Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Pair of Patient Lovers
Author: Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920
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 "A Pair of Patient Lovers" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



images of public domain material generously made available by the Google
Books Library Project
(http://books.google.com/intl/en/googlebooks/library.html)



Note: Images of the original pages are available through
      the the Google Books Library Project. See
      http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC00647020&id



A PAIR OF PATIENT LOVERS

by

W. D. Howells

Author of "The Landlord at Lion's Head" "Ragged Lady" etc.



New York and London
Harper & Brothers Publishers
1901



CONTENTS


   A Pair of Patient Lovers

   The Pursuit of the Piano

   A Difficult Case

   The Magic of a Voice

   A Circle in the Water



A PAIR OF PATIENT LOVERS



I.

We first met Glendenning on the Canadian boat which carries you down the
rapids of the St. Lawrence from Kingston and leaves you at Montreal.
When we saw a handsome young clergyman across the promenade-deck looking
up from his guide-book toward us, now and again, as if in default of
knowing any one else he would be very willing to know us, we decided
that I must make his acquaintance. He was instantly and cordially
responsive to my question whether he had ever made the trip before, and
he was amiably grateful when in my quality of old habitué of the route I
pointed out some characteristic features of the scenery. I showed him
just where we were on the long map of the river hanging over his knee,
and I added, with no great relevancy, that my wife and I were renewing
the fond emotion of our first trip down the St. Lawrence in the
character of bridal pair which we had spurned when it was really ours. I
explained that we had left the children with my wife's aunt, so as to
render the travesty more lifelike; and when he said, "I suppose you miss
them, though," I gave him my card. He tried to find one of his own to
give me in return, but he could only find a lot of other people's cards.
He wrote his name on the back of one, and handed it to me with a smile.
"It won't do for me to put 'reverend' before it, in my own chirography,
but that's the way I have it engraved."

"Oh," I said, "the cut of your coat bewrayed you," and we had some
laughing talk. But I felt the eye of Mrs. March dwelling upon me with
growing impatience, till I suggested, "I should like to make you
acquainted with my wife, Mr. Glendenning."

He said, Oh, he should be so happy; and he gathered his dangling map
into the book and came over with me to where Mrs. March sat; and, like
the good young American husband I was in those days, I stood aside and
left the whole talk to her. She interested him so much more than I could
that I presently wandered away and amused myself elsewhere. When I came
back, she clutched my arm and bade me not speak a word; it was the most
romantic thing in the world, and she would tell me about it when we were
alone, but now I must go off again; he had just gone to get a book for
her which he had been speaking of, and would be back the next instant,
and it would not do to let him suppose we had been discussing him.


II.

I was sometimes disappointed in Mrs. March's mysteries when I came up
close to them; but I was always willing to take them on trust; and I
submitted to the postponement of a solution in this case with more than
my usual faith. She found time, before Mr. Glendenning reappeared, to
ask me if I had noticed a mother and daughter on the boat, the mother
evidently an invalid, and the daughter very devoted, and both decidedly
ladies; and when I said, "No. Why?" she answered, "Oh, nothing," and
that she would tell me. Then she drove me away, and we did not meet till
I found her in our state-room just before the terrible mid-day meal they
used to give you on the _Corinthian_, and called dinner.

She began at once, while she did something to her hair before the morsel
of mirror: "Why I wanted to know if you had noticed those people was
because they are the reason of his being here."

"Did he tell you that?"

"Of course not. But I knew it, for he asked if I had seen them, or could
tell him who they were."

"It seems to me that he made pretty good time to get so far as that."

"I don't say he got so far himself, but you men never know how to take
steps for any one else. You can't put two and two together. But to my
mind it's as plain as the nose on his face that he's seen that girl
somewhere and is taking this trip because she's on board. He said he
hadn't decided to come till the last moment."

"What wild leaps of fancy!" I said. "But the nose on his face is
handsome rather than plain, and I sha'n't be satisfied till I see him
with the lady."

"Yes, he's quite Greek," said Mrs. March, in assent to my opinion of his
nose. "Too Greek for a clergyman, almost. But he isn't vain of it. Those
beautiful people are often quite modest, and Mr. Glendenning is very
modest."

"And I'm very hungry. If you don't hurry your prinking, Isabel, we shall
not get any dinner."

"I'm ready," said my wife, and she continued with her eyes still on the
glass: "He's got a church out in Ohio, somewhere; but he's a
New-Englander, and he's quite wild to get back. He thinks those people
are from Boston: I could tell in a moment if I saw them. Well, now, I
_am_ ready," and with this she really ceased to do something to her
hair, and came out into the long saloon with me where the table was set.
Rows of passengers stood behind the rows of chairs, with a detaining
grasp on nearly all of them. We gazed up and down in despair. Suddenly
Mrs. March sped forward, and I found that Mr. Glendenning had made a
sign to her from a distant point, where there were two vacant chairs for
us next his own. We eagerly laid hands on them, and waited for the gong
to sound for dinner. In this interval an elderly lady followed by a
young girl came down the saloon toward us, and I saw signs, or rather
emotions, of intelligence pass between Mr. Glendenning and Mrs. March
concerning them.

The older of these ladies was a tall, handsome matron, who bore her
fifty years with a native severity qualified by a certain air of wonder
at a world which I could well fancy had not always taken her at her own
estimate of her personal and social importance. She had the effect of
challenging you to do less, as she advanced slowly between the wall of
state-rooms and the backs of the people gripping their chairs, and eyed
them with a sort of imperious surprise that they should have left no
place for her. So at least I read her glance, while I read in that of
the young lady coming after, and showing her beauty first over this
shoulder and then over that of her mother, chiefly a present amusement,
behind which lay a character of perhaps equal pride, if not equal
hardness. She was very beautiful, in the dark style which I cannot help
thinking has fallen into unmerited abeyance; and as she passed us I
could see that she was very graceful. She was dressed in a lady's
acceptance of the fashions of that day, which would be thought so
grotesque in this. I have heard contemporaneous young girls laugh at the
mere notion of hoops, but in 1870 we thought hoops extremely becoming;
and this young lady knew how to hold hers a little on one side so as to
give herself room in the narrow avenue, and not betray more than the
discreetest hint of a white stocking. I believe the stockings are black
now.

They both got by us, and I could see Mr. Glendenning following them with
longing but irresolute eyes, until they turned, a long way down the
saloon, as if to come toward us again. Then he hurried to meet them, and
as he addressed himself first to one and then to the other, I knew him
to be offering them his chair. So did my wife, and she said, "You must
give up your place too, Basil," and I said I would if she wished to see
me starve on the spot. But of course I went and joined Glendenning in
his entreaties that they would deprive us of our chances of dinner (I
knew what the second table was on the _Corinthian_); and I must say that
the elder lady accepted my chair in the spirit which my secret grudge
deserved. She made me feel as if I ought to have offered it when they
first passed us; but it was some satisfaction to learn afterwards that
she gave Mrs. March, for her ready sacrifice of me, as bad a half-hour
as she ever had. She sat next to my wife, and the young lady took
Glendenning's place, and as soon as we had left them she began trying to
find out from Mrs. March who he was, and what his relation to us was.
The girl tried to check her at first, and then seemed to give it up, and
devoted herself to being rather more amiable than she otherwise might
have been, my wife thought, in compensation for the severity of her
mother's scrutiny. Her mother appeared disposed to hold Mrs. March
responsible for knowing little or nothing about Mr. Glendenning.

"He seems to be an Episcopal clergyman," she said, in a haughty summing
up. "From his name I should have supposed he was Scotch and a
Presbyterian." She began to patronize the trip we were making, and to
abuse it; she said that she did not see what could have induced them to
undertake it; but one had to get back from Niagara somehow, and they had
been told at the hotel there that the boats were very comfortable. She
had never been more uncomfortable in her life; as for the rapids, they
made her ill, and they were obviously so dangerous that she should not
even look at them again. Then, from having done all the talking and most
of the eating, she fell quite silent, and gave her daughter a chance to
speak to my wife. She had hitherto spoken only to her mother, but now
she asked Mrs. March if she had ever been down the St. Lawrence before.

When my wife explained, and asked her whether she was enjoying it, she
answered with a rapture that was quite astonishing, in reference to her
mother's expressions of disgust: "Oh, immensely! Every instant of it,"
and she went on to expatiate on its peculiar charm in terms so
intelligent and sympathetic that Mrs. March confessed it had been part
of our wedding journey, and that this was the reason why we were now
taking the trip.

The young lady did not seem to care so much for this, and when she
thanked my wife in leaving the table with her mother, and begged her to
thank the gentlemen who had so kindly given up their places, she made no
overture to further acquaintance. In fact, we had been so simply and
merely made use of that, although we were rather meek people, we decided
to avoid our beneficiaries for the rest of the day; and Mr. Glendenning,
who could not, as a clergyman, indulge even a just resentment, could as
little refuse us his sympathy. He laughed at some hints of my wife's
experience, which she dropped before she left us to pick up a meal from
the lukewarm leavings of the _Corinthian's_ dinner, if we could. She
said she was going forward to get a good place on the bow, and would
keep two camp-stools for us, which she could assure us no one would get
away from her.

We were somewhat surprised then to find her seated by the rail with the
younger lady of the two whom she meant to avoid if she meant anything by
what she said. She was laughing and talking on quite easy terms with her
apparently, and "There!" she triumphed as we came up, "I've kept your
camp-stools for you," and she showed them at her side, where she was
holding her hand on them. "You had better put them here."

The girl had stiffened a little at our approach, as I could see, but a
young girl's stiffness is always rather amusing than otherwise, and I
did not mind it. Neither, that I could see, did Mr. Glendenning, and it
soon passed. It seemed that she had left her mother lying down in her
state-room, where she justly imagined that if she did not see the rapids
she should suffer less alarm from them; the young lady had come frankly
to the side of Mrs. March as soon as she saw her, and asked if she might
sit with her. She now talked to me for a decent space of time, and then
presently, without my knowing how, she was talking to Mr. Glendenning,
and they were comparing notes of Niagara; he was saying that he thought
he had seen her at the Cataract House, and she was owning that she and
her mother had at least stopped at that hotel.


III.

I have no wish, and if I had the wish I should not have the art, to keep
back the fact that these young people were evidently very much taken
with each other. They showed their mutual pleasure so plainly that even
I could see it. As for Mrs. March, she was as proud of it as if she had
invented them and set them going in their advance toward each other,
like two mechanical toys.

I confess that with reference to what my wife had told me of this young
lady's behavior when she was with her mother, her submissiveness, her
entire self-effacement, up to a certain point, I did not know quite what
to make of her present independence, not to say freedom. I thought she
might perhaps have been kept so strictly in the background, with young
men, that she was rather disposed to make the most of any chance at them
which offered. If the young man in this case was at no pains to hide his
pleasure in her society, one might say that she was almost eager to show
her delight in his. If it was a case of love at first sight, the
earliest glimpse had been to the girl, who was all eyes for Glendenning.
It was very pretty, but it was a little alarming, and perhaps a little
droll, even. She was actually making the advances, not consciously, but
helplessly; fondly, ignorantly, for I have no belief, nor had my wife (a
much more critical observer), that she knew how she was giving herself
away.

I thought perhaps that she was in the habit from pride, or something
like it, of holding herself in check, and that this blameless excess
which I saw was the natural expansion from an inner constraint. But what
I really knew was that the young people got on very rapidly, in an
acquaintance that prospered up to the last moment I saw them together.
This was just before the _Corinthian_ drew up to her landing at
Montreal, when Miss Bentley (we had learned her name) came to us from
the point where she was standing with Glendenning and said that now she
must go to her mother, and took a sweet leave of my wife. She asked
where we were going to stay in Montreal and whether we were going on to
Quebec; and said her mother would wish to send Mrs. March her card.

When she was gone, Glendenning explained, with rather superfluous
apology, that he had offered to see the ladies to a hotel, for he was
afraid that at this crowded season they might not find it easy to get
rooms, and he did not wish Mrs. Bentley, who was an invalid, to have any
anxieties about it. He bade us an affectionate, but not a disconsolate
adieu, and when we had got into the modest conveyance (if an omnibus is
modest) which was to take us to the Ottawa House, we saw him drive off
to the St. Lawrence Hall (it was twenty-five years ago) in one of those
vitreous and tinkling Montreal landaus, with Mrs. and Miss Bentley and
Mrs. Bentley's maid.

We were still so young as to be very much absorbed in the love affairs
of other people; I believe women always remain young enough for that;
and Mrs. March talked about the one we fancied we had witnessed the
beginning of pretty much the whole evening. The next morning we got
letters from Boston, telling us how the children were and all that they
were doing and saying. We had stood it very well, as long as we did not
hear anything about them, and we had lent ourselves in a sort of
semi-forgetfulness of them to the associations of the past when they
were not; but now to learn that they were hearty and happy, and that
they sent love and kisses, was too much. With one mind we renounced the
notion of going on to Quebec; we found that we could just get the
ten-o'clock train that would reach Boston by eleven that night, and we
made all haste and got it. We had not been really at peace, we
perceived, till that moment since we had bidden the children good-bye.


IV.

Perhaps it was because we left Montreal so abruptly that Mrs. March
never received Mrs. Bentley's card. It may be at the Ottawa House to
this day, for all I know. What is certain is that we saw and heard
nothing more of her or her daughter. Glendenning called to see us as he
passed through Boston on his way west from Quebec, but we were neither
of us at home and we missed him, to my wife's vivid regret. I rather
think we expected him to find some excuse for writing after he reached
his place in northern Ohio; but he did not write, and he became more and
more the memory of a young clergyman in the beginning of a love-affair,
till one summer, while we were still disputing where we should spend the
hot weather within business reach, there came a letter from him saying
that he was settled at Gormanville, and wishing that he might tempt us
up some afternoon before we were off to the mountains or seaside. This
revived all my wife's waning interest in him, and it was hard to keep
the answer I made him from expressing in a series of crucial inquiries
the excitement she felt at his being in New England and so near Boston,
and in Gormanville of all places. It was one of the places we had
thought of for the summer, and we were yet so far from having
relinquished it that we were recurring from time to time in hope and
fear to the advertisement of an old village mansion there, with ample
grounds, garden, orchard, ice-house, and stables, for a very low rental
to an unexceptionable tenant. We had no doubt of our own qualifications,
but we had misgivings of the village mansion; and I am afraid that I
rather unduly despatched the personal part of my letter, in my haste to
ask what Glendenning knew and what he thought of the Conwell place.
However, the letter seemed to serve all purposes. There came a reply
from Glendenning, most cordial, even affectionate, saying that the
Conwell place was delightful, and I must come at once and see it. He
professed that he would be glad to have Mrs. March come too, and he
declared that if his joy at having us did not fill his modest rectory to
bursting, he was sure it could stand the physical strain of our
presence, though he confessed that his guest-chamber was tiny.

"He wants _you_, Basil," my wife divined from terms which gave me no
sense of any latent design of parting us in his hospitality. "But,
evidently, it isn't a chance to be missed, and you must go--instantly.
Can you go to-morrow? But telegraph him you're coming, and tell him to
hold on to the Conwell place; it may be snapped up any moment if it's so
desirable."

I did not go till the following week, when I found that no one had
attempted to snap up the Conwell place. In fact, it rather snapped me
up, I secured it with so little trouble. I reported it so perfect that
all my wife's fears of a latent objection to it were roused again. But
when I said I thought we could relinquish it, her terrors subsided; and
I thought this the right moment to deliver a stroke that I had been
holding in reserve.

"You know," I began, "the Bentleys have their summer place there--the
old Bentley homestead. It's their ancestral town, you know."

"Bentleys? What Bentleys?" she demanded, opaquely.

"Why, those people we met on the _Corinthian_, summer before last--you
thought he was in love with the girl--"

A simultaneous photograph could alone reproduce Mrs. March's tumultuous
and various emotions as she seized the fact conveyed in my words. She
poured out a volume of mingled conjectures, assertions, suspicions,
conclusions, in which there was nothing final but the decision that we
must not dream of going there; that it would look like thrusting
ourselves in, and would be in the worst sort of taste; they would all
hate us, and we should feel that we were spies upon the young people;
for of course the Bentleys had got Glendenning there to marry him, and
in effect did not want any one to witness the disgraceful spectacle.

I said, "That may be the nefarious purpose of the young lady, but, as I
understood Glendenning, it is no part of her mother's design."

"What do you mean?"

"Miss Bentley may have got him there to marry him, but Mrs. Bentley
seems to have meant nothing more than an engagement at the worst."

"What _do_ you mean? They're not engaged, are they?"

"They're not married, at any rate, and I suppose they're engaged. I did
not have it from Miss Bentley, but I suppose Glendenning may be trusted
in such a case."

"Now," said my wife, with a severity that might well have appalled me,
"if you will please to explain, Basil, it will be better for you."

"Why, it is simply this. Glendenning seems to have made himself so
useful to the mother and pleasing to the daughter after we left them in
Montreal that he was tolerated on a pretence that there was reason for
his writing back to Mrs. Bentley after he got home, and, as Mrs. Bentley
never writes letters, Miss Bentley had the hard task of answering him.
This led to a correspondence."

"And to her moving heaven and earth to get him to Gormanville. I see! Of
course she did it so that no one knew what she was about!"

"Apparently. Glendenning himself was not in the secret. The Bentleys
were in Europe last summer, and he did not know that they had a place at
Gormanville till he came to live there. Another proof that Miss Bentley
got him there is the fact that she and her mother are Unitarians, and
that they would naturally be able to select the rector of the Episcopal
church."

"Go on," said Mrs. March, not the least daunted.

"Oh, there's nothing more. He is simply rector of St. Michael's at
Gormanville; and there is not the slightest proof that any young lady
had a hand in getting him there."

"As if I cared in the least whether she had! I suppose you will allow
that she had something to do with getting engaged to him, and that is
the _great_ matter."

"Yes, I must allow that, if we are to suppose that young ladies have
anything to do with young men getting engaged to them; it doesn't seem
exactly delicate. But the novel phase of this great matter is the
position of the young lady's mother in regard to it. From what I could
make out she consents to the engagement of her daughter, but she don't
and won't consent to her marriage." My wife glared at me with so little
speculation in her eyes that I felt obliged to disclaim all
responsibility for the fact I had reported. "Thou canst not say _I_ did
it. _They_ did it, and Miss Bentley, if any one, is to blame. It seems,
from what Glendenning says, that the young lady and he wrote to each
other while she was abroad, and that they became engaged by letter. Then
the affair was broken off because of her mother's opposition; but since
they have met at Gormanville, the engagement has been renewed. So much
they've managed against the old lady's will, but apparently on condition
that they won't get married till she says."

"Nonsense! How could she stop them?"

"She couldn't, I dare say, by any of the old romantic methods of a
convent or disinheritance; but she is an invalid; she wants to keep her
daughter with her, and she avails with the girl's conscience by being
simply dependent and obstructive. The young people have carried their
engagement through, and now such hope as they have is fixed upon her
finally yielding in the matter of their marriage, though Glendenning was
obliged to confess that there was no sign of her doing so. They
agree--Miss Bentley and he--that they cannot get married as they got
engaged, in spite of her mother--it would be unclerical if it wouldn't
be unfilial--and they simply have to bide their time."

My wife asked abruptly, "How many chambers are there in the Conwell
place?"

I said, and then she asked, "Is there a windmill or a force-pump?" I
answered proudly that in Gormanville there was town water, but that if
this should give out there were both a windmill and a force-pump on the
Conwell place.

"It is very complete," she sighed, as if this had removed all hope from
her, and she added, "I suppose we had better take it."


V.

We certainly did not take it for the sake of being near the Bentleys,
neither of whom had given us particular reason to desire their further
acquaintance, though the young lady had agreeably modified herself when
apart from her mother. In fact, we went to Gormanville because it was an
exceptional chance to get a beautiful place for a very little money,
where we could go early and stay late. But no sooner had we acted from
this quite personal, not to say selfish, motive than we were rewarded
with the sweetest overtures of neighborliness by the Bentleys. They
waited, of course, till we were settled in our house before they came to
call upon Mrs. March, but they had been preceded by several hospitable
offerings from their garden, their dairy, and their hen-house, which
were very welcome in the days of our first uncertainty as to
trades-people. We analyzed this hospitality as an effect of that sort of
nature in Mrs. Bentley which can equally assert its superiority by
blessing or banning. Evidently, since chance had again thrown us in her
way, she would not go out of it to be offensive, but would continue in
it, and make the best of us.

No doubt Glendenning had talked us into the Bentleys; and this my wife
said she hated most of all; for we should have to live up to the notion
of us imparted by a young man from the impressions of the moment when he
saw us purple in the light of his dawning love. In justice to
Glendenning, however, I must say that he did nothing, by a show of his
own assiduities, to urge us upon the Bentleys after we came to
Gormanville. If we had not felt so sure of him, we might have thought he
was keeping his regard for us a little too modestly in the background.
He made us one cool little call, the evening of our arrival, in which he
had the effect of anxiety to get away as soon as possible; and after
that we saw him no more until he came with Miss Bentley and her mother a
week later. His forbearance was all the more remarkable because his
church and his rectory were just across the street from the Conwell
place, at the corner of another street, where we could see their wooden
gothic in the cold shadow of the maples with which the green in front of
them was planted.

During all that time Glendenning's personal elevation remained invisible
to us, and we began to wonder if he were not that most lamentable of
fellow-creatures, a clerical snob. I am not sure still that he might not
have been so in some degree, there was such a mixture of joy that was
almost abject in his genuine affection for us when Mrs. Bentley openly
approved us on her first visit. I dare say he would not have quite
abandoned us in any case; but he must have felt responsible for us, and
it must have been such a load off him when she took that turn with us.

She called in the afternoon, and the young people dropped in again the
same evening, and took the trouble to win back our simple hearts. That
is, Miss Bentley showed herself again as frank and sweet as she had been
on the boat when she joined my wife after dinner and left her mother in
her state-room. Glendenning was again the Glendenning of our first
meeting, and something more. He fearlessly led the way to intimacies of
feeling with an expansion uncommon even in an accepted lover, and we
made our conclusions that however subject he might be to his
indefinitely future mother-in-law, he would not be at all so to his
wife, if she could help it. He took the lead, but because she gave it
him; and she displayed an aptness for conjugal submissiveness which
almost amounted to genius. Whenever she spoke to either of us, it was
with one eye on him to see if he liked what she was saying. It was so
perfect that I doubted if it could last; but my wife said a girl like
that could keep it up till she dropped. I have never been sure that she
liked us as well as he did; I think it was part of her intense loyalty
to seem to like us a great deal more.

She was deeply in love, and nothing but her ladylike breeding kept her
from being openly fond. I figured her in a sort of impassioned
incandescence, such as only a pure and perhaps cold nature could burn
into; and I amused myself a little with the sense of Glendenning's
apparent inadequacy. Sweet he was, and admirably gentle and fine; he had
an unfailing good sense, and a very ready wisdom, as I grew more and
more to perceive. But he was an inch or so shorter than Miss Bentley,
and in his sunny blondness, with his golden red beard and hair, and his
pinkish complexion, he wanted still more the effect of an emotional
equality with her. He was very handsome, with features excellently
regular; his smile was celestially beautiful; innocent gay lights danced
in his blue eyes, through lashes and under brows that were a lighter
blond than his beard and hair.


VI.

The next morning, which was of a Saturday, when I did not go to town, he
came over to us again from the shadow of his sombre maples, and fell
simply and naturally into talk about his engagement. He was much fuller
in my wife's presence than he had been with me alone, and told us the
hopes he had of Mrs. Bentley's yielding within a reasonable time. He
seemed to gather encouragement from the sort of perspective he got the
affair into by putting it before us, and finding her dissent to her
daughter's marriage so ridiculous in our eyes after her consent to her
engagement that a woman of her great good sense evidently could not
persist in it.

"There is no personal objection to myself," he said, with a modest
satisfaction. "In fact, I think she really likes me, and only dislikes
my engagement to Edith. But she knows that Edith is incapable of
marrying against her mother's will, or I of wishing her to do so; though
there is nothing else to prevent us."

My wife allowed herself to say, "Isn't it rather cruel of her?"

"Why, no, not altogether; or not so much so as it might be in different
circumstances. I make every allowance for her. In the first place, she
is a great sufferer."

"Yes, I know," my wife relented.

"She suffers terribly from asthma. I don't suppose she has lain down in
bed for ten years. She sleeps in an easy-chair, and she's never quite
free from her trouble; when there's a paroxysm of the disease, her
anguish is frightful. I've never seen it, of course, but I have heard
it; you hear it all through the house. Edith has the constant care of
her. Her mother has to be perpetually moved and shifted in her chair,
and Edith does this for her; she will let no one else come near her;
Edith must look to the ventilation, and burn the pastilles which help
her to breathe. She depends upon her every instant." He had grown very
solemn in voice and face, and he now said, "When I think of what she
endures, it seems to me that it is I who am cruel even to dream of
taking her daughter from her."

"Yes," my wife assented.

"But there is really no present question of that We are very happy as it
is. We can wait, and wait willingly till Mrs. Bentley wishes us to wait
no longer; or--"

He stopped, and we were both aware of something in his mind which he put
from him. He became a little pale, and sat looking very grave. Then he
rose. "I don't know whether to say how welcome you would be at St.
Michael's to-morrow, for you may not be--"

"_We_ are Unitarians, too," said Mrs. March. "But we are coming to hear
_you_."

"I am glad you are coming _to church_," said Glendenning, putting away
the personal tribute implied with a gentle dignity that became him.


VII.

We waited a discreet time before returning the call of the Bentley
ladies, but not so long as to seem conscious. In fact, we had been
softened towards Mrs. Bentley by what Glendenning told us of her
suffering, and we were disposed to forgive a great deal of patronage and
superiority to her asthma; they were not part of the disease, but still
they were somehow to be considered with reference to it in her case.

We were admitted by the maid, who came running down the hall stairway,
with a preoccupied air, to the open door where we stood waiting. There
were two great syringa-bushes on each hand close to the portal, which
were in full flower, and which flung their sweetness through the doorway
and the windows; but when we found ourselves in the dim old-fashioned
parlor, we were aware of this odor meeting and mixing with another which
descended from the floor above--the smell of some medicated pastille.
There was a sound of anxious steps overhead, and a hurried closing of
doors, with the mechanical sound of labored breathing.

"We have come at a bad time," I suggested.

"Yes, _why_ did they let us in?" cried my wife in an anguish of
compassion and vexation. She repeated her question to Miss Bentley, who
came down almost immediately, looking pale, indeed, but steady, and
making a brave show of welcome.

"My mother would have wished it," she said, "and she sent me as soon as
she knew who it was. You mustn't be distressed," she entreated, with a
pathetic smile. "It's really a kind of relief to her; anything is that
takes her mind off herself for a moment. She will be so sorry to miss
you, and you must come again as soon as you can."

"Oh, we will, we will!" cried my wife, in nothing less than a passion of
meekness; and Miss Bentley went on to comfort her.

"It's dreadful, of course, but it isn't as bad as it sounds, and it
isn't nearly so bad as it looks. She is used to it, and there is a great
deal in that. Oh, _don't_ go!" she begged, at a movement Mrs. March made
to rise. "The doctor is with her just now, and I'm not needed. It will
be kind if you'll stay; it's a relief to be out of the room with a good
excuse!" She even laughed a little as she said this; she went on to lead
the talk away from what was so intensely in our minds, and presently I
heard her and my wife speaking of other things. The power to do this is
from some heroic quality in women's minds that we do not credit them
with; we think it their volatility, and I dare say I thought myself much
better, or at least more serious in my make, because I could not follow
them, and did not lose one of those hoarse gasps of the sufferer
overhead. Occasionally there came a stifling cry that made me jump,
inwardly if not outwardly, but those women had their drama to play, and
they played it to the end.

Miss Bentley came hospitably to the door with us, and waited there till
she thought we could not see her turn and run swiftly up-stairs.

"Why _did_ you stay, my dear?" I groaned. "I felt as if I were
personally smothering Mrs. Bentley every moment we were there."

"I _had_ to do it. She wished it, and, as she said, it was a relief to
have us there, though she was wishing us at the ends of the earth all
the time. But what a ghastly life!"

"Yes; and can you wonder that the poor woman doesn't want to give her
up, to lose the help and comfort she gets from her? It's a wicked thing
for that girl to think of marrying."

"What are you talking about, Basil? It's a wicked thing for her _not_ to
think of it! She is wearing her life out, _tearing_ it out, and she
isn't doing her mother a bit of good. Her mother would be just as well,
and better, with a good strong nurse, who could lift her this way and
that, and change her about, without feeling her heart-strings wrung at
every gasp, as that poor child must. Oh, I _wish_ Glendenning was man
enough to make her run off with him, and get married, in spite of
everything. But, of course, that's impossible--for a clergyman! And her
sacrifice began so long ago that it's become part of her life, and
she'll simply have to keep on."


VIII.

When her attack passed off, Mrs. Bentley sent and begged my wife to come
again and see her. She went without me, while I was in town, but she was
so circumstantial in her report of her visit, when I came home, that I
never felt quite sure I had not been present. What most interested us
both was the extreme independence which the mother and daughter showed
beyond a certain point, and the daughter's great frankness in expressing
her difference of feeling. We had already had some hint of this, the
first day we met her, and we were not surprised at it now, my wife at
first hand, or I at second hand. Mrs. Bentley opened the way for her
daughter by saying that the worst of sickness was that it made one such
an affliction to others. She lived in an atmosphere of devotion, she
said, but her suffering left her so little of life that she could not
help clinging selfishly to everything that remained.

My wife perceived that this was meant for Miss Bentley, though it was
spoken to herself; and Miss Bentley seemed to take the same view of the
fact. She said: "We needn't use any circumlocution with Mrs. March,
mother. She knows just how the affair stands. You can say whatever you
wish, though I don't know why you should wish to say anything. You have
made your own terms with us, and we are keeping them to the letter. What
more can you ask? Do you want me to break with Mr. Glendenning? I will
do that too, if you ask it. You have got everything _but_ that, and you
can have that at any time. But Arthur and I are perfectly satisfied as
it is, and we can wait as long as you wish us to wait."

Her mother said: "I'm not allowed to forget that for a single hour," and
Miss Bentley said, "I never remind you of it unless you make me, mother.
You may be thinking of it all the time, but it isn't because of anything
I say."

"Or that you _do_?" asked Mrs. Bentley; and her daughter answered, "I
can't help existing, of course."

My wife broke off from the account she was giving me of her visit: "You
can imagine how pleasant all this was for me, Basil, and how anxious I
was to prolong my call!"

"Well," I returned, "there were compensations. It was extremely
interesting; it was life. You can't deny that, my dear."

"It was more like death. Several times I was on the point of going, but
you know when there's been a painful scene you feel so sorry for the
people who've made it that you can't bear to leave them to themselves. I
did get up to go, once, in mere self-defence, but they both urged me to
stay, and I couldn't help staying till they could talk of other things.
But now tell me what you think of it all. Which should your feeling be
with the most? That is what I want to get at before I tell you mine."

"Which side was I on when we talked about them last?"

"Oh, when did we talk about them _last_? We are always talking about
them! I am getting no good of the summer at all. I shall go home in the
fall more jaded and worn out than when I came. To think that we should
have this beautiful place, where we could be so happy and comfortable,
if it were not for having this abnormal situation under our nose and
eyes all the time!"

"Abnormal? I don't call it abnormal," I began, and I was sensible of my
wife's thoughts leaving her own injuries for my point of view so swiftly
that I could almost hear them whir.

"Not abnormal!" she gasped.

"No; only too natural. Isn't it perfectly natural for an invalid like
that to want to keep her daughter with her; and isn't it perfectly
natural for a daughter, with a New England sense of duty, to yield to
her wish? You might say that she could get married and live at home, and
then she and Glendenning could both devote themselves--"

"No, no," my wife broke in, "that wouldn't do. Marriage is marriage; and
it puts the husband and wife with each other first; when it doesn't,
it's a miserable mockery."

"Even when there's a sick mother in the case?"

"A thousand sick mothers wouldn't alter the case. And that's what they
all three instinctively know, and they're doing the only thing they can
do."

"Then I don't see what we're complaining of."

"Complaining of? We're complaining of its being all wrong and--romantic.
Her mother has asked more than she had any right to ask, and Miss
Bentley has tried to do more than she can perform, and that has made
them hate each other."

"Should you say _hate_, quite?"

"It must come to that, if Mrs. Bentley lives."

"Then let us hope she--"

"My dear!" cried Mrs. March, warningly.

"Oh, come, now!" I retorted. "Do you mean to say that you haven't
thought how very much it would simplify the situation if--"

"Of course I have! And that is the wicked part of it. It's that that is
wearing me out. It's perfectly hideous!"

"Well, fortunately we're not actively concerned in the affair, and we
needn't take any measures in regard to it. We are mere spectators, and
as I see it the situation is not only inevitable for Mrs. Bentley, but
it has a sort of heroic propriety for Miss Bentley."

"And Glendenning?"

"Oh, Glendenning isn't provided for in my scheme."

"Then I can tell you that your scheme, Basil, is worse than worthless."

"I didn't brag of it, my dear," I said, meekly enough. "I'm sorry for
him, but I can't help him. He must provide for himself out of his
religion."


IX.

It was, indeed, a trying summer for our emotions, torn as we were
between our pity for Mrs. Bentley and our compassion for her daughter.
We had no repose, except when we centred our sympathies upon
Glendenning, whom we could yearn over in tender regret without doing any
one else wrong, or even criticising another. He was our great stay in
that respect, and though a mere external witness might have thought that
he had the easiest part, we who knew his gentle and affectionate nature
could not but feel for him. We never concealed from ourselves certain
foibles of his; I have hinted at one, and we should have liked it better
if he had not been so sensible of the honor, from a worldly point, of
being engaged to Miss Bentley. But this was a very innocent vanity, and
he would have been willing to suffer for her mother and for herself, if
she had let him. I have tried to insinuate how she would not let him,
but freed him as much as possible from the stress of the situation, and
assumed for him a mastery, a primacy, which he would never have assumed
for himself. We thought this very pretty of her, and in fact she was
capable of pretty things. What was hard and arrogant in her, and she was
not without something of the kind at times, was like her mother; but
even she, poor soul, had her good points, as I have attempted to
suggest. We used to dwell upon them, when our talk with Glendenning grew
confidential, as it was apt to do; for it seemed to console him to
realize that her daughter and he were making their sacrifice to a not
wholly unamiable person.

He confided equally in my wife and myself, but there were times when I
think he rather preferred the counsel of a man friend. Once when we had
gone a walk into the country, which around Gormanville is of the
pathetic Mid-Massachusetts loveliness and poverty, we sat down in a
hillside orchard to rest, and he began abruptly to talk of his affair.
Sometimes, he said, he felt that it was all an error, and he could not
rid himself of the fear that an error persisted in was a wrong, and
therefore a species of sin.

"That is very interesting," I said. "I wonder if there is anything in
it? At first blush it looks so logical; but is it? Or are you simply
getting morbid? What is the error? What is your error?"

"You know," he said, with a gentle refusal of my willingness to make
light of his trouble. "It is surely an error to allow a woman to give
her word when she can promise nothing more, and to let her hold herself
to it."

I could have told him that I did not think the error in this case was
altogether or mainly his, or the persistence in it; for it had seemed to
me from the beginning that the love between him and Miss Bentley was
fully as much her affair as his, and that quite within the bounds of
maidenly modesty she showed herself as passionately true to their
plighted troth. But of course this would not do, and I had to be content
with the ironical suggestion that he might try offering to release Miss
Bentley.

"Don't laugh at me," he implored, and I confess his tone would have
taken from me any heart to do so.

"My dear fellow," I said, "I see your point. But don't you think you are
quite needlessly adding to your affliction by pressing it? You two are
in the position which isn't at all uncommon with engaged people, of
having to wait upon exterior circumstances before you get married.
Suppose you were prevented by poverty, as often happens? It would be a
hardship as it is now; but in that case would your engagement be any
less an error than it is now? I don't think it would, and I don't
believe you think so either."

"In that case we should not be opposing our wills to the will of some
one else, who has a better claim to her daughter's allegiance than I
have. It seems to me that our error was in letting her mother consent to
our engagement if she would not or could not consent to our marriage.
When it came to that we ought both to have had the strength to say that
then there should be no engagement. It was my place to do that. I could
have prevented the error which I can't undo."

"I don't see how it could have been easier to prevent than to undo your
error. I don't admit it's an error, but I call it so because you do.
After all, an engagement is nothing but an open confession between two
people that they are in love with each other and wish to marry. There
need be no sort of pledge or promise to make the engagement binding, if
there is love. It's the love that binds."

"Yes."

"It bound you from your first acknowledgment of it, and unless you could
deny your love now, or hereafter, it must always bind you. If you own
that you still love each other, you are still engaged, no matter how
much you release each other. Could you think of loving her and marrying
some one else? Could she love you and marry another? There isn't any
error, unless you've mistaken your feeling for each other. If you have,
I should decidedly say you couldn't break your engagement too soon. In
fact, there wouldn't be any real engagement to break."

"Of course you are right," said Glendenning, but not so strenuously as
he might.

I had a feeling that he had not put forward the main cause of his
unhappiness, though he had given a true cause; that he had made some
lesser sense of wrong stand for a greater, as people often do in
confessing themselves; and I was not surprised when he presently added:
"It is not merely the fact that she is bound in that way, and that her
young life is passing in this sort of hopeless patience, but
that--that--I don't know how to put the ugly and wicked thing into
words, but I assure you that sometimes when I think--when I'm aware that
I know--Ah, I can't say it!"

"I fancy I understand what you mean, my dear boy," I said, and in the
right of my ten years' seniority I put my hand caressingly on his
shoulder, "and you are no more guilty than I am in knowing that if Mrs.
Bentley were not in the way there would be no obstacle to your
happiness."

"But such a cognition is of hell," he cried, and he let his face fall
into his hands and sobbed heartrendingly.

"Yes," I said, "such a cognition is of hell; you are quite right. So are
all evil concepts and knowledges; but so long as they are merely things
of our intelligence, they are no part of us, and we are not guilty of
them."

"No; I trust not, I trust not," he returned, and I let him sob his
trouble out before I spoke again; and then I began with a laugh of
unfeigned gayety. Something that my wife had hinted in one of our talks
about the lovers freakishly presented itself to my mind, and I said,
"There is a way, and a very practical way, to put an end to the anomaly
you feel in an engagement which doesn't imply a marriage."

"And what is that?" he asked, not very hopefully; but he dried his eyes
and calmed himself.

"Well, speaking after the manner of men, you might run off with Miss
Bentley."

All the blood in his body flushed into his face. "Don't!" he gasped, and
I divined that what I had said must have been in his thoughts before,
and I laughed again. "It wouldn't do," he added, piteously. "The
scandal--I am a clergyman, and my parish--"

I perceived that no moral scruple presented itself to him; when it came
to the point, he was simply and naturally a lover, like any other man;
and I persisted: "It would only be a seven days' wonder. I never heard
of a clergyman's running away to be married; but they must have
sometimes done it. Come, I don't believe you'd have to plead hard with
Miss Bentley, and Mrs. March and I will aid and abet you to the limit of
our small ability. I'm sure that if I wrap up warm against the night
air, she will let me go and help you hold the rope-ladder taut."


X.

It was not very reverent to his cloth, or his recent tragical mood, but
Glendenning was not offended; he laughed with a sheepish pleasure, and
that evening he came with Miss Bentley to call upon us. The visit passed
without unusual confidences until they rose to go, when she said
abruptly to me: "I feel that we both owe you a great deal, Mr. March.
Arthur has been telling me of your talk this afternoon, and I think that
what you said was all so wise and true! I don't mean," she added, "your
suggestion about putting an end to the anomaly!" and she and Glendenning
both laughed.

My wife said, "That was very wicked, and I have scolded him for thinking
of such a thing." She had, indeed, forgotten that she had put it in my
head, and made me wholly responsible for it.

"Then you must scold me too a little, Mrs. March," said the girl, "for
I've sometimes wondered if I couldn't work Arthur up to the point of
making me run away with him," which was a joke that wonderfully amused
us all.

I said, "I shouldn't think it would be so difficult;" and she retorted:

"Oh, you've no idea how obdurate clergymen are;" and then she went on,
seriously, to thank me for talking Glendenning out of his morbid mood.
With the frankness sometimes characteristic of her she said that if he
had released her, it would have made no difference--she should still
have felt herself bound to him; and until he should tell her that he no
longer cared for her, she should feel that he was bound to her. I saw no
great originality in this reproduction of my own ideas. But when Miss
Bentley added that she believed her mother herself would be shocked and
disappointed if they were to give each other up, I was aware of being in
the presence of a curious psychological fact. I so wholly lost myself in
the inquiry it invited that I let the talk flow on round me unheeded
while I questioned whether Mrs. Bentley did not derive a satisfaction
from her own and her daughter's mutual opposition which she could never
have enjoyed from their perfect agreement. She had made a certain
concession in consenting to the engagement, and this justified her to
herself in refusing her consent to the marriage, while the ingratitude
of the young people in not being content with what she had done formed a
grievance of constant avail with a lady of her temperament. From what
Miss Bentley let fall, half seriously, half jokingly, as well as what I
observed, I divined a not unnatural effect of the strained relations
between her and her mother. She concentrated whatever resentment she
felt upon Miss Bentley, insomuch that it seemed as though she might
altogether have withdrawn her opposition if it had been a question
merely of Glendenning's marriage. So far from disliking him, she was
rather fond of him, and she had no apparent objection to him except as
her daughter's husband. It had not always been so; at first she had an
active rancor against him; but this had gradually yielded to his
invincible goodness and sweetness.

"Who could hold out against him?" his betrothed demanded, fondly, when
these facts had been more or less expressed to us; and it was not the
first time that her love had seemed more explicit than his. He smiled
round upon her, pressing the hand she put in his arm; for she asked this
when they stood on our threshold ready to go, and then he glanced at us
with eyes that fell bashfully from ours.

"Oh, of course it will come right in time," said my wife when they were
gone, and I agreed that they need only have patience. We had all talked
ourselves into a cheerful frame concerning the affair; we had seen it in
its amusing aspects, and laughed about it; and that seemed almost in
itself to dispose of Mrs. Bentley's opposition. My wife and I decided
that this could not long continue; that by-and-by she would become tired
of it, and this would happen all the sooner if the lovers submitted
absolutely, and did nothing to remind her of their submission.


XI.

The Conwells came home from Europe the next summer, and we did not go
again to Gormanville. But from time to time we heard of the Bentleys,
and we heard to our great amaze that there was no change in the
situation, as concerned Miss Bentley and Glendenning. I think that later
it would have surprised us if we had learned that there was a change.
Their lives all seemed to have adjusted themselves to the conditions,
and we who were mere spectators came at last to feel nothing abnormal in
them.

