all eternity by the
beneficent Powers.

"I'm afraid I've spoiled your nice red tomatoes," said a voice that
filled Virginia's whirling mind with a kind of ecstatic dizziness. As
the owner of the voice held out his hand, she saw that it was long and
thin like the rest of him, with blue veins crossing the back, and
slender, slightly crooked fingers that hurt hers with the strength of
their pressure. "To confess the truth," he added gaily after an instant,
"my breath was quite taken away because, somehow, this was the last
place on earth in which I expected to find you. It's a dreadful
spot--don't you think so? If we've got to be cannibals, why in Heaven's
name make a show and a parade of it?"

"What an extraordinary young man!" said Mrs. Pendleton's eyes; and
Virginia found herself blushing again because she felt that her mother
had not understood him. A delicious embarrassment--something different
and more vivid than any sensation she had ever known--held her
speechless while he looked at her. Had her life depended on it, she
could not have uttered a sentence--could hardly even have lifted her
lashes, which seemed suddenly to have become so heavy that she felt the
burden of them weighing over her eyes. All the picturesque phrases she
had planned to speak at their first meeting had taken wings with
perfidious romance, yet she would have given her dearest possession to
have been able to say something really clever. "He thinks me a
simpleton, of course," she thought--perfectly unconscious that Oliver
was not thinking of her wits at all, but of the wonderful rose-pink of
her flesh. At one and the same instant, she felt that this silence was
the most marvellous thing that had ever happened to her and longed to
break it with some speech so brilliant that he would never forget it.
Little thrills of joy, like tiny flames, ran over her, and the light in
her eyes shone on him through the quivering dusk of her lashes. Even
when she looked away from him, she could still see his expression of
tender gaiety, as though he were trying in vain to laugh himself free
from an impulse that was fast growing too strong for him. What she did
not know was that the spring was calling to him through her youth and
sex as it was calling through the scented winds and the young buds on
the trees. She was as ignorant that she offered herself to him through
her velvet softness, through the glow in her eyes, through her quivering
lips, as the flower is that it allures the bee by its perfume. So subtly
did Life use her for its end that the illusion of choice in first love
remained unimpaired. Though she was young desire incarnate, he saw in
her only the unique and solitary woman of his dreams.

"Do you come here every day?" he asked, and immediately the blue sky and
the octagonal market spun round at his voice.

As nothing but commonplace words would come to her, she was obliged at
last to utter them. "Oh, no, not every day."

"I've always had a tremendous sympathy for women because they have to
market and housekeep. I wonder if they won't revolt some time?"

This was so heretical a point of view that she tried earnestly to
comprehend it; but all the time her heart was busy telling her how
different he was from every other man--how much more interesting! how
immeasurably superior! Her attention, in spite of her efforts at serious
thought, would not wander from the charm of his voice, from the peculiar
whimsical trick of his smile, which lifted his mouth at one corner and
made odd little wrinkles come and go about his eyes. His manner was full
of sudden nervous gestures which surprised and enchanted her. All other
men were not merely as clay beside him--they were as straw! Seeing that
he was waiting for a response, she made a violent endeavour to think of
one, and uttered almost inaudibly: "But don't they like it?"

"Ah, that's just it," he answered as seriously as if she hadn't known
that her speech bordered on imbecility. "Do they really like it? or have
they been throwing dust in our eyes through the centuries?" And he gazed
at her as eagerly as if he were hanging upon her answer. Oh, if she
could only say something clever! If she could only say the sort of thing
that would shock Miss Priscilla! But nothing came of her wish, and she
was reduced at last to the pathetic rejoinder, "I don't know. I'm afraid
I've never thought about it."

For a moment he stared at her as though he were enraptured by her reply.
With such eyes and such hair, she might have been as simple as she
appeared and he would never have known it. "Of course you haven't, or
you wouldn't be you!" he responded; and by the time she came to her
senses, she was following her mother and the negro urchin out of the
market. Though she was in reality walking over cinders, she felt that
her feet were treading on golden air.



CHAPTER IV

THE TREADWELLS


Above the Dinwiddie of Virginia's girlhood, rising sharply out of the
smoothly blended level of personalities, there towered, as far back as
she could remember, the grim and yet strangely living figure of Cyrus
Treadwell. From the intimate social life of the town he had remained
immovably detached; but from the beginning it had been impossible for
that life to ignore him. Among a people knit by a common pulse, yet
separated by a multitude of individual differences, he stood aloof and
indispensable, like one of the gaunt iron bridges of his great railroad.
He was at once the destroyer and the builder--the inexorable foe of the
old feudal order and the beneficent source of the new industrialism.
Though half of Dinwiddie hated him, the other half (hating him, perhaps
none the less) ate its bread from his hands. The town, which had lived,
fought, lost, and suffered not as a group of individuals, but as a
psychological unit, had surrendered at last, less to the idea of
readjustment than to the indomitable purpose of a single mind.

And yet nobody in Dinwiddie, not even Miss Willy Whitlow, who sewed out
by the day, and knew the intimate structure of every skeleton in every
closet of the town--nobody could tell the precise instant at which Cyrus
had ceased to be an ordinary man and become a great one. A phrase,
which had started as usual, "The Mr. Treadwell, you know, who married
poor Belinda Bolingbroke--" swerved suddenly to "Cyrus Treadwell told me
that, and you must admit that _he_ knows what he is talking about"--and
a reputation was made! His marriage to "poor Belinda," which had at
first appeared to be the most conspicuous fact in his career, dwindled
to insignificance beside the rebuilding of the tobacco industry and his
immediate elevation to the vacant presidency of one of the Machlin
railroads.

It was true that in the meantime he had fought irreproachably, but
without renown, through a number of battles; and returning to a
vanquished and ruined city, had found himself still young enough to go
to school again in matters of finance. Whether he had learned from
Antrum, the despised carpet-bagger for Machlin & Company, or had taken
his instructions at first hand from the great Machlin himself, was in
the eighties an open question in Dinwiddie. The choice was probably
given him to learn or starve; and aided by the keen understanding and
the acute sense of property he had inherited from his Scotch-Irish
parentage, he had doubtless decided that to learn was, after all, the
easier way. Saving he had always been, and yet with such strange and
sudden starts of generosity that he had been known to seek out distant
obscure maiden relatives and redeem the mortgaged roof over their heads.
His strongest instinct, which was merely an attenuated shoot from his
supreme feeling for possessions, was that of race, though he had
estranged both his son and his daughter by his stubborn conviction that
he was not doing his duty by them except when he was making their lives
a burden. For, as with most men who have suffered in their youth under
oppression, his ambition was not so much to relieve the oppressed as to
become in his turn the oppressor. Owing, perhaps, to his fine
Scotch-Irish blood, which ran a little muddy in his veins, he had never
lost a certain primitive feeling of superstition, like the decaying root
of a religious instinct; and he was as strict in his attendance upon
church as he was loose in applying the principles of Christianity to his
daily life. Sunday was vaguely associated in his mind with such popular
fetiches as a frock coat and a roast of beef; and if the roast had been
absent from dinner, he would have felt precisely the same indefinite
disquietude that troubled him when the sermon was left out of the
service. So completely did his outward life shape itself around the
inner structure of his thought, that, except for the two days of the
week which he spent with unfailing regularity in Wall Street, he might
have been said to live only in his office. Once when his doctor had
prescribed exercise for a slight dyspepsia, he had added a few
additional blocks to his morning and evening walk, and it was while he
was performing this self-inflicted penance that he came upon Gabriel,
who was hastening toward him in behalf of John Henry.

For an instant a gleam of light shone on Cyrus's features, and they
stood out, palely illuminated, like the features of a bronze statue
above which a torch suddenly flares. His shoulders, which stooped until
his coat had curved in the back, straightened themselves with a jerk,
while he held out his hand, on which an old sabre cut was still visible.
This faded scar had always seemed to Gabriel the solitary proof that
the great man was created of flesh and blood.

"I've come about a little matter of business," began the rector in an
apologetic tone, for in Cyrus's presence he was never without an uneasy
feeling that the problems of the spirit were secondary to the problems
of finance.

"Well, I'm just going into the office. Come in and sit down. I'm glad to
see you. You bring back the four happiest years of my life, Gabriel."

"And of mine, too. It's queer, isn't it, how the savage seems to sleep
in the most peaceable of men? We were half starved in those days, half
naked, and without the certainty that we'd live until sunset--but,
dreadful as it sounds, I was happier then--God help me!--than I've ever
been before or since."

Passing through an outer office, where a number of young men were
bending over ledgers, they entered Cyrus's private room, and sat down in
two plain pine chairs under the coloured lithograph of an engine which
ornamented the largest space on the wall. The room was bare of the most
ordinary comforts, as though its owner begrudged the few dollars he must
spend to improve his surroundings.

"Well, those days are over, and you say it's business that you've come
about?" retorted Cyrus, not rudely, but with the manner of a man who
seldom wastes words and whose every expenditure either of time or of
money must achieve some definite result.

"Yes, it's business." The rector's tone had chilled a little, and he
added in spite of his judgment, "I'm afraid it's a favour. Everybody
comes begging to you, I suppose?"

"Then, it's the Sunday-school picnic, I reckon. I haven't forgotten it.
Smithson!" An alert young man appeared at the door. "Make a note that
Mr. Pendleton wants coaches for the Saint James' Church picnic on the
twenty-ninth. You said twenty-ninth, didn't you, Gabriel?"

"If the weather's good," replied Gabriel meekly, and then as Smithson
withdrew, he glanced nervously at the lithograph of the engine. "But it
wasn't about the picnic that I came," he said. "The fact is, I wanted to
ask you to use your influence in the matter of getting John Henry a
place in the bank. He has done very well at the night school, and I
believe that you would find him entirely satisfactory."

At the first mention of the bank, a look of distrust crept into Cyrus's
face--a look cautious, alert, suspicious, such as he wore at directors'
meetings when there was a chance that something might be got out of him
if for a minute he were to go off his guard.

"I feel a great responsibility for him," resumed Gabriel almost sternly,
though he was painfully aware that his assurance had deserted him.

"Why don't you go to James? James is the one to see about such a
matter."

If the rector had spoken the thought in his mind, he would have
answered, "Because James reminds me of a fish and I can't abide him";
but instead, he replied simply, "I know James so slightly that I don't
feel in a position to ask a favour of him."

The expression of suspicion left Cyrus's face, and he relaxed from the
strained attitude in which he had sat ever since the Sunday-school
picnic had been dismissed from the conversation. Leaning back in his
chair, he drew two cigars from the pocket of his coat, and after
glancing a little reluctantly at them both, offered one to the rector.
"I believe he really wanted me to refuse it!" flashed through Gabriel's
mind like an arrow--though the other's hesitation had been, in fact,
only an unconscious trick of manner which he had acquired during the
long lean years when he had fattened chiefly by not giving away. The
gift of a cigar could mean nothing to a man who willingly contributed to
every charity in town, but the trivial gestures that accompany one's
early habits occasionally outlast the peculiar circumstances from which
they spring.

For a few minutes they smoked in silence. Then Cyrus remarked in his
precise voice: "James is a clever fellow--a clever fellow."

"I've heard that he is as good as right hand to you. That's a fine thing
to say of a son."

"Yes, I don't know what I should do without James. He's a saving hand,
and, I tell you, there are more fortunes made by saving than by
gambling."

"Well, I don't think James need ever give you any concern on that
account," replied Gabriel, not without gentle satire, for he recalled
several unpleasant encounters with the younger Treadwell on the subject
of charity. "But I've heard different tales of that nephew of yours who
has just come back from God knows what country."

"He's Henry's son," replied Cyrus with a frown. "You haven't forgotten
Henry?"

"Yes, I remember. Henry and George both went out to Australia to open
the tobacco market, and Henry died poor while George lived and got rich,
I believe?"

"George kept free of women and attended to his affairs," returned Cyrus,
who was as frank about his family as he was secretive about his
business.

"But what about Henry's son? He's a promising chap, isn't he?"

"It depends upon what you call promising, I reckon. Before he came I
thought of putting him into the bank, but since I've seen him, I can't,
for the life of me, think of anything to do with him. Unless, of course,
you could see your way toward taking him into the ministry," he
concluded with sardonic humour.

"His views on theology would prevent that, I fear," replied the rector,
while all the kindly little wrinkles leaped out around his eyes.

"Views? What do anybody's views matter who can't make a living? But to
tell the truth, there's something about him that I don't trust. He isn't
like Henry, so he must take after that pretty fool Henry married. Now,
if he had James's temper, I could make something out of him, but he's
different--he's fly-up-the-creek--he's as flighty as a woman."

Gabriel, who had been a little cheered to learn that the young man, with
all his faults, did not resemble James, hastened to assure Cyrus that
there might be some good in the boy, after all--that he was only
twenty-two, and that, in any case, it was too soon to pass judgment.

"I can't stand his talk," returned the other grimly. "I've never heard
anybody but a preacher--I beg your pardon, Gabriel, nothing
personal!--who could keep going so long when nobody was listening. A
mere wind-bag, that's what he is, with a lot of nonsensical ideas about
his own importance. If there wasn't a girl in the house, it would be no
great matter, but that Susan of mine is so headstrong that I'm half
afraid she'll get crazy and imagine she's fallen in love with him."

This proof of parental anxiety touched Gabriel in his tenderest spot.
After all, though Cyrus had a harsh surface, there was much good at the
bottom of him. "I can enter into your feelings about that," he answered
sympathetically, "though my Jinny, I am sure, would never allow herself
to think seriously about a man without first asking my opinion of him."

"Then you're fortunate," commented Cyrus dryly, "for I don't believe
Susan would give a red cent for what I'd think if she once took a fancy.
She'd as soon elope with that wild-eyed scamp as eat her dinner, if it
once entered her head."

A knock came at the door, and Smithson entered and conferred with his
employer over a telegram, while Gabriel rose to his feet.

"By the way," said Cyrus, turning abruptly from his secretary and
stopping the rector as he was about to pass out of the door, "I was just
wondering if you remembered the morning after Lee's surrender, when we
started home on the road together?"

"Why, yes." There was a note of surprise in Gabriel's answer, for he
remembered, also, that he had sold his watch a little later in the day
to a Union soldier, and had divided the eighty dollars with Cyrus. For
an instant, he almost believed that the other was going to allude for
the first time to that incident.

"Well, I've never forgotten that green persimmon tree by the roadside,"
pursued the great man, "and the way you stopped under it and said, 'O
Lord, wilt Thou not work a miracle and make persimmons ripen in the
spring?'"

"No, I'd forgotten it," rejoined Gabriel coolly, for he was hurt by the
piece of flippancy and was thinking the worst of Cyrus again.

"You'd forgotten it? Well, I've a long memory, and I never forget.
That's one thing you may count on me for," he added, "a good memory. As
for John Henry--I'll see James about it. I'll see what James has to
say."

When Gabriel had gone, accompanied as far as the outer door by the
secretary, Cyrus turned back to the window, and stood gazing over a
steep street or two, and past the gabled roof of an old stone house, to
where in the distance the walls of the new building of the Treadwell
Tobacco Company were rising. Around the skeleton structure he could see
the workmen moving like ants, while in a widening circle of air the
smoke of other factories floated slowly upward under a brazen sky.
"There are too many of them," he thought bitterly. "It's competition
that kills. There are too many of them."

So rapt was his look while he stood there that there came into his face
an expression of yearning sentiment that made it almost human. Then his
gaze wandered to the gleaming tracks of the two great railroads which
ran out of Dinwiddie toward the north, uncoiling their length like
serpents between the broad fields sprinkled with the tender green of
young crops. Beside them trailed the ashen country roads over which
farmers were crawling with their covered wagons; but, while Cyrus
watched from his height, there was as little thought in his mind for the
men who drove those wagons through the parching dust as for the beasts
that drew them. It is possible even that he did not see them, for just
as Mrs. Pendleton's vision eliminated the sight of suffering because her
heart was too tender to bear it, so he overlooked all facts except those
which were a part of the dominant motive of his life. Nearer still,
within the narrow board fences which surrounded the backyards of negro
hovels, under the moving shadows of broad-leaved mulberry or sycamore
trees, he gazed down on the swarms of mulatto children; though to his
mind that problem, like the problem of labour, loomed vague, detached,
and unreal--a thing that existed merely in the air, not in the concrete
images that he could understand.

"Well, it's a pity Gabriel never made more of himself," he thought
kindly. "Yes, it's a pity. I'll see what I can do for him."

At six o'clock that evening, when the end of his business day had come,
he joined James at the door for his walk back to Bolingbroke Street.

"Have you done anything about Jones's place in the bank?" was the first
question he asked after his abrupt nod of greeting.

"No, sir. I thought you were waiting to find out about Oliver."

"Then you thought wrong. The fellow's a fool. Look up that nephew of
Gabriel Pendleton, and see if he is fit for the job. I am sorry Jones is
dead," he added with a touch of feeling. "I remember I got him that
place the year after the war, and I never knew him to be ten minutes
late during all the time that I worked with him."

"But what are we to do with Oliver?" inquired James after a pause. "Of
course he wouldn't be much good in the bank, but----"

And without finishing his sentence, he glanced up in a tentative,
non-committal manner into Cyrus's face. He was a smaller and somewhat
imperfect copy of his father, naturally timid, and possessed of a
superstitious feeling that he should die in an accident. His thin anæmic
features lacked the strength of the Treadwells, though in his cautious
and taciturn way he was very far indeed from being the fool people
generally thought him. Since he had never loved anything with passion
except money, he was regarded by his neighbours as a man of
unimpeachable morality.

At the end of the block, while the long pointed shadows of their feet
kept even pace on the stone crossing, Cyrus answered abruptly: "Put him
anywhere out of my sight. I can't bear the look of him."

"How would you like to give him something to do on the road? Put him
under Borrows, for instance, and let him learn a bit about freight?"

"Well, I don't care. Only don't let me see him--he turns my stomach."

"Then as long as we've got to support him, I'll tell him he may try his
hand at the job of assistant freight agent, if he wants to earn his
keep."

"He'll never do that--just as well put him down under 'waste,' and have
done with him," replied Cyrus, chuckling.

A little girl, rolling a hoop, tripped and fell at his feet, and he
nodded at her kindly, for he had a strong physical liking for children,
though he had never stopped to think about them in a human or personal
way. He had, indeed, never stopped to think about anything except the
absorbing problem of how to make something out of nothing. Everything
else, even his marriage, had made merely a superficial impression upon
him. What people called his "luck" was only the relentless pursuit of an
idea; and in this pursuit all other sides of his nature had been sapped
of energy. From the days when he had humbly accepted small commissions
from the firm of Machlin & Company, to the last few years, when he had
come to be regarded almost superstitiously as the saviour of sinking
properties, he had moved quietly, cautiously, and unswervingly in one
direction. The blighting panic of ten years before had hardly touched
him, so softly had he ventured, and so easy was it for him to return to
his little deals and his diet of crumbs. They were bad times, those
years, alike for rich and poor, for Northerner and Southerner; but in
the midst of crashing firms and noiseless factories, he had cut down his
household expenses to a pittance and had gone on as secretively as
ever--waiting, watching, hoping, until the worst was over and Machlin &
Company had found their man. Then, a little later, with the invasion of
the cigarette, there went up the new Treadwell factory which the subtle
minded still attributed to the genius of Cyrus. Even before George and
Henry had sailed for Australia, the success of the house in Dinwiddie
was assured. There was hardly a drug store in America in those days that
did not offer as its favourite James's crowning triumph, the Magnolia
cigarette. A few years later, competition came like a whirlwind, but in
the beginning the Treadwell brand held the market alone, and in those
few years Cyrus's fortune was made.

"Heard from George lately?" he inquired, when they had traversed,
accompanied by their long and narrow shadows, another couple of blocks.
The tobacco trade had always been for him merely a single pawn in the
splendid game he was playing, but he had suspected recently that James
felt something approaching a sentiment for the Magnolia cigarette, and
true to the Treadwell scorn of romance, he was forever trying to trick
him into an admission of guilt.

"Not since that letter I showed you a month ago," answered James. "Too
much competition, that's the story everywhere. They are flooding the
market with cigarettes, and if it wasn't for the way the Magnolia holds
on, we'd be swamped in little or no time."

"Well, I reckon the Claypole would pull us through," commented Cyrus.
The Claypole was an old brand of plug tobacco with which the first
Treadwell factory had started. "But you're right about competition. It's
got to stop or we'll be driven clean out of the business."

He drew out his latchkey as he spoke, for they had reached the corner of
Bolingbroke Street, and the small dingy house in which they lived was
only a few doors away. As they passed between the two blossoming
oleanders in green tubs on the sidewalk, James glanced up at the flat
square roof, and observed doubtfully, "You'll be getting out of this old
place before long now, I reckon."

"Oh, someday, someday," answered Cyrus. "There'll be time enough when
the market settles and we can see where the money is coming from."

Once every year, in the spring, James asked his father this question,
and once every year he received exactly the same answer. In his mind,
Cyrus was always putting off the day when he should move into a larger
house, for though he got richer every week, he never seemed to get quite
rich enough to commit himself to any definite change in his
circumstances. Of course, in the nature of things, he knew that he ought
to have left Bolingbroke Street long ago; there was hardly a family
still living there with whom his daughter associated, and she complained
daily of having to pass saloons and barber shops whenever she went out
of doors. But the truth was that in spite of his answer to James's
annual question, neither of them wanted to move away from the old home,
and each hoped in his heart that he should never be forced into doing
so. Cyrus had become wedded to the house as a man becomes wedded to a
habit, and since the clinging to a habit was the only form of sentiment
of which he was capable, he shrank more and more from what he felt to be
the almost unbearable wrench of moving. A certain fidelity of purpose,
the quality which had lifted him above the petty provincialism that
crippled James, made the display of wealth as obnoxious to him as the
possession of it was agreeable. As long as he was conscious that he
controlled the industrial future of Dinwiddie, it was a matter of
indifference to him whether people supposed him to be a millionaire or a
pauper. In time he would probably have to change his way of living and
put an end to his life-long practice of saving; but, meanwhile, he was
quite content to go on year after year mending the roof and the chimneys
of the old house into which he had moved the week after his marriage.

Entering the hall, he hung his hat on the walnut hat-rack in the dark
corner behind the door, and followed the worn strip of blue and red
oilcloth which ran up the narrow staircase to the floor above. Where the
staircase bent sharply in the middle, the old-fashioned mahogany
balustrade shone richly in the light of a gas-jet which jutted out on a
brass stem from the wall. Although a window on the upper floor was
opened wide to the sunset, the interior of the house had a close musty
smell, as if it had been shut up, uninhabited, for months. Cyrus had
never noticed the smell, for his senses, which were never acute, had
been rendered even duller than usual by custom.

At the top of the stairs, a coloured washerwoman, accompanied by a
bright mulatto boy, who carried an empty clothes basket on his head,
waited humbly in the shadow for the two men to pass. She was a dark
glistening creature, with ox-like eyes, and the remains of a handsome
figure, now running to fat.

"Howdy, Marster," she murmured under her breath as Cyrus reached her, to
which he responded brusquely, "Howdy, Mandy," while he glanced with
unseeing eyes at the mulatto boy at her side. Then, as he walked rapidly
down the hall, with James at his heels, the woman turned back for a
minute and gazed after him with an expression of animal submission and
acquiescence. So little personal to Cyrus and so free from individual
consciousness was this look, that it seemed less the casual glance from
a servant to a master than the intimate aspect of a primitive racial
attitude toward life.

At the end of the hall, beyond the open door of the bedroom (which he
still occupied with his wife from an ineradicable conviction that all
respectable married persons slept together no matter how uncomfortable
they might be), Cyrus discerned the untidy figure of Mrs. Treadwell
reflected in a mirror before which she stood brushing her back hair
straight up from her neck to a small round knot on the top of her head.
She was a slender, flat-chested woman, whose clothes, following some
natural bent of mind, appeared never to be put on quite straight or
properly hooked and buttoned. It was as if she perpetually dressed in a
panic, forgetting to fasten her placket, to put on her collar or to mend
the frayed edges of her skirt. When she went out, she still made some
spasmodic attempts at neatness; but Susan's untiring efforts and
remonstrances had never convinced her that it mattered how one looked in
the house--except indeed when a formal caller arrived, for whom she
hastily tied a scarf at the neck of her dirty basque and flung a purple
wool shawl over her shoulders. Her spirit had been too long broken for
her to rebel consciously against her daughter's authority; but her mind
was so constituted that the sense of order was missing, and the pretty
coquetry of youth, which had masqueraded once as the more enduring
quality of self-respect, was extinguished in the five and thirty
penitential years of her marriage. She had a small vacant face, where
the pink and white had run into muddiness, a mouth that sagged at the
corners like the mouth of a frightened child, and eyes of a sickly
purple, which had been compared by Cyrus to "sweet violets," in the only
compliment he ever paid her. Thirty-five years ago, in one of those
attacks of indiscretion which overtake the most careful man in the
spring, Cyrus had proposed to her; and when she declined him, he had
immediately repeated his offer, animated less by any active desire to
possess her, than by the dogged male determination to over-ride all
obstacles, whether feminine or financial. And pretty Belinda
Bolingbroke, being alone and unsupported by other suitors at the
instant, had entwined herself instinctively around the nearest male prop
that offered. It had been one of those marriages of opposites which
people (ignoring the salient fact that love has about as much part in it
as it has in the pursuit of a spring chicken by a hawk) speak of with
sentiment as "a triumph of love over differences." Even in the first
days of their engagement, there could be found no better reason for
their marriage than the meeting of Cyrus's stubborn propensity to have
his way with the terror of imaginary spinsterhood which had seized
Belinda in a temporary lapse of suitors. Having married, they
immediately proceeded, as if by mutual consent, to make the worst of it.
She, poor fluttering dove-like creature, had lost hope at the first
rebuff, and had let go all the harmless little sentiments that had
sweetened her life; while he, having married a dove by choice and
because of her doveliness, had never forgiven her that she did not
develop into a brisk, cackling hen of the barnyard. As usually happens
in the cases where "love triumphs over differences," he had come at last
to hate her for the very qualities which had first caught his fancy. His
ideal woman (though he was perfectly unconscious that she existed) was a
managing thrifty soul, in a starched calico dress, with a natural
capacity for driving a bargain; and Life, with grim humour, had rewarded
this respectable preference by bestowing upon him feeble and insipid
Belinda, who spent sleepless nights trying to add three and five
together, but who could never, to save her soul, remember to put down
the household expenses in the petty cash book. It was a case, he
sometimes told himself, of a man, who had resisted temptation all his
life, being punished for one instant's folly more harshly than if he
were a practised libertine. No libertine, indeed, could have got himself
into such a scrape, for none would have surrendered so completely to a
single manifestation of the primal force. To play the fool once, he
reflected bitterly, when his brief intoxication was over, is after all
more costly than to play it habitually. Had he pursued a different pair
of violet eyes every evening, he would never have ended by embracing the
phantom that was Belinda.

But it was more than thirty years since Cyrus had taken the trouble to
turn his unhappiness into philosophy--for, aided by time, he had become
reconciled to his wife as a man becomes reconciled to a physical
infirmity. Except for that one eventful hour in April, women had stood
for so little in his existence, that he had never stopped to wonder if
his domestic relations might have been pleasanter had he gone about the
business of selection as carefully as he picked and chose the tobacco
for his factory. Even the streak of sensuality in his nature did not run
warm as in the body of an ordinary mortal, and his vices, like his
virtues, had become so rarefied in the frozen air of his intelligence
that they were no longer recognizable as belonging to the common
frailties of men.

"Ain't you dressed yet?" he inquired without looking at his wife as he
entered--for having long ago lost his pride of possession in her, he had
ceased to regard her as of sufficient importance to merit the ordinary
civilities.

"I was helping Miss Willy whip one of Susan's flounces," she answered,
turning from the mirror, with the hairbrush held out like a peace
offering before her. "We wanted to get through to-day," she added
nervously, "so Miss Willy can start on Jinny Pendleton's dress the first
thing in the morning."

If Cyrus had ever permitted himself the consolation of doubtful
language, he would probably have exclaimed with earnestness, "Confound
Miss Willy!" but he came of a stock which condemned an oath, or even an
expletive, on its face value, so this natural outlet for his irritation
was denied him. Instead, therefore, of replying in words, he merely
glanced sourly at the half-open door, through which issued the whirring
noise of the little dressmaker at her sewing. Now and then, in the
intervals when her feet left the pedal, she could be heard humming
softly to herself with her mouth full of pins.

"Isn't she going?" asked Cyrus presently, while he washed his hands at
the washstand in one corner and dried them on a towel which Belinda had
elaborately embroidered in red. Peering through the crack of the door as
he put the question, he saw Miss Willy hurriedly pulling basting threads
out of a muslin skirt, and the fluttering bird-like motions of her hands
increased the singular feeling of repulsion with which she inspired him.
Though he was aware that she was an entirely harmless person, and,
more-over, that her "days" supplied the only companionship his wife
really enjoyed, he resented angrily the weeks of work and gossip which
the little seamstress spent under his roof. Put two gabbling women like
that together and you could never tell what stories would be set going
about you before evening! A suspicion, unfortunately too well founded,
that his wife had whimpered out her heart to the whirring accompaniment
of Miss Willy's machine, had caused him once or twice to rise in his
authority and forbid the dressmaker the house; but, in doing so, he had
reckoned without the strength which may lie in an unscrupulous weakness.
Belinda, who had never fought for anything else in her life, refused
absolutely to give up her dressmaker. "If I can't see her here, I'll go
to her house," she had said, and Cyrus had yielded at last as the bully
always yields before the frenzied violence of his victim.

After a hasty touch to the four round flat curls on her forehead, Mrs.
Treadwell turned from the bureau with her habitually hopeless air, and
slipped her thin arms into the tight sleeves of a black silk basque
which she took up from the bed.

"Did you see Oliver when you came in?" she asked. "He was in here
looking for you a few minutes ago."

"No, I didn't see him, but I'm going to. He's got to give up this
highfaluting nonsense of his if he expects me to support him. There's
one thing the fellow's got to understand, and that is that he can choose
between his precious stuff and his bread and meat. Before I give him a
job, he'll have to let me see that he is done with all this business of
play-writing."

A frightened look came into his wife's face, and indifferently glancing
at her as he finished, he was arrested by something enigmatical and yet
familiar in her features. A dim vision of the way she had looked at him
in the early days of their marriage floated an instant before him.

"Do you think he wants to do that?" she asked, with a little sound as if
she had drawn her breath so sharply that it whistled. What in thunder
was the matter with the woman? he wondered irritably. Of course she was
a fool about the scamp--all the women, even Susan, lost their heads over
him--but, after all, why should it make any difference to her whether he
wrote plays or took freight orders, as long as he managed to feed
himself?

"Well, I don't reckon it has come to a question of what he wants," he
rejoined shortly.

"But the boy's heart is bound up in his ambition," urged Belinda, with
an energy he had witnessed in her only once before in her life, and that
was on the occasion of her historic defence of the seamstress.

For a moment Cyrus stared at her with attention, almost with curiosity.
Then he opened his lips for a crushing rejoinder, but thinking better of
his impulse, merely repeated dryly, "His heart?" before he turned toward
the door. On the threshold he looked back and added, "The next time you
see him, tell him I'd like a word with him."

Left alone in her room, Mrs. Treadwell sat down in a rocking-chair by
the window, and clasped her hands tightly in her lap with a nervous
gesture which she had acquired in long periods of silent waiting on
destiny. Her mental attitude, which was one of secret, and usually
passive, antagonism to her husband, had stamped its likeness so
indelibly upon her features, that, sitting there in the wan light, she
resembled a woman who suffers from the effects of some slow yet deadly
sickness. Lacking the courage to put her revolt into words, she had
allowed it to turn inward and embitter the hidden sources of her being.
In the beginning she had asked so little of life that the denial of that
little by Fate had appeared niggardly rather than tragic. A man--any man
who would have lent himself gracefully as an object of worship--would
have been sufficient material for the building of her happiness.
Marriage, indeed, had always appeared to her so desirable as an end in
itself, entirely apart from the personal peculiarities or possibilities
of a husband, that she had awakened almost with surprise one morning to
the knowledge that she was miserable. It was not so much that her
romance had met with open disaster as that it had simply faded away.
This gradual fading away of sentiment, which she had accepted at the
time as only one of the inevitable stages in the slow process of
emotional adjustment, would perhaps have made but a passing impression
on a soul to whom every other outlet into the world had not been closed
by either temperament or tradition. But love had been the one window
through which light could enter her house of Life; and when this
darkened, her whole nature had sickened and grown morbid. Then at last
all the corroding bitterness in her heart had gathered to a canker which
ached ceaselessly, like a physical sore, in her breast.

"He saw I'd taken to Oliver--that's why he's anxious to spite him," she
thought resentfully as she stared with unseeing eyes out into the gray
twilight. "It's all just to worry me, that's why he is doing it. He
knows I couldn't be any fonder of the boy if he had come of my own
blood." And she who had been a Bolingbroke set her thin lips together
with the only consciousness of superiority to her husband that she had
ever known--the secret consciousness that she was better born. Out of
the wreck of her entire life, this was the floating spar to which she
still clung with a sense of security, and her imagination, by long
concentration upon the support that it offered, had exaggerated its
importance out of all proportion to the other props among which it had
its place. Like its imposing symbol, the Saint Memin portrait of the
great Archibald Bolingbroke, which lent distinction, by its very
inappropriateness, to the wall on which it hung, this hidden triumph
imparted a certain pathetic dignity to her manner.

"That's all on earth it is," she repeated with a kind of smothered
fierceness. But, even while the words were on her lips, her face changed
and softened, for in the adjoining room a voice, full of charm, could be
heard saying: "Sewing still, Miss Willy? Don't you know that you are
guilty of an immoral act when you work overtime?"

"I'm just this minute through, Mr. Oliver," answered the seamstress in
fluttering tones. "As soon as I fold this skirt, I'm going to quit and
put on my bonnet."

A few more words followed, and then the door opened wider and Oliver
entered--with his ardent eyes, his irresolute mouth, and his physical
charm which brought an air of vital well-being into the depressing
sultriness of the room.

"I missed you downstairs, Aunt Belinda. You haven't a headache, I hope,"
he said, and there was the same caressing kindness in his tone which he
had used to the dressmaker. It was as if his sympathy, like his charm,
which cost him so little because it was the gift of Nature, overflowed
in every casual expression of his temperament.

"No, I haven't a headache, dear," replied Mrs. Treadwell, putting up her
hand to his cheek as he leaned over her. "Your uncle is waiting for you
in the library, so you'd better go down at once," she added, catching
her breath as she had done when Cyrus first spoke to her about Oliver.

"Have you any idea what it means? Did he tell you?"

"Yes, he wants to talk to you about business."

"The deuce he does! Well, if that's it, I'd be precious glad to get out
of it. You don't suppose I could cut it, do you? Susan is going to take
me to the Pendletons' after supper, and I'd like to run upstairs now and
make a change."

"No, you'd better go down to him. He doesn't like to be kept waiting."

"All right, then--since you say so."

Meeting the dressmaker on the threshold, he forgot to answer her
deprecating bow in his eagerness to have the conversation with Cyrus
over and done with.

"I declare, he does startle a body when you ain't used to him," observed
Miss Willy, with a bashful giggle. She was a diminutive, sparrow-like
creature, with a natural taste for sick-rooms and death-beds, and an
inexhaustible fund of gossip. As Mrs. Treadwell, for once, did not
respond to her unspoken invitation to chat, she tied her bonnet strings
under her sharp little chin, and taking up her satchel went out again,
after repeating several times that she would be "back the very minute
Mrs. Pendleton was through with her." A few minutes later, Belinda,
still seated by the window, saw the shrunken figure ascend the area
steps and cross the dusty street with a rapid and buoyant step, as
though she, also, plain, overworked and penniless, was feeling the
delicious restlessness of the spring in her blood. "I wonder what on
earth she's got to make her skip like that," thought Belinda not without
bitterness. "I reckon she thinks she's just as important as anybody,"
she added after an instant, touching, though she was unaware of it, the
profoundest truth of philosophy. "She's got nothing in the world but
herself, yet I reckon to her that is everything, even if it doesn't make
a particle of difference to anybody else whether she is living or dead."

Her eyes were still on Miss Willy, who stepped on briskly, swinging her
bag joyously before her, when the sound of Cyrus's voice, raised high in
anger, came up to her from the library. A short silence followed; then a
door opened and shut quickly, and rapid footsteps passed up the
staircase and along the hall outside of her room. While she waited,
overcome by the nervous indecision which attacked her like palsy
whenever she was forced to take a definite action, Susan ran up the
stairs and called her name in a startled and shaking voice.

"Oh, mother, father has quarrelled dreadfully with Oliver and ordered
him out of the house!"



CHAPTER V

OLIVER, THE ROMANTIC


An hour later Oliver stood before the book-shelves in his room, wrapping
each separate volume in newspapers. Downstairs in the basement, he knew,
the family were at supper, but he had vowed, in his splendid scorn of
material things, that he would never eat another morsel under Cyrus's
roof. Even when his aunt, trembling in every limb, had brought him
secretly from the kitchen a cup of coffee and a plate of waffles, he had
refused to unlock his door and permit her to enter. "I'll come out when
I am ready to leave," he had replied to her whispered entreaties.

It was a small room, furnished chiefly by book-shelves, which were still
unfinished, and with a depressing view from a single window of red tin
roofs and blackened chimneys. Above the chimneys a narrow band of sky,
spangled with a few stars, was visible from where Oliver stood, and now
and then he stopped in his work and gazed up at it with an exalted and
resolute look. Sometimes a thin shred of smoke floated in from the
kitchen chimney, and hung, as if drawn and held there by some magnetic
attraction, around the kerosene lamp on a corner of the washstand. The
sultriness of the night, which was oppressive even in the street, was
almost stifling in the little room with its scant western exposure.

But the flame burning in Oliver's breast had purged away such petty
considerations as those for material comforts. He had risen above the
heat, above the emptiness of his pockets, above the demands of his
stomach. It was a matter of complete indifference to him whether he
slept in a house or out of doors, whether he ate or went hungry. His
exaltation was so magnificent that while it lasted he felt that he had
conquered the physical universe. He was strong! He was free! And it was
characteristic of his sanguine intellect that the future should appear
to him at the instant as something which existed not beyond him, but
actually within his grasp. Anger had liberated his spirit as even art
had not done; and he felt that all the blood in his body had rushed to
his brain and given him the mastery over circumstances. He forgot
yesterday as easily as he evaded to-day and subjugated to-morrow. The
past, with its starved ambitions, its tragic failures, its blighting
despondencies, melted away from him into obscurity; and he remembered
only the brief alternating hours of ecstasy and of accomplishment. With
his wind-blown, flame-like temperament, oscillating in the heat of youth
between the inclinations he miscalled convictions, he was still, though
Cyrus had disowned him, only a romantic variation from the Treadwell
stock. Somewhere, in the depths of his being, the essential Treadwell
persisted. He hated Cyrus as a man hates his own weakness; he revolted
from materialism as only a materialist in youth revolts.

A knock came at his door, and pausing, with a volume of Heine still
unwrapped in his hand, he waited in silence until his visitor should
retire down the stairs. But instead of Mrs. Treadwell's trembling
tones, he heard, after a moment, the firm and energetic voice of Susan.

"Oliver, I must speak to you. If you won't unlock your door, I'll sit
down on the steps and wait until you come out."

"I'm packing my books. I wish you'd go away, Susan."

"I haven't the slightest intention of going away until I've talked with
you----" and, then, being one of those persons who are born with the
natural gift of their own way, she laid her hand on the door-knob while
Oliver impatiently turned the key in the lock.

"Since you are here, you might as well come in and help," he remarked
none too graciously, as he made way for her to enter.

"Of course I'll help you--but, oh, Oliver, what in the world are you
going to do?"

"I haven't thought. I'm too busy, but I'll manage somehow."

"Father was terrible. I heard him all the way upstairs in my room. But,"
she looked at him a little doubtfully, "don't you think he will get over
it?"

"He may, but I shan't. I'd rather starve than live under a petty tyranny
like that?"

"I know," she nodded, and he saw that she understood him. It was
wonderful how perfectly, from the very first instant, she had understood
him. She grasped things, too, by intelligence, not by intuition, and he
found this refreshing in an age when the purely feminine was in fashion.
Never had he seen a finer example of young, buoyant, conquering
womanhood--of womanhood freed from the consciousness and the
disabilities of sex. "She's not the sort of girl a man would lose his
head over," he reflected; "there's too little of the female about
her--she's as free from coquetry as she is from the folderol of
sentimentality. She's a free spirit, and God knows how she ever came out
of the Treadwells." Her beauty even wasn't of the kind that usually goes
by the name. He didn't suppose there were ten men in Dinwiddie who would
turn to look back at her--but, by Jove, if she hadn't beauty, she had
the character that lends an even greater distinction. She looked as if
she could ride Life like a horse--could master it and tame it and break
it to the bridle.

"It's amazing how you know things, Susan," he said, "and you've never
been outside of Dinwiddie."

"But I've wanted to, and I sometimes think the wanting teaches one more
than the going."

He thought over this for an instant, and then, as if the inner flame
which consumed him had leaped suddenly to the surface, he burst out
joyously: "I've come to the greatest decision of my life in this last
hour, Susan."

Her eyes shone. "You mean you've decided not to do what father asks no
matter what happens?"

"I've decided not to accept his conditions--no matter what happens," he
answered.

"He was in earnest, then, about wanting you to give up writing?"

"So much in earnest that he would give me a job only on those terms."

"And you declined absolutely?"

"Of course I declined absolutely."

"But how will you live, Oliver?"

"Oh, I can easily make thirty dollars a month by reviewing German books
for New York papers, and I dare say I can manage to pull through on
that. I'll have to stay in Dinwiddie, of course, because I couldn't live
anywhere else on nearly so little, and, besides, I shouldn't be able to
buy a ticket away."

"That will be twenty dollars for your board," said the practical Susan,
"and you will have to make ten dollars a month cover all your other
expenses. Do you think you can do it?"

"I've got to. Better men have done worse things, haven't they? Better
men have done worse things and written great plays while they were about
them."

"I believe Mrs. Peachey would let you have a back room and board for
that," pursued Susan. "But it will cost you something to get your books
moved and the shelves put up there."

"As soon as I get through this I'll go over and see her. Oh, I'm free,
Susan, I'm happy! Did you ever see an absolutely happy man before? I
feel as if a weight had rolled off my shoulders. I'm tired--dog-tired of
compromise and commercialism and all the rest of it. I've got something
to say to the world, and I'll go out and make my bed in the gutter
before I'll forfeit the opportunity of saying it. Do you know what that
means, Susan? Do you know what it is to be willing to give your life if
only you can speak out the thing that is inside of you?" The colour in
his face mounted to his forehead, while his eyes grew black with
emotion. In the smoky little room, Youth, with its fierce revolts, its
impassioned egoism, its inextinguishable faith in itself, delivered its
ultimatum to Life. "I've got to be true to myself, Susan! A man who
won't starve for his ambition isn't worth his salt, is he? And, besides,
the best work is all done not in plenty, but in poverty--the most
perfect art has grown from the poorest soil. If I were to accept Uncle
Cyrus's offer, I'd grow soft to the core in a month and be of no more
use than a rotten apple."

His conviction lent a golden ring to his voice, and so winning to Susan
was the impetuous flow of his words, that she felt herself swept away
from all the basic common sense of her character. She saw his ambition
as clearly as he saw it; she weighed his purpose, as he weighed it, in
the imaginary scales of his judgment; she accepted his estimate of his
powers as passionately as he accepted it.

"Of course you mustn't give up, Oliver; you couldn't," she said.

"You're right, I couldn't."

"If you can get steady reviewing, I believe you can manage," she
resumed. "Living in Dinwiddie costs really so very little." Her voice
thrilled suddenly. "It must be beautiful to have something that you feel
about like this. Oh, I wish I were you, Oliver! I wish a thousand times
I were you!"

Withdrawing his eyes from the sky at which he had been gazing, he turned
to look at her as if her words had arrested him. "You're a dear girl,"
he answered kindly, "and I think all the world of you." As he spoke he
thought again what a fine thing it would be for the man who could fall
in love with her. "It would be the best thing that could happen to any
man to marry a woman like that," he reflected; "she'd keep him up to the
mark and never let him grow soft. Yes, it would be all right if only
one could manage to fall in love with her--but I couldn't. She might as
well be a rose-bush for all the passion she'd ever arouse in me." Then
his charming egoism asserted itself, and he said caressingly: "I don't
believe I could stand Dinwiddie but for you, Susan."

She smiled back at him, but there was a limpid clearness in her look
which made him feel that she had seen through him while he was thinking.
This clearness, with its utter freedom from affectation or
sentimentality, embarrassed him by its unlikeness to all the attributes
he mentally classified as feminine. To look straight seemed to him
almost as unwomanly as to throw straight, and Susan would, doubtless, be
quite capable of performing either of these difficult feats. He liked
her fine brow under the short fringe, which he hated, and he liked the
arched bridge of her nose and the generous curve of her mouth. Yet had
he stopped to analyze her, he would probably have said that the woman
spirit in her was expressed through character rather than through
emotion--a manifestation disconcerting to one whose vision of her sex
was chiefly as the irresponsible creature of drama. The old
shackles--even the shackles of that drama whose mistress and slave woman
had been--were out of place on the spirit which was incarnated in Susan.
Amid the cramping customs of the period, she moved large, free, and
simple, as though she walked already in the purer and more bracing air
of the future.

"I wish I could help you," she said, stooping to pick up a newspaper
from a pile on the floor. "Here, let me wrap that Spinoza. I'm afraid
the back will come off if you aren't careful."

"Of course a man has to work out his own career," he replied, as he
handed over the volume. "I doubt, when it comes to that, if anybody can
be of much help to another where his life's work is concerned. The main
thing, after all, is not to get in one's way, not to cripple one's
energy. I've got to be free--that's all there is about it. I've got to
belong to myself every instant."

"And you know already just what you are going to do? About your writing,
I mean."

"Absolutely. I've ideas enough to fill fifty ordinary lifetimes. I'm
simply seething with them. Why, that box over there in the corner is
full of plays that would start a national drama if the fool public had
sense enough to see what they are about. The trouble is that they don't
want life on the stage; they want a kind of theatrical wedding-cake.
And, by Jove, they get it! Any dramatist who tries to force people to
eat bread and meat when they are crying for sugar plums may as well
prepare to starve until the public begins to suffer from acute
indigestion. Then, if he isn't dead--or, perhaps, if he is--his hour
will come, and he will get his reward either here or in heaven."

"So you'll go on just the same and wait until they're ready for you?"
asked Susan, laughing from sheer pride in him. "You'll never, never
cheapen yourself, Oliver?" For the first time in her life she was face
to face with an intellectual passion, and she felt almost as if she
herself were inspired.

"Never. I've made my choice. I'll wait half a century if need be, but
I'll wait. I know, too, what I am talking about, for I could do the
other thing as easily as I could eat my dinner. I've got the trick of
it. I could make a fortune to-morrow if I were to lose my intellectual
honesty and go in simply for the making of money. Why, I am a Treadwell,
after all, just as you are, my dear cousin, and I could commercialize
the stage, I haven't a doubt, as successfully as your father has
commercialized the railroad. It's in the blood--the instinct, you
know--and the only thing that has kept it down in me is that I
sincerely--yes, I sincerely and enthusiastically believe that I am a
genius. If I didn't, do you think I'd stick at this starvation business
another fortnight? That's the whole story, every blessed word of it, and
I'm telling you because I feel expansive to-night--I'm such a tremendous
egoist, you know, and because--well, because you are Susan."

"I think I understand a little bit how you feel," replied Susan. "Of
course, I'm not a genius, but I've thought sometimes that I should
almost be willing to starve if only I might go to college."

Checking the words on his lips, he looked at her with sympathy. "It's a
shame you can't, but I suppose Uncle Cyrus won't hear of it."

"I haven't asked him, but I am going to do it. I am so afraid of a
refusal--and, of course, he'll refuse--that I've lacked the courage to
speak of it."

"Good God! Why is one generation left so absolutely at the mercy of the
other?" he demanded, turning back to the strip of sky over the roof. "It
makes a man rage to think of the lives that are spoiled for a whim.
Money, money--curse it!--it all comes to that in the end. Money makes us
and destroys us."

"Do you remember what father said to you the other night--that you would
come at last to what you called the property idea and be exactly like
James and himself?"

"If I thought that, I'd go out and hang myself. I can understand a man
selling his soul for drink, though I rarely touch a drop, or for women,
though I've never bothered about them, but never, not even in the last
extremity, for money."

A door creaked somewhere on the second floor and a minute afterwards the
slow and hesitating feet of Mrs. Treadwell were heard ascending the
stairs.

"Let her come in just a moment, Oliver," begged Susan, and her tone was
full of the impatient, slightly arrogant affection with which she
regarded her mother. There was little sympathy and less understanding
between them, but on Susan's side there was a feeling of protective
tenderness which was almost maternal. This tenderness was all her own,
while the touch of arrogance in her manner belonged to the universal
inability of youth to make allowances for age.

"Oh, well," said Oliver indifferently; and going to the door, he opened
it and stood waiting for Mrs. Treadwell to enter.

"I came up to ask if you wouldn't eat something, dear?" she asked. "But
I suppose Susan has brought you your supper?"

"He won't touch a morsel, mother; it is useless to ask him. He is going
away just as soon as we have finished packing."

"But where is he going? I didn't know that he had any place to go to."

"Oh, a man can always find a place somewhere."

"How can you take it so lightly, Susan," protested Mrs. Treadwell,
beginning to cry.

"That's the only sensible way to take it, isn't it, Oliver?" asked
Susan, gaily.

"Don't get into a fidget about me, Aunt Belinda," said Oliver, pushing
the pile of newspapers out of her way, while she sat down nervously on
the end of a packing-case and wiped her eyes on the fringe of her purple
shawl. The impulsive kindness with which he had spoken to her a few
hours before had vanished from his tone, and left in its place an accent
of irritation. His sympathy, which was never assumed, resulted so
entirely from his mood that it was practically independent of the person
or situation which appeared to inspire it. There were moments when,
because of a sensation of mental or physical well-being, he overflowed
with a feeling of tenderness for the beggar at the crossing; and there
were longer periods, following a sudden despondency, when the suffering
of his closest friend aroused in him merely a sense of personal outrage.
So complete, indeed, was his absorption in himself, that even his
philosophy was founded less upon an intellectual conception of the
universe than it was upon an intense preoccupation with his own
personality.

"But you don't mean that you are going for good?--that you'll never come
back to see Susan and me again?" whimpered his aunt, while her sagging
mouth trembled.

"You can't expect me to come back after the things Uncle Cyrus has said
to me."

A look so bitter that it was almost venomous crept into Mrs. Treadwell's
face. "He just did it to worry me, Oliver. He has done everything he
could think of to worry me ever since he persuaded me to marry him. I
sometimes believe," she added, gloating over the idea like a decayed
remnant of the aristocratic spirit, "that he has always been jealous of
me because I was born a Bolingbroke."

To Oliver, who had not like Susan grown accustomed through constant
repetition to Mrs. Treadwell's delusion, this appeared so fresh a view
of Cyrus's character, that it caught his interest even in the midst of
his own absorbing perplexities. Until he saw Susan's head shake
ominously over her mother's shoulder, it did not occur to him that his
aunt, whom he supposed to be without imagination, had created this
consoling belief out of her own mental vacancy.

"Oh, he wanted to worry me all right, there's no doubt about that," he
replied.

"He hasn't spoken to me when he could help it for twenty years," pursued
his aunt, who was so possessed by the idea of her own relation to her
husband that she was incapable of dwelling upon any other.

"I wouldn't talk about it, mother, if I were you," said Susan with
resolute cheerfulness.

"I don't know why I shouldn't talk about it. It's all I've got to talk
about," returned Mrs. Treadwell peevishly; and she added with smothered
resentment, "Even my children haven't been any comfort to me since they
were little. They've both turned against me because of the way their
father treats me. James hardly ever has so much as a word to say to me."

"But I do, mother. How can you say such an unkind thing to me?"

"You never do the things that I want you to. You know I'd like you to go
out and enjoy yourself and have attention as other girls do."

"You are disappointed because I'm not a belle like Abby Goode or Jinny
Pendleton," said Susan with the patience that is born of a basic sense
of humour. "But I couldn't help that, could I?"

"Any girl in my day would have felt badly if she wasn't admired,"
pursued Mrs. Treadwell with the venom of the embittered weak, "but I
don't believe you'd care a particle if a man never looked at you twice."

"If one never looked at me once, I don't see why you should want me to
be miserable about it," was Susan's smiling rejoinder; "and if the girls
in your day couldn't be happy without admiration, they must have been
silly creatures. I've a life of my own to live, and I'm not going to let
my happiness depend on how many times a man looks at me." In the clear
light of her ridicule, the spectre of spinsterhood, which was still an
object of dread in the Dinwiddie of the eighties, dissolved into a
shadow.

"Well, we've about finished, I believe," remarked Oliver, closing the
case over which he was stooping, and devoutly thanking whatever
beneficent Powers had not created him a woman. "I'll send for these
sometime to-morrow, Aunt Belinda."

"You'd just as well spend the night," urged Mrs. Treadwell stubbornly.
"He need never know of it."

"But I'd know of it--that's the great thing--and I'd never forget it."

Rising unsteadily from the box, she stood with the ends of her purple
shawl clutched tightly over her flat bosom. "Then you'll wait just a
minute. I've got something downstairs I'd like to give you," she said.

"Why, of course, but won't you let me fetch it?"

"You'd never find it," she answered mysteriously, and hurried out while
he held the door open to light her down the dark staircase.

When her tread was heard at last on the landing below, Susan glanced at
the books that were still left on the shelves. "I'll pack the rest for
you to-morrow, Oliver, and your clothes, too. Have you any money?"

"A little left from selling my watch in New York. My clothes don't
amount to much. I've got them all in that bag, but I'll leave my books
in your charge until I can find a place for them."

"I'll take good care of them. O Oliver!" her face grew disturbed. "I
forgot all about my promise to Virginia that I'd bring you to see her
to-night."

"Well, I've no time to meet girls now, of course, but that doesn't mean
that I'm not awfully knocked up about it."

"I hate so to disappoint her."

"She won't think of it twice, the beauty!"

"But she will. I'm sure she will. Hush! Mother is coming."

As he turned to the door, it opened slowly to admit the figure of his
aunt, who was panting heavily from her hurried ascent of the stairs. Her
ill-humour toward Susan had entirely disappeared, for the only
resentment she had ever harboured for more than a few minutes was the
life-long one which she had borne her husband.

"It was not in the place where I had put it, so I thought one of the
servants had taken it," she explained. "Mandy was alone in my room
to-day while I was at dinner."

In her hand she held a small pasteboard box bearing a jeweller's
imprint, and opening this, she took out a roll of money and counted out
fifty dollars on the top of a packing-case. "I've saved this up for six
months," she said. "It came from selling some silver forks that belonged
to the Bolingbrokes, and I always felt easier to think that I had a
little laid away that he had nothing to do with. From the very day that
I married him, he was always close about money," she added.

The sordid tragedy--not of poverty, but of meanness--was in the gesture
with which she gathered up the notes and pressed them into his shrinking
hands. And yet Cyrus Treadwell was a rich man--the richest man living in
Dinwiddie! Oliver understood now why she was crushed--why she had become
the hopeless victim of the little troubles of life. "From the very day
of our marriage, he was always close about money."

"I had three dozen forks and spoons in the beginning," she resumed as if
there were no piercing significance in the fact she stated so simply,
"but I've sold them all now, one or two at a time, when I needed a
little money of my own. He has always paid the bills, but he never gave
me a cent in my life to do as I pleased with."

"I can't take it from you, Aunt Belinda. It would burn my fingers."

"It's mine. I've got a right to do as I choose with it," she persisted
almost passionately, "and I'd rather give it to you than buy anything in
the world." Something in her face--the look of one who has risen to a
generous impulse and finds happiness in the sacrifice--checked the hand
with which he was thrusting the money away from him. He was deeply
touched by her act; it was useless for him to pretend either to her or
to himself that she had not touched him. The youth in him, unfettered,
strong, triumphant, pitied her because she was no longer young; the
artist in him pitied her because she was no longer beautiful. Without
these two things, or at least one of these two, what was life worth to a
woman?

"I'll take it on condition that you'll let me pay it back as soon as I
get out of debt to Uncle Cyrus," he said in obedience to Susan's
imploring nod.

To this she agreed after an ineffectual protest. "You needn't think
about paying it back to me," she insisted; "I haven't anything to spend
money on now, so it doesn't make much difference whether I have any or
not. I can help you a little more after a while," she finished with
enthusiasm. "I'm raising a few squabs out in the back yard, and Meadows
is going to buy them as soon as they are big enough to eat."

An embarrassment out of all proportion to the act which produced it held
him speechless while he gazed at her. He felt at first merely a sense of
physical revolt from the brutality of her self-revelation--from the
nakedness to which she had stripped the horror of her marriage under the
eyes of her daughter. Nothing, not even the natural impulse to screen
one's soul from the gaze of the people with whom one lived, had
prevented the appalling indignity of this exposure. The delusion that it
is possible for a woman by mere virtue of being a woman to suffer in
sweetness and silence, evaporated as he looked at her. He had believed
her to be a nonentity, and she was revealing an inner life as intense,
as real, as acutely personal as his own. A few words of casual kindness
and he had made a slave of her. He regretted it. He was embarrassed. He
was sorry. He wished to heaven she hadn't brought him the money--and yet
in spite of his regret and his embarrassment, he was profoundly moved.
It occurred to him as he took it from her how easy it would have been
for Cyrus to have subjugated and satisfied her in the beginning. All it
needed was a little kindness, the cheapest virtue, and the tragedy of
her ruined soul might have been averted. To make allowances! Ah, that
was the philosophy of human relations in a word! If men and women would
only stop judging each other and make allowances!

"Well, I shan't starve just yet, thanks to you, Aunt Belinda," he said
cheerfully enough as he thrust the notes into his pocket. It was a small
thing, after all, to make her happy by the sacrifice of his pride. Pride
was not, he remembered, included among the Christian virtues, and,
besides, as he told himself the next instant, trifling as the sum was,
it would at least tide him over financially until he received the next
payment for his reviewing. "I'd better go, it's getting late," he said
with a return of his old gaiety, while he bent over to kiss her. He was
half ashamed of the kiss--not because he was self-conscious about
kissing, since he had long since lost that mark of provincialism--but
because of the look of passionate gratitude which glowed in her face.
Gratitude always made him uncomfortable. It was one of the things he was
forever evading and yet forever receiving. He hated it, he had never in
his life done anything to deserve it, but he could never escape it.

"Good-bye, Susan." His lips touched hers, and though he was moving only
a few streets away, the caress contained all the solemnity of a last
parting. Words wouldn't come when he searched for them, and the bracing
sense of power he had felt half an hour ago was curiously mingled now
with an enervating tenderness. He was still confident of himself, but he
became suddenly conscious that these women were necessary to his
happiness and his success, that his nature demanded the constant daily
tonic of their love and service. He understood now the primal necessity
of woman, not as an individual, but as an incentive and an appendage to
the dominant personality of man.

"Send for me if you need me," said Susan, resting her loving eyes upon
him; "and, Oliver, please promise me to be very careful about money."

"I'll be careful, never fear!" he replied with a laugh, as he took up
his bag and opened the door. A few minutes later, when he was leaving
the house, he reflected that the fifty dollars in his pocket would keep
life in him for a considerable time in Dinwiddie.



CHAPTER VI

A TREADWELL IN REVOLT


York Street, in which Mrs. Peachey lived and supplied the necessaries of
life to a dozen boarders, ran like a frayed seam of gentility between
the prosperous and the impoverished quarters of Dinwiddie; and in order
to reach it, Oliver was obliged to pass the rectory, where, though he
did not see her, Virginia sat in stiffly starched muslin on the old
horsehair sofa. The fragrance of honeysuckle floated to his nostrils
from the dim garden, but so absorbed was he in the engrossing problems
of the moment, that only after he had passed the tower of the church did
he remember that the house behind him sheltered the girl who reminded
him of one of the adorable young virgins of Perugino. For an instant he
permitted himself to dwell longingly on the expression of gentle
goodness that looked from her face; but this memory proved so
disturbing, that he put it obdurately away from him while he returned to
the prudent consideration of the fifty dollars in his pocket. The appeal
of first love had been almost as urgent to him as to Virginia; but the
emotion which had visited both alike had affected each differently, and
this difference was due to the fundamental distinction between woman,
for whom love is the supreme preoccupation of being, and man, to whom it
is at best a partial manifestation of energy. To the woman nothing else
really mattered; to the man at least a dozen other pursuits mattered
very nearly as much.

The sultriness of the weather dampened his body, but not his spirits,
and as he walked on, carrying his heavy bag, along York Street, his
consciousness of the tremendous importance to the world of his decision
exhilarated him like a tonic. He had freed himself from Cyrus and from
commercialism at a single blow, and it had all been as easy as talking!
The joke about starvation he had of course indulged in merely for the
exquisite pleasure of arousing Susan. He wasn't going to starve; nobody
was going to starve in Dinwiddie on thirty dollars a month, and there
was no doubt in the world of his ability to make that much by his
reviewing. It was all simple enough. What he intended to do was to write
the national drama and to practise economy.

He had, indeed, provided for everything in his future, he was to
discover a little later, except for the affable condescension of Mrs.
Peachey toward the profession of letters. Cyrus's antagonism he had
attributed to the crass stupidity of the commercial mind; but it was a
blow to him to encounter the same misconception, more discreetly veiled,
in a woman of the charm and the character of Mrs. Peachey. Bland, plump,
and pretty, she received the modest avowal of his occupation with the
smiling skepticism peculiar to a race whose genius has been chiefly
military.

"I understand--it is very interesting," she observed sweetly. "But what
do you do besides--what do you do, I mean, for a living?"

Here it was again, this fatuous intolerance! this incomprehensible
provincialism! And the terrible part of it was that he had suddenly the
sensation of being overwhelmed by the weight of it, of being smothered
under a mountain of prejudice. The flame of his anger against Cyrus went
out abruptly, leaving him cold. It was the world now against which he
rebelled. He felt that the whole world was provincial.

"I shall write reviews for a New York paper," he answered, trying in
vain to impress her by a touch of literary hauteur. At the moment it
seemed to him that he could cheerfully bear anything if they would only
at least pretend to take him seriously. What appalled him was not the
opposition, but the utter absence of comprehension. And he could never
hope to convince them! Even if he were to write great plays, they would
still hold as obstinately by their assumption that the writing of plays
did not matter--that what really mattered was to create and then to
satisfy an inordinate appetite for tobacco. This was authentic success,
and by no illegitimate triumph of genius could he persuade an industrial
country that he was as great a man as his uncle. The smiling incredulity
in Mrs. Peachey's face ceased to be individual and became a part of the
American attitude toward the native-born artist. This attitude, he
admitted, was not confined to Dinwiddie, since it was national. He had
encountered it in New York, but never had the destructive force of it
impressed him as it did on the ripe and charming lips of the woman
before him. In that illuminating instant he understood why the American
consciousness in literature was still unawakened, why the creative
artist turned manufacturer, why the original thinker bent his knee in
the end to the tin gods of convention.

Her eyes--beautiful as the eyes of all happy women are beautiful--dwelt
on him kindly while he struggled to explain his mission. All the dread
of the unusual, all the inherited belief in the sanctity of fixed
opinions, all the passionate distrust of ideas that have not stood the
test of centuries--these things which make for the safety and the
permanence of the racial life, were in the look of motherly indulgence
with which she regarded him. She had just risen from a rocking-chair on
the long porch, where honest Tom sat relating ponderous war anecdotes to
an attentive group of boarders; and beyond her in the dimly lighted hall
he could see the wide old staircase climbing leisurely into the
mysterious silence of the upper storeys.

"I have a small room at the back that I might rent to you," she said
hesitatingly after a pause. "I am afraid you will find it warm in
summer, as it is just under the roof and has a western exposure, but I
hardly think I could do better for you at the price you are able to pay.
I understood that you intended to live with your uncle," she added in a
burst of enthusiasm. "My husband has always been one of his greatest
admirers."

The mention of Cyrus was like a spur to Oliver's ambition, and he
realized with gratitude that it was merely his sensibility, not his
resolution, which had been shaken.

"I'll take the room," he returned, ignoring what she had said as well as
what she had implied about Cyrus. Then as she tripped ahead of him, he
entered the dismantled hall, filled with broken pieces of fine old
furniture, and ascended the stairs as far as the third storey. When she
turned a loosened door-knob and passed before him into the little room
at the back, he saw first of all the narrow window, with its torn green
shade, beyond which clustered a blur of silvery foliage in the midst of
red roofs and huddled chimneys. From this hilltop, he could look down
unseen on that bit of the universal life which was Dinwiddie. He could
watch the town at work and at play; he could see those twenty-one
thousand souls either moved as a unit by the secret forces which ignore
individuality, or separated and enclosed by that impenetrable wall of
personality which surrounded each atom among them. He could follow the
divisions of class and the still deeper divisions of race as they were
symbolized in the old brick walls, overgrown with young grasses, which
girdled the ancient gardens in High Street. From the dazzling glimpses
of white muslin under honeysuckle arbours, to the dusky forms that
swarmed like spawn in the alleys, the life of Dinwiddie loved, hated,
enjoyed, and suffered beneath him. And over this love and this hatred,
this enjoyment and this suffering, there presided--an outward and
visible sign of the triumph of industrialism--the imposing brick walls
of the new Treadwell tobacco factory.

A soft voice spoke in his ear, and turning, he looked into the face of
Mrs. Peachey, whom he had almost forgotten.

"You will find the sun warm in the afternoon, I am afraid," she
murmured, still with her manner of pleasantly humouring him which he
found later to be an unconscious expression of her half maternal,
wholly feminine attitude toward his sex.

"Oh, I daresay it will be all right," he responded. "I shall work so
hard that I shan't have time to bother about the weather."

Leaving the window, he gazed around the little room with an impulse of
curiosity. Who had lived here before him? A clerk? A travelling
salesman? Perhaps one of the numerous indigent gentlewomen that formed
so large and so important a part of the population of Dinwiddie? The
walls were smeared with a sickly blue wash, and in several places there
were the marks left from the pictures of the preceding lodger. An old
mahogany bureau, black with age and ill usage, stood crosswise in the
corner behind the door, and reflected in the dim mirror he saw his own
face looking back at him. A film of dust lay over everything in the
room, over the muddy blue of the walls, over the strip of discoloured
matting on the floor, over the few fine old pieces of furniture, fallen
now into abject degradation. The handsome French bed, placed
conveniently between door and window, stood naked to the eyes, with its
cheap husk mattress rolled half back, and its bare slats, of which the
two middle ones were tied together with rope, revealing conspicuously
its descent from elegance into squalor. As he saw it, the room was the
epitome of tragedy, yet in the centre of it, on one of the battered and
broken-legged Heppelwhite chairs, sat Mrs. Peachey, rosy, plump, and
pretty, regarding him with her slightly quizzical smile. "Yes, life, of
course, is sad if you stop to think about it," her smile seemed to
assure him; "but the main thing, after all, is to be happy in spite of
it."

"Do you wish to stay here to-night?" she asked, seeing that he had put
down his bag.

"If you will let me. But I am afraid it will be inconvenient."

She shook her head. "Not if you don't mind the dust. The room has been
shut up for weeks, and the dust is so dreadful in the spring. The
servants have gone out," she added, "but I'll bring you some sheets for
your bed, and you can fill your pitcher from the spout at the end of the
hall. Only be careful not to stumble over the step there. It is hard to
see when the gas is not lit."

"You won't object to my putting shelves around the walls?" he asked,
while she pushed the mattress into place with the light and
condescending touch of one who preserves the aristocratic manner not
only in tragedy, but even in toil. It was, indeed, her peculiar
distinction, he came to know afterward, that she worked as gracefully as
other women played.

"Couldn't you find room enough without them?" she inquired while her
gaze left the mattress and travelled dubiously to the mantelpiece. "It
seems a pity for you to go to any expense about shelves, doesn't it?"

"Oh, they won't cost much. I'll do the work myself, and I'll do it in
the mornings when it won't disturb anybody. I daresay I'll have to push
that bed around a bit in order to make space."

Something in his vibrant voice--so full of the richness and the buoyant
energy of youth--made her look at him as she might have looked at one
of her children, or at that overgrown child whom she had married. And
just as she had managed Tom all his life by pretending to let him have
his way, so she proceeded now by instinct to manage Oliver. "You dear
boy! Of course you may turn things upside down if you want to. Only wait
a few days until you are settled and have seen how you like it."

Then she tripped out with her springy step, which had kept its
elasticity through war and famine, while Oliver, gazing after her,
wondered whether it was philosophy or merely a love of pleasure that
sustained her? Was it thought or the absence of thought that produced
her wonderful courage?

He heard her tread on the stairs; then the sound passed to the front
hall; and a minute later there floated up the laughter with which the
assembled boarders received her. Closing the door, which she had left
open, he turned back to the window and stared from his hilltop down on
the red roofs of Dinwiddie. White as milk, the moonlight lay on the
brick wall at the foot of the garden, and down the gradual hill rows of
chimneys were outlined against the faintly dappled sky in the west. In
the next yard a hollow tree looked as if it were cut out of silver, and
beneath its boughs, which drooped into the alley, he could see the
huddled figure of an aged negress who had fallen asleep on a flagstone.
So still was the night that the very smoke appeared to hang suspended
above the tops of the chimneys, as though it were too heavy to rise and
yet too light to float downward toward the motionless trees. Under the
pale beams the town lost its look of solidity and grew spectral. Nothing
seemed to hold it to the earth except the stillness which held the
fallen flowers of the syringa there also. Even the church towers showed
like spires of thistledown, and the winding streets, which ran beside
clear walls and dark shining gardens, trailed off from the ground into
the silvery air. Only the black bulk of the Treadwell factory beside the
river defied the magic of the moon's rays and remained a solid reminder
of the brevity of all enchantment.

Gradually, while Oliver waited for Mrs. Peachey's return, he ceased to
think of the furniture in his room; he ceased to think even of the way
in which he should manage to do his work, and allowed his mind to dwell,
almost with a feeling of ecstasy, on the memory of Virginia. He saw the
mist of little curls on her temples, her blue eyes, with their good and
gentle expression, and the look of radiant happiness which played like
light over her features. The beauty of the night acted as a spur to his
senses. He wanted companionship. He wanted the smile and the touch of a
woman. He wanted to fall in love with a girl who had blue eyes and a
mouth like a flower!

"It wouldn't take me ten minutes to become a fool about her," he
thought. "Confound this moonlight, anyhow. It's making an idiot of me."

Like many persons of artistic sensibility, he had at times the feeling
that his imagination controlled his conduct, and under the sharp
pressure of it now, he began to picture what the end would be if he were
to fling himself headlong in the direction where his desires were
leading him. If he could only let himself go! If he could only defy the
future! If he could only forget in a single crisis that he was a
Treadwell!

"If I were the right sort, I suppose I'd rush in and make her fall in
love with me, and then marry her and let her starve," he thought. "But
somehow I can't. I'm either not enough of a genius or not enough of a
Treadwell. When it comes to starving a woman in cold blood, my
conscience begins to balk. There's only one thing it would balk at more
violently, and that is starving my work. That's what Uncle Cyrus would
like--nothing better. By Jove! the way he looked when he had the nerve
to make that proposition! And I honestly believe he thought I was going
to agree to it. I honestly believe he was surprised when I stood out
against him. He's a downright idiot, that's what is the matter with him.
Why, it would be a crime, nothing less than a crime, for me to give up
and go hunting after freight orders. Any ninny can do that. James can do
that--but he couldn't see, he positively couldn't see that I'd be wasted
at it."