Now and then we saw Glendenning, and now and then Miss Bentley came to
call upon Mrs. March, when she was in town. Her mother had given up her
Boston house, and they lived the whole year round at Gormanville, where
the air was good for Mrs. Bentley without her apparently being the
better for it; again, we heard in a roundabout way that their
circumstances were not so fortunate as they had been, and that they had
given up their Boston house partly from motives of economy.

There was no reason why our intimacy with the lovers' affairs should
continue, and it did not. Miss Bentley made mention of Glendenning, when
my wife saw her, with what Mrs. March decided to be an abiding fealty,
but without offer of confidence; and Glendenning, when we happened to
meet at rare intervals, did not invite me to more than formal inquiry
concerning the well-being of Mrs. Bentley and her daughter.

He was undoubtedly getting older, and he looked it. He was one of those
gentle natures which put on fat, not from self-indulgence, but from want
of resisting force, and the clerical waistcoat that buttoned black to
his throat swayed decidedly beyond a straight line at his waist. His
red-gold hair was getting thin, and though he wore it cut close all
round, it showed thinner on the crown than on the temples, and his pale
eyebrows were waning. He had a settled patience of look which would have
been a sadness, if there had not been mixed with it an air of resolute
cheerfulness. I am not sure that this kept it from being sad, either.

Miss Bentley, on her part, was no longer the young girl she was when we
met on the _Corinthian_. She must then have been about twenty, and she
was now twenty-six, but she looked thirty. Dark people show their age
early, and she showed hers in cheeks that grew thinner if not paler, and
in a purple shadow under her fine eyes. The parting of her black hair
was wider than it once was, and she wore it smooth in apparent disdain
of those arts of fluffing and fringing which give an air of vivacity, if
not of youth. I should say she had always been a serious girl, and now
she showed the effect of a life that could not have been gay for any
one.

The lovers promised themselves, as we knew, that Mrs. Bentley would
relent, and abandon what was more like a whimsical caprice than a
settled wish. But as time wore on, and she gave no sign of changing, I
have wondered whether some change did not come upon them, which affected
them towards each other without affecting their constancy. I fancied
their youthful passion taking on the sad color of patience, and
contenting itself more and more with such friendly companionship as
their fate afforded; it became, without marriage, that affectionate
comradery which wedded love passes into with the lapse of as many years
as they had been plighted. "What," I once suggested to my wife, in a
very darkling mood--"what if they should gradually grow apart, and end
in rejoicing that they had never been allowed to join their lives?
Wouldn't that be rather Hawthornesque?"

"It wouldn't be true," said Mrs. March, "and I don't see why you should
put such a notion upon Hawthorne. If you can't be more cheerful about
it, Basil, I wish you wouldn't talk of the affair at all."

"Oh, I'm quite willing to be cheerful about it, my dear," I returned;
"and, if you like, we will fancy Mrs. Bentley coming round and ardently
wishing their marriage, and their gayly protesting that after having
given the matter a great deal of thought they had decided it would be
better not to marry, but to live on separately for their own sake, just
as they have been doing for hers so long. Wouldn't that be cheerful?"

Mrs. March said that if I wished to tease it was because I had no ideas
on the subject, and she would advise me to drop it. I did so, for the
better part of the evening, but I could not relinquish it altogether.
"Do you think," I asked, finally, "that any sort of character will stand
the test of such a prolonged engagement?"

"Why not? Very indifferent characters stand the test of marriage, and
that's indefinitely prolonged."

"Yes, but it's not indefinite itself. Marriage is something very
distinct and permanent; but such an engagement as this has no sort of
future. It is a mere motionless present, without the inspiration of a
common life, and with no hope of release from durance except through a
chance that it will be sorrow instead of joy. I should think they would
go to pieces under the strain."

"But as you see they don't, perhaps the strain isn't so great after
all."

"Ah," I confessed, "there is that wonderful adaptation of the human soul
to any circumstances. It's the one thing that makes me respect our
fallen nature. Fallen? It seems to me that we ought to call it our risen
nature; it has steadily mounted with the responsibility that Adam took
for it--or Eve."

"I don't see," said my wife, pursuing her momentary advantage, "why they
should not be getting as much pleasure or happiness out of life as most
married people. Engagements are supposed to be very joyous, though I
think they're rather exciting and restless times, as a general thing. If
they've settled down to being merely engaged, I've no doubt they've
decided to make the best of being merely engaged as long as her mother
lives."

"There is that view of it," I assented.


XII.

By the following autumn Glendenning had completed the seventh year of
his engagement to Miss Bentley, and I reminded my wife that this seemed
to be the scriptural length of a betrothal, as typified in the service
which Jacob rendered for Rachel. "But _he_ had a prospective
father-in-law to deal with," I added, "and Glendenning a mother-in-law.
That may make a difference."

Mrs. March did not join me in the humorous view of the affair which I
took. She asked me if I had heard anything from Glendenning lately; if
that were the reason why I mentioned him.

"No," I said; "but I have some office business that will take me to
Gormanville to-morrow, and I did not know but you might like to go too,
and look the ground over, and see how much we have been suffering for
them unnecessarily." The fact was that we had now scarcely spoken of
Glendenning or the Bentleys for six months, and our minds were far too
full of our own affairs to be given more than very superficially to
theirs at any time. "We could both go as well as not," I suggested, "and
you could call upon the Bentleys while I looked after the company's
business."

"Thank you, Basil, I think I will let you go alone," said my wife. "But
try to find out how it is with them. Don't be so terribly
straightforward, and let it look as if that was what you came for. Don't
make the slightest advance towards their confidence. But do let them
open up if they will."

"My dear, you may depend upon my asking no leading questions whatever,
and I shall behave with far more discretion than if you were with me.
The danger is that I shall behave with too much, for I find that my
interest in their affair is very much faded. There is every probability
that unless Glendenning speaks of his engagement it won't be spoken of
at all."

This was putting it rather with the indifference of the past six months
than with the feeling of the present moment. Since I had known that I
was going to Gormanville, the interest I denied had renewed itself
pretty vividly for me, and I was intending not only to get everything
out of Glendenning that I decently could, but to give him as much good
advice as he would bear. I was going to urge him to move upon the
obstructive Mrs. Bentley with all his persuasive force, and I had
formulated some arguments for him which I thought he might use with
success. I did not tell my wife that this was my purpose, but all the
same I cherished it, and I gathered energy for the enforcement of my
views for Glendenning's happiness from the very dejection I was cast
into by the outward effect of the Gormanville streets. They were all in
a funeral blaze of their shade trees, which were mostly maples, but were
here and there a stretch of elms meeting in arches almost consciously
Gothic over the roadway; the maples were crimson and gold, and the elms
the pale yellow that they affect in the fall. A silence hung under their
sad splendors which I found deepen when I got into what the inhabitants
called the residential part. About the business centre there was some
stir, and here in the transaction of my affairs I was in the thick of it
for a while. Everybody remembered me in a pleasant way, and I had to
stop and pass the time of day, as they would have said, with a good many
whom I could not remember at once. It seemed to me that the maples in
front of St. Michael's rectory were rather more depressingly gaudy than
elsewhere in Gormanville; but I believe they were only thicker. I found
Glendenning in his study, and he was so far from being cast down by
their blazon that I thought him decidedly cheerfuller than when I saw
him last. He met me with what for him was ardor; and as he had asked me
most cordially about my family, I thought it fit to inquire how the
ladies at the Bentley place were.

"Why, very well, very well indeed," he answered, brightly. "It's very
odd, but Edith and I were talking about you all only last night, and
wishing we could see you again. Edith is most uncommonly well. During
the summer Mrs. Bentley had some rather severer attacks than usual, and
the care and anxiety told upon Edith, but since the cooler weather has
come she has picked up wonderfully." He did not say that Mrs. Bentley
had shared this gain, and I imagined that he had a reluctance to confess
she had not. He went on, "You're going to stay and spend the night with
me, aren't you?"

"No," I said; "I'm obliged to be off by the four-o'clock train. But if I
may be allowed to name the hospitality I could accept, I should say
luncheon."

"Good!" cried Glendenning, gayly. "Let us go and have it at the
Bentleys'."

"Far be it from me to say where you shall lunch me," I returned. "The
question isn't where, but when and how, with me."

He got his hat and stick, and as we started out of his door he began:
"You'll be a little surprised at the informality, perhaps, but I'm glad
you take it so easily. It makes it easier for me to explain that I'm
almost domesticated at the Bentley homestead; I come and go very much as
if it were my own house."

"My dear fellow," I said, "I'm not surprised at anything in your
relation to the Bentley homestead, and I won't vex you with any glad
inferences."

"Why," he returned, a little bashfully, "there's no explicit change. The
affair is just where it has been all along. But with the gradual decline
in Mrs. Bentley--I'm afraid you'll notice it--she seems rather to want
me about, and at times I'm able to be of use to Edith, and so--"

He stopped, and I said, "Exactly."

He went on: "Of course it's rather anomalous, and I oughtn't to let you
get the impression that she has actually conceded anything. But she
shows herself much more--er, shall I say?--affectionate, and I can't
help hoping there may be a change in her mood which will declare itself
in an attitude more favorable to--"

I said again, "Exactly," and Glendenning resumed:

"In spite of Edith's not having been quite so well as usual--she's
wonderfully well now--it's been a very happy summer with us, on account
of this change. It seems to have come about in a very natural way with
Mrs. Bentley, and out of a growing regard which I can't specifically
account for, as far as anything I've done is concerned."

"I think I could account for it," said I. "She must be a stonier-hearted
old lady than I imagine if she hasn't felt your goodness, all along,
Glendenning."

"Why, you're very kind," said the gentle creature. "You tempt me to
repeat what she said, at the only time she expressed a wish to have me
oftener with them: 'You've been very patient with a contrary old woman.
But I sha'n't make you wait much longer.'"

"Well, I think that was very encouraging, my dear fellow."

"Do you?" he asked, wistfully. "I thought so too, at first, but when I
told Edith she could not take that view of it. She said that she did not
believe her mother had changed her mind at all, and that she only meant
she was growing older."

"But, at any rate," I argued, "it was pleasant to have her make an open
recognition of your patience."

"Yes, that was pleasant," he said, cheerfully again, "And it was the
beginning of the kind of relation that I have held ever since to her
household. I am afraid I am there a good half of my time, and I believe
I dine there oftener than I do at home. I am quite on the footing of a
son, with her."

"There are some of the unregenerate, Glendenning," I made bold to say,
"who think it is your own fault that you weren't on the footing of a
son-in-law with her long ago. If you'll excuse my saying so, you have
been, if anything, too patient. It would have been far better for all if
you had taken the bit in your teeth six or seven years back--"

He drew a deep breath. "It wouldn't have done; it wouldn't have done!
Edith herself would never have consented to it."

"Did you ever ask her?"

"No," he said, innocently. "How could I?"

"And of course _she_ could never ask _you_," I laughed. "My opinion is
that you have lost a great deal of time unnecessarily. I haven't the
least doubt that if you had brought a little pressure to bear with Mrs.
Bentley herself, it would have sufficed."

He looked at me with a kind of dismay, as if my words had carried
conviction, or had roused a conviction long dormant in his heart. "It
wouldn't have done," he gasped.

"It isn't too late to try, yet," I suggested.

"Yes, it's too late. We must wait now." He hastened to add, "Until she
yields entirely of herself."

He gave me a guilty glance when he drew near the Bentley place and we
saw a buggy standing at the gate. "The doctor!" he said, and he hurried
me up the walk to the door.

The door stood open and we heard the doctor saying to some one within:
"No, no, nothing organic at all, I assure you. One of the commonest
functional disturbances."

Miss Bentley appeared at the threshold with him, and she and Glendenning
had time to exchange a glance of anxiety and of smiling reassurance,
before she put out her hand in greeting to me, a very glad and cordial
greeting, apparently. The doctor and I shook hands, and he got himself
away with what I afterwards remembered as undue quickness, and left us
to Miss Bentley.

Glendenning was quite right about her looking better. She looked even
gay, and there was a vivid color in her checks such as I had not seen
there for many years; her lips were red, her eyes brilliant. Her face
was still perhaps as thin as ever, but it was indescribably younger.

I cannot say that there were the materials of a merrymaking amongst us,
exactly, and yet I remember that luncheon as rather a gay one, with some
laughing. I had not been till now in discovering that Miss Bentley had a
certain gift of humor, so shy and proud, if I may so express it, that it
would not show itself except upon long acquaintance, and I distinctly
perceived now that this enabled her to make light of a burden that might
otherwise have been intolerable. It qualified her to treat with
cheerfulness the grimness of her mother, which had certainly not grown
less since I saw her last, and to turn into something like a joke her
valetudinarian austerities of sentiment and opinion. She made a pleasant
mock of the amenities which passed between her mother and Glendenning,
whose gingerliness in the acceptance of the old lady's condescension
would, I confess, have been notably comical without this gloss. It was
perfectly evident that Mrs. Bentley's favor was bestowed with a mental
reservation, and conditioned upon his forming no expectations from it,
and poor Glendenning's eagerness to show that he took it upon these
terms was amusing as well as touching. I do not know how to express that
Miss Bentley contrived to eliminate herself from the affair, or to have
the effect of doing that, and to abandon it to them. I can only say that
she left them to be civil to each other, and that, except when she
recurred to them in playful sarcasm from time to time, she devoted
herself to me.

Evidently, Mrs. Bentley was very much worse than she had been; her
breathing was painfully labored. But if her daughter had any anxiety
about her condition, she concealed it most effectually from us. I
decided that she had perhaps been asking the doctor as to certain
symptoms that had alarmed her, and it was in the rebound from her
anxiety that her spirits had risen to the height I saw. Glendenning
seized the moment of her absence after luncheon, when she helped her
mother up to her room, to impart to me that this was his conclusion too.
He said that he had not seen her so cheerful for a long time, and when I
praised her in every way he basked in my appreciation of her as if it
had all been flattery for himself. She came back directly, and then I
had a chance to see what she might have been under happier stars. She
could not, at any moment, help showing herself an intellectual and
cultivated woman, but her opportunities to show herself a woman of rare
social gifts had been scanted by circumstances and perhaps by
conscience. It seemed to me that even in devoting herself to her mother
as she had always done she need not have enslaved herself, and that it
was in this excess her inherited puritanism came out. She might
sometimes openly rebel against her mother's domination, as my wife and I
had now and again seen her do; but inwardly she was almost passionately
submissive. Here I thought that Glendenning, if he had been a different
sort of man, might have been useful to her; he might have encouraged her
in a little wholesome selfishness, and enabled her to withhold sacrifice
where it was needless. But I am not sure; perhaps he would have made her
more unhappy, if he had attempted this; perhaps he was the only sort of
man whom, in her sense of his own utter unselfishness, she could have
given her heart to in perfect peace. She now talked brilliantly and
joyously to me, but all the time her eye sought his for his approval and
sympathy; he, for his part, was content to listen in a sort of beatific
pride in her which he did not, in his simple-hearted fondness, make any
effort to mask.

When we came away he made himself amends for his silence by a long hymn
in worship of her, and I listened with all the acquiescence possible. He
asked me questions--whether I had noticed this thing or that about her,
or remembered what she had said upon one point or another, and led up to
compliments of her which I was glad to pay. In the long ordeal they had
undergone they had at least kept all the freshness of their love.


XIII.

Glendenning and I went back to the rectory, and sat down in his study,
or rather he made me draw a chair to the open door, and sat down himself
on a step below the threshold. The day was one of autumnal warmth; the
haze of Indian summer blued the still air, and the wind that now and
then stirred the stiff panoply of the trees was lullingly soft. This
part of Gormanville quite overlooked the busier district about the
mills, where the water-power found its way, and it was something of a
climb even from the business street of the old hill village, which the
rival prosperity of the industrial settlement in the valley had thrown
into an aristocratic aloofness. From the upper windows of the rectory
one could have seen only the red and yellow of the maples, but from the
study door we caught glimpses past their boles of the outlying country,
as it showed between the white mansions across the way. One of these, as
I have already mentioned, was the Conwell place; and after we had talked
of the landscape awhile, Glendenning said: "By the way! Why don't you
buy the Conwell place? You liked it so much, and you were all so well in
Gormanville. The Conwells want to sell it, and it would be just the
thing for you, five or six months of the year."

I explained, almost compassionately, the impossibility of a poor
insurance man thinking of a summer residence like the Conwell place, and
I combated as well as I could the optimistic reasons of my friend in its
favor. I was not very severe with him, for I saw that his optimism was
not so much from his wish to have me live in Gormanville as from the new
hope that filled him. It was by a perfectly natural, if not very logical
transition that we were presently talking of this greater interest
again, and Glendenning was going over all the plans that it included. I
encouraged him to believe, as he desired, that a sea-voyage would be the
thing for Mrs. Bentley, and that it would be his duty to take her to
Europe as soon as he was in authority to do so. They should always, he
said, live in Gormanville, for they were greatly attached to the place,
and they should keep up the old Bentley homestead in the style that he
thought they owed to the region where the Bentleys had always lived. It
is a comfort to a man to tell his dreams, whether of the night or of the
day, and I enjoyed Glendenning's pleasure in rehearsing these fond
reveries of his.

He interrupted himself to listen to the sound of hurried steps, and
directly a man in his shirt-sleeves came running by on the sidewalk
beyond the maples. In a village like Gormanville any passer is of
interest to the spectator, and a man running is of thrilling moment.
Glendenning started to his feet, and moved forward for a better sight of
the flying passer. He called out to the man, who shouted back something
I could not understand, and ran on.

"What did he say?"

"I don't know." Glendenning's face as he turned to me again was quite
white. "It is Mrs. Bentley's farmer," he added, feebly, and I could see
that it was with an effort he kept himself from sinking. "Something has
happened."

"Oh, I guess not, or not anything serious," I answered, with an effort
to throw off the weight I suddenly felt at my own heart. "People have
been known to run for a plumber. But if you're anxious, let us go and
see what the matter is."

I turned and got my hat; Glendenning came in for his, but seemed unable
to find it, though he stood before the table where it lay. I had to
laugh, though I felt so little like it, as I put it in his hand.

"Don't leave me," he entreated, as we hurried out through the maples to
the sidewalk. "It has come at last, and I feel, as I always knew I
should, like a murderer."

"What rubbish!" I retorted. "You don't know that anything has happened.
You don't know what the man's gone for."

"Yes, I do," he said. "Mrs. Bentley is--He's gone for the doctor."

As he spoke a buggy came tearing down the street behind us; the doctor
was in it, and the man in shirt-sleeves beside him. We did not try to
hail them, but as they whirled by the farmer turned his face, and again
called something unintelligible to Glendenning.

We made what speed we could after them, but they were long out of sight
in the mile that it seemed to me we were an hour in covering before we
reached the Bentley place. The doctor's buggy stood at the gate, and I
perceived that I was without authority to enter the house, on which some
unknown calamity had fallen, no matter with what good-will I had come; I
could see that Glendenning had suffered a sudden estrangement, also,
which he had to make a struggle against. But he went in, leaving me
without, as if he had forgotten me.

I could not go away, and I walked down the path to the gate, and waited
there, in case I should be in any wise wanted. After a very long time
the doctor came bolting over the walk towards me, as if he did not see
me, but he brought himself up short with an "Oh!" before he actually
struck against me. I had known him during our summer at the Conwell
place, where we used to have him in for our little ailments, and I would
never have believed that his round, optimistic face could look so
worried. I read the worst in it; Glendenning was right; but I asked the
doctor, quite as if I did not know, whether there was anything serious
the matter.

"Serious--yes," he said. "Get in with me; I have to see another patient,
but I'll bring you back." We mounted into his buggy, and he went on.
"She's in no immediate danger, now. The faint lasted so long I didn't
know whether we should bring her out of it, at one time, but the most
alarming part is over for the present. There is some trouble with the
heart, but I don't think anything organic."

"Yes, I heard you telling her daughter so, just before lunch. Isn't it a
frequent complication with asthma?"

"Asthma? Her daughter? Whom are you talking about?"

"Mrs. Bentley. Isn't Mrs. Bentley--"

"No!" shouted the doctor, in disgust, "Mrs. Bentley is as well as ever.
It's Miss Bentley. I wish there was a thousandth part of the chance for
her that there is for her mother."


XIV.

I stayed over for the last train to Boston, and then I had to go home
without the hope which Miss Bentley's first rally had given the doctor.
My wife and I talked the affair over far into the night, and in the
paucity of particulars I was almost driven to their invention. But I
managed to keep a good conscience, and at the same time to satisfy the
demand for facts in a measure by the indulgence of conjectures which
Mrs. March continually took for them. The doctor had let fall, in his
talk with me, that he had no doubt Miss Bentley had aggravated the
affection of the heart from which she was suffering by her exertions in
lifting her mother about so much; and my wife said that it needed only
that touch to make the tragedy complete.

"Unless," I suggested, "you could add that her mother had just told her
she would not oppose her marriage any longer, and it was the joy that
brought on the access of the trouble that is killing her."

"Did the doctor say that?" Mrs. March demanded, severely.

"No. And I haven't the least notion that anything like it happened. But
if it had--"

"It would have been too tawdry. I'm ashamed of you for thinking of such
a thing, Basil."

Upon reflection, I was rather ashamed myself; but I plucked up courage
to venture: "It would be rather fine, wouldn't it, when that poor girl
is gone, if Mrs. Bentley had Glendenning come and live with her, and
they devoted themselves to each other for her daughter's sake?"

"Fine! It would be ghastly. What are you thinking of, my dear? How would
it be fine?"

"Oh, I mean dramatically," I apologized, and, not to make bad worse, I
said no more.

The next day, which was Sunday, a telegram came for me, which I decided,
without opening it, to be the announcement of the end. But it proved to
be a message from Mrs. Bentley, begging in most urgent terms that Mrs.
March and I would come to her at once, if possible. These terms left the
widest latitude for surmise, but none for choice, in the sad
circumstances, and we looked up the Sunday trains for Gormanville, and
went.

We found the poor woman piteously grateful, but by no means so
prostrated as we had expected. She was rather, as often happens, stayed
and held upright by the burden that had been laid upon her, and it was
with fortitude if not dignity that she appealed to us for our counsel,
and if possible our help, in a matter about which she had already
consulted the doctor. "The doctor says that the excitement cannot hurt
Edith; it may even help her, to propose it. I should like to do it, but
if you do not think well of it, I will not do it. I know it is too late
now to make up to her for the past," said Mrs. Bentley, and here she
gave way to the grief she had restrained hitherto.

"There is no one else," she went on, "who has been so intimately
acquainted with the facts of my daughter's engagement--no one else that
I can confide in or appeal to."

We both murmured that she was very good; but she put our politeness
somewhat peremptorily aside.

"It is the only thing I can do now, and it is useless to do that now. It
will be no reparation for the past, and it will be for myself and not
for her, as all that I have done in the past has been; but I wish to
know what you think of their getting married now."

I am afraid that if we had said what we thought of such a tardy and
futile proof of penitence we should have brought little comfort to the
mother's heart, but we looked at each other in the disgust we both felt
and said there would be a sacred fitness in it.

She was apparently much consoled.

It was touching enough, and I at least was affected by her tears; I am
not so sure my wife was. But she had instantly to consider how best to
propose the matter to Miss Bentley, and to act upon her decision.

After all, as she reported the fact to me later, it was very simple to
suggest her mother's wish to the girl, who listened to it with a perfect
intelligence in which there was no bitterness.

"They think I am going to die," she said, quietly, "and I can understand
how she feels. It seems such a mockery; but if she wishes it; and
Arthur--"

It was my part to deal with Glendenning, and I did not find it so easy.

"Marriage is for life and for earth," he said, solemnly, and I thought
very truly. "In the resurrection we shall be one another's without it. I
don't like to go through the form of such a sacrament idly; it seems
like a profanation of its mystery."

"But if Miss Bentley--"

"She will think whatever I do; I shall feel as she does," he answered,
with dignity.

"Yes, I know," I urged. "It would not be for her; it would not certainly
be for yourself. But if you could see it as the only form of reparation
which her mother can now offer you both, and the only mode of expressing
your own forgiveness--Recollect how you felt when you thought that it
was Mrs. Bentley's death; try to recall something of that terrible
time--"

"I don't forget that," he relented. "It was in mercy to Edith and me
that our trial is what it is: we have recognized that in the face of
eternity. I can forgive anything in gratitude for that."

       *       *       *       *       *

I have often had to criticise life for a certain caprice with which she
treats the elements of drama, and mars the finest conditions of tragedy
with a touch of farce. No one who witnessed the marriage of Arthur
Glendenning and Edith Bentley had any belief that she would survive it
twenty-four hours; they themselves were wholly without hope in the
moment which for happier lovers is all hope. To me it was like a
funeral, but then most weddings are rather ghastly to look upon; and the
stroke that life had in reserve perhaps finally restored the lost
balance of gayety in this. At any rate, Mrs. Glendenning did live, and
she is living yet, and in rather more happiness than comes to most
people under brighter auspices. After long contention among many
doctors, the original opinion that her heart trouble was functional, not
organic, has been elected final, and upon these terms she bids fair to
live as long as any of us.

I do not know whether she will live as long as her mother, who seems to
have taken a fresh lease of years from her single act of self-sacrifice.
I cannot say whether Mrs. Bentley feels herself deceived and defrauded
by her daughter's recovery; but I have made my wife observe that it
would be just like life if she bore the young couple a sort of grudge
for unwittingly outwitting her. Certainly, on the day we lately spent
with them all at Gormanville, she seemed, in the slight attack of asthma
from which she suffered, to come as heavily and exactingly upon both as
she used to come upon her daughter alone. But I was glad to see that
Glendenning eagerly bore the greater part of the common burden. He grows
stouter and stouter, and will soon be the figure of a bishop.



THE PURSUIT OF THE PIANO.



I.

Hamilton Gaites sat breakfasting by the window of a restaurant looking
out on Park Square, in Boston, at a table which he had chosen after
rejecting one on the Boylston Street side of the place because it was
too noisy, and another in the little open space, among evergreens in
tubs, between the front and rear, because it was too chilly. The wind
was east, but at his Park Square window it tempered the summer morning
air without being a draught; and he poured out his coffee with a content
in his circumstance and provision which he was apt to feel when he had
taken all the possible pains, even though the result was not perfect.
But now, he had real French bread, as good as he could have got in New
York, and the coffee was clear and bright. A growth of crisp green
watercress embowered a juicy steak, and in its shade, as it were, lay
two long slices of bacon, not stupidly broiled to a crisp, but
delicately pink, and exemplarily lean. Gaites had already had a
cantaloupe, whose spicy fragrance lingered in the air and mingled with
the robuster odors of the coffee, the steak, and the bacon.

He owned to being a fuss, but he contended that he was a cheerful fuss,
and when things went reasonably well with him, he was so. They were
going well with him now, not only in the small but in the large way. He
was sitting there before that capital breakfast in less than half an
hour after leaving the sleeping-car, where he had passed a very good
night, and he was setting out on his vacation, after very successful
work in the June term of court. He was in prime health; he had a good
conscience in leaving no interests behind him that could suffer in his
absence; and the smile that he bent upon the Italian waiter as he
retired, after putting down the breakfast, had some elements of a
benediction.

There was a good deal of Gaites's smile, when it was all on: he had a
generous mouth, full of handsome teeth, very white and even, which all
showed in his smile. His whole face took part in the smile, and it was a
charming face, long and rather quaintly narrow, of an amiable
aquilinity, and clean-shaven. His figure, tall and thin, comported well
with his style of visage, and at a given moment, when he suddenly rose
and leaned from the window, eagerly following something outside with his
eye, he had an alert movement that was very pleasant.

The thing outside which had caught, and which now kept, his eye as long
as he could see it, was a case in the shape of an upright piano, on the
end of a long, heavy-laden truck, making its way with a slow, jolting
progress among the carts, carriages, and street cars, out of the square
round the corner toward Boylston Street. On the sloping front of the
case was inscribed an address, which seemed to gaze at Gaites with the
eyes of the girl whom it named and placed, and to whom in the young
man's willing fancy it attributed a charming quality. Nothing, he felt,
could be more suggestive, more expressive of something shy, something
proud, something pure, something pastoral yet patrician, something
unaffected and yet _chic_, in an unknown personality, than the legend:

     Miss Phyllis Desmond,
     Lower Merritt,
     New Hampshire.

     Via S. B. & H. C. R. R.

Like most lawyers, he had a vein of romance, and this now opened in
pleasing conjectures concerning the girl. He knew just where Lower
Merritt was, and so well what it was like that a vision of its white
paint against the dark green curtain of the wooded heights around it
filled his sense as agreeably as so much white marble. There was the
cottage of some summer people well above the village level, among pines
and birches, and overlooking the foamiest rush of the Saco, to which he
instantly destined the piano of Phyllis Desmond. He had never known that
these people's name was Desmond, and he had certainly never supposed
that they had a daughter called Phyllis; but he divined these facts in
losing sight of the truck; and he imagined with as logical probability
that one of the little girls whom he used to see playing on the
hill-slope before the cottage had grown up into the young lady whose
name the piano bore. There was quite time enough for this
transformation; it was seven years since Gaites had run up into the
White Mountains for a month's rest after his last term in the Harvard
Law School, and before beginning work in the office of the law firm in
New York where he had got a clerkship, and where he had now a junior
partnership. The little girl was then just ten years old, and now, of
course, the young lady was seventeen, or would be when the piano reached
Lower Merritt, for it was clearly meant to arrive on her birthday; it
was a birthday-present and a surprise. He had always liked the way those
nice people let their children play about barefoot; it would be in
character with them to do a fond, pretty thing like that; and Gaites
smiled for pleasure in it, and then rather blushed in relating the brown
legs of the little girl, as he remembered seeing them in her races over
her father's lawn, to the dignified young lady she had now become.

He amused himself in mentally following the piano on its way to the Sea
Board & Hill Country R. R. freight-depot, which he was quite able to do
from a habit of Boston formed during his four years in the academic
course and his three years in the law-school at Harvard. He knew that it
would cross Boylston into Charles Street, and keep along that level to
Cambridge; then it would turn into McLane Street, and again into Lynde,
by this means avoiding the grades as much as possible, and arriving
through Causeway Street at the long, low freight-depot of the S. B. & H.
C., where it would be the first thing unloaded from the truck. It would
stand indefinitely on the outer platform; and then, when the men in
flat, narrow-peaked silk caps and grease-splotched overalls got round to
it, with an air of as much personal indifference as if they were mere
mechanical agencies, it would be pulled and pushed into the dimness of
the interior, cool, and pleasantly smelling of pine, and hemp, and
flour, and dried fruit, and coffee, and tar, and leather, and fish.
There it would abide, indefinitely again, till in the same large
impersonal way it was pulled and pushed out on the platform beside the
track, where a freight-car marked for the Hill Country division of the
road, with devices intelligible to the train-men, had been shunted down
by a pony engine in obedience to mystical semaphoric gesticulations,
from the brakeman risking his life for the purpose among the rails,
addressed to the engineer keeping his hand on the pulse of the
locomotive, and his head out of the cab window to see how near he could
come to killing the brakeman without doing it.

Gaites witnessed the whole drama with an interest that held him
suspended between the gulps and morsels of his breakfast, and at times
quite arrested the processes of mastication and deglutition. That pretty
girl's name on the slope of the piano-case continued to look at him from
the end of the truck; it smiled at him from the outer platform of the
freight-house; it entreated him with a charming trepidation from the dim
interior; again it smiled on the inner platform; and then, from the
safety of the car, where the case found itself ensconced among freight
of a neat and agreeable character, the name had the effect of intrepidly
blowing him a kiss as the train-man slid the car doors together and
fastened them. He drew a long breath when the train had backed and
bumped down to the car, and the couplers had clashed together, and the
maniac, who had not been mashed in dropping the coupling-pin into its
socket, scrambled out from the wheels, and frantically worked his arms
to the potential homicide in the locomotive cab, and the train had
jolted forward on the beginning of its run.

That was the last of the piano, and Gaites threw it off his mind, and
finished his breakfast at his leisure. He was going to spend his
vacation at Kent Harbor, where he knew some agreeable people, and where
he knew that a young man had many chances of a good time, even if he
were not the youngest kind of young man. He had spent two of his Harvard
vacations there, and he knew this at first hand. He could not and did
not expect to do so much two-ing on the rocks and up the river as he
used; the zest of that sort of thing was past, rather; but he had
brought his golf stockings with him, and a quiverful of the utensils of
the game, in obedience to a lady who had said there were golf-links at
Kent, and she knew a young lady who would teach him to play.

He was going to stop off at Burymouth, to see a friend, an old Harvard
man, and a mighty good fellow, who had rather surprised people by giving
up New York, and settling in the gentle old town on the Piscatamac. They
accounted for it as well as they could by his having married a Burymouth
girl; and since he had begun, most unexpectedly, to come forward in
literature, such of his friends as had seen him there said it was just
the place for him. Gaites had not yet seen him there, and he had a
romantic curiosity, the survival of an intensified friendship of their
Senior year, to do so. He got to thinking of this good fellow rather
vividly, when he had cleared his mind of Miss Desmond's piano, and he
did not see why he should not take an earlier train to Burymouth than he
had intended to take; and so he had them call him a coupé from the
restaurant, and he got into it as soon as he left the breakfast-table.

He gave the driver the authoritative address, "Sea Board Depot," and
left him to take his own way, after resisting a rather silly impulse to
bid him go through Charles Street.

The man drove up Beacon, and down Temple through Staniford, and
naturally Gaites saw nothing of Miss Desmond's piano, which had come
into his mind again in starting. He did not know the colonnaded
structure, with its stately _porte-cochère_, where his driver proposed
to leave him, instead of the formless brick box which he remembered as
the Sea Board Depot, and he insisted upon that when the fellow got down
to open the door.

"Ain't no Sibbod Dippo, now," the driver explained, contemptuously.
"Guess Union Dippo'll do, though;" and Gaites, a little overcome with
its splendor, found that it would. He faltered a moment in passing the
conductor and porter at the end of the Pullman car on his train, and
then decided that it would be ridiculous to take a seat in it for the
short run to Burymouth. In the common coach he got a very good seat on
the shady side, where he put down his hand-bag. Then he looked at his
watch, and as it was still fifteen minutes before train-time, he
indulged a fantastic impulse. He left the car and hurried back through
the station and out through the electrics, hacks, herdics, carts, and
string-teams of Causeway Street, and up the sidewalk of the street
opening into it, as far as the S. B. & H. C. freight-depot. On the way
he bet himself five dollars that Miss Desmond's piano would not be
there, and lost; for at the moment he came up it was unloading from the
end of the truck which he had seen carrying it past the window of his
restaurant.

The fact amused him quite beyond the measure of anything intrinsically
humorous in it, and he staid watching the exertions of the heated
truckman and two silk-capped, sarcastic-faced freight-men, till the
piano was well on the platform. He was so intent upon it that his
interest seemed to communicate itself to a young girl coming from the
other quarter, with a suburban, cloth-sided, crewel-initialed bag in her
hand, as if she were going to a train. She paused in the stare she gave
the piano-case, and then slowed her pace with a look over her shoulder
after she got by. In this her eyes met his, and she blushed and hurried
on; but not so soon that he had not time to see she had a thin face of a
pathetic prettiness, gentle brown eyes with wistful brows, under
ordinary brown hair. She was rather little, and was dressed with a sort
of unaccented propriety, which was as far from distinction as it was
from pretension.

When Gaites got back to his car, a few minutes before the train was to
start, he found the seat where he had left his hand-bag and light
overcoat more than half full of a bulky lady, who looked stupidly up at
him, and did not move or attempt any excuse for crowding him from his
place. He had to walk the whole length of the car before he came to a
vacant seat. It was the last of the transverse seats, and at the moment
he dropped into it, the girl who had watched the unloading of the piano
with him passed him, and took the sidewise seat next the door.

She took it with a weary resignation which somehow made Gaites ashamed
of the haste with which he had pushed forward to the only good place,
and he felt as guilty of keeping her out of it as if he had known she
was following him. He kept a remorseful eye upon her as she arranged her
bag and umbrella about her, with some paper parcels which she must have
had sent to her at the station. She breathed quickly, as if from final
hurry, but somewhat also as if she were delicate; and tried to look as
if she did not know he was watching her. She had taken off one of her
gloves, and her hand, though little enough, showed an unexpected vigor
with reference to her face, and had a curious air of education.

When the train pulled out of the station into the clearer light, she
turned her face from him toward the forward window, and the corner of
her mouth, which her half-averted profile gave him, had a kind of
piteous droop which smote him to keener regret. Once it lifted in an
upward curve, and a gay light came into the corner of her eye; then the
mouth drooped again, and the light went out.

Gaites could bear it no longer; he rose and said, with a respectful bow:
"Won't you take my seat? That seems such a very inconvenient place for
you, with the door opening and shutting."

The girl turned her face promptly round and up, and answered, with a
flush in her thin cheek, but no embarrassment in her tone, "No, I thank
you. This will do quite well," and then she turned her face away as
before.

He had not meant his politeness for an overture to her acquaintance, but
he felt as justly snubbed as if he had; and he sank back into his seat
in some disorder. He tried to hide his confusion behind the newspaper he
opened between them; but from time to time he had a glimpse of her round
the side of it, and he saw that the hand which clutched her bag all the
while tightened upon it and then loosened nervously.


II.

"Ah, I see what you mean," said Gaites, with a kind of finality, as his
friend Birkwall walked him homeward through the loveliest of the lovely
old Burymouth streets. Something equivalent had been in his mind and on
his tongue at every dramatic instant of the afternoon; and, in fact,
ever since he had arrived from the station at Birkwall's door, where
Mrs. Birkwall met them and welcomed him. He had been sufficiently
impressed with the aristocratic quiet of the vast square white old
wooden house, standing behind a high white board fence, in two acres of
gardened ground; but the fine hallway with its broad low stairway, the
stately drawing-room with its carving, the library with its panelling
and portraits, and the dining-room with its tall wainscoting, united to
give him a sense of the pride of life in old Burymouth such as the raw
splendors of the millionaire houses in New York had never imparted to
him.

"They knew how to do it, they knew how to do it!" he exclaimed, meaning
the people who had such houses built; and he said the same thing of the
other Burymouth houses which Birkwall showed him, by grace of their
owners, after the mid-day dinner, which Gaites kept calling luncheon.

"Be sure you get back in good time for _tea_," said Mrs. Birkwall for a
parting charge to her husband; and she bade Gaites, "Remember that it
_is_ tea, please; _not_ dinner;" and he was tempted to kiss his hand to
her with as much courtly gallantry as he could; for, standing under the
transom of the slender-pillared portal to watch them away, she looked
most distinctly descended from ancestors, and not merely the daughter of
a father and mother, as most women do. Gaites said as much to Birkwall,
and when they got home Birkwall repeated it to his wife, without
injuring Gaites with her. If he saw what Birkwall had meant in marrying
her, and settling down to his literary life with her in the atmosphere
of such a quiet place as Burymouth, when he might have chosen money and
unrest in New York, she on her side saw what her husband meant in liking
the shrewd, able fellow who had such a vein of gay romance in his
practicality, and such an intelligent and respectful sympathy with her
tradition and environment.

She sent and asked several of her friends to meet him at tea; and if in
that New England disproportion of the sexes which at Burymouth is
intensified almost to a pure gynocracy these friends were nearly all
women, he found them even more agreeable than if they had been nearly
all men. It seemed to him that he had never heard better talk than that
of these sequestered ladies, who were so well bred and so well read, so
humorous and so dignified, who loved to laugh and who loved to think. It
was all like something in a pleasant book, and Gaites was not altogether
to blame if it went to his head, and after the talk had been of
Burymouth, in which he professed so acceptable an interest, and then of
novels, of which he had read about as many as they, he confided to the
whole table his experience with Miss Phyllis Desmond's piano. He managed
the psychology of the little incident so well that he imparted the very
quality he meant them to feel in it.

"How perfectly charming!" said one of the ladies. "I don't wonder you
fell in love with the name. It's fit for a shepherdess of high degree."

"If _I_ were a man," said the girl across the table who was not less
sweetly a girl because she would never see thirty-nine again, "I should
simply drop everything and follow that piano to Phyllis Desmond's door."

"It's quite what I should like to do," Gaites responded, with a
well-affected air of passionate regret. "But I'm promised at Kent
Harbor--"

She did not wait for him to say more, but submitted, "Oh, well, if
you're going to Kent _Harbor_, of course!" as if that would excuse and
explain any sort of dereliction; and then the talk went on about Kent
Harbor till Mrs. Birkwall asked, generally, as if it were part of the
Kent Harbor inquiry, "Didn't I hear that the Ashwoods were going to
their place at Upper Merritt, this year?"

Then there arose a dispute, which divided the company into nearly equal
parties; as to whether the Ashwoods had got home from Europe yet. But it
all ended in bringing the talk back to Phyllis Desmond's piano again,
and in urging its pursuit upon Gaites, as something he owed to romance;
at least he ought to do it for their sake, for now they should all be
upon pins and needles till they knew who she was, and what she _could_
be doing at Lower Merritt, N. H.

At one time he had it on his tongue to say that there seemed to be
something like infection in his interest in that piano, and he was going
to speak of the young girl who seemed to share it, simply because she
saw him staring at it, and who faltered so long with him before the
freight-depot that she came near getting no seat in the train for
Burymouth. But just at that moment the dispute about the Ashwoods
renewed itself upon some fresh evidence which one of the ladies
recollected and offered; and Gaites's chance passed. When it came again
he had no longer the wish to seize it. A lingering soreness from his
experience with that young girl made itself felt in his nether
consciousness. He forbore the more easily because, mixed with this pain,
was a certain insecurity as to her quality which he was afraid might
impart itself to those patrician presences at the table. They would be
nice, and they would be appreciative,--but would they feel that she was
a lady, exactly, when he owned to the somewhat poverty-stricken
simplicity of her dress in some details, more especially her thread
gloves, which he could not consistently make kid? He was all the more
bound to keep her from slight because he felt a little, a very little
ashamed of her.

He woke next morning in a wide, low, square chamber to the singing of
robins in the garden, from which at breakfast he had luscious
strawberries, and heaped bowls of June roses. When he started for his
train, he parted with Mrs. Birkwall as old friends as he was with her
husband; and he completed her conquest by running back to her from the
gate, and asking, with a great air of secrecy, but loud enough for
Birkwall to hear, whether she thought she could find him another girl in
Burymouth, with just such a house and garden, and exactly like herself
in every way.

"Hundreds!" she shouted, and stood a graceful figure between the fluted
pillars of the portal, waving her hand to them till they were out of
sight behind the corner of the high board fence, over which the garden
trees hung caressingly, and brushed Gaites's shoulder in a shy, fond
farewell.

It had all been as nice as it could be, and he said so again and again
to Birkwall, who _would_ go to the train with him, and who would _not_
let him carry his own hand-bag. The good fellow clung hospitably to it,
after Gaites had rechecked his trunk for Kent Harbor, and insisted upon
carrying it as they walked up and down the platform together at the
station. It seemed that the train from Boston which the Kent Harbor
train was to connect with was ten minutes late, and after some turns
they prolonged their promenade northward as far as the freight-depot,
Birkwall in the abstraction of a plot for a novel which he was seizing
these last moments to outline to his friend, and Gaites with a secret
shame for the hope which was springing in his breast.

On a side track stood a freight-car, from which the customary men in
silk caps were pulling the freight, and standing it about loosely on the
platform. The car was detached from the parent train, which had left it
not only orphaned on this siding, but apparently disabled; for Gaites
heard the men talking about not having cut it out a minute too soon. One
of them called, in at the broad low door, to some one inside, "All out?"
and a voice from far within responded, "Case here, yet; _I_ can't handle
it alone."

The others went into the car, and then, with an interval for some heavy
bumping and some strong language, they reappeared at the door with the
case, which Gaites was by this time not surprised to find inscribed with
the name and address of Miss Phyllis Desmond. He remained watching it,
while the men got it on the platform, so wholly inattentive to
Birkwall's plot that the most besotted young author could not have
failed to feel his want of interest. Birkwall then turned his vision
outward upon the object which engrossed his friend, and started with an
"Oh, hello!" and slapped him on the back.

Gaites nodded in proud assent, and Birkwall went on: "I thought you were
faking the name last night; but I didn't want to give you away. It was
the real thing, wasn't it, after all."

"The real thing," said Gaites, with his most toothful smile, and he
laughed for pleasure in his friend's astonishment.

"Well," Birkwall resumed, "she seems to be following _you_ up, old
fellow. This will be great for Polly, and for Miss Seaward, who wanted
you to follow _her_ up; and for all Burymouth, for that matter. Why,
Gaites, you'll be the tea-table talk for a week; you'll be married to
that girl before you know it. What is the use of flying in the face of
Providence? Come! There's time enough to get a ticket, and have your
check changed from Kent Harbor to Lower Merritt, and the Hill Country
express will be along here at nine o'clock. You can't let that poor
thing start off on her travels alone again!"

Gaites flushed in a joyful confusion, and put the joke by as well as he
could. But he was beginning to feel it not altogether a joke; it had
acquired an element of mystery, of fatality, which flattered while it
awed him; and he could not be easy till he had asked one of the
freight-handlers what had happened to the car. He got an answer--flung
over the man's shoulder--which seemed willing enough, but was wholly
unintelligible in the clang and clatter of a passenger-train which came
pulling in from the southward.

"Here's the Hill Country express now!" said Birkwall. "You won't change
your mind? Well, your Kent Harbor train backs down after this goes out.
Don't worry about the piano. I'll find out what's happened to the car it
was in, and I'll see that it's put into a good strong one, next time."

"Do! That's a good fellow!" said Gaites, and in repeated promises,
demanded and given, to come again, they passed the time till the Hill
Country train pulled out and the Kent Harbor train backed down.


III.

Gaites was going to stay a week with a friend out on the Point; and
after the first day he was so engrossed with the goings-on at Kent
Harbor that he pretty well forgot about Burymouth, and the piano of Miss
Phyllis Desmond lingered in his mind like the memory of a love one has
outlived. He went to the golf links every morning in a red coat, and in
plaid stockings which, if they did not show legs of all the desired
fulness, attested a length of limb which was perhaps all the more
remarkable for that reason. Then he came back to the beach and bathed;
at half past one o'clock he dined at somebody's cottage, and afterwards
sat smoking seaward in its glazed or canopied veranda till it was time
to go to afternoon tea at somebody else's cottage, where he chatted
about until he was carried off by his hostess to put on a black coat for
seven or eight o'clock supper at the cottage of yet another lady.

There was a great deal more society than there had been in his old
college-vacation days, when the Kent Harbor House reigned sole in a
perhaps somewhat fabled despotism; but the society was of not less
simple instincts, and the black coat which Gaites put on for supper was
never of the evening-dress convention. Once when he had been out
canoeing on the river very late, his hostess made him go "just as he
was," and he was consoled on meeting their bachelor host to find that he
had had the inspiration to wear a flannel shirt of much more outing type
than Gaites himself had on.

The thing that he had to guard against was not to praise the river
sunsets too much at any cottage on the Point; and in cottages on the
river, not to say a great deal of the surf on the rocks. But it was easy
to respect the amiable local susceptibilities, and Gaites got on so well
that he told people he was never going away.

He had arrived at this extreme before he received the note from Mrs.
Birkwall, which she made his prompt bread-and-butter letter the excuse
of writing him. She wrote mainly to remind him of his promise to stay
another day with her husband on his way home through Burymouth; and she
alleged an additional claim upon him because of what she said she had
made Birkwall do for him. She had made him go down to the freight-depot
every day, and see what had become of Phyllis Desmond's piano; and she
had not dared write before, because it had been most unaccountably
delayed there for the three days that had now passed. Only that morning,
however, she had gone down herself with Birkwall; and it showed what a
woman could do when she took anything in hand. Without knowing of her
approach except by telepathy, the railroad people had bestirred
themselves, and she had seen them with her own eyes put the piano-case
into a car, and had waited till the train had bumped and jolted off with
it towards Mewers Junction. All the ladies of her supper party, she
declared, had been keenly distressed at the delay of the piano in
Burymouth, and she was now offering him the relief which she had shared
already with them.

He laughed aloud in reading this letter at breakfast, and he could not
do less than read it to his hostess, who said it was charming, and at
once took a vivid interest in the affair of the piano. She accepted in
its entirety his theory of its being a birthday-present for the young
girl with that pretty name; and she professed to be in a quiver of
anxiety at its retarded progress.

"And, by-the-way," she added, with the logic of her sex, "I'm just going
to the station to see what's become of a trunk myself that I ordered
expressed from Chicago a week ago. If you're not doing anything this
morning--the tide isn't in till noon, and there'll be little or no
bathing to look at before that--you'd better drive down with me. Or
perhaps you're canoeing up the river with somebody?"

Gaites said he was not, and if he were he would plead a providential
indisposition rather than miss driving with her to the station.

"Well, anyway," she said, tangentially, "I can get June Alber to go too,
and you can take her canoeing afterwards."

But Miss Alber was already engaged for canoeing, and Gaites was obliged
to drive off with his hostess alone. She said she did pity him, but she
pitied him no longer than it took to get at the express agent. Then she
began to pity herself, and much more energetically if not more
sincerely, for it seemed that the agent had not been able to learn
anything about her trunk, and was unwilling even to prophesy concerning
it. Gaites left him to question at her hands, which struck him as
combining all the searching effects of a Röntgen-ray examination and the
earlier procedure with the rack; and he wandered off, in a habit which
he seemed to have formed, toward the freight-house.

He amused himself thinking what he should do if he found Phyllis
Desmond's piano there, but he was wholly unprepared to do anything when
he actually found it standing on the platform, as if it had just been
put out of the freight-car which was still on the siding at the door. He
passed instantly from the mood of gay conjecture in which he was playing
with the improbable notion of its presence to a violent indignation.

"Why, look here!" he almost shouted to a man in a silk cap and greased
overalls who was contemplating the inscription on the slope of its
cover, "what's that piano doing _here_?"

The man seemed to accept him as one having authority to make this
demand, and responded mildly, "Well, that's just what I was thinking
myself."

"That piano," Gaites went on with unabated violence, "started from
Boston at the beginning of the week; and I happen to know that it's been
lying two or three days at Burymouth, instead of going on to Lower
Merritt, as it ought to have done at once. It ought to have been in
Lower Merritt Wednesday afternoon at the latest, and here it is at Kent
Harbor Saturday morning!"

The man in the silk cap scanned Gaites's figure warily, as if it might
be that of some official whale in disguise, and answered in a tone of
dreamy suggestion: "Must have got shifted into the wrong car at Mewers
Junction, somehow. Or maybe they started it wrong from Burymouth."

Mrs. Maze was coming rapidly down the platform toward them, leaving the
express agent to crawl flaccidly into his den at the end of the
passenger-station, with the air of having had all his joints started.

"Just look at this, Mrs. Maze," said Gaites when she drew near enough to
read the address on the piano-case. She did look at it; then she looked
at Gaites's face, into which he had thrown a sort of stony calm; and
then she looked back at the piano-case.

"No!" she exclaimed and questioned in one.

Gaites nodded confirmation.

"Then it won't be there in time for the poor thing's birthday?"

He nodded again.

Mrs. Maze was a woman who never measured her terms, perhaps because
there was nothing large enough to measure them with, and perhaps because
in their utmost expansion they were a tight fit for her emotions.

"Well, it's an abominable outrage!" she began. She added: "It's a
burning shame! They'll never get over it in the world; and when it comes
lagging along after everything's over, she won't care a pin for it! How
did it happen?"

Gaites mutely referred her, with a shrug, to the man in the silk cap,
and he again hazarded his dreamy conjecture.

"Well, it doesn't matter!" she said, with a bitterness that was a great
comfort to Gaites. "What are you going to do about it?" she asked him.

"I don't know what _can_ be done about it," he answered, referring
himself to the man in the silk cap.

The man said, "No freight out, now, till Monday."

Mrs. Maze burst forth again: "If I had the least confidence in the world
in any human express company, I would send it by express and pay the
expressage myself."

"Oh, I couldn't let you do that, Mrs. Maze," Gaites protested. "Besides,
I don't suppose they'd allow us to take it out of the freight, here,
unless we had the bill of lading."

"Well," cried Mrs. Maze, passionately, "I can't bear to think of that
child's suspense. It's perfectly heart-sickening. Why shouldn't they
telegraph? They ought to telegraph! If they let things go wandering
round the earth at this rate, the least they can do is to telegraph and
relieve people's minds. We'll go and make the station-master telegraph!"

But even when the station-master was found, and made to understand the
case, and to feel its hardship, he had his scruples. "I don't think I've
got any right to do that," he said.

"Of coarse I'll pay for the telegram," Mrs. Maze interpolated.

"It ain't that exactly," said the station-master. "It might look as if I
was meddling myself. I rather not, Mrs. Maze."

She took fire. "Then _I'll_ meddle myself!" she blazed. "There's nothing
to hinder my telegraphing, I suppose!"

"_I_ can't hinder you," the station-master admitted.

"Well, then!" She pulled a bunch of yellow telegraph blanks toward her,
and consumed three of them in her comprehensive despatch:

     _Miss Phyllis Desmond,

     Lower Merritt, N. H.

     Piano left Boston Monday P. M. Broke down on way to Burymouth,
     where delayed four days. Sent by mistake to Kent Harbor from Mewers
     Junction. Forwarded to Lower Merritt Monday._

"There! How will that do?" she asked Gaites, submitting the telegram to
him.

"That seems to cover the ground," he said, not so wholly hiding the
misgiving he began to feel but that she demanded,

"It explains everything, doesn't it?"

"Yes--"

"Very well; sign it, then!"

"I?"

"Certainly. She doesn't know me."

"She doesn't know me, either," said Gaites. He added: "And a man's
name--"

"To be sure! Why didn't I think of that?" and she affixed a signature in
which the baptismal name gave away her romantic and impulsive
generation--Elaine W. Maze. "_Now_," she triumphed, as Gaites
helped her into her trap--"_now_ I shall have a little peace of my
life!"


IV.

Mrs. Maze had no great trouble in making Gaites stay over Sunday. The
argument she used was, "No freight out till Monday, you know." The
inducement was June Alber, whom she said she had already engaged to go
canoeing with Gaites Sunday afternoon.

That afternoon was exquisite. The sky was cloudless, and of one blue
with the river and the girl's eyes, as Gaites noted while she sat facing
him from the bow of the canoe. But the day was of the treacherous
serenity of a weather-breeder, and the next morning brought a storm of
such violence that Mrs. Maze declared it would be a foolhardy risk of
his life for Gaites to go; and again she enforced her logic with Miss
Alber, whom she said she had asked to one-o'clock dinner, with a few
other friends.

Gaites stayed, of course, but he atoned for his weakness by starting
early Tuesday morning, so as to get the first Hill Country train from
Boston at Burymouth. He had decided that to get in as much change of air
as possible he had better go to Craybrooks for the rest of his vacation.

His course lay through Lower Merritt, and perhaps he would have time to
run out from the train and ask the station-master (known to him from his
former sojourn) who Miss Phyllis Desmond was. His mind was not so full
of Miss June Alber but that he wished to know.

It was still raining heavily, and on the first cut beyond Porchester
Junction his train was stopped by a flagman, sent back from a
freight-train. There was a wash-out just ahead, and the way would be
blocked for several hours yet, if not longer. The express backed down to
Porchester, and there seemed no choice for Gaites, if he insisted upon
going to Craybrooks, but to take the first train up the old Boston and
Montreal line to Wells River and across by the Wing Road through
Fabyans; and this was what he did, arriving very late, but quite in time
for all he had to do at Craybrooks.

The next day the weather cleared up cold, after the storm, and the fat
old ladies, who outnumber everybody but the thin young girls at summer
hotels, made the landlord put the steam on in the corridors, and toasted
themselves before the log fires on the spectacular hall hearth. Gaites
walked all day, and at night he lounged by the lamp, trying to read, and
wished himself at Kent Harbor. The blue eyes of June Alber made
themselves one with the sky and the river again, and all three laughed
at him for his folly in leaving the certain delight they embodied for
the vague good of a whim fulfilled. Was this the change he had come to
the mountains for? He could throw his hat into the clouds that hung so
low in the defile where the hotel lurked, and that was something; but it
was not so much to the purpose, now that he had it, as June Alber and
the sky and the river, which he had no longer. As he drowsed by the fire
in a break of the semicircle of old ladies before it, he suddenly ceased
to think of June Alber and the Kent sky and river, and found himself as
it were visually confronted with that pale, delicate girl in thread
gloves; she was facing him from the bow of a canoe in the train at
Boston, where he had first met her, and some one was saying, "Oh, she's
a Desmond, through and through."

He woke to the sound of a quick snort, in which he suspected a terminal
character when he glanced round the semicircle of old ladies and found
them all staring at him. From the pain in his neck he knew that his head
had been hanging forward on his breast, and, in the strong belief that
he had been publicly disgracing himself, he left the place, and went out
on the piazza till his shame should be forgotten. Of course, the sound
of the name Desmond had been as much a part of his dream as the sight of
that pale girl's face; but he felt, while he paced the veranda, the pull
of a strong curiosity to make sure of the fact. From time to time he
looked in through the window, without courage to return. At last, when
the semicircle was reduced to the bulks of the two ladies who had sat
nearest him, he went in, and took a place with a newspaper at the lamp
just behind them.

They stopped their talk and recognized him with an exchange of
consciousness. Then, as if compelled by an irresistible importance in
their topic, they began again; that is, one of them began to talk again,
and the other to listen, and Gaites from almost the first word joined
the listener with all his might, though he diligently held up his paper
between himself and the speaker and pretended to be reading.

"Yes," she said, "they must have had their summer home there nearly
twenty years. Lower Merritt was one of the first places opened up in
that part of the mountains, and I guess the Desmonds built the first
cottage there."

The date given would make the young lady whom he remembered from her
childhood romps on her father's lawn somewhat older than he imagined,
but not too old for the purposes of his romance.

The speaker began to collect her needlework into the handkerchief on her
lap as she went on, and he listened with an intensified abandon.

"I guess," she continued, "that they pass most of the year there. After
he lost his money, he had to give up his house in town, and I believe
they have no other home now. They did use to travel some, winters, but I
guess they don't much any more; if they don't stay there the whole
winter through, I don't believe they get much farther now than Portland,
or Burymouth, at the furthest. It seems to me as if I heard that one of
the girls was going to Boston last winter to take piano lessons at the
Conservatory, so as to teach; but--"

She stopped with a definite air, and rolled her knitting up into her
handkerchief. Gaites made a merit to himself of rising abruptly and
closing his paper with a clash, as if he had been trying to read and had
not been able for the talking near him. The ladies looked round
conscience-stricken; when they saw who it was, they looked indignant.


V.

In the necessity, which we all feel, of making practical excuses to
ourselves for a foolish action, he pretended that he had been at
Craybrooks long enough, and that now, since he had derived all the
benefit to be got from the west-side air, it was best to begin his
homestretch on the other slope of the hills. His real reason was that he
wished to stop at Lower Merritt and experience whatever fortuities might
happen to him from doing so. He wished, in other words, to see Phyllis
Desmond, or, failing this, to find out whether her piano had reached
her.

It had now a pathos for him which had been wanting earlier in his
romance. It was no longer a gay surprise for a young girl's birthday; it
was the sober means of living to a woman who must work for her living.
But he found it not the less charming for that; he had even a more
romantic interest in it, mingled with the sense of patronage, of
protection, which is so agreeable to a successful man.

He began to long for some new occasion of promoting the arrival of the
piano in Lower Merritt, and he was so far from regretting his former
interventions that at the first junction where his train stopped he
employed the time in exploring the freight-house in the vain hope of
finding it there, and urging the road to greater speed in its delivery
to Miss Desmond. He was now not at all ashamed of the stand he had taken
in the matter at former opportunities, and he was not abashed when a man
in a silk cap demanded, across the twilight of the freight-house, in
accents of the semi-sarcasm appropriate in addressing a person
apparently not minding his own business, "Lost something?"

"Yes, I have," answered Gaites with just effrontery. "I've lost an
upright piano. I started with it from Boston ten days or a fortnight
ago, and I've found it everywhere I've stopped, and sometimes where I
didn't stop. How long, in the course of nature, ought an upright piano
to take in getting to this point from Boston, anyway?"

The man obviously tasted the sarcasm in Gaites's tone, and dropped it
from his own, but he was sulkier if more respectful than before in
answering: "'D ought a come right through in a couple of days. 'D ought
a been here a week ago."

"Why isn't it here now, then?"

"Might 'a' got off on some branch road, by mistake, and waited there
till it was looked up. You see," the man continued, resting an elbow on
the tall casing of a chest of drawers, and dropping to a more
confidential level in his manner, "an upright piano ain't like a
passenger. It don't kick if it's shunted off on the wrong line. As a
gene'l rule, freight don't complain of the route it travels by, and it
ain't in a hurry to arrive."

"Oh!" said Gaites, with a sympathetic sneer.

"But it ain't likely," said the man, who now pushed his hat far back on
his head, in the interest of self-possession, "that it's gone wrong.
With all these wash-outs and devilments, the last fo't-night, it might
a' been travellin' straight and not got the'a, yet. What d'you say was
the address?"

"Lower Merritt," said Gaites, beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.

"Name?" persisted the man.

"Miss Phyllis Desmond," Gaites answered, now feeling really silly, but
unable to get away without answering.

"That ain't your name?" the man suggested, with reviving sarcasm.

"No, it isn't!" Gaites retorted, angrily, aware that he was giving
himself away in fine shape.

"Oh, I see," the man mocked. "Friend o' the family. Well, I guess you'll
find your piano at Lower Merritt, all right, in two-three weeks." He was
now openly offensive, as with a sense of having Gaites in his power.

A locomotive-bell rang, and Gaites started toward the doorway. "Is that
my train?"

The man openly laughed. "Guess it is, if you're goin' to Lower Merritt."
As Gaites shot through the doorway toward his train, he added, in an
insolent drawl, "Miss--Des--mond!"

Gaites was so furious when he got back to the smoking-room of the
parlor-car that he was sorry for several miles that he had not turned
back and kicked the man, even if it lost him his train. But this was
only while he was under the impression that he was furious with the man.
When he discovered that he was furious with himself, for having been all
imaginable kinds of an ass, he perceived that he had done the wisest
thing he could in leaving the man to himself, and taking up the line of
his journey again. What remained mortifying was that he had bought his
ticket and checked his bag to Lower Merritt, which he wished never to
hear of again, much less see.

He rang for the porter and consulted him as to what could be done toward
changing the check on his bag from Lower Merritt to Middlemount
Junction; and as it appeared that this was quite feasible, since his
ticket would have carried him two stations beyond the Junction, he had
done it. He knew the hotel at Middlemount, and he decided to pass the
night there, and the next day to go back to Kent Harbor and June Alber,
and let Lower Merritt and Phyllis Desmond take care of themselves from
that time forward.

While the driver of the Middlemount House barge was helping the
station-master-and-baggage-man (they were one) put the arriving
passengers' trunks into the wagon for the Middlemount House, Gaites
paced up and down the long platform in the remnant of his excitement,
and vowed himself to have nothing more to do with Miss Desmond's piano,
even if it should turn up then and there and personally appeal to him
for help. In this humor he was not prepared to have anything of the kind
happen, and he stood aghast, in looking absently into a freight-car
standing on the track, to read, "Miss Phyllis Desmond, Lower Merritt, N.
H.," on the slope of the now familiar case just within the open doorway.
It was as if the poor girl were personally there pleading for his help
with the eyes whose tenderness he remembered.

The united station-master-and-baggage-man, who appeared also to be the
freight agent, came lounging down the platform toward him. He was so
exactly of the rustic railroad type that he confused Gaites with a doubt
as to which functionary, of the many he now knew, this was.

"Go'n' to walk over to the hotel?" he asked.

"Yes," Gaites faltered, and the man abruptly turned, and made the
gesture for starting a locomotive to the driver of the Middlemount
stage.

"All right, Jim!" he shouted, and the stage drove off.

"What time can I get a train for Lower Merritt this afternoon?" asked
Gaites.

"Four o'clock," said the man. "This freight goes out first;" and now
Gaites noticed that up on a siding beyond the station an engine with a
train of freight-cars was fretfully fizzing. The engineer put a
silk-capped head out of the cab window and looked back at the
station-master, who began to work his arms like a semaphore telegraph.
Then the locomotive tooted, the bell rang, and the freight-train ran
forward on the switch to the main track, and commenced backing down to
where they stood. Evidently it was going to pick up the car with Phyllis
Desmond's piano in it.

"When does this freight go out?" Gaites palpitated.

"'Bout ten minutes," said the station-master.

"Does it stop at Lower Merritt?"

"Leaves this cah the'a," said the man, as if surprised into the
admission.

"Can I go on her?" Gaites pursued, breathlessly.

"Well, I guess you'll have to talk to this man about that," and the
station-master indicated, with a nod of his head, the freight conductor,
who was swinging himself down from the caboose, now come abreast of them
on the track. A brakeman had also jumped down, and the train fastened on
to the waiting car, under his manipulation, with a final cluck and jolt.

The conductor and station-master exchanged large oblong Manila-paper
envelopes, and the station-master said, casually, "Here's a man wants to
go to Lower Merritt with you, Bill."

The conductor looked amused and interested. "Eva travel in a caboose?"

"No."

"Well, I guess you can stand it fo' five miles, anyway."

He turned and left Gaites, who understood this for permission, and
clambered into the car, where he found himself in a rude but far from
comfortless interior. There was a sort of table or desk in the middle,
with a heavy chair or two before it; round the side of the car were some
leather-covered benches, suitable for the hard naps which seemed to be
taken on them, if he could guess from the man in overalls asleep on one.

The conductor came in, after the train started, and seemed disposed to
be sociable. He had apparently gathered from the station-master so much
of Gaites's personal history as had accumulated since he left the
express train at Middlemount.

"Thought you'd try a caboose for a little change from a pahla-cah," he
suggested, humorously.

"Well, yes," Gaites partially admitted. "I did intend to stay over at
Middlemount when I left the express there, but I changed my mind and
decided to go on. It's very good of you to let me come with you."

"'Tain't but a little way to Lowa Merritt," the conductor explained,
defensively. "Eva been the'a?"

"Oh, yes; I passed a week or so there once, after I left college. Are
you acquainted there?"

"I'm _from_ the'a. Used to wo'k fo' the Desmonds--got that summa place
up the side of the mountain--before I took to the ro-ad."

"Oh, yes! Have they still got it?"

"Yes. Or it's got _them_. Be glad to sell it, I guess, since the old man
lost his money. But Lowa Merritt's kind o' gone down as a summa roso't.
Tryin' ha'd to bring it up, though. Know the Desmonds?"

"No, not personally."

"Nice fo-aks," said the conductor, providing himself for conversational
purposes with a splinter from the floor. He put it between his teeth and
continued: "I took ca' thei' hosses, one while, as long's they _had_
any, before I went on the ro-ad. Old gentleman kep' up a show till he
died; then the fam'ly found out that they hadn't much of anything but
the place left. Girls had to do something, and one of 'em got a place in
a school out West--smaht, _all_ of 'em; the second one kind o' runs the
fahm; and the youngest, here, 's been fittin' for a music-teacha. Why,
I've got a piano for her in this cah that we picked up at Middlemount,
_now_. Been two wintas at the Conservatory in Boston. Got talent enough,
they tell _me_. Undastand 't she means to go to Pohtland in the fall and
try to get pupils, _the'a_."

"Not if _I_ can help it!" thought Gaites, with a swelling heart; and
then he blushed for his folly.


VI.

Gaites found some notable changes in the hotel at Lower Merritt since he
had last sojourned there. It no longer called itself a Hotel, but an
Inn, and it had a brand-new old-fashioned swinging sign before its door;
its front had been cut up into several gables, and shingled to the
ground with shingles artificially antiquated, so that it looked much
grayer than it naturally ought. Within it was equipped for electric
lighting; and there was a low-browed æsthetic parlor, where, when Gaites
arrived and passed to a belated dinner in the dining-room, an orchestra,
consisting of a lady pianist and a lady violinist, was giving the
closing piece of the afternoon concert. The dining-room was painted a
self-righteous olive-green; it was thoroughly netted against the flies,
which used to roost in myriads on the cut-paper around the tops of the
pillars, and a college-student head waiter ushered Gaites through the
gloom to his place with a warning and hushing hand which made him feel
as if he were being shown to a pew during prayers.

He escaped as soon as possible from the refection which, from the soup
to the ice-cream, had hardly grown lukewarm, and went out to walk by a
way that he knew well, and which had for him now a romantically pathetic
interest. It was, of course, the way past the Desmond cottage, which,
when he came in sight of it round the shoulder of upland where it stood,
was curiously strange, curiously familiar. It needed painting badly, and
the grounds had a sadly neglected air. The naked legs of little girls no
longer twinkled over the lawn, which was grown neglectedly up to
low-bush blackberries.

Gaites hurried past with a lump in his throat, and returned by another
road to the Inn, where his long ramble ended just as the dining-room
doors were opened behind their nettings for supper. At this cheerfuler
moment he found the head waiter much more conversible than at the hour
of his retarded dinner, and Gaites made talk with him, as the young
follow lingered beside his chair, with one eye on the door for the
behoof of other guests.

Gaites said he had found great changes in Lower Merritt since he had
been there some years before, and he artfully led the talk up to the
Desmonds. The head waiter was rather vague about their past; but he was
distinct enough about their present, and said the young ladies happened
all to be at home. "I don't know," he added, "whether you noticed our
lady orchestra when you came in to dinner to-day?"

"Yes, I did," said Gaites. "I was very much interested. I thought they
played charmingly, and I was sorry that I got in only for the close of
the last piece."

"Well," the head waiter consoled him, "you'll have a chance to hear them
again to-night; they're going to play for the hop. I don't know," he
added again, "whether you noticed the lady at the piano."

"I noticed that she had a pretty head, which she carried gracefully, but
it was against the window, and I couldn't make out the face."

"That," said the head waiter, with pride either in the fact or for the
effect it must produce, "was Miss Phyllis Desmond."

Gaites started as satisfactorily as could be wished. "Indeed?"

"Yes; she's engaged to play here the whole summer." The head waiter
fumbled with the knife and fork at the place opposite, and blushed. "But
you'll hear her to-night yourself," he ended incoherently, and hurried
away, to show another guest to his, or rather her, place.

Gaites wondered why he felt suddenly angry; why he resented the head
waiter's blush as an impertinence and a liberty. After all, the fellow
was a student and probably a gentleman; and if he chose to help himself
through college by taking that menial rôle during the summer, rather
than come upon the charity of his friends or the hard-earned savings of
a poor old father, what had any one to say against it? Gaites had
nothing to say against it; and yet that blush, that embarrassment of a
man who had pulled out his chair for him, in relation to such a girl as
Miss Phyllis Desmond, incensed him so much that he could not enjoy his
supper. He did not bow to the head waiter when he held the netting-door
open for him to go out, and he felt the necessity of taking the evening
air in another stroll to cool himself off.

Of course, if the poor girl was reduced to playing in the hotel
orchestra for the money it would give her, she had come down to the
level of the head waiter, and they must meet as equals. But the thought
was no less intolerable for that, and Gaites set out with the notion of
walking away from it. At the station, however, which was in friendly
proximity to the Inn, his steps were stayed by the sound of girlish
voices, rising like sweetly varied pipes from beyond the freight-depot.
Their youth invited his own to look them up, and he followed round to
the back of the depot, where he came upon a sight which had, perhaps
from the waning light, a heightened charm. Against the curtain of low
pines which had been gradually creeping back upon the depot ever since
the woods were cut away to make room for it, four girls were posed in
attitudes instinctively dramatic and vividly eager, while as many men
were employed in getting what Gaites at once saw to be Miss Phyllis
Desmond's piano into the wagon backed up to the platform of the depot.
Their work was nearly accomplished, but at every moment of what still
remained to be done the girls emitted little shrieks, laughs, and moans
of intense interest, and fluttered in their light summer dresses against
the background of the dark evergreens like anxious birds.

At last the piano was got into the middle of the wagon, the inclined
planks withdrawn and loaded into it, and the tail-board snapped to.
Three of the men stepped aside, and one of them jumped into the front of
the wagon and gathered up the reins from the horses' backs. He called
with mocking challenge to the group of girls, "Nobody goin' to git up
here and keep this piano from tippin' out?"

A wild clamor rose from the girls, settling at last into staccato cries.

"You've got to _do_ it, Phyl!"

"Yes, Phyllis, you _must_ get in!"

"It's _your_ piano, Phyl. You've got to keep it from tipping out!"

"No, no! I won't! I can't! I'm not going to!" one voice answered to all,
but apparently without a single reference to the event; for in the end
the speaker gave her hand to the man in the wagon, and with many small
laughs and squeaks was pulled up over the hub and tire of a front wheel,
and then stood staying herself against the piano-case, with a final
lamentation of "Oh, it's a shame! I'll never speak to any of you again!
How perfectly mean! _Oh!_" The last exclamation signalized the start of
the horses at a brisk mountain trot, which the driver presently sobered
to a walk. The three remaining girls followed, mocking and cheering, and
after them lounged the three remaining men, at a respectful distance,
marking the social interval between them, which was to be bridged only
in some such moment of supreme excitement as the present.

It was no question with Gaites whether he should bring up the end of the
procession; he could not think of any consideration that would have
stayed him. He scarcely troubled himself to keep at a fit remove from
the rest; and as he followed in the deepening twilight he felt a sweet,
unselfish gladness of heart that the poor girl whom he had seen so wan
and sad in Boston should be the gay soul of this pretty triumph.

The wagon drove into the grounds of the Desmond cottage, and backed up
to the edge of the veranda. Lights appeared, and voices came from
within. One of the men, despatched to the barn for a hatchet, came
flickering back with a lantern also; lamps brought out of the house were
extinguished by the evening breeze (in spite of luminous hands held near
the chimney to shelter them), amidst the joyful applause of all the
girls and the laughter of the men. A sound of hammering rose, and then a
sound of boards rending from the clutch of nails, and then a sound of
pieces thrown loosely into a pile. There was a continual flutter of
women's dresses and emotions, and this did not end even when the piano,
disclosed from its casing and all its wraps, was pushed indoors, and
placed against the parlor wall, where a flash of lamp-light revealed it
to Gaites in final position.

He lingered still, in the shelter of some barberry-bushes at the cottage
gate, and not till the last cry of gratitude had been answered by the
unanimous disclaimer of the men rattling away in the wagon did he feel
that his pursuit of the piano had ended.


VII.

"Can you tell me, madam," asked Gaites of an obviously approachable
tabby next the chimney-corner, "which of the musicians is Miss Desmond?"

He had hurried back to the Inn, and got himself early into a dress suit
that proved wholly inessential, and was down among the first at the hop.
This function, it seemed, was going on in the parlor, which summed in
itself the character of ball-room as well as drawing-room. The hop had
now begun, and two young girl couples were doing what they could to
rebuke the sparse youth of Lower Merritt Inn for their lack of eagerness
in the evening's pleasure by dancing alone. Gaites did not even notice
them, he was so intent upon the ladies of the orchestra, concerning whom
he was beginning to have a troubled mind, not to say a dark misgiving.

"Oh," the approachable tabby answered, "it's the one at the piano. The
violinist is Miss Axewright, of South Newton. They were at the
Conservatory together in Boston, and they are such friends! Miss Desmond
would never have played here--intends to take pupils in Portland in the
winter--if Miss Axewright hadn't come," and the pleasant old tabby
purred on, with a velvety pat here, and a delicate scratch there. But
Gaites heard with one ear only; the other was more devotedly given to
the orchestra, which also claimed both his eyes. While he learned, as
with the mind of some one else, that the Desmonds had been very much
opposed to Phyllis's playing at the Inn, but had consented partly with
their poverty, because they needed everything they could rake and scrape
together, and partly with their will, because Miss Axewright was such a
nice girl, he was painfully adjusting his consciousness to the fact that
the girl at the piano was not the girl whom he had seen at Boston and
whom he had so rashly and romantically decided to be Miss Phyllis
Desmond. The pianist was indeed Miss Desmond, but to no purpose, if the
violinist was some one else; it availed as little that the violinist was
the illusion that had lured him to Lower Merritt in pursuit of Miss
Desmond's piano, if she were really Miss Axewright of South Newton.

What remained for him to do was to arrange for his departure by the
first train in the morning; and he was subjectively accounting to the
landlord for his abrupt change of mind after he had engaged his room for
a week, while he was intent with all his upper faculties upon the
graceful poses and movements of Miss Axewright. There was something so
appealing in the pressure of her soft chin as it held the violin in
place against her round, girlish throat that Gaites felt a lump in his
own larger than his Adam's-apple would account for to the spectator; the
delicately arched wrist of the hand that held the bow, and the
rhythmical curve and flow of her arm in playing, were means of the spell
which wove itself about him, and left him, as it were, bound hand and
foot. It was in this helpless condition that he rose at the urgence of a
friendly young fellow who had chosen himself master of ceremonies, and
took part in the dancing; and at the end of the first half of the
programme, while the other dancers streamed out on the verandas and
thronged the stairways, he was aware of dangling his chains as he
lounged toward the ladies of the orchestra. The volunteer master of
ceremonies had half shut himself across the piano in his eager talk with
Miss Desmond, and he readily relinquished Miss Axewright to Gaites, who
willingly devoted himself to her, after Miss Desmond had risen in
acknowledgment of his bow. He had then perceived that she was not nearly
so tall as she had seemed when seated; and a woman who sat tall and
stood low was as much his aversion as if his own abnormally long legs
did not render him guilty of the opposite offence.

Miss Desmond must have had other qualities and characteristics, but in
his absorption with Miss Axewright's he did not notice them. He saw
again the pretty, pathetic face, the gentle brown eyes, the ordinary
brown hair, the sentient hands, the slight, graceful figure, the whole
undistinguished, unpretentious presence, which had taken his fancy at
Boston, and which he now perceived had kept it, under whatever erring
impressions, ever since.

"I think we have met before, Miss Axewright," he said boldly, and he had
the pleasure of seeing her pensive little visage light up with a
responsive humor.

"I think we have," she replied; and Miss Desmond, whose habitual state
seemed to be intense inattention to whatever directly addressed itself
to her, cut in with the cry:

"You have met _before_!"

"Yes. Two weeks ago, in Boston," said Gaites. "Miss Axewright and I
stopped at the S. B. & H. C. freight-depot to see that your piano
started off all right."

He explained himself further, and, "Well, I don't see what you did to
it," Miss Desmond pouted. "It just got here this afternoon."

"Probably they 'throwed a spell' on it, as the country people say,"
suggested the master of ceremonies. "But all's well that end's well. The
great thing is to have your piano, Miss Phyllis. I'm coming up to-morrow
morning to see if it's got here in good condition."

"That's _some_ compensation," said the girl ironically; and she added,
with the kind of repellent lure with which women know how to leave men
the responsibility of any reciprocal approach, "I don't know whether it
won't need tuning first."

"Well, I'm a piano-tunist myself," the young fellow retorted, and their
banter took a course that left Miss Axewright and Gaites to themselves.
The dancers began to stray in again from the stairways and verandas.

"Dear me!" said Miss Desmond, "it's time already;" and as she dropped
upon the piano-stool she called to Miss Axewright with an authority of
tone which Gaites thought augured well for her success as a teacher,
"Millicent!"


VIII.

The next morning when Gaites came down to breakfast he had a question
which solved itself contrary to his preference as he entered the
dining-room. He was so early that the head waiter had to jump from his
own unfinished meal, and run to pull out his chair; and Gaites saw that
he left at his table the landlord's family, the clerk, the housekeeper,
and Miss Axewright. It appeared that she was not only staying in the
hotel, but was there on terms which indeed held her above the servants,
but separated her from the guests.

He hardly knew how to dissemble the feeling of humiliation mixed with
indignation which flashed up in him, and which, he was afterwards
afraid, must have made him seem rather curt in his response to the head
waiter's civilities. Miss Axewright left the dining-room first, and he
hurried out to look her up as soon as he had despatched the coffee and
steak which formed his breakfast, with a wholly unreasoned impulse to
offer her some sort of reparation for the slight the conditions put upon
her. He found her sitting on the veranda beside the friendly tabby of
his last night's acquaintance, and far, apparently, from feeling the
need of reparation through him. She was very nice, though, and after
chatting a little while she rose, and excused herself to the tabby, with
a politeness that included Gaites, upon the ground of a promise to Miss
Desmond that she would come up, the first thing after breakfast, and see
how the piano was getting along.

When she reappeared, in her hat, at the front of the Inn, Gaites
happened to be there, and he asked her if he might walk with her and
make his inquiries too about the piano, in which, he urged, they were
mutually interested. He had a notion to tell her all about his pursuit
of Miss Desmond's piano, as something that would peculiarly interest
Miss Desmond's friend; but though she admitted the force of his
reasoning as to their common concern in the fate of the piano, and had
allowed him to go with her to rejoice over its installation, some subtle
instinct kept him from the confidence he had intended, and they walked
on in talk (very agreeable talk, Gaites found it) which left the subject
of the piano altogether intact.

This was fortunate for Miss Desmond, who wished to talk of nothing else.
The piano had arrived in perfect condition. "But I don't know where the
poor thing _hasn't_ been, on the way," said the girl. "It left Boston
fully two weeks ago, and it seems to have been wandering round to the
ends of the earth ever since. The first of last week, I heard from it at
Kent Harbor, of all places! I got a long despatch from there, from some
unknown female, telling me it had broken down on the way to Burymouth,
and been sent by mistake to Kent Harbor from Mewers Junction. Have you
ever been at Kent Harbor, Mr. Gaites?"

"Oh, yes," said Gaites. This was the moment to come out with the history
of his relation to the piano; but he waited.

"And can you tell me whether they happen to have a female freight agent
there?"

"Not to my knowledge," said Gaites, with a mystical smile.

"Then _do_ you know anybody there by the name of Elaine W. Maze?"

"Mrs. Maze? Yes, I know Mrs. Maze. She has a cottage, there."

"And can you tell me _why_ Mrs. Maze should be telegraphing me about my
piano?"

There was a note of resentment in Miss Desmond's voice, and it silenced
the laughing explanation which Gaites had almost upon his tongue. He
fell very grave in answering, "I can't, indeed, Miss Desmond."

"Perhaps she found out that it had been a long time on the way, and did
it out of pure good-nature, to relieve your anxiety."

This was what Miss Axewright conjectured, but it seemed to confirm Miss
Desmond's worst suspicions.

"That is what I should like to be _sure_ of," she said.

Gaites thought of all his own anxieties and interferences in behalf of
the piano of this ungrateful girl, and in her presence he resolved that
his lips should be forever sealed concerning them. She never would take
them in the right way. But he experimented with one suggestion. "Perhaps
she was taken with the beautiful name on the piano-case, and couldn't
help telegraphing just for the pleasure of writing it."

"Beautiful?" cried Miss Desmond. "It was my grandmother's name; and I
wonder they didn't call me for my great-grandmother, Daphne, and be done
with it."

The young man who had chosen himself master of ceremonies at the hop the
night before now proposed from the social background where he had
hitherto kept himself, "_I_ will call you Daphne."

"_You_ will call me Miss Desmond, if you please, Mr. Ellett." The owner
of the name had been facing her visitors from the piano-stool with her
back to the instrument. She now wheeled upon the stool, and struck some
chords. "I wish you'd thought to bring your fiddle, Millicent. I should
like to try this piece." The piece lay on the music-rest before her.

"I will go and get it for her," said the ex-master of ceremonies.

"Do," said Miss Desmond.

"No, no," Gaites protested. "I brought Miss Axewright, and I have the
first claim to bring her fiddle."

"I'm afraid you couldn't either of you find it," Miss Axewright began.

"We'll both try," said the ex-master of ceremonies. "Where do you think
it is?"

"Well, it's in the case on the piano."

"That doesn't sound very intricate," said Gaites, and they all laughed.

As soon as the two men were out of the house, the ex-master of
ceremonies confided: "That name is a very tender spot with Miss Desmond.
She's always hated it since I knew her, and I can't remember when I
_didn't_ know her."

"Yes, I could see that--too late," said Gaites. "But what I can't
understand is, Miss Axewright seemed to hate it, too."

Mr. Ellett appeared greatly edified. "Did _you_ notice that?"

"I think I did."

"Well, now I'll tell you just what I think. There aren't any two girls
in the world that like each other better than those two. But that shows
just how it is. Girls are terribly jealous, the best of them. There
isn't a girl living that really likes to have another girl praised by a
man, or anything about her, I don't care who the man is. It's a fact,
whether you believe it or not, or whether you respect it. I don't
respect it myself. It's narrow-minded. I don't deny it: they _are_
narrow-minded. All the same, we can't _help_ ourselves. At least, _I_
can't."

Mr. Ellett broke into a laugh of exhaustive intelligence and clapped
Gaites on the back.


IX.