The vision of Cyrus had banished the vision of Virginia, and leaving the
window, Oliver began walking rapidly back and forth between the
washstand and the bare bedstead. The fire of his ambition, which
opposition had fanned into a blaze, had never burned more brightly in
his heart than it did at that instant. He felt capable not only of
renouncing Virginia, but of reforming the world. While he walked there,
he dedicated himself to art as exclusively as Cyrus had ever dedicated
himself to money--since Nature, who had made the individual, had been
powerless to eradicate this basic quality of the type. A Treadwell had
always stood for success, and success meant merely seeing but one thing
at a time and seeing that thing at every instant. It meant to Cyrus and
to James the thought of money as absolutely as it meant to Oliver the
thought of art. The way to it was the same, only the ideas that pointed
the way were different. To Cyrus and to James, indeed, as to all
Treadwells everywhere, the idea was hardly an idea at all, since it had
been crystallized by long usage into a fact. The word "success" (and
what was success except another name for the universal Treadwell
spirit?) invariably assumed the image of the dollar in the mind of
Cyrus, while to Oliver, since his thinking was less carefully
coördinated, it was without shape or symbol. Pacing the dusty floor,
with the pale moonlight brooding like a flock of white birds over the
garden, the young man would have defined the word as embracing all the
lofty aspirations in the human soul. It was the hour when youth scaled
the heights and wrested the divine fire from the heavens. At the moment
he was less an individual than the embodied age of two-and-twenty. He
was intellect in adolescence--intellect finding its strength--intellect
in revolt against the tyranny of industrialism.

The staircase creaked softly, and following a knock at the door, Mrs.
Peachey entered with her arms full of bed-clothes.

"I am so sorry I kept you waiting, Mr. Treadwell, but I was obliged to
stop to speak to a caller. Oh, thank you. Do you really know how to make
up a bed? How very clever of you! I'm sure Mr. Peachey couldn't do such
a thing if his life depended upon it. Men are so helpless that it
surprises me--it really does--when they know how to do anything. Oh, of
course, you have lived about the world so much that you have had to
learn how to manage. And you've been abroad? How very interesting! Some
day when I have the time you must tell me about it. Not that I should
ever care to go myself, but I love to hear other people talk about their
travels. Professor Trimble--he lived over there a great many years--gave
a talk before the Ladies' Aid Society of our church, and everybody said
it was quite as instructive as going one's self. And then, too, one
escaped all the misery of seasickness."

All the time she was busily spreading his bed, while he assisted her
with what she described to her husband afterward as "the most charming
manner, just as if he enjoyed it." This charming manner, which was the
outward expression of an inborn kindliness, won her entirely to his side
before the bed-making was over. That any one so frank and pleasant, with
such nice boyish eyes, and so rich a colour, should prove untrustworthy,
was unbelievable to that part of her which ruled her judgment. And since
this ruling part was not reason, but instinct, she possessed, perhaps,
as infallible a guide to opinions as ever falls to the lot of erring
humanity. "I know he's all right. Don't ask me _how_ I know it, Mr.
Peachey," she observed while she brushed her hair for the night; "I
don't know how I know it, but I do know it."

Oliver, meanwhile, had thrown off his coat, and settled down to work
under the flickering gas, at the end of the mantelpiece. Inspiration had
seized him while he helped Mrs. Peachey make his bed, and his "charming
manner," which had at first been natural enough, had become at last
something of an effort. He was writing the second act of a play in
which he meant to supplant the pretty shams of the stage by the aspect
of sober reality. The play dealt with woman--with the new woman who has
grown so old in the last twenty years--with the woman whose past is a
cross upon which she crucifies both herself and the public. Like most
men of twenty-two, he was convinced that he understood all about women,
and like most men of any age, he was under the impression that women
acted, thought, and felt, not as individuals, but as a sex. The classic
phrases, "women are like that," and "women think so queerly about
things," were on his lips as constantly as if he were an average male
and not an earnest-minded student of human nature. But while the average
male applies general principles loosely and almost unconsciously, with
Oliver the habit was the result of a distinctly formulated philosophy.
He had, as he would probably have put it, a feeling for reality, and the
stage appeared to him, on the whole, to be the most effective vehicle
for revealing the universe to itself. If he was not a genius, he
possessed the unconquerable individualism of genius; and he possessed,
also, a cleverness which could assume the manner of genius without
apparent effort. His ability, which no one but Cyrus had ever
questioned, may not have been of the highest order, but at least it was
better stuff than had ever gone into the making of American plays. In
the early eighties profound darkness still hung over the stage, for the
intellect of a democracy, which first seeks an outlet in statesmanship,
secondly in commerce, and lastly in art and literature, had hardly begun
to express itself, with the immaturity of youth, in several of these
latter fields. It was Oliver's distinction as well as his misfortune
that he lived before his country was ready for him. Coming a quarter of
a century later, he might have made a part of a national emancipation of
intellect. Coming when he did, he stood merely for one of the spasmodic
reactions against the dominant spirit. Unwritten history is full of such
reactions, since it is by the accumulated energy of their revolts that
the world moves on its way.

But at the age of twenty-two, though he was assured that he understood
both woman and the universe in which she belonged, he was pathetically
ignorant of his own place in the extravagance of Nature. With the rest
of us, he would have been astounded at the suggestion that he might have
been born to be wasted. Other things were wasted, he knew, since those
who called Nature an economist had grossly flattered her. Types and
races and revolutions were squandered with royal prodigality--but that
he himself should be so was clearly unthinkable. Deep down in him there
was the obstinate belief that his existence was a vital matter to the
awful Power that ruled the universe; and while he worked that May
evening at the second act of his great play, with the sweat raining from
his brow in the sweltering heat, it was as impossible for him to
conceive of ultimate failure as it was for him to realize that he should
ever cease to exist. The air was stagnant, the light was bad, his
stomach was empty, and he was tormented by the stinging of the gnats
that circled around the flame--but he was gloriously happy with the
happiness of a man who has given himself to an idea.



CHAPTER VII

THE ARTIST IN PHILISTIA


At dawn, after a sleepless night, Oliver dressed himself and made a cup
of coffee on the spirit lamp he carried in his bag. While he drank, a
sense of power passed over him like warmth. He was cheered, he was even
exhilarated. A single cup of this miraculous fluid, and his depression
was vanquished as no argument could have vanquished it. Without
sermonizing, without logic even, the demon of pessimism, which has its
home in an empty stomach, was expelled into spiritual darkness. He
remembered that he had eaten nothing for almost twenty-four hours
(having missed yesterday's dinner), and this thought carried him
downstairs, where he begged a roll from a yawning negro cook in the
kitchen. Coming up to his room again, he poured out a second cup of
coffee, added a dash of cream, which he had brought with him in a
handleless pitcher, and leaning comfortably back in the worn horsehair
covered chair by the window, relapsed into a positive orgy of enjoyment.
His whole attitude toward the universe had been altered by a bubbling
potful of brown liquid, and the tremendous result--so grotesquely out of
proportion to its cause--appeared to him at the minute entirely right
and proper. Everything was entirely right and proper, and he felt able
to approve with a clear conscience the Divine arrangement of existence.

Outside, the sunrise, which he could not see, was flooding the roofs of
Dinwiddie with a dull golden light. The heat had given way before the
soft wind which smelt of flowers, and scattered tiny shreds of mist,
like white rose-leaves, over the moist gardens. The look of unreality,
which had been a fiction of the moonlight, faded gradually as the day
broke, and left the harsh outlines and the blackened chimneys of the
town unsoftened by any shadow of illusion. Presently, as the sunlight
fell aslant the winding streets, there was a faint stir in the house;
but since the day was Sunday, and Dinwiddie observed the Sabbath by
sleeping late, this stir was slow and drowsy, like the movement of
people but half awake. First, a dilapidated milk wagon rumbled through
the alleys to the back gates, where dishevelled negro maids ran out with
earthenware pitchers, which went back foaming around the brims. Then the
doors of the houses opened slowly; the green outside shutters were flung
wide; and an army of coloured servants bearing brooms, appeared on the
porches, and made expressive gestures to one another over the railings.
Occasionally, when one lifted a doormat in order to beat the dust out of
it, she would forget to put it down again while she stared after the
milk cart. Nobody--not even the servants--seemed to regard the wasted
hours as of any importance. It struck Oliver that the only use Dinwiddie
made of time was to kill it.

He fell to work with enthusiasm, and he was still working when the
reverberations of the breakfast bell thundered in his ears. Going
downstairs to the dining-room, he found several thin and pinched looking
young women, with their hats on and Sunday-school lessons beside their
plates. Mrs. Peachey, still smiling her quizzical smile, sat at the head
of the table, pouring coffee out of an old silver coffee-pot, which was
battered in on one side as if it had seen active service in the war.
When, after a few hurried mouthfuls, he asked permission to return to
his work, she received his excuses with the same cheerful acquiescence
with which she accepted the decrees of Providence. It is doubtful,
indeed, if her serenity, which was rooted in an heroic hopelessness,
could have been shaken either by the apologies of a boarder or by the
appearance of an earthquake. Her happiness was of that invulnerable sort
which builds its nest not in the luxuriant gardens of the emotions, but
in the bare, rock-bound places of the spirit. Courage, humour, an
adherence to conviction which is wedded to an utter inability to respect
any opinion except one's own; loyalty which had sprung from a principle
into a passion; a fortifying trust, less in the Power that rules the
universe than in the peculiar virtues of the Episcopal prayer-book when
bound in black; a capacity for self-sacrifice which had made the South a
nation of political martyrs; complacency, exaltation, narrowness of
vision, and uncompromising devotion to an ideal--these were the
qualities which had passed from the race into the individual and through
the individual again back into the very blood and the fibre of the race.

"Do you work on Sunday?" she inquired sweetly, yet with the faintest
tinge of disapproval in her tone.

He nodded. "Once in a while."

"Saint James' Church is only a few minutes' walk from here; but I
suppose you are a Presbyterian, like your uncle?"

His respectability he saw hung in the balance--for to have avowed
himself a freethinker would have dyed him socially only one shade less
black than to have declared himself a Republican--so, escaping without a
further confession of faith, he ascended to his room and applied himself
anew to the regeneration of the American drama. The dull gold light,
which slept on the brick walls, began presently to slant in long beams
over the roofs, which mounted like steps up the hillside, while as the
morning advanced, the mellow sound of chimes floated out on the
stillness, calling Dinwiddians to worship, as it had called their
fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers before them. The Sabbath
calm, so heavy that an axe could hardly have dispelled it, filled the
curving streets and the square gardens like an invisible fog--a fog that
dulled the brain and weighed down the eyelids and made the grim walls of
the Treadwell tobacco factory look as if they were rising out of a
dream. Into this dream, under the thick boughs of mulberry trees, there
passed presently a thin file of people, walking alone or in pairs. The
men were mostly old; but the women were of every age, and all except the
very young were clad in mourning and wore hanging veils on their
bonnets. Though Oliver did not know it, he was, in reality, watching a
procession of those who, having once embraced a cause and lost it, were
content to go on quietly in a hush of memory for the rest of life.
Passion had once inflamed them, but they moved now in the inviolable
peace which comes only to those who have nothing left that they may
lose. At the end of the line, in the middle of the earthen roadbed
walked an old horse, with an earnest face and a dump cart hitched to
him, and in the cart were the boxes of books which Susan had helped
Oliver to pack the evening before. "Who'd have thought she'd get them
here so soon?" he said to himself. "By George, she is a wonder! And
Sunday too!"

The old horse, having reached the hilltop, disappeared behind the next
house, and ten minutes later Mrs. Peachey escorted the smallest of his
boxes into his bedroom.

"Your cousin is downstairs, but I didn't know whether you wanted me to
bring her up here or not?" she said.

"Of course you do, don't you, Oliver?" asked Susan's voice, and entering
the room, she coolly presented her cheek to him. This coolness, which
impressed him almost as much as her extraordinary capability, made him
feel sometimes as if she had built a stone wall between them. Years
afterwards he asked himself if this was why his admiration for her had
never warmed into love?

"Well, you're a good one!" he exclaimed, as she drew back from the
casual embrace.

"I knew you were here," she answered, "because John Henry Pendleton"
(was it his imagination or did the faintest blush tinge her face?) "saw
Major Peachey last night and told me on his way home."

"You can't help me straighten up, I suppose? The room looks a sight."

"Not now--I'm on my way to church, and I'll be late if I don't hurry."
She wore a grey cashmere dress, made with a draped polonaise which
accentuated her rather full hips, and a hat with a steeple crown that
did not suit the Treadwell arch of her nose. He thought she looked
plain, but he did not realize that in another dress and hat she might
have been almost beautiful--that she was, indeed, one of those
large-minded, passionately honest women who, in their scorn of pretence
or affectation, rarely condescend to make the best of their appearances.
To have consciously selected a becoming hat would have seemed to her a
species of coquetry, and coquetry, even the most innocent, she held in
abhorrence. Her sincerity was not only intellectual; it was of that
rarer sort which has its root in a physical instinct.

After she had gone, he worked steadily for a couple of hours, and then
opened one of the boxes Susan had brought and arranged a few of his
books in a row on the mantelpiece. It was while he stood still undecided
whether to place "The Origin of Species" or "The Critique of Pure
Reason" on the end nearest his bed, that a knock came at his door, and
the figure of Miss Priscilla Batte, attired in a black silk dolman with
bugle trimmings, stood revealed on the threshold.

"Sally Peachey just told me that you were here," she said, enfolding him
in the embrace which seemed common to Dinwiddie, "so I thought I would
speak to you on my way back from church. I don't suppose you've ever
heard of me, but I am your cousin Priscilla Batte."

Though he was entirely unaware of it, the moment was a momentous one in
his experience. The visit of Miss Priscilla may have appeared an
insignificant matter to those who have not learned that the
insignificant is merely the significant seen from another angle--but the
truth was that it marked a decisive milestone in his emotional history.
Even Mrs. Peachey, who had walked back from church with her, and who
harboured the common delusion that Life selects only slim bodies for its
secret agents, did not dream as she watched that enormous figure toil up
the staircase that she was gazing upon the movement of destiny. Had
Oliver been questioned as to the dominant influence in shaping his
career, he would probably have answered blindly, but sincerely, "The
Critique of Pure Reason"--so far was he from suspecting that his
philosophy had less control over his future than had the accident that
his mother was the third cousin of Priscilla Batte.

He pushed a chair into the widest space he could find, and she seated
herself as modestly as if she were not the vehicle of the invisible
Powers. The stiff grosgrain strings of her bonnet stood out like small
wings under her double chin, and on her massive bosom he saw the cameo
brooch bearing the war-like profile of Athene. As she sat there, beaming
complacently upon him, with her prayer-book and hymnal held at a decent
angle in front of her, she seemed to Oliver to dominate the situation
simply by the solid weight of her physical presence. In her single
person she managed to produce the effect of a majority. As a mere mass
of humanity she carried conviction.

"I was sorry not to see you at church," she said, "but I suppose you
went with Cyrus." As he shook his head silently, she added hastily, "I
hope there's nothing wrong between you and him."

"Nothing except that I have decided not to go into the tobacco
business."

"But what in the world are you going to do? How are you going to live if
he doesn't provide for you?"

"Oh, I'll manage somehow. You needn't worry, Cousin Priscilla." He
smiled at her across the unfinished page of his play, and this smile won
her as it had won Mrs. Peachey. Like most spinsters she had remained a
creature of sentiment, and the appeal of the young and masculine she
found difficult to resist. After all he was a charming boy, her heart
told her. What he needed was merely some good girl to take care of him
and convert him to the Episcopal Church. And immediately, as is the way
with women, she became as anxious to sacrifice Virginia to this possible
redemption of the male as she had been alarmed by the suspicion that
such a desire existed in Susan. Though it would have shocked her to hear
that she held any opinion in common with Mohammed (who appeared in the
universal history she taught only in a brief list of "false prophets"),
there existed deep down in her the feeling that a man's soul was of
greater consequence than a woman's in the eyes of God.

"I hope you haven't been foolish, Oliver," she said in a tone which
conveyed an emotional sympathy as well as a moral protest.

"That depends upon what you mean by foolishness," he returned, still
smiling.

"Well, I don't think you ought to quarrel with Cyrus. He may not be
perfect. I am not saying that he mightn't have been a better husband,
for instance--though I always hold the woman to blame when a marriage
turns out a failure--but when all's said and done, he is a great man,
Oliver."

He shook his head impatiently. "I've heard that until I'm sick of
it--forgive me, Cousin Priscilla."

"Everybody admires him--that is, everybody except Belinda."

"I should say she'd had excellent opportunities for forming an opinion.
What's he ever done, anyhow, that's great," he asked almost angrily,
"except accumulate money? It seems to me that you've gone mad over money
in Dinwiddie. I suppose it's the reaction from having to do without it
so long."

Miss Priscilla, whose native serenity drew strength from another's loss
of temper, beamed into his flushed face as if she enjoyed the spectacle
of his heightened colour.

"You oughtn't to talk like that, Oliver," she said. "How on earth are
you going to fall in love and marry, if you haven't any money to keep a
wife? What you need is a good girl to look after you. I never married,
myself, but I am sometimes tempted to believe that even an unhappy
marriage is better than none at all. At least it gives you something to
think about."

"I have enough to think about already. I have my work."

"But work isn't a wife."

"I know it isn't, but I happen to like it better."

Her matchmaking instinct had received a check, but the placid
determination which was the basis of her character was merely reinforced
thereby to further efforts. It was for his good to marry (had not her
mother and her grandmother instilled into her the doctrine that an early
marriage was the single masculine safeguard, since, once married, a
man's morality became not his own business, but his wife's), and marry
him she was resolved to do, either with his cheerful co-operation, or,
if necessary, without it. He had certainly looked at Virginia as if he
admired her, and surely a girl like that--lovely, loving, unselfish to a
fault, and trained from her infancy to excel in all the feminine
virtues--surely, this perfect flower of sex specialization could have
been designed by Providence only for the delight and the sanctification
of man.

"Then, if that is the way your mind is made up I hope you will be
careful not to trifle with the feelings of a girl like Jinny Pendleton,"
she retorted severely.

By a single stroke of genius, inspired by the diplomacy inherent in a
sex whose chief concern has been the making of matches, she transfixed
his imagination as skilfully as she might have impaled a butterfly on a
bodkin. While he stared at her she could almost see the iridescent wings
of his fancy whirling madly around the idea by which she had arrested
their flight. Trifle with Virginia! Trifle with that radiant vision of
girlhood! All the chivalry of youth revolted from the suggestion, and he
thought again of the wistful adoration in the eyes of a Perugino virgin.
Was it possible that she could ever look at him with that angelic
expression of weakness and surrender? The fire of first love, which had
smouldered under the weight of his reason, burst suddenly into flame.
His thoughts, which had been as clear as a geometrical figure, became
suddenly blurred by the mystery upon which passion lives. He was seized
by a consuming wonder about Virginia, and this wonder was heightened
when he remembered the appealing sweetness in her face as she smiled up
at him. Did she already love him? Had he conquered by a look the
exquisite modesty of her soul? With this thought the memory of her
virginal shyness stung his senses as if it were the challenge of sex.
Chivalry, love, vanity, curiosity--all these circled helplessly around
the invisible axis of Miss Priscilla's idea.

"What do you mean? Surely you don't suppose--she hasn't said
anything----"

"You don't imagine that Jinny is the kind of girl who would say
anything, do you?" inquired Miss Priscilla.

"But there must be some reason why you should have----"

"If there is, my dear boy, I'm not going to tell it," she answered with
a calmness which he felt, in his excited state, to be positively
infernal. "All I meant was to warn you not to trifle with any girl as
innocent of life as Jinny Pendleton is. I don't want her to get her
heart broken before she has the chance to make some man happy."

"Do you honestly mean to imply that I could break her heart if I tried
to?"

"I don't mean to imply anything. I am only telling you that she is just
the kind of girl a man would want to marry. She is her mother all over
again, and I don't believe Lucy has ever thought of herself a minute
since she married."

"She looks like an angel," he said, "but----"

"And she isn't a bit the kind of girl that Susan is, though they are so
devoted. Now, I can understand a man not wanting to marry Susan,
because she is so full of ideas, and has a mind of her own about
things. But Jinny is different."

Then, seeing that she had "unsettled" his mind sufficiently for her
purpose, she rose and looked around the room with the inordinate
curiosity about details which kept her still young in spite of her sixty
years.

"You don't mean to tell me you brought all those books with you,
Oliver?" she asked. "Why on earth don't you get rid of some of them?"

"I can't spare any of them. I never know which one I may want next."

"What are those you're putting on the mantelpiece? Isn't Darwin the name
of the man who said we were all descended from monkeys?"

As he made no answer to this except to press her hand and thank her for
coming, she left the mantelpiece and wandered to the window, where her
gaze rested, with a look of maternal satisfaction, on the roofs of
Dinwiddie.

"It's a jolly view of the town, isn't it?" he said. "There's nothing
like looking down from a hilltop to give one a sense of superiority."

"You can see straight into Mrs. Goode's backyard," she replied, "and I
never knew before that she left her clothes hanging on the line on
Sunday. That comes, I suppose, from not looking after her servants and
gadding about on all sorts of charities. She told me the other day that
she belonged to every charitable organization in Dinwiddie."

"Is she Abby's mother?"

"Yes, but you'd never imagine they were any relation. Abby gave me more
trouble than any girl I ever taught. She never would learn the
multiplication table, and I don't believe to this day she knows it.
There isn't any harm in her except that she is a scatter-brain, and will
make eyes or burst. I sometimes think it isn't her fault--that she was
just born man-crazy."

"She's awfully good fun," he laughed.

"Are you going to her garden party on Wednesday?"

"I accepted before I quarrelled with Uncle Cyrus, but I'll have to get
out of it now."

"Oh, I wouldn't. All the pretty girls in town will be there."

"Are there any plain ones? And what becomes of them?"

"The Lord only knows! Old Judge Bassett used to say that there wouldn't
be any preserves and pickles in the world if all women were born
good-looking. I declare I never realized how small the tower of Saint
James' Church is!"

For a moment he hesitated, and when he spoke his voice had taken a
deeper tone. "Will Virginia Pendleton be at the party?" he asked.

"She wouldn't miss it for anything in the world. Miss Willy Whitlow was
sewing there yesterday on a white organdie dress for her to wear. Have
you ever seen Jinny in white organdie? I always tell Lucy the child
looks sweet enough to eat when she puts it on."

He laughed again, but not as he had laughed at her description of Abby.
"Ask her please to put blue bows on her flounces and a red rose in her
hair," he said.

"Then you are going?"

"Not if I can possibly keep away. Oh, Cousin Priscilla, why didn't I
inherit my soul from your side of the family."

"Well, for my part I don't believe in all this talk about inheritance.
Nobody ever heard of inheriting anything but money when I was a girl.
You've got the kind of soul the good Lord wanted to put into you and
that's all there is about it."

When he returned from assisting her in her panting and difficult descent
of the stairs, he sat down again before the unfinished act of his play,
but his eyes wandered from the manuscript to the town, which lay as
bright and still in the sunlight as if it were imprisoned in crystal.
The wonder aroused in his mind by Miss Priscilla's allusion to Virginia
persisted as a disturbing element in the background of his thoughts.
What had she meant? Was it possible that there was truth in the wildest
imaginings of his vanity? Virginia's face, framed in her wreath of hair,
floated beneath the tower of Saint James' Church at which he was gazing,
and the radiant goodness in her look mounted like a draught of strong
wine to his brain. Passion, which he had discounted in his plans for the
future, appeared suddenly to shake the very foundations of his life.
Never before had the spirit and the flesh united in the appeal of a
woman to his imagination. Never before had the divine virgin of his
dreams assumed the living red and white of young girlhood. He thought
how soft her hair must be to the touch, and how warm her mouth would
glow from his kisses. With a kind of wonder he realized that this was
first love--that it was first love he had felt when he met her eyes
under the dappled sunlight in High Street. The memory of her beauty was
like a net which enmeshed his thoughts when he tried to escape it. Look
where he would he saw always a cloud of dark hair and two deep blue eyes
that shone as softly as wild hyacinths after a shower. Think as he would
he met always the haunting doubt--"What did she mean? Can it be true
that she already loves me?" So small an incident as Miss Priscilla's
Sunday call had not only upset his work for the morning, but had changed
in an instant the even course of his future. He decided suddenly that he
must see Virginia again--that he would go to Abby Goode's party, and
though the party was only three days off, it seemed to him that the
waiting would be almost unbearable. Only after he had once seen her
would it be possible, he felt, to stop thinking of her and to return
comfortably to his work.



CHAPTER VIII

WHITE MAGIC


In the centre of her bedroom, with her back turned to that bookcase
which was filled with sugared false-hoods about life, Virginia was
standing very straight while Miss Willy Whitlow knelt at her feet and
sewed pale blue bows on her overskirt of white organdie. Occasionally,
the door opened softly, and the rector or one of the servants looked in
to see "Jinny" or "Miss Jinny dressed for the party," and when such
interruptions occurred, Mrs. Pendleton, who sat on an ottoman at the
dressmaker's right hand and held a spool of thread and a pair of
scissors in her lap, would say sternly, "Don't move, Jinny, stand
straight or Miss Willy won't get the bows right." At these warning
words, Virginia's thin shoulders would spring back and the filmy ruffles
stir gently over her girlish breast.

Through the open window, beyond the drooping boughs of the paulownia
trees, a few wistful stars shone softly through the web of purple
twilight. The night smelt of a thousand flowers--all the mingled
sweetness of old gardens floated in on the warm wind and caressed the
faded figure of Miss Willy as lovingly as it did the young and radiant
vision of Virginia. Once or twice the kneeling seamstress had glanced up
at the girl and thought: "I wonder how it feels to be as lovely as
that?" Then she sighed as one who had missed her heritage, for she had
been always plain, and went on patiently sewing the bows on Virginia's
overskirt. "You can't have everything in this world, and I ought to be
thankful that I've kept out of the poorhouse," she added a minute later
when a little stab of envy went through her at hearing the girl laugh
from sheer happiness.

"Am I all right, mother? Tell me how I look."

"Lovely, darling. There won't be any one there sweeter than you are."

The maternal passion lit Mrs. Pendleton's eyes with splendour, and her
worn face was illuminated as if a lamp had been held suddenly close to
it. All day, in spite of a neuralgic pain in her temples, she had worked
hard hemming the flounces for Virginia's dress, and into every stitch
had gone something of the divine ecstasy of martyrdom. Her life centred
so entirely in her affections that apart from love she could be hardly
said to exist at all. In spite of her trials she was probably the
happiest woman in Dinwiddie, for she had found her happiness in the only
way it is ever won--by turning her back on it. Never once had she
thought of it as an end to be pursued, never even as a flower to be
plucked from the wayside. It is doubtful if she had ever stopped once in
the thirty years of her marriage to ask herself the questions: "Is this
what I want to do?" or "Does this make me happy?" Love meant to her not
grasping, but giving, and in serving others she had served herself
unawares. Even her besetting sin of "false pride" she indulged not on
her own account, but because she, who could be humble enough for
herself, could not bear to associate the virtue of humility with either
her husband or her daughter.

The last blue bow was attached to the left side of the overskirt, and
while Miss Willy rose from her knees, Virginia crossed to the window and
gazed up at the pale stars over the tops of the paulownias. A joy so
vibrant that it was like living music swelled in her breast. She was
young! She was beautiful! She was to be loved! This preternatural
certainty of happiness was so complete that the chilling disappointments
of the last few days had melted before it like frost in the sunlight. It
was founded upon an instinct so much deeper, so much more primitive than
reason, that it resisted the logic of facts with something of the
exalted obstinacy with which faith has resisted the arguments of
philosophy. Like all young and inexperienced creatures, she was
possessed by the feeling that there exists a magnetic current of
attraction between desire and the object which it desires. "Something
told" her that she was meant for happiness, and the voice of this
"something" was more convincing than the chaotic march of phenomena.
Sorrow, decay, death--these appeared to her as things which must happen
inevitably to other people, but from which she should be forever
shielded by some beneficent Providence. She thought of them as vaguely
as she did of the remote tragedies of history. They bore no closer
relation to her own life than did the French Revolution or the beheading
of Charles the First. It was natural, if sad, that Miss Willy Whitlow
should fade and suffer. The world, she knew, was full of old people, of
weary people, of blighted people; but she cherished passionately the
belief that these people were all miserable because, somehow, they had
not chosen to be happy. There appeared something positively
reprehensible in a person who could go sighing upon so kind and
beautiful a planet. All things, even joy, seemed to her a mere matter of
willing. It was impossible that any hostile powers should withstand the
radiant energy of her desire.

Leaning there from the window, with her face lifted to the stars, and
her mother's worshipping gaze on her back, she thought of the
"happiness" which would be hers in the future: and this "happiness"
meant to her only the solitary experience of love. Like all the women of
her race, she had played gallantly and staked her world upon a single
chance. Whereas a man might have missed love and still have retained
life, with a woman love and life were interchangeable terms. That one
emotion represented not only her sole opportunity of joy, it constituted
as well her single field of activity. The chasm between marriage and
spinsterhood was as wide as the one between children and pickles. Yet so
secret was this intense absorption in the thought of romance, that Mrs.
Pendleton, forgetting her own girlhood, would have been startled had she
penetrated that lovely head and discovered the ecstatic dreams that
flocked through her daughter's brain. Though love was the one window
through which a woman might look on a larger world, she was fatuously
supposed neither to think of it nor to desire it until it had offered
itself unsolicited. Every girl born into the world was destined for a
heritage of love or of barrenness--yet she was forbidden to exert
herself either to invite the one or to avoid the other. For, in spite of
the fiery splendour of Southern womanhood during the war years, to be
feminine, in the eyes of the period, was to be morally passive.

"Your father has come to see your dress, dear," said her mother in the
voice of a woman from whom sentiment overflowed in every tone, in every
look, in every gesture.

Turning quickly, Virginia met the smiling eyes of the rector--those
young and visionary eyes, which Nature, with a wistful irony, had placed
beneath beetling brows in the creased and wrinkled face of an old man.
The eyes were those of a prophet--of one who had lived his life in the
light of a transcendent inspiration rather than by the prosaic rule of
practical reason; but the face belonged to a man who had aged before his
time under the accumulated stress of physical burdens.

"How do I look, father? Am I pretty?" asked Virginia, stretching her
thin young arms out on either side of her, and waiting with parted lips
to drink in his praise.

"Almost as beautiful as your mother, and she grows lovelier every day
that she lives, doesn't she?"

His adoring gaze, which held the spirit of beauty as a crystal holds the
spirit of light, passed from the glowing features of Virginia to the
lined and pallid face of his wife. In that gaze there had been no shadow
of alteration for thirty years. It is doubtful even if he had seen any
change in her since he had first looked upon her face, and thought it
almost unearthly in its angelic fairness. From the physical union they
had entered into that deeper union of souls in which the body dissolves
as the shadow dissolves into the substance, and he saw her always as
she had appeared to him on that first morning, as if the pool of
sunlight in which she had stood had never darkened around her. Yet to
Virginia his words brought a startled realization that her mother--her
own mother, with her faded face and her soft, anxious eyes--had once
been as young and radiant as she. The love of her parents for each other
had always seemed to her as natural and as far removed from the
cloudless zone of romance as her own love for them--for, like most young
creatures, she regarded love as belonging, with bright eyes and rosy
cheeks, to the blissful period of youth.

"I hear John Henry's ring, darling. Are you ready?" asked Mrs.
Pendleton.

"In a minute. Is the rose right in my hair?" replied Virginia, turning
her profile towards her mother, while she flung a misty white scarf over
her shoulders.

"Quite right, dear. I hope you will have a lovely time. I shall sit up
for you, so you needn't bother to take a key."

"But you'll be so tired. Can't you make her go to bed, father?"

"I couldn't close my eyes till I knew you were safely home, and heard
how you'd enjoyed yourself," answered Mrs. Pendleton, as they slowly
descended the staircase, Virginia leading the way, and the rest
following in a procession behind her. Turning at the gate, with her arm
in John Henry's, the girl saw them standing in the lighted doorway, with
their tender gaze following her, and the faces of the little seamstress
and the two coloured servants staring over their shoulders. Trivial as
the incident was, it was one of the moments which stood out afterwards
in Virginia's memory as though a white light had fallen across it. Of
such simple and expressive things life is woven, though the years had
not taught her this on that May evening.

On the Goodes' lawn lanterns bloomed, like yellow flowers among the
branches of poplar trees, and beneath them Mrs. Goode and Abby--a loud,
handsome girl, with a coarsened complexion and a "sporting"
manner--received their guests and waved them on to a dancing platform
which had been raised between a rose-crowned summer-house and the old
brick wall at the foot of the garden. Ropes were stretched over the
platform, from the roof of the summer-house to a cherry tree at the end
of the walk, and on these more lanterns of red, blue, and yellow paper
were hanging. The air was scented with honeysuckle, and from an obscure
corner behind a trellis the sound of a waltz floated. As music it was
not of a classic order, but this did not matter since nobody was aware
of it; and Dinwiddie, which developed quite a taste for Wagner at the
beginning of the next century, could listen in the eighties with what
was perhaps a sincerer pleasure, to stringed instruments, a little
rough, but played with fervour by mulatto musicians. As Virginia drifted
off in John Henry's arms for the first dance, which she had promised
him, she thought: "I wonder if he will not come after all?" and a pang
shot through her heart where the daring joy had been only a moment
before. Then the music grew suddenly heavy while she felt her feet drag
in the waltz. The smell of honeysuckle made her sad as if it brought
back to her senses an unhappy association which she could not remember,
and it seemed to her that her soul and body trembled, like a bent flame,
into an attitude of expectancy.

"Let me stop a minute. I want to watch the others," she said, drawing
back into the scented dusk under a rose arbour.

"But don't you want to fill your card? If the men once catch sight of
you, you won't have a dance left."

"No--no, I want to watch a while," she said, with so strange an accent
of irritation that he stared at her in surprise. The suspense in her
heart hurt her like a drawn cord in throbbing flesh, and she felt angry
with John Henry because he was so dull that he could not see how she
suffered. In the distance, under the waving gilded leaves of the
poplars, she saw Abby laughing up into a man's face, and she thought:
"Can he possibly be in love with Abby? Some men are mad about her, but I
know he isn't. He could never like a loud woman, and, besides, he
couldn't have looked at me that way if he hadn't cared." Then it seemed
to her that something of the aching suspense in her own heart stole into
Abby's laughing face while she watched it, and from Abby it passed
onward into the faces of all the girls who were dancing on the raised
platform. Suspense! Was that a woman's life, after all? Never to be able
to go out and fight for what one wanted! Always to sit at home and wait,
without moving a foot or lifting a hand toward happiness! Never to dare
gallantly! Never even to suffer openly! Always to will in secret, always
to hope in secret, always to triumph or to fail in secret. Never to be
one's self--never to let one's soul or body relax from the attitude of
expectancy into the attitude of achievement. For the first time, born
of the mutinous longing in her heart, there came to her the tragic
vision of life. The faces of the girls, whirling in white muslin to the
music of the waltz, became merged into one, and this was the face of all
womanhood. Love, sorrow, hope, regret, wonder, all the sharp longing and
the slow waiting of the centuries--above all the slow waiting--these
things were in her brief vision of that single face that looked back at
her out of the whirling dance. Then the music stopped, the one face
dissolved into many faces, and from among them Susan passed under the
swinging lanterns and came towards her.

"Oh, Jinny, where have you been hiding? I promised Oliver I would find
you for him. He says he came only to look at you."

The music began joyously again; the young leaves, gilded by the yellow
lantern-light, danced in the warm wind as if they were seized by the
spirit of melody; and from the dusk of the trellis the ravished
sweetness of honeysuckle flooded the garden with fragrance. With the
vanished sadness in her heart there fled the sadness in the waltz and in
the faces of the girls who danced to the music. Waiting no longer seemed
pain to her, for it was enriched now by the burning sweetness of
fulfilment.

Suddenly, for she had not seen him approach, she was conscious that he
was at her side, looking down at her beneath a lantern which was
beginning to flicker. A sense of deep peace--of perfect contentment with
the world as God planned it--took possession of her. Even the minutes of
suspense seemed good because they had brought at last this swift rush
of happiness. Every line of his face--of that face which had captured
her imagination as though it had been the face of her dreams--was
illumined by the quivering light that gilded the poplars. His eyes were
so close to hers that she saw little flecks of gold on the brown, and
she grew dizzy while she looked into them, as if she stood on a height
and feared to turn lest she should lose her balance and fall. A
delicious stillness, which began in her brain and passed to her
throbbing pulses, enveloped her like a perfume. While she stood there
she was incapable of thought--except the one joyous thought that this
was the moment for which she had waited since the hour of her birth.
Never could she be the same afterwards! Never could she be unhappy again
in the future! For, like other mortals in other ecstatic instants, she
surrendered herself to the intoxicating illusion of their immortality.

After that silence, so charged with emotion for them both, it seemed
that when he spoke it must be to utter words that would enkindle the
world to beauty; but he said merely: "Is this dance free? I came only to
speak to you."

His look added, "I came because my longing had grown unbearable"; and
though she replied only to his words, it was his look that made the
honeysuckle-trellis, the yellow lanterns, and the sky, with its few soft
stars, go round like coloured balls before her eyes. The world melted
away from her, and the distance between her and the whirling figures in
white muslin seemed greater than the distance between star and star. She
had the sense of spiritual remoteness, of shining isolation, which
ecstasy brings to the heart of youth, as though she had escaped from
the control of ordinary phenomena and stood in a blissful pause beyond
time and space. It was the supreme moment of love; and to her, whose
soul acknowledged no other supremacy than that of love, it was, also,
the supreme moment of life.

His face, as he gazed down at her under the swinging leaves, seemed to
her as different from all other faces as the exquisite violence in her
soul was different from all other emotions she had ever known. She knew
nothing more of him than that she could not be happy away from him. She
needed no more infallible proof of his perfection than the look in his
eyes when he smiled at her. So convincing was the argument of his smile
that it was not only impregnable against any assault of facts, but
rendered futile even the underlying principle of reason. Had Aristotle
himself risen from his grave to prove to her that blind craving when
multiplied by blind possession does not equal happiness, his logic would
have been powerless before that unconquerable instinct which denied its
truth. And around them little white moths, fragile as rose-leaves,
circled deliriously in the lantern-light, for they, also, obeyed an
unconquerable instinct which told them that happiness dwelt in the flame
above which they were whirling.

"I am glad you wore blue ribbons" he said suddenly.

Her lashes trembled and fell, but they could not hide the glow that
shone in her eyes and in the faint smile which trembled, like an edge of
light, on her lips.

"Will you come into the summer-house and sit out this dance?" he asked
when she did not speak, and she followed him under the hanging clusters
of early roses to a bench in the dusk beside a little rustic table.
Here, after a moment's silence, he spoke again recklessly, yet with a
certain constraint of manner.

"I suppose I oughtn't to have come here to-night."

"Why not?" Their glances, bright as swords, crossed suddenly, and it
seemed to her that the music grew louder. Had it been of any use, she
would have prayed Life to dole the minutes out, one by one, like a
miser. And all the time she was thinking: "This is the moment I've
waited for ever since I was born. It has come. I am in the midst of it.
How can I keep it forever?"

"Well, I haven't any business thinking about anything but my work," he
answered. "I've broken with my uncle, you know. I'm as poor as a church
mouse and I'll never be better off until I get a play on the stage. For
the next few years I've got to cut out everything but hard work."

"Yes." Her tongue was paralyzed; she couldn't say what she felt, and
everything else seemed to her horribly purposeless and ineffectual. She
wondered passionately if he thought her a fool, for she could not look
into his mind and discover how adorable he found her monosyllabic
responses. The richness of her beauty combined with the poverty of her
speech made an irresistible appeal to the strongest part of him, which
was not his heart, but his imagination. He wondered what she would say
if she were really to let herself go, and this wonder began gradually to
enslave him.

"That's the reason I hadn't any business coming here," he added, "but
the truth is I've wanted to see you again ever since that first
afternoon. I got to wondering whether," he laughed in an embarrassed
way, and added with an attempt at levity, "whether you would wear a red
rose in your hair."

At his change of tone, she reached up suddenly, plucked the rose from
her hair and flung it out on the grass. Her action, which belied her
girlish beauty so strangely that only her mother would have recognized
it as characteristic of the hidden force of the woman, held him for an
instant speechless under her laughing eyes. Then turning away, he picked
up the rose and put it into his pocket.

"I suppose you will never tell me why you did that?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I can't tell. I don't know. Something took me."

"Did you think I came just for the rose?"

"I didn't think."

"If I came for the rose, I ought to go. I wish I could. Do you suppose
I'll be able to work again now that I've seen you? I've told myself for
three days that if I could only see you again I'd be able to stop
thinking about you."

She was not looking at him, but in every line of her figure, in every
quiver of her lashes, in every breath that she drew, he read the effect
of his words. It was as if her whole palpitating loveliness had become
the vehicle of an exquisite entreaty. Her soul seemed to him to possess
the purity, not of snow, but of flame, and this flame, in whose light
nothing evil could live, curved towards him as if blown by a wind. He
felt suddenly that he was swept onward by some outside power which was
stronger than his will. An enchantment had fallen over him, and at one
and the same instant he longed to break the power of the spell and knew
that life would cease to be worth living if he were ever to do so. He
saw her eyes, like blue flowers in the soft dusk, and the mist of curls
on her temples stirred gently in the scented breeze that blew over the
garden. All the sweetness of the world was gathered into the little
space that she filled. Every impulse of joy he had ever felt--memories
of autumn roads, of starlit mountains, of summer fields where bees
drifted in golden clouds--all these were packed like honey into that
single minute of love. And with the awakening of passion, there came the
exaltation, the consciousness of illimitable possibilities which passion
brings to the young. Never before had he realized the power that was in
him! Never until this instant had he seen his own soul in the making!
All the unquenchable faith of youth burned at white heat in the flame
which his desire had kindled. He felt himself divided between an
invincible brutality and an invincible tenderness. He would have fought
with beasts for the sake of the gentle and passive creature beside him,
yet he would have died rather than sully the look of angelic goodness
with which she regarded him. To have her always gentle, always passive,
never reaching out her hand, never descending to his level, but sitting
forever aloof and colourless, waiting eternally, patient, beautiful and
unwearied, to crown the victory--this was what the conquering male in
him demanded.

"I ought to go," he said, so ineffectual was speech to convey the tumult
within his brain. "I am keeping you from the others."

She had shrunk back into the dimness beyond the circle of lanterns, and
he saw her face like a pale moon under the clustering rose-leaves. Her
very breath seemed suspended, and there was a velvet softness in her
look and in the gesture of timid protest with which she responded to his
halting words. She was putting forth all her woman's power as innocently
as the honeysuckle puts forth its fragrance. The white moths whirling in
their brief passion over the lantern-flame were not more helpless before
the movement of those inscrutable forces which we call Life. A strange
stillness surrounded her--as though she were separated by a circle of
silence from the dancers beyond the rose-crowned walls of the
summer-house--and into this stillness there passed, like an invisible
current, the very essence of womanhood. The longing of all the dead
women of her race flowed through her into the softness of the spring
evening. Things were there which she could know only through her
blood--all the mute patience, all the joy that is half fear, all the
age-long dissatisfaction with the merely physical end of love--these
were in that voiceless entreaty for happiness; and mingled with them,
there were the inherited ideals of self-surrender, of service, pity,
loyalty, and sacrifice.

"I wish I could help you," she said, and her voice thrilled with the
craving to squander herself magnificently in his service.

"You are an angel, and I'm a selfish beast to bring you my troubles."

"I don't think you are selfish--of course you have to think of your
work--a man's work means so much to him."

"It's wonderful of you to feel that," he replied; and, indeed, at the
instant while he searched her eyes in the dusk, the words seemed to him
to embody all the sympathetic understanding with which his imagination
endowed her. How perfectly her face expressed the goodness and
gentleness of her soul! What a companion she would make to a man! What a
lover! What a wife! Always soft, exquisite, tender, womanly to the
innermost fibre of her being, and perfect in unselfishness as all
womanly women are. How easy it would be to work if she were somewhere
within call, ready to fly to him at a word! How glorious to go out into
the world if he knew that she sat at home waiting--always waiting, with
those eyes like wells of happiness, until he should return to her! A new
meaning had entered swiftly into life. A feeling that was like a
religious conversion had changed not only his spiritual vision, but the
material aspect of nature. Whatever happened, he felt that he could
never be the same man again.

"I shall see you soon?" he said, and the words fell like snow on the
inner flame of his senses.

"Oh, soon!" she answered, bending a little towards him while a sudden
glory illumined her features. Her voice, which was vibrant as a harp,
had captured the wistful magic of the spring--the softness of the winds,
the sweetness of flowers, the mellow murmuring of the poplars.

She rose from the bench, moving softly as if she were under an
enchantment which she feared to break by a gesture. An ecstasy as
inarticulate as grief kept him silent, and it was into this silence that
the voice of Abby floated, high, shrill, and dominant.

"Oh, Virginia, I've looked everywhere for you," she cried. "Mr.
Carrington is simply dying to dance with you!"

She bounced, as only the solid actuality can bounce, into the dream,
precipitating the unwelcome presence of Mr. Carrington--a young man with
a golden beard and the manner of a commercial minor prophet--there also.
A few minutes later, as Virginia drifted away in his arms to the music
of the waltz, she saw, over the heads of the dancers, Oliver and Abby
walking slowly in the direction of the gate. A feeling of unreality
seized her, as though she were looking through an azure veil at the
world. The dancers among whom she whirled, the anxious mothers sitting
uneasily on chairs under the poplars, the flowering shrubs, the
rose-crowned summer-house, the yellow lanterns with the clouds of white
moths circling around them--all these things had turned suddenly to
shadows; and through a phantom garden, the one living figure moved
beside an empty shape, which was Abby. Her feet had wings. She flew
rather than danced in the arms of a shadow through this blue veil which
enveloped her. Life burned within her like a flame in a porcelain vase,
and this inner fire separated her, as genius separates its possessor,
from the ordinary mortals among whom she moved.

Walking home with John Henry after the party was over, it seemed to her
that she was lifted up and cradled in all the wonderful freshness of the
spring. The sweet moist air fanned her face; the morning stars shone
softly on her through the pearly mist; and the pale fingers of dawn were
spread like a beneficent hand, above the eastern horizon. "To-morrow!"
cried her heart, overflowing with joy; and something of this joy passed
into the saddest hour of day and brightened it to radiance.

At the gate she parted from John Henry, and running eagerly along the
path, opened the front door, which was unlocked, and burst into the
dining-room, where her mother, wearied of her long watch, had fallen
asleep beside the lamp, which was beginning to flicker.

"To-morrow!" still sang her heart, and the wild, sweet music of it
filled the world. "To-morrow!"



CHAPTER IX

THE GREAT MAN MOVES


Several weeks later, at the close of a June afternoon, Cyrus Treadwell
sat alone on the back porch of his house in Bolingbroke Street. He was
smoking, and, between the measured whiffs of his pipe, he leaned over
the railing and spat into a bed of miniature sunflowers which grew along
the stone ledge of the area. For thirty years these flowers had sprung
up valiantly every spring in that bleak strip of earth, and for thirty
years Cyrus had spat among them while he smoked alone on the back porch
on June afternoons.

While he sat there a great peace enfolded and possessed him. The street
beyond the sagging wooden gate was still; the house behind him was
still; the kitchen, in which showed the ebony silhouette of a massive
cook kneading dough, was still with the uncompromising stillness of the
Sabbath. In the midst of this stillness, his thoughts, which were
usually as angular as lean birds on a bough, lost their sharpness of
outline and melted into a vague and feathery mass. At the moment it was
impossible to know of what he was thinking, but he was happy with the
happiness which visits men of small parts and of sterile imagination. By
virtue of these limitations and this sterility he had risen out of
obscurity--for the spiritual law which decrees that to gain the world
one must give up one's soul, was exemplified in him as in all his
class. Success, the shibboleth of his kind, had controlled his thoughts
and even his impulses so completely for years that he had come at last
to resemble an animal less than he resembled a machine; and Nature (who
has a certain large and careless manner of dispensing justice) had
punished him in the end by depriving him of the ordinary animal capacity
for pleasure. The present state of vacuous contentment was, perhaps, as
near the condition of enjoyment as he would ever approach.

Half an hour before he had had an encounter with Susan on the subject of
her going to college, but even his victory, which had been sharp and
swift, was robbed of all poignant satisfaction by his native inability
to imagine what his refusal must have meant to her. The girl had stood
straight and tall, with her commanding air, midway between the railing
and the weather-stained door of the house.

"Father, I want to go to college," she had said quite simply, for she
was one who used words very much as Cyrus used money, with a
temperamental avoidance of all extravagance.

Her demand was a direct challenge to the male in Cyrus, and, though this
creature could not be said to be either primitive or predatory, he was
still active enough to defend himself from the unprovoked assault of an
offspring.

"Tut-tut," he responded. "If you want something to occupy you, you'd
better start about helping your mother with her preserving."

"I put up seventy-five jars of strawberries."

"Well, the blackberries are coming along. I was always partial to
blackberries."

He sat there, bald, shrunken, yellow, as soulless as a steam engine, and
yet to Susan he represented a pitiless manifestation of destiny--of
those deaf, implacable forces by which the lives of men and women are
wrecked. He had the power to ruin her life, and yet he would never see
it because he had been born blind. That in his very blindness had lain
his strength, was a fact which, naturally enough, escaped her for the
moment. The one thought of which she was conscious was a fierce
resentment against life because such men possessed such power over
others.

"If you will lend me the money, I will pay it back to you as soon as I
can take a position," she said, almost passionately.

Something that was like the ghost of a twinkle appeared in his eyes, and
he let fall presently one of his rare pieces of humour.

"If you'd like a chance to repay me for your education," he said,
"there's your schooling at Miss Priscilla's still owing, and I'll take
it out in help about the housekeeping."

Then Susan went, because going in silence was the only way that she
could save the shreds of dignity which remained to her, and bending
forward, with a contented chuckle, Cyrus spat benevolently down upon the
miniature sunflowers.

In the half hour that followed he did not think of his daughter. From
long discipline his mind had fallen out of the habit of thinking of
people except in their relation to the single vital interest of his
life, and this interest was not fatherhood. Susan was an incident--a
less annoying incident, it is true, than Belinda--but still an incident.
An inherent contempt for women, due partly to qualities of temperament
and partly to the accident of a disillusioning marriage, made him
address them always as if he were speaking from a platform. And, as is
often the case with men of cold-blooded sensuality, women, from Belinda
downward, had taken their revenge upon him.

The front door-bell jangled suddenly, and a little later he heard a
springy step passing along the hall. Then the green lattice door of the
porch opened, and the face of Mrs. Peachey, wearing the look of
unnatural pleasantness which becomes fixed on the features of persons
who spend their lives making the best of things, appeared in the spot
where Susan had been half an hour before. She had trained her lips to
smile so persistently and so unreasonably, that when, as now, she would
have preferred to present a serious countenance to an observer, she
found it impossible to relax the muscles of her mouth from their
expression of perpetual cheerfulness. Cyrus, who had once remarked of
her that he didn't believe she could keep a straight face at her own
funeral, wondered, while he rose and offered her a chair, whether the
periodical sprees of honest Tom were the cause or the result of the look
of set felicity she wore. For an instant he was tempted to show his
annoyance at the intrusion. Then, because she was a pretty woman and did
not belong to him, he grew almost playful, with the playfulness of an
uncertain tempered ram that is offered salt.

"It is not often that I am honoured by a visit from you," he said.

"The honour is mine. Mr. Treadwell," she replied, and she really felt
it. "I was on my way upstairs to see Belinda, and it just crossed my
mind as I saw you sitting out here, that I'd better stop and speak to
you about your nephew. I wonder Belinda doesn't plant a few rose-bushes
along that back wall," she added.

"I'd pay you fifty dollars, ma'am, if you'd get Belinda to plant
anything"--which was not delicately put, perhaps, but was, after all,
spoken in the only language that Cyrus knew.

"I thought she was so fond of flowers. She used to be as a girl."

"Humph!" was Cyrus's rejoinder, and then: "Well, what about my nephew,
madam?" Clasping his bony hands over his knee, he leaned forward and
waited, not without curiosity, for her answer. He did not admire
Oliver--he even despised him--but when all was said, the boy had
succeeded in riveting his attention. However poorly he might think of
him, the fact remained that think of him he did. The young man was in
the air as inescapably as if he were the measles.

"I'm worrying about him, Mr. Treadwell; I can't help myself. You know he
boards with me."

"Yes'm, I know," replied Cyrus--for he had heard the fact from Miss
Priscilla on his way home from church one Sunday.

"And he's not well. There's something the matter with him. He's so
nervous and irritable that he's almost crazy. He doesn't eat a morsel,
and I can hear him pacing up and down his room until daybreak. Once I
got up and went upstairs to ask him if he was sick, but he said that he
was perfectly well and was walking about for exercise. I am sure I don't
know what it can be, but if it keeps up, he'll land in an asylum before
the summer is over."

The look of satisfaction which her first words had brought to Cyrus's
face deepened gradually as her story unfolded. "He's wanting money, I
reckon," he commented, his imagination seizing upon the only medium in
which it could work. As a philosopher may discern in all life different
manifestations of the Deity, so he saw in all affliction only the
wanting of money under varied aspects. Sorrows in which the lack of
money did not bear a part always seemed to him to be unnecessary and
generally self-inflicted by the sufferers. Of such people he would say
impatiently that they took a morbid view of their troubles and were
"nursing grief."

"I don't think it's that," said Mrs. Peachey. "He always pays his bills
promptly on the first day of the month, and I know that he gets checks
from New York for the writing he does. I'm sometimes tempted to believe
that he has fallen in love."

"Love? Pshaw!" said Cyrus, and dismissed the passion.

"But it goes hard with some people, and he's one of that kind," rejoined
the little lady, with spirit, for in spite of her wholesome awe of
Cyrus, she could not bear to hear the sentiment derided. "We aren't all
as sensible as you are, Mr. Treadwell."

"Well, if he is in love, as you say, whom is he in love with?" demanded
Cyrus.

"It's all guesswork," answered Mrs. Peachey. "He isn't paying attention
to any girl that I know of--but, I suppose, if it's anybody, it must be
Virginia Pendleton. All the young men are crazy about her."

She had been prepared for opposition--she had been prepared, being a
lady, for anything, as she told Tom afterwards, short of an oath--but to
her amazement the unexpected, which so rarely happened in the case of
Cyrus, happened at that minute. Human nature, which she had treated
almost as a science, proved suddenly that it was not even an art. One of
those glaring inconsistencies which confute every theory and overturn
all psychology was manifested before her.

"That's the daughter of old Gabriel, aint it?" asked Cyrus, and
unconsciously to himself, his voice softened.

"Yes, she's Gabriel's daughter, and one of the sweetest girls that ever
lived."

"Gabriel's a good man," said Cyrus. "I always liked Gabriel. We fought
through the war together."

"A better man never lived, nor a better woman than Lucy. If she's got a
fault on earth, it's that she's too unselfish."

"Well, if this girl takes after them, the young fool has shown more
sense than I gave him credit for."

"I don't think he's a fool," returned Mrs. Peachey, reflecting how
wonderfully she had "managed" the great man, "but, of course, he's
queer--all writers are queer, aren't they?"

"He's kept it up longer than I thought, but I reckon he's about ready to
give in," pursued Cyrus, ignoring her question as he did all excursions
into the region of abstract wonder. "If he'll start in to earn his
living now, I'll let him have a job on the railroad out in Matoaca City.
I meant to teach him a lesson, but I shouldn't like Henry's son to
starve. I've nothing against Henry except that he was too soft. He was
a good brother as brothers go, and I haven't forgotten it."

"Perhaps, if you'd talk to Oliver," suggested Mrs. Peachey. "I'm afraid
I couldn't induce him to come to you, but----"

"Oh, I ain't proud--I don't need to be," interrupted Cyrus with a
chuckle. "Only fools and the poor have any use for pride. I'll look in
upon him sometime along after supper, and see if he's come to his wits
since I last talked to him."

"Then, I'm glad I came to you. Tom would be horrified almost to death if
he knew of it--but I've always said that when an idea crosses my mind
just like that," she snapped her thumb and forefinger, "there's
something in it."

As she rose from her seat, she looked up at him with the coquetry which
was so inalienable an attribute of her soul that, had the Deity assumed
masculine shape before her, she would instinctively have used this
weapon to soften the severity of His judgment. "It was so kind of you
not to send me away, Mr. Treadwell," she said in honeyed accents.

"It is a pleasure to meet such a sensible woman," replied Cyrus, with
awkward gallantry. Her flattery had warmed him pleasantly, and in the
midst of the dried husks of his nature, he was conscious suddenly that a
single blade of living green still survived. He had ceased to feel
old--he felt almost young again--and this rejuvenation had set in merely
because a middle-aged woman, whom he had known since childhood, had
shown an innocent pleasure in his society. Mrs. Peachey's traditional
belief in the power of sex had proved its own justification.

When she had left him, Cyrus sat down again, and took up his pipe from
the railing where he had placed it. "I'll go round and have some words
with the young scamp," he thought. "There's no use waiting until after
supper. I'll go round now while it is light."

Then, as if the softening impulse were a part of the Sabbath stillness,
he leaned over the bed of sunflowers, and fixed his eyes on the pinkish
tower of Saint James' Church, which he could see palely enkindled
against the afterglow. A single white cloud floated like a dove in the
west, and beneath it a rain of light fell on the shadowy roofs of the
town. The air was so languorous that it was as if the day were being
slowly smothered in honeysuckle, the heavy scent of which drifted to him
from the next garden. A vast melancholy--so vast that it seemed less the
effect of a Southern summer than of a universal force residing in
nature--was liberated, with the first cooling breath of the evening,
from man and beast, from tree and shrub, from stock and stone. The very
bricks, sun-baked and scarred, spoke of the weariness of heat, of the
parching thirst of the interminable summers.

But to Cyrus the languor and the intense sweetness of the air suggested
only that the end of a hot day had come. "It's likely to be a drought,"
he was thinking while his upward gaze rested on the illuminated tower of
the church. "A drought will go hard with the tobacco."

Having emptied his pipe, he was about to take down his straw hat from a
nail on the wall, when the sound of the opening gate arrested him, and
he waited with his eyes fixed on the winding brick walk, where the negro
washerwoman appeared presently with a basket of clean clothes on her
head. Beneath her burden he saw that there were some primitive attempts
at Sunday adornment. She wore a green muslin dress, a little discoloured
by perspiration, but with many compensating flounces; a bit of yellow
ribbon floated from her throat, and in her hand she carried the festive
hat which would decorate her head after the removal of the basket. Her
figure, which had once been graceful, had grown heavy; and her face, of
a light gingerbread colour, with broad, not unpleasant features, wore a
humble, inquiring look--the look of some trustful wild animal that man
has tamed and only partly domesticated. Approaching the steps, she
brought down the basket from her head, and came on, holding it with a
deprecating swinging movement in front of her.

"Howdy, Marster," she said, as if uncertain whether to stop or to pass
on into the doorway.

"Howdy, Mandy," responded Cyrus. "There's a hot spell coming, I reckon."

Lowering the basket to the floor of the porch, the woman drew a red
bandanna handkerchief from her bosom and began slowly to wipe the drops
of sweat from her face and neck. The acrid odour of her flesh reached
Cyrus, but he made no movement to draw away from her.

"I'se been laid up wid er stitch in my side, Marster, so I'se jes got
dese yer close done dis mawnin'. Dar wan' noner de chillen at home ter
tote um down yer, so I low I 'uz gwine ter drap by wid um on my way ter
church."

As he did not reply, she hesitated an instant and over her features,
which looked as if they had been flattened by a blow, there came an
expression which was half scornful, half inviting, yet so little
personal that it might have been worn by one of her treetop ancestors
while he looked down from his sheltering boughs on a superior species of
the jungle. The chance effect of light and shadow on a grey rock was
hardly less human or more primitive.

"I'se gittin' moughty well along, Marster," she said; "I reckon I'se
gittin' on toward a hunnard."

"Nonsense, Mandy, you ain't a day over thirty-five. There's a plenty of
life left in you yet."

"Go way f'om yer, Marster; you knows I'se a heap older 'n dat. How long
ago was hit I done fust come yer ter you all?"

He thought a moment. A question of calculation always interested him,
and he prided himself on his fine memory for dates.

"You came the year our son Henry died, didn't you? That was in
'66--eighteen years ago. Why, you couldn't have been over fifteen that
summer."

For the first time a look of cunning--of the pathetic cunning of a child
pitted against a man--awoke in her face.

"En Miss Lindy sent me off befo' de year was up, Marster. My boy Jubal
was born de mont' atter she done tu'n me out." She hesitated a minute,
and then added, with a kind of savage coquetry, "I 'uz a moughty likely
gal, Marster. You ain't done furgit dat, is you?"

Her words touched Cyrus like the flick of a whip on a sore, and he drew
back quickly while his thin lips grew tight.

"You'd better take that basket into the house," he said sharply.

In the negress's face an expression of surprise wavered for a second and
then disappeared. Her features resumed their usual passive and humble
look--a look which said, if Cyrus could have read human nature as easily
as he read finance, "I don't understand, but I submit without
understanding. Am I not what you have made me? Have I not been what you
wanted? And yet you despise me for being the thing you made."

"I didn't mean nuttin', Marster. I didn't mean nuttin'," she protested
aloud.

"Then get into the house," retorted Cyrus harshly, "and don't stand
gaping there. Any more of your insolence and I'll never let you set foot
in this yard again."

"'Fo' de Lawd, I didn't mean nuttin'! Gawd a' moughty, I didn't mean
nuttin'! I jes lowed as you mought be willin' ter gun me fo' dollars a
mont' fur de washin'. My boy Jubal----"

"I'll not give you a red cent more. If you don't want it, you can leave
it. Get out of here!"

All the primitive antagonism of race--that instinct older than
civilization--was in the voice with which he ordered her out of his
sight. "It was downright blackmail. The fool was trying to blackmail
me," he thought. "If I'd yielded an inch I'd have been at her mercy.
It's a pretty pass things have come to when men have to protect
themselves from negro women." The more he reflected on her impudence,
the stronger grew his conviction that he had acted remarkably well.
"Nipped it in the root. If I hadn't----" he thought.

And behind him in the doorway the washerwoman continued to regard him,
over the lowered clothes basket, with her humble and deprecating look,
which said, like the look of a beaten animal: "I don't understand, but
I submit without understanding because you are stronger than I."

Taking down his hat, Cyrus turned away from her, and descended the
steps. "I'll look up Henry's son before supper," he was thinking. "Even
if the boy's a fool, I'm not one to let those of my own blood come to
want."



CHAPTER X

OLIVER SURRENDERS


When Cyrus's knock came at his door, Oliver crossed the room to let in
his visitor, and then fell back, startled, at the sight of his uncle. "I
wonder what has brought him here?" he thought inhospitably. But even if
he had put the question, it is doubtful if Cyrus could have enlightened
him--for the great man was so seldom visited by an impulse that when, as
now, one actually took possession of him, he obeyed the pressure almost
unconsciously. Like most men who pride themselves upon acting solely
from reason, he was the abject slave of the few instincts which had
managed to take root and thrive in the stony ground of his nature. The
feeling for family, which was so closely entwined with his supreme
feeling for property that the two had become inseparable, moved him
to-day as it had done on the historic occasion when he had redeemed the
mortgaged roof over the heads of his spinster relations. Perhaps, too,
some of the vague softness of June had risen in him and made him gentler
in his judgments of youth.

"I didn't expect you or I'd have straightened up a bit," said Oliver,
not overgraciously, while he hastily pushed his supper of bread and tea
to one end of the table. He resented what he called in his mind "the
intrusion," and he had no particular objection to his uncle's observing
his resentment. His temper, never of the most perfect equilibrium, had
been entirely upset by the effects of a June Sunday in Dinwiddie, and
the affront of Cyrus's visit had become an indignity because of his
unfortunate selection of the supper hour. Some hidden obliquity in the
Treadwell soul, which kept it always at cross-purposes with life,
prevented any lessening of the deep antagonism between the old and the
young of the race. And so incurable was this obliquity in the soul of
Cyrus, that it forced him now to take a tone which he had resolutely set
his mind against from the moment of Mrs. Peachey's visit. He wanted to
be pleasant, but something deep down within him--some inherited tendency
to bully--was stronger than his will.

"I looked in to see if you hadn't about come to your senses," he began.

"If you mean come to your way of looking at things--then I haven't,"
replied Oliver, and added in a more courteous tone, "Won't you sit
down?"

"No, sir, I can stand long enough to say what I came to say," retorted
the other, and it seemed to him that the pleasanter he tried to make his
voice, the harsher grew the sound of it in his ears. What was it about
the rascal that rubbed him the wrong way only to look at him?

"As you please," replied Oliver quietly. "What in thunder has he got to
say to me?" he thought. "And why can't he say it and have it over?"
While Cyrus merely despised him, he detested Cyrus with all the fiery
intolerance of his age. "Standing there like an old turkey gobbler,
ugh!" he said contemptuously to himself.

"So you ain't hungry yet?" asked the old man, and felt that the words
were forced out of him by that obstinate cross-grain in his nature over
which he had no control.

"I've just had tea."

"You haven't changed your mind since you last spoke to me, eh?"

"No, I haven't changed my mind. Why should I?"

"Getting along pretty well, then?"

"As well as I expected to."

"That's good," said Cyrus mildly. "That's good. I just dropped in to
make sure that you were getting along, that's all."

"Thank you," responded Oliver, and tried from the bottom of his soul to
make the words sincere.

"If the time ever comes when you feel that you have changed your mind,
I'll find a place out at Matoaca City for you. I just wanted you to
understand that I'd do as much for Henry's son then as now. If you
weren't Henry's son, I shouldn't think twice about you."

"You mean that you'll still give me the job if I stop writing plays?"

"Oh, I won't make a point of that as long as it doesn't interfere with
your work. You may write in off hours as much as you want to. I won't
make a point of that."

"You mean to be generous, I can see--but I don't think it likely that I
shall ever make up my mind to take a regular job. I'm not built for it."

"You're not thinking about getting married, then, I reckon?"

A dark flush rose to Oliver's forehead, and turning away, he stared with
unseeing eyes out of the window.

"No. I haven't any intention of that," he responded.

A certain craftiness appeared in Cyrus's face.

"Well, well, you're young yet, and you may be in want of a wife before
you're many years older."

"I'm not the kind to marry. I'm too fond of my freedom."

"Most of us have felt like that at one time or another, but when the
thought of a woman takes you by the throat, you'll begin to see things
differently. And if you ever do, a good steady job at twelve hundred a
year will be what you'll look out for."

"I suppose a man could marry on that down here," said Oliver, half
unconscious that he was speaking aloud.

"I married on less, and I've known plenty of others that have done so. A
good saving wife puts more into a man's pocket than she takes out of
it."

As he paused, Oliver's attention, which had wandered off into a vague
mist of feeling, became suddenly riveted to the appalling spectacle of
his uncle's marriage. He saw the house in Bolingbroke Street, with the
worn drab oilcoth in the hall, and he smelt the smell of stale cooking
which floated through the green lattice door at the back. All the
sweetness of life, all the beauty, all the decency even, seemed
strangled in that smell as if in some malarial air. And in the midst of
it, the unkempt, slack figure of Belinda, with her bitter eyes and her
sagging skirt, passed perpetually under the flickering gas-jet up and
down the dimly lighted staircase. This was how one marriage had
ended--one marriage among many which had started out with passion and
courage and the belief in happiness. Knowing but little of the April
brevity of his uncle's mating impulse, he had mentally embroidered the
bare instinct with some of the idealism in which his own emotion was
clothed. His imagination pictured Cyrus and Belinda starting as
light-hearted adventurers to sail the chartless seas of romance. What
remained of their gallant ship to-day except a stark and battered hulk
wrecked on the pitiless rocks of the actuality? A month ago that
marriage had seemed merely ridiculous to him. Standing now beside the
little window, where the wan face of evening, languid and fainting
sweet, looked in from the purple twilight, he was visited by one of
those rare flashes of insight which come to men of artistic sensibility
after long periods of spiritual warfare. Pity stabbed him as sharply as
ridicule had done a moment before, and with the first sense of human
kinship he had ever felt to Cyrus, he understood suddenly the tragedy
that underlies all comic things. Could there be a deeper pathos, after
all, than simply being funny? This absurd old man, with his lean,
crooked figure, his mottled skin, and his piercing bloodshot eyes, like
the eyes of an overgorged bird of prey, appeared now as an object that
moved one to tears, not to laughter. And yet because of this very
quality which made him pitiable--this vulture-like instinct to seize and
devour the smaller--he stood to-day the most conspicuously envied figure
in Dinwiddie.

"I'm not the kind of man to marry," he repeated, but his tone had
changed.

"Well, perhaps you're wise," said Cyrus, "but if you should ever want
to----" The confidence which had gone out of Oliver had passed into him.
With his strange power of reading human nature--masculine human nature,
for the silliest woman could fool him hopelessly--he saw that his nephew
was already beginning to struggle against the temptation to yield. And
he was wise enough to know that this temptation would become stronger as
soon as Oliver felt that the outside pressure was removed. The young
man's passion was putting forward a subtler argument than Cyrus could
offer.

When his visitor had gone, Oliver turned back to the window, and resting
his arms on the sill, leaned out into the velvet softness of the
twilight. His wide vision had deserted him. It was as if his gaze had
narrowed down to a few roofs and the single street without a
turning--but beyond them the thought of Virginia lay always like an
enclosed garden of sweetness and bloom. To think of her was to pass from
the scorching heat of the day to the freshness of dew-washed flowers
under the starlight.

"It is impossible," he said aloud, and immediately, as if in answer to a
challenge, a thousand proofs came to him that other men were doing the
impossible every day. How many writers--great writers, too--would have
jumped at a job on a railroad to insure them against starvation? How
many had married young and faced the future on less than twelve hundred
dollars a year? How many had let love lead them where it would without
butting their brains forever against the damned wall of expediency?

"It's impossible," he said again, and turning from the window, made
himself ready to go out. While he brushed his hair and pulled the end of
his necktie through the loop, his gaze wandered back over the roofs to
where a solitary mimosa tree drooped against the lemon-coloured
afterglow. The dust lay like gauze over the distance. Not a breath
stirred. Not a leaf fell. Not a figure moved in the town--except the
crouching figure of a stray cat that crawled, in search of food, along
the brick wall under the dead tree.

"God! What a life!" he cried suddenly. And beyond this parching desert
of the present he saw again that enclosed garden of sweetness and bloom,
which was Virginia. His resolution, weakened by the long hot afternoon,
seemed to faint under the pressure of his longing. All the burden of the
day--the heat, the languor, the scorching thirst of the fields, the
brazen blue of the sky, the stillness as of a suspended breath which
wrapt the town--all these things had passed into the intolerableness of
his desire. He felt it like a hot wind blowing over him, and it seemed
to him that he was as helpless as a leaf in the current of this wind
which was sweeping him onward. Something older than his will was driving
him; and this something had come to him from out the twilight, where the
mimosa trees drooped like a veil against the afterglow.

Taking up his hat, he left the room and descended the stairs to the wide
hall where Tom Peachey sat, gasping for breath, midway of two open
doors.

"I'll be darned if I can make a draught," muttered the old soldier
irascibly, while he picked up his alpaca coat from the balustrade, and
slipped into it before going out upon the front porch into the possible
presence of ladies. His usually cheerful face was clouded, for his
habitual apathy had deserted him, and he had reached the painful
decision that when you looked things squarely in the face there was
precious little that was worth living for--a conclusion to which he had
been brought by the simple accident of an overdose of Kentucky rye in
his mint julep after church. The overdose had sent him to sleep too soon
after his Sunday dinner, and when he had awakened from his heavy and by
no means quiet slumber, he had found himself confronting a world of
gloom.

"I'm damned tired making the best of things, if you want to know what is
the matter with me," he had remarked crossly to his wife.

"The idea, Mr. Peachey! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" that
sprightly lady had responded while she prepared herself for her victory
over Cyrus.

"Well, I ain't," honest Tom had retorted. "I've gone on pretending for
fifty years and I'm going to stop it. What good has it done, anyway? It
hasn't put a roof on, has it?"

"I told you you oughtn't to go to sleep right on top of your dinner,"
she had replied soothingly. "I declare you're perfectly purple. I never
saw you so upset. Here, take this palm-leaf fan and go and see if you
can't find a draught. You know it's downright sinful to talk that way
after the Lord has been so good to you."

But Philosophy, though she is unassailable when she clings to her
safeguard of the universal, meets her match whenever she descends to an
open engagement with the particular.

"W-what's He done for me?" demanded not Tom, but the whiskey inside of
him.

Driven against that bleak rock of fact upon which so many shining
generalizations have come to wreck, Mrs. Peachey had cast about
helplessly for some floating spar of logic which might bear her to the
firm ground of established optimism. "I declare, Tom, I believe you are
out of your head!" she exclaimed, adding immediately, "You ought to be
ashamed of yourself to be so ungrateful when the good Lord has kept you
out of the poorhouse. If you weren't tipsy, I'd give you a hard shaking.
Now, you take that palm-leaf fan and go right straight downstairs."

So Tom had gone, for his wife, who lacked the gift of argument,
possessed the energy of character which renders such minor attributes
unnecessary; and Oliver, passing through the hall a couple of hours
later, found him still helplessly seeking the draught towards which she
had directed him.

"Any chance of a breeze springing up?" inquired the young man as they
moved together to the porch.

The force which was driving him out of the house into the suffocating
streets was in his voice when he spoke, but honest Tom did not hear it.
After the four war years in which he had been almost sublime, the old
soldier had gradually ceased even to be human, and that vegetable calm
which envelops persons who have fallen into the habit of sitting still,
had endowed him at last with the perfect serenity of a cabbage. The only
active principle which ever moved in him was the borrowed principle of
alcohol--for when that artificial energy subsided, he sank back, as he
was beginning to do now, into the spiritual inertia which sustains those
who have outlived their capacity for the heroic.

"I ain't felt a breath," he replied, peering southward where the stars
were coming out in a cloudless sky. "I don't reckon we'll get it till on
about eleven."

"Looks as if we were in for a scorching summer, doesn't it?"

"You never can tell. There's always a spell in June." And he who had
been a hero, sat down in his cane-bottomed chair and waved the palm-leaf
fan feebly in front of him. He had had his day; he had fought his fight;
he had helped to make the history of battles--and now what remained to
him? The stainless memory of the four years when he was a hero; a
smoldering ember still left from that flaming glory which was his soul!

In the street the dust lay thick and still, and the wilted foliage of
the mulberry trees hung motionless from the great arching boughs. Only
an aspen at the corner seemed alive and tremulous, while sensitive
little shivers ran through the silvery leaves, which looked as if they
were cut out of velvet. As Oliver left the house, the town awoke slowly
from its lethargy, and the sound of laughter floated to him from the
porches behind their screens of honeysuckle or roses. But even this
laughter seemed to him to contain the burden of weariness which
oppressed and disenchanted his spirit. The pall of melancholy spread
from the winding yellow river at the foot of the hill to the procession
of cedars which stood pitch-black against the few dim stars on the
eastern horizon.

"What is the use?" he asked himself suddenly, uttering aloud that grim
question which lies always beneath the vivid, richly clustering
impressions in the imaginative mind. Of his struggle, his sacrifice--of
his art even--what was the use? A bitter despondency--the crushing
despondency of youth which age does not feel and has forgotten--weighed
upon him like a physical burden. And because he was young and not
without a certain pride in the intensity of his suffering, he increased
his misery by doggedly refusing to trace it back to its natural origin
in an empty stomach.

But the laws that govern the variable mind of man are as inscrutable as
the secret of light. Turning into a cross street, he came upon the tower
of Saint James' Church, and he grew suddenly cheerful. The quickening of
his pulses changed the aspect of the town as completely as if an
invigorating shower had fallen upon it. The supreme, haunting interest
of life revived.

He had meant merely to pass the rectory without stopping; but as he
turned into the slanting street at the foot of the twelve stone steps,
he saw a glimmer of white on the terrace, and the face of Virginia
looked down at him over the palings of the gate. Immediately it seemed
to him that he had known from the beginning that he should meet her. A
sense of recognition so piercingly sweet that it stirred his pulses like
wine was in his heart as he moved towards her. The whole universe
appeared to him to have been planned and perfected for this instant. The
languorous June evening, the fainting sweetness of flowers, the strange
lemon-coloured afterglow, and her face, shining there like a star in the
twilight--these had waited for him, he felt, since the beginning of
earth. That fatalistic reliance upon an outside Power, which assumed for
him the radiant guise of first love, and for Susan the stark certainties
of Presbyterianism, dominated him as completely as if he were the
predestined vehicle of its expression. Ardent, yet passive, Virginia
leaned above him on the dim terrace. So still she seemed that her breath
left her parted lips as softly as the perfume detached itself from the
opening rose-leaves. She made no gesture, she said no word--but suddenly
he became aware that her stillness was stronger to draw him than any
speech. All her woman's mystery was brooding there about her in the June
twilight; and in this strange strength of quietness Nature had placed,
for once, an invincible weapon in the weaker hands. Her appeal had
become a part of the terrible and beneficent powers of Life.

Crossing the street, he went up the steps to where she leaned on the
gate.

"It has been so long," he said, and the words seemed to him hideously
empty. "I have not seen you but three times since the party."

She did not answer, and as he looked at her closer, he saw that her eyes
were full of tears.

"Virginia!" he cried out sharply, and the next instant, at her first
movement away from him, his arms were around her and his lips seeking
hers.

The world stopped suddenly while a starry eternity enveloped them. All
youth was packed into that minute, all the troubled sweetness of desire,
all the fugitive ecstasy of fulfilment.

"I--I thought you did not care," she murmured beneath his kisses.

He could not speak--for it was a part of his ironic destiny that he, who
was prodigal of light words, should find himself stricken dumb in any
crucial instant.

"You know--you know----" he stammered, holding her closer.

"Then it--it is not all a dream?" she asked.

"I adored you from the first minute--you saw that--you knew it. I've
wanted you day and night since I first looked at you."

"But you kept away. You avoided me. I couldn't understand."

"It was because I knew I couldn't be with you five minutes without
kissing you. And I oughtn't to--it's madness in me--for I'm desperately
poor, darling; I've no right to marry you."

A little smile shone on her lips. "As if I cared about that, Oliver."

"Then you'll marry me? You'll marry me, my beautiful?"

She lifted her face from his breast, and her look was like the enkindled
glory of the sunrise. "Don't you see? Haven't you seen from the
beginning?" she asked.

"I was afraid to see, darling--but, Virginia--oh, Virginia, let it be
soon!"

When he went from her a little later, it seemed to him that all of life
had been pressed down into the minute when he had held her against his
breast; and as he walked through the dimly lighted streets, among the
shadows of men who, like himself, were pursuing some shadowy joy, he
carried with him that strange vision of a heaven on earth which has
haunted mortal eyes since the beginning of love. Happiness appeared to
him as a condition which he had achieved by a few words, by a kiss, in a
minute of time, but which belonged to him so entirely now that he could
never be defrauded of it again in the future. Whatever happened to him,
he could never be separated from the bliss of that instant when he had
held her.

He was going to Cyrus while his ecstasy ennobled even the prosaic fact
of the railroad. And just as on that other evening, when he had rushed
in anger away from the house of his uncle, so now he was exalted by the
consciousness that he was following the lead of the more spiritual part
of his nature--for the line of least resistance was so overgrown with
exquisite impressions that he no longer recognized it. The sacrifice of
art for love appeared to him to-day as splendidly romantic as the
sacrifice of comfort for art had seemed to him a few months ago. His
desire controlled him so absolutely that he obeyed its different
promptings under the belief that he was obeying the principles whose
names he borrowed. The thing he wanted was transmuted by the fire of his
temperament into some artificial likeness to the thing that was good for
him.

On the front steps, between the two pink oleanders, Cyrus was standing
with his gaze fixed on a small grocery store across the street, and at
the sight of his nephew a look of curiosity, which was as personal an
emotion as he was in the habit of feeling, appeared on his lean yellow
face. Behind him, the door into the hall stood open, and his stooping
figure was outlined against the light of the gas-jet by the staircase.

"You see I've come," said Oliver; for Cyrus, who never spoke first
unless he was sure of dominating the situation, had waited for him to
begin.

"Yes, I see," replied the old man, not unkindly. "I expected you, but
hardly so soon--hardly so soon."

"It's about the place on the railroad. If you are still of the same
mind, I'd like you to give me a trial."

"When would you want to start?"

"The sooner the better. I'd rather get settled there before the autumn.
I'm going to be married sometime in the autumn--October, perhaps."

"Ah!" said Cyrus softly, and Oliver was grateful to him because he
didn't attempt to crow.

"We haven't told any one yet--but I wanted to make sure of the job. It's
all right, then, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes, it's all right, if you do your part. She's Gabriel Pendleton's
girl, isn't she?"

"She's Virginia Pendleton. You know her, of course." He tried honestly
to be natural, but in spite of himself he could not keep a note of
constraint out of his voice. Merely to discuss Virginia with Cyrus
seemed, in some subtle way, an affront to her. Yet he knew that the old
man wanted to be kind, and the knowledge touched him.

"Oh, yes, I know her. She's a good girl, and there doesn't live a better
man than Gabriel."

"I don't deserve her, of course. But, then, there never lived a man who
deserved an angel."

"Ain't you coming in?" asked Cyrus.

"Not this evening. I only wanted to speak to you. I suppose I'd better
go down to the office to-morrow and talk to Mr. Burden, hadn't I?"

"Come about noon, and I'll tell him to expect you. Well, if you ain't
coming in, I reckon I'll close this door."

Looking up a minute later from the pavement Oliver saw his aunt rocking
slowly back and forth at the window of her room, and the remembrance of
her fell like a blight over his happiness.

By the time he reached High Street a wind had risen beyond the hill near
the river, and the scattered papers on the pavement fled like grey wings
before him into the darkness. As the air freshened, faces appeared in
the doors along the way, and the whole town seemed drinking in the
cooling breeze as if it were water. On the wind sped, blowing over the
slack figure of Mrs. Treadwell; blowing over the conquering smile of
Susan, who was unbinding her long hair; blowing over the joy-brightened
eyes of Virginia, who dreamed in the starlight of the life that would
come to her; blowing over the ghost-haunted face of her mother, who
dreamed of the life that had gone by her; blowing at last, beyond the
river, over the tired hands of the little seamstress, who dreamed of
nothing except of how she might keep her living body out of the
poorhouse and her dead body out of the potter's field. And over the
town, with its twenty-one thousand souls, each of whom contained within
itself a separate universe of tragedy and of joy, of hope and of
disappointment, the wind passed as lightly it passed over the unquiet
dust in the streets below.



BOOK II

THE REALITY



CHAPTER I

VIRGINIA PREPARES FOR THE FUTURE


"Mother, I'm so happy! Oh! was there ever a girl so happy as I am?"

"I was, dear, once."

"When you married father? Yes, I know," said Virginia, but she said it
without conviction. In her heart she did not believe that marrying her
father--perfect old darling that he was!--could ever have caused any
girl just the particular kind of ecstasy that she was feeling. She even
doubted whether such stainless happiness had ever before visited a
mortal upon this planet. It was not only wonderful, it was not only
perfect, but it felt so absolutely new that she secretly cherished the
belief that it had been invented by the universe especially for Oliver
and herself. It was ridiculous to imagine that the many million pairs of
lovers that were marrying every instant had each experienced a miracle
like this, and yet left the earth pretty much as they had found it
before they fell in love.

It was a week before her wedding, and she stood in the centre of the
spare room in the west wing, which had been turned over to Miss Willy
Whitlow. The little seamstress knelt now at her feet, pinning up the hem
of a black silk polonaise, and turning her head from time to time to ask
Mrs. Pendleton if she was "getting the proper length." For a quarter of
a century, no girl of Virginia's class had married in Dinwiddie without
the crowning benediction of a black silk gown, and ever since the
announcement of Virginia's betrothal her mother had cramped her small
economies in order that she might buy "grosgrain" of the best quality.

"Is that right, mother? Do you think I might curve it a little more in
front?" asked the girl, holding her feet still with difficulty because
she felt that she wanted to dance.

"No, dear, I think it will stay in fashion longer if you don't shorten
it. Then it will be easier to make over the more goods you leave in it."

"It looks nice on me, doesn't it?" Standing there, with the stiff silk
slipping away from her thin shoulders, and the dappled sunlight falling
over her neck and arms through the tawny leaves of the paulownia tree in
the garden, she was like a slim white lily unfolding softly out of its
sheath.

"Lovely, darling, and it will be so useful. I got the very best quality,
and it ought to wear forever."

"I made Mrs. William Goode one ten years ago, and she's still wearing
it," remarked Miss Willy, speaking with an effort through a mouthful of
pins.

A machine, which had been whirring briskly by the side window, stopped
suddenly, and the girl who sewed there--a sickly, sallow-faced creature
of Virginia's age, who was hired by Mrs. Pendleton, partly out of
charity because she supported an invalid father who had been crippled in
the war, and partly because, having little strength and being an
unskilled worker, her price was cheap--turned for an instant and stared
wistfully at the black silk polonaise over the strip of organdie which
she was hemming. All her life she had wanted a black silk dress, and
though she knew that she should probably never have one, and should not
have time to wear it if she ever had, she liked to linger over the
thought of it, very much as Virginia lingered over the thought of her
lover, or as little Miss Willy lingered over the thought of having a
tombstone over her after she was dead. In the girl's face, where at
first there had been only admiration, a change came gradually. A quiver,
so faint that it was hardly more than a shadow, passed over her drawn
features, and her gaze left the trailing yards of silk and wandered to
the blue October sky over the swinging leaves of the paulownia. But
instead of the radiant autumn weather at which she was looking, she
still saw that black silk polonaise which she wanted as she wanted youth
and pleasure, and which she knew that she should never have.

"Everything is finished but this, isn't it, Miss Willy?" asked Virginia,
and at the sound of her happy voice, that strange quiver passed again
through the other girl's face.

"Everything except that organdie and a couple of nightgowns." There was
no quiver in Miss Willy's face, for from constant consideration of the
poorhouse and the cemetery, she had come to regard the other problems of
life, if not with indifference, at least with something approaching a
mild contempt. Even love, when measured by poverty or by death, seemed
to lose the impressiveness of its proportions.

"And I'll have enough clothes to last me for years, shan't I, mother?"

"I hope so, darling. Your father and I have done the best that we could
for you."

"You've been angels. Oh, how I shall hate to leave you!"

"If only you weren't going away, Jinny!" Then she broke down, and
dropping the tomato-shaped pin-cushion she had been holding, she slipped
from the room, while Virginia thrust the polonaise into Miss Willy's
hands and fled breathlessly after her.

In the girl's room, with her head bowed on the top of the little
bookcase, above those thin rows of fiction, Mrs. Pendleton was weeping
almost wildly over the coming separation. She, who had not thought of
herself for thirty years, had suddenly broken the constraint of the long
habit. Yet it was characteristic of her, that even now her first
feeling, when Virginia found her, should be one of shame that she had
clouded for an instant the girl's happiness.

"It is nothing, darling. I have a little headache, and--oh, Jinny!
Jinny!----"

"Mother, it won't be long. We are coming back to live just as soon as
Oliver can get work. It isn't as if I were going for good, is it? And
I'll write you every day--every single day. Mother, dearest, darling
mother, I can't stay away from you----"

Then Virginia wept, too, and Mrs. Pendleton, forgetting her own sorrow
at sight of the girl's tears, began to comfort her.

"Of course, you'll write and tell me everything. It will be almost as if
I were with you."

"And you love Oliver, don't you, mother?"

"How could I help it, dear--only I can't quite get used to your calling
your husband by his name, Jinny. It would have horrified your
grandmother, and somehow it does seem lacking in respect. However, I
suppose I'm old-fashioned."

"But, mother, he laughs if I call him 'Mr. Treadwell.' He says it
reminds him of his Aunt Belinda."

"Perhaps he's right, darling. Anyway, he prefers it, and I fancy your
grandfather wouldn't have liked to hear his wife address him so
familiarly. Times have changed since my girlhood."

"And Oliver has lived out in the world so much, mother."

"Yes," said Mrs. Pendleton, but her voice was without enthusiasm. The
"world" to her was a vague and sinister shape, which looked like a
bubble, and exerted a malignant influence over those persons who lived
beyond the borders of Virginia. Her imagination, which seldom wandered
farther afield than the possibility of the rector or of Virginia falling
ill, or the dreaded likelihood that her market bills would overrun her
weekly allowance, was incapable of grasping a set of standards other
than the one which was accepted in Dinwiddie.

"Wherever you are, Jinny, I hope that you will never forget the ideas
your father and I have tried to implant in you," she said.

"I'll always try to be worthy of you, mother."

"Your first duty now, of course, is to your husband. Remember, we have
always taught you that a woman's strength lies in her gentleness. His
will must be yours now, and wherever your ideas cross, it is your duty
to give up, darling. It is the woman's part to sacrifice herself."

"I know, mother, I know."

"I have never forgotten this, dear, and my marriage has been very happy.
Of course," she added, while her forehead wrinkled nervously, "there are
not many men like your father."

"Of course not, mother, but Oliver----"

In Mrs. Pendleton's soft, anxious eyes the shadow darkened, as if for
the first time she had grown suspicious of the traditional wisdom which
she was imparting. But this suspicion was so new and young that it could
not struggle for existence against the archaic roots of her inherited
belief in the Pauline measure of her sex. It was characteristic of
her--and indeed of most women of her generation--that she would have
endured martyrdom in support of the consecrated doctrine of her
inferiority to man.

"Even in the matter of religion you ought to yield to him, darling," she
said after a moment in which she had appealed to that orthodox arbiter,
her conscience. "Your father and I were talking about what church you
should go to, and I said that I supposed Oliver was a Presbyterian, like
all of the Treadwells."

"Oh, mother, I didn't tell you before because I hoped I could change
him--but he doesn't go to any church--he says they all bore him equally.
He has broken away from all the old ideas, you know. He is
dreadfully--unsettled."

The anxiety, which had been until then merely a shadow in Mrs.
Pendleton's eyes, deepened into a positive pain.

"Your father must have known, for he talked to him--but he wouldn't tell
me," she said.

"I made father promise not to. I hoped so I could change Oliver, and
maybe I can after we're married, mother."

"If he has given up the old spiritual standards, what has he in place of
them?" asked Mrs. Pendleton, and she had suddenly a queer feeling as if
little fine needles were pricking her skin.

"I don't know, but he seems to have a great deal, more than any of us,"
answered Virginia, and she added passionately, "He is good, mother."

"I never doubted it, darling, but he is young, and his character cannot
be entirely formed at his age. A man must be very strong in order to be
good without faith."

"But he has faith, mother--of some kind."

"I am not judging him, my child, and neither your father nor I would
ever criticise your husband to you. Your happiness was set on him, and
we can only pray from our hearts that he will prove worthy of your love.
He is very lovable, and I am sure that he has fine, generous traits.
Your father has been completely won over by him."

"He likes me to be religious, mother. He says the church has cultivated
the loveliest type of woman the world has ever seen."

"Then by fulfilling that ideal you will please him best."

"I shall try to be just what you have been to father--just as unselfish,
just as devoted."

"I have made many mistakes, Jinny, but I don't think I have ever failed
in love--not in love, at least."

Then the pain passed out of her eyes, and because it was impossible for
her to look on any fact in life except through the transfiguring
idealism with which the ages had endowed her, she became immediately
convinced that everything, even the unsettling of Oliver's opinions, had
been arranged for the best. This assurance was the more solacing because
it was the result, not of external evidence, but of that instinctive
decision of temperament which breeds the deepest conviction of all.

"Love is the only thing that really matters, isn't it, mother?"

"A pure and noble love, darling. It is a woman's life. God meant it so."

"You are so good! If I can only be half as good as you are."

"No, Jinny, I'm not really good. I have had many temptations--for I was
born with a high temper, and it has taken me a lifetime to learn really
to subdue it. I had--I have still an unfortunate pride. But for your
father's daily example of humility and patience, I don't know how I
could have supported the trials and afflictions we have known. Pray to
be better than your mother, my child, if you want to become a perfect
wife. What I am that seems good to you, your father has made me----"

"And father says that he would have been a savage but for you."

A tremor passed through Mrs. Pendleton's thin bosom, and bending over,
she smoothed a fine darn in the skirt of her alpaca dress.

"We have loved each other," she answered. "If you and Oliver love as
much, you will be happy whatever comes to you." Then choking down the
hard lump in her throat, she took up her leather key basket from the
little table beside the bed, and moved slowly towards the door. "I must
see about supper now, dear," she said in her usual voice of quiet
cheerfulness.

Left to herself, Virginia opened the worn copy of the prayer-book, which
she kept at her bedside, and read the marriage service from beginning to
end, as she had done every day since her engagement to Oliver. The words
seemed to her, as they seemed to her mother, to be almost divine in
their nobility and beauty. She was troubled by no doubt as to the
inspired propriety of the canonical vision of woman. What could be more
beautiful or more sacred than to be "given" to Oliver--to belong to him
as utterly as she had belonged to her father? What could make her
happier than the knowledge that she must surrender her will to his from
the day of her wedding until the day of her death? She embraced her
circumscribed lot with a passion which glorified its limitations. The
single gift which the ages permitted her was the only one she desired.
Her soul craved no adventure beyond the permissible adventure of being
sought in marriage. Love was all that she asked of a universe that was
overflowing with manifold aspects of life.

Beyond the window the tawny leaves of the paulownia were swinging in the
October sunshine, and so gay they seemed that it was impossible to
imagine them insensible to the splendour of the Indian Summer. Under the
half bared boughs, on the green grass in the yard, those that had
already fallen sped on, like a flock of frightened brown birds, towards
the white paling fence of the churchyard.

While she sat there, with her prayer-book in her hand, and her eyes on
the purple veil of the distance, it seemed to her that her joy was so
complete that there was nothing left even to hope for. All her life she
had looked forward to the coming of what she thought of vaguely as
"happiness," and now that it was here, she felt that it put an end to
the tremulous expectancy which had filled her girlhood with such wistful
dreams. Marriage appeared to her (and indeed to Oliver, also) as a
miraculous event, which would make not only herself, but every side of
life, different for the future. After that there would be no vain
longings, no spring restlessness, no hours of drab weariness, when the
interests of living seemed to crumble from mere despondency. After that
they would be always happy, always eager, always buoyantly alive.

Leaving the marriage service, her thoughts brooded in a radiant
stillness on the life of love which would begin for her on the day of
her wedding. A strange light--the light that quivered like a golden wing
over the autumn fields--shone, also, into the secret chambers of her
soul, and illumined the things which had appeared merely dull and
commonplace until to-day. Those innumerable little cares which fill the
lives of most women were steeped in the magic glow of this miraculous
charm. She thought of the daily excitement of marketing, of the
perpetual romance of mending his clothes, of the glorified monotony of
pouring his coffee, as an adventurer on sunrise seas might dream of the
rosy islands of hidden treasure. And then, so perfectly did she conform
in spirit to the classic ideal of her sex, her imagination ecstatically
pictured her in the immemorial attitude of woman. She saw herself
waiting--waiting happily--but always waiting. She imagined the thrilling
expectancy of the morning waiting for him to come home to his dinner;
the hushed expectancy of the evening waiting for him to come home to his
supper; the blissful expectancy of hoping that he might be early; the
painful expectancy of fearing that he might be late. And it seemed to
her divinely right and beautiful that, while he should have a hundred
other absorbing interests in his life, her whole existence should
perpetually circle around this single centre of thought. One by one, she
lived in anticipation all the exquisite details of their life together,
and in imagining them, she overlooked all possible changes that the
years might bring, as entirely as she ignored the subtle variations of
temperament which produce in each individual that fluid quantity we call
character. She thought of Oliver, as she thought of herself, as though
the fact of marriage would crystallize him into a shape from which he
would never alter or dissolve in the future. And with a reticence
peculiar to her type, she never once permitted her mind to stray to her
crowning beatitude--the hope of a child; for, with that sacred
inconsistency possible only to fixed beliefs, though motherhood was
supposed to comprise every desire, adventure, and activity in the life
of woman, it was considered indelicate for her to dwell upon the thought
of it until the condition had become too obvious for refinement to deny.

The shadow of the church tower lengthened on the grass, and at the end
of the cross street she saw Susan appear and stop for a minute to speak
to Miss Priscilla, who was driving by in a small wagonette. Then the
girl and the teacher parted, and ten minutes later there came Susan's
imperative knock at Virginia's door.

"Miss Willy told mother that your wedding dress was finished, Jinny, and
I am dying to see it!"

Going to the closet, which was built into one corner of the wall,
Virginia unpinned a long white sheet scented with rose-leaves, and
brought out a filmy mass of satin and lace. Her face as she looked down
upon it was the face of girlhood incarnate. All her virginal dreams
clustered there like doves quivering for flight. Its beauty was the
beauty of fleeting things--of the wind in the apple blossoms at dawn, of
the music of bees on an August afternoon.

"Mother wouldn't let me be married in anything but satin," she said,
with a catch in her voice. "I believe it is the first time in her life
she was ever extravagant, but she felt so strongly about it that I had
to give in and not have white muslin as I wanted to do."

"And it's so lovely," said Susan. "I had no idea Miss Willy could do it.
She's as proud, too, as if it were her own."

"She took a pleasure in every stitch, she told me. Oh, Susan, I
sometimes feel that I haven't any right to be so happy. I seem to have
everything and other women to have nothing."

For the first time Susan smiled, but it was a smile of understanding.
"Perhaps they have more than you think, darling."

"But there's Miss Willy--what has she ever got out of life?"

"Well, I really believe she gets a kind of happiness out of saving up
the money to pay for her tombstone. It's a funny thing, but the people
who ought to be unhappy, somehow never are. It doesn't seem to be a
matter of what you have, but of the way you are born. Now, according to
us, Miss Willy ought to be miserable, but the truth is that she isn't a
bit so. Mother saw her once skipping for pure joy in the spring."

"But people who haven't things can't be as grateful to God as those who
have. I feel that I'd like to spend every minute of my life on my knees
thanking Him. I don't see how I can ever have a disappointed or a
selfish thought again. I wonder if you can understand, you precious
Susan, but I want to open my arms and take the whole world into them."

"Jinny," said Susan suddenly, "don't spoil Oliver."

"I couldn't--not if I tried every minute."

"I don't know, dear. He is very lovable, he has fine generous traits, he
has the making of a big man in him--but his character isn't formed yet,
you must remember. So much of him is imagination that he will take
longer than most men to grow up to his stature."

"Oh, Susan!" exclaimed Virginia, and turned away.

"Perhaps I oughtn't to have said it, Jinny--but, no, I ought to tell you
just what I think, and I don't regret it."

"Mother said the same thing to me," responded Virginia, looking as if
she were on the point of tears; "but that is just because neither of you
know him as I do."

"He is a Treadwell and so am I, and the chief characteristic of every
Treadwell is that he is going to get the thing he wants most. It doesn't
make any difference whether it is money or love or fame, the thing he
wants most he will get sooner or later. So all I mean is that you
needn't spoil Oliver by giving him the universe before he wants it."

"I can't give him the universe. I can only give him myself."

Stooping over, Susan kissed her.

"Happy, happy little Jinny!"

"There are only two things that trouble me, dear--one is going away from
mother and father, and the other is that you are not so happy as I am."

"Some day I may get the thing I want like every other Treadwell."

"Do you mean going to college?"

"No," said Susan, "I don't mean that," and into her calm grey eyes a new
light shone for an instant.

A clairvoyance, deeper than knowledge, came to Virginia while she looked
at her.

"You darling!" she exclaimed. "I never suspected!"

"There's nothing to suspect, Jinny. I was only joking."

"Why, it never crossed my mind that you would think of him for a
minute."

"He hasn't thought of me for a minute yet."

"The idea! He'd be wild about you in ten seconds if he ever thought----"

"He was wild about you ten seconds ago, dear."

"He never was. It was just his fancy. Why, you are made for each other."

A laugh broke from Susan, but with that large and quiet candour which
was characteristic of her, she did not seek to evade or deny Virginia's
suspicion. That her friend should discover her feeling for John Henry
seemed to her as natural as that she should be conscious of it
herself--for they were intimate with that full and perfect intimacy
which exists only between two women who trust each other.

"There goes Miss Willy," said Susan, looking through the window to where
the little dressmaker tripped down the stone steps to the street.
"Mother wants to have early supper, so I must be running away."

"Good-bye, darling. Oh, Susan, I never loved you as I do now. It will be
all right--I trust and pray that it will! And, just think, you will walk
out of church together at my wedding!"

For a minute, standing on the threshold, Susan looked back at her with
an expression of tender amusement in her eyes. "Don't imagine that I'm
unhappy, dear," she said, "because I'm not--it isn't that kind--and,
after all, even an unrequited affection may be simply an added interest
in life, if we choose to take it that way."

When she had gone, Virginia lingered over her wedding dress, while she
wondered what the wise Susan could see in the simple John Henry? Was it
possible that John Henry was not so simple, after all? Or did Susan,
forsaking the ancient tradition of love, care about him merely because
he was good?

For a week the hours flew by with golden wings, and at last the most
sacred day of her life dawned softly in a sunrise of rose and flame.
When she looked back on it afterwards, there were three things which
stood out unforgettably in her memory--the kiss that her mother gave her
when she turned to leave her girlhood's room for the last time; the
sound of her father's voice as he spoke her name at the altar; and the
look in Oliver's eyes when she put her hand into his. All the rest was
enveloped in a shining mist which floated, like her wedding veil,
between the old life and the new.

"It has been so perfect--so perfect--if I can only be worthy of this day
and of you, Oliver," she said as the carriage started from the rectory
gate to the station.

"You angel!" he murmured ecstatically.

Her eyes hung blissfully on his face for an instant, and then, moved by
a sudden stab of reproach, she leaned from the window and looked back at
her mother and father, who stood, with clasped hands, gazing after her
over the white palings of the gate.



CHAPTER II

VIRGINIA'S LETTERS


    MATOACA CITY, West Virginia, October 16, 1884.
    DEAREST, DEAREST MOTHER:

We got here this morning after a dreadful trip--nine or ten hours
late--and this is the first minute I've had when I could sit down and
write to you. All the way on the train I was thinking of you and dear
father, and longing for you so that I could hardly keep back the tears.
I don't see how I can possibly stay away from you for a whole year.
Oliver says he wants to take me home for Christmas if everything goes
all right with us here and his work proves satisfactory to the manager.
Oh, mother, he is the loveliest thing to me! I don't believe he has
thought of himself a single minute since I married him. He says the only
wish he has on earth is to make me happy--and he is so careful about me
that I'm afraid I'll be spoiled to death before you see me again. He
says he loves the little grey dress of shot silk, with the bonnet that
makes me look like a Quaker. I wish now I'd got my other hat the bonnet
shape as you wanted me to do--but perhaps, after all, it will be more
useful and keep in fashion longer as it is. When I took out my clothes
this morning, while Oliver was downstairs, and remembered how you had
folded and packed everything, I just sat down on the floor in the midst
of them and had a good cry. I never realized how much I loved you until
I got into the carriage to come away. Then I wanted to jump out and put
my arms around you and tell you that you are the best and dearest mother
a girl ever had. My things were so beautifully packed that there wasn't
a single crease anywhere--not even in the black silk polonaise that we
were so afraid would get rumpled. I don't see how on earth you folded
them so smoothly. By the way, I hardly think I shall have any need of my
wedding dress while I am here, so you may as well put it away at home
until I come back. This place seems to be just a mining town, with very
few people of our class, and those all connected with the railroad. Of
course, I may be mistaken, but from my first impressions I doubt if I'll
ever want to have much to do with anybody that I've seen. It doesn't
make a bit of difference, of course, because I shan't be lonesome a
minute with the house to look after and Oliver's clothes to attend to;
and, besides, I don't think a married woman ought to make many new
friends. Her husband ought to be enough for her. Mrs. Payson, the
manager's wife, was here to welcome me, but I hope I shan't see very
much of her, because she isn't just exactly what I should call ladylike.
Of course I wouldn't breathe this to any other living soul, but I
thought her entirely too free and easy in her manner, and she dresses in
such very bright colours. Why, she had a red feather in her hat, and she
must have been married at least fifteen years. Oliver says he doesn't
believe she's a day under forty-five. He says he likes her well enough
and thinks she's a good sort, but he is awfully glad that I'm not that
kind of woman. I feel sorry for her husband, for I'm sure no man wants
his wife to make herself conspicuous, and they say she even makes
speeches when she is in the North. Maybe she isn't to blame, because she
was brought up that way, but I am going to see just as little of her as
I can.

And now I must tell you about our house, for I know you are dying to
hear how we are fixed. It's the tiniest one you ever imagined, with a
front yard the size of a pocket handkerchief, and it is painted the most
perfectly hideous shade of yellow--the shade father always calls
bilious. I can't understand why they made it so ugly, but, then, the
whole town is just as ugly as our house is. The people here don't seem
to have the least bit of taste. All the porches have dreadful brown
ornaments along the top of them, and they look exactly as if they were
made out of gingerbread. There are very few gardens, and nobody takes
any care of these. I suppose one reason is that it is almost impossible
to get servants for love or money. There are hardly any darkies here,
they say, and the few they have are perfectly worthless. Mrs.
Midden--the woman who opened my house for me--hasn't been able to get me
a cook, and we'll either have to take our meals at a boarding-house
across the street, or I shall have to put to practise the lessons you
gave me. I am so glad you made me learn how to housekeep and to cook,
because I am certain that I shall have greater need of both of these
accomplishments than of either drawing or music. Oliver was simply
horrified when I told him so. He said he'd rather starve than see me in
the kitchen, and he urged me to get you to send us a servant from
Dinwiddie--but things are so terribly costly here--you never dreamed of
such prices--that I really don't believe we can afford to have one come.
Then, Mrs. Midden says that they get ruined just as soon as they are
brought here. Everybody tries it at first, she told me, and it has
always proved a disappointment in the end. I am perfectly sure that I
shan't mind cooking at all--and as for cleaning up this little
house--why, it won't take me an hour--but Oliver almost weeps every time
I mention it. He is afraid every instant he is away from me that I am
lonesome or something has happened to me, and whenever he has ten
minutes free he runs up here to see what I am doing. Do you know he has
made me promise not to go out by myself until I am used to the place.
Isn't that too absurd?

Dearest mother, I must stop now, and write some notes of thanks for my
presents. The barrels of china haven't come yet, but the silver box got
here almost as soon as we did. Freight takes a long time, Oliver says.
It will be such fun unpacking all my presents and putting them away on
the shelves. I was so excited those last few days that I hardly paid any
attention to the things that came. Now I shall have time really to enjoy
them, and to realize how sweet and lovely everybody has been to me.
Wasn't it too dear of Miss Priscilla to give me that beautiful tea-set?
And I was so touched by poor little Miss Willy spending her hard-earned
money on that vase. I wish she hadn't. It makes me feel badly to think
of it--but I don't see what I could do about it, do you? I think I'll
try to send her a cloak or something at Christmas.

I haven't said half that I want to--but I shall keep the rest for
to-morrow.

    With a dozen kisses and my dearest love to father,
    Your ever, ever loving and grateful daughter,
    VIRGINIA

       *       *       *       *       *

    MATOACA CITY. December 25, 1884.
    DEAREST MOTHER:

It almost broke my heart not to be able to go home for Christmas. It
doesn't seem like Christmas at all away from you--though, of course, I
try not to let Oliver see how I mind it. He has so much to bother him,
poor dear, that I keep all of my worries, big and little, in the
background. When anything goes wrong in the house I never tell him,
because he has so many important things on his mind that I don't think I
ought to trouble him about small ones. We have given up going to the
boarding-house for our meals, because neither of us could eat a morsel
of the food they had there--did you ever hear of such a thing as having
pie and preserves for breakfast?--and Oliver says it used to make him
sick to see me in the midst of all of those people. They came from all
over the country, and hardly anybody could speak a grammatical sentence.
The man who sat next to me always said "he don't" and "I ain't feeling
good to-day" and once even "I done it"--can you imagine such a thing?
Every other word was "guess," and yet they had the impertinence to laugh
at me when I said "reckon," which, I am sure father told me was
Shakespearian English. Well, we stood it as long as we could, and then
we started having our meals here, and it is so much nicer. Oliver says
the change from the boarding-house has given him a splendid appetite,
and he enjoys everything that I make so much--particularly the waffles
by Aunt Ailsey's recipe. Be sure to tell her. At first I had a servant,
but she was so dreadful that I let her go at the end of the month, and I
really get on ever so much better without her. She hadn't the faintest
idea how to cook, and had never made a piece of light bread in her life.
Besides, she was too untidy for anything, and actually swept the trash
under the bed except once a week when she pretended to give a thorough
cleaning. The first time she changed the sheets, I found that she had
simply put on one fresh one, and was going to use the bottom one on top.
She said she'd never heard of doing it any other way, and I had to laugh
when I thought of how your face would have looked if you could have
heard her. It really is the greatest relief to get rid of her, and I'd a
hundred times rather do the work myself than have another of that kind.
At first Oliver hated dreadfully to have me do everything about the
house, but he is beginning to get used to it now, because, of course, I
never let him see if anything happens to worry me or if I am tired when
he comes home. It takes every minute of my time, but, then, there is
nothing else here that I care to do, and I never leave the house except
to take a little walk with Oliver on Sunday afternoon. Mrs. Midden says
that I make a mistake to give a spring cleaning every day, but I love to
keep the house looking perfectly spick and span, and I make hot bread
twice a day, because Oliver is so fond of it. He is just as sweet and
dear as he can be and wants to help about everything, but I hate to see
him doing housework. Somehow it doesn't seem to me to look manly. We
have had our first quarrel about who is to get up and make the fires in
the morning. Oliver insisted that he was to do it, but I wake so much
earlier than he does, because I've got the bread on my mind, that I
almost always have the wood burning before he gets up. The first few
times he was really angry about it, and he didn't seem to understand why
I hated so to wake him. He says he hates still worse to see my hands get
rough--but I am so thankful that I am not one of those girls (like Abby
Goode) who are forever thinking of how they look. But Oliver made such a
fuss about the fires that I didn't tell him that I went down to the
cellar one morning and brought up a basket of coal. The boy didn't come
the day before, so there wasn't any to start the kitchen fire with, and
I knew that by the time Oliver got up and dressed it would be too late
to have hot rolls for breakfast. By the way, could you have a bushel of
cornmeal sent to me from Dinwiddie? The kind they have here isn't the
least bit like the water-ground sort we have at home, and most of it is
yellow. Nobody ever has batterbread here. All the food is different from
ours. I suppose that is because most of the people are from the North
and West.

I have the table all set for our Christmas dinner, and in a few minutes
I must put the turkey into the oven. I was so glad to get the plum
pudding in the Christmas box, because I could never have made one half
so good as yours, and the fruit cake will last me forever--it is so big.
I wrote you about the box yesterday just as soon as it came, but after I
had sent my letter, I went back to it and found that rose point scarf of
grandmother's wrapped in tissue paper in the bottom. Darling mother, it
made me cry. You oughtn't to have given it to me. It always looked so
lovely on your black silk, and it was almost the last thing you had
left. I don't believe I shall ever make up my mind to wear it. I have on
my little grey silk to-day, and it looks so nice. You must tell Miss
Willy that it has been very much admired. Mrs. Payson asked me if it was
made in Dinwiddie, and, you know, she gets all of her clothes from New
York. That must have been why I thought her over-dressed when I first
saw her. By the way, I've almost changed my mind about her since I wrote
you what I thought of her. I believe now that the whole trouble with her
is simply that she isn't a Southern lady. She means well, I am sure, but
she isn't what I should call exactly refined. There's something "horsey"
about her--I can't think of any other way to express it--something that
reminds me just a little bit of Abby--and, you remember, we always said
Abby got that from being educated in the North. Tell dearest Susan I
really think it is fortunate that she did not go to one of their
colleges. Mrs. Payson is a college woman and it seems to me that she is
always trying to appear as clever as a man. She talks in a way sometimes
that sounds as if she believed in woman's rights and all that sort of
thing. I told Oliver about it, and he laughed and said that men hated
talk like that. He says all a man admires in a woman is her power of
loving, and that when she begins to ape a man she loses her charm for
him. I can't understand why Mr. Payson married his wife. He said such
nice things to me the other day about my being so domestic and such a
home lover, that I really felt sorry for him. When I told him that I
was so fond of staying indoors that I would never cross my threshold if
Oliver didn't make me, he laughed and said that he wished I'd convert
his wife to my way of thinking. Yet he seems to have the greatest
admiration for her, and, do you know, I believe he even admires that red
feather, though he doesn't approve of it. He never turns his eyes away
from her when they are together, which isn't very much, as she goes
about just as she pleases without him. Can you understand how a person
can both admire and disapprove of a thing? Oliver says he knows how it
is, but I must say that I don't. I hope and pray that our marriage will
always be different from theirs. Oliver and I are never apart for a
single minute except when he is at work in the office. He hasn't written
a line since we came here, but he is going to begin as soon as we get
settled, and then he says that I may sit in the room and sew if I want
to. I can't believe that people really love each other unless they want
to be together every instant, no matter what they are doing. Why, if
Oliver went out to men's dinners without me as Mr. Payson does (though
she doesn't seem to mind it) I should just sit at home by myself and cry
my eyes out. I think love, if it is love, ought to be all in all. I am
perfectly sure that if I live to be a hundred I shall never want any
society but Oliver's. He is the whole world to me, and when he is not
here I spend my time, unless I am at work, just sitting and thinking
about him. My one idea is to make him as happy as I can, and when a
woman does this for a man I don't think she has time to run around by
herself as Mrs. Payson does. Tell dearest father that I so often think
of his sermons and the beautiful things he said about women. The rector
here doesn't compare with him as a preacher.

This is such a long letter it will take two stamps. I've just let myself
run on without thinking what I was writing, so if I have made any
mistakes in grammar or in spelling, please don't let father see them but
read my letter aloud to him. I can shut my eyes and see you sitting at
dinner, with Docia bringing in the plum pudding, and I know you will
talk of me while you help to it. Write me who comes to dinner with you.
I wonder if Miss Priscilla and John Henry are there as usual. Do you
know whether John Henry ever goes to the Treadwell's or not? I wish you
would ask him to take Susan to see his old mammy in Pink Alley. Now that
I am not there to go to see her occasionally, I am afraid she will get
lonesome.

Good-bye, dearest mother. I will write to you before New Year. I am so
busy that I don't have time to write every day, but you will understand
and so will father.

    With my heart's fondest love to you both,
    Your
    VIRGINIA.

       *       *       *       *       *

    MATOACA CITY. June 6, 1885.
    DARLING MOTHER:

The little patterns were exactly what I wanted--thank you a thousand
times. I knew you would be overjoyed at the news, and you are the only
person I've breathed it to--except, of course, dear Oliver, who is
frightened to death already. He has made me stop everything at once, and
whenever he sees me lift my hand, he begins to get nervous and begs me
not to do it. Oh, mother, he loves me so that it is really pathetic to
see his anxiety. And--can you believe it--he doesn't appear to be the
least bit glad about it. When I told him, he looked amazed--as if he had
never thought of its happening--and said, "Oh, Virginia, not so soon!"
He told me afterwards that, of course, he'd always thought we'd have
children after a while, before we were middle-aged, but that he had
wanted to stay like this for at least five or ten years. When the baby
comes, he says he supposes he'll like it, but that he can't honestly say
he is glad. It's funny how frightened he is, because I am not the least
bit so. All women must expect to have children when they marry, and if
God makes them suffer for it, it must be because it is best that they
should. Perhaps they wouldn't love their babies so much if they got them
easily. I never think of the pain a minute. It all seems so beautiful
and sacred to me that I can't understand why Oliver isn't enraptured
just as I am. To think of a new life starting into the world from me--a
life that is half mine and half Oliver's, and one that would never be at
all except for our love. The baby will seem from the very first minute
to be our love made into flesh. I don't see how a woman who feels this
could waste a thought on what she has to suffer.

I am so glad you are going to send me a nurse from Dinwiddie, because
I'm afraid I could never get one here that I could trust. The servant
Oliver got me is no earthly account, and I still do as much of the
cooking as I can. The house doesn't look nearly so nice as it used to,
but the doctor tells me that I mustn't sweep, so I only do the light
dusting. I sew almost all the time, and I've already finished the little
slips. To-day I'm going to cut out the petticoats. I couldn't tell from
the pattern you sent whether they fasten in front or in the back. There
are no places for buttonholes. Do you use safety pins to fasten them
with? The embroidery is perfectly lovely, and will make the sweetest
trimming. I am using pink for the basket because Oliver and I both hope
the baby will be a girl. If it is, I shall name her after you, of
course, and I want her to be just exactly like you. Oliver says he can't
understand why anybody ever wants a boy--girls are so much nicer. But
then he insists that if she isn't born with blue eyes, he will send her
to the orphanage.

I am trying to do just as you tell me to, and to be as careful as I
possibly can. The doctor thinks I've stayed indoors too much since I
came here, so I go out for a little walk with Oliver every night. I am
so afraid that somebody will see me that I really hate to go out at all,
and always choose the darkest streets I can find. Last night I had a bad
stumble, and Oliver says he doesn't care if the whole town discovers us,
he's not going to take me down any more unlighted alleys.

It has been terribly hot all day--not a breath of air stirring--and I
never felt the heat so much in my life. The doctor says it's because of
my condition--and last night, after Oliver went to sleep, I got up and
sat by the window until daybreak. At first I was dreadfully frightened,
and thought I was going to stifle--but poor Oliver had come home so
tired that I made up my mind I wasn't going to wake him if I could
possibly help it. This morning I didn't tell him a word about it, and he
hasn't the least idea that I didn't sleep soundly all night. I suppose
that's why I feel so dragged and worn out to-day, just as if somebody
had given me a good beating. I was obliged to lie down most of the
afternoon, but I am going to take a bath in a few minutes and try to
make myself look nice and fresh before Oliver comes home. I have let out
that flowered organdie--the one you liked so much--and I wear it almost
every evening. I know I look dreadfully, but Oliver says I am more
beautiful than ever. It seems to me sometimes that men are born blind
where women are concerned, but perhaps God made it that way on purpose.
Do you know Oliver really admires Mrs. Payson, and he thinks that red
feather very becoming to her. He says she's much too good for her
husband, but I have been obliged to disagree with him about that. Even
if Mr. Payson does drink a little, I am sure it is only because he gets
lonesome when he is left by himself, and that she could prevent it if
she tried. Oliver and I never talk about these things because he sees
that I feel so strongly about them.

Oh, darling mother, I shall be so glad to see you! I hope and pray that
father will be well enough for you to come a whole month ahead. In that
case you will be here in less than two months, won't you? If the baby
comes on the twelfth of August, she (I am perfectly sure it will be a
girl) and father will have the same birthday. I am so anxious that she
shall be born on that day.

Well, I must stop now, though I could run on forever. I never see a
living soul from one day to another--Mrs. Payson is out of town--so when
Oliver stays late at the office, and I am too tired to work, I get a
little--just a little bit lonesome. Mr. Payson sent me a pile of novels
by Oliver the other night--but I haven't looked into them. I always feel
that it is a waste of time to read when there are things about the house
that ought to be done. I wish everything didn't cost so much here. Money
doesn't go half as far as it does in Dinwiddie. The price of meat is
almost three times as much as it is at home, and chickens are so
expensive that we have them only twice a week. It is hard to housekeep
on a small allowance, and now that we have to save for the baby's
coming, I have to count every penny. I have bought a little book like
yours, and I put down all that I spend during the day, and then add it
up at night before going to bed. Oliver says I'm dreadfully frugal, but
I am always so terribly afraid of running over my allowance (which is
every cent that we can afford) and not having the money to pay the
doctor's bills when they are due. Nobody could be more generous with
money than Oliver is--I couldn't endure being married to a stingy man
like Mr. Treadwell--and the other day when one of the men in the office
died, he sent the most beautiful wreath that cost ten dollars. I am
trying to save enough out of the housekeeping balance to pay for it, for
Oliver always runs out of his pocket money before the middle of the
month. I haven't bought anything for the baby because you sent me all
the materials I needed, and I have been sewing on those ever since they
came. Of course my own clothes are still as good as new, so the only
expense will be the doctor and the nurse and the extra things I shall be
obliged to have to eat when I am sick.

Give dear father a dozen kisses from me, and tell him to hurry and get
well so he can christen his granddaughter.

    Your devoted and ever grateful
    VIRGINIA.

       *       *       *       *       *

    MATOACA CITY. August 11, 1885.
    DARLING MOTHER:

Just a line to say that I am so, so sorry you can't come, but that you
mustn't worry a minute, because everything is going beautifully, and I
am not the least bit afraid. The doctor says he never saw any one in a
better frame of mind or so little nervous. Give my dear love to father.
I am so distressed that he should suffer as he does. Rheumatism must be
such terrible pain, and I don't wonder that you are frightened lest it
should go to his heart. I shall send you a telegram as soon as the baby
comes.

    Your devoted daughter,
    VIRGINIA.

       *       *       *       *       *

    MATOACA CITY. August 29, 1885.
    MY PRECIOUS MOTHER:

This is the first time I have sat up in bed, and I am trying to write a
little note to you on a pillow instead of a desk. My hand shakes so that
I'm afraid you won't be able to read it, but I felt that I wanted to
send you a few words of my very own, not dictated to the nurse or to
Mrs. Payson. I can't tell you how perfectly lovely Mrs. Payson has been
to me. She was here all that dreadful night, and I believe I should have
died without her. The doctor said I had such a hard time because I'd let
myself get run down and stayed indoors too much. But I'm getting all
right now--and the rest is over and doesn't matter. As soon as I am
strong again I shall be perfectly happy.

Oh, mother, aren't you delighted that the baby is a girl, after all? It
was the first question I asked when I came back to consciousness the
next morning, and when they told me it was, I said, "Her name is Lucy
Pendleton," and that was all. I was so weak they wouldn't let me open my
lips again, and Oliver was kept out of the room for almost ten days
because I would talk to him. Poor fellow, it almost killed him. He is as
white as a sheet still, and looks as if he had been through tortures. It
must have been terrible for him, because I was really very, very ill at
one time.

But it is all over now, and the baby is the sweetest thing you ever
imagined. I believe she knows me already, and Mrs. Payson says she is
exactly like me, though I can see the strongest resemblance to Oliver,
even if she has blue eyes and he hasn't. Wasn't it lovely how everything
came just as we wanted it to--a girl, born on father's birthday, with
blue eyes, and named Lucy? But, mother, darling, the most wonderful
thing of all was that you seemed to be with me all through it. The whole
time I was unconscious I thought you were here, and the nurse tells me
that I was calling "Mother! Mother!" all that night. Nothing ever made
me feel as close to you as having a baby of my own. I never knew before
what you were to me, and how dearly, dearly I love you.

The nurse is taking the pencil away from me.

    Your loving
    VIRGINIA.

Isn't it funny that Oliver won't take any interest in the baby at all?
He says she caused more trouble than she is worth. Was father like that?

       *       *       *       *       *

    MATOACA CITY. April 3, 1886.
    DEAREST MOTHER:

My last letter was written an age ago, but I have been so busy since
Marthy left that I've hardly had a moment in which to draw breath. It
was a blow to me that she wouldn't stay for she was really an excellent
nurse and the baby got on so well with her, but there aren't any
coloured people of her kind here, and she got so homesick for Dinwiddie
that I thought she would lose her mind if she stayed. You know how
dependent they are upon company, and going out on Sunday afternoon and
all that kind of thing, and there really wasn't any amusement for her
except taking the baby out in the morning. She got so low spirited that
it was almost a relief when she went, but of course I feel her loss
dreadfully. I haven't let the baby out of my sight because I wouldn't
trust Daisy with her for anything in the world. She is so terribly
flighty. I have the crib brought into my room (though Oliver hates it)
and I take entire charge of her night and day. I should love to do it if
only Oliver didn't mind it so much. He says I think more of the baby now
than I do of him. Isn't that absurd? But of course she does take every
single minute of my time, and I can't dress myself for him every evening
as carefully as I used to do and look after all the housekeeping
arrangements. Daisy is a very poor cook and she simply throws the things
on the table, but it seems to me that my first duty is to the baby, so I
try to put up with the discomforts as well as I can. It is hard to eat
what she cooks since everything tastes exactly alike, but I try to
swallow as much as I can because the doctor says that if I don't keep up
my strength I shall have to stop nursing the baby. Wouldn't that be
dreadful? It almost breaks my heart to think of it, and I am sure we'd
never get any artificial food to agree with her. She is perfectly well
now, the sweetest, fattest thing you ever saw, and a real beauty, and
she is so devoted to me that she cries whenever I go out of her sight. I
am never tired of watching her, and even when she is asleep I sit
sometimes for an hour by her crib just thinking how pretty she looks
with her eyes closed and wishing you could see her. Oliver says I spoil
her to death, but how can a baby of seven months be spoiled. He doesn't
enjoy her half as much as I do, and sometimes I almost think that he
gets impatient of seeing her always in my arms. At first he absolutely
refused to have her crib brought into our room, but when I cried, he
gave in and was very sweet about it. I feel so ashamed sometimes of the
way the house looks, but there doesn't seem to be any help for it
because the doctor says if I let myself get tired it will be bad for the
baby. Of course I wouldn't put my own health before his comfort, but I
am obliged to think first of the baby, am I not? Last night, for
instance, the poor little thing was ill with colic and I was up and down
with her until daybreak. Then this morning she woke early and I had to
nurse her and give her her bath, and, added to everything else, Daisy's
cousin died and she sent word she couldn't come. I slipped on a wrapper
before taking a bath or fixing my hair and ran down to try and get
Oliver's breakfast, but the baby began to cry and he came after me and
said he wanted to make the coffee himself. Then he brought a cup
upstairs to me, but I was so tired and nervous that I couldn't drink it.
He didn't seem to understand why, feeling as badly as I did, I wouldn't
just put the baby back into her crib and make her stay there until I got
some rest, but the little thing was so wide awake that I hadn't the
heart to do it. Besides, it is so important to keep regular hours with
her, isn't it? I don't suppose a man ever realizes how a woman looks at
these things, but you will understand, won't you, mother?

I am all alone in the house to-night because a play is in town that
Oliver wanted to see and I made him go to it. He wanted to ask Mrs.
Midden to sit downstairs (she has offered over and over again to do it)
so that I might go too, but of course I wouldn't let him. I really
couldn't have enjoyed it a minute for thinking of the baby, and besides
I never cared for the theatre. Then, too, he doesn't know (for I never
tell him) how very tired I am by the time night comes. Sometimes when
Oliver comes home and we sit in the dining-room (we never use the
drawing-room, because it is across the hall and I'm afraid I shouldn't
hear the baby cry) it is as much as I can do to keep my eyes open. I try
not to let him notice it, but one night when he read me the first act of
a play he is writing, I went to sleep, and though he didn't say
anything, I could see that he was very much hurt. He worries a good deal
about my health, too, and he even went out one day and engaged a nurse
without saying anything to me about it. After I had talked to her
though, I saw that she would never do, so I sent her away before he came
home. I wish I could get really strong and feel well again, but the
doctor insists I never will until I get out of doors and use my
muscles. But you stay in the house all the time and so did grandmother,
so I don't believe there's a word of truth in what he says. Anyway, I go
out every day now with the baby.

Thank you so much for the little bands. They are just what I wanted.

    With dearest love,
    Your devoted
    VIRGINIA.

       *       *       *       *       *

    MATOACA CITY. June 10, 1886.
    DEAREST MOTHER:

Daisy left a week ago and we couldn't find another servant until to-day.
I must say that I prefer coloured servants. They are so much more
dependable. I didn't know until the evening before Daisy left that she
was going, and I had to send Oliver straight out to see if he could find
somebody to come in and help me. There wasn't a soul to be had until
to-day, however, so for a week I was obliged to make Oliver get his
dinner at the boarding-house. It doesn't make any difference what I have
because I haven't a particle of appetite, and I'd just as soon eat tea
and toast as anything else. Of course, but for the baby I could have
managed perfectly well--but she has been so fretful of late that she
doesn't let me put her down a minute. The doctor says her teeth are
beginning to hurt her, and that I must expect to have trouble the first
summer. She has been so well until now that he thinks it has been really
remarkable. He tells me he never knew a healthier baby, but of course I
am terribly anxious about her teething in the hot weather. If she grows
much more fretful I'm afraid I shall have to take her to the country
for July and August. It seems dreadful to leave Oliver all alone, but I
don't see how I can help it if the doctor advises me to go. Oliver has
gone to some musical comedy at the Academy to-night, and I am so tired
that I am going to bed just as soon as I finish this letter. I hope and
pray that the baby will have a quiet night. Don't you think that Daisy
treated me very badly considering how kind I had been to her? Only a
week ago when she was taken with pain in the night, I got up and made
her a mustard plaster and sat by her bed until she felt easier. The next
day I did all of her work, and yet she has so little gratitude that she
could leave me this way when she knows perfectly well that I am worried
to death about the baby's first summer. I'd give anything if I could go
home in July as you suggest, but it is such a long trip, and the heat
will probably be quite as bad in Dinwiddie as here. Of course, it would
make all the difference in the world to me to be where I could have you
to advise me about the baby, and I'd go to-morrow if it only wasn't so
far. Mrs. Midden has told me of a boarding-house in the country not more
than twenty miles from here where Oliver could come down every evening,
and we may decide to go there for a month or two. I can't help feeling
very anxious, especially as Mrs. Scott's little boy--he is just the age
of baby--was taken ill the other night, and they thought he would die
before they could get a doctor.

This letter is full of my worries, but in spite of them I am the
happiest woman that ever lived. Oliver is the best thing to me you can
imagine, and the baby is so fascinating that I enjoy every minute I am
with her. It is the greatest fun to watch her in her bath. I know you
would simply go into raptures over her--and she is so bright that she
already understands every word that I say. She grows more like Oliver
all the time, and the other day while I was watching her playing with
her rubber doll, she looked so beautiful that it almost frightened me.

I am so glad dear father is well, and what you wrote me about John
Henry's admiration for Susan interested me so much that I sat straight
down and wrote to him. Why do you think that it is only friendship and
that he isn't in love with her? If he really thinks her the "finest girl
in the world," I should imagine he was beginning to be pretty serious. I
am delighted to hear that he is going to take her to the festival. Tell
Susan from me that I shall never be satisfied until she is as happy as I
am. Mr. Treadwell was right, I believe, not to let her go to college,
though of course I want dear Susan to have whatever she sets her heart
on. But, when all is said, you were wise in teaching me that nothing
matters to a woman except love. More and more I am learning that if we
only love unselfishly enough, everything else will work out for good to
us. My little worries can't keep me from being so blissfully happy that
I want to sing all the time. Work is a joy to me because I feel that I
am doing it for Oliver and the baby. And with two such treasures to live
for I should be the most ungrateful creature alive if I ever complained.

    Your ever loving daughter,
    VIRGINIA.

       *       *       *       *       *

    MATOACA CITY, July 1, 1886.
    DEAREST MOTHER:

We are leaving suddenly for the country, and I'll send our address just
as soon as we get there. The doctor thinks I ought to take the baby
away from town, so I am going to the boarding-house I wrote you about.
Oliver will come down every evening--it's only an hour's trip.

I am so tired from packing that I can't write any more.

    Lovingly,
    VIRGINIA.

       *       *       *       *       *

    MATOACA CITY. September 15, 1886.
    DEAREST MOTHER:

Here we are back again in our home, and I was never so thankful in my
life to get away from any place. I wrote you how dreadfully inconvenient
it was, but it would take pages to tell you all of my experiences in the
last few days. Such people you never saw in your life! And the food got
so uneatable that I lived on crackers for the last fortnight.
Fortunately, I was still nursing the baby, but the doctor has just told
me that I must stop. I am so distressed about it. Do you think it will
go hard with her after the first year? She is as fat and well as she can
be now, but I live in hourly terror of her getting sick. If anything
should happen to her, I believe it would kill me.

Oliver sends love. He is working very hard at the office now, and he
hates it.

    Your loving
    VIRGINIA.

I forgot to tell you that Mrs. Midden has found me such a nice servant.
She is a very young coloured girl, but looks so kind and capable, and
says she is perfectly devoted to children. Her name is Marthy, and I
feel that she's going to be a great comfort to me.

       *       *       *       *       *

    MATOACA CITY. October 12, 1886.
    MY DARLING MOTHER:

I was overjoyed to find your letter in the hall when I came out from
breakfast. Has it really been two weeks since I wrote to you? That seems
dreadful, but the days go by so fast that I hardly realize how long it
is between my letters.

We are all well, and Marthy has become the greatest help to me. Of
course, I don't let her do anything for the baby, but she is so careful
and trustworthy that I am going to try having her take out the carriage
in the morning. At first I shan't let her go off the block, so that I
can have my eye on her all the time. Little Lucy took a fancy to her at
once, and really enjoys playing with her. This makes it possible for me
to do a little sewing, and I am working hard trying to make over one or
two of my dresses. Oliver wants me to have a dressmaker do it, but we
have so many extra expenses all the time that I don't feel we can afford
to put out any sewing. We have spent a great deal on doctors since we
were married, but of course with a young child we can't very well expect
anything else.

And now, dearest mother, I have something to tell you, which no one
knows--not even Oliver--except Doctor Marshall and myself. We are going
to have another darling baby in March, if everything goes as it ought
to. I have kept it a secret because Oliver has had a good many business
worries, and I knew it would make him miserable. It never seems to have
entered his head that it might happen again so soon, and for his sake I
do wish we could have waited until we got a little more money in the
bank, but I suppose I oughtn't to say this because God would certainly
not send children into the world unless it was right for them to be
born. I try to remember what dear grandmamma said when somebody condoled
with her at the time she was expecting her tenth child--that she hoped
she was too good a Christian to dictate to the Lord as to how many souls
He should send into the world. As for me, I should be perfectly
delighted--it will be so much better for baby to have a little brother
or sister to play with when she gets bigger--but I can't help worrying
about Oliver's peculiar attitude of mind. I am sure that father wouldn't
have felt that way, and think how poor he has always been. Perhaps it
comes from dear Oliver having lived abroad so much and away from the
Christian influences, which have been one of the greatest blessings of
my life. I have put off telling him every day just because I dread to
think of the blow it will be to him. He is the dearest and best husband
that ever lived, and I worship the ground he walks on, but, do you know,
things are always a surprise to him when they happen? He never looks
ahead a single minute. I am sometimes afraid that he isn't the least bit
practical, and it makes him impatient when I talk to him about trying to
cut down expenses. Of course, I have to save as much as I can and I
count every single penny, or we'd never have enough money to get through
the month. I never buy a stitch for either the baby or myself, though
Oliver complains now and then that I don't dress as well as I used to
do. But how can I when I've worn the same things ever since my marriage,
besides making the baby's clothes out of my old ones? You can understand
from this how grateful I am for the check you sent--but, dearest mother,
I know that you oughtn't to have done it, and that you sacrificed your
own comfort and father's to give it to me.

I wish Oliver could get something to do in Dinwiddie. He will never be
happy here, and we could live on so much less money at home--in a little
house near the rectory.

    Your loving child,
    VIRGINIA.



CHAPTER III

THE RETURN


On a February morning five years later, Mrs. Pendleton, who was
returning from her daily trip to the market, met Susan Treadwell at the
corner of Old Street.

"You are coming up to welcome Jinny, aren't you, Susan?" she asked. "The
train gets in at four o'clock."

"Why, of course. I couldn't sleep a wink until I'd seen her. It has been
seven years, and it seems a perfect eternity."

"She hasn't changed much--at least she hadn't six months ago when I was
out there at the birth of her last baby. The little thing lived only two
hours, you know, and I thought at first his death would kill her."

"It was a great blow--but she has been fortunate never to have had a
day's sickness with the other three. I am dying to see them--especially
the eldest. That's your namesake, isn't it?"

"Yes, that's Lucy. She's six years old now, and as good as an angel, but
she hasn't fulfilled her promise of beauty. Virginia says she was the
prettiest baby she ever saw."

"Everybody says that Jenny, the youngest, is a perfect beauty."

"That's why her father makes so much of her, I reckon. I told him when I
was out there that he oughtn't to show such a difference between them.
Do you know, Susan, I wouldn't say it to anybody else, but I don't
believe Oliver has a real fondness for children. He gets tired of having
them always about, and that makes him impatient. Now, Virginia is a born
mother, just like her grandmother and all the women of our family."

"I should think Oliver would be crazy about the boy. He was named after
his father, too."

"Virginia felt she ought to name him Henry, but we call him Harry. No,
Oliver hardly ever takes any notice of him. I don't mean, of course,
that he isn't nice and kind to them--but he isn't wrapped up in them
heart and soul as Virginia is. I really believe he is more absorbed in
this play he has written than he is in the children."

"I am so glad to hear that two of his plays are going to be staged.
That's splendid, isn't it?"

"He is coming back to Dinwiddie because of it. Now that he is assured of
recognition, he says he is going to devote all his time to writing. Poor
fellow, he did so hate the work out at Matoaca City, though I must say
he was very faithful and persevering about it."

"You've taken that little house in Prince Street for them, where old
Miss Franklin used to live, haven't you? The last time I saw you, you
hadn't quite decided about it."

"I couldn't resist it because it is only three squares from the rectory.
Mr. Pendleton set his heart on it from the first minute."

"Well, I'm so glad," said Susan, shifting the small basket of fruit she
carried from one arm to the other, "and I'll certainly run in and see
them this evening--I suppose they'll be at the rectory for supper?"

"Why, no. Jinny said she couldn't bear to be away from the children the
first night, so we are all going there. I shall send Docia over to cook
supper before they get here, and I've just been to market to see if I
could find anything that Oliver would particularly like. He used to be
so fond of sweetbreads."

"Mr. Dewlap has some very nice ones. I got one for mother. She hasn't
been well for the last few days."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Give her my love and tell her I'll come down
just as soon as I get Jinny settled. I've been so taken up getting the
house ready that I haven't thought of another thing for three weeks."

"When will Oliver's play be put on in New York?" asked Susan, turning
back after they had parted.

"In three weeks. He is going back again for the last rehearsals. I wish
Jinny could go with him, but I don't believe she would spend a night
away from the children for anything on earth."

"Isn't it beautiful that her marriage has turned out so well?"

"Yes, I don't believe she could be any happier if she tried, and I must
say that Oliver makes a much better husband than I ever thought he
would. I never heard them disagree the whole time I was there. Of
course, Jinny gives up to him in everything except where the children
are concerned, but, then, a woman always expects to do that. One thing
I'm certain of--he couldn't have found a better wife if he'd searched
the world over. She never thinks of herself a minute, and you know how
fond she used to be of pretty clothes and of fixing herself up. Now,
she simply lives in Oliver and the children, and she is the proudest
thing of his plays! The rector says that she thinks he is Shakespeare
and Milton rolled into one."

"Nothing could be nicer," said Susan, "and it is all such a happy
surprise to me. Of course, I always thought Oliver very
attractive--everybody does--but he seemed to me to be selfish and
undisciplined, and I wasn't at all sure that Jinny was the kind of woman
to bring out the best in him."

"You'll think so when you see them together."

Then they smiled and parted, Mrs. Pendleton hurrying back to the little
house, while Susan turned down Old Street, in the direction of her home.
She walked rapidly, with an easy swinging pace seldom seen in the women
of Dinwiddie, and not heartily approved by the men. At twenty-seven she
was far handsomer than she had been at twenty, for her figure had grown
more shapely and her face had lost the look of intense preoccupation
which had once marred its charm. Strong, capable, conquering, she still
appeared; but in some subtle way she had grown softer. Mrs. Pendleton
would probably have said that she had "settled."

At the first corner she met John Henry on his way to the bank, and
turning, he walked with her to the end of the block, where they stood a
moment discussing Virginia's return.

"I've just been to attend to some bills," he explained; "that's why I'm
out at this hour. You never come into the bank now, I notice."

"Not often. Are you going to see Jinny this evening?"

"If you'll let me bring you home. I can't imagine Virginia with three
children, can you? I'm half afraid to see her again."

"You mean you think she may have changed? Mrs. Pendleton says not."

"Oh, that's Aunt Lucy all over. If Virginia had got as fat as Miss
Priscilla, she'd still believe she hadn't altered a particle."

"Well, she isn't fat, anyway. She weighs less than she ever did."

Her serious eyes dwelt on him under the green sunshade she held, and it
is possible that she wondered vaguely what it was about John Henry that
had made her love him unsought ever since she could remember. He was
certainly not handsome--though he was less stout and much better looking
than he used to be: he was not particularly clever, even if he was
successful with the work Cyrus had given him. She was under no delusion
concerning him (being a remarkably clear-sighted young person), yet she
knew that taking him just as he was, large, slow, kind, good, he aroused
in her a tenderness that was almost ridiculous. She had waited patiently
seven years for him to discover that he cared for her--a fact which had
been perfectly evident to her long before his duller wit had perceived
it.

"Do you want to be there to welcome Jinny?" he asked.

"I'd thought I'd go up about five, so I could get a glimpse of the
children before they are put to bed."

"Then I'll meet you there and bring you home. I wouldn't take anything
for meeting you, Susan. There's something about you that always cheers
me."

She met his eyes frankly. "Well, I'm glad of that," she replied in her
confident way, and held out her hand through the handle of the basket.
An instant later, when she passed on into Bolingbroke Street, there was
a smile on her face which made it almost pretty.

The front door was open, and as she entered the house her mother came
groping toward her out of the close-smelling dusk of the hall.

"I thought you'd never get back, Susan. I've had such a funny feeling."

"What kind of feeling, mother? It must be just nervousness. Here are
some beautiful grapes I've brought you."

"I wish you wouldn't leave me alone. I don't like to be left alone."

"Well, I don't leave you any more than I'm obliged to, but if I stay
shut up here I feel as if I'd smother. I've asked Miss Willy to come and
sit with you this evening while I run up to welcome Virginia."

"Is she coming back? Nobody told me. Nobody tells me anything."

"But I did tell you. Why, we've been talking about it for weeks. You
must have forgotten."

"I shouldn't have forgotten it. I'm sure I shouldn't have forgotten it
if you had told me. But you keep everything from me. You are just like
your father. You and James are both just like your father." Her voice
had grown peevish, and an expression of fury distorted her usually
passive features.

"Why, mother, what in the world is the matter?" asked Susan, startled by
her manner. "Come upstairs and lie down. I don't believe you are well.
You didn't eat a morsel of breakfast, so I'm going to fix you a nice
little lunch. I got you a beautiful sweetbread from Mr. Dewlap."