Gaites, if he did not wholly accept Ellett's philosophy of the female
nature, acted in the light it cast upon the present situation. From that
time till the end of his stay at Lower Merritt, which proved to be
coeval with the close of the Inn for the season, and with the retirement
of the orchestra from duty, he said nothing more of Miss Phyllis
Desmond's beautiful name. He went further, and altogether silenced
himself concerning his pursuit of her piano; he even sought occasions of
being silent concerning her piano in every way, or so it seemed to him,
in his anxious avoidance of the topic. In all this matter he was
governed a good deal by the advice of Mr. Ellett, to whom he had
confessed his pursuit of Miss Desmond's piano in all its particulars,
and who showed a highly humorous appreciation of the facts. He was a
sort of second (he preferred to say second-hand) cousin of Miss Desmond,
and, so far as he could make out, had been born engaged to her; and he
showed an intuition in the gingerly handling of her rather uncertain
temper which augured well for his future happiness. His future happiness
seemed to be otherwise taken care of, for though he was a young man of
no particular prospects, and no profession whatever, he had a generous
willingness to liberate his affianced to an artistic career; or, at
least, there was no talk of her giving up her scheme of teaching the
piano-forte because she was engaged to be married, he was exactly fitted
to become the husband of a wage-earning wife, and was so far from being
offensive in this quality that everybody (including Miss Desmond, rather
fitfully) liked him; and he was universally known as Charley Ellett.

After he had quite converted Gaites to his theory of silence concerning
his outlived romance, he liked to indulge himself, when he got Gaites
alone with the young ladies, in speculations as to the wanderings of
Miss Desmond's piano. He could always get a rise out of Miss Desmond by
referring to the impertinent person who had telegraphed her about it
from Kent Harbor, and he could put Gaites into a quiver of anxiety by
asking him whether he had heard Mrs. Maze speak of the piano when he was
at Kent Harbor, or whether he had happened to see anything of it at any
of the junctions on his way to Lower Merritt. To these questions Gaites
felt himself obliged to respond with lies point-blank, though there were
times when he was tempted to come out with the truth, Miss Axewright
seemed so amiably indifferent, or so sympathetically interested, when
Ellett was airing his conjectures or pushing his investigations.

Still Gaites clung to the refuge of his lies, and upon the whole it
served him well, or at least enabled him to temporize in safety, while
he was making the progress in Miss Axewright's affections which, if he
had not been her lover, he never would have imagined difficult. They
went every day, between the afternoon and evening concerts, to walk in
the Cloister, a colonnade of pines not far from the Inn, which differed
from some other cloisters in being so much devoted to love-making. She
was in love with him, as he was with her; but in her proud maiden soul
she did not dream of bringing him to the confession she longed for. This
came the afternoon of the last day they walked in the Cloister, when it
seemed as if they might go on walking there forever, and never emerge
from their fond, delicious, tremulous, trusting doubt of each other.

She cried upon his shoulder, with her arms round his neck, and owned
that she had loved him from the first moment she had seen him in front
of the S. B. & H. C. freight-depot in Boston; and Gaites tried to make
his passion antedate this moment. To do so, he had to fall back upon the
notion of pre-existence, but she gladly admitted his hypothesis.

The next morning brought another mood, a mood of sweet defiance, in
which she was still more enrapturing. By this time the engagement was
known to their two friends, and Miss Desmond came to the cars with
Charley Ellett to see her off. As Gaites was going to Boston on the same
train, they made it the occasion of seeing him off, too. Millicent
openly declared that they two were going together, that in fact she was
taking him home to show him to her family in South Newton and see
whether they liked him.

Ellett put this aspect of the affair aside. "Well, then," he said, "if
you're going to be in Boston together, I think you ought to see the S.
B. & H. C. traffic-manager, and find out all about what kept Phyl's
piano so long on the road. _I_ think they owe her an explanation, and
Gaites is a lawyer, and he's just the man to get it, with damages."

Gaites saw in Ellett's impudent, amusing face that he divined
Millicent's continued ignorance of his romance, and was bent on
mischief. But the girl paid no heed to his talk, and Gaites could not
help laughing. He liked the fellow; he even liked Miss Desmond, who was
so much softened by the occasion that she had all the thorny allure of a
ripened barberry in his fancy. They both hung about the seat, where he
stood ready to take his place beside Millicent, till the conductor
shouted, "All aboard!" Then they ran out, and waved to the lovers
through the window till the car started.

When they could be seen no longer, Millicent let Gaites arrange their
hand-baggage together on the seat in front of them. It was a warm day,
and she said she did believe she would take her hat off; and she gave it
to him, odorous of her pretty hair, to put in the rack overhead. After
he had done this, and sat down definitively, she shrank unconsciously
closer to him, knitting her fingers in those of his hand on the seat
between them.

"Now," she said, "tell me all about yourself."

"About myself?"

"Yes. About Phyllis Desmond's piano, and why you were so interested in
it."



A DIFFICULT CASE.



I.

It was in the fervor of their first married years that the Ewberts came
to live in the little town of Hilbrook, shortly after Hilbrook
University had been established there under the name of its founder,
Josiah Hilbrook. The town itself had then just changed its name, in
compliance with the conditions of his public benefactions, and in
recognition of the honor he had done it in making it a seat of learning.
Up to a certain day it had been called West Mallow, ever since it was
set off from the original town of Mallow; but after a hundred and
seventy years of this custom it began on that day to call itself
Hilbrook, and thenceforward, with the curious American acquiescence in
the accomplished fact, no one within or without its limits called it
West Mallow again.

The memory of Josiah Hilbrook himself began to be lost in the name he
had given the place; and except for the perfunctory mention of its
founder in the ceremonies of Commencement Day, the university hardly
remembered him as a man, but rather regarded him as a locality. He had,
in fact, never been an important man in West Mallow, up to the time he
had left it to seek his fortune in New York; and when he died, somewhat
abruptly, and left his money, as it were, out of a clear sky, to his
native place in the form of a university, a town hall, a soldiers'
monument, a drinking-fountain, and a public library, his
fellow-townsmen, in making the due civic acknowledgment and acceptance
of his gifts, recalled with effort the obscure family to which he
belonged.

He had not tried to characterize the university by his peculiar
religious faith, but he had given a church building, a parsonage, and a
fund for the support of preaching among them at Hilbrook to the small
body of believers to which his people adhered. This sect had a name by
which it was officially known to itself; but, like the Shakers, the
Quakers, the Moravians, it early received a nickname, which it passively
adopted, and even among its own members the body was rarely spoken of or
thought of except as the Rixonites.

Mrs. Ewbert fretted under the nickname, with an impatience perhaps the
greater because she had merely married into the Rixonite church, and had
accepted its doctrine because she loved her husband rather than because
she had been convinced of its truth. From the first she complained that
the Rixonites were cold; and if there was anything Emily Ewbert had
always detested, it was coldness. No one, she once testified, need talk
to her of their passive waiting for a sign, as a religious life; if
there were not some strong, central belief, some rigorously formulated
creed, some--

"Good old herb and root theology," her husband interrupted.

"Yes!" she heedlessly acquiesced. "Unless there is something like
_that_, all the waiting in the world won't"--she cast about for some
powerful image--"won't keep the cold chills from running down _my_ back
when I think of my duty as a Christian."

"Then don't think of your duty as a Christian, my dear," he pleaded,
with the caressing languor which sometimes made her say, in reprobation
of her own pleasure in it, that _he_ was a Rixonite, if there ever _was_
one. "Think of your duty as a woman, or even as a mortal."

"I believe you're thinking of making a sermon on that," she retorted;
and he gave a sad, consenting laugh, as if it were quite true, though in
fact he never really preached a sermon on mere femininity or mere
mortality. His sermons were all very good, however; and that was another
thing that put her out of patience with his Rixonite parishioners--that
they should sit there Sunday after Sunday, year in and year out, and
listen to his beautiful sermons, which ought to melt their hearts and
bring tears into their eyes, and not seem influenced by them any more
than if they were so many dry chips.

"But think how long they've had the gospel," he suggested, in a pensive
self-derision which she would not share.

"Well, one thing, Clarence," she summed up, "I'm not going to let you
throw yourself away on them; and unless you see some of the university
people in the congregation, I want you to use your old sermons from this
out. They'll never know the difference; and I'm going to make you take
one of the old sermons along every Sunday, so as to be prepared."


II.

One good trait of Mrs. Ewbert was that she never meant half she
said--she could not; but in this case there was more meaning than usual
in her saying. It really vexed her that the university families, who had
all received them so nicely, and who appreciated her husband's spiritual
and intellectual quality as fully as even she could wish, came some of
them so seldom, and some of them never, to hear him at the Rixonite
church. They ought, she said, to have been just suited by his preaching,
which inculcated with the peculiar grace of his gentle, poetic nature a
refinement of the mystical theology of the founder. The Rev. Adoniram
Rixon, who had seventy years before formulated his conception of the
religious life as a patient waiting upon the divine will, with a
constant reference of this world's mysteries and problems to the world
to come, had doubtless meant a more strenuous abeyance than Clarence
Ewbert was now preaching to a third generation of his followers. He had
doubtless meant them to be eager and alert in this patience, but the
version of his gospel which his latest apostle gave taught a species of
acquiescence which was foreign to the thoughts of the founder. He put as
great stress as could be asked upon the importance of a realizing faith
in the life to come, and an implicit trust in it for the solution of the
problems and perplexities of this life; but so far from wishing his
hearers to be constantly taking stock, as it were, of their spiritual
condition, and interrogating Providence as to its will concerning them,
he besought them to rest in confidence of the divine mindfulness, secure
that while they fulfilled all their plain, simple duties toward one
another, God would inspire them to act according to his purposes in the
more psychological crises and emergencies, if these should ever be part
of their experience.

In maintaining, on a certain Sunday evening, that his ideas were much
more adapted to the spiritual nourishment of the president, the dean,
and the several professors of Hilbrook University than to that of the
hereditary Rixonites who nodded in a slumbrous acceptance of them, Mrs.
Ewbert failed as usual to rouse her husband to a due sense of his
grievance with the university people.

"Well," he said, "you know I can't _make_ them come, my dear."

"Of course not. And I would be the last to have you lift a finger. But I
know that you feel about it just as I do."

"Perhaps; but I hope not so much as you _think_ you feel. Of course, I'm
very grateful for your indignation. But I know you don't undervalue the
good I may do to my poor sheep--they're _not_ an intellectual flock--in
trying to lead them in the ways of spiritual modesty and
unconsciousness. How do we know but they profit more by my preaching
than the faculty would? Perhaps our university friends are spiritually
unconscious enough already, if not modest."

"I see what you mean," said Mrs. Ewbert, provisionally suspending her
sense of the whimsical quality in his suggestion. "But you need never
tell me that they wouldn't appreciate you more."

"More than old Ransom Hilbrook?" he asked.

"Oh, I hope _he_ isn't coming here to-night, again!" she implored, with
a nervous leap from the point in question. "If he's coming here every
Sunday night"--

As he knew she wished, her husband represented that Hilbrook's having
come the last Sunday night was no proof that he was going to make a
habit of it.

"But he _stayed_ so late!" she insisted from the safety of her real
belief that he was not coming.

"He came very early, though," said Ewbert, with a gentle sigh, in which
her sympathetic penetration detected a retrospective exhaustion.

"I shall tell him you're not well," she went on: "I shall tell him you
are lying down. You ought to be, now. You're perfectly worn out with
that long walk you took." She rose, and beat up the sofa pillows with a
menacing eye upon him.

"Oh, I'm very comfortable here," he said from the depths of his
easy-chair. "Hilbrook won't come to-night. It's past the time."

She glanced at the clock with him, and then desisted. "If he does, I'm
determined to excuse you somehow. You ought never to have gone near him,
Clarence. You've brought it upon yourself."

Ewbert could not deny this, though he did not feel himself so much to
blame for it as she would have liked to make out in her pity of him. He
owned that if he had never gone to see Hilbrook the old man would
probably never have come near them, and that if he had not tried so much
to interest him when he did come Hilbrook would not have stayed so long;
and even in this contrite mind he would not allow that he ought not to
have visited him and ought not to have welcomed him.


III.

The minister had found his parishioner in the old Hilbrook homestead,
which Josiah Hilbrook, while he lived, suffered Ransom Hilbrook to
occupy, and when he died bequeathed to him, with a sufficient income for
all his simple wants. They were cousins, and they had both gone out into
the world about the same time: one had made a success of it, and
remained; and the other had made a failure of it, and come back. They
were both Rixonites, as the families of both had been in the generation
before them. It could be supposed that Josiah Hilbrook, since he had
given the money for a Rixonite church and the perpetual pay of a
Rixonite minister in his native place, had died in the faith; and it
might have been supposed that Ransom Hilbrook, from his constant
attendance upon its services, was living in the same faith. What was
certain was that the survivor lived alone in the family homestead on the
slope of the stony hill overlooking the village. The house was gray with
age, and it crouched low on the ground where it had been built a century
before, and anchored fast by the great central chimney characteristic of
the early New England farmhouse. Below it staggered the trees of an
apple orchard belted in with a stone wall, and beside it sagged the
sheds whose stretch united the gray old house to the gray old barn, and
made it possible for Hilbrook to do his chores in rain or snow without
leaving cover. There was a dooryard defined by a picket fence, and near
the kitchen door was a well with a high pent roof, where there had once
been a long sweep.

These simple features showed to the village on the opposite slope with a
distinctness that made the place seem much lonelier than if it had been
much more remote. It gained no cheerfulness from its proximity, and when
the windows of the house lighted up with the pale gleam of the sunset,
they imparted to the village a sense of dreary solitude which its own
lamps could do nothing to relieve.

Ransom Hilbrook came and went among the villagers in the same sort of
inaccessible contiguity. He did not shun passing the time of day with
people he met; he was in and out at the grocer's, the meat man's, the
baker's, upon the ordinary domestic occasions; but he never darkened any
other doors, except on his visits to the bank where he cashed the checks
for his quarterly allowance. There had been a proposition to use him
representatively in the ceremonies celebrating the acceptance of the
various gifts of Josiah Hilbrook; but he had not lent himself to this,
and upon experiment the authorities found that he was right in his guess
that they could get along without him.

He had not said it surlily, but sadly, and with a gentle deprecation of
their insistence. While the several monuments that testified to his
cousin's wealth and munificence rose in the village beyond the brook, he
continued in the old homestead without change, except that when his
housekeeper died he began to do for himself the few things that the
ailing and aged woman had done for him. How he did them was not known,
for he invited no intimacy from his neighbors. But from the extent of
his dealings with the grocer it was imagined that he lived mainly upon
canned goods. The fish man paid him a weekly visit, and once a week he
got from the meat man a piece of salt pork, which it was obvious to the
meanest intelligence was for his Sunday baked beans. From his purchase
of flour and baking powder it was reasonably inferred that he now and
then made himself hot biscuit. Beyond these meagre facts everything was
conjecture, in which the local curiosity played somewhat actively, but,
for the most part, with a growing acquiescence in the general ignorance
none felt authorized to dispel. There had been a time when some
fulfilled a fancied duty to the solitary in trying to see him. But the
visitors who found him out of doors were not asked within, and were
obliged to dismiss themselves, after an interview across the pickets of
the dooryard fence or from the trestles or inverted feed pails on which
they were invited to seats in the barn or shed. Those who happened to
find their host more ceremoniously at home were allowed to come in, but
were received in rooms so comfortless from the drawn blinds or fireless
hearths that they had not the spirits for the task of cheering him up
which they had set themselves, and departed in greater depression than
that they left him to.


IV.

Ewbert felt all the more impelled to his own first visit by the fame of
these failures, but he was not hastened in it. He thought best to wait
for some sign or leading from Hilbrook; but when none came, except the
apparent attention with which Hilbrook listened to his preaching, and
the sympathy which he believed he detected at times in the old eyes
blinking upon him through his sermons, he felt urged to the visit which
he had vainly delayed.

Hilbrook's reception was wary and non-committal, but it was by no means
so grudging as Ewbert had been led to expect. After some ceremonious
moments in the cold parlor Hilbrook asked him into the warm kitchen,
where apparently he passed most of his own time. There was something
cooking in a pot on the stove, and a small room opened out of the
kitchen, with a bed in it, which looked as if it were going to be made,
as Ewbert handsomely maintained. There was an old dog stretched on the
hearth behind the stove, who whimpered with rheumatic apprehension when
his master went to put the lamp on the mantel above him.

In describing the incident to his wife Ewbert stopped at this point, and
then passed on to say that after they got to talking Hilbrook seemed
more and more gratified, and even glad, to see him.

"Everybody's glad to see _you_, Clarence," she broke out, with tender
pride. "But why do you say, 'After we got to talking'? Didn't you go to
talking at once?"

"Well, no," he answered, with a vague smile; "we did a good deal of
listening at first, both of us. I didn't know just where to begin, after
I got through my excuses for coming, and Mr. Hilbrook didn't offer any
opening. Don't you think he's a very handsome old man?"

"He has a pretty head, and his close-cut white hair gives it a neat
effect, like a nice child's. He has a refined face; such a straight nose
and a delicate chin. Yes, he is certainly good-looking. But what"--

"Oh, nothing. Only, all at once I realized that he had a sensitive
nature. I don't know why I shouldn't have realized it before. I had
somehow taken it for granted that he was a self-conscious hermit, who
lived in a squalid seclusion because he liked being wondered at. But he
did not seem to be anything of the kind. I don't know whether he's a
good cook, for he didn't ask me to eat anything; but I don't think he's
a bad housekeeper."

"With his bed unmade at eight o'clock in the evening!"

"He may have got up late," said Ewbert. "The house seemed very orderly,
otherwise; and what is really the use of making up a bed till you need
it!"

Mrs. Ewbert passed the point, and asked, "What did you talk about when
you got started?"

"I found he was a reader, or had been. There was a case of good books in
the parlor, and I began by talking with him about them."

"Well, what did he say about them?"

"That he wasn't interested in them. He had been once, but he was not
now."

"I can understand that," said Mrs. Ewbert philosophically. "Books _are_
crowded out after your life fills up with other interests."

"Yes."

"Yes, what?" Mrs. Ewbert followed him up.

"So far as I could make out, Mr. Hilbrook's life hadn't filled up with
other interests. He did not care for the events of the day, as far as I
tried him on them, and he did not care for the past. I tempted him with
autobiography; but he seemed quite indifferent to his own history,
though he was not reticent about it. I proposed the history of his
cousin in the boyish days which he said they had spent together; but he
seemed no more interested in his cousin than in himself. Then I tried
his dog and his pathetic sufferings, and I said something about the pity
of the poor old fellow's last days being so miserable. That seemed to
strike a gleam of interest from him, and he asked me if I thought
animals might live again. And I found--I don't know just how to put it
so as to give you the right sense of his psychological attitude."

"No matter! Put it any way, and I will take care of the right sense. Go
on!" said Mrs. Ewbert.

"I found that his question led up to the question whether men lived
again, and to a confession that he didn't or couldn't believe they did."

"Well, upon my word!" Mrs. Ewbert exclaimed. "I don't see what business
he has coming to church, then. Doesn't he understand that the idea of
immortality is the very essence of Rixonitism! I think it was personally
insulting to _you_, Clarence. What did you say?"

"I didn't take a very high hand with him. You know I don't embody the
idea of immortality, and the church is no bad place even for
unbelievers. The fact is, it struck me as profoundly pathetic. He wasn't
arrogant about it, as people sometimes are,--they seem proud of not
believing; but he was sufficiently ignorant in his premises. He said he
had seen too many dead people. You know he was in the civil war."

"No!"

"Yes,--through it all. It came out on my asking him if he were going to
the Decoration Day services. He said that the sight of the first great
battlefield deprived him of the power of believing in a life hereafter.
He was not very explanatory, but as I understood it the overwhelming
presence of death had extinguished his faith in immortality; the dead
riders were just like their dead horses"--

"Shocking!" Mrs. Ewbert broke in.

"He said something went out of him." Ewbert waited a moment before
adding: "It was very affecting, though Hilbrook himself was as apathetic
about it as he was about everything else. He was not interested in not
believing, even, but I could see that it had taken the heart out of life
for him. If our life here does not mean life elsewhere, the interest of
it must end with our activities. When it comes to old age, as it has
with poor Hilbrook, it has no meaning at all, unless it has the hope of
more life in it. I felt his forlornness, and I strongly wished to help
him. I stayed a long time talking; I tried to interest him in the fact
that he was not interested, and"--

"Well, what?"

"If I didn't fatigue Hilbrook, I came away feeling perfectly exhausted
myself. Were you uneasy at my being out so late?"


V.

It was some time after the Ewberts had given up expecting him that old
Hilbrook came to return the minister's visit. Then, as if some excuse
were necessary, he brought a dozen eggs in a paper bag, which he said he
hoped Mrs. Ewbert could use, because his hens were giving him more than
he knew what to do with. He came to the back door with them; but Mrs.
Ewbert always let her maid of all work go out Sunday evening, and she
could receive him in the kitchen herself. She felt obliged to make him
the more welcome on account of his humility, and she showed him into the
library with perhaps exaggerated hospitality.

It was a chilly evening of April, and so early that the lamp was not
lighted; but there was a pleasant glow from the fire on the hearth, and
Ewbert made his guest sit down before it. As he lay back in the
easy-chair, stretching his thin old hands toward the blaze, the delicacy
of his profile was charming, and that senile parting of the lips with
which he listened reminded Ewbert of his own father's looks in his last
years; so that it was with an affectionate eagerness he set about making
Hilbrook feel his presence acceptable, when Mrs. Ewbert left them to
finish up the work she had promised herself not to leave for the maid.
It was much that Hilbrook had come at all, and he ought to be made to
realize that Ewbert appreciated his coming. But Hilbrook seemed
indifferent to his efforts, or rather, insensible to them, in the
several topics that Ewbert advanced; and there began to be pauses, in
which the minister racked his brain for some new thing to say, or found
himself saying something he cared nothing for in a voice of hollow
resolution, or falling into commonplaces which he tried to give vitality
by strenuousness of expression. He heard his wife moving about in the
kitchen and dining room, with a clicking of spoons and knives and a
faint clash of china, as she put the supper things away, and he wished
that she would come in and help him with old Hilbrook; but he could not
very well call her, and she kept at her work, with no apparent purpose
of leaving it.

Hilbrook was a farmer, so far as he was anything industrially, and
Ewbert tried him with questions of crops, soils, and fertilizers; but he
tried him in vain. The old man said he had never cared much for those
things, and now it was too late for him to begin. He generally sold his
grass standing, and his apples on the trees; and he had no animals about
the place except his chickens,--they took care of themselves. Ewbert
urged, for the sake of conversation, even of a disputative character,
that poultry were liable to disease, if they were not looked after; but
Hilbrook said, Not if there were not too many of them, and so made an
end of that subject. Ewbert desperately suggested that he must find them
company,--they seemed sociable creatures; and then, in his utter dearth,
he asked how the old dog was getting on.

"Oh, he's dead," said Hilbrook, and the minister's heart smote him with
a pity for the survivor's forlornness which the old man's apathetic tone
had scarcely invited. He inquired how and when the old dog had died, and
said how much Hilbrook must miss him.

"Well, I don't know," Hilbrook returned. "He wa'n't much comfort, and
he's out of his misery, anyway." After a moment he added, with a gleam
of interest: "I've been thinkin', since he went, of what we talked about
the other night,--I don't mean animals, but men. I tried to go over what
you said, in my own mind, but I couldn't seem to make it."

He lifted his face, sculptured so fine by age, and blinked at Ewbert,
who was glad to fancy something appealing in his words and manner.

"You mean as to a life beyond this?"

"Ah!"

"Well, let us see if we can't go over it together."

Ewbert had forgotten the points he had made before, and he had to take
up the whole subject anew, he did so at first in an involuntarily
patronizing confidence that Hilbrook was ignorant of the ground; but
from time to time the old man let drop a hint of knowledge that
surprised the minister. Before they had done, it appeared that Hilbrook
was acquainted with the literature of the doctrine of immortality from
Plato to Swedenborg, and even to Mr. John Fiske. How well he was
acquainted with it Ewbert could not quite make out; but he had
recurrently a misgiving, as if he were in the presence of a doubter
whose doubt was hopeless through his knowledge. In this bleak air it
seemed to him that he at last detected the one thing in which the old
man felt an interest: his sole tie with the earth was the belief that
when he left it he should cease to be. This affected Ewbert as most
interesting, and he set himself, with all his heart and soul, to
dislodge Hilbrook from his deplorable conviction. He would not perhaps
have found it easy to overcome at once that repugnance which Hilbrook's
doubt provoked in him, if it had been less gently, less simply owned. As
it was, it was not possible to deal with it in any spirit of mere
authority. He must meet it and overcome it in terms of affectionate
persuasion.

It should not be difficult to overcome it; but Ewbert had not yet
succeeded in arraying his reasons satisfactorily against it when his
wife returned from her work in the kitchen, and sat down beside the
library table. Her coming operated a total diversion, in which Hilbrook
lapsed into his apathy, and was not to be roused from it by the
overtures to conversation which she made. He presently got to his feet
and said he mast be going, against all her protests that it was very
early. Ewbert wished to walk home with him; but Hilbrook would not
suffer this, and the minister had to come back from following him to the
gate, and watching his figure lose itself in the dark, with a pang in
his heart for the solitude which awaited the old man under his own roof.
He ran swiftly over their argument in his mind, and questioned himself
whether he had used him with unfailing tenderness, whether he had let
him think that he regarded him as at all reprobate and culpable. He gave
up the quest as he rejoined his wife with a long, unconscious sigh that
made her lift her head.

"What is it, Clarence?"

"Nothing"--

"You look perfectly exhausted. You look worried. Was it something you
were talking about?"

Then he told her, and he had trouble to keep her resentment in bounds.
She held that, as a minister, he ought to have rebuked the wretched
creature; that it was nothing short of offensive to him for Hilbrook to
take such a position. She said his face was all flushed, and that she
knew he would not sleep, and she should get him a glass of warm milk;
the fire was out in the stove, but she could heat it over the lamp in a
tin cup.


VI.

Hilbrook did not come again till Ewbert had been to see him; and in the
meantime the minister suffered from the fear that the old man was
staying away because of some hurt which he had received in their
controversy. Hilbrook came to church as before, and blinked at him
through the two sermons which Ewbert preached on significant texts, and
the minister hoped he was listening with a sense of personal appeal in
them. He had not only sought to make them convincing as to the doctrine
of another life, but he had dealt in terms of loving entreaty with those
who had not the precious faith of this in their hearts, and he had
wished to convey to Hilbrook an assurance of peculiar sympathy.

The day following the last of his sermons, Ewbert had to officiate at
the funeral of a little child whose mother had been stricken to the
earth by her bereavement. The hapless creature had sent for him again
and again, and had clung about his very soul, beseeching him for
assurance that she should see her child hereafter, and have it hers,
just as it was, forever, he had not had the heart to refuse her this
consolation, and he had pushed himself, in giving it, beyond the bounds
of imagination. When she confessed her own inability to see how it could
be, and yet demanded of him that it should be, he answered her that our
inability to realize the fact had nothing to do with its reality. In the
few words he said over the little one, at the last, he recurred to this
position, and urged it upon all his hearers; but in the moment of doing
so a point that old Hilbrook had made in their talk suddenly presented
itself. He experienced inwardly such a collapse that he could not be
sure he had spoken, and he repeated his declaration in a voice of such
harsh defiance that he could scarcely afterwards bring himself down to
the meek level of the closing prayer.

As they walked home together, his wife asked, "Why did you repeat
yourself in that passage, Clarence, and why did you lift your voice so?
It sounded like contradicting some one. I hope you were not thinking of
anything that wretched old man said?"

With the mystical sympathy by which the wife divines what is in her
husband's mind she had touched the truth, and he could not deny it.
"Yes, yes, I was," he owned in a sort of anguish, and she said:--

"Well, then, I wish he wouldn't come about any more. He has perfectly
obsessed you. I could see that the last two Sundays you were preaching
right at him." He had vainly hoped she had not noticed this, though he
had not concealed from her that his talk with Hilbrook had suggested his
theme. "What are you going to do about him?" she pursued relentlessly.

"I don't know,--I don't know, indeed," said Ewbert; and perhaps because
he did not know, he felt that he must do something, that he must at
least not leave him to himself. He hoped that Hilbrook would come to
him, and so put him under the necessity of doing something; but Hilbrook
did not come, and after waiting a fortnight Ewbert went to him, as was
his duty.


VII.

The spring had advanced so far that there were now days when it was
pleasant to be out in the soft warmth of the afternoons. The day when
Ewbert climbed to the Hilbrook homestead it was even a little hot, and
he came up to the dooryard mopping his forehead with his handkerchief,
and glad of the southwestern breeze which he caught at this point over
the shoulder of the hill. He had expected to go round to the side door
of the house, where he had parted with Hilbrook on his former visit; but
he stopped on seeing the old man at his front door, where he was looking
vaguely at a mass of Spanish willow fallen dishevelled beside it, as if
he had some thought of lifting its tangled spray. The sun shone on his
bare head, and struck silvery gleams from his close-cropped white hair;
there was something uncommon in his air, though his dress was plain and
old-fashioned; and Ewbert wished that his wife were there to share his
impression of distinction in Hilbrook's presence.

He turned at Ewbert's cheerful hail, and after a moment of apparent
uncertainty as to who he was, he came down the walk of broken brick and
opened the gate to his visitor.

"I was just out, looking round at the old things," he said, with an
effort of apology. "This sort of weather is apt to make fools of us. It
gets into our heads, and before we know we feel as if we had something
to do with the season."

"Perhaps we have," said the minister. "The spring is in us, too."

The old man shook his head. "It was once, when we were children; now
there's what we remember of it. We like to make believe about
it,--that's natural; and it's natural we should make believe that there
is going to be a spring for us somewhere else like what we see for the
grass and bushes, here, every year; but I guess not. A tree puts out its
leaves every spring; but by and by the tree dies, and then it doesn't
put out its leaves any more."

"I see what you mean," said Ewbert, "and I allow that there is no real
analogy between our life and that of the grass and bushes; yet somehow I
feel strengthened in my belief in the hereafter by each renewal of the
earth's life. It isn't a proof, it isn't a promise; but it's a
suggestion, an intimation."

They were in the midst of a great question, and they sat down on the
decaying doorstep to have it out; Hilbrook having gone in for his hat
and come out again, with its soft wide brim shading his thin face,
frosted with half a week's beard.

"But character," the minister urged at a certain point,--"what becomes
of character? You may suppose that life can be lavished by its Origin in
the immeasurable superabundance which we see in nature. But
character,--that is a different thing; that cannot die."

"The beasts that perish have character; my old dog had. Some are good
and some bad; they're kind and they're ugly."

"Ah, excuse me! That isn't character; that's temperament. Men have
temperament, too; but the beasts haven't character. Doesn't that fact
prove something,--or no, not prove, but give us some reasonable
expectation of a hereafter?"

Hilbrook did not say anything for a moment. He broke a bit of fragrant
spray from the flowering currant--which guarded the doorway on his side
of the steps; Ewbert sat next the Spanish willow--and softly twisted the
stem between his thumb and finger.

"Ever hear how I came to leave Hilbrook,--West Mallow, as it was then?"
he asked at last.

Ewbert was forced to own that he had heard a story, but he said, mainly
in Hilbrook's interest, that he had not paid much attention to it.

"Thought there wa'n't much in it? Well, that's right, generally
speakin'. Folks like to make up stories about a man that lives alone
like me, here; and they usually get in a disappointment. I ain't goin'
to go over it. I don't care any more about it now than if it had
happened to somebody else; but it did happen. Josiah got the girl, and I
didn't. I presume they like to make out that I've grieved over it ever
since. Sho! It's forty years since I gave it a thought, that way." A
certain contemptuous indignation supplanted the wonted gentleness of the
old man, as if he spurned the notion of such sentimental folly. "I've
read of folks mournin' all their lives through, and in their old age
goin' back to a thing like that, as if it still meant somethin'. But it
ain't true; I don't suppose I care any more for losin' her now than
Josiah would for gettin' her if he was alive. It did make a difference
for a while; I ain't goin' to deny that. It lasted me four or five
years, in all, I guess; but I was married to somebody else when I went
to the war,"--Ewbert controlled a start of surprise; he had always taken
it for granted that Hilbrook was a bachelor,--"and we had one child. So
you may say that I was well over that first thing. _It wore out_; and if
it wa'n't that it makes me mad to have folks believin' that I'm
sufferin' from it yet, I presume I shouldn't think of it from one year's
end to another. My wife and I always got on well together; she was a
good woman. She died when I was away at the war, and the little boy died
after I got back. I was sorry to lose her, and I thought losin' _him_
would kill me. It didn't. It appeared one while as if I couldn't live
without him, and I was always contrivin' how I should meet up with him
somewhere else. I couldn't figure it out."

Hilbrook stopped, and swallowed dryly. Ewbert noticed how he had dropped
more and more into the vernacular, in these reminiscences; in their
controversies he had used the language of books and had spoken like a
cultivated man, but now he was simply and touchingly rustic.

"Well," he resumed, "that wore out, too. I went into business, and I
made money and I lost it. I went through all that experience, and I got
enough of it, just as I got enough of fightin'. I guess I was no worse
scared than the rest of 'em, but when it came to the end I'd 'bout made
up my mind that if there was another war I'd go to Canady; I was sick of
it, and I was sick of business even before I lost money. I lost pretty
much everything. Josiah--he was always a good enough friend of
mine--wanted me to start in again, and he offered to back me, but I said
no. I said if he wanted to do something for me, he could let me come
home and live on the old place, here; it wouldn't cost him anything like
so much, and it would be a safer investment. He agreed, and here I be,
to make a long story short."

Hilbrook had stiffened more and more, as he went on, in the sort of
defiance he had put on when he first began to speak of himself, and at
the end of his confidence Ewbert did not venture any comment. His
forbearance seemed to leave the old man freer to resume at the point
where he had broken off, and he did so with something of lingering
challenge.

"You asked me just now why I didn't think character, as we call it, gave
us some right to expect a life after this. Well, I'll try to tell you. I
consider that I've been the rounds, as you may say, and that I've got as
much character as most men. I've had about everything in my life that
most have, and a great deal more than some. I've seen that everything
wears out, and that when a thing's worn out it's for good and all. I
think it's reasonable to suppose that when I wear out it will be for
good and all, too. There isn't anything of us, as I look at it, except
the potentiality of experiences. The experiences come through the
passions that you can tell on the fingers of one hand: love, hate, hope,
grief, and you may say greed for the thumb. When you've had them, that's
the end of it; you've exhausted your capacity; you're used up, and so's
your character,--that often dies before the body does."

"No, no!" Ewbert protested. "Human capacity is infinite;" but even while
he spoke this seemed to him a contradiction in terms. "I mean that the
passions renew themselves with new occasions, new opportunities, and
character grows continually. You have loved twice, you have grieved
twice; in battle you hated more than once; in business you must have
coveted many times. Under different conditions, the passions, the
potentiality of experiences, will have a pristine strength. Can't you
see it in that light? Can't you draw some hope from that?"

"Hope!" cried Ransom Hilbrook, lifting his fallen head and staring at
the minister. "Why, man, you don't suppose I _want_ to live hereafter?
Do you think I'm anxious to have it all over again, or _any_ of it? Is
that why you've been trying to convince me of immortality? I know
there's something in what you say,--more than what you realize. I've
argued annihilation up to this point and that, and almost proved it to
my own mind; but there's always some point that I can't quite get over.
If I had the certainty, the absolute certainty, that this was all there
was to be of it, I wouldn't want to live an hour longer, not a minute!
But it's the uncertainty that keeps me. What I'm afraid of is, that if I
get out of it here, I might wake up in my old identity, with the
potentiality of new experiences in new conditions. That's it I'm tired.
I've had enough. I want to be let alone. I don't want to do anything
more, or have anything more done to me. I want to _stop_."

Ewbert's first impression was that he was shocked; but he was too honest
to remain in this conventional assumption. He was profoundly moved,
however, and intensely interested. He realized that Hilbrook was
perfectly sincere, and he could put himself in the old man's place, and
imagine why he should feel as he did. Ewbert blamed himself for not
having conceived of such a case before; and he saw that if he were to do
anything for this lonely soul, he must begin far back of the point from
which he had started with him. The old man's position had a kind of
dignity which did not admit of the sort of pity Ewbert had been feeling
for him, and the minister had before him the difficult and delicate task
of persuading Hilbrook, not that a man, if he died, should live again,
but that he should live upon terms so kind and just that none of the
fortuities of mortal life should be repeated in that immortality. He
must show the immortal man to be a creature so happily conditioned that
he would be in effect newly created, before Hilbrook would consent to
accept the idea of living again. He might say to him that he would
probably not be consulted in the matter, since he had not been consulted
as to his existence here; but such an answer would brutally ignore the
claim that such a man's developed consciousness could justly urge to
some share in the counsels of omnipotence. Ewbert did not know where to
begin, and in his despair he began with a laugh.

"Upon my word," he said, "you've presented a problem that would give any
casuist pause, and it's beyond my powers without some further thought.
Your doubt, as I now understand it, is not of immortality, but of
mortality; and there I can't meet you in argument without entirely
forsaking my own ground. If it will not seem harsh, I will confess that
your doubt is rather consoling to me; for I have so much faith in the
Love which rules the world that I am perfectly willing to accept
reëxistence on any terms that Love may offer. You may say that this is
because I have not yet exhausted the potentialities of experience, and
am still interested in my own identity; and one half of this, at least,
I can't deny. But even if it were otherwise, I should trust to find
among those Many Mansions which we are told of some chamber where I
should be at rest without being annihilated; and I can even imagine my
being glad to do any sort of work about the House, when I was tired of
resting."


VIII.

"I am _glad_ you said that to him!" cried Ewbert's wife, when he told
her of his interview with old Hilbrook. "That will give him something to
think about. What did he say?"

Ewbert had been less and less satisfied with his reply to Hilbrook, in
which it seemed to him that he had passed from mockery to reproof, with
no great credit to himself; and his wife's applause now set the seal to
his displeasure with it.

"Oh, he said simply that he could understand a younger person feeling
differently, and that he did not wish to set himself up as a censor. But
he could not pretend that he was glad to have been called out of
nonentity into being, and that he could imagine nothing better than
eternal unconsciousness."

"Well?"

"I told him that his very words implied the refusal of his being to
accept nonentity again; that they expressed, or adumbrated, the
conception of an eternal consciousness of the eternal unconsciousness he
imagined himself longing for. I'm not so sure they did, now."

"Of _course_ they did. And _then_ what did he say?"

"He said nothing in direct reply; he sighed, and dropped his poor old
head on his breast, and seemed very tired; so that I tried talking of
other things for a while, and then I came away. Emily, I'm afraid I
wasn't perfectly candid, perfectly kind, with him."

"I don't see how you could have been more so!" she retorted, in tender
indignation with him against himself. "And I think what he said was
terrible. It was bad enough for him to pretend to believe that he was
not going to live again, but for him to tell you that he was _afraid_ he
was!" An image sufficiently monstrous to typify Hilbrook's wickedness
failed to present itself to Mrs. Ewbert, and she went out to give the
maid instructions for something unusually nourishing for Ewbert at their
mid-day dinner. "You look fairly fagged out, Clarence," she said, when
she came back; "and I insist upon your not going up to that dreadful old
man's again,--at least, not till you've got over this shock."

"Oh, I don't think it has affected me seriously," he returned lightly.

"Yes, it has! yes, it has!" she declared. "It's just like your thinking
you hadn't taken cold, the other day when you were caught in the rain;
and the next morning you got up with a sore throat, and it was Sunday
morning, too."

Ewbert could not deny this, and he had no great wish to see Hilbrook
soon again. He consented to wait for Hilbrook to come to him, before
trying to satisfy these scruples of conscience which he had hinted at;
and he reasonably hoped that the painful points would cease to rankle
with the lapse of time, if there should be a long interval before they
met.

That night, before the Ewberts had finished their tea, there came a ring
at the door, from which Mrs. Ewbert disconsolately foreboded a premature
evening call. "And just when I was counting on a long, quiet, restful
time for you, and getting you to bed early!" she lamented in undertone
to her husband; to the maid who passed through the room with an
inquiring glance, to the front door, she sighed, still in undertone, "Oh
yes, of course we're at _home_."

They both listened for the voice at the door, to make out who was there;
but the voice was so low that they were still in ignorance while the
maid was showing the visitor into the library, and until she came back
to them.

"It's that old gentleman who lives all alone by himself on the hill over
the brook," she explained; and Mrs. Ewbert rose with an air of
authority, waving her husband to keep his seat.

"Now, Clarence, I am simply not going to _let_ you go in. You are sick
enough as it is, and if you are going to let that _awful_ old man spend
the whole evening here, and drain the life out of you! _I_ will see him,
and tell him"--

"No, no, Emily! It won't do. I _must_ see him. It isn't true that I'm
sick. He's old, and he has a right to the best we can do for him. Think
of his loneliness! I shall certainly not let you send him away." Ewbert
was excitedly gulping his second cup of tea; he pushed his chair back,
and flung his napkin down as he added, "You can come in, too, and see
that I get off alive."

"I shall not come near you," she answered resentfully; but Ewbert had
not closed the door behind him, and she felt it her duty to listen.


IX.

Mrs. Ewbert heard old Hilbrook begin at once in a high senile key
without any form of response to her husband's greeting: "There was one
thing you said to-day that I've been thinkin' over, and I've come down
to talk with you about it."

"Yes?" Ewbert queried submissively, though he was aware of being quite
as fagged as his wife accused him of being, after he spoke.

"Yes," Hilbrook returned. "I guess I ha'n't been exactly up and down
with myself. I guess I've been playing fast and loose with myself. I
guess you're right about my wantin' to have enough consciousness to
enjoy my unconsciousness," and the old gentleman gave a laugh of rather
weird enjoyment. "There are things," he resumed seriously, "that are
deeper in us than anything we call ourselves. I supposed I had gone to
the bottom, but I guess I hadn't. All the while there was something down
there that I hadn't got at; but you reached it and touched it, and now I
know it's there. I don't know but it's my Soul that's been havin' its
say all the time, and me not listenin'. I guess you made your point."

Ewbert was still not so sure of that. He had thrown out that hasty
suggestion without much faith in it at the time, and his faith in it had
not grown since.

"I'm glad," he began, but Hilbrook pressed on as if he had not spoken.

"I guess we're built like an onion," he said, with a severity that
forbade Ewbert to feel anything undignified in the homely illustration.
"You can strip away layer after layer till you seem to get to nothing at
all; but when you've got to that nothing you've got to the very thing
that had the life in it, and that would have grown again if you had put
it in the ground."

"Exactly!" said Ewbert.

"You made a point that I can't get round," Hilbrook continued, and it
was here that Ewbert enjoyed a little instant of triumph. "But that
ain't the point with _me_. I see that I can't prove that we shan't live
again any more than you can prove that we shall. What I want you to do
_now_ is to convince me, or to give me the least reason to believe, that
we shan't live again on exactly the same terms that we live now. I don't
want to argue immortality any more; we'll take that for granted. But how
is it going to be any different from mortality with the hope of death
taken away?"