Putting her arm about her, she led her up the long flight of steps to
her room, where Mrs. Treadwell, pacified by the attention, began
immediately to doze on the chintz-covered couch by the window.

"I don't see what on earth ever made me marry your father, Susan," she
said, starting up half an hour later, when her daughter appeared with
the tray. "Everybody knew the Treadwells couldn't hold a candle to my
family."

"I wouldn't worry about that now, mother," replied Susan briskly, while
she placed the tray on a little table at the head of the couch. "Sit up
and eat these oysters."

"I'm obliged to worry over it," returned Mrs. Treadwell irritably, while
she watched her daughter arrange her plate and pour out the green tea
from the little Rebecca-at-the-well teapot. "I don't see what got into
my head and made me do it. Why, his branch of the Treadwells had petered
out until they were as common as dirt."

"Well, it's too late to mend matters, so we'd better turn in and try to
make the best of them." She held out an oyster on the end of a fork, and
her mother received and ate it obediently.

"If I could only once understand why I did it, I think I could rest
easier, Susan."

"Perhaps you were in love with each other. I've heard of such a thing."

"Well, if I was going to fall in love, I reckon I could have found
somebody better to fall in love with," retorted Mrs. Treadwell with the
same strange excitement in her manner. Then she took up her knife and
fork and began to eat her luncheon with relish.

At five o'clock that afternoon, when Susan reached the house in Prince
Street, Virginia, with her youngest child in her arms, was just stepping
out of a dilapidated "hack," from which a grinning negro driver handed a
collection of lunch baskets into the eager hands of the rector and Mrs.
Pendleton, who stood on the pavement.

"Here's Susan!" called Mrs. Pendleton in her cheerful voice, rather as
if she feared her daughter would overlook her friend in the excitement
of homecoming.

"Oh, you darling Susan!" exclaimed Virginia, kissing her over the head
of a sleeping child in her arms. "This is Jenny--poor little thing, she
hasn't been able to keep her eyes open. Don't you think she is the
living image of our Saint Memin portrait of great-grandmamma?"

"She's a cherub," said Susan. "Let me look at you first, Jinny. I want
to see if you've changed."

"Well, you can't expect me to look exactly as I did before I had four
babies!" returned Virginia with a happy laugh. She was thinner, and
there were dark circles of fatigue from the long journey under her eyes,
but the Madonna-like possibilities in her face were fulfilled, and it
seemed to Susan that she was, if anything, lovelier than before. The
loss of her girlish bloom was forgotten in the expression of love and
goodness which irradiated her features. She wore a black cloth skirt,
and a blouse of some ugly blue figured silk finished at the neck with
the lace scarf Susan had sent her at Christmas. Her hat was a
characterless black straw trimmed with a bunch of yellow daisies; and
by its shape alone, Susan discerned that Virginia had ceased to consider
whether or not her clothes were becoming. But she shone with an air of
calm and radiant happiness in which all trivial details were
transfigured as by a flood of light.

"This is Lucy. She is six years old, and to think that she has never
seen her dear Aunt Susan," said Virginia, while she pulled forward the
little girl who was shyly clinging to her skirt. "And the other is
Harry. Marthy, bring Harry here and let him speak to Miss Susan. He is
nearly four, and so big for his age. Where is Harry, Marthy?"

"He's gone into the yard, ma'am, I couldn't keep him back," said Marthy.
"As soon as he caught sight of that pile of bricks he wanted to begin
building."

"Well, we'll go, too," replied Virginia. "That child is simply crazy
about building. Has Oliver paid the driver, mother? And what has become
of him? Susan, have you spoken to Oliver?"

No, Susan hadn't, but as they turned, he appeared on the porch and came
eagerly forward. Her first impression was that he had grown handsomer
than she had ever believed possible; and the next minute she asked
herself how in the world he had managed to exercise his vitality in
Matoaca City. He was one of those men, she saw, in whom the spirit of
youth burned like a flame. Every year would pass as a blessing, not as a
curse, to him, and already, because of her intenser emotions and her
narrower interests, Virginia was beginning to look older than he. There
was a difference, too, in their dress, for he had the carefully groomed
and well-brushed appearance so rare in Dinwiddie, while Virginia's
clothes might have been worn, with equal propriety, by Miss Priscilla
Batte. She was still lovely, but it was a loveliness, Susan felt with a
pang, that would break early.

"Why, there's Susan!" exclaimed Oliver, coming toward her with an eager
pleasure in his face which made it more boyish than ever. "Well, well,
it's good to see you, Susan. Are you the same old dear I left behind
me?"

"The same," said Susan laughing. "And so glad about your plays, Oliver,
so perfectly delighted."

"By Jove, you're the first person to speak of them," he replied. "Nobody
else seems to think a play is worth mentioning as long as a baby is in
sight. That's a delusion of Virginia's, too. I wish you'd convince her,
Susan, that a man is of some use except as a husband and a father."

"But they are such nice babies, Oliver."

"Oh, nice enough as babies go. The boy's a trump. He'd be a man already
if his mother would let him. But babies ought to have their season like
everything else under the sun. For God's sake, Susan, talk to me about
something else!" he added in mock despair.

Virginia was already in the house, and when Oliver and Susan joined her,
they found Mrs. Pendleton trying to persuade her to let Marthy carry the
sleeping Jenny up to the nursery.

"Give me that child, Jinny," said Oliver, a trifle sharply. "You know
the doctor told you not to carry her upstairs."

"But I'm sure it won't hurt me," she responded, with an angelic
sweetness of voice. "It will wake her to be changed, and the poor
little thing has had such a trying day."

"Well, you aren't going to carry her, if she wakes twenty times,"
retorted Oliver. "Here, Marthy, if she thinks I'd drop her, suppose you
try it."

"Why, bless you, sir, I can take her so she won't know it," returned
Marthy reassuringly, and coming forward, she proved her ability by
sliding the unconscious child from Virginia's arms into her own.

"Where is Harry?" asked Mrs. Pendleton anxiously. "Nobody has seen Harry
since we got here."

"I is, ma'am," replied the cheerful Marthy over her shoulder, as she
toiled up the stairs, with Virginia and little Lucy noiselessly
following. "I've undressed him and I was obliged to hide his clothes to
keep him from putting 'em on again. He's near daft with excitement."

"Perhaps I'd better go up and help get them to bed," said Mrs.
Pendleton, turning from the rector to Oliver. "I'm afraid Jinny will be
too tired to enjoy her supper. Harry is in such a gale of spirits I can
hear him talking."

"You might as well, my dear," rejoined the rector mildly, as he stooped
over to replace one of the baby's bottles in the basket from which it
had slipped. "Don't you think we might get some of these things out of
the way?" he added. "If you take that alcohol stove, Oliver, I'll follow
with these caps and shawls."

"Certainly, sir," rejoined Oliver readily. He always addressed the
rector as "sir," partly because it seemed to him to be appropriate,
partly because he knew that the older man expected him to do so. It was
one of Oliver's most engaging characteristics that he usually adapted
himself with perfect ease to whatever life or other people expected of
him.

While they were carrying the baskets into the passage at the back of the
dining-room, Mrs. Pendleton, whose nervous longing had got at last
beyond her control, deserted Susan, with an apology, and flitted up the
stairs.

"Come up and tell Jinny good-night before you go, dear," she added; "I'm
afraid she will not get down again to see you."

"Oh, don't worry about me," replied Susan. "I want to say a few words to
Oliver, and then I'm coming up to see Harry. Harry appears to me to be a
man of personality."

"He's a darling child," replied Mrs. Pendleton, a little vaguely, "and
Jinny says she never saw him so headstrong before. He is usually as good
as gold."

"Well, well, it's a fine family," said the rector, beaming upon his
son-in-law, when they returned from the passage. "I never saw three
healthier children. It's a pity you lost the other one," he added in a
graver tone, "but as he lived such a short time, Virginia couldn't take
it so much to heart as if he had been older. She seems to have got over
the disappointment."

"Yes, I think she's got over it," said Oliver.

"It will be good for her to be back in Dinwiddie. I never felt satisfied
to think of her so far away."

"Yes, I'm glad we could come back," agreed Oliver pleasantly, though he
appeared to Susan's quick eye to be making an effort.

"By the way, I haven't spoken of your literary work," remarked the
rector, with the manner of a man who is saying something very agreeable.
"I have never been to the theatre, but I understand that it is losing a
great deal of its ill odour. I always remember when anything is said
about the stage that, after all, Shakespeare was an actor. We may be
old-fashioned in Dinwiddie," he pursued in the complacent tone in which
the admission of this failing is invariably made, "but I don't think we
can have any objection to sweet, clean plays, with an elevating moral
tone to them. They are no worse, anyway, than novels."

Though Oliver kept his face under such admirable control, Susan,
glancing at him quickly, saw a shade of expression, too fine for
amusement, too cordial for resentment, pass over his features. His
colour, which was always high, deepened, and raising his head, he
brushed the smooth dark hair back from his forehead. Through some
intuitive strain of sympathy, Susan understood, while she watched him,
that his plays were as vital a matter in his life as the children were
in Virginia's.

"I must run up and see Harry before he goes to sleep," she said, feeling
instinctively that the conversation was becoming a strain.

At the allusion to his grandson, the rector's face lost immediately its
expression of forced pleasantness and relapsed into its look of genial
charm.

"You ought to be proud of that boy, Oliver," he observed, beaming.
"There's the making of a fine man in him, but you mustn't let Jinny
spoil him. It took all my strength and authority to keep Lucy from
ruining Jinny, and I've always said that my brother-in-law Tom Bland
would have been a first-rate fellow if it hadn't been for the way his
mother raised him. God knows, I like a woman to be wrapped up heart and
soul in her household--and I don't suppose anybody ever accused the true
Southern lady of lacking in domesticity--but if they have a failing,
which I refuse to admit, it is that they are almost too soft-hearted
where their children--especially their sons--are concerned."

"I used to tell Virginia that she gave in to Harry too much when he was
a baby," said Oliver, who was evidently not without convictions
regarding the rearing of his offspring; "but she hasn't been nearly so
bad about it since Jenny came. Jenny is the one I'm anxious about now.
She is a headstrong little beggar and she has learned already how to get
around her mother when she wants anything. It's been worse, too," he
added, "since we lost the last poor little chap. Ever since then
Virginia has been in mortal terror for fear something would happen to
the others."

"It was hard on her," said the rector. "We men can't understand how
women feel about a thing like that, though," he added gently. "I
remember when we lost our babies--you know we had three before Virginia
came, but none of them lived more than a few hours--that I thought Lucy
would die of grief and disappointment. You see they have all the burden
and the anxiety of it, and I sometimes think that a child begins to live
for a woman a long time before a man ever thinks of it as a human
being."

"I suppose you're right," returned Oliver in the softened tone which
proved to Susan that he was emotionally stirred. "I tried to be as
sympathetic with Virginia as I could, but--do you know?--I stopped to
ask myself sometimes if I could really understand. It seemed to her so
strange that I wasn't knocked all to pieces by the thing--that I could
go on writing as if nothing had happened."

"I am not sure that it isn't beyond the imagination of a man to enter
into a woman's most sacred feeling," remarked the rector, with a touch
of the sentimentality in which he religiously shrouded the feminine sex.
So ineradicable, indeed, was his belief in the inherent virtue of every
woman, that he had several times fallen a helpless victim in the
financial traps of conscienceless Delilahs. But since his innocence was
as temperamental a quality as was Virginia's maternal passion,
experience had taught him nothing, and the fact that he had been
deceived in the past threw no shadow of safeguard around his steps in
the present. This endearing trait, which made him so successful as a
husband, was probably the cause of his unmitigated failure as a
reformer. In looking at a woman, it was impossible for him to see
anything except perfection.

When Susan reached the top of the staircase, Mrs. Pendleton called to
her, through the half open door of the nursery, to come in and hear how
beautifully Lucy was saying her prayers. Her voice was full of a
suppressed excitement; there was a soft pink flush in her cheeks; and it
seemed to Susan that the presence of her grandchildren had made her
almost a girl again. She sat on the edge of a trundle-bed slipping a
nightgown over the plump shoulders of little Lucy, who held herself very
still and prim, for she was a serious child, with a natural taste for
propriety. Her small plain face, with its prominent features and pale
blue eyes, had a look of intense earnestness and concentration, as
though the business of getting to bed absorbed all her energies; and the
only movement she made was to toss back the slender and very tight
braid of brown hair from her shoulders. She said her prayer as if it
were the multiplication table, and having finished, slid gently into
bed, and held up her face to be kissed.

"Jenny wouldn't drink but half of her bottle, Miss Virginia," said
Marthy, appearing suddenly on the threshold of Virginia's bedroom, for
the youngest child slept in the room with her mother. "She dropped off
to sleep so sound that I couldn't wake her."

"I hope she isn't sick, Marthy," responded Virginia in an anxious tone.
"Did she seem at all feverish?"

"Naw'm, she ain't feverish, she's jest sleepy headed."

"Well, I'll come and look at her as soon as I can persuade Harry to
finish his prayers. He stopped in the middle of them, and he refuses to
bless anybody but himself."

She spoke gravely, gazing with her exhaustless patience over the impish
yellow head of Harry, who knelt, in his little nightgown, on the rug at
her feet. His roving blue eyes met Susan's as she came over to him,
while his chubby face broke into a delicious smile.

"Don't notice him, Susan," said Virginia, in her lovely voice which was
as full of tenderness and as lacking in humour as her mother's. "Harry,
you shan't speak to Aunt Susan until you've been good and finished your
prayers."

"Don't want to speak to Aunt Susan," retorted the monster of infant
depravity, slipping his bare toes through a rent in the rug, and
doubling up with delight at his insubordination.

"I never knew him to behave like this before," said Virginia, almost in
tears from shame and weariness. "It must be the excitement of getting
here. He is usually so good. Now, Harry, begin all over again. 'God
bless dear papa, God bless dear mamma, God bless dear grandmamma, God
bless dear grandpapa, God bless dear Lucy, God bless dear Jenny, God
bless all our dear friends.'"

"God bless dear Harry," recited the monster.

"He has gone on like that ever since I started," said poor Virginia. "I
don't know what to do about it. It seems dreadful to let him go to bed
without saying his prayers properly. Now, Harry, please, please be good;
poor mother is so tired, and she wants to go and kiss little Jenny
good-night. 'God bless dear papa,' and I'll let you get in bed."

"God bless Harry," was the imperturbable rejoinder to this pleading.

"Don't you want your poor mother to have some supper, Harry?" inquired
Susan severely.

"Harry wants supper," answered the innocent.

"I suppose I'll have to let him go," said Virginia, distractedly, "but
Oliver will be horrified. He says I don't reason with them enough.
Harry," she concluded sternly, "don't you understand that it is naughty
of you to behave this way and keep mamma away from poor little Jenny?"

"Bad Jenny," said Harry.

"If you don't say your prayers this minute, you shan't have any
preserves on your bread to-morrow."

"Bad preserves," retorted Harry.

"Well, if he won't, I don't see how I can make him," said Virginia.
"Come, then, get into bed, Harry, and go to sleep. You have been a bad
boy and hurt poor mamma's feelings so that she is going to cry. She
won't be able to eat her supper for thinking of the way you have
disobeyed her."

Jumping into bed with a bound, Harry dug his head into the pillows,
gurgled, and then sat up very straight.

"God bless dear papa, God bless dear mamma, God bless dear grandmamma,
God bless dear grandpapa, God bless dear Lucy, God bless dear Jenny, God
bless our dear friends everywhere," he repeated in a resounding voice.

"Oh, you precious lamb!" exclaimed Virginia. "He couldn't bear to hurt
poor mamma, could he?" and she kissed him ecstatically before hastening
to the slumbering Jenny in the adjoining room.

"I like the little scamp," said Susan, when she reported the scene to
John Henry on the way home, "but he manages his mother perfectly.
Already his sense of humour is better developed than hers."

"I can't get over seeing Virginia with children," observed John Henry,
as if the fact of Virginia's motherhood had just become evident to him.
"It suits her, though. She looked happier than I ever saw her--and so,
for that matter, did Aunt Lucy."

"It made me wonder how Mrs. Pendleton had lived away from them for seven
years. Why, you can't imagine what she is--she doesn't seem to have any
life at all until you see her with Virginia's children."

"It's a wonderful thing," said John Henry slowly, "and it taught me a
lot just to look at them. I don't know why, but it seemed to make me
understand how much I care about you, Susan."

"Hadn't you suspected it before?" asked Susan as calmly as he had
spoken. Emotionalism, she knew, she would never find in John Henry's
wooing, and, though she could not have explained the reason of it to
herself, she liked the brusque directness of his courtship. It was part
of that large sincerity of nature which had first attracted her to him.

"Of course, in a way I knew I cared more for you than for anybody
else--but I didn't realize that you were more to me than Virginia had
ever been. I had got so in the habit of thinking I was in love with her
that it came almost as a surprise to me to find that it was over."

"I knew it long ago," said Susan.

"Why didn't you make me see it?"

"Oh, I waited for you to find it out yourself. I was sure that you would
some day."

"Do you think you could ever care for me, Susan?"

A smile quivered on Susan's lips as she looked up at him, but with the
reticence which had always characterized her, she answered simply:

"I think I could, John Henry."

His hand reached down and closed over hers, and in the long look which
they exchanged under the flickering street lamp, she felt suddenly that
perfect security which is usually the growth of happy years. Whatever
the future brought to them, she knew that she could trust John Henry's
love for her.

"And we've lost seven years, dearest," he said, with a catch in his
voice. "We've lost seven years just because I happened to be born a
fool."

"But we've got fifty ahead of us," she replied with a joyous laugh.

As she spoke, her heart cried out, "Fifty years of the thing I want!"
and she looked up into the kind, serious face of John Henry as if it
were the face of incarnate happiness. A tremendous belief in life
surged from her brain through her body, which felt incredibly warm and
young. She thought exultantly of herself as of one who did not accept
destiny, but commanded it.

They walked the rest of the way in silence, but he held her hand pressed
closely against his heart, and once or twice he turned in the deserted
street and looked into her eyes as if he found there all the words that
he needed.

"We won't waste any more time, will we, Susan?" he asked when they
reached the house. "Let's be married in December."

"If mother is better by then. She hasn't been well, and I am anxious
about her."

"We'll go to housekeeping at once. I'll begin looking about to-morrow.
God bless you, darling, for what you are giving me."

She caressed his hand gently with her fingers, and he was about to speak
again, when the door behind them opened and the head of Cyrus appeared
like that of a desolate bird of prey.

"Is that you, Susan?" he inquired. "Where have you been all this time?
Your mother was taken ill more than an hour ago, and the doctor says
that she has been paralyzed."

Breaking away from John Henry, Susan ran up the steps and past her
father into the hall, where Miss Willy stood weeping.

"I was all by myself with her. There wasn't another living soul in the
house," sobbed the little dressmaker. "She fell over just like that,
with her face all twisted, while I was talking to her."

"Oh, poor mother, poor mother!" cried the girl as she ran upstairs. "Is
she in her room, and who is with her?"

"The doctor has been there for over an hour, and he says that she'll
never be able to move again. Oh, Susan, how will she stand it?"

But Susan had already outstripped her, and was entering the sick-room,
where Mrs. Treadwell lay unconscious, with her distorted face turned
toward the door, as though she were watching expectantly for some one
who would never come. As the girl fell on her knees beside the couch,
her happiness seemed to dissolve like mist before the grim facts of
mortal anguish and death. It was not until dawn, when the night's watch
was over and she stood alone beside her window, that she said to herself
with all the courage she could summon:

"And it's over for me, too. Everything is over for me, too. Oh, poor,
poor mother!"

Love, which had seemed to her last night the supreme spirit in the
universe, had surrendered its authority to the diviner image of Duty.



CHAPTER IV

HER CHILDREN


"Poor Aunt Belinda was paralyzed last night, Oliver," said Virginia the
next morning at breakfast. "Miss Willy Whitlow just brought me a message
from Susan. She spent the night there and was on her way this morning to
ask mother to go."

Oliver had come downstairs in one of his absent-minded moods, but by the
time Virginia had repeated her news he was able to take it in, and to
show a proper solicitude for his aunt.

"Are you going there?" he asked. "I am obliged to do a little work on my
play while I have the idea, but tell Susan I'll come immediately after
dinner."

"I'll stop to inquire on my way back from market, but I won't be able to
stay, because I've got all my unpacking to do. Can you take the children
out this afternoon so Marthy can help me?"

"I'm sorry, but I simply can't. I've got to get on with this idea while
I have control of it, and if I go out with the children I shan't be able
to readjust my thoughts for twenty-fours hours."

"I'd like to go out with papa," said Lucy, who sat carefully drinking
her cambric tea, so that she might not spill a drop on the mahogany
table.

"I want to go with papa," remarked Harry obstreperously, while he began
to drum with his spoon on the red tin tray which protected the table
from his assaults.

"Papa can't go with you, darling, but if mamma finishes her unpacking in
time, she'll come out into the park and play with you a little while. Be
careful, Harry, you are spilling your milk. Let mamma take your spoon
out for you."

Her coffee, which she had poured out a quarter of an hour ago, stood
untasted and tepid beside her plate, but from long habit she had grown
to prefer it in that condition. When the waffles were handed to her, she
had absent-mindedly helped herself to one, while she watched Harry's
reckless efforts to cut up his bacon, and it had grown sodden before she
remembered that it ought to be buttered. She wore the black skirt and
blue blouse in which she had travelled, for she had neglected to unpack
her own clothes in her eagerness to get out the things that Oliver and
the children might need. Her hair had been hastily coiled around her
head, without so much as a glance in the mirror, but the expression of
unselfish goodness in her face lent a charm even to the careless fashion
in which she had put on her clothes. She was one of those women whose
beauty, being essentially virginal, belongs, like the blush of the rose,
to a particular season. The delicacy of her skin invited the mark of
time or of anxiety, and already fine little lines were visible, in the
strong light of the morning, at the corners of her eyes and mouth. Yet
neither the years or her physical neglect of herself could destroy the
look of almost angelic sweetness and love which illumined her features.

"Are you obliged to go to New York next week, Oliver?" she asked,
dividing her attention equally between him and Harry's knife and fork.
"Can't they rehearse 'The Beaten Road' just as well without you?"

"No, I want to be there. Is there any reason why I shouldn't?"

"Of course not. I was only thinking that Harry's birthday comes on
Friday, and we should miss you."

"Well, I'm awfully sorry, but he'll have to grow old without me. By the
way, why can't you run on with me for the first night, Virginia? Your
mother can look after the babies for a couple of days, can't she?"

But the absent-minded look of young motherhood had settled again on
Virginia's face, for the voice of Jenny, raised in exasperated demand,
was heard from the nursery above.

"I wonder what's the matter?" she said, half rising in her chair, while
she glanced nervously at the door. "She was so fretful last night,
Oliver, that I'm afraid she is going to be sick. Will you keep an eye on
Harry while I run up and see?"

Ten minutes later she came down again, and began, with a relieved
manner, to stir her cold coffee.

"What were you saying, Oliver?" she inquired so sweetly that his
irritation vanished.

"I was just asking you if you couldn't let your mother look after the
youngsters for a day or two and come on with me."

"Oh, I'd give anything in the world to see it, but I couldn't possibly
leave the children. I'd be so terribly anxious for fear something would
happen."

"Sometimes I get in a blue funk about that play," he said seriously.
"I've staked so much on it that I'll be pretty well cut up, morally and
financially, if it doesn't go."

"But of course it will go, Oliver. Anybody could tell that just to read
it. Didn't Mr. Martin write you that he thought it one of the strongest
plays ever written in America--and I'm sure that is a great deal for a
manager to say. Nobody could read a line of it without seeing that it is
a work of genius."

For an instant he appeared to draw assurance from her praise; then his
face clouded, and he responded doubtfully:

"But you thought just as well of 'April Winds,' and nobody would look at
that."

"Well, that was perfect too, of its kind, but of course they are
different."

"I never thought much of that," he said, "but I honestly believe that
'The Beaten Road' is a great play. That's my judgment, and I'll stand by
it."

"Of course it's great," she returned emphatically. "No, Harry, you can't
have any more syrup on your buckwheat cake. You have eaten more already
than sister Lucy, and she is two years older than you are."

"Give it to the little beggar. It won't hurt him," said Oliver
impatiently, as Harry began to protest.

"But he really oughtn't to have it, Oliver. Well, then, just a drop. Oh,
Oliver, you've given him a great deal too much. Here, take mamma's plate
and give her yours, Harry."

But Harry made no answer to her plea, because he was busily eating the
syrup as fast as he could under pressure of the fear that he might lose
it all if he procrastinated.

"He'll be sick before night and you'll have yourself to blame, Oliver,"
said Virginia reproachfully.

Ever since the babies had come she had assumed naturally that Oliver's
interest in the small details of his children's clothes or health was
perpetually fresh and absorbing like her own, and her habit of not
seeing what she did not want to see in life had protected her from the
painful discovery that he was occasionally bored. Once he had even tried
to explain to her that, although he loved the children better than
either his plays or the political fate of nations, there were times when
the latter questions interested him considerably more; but the humour
with which he inadvertently veiled his protest had turned the point of
it entirely away from her comprehension. A deeper impression was made
upon her by the fact that he had refused to stop reading about the last
Presidential campaign long enough to come and persuade Harry to swallow
a dose of medicine. She, who seldom read a newspaper, and was innocent
of any desire to exert even the most indirect influence upon the
elections, had waked in the night to ask herself if it could possibly be
true that Oliver loved the children less passionately than she did.

"I've got to get to work now, dear," he said, rising. "I haven't had a
quiet breakfast since Harry first came to the table. Don't you think
Marthy might feed him upstairs again?"

"Oh, Oliver! It would break his heart. He would think that he was in
disgrace."

"Well, I'm not sure that he oughtn't to be. Now, Lucy's all right. She
behaves like a lady--but if you consider Harry an appetizing table
companion, I don't."

"But, dearest, he's only a baby! And boys are different from girls. You
can't expect them to have as good manners."

"I can't remember that I ever made a nuisance of myself."

"Your father was very strict with you. But surely you don't think it is
right to make your children afraid of you?"

The genuine distress in her voice brought a laugh from him.

"Oh, well, they are your children, darling, and you may do as you please
with them."

"Bad papa!" said Harry suddenly, chasing the last drop of syrup around
his plate with a bit of bread crumb.

"Oh, no, precious; good papa! You must promise papa to be a little
gentleman or he won't let you breakfast with him any more."

It was Virginia's proud boast that Harry's smile would melt even his
great-uncle, Cyrus, and she watched him with breathless rapture as he
turned now in his high chair and tested the effect of this magic charm
on his father. His baby mouth broadened deliciously, showing two rows of
small irregular teeth; his blue eyes shone until they seemed full of
sparkles; his roguish, irresistible face became an incarnation of infant
entreaty.

"I want to bekfast wid papa, an' I want more 'lasses," he remarked.

"He's a fascinating little rascal, there's no doubt of that," observed
Oliver, in response to Virginia's triumphant look. Then, bending over,
he kissed her on the cheek, before he picked up his newspapers and went
into his study at the back of the parlour.

Some hours later, at their early dinner, she reported the result of her
visit to the Treadwells.

"It is too awful, Oliver. Aunt Belinda has not spoken yet, and she can't
move the lower part of her body at all. The doctor says she may live for
years, but he doesn't think she will ever be able to walk again. I feel
so sorry for her and for poor Susan. Do you know, Susan engaged herself
to John Henry last night just before her mother was paralyzed, and they
were to be married in December. But now she says she will give him up."

"John Henry!" exclaimed Oliver in amazement. "Why, what in the world
does she see in John Henry?"

"I don't know--one never knows what people see in each other, but she
has been in love with him all her life, I believe."

"Well, it's rough on her. Is she obliged to break off with him now?"

"She says it wouldn't be fair to him not to. Her whole time must be
given to nursing her mother. There's something splendid about Susan,
Oliver. I never realized it as much as I did to-day. Whatever she does,
you may be sure it will be because it is right to do it. She sees
everything so clearly, and her wishes never obscure her judgment."

"It's a pity. She'd make a great mother, wouldn't she? But life doesn't
seem able to get along without a sacrifice of the fittest."

In the afternoon Mrs. Pendleton came over, but the two women were so
busy arranging the furniture in its proper place, and laying away
Oliver's and the children's things in drawers and closets, that not
until the entire house had been put in order, did they find time to sit
down for a few minutes in the nursery and discuss the future of Susan.

"I believe John Henry will want to marry her and go to live at the
Treadwells', if Susan will let him," remarked Mrs. Pendleton.

"How on earth could he get on with Uncle Cyrus?" Ever since her marriage
Virginia had followed Oliver's habit and spoken of Cyrus as "uncle."

"Well, I don't suppose even John Henry could do that, but perhaps he
thinks anything would be better than losing Susan."

"And he's right," returned Virginia loyally, while she got out her
work-bag and began sorting the array of stockings that needed darning.
"Do you know, mother, Oliver seems to think that I might go to New York
with him."

"And leave the children, Jinny?"

"Of course I've told him that I can't, but he's asked me two or three
times to let you look after them for a day or two."

"I'd love to do it, darling--but you've never spent a night away from
one of them since Lucy was born, have you?"

"No, and I'd be perfectly miserable--only I can't make Oliver understand
it. Of course, they'd be just as safe with you as with me, but I'd keep
imagining every minute that something had happened."

"I know exactly how you feel, dear. I never spent a night outside my
home after my first child came until you grew up. I don't see how any
true woman could bear to do it, unless, of course, she was called away
because of a serious illness."

"If Oliver were ill, or you, or father, I'd go in a minute unless one of
the children was really sick--but just to see a play is different, and
I'd feel as if I were neglecting my duty. The funny part is that Oliver
is so wrapped up in this play that he doesn't seem to be able to get his
mind off it, poor darling. Father was never that way about his sermons,
was he?"

"Your father never thought of himself or of his own interests enough,
Jinny. If he ever had a fault, it was that. But I suppose he approaches
perfection as nearly as a man ever did."

Slipping the darning gourd into the toe of one of Lucy's little white
stockings, Virginia gazed attentively at a small round hole while she
held her needle arrested slightly above it. So exquisitely Madonna-like
was the poise of her head and the dreaming, prophetic mystery in her
face, that Mrs. Pendleton waited almost breathlessly for her words.

"There's not a single thing that I would change in Oliver, if I could,"
she said at last.

"It is so beautiful that you feel that way, darling. I suppose all
happily married women do."

A week later, across Harry's birthday cake, which stood surrounded by
four candles in the centre of the rectory table, Virginia offered her
cheerful explanation of Oliver's absence, in reply to a mild inquiry
from the rector. "He was obliged to go to New York yesterday about the
rehearsal of 'The Beaten Road,' father. We were both so sorry he
couldn't be here to-day, but it was impossible for him to wait over."

"It's a pity," said the rector gently. "Harry will never be just four
years old again, will you, little man?" Even the substantial fact that
Oliver's play would, it was hoped, provide a financial support for his
children, did not suffice to lift it from the region of the unimportant
in the mind of his father-in-law.

"But he'll have plenty of other birthdays when papa will be here,"
remarked Virginia brightly. Though she had been a little hurt to find
that Oliver had arranged to leave home the night before, and that he had
appeared perfectly blind to the importance of his presence at Harry's
celebration, her native good sense had not permitted her to make a
grievance out of the matter. On her wedding day she had resolved that
she would not be exacting of Oliver's time or attention, and the
sweetness of her disposition had smoothed away any difficulties which
had intervened between her and her ideal of wifehood. From the first,
love had meant to her the opportunity of giving rather than the
privilege of receiving, and her failure to regard herself as of supreme
consequence in any situation had protected her from the minor troubles
and disillusionments of marriage.

"It is too bad to think that dear Oliver will have to be away for two
whole weeks," said Mrs. Pendleton.

"Is he obliged to stay that long?" asked the rector, sympathetically.
Never having missed an anniversary since the war, he could look upon
Oliver's absence as a fit subject for condolence.

"He can't possibly come home until the play is produced, and that won't
be for two weeks yet," replied Virginia.

"But I thought it rested with the actors now. Couldn't they go on just
as well without him?"

"He thinks not, and, of course, it is such a great play that he doesn't
want to take any risks with it."

"Of course he doesn't," assented Mrs. Pendleton, who had believed that
the stage was immoral until Virginia's husband began to write for it.

"I know he'll come back the very first minute that he can get away,"
said Virginia with conviction, before she stooped to comfort Harry, who
was depressed by the discovery that he was not expected to eat his
entire cake, but instantly hopeful when he was promised a slice of
sister Lucy's in the summer.

Late in the afternoon, when the children, warmly wrapped in extra shawls
by Mrs. Pendleton, were led back through the cold to the house in Prince
Street, one and all of the party agreed that it was the nicest birthday
that had ever been. "I like grandma's cake better than our cake,"
announced Harry above his white muffler. "Why can't we have cake like
that, mamma?"

He was trotting sturdily, with his hand in Virginia's, behind the
perambulator, which contained a much muffled Jenny, and at his words
Mrs. Pendleton, who walked a little ahead, turned suddenly and hugged
him tight for an instant.

"Just listen to the darling boy!" she exclaimed, in a choking voice.

"Because nobody else can make such good cake as grandma's," answered
Virginia, quite as pleased as her mother. "And she's going to give you
one every birthday as long as you live."

"Can't I have another birthday soon, mamma?"

"Not till after sister Lucy's. You want sister Lucy to have one, don't
you? and dear little Jenny?"

"But why can't I have a cake without a birthday, mamma?"

"You may, precious, and grandma will make you one," said Mrs. Pendleton,
as she helped Marthy wheel the perambulator over the slippery crossing
and into the front gate.

On the hall table there was a telegram from Oliver, and Virginia tore it
open while her mother and Marthy unfastened the children's wraps.

"He's at the Hotel Bertram," she said joyously, "and he says the
rehearsals are going splendidly."

"Did he mention Harry's birthday?" asked Mrs. Pendleton, trying to hide
the instinctive dread which the sight of a telegram aroused in her.

"He must have forgotten it. Can't you come upstairs to the nursery with
us, mother?"

"No, your father is all alone. I must be getting back," replied Mrs.
Pendleton gently.

An hour or two later, when Virginia sat in her rocking-chair before the
nursery fire, with Harry, worn out with his play and forgetful of the
dignity of his four years, asleep in her lap, she opened the telegram
again and reread it hungrily while the light of love shone in her face.
She knew intuitively that Oliver had sent the telegram because he had
not written--and would not write, probably, until he had finished with
the hardest work of his play. It was an easy thing to do--it took
considerably less of his time than a letter would have done; but she had
inherited from her mother the sentimental vision of life which
unconsciously magnifies the meaning of trivial attentions. She looked
through her emotions as through a prism on the simple fact of his
telegraphing, and it became immediately transfigured. How dear it was of
him to realize that she would be anxious until she heard from him! How
lonely he must be all by himself in that great city! How much he must
have wanted to be with Harry on his birthday! Sitting there in the
fire-lit nursery, her heart sent out waves of love and sympathy to him
across the distance and the twilight. On the rug at her feet Lucy rocked
in her little chair, crooning to her doll with the beginnings of the
mother instinct already softening her voice, and in the adjoining room
Jenny lay asleep in her crib while the faithful Marthy watched by her
side. Beyond the window a fine icy rain had begun to fall, and down the
long street she could see the lamps flickering in revolving circles of
frost. In the midst of the frozen streets, that little centre of red
firelight separated her as completely from the other twenty-one thousand
human beings among whom she lived as did the glow of personal joy that
suffused her thoughts. From the dusk below she heard the tapping of a
blind beggar's stick on the pavement, and the sound made, while it
lasted, a plaintive accompaniment to the lullaby she was singing. "Two
whole weeks," she thought, while her longing reached out to that unknown
room in which she pictured Oliver sitting alone. "Two whole weeks. How
hard it will be for him." In her guarded ignorance of the world she
could not imagine that Oliver was suffering less from this enforced
absence from all he loved than she herself would have suffered had she
been in his place. Of course, men were different from women--that
ancient dogma was embodied in the leading clause of her creed of life;
but she had always understood that this difference vanished in some
miraculous way after marriage. She knew that Oliver had to work, of
course--how otherwise could he support his family?--but the idea that
his work might ever usurp the place in his heart that belonged to her
and the children would have been utterly incomprehensible to her had she
ever thought of it. Jealousy was an alien weed, which could not take
root in the benign soil of her nature.

For a week there was no letter from Oliver, and at the end of that time
a few lines scrawled on a sheet of hotel paper explained that he spent
every minute of his time at the theatre.

"Poor fellow, it's dreadfully hard on him, isn't it?" Virginia said to
her mother, when she showed her the imposing picture of the hotel at the
head of his letter.

There was no hint of compassion for herself in her voice. Her pity was
entirely for Oliver, constrained to be away for two whole weeks from his
children, who grew more interesting and delightful every day that they
lived. "Harry has gone into the first reader," she added, turning from
the storeroom shelves on which she was laying strips of white oilcloth.
"He will be able to read his lesson to Oliver when he comes home."

"I have always understood that your father could read his Bible at the
age of four," remarked Mrs. Pendleton, who passionately treasured this
solitary proof of the rector's brilliancy.

"I am afraid Harry is backward. He hates his letters--especially the
letter A--so much that it takes me an hour sometimes to get him to say
it after me. My only comfort is that Oliver says he couldn't read a line
until he was over seven years old. Would you scallop this oilcloth,
mother, or leave it plain?"

"I always scallop mine. Mrs. Treadwell must be better, Jinny; Susan sent
me a dessert yesterday."

"Yes, but she will never be able to move herself. Do you think that poor
Susan will marry John Henry now?"

"I wonder?" replied Mrs. Pendleton vaguely. Then the sound of Harry's
laughter floated in suddenly from the backyard, and her eyes, following
Virginia's, turned automatically to the pantry window.

"They've come home for a snack, I suppose?" she said. "Shall I fix some
bread and preserves for them?"

"Oh, I'll do it," responded Virginia, while she reached for the crock of
blackberry jam on the shelf at her side.

Another week passed and there was no word from Oliver, until Mrs.
Pendleton came in at dusk one evening, with an anxious look on her face
and a folded newspaper held tightly in her hand.

"Have you seen any of the accounts of Oliver's play, Jinny?" she asked.

"No, I haven't had time to look at the papers to-day--Harry has hurt his
foot."

She spoke placidly, looking up from the nursery floor, where she knelt
beside a basin of warm water at Harry's feet. "Poor little fellow, he
fell on a pile of bricks," she added, "but he's such a hero he never
even whimpered, did he, darling?"

"But it hurt bad," said Harry eagerly.

"Of course, it hurt dreadfully, and if he hadn't been a man he would
have cried."

"Sister would have cried," exulted the hero.

"Indeed, sister would have cried. Sister is a girl," responded Virginia,
smothering him with kisses over the basin of water.

But Mrs. Pendleton refused to be diverted from her purpose even by the
heroism of her grandson.

"John Henry found this in a New York paper and brought it to me. He
thought you ought to see it, though, of course, it may not be so
serious as it sounds."

"Serious?" repeated Virginia, letting the soapy washrag fall back into
the basin while she stretched out her moist and reddened hand for the
paper.

"It says that the play didn't go very well," pursued her mother
guardedly. "They expect to take it off at once, and--and Oliver is not
well--he is ill in the hotel----"

"Ill?" cried Virginia, and as she rose to her feet the basin upset and
deluged Harry's shoes and the rug on which she had been kneeling. Her
mind, unable to grasp the significance of a theatrical failure, had
seized upon the one salient fact which concerned her. Plays might
succeed or fail, and it made little difference, but illness was another
matter--illness was something definite and material. Illness could
neither be talked away by religion nor denied by philosophy. It had its
place in her mind not with the shadow, but with the substance of things.
It was the one sinister force which had always dominated her, even when
it was absent, by the sheer terror it aroused in her thoughts.

"Let me see," she said chokingly. "No, I can't read it--tell me."

"It only says that the play was a failure--nobody understood it, and a
great many people said it was--oh, Virginia--_immoral!_--There's
something about its being foreign and an attack on American ideals--and
then they add that the author refused to be interviewed and they
understood that he was ill in his room at the Bertram."

The charge of immorality, which would have crushed Virginia at another
time, and which, even in the intense excitement of the moment, had been
an added stab to Mrs. Pendleton, was brushed aside as if it were the
pestiferous attack of an insect.

"I am going to him now--at once--when does the train leave, mother?"

"But, Jinny, how can you? You have never been to New York. You wouldn't
know where to go."

"But he is ill. Nothing on earth is going to keep me away from him. Will
you please wipe Harry's feet while I try to get on my clothes?"

"But, Jinny, the children?"

"You and Marthy must look after the children. Of course I can't take
them with me. Oh, Harry, won't you please hush and let poor mamma dress?
She is almost distracted."

Something--a secret force of character which even her mother had not
suspected that she possessed--had arisen in an instant and dominated the
situation. She was no longer the gentle and doting mother of a minute
ago, but a creature of a fixed purpose and an iron resolution. Even her
face appeared to lose its soft contour and hardened until Mrs. Pendleton
grew almost frightened. Never had she imagined that Virginia could look
like this.

"I am sure there is some mistake about it. Don't take it so terribly to
heart, Jinny," she pleaded, while she knelt down, cowed and obedient, to
wipe Harry's feet.

Virginia, who had already torn off her house dress, and was hurriedly
buttoning the navy blue waist in which she had travelled, looked at her
calmly without pausing for an instant in her task.

"Will you bind up his foot with some arnica?" she asked. "There's an
old handkerchief in my work basket. I want you and father to come here
and stay until I get back. It will be less trouble than moving all their
things over to the rectory."

"Very well, darling," replied Mrs. Pendleton meekly. "We'll do
everything that we can, of course," and she added timidly, "Have you
money enough?"

"I have thirty dollars. I just got it out of the bank to-day to pay
Marthy and my housekeeping bills. Do you think that will be as much as
I'll need?"

"I should think so, dear. Of course, if you find you want more, you can
telegraph your father."

"The train doesn't leave for two hours, so I'll have plenty of time to
get ready. It's just half-past six now, and Oliver didn't leave the
house till eight o'clock."

"Won't you take a little something to eat before you go?"

"I couldn't swallow a morsel, but I'll sit with you and the children as
soon as I've put the things in my satchel. I couldn't possibly need but
this one dress, could I? If Oliver isn't really ill, I hope we can start
home to-morrow. That will be two nights that I'll spend away. Oh,
mother, ask father to pray that he won't be ill."

Her voice broke, but she fiercely bit back the sob before it escaped her
lips.

"I will, dear, I promise you. We will both think of you and pray for you
every minute. Jinny, are you sure it's wise? Couldn't we send some
one--John Henry would go, I know--in your place?"

A spasm of irritation contracted Virginia's features. "Please don't,
mother," she begged, "it just worries me. Whatever happens, I am
going." Then she sobbed outright. "He wanted me to go with him at first,
and I wouldn't because I thought it was my duty to stay at home with the
children. If anything should happen to him, I'd never forgive myself."

She was slipping her black cloth skirt over her head as she spoke, and
her terror-stricken face disappeared under the pleats before Mrs.
Pendleton could turn to look at her. When her head emerged again above
the belt of her skirt, the expression of her features had grown more
natural.

"You'll go down in a carriage, won't you?" inquired her mother, whose
mind achieved that perfect mixture of the sentimental and the practical
which is rarely found in any except Southern women.

"I suppose I'll have to. Then I can take my satchel with me, and that
will save trouble. You won't forget, mother, that I give Lucy a
teaspoonful of cod-liver oil after each meal, will you? She has had that
hacking cough for three weeks, and I want to break it up."

"I'll remember, Jinny, but I'm so miserable about your going alone."

Turning to the closet, Virginia unearthed an old black satchel from
beneath a pile of toys, and began dusting it inside with a towel. Then
she took out some underclothes from a bureau drawer and a few toilet
articles, which she wrapped in pieces of tissue paper. Her movements
were so methodical that the nervousness in Mrs. Pendleton's mind slowly
gave way to astonishment. For the first time in her life, perhaps, the
mother realized that her daughter was no longer a child, but a woman,
and a woman whose character was as strong and as determined as her own.
Vaguely she understood, without analyzing the motives that moved
Virginia, that this strength and this determination which so impressed
her had arisen from those deep places in her daughter's soul where
emotion and not thought had its source. Love was guiding her now as
surely as it had guided her when she had refused to go with Oliver to
New York, or when, but a few minutes ago, she had knelt down to wash and
bandage Harry's little earth-stained feet. It was the only power to
which she would ever surrender. No other principle would ever direct or
control her.

Marthy, who appeared with Jenny's supper, was sent out to order the
carriage and to bear a message to the rector, and Virginia took the
little girl in her lap and began to crumble the bread into the bowl of
milk.

"Wouldn't you like me to do that, dear?" asked Mrs. Pendleton, with a
submission in her tone which she had never used before except to the
rector. "Don't you want to fix your hair over?"

"Oh, no, I'll keep on my hat till I go to bed, so it doesn't matter. I'd
rather you'd finish my packing if you don't mind. There's nothing more
to go in except some collars and my bedroom slippers and that red
wrapper hanging behind the door in the closet."

"Are you going to take any medicine?"

"Only that bottle of camphor and some mustard plasters. Yes, you'd
better put in the brandy flask and the aromatic ammonia. You can never
tell when you will need them. Now, my darlings, mother is going away and
you must keep well and be as good as gold until she comes back."

To the amazement of Mrs. Pendleton (who reflected that you really never
knew what to expect of children), this appeal produced an immediate and
extraordinary result. Lucy, who had been fidgeting about and trying to
help with the packing, became suddenly solemn and dignified, while an
ennobling excitement mounted to Harry's face. Never particularly
obedient before, they became, as soon as the words were uttered, as
amenable as angels. Even Jenny stopped feeding long enough to raise
herself and pat her mother's cheek with ten caressing, milky fingers.

"Mother's going away," said Lucy in a solemn voice, and a hush fell on
the three of them.

"And grandma's coming here to live," added Harry after the silence had
grown so depressing that Virginia had started to cry.

"Not to live, precious," corrected Mrs. Pendleton quickly. "Just to
spend two days with you. Mother will be home in two days."

"Mother will be home in two days," repeated Lucy. "May I stay away from
school while you're away, mamma?"

"And may I stop learning my letters?" asked Harry.

"No, darlings, you must do just as if I were here. Grandma will take
care of you. Now promise me that you will be good."

They promised obediently, awed to submission by the stupendous
importance of the change. It is probable that they would have observed
with less surprise any miraculous upheaval in the orderly phenomena of
nature.

"I don't see how I can possibly leave them--they are so good, and they
behave exactly as if they realized how anxious I am," wept Virginia,
breaking down when Marthy came to announce that the rector had come and
the carriage was at the door.

"Suppose you give it up, Jinny. I--I'll send your father," pleaded Mrs.
Pendleton, in desperation as she watched the tragedy of the parting.

But that strange force which the situation had developed in Virginia
yielded neither to her mother's prayers nor to the last despairing wails
of the children, who realized, at the sight of the black bag in Marthy's
hands, that their providence was actually deserting them. The deepest of
her instincts--the instinct that was at the root of all her mother
love--was threatened, and she rose to battle. The thing she loved best,
she had learned, was neither husband nor child, but the one that needed
her.



CHAPTER V

FAILURE


She had lain down in her clothes, impelled by the feeling that if there
were to be a wreck she should prefer to appear completely dressed; so
when the chill dawn came at last and the train pulled into Jersey City,
she had nothing to do except to adjust her veil and wait patiently until
the porter came for her bag. His colour, which was black, inspired her
with confidence, and she followed him trustfully to the platform, where
he delivered her to another smiling member of his race. The cold was so
penetrating that her teeth began to chatter as she turned to obey the
orders of the dusky official who had assumed command of her. Never had
she felt anything so bleak as the atmosphere of the station. Never in
her life had she been so lonely as she was while she hurried down the
long dim platform in the direction of a gate which looked as if it led
into a prison. She was chilled through; her skin felt as if it had
turned to india rubber; there was a sickening terror in her soul; and
she longed above all things to sit down on one of the inhospitable
tracks and burst into tears; but something stronger than impulse urged
her shivering body onward and controlled the twitching muscles about her
mouth. "In a few minutes I shall see Oliver. Oliver is ill and I am
going to him," she repeated over and over to herself as if she were
reciting a prayer.

Inside the station she declined the offer of breakfast, and was
conducted to the ferry, where she was obliged to run in order to catch
the boat that was just leaving. Seated on one of the long benches in the
saloon, with her bag at her feet and her umbrella grasped tightly in her
hand, she gazed helplessly at the other passengers and wondered if any
one of them would tell her what to do when she reached the opposite
side. The women, she thought, looked hard and harassed, and the men she
could not see because of the rows of newspapers behind which they were
hidden. Once her wandering gaze caught the eyes of a middle-aged woman
in rusty black, who smiled at her above the head of a sleeping child.

"That's a pretty woman," said a man carelessly, as he put down his
paper, and she realized that he was talking about her to his companion.
Then, as the terrible outlines of the city grew more distinct on the
horizon, he got up and strolled as carelessly past her to the deck. He
had spoken of her as indifferently as he might have spoken of the
weather.

As the tremendous battlements (which were not tremendous to any of the
other passengers) emerged slowly from the mist and cleft the sombre
low-hanging clouds, from which a few flakes of snow fell, her terror
vanished suddenly before the excitement which ran through her body. She
forgot her hunger, her loneliness, her shivering flesh, her benumbed and
aching feet. A sensation not unlike the one with which the rector had
marched into his first battle, fortified and exhilarated her. The
fighting blood of of her ancestors grew warm in her veins. New York
developed suddenly from a mere spot on a map into a romance made into
brick; and when a ray of sunlight pierced the heavy fog, and lay like a
white wing aslant the few falling snowflakes, it seemed to her that the
shadowy buildings lost their sinister aspect and softened into a
haunting and mysterious beauty. Somewhere in that place of mystery and
adventure Oliver was waiting for her! He was a part of that vast
movement of life into which she was going. Then, youth, from which hope
is never long absent, flamed up in her, and she was glad that she was
still beautiful enough to cause strangers to turn and look at her.

But this mood, also, passed quickly, and a little later, while she
rolled through the grey streets, into which the slant sunbeams could
bring no colour, she surrendered again to that terror of the unknown
which had seized her when she stood in the station. The beauty had
departed from the buildings; the pavements were dirty; the little
discoloured piles of snow made the crossings slippery and dangerous; and
she held her breath as they passed through the crowded streets on the
west side, overcome by the fear of "catching" some malign malady from
the smells and the filth. The negro quarters in Dinwiddie were dirty
enough, but not, she thought with a kind of triumph, quite so dirty as
New York. When the cab turned into Fifth Avenue, she took her
handkerchief from her nostrils; but this imposing street, which had not
yet emerged from its evil dream of Victorian brownstone, impressed her
chiefly as a place of a thousand prisons. It was impossible to believe
that those frowning walls, undecorated by a creeper or the shadow of a
tree, could really be homes where people lived and children were born.

At first she had gazed with a childish interest and curiosity on the
houses she was passing; then the sense of strangeness gave place
presently to the exigent necessity of reaching Oliver as soon as
possible. But the driver appeared indifferent to her timid taps on the
glass at his back, while the horse progressed with the feeble activity
of one who had spent a quarter of a century ineffectually making an
effort. Her impatience, which she had at first kept under control, began
to run in quivers of nervousness through her limbs. The very richness of
her personal life, which had condensed all experience into a single
emotional centre, and restricted her vision of the universe to that
solitary window of the soul through which she looked, prevented her now
from seeing in the city anything except the dreary background of
Oliver's illness and failure. The naïve wonder with which she had
watched the gigantic outlines shape themselves out of the white fog, had
faded utterly from her mind. She ached with longing to reach Oliver and
to find him well enough to take the first train back to Dinwiddie.

At the hotel her bag and umbrella were wrested from her by an imperious
uniformed attendant, and in what seemed to her an incredibly short space
of time, she was following him along a velvet lined corridor on the
tenth floor. The swift ascent in the elevator had made her dizzy, and
the physical sensation reminded her that she was weak for food. Then the
attendant rapped imperatively at a door just beyond a shining staircase,
and she forgot herself as completely as it had been her habit to do
since her marriage.

"Come in!" responded a muffled voice on the inside, and as the door
swung open, she saw Oliver, in his dressing-gown, and with an unshaved
face, reading a newspaper beside a table on which stood an untasted cup
of coffee.

"I didn't ring," he began impatiently, and then starting to his feet, he
uttered her name in a voice which held her standing as if she were
suddenly paralyzed on the threshold. "Virginia!"

A sob rose in her throat, and her faltering gaze passed from him to the
hotel attendant, who responded to her unspoken appeal as readily as if
it were a part of his regular business. Pushing her gently inside, he
placed her bag and umbrella on an empty chair, took up the breakfast
tray from the table, and inquired, with a kindness which strangely
humbled her, if she wished to give an order. When she had helplessly
shaken her head, he bowed and went out, closing the door softly upon
their meeting.

"What in thunder, Virginia?" began Oliver, and she realized that he was
angry.

"I heard you were sick--that the play had failed. I was so sorry I
hadn't come with you--" she explained; and then, understanding for the
first time the utter foolishness of what she had done, she put her hands
up to her face and burst into tears.

He had risen from his chair, but he made no movement to come nearer to
her, and when she took down her hands in order to wipe her eyes, she saw
an expression in his face which frightened her by its strangeness. She
had caught him when that guard which every human being--even a
husband--wears, had fallen away, though in her ignorance it seemed to
her that he had become suddenly another person. That she had entered
into one of those awful hours of self-realization, when the soul must
face its limitations alone and make its readjustments in silence, did
not occur to her, because she, who had lived every minute of her life
under the eyes of her parents or her children, could have no
comprehension of the hunger for solitude which was devouring Oliver's
heart. She saw merely that he did not want her--that she had not only
startled, but angered him by coming; and the bitterness of that instant
seemed to her more than she was able to bear. Something had changed him;
he was older, he was harder, he was embittered.

"I--I am so sorry," she stammered; and because even in the agony of this
moment she could not think long of herself, she added almost humbly,
"Would you rather that I should go back again?" Then, by the haggard
look of his face as he turned away from her towards the window, she saw
that he, also, was suffering, and her soul yearned over him as it had
yearned over Harry when he had had the toothache. "Oh, Oliver!" she
cried, and again, "Oh, Oliver, won't you let me help you?"

But he was in the mood of despairing humiliation when one may support
abuse better than pity. His failure, he knew, had been undeserved, and
he was still smarting from the injustice of it as from the blows of a
whip. For twenty-four hours his nerves had been on the rack, and his one
desire had been to hide himself in the spiritual nakedness to which he
was stripped. Had he been obliged to choose a witness to his suffering,
it is probable that he would have selected a stranger from the street
rather than his wife. The one thing that could have helped him, an
intelligent justification of his work, she was powerless to give. In his
need she had nothing except love to offer; and love, she felt
instinctively, was not the balm for his wound.

Afraid and yet passionately longing to meet his eyes, she let her gaze
fall away from him and wander timidly, as if uncertain where to rest,
about the disordered room, with its dull red walls, its cheap Nottingham
lace curtains tied back with cords, its elaborately carved walnut
furniture, and its litter of days old newspapers upon the bed. She saw
his neckties hanging in an uneven row over the oblong mirror, and she
controlled a nervous impulse to straighten them out and put them away.

"Why didn't you telegraph me?" he asked, after a pause in which she had
struggled vainly to look as if it were the most natural thing in the
world that he should receive her in this way. "If I had known you were
coming, I should have met you."

"Father wanted to, but I wouldn't let him," she answered. "I--I thought
you were sick."

In spite of his despair, it is probable that at the moment she was
suffering more than he was--since a wound to love strikes deeper, after
all, than a wound to ambition. Where she had expected to find her
husband, she felt vaguely that she had encountered a stranger, and she
was overwhelmed by that sense of irremediable loss which follows the
discovery of terrible and unfamiliar qualities in those whom we have
known and loved intimately for years. The fact that he was plainly
struggling to disguise his annoyance, that he was trying as hard as she
to assume a manner he did not feel, only added a sardonic humour to
poignant tragedy.

"Have you had anything to eat?" he asked abruptly, and remembering that
he had not kissed her when she entered, he put his arm about her and
brushed her cheek with his lips.

"No, I waited to breakfast with you. I was in such a hurry to get here."

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, and going over to the bell, he touched it with
the manner of a man who is delighted that anything so perfectly
practical as food exists in the world.

While he was speaking to the waiter, she took off her hat, and washed
the stains of smoke and tears from her face. Her hair was a sight, she
thought, but while she gazed back at her stricken eyes in the little
mirror over the washstand, she recalled with a throb of gratitude that
the stranger on the boat had said she was pretty. She felt so humble
that she clung almost with desperation to the thought that Oliver always
liked to have people admire her.

When she turned from the washstand, he was reading the newspaper again,
and he put it aside with a forced cheerfulness to arrange the table for
breakfast.

"Aren't you going to have something too?" she asked, looking
disconsolately at the tray, for all her hunger had departed. If he would
only be natural she felt that she could bear anything! If he would only
stop trying to pretend that he was not miserable and that nothing had
happened! After all, it couldn't be so very bad, could it? It wasn't in
the least as if one of the children were ill.

She poured out a cup of coffee for him before drinking her own, and
putting it down on the table at his side, waited patiently until he
should look up again from his paper. A lump as hard as lead had risen
in her throat and was choking her.

"Are the children well?" he asked presently, and she answered with an
affected brightness more harrowing than tears, "Yes, mother is taking
care of them. Lucy still has the little cough, but I'm giving her
cod-liver oil. And, what do you think? I have a surprise for you. Harry
can read the first lesson in his reader."

He smiled kindly back at her, but from the vacancy in his face, she
realized that he had not taken in a word that she had said. His trouble,
whatever it was, could absorb him so utterly that he had ceased even to
be interested in his children. He, who had borne so calmly the loss of
that day-old baby for whom she had grieved herself to a shadow, was
plunged into this condition of abject hopelessness merely because his
play was a failure! It was not only impossible for her to share his
suffering; she realized, while she watched him, that she could not so
much as comprehend it. Her limitations, of which she had never been
acutely conscious until to-day, appeared suddenly insurmountable. Love,
which had seemed to her to solve all problems and to smooth all
difficulties, was helpless to enlighten her. It was not love--it was
something else that she needed now, and of this something else she knew
not even so much as the name.

She drank her coffee quickly, fearing that if she did not take food she
should lose control of herself and anger him by a display of hysterics.

"I don't wonder you couldn't drink your coffee," she said with a
quivering little laugh. "It must have been made yesterday." Then, unable
to bear the strain any longer, she cried out sharply: "Oh, Oliver,
won't you tell me what is the matter?"

His look grew hard, while a spasm of irritation contracted his mouth.

"There's nothing you need worry about--except that I've borrowed money,
and I'm afraid we'll have to cut down things a bit until I manage to pay
it back."

"Why, of course we'll cut down things," she almost laughed in her
relief. "We can live on a great deal less, and I'll market so carefully
that you will hardly know the difference. I'll put Marthy in the kitchen
and take care of the children myself. It won't be the least bit of
trouble."

She knew by his face that he was grateful to her, though he said merely:
"I'm a little knocked up, I suppose, so you mustn't mind. I've got a
beast of a headache. Martin is going to take 'The Beaten Road' off at
the end of the week, you know, and he doesn't think now that he will
produce the other. There wasn't a good word for me from the critics, and
yet, damn them, I know that the play is the best one that's ever come
out of America. But it's real--that's why they fell foul of it--it isn't
stuffed with sugar plums."

"Why, what in the world possessed them?" she returned indignantly. "It
is a beautiful play."

She saw him flinch at the word, and the sombre irritation which his
outburst had relieved for a minute, settled again on his features. Her
praise, she understood, only exasperated him, though she did not realize
that it was the lack of discrimination in it which aroused his
irritation. At the moment, intelligent appreciation of his work would
have been bread and meat to him, but her pitiful attempts at flattery
were like bungling touches on raw flesh. Had he written the veriest rags
of sentimental rubbish, he knew she would as passionately have defended
their "beauty."

"I'll get dressed quickly and look after some business," he said, "and
we'll go home to-night."

Her eyes shone, and she began to eat her eggs with a resolution born of
the consoling memory of Dinwiddie. If only they could be at home again
with the children, she felt that all this trouble and misunderstanding
would vanish. With a strange confusion of ideas, it seemed to her that
Oliver's suffering had been in some mysterious way produced by New York,
and that it existed merely within the circumscribed limits of this
dreadful city.

"Oh, Oliver, that will be lovely!" she exclaimed, and tried to subdue
the note of joy in her voice.

"I shan't be able to get back to lunch, I'm afraid. What will you do
about it?"

"Don't bother about me, dearest. I'll dress and take a little walk just
to see what Fifth Avenue is like. I can't get lost if I go perfectly
straight up the street, can I?"

"Fifth Avenue is only a block away. You can't miss it. Now I'll hurry
and be off."

She knew that he was anxious to be alone, and so firmly was she
convinced that this mood of detachment would leave him as soon as he was
in the midst of his family again, that she was able to smile tolerantly
when he kissed her hastily, and seizing his hat, rushed from the room.
For a time after he had gone she amused herself putting his things in
order and packing the little tin trunk he had brought with him; but the
red walls and the steam heat in the room sickened her at last, and when
she had bathed and dressed and there seemed nothing left for her to do
except get out her work-bag and begin darning his socks, she decided
that she would put on her hat and go out for a walk. It did not occur to
her to feel hurt by the casual manner in which Oliver had shifted the
responsibility of her presence--partly owing to a personal inability to
take a selfish point of view about anything, and partly because of that
racial habit of making allowances for the male in which she had been
sedulously trained from her infancy.

At the door the porter directed her to Fifth Avenue, and she ventured
cautiously as far as the flowing rivulet at the corner, where she would
probably have stood until Oliver's return, if a friendly policeman had
not observed her stranded helplessness and assisted her over. "How on
earth am I to get back again?" she thought, smiling up at him; and this
anxiety engrossed her so completely that for a minute she forgot to look
at the amazing buildings and the curious crowds that hurried frantically
in their shadows. Then a pale finger of sunlight pointed suddenly across
the high roofs in front of her, and awed, in spite of her preoccupation,
by the strangeness of the scene, she stopped and watched the moving
carriages in the middle of the street and the never ending stream of
people that passed on the wet pavements. Occasionally, while she stood
there, some of the passers-by would turn and look at her with friendly
admiring eyes, as though they found something pleasant in her lovely
wistful face and her old-fashioned clothes; and this pleased her so much
that she lost her feeling of loneliness. It was a kindly crowd, and
because she was young and pretty and worth looking at, a part of the
exhilaration of this unknown life passed into her, and she felt for a
little while as though she belonged to it. The youth in her responded to
the passing call of the streets, to this call which fluted like the
sound of pipes in her blood, and lifted her for a moment out of the
narrow track of individual experience. It was charming to feel that all
these strangers looked kindly upon her, and she tried to show that she
returned their interest by letting a little cordial light shine in her
eyes. For the first time in her life the personal boundaries of sympathy
fell away from her, and she realized, in a fleeting sensation, something
of the vast underlying solidarity of human existence. A humble baby in a
go-cart waited at one of the crossings for the traffic to pass, and
bending over, she hugged him ecstatically, not because he reminded her
of Harry, but simply because he was a baby.

"He is so sweet I just had to squeeze him," she said to his mother, a
working woman in a black shawl, who stood behind him.

Then the two women smiled at each other in that freemasonry of
motherhood of which no man is aware, and Virginia wondered why people
had ever foolishly written of the "indifference of a crowd." The chill
which had lain over her heart since her meeting with Oliver melted
utterly in the glow with which she had embraced the baby at the
crossing. With the feeling of his warm little body in her arms,
everything had become suddenly right again. New York was no longer a
dreadful city, and Oliver's failure appeared as brief as the passing
pang of a toothache. Her natural optimism had returned like a rosy mist
to embellish and obscure the prosaic details of the situation. Like the
cheerful winter sunshine, which transfigured the harsh outlines of the
houses, her vision adorned the reality in the mere act of beholding it.

Midway of the next block there was a jeweller's window full of gems set
in intricate patterns, and stopping before it, she studied the trinkets
carefully in the hope of being able to describe them to Lucy. Then a man
selling little automatic pigs at the corner attracted her attention, and
she bought two for Harry and Jenny, and carried them triumphantly away
in boxes under her arm. She knew that she looked countrified and
old-fashioned, and that nobody she met was wearing either a hat or a
dress which in the least resembled the style of hers; but the knowledge
of this did not trouble her, because in her heart she preferred the kind
of clothes which were worn in Dinwiddie. The women in New York seemed to
her artificial and affected in appearance, and they walked, she thought,
as if they were trying to make people look at them. The bold way they
laced in their figures she regarded as almost indecent, and she noticed
that they looked straight into the eyes of men instead of lowering their
lashes when they passed them. Her provincialism, like everything else
which belonged to her and had become endeared by habit and association,
seemed to her so truly beautiful and desirable that she would not have
parted with it for worlds.

Turning presently, she walked down Fifth Avenue as far as Twenty-third
Street, and then, confused by the crossing, she passed into Broadway,
without knowing that it was Broadway, until she was enlightened by a
stranger to whom she appealed. When she began to retrace her steps, she
discovered that she was hungry, and she longed to go into one of the
places where she saw people eating at little tables; but her terror of
what she had heard of the high prices of food in New York restaurants
restrained her. General Goode still told of paying six dollars and a
half for a dinner he had ordered in a hotel in Fifth Avenue, and her
temperamental frugality, reinforced by anxiety as to Oliver's debts,
preferred to take no unnecessary risks with the small amount in her
pocket book. Oliver, of course, would have laughed at her petty
economies, and have ordered recklessly whatever attracted his appetite;
but, as she gently reminded herself again, men were different. On the
whole, this lordly prodigality pleased her rather than otherwise. She
felt that it was in keeping with the bigness and the virility of the
masculine ideal; and if there were pinching and scraping to be done, she
immeasurably preferred that it should fall to her lot to do it and not
to Oliver's.

At the hotel she found that Oliver had not come in, and after a belated
luncheon of tea and toast in the dining-room, she went upstairs and sat
down to watch for his return between the Nottingham lace curtains at the
window. From the terrific height, on which she felt like a sparrow, she
could see a row of miniature puppets passing back and forth at the
corner of Fifth Avenue. For hours she tried in vain to distinguish the
figure of Oliver in the swiftly moving throng, and in spite of herself
she could not repress a feeling of pleasant excitement. She knew that
Oliver would think that she ought to be depressed by his failure, yet
she could not prevent the return of a child-like confidence in the
profound goodness of life. Everything would be right, everything was
eternally bound to be right from the beginning. That inherited casuistry
of temperament, which had confused the pleasant with the true for
generations, had become in her less a moral conviction than a fixed
quality of soul. To dwell even for a minute on "the dark side of things"
awoke in her the same instinct of mortal sin that she had felt at the
discovery that Oliver was accustomed to "break" the Sabbath by reading
profane literature.

When, at last, as the dusk fell in the room, she heard his hasty step in
the corridor, a wave of joyful expectancy rose in her heart and trembled
for utterance on her lips. Then the door opened; he came from the gloom
into the pale gleam of light that shone in from the window, and with her
first look into his face her rising joy ebbed quickly away. A new
element, something for which neither her training nor her experience had
prepared her, entered at that instant into her life. Not the external
world, but the sacred inner circle in which they had loved and known
each other was suddenly clouded. Everything outside of this was the
same, but the fact confronted her there as grimly as a physical sore.
The evil struck at the very heart of her love, since it was not life,
but Oliver that had changed.



CHAPTER VI

THE SHADOW


Oliver had changed; for months this thought had lain like a stone on her
heart. She went about her life just as usual, yet never for an instant
during that long winter and spring did she lose consciousness of its
dreadful presence. It was the first thing to face her in the morning,
the last thing from which she turned when, worn out with perplexity, she
fell asleep at night. During the day the children took her thoughts away
from it for hours, but never once, not even while she heard Harry's
lessons or tied the pink or the blue bows in Lucy's and Jenny's curls,
did she ever really forget it. Since the failure of Oliver's play, which
had seemed to her such a little thing in itself, something had gone out
of their marriage, and this something was the perfect understanding
which had existed between them. There were times when her sympathy
appeared to her almost to infuriate him. Even her efforts towards
economy--for since their return from New York she had put Marthy into
the kitchen and had taken entire charge of the children--irritated
rather than pleased him. And the more she irritated him, the more she
sought zealously, by innumerable small attentions, to please and to
pacify him. Instead of leaving him in the solitude which he sought, and
which might have restored him to his normal balance of mind, she became
possessed, whenever he shut himself in his study or went alone for a
walk, with a frenzied dread lest he should permit himself to "brood"
over the financial difficulties in which the wreck of his ambition had
placed them. She, who feared loneliness as if it were the smallpox,
devised a thousand innocent deceptions by which she might break in upon
him when he sat in his study and discover whether he was actually
reading the papers or merely pretending to do so. In her natural
simplicity, it never occurred to her to penetrate beneath the surface
disturbances of his mood. These engrossed her so completely that the
cause of them was almost forgotten. Dimly she realized that this
strange, almost physical soreness, which made him shrink from her
presence as a man with weak eyes shrinks from the light, was the outward
sign of a secret violence in his soul, yet she ministered helplessly to
each passing explosion of temper as if it were the cause instead of the
result of his suffering. Introspection, which had lain under a moral ban
in a society that assumed the existence of an unholy alliance between
the secret and the evil, could not help her because she had never
indulged in it. Partly because of the ingenuous candour of the Pendleton
nature, and partly owing to the mildness of a climate which made it more
comfortable for Dinwiddians to live for six months of the year on their
front porches and with their windows open, she shared the ingrained
Southern distrust of any state of mind which could not cheerfully
support the observation of the neighbours. She knew that he had turned
from his work with disgust, and if he wasn't working and wasn't reading,
what on earth could he be doing alone unless he had, as she imagined in
desperation, begun wilfully to "nurse his despondency?" Even the rector
couldn't help her here--for his knowledge of character was strictly
limited to the types of the soldier and the churchman, and his
son-in-law did not belong, he admitted, in either of these familiar
classifications. At the bottom of his soul the good man had always
entertained for Oliver something of the kindly contempt with which his
generation regarded a healthy male, who, it suspected, would decline
either to preach a sermon or to kill a man in the cause of morality. But
on one line of treatment father and daughter were passionately
agreed--whatever happened, it was not good that Oliver should be left by
himself for a minute. When he was in the bank, of course, where Cyrus
had found him a place as a clerk on an insignificant salary, it might be
safely assumed that he was cheered by the unfailing company of his
fellow-workers; but when he came home, the responsibility of his
distraction and his cure rested upon Virginia and the children. And
since her opinion of her own power to entertain was modest, she fell
back with a sublime confidence on the unrivalled brilliancy and the
infinite variety of the children's prattle. During the spring, as he
grew more and more indifferent and depressed, she arranged that the
children should be with him every instant while he was in the house. She
brought Jenny's high chair to the table in order that the adorable
infant might breakfast with her father; she kept Harry up an hour later
at night so that he might add the gaiety of his innocent mirth to their
otherwise long and silent evenings. Though she would have given anything
to drop into bed as soon as the babies were undressed, she forced
herself to sit up without yawning until Oliver turned out the lights,
bolted the door, and remarked irritably that she ought to have been
asleep hours ago.