Hilbrook's apathy was gone, and his gentleness; he had suddenly an air
and tone of fierce challenge. As he spoke he brought a clenched fist
down on the arm of his chair; he pushed his face forward and fixed
Ewbert with the vitreous glitter of his old eyes. Ewbert found him
terrible, and he had a confused sense of responsibility for him, as if
he had spiritually constituted him, in the charnel of unbelief, out of
the spoil of death, like some new and fearfuler figment of
Frankenstein's. But if he had fortuitously reached him, through the one
insincerity of his being, and bidden him live again forever, he must not
forsake him or deny him.

"I don't know how far you accept or reject the teachings of Scripture on
this matter," he began rather vaguely, but Hilbrook stopped him.

"You didn't go to the Book for the point you made _against_ me. But if
you go to it now for the point I want you to make _for_ me, what are you
going to find? Are you going to find the promise of a life any different
from the life we have here? I accept it all,--all that the Old Testament
says, and all that the New Testament says; and what does it amount to on
this point?"

"Nothing but the assurance that if we live rightly here we shall be
happy in the keeping of the divine Love there. That assurance is
everything to me."

"It isn't to me!" cried the old man. "We are in the keeping of the
divine Love here, too, and are we happy? Are those who live rightly
happy? It's because we're not conditioned for happiness here; and how
are we going to be conditioned differently there? We are going to suffer
to all eternity through our passions, our potentialities of experience,
there just as we do here."

"There may be other passions, other potentialities of experience,"
Ewbert suggested, casting about in the void.

"Like what?" Hilbrook demanded. "I've been trying to figure it, and I
can't. I should like you to try it. You can't imagine a new passion in
the soul any more than you can imagine a new feature in the face. There
they are: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, chin; love, hate, greed, hope, fear!
You can't add to them or take away from them." The old man dropped from
his defiance in an entreaty that was even more terrible to Ewbert. "I
wish you could. I should like to have you try. Maybe I haven't been over
the whole ground. Maybe there's some principle that I've missed." He
hitched his chair closer to Ewbert's, and laid some tremulous fingers on
the minister's sleeve. "If I've got to live forever, what have I got to
live for?"

"Well," said Ewbert, meeting him fully in his humility, "let us try to
make it out together. Let us try to think. Apparently, our way has
brought us to a dead wall; but I believe there's light beyond it, if we
can only break through. Is it really necessary that we should discover
some new principle? Do we know all that love can do from our experience
of it here?"

"Have you seen a mother with her child?" Hilbrook retorted.

"Yes, I know. But even that has some alloy of selfishness. Can't we
imagine love in which there is no greed,--for greed, and not hate, is
the true antithesis of love which is all giving, while greed is all
getting,--a love that is absolutely pure?"

"_I_ can't," said the old man. "All the love I ever felt had greed in
it; I wanted to keep the thing I loved for myself."

"Yes, because you were afraid in the midst of your love. It was fear
that alloyed it, not greed. And in easily imaginable conditions in which
there is no fear of want, or harm, or death, love would be pure; for it
is these things that greed itself wants to save us from. You can imagine
conditions in which there shall be no fear, in which love casteth out
fear?"

"Well," said Hilbrook provisionally.

Ewbert had not thought of these points himself before, and he was
pleased with his discovery, though afterwards he was aware that it was
something like an intellectual juggle. "You see," he temporized, "we
have got rid of two of the passions already, fear and greed, which are
the potentialities of our unhappiest experience in this life. In fact,
we have got rid of three, for without fear and greed men cannot hate."

"But how can we exist without them?" Hilbrook urged. "Shall we be made
up of two passions,--of love and hope alone?"

"Why not?" Ewbert returned, with what he felt a specious brightness.

"Because we should not be complete beings with these two elements
alone."

"Ah, as we know ourselves here, I grant you," said the minister. "But
why should we not be far more simply constituted somewhere else? Have
you ever read Isaac Taylor's Physical Theory of another Life? He argues
that the immortal body would be a far less complex mechanism than the
mortal body. Why should not the immortal soul be simple, too? In fact,
it would necessarily be so, being one with the body. I think I can put
my hand on that book, and if I can I must make you take it with you."

He rose briskly from his chair, and went to the shelves, running his
fingers along the books with that subtlety of touch by which the student
knows a given book in the dark. He had heard Mrs. Ewbert stirring about
in the rooms beyond with an activity in which he divined a menacing
impatience; and he would have been glad to get rid of old Hilbrook
before her impatience burst in an irruption upon them. Perhaps because
of this distraction he could not find the book, but he remained on foot,
talking with an implication in his tone that they were both preparing to
part, and were now merely finishing off some odds and ends of discourse
before they said good-night.

Old Hilbrook did not stir. He was far too sincere a nature, Ewbert saw,
to conceive of such inhospitality as a hint for his departure, or he was
too deeply interested to be aware of it. The minister was obliged to sit
down again, and it was eleven o'clock before Hilbrook rose to go.


X.

Ewbert went out to the gate with the old man, and when he came back to
his study, he found his wife there looking strangely tall and monumental
in her reproach. "I supposed you were in bed long ago, my dear," he
attempted lightly.

"You _don't_ mean that you've been out in the night air without your hat
on!" she returned. "Well, this is too _much_!" Her long-pent-up
impatience broke in tears, and he strove in vain to comfort her with
caresses. "Oh, what a fatal day it was when you stirred that wretched
old creature up! _Why_ couldn't you leave him alone!"

"To his apathy? To his despair? Emily!" Ewbert dropped his arms from the
embrace in which he had folded her woodenly unresponsive frame, and
regarded her sadly.

"Oh yes, of course," she answered, rubbing her handkerchief into her
eyes. "But you don't know that it was despair; and he was quite happy in
his apathy; and as it is, you've got him on your hands; and if he's
going to come here every night and stay till morning, it will kill you.
You know you're not strong; and you get so excited when you sit up
talking. Look how flushed your cheeks are, now, and your eyes--as big!
You won't sleep a wink to-night,--I know you won't."

"Oh yes, I shall," he answered bravely. "I believe I've done some good
work with poor old Hilbrook; and you mustn't think he's tired me. I feel
fresher than I did when he came."

"It's because you're excited," she persisted. "I know you won't sleep."

"Yes, I shall. I shall just stay here, and read my nerves down a little.
Then I'll come."

"Oh yes!" Mrs. Ewbert exulted disconsolately, and she left him to his
book. She returned to say: "If you _must_ take anything to make you
sleepy, I've left some warm milk on the back of the stove. Promise me
you won't take any sulphonal! You know how you feel the next day!"

"No, no, I won't," said Ewbert; and he kept his word, with the effect of
remaining awake all night. Toward morning he did not know but he had
drowsed; he was not aware of losing consciousness, and he started from
his drowse with the word "consciousness" in his mind, as he had heard
Hilbrook speaking it.


XI.

Throughout the day, under his wife's watchful eye, he failed of the naps
he tried for, and he had to own himself as haggard, when night came
again, as the fondest anxiety of a wife could pronounce a husband. He
could not think of his talk with old Hilbrook without an anguish of
brain exhaustion; and yet he could not help thinking of it. He realized
what the misery of mere weakness must be, and the horror of not having
the power to rest. He wished to go to bed before the hour when Hilbrook
commonly appeared, but this was so early that Ewbert knew he should
merely toss about and grow more and more wakeful from his premature
effort to sleep. He trembled at every step outside, and at the sound of
feet approaching the door on the short brick walk from the gate, he and
his wife arrested themselves with their teacups poised in the air.
Ewbert was aware of feebly hoping the feet might go away again; but the
bell rang, and then he could not meet his wife's eye.

"If it is that old Mr. Hilbrook," she said to the maid in transit
through the room, "tell him that Mr. Ewbert is not well, but _I_ shall
be glad to see him," and now Ewbert did not dare to protest. His
forebodings were verified when he heard Hilbrook asking for him, but
though he knew the voice, he detected a difference in the tone that
puzzled him.

His wife did not give Hilbrook time to get away, if he had wished,
without seeing her; she rose at once and went out to him. Ewbert heard
her asking him into the library, and then he heard them in parley there;
and presently they came out into the hall again, and went to the front
door together. Ewbert's heart misgave him of something summary on her
part, and he did not know what to make of the cheerful parting between
them. "Well, I bid you good-evening, ma'am," he heard old Hilbrook say
briskly, and his wife return sweetly, "Good-night, Mr. Hilbrook. You
must come soon again."

"You may put your mind at rest, Clarence," she said, as she reëntered
the dining room and met his face of surprise. "He didn't come to make a
call; he just wanted to borrow a book,--Physical Theory of another
Life."

"How did you find it?" asked Ewbert, with relief.

"It was where it always was," she returned indifferently. "Mr. Hilbrook
seemed to be very much interested in something you said to him about it.
I do believe you _have_ done him good, Clarence; and now, if you can
only get a full night's rest, I shall forgive him. But I hope he won't
come _very_ soon again, and will never stay so late when he does come.
Promise me you won't go near him till he's brought the book back!"


XII.

Hilbrook came the night after he had borrowed the book, full of talk
about it, to ask if he might keep it a little longer. Ewbert had slept
well the intervening night, and had been suffered to see Hilbrook upon
promising his wife that he would not encourage the old man to stay; but
Hilbrook stayed without encouragement. An interest had come into his
apathetic life which renewed it, and gave vitality to a whole dead world
of things. He wished to talk, and he wished even more to listen, that he
might confirm himself from Ewbert's faith and reason in the conjectures
with which his mind was filled. His eagerness as to the conditions of a
future life, now that he had begun to imagine them, was insatiable, and
Ewbert, who met it with glad sympathy, felt drained of his own spiritual
forces by the strength which he supplied to the old man. But the case
was so strange, so absorbing, so important, that he could not refuse
himself to it. He could not deny Hilbrook's claim to all that he could
give him in this sort; he was as helpless to withhold the succor he
supplied as he was to hide from Mrs. Ewbert's censoriously anxious eye
the nervous exhaustion to which it left him after each visit that
Hilbrook paid him. But there was a drain from another source of which he
would not speak to her till he could make sure that the effect was not
some trick of his own imagination.

He had been aware, in twice urging some reason upon Hilbrook, of a
certain perfunctory quality in his performance. It was as if the truth,
so vital at first, had perished in its formulation, and in the
repetition he was sensible, or he was fearful, of an insincerity, a
hollowness in the arguments he had originally employed so earnestly
against the old man's doubt. He recognized with dismay a quality of
question in his own mind, and he fancied that as Hilbrook waxed in
belief he himself waned. The conviction of a life hereafter was not
something which he was _sharing_ with Hilbrook; he was _giving_ it
absolutely, and with such entire unreserve that he was impoverishing his
own soul of its most precious possession.

So it seemed to him in those flaccid moods to which Hilbrook's visits
left him, when mind and body were both spent in the effort he had been
making. In the intervals in which his strength renewed itself, he put
this fear from him as a hypochondriacal fancy, and he summoned a
cheerfulness which he felt less and less to meet the hopeful face of the
old man. Hilbrook had renewed himself, apparently, in the measure that
the minister had aged and waned. He looked, to Ewbert, younger and
stronger. To the conventional question how he did, he one night answered
that he never felt better in his life. "But you," he said, casting an
eye over the face and figure of the minister, who lay back in his
easy-chair, with his hands stretched nerveless on the arms, "_you_, look
rather peaked. I don't know as I noticed it before, but come to think, I
seemed to feel the same way about it when I saw you in the pulpit
yesterday."

"It was a very close day," said Ewbert. "I don't know why I shouldn't be
about as well as usual."

"Well, that's right," said Hilbrook, in willing dismissal of the trifle
which had delayed him from the great matter in his mind.

Some new thoughts had occurred to him in corroboration of the notions
they had agreed upon in their last meeting. But in response Ewbert found
himself beset by a strange temptation,--by the wish to take up these
notions and expose their fallacy. They were indeed mere toys of their
common fancy which they had constructed together in mutual supposition,
but Ewbert felt a sacredness in them, while he longed so strangely to
break them one by one and cast them in the old man's face. Like all
imaginative people, he was at times the prey of morbid self-suggestions,
whose nature can scarcely be stated without excess. The more monstrous
the thing appeared to his mind and conscience, the more fascinating it
became. Once the mere horror of such a conception as catching a comely
parishioner about the waist and kissing her, when she had come to him
with a case of conscience, had so confused him in her presence as to
make him answer her wildly, not because he was really tempted to the
wickedness, but because he realized so vividly the hideousness of the
impossible temptation. In some such sort he now trembled before old
Hilbrook, thinking how dreadful it would be if he were suddenly to begin
undoing the work of faith in him, and putting back in its place the
doubts which he had uprooted before. In a swift series of dramatic
representations he figured the old man's helpless amaze at the
demoniacal gayety with which he should mock his own seriousness in the
past, the cynical ease with which he should show the vanity of the hopes
he had been so fervent in awakening. He had throughout recognized the
claim that all the counter-doubts had upon the reason, and he saw how
effective he could make these if he were now to become their advocate.
He pictured the despair in which he could send his proselyte tottering
home to his lonely house through the dark.

He rent himself from the spell, but the last picture remained so real
with him that he went to the window and looked out, saying, "Is there a
moon?"

"It ain't up yet, I guess," said old Hilbrook, and from something in his
manner, rather than from anything he recollected of their talk, Ewbert
fancied him to have asked a question, and to be now waiting for some
answer. He had not the least notion what the question could have been,
and he began to walk up and down, trying to think of something to say,
but feeling his legs weak under him and the sweat cold on his forehead.
All the time he was aware of Hilbrook following him with an air of
cheerful interest, and patiently waiting till he should take up the
thread of their discourse again.

He controlled himself at last, and sank into his chair. "Where were we?"
he asked. "I had gone off on a train of associations, and I don't just
recall our last point."

Hilbrook stated it, and Ewbert said, "Oh, yes," as if he recognized it,
and went on from it upon the line of thought which it suggested. He was
aware of talking rationally and forcibly; but in the subjective
undercurrent paralleling his objective thought he was holding discourse
with himself to an effect wholly different from that produced in
Hilbrook.

"Well, sir," said the old man when he rose to go at last, "I guess
you've settled it for me. You've made me see that there can be an
immortal life that's worth living; and I was afraid there wa'n't! I
shouldn't care, now, if I woke up any morning in the other world. I
guess it would be all right; and that there would be new conditions
every way, so that a man could go on and be himself, without feelin'
that he was in any danger of bein' wasted. You've made me want to meet
my boy again; and I used to dread it; I didn't think I was fit for it. I
don't know whether you expect me to thank you; I presume you don't; but
I"--he faltered, and his voice shook in sympathy with the old hand that
he put trembling into Ewbert's--"I _bless_ you!"


XIII.

The time had come when the minister must seek refuge and counsel with
his wife. He went to her as a troubled child goes to its mother, and she
heard the confession of his strange experience with the motherly
sympathy which performs the comforting office of perfect intelligence.
If she did not grasp its whole significance, she seized what was perhaps
the main point, and she put herself in antagonism to the cause of his
morbid condition, while administering an inevitable chastisement for the
neglect of her own prevision.

"That terrible old man," she said, "has simply been draining the life
out of you, Clarence. I saw it from the beginning, and I warned you
against it; but you wouldn't listen to me. _Now_ I suppose you _will_
listen, after the doctor tells you that you're in danger of nervous
prostration, and that you've got to give up everything and rest. _I_
think you've been in danger of losing your reason, you've overworked it
so; and I sha'n't be easy till I've got you safely away at the seaside,
and out of the reach of that--that _vampire_."

"Emily!" the minister protested. "I can't allow you to use such
language. At the worst, and supposing that he has really been that drain
upon me which you say (though I don't admit it), what is my life for but
to give to others?"

"But _my_ life isn't for you to give to others, and _your_ life _is_
mine, and I think I have some right to say what shall be done with it,
and I don't choose to have it used up on old Hilbrook." It passed
through Ewbert's languid thought, which it stirred to a vague amusement,
that the son of an older church than the Rixonite might have found in
this thoroughly terrestrial attitude of his wife a potent argument for
sacerdotal celibacy; but he did not attempt to formulate it, and he
listened submissively while she went on: "_One_ thing: I am certainly
not going to let you see him again till you've seen the doctor, and I
hope he won't come about. If he does, _I_ shall see him."

The menace in this declaration moved Ewbert to another protest, which he
worded conciliatingly: "I shall have to let you. But I know you won't
say anything to convey a sense of responsibility to him. I couldn't
forgive myself if he were allowed to feel that he had been preying upon
me. The fact is, I've been overdoing in every way, and nobody is to
blame for my morbid fancies but myself. I _should_ blame myself very
severely if you based any sort of superstition on them, and acted from
that superstition."

"Oh, you needn't be afraid!" said Mrs. Ewbert. "I shall take care of his
feelings, but I shall have my own opinions, all the same, Clarence."

Whether a woman with opinions so strong as Mrs. Ewbert's, and so
indistinguishable from her prejudices, could be trusted to keep them to
herself, in dealing with the matter in hand, was a question which her
husband felt must largely be left to her goodness of heart for its right
solution.

When Hilbrook came that night, as usual, she had already had it out with
him in several strenuous reveries before they met, and she was able to
welcome him gently to the interview which she made very brief. His face
fell in visible disappointment when she said that Mr. Ewbert would not
be able to see him, and perhaps there was nothing to uplift him in the
reasons she gave, though she obscurely resented his continued dejection
as a kind of ingratitude. She explained that poor Mr. Ewbert was quite
broken down, and that the doctor had advised his going to the seaside
for the whole of August, where he promised everything from the air and
the bathing. Mr. Ewbert merely needed toning up, she said; but to
correct the impression she might be giving that his breakdown was a
trifling matter, she added that she felt very anxious about it, and
wanted to get him away as soon as possible. She said with a confidential
effect, as of something in which Hilbrook could sympathize with her:
"You know it isn't merely his church work proper; it's his giving
himself spiritually to all sorts of people so indiscriminately. He can't
deny himself to any one; and sometimes he's perfectly exhausted by it.
You must come and see him as soon as he gets back, Mr. Hilbrook. He will
count upon it, I know; he's so much interested in the discussions he has
been having with you."

She gave the old man her hand for good-by, after she had artfully stood
him up, in a double hope,--a hope that he would understand that there
was some limit to her husband's nervous strength, and a hope that her
closing invitation would keep him from feeling anything personal in her
hints.

Hilbrook took his leave in the dreamy fashion age has with so many
things, as if there were a veil between him and experience which kept
him from the full realization of what had happened; and as she watched
his bent shoulders down the garden walk, carrying his forward-drooping
head at a slant that scarcely left the crown of his hat visible, a fear
came upon her which made it impossible for her to recount all the facts
of her interview to her husband. It became her duty, rather, to conceal
what was painful to herself in it, and she merely told him that Mr.
Hilbrook had taken it all in the right way, and she had made him promise
to come and see them as soon as they got back.


XIV.

Events approved the wisdom of Mrs. Ewbert's course in so many respects
that she confidently trusted them for the rest. Ewbert picked up
wonderfully at the seaside, and she said to him again and again that it
was not merely those interviews with old Hilbrook which had drained his
vitality, but it was the whole social and religious keeping of the
place. Everybody, she said, had thrown themselves upon his sympathies,
and he was carrying a load that nobody could bear up under. She
addressed these declarations to her lingering consciousness of Ransom
Hilbrook, and confirmed herself, by their repetition, in the belief that
he had not taken her generalizations personally. She now extended these
so as to inculpate the faculty of the university, who ought to have felt
it their duty not to let a man of Ewbert's intellectual quality stagger
on alone among them, with no sign of appreciation or recognition in the
work he was doing, not so much for the Rixonite church as for the whole
community. She took several ladies at the hotel into her confidence on
this point, and upon study of the situation they said it was a shame.
After that she felt more bitter about it, and attributed her husband's
collapse to a concealed sense of the indifference of the university
people, so galling to a sensitive nature.

She suggested this theory to Ewbert, and he denied it with blithe
derision, but she said that he need not tell _her_, and in confirming
herself in it she began to relax her belief that old Ransom Hilbrook had
preyed upon him. She even went so far as to say that the only
intellectual companionship he had ever had in the place was that which
he found in the old man's society. When she discovered, after the fact,
that Ewbert had written to him since they came away, she was not so
severe with him as she might have expected herself to be in view of an
act which, if not quite clandestine, was certainly without her privity.
She would have considered him fitly punished by Hilbrook's failure to
reply, if she had not shared his uneasiness at the old man's silence.
But she did not allow this to affect her good spirits, which were
essential to her husband's comfort as well as her own. She redoubled her
care of him in every sort, and among all the ladies who admired her
devotion to him there was none who enjoyed it as much as herself. There
was none who believed more implicitly that it was owing to her foresight
and oversight that his health mended so rapidly, and that at the end of
the bathing season she was, as she said, taking him home quite another
man. In her perfect satisfaction she suffered him his small joke about
not feeling it quite right to go with her if that were so; and though a
woman of little humor, she even professed to find pleasure in his joke
after she fully understood it.

"All that I ask," she said, as if it followed, "is that you won't spoil
everything by letting old Hilbrook come every night and drain the life
out of you again."

"I won't," he retorted, "if you'll promise to make the university people
come regularly to my sermons."

He treated the notion of Hilbrook's visits lightly; but with his return
to the familiar environment he felt a shrinking from them in an
experience which was like something physical. Yet when he sat down the
first night in his study, with his lamp in its wonted place, it was with
an expectation of old Hilbrook in his usual seat so vivid that its
defeat was more a shock than its fulfilment upon supernatural terms
would have been. In fact, the absence of the old man was spectral; and
though Ewbert employed himself fully the first night in answering an
accumulation of letters that required immediate reply, it was with
nervous starts from time to time, which he could trace to no other
cause. His wife came in and out, with what he knew to be an accusing
eye, as she brought up those arrears of housekeeping which always await
the housewife on the return from any vacation; and he knew that he did
not conceal his guilt from her.

They both ignored the stress which had fallen back upon him, and which
accumulated, as the days of the week went by, until the first Sunday
came.

Ewbert dreaded to look in the direction of Hilbrook's pew, lest he
should find it empty; but the old man was there, and he sat blinking at
the minister, as his custom was, through the sermon, and thoughtfully
passing the tip of his tongue over the inner edge of his lower lip.

Many came up to shake hands with the minister after church, and to tell
him how well he was looking, but Hilbrook was not among them. Some of
the university people who had made a point of being there that morning,
out of a personal regard for Ewbert, were grouped about his wife, in the
church vestibule, where she stood answering their questions about his
health. He glimpsed between the heads and shoulders of this gratifying
group the figure of Hilbrook dropping from grade to grade on the steps
outside, till it ceased to be visible, and he fancied, with a pang, that
the old man had lingered to speak with him, and had then given up and
started home.

The cordial interest of the university people was hardly a compensation
for the disappointment he shared with Hilbrook; but his wife was so
happy in it that he could not say anything to damp her joy. "Now," she
declared, on their way home, "I am perfectly satisfied that they will
keep coming. You never preached so well, Clarence, and if they have any
appreciation at all, they simply won't be able to keep away. I wish you
could have heard all the nice things they said about you. I guess
they've waked up to you, at last, and I do believe that the idea of
losing you has had a great deal to do with it. And _that_ is something
we owe to old Ransom Hilbrook more than to anything else. I saw the poor
old fellow hanging about, and I couldn't help feeling for him. I knew he
wanted to speak with you, and I'm not afraid that he will be a burden
again. It will be such an inspiration, the prospect of having the
university people come every Sunday, now, that you can afford to give a
little of it to him, and I want you to go and see him soon; he evidently
isn't coming till you do."


XV.

Ewbert had learned not to inquire too critically for a logical process
in his wife's changes of attitude toward any fact. In her present mood
he recognized an effect of the exuberant good-will awakened by the
handsome behavior of the university people, and he agreed with her that
he must go to see old Hilbrook at once. In this good intention his
painful feeling concerning him was soothed, and Ewbert did not get up to
the Hilbrook place till well into the week. It was Thursday afternoon
when he climbed through the orchard, under the yellowing leaves which
dappled the green masses of the trees like intenser spots of the
September sunshine. He came round by the well to the side door of the
house, which stood open, and he did not hesitate to enter when he saw
how freely the hens were coming and going through it. They scuttled out
around him and between his legs, with guilty screeches, and left him
standing alone in the middle of the wide, low kitchen. A certain
discomfort of the nerves which their flight gave him was heightened by
some details quite insignificant in themselves. There was no fire in the
stove, and the wooden clock on the mantel behind it was stopped; the
wind had carried in some red leaves from the maple near the door, and
these were swept against the farther wall, where they lay palpitating in
the draft.

The neglect in all was evidently too recent to suggest any supposition
but that of the master's temporary absence, and Ewbert went to the
threshold to look for his coming from the sheds or the barn. But these
were all fast shut, and there was no sign of Hilbrook anywhere. Ewbert
turned back into the room again, and saw the door of the old man's
little bedroom standing slightly ajar. With a chill of apprehension he
pushed it open, and he could not have experienced a more disagreeable
effect if the dark fear in his mind had been realized than he did to see
Hilbrook lying in his bed alive and awake. His face showed like a fine
mask above the sheet, and his long, narrow hands rested on the covering
across his breast. His eyes met those of Ewbert not only without
surprise, but without any apparent emotion.

"Why, Mr. Hilbrook," said the minister, "are you sick?"

"No, I am first-rate," the old man answered.

It was on the point of the minister's tongue to ask him, "Then what in
the world are you doing in bed?" but he substituted the less
authoritative suggestion, "I am afraid I disturbed you--that I woke you
out of a nap. But I found the door open and the hens inside, and I
ventured to come in"--

Hilbrook replied calmly, "I heard you; I wa'n't asleep."

"Oh," said Ewbert, apologetically, and he did not know quite what to do;
he had an aimless wish for his wife, as if she would have known what to
do. In her absence he decided to shut the door against the hens, who
were returning adventurously to the threshold, and then he asked, "Is
there something I can do for you? Make a fire for you to get up by"--

"I ha'n't got any call to get up," said Hilbrook; and, after giving
Ewbert time to make the best of this declaration, he asked abruptly,
"What was that you said about my wantin' to be alive enough to know I
was dead?"

"The consciousness of unconsciousness?"

"Ah!" the old man assented, as with satisfaction in having got the
notion right; and then he added, with a certain defiance: "There ain't
anything _in_ that. I got to thinking it over, when you was gone, and
the whole thing went to pieces. That idea don't prove anything at all,
and all that we worked out of it had to go with it."

"Well," the minister returned, with an assumption of cosiness in his
tone which he did not feel, and feigning to make himself easy in the
hard kitchen chair which he pulled up to the door of Hilbrook's room,
"let's see if we can't put that notion together again."

"_You_ can, if you want to," said the old man, dryly "I got no interest
in it any more; 'twa'n't nothing but a metaphysical toy, anyway." He
turned his head apathetically on the pillow, and no longer faced his
visitor, who found it impossible in the conditions of tacit dismissal to
philosophize further.

"I was sorry," Ewbert began, "not to be able to speak with you after
church, the other day. There were so many people"--

"That's all right," said Hilbrook unresentfully. "I hadn't anything to
say, in particular."

"But _I_ had," the minister persisted. "I thought a great deal about you
when I was away, and I went over our talks in my own mind a great many
times. The more I thought about them, the more I believed that we had
felt our way to some important truth in the matter. I don't say final
truth, for I don't suppose that we shall ever reach that in this life."

"Very likely," Hilbrook returned, with his face to the wall. "I don't
see as it makes any difference; or if it does, I don't care for it."

Something occurred to Ewbert which seemed to him of more immediate
usefulness than the psychological question. "Couldn't I get you
something to eat, Mr. Hilbrook? If you haven't had any breakfast to-day,
you must be hungry."

"Yes, I'm hungry," the old man assented, "but I don't want to eat
anything."

Ewbert had risen hopefully in making his suggestion, but now his heart
sank. Here, it seemed to him, a physician rather than a philosopher was
needed, and at the sound of wheels on the wagon track to the door his
imagination leaped to the miracle of the doctor's providential advent.
He hurried to the threshold and met the fish-man, who was about to
announce himself with the handle of his whip on the clapboarding. He
grasped the situation from the minister's brief statement, and confessed
that he had expected to find the old gentleman _dead_ in his bed some
day, and he volunteered to send some of the women folks from the farm up
the road. When these came, concentrated in the person of the farmer's
bustling wife, who had a fire kindled in the stove and the kettle on
before Ewbert could get away, he went for the doctor, and returned with
him to find her in possession of everything in the house except the
owner's interest. Her usefulness had been arrested by an invisible but
impassable barrier, though she had passed and re-passed the threshold of
Hilbrook's chamber with tea and milk toast. He said simply that he saw
no object in eating; and he had not been sufficiently interested to turn
his head and look at her in speaking to her.

With the doctor's science he was as indifferent as with the farm-wife's
service. He submitted to have his pulse felt, and he could not help
being prescribed for, but he would have no agency in taking his
medicine. He said, as he had said to Mrs. Stephson about eating, that he
saw no object in it.

The doctor retorted, with the temper of a man not used to having his
will crossed, that he had better take it, if he had any object in
living, and Hilbrook answered that he had none. In his absolute apathy
he did not even ask to be let alone.

"You see," the baffled doctor fumed in the conference that he had with
Ewbert apart, "he doesn't really need any medicine. There's nothing the
matter with him, and I only wanted to give him something to put an edge
to his appetite. He's got cranky living here alone; but there _is_ such
a thing as starving to death, and that's the only thing Hilbrook's in
danger of. If you're going to stay with him--he oughtn't to be left
alone"--

"I can come up, yes, certainly, after supper," said Ewbert, and he
fortified himself inwardly for the question this would raise with his
wife.

"Then you must try to interest him in something. Get him to talking, and
then let Mrs. Stephson come in with a good bowl of broth, and I guess we
may trust Nature to do the rest."


XVI.

When we speak of Nature, we figure her as one thing, with a fixed
purpose and office in the universal economy; but she is an immense
number of things, and her functions are inexpressibly varied. She
includes decay as well as growth; she compasses death as well as birth.
We call certain phenomena unnatural; but in a natural world how can
anything be unnatural, except the supernatural? These facts gave Ewbert
pause in view of the obstinate behavior of Ransom Hilbrook in dying for
no obvious reason, and kept him from pronouncing it unnatural. The old
man, he reflected, had really less reason to live than to die, if it
came to reasons; for everything that had made the world home to him had
gone out of it, and left him in exile here. The motives had ceased; the
interests had perished; the strong personality that had persisted was
solitary amid the familiar environment grown alien.

The wonder was that he should ever have been roused from his apathetic
unfaith to inquiry concerning the world beyond this, and to a certain
degree of belief in possibilities long abandoned by his imagination.
Ewbert had assisted at the miracle of this resuscitation upon terms
which, until he was himself much older, he could not question as to
their beneficence, and in fact it never came to his being quite frank
with himself concerning them. He kept his thoughts on this point in that
state of solution which holds so many conjectures from precipitation in
actual conviction.

But his wife had no misgivings. Her dread was that in his devotion to
that miserable old man (as she called him, not always in compassion) he
should again contribute to Hilbrook's vitality at the expense, if not
the danger, of his own. She of course expressed her joy that Ewbert had
at last prevailed upon him to eat something, when the entreaty of his
nurse and the authority of his doctor availed nothing; and of course she
felt the pathos of his doing it out of affection for Ewbert, and merely
to please him, as Hilbrook declared. It did not surprise her that any
one should do anything for the love of Ewbert, but it is doubtful if she
fully recognized the beauty of this last efflorescence of the aged life;
and she perceived it her duty not to sympathize entirely with Ewbert's
morbid regret that it came too late. She was much more resigned than he
to the will of Providence, and she urged a like submissiveness upon him.

"Don't talk so!" he burst out. "It's horrible!" It was in the first
hours after Ewbert's return from Hilbrook's death-bed, and his spent
nerves gave way in a gush of tears.

"I see what you mean," she said, after a pause in which he controlled
his sobs. "And I suppose," she added, with a touch of bitterness, "that
you blame _me_ for taking you away from him here when he was coming
every night and sapping your very life. You were very glad to have me do
it at the time! And what use would there have been in your killing
yourself, anyway? It wasn't as if he were a young man with a career of
usefulness before him, that might have been marred by his not believing
this or that. He had been a complete failure every way, and the end of
the world had come for him. What did it matter whether such a man
believed that there was another world or not?"

"Emily! Emily!" the minister cried out. "What are you saying?"

Mrs. Ewbert broke down in her turn. "I don't know _what_ I'm saying!"
she retorted from behind her handkerchief. "I'm trying to show you that
it's your duty to yourself--and to me--and to people who can know how to
profit by your teaching and your example, not to give way as you're
doing, simply because a wornout old agnostic couldn't keep his hold on
the truth. I don't know what your Rixonitism is for if it won't let you
wait upon the divine will in such a thing, _too_. You're more
conscientious than the worst kind of Congregationalist. And now for you
to blame me"--

"Emily, I don't blame _you_," said her husband. "I blame myself."

"And you see that that's the same thing! You ought to thank me for
saving your life; for it was just as if you were pouring your heart's
blood into him, and I could see you getting more anæmic every day. Even
now you're not half as well as when you got home! And yet I do believe
that if you could bring old Hilbrook back into a world that he was sick
and tired of, you'd give your own life to do it."


XVII.

There was reason and there was justice in what she said, though they
were so chaotic in form, and Ewbert could not refuse to acquiesce.

After all, he had done what he could, and he would not abandon himself
to a useless remorse. He rather set himself to study the lesson of old
Hilbrook's life, and in the funeral sermon that he preached he urged
upon his hearers the necessity of keeping themselves alive through some
relation to the undying frame of things, which they could do only by
cherishing earthly ties; and when these were snapped in the removal of
their objects, by attaching the broken threads through an effort of the
will to yet other objects: the world could furnish these inexhaustibly.
He touched delicately upon the peculiarities, the eccentricities, of the
deceased, and he did cordial justice to his gentleness, his blameless,
harmless life, his heroism on the battlefields of his country. He
declared that he would not be the one to deny an inner piety, and
certainly not a steadfast courage, in Hilbrook's acceptance of whatever
his sincere doubts implied.

The sermon apparently made a strong impression on all who heard it. Mrs.
Ewbert was afraid that it was rather abstruse in certain passages, but
she felt sure that all the university people would appreciate these. The
university people, to testify their respect for their founder, had come
in a body to the obsequies of his kinsman; and Mrs. Ewbert augured the
best things for her husband's future usefulness from their presence.



THE MAGIC OF A VOICE.



I.

There was a full moon, and Langbourne walked about the town, unable to
come into the hotel and go to bed. The deep yards of the houses gave out
the scent of syringas and June roses; the light of lamps came through
the fragrant bushes from the open doors and windows, with the sound of
playing and singing and bursts of young laughter. Where the houses stood
near the street, he could see people lounging on the thresholds, and
their heads silhouetted against the luminous interiors. Other houses,
both those which stood further back and those that stood nearer, were
dark and still, and to these he attributed the happiness of love in
fruition, safe from unrest and longing.

His own heart was tenderly oppressed, not with desire, but with the
memory of desire. It was almost as if in his faded melancholy he were
sorry for the disappointment of some one else.

At last he turned and walked back through the streets of dwellings to
the business centre of the town, where a gush of light came from the
veranda of his hotel, and the druggist's window cast purple and yellow
blurs out upon the footway. The other stores were shut, and he alone
seemed to be abroad. The church clock struck ten as he mounted the steps
of his hotel and dropped the remnant of his cigar over the side.

He had slept badly on the train the night before, and he had promised
himself to make up his lost sleep in the good conditions that seemed to
offer themselves. But when he sat down in the hotel office he was more
wakeful than he had been when he started out to walk himself drowsy.

The clerk gave him the New York paper which had come by the evening
train, and he thanked him, but remained musing in his chair. At times he
thought he would light another cigar, but the hand that he carried to
his breast pocket dropped nervelessly to his knee again, and he did not
smoke. Through his memories of disappointment pierced a self-reproach
which did not permit him the perfect self-complacency of regret; and yet
he could not have been sure, if he had asked himself, that this pang did
not heighten the luxury of his psychological experience.

He rose and asked the clerk for a lamp, but he turned back from the
stairs to inquire when there would be another New York mail. The clerk
said there was a train from the south due at eleven-forty, but it seldom
brought any mail; the principal mail was at seven. Langbourne thanked
him, and came back again to beg the clerk to be careful and not have him
called in the morning, for he wished to sleep. Then he went up to his
room, where he opened his window to let in the night air. He heard a dog
barking; a cow lowed; from a stable somewhere the soft thumping of the
horses' feet came at intervals lullingly.


II.

Langbourne fell asleep so quickly that he was aware of no moment of
waking after his head touched the fragrant pillow. He woke so much
refreshed by his first sound, soft sleep that he thought it must be
nearly morning. He got his watch into a ray of the moonlight and made
out that it was only a little after midnight, and he perceived that it
must have been the sound of low murmuring voices and broken laughter in
the next room which had wakened him. But he was rather glad to have been
roused to a sense of his absolute comfort, and he turned unresentfully
to sleep again. All his heaviness of heart was gone; he felt curiously
glad and young; he had somehow forgiven the wrong he had suffered and
the wrong he had done. The subdued murmuring went on in the next room,
and he kept himself awake to enjoy it for a while. Then he let himself
go, and drifted away into gulfs of slumber, where, suddenly, he seemed
to strike against something, and started up in bed.

A laugh came from the next room. It was not muffled, as before, but
frank and clear. It was woman's laughter, and Langbourne easily inferred
girlhood as well as womanhood from it. His neighbors must have come by
the late train, and they had probably begun to talk as soon as they got
into their room. He imagined their having spoken low at first for fear
of disturbing some one, and then, in their forgetfulness, or their
belief that there was no one near, allowed themselves greater freedom.
There were survivals of their earlier caution at times, when their
voices sank so low as scarcely to be heard; then there was a break from
it when they rose clearly distinguishable from each other. They were
never so distinct that he could make out what was said; but each voice
unmistakably conveyed character.

Friendship between girls is never equal; they may equally love each
other, but one must worship and one must suffer worship. Langbourne read
the differing temperaments necessary to this relation in the differing
voices. That which bore mastery was a low, thick murmur, coming from
deep in the throat, and flowing out in a steady stream of indescribable
coaxing and drolling. The owner of that voice had imagination and humor
which could charm with absolute control her companion's lighter nature,
as it betrayed itself in a gay tinkle of amusement and a succession of
nervous whispers. Langbourne did not wonder at her subjection; with the
first sounds of that rich, tender voice, he had fallen under its spell
too; and he listened intensely, trying to make out some phrase, some
word, some syllable. But the talk kept its sub-audible flow, and he had
to content himself as he could with the sound of the voice.

As he lay eavesdropping with all his might he tried to construct an
image of the two girls from their voices. The one with the crystalline
laugh was little and lithe, quick in movement, of a mobile face, with
gray eyes and fair hair; the other was tall and pale, with full, blue
eyes and a regular face, and lips that trembled with humor; very demure
and yet very honest; very shy and yet very frank; there was something
almost mannish in her essential honesty; there was nothing of feminine
coquetry in her, though everything of feminine charm. She was a girl who
looked like her father, Langbourne perceived with a flash of divination.
She dressed simply in dark blue, and her hair was of a dark mahogany
color. The smaller girl wore light gray checks or stripes, and the
shades of silver.

The talk began to be less continuous in the next room, from which there
came the sound of sighs and yawns, and then of mingled laughter at
these. Then the talk ran unbrokenly on for a while, and again dropped
into laughs that recognized the drowse creeping upon the talkers.
Suddenly it stopped altogether, and left Langbourne, as he felt,
definitively awake for the rest of the night.

He had received an impression which he could not fully analyze. With
some inner sense he kept hearing that voice, low and deep, and rich with
whimsical suggestion. Its owner must have a strange, complex nature,
which would perpetually provoke and satisfy. Her companionship would be
as easy and reasonable as a man's, while it had the charm of a woman's.
At the moment it seemed to him that life without this companionship
would be something poorer and thinner than he had yet known, and that he
could not endure to forego it. Somehow he must manage to see the girl
and make her acquaintance. He did not know how it could be contrived,
but it could certainly be contrived, and he began to dramatize their
meeting on these various terms. It was interesting and it was
delightful, and it always came, in its safe impossibility, to his
telling her that he loved her, and to her consenting to be his wife. He
resolved to take no chance of losing her, but to remain awake, and
somehow see her before she could leave the hotel in the morning. The
resolution gave him calm; he felt that the affair so far was settled.

Suddenly he started from his pillow; and again he heard that mellow
laugh, warm and rich as the cooing of doves on sunlit eaves. The sun was
shining through the crevices of his window-blinds; he looked at his
watch; it was half-past eight. The sound of fluttering skirts and flying
feet in the corridor shook his heart. A voice, the voice of the mellow
laugh, called as if to some one on the stairs, "I must have put it in my
bag. It doesn't matter, anyway."

He hurried on his clothes, in the vain hope of finding his late
neighbors at breakfast; but before he had finished dressing he heard
wheels before the veranda below, and he saw the hotel barge drive away,
as if to the station. There were two passengers in it; two women, whose
faces were hidden by the fringe of the barge-roof, but whose slender
figures showed themselves from their necks down. It seemed to him that
one was tall and slight, and the other slight and little.


III.

He stopped in the hall, and then, tempted by his despair, he stepped
within the open door of the next room and looked vaguely over it, with
shame at being there. What was it that the girl had missed, and had come
back to look for? Some trifle, no doubt, which she had not cared to
lose, and yet had not wished to leave behind. He failed to find anything
in the search, which he could not make very thorough, and he was going
guiltily out when his eye fell upon an envelope, perversely fallen
beside the door and almost indiscernible against the white paint, with
the addressed surface inward.

This must be the object of her search, and he could understand why she
was not very anxious when he found it a circular from a nursery-man,
containing nothing more valuable than a list of flowering shrubs. He
satisfied himself that this was all without satisfying himself that he
had quite a right to do so; and he stood abashed in the presence of the
superscription on the envelope somewhat as if Miss Barbara F. Simpson,
Upper Ashton Falls, N. H., were there to see him tampering with her
correspondence. It was indelicate, and he felt that his whole behavior
had been indelicate, from the moment her laugh had wakened him in the
night till now, when he had invaded her room. He had no more doubt that
she was the taller of the two girls than that this was her name on the
envelope. He liked Barbara; and Simpson could be changed. He seemed to
hear her soft throaty laugh in response to the suggestion, and with a
leap of the heart he slipped the circular into his breast pocket.