"You aren't used to sitting up so late, Virginia; it makes you dark
under the eyes," he said one June night as he came in from the porch
where he had been to look up at the stars.

"But I can't go to bed until you do, darling. I get so worried about
you," she answered.

"Why in heaven's name, should you worry about me? I am all right," he
responded crossly.

She saw her mistake, and with her unvarying sweetness, set out to
rectify it.

"Of course, I know you are--but we have so little time together that I
don't want to miss the evenings."

"So little!" he echoed, not unkindly, but in simple astonishment.

"I mean the children sit up late now, and of course we can't talk while
they are playing in the room."

"Don't you think you might get them to bed earlier? They are becoming
rather a nuisance, aren't they?"

He said it kindly enough, yet tears rushed to her eyes as she looked at
him. It was impossible for her to conceive of any mood in which the
children would become "rather a nuisance" to her, and the words hurt her
more than he was ever to know. It seemed the last straw that she could
not bear, said her heart as she turned away from him. She had borne the
extra work without a complaint; she had pinched and scraped, if not
happily, at least with a smile; she had sat up while her limbs ached
with fatigue and the longing to be in bed--and all these things were as
nothing to the tragic confession that the children had become "rather a
nuisance." Of the many trials she had had to endure, this, she told
herself, was the bitterest.

Though her feet burned and her muscles throbbed with fatigue, she lay
awake for hours, with her eyes wide open in the moonlight. All the small
harassing duties of the morrow, which usually swarmed like startled bees
through her brain at night, were scattered now by this vague terror
which assumed no definite shape. The delicacy of Lucy's chest, Harry's
stubborn refusal to learn to spell, and even the harrowing certainty
that the children's appetites were fast outstripping the frugal fare she
provided--these stinging worries had flown before a new anxiety which
was the more poignant, she felt, because she could not give it a name.
The Pendleton idealism was powerless to dispel this malign shadow which
corresponded so closely to that substance of evil whose very existence
the Pendleton idealism eternally denied. To battle with a delusion was
virtually to admit one's belief in its actuality, and this, she
reflected passionately, lying awake there in the darkness, was the last
thing she was prepared at the moment to do. Oliver was changed, and yet
her duty was plainly to fortify herself with the consoling assurance
that, whatever happened, Oliver could never really change. Deep down in
her that essential fibre of her being which was her soul--which drew its
vitality from the racial structure of which it was a part, and yet which
distinguished and separated her from every other person and object in
the universe--this essential fibre was compacted of innumerable
Pendleton refusals to face the reality. Even with Lucy's chest and
Harry's lessons and the cost of food, she had always felt a soothing
conviction that by thinking hard enough about them she could make them
every one come out right in the morning. As a normal human being in a
world which was not planned on altruistic principles, it was out of the
question that she should entirely escape an occasional hour of
despondency; but with the narrow outlook of women who lead intense
personal lives, it would have been impossible for her to see anything
really wrong in the universe while Oliver and all the children were
well. God was in His heaven as long as the affairs of her household
worked together for good. "It can't be that he is different--I must have
imagined it," she thought now, breathing softly lest she should disturb
the sleeping Oliver. "It is natural that he should be worried about his
debts, and the failure of the play went very hard with him, of
course--but if he appears at times to have grown bitter, it must be only
that I have come to exact too much of him. I oughtn't to expect him to
take the same interest in the children that I do----"

Then, rising softly on her elbow, she smoothed the sheet over Jenny's
dimpled little body, and bent her ear downward to make sure that the
child was breathing naturally in her sleep. In spite of her depression
that rosy face framed in hair like spun yellow silk, aroused in her a
feeling of ecstasy. Whenever she looked at one of her children--at her
youngest child especially--her maternal passion seemed to turn to flame
in her blood. Even first love had not been so exquisitely satisfying, so
interwoven of all imaginable secret meanings of bliss. Jenny's thumb was
in her mouth, and removing it gently, Virginia bent lower and laid her
hot cheek on the soft shining curls. Some vital power, an emanation
from that single principle of Love which ruled her life, passed from the
breath of the sleeping child into her body. Peace descended upon her,
swift and merciful like sleep, and turning on her side, she lay with her
hand on Jenny's crib, as though in clinging to her child she clung to
all that was most worth while in the universe.

The next night Oliver telephoned from the Treadwells' that he would not
be home to supper, and when he came in at eleven o'clock, he appeared
annoyed to find her sitting up for him.

"You ought to have gone to bed, Virginia. You look positively haggard,"
he said.

"I wasn't sleepy. Mother came in for a few minutes, and we put the
children to bed. Jenny wanted to say good-night to you, and she cried
when I told her you had gone out. I believe she loves you better than
she does anybody in the world, Oliver."

He smiled with something of the casual brilliancy which had first
captivated her imagination. In spite of the melancholy which had clouded
his charm of late, he had lost neither his glow of physical well-being
nor the look of abounding intellectual energy which distinguished him
from all other men whom she knew. It was this intellectual energy, she
sometimes thought, which purified his character of that vein of
earthiness which she had looked upon as the natural, and therefore the
pardonable, attribute of masculine human nature.

"If she keeps her looks, she'll leave her mother behind some day," he
answered. "You need a new dress, Jinny. I hate that old waist and skirt.
Why don't you wear the swishy blue silk I always liked on you?"

"I made it over for Lucy, dear. She had to have a dress to wear to Lily
Carrington's birthday party, and I didn't want to buy one. It looks ever
so nice on her."

"Doubtless, but I like it better on you."

"It doesn't matter what I wear, but Lucy is so fond of pretty things,
and children dress more now than they used to do. What did Susan have to
say?"

He had turned to bolt the front door, and while his back was towards
her, she raised her hand to smother a yawn. All day she had been on her
feet, except for the two hours when she had worked at her
sewing-machine, while Harry and Jenny were taking their morning nap. She
had not had time to change her dress until after supper, and she had
felt so tired then that it had not seemed worth while to do so. There
was, in fact, nothing to change to, since she had made over the blue
silk, except an old black organdie, cut square in the neck, which she
had worn in the months before Jenny's birth. As a girl she had loved
pretty clothes; but there were so many other things to think about now,
and from the day that her first child had come to her it had seemed to
matter less and less what she wore or how she appeared. Nothing had
really counted in life except the supreme privilege of giving herself,
body and soul, in the service of love. All that she was--all that she
had--belonged to Oliver and to his children, so what difference could it
make to them, since she gave herself so completely, whether she wore new
clothes or old?

When he turned to her, she had smothered the yawn, and was smiling. "Is
Aunt Belinda just the same?" she asked, for he had not answered her
question about Susan.

"To tell the truth, I forgot to ask," he replied, with a laugh. "Susan
seemed very cheerful, and John Henry was there, of course. It wouldn't
surprise me to hear any day that they are to be married. By the way,
Virginia, why did you never tell me what a good rider you are? Abby
Goode says you would have been a better horsewoman than she is if you
hadn't given up riding."

"Why, I haven't been in the saddle for years. I stopped when we had to
sell my horse Bess, and that was before you came back to Dinwiddie. How
did Abby happen to be there?"

"She stopped to see Susan about something, and then we got to
talking--the bunch of us. John Henry asked me to exercise his horse for
him when he doesn't go. I rather hope I'll get a chance to go
fox-hunting in the autumn. Abby was talking about it."

"Has she changed much? I haven't seen her for years. She is hardly ever
in Dinwiddie."

"Well, she's fatter, but it's becoming to her. It makes her look softer.
She's a bit coarse, but she tells a capital story. I always liked Abby."

"Yes, I always liked Abby, too," answered Virginia, and it was on the
tip of her tongue to add that Abby had always liked Oliver. "If he
hadn't seen me, perhaps he might have married her," she thought, and the
remote possibility of such bliss for poor defrauded Abby filled her with
an incredible tenderness. She would never have believed that bouncing,
boisterous Abby Goode could have aroused in her so poignant a sympathy.

He appeared so much more cheerful than she had seen him since his
disastrous trip to New York, that, moved by an unselfish impulse of
gratitude towards the cause of it, she put out her hand to him, while he
raised his arm to extinguish the light.

"I am so glad about the horse, dear," she said. "It will be nice for you
to go sometimes with Abby."

"Why couldn't you come too, Jinny?"

"Oh, I shouldn't have time--and, besides, I gave it up long ago. I don't
think a mother has any business on horseback."

"All the same I wish you wouldn't let yourself go to pieces. What have
you done to your hands? They used to be so pretty."

She drew them hastily away, while the tears rose in a mist to her eyes.
It was like a man--it was especially like Oliver--to imagine that she
could clean up half a house and take charge of three children, yet keep
her hands as white and soft as they had been when she was a girl and did
nothing except wait for a lover. In a flash of memory, she saw the
reddened and knotted hands of her mother, and then a procession of hands
belonging to all the mothers of her race that had gone before her. Were
her own but a single pair in that chain of pathetic hands that had
worked in the exacting service of Love?

"It is so hard to keep them nice," she said; but her heart cried, "What
do my hands matter when it is for your sake that I have spoiled them?"
With her natural tendency to undervalue the physical pleasures of life,
she had looked upon her beauty as a passing bloom which would attract
her lover to the veiled wonders of her spirit. Fleshly beauty as an end
in itself would have appeared to her as immoral a cult as the wilful
pursuit of a wandering desire in the male.

"I never noticed until to-night what pretty hands Abby has," he said,
innocently enough, as he turned off the gas.

A strange sensation--something which was so different from anything she
had ever felt before that she could not give it a name--pierced her
heart like an arrow. Then it fled as suddenly as it had come, and left
her at ease with the thought: "Abby has had nothing to hurt her hands.
Why shouldn't they be pretty?" But not for Abby's hands would she have
given up a single hour when she had washed Jenny's little flannels or
dug enchanted garden beds with Harry's miniature trowel.

"She used to have a beautiful figure," she said with perfect sincerity.

"Well, she's got it still, though she's a trifle too large for my taste.
You can't help liking her--she's such jolly good company, but, somehow,
she doesn't seem womanly. She's too fond of sport and all that sort of
thing."

His ideal woman still corresponded to the type which he had chosen for
his mate; for true womanliness was inseparably associated in his mind
with those qualities which had awakened for generations the impulse of
sexual selection in the men of his race. Though he enjoyed Abby, he
refused stubbornly to admire her, since evolution, which moves rapidly
in the development of the social activities, had left his imagination
still sacredly cherishing the convention of the jungle in the matter of
sex. He saw woman as dependent upon man for the very integrity of her
being, and beyond the divine fact of this dependency, he did not see her
at all. But there was nothing sardonic in his point of view, which had
become considerably strengthened by his marriage to Virginia, who shared
it. It was one of those mental attitudes, indeed, which, in the days of
loose thinking and of hazy generalizations, might have proved its divine
descent by its universality. Oliver, his Uncle Cyrus, the rector, and
honest John Henry, however they may have differed in their views of the
universe or of each other, were one at least in accepting the historical
dogma of the supplementary being of woman.

And yet, so strange is life, so inexplicable are its contradictions,
there were times when Oliver's ideal appeared almost to betray him, and
the intellectual limitations of Virginia bored rather than delighted
him. Habit, which is a sedative to a phlegmatic nature, acts not
infrequently as a positive irritant upon the temperament of the artist;
and since he had turned from his work in a passion of disgust at the
dramatic obtuseness of his generation, he had felt more than ever the
need of some intellectual outlet for the torrent of his imagination. As
a wife, Virginia was perfect; as a mental companion, she barely existed
at all. She was, he had come to recognize, profoundly indifferent to the
actual world. Her universe was a fiction except the part of it that
concerned him or the children. He had never forgotten that he had read
his play to her one night shortly after Jenny's birth, and she had
leaned forward with her chin on her palm and a look in her face as if
she were listening for a cry which never came from the nursery. Her
praise had had the sound of being recited by rote, and had aroused in
him a sense of exasperation which returned even now whenever she
mentioned his work. In the days of his courtship the memory of her
simplicities clung like an exquisite bouquet to the intoxicating image
of her; but in eight years of daily intimacy the flavour and the
perfume of mere innocence had evaporated. The quality which had first
charmed him was, perhaps, the first of which he had grown weary. He
still loved Virginia, but he had ceased to talk to her. "If you go into
the refrigerator, Oliver, don't upset Jenny's bottle of milk," she said,
looking after him as he turned towards the dining-room.

Her foot was already on the bottom step of the staircase, for she had
heard, or imagined that she had heard, a sound from the nursery, and she
was impatient to see if one of the children had awakened and got out of
bed. All the evening, while she had changed the skin-tight sleeves of
the eighties to the balloon ones of the nineties in an old waist which
she had had before her marriage and had never worn because it was
unbecoming, her thoughts had been of Harry, whom she had punished for
some act of flagrant rebellion during the afternoon. Now she was eager
to comfort him if he was awake and unhappy, or merely to cuddle and kiss
him if he was fast asleep in his bed.

At the top of the staircase she saw the lowered lamp in the nursery, and
beside it stood Harry in his little nightgown, with a toy ship in his
arms.

"Mamma, I'm tired of bed and I want to play."

"S--sush, darling, you will wake Jenny. It isn't day yet. You must go
back to bed."

"But I'm tired of bed."

"You won't be after I tuck you in."

"Will you sit by me and tell me a story?"

"Yes, darling, I'll tell you a story if you'll promise not to talk."

Her eyes were heavy with sleep, and her limbs trembled from the
exhaustion of the long June day; but she remembered the punishment of
the afternoon, and as she looked at him her heart seemed melting with
tenderness.

"And you'll promise not to go away until I'm fast asleep?--you'll
promise, mamma?"

"I'll promise, precious. No, you mustn't take your ship to bed with you.
That's a darling."

Then, as Oliver was heard coming softly up the stairs for fear of
arousing the children, she caught Harry's moist hand in hers and stole
with him into the nursery.

To Virginia in the long torrid days of that summer there seemed time for
neither anxiety nor disappointment. Every minute of her eighteen waking
hours was spent in keeping the children washed, dressed, and
good-humoured. She thought of herself so little that it never occurred
to her to reflect whether she was happy or unhappy--hardly, even,
whether she was awake or asleep. Twice a week John Henry's horse carried
Oliver for a ride with Abby and Susan, and on these evenings he stayed
so late that Virginia ceased presently even to make a pretence of
waiting supper. Several times, on September afternoons, when the country
burned with an illusive radiance as if it were seen through a mirage,
she put on her old riding-habit, which she had hunted up in the attic at
the rectory, and mounting one of Abby's horses, started to accompany
them; but her conscience reproached her so bitterly at the thought that
she was seeking pleasure away from the children, that she hurried
homeward across the fields before the others were ready to turn. As with
most women who are born for motherhood, that supreme fact had not only
absorbed the emotional energy of her girlhood, but had consumed in its
ecstatic flame even her ordinary capacities for enjoyment. While
fatherhood left Oliver still a prey to dreams and disappointments, the
more exclusive maternal passion rendered Virginia profoundly indifferent
to every aspect of life except the intimate personal aspect of her
marriage. She couldn't be happy--she couldn't even be at ease--while she
remembered that the children were left to the honest, yet hardly tender,
mercies of Marthy.

"I shall never go again," she thought, as she slipped from her saddle at
the gate, and, catching up her long riding-skirt, ran up the short walk
to the steps. "I must be getting old. Something has gone out of me."

And there was no regret in her heart for this _something_ which had fled
out of her life, for the flashing desires and the old breathless
pleasures of youth which she had lost. For a month this passive joy
lasted--the joy of one whose days are full and whose every activity is
in useful service. Then there came an October afternoon which she never
forgot because it burned across her life like a prairie fire and left a
scarred track of memory behind it. It had been a windless day, filled
with glittering blue lights that darted like birds down the long
ash-coloured roads, and spun with a golden web of air which made the
fields and trees appear as thin and as unsubstantial as dreams. The
children were with Marthy in the park, and Virginia, attired in the old
waist with the new sleeves, was leaning on the front gate watching the
slow fall of the leaves from the gnarled mulberry tree at the corner,
when Mrs. Pendleton appeared on the opposite side of the street and
crossed the cobblestones of the road with her black alpaca skirt
trailing behind her.

"I wonder why in the world mother doesn't hold up her skirt?" thought
Virginia, swinging back the little wooden gate while she waited.
"Mother, you are letting your train get all covered with dust!" she
called, as soon as Mrs. Pendleton came near enough to catch her
half-whispered warning.

Reaching down indifferently, the older woman caught up a handful of her
skirt and left the rest to follow ignominiously in the dust. From the
carelessness of the gesture, Virginia saw at once that her mother's mind
was occupied by one of those rare states of excitement or of distress
when even the preservation of her clothes had sunk to a matter of
secondary importance. When the small economies were banished from Mrs.
Pendleton's consciousness, matters had assumed indeed a serious aspect.

"Why, mother, what on earth has happened?" asked Virginia, hurrying
toward her.

"Let me come in and speak to you, Jinny. I mean inside the house. One
can never be sure that some of the neighbours aren't listening," she
said in a whisper.

Hurrying past her daughter, she went into the hall, and, then turning,
faced her with her hand on the door-knob. In the dim light of the hall
her face showed white and drawn, like the face of a person who has been
suddenly stricken with illness. "Jinny, I've just had a visit from Mrs.
Carrington--you know what a gossip she is--but I think I ought to tell
you that she says people are talking about Oliver's riding so much with
Abby."

A pain as sharp as if the teeth of a beast had fastened in her heart,
pierced Virginia while she stood there, barring the door with her hands.
Her peace, which had seemed indestructible a moment ago, was shattered
by a sensation of violent anger--not against Abby, not against Oliver,
not even against the gossiping old women of Dinwiddie--but against her
own blindness, her own inconceivable folly! At the moment the
civilization of centuries was stripped from her, and she was as simple
and as primitive as a female of the jungle. On the surface she was still
calm, but to her own soul she felt that she presented the appalling
spectacle of a normal woman turned fury. It was one of those instants
that are so unexpected, so entirely unnatural and out of harmony with
the rest of life, that they obliterate the boundaries of character which
separate the life of the individual from the ancient root of the race.
Not Virginia, but the primeval woman in her blood, shrieked out in
protest as she saw her hold on her mate threatened. The destruction of
the universe, as long as it left her house standing in its bit of
ground, would have overwhelmed her less utterly.

"But what on earth can they say, mother? It was all my fault. I made him
go. He never lifted his finger for Abby."

"I know, darling, I know. Of course, Oliver is not to blame, but people
will talk, and I think Abby ought to have known better."

For an instant only Virginia hesitated. Then something stronger than the
primitive female in her blood--the spirit of a lady--spoke through her
lips.

"I don't believe Abby was to blame, either," she said.

"But women ought to know better, Jinny, and Abby is nearly thirty."

"She always wanted me to go, mother. I don't believe she thought for a
minute that she was doing anything wrong. Abby is a little coarse, but
she's perfectly good. Nobody will make me think otherwise."

"Well, it can't go on, dear. You must stop Oliver's riding with her. And
Mrs. Carrington says she hears that he is going to Atlantic City with
them in General Goode's private car on Thursday."

"Abby asked me, too, but of course I couldn't leave the children."

"Of course not. Oliver must give it up, too. Oh, Jinny, a scandal, even
where one is innocent, is so terrible. A woman--a true woman--would
endure death rather than be talked about. I remember your cousin Jane
Pendleton made an unhappy marriage, and her husband used to get drunk
and beat her and even carry on dreadfully with the coloured
servants--but she said that was better than the disgrace of a
separation."

"But all that has nothing to do with me, mother. Oliver is an angel, and
this is every bit my fault, not Abby's." The violence in her soul had
passed, and she felt suddenly calm.

"Of course, darling, of course. Now that you see what it has led to, you
can stop it immediately."

They were so alike as they stood there facing each other, mother and
daughter, that they might have represented different periods of the same
life--youth and age meeting together. Both were perfect products of that
social order whose crowning grace and glory they were. Both were
creatures trained to feel rather than think, whose very goodness was the
result not of reason, but of emotion. And, above all, both were
gentlewomen to the innermost cores of their natures. Passion could not
banish for long that exquisite forbearance which generations had
developed from a necessity into an art.

"I can't stop his going with her, because that would make people think I
believed the things they say--but I can go, too, mother, and I will.
I'll borrow Susan's horse and go fox-hunting with them to-morrow."

Once again, as on the afternoon when she had heard of Oliver's illness
in New York, Mrs. Pendleton realized that her daughter's strength was
more than a match for hers when the question related to Oliver.

"But the children, dear--and then, oh, Jinny, you might get hurt."

To her surprise Jinny laughed.

"I shan't get hurt, mother--and if I did----"

She left her sentence unfinished, but in the break there was the first
note of bitterness that her mother had ever heard from her lips. Was it
possible, after all, that there was "more in it" than she had let appear
in her words? Was it possible that her passionate defence of Abby had
been but a beautiful pretence?

"I'll go straight down to the Treadwells' to ask Susan for her horse,"
she added cheerfully, "and you'll come over very early, won't you, to
stay with the children? Oliver always starts before daybreak."

"Yes, darling, I'll get up at dawn and come over--but, Jinny, promise me
to be careful."

"Oh, I'll be careful," responded Virginia lightly, as she went out on
the porch.



CHAPTER VII

THE WILL TO LIVE


"It's all horrid talk. There's not a word of truth in it," she thought,
true to the Pendleton point of view, as she turned into Old Street on
her way to the Treadwells'. Then the sound of horses' hoofs rang on the
cobblestones, and, looking past the corner, she saw Oliver and Abby
galloping under the wine-coloured leaves of the oak tree at the
crossing. His face was turned back, as if he were looking over his
shoulder at the red sunset, and he was laughing as she had not heard him
laugh since that dreadful morning in the bedroom of the New York hotel.
What a boy he was still! As she watched him, it seemed to her that she
was old enough to be his mother, and the soreness in her heart changed
into an exquisite impulse of tenderness. Then he looked from the sunset
to Abby, and at the glance of innocent pleasure that passed between them
a stab of jealousy entered her heart like a blade. Before it faded, they
had passed the corner, and were cantering wildly up Old Street in the
direction of Abby's home.

"It is my fault. I am too settled. I am letting my youth go," she said,
with a passionate determination to catch her girlhood and hold it fast
before it eluded her forever. "I am only twenty-eight and I dress like a
woman of forty." And it seemed to her that the one desirable thing in
life was this fleet-winged spirit of youth, which passed like a breath,
leaving existence robbed of all romance and beauty. An hour before she
had not cared, and she would not care now if only Oliver could grow
middle-aged and old at the moment when she did. Ah, there was the
tragedy! All life was for men, and only a few radiant years of it were
given to women. Men were never too old to love, to pursue and capture
whatever joy the fugitive instant might hold for them. But women, though
they were allowed only one experience out of the whole of life, were
asked to resign even that one at the very minute when they needed it
most. "I wonder what will become of me when the children grow big enough
to be away all the time as Oliver is," she thought wistfully. "I wish
one never grew too old to have babies."

The front door of the Treadwell house stood open, and in the hall Susan
was arranging golden-rod and life-ever-lasting in a blue china bowl.

"Of course, you may have Belle to-morrow," she said in answer to
Virginia's faltering request. "Even if I intended going, I'd be only too
glad to lend her to you--but I can't leave mother anyway. She always
gets restless if I stay out over an hour."

Mrs. Treadwell's illness had become one of those painful facts which
people accept as naturally as they accept the theological dogma of
damnation. It was terrible, when they thought of it, but they seldom
thought of it, thereby securing tranquillity of mind in the face of both
facts and dogmas. Even Virginia had ceased to make her first question
when she met Susan, "How is your mother?"

"But, Susan, you need the exercise. I thought that was why the doctor
made Uncle Cyrus get you a horse."

"It was, but I only go for an hour in the afternoon. I begrudge every
minute I spend away from mother. Oh, Jinny, she is so pathetic! It
almost breaks my heart to watch her."

"I know, dearest," said Virginia; but at the back of her brain she was
thinking, "They looked so happy together, yet he could never really
admire Abby. She isn't at all the kind of woman he likes."

So preoccupied was she by this problem of her own creation, that her
voice had a strangely far off sound, as though it came from a distance.
"I wish I could help you, dear Susan. If you ever want me, day or night,
you know you have only to send for me. I'd let nothing except desperate
illness stand in the way of my coming."

It was true, and because she knew that it was true, Susan stooped
suddenly and kissed her.

"You are looking tired, Jinny. What is the matter?"

"Nothing except that I'm a sight in this old waist. I made it over to
save buying one, but I wish now I hadn't. It makes me look so settled."

"You need some clothes, and you used to be so fond of them."

"That was before the children came. I've never cared much since. It's
just as if life were a completed circle, somehow. There's nothing more
to expect or to wait for--you'll understand what I mean some day,
Susan."

"I think I do now. But only women are like that? Men are different----"

It was the classic phrase again, but on Susan's lips it sounded with a
new significance.

"And some women are different, too," replied Virginia. "Now there's Abby
Goode--Susan, what do you honestly think of Abby?"

There was a wistful note in the question, and around her gentle blue
eyes appeared a group of little lines, brought out by the nervous
contraction of her forehead. Was it the wan, smoky light of the
dusk?--Susan wondered, or was Virginia really beginning to break so
soon?

"Why, I like Abby. I always did," she answered, trying to look as if she
did not understand what Virginia had meant. "She's a little bit what
John Henry calls 'loud,' but she has a good heart and would do anybody a
kindness."

She had evaded answering, just as Virginia had evaded asking, the
question which both knew had passed unuttered between them--was Abby to
be trusted to keep inviolate the ancient unwritten pledge of honourable
womanhood? Her character was being tested by the single decisive virtue
exacted of her sex.

"I am glad you feel that way," said Virginia in a relieved manner after
a minute, "because I should hate not to believe in Abby, and some people
don't understand her manner--mother among them."

"Oh, she's all right. I'm sure of it," answered Susan, with heartiness.

The wistful sound had passed out of Virginia's voice, while the little
lines faded as suddenly from the corners of her eyes. She looked better
already--only she really ought not to wear such dowdy clothes, even
though she was happily married, reflected Susan, as she watched her, a
few minutes later, pass over the mulberry leaves, which lay, thick and
still, on the sidewalk.

At the corner of Sycamore Street a shopkeeper was putting away his goods
for the night, and in the window Virginia saw a length of hyacinth-blue
silk, matching her eyes, which she had remotely coveted for weeks--never
expecting to possess it, yet never quite reconciling herself to the
thought that it might be worn by some other woman. That length of silk
had grown gradually to symbolize the last glimmer of girlish vanity
which motherhood had not extinguished in her heart; and while she looked
at it now, in her new recklessness of mood, a temptation, born of the
perversity which rules human fate, came to her to go in and buy it while
she was still desperate enough to act foolishly and not be afraid. For
the first time in her life that immemorial spirit of adventure which
lies buried under the dead leaves of civilization at the bottom of every
human heart--with whose re-arisen ghost men have moved mountains and
ploughed jungles and charted illimitable seas--this imperishable spirit
stirred restlessly in its grave and prompted her for once to be
uncalculating and to risk the future. In the flickering motive which
guided her as she entered the shop, one would hardly have recognized the
lusty impulse which had sent her ancestors on splendid rambles of
knight-errantry, yet its hidden source was the same. The simple purchase
of twelve yards of blue silk which she had wanted for weeks! To an
outsider it would have appeared a small matter, yet in the act there was
the intrepid struggle of a personal will to enforce its desire upon
destiny. She would win back the romance and the beauty of living at the
cost of prudence, at the cost of practical comforts, at the cost, if
need be, of those ideals of womanly duty to which the centuries had
trained her! For eight years she had hardly thought of herself, for
eight years she had worked and saved and planned and worried, for eight
years she had given her life utterly and entirely to Oliver and the
children--and the result was that he was happier with Abby--with Abby
whom he didn't even admire--than he was with the wife whom he both
respected and loved! The riddle not only puzzled, it enraged her. Though
she was too simple to seek a psychological answer, the very fact that it
existed became an immediate power in her life. She forgot the lateness
of the evening, she forgot the children who were anxiously watching for
her return. The forces of character, which she had always regarded as
divinely fixed and established, melted and became suddenly fluid. She
wasn't what she had been the minute before--she wasn't even, she began
dimly to realize, what she would probably be the minute afterwards. Yet
the impulse which governed her now was as despotic as if it had reigned
in undisputed authority since the day of her birth. She knew that it was
a rebel against the disciplined and moderate rule of her conscience, but
this knowledge, which would have horrified her had she been in a normal
mood, aroused in her now merely a breathless satisfaction at the
spectacle of her own audacity. The natural Virginia had triumphed for an
instant over the Virginia whom the ages had bred.

At home she found Oliver waiting for supper, and the three children in
tears for fear she should decide to stay out forever.

"Oh, mother, we thought you'd gone away never to come back," sobbed
Lucy, throwing herself into her arms, "and what would little Jenny have
done?"

"Where in the world have you been, Virginia?" asked Oliver, a trifle
impatiently, for he was not used to having her absent from the house at
meal hours. "I was afraid somebody had been taken ill at the rectory, so
I went around to inquire."

"No, nobody was ill," answered Virginia quietly. Though her resolution
made her tremble all over, it did not occur to her for an instant that
even now she might recede from it. As the rector had gone to the war, so
she was going now to battle with Abby. She was afraid, but that quality
which had made the Pendletons despise fear since the beginning of
Dinwiddie's history, which they had helped to make, enabled her to
control her quivering muscles and to laugh at the reproachful protests
with which the children surrounded her. Through her mind there shot the
thought: "I have a secret from Oliver," and she felt suddenly guilty
because for the first time since her marriage she was keeping something
back from him. Then, following this, there came the knowledge, piercing
her heart, that she must keep her secret because even if she told him,
he would not understand. With the casualness of a man's point of view
towards an emotion, he would judge its importance, she felt, chiefly by
the power it possessed of disturbing the course of his life.
Unobservant, and ever ready to twist and decorate facts as she was, it
had still been impossible for her to escape the truth that men are by
nature incapable of a woman's characteristic passion for nursing
sentiment. To struggle to keep a feeling alive for no better reason than
that it was a feeling, would appear as wastefully extravagant to Oliver
as to the unimaginative majority of his sex. Such pure, sublime,
uncalculating folly belonged to woman alone!

When, at last, supper was over and the children were safely in bed, she
came downstairs to Oliver, who was smoking a cigar over a newspaper, and
asked carelessly:

"At what time do you start in the morning?"

"I'd like to be up by five," he replied, without lowering his paper.
"We're to meet the hounds at Croswell's store at a quarter of six, so
I'll have to get off by five at the latest. I wanted my horse fresh for
to-morrow, that's why I only went a mile or two this afternoon," he
added.

"Susan's to lend me Belle. I'm going with you," she said, after a pause
in which he had begun to read his paper again. This habit of treating
her as if she were not present when he wanted to read or to work, was,
she remembered, one of the things she had insisted upon in the beginning
of her marriage.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, and the paper dropped from his hands. "I'm
jolly glad, but what will you do about the children?"

"Mother is coming to look after them. I'll be back in time to hear
Harry's lessons, I suppose."

"Why, of course; but, look here, you'll be awfully sore. You haven't
ridden after the hounds since I knew you. You might even get a fall."

"I used to go, though, a great deal--and it won't hurt me to be stiff
for a few days. Besides, I want to take up hunting again."

Her motive was beyond him--perhaps because of her nearness, which
prevented his getting the proper perspective of vision. For all his
keenness of insight, he failed utterly to see into the mysterious mind
of his wife. He could not penetrate that subtle interplay of traditional
virtues and discover that she was in the clutch of one of the oldest and
most savage of the passions.

"Then you'd better go to bed early and get some sleep," he said. "I
suppose we'll have a cup of coffee before starting."

"I'll make it on the oil stove while I am dressing. Marthy won't be up
then."

"Well, I'll come upstairs in ten minutes," he replied, taking up his
paper again. "I only want to finish this article."

In the morning when she opened the old green shutters and looked out of
the window, the horses, having been saddled by candlelight, were
standing under the mulberry tree at the gate. Eight years ago, in her
girlhood, she would have awakened in a delicious excitement on the
morning of a fox-hunt, and have dressed as eagerly as if she were going
to a ball; but to-day, while she lit the oil-stove in the hall room and
put on the kettle of water, she was supported not by the hope of
pleasure, but by a dull, an almost indefinable sensation of dread. The
instinct of woman to adjust her personality to the changing ideals of
the man she loves--this instinct older than civilization, rooted in
tragedy, and existing by right of an unconquerable necessity--rose
superior at the moment to that more stable maternal passion with which
it has conflicted since the beginning of motherhood. While she put on
her riding-habit and tied up the plait of her hair, the one thought in
Virginia's mind was that she must be, at all costs, the kind of woman
that Oliver wanted.

A little later, when they set out under the mulberry trees, she glanced
at him wistfully, as though she wanted him to praise the way she looked
in the saddle. But his eyes were on the end of the street, where a
little company of riders awaited them, and before she could ask a
question, Abby's high voice was heard exclaiming pleasantly upon her
presence. Not a particularly imposing figure, because of her rather
short legs, when she was on the ground, it was impossible for Virginia
to deny that Abby was amazingly handsome on horseback. Plump, dark, with
a superb bosom, and a colour in her cheeks like autumnal berries, she
had never appeared to better advantage than she did, sitting on her
spirited bay mare under an arch of scarlet leaves which curved over her
head. Turning at their approach, she started at a brisk canter up the
road, and as Virginia followed her, the sound of the horn floated, now
loud, now faint, out of the pale mist that spun fanciful silken webs
over the trees and bushes.

"Remember to look out for the creeks. That's where the danger comes,"
said Oliver, riding close to her, and he added nervously, "Don't try to
keep up with Abby."

Ahead of them stretched a deserted Virginia road, with its look of
brooding loneliness, as if it had waited patiently through the centuries
for a civilization which had never come; and on the right of it, beyond
a waste of scarlet sumach and sassafras and a winding creek screened in
elder bushes, the dawn was breaking slowly under a single golden-edged
cloud. Somebody on Virginia's left--a large, raw-boned, passionate
huntsman, in an old plum-coloured overcoat with a velvet collar--was
complaining loudly that they had started too late and the fox would have
gone to his lair before they reached the main party. Except for an oath,
which he rapped out by way of an emphasis not intended for the ladies,
he might have been conducting a religious revival, so solemnly
energetic, so deeply moved, was his manner. The hunt, which observed
naturally the characteristics of a society that was ardently
individualistic even in its sports, was one of those informal,
"go-as-you-please" affairs in which the supreme joy of killing is not
hampered by tedious regulations or unnecessary restrictions. The chief
thing was to get a run--to start a rare red fox, if luck was good,
because he was supposed to run straight by nature and not to move in
circles after the inconsiderate manner of the commoner grey sort. But
Providence, being inattentive to the needs of hunters in the
neighbourhood of Dinwiddie, had decreed that the red fox should live
there mainly in the vivid annals of old sportsmen.

"A grey fox with red ears. The best run I ever had. Tried to get in the
crotch of a hickory tree at the end. Was so exhausted he couldn't stir a
foot when the hounds got him." While they waited at the crossroads
before a little country store, where the pack of hounds, lean, cringing,
habitually hungry creatures, started from beneath an old field pine on
the right, Virginia heard the broken phrases blown on the wind, which
carried the joyous notes of the horn over the meadows. The casual
cruelty of the words awoke no protest in her mind, because it was a
cruelty to which she was accustomed. If the sport had been unknown in
Dinwiddie, and she had read of it as the peculiar activity of the
inhabitants of the British Islands, she would probably have condemned it
as needlessly brutal and degrading. But with that universal faculty of
the human mind to adjust its morality to fit its inherited physical
habits, she regarded "the rights of the fox" to-day with something of
the humorous scorn of sentimental rubbish with which her gentler
grandmother had once regarded "the rights of the slave." For centuries
the hunt had been one of the cherished customs of Dinwiddians; and
though she could not bear to see a fly caught in a web, it would never
have occurred to her to question the humanity of any sport in which her
ancestors had delighted. In her girlhood the sound of the horn had
called to her blood with all the intoxicating associations it awoke in
the raw-boned, energetic rider in the plum-coloured coat--but to-day
both the horn and the familiar landscape around her had grown strange
and unhomelike. For the first time since her birth she and the country
were out of harmony.

In the midst of the hounds, in the centre of the old field on the right,
the huntsman, who was at the same time master and owner of the dogs,
brandished a long raw-hide whip, flexible from the handle, which was
pleasantly known in Dinwiddie as a "mule-skinner." His face, burned to
the colour of ripe wheat, wore a rapt and exalted look, as though the
chasing of a small animal to its death had called forth his latent
spiritual ardours. Beyond him, like a low, smouldering fire, ran the red
and gold of the abandoned field.

"Please be careful, Virginia," said Oliver again, as they left the road
and cantered in the direction of a clump of pine woods in a hollow
beyond a rotting "snake" fence.

But she had seen his eyes on Abby a minute before, and had heard his
laugh as he answered her. A wave of recklessness broke over her, and she
felt that she despised fear with all her Pendleton blood, which loved a
fight only less passionately than it loved a sermon. Whatever
happened--if she broke her neck--she resolved that she would keep up
with Abby! With the drumming of the blood in her ears, an almost savage
joy awoke in her. Deep down in her, so deep that it was buried beneath
the Virginia Pendleton whom she and her world knew, there stirred
faintly the seeds of that ancient lust of cruelty from which have sprung
the brutal pleasures of men. The part of her--that small secret
part--which was primitive answered to the impulse of jealousy as it did
to the rapturous baying of the hounds out of the red and gold distance.
A branch grazed her cheek; her hat went as she raced down the high banks
of a stream; the thicket of elder tore the ribbon from her head, and
loosened her dark flying hair from its braid. In that desolate country,
in the midst of the October meadows, with the cries of the hounds
rising, like the voice of mortal tragedy, out of the tinted mist on the
marshes, the drama of human passions--which is the only drama for the
world's stage--was played out to an ending: love, jealousy, envy,
desire, desperation, regret--

But when the hunt was over, and she rode home, with a bedraggled brush,
which had once been grey, tied to her bridle, all the gorgeous pageantry
of the autumnal landscape seemed suddenly asking her: "What is the use?"
Her mood had altered, and she felt that her victory was as worthless as
the mud-stained fox's brush that swung mockingly back and forth from her
bridle. The excitement of the chase had ebbed away, leaving only the
lifeless satisfaction of the reward. She had neglected her children, she
had risked her life--and all for the sake of wresting a bit of dead fur
out of Abby's grasp. A spirit which was not her spirit, which was so old
that she no longer recognized that it had any part in her, which was yet
so young that it burned in her heart with the unquenchable flame of
youth--this spirit, which was at the same time herself and not herself,
had driven her, as helpless as a fallen leaf, in a chase that she
despised, towards a triumph that was worthless.

"By Jove, you rode superbly, Virginia! I had no idea you could do it,"
said Oliver, as they trotted into Dinwiddie.

She smiled back at him, and her smile was tired, dust-stained,
enigmatical.

"No, you did not know that I could do it," she answered.

"You'll keep it up now, won't you?" he asked pleadingly.

For an instant, looking away from him over the radiant fields, she
pondered the question. The silence which had settled around her was
unbroken by the sound of the horses' hoofs, by the laughter of the
hunters, by the far-off soughing of the pine trees in the forest; and
into this silence, which seemed to cover an eternity, the two
Virginias--the Virginia who desired and the Virginia who had learned
from the ages to stifle her desire--wrestled for the first time
together.

"Virginia!" floated Abby's breezy tones from the street behind her, and
turning, she rode back to the Goodes' gate, where the others were
dismounting. "Virginia, aren't you going to Atlantic City with us
to-morrow?"

Again she hesitated. Almost unconsciously her gaze passed from Abby to
Oliver, and she saw his pride in her in the smile with which he watched
her.

"Yes, I'll go with you," she replied after a minute.

She had, for once in her life, done the thing she wanted to do simply
because she wanted to do it. She had won back what she was losing; she
had fought a fair fight and she had triumphed; yet as she rode down the
street to her gate, there was none of the exultation of victory, none of
the fugitive excitement of pleasure even in her heart. Like other
mortals in other triumphant instants, she was learning that the fruit of
desire may be sweet to the eyes and bitter on the lips. She had
sacrificed duty to pleasure, and suddenly she had discovered that to one
with her heritage of good and evil the two are inseparable.



CHAPTER VIII

THE PANG OF MOTHERHOOD


In the night Harry awoke crying. He had dreamed, he said between his
sobs, when Virginia, slipperless and in her nightdress, bent over him,
that his mother was going away from him forever.

"Only for two nights, darling. Here, lean close against mother. Don't
you know that she wouldn't stay away from her precious boy?"

"But two nights are so long. Aren't two nights almost forever?"

"Why, my lamb, it was just two nights ago that grandma came over and
told you the Bible story about Joseph and his brothers. That was only a
teeny-weeny time ago, wasn't it?"

"But you were here, then mamma. And this morning was almost forever. You
stayed out so long that Lucy said you weren't coming back any more."

"That was naughty of Lucy because she is old enough to know better. Why
do you choke that way? Does your throat hurt you?"

"It hurts because you are going away, mamma."

"But I'm going only to be with papa, precious. Don't you want poor papa
to have somebody with him?"

"He's so big he can go by himself. But suppose the black man should come
in the night while you are away, and I'd get scared and nobody would
hear me."

"Grandma would hear you, Harry, and there isn't any black man that comes
in the night. You must put that idea out of your head, dear. You're
getting too big a boy to be afraid of the dark."

"Four isn't big, is it?"

"You're nearer five than four now, honey. Let me button your nightgown,
and lie down and try to go to sleep while mamma sings to you. Does your
throat really hurt you?"

"It feels as if it had teensy-weensy marbles in it. They came there when
I woke up in the dark and thought that you were going away to-morrow."

"Well, if your throat hurts you, of course mamma won't leave you. Open
your mouth wide now so I can look at it."

She lighted a candle while Harry, kneeling in the middle of his little
bed, followed her with his blue eyes, which looked three times their
usual size because of his flushed cheeks and his mounting excitement.
His throat appeared slightly inflamed when she held the candle close to
it, and after tucking him beneath the bed-clothes, she poured a little
camphorated oil into a cup and heated it on the small alcohol lamp she
kept in the nursery.

"Mamma is going to put a nice bandage on your throat, and then she is
going to lie down beside you and sing you to sleep," she said
cheerfully, as she cut off a strip of flannel from an old petticoat and
prepared to saturate it with the heated oil.

"Will you stay here all night?"

"All night, precious, if you'll be good and go fast asleep while I am
singing."

Holding tightly to her nightdress, Harry cuddled down between the
pillows with a contented sigh. "Then I don't mind about the marbles in
my throat," he said.

"But mamma minds, and she wants to cure them before morning. Now lie
very still while she wraps this good flannel bandage over the sore
places."

"I'll lie very still if you'll hold me, mamma."

Blowing out the candle, she crept into the little bed beside him, and
lay singing softly until his hands released their desperate grasp of her
nightdress, and he slipped quietly off to sleep. Even then, remembering
her promise, she did not go back to her bedroom until daylight.

"I wonder what makes Harry so afraid of the dark?" she asked, when
Oliver awoke and turned questioningly towards her. "He worked himself
really sick last night just from pure nervousness. I had to put
camphorated oil on his throat and chest, and lie beside him until
morning. He is sleeping quietly now, but it simply frightens me to death
when one of them complains of sore throat."

"You've spoiled him, that's what's the matter," replied Oliver, yawning.
"As long as you humour him, he'll never outgrow these night terrors."

"But how can you tell whether the fright makes him sick or sickness
brings on the fright? His throat was really red, there's no doubt about
that, but I couldn't see last night that it was at all ulcerated."

"He gives you more trouble than both the other children put together."

"Well, he's a boy, and boys do give one more trouble. But, then, you
have less patience with him, Oliver."

"That's because he's a boy, and I like boys to show some pluck even when
they are babies. Lucy and Jenny never raise these midnight rows whenever
they awake in the dark."

"They are not nearly so sensitive. You don't understand Harry."

"Perhaps I don't, but I can see that you are ruining him."

"Oh, Oliver! How can you say such a cruel thing to me?"

"I didn't mean to be cruel, Jinny, and you know it, but all the same it
makes me positively sick to see you make a slave of yourself over the
children. Why, you look as if you hadn't slept for a week. You are
positively haggard."

"But I have to be up with Harry when he is ill. How in the world could I
help it?"

"You know he kicks up these rows almost every night, and you humour
every one of his whims as if it were the first one. Don't you ever get
tired?"

"Of course I do, but I can't let my child suffer even if it is only from
fear. You haven't any patience, Oliver. Don't you remember the time when
you used to be afraid of things?"

"I was never afraid of the dark in my life. No sensible child is, if he
is brought up properly."

"Do you mean I am not bringing up my children----" Her tears choked her
and she could not finish the sentence.

"I don't mean anything except that you are making an old woman of
yourself before your time. You've let yourself go until you look ten
years older than----"

He checked himself in time, but she understood without his words that he
had started to say, "ten years older than Abby." Yes, Abby did look
young--amazingly young--but, then, what else had she to think of?

She lay down, but she was trembling so violently that she sat up quickly
again in order to recover her self-possession more easily. It seemed to
her that the furious beating of her heart must make him understand how
he had wounded her. It was the first discussion approaching a quarrel
they had had since their marriage, for she, who was so pliable in all
other matters, had discovered that she could become as hard as iron
where the difference related to Harry.

"You are unjust, Oliver. I think you ought to see it," she said in a
voice which she kept by an effort from breaking.

"I'll never see it, Jinny," and some dogged impulse to hurt her more
made him add, "It's for Harry's sake as well as yours that I'm
speaking."

"For Harry's sake? Oh, you don't mean--you can't really mean that you
think I'm not doing the best for my child, Oliver?"

A year ago Oliver would have surrendered at once before the terror in
her eyes; but in those twelve long months of effort, of hope, of balked
ambition, of bitter questioning, and of tragic disillusionment, a new
quality had developed in his character, and the generous sympathy of
youth had hardened at thirty-four to the cautious cynicism of
middle-age. It is doubtful if even he himself realized how transient
such a state must be to a nature whose hidden springs were moved so
easily by the mere action of change--by the effect of any alteration in
the objects that surrounded him. Because the enthusiasm of youth was
exhausted at the minute, it seemed to him that he had lost it forever.
And to Virginia, who saw but one thing at a time and to whom that one
thing was always the present instant, it seemed that the firm ground
upon which she trod had crumbled beneath her.

"Well, if you want the truth," he said quietly (as if any mother ever
wanted the truth about such a matter), "I think you make a mistake to
spoil Harry as you do."

"But," she brought out the words with a pathetic quiver, "I treat him
just as I do the others, and you never say anything about my spoiling
them."

"Oh, the others are girls. Girls aren't so easily ruined somehow. They
don't get such hard knocks later on, so it makes less difference about
them."

As she sat there in bed, propped up on her elbow, which trembled
violently against the pillows, with her cambric nightdress, trimmed only
with a narrow band of crocheted lace, opened at her slender throat, and
her hair, which was getting thin at the temples, drawn unbecomingly back
from her forehead, she looked, indeed, as Oliver had thought, "at least
ten years older than Abby." Though she was not yet thirty, the delicate,
flower-like bloom of her beauty was already beginning to fade. The
spirit which had animated her yesterday appeared to have gone out of her
now. He thought how lovely she had been at twenty when he saw her for
the first time after his return to Dinwiddie; and a sudden anger seized
him because she was letting herself break, because she was so needlessly
sacrificing her youth and her beauty.

An hour later she got up and dressed herself, with the feeling that she
had not rested a minute during the night. Harry was listless and fretful
when he awoke, and while she put on his clothes, she debated with
herself whether or not she should summon old Doctor Fraser from around
the corner. When his lesson hour came, he climbed into her lap and went
to sleep with his hot little head on her shoulder, and though he seemed
better by evening, she was still so anxious about him that she forgot
that she had promised Abby to go with them to Atlantic City until Oliver
came in at dusk and reminded her.

"Aren't you going, Virginia?" he inquired, as he hunted in the closet
for his bag which she had not had time to pack.

"I can't, Oliver. Harry isn't well. He has been unlike himself all day,
and I am afraid to leave him."

"He looks all right," he remarked, bending over the child in Virginia's
lap. "Does anything hurt you, Harry?"

"He doesn't seem to know exactly what it is," answered Virginia, "but if
he isn't well by morning, I'll send for Doctor Fraser."

"He's got a good colour, and I believe he's as well as he ever was,"
replied Oliver, while a curious note of hostility sounded in his voice.
"There's nothing the matter with the boy," he added more positively
after a minute. "Aren't you coming, Virginia?"

She looked up at him from the big rocking-chair in which she sat with
Harry in her arms, and as she did so, both became conscious that the
issue had broadened from a question of her going to Atlantic City into a
direct conflict of wills. The only thing that could make her oppose him
had happened for the first time since her marriage. The feminine impulse
to yield was overmatched by the maternal impulse to protect. She would
have surrendered her soul to him for the asking; but she could not
surrender, even had she desired to do so, the mother love which had
passed into her from out the ages before she had been, and which would
pass through her into the ages to come after her.

"Of course, if the little chap were really suffering, I'd be as anxious
about staying as you are," said Oliver impatiently; "but there's nothing
the matter. You're all right, aren't you, Harry?"

"Yes, I'm all right," repeated Harry, yawning and snuggling closer to
Virginia, "but I'm sleepy."

"He isn't all right," insisted Virginia obstinately. "There's something
wrong with him. I don't know what it is, but he isn't in the least like
himself."

"It's just your imagination. You've got the children on the brain,
Virginia. Don't you remember the time you woke me in the night and sent
me after Doctor Fraser because Jenny had a bad attack of the hiccoughs?"

"I know," acknowledged Virginia humbly. She could be humble enough, but
what good did that do when she was, as he told himself irritably, "as
stubborn as a mule"? Her softness--she had seemed as soft as flowers
when he married her--had been her greatest charm for him after her
beauty; and now, at the end of eight years in which she had appeared as
delightfully invertebrate as he could have desired, she revealed to his
astonished eyes a backbone that was evidently made of iron. She was
immovable, he admitted, and because she was immovable he was conscious
of a sharp unreasonable impulse to reduce her to the pliant curves of
her girlhood. After eight years of an absolute supremacy, which had been
far from good for him, his will had been tripped up at last by so small
a thing as a mere whim of Virginia's.

"You told Abby you would go," he urged, exasperated rather than soothed
by her humility. "And it's too late now for her to ask any one else."

"I'm so sorry, dear, but I never once thought about it. I've been so
worried all day."

He looked at the child, lying flushed and drowsy in Virginia's arms, and
his face hardened until a latent brutality crept out around his
handsome, but loosely moulded, lips. The truth was that Harry had never
looked healthier than he did at that instant in the firelight, and the
whole affair appeared to Oliver only another instance of what he called
Virginia's "sensational motherhood."

"Can't you see for yourself that he's perfectly well?" he asked.

"I know he looks so, dear, but he isn't."

"Well, here's your mother. Leave it to her. She will agree with me."

"Why, what is it, Jinny?" asked Mrs. Pendleton, laying her bundle on the
couch (for she had come prepared to spend the night), and regarding
Oliver with the indulgent eyes of an older generation.

"Virginia says at the last minute that she won't go with us," said
Oliver, angry, yet caressing as he always was in his manner to his
mother-in-law, to whom he was sincerely devoted. "She's got into her
head that there's something wrong with Harry, but you can tell by
looking at the child that he is perfectly well."

"But I was up with him last night, mother. His throat hurts him," broke
in Virginia in a voice that was full of emotion.

"He certainly looks all right," remarked Mrs. Pendleton, "and I can take
care of him if anything should be wrong." Then she added very gravely,
"If you can't go, of course Oliver must stay at home, too, Virginia."

"I can't," said Oliver; "not just for a whim, anyway. It would break up
the party. Besides, I didn't get a holiday all summer, and I'll blow up
that confounded bank unless I take a change."

In the last quarter of an hour the trip had become of tremendous
importance to him. From a trivial incident which he might have
relinquished a week ago without regret, the excursion with Abby had
attained suddenly the dignity and the power of an event in his life.
Opposition had magnified inclination into desire.

"I don't think it will do for Oliver to go without you, Jinny," said
Mrs. Pendleton, and the gravity of her face showed how carefully she was
weighing her words.

"But I can't go, mother. You don't understand," replied Virginia, while
her lips worked convulsively. No one could understand--not even her
mother. Of the three of them, it is probable that she alone realized the
complete significance of her decision.

"Well, it's too late now, anyway," remarked Oliver shortly. "You
wouldn't have time to dress and catch the train even if you wanted to."

Taking up his bag, he kissed her carelessly, shook hands with Mrs.
Pendleton, and throwing a "Good-bye, General!" to Harry, went out of the
door.

As he vanished, Virginia started up quickly, called "Oliver!" under her
breath, and then sat down again, drawing her child closer in her arms.
Her face had grown grey and stricken like the face of an old woman.
Every atom of her quivered with the longing to run after him, to yield
to his wish, to promise anything he asked of her. Yet she knew that if
he came back, they would only pass again through the old wearing
struggle of wills. She had chosen not as she desired to, but as she
must, and already she was learning that life forces one in the end to
abide by one's choices.

"Oh, Virginia, I am afraid it was a mistake," said Mrs. Pendleton in an
agonized tone. The horror of a scandal, which was stronger in the women
of her generation than even the horror of illness, still darkened her
mind.

A shiver passed through Virginia and left her stiller and graver than
before.

"No, it was not a mistake, mother," she answered quietly. "I did what I
was obliged to do. Oliver could not understand."

As she uttered the words, she saw Oliver's face turned to Abby with the
gay and laughing expression she had seen on it when the two rode down
Old Street together, and a wave of passionate jealousy swept over her.
She had let him go alone; he was angry with her; and for three days he
would be with Abby almost every minute. And suddenly, she heard spoken
by a mocking voice at the back of her brain: "You look at least ten
years older than Abby."

"It does seem as if he might have stayed at home," remarked Mrs.
Pendleton; "but he is so used to having his own way that it is harder
for him to give it up than for the rest of us. Your father says you have
spoiled him."

She had spoiled him--this she saw clearly now, she who had never seen
anything clearly until it was too late for sentimentality to work its
harm. From the day of her marriage she had spoiled him because spoiling
him had been for her own happiness as well as for his. She had yielded
to him since her chief desire had been simply to yield and to satisfy.
Her unselfishness had been merely selfishness cloaked in the familiar
aspect of duty. Another vision of him, not as he looked when he was
riding with Abby, but as he had appeared to her in the early days of
their marriage, floated before her. He had been hers utterly then--hers
with his generous impulses, his high ideals, his undisciplined emotions.
And what had she done with him? What were her good intentions--what was
her love, even, worth--when her intentions and her love alike had been
so lacking in wisdom? It was as if she condemned herself with a judgment
which was not her own, as if her life-long habit of seeing only the
present instant had suddenly deserted her.

"He has been so nervous and unlike himself ever since the failure of his
play, mother," she said. "It's hard to understand, but it meant more to
him than a woman can realize."

"I suppose so," returned Mrs. Pendleton sympathetically. "Your father
says that he spoke to him bitterly the other day about being a failure.
Of course, he isn't one in the least, darling," she added reassuringly.

"I sometimes think that Oliver's ambition was the greatest thing in his
life," said Virginia musingly. "It meant to him, I believe, a great deal
of what the children mean to me. He felt that it was himself, and yet in
a way closer than himself. Until that dreadful time in New York I never
understood what his work may mean to a man."

"I wish you could have gone with him, Jinny."

"I couldn't," replied Virginia, as she had replied so often before. "I
know Harry doesn't look sick," she went on with that soft obstinacy
which never attacked and yet never yielded a point, "but something tells
me that he isn't well."

An hour later, when she put him to bed, he looked so gay and rosy that
she almost allowed herself the weakness of a regret. Suppose nothing was
wrong, after all? Suppose, as Oliver had said, she was merely
"sensational"? While she undressed in the dark for fear of awaking
Jenny, who was sleeping soundly in her crib on Virginia's side of the
bed, her mind went back over the two harrowing days through which she
had just lived, and she asked herself, not if she had triumphed for good
over Abby, but if she had really done what was right both for Oliver and
the children. After all, the whole of life came back simply to doing the
thing that was right. So unused was she to the kind of introspection
which weighs emotions as if they were facts, that she thought slowly,
from sheer lack of practice in the subtler processes of reasoning.
Worry, the plain, ordinary sort of worry with which she was unhappily
familiar, had not prepared her for the piercing anguish which follows
the probing of the open wounds in one's soul. To lie sleepless over
butchers' bills was different, somehow, from lying sleepless over the
possible loss of Oliver's love. It was different, and yet, just as she
had asked herself over and over again on those other nights if she had
done right to run up so large an account at Mr. Dewlap's, so she
questioned her conscience now in the hope of finding justification for
Oliver. "Ought I to have gone on the hunt yesterday?" she asked
kneeling, with sore and aching limbs, by the bedside. "Had I a right to
risk my life when the children are so young that they need me every
minute? It is true nothing happened. Providence watched over me; but,
then, something might have happened, and I could have blamed only
myself. I was jealous--for the first time in my life, I was jealous--and
because I was jealous, I did wrong and neglected my duty. Yesterday I
sacrificed the children to Oliver, and to-day I sacrificed Oliver to the
children. I love Oliver as much, but I have made the children. They came
only because I brought them into the world. I am responsible for them--I
am responsible for them," she repeated passionately; and a moment later,
she prayed softly: "O Lord, help me to want to do what is right."

Through the night, tired and sore as she was, she hardly closed her
eyes, and she was lying wide awake, with her hand on the railing of
Jenny's crib, and her gaze on the half-bared bough of the old mulberry
tree in the street, when a cry, or less than a cry, a small, choking
whimper, from the nursery, caused her to spring out of bed with a start
and slip into her wrapper which lay across the edge of the quilt.

"I'm coming, darling," she called softly, and the answer came back in
Harry's voice: "Mamma, I'm afraid!"

Without waiting to put on her slippers, for one of them had slid under
the bed, she ran across the carpet and through the doorway into the
adjoining room.

"What is it, my lamb? Does anything hurt you?" she asked anxiously.

"I'm afraid, mamma."

"What are you afraid of? Mamma is here, precious."

His little hands were hot when she clasped them, and the pathetic wonder
in his blue eyes made her heart stand still with a fear greater than
Harry's. Ever since the children had come she had lived in terror of a
serious illness attacking them.

"Where does it hurt you, darling? Can't you tell me?"

"It feels so funny when I swallow, mamma. It's all full of flannel."

"Will you open your mouth wide, then, and let mamma mop your throat with
turpentine?"

But Harry hated turpentine even more than he hated the sore throat, and
he protested with tears while she found the bottle in the bathroom and
swathed the end of the wire mop in cotton. When she brought it to his
bedside, he fought so strenuously that she was obliged at last to give
up. His fever had excited him, and he sobbed violently while she
applied the bandages to his throat and chest.

"Is it any better, dear?" she asked desperately at the end of an hour in
which he had lain, weeping and angry, in her arms.

"It feels funny. I don't like it," he sobbed, pushing her from him.

"Then I'll send for Doctor Fraser. He'll make you well."

But he didn't want Doctor Fraser, who gave the meanest medicines. He
didn't want anybody. He hated everybody. He hated Lucy. He hated Jenny.
When at last day came, and Marthy appeared to know what Virginia wanted
for breakfast, he was still vowing passionately that he hated them all.

"Marthy, run at once for Doctor Fraser. Harry is quite sick," said
Virginia, pale to the lips.

"But I won't see him, mamma, and I won't take his medicines. They are
the meanest medicines."

"Perhaps he won't give you any, precious, and if he does, mamma will
taste every single one for you."

Then Jenny began to beg to get up, and Lucy, who had been watching with
dispassionate curiosity from the edge of her little bed, was sent to
amuse her until Marthy's return.

"Suppose I had gone!" thought Virginia, while an overwhelming
thankfulness swept the anxiety out of her mind. Not until the servant
reappeared, dragging the fat old doctor after her, did Virginia remember
that she was still barefooted, and go into her bedroom to search for her
slippers.

"You don't think he is seriously sick, do you, doctor? Is there any
need to be alarmed?" she asked, and her voice entreated him to allay her
anxiety.

The doctor, a benevolent soul in a body which had run to fat from lack
of exercise, was engaged in holding Harry's tongue down with a silver
spoon, while, in spite of the child's furious protests, he leisurely
examined his throat. When the operation was over, and Harry, crying,
choking, and kicking, rolled into Virginia's arms, she put the question
again, vaguely rebelling against the gravity in the kind old face which
was turned half away from her:

"There's nothing really the matter, is there, doctor?"

He turned to her, and laid a caressing, if heavy, hand on her shoulder,
which shook suddenly under the thin folds of her dressing-gown. After
forty years in which he had watched suffering and death, he preserved
still his native repugnance to contact with any side of life that did
not have a comfortable feeling to it.

"Oh, we'll get him all right soon, with some good nursing," he said
gently, "but I think we're going to have a bit of an illness on our
hands."

"But not serious, doctor? It isn't anything serious?"

She felt suddenly so weak that she could hardly stand, and instinctively
she reached out to grasp the large, protecting arm of the physician.
Even then his bland professional smile, which had in it something of the
serene detachment of the everlasting purpose of which it was a part, did
not fade, hardly changed even, on his features.

"Well, I think we'd better get the other children away. It might be
serious if they all had it on our hands."

"Had it? Had what? Oh, doctor--not--diphtheria?"

She brought out the word with a face of such unutterable horror that he
turned his eyes away, lest the memory of her look should interfere with
his treatment of the next case he visited. There was something infernal
in the sound of the thing which always knocked over the mothers of his
generation. He had never seen one of them who could hear it without
going to pieces on his hands; and for that reason he never mentioned the
disease by name unless they drove him to it. They feared it as they
might have feared the plague--and even more! If the medical profession
would begin calling it something else, he wondered if the unmitigated
terror of it wouldn't partially subside?

"Well, it looks like that now, Jinny," he said soothingly; "but we'll
come out all right, never fear. It isn't a bad case, you know, and the
chief thing is to get the other children out of danger."

At this she went over like a log on the bed, and it was only after he
had found the bottle of camphor on the mantelpiece and held it to her
nostrils, that she revived sufficiently to sit up again. But as soon as
her strength came back, her courage surprised and rejoiced him. After
that one sign of weakness, she became suddenly strong, and he knew by
the expression of her face, for he had had great experience with
mothers, that he could count on her not to break down again while he
needed her.

"I'd like to get a tent made of some sheets and keep a kettle boiling
under it," he said, for he was an old man and belonged to the dark ages
of medicine. "But first of all I'll get the children over to your
mother's. They'd better not come in here again. I'll ask the servant to
attend to them."

"You'll find her in the dining-room," replied Virginia, while she
straightened Harry's bed and made him more comfortable. The weakness had
passed, leaving a numbed and hardened feeling as though she had turned
to wood; and when, a little later, she looked out of the door to wave
good-bye to Lucy and Jenny, she was amazed to find that she felt almost
indifferent. Every emotion, even her capacity for physical sensation,
seemed to respond to the immediate need of her, to the exhaustless
demands on her bodily strength and her courage. As long as there was
anything to be done, she was sure now that she should be able to keep up
and not lose control of herself.

"May we come back soon, mamma?" asked Lucy, standing on tiptoe to wave
at her.

"Just as soon as Harry is well, darling. Ask grandpa to pray that he
will be well soon, won't you?"

"Jenny'll pay," lisped the baby, from Doctor Fraser's arms, where, with
her cap on one side and her little feet kicking delightedly, she was
beguiled by the promise of a birthday cake over at grandma's.

"I'll look in again in an hour or two," said the doctor in his jovial
tones as he swung down the stairs. Then Lucy pattered after him, and in
a few minutes the front door closed loudly behind them, and Virginia
went back to the nursery, where Harry was coughing the strangling cough
that tore at her heart.

By nightfall he had grown very ill, and when the next dawn came, it
found her, wan, haggard, and sleepless, fighting beside the old doctor
under the improvised tent of sheets which covered the little bed. The
thought of self went from her so utterly that she only remembered she
was alive when Marthy brought food and tried to force it between her
lips.

"But you must swallow it, ma'am. You need to keep up your strength."

"How do you think he looks, Marthy? Does he feel quite so hot to you? He
seems to breathe a little better, doesn't he?"

And during the long day, while the patch of sunlight grew larger, lay
for an hour like yellow silk on the windowsill, and then slowly dwindled
into the shadow, she sat, without moving, between the bed and the table
on which stood the bottles of medicine, a glass, and a pitcher of water.
When the child slept, overcome by the stupor of fever, she watched him,
with drawn breath, lest he should fade away from her if she were to
withdraw her passionate gaze for an instant. When he awoke and lay
moaning, while his little body shook with the long stifling gasps that
struggled between his lips, she held him tightly clasped in her arms,
with a woman's pathetic faith in the power of a physical pressure to
withstand the immaterial forces of death. A hundred times during the day
he aroused himself, stirred faintly in his feverish sleep, and called
her name in the voice of terror with which he used to summon her in the
night.

"It isn't the black man now, darling, is it? Remember there is no black
man, and mamma is close here beside you."

No, it wasn't the black man; he wasn't afraid of the darkness now, but
he would like to have his ship. When she brought it, he played for a
few minutes, and dozed off still grasping the toy in his hands. At
twelve the doctor came, and again at four, when the patch of sunlight,
by which she told the hours, had begun to grow fainter on the
windowsill.

"He is better, doctor, isn't he? Don't you notice that he struggles less
when he breathes?"

He looked at her with an expression of contemplative pity in his old
watery eyes, and she gave a little cry and stretched out her hands,
blindly groping.

"Doctor, I'll do anything--anything, if you'll only save him." An
impulse to reach beyond him to some impersonal, cosmic Power greater
than he was, made her add desperately: "I'll never ask for anything else
in my life. I'll give up everything, if you'll only promise me that you
will save him."

She stood up, drawing her thin figure, as tense as a cord, to its full
height, and beneath the flowered blue dressing-gown her shoulder blades
showed sharply under their fragile covering of flesh. Her hair, which
she had not undone since the first shock of Harry's illness, hung in
straight folds on either side of her pallid and haggard face. Even the
colour of her eyes seemed to have changed, for their flower-like blue
had faded to a dull grey.

"If we can pull through the night, Jinny," he said huskily, and added
almost sternly, "you must bear up, so much depends on you. Remember, it
is your first serious illness, but it may not be your last. You've got
to take the pang of motherhood along with the pleasure, my dear----"

The pang of motherhood! Long after he had left her, and she had heard
the street gate click behind him, she sat motionless, repeating the
words, by Harry's little bed. The pang of motherhood--this was what she
was suffering--the poignant suspense, the quivering waiting, the abject
terror of loss, the unutterable anguish of the nerves, as if one's heart
were being slowly torn out of one's body. She had had the joy, and now
she was enduring the inevitable pang which is bound up, like a hidden
pulse, in every mortal delight. Never pleasure without pain, never
growth without decay, never life without death. The Law ruled even in
love, and all the pitiful little sacrifices which one offered to
Omnipotence, which one offered blindly to the Power that might separate,
with a flaming sword, the cause from the effect, the substance from the
shadow--what of them? While Harry lay there, wrapped in that burning
stupor, she prayed, not as she had been taught to pray in her childhood,
not with the humble and resigned worship of civilization, but in the
wild and threatening lament of a savage who seeks to reach the ears of
an implacable deity. In the last twenty-four hours the Unknown Power she
entreated had changed, in her imagination, to an idol who responded only
to the shedding of blood.

"Only spare my child and I will give up everything else!" she cried from
the extremity of her anguish. The sharp edge of the bed hurt her bosom
and she pressed frantically against it. Had it been possible to lacerate
her body, to cut her flesh with knives, she might have found some
pitiable comfort in the mere physical pain. Beside the agony in her
mind, a pang of the flesh would have been almost a joy.

When at last she rose from her knees, Harry lay, breathing quietly,
with his eyes closed and the toy ship on the blanket beside him. His
childish features had shrunken in a day until they appeared only half
their natural size, and a faint bluish tinge had crept over his face,
wiping out all the sweet rosy colour. But he had swallowed a few
spoonfuls of his last cup of broth, and the painful choking sound had
ceased for a minute. The change, slight as it was, had followed so
closely upon her prayers, that, while it lasted, she passed through one
of those spiritual crises which alter the whole aspect of life. An
emotion, which was a curious mixture of superstitious terror and
religious faith, swept over her, reviving and invigorating her heart.
She had abased herself in the dust before God--she had offered all her
life to Him if He would spare her child--and had He not answered? Might
not Harry's illness, indeed, have been sent to punish her for her
neglect? A shudder of abhorrence passed through her as she remembered
the fox-hunt, and her passion of jealousy. The roll of blue silk, lying
upstairs in a closet in the third storey, appeared to her now not as a
temptation to vanity, but as a reminder of the mortal sin which had
almost cost her the life of her child. And suppose God had not stopped
her in time--suppose she had gone to Atlantic City as Oliver had begged
her to do?

In the room the light faded softly, melting first like frost from the
mirror in the corner beyond the Japanese screen, creeping slowly across
the marble surface of the washstand, lingering, in little ripples, on
the green sash of the windowsill. Out of doors it was still day, and
from where she sat by Harry's bed, she could see, under the raised tent,
every detail of the street standing out distinctly in the grey
twilight. Across the way the houses were beginning to show lights at the
windows, and the old lamplighter was balancing himself unsteadily on his
ladder at the corner. On the mulberry tree near the crossing the broad
bronze leaves swung back and forth in the wind, which sighed restlessly
around the house and drove the naked tendrils of a summer vine against
the green shutters at the window. The fire had gone down, and after she
had made it up very softly, she bent over Harry again, as if she feared
that he might have slipped out of her grasp while she had crossed the
room.

"If he only lives, I will let everything else go. I will think of
nothing except my children. It will make no difference to me if I do
look ten years older than Abby does. Nothing on earth will make any
difference to me, if only God will let him get well."

And with the vow, it seemed to her that she laid her youth down on the
altar of that unseen Power whose mercy she invoked. Let her prayer only
be heard and she would demand nothing more of life--she would spend all
her future years in the willing service of love. Was it possible that
she had imagined herself unhappy thirty-six hours ago--thirty-six hours
ago when her child was not threatened? As she looked back on her past
life, it seemed to her that every minute had been crowned with
happiness. Even the loss of her newborn baby appeared such a little
thing--such a little thing beside the loss of Harry, her only son. Mere
freedom from anxiety showed to her now as a condition of positive bliss.

Six o'clock struck, and Marthy knocked at the door with a cup of milk.
"Do you think he'll be able to swallow any of it?" she asked, and there
were tears in her eyes.

"He is better, Marthy, I am sure he is better. Has mother been here this
afternoon?"

"She stopped at the door, but she didn't like to come in on account of
the children. They are both well, she says, and send you their love. Do
you want any more water in the kettle, ma'am?"

The kettle, which was simmering away beside Harry's bed, under the tent
of sheets, was passed to Marthy through the crack in the door; and when
in a few minutes the girl returned with fresh water, Virginia whispered
to her that he had taken three spoonfuls of milk.

"And he let me mop his throat with turpentine," she said in quivering
tones. "I am sure--oh, I am sure he is better."

"I am praying every minute," replied Marthy, weeping; and it seemed
suddenly to Virginia that a wave of understanding passed between her and
the ignorant mulatto girl, whom she had always regarded as of different
clay from herself. With that miraculous power of grief to level all
things, she felt that the barriers of knowledge, of race, of all the
pitiful superiorities with which human beings have obscured and
decorated the underlying spirit of life, had melted back into the
nothingness from which they had emerged in the beginning. This feeling
of oneness, which would have surprised and startled her yesterday,
appeared so natural to her now, that, after the first instant of
recognition, she hardly thought of it again.

"Thank you, Marthy," she answered gently, and closing the door, went
back to her chair under the raised corner of the sheet. When the doctor
came at nine o'clock she was sitting there, in the same position, so
still and tense that she seemed hardly to be breathing, so ashen grey
that the sheet hanging above her head showed deadly white by contrast
with her face. In those three hours she knew that the clinging tendrils
of personal desire had relaxed their hold forever on life and youth.

"If he doesn't get worse, we'll pull through," said the doctor, turning
from his examination of Harry to lay his hand, which felt as heavy as
lead, on her shoulder. "We've an even chance--if his heart doesn't go
back on us." And he added, "Most mothers are good nurses, Jinny, but I
never saw a better one than you are--unless it was your own mother. You
get it from her, I reckon. I remember when you went through diphtheria
how she sent your father to stay with one of the neighbours, and shut
herself up with old Ailsey to nurse you. I don't believe she undressed
or closed her eyes for a week."

Her own mother! So she was not the only one who had suffered this
anguish--other women, many women, had been through it before she was
born. It was a part of that immemorial pang of motherhood of which the
old doctor had spoken. "But, was I ever in danger? Was I as ill as
Harry?" she asked.

"For twenty-four hours we thought you'd slip through our fingers every
minute. 'Twas only your mother's nursing that kept you alive--I've told
her that twenty times. She never spared herself an instant, and, it may
have been my imagination, but she never seemed to me to be the same
woman afterwards. Something had gone out of her."

Now she understood, now she knew, something had gone out of her, also,
and this something was youth. No woman who had fought with death for a
child could ever be the same afterwards--could ever value again the
small personal joys, when she carried the memory of supreme joy or
supreme anguish buried within her heart. She remembered that her mother
had never seemed young to her, not even in her earliest childhood; and
she understood now why this had been so, why the deeper experiences of
life rob the smaller ones of all vividness, of all poignancy. It had
been so easy for her mother to give up little things, to deny herself,
to do without, to make no further demands on life after the great
demands had been granted her. How often had she said unthinkingly in her
girlhood, "Mother, you never want anything for yourself." Ah, she knew
now what it meant, and with the knowledge a longing seized her to throw
herself into her mother's arms, to sob out her understanding and her
sympathy, to let her feel before it was too late that she comprehended
every step of the way, every throb of the agony!

"I'd spend the night with you, Jinny, if I didn't have to be with Milly
Carrington, who has two children down with it," said the doctor; "but if
there's any change, get Marthy to come for me. If not, I'll be sure to
look in again before daybreak."

When he had gone, she moved the night lamp to the corner of the
washstand, and after swallowing hastily a cup of coffee which Marthy had
brought to her before the doctor's visit, and which had grown quite
tepid and unpalatable, she resumed her patient watch under the raised
end of the sheet. The whole of life, the whole of the universe even, had
narrowed down for her into that faint circle of light which the lamp
drew around Harry's little bed. It was as if this narrow circle beat
with a separate pulse, divided from the rest of existence by its
intense, its throbbing vitality. Here was concentrated for her all that
the world had to offer of hope, fear, rapture, or anguish. The
littleness and the terrible significance of the individual destiny were
gathered into that faintly quivering centre of space--so small a part of
the universe, and yet containing the whole universe within itself!

Outside, in the street, she could see a half-bared bough of the mulberry
tree, arching against a square of window, from which the white curtains
were drawn back; and in order to quiet her broken and disjointed
thoughts, she began to count the leaves as they fell, one by one,
turning softly at the stem, and then floating out into the darkness
beyond. "One. Two. How long that leaf takes to loosen. He is better. The
doctor certainly thought that he was better. If he only gets well. O
God, let him get well, and I will serve you all my life!
Three--four--five--For twenty-four hours we thought you would slip
through our fingers. Somebody said that--somebody--it must have been the
doctor. And he was talking of me, not of Harry. That was twenty-six
years ago, and my mother was enduring then all this agony that I am
feeling to-night. Twenty-six years ago--perhaps at this very hour, she
sat beside me alone as I am sitting now by Harry. And before that other
women went through it. All the world over, wherever there are
mothers--north, south, east, west--from the first baby that was born on
the earth--they have every one suffered what I am suffering now--for it
is the pang of motherhood! To escape it one must escape birth and escape
the love that is greater than one's self." And she understood suddenly
that suffering and love are inseparable, that when one loves another
more than one's self, one has opened the gate by which anguish will
enter. She had forgotten to count the leaves, and when she remembered
and looked again, the last one had fallen. Against the parted white
curtains, the naked bough arched black and solitary. Even the small
silent birds that had swayed dejectedly to and fro on the branches all
day had flown off into the darkness. Presently, the light in the window
went out, and as the hours wore on, a fine drizzling rain began to fall,
as soft as tears, from the starless sky over the mulberry tree. A sense
of isolation greater than any she had ever known attacked her like a
physical chill, and rising, she went over to the fire and stirred the
pile of coal into a flame. She was alone in her despair, and she
realized, with a feeling of terror, that one is always alone when one
despairs, that there is a secret chamber in every soul where neither
love nor sympathy can follow one. If Oliver were here beside her--if he
were standing close to her in that throbbing circle around the bed--she
would still be separated from him by the immensity of that inner space
which is not measured by physical distances. "No, even if he were here,
he could not reach me," she said, and an instant later, with one of
those piercing illuminations which visit even perfectly normal women in
moments of great intensity, she thought quickly, "If every woman told
the truth to herself, would she say that there is something in her which
love has never reached?" Then, reproaching herself because she had left
the bed for a minute, she went back again and bent over the unconscious
child, her whole slender body curving itself passionately into an
embrace. His face was ashen white, except where the skin around his
mouth was discoloured with a faint bluish tinge. His flesh, even his
bones, appeared to have shrunk almost away in twenty-four hours. It was
impossible to imagine that he was the rosy, laughing boy, who had
crawled into her arms only two nights ago. The disease held him like
some unseen spiritual enemy, against which all physical weapons were as
useless as the little toys of a child. How could one fight that sinister
power which had removed him to an illimitable distance while he was
still in her arms? The troubled stupor, which had in it none of the
quiet and the restfulness of sleep, terrorized her as utterly as if it
had been the personal spirit of evil. The invisible forces of Life and
Death seemed battling in the quivering air within that small circle of
light.

While she bent over him, he stirred, raised himself, and then fell back
in a paroxysm of coughing. The violence of the spasm shook his fragile
little body as a rough wind shakes a flower on a stalk. Over his face
the bluish tinge spread like a shadow, and into his eyes there came the
expression of wondering terror which she had seen before only in the
eyes of young startled animals. For an instant it seemed almost as if
the devil of disease were wrestling inside of him, as if the small
vital force she called life would be beaten out in the struggle. Then
the agony passed; the strangling sound ceased, and he grew quiet, while
she wiped the poison from his mouth and nostrils, and made him swallow a
few drops of milk out of a teaspoon.

At the moment, while she fell on her knees by his bedside, it seemed to
her that she had reached that deep place beyond which there is nothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You've pulled him through. We'll have him out of bed before many days
now," said the old doctor at daybreak, and he added cheerfully, "By the
way, your husband came in the front door with me. He wanted to rush up
here at once, but I'm keeping him away because he is obliged to go back
to the bank."

"Poor Oliver," said Virginia gently. "It is terrible on him. He must be
so anxious." But even while she uttered the words, she was conscious of
a curious sensation of unreality, as though she were speaking of a
person whom she had known in another life. It was three days since she
had seen Oliver, and in those three days she had lived and died many
times.



CHAPTER IX

THE PROBLEM OF THE SOUTH


"Father, I want to marry John Henry," said Susan, just as she had said
almost ten years ago, "Father, I want to go to college."

It was a March afternoon, ashen and windy, with flocks of small fleecy
clouds hurrying across a changeable blue sky, and the vague, roving
scents of early spring in the air. After his dinner, which he had taken
for more than fifty years precisely at two o'clock, Cyrus had sat down
for a peaceful pipe on the back porch before returning to the office.
Between the sunken bricks in the little walled-in yard, blades of vivid
green grass had shot up, seeking light out of darkness, and along the
grey wooden ledge of the area the dauntless sunflowers were unfolding
their small stunted leaves. On the railing of the porch a moth-eaten
cat--the only animal for whom Cyrus entertained the remotest
respect--was contentedly licking the shabby fur on her side.

"Father, I want to marry John Henry," repeated Susan, raising her voice
to a higher key and towering like a flesh and blood image of Victory
over the sagging cane chair in which he sat.

Taking his pipe from his mouth, he looked up at her; and so little had
he altered in ten years, that the thought flashed through her mind that
he had actually suffered no change of expression since the afternoon on
which she had asked him to send her to college. As a man he may not have
been impressive, but as a defeating force who could say that he had not
attained his fulfilment? It was as if the instinct of patriarchal
tyranny had entrenched itself in his person as in a last stronghold of
the disappearing order. When he died many things would pass away out of
Dinwiddie--not only the soul and body of Cyrus Treadwell, but the
vanishing myth of the "strong man," the rule of the individual despot,
the belief in the inalienable right of the father to demand blood
sacrifices. For in common with other men of his type, he stood equally
for industrial advancement and for domestic immobility. The body social
might move, but the units that formed the body social must remain
stationary.

"Well, I don't think I'd worry about marrying, if I were you," he
replied, not unkindly, for Susan inspired him with a respect against
which he had struggled in vain. "You are very comfortable now, ain't
you? And I'll see that you are well provided for after my death. John
Henry hasn't anything except his salary, I reckon."

Marriage as an economic necessity was perfectly comprehensible to him,
but it was difficult for him to conceive of anybody indulging in it
simply as a matter of sentiment. That April afternoon was so far away
now that it had ceased to exist even as an historical precedent.

"Yes, but I want to marry him, and I am going to," replied Susan
decisively.

"What arrangements would you make about your mother? It seems to me that
your mother needs your attention."

"Of course I couldn't leave mother. If you agree to it, John Henry is
willing to come here to live as long as I have to look after her. If
not, I shall take her away with me; I have spoken to her, and she is
perfectly willing to go."

The ten years which had left Cyrus at a standstill had developed his
daughter from a girl into a woman. She spoke with the manner of one who
realizes that she holds the situation in her hands, and he yielded to
this assumption of strength as he would have yielded ten years ago had
she been clever enough to use it against him. It was his own manner in a
more attractive guise, if he had only known it; and the Treadwell
determination to get the thing it wanted most was asserting itself in
Susan's desire to win John Henry quite as effectively as it had asserted
itself in Cyrus's passion to possess the Dinwiddie and Central Railroad.
Though the ends were different, the quality which moved father and
daughter towards these different ends was precisely the same. In Cyrus,
it was force degraded; in Susan, it was force refined; but the peculiar
attribute which distinguished and united them was the possession of the
power to command events.

"Take your mother away?" he repeated. "Why, where on earth would you
take her?"

"Then you'll have to agree to John Henry's coming here. It won't make
any difference to you, of course. You needn't see him except at the
table."

"But what would James say about it?" he returned, with the cowardice
natural to the habitual bully. The girl had character, certainly, and
though he disliked character in a woman, he was obliged to admit that
she had not failed to make an impression.

"James won't care, and besides," she added magnificently, "it is none of
his business."

"And it's none of mine, either, I reckon," said Cyrus, with a chuckle.

"Well, of course, it's more of mine," agreed Susan, and her delicious
laugh drowned his chuckle.

She had won her point, and strange to say, she had pleased him rather
than otherwise. He had suddenly a comfortable feeling in his digestive
organs as well as a sense of virtue in his soul. It was impossible not
to feel proud of her as she towered there above him with her superb
body, as fine and as supple as the body of a race horse, and her
splendid courage that made him wish while he looked at her that she,
instead of James, had been born a male. She was not pretty--she had
never been pretty--but he realized for the first time that there might
be something better even for a woman than beauty.

"Thank you, father," she said as she turned away, and he was glad again
to feel that she had conquered him. To be conquered by one's own blood
was different from being conquered by a business acquaintance.

"You mustn't disturb the household, you know," he said, but his voice
did not sound as dry as he had endeavoured to make it.

"I shan't disturb anybody," responded Susan, with the amiability of a
woman who, having gained her point, can afford to be pleasant. Then,
wheeling about suddenly on the threshold, she added, "By the way, I
forgot to tell you that Mandy was here three times this morning asking
to see you. She is in trouble about her son. He was arrested for
shooting a policeman over at Cross's Corner, you know, and the people
down there are so enraged, she's afraid of a lynching. You read about it
in the paper, didn't you?"

Yes, he had read about the shooting--Cross's Corner was only three miles
away--but, if he had ever known the name of Mandy's son, he had
forgotten it so completely that seeing it in print had suggested nothing
to his mind.

"Well, she doesn't expect me to interfere, does she?" he asked shortly.

"I believe she thought you might go over and do something--I don't know
what--help her engage a lawyer probably. She was very pitiable, but
after all, what can one do for a negro that shoots a policeman? There's
Miss Willy calling me!"

She ran indoors, and taking his pipe, which was still smoking, from his
mouth, Cyrus leaned back in his chair and stared intently at the small
fleecy clouds in the west. The cat, having cleaned herself to her
satisfaction, jumped down from the railing, and after rubbing against
his thin legs, leaped gently into his lap.

"Tut-tut!" he remarked grimly; but he did not attempt to dislodge the
animal, and it may be that some secret part of him was gratified by the
attention. He was still sitting there some minutes later, when he heard
the warning click of the back gate, and the figure of Mandy, appeared at
the corner of the kitchen wall. Rising from his chair, he shook the cat
from his knees, and descending the steps, met the woman in the centre of
the walk, where a few hardy dandelions were flattened like buttons
between the bricks.

"Howdy, Mandy. I'm sorry to hear that you're having trouble with that
boy of yours." He saw at once that she was racked by a powerful emotion,
and any emotion affected him unpleasantly as something extravagant and
indecent. Sweat had broken out in glistening clusters over her face and
neck, and her eyes, under the stray wisps of hair, had in them an
expression of dumb and uncomprehending submission.

"Ain't you gwineter git 'im away, Marster?" she began, and stronger even
than her terror was the awe of Cyrus which subdued her voice to a tone
of servile entreaty.

"Why did he shoot a policeman? He knew he'd hang for it," returned Cyrus
sharply, and he added, "Of course I can't get him away. He'll have to
take his deserts. Your race has got to learn that when you break the
law, you must pay for it."

At first he had made as if to push by her, but when she did not move, he
thought better of it and waited for her to speak. The sound of her heavy
breathing, like the breathing of some crouching beast, awoke in him a
curious repulsion. If only one could get rid of such creatures after
their first youth was over! If only every careless act could perish with
the impulse that led to it! If only the dried husks of pleasure did not
turn to weapons against one! These thoughts--or disjointed snatches of
thoughts like these--passed in a confused whirl through his brain as he
stood there. For an instant it was almost as if his accustomed lucidity
of purpose had deserted him; then the disturbance ceased, and with the
renewal of order in his mind, his life-long habit of prompt decision
returned to him.

"Your race has got to learn that when you break the law you must pay for
it," he repeated--for on that sound principle of justice he felt that he
must unalterably take his stand.

"He's all de boy I'se got, Marster," rejoined the negress, with an
indifference to the matter of justice which had led others of her colour
into those subterranean ways where abstract principles are not. "You
ain' done furgot 'im, Marster," she added piteously. "He 'uz born jes
two mont's atter Miss Lindy turnt me outer hyer--en he's jes ez w'ite ez
ef'n he b'longed ter w'ite folks."

But she had gone too far--she had outraged that curious Anglo-Saxon
instinct in Cyrus which permitted him to sin against his race's
integrity, yet forbade him to acknowledge, even to himself, that he bore
any part in the consequences of that sin. Illogical, he might have
admitted, but there are some truths so poisonous that no honest man
could breathe the same air with them.

Taking out his pocket-book, he slowly drew a fifty dollar bill from its
innermost recesses, and as slowly unfolded it. He always handled money
in that careful fashion--a habit which he had inherited from his father
and his grandfather before him, and of which he was entirely
unconscious. Filtering down through so many generations, the mannerism
had ceased at last to be merely a physical peculiarity, and had become
strangely spiritual in its suggestion. The craving for possession, the
singleness of desire, the tenacity of grasp, the dread of
relinquishment, the cold-blooded determination to keep intact the thing
which it had cost so much to acquire--all that was bound up in the
spirit of Cyrus Treadwell, and all that would pass at last with that
spirit from off the earth, was expressed in the gesture with which he
held out the bit of paper to the woman who had asked for his help. "Take
this--it is all I can do for you," he said, "and don't come whining
around me any more. Black or white, the man that commits a murder has
got to hang for it."

A sound broke from the negress that resembled a human cry of grief less
than it did the inarticulate moan of an animal in mortal pain. Then it
stopped suddenly, strangled by that dull weight of usage beneath which
the primal impulse in her was crushed back into silence. Instinctively,
as if in obedience to some reflex action, she reached out and took the
money from his hand, and still instinctively, with the dazed look of one
who performs in delirium the customary movements of every day, she fell
back, holding her apron deprecatingly aside while he brushed past her.
And in her eyes as she gazed after him there dawned the simple wonder of
the brute that asks of Life why it suffers.

Beyond the alley into which the gate opened, Cyrus caught sight of
Gabriel's erect figure hurrying down the side street in the direction of
the Old Ladies' Home, and calling out to him, he scrambled over the ash
heaps and tomato cans, and emerged, irritated but smiling, into the
sunlight.

"I'm on my way to the bank. We'll walk down together," he remarked
almost gently, for, though he disapproved of Gabriel's religious
opinions and distrusted his financial judgment, the war-like little
rector represented the single romance of his life.

"I had intended stopping at the Old Ladies' Home, but I'll go on with
you instead," responded Gabriel. "I've just had a message from one of
our old servants calling me down to Cross's Corner," he pursued, "so I'm
in a bit of a hurry. That's a bad thing, that murder down there
yesterday, and I'm afraid it will mean trouble for the negroes. Mr.
Blylie, who came to market this morning, told me a crowd had tried to
lynch the fellow last night."

"Well, they've got to hang when they commit hanging crimes," replied
Cyrus stubbornly. "There's no way out of that. It's just, ain't it?"

"Yes, I suppose so," admitted Gabriel, "though, for my part, I've a
feeling against capital punishment--except, of course, in cases of rape,
where, I confess, my blood turns against me."

"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth--that's the law of God, ain't
it?"

"The old law, yes--but why not quote the law of Christ instead?"

"It wouldn't do--not with the negroes," returned Cyrus, who entertained
for the Founder of Christianity something of the sentimental respect
mingled with an innate distrust of His common-sense with which he
regarded His disciple.

"We can't condemn it until we've tried it," said Gabriel thoughtfully,
and he went on after a moment:

"The terrible thing for us about the negroes is that they are so grave
a responsibility--so grave a responsibility. Of course, we aren't to
blame--we didn't bring them here; and yet I sometimes feel as if we had
really done so."

This was a point of view which Cyrus had never considered, and he felt
an immediate suspicion of it. It looked, somehow, as if it were
insidiously leading the way to an appeal for money.

"It's the best thing that could have happened to them," he replied
shortly. "If they'd remained in Africa, they'd never have been civilized
or--or Christianized."

"Ah, that is just where the responsibility rests on us. We stand for
civilization to them; we stand even--or at least we used to stand--for
Christianity. They haven't learned yet to look above or beyond us, and
the example we set them is one that they are condemned, for sheer lack
of any finer vision, to follow. The majority of them are still hardly
more than uneducated children, and that very fact makes an appeal to
one's compassion which becomes at times almost unbearable."

But this was more than Cyrus could stand even from the rector, whose
conversation he usually tolerated because of the perverse, inexplicable
liking he felt for the man. The charm that Gabriel exercised over him
was almost feminine in its subtlety and in its utter defiance of any
rational sanction. It may have been that his nature, incapable though it
was of love, was not entirely devoid of the rarer capacity for
friendship--or it may have been that, with the inscrutable irony which
appears to control all human attractions, the caged brutality in his
heart was soothed by the unconscious flattery of the other's belief in
him. Now, however, he felt that Gabriel's highfaluting nonsense was
carrying him away. It was well enough to go on like that in the pulpit;
but on week days, when there was business to think of and every minute
might mean the loss of a dollar, there was no use dragging in either
religion or sentiment. Had he put his thoughts plainly, he would
probably have said: "That's not business, Gabriel. The trouble with
you--and with most of you old-fashioned Virginians--is that you don't
understand the first principles of business." These words, indeed, were
almost on his lips, when, catching the rector's innocent glance
wandering round to him, he contented himself with remarking satirically:

"Well, you were always up in the clouds. It doesn't hurt you, I reckon,
though I doubt if it does much toward keeping your pot boiling."

"I must turn off here," said Gabriel gently. "It's the shortest way to
Cross's Corner."

"Do you think any good will come of your going?"

"Probably not--but I couldn't refuse."

Much as he respected Cyrus, he was not sorry to part from him, for their
walk together had left him feeling suddenly old and incompetent to
battle with the problems of life. He knew that Cyrus, even though he
liked him, considered him a bit of a fool, and with a humility which was
unusual in him (for in his heart he was absolutely sure that his own
convictions were right and that Cyrus's were wrong) he began to ask
himself if, by any chance, the other's verdict could be secretly
justified. Was he in reality the failure that Cyrus believed him to be?
Or was it merely that he had drifted into that "depressing view" of
existence against which he so earnestly warned his parishioners? Perhaps
it wasn't Cyrus after all who had produced this effect. Perhaps the
touch of indigestion he had felt after dinner had not entirely
disappeared. Perhaps it meant that he was "getting on"--sixty-five his
last birthday. Perhaps--but already the March wind, fresh and
bud-scented, was blowing away his despondency. Already he was beginning
to feel again that fortifying conviction that whatever was unpleasant
could not possibly be natural.

Ahead of him the straight ashen road flushed to pale red where it
climbed a steep hillside, and when he gained the top, the country lay
before him in all the magic loveliness of early spring. Out of the rosy
earth innumerable points of tender green were visible in the sunlight
and invisible again beneath the faintly rippling shadows that filled the
hollows. From every bough, from every bush, from every creeper which
clung trembling to the rail fences, this wave of green, bursting through
the sombre covering of winter, quivered, as delicate as foam, in the
brilliant sunshine. On either side labourers were working, and where the
ploughs pierced the soil they left narrow channels of darkness.

In the soul of Gabriel, that essence of the spring, which is immortally
young and restless, awakened and gave him back his youth, as it gave the
new grass to the fields and the longing for joy to the hearts of the
ploughmen. He forgot that he was "getting on." He forgot the unnatural
depression which had made him imagine for a moment that the world was a
more difficult place than he had permitted himself to believe--so
difficult a place, indeed, that for some people there could be no
solution of its injustice, its brutality, its dissonance, its
inequalities. The rapture in the song of the bluebirds was sweeter than
the voice of Cyrus to which he had listened. And in a meadow on the
right, an old grey horse, scarred, dim-eyed, spavined, stood resting one
crooked leg, while he gazed wistfully over the topmost rail of the fence
into the vivid green of the distance--for into his aching old bones,
also, there had passed a little of that longing for joy which was born
of the miraculous softness and freshness of the spring. To him, as well
as to Gabriel and to the ploughmen and to the bluebirds flitting, like
bits of fallen sky, along the "snake fences," Nature, the great healer,
had brought her annual gift of the resurrection of hope.

"Cyrus means well," thought Gabriel, with a return of that natural
self-confidence without which no man can exist happily and make a
living. "He means well, but he takes a false view of life." And he added
after a minute: "It's odd how the commercial spirit seems to suck a man
dry when it once gets a hold on him."

He walked on rapidly, leaving the old horse and the ploughmen behind
him, and around his energetic little figure the grey dust, as fine as
powder, spun in swirls and eddies before the driving wind, which had
grown boisterous. As he moved there alone in the deserted road, with his
long black coat flapping against his legs, he appeared so insignificant
and so unheroic that an observer would hardly have suspected that the
greatest belief on the earth--the belief in Life--in its universality
in spite of its littleness, in its justification in spite of its
cruelties--that this belief shone through his shrunken little body as a
flame shines through a vase.

At the end of the next mile, midway between Dinwiddie and Cross's
Corner, stood the small log cabin of the former slave who had sent for
him, and as he approached the narrow path that led, between oyster
shells, from the main road to the single flat brown rock before the
doorstep, he noticed with pleasure how tranquil and happy the little
rustic home appeared under the windy brightness of the March sky.

"People may say what they please, but there never were happier or more
contented creatures than the darkeys," he thought. "I doubt if there's
another peasantry in the world that is half so well off or half so
picturesque."

A large yellow rooster, pecking crumbs from the threshold, began to
scold shrilly, and at the sound, the old servant, a decrepit negress in
a blue gingham dress, hobbled out into the path and stood peering at him
under her hollowed palm. Her forehead was ridged and furrowed beneath
her white turban, and her bleared old eyes looked up at him with a blind
and groping effort at recognition.

"I got your message, Aunt Mehitable. Don't you know me?"

"Is dat you, Marse Gabriel? I made sho' you wan' gwineter let nuttin'
stop you f'om comin'."

"Don't I always come when you send for me?"

"You sutney do, suh. Dat's de gospel trufe--you sutney do."

As he looked at her standing there in the strong sunlight, with her
palsied hand, which was gnarled and roughened until it resembled the
shell of a walnut, curving over her eyes, he felt that a quality at once
alien and enigmatical separated her not only from himself, but from
every other man or woman who was born white instead of black. He had
lived beside her all his life--and yet he could never understand her,
could never reach her, could never even discern the hidden stuff of
which she was made. He could make laws for her, but no child of a white
mother could tell whether those laws ever penetrated that surface
imitation of the superior race and reached the innate differences of
thought, feeling, and memory which constituted her being. Was it
development or mimicry that had brought her up out of savagery and
clothed her in her blue gingham dress and her white turban, as in the
outward covering of civilization?

Her look of crumbling age and the witch-like groping of her glance had
cast a momentary spell over him. When it was gone, he said cheerfully:

"You mustn't be having troubles at your time of life, Aunt Mehitable,"
and in his voice there was the subtle recognition of all that she had
meant to his family in the past, of all that his family had meant to
her. Her claim upon him was the more authentic because it existed only
in his imagination, and in hers. The tie that knit them together was
woven of impalpable strands, but it was unbreakable while he and his
generation were above the earth.

"Dar ain' no end er trouble, Marse Gabriel, ez long ez dar's yo' chillen
en de chillen er yo' chillen ter come atter you. De ole ain' so
techy--dey lets de hornet's nes' hang in peace whar de Lawd put
hit--but de young dey's diff'rent."

"I suppose the neighbourhood is stirred up about the murder. What in
God's name was that boy thinking of?"

The old blood crimes that never ceased where the white and the black
races came together! The old savage folly and the new freedom! The old
ignorance, the old lack of understanding, and the new restlessness, the
new enmity!

"He wan' thinkin' er nuttin', Marse Gabriel. We ole uns kin set down en
steddy, but de young dey up en does wid dere brains ez addled ez de
inside uv er bad aig. 'T wan' dat ar way in de old days w'en we all hed
de say so ez ter w'at wuz en w'at wan't de way ter behave."

Like an institution left from the ruins of the feudal system, which had
crumbled as all ancient and decrepit things must crumble when the wheels
of progress roll over them, she stood there wrapped in the beliefs and
customs of that other century to which she belonged. Her sentiments had
clustered about the past, as his had done, until the border-line between
the romance and the actuality had vanished. She could not help him
because she, also, possessed the retrospective, not the constructive,
vision. He was not conscious of these thoughts, and yet, although he was
unconscious of them, they coloured his reflections while he stood there
in the sunlight, which had begun to fall aslant the blasted pine by the
roadside. The wind had lowered until it came like the breath of spring,
bud-scented, caressing, provocative. Even Gabriel, whose optimism lay in
his blood and bone rather than in his intellect, yielded for a moment
to this call of the spring as one might yield to the delicious
melancholy of a vagrant mood. The long straight road, without bend or
fork, had warmed in the paling sunlight to the colour of old ivory; in a
neighbouring field a young maple tree rose in a flame of buds from the
ridged earth where the ploughing was over; and against the azure sky in
the south a flock of birds drifted up, like blown smoke, from the
marshes.

"Tell me your trouble, then," he said, dropping into the cane-seated
chair she had brought out of the cabin and placed between the flat stone
at the doorstep and the well-brink, on which the yellow rooster stood
spreading his wings. But Aunt Mehitable had returned to the cabin, and
when she reappeared she was holding out to him a cracked saucer on which
there was a piece of preserved watermelon rind and a pewter spoon.

"Dish yer is de ve'y same sort er preserves yo' mouf use'n ter water fur
w'en you wuz a chile," she remarked as she handed the sweet to him.
Whatever her anxiety or affliction could have been, the importance of
his visit had evidently banished it from her mind. She hovered over him
as his mother may have done when he was in his cradle, while the
cheerful self-effacement in which slavery had trained her lent a
pathetic charm to her manner.

"How peaceful it looks," he thought, sitting there, with the saucer in
his hand, and his eyes on the purple shadows that slanted over the
ploughed fields. "You have a good view of the low-grounds, Aunt
Mehitable," he said aloud, and added immediately, "What's that noise in
the road? Do you hear it?"

The old woman shook her head.

"I'se got sorter hard er heahin', Marse Gabriel, but dar's al'ays a
tur'able lot er fuss gwine on w'en de chillen begin ter come up f'om de
fields. 'T wuz becase uv oner dem ar boys dat I sont fur you," she
pursued. "He went plum outer his haid yestiddy en fout wid a w'ite man
down yonder at Cross's Co'nder, en dar's gwine ter be trouble about'n
hit des ez sho' ez you live."

Seated on the flat stone, with her hands hanging over her knees, and her
turbaned head swaying gently back and forth as she talked, she waited as
tranquilly as the rock waited for the inevitable processes of nature.
The patience in her look was the dumb patience of inanimate things; and
her half-bared feet, protruding from the broken soles of her shoes, were
encrusted with the earth of the fields until one could hardly
distinguish them from the ground on which they rested.

"It looks as if there was something like a fight down yonder by the
blasted pine," said the rector, rising from his chair. "I reckon I'd
better go and see what they're quarrelling about."

The negress rose also, and her dim eyes followed him while he went down
the little path between the borders of oyster shells. As he turned into
the open stretch of the road, he glanced back at her, and stopping for a
moment, waved his hand with a gesture that was careless and reassuring.
The fight, or whatever it was that made the noise, was still some
distance ahead in the shadow of the pine-tree, and as he walked towards
it he was thinking casually of other matters--of the wretched condition
of the road after the winter rains, of the need of greater thrift among
the farmers, both white and black, of the touch of indigestion which
still troubled him. There was nothing to warn him that he was
approaching the supreme event in his life, nothing to prepare him for a
change beside which all the changes of the past would appear as
unsubstantial as shadows. His soul might have been the soul in the
grass, so little did its coming or its going affect the forces around
him.

"If this shooting pain keeps up, I'll have to get a prescription from
Doctor Fraser," he thought, and the next minute he cried out suddenly:
"God help us!" and began to run down the road in the direction of the
blasted pine. There was hardly a breath between the instant when he had
thought of his indigestion and the instant when he had called out
sharply on the name of God, yet that flash of time had been long enough
to change the ordinary man into the hero. The spark of greatness in his
nature flamed up and irradiated all that had been merely dull and common
clay a moment before. As he ran on, with his coat tails flapping around
him, and his thin legs wobbling from the unaccustomed speed at which he
moved, he was so unimposing a figure that only the Deity who judges the
motives, not the actions, of men would have been impressed by the
spectacle. Even the three hearty brutes--and it took him but a glance to
see that two of them were drunk, and that the third, being a sober
rascal, was the more dangerous--hardly ceased their merry torment of the
young negro in their midst when he came up with them.

"I know that boy," he said. "He is the grandson of Aunt Mehitable. What
are you doing with him?"

A drunken laugh answered him, while the sober scoundrel--a lank, hairy
ne-er-do-well, with a tendency to epilepsy, whose name he remembered to
have heard--pushed him roughly to the roadside.

"You git out of this here mess, parson. We're goin' to teach this damn
nigger a lesson, and I reckon when he's learned it in hell, he won't
turn his grin on a white woman again in a jiffy."

"Fo' de Lawd, I didn't mean nuttin', Marster!" screamed the boy, livid
with terror. "I didn't know de lady was dar--fo' de Lawd Jesus, I
didn't! My foot jes slipped on de plank w'en I wuz crossin', en I
knocked up agin her."

"He jostled her," observed one of the drunken men judicially, "an' we'll
be roasted befo' we'll let a damn nigger jostle a white lady--even if
she ain't a lady--in these here parts."

In the rector's bone and fibre, drilled there by the ages that had
shaped his character before he began to be, there was all the white
man's horror of an insult to his womankind. But deeper even than this
lay his personal feeling of responsibility for any creature whose
fathers had belonged to him and had toiled in his service.

"I believe the boy is telling the truth," he said, and he added with one
of his characteristic bursts of impulsiveness, "but whether he is or
not, you are too drunk to judge."

There was going to be a battle, he saw, and in the swiftness with which
he discerned this, he made his eternal choice between the preacher and
the fighter. Stripping off his coat, he reached down for a stick from
the roadside; then spinning round on the three of them he struck out
with all his strength, while there floated before him the face of a man
he had killed in his first charge at Manassas. The old fury, the old
triumph, the old blood-stained splendour returned to him. He smelt the
smoke again, he heard the boom of the cannon, the long sobbing rattle of
musketry, and the thought stabbed through him, "God forgive me for
loving a fight!"

Then the fight stopped. There was a patter of feet in the dust as the
young negro fled like a hare up the road in the direction of Dinwiddie.
One of the men leaped the fence and disappeared into the tangled thicket
beyond; while the other two, sobered suddenly, began walking slowly over
the ploughed ground on the right. Ten minutes later Gabriel was lying
alone, with the blood oozing from his mouth, on the trodden weeds by the
roadside. The shadow of the pine had not moved since he watched it; on
the flat rock in front of the cabin the old negress stood, straining her
eyes in the faint sunshine; and up the long road the March wind still
blew, as soft, as provocative, as bud-scented.



BOOK THIRD

THE ADJUSTMENT



CHAPTER I

THE CHANGING ORDER


"So this is life," thought Virginia, while she folded her mourning veil,
and laid it away in the top drawer of her bureau. Like all who are
suddenly brought face to face with tragedy, she felt at the moment that
there was nothing else in existence. All the sweetness of the past had
vanished so utterly that she remembered it only as one remembers a dream
from which one has abruptly awakened. Nothing remained except this
horrible sense of the pitiful insufficiency of life, of the inexorable
finality of death. It was a week since the rector's death, and in that
week she had passed out of her girlhood forever. Of all the things that
she had lived through, this alone had had the power to crush the hope in
her and the odour of crape which floated through the crack of the drawer
sickened her with its reminder of that agonized sense of loss which had
settled over her at the funeral. She was only thirty--the best of her
life should still be in the future--yet as she looked back at her white
face in the mirror it seemed to her that she should never emerge from
the leaden hopelessness which had descended like a weight on her body.
Above the harsh black of her dress, which added ten years to her
appearance, she saw the darkened circles rimming her eyes, the faded
pallor of her skin, the lustreless wave of her hair, which had once had
a satiny sheen on its ripples.

"Grief makes a person look like this," she thought. "I shall never be a
girl again--Oliver was right: I am the kind to break early." Then,
because to think of herself in the midst of such sorrow seemed to her
almost wicked, she turned away from the mirror, and laid her
crape-trimmed hat on the shelf in the wardrobe. She was wearing a dress
of black Henrietta cloth, which had been borrowed from one of her
neighbours who had worn mourning, and the blouse and sleeves hung with
an exaggerated fullness over her thin arms and bosom. All that had
distinguished her beauty--the radiance, the colour the flower-like
delicacy of bloom and sweetness--these were blotted out by her grief and
by the voluminous mourning dress of the nineties. A week had changed
her, as even Harry's illness had not changed her, from a girl into a
woman; and horrible beyond belief, with the exception of her mother, it
had changed nothing else in the universe! The tragedy that had ruined
her life had left the rest of the world--even the little world of
Dinwiddie--moving as serenely, as indifferently, on its way towards
eternity. On the morning of the funeral she had heard the same market
wagons rumble over the cobblestones, the same droning songs of the
hucksters, the same casual procession of feet on the pavement. A
passionate indignation had seized her because life could be so brutal to
death, because the terror and the pity that flamed in her soul shed no
burning light on the town where her father had worked and loved and
fought and suffered and died. A little later the ceaseless tread of
visitors to the rectory door had driven this thought from her mind, but
through every minute, while he lay in the closed room downstairs, while
she sat beside her mother in the slow crawling carriage that went to the
old churchyard, while she stood with bowed head listening to the words
of the service--through it all there had been the feeling that something
must happen to alter a world in which such a thing had been possible,
that life must stop, that the heavens must fall, that God must put forth
His hand and work a miracle in order to show His compassion and His
horror.

But nothing had changed. After the funeral her mother had come home with
her, and the others, many with tear-stained faces, had drifted in
separate ways back to eat their separate dinners. For a few hours
Dinwiddie had been shaken out of its phlegmatic pursuit of happiness;
for a few hours it had attained an emotional solidarity which swept it
up from the innumerable bypaths of the personal to a height where the
personal rises at last into the universal. Then the ebb had come; the
sense of tragedy had lessened slowly with the prolongation of feeling;
and the universal vision had dissolved and crystallized into the
pitiless physical needs of the individual. After the funeral a wave
almost of relief had swept over the town at the thought that the
suspension and the strain were at an end. The business of keeping alive,
and the moral compulsion of keeping abreast of one's neighbours,
reasserted their supremacy even while the carriages, quickening their
pace a trifle on the return drive, rolled out of the churchyard. Now at
the end of a week only Virginia and her mother would take the time from
living to sit down and remember.

In the adjoining room, which was the nursery, Mrs. Pendleton was sitting
beside the window, with her Bible open on her knees, and her head bent a
little in the direction of Miss Priscilla, who was mending a black dress
by the table.

"It is so sweet of you, dear Miss Priscilla," she murmured in her vague
and gentle voice as Virginia entered. So old, so pallid, so fragile she
looked, that she might have been mistaken by a stranger for a woman of
eighty, yet the impossibility of breaking the habit of a lifetime kept
the lines of her face still fixed in an expression of anxious
cheerfulness. For more than forty years she had not thought of herself,
and now that the opportunity had come for her to do so, she found that
she had almost forgotten the way that one went about it. Even grief
could not make her selfish any more than it could make her untidy. Her
manner, like her dress, was so little a matter of impulse, and so
largely a matter of discipline and of conscience, that it expressed her
broken heart hardly more than did the widow's cap on her head or the
mourning brooch that fastened the crape folds of her collar.

"Do you want anything, mother darling? What can I do for you?" asked
Virginia, stooping to kiss her.

"Nothing, dear. I was just telling Miss Priscilla that I had had a visit
from Mr. Treadwell, and that"--her voice quivered a little--"he showed
more feeling than I should have believed possible. He even wanted to
make me an allowance."

Miss Priscilla drew out her large linen handkerchief, which was like a
man's, and loudly blew her nose. "I always said there was more in Cyrus
than people thought," she observed. "Here, I've shortened this dress,
Jinny, until it's just about your mother's length."

She tried to speak carelessly, for though she did not concur in the
popular belief that to ignore sorrow is to assuage it, her social
instinct, which was as strongly developed as Mrs. Pendleton's,
encouraged her to throw a pleasant veil over affliction.

"You're looking pale for want of air, Jinny," she added, after a minute
in which she had thought, "The child has broken so in the last few days
that she looks years older than Oliver."

"I'm trying to make her go driving," said Mrs. Pendleton, leaning
forward over the open page of her Bible.

"But I can't go, mother; I haven't the heart for it," replied Virginia,
choking down a sob.

"I don't like to see you looking so badly, dear. You must keep up your
strength for the children's sake, you know."

"Yes, I know," answered Virginia, but her voice had a weary sound.

A little later, when Miss Priscilla had gone, and Oliver came in to urge
her to go with him, she shook her head again, still palely resolute,
still softly obstinate.

"But, Jinny, it isn't right for you to let your health go," he urged.
"You haven't had a breath of air for days and you're getting sallow."

His own colour was as fine as ever; he grew handsomer, if a trifle
stouter, as he grew older; and at thirty-five there was all the vigour
and the charm of twenty in his face and manner. In one way only he had
altered, and of this alteration, he, as well as Virginia, was beginning
faintly to be aware. Comfort was almost imperceptibly taking the place
of conviction, and the passionate altruism of youth would yield before
many years to the prudential philosophy of middle-age. Life had defeated
him. His best had been thrown back at him, and his nature, embittered by
failure, was adjusting itself gradually to a different and a lower
standard of values. Though he could not be successful, it was still
possible, even within the narrow limits of his income and his
opportunities, to be comfortable. And, like other men who have lived day
by day with heroically unselfish women, he had fallen at last into the
habit of thinking that his being comfortable was, after all, a question
of supreme importance to the universe. Deeply as he had felt the
rector's death, he, in common with the rest of Dinwiddie, was conscious
of breathing more easily after the funeral was over. To his
impressionable nature, alternations of mood were almost an essential of
being, and there was something intolerable to him in any slowly
harrowing grief. To watch Virginia nursing every memory of her father
because she shrank from the subtle disloyalty of forgetfulness, aroused
in him a curious mingling of sympathy and resentment.

"I wish you'd go, even if you don't feel like it--just to please me,
Virginia," he urged, and after a short struggle she yielded to his
altered tone, and got down her hat from the shelf of the wardrobe.

A little later, as the dog-cart rolled out of Dinwiddie into the country
road, she looked through her black grenadine veil on a world which
appeared to have lost its brightness. The road was the one along which
she had ridden on the morning of the fox-hunt; ahead of them lay the
same fields, sown now with the tender green of the spring; the same
creeks ran there, screened by the same thickets of elder; the same pines
wafted their tang on the March wind that blew, singing, out of the
forest. It was all just as it had been on that morning--and yet what a
difference!

"Put up your veil, Virginia--it's enough to smother you."

But she only shook her head, shrinking farther down into the shapeless
borrowed dress as though she felt that it protected her. Following the
habit of people whose choice has been instinctive rather than
deliberate, a choice of the blood, not of the brain, they had long ago
exhausted the fund of conversation with which they had started. There
was nothing to talk about--since Virginia had never learned to talk of
herself, and Oliver had grown reticent recently about the subjects that
interested him. When the daily anecdotes of the children had been aired
between them with an effort at breeziness, nothing remained except the
endless discussion of Harry's education. Even this had worn threadbare
of late, and with the best intentions in the world, Virginia had failed
to supply anything else of sufficient importance to take its place. An
inherited habit, the same habit which had made it possible for Mrs.
Pendleton to efface her broken heart, prompted her to avoid any allusion
to her grief in which she sat shrouded as in her mourning veil.

"The spring is so early this year," she remarked once, with her gaze on
the rosy billows of an orchard. "The peach trees have almost finished
blooming."

Then, as he made no answer except to flick at John Henry's bay mare
with his whip, she asked daringly, "Are you writing again, Oliver?"

A frown darkened his forehead, and she saw the muscles about his mouth
twitch as though he were irritated. For all his failure and his
bitterness, he did not look a day older, she thought, than when she had
first seen him driving down High Street in that unforgettable May. He
was still as ardent, still as capable of inspiring first love in the
imagination of a girl. The light and the perfume of that enchanted
spring seemed suddenly to envelop her, and moved by a yearning to
recapture them for an instant, she drew closer to him, and slipped her
hand through his arm.

"Oh, I'm trying my luck with some trash. Nothing but trash has any
chance of going in this damned business."

"You mean it's different from your others? It's less serious?"

"Less serious? Well, I should say so. It's the sort of ice-cream
soda-water the public wants. But if I can get it put on, it ought to
run, and a play that runs is obliged to make money. I doubt if there's
anything much better than money, when it comes to that."

"You used to say it didn't matter."

"Did I? Well, I was a fool and I've learned better. These last few years
have taught me that nothing else on earth matters much."

This was so different from what that other Oliver--the Oliver of her
first love--might have said, that involuntarily her clasp on his arm
tightened. The change in him, so gradual at first that her mind, unused
to subtleties, had hardly grasped it, was beginning to frighten her.

"You have such burdens, dear," she said, and he noticed that her voice
had acquired the toneless sweetness of her mother's. "I've tried to be
as saving as I could, but the children have been sick so much that it
seems sometimes as if we should never get out of debt. I am trying now
to pay off the bills I was obliged to make while Harry was ill in
October. If I could only get perfectly strong, we might let Marthy go,
now that Jenny is getting so big."

"You work hard enough as it is, Virginia. You've been awfully good about
it," he answered, but his manner was almost casual, for he had grown to
take for granted her unselfishness with something of the unconcern with
which he took for granted the comfortable feeling of the spring weather.
In the early days of their marriage, when her fresh beauty had been a
power to rule him, she had taught him to assume his right to her
self-immolation on the altar of his comfort; and with the taste of
bitterness which sometimes follows the sweets of memory, she recalled
that their first quarrel had arisen because she had insisted on getting
out of bed to make the fires in the morning. Then, partly because the
recollection appeared to reproach him, and partly because, not
possessing the critical faculty, she had never learned to acknowledge
the existence of a flaw in a person she loved, she edged closer to him,
and replied cheerfully:

"I don't mind the work a bit, if only the children will keep well so we
shan't have to spend any more money. I shan't need any black clothes,"
she added, with a trembling lip. "Mrs. Carrington has given me this
dress, as she has gone out of mourning, and I've got a piece of blue
silk put away that I am going to have dyed."

He glanced at the shapeless dress, not indignantly as he would once have
done, but with a tinge of quiet amusement.

"It makes you look every day of forty."

"I know it isn't becoming, but at least it will save having to buy one."

In spite of the fact that her small economies had made it possible for
them to live wholesomely, and with at least an appearance of decency, on
his meagre salary, they had always aroused in him a sense of bitter
exasperation. He respected her, of course, for her saving, yet in his
heart he knew that she would probably have charmed him more had she been
a spendthrift--since the little virtues are sometimes more deadly to the
passion of love than are the large vices. While he nodded, without
disputing the sound common sense in her words, she thought a little
wistfully how nice it would be to have pretty things if only one could
afford them. Someday, when the children's schooling was over and Oliver
had got a larger salary, she would begin to buy clothes that were
becoming rather than durable. But that was in the future, and,
meanwhile, how much better it was to grudge every penny she spent on
herself as long as there were unpaid bills at the doctor's and the
grocer's. All of which was, of course, perfectly reasonable, and like
other women who have had a narrow experience of life, she cherished the
delusion that a man's love, as well as his philosophy, is necessarily
rooted in reason.

When they turned homeward, the bay mare, pricked by desire for her
stable, began to travel more rapidly, and the fall of her hoofs,
accompanied by the light roll of the wheels, broke the silence which had
almost imperceptibly settled upon them. Not until the cart drew up at
the gate did Virginia realize that they had hardly spoken a dozen words
on the drive back.

"I feel better already, Oliver," she said, gratefully, as he helped her
to alight. Then hastening ahead of him, she ran up the walk and into the
hall, where her mother, looking wan and unnatural in her widow's cap,
greeted her with the question:

"Did you have a pleasant drive, dear?"

       *       *       *       *       *

For six months Mrs. Pendleton hid her broken heart under a smile and
went softly about the small daily duties of the household, facing death,
as she had faced life, with a sublime unselfishness and the manner of a
lady. Her hopes, her joys, her fears even, lay in the past; there was
nothing for her to look forward to, nothing for her to dread in the
future. Life had given her all that it had to offer of bliss or sorrow,
and for the rest of her few years she would be like one who, having
finished her work before the end of the day, sits waiting patiently for
the words of release to be spoken. As the months went on, she moved like
a gentle shadow about her daughter's little home. So wasted and pallid
was her body that at times Virginia feared to touch her lest she should
melt like a phantom out of her arms. Yet to the last she never faltered,
never cried out for mercy, never sought to hasten by a breath that end
which was to her as the longing of her eyes, as the brightness of the
sunlight, as the sweetness of the springtime. Once, looking up from
Lucy's lesson which she was hearing, she said a little wistfully, "I
don't think, Jinny, it will be long now," and then checking herself
reproachfully, she added, "But God knows best. I can trust Him."

It was the only time that she had ever spoken of the thought which was
in her mind day and night, for when she could no longer welcome her
destiny, she had accepted it. Her faith, like her opinions, was
child-like and uncritical--the artless product of a simple and incurious
age. The strength in her had gone not into the building of knowledge,
but into the making of character, and she had judged all thought as
innocently as she had judged all literature, by its contribution to the
external sweetness of living. A child of ten might have demolished her
theories, and yet because of them, or in spite of them, she had
translated into action the end of all reasoning, the profoundest meaning
in all philosophy. But she was born to decorate instead of to reason.
Though her mind had never winnowed illusions from realities, her hands
had patiently woven both illusions and realities into the embroidered
fabric of Life.

For six months she went about the house and helped Virginia with the
sewing, which had become burdensome since the children, and especially
Harry, were big enough to wear daily holes in their stockings. Then,
when the half year was over, she took to her bed one evening after she
had carefully undressed, folded her clothes out of sight, and read a
chapter in her Bible. In the morning she did not get up, and at the end
of a fortnight, in which she apologized for making extra work whenever
food was brought to her, she clasped her hands on her thin breast,
smiled once into Virginia's face, and died so quietly that there was
hardly a perceptible change in her breathing. She had gone through life
without giving trouble, and she gave none at the end. As she lay there
in her little bed in Virginia's spare room, to which she had moved after
Gabriel's death in order that the rectory might be got ready for the new
rector, she appeared so shadowy and unearthly that it was impossible to
believe that she had ever been a part of the restless strivings and the
sombre violences of life. On the candle-stand by her bed lay her
spectacles, with steel rims because she had never felt that she could
afford gold ones; and a single October rose, from which a golden petal
had dropped, stood in a vase beside the Bible. On the foot of the bed
hung her grey flannelette wrapper, with a patch in one sleeve over which
Harry had spilled a bottle of shoe polish, while through the
half-shuttered window the autumn sunshine fell in long yellow bars over
the hemp rugs on the floor. And she was dead! Her mother was dead--no
matter how much she needed her, she would never come back. Out of the
vacancy around her, some words of her own, spoken in her girlhood,
returned to her. "There is only one thing I couldn't bear, and that is
losing my mother." Only one thing! And now that one thing had happened,
and she was not only bearing it, she was looking ahead to a future in
which that one thing would be always beside her, always in her memory.
Whatever the years brought to her, they could never bring her mother
again--they could never bring her a love like her mother's.

Out of that same vacancy, which seemed to swallow and to hold
everything, which seemed to exist both within and outside of herself, a
multitude of forgotten images and impressions flashed into being. She
saw the nursery fireside in the rectory, and her mother, with hair that
still shone like satin, rocking back and forth in the black wicker chair
with the sagging bottom. She saw her kneeling on the old frayed red and
blue drugget, her skirt pinned up at the back of her waist, while she
bathed her daughter's scratched and aching feet in the oblong tin
foot-tub. She saw her, as beautiful as an angel, in church on Sunday
mornings, her worshipful eyes lifted to the pulpit, an edge of
tinted light falling on the open prayer-book in her hand. She saw
her, thin and stooping, a shadow of all that she had once
been--waiting--waiting----She had always been there. It was impossible
to realize that a time could ever come when she would not be there--and
now she was gone!

And behind all the images, all the impressions, the stubborn thought
persisted that this was life--that one could never escape it--that
whatever happened, one must come back to it at the last. "I have my
children still left--but for my children I could not live!" she thought,
dropping on her knees by the bedside, and hiding her face in the grey
wrapper.

       *       *       *       *       *

After this it seemed to her that she ceased to live except in the lives
of her children, and her days passed so evenly, so monotonously, that
she only noticed their flight when one of the old people in Dinwiddie
remarked to her with a certain surprise: "You've almost a grown
daughter now, Jinny," or "Harry will soon be getting as big as his
father. Have you decided where you will send him to college?" She was
not unhappy--had she ever stopped to ask herself the question, she would
probably have answered, "If only mother and father were living, I should
be perfectly satisfied"; yet in spite of her assurances, there existed
deep down in her--so deep that her consciousness had never fully grasped
the fact of its presence--a dumb feeling that something was missing out
of life, that the actuality was a little less bright, a little less
perfect than it had appeared through the rosy glamour of her virgin
dreams. Was this "something missing" merely one of the necessary
conditions of mortal existence? Or was there somewhere on the earth that
stainless happiness which she had once believed her marriage would bring
to her? "I should be perfectly satisfied if only----" she would
sometimes say in the night, and then check herself before she had ended
the sentence. The lack, real as it was, was still too formless to lend
itself to the precision of words; it belonged less to circumstances than
to the essential structure of life. And yet, as she put it to herself in
her rare moments of depression, she had so much to be thankful for! The
children grew stronger as they grew older--since Harry's attack of
diphtheria, indeed, there had been no serious illness in the family, and
as she approached middle-age, her terror of illness increased rather
than diminished. The children made up for much--they ought to have made
up for everything--and yet did they? There was no visible fault that she
could attribute to them. With her temperamental inability to see flaws,
she was accustomed to think of them as perfect children, as children
whom she would not change, had she the power, by so much as a hair or an
outline. They grew up, straight, fine, and fearless, full of the new
spirit, eager to test life, to examine facts, possessed by that
awakening feeling for truth which had always frightened her a little in
Susan. Vaguely, without defining the sensation, she felt that they were
growing beyond her, that she could no longer keep up with them, that,
every year, they were leaving her a little farther behind them. They
were fond of her, but she understood from something Jenny said one day,
that they had ceased to be proud of her. It was while they were looking
over an old photograph album of Susan's that, coming to a picture of
Virginia, taken the week before her wedding, Jenny cried out: "Why,
there's mother!" and slipped it out of the page.

"I never saw that before," Lucy said, leaning over with a laugh. "You
were so young when you married, mother, and you wore such tight sleeves,
and a bustle!"

"Would you ever have believed she was as pretty as that?" asked Jenny,
with the unconscious brutality of childhood.

"If you are ever as beautiful as your mother was, you may thank your
stars," said Susan dryly, and by the expression in her face Virginia
knew that she was thinking, "If that was my child, I'd slap her!"

Harry, who had been stuffing fruitcake on the sofa--sweets were his
weakness--rose suddenly and came over to the group.

"If you are ever as beautiful as she is now, you may thank your stars,
Miss Yellow Frisk!" he remarked crushingly.

It was a little thing--so little that it seemed ridiculous to think of
it as among the momentous happenings in a life--but with that
extraordinary proneness of the little to usurp the significant places of
memory, it had become at last one of the important milestones in her
experience. At the end, when she forgot everything else, she would not
forget Harry's foolish words, nor the look in his indignant boyish face
when he uttered them. Until then she had not admitted to herself that
there was a difference in her feeling for her children, but with the
touch of his sympathetic, not over clean, hand on her shoulder, she knew
that she should never again think of the three of them as if they were
one in her interest and her love. The girls were good children, dear
children--she would have let herself be cut in pieces for either of them
had it been necessary--but between Harry and herself there was a
different bond, a closer and a deeper dependency, which strengthened
almost insensibly as he grew older. Her daughters she loved, but her
son, as is the inexplicable way of women, she adored blindly and without
wisdom. If it had been possible to ruin him, she would have done so,
but, unlike many other sons, he seemed, by virtue of that invincible
strength with which he had been born, to be proof against both spoiling
and flattery. He was a nice boy even to strangers, even to Susan, with
her serene judgment of persons, he appeared a thoroughly nice boy! He
was not only a tall, lean, habitually towselled-headed youngster, with a
handsome sunburned face and a pair of charming, slightly quizzical blue
eyes, but he was, as his teachers and his school reports bore witness,
possessed of an intellectual brilliancy which made study as easy, and
quite as interesting to him, as play. Unlike his father, he had entered
life endowed with a cheerful outlook upon the world and with that
temperament of success which usually, but by no means inevitably,
accompanies it. Whatever happened, he would make the best of it, he
would "get on," and it was impossible to imagine him in any hole so deep
that he could not, sooner or later, find the way out of it. The
Pendleton and the Treadwell spirits had contributed their best to him.
If he derived from Cyrus, or from some obscure strain in Cyrus's
ancestry, a wholesome regard for material success, a robust
determination to achieve results combined with that hard, clear vision
of affairs which makes such achievement easy, he had inherited from
Gabriel his genial temper, his charm of manner, and his faith in life,
which, though it failed to move mountains, had sweetened and enriched
the mere act of living. Though he was less demonstrative than Lucy, who
had outgrown the plainness and the reticence of her childhood and was
developing into a coquettish, shallow-minded girl, with what Miss
Priscilla called "a glib tongue," Virginia learned gradually, in the
secret way mothers learn things, that his love for her was, after his
ambition, the strongest force in his character. Between him and his
father there had existed ever since his babyhood a curious, silent, yet
ineradicable hostility. Whether the fault was Oliver's or Harry's,
whether the father resented the energy and the initiative of his son, or
the son resented the indifference and the self-absorption of his father,
Virginia had never discovered. For years she fought against admitting
the discord between them. Then, at last, on the occasion of a quarrel,
when it was no longer possible to dissemble, she followed Oliver into
his study, which had once been the "back parlour," and pleaded with him
to show a little patience, a little sympathy with his son. "He's a boy
any father would be proud of----" she finished, almost in tears.

"I know he is," he answered irritably, "but the truth is he rubs me the
wrong way. I suppose the trouble is that you have spoiled him."

"But he isn't spoiled. Everybody says----"

"Oh, everybody!" he murmured disdainfully, with a shrug of his fine
shoulders.

He looked back at her with the sombre fire of anger still in his eyes,
and she saw, without trying to see, without even knowing that she did
see, all the changes that years had wrought in his appearance.
Physically, he was a finer animal than he had been when she married him,
for time, which had sapped her youth and faded her too delicate bloom,
had but added a deeper colour to the warm brown of his skin, a steadier
glow to his eyes, a more silvery gloss to his hair. At forty, he was a
handsomer man than he had been at twenty-five, yet, in spite of this,
some virtue had gone out of him--here, too, as in life, "something was
missing." The generous impulses, the high heart for adventure, the
enthusiasm of youth, and youth's white rage for perfection--where were
these? It was as if a rough hand had passed over him, coarsening here,
blotting out there, accentuating elsewhere. The slow, insidious devil of
compromise had done its work. Once he had made one of the small band of
fighters who fight not for advantage, but for the truth; now he stood in
that middle place with the safe majority who are "neither for God nor
for His enemies." Life had done this to him--life and Virginia. It was
not only that he had "grown soft," as he would have expressed it, nor
was it even wholly that he had grown selfish, for the canker which ate
at the roots of his personality had affected not his character merely,
but the very force of his will. Though the imperative he obeyed had
always been not "I must," but "I want," his natural loftiness of purpose
might have saved him from the results of his weakness had he not lost
gradually the capacity for successful resistance with which he had
started. If only in the beginning she had upheld not his inclinations,
but his convictions; if only she had sought not to soothe his weakness,
but to stimulate his strength; if only she had seen for once the thing
as it was, not as it ought to have been----

He was buried in his work now, and there were months during this year
when she appeared hardly to see him, so engrossed, so self-absorbed had
he become. Sometimes she would remember, stifling the pang it caused,
the nights when he had written his first plays in Matoaca City, and that
he had made her sit beside him with her sewing because he could not
think if she were out of the room. Now, he could write only when he was
alone; he hated an interruption so much that she often let the fire go
out rather than open his closed door to see if it was burning. If she
went in to speak to him, he laid his pen down and did not take it up
again while she was there. Yet this change had come so stealthily that
it had hardly affected her happiness. She had grown accustomed to the
difference before she had realized it sufficiently to suffer. Sometimes
she would say to herself a little wonderingly, "Oliver used to be so
romantic;" for with the majority of women whose marriages have
surrendered to an invasion of the commonplace, she accepted the
comfortable theory that the alteration was due less to circumstances
than to the natural drying of the springs of sentiment in her husband's
character. Occasionally, she would remember with a smile her three days'
jealousy of Abby; but the brevity and the folly of this had established
her the more securely in her impregnable position of unquestioning
belief in him. She had started life believing, as the women of her race
had believed for ages before her, that love was a divine gift which came
but once in a lifetime, and which, coming once, remained forever
indestructible. People, of course, grew more practical and less intense
as they left youth farther behind them; and though this misty principle
would have dissolved at once had she applied it to herself (for she
became more sentimental as she approached middle-age), behind any
suspicious haziness of generalization there remained always the sacred
formula, "Men are different." Once, when a sharp outbreak of the primal
force had precipitated a scandal in the home of one of her neighbours,
she had remarked to Susan that she was "devoutly thankful that Oliver
did not have that side to his nature."

"It must be a disagreeable side to live with," Susan, happily married to
John Henry, and blissfully expectant of motherhood, had replied, "but as
far as I know, Oliver never had a light fancy for a woman in his
life--not even before he was married. I used to tell him that it was
because he expected too much. Physical beauty by itself never seemed to
attract him--it was the angel in you that he first fell in love with."

A glow of pleasure flushed Virginia's sharpened features, mounting to
the thin little curls on her forehead. These little curls, to which she
sentimentally clung in spite of the changes in the fashions, were a
cause of ceaseless worry to Lucy, who had developed into a "stylish"
girl, and would have died sooner than she would have rejected the
universal pompadour of the period. It was the single vanity that
Virginia had ever permitted herself, this adhering at middle-age to the
quaint and rather coquettish hairdressing of her girlhood: and Fate had
punished her by threading the little curls with grey, while Susan's
stiff roll (she had adopted the newer mode) remained bravely flaxen. But
Susan was one of those women who, lacking a fine fair skin and defying
tradition, are physically at their best between forty and fifty.

"Oliver used to be so romantic," said Virginia, as she had said so often
to herself, while the glow paled slowly from her cheeks, leaving them
the colour of faded rose-leaves.

"Not so romantic as you were, Jinny."

"Oh, I am still," she laughed softly. "Lucy says I take more interest in
her lovers now than she does," and she added after a minute, "Girls are
so different to-day from what they used to be--they are so much less
sentimental."

"But I thought Lucy was. She has enough flirtations for her age, hasn't
she?"

"She has enough attention, of course--for the funny part is that, though
she's only sixteen and not nearly so pretty as Jenny, the men are all
crazy, as Miss Willy says, about her. But, somehow, it's different. Lucy
enjoys it, but it isn't her life. As for Jenny, she's still too young to
have taken shape, I suppose, but she has only one idea in her head and
that is going to college. She never gives a boy a thought."

"That's queer, because she promises already to be the most beautiful
girl in Dinwiddie."

"She is beautiful. I am quite sure that it isn't because she is my
daughter that I think so. But, all the same, I'm afraid she'll never be
as popular as Lucy is. She is so distant and overbearing to men that
they are shy of her."

"And you'll let her go to college?"

"If we can afford it--and now that Oliver hopes to get one of his plays
put on, we may have a little more money. But it seems such a waste to
me. I never saw that it could possibly do a woman any good to go to
college--though of course I always sympathized with your disappointment,
dear Susan. Jenny is bent on it now, but I feel so strongly that it
would be better for her to come out in Dinwiddie and go to parties and
have attention."

"And does Oliver feel that, too?"

"Oh, he doesn't care. Jenny is his favourite, and he will let her do
anything he thinks she has set her heart on. But he has never put his
whole life into the children's as I have done."

"But if she goes, will you be able to send Harry?"

"Of course, Harry's education must come before everything else--even
Oliver realizes that. Do you know, I've hardly bought a match for ten
years that I haven't stopped to ask myself if it would take anything
from Harry's education. That's why I've gone as shabby as this almost
ever since he was born--that and my longing to give the girls a few
pretty things."

"You haven't bought a dress for yourself since I can remember. I should
think you would wear your clothes out making them over."

The look in Virginia's face showed that the recollection Susan had
invoked was not entirely a pleasant one.

"I've done with as little as I could," she answered. "Only once was I
really extravagant, and that was when I bought a light blue silk which I
didn't have made up until years afterwards when it was dyed black. Dyed
things never hold their own," she concluded pensively.

"You are too unselfish--that is your only fault," said Susan
impulsively. "I hope they appreciate all you have been to them."

"Oh, they appreciate me," returned Virginia with a laugh. "Harry does,
anyhow."

"I believe Harry is your darling, Jinny."

"I try not to make any difference in my feeling--they are all the best
children that ever lived--but--Susan, I wouldn't breathe this to anybody
on earth but you--I can't help thinking that Harry loves me more than
the others do. He--he has so much more patience with me. The girls
sometimes laugh at me because I am old-fashioned and behind the times,
and I can see that it annoys them because I am ignorant of things which
they seem to have been born knowing."

"But it was for their sake that you let yourself go--you gave up
everything else for them from the minute that they were born."

A tear shone in Virginia's eye, and Susan knew, without having it put
into words, that a wound somewhere in that gentle heart was still
hurting. "I'd like to slap them!" she thought fiercely, and then she
said aloud with a manner of cheerful conviction:

"You are a great deal too good for them, Jinny, and some day they will
know it."

A longing came over her to take the thin little figure in her arms and
shake back into her something of the sparkle and the radiance of her
girlhood. Why did beauty fade? Why did youth grow middle-aged? Above
all, why did love and sacrifice so often work their own punishment?



CHAPTER II

THE PRICE OF COMFORT


Virginia knelt on the cushioned seat in the bay-window of her bedroom,
gazing expectantly down on the pavement below. It was her forty-fifth
birthday, and she was impatiently waiting for Harry, who was coming home
for a few days before going abroad to finish his studies at Oxford. The
house was a new, impeccably modern dwelling, produced by a triumph of
the utilitarian genius of the first decade of the twentieth century, and
Oliver had bought it at a prodigious price a few years after his
dramatic success had lifted him from poverty into comfort. The girls,
charmed to have made the momentous passage into Sycamore Street, were
delighted with the space and elegance of their new home, but Virginia
had always felt somehow as if she were visiting. The drawing-room, and
especially the butler's pantry, awed her. She had not dared to wash
those august shelves with soda, nor to fasten her favourite strips of
white oilcloth along their shining surfaces. The old joy of "fixing up"
her storeroom had been wrested from her by the supercilious mulatto
butler, who wore immaculate shirt fronts, but whom she suspected of
being untidy beneath his magnificent exterior. Once when she had
discovered a bucket of apple-parings tucked away under the sink, where
it had stood for days, he had given "notice" so unexpectedly and so
haughtily that she had been afraid ever since to look under dish-towels
or into hidden places while he was absent. Out of the problem of the
South "the servant question" had arisen to torment and intimidate the
housekeepers of Dinwiddie; and inferior service at high wages was
regarded of late as a thing for which one had come to be thankful. Had
they still lived in the little house, Virginia would gladly have done
her work for the sake of the peace and the cleanliness which it would
have ensured; but since the change in their circumstances, Oliver and
the girls had grown so dependent upon the small luxuries of living that
she put up with anything--even with the appalling suspicion that every
mouthful she ate was not clean--rather than take the risk of having her
three servants desert in a body. When she had unwisely complained to
Oliver, he had remarked impatiently that he couldn't be bothered about
the housekeeping, and Lucy had openly accused her of being "fussy."

After this she had said nothing more, but gathering suddenly all her
energies, she had precipitated a scene with the servants (which ended to
her relief in the departure of the magnificent butler) and had
reorganized at a stroke the affairs of her household. For all her
gentleness, she was not incapable of decisive action, and though it had
always been easier for her to work herself than to direct others, her
native talent for domesticity had enabled her to emerge triumphantly out
of this crisis. Now, on her forty-fifth birthday, she could reflect with
pride (the pride of a woman who has mastered her traditional _métier de
femme_) that there was not a house in Dinwiddie which had better food
or smoother service than she provided in hers. For more and more, as
Oliver absorbed himself in his work, which kept him in New York many
months of the year, and the children grew so big that they no longer
needed her, did her life centre around the small monotonous details of
cooking and cleaning. Only when, as occasionally happened, the rest of
the family were absent together, Oliver about his plays, Lucy on a visit
to Richmond, and Harry and Jenny at college, an awful sense of futility
descended upon her, and she felt that both the purpose and the
initiative were sapped from her character. Sometimes, during such days
or weeks of loneliness, she would think of her mother's words, uttered
so often in the old years at the rectory: "There isn't any pleasure in
making things unless there's somebody to make them for."

Beyond the window, the November day, which had been one of placid
contentment for her, was slowly drawing to its close. The pale red line
of an autumn sunset lingered in the west above the huddled roofs of the
town, while the mournful dusk of evening was creeping up from the earth.
A few chilled and silent sparrows hopped dejectedly along the bared
boughs of the young maple tree in front of the house, and every now and
then a brisk pedestrian would pass on the concrete pavement below.
Inside, a cheerful fire burned in the grate, and near it, on one end of
the chintz-covered couch, lay Oliver's present to her--a set of black
bear furs, which he had brought down with him from New York. Turning
away from the window, she slipped the neck-piece over her shoulders, and
as she did so, she tried to stifle the wonder whether he would have
bought them--whether even he would have remembered the date--if Harry
had not been with him. Last year he had forgotten her birthday--and
never before had he given her so costly a present as this. They were
beautiful furs, but even she, with her ignorance of the subtler arts of
dress, saw that they were too heavy for her, that they made her look
shrunken and small and accentuated the pallor of her skin, which had the
colour and the texture of withered rose-leaves. "They are just what
Jenny has always wanted, and they would be so becoming to her. I wonder
if Oliver would mind my letting her take them back to Bryn Mawr after
the holidays?"

If Oliver would mind! The phrase still remained after the spirit which
sanctified it had long departed. In her heart she knew--though her
happiness rested upon her passionate evasion of the knowledge--that
Oliver had not only ceased to mind, that he had even ceased to notice
whether she wore his gifts or gave them to Jenny.

A light step flitted along the hall; her door opened without shutting
again, and Lucy, in a street gown made in the princess style, hurried
across the room and turned a slender back appealingly towards her.

"Oh, mother, please unhook me as fast as you can. The Peytons are going
to take me in their car over to Richmond, and I've only a half hour in
which to get ready."