After breakfast he went to the hotel office, and stood leaning on the
long counter and talking with the clerk till he could gather courage to
look at the register, where he knew the names of these girls must be
written. He asked where Upper Ashton Falls was, and whether it would be
a pleasant place to spend a week.

The clerk said that it was about thirty miles up the road, and was one
of the nicest places in the mountains; Langbourne could not go to a
nicer; and there was a very good little hotel. "Why," he said, "there
were two ladies here overnight that just left for there, on the
seven-forty. Odd you should ask about it."

Langbourne owned that it was odd, and then he asked if the ladies lived
at Upper Ashton Falls, or were merely summer folks.

"Well, a little of both," said the clerk. "They're cousins, and they've
got an aunt living there that they stay with. They used to go away
winters,--teaching, I guess,--but this last year they stayed right
through. Been down to Springfield, they said, and just stopped the night
because the accommodation don't go any farther. Wake you up last night?
I had to put 'em into the room next to yours, and girls usually talk."

Langbourne answered that it would have taken a good deal of talking to
wake him the night before, and then he lounged across to the time-table
hanging on the wall, and began to look up the trains for Upper Ashton
Falls.

"If you want to go to the Falls," said the clerk, "there's a through
train at four, with a drawing-room on it, that will get you there by
five."

"Oh, I fancy I was looking up the New York trains," Langbourne returned.
He did not like these evasions, but in his consciousness of Miss Simpson
he seemed unable to avoid them. The clerk went out on the veranda to
talk with a farmer bringing supplies, and Langbourne ran to the
register, and read there the names of Barbara F. Simpson and Juliet D.
Bingham. It was Miss Simpson who had registered for both, since her name
came first, and the entry was in a good, simple hand, which was like a
man's in its firmness and clearness. He turned from the register decided
to take the four-o'clock train for Upper Ashton Falls, and met a
messenger with a telegram which he knew was for himself before the boy
could ask his name. His partner had fallen suddenly sick; his recall was
absolute, his vacation was at an end; nothing remained for him but to
take the first train back to New York. He thought how little prescient
he had been in his pretence that he was looking the New York trains up;
but the need of one had come already, and apparently he should never
have any use for a train to Upper Ashton Falls.


IV.

All the way back to New York Langbourne was oppressed by a sense of loss
such as his old disappointment in love now seemed to him never to have
inflicted. He found that his whole being had set toward the unseen owner
of the voice which had charmed him, and it was like a stretching and
tearing of the nerves to be going from her instead of going to her. He
was as much under duress as if he were bound by a hypnotic spell. The
voice continually sounded, not in his ears, which were filled with the
noises of the train, as usual, but in the inmost of his spirit, where it
was a low, cooing, coaxing murmur. He realized now how intensely he must
have listened for it in the night, how every tone of it must have
pervaded him and possessed him. He was in love with it, he was as
entirely fascinated by it as if it were the girl's whole presence, her
looks, her qualities. The remnant of the summer passed in the fret of
business, which was doubly irksome through his feeling of injury in
being kept from the girl whose personality he constructed from the sound
of her voice, and set over his fancy in an absolute sovereignty. The
image he had created of her remained a dim and blurred vision throughout
the day, but by night it became distinct and compelling. One evening,
late in the fall, he could endure the stress no longer, and he yielded
to the temptation which had beset him from the first moment he renounced
his purpose of returning in person the circular addressed to her as a
means of her acquaintance. He wrote to her, and in terms as dignified as
he could contrive, and as free from any ulterior import, he told her he
had found it in the hotel hallway and had meant to send it to her at
once, thinking it might be of some slight use to her. He had failed to
do this, and now, having come upon it among some other papers, he sent
it with an explanation which he hoped she would excuse him for troubling
her with.

This was not true, but he did not see how he could begin with her by
saying that he had found the circular in her room, and had kept it by
him ever since, looking at it every day, and leaving it where he could
see it the last thing before he slept at night and the first thing after
he woke in the morning. As to her reception of his story, he had to
trust to his knowledge that she was, like himself, of country birth and
breeding, and to his belief that she would not take alarm at his
overture. He did not go much into the world and was little acquainted
with its usages, yet he knew enough to suspect that a woman of the world
would either ignore his letter, or would return a cold and snubbing
expression of Miss Simpson's thanks for Mr. Stephen M. Langbourne's
kindness.

He had not only signed his name and given his address carefully in hopes
of a reply, but he had enclosed the business card of his firm as a token
of his responsibility. The partner in a wholesale stationery house ought
to be an impressive figure in the imagination of a village girl; but it
was some weeks before any answer came to Langbourne's letter. The reply
began with an apology for the delay, and Langbourne perceived that he
had gained rather than lost by the writer's hesitation; clearly she
believed that she had put herself in the wrong, and that she owed him a
certain reparation. For the rest, her letter was discreetly confined to
an acknowledgment of the trouble he had taken.

But this spare return was richly enough for Langbourne; it would have
sufficed, if there had been nothing in the letter, that the handwriting
proved Miss Simpson to have been the one who had made the entry of her
name and her friend's in the hotel register. This was most important as
one step in corroboration of the fact that he had rightly divined her;
that the rest should come true was almost a logical necessity. Still, he
was puzzled to contrive a pretext for writing again, and he remained
without one for a fortnight. Then, in passing a seedsman's store which
he used to pass every day without thinking, he one day suddenly
perceived his opportunity. He went in and got a number of the catalogues
and other advertisements, and addressed them then and there, in a
wrapper the seedsman gave him, to Miss Barbara F. Simpson, Upper Ashton
Falls, N. H.

Now the response came with a promptness which at least testified of the
lingering compunction of Miss Simpson. She asked if she were right in
supposing the seedsman's catalogues and folders had come to her from
Langbourne, and begged to know from him whether the seedsman in question
was reliable: it was so difficult to get garden seeds that one could
trust.

The correspondence now established itself, and with one excuse or
another it prospered throughout the winter. Langbourne was not only
willing, he was most eager, to give her proof of his reliability; he
spoke of stationers in Springfield and Greenfield to whom he was
personally known; and he secretly hoped she would satisfy herself
through friends in those places that he was an upright and trustworthy
person.

Miss Simpson wrote delightful letters, with that whimsical quality which
had enchanted him in her voice. The coaxing and caressing was not there,
and could not be expected to impart itself, unless in those refuges of
deep feeling supposed to lurk between the lines. But he hoped to provoke
it from these in time, and his own letters grew the more earnest the
more ironical hers became. He wrote to her about a book he was reading,
and when she said she had not seen it, he sent it her; in one of her
letters she casually betrayed that she sang contralto in the choir, and
then he sent her some new songs, which he had heard in the theatre, and
which he had informed himself from a friend were contralto. He was
always tending to an expression of the feeling which swayed him; but on
her part there was no sentiment. Only in the fact that she was willing
to continue this exchange of letters with a man personally unknown to
her did she betray that romantic tradition which underlies all our young
life, and in those unused to the world tempts to things blameless in
themselves, but of the sort shunned by the worldlier wise. There was no
great wisdom of any kind in Miss Simpson's letters; but Langbourne did
not miss it; he was content with her mere words, as they related the
little events of her simple daily life. These repeated themselves from
the page in the tones of her voice and filled him with a passionate
intoxication.

Towards spring he had his photograph taken, for no reason that he could
have given; but since it was done he sent one to his mother in Vermont,
and then he wrote his name on another, and sent it to Miss Simpson in
New Hampshire. He hoped, of course, that she would return a photograph
of herself; but she merely acknowledged his with some dry playfulness.
Then, after disappointing him so long that he ceased to expect anything,
she enclosed a picture. The face was so far averted that Langbourne
could get nothing but the curve of a longish cheek, the point of a nose,
the segment of a crescent eyebrow. The girl said that as they should
probably never meet, it was not necessary he should know her when he saw
her; she explained that she was looking away because she had been
attracted by something on the other side of the photograph gallery just
at the moment the artist took the cap off the tube of his camera, and
she could not turn back without breaking the plate.

Langbourne replied that he was going up to Springfield on business the
first week in May, and that he thought he might push on as far north as
Upper Ashton Falls. To this there came no rejoinder whatever, but he did
not lose courage. It was now the end of April, and he could bear to wait
for a further verification of his ideal; the photograph had confirmed
him in its evasive fashion at every point of his conjecture concerning
her. It was the face he had imagined her having, or so he now imagined,
and it was just such a long oval face as would go with the figure he
attributed to her. She must have the healthy palor of skin which
associates itself with masses of dark, mahogany-colored hair.


V.

It was so long since he had known a Northern spring that he had
forgotten how much later the beginning of May was in New Hampshire; but
as his train ran up from Springfield he realized the difference of the
season from that which he had left in New York. The meadows were green
only in the damp hollows; most of the trees were as bare as in
midwinter; the willows in the swamplands hung out their catkins, and the
white birches showed faint signs of returning life. In the woods were
long drifts of snow, though he knew that in the brown leaves along their
edges the pale pink flowers of the trailing arbutus were hiding their
wet faces. A vernal mildness overhung the landscape. A blue haze filled
the distances and veiled the hills; from the farm door-yards the smell
of burning leaf-heaps and garden-stalks came through the window which he
lifted to let in the dull, warm air. The sun shone down from a pale sky,
in which the crows called to one another.

By the time he arrived at Upper Ashton Falls the afternoon had waned so
far towards evening that the first robins were singing their vespers
from the leafless choirs of the maples before the hotel. He indulged the
landlord in his natural supposition that he had come up to make a timely
engagement for summer board; after supper he even asked what the price
of such rooms as his would be by the week in July, while he tried to
lead the talk round to the fact which he wished to learn.

He did not know where Miss Simpson lived; and the courage with which he
had set out on his adventure totally lapsed, leaving in its place an
accusing sense of silliness. He was where he was without reason, and in
defiance of the tacit unwillingness of the person he had come to see;
she certainly had given him no invitation, she had given him no
permission to come. For the moment, in his shame, it seemed to him that
the only thing for him was to go back to New York by the first train in
the morning. But what then would the girl think of him? Such an act must
forever end the intercourse which had now become an essential part of
his life. That voice which had haunted him so long, was he never to hear
it again? Was he willing to renounce forever the hope of hearing it?

He sat at his supper so long, nervelessly turning his doubts over in his
mind, that the waitress came out of the kitchen and drove him from the
table with her severe, impatient stare.

He put on his hat, and with his overcoat on his arm he started out for a
walk which was hopeless, but not so aimless as he feigned to himself.
The air was lullingly warm still as he followed the long village street
down the hill toward the river, where the lunge of rapids filled the
dusk with a sort of humid uproar; then he turned and followed it back
past the hotel as far as it led towards the open country. At the edge of
the village he came to a large, old-fashioned house, which struck him as
typical, with its outward swaying fence of the Greek border pattern, and
its gate-posts topped by tilting urns of painted wood. The house itself
stood rather far back from the street, and as he passed it he saw that
it was approached by a pathway of brick which was bordered with box.
Stalks of last year's hollyhocks and lilacs from garden beds on either
hand lifted their sharp points, here and there broken and hanging down.
It was curious how these details insisted through the twilight.

He walked on until the wooden village pathway ended in the country mud,
and then again he returned up upon his steps. As he reapproached the
house he saw lights. A brighter radiance streamed from the hall door,
which was apparently open, and a softer glow flushed the windows of one
of the rooms that flanked the hall.

As Langbourne came abreast of the gate the tinkle of a gay laugh rang
out to him; then ensued a murmur of girls' voices in the room, and
suddenly this stopped, and the voice that he knew, the voice that seemed
never to have ceased to sound in his nerves and pulses, rose in singing
words set to the Spanish air of _La Paloma_.

It was one of the songs he had sent to Miss Simpson, but he did not need
this material proof that it was she whom he now heard. There was no
question of what he should do. All doubt, all fear, had vanished; he had
again but one impulse, one desire, one purpose. But he lingered at the
gate till the song ended, and then he unlatched it and started up the
walk towards the door. It seemed to him a long way; he almost reeled as
he went; he fumbled tremulously for the bell-pull beside the door, while
a confusion of voices in the adjoining room--the voices which had waked
him from his sleep, and which now sounded like voices in a dream--came
out to him.

The light from the lamp hanging in the hall shone full in his face, and
the girl who came from that room beside it to answer his ring gave a
sort of conscious jump at sight of him as he uncovered and stood
bare-headed before her.


VI.

She must have recognized him from the photograph he had sent, and in
stature and figure he recognized her as the ideal he had cherished,
though her head was gilded with the light from the lamp, and he could
not make out whether her hair was dark or fair; her face was, of course,
a mere outline, without color or detail against the luminous interior.

He managed to ask, dry-tongued and with a heart that beat into his
throat, "Is Miss Simpson at home?" and the girl answered, with a high,
gay tinkle:

"Yes, she's at home. Won't you walk in?"

He obeyed, but at the sound of her silvery voice his heart dropped back
into his breast. He put his hat and coat on an entry chair, and prepared
to follow her into the room she had come out of. The door stood ajar,
and he said, as she put out her hand to push it open, "I am Mr.
Langbourne."

"Oh, yes," she answered in the same high, gay tinkle, which he fancied
had now a note of laughter in it.

An elderly woman of a ladylike village type was sitting with some
needlework beside a little table, and a young girl turned on the
piano-stool and rose to receive him. "My aunt, Mrs. Simpson, Mr.
Langbourne," said the girl who introduced him to these presences, and
she added, indicating the girl at the piano, "Miss Simpson."

They all three bowed silently, and in the hush the sheet on the music
frame slid from the piano with a sharp clash, and skated across the
floor to Langbourne's feet. It was the song of _La Paloma_ which she had
been singing; he picked it up, and she received it from him with a
drooping head, and an effect of guilty embarrassment.

She was short and of rather a full figure, though not too full. She was
not plain, but she was by no means the sort of beauty who had lived in
Langbourne's fancy for the year past. The oval of her face was squared;
her nose was arched; she had a pretty, pouting mouth, and below it a
deep dimple in her chin; her eyes were large and dark, and they had the
questioning look of near-sighted eyes; her hair was brown. There was a
humorous tremor in her lips, even with the prim stress she put upon them
in saying, "Oh, thank you," in a thick whisper of the voice he knew.

"And I," said the other girl, "am Juliet Bingham. Won't you sit down,
Mr. Langbourne!" She pushed towards him the arm-chair before her, and he
dropped into it. She took her place on the hair-cloth sofa, and Miss
Simpson sank back upon the piano-stool with a painful provisionality,
while her eyes sought Miss Bingham's in a sort of admiring terror.

Miss Bingham was easily mistress of the situation; she did not try to
bring Miss Simpson into the conversation, but she contrived to make Mrs.
Simpson ask Langbourne when he arrived at Upper Ashton Falls; and she
herself asked him when he had left New York, with many apposite
suppositions concerning the difference in the season in the two
latitudes. She presumed he was staying at the Falls House, and she said,
always in her high, gay tinkle, that it was very pleasant there in the
summer time. He did not know what he answered. He was aware that from
time to time Miss Simpson said something in a frightened undertone. He
did not know how long it was before Mrs. Simpson made an errand out of
the room, in the abeyance which age practises before youthful society in
the country; he did not know how much longer it was before Miss Bingham
herself jumped actively up, and said, Now she would run over to Jenny's,
if Mr. Langbourne would excuse her, and tell her that they could not go
the next day.

"It will do just as well in the morning," Miss Simpson pitifully
entreated.

"No, she's got to know to-night," said Miss Bingham, and she said she
should find Mr. Langbourne there when she got back. He knew that in
compliance with the simple village tradition he was being purposely left
alone with Miss Simpson, as rightfully belonging to her. Miss Bingham
betrayed no intentionality to him, but he caught a glimpse of mocking
consciousness in the sidelong look she gave Miss Simpson as she went
out; and if he had not known before he perceived then, in the vanishing
oval of her cheek, the corner of her arched eyebrow, the point of her
classic nose, the original of the photograph he had been treasuring as
Miss Simpson's.


VII.

"It was _her_ picture I sent you," said Miss Simpson. She was the first
to break the silence to which Miss Bingham abandoned them, but she did
not speak till her friend had closed the outer door behind her and was
tripping down the brick walk to the gate.

"Yes," said Langbourne, in a dryness which he could not keep himself
from using.

The girl must have felt it, and her voice faltered a very little as she
continued. "We--I--did it for fun. I meant to tell you. I--"

"Oh, that's all right," said Langbourne. "I had no business to expect
yours, or to send you mine." But he believed that he had; that his
faithful infatuation had somehow earned him the right to do what he had
done, and to hope for what he had not got; without formulating the fact,
he divined that she believed it too. Between the man-soul and the
woman-soul it can never go so far as it had gone in their case without
giving them claims upon each other which neither can justly deny.

She did not attempt to deny it. "I oughtn't to have done it, and I ought
to have told you at once--the next letter--but I--you said you were
coming, and I thought if you did come--I didn't really expect you to;
and it was all a joke,--off-hand."

It was very lame, but it was true, and it was piteous; yet Langbourne
could not relent. His grievance was not with what she had done, but what
she was; not what she really was, but what she materially was; her
looks, her figure, her stature, her whole presence, so different from
that which he had been carrying in his mind, and adoring for a year
past.

If it was ridiculous, and if with her sense of the ridiculous she felt
it so, she was unable to take it lightly, or to make him take it
lightly. At some faint gleams which passed over her face he felt himself
invited to regard it less seriously; but he did not try, even
provisionally, and they fell into a silence that neither seemed to have
the power of breaking.

It must be broken, however; something must be done; they could not sit
there dumb forever. He looked at the sheet of music on the piano and
said, "I see you have been trying that song. Do you like it?"

"Yes, very much," and now for the first time she got her voice fairly
above a whisper. She took the sheet down from the music-rest and looked
at the picture of the lithographed title. It was of a tiled roof lifted
among cypresses and laurels with pigeons strutting on it and sailing
over it.

"It was that picture," said Langbourne, since he must say something,
"that I believe I got the song for; it made me think of the roof of an
old Spanish house I saw in Southern California."

"It must be nice, out there," said Miss Simpson, absently staring at the
picture. She gathered herself together to add, pointlessly, "Juliet says
she's going to Europe. Have you ever been?"

"Not to Europe, no. I always feel as if I wanted to see my own country
first. Is she going soon?"

"Who? Juliet? Oh, no! She was just saying so. I don't believe she's
engaged her passage yet."

There was invitation to greater ease in this, and her voice began to
have the tender, coaxing quality which had thrilled his heart when he
heard it first. But the space of her variance from his ideal was between
them, and the voice reached him faintly across it.

The situation grew more and more painful for her, he could see, as well
as for him. She too was feeling the anomaly of their having been
intimates without being acquaintances. They necessarily met as strangers
after the exchange of letters in which they had spoken with the
confidence of friends.

Langbourne cast about in his mind for some middle ground where they
could come together without that effect of chance encounter which had
reduced them to silence. He could not recur to any of the things they
had written about; so far from wishing to do this, he had almost a
terror of touching upon them by accident, and he felt that she shrank
from them too, as if they involved a painful misunderstanding which
could not be put straight.

He asked questions about Upper Ashton Falls, but these led up to what
she had said of it in her letters; he tried to speak of the winter in
New York, and he remembered that every week he had given her a full
account of his life there. They must go beyond their letters or they
must fall far back of them.


VIII.

In their attempts to talk he was aware that she was seconding all his
endeavors with intelligence, and with a humorous subtlety to which he
could not pretend. She was suffering from their anomalous position as
much as he, but she had the means of enjoying it while he had not. After
half an hour of these defeats Mrs. Simpson operated a diversion by
coming in with two glasses of lemonade on a tray and some slices of
sponge-cake. She offered this refreshment first to Langbourne and then
to her niece, and they both obediently took a glass, and put a slice of
cake in the saucer which supported the glass. She said to each in turn,
"Won't you take some lemonade? Won't you have a piece of cake?" and then
went out with her empty tray, and the air of having fulfilled the duties
of hospitality to her niece's company.

"I don't know," said Miss Simpson, "but it's rather early in the season
for _cold_ lemonade," and Langbourne, instead of laughing, as her tone
invited him to do, said:

"It's very good, I'm sure." But this seemed too stiffly ungracious, and
he added: "What delicious sponge-cake! You never get this out of New
England."

"We have to do something to make up for our doughnuts," Miss Simpson
suggested.

"Oh, I like doughnuts too," said Langbourne. "But you can't get the
right kind of doughnuts, either, in New York."

They began to talk about cooking. He told her of the tamales which he
had first tasted in San Francisco, and afterward found superabundantly
in New York; they both made a great deal of the topic; Miss Simpson had
never heard of tamales. He became solemnly animated in their exegesis,
and she showed a resolute interest in them.

They were in the midst of the forced discussion, when they heard a quick
foot on the brick walk, but they had both fallen silent when Miss
Bingham flounced elastically in upon them. She seemed to take in with a
keen glance which swept them from her lively eyes that they had not been
getting on, and she had the air of taking them at once in hand.

"Well, it's all right about Jenny," she said to Miss Simpson. "She'd a
good deal rather go day after to-morrow, anyway. What have you been
talking about? I don't want to make you go over the same ground. Have
you got through with the weather? The moon's out, and it feels more like
the beginning of June than the last of April. I shut the front door
against dor-bugs; I couldn't help it, though they won't be here for six
weeks yet. Do you have dor-bugs in New York, Mr. Langbourne?"

"I don't know. There may be some in the Park," he answered.

"We think a great deal of our dor-bugs in Upper Ashton," said Miss
Simpson demurely, looking down. "We don't know what we should do without
them."

"Lemonade!" exclaimed Miss Bingham, catching sight of the glasses and
saucers on the corner of the piano, where Miss Simpson had allowed
Langbourne to put them. "Has Aunt Elmira been giving you lemonade while
I was gone? I will just see about that!" She whipped out of the room,
and was back in a minute with a glass in one hand and a bit of
sponge-cake between the fingers of the other. "She had kept some for me!
Have you sung _Paloma_ for Mr. Langbourne, Barbara?"

"No," said Barbara, "we hadn't got round to it, quite."

"Oh, do!" Langbourne entreated, and he wondered that he had not asked
her before; it would have saved them from each ether.

"Wait a moment," cried Juliet Bingham, and she gulped the last draught
of her lemonade upon a final morsel of sponge-cake, and was down at the
piano while still dusting the crumbs from her fingers. She struck the
refractory sheet of music flat upon the rack with her palm, and then
tilted her head over her shoulder towards Langbourne, who had risen with
some vague notion of turning the sheets of the song. "Do you sing?"

"Oh, no. But I like--"

"Are you ready, Bab?" she asked, ignoring him; and she dashed into the
accompaniment.

He sat down in his chair behind the two girls, where they could not see
his face.

Barbara began rather weakly, but her voice gathered strength, and then
poured full volume to the end, where it weakened again. He knew that she
was taking refuge from him in the song, and in the magic of her voice he
escaped from the disappointment he had been suffering. He let his head
drop and his eyelids fall, and in the rapture of her singing he got back
what he had lost; or rather, he lost himself again to the illusion which
had grown so precious to him.

Juliet Bingham sounded the last note almost as she rose from the piano;
Barbara passed her handkerchief over her forehead, as if to wipe the
heat from it, but he believed that this was a ruse to dry her eyes in
it: they shone with a moist brightness in the glimpse he caught of them.
He had risen, and they all stood talking; or they all stood, and Juliet
talked. She did not offer to sit down again, and after stiffly thanking
them both, he said he must be going, and took leave of them. Juliet gave
his hand a nervous grip; Barbara's touch was lax and cold; the parting
with her was painful; he believed that she felt it so as much as he.

The girls' voices followed him down the walk,--Juliet's treble, and
Barbara's contralto,--and he believed that they were making talk
purposely against a pressure of silence, and did not know what they were
saying. It occurred to him that they had not asked how long he was
staying, or invited him to come again: he had not thought to ask if he
might; and in the intolerable inconclusiveness of this ending he
faltered at the gate till the lights in the windows of the parlor
disappeared, as if carried into the hall, and then they twinkled into
darkness. From an upper entry window, which reddened with a momentary
flush and was then darkened, a burst of mingled laughter came. The girls
must have thought him beyond hearing, and he fancied the laugh a burst
of hysterical feeling in them both.


IX.

Langbourne went to bed as soon as he reached his hotel because he found
himself spent with the experience of the evening; but as he rested from
his fatigue he grew wakeful, and he tried to get its whole measure and
meaning before him. He had a methodical nature, with a necessity for
order in his motions, and he now balanced one fact against another none
the less passionately because the process was a series of careful
recognitions. He perceived that the dream in which he had lived for the
year past was not wholly an illusion. One of the girls whom he had heard
but not seen was what he had divined her to be: a dominant influence, a
control to which the other was passively obedient. He had not erred
greatly as to the face or figure of the superior, but he had given all
the advantages to the wrong person. The voice, indeed, the spell which
had bound him, belonged with the one to whom he had attributed it, and
the qualities with which it was inextricably blended in his fancy were
hers; she was more like his ideal than the other, though he owned that
the other was a charming girl too, and that in the thin treble of her
voice lurked a potential fascination which might have made itself
ascendently felt if he had happened to feel it first.

There was a dangerous instant in which he had a perverse question of
changing his allegiance. This passed into another moment, almost as
perilous, of confusion through a primal instinct of the man's by which
he yields a double or a divided allegiance and simultaneously worships
at two shrines; in still another breath he was aware that this was
madness.

If he had been younger, he would have had no doubt as to his right in
the circumstances. He had simply corresponded all winter with Miss
Simpson; but though he had opened his heart freely and had invited her
to the same confidence with him, he had not committed himself, and he
had a right to drop the whole affair. She would have no right to
complain; she had not committed herself either: they could both come off
unscathed. But he was now thirty-five, and life had taught him something
concerning the rights of others which he could not ignore. By seeking
her confidence and by offering her his, he had given her a claim which
was none the less binding because it was wholly tacit. There had been a
time when he might have justified himself in dropping the affair; that
was when she had failed to answer his letter; but he had come to see her
in defiance of her silence, and now he could not withdraw, simply
because he was disappointed, without cruelty, without atrocity.

This was what the girl's wistful eyes said to him; this was the reproach
of her trembling lips; this was the accusation of her dejected figure,
as she drooped in vision before him on the piano-stool and passed her
hand soundlessly over the key-board. He tried to own to her that he was
disappointed, but he could not get the words out of his throat; and now
in her presence, as it were, he was not sure that he was disappointed.


X.

He woke late, with a longing to put his two senses of her to the proof
of day; and as early in the forenoon as he could hope to see her, he
walked out towards her aunt's house. It was a mild, dull morning, with a
misted sunshine; in the little crimson tassels of the budded maples
overhead the bees were droning.

The street was straight, and while he was yet a good way off he saw the
gate open before the house, and a girl whom he recognized as Miss
Bingham close it behind her. She then came down under the maples towards
him, at first swiftly, and then more and more slowly, until finally she
faltered to a stop. He quickened his own pace and came up to her with a
"Good-morning" called to her and a lift of his hat. She returned neither
salutation, and said, "I was coming to see you, Mr. Langbourne." Her
voice was still a silver bell, but it was not gay, and her face was
severely unsmiling.

"To see _me_?" he returned. "Has anything--"

"No, there's nothing the matter. But--I should like to talk with you."
She held a little packet, tied with blue ribbon, in her intertwined
hands, and she looked urgently at him.

"I shall be very glad," Langbourne began, but she interrupted,--

"Should you mind walking down to the Falls?"

He understood that for some reason she did not wish him to pass the
house, and he bowed. "Wherever you like. I hope Mrs. Simpson is well?
And Miss Simpson?"

"Oh, perfectly," said Miss Bingham, and they fenced with some questions
and answers of no interest till they had walked back through the village
to the Falls at the other end of it, where the saw in a mill was
whirring through a long pine log, and the water, streaked with sawdust,
was spreading over the rocks below and flowing away with a smooth
swiftness. The ground near the mill was piled with fresh-sawed, fragrant
lumber and strewn with logs.

Miss Bingham found a comfortable place on one of the logs, and began
abruptly:

"You may think it's pretty strange, Mr. Langbourne, but I want to talk
with you about Miss Simpson." She seemed to satisfy a duty to convention
by saying Miss Simpson at the outset, and after that she called her
friend Barbara. "I've brought you your letters to her," and she handed
him the packet she had been holding. "Have you got hers with you?"

"They are at the hotel," answered Langbourne.

"Well, that's right, then. I thought perhaps you had brought them. You
see," Miss Bingham continued, much more cold-bloodedly than Langbourne
thought she need, "we talked it over last night, and it's too silly.
That's the way Barbara feels herself. The fact is," she went on
confidingly, and with the air of saying something that he would
appreciate, "I always thought it was some _young_ man, and so did
Barbara; or I don't believe she would ever have answered your first
letter."

Langbourne knew that he was not a young man in a young girl's sense; but
no man likes to have it said that he is old. Besides, Miss Bingham
herself was not apparently in her first quarter of a century, and
probably Miss Simpson would not see the earliest twenties again. He
thought none the worse of her for that; but he felt that he was not so
unequally matched in time with her that she need take the attitude with
regard to him which Miss Bingham indicated. He was not the least gray
nor the least bald, and his tall figure had kept its youthful lines.

Perhaps his face manifested something of his suppressed resentment. At
any rate, Miss Bingham said apologetically, "I mean that if we had known
it was a _serious_ person we should have acted differently. I oughtn't
to have let her thank you for those seedsman's catalogues; but I thought
it couldn't do any harm. And then, after your letters began to come, we
didn't know just when to stop them. To tell you the truth, Mr.
Langbourne, we got so interested we couldn't _bear_ to stop them. You
wrote so much about your life in New York, that it was like a visit
there every week; and it's pretty quiet at Upper Ashton in the winter
time."

She seemed to refer this fact to Langbourne for sympathetic
appreciation; he said mechanically, "Yes."

She resumed: "But when your picture came, I said it had _got_ to stop;
and so we just sent back my picture,--or I don't know but what Barbara
did it without asking me,--and we did suppose that would be the last of
it; when you wrote back you were coming here, we didn't believe you
really would unless we said so. That's all there is about it; and if
there is anybody to blame, I am the one. Barbara would never have done
it in the world if I hadn't put her up to it."

In those words the implication that Miss Bingham had operated the whole
affair finally unfolded itself. But distasteful as the fact was to
Langbourne, and wounding as was the realization that he had been led on
by this witness of his infatuation for the sake of the entertainment
which his letters gave two girls in the dull winter of a mountain
village, there was still greater pain, with an additional embarrassment,
in the regret which the words conveyed. It appeared that it was not he
who had done the wrong; he had suffered it, and so far from having to
offer reparation to a young girl for having unwarrantably wrought her up
expect of him a step from which he afterwards recoiled, he had the duty
of forgiving her a trespass on his own invaded sensibilities. It was
humiliating to his vanity; it inflicted a hurt to something better than
his vanity. He began very uncomfortably: "It's all right, as far as I'm
concerned. I had no business to address Miss Simpson in the first
place--"

"Well," Miss Bingham interrupted, "that's what I told Barbara; but she
got to feeling badly about it; she thought if you had taken the trouble
to send back the circular that she dropped in the hotel, she couldn't do
less than acknowledge it, and she kept on so about it that I had to let
her. That was the first false step."

These words, while they showed Miss Simpson in a more amiable light, did
not enable Langbourne to see Miss Bingham's merit so clearly. In the
methodical and consecutive working of his emotions, he was aware that it
was no longer a question of divided allegiance, and that there could
never be any such question again. He perceived that Miss Bingham had not
such a good figure as he had fancied the night before, and that her eyes
were set rather too near together. While he dropped his own eyes, and
stood trying to think what he should say in answer to her last speech,
her high, sweet voice tinkled out in gay challenge, "How do, John?"

He looked up and saw a square-set, brown-faced young man advancing
towards them in his shirt-sleeves; he came deliberately, finding his way
in and out among the logs, till he stood smiling down, through a heavy
mustache and thick black lashes, into the face of the girl, as if she
were some sort of joke. The sun struck into her face as she looked up at
him, and made her frown with a knot between her brows that pulled her
eyes still closer together, and she asked, with no direct reference to
his shirt-sleeves,--"A'n't you forcing the season?"

"Don't want to let the summer get the start of you," the young man
generalized, and Miss Bingham said,--

"Mr. Langbourne, Mr. Dickery." The young man silently shook hands with
Langbourne, whom he took into the joke of Miss Bingham with another
smile; and she went on: "Say, John, I wish you'd tell Jenny I don't see
why we shouldn't go this afternoon, after all."

"All right," said the young man.

"I suppose you're coming too?" she suggested.

"Hadn't heard of it," he returned.

"Well, you have now. You've got to be ready at two o'clock."

"That so?" the young fellow inquired. Then he walked away among the
logs, as casually as he had arrived, and Miss Bingham rose and shook
some bits of bark from her skirt.

"Mr. Dickery is owner of the mills," she explained, and she explored
Langbourne's face for an intelligence which she did not seem to find
there. He thought, indifferently enough, that this young man had heard
the two girls speak of him, and had satisfied a natural curiosity in
coming to look him over; it did not occur to him that he had any
especial relation to Miss Bingham.

She walked up into the village with Langbourne, and he did not know
whether he was to accompany her home or not. But she gave him no sign of
dismissal till she put her hand upon her gate to pull it open without
asking him to come in. Then he said, "I will send Miss Simpson's letters
to her at once."

"Oh, any time will do, Mr. Langbourne," she returned sweetly. Then, as
if it had just occurred to her, she added, "We're going after
May-flowers this afternoon. Wouldn't you like to come too?"

"I don't know," he began, "whether I shall have the time--"

"Why, you're not going away to-day!"

"I expected--I--But if you don't think I shall be intruding--"

"Why, _I_ should be delighted to have you. Mr. Dickery's going, and
Jenny Dickery, and Barbara. I don't _believe_ it will rain."

"Then, if I may," said Langbourne.

"Why, certainly, Mr. Langbourne!" she cried, and he started away. But he
had gone only a few rods when he wheeled about and hurried back. The
girl was going up the walk to the house, looking over her shoulder after
him; at his hurried return she stopped and came down to the gate again.

"Miss Bingham, I think--I think I had better not go."

"Why, just as you feel about it, Mr. Langbourne," she assented.

"I will bring the letters this evening, if you will let me--if Miss
Simpson--if you will be at home."

"We shall be very happy to see you, Mr. Langbourne," said the girl
formally, and then he went back to his hotel.


XI.

Langbourne could not have told just why he had withdrawn his acceptance
of Miss Bingham's invitation. If at the moment it was the effect of a
quite reasonless panic, he decided later that it was because he wished
to think. It could not be said, however, that he did think, unless
thinking consists of a series of dramatic representations which the mind
makes to itself from a given impulse, and which it is quite powerless to
end. All the afternoon, which Langbourne spent in his room, his mind was
the theatre of scenes with Miss Simpson, in which he perpetually evolved
the motives governing him from the beginning, and triumphed out of his
difficulties and embarrassments. Her voice, as it acquiesced in all, no
longer related itself to that imaginary personality which had inhabited
his fancy. That was gone irrevocably; and the voice belonged to the
likeness of Barbara, and no other; from her similitude, little, quaint,
with her hair of cloudy red and her large, dim-sighted eyes, it played
upon the spiritual sense within him with the coaxing, drolling, mocking
charm which he had felt from the first. It blessed him with intelligent
and joyous forgiveness. But as he stood at her gate that evening this
unmerited felicity fell from him. He now really heard her voice, through
the open doorway, but perhaps because it was mixed with other
voices--the treble of Miss Bingham, and the bass of a man who must be
the Mr. Dickery he had seen at the saw mills--he turned and hurried back
to his hotel, where he wrote a short letter saying that he had decided
to take the express for New York that night. With an instinctive
recognition of her authority in the affair, or with a cowardly shrinking
from direct dealing with Barbara, he wrote to Juliet Bingham, and he
addressed to her the packet of letters which he sent for Barbara.
Superficially, he had done what he had no choice but to do. He had been
asked to return her letters, and he had returned them, and brought the
affair to an end.

In his long ride to the city he assured himself in vain that he was
doing right if he was not sure of his feelings towards the girl. It was
quite because he was not sure of his feeling that he could not be sure
he was not acting falsely and cruelly.

The fear grew upon him through the summer, which he spent in the heat
and stress of the town. In his work he could forget a little the despair
in which he lived; but in a double consciousness like that of the
hypochondriac, the girl whom it seemed to him he had deserted was
visibly and audibly present with him. Her voice was always in his inner
ear, and it visualized her looks and movements to his inner eye.

Now he saw and understood at last that what his heart had more than once
misgiven him might be the truth, and that though she had sent back his
letters, and asked her own in return, it was not necessarily her wish
that he should obey her request. It might very well have been an
experiment of his feeling towards her, a mute quest of the impression
she had made upon him, a test of his will and purpose, an overture to a
clearer and truer understanding between them. This misgiving became a
conviction from which he could not escape.

He believed too late that he had made a mistake, that he had thrown away
the supreme chance of his life. But was it too late? When he could bear
it no longer, he began to deny that it was too late. He denied it even
to the pathetic presence which haunted him, and in which the magic of
her voice itself was merged at last, so that he saw her more than he
heard her. He overbore her weak will with his stronger will, and set
himself strenuously to protest to her real presence what he now always
said to her phantom. When his partner came back from his vacation,
Langbourne told him that he was going to take a day or two off.


XII.

He arrived at Upper Ashton Falls long enough before the early autumnal
dusk to note that the crimson buds of the maples were now their crimson
leaves, but he kept as close to the past as he could by not going to
find Barbara before the hour of the evening when he had turned from her
gate without daring to see her. It was a soft October evening now, as it
was a soft May evening then; and there was a mystical hint of unity in
the like feel of the dull, mild air. Again voices were coming out of the
open doors and windows of the house, and they were the same voices that
he had last heard there.

He knocked, and after a moment of startled hush within Juliet Bingham
came to the door. "Why, Mr. Langbourne!" she screamed.

"I--I should like to come in, if you will let me," he gasped out.

"Why, certainly, Mr. Langbourne," she returned.

He had not dwelt so long and so intently on the meeting at hand without
considering how he should account for his coming, and he had formulated
a confession of his motives. But he had never meant to make it to Juliet
Bingham, and he now found himself unable to allege a word in explanation
of his presence. He followed her into the parlor. Barbara silently gave
him her hand and then remained passive in the background, where Dickery
held aloof, smiling in what seemed his perpetual enjoyment of the Juliet
Bingham joke. She at once put herself in authority over the situation;
she made Langbourne let her have his hat; she seated him when and where
she chose; she removed and put back the lampshades; she pulled up and
pulled down the window-blinds; she shut the outer door because of the
night air, and opened it because of the unseasonable warmth within. She
excused Mrs. Simpson's absence on account of a headache, and asked him
if he would not have a fan; when he refused it she made him take it, and
while he sat helplessly dangling it from his hand, she asked him about
the summer he had had, and whether he had passed it in New York. She was
very intelligent about the heat in New York, and tactful in keeping the
one-sided talk from falling. Barbara said nothing after a few faint
attempts to take part in it, and Langbourne made briefer and briefer
answers. His reticence seemed only to heighten Juliet Bingham's
satisfaction, and she said, with a final supremacy, that she had been
intending to go out with Mr. Dickery to a business meeting of the
book-club, but they would be back before Langbourne could get away; she
made him promise to wait for them. He did not know if Barbara looked any
protest,--at least she spoke none,--and Juliet went out with Dickery.
She turned at the door to bid Barbara say, if any one called, that she
was at the book-club meeting. Then she disappeared, but reappeared and
called, "See here, a minute, Bab!" and at the outer threshold she
detained Barbara in vivid whisper, ending aloud, "Now you be sure to do
both, Bab! Aunt Elmira will tell you where the things are." Again she
vanished, and was gone long enough to have reached the gate and come
back from it. She was renewing all her whispered and out-spoken charges
when Dickery showed himself at her side, put his hand under her elbow,
and wheeled her about, and while she called gayly over her shoulder to
the others, "Did you ever?" walked her definitively out of the house.

Langbourne did not suffer the silence which followed her going to
possess him. What he had to do he must do quickly, and he said, "Miss
Simpson, may I ask you one question?"

"Why, if you won't expect me to answer it," she suggested quaintly.

"You must do as you please about that. It has to come before I try to
excuse myself for being here; it's the only excuse I can offer. It's
this: Did you send Miss Bingham to get back your letters from me last
spring?"

"Why, of course!"

"I mean, was it your idea?"

"We thought it would be better."

The evasion satisfied Langbourne, but he asked, "Had I given you some
cause to distrust me at that time?"

"Oh, no," she protested. "We got to talking it over, and--and we thought
we had better."

"Because I had come here without being asked?"

"No, no; it wasn't that," the girl protested.

"I know I oughtn't to have come. I know I oughtn't to have written to
you in the beginning, but you had let me write, and I thought you would
let me come. I tried always to be sincere with you; to make you feel
that you could trust me. I believe that I am an honest man; I thought I
was a better man for having known you through your letters. I couldn't
tell you how much they had been to me. You seemed to think, because I
lived in a large place, that I had a great many friends; but I have very
few; I might say I hadn't any--such as I thought I had when I was
writing to you. Most of the men I know belong to some sort of clubs; but
I don't. I went to New York when I was feeling alone in the world,--it
was from something that had happened to me partly through my own
fault,--and I've never got over being alone there. I've never gone into
society; I don't know what society is, and I suppose that's why I am
acting differently from a society man now. The only change I ever had
from business was reading at night: I've got a pretty good library.
After I began to get your letters, I went out more--to the theatre, and
lectures, and concerts, and all sorts of things--so that I could have
something interesting to write about; I thought you'd get tired of
always hearing about me. And your letters filled up my life, so that I
didn't seem alone any more. I read them all hundreds of times; I should
have said that I knew them by heart, if they had not been as fresh at
last as they were at first. I seemed to hear you talking in them." He
stopped as if withholding himself from what he had nearly said without
intending, and resumed: "It's some comfort to know that you didn't want
them back because you doubted me, or my good faith."

"Oh, no, indeed, Mr. Langbourne," said Barbara compassionately.

"Then why did you?"

"I don't know. We--"

"No; _not_ 'we.' _You!_"

She did not answer for so long that he believed she resented his
speaking so peremptorily and was not going to answer him at all. At last
she said, "I thought you would rather give them back." She turned and
looked at him, with the eyes which he knew saw his face dimly, but saw
his thought clearly.

"What made you think that?"

"Oh, I don't know. Didn't you want to?"