Then, as Virginia's hands fumbled a little at an obstinate hook, Lucy
gave an impatient pull of her shoulders, and reached back, straining her
arms, until she tore the offending fastenings from her dress. She was a
small, graceful girl, not particularly pretty, not particularly clever,
but possessing some indefinable quality which served her as
successfully as either beauty or cleverness could have done. Though she
was the most selfish and the least considerate of the three children,
Virginia was like wax in her hands, and regarded her dashing, rather
cynical, worldliness with naïve and uncomprehending respect. She
secretly disapproved of Lucy, but it was a disapproval which was
tempered by admiration. It seemed miraculous to her that any girl of
twenty-two should possess so clearly formulated and critical a
philosophy of life, or should be so utterly emancipated from the last
shackles of reverence. As far as her mother could discern, Lucy
respected but a single thing, and that single thing was her own opinion.
For authority she had as little reverence as a savage; yet she was not a
savage, for she represented instead the perfect product of
over-civilization. The world was bounded for her by her own personality.
She was supremely interested in what she thought, felt, or imagined, and
beyond the limits of her individuality, she was frankly bored by
existence. The joys, sorrows, or experiences of others failed even to
arrest her attention. Yet the very simplicity and sincerity of her
egoism robbed it of offensiveness, and raised it from a trait of
character to the dignity of a point of view. The established law of
self-sacrifice which had guided her mother's life was not only
personally distasteful to her--it was morally indefensible. She was
engaged not in illustrating precepts of conduct, but in realizing her
independence; and this realization of herself appeared to her as the
supreme and peculiar obligation of her being. Though she was less fine
than Jenny, who in her studious way was a girl of much character, she
was by no means as superficial as she appeared, and might in time,
aided by fortuitous circumstances, make a strong and capable woman. Her
faults, after all, were due in a large measure to a training which had
consistently magnified in her mind the space which she would ultimately
occupy in the universe.

And she had charm. Without beauty, without intellect, without culture,
she was still able to dominate her surroundings by her inexplicable but
undeniable charm. She was one of those women of whom people say, "It is
impossible to tell what attracts men in a woman." She was indifferent,
she was casual, she was even cruel; yet every male creature she met fell
a victim before her. Her slightest gesture had a fascination for the
masculine mind; her silliest words a significance. "I declare men are
the biggest fools where women are concerned," Miss Priscilla had
remarked, watching her; and the words had adequately expressed the
opinion of the feminine half of Dinwiddie's population.

From sixteen to twenty-two she had remained as indifferent as a star to
the impassioned moths flitting around her. Then, a month after her
twenty-second birthday, she had coolly announced her engagement to a man
whom she had seen but six times--a widower at that, twelve years older
than herself, and the father of two children. The blow had fallen,
without warning, upon Virginia, who had never seen the man, and did not
like what she had heard of him. Unwisely, she had attempted to
remonstrate, and had been met by the reply, "Mother, dear, you must
allow me to decide what is for my happiness," and a manner which said,
"After all, you know so much less of life than I do, how can you advise
me?"

It was intolerable, of course, and the worst of it was that, rebel as
she might against the admission, Virginia could not plausibly deny the
truth of either the remark or the manner. On the face of it, Lucy must
know best what she wanted, and as for knowledge of life, she was
certainly justified in considering her mother a child beside her.
Oliver, when the case was put before him, showed a sympathy with
Virginia's point of view and a moral inability to coerce his daughter
into accepting it. "She knows I never liked Craven," he said, "but after
all what are we going to do about it? She's old enough to decide for
herself, and you can't in this century put a girl on bread and water
because she marries as she chooses."

Nothing about duty! nothing about consideration for her family! nothing
about the awful responsibility of entering lightly into such sacred
relations! Lucy was evidently in love--if she hadn't been, why on earth
should she have precipitated herself into an affair whose only reason
was a lack of reason that was conclusive?--but she might have been
engaging a chauffeur for all the solemnity she put into the
arrangements. She had selected her clothes and planned her wedding with
a practical wisdom which had awed and saddened her mother. All the
wistful sentiments, the tender evasions, the consecrated dreams that had
gone into the preparations for Virginia's marriage, were buried
somewhere under the fragrant past of the eighties--and the memory of
them made her feel not forty-five, but a hundred. Yet the thing that
troubled her most was a feeling that she was in the power of forces
which she did not understand--a sense that there were profound
disturbances beneath the familiar surface of life.

When Lucy had gone out, with her dress open down the back and a glimpse
of her smooth girlish shoulders showing between the fastenings, Virginia
went over to the window again, and was rewarded by the sight of Harry's
athletic figure crossing the street.

In a minute he came in, kissing her with the careless tenderness which
was one of her secret joys.

"Halloo! little mother! All alone? Where are the others?" He was the
only one of her children who appeared to enjoy her, and sometimes when
they were alone together, he would turn and put his arms about her, or
stroke her hands with an impulsive, protecting sympathy. There were
moments when it seemed to her that he pitied her because the world had
moved on without her; and others when he came to her for counsel about
things of which she was not only ignorant, but even a little afraid.
Once he had consulted her as to whether he should go on the football
team at his college, and had listened respectfully enough to her timid
objections. Respect, indeed, was the quality in which he had never
failed her, and this, even more than his affection, had become a balm to
her in recent years, when Lucy and Jenny occasionally lost patience and
showed themselves openly amused by her old-fashioned opinions. She had
never forgotten that he had once taken her part when the girls had tried
to persuade her to brush back the little curls from her temples and wear
her hair in a pompadour.

"It would look so much more suitable for a woman of your age, mother
dear," Lucy had remarked sweetly with a condescending deference which
had made Virginia feel as if she were a thousand.

"And it would be more becoming, too, now that your hair is turning
grey," Jenny had added, with an intention to be kind and helpful which
had gone wrong somehow and turned into officiousness.

"Shut up, and don't be silly geese," Harry had growled at them, and his
rudeness in her behalf had given Virginia a delicious thrill, which was
increased by the knowledge that his manners were usually excellent even
to his sisters. "You let them fuss all they want to, mother," he
concluded, "but your hair is a long sight better than theirs, and don't
you let them nag you into making a mess of it."

All of which had been sweet beyond words to Virginia, though she was
obliged to admit that his judgment was founded upon a deplorable lack of
discrimination in the matter of hairdressing--since Lucy and Jenny both
had magnificent hair, while her own had long since lost its gloss and
grown thin from neglect. But if it had been really the truth, it could
not have been half so sweet to her.

"Lucy is dressing to motor over to Richmond with the Peytons, and your
father went out to ride. Harry, why won't you let me go on to New York
to see you off?"

He was sailing the following week for England, and he had forbidden her
to come to his boat, or even to New York, for a last glimpse of him.

"Oh, I hate having a scene at the boat, mother. It always makes me feel
creepy to say good-bye. I never do it if I can help."

"I know you don't, darling--you sneaked off after the holidays without
telling me what train you were going by. But this is for such a long
time. Two years, Harry."

Her voice broke, and turning away, she gazed through the window at the
young maple tree as though her very soul were concentrated upon the
leafless boughs.

He stirred uneasily, for like most men of twenty-one, he had a horror of
sentiment.

"Oh, well, you may come over next summer, you know. I'll speak to father
about it. If his play goes over to London, he'll have to be there, won't
he?"

"I suppose so," she replied, choking down her tears, and becoming
suddenly cheerful. "And you'll write to me once a week, Harry?"

"You bet! By the way, I've had nothing to eat since ten o'clock, and I
feel rather gone. Have you some cake around anywhere?"

"But we'll have supper in half an hour, and I've ordered waffles and
fried chicken for you. Hadn't you better wait?"

Her cheerfulness was not assumed now, for with the turn to practical
matters, she felt suddenly that the universe had righted itself. Even
Harry's departure was forgotten in the immediate necessity of providing
for his appetite.

"Well, I'll wait, but I hope you've prepared for an army. I could eat a
hundred waffles."

He snapped his jaws, and she laughed delightedly. For all his twenty-one
years, and the scholarship which he had won so easily and which was
taking him abroad, he was as boyish and as natural as he had been at
ten. Even his love of sweets had not lessened with the increase of his
dignity. To think of his demanding cake the minute after he had entered
the house!

"Father's play made a great hit," he said presently, still steering
carefully away from the reefs of emotion. "I suppose you read all about
it in the papers?"

She shook her head, smiling. Though she tried her best to be as natural
and as unemotional as he was, she could not keep her adoration out of
her eyes, which feasted on him like the eyes of one who had starved for
months. How handsome he was, with his broad shoulders, his fine
sunburned face, and his frank, boyish smile. It was a pity he had to
wear glasses--yet even his glasses seemed to her individual and
charming. She couldn't imagine a single way in which he could be
improved, and all the while she was perfectly sure that it wasn't in the
least because she was his mother--that she wasn't a bit prejudiced in
her judgment. It appeared out of the question that anybody--even a
stranger--could have found fault with him. "No, I haven't had time to
read the papers--I've been so busy getting ready for Lucy's wedding,"
she answered. "But your father told me about it. It must be
splendid--only I wish he wouldn't speak so contemptuously of it," she
added regretfully. "He says it's trash, and yet I'm sure everybody spoke
well of it, and they say it is obliged to make a great deal of money. I
can't understand why his success seems to irritate rather than please
him."

"Well, he thinks, you know, that it is only since he's cheapened himself
that he has had any hearing."

"Cheapened himself?" she repeated wistfully. "But his first plays failed
entirely, so these last ones must be a great deal better if they are
such splendid successes."

"Well, I suppose it's hard for us to understand his point of view. We
talked about it one night in New York when we were dining with Margaret
Oldcastle--she takes the leading part in 'Pretty Fanny,' you know."

"Yes, I know. What is she like?"

A strange, still look came into her face, as though she waited with
suspended breath for his answer.

"She's a charmer on the stage. I heard father tell her that she made the
play, and I'm not sure that he wasn't right."

"But you saw her off the stage, didn't you?"

"Oh, yes, she asked me to dinner. She didn't look nearly so young, then,
and she's not exactly pretty; but, somehow, it didn't seem to matter.
She's got genius--you couldn't be with her ten minutes without finding
out that. I never saw any one in my life so much alive. When she's in a
room, even if she doesn't speak, you can't keep your eyes off her. She's
like a bright flame that you can't stop looking at--not even if there
are a lot of prettier women there, too."

"Is she dark or fair?"

He stopped to think for a moment.

"To save my life I can't remember--but I think she's dark--at least, her
eyes are, though her hair may be light. But you never think of her
appearance when she's talking. I believe she's the best talker I ever
heard--better even than father."

His enthusiasm had got the better of him, and it was evident that
Oliver's success had banished for a time at least the secret hostility
which had existed between father and son. That passion for material
results, which could not be separated from the Treadwell spirit without
robbing that spirit of its vitality, had gradually altered the family
attitude toward Oliver's profession. Art, like business, must justify
itself by its results, and to a commercial age there could be no
justifiable results that could not bear translation into figures.
Success was the chief end of man, and success could be measured only in
terms of money.

"There's your father's step," said Virginia, whose face looked drawn and
pallid in the dusk. "Let me light the lamp, darling. He hates to read
his paper by anything but lamplight."

But he had jumped up before she had finished and was hunting for matches
in the old place under the clock on the mantelpiece. She was such a
little, thin, frail creature that he laughed as she tried to help him.

"So Lucy is going to marry that old rotter, is she?" he asked pleasantly
as his father entered. "Well, father! I was just asking mother why she
let Lucy marry that old rotter?"

"But the dear child has set her heart on him, and he is really very nice
to us," replied Virginia hurriedly. Though she was disappointed in
Lucy's choice, it seemed dreadful to her to speak of a man who was about
to enter the family as a "rotter."

"You stop it, Harry, if you have the authority. I haven't," answered
Oliver carelessly. "Is your neuralgia better, Virginia?"

"It's quite gone, dear. Doctor Powell gave me some aspirin and it cured
it." She smiled gratefully at him, with a touching pleasure in the fact
that he had remembered to ask. As she glanced quickly from father to
son, eager to see them reconciled, utterly forgetful of herself,
something of the anxious cheerfulness of Mrs. Pendleton's spirit
appeared to live again in her look. Though her freshness had withered,
she was still what is called "a sweet looking woman," and her
expression of simple goodness lent an appealing charm to her features.

"Are you going back to New York soon, father?" asked Harry, turning
politely in Oliver's direction. From his manner, which had lost its
boyishness, Virginia knew that he was trying with all his energy to be
agreeable, yet that he could not overcome the old feeling of constraint
and lack of sympathy.

"Next week. 'The Home' is to be put on in February, and I'm obliged to
be there for the rehearsals."

"Does Miss Oldcastle take the leading part?"

"Yes."

Crossing the room, Oliver held out his hands to the fire, and then
turning, stretched his arms, with a stifled yawn, above his head. The
only fault that could be urged against his appearance was that his
figure was becoming a trifle square, that he was beginning to look a
little too well-fed, a little too comfortable. For the rest, his hair,
which had gone quite grey, brought out the glow and richness of his
colour and lent a striking emphasis to his dark, shining eyes.

"Do you think that the new play is as good as 'Pretty Fanny'?" asked
Virginia.

"Well, they're both rot, you know," he answered, with a laugh.

"Oh, Oliver, how can you, when all the papers spoke so admiringly of
it?"

"Why shouldn't they? It is perfectly innocuous. The kind of thing any
father might take his daughter to see. We shan't dispute that, anyhow."

His flippancy not only hurt, it confused her. It was painful enough to
have him speak so slightingly of his success, but worse than this was
the feeling it aroused in her that he was defying authority. Even if her
innate respect for the printed word had not made her accept as final the
judgment of the newspapers, there was still the incontestable fact that
so many people had paid to see "Pretty Fanny" that both Oliver and Miss
Oldcastle had reaped a small fortune. She glanced in a helpless way at
Harry, and he said suddenly:

"Don't you think Jenny ought to come home to be with mother after Lucy
marries? You are obliged to go to New York so often that she will get
lonely."

"It's a good idea," agreed Oliver amiably, "but there's another case
where you'll have to use greater authority than mine. When I stopped
reforming people," he added gaily, "I began with my own family."

"The dear child would come in a minute if I suggested it," said
Virginia, "but she enjoys her life at college so much that I wouldn't
have her give it up for anything in the world. It would make me
miserable to think that any of my children made a sacrifice for me."

"You needn't worry. We've trained them differently," said Oliver, and
though his tone was slightly satirical, the satire was directed at
himself, not at his wife.

"I am sure it is what I should never want," insisted Virginia, almost
passionately, while she rose in response to the announcement of supper,
and met Lucy, in trailing pink chiffon, on the threshold.

"Are you sure your coat is warm enough, dear?" she asked. "Wouldn't you
like to wear my furs? They are heavier than yours."

"Oh, I'd love to, if you wouldn't mind, mother."

Raising herself on tiptoe, Lucy kissed Harry, and then ran to the
mirror, eager to see if the black fur looked well on her.

"They're just lovely on me, mother. I feel gorgeous!" she exclaimed
triumphantly, and indeed her charming girlish face rose like a white
flower out of the rich dark furs.

In Virginia's eyes, as she turned back in the doorway to watch her,
there was a radiant self-forgetfulness which illumined her features. For
a moment she lived so completely in her daughter's youth that her body
seemed to take warmth and colour from the emotion which transfigured
her.

"I am so glad, darling," she said. "It gives me more pleasure to see you
in them than it does to wear them myself." And though she did not know
it, she embodied her gentle philosophy of life in that single sentence.



CHAPTER III

MIDDLE-AGE


Jenny had promised to come home a week before Lucy's wedding, but at the
last moment, while they waited supper for her, a telegram announced with
serious brevity that she was "detained." Twenty-four hours later a
second telegram informed them that she would not arrive until the
evening before the marriage, and at six o'clock on that day, Virginia,
who had been packing Lucy's trunks ever since breakfast, looked out of
the window at the sound of the door-bell, and saw the cab which had
contained her second daughter standing beside the curbstone.

"Mother, have you the change to pay the driver?" asked a vision of stern
loveliness floating into the room. With the winter's glow in her cheeks
and eyes and the bronze sheen on her splendid hair, which was brushed in
rippling waves from her forehead and coiled in a severely simple knot on
her neck, she might have been a wandering goddess, who had descended,
with immortal calm, to direct the affairs of the household. Her white
shirtwaist, with its starched severity, suited her austere beauty and
her look of almost superhuman composure.

"Take off your hat, darling, and lie down on the couch while I finish
Lucy's packing," said Virginia, when she had sent the servant downstairs
to pay the cabman. Her soul was in her eyes while she watched Jenny
remove her plain felt hat, with its bit of blue scarf around the
crown--a piece of millinery which presented a deceptive appearance of
inexpensiveness--and pass the comb through the shining arch of her hair.

"I am so sorry, mother dear, I couldn't come before, but there were some
important lectures I really couldn't afford to miss. I am specializing
in biology, you know."

Her manner, calm, sweet, and gently condescending, was such as she might
have used to a child whom she loved and with whom she possessed an
infinite patience. One felt that while talking, she groped almost
unconsciously for the simplest and shortest words in which her meaning
might be conveyed. She did not lie down as Virginia had suggested, but
straightening her short skirt, seated herself in an upright chair by the
table and crossed her slender feet in their sensible, square-toed shoes.
While she gazed at her, Virginia remembered, with a smile, that Harry
had once said his sister was as flawless as a geometrical figure, and he
couldn't look at her without wanting to twist her nose out of shape. In
spite of her beauty, she was not attractive to men, whom she awed and
intimidated by a candid assumption of superiority. For Lucy's
conscienceless treatment of the male she had unmitigated contempt. Her
sister, indeed, had she not been her sister, would have appeared to her
as an object for frank condemnation--"one of those women who waste
themselves in foolish flirtations." As it was, loving Lucy, and being a
loyal soul, with very scientific ideas of her own responsibility for her
sister as well as for that abstract creature whom she classified as "the
working woman," she thought of Lucy tenderly as a "dear girl, but
simple." Her mother, of course, was, also, "simple"; but, then, what
could one expect of a woman whose only education had been at the
Dinwiddie Academy for Young Ladies? To Jenny, education had usurped the
place which the church had always occupied in the benighted mind of her
mother. All the evils of our civilization--and these evils shared with
the working woman the first right to her attention--she attributed to
the fact that the former generations of women had had either no
education at all, or worse even than that, had had the meretricious
brand of education which was supplied by an army of Miss Priscillas. For
Miss Priscilla herself, entirely apart from the Academy, which she
described frankly, to Virginia's horror, as "a menace," she entertained
a sincere devotion, and this ability to detach her judgments from her
affections made her appear almost miraculously wise to her mother, who
had been born a Pendleton.

"No, I'm not tired. Is there anything I can help you about, mother?" she
asked, for she was a good child and very helpful--the only drawback to
her assistance being that when she helped she invariably commanded.

"Oh, no, darling, I'll be through presently--just as soon as I get this
trunk packed. Lucy's things are lovely. I wish you had come in time to
see them. Miss Willy and I spent all yesterday running blue ribbons in
her underclothes, and though we began before breakfast, we had to sit up
until twelve o'clock so as to get through in time to begin on the trunks
this morning."

Her eyes shone as she spoke, and she would have enjoyed describing all
Lucy's clothes, for she loved pretty things, though she never bought
them for herself, finding it impossible to break the habit of more than
twenty years of economy; but Jenny, who was proud of her sincerity,
looked so plainly bored that she checked her flowing descriptions.

"I hope you brought something beautiful to wear to-morrow, Jenny?" she
ventured timidly, after a silence.

"Of course I had to get a new dress, as I'm to be maid of honour, but it
seemed so extravagant, for I had two perfectly good white chiffons
already."

"But it would have hurt Lucy, dear, if you hadn't worn something new.
She even wanted me to order my dress from New York, but I was so afraid
of wounding poor little Miss Willy--she has made my clothes ever since I
could remember--that I persuaded the child to let her make it. Of
course, it won't be stylish, but nobody will look at me anyway."

"I hope it is coloured, mother. You wear black too much. The
psychological effect is not good for you."

With her knees on the floor and her back bent over the trunk into which
she was packing a dozen pairs of slippers wrapped in tissue paper,
Virginia turned her head and stared in bewilderment at her daughter,
whose classic profile showed like marble flushed with rose in the
lamplight.

"But at my time of life, dear? Why, I'm in my forty-sixth year."

"But forty-six is still young, mother. That was one of the greatest
mistakes women used to make--to imagine that they must be old as soon as
men ceased to make love to them. It was all due to the idea that men
admired only schoolgirls and that as soon as a woman stopped being
admired she had stopped living."

"But they didn't stop living really. They merely stopped fixing up."

"Oh, of course. They spent the rest of their lives in the storeroom or
the kitchen slaving for the comfort of the men they could no longer
amuse."

This so aptly described Virginia's own situation that her interest in
Lucy's trousseau faded abruptly, while a wave of heartsickness swept
over her. It was as if the sharp and searching light of truth had fallen
suddenly upon all the frail and lovely pretences by which she had helped
herself to live and to be happy. A terror of the preternatural insight
of youth made her turn her face away from Jenny's too critical eyes.

"But what else could they do, Jenny? They believed that it was right to
step back and make room for the young," she said, with a pitiful attempt
at justification of her exploded virtues.

"Oh, _mother_!" exclaimed Jenny still sweetly, "whoever heard of a man
of that generation stepping back to make room for anybody?"

"But men are different, darling. One doesn't expect them to give up like
women."

"Oh, mother!"--this time the sweetness had borrowed an edge of irony. It
was Science annihilating tradition, and the tougher the tradition, the
keener the blade which Science must apply.

"I can't help it, dear, it is the way I was taught. My darling mother
felt like that"--a tear glistened in her eye--"and I am too old to
change my way of thinking."

"Mother, mother, you silly pet!" Rising from her chair, Jenny put her
arms about her and kissed her tenderly. "You can't help being
old-fashioned, I know. You are not to blame for your ideas; it is Miss
Priscilla." Her voice grew stern with condemnation as she uttered the
name. "But don't you think you might try to see things a little more
rationally? It is for your own sake I am speaking. Why should you make
yourself old by dressing as if you were eighty simply because your
grandmother did so?"

She was right, of course, for the trouble with Science is not its
blindness, but its serene infallibility. As useless to reject her
conclusions as to deny the laws and the principles of mathematics! After
all manner of denials, the laws and the principles would still remain.
Virginia, who had never argued in her life, did not attempt to do so
with her own daughter. She merely accepted the truth of Jenny's
inflexible logic; and with that obstinate softness which is an
inalienable quality of tradition, went on believing precisely what she
had believed before. To have made them think alike, it would have been
necessary to melt up the two generations and pour them into one--a task
as hopeless as an endeavour to blend the Dinwiddie Young Ladies' Academy
with a modern college. Jenny's clearly formulated and rather loud
morality was unintelligible to her mother, whose conception of duty was
that she should efface herself and make things comfortable for those
around her. The obligation to think independently was as
incomprehensible to Virginia as was that wider altruism which had swept
Jenny's sympathies beyond the home into the factory and beyond the
factory into the world where there were "evils." Her own instinct had
always been the true instinct of the lady to avoid "evil," not to seek
it, to avoid it, honestly if possible, and, if not honestly--well, to
avoid it at any cost. The love of truth for truth's sake was one of the
last of the virtues to descend from philosophy into a working theory of
life, and it had been practically unknown to Virginia until Jenny had
returned, at the end of her first year, from college. To be sure, Oliver
used to talk like that long ago, but it was so long ago that she had
almost forgotten it.

"You are very clever, dear--much too clever for me," she said, rising
from her knees. "I wonder if Lucy has anything else she wants to go into
this trunk? It might be packed a little tighter."

In response to her call, the door opened and Lucy entered breathlessly,
with her hair, which she had washed and not entirely dried, hanging over
her shoulders.

"What is it, mother? Oh, Jenny, you have come! I'm so glad!"

The sisters kissed delightedly. In spite of their lack of sympathy, they
were very fond of each other.

"Do you want to put anything else in this trunk before I lock it, Lucy?"

"Could you find room for my blue flannel bath robe? I'll want it on top
where I can get it out without unpacking, and, oh, mother, won't you
please put my alcohol stove and curling irons in my travelling bag?"

She was prettily excited, and during the last few days she had shown an
almost child-like confidence in her mother's opinions about the trivial
matters of packing.

"Mother, I don't want to come down yet--my hair isn't dry. Will you send
supper up to me? I'll dress about nine o'clock when Bertie and the girls
are coming."

"Of course I will, darling. I'll go straight downstairs and fix your
tray. Is there anything you can think of that you would like?"

At this Jenny broke into a laugh: "Why, anybody would think she was
dying instead of being married!"

"Just a cup of coffee. I really couldn't swallow a morsel," replied
Lucy, whose single manifestation of sentiment had been a complete loss
of appetite. "You needn't laugh, Jenny. Wait until you are going to be
married, and see if you are able to eat anything."

Putting the tray back into the trunk, Virginia closed it almost
caressingly. For twenty-four hours, as Lucy's wedding began to draw
nearer, she had been haunted by the feeling that she was losing her
favourite child, and though her reason told her that this was not
true--that Lucy was, in fact, less fond of her than either of the
others, and far less dear to her heart than Harry--still she was unable
wholly to banish the impression. It seemed only yesterday that she had
sat waiting, month after month, week after week, day after day, for her
to be born. Only yesterday that she had held her, a baby, in her arms,
and now she was packing the clothes which that baby would carry away
when she went off with her husband! Something of the hushed expectancy
of those long months of approaching motherhood enveloped her again with
the thought of Lucy's wedding to-morrow. After all, Lucy was her first
child--neither of the others had been awaited with quite the same
brooding ecstasy, with quite the same radiant dreams. To neither of the
others had she given herself at the hour of birth with such an
abandonment of her soul and body. And she had been a good child--all day
with a lump in her throat Virginia had assured herself again and again
that no child could have been better. A hundred little charming ways, a
hundred bright delicious tricks of expression and of voice, followed her
from room to room, as though Lucy had indeed, as Jenny said, been dying
upstairs instead of waiting to be married. And all the time, while she
arranged the supper tray and attended to the making of the coffee so
that it might be perfect, she was thinking, "Mother must have felt like
this when I was married and I never knew it, I never suspected." She saw
her little bedroom at the rectory, with her own figure, in the floating
tulle veil, reflected in the mirror, and her mother's face, that face
from which all remembrance of self seemed to have vanished, looking at
her over the bride's bouquet of white roses. If only she had told her
then that she understood! If only she had ever really understood until
to-night! If only it was not too late to turn back now and gather that
plaintive figure, waiting with the white roses, into her arms!

The next morning she was up at daybreak, finishing the packing,
preparing the house before leaving for church, making the final
arrangements for the wedding breakfast. When at last Lucy, with reddened
eyes and tightly curled hair, appeared in the pantry while her mother
was helping to wash a belated supply of glass and china which had
arrived from the caterer's, Virginia felt that the parting was worse
even than Harry's going to college.

"Mother, I've the greatest mind on earth not to do it."

"My pet, what is the matter?"

"I can't imagine why I ever thought I wanted to marry! I don't want to
do it a bit. I don't want to go away and leave you and father. And,
mother, I really don't believe that I love him!"

It was so like Lucy after months of cool determination, of perfect
assurance, of stubborn resistance to opposition--it was so exactly like
her to break down when it was too late and to begin to question whether
she really wanted her own way after she had won it. And it was so like
Virginia that at the first sign of weakness in her child she should grow
suddenly strong and efficient.

"My darling, it is only nervousness. You will be better as soon as you
begin to dress. Come upstairs and I will fix you a dose of aromatic
ammonia."

"Do you really think it's too late to stop it?"

"Not if you feel you are going to regret it, but you must be very sure
that it isn't merely a mood, Lucy."

At the first sign that the step was not yet irrevocable, the girl's
courage returned.

"Well, I suppose I'll have to get married now," she said, "but if I
don't like it, I'm not going to live with him."

"Not live with your husband! Why, Lucy!"

"It's perfectly absurd to think I'll have to live with a man if I find I
don't love him. Ask Jenny if it isn't."

Ask Jenny! This was her incredible suggestion! This was her reverence
for authority, for duty, for the thundering admonitions of Saint Paul!
As far as Saint Paul was concerned, he might as well have been the
ponderous anecdotal minister in the brick Presbyterian church around the
corner.

"But Jenny is so--so----" murmured Virginia, and stopped because words
failed her. Had Jenny been born in any family except her own, she would
probably have described her as "dangerous," but it was impossible to
brand her daughter with so opprobrious an epithet. The word, owing to
the metaphorical yet specific definition of it which she had derived
from the rector's sermons in her childhood, invariably suggested fire
and brimstone to her imagination.

"Well, I'm not going to do it unless I want to," returned Lucy
positively. "And you may look as shocked as you please, mother, but you
needn't pretend that you wouldn't be glad to see me."

The difference between the two girls, as far as Virginia could see, was
that Jenny really believed her awful ideas were right, and Lucy merely
believed that they might help her the more effectively to follow her
wishes.

"Of course I'd be glad to see you, but, Lucy, it pains me so to hear you
speak flippantly of your marriage. It is the most sacred day in your
life, and you treat it as lightly as if it were a picnic."

"Do I? Poor little day, have I hurt its feelings?"

They were on the way upstairs, following a procession of wedding
presents which had just arrived by express, and glancing round over the
heads of the servants, she made a laughing face at her mother. Clearly,
she was incorrigible, and her passing fear, which had evidently been
entirely due, as Virginia had suspected, to one of her rare attacks of
nervousness, had entirely disappeared. In her normal mood she was
perfectly capable of taking care of herself not only within the estate
of matrimony, but in an African jungle. She would in either situation
inevitably get what she wanted, and in order to get it she would shrink
as little from sacrificing a husband as from enslaving a savage.

And yet a few hours later, when she stood beneath her bridal veil and
gazed at her image in the cheval-glass in her bedroom, she presented so
enchanting a picture of virgin innocence, that Virginia could hardly
believe that she harboured in her breast, under the sacred white satin
of her bride's gown, the heretical opinions which she had uttered
downstairs in the pantry. Her charming face had attuned its expression
so perfectly to the dramatic values of the moment that she appeared, in
the words of that sentimental soul, Miss Priscilla, to be listening
already to "The Voice that Breathed o'er Eden."

"Doesn't mother look sweet?" she asked, catching sight of Virginia's
face in the mirror. "I love her in pale grey--only she ought to have
some flowers."

"I told father to order her a bunch of violets," answered Jenny. "I
wonder if he remembered to do it."

A look of pleasure, the first she had worn for days, flitted over
Virginia's face. She had all her mother's touching appreciation of
insignificant favours, and, perhaps because her pleasure was so
excessive, people shrank a little from arousing it. Like most persons
who thought perpetually of others, she was not accustomed to being
thought of very often in return.

But Oliver had remembered, and when the purple box was brought up to
her, and Jenny pinned the violets on her dress, a blush mantled her thin
cheeks, and she looked for a moment almost as young and lovely as her
daughters. Then Oliver came after Lucy, and gathering up her train, the
girl smiled at her mother and hurried out of the room. At the last
minute her qualms appeared suddenly to depart. Whatever happened in the
months and years that came afterwards, she had determined to get all she
could out of the excitement of the wedding. She had cast no loving
glance about the little room, where she was leaving her girlhood behind
her; but Virginia, lingering for an instant after the others had gone
out, looked with tear-dimmed eyes at the small white bed and the white
furniture decorated in roses. She suffered in that minute with an
intensity and a depth of feeling that Lucy had never known in the
past--that she would never know in the future--for it is given to
mothers to live not once, but twice or thrice or as many times as they
have children to live for. And the sunlight, entering through the high
window, fell very gently on the anxious love in her eyes, on the fading
white rose-leaves of her cheeks, and on the silvery mist of curls
framing her forehead.

       *       *       *       *       *

That afternoon, when Lucy had motored off with her husband, and Oliver
and Jenny had gone riding together, Virginia went back again into the
room and put away the scattered clothes the girl had left. On the bed
was the little pillow, with the embroidered slip over a cover of pink
satin Virginia had made, and taking it from the bed she put it into one
of the boxes which had been left open until the last minute. As she did
so, it was as if a miraculous wand was waved over her memory, softening
Lucy's image until she appeared to her in all the angelic sweetness and
charm of her childhood. Her egoism, her selfishness, her lack of
consideration and of reverence, all those faults of an excessive
individualism embodied in the girl, vanished so completely that she even
forgot they had ever existed. Once again she felt in her breast the
burning rapture of young motherhood; once again she gathered her
first-born child--hers alone, hers out of the whole world of
children!--into her arms. A choking sensation rose in her throat, and,
dropping a handful of photographs which she had started to put away, she
hurried from the room, as though she were leaving something dead there
that she loved.

Downstairs, the caterers and the florists were in possession, carting
away glass and china, dismantling decorations, and ejecting palms as
summarily as though they had come uninvited. The servants were busy
sweeping floors and moving chairs and sofas back into place, and in the
kitchen the negro cook was placidly beginning preparations for supper.
For a time Virginia occupied herself returning the ornaments to the
drawing-room mantelpiece, and the illustrated gift books to the centre
table. When this was over she looked about her with the nervous
expectancy of a person who has been overwhelmed for months by a
multitude of exigent cares, and realized, with a start, that there was
nothing for her to do. To-morrow Oliver and Jenny were both going
away--he to New York to attend the rehearsals of his play, and she back
to finish her year at college--and Virginia would be left in an empty
house with all her pressing practical duties suddenly ended.

"You will have such a nice long rest now, mother dear," Lucy had said as
she clung to her before stepping into the car, and Virginia had agreed
unthinkingly that a rest for a little while would, perhaps, do her good.
Now, turning away from the centre table, where she had laid the last
useless volume in place, she walked slowly through the library to the
dining-room, and then from the dining-room into the pantry. Here, the
dishes were all washed, the cup-towels were drying in an orderly row
beside the sink, and the two maids and the butler were "drawing a
breath" in wooden chairs by the stove.

"There was enough chicken salad and ice cream left for supper, wasn't
there, Wotan?"

On being assured that there was enough for a week, she gave a few
directions about the distribution of the other food left from the
wedding breakfast, and then went out again and into Oliver's study. A
feeling of restlessness more acute than any she had ever known kept her
walking back and forth between the door and the window, which looked out
into a square of garden, where a few lonely sticks protruded out of the
discoloured snow on the grass. She had lived for others so long that
she had at last lost the power of living for herself.

There was nothing to do to-day; there would be nothing to do to-morrow;
and, unless Jenny came home to be married, there would be nothing to do
next year or the years after that. While Oliver was in Dinwiddie, she
had, of course, the pleasure of supplying his food and of watching him
eat it; but beyond that, even when he sat in the room with her, there
was little conversation between them. She herself loved to talk, for she
had inherited her mother's ability to keep up a honeyed flow of sound
about little things; but she had learned long ago that there were times
when her voice, rippling on about nothing, only irritated him, and with
her feminine genius for adaptability, she had made a habit of silence.
He never spoke to her of his work except in terms of flippant ridicule
which pained her, and the supreme topic of the children's school reports
had been absent now for many years. Companionship of a mental sort had
always been lacking between them, yet so reverently did she still accept
the traditional fictions of marriage, that she would have been
astonished at the suggestion that a love which could survive the shocks
of tragedy might at last fade away from a gradual decline of interest.
Nothing had happened. There had been no scenes, no quarrels, no
jealousies, no recriminations--merely a gentle, yet deliberate,
withdrawal of personalities. He had worshipped her at twenty-two, and
now, at forty-seven, there were moments when she realized with a stab of
pain that she bored him; but beyond this she had felt no cause for
unhappiness, and until the last year no cause even for apprehension.
The libertine had always been absent from his nature; and during all the
years of their marriage he had, as Susan put it, hardly so much as
looked at another woman. Whatever came between them, it would not be
physical passion, but a far subtler thing.

Going to his desk, she took up a photograph of Margaret Oldcastle and
studied it for a moment--not harshly, not critically, but with a pensive
questioning. It was hardly a beautiful face, but in its glowing
intellectuality, it was the face of a woman of power. So different was
the look of noble reticence it wore from that of the conventional type
of American actress, that while she gazed at it Virginia found herself
asking vaguely, "I wonder why she went on the stage?" The woman was not
a pretty doll--she was not a voluptuous enchantress--the coquetry of the
one and the flesh of the other were missing. If the stories Virginia had
heard of her were to be trusted, she had come out of poverty not by the
easy steps of managers' favours, but by hard work, self-denial, and
discipline. Though Virginia had never seen her, she felt instinctively
that she was an "honest woman."

And yet why did this face, which had in it none of the charms of the
seductress, disturb her so profoundly? She was too little given to
introspection, too accustomed to think always in concrete images, to
answer the question; but her intuition, rather than her thought, made
her understand dimly that the things she feared in Margaret Oldcastle
were the qualities in which she herself was lacking. Whatever power the
woman possessed drew its strength and its completeness from a source
which Virginia had never recognized as being necessary or even
beneficent to love. After all, was it not petty and unjust in her to be
hurt by Oliver's friendship for a woman who had been of such tremendous
assistance to him in his work? Had he not said a hundred times that she
had succeeded in making his plays popular without making them at the
same time ridiculous?

Putting the photograph back in its place on the desk, she turned away
and began walking again over the strip of carpet which led from the door
to the window. In the yard the dried stalks of last year's flowers
looked so lonely in the midst of the dirty snow, that she felt a sudden
impulse of sympathy. Poor things, they had outlived their usefulness.
The phrase occurred to her again, and she remembered how often her
father had applied it to women whose children had all married and left
them.

"Poor Matilda! She is restless and dissatisfied, and she doesn't
understand that it is because she has outlived her usefulness." At that
time "poor Matilda" had seemed to her an old woman--but, perhaps, she
wasn't in reality much over forty. How soon women grew old a generation
ago! Why, she felt as young to-day as she did the morning on which she
was married. She felt as young, and yet her hair was greying, her face
was wrinkled, and, like poor Matilda, she had outlived her usefulness.
While she stood there that peculiar sensation which comes to women when
their youth is over--the sensation of a changed world--took possession
of her. She felt that life was slipping, slipping past her, and that she
was left behind like a bit of the sentiment or the law of the last
century. Though she still felt young, it was not with the youth of
to-day. She had no part in the present; her ideals were the ideals of
another period; even her children had outgrown her. She saw now with a
piercing flash of insight, so penetrating, so impersonal, that it seemed
the result of some outside vision rather than of her own uncritical
judgment, that life had treated her as it treats those who give, but
never demand. She had made the way too easy for others; she had never
exacted of them; she had never held them to the austerity of their
ideals. Then the illumination faded as if it had been the malicious act
of a demon, and she reproached herself for allowing such thoughts to
enter her mind for an instant.

"I don't know what can be the matter with me. I never used to brood. I
wonder if it can be my time of life that makes me so nervous and
apprehensive?"

For so long she had waited for some definite point of time, for the
children to begin school, for them to finish school, for Harry to go off
to college, for Lucy to be married, that now, when she realized that
there was nothing to expect, nothing to prepare for, her whole nature,
with all the multitudinous fibres which had held her being together,
seemed suddenly to relax from its tension. To be sure, Oliver would come
home for a time at least after his rehearsals were over, Jenny would
return for as much of the holidays as her philanthropic duties
permitted, and, if she waited long enough, Harry would occasionally pay
her a visit. They all loved her; not one of them, she told herself,
would intentionally neglect her--but not one of them needed her! She had
outlived her usefulness!

The next afternoon, when Oliver and Jenny had driven off to the station,
she put on her street clothes, and went out to call on Susan, who lived
in a new house in High Street. Mrs. Treadwell, having worn out
everybody's patience except Susan's, had died some five years before,
and the incorrigible sentimentalists of Dinwiddie--there were many of
them--expressed publicly the belief that Cyrus had never been "the same
man since his wife's death." As a matter of fact, Cyrus, who had retired
from active finance in the same year that he lost Belinda, had missed
his business considerably more than he had missed his wife, whose loss,
if he had ever analyzed it, would have resolved itself into the absence
of somebody to bully. But on the very day that he had retired from work
he had begun to age rapidly, and now, standing on Susan's porch, he
suggested to Virginia an orange from which every drop of juice had been
squeezed. Of late he had taken to giving rather lavishly to churches,
with a vague, superstitious hope, perhaps, that he might buy the
salvation he had been too busy to work out in other ways. And so acute
had become his terror of death, Virginia had heard, that after every
attack of dyspepsia he dispatched a check to the missionary society of
the church he attended.

Upstairs, in her bedroom, Susan, who had just come in, was "taking off
her things," and she greeted Virginia with a delight which seemed, in
some strange way, to be both a balm and a stimulant. One thing, at
least, in her life had not altered with middle-age, and that was
Susan's devotion. She was a large, young, superbly vigorous woman of
forty-five, with an abundant energy which overflowed outside of her
household in a dozen different directions. She loved John Henry, but she
did not love him to the exclusion of other people; she loved her
children, but they did not absorb her. There was hardly a charity or a
public movement in Dinwiddie in which she did not take a practical
interest. She had kept her mind as alert as her body, and the number of
books she read had always shocked Virginia a little, who felt that time
for reading was obliged to be time subtracted from more important
duties.

"I've thought of you so much, Jinny, darling. You mustn't let yourself
begin to feel lonely."

Virginia shook her head with a smile, but in spite of her effort not to
appear depressed, there was a touching wistfulness in her eyes.

"Of course I miss the dear children, but I'm so thankful that they are
happy."

"I wish Jenny would come back home to stay with you."

"She would if I asked her, Susan"--her face showed her pleasure at the
thought of Jenny's willingness for the sacrifice--"but I wouldn't have
her do it for the world. She's so different from Lucy, who was quite
happy as long as she could have attention and go to parties. Of course,
it seems to me more natural for a girl to be like that, especially a
Southern girl, but Jenny says that she is obliged to have something to
think about besides men. I wonder what my dear father would have thought
of her?"

"She'll take you by surprise some day, and marry as suddenly as Lucy
did."

"That's what Oliver says, but Miss Priscilla is sure she'll be an old
maid, because she's so fastidious. It's funny how much more women exact
of men now than they used to. Don't you remember what a heroine the
women of Miss Priscilla's generation thought Mrs. Tom Peachey was
because she supported Major Peachey by taking boarders while he just
drank himself into his grave? Well, somebody mentioned that to Jenny the
other day and she said it was 'disgusting.'"

"I always thought so," said Susan, "but, Jinny, I'm more interested in
you than I am in Mrs. Peachey. What are you going to do with yourself?"
Almost unconsciously both had eliminated Oliver as the dominant figure
in Virginia's future.

"I don't know, dear. I wish my children were as young as yours. Bessie
is just six, isn't she?"

"You ought to have had a dozen children. Didn't you realize that Nature
intended you to do it?"

"I know"--a pensive look came into her face--"but we were very poor, and
after the three came so quickly, and the little one that I lost, Oliver
felt that we could not afford to have any others. I've so often thought
that I was never really happy except when I had a baby in my arms."

"It's a devilish trick of Nature's that she makes them stop coming at
the very time that you want them most. Forty-five is not much more than
half a lifetime, Jinny."

"And when one has lived in their children as I have done, of course, one
feels a little bit lost without them. Then, if Oliver were not obliged
to be away so much----"

Her voice broke, and Susan, leaning forward impulsively, put her arms
about her.

"Jinny, darling, I never saw you depressed before."

"I was never like this until to-day. It must be the weather--or my age.
I suppose I shall get over it."

"Of course you will get over it--but you mustn't let it grow on you. You
mustn't be too much alone."

"How can I help it? Oliver will be away almost all winter, and when he
is at home, he is so absorbed in his work that he sometimes doesn't
speak for days. Of course, it isn't his fault," she added hastily; "it
is the only way he can write."

"And you're alone now for the first time for twenty-five years. That's
why you feel it so keenly."

The look of unselfish goodness which made Virginia's face almost
beautiful at times passed like an edge of light across her eyes and
mouth. "Don't worry about me, Susan. I'll get used to it."

"You will, dear, but it isn't right. I wish Harry could have stayed in
Dinwiddie. He would have been such a comfort to you."

"But I wouldn't have had him do it! The boy is so brilliant. He has a
future before him. Already he has had several articles accepted by the
magazines"--her face shone--"and I hope that he will some day be as
successful as Oliver has been without going through the long struggle."

"Can't you go to England to see him in the summer?"

"That's what I want to do." It was touching to see how her animation and
interest revived when she began talking of Harry. "And when Oliver's
play is put on in February, he has promised to take me to New York for
the first night."

"I am glad of that. But, meanwhile, you mustn't sit at home and think
too much, Jinny. It isn't good for you. Can't you find an interest? If
you would only take up reading again. You used to be fond of it."

"I know, but one gets out of the habit. I gave it up after the children
came, when there was so much that was really important for me to do, and
now, to save my life, I can't get interested in a book except for an
hour or two at a time. I'm always stopping to ask myself if I'm not
neglecting something, just as I used to do while the children were
little. You see, I'm not a clever woman like you. I was made just to be
a wife and mother, and nothing else."

"But you're obliged to be something else now. You are only forty-five.
There may be forty more years ahead of you, and you can't go on being a
mother every minute of your time. Even if you have grandchildren, they
won't be like your own. You can't slave over them in the way you used to
do over yours. The girls' husbands and Harry's wife would have something
to say about it."

"Do you know, Susan, I try not to be little and jealous, but when you
said 'Harry's wife' so carelessly just now it brought a lump to my
throat."

"He will marry some day, darling, and you might as well accustom
yourself to the thought."

"I know, and I want him to do it. I shall love his wife as if she were
my daughter--but--but it seems to me at this minute as if I could not
bear it!"

The grey twilight, entering through the high window above her head,
enveloped her as tenderly as if it were the atmosphere of those romantic
early eighties to which she belonged. The small aristocratic head, with
its quaint old-fashioned clusters of curls on the temples, the delicate
stooping figure, a little bent in the chest, the whole pensive,
exquisite personality which expressed itself in that manner of gentle
self-effacement--these things spoke to Susan's heart, through the
softness of the dusk, with all the touching appeal of the past. It was
as if the inscrutable enigma of time waited there, shrouded in mystery,
for a solution which would make clear the meaning of the blighted
promises of life. She saw herself and Virginia on that May afternoon
twenty-five years ago, standing with eager hearts on the edge of the
future; she saw them waiting, with breathless, expectant lips, for the
miracle that must happen! Well, the miracle had happened, and like the
majority of miracles, it had descended in the act of occurrence from the
zone of the miraculous into the region of the ordinary. This was life,
and looking back from middle-age, she felt no impulse to regret the
rapturous certainties of youth. Experience, though it contained an
inevitable pang, was better than ignorance. It was good to have been
young; it was good to be middle-aged; and it would be good to be old.
For she was one of those who loved life, not because it was beautiful,
but because it was life.

"I must go," said Virginia, rising in the aimless way of a person who is
not moving toward a definite object.

"Stay and have supper with us, Jinny. John Henry will take you home
afterward."

"I can't, dear. The--the servants are expecting me."

She kissed Susan on the cheek, and taking up her little black silk bag,
turned to the door.

"Jinny, if I come by for you to-morrow, will you go with me to a board
meeting or two? Couldn't you possibly take an interest in some charity?"
It was a desperate move, but at the moment she could think of no other
to make.

"Oh, I am interested, Susan--but I have no executive ability, you know.
And--and, then, poor dear father used to have such a horror of women who
were always running about to meetings. He would never even let mother do
church work--except, of course, when there was a cake sale or a fair of
the missionary society."

Susan's last effort had failed, and as she followed Virginia downstairs
and to the front door, a look almost of gloom settled on her large
cheerful face.

"Try to pay some calls every afternoon, won't you, dear?" she said at
the door. "I'll come in to see you in the morning when we get back from
marketing."

Then she added softly, "If you are ever lonesome and want me, telephone
for me day or night. There's nothing on earth I wouldn't do for you,
Jinny."

Virginia's eyes were wonderful with love and gratitude as they shone on
her through the twilight. "We've been friends since we were two years
old, Susan, and, do you know, there is nobody in the world that I would
ask anything of as soon as I would of you."

A look of unutterable understanding and fidelity passed between them;
then turning silently away, Virginia descended the steps and walked
quickly along the path to the pavement, while Susan, after watching her
through the gate, shut the door and went upstairs to the nursery.

The town lay under a thin crust of snow, which was beginning to melt in
the chill rain that was falling. Raising her umbrella, Virginia picked
her way carefully over the icy streets, and Miss Priscilla, who was
looking in search of diversion out of her front window, had a sudden
palpitation of the heart because it seemed to her for a minute that
"Lucy Pendleton had returned to life." So one generation of gentle
shades after another had moved in the winter's dusk under the frosted
lamps of High Street.

Through the windows of her house a cheerful light streamed out upon the
piles of melting snow in the yard, and at the door one of her coloured
servants met her with the news that a telegram was on the hall table.
Before opening it she knew what it was, for Oliver's correspondence with
her had taken this form for more than a year.

"Arrived safely. Very busy. Call on John Henry if you need anything."

She put it down and turned hastily to letters from Harry and Jenny. The
first was only a scrawl in pencil, written with that boyish reticence
which always overcame Harry when he wrote to one of his family; but
beneath the stilted phrases she could read his homesickness and his
longing for her in every line.

"Poor boy, I am afraid he is lonely," she thought, and caressed the
paper as tenderly as if it had been the letter of a lover. He had
written to her every Sunday since he had first gone off to college and
several times she knew that he had denied himself a pleasure in order to
send her her weekly letter. Already, she had begun to trust to his
"sense of responsibility" as she had never, even in the early days of
her marriage, trusted to Oliver's.

Opening the large square envelope which was addressed in Jenny's
impressive handwriting, she found four closely written pages
entertainingly descriptive of the girl's journey back to college and of
the urgent interests she found awaiting her there. In this letter there
was none of the weakness of implied sentiment, there was none of the
plaintive homesickness she had read in Harry's. Jenny wrote regularly
and affectionately because she felt that it was her duty to do so, for,
unlike Lucy, who was heard from only when she wanted something, she was
a girl who obeyed sedulously the promptings of her conscience. But if
she loved her mother, she was plainly not interested in her. Her
attitude towards life was masculine rather than feminine; and Virginia
had long since learned that in the case of a man it is easier to inspire
love than it is to hold his attention. Harry was different, of
course--there was a feminine, or at least a poetic, streak in him which
endowed him with that natural talent for the affections which is
supposed to be womanly--but Jenny resembled Oliver in her preference for
the active rather than for the passive side of experience.

Going upstairs, Virginia took off her hat and coat, and, without
changing her dress, came down again with a piece of fancy-work in her
hands. Placing herself under the lamp in Oliver's study, she took a few
careful stitches in the centrepiece she was embroidering for Lucy, and
then letting her needle fall, sat gazing into the wood-fire which
crackled softly on the brass andirons. From the lamp on the desk an
amber glow fell on the dull red of the leather-covered furniture, on the
pale brown of the walls, on the rich blending of oriental colours in the
rug at her feet. It was the most comfortable room in the house, and for
that reason she had fallen into the habit of using it when Oliver was
away. Then, too, his personality had impressed itself so ineffaceably
upon the surroundings which he had chosen and amid which he had worked,
that she felt nearer to him while she sat in his favourite chair,
breathing the scent of the wood-fire he loved.

She thought of the "dear children," of how pleased she was that they
were all well and happy, of how "sweet" Harry and Jenny were about
writing to her; and so unaccustomed was she to thinking in the first
person, that not until she took up her embroidery again and applied her
needle to the centre of a flower, did she find herself saying aloud: "I
must send for Miss Willy to-morrow and engage her for next week. That
will be something to do."

And looking ahead she saw days of endless stitching and basting, of
endless gossip accompanied by the cheerful whirring of the little
dressmaker's machine. "I used to pity Miss Willy because she was obliged
to work," she thought with surprise, "but now I almost envy her. I
wonder if it is work that keeps her so young and brisk? She's never had
anything in her life, and yet she is so much happier than some people
who have had everything."

The maid came to announce supper, and, gathering up her fancy-work,
Virginia laid it beside the lamp on the end of Oliver's writing table.
As she did so, she saw that her photograph, taken the year of her
marriage, which he usually carried on his journeys, had been laid aside
and overlooked when he was packing his papers. It was the first time he
had forgotten it, and a little chill struck her heart as she put it back
in its place beside the bronze letter rack. Then the chill sharpened
suddenly until it became an icy blade in her breast, for she saw that
the picture of Margaret Oldcastle was gone from its frame.



CHAPTER IV

LIFE'S CRUELTIES


There was a hard snowstorm on the day Oliver returned to Dinwiddie, and
Virginia, who had watched from the window all the afternoon, saw him
crossing the street through a whirl of feathery flakes. The wind drove
violently against him, but he appeared almost unconscious of it, so
buoyant, so full of physical energy was his walk. Never had he looked
more desirable to her, never more lovable, than he did at that instant.
Something, either a trick of imagination or an illusion produced by the
flying whiteness of the storm, gave him back for a moment the glowing
eyes and the eager lips of his youth. Then, as she turned towards the
door, awaiting his step on the stairs, the mirror over the mantel showed
her her own face, with its fallen lines, its soft pallor, its look of
fading sweetness. She had laid her youth down on the altar of her love,
while he had used love, as he had used life, merely to feed the flame of
the unconquerable egoism which burned like genius within him.

He came in, brushing a few flakes of snow from his sleeve, and it seemed
to her that the casual kindness of his kiss fell like ice on her cheek
as he greeted her. It was almost three months since he had seen her, for
he had been unable to come home for Christmas, but from his manner he
might have parted from her only yesterday. He was kind--he had never
been kinder--but she would have preferred that he should strike her.

"Are you all right?" he asked gently, turning to warm his hands at the
fire. "Beastly cold, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes, I am all right, dear. The play is a great success, isn't it?"

His face clouded. "As such things go. It's awful rot, but it's made a
hit--there's no doubt of that."

"And the other one, 'The Home'--when is the first night of that?"

"Next week. On Thursday. I must get back for it."

"And I am to go with you, am I not? I have looked forward to it all
winter."

At the sound of her anxious question, a contraction of pain, the look of
one who has been touched on the raw, crossed his face. Though she was
not penetrating enough to discern it, there were times when his pity for
her amounted almost to a passion, and at such moments he was conscious
of a blind anger against Life, as against some implacable personal
force, because it had robbed him of the hard and narrow morality on
which his ancestors leaned. The scourge of a creed which had kept even
Cyrus walking humbly in the straight and flinty road of Calvinism,
appeared to him in such rare instants as one of the spiritual luxuries
which a rationalistic age had destroyed; for it is not granted to man to
look into the heart of another, and so he was ignorant alike of the
sanctities and the passions of Cyrus's soul. What he felt was merely
that the breaking of the iron bonds of the old faith had weakened his
powers of resistance as inevitably as it had liberated his thought. The
sound of his own rebellion was in his ears, and filled with the noise of
it, he had not stopped to reflect that the rebellion of his ancestors
had seemed less loud only because it was inarticulate. Was it really
that his generation had lost the capacity for endurance, the spiritual
grace of self-denial, or was it simply that it had lost its reticence
and its secrecy with the passing of its inflexible dogmas?

"Why, certainly you must go if you would care to," he answered.

"Perhaps Jenny will come over from Bryn Mawr to join us. The dear child
was so disappointed that she couldn't come home for Christmas."

"If I'd known in time that she wasn't coming, I'd have found a way of
getting down just for dinner with you. I hope you weren't alone,
Virginia."

"Oh, no, Miss Priscilla came to spend the day with me. You know she used
to take dinner with us every Christmas at the rectory."

A troubled look clouded his face. "Jenny ought to have been here," he
said, and asked suddenly, as if it were a relief to him to change the
subject: "Have you had news of Harry?"

The light which the name of Harry always brought to her eyes shone there
now, enriching their faded beauty. "He writes to me every week. You know
he hasn't missed a single Sunday letter since he first went off to
school. He is wild about Oxford, but I think he gets a little homesick
sometimes, though of course he'd never say so."

"He'll do well, that boy. The stuff is in him."

"I'm sure he's a genius if there ever was one, Oliver. Only yesterday
Professor Trimble was telling me that Harry was far and away the most
brilliant pupil he had ever had."

"Well, he's something to be proud of. And now what about Lucy? Is she
still satisfied with Craven?"

"She never writes about anything else except about her house. Her
marriage seems to have turned out beautifully. You remember I wrote you
that she was perfectly delighted with her stepchildren, and she really
appears to be as happy as the day is long."

"You never can tell. I thought she'd be back again before two months
were up."

"I know. We all prophesied dreadful things--even Susan."

"That reminds me--I came down on the train with John Henry, and he said
that Uncle Cyrus was breaking rapidly."

"He has never been the same since his wife's death," replied Virginia,
who was a victim of this sentimental fallacy. "It's strange--isn't
it?--because we used to think they got on so badly."

"I wonder if it is really that? Well, is there any other news? Has
anything else happened?"

With his back to the fire, he stood looking down on her with kindly,
questioning eyes. He had done his best; from the moment when he had
entered the room and met the touching brightness in her face, he had
struggled to be as natural, to be as affectionate even, as she desired.
At the moment, so softened, so self-reproachful was his mood, he would
willingly have cut off his arm for her could the sacrifice in any manner
have secured her happiness. But there were times when it seemed easier
to give his life for her than to live it with her; when to shed his
blood would have cost less than to make conversation. He yearned over
Virginia, but he could not talk to her. Some impregnable barrier of
personality separated them as if it were a wall. Already they belonged
to different generations; they spoke in the language of different
periods. At forty-seven, that second youth, the Indian summer of the
emotions, which lingers like autumnal sunshine in the lives of most men
and of a few women, was again enkindling his heart. And with this return
of youth, he felt the awakening of infinite possibilities of feeling, of
the ancient ineradicable belief that happiness lies in possession. Love,
which had used up her spirit and body in its service, had left him
untouched by its exactions. While she, having fulfilled her nature, was
content to live anew not in herself, but in her children, the force of
personal desire was sweeping over him again, with all the flame and
splendour of adolescence. The "something missing" waited there, just a
little beyond, as he had seen it waiting in that enchanted May when he
fell in love with Virginia. And between him and his vision of happiness
there interposed merely his undisciplined conscience, his variable,
though honest, desire to do the thing that was right. Duty, which had
controlled Virginia's every step, was as remote and aloof from his life
as was the creed of his fathers. Like his age, he was adrift among
disestablished beliefs, among floating wrecks of what had once been
rules of conduct by which men had lived. And the widening
responsibilities, the deepening consciousness of a force for good
greater than creed or rules, all the awakening moral strength which
would lend balance and power to his age, these things had been weakened
in his character by the indomitable egoism which had ordered his life.
There was nothing for him to fall back upon, nothing that he could
place above the restless surge of his will.

Sitting there in the firelight, with her loving eyes following his
movements, she told him, bit by bit, all the latest gossip of Dinwiddie.
Susan's eldest girl had developed a beautiful voice and was beginning to
take lessons; poor Miss Priscilla had had a bad fall in Old Street while
she was on the way to market, and at first they feared she had broken
her hip, but it turned out that she was only dreadfully bruised; Major
Peachey had died very suddenly and she had felt obliged to go to his
funeral; Abby Goode had been home on a visit and everybody said she
didn't look a day over twenty-five, though she was every bit of
forty-four. Then, taking a little pile of samples from her work basket
which stood on the table, she showed him a piece of black brocaded
satin. "Miss Willy is making me a dress out of this to wear in New York
with you. I don't suppose you noticed whether or not they were wearing
brocade."

No, he hadn't noticed, but the sample was very pretty, he thought. "Why
don't you buy a dress there, Virginia? It would save you so much
trouble."

"Poor little Miss Willy has set her heart on making it, Oliver. And,
besides, I shan't have time if we go only the day before."

A flush had come to her face; at the corners of her mouth a tender
little smile rippled; and her look of faded sweetness gave place for an
instant to the warmth and the animation of girlhood. But the excitement
of girlhood could not restore to her the freshness of youth. Her
pleasure was the pleasure of middle-age; the wistful expectancy in her
face was the expectancy of one whose interests are centred on little
things. That inviolable quality of self-sacrifice, the quality which
knit her soul to the enduring soul of her race, had enabled her to find
happiness in the simple act of renouncement. The quiet years had kept
undiminished the inordinate capacity for enjoyment, the exaggerated
appreciation of trivial favours, which had filled Mrs. Pendleton's life
with a flutter of thankfulness; and while Virginia smoothed the piece of
black brocade on her knee, she might have been the re-arisen pensive
spirit of her mother. Of the two, perhaps because she had ceased to wish
for anything for herself, she was happier than Oliver.

All through dinner, while her soft anxious eyes dwelt on him over the
bowl of pink roses in the centre of the table, he tried hard to throw
himself into her narrow life, to talk only of things in which he felt
that she was interested. Slight as the effort was, he could see her
gratitude in her face, could hear it in the gentle silvery sound of her
voice. When he praised the dinner, she blushed like a girl; when he made
her describe the dress which Miss Willy was making, she grew as excited
as if she had been speaking of the sacred white satin she had worn as a
bride. So little was needed to make her happy--that was the pathos! She
was satisfied with the crumbs of life, and yet they were denied her.
Though she had been alone ever since Lucy's wedding, she accepted his
belated visit as thankfully as if it were a gratuitous gift. "It is so
good of you to come down, dear, when you are needed every minute in New
York," she murmured, with a caressing touch on his arm, and, looking at
her, he was reminded of Mrs. Pendleton's tremulous pleasure in the
sweets that came to her on little trays from her neighbours. Once she
had said eagerly, "It will be so nice to see Miss Oldcastle, Oliver,"
and he had answered in a constrained tone which he tried to make light
and casual, "I am not sure that the part is going to suit her."

Then he had changed the subject abruptly by rising from the table and
asking her to let him see her latest letter from Harry.

The next morning he went out after breakfast to consult Cyrus about some
investments, while Virginia laid out the lengths of brocade on the bed
in the spare room, and sat down to wait for the arrival of the
dressmaker. Outside, the trees were still white from the storm, and the
wind, blowing through them, made a dry crackling sound as if it were
rattling thorns in a forest. Though it was intensely cold, the sunshine
fell in golden bars over the pavement and filled the town with a
dazzling brilliancy through which the little seamstress was seen
presently making her way. Alert, bird-like, consumed with her insatiable
interest in other people, she entered, after she had removed her bonnet
and wraps, and began to spread out her patterns. It was twenty-odd years
since she had made the white satin dress in which Virginia was married,
yet she looked hardly a day older than she had done when she knelt at
the girl's feet and envied her happiness while she pinned up the shining
train. Failing love, she had filled her life with an inextinguishable
curiosity; and this passion, being independent of the desires of others,
was proof alike against disillusionment and the destructive processes of
time.

"So Mr. Treadwell has come home," she remarked, with a tentative
flourish of the scissors. "I declare he gets handsomer every day that
he lives. It suits him somehow to fill out, or it may be that I'm
partial to fat like my poor mother before me."

"He does look well, but I'd hardly call him fat, would you?"

"Well, he's stouter than he used to be, anyway. Did he say when he was
going to take you back with him?"

"Next Wednesday. We'll have to hurry to get this dress ready in time."

"I'll start right in at it. Have you made up your mind whether you'll
have it princess or a separate waist and skirt?"

"I'm a little too thin for a princess gown, don't you think? Hadn't I
better have it made like that black poplin which everybody thought
looked so well on me?"

"But it ain't half so stylish as the princess. You just let me put a few
cambric ruffles inside the bust and you'll stand out a plenty. I was
reading in a fashion sheet only yesterday that they are trying to look
as flat as they can manage in Paris."

"Well, I'll try it," murmured Virginia uncertainly, for her standards of
dress were so vague that she was thankful to be able to rely on Miss
Willy's self-constituted authority.

"You just leave it to me," was the dressmaker's reply, while she thrust
the point of the scissors into the gleaming brocade on the bed.

The morning passed so quickly amid cutting, basting, and gossip, that it
came as a surprise to Virginia when she heard the front door open and
shut and Oliver's rapid step mounting the stairs. Meeting him in the
hall, she led the way into her bedroom, and asked with the caressing,
slightly conciliatory manner which expressed so perfectly her attitude
toward life:

"Did you see Uncle Cyrus?"

"Yes, and he was nicer than I have ever known him to be. By the way,
Virginia, I've transferred enough property to you to bring you in a
separate income. This was really what I went down about."

"But what is the matter, dear? Don't you feel well? Have you had any
worries that you haven't told me?"

"Oh, I'm all right, but it's better so in case something should happen."

"But what could possibly happen? I never saw you look better. Miss Willy
was just saying so."

He turned away, not impatiently, but as one who is seeking to hide an
emotion which has become too strong. Then without replying to her
question, he muttered something about "a number of letters to write
before dinner," and hurried out of the room and downstairs to his study.

"I wonder if he has lost money," she thought, vaguely troubled, as she
instinctively straightened the brushes he had disarranged on the bureau.
"Poor Oliver! He seems to think about nothing but money now, and he used
to be so romantic."

He used to be so romantic! She repeated this to Susan that evening when,
after Miss Willy's departure for the night, she took her friend into the
spare room to show her the first shapings of the princess gown.

"Do you remember that we used to call him an incurable Don Quixote?" she
asked. "And now he has become so different that at times it makes me
smile to think of him as he was when I first knew him. I suppose it's
better so, it's more normal. He used to be what Uncle Cyrus called
'flighty,' bent on reforming the world and on improving people, you
know, and now he doesn't seem to care whether outside things are good or
bad, just as long as his plays go well and he can give us all the money
we want."

"It's natural, isn't it?" asked Susan. "One can't stay young forever,
you see."

"And yet in some ways he doesn't appear to be a bit older. I like his
hair being grey, don't you? It makes his colour look even richer than
before."

"Yes," said Susan, "I like his hair and I like him. Only I wish he
didn't have to leave you by yourself so much of the time."

"He is going to take me back with him on Wednesday. Miss Willy is making
this dress for me to wear. I want to look nice because, of course,
everybody will be noticing Oliver."

"It's lovely, and I'm sure you'll look as sweet as the angel that you
are, Jinny," answered Susan, stooping to kiss her.

By Tuesday night the dress was finished, and Virginia was stuffing the
sleeves with tissue paper before packing it into her trunk, when Oliver
came into the room and stood watching her in silence.

"I do hope it won't get crumpled," she said anxiously as she spread a
towel over the tray. "Miss Willy is so proud of it, and I don't believe
I could have got anything prettier in New York."

"Virginia," he said suddenly, "you've set your heart on going to-morrow,
haven't you?"

Turning from the trunk, she looked up at him with a tender, inquiring
smile. Above her head the electric light, with which Oliver and the
girls had insisted on replacing the gas-jets that she preferred, cast a
hard glitter over the hollowed lines of her face and over the thinning
curls which she had striven to brush back from her temples. Her figure,
unassisted as yet by Miss Willy's ruffles, looked so fragile in the
pitiless glare that his heart melted in one of those waves of
sentimentality which, because they were impotent to affect his conduct,
cost him so little. As she stood there, he realized more acutely than he
had ever done before how utterly stationary she had remained since he
married her. With her sweetness, her humility, her old-fashioned
courtesy and consideration for others, she belonged still in the
honey-scented twilight of the eighties. While he had moved with the
world, she, who was confirmed in the traditions of another age, had
never altered in spirit since that ecstatic moment when he had first
loved her. The charm, the grace, the virtues, even the look of gentle
goodness which had won his heart, were all there just as they had been
when she was twenty. Except for the fading flesh, the woman had not
changed; only the needs and the desires of the man were different. Only
the resurgent youth in him was again demanding youth for its mate.

"Why, my trunk is all packed," she replied. "Has anything happened?"

"Oh, no, I was only wondering how you would manage to amuse yourself.
You know I shall be at the theatre most of the time."

"But you mustn't have me on your mind a minute, Oliver. I won't go a
step unless you promise me not to worry about me a bit. It's all so new
to me that I shall enjoy just sitting in the hotel and watching the
people."

"Then we'd better go to the Waldorf. That might interest you more."

His eagerness to provide entertainment for her touched her as deeply as
if it had been a proof of his love instead of his anxiety, and she
determined in her heart that if she were lonesome a minute he must never
suspect it. Ennui, having its roots in an egoism she did not possess,
was unknown to her.

"That will be lovely, dear. Lucy wrote me when she was there on her
wedding trip that she used to sit for hours in the corridor looking at
the people that went by, and that it was as good as a play."

"That settles it. I'll telegraph for rooms," he said cheerfully,
relieved to find that she fell in so readily with his suggestion.

She was giving a last caressing pat to the tray before closing the
trunk, and the look of her thin hands, with their slightly swollen
knuckles, caused him to lean forward suddenly and wrest the keys away
from her.

"Let me do that. I hate to see you stooping," he said.

The telegram was sent, and late the next evening, as they rolled through
the brilliant streets towards the hotel, Virginia's interest was as
effervescent as if she were indeed the girl that she almost felt herself
to have become. The sound of the streets excited her like martial music,
and little gasps of surprise and pleasure broke from her lips as the
taxicab turned into Broadway. It was all so different from her other
visit when she had come alone to find Oliver, sick with failure, in the
dismal bedroom of that hotel. Now it seemed to her that the city had
grown younger, that it was more awake, that it was brighter, gayer, and
that she herself had a part in its brightness and its gaiety. The crowds
on Broadway seemed keeping step to some happy tune, and she felt that
her heart was dancing with them, so elated, so girlishly irresponsible
was her mood.

"Why, Oliver, there is a sign of your play with a picture of Miss
Oldcastle on it!" she exclaimed delightedly, pointing to an
advertisement before a theatre they were passing. Then, suddenly, it
appeared to her that the whole city was waving this advertisement.
Wherever she turned "The Home" stared back at her, an orgy of red and
blue surrounding the smiling effigy of the actress. And this proof of
Oliver's fame thrilled her as she had not been thrilled since the
telegram had come announcing that Harry had won the scholarship which
would take him to Oxford. The woman's power of sinking her ambition and
even her identity into the activities of the man was deeply interwoven
with all that was essential and permanent in her soul. Her keenest joys,
as well as her sharpest sorrows, had never belonged to herself, but to
others. It was doubtful, indeed, if, since the day of her marriage, she
had been profoundly moved by any feeling which was centred merely in a
personal desire. She had wanted things for Oliver and for the children,
but for herself there had been no separate existence apart from them.

"Oliver, I never dreamed that it would be like this. The play will be a
great success--even a greater one than the last, won't it, dear?" Her
face, with its exquisite look of exaltation, of self-forgetfulness, was
turned eagerly towards the crowd of feverish pleasure-seekers that
passed on, pursuing its little joys, under the garish signs of the
street.

"Well, it ought to be," he returned; "it's bad enough anyway."

His eyes, like hers, were fixed on the thronging streets, but, unlike
hers, they reflected the restless animation, the pathetic hunger, which
made each of those passing faces appear to be the plastic medium of an
insatiable craving for life. Handsome, well-preserved, a little
over-coloured, a little square of figure, with his look of worldly
importance, of assured material success, he stood to-day, as Cyrus had
stood a quarter of a century ago, as an imposing example of that
Treadwell spirit from which his youth had revolted.

That night, when they had finished dinner, and Oliver, in response to a
telephone message, had hurried down to the theatre, Virginia went
upstairs to her room, and, after putting on the lavender silk
dressing-gown which Miss Willy had made for the occasion, sat down to
write her weekly letter to Harry.

     MY DARLING BOY.