He knew that the fact which their words veiled was now the first thing
in their mutual consciousness. He spoke the truth in saying, "No, I
never wanted to," but this was only a mechanical truth, and he knew it.
He had an impulse to put the burden of the situation on her, and press
her to say why she thought he wished to do so; but his next emotion was
shame for this impulse. A thousand times, in these reveries in which he
had imagined meeting her, he had told her first of all how he had
overheard her talking in the room next his own in the hotel, and of the
power her voice had instantly and lastingly had upon him. But now, with
a sense spiritualized by her presence, he perceived that this, if it was
not unworthy, was secondary, and that the right to say it was not yet
established. There was something that must come before this,--something
that could alone justify him in any further step. If she could answer
him first as he wished, then he might open his whole heart to her, at
whatever cost; he was not greatly to blame, if he did not realize that
the cost could not be wholly his, as he asked, remotely enough from her
question, "After I wrote that I was coming up here, and you did not
answer me, did you think I was coming?"

She did not answer, and he felt that he had been seeking a mean
advantage. He went on: "If you didn't expect it, if you never thought
that I was coming, there's no need for me to tell you anything else."

Her face turned towards him a very little, but not so much as even to
get a sidelong glimpse of him; it was as if it were drawn by a magnetic
attraction; and she said, "I didn't know but you would come."

"Then I will tell you why I came--the only thing that gave me the right
to come against your will, if it _was_ against it. I came to ask you to
marry me. Will you?"

She now turned and looked fully at him, though he was aware of being a
mere blur in her near-sighted vision.

"Do you mean to ask it now?"

"Yes."

"And have you wished to ask it ever since you first saw me?"

He tried to say that he had, but he could not; he could only say, "I
wish to ask it now more than ever."

She shook her head slowly. "I'm not sure how you want me to answer you."

"Not sure?"

"No. I'm afraid I might disappoint you again."

He could not make out whether she was laughing at him. He sat, not
knowing what to say, and he blurted out, "Do you mean that you won't?"

"I shouldn't want you to make another mistake."

"I don't know what you"--he was going to say "mean," but he
substituted--"wish. If you wish for more time, I can wait as long as you
choose."

"No, I might wish for time, if there was anything more. But if there's
nothing else you have to tell me--then, no, I cannot marry you."

Langbourne rose, feeling justly punished, somehow, but bewildered as
much as humbled, and stood stupidly unable to go. "I don't know what you
could expect me to say after you've refused me--"

"Oh, I don't expect anything."

"But there _is_ something I should like to tell you. I know that I
behaved that night as if--as if I hadn't come to ask you--what I have; I
don't blame you for not trusting me now. But it is no use to tell you
what I intended if it is all over."

He looked down into his hat, and she said in a low voice, "I think I
ought to know. Won't you--sit down?"

He sat down again. "Then I will tell you at the risk of--But there's
nothing left to lose! You know how it is, when we think about a person
or a place before we've seen them: we make some sort of picture of them,
and expect them to be like it. I don't know how to say it; you do look
more like what I thought than you did at first. I suppose I must seem a
fool to say it; but I thought you were tall, and that you
were--well!--rather masterful--"

"Like Juliet Bingham?" she suggested, with a gleam in the eye next him.

"Yes, like Juliet Bingham. It was your voice made me think--it was your
voice that first made me want to see you, that made me write to you, in
the beginning. I heard you talking that night in the hotel, where you
left that circular; you were in the room next to mine; and I wanted to
come right up here then; but I had to go back to New York, and so I
wrote to you. When your letters came, I always seemed to hear you
speaking in them."

"And when you saw me you were disappointed. I knew it."

"No; not disappointed--"

"Why not? My voice didn't go with my looks; it belonged to a tall,
strong-willed girl."

"No," he protested. "As soon as I got away it was just as it always had
been. I mean that your voice and your looks went together again."

"As soon as you got away?" the girl questioned.

"I mean--What do you care for it, anyway!" he cried, in self-scornful
exasperation.

"I know," she said thoughtfully, "that my voice isn't like me; I'm not
good enough for it. It ought to be Juliet Bingham's--"

"No, no!" he interrupted, with a sort of disgust that seemed not to
displease her, "I can't imagine it!"

"But we can't any of us have everything, and she's got enough as it is.
She's a head higher than I am, and she wants to have her way ten times
as bad."

"I didn't mean that," Langbourne began. "I--but you must think me enough
of a simpleton already."

"Oh, no, not near," she declared. "I'm a good deal of a simpleton myself
at times."

"It doesn't matter," he said desperately; "I love you."

"Ah, that belongs to the time when you thought I looked differently."

"I don't want you to look differently. I--"

"You can't expect me to believe that now. It will take time for me to do
that."

"I will give you time," he said, so simply that she smiled.

"If it was my voice you cared for I should have to live up to it,
somehow, before you cared for me. I'm not certain that I ever could. And
if I couldn't? You see, don't you?"

"I see that I was a fool to tell you what I have," he so far asserted
himself. "But I thought I ought to be honest."

"Oh, you've been _honest_!" she said.

"You have a right to think that I am a flighty, romantic person," he
resumed, "and I don't blame you. But if I could explain, it has been a
very real experience to me. It was your nature that I cared for in your
voice. I can't tell you just how it was; it seemed to me that unless I
could hear it again, and always, my life would not be worth much. This
was something deeper and better than I could make you understand. It
wasn't merely a fancy; I do not want you to believe that."

"I don't know whether fancies are such very bad things. I've had some of
my own," Barbara suggested.

He sat still with his hat between his hands, as if he could not find a
chance of dismissing himself, and she remained looking down at her skirt
where it tented itself over the toe of her shoe. The tall clock in the
hall ticked second after second. It counted thirty of them at least
before he spoke, after a preliminary noise in his throat.

"There is one thing I should like to ask: If you had cared for me, would
you have been offended at my having thought you looked differently?"

She took time to consider this. "I might have been vexed, or hurt, I
suppose, but I don't see how I could really have been offended."

"Then I understand," he began, in one of his inductive emotions; but she
rose nervously, as if she could not sit still, and went to the piano.
The Spanish song he had given her was lying open upon it, and she struck
some of the chords absently, and then let her fingers rest on the keys.

"Miss Simpson," he said, coming stiffly forward, "I should like to hear
you sing that song once more before I--Won't you sing it?"

"Why, yes," she said, and she slipped laterally into the piano-seat.

At the end of the first stanza he gave a long sigh, and then he was
silent to the close.

As she sounded the last notes of the accompaniment Juliet Bingham burst
into the room with somehow the effect to Langbourne of having lain in
wait outside for that moment.

"Oh, I just _knew_ it!" she shouted, running upon them. "I bet John
anything! Oh, I'm so happy it's come out all right; and now I'm going to
have the first--"

She lifted her arms as if to put them round his neck; he stood dazed,
and Barbara rose from the piano-stool and confronted her with nothing
less than horror in her face.

Juliet Bingham was beginning again, "Why, haven't you--"

"_No!_" cried Barbara. "I forgot all about what you said! I just
happened to sing it because he asked me," and she ran from the room.

"Well, if I ever!" said Juliet Bingham, following her with astonished
eyes. Then she turned to Langbourne. "It's perfectly ridiculous, and I
don't see how I can ever explain it. I don't think Barbara has shown a
great deal of tact," and Juliet Bingham was evidently prepared to make
up the defect by a diplomacy which she enjoyed. "I don't know where to
begin exactly; but you must certainly excuse my--manner, when I came
in."

"Oh, certainly," said Langbourne in polite mystification.

"It was all through a misunderstanding that I don't think _I_ was to
blame for, to say the least; but I can't explain it without making
Barbara appear perfectly--Mr. Langbourne, _will_ you tell whether you
are engaged?"

"No! Miss Simpson has declined my offer," he answered.

"Oh, then it's all right," said Juliet Bingham, but Langbourne looked as
if he did not see why she should say that. "Then I can understand; I see
the whole thing now; and I didn't want to make _another_ mistake.
Ah--won't you--sit down?"

"Thank you. I believe I will go."

"But you have a right to know--"

"Would my knowing alter the main facts?" he asked dryly.

"Well, no, I can't say it would," Juliet Bingham replied with an air of
candor. "And, as you _say_, perhaps it's just as well," she added with
an air of relief.

Langbourne had not said it, but he acquiesced with a faint sigh, and
absently took the hand of farewell which Juliet Bingham gave him. "I
know Barbara will be very sorry not to see you; but I guess it's
better."

In spite of the supremacy which the turn of affairs had given her,
Juliet Bingham looked far from satisfied, and she let Langbourne go with
a sense of inconclusiveness which showed in the parting inclination
towards him; she kept the effect of this after he turned from her.

He crept light-headedly down the brick walk with a feeling that the
darkness was not half thick enough, though it was so thick that it hid
from him a figure that leaned upon the gate and held it shut, as if
forcibly to interrupt his going.

"Mr. Langbourne," said the voice of this figure, which, though so
unnaturally strained, he knew for Barbara's voice, "you have got to
_know_! I'm ashamed to tell you, but I should be more ashamed not to,
after what's happened. Juliet made me promise when she went out to the
book-club meeting that if I--if you--if it turned out as _you_ wanted, I
would sing that song as a sign--It was just a joke--like my sending her
picture. It was my mistake and I am sorry, and I beg your pardon--I--"

She stopped with a quick catch in her breath, and the darkness round
them seemed to become luminous with the light of hope that broke upon
him within.

"But if there really was no mistake," he began. He could not get
further.

She did not answer, and for the first time her silence was sweeter than
her voice. He lifted her tip-toe in his embrace, but he did not wish her
taller; her yielding spirit lost itself in his own, and he did not
regret the absence of the strong will which he had once imagined hers.



A CIRCLE IN THE WATER.



I.


The sunset struck its hard red light through the fringe of leafless
trees to the westward, and gave their outlines that black definition
which a French school of landscape saw a few years ago, and now seems to
see no longer. In the whole scene there was the pathetic repose which we
feel in some dying day of the dying year, and a sort of impersonal
melancholy weighed me down as I dragged myself through the woods toward
that dreary November sunset.

Presently I came in sight of the place I was seeking, and partly because
of the insensate pleasure of having found it, and partly because of the
cheerful opening in the boscage made by the pool, which cleared its
space to the sky, my heart lifted. I perceived that it was not so late
as I had thought, and that there was much more of the day left than I
had supposed from the crimson glare in the west. I threw myself down on
one of the grassy gradines of the amphitheatre, and comforted myself
with the antiquity of the work, which was so great as to involve its
origin in a somewhat impassioned question among the local authorities.
Whether it was a Norse work, a temple for the celebration of the
earliest Christian, or the latest heathen, rites among the first
discoverers of New England, or whether it was a cockpit where the
English officers who were billeted in the old tavern near by fought
their mains at the time of our Revolution, it had the charm of a ruin,
and appealed to the fancy with whatever potency belongs to the
mouldering monuments of the past. The hands that shaped it were all
dust, and there was no record of the minds that willed it to prove that
it was a hundred, or that it was a thousand, years old. There were young
oaks and pines growing up to the border of the amphitheatre on all
sides; blackberry vines and sumach bushes overran the gradines almost to
the margin of the pool which filled the centre; at the edge of the water
some clumps of willow and white birch leaned outward as if to mirror
their tracery in its steely surface. But of the life that the thing
inarticulately recorded, there was not the slightest impulse left.

I began to think how everything ends at last. Love ends, sorrow ends,
and to our mortal sense everything that is mortal ends, whether that
which is spiritual has a perpetual effect beyond these eyes or not. The
very name of things passes with the things themselves, and

    "Glory is like a circle in the water,
     Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself,
     Till by broad spreading, it disperse to naught."

But if fame ended, did not infamy end, too? If glory, why not shame?
What was it, I mused, that made an evil deed so much more memorable than
a good one? Why should a crime have so much longer lodgment in our
minds, and be of consequences so much more lasting than the sort of
action which is the opposite of a crime, but has no precise name with
us? Was it because the want of positive quality which left it nameless,
characterized its effects with a kind of essential debility? Was evil
then a greater force than good in the moral world? I tried to recall
personalities, virtuous and vicious, and I found a fatal want of
distinctness in the return of those I classed as virtuous, and a lurid
vividness in those I classed as vicious. Images, knowledges, concepts,
zigzagged through my brain, as they do when we are thinking, or believe
we are thinking; perhaps there is no such thing as we call thinking,
except when we are talking. I did not hold myself responsible in this
will-less revery for the question which asked itself, Whether, then,
evil and not good was the lasting principle, and whether that which
should remain recognizable to all eternity was not the good effect but
the evil effect?

Something broke the perfect stillness of the pool near the opposite
shore. A fish had leaped at some unseasonable insect on the surface, or
one of the overhanging trees had dropped a dead twig upon it, and in the
lazy doubt which it might be, I lay and watched the ever-widening circle
fade out into fainter and fainter ripples toward the shore, till it
weakened to nothing in the eye, and, so far as the senses were
concerned, actually ceased to be. The want of visible agency in it made
me feel it all the more a providential illustration; and because the
thing itself was so pretty, and because it was so apt as a case in
point, I pleased myself a great deal with it. Suddenly it repeated
itself; but this time I grew a little impatient of it, before the circle
died out in the wider circle of the pool. I said whimsically to myself
that this was rubbing it in; that I was convinced already, and needed no
further proof; and at the same moment the thing happened a third time.
Then I saw that there was a man standing at the top of the amphitheatre
just across from me, who was throwing stones into the water. He cast a
fourth pebble into the centre of the pool, and then a fifth and a sixth;
I began to wonder what he was throwing at; I thought it too childish for
him to be amusing himself with the circle that dispersed itself to
naught, after it had done so several times already. I was sure that he
saw something in the pool, and was trying to hit it, or frighten it. His
figure showed black against the sunset light, and I could not make it
out very well, but it held itself something like that of a workman, and
yet with a difference, with an effect as of some sort of discipline; and
I thought of an ex-recruit, returning to civil life, after serving his
five years in the army; though I do not know why I should have gone so
far afield for this notion; I certainly had never seen an ex-recruit,
and I did not really know how one would look. I rose up, and we both
stood still, as if he were abashed in his sport by my presence. The man
made a little cast forward with his hand, and I heard the rattle as of
pebbles dropped among the dead leaves.

Then he called over to me, "Is that you, Mr. March?"

"Yes," I called back, "what is wanted?"

"Oh, nothing. I was just looking for you." He did not move, and after a
moment I began to walk round the top of the amphitheatre toward him.
When I came near him I saw that he had a clean-shaven face, and he wore
a soft hat that seemed large for his close-cropped head; he had on a
sack coat buttoned to the throat, and of one dark color with his loose
trousers. I knew him now, but I did not know what terms to put my
recognition in, and I faltered. "What do you want with me?" I asked, as
if I did not know him.

"I was at your house," he answered, "and they told me that you had
walked out this way." He hesitated a moment, and then he added, rather
huskily, "You don't know me!"

"Yes," I said. "It is Tedham," and I held out my hand, with no definite
intention, I believe, but merely because I did know him, and this was
the usual form of greeting between acquaintances after a long
separation, or even a short one, for that matter. But he seemed to find
a special significance in my civility, and he took my hand and held it
silently, while he was trying to speak. Evidently, he could not, and I
said aimlessly, "What were you throwing at?"

"Nothing. I saw you lying down, over there, and I wanted to attract your
attention." He let my hand go, and looked at me apologetically.

"Oh! was that all?" I said. "I thought you saw something in the water."

"No," he answered, as if he felt the censure which I had not been able
to keep out of my voice.


II.

I do not know why I should have chosen to take this simple fact as proof
of an abiding want of straight-forwardness in Tedham's nature. I do not
know why I should have expected him to change, or why I should have felt
authorized at that moment to renew his punishment for it. I certainly
had said and thought very often that he had been punished enough, and
more than enough. In fact, his punishment, like all the other
punishments that I have witnessed in life, seemed to me wholly out of
proportion to the offence; it seemed monstrous, atrocious, and when I
got to talking of it I used to become so warm that my wife would warn me
people would think I wanted to do something like Tedham myself if I went
on in that way about him. Yet here I was, at my very first encounter
with the man, after his long expiation had ended, willing to add at
least a little self-reproach to his suffering. I suppose, as nearly as I
can analyse my mood, I must have been expecting, in spite of all reason
and experience, that his anguish would have wrung that foible out of
him, and left him strong where it had found him weak. Tragedy befalls
the light and foolish as well as the wise and weighty natures, but it
does not render them wise and weighty; I had often made this sage
reflection, but I failed to apply it to the case before me now.

After waiting a little for the displeasure to clear away from my face,
Tedham smiled as if in humorous appreciation, and I perceived, as
nothing else could have shown me so well, that he was still the old
Tedham. There was an offer of propitiation in this smile, too, and I did
not like that, either; but I was touched when I saw a certain hope die
out of his eye at the failure of his appeal to me.

"Who told you I was here?" I asked, more kindly. "Did you see Mrs.
March?"

"No, I think it must have been your children. I found them in front of
your house, and I asked them for you, without going to the door."

"Oh," I said, and I hid the disappointment I felt that he had not seen
my wife; for I should have liked such a leading as her behavior toward
him would have given me for my own. I was sure she would have known him
at once, and would not have told him where to find me, if she had not
wished me to be friendly with him.

"I am glad to see you," I said, in the absence of this leading; and then
I did not know what else to say. Tedham seemed to me to be looking very
well, but I could not notify this fact to him, in the circumstances; he
even looked very handsome; he had aged becomingly, and a clean-shaven
face suited him as well as the full beard he used to wear; but I could
speak of these things as little as of his apparent health. I did not
feel that I ought even to ask him what I could do for him. I did not
want to have anything to do with him, and, besides, I have always
regarded this formula as tantamount to saying that you cannot, or will
not, do anything for the man you employ it upon.

The silence which ensued was awkward, but it was better than anything I
could think of to say, and Tedham himself seemed to feel it so. He said,
presently, "Thank you. I was sure you would not take my coming to you
the wrong way. In fact I had no one else to come to--after I----" Tedham
stopped, and then, "I don't know," he went on, "whether you've kept run
of me; I don't suppose you have; I got out to-day at noon."

I could not say anything to that, either; there were very few openings
for me, it appeared, in the conversation, which remained one-sided as
before.

"I went to the cemetery," he continued. "I wanted to realize that those
who had died were dead, it was all one thing as long as I was in there;
everybody was dead; and then I came on to your house."

The house he meant was a place I had taken for the summer a little out
of town, so that I could run in to business every day, and yet have my
mornings and evenings in the country; the fall had been so mild that we
were still eking out the summer there.

"How did you know where I was staying?" I asked, with a willingness to
make any occasion serve for saying something.

Tedham hesitated. "Well, I stopped at the office in Boston on my way
out, and inquired. I was sure nobody would know me there." He said this
apologetically, as if he had been taking a liberty, and explained: "I
wanted to see you very much, and I was afraid that if I let the day go
by I should miss you somehow."

"Oh, all right," I said.

We had remained standing at the point where I had gone round to meet
him, and it seemed, in the awkward silence that now followed, as if I
were rooted there. I would very willingly have said something leading,
for my own sake, if not for his, but I had nothing in mind but that I
had better keep there, and so I waited for him to speak. I believed he
was beating about the bush in his own thoughts, to find some indirect or
sinuous way of getting at what he wanted to know, and that it was only
because he failed that he asked bluntly, "March, do you know where my
daughter is?"

"No, Tedham, I don't," I said, and I was glad that I could say it both
with honesty and with compassion. I was truly sorry for the man; in a
way, I did pity him; at the same time I did not wish to be mixed up in
his affairs; in washing my hands of them, I preferred that there should
be no stain of falsehood left on them.

"Where is my sister-in-law?" he asked next, and now at least I could not
censure him for indirection.

"I haven't met her for several years," I answered. "I couldn't say from
my own knowledge where she was."

"But you haven't heard of her leaving Somerville?"

"No, I haven't."

"Do you ever meet her husband?"

"Yes, sometimes, on the street; but I think not lately; we don't often
meet."

"The last time you saw _her_, did she speak of me?"

"I don't know--I believe--yes. It was a good many years ago."

"Was she changed toward me at all?"

This was a hard question to answer, but I thought I had better answer it
with the exact truth. "No, she seemed to feel just the same as ever
about it."

I do not believe Tedham cared for this, after all, though he made a show
of having to collect himself before he went on. "Then you think my
daughter is with her?"

"I didn't say that. I don't know anything about it."

"March," he urged, "don't _you_ think I have a right to see my
daughter?"

"That's something I can't enter into, Tedham."

"Good God!" said the man. "If you were in my place, wouldn't you want to
see her? You know how fond I used to be of her; and she is all that I
have got left in the world."

I did indeed remember Tedham's affection for his daughter, whom I
remembered as in short frocks when I last saw them together. It was
before my own door in town. Tedham had driven up in a smart buggy behind
a slim sorrel, and I came out, at a sign he made me through the
bow-window with his whip, and saw the little maid on the seat there
beside him. They were both very well dressed, though still in mourning
for the child's mother, and the whole turnout was handsomely set up.
Tedham was then about thirty-five, and the child looked about nine. The
color of her hair was the color of his fine brown beard, which had as
yet no trace of gray in it; but the light in her eyes was another light,
and her smile, which was of the same shape as his, was of another
quality, as she leaned across him and gave me her pretty little gloved
hand with a gay laugh. "I should think you would be afraid of such a
fiery sorrel dragon as that," I said, in recognition of the colt's
lifting and twitching with impatience as we talked.

"Oh, I'm not afraid with papa!" she said, and she laughed again as he
took her hand in one of his and covered it out of sight.

I recalled, now, looking at him there in the twilight of the woods, how
happy they had both seemed that sunny afternoon in the city square, as
they flashed away from my door and glanced back at me and smiled
together. I went into the house and said to my wife with a formulation
of the case which pleased me, "If there is anything in the world that
Tedham likes better than to ride after a good horse, it is to ride after
a good horse with that little girl of his." "Yes," said my wife, "but a
good horse means a good deal of money; even when a little girl goes with
it." "That is so," I assented, "but Tedham has made a lot lately in real
estate, they say, and I don't know what better he could do with his
money; or, I don't believe _he_ does." We said no more, but we both
felt, with the ardor of young parents, that it was a great virtue, a
saving virtue, in Tedham to love his little girl so much; I was
afterward not always sure that it was. Still, when Tedham appealed to me
now in the name of his love for her, he moved my heart, if not my
reason, in his favor; those old superstitions persist.

"Why, of course, you want to see her. But I couldn't tell you where she
is."

"You could find out for me."

"I don't see how," I said; but I did see how, and I knew as well as he
what his next approach would be. I felt strong against it, however, and
I did not perceive the necessity of being short with him in a matter not
involving my own security or comfort.

"I could find out where Hasketh is," he said, naming the husband of his
sister-in-law; "but it would be of no use for me to go there. They
wouldn't see me." He put this like a question, but I chose to let it be
its own answer, and he went on. "There is no one that I can ask to act
for me in the matter but you, and I ask _you_, March, to go to my
sister-in-law for me."

I shook my head. "That I can't do, Tedham."

"Ah!" he urged, "what harm could it do you?"

"Look here, Tedham!" I said. "I don't know why you feel authorized to
come to me at all. It is useless your saying that there is no one else.
You know very well that the authorities, some of them--the
chaplain--would go and see Mrs. Hasketh for you. He could have a great
deal more influence with her than any one else could, if he felt like
saying a good word for you. As far as I am concerned, you have expiated
your offence fully; but I should think you yourself would see that you
ought not to come to me with this request; or you ought to come to me
last of all men."

"It is just because of that part of my offence which concerned you that
I come to you. I knew how generous you were, and after you told me that
you had no resentment--I acknowledge that it is indelicate, if you
choose to look at it in that light, but a man like me can't afford to
let delicacy stand in his way. I don't want to flatter you, or get you
to do this thing for me on false pretences. But I thought that if you
went to Mrs. Hasketh for me, she would remember that you had overlooked
something, and she would be more disposed to--to--be considerate."

"I can't do it, Tedham," I returned. "It would be of no use. Besides, I
don't like the errand. I'm not sure that I have any business to
interfere. I am not sure that you have any right to disturb the shape
that their lives have settled into. I'm sorry for you, I pity you with
all my heart. But there are others to be considered as well as you.
And--simply, I can't."

"How do you know," he entreated, "that my daughter wouldn't be as glad
to see me as I to see her?"

"I don't know it. I don't know anything about it. That's the reason I
can't have anything to do with it. I can't justify myself in meddling
with what doesn't concern me, and in what I'm not sure but I should do
more harm than good. I must say good-night. It's getting late, and they
will be anxious about me at home." My heart smote me as I spoke the last
word, which seemed a cruel recognition of Tedham's homelessness. But I
held out my hand to him for parting, and braced myself against my inward
weakness.

He might well have failed to see my hand. At any rate he did not take
it. He turned and started to walk out of the woods by my side. We came
presently to some open fields. Beyond them was the road, and after we
had climbed the first wall, and found ourselves in a somewhat lighter
place, he began to speak again.

"I thought," he said, "that if you had forgiven me, I could take it as a
sign that I had suffered enough to satisfy everybody."

"We needn't dwell upon my share in the matter, Tedham," I answered, as
kindly as I could. "That was entirely my own affair."

"You can't think," he pursued, "how much your letter was to me. It came
when I was in perfect despair--in those awful first days when it seemed
as if I could _not_ bear it, and yet death itself would be no relief.
Oh, they don't _know_ how much we suffer! If they did, they would
forgive us anything, everything! Your letter was the first gleam of hope
I had. I don't know how you came to write it!"

"Why, of course, Tedham, I felt sorry for you--"

"Oh, did you, did you?" He began to cry, and as we hurried along over
the fields, he sobbed with the wrenching, rending sobs of a man. "I
_knew_ you did, and I believe it was God himself that put it into your
heart to write me that letter and take off that much of the blame from
me. I said to myself that if I ever lived through it, I would try to
tell you how much you had done for me. I don't blame you for refusing to
do what I've asked you now. I can see how you may think it isn't best,
and I thank you all the same for that letter. I've got it here." He took
a letter out of his breast-pocket, and showed it to me. "It isn't the
first time I've cried over it."

I did not say anything, for my heart was in my throat, and we stumbled
along in silence till we climbed the last wall, and stood on the
sidewalk that skirted the suburban highway. There, under the
street-lamp, we stopped a moment, and it was he who now offered me his
hand for parting. I took it, and we said, together, "Well, good-by," and
moved in different directions. I knew very well that I should turn back,
and I had not gone a hundred feet away when I faced about. He was
shambling off into the dusk, a most hapless figure. "Tedham!" I called
after him.

"Well?" he answered, and he halted instantly; he had evidently known
what I would do as well as I had.

We reapproached each other, and when we were again under the lamp I
asked, a little awkwardly, "Are you in need of money, Tedham?"

"I've got my ten years' wages with me," he said, with a lightness that
must have come from his reviving hope in me. He drew his hand out of his
pocket, and showed me the few dollars with which the State inhumanly
turns society's outcasts back into the world again.

"Oh, that won't do." I said. "You must let me lend you something."

"Thank you," he said, with perfect simplicity. "But you know I can't
tell when I shall be able to pay you."

"Oh, that's all right." I gave him a ten-dollar note which I had loose
in my pocket; it was one that my wife had told me to get changed at the
grocery near the station, and I had walked off to the old temple, or the
old cockpit, and forgotten about it.

Tedham took the note, but he said, holding it in his hand, "I would a
million times rather you would let me go home with you and see Mrs.
March a moment."

"I can't do that, Tedham," I answered, not unkindly, I hope. "I know
what you mean, and I assure you that it wouldn't be the least use. It's
because I feel so sure that my wife wouldn't like my going to see Mrs.
Hasketh, that I--"

"Yes, I know that," said Tedham. "That is the reason why I should like
to see Mrs. March. I believe that if I could see her, I could convince
her."

"She wouldn't see you, my dear fellow," said I, strangely finding myself
on these caressing terms with him. "She entirely approved of what I did,
the letter I wrote you, but I don't believe she will ever feel just as I
do about it. Women are different, you know."

"Yes," he said, drawing a long, quivering breath.

We stood there, helpless to part. He did not offer to leave me, and I
could not find it in my heart to abandon him. After a most painful time,
he drew another long breath, and asked, "Would you be willing to let me
take the chances?"

"Why, Tedham," I began, weakly; and upon that he began walking with me
again.


III.

I went to my wife's room, after I reached the house, and faced her with
considerable trepidation. I had to begin rather far off, but I certainly
began in a way to lead up to the fact. "Isabel," I said, "Tedham is out
at last." I had it on my tongue to say poor Tedham, but I suppressed the
qualification in actual speech as likely to prove unavailing, or worse.

"Is that what kept you!" she demanded, instantly. "Have you seen him?"

"Yes," I admitted. I added, "Though I am afraid I was rather late,
anyway."

"I knew it was he, the moment you spoke," she said, rising on the lounge
where she had been lying, and sitting up on it; with the book she had
been reading shut on her thumb, she faced me across the table where her
lamp stood. "I had a presentiment when the children said there was some
strange-looking man here, asking for you, and that they had told him
where to find you. I couldn't help feeling a little uneasy about it.
What did he want with you, Basil?"

"Well, he wanted to know where his daughter was."

"You didn't tell him!"

"I didn't know. Then he wanted me to go to Mrs. Hasketh and find out."

"You didn't say you would?"

"I said most decidedly I wouldn't," I returned, and I recalled my
severity to Tedham in refusing his prayer with more satisfaction than it
had given me at the time. "I told him that I had no business to
interfere, and that I was not sure it would be right even for me to
meddle with the course things had taken." I was aware of weakening my
case as I went on; I had better left her with a dramatic conception of a
downright and relentless refusal.

"I don't see why you felt called upon to make excuses to him, Basil. His
impudence in coming to you, of all men, is perfectly intolerable. I
suppose it was that sentimental letter you wrote him."

"You didn't think it sentimental at the time, my dear. You approved of
it."

"I didn't approve of it, Basil; but if you felt so strongly that you
ought to do it, I felt that I ought to let you. I have never interfered
with your sense of duty, and I never will. But I am glad that you didn't
feel it your duty to that wretch to go and make more trouble on his
account. He has made quite enough already; and it wasn't his fault that
you were not tried and convicted in his place."

"There wasn't the slightest danger of that--"

"He tried to put the suspicion on you, and to bring the disgrace on your
wife and children."

"Well, my dear, we agreed to forget all that long ago. And I don't
think--I never thought--that Tedham would have let the suspicion rest on
me. He merely wanted to give it that turn, when the investigation began,
so as to gain time to get out to Canada."

My wife looked at me with a glance in which I saw tender affection
dangerously near contempt. "You are a very forgiving man, Basil," she
said, and I looked down sheepishly. "Well, at any rate, you have had the
sense not to mix yourself up in his business. Did he pretend that he
came straight to you, as soon as he got out? I suppose he wanted you to
believe that he appealed to you before he tried anybody else."

"Yes, he stopped at the Reciprocity office to ask for my address, and
after he had visited the cemetery he came on out here. And, if you must
know, I think Tedham is still the old Tedham. Put him behind a good
horse, with a pocketful of some one else's money, in a handsome suit of
clothes, and a game-and-fish dinner at Tafft's in immediate prospect,
and you couldn't see any difference between the Tedham of to-day and the
Tedham of ten years ago, except that the actual Tedham is clean-shaved
and wears his hair cut rather close."

"Basil!"

"Why do you object to the fact? Did you imagine he had changed
inwardly?"

"He must have suffered."

"But does suffering change people? I doubt it. Certain material
accessories of Tedham's have changed. But why should that change Tedham?
Of course, he has suffered, and he suffers still. He threw out some
hints of what he had been through that would have broken my heart if I
hadn't hardened it against him. And he loves his daughter still, and he
wants to see her, poor wretch."

"I suppose he does!" sighed my wife.

"He would hardly take no for an answer from me, when I said I wouldn't
go to the Haskeths for him; and when I fairly shook him off, he wanted
me to ask you to go."

"And what did you say?" she asked, not at all with the resentment I had
counted upon equally with the possible pathos; you never can tell in the
least how any woman will take anything, which is perhaps the reason why
men do not trust women more.

"I told him that it would not be the smallest use to ask you; that you
had forgiven that old affair as well as I had, but that women were
different, and that I knew you wouldn't even see him."

"Well, Basil, I don't know what right you had to put me in that odious
light," said my wife.

"Why, good heavens! _Would_ you have seen him?"

"I don't know whether I would or not. That's neither here nor there. I
don't think it was very nice of you to shift the whole responsibility on
me."

"How did I do that? It seems to me that I kept the whole responsibility
myself."

"Yes, altogether too much. What became of him, then?"

"We walked along a little farther, and then--"

"Then, what? Where is the man?"

"He's down in the parlor," I answered hardily, in the voice of some one
else.

My wife stood up from the lounge, and I rose, too, for whatever penalty
she chose to inflict.

"Well, Basil, that is what I call a very cowardly thing."

"Yes, my dear, it is; I ought to have protected you against his appeal.
But you needn't see him. It's practically the same as if he had not come
here. I can send him away."

"And you call that practically the same! No, _I_ am the one that will
have to do the refusing now, and it is all off your shoulders. And you
knew I was not feeling very well, either! Basil, how could you?"

"I don't know. The abject creature drove me out of my senses. I suppose
that if I had respected him more, or believed in him more, I should have
had more strength to refuse him. But his limpness seemed to impart
itself to me, and I--I gave way. But really you needn't see him, Isabel.
I can tell him we have talked it over, and I concluded, entirely of
myself, that it was best for you not to meet him, and--"

"He would see through that in an instant. And if he is still the false
creature you think he is, we owe him the truth, more than any other kind
of man. You must understand _that_, Basil!"

"Then you are going to--"

"Don't speak to me, Basil, please," she said, and with an air of high
offence she swept out of the room, and out to the landing of the stairs.
There she hesitated a moment, and put her hand to her hair,
mechanically, to feel if it were in order, and then she went on
downstairs without further faltering. It was I who descended slowly, and
with many misgivings.


IV.

Tedham was sitting in the chair I had shown him when I brought him in,
and in the half-light of one gas-burner in the chandelier he looked,
with his rough, clean clothes, and his slouch hat lying in his lap, like
some sort of decent workingman; his features, refined by the mental
suffering he had undergone, and the pallor of a complexion so seldom
exposed to the open air, gave him the effect of a workingman just out of
the hospital. His eyes were deep in their sockets, and showed fine
shadows in the overhead light, and I must say he looked very
interesting.

At the threshold my wife paused again; then she went forward, turning
the gas up full as she passed under the chandelier, and gave him her
hand, where he had risen from his chair.

"I am glad to see you, Mr. Tedham," she said; and I should have found my
astonishment overpowering, I dare say, if I had not felt that I was so
completely in the hands of Providence, when she added, "Won't you come
out to dinner with us? We were just going to sit down, when Mr. March
came in. I never know when he will be back, when he starts off on these
Saturday afternoon tramps of his."

The children seemed considerably mystified at the appearance of our
guest, but they had that superior interest in the dinner appropriate to
their years, and we got through the ordeal, in which, I believe, I
suffered more than any one else, much better than I could have hoped. I
could not help noting in Tedham a certain strangeness to the use of a
four-pronged fork, at first, but he rapidly overcame this; and if it had
not been for a terrible moment when, after one of the courses, he began,
mechanically, to scrape his plate with his knife, there would not have
been anything very odd in his behavior, or anything to show that it was
the first dinner in polite society that he had taken for so many years.

The man's mind had apparently stiffened more than his body. It used to
be very agile, if light, but it was not agile now. It worked slowly
toward the topics which we found with difficulty, in our necessity of
avoiding the only topics of real interest between us, and I could
perceive that his original egotism, intensified by the long years in
which he had only himself for company, now stood in the way of his
entering into the matters brought forward, though he tried to do so.
They were mostly in the form of reminiscences of this person and that
whom we had known in common, and even in this shape they had to be very
carefully handled so as not to develop anything leading. The thing that
did most to relieve the embarrassment of the time was the sturdy hunger
Tedham showed, and his delight in the cooking; I suppose that I cannot
make others feel the pathos I found in this.

After dinner we shut the children into the library, and kept Tedham with
us in the parlor.

My wife began at once to say, "Mr. March has told me why you wanted to
see me, Mr. Tedham."

"Yes," he said, as if he were afraid to say more lest he should injure
his cause.

"I think that it would not be the least use for me to go to Mrs.
Hasketh. In the first place I do not know her very well, and I have not
seen her for years, I am not certain she would see me."

Tedham turned the hollows of his eyes upon my wife, and asked, huskily,
"Won't you try?"

"Yes," she answered, most unexpectedly to me, "I will try to see her.
But if I do see her, and she refuses to tell me anything about your
daughter, what will you do? Of course, I shall have to tell her I come
from you, and for you."

"I thought," Tedham ventured, with a sort of timorous slyness, "that
perhaps you might approach it casually, without any reference to me."

"No, I couldn't do that," my wife said.

He went on as if he had not heard her: "If she did not know that the
inquiries were made in my behalf, she might be willing to say whether my
daughter was with her."

There was in this suggestion a quality of Tedham's old insinuation, but
coarser, inferior, as if his insinuation had degenerated into something
like mere animal cunning. I felt rather ashamed for him, but to my
surprise, my wife seemed only to feel sorry, and did not repel his
suggestion in the way I had thought she would.

"No," she said, "that wouldn't do. She has kept account of the time, you
may be sure, and she would ask me at once if I was inquiring in your
behalf, and I should have to tell her the truth."

"I didn't know," he returned, "but you might evade the point, somehow.
So much being at stake," he added, as if explaining.

Still my wife was not severe with him. "I don't understand, quite," she
said.

"Being the turning-point in my life, I can't begin to do anything, to be
anything, till I have seen my daughter. I don't know where to find
myself. If I could see her, and she did not cast me off, then I should
know where I was. Or, if she did, I should. You understand that."

"But, of course, there is another point of view."

"My daughter's?"

"Mrs. Hasketh's."

"I don't care for Mrs. Hasketh. She did what she has done for the
child's sake. It was the best thing for the child at the time--the only
thing; I know that. But I agreed to it because I had to."

He continued: "I consider that I have expiated the wrong I did. There is
no sense in the whole thing, if I haven't. They might as well have let
me go in the beginning. Don't you think that ten years out of my life is
enough for a thing that I never intended to go as far as it did, and a
thing that I was led into, partly, for the sake of others? I have tried
to reason it out, and not from my own point of view at all, and that is
the way I feel about it. Is it to go on forever, and am I never to be
rid of the consequences of a single act? If you and Mr. March could
condone--"

"Oh, you mustn't reason from us," my wife broke in. "We are very silly
people, and we do not look at a great many things as others do. You have
got to reckon with the world at large."

"I _have_ reckoned with the world at large, and I have paid the
reckoning. But why shouldn't my daughter look at this thing as you do?"

Instead of answering, my wife asked, "When did you hear from her last?"

Tedham took a few thin, worn letters from his breast-pocket "There is
Mr. March's letter," he said, laying one on his knee. He handed my wife
another.

She read it, and asked, "May Mr. March see it?"

Tedham nodded, and I took the little paper in turn. The letter was
written in a child's stiff, awkward hand. It was hardly more than a
piteous cry of despairing love. The address was Mrs. Hasketh's, in
Somerville, and the date was about three months after Tedham's
punishment began. "Is that the last you have heard from her?" I asked.

Tedham nodded as he took the letter from me.

"But surely you have heard something more about her in all this time?"
my wife pursued.

"Once from Mrs. Hasketh, to make me promise that I would leave the child
to her altogether, and not write to her, or ask to see her. When I went
to the cemetery to-day, I did not know but I should find her grave,
too."

"Well, it is cruel!" cried my wife. "I will go and see Mrs. Hasketh,
but--you ought to feel yourself that it's hopeless."

"Yes," he admitted. "There isn't much chance unless she should happen to
think the same way you do: that I had suffered enough, and that it was
time to stop punishing me."

My wife looked compassionately at him, and she began with a sympathy
that I have not always known her to show more deserving people, "If it
were a question of that alone it would be very easy. But suppose your
daughter were so situated that it would be--disadvantageous to her to
have it known that you were her father?"

"You mean that I have no right to mend my broken-up life--what there is
left of it--by spoiling hers? I have said that to myself. But then, on
the other hand, I have had to ask myself whether I had any right to keep
her from choosing for herself about it. I sha'n't force myself on her. I
expect to leave her free. But if the child cares for me, as she used to,
hasn't that love--not mine for her, but hers for me--got some rights
too?"

His voice sank almost to a hush, and the last word was scarcely more
than a breathing. "All I want is to know where she is, and to let her
know that I am in the world, and where she can find me. I think she
ought to have a chance to decide."

"I am afraid Mrs. Hasketh may think it would be better, for her sake,
_not_ to have the chance," my wife sighed, and she turned her look from
Tedham upon me, as if she wished me rather than him to answer.

"The only way to find out is to ask her," I answered, non-committally,
and rather more lightly than I felt about it. In fact, the turn the
affair had taken interested me greatly. It involved that awful mystery
of the ties by which, unless we are born of our fathers and mothers for
nothing more than the animals are, we are bound to them in all the
things of life, in duty and in love transcending every question of
interest and happiness. The parents' duty to the children is obvious and
plain, but the child's duty to its parents is something subtler and more
spiritual. It is to be more delicately, more religiously, regarded. No
one, without impiety, can meddle with it from the outside, or interfere
in its fulfilment. This and much more I said to my wife when we came to
talk the matter over after Tedham left us. Above all, I urged something
that came to me so forcibly at the moment that I said I had always
thought it, and perhaps I really believed that I had. "Why should we try
to shield people from fate? Isn't that always wrong? One is fated to be
born the child of a certain father, and one can no more escape the
consequences of his father's misdeeds than the doer himself can. Perhaps
the pain and the shame come from the wish and the attempt to do so, more
than from the fact itself. The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon
the children. But the children are innocent of evil, and this visitation
must be for their good, and will be, if they bear it willingly."

"Well, don't try to be that sort of blessing to _your_ children, Basil,"
said my wife, personalizing the case, as a woman must.

After that we tried to account to each other for having consented to do
what Tedham asked us. Perhaps we accused each other somewhat for doing
it.

"I didn't know, my dear, but you were going to ask him to come and stay
with us," I said.

"I did want to," she replied. "It seemed so forlorn, letting him go out
into the night, and find a place for himself, when we could just as well
have let him stay as not. Why shouldn't we have offered him a bed for
the night, as we would any other acquaintance?"

"Well, you must allow that the circumstances were peculiar!"

"But if he was sentenced to pay a certain penalty, and has paid it, why,
as he said, shouldn't we stop punishing him?"