     I know you will be surprised to see from this letter that I am
     really in New York at last--and at the Waldorf! It seems almost
     like a dream to me, and whenever I shut my eyes, I find myself
     forgetting that I am not in Dinwiddie--but, you remember, your
     father had always promised me that I should come for the first
     night of his new play, which will be acted to-morrow. You simply
     can't imagine till you get here how famous he is and how interested
     people are in everything about him, even the smallest trifles.
     Wherever you look you see advertisements of his plays (he has three
     running now) and coming up Broadway for only a block or two last
     night, I am sure that I saw Miss Oldcastle's picture a dozen times.
     I should think she would hate dreadfully to have to make herself so
     conspicuous--for she has a nice, refined face--but Oliver says all
     actresses have to do it if they want to get on. He takes all the
     fuss they make over him just as if he despised it, though I am sure
     that in his heart he can't help being pleased. While we were having
     dinner, everybody in the dining-room was turning to look at him,
     and if I hadn't known, of course, that not a soul was thinking of
     me, I should have felt badly because I hadn't time to change my
     dress after I got here. All the other women were beautifully
     dressed (I never dreamed that there were so many diamonds in the
     world. Miss Willy would simply go crazy over them), but I didn't
     mind a bit, and if anybody thought of me at all, of course, they
     knew that I had just stepped off the train. After dinner your
     father went to the theatre, and I sat downstairs alone in the
     corridor for a while and watched the people coming and going. It
     was perfectly fascinating at first. I never saw so many beautiful
     women, and their hair was arranged in such a lovely way, all just
     alike, that it must have taken hours to do each head. The fashions
     that are worn here are not in the least like those of Dinwiddie,
     though Miss Willy made my black brocade exactly like one in a
     fashion plate that came directly from Paris, but I know that you
     aren't as much interested in this as Lucy and Jenny would be. The
     dear girls are both well, and Lucy is carried away with her
     stepchildren. She says she doesn't see why every woman doesn't
     marry a widower. Isn't that exactly like Lucy? She is always so
     funny. If only one of you were here with me, I should enjoy every
     minute, but after I'd sat there for a while in the midst of all
     those strangers, I began to feel a little lonely, so I came
     upstairs to write you this letter. New York is a fascinating place
     to visit, but I am glad I live in Dinwiddie where everybody knows
     me.

     And now, my dearest boy, I must tell you how perfectly overjoyed I
     was to get your last letter, and to know that you are so delighted
     with Oxford. I think of you every minute, and I pray for you the
     last thing at night before I get into bed. Try to keep well and
     strong, and if you get a cold, be sure not to let it run on till it
     turns to a hacking cough. Remember that Doctor Fraser always used
     to say that every cough, no matter how slight, is dangerous. I hope
     you aren't studying too hard or overdoing athletics. It is so easy
     to tax one's strength too much when one gets excited. I am sure I
     don't know what to think of the English students being
     "standoffish" with Americans. It seems very foolish of them not to
     be nice and friendly, especially to Virginians, who were really
     English in the beginning. But I am glad that you don't mind, and
     that you would rather be a countryman of George Washington than a
     countryman of George the Third. Of course England is the greatest
     country in the world--you remember your grandfather always said
     that--and we owe it everything that we have, but I think it very
     silly of English people to be stiff and ill-mannered.

     I hope you still read your Bible, darling, and that you find time
     to go to church once every Sunday. Even if it seems a waste of time
     to you, it would have pleased your grandfather, and for his sake I
     hope you will go whenever you can possibly do so. It was so sweet
     of you to write in Addison's Walk because you did not want to miss
     my Sunday letter and yet the day was too beautiful not to be out of
     doors. God only knows, my boy, what a comfort you are to me. There
     was never a better son nor one who was loved more devotedly.

     YOUR MOTHER.

In the morning, with the breakfast tray, there arrived a bunch of
orchids from one of Oliver's theatrical friends, who had heard that his
wife was in town; and while Virginia laid the box carefully in the
bathtub, her eyes shone with the grateful light which came into them
whenever some one did her a small kindness or courtesy.

"They will be lovely for me to wear to-night, Oliver. It was so nice of
him to send them, wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was rather nice," Oliver replied, looking up from his paper at
the pleased sound of her voice. Ever since his return at a late hour
last night, she had noticed the nervousness in his manner and had
sympathetically attributed it to his anxiety about the fate of his play.
It was so like Oliver to be silent and self-absorbed when he was
anxious.

Through the day he was absent, and when he returned, in the evening, to
dress for the theatre, she was standing before the mirror fastening the
bunch of orchids on the front of her gown. As he entered, she turned
toward him with a look of eager interest, of pleasant yet anxious
excitement. She had never in her life, except on the morning of her
wedding day, taken so long to dress; but it seemed to her important that
as Oliver's wife she should look as nice as she could.

"Am I all right?" she asked timidly, while she cast a doubtful glance in
the mirror at the skirt of the black brocade.

"Yes, you're all right," he responded, without looking at her, and the
suppressed pain in his voice caused her to move suddenly toward him with
the question, "Aren't you well, Oliver?"

"Oh, I'm well, but I'm tired. I had a headache on the way up and I
haven't been able to shake it off."

"Shall I get you something for it?"

"No, it will pass. I'd like a nap, but I suppose it's time for me to
dress."

"Yes, it's half-past six, and we've ordered dinner for seven."

He went into the dressing-room, and turning again to the mirror, she
changed the position of the bunch of orchids, and gave a little
dissatisfied pat to the hair on her forehead. If only she could bring
back some of the bloom and the freshness of youth! The glow had gone out
of her eyes; the winged happiness, which had given her face the look as
of one flying towards life, had passed, leaving her features a little
wan and drawn, and fading her delicate skin to the colour of withered
flowers. Yet the little smile, which lingered like autumn sunshine
around her lips, was full of that sweetness which time could not
destroy, because it belonged not to her flesh, but to an unalterable
quality of her soul; and this sweetness, which she exhaled like a
fragrance, would cause perhaps one of a hundred strangers to glance
after her with the thought, "How lovely that woman must once have been!"

"Are you ready?" asked Oliver, coming out of his dressing-room, and
again she started and turned quickly towards him, because it seemed to
her that she was hearing his voice for the first time. So nervous, so
irritable, so quivering with suppressed feeling, was the sound of it,
that she hesitated between the longing to offer sympathy and the fear
that her words might only add to his suffering.

"Yes, I am quite ready," she answered, without adding that she had been
ready for more than an hour; and picking up her wrap from the bed, she
passed ahead of him through the door which he had opened. As he stopped
to draw the key from the lock, her eyes rested with pride on the gloss
of his hair, which had gone grey in the last year, and on his figure,
with its square shoulders and its look of obvious distinction, as of a
man who had achieved results so emphatically that it was impossible
either to overlook or to belittle them. How splendid he looked! And what
a pity that, after all his triumphs, he should still be so nervous on
the first night of a play!

In the elevator there was a woman in an ermine wrap, with Titian hair
under a jewelled net; and Virginia's eyes were suffused with pleasure as
she gazed at her. "I never saw any one so beautiful!" she exclaimed to
Oliver, as they stepped out into the hall; but he merely replied
indifferently: "Was she? I didn't notice." Then his tone lost its
deadness. "If you'll wait here a minute, I'd like to speak to Cranston
about something," he said, almost eagerly. "I shan't keep you a second."

"Don't worry about me," she answered cheerfully, pleased at the sudden
change in his manner. "Stay as long as you like. I never get tired
watching the people."

He hurried off, while, dazzled by the lights, she drew back behind a
sheltering palm, and stood a little screened from the brilliant crowd in
which she took such innocent pleasure. "How I wish Miss Willy could be
here," she thought, for it was impossible for her to feel perfect
enjoyment while there existed the knowledge that another person would
have found even greater delight in the scene than she was finding
herself. "How gay they all look--and there are not any old people.
Everybody, even the white-haired women, dress as if they were girls. I
wonder what it is that gives them all this gloss as if they had been
polished, the same gloss that has come on Oliver since he has been so
successful? What a short time he stayed. He is coming back already, and
every single person is turning to look at him."

Then a voice beyond the palm spoke as distinctly as if the words were
uttered into her ear. "That's Treadwell over there--a good-looking man,
isn't he?--but have you seen the dowdy, middle-aged woman he is married
to? It's a pity that all great men marry young--and now they say, you
know, that he is madly in love with Margaret Oldcastle----"



CHAPTER V

BITTERNESS


In the night, after a restless sleep, she awoke in terror. A hundred
incidents, a hundred phrases, looks, gestures, which she had thought
meaningless until last evening, flashed out of the darkness and hung
there, blazing, against the background of the night. Yesterday these
things had appeared purposeless; and now it seemed to her that only her
incredible blindness, only her childish inability to face any painful
fact until it struck her between the eyes, had kept her from discovering
the truth before it was thrust on her by the idle chatter of strangers.
A curious rigidity, as if she had been suddenly paralyzed, passed from
her heart, which seemed to have ceased beating, and crept through her
limbs to her motionless hands and feet. Though she longed to call out
and awaken Oliver, who, complaining of insomnia, spent the night in the
adjoining room, this immobility, which was like the graven immobility of
death, held her imprisoned there as speechless and still as if she lay
in her coffin. Only her brain seemed on fire, so pitilessly, so horribly
alive had it become.

From the street beyond the dim square of the window, across which the
curtains were drawn, she could hear the ceaseless passing of carriages
and motor cars; but her thoughts had grown so confused that for a long
while, as she lay there, chill and rigid under the bed-clothes, she
could not separate the outside sounds from the tumult within her brain.
"Now that I know the truth I must decide what is best to do," she
thought quite calmly. "As soon as this noise stops I must think it all
over and decide what is best to do." But around this one lucid idea the
discordant roar of the streets seemed to gather force until it raged
with the violence of a storm. It was impossible to think clearly until
this noise, which, in some strange way, was both in the street outside
and within the secret chambers of her soul, had subsided and given place
to the quiet of night again. Then gradually the tempest of sound died
away, and in the midst of the stillness which followed it she lived over
every hour, every minute, of that last evening when it had seemed to her
that she was crucified by Oliver's triumph. She saw him as he came
towards her down the shining corridor, easy, brilliant, impressive, a
little bored by his celebrity, yet with the look of vital well-being, of
second youth, which separated and distinguished him from the curious
gazers among whom he moved. She saw him opposite to her during the long
dinner, which she could not eat; she saw him beside her in the car which
carried them to the theatre; and clearer than ever, as if a burning iron
had seared the memory into her brain, she saw him lean on the railing of
the box, with his eyes on the stage where Margaret Oldcastle, against
the lowered curtain, smiled her charming smile at the house. It had been
a wonderful night, and through it all she had felt the iron nails of her
crucifixion driven into her soul.

Breaking away from that chill of terror with which she had awakened,
she left the bed and went over to the window, where she drew the heavy
curtains aside. In Fifth Avenue the electric lights sparkled like frost
on the pavement, while beyond the roofs of the houses the first
melancholy glow of a winter's sunrise was suffusing the sky with red.
While she watched it, a wave of unutterable loneliness swept over
her--of that profound spiritual loneliness which comes to one at dawn in
a great city, when knowledge of the sleeping millions within reach seems
only to intensify the fact of individual littleness and isolation. She
felt that she stood alone, not merely in the world, but in the universe;
and the thought that Oliver slept there in the next room made more
poignant this feeling, as though she were solitary and detached in the
midst of limitless space. Even if she called him and he came to her, she
could not reach him. Even if he stood at her side, the immeasurable
distance between them would not lessen.

When the morning came, she dressed herself in her prettiest gown, a
violet cloth, with ruffles of old lace at the throat and wrists; but
this dress, of which she had been so proud in Dinwiddie that she had
saved it for months in order to have it fresh for New York, appeared
somehow to have lost its charm and distinction, and she knew that last
evening had not only destroyed her happiness, but had robbed her of her
confidence in the taste and the workmanship of Miss Willy. Knowledge,
she saw now, had shattered the little beliefs of life as well as the
large ones.

Oliver liked to breakfast in his dressing-gown, fresh from his bath and
eager for the papers, so when he came hurriedly into the sitting-room,
the shining tray was already awaiting him, and she sat pouring his
coffee in a band of sunlight beside the table. This sunlight, so
merciful to the violet gown, shone pitilessly on the darkened hollows
which the night had left under her eyes, and on the little lines which
had gathered around her bravely smiling mouth.

"It was a wonderful success, all the papers say so, Oliver," she said,
when he had seated himself at the other end of the table and taken the
coffee from her hand, which shook in spite of her effort.

"Yes, it went off well, there's no doubt of it," he answered cheerfully,
so cheerfully that for a minute a blind hope shot trembling through her
mind. Could it all have been a dream? Was there some dreadful mistake?
Would she presently discover that she had imagined that night of useless
agony through which she had passed?

"The audience was so sympathetic. I saw a number of women crying in the
last act when the heroine comes back to her old home."

"It caught them. I thought it would. It's the kind of thing they like."

He opened a paper as he spoke, and seeing that he wanted to read the
criticisms, she broke his eggs for him, and then turning to her own
breakfast tried in vain to swallow the piece of toast which she had
buttered. But it was useless. She could not eat; she could not even
drink her coffee, which had stood so long that it had grown tepid. A
feeling of spiritual nausea, beside which all physical sensations were
as trivial and meaningless as the stinging of wasps, pervaded her soul
and body, and choked her, like unshed tears, whenever she tried to force
a bit of food between her trembling lips. All the casual interests with
which she filled her days, those seemingly small, yet actually
tremendous interests without which daily life becomes almost unlivable,
flagged suddenly and died while she sat there. Nothing mattered any
longer, neither the universe nor that little circle of it which she
inhabited, neither life nor death, neither Oliver's success nor the food
which she was trying to eat. This strange sickness which had fallen upon
her affected not only her soul and body, but everything that surrounded
her, every person or object at which she looked, every stranger in the
street below, every roof which she could see sharply outlined against
the glittering blue of the sky. Something had passed out of them all,
some essential quality which united them to reality, some inner secret
of being without which the animate and the inanimate alike became no
better than phantoms. The spirit which made life vital had gone out of
the world. And she felt that this would always be so, that the next
minute and the next year and all the years that came afterwards would
bring to her merely the effort of living--since Life, having used her
for its dominant purpose, had no further need of her. Once only the
thought occurred to her that there were women who might keep their own
even now by fighting against the loss of it, by passionately refusing to
surrender what they could no longer hold as a gift. But with the idea
there came also that self-knowledge which told her that she was not one
of these. The strength in her was the strength of passiveness; she could
endure, but she could not battle. Long ago, as long ago as the night on
which she had watched in the shadow of death beside Harry's bed, she
had lost that energy of soul which had once flamed up in her with her
three days' jealousy of Abby. It was her youth and beauty then which had
inspirited her, and she was wise enough to know that the passions which
become youth appear ridiculous in middle-age.

Having drunk his coffee, Oliver passed his cup to her, and laid down his
paper.

"You look tired, Virginia. I hope it hasn't been too much for you?"

"Oh, no. Have you quite got over your headache?"

"Pretty much, but those lights last night were rather trying. Don't put
any cream in this time. I want the stimulant."

"Perhaps it has got cold. Shall I ring for fresh?"

"It doesn't matter. This will do quite as well. Have you any shopping
that you would like to do this morning?"

Shopping! When her whole world had crumbled around her! For an instant
the lump in her throat made speech impossible; then summoning that mild
yet indestructible spirit, which was as the spirit of all those
generations of women who lived in her blood, she answered gently:

"Yes, I had intended to buy some presents for the girls."

"Then you'd better take a taxicab for the morning. I suppose you know
the names of the shops you want to go to?"

"Oh, yes. I know the names. Are you going to the theatre?"

"I've got to change a few lines in the play, and the sooner I go about
it the better."

"Then don't bother about me, dear. I'll just put on my long coat over
this dress and go out right after breakfast."

"But you haven't eaten anything," he remarked, glancing at her plate.

"I wasn't hungry. The fresh air will do me good. It has turned so much
warmer, and the snow is all melting."

As she spoke, she rose from the table and began to prepare herself for
the street, putting on the black hat with the ostrich tip and the bunch
of violets on one side, which didn't seem just right since she had come
to New York, and carefully wrapping the ends of her fur neck-piece
around her throat. It was already ten o'clock, for Oliver had slept
late, and she must be hurrying if she hoped to get through her shopping
before luncheon. While she dressed, a wan spirit of humour entered into
her, and she saw how absurd it was that she should rush about from shop
to shop, buying things that did not matter in order to fill a life that
mattered as little as they did. To her, whose mental outlook had had in
it so little humour, it seemed suddenly that the whole of life was
ridiculous. Why should she have sat there, pouring Oliver's coffee and
talking to him about insignificant things, when her heart was bursting
with this sense of something gone out of existence, with this torturing
realization of the irretrievable failure of love?

Taking up her muff and her little black bag from the bureau, she looked
back at him with a smile as she turned towards the door.

"Good-bye. Will you be here for luncheon?"

"I'm afraid I can't. I've an appointment down-town, but I'll come back
as early as I can."

Then she went out and along the hall to the elevator, in which there was
a little girl, who reminded her of Jenny, in charge of a governness in
spectacles. She smiled at her almost unconsciously, so spontaneous, so
interwoven with her every mood was her love for children; but the little
girl, being very proper for her years, did not smile back, and a stab of
pain went through Virginia's heart.

"Even children have ceased to care for me," she thought.

At the door, where she waited a few minutes for her taxicab, a young
bride, with her eyes shining with joy, stood watching her husband while
he talked with an acquaintance, and it seemed to Virginia that it was a
vision of her own youth which had risen to torment her. "That was the
way I looked at Oliver twenty-five years ago," she said to herself;
"twenty-five years ago, when I was young and he loved me." Then, even
while the intolerable pain was still in her heart, she felt that
something of the buoyant hopefulness of that other bride entered into
her and restored her courage. A resolution, so new that it was born of
the joyous glance of a stranger, and yet so old that it seemed a part of
that lost spirit of youth which had once carried her in a wild race over
the Virginian meadows, a resolution which belonged at the same time to
this other woman and to herself, awoke in her and mingled like a draught
of wine with her blood. "I will not give up," she thought. "I will go to
her. Perhaps she does not know--perhaps she does not understand. I will
go to her, and everything may be different." Then her taxicab was
called, and stepping into it, she gave the name not of a shop, but of
the apartment house in which Margaret Oldcastle lived.

It was one of those February days when, because of the promise of spring
in the air, men begin suddenly to think of April. The sky was of an
intense blue, with little clouds, as soft as feathers, above the western
horizon. On the pavement the last patches of snow were rapidly melting,
and the gentle breeze which blew in at the open window of the cab, was
like a caressing breath on Virginia's cheek. "It must be that she does
not understand," she repeated, and this thought gave her confidence and
filled her with that unconquerable hope of the future without which she
felt that living would be impossible. Even the faces in the street
cheered her, for it seemed to her that if life were really what she had
believed it to be last night, these men and women could not walk so
buoyantly, could not smile so gaily, could not spend so much thought and
time on the way they looked and the things they wore. "No, it must have
been a mistake, a ghastly mistake," she insisted almost passionately.
"Some day we shall laugh over it together as we laughed over my jealousy
of Abby. He never loved Abby, not for a minute, and yet I imagined that
he did and suffered agony because of it." And her taxicab went on
merrily between the cheerful crowds on the pavements, gliding among
gorgeous motor cars and carriages drawn by high-stepping horses and
pedlers' carts drawn by horses that stepped high no longer, among rich
people and poor people, among surfeited people and hungry people, among
gay people and sad people, among contented people and rebellious
people--among all these, who hid their happiness or their sorrow under
the mask of their features, her cab spun onward bearing her lightly on
the most reckless act of her life.

At the door of the apartment house she was told that Miss Oldcastle
could not be seen, but, after sending up her card and waiting a few
moments in the hall before a desk which reminded her of a gilded
squirrel-cage, she was escorted to the elevator and borne upward to the
ninth landing. Here, in response to the tinkle of a little bell outside
of a door, she was ushered into a reception room which was so bare alike
of unnecessary furniture and of the Victorian tradition to which she was
accustomed, that for an instant she stood confused by the very
strangeness of her surroundings. Then a charming voice, with what
sounded to her ears as an affected precision of speech, said: "Mrs.
Treadwell, this is so good of you!" and, turning, she found herself face
to face with the other woman in Oliver's life.

"I saw you at the play last night," the voice went on, "and I hoped to
get a chance to speak to you, but the reporters simply invaded my
dressing-room. Won't you sit here in the sunshine? Shall I close the
window, or, like myself, are you a worshipper of the sun?"

"Oh, no, leave it open. I like it." At any other moment she would have
been afraid of an open window in February; but it seemed to her now that
if she could not feel the air in her face she should faint. With the
first sight of Margaret Oldcastle, as she looked into that smiling
face, in which the inextinguishable youth was less a period of life than
an attribute of spirit, she realized that she was fighting not a woman,
but the very structure of life. The glamour of the footlights had
contributed nothing to the flame-like personality of the actress. In her
simple frock of brown woollen, with a wide collar of white lawn turned
back from her splendid throat, she embodied not so much the fugitive
charm of youth, as that burning vitality over which age has no power.
The intellect in her spoke through her noble rather than beautiful
features, through her ardent eyes, through her resolute mouth, through
every perfect gesture with which she accompanied her words. She stood
not only for the elemental forces, but for the free woman; and her
freedom, like that of man, had been built upon the strewn bodies of the
weaker. The law of sacrifice, which is the basic law of life, ruled here
as it ruled in mother-love and in the industrial warfare of men. Her
triumph was less the triumph of the individual than of the type. The
justice not of society, but of nature, was on her side, for she was one
with evolution and with the resistless principle of change. Vaguely,
without knowing that she realized these things, Virginia felt that the
struggle was useless; and with the sense of failure there awoke in her
that instinct of good breeding, that inherited obligation to keep the
surface of life sweet, which was so much older and so much stronger than
the revolt in her soul.

"You were wonderful last night. I wanted to tell you how wonderful I
thought you," she said gently. "You made the play a success--all the
papers say so this morning."

"Well, it was an easy play to make successful," replied the other, while
a fleeting curiosity, as though she were trying to explain something
which she did not quite understand, appeared in her face and made it,
with its redundant vitality, almost coarse for an instant. "It's the
kind the public wants, you couldn't help making it go."

The almost imperceptible conflict which had flashed in their eyes when
they met, had died suddenly down, and the dignity which had been on the
side of the other woman appeared to have passed from her to Virginia.
This dignity, which was not that of triumph, but of a defeat which
surrenders everything except the inviolable sanctities of the spirit,
shielded her like an impenetrable armour against both resentment and
pity. She stood there wrapped in a gentleness more unassailable than any
passion.

"You did a great deal for it and a great deal for my husband," she said,
while her voice lingered unconsciously over the word. "He has told me
often that without your acting he could never have reached the position
he holds."

Then, because it was impossible to say the things she had come to say,
because even in the supreme crises of life she could not lay down the
manner of a lady, she smiled the grave smile with which her mother had
walked through a ruined country, and taking up her muff, which she had
laid on the table, passed out into the hall. She had let the chance go
by, she had failed in her errand, yet she knew that, even though it cost
her her life, even though it cost her a thing far dearer than life--her
happiness--she could not have done otherwise. In the crucial moment it
was principle and not passion which she obeyed; but this principle,
filtering down through generations, had become so inseparable from the
sources of character, that it had passed at last through the intellect
into the blood. She could no more have bared her soul to that other
woman than she could have stripped her body naked in the market-place.

At the door her cab was still waiting, and she gave the driver the name
of the toy shop at which she intended to buy presents for Lucy's
stepchildren. Though her heart was breaking within her, there was no
impatience in her manner when she was obliged to wait some time before
she could find the particular sort of doll for which Lucy had written;
and she smiled at the apologetic shopgirl with the forbearing
consideration for others which grief could not destroy. She put her own
anguish aside as utterly in the selection of the doll as she would have
done had it been the peace of nations and not a child's pleasure that
depended upon her effacement of self. Then, when the purchase was made,
she took out her shopping list from her bag and passed as
conscientiously to the choice of Jenny's clothes. Not until the morning
had gone, and she rolled again up Fifth Avenue towards the hotel, did
she permit her thoughts to return to the stifled agony within her heart.

To her surprise Oliver was awaiting her in their sitting-room, and with
her first look into his face, she understood that he had reached in her
absence a decision against which he had struggled for days. For an
instant her strength seemed fainting as before an impossible effort.
Then the shame in his eyes awoke in her the longing to protect him, to
spare him, to make even this terrible moment easier for him than he
could make it alone. With the feeling, a crowd of memories thronged
through her mind, as though called there by that impulse to shield which
was so deeply interwoven with the primal passion of motherhood. She saw
Oliver's face as it had looked on that spring afternoon when she had
first seen him; she saw it as he put the ring on her hand at the altar;
she saw it bending over her after the birth of her first child; and then
suddenly his face changed to the face of Harry, and she saw again the
little bed under the hanging sheet and herself sitting there in the
faintly quivering circle of light. She watched again the slow fall of
the leaves, one by one, as they turned at the stem and drifted against
the white curtains of the window across the street.

"Oliver," she said gently, so gently that she might have been speaking
to her sick child, "would you rather that I should go back to Dinwiddie
to-night?"

He did not answer, but, turning away from her, laid his head down on his
arm, which he had outstretched on the table, and she saw a shiver of
pain pass through his body as if it had been struck a physical blow. And
just as she had put herself aside when she bought the doll, so now she
forgot her own suffering in the longing to respond to his need.

"I can take the night train--now that I have seen the play there is no
reason why I should stay. I have got through my shopping."

Raising his head, he looked up into her face. "Whatever happens,
Virginia, will you believe that I never wanted to hurt you?" he asked.

For a moment she felt that the strain was intolerable, and a fear
entered her mind lest she should faint or weep and so make things harder
than they should be able to bear.

"You mean that something must happen--that there will be a break between
us?" she said.

Leaving the table, he walked to the window and back before he answered
her.

"I can't go on this way. I'm not that sort. A generation ago, I suppose,
we should have done it--but we've lost grip, we've lost endurance." Then
he cried out suddenly, as if he were justifying himself: "It is hell.
I've been in hell for a year--don't you see it?"

After his violence, her voice sounded almost lifeless, so quiet, so
utterly free from passion, was its quality.

"As long as that--for a year?" she asked.

"Oh, longer, but it has got worse. It has got unendurable. I've
fought--God knows I've fought--but I can't stand it. I've got to do
something. I've got to find a way. You must have seen it coming,
Virginia. You must have seen that this thing is stronger than I am."

"Do--do you want her so much?" and she, who had learned from life not to
want, looked at him with the pity which he might have seen in her eyes
had he stabbed her.

"So much that I'm going mad. There's no other end to it. It's been
coming on for two years--all the time I've been away from Dinwiddie I've
been fighting it."

She did not answer, and when, after the silence had grown oppressive, he
turned back from the window through which he had been gazing, he could
not be sure that she had heard him. So still she seemed that she was
like a woman of marble.

"You're too good for me, that's the trouble. You've been too good for me
from the beginning," he said.

Unfastening her coat, which she had kept on, she laid it on the sofa at
her back, and then put up her hands to take out her hatpins.

"I must pack my things," she said suddenly. "Will you engage my berth
back to Dinwiddie for to-night?"

He nodded without speaking, and she added hastily, "I shan't go down
again before starting. But there is no need that you should go to the
train with me."

At this he turned back from the door where he had waited with his hand
on the knob. "Won't you let me do even that?" he asked, and his voice
sounded so like Harry's that a sob broke from her lips. The point was so
small a one--all points seemed to her so small--that her will died down
and she yielded without protest. What did it matter--what did anything
matter to her now?

"I'll send up your luncheon," he added almost gratefully. "You will be
ill if you don't eat something."

"No, please don't. I am not hungry," she answered, and then he went out
softly, as though he were leaving a sick-room, and left her alone with
her anguish--and her packing.

Without turning in her chair, without taking off her hat, from which she
had drawn the pins, she sat there like a woman in whom the spirit has
been suddenly stricken. Beyond the window the perfect day, with its
haunting reminder of the spring, was lengthening slowly into afternoon,
and through the slant sunbeams the same gay crowd passed in streams on
the pavements. On the roof of one of the opposite houses a flag was
flying, and it seemed to her that the sight of that flag waving under
the blue sky was bound up forever with the intolerable pain in her
heart. And with that strange passivity of the nerves which nature
mercifully sends to those who have learned submission to suffering, to
those whose strength is the strength, not of resistance, but of
endurance, she felt that as long as she sat there, relaxed and
motionless, she had in a way withdrawn herself from the struggle to
live. If she might only stay like this forever, without moving, without
thinking, without feeling, while she died slowly, inch by inch, spirit
and body.

A knock came at the door, and as she moved to answer it, she felt that
life returned in a slow throbbing agony, as if her blood were forced
back again into veins from which it had ebbed. When the tray was placed
on the table beside her, she looked up with a mild, impersonal curiosity
at the waiter, as the dead might look back from their freedom and
detachment on the unreal figures of the living. "I wonder what he thinks
about it all?" she thought vaguely, as she searched in her bag for his
tip. "I wonder if he sees how absurd and unnecessary all the things are
that he does day after day, year after year, like the rest of us? I
wonder if he ever revolts with this unspeakable weariness from waiting
on other people and watching them eat?" But the waiter, with his long
sallow face, his inscrutable eyes, and his general air of having
petrified under the surface, was as enigmatical as life.

After he had gone out, she rose from her untasted luncheon, and going
into her bedroom, took the black brocaded gown off the hanger and
stuffed the sleeves with tissue paper as carefully as if the world had
not crumbled around her. Then she packed away her wrapper and her
bedroom slippers and shook out and folded the dresses she had not worn.
For a time she worked on mechanically, hardly conscious of what she was
doing, hardly conscious even that she was alive. Then slowly, softly,
like a gentle rain, her tears fell into the trunk, on each separate
garment as she smoothed it and laid it away.

At half-past eight o'clock she was waiting with her hat and coat on when
Oliver came in, followed by the porter who was to take down her bags.
She knew that he had brought the man in order to avoid all possibility
of an emotional scene; and she could have smiled, had her spirit been
less wan and stricken, at this sign of a moral cowardice which was so
characteristic. It was his way, she understood now, though she did not
put the thought into words, to take what he wanted, escaping at the same
time the price which nature exacts of those who have not learned to
relinquish. Out of the strange colourless stillness which surrounded
her, some old words of Susan's floated back to her as if they were
spoken aloud: "A Treadwell will always get the thing he wants most in
the end." But while he stabbed her, he would look away in order that he
might be spared the memory of her face.

Without a word, she followed her bags from the room without a word she
entered the elevator, which was waiting, and without a word she took her
place in the taxicab standing beside the curbstone. There was no
rebellion in her thoughts, merely a dulled consciousness of pain, like
the consciousness of one who is partially under an anæsthetic. The
fighting courage, the violence of revolt, had no part in her soul, which
had been taught to suffer and to renounce with dignity, not with
heroics. Her submission was the submission of a flower that bends to a
storm.

As she sat there in silence, with her eyes on the brilliant street,
where the signs of his play stared back at her under the flaring lights,
she began to think with automatic precision, as though her brain were
moved by some mechanical power over which she had no control. Little
things crowded into her mind--the face of the doll she had bought for
Lucy's stepchild that morning, the words on one of the electric signs on
the top of a building they were passing, the leopard skin coat worn by a
woman on the pavement. And these little things seemed to her at the
moment to be more real, more vital, than her broken heart and the
knowledge that she was parting from Oliver. The agony of the night and
the morning appeared to have passed away like a physical pang, leaving
only this deadness of sensation and the strange, almost unearthly
clearness of external objects. "It is not new. It has been coming on for
years," she thought. "He said that, and it is true. It is so old that it
has been here forever, and I seem to have been suffering it all my
life--since the day I was born, and before the day I was born. It seems
older than I am. Oliver is going from me. He has always been going from
me--always since the beginning," she repeated slowly, as if she were
trying to learn a lesson by heart. But so remote and shadowy did the
words appear, that she found herself thinking the next instant, "I must
have forgotten my smelling-salts. The bottle was lying on the bureau,
and I can't remember putting it into my bag." The image of this little
glass bottle, with the gold top, which she had left behind was distinct
in her memory; but when she tried to think of the parting from Oliver
and of all that she was suffering, everything became shadowy and unreal
again.

At the station she stood beside the porter while he paid the driver, and
then entering the doorway, they walked hurriedly, so hurriedly that she
felt as if she were losing her breath, in the direction of the gate and
the waiting train. And with each step, as they passed down the long
platform, which seemed to stretch into eternity, she was thinking: "In a
minute it will be over. If I don't say something now, it will be too
late. If I don't stop him now, it will be over forever--everything will
be over forever."

Beside the night coach, in the presence of the conductor and the porter,
who stood blandly waiting to help her into the train, she stopped
suddenly, as though she could not go any farther, as though the strength
which had supported her until now had given way and she were going to
fall. Through her mind there flashed the thought that even now she might
hold him if she were to make a scene, that if she were to go into
hysterics he would not leave her, that if she were to throw away her
pride and her self-respect and her dignity, she might recover by
violence the outer shell at least of her happiness. How could he break
away from her if she were only to weep and to cling to him? Then, while
the idea was still in her mind, she knew that to a nature such as hers
violence was impossible. It took passion to war with passion, and in
this she was lacking. Though she were wounded to the death, she could
not revolt, could not shriek out in her agony, could not break through
that gentle yet invincible reticence which she had won from the past.

Down the long platform a child came running with cries of pleasure,
followed by a man with a red beard, who carried a suitcase. As they
approached the train, Virginia entered the coach, and walked rapidly
down the aisle to where the porter was waiting beside her seat.

For the first time since they had reached the station Oliver spoke. "I
am sorry I couldn't get the drawing-room for you," he said. "I am afraid
you will be crowded"; and this anxiety about her comfort, when he was
ruining her life, did not strike either of them, at the moment, as
ridiculous.

"It does not matter," she answered; and he put out his hand.

"Good-bye, Virginia," he said, with a catch in his voice.

"Good-bye," she responded quietly, and would have given her soul for the
power to shriek aloud, to overcome this indomitable instinct which was
stronger than her personal self.

Turning away, he passed between the seats to the door of the coach, and
a minute later she saw his figure hurrying back along the platform down
which they had come together a few minutes ago.



CHAPTER VI

THE FUTURE


A chill rain was falling when Virginia got out of the train the next
morning, and the raw-boned nags hitched to the ancient "hacks" in the
street appeared even more dejected and forlorn than she had remembered
them. Then one of the noisy negro drivers seized her bag, and a little
later she was rolling up the long hill in the direction of her home.
Dinwiddie was the same; nothing had altered there since she had left
it--and yet what a difference! The same shops were unclosing their
shutters; the same crippled negro beggar was taking his place at the
corner of the market; the same maids were sweeping the sidewalks with
the same brooms; the same clerk bowed to her from the drug store where
she bought her medicines; and yet something--the only thing which had
ever interested her in these people and this place--had passed out of
them. Just as in New York yesterday, when she had watched the sunrise,
so it seemed to her now that the spirit of reality had faded out of the
world. What remained was merely a mirage in which phantoms in the guise
of persons made a pretence of being alive.

The front door of her house stood open, and on the porch one of the
coloured maids was beating the dust out of the straw mat. "As if dust
makes any difference when one is dead," Virginia thought wearily; and
an unutterable loathing passed over her for all the little acts by which
one rendered tribute to the tyranny of appearances. Then, as she entered
the house, she felt that the sight of the familiar objects she had once
loved oppressed her as though the spirit of melancholy resided in the
pieces of furniture, not in her soul. This weariness, so much worse than
positive pain, filled her with disgust for all the associations and the
sentiments she had known in the past. Not only the house and the
furniture and the small details of housekeeping, but the street and the
town and every friendly face of a neighbour, had become an intolerable
reminder that she was still alive.

In her room, where a bright fire was burning, and letters from the girls
lay on the table, she sat down in her wraps and gazed with unseeing eyes
at the flames. "The children must not know. I must keep it from the
children as long as possible," she thought dully, and it was so natural
to her to plan sparing them, that for a minute the idea took her mind
away from her own anguish. "If I could only die like this, then they
need never know," she found herself reflecting coldly a little later, so
coldly that she seemed to have no personal interest, no will to choose
in the matter. "If I could only die like this, nobody need be
hurt--except Harry," she added.

For the first time, with the thought of Harry, her restraint suddenly
failed her. "Yes, it would hurt Harry. I must live because Harry would
want me to," she said aloud; and as though her strength were reinforced
by the words, she rose and prepared herself to go downstairs to
breakfast--prepared herself, too, for the innumerable little agonies
which would come with the day, for the sight of Susan, for the visits
from the neighbours, for the eager questions about the fashions in New
York which Miss Willy would ask. And all the time she was thinking
clearly, "It can't last forever. It must end some time. Who knows but it
may stop the next minute, and one can stand a minute of anything."

The day passed, the week, the month, and gradually the spring came and
went, awakening life in the trees, in the grass, in the fields, but not
in her heart. Even the dried sticks in the yard put out shoots of living
green and presently bore blossoms, and in the borders by the front gate,
the crocuses, which she had planted with her own hands a year ago, were
ablaze with gold. All nature seemed joining in the resurrection of life,
all nature, except herself, seemed to flower again to fulfilment. She
alone was dead, and she alone among the dead must keep up this pretence
of living which was so much harder than death.

Once every week she wrote to the children, restrained yet gently flowing
letters in which there was no mention of Oliver. It had been so long,
indeed, since either Harry or the girls had associated their parents
together, that the omission called forth no question, hardly, she
gathered, any surprise. Their lives were so full, their interests were
so varied, that, except at the regular intervals when they sat down to
write to her, it is doubtful if they ever seriously wondered about her.
In July, Jenny came home for a month, and Lucy wrote regretfully that
she was "so disappointed that she couldn't join mother somewhere in the
mountains"; but beyond this, the girls' lives hardly appeared to touch
hers even on the surface. In the month that Jenny spent in Dinwiddie,
she organized a number of societies and clubs for the improvement of
conditions among working girls, and in spite of the intense heat (the
hottest spell of the summer came while she was there), she barely
allowed herself a minute for rest or for conversation with her mother.

"If you would only go to the mountains, mother," she remarked the
evening before she left. "I am sure it isn't good for you to stay in
Dinwiddie during the summer."

"I am used to it," replied Virginia a little stubbornly, for it seemed
to her at the moment that she would rather die than move.

"But you ought to think of your health. What does father say about it?"

A contraction of pain crossed Virginia's face, but Jenny, whose vision
was so wide that it had a way of overlooking things which were close at
hand, did not observe it.

"He hasn't said anything," she answered, with a strange stillness of
voice.

"I thought he meant to take you to England, but I suppose his plays are
keeping him in New York."

Rising from her chair at the table--they had just finished
supper--Virginia reached for a saucer and filled it with ice cream from
a bowl in front of her.

"I think I'll send Miss Priscilla a little of this cream," she remarked.
"She is so fond of strawberry."

The next day Jenny went, and again the silence and the loneliness
settled upon the house, to which Virginia clung with a morbid terror of
change. Had her spirit been less broken, she might have made the effort
of going North as Jenny had urged her to do, but when her life was over,
one place seemed as desirable as another, and it was a matter of
profound indifference to her whether it was heat or cold which afflicted
her body. She was probably the only person in Dinwiddie who did not hang
out of her window during the long nights in search of a passing breeze.
But with that physical insensibility which accompanies prolonged torture
of soul, she had ceased to feel the heat, had ceased even to feel the
old neuralgic pain in her temples. There were times when it seemed to
her that if a pin were stuck into her body she should not know it. The
one thing she asked--and this Life granted her except during the four
weeks of Jenny's visit--was freedom from the need of exertion, freedom
from the obligation to make decisions. Her housekeeping she left now to
the servants, so she was spared the daily harassing choices of the
market and the table. There remained nothing for her to do, nothing even
for her to worry about, except her broken heart. Her friends she had
avoided ever since her return from New York, partly from an unbearable
shrinking from the questions which she knew they would ask whenever they
met her, partly because her mind was so engrossed with the supreme fact
that her universe lay in ruins, that she found it impossible to lend a
casual interest to other matters. She, who had effaced herself for a
lifetime, found suddenly that she could not see beyond the immediate
presence of her own suffering.

Usually she stayed closely indoors through the summer days, but several
times, at the hour of dusk, she went out alone and wandered for hours
about the streets which were associated with her girlhood. In High
Street, at the corner where she had first seen Oliver, she stood one
evening until Miss Priscilla, who had caught sight of her from the porch
of the Academy (which, owing to the changing fashions in education and
the infirmities of the teacher, was the Academy no longer), sent out her
negro maid to beg her to come in and sit with her. "No, I'm only looking
for something," Virginia had answered, while she hurried back past the
church and down the slanting street to the twelve stone steps which led
up the terraced hillside at the rectory. Here, in the purple summer
twilight, spangled with fireflies, she felt for a minute that her youth
was awaiting her; and opening the gate, she passed as softly as a ghost
along the crooked path to the two great paulownias, which were beginning
to decay, and to the honeysuckle arbour, where the tendrils of the
creeper brushed her hair like a caress. Under the light of a young moon,
it seemed to her that nothing had changed since that spring evening when
she had stood there and felt the wonder of first love awake in her
heart. Nothing had changed except that love and herself. The paulownias
still shed their mysterious shadows about her, the red and white roses
still bloomed by the west wing of the house, the bed of mint still grew,
rank and fragrant, beneath the dining-room window. When she put her hand
on the bole of the tree beside which she stood, she could still feel the
initials V. O. which Oliver had cut there in the days before their
marriage. A light burned in the window of the room which had been the
parlour in the days when she lived there, and as she gazed at it, she
almost expected to see the face of her mother, with its look of pathetic
cheerfulness, smiling at her through the small greenish panes. And then
the past in which Oliver had no part, the past which belonged to her and
to her parents, that hallowed, unforgettable past of her childhood,
which seemed bathed in love as in a flood of light--this past enveloped
her as the magic of the moonbeams enveloped the house in which she had
lived. While she stood there, it was more living than the present, more
real than the aching misery in her heart.

The door of the house opened and shut; she heard a step on the gravelled
path; and bending forward out of the shadow, she waited breathlessly for
the sound of her father's voice. But it was a young rector, who had
recently accepted the call to Saint James' Church, and his boyish face,
rising out of the sacred past, awoke her with a shock from the dream
into which she had fallen.

"Good-evening, Mrs. Treadwell. Were you coming to see me?" he asked
eagerly, pleased, she could see, by the idea that she was seeking his
services.

"No, I was passing, and the garden reminded me so of my girlhood that I
came in for a minute."

"It hasn't changed much, I suppose?" His alert, business-like gaze swept
the hillside.

"Hardly at all. One might imagine that those were the same roses I left
here."

"An improvement or two wouldn't hurt it," he remarked with animation.
"These old trees make such a litter in the spring that my wife is
anxious to get them down. Women like tidiness, you know, and she says,
while they are blooming, it is impossible to keep the yard clean."

"I remember. Their flowers cover everything when they fall, but I always
loved them."

"Well, one does get attached to things. I hope you have had a pleasant
summer in spite of the heat. It must have been a delight to have your
daughter at home again. What a splendid worker she is. If we had her in
Dinwiddie for good it wouldn't be long before the old town would awaken.
Why, I'd been trying to get those girls' clubs started for a year, and
she took the job out of my hands and managed it in two weeks."

"The dear child is very clever. Is your wife still in the mountains?"

"She's coming back next week. We didn't feel that it was safe to bring
the baby home until that long spell of heat had broken." Then, as she
turned towards the step, he added hastily, "Won't you let me walk home
with you?"

But this, she felt, was more than she could bear, and making the excuse
of an errand on the next block, she parted from him at the gate, and
hurried like a shadow back along High Street.

Until October there was no word from Oliver, and then at last there came
a letter, which she threw, half read, into the fire. The impulsive act,
so unlike the normal Virginia, soothed her for an instant, and she said
over and over to herself, while she moved hurriedly about the room, as
though she were seeking an escape from the moment before her, "I'm glad
I didn't finish it. I'm glad I let it burn." Though she did not realize
it, this passionate refusal to look at or to touch the thing that she
hated was the last stand of the Pendleton idealism against the triumph
of the actuality. It is possible that until that moment she had felt far
down in her soul that by declining to acknowledge in words the fact of
Oliver's desertion, by hiding it from the children, by ignoring the
processes which would lead to his freedom, she had, in some obscure way,
deprived that fact of all power over her life. But now while his letter,
blaming himself and yet pleading with her for his liberty, lay there,
crumbling slowly to ashes, under her eyes, her whole life, with its
pathos, its subterfuge, its losing battle against the ruling spirit of
change, seemed crumbling there also, like those ashes, or like that
vanished past to which she belonged. "I'm glad I let it burn," she
repeated bitterly, and yet she knew that the words had never really
burned, that the flame which was consuming them would never die until
she lay in her coffin. Stopping in front of the fire, she stood looking
down on the last shred of the letter, as though it were in reality the
ruins of her life which she was watching. A dull wonder stirred in her
mind amid her suffering--a vague questioning as to why this thing, of
all things, should have happened? "If I could only know why it was--if I
could only understand, it might be easier," she thought. "But I tried so
hard to do what was right, and, whatever the fault was, at least I never
failed in love. I never failed in love," she repeated. Her gaze, leaving
the fire, rested for an instant on a little alabaster ash-tray which
stood on the end of the table, and a spasm crossed her face, which had
remained unmoved while she was reading his letter. Every object in the
room seemed suddenly alive with memories. That was his place on the
rug; the deep chintz-covered chair by the hearth was the one in which he
used to sit, watching the fire at night, before going to bed; the clock
on the mantel was the one he had selected; the rug, which was threadbare
in places, he had helped her to choose; the pile of English reviews on
the table he had subscribed to; the little glass water bottle on the
candle-stand by the bed, she had bought years ago because he liked to
drink in the night. There was nothing in which he did not have a part.
Every trivial incident of her life was bound up with the thought of him.
She could no more escape the torment of these associations than she
could escape the fact of herself. For so long she had been one with him
in her thoughts that their relationship had passed, for her, into that
profound union of habit which is the strongest union of all. Even the
years in which he had grown gradually away from her had appeared to her
to leave untouched the deeper sanctities of their marriage.

A knock came at the door, and the cook, with a list of groceries in her
hand, entered to inquire if her mistress were going to market. With the
beginning of the autumn Virginia had tried to take an interest in her
housekeeping again, and the daily trip to the market had relieved, in a
measure, the terrible vacancy of her mornings. Now it seemed to her that
the remorseless exactions of the material details of living offered the
only escape from the tortures of memory. "Yes, I'll go," she said,
reaching out her hand for the list, and her heart cried, "I cannot live
if I stay in this room any longer. I cannot live if I look at these
things." As she turned away to put on her hat, she was seized by a
superstitious feeling that she might escape her suffering by fleeing
from these inanimate reminders of her marriage. It was as though the
chair and the rug and the clock had become possessed with some
demoniacal spirit. "If I can only get out of doors I shall feel better,"
she insisted; and when she had hurriedly pinned on her hat and tied her
tulle ruff at her throat, she caught up her gloves and ran quickly down
the stairs and out into the street. But as soon as she had reached the
sidewalk, the agony, which she had thought she was leaving behind her in
the closed room upstairs, rushed over her in a wave of realization, and
turning again, she started back into the yard, and stopped, with a
sensation of panic, beside the bed of crimson dahlias at the foot of the
steps. Then, while she hesitated, uncertain whether to return to her
bedroom or to force herself to go on to the market, those hated familiar
objects flashed in a blaze of light through her mind, and, opening the
gate, she passed out on the sidewalk, and started at a rapid step down
the deserted pavement of Sycamore Street. "At least nobody will speak to
me," she thought; but while the words were still on her lips, she saw a
door in the block open wide, and one of her neighbours come out on his
way to his business. Turning hastily, she fled into a cross street, and
then gathering courage, went on, trembling in every limb, towards the
old market, which she used because her mother and her grandmother had
used it before her.

The fish-carts were still there just as they had been when she was a
girl, but the army of black-robed housekeepers had changed or melted
away. Here, also, the physical details of life had survived the beings
for whose use or comfort they had come into existence. The meat and the
vegetable stalls were standing in orderly rows about the octagonal
building; wilted cabbage leaves littered the dusty floor; flies swarmed
around the bleeding forms hanging from hooks in the sunshine; even Mr.
Dewlap, hale and red-cheeked, offered her white pullets out of the
wooden coop at his feet. So little had the physical scene changed since
the morning, more than twenty-five years ago, of her meeting with
Oliver, that while she paused there beside Mr. Dewlap's stall, one of
the older generation might have mistaken her for her mother.

"My dear Virginia," said a voice at her back, and, turning, she found
Mrs. Peachey, a trifle rheumatic, but still plump and pretty. "I'm so
glad you come to the old market, my child. I suppose you cling to it
because of your mother, and then things are really so much dearer
uptown, don't you think so?"

"Yes, I dare say they are, but I've got into the habit of coming here."

"One does get into habits. Now I've bought chickens from Mr. Dewlap for
forty years. I remember your mother and I used to say that there were no
chickens to compare with his white pullets."

"I remember. Mother was a wonderful housekeeper."

"And you are too, my dear. Everybody says that you have the best table
in Dinwiddie!" Her small rosy face, framed in the shirred brim of her
black silk bonnet, was wrinkled with age, but even her wrinkles were
cheerful ones, and detracted nothing from the charming archness of her
expression. Unconquerable still, she went her sprightly way, on
rheumatic limbs, towards the grave.

"Have you seen dear Miss Priscilla?" asked Virginia, striving to turn
the conversation away from herself, and shivering with terror lest the
other should ask after Oliver, whom she had always adored.

"I stopped to inquire about her on my way down. She had had a bad night,
the maid said, and Doctor Fraser is afraid that the cold she got when
she went driving the other day has settled upon her lungs."

"Oh, I am so sorry!" exclaimed Virginia, but she was conscious of an
immeasurable relief because Miss Priscilla's illness was absorbing Mrs.
Peachey's thoughts.

"Well, I must be going on," said the little lady, and though she
flinched with pain when she moved, the habitual cheerfulness of her face
did not alter. "Come to see me as often as you can, Jinny. I can't get
about much now, and it is such a pleasure for me to have somebody to
chat with. People don't visit now," she added regretfully, "as much as
they used to."

"So many things have changed," said Virginia, and her eyes, as she gazed
up at the blue sky over the market, had a yearning look in them. So many
things had changed--ah, there was the pang!

On her way home, overcome by the fear that Miss Priscilla might die
thinking herself neglected, Virginia stopped at the Academy, and was
shown into the chamber behind the parlour, which had once been a
classroom. In the middle of her big tester bed, the teacher was lying,
propped among pillows, with her cameo brooch fastening the collar of her
nightgown and a purple wool shawl, which Virginia had knit for her,
thrown over her shoulders.

"Dear Miss Priscilla, I've thought of you so often. Are you better
to-day?"

"A little, Jinny, but don't worry about me. I'll be out of bed in a day
or two." Though she was well over eighty-five, she still thought of
herself as a middle-aged woman, and her constant plans for the future
amazed Virginia, whose hold upon life was so much slighter, so much less
tenacious. "Have you been to market, dear? I miss so being able to sit
by the window and watch people go by. Then I always knew when you and
Susan were on your way to Mr. Dewlap."

"Yes, I've begun to go again. It fills in the day."

"I never approved of your letting your servants market for you, Jinny.
It would have shocked your mother dreadfully."

"I know," said Virginia, and her voice, in spite of her effort to speak
cheerfully, had a weary sound, which made her add with sudden energy,
"I've brought you a partridge. Mr. Dewlap had such nice ones. You must
try to eat it for supper."

"How like you that was, Jinny. You are your mother all over again. I
declare I am reminded of her more and more every time that I see you."

Tears sprang to Virginia's eyes, while her thin blue-veined hands gently
caressed Miss Priscilla's swollen and knotted fingers.

"You couldn't tell me anything that would please me more," she answered.

"I used to think that Lucy would take after her, but she grew up
differently."

"Yes, neither of the girls is like her. They are dear, good children,
but they are very modern."

"Have you heard from them recently?"

"A few days ago, and they are both as well as can be."

"And what about Harry? I've always believed that Harry was your
favourite, Jinny."

For an instant Virginia hesitated, with her eyes on the pot of red
geraniums blooming between the white muslin curtains at the window. In
his little cage in the sunlight, Miss Priscilla's canary, the last of
many generations of Dickys, burst suddenly into song.

"I believe that Harry loves me more than anybody else in the world
does," she answered at last. "He'd come to me to-morrow if he thought I
needed him."

Lying there in her great white bed, with her enormous body, which she
could no longer turn, rising in a mountain of flesh under the linen
sheet, the old teacher closed her eyes lest Virginia should see her soul
yearning over her as it had yearned over Lucy Pendleton after the
rector's death. She thought of the girl, with the flower-like eyes and
the braided wreath of hair, flitting in white organdie and blue ribbons,
under the dappled sunlight in High Street, and she said to herself, as
she had said twenty-five years ago, "If there was ever a girl who looked
as if she were cut out for happiness, it was Jinny Pendleton."

"They say that Abby Goode is going to be married at last," remarked
Virginia abruptly, for she knew that such bits of gossip supplied the
only pleasant excitement in Miss Priscilla's life.

"Well, it's time. She waited long enough," returned the teacher, and she
added, "I always knew that she was crazy about Oliver by the way she
flung herself at his head." She had never liked Abby, and her
prejudices, which had survived the shocks of life, were not weakened by
the approaching presence of Death. It was characteristic of her that she
should pass into eternity with both her love and her scorn undiminished.

"She was a little boisterous as a girl, but I never believed any harm of
her," answered Virginia mildly; and then as Miss Priscilla's lunch was
brought in on a tray, she kissed her tenderly, with a curious feeling
that it was for the last time, and went out of the door and down the
gravelled walk into High Street. An exhaustion greater than any she had
ever known oppressed her as she dragged her body, which felt dead,
through the glorious October weather. Once, when she passed Saint James'
Church, she thought wearily, "How sorry mother would be if she knew,"
while an intolerable pain, which seemed her mother's pain as well as her
own, pierced her heart. Then, as she hurried on, with that nervous haste
which she could no longer control, the terrible haunted blocks appeared
to throng with the faded ghosts of her youth. A grey-haired woman
leaning out of the upper window of an old house nodded to her with a
smile, and she found herself thinking, "I rolled hoops with her once in
the street, and now she is watching her grandchild go out in its
carriage." At any other moment she would have bent, enraptured, over the
perambulator, which was being wheeled, by a nurse and a maid, down the
front steps into the street; but to-day the sight of the soft baby
features, lovingly surrounded by lace and blue ribbons, was like the
turn of a knife in her wound. "And yet mother always said that she was
never so happy as she was with my children," she reflected, while her
personal suffering was eased for a minute by the knowledge of what her
return to Dinwiddie had meant to her mother. "If she had died while I
lived away, I could never have got over it--I could never have forgiven
myself," she added, and there was an exquisite relief in turning even
for an instant away from the thought of herself.

When she reached home luncheon was awaiting her; but after sitting down
at the table and unfolding her napkin, a sudden nausea seized her, and
she felt that it was impossible to sit there facing the mahogany
sideboard, with its gleaming rows of silver, and watch the precise,
slow-footed movements of the maid, who served her as she might have
served a wooden image. "I took such trouble to train her, and now it
makes me sick to look at her," she thought, as she pushed back her chair
and fled hastily from the room into Oliver's study across the hall. Here
her work-bag lay on the table, and taking it up, she sat down before the
fire, and spread out the centrepiece, which she was embroidering, in an
intricate and elaborate design, for Lucy's Christmas. It was almost a
year now since she had started it, and into the luxuriant sprays and
garlands there had passed something of the restless love and yearning
which had overflowed from her heart. Usually she was able to work on it
in spite of her suffering, for she was one of those whose hands could
accomplish mechanically tasks from which her soul had revolted; but
to-day even her obedient fingers faltered and refused to keep at their
labour. Her eyes, leaving the needle she held, wandered beyond the
window to the branches of the young maple tree, which rose, like a
pointed flame, toward the cloudless blue of the sky.

In the evening, when Susan came in, with a newspaper in her hand, and a
passionate sympathy in her face, Virginia was still sitting there,
gazing at the dim outline of the tree and the strip of sky which had
faded from azure to grey.

"Oh, Jinny, my darling, you never told me!"

Taking up the piece of embroidery from her lap, Virginia met her
friend's tearful caress with a frigid and distant manner. "There was
nothing to tell. What do you mean?" she asked.

"Is--is it true that Oliver has left you? That--that----" Susan's voice
broke, strangled by emotion, but Virginia, without looking up from the
rose on which she was working in the firelight, answered quietly:

"Yes, it is true. He wants to be free."

"But you will not do it, darling? The law is on your side."

With her eyes on the needle which she held carefully poised for the next
stitch, Virginia hesitated while the muscles of her face quivered for an
instant and then grew rigid again.

"What good would it do," she asked, "to hold him to me when he wishes to
be free?" And then, with one of those flashes of insight which came to
her in moments of great emotional stress, she added quietly, "It is not
the law, it is life."

Putting her arms around her, Susan pressed her to her bosom as she might
have pressed a suffering child whom she was powerless to help or even to
make understand.

"Jinny, Jinny, let me love you," she begged.

"How did you know?" asked Virginia, as coldly as though she had not
heard her. "Has it got into the papers?"

For an instant Susan's pity struggled against her loyalty. "General
Goode told me that there had been a good deal about Oliver and--and Miss
Oldcastle in the New York papers for several days," she answered, "and
this morning a few lines were copied in the Dinwiddie _Bee_. Oliver is
so famous it was impossible to keep things hushed up, I suppose. But you
knew all this, Jinny darling."

"Oh, yes, I knew that," answered Virginia; then, rising suddenly from
her chair, she said almost irritably: "Susan, I want to be alone. I
can't think until I am alone." By her look Susan knew that until that
minute some blind hope had kept alive in her, some childish pretence
that it might all be a dream, some passionate evasion of the ultimate
outcome.

"But you'll let me come back? You'll let me spend the night with you,
Jinny?"

"If you want to, you may come. But I don't need you. I don't need
anybody. I don't need anybody," she repeated bitterly; and this
bitterness appeared to change not only her expression, but her features
and her carriage and that essential attribute of her being which had
been the real Virginia.

Awed in spite of herself, Susan put on her hat again, and bent over to
kiss her. "I'll be back before bed-time, Jinny. Don't shut me away,
dear. Let me share your pain with you."

At this something that was like a smile trembled for an instant on
Virginia's face.

"You are good, Susan," she responded, but there was no tenderness, no
gratitude even, in her voice. She had grown hard with the implacable
hardness of grief.

When the door had closed behind her friend, she stood looking through
the window until she saw her pass slowly, as though she were reluctant
to go, down Sycamore Street in the direction of her home. "I am glad she
has gone," she thought coldly. "Susan is good, but I am glad she has
gone." Then, turning back to the fire, she took up the piece of
embroidery and mechanically folded it before she laid it away. While her
hands were still on the bag in which she kept it, a shiver went through
her body, and a look of resolution passed over her features, making them
appear as if they were sculptured in marble.

"He will be sorry some day," she thought. "He will be sorry when it is
too late, and if I were there now--if I were to see him, it might all be
prevented. It might all be prevented and we might be happy again." In
her distorted mind, which worked with the quickness and the intensity of
delirium, this idea assumed presently the prominence and the force of an
hallucination. So powerful did it become that it triumphed over all the
qualities which had once constituted her character--over the patience,
the sweetness, the unselfish goodness--as easily as it obscured the
rashness and folly of the step which she planned. "If I could see him,
it might all be prevented," she repeated obstinately, as though some one
had opposed her; and, going upstairs to her bedroom, she packed her
little handbag and put on the travelling dress which she had worn in New
York. Then, very softly, as though she feared to be stopped by the
servants, she went down the stairs and out of the front door; and, very
softly, carrying her bag, she passed into the street and walked
hurriedly in the direction of the station. And all the way she was
thinking, "If I can only see him again, this may not happen and
everything may be as it was before when he still loved me." So just and
rational did this idea appear to her, that she found herself wondering
passionately why she had not thought of it before. It was so easy a way
out of her wretchedness that it seemed absurd of her to have overlooked
it. And this discovery filled her with such tremulous excitement, that
when she opened her purse to buy her ticket, her hands shook as if they
were palsied, and the porter, who held her bag, was obliged to count out
the money. The whole of life, which had looked so dark an hour ago, had
become suddenly illuminated.

Once in the train, her nervousness left her, and when an acquaintance
joined her after they had started, she was able to talk connectedly of
trivial occurrences in Dinwiddie. He was a fat, apoplectic looking man,
with a bald head which shone like satin, and a drooping moustache
slightly discoloured by tobacco. His appearance, which she had never
objected to before, seemed to her grotesque; but in spite of this, she
could smile almost naturally at his jokes, which she thought
inconceivably stupid.

"I suppose you heard about Cyrus Treadwell's accident," he said at last
when she rose to go to her berth. "Got knocked down by an automobile as
he was getting off a street car at the bank. It isn't serious, they say,
but he was pretty well stunned for a while."

"No, I hadn't heard," she answered, and thought, "I wonder why Susan
didn't tell me." Then she said good-night and disappeared behind the
curtains of her berth, where she lay, without undressing, until morning.

"This is the way--there is no other way to stop it," she thought, and
all night the rumble of the train and the flashing of the lights in the
darkness outside of her window kept up a running accompaniment to the
words. "It is a sin--and there is no other way to stop it. He is
committing a sin, and when I see him he will understand it, and it will
be as it was before." This idea, which was as fixed as an obsession of
delirium, seemed to occupy some central space in her brain, leaving room
for a crowd of lesser thoughts which came and went fantastically around
it like the motley throng of a circus. She thought of Cyrus Treadwell's
accident, of the stupid jokes the man from Dinwiddie had told her, of
the noises of the train, which would not let one sleep, of the stations
which blazed out, here and there, in the darkness. But in the midst of
this confusion of images and impressions, a clear voice was repeating
somewhere in her brain: "This is the way--there is no other way to stop
it before it is too late."

In the morning, when she got out in New York, and gave the driver the
name of the little hotel at which she had stopped on her first visit,
this glowing certainty faded like the excitement of fever from her mind,
and she relapsed into the stricken hopelessness of the last six months.
The bleakness of her spirits fell like a cloud on the brilliant October
day, and the sunshine, which lay in golden pools on the pavements,
appeared to increase the sense of universal melancholy which had
followed so sharply on the brief exaltation of the night. "I must see
him--it is the only way," her brain still repeated, but the ring of
conviction was gone from the words. Her flight from Dinwiddie showed to
her now in all the desperate folly with which it might have appeared to
a stranger. The impulse which had brought her had ebbed away, and with
the impulse had passed also the confidence and the energy of her
resolve.

At the hotel, where the red bedroom into which they ushered her appeared
to have waited unaltered for the second tragedy of her life, she bathed
and dressed herself, and after a cup of black coffee, taken because a
sensation of dizziness had alarmed her lest she should faint in the
street, she put on her hat again and went out into Fifth Avenue. She
remembered the name of the hotel at the head of Oliver's letter, and she
directed her steps towards it now with an automatic precision of which
her mind seemed almost unconscious. All thought of asking for him had
vanished, yet she was drawn to the place where he was by a force which
was more irresistible than any choice of the will. An instinct stronger
than reason was guiding her steps.

In Fifth Avenue the crowd was already beginning to stream by on the
sidewalks, and as she mingled with it, she recalled that other morning
when she had moved among these people and had felt that they looked at
her kindly because she was beautiful and young. Now the kindness had
given way to indifference in their eyes. They no longer looked at her;
and when a shop window, which she was passing, showed her a reflection
of herself, she saw only a commonplace middle-aged figure, with a look
of withered sweetness in the face, which had grown suddenly wan. And
the sight of this figure fell like a weight on her heart, destroying the
last vestige of courage.

Before the door of the hotel in which Oliver was staying, she stood so
long, with her vacant gaze fixed on the green velvet carpet within the
hall, that an attendant in livery came up at last and inquired if she
wished to see any one. Arousing herself with a start, she shook her head
hurriedly and turned back into the street, for when the crucial moment
came her decision failed her. Just as she had been unable to make a
scene on the night when they had parted, so now it was impossible for
her to descend to the vulgarity of thrusting her presence into his life.
Unless the frenzy of delirium seized her again, she knew that she should
never have the strength to put the desperation of thought into the
desperation of action. What she longed for was not to fight, not to
struggle, but to fall, like a wounded bird, to the earth, and be
forgotten.

At the crossing, where there was a crush of motor cars and carriages,
she stopped for a moment and thought how easy it would be to die in the
crowded street before returning to Dinwiddie. "All I need do is to slip
and fall there, and in a second it would be over." But so many cars went
by that she knew she should never be able to do it, that much as she
hated life, something bound her to it which she lacked the courage to
break. There shot through her mind the memory of a soldier her father
used to tell about, who was always first on the field of battle, but had
never found the courage to charge. "He was like me--for I might stand
here forever and yet not find the courage to die."

A beggar came up to her and she thought, "He is begging of me, and yet I
am more miserable than he is." Then, while she searched in her bag for
some change, it seemed to her that the faces gliding past her became
suddenly distorted and twisted as though the souls of the women in the
rapidly moving cars were crucified under their splendid furs. "That
woman in the sable cloak is beautiful, and yet she, also, is in
torture," she reflected with an impersonal coldness and detachment. "I
was beautiful, too, but how did it help me?" And she saw herself as she
had been in her girlhood with the glow of happiness, as of one flying,
in her face, and her heart filled with the joyous expectancy of the
miracle which must happen. "I am as old now as Miss Willy was then--and
how I pitied her!" Tears rushed to her eyes, which had been so dry a
minute before, while the memory of that lost gaiety of youth came over
her in a wave that was like the sweetness of the honeysuckle blooming in
the rectory garden.

A policeman, observing that she had waited there so long, held up the
traffic until she had crossed the street, and after thanking him, she
went on again towards the hotel in which she was staying. "He was kind
about helping me over," she said to herself, with an impulse of
gratitude; and this casual kindness seemed to her the one spot of light
in the blackness which surrounded her.

As she approached the hotel, her step flagged, and she felt suddenly
that even that passive courage which was hers--the courage of
endurance--had deserted her. She saw the dreadful hours that must ensue
before she went back to Dinwiddie, the dreadful days that would follow
after she got there, the dreadful weeks that would run on into the
dreadful years. Silent, grey, and endless, they stretched ahead of her,
and through them all she saw herself, a little hopeless figure, moving
towards that death which she had not had the courage to die. The
thoughts of the familiar streets, of the familiar faces, of the house,
of the furniture, of the leaf-strewn yard in which her bed of dahlias
was blooming--all these aroused in her the sense of spiritual nausea
which she had felt when she went back to them after her parting from
Oliver. Nothing remained except the long empty years, for she had
outlived her usefulness.

At the door of the hotel, the hall porter met her with a cheerful face,
and she turned to him with the instinctive reliance on masculine
protection which had driven her to the friendly shelter of the policeman
at the crossing in Fifth Avenue. In reply to her helpless questions, he
looked up the next train to Dinwiddie, which left within the hour, and
after buying her ticket, assisted her smilingly into the taxicab. While
she sat there, in the middle of the seat, with her little black bag
rocking back and forth as the cab turned the corners, all capacity for
feeling, all possibility of sensation even, seemed to have passed out of
her body. The impulse which was carrying her to Dinwiddie was the
physical impulse which drives a wounded animal back to die in its
shelter. Even the flaring advertisements of Oliver's play, which was
still running in a Broadway theatre, aroused no pain, hardly any thought
of him or of the past, in her mind. She had ceased to suffer, she had
ceased even to think; and when, a little later, she followed the station
porter down the long platform, she was able to brush aside the memory of
her parting from Oliver as lightly as though it were the trivial sting
of a wasp. When she remembered the agony of the last year, of yesterday,
of the morning through which she had just lived, it appeared almost
ridiculous. That death which she had lacked the courage to die seemed
creeping over her soul before it reached the outer shell of her body.

In the train, she was attacked by a sensation of faintness, and
remembering that she had eaten nothing all day, she went into the
dining-car, and sat down at one of the little tables. When her luncheon
was brought, she ate almost ravenously for a minute. Then her sudden
hunger was followed by a disgust for the look of the dishes and the
cinders on the table-cloth, and after paying her bill, for which she
waited an intolerable time, she went back to her chair in the next
coach, and watched, with unseeing eyes, the swiftly moving landscape,
which rushed by in all the brilliant pageantry of October. Several seats
ahead of her, two men were discussing politics, and one of them, who
wore a clerical waistcoat, raised his voice suddenly so high that his
words penetrated the wall of blankness which surrounded her thoughts, "I
tell you it is the greatest menace to our civilization!" and then, as he
controlled his excitement, his speech dropped quickly into
indistinctness.

"How absurd of him to get so angry about it," thought Virginia with
surprise, "as if a civilization could make any difference to anybody on
earth." And she watched the clergyman for a minute, as if fascinated by
the display of his earnestness. "What on earth can it matter to him?"
she wondered mildly, "and yet to look at him one would think that his
heart was bound up in the question." But in a little while she turned
away from him again, and lying back in her chair, stared across the
smooth plains to the pale golden edge of the distant horizon. Through
the long day she sat, without moving, without taking her eyes from the
landscape, while the sunlight faded slowly away from the fields and the
afterglow flushed and waned, and the stars shone out, one by one,
through the silver web of the twilight. Once, when the porter had
offered her a pillow, she had looked round to thank him; once when a
child, toddling along the aisle, had fallen at her feet, she had bent
over to lift it, but beyond this, she had stirred only to hand her
ticket to the conductor when he aroused her by touching her arm. Where
the sunset and the afterglow had been, she saw at last only the lights
of the train reflected in the smeared glass of the window, but so
unconscious was she of any change in that utter vacancy at which she
looked, that she could not have told whether it was an hour or a day
after leaving New York that she came back to Dinwiddie. Even then she
would still have sat there, speechless, inert, unseeing, had not the
porter taken her bag from the rack over her head and accompanied her
from the glare of the train out into the dimness of the town, where the
crumbling "hacks" hitched to the decrepit horses still waited. Here her
bag was passed over to a driver, whom she vaguely remembered, and a few
minutes later she rolled, in one of the ancient vehicles, under the
pale lights of the street which led to her home. In the drug store at
the corner she saw Miss Priscilla's maid buying medicines, and she
wondered indifferently if the teacher had grown suddenly worse. Then, as
she passed John Henry's house, she recognized his large shadow as it
moved across the white shade at the window of the drawing-room. "Susan
was coming to spend last night with me," she said aloud, and for the
first and last time in her life, an ironic smile quivered upon her lips.

With a last jolt the carriage drew up at the sidewalk before her home;
the driver dismounted, grinning, from his box; and in the lighted
doorway, she saw the figure of her maid, in trim cap and apron, waiting
to welcome her. Not a petal had fallen from the bed of crimson dahlias
beside the steps; not a leaf had changed on the young maple tree, which
rose in a spire of flame toward the stars. Inside, she knew, there would
be the bright fire, the cheerful supper table, the soft bed turned
down--and the future.

On the porch she stopped and looked back into the street as she might
have looked back at the door of a prison. The negro driver, having
placed her bag in the hall, stood waiting expectantly, with his hat in
his hand, and his shining black eyes on her face; and opening her purse,
she paid him, before walking past the maid over the threshold. Ahead of
her stretched the staircase which she would go up and down for the rest
of her life. On the right, she could look into the open door of the
dining-room, and opposite to it, she knew that the lamp was lit and the
fire burning in Oliver's study. Then, while a wave of despair, like a
mortal sickness, swept over her, her eyes fell on an envelope which lay
on the little silver card-tray on the hall table, and as she tore it
open, she saw that it contained but a single line:

     "Dearest mother, I am coming home to you,
     "HARRY."


THE END



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

THE MILLER OF OLD CHURCH

THE ROMANCE OF A PLAIN MAN

THE ANCIENT LAW

THE WHEEL OF LIFE

THE DELIVERANCE

THE BATTLEGROUND

THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE

PHASES OF AN INFERIOR PLANET

THE DESCENDANT

THE FREEMAN, AND OTHER POEMS


THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS GARDEN CITY, N. Y.





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