"I suppose we can't. There seems to be an instinctive demand for eternal
perdition, for hell, in the human heart," I suggested.

"Well, then, I believe that your instinct, Basil--"

"Oh, _I_ don't claim it, exclusively!"

"Is a survival of savagery, and the sooner we get rid of it the better.
How queer he seems. It is the old Tedham, but all faded in--or out."

"Yes, he affected me like an etching of himself from a wornout plate.
Still, I'm afraid there's likeness enough left to make trouble, yet. I
hope you realize what you have gone in for, Isabel?"

She answered from the effort that I could see she was making, to brace
herself already for the work before us:

"Well, we must do this because we can't help doing it, and because,
whatever happens, we had no right to refuse. You must come with me,
Basil!"

"I? To Mrs. Hasketh's?"

"Certainly. I will do the talking, but I shall depend upon your moral
support. We will go over to Somerville to-morrow afternoon. We had
better not lose any time."

"To-morrow is Sunday."

"So much the better. They will be sure to be at home, if they're there
at all, yet."

She said they, but I knew that she did not expect poor old Hasketh
really to count in the matter, any more than she expected me to do so.


V.

The Haskeths lived in a house that withdrew itself behind tall garden
trees in a large lot sloping down the hillside, in one of the quieter
old streets of their suburb. The trees were belted in by a board fence,
painted a wornout white, as far as it was solid, which was to the height
of one's shoulder; there it opened into a panel work of sticks crossed
X-wise, which wore a coat of aged green; the strip above them was set
with a bristling row of rusty nails, which were supposed to keep out
people who could perfectly well have gone in at the gate as we did.
There was a brick walk from the gate to the door, which was not so far
back as I remembered it (perhaps because the leaves were now off the
trees), and there was a border of box on either side of the walk.
Altogether there was an old-fashioned keeping in the place which I
should have rather enjoyed if I had been coming on any other errand; but
now it imparted to me a notion of people set in their ways, of something
severe, something hopelessly forbidding.

I do not think there had ever been much intimacy between the Tedhams and
the Haskeths, before Tedham's calamity came upon him. But Mrs. Hasketh
did not refuse her share of it. She came forward, and probably made her
husband come forward, in Tedham's behalf, and do what hopelessly could
be done to defend him where there was really no defence, and the only
thing to be attempted was to show circumstances that might perhaps tend
to the mitigation of his sentence. I do not think they did. Tedham had
confessed himself and had been proven such a thorough rogue, and the
company had lately suffered so much through operations like his, that,
even if it could have had mercy, as an individual may, mercy was felt to
be bad morals, and the case was unrelentingly pushed. His sentence was
of those sentences which an eminent jurist once characterized as rather
dramatic; it was pronounced not so much in relation to his particular
offence, as with the purpose of striking terror into all offenders like
him, who were becoming altogether too common. He was made to suffer for
many other peculators, who had been, or were about to be, and was given
the full penalty. I was in court when it was pronounced with great
solemnity by the judge, who read him a lecture in doing so; I could have
read the judge another, for I could not help feeling that it was, more
than all the sentences I had ever heard pronounced, wholly out of
keeping with the offence. I met Hasketh coming out of the court-room,
and I said that I thought it was terribly severe. He agreed with me, and
as I knew that he and Tedham had never liked each other, I inferred a
kindliness in him which made me his friend, in the way one is the friend
of a man one never meets. He was a man of few words, and he now simply
said, "It was unjust," and we parted.

For several months after Tedham's conviction, I did not think we ought
to intrude upon the Haskeths; but then my wife and I both felt that we
ought, in decency, to make some effort to see them. They seemed pleased,
but they made us no formal invitation to come again, and we never did.
That day, however, I caught a glimpse of Tedham's little girl, as she
flitted through the hall, after we were seated in the parlor; she was in
black, a forlorn little shadow in the shadow; and I recalled now, as we
stood once more on the threshold of the rather dreary house, a certain
gentleness of bearing in the child, which I found infinitely pathetic,
at that early moment of her desolation. She had something of poor
Tedham's own style and grace, too, which had served him so ill, and this
heightened the pathos for me. In that figure I had thought of his
daughter ever since, as often as I had thought of her at all; which was
not very often, to tell the truth, after the first painful impression of
Tedham's affair began to die away in me, or to be effaced by the
accumulating cares and concerns of my own life. But now that we had
returned into the presence of that bitter sorrow, as it were, the little
thing reappeared vividly to me in just the way I had seen her so long
ago. My sense of her forlornness, of her most hapless orphanhood, was
intensified by the implacable hate with which Mrs. Hasketh had then
spoken of her father, in telling us that the child was henceforth to
bear her husband's name, and had resentfully scorned the merit Tedham
tried to make of giving her up to them. "And if I can help it," she had
ended, with a fierceness I had never forgotten, "she shall not hear him
mentioned again, or see him as long as I live."

My wife and I now involuntarily dropped our voices, or rather they sank
into our throats, as we sat waiting in the dim parlor, after the maid
took our cards to Mr. and Mrs. Hasketh. We tried to make talk, but we
could not, and we were funereally quiet, when Hasketh came pottering and
peering in, and shook hands with both of us. He threw open half a blind
at one of the windows, and employed himself in trying to put up the
shade, to gain time, as I thought, before he should be obliged to tell
us that his wife could not see us. Then he came to me, and asked, "Won't
you let me take your hat?" as such people do, in expression of a vague
hospitality; and I let him take it, and put it mouth down on the marble
centre-table, beside the large, gilt-edged, black-bound family Bible. He
drew a chair near me, in a row with my wife and myself, and said, "It is
quite a number of years since we met, Mrs. March," and he looked across
me at her.

"Yes, I am almost afraid to think how many," she answered.

"Family well?"

"Yes, our children are both very well, Mr. Hasketh. You seem to be
looking very well, too."

"Thank you, I have nothing to complain of. I am not so young as I was.
But that is about all."

"I hope Mrs. Hasketh is well?"

"Yes, thank you, she is quite well, for her. She is never very strong.
She will be down in a moment."

"Oh, I shall be so glad to see her."

The conversation, which might be said to have flagged from the
beginning, stopped altogether at this point, and though I was prompted
by several looks from my wife to urge it forward, I could think of
nothing to do so with, and we sat without speaking till we heard the
stir of skirts on the stairs in the hall outside, and then my wife said,
"Ah, that is Mrs. Hasketh."

I should have known it was Mrs. Hasketh without this sort of
anticipation, I think, even if I had never seen her before, she was so
like my expectation of what that sort of woman would be in the lapse of
time, with her experience of life. The severity that I had seen come and
go in her countenance in former days was now so seated that she had no
other expression, and I may say without caricature that she gave us a
frown of welcome. That is, she made us feel, in spite of a darkened
countenance, that she was really willing to see us in her house, and
that she took our coming as a sign of amity. I suppose that the
induration of her spirit was the condition of her being able to bear at
all what had been laid on her to bear, and her burden had certainly not
been light.

At her appearance her husband, without really stirring at all, had the
effect of withdrawing into the background, where, indeed, I tacitly
joined him; and the two ladies remained in charge of the drama, while he
and I conversed, as it were, in dumb show. Apart from my sympathy with
her in the matter, I was very curious to see how my wife would play her
part, which seemed to me far the more difficult of the two, since she
must make all the positive movements.

After some civilities so obviously perfunctory that I admired the force
of mind in the women who uttered them, my wife said, "Mrs. Hasketh, we
have come on an errand that I know will cause you pain, and I needn't
say that we haven't come willingly."

"Is it about Mr. Tedham?" asked Mrs. Hasketh, and I remembered now that
she had always used as much ceremony in speaking of him; it seemed
rather droll now, but still it would not have been in character with her
to call him simply Tedham, as we did, in speaking of him.

"Yes," said my wife. "I don't know whether you had kept exact account of
the time. It was a surprise to us, for we hadn't. He is out, you know."

"Yes--at noon, yesterday. I wasn't likely to forget the day, or the
hour, or the minute." Mrs. Hasketh said this without relaxing the
severity of her face at all, and I confess my heart went down.

But my wife seemed not to have lost such courage as she had come with,
at least. "He has been to see us--"

"I presumed so," said Mrs. Hasketh, and as she said nothing more, Mrs.
March took the word again.

"I shall have to tell you why he came--why _we_ came. It was something
that we did not wish to enter into, and at first my husband refused
outright. But when I saw him, and thought it over, I did not see how we
could refuse. After all, it is something you must have expected, and
that you must have been expecting at once, if you say--"

"I presume," Mrs. Hasketh said, "that he wished you to ask after his
daughter. I can understand why he did not come to us." She let one of
those dreadful silences follow, and again my wife was forced to speak.

"It is something that we didn't mean to press at all, Mrs. Hasketh, and
I won't say anything more. Only, if you care to send any word to him he
will be at our house this evening again, and I will give him your
message." She rose, not in resentment, as I could see (and I knew that
she had not come upon this errand without making herself Tedham's
partisan in some measure) but with sincere good feeling and appreciation
of Mrs. Hasketh's position. I rose with her, and Hasketh rose too.

"Oh, don't go!" Mrs. Hasketh broke out, as if surprised. "You couldn't
help coming, and I don't blame you at all. I don't blame Mr. Tedham
even. I didn't suppose I should ever forgive him. But there! that's all
long ago, and the years do change us. They change us all, Mrs. March,
and I don't feel as if I had the right to judge anybody the way I used
to judge _him_. Sometimes it surprises me. I did hate him, and I don't
presume I've got very much love for him now, but I don't want to punish
him any more. That's gone out of me. I don't know how it came to go, but
it went. I wish he hadn't ever got anything more to do with us, but I'm
afraid we haven't had all our punishment yet, whatever _he_ has. It
seems to me as if the sight of Mr. Tedham would make me sick."

I found such an insufficiency in this statement of feeling that I wanted
to laugh, but I perceived that it did not appeal to my wife's sense of
humor. She said, "I can understand how you feel about it, Mrs. Hasketh."

Mrs. Hasketh seemed grateful for the sympathy. "I presume," she went on,
and I noted how often she used the quaint old-fashioned Yankee word,
"that you feel as if you had almost as much right to hate him as I had,
and that if you could overlook what he tried to do to you, I might
overlook what he did do to his own family. But as I see it, the case is
different. He failed when he tried to put the blame on Mr. March, and he
succeeded only too well in putting the shame on his own family. You
could forgive it, and it would be all the more to your credit because
you forgave it, but his family might have forgiven it ten times over,
and still they would be in disgrace through him. That is the way I
looked at it."

"And I assure you, Mrs. Hasketh, that is the way I looked at it, too,"
said my wife.

"So, when it seems hard that I should have taken his child from him,"
the woman continued, as if still arguing her case, and she probably was
arguing it with herself, "and did what I could to make her forget him, I
think it had better be considered whose sake I was doing it for, and
whether I had any right to do different. I did not think I had at the
time, or when I had to begin to act. I knew how I felt toward Mr.
Tedham; I never liked him; I never wanted my sister to marry him; and
when his trouble came, I told Mr. Hasketh that it was no more than I had
expected all along. He was that kind of a man, and he was sure to show
it, one way or other, sooner or later; and I was not disappointed when
he did what he did. I had to guard against my own feeling, and to put
myself out of the question, and that was what I tried to do when I got
him to give up the child to us and let her take our name. It was the
same as a legal adoption, and he freely consented to it, or as freely as
he could, considering where he was. But he knew it was for her good as
well as we did. There was nobody for her to look to but us, and he knew
that; his own family had no means, and, in fact, he _had_ no family but
his father and mother, and when they died, that same first year, there
was no one left to suffer from him but his child. The question was how
much she ought to be allowed to suffer, and whether she should be
allowed to suffer at all, if it could be helped. If it was to be
prevented, it was to be by deadening her to him, by killing out her
affection for him, and much as I hated Mr. Tedham, I could not bring
myself to do that, though I used to think I would do it. He was very
fond of her, I don't deny that; I don't think it was any merit in him to
love such a child, but it was the best thing about him, and I was
willing it should count. But then there was another thing that I
couldn't bring myself to, and that was to tell the child, up and down,
all about it; and I presume that there I was weak. Well, you may say I
_was_ weak! But I couldn't, I simply couldn't. She was only between
seven and eight when it happened--"

"I thought she was older," I ventured to put in, remembering my
impressions as to her age the last time I saw her with her father.

"No," said Mrs. Hasketh, "she always appeared rather old for her age,
and that made me all the more anxious to know just how much of the
trouble she had taken in. I suppose it was all a kind of awful mystery
to her, as most of our trials are to children; but when her father was
taken from her, she seemed to think it was something she mustn't ask
about; there are a good many things in the world that children feel that
way about--how they come into it, for one thing, and how they go out of
it; and by and by she didn't speak of it. She had some of his lightness,
and I presume that helped her through; I was afraid it did sometimes.
Then, at other times, I thought she had got the notion he was in for
life, and that was the reason she didn't speak of him; she had given him
up. Then I used to wonder whether it wasn't my duty to take her to see
him--where he was. But when I came to find out that you had to see them
through the bars, and with the kind of clothes they wear, I felt that I
might as well kill the child at once; it was for her sake I didn't take
her. You may be sure I wasn't anxious for the responsibility of _not_
doing it either, the way I knew I felt toward Mr. Tedham."

I did not like her protesting so much as this; but I saw that it was a
condition of her being able to deal with herself in the matter, and I
had no doubt she was telling the truth.

"You never can know just how much of a thing children have taken in, or
how much they have understood," she continued, repeating herself, as she
did throughout, "and I had to keep this in mind when I had my talks with
Fay about her father. She wanted to write to him at first, and of course
I let her--"

My wife and I could not forbear exchanging a glance of intelligence,
which Mrs. Hasketh intercepted.

"I presume he told you?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "he showed us the letter."

"Well, it was something that had to be done. As long as she questioned
me about him, I put her off the best way I could, and after a while she
seemed to give up questioning me of her own accord. Perhaps she really
began to understand it, or some of the cruel little things she played
with said something. I was always afraid of the other children throwing
it up to her, and that was one reason we went away for three or four
years and let our place here."

"I didn't know you were gone," I said toward Hasketh, who cleared his
throat to explain:

"I had some interests at that time in Canada. We were at Quebec."

"It shows what a rush our life is," I philosophized, with the
implication that Hasketh and I had been old friends, and I ought to have
noticed that I had not met him during the time of his absence. The fact
was we had never come so near intimacy as when we exchanged confidences
concerning the severity of Tedham's sentence in coming out of the
court-room together.

"_I_ hadn't any interest in Canada, except to get the child away," said
Mrs. Hasketh. "Sometimes it seemed strange _we_ should be in Canada, and
not Mr. Tedham! She got acquainted with some little girls who were going
to a convent school there as externes--outside pupils, you know," Mrs.
Hasketh explained to my wife. "She got very fond of one of them--she is
a child of very warm affections. I never denied that Mr. Tedham had warm
_affections_--and when her little girl friend went into the convent to
go on with her education there, Fay wanted to go too, and--we let her.
That was when she was twelve, and Mr. Hasketh felt that he ought to come
back and look after his business here; and we left her in the convent.
Just as soon as she was out of the way, and out of the question, it
seemed as if I got to feeling differently toward Mr. Tedham. I don't
mean to say I ever got to like him, or that I do to this day; but I saw
that he had some rights, too, and for years and years I wanted to take
the child and tell her when he was coming out. I used to ask myself what
right I even had to keep the child from the suffering. The suffering was
hers by rights, and she ought to go through it. I got almost crazy
thinking it over. I got to thinking that her share of her father's shame
might be the very thing, of all things, that was to discipline her and
make her a good and useful woman; and that's much more than being a
happy one, Mrs. March; we can't any of us be truly happy, no matter
what's done for us. I tried to make believe that I was sparing her
alone, but I knew I was sparing myself, too, and that made it harder to
decide." She suddenly addressed herself to us both: "What would _you_
have done?"

My wife and I looked at each other in a dismay in which a glance from
old Hasketh assured us that we had his sympathy. It would have been far
simpler if Mrs. Hasketh had been up and down with us as Tedham's
emissaries, and refused to tell us anything of his daughter, and left us
to report to him that he must find her for himself if he found her at
all. This was what we had both expected, and we had come prepared to
take back that answer to Tedham, and discharge our whole duty towards
him in its delivery. This change in the woman who had hated him so
fiercely, but whose passion had worn itself down to the underlying
conscience with the lapse of time, certainly complicated the case. I was
silent; my wife said: "I don't know _what_ I should have done, Mrs.
Hasketh;" and Mrs. Hasketh resumed:

"If I did wrong in trying to separate her life from her father's, I was
punished for it, because when I wanted to undo my work, I didn't know
how to begin; I presume that's the worst of a wrong thing. Well, I never
did begin; but now I've got to. The time's come, and I presume it's as
easy now as it ever could be; easier. He's out and it's over, as far as
the law is concerned; and if she chooses she can see him. I'll prepare
her for it as well as I can, and he can come if she wishes it."

"Do you mean that he can see her _here_?" my wife asked.

"Yes," said Mrs. Hasketh, with a sort of strong submission.

"At once? To-day?"

"No," Mrs. Hasketh faltered. "I didn't want him to see her just the
first day, or before I saw him; and I thought he might try to. She's
visiting at some friends in Providence; but she'll be back to-morrow. He
can come to-morrow night, if she says so. He can come and find out. But
if he was anything of a man he wouldn't want to."

"I'm afraid," I ventured, "he isn't anything of _that_ kind of man."


VI.

"Now, how unhandsome life is!" I broke out, at one point on our way
home, after we had turned the affair over in every light, and then
dropped it, and then taken it up again. "It's so graceless, so
tasteless! Why didn't Tedham die before the expiration of his term and
solve all this knotty problem with dignity? Why should he have lived on
in this shabby way and come out and wished to see his daughter? If there
had been anything dramatic, anything artistic in the man's nature, he
would have renounced the claim his mere paternity gives him on her love,
and left word with me that he had gone away and would never be heard of
any more. That was the least he could have done. If he had wanted to do
the thing heroically--and I wouldn't have denied him that
satisfaction--he would have walked into that pool in the old cockpit and
lain down among the autumn leaves on its surface, and made an end of the
whole trouble with his own burdensome and worthless existence. That
would truly have put an end to the evil he began."

"I wouldn't be--impious, Basil," said my wife, with a moment's
hesitation for the word. Then she sighed and added, "Yes, it seems as if
that would be the only thing that could end it. There doesn't really
seem to be any provision in life for ending such things. He will have to
go on and make more and more trouble. Poor man! I feel almost as sorry
for him as I do for her. I guess he hasn't expiated his sin yet, as
fully as he thinks he has."

"And then," I went on, with a strange pleasure I always get out of the
poignancy of a despair not my own, "suppose that this isn't all. Suppose
that the girl has met some one who has become interested in her, and
whom she will have to tell of this stain upon her name?"

"Basil!" cried my wife, "that is cruel of you! You _knew_ I was keeping
away from that point, and it seems as if you tried to make it as
afflicting as you could--the whole affair."

"Well, I don't believe it's as bad as that. Probably she hasn't met any
one in that way; at any rate, it's pure conjecture on my part, and my
conjecture doesn't make it so."

"It doesn't unmake it, either, for you to say that now," my wife
lamented.

"Well, well! Don't let's think about it, then. The case is bad enough as
it stands, Heaven knows, and we've got to grapple with it as soon as we
get home. We shall find Tedham waiting for us, I dare say, unless
something has happened to him. I wonder if anything can have been good
enough to happen to Tedham, overnight."

I got a little miserable fun out of this, but my wife would not laugh;
she would not be placated in any way; she held me in a sort responsible
for the dilemma I had conjectured, and inculpated me in some measure for
that which had really presented itself.

When we reached home she went directly to her room and had a cup of tea
sent to her there, and the children and I had rather a solemn time at
the table together. A Sunday tea-table is solemn enough at the best,
with its ghastly substitution of cold dishes or thin sliced things for
the warm abundance of the week-day dinner; with the gloom of Mrs.
March's absence added, this was a very funereal feast indeed.

We went on quite silently for a while, for the children saw I was
preoccupied; but at last I asked, "Has anybody called this afternoon?"

"I don't know exactly whether it was a call or not," said my daughter,
with a nice feeling for the social proprieties which would have amused
me at another time. "But that strange person who was here last night,
was here again."

"Oh!"

"He said he would come in the evening. I forgot to tell you. Papa, what
kind of person is he?"

"I don't know. What makes you ask?"

"Why, we think he wasn't always a workingman. Tom says he looks as if he
had been in some kind of business, and then failed."

"What makes you think that, Tom?" I asked the boy.

"Oh, I don't know. He speaks so well."

"He always spoke well, poor fellow," I said with a vague amusement. "And
you're quite right, Tom. He was in business once and he failed--badly."

I went up to my wife's room and told her what the children had said of
Tedham's call, and that he was coming back again.

"Well, then, I think I shall let you see him alone, Basil. I'm
completely worn out, and besides there's no reason why I should see him.
I hope you'll get through with him quickly. There isn't really anything
for you to say, except that we have seen the Haskeths, and that if he is
still bent upon it he can find his daughter there to-morrow evening. I
want you to promise me that you will confine yourself to that, Basil,
and not say a single word more. There is no sense in our involving
ourselves in the affair. We have done all we could, and more than he had
any right to ask of us, and now I am determined that he shall not get
anything more out of you. Will you promise?"

"You may be sure, my dear, that I don't wish to get any more involved in
this coil of sin and misery than you do," I began.

"That isn't promising," she interrupted. "I want you to promise you'll
say just that and no more."

"Oh, I'll promise fast enough, if that's all you want," I said.

"I don't trust you a bit, Basil," she lamented. "Now, I will explain to
you all about it. I've thought the whole thing over."

She did explain, at much greater length than she needed, and she was
still giving me some very solemn charges when the bell rang, and I knew
that Tedham had come. "Now, remember what I've told you," she called
after me, as I went to the door, "and be sure to tell me, when you come
back, just how he takes it and every word he says. Oh, dear, I know
you'll make the most dreadful mess of it!"

By this time I expected to do no less, but I was so curious to see
Tedham again that I should have been willing to do much worse, rather
than forego my meeting with him. I hope that there was some better
feeling than curiosity in my heart, but I will, for the present, call it
curiosity.

I met him in the hall at the foot of the stairs, and put a witless
cheeriness into the voice I bade him good-evening with, while I gave him
my hand and led the way into the parlor.

The twenty-four hours that had elapsed since I saw him there before had
estranged him in a way that I find it rather hard to describe. He had
shrunk from the approach to equality in which we had parted, and there
was a sort of consciousness of disgrace in his look, such as might have
shown itself if he had passed the time in a low debauch. But undoubtedly
he had done nothing of the kind, and this effect in him was from a
purely moral cause. He sat down on the edge of a chair, instead of
leaning back, as he had done the night before.

"Well, Tedham," I began, "we have seen your sister-in-law, and I may as
well tell you at once that, so far as she is concerned, there will be
nothing in the way of your meeting your daughter. The Haskeths are
living at their old place in Somerville, and your daughter will be with
them there to-morrow night--just at this moment she is away--and you can
find her there, then, if you wish."

Tedham kept those deep eye-hollows of his bent upon me, and listened
with a passivity which did not end when I ceased to speak. I had said
all that my wife had permitted me to say in her charge to me, and the
incident ought to have been closed, as far as we were concerned. But
Tedham's not speaking threw me off my guard. I could not let the matter
end so bluntly, and I added, in the same spirit one makes a scrawl at
the bottom of a page, "Of course, it's for you to decide whether you
will or not."

"What do you mean?" asked Tedham, feebly, but as if he were physically
laying hold of me for help.

"Why, I mean--I mean--my dear fellow, you know what I mean! Whether you
had better do it." This was the very thing I had not intended to do, for
I saw how wise my wife's plan was, and how we really had nothing more to
do with the matter, after having satisfied the utmost demands of
humanity.

"You think I had better not," said Tedham.

"No," I said, but I felt that I was saying it too late, "I don't think
anything about it."

"I have been thinking about it, too," said Tedham, as if I had confessed
and not denied having an opinion in the matter. "I have been thinking
about it ever since I saw you last night, and I don't believe I have
slept, for thinking of it. I know how you and Mrs. March feel about it,
and I have tried to see it from your point of view, and now I believe I
do. I am not going to see my daughter; I am going away."

He stood up, in token of his purpose, and at the same moment my wife
entered the room. She must have been hurrying to do so from the moment I
left her, for she had on a fresh dress, and her hair had the effect of
being suddenly, if very effectively, massed for the interview from the
dispersion in which I had lately seen it. She swept me with a glance of
reproach, as she went up to Tedham, in the pretence that he had risen to
meet her, and gave him her hand. I knew that she divined all that had
passed between us, but she said:

"Mr. March has told you that we have seen Mrs. Hasketh, and that you can
find your daughter at her house to-morrow evening?"

"Yes, and I have just been telling him that I am not going to see her."

"That is very foolish--very wrong!" my wife began.

"I know you must say so," Tedham replied, with more dignity and force
than I could have expected, "and I know how kind you and Mr. March have
been. But you must see that I am right--that she is the only one to be
considered at all."

"Right! How are you right? Have _you_ been suggesting that, my dear?"
demanded my wife, with a gentle despair of me in her voice.

It almost seemed to me that I had, but Tedham came to my rescue most
unexpectedly.

"No, Mrs. March, he hasn't said anything of the kind to me; or, if he
has, I haven't heard it. But you intimated, yourself, last night, that
she might be so situated--"

"I was a wicked simpleton," cried my wife, and I forebore to triumph,
even by a glance at her; "to put my doubts between you and your daughter
in any way. It was romantic, and--and--disgusting. It's not only your
right to see her, it's your _duty_. At least it's your duty to let her
decide whether she will let you see her. What nonsense! Of course she
will! She must bear her part in it. She ought not to escape it, even if
she could. Now you must just drop all idea of going away, and you must
stay, and you must go to see your daughter. There is no other way to
do."

Tedham shook his head stubbornly. "She has borne her share, already, and
I won't inflict my penalty on her innocence--"

"Innocence? It's _because_ she is innocent that it must be inflicted
upon her! That is what innocence is in the world for!"

Tedham looked back at her in a dull bewilderment. "I can't get back to
that. It seemed so once; but now it looks selfish, and I'm afraid of it.
I am not the one to take that ground. It might do for you--"

"Well, then, let it do for me!" I confess that I was astonished at this
turn, or should have been, if I could be astonished at any turn a woman
takes. "I will see her for you, if you wish, and I will tell her just
how it is with you, and then she can decide for herself. You have
certainly no right to decide for her, whether she will see you or not,
have you?"

"No," Tedham admitted.

"Well, then, sit down and listen."

He sat down, and my wife reasoned it all out with him. She convinced me,
perfectly, so that what Tedham proposed to do seemed not only
sentimental and foolish, but unnatural and impious. I confess that I
admired her casuistry, and gave it my full support. She was a woman who,
in the small affairs of the tastes and the nerves and the prejudices
could be as illogical as the best of her sex, but with a question large
enough to engage the hereditary powers of her New England nature she
showed herself a dialectician worthy of her Puritan ancestry.

Tedham rose when she had made an end; and when we both expected him to
agree with her and obey her, he said, "Very likely you are right. I once
saw it all that way myself, but I don't see it so now, and I can't do
it. Perhaps we shouldn't care for each other; at any rate, it's too much
to risk, and I can't do it. Good-by." He began sidling toward the door.

I would have detained him, but my wife made me a sign not to interfere.
"But surely, Mr. Tedham," she pleaded, "you are going to leave some word
for her--or for Mrs. Hasketh to give her?"

"No," he answered, "I don't think I will. If I don't appear, then she
won't see me, and that will be all there is of it."

"Yes, but Mrs. Hasketh will probably tell her that you have asked about
her, and will prepare her for your coming, and then if you don't come--"

"What time is it, March?" Tedham asked.

I took out my watch. "It's nine o'clock." I was surprised to find it no
later.

"I can get over to Somerville before ten, can't I? I'll go and tell Mrs.
Hasketh I am not coming."

We could not prevent his getting away, by force, and we had used all the
arguments we could have hoped to detain him with. As he opened the door
to go out into the night, "But, Tedham!" I called to him, "if anything
happens, where are we to find you, hear of you?"

He hesitated. "I will let you know. Well, good-night."

"I suppose this isn't the end, Isabel," I said, after we had turned from
looking blankly at the closed door, and listening to Tedham's steps,
fainter and fainter on the board-walk to the gate.

"There never is an end to a thing like this!" she returned, with a
passionate sigh of pity. "Oh, what a terrible thing an evil deed is! It
_can't_ end. It has to go on and on forever. Poor wretch! He thought he
had got to the end of his misdeed, when he had suffered the punishment
for it, but it was only just beginning then! Now, you see, it has a
perfectly new lease of life. It's as if it had just happened, as far as
the worst consequences are concerned."

"Yes," I assented. "By the way, that was a great idea of yours about the
office of innocence in the world, Isabel!"

"Why, Basil!" she cried, "you don't suppose I believed in such a
monstrous thing as that, do you?"

"You made me believe in it."

"Well, then, I can tell you that I merely said it so as to convince him
that he ought to let his daughter decide whether she would see him or
not, and it had nothing whatever to do with the matter. Do you think you
could find me anything to eat, dear? I'm perfectly famishing, and it
doesn't seem as if I could stir a step till I've had a bite of
something."

She sank down on the sofa in the hall in proof of her statement, and I
went out into the culinary regions (deserted of their dwellers after our
early tea) and made her up a sandwich along with the one I had the
Sunday-night habit of myself. I found some half-bottles of ale on the
ice, and I brought one of them, too. Before we had emptied it we
resigned ourselves to what we could not help in Tedham's case; perhaps
we even saw it in a more hopeful light.


VII.

The next day was one of those lax Mondays which come before the Tuesdays
and Wednesdays when business has girded itself up for the week, and I
got home from the office rather earlier than usual. My wife met me with,
"Why, what has happened?"

"Nothing," I said; "I had a sort of presentiment that something had
happened here."

"Well, nothing at all has happened, and you have had your presentiment
for your pains, if that's what you hurried home for."

I justified myself as well as I could, and I added, "That wretched
Tedham has been in my mind all day. I think he has made a ridiculous
mistake. As if he could stop the harm by taking himself off! The harm
goes on independently of him; it is hardly his harm any more."

"That is the way it has seemed to me, too, all day," said my wife. "You
don't suppose he has been out of my mind either? I wish we had never had
anything to do with him."

A husband likes to abuse his victory, when he has his wife quite at his
mercy, but the case was so entirely in my favor that for once I forbore.
I could see that she was suffering for having put into Tedham's head the
notion which had resulted in this error, and I considered that she was
probably suffering enough. Besides, I was afraid that if I said anything
it would bring out the fact that I had myself intimated the question
again which his course had answered so mistakenly. I could well imagine
that she was grateful for my forbearance, and I left her to this
admirable state of mind while I went off to put myself a little in shape
after my day's work and my journey out of town. I kept thinking how
perfectly right in the affair Tedham's simple, selfish instinct had
been, and how our several consciences had darkened counsel; that quaint
Tuscan proverb came into ray mind: _Lascia fare Iddio, ch' è un buon
vecchio_. We had not been willing to let God alone, or to trust his
leading; we had thought to improve on his management of the case, and to
invent a principle for poor Tedham that should be better for him to act
upon than the love of his child, which God had put into the man's heart,
and which was probably the best thing that had ever been there. Well, we
had got our come-uppings, as the country people say, and however we
might reason it away we had made ourselves responsible for the event.

There came a ring at the door that made my own heart jump into my mouth.
I knew it was Tedham come back again, and I was still in the throes of
buttoning on my collar when my wife burst into my room. I smiled round
at her as gayly as I could with the collar-buttoning grimace on my face.
"All right, I'll be down in a minute. You just go and talk to him
till--"

"_Him_?" she gasped back; and I have never been quite sure of her syntax
to this day. "_Them!_ It's Mr. and Mrs. Hasketh, and some young lady! I
saw them through the window coming up the walk."

"Good Lord! You don't suppose it's Tedham's daughter?"

"How do I know? Oh, how _could_ you be dressing at a time like this!"

It did seem to me rather heinous, and I did not try to defend myself,
even when she added, from her access of nervousness, in something like a
whimper, "It seems to me you're _always_ dressing, Basil!"

"I'll be right with you, my dear," I answered, penitently; and, in fact,
by the time the maid brought up the Haskeths' cards I was ready to go
down. We certainly needed each other's support, and I do not know but we
descended the stairs hand in hand, and entered the parlor leaning upon
each other's shoulders. The Haskeths, who were much more deeply
concerned, were not apparently so much moved. We shook hands with them,
and then Mrs. Hasketh said to us in succession, "My niece, Mrs. March;
Mr. March, my niece."

The young girl had risen, and stood veiled before us, and a sort of
heart-breaking appeal expressed itself in the gentle droop of her
figure, which did the whole office of her hidden face. The Haskeths were
dressed, as became their years, in a composite fashion of no particular
period; but I noticed at once, with the fondness I have for what is
pretty in the modes, that Miss Tedham wore one of the latest costumes,
and that she was not only a young girl, but a young lady, with all that
belongs to the outward seeming of one of the gentlest of the kind. It
struck me as the more monstrous, therefore, that she should be involved
in the coil of her father's inexpiable offence, which entangled her
whether he stayed or whether he went. It was well enough that the
Haskeths should still be made miserable through him; it belonged to
their years and experience; they would soon end, at any rate, and it did
not matter whether their remnant of life was dark or bright. But this
child had a right to a long stretch of unbroken sunshine. As I stood and
looked at her I felt the heart-burning, the indefinable indignation that
we feel in the presence of death when it is the young and fair who have
died. Here is a miscalculation, a mistake. It ought not to have been.

I thought that my wife, in the effusion of sympathy, would have perhaps
taken the girl in her arms; but probably she knew that the dropped veil
was a sign that there was to be no embracing. She put out her hand, and
the girl took it with her gloved hand; but though the outward forms of
their greeting were so cold, I fancied an instant understanding and
kindness between them.

"My niece," Mrs. Hasketh explained, when we were all seated, "came home
this afternoon, instead of this morning, when we expected her."

My wife said, "Oh, yes," and after a moment, a very painful moment, in
which I think we all tried to imagine something that would delay the
real business, Mrs. Hasketh began again.

"Mrs. March," she said, in a low voice, and with a curious, apologetic
kind of embarrassment, "we have come--Fay wanted we should come and ask
if you knew about her father--"

"Why, didn't he come to you last night?" my wife began.

"Yes, he did," said Mrs. Hasketh, in a crest-fallen sort, "But we
thought--we thought--you might know where he was. And Fay--Did he tell
you what he was going to do?"

"Yes," my wife gasped back.

The young girl put aside her veil in turning to my wife, and showed a
face which had all the ill-starred beauty of poor Tedham, with something
more in it that she never got from that handsome reprobate--conscience,
soul--whatever we choose to call a certain effluence of heaven which
blesses us with rest and faith whenever we behold it in any human
countenance. She was very young-looking, and her voice had a wistful
innocence.

"Do you think my father will be here again to-night? Oh, I must see him!"

I perceived that my wife could not speak, and I said, to gain time,
"Why, I've been expecting him to come in at any moment;" and this was
true enough.

"I guess he's not very far off," said old Hasketh. "I don't believe but
what he'll turn up." Within the comfort these words were outwardly
intended to convey to the anxious child, I felt an inner contempt of
Tedham, a tacit doubt of the man's nature, which was more to me than the
explicit faith in his return. For some reason Hasketh had not trusted
Tedham's decision, and he might very well have done this without
impugning anything but the weakness of his will.

My wife now joined our side, apparently because it was the only theory
of the case that could be openly urged. "Oh, yes, I am sure. In fact he
promised my husband to let him know later where he was. Didn't you
understand him so, my dear?"

I had not understood him precisely to this effect, but I answered, "Yes,
certainly," and we began to reassure one another more and more. We
talked on and on to one another, but all the time we talked at the young
girl, or for her encouragement; but I suppose the rest felt as I did,
that we were talking provisionally, or without any stable ground of
conviction. For my part, though I indulged that contempt of Tedham, I
still had a lurking fear that the wretch had finally and forever
disappeared, and I had a vision, very disagreeable and definite, of
Tedham lying face downward in the pool of the old cockpit and shone on
by the stars in the hushed circle of the woods. Simultaneously I heard
his daughter saying, "I can't understand why he shouldn't have come to
us, or should have put it off. He couldn't think I didn't wish to see
him." And now I looked at my wife aghast, for I perceived that the
Haskeths must have lacked the courage to tell her that her father had
decided himself not to see her again, and that they had brought her to
us that we might stay her with some hopes, false or true, of meeting him
soon. "I don't know what they mean," she went on, appealing from them to
us, "by saying that it might be better if I never saw him again!"

"I don't say that any more, child," said Mrs. Hasketh, with affecting
humility. "I'm sure there isn't any one in the whole world that I would
bless the sight of half as much."

"I could have come before, if I'd known where he was; or, if I had only
known, I might have been here Saturday!" She broke into a piteous
lamentation, with tears and sobs that wrung my heart and made me feel
like one of a conspiracy of monsters. "But he couldn't--he
couldn't--have thought I didn't _want_ to see him!"

It was a very trying moment for us all, and I think that if we had, any
of us, had our choice, we should have preferred to be in her place
rather than our own. We miserably did what we could to comfort her, and
we at last silenced her with I do not know what pretences. The affair
was quite too much for me, and I made a feint of having heard the
children calling me, and I went out into the hall. I felt that there was
a sort of indecency in my witnessing that poor young thing's emotion;
women might see it, but a man ought not. Perhaps old Hasketh felt the
same; he followed me out, and when we were beyond hearing, even if he
had spoken aloud, he dropped his voice to a thick murmur and said, "This
has all been a mistake. We have had to get out of it with the girl the
best we could; and we don't dare to let her know that Tedham isn't
coming back any more. You noticed from what she said that my wife tried
to make believe it might be well if he didn't; but she had to drop
_that_; it set the girl wild. She hasn't got anything but the one idea:
that she and her father belong to each other, and that they must be
together for the rest of their lives. A curious thing about it is," and
Hasketh sank his voice still lower to say this, "that she thinks that if
he's taken the punishment that was put upon him he has atoned for what
he did; and if any one tries to make him suffer more he does worse than
Tedham did, and he's flying in the face of Providence. Perhaps it's so.
I'm afraid," Hasketh continued, with the satisfaction men take in
blaming their wives under the cover of sympathy, "that Mrs. Hasketh is
going to feel it more and more, as time goes on, unless Tedham turns up.
I was never in favor of trying to have the child forget him, or be
separated from him in any way. That kind of thing can't be made to work,
and I don't suppose, when you come to boil it down, that it's
essentially right. This universe, I take it, isn't an accident in any
particular, and if she's his daughter it's because she was meant to be,
and to bear and share with him. You see it was a great mistake not to
prepare the child for it sooner, and tell her just when Tedham would be
out, so that if she wanted to see him she could. She thinks she ought to
have been there at the prison waiting to speak to him the first one. I
thought it was a mistake to have her away, and I guess that's the way
Mrs. Hasketh looks at it herself, now."

A stir of garments made itself heard from the parlor at last, and we
knew the ladies had risen. In a loud voice Hasketh began to say that
they had a carriage down at the gate, and I said they had better let me
show them the way down; and as my wife followed the others into the
hall, I pulled open the outer door for them. On the threshold stood a
man about to ring, who let his hand drop from the bell-pull. "Why,
Tedham!" I shouted, joyfully.

The light from the hall-lamp struck full on his face; we all
involuntarily shrank back, except the girl, who looked, not at the man
before her, but first at her aunt and then at her uncle, timorously, and
murmured some inaudible question. They did not answer, and now Tedham
and his daughter looked at each other, with what feeling no one can ever
fully say.


VIII.

It always seemed to me as if we had witnessed something like the return
of one from the dead, in this meeting. We were talking it over one
evening some weeks later, and "It would be all very well," I
philosophized, "if the dead came back at once, but if one came back
after ten years, it would be difficult."

"It was worse than coming back from the dead," said my wife. "But I hope
that is the end of it so far as we are concerned. I am sure I am glad to
be out of it, and I don't wish to see any of them ever again."

"Why, I don't know about that," I returned, and I began to laugh. "You
know Hubbell, our inspector of agencies?"

"What has he got to do with it?"

"Hubbell has had a romantic moment. He thinks that in view of the
restitution Tedham made as far as he could, and his excellent
record--elsewhere--it would be a fine thing for the Reciprocity to
employ him again in our office, and he wanted to suggest it to the
actuary."

"Basil! You didn't allow him to do such a cruel thing as that?"

"No, my dear, I am happy to say that I sat upon that dramatic climax."

This measurably consoled my wife, but she did not cease to denounce the
idea for some moments. When she ended, I asked her if she would allow
the company to employ Tedham in a subordinate place in another city, and
when she signified that this might be suffered, I said that this was
what would probably be done. Then I added, seriously, that I thoroughly
liked the notion of it, and that I took it for a testimony that poor old
Tedham was right, and that he had at last fully expiated his offence
against society.

His daughter continued to live with her aunt and uncle, but Tedham used
to spend his holidays with them, and, however incongruously, they got on
together very well, I believe. The girl kept the name of Hasketh, and I
do not suppose that many people knew her relation to Tedham. It appeared
that our little romantic supposition of a love affair, which the reunion
of father and child must shatter, was for the present quite gratuitous.
But if it should ever come to that, my wife and I had made up our minds
to let God manage. We said that we had already had one narrow escape in
proposing to better the divine way of doing, and we should not interfere
again. Still I cannot truly say that we gave Providence our entire
confidence as long as there remained the chance of further evil through
the sort of romance we had dreaded for the girl. Till she was married
there was an incompleteness, a potentiality of trouble, in the incident
apparently closed that haunted us with a distrustful anxiety. We had to
wait several years for the end, but it came eventually, and she was
married to a young Englishman whom she had met in Canada, and whom she
told all about her unhappy family history before she permitted herself
to accept him.

During the one brief interview I had with him, for the purpose of
further blackening her father's character (for so I understood her
insistence that I should see the young man), he seemed not only wholly
unmoved by the facts, but was apparently sorry that poor Tedham had not
done much worse things, and many more of them, that he might forgive him
for her sake.

They went to live abroad after they were married; and by and by Tedham
joined them. So far now as human vision can perceive, the trouble he
made, the evil he did, is really at an end. Love, which can alone arrest
the consequences of wrong, had ended it, and in certain luminous moments
it seemed to us that we had glimpsed, in our witness of this experience,
an infinite compassion encompassing our whole being like a sea, where
every trouble of our sins and sorrows must cease at last like a circle
in the water.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Pair of Patient Lovers" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home